Smoke on the Water

Why, Gregalicious, do you always include a picture of a hot, shirtless guy in every one of your blog posts?

AH, Constant Reader, you’ve asked me this several times, but I don’t mind explaining yet again.

Back in the olden days when social media was still quite young and hope was still alive, I had a blog on Livejournal. I started the blog in December 2004, after a long period of personal issues and not really writing anything in months. I had a book that was long since overdue, but the stuff going on in my personal life was too overwhelming for me to do anything other than handle my day-to-day life and get through every day. A friend, Poppy Z. Brite, suggested to me that I should start blogging; I’d been a fan of his blog for quite some time (“Dispatches from Tanganyika”, I think, was what he called his blog at the time) and I’d never really thought about it much. So, Poppy was on Livejournal, so I opened a Livejournal account and started my blog–“Queer and Loathing in America” around Christmas of 2004. The idea was primarily to get myself writing every day again, and hopefully, use that as a springboard to get back to writing fiction. I was excited about starting a blog for several reasons–not the least of which was I had so many thoughts and opinions on so many things; things I wanted to write about but no one would ever let me write about them. So, I saw the blog as a tool to get me writing again, and as a way to improve my negligible essay writing skills.

It also gave me the opportunity to write about things no one else would let me write about–like sports I enjoy watching, television and movies and books I’ve enjoyed, politics, gay activism, etc. I didn’t care if anyone read what I was writing–I was writing again, and I was doing it every day, and I was sticking to it, and I was happy with it. People did, as a matter of course and over time, start reading it and it was fun to interact with the people who read my blog–and in many cases, they also read my books, so it was a nice way to interact with my readers. I have never changed my mentality about my blog; I still write it and think no one’s reading it, of course; I write it first and foremost for myself, more than anything else, but once the other social media sites–Twitter and Facebook and so forth, started up and I joined, it only made sense to share my blog with the few folks who I was friends with on Facebook and who followed me on Twitter…and that is where the problem started.

Originally, when I posted my blog, it would cross-post to both Facebook and Twitter, in a really nice way that indicated to everyone it was a  link to a blog, what the name of the blog entry was, and the first few sentences, as a teaser. I liked this a lot, and was content with it.

And then, as is their wont, both Facebook and Twitter changed their interfaces with Livejournal, so if there was no image in the blog for them to put up along with the blog link–on Facebook it was a big blue box with a pencil in it, the generic Twitter image that got thrown up was equally awful. I hated it, and was ready to stop cross-posting when I noticed that whenever there was an image in the blog–a book cover, say–that image got put up instead of the generic image they usually used.

But I don’t write about a book every day. So what images to use? I finally decided to use pictures of hot sexy men without shirts. Sue me.

I’ve been doing this now for years, and even after I moved from Livejournal to WordPress (I held out for a long time, but the fact that Livejournal was sold to some Russian company meant I started getting spam responses to the blog in Russian…plus Russia has become the motherland for homophobia, so I finally bit the bullet and moved), I have continued doing this. More of a habit than anything else, and I don’t know if the hideous generic images get thrown up on the two sites when I cross-post anymore–both sites have been redesigned and have been through numerous changes, but now it’s kind of my brand for my blog, and no one really seems to mind, and if they do….I don’t care.

And that, Constant Reader, is why I post pictures of hot guys in my blog.

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Miracles

I thought I was finished with the downward spiral into Imposter Syndrome I experienced yesterday, but I wasn’t.

So I walked away from my computer, ran errands, and came home to finish reading Angie Kim’s exceptional debut novel, Miracle Creek,

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My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie. He probably didn’t even consider it a lie, and neither did I, at first. It was just a small thing, what he wanted. The police had just released the protestors, and while he stepped out to make sure they weren’t coming back, I was to sit in his chair. Cover for him, the way coworkers do as a matter of course, the way we ourselves used to at the grocery store, while I ate or he smoked. But as I took his seat, I bumped against the desk, and the certificate above it went slightly crooked as if to remind me that this wasn’t a regular business, that there was a reason he’d never left me in charge before.

Pak reached over me to straighten the frame, his eyes on the English lettering: Pak Yoo, Miracle Submarine LLC, Certified Hyberbaric Technician. He said–eyes still on the certificate, as if talking to it, not to me–“Everything’s done. The patients are sealed in, the oxygen’s on. You just have to sit here.” He looked at me. “That’s it.”

I looked over the controls, the unfamiliar knobs and switches for the chamber we’d painted baby blue and placed in this barn just last month. “What if the patients buzz me?” I said. “I’ll say you’ll be right back, but–“

“No, they can’t know I’m gone. If anyone asks, I’m here. I’ve been here the whole time.”

And that lie, that simple little lie, opens Angie Kim’s amazing debut, Miracle Creek, which is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, if not one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.

Miracle Creek is and isn’t a legal thriller. The present-day setting of the book is a trial; but it’s also more than that, if that makes sense. A woman is on trial for setting a fire that results in two deaths and several bad injuries–it’s a lot more complicated than that, technically; it has to do with an alternative therapy in which people with chronic issues, such as autism or cerebral palsy or, in one case, low sperm count, are put into a submarine like contraption and gradually subjected to the same kind of pressure you’d get several fathoms down while breathing pure oxygen. The pressurization and the pure oxygen theoretically will help with these “incurable” conditions. The owner of the business, Miracle Submarine in Miracle Creek, Virginia, is a Korean immigrant named Pak Yoo; his wife and daughter help with the business. Someone starts a fire that ignites one of the oxygen tanks and sends flames through the tubes which supply the “submarine” passengers with air to breath, and there’s ultimately an explosion.

Elizabeth, the divorced mother of an autistic son, Henry, chose not to go into the tank with her son that night; her son is one of the victims. She also chose that night to rearrange the way everyone is seated inside, guaranteeing that her son was one of those attached to the tank that goes up and is killed. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to point to her guilt, and she is arrested and put on trial.

Mary Yoo, the daughter, is also blown up and scarred; she also goes into a coma for two months.

The book also bounces around from multiple points of view; all in the first person, and juggling these points of view, different voices and different experiences, is not an easy thing to do; Kim, in her debut novel, manages this with extraordinary skill.

This method of telling the story also allows Kim to share the true story of what happened that night, how one lie can lead to another, and how circumstances can all come together in a horrifying instant–if this hadn’t happened or she hadn’t done this or he had decided to do this, all of this could have been avoided–this randomness that can lead to tragedy, is horrific to contemplate but all too horrifyingly realistic and true.

Going inside the heads of different characters also allows Kim to explore multitudes of themes, all grouped together under the heading of parenting.

One of Stephen King’s greatest gifts as a writer, I have always felt, is how he is completely unafraid to take risks with who his characters are; he isn’t afraid to expose those horrible thoughts his characters have and the guilt that comes with those thoughts and feelings; it makes his characters come to life in a way less skilled writers can only dream about; Kim does the same, making her characters so real in their ugliness and their guilt, unafraid to show that parenting is an ugly job that sometimes has wonderful benefits but  showing how the day-to-day grind can sometimes wear a person down into saying or thinking things that are only too human but too horrible to contemplate or share with anyone else, that sense of resentment that is only too human but also too horrible to let anyone else know.

Her portrayal of the Korean immigrants, the racism they encounter, the fragile bonds of family that connect them yet also fray in a different world and culture than what they are used to, is overwhelmingly compelling.

On every level, the characters and their relationships–whether its husband and wife, mother and child, father and child–areas  layered and complex and complicated as the truth of the night of the tragedy.

All of the characters are flawed, all of them heartbreaking in their humanity, but perhaps the best, the strongest, the one who I will always remember, the one I keep coming back to is Elizabeth, single mother of an autistic only child, the defendant, whose humanity and heartbreak and guilt and suffering is almost too painful to contemplate, to read, and as the truth comes rushing out at the end…wow.

You’re only as sick as your secrets.

This book is amazing. I cannot recommend it enough.

Disco Duck

Wednesday.

We’re now caught up on both Archer and Animal Kingdom, and no, I didn’t write anything yesterday. I was putting out minor fires pretty much all day–nothing major, but they all added up together, one right after another, into draining me of energy and creativity and pretty much by the end of the day I was over it.

It didn’t help that this morning my computer also starting being stupid yet again. (Congratulations, Apple, on the shit-show that is the Mojave operating system. We can certainly tell Steve Jobs is dead.) I wish I had a dime for every minute I’ve wasted watching my screen freeze or a program stop responding…

Last night, in my irritated crabby mood, it occurred to me that part of the reason I’ve been thinking about the past so much is because it’s also Pride Month, and I’ve been doing a daily post/tweet on queer crime writers–which also has taken my mind back into the past and remembering things. It’s really astonishing sometimes to sit down and think about how much the world has changed during the course of my lifetime….some for the bad, some for the better.

And sometimes thinking about all that change just makes me feel really, really old.

And not writing makes me crabby, so maybe I should try to do some tonight, even if it is like pulling teeth, even if it all turns out to be so much shit on a stick that it requires a complete do over.

My kitchen is also a terrible mess. It never ends. And the laundry is starting to pile up yet again.

Lather, rinse, repeat. The story of my life.

But Animal Kingdom got me thinking about unsympathetic characters again. The Codys, the family of three brothers, an adopted brother, their nephew, and their creepy, hard-as-nails mother Smurf, are not sympathetic in the least. They’re all criminals, have a tendency to do drugs, get violent, and drink too much–they’re not too smart with their money, which is why Smurf runs the gang; she’s the only one who knows how to launder their money, pay the taxes on it and keep their money on the right side of the law from the IRS. The show is very interesting–one of the brothers is also gay, and part of his story arc is him gradually, slowly emerging from the closet with his macho, tough-guy brothers–and the interrelationships between them all are also fascinating to watch; they love each other but they also hate each other–and Smurf herself is not above pitting them against each other when it suits her own purposes. It’s a terrific role for Barkin, who brings it hard to every scene, and the boys are all hot as fuck and frequently shirtless (sometimes nude) and you never really can be sure where the story is going to go. As I was watching this week’s episode, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a favorite Sidney Sheldon novel, If Tomorrow Comes, which was about Tracy Whitney, a beautiful young woman who is set-up and ruined by gangsters, and then, being super-intelligent, gets even with all of them before launching a career as a master thief. Some of the heists the Codys pull off remind me of the great robberies Tracy managed; and that was one Sheldon I always wanted to see made into a mini-series.

I’d love to write a heist novel someday.

Someday. And now back to the spice mines.,

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Sing a Song

Denim, Diamonds, and Death

Anthony Awards

Among the most prized awards in the world of mystery writers, the Anthony Awards were named after Anthony Boucher, a mystery & crime fiction author, editor, and critic, who was also a founder of the Mystery Writers of America.

2019 Anthony Award Nominations

BEST NOVEL

  • Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown and Company)

  • November Road by Lou Berney (William Morrow)

  • Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur Books)

  • Sunburn by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

  • Blackout by Alex Segura (Polis Books)

BEST FIRST NOVEL

  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday)

  • Broken Places by Tracy Clark (Kensington)

  • Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver (Pegasus Books)

  • What Doesn’t Kill You by Aimee Hix (Midnight Ink)

  • Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin (Ecco)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL

  • Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett (Midnight Ink)

  • If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (William Morrow Paperbacks)

  • Hiroshima Boy by Naomi Hirahara (Prospect Park Books)

  • Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day (William Morrow Paperbacks)

  • A Stone’s Throw by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street Books)

BEST SHORT STORY

  • “The Grass Beneath My Feet” by S.A. Cosby, in Tough (blogazine, August 20, 2018)

  • “Bug Appétit” by Barb Goffman, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (November/December 2018)

  • “Cold Beer No Flies” by Greg Herren, in Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press)

  • “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (July/August 2018)

  • “The Best Laid Plans” by Holly West, in Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press)

BEST CRITICAL OR NONFICTION WORK

  • Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin (William Morrow Paperbacks)

  • Mastering Plot Twists: How To Use Suspense, Targeted Storytelling Strategies, and Structure To Captivate Your Readers by Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest Books)

  • Pulp According to David Goodis by Jay A. Gertzman (Down & Out Books)

  • Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s by Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus Books)

  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins)

  • The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman (Ecco)

The Anthony Awards will be voted on by attendees at the convention and presented on Saturday, November 2.

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I Love Music

I’ve always supported women crime writers, and I’ve always read them. From the women who wrote the children’s mysteries for Scholastic (Mary C. Jane and Phyllis A. Whitney, to name two) through the Agatha Christie canon (which essentially includes every subgenre of mystery to come, from serial killers to cozies to spy novels to romantic suspense to Gothic to locked rooms to private eyes to amateur sleuths to unreliable narrators–you get the picture. An argument can be made that And Then There Were None was the original Friday the 13th; a group of people stranded somewhere being targeted by a killer, who goes through them all systematically), moving on eventually to Victoria Holt and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Eden and Mary Stewart, who in turn were followed by Grafton, Paretsky, and Muller…terrific stories and series and stand alones by such terrific writers as Nancy Pickard, Lia Matera, S. J. Rozan, Laura Lippman…the list of women crime writers I love is insanely lengthy, and there isn’t any way that I could possibly, successfully, sit down and make a list of them all without forgetting so many, many others who don’t deserve to be forgotten or left off.

Women are currently some of the top writers in our field–Megan Abbott,  Alison Gaylin, Lori Rader-Day, Jamie Mason, Lisa Unger, Catriona McPherson, Wendy Corsi Staub, Carol Goodman, Gillian Flynn, Lori Roy, Alafair Burke…again, the list could go on forever and I would always manage to forget someone. There’s not, after all, enough time for me to ever read everything I want to read, and there’s fantastic new work being published all the time. And I am finding new to me writers all the time, that I greatly enjoy.

The reason I am even bringing this up is twofold; recently, there was an article in The Writer that acted like women crime writers essentially don’t exist (I don’t think, ultimately, the piece was mean-spirited or this was actually deliberate; the problem was the author of the piece used the angle that there were no women being written accurately, with nuance, in crime fiction today; she simply failed to qualify her thesis by adding by men. Had she done this, her piece–about how Lee Child and Paul Doiron have evolved and are now writing complex, believable women characters–probably would have been applauded rather than the subject of some outrage), and then, yesterday, Sisters in Crime president Sherry Harris wrote a blistering response to the almost non-stop mockage the cozy mysteries–which are kind of the backbone of our genre–are almost always subject to from the non-cozy writers in our genre.

I personally have never understood why some writers are so condescending and rude about any genre, to be honest. Romance novels aren’t for me, really, but I certainly am not contemptuous of romance novels, or the genre as a whole. Writing, and getting published, and maintaining a career as a writer, is fucking hard; I would daresay that writing romance novels would be incredibly difficult. There are the constraints of the formula and the required HEA (happily ever after) ending; you try to make a formula fresh and new and interesting to readers who read dozens of novels a year and are looking for something fresh, that will move them, will keep them reading, and leave them wanting more of your work.

I’ll wait.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I hear cozies dismissed and not taken seriously all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. And I don’t understand it. Sure, there are terrible cozies. There are also terrible noirs, terrible private eye novels, terrible police procedurals, terrible psychological thrillers, etc.; not every book in every style of mystery–or writing, for that matter–is good, and not every one is bad. And cozies are, quite frankly, incredibly hard to write. They have to be light, they have to be funny (and no matter how easy it looks–writing funny is fucking hard), and there have to be a lot of suspects and clues and red herrings and so forth. Cozies are also often stories about communities–whether it’s the people who work at a spice shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (Leslie Budewitz) or the extended friends-and-family of the Langslow clan in Caerphilly, Virginia (Donna Andrews) or those who live in an art deco Fort Lauderdale apartment complex that used to be a motel (Elaine Viets)–and again, this is incredibly difficult to do, let alone do every goddamned year, managing to keep the stories and characters fresh and new, as well as juggling the need for a plot against the need to include the regular cast members the readers have come to love over the years.

For example, there are characters in the Scotty universe that have kind of dropped away as the years and the series have progressed; every time I write a new Scotty I think, I really need to include David in here somehow and yet it never seems to work. (David was Scotty’s best friend in the first three books; a character I genuinely liked and loved writing about…but in the after-Katrina books, having to juggle Scotty’s two partners and his family grew ever more difficult and David just kind of fell to the wayside.)

I digress.

I always say that cozies aren’t given the respect they deserve for the same reason romance novels aren’t, either; they are seen as books by women about women for women, and therefore couldn’t possibly be as important as the testosterone driven he-man crime novels men write. Even the non-cozy crime novels written by women don’t get the same respect as those by men–its the reason why Sisters in Crime exists, the Malice Domestic conference, and the Agatha Awards.

And let’s face it. Scotty might be a licensed private eye, but his adventures are more cozy than hard-boiled.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Moonlight Feels Right

It really is a wonder I have a career.

Yes, I missed the official launch of my short story collection, which was officially published on April 10….five days ago.

Seriously. How do I have a career?

Who fucking forgets their release day?

Apparently, this fool.

The jacket copy:

A Katrina survivor waits for rescue on his roof in the brutal heat, reflecting on the life choices that brought him to this moment. A young woman discovers there’s more to her perfect man than she thought. A gay journalist travels to Italy to interview his teen idol, only to discover a darkness in the Tuscan hills. A gay man cleans his home, reflecting on his sociopathic criminal mother. Chanse MacLeod returns to his hometown to help his younger brother, accused of murder. A daughter keeps her father’s legacy alive while hiding his darkest secrets.

Including five new stories written for this collection (along with the first-ever Chanse MacLeod short story), Greg Herren’s tales of murder, crime, and the darkness that lives inside all of us are evocative of the proud Southern Gothic tradition of writers and are now available, for the first time, in a single collection.

Table of contents:

Survivor’s Guilt

The Email Always Pings Twice

Keeper of the Flame

A Streetcar Named Death

An Arrow for Sebastian

Housecleaning

Acts of Contrition

Lightning Bugs in a Jar

Spin Cycle

Cold Beer No Flies

Annunciation Shotgun

Quiet Desperation

The Weight of a Feather

My Brother’s Keeper

Don’t Look Down

You can order it from Amazon right here. Or from Barnes and Noble here.  You can also get it directly from my publisher here. You can also support your local independent by ordering from here!

I also encourage you to walk into your local independent and if they don’t have it, request it.

Thanks all!

Survivors Guilt

Kissing Asphalt

Reading the stories in this book, in a roundabout way, led me to Spotify, and in an even more roundabout way made me rediscover one of my favorite bands from that period: The Cars. It also enabled me to rediscover how blissfully amazing the Cars’ eponymous first album, The Cars, was.
And the way “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” leads right into “Bye Bye Love” so seamlessly! Classic. 
I’ve also been listening to Candy-O, and this weekend I’m going to start listening to Heartbeat City, to see how well it holds up.
And the next song/story covered in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is “Kissing Asphalt” by Dharma Kelleher.
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Sitting in the back seat of the Lexus SUV, I racked the slide on my Ruger 9mm, secured the Rossi snub-nosed revolver in my ankle holster, and adjusted the Velcro straps on my Kevlar vest. I tried to convince myself I was ready for action. But I wasn’t.
My body was sore and heavy with fatigue from an all-night session of much-needed sex. Meanwhile, my mind bobbed like a balloon with the giddiness of newfound love. A tiny voice in the back of my brain warned me to get my shit together and quite acting like a twelve-year-old girl with her first crush.
It didn’t work. As I stared out the window at Phoenix’s urban desert whizzing past, a highlights reel of the night before played in my mind, with the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” as the soundtrack.
“Oy! Earth to Jinx Ballou! Are ya with us?” My boss, Conor Doyle, glared at me from the front passenger seat.
Deez, Conor’s second-in-command, chuckled from behind the wheel, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say our girl got some last night.”
“Shut the hell up, Deez,” I playfully punched the back of his seat.
Murph, the guy sitting to my right, screwed up his face. “All the times I ask you out and now you’re fucking some other guy?”
This is my first time reading something by Dharma Kelleher, and it won’t be the last. This tale–about bounty hunters tracking down a bail-jumper–turns what could easily be a tired old same-old same-old story into something fresh and new; which is just another example of showing how diversity, and diverse writers, can breathe new life into a genre that is in danger of becoming tired and stock. Kelleher’s characterizations and voice are fresh and new, the action comes fast and furious, and the personal story interwoven into the case work never feels forced or contrived. I do invite you all to check out some of Kelleher’s work; this story features her series character, Jinx Ballou, and is an excellent teaser for her series.
Get on it, people.

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