Ain’t No Sunshine

I am not a huge fan of public speaking. It causes me horrible anxiety and stress, because I suffer from a really horrible case of stage fright. I’m not sure why that is–probably a side effect of being horribly shy and self-conscious–but it is what it is. Moderating panels, even being on them, are difficult for me; let alone having to get up in front of a room full of people and trying to sound eloquent and smart. Being on a panel isn’t nearly as stressful as moderating one, of course; but the worst is having to get up in front of a room full of people and speak. If there is a hell of any kind, regardless of spiritual beliefs and values, mine would be having to stand in front of a room full of people and having to speak, endlessly on a loop. That would be my personal hell.

I had to speak at the Lefty Awards banquet, since Mystery Writers of America sponsored the banquet. Stan and Lucinda, who organize Left Coast Crime, asked me to get up and speak a little bit about MWA. All week leading up to it I agonized over what to say, and how long I should be up there. I made notes, practiced, thought about it and agonized and then finally, they called me up to the stage and I had no idea what to say as my mind went completely blank. I tried to grab hold of the podium so my hands wouldn’t visibly shake but naturally, at one point started talking and gesturing with my hands…which were shaking. I do remember saying that we are currently living in a golden age of crime fiction–and that a quick glance at all the nominees for Best First over the past few years for every award in the genre would show that the future of the genre is in very good hands.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed throughout my life as a reader is the discovery of debut authors, and watching their careers take off due to their hard work and talent.

And keep your eye on Wanda M. Morris.

The three of us–me, my brother, Sam and Vera or Miss Vee as everyone in Chillicothe called her–looked like a little trio of vagabonds as we stood in the Greyhound Bus Station, which, in Chillicothe, meant a lean-to bus port in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly. By God’s grace, we’d survived summer’s blazing days and humid nights, the fire ant stings and mosquito welts, and all the side-of-the-mouth whispers that floated around town. What happened? What did those young’uns do? Why is Ellie Littlejohn really leaving town? Even though I was headed to Virginia on a full-rde scholarship to boarding school, it didn’t stop some people from around town from talking in hushed tones and asking meddlesome questions.

The morning sun sizzled across the black asphalt parking lot scattered with a few dented cars and an old Ford pickup. But we were the only ones waiting for the 7:15 bus headed north. I wore a tie-dyed T-shirt and a pair of jeans Vera had cut off at the knees when they got too short. She hadn’t gotten to the jeans Sam was wearing because they were about two inches above his ankles. His yellow T-shirt still bore the cherry Popsicle stain from the day before. And from the looks of it, he hasn’t combed his hair, either.

Wow, where to start with this rollercoaster ride?

I guess the easiest place to start is with how authentic Ms. Morris’ representation of small rural Southern towns in the 1970’s is. As someone who spent time in the deep south in a small rural town (and the country) in the 1970’s, Morris brought Chillicothe to life realistically and so well I could completely visualize it–from the lazy flies and the mosquito bites and how box fans just push the hot air around. Vivid images of my own past flashed through my mind every time Morris took us back to Ellise’s childhood in Chillicothe, where all her dark little secrets were first born and hidden away. She masters two separate timelines in this masterful work–Chillicothe back when she was a child, and her life in modern day Atlanta. That poor little girl got scholarships and worked her butt off to become a lawyer, and now works for a large corporation in Atlanta–a corporation currently being accused of racist hiring practices, along with protestors outside the building. One morning Ellise comes to work to meet with her married boss–with whom she has been having a rather long-term affair with, following him from a job with a legal firm to this company–early in the morning, only to discover his dead body in his office, shot through the head. Ellise immediately backs out of the office and heads back down two floors to the legal department, and doesn’t call the police, doesn’t say anything to anyone–and fortunately, there are no security cameras up on the twentieth floor to capture her tell-tale image for the police or anyone who wants to go looking for what went on up there when the man was murdered.

But was having an affair really enough justification for Ellise to NOT call the police?

Of course not…and this is where the fun begins. Ellise is also hiding a lot more than just the affair with her boss–she has run away from a traumatic childhood and now moves in rarefied air–and doesn’t want anyone in her new life to know anything about her old.

Then Ellise is promoted to replace her now-dead lover/boss, and despite asking for time to think it over, it is announced as a fait accompli, which understandably makes Ellise suspicious. Something weird is going on up there on the twentieth floor, and she is smack dab in the middle of it all–but what? Was her boss’ death a suicide, as everyone at the company desperately wants to believe, or was he involved in something else, something else that led to him being murdered?

The thrills and suspense build from the very beginning–what is going on there? What does any of this have to do with Ellise and her past? Morris expertly weaves her two tales of Ellise and her life, the two timelines, together seamlessly and it is impossible to look away or put the book down. But even more important than the story is the character of Ellise, who is at the heart of the story and without whom the reader has no buy-in to the story. Ellise is compelling, juggling her identity as a modern Black woman with no small success in her life alongside the poor little girl with the alcoholic and abusive mother, abused not just by family and the nastiness of the vicious hateful little town but also the virulent ugly racism of the times. Her brother Sam–her only living relative–has had a much harder time of it than she has, and she struggles with trying to balance helping him out when he needs it or the tough love she thinks he needs to straighten out his life–but the strength of their bond is beautifully depicted. Ellise has constructed this incredible facade to hold the world at bay, but inside she is still that same scared little girl from Chillicothe, once again–as she did when she a little girl–trying hard to survive in an incredibly hostile world not of her own making.

This is an extraordinarily strong debut novel, and I cannot recommend it enough. Wanda M. Morris is going to be a major player in our genre–you can quote me on that.

Precious Little Things

I read a really interesting interview on Crime Reads yesterday; Richie Narvaez interviewing Raquel Reyes. It struck a few chords in my head; Raquel very eloquently talked about why she writes what she does (Mango, Mambo, and Murder, click here to order) and the importance of representation; particularly how over the years publishing has undervalued non-white writers, paying lip service to diversity while not actually doing the work, while creating self-fulfilling prophecies: oh, minority voices don’t sell because there’s no market and then don’t support the books upon release, so they didn’t sell enough copies to become viable. Then they pat themselves on the back and smugly say, see? We tried but there’s no market. I hope the recent diversification of their lists and catalogues recently undertaken by many publishers isn’t just a temporary thing, especially since diverse authors have been responsible for some pretty amazing books over the last few years. I’ve not read Raquel’s book yet, but I am looking forward to it. So much depth in the old TBR pile, y’all–and I am so behind on my reading. I am probably going to do a deep dive into Alex Segura’s Secret Identity today (after I finish my chores and the editing I have to get done). I also need to get my to-do list updated once and for all, and stay on top of it. I have a lot, as always, to do.

Yesterday was a work-at-home day, with a slight break to run an errand. I managed to edit another hunk of the manuscript–I have 2/3rds done, should be able to finish the final third today–and then I fell into the wormhole of watching the news again, which I have on every night as I relax in my easy chair and scroll through social media on my iPad. It’s not the most productive use of my time but I find now that when I am finished with my work for the day I inevitably feel mental exhaustion, which then requires me to just kind of vegetate in order to relax. I slept really well last night–even slept a little late this morning, which was nice, and feel very well rested this morning, which is even nicer. The disaster area that is the Lost Apartment isn’t my favorite thing to look around and see, so I am going to have to at least try to make some progress on that this morning while I drink my coffee. (Oh, I should drop off some boxes of books at the library sale today–get them out of the house and make room for more shelf-purging. Good thinking, Gregalicious!) The weather was lovely yesterday–looks lovely today as well–so going outside might not be a terrible thing for me to do today. The Festivals are also next weekend, and I have to teach a workshop on Friday. YIKES. I guess I need to prepare…although I guess I can also trot out the ever-popular bad sex makes it literary fiction. I think the workshop is supposed to be about including sex in your work? I don’t remember–I have it printed out somewhere.

Guess I should probably find that, huh?

And April is just around the corner. April, with my trip to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime, and my trip to New York for the Edgars. Lots of Gregalicious traveling there, after not going anywhere for quite some time. It’s going to be interesting being at an event like Left Coast, which I’ve never attended before; Crime Bake in November was a very nice taste of being around writers in smaller groups again, as were the Alabama events in January. But LCC is a bigger event…I guess the Festivals next weekend will give me a chance to get more used to bigger crowds of people, as well as being in the Quarter for the first time in a long time…I don’t think I’ve been to the Quarter since our office moved from Frenchmen Street to its new location; although I think I probably did some condom outreach in the before times; I don’t remember. I think I took parade season off in 2020, so maybe the last time I passed out condoms in the Quarter was in 2019?

So, with all the travel and all the volunteer work and the day job, when am i going to find time to write going forward? A very good question, Watson. I know that I will because I love to do it–I really should spend some time this weekend writing, frankly–and one of the great frustrations of my life has always been there’s always other things to do that get in the way of relaxing into my writing. I’ve been alternating between panic attacks and confidence about the manuscript I just turned in; literally, I’ll go from hey I think it’s not bad to oh my god my editor is going to think I am a complete idiot and I am going to have to throw the whole thing out and start over from scratch or they’ll want their money back…yeah. My mind is always a non-stop thrill ride; make sure you keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times or we can’t be responsible for what happens to you.

Sigh.

And on that somber note, methinks I shall head into the spice mines. I need some more coffee, the sun is out and bright and shiny, and I can see dust everywhere. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you again tomorrow.

There’s No Stopping Us Now

I make no bones nor apologies for loving Joe Burrow–or as I call him to myself, Joey B (which is also his twitter name and how he signs his name). I have said it before–and will say it again–I really do not pay much attention to the NFL outside of the Saints. I watch the Saints games and that’s really always been about it for me (I might watch the Super Bowl if nothing else is on, but it’s usually just background noise while I read–sometime it’s a good game and I’ll watch, but I generally don’t care very much who wins or loses if the Saints aren’t involved). It’s hard for me to root against teams that have players who played for LSU, for example, but at the same time they are on SO many teams I can’t keep track of them and I certainly am not going to invest in watching all those games. But it’s nice to see players from LSU–like Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette, Odell Beckham Jr, et. al–doing well in the NFL; I am always pleased to see their names in the sports news.

But…that 2019 LSU team was so damned special, I find myself looking for highlights of players who were on that team alot, and being really happy for them as they make names for themselves in the pros.

And then, of course, there’s my hero, Joe Burrow.

It’s probably untoward for a sixty year old gay man to worship an athlete the way I love this kid (in fairness, I felt that way about Drew Brees for a very long time, and I will always be grateful to Brees for what he did, not only for the Saints but for post-Katrina New Orleans), but I do. I really like this kid a lot, and not just because he led the Tigers to only their second-ever undefeated season and fourth national title, either. He seems like a genuinely good guy–or he is one hell of an actor. Even at LSU, as he was breaking national records, making headlines and the cover of Sports Illustrated, he never made anything about himself: it was always about the team, and he immediately, inevitably, always gave credit to his offensive line first. Joey B became a beloved icon in Louisiana in just two seasons with our Fighting Tigers of LSU–and the entire state cheered when Joey B and the Bengals won the AFC championship and made it to the Super Bowl in only his second year with the team.

Kind of….like how he won everything in his second year with LSU.

So, now I kind of follow the Cincinnati Bengals because I love this player so much and want to see him continue to succeed. I do wonder about this attachment from time to time; just as I wonder about the whole concept of fandom in general–like when I think about how amazing an experience it is being in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night for a big game. Joe Burrow’s story is everything you’d want in a sports story–the kid no one really recruited much and didn’t get many offers; who didn’t succeed at his first, chosen university so he graduated early and went elsewhere and in two years had the greatest season ever by a college quarterback, including a national championship and the Heisman Trophy and drafted Number One for the NFL by a team that hadn’t won in decades and had slipped to the level of the pre-Drew Brees Saints; and then got injured his first season only to come roaring back in his second to take them to the Super Bowl. This kid is special, he’s funny and quirky and introspective and not really into the whole “star” thing (although I do love the gold chain with “JB9” he has taken to wearing to press conferences, and when asked if it was real, replied, “I make too much money for it to be fake.”). I will forever be grateful that I got the opportunity to see him play in person several times, and the 2019 LSU-Florida game is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had watching a college football game live.

The Bengals and Joey B may not win the Super Bowl tonight–but one thing I do know from watching him play for four years is that Bengal fans need not fear should the Rams win tonight. I will promise you–Joey Burrow may lose his first Super Bowl, but he will not lose his second.

And my money would be on a win next year if they lose tonight.

He’s that kind of player.

GEAUX JOE!

Baby, Baby, Wo Ist Unsere Liebe

Congrats to the Lefty Award finalists!

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel. The nominees are:

  • Ellen Byron, Cajun Kiss of Death (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Jennifer Chow, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code (Berkley Prime Crime)
  • Elle Cosimano, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It (Minotaur Books)
  • Cynthia Kuhn, How To Book a Murder (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Raquel V. Reyes, Mango, Mambo, and Murder (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Wendall Thomas, Fogged Off (Beyond the Page Books)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (for books set before 1970). The nominees are:

  • Susanna Calkins, The Cry of the Hangman (Severn House)
  • John Copenhaver, The Savage Kind (Pegasus Crime)
  • Naomi Hirahara, Clark and Division (Soho Crime)
  • Sujata Massey, The Bombay Prince (Soho Crime)
  • Catriona McPherson, The Mirror Dance (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Lori Rader-Day, Death at Greenway (William Morrow)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel. The nominees are:

  • Alexandra Andrews, Who Is Maud Dixon (Little, Brown and Company)
  • Marco Carocari, Blackout (Level Best Books)
  • Zakiya Dalila Harris, The Other Black Girl (Atria Books)
  • Mia P. Manansala, Arsenic and Adobo (Berkley Prime Crime)
  • Wanda M. Morris, All Her Little Secrets (William Morrow)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories). The nominees are:

  • Tracy Clark, Runner (Kensington Books)
  • S.A. Cosby, Razorblade Tears (Flatiron Press)
  • Matt Coyle, Last Redemption (Oceanview Publishing)
  • William Kent Krueger, Lightning Strike (Atria Books)
  • P.J. Vernon, Bath Haus (Doubleday)

I Hear a Symphony

January 12, 2022 —New York, NY—Today Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announces the recipients of its special awards. The board chose Laurie R. King as the 2022 Grand Master, the 2022 Raven Award recipient is Lesa Holstine, and Juliet Grames will receive the Ellery Queen Award. They will accept their awards at the 76th Annual Edgar Awards Ceremony, which will be held April 28, 2022, at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in New York City.

“Mystery Writers of America is thrilled to honor Laurie R. King as MWA’s 2022 Grand Master,” said MWA President Alafair Burke. “For more than a quarter century, King has entertained readers around the world with her writings, which range from historical fiction to contemporary police procedurals to gripping standalones and scores of anthology contributions. She is also a generous supporter of readers and fellow writers and a leader within the literary community. She exemplifies the excellence that defines the Grand Master Award, and we are delighted to recognize her achievements.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 30 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (named “One of the 20th Century’s Best Crime Novels” by the IMBA.)  She has won the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Lambda, Wolfe, Macavity, Creasey dagger, and Romantic Times Career Achievement awards, has an honorary doctorate in theology, and is a Baker Street Irregular.  Her recent books include Castle Shade and How to Write a Mystery (co-edited with Lee Child.) She has been a member of Mystery Writers of America since 1993 and served on the NorCal and National boards.

On being notified of the honor, King said, “I am sure I’m not the only person who greeted the announcement that they had been given this extreme honor of the mystery world first with silence, then with, “Really?  Me??”  I mean, any list that begins with Agatha Christie and touches on such gods as Ross MacDonald and Daphne du Maurier, Ngaio Marsh and John Le Carré, Tony Hillerman and—well, you get the idea. ‘I am honored’ is an inadequate response (You are sure you counted the votes, right?) when what I mean is, ‘I am stunned, dumbfounded, gobsmacked.’ And honored too, of course—intensely, humbly, and gratefully.”

Previous Grand Masters include Charlaine Harris, Jeffery Deaver, Barbara Neely, Martin Cruz Smith, William Link, Peter Lovesey, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie, to name a few.

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. For 2022, Mystery Writers of America selected librarian, a blogger, and book reviewer Lesa Holstine.

Upon learning she would receive the Raven Award, Lesa Holstine reacted with disbelief, “You’re kidding!” Holstine said, “I’m grateful to the MWA Board, and to mystery writers everywhere who have provided so much enjoyment over the years.”

Previous Raven Award recipients include Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Marilyn Stasio, The Raven Bookstore, Sisters in Crime, and Oline Cogdill.

Holstine has worked in public libraries since she was 16. For almost 50 years, she’s shared her love of books, especially mysteries, with library patrons, and is presently the Collections Manager at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library in Evansville, Indiana. She is in the 18th  year of writing her award-winning blog, Lesa’s Book Critiques, has been the blogger for Poisoned Pen Bookstore for over four years, and reviews mysteries for Mystery Readers’ Journal and Library Journal, where she was named Reviewer of the Year in 2018. She has received the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award and the David S. Thompson Special Service Memorial Award. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and serves on the Left Coast Crime Standing Committee.

The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.” This year the Board chose to honor Juliet Grames, SVP, Associate Publisher at Soho Press, where she has curated the award-winning Soho Crime imprint since 2011. Her debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, was published by Ecco/HarperCollins and has been translated into ten languages.

On learning she would receive the Ellery Queen Award, Grames said, “I am astonished and moved by this great honor. There is no community I could be prouder to work in: the creators in our genre are not only artists but activists and thoroughly good people. It is a great privilege to nurture and amplify their voices, and I humbly thank every author who has ever trusted me with that privilege. It is also a great privilege to work for a publisher, Bronwen Hruska, whose values—both literary and philosophical—align so perfectly with mine. This recognition belongs to them, although I am honored to be their representative.”

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Reagan Arthur, Kelley Ragland, Linda Landrigan, Neil Nyren, Charles Ardai, and Janet Hutchings.

The Edgar Awards, or “Edgars,” as they are commonly known, are named after MWA’s patron saint Edgar Allan Poe and are presented to authors of distinguished work in various categories. MWA is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime-writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. The organization encompasses some 3,000 members including authors of fiction and non-fiction books, screen and television writers, as well as publishers, editors, and literary agents. For more information on Mystery Writers of America, please visit the website: www.mysterywriters.org

Grand Master Laurie R. King
Ellery Queen recipient Juliet Grames
Raven recipient Lesa Holstine.

Rock With You

Thursday and we have reached the “work-at-home” portion of my week. Yay! I don’t have to leave my house! (crowd goes wild)

I am feeling good this morning, partly because I overslept (this is becoming a thing with me; how lovely to go from chronic insomnia to oversleeping in a just a month) but regardless of whatever the reason was–the switch from cappuccinos to regular coffee, perhaps–but nevertheless, this morning Gregalicious slept late, and it felt marvelous.

I worked a little bit on Chlorine last night, but it stalled out a bit; not so much from a lack of desire to write or not knowing what to write, but primarily distractions around the Lost Apartment, which were annoying and also unavoidable, alas.

And speaking of anomalies in Gregalicious land, I didn’t finish this entry this morning before it was time for me to start working–which hasn’t happen in so long I cannot remember the last time it happened; usually I’m able to push right through the entry before leaving the house. I didn’t have to leave the house this morning, but I did oversleep, after all–definitely a problem. And now I have spent a lovely day making condom packs while catching up on Real Housewives of New York and watching some history videos on Youtube; I also had a lovely call with my editor about both Bury Me in Shadows but also a highly productive conversation about what I need to do on #shedeservedit to get it ready for publication–edits, sloppy transitions, bad bad Greg writer stuff, really–and some serious tweaks that may actually be easier than I think they’ll be; we’ll just have to see, won’t we? (And now I understand the Chlorine inertia this week; I knew I had this call scheduled and I knew I was going to probably have to put it aside for a while…breaking the chain, as it were. I think I will go ahead and finish Chapter Three and maybe Chapter Four before I dive back into my edits.)

I also had some other interesting developments occur this week, career-wise, but nothing that can be reported just yet; sorry to be so vague, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. I am feeling better about everything these days–sleep really makes so an extraordinary difference in my life, it really is amazing–and while I am not in Greg can conquer the world mode again just yet, I have a feeling that it’s just around the corner. I am starting to feel energetic again, creative and ambitious, and more like the old Gregalicious than I have in years. Not sure what caused it, to be honest–pandemic, perhaps? I don’t know but I also don’t remember when I last felt this good about myself and everything in my life, to be honest, and it’s a lovely feeling. Now I need to get better organized; I think that is what this weekend is going to be about; me getting my shit together and getting back on top of everything again. I am going to finish reading Razorblade Tears and pick out my next read; I am going to get those chapters written and some short story edits done, and this fucking apartment and my fucking life are going to be organized and ready for the future.

And on THAT note, it’s time to get to work on everything.

Enjoy the rest of your Thursday, Constant Reader! I’m going to make mine count.

Kitty Girl

Friday and I like my new doctor. It’s nice to finally be in the care of an actual doctor again–with no offense intended at all to the nurse practitioners I’ve seen over the last two years; they were also wonderful–but there’s something subconsciously psychologically more affirming about seeing someone who has the actual title of doctor, which is curious in and of itself–what is that rooted in? What kind of societal expectation, which may be based in absolutely nothing rational, created that as a comfort zone for me, and further, made it instinctual?–which I will leave in the hands of the clinically trained behavior experts to research.

Instead of working on anything already in progress last night, of course I started writing another short story. This one is called “Wash Away Sins”, which makes a sort of loose sense in my fevered creative brain, and it’s another Alabama story and it’s a follow-up to “Smalltown Boy,” actually; I can’t remember precisely the thought chain that wound up there, but I read something somewhere that made me think of washed in the blood of the lamb, which means baptized, and in the Christian sect i was raised in, that meant your baptism washed away all your sins before the baptism….which made me think of everything before the baptism as a “wash away sin”, and then i thought about the opening of “Smalltown Boy” and how that poor woman killed her husband to end the abuse, and the sentence You could have knocked everyone down with a feather when Vonda Hackworth answered Brother Burleson’s call to salvation and I was off to the races. I was writing in my journal, though, rather than typing the story up–which I will have to do at some point, probably today or maybe tomorrow.

Again, not anything I should be working on, of course.

I also started reading S. A. Cosby’s marvelous Razorblade Tears yesterday while at the doctor’s office, and it is, actually, quite marvelous. Maybe the most delightful thing of being a part of this community, as well as being an avid reader, is watching talents grow and develop. I’ve always enjoyed Shaun’s work, but every book is exponentially better somehow than the one before….and that is saying something. I am really looking forward to a deep dive on the book this weekend. Huzzah!

I also had a dentistry appointment this morning, and I hope, whenever the health care situation in this country is ever resolved, that the dentisty insurance issue is also addressed. I’ve always had terrible teeth–the only good thing about them was they were perfectly straight–and now I am going to have to spend a lot of money on my bottom teeth to have a functioning mouth again. It’s horribly depressing, really–hurray for even more debt–but I suppose it’s money I need to spend.

Or I can keep going through life looking like a Clampett.

Today turned out to be almost a complete waste. After the dentist experience–which took much longer than anticipated–i made groceries and then decided to go upgrade my phone. Again, took waaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated; seriously, y’all, I left the house for the dentist at nine this morning and i got home from the AT&T store after three…so I figured, fuck it, I may as well get the gym out of the way and take pictures with my new phone on the way home so that’s what I did. The new phone, an iPhone 12 Pro, is pretty amazing. The sound quality is so dramatically better than the old phone–which I thought had amazing sound, actually–and my word, the pictures are so much better, too! I am going to need to play with this phone’s camera a bit, methinks.

And on that note, I am ending this tiresome entry and ending my on-line presence for the day.

This Time I Know It’s For Real

It seems hard to believe–and writing it out makes it seem even harder to believe–but my first book came out over nineteen years ago. Right? I’ve been a published author of crime fiction now for almost a third of my lifespan–more, if you consider my career beginning when the original contract was signed–and yes, it makes me feel a bit old and weathered, and no, it doesn’t seem like it’s even possible (well, that so much time has passed).

It’s also a little weird to remember that one of the launching pads that got publishing in the first place was book reviewing. I started reviewing books for IMPACT News here in New Orleans around 1998, which led me eventually to national magazines, and an assistant editor position at Lambda Book Report (now LambdaLiterary.org) for a few months before taking over as editor-in-chief for twelve issues. Over the next few years I still did the occasional book review, but was slowly backing away from it. As a novelist myself, reviewing books was basically a mine field for me. If I reviewed a book badly, someone would inevitably pull out the old canard of “he’s just jealous!” (nothing could be further, ever, from the truth; I am not jealous of anyone’s success; if anything, I am jealous of other writers’ abilities and skills and creativity–which would never result in a negative boo review in the first place)

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve never been accused of jealousy of other writers’ careers and/or success; it amuses me a bit, because clearly the person lobbing such an accusation doesn’t know me at all–but I also don’t like being perceived that way. So I stopped reviewing books for money and for publication–it wasn’t a big financial loss for me in the first place; few places pay incredibly well for reviews; certainly not the places paying me for them, at any rate–and it eliminated any future accusations of “jealousy.” I also stopped talking about queer writers, and/or blogging about their books, a while back for various reasons. For one, I don’t want to be seen as a reviewer or my blog as a review site; as it is, I got requests from authors and publicists periodically wanting me to read and review their book(s) here; inevitably, I never am able to get to it and I don’t want to read for anything other than pleasure anymore.

When someone sends you a book to review, it turns the reading from pleasure to work and I don’t want that; it’s hard enough to turn off my editorial brain when I read, let alone adding the reviewer’s mindset back into my psyche.

I also realize, now, that all of this dissembling might sound like I am about to write some terrible things about PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus; nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a fucking mistake.

My heart beats against the back of my sternum like it might knock itself still.

I kill the ignition and Nathan’s SUV sinks into silence. My wedding band slides right off, joining spare console change. Nathan and I aren’t married, but he insists we wear rings.

The iPhone buzzing in my pocket is a miniature washing machine. Nathan’s calling. I wait it out, don’t move. A simple phone call I treated like a kidney stone. Excruciating and it needs to pass. He leaves a voicemail.

“Oliver. Dinner’s wrapped up, heading back to the hotel now. Give me a call if you can. Wondering what you’re doing. Did you remember Tilly’s heartworm medication? Don’t forget. It’s important. Call me. Love you.”

Mental note: return Nathan’s call within the hour. Thirty minutes is his typical limit. If he doesn’t hear back within half an hour, we fight. But he’s out of town, and I can stretch it to an hour. He can’t fight me from Manhattan, and it sounds lie he’s been drinking anyway.

First of all, I want to point out that back when I was getting started, the chances of this book being published by a mainstream press like Doubleday, in hardcover, were so infinitesimal I can’t even think about such a manuscript being delivered to a mainstream editor in 2000 without laughing out loud. The book opens in a bath house, for God’s sake; my QUEER publisher made me make a slight change to Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which meant not having the murder victim and his wealthy closeted lover meet in a French Quarter bath house. (I was told they would not be seen as sympathetic by the reader, which also struck me as odd; but it was also my first book and I wasn’t going to argue, assuming my queer publisher knew better than I did) Hell, even the title is Bath Haus–which kind of lays it all out for you, right there. This book also doesn’t shy away from gay sexuality, either–another third rail in thriller/crime fiction. It’s all right there for you, and not done in a prurient way; it is simply presented as another facet of their lives, much as it would be if it were a heterosexual couple.

And I absolutely love this opening–which contrasts the mundanity of the coupled existence vs. the lure of cheating.

I mean, how genius to have his main character, about to enter a bath house to cheat on his partner, get a text reminding him to give the dog her heartworm medicine! Well played, indeed!

PJ has called this book “Gone Girl with Grindr and gays”–which is a great elevator pitch, really–but the only similarities here with Gone Girl is that the book focuses on a dysfunctional relationship that spirals out of control, and that it’s a thriller with the same kinds of surprising twists and turns and surprises that keep you turning the page, very curious to see how this is all going to end–and to find out what is going on as well.

The book focuses on a relationship that really isn’t an equal one: wealthy surgeon Nathan, from a socially prominent family, has rescued a lower class drug addicted younger man from drowning in his own no-where life. But that power differential (rescuer/savior and rescued/victim), when added in with the financial differences, has made Oliver almost as dependent on Nathan as he used to be with drugs; if he loses Nathan, he will have nothing–which he is very aware of, and yet…like all addicts, there is a self-destructive streak in Oliver. He has never gotten over the self-loathing that was only amplified by drug addiction–and so he has begun checking out other guys on a Grindr-like app called MeetLockr (props for the clever app name! PJ needs to trademark that before someone else makes a fortune off it…then again I am assuming it’s NOT a real app, aren’t I?) and finally, with Nathan out of town and the coast, as he sees it, clear–Oliver decides to go to Haus, a bath house, for a night of anonymous sex which should never intrude into the picture perfect life Nathan has provided him. But his encounter turns terrifying, as Kristian, a gorgeous Scandinavian, begins choking him far past the point of pleasure and Oliver panics, fights back, slashes Kristian’s cheek open with his locker key–and then has to lie to Nathan about the bruises on his neck, beginning a downward spiral of lies and deception that begets more lies and deceptions as he frantically tries to hide the truth from Nathan–but few things in this book are what they seem at first glance, and the deeper the reader gets into the book, the more surprises are in store….

Bath Haus is definitely a thriller; a non-stop thrill ride that is difficult to put down, with brief chapters and short staccato sentences that come at the reader like bullets from an AK-47, almost daring you to put the book down–which you won’t be able to.

The book has received a lot of hype–also thrilling for me to see–and I am very happy to say it lives up to said hype.

Well done, PJ–can’t wait to read your next one!

Love on the Rocks

Yesterday was kind of lovely, actually.

I got up early because of that weird stress-inducing dream I’d had, and then spent the morning doing things–organizing the kitchen, doing some laundry, taking out trash, vacuuming (God, what a difference a good vacuum cleaner can make; I am so glad I bit the bullet and spent the money on a good one Saturday–and I am reading the manual AND will be taking care of this one, to make it last), and yes–I actually spent some time writing “Festival of the Redeemer,” which was lovely. I am actually enjoying writing this novella or whatever it is going to be–I can’t get it out of my head, so I keep writing on it, even though I should be working on other things, but there’s no deadline for anything and so why not while I wait for my edits on the two manuscripts I turned in? I am trying for a Daphne du Maurier Gothic style, but am trying very hard not to reread “Don’t Look Now” or “Ganymede”–her two Venice stories, much as I desperately want to because I don’t want it to be derivative; I really like the voice, and I like my untrustworthy narrator a lot. (oops, shouldn’t have said that, I suppose) It’s also interesting writing about a dysfunctional couple, one where there is an enormous power differential as well as an undefined relationship; which helps keep my main character off-balance–he wants to know but then he’s afraid to have that conversation because he is afraid of the answer–and while I know how I want this story to end, I am finding my way there slowly; I am just writing in free form without any real sense of what I am writing and where it is going and you know, just seeing where it is going to wind up as I keep writing. I’m not writing at the pace I generally do–but I am writing, which is kind of nice, and there is an element where I kind of want to get this finished instead of putting it aside; I kind of want to finish something since I’ve had so many false starts since turning in the Kansas book. (I’ve also had a few more ideas while working on this, but am just writing notes and coming back to this.)

We had quite a marvelous thunderstorm last night–which was undoubtedly why it was so oppressively humid yesterday; I think I must have sweated out ten pounds of water walking to and from the gym. Oh yes, I made it to the gym again yesterday and the stretching and weight lifting felt absolutely marvelous. I was actually a little surprised that my flexibility gains hadn’t been lost during the fallow weeks of not going, and as the summer continues to get hotter and more humid daily, there will undoubtedly be days when I won’t want to go. But I also need to remember how good I feel during and after–especially the next morning. I also took a lot of pictures on the walk home for Instagram, which I am really starting to enjoy doing. I don’t know why I never really got into Instagram before, but since I love to take pictures and I live in one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–cities in North America…it seems like it’s only natural that I bring them all together into one user app. I’ve talked about how I’ve felt sort of disconnected from New Orleans for a while now–several years at least; I feel like I’m no longer as familiar with the city as I used to be; the changes and gentrification plus all the working I’ve been doing in the years since Katrina have somehow weakened or lost my connection to the city. Yesterday, walking home and detouring a bit around Coliseum Square, I felt connected to the city again in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I also took and posted a picture of the house where Paul and I first lived when we moved here in 1996; the house, in fact, where Chanse MacLeod lives and runs his business from…we were living there when I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine, in fact…and I started remembering things from when we lived there and were new to the city. This is a good thing, making me feel anchored and tethered to the city again, and if I am going to write another Scotty book–well, the strength of my books set in New Orleans is that sense of love for the city I always feel and try to get across in the work.

I also had weird dreams last night. I rested well, but drifted in and out of sleep most of the night. I’m not sure what the deal is with the dreams; I dreamt that someone I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs came to New Orleans with some of her friends from her current life and wanted to connect again; and I did so, primarily out of curiosity other than anything else. (Maybe it was all the tourists I saw out and about yesterday?) But it was very strange–going to the casino and watching them drink the insane tourist-targeted colored drinks; meeting them at their hotel on the West Bank, listening to them talk about New Orleans to me in the insane and often offensive ways tourists will speak to locals about the place where we live, not even realizing they are being insulting and offensive. I don’t know; I cannot say for certain what is the deal with the weird dreams lately, but I’ve been having them.

We rewatched Victor/Victoria last night–we’ve been talking about rewatching it for a while now, and it recently was added to HBO MAX. I don’t remember what brought it up, or what made us think about it–I know it was Paul who did; I had already added it to my watchlist when it dropped and when he said he wanted to watch it again, I replied, “Its on the HBO app so we can, whenever we want to” and so last night we did–primarily to see if it still worked, if it was still funny, and watching it–a relatively tame movie, really–last night I remembered (rather, we remembered) how incredibly subversive it was at the time it was released in 1982; it depicted homosexuality and drag in a nonjudgmental way years before being gay was less offensive to society at large, as well as bringing drag into the mainstream years before RuPaul’s Drag Race. The performances are stellar–especially Robert Preston and Lesley Anne Warren in supporting roles–and the humor is kind of farcical and slapstick, which never really ages; as Paul said, “that kind of humor is kind of timeless.” It also struck me that it was very Pink Panther-like; the film, not the cartoon–which makes sense since Blake Edwards wrote, directed and produced both. Some of it wouldn’t play today, of course, and the movie probably couldn’t be made today–some of the sex humor was misogynistic, not to mention men trying to spy on “Victor” to find out if he was really a man or a woman, which is incredibly invasive and horrible, plus it was very binary about gender and gender roles. 1982 was also the year of Tootsie, which I also kind of want to rewatch now to see how it holds up as well. It would seem that both films–which were both critical and box office hits , rewarded with scores of Oscar nominations–seemed to signal a new direction for Hollywood when it came to queerness and gender; it was also around this time that the soapy Making Love was released as well. but HIV/AIDS was breaking around this time as well, and soon the repressive politics of the 1980’s would change everything.

Tonight after work I am going to run some errands and then I am going to be guesting on Eric Beetner’s podcast, along with Dharma Kelleher, to talk about three queer writers everyone should be reading year-round, not just during Pride Month. That should be interesting; I am also appearing on a panel for the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night being moderated by Michael Nava–one of my heroes–which should also be interesting and fun.

And on that note, it is time to go back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.