If You Asked Me To

It’s Friday! I made it through my first week home after Bouchercon! Huzzah! Huzzah!

I kind of need this weekend, to be honest. I am still kind of discombobulated, out of it, wondering where and what I need to get done and when I need to do it by. I know I need to make a list, but I don’t even know where to start. It feels like whatever I was focusing on or doing before I left for St. Petersburg has been lost forever in the ether of my mind.

A scary thought, is it not?

But I’m working on a new story, and I have another idea for a book that I am noodling around with this week, and we’ll see how much I can get my life reset this weekend.

Yay, weekend!

I’ve also been watching the documentary series Bobby Kennedy For President on Netflix, and enjoying it–if you can say watching the history of a life and the potential for greatness snuffed out too young enjoying–but it has made me think about a lot of things. (I also highly recommend CNN’s documentary series The Fifties and each decade series that followed; we have such a tendency in our country to forget even our most recent history, and this lack of knowledge is at the heart of so many things wrong with our present day world….it makes me sad.) I remember 1968; I remember the night Bobby Kennedy was murdered. I remember the sense that, with all the rioting and murders and lawlessness seemingly running rampant in the country, that the noble American experiment in self-rule was coming to an end; that these seismic social convulsions would end with the downfall of the country and result in an uncertain future. I didn’t know much about Bobby Kennedy before watching this documentary; I know more now, and watching him in action, his speeches and what he believed in and what he was fighting for leaves no question in my mind that had he not been murdered in Los Angeles that fateful night he had a very good shot at becoming president that year. How different would our country, would our history, be had we not suffered through Vietnam until 1975; had there been no Watergate investigation and presidential resignation; had Spiro Agnew not been vice-president when his past crimes as governor of Maryland surfaced in 1973? But then again, who knows what would have happened had Bobby Kennedy not been shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, or what his presidency would have been like. It’s hard to imagine, though, that the next eight years would have somehow been worse.

When I read Taylor Caldwell’s novel Captains and the Kings in the early 1970’s (it was also made into a mini-series) it was fairly apparent to me that she based the Armaghs on the Kennedys; one would have to be an idiot not to realize that, particularly when she wrote, in an afterward, about how she had warned President Kennedy not to go to Dallas. Caldwell, a conservative and a staunch Catholic, believed in what is generally known as a conspiracy theory involving a coalition of incredibly wealthy and powerful men around the world who decide elections and the future of the world, based on how it will impact their wealth to the positive. In her roman-a-clef about the Kennedy family, originally the patriarch was one of those “captains and the kings” who controlled world events; his ambition, however, for his son to become president eventually overrode his loyalty to the cabal, with the end result that his son is assassinated. The family matriarch believes the family to be cursed; there has always been talk of a curse on the Kennedy family as well.

Given the cruelty of fate to the Kennedy family–one has to wonder. So much death, so many young lives cut short. Awful.

I do recommend the documentary series. Kennedy haters won’t like it, but it’s a nice introduction to who Robert F. Kennedy was, and why he was so important to so many people in that terribly turbulent time.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me

Thursday morning, and my quest to readjust to, ahem, civilian life is getting there gradually. I no longer feel like my batteries need to be recharged–at least, not for the moment–and there is some semblance of order to my kitchen. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and once again there are dishes in the sink, but the situation is neither as dire nor extreme as it seemed the other day. I’ve still not finished catching up on my email, nor have I had the mental fortitude to get back to reading Circe (which is killing me), nor have I written a single word of fiction this week…but I will. I am almost to the end of my latest journal, which means I’ve been carrying around two with me this week–the almost-finished, and the new one–which means I need to make sure that ideas and story fragments inside of it must be marked or retyped or scanned or something, so as not to be forgotten.

I came up with the idea for a hilarious Nancy Drew type spoof one morning while hanging out with Dana Cameron; actually it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the easiest way to describe it, which I happily scribbled away about in my journal, and I also came up with an idea for a crime short story which I am interested in exploring at some point; I have the WIP to work through, and the rewrite of the Scotty manuscript as well. I need to buckle down, don’t I? But I think that this week of readjustment and recharging my brain is necessary. I am inspired and I want to work hard on my writing again, I just haven’t the energy or creative strength to do it this week.

I have to run errands this morning; I don’t have to be at work until later this afternoon.

I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I?

I am also toying with the idea of writing a supernatural-style series; it’s been on my mind for a while, and while I was in St. Petersburg I thought of a way to make it work, and combine some of the short stories I’ve written about that area of Louisiana already (and yes, The Gates of Evangeline helped with that). I am also becoming more and more interested in the history of Louisiana, and the possibility of a historical series, maybe New Orleans in the pre-WW1 era, or the 1920’s. I can’t decide.

But even though I am not putting words down, I am thinking, and that kind of counts as working, doesn’t it?

And now back to the spice mines.

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Live and Learn

Trying to settle back into the mundanity of every day life again. Dishes piled up in the sink, a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, books and files and papers and note cards and silverware, bottle caps and letter openers and my checkbook scattered about with reckless abandonment and no discernible pattern other than a concurrent lack of desire and energy and interest to do anything about it. Clothes are strewn across the floor of the laundry room while books gather dust on top of the dryer. For yet another day, I allowed myself to wallow in the malaise aftermath of a writerly weekend; a foot back into the swirling and comforting waters of my writing career. At some point–most likely tomorrow morning–I shall rise and make myself some coffee, answer the seemingly insurmountable amount of emails that have clustered in my various in-boxes, organize electronic photos downloaded and stolen from various social media sites to further document the weekend, and generate emails of thanks and gratitude. But tonight, realizing I didn’t even post a blog entry today, I chose to simply sit down as my tired mind and exhausted body wind down for bed and compose a start to tomorrow’s blog in an effort to maximize efficiency and leave more time in the morning for making lists and figuring out what needs to be done and what needs to be worked on, prioritizing and reordering and stepping full-time back into the day-to-day existence of going to work and running errands and cleaning and writing and reading and trying to stay on top of things and at the very least tread water rather than losing more ground.

Traveling does this to me, and especially traveling for writing; each time I am immersed full time into the writing/publishing/reading community it always takes me a little bit longer to pull back from it, to stop missing it, and get back to the business of being Gregalicious again.

One of the loveliest things about traveling, for me, is being able to read. I don’t know how people travel by air and don’t read, to be honest with you. The time just flies past and you can forget that you’re in a busy airport with some people who don’t care about clipping their toenails or other such horrific things in public, or hurtling through the air in a long metal tube thousands of yards above the ground through the theory of lift, a Physics principle I wish my father the engineer had never explained to me because now it creeps into my head every time I fly. I was not only able to finish reading The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young as our flight taxied to the gate in Tampa; and I started reading Madeline Miller’s brilliant Circe on the way back and cannot wait to finish it.

But The Gates of Evangeline was truly a stunning work.

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The sky is a dismal gray when I finally go to remove my son’s car seat. It’s raining, a cold autumn rain that feels both cliche and appropriate for a moment I’ve spent more than three months avoiding. I stand by my Prius, peering through the rear window at the empty booster seat, wondering for the hundredth time about the thin coating of mystery grit Keegan always left behind. And then I do it.

I don’t give myself time to think, just proceed, quickly and efficiently. Loosen the straps. Dig into the cushions of the backseat and unhook the metal latches. One tug, and the car seat lands with a thunk on my driveway.

They never end, all these little ways you have to say good-bye. I turn my face toward the drizzle.

The summer has gone, slipped away without my noticing it, and somehow October is here, flaunting her furious reds and yellows. Squinting, I take in the houses of my neighborhood their wholesome front yards: trim lawns, beds of waterlogged chrysanthemums, a couple of pumpkins on doorsteps. And leaves, of course, everywhere, blazing and brilliant, melting into the slick streets, clogging gutters.

These are actually not the opening paragraphs of the novel, but rather the opening paragraphs of Chapter One. I chose to not use the opening of the prologue to share, primarily because, while the prologue is extremely well done and gripping, it primarily serves to set the mood for the story, rather than introducing the reader to the main character, Charlotte Cates–whom everyone calls Charlie–and Charlie is the driving force of the novel; its success with the reader entirely depends on how you feel about Charlie, as a character, as a person, as a woman, and as a mother. That is key to the novel; if you don’t like Charlie, you aren’t going to enjoy the book.

Which is a shame. The plot of the book is powerful, an interesting mystery about a missing small boy of wealth and privilege who vanished from his room on the palatial family estate of Evangeline in Cajun Country, Louisiana. Charlie is a successful career woman, managing editor of a Cosmo-like magazine, divorced her husband for cheating, and was raising her son on her own. Her parents died young and she was raised by her grandmother; her parents were, as we say down here, “pieces of work.” But then her young son dies suddenly of a rare aneurysm, casting her down the road of grief, pain, blame, and horror. Whatever flaws she might have, Charlie is grieving, and her grief is so real and palpable that you start rooting for her as she leaves her job and drives to Louisiana to write a true-crime book about the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau. Many mysteries haunt the plantation, and Charlie has to navigate those while digging into what happened to Gabriel. The book is beautifully written, and how Charlie begins to slowly come out from under the dark cloud of her own grief, through her interactions with the others at Evangeline and the local people she becomes involved with, is even more powerful than the mystery she is trying to unravel. Charlie also has psychic visions she doesn’t understand, sometimes seeing the past and sometimes seeing the future; and one of those visions–of a boy being taken, rowed into a swamp by someone who has sexually abused him and plans to kill him–is the impetus that gets her to shake off her grief and head to Louisiana in the first place. The visions, which easily could be used to move the story along, etc., are intertwined into the story instead in such a way that seems organic and never seems manipulative.

I greatly, greatly enjoyed this book. As I said, it’s a crime novel but it’s really about coming to terms with grief, accepting tragedy, and moving on. I cried at the end. I will say I had a couple of quibbles, but over all, a great read.

There’s apparently a sequel, which I will definitely seek out.

Diamonds and Pearls

Monday after Bouchercon.

It’s always lovely to sleep in my own bed; I have trouble sleeping when I travel so usually I am completely exhausted when I get home, and this trip was no exception. The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg is absolutely stunning; as Paul and I said to each other as we walked into our room, “This place is too nice for the likes of us.”

Our room had two balconies.

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The reason the image is a little blurry and not as sharp is because my camera lens kept fogging up every time I walked out there.

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Seriously, stunningly beautiful hotel. Paul was out at the pool every day and now has a tan on a par with the one we came back from Acapulco with twelve years ago. And oh, what fun was Bouchercon this year! I was a busy little bee making honey almost from the get go. And for someone who, no matter what, will always  be a fanboy…the first night we went to the Guest of Honor dinner, where I sat with Lawrence Block and Ian Rankin at my table–too starstruck to speak to either, frankly–but a lovely meal was had and I listened to some great conversation.

The next day, Thursday, I did the Coat of Many Colors event at nine in the morning with a Bloody Mary, and it was an absolutely lovely event, and a lot of fun. It’s rather fun always, methinks, to celebrate diversity in our genre as well as reminding people of terrific writers and books that may not have gotten the attention they should have. That day was also the anthology launch for Florida Happens, which entailed all the contributors present signing. I sat next to Debra Lattanzi Shutika, who was utterly and completely charming (you’ll love her story “Frozen Iguana,” people), and then came the big adventure.

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My friend Wendy had shattered her iPhone screen, and Paul and I had rented a car….so I offered to take her to the Apple Store.

In Tampa.

On the other side of the bay.

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So something simple–oh, let’s go get your phone fixed and have noodles for lunch–turned into a four hour adventure that probably should have ended with us being banned from Tampa, malls, healthy smoothy shops, and Targets for the rest of our lives. That night we ended up going out for dinner and having a lot of laughs and a lot of drinks (why did nobody ever tell me about the wonder that is a bleu-cheese stuffed olive in a dirty martini before?) we staggered back to the hotel to have more drinks and then I poured myself into bed. The beds at the Vinoy, by the way, just might be the most comfortable beds of all time.

Friday was my big day. Yes, not only did I have to be on three panels but I also ran for the Bouchercon board. The first panel was the sex panel, called “Nooner”, moderated by the divine Helen Smith, and my other panelists were the amazing Catriona McPherson, Heather Graham, Hilary Davidson, and the always hilarious and entertaining Christa Faust. The panel was smart, funny, fun….and I learned a few things.

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After that was the Bouchercon general election, and yes, I did win a three-year term on the Bouchercon board (although I am not certain “win” is the right word, KIDDING), which was absolutely lovely, and then I had to dash off to my next panel. I was moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony award finalists panel, with the amazing James Ziskin, Eryk Pruitt, Thomas Pluck, Lori Rader-Day (who won the award on Saturday night), and the always amazing Nadine Nettman. This was so much fun, even though the entire time I was up there I had flop sweat and kept checking my phone to see how much time was left, and didn’t relax until I knew there was only fifteen minutes to go. (I always feel like I fail as a moderator; always.)

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(Thanks to Catriona McPherson for not only keeping time, but for taking this terrific picture of us afterwords.)

Then came to the Rainbow Connection panel, moderated by Terri Bischoff, where I got to meet some new-to-me writers and it was a really great discussion. Absolutely great.

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Immediately after this, I ran and changed so Paul and I could be the plus-ones of our friends Wendy and Alison at the Harper Collins cocktail party. (And yes, we started drinking wine in Wendy and Alison’s room.) After ensuring I’ll never publish at Harper (but I got to meet Carol Goodman, a writer whose work I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time, and NOW I REALLY WANT TO BECAUSE SHE IS ABSOLUTELY LOVELY) I somehow invited myself along to a dinner, where I drank more wine, and then I went to a rooftop cocktail party I was invited to where I was surrounded by enormously talented and incredibly smart people whom I admire. I stumbled back into my room around three in the morning after drinking almost all the wine in Florida.

Saturday….I made a lot of bad decisions, thanks to the encouragement of some dear friends.

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Although…now I am questioning the use of the word friends.

I remember going to dinner, and drinking more there. (The dinner was terrific, and again, surrounded by incredibly smart and successful and talented people.) Then we returned to the hotel and things are kind of fuzzy after that.

But the trip home went incredibly smoothly so smoothly that I almost didn’t trust it. But a lovely time indeed it was, and I already miss it.

Next year in DALLAS.

(Apologies to whoever I stole these pictures from; I wind up never taking pictures at Bouchercon and having to lift them from Facebook and Twitter.)

Jump Around

St. Petersburg, Bouchercon, the second full day of my stay here. My first panel is in two hours; the Sex Panel, titled a “nooner.” I have a Keurig in my room, and part of yesterday’s adventures included a trip to Target in Tampa (it’s a really long story) so I was able to get the kind of Keurig coffee pods I like as well as some of my creamer, and so I am having a great time in my room this morning. I have trouble falling asleep in hotel rooms, and this morning I fell asleep finally around three-ish, but since I didn’t have to be up early I slept late and then lounged in bed swilling coffee and continuing to read The Gates of Evangeline, which is wonderful.

Yesterday was my first full day here, and I had a marvelous time running into friends and laughing at many points until my sides ached and tears flowed from my eyes. The Coat of Many Colors event was remarkably well-attended for something at the ungodly hour of nine a.m., and the anthology signing was a delight. It was so lovely meeting some contributors for the first time, and seeing others again. I am very proud of Florida Happens, and I certainly hope all of you will get a copy and read the truly fine stories in it.

This afternoon (and really, today) is going to be insane. I have three panels and I am running for a seat on the Bouchercon board, after which I am going to some publishers parties so I am going to be on the go-go-go all day.

There will be a full report with pictures when I get home.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Can’t Let Go

We took Scooter to Kitty Camp yesterday morning, and I spent the rest of the day packing and cleaning, around treating every available surface for fleas and watching the US Open (GO SERENA! GO RAFA!). But I managed to get everything that might have fleas or flea eggs in it treated with the death-to-flea spray we got at the Cat Practice, and to be honest, I’ve never seen any fleas anywhere except for occasionally finding a sluggish one on Scooter. It’s possible–they said this at the Cat Practice–there are so many fleas outside that we track them in with us, and when they get on him his flea treatment kills them. I don’t know. I just know that when Skittle had fleas they were fucking everywhere, once we took him out of the house.

Heavy sigh.

It is awfully lonely around here without Scooter, I have to say.

I am, as I said yesterday morning, greatly enjoying Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline. This is, at least so far, what Southern Gothic should be; elegant, dusty, slightly decayed and morally askew; the writing is absolutely stellar and the main character is incredibly compelling: a single mother who works as managing editor at a Cosmo type magazine whose child has died, suddenly, of a rare brain aneurysm, and trying to put her life back together again. She also is a touch psychic, but is never really sure if she is seeing things, dreaming, or it’s grief and drug-induced. Absolutely loving it; trying to decide if I should save it for the airport/airplane or if I should dive back into it some tonight…but worried if I did I wouldn’t be able to set it aside to sleep; I really needed to go to bed early last night; so I put it aside for today’s flight/sitting in the airport. I got up before the alarm this morning, as well–it was set for six and I got up at five thirty.

Heavy heaving sigh. Which means I’ll be exhausted tonight; which I hope means a good night’s sleep.

I am also packing Madeline Miller’s Circe with me to St. Petersburg, and I am sure I will pick up some books once there (there are a lot of giveaways, always, which for a book hoarding nerd like me is heavenly) so I don’t think I’ll run out of things to read. I’ll also have the iPad with me, so I can read any of the number of books on there that I’ve downloaded over the years. And I’d really like to get back to the Short Story Project; although it was fun reading the books for my panel, and talking about the wonderful stories in Florida Happens–I’m thinking there will be some award nominations for the contributors coming in the next year, which is awesome. I’m very proud to have helped in organizing and putting the book together, which was a lot of work and a lot of fun, even though a lot of people wound up being disappointed. But I acknowledged every submission when it was received, and I let everyone know who submitted and wasn’t selected as well.

It’s called being professional, people.

I am very glad travel day is finally here though–much as I have traveling, that’s primarily because I hate the actual traveling. Once I am in St. Petersburg and all checked in and comfy in my fabulous room at the Vinoy Renaissance, I am sure I will be more than fine.

But ugh, airport and so forth.

And now to start getting ready to leave.

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Live and Learn

So, the governor declared a state of emergency last night for Tropical Storm Gordon, which may be a Category 1 when it comes ashore tonight. Right now it’s projected to pass through here around one in the morning, which means when it’s time to get up in the morning and head to the airport it might still be raining, but the storm should have passed long before. Our flight should be fine, barring any complications from airport damage or a power outage there. Fingers crossed! Paul and I discussed it at great length last night, and decided that in a worst case scenario–rebooking and an inability to get out of here until Friday–that we would just turn it into a stay-cation and bid adieu to Bouchercon for this year. It cannot be helped and while it would be an enormous disappointment, there’s no point in being sad, depressed or upset about it, since it’s completely outside of our control.

I did get some things done yesterday that I needed to get done; today’s plan is to take Scooter to the Kitty Camp where he will board until we return, finish packing, get some things done around here cleaning-wise, and get back to reading The Gates of Evangeline, by Hester Young, which I started last night and am enjoying tremendously. Lori Roy mentioned it recently in an article about top Southern Gothic novels, and I remembered that I had a copy; Lori is someone whose opinion about books I deeply respect (check out her most recent, The Disappearing, which is exceptional, but you can’t go wrong with any of her amazing novels) and she has again proven my faith in her taste to be correct. It’s gorgeously written and perfect Southern Gothic–which last night got me to thinking about Southern Gothic. I really think Southern Gothic, and Southern noir, is really what I should be writing; my best short stories (and therefore what I consider to be my best work) really are Southern Gothic; “Survivor’s Guilt” is a good example of that.

Something to ponder, at any rate.

I also finished reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie yesterday morning, so my Bouchercon homework is complete, one day ahead of time.

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When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gate of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. A rawboned middleweight, he was broad at the shoulders and hips, as if God had attempted to halt his growth and he’d thickened out of spite.

“Go one,” the guard said. Jay couldn’t remember his name, but he was all right, as far as CO’s went. “Ride’s waiting for you at the curb.”

Jay squinted at the road. The only vehicle waiting in the early summer heat was a black Suburban parked at the yellow curb. The wind played with his shock of black hair. He had spent twenty-five years locked inside a dank Shaolin prison dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

Mama Angeline raised him to understand that some folks just needed killing. There was nothing you could do for them.

And she’d been right.

And so begins the final Anthony nominee for Best Paperback Original. I was already acquainted with Jay–he appeared in Pluck’s short story contribution to Blood on the Bayou, “Gumbo Weather,” and was delighted to read about him again. The book reads like a classic old black and white film, as Jay tries to figure out what happened to his life and the people he cared about while he was locked up–as well as looking out for vengeance–and it reads like a cross between a Jim Thompson novel and perhaps a Lee Child; non-stop twists and turns and surprised, written in a style the compels you to keep reading.

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