Mercenary

As I have said before, reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s indirectly led me to Spotify, which led me to rediscovering the magic of the Go-Go’s again after many years, and then led me on to rediscovering other 80’s music I loved, like the Cars and, just Friday, Josie Cotton. Josie Cotton is probably best known for her her cover of the Go-Go’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” (which could never be released or recorded today, but at the time was kind of in-your-face and cool) as well as fronting the band playing the prom at the end of the terrific teen movie Valley Girl (which also should have been a much bigger hit than it was; but calling it Valley Girl was an attempt to cash-in on Moon Zappa’s novelty hit “Valley Girl”, but the movie was actually so much better than that; it was one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980’s and also starred a very young and beautiful Nicolas Cage in what may have been his first starring role). I was listening to two of her albums Friday night and yesterday (Convertible Music and From the Hip) and marveling that she wasn’t a bigger star than she was; she certainly had fun, upbeat music with lyrics that bit down hard, and she also had a terrific sense of personal style that should have caught on in the age of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

Go figure.

Which leads me to the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Bryon Quertermous’ “Mercenary.”

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“They asked for my dental records,” Lodi Meyers said, “so they can identify my body if he kills me.”

Andre Taylor sat across from her at a diner on the outskirts of downtown Detroit. “You really want to talk about this now? With me?”

“I don’t have any other options,” she said, tears giving way to an angry flush across her cheeks. “They’re putting together this moronic safety plan for me while insisting there’s not enough evidence to keep him in prison.”

Andre flexed the fingers of his beefy, gnarled hands and picked up his coffee cup without taking a drink. The bleached white of the cup contrasted with the dark black skin of his hands, which were shaking enough to splash a bit of the freshly poured coffee onto the table.

“I’m really not the person you should be talking to about this.”

Lodi reached her hand across the table and clutched Andre’s wrist. “That’s exactly why we’re talking.”

Andre put his coffee cup down and stood up. “This was a mistake.”

Lodi grabbed his wrist again, this time more aggressively. “There’s a reason you showed up even though this is a terrible idea. You want to make sure I haven’t told any- one what you did.”

Bryon Quertermous has published two novels–Murder Boy and Riot Load–which are kind of hard to classify. They’re noir and hard-boiled, but there’s a twisted, slightly demented sense of humor about them that reminds me of Victor Gischler’s work (which you should also read).

“Mercenary” is a terrific tale, built around two people–a woman and a man–who are tied together by the weirdest connection (saying anything more would be spoilerish); she’s a former pain clinic manager and he’s a bail bondsman. Her husband is about to be released on bail–and plans to kill her. The rest of the tale, as she tries to convince the bail bondsman to help save her life, plays out as we find out more about their connection, why the husband is in jail, and see just how far Lodi is willing to go to protect herself and her daughter–who is in a coma. There’s a lot here, and Quertermous tells his story sparingly and carefully, with fewer words than most would have used, and yet I can’t help but feel there’s even more to be mined here; this easily could have been a novel. Instead, it’s an enormously satisfying dark tale with a sardonic sense of humor that was quite fun to read.

September Morn

So, yesterday I was lazing around, trying to fix a technology issue (involving calls to Tech Support and so forth) but not letting it get to me–despite the disruption to my day that this was causing. I did feel myself starting to slide down the slippery slope from irritation/frustration to the first stage of anger, but I distracted myself by watching something on television. I’d intended to spend the day–well, that doesn’t matter; suffice it to say my frustration was growing. I then watched something on television that completely shifted my mindset (more on that later); when Tech Support called back I simply suggested–since what needed to reboot wasn’t finished–that we simply call it a day and try again tomorrow at noon. Of course, not ten minutes after ending that call the final phase began–which meant, as I laughed at myself, that had I had them call me back in another two hours, we could finish resolving the problem. It’s kind of funny, but really–I wouldn’t have wanted to do with it two hours later, either.

But when I noticed that the final stage had started, and I laughed about it, I looked down at my notepad and opened another tab to do a search…and as soon as the results came up I just stared at my computer screen in stupefaction as the key to the next Scotty book opened a door in my brain. I think I mentioned this the other day, but there are two stories I want to tell for the next Scotty book; two different crimes, but how to connect them together? I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this for years now, years, and just looking at the search results page triggered exactly how to do it. Both stories will intertwine perfectly now.

And this? This is why writers drink.

But nevertheless, it was a good feeling, and made my evening. I like writing books with complicated plots, and I’ve always felt that the Scotty books (after Mardi Gras Mambo) weren’t as complex as the pre-Katrina ones. Bourbon Street Blues wasn’t complicated, but Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo were…and after Katrina I simplified the plots a lot. Royal Street Reveillon is a return to complicated plots and subplots, and if the series is going to continue, I have to be able to further challenge myself when I am writing the books. Part of the reason I went off-contract was because, despite the fact that I like routines and order, I felt the deadline treadmill I’d climbed on was a rut and I was becoming far too complacent with the work I was producing. (I’m not saying I’m not proud of the work nor that it wasn’t good work; and maybe that’s just all a part of my Imposter Syndrome complex, but I always feel like my work could be better, that’s all I am saying; and whether not writing on deadline is making the work better remains to be seen…but it’s not as stressful for me to create the work as it was.)

You never can win. I was just thinking that had I been on a deadline with Royal Street Reveillon, it would have wound up being a shorter book and a major subplot would have had to have been cut out from it. Maybe the longer version is more self-indulgent; I don’t know. But I feel good about the book; satisfied with it…and it’s been a while since I’ve written a book I felt this satisfied about. And that’s going to have to be my measuring yardstick going forward. How do I feel about the work? I know I’m not going to please everyone with it, and when people give me valid reasons for not liking it I will listen and decide whether it is something I should take into consideration going forward, or not.

This week I plan on getting back to work on the WIP. Today’s agenda is spending the rest of the morning reading Alafair Burke’s brilliant The Better Sister, cleaning out my email inbox, and rereading the first ten chapters I’ve written on the WIP. I also want to spend some time cleaning today; I still haven’t done the floors, and I’d wanted to do the staircase as well. I feel rested this morning–although I could probably sleep for another hour or so–and that’s kind of nice. I’m still not sleeping completely through the night, but some good sleep is better than none.

I watched a few more episodes of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and while I am enjoying it, it got me to thinking–as documentaries are wont to do–about sex trafficking and the abduction of children for whatever reason (Lori Roy addressed this very beautifully in Gone Too Long, and I will repeat myself: you need to preorder that book because you will love it) and how privilege comes into play with dead or missing children. Maybe at some point I, too, will write about missing children but at the same time I don’t want to seem exploitative…therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? It also astounds me that no one ever questioned the McCanns and their friends’ stories earlier than they did. But the big question for me–and I’ve not finished watching, but I know this story has no resolution–is, how did they get rid of the body and how were they able to do it? How did they know where to dispose of it?

Also, as I watched, I couldn’t help remembering Alex Marwood’s superb novel The Darkest Secret, which you should also read, Constant Reader, if you haven’t already (and if you haven’t, all the shame should be heaped upon you).

I suppose the whole privilege thing has been on my mind lately because of the college admissions bribery scandal that dropped this week. I, too, have heard the nonsensical complaints about “affirmative action” over the years–how students of color got to go to college for free and took the spot of a white student with a higher GPA; how allowances were made for minorities at the expense of white kids; how a person of color (or woman) got a job a white man should have; on and on it goes, lie after lie after mistruth after falsehood, all with the common denominator of no one is as oppressed as the straight white male. The public outcry about this admissions scandal was a bit of a surprise for me–what about legacies, or wealthy people who basically donate money to colleges so their kids can get admitted regardless of grades or abilities? That has been going on for years, and in particular at the elitist Ivy League colleges. One founding principle this country was founded upon was a mistrust of elites and a class-based society; the founders did not want their new country, their United States, to have the same problems with elites and classes that the mother society, that of Great Britain, had. And yet…here we are, with moneyed people convincing the poorer and middle classes to vote against their own best interests so the moneyed, privileged class can become wealthier and more privileged.

Ah, well.

And on that note, I should probably return to the spice mines. I am running out of time to get my moderator homework done, and that is a big no-no. I mean, I am sure I could lead a great discussion without having read the books–I’ve done it before–but I prefer to be better prepared, plus the books look fantastic.

God knows I’m loving Alafair’s.

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Ships

I woke up earlier this morning than I thought I would; while the cat lying on me purring for breakfast didn’t help much, I was actually already awake before Scooter took up residence on my back. It’s also chilly on this gray Saturday morning–more of yesterday’s cold and damp weather, methinks–but that’s fine. I’m not going outside–there are St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations throughout my neighborhood as well as Uptown New Orleans, which means drunks will be wandering the ‘hood for most of the day. I’ve actually never been to a St. Patrick’s Day parade in New Orleans, avoiding them like the plague since we first moved here–the thought of catching beads, of course, is always delightful, but they also throw carrots and cabbages and potatoes.

Never a dull holiday in New Orleans.

I intend to spend the day mostly cleaning and reading; I made a good start on cleaning the apartment yesterday and I’d like to keep that momentum going. I am itching to finish reading Alafair Burke’s new book, and I also need to read some more short stories from Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I rewatched Now Apocalypse with Paul last night–he did like it, as I knew he would–and the new episode of Schitt’s Creek; I also watched the first episode of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. I had started drinking Chardonnay while I cleaned and listened to music on Spotify, and so by the time I was finished cleaning I was a little the worse for wear for wine to be able to focus on reading anything. I also want to do some cooking today–fry up a pack of bacon for lunches next week, broil some chicken breasts for easy and healthier snacking, etc. I also need to clean out my email inbox, and I need some Apple Support on-line because I can’t seem to access my iCloud drive on my new MacBook Air. I have a Bouchercon board meeting tomorrow afternoon, so I think tomorrow might be the day this weekend I do work.

I may start working on the long-overdue Scotty Bible this weekend as well. It would be enormously helpful and I should have done it a long time ago–if I ever start another series, you can best believe I’ll do the Bible first, and then add to it with every book.

I am thinking about another series, frankly; I have been for quite some time but have had some difficulty (quelle surprise) deciding on what new series I actually want to try writing. Something more mainstream, naturally–this is a business, and I’d like to make more money than I do–but I’m just not sure what. This is actually what I’ve been trying to work out in my head for some time now; so of course, last night I started thinking about writing a series of adventures with Colin front and center. He’s a fun character and I think it would be a lot of fun to write espionage stories with him as the main character; the problem is writing a series about Colin would also eliminate all the ‘man of mystery’ mystique I’ve built around him for seven or eight books now…but I still think it would be a lot of fun. There’s always been a stand-alone Colin adventure I’ve always wanted to write; maybe then not a series, but rather a stand-alone? (I also would like to do a Frank stand-alone sometime, just to mix things up.)

Or…I could just be a lazy slug who sits around and does nothing all day.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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All Night Long

Friday afternoon–gloomy and rainy and damp and chilly outside; the high for today was a mere sixty degrees. I went to work this morning, put in my half-day, got in the car and ran errands. Alas, all I wore today was a black V-neck T-shirt over jeans because, you know, it’s been like in the high seventies and eighties all week. Sure it’s cold now, I thought as I walked to the car this morning, but it’ll warm up later.

No, it just got colder with intermittent rain.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I was home around two, am currently laundering the bed linens, and have already cleaned out a storage tub and put everything that was in it into this really cool wicker trunk the lovely couple who lived in our old carriage house apartment gave us when they moved out a few weeks ago (and yes, if you are thinking the enormous trunk has been sitting in our living room until today, you would be correct). I’m about to head upstairs and put away the load of laundry I did last night before bed, and then I’m coming back downstairs to do some more cleaning and organizing. At some point once this cleaning frenzy has worn itself out, I intend to retire to my easy chair with a glass of Chardonnay and Alafair Burke’s divine The Better Sister, possibly taking the occasional break to watch another episode of Netflix’ The Order. Is anyone else watching? I watched the first episode and was really intrigued by it; I wasn’t expecting it to be funny, for one thing, and it seems self-aware of itself to mock some traditional horror tropes–kind of similar to True Blood, but rather than being set in a small town in Louisiana, it’s set in a town dominated by an elite private university. I’m definitely intrigued enough to watch further, just as I am with Now Apocalypse.

And just now I learned there’s a true crime documentary series on Netflix about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

A veritable plethora of riches to be explored, verily.

So, when I tire of this haphazard method of wandering around the apartment from place to place, accomplishing a cleaning task which leads into yet another (and not necessarily in the same room; it occurs to me that my cleaning methodology is remarkably similar to my imagination–wandering, easily distracted, bouncing from one idea to another as I kind of go from putting something away in a cupboard or a drawer, frowning at the scattered mess contained, and start organizing it–forgetting about the books stacked on the coffee table that I was re-shelving, but if you come here regularly you’re probably aware of how scattered my mind is), I shall sit down and let the cat come curl up in my lap and have a nice relaxing evening. Paul is an absentee husband during the weeks leading up to the festivals; I am usually asleep by the time he gets home and I really only see him on the mornings I don’t have to go in early.

It’s my annual period of Festival Widowhood.

Usually I am working on something–a manuscript I am writing, or preparing, or in some sort of progress; I don’t think I can remember a Festival widowhood when I didn’t have some writing to do. Last year I was immersed in the short story project, which eventually turned into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories–available for pre-order now!–and so, I find myself reading, watching television by myself, and my mind wandering a bit even if I am entertained and enjoying whatever I am watching. I am making lots of notes in my journal, so that’s something, but being home early like today and knowing the evening is stretching out in front of me for hours…yeah, I’m kind of all over the place.

And once this last load of bedding is finished, I can make the bed–and then I will undoubtedly get distracted by something that needs straightening upstairs.

It literally never ends.

Later!

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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.

Breakdown Dead Ahead

Friday, and we made it through another week, Constant Reader–and a full week of work at that, on top of the Daylight Saving Change madness. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means the obligatory parade (and traffic congestion, complete with closed roads) in Uptown, which also means I need to get everything requiring driving finished and out of the way today. Fortunately, today is a half-day and I get off work at one, so I can cruise uptown and do all those errands and hopefully be safely inside my apartment by two-thirty.

My new MacBook Air arrived yesterday, and I’ve already gotten it all set up and taken care of so that it is usable, and I absolutely love it. I still have an issue with connecting it to the cloud, so this afternoon when I get home I’ll go on-line and talk to Apple Support and get that taken care of, after which it will be absolutely good to go. It’s very fast, has a lot more storage than my previous Air, and it’s rose gold–I didn’t specify a color so it defaulted to that, and it’s actually rather pretty.

I also intend to spend the rest of the day–after getting home–laundering the bed linens and devoting the day to finishing reading Alafair Burke’s superb The Better Sister, which hopefully will mean a review over the weekend. I’m also behind on reviewing the stories in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, so I need to get caught up on that as well.

As for my weekend plans, I need to get the Lost Apartment back into some sort of order. The house is being termite-tented later this month (scheduled while we’re staying at the Monteleone for the Festivals, and Scooter will be off to the Cat Practice for boarding and grooming and so forth), and I also intend to spend the weekend rereading the first ten chapters of the WIP and planning out the rest of the book. If the weather is nice–which it probably will be; the last few days have been spectacular–I may take a walk with my camera and take pictures of the Bead Trees of St. Charles. I think we’ll be getting a pizza from That’s Amore for dinner on Sunday as a treat for ourselves, and I do want to get a lot of cleaning and organizing and so forth taken care of this weekend.

And yes, I may start doing some research for the next Scotty book. I have an amorphous idea–I want to have the boys hired to investigate two different cases that end up being linked (the old Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew trick), but the trick is how to link the cases. I have a vague idea of how to do it, but am still not completely certain it’ll work, but the title will most likely be Hollywood South Hustle. I really like the idea of a local case juxtaposed against a case involving a film production scandal…

And on that note, ’tis back to the mines of spice before I head to the office. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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I Wanna Be Your Lover

So, Facebook was apparently wonky yesterday, and so was Instagram. I rarely go to Instagram–I’m not really sure what the point of it is, and I mostly follow male fitness models because I like to look at pictures of pretty men, feel free to judge me for this–but I did have some things I wanted to post on Facebook yesterday which kept failing on me. But the wonkiness kept me off of there for most of the day, and I have to say it was kind of lovely.

I am loving Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, as I knew I would. This weekend I am going to have to spend most of my free time reading, because I still have two more books to read to prepare for my panel and time is running out.

Yesterday the box o’books for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories arrived, and it looks fantastic. I can’t tell you, Constant Reader, how pleased I am with what Bold Strokes has been doing with the packaging of my books. Great covers, the interior with Janson (my favorite font); they look terrific, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s been a while since I got a box o’books; the last Todd Gregory novel came out in January of 2018, and this is the first fiction I’ve published since then (I don’t count anthologies, even though my name is on the spine). Yeah, I know that’s just over a year, but for me that’s a long time.

And no, the feeling of opening up a box o’books with my name on the cover still hasn’t gotten old.

I am really looking forward to getting the box o’books for Royal Street Reveillon.

I had hoped to have the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of this month, but I don’t really see how I can do that while getting the reading done that I need to do for my panel…which means, I suppose, that I’ll have to rejuggle my calendar for the year. Ha ha ha, like I actually have taken the time to make a to-do calendar for the year. I’ve not even been making to-do lists. Maybe this is why I’ve felt so at-sea this year; I should get back on that and get back to normal.

I started watching The Order on Netflix last night, per the recommendation of some of my co-workers, and I kind of enjoyed the first episode. It is a paranormal show of some sort, but it, like True Blood (and the grandmother of all these shows, Dark Shadows), doesn’t take itself seriously and there are some seriously funny moments on the show. I also watched the first episode of Gregg Araki’s new show on Starz, Now Apocalypse, and also am intrigued enough to watch more. American Gods is also apparently back for its second season, which is something else I can watch during these last few weeks pre-Festival while Paul is working around the clock.

My new computer was delivered yesterday–I did wind up ordering a new MacBook Air on-line on Monday (not that there’s anything wrong with the HP Stream; there’s not, but it’s a long story I won’t bore you with and it doesn’t hurt to use it as a back-up in case of other issues AND this way when we travel we won’t have to share a laptop which is always aggravating), and it did arrive and I am picking it up this morning on my way to the office. Today and tomorrow are, of course, my half-days, which is lovely, and so I can come home tonight and get things started on cleaning around here as well as reading, and then tomorrow I can make groceries on the way home and be in for the weekend. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means parades and day-drunks roaming around the neighborhood, so not leaving the house is optimal.

And on that note, I should return to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader,

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