Black or White

Sunday morning. Seriously, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday; no writing, no reading, very little cleaning, no trip to the gym.

Nothing.

I also overslept this morning. I didn’t wake up until after ten, which is completely inexcusable. I went to bed early last night (my bedside reading is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King, and it is riveting. We so frequently (deliberately?) forget just how awful our society was before the Civil Rights movement (awful as things can be now, sadly it was much worse back then),  that this book, and others about the Jim Crow south, should be required reading for all Americans…not that the racists would take anything profound away from it. Isn’t that always the problem? The people who should read a book are precisely the people who would never read it.

Today I may or may not make it to the gym–you never know, but sleeping so late has kind of thrown me off my gameplan (which is the problem with being so anal retentive/borderline OCD; when the plan gets thrown off I generally surrender and don’t try to make any of it work), so in a moment, after finishing my last cup of coffee for the day (I don’t drink coffee after noon; or rather, don’t make a cup in the Keurig after twelve) I am going to start reading “A Whisper from the Graveyard” out loud, followed by reading “This Thing of Darkness” out loud, and possibly “The Problem with Autofill”; I think I’ve found a place for it to be published (or at the very least, considered for publication). I also came across another place to submit a story; they are looking for historical crime stories…of which I have none, and might possibly mean having to write a new one. I might be able to find one that is in progress somewhere that might work…I have some stories set in the past but I also don’t know what they mean by historical crime. Does it have to be in the distant past, or can it be in the recent past, as I have some stories set in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. Of course, I could email them and ask for a more precise explanation of historical. It might even be fun to try to write something very far back in the past, like during the time of Catherine de Medici, or Michelangelo.

Which of course means I could play around writing notes in my journal, which is always kind of fun.

The next story in Florida Happens is “When Agnes Left Her House,” by Patricia Abbott.

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 125 stories that have appeared online, in print journals and in various anthologies. She is the author of two print novels Concrete Angel (2015) and Shot in Detroit (2016)(Polis Books). Concrete Angel was nominated for an Anthony and Macavity Award in 2016. Shot in Detroit was nominated for an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award in 2017. A collection of her storiesI Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgression was released earlier this year.

She also authored two ebooks, Monkey Justice and Home Invasion and co-edited Discount Noir She won a Derringer award for her story “My Hero.” She lives outside Detroit. You can find her blog here.

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“When Agnes Left Her House” by Patricia Abbott

When Agnes left her house, she picked her moment carefully. Only the greenhorn oil trucker battling the steep road coiling around her house might have caught a flash of red gingham in his mirror.  He did not.

As she crossed the fields lying between the house and Haycock, her resolve hardened. A walk turned into a trot, and then into a sprint, as she moved as fast as she could toting Henry’s old track bag. She wasn’t sure where she was headed, having seldom been south of Lancaster and never east of Smoketown.

The boys would be home from school in a few hours and find the kitchen table scrubbed clean but no snacks laid out. Had there been a day in the last eighteen years when she hadn’t baked cookies or brownies, made popcorn, or cored apples? And dinner was usually half-made by one o’clock, the smell of soup or a stew welcoming their return. Today not a single pot sat on the stove and the oven was cold. The only sign of tonight’s dinner was the chicken in the fridge, lemon and thyme sprigs resting inside and garlic tucked under the skin. She’d prepared it before the idea of escape overtook her.  

 Last night’s words with Henry rankled until taking off seemed like the only sane course of action. Sane—that word was ping-ponged across the kitchen table in a battle lasting until three a.m. She’d successfully ducked the back of his hand and his reach for her hair, loosened in the struggle. Swinging wildly, he caught his foot on the table leg and fell hard. By the time he stood up, she’d locked him out of their bedroom. That was the last she saw of him. Surely, the kids had overheard some of their scuffle. She blushed with shame.

This story is a gem. Married to an abuser, and mother of five young sons, Agnes packs a bag and goes on the road, running away from her life. Florida is her final destination, and Abbott offers no sentimentality about how Agnes gets there and what she has to do to survive. It’s a shocking story in some ways, but utterly realistic and honest and painful to read. Women like Agnes–there’s not really any answer for them in our society, and her descent is terrible to read about….and yet never once does she think it would be better to head back home to her family. And there’s a lovely twist at the end. Stunning and brilliant.

And now, to read some of my own stories aloud.

I’m Too Sexy

How lovely to wake up to a terrific review of Florida Happens on the Mystery Scene website! You can read it here.

Huzzah!

I have to say I am very proud of this anthology, but even prouder that my story “Cold Beer No Flies” was also singled out for praise, which is lovely. As Constant Reader is aware, I don’t have a lot of confidence when it comes to my short stories, so those rare occasions when they get mentioned by reviewers is always a treat for me. (Which reminds me, I need to work on some this weekend. Sigh.)

It’s been a long week; I had trouble sleeping in the middle of the week but bounced back really nicely in the latter part of the week. Last night’s sleep was wonderful, long-lasting and deep and relaxing; I am still in sort of a rest-coma this morning. My kitchen is a mess–and something will have to be done about that sooner rather than later–and other than a social obligation today and a couple of errands that must be run (mail, prescriptions) the rest of the day is mine to do with as I please. The clock is running out on my Bouchercon homework, so I am going to need to curl up with James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone in order to have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before Bouchercon, so I am prepared to discuss their books with the fine panelists on the Best Paperback Original panel. I also booked my rental car and paid for the  early check-in on Southwest–which apparently now is automatic; you don’t have to do anything and it checks you in thirty-six hours before your flight, which is actually kind of lovely. I need to read “A Whisper from the Graveyard and “This Thing of Darkness” aloud this weekend, and I want to start working on the revision of Royal Street Reveillon which I’ve been avoiding all month (now that the month is almost over, sigh).

So. Much. To. Do.

We started watching Kim’s Convenience last night, which is, simply put, a very endearing and funny show about a Korean family–the Kims–who own a convenience store in Toronto. I was worried, of course, that the show might deal in stereotypes, but the family dynamic and the relationships between the characters is very complex, and underlying it all is a deep sweetness; there is more to the Kims than you think at first, and the show is actually funny but not at the expense of the characters. Of course, I’m not Korean, so I can’t speak to its authenticity or to its not being offensive, but Paul and I are both really enjoying it. And Jung–the son who is estranged from his father for being a bit of a juvenile delinquent when a teen, even serving time in juvie–is sexy.  I highly recommend it.

The next story in Florida Happens is  “Frontier Justice” by John Floyd.

John Floyd’s work has appeared in more than 250 different publications, including Strand MagazineAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineEllery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, Mississippi Noir, and The Saturday Evening Post. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he is also a three-time Derringer Award winner, an Edgar Award finalist, and a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. One of John’s stories appeared in the 2015 edition of Best American Mystery Stories, and another is forthcoming in the 2018 edition.

John is also the author of six books: Rainbow’s End, Midnight, Clockwork, Deception, Fifty Mysteries, and Dreamland.

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The car was waiting in the alley, with Eddie Stark at the wheel and half a dozen cigarette butts littering the pavement below the driver’s-side door. Eddie had flipped a seventh out the open window and exhaled a lungful of smoke when he saw Charlotte Baxter stroll around the corner and head in his direction. Even from a distance, Baxter’s face looked as calm as always. Eddie Stark’s was sweating.

Baxter climbed in, set a thick brown attache case on the seat between them, and peeled off her honey-colored wig. She also took off a pair of glasses and removed two wads of cotton from inside her cheeks. Eddie hefted the case up and over into the back seat. It didn’t feel as heavy as it had been, twenty minutes ago, and he knew why: half its contents had been left in the building across the street.

With trembling hands Eddie started the engine and steered the big Lincoln out of the alley and into the downtown Tallahassee traffic. Finally he turned to look at Baxter.

“How’d it go?”

“Fine.” Baxter leaned back and closed her eyes. “Mission accomplished, package delivered.”

“Sure nobody recognized you?”

“Would you have recognized me? What they saw was a blonde with a chubby face.”

John Floyd is one of our best short story writers; I first met him at the Edgar Symposium several years ago when he was on a panel I moderated. He was nominated for the Edgar for Best Short Story for “The Ledge,” which I thought was simply brilliant. His work has been nominated and/or won many awards, and I am always excited to read a new story from him. He contributed a great story to Blood on the Bayou, “The Blue Delta,” and I am more than thrilled to have “Frontier Justice” in Florida Happens.

“Frontier Justice” is about a heroin ring’s decision to kill the investigating district attorneys by planting a bomb in their office. Charlotte Baxter, as seen in the opening excerpt, is the woman they hired to blend in and plant the bomb. But as always with a Floyd story, there’s more going on beneath the surface than is readily apparent to the reader, and the way the story flips on itself in the closing pages shows just how much mastery Floyd has over the form.

And now, back to the spice mines.

To Be With You

So, I slept really deeply and well last night, so I am feeling very well rested this morning. I know, my sleep chronicles are probably horrifyingly boring, but it really does affect how my day goes, and how much I can write and get done every day. Yesterday I was so tired I couldn’t focus on anything, and was borderline crabby all day. I don’t think that will be the case today. Huzzah!

I’ve also noticed that being tired triggers depression in me, which is not a good thing. Depression is so fucking hideous and self-defeating…just awful.

I finally finished the second draft of “A Whisper from the Graveyard” last night, which was kind of cool. It’s taking shape, perhaps another draft and maybe a read-aloud this weekend and it might be ready to go. This is an enormous relief, as I feel like I am getting nothing done these days. Of course, I also had a ridiculously productive first half of the year. The second half of the story seemed to be okay, much more okay than the first half, but we shall see when I read it aloud this weekend how much work  it needs. I tried to work on two other stories yesterday–“Once a Tiger” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”–but I realized part of the problem I’m having  with “Once a Tiger” is because I don’t really understand the motivations of the characters, so I need to brainstorm that story a little bit more before trying to finish it, and since “Never Kiss a Stranger” is going to be a longer story–almost novella length–I need to structure it and plan it out a little better. I know how the story is going to end, but there’s another part of the story I really need to work on.

And I’ve got to get back on track. I need to finish my Bouchercon homework and organize thoughts and questions for that panel; it’s my first time moderating at Bouchercon and I want to do a good job so the audience feels they got their money’s worth. I have great panelists though, so i think it will be a lively and fun discussion.

The next story in Florida Happens is Michael Wiley’s “Winner.”

Michael’s most recent novel is Monument Road, about an exonerated death-row inmate investigating the crime that sent him to prison. He also writes the Daniel Turner Thriller series (Blue AvenueSecond SkinBlack Hammock) and the Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarski Private Detective series (A Bad Night’s SleepThe Bad Kitty LoungeLast Striptease). He is a frequent book reviewer and an occasional writer of journalism, critical books, and essays.

Michael grew up in Chicago and lived and worked in the neighborhoods and on the streets where he sets his Kozmarski mysteries. He teaches literature at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville—the setting of Monument Road and the Daniel Turner stories.

Visit his website here.

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When Missy Denners walked back into her house, she left the suitcase of money in her car trunk. Security cameras had recorded her in the Omni Hotel lobby. More cameras recorded her getting off the elevator with Marcel Beauvien at the fifth floor and getting back on without him. She figured she had an hour or so before the police connected her to his death.

Upstairs she found a duffel bag on a closet shelf and put in two changes of clothes. She wrapped a t-shirt around her pistol and put it in too. She dug her passport out of a desk drawer and assembled a kit of toiletries.

National Junior Waterskiing Champion at age sixteen, married at nineteen, widowed at twenty-two when her husband Tom made a dumbass deal with Beauvien and then didn’t come through with the cash, Missy knew her ups and her downs, the ecstasy and the agony. She called herself a Florida Girl to anyone who asked, though she lived in Jacksonville, which was to Florida what Detroit was to the beaches and northern woods of Michigan. Thing was, she pulled it off. No light seemed to shine brighter than the brilliant spray from her ski as she blasted through the first pair of red gate buoys, whooping like a wild thing, her hair banded in a ponytail, her teeth glinting.

Now, in the bedroom, she lay down on the bed she’d shared for three years with Tom. She felt no regret for shooting Beauvien. She wanted what she lost, that was all. She hated to lose. For a moment she thought of climbing under the bed covers, shutting her eyes, and trying to dream herself back into her former life. Instead, she made a mental list. Clothes, passport, toothbrush. What else might she need? She went downstairs to the garage and found a screwdriver and pliers.

This is a terrific story, and the character of Missy is perfectly drawn, with all her foibles and thoughts and motivations, and her likability, despite her flaws and faults, are what drive this story of revenge and escape and survival; Missy is a former champion athlete and she’s always been a winner–and her push to always be a champion plays out beautifully throughout the story and especially makes the ending absolutely spot on. I’d actually love to read more about Missy; I hope Michael considers making her the main character of a novel sometime.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Tears in Heaven

Friday, and this slightly odd, off-kilter week is finally coming to an end.

 I slept deeply and well last night, but am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow. Because of the flea situation, I spent most of yesterday laundering things and cleaning and vacuuming, so the weekend’s chores are already finished before the weekend rolls around, which is absolutely lovely; and also means that, if I am feeling ambitious, I can do more advanced cleaning; i.e. the cleaning I never get to because I only have time for a surface clean–so baseboards, cabinets, ceiling fans, etc–can be gotten to this weekend.

I am still revising “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” which I hope to read aloud this weekend and thus be finally finished with the story. I am pleased with how the revision is going; how the story and the character are taking shape on my computer screen; we shall see how it turns out. I also want to finish a strong revision/read-aloud of “This Thing of Darkness,” and I also want to work on “Please Die Soon” and maybe even get back to “Never Kiss a Stranger” this weekend. “Never Kiss a Stranger” is longer; it’s going to end up as a Kindle single, which is the entire point of writing it, and it’s terribly freeing to not have that word limit that limit short stories. I am also working my way through the manuscript of Royal Street Reveillon, and may even get to work on inputting edits and revisions and changes this weekend.

We shall see.

Next up in Florida Happens is a lovely story called “Muscle Memory,” by Angel Luis Colon.

Angel Luis Colón is a Derringer and Anthony Award shortlisted author. His published works include the titles: Pull & Pray,  No Happy Endings, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, the short story anthology; Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles), and the upcoming Hell Chose Me(2019).

His short fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He also hosts the podcast, the bastard title.

Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife

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You don’t like it.” Katie gives me this look I’d swear her mother used to give me whenever I lied but it’s been so many years that a passing glance could evoke the same memory.

Got a laundry list of reasons why I don’t like it here but I keep my mouth shut. I’m sitting on a bed that reeks of old piss and medicine—room’s about the size of a nice bathroom, so it makes sense. Better than a jail cell but not much better. I don’t feel this old. I don’t like Florida.

Single window behind me with faded curtains. Laminate floor. Don’t think there’s a word for the color but if depression had a color, this floor would suffice. Wood panel walls. Framed photographs of people I love without me in them. I shift on the bed. Back hurts. Knees hurt. Head hurts. All the pills I take and not a one seems to dull things enough for me to focus.

I raise a hand and find myself wondering if I always so slow or if my perception’s fucked from the new pills. “It’s fine,” I slur, “Besides, this is where I sleep. They got a bunch of tables and shit out there where I can occupy myself.”

Katie frowns. “I tried to find a spot at the nicer place a few miles up the highway, you know, by the girls’ school. They—”

“Muscle Memory” is, as I said, a lovely story that deals with several issues, but never in a preachy way. The main character is Sean Clarke, a former criminal who did some time for manslaughter, whose wife is dead and is now reaching the end of his life. His daughter Katie has found a senior facility for him to live in, where he befriends an old gay man named Manny and he spends times missing his daughter and granddaughters and wishing life had turned out better for him–but there’s a weary acceptance there. Something is going on with Manny, and Sean is the only one who can do anything about it–or thinks he is. Poignant and sad without crossing into sappy sentimentalism, Colon captures Sean’s voice perfectly. I’d actually like to read more about him, to be honest.

And now back to the spice mines.

Your Wildest Dreams

Good morning! It’s Thursday, everyone, and with a short day at the office ahead of me and just one more day before the weekend, I am feeling good. Not as good perhaps as I should, but I slept really well last night, don’t have to be at work until later this afternoon, and I am going to even go to the gym this morning before it’s time to go to work.

I call that a winning day, don’t you?

I am reading Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died as prep work for my moderating duties at Bouchercon next month. I am, in case you weren’t paying attention, Constant Reader, moderating the panel highlighting the Anthony Award finalists for Best Paperback Original. After I finish Lori’s book I’ll be reading Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck, What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt, Cast the First Stone by James Ziskin, and Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettmann. I’m enjoying Lori’s book–I also enjoyed the previous one of hers I’d read, Little Pretty Things, and as I’ve said before, there’s no one more fun to traverse the back roads of rural Alabama on a rainy morning with. All of these books had been in my TBR pile for quite some time, so it’s great to have an excuse to pull them out and read them.

I worked a little more on “Please Die Soon” yesterday; the story is becoming even creepier the more I work on it–although I think I may have done some overkill with it. But I am going to keep going with it, and once I am finished with the first draft I’ll figure it out in the revision process. I am also letting “A Whisper from the Graveyard” sit for a while–I know there’s some serious tweakage needed in it as well before submitting it–and I am starting to get to work on the August/September project as well. Exciting times for a Gregalicious.

And before I go to the gym this morning, I’m going to try to get the house straightened up a bit.

And while I know I’ve already talked about my story in Florida Happens (“Cold Beer No Flies”) I intend to spend the rest of this month’s focus on The Short Story Project on the stories and authors in the book, to try to whet your appetite for either preordering the book or buying it at Bouchercon. We are doing a launch for the book there on Thursday at 1; all the authors present gathering to sign and/or discuss the book and their story. And of course, it’s just easier for me to start by talking about my own.

Dane Brewer stepped out of his air-conditioned trailer, wiped sweat off his forehead and locked the door. It was early June and already unbearably hot, the humidity so thick it was hard to breathe. He was too far inland from the bay to get much of the cooling sea breeze but not so far away he couldn’t smell it. The fishy wet sea smell he was sick to death of hung in the salty air. It was omnipresent, inescapable. He trudged along the reddish-orange dirt path through towering pine trees wreathed in Spanish moss. The path was strewn with pine cones the size of his head and enormous dead pine needles the color of rust that crunched beneath his shoes. His face was dripping with sweat. He came into the clearing along the state road where a glorified Quonset hut with a tin roof stood.  It used to be a bait and tackle until its resurrection as a cheap bar. It was called My Place. It sounded cozy—the kind of place people would stop by every afternoon for a cold one after clocking out from work, before heading home.

The portable reader board parked where the parking lot met the state road read Cold Beer No Flies.

Simple, matter of fact, no pretense. No Hurricanes in fancy glasses like the touristy places littering the towns along the gulf coast. Just simple drinks served in plain glasses, ice-cold beer in bottles or cans stocked in refrigerated cases at simple prices hard-working people could afford. Tuscadega’s business was fish, and its canning plant stank of dead fish and guts and cold blood for miles. Tuscadega sat on the inside coast of a large shallow bay. The bay’s narrow mouth was crowned by a bridge barely visible from town. A long two-lane bridge across the bay led to the gold mine of the white sand beaches and green water along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Tourists didn’t flock to Tuscadega, but Tuscadega didn’t want them, either. Dreamers kept saying when land along the gulf got too expensive the bay shores would be developed, but it hadn’t and Dane doubted it ever would.

Tuscadega was just a tired old town and always would be, best he could figure it. A dead end the best and the brightest fled as soon as they were able.

 He was going to follow them one day, once he could afford it.

Towns like Tuscadega weren’t kind to people like Dane.

“Cold Beer No Flies” was originally conceived of back when I lived in Kansas, as far back as when I was a teenager. There was a bar in Emporia called My Place, which was an okay place–it had a concrete floor, just like the one in my story–and it also had one of those rolling readerboard signs along the road, and it literally read that: MY PLACE COLD BEER, NO FLIES. I always thought that was funny, and I always wanted to write a story called “Cold Beer No Flies.” I think I wrote the original first draft of the story in the 1980’s, and it languished in my files all these years. When it came to be time to write something for Florida Happens, I picked out “Cold Beer No Flies”, read the first two drafts of what I had written before, and decided to reboot the story and adapt it to the Florida setting. I’d always seen it as a noir story, and in rewriting/adapting it to fit this I needed to obviously move the setting from Kansas to Florida. I also had the bright idea to set it in the panhandle; I figured (rightly) that the majority of stories would be set in the beach communities literally the southern coasts of the state, and not many people would be moved to right about either the interior parts or the panhandle. I picked a dying, rotten little small town and placed it on a panhandle bay, similar to the little town my grandparents retired to in the early 1970’s. I also wanted to look at, and explore, what it’s like to grow up gay and working class in such a place–very redneck, very conservative, very backwards, very religious, very homophobic. The story turned out very creepy, I think, which was precisely what I was going for, and I hope you enjoy it when the time comes, Constant Reader.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Election Day

So, yesterday I managed to finish the rough (very rough) first draft of “A Whisper from the Graveyard.” It was a bit of a relief, really; I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish it but somehow I managed it, and yes, let’s  hear it for the boy, shall we?

It definitely needs work–the voice isn’t quite right yet–and there are story tweaks that also need doing, but I fucking finished the first draft.

Huzzah!

Today is my long day at the office, but I slept deeply and well last night–I actually went to the gym after I got off work! Yes, that’s twice in three days I’ve lifted weights. Unfortunately, I am going back to my “ease-back-into-it” phase of one set of 15 reps with a light weight/full  body workout (because it’s been so long since I’ve lifted weights) but it feels great to be getting back into a good routine again. I also wore a tank top to the gym last night instead of a baggy, sleeved T-shirt and was amazed to see that my upper body still has some definition, particularly around the shoulders and upper arms. Yes, apparently all of the fat weight I’ve put on is strictly around the middle and in the love handles. Hurray! But the good news is once I started burning fat weight off again, the midsection will start to look better and less enormous.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

I’m also hoping to make it to the gym tomorrow morning before work.

I also worked on my story “Please Die Soon” a bit last night; not much, not even a hundred words, but I like this story and am hoping to turn it into something relatively decent.

Today, for the Short Story Project, we have Galadrielle Allman’s story “Only Women Bleed” from the anthology Crime + Music, edited by Jim Fusilli:

Once the curving maze of manicured streets that surrounded the Ponte Vedra Country Club was behind us and the wealthiest kids dropped at their doorsteps, our bus driver, Sherry Walker, began to relax. Each day as she settled the yellow Blue Bird school bus at the long red light between Kmart and the massive used-car lot with the fluttering pennants strung up high, Miss Walker would pull a pair of pink rubber flip-flops out of an Army duffel she kept tucked under the driver’s seat, kick off her gray sneakers and groan with relief. Her heels were permanently stained with beach tar and the pink polish on her toes was chipped and dirty. The last half-hour of my two hour ride home from school was shared with only three other kids, all of them boys who also lived at the funky end of the Jacksonville Beaches, near the cheap motels, crumbling condos, drive-thru liquor stores, and tourist gift shops stuffed with dyed sea shells and cheap beach towels. Miss Walker told the four of us beach kids we could call her Sherry, as long as all the rich kids were gone, but that never felt right. She told us she lived down at the Beaches too, off Atlantic Boulevard behind the old Pick ‘n Save building that had stood empty for years. I thought of her whenever my mom drove by the wrecked store, its broken windows showing the topped shelves and tangled wires inside.

This is a terrific story; self-contained, about a young girl coming into the blossom of young womanhood–getting her period–and how that extrapolates out into changes in her relationships with boys, how her life is going to change going forward, and whether a horrible story told to her by the bus driver, Sherry–a great character; one I would have liked to have known more about–is true or not; and the growing awareness of how society, and its attitudes towards women as well as towards violence against women, are going to affect her going forward.

Well done!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Take Me Home

Saturday morning and I feel great. If you think that means I slept well last night, you would be correct in that assumption.  It’s amazing what a difference it makes; those of you who have no trouble sleeping at night and can get amazing rest every night? You have no idea how lucky you are, and how much I envy you.

Today I have errands to run, a house to clean, a workout to do; as long as I stay motivated I can easily get all of these things done. I also have writing to do–I want to finish “A Whisper from the Graveyard” this weekend, and I also want to finish making my notes on the Scotty book, at which point I need to revise the outline I did (after finishing the first draft) so I can start the massive edit/rewrite for the second draft I need to get done. As I also mentioned the other day, I also need to start reading the books on the Anthony shortlist for Best Paperback Original, since I am moderating that panel at Bouchercon this year. To jog your memory, those books are, as follows: The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day; Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck; Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettman; What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt; and Cast the First Stone by James Ziskin. I got some good reading ahead of me, don’t I? Yes I do!

Huzzah! This is, after all, always a good thing.

I am, alas, as always, behind on my writing schedule. I had wanted to get Scotty finished this month (ha!) before embarking on an a project that will consume August and September; and then I had wanted to work on the WIP in October and November before starting on Bury Me in Satin in December. I don’t see that happening now, alas, since I got so little done on Scotty this month. Then again, you never know. If I can maintain good sleeping habits and maintain meeting goals and staying motivated every day in the face of the oppressive heat of a New Orleans August, I just might be able to get back on schedule.

Here’s hoping.

I did finished reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister this week.

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A man whose name I do not know slides his hand under the hem of my new blouse, connecting the cable to the lavalier mic clipped to my collar. He asks me to say something–sound check–and for a single reckless beat, I consider the truth. Brett is dead and I’m not innocent.

“Testing. Testing. One. Two. Three.” I’m not only dishonest. I’m unoriginal.

The sound guy listens to the playback. “Keep your hair off your left shoulder as much as you can,” he tells me.  I haven’t had my ends trimmed in months, and not because my grief has bested my vanity. I’m hoping viewers are better able to see the resemblance to my sister. I have nice hair. Brett had beautiful hair.

“Thanks,” I reply, wishing I could remember his name. Brett would have known it. She made a point of being on a first-name basis with the crew–from the gaffer to the ever-rotating harem of production assistants. My sister’s speciality was making underappreciated people feel appreciated. It’s a testament to that quality that we are all gathered here today, some of us prepared to tell heroic lies about her.

This is Knoll’s second novel; her first, Luckiest Girl Alive, was stunningly brilliant and I loved it. I also believe she may have made the Edgar shortlist for Best First Novel. In this book, Knoll again takes as her theme ambitious women and the conflicts they have with each other, set against the backdrop of a reality television series which is clearly based, in some ways, on the Real Housewives shows. The show, Goal Diggers of New York, ostensibly focuses on five women who are all entrepreneurs, don’t have kids, and in most cases are also single. Goal Diggers has the same pedigree as the Real Housewives shows; originally intended as a docu-series focusing on real women and the struggles they have running businesses and so forth, it has descended into a ratings-hungry juggernaut predicated on pitting the women against each other emotionally and forcing them into feuds. The ultimate cleverness of the book is it follows, basically, the same trajectory as if it were, indeed, a reality show about women; it reads like a season of a Real Housewives franchise. There are three main point-of-view characters–sisters Kelly and Brett, and Brett’s former best friend, an author of color named Stephanie. Kelly narrates the action in the present, after all the events of the book are finished–the device used is her filming what is known as a ‘talking head’ interview; where the camera is trained on the cast member and asked questions. The rest of the book is about the filming of the most recent season of Goal Diggers, which ended in tragedy; that is shown from the alternating POV’s of Brett and Stephanie, who manufactured a feud for the season as a storyline but the ‘fake feud’ actually runs far deeper, with a far worse betrayal at its heart, than anything that was taped for the series. The book addresses a lot of current hot topics in our culture and society: racism, homophobia, same-sex marriage, sexism. It’s very hard to talk about the book without giving spoilers; like a season of a reality show, the twists and turns the plot takes are part of the joy the reader gets from the story, and to discuss them would spoil it for new readers. But it’s very well-written, and the characterizations are quite strong.

I have to say, I enjoyed every second of reading this book, and I can’t wait for Knoll’s next one.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Throwing It All Away

Well, the insomnia came back last night. I can’t complain, because while I am mentally fatigued this morning I don’t feel physically tired. Hopefully, sweet sleep will return tonight with a vengeance. I have a short day today; only five or so hours later on today at the office. I had wanted to get a lot done this morning, but the energy levels are kind of low at the moment. Heavy sigh. Maybe I can do a short grocery run or something; I don’t have to be at the office until two thirty.

Or I could curl up in my easy chair and read. Choices.

I have successfully frittered away most of July and got little to nothing finished. This is kind of normal, as I realized this morning as I started to mournfully beat myself up over it. I finished a book manuscript at the tail end of June; of course I’ve not been motivated this month to work on anything else or write very much; it happens every time. And it’s not like I haven’t been very creative this month; I have. I don’t think there’s anything I can actually come out at the moment and say that I’ve actually written this month, besides revising “This Thing of Darkness,” which is shaping up nicely methinks; there’s probably some other things I’ve written this month that I cannot recall this morning, and that’s fine. I think I can finish “A Whisper from the Graveyard” if I can just figure out how I want it to end; I;’m doing some basic research and its coming along nicely.

I’ve also been thinking about the Scotty book and getting ideas and writing them down, which is enormously helpful. Hurray for that, right?

And the endless, endless struggle with the WIP. Seriously. My own personal Vietnam. It will never be finished, it seems. But the revision I am planning is going to be pretty awesome, I think, and will finally make it all click into place for me. Fingers crossed, Constant Reader!

We started watching Castle Rock last night, and it’s disturbing and eerie and interesting, which is exactly what I was hoping for. We’ll continue with the series tonight–I think there are three episodes currently available?–but I am hoping it doesn’t wind up being disappointing.

All right, I should stop delaying and get a move on to the spice mines before the morning completely escapes my grasp.

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A Love Bizarre

Wednesday morning, and perhaps the best thing about my new work schedule (Mondays and Fridays) is that I’ve apparently retrained myself to get up at seven every morning. This is not a bad thing. During my most productive years I got out of bed at seven every morning. I am hoping that’s what this means; that my productivity will go back through the roof again.

Yesterday I revised “This Thing of Darkness,” but I am still not completely satisfied with it as of yet. I need to get back to “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” but am also not convinced that I am on the right track with that story, either. It’s probably going to take a lot more brainstorming before it’s right.

The good news is my iPad had indeed been left at the office. The battery was dead, so I plugged the charger in the wall and then forgot about it, leaving it at the office yet another night. Honestly.

Yes, I can be rather foolish at times, thank you for asking.

That’s about it for this morning; sorry to be so dull. All I can say is BUY Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister. I am enjoying the hell out of it.

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R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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