Get Down

Monday morning, and perhaps a more restless night of sleep than one would have preferred; but I did sleep and am counting that as a win. It may take a little longer this morning than usual for me to become human, but I am awake, I do feel sort of rested, and it’s the first day of a rather short week for me. Friday begins the long weekend I am taking for my birthday, so my half-day on Thursday will be the end for me until the following Wednesday, which is rather awesome, actually, and I believe I come back to a half-day Wednesday, even–one of my co-workers wants to permanently switch Wednesday and Thursday with me, which is fine. Having two long days, a short day, a regular day and then a short day seems more do-able, and workable, than what I’ve been doing and I’ve been thinking lately that I need to somehow change my schedule; a co-worker’s need for his class schedule made up my mind for me. We’ll see how it works out, won’t we?

Yesterday I finished Major Project around two in the afternoon, which is an enormous load off my mind. I spent the rest of the day watching the US Gymnastics championships (men in the late afternoon, women last evening) before calling it a night and going to bed; as I sat at my computer drinking my sleepy-time tea, an idea for the story that’s due at the end of the month came to me. I actually wrote the first couple of hundred words in my journal; today I’ll turn them into the beginnings of the short story. I have three chapters left to write in the WIP, and two short stories to write by the end of the month as well as an essay I need to get finished by the end of the month. With Major Project out of the way, now it seems like I’m swimming in time; so much free time to get everything finished I want to get finished by Labor Day, plus two long weekends for me before we get there. I suddenly feel so much more comforted than I did last week.

It’s amazing what getting a huge hunk of work out of the way can do for your confidence.

I also want to finish S. A. Cosby’s wonderful My Darkest Prayer this week, so I can devote the weekend to Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, and then I will probably get back to the Diversity Project, reading Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava. I also have the new Alex Marwood, The Poison Garden (hello, Labor Day weekend!) on hand, as well as several others I really would like to get to. I had some points through my health insurance at work (it’s a long, complicated, boring story how all that works, so I won’t bore you or me with it) so I converted them to an Amazon gift card, so I have some birthday presents to myself coming in the mail–amongst them Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird, the new Donna Andrews (putting me three books behind in my Andrews reading), Terns of Endearment, and of course Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which will be released on my birthday and should also arrive on my birthday. There are some others as well–I don’t remember what all I ordered, to be honest–but I should have some more points to convert over this week, and I am going to order some more. There are so many good books, and so little time in which to read them all.

The gymnastics yesterday was fun to watch; Sam Mikulak, the six time US champion, is adorable, and of course Simone Biles, who won her sixth title this weekend as well, is probably the greatest gymnast of all time. She’s so much better than everyone else in the world, and keeps getting better as she gets older. And of course, next year is the Tokyo Olympics, which is always a good time. Although…it will be weird watching an Olympics without Michael Phelps.

And on that note, perhaps it is time to get back to the spice mines.

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Diamond Girl

So, how you doin’, Constant Reader?

Well, running the errands yesterday turned into a major challenge. It started raining before I left the house, but despite the heavy rain–those enormous big raindrops we get here in New Orleans, that feel like they’re leaving a bruise–I decided to go for it. I grabbed an umbrella and dashed to the car, getting soaked in the process despite the umbrella (the umbrella that can handle the rain in New Orleans has yet to be invented), and the rain came down even heavier as I headed uptown. At Jefferson Avenue, there was still blue sky and sunshine and no clouds, but while I was inside the postal service the storm arrived (I got some things I needed in the mail, some bills, and an ARC of Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden, thanks, Erin!) and dashed back out to the car and headed to the grocery store. It was pouring by this point, with thunder and lightning and everyone driving three miles an hour–but in fairness, the street gutters were filling with water. I sat in the car and waited a good five minutes before making a break for the store–but even walking quickly I still got very wet.

But at least while I was doing the shopping the rain let up a bit, and it was only sprinkling as I went out to the parking lot.

Getting home was a challenge as some streets had filled up with water; Felicity Street had a good six inches at least on it, and the gutters on Prytania were also full of water, but it wasn’t that deep. Everyone was driving, of course, like their car was about to drop into a sinkhole and disappear from sight–of course, driving slow rather than faster won’t change that at all, so I don’t really get it. Yes, you should drive slower through standing water–but you don’t have to literally crawl through it, either–and yes, local New Orleanians reading this, I know there are no-wake ordinances in the city (yes, that’s how often our streets flood with water; the city has passed ordinances dictating how fast you can drive through standing water), but when most of the street is not underwater, there’s no wake sending water into people’s homes, businesses or cars parked alongside the street.

It’s interesting that my neighborhood sort-of flooded again–the water on my street had been over the sidewalk but had drained by the time I got home; I could see the dirt and debris on the sidewalk–when it didn’t used to; and there are people alarmed in the city because we are seeing water rising and standing where it never used to before. It occurred to me yesterday that this could entirely be because of all the construction that’s taken place in the city over the last few years. Empty green lots are now paved over for buildings or parking garages; city blocks that used to simply be a ground level parking lot are now five story apartment/condo buildings. So the water used to spread out over the paved lots and also used to soak into the green lots; now that water is draining off those buildings with nowhere to go so it settles in the street. The two vacant lot on our street are about to be paved over and turned into a three story condo complex–which isn’t going to help our street in upcoming rains.

I seriously doubt that anyone–especially on the city permit level–ever took water drainage into consideration when handing out permits. Driving down O’Keefe Street now in the CBD is like driving down a canyon through higher-rising buildings, whereas before those lots were parking lots. I wonder if I am onto something here…

I spent the day yesterday, after getting home, working on getting my email down to a respective amount, and I also started reading Jay B. Law’s The Unfinished, for which I have agreed to write an introduction for the new edition being released by ReQueered Tales. Laws only wrote two books before he died of AIDS in the early 1990’s, this one and Steam, which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. The Unfinished was released after his death, and isn’t as well-known or well-remembered as Steam; being a posthumous novel undoubtedly had something to do with that. I thought I had read it years ago, but as I am reading it now, it’s all new to me…and while I am well aware that my memory is as reliable now as the water drainage system in New Orleans, this entire story and the character seem completely new to me; usually when I reread a book I’ve completely forgotten the story eventually comes back to me as I work my way through it–that isn’t happening here, and while it saddens me that I’ve not read The Unfinished before, I am actually kind of glad; it means I am experiencing an immensely talented writer’s final work for the first time…and the essay I want to write to introduce the book is already beginning to swirl around inside my head.

Today I have a million things to do–so much writing and editing to do, as well as reading–that it’s not even remotely amusing–although sometimes I do think all I can do, rather than weep when looking at the list, is laugh.

Along the lines of my recent decision to celebrate and own my accomplishments, as an addendum to today’s blog I am going to talk about having a story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, the Planned Parenthood fundraising anthology from Down and Out Books, edited by Holly West. I’ve loved the Go-Go’s from the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio, and have seen them in concert twice. Since I recently discovered the magic of Spotify, I find myself listening to their original three albums a lot lately, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all to me, which I think is the key to their success. One of the things I found interesting was I never listened to their music, or sang along to it, and thought about how dark their lyrics actually are, until Holly agreed to let me write something for this anthology (I basically invited myself to contribute to it, which is something I never do; which is another problem with myself and my career–I don’t assert myself or push myself forward into anthologies. The worst thing that can happen is the editor will say, ‘sorry, got enough people already, but thanks!’ My entire career I’ve worked to make rejection less painful and more of an oh well thing; I’m still working on making that sort of rejection/disappointment something that just rolls off my back rather than derails me for a time.

Sometimes you have to be assertive, and while that sort of thing kind of goes against my nature, you have to do it.

Anyway, Holly gave me a choice of three songs to use for inspiration, and as I looked up the lyrics on-line, I was struck by how dark the songs were. Without Belinda Carlisle’s cheerful, almost chipmunk-ish vocals and the high-energy beat of the music behind them, I couldn’t believe how noir the lyrics actually were. I eventually chose “This Town”–because it was the darkest of the three–and started writing it. I honestly don’t know how the idea came to me, or where I came up with it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite stories of my own; and other people seemed to like it a lot, too. “This Town” will probably wind up anchoring my next short story collection–should I do another one, which I am hopeful I will be able to do–and again, as I said, the feedback on the story has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous that as per usual, I didn’t really know how to respond to the compliments.

The story itself is the perfect illustration of what I think, in my mind, a crime story should be; which is why my work isn’t accepted into places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines; I don’t necessarily solve a crime in my stories, even though they are about crimes. (Of course, it could also be that the stories I send them aren’t in their best shape, either.) Getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock is a bucket list item of mine, and I’d also love to get another story into Ellery Queen, but I digress.

Okay, I should get back into the spice mines if I want to get anything done today.

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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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