All By Myself

Friday morning sliding into the weekend…and woke up still sick. The throat is still sore and my voice is a Kathleen Turner-like whiskey-soaked rasp; my eyes still ache and so do all my joints, and the fever is still upon me. I just swigged some DayQuil, so am hoping for some relief; this knot of phlegm lodged into the top of my lungs has to loosen and come out at some point, right?

Ye Gods, how I hate being sick. And the older I get, the more susceptible to these things I seem to be.

The weather was horrible yesterday afternoon, but for once, it was lovely to be covered in blankets while the storm raged outside, with a constant downpour of rain and the occasional blast of lightning and thunder. It is, really, the best time to curl up with a good book, and so yesterday I finished reading Alison Gaylin’s next novel, of which I am fortunate enough to have an advance copy. Never Look Back is probably her best book to date, and given she won an Edgar last night, that’s saying something. I then proceeded to start reading Kellye Garrett’s award-winning debut Hollywood Homicide, which I am also greatly enjoying. I really like her main character, and her voice.

And now that the Edgars are over and the program has been printed and distributed, I can now out myself as a judge for Best Paperback Original. That was the book award I was reading for all of last year–and I do mean reading for all of last year. Once again, the Lost Apartment was buried in an avalanche of books, and since electronic editions of books could also be entered, my Kindle is also incredibly full. Led by our distinguished panel chair Alex Segura, my fellow judges (the always delightful and talented Susanna Calkins and Gwen Florio) read and discussed, read some more and discussed some more, and finally narrowed our choices down to our top five and the winner. I do believe our category this past year just might have been the only (if not the only, but one of the few) times in Edgar history where all the finalists in a category were women; that wasn’t our intent, either; it just played out that way, but it was still amazing and cool. Last night’s batch of Edgar winners was also perhaps the most diverse in Edgar history; with Walter Mosley taking home the statue for Best Novel and Robert Feiseler taking home the award for Fact Crime for his Tinderbox, which is about the Upstairs Fire lounge fire in New Orleans back in 1973; the biggest mass murder of gay men until the Pulse shootings in 2016. I wrote about the Upstairs Fire in Murder in the Rue Chartres, and am really looking forward to reading Robert’s book. Sujata Massey also won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and I feel that Sara Paretsky’s winning the first Sue Grafton Memorial Award would definitely have Sue’s approval.

And huzzah for the wonderful Art Taylor’s Edgar win for Best Short Story! Art is one of the best short story writers around; I keep hoping he’s going to put out a short story collection–I think he’s won every conceivable mystery award for short story now, which is an indication of just how good he is. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met–in general, not just the mystery community.

Needless to say, the illness has kept me from doing any writing or pretty much anything, really. Yesterday I spent most of the day swilling chicken soup and sitting in my chair under blankets and reading. I watched the live-stream of the Edgar Awards on my television through the Youtube app on my  Apple TV, which was very cool and surreal at the same time. I felt sorry for the young man with the long hair at the front table who was on camera almost the entire night and probably had no idea! Today I am going to probably swill some more soup while again retiring to my chair with Kellye’s book, and then I have an ARC of Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things which I will tackle next.

And I did have two ideas for stories yesterday, through the DayQuil and fever induced fogginess of my brain. So that’s something, at any rate.

And now back to my blankets.

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I’ll Be There

I loved to read when I was a kid; it’s something I came to early in my life and has never left me, really.

I used to  buy books through the Scholastic Book catalogue (which didn’t count against my allowance), and check out books from the school library and the Tomen branch of the Chicago Public Library, which was about three blocks from our apartment and on the way to Jewel and Woolworth’s; my mom used to drop my sister and I there while she went to the grocery store. When we got our allowances, she would walk us up to Woolworth’s, so we could spend our dollar-a-week. My sister would get 45 records, which only cost 79 cents.

I spent my money on comic books.

I started with Sugar and Spike and Archie comics; eventually I moved on to super-heroes and horror comics. My parents never restricted my reading material–they preferred to restrict my reading time only–and so i kept buying comics, all the way through high school, with occasional other forays into the world of comics throughout my life. (I have the comixology app on my iPad, and scores of comics I’ve bought and downloaded but have yet to read.) But comic books have always played a part in my life, inspiring me and teaching me how to tell stories in a different way than books do.

Recently, Alex Segura tagged me in a “post a comic book every day” thing on Facebook, and digging through the Internet to find the comics that influenced me brought back a lot of memories.

One of the strangest–but true–stories about my books and how they came to be is that Dark Tide was inspired by a comic book. This one, in fact:

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January 1972, when I was eleven years old, I chanced upon this comic book on the comics rack at the Woolworth’s a few blocks from our apartment in Chicago. I often bought horror comics from time to time, mixing them in with my super-heroes, but this one, for some reason, always resonated with me. I don’t know why I bought it, but that cover is pretty fucking spectacular, isn’t it?

In the 1980’s, when I wanted to be Stephen King, I started writing a horror novel called The Enchantress, which was totally about a killer mermaid. I wrote an introduction and four chapters before giving up because I didn’t know where to go with it from there–like I’ve said before, plot is always my biggest problem–and in all honesty, it was totally,  at least in structure, a rip-off of Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon. I also used the same types he did for the main characters: a woman, a young boy, a man in his early thirties, and a retired older man. All of it was bad other than the chapter introducing the woman, which I’ve tried at very times to reshape into a short story. It was also set in the panhandle of Florida in a small town named Tuscadega; which I used again as the setting for my story “Cold Beer No Flies”, in Florida Happens (available for preorder now!). I eventually renamed and revised the story into one called Mermaid Inn; again, keeping the story about vicious, killer mermaids. Mermaid Inn eventually morphed into Dark Tide; in fact, the entire story is pretty much set at a place called Mermaid Inn, only I moved it to south Alabama, below Mobile.

Wild that something I read when I was eleven inspired a book I published forty years later.

And were there killer mermaids? Afraid you’ll have to buy the book to find out. 🙂

And now, back to the spice mines.

Just Another Day

So, the Saints have added a male Saintsation this year, which pleases me to no end. And of course, he’s been targeted by trash on-line; you know, the ‘keyboard warriors’ who insult and tear into total strangers from behind the safety of their computers. I am looking forward to watching Jesse perform this season, as well as the two men who are performing with the Rams. I was a cheerleader in college, and know all too well the abuse you can get from other men (and some women) for putting yourself out there. I enjoyed every moment of cheering, and that trash would have called me fag even if I wasn’t a cheerleader.

And I’d still like to see any of them try to do a string of back handsprings.

Both Animal Kingdom and Sharp Objects continue to enthrall us; both are coming to their inevitable season finales soon, but hopefully all the other shows we enjoy watching will be airing again by then; there are also some other shows I’d like to watch currently on Netflix. I watched To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or whatever it’s name was the other night; it was adorable and sweet, if a bit predictable. But it was great seeing a young Asian-American girl in the Molly Ringwold role for a change; I also enjoyed seeing her family dynamic. I imagine the film is going to draw the inevitable haters, as such things are wont to do; but I love this new trend of representation of characters without making a big deal about it. I am, of course, conditioned to notice the minority characters–as are we all, really–but representation does  matter, and presenting it like it’s not a big deal is the best way  to go because it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I hope and pray future generations will see it that way and won’t notice.

Next up for Florida Happens is Alex Segura’s “Quarters for the Meter.”

Alex Segura is the author of the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery novels, which include Silent CityDown the Darkest StreetDangerous Ends, and Blackout, all via Polis Books. Blackout was listed as one of the most anticipated mystery novels of 2018 by CrimeReads, MysteryPeople and Bookbub, and included in The Boston Globe’s Summer Reading List.

He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed Archie Meets Kiss storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story, and the Archies Meet The Ramones one-shot and The Archies ongoing series.

Alex will be co-writing Lethal Lit, a new fictional crime podcast launching this fall from iHeart Media.

His work has appeared in the anthologies Protectors 2, Waiting To Be Forgotten:  SStories of Crime and Heartbreak Inspired by the Replacements, Unloaded 2, Apollo’s Daughters, and Florida Happens,  the Bouchercon 2018 anthology, and in publications including The Daily Beast, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Strand, Mental Floss, LitReactor, and more.

A Miami native, he lives in New York with his wife and son. Check out his website here.

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I had this weird dream,” Pete Fernandez said. “I was in a boat, but there weren’t any paddles.”

“That is weird,” Mike said, sipping his Heineken. The jukebox was playing Waits. The Bar—a grungy gastropub located in the heart of Coral Gables—was mostly empty. It was just past six in the evening. They were in a booth a few steps away from the main bar area.

“That’s not all of it,” Pete said. He took a sip of his drink—a vodka soda—before continuing. “But then my dad showed up. He was standing in front of the boat.”

“On the water?”

“Yeah,” Pete said. The thought of his dad put a clench in his throat. It’d been only a few months since they had to put the old man in the ground, forcing Pete and his fiancé Emily to return to Miami from their home in New Jersey. “He was just standing there. Looking at me.”

“What’d you do?”

The question hung over them for a moment. The bartender, a fit blonde named Lisa, nodded at Pete politely as she walked by. He’d been back in Miami for less than six months, and he already felt unhinged.

Emily.

She had left a few days ago. He was living in his father’s house and he was pretty sure the only reason Mike, his best friend, was tolerating him tonight was because he was worried Pete couldn’t last very long alone.

“Nothing,” Pete said. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Mike he’d woken up to find his pillow wet from tears.

This is a terrific story, from beginning to end; a kind of crime slice-of-life tale that made me hungry to read more of Alex’s work. I have the ebook of the first Pete Fernandez novel, and an ARC of the most recent one, and haven’t managed to get to either as of yet. Pete and his buddy are having a couple of drinks in a bar at the end of their workday, which just happens to be when some masked bandits rush in to rob the place. The rest of the story details what happens during the robbery and how the two of them manage to avert a tragedy; and the closing line is pitch perfect.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Why Can’t This Be Love

Wednesday and I am very tired this morning; not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

I had yet another breakthrough this week on something I’m working on–which brings the breakthroughs in recent weeks to an almost ridiculous level. I finally recognized, through my own stubbornness, that the story I was trying to tell in the WIP is the wrong story; I kept trying to  make it fit the story I wanted to tell, ignoring the little voice I would hear every once in a while telling me no, this is the real story, why won’t you listen to me? Finally, on Monday night, it hit me upside the head with a two-by-four; and when I finally stopped fighting it and  listened to the voice, the entire plot fell into place and all the problems I couldn’t seem to iron out completely magically answered themselves. And you know what? Once again it all comes down to me being ridiculously stubborn when I didn’t need to be, and not listening to  my inner voices.

Seriously, you’d think I’d know better by this point. But I never seem to learn. And of course, rereading the previous paragraph now I realize it sort of makes me look sort of insane. But you know, I don’t know any other way to say it than a voice in my head. I kept trying to make this manuscript, characters and town fit this story I was trying to tell, with the end result that I wasn’t seeing their real story.

And now I can’t wait to fix it and make it better.

I am so behind on so many things I need to get done–I need to get the Scotty revisions done; I need to get to work on this; I have a short story I need to write….madness. And I have so much reading to do! I need to get back on the Short Story Project, and I want to read Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita and Alex Segura’s Blackout and…heavy heaving sigh.

We watched a really good Australian show this weekend, Secret City, which starred Anna Torv (been a fan since Fringe, and she was also terrific in Mindhunter), which had a lot going for it–the cutthroat world of domestic and foreign politics is at the core of the story, which opens with a young man being murdered and a reporter (Torv) happening upon the crime scene and starting to investigate. I do recommend this show highly, and there’s also a wonderful subplot where it turns out that Torv’s ex-husband is a transwoman, and I thought the show handled it beautifully, with one slight quibble.

We also started watching HBO’s Sharp Objects, which I thought was spectacular. I actually preferred this Gillian Flynn novel to Gone Girl, the book that made her famous and a publishing superstar, and I still need to read her other novel, Dark Places.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off

Monday morning and everything outside this morning looks wet; the sky is filled with clouds and so it’s not blindingly bright outside this morning either. This, of course, can be deceptive: I am almost afraid to check out the temperature because I know it’s going to be something insane that is going to make me want to not ever leave the house.

Okay, I looked. It’s a cool eighty right now, with an expected high of ninety-six later. Hurray.

Yesterday was awesome. I don’t know if it was the glass of wine or the two glasses of summer punch I had before dinner on Saturday, but I slept amazingly well Saturday night and woke up refreshed and rested on Sunday morning. I still feel rested and refreshed this morning, which is even lovelier. I have two chapters to go on the Scotty first draft and then it is finished, I have a short story to finish, and then I have another project to work on for the next two months. I am enormously pleased to be so close to finished with the Scotty book; I just need to make sure of something before I can write the second-to-last chapter, and then it gets to sit and percolate for two months. We also continued watching season two of Cardinal, which isn’t nearly as creepy as season one, but still enjoyable.

I also have continued reading the Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but am not getting into it. It might get better later on, but I’ve decided to simply put it aside for now and move on to something else that might get me more involved. The question is which ARC? Sarah Weinman’s? Lou Berney’s? Alex Segura’s, which I still haven’t gotten to? The Hank Philippi Ryan? Or something from the shelf? Questions, questions. But this week is a very brief one; I only have to work today and tomorrow and then I am taking a stay-cation; a word I hate using but it works as a shorthand explanation. I am off work from Wednesday on, and don’t have to be back into the office until the following Tuesday. I intend to do some of the things I didn’t get done on the last stay-cation; primarily cleaning out the storage attic to make room for new stuff, as well as do the floors and windows and clean the car as well as write write write read read read.

I also made it to the gym yesterday where I did thirty minutes of relatively easy low impact cardio on the treadmill while watching the second episode of the Netflix series Troy: The Fall of a City, which was much better than the first, frankly, and also triggered a memory of another book I want to write, The Trojan Boy.

Because of course I don’t have enough to write on my plate already. Heavy heaving sigh.

The next story in Promises and Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sea Where It’s Shallow”:

They weren’t happy. I could tell.

The couple was sitting on beach towels a few feet beyond where the lapping of the waves at the sand turned it a darker hue than where it was dry. One was blonde, the other brunette.  The blonde was older, maybe by as few as five years, maybe as many as ten. The brunette was taller by about four inches, but the blonde was stockier, with thicker muscles.

I crossed the line from where the depth of the water changes, where it switches from blue to green. I’d been swimming a long time, and perhaps it was time to come out. This couple definitely needed me, my intervention. Their auras were all wrong. They loved each other but something was going on with them, something that was making them forget how much they loved, how much they cared, how deep the feelings actually ran. The brunette was scowling. They weren’t talking, they were merely sitting side by side on their individual blankets on the powdery white sand. Not even looking at each other, not even stealing the occasional sidelong glance.

My feet brushed against the bottom and I smiled. I’d been in the water long enough it seemed to forget how to walk. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. I hoped not, at any rate. My feet sank a fraction of an inch into the sand, and the small waves lifted the weight off of my feet momentarily as each one passed, moving me a little closer to the water’s edge.

I kept my eyes on the brunette as more of me emerged from the water. He tried to make it look like he wasn’t looking at me. I was getting the sidelong glances as his eyes scanned the horizon, but they always came back to me. He seemed afraid to look me in the eyes, for our gazes to lock, but his eyes, I could see them moving, drinking in every inch of my dripping body as it emerged from the green sea. The white sugary sand of the Florida panhandle scrunched under my feet as I walked at last out of the water. I smiled at the brunette. The blonde had laid back, sunglasses on, his eyes unreadable. The brunette was more susceptible to my charms, I decided, sitting down on the sand a few feet from where he sat.

I would wait a few minutes, letting the sun dry my skin, I decided, giving him the opportunity to speak first. Unless I missed my guess, he would.

The sun’s rays were warm, and my skin dried quickly in its glare. I sensed him there, wanting to speak, to open a dialogue, but afraid of how the blonde would react.

Fair enough.

I turned my head and looked right into his brown eyes. He looked away quickly, his tanned face coloring slightly, embarrassed at being caught looking. “Hello.” I said, rearranging my facial muscles into a smile. It felt awkward. Surely it hadn’t been that long since I’d smiled? For a brief moment, I tried to recall the last time I’d smiled.

I don’t remember–again–which anthology or magazine I wrote this story for, but I do remember writing this story; it was in our old apartment on Sophie Wright Place, which places the writing somewhere between August 2001 and June 2003, which is when we moved to where we live now. I’ve always been interested in mermen (not Ethel, but rather the male version of mermaids)–the video for Madonna’s song Cherish is a great example of this–and I wanted to write a story about one. The couple was loosely based on a couple I met, actually on a Hawaiian beach, in 1995, whom I went home with. I ran into both of them at LA Pride–independently of each other; they’d split up in the months that passed between my trips, but this next time I saw them it was more of a “hey, nice to see you hope all’s well” brief conversation as we passed each other in the crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard.

I’ve always liked this story.

And I’ve always thought Channing Tatum would make a sexy merman.

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Mad About You

Summer has returned, and while expected always, it’s return always, somehow, catches me off-guard; I forget what it’s like to always have damp socks, to have that slick feeling of sticky dried sweat on your skin, the way the sweat affects the corners of your eyes and your eyelids, the way the heavy wet heat drains all of your energy from you. Even after twenty-two years here, every summer there’s an adjustment period of getting used to it. The heat index is in the high nineties now every day, regardless, and life comes about making it from one air conditioned place to another as quickly as possible.

Thursday night Paul stayed at the office late working on a grant that was due yesterday, so I was at home with Scooter and at loose ends. I wasn’t able to get much writing done that day–one of those days–and as I sat in my easy chair with my journal and a cat asleep in my lap, I decided to watch the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential on Prime. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tab Hunter film (other than Polyester and Lust in the Dust), but I knew he’d been around since the 1950’s. I knew he was a teen idol/heart throb. I also knew he’d been involved with Tony Perkins, and that he’d come out in a memoir also titled Tab Hunter Confidential. As the documentary started, I realized with a start, I’ve met Tab Hunter–several times, in fact and so as the documentary played I kept thinking, wow, I’m one or two degrees of separation from everyone in this, including everyone he co-starred with.

And, I knew how handsome he was because I’d met him in person.

I was completely blown away by how beautiful he was when  he was young.

I mean, wow.

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I mean, don’t get me wrong–he’s still an incredibly handsome man, which should have given me some idea of just how breathtakingly beautiful he was when he was young.

It’s also very weird to be watching a documentary and realize, oh, yeah, I’ve met Tab Hunter a couple of times.

My life is so weird.

It’s an interesting documentary, about being a closeted star in the Hollywood system and having the studio “fixers” cleaning up messes and keeping you out of the papers and so forth. There’s a terrific gay noir novel just waiting to be written about 1950’s gay Hollywood, and I am almost there coming up with the story in my mind.

I already have the two books I am writing though, and once they are finished, I know what the next two are going to be…so Hollywood gay noir will have to be after that, I guess.

I have to work today; I am doing testing all day at Gay Pride, but have Monday off. So, I am going to hopefully finish reading the Roth today between clients, and maybe, maybe, finally get to start reading Alex Segura’s Blackout.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Rock Me Amadeus

PRIDE MONTH!

Yesterday was a late day for me; I didn’t have to be at the office until four–I had a late night of bar testing last night—so I spent the day paying bills and doing odds-and-ends around the apartment. Today is my short day, and then I am easing into the weekend; I will probably come home and clean tonight, plus prepare for moving some things over to the storage place tomorrow. I did some writing yesterday–not nearly enough–but I am terribly pleased with the progress I am making on not only the Scotty novel but the WIP. I’ll see how I feel when I get home this evening, but I am hopeful I’ll be in the mood to do some writing. The kitchen also needs to be sorted out a bit; I’ll be damned if I can understand how it keeps getting so out of control all the time–it’s not like I’ve been cooking or anything.

I continue to read the Philip Roth in dribs and drabs; I’m just past page 100. It’s taking me, as you can tell, a long time to read; longer than usual. It’s the story, I suppose; the writing is really good and I can savor the way he uses and puts together words, and even how he develops the characters, but not a whole lot happens. For someone who reads mostly crime and horror, as you can imagine, I kind of need stuff to happen. I am hoping to finish this book at some point this weekend because I really want to read Alex Segura’s Blackout.

I watched Streets of Fire again this week; it’s streaming on Starz, and while this was a movie I loved when I saw it in the theater–I even saw it twice, and owned the soundtrack–I was curious to see if, thirty-odd years later, it still  held up. It does, in a way; I see the flaws in the film now, which I didn’t see back then, but at the same time, there’s an aesthetic about it that I like; it’s a “rock and roll fable” set “another place, another time”–so it’s amorphous in its time period, which allowed the set and costume designers to have some fun with creating their own aesthetic look; it’s a combination of 50’s and 80’s style that oddly works; plus there’s so many bright colors in costumes and neon, but at the same time there’s a sense of drabness; the characters all live in a very drab, working class world, almost a slum-like neighborhood. The soundtrack–which includes a Marilyn Martin cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Sorcerer”–doesn’t really hold up; the big numbers, performed by Diane Lane as rock star Ellen Aim, are very operatic to the point of being over the top–think Meatloaf/Jim Steinman. The one hit to come off the soundtrack was “I Can Dream About You,” which still holds up. The movie could have been a lot better; the primary problem is the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Michael Pare and Diane Lane…Michael Pare, who was quite beautiful, just kind of sleepwalks through his role, reading his lines in an almost complete deadpan, unemotional way that you can’t help but wonder what someone equally pretty who could act could have done with the role. Diane Lane does a good job, but Amy Madigan steals the movie out from under everyone in the sidekick role; as a butch former soldier at loose ends who signs on to help Tom Cody (Pare) rescue Ellen (Diane Lane), his ex, from the motorcycle gang (led by a very young Willem Dafoe) who’ve kidnapped her. It’s an almost Western-style movie in its sensibility/plot; the characters are all archetypes–the Tough Guy hero, the Damsel in Distress, her Money-grubbing Manager (a young pre-Ghostbusters Rick Moranis), etc. etc.

I enjoyed it still, but not as much as I did when I was in my early twenties.

So pretty:

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He was also in the cult hit Eddie and the Cruisers, albeit briefly, as Eddie (which is another film I should revisit).

And now, back to the spice mines.