Should’ve Said No

Well, we made it to another Monday, did we not? The end of August is nigh upon us as well; soon the Earth’s continuous shifting will have the northern hemisphere turning away from the sun and our days will continue to shorten and at some point, cooler weather will arrive in New Orleans, and the humidity will dissipate for a season. Fall is quite spectacular here, and when it isn’t gloomy so are our winters; the six or so months from mid-September through early May is when we remember how lucky we actually are to live in these climes.

As I said yesterday, I am making an effort to see positivity in life rather than negativity; to focus on  what I finished rather than what I haven’t completed yet. Yesterday I overslept again, which seems to be more of a thing these days; but it was fine. I got up, did some organizing, worked on my electronic files a bit more, and worked on Chapter Six of the book, while also preparing Chapter Seven to be worked on, which I am hoping I’ll be able to do this evening after work. I also spent some time with Little Fires Everywhere, which is actually quite marvelous; Celeste Ng is a terrific writer, and I am glad I have this gateway into her work;  so much truth and honesty and reality and insight in this book–I may even have to go back and rewatch the television show (like I have the time for that) once I finish reading the book.

I also realized, over the course of the weekend, that I only have one more short story still out there in the submission ether–this is another rather long shot, and one I suspect I’ll never hear from if they don’t choose my story, which is frankly quite a long shot as I’ve already mentioned–but that’s okay and I don’t mind. It’s kind of nice to take a long shot every once in a great while, just to see what happens and keep your dreams alive. I want to get some more short stories out there into the submission ether, and so I suspect I am going to have to either finish rewriting some or get something unfinished finished; I kind of am missing working on my short stories, if truth be told, and why not get something out there again? I’ve not tried either Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock in a while; while also recognizing that I don’t really write mystery short stories in the traditional sense; I write crime stories that are also quite morbid. There are a couple of submission calls I’d like to write something for–or, rather, submit something for–which is also a matter of seeing if there’s anything on hand that might work if finished or revised; I really want to get “The Flagellants” finished and in some kind of shape to get out there, but am not really sure, to be honest, if it’s right for either market that currently has a call out; I am relatively certain it wouldn’t be right for either of the mystery magazines mentioned before.  But, between those magazines and the two other mystery magazines I submit to–that’s four potential stories to get out there, and then there’s the other two submission calls, so that’s a total of six stories I can get out there if I’d like to, and if I can get anything ready, or have something that’s close to being ready.

In other words, I kind of need to get my shit together and get back to putting nose to grindstone, or nothing will  happen. As it is, I already am going to go a second year now without a new book coming out; it’s unlikely even if I finish Bury Me in Shadows that it will be released in 2021 now.

I woke up earlier than I normally do on a Monday, primarily so I won’t have to be rushed this morning on my way out of the house to get to work, and in theory, will be more awake by the time I get to the office. That’s the theory, at any rate; I am already sort of groggy awake, and I am drinking cappuccinos this morning–that should also help, rather than the usual coffee–to help jolt my mind and body into wakefulness. It certainly can’t hurt anything to try something new, and while I abhor getting up at six the way I did this morning usually, so far it’s not been so bad.

We binged Cheer over the course of the weekend, and what a terrific documentary series it was. I remember when it was a thing and everyone was talking about it; it seemed so long ago that I was shocked to realize the show went viral in January of this year. But it was also that lost, pre-pandemic world, so of course it seemed like I was years behind the curve on watching it. Paul and I both got very into it–to the point that we were tense about how they’d do once they made it to nationals–and there were a few times during the series I was surprised to find myself moved to tears. I also don’t remember the last time I ever saw a docuseries of any kind that centered young gay Black men, and did so in such a moving, sympathetic way. We both fell kind of in love with both Jerry and La’Darius, as well as with Lexi and Morgan and Gabi as well. I kind of a had a love/hate thing going with their coach, Monica; and the routines they did were just kind of insane. The production team, who was already responsible for the junior college football series Last Chance U (which I am now thinking about watching), did an excellent job with it, and like everyone else who binged it back when it first aired, not only fell in love with the kids featured, but were bereft when it was over.

We also watched the new episode of Lovecraft Country, which was, as its two previous episodes, equally superb. Like the book, the central focus on this new section of the series centered Letitia; and the actress playing her, Jurnee Smollett, is absolutely killing it in the part. Again, there are monsters in the show, but again, the racists are the more palpable, and more horrifying, threat. It’s also lovely to see the horrible racist white people through the eyes of the Black people for a change, and there’s really no question about where the real threat primarily comes from for the characters. The show is also diverging from the book a bit, but it’s not harming the show in the least; if anything, the show is developing into its own thing, and that is actually a very good thing.

Ah, the cappuccino is starting to kick in, and yes, getting up earlier and drinking them instead of my regular morning coffee is certainly the smart way to go. I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding the idea of getting up at six since we reopened the STI clinic for Mondays and Tuesdays; but I have been, and it’s not been working–I wind up groggy all morning and I don’t get near as much done during my mornings at the office as I should. Here’s hoping that changes this morning, shall we?

I’m trying to shake off the lingering malaise of the pandemic–really, if I put my mind to it and think back through the fog, my productivity has been way down since my world basically shut down, and I also just realized, hey, this is a three day weekend because a week from today is Labor Day; this weekend would be my weekend to spend the evening Friday passing out condoms and taking pictures of hot boys with my phone. There’s no Southern Decadence this year, of course, despite my making thousands of condom packs thus far this summer; it’s another casualty of COVID-19, just as Halloween is likely to be as well. I’m not overwhelmingly confident that things will even been righted next year, and that 2021 won’t be second verse, same as the first.

And on that lovely note, perhaps it is time for me to head back into the spice mines and finish getting ready for work. I need to make my second cappuccino of the morning, pack my lunch, and get my backpack ready for imminent departure as well.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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E-Mail

And just like that, the weekend is over and a new work week has begun; what fresh hells and wonders will this week bring? One thing is for certain–the monotony of every day work life is a thing of the seemingly distant past now. Whatever one wants to say or think or feel about a new work week, it’s not the way it was before. Each work week brings some new change, some new shift in the current reality–which was unthinkable as recently as early February; who could have foreseen a lockdown as big and as extensive as this? Our naïveté at being so delighted to see the hell of 2019 come to an end, and people thinking 2020 has got to be better–yeah, I’ve made that precise fucking mistake before, and never again; we had no idea how good we actually had it in 2019, did we?

Seriously.

I’m not missing the twelve hour days on Mondays and Tuesdays, quite frankly, and I believe those are going to be relegated to the scrap heap of history once this has passed–whenever that will be; I’m thinking November, seriously, and at that am being optimistic–and working five eight hours days is actually much more palatable than it ever seemed before, quite frankly. I like getting home every day shortly after five–closer to six if I have to stop somewhere, like the grocery or to get gas–and I like having my evenings free, to make dinner, write, read, and watch television, and it’s actually nice not being completely exhausted once five pm on Friday rolls around, as well. I need to remember this going forward, and adjust my future work schedule appropriately.

I continue reading Mysterious Skin in dribs and drabs; I’d love to steal more time away from everything else to spend on it, as it is absolutely wonderful, and even better than I’d remembered; and reading it as a crime novel was definitely a smart choice. It’s also reminding me about poetry in language choices, and how sometimes stark simplicity says so very much; something James M. Cain knew, and Megan Abbott knows, intimately; how the correct choice of a single word in a very short sentence can speak volumes, provoke insight, and a sense of wonder in the reader at the art and intelligence at work. I’m in the final third of the book now, and should have it finished by the end of the week.

I also managed to revise two more short stories, which are going to be sent off to submission queues this morning; “Night Follows Night” and “This Thing of Darkness”, and here’s hoping they will find a very happy home somewhere. This pleases me to no end; this flurry of work–even if it’s not actual writing, but revising and polishing counts–and get it out there is a good feeling. I feel like I’m actively chasing this crazy dream again. I doubt all five stories will get taken–they might all be rejected, who knows?–but at least I’m getting my work out there again. Now, to select two more stories for the big ones–Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. I may actually have to finish writing two stories–I’m not sure what else I have on hand that’s just in need of revision–but hey, you never know.

We started watching the HBO show Run–not sure about it yet, but love Merritt Weaver, and started Defending Jacob on Apple Plus last night, with Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, and it’s really good; very well done. We also caught the new episode of City of Angels, which led me to comment, “we’re watching a lot of period pieces lately, what with this and The Plot Against America and Hollywood.” But I am also really enjoying City of Angels; the styling and way it’s filmed reminds me somewhat of Chinatown.

And now, tis back to the spice mines for me. When I get home tonight, I hope to get some more writing accomplished. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Building a Wall

Friday! Friday! Friday!

HUZZAH!

I also submitted my story “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” off to the editor yesterday morning; it was quite a lovely thing to do, and now of course I intend, as I always do, to forget all about it and get on with my life. I spent part of last evening revising another story to submit today–I doubt very seriously it’ll get taken, but nothing ventured, nothing gained–and am looking forward to getting on with some other things this weekend. I need to get some serious work done on the Secret Project, which I haven’t touched since before the pandemic, and God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’d like to get that finished this weekend, along with the revision of my story “Night Follows Night.” Ideally, I’d love to have a story in the submission process with the four publications I aim for–Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and Mystery Tribune–at all times. I just am not sure that I have enough completed stories to keep that going; but if I can get “Night Follows Night” revised this weekend, and then I can move on to another story next week, and so on…by the end of May I’ll have something at each publication, and who knows? Perhaps I might get lucky.

I also need to get back to Bury Me in Shadows at some point; now that I know how to revise the damned thing and make the story work, I’ve been itching to get my hands back on it. I think I may even start rereading the manuscript as it is this weekend; making some notes so I don’t forget all the things I need to do to make it work.

The Edgars were presented on-line yesterday, announced on Twitter, and it went very well–congratulations to everyone, from the judges to the finalists to the winners, for all their hard work–and I realized last night, looking through my mentions, wow, I actually had fun on Twitter yesterday! How fucking crazy is that? Pretty crazy, indeed; but it was an exciting mix of writers and books and styles, and I am really sorry we didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate everyone and everything in person. I hate that people didn’t get their chance to be celebrated at a really nice black-tie event, and obviously, nothing we can do on-line could replicate the excitement of the night, with the champagne and being with everyone…but it was still really nice.

Now if only I can find the time to get today’s story finished and polished and turned in by this evening, that would be terrific.

We finished watching The Plot Against America last night with a two episode binge, and it’s really quite well done and quite disturbing; there were several times throughout the series where it crossed my mind that hmm, this is really making me uncomfortable, maybe we should stop watching–but that was the entire point of the show, and the book, to begin with; to see the parallels today and be made to feel uncomfortable. Chernobyl was very much the same way, and sometimes that’s the role of art and entertainment; to make the viewer uncomfortable with accurate reflection of inhumanity and how it becomes possible–how easily it becomes possible.

No one wants to believe how easy it is for people to go to the dark side, or at the very least, to be complicit.

And I am looking forward to this weekend. I really am. Yes, I need to run to the grocery store and yes, the weekend is rarely, if ever, long enough; but I am very happy that I made it through yet another week and managed to get a lot done.

Sometimes that’s all you can hope for, really.

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The Calm Before the Storm

Alfred Hitchcock was a great film director, and was responsible for some of the best movies ever made, from Rebecca through Notorious through North by Northwest to Vertigo to Strangers on a Train to The Birds to Psycho; the list of great Hitchcock films goes on and on and on and has been studied by film academics and written about; you certainly cannot forget Truffaut/Hitchcock, either. Lost in the discussions of his abilities as a filmmaker (and how he was somewhat abusive to his leading ladies) is his contributions to the culture in other ways. Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran for years; an anthology show like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, he presented bizarre stories (often based on short fiction; perhaps the most famous episode of all was based on a Roald Dahl short story in which a wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to the investigating police officers) on a weekly basis and the show ran for a long time. (It’s available to stream now, and I keep meaning to dive back into the show.

But Hitchcock also was a master, before it was a thing, of licensing his name out for use; his name meant something as a master director of film suspense, and in addition to the television series there were also anthologies, also published under the aegis of Alfred Hitchcock Presents–my grandmother used to buy and read them; so did my parents–and even today one of the best short story markets for crime is Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. There were anthologies for adults, anthologies for teens and anthologies for kids.

And there was also The Three Investigators.

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Bob Andrews parked his bike outside his home in Rocky Beach and entered the house. As he closed the door, his mother called to him from the kitchen.

“Robert? Is that you?”

“Yes, Mom.” He went to the kitchen door. His mother, brown-haired and slender, was making doughnuts.

“How was the library?” she asked.

“It was okay,” Bob told her. After all, there was never any excitement at the library. He worked there part time, sorting returned books and helping with the filing and cataloguing.

“Your friend Jupiter called.” His mother went on rolling out the dough on the board. “He left a message for you.”

“A message?” Bob yelled with sudden excitement. “What was it?”

“I wrote it down. I’ll get it out of my pocket as soon as I finish with this dough.”

“Can’t you remember what he said? He may need me!”

“I could remember an ordinary message,” his other answered, “but Jupiter doesn’t leave ordinary messages. It was something fantastic.”

“Jupiter likes unusual words,” Bob said, controlling his impatience. “He’s read an awful lot of books and sometimes he’s a little hard to understand.”

“Not just sometimes!” his mother retorted. “He’s a very unusual boy. My goodness, how he found my engagement ring, I’ll never know.”

She was referring to the time the previous fall when she had lost her diamond ring. Jupiter Jones had come to the house and requested her to tell him every move she had made the day the ring was lost. Then he had gone out to the pantry, reached up, and picked the ring from behind a row of bottle tomato pickles. Bob’s mother had taken it off and put it there while she was sterilizing the jars.

“I can’t imagine,” Mrs. Andrews said, “how he guessed where that ring was!”

“He didn’t guess, he figured it out,” Bob explained. “That’s how his mind works…Mom, can’t you get the message now?”

“In one minute,” his mother said, giving the dough another flattening roll. “Incidentally, what on earth was that story on the front of yesterday’s paper about Jupiter’s winning the use of a Rolls-Royce sedan for thirty days?”

And that is how The Three Investigators series (technically, in the beginning  “ALFRED HITCHCOCK and the Three Investigators”) began. While it’s not as smooth, per se, as the opening of the Trixie Belden series in The Secret of the Mansion, this is also a dramatically different series, and will always have a place in my heart as one of the best series for kids–if not the best–ever published. It never reached the same heights of popularity as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; which was a shame, because it was a much better series than either of those. For one thing, the Three Investigators actually considered themselves to be professional detectives; Nancy and the Hardys, amongst with most of the others, were strictly amateurs (although in the Kathryn Kenny books, “the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency” became kind of a running gag or thing; it was what Trixie and Honey decided they wanted to be when they grew up; and frankly, I’ve always kind of wanted to see a Trixie-as-an-adult hard-boiled series). And while this opening is a little longish about getting to the point, it eventually does; Bob is a highly excitable young man who works at the library, and this is also our first look at Jupiter Jones, and one of the best things about the series is Jupiter; he is the central character and there would be no Three Investigators without him–and he is one of the most remarkable, and original, characters in kids’ mystery series fiction.

I always thought of Rocky Beach as a sort of stand-on for Long Beach in this series; this is where the boys live, and it’s just south of Los Angeles and a drive to Hollywood. This is where the three boys who make up the titular team of the series live; the third investigator, whom we have yet to meet in this opening, is Pete Crenshaw. And that bit about the contest and the Rolls-Royce? It’s very important. Access to a vehicle, and someone to drive them around, is an integral part of the creation of this investigative agency; they can’t always count on getting rides or paying for cabs or only involving themselves in cases they can investigate on bikes; this is the impetus Jupiter has been looking for to open the agency. Jupiter’s message to Bob is impenetrable to his mother; but it makes perfect sense to Bob–and therein lies another one of the great charms of this series: Jupiter lives with his uncle Titus and aunt Mathilda; the couple own and operate the Jones Salvage Yard, a sprawling junkyard where they repurpose other’s people things, or fix them. Jupiter himself is quite adept at wiring and repairing things; just one, as we the readers will find out, of his many skills. Hidden deep within the salvage yard is the wreck of a mobile home, which the boys use as “headquarters”; over the years Jupiter has managed to hide the mobile home behind piles of junk. The yard is also surrounded by an enormous, tall wooden fence, and Uncle Titus has encouraged local artists to paint murals on the fence. With the help of Bob and Pete, Jupiter has created “secret entrances” into the salvage yard, with tunnels through the piled up junk; that way the boys can come and go as they please without having to use the main entrance. They also have a covered workshop in another area hidden from view; Jupiter’s message to Bob is simply Red gate rover, come over come over, the presses are rolling. Bob knows this means,  come to headquarters, use red gate Rover, and we’re printing our business cards. 

“Red Gate Rover” means use the entrance through the fence that is a mural of a team of firefighters fighting an enormous blaze; there’s a dog watching them, and the knothole in the dog’s eye will spring the hidden gate open. And sure enough, once he gets there, the printing press is rolling and Jupiter presents him with a card, that reads:

THE THREE INVESTIGATORS

We Investigate Anything

? ? ?

–and also has their names. Jupiter is, naturally, the first investigator with Pete as second; Bob is Records & Research, since he works in the library and is their best writer; it is his job to write up their cases. As such, and with an understanding that all cases also need to be introduced as well as get sufficient publicity for their agency to get clients, Jupiter has decided on two things: to ask Alfred Hitchcock to introduce their cases, and offer to help find him a truly haunted house, as he is looking for one for his next film. Using the Rolls-Royce, driven by a very proper British chauffeur named Worthington, Jupiter and Pete call on Mr. Hitchcock at the studio. (The Rolls-Royce, by the way, has every luxurious amenity available to a limousine in that time; and is gold-plated, which sticks out. It was originally commissioned by a Saudi oil millionaire.) They bluff their way in–partly because Jupiter pretends to be Hitchcock’s nephew, even arranging his face to imitate his expressions and voice and patterns of speech–but Hitchcock isn’t that interested in introducing their cases, but has no worries about them looking for a haunted house for him. (While they are calling on Hitchcock, Bob has gone to the library to research something–Jupiter writes the words Terror Castle on the back of one of their business cards and offered no explanation.) But when Jupiter does his impression of “Hitchcock as a 13 year old”, Hitchcock is offended and promises to introduce the first case as long as Jupiter will never do the impression again (and, it is to be noted, the introduction and afterward, as supposedly written by Hitchcock, is clearly done so grudgingly; this was a genius touch by author Robert Arthur–and over the course of the series Hitchcock not only grows fond of the boys but starts sending clients their way).

The thing I loved perhaps the most about this series (outside of the wonderful titles for the books) was they actually were investigators. They actually solved the mysteries they were investigating–well, Jupiter did, mostly–through observation and interpretation of data. Jupiter was, in many ways, kind of a young Sherlock–and he often referred to Holmes. Another thing that was very clever about the series is that the stories were rarely, if ever, told from Jupiter’s point of view; Bob and Pete were always the point-of-view characters, representing the reader, who also couldn’t figure out what was going on. Since it mattered for suspense and storytelling to not know what Jupiter was thinking, Bob and Pete stood in for the reader, confused by the cryptic things Jupiter said–or casually observing Jupiter noticing something that didn’t make sense.

Another thing that, in my opinion, makes the series stronger than others is it is made, very plain, from the very beginning that fat-shaming is a bad thing. Jupiter is described as stocky or husky; he deeply resents being called fat, and whenever someone cruelly makes such an observation, both Pete and Bob always get angry and jump to his defense (Jupiter was also a child star, playing Baby Fatso in a Little Rascals type television show; his being a fat child made him the butt of the jokes in the show and he DESPISES being laughed at)–compare that to how Bess is frequently mocked for being hungry and chubby in the Nancy Drew books, or the depiction of the Hardy Boys’ supposed best friend Chet Morton as an always-hungry, overweight comic relief and foil they always laugh at–yeah, not cool, Stratemeyer Syndicate, not cool at all.

The first Three Investigators story I read was The Mystery of the Moaning Cave. We were in Alabama one summer, and staying with a cousin of my mother’s who had a son my age who also loved to read, and loved mysteries. He had a stack of library books, and I picked up my very first Hardy Boys read, The Mystery of Cabin Island, out of the stack. I was two chapters in when he finished reading his book (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave) and asked me to swap books with him. I was enjoying the Hardy Boys, but the cover of the Three Investigators book he was offering me was tantalizing, plus that title! How could a cave moan? I started reading, and was soon swept up in the story–which remains, to this day, one of my favorites in the series. It reminded me of another book I greatly loved as a child, The Mystery of the Haunted Mine, but the problem was my library didn’t have any of these books, and I could never find more of them anywhere. In junior high a friend of mine was a fan of the series, which led me to reread The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, which I loved all over again, and then its predecessor, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, which was also amazing. I eventually discovered, on a birthday trip to Toys R Us, an entire shelf of the books; I got five–The Secret of Terror Castle, The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, The Secret of Skeleton Island, The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, and The Mystery of the  Coughing Dragon. 

I honestly don’t recall how I was able to collect the rest of the series, or where I got them or what order in which I read them, but I did eventually read the entire series. Later, the series moved on to other authors other than Robert Arthur and the quality became more hit-and-miss, but even the worst Three Investigators case was better than the best books in other series. I still love the Three Investigators, and occasionally will take one down to reread it, again marveling at how well constructed the books are; how tight the plots and how strong the characterizations. I also loved how something small and simple, like the search for an escaped parrot (The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot) would lead to a massively complicated and interesting case about a massive art theft, or the search for a missing cat with mismatched eyes turned into The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, or a near car crash led them to a small European principality and international espionage in The Mystery of the Silver Spider. Their cases inevitably started small, but eventually grew into something major; like they grabbed onto a loose, seemingly unimportant thread that unraveled a much larger case.

One thing that always amused me was how adults rarely, if ever, took them seriously. Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, and the parents of Pete and Bob, always looked at their “firm” as a “little mystery-solving club”. Inevitably the adults who pooh-poohed their abilities had to eat their words. I also loved that Jupiter wasn’t athletic but was smart. I identified with that a lot more than I did with the Hardy Boys, who were literally good at everything they tried.

The death of Alfred Hitchcock was an enormous blow, and the publisher–Random House, I believe–introduced a mystery writer for a while to replace Hitchcock, but the quality was already starting to decline, and eventually even the fictitious mystery writer, Robert Sylvester, was replaced by another fictitious entity; but the book in which the switch was made didn’t avoid the truth of Hitchcock’s death, and they actually handled it very well.

And some of the earlier books are seriously dated now; The Secret of Terror Castle centered on the home of a silent film horror star whose career was derailed by his speaking voice when talkies came; obviously, that would have happened around ninety years ago now, so there wouldn’t be any contemporaries still alive. Likewise, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock centered on someone who was a sound effects expert for radio suspense shows–which would, at best, have been seventy years ago now.

I’ve never believed this series was as popular as it deserved to be, nor did it get the attention it truly deserved. The books have been out of print for awhile now–maybe you can get used copies, there may even be ebooks now, I don’t know–but they should still be available. I would love to write one of these, to be honest.

They were the shit, y’all.

You’re Still the One

Yep, it’s here. Tonight starts the St. Charles parade schedule, and my life is going to be upended for the next two weeks. Tonight’s parades are Oshun, Cleopatra, and Alla. There are five Saturday, and three on Sunday. Remember–this is the warm-up weekend, the one where we get our throw-catching sea legs to prepare for the marathon to come next week.

As a result, rather than going in later this afternoon, I am going in to the office early this morning, so I can run important errands after I get off work and then can get to the gym and get my workout in before the parades start arriving. Heavy heaving sigh. I’m going to try to get some writing done, but it’s not going to be easy over the course of the weekend, what with eleven parades passing by at the corner. At least on Sunday they are all afternoon parades, so I’ll have the evening free before my two consecutive twelve hour shifts. The rest of the week I have to go in early so I can get home before the parking is all gone and they close St. Charles Avenue, and of course next Friday I’ll be strolling down St. Charles to the Quarter to pass out condoms, and then walking home that evening up the parade route. Yay for corn dogs and funnel cakes! They make everything better.

They do! Don’t be a hater, dear.

I did work on the Secret Project a little while last night; not much, but the character’s voice is starting to come to me more and I am seeing the story a little more clearly, so it’s a nice pass I am giving to this one, and hopefully this will be the pass that finishes it so I can move on to the next part.

Huzzah, I think.

New Orleans’ bipolar weather took a turn yesterday, dropping a ridiculous amount of degrees so it was bitterly cold when I came home last night; I suspect more of the same is in store for us this first weekend of parades, which kind of takes a lot of the fun out of parade-attendance; of course, rain will always be the worst parade weather. The high today is fifty-eight; it’s forty-five right now. I recognize that probably doesn’t qualify as cold enough weather to complain about in most of the country–but I don’t live in most of the country. So there.

I am also mapping out “Festival of the Redeemer.” It’s going to probably be longer than a short story, but not long enough to be a novel–have I mentioned this before? Probably, my memory is really a bit on the disgraceful side these days. It’s a complicated story, and how I want to tell it–in flashbacks as the couple the story is about wander the streets of Venice, sight-seeing, and climaxes while they watch the Festival fireworks from their balcony at the Gritti Palace–is complicated and will require careful planning; but that careful planning also means that I need to map it out before hand, in order to make it easier to write for me. It’s probably going to end up as a stand alone novella, sold as an ebook, most likely; but there are worse things I could do.

The whole novella conversation also has me wondering about this Chanse short story I’ve been writing, “Once a Tiger”–well, writing off and on for about two years now, if I am going to be honest–and now I am thinking it’s more sense, and more likely, that it would work better as a novella. It’s too much story for a short story, which was why it’s been stalled as long as it has been, and now I am thinking, well you can always just write the story you want it to be and see how long it actually winds up. I was trying to keep it to less than 6000 words, which is the max for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock–which is what I always have in mind when I am writing a short story; they are the best paying and most prestigious market for crime short stories out there, so I always have an eye to sending any story I write (which isn’t being written on request or for an anthology) to them for consideration.

I’ve been in Ellery Queen twice already, and Alfred Hitchcock is still on my bucket list–although it takes a major commitment to send something to Hitchcock–the last story I sent them took over a year to be rejected, which is insane. But they also probably get a lot of submissions, and probably also request stories from people, too. Ah, well.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. This morning is cold, and the day I am facing is going to be long, so it’s probably best to hit the ground running.

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Take This Job and Shove It

My very first job was at a McDonalds.

I was sixteen, a senior in high school, and I actually wanted to work; make my own money to buy things for myself. I was a very good employee; I wasn’t to begin with, but an honest conversation with an encouraging manager turned me into one. I knew how to do everything by the time I quit; I could open or close; work the grill, a cash register, or the drive through; I could clean grills and take apart the ice cream and shake machines and put them back together again; I knew how to slake french fries and how to package hamburgers; how to dress them and toast the buns; how to clean the floors and drain the grease vats; to tube tartar and special sauce. I knew how to make pancakes and scrambled eggs; Egg McMuffins and sausage patties. My uniform was brown polyester and a paper hat. I could take your order, tray it, ring you up and give you your correct change within ninety seconds. Thank you and come again with a smile to every person I worked with; you were given orders with a please and you acknowledged with a thank you. We weren’t allowed to stand around–if I heard if there’s time to lean then there’s time to clean once, I heard it so many times it felt like I heard it in my sleep. I was paid $2.25 an hour; minimum wage increased after a year and I also got a nickel raise per hour, bringing me up to a whopping $2.60 per hour.

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the course of my life, and no matter how crappy a job it was, I always tried to make the best out of it and do the best I could at it. I usually would get bored once I’d mastered an aspect of my job; I needed to learn new tasks and do different things in order for me to not eventually quit–or get so bored on the job I’d make a heinous and stupid mistake that got me fired. I always took getting fired as a sign that yeah, I should have moved on already, thanks for the kick in the pants. All I ever really wanted to do was write–and for so much of my life I was convinced that it was just a pipe dream that would never ever come true, for so many varied and different and just plain sad reasons, with the end result that I was always trying to find a career, something that could hold my interest, and to no avail, with the end result that I was completely miserable.

Every once in a while, whenever I get frustrated or angry with the publishing business–whether it’s a late payment, or another rejection, or another publisher that isn’t paying their authors, or systemic oppression of some kind or another–and I start to think fuck this business, it’s brutal and it sucks and why on earth do I keep doing this to myself…I do something to remind me how grateful I am for this career, this crazy, infuriating, never really quite what I want it to be career: I like to  think about the path that it took to get here, some of the jobs I’ve had;  all the missed opportunities and how easy it was to get discouraged and for self-doubt to insinuate itself into my consciousness and get me to give up again for a period of time…

But I always somehow came back to the wanting to write.

This was a good year for me, although I don’t seem to remember ever thinking that over the course of the year as it passed. I published the eighth Scotty Bradley novel this past October, Royal Street Reveillon, and I am, for once, actually rather pleased with a book that I’ve published (which is a step in the right direction, right?). I also published a collection of short crime fiction stories; some originals, others previously published: Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Two of the stories were nominated for awards; the eponymous title story was a Macavity finalist and “Cold Beer No Flies” (originally published in Florida Happens, the St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology) was an Anthony Award finalist. Pretty cool, right? There was also that Anthony nomination, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to have lost to Shawn Cosby. My story “This Town” was included in Holly West’s Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, a cause near-and-dear to me. The story is one of my personal favorites of my own, and got some really nice feedback from people. I also got my story “Moist Money” in the Dark Yonder anthology, which is also a fundraiser for a food bank.

I managed to write several drafts of a new novel manuscript, but it remains incomplete at this time; I also have two other novels in some sort of progress just sitting around waiting for me to get them done. I do not see this as a failure (I used to do just that; something unfinished? You failed) but as symptomatic of me taking my time and trying to do better work. I felt like I was getting stale, and so I decided to take some time away from writing as well as try to rejigger the way I work on fiction. And if it means that it takes longer to write a book I’m completely satisfied with, so be it.

I also came up with a great idea for a new noir novel, set in the ambiguous early 1950’s–Chlorine–and even took a few hours to bang out a first chapter. Likewise, I also came up with ideas for another Scotty book and another Chanse book, as well as a stand alone crime novel built around Venus Casanova, at least in conception; I may not be able to  use the “world of New Orleans” I’ve built in my two series and several short stories, which are all kind of interconnected. I wrote several short stories this year, but still have any number of unfinished ones and others than need additional drafts. I started planning out another short story collection, and an essay collection.

So, in retrospect, it was kind of a good year for me as a writer. I also made several recommendation lists, for people to check out my work–both as a gay writer and as a New Orleans writer. I still have some things on my bucket list to check off, like getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and an MWA anthology, doing a Noir at the Bar, among many other things.

So, while I may have spent most of the year feeling miserable about my writing career, a look back shows just how negative I actually was being–which is something I really need to work on. I’m trying to not be so self-deprecating as I have been my entire life, belittling my own accomplishments, because it’s kind of self-defeating. Sure I could have probably written more, and done more, and gotten further along in my career–but everything happens the way it does for a reason, and I have to believe always works out in the best way possible for me–I have to believe that because it has proven true, over and over and over again.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. LSU plays Oklahoma this afternoon in the play-offs, and while obviously I want LSU to keep winning and keep this magical season going….the disappointment won’t be too great if they do lose; because we do have this magical season to look back on.

Have a lovely last Saturday of 2020, Constant Reader.

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Hocus Pocus

Tuesday morning, and I somehow managed to survive yesterday. Sunday night’s sleep wasn’t terrific, and by the late afternoon I was plenty exhausted and tired. I had to persevere, and what’s more, I was interviewed for a podcast last night when I got home from the office. Somehow I managed to get through that, and within half an hour of disconnecting from Skype, I was in bed and asleep within moments. Last night’s sleep was quite lovely–I feel amazingly rested this morning–and so this day might not be as terrible as the previous.

Today is going to be a good day.

I started writing two new short stories yesterday, “The Spirit Tree” and “Moist Money.” “Moist Money” is for an anthology I was asked to write a story for; it finally came to me sometime either Sunday evening or sometime during the day yesterday, and I scribbled down the first two paragraphs in my journal, which I transcribed yesterday, and then added another couple of hundred words. “The Spirit Tree” was inspired by moving books around on Sunday, and one of them–a nonfiction book about snake-handling churches in southern Appalachia–I opened the cover and looked over the first page–which was about “spirit trees”; trees that rural Appalachian folk, superstitious and religious as they are, create to keep bad spirits away. What they do is put glass bottles on tree branches, so the bottles clink together in the wind (“warriors, come out and play”) and the sound the glass tinkling against other glass makes supposedly scares away evil spirits and keeps them from infesting the house. I hadn’t thought about spirit trees since I was a child, and I thought, not only is that a great title, I can actually think of a rural noir story to write that matches it. Yesterday I got down about five to six hundred words of the opening; this is a story, I think, I might try to sell to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock when finished. I was too tired to do much more than write the openings of both stories last night; but I am hoping to get more written on them this week. I also need to get those three chapters of Bury Me in Shadows written, so it can sit and percolate for the next couple of months until I can get back to it.

It’s also weird to think Royal Street Reveillon will be out into the world next month. It seemed like it took me forever to write that book, and I guess it kind of did? But it’s nice; I’m glad to be putting another Scotty out there into the world, and I’m also not sure when I’m going to write the next one. I already know what it’s going to be–Hollywood South Hustle–but I’m just not sure when I’m going to get to it. I want to, as I have said in previous blogs, get all these books about teenagers I’m in some stage of writing cleared off my plate and out into the world before I start writing anything else–a cleansed palate, as it were–and keep writing my short stories and essays along with writing those. I’d love to get my second short story collection out into the world by 2021–that would be the one I’m calling Once a Tiger and Other Stories–and I also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger,” a novella, finished sometime before the end of the year, as well as “Fireflies,” my horror novella, as well.

So much to do, right? And I really need to proof Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go up for sale again. Maybe I can make that a goal of my long weekend for my birthday? Stranger things have happened. I really need to get all these things that are hanging over my head finished and out of the way, so I can focus more easily on writing Chlorine next year.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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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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Love Machine

Ah, Monday of the week that ends with the tenting and the Weekend o’Festivals. Just thinking about getting through this week and this weekend makes me tired. Very tired.

We started moving perishables and other things that could be poisoned by the termite gas over to the carriage house yesterday; even as we did so, I kept remembering and finding more things that need to go over there. I’ve never experienced termite genocide before, that oh-so-uniquely New Orleans experience that so many others have before multiple times. It’s got me thinking about the possibility of murder by termite tent, of course–although I am pretty certain I’ve read a book where that happened, I think it was by Elaine Viets.

Murder-a-Go-Go’s officially releases today as well, so those who preordered it should be getting it delivered to your electronic reading devices and those who ordered hard-copies should be getting them soon. Huzzah! I love book birthdays; my own for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is soon to come; April 10th, officially. Order, order, order! And don’t forget, the first ever Chanse MacLeod short story is in this book!

I reread my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s again yesterday, primarily because another idea came to me yesterday, which I shared on social media: Someone really needs to write a spring break noir called WHERE THE BOYS DIE and I would read the hell out of that. I do think that’s a terrific idea; is there any better setting for a noir than a small beach town taken over by tens of thousands of partying college students? (I also had another idea for a book, based on an actual brutal murder that took place over spring break several decades ago; hat tip to Scott Heim for reminding me of that murder) I had always wanted to do one over the course of Southern Decadence weekend as well; I still might do that one. Anyway, I’m digressing. So, on my post about Where the Boys Die some suggested I write it, others that it sounded like an anthology, and then Jessica Laine said, you already wrote this story for MURDER-A-GO-GO’S, and I loved your story. 

The thing about being a writer is that all-too-often you don’t remember things about your work once it’s finished. “This Town,” my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s, is one of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written, to be honest; I think it’s also one of my best. But, when I read Kristopher Zgorski’s lovely review and he singled out my story as one of many for individual praise, and then seeing Jessica’s lovely comment, I decided I should probably reread the story since my recollection of what I actually wrote was so vague…and there it was. Constant Reader, it’s good. I then pulled up my story “Neighborhood Alert,” which is going to be published in Mystery Tribune, and it, too, is good. This was revelatory for me; as I may have mentioned, another story of mine was recently rejected by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and that had, of course, put me into a bit of a tailspin as far as my writing of short stories was concerned…astonishing at how easy it is to have one’s confidence in one’s own work shattered, isn’t it?

And that also got me to thinking about the second Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” that has tragically been stalled for so long. Short stories are actually more intimate than novels; in that you have much less space to develop a story and less room for characters so it has to be scaled back some. “Once a Tiger” is struggling because, quite simply, there are too many characters in it; how does one investigate a death at a fraternity house on a college campus when there would have to be well over a hundred brothers and pledges? That was where I struggled with the story; even the police would have trouble sorting all of this out, so imagine the trouble Chanse would have with it, working alone as he does. I still want to write a murder mystery set at Chanse’s LSU fraternity, where Chanse has to come back and solve the crime, but I just don’t–at the moment–see how that can be done as a short story. Maybe now that I’ve said that it will come to me–just like the other day, how to weave the two plots for the next Scotty book came to me from out of nowhere.

I love when that happens.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Drivin’ My Life Away

We left the Orpheus parade last night when it started raining and the wind picked up. It was already cold out there, but that weather shift was going to take it from merely unpleasant to intolerable pretty fast, so we skedaddled back to the Lost Apartment and called it a night.

But Orpheus is a beautiful parade, and the floats simply breathtaking.

And there’s nothing like Carnival to make me remember why I love this city so much. Carnival is pretty much unavoidable , no matter how hard you try, and there’s no point in resisting it because it isn’t going away. Even those who hate Carnival (which I don’t understand, unless they are also the people who kick puppies and so forth) have to ride the wave until it’s over. Today is the last day of my Carnival related vacation, and it’s been absolutely lovely. Did I get everything done that I wanted to get done? Of course not. I never do. But I did do some thinking, and thinking time is often in short supply. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the WIP–I may go back and revise the first ten chapters to weave in the threads that are missing before writing the second half of the book–and with any luck, I can have a decent draft of it finished by the end of March.

Fingers crossed.

It’s very cold this morning for a Mardi Gras Day, and I kind of am glad Paul and I don’t do Fat Tuesday anymore. Not that it wouldn’t be fun, but all the costume planning and so forth, and I doubt seriously I could drink all day anymore and still make it to work on Ash Wednesday and be functional. Sigh, the pleasures of getting old. But I always feel like my time is borrowed, and the life I have is a gift I never thought I would see. So there’s that, you know?

I do have some cooking to do today; I need to make bacon for lunch sandwiches and I am going to make the chili today–thank goodness it’s cold, right? I am also going to go ahead and make chicken salad for Paul’s lunches this week.

I am trying to decide what I want to write next, if I do another Scotty. There’s an amorphous idea boiling in the back of my head that’s been back there for quite some time–Hollywood South Hustle–which would combine two stories I’ve been pondering for a while (I am leaning toward this one as the next Scotty because the other two–Bywater Bohemia Bougie and Redneck Riviera Rhumba–don’t have even an amorphous story dancing in my head other than the titles. I think Redneck Riviera will have to have something to do with Frank’s wrestling career and the other has to do with gentrification, but that’s all I’ve got. Hollywood South on the other hand has two different plots I want to write–one about a film industry scam that actually happened here in New Orleans, and the other about the victim of a vicious assault, twenty years later. It’s just about trying to figure out, really, how those two plots roll into each other and can run parallel to each other in order to make a cohesive story. Plus there’s another plot element that needs to be wrapped up, carried over from the current, and I think this plot can accommodate that story pretty well. This is kind of the Scotty book I originally intended to write as the fourth book in the series, but Katrina pretty much buried that, at least for a while. (I’ve already spun part of that original plot into Murder in the Rue Ursulines; but since it was a Chanse book it changed a lot; enough so that using the original idea as a Scotty would absolutely work.)

But…it’s nice to have another idea for Scotty lingering in my head, on the back-burner. Maybe I’ll even get to it later this year.

Stranger things have happened.

I also want to work on Monsters of New Orleans. I’ve not done any short story work in a while, and I kind of miss it. I had another story turned down by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, but that’s only whetted my appetite to try to get something else published in there. There’s a long story, novella-length, called “Never Kiss a Stranger” that I’d also like to get back to work on, but on the other hand, I’m wondering if the story might make for a better novel than long-form story. I suppose I should finish a draft before making a decision, one way or the other.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines for me. I was thinking about working on some stuff today, since I’m not leaving the house, but I think I’ll just read instead.

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

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