He Stopped Loving Her Today

I put off making a grocery run from Saturday to Sunday, like a fool, only to discover the Baronne Street Rouse’s closed for Easter this year; I decided not to go to the one in Uptown because I didn’t feel like driving all the way down there only to find out the drive had been in vain. I did stop at the gas station–filled it up for slightly more than fifteen dollars, something that’s never happened since I bought the thing–and then at Walgreens to get a few things I could get there. It was weird navigating the empty streets of New Orleans; I was reminded very much of that time post-Katrina when I came back and most of the city was empty. I itched to turn stop lights into stop signs–and at one point did stop at a stop sign and wait for it to change. It was weird, very weird–the vast emptiness of streets that are usually filled with cars and seeing more people than the beggars at the intersections. Had the stop lights not have been working, the similarities would have been even eerier.

And of course, people were going through red lights and ignoring all rules of traffic, because they clearly were the only people our driving. #cantfixtrash

I managed to eke out another thousand words on the Sherlock story,  and I was enormously pleased to make some sort of progress.  It’s very weird because I am trying out the Doyle voice and style–which I am neither familiar with nor used to–which makes the going perhaps slower than it ordinarily would be. At least I hope that’s the case, at any rate; it’s been so long since I’ve actually written anything or worked on anything and gotten anywhere with it, I sometimes fear that I’ve fallen out of the habit and practice of writing. (I always worry the ability to write–the ability to create–is going to go away and leave me, particularly in time of crisis; my reaction to the Time of Troubles, sadly, wasn’t to retreat into my writing but rather to stop almost entirely.)

Yesterday was rather delightful; the entire weekend was lovely. It’s always nice to get rest, to sleep well, to be able to read and occasionally do some writing. I am very deep into Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting and, while I do distinctly remember enjoying the book when I read it, I am loving it more than I would have thought (as I have with the other recent Stewart rereads); perhaps as a writer myself and an older person, it resonates more? I can appreciate the artistry more? I don’t know, but I am really glad I decided to revisit Stewart novels I’ve not read in decades again. I just can’t get over how she brilliantly she undercuts the governess/Jane Eyre trope, and how easily she does it. Truly remarkable. I also finished it before bed, and it’s marvelous, simply marvelous–and will be the subject of another blog post.

We started watching Devs on Hulu last night, which people have been raving about, and while I give it a lot of props for production values…it moved so slowly I kept checking my social media on my iPad. It was vaguely interesting, sort of, but we just couldn’t get vested in it–there was a bit of a show-offy nature to it; like they were going overboard in saying see how good we are? We’re an important show and we’re going to win all the Emmys. I doubt we’ll go back to it, especially since Killing Eve is back, and Dead to Me is coming back for its second season; something else we watch was also returning relatively soon, too–and of course, I just remembered I pay for CBS All Access; not sure why, but there are some shows on there I’d like to watch, like the new Star Trek shows and Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone. (But you see what I’m saying about paying too much for too many streaming services? I really need to pay more attention to that, and one of these days I’m going to need to sit down, figure out what we need and what we don’t need, and cut some of these services off once and for all.

I think my next reread for the Reread Project is going to be the first in Elizabeth Peters’ amazing Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank. There’s an Amelia Peabody fan account on Twitter (@teamramses) that I follow; they usually post quotes from the books and occasionally run polls, and they also reminded me of how I discovered the series. I originally found it on the wire rack (when I replied to the tweet, I got it wrong; I said I found it on the paperback rack at Walgreens; wrong drug store chain) of paperbacks at a Long’s drugstore in Fresno. I was still deep in the thrall of Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Mary Stewart at the time, and here was another romantic suspense novel SET IN EGYPT, by an author I didn’t know. I absolutely loved the book, and looked for more books by Elizabeth Peters the next time I went to Waldenbooks at the mall–but they didn’t have any, and eventually I forgot about her. Flash forward many years, and a title of a new paperback on the new releases rack at Waldenbooks and More jumped out at me: The Last Camel Died at Noon. What a great title! I had to buy it, took it home, and started reading it….and you can imagine my delight, and joy, to discover that Crocodile on the Sandbank was not, in fact, a stand alone, but rather the first in a series I was bound to love. I went back and started the series over from the beginning, collecting them all, and I also started buying them as new releases in hardcover because I couldn’t wait for the paperback. It might not actually be a bad idea to revisit the entire series…I also think The Last Camel Died at Noon (it’s still one of my favorite titles of all time) was when I discovered Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels were both the pseudonyms of archaeologist Dr. Barbara Mertz, and I went on a delightful period of reading all of their backlists as well.

One of my biggest regrets of my writing career–in which I’ve met so many of my writing heroes–is that I was never able to meet Dr. Mertz before she died. She was going to be the guest of honor at the first Malice Domestic I attended, but she was too ill and she died shortly thereafter. But one thing I learned, from reading all of her books–but especially the Peters novels–was that humor can work in a suspense/mystery novel, and can make a reader engage even more with it. Dr. Mertz was also a master of the great opening line. In one of the Vicky Bliss novels, for example–I think Silhouette in Scarlet–opens with this treasure: “I swear, this time it was not my fault.”

And while I have been cleared to return to work today, my failure in deciding to wait until Easter to go to the grocery store, as well as forgetting an integral and necessary part to my working at home today at the office over a week ago means that I decided to use today as a vacation day, and try to get all the remaining loose odds and ends (mail, groceries) taken care of today, and return to the actual office tomorrow. (I am going to do the windows today if it kills me.) Yesterday we were supposed to have bad thunderstorms, and while the air got thick and heavy, it never actually rained here–although the rest of Louisiana was blasted with these same storms that somehow chose to avoid New Orleans–there were even tornadoes in Monroe.

The weirdest thing to come out of this whole experience has been my sudden, new addiction to my Kindle app on my iPad, which has me thinking that I can do a massive purge/cull  of my books now, keeping only the ones I can’t replace, if needed, as ebooks. I’ve avoided reading electronically for so long, but I find with my Kindle app I can just put the iPad to the side for a little while and pick it up again when I have a moment or so to read. I tore through all the Mary Stewart novels I’ve reread recently on the Kindle app, and that’s where my copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank is. I doubt that I’m going to get rid of all my books any time soon–there are still some I want to keep, obviously, and it’s not like I can afford right now to go to the Amazon website or the iBooks one and replace everything right now anyway…but then again, I think, you’d only need replace them when you’re ready to read them, right?

I am literally torn here.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I made some great progress on the Sherlock story–it now clocks in at over two thousand words, and I’d like to get a working first draft finished, if not today, then before the weekend so I can edit it and the other story that’s due by the end of the month as well over the course of the weekend. April is beginning to slip through my fingers, and while I am still not completely certain of what day it is every day, I’m getting better about figuring it all out.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Can’t We Try

And just like that, this is the last day of my combination of illness/vacation. The good news is that I think I’m over everything that prevented the trip to Bouchercon in Dallas; the other good news is that I feel remarkably rested, centered, and ready to get back into the world again. I slept deeply and well again last night–and for those of you who can sleep well every night, I hope you appreciate it! I certainly never did back in the days when I could fall asleep simply by putting my head on the pillow and closing my eyes.

That seems so very long ago now.

These little vacations, I think, are very important for me. I need to recharge more frequently than I used to, and the weekends, while helpful, simply aren’t enough anymore. I have another little week-long vacation coming at the end of this month; I always try to take them around office holidays–so I am taking the first three days of Thanksgiving week off. As I said, I do need to take these little vacations every now and then in order to continue functioning; I wear out a lot easier now that I am older.

Paul and I got caught up on Catherine the Great last night, which is quite enjoyable (although as I said to Paul, “Catherine’s life when she was younger, and how she came to power, is a lot more interesting than this part of her life; but since you have Helen Mirren, it has to be about her when she’s older.” And Helen Mirren is absolutely killing it.

We also watched the first three episodes of Watchmen last night, and we are all in on this one, too. Regina King is just a goddess, and one of our best actresses working today. The story is all too apt for this time, as well–it’s themes of racism and white supremacy and fighting it, while exposing all the ugly nastiness of white supremacy, is all too too timely for our present day–and the third episode, which brings the remarkably talented and vastly under-appreciated Jean Smart into the cast, was one of the best. As a federal agent who hates vigilantes, and has come to Tulsa to help fight not only the white supremacy but to also bust “vigilantes”–which would be, in her own words, “some rich asshole with too many toys”–Smart is the anchor the show needed–the first two episodes didn’t seem as cohesive or to make as much sense as they all do now; the addition of her and her character pulled the entire show together and has essentially set up the conflict for the rest of the season. I never read the graphic novel on which the show is based; but it’s another take at superheroes (vigilantes) like Amazon’s The Boys, and it veers away from the path that DC and Marvel set up with their own hero universes.

I started reading another book yesterday, but am not sure I’m going to finish it–too much misogyny and homophobia in it already–it was originally published in 1962–but I might go ahead and finish it; it would tie directly into the essay about toxic masculinity that reading I the Jury inspired, and let’s face it, that essay needs other examples rather than just Spillane. I know I want to reread James Ellroy’s Clandestine because of its remembered homophobia; it’s one of the reasons I never read more Ellroy, despite always wanting to. He’s an MWA Grand Master; deeply respected in the field, and considered one of the giants in the genre, plus LA Confidential alone sounds terrific. And reading Ellroy to get a sense of 1950’s Los Angeles is probably the best way to get a sense for the time, for Chlorine.

I’m also still thinking about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. It’s just that good, Constant Reader. I also saw she has signed to do a novel for Agora, the Polis Books diversity imprint; I seriously can’t wait to read that.

I’ve done very little writing since I went on vacation; I’ve been primarily focusing on resting, doing some cleaning and filing, and getting over being sick. I’ve felt really good the last few days, and I think I can face returning to the office again tomorrow. I’d like to get some writing done today–I also want to get my email inbox emptied out–but I am not going to pressure myself; I am simply going to take the day as it comes and try to get whatever needs to be done finished as it comes along. I kind of need to reread where I am with Bury Me in Shadows anyway; I’ve not even really looked at it much over the last two weeks as I was not feeling myself. Today I feel rested and relaxed and healthy enough to possibly get some work done; and even if I don’t–if I save my energy because I am going back to work again tomorrow–I should be able to get some reading done. I may go ahead and finish reading that book I started to read this weekend; it’s kind of short, and so it shouldn’t take terribly long to read, right?

And then I can move on to something else.

I’m still enjoying Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, although I always find the early Colonial period of New Orleans a bit dull and uninteresting…although I am curious to see how the street–and the city itself–eventually became such a rough place. People in Louisiana outside of New Orleans–the ones who comment on newspaper articles and television station websites–always trash New Orleans as being “dangerous” and “full of crime” and “unsafe”; which, to me, I have always considered codewords  for racists, who can’t stand the idea of all the people of color who live and work here. They often will talk, in their little comment/rants, about how New Orleans “didn’t used to be like that” and bemoan the wonderful, lily-white days before desegregation. But my reading of New Orleans history definitely gives the lie to those comments; historically, the city has always been a hotbed of crime and murder. Always. Those lovely “white flight emigrants” are like those people who seem to think the 1950’s was this idyllic period of American history, when it was anything but that; the ones who think Happy Days was a documentary, and Leave It to Beaver was reality television. Frankly, it wasn’t particularly a great time to be white, either–McCarthyism, the widespread fear of communism and the Soviets, the shadow of the mushroom cloud, the rise of the suburbs–it was not the wonderful time we are so often told it was. What was wonderful about the 1950’s? The economy was booming in the post-war period.

Which should tell you all you need to know about white American priorities.

Over this past weekend I got an idea about what to do with a failed short story I’ve done many drafts on and has been rejected everywhere. I do think I can now do something with it, and maybe even get it published somewhere. Stranger things have happened, after all.

And now, I think I’m going to get some more coffee, work on my emails for a bit, and then repair to my chair to read for a little bit while I figure out how to best spend my last day of vacation. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Who’d She Coo

Here it is, a lovely Saturday morning, and I am steeling myself to go to the gym. I have things to do this weekend–writing, and a manuscript to edit, and I’d also like to get some short stories out for submission as well, around cleaning the house–and going to the gym is an errand that has been put off for far too long. The excuses and rationalizations I can come up with for not going to the gym are legion.

Thanks to a Scott Heim post yesterday on Facebook, I had a blissful moment remembering one of my favorite TV shows of my youth, The Snoop Sisters, and the glorious ABC Movie of the Week Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate–which was, actually, the original catfishing story. Four elderly women (played magnificently by Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick, Myrna Loy, and Sylvia Sidney) as a joke sign up for a computer dating service–back in the days when computer programs were ‘written’ on hole-punch cards; computer dating was actually a new and exciting thing in the 1970s, with all the newfound freedom of the sexual revolution, the pill, and feminism. Of course, the young man their “perfect woman” is matched up with is deranged, and he begins stalking and terrorizing the women. I watched that movie every time it aired, and guess what? It’s on Youtube! (Isn’t everything, really?) So, I am going to try to carve some time out in my schedule to rewatch it…because I, of course have so much free time.

I slept fairly well last night, all things considered, and woke up before seven this morning–but stayed in bed until about seven thirty. There’s still a mess in the kitchen–something I’m going to have to do something about this morning, because I won’t be able to do anything in this mess I can see when I turn my head in any direction, so it’s fortunate that I did, in fact, wake up so early. Last night I tried watching Bad Times at the El Royale, which looked like a fun, twisty, noirish thriller–but about forty-three minutes into it, I gave up. The cast is terrific, and there was a lovely 70’s vibe to it (it was set in the 1970’s, at a motel that straddles the California/Nevada line in Lake Tahoe), but after forty-five minutes of nothing happening, I couldn’t sit through another hour and forty five minutes. The movie was, frankly, certainly too long, and if the first half of your movie is basically just backstory and set-up…you need to re-edit your film. Sorry not sorry. I even gave up before Chris (THOR!)  Hemsworth showed up–which should tell you how bad the film was.

Which is a pity, as the cast was amazing.

I think tonight we will watch Always Be My Maybe. I do love Ali Wong.

My Pride Month posts and tweets about queer crime writers are getting some lovely traction, which is always nice, and I do marvel at the way things have changed over the the course of my lifetime. It does occur to me that I am not celebrating or talking about things on here for Pride Month; perhaps I should rectify that, and perhaps I will. It’s been a long journey, and a long life for me–I certainly never thought I would live this long, even when I was a kid–and I do think, from time to time, about the fatalistic way I viewed my life after I came out and started living–rather late–as a gay man. One of the many, many stories I have in some sort of progress is set in the early 1990’s in New Orleans; and deals with some of that sort of the thing. It’s a long story, and probably will wind up being a novella which I will either self-publish on Amazon or include in my next collection of short stories (which I can also self-publish on Amazon if my publisher doesn’t want it). It’s called “Never Kiss a Stranger”–I mention it from time to time–and it’s also a way for me to recapture what New Orleans was like at that time–sleepy and crumbling in the sun.

And yes, at the end of the month, I will post the list of queer crime novels and authors here, so people can use it as a reference. I also think it’s going to be published somewhere? Maybe the Mystery Scene blog? Anyway, someone asked if they could use it and post it someplace like that, and obviously, I said yes to it.

And now, perhaps it’s time to get back to those old spice mines.

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Material Girl

As I continue to readjust back to what passes for normal in my life–I still feel disoriented, not knowing what day it is–but I am pleased to announce that my short story, “Quiet Desperation”, is up on Amazon and for a limited period of time, you can get it for a mere ninety-nine cents. You can’t get anything at Starbucks for that amount of money, and just to get you a little bit more excited, here’s a bit of a glimpse at the story:

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The fishing camps on Lake Catherine were deserted. I’d hoped they would be. That was why I was driving my three-year-old Honda C-RV east along Chef Menteur Highway at almost three o’clock in the morning. This old highway wasn’t used much since I-10 was built less than a mile to the west. I could see the twin spins out the driver’s window, the lights of cars and trucks heading to the north shore glowing light lightning bugs in the darkness. When I was finished, I’d head north across the Rigolets bridge and catch I-10 west back into New Orleans without being seen out here.

That was the plan, at any rate.

I pulled over onto the shoulder opposite Lake Catherine just before the road curved slightly to the left. Two fishing camps about two hundred yards ahead of me sat dark and silent on their stilts on the lake. I turned off the headlights and killed the engine. Bayou de Lesaire was just on the other side of the underbrush. I didn’t know if there were alligators in Bayou de Lesaire. It would be great if there were, but it wasn’t important. It wouldn’t be optimal if someone found the body in a few hours, but even so, I figured I’d still have a day or two.

And then I would be home free.

I clicked the key fob to unlock the hatch.

“You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?” I said to the rolled-up rug as I started pulling it out.  “You couldn’t just take no for an answer.”

Don’t you want to know what happens next?

Of course you do!

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We Don’t Need Another Hero

Monday morning; the typical post-Festival weekend exhaustion. I am so tired this morning, but what a lovely weekend of talking to people and reconnecting with friends and listening to smart people talk. It’s so wonderful to get to listen to smart people talk about books, especially, and politics and being queer and writing. The weekend was a whirlwind, and not being as young as I used to be, I am more tired and drained than I used to be afterwards. But it was a glorious experience, as always, I have some new books to read and new writers to read and my mind is all a-whirl this morning; too many thoughts to really put into words this morning. I definitely am inspired to write again, which, having rediscovered how much I actually love to do it, is wonderful.

I am still waiting for all the Amazon updating to take place on my new story, “Quiet Desperation”, my first-ever ebook single, or Kindle Short, or whatever the hell it’s called; I am very excited about this as a way to get my short stories out there from now on. Will anyone buy or read them? Maybe not, but at least I know that if people want to, they can. I know there are a lot of issues–and legitimate ones–that people have with Amazon, but if Amazon is making it possible for writers to make even a little bit of money for short stories, maybe it’s possible for Amazon to revive the form and more people will write them. My appreciation for the short story has obviously grown exponentially with the Short Story Project this year, and all the short story writing I’ve actually been doing. I really am pleased with “Quiet Desperation” and how it turned out; as I said yesterday, I read a piece of it on Saturday to the audience and everyone seemed to like it, and formatter extraordinaire Erin Mitchell also seemed to like it. It’s not for everyone, of course; nothing is, and of course I am not thinking oh I am going to sell thousands of copies of this. I’m not crazy, even if I am a dreamer; I’m a little too pragmatic to think that way. But…it’s always fun to try something new, and now that I am writing again, it’s also time to think about the business side of things as well.

But today is about getting over the weekend, and recovering, and getting mu equilibrium back. I don’t remember what I was working on before the weekend started–I know I revised some short stories last week; not really sure which ones, and I think I am going to start finalizing that short story collection and get back to working on Scotty again. I am going to have to go over what’s already written and done on it because I can’t remember where I was and what was happening and where it was going because I’ve been away from it for so long, but I want to get this all under control and harness all this writing energy I have again and put it to good use.

And on that note I am going back to the spice mines.

 

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One Night in Bangkok

A friend advised me the other day that due to the issues and problems with finding home for short stories about queer characters, that I should consider putting them up as Kindle Shorts, ebooks for sale for a low price. Ah, technology. Is there another word that strikes more terror in my heart than technology? No, I don’t think so.

So, last night I played around with making my story “Quiet Desperation” into an e-single. It was ridiculously easy, of course..I just used a stock image from Amazon, used their converter program and voila! An ebook of “Quiet Desperation” was all loaded into Amazon, for sale for ninety-nine cents, and I would get an email from them as soon as it was live–which could take up to seventy-two hours, depending on the complexity of the file itself. As it wasn’t particularly complex, I didn’t think it would take long; and sure enough, when I woke up this morning there was the congratulatory email from Amazon, letting me know that it was live.

Of course, since I had simply been playing around with the file to see hey, is this something a moron like me can actually pull off, I didn’t go over the document before submitting it, and there were some errors in it I discovered last night after hitting the publish button. Ah, well, I thought to myself, this is another learning experience for you. Once the file is live, you can then walk yourself through the steps of correcting it and republishing it.

Which I did this morning. So as soon as I get the notification that the file is live again, I’ll start sharing it so I can start raking in those quarters, dimes, and nickels.

Again, it was ridiculously easy. Frighteningly so. Let’s face it, I am not the most technologically proficient person in the world, and the fact that I was able to do this so easily–and granted, it was simply a short story; a novel or collection of stories would undoubtedly be a lot more complex and would require a much greater attention to detail.

I am curious to see if this will actually help drive sales of my other books; will giving away a short story or doing promotions for it on Amazon actually do anything? I cannot control the cost of the ebook editions of my novels that are already up; that is the publisher’s call. But when I put up Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz at some point, I can control the price points on those. Will that start driving my sales? Or has the world of the ebook boom come to an end after being flooded?

I am curious about this, as I am curious about so many other things. And now I have a lot to get done today before the opening parties tonight.

I did read some short stories for the Short Story Project. First up was  “Film at Eleven,” by S. J. Rozan, from her limited edition collection of short stories, A Tale about a Tiger.

I had followed the case long before I became a part of it because the dead woman was Chinese. Not Chinatown Chinese, like me: Patricia Lin had been uptown Chinese, a doctor’s daughter raised on ballet lessons and music classes, summer camps and private schools. When she’d enrolled in The College of Communication Arts, where she’d met the man alleged to have murdered her, Patricia Lin had been slumming.

I hadn’t known Patricia Lin. I wasn’t tied to her by blood or marriage, home province or village, but she was Chinese, so I followed the case.

It seemed over, of course, before I ever got involved. There was the finding of the body, the arrest, the trial. There was Mitch Ellman, with his gloating, victorious grin, his short blond hair lifting in the wind outside the courthouse as reporters crowded near him. When we’d seen his arrest on the eleven o’clock news his hair had been shoulder-length, tied in a pony tail. I wondered if he would grow it again, now that he’d been found not guilty of murder.

I am a huge fan of S J. Rozan, and I got a copy of this collection from a promotion she did raising money for the Boston Marathon bombing victims. I love her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series; some of my favorite private eye novels are from this series, particularly the brilliant, Edgar Award winning  Winter and Night. This is a Bill and Lydia story; primarily told from Lydia’s point of view, and it is a master class in writing a private eye story–particularly when it comes to character. Rozan’s major strength is her ability to create characters, and Lydia Chin is one of the best out there.

I also read “Magic” by Katherine Anne Porter, from The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.

And Madame Blanchard, believe that I am happy to be here with you and your family becaise it is so serene, everything, and before this I worked for a long time in a fancy house–maybe you don’t know what is a fancy house? Naturally…everyone must have heard sometime or other. Well, Madame, I work always where there is work to be had, and so in this place I worked very hard all hours, and saw too many things, things you wouldn’t believe, and I wouldn’t think of telling you, only maybe it will rest you while I brush your hair. You’ll excuse me too but I could not help hearing you say to the laundress maybe some had bewitched your linens, they fall away so fast in the wash.

After rereading, and appreciating, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” I thought I should give Katherine Anne Porter another go. But this story, which is about  something that happened in a whorehouse when the character telling the story worked there–the premise is the maid is telling her mistress the story while she brushes her hair–and there is literally no point. None. If someone worked for me and was telling me this story while brushing my hair and it got to the end and there was no point, I would fire the person on the fucking spot for wasting my time. Are there good things here? Sure, the voice of the maid is pretty well done and compelling, but the story she is telling has no point, and there is absolutely no reason to tell the story. I’ll  try Porter again, but color me unimpressed here.

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