You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment before I head over to the Convention Center. I had a decent day yesterday; I got all my work done and wrote quite a bit; around four thousand words. I’ll need to do quite a bit this afternoon after I get back from the ALA event; if by chance you are also going, I’ll be signing at 10:30, so stop by the Dreamscape booth (they did the audiobook for A Streetcar Named Murder) and say hello and get a signed copy of the book with a download link for the audiobook. How fun is that?

Last night we watched some of the US Figure Skating Championships, which I’d DVRed–we also watched the LSU gymnastics meet before hand–and I read some more of Abby Collette’s Body and Soul Food, which I am really enjoying. On the way home from the event today I have to stop by Office Max to get some new ink cartridges for my printer–it ran out of ink in the middle of a job yesterday (I always print out what I’m writing to edit and reread sans computer screen; I spend way too much time in front of a screen as it is). I slept really well last night, too–which was terrific; it’s amazing how much good sleep and rest I’ve been getting since my return to New York, and of course, I am also incredibly pleased with the writing I’ve been doing since before Christmas. I haven’t quite gotten my act together completely yet, but I am starting to feel like I’m getting closer to where I need to be. After I get back from Alabama the next step for me is to start taking walks when I get home from work every night–nothing major, just out with my phone around the neighborhood; there are Mardi Gras decorations that need to be documented, and it always makes me feel a little more connected to the city when I do that, and maybe start stretching every morning with my coffee, which will also help wake me up, too. I would imagine that tonight’s schedule will be watching more figure skating once Paul gets home from the office–which reminds me, I don’t have anything to make for dinner, so I should probably schedule a grocery run at some point today. Heavy sigh. Time is not on my side.

But so it goes, you know?

I have to say, I’m having a pretty good year so far. The Lefty and Agatha Award nominations were completely unexpected–then again, do people actually expect to be nominated for awards? It shouldn’t surprise me that some do, I suppose. Anyway, for me they were lovely surprises, and a lovely kind of pat on the back from the community to let me know they like and appreciate me and my work. I’ve really not had a lot of reassurance about anything throughout my life; most of my career I was just kind of over here doing my own thing while the mainstream mystery community might acknowledge my existence here and there, now and again, but for the most part I’ve kind of felt on my own, almost from the very beginning. The Anthony nominations last year, and these nominations this year, were so lovely. I may not be the first openly gay writer of openly gay work to be nominated for Anthonys and Agathas, but I am one of the few–there haven’t been many–and of course the response to my first mainstream book, A Streetcar Named Murder, has also been reassuring and lovely and nice. I know I shouldn’t still have issues with Imposter Syndrome, but the truth is I still do, but things like that help me with my confidence levels.

But after a lifetime of people telling me I couldn’t do it, I would never do it, and so on when it came to writing, it’s not surprising that I struggle with Imposter Syndrome despite being nominated for over twenty awards during the course of my career and even winning a few. I guess my mindset has never reset from when my first book came out–periodically I will look at my CV or have to count awards or publications or something and I am always taken a bit aback by how much I’ve actually done already. I guess part of it comes from just focusing on what I am doing and what I need to get done–part of that never look back thing I always do–as well as thinking about all the things I want to write but am beginning to realize I am never going to get to before I die. (And yes, I know, that’s morbid and depressing to think about but once you pass sixty your mortality starts seeming a lot more real than it did before–which is also a great topic for an essay someday.)

So yes, I am feeling good and content this morning. It’s a nice feeling and one I’ve not had in a long time; I am slowly but surely cleaning up all the odds and ends that I’ve had trouble getting around to and getting somewhere.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines and start getting ready to head over to the convention center. Have a great Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again later.

Sympathy for the Devil

Well, well, well. This morning I woke up to the announcement of this year’s Malice Domestic Agatha Award finalists, and mych to my pleasant surprise, our very own Gregalicious’ #shedeservedit is a finalist for Best Children’s/Young Adult novel. It was a very pleasant surprise, as I figured the Agatha short-list wasn’t in my future for A Streetcar Named Murder (which was only eligible for Best Novel, and there is WAY too much competition for that category to even consider the possibility) and honestly, I didn’t think #shedeservedit, my only other release for 2022, had a prayer of getting enough votes (if any at all), but hey. I put up a couple of “for your consideration” posts on social media, figuring it certainly wouldn’t hurt anything to at least try, and here we are. Wow. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. It’s very exciting to start out the year with what hopefully won’t be my last Lefty and Agatha nominations. The nominations are a very lovely pat on the back, and will make even nicer additions to my author bio and CV. Added to the two Anthony nominations last year for Bury Me in Shadows, and it would appear that I am having a rather lovely period in my career, am I not? Perhaps a Gregnaissance?

Okay, yeah, I hate when people do that and make up words. Forget I ever said that.

It’s work at home Friday and I have data to enter. I also had to roll out of bed and head down to Quest Labs this morning for a blood draw for my bi-annual physical, so now I have a bruise on both arms since I had my PrEP labs drawn on Wednesday. I had a good day yesterday–I managed to get back into the book, but fell 500 words short of quota, so I need to do that today as well as today’s writing so I am back on schedule. I’ve been having some moments of doubts and imposter-syndrome lately, but that always happens at this stage in a book so I dismissed it and put it right back out of my head. I was very tired when I finished yesterday’s writing, and Paul went to the gym last evening, so I went down a Youtube wormhole of research (yes, yes, justify wasting your evening, Gregalicious) until Paul got back and we watched some of the US Figure Skating Championships, particularly the Rhythm Dance. (If someone would have told me back when I moved in with Paul in 1996 that my eventual favorite discipline in figure skating would be the ice dancing, I’d probably still be laughing…) I also was remarkably hungry yesterday, which really never happens. I was so hungry yesterday afternoon when I left the office that I actually came home and ate a piece of King cake, which kept me through the night, but it was still odd. I rarely ever get hungry–which is why I often will forget to eat, especially when I am on a trip (unless you go to New York with That Bitch Ford–I think I ate more that weekend in New York than I have on every trip I’ve taken in the last ten years combined)–so it bears noting when I actually realize that I am hungry. My weird relationship with food and my body is something I should probably write about sometime.

One of the problems I face when I think about writing personal essays (did you enjoy that segue, Constant Reader? I usually struggle with transitions) is, of course, Imposter Syndrome. Whenever I sit and think about writing a personal essay, I immediately start to doubt myself. What insights and perceptions and conclusions can you possibly draw about this that hasn’t already been said, probably better and more eloquently, by many others already? I can be pretty oblivious, too–something that is patently obvious to everyone else is something that startles me when I recognize it, mainly because I never think about it; it’s just something that already is, so I don’t think about it. Like one day when I was visiting my parents in Houston a news promo ran on the television calling Houston the “space city,” which was something I clearly was aware of since my parents lived two exits from NASA, and “Houston we have a problem.” But when I heard it that day, it connected in my head, oh, Houston the space city, that’s why the baseball team is the Astros and the basketball team is the Rockets. I said this out loud and my mother looked at me like I was insane (a look I am quite used to, so no worries on that score) and started laughing. I guess my obliviousness was amusing, but I just had literally never thought about it–they were the Rockets and the Astros, and that was that; didn’t matter why they were called that. But this is the kind of thing that makes me worried about trying to write personal essays–that, of course, and my faulty and failing memory, which is yet another reason why I don’t write a memoir…although I could write a really good one. But the problem–even if I trusted my memory–is that everyone remembers everything differently, so I could write about something the way I remember it but the other people involved could remember it completely another way. Who is right, and what is the truth? That hurdle is something I’m going to have to clear–after all, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” is a terrific personal essay, and a piece of work of which I am particularly proud; so I know I can do it. I suppose the true fear is that I won’t strip naked and show myself to the world, and will color and/or distort things to make me not look quite as bad as I actually was in the moment. That’s one of the reasons why I love writing fiction; I can take personal experiences and twist them into something that can fit into a good story, or make them better in some ways.

And believe me, there was a lot of bad behavior in my past.

You learn to live with it.

Sigh. I do have a lot to get done over the course of this weekend–cannot forget the ALA event tomorrow morning–and of course, there’s a lot of writing to be done and the US Figure Skating Championships to watch. I’ll need to make groceries at some point, too, and I have prescriptions to pick up at CVS and of course, next weekend I am off to Alabama (yay!) for two of my favorite events of every year, Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu, which will take me to Birmingham and Wetumpka. Yay!

So, I am feeling a little more confidence this morning about my writing and everything in my life. I’m enjoying my day job and my new responsibilities, my writing career is doing okay, and I can’t really complain about too much. I’m going to return to the gym in April and start working on that part of my physical self. I am getting the hearings aids process started, and at some point I am going to need to have another eye exam later this spring. I have a lead on a dentist to get my teeth fixed so I can stop looking like a hillbilly, and start getting things figured out with a plan for my writing future.

And on that note, this data ain’t gonna enter itself. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.

I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.

I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.

Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.

I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!

College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.

As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.

I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.

Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.

Santa Tell Me

It’s always amused me that Santa is an anagram for Satan.

They may even be the only anagrams possible for each word, too.

We’re in a severe weather alert, but mostly the fear is flooding and torrential rain–the massive area under tornado watch is north of here–and it’s dark outside this morning as I sip my coffee and write this. My sleep was spotty again last night–waking up occasionally before falling back asleep again–but I do feel rested, and that’s the most important thing. Progress was made on the book yesterday, which is terrific and ever-so-pleasing to me. I did my errands yesterday after work without issue, but of course once I was home and had worked on the book for awhile, was terribly tired. I cannot allow that to happen when I get home this evening, as there are dishes to be put away and another load to be put into the washer. I’d like to spend some more time with A Walk on the Wild Side this evening as well; I need to finish it if I want to read the new Donna Andrews on Christmas day.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is next weekend already. It doesn’t seem like it, but what would be really lovely–if it’s not a downpour when I get home from work tonight–would be to take a walk around the neighborhood and through the Garden District documenting decorations. I should make a point of this every year during Christmas and Carnival, frankly. I’ve never seen a city before that loved to decorate as much as New Orleans does–or does it even remotely as well.

But the coffee is good this morning and it’s getting light outside–grayish, really–and hopefully I won’t get rained on while driving to work. (Note to self: if it isn’t raining, bring umbrella inside from the car in case it’s raining when I leave.) I think we’re going to buy our new refrigerator this weekend, which is good since the one we currently have is absolutely on its last legs. I wanted to gt one with the freezer on the bottom, but for some reason those are a lot more expensive–by an absurd amount. So, it looks like we’ll probably get the normal kind with the freezer on the top–or maybe we can spring for a bit more and get one with side by side doors, which would be almost as effective (it’s the bending down that’s starting to get to me), but we’ll see. I think we’re just going to go to Costco and see what they have.

Yesterday a friend posted a list of all the things she accomplished in 2022–which she compiled after feeling like she really hadn’t done much during the year, and was pleasantly surprised to see how much she had, in fact, managed to do. I was thinking about this myself the other night–not that I hadn’t done much throughout the year, but rather that I’d had a rather bad year, but once I sat down and started thinking about it, it’s actually been a good year for me; actually a very good year indeed when all is said and done. Oddly enough, when I sit and look back emotionally, without going into much more depth, it was a year in which my primary memories are tired and miserable. And yet…productivity wise it may not have been my strongest year, but it was still a good year. Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for two Anthony Awards at Bouchercon this year; it’s not the first time one person was nominated multiple times in the same year (hell, S. A. Cosby was nominated for three awards, and I think Tracy Clark was also up for two this year alone) but it’s a select group to be sure and one to which I am proud to belong. I have no way of verifying it either, but I am pretty certain it was the first time the same book was nominated in two different categories. Those were also my third and fourth Anthony nominations, which I think may also make me the most nominated queer author? It’s hard to say because they don’t have full lists of the finalists from every year anywhere, so you can’t really look it up and verify anything, so I hate to make claims that may not be true. But I think they’re true, and even if they aren’t, I am certainly one of the most nominated queer authors. The positive reception Bury Me in Shadows got on its release continued into the early part of this year as well, just as #shedeservedit came out. That one didn’t get near the attention as its predecessor, but it’s a book I am really proud of and am happy to have not only finished but published. I also finished writing A Streetcar Named Murder earlier this year, and I couldn’t be more pleased with its reception, either. I worked on other things throughout the year–short stories, some novellas, and two other novels (Chlorine and Muscles, to be precise)–and while I didn’t get a lot of stories out there and sold this year, I did sell a couple of which I am proud–one I can’t mention as it isn’t public yet, and the other being “Solace in a Dying Hour,” which I sold to an Austalian anthology and it’s a pretty damned good story. I also sold “The Rosary of Broken Promises” to an Anne Rice tribute anthology, and I still have one out on submission. “This Thing of Darkness” was in Cupid Shot Me, an anthology that was released on Valentine’s Day last year–so yeah, that’s at least four stories, and there’s another anthology that’s supposed to come out sometime this month which has my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” in it.

I also edited the Bouchercon anthology, which took up a lot of my time between January and June. Land of 10000 Thrills is a great anthology, with some absolutely amazing contributors and great stories, and the contributors themselves were not only amazing talents but delights to work with. The anthology caused me a lot more stress than editing an anthology used to–primarily because there were so many demands on my time this past year, which I think is part of the reason I felt miserable for most of the year; my massive to-do list never seemed to get finished and always seemed to keep growing. It satisfies my OCD and need for completion to finish to-do lists, and it also subconsciously makes me think I’ve accomplished things. When tasks don’t get done because I simply don’t have the time or the energy to get to them, that makes me feel like I am failing. I also have to adjust my expectations downward, because I am older and don’t have the energy I used to have–and I really don’t want or need to start taking any kind of stimulant. I probably should cut back on the coffee, frankly.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Dark Tide

I hadn’t been sure that I would keep writing young adult novels after I revised, rewrote and published the first three (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, and Sara) I didn’t know if it was a direction I wanted to keep going in. I knew I wanted to do stand-alones–always have wanted to do stand-alones–and I also like writing about teenagers and young adults.

If you remember, a few entries back I talked about a horror novel I started writing in the 1980’s called The Enchantress that only got about three or four chapters into before abandoning (because I didn’t know where to go next with it; and the first chapter I specifically remember rereading at some point in the decades since and shuddering in horror at how badly it was written), but one of the places in the book really stuck in my head–an old family owned hotel called Mermaid Inn, which sat on the shores of Tuscadega Bay (which was my stand-in for Choctawhatchee Bay–my grandparents retired to a house on that bay and I’ve always wanted to write about that area). After shelving The Enchantress (which I do think about from time to time, and wonder if I should revisit the idea) I kept thinking, you should write a book and call it Mermaid Inn.

I made a folder for it, wrote a few sketchy notes, and it sat in my files for a very long time.

If you will remember, I had originally planned to write an entire series of interconnected young adult novels, a la the Fear Street series by R. L. Stine, and one of the varied locations they would be spread out over would be Tuscadega, Florida, in the panhandle on a fictional bay. That was part of the note I scribbled for the folder–set this in the panhandle of Florida, and connect it to the fictional Alabama county you’re going to write about somehow.

I decided to write Mermaid Inn sometime after Hurricane Katrina, when I discovered yet again my own ignorance of geography. I’d just never really given it much thought, to be honest; I knew Mobile was on a bay, I knew when you drove on I-10 through Mobile you have to take a tunnel below the Mobile River. I just had always assumed there was nothing south of Mobile in Alabama–I mean, it’s ON water–and figured that those lower prongs of Alabama that reach down along the sides of the bay were uninhabitable wetlands. I discovered this to not be the case when visiting friends for the first time who lived in Alabama south of Mobile. They told me to take an exit off I-10 and drive south, which I didn’t think was possible.

It is.

I don’t remember precisely when or how or why I decided to write Mermaid Inn and set in a small town on the prongs, south of Mobile; I just know now that at some point I decided to do this–and my friend Carolyn Haines might have been involved; I know she told me some stories about closeted society men in Mobile and their hijinks and I thought, I could use this for the book and I think that may have been the impetus? And then I created my character, Ricky Hackworth, from Corinth, Alabama–po’ white trash who needs a swimming scholarship to attend the University of Alabama. (Sidebar: alert readers will recognize that Beau’s last name in Bury Me in Shadows–and at one point in the story he mentions he’s only the second Hackworth to go to college; “besides my cousin who got a swimming scholarship.”)

The engine of my pickup truck made a weird coughing noise just as I came around a curve in the highway on the Alabama Gulf Coast and I saw Mermaid Inn for the first time.

My heart sank.

That’s not good, I thought, gritting my teeth. I looked down at the control panel. None of the dummy lights had come on. I still had about a half tank of gas. I switched off the air conditioning and the stereo. I turned into the long sloping parking lot of the Inn, pulling into the first parking spot. I listened to the engine. Nothing odd. It was now running smooth like it had the entire drive down. I shut the car off and kept listening. There was nothing but the tick of the engine as it started cooling.

Maybe I just imagined it.

Hope springs eternal.

The last thing I needed was to spend money on getting the stupid old truck fixed. Maybe it just needed a tune-up. I couldn’t remember the last time it had one.

Dad gave me the truck when I turned sixteen. It had been his work truck since before i was born–it was two years older than I was. He’d finally broken down and bought himself a new one. This old one was dependable and had almost two hundred thousand miles on it. Dad had taken good care of it. He’d babied it, gotten an oil change every three thousand miles without fail, and I could count on one hand the number of times it had been in the shop to be repaired.

It still had the original transmission.

It might not have been the nicest or prettiest car in my high school parking lot, but it got me where I needed to go and got good gas mileage. Since I was saving every cent I could for college, that was a lot more important than horsepower and cosmetics and a loud stereo that rattled your back teeth. The swimming scholarship I’d accepted from the University of Alabama wasn’t going to remotely cover anything close to the lowest estimate of what my expenses might be, but it was the best offer I’d gotten.

And I was grateful to have it. If they hadn’t offered, I wouldn’t be going at all.

Swimming was my ticket out of Corinth, Alabama.

That opening scene!

Love Changes

And we’ve made it to Wednesday and Pay-the-Bills day. Hurray? But, as I do like to continually remind myself, at least you CAN pay the bills and still buy groceries and other things, which is a dramatic improvement over the way life used to be. I think back to the days when I worked for the airline and cannot believe the way I used to live; always broke, scrounging for change in the car to buy cigarettes (why didn’t I just quit?), never sure how I was going to get something to eat that day…sometimes not eating at all. Since this was also the period where I tried to get in shape and lose weight–not eating wasn’t as big an issue for me then as it is now. Then again, I’ve always had issues with food, body image, and body dysmorphia (which I still have, I just don’t pay as much attention to it as I used to back in the day when I cared more).

If there’s any kind of neurosis, it seems to be very welcome in my brain.

I was absolutely correct about the insomnia effects yesterday, I might add. Sure enough, all morning long I was a bit cloudy in the head and by the afternoon I was very tired; but I did get some emails answered that needed to be answered and some progress on things that needed to have progress made on them. By the time I got off work, I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to go pick up the groceries I ordered but Constant Reader, I persisted. I was fucking exhausted after I got them into the house and put away, but I did it. I also swung by and picked up the mail on the way home as well. There were a couple of things that I forgot to put on the list that I considered stopping to pick up as I headed home, but decided they could wait for another evening (tonight, in fact; I can stop by the grocery store in the CBD on my way home, which is not only convenient but easy as well). Yay for me, I think. Today I have to get through that damned to-do list if it kills me–which it might–and so I can start seeing daylight again, or at least get to the surface where I can start treading water again.

I did finish proofing the Bouchercon anthology last evening–I suppose I could start calling it what it actually is, Land of 10000 Thrills, rather than the Bouchercon anthology–and it’s quite the good collection of stories. And an interesting variety of voices, stories, and crimes, at that. I think you will all enjoy it, Constant Reader, when it comes out, and I will be sharing the preorder links and the cover design as soon as they drop into my inbox. This is my third Bouchercon anthology; I did the first New Orleans one (won an Anthony for it, as well) and the St. Petersburg one (my story in that one was nominated for an Anthony Award) and now I’ve done this third one–and I am nominated for two Anthony Awards this year (as Paul says, “two chances to be a loser!”)–and this is it, the last one. I said that after Florida Happens, of course, but I kind of don’t ever want to do any more anthologies of any kind, to be completely honest. I think I am good at putting them together, but there’s not really any money in them anymore–and especially the ones like this, that don’t pay anything at all and are simply a donation of my time and energy, both of which I no longer have in great quantities any longer. I need to save my creative strengths and energies (such as they are) for novels, short stories, and essays. I shouldn’t have agreed to do this one, frankly–something I’ve reminded myself of over and over most of this year–but here we are. To be honest, I don’t remember agreeing to do this one, but I am betting it happened on that horrible drunken afternoon at St. Petersburg Bouchercon when bad influences got me to drink that Low ‘n’ Slow stuff.

Yes, that’s probably when it happened.

I did not, in fact, get trained on the monkeypox vaccine yesterday after all. Our program’s nurse had an emergency and couldn’t make it in, so we had to reschedule it. I’m right now blanking on when that was moved to, but I’ll certainly find out tomorrow morning when I get to the office (I only bring the laptop home on the weekends, because Monday is my work-at-home day). I also slept really well last night–my sinuses kicked in at some point overnight, so I’m a bit phlegmy this morning (ugh) but I am also fairly certain a Claritin will do the trick on that. I have one more thing to get done today before I am finally free and clear to work specifically on Mississippi River Mischief, and I hope to get that story edited today. I also read some more of Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man, which I am enjoying–the book certainly gets off to a big start–and we watched some episodes o Control Z last night–we’re on Season Three, but don’t really remember much of the plot or the story from previous seasons, although they are doing something rather interesting with a queer storyline that I’m not very certain how I feel about. But it makes me think, which is always a good thing–good art, whether it’s a book, film or TV show, should always make the viewer/reader think a little bit; that’s what art is supposed to do, challenge and inspire.

I also picked up copies of new releases yesterday: Donna Andrews’ Round Up The Usual Peacocks, Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home, and Amina Akhtar’s Kismet. Definitely some good reading in my future; I’ll probably move the Iglesias up the TBR Pile to next position after I finish the Ippolito.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines. You have a lovely day now, you hear? And I will check in with you again tomorrow. Happy Wednesday to all!

Wild Heart

I can’t remember where or when I had this conversation, but I do remember once asking Megan Abbott that “is there anything more noir than the suburbs?” I know it had to do with her brilliant novel The End of Everything, but I don’t remember if it was a bar conversation or if we were on a panel or what. I spent four and a half years living in an actual suburb when I was growing up–grades six through sophomore in high school–and while my family has always been loners (not getting involved in neighborhood groups, barely knowing the neighbors, keeping mostly to ourselves), so we didn’t get the full experience of the cattiness, the bitchiness, or the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that are such a rich mine for crime fiction.

On the other hand, we really couldn’t keep up with the Joneses. In our suburb, we were on the lower end of the economic scale than most of the kids my sister and I went to school with, and the longer we lived there, the higher that economic scale continued to go. And there was a lot of strangeness in our suburb–I really do need to write Where the Boys Die and You’re No Good, the two books based on the suburb in which we lived–murders and drugs and undoubtedly affairs and so forth. A famous wife-killer was from our suburb, Drew Peterson. When I was a freshman in high school a junior boy and his girlfriend–a senior–murdered someone over drugs.

And that doesn’t take into consideration all the crimes that were probably going on at the time that no one thought anything about–date rapes and sexual assaults, child abuse, etc.–because nobody talked about them (I found out, for example, that one of my classmates–someone I knew and liked an awful lot–was being sexually and emotionally abused by her father; I never knew until about twenty years later).

Yikes.

Tara Laskowski’s second novel (and Anthony Award finalist!) The Mother Next Door is more evidence that I was right about suburbs being a dark place.

The moms were having a party. I watched from across the street, through my living room window, as aI ate my dinner of chicken piccata on the couch, sipping a hefty glass of merlot.

At dusk, they arrived one by one from the houses around the cul-de-sac, the glow of their phones like fireflies in the dying light. Dressed stylish but casual, ponytails and makeup, jeans and heels.

Viciously, effortlessly powerful.

The blonde mom was hosting. The one I’d noticed walking an oversize dog around the cul-de-sac, cell phone to her ear. She seemed to know everyone, always paused by one porch or another while her dog sniffed in the grass. Yes, my new neighbors were social butterflies. I observed their fluttering hugs as they converged in front of the house. My view inside was limited–a hallway beyond the screen door, painted red, like the inside of a mouth, and at the end, the corner of a giant island in the center of the kitchen where I imagined they set their Tupperware trays and booze.

The Mother Next Door is set in a toney, elite suburb of the Washington DC metro area known as Ivy Woods. Our primary point-of-view character, Theresa, has just moved into a lovely cul-de-sac with her daughter and her husband of a year, who has been hired as principal at Woodard High School–a very top level school, which makes Theresa an appealing target for friendship by the highly competitive moms at the school. Theresa went to college locally, and is now returning, using her connection to one of her professors–they had an affair when she was a student–whose father is school superintendent, to land her husband his job. Theresa has a secret–as do the other four moms who live around the same cul-de-sac–known as the Ivy Five (although there were only four until Theresa moved in and became one of them). Theresa trying to negotiate this strange new world for herself–as well as keeping her secrets, always afraid someone else in the group is going to stumble over one of them.

But the other moms also are hiding a terrible secret–one alluded to in emails and private messages from a mysterious account called “Ivy Woods”–making threats to expose them all and “what they did.” Halloween is approaching, and the Ivy Five are very well known for their massive Halloween block party…so as they try to figure out costumes and decorations, they are also trying to figure out who they can trust, who they can’t, and who could possibly know all their secrets. Our other point of view character is Kendra, the alpha of the group (think Madeline from Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which this reminded me of a lot), with her great job, her ruthless efficiency, and her mad organizing skills.

There’s also an urban legend about the woods behind their houses–Ghost Girl, who fell to her death from a bridge over a railroad track and who now haunts the woods at Halloween, the night she died.

It’s quite the concoction Laskowski has pulled off here, and the way she manages to humanize all of her characters–despite their weaknesses and their really (in some cases) deep flaws–makes the reader engage with and care about them, and the deeper you get into the book, the harder it is to put it down for even just a moment to get something to drink or to go to the bathroom.

Highly recommended.

Mama’s Pearl

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I have a rather lengthy weekend of work staring me down. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se; I’ve certainly had much worse ones over the years. I didn’t have to be at the office at the usual time–Fridays I can go in later, which is so lovely–and I had slept really deeply and well the night before so the morning started off in a much better manner than usual. I ran some errands on the way home from the office, including making groceries (so I wouldn’t have to do it this weekend), and came home to a nice, lovely and sort of quiet-ish evening. The heat has been miserable here–and there’s already tropical systems forming in the Atlantic and in the Gulf, whee!–and I am already a bit concerned about the power bills to come this summer. It was ninety-five degrees yesterday when I left the office–which is high, even for June, if I recall correctly.

It’s usually the humidity that makes it so miserable here…it feels like August already, so i can only imagine how miserable August itself will actually be.

But I will worry about that when I have to. For now, I am just going to enjoy the cool loveliness of the climate controlled Lost Apartment and pretend I have money to (quite literally) burn.

I slept well last night. We finished watching The Little Drummer Girl and Beneath the Banner of Heaven–both of which I recommend–and I started reading Tara Laskowski’s Anthony nominated The Mother Next Door, and it’s excellent, y’all. I only read the first chapter, but I was immediately sucked in–which is a very good thing; that means I can use the book as a reward for working this weekend, aka if I get this far, I can spend two hours reading Tara’s book. I can see why it was so acclaimed and has gotten so much award recognition–it’s currently nominated for the Anthony for Best Paperbook/Ebook/Audiobook Original–and I am very excited that it’s finally worked its way up to the top of the TBR pile. I keep talking about the golden age of crime fiction we are currently living through–seriously, reading the first chapter of Tara’s book served as further confirmation of that theory.

Today is going to be spent mostly working on the edits, of course. Once I’ve swilled enough coffee for my mind to function–I am also getting the hang of Wordle, I’ve been getting it in two or three tries this past week–and some of this mess organized and cleaned up and put away–I will probably dive headlong into the edits. They went really well last night–I was very pleased with the progress I’ve made and how much better the book is becoming (an editor is really worth their weight in gold, and I am very privileged to be working with Terri Bischoff on this one) as I go. I hope to get really deep into it today, so I can finish it tomorrow and then have Monday to go over it one more time before turning it in, once and for all. I’ve also been seeing a lot of submission calls I find interesting and that I may have something for–there was one in particular that I’d like to submit for, since it was for novellas and those are indeed rare, rainbow and glitter unicorns, and since I have like four or five of them in progress…I should be able to get something together for it, don’t you think? And at the very least, it means I would have one of them finished.

My writing schedule has been so off and so fucked up this year. What a strange year this has been thus far: I am discovering that I am so unused to traveling now that whenever I do it, it takes a few days to recover, which I usually don’t have; the binge-writing thing hasn’t changed, but it’s getting harder and harder to do it now–and much more tiring; I’ve been off my gym/workout schedule for months now, and my body doesn’t like it even one little bit; and my goal to broaden my cooking skills has failed miserably. I have, in fact, traveled only three times thus far this year–Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Kentucky–and I have only two more trips planned for this year, Fort Lauderdale in July for Sleuthfest and Minneapolis for Bouchercon. I’ll probably wind up going to Kentucky a few more times this year, but I will worry about that when the time comes. I will most likely take the rest of this coming week off from writing anything after I turn the edits in on Monday, and then try to dive back into the short stories and various other projects next weekend–although I do have to teach that workshop at the library on Saturday, which also means I will go to That’s Amore and order us a deep dish Chicago style pizza on my way home–as well as start working on cleaning out the attic preparatory to cleaning out my storage unit (I’d like to get that emptied out by the end of the month so I can close the account and stop spending that money every month; it’s ridiculous I’ve been paying that every month now for so many years), but if not, maybe by August 1 at least. I need to start pruning the books out of the apartment again, too. The only thing I really need to keep is research materials, if that–most of that can be found on-line or as ebooks–and it would really be nice to get rid of some of this stuff, you know?

Clean like you’re moving, Gregalicious.

And of course, I need to get started on Mississippi River Mischief at some point. The story is starting to coalesce in my head, as more and more ideas and things to include come along…I’m actually kind of excited about it, to be honest, and even more excited to have to make some field trips to some of the bayou parishes to get a look around and take some pictures and get some background color for the book. It’s going to be a little bit weird to write more about a fictional parish outside of New Orleans than about New Orleans itself; and yes, I am inventing a fictional parish to go along with the other fictional parish I use for some of my paranormal stuff–St. Jeanne d’Arc and Redemption parishes–just as I have invented some things for the current project in edits. I never used to do that, but if people want to ding me for making some shit up so be it. I find myself not quite as tied to “can’t invent something that isn’t there in the city because I want to” as I used to be–but I will never write about basements or subterranean caverns beneath the city (although I do suppose there are underground drainage tunnels down there).

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy Saturday wherever you are, Constant Reader, and I’ll let you know tomorrow how things are going with the edits. I know–the suspense, right?

Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again

I didn’t start reading young adult fiction until I was an actual adult.

I didn’t read it when I was an actual young adult,, which I’ve tried to remedy in the years since I discovered that there is young adult fiction that is not “ABC Afterschool Special” style drama–these abounded to an extreme when I was a teen; everything was a cautionary tale. You want to have sex? Here, read Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones or My Darling My Hamburger. Drugs? You should read Go Ask Alice. And on and on it went…the 1970s were a very weird time to go through puberty and your teens, especially if you were beginning to realize your sexuality was all wrong and you needed to hide almost everything true and honest about yourself from everyone you know. There were actually good books for teens being written and published during that time, of course; I just never found them (some have been recommended to me by friends who are the same age and read them at the time; Trying Hard Not to Hear You by Sandra Scoppetone could have made a significant difference in my life had I read it back then).

But in the early 1990’s, I started reading horror/mystery novels by teens by Christopher Pike, which led me to R. L. Stine’s Fear Street books and my favorite mystery writer for teens–the forgotten and vastly under-appreciated Jay Bennett. Those books got me to start writing my own y/a horror/mystery/suspense novels for teens–which eventually became my novels Sara, Sleeping Angel, and Sorceress–and I continue to write them from time to time; my last two releases were actually young adult fiction (or marketed as such). I try to keep my hand in the field by reading horror/mystery/suspense novels for young adults that are more current; it’s hard to keep up with everything I want to read as it is, but I was really happy one of the books I took with me on my trip was Alan Orloff’s Agatha Award winning (and Anthony Award finalist) I Play One on TV.

He watched as a teen in a dark hoodie emerged from a storage closet and crept into the high school locker room. In the dum light, the shadowy figure advanced, slowly, methodically. In his left hand, a knife blade glinted.

The man’s insides constricted as he observed. He could almost smell the stale sweat left behind by the athletes after football practice, soon to be replaced by the stench of fear and the coppery odor of fresh blood.

The feelings he experienced now–rage, fear, excitement–mirrored those he had felt then, five years ago. When he had been the teen in the hoodie in that locker room. When he had been wielding the knife.

When he had been stalking his unsuspecting victim.

The premise of I Play One on TV is very original and clever: the main character is a teenager with ambitions of becoming an actor–he has an agent, goes out on auditions for commercials and local theatre productions, and works with his high school’s summer theater camp–and thus far his biggest break was starring as a teenaged killer in a true crime reenactment series. The killer he is playing, Homer Lee Varney, was a bullied outsider who murdered a jock, and has recently been released from prison due to a legal technicality. Dalton’s two best friends are also aspiring actors, and shortly after his episode of the show airs, someone starts stalking him–and he fears he is being stalked by the actual killer.

But was Homer guilty, or was he railroaded? Dalton has found some discrepancies in the police reports which indicate that the investigation might not have been as thorough or efficient as one might think…so maybe Homer isn’t a killer after all?

Dalton, despite his faults (and it’s to Orloff’s credit as a writer that he doesn’t make Dalton perfect–especially since this is a first person narrative), is easy to connect with, identify with, and root for to succeed–not just as an amateur private eye but as an actor and as a person. He’s a bit selfish and self-absorbed (as creative artists have a tendency to be), and he also has some serious professional jealousy for a schoolmate who often winds up going up for the same parts–but gets them instead of Dalton (which is a stage name). Dalton’s relationships with his parents and with his sister are also realistic and well drawn, and the story/mystery progresses at an excellent pace, and comes to a very satisfying, enjoyable conclusion.

I Play One on TV recently won the Agatha Award for Best Childrens/Young Adult Novel, and also received an Anthony nomination in the same category.

Definitely recommended!

Trapped By A Thing Called Love

Yesterday wound up being a complete waste.

I had such high hopes yesterday morning as I swilled coffee and planned my day out. But after I finished the chores I had left to do (not many) I was exhausted, completely exhausted. I had no energy at all, I was physically tired, mentally fatigued and emotionally drained; I felt much like my batteries were almost dead. I don’t know, maybe I am getting to the point where these lengthy all-in-one-day drives a mere two days apart are no longer feasible for me. Hopefully, yesterday’s lack of anything productive (I did finish reading The Borgias, though, and I did do some research on-line with the iPad in my easy chair) enabled my batteries to recharge and I’ll be able to get through the rest of this week, playing catch-up every day.

I do feel more rested this morning–my legs don’t feel tired the way they did yesterday morning–and I think I slept much better last night than I did the night before, which is a good sign. I have to go to WWL this morning to tape a segment of Great Day Louisiana–which is weird, as I’ve never really done many television appearances before (I did a spot to promote Saints and Sinners a long time ago, and of course, I did a news spot after Paul was attacked, which was a weird experience)–and then I am going into the office, with errands to run on my way home (note to self: do not forget to make a grocery list) and then my life is back to (what passes for) normal again. I also have to assess where I am at with everything I am working on and need to dive back into everything. The trip was necessary, and I am not sorry I went in the least, but I really couldn’t afford to lose the time working. Ah, well, when am I not behind on everything and dashing about trying to keep all the plates spinning?

But right now I am just focusing on the fact that I am not exhausted and feel much better than I did yesterday–at one point I was just so exhausted I felt sick–but that’s okay. I guess when I make these trips henceforth that I shall always have to remind myself that I need a recovery day–which is the case when I fly anywhere also–and I just have to accept that as a part of getting older and having to adapt to that. I hope to start getting back to the gym now–I’d hoped to go yesterday, but there was no way I could walk there, let alone do any weightlifting and then walking back home–and would like to focus on getting into better physical condition by Bouchercon.

I did finish listening to Carol Goodman’s marvelous The Night Villa yesterday morning while I did dishes and folded clothes and did some general clean-up around here–more on that later; Goodman is a marvelous writer and I am very excited to start digging into her backlist; I have several more of her novels in the TBR pile–and so I am now ready to pluck something new to read from the stack, although I am leaning towards Tara Laskowski’s The Mother Next Door, which I am in “competition” against for an Anthony. (I don’t think I’ll win either award I am nominated for, but it is so lovely to have the nominations, really. Anything more than that is too much to hope for, really.) Ah, this coffee is quite good this morning, which is delightful.

And on that note, I am going to finish this and head into the spice mines and start figuring out what I need to get done and where I am at with everything before I head to the television studio. (That sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?) Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.