People on the High Line

Several years ago–I have no concept of how long ago; time and its passing literally have no meaning to me anymore–I started what I called “the Short Story Project.” I wanted to become a better short story writer; it’s a form I’ve always struggled with, and it always seemed to my hypercritical self that whenever I was successful in writing a short story, it was more of an accident than anything I had planned when I embarked on writing the story. I’ve also become a little bit easier on myself on that score–sometimes, not every idea will work as a short story, and writing isn’t something that can ever be forced without it showing to the reader–and I did have a wonderful period of productivity with short stories after setting course for the Project–which not only entailed writing them but reading as many of them as I could. After all, what better way to improve my own short story writing skills than by reading good stories? I have, over the years, collected any number of single-author collections as well as anthologies, and yet, with few notable exceptions prior to the start of the Project, had rarely ever cracked their spines. Lately, as I have struggled with time and focus while I’ve been working on this revision of the Kansas book (aka #shedeservedit) I find myself unable to focus much on reading novels; my mind inevitably wanders, or I will set it down and not get back to it for days. So, this morning I decided, before getting in my work on the book for the day, to read some short stories over my coffee this morning, and I wound up reading four of them; all of them marvelous in their own unique, distinctive ways. The stories I read this morning were, in order: “Better Days’ by Art Taylor, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Mischief in Mesopotamia” by Dana Cameron, also from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Hop-frog” by Edgar Allan Poe; and finally, “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one on our stretch of the North Carolina coast who picked up the Washington Post on a regular basis, but I doubt anyone else it like I did–scanning the bylines, measuring the thickness of the paper and the heft of it, stifling the envy.

So begins Art Taylor’s “Better Days’, which won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story and was a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards. Art is one of crime’s best short story writers (and one of my favorite people), and it’s easy to see why he has won every award under the sun for crime short stories. Art’s stories are always tightly written, with characters so real and honest and human that you can’t help but care about them, as well as having a bit of an edge to them. He manages to capture the resigned despair someone whose career path didn’t quite go the way he wanted perfectly; the former Washington Post journalist downsized and back in coastal North Carolina, working for the local paper while still thinking about his past with an uneasy regret. The story focuses on a love triangle between the main character, the local bar owner he’s been seeing, and a newly arrived tourist on a yacht with money to burn. This story tightly plotted, flows perfectly, and the characters are people I wouldn’t mind spending some more time with. In some ways it kind of reminded me of John D. Macdonald; maybe it’s the sea and boats and so forth that put me in mind of Travis McGee. Highly recommended.

I sat across from a row of decapitated kings, gods, and heroes waiting for them to speak to me. I didn’t know a word of their language, and they’d been dead–their monuments erected, sanctified, and decaying–long before anyone speaking my language was born. Still, I waited, if not as patiently as they did.

That’s the opening paragraph of Dana Cameron’s “Mischief in Mesopotamia,” originally published in the November 2012 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and it went on to win both the Agatha and Anthony awards for Best Short Story the following year. (I initially met Dana the weekend she won the Agatha; she’s been a constant source of joy for me ever since.) The story features her series character Emma Fielding, and reading the story is my first encounter with her–and now I am going to have to go back and read the entire series of novels with Emma (you may also know her from the television films made from some of the books in the series, with Melrose Place alumnus Courtney Thorne-Smith playing Emma). Set on a tour of museums and archaeological sites in southeast Turkey, Emma and her group happen to be on-site when a museum robbery occurs–and Emma solves the crime through her keen observations of her fellow tour group members. The voice is delightful, as is Emma–there’s a hint of my fiction goddess Amelia Peabody about her–and the story is enormously satisfying.

I never knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the King was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kin, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people from fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean doer us a rare Avis in terris.

Yes, that first paragraph made me squirm a bit as I started reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-frog,” which I suppose can be held up as an example of how things don’t age well (the notion that overweight people are jolly, as evidenced here). The story itself, which is about a court jester who is also a little person (“dwarf”) and crippled at a royal court, mocked and laughed at and the butt of the jokes of the King and his advisors, along with another female who is also there for their entertainment–whom Hop-frog appears to love, eventually reaches his own breaking point when they mock him one time too many and when the female begs them to stop, the King throws wine in her face and humiliates her. There is a costume ball coming up, and Hop-frog chooses this for his revenge, convincing them all to dress up as “ourang-outangs”, which will require covering themselves with tar and pitch and fake fur….and they waltz right into his punishment, as they are set aflame and are burned alive. This is based in actual history–Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror details the “the dance of the burning fools,” where King Charles VI of France and some of his buddies costumed themselves in such a manner with the same outcome–some of them caught fire and were burned to death, although the King was not one of the victims. When I was rereading that book in the early pandemic days, I came across this true story and thought it might make for an interesting short story; doing further research, I discovered that Poe had written a story based on this actual event, and bookmarked it to read later. As with everything classic, my education in Poe is limited; but all the earmarks of a Poe’s story’s justice are here: justice is meted out to the foolish king and his cruel advisers…but it’s not one of his better efforts, which is why, undoubtedly, it’s not as well known.

Day had dawned cold and gray when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail. He climbed the high earth-bank where a little-traveled trail led east through the pine forest. It was a high ban, and he paused to breathe at the top. He excused the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock in the morning. There was no sun or promise of sun, although there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day. However, there seemed to be an indescribable darkness over the face of things. That was because the sun was absent from the sky. This fact did not worry the man. He was not alarmed by the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun.

I originally read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” in high school. It was assigned for us to read when we were studying short stories and fiction; it was assigned as an example of the theme “man v. nature.” I’ve never forgotten the story–I loathe the cold, as Constant Reader is aware, and London does an amazing job of getting that frigid climate across to the reader. The man is never given a name–his name doesn’t matter–and neither does the wolf-dog by his side have a name; their names don’t matter. This story is about human hubris–he isn’t worried about the cold, despite being warned about it, and he wants to get back to his camp. His job was to go upstream and see if its possible for logs to be floated downstream when the temperature is warmer and the waters of streams and rivers and creeks not frozen solid. His mission accomplished, he is heading back to his actual camp, with some food stored under his shirt next to his body and a pack of matches in case he needs to start a fire. The dread in this story builds slowly and smoothly as he begins to suspect he made an error in not respecting the cold for its ability to kill him; occasionally London goes into the perspective of the animal who is also beginning to sense the man–food and fire provider, nothing more–is out of his depth. Eventually he succumbs to the cold, after a series of misadventures that come about because he isn’t paying enough attention and is careless. Whether that is because the cold has affected his ability to think and reason clearly is never part of the story or his own consideration. Even now, after all these years, the story has the ability to make me wince and shiver and think yikes, there’s no fucking way I’d ever go outside when it was 75 degrees below zero, let alone make a trip of many miles through wilderness on foot.

And on that note, now I am finished with my morning and its back to the spice mines with me,

The Man Who Has Everything

Tuesday morning and it looks like the rain has finally passed us; we actually got more rain all day yesterday than we did from Cristobal on Sunday. I know other places got slammed much harder than we did, but at least it was relatively minor and damage from the storm wasn’t nearly as bad as it was from previous storms.

The Anthony Award nominations were released yesterday, and sure, I was a little disappointed for a brief moment that I wasn’t among their number; but the nominations are chock full of diversity; lots of women, lots of people of color, and a wide variety of nominations. This is one year that is going to be incredibly difficult for me to pick winners because there are so many good books and stories nominated that I’ve actually read and loved. I’m still surprised that I’ve actually won an Anthony and been nominated another time, to be completely honest.

Awards are lovely, and everyone wants to win one–even if they don’t want to admit it; I do admit it. I like being nominated and I like winning even more. I tend to lose more than I win, which is actually kind of nice–I always figure I’m going to lose again, so it’s always a pleasant surprise on those rare occasions when I actually do win.

We’re still watching 13 Reasons Why, but I’m not really sure why. As we get deeper into the season it’s getting more and more off the rails–what the fuck with that camping trip episode, seriously–and while the story kind of makes sense, so much of it doesn’t. If they had simply chosen to explore the mental trauma the kids experience from everything they’ve been through–including violent sexual assaults and murder, which would definitely create mental issues, breakdowns, and behavioral problems–I think I would be enjoying this more; the concept of another kid who knows the truth trying to get them all to confess by playing torturous games with them is basically ripping off Pretty Little Liars and really speaks to a lack of creativity and originality; I could be wrong, and we’re vested enough in the show to keep watching, since we know it’s the final season.

I’m kind of looking forward to the new Perry Mason, too.

Oh, I’m so tired, too, this morning. I’ve not really had a good restful night’s sleep in a while now, and exhaustion is wearing me down. My kitchen is a mess yet again, and I still haven’t done the floors; but I just don’t have the energy to get any of this stuff taken care of–let alone the writing I need to get done.

Heavy sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

Here

Another Saturday and lord, so, so much to do–and absolutely no desire to do any of it, quite frankly. I had some trouble sleeping last night, but I feel okay this morning; it may have taken me a few hours to go to sleep, but when I finally did, the sleep was deep and restful, which is all that matters. I woke up again before seven, then slovenly stayed in bed for another couple of hours because it was comfortable. Yesterday was one of those days where I got overwhelmed with everything, primarily because it was humid and muggy and sticky and nasty; and staying down in the garage at the office to screen people and help with the syringe access program was miserable. That kind of weather literally sucks the energy out of you, and by the time my shift was over and I was on my way home, I was enormously grateful that I remembered to get up early and put the turkey breast into the crock pot, so all I had to do when I got home was shred it and make the instant stuffing for dinner.

We watched another episode of Gold Digger–still not sure where this story is going, but the way it’s filmed, it has to end with some kind of crime or something happening; whether Julia Ormond’s much younger lover ends up being killed and killing someone from her family in self-defense remains to be seen–or he may just kill her once they are married; it’s definitely filmed as a crime show, but I’m not really sure where it’s going, to be honest. It’s very well done and very well-acted, and as I have a short story in progress that follows the same sort of set-up (“Please Die Soon”), it’s intriguing to see how and where the story goes.

We also got caught up on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, which is also incredibly well done, and I really love that they are showing the Latinx community in Los Angeles during this time period. There was a moment when I remembered the Zoot Suit riots, and vaguely remembered a movie about them from the early 1980’s called Zoot Suit, and yep, there it was–the racist LAPD breaking up a Latinx dance club where all the guys were wearing zoot suits. It’s really interesting, now that I think about it, how little of a role the Latinx community of southern California plays in most crime fiction of the time, or set in the time (although I will admit I’ve yet to read most of James Ellroy); it’s amazing how little representation minorities have in crime fiction, or in fiction in general.

This morning Facebook reminds me that last year on this date the Anthony Award nominations for 2019 were released; I’m still thrilled and honored that I was nominated for Best Short Story for “Cold Beer No Flies”, from Florida Happens. I think one of the biggest surprises to me in my career thus far is that award recognition from the mainstream mystery community has primarily come to me for short stories; I was nominated for a Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt” and then an Anthony. (I won an Anthony for Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou.) I’ve been writing a lot of short stories over the past few years–more so than in general; usually I simply will write a short story or find one I’ve worked on at some point when there’s a call for submissions for an anthology. I am hoping to pull together another collection of stories–its current working title is Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but that will inevitably have to change, unless I can come up with something different for “Once a Tiger”; the original concept of the story doesn’t seem to work–and last night I did get an idea for a new version (I’ll undoubtedly finish writing the other, only with a different title) which is something more workable, I think, and I also like the idea of Chanse finally dealing with his past with his fraternity at LSU.

I have a board phone call this morning, and I have to do a live on-line reading tonight for another story, “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” from Peter Carlaftes’ anthology The Faking of the President. I have yet to work myself up into a state of complete and utter anxiety about this yet, but there’s still plenty of time. I hope to carve some time out this afternoon to rehearse–but one can never be certain, can one, that you won’t stumble over words when you read your work out loud, which is always mortifying. This afternoon I intend to do some work–I am debating the wisdom of going to the gym, which is probably not wise; but my body really needs to exercise….

I also want to work on the Secret Project, now that I’ve found my character’s voice, and I also need to clean and get organized; I also need to go to Office Depot at some point and buy an ink cartridge for my printer and a new journal, as the current one is filling up. And at some point, I should go back through all the new journals to look for notes and so forth on projects–and ideas I scribbled down in the heat of the moment in order to write later.

All right, these dishes arent’t going to do themselves, so let me get started on that mess.

And until tomorrow, have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader, and as always, thanks for checking in.

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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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Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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Little Lies

Thursday, or as I prefer to call it, Friday Eve.

Yesterday was a lovely mail day. I received my contributor’s copy of Detecting the South In Fiction, Film & Television, edited by Theresa Starkey and Deborah E. Barker. It’s from LSU Press, and I think this might be (I could be wrong, my memory is a sieve) my first appearance in an academic-type tome. I can’t wait to start reading the other essaysm, but especially the ones by Ace Atkins and Megan Abbott, two of my favorite writers as well as two of my favorite people on the planet. My essay is titled “Down These Mean Streets (Whose Names No One Can Pronounce)”, and I’ll also have to reread it–I don’t remember a damned thing about it (see: sieve-like memory). Theresa, one of the co-editors, is also the person who invited me up to Ole Miss to speak at the Radical South event either last year or the year before; when I was completely charmed by Oxford.

I still might set a book there. The campus and town are gorgeous–although I would, obviously, have to fictionalize both.

I slept fairly well last night. I had dinner with a friend, and after a pre-dinner glass of prosecco followed by another glass of Chardonnay with dinner–apparently that was enough to send me off into the arms of Morpheus to my best night of sleep of the week thus far. Dinner was lovely–we went to Saba, a Middle-Eastern place on Magazine Street in Uptown, and the hummus was magnificent, as was the lamb kebob. Conversation was lovely–gossip as always, and catching up, and lots of laughter. It was quite lovely, and then I came home to watch this week’s American Horror Story: 1984, to see how far off the rails it was going this week. The answer: pretty far. It no longer makes the slightest bit of sense, and I’m not even sure what it now has to do with anything that happened earlier in the season. I’ll keep watching, primarily out of curiosity more than anything else–to see where it winds up going finally.

And wonder why I ever worry about my plots not making sense.

I’ve not written anything fictional this week, which is, frankly, disgraceful. But between this annoying low-level whatever it is that is still wrong with me–my throat is still sore, my sinuses are completely in revolt, my nose is rubbed raw again, and I’ve been achy most of the week–and being so tired and distracted the majority of the week, yeah, it’s no wonder I fell behind yet again on my goals. But I did get some of my other writing finished, including a short interview with Crime Reads (again about being an Anthony short story finalist, for which I am getting a lot of attention and more traction than I did as an anthology finalist two years ago–not complaining, just an observation…writing versus editing are pretty different), and I got my Sisters column finished. Also, as I said to my friend at dinner last night, I’ve been getting some positive reinforcement about my writing lately–lovely reviews and compliments, emails about the most recent book, compliments on my nominated short story–and that’s been really lovely. I actually sat down and skimmed through Royal Street Reveillon the other night as well–Paul got home late from the office that night, and while I waited I started reading it over again. As I always do when I reread published work I questioned decisions I made with both language/sentence choices, as well as plot decisions, but overall, I was pretty pleased with it when I finally set it aside. Someone did direct message me while they were reading it a few weeks ago, asking me how many car accidents has Scotty been in?, to which I replied, why do you think he hates driving so much? Scotty of course not only gets into a lot of car accidents, he also gets kidnapped or taken prisoner pretty frequently as well, to the point that it’s almost an in-joke between me and the reader.

But hopefully I’ll be able to get back to writing this morning, and tonight after work; so I can get back on track and get things back under control–some sort of it, at any rate. And hopefully, around the LSU and Saints games this weekend I can get almost completely caught up.

One can hope, at any rate.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Don’t Mean Nothing

Well, I got up early this morning–with an assist from Needy Kitty, who has apparently decided this week that after getting fed really early in the morning two days in a row, that this should become a regular thing. It’s okay, actually, I was already awake when he climbed on me in bed and laid down. And it doesn’t kill me to get up early anyway, now does it? Today is my half day, Wednesday, which means running by the mail on the way to the office and I get off early enough to meet a friend for dinner. Huzzah!

I’m getting things done this week, even if it feels like I’m just treading water. I always have so much to do, you know, that it sometimes feels like I never make any progress; it seems like every time I cross something off the to-do list, something else rears its ugly head, you know? Or two something elses, sometimes three. Heavy heaving sigh. But I suppose it’s better than having nothing to do, or being bored, or something. One thing I never have to worry about is being bored–unless I am watching something boring, or am bored by whatever I’m reading.

As Bouchercon looms on the horizon, I should probably start doing some planning, or at least figuring out what I’m going to be doing, and when I’m going to be doing it. I also should talk some more about the Anthony nominees for Best Short Story, of which I am one, for “Cold Beer No Flies.” It’s lovely to be nominated for awards–it really is, no humility about this, folks, I fucking love making short-lists–and it’s a real joy to be nominated with writers like my fellow nominees: Holly West, S. A. Cosby, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor. Not only are they talented writers but they are also really awesome people. That’s one of the things I love about being a part of the publishing community, really–the vast majority of people in it are pretty awesome. Sure, there’s the occasional dirtbag asshole, but for the most part? A fun group of people. Can’t wait to see them all next week!

My email inbox is ridiculously full again; I feel sometimes like Sisyphus pushing that rock every time I look at it. Heavy heaving sigh. But all I can do is put my head down and keep clicking them open and responding to them, hoping against hope that each one I answer won’t engender yet another response to answer. Oh, well, it could be worse: I could get no emails except junk. Or ones from political campaigns. I wish I had a dollar for every email I get asking for money for a political campaign–I could leave the spice mines behind for good and relax in my hammock on the white sand beach while sipping a margarita.

I finally finished reading Norah Lofts’ short story collection Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? I really enjoyed them; they were more Gothic than straight up horror, and (breakthrough alert) I realized after finishing the book that perhaps the reason I am so bad at writing horror (I’m more of a fan than a horror writer) is because I like Gothic-style horror more than anything else. Oh, sure, I read all different styles of horror (I’m really enjoying Certain Dark Things), but when it comes to writing it, I tend to go more along the line of Gothic, which is more creepy and unsettling than scary. Bury Me in Shadows is a Gothic-style novel; I’d love to have a parody Gothic style cover with my cute teenaged gay boy running away from a big creepy house with one light on in a window, looking back over his shoulder…which is, now that I think about it, a really good idea.

I read a lot of Norah Lofts when I was a teenager; primarily her fictional biographies of royal women. She wrote about Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eleanor the Queen), Katherine of Aragon (The King’s Pleasure), Anne Boleyn (The Concubine), Napoleon’s stepdaughter Hortense de Beauharnais (A Rose for Virtue), George III’s sister Caroline-Matilda (The Lost Queen), and Isabella of Castile (Crown of Aloes). She also wrote Biblical fiction, with Queen Esther and How Far to Bethlehem?, and a lot of what was classified, marketed and sold as historical romances–but they weren’t really romances. They were dark stories about lost love and hopelessness and her women rarely had happy endings; Nethergate was one of those. She was an excellent writer with a good eye for details and character, that made her creations come to life–but she also wrote some Gothic horror, which included this collection of ghost stories. I don’t remember how it came to my attention or who reminded me of Lofts, but I ordered a copy of the Hauntings from a second-hand bookseller, and as I said, I really enjoyed it. I’d love to revisit some of her other work that I enjoyed, to see how it holds up and if my evolving and maturing tastes have altered how I read them, but again–my TBR pile continues to grow every day and I am never going to read everything I need and want to read.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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I Heard a Rumor

And now it’s Tuesday.

Yay for Tuesday! I managed to get some things done yesterday–my Sisters column for one, and an interview with Crime Reads for being an Anthony short story finalist, which was pretty cool. I was going to do some work on Bury Me in Shadows, but I couldn’t find the chapter file I worked on over the weekend and decided, rather than obsessively hunting for it, to just push it off and forget about it for now. So, instead I worked on the proposal, which was interesting and something different. (I found the file this morning; I don’t know how it wound up saved to the directory it was saved.)

We watched Catherine the Great last night on HBO, starring Helen Mirren, and it’s quite good. She’s phenomenal, as always, and they managed to script it in a way that made it interesting–often a problem with historical adaptations/biographies of royalty–and really brought the era, and the problems she faced as an illegitimate usurping empress quite well. I’m looking forward to the next episode, as well as starting Watchmen.

And I’m feeling much better about things. Getting stuff done yesterday was a good way to start the week–despite feeling less than at my best–and I love the feeling of crossing things off my to-do list, you know? I got some other things done as well–things I can’t talk about publicly, alas, sorry to be a tease–but again, getting things done feels good, and I have felt kind of, I don’t know, discombobulated since the last epic volunteer project, which is what put me behind to begin with.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And today is the last of my “get up early” days this week. I know we’re taking Scooter in for a veterinary visit this Saturday, probably around ten, but if I’m not up by then on my own without the use of an alarm, well, then I am seriously in some kind of trouble. I slept really well last night–I’ve slept well the last few nights, actually, which has been kind of lovely–and while I don’t like to be “untimely ripp’d” from my bed in the mornings, once I shake off the sleep and fully become awake, it’s a whole different other story, you know? I suspect that not only have I not gotten over what made me so ill the weekend before last, but it’s coming back. This is, of course, terrible timing as I am scheduled to leave for Bouchercon next week. Not good, not good at all. I took a Claritin because my sinuses feel messed up, and then some DayQuil because I have post-nasal drip as well.

We’ll see how that goes, shan’t we?

Barb Goffman, one of my fellow nominees for the Anthony for Best Short Story next week, posted a rather lovely blog here, where we all talk about our stories, and she provides links to read them all. This was an incredibly generous thing for her to do, and since I’ve not read all the stories, this gives me an excellent opportunity to do so.

I’m still reading Certain Dark Things and Ready to Hang–although the story of the Lamana kidnapping has now progressed to the trial of the kidnappers, which isn’t that interesting.  But I should finish both by the weekend, so I can be prepared for the LSU-Auburn game. I’m not sure who the Saints are playing–I do love the Saints, but most of the time I don’t even know who they’re playing until Game Day.

And now it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Here I Go Again

Facing down yet another Monday like a beast.

I went to bed early last night–just watching the Nadal-Medvedev final in the US Open was exhausting, in addition to the emotional rollercoaster of the LSU-Texas game the previous night, and putting finishing touches on the volunteer project (we’ll be tying up loose ends all week, I suspect), and around nine-ish last night I was just worn out, and went to bed. I slept off and on all night–not sure how that’s going to play out today–but I guess we’ll see. I have two long days in a row for the first time in a few weeks, and I fear my body is no longer used to that abuse…but I guess we’ll see. Now that I have a half-day on Wednesday instead, it might make things easier for me in the middle of the week.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

I printed out the first four chapters of the final rewrite of the Kansas book last night, and it’s better than I thought it would be–the chapters I’ve already done need some work, and I need to seed the rest of the story a bit more. I’m trying something different with it–just as I did in Bury Me in Shadows, which is first person present tense–I am trying to do this in a remote third person point of view in the present tense. I noticed that despite my attempts to keep it in present tense, I slipped into the past tense a number of times out of force of habit, which is one of the reasons why I am writing this in the present tense; I want to not only shake things up for me as a writer, but break the habits of doing things the same way every time. I want to continually push myself as a writer and as a story-teller, and the best way to do that is to expand and try different things, different styles, different methods of storytelling, different ways of presenting the narrative and writing different kinds of crime novels. Laura Lippman is a master of this; her last few novels have all been dramatically different in style, voice, tone, and presentation–After I’m Gone, Wilde Lake, Sunburn, and Lady in the Lake–there’s definitely a Lippman sensibility to them, but the stories and storytelling and construction of the books are all dramatically different. That’s kind of what I want to do with my own stand-alone novels; I’ll probably always come back to Scotty, and as I’ve said recently, there’s another Chanse novel I’m probably going to try to write sometime next year–but the entire point of the stand alones was to do different things and experiment with style as well as story and writing.

But now that all that’s left is wrap-up on the volunteer project–thank the Lord, you have no idea what an enormous venture this was–I can start getting caught up this week on everything else that has slid while I focused all of my prodigious energy on getting it finished. I love doing volunteer work; I often take things on that I shouldn’t, as they interfere with my writing and staying on top of everything else in my life, but I like helping out. One of the primary reasons I love my day job so much is because I feel like I’m helping people make positive changes in their life, and at the very least I am helping people get STI’s cleared up, if nothing else. I need to finish an essay by this weekend, and I have to finish a first draft of a short story that’s due by the end of the month. I’d also like to get some work on the Kansas book done–it may not be finished when I want it to be finished, but that’s also life, and I am certain I can get it finished, at the latest, in December. I also remembered I have a novella a publisher is interested in that I need to get to work on; it’s a long short story but there are any number of places where it can be expanded easily, and so I should be looking at that as well.

This has been, all in all, a pretty good year for me–I had a short story collection come out in the spring and a novel this month–and while I’d like to get both of these novels that are in progress finished and out by next year as well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, which is perfectly okay. Bury Me in Shadows took me a lot longer than I intended to get finished, and that’s perfectly okay; it happens. But I also think I can get a strong revision of it finished this December, and then I can get it turned in for January; a strong push and the Kansas book can be turned in at the end of January, and hopefully by then, doing a chapter a week,  I can also have a strong first draft of Chlorine finished as well. I also want to get more short stories written, as I would love nothing more than to have another collection out sooner rather than later. I’m also nominated for an Anthony Award for my short story “Cold Beer No Flies” from Florida Happens, which is pretty awesome; I sold my short story “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s (and the story was received pretty well by most reviewers; probably the most, and best, feedback after publication I’ve ever had on a short story) and I also sold my story “Moist Money” to Dark Yonder, which I’m pretty pleased about.

I’m still reading both Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which I hope to have more time to read now that the volunteer project is under some sort of control, and  James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which is giving me a rather pointed history of racism in New Orleans, and it’s not pretty. We New Orleanians know there’s still systemic racism here in the city, as well as individual racism, but the history of slavery and racism in New Orleans is unique to this place and different than everywhere else; we had an entire middle-class of free people of color before the war, who weren’t obviously slaves but had to show deference to white people and were segregated out of places frequented by whites; Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series, beginning with A Free Man of Color, and Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints, are excellent fictional representations of that weird second-class citizenship the free people of color of New Orleans and Louisiana experienced. It’s still appalling, though, to read about lynch mobs and murderers never brought to proper justice for their crimes. Stained in blood as it is, New Orleans has a fascinating history, and has always been one of the more interesting places in this country.

And tomorrow is officially my new book’s birthday! Huzzah!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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