Different Drum

I am, and have always been, a voracious reader. Mysteries and crime novels of all types have been my favorites, but I also try to read outside the genre every now and again–mainly because I think a constant diet of reading only the genre you write can make your own writing get stale; it’s nice to mix it up every now and again. I’ve never been a snob about reading or what others read and find pleasure in; the fact that so many others are so judgmental about other people’s reading choices has always made me raise my eyebrows and tilt my head slightly to one side in bewilderment (unless it’s, you know, Stephenie Meyer). To me, the most important thing is that people are reading, and I don’t judge anyone for their choices (unless the choice is Stephenie Meyer). Nothing bothers me more than when, upon being asked what they like to read, people squirm with embarrassment and have to be coaxed into revealing what they enjoy. Reading is supposed to be a pleasure, and no one should ever be shamed for what they find pleasure in reading (okay, even if it’s Stephenie Meyer–I would never shame someone to their face for reading her, and really, I am joking when I mock her on this blog. Again, as long as people are reading I don’t care what their choices are)–and once someone opens up and starts talking enthusiastically about books and writers they love, it’s infectious–and I love their excitement.

But reading snobbery also rears its ugly head within the crime fiction genre, which bothers me. I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to simply say, “that *whatever sub-genre* isn’t to my taste”–which is really all it is; reading is subjective and no one person is the authority of what books are worthy and what books aren’t. I like every sub-genre of crime fiction. Like every kind of label you put on books, there are excellent writers, good writers, and bad writers in every section of the library or the bookstore; good writing is good writing, no matter who the author is and what kind of crime novel they’ve written. There are shitty private eye novels and police procedurals–but those kinds of books don’t get the disdain that is reserved specifically for the tradition mystery, i.e. the “cozy.” I’ve often held that this sub-genre of crime fiction gets dismissed because they are the “romance” novels of crime fiction–in other words, not taken seriously because they are mostly written by women for women about women. (There are exceptions, of course; men write in this style and quite well, in fact.) One of the most popular mystery television series of all time is traditional/cozy: Murder She Wrote. I personally enjoy reading them, and don’t read them enough, to be honest. The common denominator in all traditional mysteries is that they are escapist reading–you can escape from the cares and worries of your every day life and world into a world where justice is always done, people are generally kind, and the settings are often places–usually small towns, or a community within a larger one–the reader would love to actually live. There’s often a hook to the series–often built around a business run by the heroine–and there’s a cast of lovable eccentric characters who appear in every book that the reader loves to visit; the books are like the holidays, when you gather with friends and family to celebrate life and love and joy.

My favorite panel I attended at Crime Bake this past weekend was the “Cozy Trends: Home Sweet Home?” moderated ably by Ang Pompano; the panelists were Sarah Osborne, Julia Henry, Barbara Ross, and Tina deBellegarde (Sherry Harris was also listed, but she wasn’t there, alas). They were fantastic, and the discussion was truly terrific. (This is the panel where Julia Henry said something I thought profound and true: “Respect the genre you’re writing.” I want that on a sampler.) I bought books by all the authors, and am really looking forward to reading them. On the flight home from Boston, I finished reading Invisible City by Julia Dahl, and pulled Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross out of my backpack and started reading.

I finished it last night.

“Julia, meet my friend Andie.” My boyfriend Chris, looking tousled and handsome as always, stood in the doorway of my office. He entered the room, confident and casual, and a pleasant-looking woman followed.

“You mean Andie from your poker nights?” I put my hand out to cover my confusion. For two years, I’d been laboring under the misapprehension that “Andy” was a man. “No, we haven’t. I’m Julia.”

She took my hand and shook. “Andie. Greatorex. So glad to finally meet.” Her handshale was firm and strong, which seemed right, given her looks. She was tall, broad-shouldered, and obviously fit. Her sandy-blonde hair, pulled back in a high ponytial, framed a round face with wide set, hazel eyes. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, like Chris and me. Also, like Chris and me, she wore jeans, work boots, a T-shirt, and a plaid, flannel overshirt, as if we were planning on starting our own Grunge band. Andie’s T-shirt was maroon and had the words, GREAT RIVER OYSTERS on it in white block letters. My T-shirt was navy and said, SNOWDEN FAMILY CLAMBAKE. Chris “doesn’t wear advertising”, quote, unquote, so his T-shirt was black.

In other words, we were dressed appropriately for a morning in coastal Maine in mid-May. Outside, pre-season tourists From Away wore jacket and windbreakers, but we natives are hardier folks.

Barbara Ross was an absolute delight on the panel, and I grabbed the last copy of this book the bookseller had and was able to get her to sign it for me–which is something I am not ashamed to say I completely geek about still; I will always be a fanboy.

Shucked Apart is the ninth (!) book in the Maine Clambake mystery series; Ross’ heroine Julia Snowden lives in the fictional Maine coastal village of Busman’s Harbor. She left a career in high finance in New York to take over her family’s clambake business (highly dependent on tourism and seasonal) and make it thrive. It’s very clear that Julia works very hard but has clearly gone back native–she doesn’t miss her old life at all–and the town is filled with likable and interesting characters. Her live-in boyfriend, Chris, has brought his friend Andie, an oyster farmer, to meet Julia to get her help. Andie was attacked and robbed of $35,000 of oyster spat for her farm (spat being the term for baby oysters), and she wants Julia’s help getting to the bottom of the robbery/assault. Not sure she can really help more than the police, Julia takes a liking to Andie and decides to see if there’s anything she can do to help. There are any number of suspects to investigate–including Julia’s own uncle–and then Andie turns up dead and it becomes a murder investigation.

There’s also a personal story going on during the course of the book–as indicated in those opening paragraphs above, Chris has been keeping Julia away from his friends (most of the mystery and investigation are centered in the nearby town of Damariscotta), and over the course of their relationship there have been a lot of secrets he’s kept from her–and this personal issue is really handled deftly by Ross. The juxtaposition of the crime investigation and the personal dilemma is juggled beautifully; Ross really makes the reader care about Julia and her friends, and the pacing is perfect–and it’s not easy to do this without making one story more important than the other.

As I said the other day, I love to learn things when I read, and I learned a lot about oyster farming, the politics of fishermen vs. oyster farmers vs lobstermen, and the ecology concerns with keeping the delicate balance of the ecosystem from being damaged. Ross casually slips in diverse characters and the issue of the warming of the seas without making a big deal out of them–no small feat, and it’s done so effortlessly it’s almost unnoticeable.

This was a fun, charming read, and I look forward to my next visit to Busman’s Harbor.

Sweet Summer Blue and Gold

WEDNESDAY!

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that I only have another two work days left before I am on vacation yet again; maybe that’s why I was so rested and full of energy yesterday as opposed to tired, worn, and old the way I usually feel on Tuesdays. I guess how this day will play out remains to be seen. I also managed to get caught up with reviewing the books I read whilst on my trip–I would have done this sooner, but my wireless keyboard stopped functioning (writing on a laptop is difficult for me; I’ve always used a separate keyboard) and so I ordered another one yesterday that will hopefully arrive before it’s time to go to Kentucky so I can take it with me so I can actually get work done while I am there.

And I am behind, as always, on everything.

But I am making progress, which is always pleasant and a relief of sorts. My book-buying compulsion is getting out of hand again, so I am going to have to do some more serious pruning of the books-on-hand this weekend and over the next few evenings, so I can drop off some boxes to the library sale this weekend. Yay! And I have some of my stuff-to-do more under control now than I did before, so again, it’s always lovely to make some progress as each day passes. It’s hard to believe next week is Thanksgiving; it kind of shook me up when I realized it on Monday that I only have a week between trips–and will be traveling again in mid-January (New York again) and will most likely be heading to Left Coast Crime in April as well (I think it’s in Albuquerque?)–barring another variant and another spike or wave of COVID infections. We got caught up on The Morning Show last night, just as the pandemic is beginning to break in the US–yay for reliving that horror, but they are doing a really good job with it, and I am not sure how I feel about their take on “cancel culture”–as someone who the right tried to cancel, back before it was called cancel culture, and yes, I do need to write about that at some point–but there is something to what they are saying, I think; I’m not sure. I don’t consider myself a moral authority on anything; I just think about things and try to learn and try to be better myself than the person I used to be. Life is about nothing if it’s not a constant learning and growing process, and we can always do better, be better, and grow, right? The people I feel bad for are those who actually stop growing and learning, stagnate and fossilize their beliefs and values, and think they don’t have anything else to learn, no need to grow. To me, that’s just sad and tragic.

I didn’t make it to the gym last night after I got off work because I wound up staying later than I usually do–I didn’t leave the office until after five, and thus got stuck in rush hour traffic going through the CBD on the way home (although they finally fixed the lights at Poydras and Loyola, so it wasn’t the nightmare getting through there that it has been since Ida, thank you Lord) and then I did some things around the house when I got home–things that needed doing–before Paul got home. I’ve also been listening to Red (Taylor’s Version), which is I think my favorite Taylor Swift record (yes, I am a sixty-year-old Swiftie, don’t you dare try to shame me for it), which is also quite good. I was a little brain-fried when I got home, but I am hoping to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away, so I can move on to Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon. I think I am going to simply take cozies with me to Kentucky; I really enjoy reading them and I also should spend more time reading them–it’s so hard to decide what to read all the time, and there are so many different books and styles of books that I want to read, and it’s not a bad idea to get away from the darker stuff for a while…

I also noted that there are new episodes of both Foundation and The Lost Symbol for me to catch up while condom packing on my work-at-home days, and I also have some data entry to do (almost caught up at last, huzzah!). I also have to figure out what audio books I want to take for the ride both ways–eleven hours; I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up last time and End of Watch by Stephen King on the way home; perhaps this would be a good time to listen to one of the Stephen King novels I haven’t gotten to–The Outsider or 11/22/63 or Dr. Sleep or Black House–so many choices! Or perhaps it would be fun to listen to cozies on the way up? I get too much pleasure from actually reading Donna Andrews to give that up to listen to one; but maybe there’s another one of my favorite cozy series I can listen to; who knows? But I have all weekend to figure that out since I am not leaving until Monday morning.

I am going to try to not spend all day Saturday in my chair watching college football all day–at least not until I get the writing done that I need to get done–and hopefully will be able to read while the games are one when I finally do sit in my chair and relax.

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

Freedom

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Happily, I made it through my first Monday back at work. Usually, I tend to take the day after I travel off from work–so if I fly home on Sunday I don’t work on Monday, so I can get acclimated and readjusted to being home–laundry, make groceries, get the mail, etc.–and usually I am exhausted from traveling so I need to sleep in a bit as well. But…yesterday somehow I managed to get up with the alarm, make some coffee, and got my shit together and wasn’t even the least bit grumpy about it. I was a bit tired–the legs especially; I walked a shit ton last week–but I made it through the day without incident and managed to run some errands on the way home. I had considered making a trip to the gym last night but decided it made more sense to go after work tonight–I know, I know, excuses to fail instead of reasons to succeed, but hey, I took a four hour flight yesterday, had to navigate two airports and so forth, not to mention the horrors of I-10 East through the burbs and into the city–no small feat. But I also started feeling low energy around three yesterday afternoon (nothing new; that’s when it usually hits me right between the eyes with a 2 x 4) so it wasn’t travel related at all, but was enough to make me rethink my gym strategy.

Ironically, once I get readjusted to my schedule, I’m off to Kentucky for Thanksgiving.

Which is not an excuse to not go to the gym this week.

The realization that Murder the Indigenous People Day looms on the horizon is also forcing me to rethink my grocery shopping necessities; I really don’t need to be buying anything perishable, and I need to make sure Paul is all stocked up with things he can easily prepare for himself (although he’ll inevitably simply end up eating out the entire time); but I have this weekend to worry about all of that and get it handled. I made significant progress yesterday on getting caught up on everything–still horribly behind on everything, of course–but at least I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and I don’t feel as terribly stressed out about being so far behind, which is also progress of a sort. I do want to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ delightful Shucked Away, which I started reading on the plane home Sunday, and I think next up will be another Leslie Budewitz; I loved the first in her wonderful Spice Shop series, but haven’t managed to get back to it yet, and of course, after Thanksgiving is the best time to read the next up in Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series, Owl Be Home for Christmas–it would actually be kind of great to have an entire season of Christmas books to read, wouldn’t it, and Andrews does one every year, which is also kind of marvelous as well, but I don’t want to read the books out of order.

I also began piecing together and outlining an article I am writing for Crime Reads to help promote the Kansas book when it’s released–I got the hook finally over the weekend at Crime Bake, for which I will always be grateful to that conference, and the New England chapters of MWA and Sisters in Crime–and that definitely counts as writing (I never count the blog as writing, despite the fact that every entry is more than five hundred words and sometimes even longer), so I am getting back into that saddle, which feels really great. I also managed to finish the laundry last night, emptied a load from the dishwasher so I could reload it, and got some filing and organizing done around the Lost Apartment so my desk area isn’t quite as disheveled and scattered as it was when I got home Sunday night. I still have to finish my blog posts on Invisible City by Julia Dahl and Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (if you haven’t read them, Constant Reader, you really need to get on with it! Don’t wait as long as I did, which was a huge mistake), and I also want to get some boxes prepared to clear out some more books for the library sale. I think Saturday I am going to drag a box down from the attic to dispose of as well; might as well get that project started–because the attic is definitely not ever going to clean itself out at any point in time.

We watched the recent episode of Dopesick last night, and the acting is truly superb; the entire show has been extremely well done and well-written; everyone in the cast should be tapped for an Emmy nomination; the young woman who plays Bets, the lesbian mine worker who gets hooked after a back injury is particularly fantastic, as is Mare Winningham and Michael Keaton. Rosario Dawson is no slouch, either, and if there was ever an oilier, slimier villain–the actor playing Richard Sackler is Bond-villain worthy. We’ll probably get caught up on our other shows the rest of this week–The Sinner, The Morning Show–and there’s some other shows I want to watch as well; I really do need to start making a list. I also want to get back to Chapelwaite, which I don’t think Paul was enjoying as much as I did; we’ll have to have a chat about that tonight when we both get home from the gym.

Yes, I am planning on going to the gym tonight. We’ll see how that turns out, won’t we?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader. I know I intend to.

Don’t Say You Love Me

Monday morning and I am back home. It was lovely to travel again, lovely to see people I’ve not seen in far too long, and even more lovely to be in a room full of people listening to writers talking about writing and books. I took voluminous notes during every panel I attended, got inspired about writing again, and it was almost kind of normal, like somehow (despite the masks) I had somehow slipped back into the Before Times.

Planes, trains and automobiles–last week I did them all, and I am still a little worn out from all the things I’m no longer used to; airports, train stations, being around large crowds of people. I am almost painfully shy and socially awkward (always have been) so interacting with new people has always been difficult for me, but Crime Bake was absolutely marvelous and welcoming. It so so nice being back in New York and taking the subway again and just walking around, marveling at the wonderful city. Boston is another place I love, and haven’t been there in many many years. Friends I hadn’t seen in years picked me up at South Street Station when my train rolled in; we then went to the incredible Isabella Stewart Gardner museum (Mrs. Gardner has always been of interest to me since reading Stephen Buckingham’s The Grande Dames a gazillion years ago), and her art collection–and the house itself–were absolutely stunning. We had dinner and they drove me out to my hotel, where Crime Bake was happening, and almost instantly I began running into people I’ve not seen and have long adored. I was very tired by the time I reached Dedham, but somehow found some more energy in the tank to talk and enjoy the company of people I’ve not seen in an eternity.

(I’d also forgotten–it’s been so long–how things tend to pile up when I am away to the point of being overwhelming; but one thing at a time and it will all get done, Gregalicious.)

I also read a lot of terrific books while I was traveling (These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and am halfway finished with Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away) and those reviews will be forthcoming–another thing to add to my now endless to-do list–which reminded me how much I love to read. Reading has always been the one constant love of my life, ever since I was a little boy, and sometimes I need to remember–no matter how tired I am, no matter how little energy I have, and no matter how easy it is to simply allow myself to head into a Youtube wormhole (which I can always justify as research), what I should do every night when I get home to unwind is spend an hour in a book. I was reflecting on that very thing last night on my JetBlue flight back to New Orleans from Boston (this was also my first JetBlue experience and one that I loved very very much; I think I might have a new favorite airline), but what I also remembered by my deep reading dive over this trip was that limiting myself to a mere hour of reading could be very difficult to accomplish when I am reading something I am very much loving. I never want to put the book down once I am caught in its spell–which happened quite a few times over the course of the trip; I wound up staying up later than I should have in order to keep reading.

But oh! What marvelous books I was reading! Is there anything more fun that getting caught in the spell of a wonderful writer? I think not.

But it was also lovely to sleep in my own bed again last night–I really could have stayed in bed most of the day, I think, and were it not for having to head into the office this morning to return to reality, I probably would have slept very late–and it’s lovely to have my own coffee in one of my own mugs this morning; it’s lovely to be sort of back to what passes for normal in the life of one Gregalicious; but now I have a lot of writing and editing and emails and other business to get caught up on; so the first thing I need to do once this is finished and posted is make a substantial to-do list. I need to get back into the swing of going to the gym three times weekly–despite the coming of the Thanksgiving holidays and yet another trip, but I can’t keep putting it off with that excuse else I will never get back into the groove, and my body is getting squishy again. I also need to edit two stories to get them ready for submission/publication and I need to get caught up on the book I am writing. I also have an article to write for promotion for the release of #shedeservedit–while on this trip the hook of the article came to me, which again is why writers’ conferences are so important for me, because I find them to be inspiring and motivating–and of course, I need to get through the endless amounts of emails that have piled up while I was away. I also have to recenter myself with my day job; it feels like I haven’t been to the office in months. I need to make a Costco run at some point this coming weekend, and of course I have to make groceries too. I can make pasta for dinner tonight, but after that I am completely out of ideas and who knows what all is in my kitchen cabinets!

And so, it’s time to get cleaned up and presentable for the office this morning. Sorry to be so brief and short after a rather lengthy absence, but…there’s a lot I have to get caught up on and it ain’t going to do itself, so off to the spice mines again.