Live With Me

Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day has rolled around yet again. Woo-hoo!

Yesterday I was working on cleaning out my inbox–an ongoing struggle, but it’s suddenly gotten easier lately–and around noonish an email from Left Coast Crime dropped in letting me know that A Streetcar Named Murder had been selected as a finalist for the Lefty Awards! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that to ever happen, so thanks to everyone who listed me on their ballot. It’s a tough category–the other nominees are Ellen Byron for Bayou Book Thief, Catriona McPherson for Scot in a Trap, Jennifer Chow for Death by Bubble Tea, and A. J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom. Such a thrill, really, and to be nominated against authors for whom I have so much respect and admiration for their talents and achievements already? And so many other amazing nominees in the other categories as well–including lots of friends! Kellye Garrett, Alex Segura, James L’Etoile, Karen Odden, Laurie R. King, Gigi Pandian, Rob Osler, Eli Cranor, Wanda Morris, and Catriona again (nominated TWICE!!!!). I’m really sorry I won’t be going to Left Coast this year. I had a marvelous time last year, but it’s also the week before TWFest and Saints & Sinners, and there’s no way I could take that much time off so close together–let alone leave the week before the festivals. I’d come home to find the locks changed, seriously. So many amazing reads this past year on this list, and there I am, right there with some of my favorite people.

It’s always lovely to get recognized, of course. Award nominations are always a lovely pat on the back, and yes, while I often joke about always losing everything I am ever nominated for (I love pretending to be bitter and cynical about losing awards), it is indeed a great honor and a thrill and all those things they’re supposed to make you feel like. Being nominated for mainstream awards, like this and the Anthonys, was never in my thoughts or calculations (to be fair, I never think about awards when I’m writing something)–so yes, for the kid who used to give acceptances speeches to the mirror holding a shampoo bottle as a stand-in for an Oscar, it’s an honor and a thrill and a privilege. I mean, winning isn’t really in my control–anyone who’s ever nominated’s control–so I just look at it as a lovely nice job thumbs-up from the community and add it to my author bio.

I slept really well again last night and this morning I don’t feel tired or sore and my mind is completely alert–yesterday there was some residual fog from my trip still, and leftover exhaustion–but today feels absolutely great. I ran errands after I got off work yesterday–some books and other things came in the mail yesterday, including my Rainbow candles (a client gave me one for Christmas; I loved the smell, and then had to go searching on line to find more of them) and the leather-bound copies of Rebecca and Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier as produced by the International Collectors’ Library (about time I got two really nice editions of two of my favorite books). I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday so I pretty much melted into my easy chair with Scooter asleep in my lap and just watched videos on Youtube (I went down a Rihanna wormhole for a good while–I’d forgotten how amazing her music was–while also looking up videos from Hadestown, whose score I’ve been listening to every since I got home; I cannot tell you how much I loved this show). I need to pay the bills today and get back to work on the book–I’m behind again and am really going to have to work my ass off to get it done by the end of the month now, no time for goofing off or anything other than a major push; I also have a short story to finish that I’ve promised to a friend for an anthology; that will be a nice creative and intellectual challenge to try to get finished around the book, too.

So, yes, Constant Reader, as you can probably tell I’m in a really good place this morning. My coffee is marvelous, I got a lovely pat on the back from the mystery community yesterday (“they like me! they really like me!”), and I am feeling great about my writing and my future. We’ll see how long this happy feeling and inspiration lasts, won’t we? I also think the cold or sinus thing that’s been going on with me since I flew to New York has finally been given the boot by my immune system, which is really nice. (I always feel terrible when I travel–part of it is the lack of sleep and the dehydration caused by the pressure changes required for flying; one of these days I’ll learn to drink water and replenish electrolytes when I travel instead of just drinking Cokes and coffee and alcohol; you’d think I’d know better by now but I clearly do not) But I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like a really long time, and it’s going to take some getting used to and adjusting again. (This weekend especially is going to feel weird as fuck, to be honest.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.

(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.

Everywhere

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all is well this morning. I slept in a bit (I also went to bed later than I usually do, so I slept about the same amount, really) and feel rested and relaxed this morning, which is always a nice, pleasant thing to feel. I didn’t get much work done on the book yesterday (355 words, all of them bad except maybe “Scotty” and “Frank” and “Colin”) but that’s okay; I feel a lot less stressed and a lot less pressured this morning about everything that needs to be done now. The stuff all needs to get done, of course; that hasn’t changed, but I am not feeling as much stress about it as I was feeling yesterday.

I read more of ‘salem’s Lot last night while I was waiting for my friend Ellen Byron (buy her books! Bayou Book Thief is amazing!) to text me to meet her for a drink. I picked her up at the Sazerac House (Canal and Magazine) and it had been quite a while since I drove down that way in the evening, and yikes. SO much traffic, so many people everywhere. I’m still not used to pedestrians in the CBD at night, even though the area hasn’t been a ghost town at night in years, but then we swung around and came up to have drinks at St. Vincent’s, which has been renovated and redone and remade and turned into a boutique luxury hotel right here in the heart of my neighborhood. I’ve posted some pictures of the place when I was doing my walks through the neighborhood last year; it’s even more beautiful inside than I imagined. These weekend is Tulane Homecoming, so there are a shit ton of people in town (that’s actually what brought Ellen to New Orleans, in fact; she is an alum) for that, and of course the people from Mississippi here for today’s LSU game in Baton Rouge (Geaux Tigers!). It was lovely to sit and have a drink and talk about writing and books and this crazy business we are in; she’s an absolute delight (buy her books!) and I look forward to the next time I get to see her.

But this morning I realized how utterly I am failing at reading. October is winding down; Halloween is a week from Monday, and I still haven’t finished my reread of ‘salem’s Lot, let alone done my annual Halloween reread of The Haunting of Hill House or getting caught up on the horror novels in my TBR pile. I’ll spend some more time with Mr. King this morning before I run my errands–I have to go get the mail and I have to stop at the grocery store because I want to make white bean chicken chili tomorrow, and have nothing I need for that–and I am debating whether I want to grill burgers today or not. The LSU game is on today at 2:30, and of course Skate America is airing this weekend (yay for figure skating!) so I’ll have to write around those times.

The reread of ‘salem’s Lot is a lot of fun, actually; I am really enjoying this revisit of the book and seeing why I enjoyed it so much the first time around. King wasn’t STEPHEN KING yet when he wrote and published it, so I am sure it didn’t get the kindest reception from critics of the time; particularly when you take into consideration what they considered to be great writing back then. I don’t remember when it was that the Literati changed their mind on Stephen King, but I do remember how he wasn’t taken seriously as a writer by them for a very long time (he writes horror! He’s too prolific to be a real writer!), and some of his best work was already behind him by the time he got the anointing he deserved for a very long time. I mean, he had quite a run, and quite a varied one at that, before he finally published a book I didn’t like (The Tommyknockers, for the record) and it seemed an aberration as he seemed to climb back on the horse and right the saddle in the next one after that. I love how many points of view he uses in ‘salem’s Lot, giving us little glimpses of fully realized characters and their lives to show us human beings so that when they actually wind up becoming vampires, you do feel a sense of loss. Many of these minor characters are objects of sympathy, while others you just kind of shrug when the vampires come for them and think, well, you were a shitty person anyway, oh well, this is justice of a sort. The scene where Mike Ryerson has to finish burying the coffin of Danny Glick is one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read, and it still holds up today. I like how King gets into the point of view character’s head and gives them a voice–which is still King’s, but different from the other voices he uses–and that sort of structured stream of consciousness is something I really like and enjoy reading; I sometimes use that style in my own writing.

(I started to write something self-deprecating, but am proud of myself for catching it and not doing it. Progress.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the manuscript and do some cleaning before the errands are run. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later or tomorrow.

Easy Loving

Monday morning and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I have so much to get done this week it’s kind of overwhelming, to be honest; and the temptation to just stay in bed for the rest of my life and avoid the world was kind of really powerful this morning. Yet the world stops turning for no man, let alone a Gregalicious, so there was naught for me to do other than arise, do my morning ablutions, and start drinking coffee. I did sleep fairly well, despite the enormous stress of a to-do list with incredibly lengthy chores and projects to work on, and feel pretty well rested this morning–if not quite up to dealing with the world at large.

Ellen Byron’s book launch last night was marvelous. I was delighted to see she had a very good turnout and sold a lot of books–and she is the QUEEN of swag. I for once didn’t have stage fright–I knew Ellen would be warm and witty and wise and funny; all I had to do was lob some questions at her and she was off and running (she did try to deflect attention back to me a couple of times, but I was ready to turn the spotlight right back on her after a brief answer and succeeded each time). The book itself is lovely, too; you want to get a copy of Bayou Book Thief, especially if you’re a fan of traditional mysteries. The cover is gorgeous, and it’s a fun story with a likable main character and a likable supporting cast, and Ellen’s adoration of New Orleans spills over on every page–and what more can a New Orleanophile ask for? I also picked up a copy of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (I saw it and remembered someone recommending it to me a while back, so I grabbed it immediately) and a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time now (since Camus was inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice for his own novel, I thought it only made sense for me to finally read the Camus)–I can never walk into a bookstore and not walk out with more than I intended to buy when I walked in (I had only intended to get a copy of Ellen’s finished book; I read a pdf) but that was fine–I wanted both books and let’s face it, I am always going to buy books at every opportunity, but it is time for me to start donating books to the library again.

I am not familiar with the part of New Orleans where the bookstore is located; Blue Cypress Books is on Oak Street past Carrollton, not far from where Carrollton and Claiborne intersect (and yes, the two streets actually run parallel to each other in my neighborhood; welcome to the wonderful and terribly confusing world of New Orleans’ bizarre geography). I would have, as per my usual, simply driven all the way to Riverbend on St. Charles then turned left on Carrollton…but I decided not to do my usual “this is how I know to get there” thing and used Google maps. Interestingly enough, Google maps took me on to Highway 90 then I-10 before getting off at the Carrollton exit in front of Costco and going that way…and it was faster–a lot faster, which I still kind of can’t wrap my mind around, but then again that’s New Orleans geography for you; my mind always thinks in terms of grids where everything runs north and south or east and west, and that isn’t New Orleans. The only actual grid design to anywhere in this city is the French Quarter–and only the French Quarter, at that. I have lived here twenty-six years and still get confused and mystified by how geography works here…which is one of the reasons I think people believe New Orleans is magical and mystical. Where else does geography make no sense other than here?

After I got home, we finished watching The Outlaws, which we really enjoyed, and started watching Gaslit. Julia Roberts is killing it as Martha Mitchell–I’d really forgotten a lot about her, but she was kind of a celebrity at the time, more so than the wife of Attorney General could ever hope to be, frankly–and she was enormously popular; everyone liked Martha Mitchell, because you never really knew what she was going to say next, which naturally didn’t sit well with the president of the time, Richard Nixon. (And again with a show set in the 1970s; sensing a theme–Minx, Candy, Gaslit–all set in the 1970s as a reminder to us all just how awful the 1970s actually were…pay attention, everyone. There’s a reason you never want to turn the clock back, or bring an era back.) I’d actually forgotten about Martha Mitchell–she’s often left out of books I’ve read about Watergate–and she was actually kind of an important cultural figure of the time. If the Nixon idea was to erase her from history, it kind of worked. The 1970s was definitely an odd decade.

As I was lying in bed dreading getting up and facing the world today, I thought, I would really love to have a vacation, you know. A week where I didn’t have a deadline to meet, or go into the office, or really do anything at all other than relax and read and watch movies or television shows I’ve not had a chance to see. It’s been a hot minute, and most of the traveling I actually do tends to be writing related in some way, which means it’s not really a vacation but a work trip. I don’t think I’ve actually had a vacation-vacation since we went to Italy, and that was eight long years ago. We’re talking about possibly going to Puerto Rico or some place in Central America (Costa Rica, if anywhere), but I think it’s past time…although I could also use some time off to stay home and get the Lost Apartment into some semblance of order, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one.

I didn’t finish my short story–the deadline was today and I know there’s no way I can get it finished in time to email off by midnight tonight, particularly since there would be little to no time to revise and/or edit it. It’s a shame, but at least the story is further along at about just over a thousand words than it was at less than two hundred; it’s a great idea but I’m basically stuck in the middle. I know how it ends, I just don’t know how to get it there, so letting it sit for a while is definitely in order. I did start writing the new Scotty yesterday–don’t get excited, I literally wrote maybe 175 words of the prologue; I found the book opening I wanted to spoof (Pride and Prejudice) and since I didn’t want to forget, I started writing it and it flowed along for another hundred words or so before I ran out of steam. The Scotty prologues are always the hardest part of the book for me to write; they are basically a recap of Scotty’s life thus far to get a new reader caught up without having to go back and read the first eight (!) books in the series as well as not spoiling the first eight books in the series should the reader decide to go back and actually read the first eight books in the series. (Something I actually need to do before I really dig in and start writing this thing…I really need to do the Scotty Series Bible and get that done so I have an easy reference without having to page through the books or do a search in the ebooks) I also did some research over the weekend for the book, which entailed rereading two Nancy Drew mysteries, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat (both books bring Nancy and her friends to New Orleans/Louisiana) and oh, yes, that bit of research definitely triggered a blog post which I started writing yesterday after I got ready for the event and was waiting for it to be the right time to leave. I kind of slam Nancy Drew in the post–but the truth is, despite my obsessive collecting of Nancy Drew books (trying to get the entire original series, with the yellow spines) I never actually liked the books all that much. (Same with the Hardy Boys.) While I appreciate the two series for their popularity and for getting kids to read (and to read mysteries) neither series was ever my favorite–but once I started reading and collecting, I had to keep reading and collecting because I am obsessive–and that obsession with collecting the books, while slightly tempered as I’ve gotten much older (and don’t have a place to display the collection), still exists. (Periodically I do think about emptying a bookcase and refilling it with my kids’ series books; it’s always satisfying for me to see them on the shelves. And yes, I know how weird that sounds.)

And now back into the spice mines with me. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

Proud Mary

Left a good job in the city…

Well, Constant Reader, once again Friday has rolled around and I have to go into the office. It’s taking me some getting used to–being in the office four days a week again–and I actually don’t have to go in as early as I do on my other days; I can be there for nine rather than seven thirty, which surprisingly makes a huge difference for me. I did wake up at five, but slept on and off again before waking up for good at six (the usual) but I half-napped in bed for another hour and yes, it felt lovely. I feel quite rested this morning–even if I really don’t want to face the day–but what choice is there? I wish I could stay home, but that’s simply not the way life works for me, at least not yet. Retirement from the day job comes closer and closer every passing day; I wonder–should I in fact make it that far–what it will be like to get up and not have to go into the office every day? Will my productivity increase? Decrease? I’ll be older and creakier, for sure, by then; but hopefully I will also spend the next four years working out fairly regularly and hopefully eating better (although I keep putting both off, don’t I?), so maybe physically I’ll be okay by then? Who knows? I could be killed in a car accident on my way to work this morning.

I was tired yesterday again when I got home from work. I stopped and made groceries on the way home, and tonight I’ll swing by the post office on my way home. I’ll probably have to make another grocery run at some point over the weekend, and I should have to pick up a prescription at some point; so probably Saturday I will swing by, get the prescription, the mail, drop books off at the library sale, and then head to the grocery store. The heat is back and the humidity is also starting to rise again (hurray), but I’ve seen and heard nothing about the swarms of termites this year. I find it rather hard to believe that suddenly the scourge of the Formosan termites has finally ended in New Orleans. I’ll never forget the horror and shock of our first experience with that particular plague of Egypt way back in May 1997, when we were watching television and having a nice quiet evening at home and suddenly the apartment was filled with termites everywhere. It was horrible, and no one had warned us about the impending swarms…so we learned how to live with the little bastards–essentially, at the first sign of one, turn off everything in the house that gives off a light and wait for a while for it all to end. We’ve been very lucky here in the Lost Apartment in that we don’t get swarms inside–we always follow the rule of turn off everything at first sight–but even the outdoor lights here in the back of the house away from the street have never drawn many…although now that I’ve said that publicly we’ll probably wind up buried under termite wings this weekend.

I have a lot of work to do this weekend–what else is new–but that’s fine. I never made that to-do list I talked about making earlier this week; perhaps that will be on today’s agenda. The apartment is a disaster area as always on Friday, but I did finish the laundry and did a load of dishes last night. Progress! I have some projects to finish, lots of emails to answer and send, and I really would like to try to spend some time cleaning up around here. I would like to finish my short story this weekend as well–the submission call closes on Monday, methinks, so hopefully I can focus on it a bit this evening and get a draft finished so I can edit and fix over the weekend. If not, it will simply be chalked up to another lost publishing opportunity to go along with all the others I’ve missed over the years.

I mean, it happens. Regularly.

I also need to read Ellen’s book so I won’t look like a moronic poseur Sunday evening at Blue Cypress Books (at 5 pm! UPSTAIRS! And there’s a bar across the street!) while we are in conversation, bur also fortunately I’ve gotten to know Ellen fairly well over the last couple of years–I mean, as well as one can with someone you mostly communicate with over emails and on social media, with the occasional dinner and/or drinks here and there–so I like to think I can speak to her intelligently and ask her good questions about her books and her writing and her career; otherwise I am just going to crash and burn and make an idiot of myself, which is always a possibility and the big fear whenever I do something like this–not to mention I am always so drained and exhausted afterwards. But Monday is my work-at-home day, so I can recover from the strain of a public appearance.

Yeah, this messy kitchen will have to be tackled tonight rather than put off to the weekend…it’s driving me crazy just sitting here in the midst of it. Heavy sigh. It is long overdue, and maybe tomorrow morning before I run errands and after doing my morning post I can get it all cleaned up and organized and under control.

Perchance to dream…

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

If

Ah, Tuesday morning. Last night I slept remarkably well–so much so that when the alarm went off and hit snooze the first time, the second time it went off I slept through it and Paul had to nudge me awake. Which was good–I’m glad I slept so well–and a bit scary (what if I had slept through the alarm completely the second time?) at the same time. No matter, I am awake now and feeling rested and not even the teensiest bit groggy. Whether that will last all day or not is an entirely different story, of course, but I feel very well rested this morning–a good thing, since I am going into the office again today. Huzzah? Huzzah.

We started watching Pieces of Her on Netflix, based on the novel by Karin Slaughter, and at first I was a bit taken aback by it; some of what was going on didn’t make a lot of sense, but the second episode cleared a lot of that right up, and we’ve been climbed aboard for the ride. We’re both Toni Collette fans (we decided to give the fictionalization of The Staircase a whirl as well, before giving up because we’d seen the documentary series and so we know everything that’s going to happen. This quite naturally kills any suspense the series might have for people unfamiliar with the case, but alas, I am a crime writer and many of my friends were vested in watching the documentary, with endless discussions as to whether or not Michael Peterson was guilty or not…so despite the excellent casting choices, we gave up on it after the first episode), and she is topnotch as always in this; we’re definitely looking forward to seeing where and how this all works out. We also watched the first episode of Candy on Hulu; not realizing the entire show hadn’t completely dropped yet–they are doling out episodes one day at a time–which we enjoyed; we especially were surprised at how easy it is to make actors look unattractive while watching it. I could swear I’d seen this story before–including the cast–but maybe I just saw a lot of previews of it while watching other shows on Hulu, but it certainly feels like I’ve watched this before with this very same cast, which I know isn’t really possible.

But still, very weird. Has anyone else had deja vu while watching a television program?

How peculiar.

I was going to start reading Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief last night, but alas, Paul came home earlier than expected so we started watching our television shows. Perhaps tonight he’ll either go to the gym or get home from the office later than expected, so I have some time to write and read before he does. I have decided to start embracing things in my life–the things I’ve always certainly dreaded doing–because putting things off that may be unpleasant certainly doesn’t make them go away, and why not just rip the bandage off and get it over with? So, today between my clients, I am going to try to organize myself and make a plan for the rest of the year to make sure everything gets done that I want to get done and try to get things going. First step is to finally get caught up on all of my emails and clean out that messy, sloppy, absolutely hideously full inbox. I also have to generate some emails, which will simply beget more emails–emails are truly what the ancient Greeks had in mind when they came up with the myth of Sisyphus; every time I go into my inbox I think to myself yes, new emails beget more emails as do answering emails so even emptying out the inbox doesn’t really accomplish anything other than a brief–very brief–respite. This of course is self-defeating at its finest; the justification argument I can literally use as an excuse to never do anything.

And have.

But ignoring them and hoping they will go away doesn’t work, so I am going to have to dive in headfirst and start answering, aren’t I? Sigh, I hate being an adult sometimes….most times.

Stay Awhile

Another work-at-home Monday here in the Lost Apartment and I am not feeling especially motivated this morning. Granted, I’ve yet to swill down any coffee (which will undoubtedly make a significant difference) but I also have a lot to do. I wasn’t nearly as productive over the weekend as I would have liked to have been, so the to-do list still has many things to be crossed off of it. But I think the relaxation was necessary in some ways–I did make notes in my journal all weekend, and I did a lot of thinking about writing, and I do think that’s very important; as I mentioned on the Spirit of Ink the other day, it’s crazy to sit down to write something without spending some time thinking about what you are going to write first. There’s this sense, often reinforced by television and movie depictions of writers trying to write, that we simply sit down at the computer (or typewriter, depending on the time period) and then stare in in frustration at the blank page or document before finally giving up. I don’t know any writer who sits down without some idea of what they are going to be writing about when they sit down to start, and it occurs to me that not thinking about what you’re going to be writing before you sit down and start writing it is nothing more than defeating yourself before you even get started.

We wound up watching quite a bit of television over the weekend; Anatomy of a Scandal on Netflix with Siena Miller and Michelle Dockery was how we spent most of yesterday; it wasn’t bad but there was a massive plot hole in the center of it that, once we were aware of it (a surprise twist about halfway through) kind of undermined the story and the character who was committing the deception: it simply did not make any sense. Maybe in the book it was based upon it worked better, I don’t know; but it really undermined the impact of the show and its message; which purported to be about entitled men and the “boys will be boys” dismissal of sexual harassment and assault on women; the old “he said/she said” debate in which the woman is never truly believed in our justice system (or the British one, in this case; sad that both countries have the same issues with toxic masculinity and accountability for entitled male behavior, but not terribly surprising, since one country is basically the mother of the other). The acting was good, but I really didn’t see anything fresh or new to the story; we’ve seen this same story before numerous times: powerful man is accused by underling with whom he is having an affair of sexual assault after the affair ends; wife isn’t sure whether she should believe him or not; and endless surprising revelations from the pasts of everyone involved.

But I did get some things done, so the weekend wasn’t a complete and/or total loss, to be sure. I managed to get most of the dishes done (there’s still another load to put in the dishwasher and run) and most of the laundry, and I did manage to get some organizing done as well. As I already mentioned I got some writing (or thinking about writing) done; I also did some important on-line research for not only my next Scotty but for a sequel to A Streetcar Named Murder if they want one; if they don’t, the research will certainly come in handy for something else. I also did find a couple of submission calls I might, if I have the time, cobble something together for–but the deadlines are very tight, and I don’t have anything in pristine-enough shape to turn in for the calls, either, which would mean needing to find the time to revise and rewrite stories for both, or at the very least trying to figure out which stories might work in either case. I’ll need to review the calls again with an eye to looking at what is in the files.

I also finished reading Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages, so Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief is up next for me. I am interviewing her at Blue Cypress Books this coming Sunday, so it’s best that I be prepared to talk to her about her new series don’t you think? I think a week–despite everything I have that needs to get done this week–is more than enough time to make sure I can read the book and be sort of intelligent-sounding while we are at the store. I’m not terribly worried; Ellen is witty and wise and warm and a great story-teller, so I know she’ll run with the ball every time I hand it off to her.

And on that note, this isn’t getting anything crossed off my to-do list, so I’d best head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, no matter what it requires you to do.

I Love You For All Seasons

I really really love my life.

Sunday morning in the Lost Apartment, and my sleep schedule appears to have snapped back to normal. I slept decently last night–not as decently as I was sleeping in New York, for some reason, but at the same time I was worried that my sleep patterns were going to need to be reset once I got home and that would be problematic–and feel pretty decent this morning, although my coffee doesn’t taste right (which is concerning, obviously; loss of taste is a symptom of the dreaded COVID-19 but I decided to snack on something and I can taste it, so I’m not sure what the deal with the coffee is this morning; it tastes watery to me). I started doing laundry last night (unpacking the suitcases directly into the washing machine) so I have to get that finished today, and there are some other tedious chores I need to get done. I also need to make groceries and go to Costco at some point.

The flight home was uneventful, but you could see the differences between the red and blue parts of the country in evidence: LaGuardia Airport almost everyone was masked, no one was in Nashville. But everything was on time, our bags arrived, the shuttle to the parking lot came almost immediately, and we were able to get home within slightly more than an hour after our flight landed. I miss Scooter, of course; we can’t pick him up until tomorrow from the kitty spa so the Lost Apartment feels very strange not having him bitching at me for food or cuddles every so often. After the inevitable re-acclimatization to being home, we watched two episodes of Ozark, which is heading for its finale before retiring for the evening for bed. I am going to hate finishing Ozark, a show I’ve loved from the beginning for its intricate plotting and exceptional character development. Today I’ve got to dig through the emails and start making lists and getting shit done. I need to finish this short story, I need to make a lot of plans, and I need to get my life and career kickstarted. New York was lovely, as always, and it was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a very long time. (Not much competition, I have to confess, but still.) Because I slept so well the entire time I was gone I didn’t come home exhausted, and all I am really experiencing this morning is “I flew yesterday” fatigue of a bit. But I am feeling just as motivated as I was feeling while I was up there, and it is lovely to be back staring at my enormous computer screen again (note to self: make eye appointment stat) with something other than dread and that horrible overwhelmed feeling. Sure, I have a lot to do, but let’s face it–I can do it.

I finished reading Mango, Mambo, and Murder on the flight from LaGuardia to Nashville (chef’s kiss, Raquel; more on that later) and then started reading Carol Goodman’s debut novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, originally published twenty years ago. I’ve become a big fan of Carol’s and need to read more of her canon; I’ve loved everything she’s written that I’ve read and this book is no exception. (If you’re not reading Carol Goodman, shame on you and correct that immediately) She is also as delightful in person as she is on the page–I met her at St. Petersburg Bouchercon at the HarperCollins cocktail party, and I fanboyed all over the place and I regret NOTHING. I’m also looking forward to digging into more of the TBR pile as well as some of the new additions I picked up off the book table after the banquet. I also read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not while I was on this trip (more on that later), so my reading mojo seems to be back; I think I am going to try to have at least an hour set aside every day to read. I also have to read Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief before our bookstore event in a few weeks. Such an odious chore! Anyway, the Goodman is fantastic, as I knew it would be, and am enjoying the hell out of it.

But as I reflected in my easy chair last night while watching Youtube videos about Heartstopper (more on that later; but I am obsessed with that show; and want to watch it again), I’ve been incredibly lucky with my life and last week was a very strong reminder of that. I think, in some ways, this past week in New York snapped me almost completely out of the pandemic funk I’ve been in since the beginning and as I said the other day, I feel like me again. This trip had a lot to do with it, for sure. It’s lovely when you can get some clarity, and it was lovely that I was able to travel and get some rest and not be tired all the fucking time while I was away. I am hopeful that will be an exciting new trend for me going forward: sleeping well while not at home. One can hope and dream, at any rate–but that’s not the right attitude to have, and I think that’s been a lot of the problem over the last few years; my attitude has been negative about everything and that’s not helpful or workable. Here’s hoping those days (well, years) of a poor attitude are in the rearview mirror.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I have a lot on my plate and I need to start cleaning it so I can make another trip to the buffet of life and load ‘er up again. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

My Sweet Lord

Saturday, fucking finally.

This has been a not-good, no good week and here’s hoping it was an aberration and everything is going to reset right now and become something more resembling what passes for normality around here lately. Everything has been out of sync and/or messed up all week, and frankly it’s also kept me from getting anything done or making progress on any number of things I need to be making progress on, which as you can imagine is incredibly fucking annoying.

Jesus.

Today I am going to make a run to the mailbox and to drop off some books for the library sale, as well as do some other clean-up around here. I’ve decided the next book I am going to read is Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron (I am interviewing her next month for the book release at Blue Cypress Books in Riverbend) and I may as well get a jump on that, maybe come up with some questions for her ahead of time so I am not just winging it the night of–she definitely deserves to have a prepared interviewer, not the usual “I’ll make it up as I go” bullshit I always, inevitably fall back on whenever I have to do something of this sort. (Yes, that’s me: a thorough publishing professional.)

I slept deeply and well last night–I allowed myself to stay in bed until nearly eight o’clock–and as such I feel pretty rested and good this morning. I actually feel like I may even be able to get things accomplished this morning, which is a lovely change. I have to admit I’ve been concerned and worried about the depths and extent of my exhaustion lately, but this morning I feel good for the first time in a long while. Good thing, since the house is a disaster area; I am going to definitely be spending time on the Lost Apartment and the office area today cleaning and organizing and getting everything back under control around here. I am going to try to get that story written today, and some other odds and ends. With luck, I’ll be able to get it all out of the way and handled today before I run out of gas or the lazies set in; which is of course inevitable. But really, this mess is untenable, and I am more than a little annoyed I’ve allowed things to get to this point YET AGAIN. Yet I cannot deny that I was tired and worn out all week; it felt like I was sleeping well but obviously I must not have been, given how little I was able to get done all week.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

We finished watching Captive Audience on Hulu last night, about the tragedies of the Staynor family–perhaps best known as the I Know My First Name is Stephen story. We moved to the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, to be exact) when I was only nineteen; the story was still news even then, and I became fascinated by the story–a fascination that never went away and was only made more intense by Stephen’s tragic death at a very young age and even more intense by the fact his older brother became a serial killer, responsible for the Yosemite Murders. I had already moved away from the valley by then, but I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the story of the Stayner family and have always wanted to write about it–that horrific family dynamic of having one of your children stolen for seven years, and then having him return as an older, complete stranger. How does that affect the family dynamic? (Obviously, in this case, it turned one of them into a serial killer somehow.) How does the victim deal with returning to the family that isn’t what he remembers anymore, either? What’s it like to be the mom, the dad, the sisters, the neighbors? I recommend the docu-series–it’s in three parts–and it’s even more fascinating than I could have imagined; they also interviewed Stephen’s children. His daughter remembers him vaguely, his son not at all…and that’s an even greater tragedy. What is it like to lose your father when you are so young–traumatizing in and of itself–and then find out what he had been through? To find out an uncle you barely knew was responsible for the monstrous Yosemite Murders? There’s so much material there for fiction…I think about what Megan Abbott or Carol Goodman or Laura Lippman or any of our modern day great women writers could do with any bit of that story and can’t help but wonder about what might be. Maybe I’ll use it as the foundation for a book someday…but it’s one of those stories I always end up circling back to periodically, which makes me think it’s more likely to happen than any one of the great ideas that holds my attention for a day or two, write down or make a folder for, and then completely forget about.

Ah, being a creative. Always challenging.

I also want to, at some point this weekend, finish my blog post I’ve been writing about season 5 of Elité, and I also have another book review to write for here. Always, forever, so much to do at all times. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday however you choose to spend it, Constant Reader.