Do It Again

Here it is, Saturday morning and I am awake and on my first cup of coffee. I have things to get done today–two interviews and a roundtable (the round table is terrifying; I looked at the questions and I’m not really certain I am smart or knowledgeable enough to participate, but I said I would and I never back out of things I agree to–or rarely). It’s weird, one would think I would love the chance to talk about myself and my writing as they are basically my favorite subjects, but it always makes me feel, at best, awkward and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.

All that childhood conditioning against arrogance and bragging, I suppose.

I didn’t quite finish cleaning out my inbox yesterday–in fact, I didn’t get even remotely close to cleaning it out, so it’s going back to the list for today. I need to get the mail and I need to make a short grocery run this afternoon, and I would like to go to the gym and try to get started on a regular workout routine again, but that becomes even more difficult given the heat advisory. But thinking about going to the gym, while not the same thing as actually going, is a step closer to getting there, I suppose. I also need to stop by Office Depot to buy some padded envelopes; the arrival of the box o’books also means signing and mailing out copies I owe to friends and reviewers and so forth. Signing and packaging the books is a chore, but I don’t find it as odious as one might think.

Yesterday, as you already know, Constant Reader, I finished reading S. A. Cosby’s delightful My Darkest Prayer, and I am very thrilled and happy to know that he recently signed a two-book contract, so I can look forward to new work from Shawn in the future. Yay! I love discovering new writers, and I love when they have new work. I do have this insane thing where I try not to finish reading everything an author has published so I always know there’s one more book by them to read–I was looking at my bookshelves yesterday as I reorganized the living room, realizing there are still three Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton I haven’t read yet, and was saddened again to know that those will always be the last three Sue Grafton novels, and actually was thinking I should, at some point, start reading the books to clear them off the shelves. I am already at the point with some of my favorite authors, like Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott, where I have finished everything they’ve published (Lippman’s new one, Lady in the Lake, is on deck and I am probably going to start reading it today). I am also behind on some of my favorite authors–I was caught up on Donna Andrews, but I read for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original last year, which put me behind on everyone who wasn’t in that category last year (some of which I want to go back and reread, taking my time to savor them the way I ordinarily would), and I am also years behind on numerous authors I enjoy…but new books are being released every damned day. Sigh. There’s simply never enough time.

In my review of Shawn’s book, I wrote about something I truly believe–and the more I diversify my reading in my own genre, the more I believe it to be true. I believe that women writers saved the crime genre in the 1980’s, and while they are still doing some serious heavy lifting, the diverse voices of authors like Shawn are reinvigorating and reinventing the crime genre, and breathing new life into it. (I’m really looking forward to October, when I will switch to reading horror, and reading novels by diverse voices in that genre–there are some new and exciting people of color writing in that genre…plus, reading horror will further diversify my reading by taking me outside of crime for a month.) Some of the diverse voices I’ve read thus far this year–Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Walter Mosley, Steph Cha, Angie Kim, etc.–are doing extraordinary work that needs to be recognized, promoted, and pushed by all of us; they are breathing new life into our genre, as are women writers like Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, Jamie Mason, Elizabeth Little, and many, many more. And while I often generically refer to the “straight white men”–let’s face it, some of today’s men are writing exceptional work, too–Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, to name a few amongst many. I think this is a very exciting time for crime fiction, and I look forward to reading more work by queer writers, as well. I’ve not gotten to some of the newer queer crime writers yet, which I am going to try to focus on more in the latter part of the year. I am really looking forward to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths, as it is a queer novel by a queer woman set in the rural South; something I can certainly relate to.

I kind of had a lackadaisical day of rest yesterday, really, where I accomplished little other than reading my book and doing the laundry, and couldn’t really motivate myself to do much more than that–I did make a delicious shrimp stir-fry for dinner last night, though–and we watched two episodes of The Movies last night, “The 80’s” and “The 90’s.” There’s only one more episode left, unless they release “The 50’s,” which is also a rather interesting period in the history of film. I started reading, for research, City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s, by Otto Friedrichs (recommended by Megan Abbott), and it has a lovely bibliography in the back which should be enormously helpful for further research into the time period. I also have a copy of E. J. Fleming’s The Fixers, which should also come in handy for research; again, as a starting place with the gold mine of a bibliography in the back.

So, here’s hoping that today will be that unusual thing; a highly productive, but at the same time, a restful day. Last night’s wonderful sleep is, of course, a wonderful basis for the rest of my day.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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All By Myself

Friday morning sliding into the weekend…and woke up still sick. The throat is still sore and my voice is a Kathleen Turner-like whiskey-soaked rasp; my eyes still ache and so do all my joints, and the fever is still upon me. I just swigged some DayQuil, so am hoping for some relief; this knot of phlegm lodged into the top of my lungs has to loosen and come out at some point, right?

Ye Gods, how I hate being sick. And the older I get, the more susceptible to these things I seem to be.

The weather was horrible yesterday afternoon, but for once, it was lovely to be covered in blankets while the storm raged outside, with a constant downpour of rain and the occasional blast of lightning and thunder. It is, really, the best time to curl up with a good book, and so yesterday I finished reading Alison Gaylin’s next novel, of which I am fortunate enough to have an advance copy. Never Look Back is probably her best book to date, and given she won an Edgar last night, that’s saying something. I then proceeded to start reading Kellye Garrett’s award-winning debut Hollywood Homicide, which I am also greatly enjoying. I really like her main character, and her voice.

And now that the Edgars are over and the program has been printed and distributed, I can now out myself as a judge for Best Paperback Original. That was the book award I was reading for all of last year–and I do mean reading for all of last year. Once again, the Lost Apartment was buried in an avalanche of books, and since electronic editions of books could also be entered, my Kindle is also incredibly full. Led by our distinguished panel chair Alex Segura, my fellow judges (the always delightful and talented Susanna Calkins and Gwen Florio) read and discussed, read some more and discussed some more, and finally narrowed our choices down to our top five and the winner. I do believe our category this past year just might have been the only (if not the only, but one of the few) times in Edgar history where all the finalists in a category were women; that wasn’t our intent, either; it just played out that way, but it was still amazing and cool. Last night’s batch of Edgar winners was also perhaps the most diverse in Edgar history; with Walter Mosley taking home the statue for Best Novel and Robert Feiseler taking home the award for Fact Crime for his Tinderbox, which is about the Upstairs Fire lounge fire in New Orleans back in 1973; the biggest mass murder of gay men until the Pulse shootings in 2016. I wrote about the Upstairs Fire in Murder in the Rue Chartres, and am really looking forward to reading Robert’s book. Sujata Massey also won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and I feel that Sara Paretsky’s winning the first Sue Grafton Memorial Award would definitely have Sue’s approval.

And huzzah for the wonderful Art Taylor’s Edgar win for Best Short Story! Art is one of the best short story writers around; I keep hoping he’s going to put out a short story collection–I think he’s won every conceivable mystery award for short story now, which is an indication of just how good he is. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met–in general, not just the mystery community.

Needless to say, the illness has kept me from doing any writing or pretty much anything, really. Yesterday I spent most of the day swilling chicken soup and sitting in my chair under blankets and reading. I watched the live-stream of the Edgar Awards on my television through the Youtube app on my  Apple TV, which was very cool and surreal at the same time. I felt sorry for the young man with the long hair at the front table who was on camera almost the entire night and probably had no idea! Today I am going to probably swill some more soup while again retiring to my chair with Kellye’s book, and then I have an ARC of Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things which I will tackle next.

And I did have two ideas for stories yesterday, through the DayQuil and fever induced fogginess of my brain. So that’s something, at any rate.

And now back to my blankets.

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Live and Learn

So, the governor declared a state of emergency last night for Tropical Storm Gordon, which may be a Category 1 when it comes ashore tonight. Right now it’s projected to pass through here around one in the morning, which means when it’s time to get up in the morning and head to the airport it might still be raining, but the storm should have passed long before. Our flight should be fine, barring any complications from airport damage or a power outage there. Fingers crossed! Paul and I discussed it at great length last night, and decided that in a worst case scenario–rebooking and an inability to get out of here until Friday–that we would just turn it into a stay-cation and bid adieu to Bouchercon for this year. It cannot be helped and while it would be an enormous disappointment, there’s no point in being sad, depressed or upset about it, since it’s completely outside of our control.

I did get some things done yesterday that I needed to get done; today’s plan is to take Scooter to the Kitty Camp where he will board until we return, finish packing, get some things done around here cleaning-wise, and get back to reading The Gates of Evangeline, by Hester Young, which I started last night and am enjoying tremendously. Lori Roy mentioned it recently in an article about top Southern Gothic novels, and I remembered that I had a copy; Lori is someone whose opinion about books I deeply respect (check out her most recent, The Disappearing, which is exceptional, but you can’t go wrong with any of her amazing novels) and she has again proven my faith in her taste to be correct. It’s gorgeously written and perfect Southern Gothic–which last night got me to thinking about Southern Gothic. I really think Southern Gothic, and Southern noir, is really what I should be writing; my best short stories (and therefore what I consider to be my best work) really are Southern Gothic; “Survivor’s Guilt” is a good example of that.

Something to ponder, at any rate.

I also finished reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie yesterday morning, so my Bouchercon homework is complete, one day ahead of time.

bad boy boogie

When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gate of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. A rawboned middleweight, he was broad at the shoulders and hips, as if God had attempted to halt his growth and he’d thickened out of spite.

“Go one,” the guard said. Jay couldn’t remember his name, but he was all right, as far as CO’s went. “Ride’s waiting for you at the curb.”

Jay squinted at the road. The only vehicle waiting in the early summer heat was a black Suburban parked at the yellow curb. The wind played with his shock of black hair. He had spent twenty-five years locked inside a dank Shaolin prison dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

Mama Angeline raised him to understand that some folks just needed killing. There was nothing you could do for them.

And she’d been right.

And so begins the final Anthony nominee for Best Paperback Original. I was already acquainted with Jay–he appeared in Pluck’s short story contribution to Blood on the Bayou, “Gumbo Weather,” and was delighted to read about him again. The book reads like a classic old black and white film, as Jay tries to figure out what happened to his life and the people he cared about while he was locked up–as well as looking out for vengeance–and it reads like a cross between a Jim Thompson novel and perhaps a Lee Child; non-stop twists and turns and surprised, written in a style the compels you to keep reading.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

cast the first stone

Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.

Life is a Highway

Good Lord, it’s almost Southern Decadence, and college football is back this weekend! GEAUX TIGERS!

The US Open is also going on, which means I won’t be watching the series finale of Sharp Objects for a while as well as getting behind on Castle Rock. Ah, well, that’s fine, on this day next week we’ll be arriving in lovely St. Petersburg for this year’s edition of Bouchercon. I am going to be a very busy Gregalicious in St. Petersburg this year. I am doing the Coat of Many Colors event on Thursday morning; the anthology signing later that same day; and then three panels on Friday: the nooner sex panel at noon; moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony panel at 3, and then appearing on the rainbow (?) panel at 4.

I really need to prepare. But I am still reading James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and am hoping to get that finished so I have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before next week.

Also, instead of working on the things I should be working on, I started writing a new short story last night, “The Blues before Dawn”:

A saxophone player lived across the street from me, on the third floor of a fading and dilapidated building painted a fading coral. Every night, without fail, after the band he played with was finished, he’d come home and crack open a cold beer. He’d take his brightly colored silk shirt off and climb out onto his rusty, sagging balcony. Wearing just his trousers and white suspenders stretched over his muscular torso, he’d straddle a chair and play his sax as he wound down for the evening. I usually got home around the time he launched into the second tune of his late-night concert, something low and sensual and sexy that made me think of warm skin, teeth nibbling on my earlobe, and the caress of firm muscle pressed close against my own body. I would get a beer from my own refrigerator and strip naked in the sticky heat of the early morning, the ceiling fan blades whistling as they spun over my head, listening to the mournful notes coming from his broken-hearted saxophone. I sat in my window on the fourth floor across the street with the lights off, sweat shining on my skin as I watched and listened, as the sinewy muscle in his shoulders and arms and chest clenching and relaxing as he played in the fading darkness of the night, the sun still an hour from rising but the light of the moon dying as a new day struggled to be born. I fell asleep many a sunrise lulled to sleep despite the heat and humidity by the purity of the notes he played.

So I got about a thousand words into this before coming to a halt. It turns out, as I wrote, to be about a gay prostitute in the 1920’s in Storyville; I don’t even know if that was such a thing, so should probably do some research on that, don’t you think? But I do find myself turning to New Orleans history more and more; I suspect a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection will be in order at some point in my near future.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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My Loving (No You’re Never Gonna Get It)

Saturday morning, and I am feeling rested and relaxed as I sit here by my windows with my second cup of coffee. It looks very still outside, and there’s no condensation on the glass, so I tend to think (wishfully) that it may not be that humid outside. Of course it’s wishful thinking; when I run to the post office and the grocery store later this morning I will no doubt be slapped in the face by the hot damp.

Hurray?

I didn’t get as much cleaning done yesterday as I would have liked, so I am going to try to focus on getting that done today as well as some short story work. I may even continue my voyage through Royal Street Reveillon, making notes and figuring out how to straighten up and tighten that whole mess.

And I’d love to spend some quality time with James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone today. Bouchercon is looming on the horizon, and I have to finish it and one more before I am finished with my Bouchercon homework.

So, once I am finished here, it’s time to make a to-do list for the day and get a move on.

I may even make it to the gym today–I know, right? Madness.

Next up in Florida Happens is “The Unidentifieds”, by J. D. Allen.

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J.D. Allen’s Sin City Investigations series launched with 19 Souls earlier this year. She is a Mystery Writers of America Freddie Award-winner. She has short stories in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, Murder under the Oaks as well as Carolina Crimes: 20 Tales of Need, Greed, and Dirty Deeds. She’s the chair of the Bouchercon National Board, a member of MWA, PI Writer’s of America, and president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter. She’s an Ohio State Univ. Alum with a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor.

J. D. says: I attended The Ohio State University and earned a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor.

Writing Mysteries was not my first career or my second.

Life’s journey meanders.

I feel it’s never too late to reach for the brass ring. With the publication of the Sin City Investigation Series, my dreams of publishing gritty mysteries have been realized.

I believe in giving back to the writing community that has supported me through the years. I’m a member of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention National board and president of the Triangle Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I speak on the basics of crime scene investigation, voice, and public speaking.

And here’s the opening to her story:

~Saturday 2 p.m. – The Funeral

For Jim, a funeral was about as appealing as removing his own appendix.  Two funerals in as many weeks had him planning a stop at the liquor store on the way home and a look at his choice of occupation. Jim Bean squinted as the Vegas sun reflected off his cousin’s silver casket. Jim had picked it out the coffin and planned the service. With the recent experiences, he’d learned obituaries should be 75 words, and lives could shatter in a moment.

He now stood over the proceedings. He fought Vegas sweat and tears as Alexis’s casket thumped to the bottom of the rectangular gave. She was the only person left from his old life he still called family. The girl in that box had been shot in the chest and burned to cover the identity of her remains.

Jim glared across the casket as the words meant to soothe and heal drifted over to the deceased. He hoped they helped her.

Andrew Zant stood opposite that death divide. His dark glasses and darker suit complemented the smirk on his pale, pointy face. Jim read victory in that smug look. Maybe it didn’t show his eyes, but it was displayed in his presence. Jim wasn’t surprised to see someone from his organization here to confirm the death. The shock was Zant showed up in person. He even let himself be photographed on the way to the graveside service.

A hum of rage and hostility was ready to bust from Jim’s chest as he openly stared at the Vegas tycoon. The man thought himself superior. Thought he’d gotten away with it.

He thought wrong.

Excellent opening, no?

The main character, Jim Bean, is a private eye in Las Vegas, whose cousin Alexis has become involved with a very dangerous and powerful man–and needs to get away from him, with Jim’s help. So they devise an elaborate ruse. Will they get away with it? Allen carefully builds the suspense to the inevitable yet still surprising ending. Great fun, and terrific suspense. I do look forward to reading more of her work.

And, since my errands flatly refuse to run themselves, I am off to the spice mines.

Save the Best for Last

Thursday!

My Bouchercon homework continues, with me now reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone. I am very excited to read this; I’ve heard nothing but great things about his books, plus he’s a pretty good guy. I had bought the first in his series–still in the TBR pile, alas–so am kind of glad that this book became a homework assignment. I am really enjoying it thus far, and if it’s going where I think it may be going–well, that would be awesome, but I am sure I am going to love it even if it doesn’t.

I started watching the BBC series The Musketeers on Hulu this evening. I did a half-day today; one of my co-workers and I tested at a conference at the Riverside Hilton for four hours, after which I walked home on an afternoon in August. Heavy sigh. Any way, ’tis a good thing I did work only half-a-day, because alas we are having to clean everything in the house because Scooter had a couple of fleas. His medication is working–the fleas we’ve found were dying or dead–but it’s August and we live in a swamp, and so while there have been no signs of infestation thus far, we aren’t going to take the risk. So I’ve been cleaning all day ever since I got home; taking breaks now and then to watch something on the television, and having it on as I launder things and vacuum things and well, it needed to be done, didn’t it?

That’s a rather tired and round about way of getting to the point, isn’t it? Long story short: I’ve always been a big fan of The Three Musketeers, ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been meaning to watch this BBC series for years…but kept forgetting about it. Someone posted somewhere on Facebook last night asking people to name their favorite d’Artagnan, and as I always do, whenever I get the chance, I replied Always Michael York. Always. But someone else posted a picture of the young actor who plays him in the television series and I thought, yes, I’d been meaning to watch that, hadn’t I? So I watched a couple of episodes as I cleaned–and am intrigued. More watching is most definitely called for.

Next up in Florida Happens is “A Postcard for the Dead”, by Susanna Calkins.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Holding a PhD in history, Susanna writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries as well as the forthcoming Speakeasy Murders, both from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Murder Knocks Twice, set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, will be out Spring 2019. Her first short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier,” featuring a 19th century poisoning case, is up for an Anthony Award (and can be read on her website at www.susannacalkins.com).

Susanna says: “A POSTCARD FOR THE DEAD” is my second published short story. When I saw the call for the Bouchercon anthology, on a whim I began to read through 1920s Florida newspapers, since I was already researching the Roaring Twenties for my Prohibition-Era novels. There, I stumbled across the rather odd story of Lena Clarke, a postmistress who had embezzled huge amounts of money from the Post Office and then framed a local playboy for the crime. What struck me most about this story was how Lena gave her testimony in court using a crystal ball, having been part of a wild West Palm Beach Bohemian set, before being declared insane. Although I altered the case substantially in my version, I retained the embezzlement aspect and of course the crystal ball. After a little more digging, l discovered that Lena’s brother had died of a snakebite, which just seemed too Florida of a detail not too include. I thought about setting the story in a courtroom, but given that my FIRST short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier” featured, well, a trial, I thought I’d better frame it a little differently.

Calkins author photo outside

West Palm Beach, Florida

July 1921

Lily Baker peered inside her mailbox before reaching in to retrieve her mail. Back when her half-brother had been West Palm Beach’s postmaster, he had delighted in leaving snakes in mailboxes as pranks. Of course, the last laugh had been on him, when he had died of a snake bite last Christmas.

There was only one piece of mail today, though—a postcard featuring a swanky hotel in Orlando, a city she’d never been. She turned it over to read the message but was surprised to find it blank. Only her name and address had been printed on the postcard, in careful block letters.

Curiously, she studied the card. The stamp had been cancelled in Orlando two days before. July 27, 1921. Flipping the card back over, she looked at the picture more closely. The hotel was the San Juan, which the postcard informed her had been built in 1885 by C.E. Pierce. Built for the filthy rich, from the looks of it.

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Lily was still by her mailbox when she saw Officer Danny Jamison coming down the street on his bicycle.  She had known Officer Jamison since they were kids—he’d been just one year ahead of her in school. After high school they’d gone in different directions, although on occasion their paths crossed. She was about to wave as he passed by, when instead he stopped in front of her and dismounted his bike in one easy move.

“Hey Lily,” he said, leaning his bike against her palm tree. “Your sister around?”

Lily shifted from one foot to the other. Why was Danny asking after Junie? Though she and her older half-sister had lived together since their parents had passed away a few years before, Junie tended to be tight-lipped about her goings-on. But Lily would catch whispers about illicit gin, late night séances, Ouija parties, and other secret doings connected with West Palm Beach’s furtive Bohemian scene. A far cry from her day job heading the town’s Post Office, which Junie had taken over from their brother some eight months before.  “She must have left for work early,” Lily said.  “I didn’t see her this morning.”

“I see. But you saw her last night?”

Great beginning, right? It’s a terrific story, but what I think I enjoyed the most about it was the narrator’s voice; I really liked the character of Lily, how Calkins gradually let us into Lily’s life, and through character, built a very clever crime story.