Slow Ride

Well, I finally finished that fucking Chapter Fourteen, and yes, it’s rough, but it’s not nearly as bad as I feared it would turn out, nor as it was heading last week when I tried to work on it. Today I figured out a way to plough through it, and now I have to figure out how the fuck I am going to get another eleven chapters out of this story–but truth be told, the elements of the plot are pretty much all in place now and now it’s a matter of playing them out. I also recognized that there’s not an emotional stability at the core of the story–there is, I just haven’t been putting it in, so that’s the next thing I need to do in the next draft, or as this one progresses along I can start putting it in.

I keep saying to myself that someday this will get easier, but thirty-odd books later and here I still am, plodding through a manuscript and ready to throw in the goddamned towel.

Sunday morning and I’m on my second cup of coffee. My kitchen is a mess, and I have to figure out how to use a new app on my computer because I’m being interviewed by Eric Beetner and S. W. Lauden for their Writer Types podcast, which is very cool. I was briefly on it when they were interviewing people in the bar at St. Petersburg Bouchercon, but that was also the now notorious Low ‘n’ Slow afternoon, so I only vaguely remember it and still to this day have no idea what I actually said to them. Not good, really, when it’s going to be broadcast. I think I listened to it, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly; but I’ve been told any number of times that people can’t tell when I’m wasted.

I’ve always thought they were being kind to lessen my own embarrassment. Maybe they were, who knows?

My relationship with alcohol has always been a tricky one. I only had liquor once before I graduated from high school and I got very drunk at a friend’s birthday party my junior year. I didn’t drink again until the night I graduated, and after I recovered from that horrible hangover I pretty much was drunk every night until we moved to California, where the drinking age was 21 and I was still only nineteen. California was also a lot stricter about checking ID’s than Kansas had ever been, so I was totally sober for two years before I came of legal age to drink again….and then was drunk every night for the next six or seven years again, followed by another few years of utter sobriety, and then when I started going out to gay bars, I still remained sober most of the time, drinking only water and finally, gradually, progressing back to beer again. I don’t drink much anymore–there were many years of New Orleans life where Paul and I went out every weekend night, including Sunday Tea Dance–but since I hung up my dancing shoes, I don’t really drink hardly at all anymore. I’ll have a drink or two when I’m out for dinner, or at a party, or during a conference–I am usually wasted every night at Bouchercon–but once the conference is over, I come back home to sobriety. We generally don’t drink at home–I still have a bottle of wine I bought on the notorious Target expedition with Wendy Corsi Staub in St. Petersburg–and we still have bottles of vodka and gin and tequila left over from the Iris parties of old; and we haven’t had an Iris party in about five years or so.

Although I am sure this October in Dallas there will be drunken, sloppy tales of Gregalicious to tell.

I’m probably going to try to get some writing done after the interview, and some cleaning, and I’d like to read more of Black Diamond Fall. I’m not reading as quickly as I used to, and I am sure it has something to do with social media and they need to constantly be checking it–which is a need that absolutely positively has to be reined in because it’s such a waste of time.

And that sounds like the perfect segue back into the spice mines this morning. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Getaway

Friday morning, and I survived not only going out to Metairie yesterday for my eye exam, but driving back into New Orleans from Metairie during rush hour. It wasn’t that bad, actually, but if I had to do that every day–well, let’s just say there would be a body count and leave it there, shall we?

Yesterday I also managed to finish Chapter Thirteen; only got slightly over 900 words done, but it’s hard for me to start a new chapter when I know I’m not going to finish it in one sitting, you know? That’s how I  generally like to mark my daily progress; a chapter a day, and it unsettles me when I leave a chapter unfinished overnight. I think so far this has been about a 7000 word week (maybe more, I don’t remember when I wrote Chapter 11; but if it was this week I passed the 10k mark. Huzzah!); and today when I leave the office I am going to get the mail and stop to make groceries–just a few things–before heading home to clean and hopefully get some writing done. I’d also like to get some more reading done; I am enjoying Black Diamond Fall so am hoping to have some more time to read it this weekend.

And whoa, boy, is this season of Killing Eve amazing! Seriously, binge it, people.

Well, here it is five o’clock this afternoon and I never finished this entry this morning before work, did I? I actually even forgot I was writing it until I just now saw the tab open. Not sure what that says about either my attention span or my short term memory, but there you have it.

The weather has turned hot here in New Orleans, so much so that I am seriously considering getting my car windows tinted. Is it just me, or has the sun gotten brighter and hotter; or am I simply more sensitive to it now that I am older? These and other questions plague me constantly these days. The air is also humid, so heavy you can almost feel yourself moving through it. The river is also really high, and there’s still more flooding up the river basin that has to make its way down here. As we enter hurricane season, these things are always in the back of my head.

But I got the mail and made groceries on my way home, and I’ve been doing the bed linens and cleaning odds and ends while my mind roams and wanders. I need a nice day of cleaning to clear my head of noise and refocus on the WIP. Chapter Thirteen ended with a lovely twist, but now I have to figure out how to deal with the fall out from that twist; a way that makes sense for my characters without coming off as either preachy or contrived or unearned or melodramatic–it’s a very fine line.

But I am glad I came across this; so that I can finish and post.

Back to the spice mines for me, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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Thunder Island

As Constant Reader already is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify my reading this year. The Diversity Project, as I’ve been calling it, has been revelatory for me; I’ve been reading books and authors I should have been reading all along, but somehow, despite having bought the books, they’ve collected dust and cobwebs in my TBR pile as I somehow always manage to reach for something else when it’s time to read something new. But it has been, as I said, revelatory to me; and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the ride. My endgame, as it were, is that when I finish this “project”, any subconscious bias I might have in deciding on what to read will have been ripped out, root and stem, and it will simply fade away into something I won’t need to call attention to because I’ve bested the worst biases in my psyche–and aren’t the ones we aren’t aware of the worst?

Yes, they are.

So over the last week I read Rachel Howzell Hall’s wonderful They All Fall Down.

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The Los Angeles International Airport was the worst place to lose your mind in post-9/11 America. Especially if you perspired like Kobe Bryant in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Especially if you popped Valium twice a day to combat anxiety. And there I was, standing in the TSA security clearance line at LAX, a sweaty, anxious black woman wearing sweaty green silk, sipping air and blinking away tears.

Miriam, keep it together. They’re gonna pull you out of line if you keep on. Calm down. But “calm” was slipping further away, an iceberg on a quick current being pushed by a pod of enthusiastic killer whales.

And so I closed my eyes and I prayed again. God, don’t let them kick me out of LAX today. Please help me stay calm.

“Next.”

In my mind, I said, “Amen,” then opened my eyes. I forced myself to smile at the gray-eyed TSA agent seated behind the little podium, and hoped that she thought I was a slow blinker and not a terrorist praying one last time before setting one off.

The agent flicked her hand at me and said, “ID and boarding pass, please.”

I’m not sure how I became aware of Rachel Howzell Hall, but I think it was while I was serving on the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America and I was chairing the committee to recruit new board members; we were determined to diversify the board and I think the wondrous Margery Flax suggested her to me as a possible, viable candidate. We had a lovely email exchange and I bought one of her books, Land of Shadows, which went into the TBR pile and never came out of it. I’d heard lots of good things about They All Fall Down, so I got a copy, and decided to read it next.

And am I glad I did!

Sometimes I talk about Agatha Christie, but it’s been years since I’ve read any of her books (I did reread a favorite, Endless Night, a few years back; it’s the most noir of Christie’s novels, which are all, frankly, much darker than she gets credit for) but one cannot deny Christie’s rightful place as the greatest mystery writer of all time; she did it all, and she did it first. One of my absolute favorites of hers is And Then There Were None, which was groundbreaking and highly original and has been copied numerous times: the set up of taking a group of people somewhere remote, stranding them without chance of rescue or escape, and setting a murderer loose amongst them. Margaret Millar, for example, used this set-up for Fire Will Freeze; and it’s been the basis for many slasher movies, etc. I thought about doing my own version of this a few years ago–because the set-up is so classic and enduring, I wanted to give it my own spin–but the problem was how to strand a group of people without cell phone service or the Internet or even satellite phones, without using Christie’s “send them to a remote island” trope.

Let’s face it, though–the remote island is the perfect set-up.

They All Fall Down has been compared to And Then There Were None, and it’s apparent, almost from the first: a group of people have been invited to Mictlan Island, a remote location somewhere in the Sea of Cortez; all with different understandings of why they’ve been invited. Miriam Macy, Hall’s main character, believes she’s been invited to join the cast of a Survivor type reality television show; she’s hoping to win and use the prize money to reboot her shattered life. Hall only doles out information about Miriam slowly, over the course of the novel, but it’s a testament to her skill as a writer that there are two mysteries going on at the same time–the mystery of Miriam’s past, and the mystery of who is killing people on the island. The book is full of surprises and twists, the cast of characters is diverse, and the themes Hall explores are original, or given enough of a new spin to make them seem fresh and new.

But the real revelation of the book is the character of Miriam Macy, and the way Hall breathes life into this complicated woman who has done something horrible and yet continues to justify what she did rather than accepting any culpability for it. You can’t help but root for Miriam, an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, and the brilliance of Hall’s talent is that you keep rooting for Miriam as the story goes on, even after you find out the full story and her history, because her experience on the island is helping her to grow and see the darkness she has denied for years.

This book is an extraordinary accomplishment, and I can’t wait to read more of Hall’s work. Buy it, read it, and love it.

Summer

Memorial Day, and I woke up early. Last night wasn’t a deep sleep, but rather a nice restful one that involved some occasional waking from time to time. My eyes are kind of blurry and burning this morning as well–probably not as well rested as the rest of my body feels.

Yesterday was a nice day. I chose to take the day off from writing yesterday and just read–although I have to admit it wasn’t really much of a choice: I decided to spend an hour reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, only to not be able to stop reading it until I was finished. It’s quite a book, frankly; I’ll talk more about it in its own blog entry, perhaps even later today. I then started reading Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which is also extremely well written; but the opening reminded me a lot of the opening of Sara J. Henry’s A Cold and Lonely Place, which is one of my favorite books of the decade, quite frankly–do yourself a favor and read it, if you haven’t already. I’m probably going to do some more reading this morning before I embark on the rest of my day–I still have cleaning and straightening up to do, and there’s always more writing that needs to be done–but this four-day weekend has been absolutely lovely. I only have a four day work week as a result–one long day, one normal day, then two short–and then it’s again the weekend, which will be rather lovely. I’ll probably turn the 4th of July into a long weekend as well, which will also be lovely.

We watched the Game of Thrones documentary last night, The Last Watch, and while it was interesting and informative, there were places where it dragged a bit; the problem was scope, at least for me; the show was simply too big to condense a “behind the scenes” documentary into slightly less than two hours. But it did fill the enormous hole in my Sunday evening that the ending of the show has left; I hate the idea there won’t be any more Game of Thrones. We came to the show late, of course; everyone was already talking about it and it was already winning Emmys when Paul and I started watching it all those years ago, with discs from Netflix delivered in the mail; I believe it was Season Three where I finally broke down and started paying for HBO so we could watch the show as it aired on Sunday evenings. I’m still processing this final season, and while I can understand the disappointment a lot of fans had with it, it also kind of worked for me–and I also would like to remind people, it could have been much, much worse. I was glad that the traditional story-telling tropes the show never followed it continued to deny right up to the very end; I mean, wasn’t the show building to Jon Snow killing the Night King and winding up seated on the Iron Throne as the last male Targaryen heir? It certainly looked that way, and I couldn’t really see any other ending. The show constantly surprised and angered us all over the years by consistently doing the unexpected, as the books do as well.

The enormous disappointment and hard feelings held by so many fans kind of tells me the show did its job properly; we were so vested in the characters that not having the expected endings for them embittered so many.

We’ve saved the second season of Killing Eve for a binge tonight; which is why I want to get all of the things done I want to get done today done early. So, once I have finished writing this and answering some emails, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee and adjourn to my easy chair and the Olshan novel, which I will read for a little while before getting up and cleaning the windows. After I clean the windows I am going to try to get some writing done; probably working on the outline for the rest of the WIP, some more work on another project, and I think I am going to dig out “Never Kiss a Stranger” and do some more work on it. I want to send some stories out for submission this week, so I’m going to need to spend some time reading and polishing those stories today as well. Yes, yes, so much to do, and sitting here isn’t getting it done, either.

So, it’s off to mine spice for me. Have a lovely day, everyone.

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This Masquerade

 Yes, I am now beginning a glorious four-day weekend, during which I plan to read and clean and write and rest and watch movies and just have a glorious time relaxing and trying to catch up on things. I started cleaning, for example, out my jump drive yesterday–there’s an absolutely absurd amount of duplicates, old pictures from a million years ago, old files, etc on it–and I am probably going to try to spend some time trying to do that; get better organized with my computer files and so forth. I also intend to spend some time on a deep clean of the apartment–we’ll see how that goes, but my windows are filthy and I really do need to move things and clean beneath them; and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to clean and organize all the cabinets and drawers, either.

Ambition. We’ll see how that works out, won’t we?

But I slept fantastically last night, waking up this morning feeling wonderfully rested. My burnt lips are healing (you have no idea how fun it is to test people for syphilis while warning them of the dangers of the disease while your lips have enormous looking blister/wounds on them) and hopefully by the time I return to work on Tuesday morning, they will have healed completely and I will no longer have to worry about their syphilitic appearance any more. *whew*

So, here I am, just before nine in the morning with four glorious days off stretching out in front of me. I am going to write a little this morning–probably finishing the revision of “The Snow Globe,” and then hopefully revising the latest chapter of the WIP–while cleaning. I am going to try to do a deep dive clean, one that is sorely overdue here in the Lost Apartment–baseboards, floors, windows, window sills and frames, etc–which can, of course, be incredibly tedious, but it also needs to be done. It’s also launder the bed linen day, and so I have that to do as well. I also want to curl up with Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which I’ve not had the chance to get back to this week, and after that, I’d like to read either John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning or Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which are both Lambda finalists (John is also a Strand and Anthony Award finalist). And then I am not sure what I’ll read after that; I got a stack of fabulous books this week to add to the TBR pile, including Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove and the new Michael Koryta…and there’s already so many wonderful treasures waiting for me in the the pile already.

An embarrassment of riches, as it were.

We also watched the new Wanda Sykes comedy special on Netflix last night, and she’s just as funny and pointed as ever, which is lovely as I am a big fan.

I’m probably going to watch the finale of Game of Thrones again at some point over this weekend, as well–I have found, this season particularly, that it helps to rewatch the episodes after having some time to digest them; I find that it helps me appreciate the show more; the first time I watch I am so busy watching to see what happens that I miss subtleties I am able to catch on a reviewing. I know a lot of fans hated this final season of the show–some going as far as to hate the last two seasons–but I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it as spectacle, and I enjoyed it even despite holes in the plot and subplots that went nowhere and so on and so forth; primarily because it did the unexpected, and it did from the very beginning. Game of Thrones never gave us what we were expecting because it didn’t follow traditional story-telling arcs–for example, once Jon Snow was identified as the true Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne, I was a little disappointed (despite the thrill); because I thought, ho-hum, here we go, it’s just another telling of the King Arthur legend–but as it turned out, it wasn’t that at all.

And I think that may be why so many fans were so disappointed–they were expecting the traditional story arcs, and Game of Thrones went the other way and rejected those.

Then again, what do I know? The Last Jedi is one of my favorite Star Wars movies, which also apparently renders me suspect as a forty-year Star Wars fan.

And on that note, it’s time to start cleaning and writing which means closing the web browsers.

Hello, spice mines!

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Lowdown

I woke up to a major thunderstorm around seven this morning, and quite frankly, curled up under my blankets even more and went back to sleep. I didn’t wind up getting out of bed until after nine, which felt lovely and now I feel wide awake while well rested at the same time, which is actually quite nice. I need to run to the UPS Store today, pick up the mail and a prescription, stop by the bank, and make groceries at some point, but ugh, how horrible to do this in the rain. It’s supposed to rain here all day, alas. But that will certainly encourage me to get them done as quickly as possible so I can get home.

Today I need to also do some more cleaning around the house, and at some point I am going to close the browsers so I can focus on writing. I want to push through these revisions of these chapters of the WIP, and I’d also like to push through and get a strong revision of “And the Walls Came Down” done, so I can submit it to some markets this week. My short story for next week will be the “The Problem with Autofill,” which is a strong story but the ending needs to be altered and changed somewhat. I still like the concept of the story–it’s kind of a Sorry Wrong Number thing, only with email–but I’m still not sure how to make it work completely.  But I still persist in trying to make it work. I also would like to work some more on “Please Die Soon,” which I think is a terrific idea for a story, and I’ve done the requisite research to make it work, methinks. I really want to stick to this goal of either revising a short story or finishing an incomplete first draft of one every week.

Goals. Must stick to goals.

I survived Costco yesterday, my checking account less scathed than usual–although it easily could have become Sherman’s March to the Sea. Yet I was able to resist, and came very close to staying within the budget I set for the trip–and had I not bought two books off the book table (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis; the Owens was nominated for an Edgar while the Davis won the Pulitzer Prize) I would have stayed under budget.

The book table is always my downfall.

And while I didn’t accomplish near as much as I probably should have yesterday, I did manage to get some chores done, some of them loathsome, so that’s a win for the end of the week, methinks. The key is what I can get done today and tomorrow…and my primary focus has to be on writing. Once I get the writing gears dusted off and oiled, I am hoping I will be able to get the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of May (there’s a three day holiday this month as well, which I am really looking forward to enjoying).

The Gulf itself looks interesting. Most American histories, of course, focus on the Atlantic colonies and the spread westward from there; there really isn’t anything taught about the history of the Gulf of Mexico–which, once Florida, Louisiana and Texas passed into American hands, basically became an enormous American lake–and I am very interested in becoming better acquainted with this history. It can, after all, only help, since most of my fiction work is focused on the Gulf states. The more Louisiana history I know, and read, the better I feel my fiction will become.

I think once I finish Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things my next book will be either Rachel Howzell Hall’s All the Way Down or Joseph Olshan’s Lambda nominated mystery, Black Diamond Fall. I’m greatly enjoying the Mason novel, and perhaps at some point today, once I’ve run the errands and done the cleaning and written all I need to write today, I might curl up in the easy chair with The Hidden Things and make some serious headway on it. I also have an article to write and another column to start planning for. And yes, it does all seem a bit overwhelming, but what I need to do is make a list and just start checking off boxes.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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