Caribbean Queen

It’s raining this Sunday morning in New Orleans, with the occasional growl of thunder and a constant leak from the gray skies overhead. When I woke up, this leak was a faucet, turned all the way to high and so loud I wasn’t certain it could actually  be rain; my first thought was I wonder if the streets are flooding again and my second we have tickets to see The Last Jedi at one fifteen; will we be able to make it to the Palace theater in Harahan? As my first cup of coffee brewed this morning I checked to see if there are any reports of flooding in the city; there aren’t, and none are, apparently, expected. And yet any rain here carries with it the possibility of rising water and ruined cars, fears of hundreds of dollars in repairs if you are lucky, scrambling to find the money for a new one while battling with your insurance company and your lender in the meantime.

I worked yesterday, ran some errands, came home and made myself barbecue-flavored chicken nuggets in the oven; the TGIFriday’s brand, frozen food, heated for ten minutes on each side at 375 degrees in the oven. It’s easy and quick, doesn’t taste horrible, and fills the emptiness; Paul was also at work and we were going to a Christmas party last night in Uptown so I didn’t see any need in actually making any food that would make a mess; I’ve not had time to clean and organize and file this week; but I am hoping to get all of that done this morning before we brave the storms to see our movie. There’s something comforting and relaxing about rain, though, despite its imminent and constant threat here, I’ve always found rain to be a relaxing experience, a cozy one; safe inside from the wetness and able to witness it through windows, warm and dry and somehow protected.

Yesterday I finished reading yet another book, another one that I enjoyed tremendously; Reality Boy by A. S. King. I’ve had the book for quite some time, it’s been in my TBR pile for years now. I don’t remember why I bought it, other than an interest in the subject matter; the after-effects of being a reality show celebrity as a child. I’ve always watched, enjoyed and been fascinated by reality television; one of my early ideas for a Scotty novel involved a Real World type show being filmed in New Orleans (that show has filmed here twice; the first time in my neighborhood). Even early on, I saw, in The Real World, the classic Agatha Christie set-up: a group of strangers thrown together in a confined space, forced to interact with each other and all for the benefit of cameras, some hidden and others hand-held. It seemed perfect for a classical-style locked room murder mystery; the locked room, of course, being the cameras. I toyed with it and played with the notion for several years, before finally deciding on the bizarre plot that became Mardi Gras Mambo; the first iteration of that novel was the reality show plot that I eventually lost interest in and threw away so I could start over. Reality television has taken over our culture in so many ways; you are just as likely to see a reality “star” staring at you from the covers of the tabloids and celebrity magazines in the check-out line at the grocery store as you are to see an actor or an actress or a member of British royalty. I do watch some reality television still to this day, primarily franchises of the Real Housewives, some more so than others, and other shows I absolutely will not watch, as though some of these shows are somehow more highbrow, more morally and intellectually pure, than others.

As I said the other day, I had decided to get through some of the young adult fiction in my TBR pile once I’d finished Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, and I greatly enjoyed The Truth About Alice. Reality Boy has been in my pile for quite some time; and I pulled it out and started reading it Friday night once I’d finished the Ritter and Alice. Reality Boy was, in a word, quite extraordinary; I’m not sure that I would classify it as full-on noir, but it’s definitely domestic suspense bordering on domestic noir.

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I’m the kid you saw on TV.

Remember the little freak who took a crap on his parents’ oak-stained kitchen table when they confiscated his Game Boy? Remember how the camera cleverly hid his most private parts with the glittering fake daisy and sunflower centerpiece?

That was me. Gerald. Youngest of three. Only boy, Out of control.

One time, I did it in the dressing room at the mall. Sears, I think. My mom was trying to get me to try on some pants and she got the wrong size.

“Now you stay right there,” she said. “I’ll be back with the right size.”

And to protest having to wait, or having to try on pants, or having to have a mother like her, I dropped one right there between the wicker chair and the stool where Mom’s purse was.

And no, it wasn’t excusable. I wasn’t a baby. I wasn’t even a toddler. I was five. I was sending a message.

As much as I enjoy the reality shows I watch, one thing that has always put me off about them is when adults use their children as props on these shows. It’s one thing when you’re an adult, or when your children are adults and have the kind of agency to decide whether they want their life to be turned into a circus or not. It’s entirely another when parents decide they want their young children trotted out for the cameras like some dog-and-pony show to show off what great parents they are, or how talented their children are, or how cute they are. I particularly loathed those ‘nanny’ shows, where ‘problem’ children were trained by a some Mary Poppins stand-in to be behave better when their parents can’t control them; those videos and tapes are going to, I have often felt and believed, haunt those kids for the rest of their lives.

The premise of Reality Boy is precisely that.

Gerald, at ages five and six, appeared with his family on one of those nanny shows, and his particular problem was that he defecated as a sign of rebellion and protest; in his mother’s shoes, in the hallway, etc. He became viral and forever known as the Crapper. He is now sixteen going on seventeen, his family is still just as dysfunctional as ever, and he is regularly taunted, mocked and bullied for his reality show past. Being a teen is hard enough for any number of reasons–as explored in The Truth About Alice, for example–but imagine being famous/infamous for behavior when you were a small child, on television.

Reality Boy is about Gerald’s learning to cope with his past, learning to cope with his future, and recognizing, at long last, that he could have a future. It’s exceptionally well done, and as King reveals the layers of dysfunction that led to Gerald’s behavior, the truth of his life and his own reality, why he is been labelled a problem child and a disgrace, are even more horrible. And yet Gerald has to find the strength to cope, to deal, and to by the time the book ends, there’s hope that Gerald’s life is going to get better. It’s extremely well done, Gerald comes to fully-realized life beautifully on the page, and his burgeoning relationships with new friends and maybe, even, just possibly, a girlfriend–help him to grow and understand. It’s incredibly well done, and it’s also a cautionary tale that needs to be sent to anyone who’s ever trotted their children out for the cameras for fame and money. It makes you wonder what Honey Boo-Boo’s life is going to be like when she’s seventeen, or Teresa Giudice’s daughters (they’ll probably still be on television). It also makes you wonder just how complicit those of us who watch these shows are in the possible damage being wrought on these children.

My current Scotty book has me returning to the reality well, only this time with a Real Housewives-type show. I’ve already done nine chapters, and had already decided to toss those and start over because it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go; I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say in the book. I had planned on starting it over again, but now…now I am thinking I need to sit down and think through what I want to say in it, maybe plan it a little more than I’ve ever planned a Scotty book before. I don’t know, but I’ll be keeping you posted.

Let the Music Play

I had already decided to make January a theme month on the blog, and to once again make it Short Story Month, with the goal to read a short story every day. As such, I was looking around the shelves of the Lost Apartment for anthologies and single-author collections, and it occurred to me that I have a book at the office that would be absolutely pitch-perfect for this: The Best American Noir of the 20th Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. It’s a gorgeous volume; absolutely beautiful, and it’s also signed by Otto. I must have picked it up one year at the MWA Board event at the Mysterious Bookshop. But it literally is a time capsule of great noir stories, going back to 1923, and what better education in not only short stories, but noir, than to read this marvelous collection, one story at a time, day by day?

I’ve also ordered Lawrence Block’s latest anthology of crime stories inspired by pictures, Alive in Shape and Color.  I may have to extend Short Story Month to Short Story Quarter, and read a story a day until April. Which really isn’t a bad idea, frankly. This is also the period where I’ll be putting together Sunny Places Shady People, the St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology, so reading short stories should be a priority, don’t you think?

I certainly do.

I also finished reading Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire last night–Paul was at a play.

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 State Highway 59 becomes Plantation Road two miles after the exit for Barrens. The old wooden sign is easy to miss, even among the colorless surroundings. For years now, on road trips from Chicago to New York, I’ve been able to pass on by without any anxiety. Hold my breath, count to five. Exhale. Leave Barrens safely behind, no old shadows running out of the dark woods to strangle me.

That’s a game I used to play as a kid. Whenever I would get scared or have to go down to the old backyard shed in the dark, as long as I held my breath, no monsters or ax murderers or deformed figures from horror movies would be able to get me. I would hold my breath and run full speed until my lungs were bursting and I was safe in the house with the door closed behind me. I even taught Kaycee this game back when we were kids, before we started hating each other.

It’s embarrassing, but I still do it. And the thing is, it works.

Most of the time.

Alone, locked in a gas station bathroom, I scrub my hands until the skin cracks and a tiny trickle of blood runs down the drain. It’s the third time I’ve washed my hands since I crossed the border into Indiana. In the dinged mirror over the sink, my face looks pale and warped, and the memories of Barrens bloom again like toxic flowers.

This was a bad idea.

The trauma that is high school is something that many of us apparently never get over, and it’s certainly becoming a crime fiction trope. But this isn’t a bad thing. As I said, almost all of us have traumatic memories of high school, and therefore can relate to the characters and the stories in these types of books. Hell, I’ve drawn from my own high school traumas enough times in my own work to recognize it as a trope of my own (Sara, Lake Thirteen, and both Chanse and Scotty have moments of reflection on their own past that are directly drawn from mine).

Bonfire is a compelling read, and very well written. Abby Williams, our main character who is telling the story in a first-person point of view, fled her hometown of Barrens after a traumatic childhood that included the painful death of her mother from cancer, her father’s religious mania and the resultant brutal parenting that came from it, being not popular, and having her best, childhood friend, Kaycee Mitchell, turn on her and terrorize her with a group of mean girl new friends. But towards the end of their senior year, Kaycee and her friends all became ill–with very odd and strange symptoms. It turned out they were faking it, and Kaycee disappeared. Now, there are some complaints about the factory near town, Optimal Plastics, that has revitalized the dying town but may possibly be poisoning it. Abby, now an environmental lawyer for a non-profit firm that handles such cases, is leading the investigative team and thus has to come back to Barrens to not only run this investigation but deal with her own demons. But are her theories and investigation tainted by her past, and her relationships with people from when she as a child? And why is she so obsessed with the missing Kaycee–whatever happened to her? Was she really faking it, or were the girls really sick? And what the hell is going on in Barrens?

Obviously, the sickness of the girls reminded me a lot of Megan Abbott’s brilliant The Fever from a few years ago; which was based on an actual case. And Ritter’s debut novel is crisply written, with a powerful sense of scene, character and plot that continues to build until it comes to its conclusion. I really enjoyed the book tremendously, and resented not having the time to actually sit down and read it through; I did manage to do so last night while Paul was at a play. It’s probably one of my favorite reads from the year, and I highly recommend it. Well done, Ms. Ritter.

And now back to the spice mines.

Automatic

Friday morning, and the temperature has dropped yet again. I have to work tomorrow and am going to a Christmas party; Sunday we have tickets for The Last Jedi (woo-hoo!) so my weekend card is pretty full. But next weekend is a four day weekend due to the holiday, which is lovely.

I managed to get a second draft of one story done yesterday, as well as getting about halfway through a rewrite of another. I am very pleased with both; once finished with the other second draft I am going to let them sit until next weekend. I am most pleased with myself. I am also about half-way finished with Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, am still enjoying it, and will most likely finish it this evening–Paul is going to see a play. Today is also my short work day, so I’ll have time to get some cleaning and so forth done this afternoon, and then will undoubtedly curl up in my easy chair to finish reading the book. I am torn as to what to read next; I’ve got four Louise Penny novels in my TBR pile, but am leaning towards either a Daniel Palmer or perhaps something more y/a-ish; No Saints in Kansas or The Truth About Alice or Reality Boy. I’ll undoubtedly decide once I am done with the Ritter. I also have a lot of filing to do, as always.

I also am toying with a y/a idea; I’ve already started writing out ideas and plans for it; it’s working title is Bury Me in Satin, which I really like, but I don’t know why I am wasting time on it when I have to overhaul the Scotty as well as the WIP.

Heavy sigh.

All right, I need to get ready for work. Sorry this is so short, but hey, it’s Friday.

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The Warrior

Wednesday, and I finished the first draft of my short story yesterday. It’s quite dark, and I quite love it, but it needs some serious polishing and editing. I changed my mind about the ending while i was writing it, you see, and that changes some things back at the beginning. I want to have that finished by the end of the weekend, as well as another story I’ve worked on recently. Huzzah!

I am also thoroughly enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire. I do highly recommend it, even though I am not even halfway finished with it, it’s that engaging. Sure, the plot could go off the rails, but I rather like the main character and the story she is telling–both the crime itself as well as the main character’s story in confronting her past–is quite enjoyable.

This weekend, I have to work Saturday and we are going to a Christmas party that evening; Sunday we have tickets for The Last Jedi and I am very excited. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, of course, and I wisely chose to buy tickets in IMAX during the Saints game, so I am assuming the theater won’t be full. Hoping, at any rate, and since we live close to the Superdome the traffic will be going the other way in both instances as we head out to Harahan to see the movie. It’s a much more busy weekend for me than I would ordinarily prefer, but the next weekend is a four day weekend for Christmas and of course, the next is the three day weekend for New Year’s. So…not really having a full day at home this weekend isn’t going to be nearly as traumatizing as it could be.

Anyway, I am really happy with my story. I was asked to write a story for an anthology of crime stories inspired by the work of Joni Mitchell, and when I chose my song, read the lyrics and listened to it again, I really went down a rabbit hole and man, did it ever get dark. Really dark. But what was also fun about it was having to research malls in the early 1990’s; research can be a bit of a drag sometimes, but for me, most of the time it’s so much fun because it triggers a lot of memories, or inspires me even more if it’s from before my time. (note to self: do some research on Washington DC in the early 1950’s; I’ve written a story set during that time but I’ve never done the back-up research, which could be incredibly fun.) Usually, when I write a story that’s set during a time I lived through, I depend on my memory–which ain’t what it used to be, but priming the pump by looking up things on-line triggered memories; memories of stores and displays, the way malls smelled, the parking lots and so forth.

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

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The Warrior

Yesterday I wrote approximately 3300 words of a short story that is due by the end of the month, and I am rather pleased with how it’s going, if I might be so bold. It flowed rather easily from my keyboard also; I’m hoping that mojo will still be there as I try to finish the draft today. It’s dark–when are my stories anything but dark, really–but I am very happy it’s getting close to completion in this draft. I would love to have it finished so I can spend my weekend revising and editing this and another short story I finished in a first draft recently.

I also mapped out a young adult novel over the weekend I’ve been wanting to write for years. I originally wrote it as a short story back in the 1980’s, calling it “Ruins”; I’ve always thought it would make a really good y/a novel if I could figure out how to deal with some societal and cultural issues with it which really couldn’t be ignored. And then I realized, this weekend, that the best way to deal with them is to face them head on. It will get criticized, of course, and I may even get called out, but you can’t not write something because you’re afraid of repercussions, can you? And hope that good discussion comes from it.

Then again, it could just come and go without notice. That happens, too.

This year has mostly been, for me at least, a struggle to write. I’m not sure what has caused this for me; the year had some remarkable highs–the Macavity Award nomination; the Anthony Award win–but for the most part it’s been a struggle with self-doubt and it’s horrible twin sister, depression. I don’t know why this happens to me; I always find that writing–even if I have to force myself to do it–always makes me feel better, even if the work isn’t going particularly well. Sinking my teeth into a story, feeling the characters come to life in my mind and through my keyboard, always seems to make me feel better. I also can use the writing as a way to channel things that upset or bother me; writing is an excellent way to channel anger and rage and heartbreak and every other emotion under the sun. But as this bedeviled year draws to a close, I am feeling creative and productive again; and most importantly, driven.

Then again, tomorrow I could feel like crap and be all ‘why bother’ again.

This is why writers drink.

I’m also really enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, even as it is reminding me of Megan Abbott’s The Fever. There are some similarities; although in Abbott’s novel the mysterious illness in the girls is current and in Ritter’s it’s in the past. But it’s very wwell written, and there is some diversity of representation in her characters. It also reminds me a little of Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, with it’s small town Indiana setting and it’s strange story from the past. (If you’ve not read Abbott or Rader-Day, buy their books NOW. You’re in for a magnificent treat!) The book also makes me think of my own Kansas past…and book ideas I have that mine that past. Reading good books always inspires me…and that really is the ultimate compliment I can give Ritter’s book. It’s inspiring me.

And that’s terrific.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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The Heart of Rock & Roll

I have to admit, giving up resisting that my Scotty novel needs to go back to the drawing board–and even get a new title–has been an enormous relief. Enormous. I was never sold on the original title anyway, and as we all know, Gregalicious can’t write anything unless he has, at the very least, a really good working title. So, Crescent City Charade is out, and Royal Street Reveillon is in, at least for the moment. I am also considering St. Charles Second Line, for the record. But I kind of want to do a Christmas-related story. I am still planning, so we shall see how that goes.

It’s hard to believe Christmas is two weeks from today. Paul and I are probably not going to buy each other gifts this year; we are still hoping to go to England in the spring (and maybe Paris), so we’d rather save our money for that rather than buy each other gifts. I’m a little distrustful, though; Paul often does this and buys me gifts anyway so I look like a wretched person. That’s not, of course, his intent but rather how I feel. Although there are a couple of things for the apartment I could ostensibly get and say are gifts for him….hmmm, that’s a thought, now isn’t it?

I started reading Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire last night, and am really enjoying it. I didn’t get very far into it, but I really like the character’s voice. I can see why this got such rave reviews; I certainly hope the story is going to develop nicely; I’m not sure what the story is quite yet, but it’s getting there.

Okay, sorry to be so brief, but I’ve got lots of spice to mine today!

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Union of the Snake

So, I braved Costco AND the grocery store on a frigid Saturday two weeks before Christmas; but I did manage to get a lovely space heater at Costco which has already changed everything in the frigid kitchen.  I also forgot to turn the heat off when I went to bed last night, but it wasn’t obnoxiously hot upstairs–which makes me tend to think that it must have been really cold outside last night. But whatever. I am up this morning, my kitchen is getting warmer thanks to the space heater, and I have some things I need to get done today so I am going to buckle down and try to get it all done as much as possible. Next weekend I have to work on Saturday, so it’s a very short weekend for me, but I can hang with it.

Pual went to a gallery opening last night for the guy who donated his art for the cover of the Saints and Sinners Anthology, and so while Scooter dealt with his abandonment issues by sleeping in my lap I got caught up on this season of Riverdale; I hadn’t realized they hadn’t gone on midseason break and had missed two episodes, with the midseason finale coming up this week. I am pleased to report that KJ Apa was shirtless a lot in last week’s episode (finally), and this season’s mystery is deepening nicely. It really is a good show, probably the best young actors on a teen soap-style show I’ve ever watched, and visually it’s just stunning. I also got our tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi for next Sunday at one, which is also incredibly exciting. I only have to avoid spoilers for a week.

I also watched two episodes of Soundtracks last night, the CNN series about how cultural and societal events influenced the popular music of the time. I watched the episodes about gay rights and Hurricane Katrina; each one made me unexpectedly tear up at moments as I remembered things. I recommend the series; I’m going to keep watching it. CNN series are really quite good; I’ve enjoyed their Decades series and their History of Comedy; and when I am not in the mood to write (or finished for the day) and not in the mood to read, they’re an excellent way to pass some time.

I think I’m going to read Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire next. It’s gotten some excellent reviews, and I’m a fan of hers; Jessica Jones was terrific, and Paul and I both enjoyed Don’t Trust the B, her one season sitcom. I actually think I may spend the rest of the year focusing on reading y/a fiction, to be honest. I have a lot of amazing books in my TBR pile, but…I want to get the WIP whipped into shape to start the agent hunt again in earnest next year; and I have two more y/a manuscripts to whip into shape as well as the Scotty to completely redo. I hate having to throw out eight chapters worth of work–and maybe some editing can get them into decent shape and usable again. As I said, in talking to my friend Susan last week I realized the plot I was developing for the book simply doesn’t work; primarily because New Orleans is such a small town, and New Orleans society is an even smaller one. There’s no way Scotty wouldn’t have known something before he was surprised with it; just given both sides of his family he would have met the person any number of times and would have heard about him; that kind of throws that plot right out the window. Maybe the entire thing should just be scrapped and I should start over completely. I don’t know.

But so yes, there’s a lot I need to get done. I also have a short story due by the end of the month I need to work on, another project is also calling my name, and I have a grant application I need to get ready. I’ve decided to start applying for grants, long shots that they are; but you cannot get one without applying, and while I may not have an MFA or a Ph.D. behind my name I do have an awful lot of publications; my c.v. is at least fifteen pages long–and it hasn’t been updated in years. But I think I have proven that I can write. And I think perhaps a collection of personal essays, of experiences and observations I’ve made throughout my life, studying our culture and the deep flaws in our society and culture, could actually be rather interesting. I have years of diaries and blog entries to cull from; and I often find writing personal essays, on those rare occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to write them, quite rewarding. My favorite essay is “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”, which was in Love Bourbon Street, and was edited down to be included in another collection, and I could possibly make that the lynchpin of the collection. I also want to pull together my horror and crime short stories into a collection, which will undoubtedly have to be self-published. So many projects, so little time.

And yes, reading Joan Didion has inspired me a bit on that front.

And on that note, I am going to dive back into the spice mines this cold morning in New Orleans. Here’s a lovely hunk to get your week off to a lovely start:

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