My Little Town

It is quite impossible to have heard of every writer and every book, even in a subgenre; there are simply too many books published in the past, with new ones coming out every day and new ones getting signed for future release every day. When it comes to my own reading, I like to draw from a wide and deep pool of styles, genres, and authors. Most of my reading is generally confined to the crime genre–and I do confess that I need to broaden that pool even further. I need to read more literary fiction, science fiction, horror, romance, and fantasy; more true crime and biography and criticism; and even within my own crime genre I tend to not read as much of some sub-genres as others.

I’ve always liked cozies, and have never understood why they get so much grief and are so readily dismissed by those who neither write nor read them. I don’t read enough of them, to be honest, but again, there are so many terrific cozy writers and there’s only so much time. But recently in a review of my A Streetcar Named Murder, the reviewer mentioned that it was perfect “for fans of Katherine Hall Page.” This intrigued me, because I didn’t know her nor was I familiar with her work. I quickly checked in with some cozy writer friends, who all assured me it was a great compliment, so I decided to check out her Faith Fairchild series.

Faith Fairchild, recently of New York City, paused to catch her breath. Benjamin, her five-month-old son, was sound asleep, securely strapped to her chest in his Snugli. Her aching shoulder blades and the fact she has been focusing on the own path beneath her feet instead of the autumnal splendor to either side reminded Faith that Benjamin was definitely getting a bit too chunky for this mode of transportation. She straightened up and looked around.

It was New England with a vengeance: riotous orange and scarlet leaves beneath enormous, puffy white clouds suspended in a Kodacolor blue sky. A calendar maker’s dream. And of course brisk, clear air as crisp as a bite of a McIntosh apple just off the tree.

Faith hated McIntosh apples.

She walked up the Belfry Hill path a bit farther to a small clearning, which gave her an unobstructed view of the Aleford village green far below. She sat down and sighed heavily.

Her life was becoming terribly quaint, Faith thought. Time was when “village” meant “the Village” and “town” was up or down. And when did she start using phrases like “time was”? She let another sigh escape into the pollution-free landscape and longed for a whiff of that heady combination of roasted chestnuts and exhaust fumes that meant autumn to her.

It didn’t take me very long in reading the book to realize just what an incredible compliment that comparison actually was.

I pointed out in one of my entries about cozies–probably a blatantly self-promotional entry, if I recall correctly–that often-times there’s a “fish out of water” element to a cozy series; the main character is often someone from the big city who has, for whatever reason, found him or herself in a new small town environment that has its charms but at the same time they miss their big city. Faith Sibley Fairchild is no exception to this. Born and raised in Manhattan as the child of a minister and a wealthy heiress, Faith has her own trust fund and her interest in food led her to start her own, hugely successful catering company, Have Faith. But she has since fallen in love with a small-town minister, married him, temporarily shuttered her business and moved to pastoral Aleford in Massachusetts, having now had a baby and is trying to adjust to small town life as the minister’s wife. (I was reminded frequently of the Vicar’s wife in St. Mary Mead in Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage; the younger woman whom the villagers aren’t quite sure what to make of other than she’s not like any vicar’s wife they’ve ever known.)

On this particular morning she is heading up to the town belfry to just relax and have a little picnic with her baby son–only to discover the body of Cindy Shepherd, a perfectly awful young woman whom no one in the village of Aleford likes very much. Suspicion immediately falls on her long-suffering fiancĂ©, who doesn’t have much of an alibi–and Faith finds herself intrigued by the case and starts asking around. She found the body, after all, and as she starts asking questions and bouncing from villager to villager, she finds herself learning more about her town and the intricate yet almost invisible threads that tie everyone in Aleford together–and soon finds that not only was Lucy unpleasant, she was an outright villain, who only cared about herself and was not above using whatever means at her disposal necessary to get what she wants. The investigation itself is also an excellent way for Page to introduce Aleford (as well as Faith’s own backstory) to the reader in a very organic way that is not only easy to follow but keeps the reader turning the page. Ms. Page also has a lovely, easily accessible and slyly witty voice that engages the reader, and you can’t help liking Faith and rooting for her–as well as looking forward to your next visit. There are currently twenty-six volumes in the series–daunting, to be sure–but I’m excited about that lengthy canon; I won’t be running out of Katherine Hall Page novels to read any time soon.

Seven Wonders

If I live to see the seven wonders, I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end…

It’s 49 degrees here in New Orleans this morning–it could have been worse, and was predicted to be worse–so I can’t complain too much. It’s chilly inside the apartment this morning, but I have on my sweats and a stocking cap and feel okay. I didn’t want to get out of the warmth of the bed this morning–who can blame me–but I do feel somewhat rested this morning, which is always an enormous plus. I managed to not feel exhausted yesterday, so I managed to reconfigure Chapter Five so it is no longer a steaming pile of crap and now feel like I can move on to Chapter Six. Huzzah! Progress, Constant Reader, we are making progress at long last and it feels marvelous. We also watched this week’s Reboot (seriously, y’all, this show is hilarious and marvelous and you should be watching) and started the new season of The Vow on HBO–remember the NXIVM cult? They got a second season, which is going to be interesting as it covers the trials and has interviews with some of those higher-ups who pled guilty…but I am not seeing the cult leaders who finally woke up and brought them down as heroic, frankly. I have mixed feelings about them, to be honest; when they finally turned they really turned, but they were also involved for years and recruited lots of people–especially women–to the group, so I don’t know. There’s something to be said for atonement, I suppose, which is one of those esoteric philosophical questions about crime and punishment and our legal system (I’ve always felt conflicted, for example, about the sex offenders’ registry; I totally get why the neighborhood should know a convicted sex offender has moved into the neighborhood but at the same time it feels like a continuation of their punishment–either you do the time and are rehabilitated or you’re not…this conflict of fairness in my mind is what led me to write my story “Neighborhood Alert”).

I actually listened to my Sisters in Crime podcast interview with Julie Hennrikus (I tend to avoid listening to recordings of my voice, as I don’t like how I sound) for a change, and started to wonder about this distaste I have for hearing my voice. I don’t sound to myself anything like I sound on recordings, so for one thing it’s jarring to my sense of self (“that’s what other people hear when I talk?”), kind of like photographs, and there’s a bit of an effeminacy to my voice, I think–or that I hear–that makes me uncomfortable–and as I listened last night (it’s an interesting conversation, and Julie is a marvelous interviewer) I began to wonder why I hate the sound of my voice so much. There’s nothing wrong with sounding effeminate, so why does it get under my skin the way it does? It makes little to no sense, and it’s definitely something to do with the self-loathing I developed as a child from being an outsider. But after I started listening, after a while I stopped cringing as my voice came out of the computer speakers and started paying attention. Julie is a marvelous conversationalist/interviewer, and I felt like I didn’t come across as a pompous and arrogant fool who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, which is also a plus. (I’ve always felt that authors should be good interviews, since they are story-tellers; the interviewer’s job is to prod the subject into telling an entertaining story–which I think is another part of it; I tend to think my life and my writing processes and anecdotes aren’t terribly interesting, which again goes to the core of self-deprecation and humility that I am trying to break as it is not only counter-intuitive but it’s a bad quality for an author to have…I am always so afraid I’m going to sound arrogant and ungrateful that I tend to go too far the other way.)

But now that I am working on my aversion to hearing my voice, I can listen to the other podcast i recently recorded with Ricky Grove, about My Cousin Rachel, you can listen by clicking here if you like. I am actually now looking forward to listening myself–now that I am getting over my aversion to my own voice–and listening to myself more regularly will help me conquer that aversion, yank it out by the roots, as it were. Working on improving myself will clearly never stop until I breathe my last, will it?

I’m hoping to have a productive day, really. I feel rested, my brain isn’t feeling fatigued, and I feel more alert than I did earlier this week. I need to get some life-function things to do (make sure all bills are listed on calendar; remake my to-do list) and tonight after work I am hoping to be able to sit down and bang out Chapter Six, as well as perhaps read some more into ‘salem’s Lot while I wait for Paul to get home from work. I think I’ve pretty much decided not to make the trip to Boston for Crime Bake–flying back and two weeks later having to drive to Kentucky sounds exhausting and like way too much for me already–plus with the book deadline looming over everything, that makes it less promising to take a second trip before the deadline, alas–so it’s probably smarter for me to go ahead and cancel that trip…but I may keep the time off I’ve requested so I can work on the book. Hmmm, decisions, decisions. But I also need to be able to take time off to go to New York in January for my last hurrah for Mystery Writers of America…so who knows? Maybe I should just cancel the vacation requests and work? I don’t know. I hate making decisions because I am so certain that I will make the wrong one…

See how insidious that self-deprecating self-loathing thing is? It pops up everywhere. Why can I never make a decision that either makes sense for me or with confidence that I’m making the right one? Sigh, I don’t know and probably never will, I suppose.

And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Go Your Own Way

Lovin’ you, isn’t the right thing to do…

Wednesday and pay-the-bills day. Yesterday–the return to the office–wasn’t terrific. My back hurt in the morning to the point where standing up and moving around was incredibly painful, even with the generic Ben-Gay slathered liberally over my lower back. I used my back massage-roller thing Monday night and it helped, but for whatever reason yesterday morning when I got to work I was in extreme pain. I hate this for me, frankly. One of my co-workers stopped by my desk and saw the tube of store-brand Ben-Gay sitting on my desk and said, “oh, I thought I smelled Ben-Gay” (technically incorrect) and I replied, “Yes, I now officially smell like old man. Yay for me.”

I also realized I didn’t pick up a copy of my own Bouchercon anthology while I was there. Seriously, how DO I still have a career?

My back is still achy this morning–I’ve used the back roller and did some stretches, and it feels somewhat better than it did yesterday–but I am going to bring the heating pad to work with me this morning and see how that goes. I hate this, seriously. But the improvement from yesterday is significant–I don’t wince when I move this morning, at least not yet–and so I will go on hoping that this will gradually clear up and not become a more permanent thing. I somehow managed to get through my work day yesterday despite the back pain and despite the extreme tiredness I was feeling, even managed to make groceries (insanely expensive, I might add) on my way home. Once I got home, I retired to my easy chair and the heating pad and just kind of vegetated while Scooter slept in my lap until Paul got home. (I did watch the first episode of The Serpent Queen while I waited for him; it’s really quite good, and of course, I’ve always been fascinated by Catherine de Medici–one of these days I am going to write a book about her ‘flying squadron’, beautiful young women she trained to seduce men and get secrets out of; how fun of a book would that be?) I was going to start reading the next Donna Andrews, or reread the Scotty work I’ve already done, but I suspect–not entirely incorrectly–that I am going to be very tired most of this week and as such probably won’t get around to doing a whole lot of writing or creating this week as I dig out from under with everything–I’m not even remotely finished with my emails, and may never be–and there are some odds and ends I need to get finished in the meantime.

I really need to make a to-do list this morning and get it all together. As always after a trip, I feel rather disconnected from my life again this morning (this week, really) and it inevitably takes me a couple of days to recalibrate back to my regular life (oh how I wish my mystery conference life was my regular life!) and start figuring out what needs to be done. Costco, of course, and a regular making groceries run (not just the scattershot drive-by I did yesterday on the way home from work); and of course, it IS Pay-the-Bills Day (hurray). Heavy heaving sigh. I also have short stories promised to people, methinks, that I need to get back to work on. There really is no end to being a Gregalicious, is there? Heavy HEAVING sigh.

The high from the weekend is also starting to wear off a little bit, but it was a very lovely reminder of why I love my genre community. I met some writers whom I really admire (Attica Locke, Karen Dionne, Eli Cranor, among many others) and got to hang out with dear friends and as I said, laughed and laughed until I actually ached from laughing, which is really quite marvelous. I think I am definitely going to go to Crime Bake in November up in Boston (suburbs); I won’t be traveling quite as often or as regularly next year, alas, but am hoping to make it to Malice in April and then of course, Bouchercon rolls around again in the fall in San Diego. I’ve not really looked into what games are this weekend–I know LSU plays Mississippi State at night in Death Valley, which gives me most of the day to errand and clean and all of that lovely stuff–and I am not sure when the Saints game is on Sunday (noon, probably, but who knows?) and so hopefully I won’t spend the weekend vegetating (all of the time at any rate), but you never know. I do need some down time to recuperate, so I may just have Costco delivered and order the groceries for pick-up (I may make a Mississippi roast this weekend, or whatever it is called; I can get a very lovely rump roast at the Fresh Market meat counter).

The weather has been beautiful, too, since we arrived back. This unusual cool September weather is very similar to what it was like up in Minneapolis, and the weather (with the exception of one day) during the weekend was stunningly beautiful; I spent as much time outside as I could do so logically.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines and get to work. Happy Wednesday, all, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Tired of Being Alone

So, in a little while I’ll be loading up the car and heading to the airport to catch my flight to Albuquerque for my first-time ever attendance at Left Coast Crime! Woo-hoo! I’m excited as well as a bit trepidatious, as I always am whenever I am going to an event I’ve never been to before. I have my journal and I will have books, so I shan’t ever be bored if none of the cool kids will talk to me or let me hang out with them. I am a bit concerned about sleep and so forth; I never sleep well when I am traveling (for a long time I thought it was due to the absence of Paul and Scooter; since Paul has travelled with me and I still had issues with sleeping, it must be the lack of Scooter that must be causing it; because when Paul isn’t home and it’s just me and Scooter…I don’t have the sleep issue. Then again, making people fall asleep is Scooter’s super power…)

I also saw a lot of people had delayed flights yesterday to Albuquerque, which doesn’t exactly fill me to the brim with confidence, in all honesty. When I flew up to New York in November (and back from Boston), I didn’t have any delays on either flight, which was marvelous (and increasingly rare). I cannot say the same for the previous time I flew, when I went up to Kentucky earlier last year. (What a fricking nightmare that trip was; at least the return went smoothly.) But I am up at my usual hour, and my suitcase is packed already. I just have to pack my backpack and my carry-on, do some things around here, and hit the road for the airport around seven thirty. Yay.

I am already having anxiety about traveling–not COVID related, just the usual: will the flights be on time? Will I miss my connecting flight in Austin? How expensive will a cab from the airport to the hotel in Albuquerque be? Did I pack proper clothing for the trip? Did I forget to pack anything? Will I have to sit next to someone horrible on either flight?

And of course, the long held horror of being late to the airport and missing my flight. I also have to work on Monday when I get back–so the trip home hopefully won’t be delayed and/or late since I have to get up at six Monday morning after getting home. (A co-worker asked me to switch my at-home day with him because he has a doctor’s appointment, and I am always willing to accommodate a co-worker because I I always need someone to cover for me at some point.)

But I am hoping I will make some new friends and there will be others there I can hang out with–worst case scenario, I go to my room and read in bed–and I plan on attending panels to listen to writers talk about writing. I have very good books coming with me on the trip, and I am sure I will buy even more books in the book room because I can never resist more books, you know? I also will probably get some books when I check-in for the conference and get my bag–there’s always books in the bags–and thus reading will never be much of an issue while I am there.

And on that note, I need to get some things done before I get cleaned up and head for the airport. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

Knock Three Times

Tuesday morning and only two in-the-office days this week, as I am heading off to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime on Thursday. I have never been before, and none of my usual convention crew buddies will be there–which means I’ll probably spend a lot of time in my room, reading. It’s my first mystery convention of any size since Bouchercon in St. Petersburg all those years ago–but I did go to Crime Bake back in November up in Boston (Dedham, to be precise). I slept really well last night–two nights in a row, huzzah!–and so am thinking I might be able to face the day after all. I got all my data entered yesterday, ran the errands I needed to run, and got the annual, tedious chore of my pulling together all of my taxes and getting it to the accountant finished. Huzzah!

We started watching Slow Horses on Apple TV as well last night; very well cast, very interesting premise, and are definitely intrigued enough to keep watching. Alas, only two episodes had dropped thus far, so after the second episode we were stuck, and then remembered we’d never finished watching the most recent (third?) season of Servant, so we watched a few of those before retiring for the evening to bed. It’s a weird show–very well acted, very creepy–and Lauren Ambrose is brilliant in the female lead. It’s hard to explain what it’s about–M. Night Shyamalan is producer/director/writer (one of those or maybe all; I am not sure) and that seems to be about par for the course for most of Mr. Shyamalan’s work, doesn’t it? I do recommend it, if for no other reason than seeing how perfectly cast Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) is as Lauren Ambrose’s alcohol swigging, drug snorting/smoking brother.

I’ve also not written anything in a while; hopefully going to Left Coast will get me off my lazy writer’s ass and going on this story I need to get written. I just went over edits on another story–a reprint–and I also proofed another story I have in another anthology yesterday. In other interesting news, I also had a brief conversation with an acquiring editor who is interested in Chlorine–despite it not being written yet, which is always lovely when someone is interested in something just from reading arbitrary and oblique commentary about it that I’ve written here. I also told him about two other future projects I have in mind, which was also nice. I love talking about my projects and ideas. I’ve just been so unmotivated lately–I still think I am a little bit burned out from the rush to get the last manuscript finished, timed as it was with the release of #shedeservedit and the closing of submissions for the Bouchercon anthology, and the turnover/onboarding of the new board for Mystery Writers of America…yeah, it’s really not a surprise that I am a bit on the burned out side. It happens, you know?

Heavy heaving sigh.

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

Yesterday Once More

I’ve always believed that it is smarter to set goals every year rather than resolutions; resolutions have almost become kind of a joke in that no one ever really keeps them past the first few weeks of the new year. Years ago, I decided to change that up and set goals to achieve rather than resolutions to change behavior, and that has worked out much better for me. Sure, there have been some of the same goals set every year that have never been achieved (I’m looking at you, find an agent) but I find that it all seems to work out in the end, and the goals I never achieve and carry over just maybe need some more of my energy and focus applied to them

Before, however, I get into the goals for one Gregalicious in 2022, I’d like to go over some of the things that stood out for me in 2021, both good and bad.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2021: I was able to visit New York in November and then head up to Boston by train for Crime Bake, and it was a marvelous experience; I learned a lot more family history; made the list of
“other distinguished work” in Best Mystery and Suspense; finished writing and published Bury Me in Shadows at long last; finished the Kansas book finally; I read some great books and watched some great movies and television shows; signing a book contract with Crooked Lane; sold some short stories (“The Snow Globe”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” and “Night Follows Night”, among possible others I cannot recall at the moment); a visit to the Gardner Museum whilst in Boston; I bought a new computer with which I am still rather pleased; and I did some more deep diving into New Orleans history, which has been incredibly fun.

LOW LIGHTS: Hurricane Ida and the ensuing horrific power loss at precisely the worst time of the year to be without climate control in New Orleans (will never ride out another storm of that size again, ever); the on-going pandemic canceling the Edgars and conferences and limiting/prohibiting travel; no Williams Fest/S&S again; the horrible polar vortex that brought record low temperatures to New Orleans during Carnival and we had no heat, so I spent Fat Tuesday freezing under many layers of clothes, layers of blankets, and with a space heater on and still was shivering and cold and miserable; my inability to finish writing the first draft of Chlorine; and of course, not finishing any of the novellas I really wanted to get finished this past year–and any number of short stories as well.

I think the biggest goal I want to set for 2022 has to do with Chlorine. I want to get a viable first draft finished as soon as I can, because the second part of the goal with Chlorine is to finally get representation, or at least try again. I think once I get this current manuscript finished and some of the stories and novellas I have in progress out of the way, I can focus on getting Chlorine finished and out on spec. My goal is to make that my March project, giving me January and February to finish all the other stuff and get it out of the way.

My second goal, also to do with writing, is to get the next short story collection pulled together as well as the novella collections. I think I have enough completed work to get the story collection turned in this year–some of the stories I have in mind for it are still in progress, of course, and of course I have three completed drafts of novellas that need to be redone, revised, and two others that need to be written (or do I? I am now remembering that there’s a third that needs a revision but has a completed draft, so that’s four–and now that I think about it more deeply there are three in some sort of progress that I should be able to get finished in the new year). There’s also the essay collection, which is going to take some serious focus and concentration to pull together. I also want to write a Scotty book this year…which is a LOT to have on one’s plate in one year. (This could, of course, all change should Crooked Lane want a follow-up to the book I am currently writing; this is the sort of thing that makes someone like me–a planner–crazy because I cannot control what requests are going to be made for work from me.)

Next goal is, naturally, work out related. I need to make it to the gym three times per week, going forward into this new year. My fitness regimen has been all over the place since the pandemic started, but it’s been a lot more consistent since the pandemic started than it was in the (many) years prior when I just stopped going entirely and allowed my body to not only go to seed but to start breaking down. I feel better when I lift weights and stretch, and I should also add a cardio day to my workout schedule. I want my goal weight to remain 200–I’m not sure what I weigh now, frankly, but I know it’s not 225, which was where I’d allowed myself to get–and I’d like to get into 32 waist pants (comfortably) again in the new year. (I can get into 32’s in stretchy jeans, but 33’s in regular jeans, while I can fit into them, aren’t as comfortable as I would like them to be, and right now comfort above all else.) I don’t think I’ll ever get my Gumby-like flexibility back again, but the stretching does feel incredibly good when I do it (I also want to add stretching daily to the regimen; I can stretch at home just as easily as I can at the gym) so it needs to become more of a routine thing for me.

My next goal is to break my lifelong habit of falling into procrastination at every opportunity. While I will be the first to admit that it’s best to listen to your brain and your body and to not try to push them into things when they are exhausted or tired or fried, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s just laziness, and I own that completely: oh, there’s plenty of time to do this or oh I will just get this done tomorrow is too easy a habit to fall into; even as I write this I am thinking Oh I can go to the store tomorrow and I can also write tomorrow and there’s no need for me to do any of this today despite the fact I feel rested and relaxed and creative. So I am going to finish this and then I am going to get cleaned up and get back to my writing (the groceries, on the other hand, can 100% wait until tomorrow).

Another goal is to keep on top of the housework and the filing–and by that, I am also including the storage attic and the storage facility. I want to get the attic cleared out, and I want to clear out the storage as well so i can stop spending that money every month. This isn’t as easy as one might expect, but I figure if I can get rid of a box in the attic every week–again, not as easy as one might think–I should be able to get a handle on this all by the middle of the year. One box a week doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? And yet…

All right, on that note I need to get back to the writing. I think I can push through quite a bit today, even if I don’t want to–which I don’t–but I also have no choice. The book is due exactly two weeks from today, and I don’t want to turn in something as sloppy as what I have on my hands right now.

Have a wonderful New Year, Constant Reader!

My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, ElitĂ©, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!

Never Again

One of the many Youtube wormholes I have fallen down since the pandemic descended upon on our world has been the magical journey of the music reaction video. I didn’t know this was even a thing–I think it was Twins the New Trend’s reaction video to the Carpenters that went viral was when I actually learned this is something people not only do, but can make money from (O magical world of the Internet! Is there anything that can’t be monetized?) but this led me to, thanks to Youtube suggestions, other young people or music specialists (vocal coaches, etc.) reacting to older music they’ve not heard before, or from artists they may recognize the name of but not their music.

Needless to say, seeing these young people discover, appreciate, and love Fleetwood Mac (and Stevie Nicks) is not only a lot of fun but also is an unneeded justification of my nearly life-long love of the band. The Rumours album is probably my favorite album of all time; and since it was released (and I discovered it) when I was in high school in Kansas, Rumours is always linked in my mind to not only high school but to Kansas in particular. I didn’t have an 8-track player in my car when I was in high school–I never even had a car of any kind with the capacity to do anything other than play the radio until 1991–but radio was a major player back in those days, and I of course had other friends who did have 8 track or cassette players in their cars… Rumours was pretty much owned by everyone (as was Hotel California by the Eagles and Boston’s debut album) and so it was often heard in cars, played loudly, as it drove way over the speed limit down country roads.

But watching these people discover the Mac, and listening to and enjoying their music for the first time (despite my devotion to Stevie and all things Stevie, my favorite Mac song will always be “Go Your Own Way”) has taken me down that pleasant road of nostalgia and memory…which came somewhat in handy as I wrote #shedeservedit aka the Kansas Book. I based Liberty Center geographically on Emporia, Kansas; but I have not set foot in Emporia since I left one snowy February night in 1981 so I had to rely a lot on memories. I did use Google Earth to revisit, in case my faulty memory was wrong about where a street was or how the grid the city was laid out on precisely was laid out–where was the Catholic cemetery, where was the college campus, where was the park down by the waterfall–but since I was also fictionalizing everything, it was more of a guideline than anything else; it was easier for me to picture it all in my head that way rather than making it all up from scratch. (I also got the name Liberty Center, and used it, as a tribute to Philip Roth and his novel When She Was Good; I’d gone through many many iterations of names for that town throughout the years, but Liberty Center was just too perfect not to use)

And yes, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac while I was writing the book. While Hotel California and Boston can both take me back to Kansas if I listen to them, Fleetwood Mac’s first three albums with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk) definitely do it almost from the first chord (if I am writing, of course–I am also realizing as I write this and think it through that I need to write an essay about my lifelong fandom of Fleetwood Mac, and how their music has always inspired me with my writing and creativity as well as connected with me emotionally).

Although, interestingly enough, the first time I ever published fiction about Kansas–my short story “Promises in Every Star”–it was actually inspired by another band, ’til Tuesday. But that’s a story for another time.

Music has always been important to my writing process–back in the days of CD’s, I used to put five in the stereo and hit shuffle whenever I started writing, trying to make them all from the same artist or at least similar artists–and I’ve noticed that recently I don’t listen to music quite as much as I used to when I write, and have been thinking that maybe I need to go back to that process. I rediscovered my love of writing after a long burnt out period by using journals to record ideas and random thoughts and things again–going back to my roots, as it were–and so maybe music is something I need to add back into my writing experience, especially since I am coming down to crunch time with the new book.

I’m working at home today–there’s data entry to do and condoms packs to make, as always–and then of course tomorrow is our paid holiday for New Year’s, so I can spend that day writing and cleaning and running errands and so forth. I need to pick up a prescription today, so will probably do that at some point (I think the pharmacy will be closed tomorrow, since its in one of our buildings and they do get holidays as well) and also will need to do a deep dive into my email inbox and get some things done around here.

And that’s my cue to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely New Year’s Eve Eve!

Johnny Are You Queer?

I have been wanting to rewatch Johnny Tremain for quite some time now.

When Disney Plus went live, the first thing I did (after subscribing) was search for it there; I did this at least once every two weeks since the service launched, to no avail. I would look for it on Amazon Prime, Netflix, everywhere; whenever I would sign up for yet another streaming service I would look for it. I never quite understood–and still don’t–why Disney Plus doesn’t have it; but the other day at work I realized I hadn’t looked for it for a while, so signed into Disney Plus on my browser: nope. Oh might as well give Amazon Prime a try, I thought, although Disney not having one of its own properties while another streaming service had it was, I thought, highly unlikely.

And yet, there it was: to rent or buy. I didn’t want to buy it, and I really hate paying to rent to stream something when I already pay for far too many streaming services (I really need to get past the mentality of subscribing when I want to watch something when it’s far cheaper in the long run to merely rent the movie or show), but I’v been wanting to rewatch this movie for years and there it finally was; so I did, and rewatched it yesterday whilst making my daily allotment of condom packs.

I also remembered, when I found the film, that Johnny Tremain was my gateway drug to not only my lifelong interest in American history–which eventually led to an interest in history in general. We had an assembly at my elementary school to watch the movie, and I saw it again when it aired on The Wonderful World of Disney (it may even have still been Disney’s Wonderful World of Color). I eventually read the book, which I got from a Scholastic Book Fair, and it became a treasured favorite. I also recognized, before rewatching the movie as a sixty-year-old, that it was a Disney film aimed for kids made in the 1950’s during the Red Scare when we were all living under the shadow of the mushroom cloud; Walt himself was, among many other things, a deeply conservative pro-America anti-Communist homophobe, and given all those things, it was going to most likely be–if looked at with a cold, judgmental, independent eye–a barely disguised propaganda film. (I am also curious to reread the book; since it was published in 1943, during the height of the second world war, it was also probably pro-American propaganda, when all the country needed to be united to believe that we were fighting evil to make the world a better place, and since American democracy was the be-all end-all…you see what I mean?)

I mean, once you recognize and identify Lost Cause mythology as an ideation to perpetrate and protect white supremacy, it’s also relatively easy to start reexamining all of American history and see the mythology that has been built up around the founding and creation of the country, as well as the deification of the Founding Fathers.

But while I was researching the book and movie the other day, I also came across a paper–queer theory–by Dr. Frank Henderson at Furman University that essentially reexamines the text of the novel from a queer perspective looking for subtext: the piece is titled “Could Johnny Tremain Be Gay? Reinterpretation as a Subversive Act” and was published in the Journal of Homosexuality (I read the abstract, and an article about it, rather than paying $40 to access the actual paper and read it; seriously, how do academics research if this stuff is so expensive? I will probably try to track a copy down through the library; which I guess, actually, is what academics do), and it gave me some pause for thought. I do remember that Johnny was more bratty and selfish in the book than he was in the movie (I remember being startled by this when I read the book the first time) and he literally had nothing but disdain for Cilla or any other girl in the book (which, at the time, was part and parcel of that weird societal norm or belief that prepubescent boys think girls are icky and don’t like them or want anything to do with them–again, very odd in a heteronormative culture) but when he becomes friends with Rab, an older boy involved with the Sons of Liberty, he almost idol-worships the older boy and allows himself to forget his innate selfishness and get involved with something bigger than himself–the revolutionary thinking that led Boston to revolt in the first place. That can be read, as Dr. Henderson states, as a queer relationship between the boys, and that Johnny could be read as queer. I seriously doubt that was what Esther Forbes was thinking when she wrote the book–the book was meant for boys and there was, as I said, that weird “boys don’t like girls” norm for a very long time (it certainly was a consistent theme in Disney productions aimed at boys; same with the Hardy Boys book and other mystery/adventure series aimed at boys from the time). This was in theory erased from the film…but I’m not entirely sure it was.

First of all, there’s absolutely no question that Hal Stalmaster, who played Johnny but never really worked much afterwards, mostly guesting on television shows, was a stunningly beautiful young man.

He also wasn’t a very good actor, but the heavy-handed direction of any Disney live-action film aimed at kids for a very long time didn’t inspire the best work from the cast (Mary Poppins, of course, being an exception).

The young actor who played Rab was also ridiculously good looking–and turned out to be a younger Richard Beymer (billed as Dick) who would go on to play Tony in West Side Story and later, Twin Peaks–and they certainly had more chemistry together than Johnny had with Cilla, who was turned into a love interest of sorts, with him giving her a quick peck on the cheek (their only intimacy) as he runs through the streets of Boston with the news that the British would be leaving Boston “by sea”.

The movie was very typical Americana–so yes, propaganda–which sterilized and cleaned up the period in Boston before the outbreak of the war, with rather stiff pronouncements about ideals and principles and freedom and the rights of man and liberties and tyranny–all the patriotic buzzwords cast about by people who want to silence those who don’t agree with them–without any real explanation of what that means.

And yet, as oversimplified and “cleaned up” as this is made to be in the movie, it’s still effective–it’s very stirring to think about the nerve of the American rebels, doing something practically unheard of in history–not just defying their king (there was a long history of rebellions against the worst abuses of kingship throughout the centuries; just the century before the British actually beheaded their king and did without one for eleven or so years; 150 years before Louis XVI went to the guillotine in Paris) but defying the might of the most powerful and richest empire the world had ever seen. It’s hard not to think about–although everyone in this movie is a revolutionary, all Bostonians except for the villains, and the villainous American loyalists are actually worse than the British military themselves–what that period must have been like to live through; the divided loyalties, the betrayal of neighbor by neighbor, spies and treachery and murders. (I’d love to write a historical mystery set in Boston during this period, actually.)

It’s not a bad movie, but it’s also not a great one; and it certainly does its part in upholding the mythology created about the American revolution.

And yes, this could easily be yet another essay.

Solsbury Hill

Thursday and working at home today. Huzzah!

Yesterday was yet another day when I woke up feeling rested and invigorated. I had thought, oddly enough, that I hadn’t slept particularly well the night before–I woke up several times throughout the night, and the last time was five thirty, so I just kind of laid there in a half-sleep until the alarm went off. But oddly enough, I never hit the wall yesterday afternoon and I was also full of energy and highly functioning and got a lot of stuff taken care of, which was absolutely lovely. I hope to match that productivity today. I only have to work a partial day because I had to stay late the other day, so I am hoping to get some writing and editing done today as well, and make it to the gym once I complete my work-at-home duties. Fingers crossed!

I went to sleep later than I’d planned last night. We finished watching Dopesick, which is an amazing production with exceptional acting and writing, and then I went into a wormhole on Youtube and wound up staying up until midnight. I woke up early this morning–earlier than I’d wanted to, but hey, more time to get things done–and I think I slept relatively well last night. I am awake, after all, and not tired physically or mentally; I call that a win, really. I also finished reading Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross–more on that later–and started reading Guilty as Cinnamon by Leslie Budewitz, who is a favorite writer of mine and one I should read more of–I loved Assault and Pepper, the first in her Seattle Spice Shop series, this is the second.

I’ve also been reflecting a lot on my trip to Boston. I made a mistake the other day when I was talking about visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; I referred to reading about Mrs. Gardner in a book called The Grande Dames by Stephen Buckingham; his name was actually Birmingham. I think I can be forgiven for that error, primarily because Buckingham seems like a more likely last name for an American than Birmingham–and buck instead of birm is a very easy mistake to make, and therefore forgivable, despite my incredibly high standards for getting these facts correct. But I always loved the story of Mrs. Gardner, the ultimate diva and grande dame of Boston, and now that I’ve seen the Italian palazzo she built as a home for herself and her extraordinary art collection…I need to reread Mr. Birmingham’s book again. The museum was spectacular, just spectacular.

The day began with me looking out the window of my room at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square to see it was drizzling a bit outside; and I had to decide: lug my suitcase through the subway, or summon a Lyft, or walk ten blocks to the new train station, Moyhihan Hall? Being a hardy New Orleanian, I decided I’d just walk the ten blocks–my Fitbit would love all the steps–and as long as I could keep my glasses dry, I should be fine. It was just a drizzle, after all. So, I rode the elevator down and walked out the front door and walked over to 8th Avenue and headed downtown. It was, despite the slight drizzle, a lovely walk. I debated stopping for coffee along the way–I’d not had any (and it was actually rather delightful to not be so dependent on caffeine this trip as usual, and perhaps that’s why I had no issues sleeping?), but decided to wait till I got to Moynihan before getting coffee–what were the odds there wouldn’t be at least a Starbucks, if not a Dunkin’ Donuts, inside? I made good time, and was actually enjoying people watching as I made my way down 8th.

So, of course, about a block and a half from my final destination, the sky opened with a deluge worthy of a New Orleans street-flooding strength downpour. By the time I reached the train station I was completely soaked, but was also highly amused by it all. I had a three and a half hour train ride to Boston ahead of me, and I was really looking forward to getting back into the book I was reading–These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall, see the blog entry where I discussed how terrific the book was–and the Amtrak ride from New York to Boston is one of my favorite train trips–Connecticut is so scenic and beautiful, and the train hugs the coast most of the way, with spectacular views of bays and inlets and estuaries and boats and lovely homes. So I got my coffee, wiped off my head and glasses with napkins, and debated battling with my suitcase in the bathroom to get dry clothing–I decided against it eventually–and finally boarded my train and headed for one of my favorite cities that I never get to spend enough time in, Boston (I’ve always had an affinity for the city because I love history, and of course, Boston was pivotal in the American Revolution, and Johnny Tremain is set there, and I love that book). Alas, the scenery was perhaps not as spectacular along the route as it usually is; it rained and was gray and cloudy and overcast the entire way, and whenever I tried to take a picture by aiming my phone at the window, all I got was a gray photo of water beaded up on glass and nothing beyond, which was terribly disappointing. But this lack of ability to take great scenic photos enabled me to focus on the book, which I was absolutely loving (see blog entry from several days ago where I discuss the phenomenal novel at great length). It was raining in Boston when the train pulled into the station, and my wonderful friends were there to pick me up, and we headed for the Gardner Museum.

I could spend days in that museum, seriously. The building itself is breathtakingly beautiful–as are the Sargent portraits of Mrs. Gardner on display–and so much other amazing art: paintings and sculptures and tapestries; the Velazquez painting of Philip IV of Spain that is perhaps the most famous image of that sad Hapsburg king; everywhere you look there is a spectacularly beautiful piece of art. It’s overwhelming, and even more awe-inspiring perhaps than even the Uffizi in Florence–you expect the palaces and collections of European nobility and royalty to be spectacular; and to be sure, Mrs. Gardner’s home and collection pales in comparison to that of the Medici, but she was an American heiress…and even though she was fabulously wealthy, to me even the wealthiest of the robber barons pale in comparison to the sumptuous palazzos of the Renaissance Italians. But it’s still an impressive collection, if not a Medici one, and that’s why I think it’s more impressive. Mrs. Gardner was simply a wealthy woman, not a Renaissance lady or princess or queen. She couldn’t be expected to compete, and yet…the collection is exceptional and extraordinary, as was the woman herself.

And of course, as a crime writer, the robbery–the empty frames that once held Rembrandts brazenly stolen and yet to be recovered still on display–is also fascinating to me, particularly since I love treasure hunts.

I am forever grateful to my friends Stuart and Robbie for taking me there–and I plan to visit again sometime.

Crime Bake, the event put on jointly sponsored by the New England chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, was why I went to Boston in the first place, so Stuart and Robbie dropped me off in Dedham at my hotel (which was where the event was) and I got a lovely night’s sleep–again, a complete shock, but is it a mere coincidence that the coffee I had at the train station was the only cup I had that day?–and I got up early the next morning for the breakfast buffet and to start attending panels. When I said earlier that I’d forgotten how much I love listening to writers speak about writing, and books, and everything to do with being a writer, I was not kidding. I haven’t been to anything like Crime Bake since the Williams Festival in March 2019; I missed that year’s Bouchercon because I developed an inner ear infection and couldn’t fly. It was so inspirational. I listened to writers I admired and writers I wasn’t aware of, and was scribbling notes in my journal the entire day. It was marvelous! And inspiring. I’ve talked on here a lot about feeling disconnected from writing and publishing; part of it was not being around writers and listening to them talk about craft, what inspires them, how they work, how they develop and flesh out their ideas–the joys and heartaches and the Imposter Syndrome–because writing can be a very lonely business (it’s just you, the keyboard and the computer screen much of the time), and it’s nice to connect with others and realize we all go through the same thing, the same frustrations, the same heartaches and aggravations and joys.

Today I have a lot of catching up to do–what else is new?–and I am hoping to get some writing done around my work-at-home duties. Wish me luck, Constant Reader, and have a lovely Thursday!