It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

I cannot say I am not happy to see this past week end; for all intents and purposes, it was much more stressful than any week needs to be and equally disappointing. It was both tiresome and tiring; irritating, really, like an itchy rash that just won’t go away, frankly. By Tuesday night I was so exhausted already it felt like a Friday; and yet there were three more days yet to go and it never really got any better.

Begone, foul week! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I am so far behind on my emails now I may never dig my way out; that’s part of the plan for this weekend, at any rate; to try to get caught up on everything and make some progress. I had some stomach issues yesterday so I wound up staying home rather than heading to the office (the bathrooms aren’t close enough to my desk, and yes, I think you get the picture) so I spent most of the day recalibrating and doing some chores around the house and trying to get caught up on everything. But progress was made; I started getting my electronic files in the cloud better organized (which is quite a chore, I might add; one that is sort of mindless yet time-consuming in the worst way), and did some filing and so forth. There’s still quite a bit more to get done today, of course (isn’t there always?)  but I also want to get some writing done before the month slips away through my fingers. Ideally, I’d like to get a first draft of the Sherlock story finished as well as a revision of the one I’m revising for that anthology; and there’s another one I want to revise to send to the Bouchercon anthology. I’d also like to make some progress on the Secret Project, but that’s also predicated on my getting this short story work taken care of. I cannot believe how many stories I’ve started writing recently; it’s more than a little insane, methinks.

But then again, it seems pretty standard for my life–chaos, disorganization, and more chaos.

One would think I’d be used to it by now.

I also want to finish reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls today, if I can; so i can get started on Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One. I am moderating a panel with her, Elizabeth Little (Pretty as a Picture) and  Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake) at the Tennessee Williams Festival at the end of the month, and it’s always better to be prepared to discuss their latest works. Don’t worry, I’ll also be asking Lippman about My Life as a Villainess, her essay collection coming out later this year.

We watched another episode of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger last night. It’s a fun, twisty show, with a rather complicated narrative; I think it’s actually better than his last one, The Five. I am way behind on my Coben reading–so far behind I may never catch up–but I do enjoy that he writes suspense novels built around family/friend structures. I’m behind on everyone, so don’t feel special, Harlan! I am also way behind on my reading of Michael Koryta, Jeff Abbott, Stephen King, and any number of other white males; prioritizing diverse writers and women (and a year judging the Edgars) will do that to one, I suppose. I really wanted to read The Outsider (Stephen King) before watching the show; perhaps once I finish the Goodman and the Rader-Day I can move on to the King and we can finally watch the show. I’ve become rather an enormous fan of Jason Bateman, and really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

We also lose an hour tonight; the part of Daylight Savings Time that I really hate. But I do like having longer days; I like it still being light when I come home from work, or at least, the light fading into night rather than the velvety darkness of a winter nocturne. It’s a bright, sunny day out there today; I am debating whether I do want to go get the mail–it would be my only adventure out into the world today–and am thinking I might do it. I hate only going once in the week, but on the other hand I’m also not expecting any packages or anything urgent (read: a check) in the mail, either. But it looks like a lovely day outside–and perhaps I can do some scouting after I get the mail. We shall certainly see how I feel.

I think this morning I am going to read some more of the Goodman novel while I have my morning coffee, and then after a few hours of that I’ll decide whether I do, in fact, want to leave the house. (odds are I won’t, quite frankly. I know myself all too well)

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. May your Saturday be bright and happy and full of cheer.

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O Holy Night

The last day of 2018. I can hear the garbage trucks outside getting the trash, which means I’ve actually woken up at a relatively decent hour. Today is our annual lunch at Commander’s Palace with Jean and Gillian, which means very inexpensive martinis and all that entails. I also registered for Dallas Bouchercon yesterday and booked my hotel room. So much getting things done! I also worked on my technology issues yesterday–yes, they continue, Mojave is the stupidest thing Apple has ever done as an operating system–and have also been trying to update my phone, which doesn’t seem to be working. I really don’t want to have to get a new phone, but it seems as though this is what Apple is pushing me to do, which is infuriating.

But the desktop seems to be working the way it’s supposed to. Hmmm.

I read a lot of books last year, but I also judged for an award so I really can’t talk much  about any books that were actually released in 2018; which is unfortunate. I really enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (for a book not published in 2018). I also read a lot of short stories. The Short Story Project was originally inspired, and intended, for me to read a lot of short stories and work as kind of a master class for me as far as writing short stories are concerned. As a project, I originally began it in 2017, but didn’t get very far with it. As a result, I decided to give it another try in 2018 and was much more successful with the project. Not only was I reading short stories, I wrote a lot of them. Some of those stories were actually sold; “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, “The Silky Veils of Ardor” to The Beating of Black Wings, “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune, “Cold Beer No Flies” to Florida Happens, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to another anthology whose name is escaping me at the moment. I also pulled together a collection of previously published and new stories, which will be released in April of 2019 but will be available for Saints and Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I also wrote another Scotty (I really need to finish revising it), which will also be out in the new year I think but I don’t have a release date yet. That was pretty productive, and I also managed eight chapters of a young adult novel, the current WIP.

Not bad, coming from someone who wrote practically nothing in 2017. So, on that score, I am taking 2018 as a writing win.

I also edited the Bouchercon anthology for the second time, Florida Happens, and read a shit ton of short stories for that as well. I was very pleased with how that book turned out, in all honesty, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.

I also published my first ever Kindle Single, “Quiet Desperation,” and also finally got the ebook for Bourbon Street Blues up for Kindle. At some point I do hope to have a print edition for sale as well, but I am happy to have the ebook available. I also have to finish proofing Jackson Square Jazz so I can get that ebook up as well.

So, writing and publishing wise, 2018 was a good comeback of sorts; I managed to get back into the swing of writing again, and started producing publishable work, which was absolutely lovely. I started to say I got my confidence back, but that wouldn’t be true; I’ve never had much self-confidence when it comes to  my writing. I also started writing in journals again in 2017, which was enormously helpful in 2018. (I actually went through my most recent one last night–the one I am currently using–and found a lot of stuff that I thought I’d lost in the Great Data Disaster of 2018; things I shall simply need to retype and of course will back-up immediately.

Yesterday, while electronic equipment repaired itself and made itself usable again–we’ll see how usable it is as the days go by–I watched two movies–The Omega Man and Cabaret on Prime, as well as the documentary Gods of Football (I highly recommend this one for eye candy potential; it’s about the shooting of a calendar in Australia to raise money for breast cancer charities, starring professional rugby players in the nude, and yes, the eye candy is delectable). I watched a lot of good movies and television shows over the course of the year–The Haunting of Hill House and Schitt’s Creek probably the best television shows–so it was a very good year for that. (I have some thoughts on both The Omega Man and Cabaret, but will save those for another post at another time.)

I also got my first New Orleans Public Library card this past year, and began reading New Orleans histories, which were endlessly fascinating, which led me into another project, Monsters of New Orleans, which is another short story collection about what the title says, crime stories based on real cases in New Orleans but fictionalized. And there are an incredible amount of them. I read the introduction to Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous Murder Cases in New Orleans, and while I am aware that Tallant’s scholarship is questionable (I figured that out reading Voodoo in New Orleans), his books are always gossipy, which makes them perfect for New Orleans reading. What is real, what is true, and what is not is always something one has to wonder when reading anything about New Orleans history; some of it is legend, which is to be expected, and unprovable; some of it is very real and can be verified. Some of the stories in this collection, which I am going to work on, off and on, around other projects, will inevitably be complete fictions; but others will be based on true stories and/or legends of the city, like the Sultan’s Palace and Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau. It’s an exciting project, and the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspiration I get, not only for this project but for other Scotty books as well…which is a good thing, I was leaning towards ending the series with Royal Street Reveillon, but now that I’m finding stories that will work and keep the series fresh…there just may be a few more Scotty novels left in me yet.

My goal of losing weight and getting into better physical condition lasted for only a few months, and didn’t survive Carnival season–it was too hard to get to the gym during the parades, and between all the walking, passing out condoms, and standing at the corner, I was simply too exhausted to make it to the gym, and thus never made it back to the gym. I began 2018 weighing 228 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been, and have managed, through diet and portion control, to slim down to a consistent plateau of 213. This is actually pretty decent progress; not what I would have wanted to report at the end of 2018, but I am going to take it and put it into the win column, and we’ll see how 2019 turns out.

The day job also had some enormous changes; we moved out of the Frenchmen Street office, after being there since 2000 (I started working there in 2005) and into a new building on Elysian Fields. This also caused some upheaval and change in my life–I’m not fond of change–and it wasn’t perhaps the smoothest transition. But I’m getting used to it, and making the necessary adjustments in my life.

Now we are on the cusp to a new year. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about new goals for the new year. It is, of course, silly; it’s just another day and in the overall scheme of things, a new year really doesn’t mean anything is actually new; but we use this as a measure of marking time, and new beginnings. I’ve always thought that was rather silly; any day is a new day and a new beginning; why be controlled by the tyranny of the calendar and the societally created fiction of the new year?

But it is also convenient. If you set new goals every new year, you then have a way of measuring success and failure as it pertains to those goals. I am not as black-and-white as I used to be with goals–which is why I use goals instead of resolutions, as there is also a societal expectation that resolutions are made in order to not succeed–and a goal is merely that, a goal, and not something that is fixed in stone. The endgame we all are playing with these goals and resolutions is to effect change in our lives and make them, in theory at least, better. So, any progress on a goal is a way of making your life better.

I didn’t get an agent this year; that was on my list of goals yet again. I am not certain what my own endgame with the agent hunt is; I need to come up with a book idea that is commercially viable for an agent to want to represent, and that isn’t easy. Most of my book-writing decisions were made, not with an eye toward the commercial, but with an eye toward I want to see if I can write this story. Was that the smartest path to take as a writer? Perhaps not. I don’t know what’s commercial. The manuscript I was using to try to get an agent never worked as a cohesive story for me, and in this past year I finally realized why; I was trying to make a story into something it wasn’t. If I ever write what I was calling the WIP but is in reality ‘the Kansas book’, I have to write it as I originally intended it, not as what I am trying to make it into. And that’s something that is going to have to go onto the goal list for 2019.

On that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

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Diamonds and Pearls

Monday after Bouchercon.

It’s always lovely to sleep in my own bed; I have trouble sleeping when I travel so usually I am completely exhausted when I get home, and this trip was no exception. The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg is absolutely stunning; as Paul and I said to each other as we walked into our room, “This place is too nice for the likes of us.”

Our room had two balconies.

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The reason the image is a little blurry and not as sharp is because my camera lens kept fogging up every time I walked out there.

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Seriously, stunningly beautiful hotel. Paul was out at the pool every day and now has a tan on a par with the one we came back from Acapulco with twelve years ago. And oh, what fun was Bouchercon this year! I was a busy little bee making honey almost from the get go. And for someone who, no matter what, will always  be a fanboy…the first night we went to the Guest of Honor dinner, where I sat with Lawrence Block and Ian Rankin at my table–too starstruck to speak to either, frankly–but a lovely meal was had and I listened to some great conversation.

The next day, Thursday, I did the Coat of Many Colors event at nine in the morning with a Bloody Mary, and it was an absolutely lovely event, and a lot of fun. It’s rather fun always, methinks, to celebrate diversity in our genre as well as reminding people of terrific writers and books that may not have gotten the attention they should have. That day was also the anthology launch for Florida Happens, which entailed all the contributors present signing. I sat next to Debra Lattanzi Shutika, who was utterly and completely charming (you’ll love her story “Frozen Iguana,” people), and then came the big adventure.

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My friend Wendy had shattered her iPhone screen, and Paul and I had rented a car….so I offered to take her to the Apple Store.

In Tampa.

On the other side of the bay.

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So something simple–oh, let’s go get your phone fixed and have noodles for lunch–turned into a four hour adventure that probably should have ended with us being banned from Tampa, malls, healthy smoothy shops, and Targets for the rest of our lives. That night we ended up going out for dinner and having a lot of laughs and a lot of drinks (why did nobody ever tell me about the wonder that is a bleu-cheese stuffed olive in a dirty martini before?) we staggered back to the hotel to have more drinks and then I poured myself into bed. The beds at the Vinoy, by the way, just might be the most comfortable beds of all time.

Friday was my big day. Yes, not only did I have to be on three panels but I also ran for the Bouchercon board. The first panel was the sex panel, called “Nooner”, moderated by the divine Helen Smith, and my other panelists were the amazing Catriona McPherson, Heather Graham, Hilary Davidson, and the always hilarious and entertaining Christa Faust. The panel was smart, funny, fun….and I learned a few things.

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After that was the Bouchercon general election, and yes, I did win a three-year term on the Bouchercon board (although I am not certain “win” is the right word, KIDDING), which was absolutely lovely, and then I had to dash off to my next panel. I was moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony award finalists panel, with the amazing James Ziskin, Eryk Pruitt, Thomas Pluck, Lori Rader-Day (who won the award on Saturday night), and the always amazing Nadine Nettman. This was so much fun, even though the entire time I was up there I had flop sweat and kept checking my phone to see how much time was left, and didn’t relax until I knew there was only fifteen minutes to go. (I always feel like I fail as a moderator; always.)

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(Thanks to Catriona McPherson for not only keeping time, but for taking this terrific picture of us afterwords.)

Then came to the Rainbow Connection panel, moderated by Terri Bischoff, where I got to meet some new-to-me writers and it was a really great discussion. Absolutely great.

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Immediately after this, I ran and changed so Paul and I could be the plus-ones of our friends Wendy and Alison at the Harper Collins cocktail party. (And yes, we started drinking wine in Wendy and Alison’s room.) After ensuring I’ll never publish at Harper (but I got to meet Carol Goodman, a writer whose work I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time, and NOW I REALLY WANT TO BECAUSE SHE IS ABSOLUTELY LOVELY) I somehow invited myself along to a dinner, where I drank more wine, and then I went to a rooftop cocktail party I was invited to where I was surrounded by enormously talented and incredibly smart people whom I admire. I stumbled back into my room around three in the morning after drinking almost all the wine in Florida.

Saturday….I made a lot of bad decisions, thanks to the encouragement of some dear friends.

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Although…now I am questioning the use of the word friends.

I remember going to dinner, and drinking more there. (The dinner was terrific, and again, surrounded by incredibly smart and successful and talented people.) Then we returned to the hotel and things are kind of fuzzy after that.

But the trip home went incredibly smoothly so smoothly that I almost didn’t trust it. But a lovely time indeed it was, and I already miss it.

Next year in DALLAS.

(Apologies to whoever I stole these pictures from; I wind up never taking pictures at Bouchercon and having to lift them from Facebook and Twitter.)

Achy Breaky Heart

Monday, and only one more week until vacation and next week includes my departure to Bouchercon in St. Petersburg! Huzzah! I am really looking forward to this trip–you have no idea, Constant Reader. I am getting really excited.

I managed to focus and get two stories finished and revised and ready for submission, which I will do tonight after I get home from work.

I am still reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone and really enjoying it as it hits its stride. It’s going where I thought it was going to go–although I am completely at a loss as to who the killer is or why or how etc.–and I really like the character of Ellie Stone, which means I am going to have to add Ziskin’s series to my must-read list, which is always kind of fun; I love discovering new-to-me authors who are terrific at what they do.

We also are nearing completion of watching the second season of Kim’s Convenience, and I am going to be terribly sorry when it ends, to be honest. I’ve become very attached to the Kims, and the actors playing the roles. It’s honest and funny and heartfelt; one of the better sitcoms I’ve seen in a while. I am also impatiently awaiting the release of Season Three of Versailles to streaming services, but will settle for  continuing to watch The Musketeers in the meantime.

The next, and final, story in Florida Happens is Reed Farrel Coleman’s “The Ending.”

BIO: Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the noir poet laureate in the Huffington Post, Reed Farrel Coleman is the New York Times-bestselling author of thirty novels—including five in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series—short stories, poetry, and essays.

In addition to his acclaimed series characters, Moe Prager and Gus Murphy, he has written the stand-alone novel Gun Church and collaborated with decorated Irish crime writer Ken Bruen on the novel Tower.

Reed is a four time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories: Best Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Short Story. He is a four-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year. He has also won the Audie, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. He has been signed by film director Michael Mann to write the prequel novel to the movie Heat.

With their kids moved away to far off Brooklyn, Reed, his wife Rosanne, and their two Siamese cats, Cleo and Knish, live in the wilds of Suffolk County on Long Island.

His website can be found here.

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Everything ends. He couldn’t argue that. But what he had tried to say to her all those years ago was it wasn’t always about the end coming, but how the end came. How mattered. It mattered a lot. It mattered to him then and it mattered more to him now as he stepped off the Southwest flight and walked to the rental car bus at Palm Beach International. When she had ended it, there was more to his life than there was now. There was a family and a career. There was still a family of sorts, but his wife was dead and the kids were moved away. His career had morphed into golf, sad memories, and revenge fantasies. Currently, how she had ended it mattered more than anything had ever mattered.

At the counter, the pretty young blond with impatient blue eyes asked if he wanted a free upgrade to a midsize car. It hit him, hit him hard so that the wind almost emptied from his papery old man lungs. Except for what he and Marlene had done for those ten years, he had always operated in a very narrow bandwidth. His life had been a midsize car. 

“You got a Corvette convertible?” he asked, barely believing the voice he heard was his own. “Red or yellow, something fast and sleek that makes a statement?”

The blond, her long silver-painted nails clicking on the keyboard, smiled at him in a way that made his blood run cold. Another old man looking for excitement on his way to the grave. But he hadn’t come here for her. Their ending would come as soon as she handed him the little paper binder and the keys.

“Yes, we have a red Corvette convertible. It’s in spot A12,” she said.

He didn’t pay much attention after that, wasn’t sure what insurance coverages he had agreed or not agreed to, wasn’t sure which gas option he’d taken. All that mattered was the red car in spot A12. The rest of his life, no matter how short, would no longer be easy to measure in bandwidth nor would he ever think of his life again as a midsize car.

“The Ending” is a melancholy story about how a man reacts to the end of an affair; an affair that was much more important to him than he realized until it was over. Coleman is a terrific write,r and this vignette really comes to life in his capable hands; once I read it, I knew it had to be the final story in the collection–so it could have a big finish.

I hope y’all have enjoyed my journey through the stories in Florida Happens as much as I enjoyed revisiting the stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Black or White

Sunday morning. Seriously, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday; no writing, no reading, very little cleaning, no trip to the gym.

Nothing.

I also overslept this morning. I didn’t wake up until after ten, which is completely inexcusable. I went to bed early last night (my bedside reading is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King, and it is riveting. We so frequently (deliberately?) forget just how awful our society was before the Civil Rights movement (awful as things can be now, sadly it was much worse back then),  that this book, and others about the Jim Crow south, should be required reading for all Americans…not that the racists would take anything profound away from it. Isn’t that always the problem? The people who should read a book are precisely the people who would never read it.

Today I may or may not make it to the gym–you never know, but sleeping so late has kind of thrown me off my gameplan (which is the problem with being so anal retentive/borderline OCD; when the plan gets thrown off I generally surrender and don’t try to make any of it work), so in a moment, after finishing my last cup of coffee for the day (I don’t drink coffee after noon; or rather, don’t make a cup in the Keurig after twelve) I am going to start reading “A Whisper from the Graveyard” out loud, followed by reading “This Thing of Darkness” out loud, and possibly “The Problem with Autofill”; I think I’ve found a place for it to be published (or at the very least, considered for publication). I also came across another place to submit a story; they are looking for historical crime stories…of which I have none, and might possibly mean having to write a new one. I might be able to find one that is in progress somewhere that might work…I have some stories set in the past but I also don’t know what they mean by historical crime. Does it have to be in the distant past, or can it be in the recent past, as I have some stories set in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. Of course, I could email them and ask for a more precise explanation of historical. It might even be fun to try to write something very far back in the past, like during the time of Catherine de Medici, or Michelangelo.

Which of course means I could play around writing notes in my journal, which is always kind of fun.

The next story in Florida Happens is “When Agnes Left Her House,” by Patricia Abbott.

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 125 stories that have appeared online, in print journals and in various anthologies. She is the author of two print novels Concrete Angel (2015) and Shot in Detroit (2016)(Polis Books). Concrete Angel was nominated for an Anthony and Macavity Award in 2016. Shot in Detroit was nominated for an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award in 2017. A collection of her storiesI Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgression was released earlier this year.

She also authored two ebooks, Monkey Justice and Home Invasion and co-edited Discount Noir She won a Derringer award for her story “My Hero.” She lives outside Detroit. You can find her blog here.

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“When Agnes Left Her House” by Patricia Abbott

When Agnes left her house, she picked her moment carefully. Only the greenhorn oil trucker battling the steep road coiling around her house might have caught a flash of red gingham in his mirror.  He did not.

As she crossed the fields lying between the house and Haycock, her resolve hardened. A walk turned into a trot, and then into a sprint, as she moved as fast as she could toting Henry’s old track bag. She wasn’t sure where she was headed, having seldom been south of Lancaster and never east of Smoketown.

The boys would be home from school in a few hours and find the kitchen table scrubbed clean but no snacks laid out. Had there been a day in the last eighteen years when she hadn’t baked cookies or brownies, made popcorn, or cored apples? And dinner was usually half-made by one o’clock, the smell of soup or a stew welcoming their return. Today not a single pot sat on the stove and the oven was cold. The only sign of tonight’s dinner was the chicken in the fridge, lemon and thyme sprigs resting inside and garlic tucked under the skin. She’d prepared it before the idea of escape overtook her.  

 Last night’s words with Henry rankled until taking off seemed like the only sane course of action. Sane—that word was ping-ponged across the kitchen table in a battle lasting until three a.m. She’d successfully ducked the back of his hand and his reach for her hair, loosened in the struggle. Swinging wildly, he caught his foot on the table leg and fell hard. By the time he stood up, she’d locked him out of their bedroom. That was the last she saw of him. Surely, the kids had overheard some of their scuffle. She blushed with shame.

This story is a gem. Married to an abuser, and mother of five young sons, Agnes packs a bag and goes on the road, running away from her life. Florida is her final destination, and Abbott offers no sentimentality about how Agnes gets there and what she has to do to survive. It’s a shocking story in some ways, but utterly realistic and honest and painful to read. Women like Agnes–there’s not really any answer for them in our society, and her descent is terrible to read about….and yet never once does she think it would be better to head back home to her family. And there’s a lovely twist at the end. Stunning and brilliant.

And now, to read some of my own stories aloud.

I’m Too Sexy

How lovely to wake up to a terrific review of Florida Happens on the Mystery Scene website! You can read it here.

Huzzah!

I have to say I am very proud of this anthology, but even prouder that my story “Cold Beer No Flies” was also singled out for praise, which is lovely. As Constant Reader is aware, I don’t have a lot of confidence when it comes to my short stories, so those rare occasions when they get mentioned by reviewers is always a treat for me. (Which reminds me, I need to work on some this weekend. Sigh.)

It’s been a long week; I had trouble sleeping in the middle of the week but bounced back really nicely in the latter part of the week. Last night’s sleep was wonderful, long-lasting and deep and relaxing; I am still in sort of a rest-coma this morning. My kitchen is a mess–and something will have to be done about that sooner rather than later–and other than a social obligation today and a couple of errands that must be run (mail, prescriptions) the rest of the day is mine to do with as I please. The clock is running out on my Bouchercon homework, so I am going to need to curl up with James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone in order to have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before Bouchercon, so I am prepared to discuss their books with the fine panelists on the Best Paperback Original panel. I also booked my rental car and paid for the  early check-in on Southwest–which apparently now is automatic; you don’t have to do anything and it checks you in thirty-six hours before your flight, which is actually kind of lovely. I need to read “A Whisper from the Graveyard and “This Thing of Darkness” aloud this weekend, and I want to start working on the revision of Royal Street Reveillon which I’ve been avoiding all month (now that the month is almost over, sigh).

So. Much. To. Do.

We started watching Kim’s Convenience last night, which is, simply put, a very endearing and funny show about a Korean family–the Kims–who own a convenience store in Toronto. I was worried, of course, that the show might deal in stereotypes, but the family dynamic and the relationships between the characters is very complex, and underlying it all is a deep sweetness; there is more to the Kims than you think at first, and the show is actually funny but not at the expense of the characters. Of course, I’m not Korean, so I can’t speak to its authenticity or to its not being offensive, but Paul and I are both really enjoying it. And Jung–the son who is estranged from his father for being a bit of a juvenile delinquent when a teen, even serving time in juvie–is sexy.  I highly recommend it.

The next story in Florida Happens is  “Frontier Justice” by John Floyd.

John Floyd’s work has appeared in more than 250 different publications, including Strand MagazineAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineEllery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, Mississippi Noir, and The Saturday Evening Post. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he is also a three-time Derringer Award winner, an Edgar Award finalist, and a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. One of John’s stories appeared in the 2015 edition of Best American Mystery Stories, and another is forthcoming in the 2018 edition.

John is also the author of six books: Rainbow’s End, Midnight, Clockwork, Deception, Fifty Mysteries, and Dreamland.

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The car was waiting in the alley, with Eddie Stark at the wheel and half a dozen cigarette butts littering the pavement below the driver’s-side door. Eddie had flipped a seventh out the open window and exhaled a lungful of smoke when he saw Charlotte Baxter stroll around the corner and head in his direction. Even from a distance, Baxter’s face looked as calm as always. Eddie Stark’s was sweating.

Baxter climbed in, set a thick brown attache case on the seat between them, and peeled off her honey-colored wig. She also took off a pair of glasses and removed two wads of cotton from inside her cheeks. Eddie hefted the case up and over into the back seat. It didn’t feel as heavy as it had been, twenty minutes ago, and he knew why: half its contents had been left in the building across the street.

With trembling hands Eddie started the engine and steered the big Lincoln out of the alley and into the downtown Tallahassee traffic. Finally he turned to look at Baxter.

“How’d it go?”

“Fine.” Baxter leaned back and closed her eyes. “Mission accomplished, package delivered.”

“Sure nobody recognized you?”

“Would you have recognized me? What they saw was a blonde with a chubby face.”

John Floyd is one of our best short story writers; I first met him at the Edgar Symposium several years ago when he was on a panel I moderated. He was nominated for the Edgar for Best Short Story for “The Ledge,” which I thought was simply brilliant. His work has been nominated and/or won many awards, and I am always excited to read a new story from him. He contributed a great story to Blood on the Bayou, “The Blue Delta,” and I am more than thrilled to have “Frontier Justice” in Florida Happens.

“Frontier Justice” is about a heroin ring’s decision to kill the investigating district attorneys by planting a bomb in their office. Charlotte Baxter, as seen in the opening excerpt, is the woman they hired to blend in and plant the bomb. But as always with a Floyd story, there’s more going on beneath the surface than is readily apparent to the reader, and the way the story flips on itself in the closing pages shows just how much mastery Floyd has over the form.

And now, back to the spice mines.

To Be With You

So, I slept really deeply and well last night, so I am feeling very well rested this morning. I know, my sleep chronicles are probably horrifyingly boring, but it really does affect how my day goes, and how much I can write and get done every day. Yesterday I was so tired I couldn’t focus on anything, and was borderline crabby all day. I don’t think that will be the case today. Huzzah!

I’ve also noticed that being tired triggers depression in me, which is not a good thing. Depression is so fucking hideous and self-defeating…just awful.

I finally finished the second draft of “A Whisper from the Graveyard” last night, which was kind of cool. It’s taking shape, perhaps another draft and maybe a read-aloud this weekend and it might be ready to go. This is an enormous relief, as I feel like I am getting nothing done these days. Of course, I also had a ridiculously productive first half of the year. The second half of the story seemed to be okay, much more okay than the first half, but we shall see when I read it aloud this weekend how much work  it needs. I tried to work on two other stories yesterday–“Once a Tiger” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”–but I realized part of the problem I’m having  with “Once a Tiger” is because I don’t really understand the motivations of the characters, so I need to brainstorm that story a little bit more before trying to finish it, and since “Never Kiss a Stranger” is going to be a longer story–almost novella length–I need to structure it and plan it out a little better. I know how the story is going to end, but there’s another part of the story I really need to work on.

And I’ve got to get back on track. I need to finish my Bouchercon homework and organize thoughts and questions for that panel; it’s my first time moderating at Bouchercon and I want to do a good job so the audience feels they got their money’s worth. I have great panelists though, so i think it will be a lively and fun discussion.

The next story in Florida Happens is Michael Wiley’s “Winner.”

Michael’s most recent novel is Monument Road, about an exonerated death-row inmate investigating the crime that sent him to prison. He also writes the Daniel Turner Thriller series (Blue AvenueSecond SkinBlack Hammock) and the Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarski Private Detective series (A Bad Night’s SleepThe Bad Kitty LoungeLast Striptease). He is a frequent book reviewer and an occasional writer of journalism, critical books, and essays.

Michael grew up in Chicago and lived and worked in the neighborhoods and on the streets where he sets his Kozmarski mysteries. He teaches literature at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville—the setting of Monument Road and the Daniel Turner stories.

Visit his website here.

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When Missy Denners walked back into her house, she left the suitcase of money in her car trunk. Security cameras had recorded her in the Omni Hotel lobby. More cameras recorded her getting off the elevator with Marcel Beauvien at the fifth floor and getting back on without him. She figured she had an hour or so before the police connected her to his death.

Upstairs she found a duffel bag on a closet shelf and put in two changes of clothes. She wrapped a t-shirt around her pistol and put it in too. She dug her passport out of a desk drawer and assembled a kit of toiletries.

National Junior Waterskiing Champion at age sixteen, married at nineteen, widowed at twenty-two when her husband Tom made a dumbass deal with Beauvien and then didn’t come through with the cash, Missy knew her ups and her downs, the ecstasy and the agony. She called herself a Florida Girl to anyone who asked, though she lived in Jacksonville, which was to Florida what Detroit was to the beaches and northern woods of Michigan. Thing was, she pulled it off. No light seemed to shine brighter than the brilliant spray from her ski as she blasted through the first pair of red gate buoys, whooping like a wild thing, her hair banded in a ponytail, her teeth glinting.

Now, in the bedroom, she lay down on the bed she’d shared for three years with Tom. She felt no regret for shooting Beauvien. She wanted what she lost, that was all. She hated to lose. For a moment she thought of climbing under the bed covers, shutting her eyes, and trying to dream herself back into her former life. Instead, she made a mental list. Clothes, passport, toothbrush. What else might she need? She went downstairs to the garage and found a screwdriver and pliers.

This is a terrific story, and the character of Missy is perfectly drawn, with all her foibles and thoughts and motivations, and her likability, despite her flaws and faults, are what drive this story of revenge and escape and survival; Missy is a former champion athlete and she’s always been a winner–and her push to always be a champion plays out beautifully throughout the story and especially makes the ending absolutely spot on. I’d actually love to read more about Missy; I hope Michael considers making her the main character of a novel sometime.

And now, back to the spice mines.

I Love Your Smile

I’m tired this morning.

Yeah, I know. Same old same old for one now officially fifty-seven year old Gregalicious. Bouchercon looms on the horizon and I still need to read two more books to be up to speed on my Best Paperback Original Anthony panel; and I have a lot of writing and editing to do before I leave so I can go with a clear conscience and not do a fucking thing while I am in St. Petersburg.

I really can’t wait for that week off…

A mild cold front passed through overnight, so today is hot and sunny but not humid. Which is lovely, and has helped my mood. I had a bit of a sinus headache this morning, actually, because of the dramatic shift in the barometric pressure, and wound up having to take a Claritin, which I haven’t had to do as much this summer.

Heavy heaving sigh.

The next story in Florida Happens is Brendan DuBois’ “Breakdown.”

BIO: Award winning mystery/suspense author Brendan DuBois is a former newspaper reporter and a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife Mona, their hell-raising cat Bailey, and one happy English Springer Spaniel named Spencer. He is also a one-time “Jeopardy!” game show champion, and is also a winner of the game show “The Chase.” He has published over twenty novels, and  has had more than 120 short stories published in such magazines as Playboy, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as in numerous original short fiction anthologies. In 1995, one of his short stories — “The Necessary Brother” — won the Shamus Award for Best Short Story of the Year from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the PWA also awarded him the Shamus in 2001 for his short story, “The Road’s End.” He has also been nominated three times — most recently in 1997 — for an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his short fiction. One of his short stories in 1997 was also nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Mystery Short Story of the Year. In 2010, the readers of Deadly Pleasures and Mystery News awarded him the Barry Award, for Best Mystery Short Story of the Year, for his story “The High House Writer,” which was published in the July/August 2009 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also won the Barry Award in 2007 for for his story “The Right Call,” which appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In 2005, he received the Al Blanchard Crime Fiction Award for Best Short Crime Fiction Story at the fourth annual New England Crime Bake, a mystery convention organized by the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. This short story, “The Road’s End,” appeared in the Windchill crime anthology, published by Level Best Books.

His short stories have also been extensively anthologized, including the 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1995 editions of The Year’s Best Mystery & Suspense Stories, published by Walker Books, as well as the 1995 and 1997 editions of Year’s 25 Best Mystery Short Stories and the 1997, 1999, 2001 and the 2003 editions of Best American Mystery Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin. In addition, his short fiction has also been reprinted in the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 editions of The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, published by Forge.

An anthology of his short fiction, The Dark Snow and other Mysteries, was published in 2001 by Crippen & Landru press of Virginia. This was followed by a second anthology, Tales from the Dark Woods, published by Five Star.

His stories have also appeared in two short story anthologies published in Germany as well as in South Africa and Japan.

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Visit his website here.

“Breakdown” by Brendan DuBois

It had been a long, long time since Ruth Callaghan had suffered a flat tire while driving, so it came as a bit of a surprise when it happened.  She wasn’t familiar with the Toyota Rav 4 she was driving, and so when the tire let loose, instantly there was a heavy vibration in the steering wheel and the car, which had been driving smooth and fair, was now lurching to the right.

She slowed and pulled the Toyota over to the side of the road.  She checked her watch, and also checked the Rav’s dashboard clock.

Both said the same thing.  She had about forty-five minutes to go before she had to make her appointment.

Not forty-four.  Not forty-six.

Forty-five.

Ruth got out of the car and went to the rear.  The right rear tire certainly was flat.

“Damn.”  She wiped at the back of her neck.  It was hot.  It was incredibly hot.

She looked around at her surroundings.   She was outside of Miami, in a wooded and flat area that had seen better times, just like the old industrial sections she had earlier driven through.  Decades ago those factories had made comfortable livings for hundreds of families.  Now, they were broken, shattered, making comfortable homes only for the homeless or rogue animals living out in the wild Florida landscape.

Like one of her instructors had said, years back, systems break down if they aren’t carefully cherished and maintained.

Breakdown.

The thing I love about Brendan’s stories is you never are quite sure where they are going; he is a master of misdirection and always manages to lead the reader down the wrong path and BAM! There’s a surprise twist–but they are never out of place, and once you’ve arrived at the twist, when you look back you can see exactly how the twist was foreshadowed all along. “Breakdown” is a terrific story, about a woman on her way to an appointment who blows a tire in front of a strange house and has to change it so she can make it on time. As she works on the tire, she observes some strange behavior at the house by its inhabitants–she’s even snapped at by one of them in an incredibly rude way–and then the story changes direction and delivers a terrific pay-off.

And now back to the spice mines.

Just Another Day

So, the Saints have added a male Saintsation this year, which pleases me to no end. And of course, he’s been targeted by trash on-line; you know, the ‘keyboard warriors’ who insult and tear into total strangers from behind the safety of their computers. I am looking forward to watching Jesse perform this season, as well as the two men who are performing with the Rams. I was a cheerleader in college, and know all too well the abuse you can get from other men (and some women) for putting yourself out there. I enjoyed every moment of cheering, and that trash would have called me fag even if I wasn’t a cheerleader.

And I’d still like to see any of them try to do a string of back handsprings.

Both Animal Kingdom and Sharp Objects continue to enthrall us; both are coming to their inevitable season finales soon, but hopefully all the other shows we enjoy watching will be airing again by then; there are also some other shows I’d like to watch currently on Netflix. I watched To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or whatever it’s name was the other night; it was adorable and sweet, if a bit predictable. But it was great seeing a young Asian-American girl in the Molly Ringwold role for a change; I also enjoyed seeing her family dynamic. I imagine the film is going to draw the inevitable haters, as such things are wont to do; but I love this new trend of representation of characters without making a big deal about it. I am, of course, conditioned to notice the minority characters–as are we all, really–but representation does  matter, and presenting it like it’s not a big deal is the best way  to go because it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I hope and pray future generations will see it that way and won’t notice.

Next up for Florida Happens is Alex Segura’s “Quarters for the Meter.”

Alex Segura is the author of the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery novels, which include Silent CityDown the Darkest StreetDangerous Ends, and Blackout, all via Polis Books. Blackout was listed as one of the most anticipated mystery novels of 2018 by CrimeReads, MysteryPeople and Bookbub, and included in The Boston Globe’s Summer Reading List.

He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed Archie Meets Kiss storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story, and the Archies Meet The Ramones one-shot and The Archies ongoing series.

Alex will be co-writing Lethal Lit, a new fictional crime podcast launching this fall from iHeart Media.

His work has appeared in the anthologies Protectors 2, Waiting To Be Forgotten:  SStories of Crime and Heartbreak Inspired by the Replacements, Unloaded 2, Apollo’s Daughters, and Florida Happens,  the Bouchercon 2018 anthology, and in publications including The Daily Beast, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Strand, Mental Floss, LitReactor, and more.

A Miami native, he lives in New York with his wife and son. Check out his website here.

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I had this weird dream,” Pete Fernandez said. “I was in a boat, but there weren’t any paddles.”

“That is weird,” Mike said, sipping his Heineken. The jukebox was playing Waits. The Bar—a grungy gastropub located in the heart of Coral Gables—was mostly empty. It was just past six in the evening. They were in a booth a few steps away from the main bar area.

“That’s not all of it,” Pete said. He took a sip of his drink—a vodka soda—before continuing. “But then my dad showed up. He was standing in front of the boat.”

“On the water?”

“Yeah,” Pete said. The thought of his dad put a clench in his throat. It’d been only a few months since they had to put the old man in the ground, forcing Pete and his fiancé Emily to return to Miami from their home in New Jersey. “He was just standing there. Looking at me.”

“What’d you do?”

The question hung over them for a moment. The bartender, a fit blonde named Lisa, nodded at Pete politely as she walked by. He’d been back in Miami for less than six months, and he already felt unhinged.

Emily.

She had left a few days ago. He was living in his father’s house and he was pretty sure the only reason Mike, his best friend, was tolerating him tonight was because he was worried Pete couldn’t last very long alone.

“Nothing,” Pete said. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Mike he’d woken up to find his pillow wet from tears.

This is a terrific story, from beginning to end; a kind of crime slice-of-life tale that made me hungry to read more of Alex’s work. I have the ebook of the first Pete Fernandez novel, and an ARC of the most recent one, and haven’t managed to get to either as of yet. Pete and his buddy are having a couple of drinks in a bar at the end of their workday, which just happens to be when some masked bandits rush in to rob the place. The rest of the story details what happens during the robbery and how the two of them manage to avert a tragedy; and the closing line is pitch perfect.

And now, back to the spice mines.

All 4 Love

So, yes, it’s my birthday. I took the day off from work and am staying home for the most part. But I do have to go to Costco AND the grocery store today; living large, right? This might be my wildest birthday ever! (Sarcasm.)

I mean, do I know how to celebrate a birthday or what?

But this is the fifty-seventh, and I wasn’t really raised to be overly sentimental about birthdays; I’ve never really made a big deal out of mine, and now all it really is, is simply an excuse to take a day off from the office. I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I would have liked; yesterday was lovely–I don’t think I went outside even once, which to me is of course a lovely lovely day.

I really  do want to become a recluse. I remember someone asked me on a panel once to describe what my dream success would be, and I replied, to make enough money to  not only not have to have a day job but to be able to pay someone to run my errands for me so I’d only have to leave the house to go to the gym.

Is that really so much to ask? Apparently. Ah, well.

I hope to do some writing today as well. We shall see how that goes.

Next up in Florida Happens is Neil Plakcy’s “Southernmost Point.”

Neil S. Plakcy is a U.S. writer whose works range from mystery to romance to anthologies and collections of gay erotica. He has twice been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men’s Mystery Novel.

Plakcy began his professional publishing career with the first of his Hawaiian mysteries, Mahu, acquired and edited for Haworth Press by mystery author Greg Herren. With the second book in the series, Mahu Surfer, Plakcy moved to Alyson Books, which continued the series with Mahu Fire and Mahu Vice, and published their own edition of Mahu in 2009. After the close of Alyson, MLR Books picked up the series, publishing new editions of the first three and then continuing the series.

Plakcy and long-time friend Sharon Sakson co-edited a collection of stories by gay men about their experiences with their dogs, entitled Paws and Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog. A frequent contributor to gay anthologies, Plakcy has also edited numerous collections of gay erotica.

With the publication of GayLife.com in 2009, Plakcy entered the M/M romance genre, basing the book on his own experiences in software and web development and his familiarity with Miami Beach.

Plakcy has been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award three times: twice in gay mystery, and once in gay romance. He won the “Hawaii Five-O” award given by attendees at the Left Coast Crime fan conference and his work has been enthusiastically reviewed by mainstream and specialty publications as well as by many fans.

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It started with a selfie, and the drag queen who photo-bombed my boyfriend Lester and me.

Lester represents single-batch whiskeys, based out of Fort Lauderdale, where we both live. His region extends all the way to Key West, and one weekend in January he had a couple of promotions set up at bars on Duval Street, in the center of the entertainment district. I had a couple of days’ vacation coming to me from the FBI, where I work as a Special Agent attached to the Violent Crimes Task Force, so I took them and went along for the ride.

And a beautiful ride it was, once we ran out of highway, then cleared the urban congestion of Key Largo. All of a sudden there was water on both sides of the road, the dark blue-green of the Atlantic to our left, the lighter green of the Gulf of Mexico to the right. The long emptiness of the Seven Mile Bridge was liberating, even with the skeleton of the old railroad bridge beside us.

We made it to Key West late on Sunday afternoon, and after we checked into a bed-and-breakfast on Duval Street, we rented bikes and cycled over to the Southernmost Point, a big marker striped in yellow, orange and black that indicated we’d reached as far as you can go on the US mainland.

“Imagine living down here,” Lester said. “Only ninety miles to Cuba, and nearly twice that back to Miami.”

“I think there’s a kind of person who likes to live at the edge,” I said. “So far from everything else. Like you can leave all the troubles you had wherever behind you and kick back with a margarita and a pair of flip-flops.”

“Thank you, Jimmy Buffett,” Lester said. “Come on, let’s get a picture of us with the marker in the background.”

This is a fun, suspenseful tale about, interestingly enough, what happens when you get photobombed by a stranger and post the picture on social media; a sly commentary, really, about how social media has reduced the size of the world and shows us, sometimes daily, how many degrees of separation we really are all from each other–which isn’t as separated as one might think. Neil does a deft job of keeping the action moving, as well as developing his vacationing gay male couple with just a few quick lines here and there, and their relationship as well through the couple-dialogue speak they share. It’s a fun story, with lots of Key West color, and I’m very glad to have it in the book.

And now, off to the spice mines.