Live and Learn

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

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

Something to ponder, at any rate.

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

bad boy boogie

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

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

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

Men who needed killing.

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

And she’d been right.

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

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

This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cast the first stone

Monday, February 5, 1962

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

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

I surely blushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally

Saturday morning, and my ten day vacation from work began last night at around eight thirty, when I got in my car to drive home from passing out condoms all evening. It was a rather long day– I had to work at the main office first for several hours before heading down to the Quarter–and I was physically sore and exhausted and sweaty and crabby as fuck when I got in the car to come home. Once home I took a shower, relaxed, had some wine, and watched the US Open until it was time to go to sleep. I slept deeply and well; clearly, the shower made a significant difference in how this all played out for this morning. I have some errands to run today–groceries, mail, getting the big suitcase out of storage for the trip to St. Petersburg–and I have to do some writing for a website. I want to clean the house–make some progress, at any rate; I like to leave the house very clean when I go on a trip so I don’t have to come home to a dirty house–and I think I am going to try to just read the Scotty manuscript and make notes while the US Open is on. The second season of Ozark also became available last night on Netflix, and I’m really looking forward to seeing if the show can maintain its high level of quality for a second season. I also want to finish reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone so I can start reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, and then my Bouchercon homework is done.

Huzzah!

And the LSU game isn’t until tomorrow night, so I may watch some college football–toggling back and forth between college football and the US Open (I still can’t believe it’s football season) while reading in my easy chair. I probably won’t be posting much, if at all, while I am in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. I do have the WordPress app on my iPad (I don’t bother with my MacBook Air anymore; while I do love my Apple products as a general rule,  I regret buying the Air. I really need to take it into the Apple Store and have them fix some nonsensical things that I don’t understand are wrong with it) but I am not a huge fan of writing on the iPad. Maybe that will change. I did buy the keyboard for it, but I’ve never really had to write on it very much. Who knows–maybe in St. Pete I’ll discover that I love writing on it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Maybe I could try practicing on it here this weekend before I leave on Wednesday? You never know. It’s really about getting used to it because it’s very different from writing on a desktop.

And when I get back I can get back to the Short Story Project! HUZZAH!

I still would like to get the Scotty revision finished by the end of September; and I think if I can focus and buckle down and really stick to it, it’s a definite possibility. And then I can finally get back to the WIP to make the changes it needs before heading back out into the world in search of an agent. I also want to at least get started on Bury Me in Satin by the end of the year; I’d hoped to be finished with it at the end of the year but I really don’t think that’s going to be happening any time soon, either. It’s a great idea, and I think I can do some great things with it, and while I am doing all of this I am going to start researching New Orleans history as I continue to think about writing another, different series. (And once Bury Me in Satin is finished, I hope to start working on Muscles, my long-planned noir.)

And on that note, it’s time to get going on my day. Have a lovely Saturday, everybody

37999991_1901637030130531_6205429471508430848_n

Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

37974616_1901683620125872_4497797199568044032_n

November Rain

So, I submitted two stories this week. Pretty cool, huh? One was “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” which was commissioned for an anthology (hope they like it!) and the other was “The Problem with Autofill,” which has already been rejected twice and this might be it’s final gasp. I also revised it again, and catching the mistakes and making some other things more clear in this version kind of also made me think, oh, well, there’s why it was rejected. I like the story a lot–I like both stories, honestly–and so we will see. I don’t know this new market I submitted it to, but nothing ventured and all that. And this morning that new market emailed me that they received the story.

If that wasn’t a breath of fresh air, I don’t know what is.

After today and tomorrow my vacation for Bouchercon begins, even though we don’t leave until Wednesday morning. Monday is, of course, a holiday, so I didn’t see any point in working on Tuesday and then being off again the next day. This way, I can also ease into my vacation, clean the house thoroughly, run errands, pack, and get everything in order the way it should be in order before we leave for St. Petersburg. I am looking forward to Bouchercon, but am also really looking forward to having the time away from work to recharge. My confidence in my writing–which is always an ebb and flow kind of thing–has been kind of low lately, so it will be lovely to be around other writers and readers for a lengthy weekend so I can reconnect with my writer self. I can’t believe August just flew past the way it did, and I got so very little done. Heavy heaving sigh. I am going to take the Scotty manuscript with me to St. Petersburg–yes, pretending that I’ll have the time to look at it and/or work on it–but there’s always the plane.

I also haven’t had the energy to read, either, and I am running out of time to get the books I need to read for my Bouchercon moderating panel finished. AIEEEEEEE!

Again, you see why I need to take all this time away from the office.

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

47ec4d7b7c1b08598dcbec5cdf11aa87

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.

NewHeadshot-200x300

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.

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.

static1.squarespace

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.

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

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

Hurray?

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

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

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

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

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

14202596_1047853868643773_8296512636233446912_n

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

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

Writing Mysteries was not my first career or my second.

Life’s journey meanders.

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

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

And here’s the opening to her story:

~Saturday 2 p.m. – The Funeral

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

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

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

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

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

He thought wrong.

Excellent opening, no?

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

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

I’ll Be Over You

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment. I have work to do, errands to run, an apartment to clean, and weights to lift. And rather than getting started on any of it this morning, I am rather sitting in my chair, swilling coffee, and wasting time on the Internet.

Meh, it happens.

Today I am going to spend some time writing, and reading–I want to get further along in Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon (#boucherconhomework) and last night I had an absolutely brilliant idea of how to structure that panel. Mwa-ha-ha. The panelists may not think it’s brilliant, but do, and am in charge.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

This is going to be fun.

Next up in the Florida Happens anthology is a story by Debra Lattanzi Shutika. From her website:

“Hello, I’m Debra Lattanzi Shutika, author of Beyond the Borderlands: Migration and Belonging in the United States and Mexico (2011, University of California Press), an ethnography that explores the lives of Mexican immigrants and their American neighbors in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and the transformation of their home community in Mexico.  Beyond the Borderlands is the winner of the 2012 Chicago Folklore Prize.

I direct the Field School for Cultural Documentation, a collaborative project with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  The Field School has completed eight community-based documentation projects, including the occupational culture of Arlington National Cemetery, two years in the Columbia Pike neighborhood in Arlington, VA (2011-12) the Alexandria Waterfront (2014), Arlington County Community Gardens in 2016 & 2017. We have also held two residential field schools in West Virginia. One in Morgan County in 2012 and most recently in the West Virginia Coalfields in 2018.

I also write fiction. My short story “Frozen Iguana” will appear in the 2018 Bouchercon anthology Florida Happens, and “Mirrors” appeared in Richard Peabody’s Abundant Grace: The Seventh Collection of Fiction by D.C. Area Women.  I’m revising a novel, The Other Kate, a mystery about postmodern changelings.

My current academic projects include a book-length ethnography about a documentation project with the National Park Service on the 50th Anniversary of Summers in the Parks.

I teach Folklore, ethnographic writing and ethnographic research methods at George Mason University.”

Her website is here.

debra lattanzi shutika

And here is how “Frozen Iguana” opens:

Thunk

Jimmy turned off the water and stood in the shower, shivering.

Thunk

Thunk, thunk thunk.

He looked up at the ceiling tile expecting a dent from the last—

Thunk

He wrapped a towel around his waist and eased out of the steamy bathroom, the trailer floor creaking with every step.

Jimmy pulled the blinds back from the front door window. The thermometer read 36 degrees, the sixth day of the Florida freeze. The iguanas had started to fall out of the trees like junkies after a hit. Across the way a car door slammed. At midnight, Jimmy watched his neighbor Kate, wearing her scrubs, her auburn hair tied back in a ponytail, hop down from her truck and head for her trailer. For the next hour, he made the pilgrimage to the window to watch the comings and goings of the park. Three and a half Buds later, Jimmy fell asleep for the night on the couch.

There is nothing more annoying that the repetitive sound of frozen iguanas hitting the roof of your trailer, with the possible exception of a man hammering at your neighbor’s door. Jimmy stumbled out of bed and looked outside. It was six in the morning and there was a cop. At Kate’s door.

As the unofficial mayor of Paradise Lake trailer park, Jimmy Dickson knew every resident’s story. Jimmy stayed clear of the junkies and pushers, and he watched over the lost souls who somehow ended up here. Kate was one of his favorites.

He grabbed his hat and stepped outside.  Kate hollered, “Calm down!” Her breath rose in small clouds.

“You Kate Lucci?” The cop towered over Kate.

This is a terrific story, and I love so much that she chose to write a story around the south Florida iguana issue. I have a friend who lives on the Wilton River in Fort Lauderdale, and the iguanas–who live on an island just across from his property–drive him insane. They eat the fruit from his trees, they leave piles of iguana shit everywhere, and I have to say, in the morning when you are relaxing alongside the pool with your morning coffee, it’s a bit of a shock to see something moving out of the corner of your eye and then look over and see an enormous iguana just on the other side of the screen.

And yes, during a cold spell there a few years back there was, as Steve said, an ‘iguana holocaust’–most of them freezing to death. But it wasn’t permanent, and they are back.

The story is set in a trailer park in Broward County during a freeze–with frozen iguanas falling out of the trees fairly regularly. Kate works in a rehab facility, and one of her neighbors is in recovery for opioid addiction–and has overdosed. The cops dismiss it as just another relapsed junkie overdosing, but Kate doesn’t believe the story. The victim’s addiction had cost her custody of her kids, who were being brought over for a visit the next day–which means the relapse, at least to Kate, doesn’t make sense. Dismissed by the cops, with the assistance of another resident in the park Kate keeps looking into the strange relapse, continuing to find other indications that it may have been murder, and finally solves the case herself. What a great lot of fun!

And now I suppose I should get back to work.