Begin Again

While I am not, precisely, starting over again with Bury Me in Shadows, I am in some ways returning to the drawing board; my memory has become more and more useless the older I get, and the daily beating my psyche and consciousness has taken this year hasn’t helped much in that regard. But it’s kind of sad that it’s been so long now–and really, it’s not been much more than a week–that I’ve worked on it that I don’t remember where I was at and what was going on; I don’t even remember what happens next and where the story goes, or even the ending I wrote for it–which is part of the problem with writing a book while having, for want of a better term, pandemic brain. (I don’t think I should blame my faulty, horrific memory completely on the pandemic, but I think I am willing to agree that it has not helped one little bit with my short or long term memory.)

I started reading The Heavenly Table yesterday–Donald Ray Pollack is the author, and he also wrote The Devil All The Time–and it’s really quite well written. He really knows how to hit that rural poverty note, and does it really exceptionally well; like Daniel Woodrell, Ace Atkins, and William Faulkner. As I was reading it, I was remembering those summers in Alabama when I was a kid, and thinking about the way my parents grew up–and how difficult that must have been for them, even though they didn’t know any different. This also put me in mind of things that I may need to put into Bury Me in Shadows, or save for something else; another novella that I’m writing, “A Holler Full of Kudzu”, keeps going through my mind when I am reading this book.

I didn’t do much writing yesterday; I was interviewed yesterday for Brad Shreve’s Gay Mystery Podcast (link to come) and, as always after something like that, when I was finished I felt terribly drained (caffeine rush wearing off, perhaps? Also a possibility) and so I wound up sitting in my chair, reading the Pollack novel and thinking about my various writing projects. we eventually watched this week’s episode of Ted Lasso, which continues to be quite marvelous and lovely, and then started Ryan Murphy’s Ratched. It’s entertaining and beautifully shot; the costumes are amazing, as are the sets and visuals, and it’s reminiscent of the Douglas Sirk film stylings from the 1950’s–and for a state mental hospital, the place is gorgeous and impeccably decorated and sparkling clean. The acting is quite good, but I am really not seeing the connection to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest other than as a clever marketing tie-in to draw viewers in, but other than Sarah Paulsen’s character being a younger Nurse Ratched, there really is no connection. It could have just as easily been another season of American Horror Story, and it does have connections, in some ways, to the afore-mentioned show’s Asylum season: the menacing and dangerous nurse; the aversion to lesbianism; the crazy and criminal doctor using his patients as guinea pigs; the serial killer; and so forth. We’re interested and intrigued enough to keep watching, and it’s also interesting seeing the additions to what I call the Ryan Murphy Repertory Company–the young actor who played Justin on 13 Reasons Why, Charlie Carver, Sharon Stone, and Judy Davis. (I do give Murphy a lot of credit for casting openly gay actors in his series, playing either gay or straight or bisexual men.)

It’s gray and drizzly outside the windows this morning, and it feels very cool here inside the Lost Apartment. I know this is the outer edges of Beta–I’ve not yet had the heart to look the storm up and see where it is and where it is projected to be going this morning so far–I’m just not in the mood to see what new potential destruction and flooding is now possible for somewhere along the Gulf Coast. Yay.

I do want to get some writing done, even if it’s merely the tedium of taking the second half of the book and adjusting it from present tense to past tense (a decision I made between drafts; I was trying present tense to see if it added urgency to the story, and I don’t think it really did, so am switching it back to past, which is something i am more comfortable with anyway. If it worked the way I had wanted I would have left it that way, but it really didn’t, and so I am changing it back) so that they are more ready for the revising. I would love more than anything to maybe get two or three chapters revised–but I also need to go back and add at least one scene to the chapters I’ve already got done; a scene I put off until later in the book because I wasn’t completely sure how to deal with it earlier. (I also need to reread the stuff that’s already been revised, so I can remember where I am at and what needs to be done with the next revisions; again, as I said before, the problem with allowing one’s self to procrastinate writing for as long as I have is you forget what you’re writing, which is terrifying) But I intend to be as productive today as I can be, and I feel confident, which I haven’t in quite some time. Not sure what that’s about, but I am going to ride that wave as long as I can.

I’m also setting a goal of a short story per week; both reading one and writing/finishing one. This week’s short story to finish is one I started a while back called “Please Die Soon,” which is a Rear Window/Sorry Wrong Number type pastiche; is there anything more terrifying than being bedridden and beginning to suspect the people trusted with caring for you are actually trying to kill you? It’s a terrific title, and I know exactly how I want the story to work, but I’ve never had a lot of confidence in my ability to actually get it written properly. As I said the other day, I really want to get some more short stories out there to markets–you can’t sell if you don’t submit–and I’ve also began to understand that some of my stories aren’t really crime stories/mysteries; which makes finding markets for them even harder. “Burning Crosses” isn’t really a crime story–even if it’s about two college students looking into a lynching from sixty or so years ago–and it might make some markets deeply uncomfortable. Hell, it makes me uncomfortable–I question whether I should even be writing this type of story about racism, but I also need to stop second guessing myself. If I don’t do a good job of it, then the story isn’t any good, and I think the point that I am making with it–the cowardly discomfort white people experience when confronted with past racism–is a valid one. It’s most definitely not a white savior story, for sure–which is something I definitely don’t ever want to write.

There are already plenty of those stories already in print.

The trick is, as always, going to be focus, which has always been my mortal enemy.

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

Something So Strong

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning and feel like I could have easily slept another three or four hours. But alas, that is not to be; too much to do and I have to get some of it done before I head into the office for my last day of work before my vacation starts Friday (I am taking the week off next week, and decided to throw this Friday into the mix just for fun). I’m getting a little burned out–which happens a bit more frequently the older I get–and so the time off will be lovely. I need to take the car into the dealership for an oil change, which means i can have lunch at Sonic (huzzah!), and I’ll probably go ahead and make groceries while I’m over there; I’ll most likely do all of that tomorrow. I also need to write my blog entries about the Ross MacDonald and Richard Stark novels I read recently, as well as some more writing and editing and cleaning and organizing; I can’t simply blow off this entire week of vacation and get nothing done.

I started reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys last night, and I have to say it: Whitehead is a national treasure. It’s such an amazing book already, and the writing is superlative. I can’t wait to get back to it and savor the writing some more.

Yesterday was a good mail day for me. I got my copy of the anthology Dark Yonder, which is built around Eryk Pruitt’s bar, Yonder, that he opened this year, and the anthology was edited by Liam Sweeney, and benefits the North Texas Food Bank. It’s always delightful to write and publish a new short story, and this looks to be a very fine volume. My story is called “Moist Money” (how much do I love that title?) and I reread it last night, because I could barely remember it…and wow. It’s a dark and nasty little tale, and thematically similar to two other stories I’ve written recently (one is out on submission, the other published last year) but all three stories are dramatically different in tone, character, and setting–even if the theme and structure are similar. Anyway, if you want to get a copy of Dark Yonder–there are some terrific writers I am sharing those pages with–you can order it right here.

I also got a contract for another short story, and a finished copy of a book I blurbed; The Committee by Sterling Watson, from Akashic Books. I don’t really blurb books much any more; I simply don’t have the time to read as much for pleasure as I did, and when asked I never promise to do anything other than to try. I made an exception in this case, primarily because I respect Akashic Books very much and the subject matter of this one–the gay purge at the University of Florida in the 1950’s–was something I felt was important enough for me to take the time to read the book and provide a blurb for it if I liked it. I did like it, very much, and provided requested blurb….and now they’ve graciously sent me a complimentary copy–and the cover has a blurb from MICHAEL KORYTA, and there on the back cover am I, along with LORI ROY and GALE MASSEY. How enormously flattering for me to be a blurber along with three writers whose work I simply love.

It’s interesting how thrilling I find these little things, isn’t it?

I’m also thinking about writing more short stories. It has everything to do, no doubt, with getting the contributor’s copy of Dark Yonder and the contract for the other story–plus having Susan Larson compliment me on my short story collection the other morning–but I do love writing short stories, despite how painful they always seem to be for me; the experience can be excruciating. I was thinking last night about another story I’ve been working on for a while, “Burning Crosses”, and last night I figured out how to make the story work better. It’s a delicate subject to tackle, for sure–the title alone should make that obvious–but it’s a story I’ve had in my head for a long time, and last year I finally sat down and wrote a first draft of it. I was pretty pleased with the first draft, and have done another since then, but again felt like the story just missed the mark. Last night it hit me between the eyes what is missing from this story, and how I can make it even better, perhaps even publishable. (Something else to get worked on while I am on vacation.) My goals for the vacation obviously are going to be next to impossible to accomplish, as always; I’m going to want some goof-off time as well as some reading time, and so the writing and editing is going to be pushed off to the side for a while.

Not to mention cleaning.

Okay, on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

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Shining Star

Well, good morning, Thursday, how do you do? I’m a bit giddy, as I always am after working thirty-two hours in three days. I am in the home stretch of the week with my short days, and a three day weekend! Huzzah! Huzzah!

I can’t wait to sleep in. I also love days when I don’t have to go outside at all, other than perhaps walking to the gym or Walgreens or taking out the garbage. And as the Scotty work is going so well–I have only chapters one through five left to go over again, and then I can start inputting the changes and making the necessary corrections, and I need to finish rewriting the opening and I need to write the afterward–it also serves as a boon to my mood. I am really itching to be done with this, and I am so glad I took my time with this manuscript. I think it’s going to be one of the better Scottys, if I pull off everything I’m trying to do, and I have to say, it’s lovely to feel ambitious with a Scotty book. I think that was why the Chanse series felt like it was running down to me; I didn’t really feel particularly ambitious for the series and the character anymore. It’s been nice writing short stories about Chanse; “My Brother’s Keeper” in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is my first Chanse short story and it’s also my first-ever private eye short story. I’m feeling kind of excited about writing private eye stories–I wrote one for another anthology (not a Chanse, alas) and I really want to get back to the other Chanse story I started, “Once a Tiger.” I never thought I’d be able to write private eye stories, and now I feel confident enough to try writing them. I am feeling ambitious with my short story writing, and that’s also a really good feeling. I think I am getting better at it, and am starting to understand them better, if that makes any sense. I also spent some time over the last few days rereading some of my stories critically–“The Problem with Autofill” and “The Snow Globe”–and I think I know how to fix them. I am going to do the same with “Moves in the Field” and “Burning Crosses” over the next couple of days.

I’ve reached the point in my reread of Pet Sematary where the book starts to take off with its story; Louis is home alone at Thanksgiving while the family visits Rachel’s wealthy parents in Chicago (some back story of the bad blood between Louis and her parents is also established here), and of course, Ellie’s beloved cat Church is killed by a passing car on the road. Naturally, Louis doesn’t know how he’s going to deal with both Rachel (who has a very well-established death phobia) and his daughter, who is sure to be devastated and heartbroken. Father figure from across the road Jud, however, comes to his rescue, and later that evening, takes Louis and Church beyond the deadfall (which the ghost of Victor Pascow already warned him against crossing) and the pet sematary and into the woods and the swamp beyond, to the Micmac burying ground…and of course, Church comes back. Different, but back.

As I read this section of the book (of course, Ellie comes home and knows Church is different–so different she really doesn’t want anything to do with him; echoing Jud’s comment “sometimes dead is better”) I began to remember some of the issues I had with the book on first read. Namely, almost every step of the way the book and story has the problem that is probably best encapsulated as why would you do this? Like in horror movies, the group being hunted by the killer always splits up, or the girls always wear heels before running in the forest, etc. Louis is incredibly passive when it comes to the Micmac burying ground visit with the cat’s corpse; never once does he ever stop to question what he’s doing or to ask Jud why they are going so deep in the forest, or why he isn’t simply burying the cat in the regular pet cemetery. And when Church comes back…I don’t know; he seems to take the resurrection of the cat much easier than you’d think a doctor would. And of course when he asks Jud, after Church returns, if anyone’s ever buried a human up there…well, you just know at that point that someone is inevitably going to be buried up there; it’s simply a matter of who, and what’s going to happen when that person returns. I know if, for example, my own cat returned from the dead I’d freak out a whole lot more than he did.

But I am enjoying the book a lot more this time around; it reads very quickly and easily, and the Creed family are immensely likable.

I didn’t watch another episode of Titans last night, instead getting sucked into the Australian Open, which will undoubtedly happen more and more as the tournament goes on. (But I am looking forward to watching one when I get home; it’s an early day for me and I do have some cleaning to do, but I am definitely penciling in both more reading time and time to watch another episode.)

Tomorrow morning i have to get up early to take my car in for routine servicing, and then in to work. It’s also another early day for me–only four hours–and hopefully tomorrow evening when I get home I can finish the cleaning for the weekend so I can work on writing and editing all weekend as well as finishing my reread of Pet Sematary. My next read is going to be a Diversity Project read; I’m going to read my library book, Caleb Roerig’s Last Seen Leaving,  a queer y/a title, and after that, probably something by an author of color. I’m also going to work on rereading Stephen King novels this year, methinks–that’s a lot of reading projects, isn’t it–and I also have some Stephen Kings on hand that I’ve not read…which is something I intend to take care of this year as well.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the rest of the morning. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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West End Girls

Sunday morning and yet again, I have overslept. I wasn’t feeling particularly well yesterday, and managed to get nothing–outside of some errands in the hideous heat and humidity–accomplished yesterday. The end result was I parked my not-feeling-great ass in my easy chair and watched Netflix for most of the day; beginning with an original Netflix show, The Kissing Booth–a teen rom/com, which was actually kind of cute–and then it was back to the misery/drama porn of Season Two of Thirteen Reasons Why.  Season Two is nowhere near the quality level of Season One; without the connecting hook of the cassette tapes telling the stories of the individual kids, it loses a lot. The connective tissue being used for the second season is the trial, where Hannah’s parents are suing the school for not doing more to help their daughter before she killed herself. Therefore, each episode focuses on each kid and is kind of told from their perspective, based on who is testifying that day: because, of course, only one person per day can testify. There are a lot of really good moments in this season, which shows glimmers of how good the season could have been; yet the need to weave the now-dead Hannah into this season without a reason for her to be there is a weakness. I do feel that it would have been smarter to simply have shown her from the point-of-view of the kids in this season–last season was seeing the others through hers–without the ghost/voice of reason/conscience/whatever-the-fuck-she-is that keeps appearing to Clay; which also, unfortunately, weakens Clay. It makes him unreliable as a narrative voice, and we are also not entirely sure he’s not simply lost his mind in his drive and desire to avenge Hannah. This undermines the character and the performance being given by Dylan Minnette, who was so terrific in the first season; which is unfortunate.

But…I continue to watch to see how this is all going to play out.

It’s difficult for a series based on a single novel to be adapted into a regular television series; Thirteen Reasons Why’s first season was a great example of how it can be done, and beautifully so. I greatly enjoyed that first season. But when the show is successful–and let’s face it, in the entertainment industry success  means continue to build on that success, or at the very least, keep milking that cash cow until you’ve squeezed every penny out of it. There wasn’t a need for a second season of this show, nor a third; where I thought they might go in a second season isn’t where they’ve gone. But the series does get stronger after the first weak episodes; maybe it will continue to get stronger. But the standout of this season is the character of Alex, and the young actor playing him, Miles Heizer. The first season ended with someone being shot, and we weren’t sure who it was. Turns out it was Alex, and he survived. This season, the bullet, which entered and exited through his skull, didn’t kill him but partially paralyzed him and messed up his memories. So, watching him struggle with physical therapy, and trying to figure out what went on the month before he tried to take his own life is incredibly powerful and he is knocking it out of the park. It’s really a shame; the first season was about finding out why Hannah killed herself, and the second season should focus more on the kid who tried to kill himself and now not only has to live with the consequences of that decision but try to figure out why he did it, and deal with the pity and cruelty of his classmates.

Now, there’s a story for a young adult novel. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I am hoping to get some cleaning out of the way today as well as some writing. I’ve been seriously slacking lately, and I need to stop doing that. Granted, yesterday I didn’t feel good, but I need to get motivated and get back to writing. There’s also a lengthy blog entry I  need to finish writing.

But I’ve been thinking about young adult fiction a lot lately; the WIP is young adult, and there’s another one I want to write, or at least get started on, before the end of the year, Bury Me in Satin. It’s going to require some research, which isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps a drive up to Tuscaloosa. I really have been wanting to write this book for a very long time, and I think it’s time. It’s a dangerous topic, but I kind of want to do it. I also want to finish “Burning Crosses” today; it’s ready to be read aloud so I need to go ahead and do that. I also want to finish the first draft of “This Thing of Darkness”, and I have some reading I need to get done. I seriously need to get off my lazy ass and get a move on you know? There’s also that filing shit I started and need to finish. So, yes, indeed, I need to get motivated. But next weekend is a glorious three day weekend, and I am also planning on requesting Friday off and taking a short day on Thursday, not only to maximize the weekend but enable myself to have more time to work, as well as to have a day or two where I have literally nothing to do except read and relax; we’ll see how that turns out.

And I am not missing the cable. Not in the least little bit. This is wonderful.

And now, back to the spice mines.

For your viewing pleasure, here is Jacob Elordi, who plays the romantic lead in The Kissing Booth:

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Glory of Love

Saturday morning and it’s chilly in the Lost Apartment; the sun is out and there’s condensation on the windows. Scooter is perched next to my keyboard, staring out the window, watching Kitty TV; I’m not sure what’s on, but he’s fascinated. It rained brutally yesterday with flash floods and so forth throughout the city. It had been a few weeks since it had rained, but there it was; a long overdue downpour. I managed to get home before it got too terribly bad, and spent the evening organizing and cleaning out files, rather than actually writing. I just didn’t feel like I was in a writing place, and so I decided to go with that but demanded of myself to complete this tedious chore that I hate doing so much.

Essentially, it meant cleaning out old files that no longer need accessibility–old book contracts, royalty statements, and even file folders of old short stories now published, etc.–out of the file cabinet and boxing them up to put in storage. This, naturally, has freed up space in the file cabinet for files to be moved into from the ACTIVE files. (Yes, I am aware how insane this all sounds; but I have two small file holders on the small bookcase next to  my desk, where I file new ideas, articles that might lead somewhere, and new stories that I have started or are not immediately working on; on my desk itself I have a metal file rack that contains the folders of what I am immediately working on. I know, I know, but it makes sense to me, and it works for me.) I also gathered all my non-fiction research on being queer in America, as well as my journal (materials for my memoirs, should I ever write them, or at least personal essays about being gay)  to collect in one place: a lovely box that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter, preparatory to going into the storage space. While doing all of this I ran across several of my old journals.

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These are some of my journals–I suspect some of them have been lost to time, through moves and so forth–but the oldest is from 1994; the most recent of these is from 2003. I started my blog in late 2004, and I suspect that’s approximately also when I stopped writing in these. It was an interesting experience, idly paging through these before placing them in the box; some of the earlier ones are from, of course, when I worked at the airport. That’s when I started carrying one with me at all times; I always had a pen, my journal, and whatever book I was reading at the time with me when I was at the airport, on an airplane traveling, etc. The ones from my time at the airport are all written in green ink; because we used green pens at the airport for everything. I wrote on my breaks, I wrote when I was in between flights at the gates, I wrote while I was waiting to board an airplane, I wrote while on airplanes. Later, I wrote between clients at the gym, or while waiting for it to be time for an aerobics class I was teaching; I wrote in coffee shops. There are scenes in these journals, that eventually made it into Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues; there are the openings of short stories I’ve written, scrawled in long hand on these pages. I’ve even found things like when I first had the idea for the book that became Dark Tide many years later; places where I worked on developing characters or plots of themes for the book or story I was currently trying to work on and/or finish; there are also personal moments, moments of frustration or joy or happiness, all recorded in my neat, broadly looping handwriting. Starting to keep another one of these this year has been enormously helpful for me in many ways; it was lovely to reconnect with the bound journal format. (I actually need to buy a new one; I am hoping they have some at Tubby and Coo’s, where I am going this afternoon for Bryan Camp’s book-signing for his brilliant debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes)

This morning I need to finish packing up these boxes, and perhaps work on getting some of the other files moved; it is literally astonishing how much paper I have. One entire file cabinet drawer is filled with short stories and novels-in-progress that I stopped working on at some point, folders with ideas jotted down, characters and names and ideas for stories and books. All this effort, besides keeping me from actually writing anything, is an attempt to declutter my workspace as well as to make it more organized; I had an idea for a story for an anthology call I saw recently, and I knew I’d written a draft of an appropriate story (possibly) years ago–which meant it was probably in the file cabinet and I should probably drag it out to see if there was anything written in it that was usable. The need for this file made me see how desperately flawed and out of control my filing system had actually been allowed to become so as it thundered and lightning lit up the sky and the yard filled with rushing water I started working grimly on fixing this mess.

I did find the file, by the way.

I need to go to the grocery store at some point this morning as well; I could wait to do it tomorrow,  but between the cleaning and the filing and the going to the book signing I don’t see any window for actually writing, so rather than putting it off till the morrow I should probably do it today, since today is going to be shot on that score. Or maybe it won’t be; I may be able to get some things done today on the writing. My writing/editing goal for the weekend is to read “Burning Crosses” aloud and be finished with it; to finish revising Chapter Two of the WIP, and possibly read all fourteen chapters of the Scotty book and see where things sit with it, preparatory to getting back to work on it as well.

I also want to dive into Alex Segura’s Blackout, which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

We started watching the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why last night, and I have to say, I am not overly impressed with it. The first two episodes were terribly uneven–the third began to pick up steam again–but the device of having Hannah appearing as a sort of ghost to Clay isn’t working for me and is something that I hope is used either sparingly as the show moves on, or is eradicated completely. We don’t need Hannah appearing as Clay’s conscience, nor do we need her at all. It derails the show, frankly; them having conversations is, to quote youth culture of some time ago, kinda whack.

So far, we’re disappointed with it. but not so much so that we will stop watching.

That, however, could change.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Secret Lovers

I slept so well last night that I didn’t want to get up this morning, which is perhaps the greatest feeling of all. Huzzah! It also means I am not heading into the weekend feeling tired, which will be yet another great feeling. Hurray! Huzzah! Of course, the kitchen’s a disaster area, but I may have the time to correct that this morning before I head into the office. One can always hope, at any rate.

I do think “Burning Crosses” is ready for a read aloud; there’s one more paragraph I need to add, and maybe a sentence here and there, but other than that, it’s close to done. I have also made progress on “This Thing of Darkness,” and I think, as far as short stories go, I am ready to get back to finish/polish/read out loud “Once a Tiger” and “The Problem with Autofill.” I also want to get back to the WIP and the Scotty; I need to read Scotty from the beginning and make notes; and likewise, Chapter Two of the WIP needs to be rewritten, may even need to be a completely newly written chapter because I need to add a scene. But I am hopeful I am setting myself up for an incredibly productive weekend. I am going to a book signing on Saturday afternoon for Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes at Tubby and Coo’s (hello, Five Guys!) and I am also supposed to go to a party on Saturday evening, but we’ll see how that all plays out. I may just make Saturday an errand day and try to spend Sunday focusing on writing.

We shall see.

The Terror continues to enthrall, as it moves along to its inevitable end. The ninth episode, which we watched last night, was just non-stop misery and powerful acting from everyone involved. After we finished watching, Paul and I talked about how much we’re enjoying it and The Handmaid’s Tale, and I made the curious realization that the two shows we’re enjoying the most right now are horrific stories of human beings caught up in the most terrifyingly horrible of circumstance, and how interesting is it that we are so enthralled by what basically are, thematically, stories of survival and how much can you take, how much can you handle without giving up entirely?

The writing, and the acting, always stellar, is Master Class worthy in this heartbreaking episode. I fear The Terror will be overlooked for awards, when that season is upon us; which is absolutely wrong. It should win all the awards; I would be hard-pressed, though, to decide on which actor to vote for; there are all that good.

I have to say, yesterday was a lovely day for me professionally. The table of contents for the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology I am in was released, and it’s quite stellar. It was lovely to see the social media response; all the likes and retweets and excitement. I am very pleased to be in this book, and I am equally pleased with the story I wrote for it. The book won’t be available until 2019, alas; but it’s going to be a truly good one.

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

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Greatest Love of All

So, today I am very pleased to announce that my short story, “This Town”–which I’ve shared the opening to with you already, Constant Reader, will be published in the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, edited by Holly West! Watch this space for more news about the anthology as publication date approaches!

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Pretty cool, huh? I’ve loved the Go-Go’s for going on nearly forty years now, and so it’s kind of cool to be in anthology of crime stories inspired by their music. And editors–if you ever do such a volume based on the music of Fleetwood Mac and don’t include me, I can’t be held legally responsible for what happens. Just sayin’.

And so many awesome people to share the pages of the anthology with!

Jane Wiedlin is writing the introduction! Eeeeeeeeeeeee!

So, yesterday I continued to work on revising the WIP and shifting the POV/tense, which isn’t as easy as it may appear on its face; it’s very easy to miss instances where past tense is used and needs to be switched to present. It’s also an excellent exercise for me, anyway, because I almost always use the past tense in my writing. (I think I’ve maybe used the present tense once, in a short story.) I also realized another short story I’m working on–“Burning Crosses”–would work better in the present tense, so I revised it into the present tense and revised it as well. I think it’s ready to be read aloud this weekend, which is pretty flippin’ cool.

And one more tweak, and my short story collection is ready to be turned in to my  publisher. Huzzah!

Last night, I reread Agatha Christie’s short story, “Philomel Cottage,” from her collection Witness for the Prosecution:

“Good-bye, darling.”

“Good-bye, sweetheart.”

Alix Martin stood leaning over the small rustic gate, watching the retreating figure of her husband, as he walked down the road in the direction of the village.

Presently he turned around a bend and was lost to sight, but Alix still stayed in the same position, absent-mindedly smoothing a lock of the rich brown hair which had blown across her face, her eyes far-away and dreamy.  Alix Martin was not beautiful, nor even, strictly speaking, pretty. But her face, the face of a woman no longer in her first youth, was irradiated and softened until her former colleagues of the old office days would hardly have recognized her. Miss Alix King has been a trim business-like young woman, efficient, slightly brusque in manner, obviously capable and matter-of-fact.

I loved this story when I first read it, when I was either eleven or twelve; it’s a classic domestic suspense tale: young married couple lives in a remote location, they married very quickly after meeting–after the woman inherited some money–and, in fact, she’d been rather in love with someone else but her husband just swept her off her feet. This day, after her husband goes off, she has a chat with her gardener…who mentions that he’d come early (on a Wednesday rather than his usual Friday) because he wanted to ask her about the garden trim “and since they were going off to London the next day” (sic) he wanted to check with her before she left. She laughs, and responds that they aren’t going to London; but he is insistent that her husband had told her that. He then also mentions that the former owner of the cottage, which they bought for three thousand pounds, had only wanted two. As she put up two to her husband’s one…she’s certain he must be mistaken. But in a masterpiece of paranoia and psychological suspense, Alix then begins to wonder, and starts putting together the errant pieces of strange behavior from her husband–each individual instance nothing, but when put together make it very much seem like he married her for her money and is planning to kill her…and she keeps finding more and more evidence to convince her she is right.

And the ending is stunningly perfect.

Christie, such a master of suspense and crime!

And now, back to the spice mines.

Sentimental Street

It’s Saturday morning! Lots to do today; Chapter Fifteen, read “My Brother’s Keeper” aloud, work on “Don’t Look Down,” revise “Burning Crosses,”–the list goes on and on. It’s supposed to rain today as well; not sure if that’s going to actually be a thing today, but it does look sort of gloomy-esque outside my windows this morning.

And the Apartment is, of course, a complete and total mess.

I was thinking last night, as I started reading Megan Abbott’s extraordinary Give Me Your Hand, about my own writing (reading amazing writers always makes me contemplative) and putting into some perspective. Megan is one of our best writers, and the crime genre is very lucky to have her writing within our boundaries. Reading her work is always very humbling for me, whether it’s a novel or one of her jewels of a short story (hello, publishers! A Megan Abbott short story collection is way overdue! Get! On! It!), as I find myself wondering how does she think of putting these words together? Her sentences are never overly complicated and yet she manages to put them together in such a way as to create a very vivid and complex image, not to mention how she uses her sentence structure to create these characters that are so nuanced and real and complicated…she really is a master of the written word. I will dive back into her novel today, when I am finished with all of the things I must, I have to, do today; it’s always lovely when there’s a wonderful reward waiting for you at the end of tedious writing and editing and cleaning. (I also have ARC’s of Lori Roy’s The Disappearing and Alex Segura’s Blackout; I cannot wait to dive into those as well.)

And while I should be thinking, of course, about where the Scotty novel needs to go in Chapter Fifteen and going forward from there, I was thinking last night about short stories. I always abhorred writing short stories before, thought them incredibly difficult to write, and a discipline of writing that I was not particularly good at (I am also horrible at writing horror fiction, for example). I always believed that whenever I was actually successful at writing a short story, it was purely by accident; not anything conscious that I managed because I wasn’t good at the form. But in writing these reams of short stories this year, I am finding that not to be true; I am having to revise my thinking about so many things I once believed true about me as a writer. Yes, a short story might fail; everyone makes false starts. The Archer Files, with its final section of short story fragments that Ross Macdonald had started yet never finished, taught me that. My own files are filled with fragments of short stories that I began yet never finished; first drafts of stories I never finished because I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t convinced, that I knew how to fix and repair, how to edit and revise to make right. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at writing short stories. It simply means those stories are ready to be finished; that Ifor whatever reason, am simply not ready to finish them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

This is, and has always been, just another way my lack of self-confidence in my ability to write manifests itself.

I started writing another story last night, currently untitled; I’m not sure what its title will be but I do have a vague idea of what it’s about. There’s a great little place to eat in my neighborhood, in the same block as my gym, called simply Tacos and Beer; I am meeting someone in town for an early dinner there on Sunday. That, of course, got me thinking about that great simple name for the place, and what a wonderful opening that would make for a story; someone going there to meet someone for dinner and choosing that place because it’s simple, straightforward name pleases them so much. The story is still amorphous, of course. But perhaps I’ll be able to work on it today. I’m also thinking I might even get to work on Muscles  a little bit today.

Who knows? The day is fraught with possibilities still. I may wind up being lazy and not doing a fucking thing.

Here’s the raw opening of “Burning Crosses”:

“Population four thousand four hundred and thirty two,” Leon said as they passed the Welcome to Corinth sign. There were a couple of bullet holes in it, as there had been in every official green sign they’d passed since crossing into Corinth County. “I guess it’s not hard to imagine lynching here.”

“I can come back with someone else,” Chelsea Thorne replied. Her head ached. She needed coffee. Her Starbucks to go cup was long empty. “Can you check on your phone and see if there’s a Starbucks in town?”

Leon laughed. “I don’t have to look to know the answer is no,” he shook his head. “There’s not even five thousand people in this town, girl. There ain’t no Starbucks. I’ll bet there’s a McDonalds, though.”

“It’ll have to do.” The throbbing behind her temple was getting worse. It didn’t help they’d gotten lost trying to find this little town, the county seat of a county she’d never heard of, let alone knew where to find. It wasn’t even near a highway. They’d had to take a state highway out of Tuscaloosa and drive about an hour or so, depending on the roads and depending on traffic. It took longer to get out of Tuscaloosa than they’d planned, thanks to some road work and then another delay because of Alabama Power cutting down some tree limbs, but they’d finally gotten out of town when she was halfway through her latte. Leon had dozed off, snoring slightly with his head against the window as they got out of town on the state road, passing through fields of cotton and corn and orange-red dirt. The state road was stained orange on the edges, the white lines looking like her fingertips after eating a bag of Cheese Puffs. It was supposed to be an easy drive; she didn’t need to make any turns, just keep following the state road that would take them straight to Corinth. But a bridge over a stream was being worked on and there was a detour, taking them down an unpaved road with cotton fields on either side, barely room for her Cooper Mini, and God help them if they met a truck or something coming the other way. Ten minutes down that dirt road and her latte was gone, finished, nothing left. Then she’d turned the wrong way when she’d reached the other state road—but it wasn’t her fault. She’d thought the sign was wrong—how could a right turn take her back to Tuscaloosa? But then she’d figured there must have been more twists and turns on the back road than she’d thought, and turned left. She’d gone almost seven miles before she say the TUSCALOOSA 7 miles sign, and had to make a U-turn in someone’s driveway.

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was stereotyping, but she hated driving on country roads in rural parts of the South.

You can see how rough the story is in its initial stage; it definitely needs work. There are also things missing from it in this draft; things I need to add in to make it stronger, to add nuance, to make the sense of dread and discomfort the characters feel more clear; I want the reader to feel that same sense of unease.

And I do think writing all these short stories this year has been enormously helpful to me, not only as a short story writer but as a writer in general; short stories give you the opportunity to stretch and try things you can’t try in a novel; different themes and voices and styles.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Valotte

Tuesday!

It’s supposed to get up to a high of eighty-one degrees today, which would be lovely, considering how cold it was when I woke this morning. Shiver.  Of course, it didn’t snow here and all things considered, I should be grateful that I live somewhere that snow is an anomaly rather than the norm.

We’re still enjoying The Alienist, and I am now rather curious about the book. I’m not going to have time to read it anytime soon, of course, and it’s not like my TBR pile isn’t higher than Mount Everest, but I am curious about it. I know it was extremely popular, and as I said, we are greatly enjoying the show.

I also watched Southern Charm New Orleans last night. I watch reality television; always have, beginning with The Real World back in the early 1990’s. It was…interesting. I will say this; New Orleans looked absolutely beautiful on the show, but…I will probably continue to watch; and I will say this for it: it’s not as bad as the execrable show The Big Easy was. If you have Amazon Prime and want to watch a truly awful show about New Orleans, The Big Easy is just sitting there, free, on Prime.

Yesterday I managed to work on both “Burning Crosses” and “My Brother’s Keeper”; the latter is getting very close to being finished. I also worked a little bit on “Don’t Look Down,” but I think I am going to focus on working on Chapter Eleven of the Scotty next. I am terribly unhappy with it, and while there’s a big part of me urging me to keep moving forward on the book, I am so eminently dissatisfied with this chapter that I don’t know that I’ll be able to. So, I may just give it a light going over before moving on to Chapter Twelve. Plus, the light going over might help me with Chapter Twelve.

Ah, rationalization.

First up today in the Short Story Project is “The Great Wave” by S. J. Rozan, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

The water’s cool silk slipped past her shoulders, her breasts, her hips. Terence permitted her to swim whenever and for however long she wanted, in the tiled pool in the basement just outside her suite. He required her to swim nude, as she had done at the beginning, when she was here by choice and the smooth sluicing delight of her swims always brought her out joyful, aroused, and aching for him. Arousal, ache, certainly joy, were no more, but she was she grateful for the sensation, however temporary, of fluid, enveloping protection.

She drew breath and dove. Powerful kicks and strong strokes propelled her through this underground underwater world, and though she still, always, felt a stab of despair when her fingers found the slick hard wall where the water ended, once she kicked off and turned she was again alone and almost free. Terence couldn’t swim. Her life, her body, the place she now lived, he had and would continue to invade; but in the water she could be without him. She knew he was sitting forward in his rattan chair, watching her, and so when she resurfaced to swim laps she alternated the side of her breathing as she changed direction. The whole time she was in the pool she never saw him.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: S. J. Rozan is one of my favorite crime writers–writers in general, really. This is a terrific story; like the Oates from yesterday, it’s about a woman who is being held prisoner by a man, but while it explores the same themes as the Oates story from yesterday, it tackles them in a completely different way, and the story ends perfectly. Two definite thumbs up here, but I have to say I am getting a little weary of “women being held captive” stories–nothing to do with this story, it just seems like I’ve read a lot of them lately. Or perhaps because the Oates and Rozan stories resonated so strongly, I don’t see how another writer could possibly do a better job? The bar definitely has been set pretty high for this theme.

And then there’s “Like Mother Used to Make” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories:

David Turner, who did everything in small quick movements, hurried from the bus stop down the avenue to his street. He reached the grocery on the corner and hesitated; there had been something. Butter, he remembered with relief; this morning, all the way up the avenue to his bus stop, he had been telling himself butter, don’t forget butter coming home tonight, when you pass the grocery remember butter. He went into the grocery and waited his turn, examining the cans on the shelves. Canned pork sausage was back, and corned-beef hash. A tray full of rolls caught his eye, and then the woman ahead of him went out ans the clerk turned to him.

“How much is butter?” David asked cautiously.

No one mastered the small short story quite like Shirley Jackson; and what I mean by small is the poignant sadness of a quiet life. David Turner is one of those Milquetoast-y people, but at the same time he is incredibly happy with the quiet, peaceful little life he has made for himself. He is overly fond of a female neighbor, thinks there’s more to the relationship than there really is–and as it turns out, she is actually quite awful–but David is one of those people whose interaction with other people is so limited, so timid, so shy, that he doesn’t even recognize how horrible she really is; and maybe the fact that she treats him so contemptuously when we are seeing everything from his point of view makes her seem much more monstrous. It’s a sad, melancholy little tale, and I couldn’t stop thinking about for quite a while after I finished reading it; wondering about David and where this was going to go from here. Jackson was such a genius.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Solid

It still feels chilly this morning, after a weekend of lowered temperatures. But the sun is shining, and all feels well with the world. I wrote yesterday; a lot, in fact, well over three thousand words; which is a lot for me to do on a weekend day. I even did it all by two pm, so I had the rest of the day to putz around. I finished a very weak first draft of “Burning Crosses,” worked on “Don’t Look Down” some more, and finished a very weak Scotty Chapter 11. But i know how to fix “Burning Crosses,” so that’s not a problem, and I know what I need to do with “Don’t Look Down,” which I just can’t seem to focus on. I also recognize that my feelings about the Scotty manuscript are the usual loss of faith I always have somewhere mid-manuscript; and I just need to ignore it and soldier on, with the mantra I can always fix this later! I can always fix this later!

Which I seem to be using a lot lately. I’m not quite sure what that says about the quality of what I’ve been writing.

I’m in this weird place right now with my writing; trying to feel more confident in it and my ability, while at the same time my insecurity is undermining me while I am actually writing. I need to ignore the things that pop up in my head as I work on the Scotty book, the slings and arrows hurled at me over the years that I can’t seem to get out of my mind and try to remember all the positive things that have been said about me and my work; which I don’t tend to take as seriously as the negative.

Honestly.

We started watching Lost in Space and Troy: The Fall of a City; we stopped because Paul didn’t like them–I was, so it gives me something to watch when I’m on the treadmill at the gym. We also gave Siren on Freeform a try; neither one of us was terribly sold on it, although I’d be willing to give it another episode or two before giving up on it entirely. Then we moved on to The Alienist, and yes, we are both committed to it. I never read the novel when it came out, but I do remember it made quite a stir when it did, and that the queer publishing community stood up and took note of it as well. I never could grasp why, but now that I am watching the show, I see why; there is a serial killer praying on boy prostitutes in 1890’s New York, and the ‘alienist’, Dr. Kreuzler, is rare in that time that he doesn’t see homosexuality or trans issues as either sinful or mental illness; it’s very queer positive, if you can get past the slaughter of the boy-prostitutes, which are particularly gruesome. But it’s very well done and interesting; we’ll keep going.

I also read some short stories. First up is  “Les Beaux Jours” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

Daddy please come bring me home. Daddy I am so sorry.

Daddy it is your fault. Daddy I hate you.

Daddy, no! I love you Daddy whatever you have done.

Daddy I am under a spell here. I am not myself  here.

The place in which I am a captive–it is in the Alps, I think. It is a great, old house like a castle made of ancient rock. Through high windows you can see moors stretching to the mountainous horizon. All is scrubby gray-green as if undersea. The light is perpetual twilight.

Dusk is when the Master comes. I am in love with the Master.

Daddy no! I do not love the Master at all, I am terrified of the Master.

I’d not read Joyce Carol Oates before a few years ago; I read her short story that was a Macavity finalist the same year I was, and was blown away by it. I always thought Oates was more of a literary writer, but she writes crime and horror and dark stories, and she does it incredibly well. This story is Oates at her best; disturbing and creepy and horrifying. She manages to get the voice of the trapped girl perfectly; that strange mix of Stockholm syndrome and desperation to get away; the fear that she might die there. Very disturbing.

“Truth Comes out of Her Well to Shame Mankind,” by Thomas Pluck,  also from Alive in Shape and Color:

The cracking of the skulls was performed by a practiced hand. The bowl separated from the eye sockets and teeth. These were no virgin cannibals like the lost colonists of Roanoke, with their hesitation marks. Whatever people had done this had been done before, and had perhaps been doing it for a very long time.

Devin cupped the skull in his palm, reminded of how Danes toasted before a drink.

Thomas Pluck is one of the better writers we have in the crime fiction world right now, and I hope this appearance in the Block anthology is a sign that he’s beginning to get his due. He wrote a story for Blood on the Bayou that was superb; I have his novel Bad Boy Boogie, in my TBR pile. This story, about an arrogant ass of a man who visits an archaeological site, being led by a woman he didn’t get along with in college, is not only chilling but timely; men all so frequently are unaware of the damage they leave in their wake, aren’t they, and this story is about that very thing; carelessness, just as The Great Gatsby was about the carelessness of the Buchanans. Very well done.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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