Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

I Did Something Bad

Actually, it would be bigger news if I did something GOOD, frankly.

But here it is Friday and I am working from home yet again. I have my work supplies already in place, and will be adjourning to my easy chair after reading emails and getting caught up on things. I had intended to watch Aliens immediately after watching Alien earlier this week, but since that didn’t happen, I am now wondering if I should dip back into the world of 1970’s paranoia/conspiracy film (although the point could be made that both Alien and Aliens also fit into that category; I love how film, like novels and short stories, can straddle genres–which kind of defies the very notion of genre in the first place), and both The Parallax View AND Three Days of the Condor are on HBO MAX.

I’ve never seen either (but read the books back in the day) and I am very excited. All the President’s Men is also there, but I’m not sure I can bear, in these times, to watch a film about journalists actually doing their job and holding politicians accountable. Perhaps it’s possible they never did–our own history is littered with examples of journalistic lies and media manipulation–the Hearst empire and fortune was built on that, as The Alienist: Angel of Darkness reminds me in every episode (the Hearst papers, and others of their ilk, were partially, if not directly, responsible for the Spanish-American War, and it is this time period in which the show is set). We are continuing to enjoy this season, which is telling a compelling story and is very well produced, written, and acted. I am also looking forward to Lovecraft Country, and Season 2 (mayhap the final season) of Krypton is also now available on DC Universe.

I also discovered, to my great joy, that my story “The Carriage House” is in the current, or soon to be released, issue of Mystery Tribune (click to order); it also contains stories by Josh Pachter (“Paramus is Burning”; I read this in draft form as a sort of ‘sensitivity reader’), as well as Reed Farrel Coleman and others; they do a lovely job and the magazine is quite beautiful; you can also buy the electronic issue, which is less expensive and will be delivered electronically on August 20th, which also happens to be my birthday–which is in less than one week. I am hoping to be able to take a long weekend next weekend for my birthday–we shall see how it goes.

I’ve not had the energy this week to look at Bury Me in Shadows, but these last few nights I’ve slept extremely well and have felt very well rested each morning when I get up, so I am hoping this will hold through the weekend so I can get those first ten chapters polished and finished. Ideally, I would be able to get that taken care of on Saturday so that Sunday I could start marking up the next ten, but I also recognize that might be overly ambitious and I don’t want to end up berating myself for an inability to get something finished that was overly ambitious in the first place.

But…on the other hand, it’s much too easy to not be overly ambitious and underestimate what one can get done as well–which isn’t as effective, at least for me. If I plan “oh I’ll just get these five chapters done” and then breeze through them relatively quickly, I am not the type to say, “well, since that was so easy I should immediately move on to the next”–rather, I simply pat myself on my back for achieving the goal and walk away from my computer, which is not optimal.

I did, while waiting for Paul to finish up his work for the day (he inevitably will go upstairs when he gets home from work to continue answering emails and do chores before coming down to watch whatever it is we are currently watching), pull up Murder in the Rue Dauphine on my iPad to start reading it again–as I mentioned the other day in my post about the genesis of Chanse MacLeod, I think it might not be a bad idea to revisit the Chanse novels, particularly since I am thinking about writing about him again, eve if only in novella form–but I’d forgotten I’d written an introduction to the ebook edition, which was made available perhaps about ten years after the print book was released; it was this introduction that I read while I waited for Paul last night. It’s really not a bad essay, quite frankly, and since I received Laura Lippman’s My Life as a Villainess, a collection of her published essays and some new material, I found myself again thinking about my own potential collection of essays; while I haven’t published a great many of them over the years, I have published a few–and God knows I’ve been keeping this blog, in one form or another, since December 2004; this December will make sixteen years of blogging. There is, of course, self-doubt involved in even considering the project; it’s not like vast multitudes awaken every day and think oh I need to go see if Greg’s blogged yet. There’s also, I don’t know, this whole self-defeating sense of like anyone cares about your self-reflection or your opinion on anything.

God, it never ends.

I also managed to get Alex Segura’s Poe Dameron: Free Fall this week; and this is actually a Star Wars novel I will read rather than just place on the shelf and let collect dust (I read the novelization of the first film, obviously, many years ago, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster and credited to George Lucas, and enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was written and published between Star Wars–the first film will always be Star Wars to me, and I am ready to die on that hill–and The Empire Strikes Back; when the second film was released all of its revelations and surprises immediately made the book wrong and irrelevant and reduced it to simple fan fiction. I vowed then I would never read another Star Wars novel, other than novelizations of the films, because I couldn’t trust George Lucas to release a film that fucked with the books–and sure enough, the release of The Force Awakens wiped that universe clean and all the novels released since 1983 became non-canon–which made me glad to have not read them. But…the release of The Force Awakens also made remember my fanboy self, and I did start buying up the books again–especially the ones that were well-regarded, like the Thrawn trilogy. And yet I’ve never gotten around to reading any of them…but I will most definitely read Alex Segura’s because I know he’s an amazing writer).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and will check in with you again on the morrow.

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

You’re Still the One

Yep, it’s here. Tonight starts the St. Charles parade schedule, and my life is going to be upended for the next two weeks. Tonight’s parades are Oshun, Cleopatra, and Alla. There are five Saturday, and three on Sunday. Remember–this is the warm-up weekend, the one where we get our throw-catching sea legs to prepare for the marathon to come next week.

As a result, rather than going in later this afternoon, I am going in to the office early this morning, so I can run important errands after I get off work and then can get to the gym and get my workout in before the parades start arriving. Heavy heaving sigh. I’m going to try to get some writing done, but it’s not going to be easy over the course of the weekend, what with eleven parades passing by at the corner. At least on Sunday they are all afternoon parades, so I’ll have the evening free before my two consecutive twelve hour shifts. The rest of the week I have to go in early so I can get home before the parking is all gone and they close St. Charles Avenue, and of course next Friday I’ll be strolling down St. Charles to the Quarter to pass out condoms, and then walking home that evening up the parade route. Yay for corn dogs and funnel cakes! They make everything better.

They do! Don’t be a hater, dear.

I did work on the Secret Project a little while last night; not much, but the character’s voice is starting to come to me more and I am seeing the story a little more clearly, so it’s a nice pass I am giving to this one, and hopefully this will be the pass that finishes it so I can move on to the next part.

Huzzah, I think.

New Orleans’ bipolar weather took a turn yesterday, dropping a ridiculous amount of degrees so it was bitterly cold when I came home last night; I suspect more of the same is in store for us this first weekend of parades, which kind of takes a lot of the fun out of parade-attendance; of course, rain will always be the worst parade weather. The high today is fifty-eight; it’s forty-five right now. I recognize that probably doesn’t qualify as cold enough weather to complain about in most of the country–but I don’t live in most of the country. So there.

I am also mapping out “Festival of the Redeemer.” It’s going to probably be longer than a short story, but not long enough to be a novel–have I mentioned this before? Probably, my memory is really a bit on the disgraceful side these days. It’s a complicated story, and how I want to tell it–in flashbacks as the couple the story is about wander the streets of Venice, sight-seeing, and climaxes while they watch the Festival fireworks from their balcony at the Gritti Palace–is complicated and will require careful planning; but that careful planning also means that I need to map it out before hand, in order to make it easier to write for me. It’s probably going to end up as a stand alone novella, sold as an ebook, most likely; but there are worse things I could do.

The whole novella conversation also has me wondering about this Chanse short story I’ve been writing, “Once a Tiger”–well, writing off and on for about two years now, if I am going to be honest–and now I am thinking it’s more sense, and more likely, that it would work better as a novella. It’s too much story for a short story, which was why it’s been stalled as long as it has been, and now I am thinking, well you can always just write the story you want it to be and see how long it actually winds up. I was trying to keep it to less than 6000 words, which is the max for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock–which is what I always have in mind when I am writing a short story; they are the best paying and most prestigious market for crime short stories out there, so I always have an eye to sending any story I write (which isn’t being written on request or for an anthology) to them for consideration.

I’ve been in Ellery Queen twice already, and Alfred Hitchcock is still on my bucket list–although it takes a major commitment to send something to Hitchcock–the last story I sent them took over a year to be rejected, which is insane. But they also probably get a lot of submissions, and probably also request stories from people, too. Ah, well.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. This morning is cold, and the day I am facing is going to be long, so it’s probably best to hit the ground running.

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Let Me Be The One

Well, yesterday’s crisis was that I couldn’t find my flash drive again.

The bad news is I’ve been incredibly lazy about backing it up, so the most recent back-up is from July. The good news is my lack of productivity means I didn’t really lose much–if anything–and due to the computer problems I’ve had since the Mojave update last year, I’d been having some trouble with moving files around, so I’d been moving things into the cloud in addition to emailing them back and forth to myself, so I was able to retrieve everything that’s currently in some sort of progress.

The one time my laziness has actually worked in my favor. Yay, I suppose?

I suppose that’s something.

I did do some writing yesterday, which is something. But frankly, the annoyance over the lost flash drive pretty much ruined the day for work for me, so instead I organized and cleaned. And yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous that sounds. I did get started on revising Bury Me in Shadows yet again; I made a crucial decision about the story over the weekend (which is part of the reason losing the flash drive was so fucking annoying) and as such, have to go back to the beginning to pull it all together. Some of the decisions I made in the original texts of the manuscript weren’t working for me; which is what triggered the problems developing in the later chapters, and sadly, most of it had to do with the primary plot and the development of my main character. The more I thought about it the more contrived the entire set-up of the book was; and as an author, this is an absolutely horrible realization. While I don’t have a problem with having an unlikable main character, I do have a problem with an unrelatable one; there is no better literary legerdemain than having a main character who isn’t likable yet the readers can relate to, and understand, that character (Scarlett in Gone with the Wind is an excellent example of this, as is Amber in Forever Amber). Chanse was a really unlikable character, who does shitty things and reacts in shitty ways to situations, but he was relatable, which is why the series managed to last as long as it did–and it may continue again. But with my main character in Bury Me in Shadows, he has to be relatable otherwise the entire book fails; and I don’t think I was succeeding. I was trying to write the book in a distant first person; but that wasn’t working as a literary exercise and by keeping him at arm’s length from the reader, I was making it difficult for the reader to become vested in him. This means more work on the manuscript, of course–and there are some other plot points that simply didn’t work and didn’t make any sense. It’s very tempting to pitch the entire thing into a drawer and start writing something else entirely, quite frankly, but I really don’t need another manuscript in that fucking drawer already–not only because that feels like utter and complete defeat, but because that drawer is already overcrowded with about a hundred short stories and essays, as well as at least two novel manuscripts, and several novellas.

Heavy heaving sigh.

We watched the latest Castle Rock, and yeah, I think it’s safe to say the show has gone off the rails completely. This episode had nothing to do with Annie Wilkes, her daughter, or the predicament they’ve become involved with in Castle Rock since their arrival; and frankly, that story has been what has been driving the season thus far. There’s some other odd thing going on, involving the Marsten House in the neighboring town of ‘salem’s Lot, which kind of involves some weird kind of possession-type thing; this entire last episode did a deep dive into the strange goings-on at the Marsten House, and not only is it confusing; as Paul said, “it’s like there are two different shows being filmed as part of the same season.” I think this story–which reminds me a bit of the back story of American Horror Story: Roanoke–could have been interesting in a stand-alone season built around the curse on ‘salem’s Lot and the Marsten House; why it was grafted onto this season’s story about Annie Wilkes doesn’t make logical sense to me–but am vested enough in the season to stick with it and see if it does, indeed, all come together at the end. (I didn’t feel like the first season accomplished this, frankly; it was enjoyable and Sissy Spacek was fantastic, but didn’t, in the end, make a whole lot of sense.)

I do have some errands to run this morning–post office, grocery store–and I am hoping after that has been accomplished that i can come home and get to work on this manuscript again; it’s irritating me, like a sore tooth that I can’t leave alone.  There’s another proposal I need to get done, that I wanted to finish this week, and here it is Tuesday already  and I am nowhere near getting anything finished that I needed to get finished, which is, of course, highly annoying. But as I said, this current manuscript just can’t be left as it is, and maybe once I get the damned thing figured out, I can move forward with everything else. I think I have it figured out; I just need to get it down so I can say, with full confidence, that it works and I am satisfied….or at least as satisfied as I ever am.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines I go. Wish me luck!

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Somewhere Out There

And Thursday rolls around, which means the weekend looms on the horizon.

Yay, weekend!

It’ll be tense, though, with the LSU-Florida game looming on the horizon (GEAUX TIGERS!) and there’s also a road game for the Saints, I believe. But the LSU game is a night game (it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!) so I have all day to get things done. There are other games on, of course, but none of terrific interest. I find myself becoming less interested in spending the day parked in my easy chair watching college football games, and if I want to turn Bury Me in Shadows in on Monday, I’ll need to buckle down and get some things worked on this weekend as I rather doubt I’ll have the time to get the whole thing finished before the weekend….

I managed to make Swedish meatballs for dinner last night–they turned out the best they ever have, which was nice, especially since I made them without consulting a recipe. That means I’ll probably never make them exactly the same way ever again, as well–but I think that’s part of the joy of cooking, at least for me; I love always trying to improve on recipes I’ve made before with little tweaks here and there. I wish I had more time to cook, to be honest; it is something I rather enjoy doing.

I also slept incredibly deeply and well last night. I’m not really sure what’s going on or what’s different; but I’ve stopped taking my prescription for sleeping–I always worry about addiction issues. Obviously, the last thing in the world I would need would be to get addicted to something, so I’m trying to take the sleeping pills less frequently. Over the last two weeks I only took one on last Saturday evening, and now my sleep seems to be more natural and more restful and longer lasting. I don’t even think I woke up even once during the course of last night, which is a first.

I wonder if it’s because the humidity seems to have finally broken?

Maybe.

But it’s very weird to wake up on a Thursday and not feel exhausted. I’m not sure if how that bodes for the rest of the day, but it would be awesome to come home tonight and be able to bang out some more chapters of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d love to get that finished by the end of the weekend so I can turn it in on Monday; that would be lovely. Finishing it means I could get back to work on the Kansas book with an eye to getting it turned in by the end of the month as well. That would open me up to writing solely Chlorine and short stories through the rest of the year; which would be kind of awesome. Ideally, it would be amazing to get a strong draft of Chlorine finished by the end of the year, so I could start writing this new Chanse novel in January, or perhaps another Scotty; I’m not sure which should come next. The Chanse novel, which would be drawn from–ripped from the headlines, if you will–the Jeff Davis 8 case, would probably be an easier thing to write–the brilliance of using a real life case as the jumping off point for a fictionalization is that a lot of your story is already in place; the only thing I’d need to do is, of course, come up with a fictional solution to the mystery. The next Scotty,  on the other hand, is a lot more amorphous, as Scotty books always tend to be; the story kind of comes to me as I write it, rather than planning it out ahead of time. This frequently causes me headaches, of course, but Scotty simply can’t be written any other way. I am torn between writing Hollywood South Hustle, which would be really fun; French Quarter Flambeaux, which is really just a kernel of an idea, as is the other potential Scotty, Lake Shore Limbo. I also have another Scotty title in the hopper, St. Claude Second-Line, which is what the original title, Bywater Bohemia Bougie, evolved into.

Hollywood South Hustle is a summer novel, though, I think; whereas FQF could easily be a March novel, and I think March is the right timing for the next Scotty, since Royal Street Reveillon was a Christmas novel.

I also am thinking that my Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” might actually work better as a novella. (As you can see, I have novellas on the brain.) I had originally wanted to call my second short story collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but if it’s going to be a novella, it would fit better into the four novella thing I am planning to possibly do. Ah, plans, plans, plans; it really helps if you actually work on the damned things, though!

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines for this morning. I don’t have to get ready for work and leave for another two hours, and I might as well put that time to use.

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Alone

GEAUX TIGERS!

LSU plays Northwestern State tonight; I’m sure it’s being televised somewhere. I just haven’t had the chance to look it up yet. This has been such a crazy and exhausting week I’ve barely had time to think, let alone plan or get anything done. I need to make certain I avoid being overwhelmed, because that is the surest path to not getting any of it done. I have a lot of writing to get caught up on, not to mention how filthy and disgusting the Lost Apartment’s current state is. Heavy heaving sigh. I didn’t sleep well again last night; for the last two nights I’ve not been taking the medication that puts me to sleep because, as always, I fear dependency issues arising. I also have to get my email under control; because it is completely out of control.

Yesterday after I got off work I met my friend Lisa for a drink. Lisa is in town for the weekend from Atlanta–we’re having coffee again tomorrow morning before she leaves town–and I never get to see Lisa nearly enough. I met her at the Elysian Bar in the Marigny, which is part of the Hotel Peter & Paul complex, which used to be a Catholic church and convent. Paul had actually been there earlier in the week–they might be using the place for a Williams Festival event–and came home raving about how lovely and cool the place is. It actually is quite lovely, and I had a lovely time hanging out with Lisa. I also got to meet her friend Audrey, whom I only know through Facebook, and local television anchor Sheba Turk (both, along with Lisa, are absolutely gorgeous women–intelligent and talented and smart). It was absolutely lovely, then I stopped at Rouse’s on the way home. I started watching a BBC series on Netflix, The A List, which is just weird, yet oddly entertaining, and each episode is less than half an hour.

Paul and I then watched the first episode of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou, based on Ethan Brown’s book. I’d already watched a similar docuseries on the murders on Hulu earlier this year, only that was called Death in the Bayou: The Jennings 8, and was very different than Brown’s book (which I read after watching the series on Hulu); it left out some crucial details about the women’s lives, but that was undoubtedly because the show was produced with the cooperation of one of the victim’s sisters; if you remember, this show and book inspired me to consider writing another Chanse book, based on the case, which I still might actually–probably will–do; it’s just such an interesting and fascinating case, and still unsolved.

We have to take Scooter to the vet for his annual physical later this morning–he always loves getting into the carrier so much–and he’s also going to get his razor-sharp claws trimmed. I probably should get over my fear and reluctance to trim his nails myself; I just remember a friend doing that once and cutting them too close and the poor kitty was bleeding and in pain, which of course I wouldn’t be able to ever get over the guilt if I were to do the same thing. It’s probably not that difficult, and Scooter is passive enough to probably sit still for it–it only took him about eight years to get used to his flea medication application enough to not fight it anymore–but again, I’m too afraid of hurting him to go through with it. I’ve noticed on-line that have nail caps for cats; I’ve considered getting those. He loves to knead bread when he’s purring, and of course the claws come out and go right through my clothes to the skin. He doesn’t understand, naturally, that he’s hurting me in his show of affection, and I always feel bad that I have to stop him because those fucking claws are sharp.

This weekend I have to finish an essay and a short story, at the bare minimum, and I’d like to get a chapter of Chlorine written if I can. I feel rather defeated this morning, quite frankly, and I am not sure how to get around that other than actually getting things done, you know? I mean, what better cure for feeling overwhelmed with work than making progress, right? And perhaps if I can get a lot of work done today, I can reward myself with Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, as I’ve also fallen horribly far behind in my reading. And the books keep piling up.

All right, I am going to get to work on the kitchen and doing the laundry, opening my essay file and try to get some work done this morning.

Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

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So Very Hard to Go

Somehow I’ve managed to make it to Thursday, the eve of my birthday long weekend, and I can’t believe it’s actually here, you know? There were definitely times this past week where I wondered if it was ever going to end, although I am also fairly confident a lot of that had to do with the goddamned heat advisories we’ve been living through on a daily basis this week. It’s not as bad as it sounds–I’ve only really noticed when I go out to get in the car, for example–but you can almost feel the malaise in the air, you know?

Yesterday when I went to get the mail, I was most pleased to find my box o’ books–i.e. my copies of Royal Street Reveillon–there, along with all the books I ordered with my health insurance points. Now I have to find room for them on my shelves, and of course my TBR pile, long since out of control, has gotten even larger and wilder and more out of control than it was. I suspect someday they will find my dead body buried beneath my TBR pile, which collapsed on top of me and crushed me to death. It would be kind of an appropriate way to go, wouldn’t it?

I’ve not written a word this week since either Monday or Tuesday nights; I was worn out–a combination of the long work days and the heat advisory, methinks–and it’s fine. It’s more along the lines of the exhaustion and fallout from completing the massive project in such a short period of time, and I am hoping that once things get a little bit settled  (over the course of my half-day today and my five consecutive days off) and back to normal around here. I want to get all these odds and ends finished because I ‘d really love to spend September revising and rewriting the final draft of my rape culture/Kansas book, so I can get that turned in and on its way into the production stages. I also want to get this Chanse novel I’m thinking about writing outlined and ready to go, so when I start writing it I’ll know where it’s going and what I am doing. And of course there’s Chlorine, which I have also started, and is going to be short, quick and nasty. I also have all these short stories to finish, and an essay, and now I am starting to feel overwhelmed, a feeling that giving into  is how nothing ever gets done, quite frankly.

Out of my  head, overwhelmed feeling! GET OUT.

We continue to watch The Movies–last night we watched “The 70’s” (I’d already seen it, but Paul hadn’t), and tonight will be “The 80’s.” I really enjoy these documentary series, and seeing/being reminded of movies I’ve seen and loved and forgotten about, and would love to see again. There was, as they said over the show, a gritty realness and darkness to films of that decade–the fallout from Vietnam and Watergate–and the rise of a new generation of filmmakers and stars who changed the movies, for better or for worse. Tonight we’ll watch “The 80’s”, which is the decade when summer blockbuster event movies began taking over, setting the stage for this century’s reliance on superhero movies and franchise films.

And now, I have some things to do this morning before I depart for the office for my half-day, so I shall bid you adieu now, sweet Constant Reader, and will talk to you again tomorrow morning.

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