Do You Hear What I Hear?

It’s hard to believe that Christmas will be all over one week from today, but there it is. It’s been humid and in the eighties here in New Orleans the last few days, which is about as un-Christmas like as one can imagine. I don’t mind the heat, to be honest, but wouldn’t mind a slight temperature dip to recognize the holiday–a slight one. Not even a fan of it going much lower than sixty-five, and will inevitably whine when and if it does.

Yesterday was, all in all, a lovely day. I managed to get my chapters done yesterday, as I had hoped–the book is turning out nicely, and I am most pleased with how it’s going, even if I am behind schedule (as always)–and I managed to not make a complete fool of myself on the ZOOM promotion thing I did last night (well, at least I don’t think so). I slept deeply and well last night, managed to get a lot of cleaning up done around here and some organizing, and hopefully today the writing will go well yet again. I also am hopeful that I’ll have the energy to also get other things done around here today. I wasn’t as tired yesterday as I had been the previous two days, which had a lot, I would imagine, to do with sleeping well the way I have the last two nights. I probably need to run to the grocery store today, but I think I might actually wait and go on the way home from work tomorrow. We shall see, I suppose.

And I still need to figure out when things are due and what all I have agreed to do–which means at some point today I need to make A List, which is never really a bad thing to do at any time, really. I do feel a little overwhelmed with deadlines, and A List is precisely the thing I need for right now. All I want to do right now is actually go sit in my easy chair with my coffee and read Vivien Chien’s book, but that’s undoubtedly the part of my brain that always throws up roadblocks and tries to keep me from succeeding, which is the part of my brain I should also never listen to at any time.

Yet here we are.

I’ve also been abstractedly thinking in the macro sense about next year already, and what I want to get done. I had wanted to do another Scotty book this year (the book I am currently writing supplanted it in the schedule), but with so many odds and ends hanging out in my files…I think that after I get all the short stories that are promised out of the way in January, I am going to spend February writing Chlorine while working on the Bouchercon anthology, which I would love to have finished and out of the way by the end of February (while being aware that I probably won’t get Chlorine finished in that same period of time, most likely), and then I want to get all these novellas and short story collections and potential essays finished and out of the way before I dive into another Scotty book. I know what that Scotty book is going to be–which is a lot more than I usually know going into a Scotty book, other than the title, which this time around is Mississippi River Mischief–but I doubt that’s going to make it any easier to write for me, either.

I also have to bear in mind that Crooked Lane may want another book in this series, too, which I would have to carve out time for.

It never ends–and I hope that it literally never does, frankly; I never want to stop writing and publishing, ever. Even if I stop publishing traditionally, I would probably keep writing and might go the indie route, to be honest. I’ve always written, and will always write as long as I can sit in my desk chair and move my fingers across the keyboard.

There’s also another Corinth County book I want to write, and more Corinth County stories to work on as well.

It’s gray outside this morning, which means clouds and that inevitably means rain at some point. There’s no condensation on my windows so it’s not humid–or not terribly so, at any rate, outside.

Nightmare Alley and the new Spider-Man movie both opened this weekend, and I actually would like to see both films, but am not entirely comfortable going to sit in a movie theater at this point in time. I do love the original Tyrone Power version of Nightmare Alley, and I love the darkness of the book (which was recommended to me by my friend Megan); it’s one of those I would like to have the time to reread at some point. Spider-Man is making bank at the box office, as one would expect it to, and I do love Tom Holland–I think he’s adorable, charismatic, and a good actor–but as much as I think this spectacle probably would work best on a big screen, this current variant situation has me reluctant to go see anything in the theater. I mean, why take chances? And since I am in close contact with people every day I see clients at the office, why push my luck this way? Hopefully both will wind up on a streaming service relatively soon, and I’m not in any huge rush to see either film. There aren’t many films I absolutely have to see immediately right now cannot wait for them to stream these days.

We’re still watching the OG Gossip Girl, which is still fun even if the characters create drama by doing things that have always failed before, which makes it very definitely a soap opera. We’re up to season four now, with only two left once we get through this run, and I suspect our Christmas day is going to be nothing more than a massive Gossip Girl binge watch. There certainly are other shows now piling up on our “must-watch” list, so this lengthy visit with the Gossip Girl gang is certainly allowing us to bank up a lot of shows to watch in reserve–which hopefully means not running out of anything to watch for a good long time.

And on that note, I think I am going to retire to my chair for an hour or so with Vivien Chien before diving into the book for today. Wish me luck, Constant Reader! I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Santa Baby

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am a bit tired. I went to the retirement party last night (note: it was not in the Bywater, but actually in Holy Cross, on the other side of the Industrial Canal; a neighborhood I’ve not been to in years. But then again, I’ve really not spent much time in the Bywater in forever either), and it was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed spending time away from the office with my co-workers in a relaxed environment, it’s been a hot minute (and not just because of the pandemic, either) and it was nice spending time getting to know them outside of a professional environment. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, and stayed much later than I had planned–it was almost one in the morning when I finally rolled into the Lost Apartment, but was very delighted. I had a glass or two of champagne spread out over five hours (and they were very small), so was okay to drive, but have a bit of a headache this morning.

It feels more sinus-y then anything else as well, so I think once I take a Claritin that problem will clear itself right up.

Today I have a lot to get done; I need to get back on track with the book, I need to go to the gym (but continue to baby the left shoulder, which is still a bit sore this morning; note to self: Icy Hot), I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and I also want to finish watching Chapelwaite. I only have two episodes left, and despite that really slow burn first episode, it really picks up steam and starts going full blast, the pace picking up with every episode without losing the integrity of the story or the characters. It also has inspired me to write a sort-of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows–well, that’s not quite true; I’d always intended to return to Corinth County with another book, and but watching this show gave me the inspirational story spark I needed to come up with the story. I scribbled down a lot of notes yesterday, and while I need to focus on the current book, I am itching to get to this one sooner rather than later (a constant problem with this my writing career, which never seems to change despite my advances in age) but I definitely need to get to Chlorine next.

So, next year is going to be about Chlorine, another Scotty, and this second Corinth County book, which will start tying the threads of the county spread out over many different stories, both short, novella length, and novel, together. (Which was one of the primary reasons I was dreading writing such a book; tying these threads together was going to be difficult, but now i sort of know how to do it all; there’s one novella in particular that isn’t going to be easy to tie into the others, but I think I know how to do it now)…) And the novellas. And the short story collection. And the essays. And….yikes. Just typing all this out made me very tired.

I also had a rather scary moment this morning when I saw a headline about a fatal, catastrophic tornado (or rather, series of them) devastating Kentucky; I really wish the news would be less generic in headlines or click titles for articles about such things. The vast majority of states are actually rather large in size and scale, and while obviously I feel terrible for the residents of the state affected by this disaster, at the same time I was extremely relieved to go look at a map and see it was in western Kentucky, a significant distance from my family in eastern Kentucky. I understand the need for clicks and so forth is the on-line Internet business model, but still. Nevertheless, these tornadoes devastated a vast swath of that area, including Arkansas and Tennessee and I believe Missouri, and as someone who has lived through and dealt with natural disasters myself, I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones as well as homes and property (the gulf parishes south of New Orleans are still struggling to recover from Ida, by the way). Please donate to the relief efforts if you can.

And on that note, I have an excess of emails to clean out, a kitchen office to organize and get ready, and a book to get back to writing, amongst many other things to do and they ain’t getting done the longer I sit here writing this. Have a happy healthy Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check back in with you tomorrow with a progress report.

Who Needs Love Like That

One final blast of Blatant Self-Promotion for Bury Me in Shadows. (Or is it?)

And I thank you, Constant Reader, for your patience while I do this. Soon we’ll be back to our normal daily programming only; and there will be no more of those navel-gazing posts about writing this book; just navel-gazing posts about whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, I guess.

(Warning: I will be having to do more Blatant Self-Promotion in and around January when #shedeservedit drops. You’ve been warned!)

The first line of the first draft of Bury Me in Shadows was “My mother ruined my life the summer before my senior year of high school.” I liked this opening line, as it seemed a good place to start; for me, it should have struck the interest of the reader: who is this speaking? Surely this is an exaggeration? What did she do?

The problem was—and I can be horribly stubborn when it comes to these sorts of things—that I loved that opening line and tried to keep it even after I realized it wouldn’t work, and didn’t on several levels; it implies, very strongly, that this story is being told in flashback—the entire sentence makes it sound like he’s looking back and remembering that summer from a vantage point in the future—and that wasn’t what I wanted with the story. It even set the wrong tone. In my original vision of the story, my Jake had gotten a summer job at a fast food place in his suburb of Chicago, mainly because he has a huge crush on a guy who works there. His mother sending him away for the summer ruins his plans to get close to Hunter (who still appears in the book, but very briefly), and then he meets a love interest in Alabama while he’s dealing with all the family secrets and what may or not be a haunting of some sort. Originally, Jake was very well-balanced and smart; his mother has always treated him like an adult so he’s more mature than most seventeen-year-old’s, but still has that strong narcissistic streak that so many teenagers share (I’ll never forget Nancy Garden—angel that she was—telling me, when asked for advice, “Just remember that for teenagers everything is the end of the world.”). But…would she send a seventeen-year-old down there? And once I realized that the moonshiners in the holler over the ridge would probably now also have a meth lab (or replaced the still with one), I thought, there’s no way this intelligent, capable, and successful woman would send a teenager down there on his own for the summer and I realized I needed to shift his age, make him older; it also eliminated the need for him to be picked up at the Birmingham airport or borrow a car from his uncle. I also realized if Jake were older, he could be in college in New Orleans—where he would, of course, have a car—and could just drive up there.  And as the story continued to flesh out in my head as I conceptualized it and started writing, I began to understand how dangerous it was at the Donelson place; and given the reasons why Glynis has kept her son away from where she grew up, she would have to be completely reassured that she wasn’t putting her son in any danger.

Which led me into a deep dive into who Jake was a character—and he was not the confident, borderline-cocky openly gay high school senior whom I’d envisioned originally. I also needed a reason why Glynis would decide to send her son there for the summer, when she’s clearly kept him away for most of his life. That meant he would have to do something—I wasn’t sure what it was yet, but there had to be something—and I already had her working in Los Angeles for the summer so she couldn’t take him with her or keep an eye on him at their home in Chicago. I debated: a car accident, or an accident of some sort? And then it hit me right between the eyes: he’s the son of a very successful, kind of cold mother; he’s openly gay and went to a private Catholic school in Chicago; and his mother has been married multiple times. He doesn’t feel at home with his father’s second family in the suburbs, so he always feels out of place, with the inherent insecurities and self-doubt and self-loathing that comes with that. Shy and nervous and not sure of himself, he would be easy prey for a narcissistic gay, who would see in him a ‘project’: “let’s teach Jake how to be a gay man!’ And, of course Jake falls for the guy, who is completely the wrong person for him, and the more the guy pulls away the harder he clings, until the guy finally has enough and pulls away. This causes Jake to spiral, badly, mixing drugs and alcohol and who knows what else as he goes on a three day binge, most of which he doesn’t remember, and he ends up in the hospital after collapsing on the dance floor of a gay bar at four in the morning. The hospital contacts his mother, she tells them he tried to kill himself in high school, and he gets put on a 72 psychiatric hold. It is then she comes up with the great idea of what to do with him for the summer: her mother is dying, and the house is full of junk. Someone from the family should be there, and since he is there, he can start doing an inventory of everything in the house, getting it ready to be cleared out once the old woman does finally die. Jake doesn’t really like the idea but Glynis gives him no choice; and he is off to summer in glorious Corinth County, Alabama.

Of course, once he arrives there, he starts having strange memories, weird feelings, and seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing. Having just overdosed, naturally he isn’t certain he can completely trust his own brain; has he somehow fucked up his brain function? But the longer he stays there, the more certain he becomes that what he is experiencing is actually real; and that’s even more disturbing than thinking his brain has rewired. There are a LOT of family secrets and dysfunction to uncover, and of course, there’s that family of criminals with a meth lab just over the ridge, and those archaeologists digging out at the ruins of the old Blackwood Hall; and all those terrible family secrets start coming out…which puts his own life at risk.

If you do decide to take a chance and read Bury Me in Shadows, I hope you enjoy it. It was fun to write–once I figured out how to fix all the problems–and I hope it’s fun for you to read.

Who Do You Think You Are

Wednesday and hump day; it’s the Wednesday between bi-weekly Pay the Bills Days and all the bills are paid and thus all is right in a Gregalicious world. Huzzah? HUZZAH!

I didn’t want to get up this morning–definitely didn’t want to get out of bed–which is a lovely contrast to a few weeks ago when I was getting up earlier than usual because I couldn’t sleep. The caffeine experiment also seems to continue to work–I wasn’t tired from less caffeine yesterday, didn’t crash from caffeine drop in the middle of the afternoon, and felt fine when I got home from work (other than exhaustion from being out in a heat advisory, which convinced me to skip the gym last night and try again tonight). I worked on Chlorine a little before being sucked into the Olympic vortex last night, but tonight I am going to try to get more work on Chlorine done and maybe do some editing etc. rather than staring at the television for most of the evening. I am really enjoying working on Chlorine–it hit me yesterday that I am having a lot of fun with the character voice, and another key to his character, who he is, came to me last night–more than anything, he’s a survivor, a queer man in a horribly homophobic society doing what he has to do in order to survive and work and keep going without being destroyed in the process–and as such, he has to make some moral compromises…but he truly sees those compromises as endemic to Hollywood and the system; everyone has to make compromises in Hollywood.

I am really, really liking the character, and really really liking writing it. I mean, yesterday I got to write the line “I’ve never cared much about dames.” That inordinately pleased me to no end, and is emblematic of the voice and the tone I am striving for in this book. And I’m actually believing this will be a really good one–which is a feeling I rarely get when I am in the midst of writing something, if ever.

So, I am just kind of basking in the glow of writing something I am enjoying and am proud of at the same time, since it’s such a unique experience for me.

I’m also speaking to my editor tomorrow about #shedeservedit, which she apparently thinks, in her own words, is “amazing”, which nevertheless means I’ll be taking a break from other writing relatively soon in order to do the revisions and edits on it for its January release. At long last, “the Kansas book” will be out there for people to read. I’ve kind of worked on this book, in one form or another, since 1977, really; it’s been a long time a-bornin’, as they used to say in the olden days in the rural midwest. There are some other Kansas book ideas in my head, but unless something really jumps out and grabs me by the throat, this may very well be my last Kansas book. Alabama, on the other hand…one of the things I need to do (which I forgot to add to the to-do list I created yesterday) is go through the Alabama stuff I’ve already written and clear up discrepancies and so forth, as well as make a list of who’s who in the county and the county’s history and so forth. I will be revisiting Corinth County again–for some reason, I’m thinking that one of the supporting characters from Bury Me in Shadows (namely, Beau Hackworth) may even get his own book at some point, and there are numerous other Corinth County stories I want to tell. I may even do some more California books, for that matter…and there’s definitely a book with a Houston tie-in I want to write eventually.

I guess we’ll see how it all turns out.

But I am pretty jazzed I’ve somehow made it to Wednesday relatively unscathed.

This bodes well for the future, methinks. And in a few more weeks I get a four day weekend; they are closing the agency on the 13th and the 16th as a thank you to the staff for working through the pandemic (which isn’t over yet, but I appreciate the long weekend) and we also all got a raise for the year, which was also rather nice. Bouchercon in New Orleans is also happening in a few weeks–at least, so far it is still happening–and while it’s going to involve social distancing and masking, I am still looking forward to seeing my friends whom I’ve not seen in years now. Years.

But if Louisiana’s numbers keep worsening…sigh.

And on that note, I am going to get my day started. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Turn

Saturday morning and I’m up much earlier than I usually am; I woke up around seven–the last time; it was a restless night–and finally decided to just go ahead and get up. We have to take Scooter to the vet at eleven for follow-up blood work (monitoring his diabetes) but other than that, the day is pretty free for me. I am thinking about going to the gym later to do arms (I skipped them last night because…well, because there were too many people there in the small space that is the gym and I don’t like having to force my way into spaces because so many gym-goers seem to feel like they are the only people there or they own the gym or something; I despise many things, but I have an especial hatred for inconsiderate assholes at the gym; always has been a pet peeve of mine) and was actually thinking it might be a good idea to go to alternating workouts; arms on one workout, shoulders/chest/back/legs on the other, with a goal to eventually give legs its own day in June). My muscles feel tired this morning, which means I worked them hard yesterday. That is a good thing. I also don’t want to waste today–which has a tendency to happen far too often on these weekends. The apartment needs some work done on it (it’s horrifying how much I’ve allowed the housework to slide since the first of the year) and perhaps getting up early this morning and using this time to actually do stuff rather than be a slug will help.

We shall see how this day progresses, at any rate.

One would never guess, looking around my apartment this morning, that I prefer to be organized, that’s for certain.

I’ve kind of decided to reread Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher next. I think I need a break from reading crime fiction–a palate cleanser, if you will–and I’ve been thinking a lot about this book and the film made from it lately; I don’t know why, or I don’t remember the reason it came up in my brain recently (hell, it may have been two years ago for all I can remember; I have absolutely no concept of time anymore). I read the book when I was eleven or twelve; I’m not sure when, but I know it was when we lived in the suburbs, and I’m also not really sure why I was so interested in it. I know I didn’t see the movie until it aired on television, and years later I rented the video to see the unedited version, but it always stuck in my head–so much so that I wrote a short story somewhat predicated on the same premise; nostalgic looking back at the coming of age of the main character. The story was called “The Island”, and rereading that story about ten years ago–I was fond of it, and it was very popular in the creative writing class I wrote it for–I realized, in horror, that it was very clearly a product of its time and could never be published without an extensive rewrite. There was a young woman in that creative writing class, and she hated the story, which of course deeply bothered me; particularly because her criticism was based on nothing–she had nothing concrete other than “it just made me squirm a bit,” was all she could say, and of course everyone else in the class just kind of rolled their eyes and dismissed her. On the reread, I realized precisely why it made her squirm, even though she couldn’t–or was afraid to–put it into words: the main character was thirteen and is seduced by a woman in her early twenties, so I kind of unintentionally wrote a grooming/pedophile story but wrote it as a nostalgic, coming of age romantic story. Ick ick ick. In retrospect, her reaction was the right one to have, frankly. I tried to rewrite it and make the characters closer in age–making the main character seventeen and the young woman twenty–but it still had an ick factor to it. I thought about changing it to a gay story, but that made it even ickier.

This set me to thinking about how our viewpoints on this sort of thing have changed over the course of my life, and whether Summer of ’42, which inspired the story in the first place, would still read the same way all these years later. NOW I REMEMBER! (There’s still some juice in the old brain yet!) I started thinking about my story again when I made the list of all the unpublished short stories I have in my files, and I remembered, not only this story but another one I wrote for that class that was never published anywhere, “Whim of the Wind”–and I was thinking about that story a lot over the last year because that one was also set in Corinth County, Alabama–the place I was writing about in Bury Me in Shadows, and the two stories (“The Island” and “Whim of the Wind”) are forever linked in my head because I wrote them for the same writing class and turned both in together (we could turn in as many stories as we wanted, but had to turn it at least once twice in the semester…I turned in two the first time, and six the second time; the first example of how prolific I can be when I set my mind to it and do the work). But I digress. Back in the day, when I was growing up and even up to my thirties and forties, the age gap thing–and the sexuality of teenagers–wasn’t as big a deal as it is today, if that makes sense. Even now, when there’s a scandal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult woman–usually a teacher in her early twenties–a lot of men don’t see the problem and say lucky kid or wish I’d had a teacher like that when I was in high school and things like that; as though there’s something natural and “manly” and normal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult (incidentally, if the teacher is male these same responses are most definitely not used; adult male teachers who have sex with girl students aren’t treated or looked at the same way, nor are male teachers having sex with male students; adult men are inevitably seen as predators–the very same type of double standard the classic Tracy/Hepburn film Adam’s Rib addressed in 1949).

It’s rather interesting now, as sixty looms on the horizon, to look back and see how the world has changed since I was a kid.

We got caught up on Cruel Summer last night, then tried watching The Serpent on Netflix–I’d read Thomas Thompson’s book about the murderous couple, Serpentine, years ago–but it didn’t really hold our interest, so we decided to skip it and move on to something else.

Okay, I’ve put off getting the day started for long enough now. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Face Up

Wednesday has rolled around again, as it always does, and last night was another restful sleep of the same sort I had on Monday; restful but awake or half-awake the majority of the time. I am beginning to wonder, quite frankly, if this is just another affect of getting older; the inability to sleep deeply every night. Yesterday I wasn’t as tired as I feared I would be, which actually was kind of nice, and I do think this will be the case this morning too. I intend to go to the gym this evening for a workout with weights after work–so being tired will not be helpful in the least. Maybe that will put me into a deep sleep tonight.

Maybe it won’t–which is more likely.

We watched two more episodes of The Capture last night on Peacock, which is incredibly good. I still have absolutely no clue what’s going on, but the suspense is so ratcheted up that I cannot wait to get home tonight so we can finish watching it. I want to start reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in her Mary Russell series, but focus is so important when reading and what little focus I have these days really needs to be spend on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows, which needs to be finished by the end of the month–so time is running out on me, as always. I was thinking about how I reacted to rereading the manuscript with an eye to edits last weekend, and how I always am enormously dissatisfied with the final product when it is released. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of every book I’ve written, as each represents surmounting a struggle of some sort in some way, and finishing and publishing a novel is always an accomplishment, regardless of how it turned out in the end. I was dissecting this in my head last night while I was making tacos for dinner (nachos for Paul); my strengths are premises, titles, and character–but inevitably whenever I start writing a book most of the time I don’t know how it’s going to end. I try to figure out how to end a book before I start writing it–but on the rare occasions when I have figured out the end beforehand, I question that as I write and inevitably change my mind at least once, if not twice, and as a result, I never am completely confident in my endings. Adding to the neuroses in my brain, the last few chapters of a book generally don’t get as much attention as earlier chapters, either, which makes my insecurity even worse.

I really do wish I could slap my first creative writing teacher across the face for doing such a number on me that it has lasted all these years. FUCKER.

Then again, he typed smugly, I’m about thirty-six novels, five novellas, and fifty short stories into my career; he’s still unpublished, forty years later. So, there’s that…and the fact I never forget a grudge.

I’ve also been toying with some 1970’s research in my spare moments–looking up things and trying to remember things from my tween years–like “sissy bars” (and no, it’s not a bar for effeminate gay men, though it is a great name for a gay bar). I remembered “sissy bars” as being the high bar on boys’ bicycles that girls’ bikes didn’t have back then; turns out it’s actually the back bar at the end of a bike that the passenger behind the driver/rider can lean back on for balance. (I still remember it the other way; and that other bar doesn’t seem to have a name, which is weird.) I’ve been wanting to write about the early 1970’s in the Chicago suburbs for quite some time–I have an idea based on a murder that happened in our suburb when I was a freshman in high school, You’re No Good, which could be a lot of fun to work on and write–and my main character from Lake Thirteen (Scotty?) was from that same fictional suburb…which leads me back into that weird Greg Universe where all of my books are somehow connected, between New Orleans, Alabama, Chicago and it’s suburbs, California, and Kansas–which I completely forgot that I was doing. (Aside: Bury Me in Shadows is set in Corinth County; which is where the main character in Dark Tide was also from; where I set the story “Smalltown Boy”; and where Frank and Scotty’s nephew Taylor is from, making his first appearance in Baton Rouge Bingo.) But the early 1970’s was an interesting and somewhat volatile time, between Vietnam, the economic crisis, and Watergate; where television gave us stuff like The Partridge Family and Love, American Style and horrible variety shows; when the post World War II economic boom in the United States was beginning to crumble and fade away; when Top 40 radio ruled the AM channels and everything was still on vinyl or eight-track tapes, before cable television and 24 hour news and no Internet or cell phones. But… as I mentioned earlier, while I have a great premise and a terrific title, I don’t know the story or how it ends…but that won’t stop me from obsessively researching the period.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a great day Constant Reader!

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

Peace

And we have now slid into Saturday. I have to make groceries today–the first exploration of non-Rouse’s grocery making in over a decade- -get the mail and pick up a prescription, but other than that I have the entire day to myself to work on writing, read, try to get organized, and clean. It’s an ambitious program, but I suspect I can get much of it done today. I want to get the draft of my story for MWA finished this weekend, so I can polish it before I send it in (on the last possible day, of course) and I also have a lot of other work to buckle down and do for MWA.

I just need to focus, keep my head down, and not worry about how much I have to get done; that’s when I’ll get overwhelmed and literally get nothing finished, which I cannot allow to happen.

This also means I need to stop scrolling through Twitter and checking the news–but I have to say, yesterday was one of those days where I alternated between fury at the terrorist attack on the Capitol and laughing at the fucking stupidity of the treasonist traitors and their mea culpas as the terrorists get arrested, lose their jobs, and issue public statements claiming that’s not who I am. Um, it’s is EXACTLY who you are, you fucking treasonous trash, and I do really hope the rest of your life was worth it–because you aren’t heroes, 88% of Americans strongly disapprove of your behavior, and your own family, friends and co-workers are turning you into the FBI and other law enforcement. And Republican enablers? Miss me with that “healing” talk until they are all in jail–and I include Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in that, as well as the entire Trump family other than Barron. I also think Melania should be stripped of citizenship and deported for committing immigration fraud, not just for herself, but for her parents as well. There needs to be consequences and no leniency, otherwise it will happen again–and next time, they might be better organized and actually succeed.

I seriously can’t wait for the trials to begin, and the Congressional investigations. More people died at the Capitol than at Benghazi.

As I tweeted at Kellyanne Conway, your harvest has come in, Tokyo Rose, and you’re never going to wash the stink off.

But I am going incommunicado today, because as much I feel it’s important to witness history as it occurs, that witnessing isn’t going to pay the bills–and the bill always need to be paid. I also need to do some reading–I’ve got the ebooks of the latest MWA anthology, Deadly Anniversaries; an advance copy of Edgar winner Alison Gaylin’s The Collective, and am about to, at long last, start reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series*, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The threat to our nation from this past week is going to have to be put aside for me this weekend–no promises on next week’s between-client activities–so I can make sense out of the mess the Lost Apartment is in, and try to get some of these other things caught up as well. It’s very cold, if bright, this morning in New Orleans; I slept magnificently last night and feel incredibly well-rested this morning for the first time in a while. (Also, good news from the friend who had to have emergency surgery this week; that had also been weighing heavily on my mind.) Paul and I also need to find some new things to watch…

Yesterday as I made condom packs I watched an HBO MAX documentary called Alabama Snake, which was fascinating. The rural part of Alabama this happened in is a county in northeast Alabama, on the Tennessee state-line and very close to the Georgia. The highway I take when I drive north to Kentucky misses this county by quite a ways–swinging into Georgia, where I switch to I-75 in the lower Appalachians to head north through Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was, obviously, about a snake-handling pentecostal church whose preacher was convicted of trying to murder his second wife with rattlesnake bites. This all happened in the early 1990’s, and while I’d like to think things have changed in the nearly thirty years since, I suspect they haven’t changed that much (I have plans for my Corinth County where Bury Me in Shadows is set; there will be more stories and books set there methinks, and watching Alabama Snake helped a lot with that), which makes me feel a bit better about the manuscript I just turned in.

I seriously keep looking around at this mess and chaos I am in the midst of and every time, I am a little surprised someone hasn’t come along and taken care of it all for me! Which is probably the segue I need to bring this to a close for the day and get started on everything I need to get done around here. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

*Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series is one of my favorite mystery series of all time, and I strongly encourage you to read it, Constant Reader.

West End Girls

Well, we made it to Wednesday, did we not? It’s also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills Day, which of course is always a popular day around here–NOT.

But I managed to write another 1300 words yesterday on something–not Bury Me in Shadows, I am putting that off until the weekend, when I will have time to sit down and reread the entire manuscript (I am already rewriting the first chapter in my head; it’s main character is transitioning from a high school student to a college student suffering from depression); instead I had a thought about a bunch of fragments, ideas and the occasional scene, of a something that needs to be stitched together and an ending tacked onto it called “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which I’ve been fragmentally writing for several years now. It’s a Corinth County, Alabama story; set in the distant past of the mid to late (vague, will depend on the music choices) 1970’s, in the point of view of a thirteen year old. I don’t quite have the voice or tone right yet; that’s going to have to wait until I have the entire thing stitched together. It’s already well over 6000 words and I did originally think it might be the seeds of a novel, but I don’t think there’s really quite enough story to flesh out a novel but a length of somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand might just be right for it. My publisher does publish ebook novellas, and that might be the right place for it–plus it can always go into the anchor position of a collection.

It’s weird to feel so good about so many things.

I was hesitant to write the story, because I’ve already gone to that well twice already–“Smalltown Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man”–but I have also realized all of my stories don’t necessarily need to be connected, but there’s also a way at some point to connect all of these stories together. I’m not certain why I am always so determined to connect my stories together; my young adults–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen and others–are all loosely connected; I’d wanted to do an entire series of young adult horror/suspense that were connected together by threads; Laura in Sorceress was from the same place in Kansas where Sara took place; one of the characters in Sara was from the Chicago suburb the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; and of course, both Sleeping Angel and Sorceress took place in the same California mountain town. There’s another I’ve written that’s been languishing forever in a drawer that is also set in Woodbridge, and I keep forgetting about it, to tell you the truth. This is why I had that OCD moment a few weeks back and counted how many things I had in progress, in a vain attempt to get a handle on it all.

I suppose I could create a spreadsheet. But Lord, another thing to do? Then again, it could keep me from writing–that weird dichotomy of hating to do something I actually love to do. I am sure my great mood lately has everything to do with having written, and doing good work recently; I actually am looking forward to getting all my work done today so I can dive back into the story. I’d love to have it finished by the weekend, but I don’t necessarily have to have it finished in order to start the reread of Bury Me in Shadows; with the sweeping changes I am going to making to it, it will be mostly to see what I can actually keep and still works with the age changes for the main character.

We are almost finished with Dark Desire, and I have to say I am quite impressed with the writers of this show; it has so many twists and turns! Every time we start to think we know what the truth is we get shocked by an out-of-nowhere twist, and the personal stories are so complicated and messy! We had started to get a little bored with it around the sixth or seventh episode (maybe?) because it seemed relatively predictable; boy, were we ever wrong! Tonight we’ll polish off the last four episodes–they are only about thirty-three minutes long–and then we’ll have to decide what to watch next. There are so many choices!

It seems like it was just yesterday we were complaining about the trouble finding something we wanted to watch–but realitically, I was just thinking last night how we’ve watched so much stuff we can’t even remember it all.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader.

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Wednesday, and here we are, in the middle of the week suddenly. It’s also a new month; didn’t March seem to last forever, to the point where it actually felt like it wasn’t just March but Bataan Death March? Does anyone besides me even know what the Bataan Death March was? Americans’ grasp and knowledge of our own history is astonishingly slender and leaves a lot to be desired–which is why the same policies that have failed, repeatedly, throughout our history–“trickle down economics”, anyone–always end up coming back around and fucking us all over again, repeatedly, as new generations continue to be fooled by the desire of the rich and the corporations to fuck us repeatedly, counting on the knowledge that no one knows it has all happened before.

It is astonishing how no one studies the past so we can learn from mistakes made and not repeat them, isn’t it?

I’m actually not, as today’s title might suggest, a coal miner’s daughter but actually a coal miner’s grandson; my grandfather was a coal miner, and received disability until the day he died for the black lung disease he acquired as a result. Alabama isn’t known for coal mining, and I do know that he used to go away to work in the coal mines, so I’m not exactly sure where it was he went to do the work; as a child I didn’t really listen to the stories as closely as perhaps I should have, or it’s the old memory-sieve thing, but I do remember seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter in the theater when it was released, and thinking, when they showed the shack Loretta Lynn grew up in, how similar it was to my maternal grandmother’s house. The house my father grew up in–where my grandfather lived up till pretty close to when he died, I think–wasn’t as ramshackle as my maternal grandmother’s. It never dawned on me to think about how much poverty my parents grew up as children; my maternal grandfather died when my mother was around eleven, and so the only money they ever got was his military pension from serving in the Pacific during the war–and it wasn’t much. My grandmother used to make most of her children’s clothes as well as her own; when I was a kid I remember my mother had mad sewing skills, but they fell into disuse as we moved up the economic ladder as I got older. My parents were, in fact, a perfect example of the upward mobility, the American dream, as it used to exist in those decades that followed the second world war. They married young and moved to Chicago when they were barely twenty and had two small children; they both worked in factories while my dad went to school at night to finish his engineering degree. By the time they were thirty they owned a house in the suburbs and my father was on his way up the corporate ladder; my mom stopped working when he finally made it to management and we were transferred to Kansas. It was always ironic to me that when I was a small child my parents both worked while everyone else I knew’s mom was a housewife; when the economy shifted in my teens my mother became a housewife while most other families became two income.

I didn’t grow up in Alabama, but I grew up thinking of Alabama as home and was raised to have a fierce, deep pride in not only being Southern but in Alabama. I grew up understanding the importance of both Alabama and Auburn football to the pride of the state, and pride in that the fierce rivalry between the two programs was one of the biggest and best in college football. My love for Alabama has grown more conflicted over the years, as I began to reexamine things I was raised to believe in as moral and right and developed my own code of ethics, morality, and right and wrong. Writing Bury Me in Shadows is, in some ways, an attempt to regurgitate and make sense of that through writing. The vast majority of my writing has always firmly centered New Orleans, and writing about New Orleans is probably what I’m best known for, if I am known at all. I have written bits and pieces here and there about other places I’ve lived; I turned Fresno into Polk for the frat boy books, and Tampa into Bay City for other stories, and of course, with the exception of Dark Tide, which was set in the panhandle of Alabama, I primarily fictionalize where I’m from in Alabama as Corinth County–which is where the main character of Dark Tide was from.

Bury Me in Shadows is my first book-length writing about Corinth County; and I decided to show it from the perspective of a native who didn’t grow up there, whose mother moved away before he was born, and has spent very little time there–and hasn’t, in fact, been there since he was eight years old. I am having some fun with it–you can’t go wrong with a meth lab, a burned out plantation house, and the rural woods in northwest Alabama–but it needs some work, and I think I’ve been away from it long enough now so that when I do have the time to go back and start revising and reworking and getting it ready to turn in, my eyes and perspective will be fresh.

I am starting to get more tired though, and it’s harder to get up in the morning than it was earlier in the week. I am only working the morning shift today; this afternoon I have some errands to run and I am going to do some work at home. I think that will help me with the tiredness–the screening process can be draining–and if I get my work done early, I can maybe spend some time reading or writing. I was too tired to read much more of “The Archduchess,” the du Maurier tale I am trying to get through this week, but it’s very interesting. The darkness that always imbues her work is there as the story goes on, which is about a very small European nation whose spring water has some kind of mystical rejuvenating power, but I haven’t gotten to the meat of the story as of yet. But it’s interesting, and I am curious to see where she is going with the story.

I also have a gazillion emails to try to get answered at some point today.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

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

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