Friends and Neighbors

Ah, community.

What is a cozy mystery without one? I don’t know because I’ve never read one that didn’t have a strong sense of community in it, but for me, the depictions of community is one of the primary draws of cozies.

As I have mentioned before, the vast majority of cozies are generally set in small towns, small communities where everyone always seems to come together, everyone knows everyone, and there’s an undercurrent of caring about others that makes them cozy and comfortable to read. I was worried at first about setting one in New Orleans, to be honest; New Orleans is many things to many different people, but I’ve kind of always seen New Orleans as a darker city than most, and that darkness that is always out there on the periphery of the bright sunshine, no matter how cheerful you might be or how lovely of a day it is. Part of it is the history here–New Orleans was a center of the slave trade, after all, and you don’t get much darker than human trafficking–and of course, the city has always been a major port…and ports aren’t exactly known as sedate places. There has always been a lot of crime here, and you really can’t go anywhere in New Orleans without overhearing people talking about the “crime problem” and shaking their heads at the decline of Western civilization as we know it down here by the riverside.

So, how can I write a light, breezy novel about a city that is so dark?

The key was community, of course. New Orleans is a city, but it’s also a city of neighborhoods, and always has been. Generations of families passed homes and property down to their children and their children and so on. “Where’d you go to high school?” was a question asked because the answer told the asker lots of things. Private school or public? What neighborhood did you grow up in? And as I thought more about it, I realized my lonely block in the lower Garden District has that sense of community to it. Neighbors look out for neighbors. We’ve lived in the same place since either 2002 or 2003; I’m never really sure I can remember when we moved onto the property; those years between moving back here in 2001 and Katrina are kind of blurry for me. But we’ve gotten to know our landlady pretty well as well as some of our neighbors; others have come and gone over the years but we always all end up down at the corner for parades during Carnival, catching throws and hanging out and having a good time.

And I realized I could do the same for Valerie.

In A Streetcar Named Murder I only introduced the reader to a few members of Valerie’s community in the Irish Channel: her best friend and neighbor Lorna; the gay couple next door in one side of a double and one’s mother, Mrs. Domenico, on the other side; and her friend Stacia who lives further down the street. I also mentioned there were a couple of houses being used as Air BnB’s, which may play a part in a book should the series get picked up. I had learned my lesson from the failed Paige spin-off series years ago; the mouthy, brash and snarky best friend cannot be the main character, but the book/community needed someone like that in the book. The main character has to be kind–but there’s always a more colorful secondary character necessary to say the funny and borderline mean things in place of the main character.

This is where Lorna comes in.

Lorna is very colorful indeed, and was a lot of fun to create. She’s married to an airline pilot who is often gone for long stretches of time (his name is Jack Farrow; since he’s a pilot she calls him Captain Jack Farrow). She’s British, speaks multiple languages, is fiercely intelligent and doggedly loyal. She also writes lusty romance novels that are huge bestsellers under the name Felicity Deveraux. Lorna is a great best friend who is also always up for anything, and naturally, she has a huge imagination and a big personality. Interesting and fun as Lorna is, I don’t think I would ever write about her as the main character because, like Paige, she would need to be toned down and I don’t really want to do that to her.

It is Lorna’s ambition to join a Mardi Gras krewe that actually puts Valerie at the scene of the crime in the book. See how that works?

But her neighborhood isn’t her only community, either; there’s a community around Rare Things, the antiques store she inherits–Randall Charpentier, her new boss; Dee, her co-worker; and of course the people who are in and out of the shop–the hot guy from an outer parish who repairs and refinishes furniture, for one–on a regular basis. If it becomes a series, I can flit the cases back and forth from her neighborhood to the store and vice versa; there are all kinds of plots and stories I can tell that could come from both.

And there’s still another community that Valerie belongs to that was only touched on in the first book–the parents’ group at Loyola High (it doesn’t exist in real life, folks, but it’s based on Jesuit), the Cardirents. This is how Valerie knew the victim in this book; they were both in the group, with a fraught history (which is more fraught than Valerie ever knew).

So, yes, it is possible to create the sense of community a cozy mystery requires in New Orleans; New Orleans, in fact, is ripe for it.

And on that note, I will sign off here. More blatant self-promotion to come, no worries on that score!

My Little Town

It is quite impossible to have heard of every writer and every book, even in a subgenre; there are simply too many books published in the past, with new ones coming out every day and new ones getting signed for future release every day. When it comes to my own reading, I like to draw from a wide and deep pool of styles, genres, and authors. Most of my reading is generally confined to the crime genre–and I do confess that I need to broaden that pool even further. I need to read more literary fiction, science fiction, horror, romance, and fantasy; more true crime and biography and criticism; and even within my own crime genre I tend to not read as much of some sub-genres as others.

I’ve always liked cozies, and have never understood why they get so much grief and are so readily dismissed by those who neither write nor read them. I don’t read enough of them, to be honest, but again, there are so many terrific cozy writers and there’s only so much time. But recently in a review of my A Streetcar Named Murder, the reviewer mentioned that it was perfect “for fans of Katherine Hall Page.” This intrigued me, because I didn’t know her nor was I familiar with her work. I quickly checked in with some cozy writer friends, who all assured me it was a great compliment, so I decided to check out her Faith Fairchild series.

Faith Fairchild, recently of New York City, paused to catch her breath. Benjamin, her five-month-old son, was sound asleep, securely strapped to her chest in his Snugli. Her aching shoulder blades and the fact she has been focusing on the own path beneath her feet instead of the autumnal splendor to either side reminded Faith that Benjamin was definitely getting a bit too chunky for this mode of transportation. She straightened up and looked around.

It was New England with a vengeance: riotous orange and scarlet leaves beneath enormous, puffy white clouds suspended in a Kodacolor blue sky. A calendar maker’s dream. And of course brisk, clear air as crisp as a bite of a McIntosh apple just off the tree.

Faith hated McIntosh apples.

She walked up the Belfry Hill path a bit farther to a small clearning, which gave her an unobstructed view of the Aleford village green far below. She sat down and sighed heavily.

Her life was becoming terribly quaint, Faith thought. Time was when “village” meant “the Village” and “town” was up or down. And when did she start using phrases like “time was”? She let another sigh escape into the pollution-free landscape and longed for a whiff of that heady combination of roasted chestnuts and exhaust fumes that meant autumn to her.

It didn’t take me very long in reading the book to realize just what an incredible compliment that comparison actually was.

I pointed out in one of my entries about cozies–probably a blatantly self-promotional entry, if I recall correctly–that often-times there’s a “fish out of water” element to a cozy series; the main character is often someone from the big city who has, for whatever reason, found him or herself in a new small town environment that has its charms but at the same time they miss their big city. Faith Sibley Fairchild is no exception to this. Born and raised in Manhattan as the child of a minister and a wealthy heiress, Faith has her own trust fund and her interest in food led her to start her own, hugely successful catering company, Have Faith. But she has since fallen in love with a small-town minister, married him, temporarily shuttered her business and moved to pastoral Aleford in Massachusetts, having now had a baby and is trying to adjust to small town life as the minister’s wife. (I was reminded frequently of the Vicar’s wife in St. Mary Mead in Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage; the younger woman whom the villagers aren’t quite sure what to make of other than she’s not like any vicar’s wife they’ve ever known.)

On this particular morning she is heading up to the town belfry to just relax and have a little picnic with her baby son–only to discover the body of Cindy Shepherd, a perfectly awful young woman whom no one in the village of Aleford likes very much. Suspicion immediately falls on her long-suffering fiancé, who doesn’t have much of an alibi–and Faith finds herself intrigued by the case and starts asking around. She found the body, after all, and as she starts asking questions and bouncing from villager to villager, she finds herself learning more about her town and the intricate yet almost invisible threads that tie everyone in Aleford together–and soon finds that not only was Lucy unpleasant, she was an outright villain, who only cared about herself and was not above using whatever means at her disposal necessary to get what she wants. The investigation itself is also an excellent way for Page to introduce Aleford (as well as Faith’s own backstory) to the reader in a very organic way that is not only easy to follow but keeps the reader turning the page. Ms. Page also has a lovely, easily accessible and slyly witty voice that engages the reader, and you can’t help liking Faith and rooting for her–as well as looking forward to your next visit. There are currently twenty-six volumes in the series–daunting, to be sure–but I’m excited about that lengthy canon; I won’t be running out of Katherine Hall Page novels to read any time soon.

Valerie

Seriously, how could I not love this cover?

It literally has everything I love (well, most of it, at any rate): the St. Charles streetcar, Scooter, and all kinds of fun antiques and artifacts–and so brightly colored and beautiful. They even slipped in a strand of beads cleverly disguised as pearls! It is one of my favorite covers, and not just because it doesn’t have a shirtless man on the cover–I know, I know, it’s been awhile since I actually had one–certainly it’s been since Royal Street Reveillon–oops, no, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is post Royal Street Reveillon, so I guess it’s just the last two young adults and this one since then. And as I said, I really love the color scheme. I may have to have this blown up into a poster and have it framed–that’s how much I love it.

So, who is this Valerie Cooper and why did I decide to write about her and from her point of view?

I’d written from a female perspective before–under pseudonyms–and since I generally relate easier to women than I do to (straight) men, most of my reading is from a female point of view. I’ve always wanted to do a series from this perspective; on the rare occasions I’ve written from a straight man’s point of view (usually in a short story, although occasionally under a pseudonym for a novel) but not as often. I had thought about trying to write a cozy series from a male perspective (I have a great idea for one that I don’t think anyone would buy or want, but I love the idea and may try to do something with it sometime) but eventually defaulted to a woman. Most cozies are told from the feminine perspective (there are exceptions), and so it felt more right to have a female protagonist. I learned from the Paige series being marketed as cozies (which they weren’t) that the strong, sarcastic, borderline bitchy doesn’t play well within that subgenre, and so since I knew I was specifically writing a cozy this time, I knew to follow the rules.

One of the things I had noticed in the cozy series I read is that usually the first book in the series follows a transition of sorts for the main character (Mia P. Manansala’s flopped in the big city and returned to her small hometown; Raquel V. Reyes’ character has just moved back to the Miami area from New York, so she’s happy about it but concerned on others–read the book, you won’t be sorry; others have just gotten divorced, walked on a cheating partner, etc. etc. you get the drift), and I wanted to do something a little softer and less jarring–so I went with her being a youngish empty nester. Married young to a handsome fireman several years older (six, to be exact) she is left a widow when he is killed on the job to raise their twin sons by herself. She’s not worked outside the home since she was a teenager, and now the boys are off to LSU and she’s home alone in the big Victorian house she and her husband bought as a fixer-upper and then renovated while raising the kids. The house is done, her husband is dead and her kids are at school–so she is now finding herself at loose ends and not really sure what to do with herself. She dropped out of college after her marriage when she found herself pregnant–not planned, but not a disappointment, either–and now is considering going back to get her degree at UNO, or maybe finding a job–but what can she do?

I did worry about her not having finished college and just being a stay-at-home mother. It didn’t seem very pro-woman to me, but then I chastised myself. My sister was a stay-at-home mom, and I remember that when she finally was given the choice, my mother was one as well…and I realized I was falling into the wrong mindset about Valerie to begin with–there’s nothing wrong with a woman deciding to be a stay-at-home mom and not ever really working outside the home; the point of feminism is that women should be able to choose what they want rather than have limitations placed on their decisions (which a lot of non-feminist women do not understand), and why not write about a stay-at-home mother now finding her own way in life? I also wanted to surround her with friends and support–so she lives next door to her best friend (they became friends after the woman moved in next door) and is also close to Stacia, a divorced lawyer who lives down the street. The gay couple next door in a double shotgun, Michael and John, are also friends, as is John’s mother, who lives in the other side of the shotgun. Her own parents have retired to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and she is very close to her late husband’s family, the Coopers.

Her name is Valerie because I’ve always liked the name (it’s one of my favorite female names, along with Laura), and I picked Cooper because it’s a friend’s maiden name. I decided to make her be an actual local; born and raised in the city–but her parents are not from New Orleans; they moved here for the father’s job. So she was born here, but she wasn’t born into any of the many striations of social class here. Her parents weren’t connected to old-line New Orleans, they didn’t belong to any Mardi Gras krewes, and Valerie herself–while going to Sacred Heart–never got involved in any of the Carnival stuff, preferring, as she says, to participate by going to parades and catching throws. She’s also an only child who thinks of her late husband’s older sister Therese as a kind of replacement older sister since she didn’t have one.

I wanted to upset Valerie’s tame, placid, almost boring life with a series of shocks that upend everything about her life and what she believed she knew about her life, her house, her late husband–and what better way than to have her realize, thanks to someone else–that the notice she got from the city about the house being reappraised for taxes and didn’t think too much about could actually become a big catastrophe for her. The house they bought so cheaply and renovated could now be worth vastly more than she and Tony paid for the house (I named her husband Tony because I’ve always liked that name for a man; Scotty was almost Tony) because their neighborhood, sketchy and dangerous when they moved there, has been gentrified (as so much of the city has been) and when someone she knows and doesn’t like (a very thin line there I was worried about crossing by introducing that character–toning it down to a Valerie level of dislike was something I really had to pay attention to) lets her know what the market value of her home might actually be–Valerie instantly goes into financial panic mode. If the house is worth ten times what they paid for it, wouldn’t that mean the tax assessment would also got up times ten? She’s run into the woman while picking up fresh shrimp at Big Fisherman Market on Magazine (right there by what used to be the A&P and now I can’t recall what chain went in there? BREAUX MART. Whew, was getting a bit concerned there about my brain working) and walking back home, turning it over and over again in her mind as she reflects how much the neighborhood has changed since she and Tony first moved in–and then when she gets home, she finds out a registered letter from a lawyer has arrived for her.

And nothing in her life is ever the same again.

Essentially, the letter lets her know that she and her sons have received an inheritance from an uncle of Tony’s she never knew even existed, and it includes Rare Things, an antiques business on St. Charles Avenue in the lower Garden District, and the story is then off and running.

I do really like Valerie. I hope readers do, too–because I’d like to keep writing about her.

When It Comes to Love

If you follow me on social media you will know already that I got my box o’books of A Streetcar Named Murder this week. The book looks stunningly beautiful, seriously; I couldn’t be more pleased with everything about the book’s packaging. The cover is gorgeous; and stacked up together they look especially gorgeous, as you can see in these delightful images from my kitchen counter.

So, Greg, why did you write a cozy mystery?

The same reason I write anything–primarily because I wanted to, and to see if I could, you know. actually write one. I’ve always liked them–I love traditional mysteries, always have–and have always admired how authors pull off the crime aspect of the story. Sure, there’s a bit of an imaginative stretch required to read a series–how realistic is it that an every day citizen will continually get involved in the solving of a crime, through no fault of their own? But…no one bats an eye about the realism of private eye series, and let’s face it: private eyes involved in murder investigations are just as rare. They spend most of their time on insurance claims or, you know, infidelity. Likewise, police investigations are often very straight-forward, without the usual twists and turns and surprises a writer needs to include to keep the reader turning the pages. The Scotty series–despite him actually becoming a licensed private eye, fits more into the cozy genre than it does the private eye; for one thing, it’s funny, and for another, Scotty is never hired, he always stumbles over a body somehow–to the point that it’s almost a running joke in the series.

I had always wanted to write a mainstream series centered around a straight woman, to be honest. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve done that queer mystery, both series and stand-alones, and I always like to keep my work fresh and interesting for me–I cannot imagine the hell writing something that bores me would be. Early on, before I sold my first book, a major figure in the crime fiction world told me that every so often she wished she could write something else, but “all anyone wants from me is *series character*,” but very quickly added, “But I’m still grateful people want that.” I always remembered that–obviously, I still do–and so while I would be eternally grateful were I ever to achieve that level of great success, I tried to always diversify my writing so I’d never get bored. The Chanse series was very different from the Scotty series; the stand-alone novels are rarely set in New Orleans; and so on.

I’ve tried spinning off my Paige character from the Chanse series into her own series; I always liked the character and thought she was a lot of fun and could carry her own stories quite nicely. I still think so, but audiences didn’t respond to her when I did finally give her those own stories–but there could have been any number of reasons why that didn’t work. The books were marketed and sold as cozies–which I think was a mistake, because I didn’t write them as cozies. Sure, Paige was a single woman, working for Crescent City magazine and a former crime reporter for the Times-Picayune, which gave her some credibility as an investigator, but Paige was sharp-tongued and foul-mouthed. Had I known that the books would be marketed to the cozy audience, I wouldn’t have used Paige–she was too centered in my head as who she was for me to change her significantly in her own series–and would have simply come up with someone new. The books were also electronic only, and oddly enough, my readers tend to prefer to read me in print hard copies.

I had actually tried writing a cozy series before–I had this great idea for one, about an English professor at a university in a fictional Louisiana town on the north shore (based on Hammond); I called it A Study in Starlet and wrote a strong introductory chapter, trying to channel my inner Elizabeth Peters/Vicky Bliss; sarcastic but not bitchy, but it never got anywhere. I actually became rather fixated on my fictional Hammond (which I called Rouen, pronounced “ruin”, and I did want to call one of the books The Road to Rouen), which I may still write about at some point–I never say never to anything–but I am digressing. But I always had it in the back of my head that I should try writing a mainstream cozy at some point in my career. And this came about in a very weird way–it’s a long story–but I wound up pitching the idea I had to Crooked Lane and they offered me a contract, which was quite lovely. (Incidentally, I signed the contract electronically on the Friday before Hurricane Ida; the last email I got from Crooked Lane that Friday afternoon after signing the contract said you’re going to be getting some emails from the team next week so keep an eye out for them and welcome aboard! So, of course the power went out on Sunday morning…)

I originally was going to write about a costume shop. There’s one across the street from Paul’s office that has a showroom and an enormous warehouse; they do a lot of costume work for film, theater, and television, which seemed like a great backdrop for a series with all kinds of potential stories for the future. Crooked Lane didn’t like that, and asked me to come up with something else, so I walked down Magazine Street writing down the kinds of businesses I saw. An antique shop was one of them, and that was what they liked. My working title for the book was Grave Expectations, because it involved an inheritance, but they didn’t like that title either, and I reached back into my archives for a title for the original spin-off idea I had for launching the Paige series–I wrote like 100 pages of the first Paige book in 2004 and it never got used–and grabbed the title from it: A Streetcar Named Murder, and hence, the title was born.

And…I had three months to finish the book, as they wanted it by January 15th. And of course there was the power situation in New Orleans, and…

Heavy sigh. I will leave the rest of the story for another day and time.

I slept really well last night; woke up again at five and since it wasn’t the alarm yanking me out of the clutches of Morpheus this morning, I feel rested. I was very tired last night when I got home; I hit the wall around three yesterday afternoon and when I got home it was the easy chair for me. We watched more Big Mouth, and then I retired to bed around ten. I am working at home tomorrow, so am hopeful this will be a good weekend for writing. I do want to watch both the LSU-Arkansas and Alabama-Mississippi games this weekend–as they could determine who wins the SEC West for the season (and I cannot believe that LSU is in the driver’s seat; I was hoping for an 8-4 season and feared that was unlikely), but I also need to get caught up on my writing and everything. Yikes.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

She Loves Him Still

I absolutely adore the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.

When I was taping Susan Larson’s radio show the other day (oooh, how fabulous do I sound?), one of the things she asked me about was, simply, what exactly is a cozy mystery? I don’t remember what I said–something about how the primary point of them was to make the reader feel comfortable, and escape the worries of the every day, or something equally moronic–and of course, as always, later on I came up with the perfect example of how to define a cozy. Cozies are about communities, pleasant and warm communities where neighbors take care of neighbors and everyone watches out for each other and primarily is operating from a good place. The main character has to be someone the reader can not only identify with but has to like; and whenever there’s a new volume in the series it feels like we as readers are getting another lovey vacation to visit with dear old friends we only get to see once or maybe twice a year (fortunately, Andrews is on a two-book per year schedule; her Christmas crime caper for this year just landed at the Lost Apartment this week).

This is precisely the feeling i get when I read one of the Meg Langslow novels; like I’ve taken a lovely little vacation to my favorite little city in Virginia, Caerphilly (which I always pronounce “carefully”), and see Meg and her friends and family. It’s a place where everyone is neighborly or nice–and those who aren’t, everyone tries to steer clear of or just accepts that they just aren’t as nice as everyone else (they inevitably end up dead, anyway). Caerphilly College, where Meg’s husband is chair of the Drama Department, has served up any number of choice murder victims over the years–there was that horrible English department for awhile, and of course everyone loathes the Business Department; which is the source for the mystery in this exceptionally fun and funny mystery.

“We need more peacocks!”

I glanced up from my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe, as I call my combination to-do list and calendar. Dad was standing just inside the back door. He wore elbow-length white leather gauntlets and a pith helmet with heavy netting thrown back to reveal his face. His beekeeping outfit.

“If you’re looking for peacocks in the beehives, that’s probably why you’re not finding any,I said. “The pair you gave us for Christmas tend to hang out at the far end of Rose Noir’s herb field.”

“I know,” Dad said. “I was tending the hives when I noticed them. They’ve lost all their feathers.”

“It’s called molting,” I said. “I hear they do it every year.”

“Well, I know that.” He knocked some mud off his garden boots and clomped over to sit across the kitchen table from me. “I’ve already called Clarence Rutledge.”

I looked down at my notebook. I was up earlier than I liked and had a busy day ahead of me–busier than usual, thanks to all the things Mother had asked me to take care of in preparation for my brother Rob’s upcoming wedding to Delaney, his fiancée, now only a few days away. Then I glanced up at the clock. Already eight o’clock. Which said everything about how I expected my day to fo. Most mornings I’d have said “only eight o’clock.” But if there was something wrong with our peacocks…

The series comes full circle with this volume; the first in the series was Murder with Peacocks, and our first introduction to Meg came with her heavily involved in the planning on not just one, but three weddings, including her mother’s and her brother Rob’s; Rob’s fiancée is the one with the bright idea for peacocks as wedding decor (I remember thinking as I read this, that woman has no knowledge whatsoever about peacocks) and here we are again, with Meg heavily involved in planning another wedding for her brother Rob…and once again, peacocks are involved (there’s one hilarious scene in which Meg has to take a truck to “borrow” peacocks for the wedding since hers are molting, and she gets trapped in the truck when the peafowl launch an attack).

But as Meg goes about her day to day life with all the added burdens of the wedding planning, her nephew Kevin asks her for help. He and a friend have been doing a podcast about cold cases in Virginia, and someone tried to run his partner over with a car the previous weekend. Could this be connected with one of their cold cases? Meg, mainly to get out of wedding duties, agrees to look into the cold cases–which include a cheating scandal at the business school and a suicide, as well as the disappearance of an exceptionally talented coffee house singer from Charlottesville–which leads her to a lot of questionable antics (such as breaking into the business department to look at donor records) that are not only hilarious and improbable but Andrews always makes it completely realistic and completely believable, which is one of the many reasons I love this series so much: each volume is hilarious, completely unexpected, and absolutely marvelous, with Meg managing to never be caught off-guard or nonplused by anything that happens or comes up.

I absolutely love this series, and it’s always a delight when there’s a new one to read–and I do have the new one to read already! Huzzah!

What Makes You Think You’re The One

And now it’s Saturday.

LSU is playing New Mexico this evening (GEAUX TIGERS!) in Tiger Stadium–it should be an easy win but when it’s LSU you can never take anything for granted–and I have a lot I want to try to get done today before the games get started. I have errands to run, Costco to order for delivery; it just never ends for one Gregalicious, does it? It would appear that way.

I did feel a little tired most of the day yesterday; not sure what that was about, to be honest, but there you have it and there it is. But I also got this lovely review in Publisher’s Weekly; another industry journal I’ve not been reviewed in for quite some time now. I am getting more excited AND nervous as time ticks down to the official release date…but it’s really lovely getting all this pre-publication love from industry journals, early readers, and bloggers. I’m quite sure I don’t know how to act anymore! I’m very happy that everyone seems to be embracing the book, which I thought may be a big departure from what I usually do, but maybe it’s not? I don’t know, I’m not the best judge of my own work. It really never occurred to me that my Scotty series was technically a cozy series–despite the weed, swearing, violence and sex–but Scotty, despite being licensed, never actually had a client (the guy up on the fourth floor in Vieux Carré Voodoo does actually hire him before he is murdered) but usually, he’s just going about his day to day existence when he stumbles over a body or some kind of criminal conspiracy. But when I got home from work yesterday I puzzled over that bad bad chapter, and so this morning I am going to try to get it fixed up once and for all before diving headfirst into Chapter Four. I have some errands that must be run today–and I am going to order a Costco delivery–and I also have some cleaning around here that simply must be done; but I am hoping to avoid the allure and pull of college football as much as I can today to try to get as much done as I can on the Scotty today.

I also did the laundry once I was home, and finished clearing the dishes piled up in the sink–which even now are awaiting me to unload them from the dishwasher and put them away once and for all–and once Paul was home we settled in for Dahmer, which continues to be disturbing and hard-to-watch and almost documentary-like in style, tone, look, and story. Evan Peters and Niecy Nash should each take home Emmys for their work here; Niecy is absolutely stealing every scene she is in, and Peters looks so much like Dahmer…it’s also disturbing to watch as a gay man who went home with a lot of people he had just met for the first time. It really is a wonder there aren’t more serial killers in the gay community, and they certainly wouldn’t have much difficulty in finding potential victims thanks to the casual hook-up culture always so prevalent in gay male communities (which has always been something I want to write about; either in essay or fiction form); a sort of Looking for Mr. Goodbar sort of thing only with gay men. (I should reread that book; I haven’t in years–not since it was a thing anyway. I was thinking lately I should reread all the “thing” books from the 1970’s–Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Coma, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Jaws, Love Story, etc.–to see how they hold up and what, if anything, they have to say or can be said about the culture and society of the time and why those books, all so disparate, were so successful and popular at the time.)

I slept wonderfully last night, which is always a delight and a plus, and my coffee is tasting rather marvelous this morning. It is most definitely hitting the spot, that’s for sure. I feel rested and good this morning, which makes it a great day for getting things done. I am also thinking about taking my car to the coin-operated self-wash while I am out and about today (reminder: check projected path for Tropical Storm Ian; the one off the Cape Verde Islands formed first and took the name Hermine), and I also want to do some cleaning around the writing. We should be able to watch the LSU game tonight, even though it is on a lesser ESPN/SEC Network sub-channel, which is annoying–but I get it; LSU-New Mexico is a “who cares?” game outside of Louisiana.

I also spent some time last night with Every Frat Boy Wants It, my first erotic novel under the name Todd Gregory, and it’s not that bad. I realized that the three “fratboy” books I wrote are of a type, really, and rereading that long-ago written story (I would swear to God it’s been almost since I bought the new car, which was 2017, so it’s been about five years or more since I wrote it in the first place) made me realize that the concordance I want to put together for Scotty needs to be a part of an even larger concordance of all my work; all the different Louisianas I’ve written about and fictionalized over the years, which is even more important now that this Scotty is going to be driven so much by action outside of New Orleans.

I also need to revisit My Cousin Rachel at some point today before tomorrow morning’s podcast taping; I don’t want to rely on my ever-decreasing memory and should at least be somewhat refreshed in my recollections of what is one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels, possibly even more favorite than Rebecca. Big words, I know; but while I am certainly more familiar with the text of Rebecca, having read it so many times, I’ve only read My Cousin Rachel once–and came to it within the last decade or so, on the recommendation of Megan Abbott. I’ve seen neither film adaptation, tempting as the original (starring Olivia de Havilland and marking the screen debut of a young Richard Burton) may be; simply because while I know both films are very well-regarded, it’s hard to imagine a du Maurier adaptation finer than either the Hitchcock Rebecca or Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation of Don’t Look Now; with the bar set so high on du Maurier adaptations, how could either version of My Cousin Rachel stand up to them? I recently read a new-to-me du Maurier long story or short novella called “A Border-line Case,” and like all things du Maurier, it is rather marvelously well-written and twists the knife with something obvious that was there in front of you all the time but du Maurier pulls her usual authorial sleight-of-hand that makes the reveal startling and shocking despite being right there in front of the reader the entire time.

I also had wanted to spend some time with my Donna Andrews novel Round Up the Usual Peacocks, but not sure that I’ll have the time necessary. Ah, well. And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I need to brew a second cup of coffee, and there are odds and ends around here that need attention. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again either later today or tomorrow morning.

Stand Back

New York City, NY, June 16, 2022 – Mystery Writers of America announces the establishment of the Lilian Jackson Braun Award for the best full-length, contemporary cozy mystery published by an MWA-approved publisher. This annual award comes with a $2,000 prize as the result of a generous endowment to MWA by the late Lilian Jackson Braun, who died in 2011 at the age of 97. Braun was the New York Times bestselling author of the “The Cat Who…” series of amateur sleuth mysteries which spanned 29 books published between 1966 and 2007. Featuring clever Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum, who lived with grumpy newspaper reporter James Qwilleran, her books sold millions of copies and were published in 16 languages.

“Lilian Jackson Braun is a legend in the mystery community,” stated Greg Herren, the Executive Vice-President of Mystery Writers of America. “Her incredibly generous bequest to MWA was a very pleasant surprise and will enable us to fund some exciting new projects and programs to benefit our membership. It felt appropriate to honor her career and her legacy in this way.”

“I’m thrilled that MWA is finally recognizing the cozy mystery as the powerhouse literary sub-genre that it is,” said Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of the NYT bestselling Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series written as Ali Brandon. “I grew up reading “The Cat Who” books, and my inspiration to write cozy mysteries came directly from my enjoyment of Lilian Jackson Braun’s work.”

Debra H. Goldstein, chair of the MWA committee that created the LJB award and author of Kensington’s Sarah Blair cozy mystery series explained that “In crime fiction, the cozy sub-genre often is compared to the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire movies because like Rogers doing everything backwards and in heels, cozy mysteries must stick the whodunit with a solid plot and characters without putting the blood and gore on the page. Consequently, Mystery Writers of America’s honoring of the cozy mystery demonstrates its understanding of the importance and complexity of the sub-genre.”

Honoring Braun’s legacy, any book submitted for consideration for the LJB award must be a contemporary cozy mystery with a current day setting and the story emphasis on solving a crime, usually a murder. As with Braun’s work, eligible stories will be light in tone, often humorous. While the book may reference serious themes or subject matter, it does so in a non-heavy-handed manner. The crime itself must be solved in a satisfactory manner by the end of the story.

Judging will be done by an MWA-appointed committee of cozy mystery authors, and the winner will be announced at the annual Edgar Award banquet in New York City each Spring. Rules for eligibility and submission may be found here.

Please contact the MWA national office if you have any questions.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, I suppose it’s time to start spreading Christmas hunk cheer around here, so enjoy today’s hunky elf–who actually makes me think about my story “The Snow Globe.” I’m not really sure when the anthology it is in will be coming out, but I am looking forward to it. I so enjoy getting short stories into print, and do wish I had more time to write them. Then again, perhaps if i stopped wasting so much of my time maybe I could get more stories written. I know I’ve committed to three more that I’ve got to finish (two only need a final edit/revision; one had to be written almost entirely from scratch) for the new year, and once I get this current book finished–well, after the new year and so forth I am going to be rather too busy to write a book for a while; at least, to focus on writing a book, at any rate. I have the Bouchercon anthology to work on, the release of #shedeservedit is right around the same time as the new book is due, and….yikes.

FOCUS, Greg, you need to FOCUS. And make lists.

And breathe.

Yesterday was a really good day, though. I got up early, got caught up on some blog entries about books I’ve read recently, made serious progress on the cleaning and organizing, and I worked on the book. I got another chapter finished; it’s not very good at the moment, but I know what I need to do to make it better, and I also made it to the gym yesterday afternoon, which was also lovely. I need to work on the book some more today–I also have to make a grocery run at some point–and finish the cleaning and organizing I got started on yesterday. The kitchen office looks a lot better than it has in a very long time, and while there are still some odds and ends to touch up, and file, and forth, I feel much better about everything.

Part of the organizing yesterday also included gathering and sorting all my notes for this book and putting them into one, easily accessible place–as well as sorting out the file folders, etc. that had been gathered at some point that have the same title or a similar title or may have some old notes and so forth; I was actually very surprised to see how many times I’d started writing a traditional mystery over the last decade or so–and in my head I conflated them all as the same story, which SURPRISE! They were most definitely not–but I filed those other fits and starts in an easily accessible place, where I can get to them if this first book turns into a series, or if it doesn’t–well, I can then try again with another idea I’ve already made lots of notes on in the past. (I am talking about physical files here, of course; my electronic files continue to be an utter and complete disaster.) But after a terrific day of getting things done and kicking ass and taking names (okay, Chapter Five isn’t very good but it’s a first draft, okay?) I went to the gym and saw some of the Georgia-Alabama game on the television there. After coming home and doing the dishes and some more filing (and making a protein shake), I curled up in my easy chair with Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and turned on the television. I read while glancing up periodically to keep an eye on the game–Jesus, Georgia, even LSU was able to play decent defense when they played Alabama–and kept an eye on my iPad and watched part of the Michigan-Iowa game until Paul got home from the office (late) and we switched over to Gossip Girl (the original is so much better than the sequel that we probably won’t even bother going back to the new series, even though there’s only two episodes left). I also got a pretty good night’s sleep last night as well, which was quite marvelous–I seem to be sleeping better these days, which is lovely.

Today, as I said, I have to make a bit of a grocery run, and need to write and finish these odds and ends of filing around here, as well as write some more on the book–I should do another chapter today–and I’d also like to get some more reading done on the Christie; the murder/mysterious death has already occurred, and now I am wondering if Agatha Christie did, indeed, write cozies; there’s certainly no sense of community here in this book–how can there be, since Miss Marple is visiting a resort hotel on the fictitious island of St. Honoré (an island name I may abscond with at some point), but now that I think about it, the sense of warm community that is a hallmark of most cozy mysteries doesn’t really exist much in any of Christie’s books–but then again, my memory is faulty and I don’t remember much of the plots and stories and characters the way I used (and I do miss that recall skill I used to possess in abundance). But I read almost all of Christie’s books a million years ago, when I was in high school, and I simply cannot revisit all eighty or so of them (I never read the ones she wrote as Mary Westmacott, either), so I will leave commentary on the Christie canon (other than the ones I actually reread) to those who are expert.

But over all, I am feeling pretty good about life in general. As always, I am buried under and busier than any one person probably should be; but it’s how I function best–and I am not sure why that it, probably has a lot to do with the short attention span and having to always balance multiple things at once, and also why taking the time to actually sit down and get organized, making lists and so forth, is the best way to go for me. Paul is getting me an old-fashioned day planner for Christmas, because even though it’s become a thing of the past, I discovered that having a physical journal to write down random thoughts in or brainstorm plots and so forth in was much more effective for me than the electronic system modern technology had forced onto me–so it’s not really much of a stretch to think that having to physically write things down as opposed to making entries into a digital calendar will be even more effective and increase productivity and stop me from forgetting things. (I will continue to use the electronic calendar for bills; that is one thing that has worked remarkably well for me.)

And so now, I shall return to the mines for more spice. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Different Drum

I am, and have always been, a voracious reader. Mysteries and crime novels of all types have been my favorites, but I also try to read outside the genre every now and again–mainly because I think a constant diet of reading only the genre you write can make your own writing get stale; it’s nice to mix it up every now and again. I’ve never been a snob about reading or what others read and find pleasure in; the fact that so many others are so judgmental about other people’s reading choices has always made me raise my eyebrows and tilt my head slightly to one side in bewilderment (unless it’s, you know, Stephenie Meyer). To me, the most important thing is that people are reading, and I don’t judge anyone for their choices (unless the choice is Stephenie Meyer). Nothing bothers me more than when, upon being asked what they like to read, people squirm with embarrassment and have to be coaxed into revealing what they enjoy. Reading is supposed to be a pleasure, and no one should ever be shamed for what they find pleasure in reading (okay, even if it’s Stephenie Meyer–I would never shame someone to their face for reading her, and really, I am joking when I mock her on this blog. Again, as long as people are reading I don’t care what their choices are)–and once someone opens up and starts talking enthusiastically about books and writers they love, it’s infectious–and I love their excitement.

But reading snobbery also rears its ugly head within the crime fiction genre, which bothers me. I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to simply say, “that *whatever sub-genre* isn’t to my taste”–which is really all it is; reading is subjective and no one person is the authority of what books are worthy and what books aren’t. I like every sub-genre of crime fiction. Like every kind of label you put on books, there are excellent writers, good writers, and bad writers in every section of the library or the bookstore; good writing is good writing, no matter who the author is and what kind of crime novel they’ve written. There are shitty private eye novels and police procedurals–but those kinds of books don’t get the disdain that is reserved specifically for the tradition mystery, i.e. the “cozy.” I’ve often held that this sub-genre of crime fiction gets dismissed because they are the “romance” novels of crime fiction–in other words, not taken seriously because they are mostly written by women for women about women. (There are exceptions, of course; men write in this style and quite well, in fact.) One of the most popular mystery television series of all time is traditional/cozy: Murder She Wrote. I personally enjoy reading them, and don’t read them enough, to be honest. The common denominator in all traditional mysteries is that they are escapist reading–you can escape from the cares and worries of your every day life and world into a world where justice is always done, people are generally kind, and the settings are often places–usually small towns, or a community within a larger one–the reader would love to actually live. There’s often a hook to the series–often built around a business run by the heroine–and there’s a cast of lovable eccentric characters who appear in every book that the reader loves to visit; the books are like the holidays, when you gather with friends and family to celebrate life and love and joy.

My favorite panel I attended at Crime Bake this past weekend was the “Cozy Trends: Home Sweet Home?” moderated ably by Ang Pompano; the panelists were Sarah Osborne, Julia Henry, Barbara Ross, and Tina deBellegarde (Sherry Harris was also listed, but she wasn’t there, alas). They were fantastic, and the discussion was truly terrific. (This is the panel where Julia Henry said something I thought profound and true: “Respect the genre you’re writing.” I want that on a sampler.) I bought books by all the authors, and am really looking forward to reading them. On the flight home from Boston, I finished reading Invisible City by Julia Dahl, and pulled Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross out of my backpack and started reading.

I finished it last night.

“Julia, meet my friend Andie.” My boyfriend Chris, looking tousled and handsome as always, stood in the doorway of my office. He entered the room, confident and casual, and a pleasant-looking woman followed.

“You mean Andie from your poker nights?” I put my hand out to cover my confusion. For two years, I’d been laboring under the misapprehension that “Andy” was a man. “No, we haven’t. I’m Julia.”

She took my hand and shook. “Andie. Greatorex. So glad to finally meet.” Her handshale was firm and strong, which seemed right, given her looks. She was tall, broad-shouldered, and obviously fit. Her sandy-blonde hair, pulled back in a high ponytial, framed a round face with wide set, hazel eyes. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, like Chris and me. Also, like Chris and me, she wore jeans, work boots, a T-shirt, and a plaid, flannel overshirt, as if we were planning on starting our own Grunge band. Andie’s T-shirt was maroon and had the words, GREAT RIVER OYSTERS on it in white block letters. My T-shirt was navy and said, SNOWDEN FAMILY CLAMBAKE. Chris “doesn’t wear advertising”, quote, unquote, so his T-shirt was black.

In other words, we were dressed appropriately for a morning in coastal Maine in mid-May. Outside, pre-season tourists From Away wore jacket and windbreakers, but we natives are hardier folks.

Barbara Ross was an absolute delight on the panel, and I grabbed the last copy of this book the bookseller had and was able to get her to sign it for me–which is something I am not ashamed to say I completely geek about still; I will always be a fanboy.

Shucked Apart is the ninth (!) book in the Maine Clambake mystery series; Ross’ heroine Julia Snowden lives in the fictional Maine coastal village of Busman’s Harbor. She left a career in high finance in New York to take over her family’s clambake business (highly dependent on tourism and seasonal) and make it thrive. It’s very clear that Julia works very hard but has clearly gone back native–she doesn’t miss her old life at all–and the town is filled with likable and interesting characters. Her live-in boyfriend, Chris, has brought his friend Andie, an oyster farmer, to meet Julia to get her help. Andie was attacked and robbed of $35,000 of oyster spat for her farm (spat being the term for baby oysters), and she wants Julia’s help getting to the bottom of the robbery/assault. Not sure she can really help more than the police, Julia takes a liking to Andie and decides to see if there’s anything she can do to help. There are any number of suspects to investigate–including Julia’s own uncle–and then Andie turns up dead and it becomes a murder investigation.

There’s also a personal story going on during the course of the book–as indicated in those opening paragraphs above, Chris has been keeping Julia away from his friends (most of the mystery and investigation are centered in the nearby town of Damariscotta), and over the course of their relationship there have been a lot of secrets he’s kept from her–and this personal issue is really handled deftly by Ross. The juxtaposition of the crime investigation and the personal dilemma is juggled beautifully; Ross really makes the reader care about Julia and her friends, and the pacing is perfect–and it’s not easy to do this without making one story more important than the other.

As I said the other day, I love to learn things when I read, and I learned a lot about oyster farming, the politics of fishermen vs. oyster farmers vs lobstermen, and the ecology concerns with keeping the delicate balance of the ecosystem from being damaged. Ross casually slips in diverse characters and the issue of the warming of the seas without making a big deal out of them–no small feat, and it’s done so effortlessly it’s almost unnoticeable.

This was a fun, charming read, and I look forward to my next visit to Busman’s Harbor.

Sweet Summer Blue and Gold

WEDNESDAY!

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that I only have another two work days left before I am on vacation yet again; maybe that’s why I was so rested and full of energy yesterday as opposed to tired, worn, and old the way I usually feel on Tuesdays. I guess how this day will play out remains to be seen. I also managed to get caught up with reviewing the books I read whilst on my trip–I would have done this sooner, but my wireless keyboard stopped functioning (writing on a laptop is difficult for me; I’ve always used a separate keyboard) and so I ordered another one yesterday that will hopefully arrive before it’s time to go to Kentucky so I can take it with me so I can actually get work done while I am there.

And I am behind, as always, on everything.

But I am making progress, which is always pleasant and a relief of sorts. My book-buying compulsion is getting out of hand again, so I am going to have to do some more serious pruning of the books-on-hand this weekend and over the next few evenings, so I can drop off some boxes to the library sale this weekend. Yay! And I have some of my stuff-to-do more under control now than I did before, so again, it’s always lovely to make some progress as each day passes. It’s hard to believe next week is Thanksgiving; it kind of shook me up when I realized it on Monday that I only have a week between trips–and will be traveling again in mid-January (New York again) and will most likely be heading to Left Coast Crime in April as well (I think it’s in Albuquerque?)–barring another variant and another spike or wave of COVID infections. We got caught up on The Morning Show last night, just as the pandemic is beginning to break in the US–yay for reliving that horror, but they are doing a really good job with it, and I am not sure how I feel about their take on “cancel culture”–as someone who the right tried to cancel, back before it was called cancel culture, and yes, I do need to write about that at some point–but there is something to what they are saying, I think; I’m not sure. I don’t consider myself a moral authority on anything; I just think about things and try to learn and try to be better myself than the person I used to be. Life is about nothing if it’s not a constant learning and growing process, and we can always do better, be better, and grow, right? The people I feel bad for are those who actually stop growing and learning, stagnate and fossilize their beliefs and values, and think they don’t have anything else to learn, no need to grow. To me, that’s just sad and tragic.

I didn’t make it to the gym last night after I got off work because I wound up staying later than I usually do–I didn’t leave the office until after five, and thus got stuck in rush hour traffic going through the CBD on the way home (although they finally fixed the lights at Poydras and Loyola, so it wasn’t the nightmare getting through there that it has been since Ida, thank you Lord) and then I did some things around the house when I got home–things that needed doing–before Paul got home. I’ve also been listening to Red (Taylor’s Version), which is I think my favorite Taylor Swift record (yes, I am a sixty-year-old Swiftie, don’t you dare try to shame me for it), which is also quite good. I was a little brain-fried when I got home, but I am hoping to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away, so I can move on to Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon. I think I am going to simply take cozies with me to Kentucky; I really enjoy reading them and I also should spend more time reading them–it’s so hard to decide what to read all the time, and there are so many different books and styles of books that I want to read, and it’s not a bad idea to get away from the darker stuff for a while…

I also noted that there are new episodes of both Foundation and The Lost Symbol for me to catch up while condom packing on my work-at-home days, and I also have some data entry to do (almost caught up at last, huzzah!). I also have to figure out what audio books I want to take for the ride both ways–eleven hours; I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up last time and End of Watch by Stephen King on the way home; perhaps this would be a good time to listen to one of the Stephen King novels I haven’t gotten to–The Outsider or 11/22/63 or Dr. Sleep or Black House–so many choices! Or perhaps it would be fun to listen to cozies on the way up? I get too much pleasure from actually reading Donna Andrews to give that up to listen to one; but maybe there’s another one of my favorite cozy series I can listen to; who knows? But I have all weekend to figure that out since I am not leaving until Monday morning.

I am going to try to not spend all day Saturday in my chair watching college football all day–at least not until I get the writing done that I need to get done–and hopefully will be able to read while the games are one when I finally do sit in my chair and relax.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.