Rare Things

So, Greg, why did you choose to write about an antique shop when you know nothing about antiques other than they are old furniture and so forth?

In all honesty, I didn’t originally set out to write about an antique shop, and while the book was in progress my utter lack of knowledge about the antiques business did have me incredibly concerned. Even though I had decided that Valerie herself would know nothing about antiques (that way, she and I could learn together), it still made me feel fraudulent and like I didn’t know what I was doing writing about something I didn’t know anything about. But then I went to Crime Bake, and at one of the panels a writer named Barbara Ross, who writes a Clambake New England series, confessed she knew nothing about clam bakes or any of those types of things…so she had to learn as she wrote the series. That was exactly what I wanted and needed to hear from someone and that was the right time for me to hear it, so I felt a lot more confident about the book when I returned home to New Orleans from that trip (it’s always nice to go to a writer’s event and learn something; I feel like I always do whenever I go to one).

Originally, I had wanted to write about a costume shop; which even now seems easier to learn about that antiques, to be honest. There used to be a costume shop in my neighborhood for years, on St. Charles Avenue on the lake side on the same block as Hoshun. I never went inside, but I always thought it was interesting that it was open year-round rather than just being seasonal; I would have thought they wouldn’t have enough business to do so. But it closed and another opened in the CBD near Paul’s office, connected to whatever theater that is in the next block–which means they had an enormous warehouse space to keep their costumes in, and their primary customers were local theater, film and television productions. I thought, yeah, that could be fun so I moved MY shop back to the block and decided to give them a warehouse to store costumes for commercial rentals in, out near the airport. When Crooked Lane wanted something other than a costume shop, I just went to the Starbucks at the corner of Washington and Magazine, got a latte, and walked down the block writing down the kinds of businesses I walked past. I sent those to Crooked Lane and they picked an antique shop, which was a bit daunting but….anything is do-able, right? And since I like to learn…in theory.

I did stop into one of the ubiquitous antique shops in New Orleans to talk to the manager, who gave me some good tips–estate auctions and sales, for example; something that hadn’t occurred to me–and also, highly amused that both Valerie and myself knew nothing about the business, suggested, “Start with Antiquing for Dummies.” I’m still not sure if she was kidding or not, but I thought it a pretty good idea, so I ordered a copy and had Dee–who works at Rare Things–suggest Valerie do the same in the book!

Serendipity, if you will.

And then I needed a name for the business. In the late 1980’s there was a marvelous supernatural syndicated series called Friday the 13th-the Series (because it just used the name, it was not related to the films in any way) in which there was such a shop called Curious Goods. The premise of the show is that the owner of the shop made a deal with the devil and all the items in the shop are cursed; he goes back on his deal and the devil drags him to hell. His niece and nephew inherit the shop and start selling things–only to find out that the items are all cursed –an older man with lots of knowledge tells them; they form a team to track down the objects, which can kill–or can make a wish of some sort for the person owning it come true, but death is required–and each episode focuses on one of the objects. I thought about calling the shop Curious Goods, as an homage, but then thought but the objects in this shop aren’t cursed, so I went with Rare Things. I liked the name, and thought it really fit; it’s really more of a curio shop than an antique shop, anyway.

And the benefits of an antique shop means I can have a lot of fun with future volumes, if there are more. How much fun would it be for Valerie to have to stay at some old manse working on an estate sale, only to be bedeviled by ghosts and secret passages and so on? It also means getting to explore history and areas outside of New Orleans; I am becoming more and more interested in the entire state rather than just New Orleans, too, so this really is kind of cool–more reason to explore Louisiana’s history! Huzzah!

So, that’s how this book came to built around an antique shop on St. Charles Avenue. More to come!

Seven Wonders

If I live to see the seven wonders, I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end…

It’s 49 degrees here in New Orleans this morning–it could have been worse, and was predicted to be worse–so I can’t complain too much. It’s chilly inside the apartment this morning, but I have on my sweats and a stocking cap and feel okay. I didn’t want to get out of the warmth of the bed this morning–who can blame me–but I do feel somewhat rested this morning, which is always an enormous plus. I managed to not feel exhausted yesterday, so I managed to reconfigure Chapter Five so it is no longer a steaming pile of crap and now feel like I can move on to Chapter Six. Huzzah! Progress, Constant Reader, we are making progress at long last and it feels marvelous. We also watched this week’s Reboot (seriously, y’all, this show is hilarious and marvelous and you should be watching) and started the new season of The Vow on HBO–remember the NXIVM cult? They got a second season, which is going to be interesting as it covers the trials and has interviews with some of those higher-ups who pled guilty…but I am not seeing the cult leaders who finally woke up and brought them down as heroic, frankly. I have mixed feelings about them, to be honest; when they finally turned they really turned, but they were also involved for years and recruited lots of people–especially women–to the group, so I don’t know. There’s something to be said for atonement, I suppose, which is one of those esoteric philosophical questions about crime and punishment and our legal system (I’ve always felt conflicted, for example, about the sex offenders’ registry; I totally get why the neighborhood should know a convicted sex offender has moved into the neighborhood but at the same time it feels like a continuation of their punishment–either you do the time and are rehabilitated or you’re not…this conflict of fairness in my mind is what led me to write my story “Neighborhood Alert”).

I actually listened to my Sisters in Crime podcast interview with Julie Hennrikus (I tend to avoid listening to recordings of my voice, as I don’t like how I sound) for a change, and started to wonder about this distaste I have for hearing my voice. I don’t sound to myself anything like I sound on recordings, so for one thing it’s jarring to my sense of self (“that’s what other people hear when I talk?”), kind of like photographs, and there’s a bit of an effeminacy to my voice, I think–or that I hear–that makes me uncomfortable–and as I listened last night (it’s an interesting conversation, and Julie is a marvelous interviewer) I began to wonder why I hate the sound of my voice so much. There’s nothing wrong with sounding effeminate, so why does it get under my skin the way it does? It makes little to no sense, and it’s definitely something to do with the self-loathing I developed as a child from being an outsider. But after I started listening, after a while I stopped cringing as my voice came out of the computer speakers and started paying attention. Julie is a marvelous conversationalist/interviewer, and I felt like I didn’t come across as a pompous and arrogant fool who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, which is also a plus. (I’ve always felt that authors should be good interviews, since they are story-tellers; the interviewer’s job is to prod the subject into telling an entertaining story–which I think is another part of it; I tend to think my life and my writing processes and anecdotes aren’t terribly interesting, which again goes to the core of self-deprecation and humility that I am trying to break as it is not only counter-intuitive but it’s a bad quality for an author to have…I am always so afraid I’m going to sound arrogant and ungrateful that I tend to go too far the other way.)

But now that I am working on my aversion to hearing my voice, I can listen to the other podcast i recently recorded with Ricky Grove, about My Cousin Rachel, you can listen by clicking here if you like. I am actually now looking forward to listening myself–now that I am getting over my aversion to my own voice–and listening to myself more regularly will help me conquer that aversion, yank it out by the roots, as it were. Working on improving myself will clearly never stop until I breathe my last, will it?

I’m hoping to have a productive day, really. I feel rested, my brain isn’t feeling fatigued, and I feel more alert than I did earlier this week. I need to get some life-function things to do (make sure all bills are listed on calendar; remake my to-do list) and tonight after work I am hoping to be able to sit down and bang out Chapter Six, as well as perhaps read some more into ‘salem’s Lot while I wait for Paul to get home from work. I think I’ve pretty much decided not to make the trip to Boston for Crime Bake–flying back and two weeks later having to drive to Kentucky sounds exhausting and like way too much for me already–plus with the book deadline looming over everything, that makes it less promising to take a second trip before the deadline, alas–so it’s probably smarter for me to go ahead and cancel that trip…but I may keep the time off I’ve requested so I can work on the book. Hmmm, decisions, decisions. But I also need to be able to take time off to go to New York in January for my last hurrah for Mystery Writers of America…so who knows? Maybe I should just cancel the vacation requests and work? I don’t know. I hate making decisions because I am so certain that I will make the wrong one…

See how insidious that self-deprecating self-loathing thing is? It pops up everywhere. Why can I never make a decision that either makes sense for me or with confidence that I’m making the right one? Sigh, I don’t know and probably never will, I suppose.

And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Go Your Own Way

Lovin’ you, isn’t the right thing to do…

Wednesday and pay-the-bills day. Yesterday–the return to the office–wasn’t terrific. My back hurt in the morning to the point where standing up and moving around was incredibly painful, even with the generic Ben-Gay slathered liberally over my lower back. I used my back massage-roller thing Monday night and it helped, but for whatever reason yesterday morning when I got to work I was in extreme pain. I hate this for me, frankly. One of my co-workers stopped by my desk and saw the tube of store-brand Ben-Gay sitting on my desk and said, “oh, I thought I smelled Ben-Gay” (technically incorrect) and I replied, “Yes, I now officially smell like old man. Yay for me.”

I also realized I didn’t pick up a copy of my own Bouchercon anthology while I was there. Seriously, how DO I still have a career?

My back is still achy this morning–I’ve used the back roller and did some stretches, and it feels somewhat better than it did yesterday–but I am going to bring the heating pad to work with me this morning and see how that goes. I hate this, seriously. But the improvement from yesterday is significant–I don’t wince when I move this morning, at least not yet–and so I will go on hoping that this will gradually clear up and not become a more permanent thing. I somehow managed to get through my work day yesterday despite the back pain and despite the extreme tiredness I was feeling, even managed to make groceries (insanely expensive, I might add) on my way home. Once I got home, I retired to my easy chair and the heating pad and just kind of vegetated while Scooter slept in my lap until Paul got home. (I did watch the first episode of The Serpent Queen while I waited for him; it’s really quite good, and of course, I’ve always been fascinated by Catherine de Medici–one of these days I am going to write a book about her ‘flying squadron’, beautiful young women she trained to seduce men and get secrets out of; how fun of a book would that be?) I was going to start reading the next Donna Andrews, or reread the Scotty work I’ve already done, but I suspect–not entirely incorrectly–that I am going to be very tired most of this week and as such probably won’t get around to doing a whole lot of writing or creating this week as I dig out from under with everything–I’m not even remotely finished with my emails, and may never be–and there are some odds and ends I need to get finished in the meantime.

I really need to make a to-do list this morning and get it all together. As always after a trip, I feel rather disconnected from my life again this morning (this week, really) and it inevitably takes me a couple of days to recalibrate back to my regular life (oh how I wish my mystery conference life was my regular life!) and start figuring out what needs to be done. Costco, of course, and a regular making groceries run (not just the scattershot drive-by I did yesterday on the way home from work); and of course, it IS Pay-the-Bills Day (hurray). Heavy heaving sigh. I also have short stories promised to people, methinks, that I need to get back to work on. There really is no end to being a Gregalicious, is there? Heavy HEAVING sigh.

The high from the weekend is also starting to wear off a little bit, but it was a very lovely reminder of why I love my genre community. I met some writers whom I really admire (Attica Locke, Karen Dionne, Eli Cranor, among many others) and got to hang out with dear friends and as I said, laughed and laughed until I actually ached from laughing, which is really quite marvelous. I think I am definitely going to go to Crime Bake in November up in Boston (suburbs); I won’t be traveling quite as often or as regularly next year, alas, but am hoping to make it to Malice in April and then of course, Bouchercon rolls around again in the fall in San Diego. I’ve not really looked into what games are this weekend–I know LSU plays Mississippi State at night in Death Valley, which gives me most of the day to errand and clean and all of that lovely stuff–and I am not sure when the Saints game is on Sunday (noon, probably, but who knows?) and so hopefully I won’t spend the weekend vegetating (all of the time at any rate), but you never know. I do need some down time to recuperate, so I may just have Costco delivered and order the groceries for pick-up (I may make a Mississippi roast this weekend, or whatever it is called; I can get a very lovely rump roast at the Fresh Market meat counter).

The weather has been beautiful, too, since we arrived back. This unusual cool September weather is very similar to what it was like up in Minneapolis, and the weather (with the exception of one day) during the weekend was stunningly beautiful; I spent as much time outside as I could do so logically.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines and get to work. Happy Wednesday, all, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Knock Three Times

Tuesday morning and only two in-the-office days this week, as I am heading off to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime on Thursday. I have never been before, and none of my usual convention crew buddies will be there–which means I’ll probably spend a lot of time in my room, reading. It’s my first mystery convention of any size since Bouchercon in St. Petersburg all those years ago–but I did go to Crime Bake back in November up in Boston (Dedham, to be precise). I slept really well last night–two nights in a row, huzzah!–and so am thinking I might be able to face the day after all. I got all my data entered yesterday, ran the errands I needed to run, and got the annual, tedious chore of my pulling together all of my taxes and getting it to the accountant finished. Huzzah!

We started watching Slow Horses on Apple TV as well last night; very well cast, very interesting premise, and are definitely intrigued enough to keep watching. Alas, only two episodes had dropped thus far, so after the second episode we were stuck, and then remembered we’d never finished watching the most recent (third?) season of Servant, so we watched a few of those before retiring for the evening to bed. It’s a weird show–very well acted, very creepy–and Lauren Ambrose is brilliant in the female lead. It’s hard to explain what it’s about–M. Night Shyamalan is producer/director/writer (one of those or maybe all; I am not sure) and that seems to be about par for the course for most of Mr. Shyamalan’s work, doesn’t it? I do recommend it, if for no other reason than seeing how perfectly cast Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) is as Lauren Ambrose’s alcohol swigging, drug snorting/smoking brother.

I’ve also not written anything in a while; hopefully going to Left Coast will get me off my lazy writer’s ass and going on this story I need to get written. I just went over edits on another story–a reprint–and I also proofed another story I have in another anthology yesterday. In other interesting news, I also had a brief conversation with an acquiring editor who is interested in Chlorine–despite it not being written yet, which is always lovely when someone is interested in something just from reading arbitrary and oblique commentary about it that I’ve written here. I also told him about two other future projects I have in mind, which was also nice. I love talking about my projects and ideas. I’ve just been so unmotivated lately–I still think I am a little bit burned out from the rush to get the last manuscript finished, timed as it was with the release of #shedeservedit and the closing of submissions for the Bouchercon anthology, and the turnover/onboarding of the new board for Mystery Writers of America…yeah, it’s really not a surprise that I am a bit on the burned out side. It happens, you know?

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

Yesterday Once More

I’ve always believed that it is smarter to set goals every year rather than resolutions; resolutions have almost become kind of a joke in that no one ever really keeps them past the first few weeks of the new year. Years ago, I decided to change that up and set goals to achieve rather than resolutions to change behavior, and that has worked out much better for me. Sure, there have been some of the same goals set every year that have never been achieved (I’m looking at you, find an agent) but I find that it all seems to work out in the end, and the goals I never achieve and carry over just maybe need some more of my energy and focus applied to them

Before, however, I get into the goals for one Gregalicious in 2022, I’d like to go over some of the things that stood out for me in 2021, both good and bad.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2021: I was able to visit New York in November and then head up to Boston by train for Crime Bake, and it was a marvelous experience; I learned a lot more family history; made the list of
“other distinguished work” in Best Mystery and Suspense; finished writing and published Bury Me in Shadows at long last; finished the Kansas book finally; I read some great books and watched some great movies and television shows; signing a book contract with Crooked Lane; sold some short stories (“The Snow Globe”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” and “Night Follows Night”, among possible others I cannot recall at the moment); a visit to the Gardner Museum whilst in Boston; I bought a new computer with which I am still rather pleased; and I did some more deep diving into New Orleans history, which has been incredibly fun.

LOW LIGHTS: Hurricane Ida and the ensuing horrific power loss at precisely the worst time of the year to be without climate control in New Orleans (will never ride out another storm of that size again, ever); the on-going pandemic canceling the Edgars and conferences and limiting/prohibiting travel; no Williams Fest/S&S again; the horrible polar vortex that brought record low temperatures to New Orleans during Carnival and we had no heat, so I spent Fat Tuesday freezing under many layers of clothes, layers of blankets, and with a space heater on and still was shivering and cold and miserable; my inability to finish writing the first draft of Chlorine; and of course, not finishing any of the novellas I really wanted to get finished this past year–and any number of short stories as well.

I think the biggest goal I want to set for 2022 has to do with Chlorine. I want to get a viable first draft finished as soon as I can, because the second part of the goal with Chlorine is to finally get representation, or at least try again. I think once I get this current manuscript finished and some of the stories and novellas I have in progress out of the way, I can focus on getting Chlorine finished and out on spec. My goal is to make that my March project, giving me January and February to finish all the other stuff and get it out of the way.

My second goal, also to do with writing, is to get the next short story collection pulled together as well as the novella collections. I think I have enough completed work to get the story collection turned in this year–some of the stories I have in mind for it are still in progress, of course, and of course I have three completed drafts of novellas that need to be redone, revised, and two others that need to be written (or do I? I am now remembering that there’s a third that needs a revision but has a completed draft, so that’s four–and now that I think about it more deeply there are three in some sort of progress that I should be able to get finished in the new year). There’s also the essay collection, which is going to take some serious focus and concentration to pull together. I also want to write a Scotty book this year…which is a LOT to have on one’s plate in one year. (This could, of course, all change should Crooked Lane want a follow-up to the book I am currently writing; this is the sort of thing that makes someone like me–a planner–crazy because I cannot control what requests are going to be made for work from me.)

Next goal is, naturally, work out related. I need to make it to the gym three times per week, going forward into this new year. My fitness regimen has been all over the place since the pandemic started, but it’s been a lot more consistent since the pandemic started than it was in the (many) years prior when I just stopped going entirely and allowed my body to not only go to seed but to start breaking down. I feel better when I lift weights and stretch, and I should also add a cardio day to my workout schedule. I want my goal weight to remain 200–I’m not sure what I weigh now, frankly, but I know it’s not 225, which was where I’d allowed myself to get–and I’d like to get into 32 waist pants (comfortably) again in the new year. (I can get into 32’s in stretchy jeans, but 33’s in regular jeans, while I can fit into them, aren’t as comfortable as I would like them to be, and right now comfort above all else.) I don’t think I’ll ever get my Gumby-like flexibility back again, but the stretching does feel incredibly good when I do it (I also want to add stretching daily to the regimen; I can stretch at home just as easily as I can at the gym) so it needs to become more of a routine thing for me.

My next goal is to break my lifelong habit of falling into procrastination at every opportunity. While I will be the first to admit that it’s best to listen to your brain and your body and to not try to push them into things when they are exhausted or tired or fried, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s just laziness, and I own that completely: oh, there’s plenty of time to do this or oh I will just get this done tomorrow is too easy a habit to fall into; even as I write this I am thinking Oh I can go to the store tomorrow and I can also write tomorrow and there’s no need for me to do any of this today despite the fact I feel rested and relaxed and creative. So I am going to finish this and then I am going to get cleaned up and get back to my writing (the groceries, on the other hand, can 100% wait until tomorrow).

Another goal is to keep on top of the housework and the filing–and by that, I am also including the storage attic and the storage facility. I want to get the attic cleared out, and I want to clear out the storage as well so i can stop spending that money every month. This isn’t as easy as one might expect, but I figure if I can get rid of a box in the attic every week–again, not as easy as one might think–I should be able to get a handle on this all by the middle of the year. One box a week doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? And yet…

All right, on that note I need to get back to the writing. I think I can push through quite a bit today, even if I don’t want to–which I don’t–but I also have no choice. The book is due exactly two weeks from today, and I don’t want to turn in something as sloppy as what I have on my hands right now.

Have a wonderful New Year, Constant Reader!

My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!

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.

Solsbury Hill

Thursday and working at home today. Huzzah!

Yesterday was yet another day when I woke up feeling rested and invigorated. I had thought, oddly enough, that I hadn’t slept particularly well the night before–I woke up several times throughout the night, and the last time was five thirty, so I just kind of laid there in a half-sleep until the alarm went off. But oddly enough, I never hit the wall yesterday afternoon and I was also full of energy and highly functioning and got a lot of stuff taken care of, which was absolutely lovely. I hope to match that productivity today. I only have to work a partial day because I had to stay late the other day, so I am hoping to get some writing and editing done today as well, and make it to the gym once I complete my work-at-home duties. Fingers crossed!

I went to sleep later than I’d planned last night. We finished watching Dopesick, which is an amazing production with exceptional acting and writing, and then I went into a wormhole on Youtube and wound up staying up until midnight. I woke up early this morning–earlier than I’d wanted to, but hey, more time to get things done–and I think I slept relatively well last night. I am awake, after all, and not tired physically or mentally; I call that a win, really. I also finished reading Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross–more on that later–and started reading Guilty as Cinnamon by Leslie Budewitz, who is a favorite writer of mine and one I should read more of–I loved Assault and Pepper, the first in her Seattle Spice Shop series, this is the second.

I’ve also been reflecting a lot on my trip to Boston. I made a mistake the other day when I was talking about visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; I referred to reading about Mrs. Gardner in a book called The Grande Dames by Stephen Buckingham; his name was actually Birmingham. I think I can be forgiven for that error, primarily because Buckingham seems like a more likely last name for an American than Birmingham–and buck instead of birm is a very easy mistake to make, and therefore forgivable, despite my incredibly high standards for getting these facts correct. But I always loved the story of Mrs. Gardner, the ultimate diva and grande dame of Boston, and now that I’ve seen the Italian palazzo she built as a home for herself and her extraordinary art collection…I need to reread Mr. Birmingham’s book again. The museum was spectacular, just spectacular.

The day began with me looking out the window of my room at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square to see it was drizzling a bit outside; and I had to decide: lug my suitcase through the subway, or summon a Lyft, or walk ten blocks to the new train station, Moyhihan Hall? Being a hardy New Orleanian, I decided I’d just walk the ten blocks–my Fitbit would love all the steps–and as long as I could keep my glasses dry, I should be fine. It was just a drizzle, after all. So, I rode the elevator down and walked out the front door and walked over to 8th Avenue and headed downtown. It was, despite the slight drizzle, a lovely walk. I debated stopping for coffee along the way–I’d not had any (and it was actually rather delightful to not be so dependent on caffeine this trip as usual, and perhaps that’s why I had no issues sleeping?), but decided to wait till I got to Moynihan before getting coffee–what were the odds there wouldn’t be at least a Starbucks, if not a Dunkin’ Donuts, inside? I made good time, and was actually enjoying people watching as I made my way down 8th.

So, of course, about a block and a half from my final destination, the sky opened with a deluge worthy of a New Orleans street-flooding strength downpour. By the time I reached the train station I was completely soaked, but was also highly amused by it all. I had a three and a half hour train ride to Boston ahead of me, and I was really looking forward to getting back into the book I was reading–These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall, see the blog entry where I discussed how terrific the book was–and the Amtrak ride from New York to Boston is one of my favorite train trips–Connecticut is so scenic and beautiful, and the train hugs the coast most of the way, with spectacular views of bays and inlets and estuaries and boats and lovely homes. So I got my coffee, wiped off my head and glasses with napkins, and debated battling with my suitcase in the bathroom to get dry clothing–I decided against it eventually–and finally boarded my train and headed for one of my favorite cities that I never get to spend enough time in, Boston (I’ve always had an affinity for the city because I love history, and of course, Boston was pivotal in the American Revolution, and Johnny Tremain is set there, and I love that book). Alas, the scenery was perhaps not as spectacular along the route as it usually is; it rained and was gray and cloudy and overcast the entire way, and whenever I tried to take a picture by aiming my phone at the window, all I got was a gray photo of water beaded up on glass and nothing beyond, which was terribly disappointing. But this lack of ability to take great scenic photos enabled me to focus on the book, which I was absolutely loving (see blog entry from several days ago where I discuss the phenomenal novel at great length). It was raining in Boston when the train pulled into the station, and my wonderful friends were there to pick me up, and we headed for the Gardner Museum.

I could spend days in that museum, seriously. The building itself is breathtakingly beautiful–as are the Sargent portraits of Mrs. Gardner on display–and so much other amazing art: paintings and sculptures and tapestries; the Velazquez painting of Philip IV of Spain that is perhaps the most famous image of that sad Hapsburg king; everywhere you look there is a spectacularly beautiful piece of art. It’s overwhelming, and even more awe-inspiring perhaps than even the Uffizi in Florence–you expect the palaces and collections of European nobility and royalty to be spectacular; and to be sure, Mrs. Gardner’s home and collection pales in comparison to that of the Medici, but she was an American heiress…and even though she was fabulously wealthy, to me even the wealthiest of the robber barons pale in comparison to the sumptuous palazzos of the Renaissance Italians. But it’s still an impressive collection, if not a Medici one, and that’s why I think it’s more impressive. Mrs. Gardner was simply a wealthy woman, not a Renaissance lady or princess or queen. She couldn’t be expected to compete, and yet…the collection is exceptional and extraordinary, as was the woman herself.

And of course, as a crime writer, the robbery–the empty frames that once held Rembrandts brazenly stolen and yet to be recovered still on display–is also fascinating to me, particularly since I love treasure hunts.

I am forever grateful to my friends Stuart and Robbie for taking me there–and I plan to visit again sometime.

Crime Bake, the event put on jointly sponsored by the New England chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, was why I went to Boston in the first place, so Stuart and Robbie dropped me off in Dedham at my hotel (which was where the event was) and I got a lovely night’s sleep–again, a complete shock, but is it a mere coincidence that the coffee I had at the train station was the only cup I had that day?–and I got up early the next morning for the breakfast buffet and to start attending panels. When I said earlier that I’d forgotten how much I love listening to writers speak about writing, and books, and everything to do with being a writer, I was not kidding. I haven’t been to anything like Crime Bake since the Williams Festival in March 2019; I missed that year’s Bouchercon because I developed an inner ear infection and couldn’t fly. It was so inspirational. I listened to writers I admired and writers I wasn’t aware of, and was scribbling notes in my journal the entire day. It was marvelous! And inspiring. I’ve talked on here a lot about feeling disconnected from writing and publishing; part of it was not being around writers and listening to them talk about craft, what inspires them, how they work, how they develop and flesh out their ideas–the joys and heartaches and the Imposter Syndrome–because writing can be a very lonely business (it’s just you, the keyboard and the computer screen much of the time), and it’s nice to connect with others and realize we all go through the same thing, the same frustrations, the same heartaches and aggravations and joys.

Today I have a lot of catching up to do–what else is new?–and I am hoping to get some writing done around my work-at-home duties. Wish me luck, Constant Reader, and have a lovely Thursday!

Don’t Say You Love Me

Monday morning and I am back home. It was lovely to travel again, lovely to see people I’ve not seen in far too long, and even more lovely to be in a room full of people listening to writers talking about writing and books. I took voluminous notes during every panel I attended, got inspired about writing again, and it was almost kind of normal, like somehow (despite the masks) I had somehow slipped back into the Before Times.

Planes, trains and automobiles–last week I did them all, and I am still a little worn out from all the things I’m no longer used to; airports, train stations, being around large crowds of people. I am almost painfully shy and socially awkward (always have been) so interacting with new people has always been difficult for me, but Crime Bake was absolutely marvelous and welcoming. It so so nice being back in New York and taking the subway again and just walking around, marveling at the wonderful city. Boston is another place I love, and haven’t been there in many many years. Friends I hadn’t seen in years picked me up at South Street Station when my train rolled in; we then went to the incredible Isabella Stewart Gardner museum (Mrs. Gardner has always been of interest to me since reading Stephen Buckingham’s The Grande Dames a gazillion years ago), and her art collection–and the house itself–were absolutely stunning. We had dinner and they drove me out to my hotel, where Crime Bake was happening, and almost instantly I began running into people I’ve not seen and have long adored. I was very tired by the time I reached Dedham, but somehow found some more energy in the tank to talk and enjoy the company of people I’ve not seen in an eternity.

(I’d also forgotten–it’s been so long–how things tend to pile up when I am away to the point of being overwhelming; but one thing at a time and it will all get done, Gregalicious.)

I also read a lot of terrific books while I was traveling (These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and am halfway finished with Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away) and those reviews will be forthcoming–another thing to add to my now endless to-do list–which reminded me how much I love to read. Reading has always been the one constant love of my life, ever since I was a little boy, and sometimes I need to remember–no matter how tired I am, no matter how little energy I have, and no matter how easy it is to simply allow myself to head into a Youtube wormhole (which I can always justify as research), what I should do every night when I get home to unwind is spend an hour in a book. I was reflecting on that very thing last night on my JetBlue flight back to New Orleans from Boston (this was also my first JetBlue experience and one that I loved very very much; I think I might have a new favorite airline), but what I also remembered by my deep reading dive over this trip was that limiting myself to a mere hour of reading could be very difficult to accomplish when I am reading something I am very much loving. I never want to put the book down once I am caught in its spell–which happened quite a few times over the course of the trip; I wound up staying up later than I should have in order to keep reading.

But oh! What marvelous books I was reading! Is there anything more fun that getting caught in the spell of a wonderful writer? I think not.

But it was also lovely to sleep in my own bed again last night–I really could have stayed in bed most of the day, I think, and were it not for having to head into the office this morning to return to reality, I probably would have slept very late–and it’s lovely to have my own coffee in one of my own mugs this morning; it’s lovely to be sort of back to what passes for normal in the life of one Gregalicious; but now I have a lot of writing and editing and emails and other business to get caught up on; so the first thing I need to do once this is finished and posted is make a substantial to-do list. I need to get back into the swing of going to the gym three times weekly–despite the coming of the Thanksgiving holidays and yet another trip, but I can’t keep putting it off with that excuse else I will never get back into the groove, and my body is getting squishy again. I also need to edit two stories to get them ready for submission/publication and I need to get caught up on the book I am writing. I also have an article to write for promotion for the release of #shedeservedit–while on this trip the hook of the article came to me, which again is why writers’ conferences are so important for me, because I find them to be inspiring and motivating–and of course, I need to get through the endless amounts of emails that have piled up while I was away. I also have to recenter myself with my day job; it feels like I haven’t been to the office in months. I need to make a Costco run at some point this coming weekend, and of course I have to make groceries too. I can make pasta for dinner tonight, but after that I am completely out of ideas and who knows what all is in my kitchen cabinets!

And so, it’s time to get cleaned up and presentable for the office this morning. Sorry to be so brief and short after a rather lengthy absence, but…there’s a lot I have to get caught up on and it ain’t going to do itself, so off to the spice mines again.

Love Must Be The Answer

And here we are on Monday again. It was overall a pleasant weekend, really; I love being able to get up without an alarm, whenever I simply decide I’ve had enough of being lazy and lolling about beneath the covers and so forth. I was deeply asleep when the alarm woke up–I was charging the Fitbit, so have on report on how the sleep actually was, but I think it was deep for most of the night. The alarm was definitely invasive and jarring this morning. But I do feel very well rested and awake–even though I do think I could very easily fall right back asleep if I got back into my bed–and that’s a very good sign for a day in which I have a lot of things to get done.

(Incidentally, I did look up what the normal stages of sleep are at night for a good sleep, and I am hitting the percentages properly every night per my Fitbit–who knew you only needed about two hours of DEEP SLEEP and ninety minutes of REM to be and feel perfectly rested the next day, and that those hours of light sleep aren’t, in fact, a bad thing at all? The more you know…)

I went to the gym during the Saints game–it really is much easier on my stress levels and blood pressure to just periodically check in on the score, or to have the game on while I do other things. AND THEY WON! YAY! GEAUX SAINTS! I’m also following Joey Burrow and Cincinnati–I will always be a fan of Joey B–and they lost in overtime, but they don’t seem like the Bengals of old anymore. I think they will be in the Super Bowl within a very few years.

The gym felt marvelous, as it always does once you get past that deeply painful “back-to-the-gym-after-a-break” workout. For the first time in a while yesterday, I noticed in the gym mirrors that my muscles were responding to the working out and were getting pumped up, which was a shock and a pleasant surprise at the same time; as always an extremist, I think my muscles shrink and fade away if I don’t work them out regularly and I forget sometimes that I am actually fairly big in muscle mass…but all I see, of course, is spaghetti arms, drooping moobs, love handles a gang can grasp, and a big belly. I also am enjoying seeing my flexibility slowly coming back from the abyss; I was able to stretch more deeply yesterday than I have in a very long time. Once I get going again and am doing three sets with added weights for several weeks in a row, I am going to add some more exercises and increase the difficulty of the workouts. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it, frankly–although I am going to be missing two weeks in November (two trips planned!).

And yes, I am very excited to be traveling again. I am going to New York for MWA business for a few days, then taking the train to Boston for Crime Bake, a joint event sponsored by MWA’s New England chapter and the local Sisters in Crime chapter. I’ll be going to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, so that will be quite the lengthy drive to and fro; I believe I will listen to books on tape that I will get from the library; and who better to while a lengthy drive away with than Stephen King? I think I’ll listen to Black House on the way up and Dr. Sleep on the way home. That definitely sounds like a plan, does it not?

I’m also going to have to be very careful and keep an eye on my schedule so my writing schedule doesn’t get fucked up by these trips. Deadline is 1/15 for A Streetcar Named Murder; definitely need to keep my eyes on that prize; I am going to start revising the first four chapters this week and hopefully will get the ball going again on that.

I’ve been seeing a lot of hate for Nate the Great from Ted Lasso recently on Twitter, and while I can certainly understand the turn of the audience–what a terrific job they did on this villain origin story–I also kind of understand where Nate is coming from, if that makes sense? Yes, his behavior is shocking, but it’s not unearned and it didn’t come from left field, and kudos of all kinds to the writers for not taking the easy way out with this character. It would have been very easy for Nate, who was so shy and reticent and cowed by being bullied by everyone on the team and his father, to slowly bloom under Ted and Beard’s belief in him, and how the team has not only stopped bullying him but come to accept him as one of them….as I said, that story was easy; all that was left for the icing on the cake was for Nate’s confidence to keep growing and for him to fall in love and so on and so forth; a nice easy audience-pleasing character arc for the poor bullied boy everyone felt sorry for in the beginning. But the underdog we always want to root for isn’t always this nice person being held down by others. Bullying, and being bullied, isn’t really that simple, nor are all the bullied kids lonely and desperate for just a chance, any chance, and once given that chance, blossom into great people and achieve the potential they’ve always had. Being bullied–and I am speaking as someone here who has been bullied, for most of my childhood and some of my early adulthood–has a very toxic effect on the victim. You often wind up hating yourself intensely; after all, they have a reason for bullying you, don’t they? You must deserve what’s happening to you. And when people cut you down and insult you, you always respond in your head, hating them, wishing you had the courage to say something nasty right back to them. You spend your alone time reliving the humiliations and embarrassments, practicing the vicious and nasty things you should have said in response. There’s a lot of anger there, and often, in the narratives we are used to seeing in fiction, that anger never gets resolved; it just magically dissolves away once the bullying ends. I think that the show writers are doing an excellent job of showing how Nate’s character development/arc has run; remember, he has always lashed out angrily when he felt safe enough to do so; and people who are bullied often become bullies themselves; it’s really the only interpersonal interaction they are most familiar with. Nate began coming out of his shell with the encouragement of Ted and Beard and the acceptance from the team; the promotion to coach; and actually being good at soccer. When he began to see Ted and the others no longer applauding him, giving him the attention he believes he has earned and now deserved, that anger that was always there began to curdle within him. The final episode turn didn’t come as a terrible surprise to me; I saw it building all season, really. I applaud them for taking Nate–obviously a fan favorite–and turning him into the antagonist for Season Three.

Although it must be a strange ride for actor Nick Mohammed, who went from being beloved to reviled over the course of twelve episodes.

And on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.