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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Well, we managed to survive Monday, did we not, Constant Reader?
Always a plus, don’t you think?
Yesterday morning I got up without much of a problem—but I really need to stop checking my Fitbit every morning to see how well I slept; it’s rather silly, actually, and doesn’t change whether I feel rested or not when I do get up. I went to the gym Sunday afternoon (why do I always forget how good it feels to stretch and work out?) and am hoping to have the energy to go for Leg Day after work tonight. This month—looking ahead—is going to be a bit on the crazy side: I have an on-line training for work; I’m doing a library event in the evening this coming Monday; my book drops officially next week; I’m doing an event with David Slayton (author of White Trash Warlock) with Murder by the Book on the 13th; and I am having a colonoscopy on the 21st. Woo-hoo! That’s me, living large everywhere I turn around. And then it’s Halloween, and then it’s November, and I am taking two trips: one to New York/Boston (for Crime Bake), and to visit my family for Thanksgiving (note to self: buy plane tickets and make arrangements for New York/Boston trip). After that, it’s pretty much just Christmas and New Year’s, and suddenly it’s Carnival again—not sure what it’s going to look like, to be completely honest, or how much I plan to be involved or participate with it. I will also be doing some traveling in the new year—New York again in January, Birmingham in February, Albuquerque for Left Coast, whenever that is—and here’s hoping the pandemic has calmed down and/or finally ended by then. PLEASE? Is it too much to ask?
There really is something to be said for doing things that were normal before the pandemic again. I do think going to the football game Saturday night, which I was so concerned about—and I wasn’t entirely comfortable around all those people—helped reset my brain a bit; I felt so much better about the world and life and everything in general when I woke up Sunday morning—after the first cup of coffee cleared some of the bleariness away—and Sunday night, after watching two more episodes of Midnight Mass (which is extraordinary, by the way; you should watch, Constant Reader—the writing and acting and production values are truly stellar—I had no problem going to bed and sleep. I did hit snooze a few times yesterday morning, as always—the alarm is set fifteen minutes ahead; which may seem kind of dumb to me at times (what good does it do you if you always remember its fifteen minutes fast?) but I do like to gradually wake up and acclimate a bit before I throw aside the covers and put on my morning pre-shower attire of LSU sweats, socks and house slippers. (Note to self: need a new pair of LSU moccasins to wear around the house)
I was also fairly productive yesterday, which was most pleasing to me. I did start getting sleepy and tired in the afternoon while at work, but powered through. I got a lot of emails taken care of, paid some bills, and spent a lot more time than I probably should have on Twitter being amused about the Facebook crash. (although I did find myself more than slightly amused at how often I would automatically start to go to the Facebook tab on my browser before thinking sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that right now)
Old habits die hard, and it does kind of bother me that it’s become so habitual for me to check Facebook. (We pause briefly now to look back and remember the days of MySpace, with a bit of nostalgic fondness)
But I am getting better organized, and working more efficiently these days than I have for, oh, say about the last two years, give or take? I am also—now that I no longer feel the need to spend all day Saturday glued to the television watching college football—going to start cleaning projects, weekend by weekend, until I have gradually cleaned the entire apartment. Ambitious plans, to be sure, but it’s not like I haven’t done it before. And included in this is cleaning out the crawlspace above the laundry room; there’s a lot of stuff up there that can probably be donated—boxes and boxes and boxes of books that I most likely will never look at again because they are in boxes in the crawlspace. The ultimate goal for me would be to not only clean out the crawlspace but clean out the storage unit—there’s room in there now, but there could be a lot more. (There’s also a chance that things in there got ruined during Ida as well—I know at some point since I rented the unit some water got in there somehow, because a couple of boxes had gotten wet and were thus ruined and needed to be thrown out.) I was also thinking about the whole “keeping my papers to have them archived somewhere”—which I really need to either do, or throw them in the garbage because they take up so much space—because what really is going to be interesting is the electronic files; those may not show the notes I’ve made on manuscripts themselves for edits and so forth, but you can trace the progression of the writing and rewriting through each different version of the story/book/file. (And of course, I am rolling my eyes at myself for thinking any future scholar of queer mysteries from this time period would be interested in me and my work. Ten years after I am dead, cremated and my ashes scattered in the various places I want them scattered, I won’t be remembered, and I am perfectly fine with that.) I mean, it’s interesting to me to look through because it triggers memories long dormant in a corner of my brain, but I honestly cannot imagine being the subject of anyone’s dissertation or thesis; unless someone wants to look at my stuff as a reference to gay white male life in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.
I also realized I’ve been writing this for quite some time and haven’t mentioned Bury Me in Shadows yet, and I was going to try to talk about this book a bit every day as a bit of a tease to encourage people to buy it. It really is a wonder I have a career, isn’t it?
So, if you’ve stuck with this entry so far, let me promise you this: tomorrow I will talk about Bury Me in Shadows. You’ve been warned.
Wednesday, which is also Pay Day, which means it is also Pay the Bills Day. Huzzah! (That, in case you were wondering, Constant Reader, was sarcasm.) At least I can pay the bills without bankrupting myself, so that’s a plus.
I just booked my hotel room for Bouchercon Minneapolis. I am, needless to say, very excited about the possibility of actually going to Bouchercon this year–I’ve not been in years; the last one held in person was Dallas and I got an inner ear infection the week of that prohibited me from flying, which kind of sucked; I would have driven had I known it would be four years between attendances for me. Paul will be coming with me, methinks; we did use to live up there (he was there much longer than my eight months) after all, and I am thrilled at the thought of traveling again. I still am hoping to get to New York and Boston for Crime Bake in November; we’ll see how that turns out.
It rained yesterday afternoon, and my final client was a bit late so I ended up staying much later than I normally do–and by much, I mean a half-hour (in fairness, the difference in traffic between 4:30 and 5 pm is significant)–but it was also pouring rain as I drove home. I had considered stopping at the grocery store AND going to the gym last night after work, but the rain put the kibosh on that. I was a little tired last night also, so I didn’t get as much done as I probably should have. There’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher that need to be put away, for example, but at least I got the laundry done. I also spent quite a bit of time organizing. My computer files are an absolute disaster, frankly; but I am getting there. I also need to stop downloading images and articles that *may* come in handy later at some point (I am constantly seeing something and thinking oh this would be the good basis for a story at some point and then I need to have it available to me at some point, so I download it and save it; this includes photographs and images (my Chlorine folder is filled with images of men being intimate in some way, going back over a hundred years, so whenever I get the “I don’t know how they would have looked or dressed or whatever” I can just scroll through the images and think, “ah, yes, here we are”); I am also worried about transferring files from computer to computer and am always worried I am going to wind up deleting something I’ll need later, so I will end up with, for example, five copies of the same word document. It does make finding things a challenge, and this is also helping me. Organizing and filing are always a pain in the ass to do, but I always find it soothing in some way; like when I am folding clothes or doing the dishes.
I did do some editing yesterday; not much of anything, really, but progress was made and it was good. I should be able to finish that listicle article thingamabob today and get it sent off to the website it’s for; which will be lovely. I’m going to push to get some things edited and revised over the next two days, and of course, once it’s October first, I have to get to work on the new mystery, A Streetcar Named Murder. I also have to figure out what name to use for it. Also beginning on October 1, I have to start really pushing and promoting Bury Me in Shadows, which officially drops on October 12–and I’ve done very little on this front in quite some time. Seriously, I really do wonder sometimes how I have managed to have a writing career for as long as I have…
I am a bit tired this morning. I woke up several times throughout the night, sadly, and it took me a while to fall asleep as well. I wouldn’t call last night’s sleep insomnia, but it wasn’t as restful or as relaxing as it could have been (I should have gone to the gym; that would have tired me out enough to sleep, surely) so I am sure sometime around three this afternoon I will undoubtedly run out of energy and just drag through the rest of the work day. It’s also supposed to rain all day, which will inevitably also make me sleepier. Great.
And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a happy Wednesday, Constant Reader, and will chat with you again tomorrow undoubtedly.
And here it is, Tuesday morning again, and we survived Monday.
I am sort of getting use to getting up at this hour; not necessarily a bad thing. Both Saturday and Sunday I woke up at six; Saturday I stayed in bed for a few more hours and managed to doze off again; Sunday I went ahead and got up at seven. I did get things done, so that was clearly a plus; so maybe getting used to getting up early (as well as going to bed early) isn’t such a bad thing?
I was tired when I got home last night, so I mostly just relaxed and thought, going deep into myself, while music videos streamed in an endless cycle of continuous play on Youtube and a purring cat slept in my lap. I was a little disappointed in myself–I’d high hopes of working when I got home, but tired is tired, damn it–and I do realize this month is slipping through my fingers, but….tired is tired. I refuse to give into my natural inclination to give myself a hard time about not working, or relaxing when I am tired; that only adds to my stress and makes me crazier–with which I need no assistance whatsoever. But I will get everything done.
It may very well kill me, but I will get it done.
It’s still dark this morning as I sip my first cappuccino (almost finished; I’ll be needing to make another momentarily), and I do feel rested, if not fully awake this morning. I’m not positive how much I will be able to get done today, but in a worst case scenario, I am closer to being finished and caught up with my emails, which is something; if I can finish those all off today, I’ll be doing great. I feel as though I have recently finished a major project–that sort of dissociative cognizance that usually comes with turning a book in, or something along those lines–and I know where it comes from; we recently wrapped up something big with my volunteer work, and so now I feel a bit disoriented and untethered, which usually only happens when I’ve finished a book and turned one in. The fact that I haven’t finished a book in actuality is part of this disorientation I am feeling, methinks; I have a book to actually finish but I keep thinking I am done with one, and I do have to keep snapping myself out of it.
It’s nearly November, and 2020 is slowly but surely inexorably drawing to a close. I was thinking–amongst many other things last night–about how long ago January seems now; almost another lifetime. I can’t remember any other year that has seemed to exist so completely outside of time, other than post Katrina 2005-2006, but even in those weird times you could escape the unreality and weirdness of recovering New Orleans whenever you traveled outside the city–you’d become so used to the strangeness of what was going on here that going somewhere else, unaffected and intact and perfectly normal, and it was jarring. I noticed this especially when flying–the New Orleans airport was a ghost terminal, operating at a severely reduced capacity, and then you’d arrive at another airport where Katrina hadn’t happened and be taken aback by the crowds of people and the open shops and how everyone was just going about their business like normal and it was kind of like traveling into another dimension or something. This is different because even if you were to travel, there’s nowhere you can go in the country that is unaffected and where this isn’t happening. I keep thinking about all the things I wanted to do in 2021–my two trips to New York for the board meeting in January and the Edgars in May; Left Coast Crime; Malice Domestic; and even possibly Crime Bake in New England or Sleuthfest in Florida–and am bitterly disappointed knowing that many of these in-person events won’t happen. Bouchercon is coming to New Orleans, in theory, in August of next year; there are no plans currently for that to change, but naturally, there’s a concern. I hate to think negatively, but I am also ceaselessly realistic…I don’t see how this can happen in August at this time, but I am also keeping my fingers crossed.
I miss seeing my friends.
My last trip before all of this was actually to the MWA Board meeting in New York in January, which was a lovely time but also exhausting–I never sleep well in hotel rooms, and I never sleep well when I drink; and inevitably whenever I am around my mystery writing friends I always drink too much, stay up too late, and then can’t sleep. (I keep thinking the martinis will help me fall asleep, but they never do. Apparently I can only successfully pass out from drink in my own bed.) One of the best parts of being on the board is going to New York twice a year; the Edgars are also always a lot of fun, and I definitely hated missing that this past year as well (although I definitely did NOT miss having to get up on stage in front of a room full of mystery publishing professionals and trying to be entertaining–just even thinking about that now is terrifying to me and giving me heartburn); we’ll see what 2021 holds in store for us all…but I don’t have very high hopes.
Eternally pessimistic, that’s me!
I actually started writing French Quarter Flambeaux for a hot minute last night–yes, I know, I already have way too many projects in some sort of progress already–but I had found the perfect book opening to parody for this Scotty opening (Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, to be exact) and as an intellectual exercise–and to help free up and loosen up my creative abilities–I started writing the parody opening of the book. The opening of the Bradbury isn’t probably as famous or as well-known as others I’ve used (I mean, almost everyone knows the opening lines of Rebecca and The Haunting of Hill House), but it works. Especially since the book is set during the accursed Carnival of 2020.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.