I’m So Glad (I Got Somebody Like You Around)

And now it is Wednesday, aka Pay-the-Bill day, and I actually had already started paying the bills yesterday. Yay? But at least I can pay them without any stress about buying the groceries or missing a payment or anything. There are few things worse, really, than financial stress–I can’t think of a single situation that financial stress has ever made better, for example.

I did sleep pretty well again last night, and I think maybe my body is beginning to get used to the getting up at six a.m. thing at long last. I certainly am not sleepy or tired this morning (I’d still rather be in bed under my blankets, though) and my mind feels pretty awake thus far. I got tired yesterday afternoon, but I get tired every afternoon at the office, frankly; I didn’t think too much of it. I also managed to do another load of dishes and laundry last night when I got home before collapsing into my easy chair with the Chlorine folder. I thought I’d been reading the wrong versions the other day, and I was correct; there were more recent versions of those first three chapters, and I reread them last evening. They were much better than the sloppy mess I originally read the other night, which was an enormous relief (after reading them Sunday or Monday I was actually thinking well, I need to revise these or this project is completely not worth even trying). The voice and tone need to be cleaned up a bit, and there are contradictions and continuity errors to be sure, but over all I think it’s going in a better direction than I had thought based on the last reading. I am actually kind of excited to be getting back to it as well.

I did some more work on the anthology yesterday as well, and am hopeful that I’ll continue making progress on it until it is actually finished and out of my hair once and for all. It’s always a lovely feeling to be making progress–yesterday I really felt like I wasn’t just spinning my wheels but was actually getting somewhere, the tires were actually getting traction on the road, and that’s a lovely feeling. I also went through my to-do list yesterday, crossed off a bunch of things, and realized that hey, it’s time for a new to-do list and felt very accomplished, to be honest. It felt really good. I stopped and got the mail on the way home, too–my copies of Cupid Shot Me were there, as was the new Robyn Gigl, Survivor’s Guilt (a great title, he typed with an eyebrow raised and an amused smile)–and I decided that I really need to get back to reading. Tonight is my night to get back to the gym after work for my second workout of the week (muscles still feel good this morning from Monday night), knowing it will probably be half-assed and so forth because it will probably be very crowded by the time I get there; but a half-assed workout is better than no workout, and then I can come home and relax, maybe read for a while. I want to get some more work done on “Condos for Sale or Rent” this week, and I am also playing around with the ideas for the sequel for A Streetcar Named Murder, should they want one…I think the title I am going to use is The House of the Seven Grables, and I think I know how to make that title work as well (publisher will probably hate it, so the back-up title will have to be something like Death on a Hot Tin Roof or The Hound and the Fury or something along those lines). So I am feeling creative again–those batteries have clearly recharged completely and finally, thank you baby Jesus–and am sleeping well and am feeling content these days, which is lovely. It’s still parade season–they start on Friday and run all weekend–which is going to take some adapting to and is inevitably going to make me feel even more tired (but hey, Fat Tuesday is a paid holiday, so that week will be a disrupted and shorter work week, which is always pleasant and a nice surprise), but that’s the price of living inside the parade route.

I have to say it’s really nice feeling creative again, even if it’s all over the place. The return of the creative ADHD is always a pleasant surprise; I just need to remember to stop riffing and brainstorming and actually laser-focus my attention on something to write, which for now is going to be that short story that is due by March 1 and the other due on April 1; both have been started but are nowhere near finished in even a first draft form. I think both have potential, really; and I also am thinking about trying my luck with Ellery Queen again, if I can get a story I have almost nearly ready polished and revised. I had been writing a story for the Bouchercon anthology, but am not really sure now if I should send it to the blind readers or not. (My last two stories for Bouchercon anthologies made it through the blind read process; but I also only wrote stories for the ones I was editing. Even though it was fairly done–the readers didn’t know either story was mine–it looked untoward. I do think the fact both stories went on to be nominated for awards undermined any controversy or smack talk done behind my back…but I think this time around I am going to take the story and sell it elsewhere. It’s a good story, and I am betting I can sell it somewhere else. And I think we got a lot of really good stories submitted for this anthology; it’s not like it needs a story by me; not that any anthology ever does, of course.) There are some other stories, too, that I’d like to get finished at some point…

And on that note, I think I should head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

I’m Livin’ in Shame

As Constant Reader is aware, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with short stories.

I love them as a form. I love reading them–there are few pleasures greater than a biting short story with a sting at the end (I’m looking at you, Karin Slaughter’s “An Unremarkable Heart”)–and I love writing them…but I also hate writing them. I hate that there are fewer and fewer paying markets for them. Every writing class I took when I was younger always emphasized the short story and its importance (although I know any number of novelists who can’t or won’t or don’t write them), so it’s always a bit sad for me to see markets drying up and going away. I’ve had some great highs in my writing career thus far, and some of them have been thanks to short stories.

The thing about short stories is there are two ways to write them: you either get the idea for one and start working on it, or you’re asked to contribute one (or come across a call for submissions). I am not so great at writing for a submission call; I am inevitably on deadline for a novel (when am I not?) and the time frame inevitably for the calls never works out for me. I’ve had some luck with selling to markets with submission calls, but often I end up submitting a story I don’t feel is 100% there yet because it’s the day of the deadline and I’ve run out of time…so I will send it in, hoping I’m wrong and the story actually IS finished.

I am rarely wrong.

So, I generally just write stories when I get the idea. Sometimes I can get the first draft finished before the well runs dry or I have to put it aside to move on to something else I have to write; sometimes I just scribble down the title and the concept behind the story.

“This Thing of Darkness” was originally written for one of the MWA anthologies; I believe it was for the Michael Koryta When a Stranger Comes to Town. I didn’t think the story was actually ready to be read by anyone outside of my apartment, but it was the deadline and I thought why the hell not, nothing ventured nothing gained, and it’s an anonymous read so the judges won’t judge me PERSONALLY if it sucks. It was rejected–as I’d figured it would be, which was fine; those are such a long shot getting in through the hundreds of slush submissions is truly an accomplishment, kudos to those who have!–and so I tinkered with it here and there, now and then, over the years since that first submission. I didn’t think it was appropriate for most crime markets–it’s about a gay man to whom something horrible happened when he was a teenager, and I kind of went into detail about what happened to him–so I wasn’t surprised when I sent it to one and it was deemed “inappropriate” for their readers. So, I sat on it and figured it would be included in This Town and Other Stories.

Then Frank W. Butterfield contacted me for a story for his anthology of Valentine’s crime stories, and I thought, “You know, “This Thing of Darkness” is set during Halloween…you can change it from Halloween to Valentine’s Day” and so I did–and Frank graciously took the story.

Climbing the steps alongside the fenced in wooden deck, he couldn’t help but smile. He’d always loved that the place was named Tacos and Beer. So simple and unpretentious, in a world growing more complicated every day. The patio deck was crowded, filled with what he guessed were hipsters, with bare arms covered in vibrant multi-colored tattoos, the young men with their greasy-looking hair pulled back into manbuns, the women’s streaked with bright, vibrant colors and cut in a variety of styles. They seemed to all wear clunky boots and old, long out of style clothing stained and worn and riddled with holes. The sun glittered on their numerous piercings. He guessed their employers didn’t care about the artwork on their skin, or the posts and hoops bedazzling their faces.

He knew he was hopelessly, tragically, unhip. He’d never been one of the cool kids, and long since lost the desire to be one.

Although he would have thought they’d be too cool to celebrate Valentine’s Day? But many of them were obviously couples. Flowers wrapped in tissue paper adorned tabletops: carnations in various shades of pink, white and red; bullet-headed roses with baby’s breath; and arrangements of lilies and snapdragons and blooms he couldn’t identify. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, still tightly wrapped in cellophane, sometimes caught the light of the dying sun while he glanced at them.

He sat down at a tall table-top for two inside, perching on a stool facing the door. The inside wasn’t nearly as crowded as the deck. It was the first sunny warm day in New Orleans in quite some time—Carnival had been cold and gray and damp and miserable– and what young person didn’t want to be outside basking in the sunshine while drinking their artisanal craft beers and munching their tacos, laughing, enjoying being young and in love? He watched through the window, imagining he could hear the youthful spirit in their voices.

Oh, to be young again.

Or to be in love, for that matter.

This is, even though it is set in one of my favorite (or used to be, anyway; I don’t know if it’s still there or not) places to eat in my neighborhood, Tacos and Beer on St. Charles Avenue, really not a New Orleans story; it’s one of my Kansas stories. Glenn, my main character, grew up in Kansas and now is a writer living in New Orleans. (Hmmm.) The premise of the story is that, years after he left Kansas never to return, he gets an email out of the blue from someone he went to high school with, someone he hasn’t seen since Graduation Night, David Zimmer. David was the first friend he made when he moved to rural Kansas and started up new as a junior at Kingston County High. David stayed his friend even as he moved on to hanging out with more popular kids and, having been the bullied gay kid at his old high school, Glenn gives in the allure of being a football player and being part of the “in” crowd, having friends and not being picked on, desperately afraid that the gay rumors and bullying will somehow catch up to him at Kingston County High. Sadly, it does…and then one night at an end of the school year party, Glenn gets deeply into trouble, and needs David’s help–David, the first friend, the one he left behind in his need to be a “cool kid,” is the only person to whom he can turn in his hour of need.

At Graduation, they both agreed it was best they never see or speak to each other again.

Until now, and David is coming to New Orleans and wants to meet.

The idea for this story originated in something that actually happened; I did hear from an old friend I went to high school with; whom I’d neither seen nor spoken to since we graduated from high school (he went away to school at MIT; I eventually left Kansas, never to return), and he was coming through New Orleans on his way to run a marathon or something in Mississippi, so we decided to have dinner together and catch up. We did indeed meet at Tacos and Beer–but the horrible thing that happened to Glenn in high school never happened to me at any rate, and I’d certainly not turned to him for help in a dire situation we’d kept secret for forty years. I did, as the character in the story did also, arrive early. In fact, while I was sitting there waiting for my friend, watching the people out on the deck, that the idea for the story came to me.

I think it went something like I should write a story about two high school friends meeting up for the first time in nearly forty years to but what would the story be about to ah, they covered up something when they were in high school, were never found out, and have avoided each other deliberately for all that time, so of course the email out of the blue has made my main character nervous–what could he want after all this time?

And the longer I waited, the more I delved into the story in my head (and yes, this is also a cautionary tale about knowing writers: literally everything is material for us, and we can find inspiration for a new story almost anywhere), the more I liked the idea behind it, and when I got home (I only drank iced tea so I could write the story down when I got home) I parked at the computer and started writing.

I am very happy with the story and how it wound up turning out; dark and twisted, yet all under the happy veneer of a busy restaurant on St. Charles Avenue.

And if you’re interested in a copy of Cupid Shot Me, order it here.

Everything is Good About You

Friday morning and all is quiet in the Lost Apartment.

It’s in the thirties here this morning and very gray outside, which is not typical unless it’s raining. Rain is in the forecast today–yesterday’s dramatic thirty degree temperature drop was supposed to be the result of rain but we never really got much, in all honesty–but it also doesn’t feel as cold as it should at this temperature, if that makes any sense? The last time it was in the 30’s here a week or so ago it was bitterly cold inside the Lost Apartment, but it’s not that bad today. Maybe because I knew it was coming so I layered when I got up this morning and turned on the space heater next to my desk? (Our heat is still not working.) Regardless, I don’t feel as miserable today as I did the last time it was this cold, so I am taking that as a win.

Paul has been buried with work trying to get the programs for the festivals finished, so I’ve been at loose ends in the evenings this week. I’ve been very fatigued every night, and with Scooter sleeping in my lap (not affection, he’s cold–don’t get me wrong, he is affectionate, but I can tell when body heat is the driving factor in his affection; it has to do with how he cuddles when he’s cold), I’ve found myself dozing off in my chair while I watch some documentary about history (last night, I learned how and why Hanover and Great Britain went their own separate ways; about Queen Barbara Radziwill of Poland; how Catherine de Medici earned her horrible reputation and was it deserved; and how the curse of the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar is often given credit for the extinction of the main line of the Capetian royal family in France–some of these things I already had some knowledge of, but it’s always nice to learn more. Sometimes these documentaries are intended for people with absolutely no knowledge of history or the time period being discussed; I find that ones that originated with the BBC, National Geographic, or the Youtube channel Kings and Generals often have interesting little nuggets of information I didn’t know before; I was just thinking last night how much more interesting French history is than English–no offense to the English, of course; the French are just more all over the place). Barbara Radziwill was an important player in the sixteenth century, which was what sucked me into that video; as Constant Reader is already aware, I’ve always wanted to write a popular history of the sixteenth century by examining all of the powerful women of that century; it was one of the few times in history when women rose to power regularly and across Europe, and naturally the title would be The Monstrous Regiment of Women, taken from the misogynistic tome by John Knox and about that very thing: women in power.

I did manage to work on the book last night, which was nice–I was starting to worry about it, frankly–and I did get some other work done that needed doing. Today I am data entering for the day job most of the day, as I shiver a bit and try to figure out if I actually want to leave the house today (I am leaning towards not, frankly) before digging back into the manuscript. I also need to consult my to-do list to make sure I am following it despite not looking at it–and I suspect I will be horribly disappointed in myself when I finally get to it and see how there’s nothing to be crossed off from it. Heavy heaving sigh. But avoiding the list is also avoiding the tasks, so the list must be faced.

So many things must be faced this morning. My email inbox is getting more under control, so that’s always a pleasant thing and a big surprise, but there are emails that need responses that I haven’t gotten to yet–which just reminded me I had a DM on Facebook I need to reply to; please don’t ever contact me there if you want a response because I get a lot of junk DM’s there and so things tend to get pushed down and not get answered unless I remember to go looking for it (that is today’s PSA of how to reach me and get a response).

I also managed to proof my story “This Thing of Darkness” for Cupid Shot Me, which will release on Valentine’s Day (natch). It’s always lovely to get another short story out there for people to read; I love short stories and I love writing them–I do find them much harder to do than writing novels, for example–and it’s also an excellent editorial exercise for me: why is this story not working? Sometimes I can figure it out, sometimes I can’t. I just got asked this morning about writing for another anthology, which I even already have a story ready for; which means I need to take it out and reread and revise it. Yay!

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. That data ain’t gonna enter itself, alas. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a wonderful Friday.

Whisper You Love Me Boy

I am so messed up this week. I literally had no idea what day of the week it was for most of the day and had to keep reminding myself it was Tuesday and not Monday. It was very annoying and terribly irritating, as I am sure you can imagine. And it kept messing with me the entire day. I kept thinking oh two more days in the office despite the fact that there was actually only one (I have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday so have taken the day off) and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion of it being Tuesday all day. I certainly hope today isn’t going to another disorienting don’t know what day it is kind of day.

So far so good this morning, really. I feel more awake and a lot less discombobulated than I did yesterday, which is definitely a plus. It also doesn’t feel as cold today as it did yesterday, which I am also taking as a win; Friday is supposed to be miserably cold, but I’ll deal with that when that comes around (note to self: look for other space heaters this evening when you get home from work); hopefully it won’t cause the “cold paralysis” I sometimes experience–when it’s so cold I can’t do anything but huddle for warmth under blankets. Our heat isn’t working again; I turned it on last week and it came on…but then it turned off and hasn’t come back on again since. I really hate our new system because I cannot grasp how it works, and it seems to be so incredibly sensitive to everything that anything even just the tiniest bit incorrect will shut it down completely and we have to call the guys out again. I don’t even know if Paul has bothered mentioning it to our landlady this time, to be honest. It seems like having a working HVAC system is simply not in the cards for us.

Yesterday I got some lovely new editions of Joseph Hansen’s first four Dave Brandstetter mysteries in the mail, which is very exciting. It’s been decades since I read Hansen; and frankly, I am not entirely certain I read the entire series–but that’s lost in the murk of the past; I cannot imagine I didn’t if they were in print, and I do distinctly remember some lovely paperback editions I picked up at Tomes and Treasures in Tampa…but I don’t recall reading them all. So I have decided that I am going to reread Hansen’s novels again–it’ll be interesting to see what my take on them is now that I am also twenty years into a mystery-writing career as opposed to the mystery-writer-wannabe I was when I originally read them (I also seem to recall picking some up at the Borders in Minneapolis at the corner of Lake and Hennepin). Hansen isn’t nearly as remembered as he should be, frankly; I think it’s a disgrace he was never an Edgar finalist or named Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America.

I got the cover art and the proofs for an anthology I contributed a story over the last few days: Cupid Shot Me: Valentine Tales of Love, Mystery and Suspense, edited by Frank W. Butterfield. This is the place where I finally found a home for my nasty little story “This Thing of Darkness”, which was inspired by a visit to New Orleans a few years ago from someone I went to high school with–I met him at Tacos and Beer, which is just around the corner from my house, and of course while I waited for him and watched the crowd there, I started writing a nasty little story in my head that began precisely that way: the protagonist meeting a friend from high school he hasn’t seen in forty years for dinner in New Orleans at Tacos and Beer (which just goes to show–a writer will take inspiration from pretty much any-fucking-where), and as I wrote the story in my head while I waited it took a much darker turn. I was working on the Kansas book at the time (yet another draft of it) and here I was seeing someone from high school back in Kansas…so it really took a dark, nasty turn. I had been doing some research on, of all things, the nuclear missile bases scattered across Kansas (there was one near our high school) which led me into another Youtube wormhole about the TV movie The Day After…and also made me think about an entire book that could be built around one of the abandoned missile bases…anyway, after dinner I went home and started writing this story. It wasn’t originally called “This Thing of Darkness” (which is from Macbeth, by the way); I don’t remember what I originally called the story, but “This Thing of Darkness” was originally the title for the story in Unburied, “Night Follows Night”, but was too good of a title to not use, so I switched whatever the title of this was out for it.

I do like the story, twisted as it is, but it also got me to thinking about patterns in my short stories and how I write them–which I would talk about it here but the thought is still completely unformed, which has never stopped me before, of course, but it is so unformed that I would embarrass myself writing my way through exploring it, and I am not entirely sure that I actually regularly do what I think I do–following the same story structure in all of my stories–so I would need to reread more of them at once to determine whether that is something I actually do with my work…

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

Christmas Won’t Be The Same Without You

I did not want to get up this morning.

A quick look at today’s temperature–it is currently forty-eight degrees–explains it. It is chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning, and my heavy blankets felt all too marvelous for me to want to get out from underneath them when the alarm began it’s insistent cacophony far too early this morning for my tastes, quite frankly. The first day of winter looms nigh this week–perhaps even today or tomorrow–and then we’re in for the cold spells of winter in southeastern Louisiana, I would presume.

It’s weird–since Christmas is this weekend I only have my three days of work in the office this week, and then I have a four-day holiday. The holiday will be spent, of course, trying to get back on schedule with everything–I had a semi-productive day yesterday, and that productivity needs to continue today–but as my coffee kicks in I am also not tired, I am finding; more like I was groggy and didn’t want to come fully awake just yet. The stiff soreness in my shoulders also isn’t there this morning, so perhaps after work tomorrow I can actually return to the gym and start easing my way back into working out again. Yay? Yay.

I spent some time with Vivien Chien’s delightful Death by Dumpling yesterday, which is also an immersive experience into an Asian business center in Cleveland; which is interesting. I know we have a rather nice-sized Asian immigrant community in New Orleans–there was a section along Canal Street that was once our Chinatown–and there are a lot of Vietnamese families in New Orleans East (Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse explored the New Orleans Vietnamese community)–yet another part of New Orleans’ rich and varied culture/community/history I’ve never touched on in my work. The lovely thing about New Orleans is you can never ever run out of things to research, explore and write about here; the sad thing about New Orleans is realizing there is so much that it’s incredibly humbling; I always kind of laugh to myself when I hear myself being described as a “New Orleans expert”–please. There’s so little that I actually do know as opposed to the actuality; I am always realizing how little I do know about the city and its history and culture.

I also spent some time writing on the book yesterday, and it is beginning to really take shape nicely. If I can maintain a decent schedule on it, I should be able to finish on time–which will be just in time to head to New York next month, barring the trip getting canceled for one reason or another (please please please let that not happen again). I also managed to get the promo recordings done–I hate, as I have mentioned, hearing and seeing myself on recordings, so I can’t rewatch them to see if they are any good or not–but maybe I should start recording myself doing readings from my books and stories as promotional materials? I don’t know, it’s hard for me to imagine that succeeding, but…is that part of the self-destructive mentality that is rooted in my deeply felt Imposter Syndrome, or is that a valid critique of me, my attempts to promote myself and my career, and that very really sense that no one cares whether you do or you don’t?

Heavy thoughts this morning on my second cup of coffee, right?

But at least I got an email this morning from one of the places I recorded a video for–a brief read of “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”, from The Only One in the World–and Narrelle Harris, the very kind editor, seemed to have really liked it, so there’s that part going for me this morning. Yay, I think?

I also got the cover artwork for one of these anthologies I have a story in–Cupid Shot Me, Valentine’s Day gay crime stories, and that is the book that “This Thing of Darkness” is going to be revised/edited for (I made a note on my list of stories/manuscripts due this morning to note that this is the one due on January 10th)–and it’s pretty cool. I do love landing short stories, wherever I can. I hate that the short story market isn’t as strong as it used to be; even writing gay erotica was a nice supplemental income back in the days before everyone began truly using the internet to scratch their porn itches…remember the days of porn videos, either renting or buying for the exorbitant price of $89.95? The bargain bins of gay porn videos that had been remaindered? I’ve never pretended not to have written gay porn (or erotica, whichever makes you feel better about it), but it has been a hot minute since I’ve actually written or read any. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever again–there’s some gay noir I want to do that needs to be lusty, sweaty and erotic–but for now…it’s certainly not in my immediate future or in my plans for what I need to get done over the next two months.

And on that note, tis perhaps time for me to head into ye olde spice mines. There’s a lot I have to get done before the holidays this weekend.

Have an awesome Monday, Constant Reader!