Love Changes

And we’ve made it to Wednesday and Pay-the-Bills day. Hurray? But, as I do like to continually remind myself, at least you CAN pay the bills and still buy groceries and other things, which is a dramatic improvement over the way life used to be. I think back to the days when I worked for the airline and cannot believe the way I used to live; always broke, scrounging for change in the car to buy cigarettes (why didn’t I just quit?), never sure how I was going to get something to eat that day…sometimes not eating at all. Since this was also the period where I tried to get in shape and lose weight–not eating wasn’t as big an issue for me then as it is now. Then again, I’ve always had issues with food, body image, and body dysmorphia (which I still have, I just don’t pay as much attention to it as I used to back in the day when I cared more).

If there’s any kind of neurosis, it seems to be very welcome in my brain.

I was absolutely correct about the insomnia effects yesterday, I might add. Sure enough, all morning long I was a bit cloudy in the head and by the afternoon I was very tired; but I did get some emails answered that needed to be answered and some progress on things that needed to have progress made on them. By the time I got off work, I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to go pick up the groceries I ordered but Constant Reader, I persisted. I was fucking exhausted after I got them into the house and put away, but I did it. I also swung by and picked up the mail on the way home as well. There were a couple of things that I forgot to put on the list that I considered stopping to pick up as I headed home, but decided they could wait for another evening (tonight, in fact; I can stop by the grocery store in the CBD on my way home, which is not only convenient but easy as well). Yay for me, I think. Today I have to get through that damned to-do list if it kills me–which it might–and so I can start seeing daylight again, or at least get to the surface where I can start treading water again.

I did finish proofing the Bouchercon anthology last evening–I suppose I could start calling it what it actually is, Land of 10000 Thrills, rather than the Bouchercon anthology–and it’s quite the good collection of stories. And an interesting variety of voices, stories, and crimes, at that. I think you will all enjoy it, Constant Reader, when it comes out, and I will be sharing the preorder links and the cover design as soon as they drop into my inbox. This is my third Bouchercon anthology; I did the first New Orleans one (won an Anthony for it, as well) and the St. Petersburg one (my story in that one was nominated for an Anthony Award) and now I’ve done this third one–and I am nominated for two Anthony Awards this year (as Paul says, “two chances to be a loser!”)–and this is it, the last one. I said that after Florida Happens, of course, but I kind of don’t ever want to do any more anthologies of any kind, to be completely honest. I think I am good at putting them together, but there’s not really any money in them anymore–and especially the ones like this, that don’t pay anything at all and are simply a donation of my time and energy, both of which I no longer have in great quantities any longer. I need to save my creative strengths and energies (such as they are) for novels, short stories, and essays. I shouldn’t have agreed to do this one, frankly–something I’ve reminded myself of over and over most of this year–but here we are. To be honest, I don’t remember agreeing to do this one, but I am betting it happened on that horrible drunken afternoon at St. Petersburg Bouchercon when bad influences got me to drink that Low ‘n’ Slow stuff.

Yes, that’s probably when it happened.

I did not, in fact, get trained on the monkeypox vaccine yesterday after all. Our program’s nurse had an emergency and couldn’t make it in, so we had to reschedule it. I’m right now blanking on when that was moved to, but I’ll certainly find out tomorrow morning when I get to the office (I only bring the laptop home on the weekends, because Monday is my work-at-home day). I also slept really well last night–my sinuses kicked in at some point overnight, so I’m a bit phlegmy this morning (ugh) but I am also fairly certain a Claritin will do the trick on that. I have one more thing to get done today before I am finally free and clear to work specifically on Mississippi River Mischief, and I hope to get that story edited today. I also read some more of Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man, which I am enjoying–the book certainly gets off to a big start–and we watched some episodes o Control Z last night–we’re on Season Three, but don’t really remember much of the plot or the story from previous seasons, although they are doing something rather interesting with a queer storyline that I’m not very certain how I feel about. But it makes me think, which is always a good thing–good art, whether it’s a book, film or TV show, should always make the viewer/reader think a little bit; that’s what art is supposed to do, challenge and inspire.

I also picked up copies of new releases yesterday: Donna Andrews’ Round Up The Usual Peacocks, Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home, and Amina Akhtar’s Kismet. Definitely some good reading in my future; I’ll probably move the Iglesias up the TBR Pile to next position after I finish the Ippolito.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines. You have a lovely day now, you hear? And I will check in with you again tomorrow. Happy Wednesday to all!

Somebody Stand By Me

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all seems to be well so far–yet it is still early, nevertheless. Yesterday was an interesting day. I had to go to a training, if you will recall, in the morning–it was okay, as far as trainings go–and then of course I had a shortened day in the office afterwards (I can only do six hours on Fridays because I work extra long on clinic days), after which I headed home for the Lost Apartment. I almost have the Bouchercon anthology completed; and now I have my page proofing for Streetcar to get through this weekend. I also have a short story deadline tomorrow; but I am not really sure if I am going to bother submitting this story to it. I’m not entirely comfortable with it and what it’s about; it may be in questionable taste, and that of course concerns me deeply. If the story is problematic I don’t even want the editors to read it, you know? And I have this feeling–that nagging voice, which is so quick to point out every flaw in my life and writing and so forth, is really having a good time with this right now–that if you’re worried about the story being problematic, then it probably is.

On the other hand, I thought Bury Me in Shadows might be problematic, and it wasn’t. So maybe this story isn’t as bad as I think it might be, who knows? I am often not the best judge of my own work, after all–the lack of confidence in my own writing really is not good for me at all–and who knows if I will ever get the chance to publish it again anywhere other than a collection of my own (where I can count on my publisher saving me from myself if it is problematic?), so maybe–just maybe–after I finish the proofs for Streetcar this weekend, I can give the story another once over, and give it a shot.

I slept really well last night. When I got home from work last night I laundered all the bed linens, did another load of dishes, and then just kind of chilled for the rest of the evening as I was a bit mentally tired. I managed to get all the copy edits back to everyone for the Bouchercon anthology; I’m still waiting to get a few of them back and I can turn the manuscript in. I have a self-care appointment this morning at ten; then I am going to come back home and work on the page proofs and maybe carve out some time to read some more of In the Dark We Forget, which I am really enjoying and would love to finish reading this weekend. I need to make myself read for an hour every night; if I read for an hour every day I will gradually work my way through the TBR pile. I think the next book I am going to read is going to be Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man, although the new Donna Andrews is probably going to be delivered sometime soon, as well as Gabino Iglesias’ new one. I also want to get some filing and cleaning done today–Paul has to go to the office to meet his tech person because his computer is messed up–and I think I am also going to get a box down from the attic to sort through as well as go through some drawers to throw shirts and shorts and things I never wear out. I also plan on getting through all the emails in my inbox at some point this weekend as well; I am tired of all those goddamned emails being in there, you know what I mean?

It also occurred to me yesterday that I should send the Word file of Jackson Square Jazz to my iPad so I can reread and copy edit it on there. Progress can only be made when you set yourself up to succeed, which sounds like one of those horrible motivational posters that were such a thing sometime in my past–they were in office spaces everywhere and always made me want to roll my eyes whenever I saw one. But I slept really well last night, which was incredibly lovely, and I am looking forward to getting quite a bit done this weekend. I already feel rested, which is really nice, and the Lost Apartment isn’t the usual disaster area it always appears to me when Saturday rolls around again. Sure, there’s stuff I need to clean up and organize and there’s always filing to do–not to mention the computer files that need clearing and cleaning up–but after my self-care and my errands, I should be able to come on home and dig into my work that needs to be done.

And on that note, I can actually get started on that before I get ready to leave for my appointment, so have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow, or perhaps even later again today.

Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

Do You Know What I Mean

The traditional mystery often gets a bum rap by mystery fans. I’m not sure why that is; these books have never gone out of style, have never decreased in popularity, and have always been the backbone of the crime/mystery genre. They are often (wrongly, I think) identified with Agatha Christie–if anything, Christie should be identified with every sub-genre of crime/mystery fiction. She wrote private eye novels (Poirot); dark noir (Endless Night); spy fiction (N or M?, The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad); historicals (Death Comes as the End); and even romantic suspense (as Mary Westmacott). Sure, she often relied on the amateur sleuth–her most famous amateur being probably Miss Marple–but she literally did everything first, really.

Probably why everyone refers to her as the Queen of Crime Fiction.

But the traditional mystery, for some reason, gets short shrift in our modern world, despite being one of the most popular subgenres of crime fiction. Why? I don’t really understand it. Sure, there’s not any blood or sex or violence–the sort of thing generally used to sell everything from television shows to movies to laundry soap and deoderant. Many of us grew up reading books about amateur detectives, from Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys to Trixie Belden. So why do so many turn their noses up at the traditional mystery, also known as the cozy mystery?

I think it’s much harder to write about crime without using the tough guy male lead (stereotype), blood, violence, swear words, and sex. Is it this lack of the “rougher” aspects of crime that earned these books the nickname “cozy”?

What precisely does the word cozy mean, used as a book descriptor in this way? Ask five mystery fans/writers, and you will get five different answers. It’s often hard to quantify the variety of subgenres within the mystery/crime field. Everything else aside, I think the most important thing, the key, for a mystery novel to get this kind of classification is that the book focuses, on one level, on a sense of community; the reader develops a warm, comfortable feeling, the kind that you usually get from visiting family and friends you don’t get to see all of the time. You open the book and start reading and already feel relaxed and at home; happy to see people you care about, are interested in, and are excited to find out what they have been up to. Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series is an excellent example of this; so is Leslie Budewitz’ Spice Shop mystery series (both series, obviously, are favorites of mine). These books welcome you in, invite you to put your feet up, get comfortable, and spend some time with your old friends you’ve not seen in a while.

This, naturally, is very difficult to establish when writing the first book in a new series of this kind; how do you immediately establish this warm environment where the reader feels comfortable enough to kick off their shoes and relax? It’s not the easiest thing to pull off for an accomplished writer; so it’s all the more remarkable when someone nails it in their very first book.

Mia P. Manansala nailed it in her debut.

My name is Lila Macapagal and my life has become a rom-com cliché.

Not many romantic comedies feature an Asian-American (or dead bodies, but more on that later), but all the hallmarks are there.

Girl from an improbably named small town in the Midwest moves to the big city to make a name for herself and find love? Check.

Girl achieves these things only for the world to come crashing down when she walks in on her fiancé getting down and dirty with their next-door neighbors (yes, plural)? Double check.

Girl then moves back home in disgrace and finds work reinvigorating her aunt’s failing business? Well now we’re up to a hat trick of clichés.

And to put the cherry on top, in the trope of all tropes, I even reconnected with my high school sweetheart after moving back to town and discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

Okay, that last part is a joke, but I really did run into my high school sweetheart. Derek Winter, my first love.

First of all, can we talk about the voice?

It is impossible not to fall in love with Lila’s voice from the very first sentence of the book. She is smart and funny and eminently likable, which is important in a traditional mystery (no one wants to read a cozy whose main character is an unlikable bitch) and much harder to do than most people who don’t actually write books think it is. Lila is a remarkable character; very clear-eyed about what she wants and what she doesn’t, as well as who she thinks she is and wants to be. She’s returned from her big escape to the big city to the small town she wasn’t terribly happy in when she was growing up–her past experiences continually are reminding her, and not in pleasant way, of why she left in the first place. She never intended to return home (as Thomas Wolfe said, you can’t go home again), but she is back and rather than focusing on what she is certain everyone she knows or is related to sees as her “failure,” she intends instead to focus on helping save her aunt’s restaurant business.

The immense strength of this story rests upon those family bonds, and Lila’s recognition of just how important those bonds–family, friends, community–actually are to her; and her growing realization, over the course of the books, that those things she once thought were strangling and restraining her are actually where her own power comes from.

The mystery itself is also strong: Lila’s wretched local ex, whose mother has since married a businessman who rents Tita Rosie’s building to her and is a total dick, has taken to writing shitty reviews of local restaurants, apparently targeting one and trying to destroy its business before moving on to another. Lila’s relationship with him is also strained; and she also doesn’t like the dickish stepfather either. It is while she is serving them lunch that her ex keels over face-first into his plate–dead from arsenic poisoning. In the food Lila fed him, and came from her aunt’s kitchen. The financially strapped business is shut down pending an investigation into the murder and a health department inspection, and there is the very real fear that Tita Rosie may lose her restaurant. Lila takes it upon herself to investigate and find the real culprit, to clear herself as well as her aunt and the beloved family business of any wrongdoing and scandal. The journey, which introduces us to her friends and family, and welcomes the reader into their charming world and community, twists and turns and is full of surprises every step along the way–as Lila also learns just how much the restaurant, her family, and her friends really mean to her.

This book is absolutely charming, well-written, and very fun. I cannot wait to revisit Lila and her crew in the second book, Homicide and Halo-Halo. Mia P. Manansala is definitely one to watch, and it’s going to be fun watching her career reaching even more heights than she has already achieved.

Oh Be My Love

Sunday morning and oh so much to do. I slept in this morning until eight thirty (oh dear! The vapors!), and feel a bit groggy but also rested and well, which is lovely. I think the panel yesterday went well–one never knows for sure, does one?–but I think the panelists were smart and entertaining and fun and informative; I certainly enjoyed listening to their answers to my borderline puerile questions. I also didn’t stick close to the topic–I never do, another reason I am a shitty moderator–but the most important thing is to stay out of the way of the panelists as they talk about their writing. Whether I succeeded or not remains to be seen; moderating isn’t my strength by any means, I loathe doing it, and it’s also not something I enjoy doing, for that matter.

Then again, that might just be more evidence of Imposter Syndrome. Who knows?

I also woke up to a cover reveal for the Magic is Murder anthology! Edited by the wonderful Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley, this lovely anthology includes my story “The Snow Globe,” which is another example of Gregalicious never letting a story idea die. This story began life as a Halloween story (original opening line: Satan had a great six-pack), was converted to a Christmas story (opening line: Santa had a great six-pack–only had to move the n!) and finally found a home. Thanks to the Terrific Trio for all their help with my story, and I am, as always, excited to see another short story of mine in print. Huzzah!

I need to add a caveat to my earlier “well-rested” sentence: my legs and hip joints ache from walking to the Monteleone and back two days in a row. My legs feel terribly tired, and my hip joints are very achy this morning–as evidenced just not when I got up to make another cup of coffee. I am sure it has something to do with the new shoes and needing new shoe inserts; it usually does–but it’s still rather annoying at the same time. I guess I am grateful it’s not my knees or ankles, but nevertheless, pretty aggravating. I have a lot to do today–I’ve already made a list of what needs to be done today–and I am probably going to spare some more wake-up time to reading Alex Segura’s marvelous Secret Identity. I spent some time with it yesterday while taking breaks from everything I need to scratch off my to-do list, and I am really enjoying it. I am enjoying the feel and vibe of the comic book world and New York in the 1970’s; it would be really fun to see a Mad Men/The Deuce type show developed by Segura set in the comics world of this time. I spent some time last night unwinding over a couple of episodes of Young Justice, which I am also enjoying, and then watched two DC animated movies: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, both of which I deeply enjoyed; the lovely thing about the animated movies is they can actually use the entire cast of DC heroes and aren’t as limited as the television shows or live-action films by casting. I love seeing the DC heroes of my comic fandom days in action–Red Tornado, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Blue Beetle, etc.–turning up in the animation; I’ve missed them as the movies focus on the bigger names and the television shows are also slightly limited by casting as well–they aren’t using first tier, like the movies, but what I would call Tier 1A. (Although I will gladly argue that the CW’s Superman and Lois is the best take on the characters since the Christopher Reeve Superman films.)

I also spent some time watching the World Figure Skating championships, which was delightful. Two American ice dance teams medaled (a rare occurrence), and I think this may be the first time in history that the US has gotten a medal in every discipline? I know we’ve not had a pairs champion since 1979 with Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia, and it’s been a while since we had a pairs medal of any kind. And our future looks bright with two up-and-comers in Men’s.

So, I had probably best gird my loins and venture into today’s spice mines. Paul will be home tomorrow (yay!) and I need to not only get the apartment not only under control, but everything else in my life, and I am feeling better about everything, really. I don’t know why I allow myself to get so wrapped up in despair and overwhelmed by everything I have to do; everyone has things to do and everyone has their own pace, and well, it just is what it is, you know?

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Y’all have a great Sunday, okay?

Over and Over

I love Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series. (In fairness, I am also quite fond of Donna herself. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the novelty that I know some of my favorite writers; I have been and always will be a fanboy, untoward as it may be as a colleague.)

But this series, for me, is the definition of what a cozy mystery is; because it makes you feel cozy and comfortable. Meg, along with her family and friends in wonderful small-town Caerphilly, Virginia, are people you enjoy visiting and spending time with; there’s really nary a one with a mean bone in their body, and whenever someone with such a mean bone turns up, they inevitably end up dead. This series makes me laugh, and every time I close the latest, finished, I feel satisfied and warm. (This affection I feel for the Meg series is very similar, if not exactly the same, to the way I felt about Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, which is one of my all-time favorites.)

And the Christmas ones are particularly good–not that there’s ever a bad one; I’d be hard-pressed to pick a least favorite in the series. I also can’t think of a single one where I haven’t laughed at least three or four times aloud when reading.

“Look out! The wombats are loose again!”

Id almost dozed off, even though I was sitting upright in a hard kitchen chair, but that woke me up in a hurry. Had someone actually shouted something about wombats? Or had I only imagined it?

The kitchen was–well, quiet didn’t apply. The Christmas carols playing over the little hidden loudspeakers were a trifle louder than optimal. I should find the remote and fix that. But it was peaceful here. Just me, sipping a cup of hot spiced cider left over from last night’s holiday party and enjoying a few moments of relaxation before I opened my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe to start what I knew would be a busy day.

I heard scuffling noises coming from somewhere. Hard to tell where over the dramatic horn introduction to “Joy to the World.” I got up and limped over to the kitchen window, still favoring the ankle I’d sprained a week ago. No random wombats running amok outside. No marsupials of any kind in the backyard, and given how loudly heaven ‘n’ nature were singing over the little loudspeakers, a herd of elephants could have been stampeding in the front yard without my noticing.

I could be incorrect, but I believe every book in this series opens with dialogue, which– out of any context other than this is an Andrews novel–always makes you think what and then grin.

I also think one of the reasons I love the character so much is because Meg never gets upset or loses her temper or has her equilibrium disrupted; and given the unusual circumstances which her enormous family and friend group generally seem to put her into, that is actually saying something. There’s always something out-of-the-ordinary going on–extreme croquet, fainting sheep, emus on the loose, wombats in the basement–and yet Meg never lets this upset her equilibrium; simply rolls up her sleeves and wades in with grim determination.

In this latest Christmas mystery, Meg has injured her ankle and as such has to miss a ski trip with her husband Michael and their twin sons. Her grandfather has hired someone to paint birds for his next book, and the painter is a pain-in-the-patoot. He’s moved into the library of Meg’s beautiful old Victorian (how I envy her that library) to paint jays and mockingbirds…but he let the mockingbirds loose because “the bars of the cages impede his sightline.” The mockingbirds are now loose throughout the big house, and everyone has been forced to wear hats to protect themselves from not only attacks but, um, dive bombing attacks. He also sneaks cigarettes inside, and Meg is almost at the end of her rope with Quartermayne. His harassed assistant, Harris, is no help in controlling the man or getting him to observe house rules–and bill collectors and ex-wives have a habit of showing up to try to throttle the back alimony out of him. Soon, he’s dead, and Meg’s got another murderer to catch before the big annual family Christmas celebration.

This series is an absolute joy, and this latest entry is as well.

And now I am bitter because I am out of Donna Andrews books (why I always hold one back on my favorite authors), and will have to wait until August for a new one.

Automatically Sunshine

Monday, and my body clock–which had finally adjusted to me getting up early for work–is now all messed up again. Thanks, Daylight Savings Time, thanks a lot.

I woke up yesterday determined to get things done but that eventually didn’t happen, sadly. I started off the morning thinking, ah, I’ll read for a little while and then I’ll get going on my day but instead I got sucked into the book I was reading, and by the time I finished The Twelve Jays of Christmas, it was around three in the afternoon and I was… not fatigued or tired, but the malaise kind of set back into my day and it was rather unpleasant. I wound up getting sucked into war coverage, and finally caught up on Superman and Lois before eventually going to bed. I slept deeply and well and woke up this morning reluctant to get out of bed and get my day started. My body’s natural tendency–Greg’s natural tendency–it to default to laziness and doing nothing; a body at rest and all that, and my body and mind definitely wanted to stay at rest this morning. In fact, even as I sit here drinking my coffee and listening to the washing machine run, the bed is calling for me to return and burrow back beneath the covers and close my eyes, even though I am awake. But I have work-at-home duties to do, and later on I have to finish this final edit on my manuscript and start working on editing another one for someone else. I am getting closer to being caught up and getting big projects out of the way, which is lovely on the one hand, but on the other hand it is still incredibly daunting to have so many other things still hanging over my head.

I don’t know what it would feel like to not have something hanging over my head, though, so I am not sure how I would feel were that to ever happen. Knowing me, it would cause me stress and make me worried that no one is interested in any work from me anymore.

The weather has gotten cold here again, which isn’t conducive for me wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, either. It’s not as bad, obviously, as it is other places–we didn’t have a snowpocalypse, at least, for which I will be eternally grateful–but I do love how we always get sucked into thinking winter is over because we have a really warm week of sun and high temperatures, only to get it right between the eyes. March is indeed a cruel month–wasn’t March the month they used to say “in like a lion out like a lamb” about? (I’ve not heard that phrase since I was a child) That reminds me–speaking of odious chores hanging over my head–I need to get my taxes together. Ugh, indeed an odious chore, and once again, like an idiot, rather than keeping track of my deductible expenses all year I need to compile them now. *head desk*

I never learn, do I?

I guess that is the one constant in my life.

So, this morning I need to make this week’s to-do list. I have the weekend’s sitting here in front of me, and I managed to get three of the seven tasks crossed off; I never ran the errands, which is why nothing else got crossed off. I should have done them when I finished reading my book yesterday but I was, as I said earlier, very apathetic once I finished reading the book. Then I need to get my work-at-home duties taken care of, and then I will run those errands to get them out of the way once and for all. I think I am going to read Robert Jones’ The Prophets next; that or Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets. I also have the new Lisa Lutz sitting on my coffee table, which I am sure I will enjoy a lot as well–she’s never disappointed me yet. (I also found out over the weekend that the story I thought was due in early April isn’t actually due until April 30th; a bit of a respite that might help me simply spin the story out rather than try to write the damned thing in a massive rush the week it’s due…at least in theory, right?)

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am putting my miner’s helmet on and heading down into the spice mines. Have a happy Monday, Constant Reader.

Touch

Ugh, I must confess I am one of those people who despise the time change. I forgot to reset my alarm clock last night when I went to bed, so of course this morning I didn’t remember that I’d forgotten (yes, well aware of what I just wrote)

Sunday and I am debating as to whether or not to run the errands today I’d originally wanted to run yesterday but didn’t because of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Yes, we pretty much will throw a parade for any reason here in New Orleans, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day parade, they do indeed throw things from the floats. Just like Carnival, they throw beads and cups and plush toys. They also throw potatoes, cabbages and carrots; the idea being you could catch the ingredients to make dinner at the parade. As for me, I’d rather not stand beside the street while parade riders hurl hard objects at me that could bruise or injure; given that my heel was bruised because my shoe insert fucking slipped the other day, imagine what would happen to me at a parade throwing hard objects at me. But now that I’ve gotten up and realized the impact of the loss of the hour…I’m debating whether or not the errands can actually wait until tomorrow after my work-at-home duties. I mean, I can’t get the mail today anyway, right, so I am going to have to go uptown tomorrow or after work on Tuesday. I do need to finish the final two chapters of the book revision today–I made some great progress yesterday, did I not?–and worry that running those errands could wear me out and put me out of the mood to work on it. Of course, there’s also no rule that says when I should run the errands; I could run them late this afternoon after I get the things I need to get done today completed.

Ooooh, doing something different. How not like me, right?

Yesterday was relatively pleasant. I worked on the book after I got up, did some stuff around the house, started reading Donna Andrews’ The Twelve Jays of Christmas (one can never go wrong with Donna Andrews), and then last night settled in for a rewatch of 2010, the sequel to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I rewatched during the pandemic (I’d also already seen 2010; we rented it one night in the 1980’s but got incredibly high so I really didn’t remember much of it other than it made 2001 make a lot more sense; just as the book cleared up a lot of the stuff in the original that didn’t make a lot of sense). One of the things that I always enjoy about watching old science fiction movies is to see what they were able to predict right about the future and what they got wrong; just like in 2001, in 2010 Pan Am is still around, as is the Soviet Union. Part of the plot’s premise is that the US and USSR are on the brink of war over Honduras; at the time the book was written and the film made it was inconceivable to Americans–anyone of the time, really–that the USSR was actually on the brink of collapse and wouldn’t survive in that form for another decade. I also had to wonder, wouldn’t Jupiter becoming a second sun in our system dramatically alter our orbit around the sun and our climate? Even though we are much further away from Jupiter than we are from our actual star?

It’s kind of hard to imagine Earth going from a one-star system to a two-star without any other impact.

Then again, I am not an astronomer, so what do I know? I did enjoy the film the second time around; I’d forgotten that young John Lithgow was in it, as was Helen Mirren as the leader of the Soviet space team.

I also read a marvelous two-issue crossover between two comics, Nightwing and Superman: Son of Kal-el, featuring the bisexual new son of Superman, Jonathan Kent (which reminds me, I am way behind on Superman and Lois). Nightwing/Dick Grayson remains my favorite DC Universe character; I hope HBO MAX will drop a new season of Titans soon.

And on that note, I think I’m going to read some more Donna before I get back to my own manuscript. Have a lovely Daylight Savings Time Sunday, Constant Reader.

Shine on Me

Sunday morning.

I got up again before seven this morning–despite staying up an hour or so later last night than I usually do; I was waiting, hoping Paul would be coming home, but he didn’t get home again until after I went to bed. I didn’t get nearly as much done yesterday as I would have liked because I got distracted by reading Kellye Garrett’s marvelous Like a Sister, and by the time I finished the book it was late afternoon and the tiredness I was feeling yesterday morning–I mentioned it, remember? I wasn’t as awake and alert as I had been the day before–I decided to just kick back and relax for the rest of the day. I watched a lot of history documentaries on Youtube; watched a lot of news worried about Ukraine; and then last night I decided to watch The Drowning Pool, a 1970’s film version of Ross Macdonald’s book–with significant changes made to the book–moving it to Louisiana for one (more on this later). When the movie was finished I went to bed, and woke up early again this morning (body clock has reset, for good or ill). I have to make groceries this morning, as well as gas up the car (can’t wait to see how much gas costs today; but I am more than willing to pay more to save Ukrainian lives, frankly) and head home for some more editing work. I am going to work on my manuscript today; and I have a manuscript from Bold Strokes I need to get edited this week as well. Lots of heavy lifting to get done this week, but I think I can manage.

I also need to select my next book to read. I’ve narrowed it down some; the leading contenders include Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, The Twelve Jays of Christmas by Donna Andrews, The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr., and All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris. A plethora of treasures in my TBR pile, no? There’s also some short story collections and anthologies I want to start working my way through–not to mention a short story I need to write by the end of the month (see why I need lists?)–so I think once I get home from the grocery store I will most likely have to make this week’s to-do list. I also have some emails to write for sending tomorrow. But I don’t feel as paralyzed this morning as I usually am by a daunting pile of work that needs doing. We’ll see how I feel when I get home from the grocery store, though, I suppose. Usually dealing with the groceries wears me out and I am pretty much useless afterwards; I don’t know if that is actual physical or mental exhaustion or laziness settling in. I know that my energy levels have significantly decreased over the past pandemic years, and sometimes I do wonder if it’s maybe Long COVID; exhaustion and loss of energy seems to be one of its leading symptoms, and of course, both tend to trigger depression, which creates a massive downward spiral. But I keep testing negative for it, so what do I know?

So, The Drowning Pool starring Paul Newman as Lew Archer, renamed Lew Harper in the movie, and the location was moved from southern California to Louisiana for some reason. The movie is very cynical, so it definitely fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, but it’s not a very good movie. (I’ve read the book, and while the family structure of the film seemed familiar, there’s a lot of significant diversion from the book.) One of my favorite parts of the movie is one of those things Louisiana/New Orleans people always point out in movies and television shows: the geography makes no sense. Harper is summoned to New Orleans by an old flame, whom he meets in a Royal Street antique shop for some reason. She doesn’t anyone to know she’s hired him, so why would you meet in the Quarter? The airport is in Kenner; why would you make him drive all the way into the heart of the city when you could have simply met him at a lounge or bar out near the airport, where they would be a lot more anonymity? Anyway, the old flame (Joanne Woodward, wasted in a role far beneath her talents) has gotten him a room at a motel in the small town she lives in, and she runs off, promising to be in touch…and here is the weird Louisiana geography part. He leaves the Quarter, takes the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, eventually crossed the river in Baton Rouge, and then winds up somewhere in swampy Acadiana. That’s all fine…but why would you take the causeway to the north shore to get to Baton Rouge when I-10 heads directly there from New Orleans? He added at least another hour to his trip by crossing the lake. There’s another scene where he’s tracking someone down, following his girlfriend as she gets off the St. Charles streetcar, crosses the street, and enters a home. Harper later refers to the man’s “apartment in the French Quarter”–um, the streetcar doesn’t run through the Quarter, it didn’t in 1975, and it was clearly St. Charles Avenue (there are several more of these, in fact; the bayou area near the town was clearly filmed in the Manchac Swamp). The plot is convoluted and didn’t make a lot of sense–blackmail, Joanne Woodward’s husband is a closet case, someone has stolen an account book from a local oil baron’s company that exposes their pay-offs and bribes and other illegal activities–and Newman, while handsome and charming, doesn’t really put a lot of effort in the role. Your mileage might vary, of course, but I found it to be disappointing. The only thing about the film of note was very young Melanie Griffith playing Woodward’s nymphet teenage daughter…and I kept wondering how old IS she to be so sexualized in a film? But it was also the 1970’s…in catching up on the 1970’s films I’m constantly amazed at how much unnecessary nude scenes for women there are, or gratuitous sex scenes that add nothing to the plots in these films. But I also appreciate the grittier, more realistic if cynical point of view of the films; there’s nothing pretty or noble about humanity in these movies…which also kind of explains how “hopeful” movies like Rocky and Star Wars were so enormously successful during the latter part of the decade.

And on that note, i think I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Time Changes Things

I was a late adaptor to audiobooks; just like I was with ebooks (which I still kind of recoil away from, for some unknown reason; during the early stages of pandemic shutdown I revisited Mary Stewart and several other favorites on my Kindle or iBook apps and enjoyed them heartily–yet for some reason I never go back to the iPad to read…probably the enormous stack of hard copies in my TBR pile glaring at me from directly across the room from my chair). I always worried, you see, that I would get so caught up in listening to the book that I wouldn’t pay attention to the road, or my mind would wander and I’d miss something important. Several years ago on a trip to Kentucky I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up and End of Watch (by Stephen King) on the way back; both turned out to be highly pleasant experiences and yes, while my mind did wander at times–my subconscious was listening so I never got lost when I was able to give the book my attention again. The last time I drove to Kentucky I listened to Foundation on the way up and Donna Andrews’ delightful The Falcon Always Wings Twice on the way back. Audiobooks make the time pass much faster than listening to music and singing along (I am quite the rock star in my car), and so, when it was time to drive up to Birmingham this past weekend, I selected Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger to listen to on the way up and back; it wasn’t quite long enough to last the entire drive…but I also had some Lisa Unger short stories downloaded as well, and I figured once the Lutz was finished, I could listen to one of those.

But the Lutz…my God. Why on earth did I wait so long to read/listen this impressive work?

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body. I pumped his barrel chest and blew into his purple lips. It was the first time in years our lips had touched and I didn’t recoil.

I gave up after ten minutes. Frank Dubois was gone. Lying there all peaceful and quiet, he almost looked in slumber, but Frank was noisier asleep than he was awake. Honestly, if I had known what kind of snorer he was going to turn into, I never would have married him. If I could do it all over again, I never would have married him even if he slept like an angel. If I could do it all over again, there are so many things I would do differently. But looking at Frank then, so still and not talking, I didn’t mind him so much. It seemed like a good time to say good-bye. I poured a shot of Frank’s special bourbon, sat down on Frank’s faux-suede La-Z-Boy, and had a drink to honor the dead.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I was taking a shower when Frank died. As far as I could tell, he fell down the staircase all on his own. He had been suffering from vertigo lately. Convenient, I know. And I doubt he mentioned it to anyone. If I had waited for the place and told them the truth, maybe life could have continued as normal. Minus Frank.

This book was recommended by practically everyone I know; I’m not really sure why I never got around to reading it. I did read her next novel, The Swallows, and absolutely loved it; I also have her new one sitting on my coffee table waiting for me to get to it.

And as I said, now that I’ve listened to this one, I am really pissed off at myself for taking so long to get to it. I am not joking. When I arrived at the hotel in Birmingham on Friday, I literally stayed in the car until the chapter finished. When I got in the car to drive to Wetumpka Sunday morning, I even left earlier than I needed to in my eagerness to get back to the book, it was that good–and I had no idea how it was all going to turn out.

That opening! How do you stop reading after that? Who is this woman? Why does she have to go on the run after her husband’s accidental death? Who and what else is she running from? And most importantly–who is she? We’re never sure who “Tanya” really is; she picks up and discards new identities (who knew it could be so simply done? Even if it’s only temporary? But something bad happened in her past–something she is still terrified about, and doesn’t want the police to find her, so clearly it’s pretty fucking bad. As she goes on the run yet again, we start to understand who she is, in some ways–there are some things we’ll simply have to wait for Lutz to let us know about “Tanya”–but you can’t help but root for her. She has a sense of humor about her horrible situation, and you also can’t help but like her, whatever it is she did in her past. As the narrative continues, we are also fed some email communications between “Jo” and “Ryan”–one quickly picks up that at some point in her past, “Tanya” was also “Jo”–that rather cryptically talks about the past and the original situation that set her on the run.

And while “Tanya” never talks about what that was, or much about her past, we do get some information from her on that score: a distant mother who was alcoholic and went through men like Kleenex; an unstable home environment, she used to swim competitively–and each new piece of the puzzle fits securely into place.

As the book continues, she breaks the law to survive from time to time, and each new identity she takes on comes with its own challenges and difficulties and dangers. We follow her from one end of the country to another and back again; it’s almost like a series of vignettes, really, strung together into one over-arching narrative that you can’t stop reading. How is she going to get out of this? you wonder every single time, and the book just keeps barreling along until all the threads of her many lives come together at the very end, with a startling final twist just before the final resolution.

Do yourself a favor, Constant Reader, and get every Lisa Lutz book and read it. I certainly intend to.