Do It Again

Here it is, Saturday morning and I am awake and on my first cup of coffee. I have things to get done today–two interviews and a roundtable (the round table is terrifying; I looked at the questions and I’m not really certain I am smart or knowledgeable enough to participate, but I said I would and I never back out of things I agree to–or rarely). It’s weird, one would think I would love the chance to talk about myself and my writing as they are basically my favorite subjects, but it always makes me feel, at best, awkward and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.

All that childhood conditioning against arrogance and bragging, I suppose.

I didn’t quite finish cleaning out my inbox yesterday–in fact, I didn’t get even remotely close to cleaning it out, so it’s going back to the list for today. I need to get the mail and I need to make a short grocery run this afternoon, and I would like to go to the gym and try to get started on a regular workout routine again, but that becomes even more difficult given the heat advisory. But thinking about going to the gym, while not the same thing as actually going, is a step closer to getting there, I suppose. I also need to stop by Office Depot to buy some padded envelopes; the arrival of the box o’books also means signing and mailing out copies I owe to friends and reviewers and so forth. Signing and packaging the books is a chore, but I don’t find it as odious as one might think.

Yesterday, as you already know, Constant Reader, I finished reading S. A. Cosby’s delightful My Darkest Prayer, and I am very thrilled and happy to know that he recently signed a two-book contract, so I can look forward to new work from Shawn in the future. Yay! I love discovering new writers, and I love when they have new work. I do have this insane thing where I try not to finish reading everything an author has published so I always know there’s one more book by them to read–I was looking at my bookshelves yesterday as I reorganized the living room, realizing there are still three Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton I haven’t read yet, and was saddened again to know that those will always be the last three Sue Grafton novels, and actually was thinking I should, at some point, start reading the books to clear them off the shelves. I am already at the point with some of my favorite authors, like Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott, where I have finished everything they’ve published (Lippman’s new one, Lady in the Lake, is on deck and I am probably going to start reading it today). I am also behind on some of my favorite authors–I was caught up on Donna Andrews, but I read for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original last year, which put me behind on everyone who wasn’t in that category last year (some of which I want to go back and reread, taking my time to savor them the way I ordinarily would), and I am also years behind on numerous authors I enjoy…but new books are being released every damned day. Sigh. There’s simply never enough time.

In my review of Shawn’s book, I wrote about something I truly believe–and the more I diversify my reading in my own genre, the more I believe it to be true. I believe that women writers saved the crime genre in the 1980’s, and while they are still doing some serious heavy lifting, the diverse voices of authors like Shawn are reinvigorating and reinventing the crime genre, and breathing new life into it. (I’m really looking forward to October, when I will switch to reading horror, and reading novels by diverse voices in that genre–there are some new and exciting people of color writing in that genre…plus, reading horror will further diversify my reading by taking me outside of crime for a month.) Some of the diverse voices I’ve read thus far this year–Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Walter Mosley, Steph Cha, Angie Kim, etc.–are doing extraordinary work that needs to be recognized, promoted, and pushed by all of us; they are breathing new life into our genre, as are women writers like Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, Jamie Mason, Elizabeth Little, and many, many more. And while I often generically refer to the “straight white men”–let’s face it, some of today’s men are writing exceptional work, too–Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, to name a few amongst many. I think this is a very exciting time for crime fiction, and I look forward to reading more work by queer writers, as well. I’ve not gotten to some of the newer queer crime writers yet, which I am going to try to focus on more in the latter part of the year. I am really looking forward to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths, as it is a queer novel by a queer woman set in the rural South; something I can certainly relate to.

I kind of had a lackadaisical day of rest yesterday, really, where I accomplished little other than reading my book and doing the laundry, and couldn’t really motivate myself to do much more than that–I did make a delicious shrimp stir-fry for dinner last night, though–and we watched two episodes of The Movies last night, “The 80’s” and “The 90’s.” There’s only one more episode left, unless they release “The 50’s,” which is also a rather interesting period in the history of film. I started reading, for research, City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s, by Otto Friedrichs (recommended by Megan Abbott), and it has a lovely bibliography in the back which should be enormously helpful for further research into the time period. I also have a copy of E. J. Fleming’s The Fixers, which should also come in handy for research; again, as a starting place with the gold mine of a bibliography in the back.

So, here’s hoping that today will be that unusual thing; a highly productive, but at the same time, a restful day. Last night’s wonderful sleep is, of course, a wonderful basis for the rest of my day.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Get Down

Monday morning, and perhaps a more restless night of sleep than one would have preferred; but I did sleep and am counting that as a win. It may take a little longer this morning than usual for me to become human, but I am awake, I do feel sort of rested, and it’s the first day of a rather short week for me. Friday begins the long weekend I am taking for my birthday, so my half-day on Thursday will be the end for me until the following Wednesday, which is rather awesome, actually, and I believe I come back to a half-day Wednesday, even–one of my co-workers wants to permanently switch Wednesday and Thursday with me, which is fine. Having two long days, a short day, a regular day and then a short day seems more do-able, and workable, than what I’ve been doing and I’ve been thinking lately that I need to somehow change my schedule; a co-worker’s need for his class schedule made up my mind for me. We’ll see how it works out, won’t we?

Yesterday I finished Major Project around two in the afternoon, which is an enormous load off my mind. I spent the rest of the day watching the US Gymnastics championships (men in the late afternoon, women last evening) before calling it a night and going to bed; as I sat at my computer drinking my sleepy-time tea, an idea for the story that’s due at the end of the month came to me. I actually wrote the first couple of hundred words in my journal; today I’ll turn them into the beginnings of the short story. I have three chapters left to write in the WIP, and two short stories to write by the end of the month as well as an essay I need to get finished by the end of the month. With Major Project out of the way, now it seems like I’m swimming in time; so much free time to get everything finished I want to get finished by Labor Day, plus two long weekends for me before we get there. I suddenly feel so much more comforted than I did last week.

It’s amazing what getting a huge hunk of work out of the way can do for your confidence.

I also want to finish S. A. Cosby’s wonderful My Darkest Prayer this week, so I can devote the weekend to Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, and then I will probably get back to the Diversity Project, reading Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava. I also have the new Alex Marwood, The Poison Garden (hello, Labor Day weekend!) on hand, as well as several others I really would like to get to. I had some points through my health insurance at work (it’s a long, complicated, boring story how all that works, so I won’t bore you or me with it) so I converted them to an Amazon gift card, so I have some birthday presents to myself coming in the mail–amongst them Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird, the new Donna Andrews (putting me three books behind in my Andrews reading), Terns of Endearment, and of course Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which will be released on my birthday and should also arrive on my birthday. There are some others as well–I don’t remember what all I ordered, to be honest–but I should have some more points to convert over this week, and I am going to order some more. There are so many good books, and so little time in which to read them all.

The gymnastics yesterday was fun to watch; Sam Mikulak, the six time US champion, is adorable, and of course Simone Biles, who won her sixth title this weekend as well, is probably the greatest gymnast of all time. She’s so much better than everyone else in the world, and keeps getting better as she gets older. And of course, next year is the Tokyo Olympics, which is always a good time. Although…it will be weird watching an Olympics without Michael Phelps.

And on that note, perhaps it is time to get back to the spice mines.

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Live and Let Die

Friday afternoon, and I’m home already. The bed linens are in the process of being laundered, Scooter’s been fed, I’ve unpacked my backpack and have Blondie blaring on Spotify. (Blondie’s music is, if I do say so myself, way ahead of its time as well as timeless.) I’m in the midst of Chapter Twenty-two, which I’ve got queued up on my screen, and I am going to get another two thousand done on that bitch this afternoon if it kills me or someone else–preferably someone else, but your mileage might vary. My weekend is officially here, and I’m most happy about that. I need to unload the dishwasher and do the load that’s currently sitting in the sink, but that’s okay; no rush, I’ll get to it at some point today.

It’s just lovely to be home.

I cashed in some of my health care points today for an Amazon gift card–it’s a long story, but our health insurance at work allows you to earn points for doing healthy things, or taking care of yourself–and managed to use that gift card to order some books, including a preorder of Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which I am looking forward to reading. It’s getting raves everywhere, and looks like it’s going to be one of the bigger books of the year, which is very exciting. I love seeing writers do well, you know? I also ordered the new Donna Andrews (Terns of Endearment),  Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird (it deeply shames me that I don’t already have this, as well as not having read it yet), Craig Davidson’s short story collection The Saturday Night Ghost Club, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, and Joyce Carol Oates’ noir Triumph of the Spider Monkey. 

Some excellent reading to be had there, am I right?

I feel pretty good now; I didn’t this morning, honestly. I had to do a biometric screening at work this morning (more points!), and didn’t want to have anything to eat or drink beforehand. This mean getting up at eight and not having any coffee. I did have to take my morning pills, and as there wasn’t any cold filtered water in the Lost Apartment I thought the hell with it and washed them down with a swig of Gatorade….so of course, my blood sugar was slightly elevated, which was highly annoying. Blood pressure and everything else was fine, but didn’t really have high enough good cholesterol, so the fish oil is going to have to be added back to the morning pills. Which is fine, I’d rather take a natural supplement than another pill–I’m already on something for the high bad cholesterol, which wasn’t so bad today. I also got a flu shot, which I hate doing, but there you have it. I also have to see my doctor next week on Tuesday (I’m going to go to Five Guys first as a treat, the blood work was already done so no worries about the effects a delicious bacon mushroom roasted jalapeno cheeseburger with a side of Cajun fries will have on my visit), which is nice. I also need to have my regular doctor visit rescheduled; they called last week to reschedule my next appointment and I missed the call and haven’t bothered to call back yet. (Yes, I see two doctors. It’s complicated, has everything to do with my health insurance, and how stupid our health care system is, as a nation.)

And looking around, I am so glad I took the time last weekend to do all that filing and organizing. There’s still that needs to be done, of course–isn’t there always–but it’s not nearly as bad as it was, and it’s not to the point where it actually bothers me. There’s still more files I can store and/or get rid of–and at some point I am going to have to actually work on the file cabinet;  taking a look at what’s inside those two drawers absolutely terrifies me to even think about(maybe it would make a great project on my birthday staycation).

All right, I am off to the spice mines to finish Chapter Twenty-two. Have a lovely rest of your Friday, Constant Reader.

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Bridge over Troubled Water

Looks like we made it, Constant Reader; through another week of trials and tribulations and who knows what all, quite frankly. I woke up at six, but stayed in bed until just before eight, and feel obscenely well-rested, not tired at all; maybe a bit of a sleep hangover, but other than that, in tip-top shape for this lovely weekend. There’s condensation all over the windows around my workspace this morning; I suspect it rained over night and the air out there is probably warm and thick with water. It’s also not cold inside, which is a tip-off that it’s probably a lovely day outside. Paul is going to go into the office at some point today; I intend to go run some errands later as well as get some serious writing done. Conference championship football games are on television all day, but I really don’t care who wins any of them, if I’m going to be completely honest. The kitchen seems scattered and messy today, so does the living room, and of course, Paul is leaving for his winter visit to his family on this coming Wednesday, so I will have almost a full week of alone time.

I am, for December 1, disgustingly behind on everything; from Bury Me in Satin, stalled at Chapter Six, to finishing touches on both the Scotty book and the short story collection. I also need to proof read Jackson Square Jazz at some point so that can finally be available as an ebook; it never seems to end, does it? But I did somehow manage to tear through my to-do list this past week (other than anything writing/editing related that was on it) and I think now, finally, the day job is finally going to settle into a kind of routine schedule. I also picked up Bibliomysteries Volume I, edited by Otto Penzler, at the library yesterday, so I have a wealth of short stories to read. (I also still have all the volumes of anthologies and single author collections I was reading earlier in the year on the mantel in the living room; I should probably get back to those at some point as well.) I am probably going to keep The Short Story Project rolling into the new year; I do love short stories, and I keep finding more unread collections on my bookshelves.

I got some books in the mail yesterday; the two most recent Donna Andrews Meg Langslows, Toucan Keep a Secret and Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (which I wish I could read over the Christmas holidays; I love reading Donna’s Christmas books during the season but I doubt I’ll have time to read Toucan first; and yes, I have to read them in order DON’T JUDGE ME); two novels by Joan Didion, Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted; two books by Robert Tallant, one fiction (The Voodoo Queen, an undoubtedly error-riddled and racist biographical novel about Marie Laveau) and one nonfiction (Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders); the next volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, A Clash of Kings; and Hester Young’s follow-up to The Gates of Evangeline, The Shimmering Road. 

So, yes, my plate is rather full this weekend–but I shall also have plenty to do while Paul is gone. I am also thinking about buying the third and final season of Versailles on iTunes to watch. I will probably make an enormous list of all the things I want to get done while Paul is in Illinois and wind up doing none of them.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also need to figure out his Christmas presents while he’s gone, so I can get them and have them all wrapped before he gets home.

And so now, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Here Comes the Rain Again

It started raining yesterday, and hasn’t really let up since; and it has brought a biting, bitter cold with it. As such I slept later than I intended to this morning–Wednesdays being one of the days I have the luxury of not needing to use an alarm–but nevertheless, I am not awake,, wearing sweats and swilling coffee.

I finished reading Donna Andrews’ delightful How the Finch Stole Christmas last evening, curled up in my easy chair under a blanket, and started reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, which, as always with Highsmith, is enthralling. Highsmith is one of my favorite writers, but I’ve never read her entire oeuvre since there will never be new Highsmith novels to read; this way there’s always more of them I haven’t read yet (I have also done this with Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier); but after I finished the Andrews–which was an absolutely lovely comfort read–I wanted something a bit more biting and snide–and for that, you really can’t go wrong with Highsmith. The Blunderer is one of the novels curated by Sarah Weinman for the Library of America series about terrific women crime writers from the post-war era; Weinman’s ringing endorsement is one that simply should not be overlooked–she’s never wrong. I got several chapters into it last night before going to sleep, and am definitely looking forward to doing the same again this evening.

How the Finch Stole Christmas is a delight from start to finish, as are all of Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series.

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“Shakespeare was right. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

“I wish I could hear you say that in person,” I said.

“Yeah, over the cell phone you miss all my dramatic gestures.” Michael’s voice sounded more exasperated than angry. And since I knew my husband wasn’t usually prejudiced against the legal profession, I was puzzled instead of worried.

“Are you someplace where you can talk?” he asked.

“I’m not at the theater, if that’s what you mean. Reverend Robyn wanted to see me about something. At the moment, I’m over at Trinity, sitting in her office, waiting for her to solve a Christmas pageant prop emergency, so until she comes back, I’m at your service.”

The other night, I watched All About Eve again for perhaps the thousandth time, with a young friend who’d never seen it before. One of my favorite lines in the film is not one that is quoted regularly; Karen and Margo are sitting in the car, out of gas on their way to the train to take Margo back into the city for the evening performance she is going to miss. Margo turns on the radio, and some maudlin orchestral music plays for a few moments, with the camera focused on Margo’s face, one eyebrow arched. She turns the radio off and says, “I detest cheap sentiment.”

One of my biggest issues with Christmas is precisely that; cheap sentiment. I used that quote as an epigram for my Christmas anthology Upon a Midnight Clear, because I didn’t want to publish stories that were emotionally manipulative, and the stories in the book weren’t. Christmas is nothing if not a holiday rife with cheap, manipulative sentiment, and many carols and shows and movies mine this territory to the point where by the actual day’s arrival, I am so completely over the holiday and the saccharine-sweetness that I am almost afraid to turn on the television.

Donna Andrews, as Constant Reader already knows, or should by now, is one of my favorite writers and her Meg Langslow series is also one of my favorites. This is the fourth Christmas book in the series (following Ducks the Halls, Six Geese a-Slayin’, and The Nightingale Before Christmas), each more charming than the last–which is no easy feat. Andrews’ ability to keep this series fresh with each successive volume–and witty–is the mark of a master. Meg loves Christmas; the charming Virginia hamlet of Caerphilly she calls home feels much the same way–to the point where it has turned into a Christmas tourist destination (in no small part due to Meg’s efforts).

This year, rather than having a staged reading of A Christmas Carol, starring Meg’s husband (a retired actor who now teaches at the local college, and also appeared on a television series that has remained a cult hit for decades), the town has decided to mount a full production,  starring Malcolm Haver, a has-been actor who also starred in a television series back in the 80’s, and has a small but devoted following, as Scrooge. Haver has a drinking problem, can’t remember his blocking and his lines, and is a little on the irascible side…but has an ironclad contract for run of the play. Meg and her friends have managed to ensure that no one in town will sell Haver alcohol–but he is still getting it somewhere; and that’s what kicks this clever whodunnit off.

As always, the charms of the town, the wonderful people that live there, and of course Meg’s own ability to face everything with a “how do I fix this” attitude and a clever line makes this a fine addition to the series, and as ever, all’s well that ends well in this Christmas visit to Caerphilly. A perfect read for the Christmas season.

Eyes Without a Face

Monday morning, and I’m not really too bummed about the end of a weekend and the start of a new work week. I had a relatively nice weekend; I did a lot of cleaning and did some writing and editing; I went to a wonderful Christmas party on Saturday night and got to spend time with people whose company I always enjoy; and I slept really well all weekend. I am not sluggish or tired this morning, either–although the morning is slipping through my fingers much faster than I would like it to. I have almost finished reading Donna Andrews’ How The Finch Stole Christmas,which is terrific (I’ve laughed out loud a couple of times), and I also started slowly reading Joan Didion’s Miami, which is also pretty amazing. As I may have mentioned the other day, I watched the documentary about her, The Center Will Not Hold, the other night, and it had some pretty interesting things to say about writing. And the way she uses language is most impressive; in Miami she used a great John James Audubon quote that I’m going to use to open Sunny Places Shady People, the Bouchercon anthology for St. Petersburg.

Which is cool.

I finished a short story this weekend–“Passin’ Time”–and writing that story (which the editor loved, which was a wonderful confidence booster for the weekend) also, along with a conversation I had with a friend about the Scotty book at the party Saturday night seems to have blew out the rust in my head and kicked me back into gear. I got some writing done this weekend, and it wasn’t hard, I didn’t have to make myself do it, and it didn’t feel like pulling teeth or ripping out hair, strand by strand. That doesn’t mean that other things are now going to be easier to write, or that I’ve jump-started my writing mode, but I can’t help but think things are going to go a lot more smoothly now than they have been. But…I feel  a lot more confident about it, and isn’t that really the most important thing? And when the writing finally starts flowing…it’s such a great feeling.

It’s hard to explain, but writing is so integral to who I am that when I am not writing it does affect my moods, and even my sleep (I slept so well last night!). I am looking forward to getting some more writing done tonight; I have a short story due by the end of December, have some stuff that needs to be edited, and of course, there’s always Scotty and the WIP, and the Scotty Bible to get done…so much work to do, but for the first time in a long time I’m not looking at it as a Sisyphean task but rather a challenge.

It’s interesting, but I think talking to my friends at the Christmas party on Saturday night, talking about books and writing and so forth–and New Orleans, how it has changed over the years since I first moved here–had something to do with that as well. It was while I was talking to my friend Susan that I realized this is what is wrong with the Scotty book and why it isn’t working; why you can’t get to serious work on it. You knew there was a big hole in the story and it didn’t make sense; you’ve basically just said so out loud….knowing that, you now need to either fix the hole in the plot or start over with a new one.

And frankly, that isn’t too frightening.

And so, back to the spice mines. Here’s today’s Calvin Klein ad:

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Sunglasses at Night

Sunday morning. Last evening I went to a Christmas party and had an absolutely lovely time; but stayed much longer than was probably warranted and got home much later than I should have. But there were lots of laughter, and I got to hang out with friends that I don’t see nearly enough, and so overall, I would classify it as a win. I also slept beautifully and deeply and restfully after getting home, so that, too, was absolutely lovely.

Today I have to do a lot of writing; I finished a project yesterday, which was also lovely, and managed to get the cleaning of the downstairs finished. Today I will move to the upstairs, doing cleaning and organizing when I take breaks from the writing/editing I have to do. I also will read some more of Donna Andrews’ How the Finch Stole Christmas when I can; hopefully wrapping up reading it this evening as well. I’m not sure what I am going to read next; I am rather torn between a reread of George Baxt’s A Queer Kind of Death, Joan Didion’s Miami, Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse (also a reread), or something else in the pile. I also haven’t done my annual reread of Rebecca, but I think I am going to save that for actual Christmas. There are also some other duMauriers lying around the apartment I haven’t read that I need to (The House on the Strand, The Progress of Julius, The Scapegoat), some Ross MacDonalds, many Margaret Millars, and so many other books by writers I adore and am way behind on–I still have Stephen Kings that are languishing on my shelves, unread–and of course, come January it’s going to be Short Story Month again.

I also have another short story to write that I keep forgetting about, which, of course, is insane. (Note to self: put post-it note up on computer.)

But the good news is I am finally feeling motivated again about writing; this past year hasn’t been, for me, a good one as far as writing is concerned. I had a long conversation with my friend Susan last night about the current Scotty and the problems I’m having with it–and of course, while talking about the problems out loud with her I solved the problem. (It really is amazing, isn’t it, how saying things out loud can make a difference and make you see what’s been missing? The same thing happened with the WIP when I was chatting about it with my friend Wendy in Toronto–as I spoke I could see in my head what I needed to add, and then she put her finger right on the problem and pointed it out just as I was coming to the realization, which confirmed that it was the correct one. Again, it’s all a matter of having the time to make these fixes, but now that I know whatI need to fix, well, that makes it all a lot easier.

I also finished post-it-noting Garden District Gothic yesterday while watching the first half of the SEC championship game, so the Scotty Bible also proceeds apace, which is also lovely.

So much I need to get done this month!

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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