Is There Life Out There

I slept well last night, so well that I didn’t want to get up this morning–yet these wasn’t another option, so here I am, with my first cup of coffee with darkness pressing against the windows as the sun slowly begins to rise in the east. It’s not terribly cold this morning in the Lost Apartment, so I assume it can’t be that cold outside. Stranger things have happened, though. And this is, of course, the first week that is going to end with parades this weekend on the Uptown route; the preview or prelude, if you will, to the six days of utter madness to come.

Thinking about it makes me feel very tired. I wonder which parade the LSU football team will be riding in? The last time they won the championship it was Rex; I wonder if that will hold true this year as well? I doubt Joe Burrow will be riding, though. I think he’s already departed from Baton Rouge.

It took me a while to decide what to read next, after finishing Tracy Clark’s sublime Broken Places. I finally settled on a reread of Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? I’d be meaning to reread it for quite some time–I originally read it in its first paperback release when I was a teenager; it was one of those “phenomenon books” of the 1970’s, as I mentioned the other day; everyone was talking about Where Are the Children? when it was released, and it wasn’t as easy for a book to go viral back then as it is now. My memories of it were relatively vague since it’s been forty years or so since I first read it; I simply remember who the real bad guy was, and that the woman had successfully disappeared after the first trial–which probably would never happen today,, of course; her face, and videos of her, would be plastered all over the 24 hour news networks and the tabloids, so her disappearance probably wouldn’t work today–but I was relatively certain that she was the only point-of-view character, which, as i discovered as I started the reread yesterday, wasn’t quite true. The villain’s point of view is there, as is Nancy’s new husband’s, and you know what else? It’s even better than I remembered it; the pacing is genius, and the way Clark writes is also genius. I’m glad I picked it up again; it wasn’t easy to put it down, frankly, and I am itching to get back to it.

We also watched The Pharmacist yesterday on Netflix. I’d seen some local chatter about it on social media, and I knew it was a true crime documentary set here in New Orleans (or close enough nearby). It’s exceptionally well done, and it’s primarily set in Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, which borders the lower 9th ward of New Orleans. (Chalmette is also where the Battle of New Orleans took place, and the historic park is there.) I remember the story of the pharmacist trying to get justice for his murdered son from back in the day, but I didn’t realize Dan Schneider’s story had gone beyond that, which it did; exposing a pill mill office in New Orleans East, which helped lead to the opioid crisis as well as the new heroin outbreak. I do remember having to test at a clinic in Chalmette or Arabi in St. Bernard Parish once a month for several  years, and I never really tested a lot of people out there for HIV/AIDS, but on the rare occasions when someone would want to get tested, they inevitably would talk to me about how bad the addiction problem in St. Bernard Parish was–I remember one man telling, sadly, that “nearly everyone in the parish is addicted to something” and “you see discarded needles everywhere–in every parking lot, along the side of the road, pretty much everywhere you look.” Watching The Pharmacist brought back a lot of those memories of Mondays, heading down St. Claude Avenue to where it becomes the St. Bernard highway, crossing the Industrial Canal into the lower 9th and so forth.

Remember how I said the other day I am hardly an expert on New Orleans or Louisiana? This is a case in point. I think somehow I have to figure out how to write about the Louisiana opioid crisis at some point…no one else seems to be doing so.

I also went to the gym yesterday afternoon, and it was wonderful. I don’t want a cookie, but I would like it stated for the record that I neither had to force myself to go, and that once I was there, I enjoyed myself. It’s kind of nice to work my muscles again, and they feel like they are adapting to regular exercise again–this morning they don’t feel either tight or tired, which is kind of cool. I’m glad I resisted the urge to pick up like I hadn’t worked out in years, remembering to start slowly and work my way back into the routine. Right now I am doing a full body workout three times a week; this week is two sets of 12 reps on everything; next will be three sets; and then the week after that raise the weights. If I can keep this going–and right now, it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason not to–by about May I’ll be ready to go into a more concentrated, more difficult work out routine, focusing on specific body parts each time rather than the entire body.

I had started watching the Anthony Minghella version of  The Talented Mr. Ripley the last time I went, and so yesterday watched for another thirty minutes or so; I am close to halfway through the rewatch. The film is vastly different from the book, of course–a lot of the book was internal–and the homoeroticism, and Tom’s sexuality, are a lot more apparent in this film version than it was in the book. The book was more coded, the film, made in a freer, more accepting time, isn’t as afraid to delve deeply into the matter of Tom’s sexuality. In this second half hour of the film, the character of Freddy shows up, played perfectly by Philip Seymour Hoffman (he, along with Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, definitely give the strongest performances in the film), and it’s also remarkable how beautifully the movie was filmed; it’s hard to go wrong with shooting on location in Italy. Watching the fracturing relationship between Tom and Dickie also makes more sense in the film than in the book; again, Damon’s performance is remarkably nuanced and sympathetic; you can’t help but feel sorry for Tom, so dazzled by this glimpse into a world he never knew before, and as someone who has been the “poor friend tagalong who can’t afford to make his own way,” I understand completely how Tom must have felt. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about that, and when I got home I started work on a new short story–“Festival of the Redeemer,” set in Venice. I’ve always wanted to write a story set in Venice (I did Tuscany in “Don’t Look Down,” and will eventually do Florence as well, I am sure) and I’ll probably work on that story some more this week.

I also worked on the Secret Project yesterday, which is finally starting to take shape.

And now, it’s time for me to get ready to head into the office. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

I despise snow.

Oh, sure, it’s pretty and all, but there’s nothing worse in my opinion than being wet and cold–and that’s a definite result of snow. Although some of my favorite horror novels/films/TV shows are set in the cold and snow (Ghost Story, Stranded, The Terror) and I do have that Christopher Golden novel about the cold and snow in my TBR pile (Snowblind, I think is its name?).

I woke up late this morning with a definite sore throat, as opposed to the tickle I’ve been fighting all week, which isn’t a good thing. I shall liberally dose myself with NyQuil this day as I write and edit and do things around the house. Yesterday I accomplished little to nothing, quite frankly. I did start inputting the edits in “Don’t Look Down,” but stopped after a couple of pages. It was terribly easy for me to get distracted yesterday, partly because I felt so tired all day. We went to a Christmas party last night, which was quite lovely, actually–I drank too much champagne (which has nothing to do with my sore throat, thank you very much) and we took Lyft there and back. It was a very fun evening, with lots of laughter–my sides and abs ache a bit this morning from laughing so hard last night–but today I simply must get things done. I have a stack of paper sitting on my desk to the right of me, and I absolutely must work my way through that entire stack of edits today, or else.

I also have some laundry to do–two loads I started yet didn’t finish yesterday–and the kitchen is still a mess (I told you, I didn’t do much of anything yesterday), and I’d also like to get some reading done today. I am making shrimp and grits for dinner (first time in a very long time I’ve done this) and I also am going to try to make some food for the week, to make things easier on me (broiling chicken breasts, for example). This is, of course, the last full work week I have before the holidays, which reminded me that I actually need to put in a full eight hour day this Friday, as well as next Thursday and Friday. (Note to self: remember that or you’re going to get screwed with your hours)

I also need to make sure I am on track with everything I need to be on track with; which means administrative work–which as I am sure you can imagine how much I love doing that. It’s a heavy plate for a Sunday, but what can I do? It all has to be done, and I need to get this all done before the holiday weekends. I kind of just want to get some writing on Bury Me in Satin done, as well as these edits, then start tackling the Royal Street Reveillon problems over the two four-day weekends.

And then, of course, Carnival begins. Heavy heaving sigh. It’s just non-stop around here.

And now tis back to the spice mines.

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Do You Hear What I Hear

Wednesday. Paul made it home late last night, and is sleeping away this chilly morning in the Lost Apartment. I started feeling a bit under the weather yesterday–scratchy throat, usually not a good sign–but am hoping I can power through today and hopefully will feel better tomorrow. I hate to call in sick, but at the same time I don’t particularly want to get any of our clients sick, either.

I finished editing “Don’t Look Down” and “This Thing of Darkness” last night; I am hoping to get through “The Snow Globe” and “Moves in the Field” this morning, and have my fingers crossed that I can get back to work on Bury Me in Satin tonight. One can hope, at any rate. I also want to get some work done on the revision of Royal Street Reveillon, and I also have to get the afterward to that one written as well. So, I am hopeful by the end of the weekend I’ll have Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories completely banged out and ready for the copy edit, so I can get RSR finished over the Christmas weekend, and maybe–just maybe–get Bury Me in Satin finished by the end of December–a reach, but something I am going to still try to accomplish.

I’d also like to have a strong first draft of “Never Kiss a Stranger” done, but let’s not get crazy.

I can’t believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. I think I’ve done all my shopping for Paul; all I need to do now is buy something for my parents and it’s over. (I know what to get them, so not an issue.) This has been a kind of weird holiday season. Thanksgiving was early, and that built up a false sense of security that there was plenty of time before Christmas…then BLAM, it snuck up on me.

But…I have four day weekends for Christmas and New Year’s, and our annual trip to Commander’s Palace for lunch on New Year’s Eve with Jean and Gillian to look forward to, which is lovely, and LSU is playing in a New Year’s Day bowl, so there’s that. The Saints won their division and are going to the play-offs, hopefully with a bye the first week and maybe even home field advantage the whole series…so maybe, just maybe, we could end up in the Super Bowl again this year. (I probably shouldn’t have said that…because I truly believe that my fandom has enough power to jinx the teams I root for, because it’s all about me.)

But I am thrilled to have made it through the roughest part of the week. Monday and Tuesday’s twelve hour days are rough; yesterday it felt like I was coming down with something–I had a scratch at the base of my throat–and I wondered if I was really getting sick or if it was just from being tired. I slept really well last night–even slept in later than I wanted or planned–and this morning I still feel a bit off…but much better than yesterday. I don”t feel quite the same way today–the little tickle is still there, but not as bad as yesterday–and I may have to stop and buy some teabags so I can just drink tea with honey and lemon all day. I’ve also been really dehydrated lately, so have been drinking Gatorade a lot.

I hate being sick, so here’s hoping it can be warded off.

Last night before I retired to bed early, I also managed to revive the next and final draft of Royal Street Reveillon. I work by chapters, which I know is probably weird to most other writers; they write usually in terms of pages, i.e. “I wrote ten pages today”. I don’t. I go by word counts and chapters; I always try to write a chapter every day, and in early draft form those are anywhere from 2200-3000 words; sometimes less, sometimes more. The Great Data Loss of 2018 took all the final chapter drafts of the manuscript as it was turned in, including the version where I pulled it all together and sent it in to Bold Strokes as one document. This, as you can imagine, was a disaster almost unimaginable; trying to recreate to copy edit and tweak a manuscript you no longer have the final version of is the worst nightmare any writer could have (at least in my opinion). However, the manuscript was in my “sent mail” file; so I was able to download that copy and last night I started breaking it down into chapters again for me to work on. I am also trying something different this time–I am going to work backwards. So I created new draft chapters for the last five chapters, and hopefully will be able to get to work on them this weekend as the end draws near.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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Just Take My Heart

Hey hey hey, it’s Friday! Constant Reader, we did it again–we made it through yet another week. Huzzah for us! We rock.

The weather is supposed to get down into the fifties over the course of this weekend; it’s been humid and wet most of this week already. Some colder weather is probably overdue, particularly since Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks now.

My troubled sleep patterns continue; I sleep deeply for about two to three hours, wake up, and for the rest of the night go into light sleep with occasional wake-ups. I would dearly love to sleep through an entire night at some point, but luck has simply not been on my side on that account this week. It’s troubling, but I’ve not been sleepy nor tired during the day, so I suppose I am getting rest? It’s workable, though; it’s the dreaded being tired and sleepy all day that bothers me the most about my chronic insomnia.

I wrote another chapter of Bury Me in Satin last night; it’s really bad, if I am being completely honest, but that’s why it’s called a rough draft. The story is taking shape in my head, though, which is kind of nice. I do think this is going to be, as I said, a very rough draft; but I am hoping to get this draft almost 2/3rds finished before I head to Kentucky for the holiday. (I also need to give Royal Street Reveillon another going over, which I am hoping to do whilst in Kentucky as well.)

This weekend LSU is off to Arkansas, and I’m not sure where or who the Saints are playing, but here’s hoping their winning streak continues at least for another week. I have some things to do this weekend; I’m not sure what time I’ll be getting off today. I am working at the main office today, helping them pack since they are moving to the new building on Monday. Also, a book I requested is being held for me at the library–look at me, using my new library card! I’m terribly excited about this, needless to say.

I also need to finalize some short stories for the collection as well. I have decided to pull “Don’t Look Down” and replace it with two others; I am going to rework “Don’t Look Down” and publish it, methinks, as a Kindle single.

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

Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

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Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven

Thursday, and the first day of a four-day weekend that just kind of dropped into my lap. The office move and so forth has had some complications; I’d planned on taking today off anyway, and then it occurred to me yesterday that I should just go ahead and take Friday as well; what was, after all, the point in taking Thursday off, working on Friday, and then having the weekend off? I’ve been very tired lately, badly in need of recharging the batteries, and the two-day weekends just haven’t been cutting it; so why not take a mini-vacation?

So, here I sit at my desk, looking outside at a gray day. Shadow is watching birds atop the stone fence outside my windows, there’s no sign of the sun anywhere, and it rained pretty heavily at some point in the early morning as everything is wet and shiny and dripping out there. I have a load of dishes and a load of laundry to put away; another load is running in the dishwasher, and the kitchen/office is completely out of control. Yes, indeed, there are plenty of things for me to do today, when the spirit so moves me.

We finished packing up the office Tuesday, and the movers came yesterday. I worked at the main office yesterday; a long ten hour day mostly doing paperwork, making condom packs, and then doing testing last night.  Apparently we’re waiting for some final clearances from the city before the new office building is up and operational. It was a little poignant saying good night and good luck to the office on Frenchmen Street when I left Tuesday night, and there were a couple of times  during that day when I felt a wave of sadness coming…but I made it. Yay, me.

Also Tuesday morning, the ebook of Bourbon Street Blues, aka Scotty I, went up for sale at long last. I’m very excited about this; it’s been unavailable for far, far too long, and people have been asking about it for years. But it’s finally a thing, and eventually a print version will also be available. If  you’re interested in getting the first Scotty ebook, you can get it right here. This makes me really happy; you’ve got no idea, Constant Reader. Especially since I am in such a Scotty state of mind with my writing these days.

Hopefully, Jackson Square Jazz (aka Scotty II) will be up by the end of the year as well, and all Scotty books will thus be available for anyone who wants to buy and read them.

I also finished writing Royal Street Reveillon  (aka Scotty VIII) Monday night. I am going to go ahead and get that turned in this week. I just need to add the chapter headings, which is always a fun part of the wrap-up process. I also have to do the afterward, but that’s going to have to be short–the book is clocked in at 101,000 (and some change) words. This is the longest book I’ve written in years. I guess I am writing longer these days. Not sure what that’s about, but there you have it. I feel relatively confident I can get these finishing touches on the book done today.

The rest of this week I am going to focus on replacing “Don’t Look Down” with two other stories for the collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I’ll probably start working on Bury Me in Satin, my Nanowrimo project, on November 1 and hopefully will have a healthy first draft finished by the end of the month, after which I will spend December revising it and tearing apart/restructuring the WIP, which is what I plan on doing in the first two months of the new year; I’ll then have to spend another month or so writing a new ending for it, and then another month or so revising and polishing. Hopefully, come April, it’ll be in good enough shape to try to lure in an agent. One can hope, at any rate. And then I want to spend the summer writing Muscles, and then I am going to spend the fall trying to write something historical about New Orleans; I am just not quite sure yet what that project will be.

I didn’t sleep well Sunday night, so Monday I was tired all day. Monday night I slept deeply, but had to get up earlier than I wanted to; I felt rested but still slightly sleepy. Sleepy is better than tired; there’s a difference, and that distinction is important–kind of like the difference, from working out, between sore and tired. Since this is the week of the office move, my work schedule was disrupted; I had to get up early every day until today, which made me cranky and tired every night. I’m not really sure what my schedule is going to be next week. Alas, uncertainty is not one of my stronger suits. But I did sleep very well last night, getting up just around nine this morning and I feel rested and alert. This is a very good sign for the rest of the day, and the potential for productivity.

I also started gathering my essays over the last couple of evenings, which was interesting and fun, yet weird at the same time. There were essays I’d published that I’d forgotten about writing and publishing–seriously, who else forgets work they’ve done and been paid for? This mook, that’s who. (MOOK? This is what comes from following David Simon on Twitter.) So yes, that is definitely going to take a while to get in order. It’s always interesting–at least to me–to come across old things I’ve written, whether I remember them or not. If I do remember writing them or what they’re about, I almost always discover my memory is wrong when I start rereading them. I don’t mind it; it’s just odd. That’s kind of where The Fictions of My Life comes from; my memories aren’t correct so frequently because of the interpretive personal filter I view everything through that I often suspect my memories differ so much from the reality that they are closer to lies than truth.

And on that note, I think I shall head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, everyone.

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Missing You Now

Friday! Friday! Friday!

I have a very busy weekend looming in front of me. I need to proof the new edition of Bourbon Street Blues, copy edit Royal Street Reveillon (assuming I finish revising it today), and also need to do some editing work on Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I’m frankly trying to decide whether to pull a longer story (“Don’t Look Down”, which I may do as a Kindle single) and add some others in its place. I am leaning that way, quite frankly; I’d like to get these other stories out there, and “Don’t Look Down” could easily wind up being five to ten thousand words longer than it is; I feel that I kind of rushed it, and there are other things that I need to put into it to make the story more cohesive and work better.

Royal Street Reveillon is being revised apace; I only have three chapters left to revise, and an afterward to write. There is no conceivable way this won’t be finished by the end of the weekend, even given my enormous talent for procrastination. So, I can end October by turning this book in, taking a few days to myself to recuperate, and then dive directly into Bury Me In Satin. My goal is to have that particular first draft finished by the end of November–my first ever Nanowrimo (I am not signing up for anything, just planning on using that as my go-to for motivation) and then I intend to spend December tearing apart the WIP. The restructuring is going to require me to probably write another 40 to 50 thousand words; the 98 thousand or so I already have will have to be pared down to about 40. That means a shit ton of writing I will have to store away and hopefully use again for something else. I can always find a way of using that material.

Recycle, recycle, recycle.

But at the same time, despite the wearying thought of all this work in front of me, I am also very excited. I am excited to be finishing yet another Scotty, for the first time in over two years; I am excited to be finishing another novel; I am excited to start writing another; and I am excited to have solved the mystery of the WIP, which has been languishing in my head now for nearly three years.

The most important thing, though, is to not rush; I suspect I was rushing with the last few chapters, so this weekend I am going to go over the ones I finished last night as well as work on the remaining ones.

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

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These Dreams

Wednesday. Ordinarily this would be the halfway point of my week, but alas, I am working Saturday (whine whine whine) so I have a six-day work week. Okay, I do have this coming Monday off, so it’s not that horrible, and that makes the next week only a four day week. YAY.

I started writing a new story this week–yeah, I know–but I was asked to write a story and I was thinking about it and I had an idea of how to start it so I wrote it down and then the next thing you know there I am, writing a story that I really shouldn’t be taking the time to write right now. It’s called “The Feast of St. Expedite,” which might be a temporary title, but it’s one I really like and have been wanting to use for some time now. It’s supposed to be a pulp story with some sort of supernatural or occult or paranormal element to it. I kind of like the idea of what I’m doing–hence the working on it when I should be doing something else–but it’s very tough so far. What I’m trying to do is take the typical, usual trope of the tough guy narrator from pulp fiction, and make him gay. (How original, I know, but I think it’s an interesting challenge.) I like this new character so much I may even spin him into a book or a new series or something.

We shall see.

I also worked on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday, which is starting to coalesce. It’s a longer story, like “Quiet Desperation” or “Don’t Look Down,” which on the one hand is fun–it’s kind of fun to write a short story without worrying about length–but on the other hand, I worry that I am including too much in the story. Meh, get over yourself, Greg, and stop doubting yourself already. Sheesh.

Write the story you want to write.

I do think it’s a good story; I think I’m going to, when it’s ready, make it a Kindle single.

I really like this Kindle single thing.

I also watched two other movies this past weekend: Angel Heart and The Covenant. I’d seen Angel Heart back when it was in the theater and not seen; I have, in recent years, read the Edgar Award winning book it was based on and loved it. As I watched Angel Heart–which holds up remarkably well, although it’s terribly sad to see how naturally attractive Mickey Rourke was in his youth; and his performance was fantastic–I wondered, as I did when I read the book, why the story was moved from New York to New Orleans. The book is all New York; and I suppose they wanted  to use the gorgeous locations of New Orleans, plus there was all that supernatural/devil worshipping thing…so I guess they just thought ah, New Orleans is perfect for this. And I did kind of smile at the magical geography the city had in the film. But the city–and Louisiana in general–looked fantastic and beautiful, and I also remembered that seeing this film, along with The Big Easy, rekindled my interest in New Orleans…so it was another link in the chain that brought me to live here.

I’ll save The Covenant for another time; it certainly is deserving of an entry of its own.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Can’t Wait

So, yesterday I signed the contract to publish my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, with Bold Strokes Books for an April 2019 release date–which means it should be available at Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in late March.

I am inordinately excited about this, you have no idea, Constant Reader! It’s the first book contract I’ve signed since 2015, for one thing–everything came out in 2016 or early 2017, so yeah, it’s been a hot minute–but I am also excited because it’s a short story collection and it isn’t erotica.

In 2004 Starbooks collected my wrestling stories into a short-lived collection called Wanna Wrestle?, that went out of print very quickly for various reasons, none of which had to do with actual sales; it’s a rarity and few copies exist out there in the wild. Bold Strokes also did a collection of my Todd Gregory erotic stories, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, a few years back as well. But I’ve always wanted to do a collection of non-erotic short stories, but never thought I would ever have enough stories, enough material, to actually do so.

But I also had no way of knowing I would also lapse into a short story writing mania the way I have  this year. I mean, I can’t believe how much short story writing I’ve been doing this year.

But, also in fairness, only four of the stories in this collection are new.

Here’s the table of contents:

Survivor’s Guilt (originally published in Blood on the Bayou, which won the Anthony Award for Best Anthony and the story was nominated for a Macavity Award)

The Email Always Pings Twice (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Keeper of the Flame (originally published in Mystery Week magazine)

A Streetcar Named Death (originally published in the anthology I Never Thought I’d See You Again, edited by Lou Aronica)

An Arrow for Sebastian (originally published in the anthology Cast of Characters, edited by Lou Aronica)

Housecleaning (originally published in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley)

Acts of Contrition (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Lightning Bugs in a Jar

Spin Cycle (originally published in Men of the Mean Streets, co-edited by me and J. M. Redmann)

Cold Beer No Flies (originally published in Florida Happens, coming in September)

Annunciation Shotgun (originally published in New Orleans Noir)

Quiet Desperation (originally published as a Kindle single)

The Weight of a Feather

My Brother’s Keeper

Don’t Look Down

Smalltown Boy (originally published in Rebel Yell 2, edited by Jay Quinn)

So, only four of the stories, (five, if you count “Quiet Desperation,” which was a Kindle single) are original. And technically, “Cold Beer No Flies” is a new story; but by the time the collection comes out next year Florida Happens will also be out, rendering it no longer a new story.

But even more exciting? “My Brother’s Keeper” is the first Chanse MacLeod short story ever, and now that I’ve written one, it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’ve already started another, “Once a Tiger,” and who knows? Maybe I will write more. I don’t think I’ll ever write another Chanse novel, but short stories? Why not? Writing private eye short stories is challenging; more of a challenge than just the usual crime story I write, and so I see writing more private eye stories as an opportunity to grow further as a writer, and get better at what I actually do.

The great irony is that my short story writing mania of this year actually has provided me with almost enough stories for a second collection, all unpublished stories, and I have about another dozen or so in some form or stage of being written. Freaking crazy.

Oh, and you know that messy Chapter Fourteen of the Scotty book? Was so fucking easy to fix it’s not even fucking funny. It literally required the deletion of about 200 words and the addition of 120 or so back, and it’s fucking fixed. Blam. Problem solved; the same problem I might add, I’ve been avoiding for like  three weeks.

Because, you know, avoidance. My go-to.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Here’s the opening paragraph of “Don’t Look Down,” aka the Italy story:

Jase shifted the Fiat’s engine into a lower gear as he started up the steep hill. He hadn’t driven a standard transmission since college, but he did remember hills required downshifting. As the Fiat started climbing he passed two handsome, tanned men on mountain bikes, sturdy thighs straining against their brightly colored Lycra casing. According to the directions, he would be in Panzano when he reached the top of the hill.  There was a parking lot off to the left and just beyond that he could see a stone wall. The hill—or mountain, he wasn’t sure which—dropped off into a valley to the right, vineyards and olive trees spreading out to the next sloping hill.  A low stone wall hugged the right side of the road nearer the crest of the hill, with barely enough space for pedestrians or mountain bikes. All the roads had been incredibly narrow since he’d left the highway, with many sharp blind curves as the road weaved in and out and around and along mountains.  At one point an enormous bus coming the other way had almost forced him onto the shoulder, missing the black rental car by inches. He glanced up at the directions tucked into the sun visor. At the crest of the hill there would be another sharp, almost ninety-degree turn to the left, and to his right would be the triangular town center of Panzano-in-Chianti. To get to the hotel, because of the narrow one-way streets, he’d have to circle around the  triangular town square to get to the little hotel. 

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Kyrie

Well, I finished “Fireflies” yesterday and got it sent in to the market; we’ll see how it goes. It’s kind of a stretch for that particular market, I suppose, but we’ll see how it goes. If they don’t want it, at least it’s finished. Who knows, there may be some editorial notes that will make it even better.

Two stories I sent out into the world–“Lightning Bugs in a Jar” and “Neighborhood Alert”–were turned down; no surprise, really; I am starting to realize my stories, while crime oriented for the most part, aren’t really mysteries, which kind of precludes their acceptance into mystery magazines. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing them, of course. I’ve thoroughly been enjoying myself this year writing short stories, so why stop doing something that gives me pleasure? They are also wonderful exercises in voice, tone, character; even in plotting, to a certain degree; I also feel that working on them is improving my writing (although, from looking at the Scotty book and the WIP, I am not so certain that’s true! Ha ha ha–just kidding; no more self-deprecation here). The problem, of course, is how does one monetize that work, so that it’s not just a writing exercise but something that can provide an income stream? The truth is, of course, that there are markets out there for crime fiction that may not be recognized necessarily as markets for crime fiction. But at the same time, getting published in places outside the recognized crime genre could be a way of getting my name out there and recognized, building the brand, as it were.

God damn, how I hate the term brand when it comes to writing! It just seems wrong, but I get it, and why it’s used. But that doesn’t have to mean I like it.

I have to confess, I had a slight crisis of confidence on the WIP yesterday.  I’ve been working on it for so long–off and on for at least two years–that I was starting to think, meh, maybe I should table it for good and be done with it. But as I was watching Harlan Coben’s Safe on Netflix last night (we enjoyed it), it suddenly occurred to me that there was a glaring hole in the middle of the entire thing; I’ve never really understood why some of the things that happen in the book actually do happen. Without that knowledge, is it any wonder I can’t get inside the characters? And without being able to really understand the characters and why they do the things they do, how can I possibly write about them honestly, realistically, and have the story I’ve devised for them actually work? So, the problems with the WIP that I’ve had all along basically stem from two things: a lack of understanding of who the characters are and their motivations, and not really knowing how to end it properly. So, my goal for this week is to do exactly that; go back to the beginning and figure out who my characters are and what the plot of the book really is. I still like the idea of having the entire book play out over the course of a weekend, from Friday night to Monday morning, and I think I can make that work, but I need to know who the characters are, what drives them, what drove them, and why they do the things they do. Which is what is missing from the book, the emotion and the understanding. “Oh, I need this kid to be a bastard, so he is a bastard.” No, that doesn’t work.

So, it’s kind of back to the drawing board for me. I am going to work on those characters and the plot of this book while I work on the Scotty; and if ideas some to me about Muscle, so be it; I will also work on it. But the primary focus has to be the Scotty book, which I need to get finished by July 1. And that’s very do-able. The first draft is nearly half-way finished; so the goal this week is to read what’s already done and take notes, while preparing for the next four or five chapters.

And, as I have always said, it’s never a bad thing to go back to the drawing board sometimes. You shouldn’t ever force a book or a story.

For your enjoyment, here’s the opening for “Don’t Look Down”:

Jase shifted the Fiat’s engine into a lower gear as he started up the steep hill. He hadn’t driven a standard transmission since college, but he did remember hills required downshifting. As the Fiat started climbing he passed two handsome, tanned men on mountain bikes, sturdy thighs straining against their brightly colored Lycra casing. According to the directions, he would be in Panzano when he reached the top of the hill.  There was a parking lot off to the left and just beyond that he could see a stone wall. The hill—or mountain, he wasn’t sure which—dropped off into a valley to the right, vineyards and olive trees spreading out to the next sloping hill.  A low stone wall hugged the right side of the road nearer the crest of the hill, with barely enough space for pedestrians or mountain bikes. All the roads had been incredibly narrow since he’d left the highway, with many sharp blind curves as the road weaved in and out and around and along mountains.  At one point an enormous bus coming the other way had almost forced him onto the shoulder, missing the black rental car by inches. He glanced up at the directions tucked into the sun visor. At the crest of the hill there would be another sharp, almost ninety-degree turn to the left, and to his right would be the triangular town center of Panzano-in-Chianti. To get to the hotel, because of the narrow one-way streets, he’d have to circle around the  triangular town square to get to the little hotel.  

The sunlight breaking through the clouds in the valley was beautiful.

Philip would have loved this, Jase thought. He always wanted us to see Italy.

All he felt was a twinge of sadness, which was better than breaking down into tears. He was healing, needed to get away from the apartment, the neighborhood, seeing Philip everywhere he turned, everywhere he looked.

And what better way to do that than two weeks in Italy?

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Burning Heart

Sunday morning, and yet another good night’s sleep. It truly is amazing what a difference that can make in one’s life; I miss the days when I could simply tumble into bed and close my eyes and, as Paul once put it, “sleep through a nuclear holocaust.” Yesterday was a good day; I got groceries and did some cleaning. I read both “This Town” and “Don’t Look Down” aloud, did the necessary clean-ups on them, and this morning I am going to read “Fireflies” aloud and see if it, indeed, does hold together. I wrote the first draft of “Fireflies” something like thirty years ago (!) and it’s still in the file folder, handwritten (because until computers, I almost always hand-wrote everything); I am still not entirely certain the story works; but we will find out today when I read it out loud.

I was very pleased with the two stories I read aloud yesterday, and if I do say so myself, I feel “This Town” is one of the better stories I’ve written. I’m going to read “Fireflies” aloud this morning, and then I’m going to work on “This Thing of Darkness” for a little bit, see how that goes, and then maybe dive into one of the two novels I am working on (focusing on, really; there’s a third I started writing a couple of weeks ago, which I am itching to get back to, but that’s just crazy talk). I also started reading Alex Segura’s Blackout yesterday, not getting very far, alas; but I am looking forward to getting further into it. I also started reading Martin Edwards’ Edgar Award winning The Golden Age of Murder, which is my new ‘read a chapter or two before bed’ book. We also started watching Harlan Coben’s new Netflix series, Safe, and are really enjoying it thus far.

My kitchen is also a disaster area; I made ravioli last night and yes, well, a mess is a bit of an understatement.

I also stopped at Office Depot yesterday to purchase pens. I’ve discovered a new brand of pen that I absolutely love: Tul, with a dash over the u. They sent us a couple of them at the office a month or so ago, and I absconded with them, as is my wont, and then bought a couple more. Yesterday I bought several more packs of them. I’ve always been a bit of a pen nerd, and I also noticed last night, as I made notes in my journal, that my blank book is almost full; time to get a new one soon. Yay! I really am glad I’ve gone back to keeping a journal to write notes and ideas down into; I’ve worked out issues with several of my short stories this year in it, as well as the books.

I also managed to finish Lori Roy’s upcoming new release, The Disappearing, last night.

the disappearing

Lane Wallace is alone inside Rowland’s Tavern when the front door flies open. A man stumbles inside, bringing with him a spray of rain that throws a shine on the hickory-brown floors. He scans the dark rooms, stomps his feet, and draws both hands over his wet, round face. If the man says anything, Lane doesn’t hear him for the rain pounding the tin roof and the palm fronds slapping the front windows. It’s supposed to rain through the night, and all around Waddell, people will be keeping a close eye on the river.

Lane smiles because maybe the man is a friend of a friend and not a stranger. She’s expecting a big crowd tonight, and one of her regulars might have invited him. But he doesn’t smile back. Slipping her phone from her back pocket. she lays it on the bar top where the man will be sure to see it. It’s a subtle warning, but if the man is looking for trouble, it’ll make him reconsider.

He’s a little on the heavy side; doughy, a person might say. From behind the bar, Lane asks the main if a beer’ll do him, and as he slides into a booth near the front door, he nods. Hr regulars, men who’ve known her all her life, or rather who have known her father, won’t show up for another hour or so but Rowland Jansen will be back any time now. He ran out to move his car and Lane’s to the higher and drier ground of the parking lot out front, so she won’t be alone with the man for long.

This is Lori Roy’s fourth novel, and it’s quite an achievement. His first three novels–Bent Road, Until She Comes Home, and Let Me Die in His Footsteps–were all shortlisted for Edgar Awards; she won Best First for Bent Road and Best Novel for Let Me Die in His Footsteps, raising her up into the exalted, rarified air of the Multiple Edgar Winner Circle. I’ve only read Bent Road–I do own the others, will every intent to read them at some point; too many books, not enough time–and it blew me away with its stunning depiction of rural Kansas, its juggling of two separate time-lines, and its thematic exploration of how the pains and evils of the past can influence the present.

That same theme runs through this stunning new novel, The Disappearing, as well, and is explored even more deeply and explicitly than in the first. Waddell is a small town in north Florida, amorphously near Tallahassee; Roy’s captured the feel of rural small town Florida deftly (there is, as not many know, a huge and significant difference between the coastal cities of Florida and the insular, small towns of the state’s interior). She plays with the memories of Ted Bundy’s journey through the area; a young woman, a student at Florida State doing some internship work at a local, fading plantation is missing, which has stirred up all those fearful memories of Bundy’s spree. The plantation also shares a boundary with a closed reform school for boys, whose own violent and possibly deadly past has also come back to haunt Waddell.

But it’s also an exploration of family, and how the damage from a past history of deep violence and emotional abuse, locked away and ignored, can reverberate through the years and have deep, horrific implications on the present. Susannah Bauer’s disappearance triggers a chain reaction of emotion and violence and horror, spread over the course of a few days after the night of the heavy rain, that will continue to cycle through the future unless honestly and painfully dealt with in this present.

There are four point of view characters in The Disappearing: three women from generations of the same family–Erma, the matriarch of the Fielding family, with her guilts and secrets festering inside her for decades; Lane, her daughter, whose own emotional damage and baggage perpetuates the cycle; and Lane’s younger daughter, Talley, whose wanderings due to her own loneliness and unhappiness makes her the holder of most of the secrets and truths of the present. The fourth point of view character is Daryl, a mentally disabled young man who is the groundskeeper at the church, and his story is told in the recent past rather than the present, as Lori Roy deftly spins all the secrets and lies and horrors of the town of Waddell into an astonishingly well-blended tale of flawed people and the damage they can leave in their wake.

Even more impressive than the characters and the story itself is the mood and the voice; the way she maintains this almost dreamy tone, creating the perfect mood for the story is masterful. The voices of her characters are compelling and real; only Daryl tells his story in the first person; the others are a very tight third person present tense. The shifts in voice, the tone, the tense and the word choices and the imagery, kept reminding me of Faulkner’s brilliant The Sound and the Fury, and in a very good way.

The Disappearing is an extraordinary achievement, and is destined to make awards short-lists and all the Top Ten lists for 2018.