Live With Me

Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day has rolled around yet again. Woo-hoo!

Yesterday I was working on cleaning out my inbox–an ongoing struggle, but it’s suddenly gotten easier lately–and around noonish an email from Left Coast Crime dropped in letting me know that A Streetcar Named Murder had been selected as a finalist for the Lefty Awards! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that to ever happen, so thanks to everyone who listed me on their ballot. It’s a tough category–the other nominees are Ellen Byron for Bayou Book Thief, Catriona McPherson for Scot in a Trap, Jennifer Chow for Death by Bubble Tea, and A. J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom. Such a thrill, really, and to be nominated against authors for whom I have so much respect and admiration for their talents and achievements already? And so many other amazing nominees in the other categories as well–including lots of friends! Kellye Garrett, Alex Segura, James L’Etoile, Karen Odden, Laurie R. King, Gigi Pandian, Rob Osler, Eli Cranor, Wanda Morris, and Catriona again (nominated TWICE!!!!). I’m really sorry I won’t be going to Left Coast this year. I had a marvelous time last year, but it’s also the week before TWFest and Saints & Sinners, and there’s no way I could take that much time off so close together–let alone leave the week before the festivals. I’d come home to find the locks changed, seriously. So many amazing reads this past year on this list, and there I am, right there with some of my favorite people.

It’s always lovely to get recognized, of course. Award nominations are always a lovely pat on the back, and yes, while I often joke about always losing everything I am ever nominated for (I love pretending to be bitter and cynical about losing awards), it is indeed a great honor and a thrill and all those things they’re supposed to make you feel like. Being nominated for mainstream awards, like this and the Anthonys, was never in my thoughts or calculations (to be fair, I never think about awards when I’m writing something)–so yes, for the kid who used to give acceptances speeches to the mirror holding a shampoo bottle as a stand-in for an Oscar, it’s an honor and a thrill and a privilege. I mean, winning isn’t really in my control–anyone who’s ever nominated’s control–so I just look at it as a lovely nice job thumbs-up from the community and add it to my author bio.

I slept really well again last night and this morning I don’t feel tired or sore and my mind is completely alert–yesterday there was some residual fog from my trip still, and leftover exhaustion–but today feels absolutely great. I ran errands after I got off work yesterday–some books and other things came in the mail yesterday, including my Rainbow candles (a client gave me one for Christmas; I loved the smell, and then had to go searching on line to find more of them) and the leather-bound copies of Rebecca and Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier as produced by the International Collectors’ Library (about time I got two really nice editions of two of my favorite books). I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday so I pretty much melted into my easy chair with Scooter asleep in my lap and just watched videos on Youtube (I went down a Rihanna wormhole for a good while–I’d forgotten how amazing her music was–while also looking up videos from Hadestown, whose score I’ve been listening to every since I got home; I cannot tell you how much I loved this show). I need to pay the bills today and get back to work on the book–I’m behind again and am really going to have to work my ass off to get it done by the end of the month now, no time for goofing off or anything other than a major push; I also have a short story to finish that I’ve promised to a friend for an anthology; that will be a nice creative and intellectual challenge to try to get finished around the book, too.

So, yes, Constant Reader, as you can probably tell I’m in a really good place this morning. My coffee is marvelous, I got a lovely pat on the back from the mystery community yesterday (“they like me! they really like me!”), and I am feeling great about my writing and my future. We’ll see how long this happy feeling and inspiration lasts, won’t we? I also think the cold or sinus thing that’s been going on with me since I flew to New York has finally been given the boot by my immune system, which is really nice. (I always feel terrible when I travel–part of it is the lack of sleep and the dehydration caused by the pressure changes required for flying; one of these days I’ll learn to drink water and replenish electrolytes when I travel instead of just drinking Cokes and coffee and alcohol; you’d think I’d know better by now but I clearly do not) But I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like a really long time, and it’s going to take some getting used to and adjusting again. (This weekend especially is going to feel weird as fuck, to be honest.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.

Homeward Bound

So, when Ellen Byron was preparing to interview me for our live stream event from Murder by the Book, she sent me some questions to prepare myself with. They were good questions, actually, and I thought that taking time to answer them when I can think about the responses would be an excellent BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION post.

So, without further ado, here we go!

What inspired your book? Series premise and the specific story?

That’s an interesting story, actually. I had been toying with the idea of writing a cozy for a long time–I’ve always liked them–but never was sure I could do it; there were rules, after all, and I’m terrible about following rules, always have been. Several friends have been encouraging me for years to do it, but I always hesitated. It was (I thought) outside of my comfort zone, and while I would toy with ideas here and there, none ever came to anything. My partner’s office is near a costume shop, and he’d had to go in there one day for some reason or another, and as is his wont, he struck up a conversation with an employee about the costume business, how they made money, how they stayed open all year, etc etc etc. He’s very curious. Anyway, that night I mentioned to him that someone had yet again suggested I write a cozy, and he wasn’t sure what one was, so I gave him a thumbnail overview, and he said, “Oh, you should do a costume shop” and proceeded to tell me about his conversation with the shop employee. I agreed it was an interesting idea, and stowed it away in the back of my head for future reference, and would think about it now and then, come up with characters and a community for the main character to be a part of, and so on. But at the same time I kept thinking New Orleans wasn’t the right place for a cozy series–basically looking for ways to fail instead of reasons to succeed, which is the underlying theme of my life, really–and so it went. An editor I’ve worked with before was interested in the idea of my writing a cozy series, so I wrote up a proposal and sent it off. They liked it, but couldn’t sign it, and recommended I take it somewhere else, so I did. It evolved from a costume shop to an antique shop during the process of me signing a contract with Crooked Lane; they liked everything about my idea except for the shop itself, so I had to change that. I went down to Magazine Street and walked for a block, writing down every kind of shop I saw, and sent the list in–and we all came to an agreement about the series being structured around an antiques business. As for the story, well, I wanted to talk about and explore the gentrification of New Orleans that has been ongoing almost this entire century, and how real estate has just exploded around here. (It still staggers me that our rent was $450 when we first moved here; the lowest rent I’ve seen advertised in our neighborhood is around $1500 for less than thousand square feet. Our original apartment now rents for $2500 per month now, which is insane.) What happens to Valerie–the fear of a new tax assessment pricing her out of her house–actually happened to a friend of mine; and the prices just seem to keep going up all the time. You can’t even buy a condo in my neighborhood for less than $350, 000 now–the asking prices for houses in the neighborhood are completely insane. Every time I see a new listing in the neighborhood for half a million dollars or more I think, we really should have bought when we moved here–but home-ownership is New Orleans isn’t something Paul or I have ever been terribly interested in. Termites, tornados, hurricanes, floods, black mold–no thanks! But man, what a return on our investment had we bought in 1996!

We both write series set in New Orleans. Why do you find it so inspiring? Especially when you’ve lived in so many other places?

I’ve lived all over the country–we’re from Alabama, and I’ve lived in Chicago on the south side, the suburbs, Kansas, Fresno, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis and then New Orleans. New Orleans is the only place I’ve ever been to where I felt like I belonged, where I fit in; where I didn’t seem like the eccentric one. New Orleans embraces its eccentrics and doesn’t judge them, and I like that. I knew that first time I came here on my birthday in 1994 that if I moved here all my dreams would come true. And they have, which has been kind of lovely. And no writer could ever exhaust the inspiration New Orleans provides. I’ve written fifteen books set here and countless short stories at this point, and haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve never written about the music scene here, for one glaring example, or restaurants or the food industry or…you see what I mean? There’s not enough time in my life to write everything I want to about New Orleans.

Tell us about your protagonist. Where did the inspiration for her come from?

My sister never had any interest in going to college or having any kind of career other than being a wife and mother. She was a straight A student and had numerous scholarship offers, but had little to no interest. I used to always think she had wasted her potential, but gradually came to the realization that she has the life she always wanted when she was growing up, and has never missed having a career outside of the home–so rather than feeling bad about her lost potential, I should have been happy that her dreams came true. I started thinking about that more, and thought that would make a great starting place–a woman like my sister who wasn’t really very interested in college but went because it was expected of her…only to fall in love, get married, and drop out when she had twins. I really like the idea of a woman who’s not yet thirty, who wasn’t really sure what she wanted from life and then sidetracked to wife-and-mother, but with her kids now off to college and her husband having died…what do you do for the rest of your life when you’re a widow at thirty-eight and your kids have left for college? And the more I thought about her, the more I liked her and wanted to write about her.

Why did you choose the Irish Channel as the neighborhood?

My Scotty series is set in the French Quarter, and the Chanse series was set in the lower Garden District (where I’ve always lived and always default to it for that very reason), so I wanted to do something different this time out. Before I moved here, I had friends who lived in the Channel and I loved their house and I loved their neighborhood. I had already started writing a novella set in their old house, and I thought, why not use that same house for this series? The Channel did used to be considered a bad part of town, too, when we first moved here (so was the lower Garden District, which we didn’t know), and so I thought the gentrification issue would work better there than in my neighborhood. That part of the Channel is one I used to spend a lot of time in. As my character mentions in the book, I used to hang out at the Rue de la Course coffee shop at the corner of Magazine and Harmony–it was where I would meet friends for coffee. I’m still bitter it closed.

Similarities in our series: both widows, both have family mysteries, both live in the Irish Channel, you have jokes about potholes, I have a plot point about them. Let’s talk about NOLA’s potholes.

Oh, the potholes! Ironically, an active one ate one of my car tires a few weeks ago. Usually, if I am going someplace and have to turn around, there’s usually room for me to make a U-turn or I can turned into a driveway and turn around. This particular day the bar on the corner had reopened after being sold, closed, and renovated for a few months. So, there were cars everywhere, including blocking the driveways, and I thought, fine, I’ll just go around the block, which I hadn’t done in years. Because I hadn’t done that i years, I forgot there’s a massive pothole right when you make the turn so you have to jog left to avoid it. I hit the pothole, hard, and when I did, I thought oh that’s not good and as I continued driving I noticed the car was pulling to the left–which was the tire that hit the pothole. Sure enough, it was flat. It had a nail in it, and I happened to hit the pothole perfectly so that the nail dragged, tearing a hole in the tire. So, yes, New Orleans is a city of potholes–all different shapes, sizes, and depths. When the streets flood the water hides the potholes, and if they are really deep…the one on our street (which is reforming after being filled in and paved over for like the fiftieth time) ate a pick-up truck when that end of the street flooded a few years ago, so our street was blocked until the water went down and a tow truck could get in.

You have a Nolier than thou joke – I have OhNo!LA, an app that’s a runner in the book.

I wish I could claim credit for that joke, but I stole it from Bill Loefhelm, another New Orleans crime writer when we were on a panel together talking about writing about New Orleans and the need to get things right. He responded to a question about accuracy by saying something like “Yes, you really don’t want to set off the Nolier-Than-Thou people” and it still makes me laugh whenever I think about it because it’s so true! In all honesty, I am one of those people–nothing is more infuriating to me than reading something set in New Orleans that doesn’t get it right–but I’ve loosened up some as I’ve gotten older. I was even wondering if that was still a thing while I was writing this book…but since it’s come out I’ve seen any number of locals posting reviews and comments about “how (he) got New Orleans right” so it is still a thing. (And I’m glad and grateful people think I get ir right.)

How would you say your past experiences and jobs in life inform your writing?

I always say that life is material, as is every experience you’ve had. I’ve had so many jobs over the years and have been fired so many times I can’t keep track of them all anymore. But I also had a huge variety of jobs–fast food to retail to food service to banking to insurance to an airline to being a personal trainer to managing a health club to being a magazine editor to my present job working in an STI clinic as a sexual health counselor. Whenever I am creating a character and need a job for them, I inevitably fall back on one of my experiences. The main character in The Orion Mask worked at an airport–I’ve written a lot of characters who work for airlines–and so I try to get away from my own experiences once I catch myself doing it again. I have always had jobs that required interaction with other humans, so I’ve gotten to observe a lot of human behavior. I’ve written about high school students in Kansas (where I went to high school). I’ve written about fraternities because I was in one (hard as it is to believe now). I played football in high school, I’ve written about football players in high school. The only places I’ve lived that I’ve not written about are Chicago, Houston, and Tampa (I have written about Florida, but just the panhandle, where I spent of time as a kid).

I read a blog post where you talked about your relationship with the city. How has it morphed over the years and where does it stand now? It sounded like doing promotion and writing about the city reignited your love for it. What’s your writing process? You write in different genres. Is the process different?

As sad as it is to admit, it’s very easy when you live here to start taking New Orleans for granted. As I said before, I usually am so focused on what I am doing–work, writing, errands, chores, etc.–that I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings as I should (I think we are all guilty of this to some degree). About a year before the pandemic, my day job moved. I had worked in our office on Frenchmen Street for well over ten years–right across the street from Mona’s, in that block between Decatur and Chartres, so I was a block outside the Quarter five days a week, and we also used to do a lot of testing in the French Quarter gay bars and passing out condoms during Carnival, Southern Decadence, and Halloween. So I used to spend a lot of time in and around the Quarter. It was lovely–I could go to the Walgreens or the Rouse’s on Royal and there was a bank branch on Chartres Street, too, by the Supreme Court building. Anytime I didn’t have anything in the house to pack for lunch I could just walk into the Quarter and get something not only amazing but inexpensive. I used to walk past where Scotty lives all the time. After we moved into our new building in the 7th Ward, I don’t go into the Quarter much anymore. So I was starting to feel a bit disconnected from New Orleans already before the pandemic shut everything down. But I realized when I started doing promo for this book that I am not disconnected from New Orleans. I’ve just lived here so long that I don’t take as much note of the unusual or the weird as I used to–it’s become normalized to me. I’ve acclimated. It’s still just as weird and wild and crazy here as it always has been, it just doesn’t strike me as weird and wild and crazy the way it used to. I need to take more walks and spend more time exploring the city and checking things out. I don’t know if all the hidden places I used to take friends to eat in the Quarter are still there, either. Maybe after Mardi Gras…

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.

I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.

I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.

Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.

I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!

College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.

As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.

I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.

Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.

Tell Me

Friday and a work-at-home day, except for the morning department meeting I have to attend in person, which means I didn’t get to just roll out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, throw on some sweats, and get a cup of coffee just before nine…no, I have to be there at nine. I’ll run a couple of errands on my way home, which spares me from having to leave the house on Saturday; I may order groceries for pick-up on Sunday, but I don’t need to decide that right now.

This week wore me down and wore me out. I didn’t sleep terrific all week long to begin with, then of course it was one thing after another to have to deal with. But it’s Friday and I am relatively unscathed, methinks; I slept really well last night and think that could again be the case tonight. I was completely worn out when I got home from work last night, so I collapsed into my easy chair and watched a lengthy James Somerton video on Youtube called “What Ever Happened to Good Taste?”, which was about camp classic films, beginning with All About Eve before cycling through Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Mommie Dearest, and the drag queen road movies of the early 90s, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. (I must confess to being enormously disappointed that Showgirls didn’t make the documentary; it is, after all, an all-time classic.) Paul got home shortly after I finished watching (it was two hours long) and we watched another episode of Welcome to Chippendales, which could have been just a movie and not a series I think; there’s a lot of padding out of the story to stretch it out into a mini-series. I have a lot to do this weekend; one of my tasks for today is of course a to-do list for the weekend. I need to get caught up on the book, I need to get caught up on a lot of things, and I want to finish reading Wanda Morris’ marvelous latest work. Perhaps after I get home from the meeting at the office this morning and get through my work-at-home chores today, I can spend some time with Wanda’s book and finish it. I am going to run some errands on my way home from work today, too–hoping that I won’t have to leave the house much this weekend so I can get things done.

My arm continues to get better every day, so I think it is something that didn’t necessarily require the emergency room costs or a forced-onto-the-schedule doctor’s appointment. It means I won’t be able to start back to the gym this weekend as I’d planned–I like to start going again before the new year when everyone’s resolutions crowd the place to within an inch of its life come January–but I cannot lift weights with this arm, which pretty much eliminates every upper body exercise. I could, I suppose, go a couple of times a week and simply focus on legs–but the weight plates would be a problem, too, you see. So, that’s going to have to go back on hold until my arm feels better.

I was very surprised and pleased yesterday to see that a couple of Instagram users did “reels” talking about A Streetcar Named Murder, and I have to confess this week–shitty as it was personally–has been a really terrific week for me professionally. It certainly was a good one for my writer’s ego, for sure. The outpouring of support and appreciation for my book from the cozy reading and writing community has been quite nice, rather unexpected, and I am enormously appreciative and grateful for it all. In some ways, it’s kind of validating; over the past few months I’ve really come to understand that I have an enormous chip on my shoulder when it comes to my own writing, and have tried unpacking that a bit. (I’ve spent quite a bit of time since turning sixty in the wake of a global pandemic unpacking my behaviors and the events that occurred that shaped those behaviors.) How different would my life have been had I gotten support and encouragement when I was younger? Had people taken my ambitions and desire to write seriously rather than dismissively? I honestly don’t know, can never know, will never know–the great pleasure of human life is you can never do anything more than speculate about how differently a shift in something, even a very small minor one, can alter the course of a life and a career.

The other night, before my Murder by the Book event with the marvelous John McDougall and my very dear Ellen Byron, John asked me “Now that I’ve read your book, Greg, I have to ask–why did it take you so long to write a cozy? Why haven’t you been doing this all along?” and my answer was “I really don’t know.” It absolutely gave me pause, and has lived rent-free in my brain ever since Tuesday. Why did it take me so long to write a cozy? I still don’t have an answer that makes any kind of sense. Let me see, I’ve always read them, always appreciated them, and have always done my best to fight the stigma attached to them by some elitists who need to feel better about themselves by looking down on a subset of other writers. I hate that, particularly because I know how it feels to not be taken seriously or be respected by your peers (there’s that enormous chip on my shoulder again).

But despite all the difficulties encountered during the time of its writing, I really enjoyed writing A Streetcar Named Murder. Sure, it was hard, and sure, I had to make myself do it (like always), but when I finally held the finished copies in my hands, I was incredibly proud of it. I have always said that I want to always be challenged by what I am writing, that I don’t ever want to fall into a familiar pattern of writing that feels like painting by the numbers (which is why I ended the Chanse series), which is incredibly easy to do. Writing a cozy presented me with a challenge, and yes, it was hard and yes, it was outside of my comfort zone. But I created likable, believable characters and an interesting story, with new situations and paradigm/life shifts that all played out throughout the course of the story. Now that it’s out in the world, it is an interesting question as to why I never tried to write one before, or even why I believed that I couldn’t write one in the first place.

And in some ways, it’s almost like starting my career over again. I am finding a new audience. I didn’t center queer characters and stories. I just wrote about New Orleans again but from an entirely different perspective, and it was enjoyable.

And I am proud of the book, and of myself. It feels weird to say that, but at the same time it also feels good to say it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Carol

I have to go to the West Bank this morning to buy two new tires for the car. An active pothole destroyed my driver’s side front tire the other day, and so I need to get at least one new tire, probably two so their wear pattern will match. The tires are supposed to be good for 50k miles; I don’t even have 30k on my car yet, which makes this even more frustrating. Perhaps this is my punishment for writing about potholes the other day on the Wickeds blog, with “The Orange Cone”? I may have angered the pothole gods, and they must be appeased to the tune of several hundred dollars.

Ah, well, there’s nothing to do but go whip out a credit card and pay for new tires. At least I can take Wanda Morris’ Anywhere You Run with me to read while I wait for the tires to be mounted and put on the car.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work. I didn’t sleep well Monday night (did better last night, frankly) and so was already tired going into the day. I was monitoring my blog post at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen so I could reply to everyone’s comments, and they were keeping me occupied between clients and the end of my shift. When I got home, I had a few hours to make the kitchen presentable before going live with Ellen Byron and Murder by the Book, which was a lot of fun. Paul came home as we were wrapping it up, so we could watch another episode of Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, which moved on to the Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell connection to Victoria’s Secret, and it seems as though human trafficking and models being pimped out by their agencies might very well have been happening in the industry before Epstein, from the looks of things. B

But the event went really well–it was nice seeing John from the store again, and he said very nice things about my book beforehand, including “After reading it and liking it a lot, I have to ask, why did it take so long for you to write a cozy?” which I thought was the highest compliment I could ever receive. There have been times that I have felt like a carpetbagger in the subgenre; poaching in territory not my own. But one thing I will say about the cozy subgenre–the authors and readers are incredibly kind, supportive and welcoming to new authors entering their territory. It’s been lovely seeing all the support from other cozy writers and readers on social media in the weeks leading up to the book’s release, and it’s also something I’m really not used to, to be honest. I don’t want to make it sound like I haven’t had support from colleagues and readers before–because that wouldn’t be the truth–but this entire experience, from the announcement of the contract to the cover reveal to the release, has been so incredibly lovely and affirming that like John, I wonder why it took me so long to join the ranks of the cozy writers? Ellen and I did agree on camera that my Scotty series was a more of an edgy cozy series that breaks some of the rules (profanity, sex, violence and blood on the page) than anything else; Scotty may be a licensed private eye but no one ever hires him–he just stumbles into bodies and mysteries all the time through no effort of his own.

Christ, I am so behind on my Scotty book. Heavy heaving sigh.

(Even in the midst of self-promotion, I can always feel guilty about the progress of whatever it is I am working on at the moment.)

After I get the tires put on the car and paid for, then it’s off to the office to finish my work day. This week has been a weird one; sick on Monday, flat tire, promotional events, book launch, and now a morning spent at the car dealership. Not exactly how I saw the week going Sunday morning while I was drinking coffee and planning ahead–which is another great example of ‘man plans, the gods laugh”–and now today is even Pay-the-Bills Day and I didn’t really notice because. well, I need to get to the dealership this morning and buy new tires…all the while hoping the spare makes it to the West Bank intact. (It’s supposedly good for fifty miles and I haven’t gotten anywhere close to that kind of mileage since changing the tire.)

But life always has a habit of interfering with your best laid plans, doesn’t it?

And on that note, I am hopping into the shower and heading over to the West Bank. Wish me well, Constant Reader, and that it’s quick and easy to get in and out. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

It’s All Over Now

Well, it’s Tuesday morning and all I have to say about that is good. Monday was a dreadful day, and the less said about it the better. I woke up feeling ill, and it was just all downhill from there. The only good thing I can say about yesterday was I got to spend the entire morning lying down, covered up in blankets, reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere You Run, which is fantastic. I didn’t get to finish reading the book–hopefully that glorious day will come soon–and losing yet another day of work on the book was quite a savage blow. Tonight after work I have to do an on-line event for Murder by the Book with the always delightful Ellen Byron, which will leave me exhausted as those things always do, so tonight is pretty much out. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least college football is over, which frees up my entire day Saturday, which is nice. And I feel well this morning–I knew taking Claritin and resting all day (sort of) would stave off the coming sinus infection (but I’ll take another one today just to be on the safe side). We also started watching the Victoria’s Secret documentary–I think it’s called Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons–because the owner of the company was weirdly involved with Jeffrey Epstein? It’s interesting enough. I vaguely remembered the collapse of the brand–and who knew there were so many other stores, all belonging to the same person? Remember Structure?–but I didn’t remember that there was an Epstein connection.

Oh! I am also guesting at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, with my slow cooker meatball recipe. Today is also the official release day for A Streetcar Named Murder, so happy release day to me!

It still seems a bit weird to me to have this book out in the world at long last. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this release date for a very long time, and now it is here. Will people like it? Will people buy it? Will my regular readers like this completely different (not really, but you know what I mean) type of book from me? Naturally, I hope so; I’ve been really surprised and delighted by the unexpectedly and overwhelmingly positive response to the book thus far. I’m not used to it.

But just as it occurred to me the other day that my perceptions of New Orleans have changed–i.e. that all the little oddities and eccentricities that used to amuse me and give me things to write about now seem commonplace and normal to me now–I think my perception on my writing has also started changing a little bit–which is really lovely and nice and long overdue. I’ve talked about this before–the dichotomy of how I was raised to always be humble and never, ever brag about myself–and how its really the exact worst way to raise any kind of artist. Being an artist (or writer) is difficult enough with those constant self-doubts and “do I really know what I am doing here” and everyone’s favorite, Imposter Syndrome. If you don’t know what Imposter Syndrome is, consider yourself very lucky. For me, it manifests itself in “I’m really just faking it and don’t really have any insights because I literally don’t know what I am doing, but as long as I can keep fooling people I’ll keep going until they realize the Empress has no clothes.” My perception of my own writing and my own work is slowly starting to shift–yes, Constant Reader, after twenty-odd years and over forty books, etc etc etc, I am starting to feel some confidence in my actually work. Rereading A Streetcar Named Murder the other week–I had to do so because I’d forgotten a lot about the book in the meantime, so I could do some more Blatant Self-Promotional blog entries–and realized it wasn’t, in fact, terrible but was actually an enjoyable read. (This may not seem like much to you, Constant Reader, but for me this was huge.) I do think that this book, along with my last three (Royal Street Reveillon, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit) is some of the best work of my career thus far. And when I was rereading the old Scottys to prepare me for writing the new one, I was impressed with them rather than wincing. I think maybe I’ve managed to flip the “editorial” switch off when I read my books again? So rather than rereading them and catching errors or thinking oh I could have said this or that better, I read them as they were and for what they are. It was definitely some major progress, methinks, towards a better mental attitude for me, not only for my work but for my life in general.

It only took me over sixty-one years to start getting there.

A lot of it, I think, comes from my determination to not take myself seriously, which probably goes back to my childhood. I know the self-deprecatory shit comes from a mentality of if I make fun of myself I can beat everyone else to it which was a self-defense mechanism I developed to shield myself from being mocked, made fun of, and insulted by other kids. I can’t claim it as a gay experience because I would imagine every queer kid’s experience is different and there are probably some who never were bullied, were never made fun of, were never the butt of everyone else’s jokes as an easy target because I didn’t fit the societal image of what a little boy was supposed to be. I think I was seven or eight the first time someone called me a fairy? (At the time, I didn’t realize they meant fairy as in Tinkerbell and not ferry as in a boat that conveys cars over water; I couldn’t understand the ferry reference until a few years later when it was accompanied by such lovely terms as fag, faggot, femme, homo, cocksucker and so forth; when I was conditioned to be ashamed of myself and of who I was, through no fault of my own….and well, if I make fun of myself I can head them off before they go down that road.) This of course presupposed that people were going to make fun of me or call me names–and I can now see how toxic and self-destructive that actually can be. You should never default to the idea that other people will make fun of you.

You can see how that mentality can be damaging to a writer.

I carried a lot of baggage into this career that I should have discarded a long time ago.

I am, if nothing else, always a work in progress.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Everywhere

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all is well this morning. I slept in a bit (I also went to bed later than I usually do, so I slept about the same amount, really) and feel rested and relaxed this morning, which is always a nice, pleasant thing to feel. I didn’t get much work done on the book yesterday (355 words, all of them bad except maybe “Scotty” and “Frank” and “Colin”) but that’s okay; I feel a lot less stressed and a lot less pressured this morning about everything that needs to be done now. The stuff all needs to get done, of course; that hasn’t changed, but I am not feeling as much stress about it as I was feeling yesterday.

I read more of ‘salem’s Lot last night while I was waiting for my friend Ellen Byron (buy her books! Bayou Book Thief is amazing!) to text me to meet her for a drink. I picked her up at the Sazerac House (Canal and Magazine) and it had been quite a while since I drove down that way in the evening, and yikes. SO much traffic, so many people everywhere. I’m still not used to pedestrians in the CBD at night, even though the area hasn’t been a ghost town at night in years, but then we swung around and came up to have drinks at St. Vincent’s, which has been renovated and redone and remade and turned into a boutique luxury hotel right here in the heart of my neighborhood. I’ve posted some pictures of the place when I was doing my walks through the neighborhood last year; it’s even more beautiful inside than I imagined. These weekend is Tulane Homecoming, so there are a shit ton of people in town (that’s actually what brought Ellen to New Orleans, in fact; she is an alum) for that, and of course the people from Mississippi here for today’s LSU game in Baton Rouge (Geaux Tigers!). It was lovely to sit and have a drink and talk about writing and books and this crazy business we are in; she’s an absolute delight (buy her books!) and I look forward to the next time I get to see her.

But this morning I realized how utterly I am failing at reading. October is winding down; Halloween is a week from Monday, and I still haven’t finished my reread of ‘salem’s Lot, let alone done my annual Halloween reread of The Haunting of Hill House or getting caught up on the horror novels in my TBR pile. I’ll spend some more time with Mr. King this morning before I run my errands–I have to go get the mail and I have to stop at the grocery store because I want to make white bean chicken chili tomorrow, and have nothing I need for that–and I am debating whether I want to grill burgers today or not. The LSU game is on today at 2:30, and of course Skate America is airing this weekend (yay for figure skating!) so I’ll have to write around those times.

The reread of ‘salem’s Lot is a lot of fun, actually; I am really enjoying this revisit of the book and seeing why I enjoyed it so much the first time around. King wasn’t STEPHEN KING yet when he wrote and published it, so I am sure it didn’t get the kindest reception from critics of the time; particularly when you take into consideration what they considered to be great writing back then. I don’t remember when it was that the Literati changed their mind on Stephen King, but I do remember how he wasn’t taken seriously as a writer by them for a very long time (he writes horror! He’s too prolific to be a real writer!), and some of his best work was already behind him by the time he got the anointing he deserved for a very long time. I mean, he had quite a run, and quite a varied one at that, before he finally published a book I didn’t like (The Tommyknockers, for the record) and it seemed an aberration as he seemed to climb back on the horse and right the saddle in the next one after that. I love how many points of view he uses in ‘salem’s Lot, giving us little glimpses of fully realized characters and their lives to show us human beings so that when they actually wind up becoming vampires, you do feel a sense of loss. Many of these minor characters are objects of sympathy, while others you just kind of shrug when the vampires come for them and think, well, you were a shitty person anyway, oh well, this is justice of a sort. The scene where Mike Ryerson has to finish burying the coffin of Danny Glick is one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read, and it still holds up today. I like how King gets into the point of view character’s head and gives them a voice–which is still King’s, but different from the other voices he uses–and that sort of structured stream of consciousness is something I really like and enjoy reading; I sometimes use that style in my own writing.

(I started to write something self-deprecating, but am proud of myself for catching it and not doing it. Progress.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the manuscript and do some cleaning before the errands are run. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later or tomorrow.

Easy Loving

Monday morning and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I have so much to get done this week it’s kind of overwhelming, to be honest; and the temptation to just stay in bed for the rest of my life and avoid the world was kind of really powerful this morning. Yet the world stops turning for no man, let alone a Gregalicious, so there was naught for me to do other than arise, do my morning ablutions, and start drinking coffee. I did sleep fairly well, despite the enormous stress of a to-do list with incredibly lengthy chores and projects to work on, and feel pretty well rested this morning–if not quite up to dealing with the world at large.

Ellen Byron’s book launch last night was marvelous. I was delighted to see she had a very good turnout and sold a lot of books–and she is the QUEEN of swag. I for once didn’t have stage fright–I knew Ellen would be warm and witty and wise and funny; all I had to do was lob some questions at her and she was off and running (she did try to deflect attention back to me a couple of times, but I was ready to turn the spotlight right back on her after a brief answer and succeeded each time). The book itself is lovely, too; you want to get a copy of Bayou Book Thief, especially if you’re a fan of traditional mysteries. The cover is gorgeous, and it’s a fun story with a likable main character and a likable supporting cast, and Ellen’s adoration of New Orleans spills over on every page–and what more can a New Orleanophile ask for? I also picked up a copy of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (I saw it and remembered someone recommending it to me a while back, so I grabbed it immediately) and a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time now (since Camus was inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice for his own novel, I thought it only made sense for me to finally read the Camus)–I can never walk into a bookstore and not walk out with more than I intended to buy when I walked in (I had only intended to get a copy of Ellen’s finished book; I read a pdf) but that was fine–I wanted both books and let’s face it, I am always going to buy books at every opportunity, but it is time for me to start donating books to the library again.

I am not familiar with the part of New Orleans where the bookstore is located; Blue Cypress Books is on Oak Street past Carrollton, not far from where Carrollton and Claiborne intersect (and yes, the two streets actually run parallel to each other in my neighborhood; welcome to the wonderful and terribly confusing world of New Orleans’ bizarre geography). I would have, as per my usual, simply driven all the way to Riverbend on St. Charles then turned left on Carrollton…but I decided not to do my usual “this is how I know to get there” thing and used Google maps. Interestingly enough, Google maps took me on to Highway 90 then I-10 before getting off at the Carrollton exit in front of Costco and going that way…and it was faster–a lot faster, which I still kind of can’t wrap my mind around, but then again that’s New Orleans geography for you; my mind always thinks in terms of grids where everything runs north and south or east and west, and that isn’t New Orleans. The only actual grid design to anywhere in this city is the French Quarter–and only the French Quarter, at that. I have lived here twenty-six years and still get confused and mystified by how geography works here…which is one of the reasons I think people believe New Orleans is magical and mystical. Where else does geography make no sense other than here?

After I got home, we finished watching The Outlaws, which we really enjoyed, and started watching Gaslit. Julia Roberts is killing it as Martha Mitchell–I’d really forgotten a lot about her, but she was kind of a celebrity at the time, more so than the wife of Attorney General could ever hope to be, frankly–and she was enormously popular; everyone liked Martha Mitchell, because you never really knew what she was going to say next, which naturally didn’t sit well with the president of the time, Richard Nixon. (And again with a show set in the 1970s; sensing a theme–Minx, Candy, Gaslit–all set in the 1970s as a reminder to us all just how awful the 1970s actually were…pay attention, everyone. There’s a reason you never want to turn the clock back, or bring an era back.) I’d actually forgotten about Martha Mitchell–she’s often left out of books I’ve read about Watergate–and she was actually kind of an important cultural figure of the time. If the Nixon idea was to erase her from history, it kind of worked. The 1970s was definitely an odd decade.

As I was lying in bed dreading getting up and facing the world today, I thought, I would really love to have a vacation, you know. A week where I didn’t have a deadline to meet, or go into the office, or really do anything at all other than relax and read and watch movies or television shows I’ve not had a chance to see. It’s been a hot minute, and most of the traveling I actually do tends to be writing related in some way, which means it’s not really a vacation but a work trip. I don’t think I’ve actually had a vacation-vacation since we went to Italy, and that was eight long years ago. We’re talking about possibly going to Puerto Rico or some place in Central America (Costa Rica, if anywhere), but I think it’s past time…although I could also use some time off to stay home and get the Lost Apartment into some semblance of order, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one.

I didn’t finish my short story–the deadline was today and I know there’s no way I can get it finished in time to email off by midnight tonight, particularly since there would be little to no time to revise and/or edit it. It’s a shame, but at least the story is further along at about just over a thousand words than it was at less than two hundred; it’s a great idea but I’m basically stuck in the middle. I know how it ends, I just don’t know how to get it there, so letting it sit for a while is definitely in order. I did start writing the new Scotty yesterday–don’t get excited, I literally wrote maybe 175 words of the prologue; I found the book opening I wanted to spoof (Pride and Prejudice) and since I didn’t want to forget, I started writing it and it flowed along for another hundred words or so before I ran out of steam. The Scotty prologues are always the hardest part of the book for me to write; they are basically a recap of Scotty’s life thus far to get a new reader caught up without having to go back and read the first eight (!) books in the series as well as not spoiling the first eight books in the series should the reader decide to go back and actually read the first eight books in the series. (Something I actually need to do before I really dig in and start writing this thing…I really need to do the Scotty Series Bible and get that done so I have an easy reference without having to page through the books or do a search in the ebooks) I also did some research over the weekend for the book, which entailed rereading two Nancy Drew mysteries, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat (both books bring Nancy and her friends to New Orleans/Louisiana) and oh, yes, that bit of research definitely triggered a blog post which I started writing yesterday after I got ready for the event and was waiting for it to be the right time to leave. I kind of slam Nancy Drew in the post–but the truth is, despite my obsessive collecting of Nancy Drew books (trying to get the entire original series, with the yellow spines) I never actually liked the books all that much. (Same with the Hardy Boys.) While I appreciate the two series for their popularity and for getting kids to read (and to read mysteries) neither series was ever my favorite–but once I started reading and collecting, I had to keep reading and collecting because I am obsessive–and that obsession with collecting the books, while slightly tempered as I’ve gotten much older (and don’t have a place to display the collection), still exists. (Periodically I do think about emptying a bookcase and refilling it with my kids’ series books; it’s always satisfying for me to see them on the shelves. And yes, I know how weird that sounds.)

And now back into the spice mines with me. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

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.

Mercy Mercy Me

Sunday morning and another decent night of sleep. I felt rested this morning, and still have an insane amount of things to get done, but progress was made yesterday. I did my work yesterday–I love when my work consists of reading, especially when the book is as delightful and charming as the one I read yesterday–and so have other things to get done today. Today’s primary task involves reading as well–I also have to come up with clever questions for Ellen Byron for tonight’s (this afternoon’s?) event at Blue Cypress Books, at 5 pm. Come on, come all! There’s also some filing and organizing for me to get done this morning while my mind slowly awakens, and of course, dishes to put away.

But I did get a lot finished yesterday, just not as much as I needed to, which seems to always be the case these days. That’s okay, you see, because I’ve also learned/am trying to be kinder to myself these days, in a successful (some days more than others) attempt to try to keep my stress levels down as well as the anxiety, which will inevitably combine into some sort of depressive, overwhelmed state during which I get nothing done and only compound the problem into a vicious cycle that winds up going around and around and around and where it stops, nobody knows. But my coffee tastes really lovely this morning, which is a good thing, and I feel rested and recuperated, which is also lovely.

Last evening, after we were finished with everything we could do during the day and decided to call it quits for the day, we finished watching Candy–I still am not entirely sure what I think of it, to be honest, but man did they capture the time period absolutely perfectly–and then watched the first two episodes of the second season of Hacks, which is even funnier this time around. Everyone in the show is so perfectly cast, from Jean Smart having the time of her life in a role that is absolutely perfect for her, all the way down to even the most minor characters. It is one of the best comedies on television now, frankly. We then moved on to The Outlaws, a British show on Amazon Prime starring Christopher Walken (who has been working a lot lately, and that isn’t a bad thing at all) which is about a group of disparate characters all brought together from being sentenced to community service together. The first episode wasn’t great, so we were on the fence about continuing but gave it another episode. SO glad we did; the show really kicks into gear in the second episode and the writing is so good, so intricate…definitely recommend it to you, Constant Reader. We also need to get caught up on Severance and The Offer, and there are a few other shows out there we’d like to get started with.

How are y’all doing this morning? I am feeling pretty good, in all honesty. There are some things I need to deal with that I would prefer not, but ripping off the scab and getting it taken care of is better than letting it sit, I suppose. I’m not at all stressed about doing a public appearance tonight–Ellen is a pro, witty and warm and charming, so really all I have to do is lob softballs to her so she can hit them out of the park–because I don’t mind interviewing people (I don’t mind moderating panels so much as I do public speaking; as long as the focus isn’t on me I am more fine than I am with having to give a talk where the focus is entirely on me; I am not sure why I am so uncomfortable in the spotlight). Ellen is also a friend, which makes it easier; it can be like a casual conversation between two friends who also happen to be writers and who both happen to write about New Orleans.

And speaking of New Orleans, I also went down a wormhole of research yesterday. I’m doing some research for the next Scotty book (more on that later), and found myself in yet another wormhole; I don’t even remember how it started (I think with a story that came across my feed about the Mississippi River battures and a street that used to be on other side of the levee, and still is in some places) and then of course one article leads to another leads to still another and so forth and before I knew it a lot of time had passed. There’s so much about New Orleans and its history that I do not know, or knew at one time and have forgotten, and every last thing I find or remember is fodder: oh, this is interesting, I should write about this. This new Scotty book is mostly going to take place outside of New Orleans for the most part; which is a big risk–writing a Scotty that’s not really a New Orleans story, but also is a New Orleans story. (That sounded confusing, even to me and I know what I am talking about.) You’ll just have to trust me, Constant Reader.

And on that note, this morning’s “haven’t completely woken up yet” chores are waiting. Talk to you tomorrow, and have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–it’s always a pleasure when you check in.