Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

The Man

Yesterday was rather lovely, if I do say so myself.

I woke relatively early after a wonderful night of sleep, and drank my coffee while primarily doing some chores around the kitchen/office. Once I was sufficiently fortified with coffee, I sat down and edited/revised my story “The Snow Globe,” and Constant Reader, I have to tell you–I feel like an absolute idiot for putting off doing it for so long. There really are few things as satisfying as editing and revising something you’ve written, making the language better, making the story flow better, deepening the characters, and tying up the ending in a more satisfying bow than the one you originally used.

Why do I always forget how much I FUCKING love doing my job? WHY do I always have to force myself to do it?

One of the eternal mysteries of life, I suppose. I always have to force myself to do things I enjoy–like going to the gym and working out, which is what I did as soon as I finished the revision. I really need to put that on a sticky note for my computer: REMEMBER YOU LOVE TO WRITE.

I also spent some time plotting out my novella-in-progress “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which I hoping doesn’t turn into a novel. I like the story a lot; it actually began life as the idea that eventually became “A Streetcar Named Death”–that happens to me sometimes; I get an idea that could go off in two different directions, and they both wind up becoming stories of their own. I like–still do, in fact–the idea of “chance meeting on a streetcar”, which is such a lovely way to open a story, really, but it truly fit with “A Streetcar Named Death” better than with “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and it didn’t take me long before I realized that this particular story was too long to be a short story–I needed to go too in-depth with the main character as it was, and then other characters began talking to me more, insisting on being more important to the story, and I finally realized fuck it, it’s a novella, deal with it and just write it. I have several other novellas in progress at the moment (insanity, well aware)–“Fireflies,” “Once a Tiger,” “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” and “Spellcaster” being the others (I’m probably forgetting one–still on my first Monday morning cappuccino)–and feel fairly confident that at some point I’ll get them all finished and ready to be published.

My Internet is out this morning; fortunately I can turn my phone into a hotspot so functionality this morning isn’t lost completely. Yet it’s still annoying–as I muse every time we lose power, we’ve become so dependent on modern conveniences that even something so minor as a cable/Internet outage is teeth-grindingly annoying.

We watched another episode of both Mr. Mercedes and The Undoing last night–Donald Sutherland is extraordinary–and I’m not really sure where The Undoing is going; it’s an interesting mystery thus far, and I am not really sure if Hugh Grant is a killer or not. But there’s more going on in that family and marriage than we’ve already seen–or that they’ve shown us–and I am hopeful the show isn’t going to blow its premise. It is based on a novel–You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, that I’d never heard of before. I also think I prefer the original title, frankly–and am also thinking that maybe David E. Kelley should adapt one of Alafair Burke’s novels, like The Ex or The Wife.

I slept really well last night–I even woke up before the alarm this morning at six–and am hopeful this will be a nice, productive week. I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, and I also need to work on getting a draft of “A Dirge in the Dark” completed; I have an amorphous idea of where I want to go with the story, and it isn’t going to be easy, frankly–which is part of the reason I’ve been delaying working on everything (nothing is going to be easy) and that’s just stupid, really; part of the reason I kept pushing the revision of “The Snow Globe” to the bottom of the to-do list was because I thought it was going to be difficult to do–and it wasn’t, really. I need to stop doubting my creativity and my ability to do my work–but that’s been something I’ve struggled with pretty much my entire life so far. It would be lovely if at age sixty I finally turned the corner there.

I also made it to the gym for a workout yesterday, which was lovely; I’ve managed three workouts a week for three consecutive weeks now, and if I keep my head down and keep plodding along, I’ll continue feeling better and sleeping better and getting shit done. The Saints also won yesterday–they’ve now won six straight, although they just as easily could have lost any number of those games–and so who knows? Perhaps they are going to turn out to be a contender this year after all.

And on that note, my dear Constant Reader, I am returning to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.

My Tears Ricochet

Ah, memory lane.

It’s a place I don’t go very often, frankly–or at least, try not to go to very often–because while memories can be lovely, there’s always that incredible danger of remembering things through the rose-colored glasses; the development of the sense that things were better in the past than they are in the present. Nostalgia is both intoxicating and addictive, and frequently, incorrect, which is why I try not to visit there more than once in a great while. We tend to not remember things correctly, and we also tend to remember things in ways that make us look and feel better in that same way, which isn’t terrible but can be dangerous.

As Constant Reader is aware, I was recently reminded me of that post-Katrina period, when I wasn’t sure about the future of either series I was writing and frankly, wasn’t sure about being a writer anymore. I had, after all, already accomplished my dream: I’d published fiction with my name on the spine, and had even published short stories. It seems funny now to remember a time when I thought I was finished with writing–particularly since that was over thirty novels and I don’t even know how many short stories ago–but those were pretty dark times. I do wish my memories of that time weren’t quite as hazy as they are; it’s almost like I am trying to look back (when I do try) through gauze or even darkness. But my blog entries from those days still exist; I can, should I want, go back and reread them whenever I would like to–which, I think, is part of the reason I continue to keep this blog almost sixteen full years after it began, even though I’ve moved it here to WordPress from Livejournal. I do miss Livejournal though, and I miss how easy it was to connect with other people there. Blogs are, so I’ve been told countless times, a relic of the past and my stubborn refusal to let mine go is seen as quaint. People don’t read them anymore and they don’t have the reach that they once did, but that was never why I blogged in the first place.

I have some errands to run today–which I am delaying doing–and it’s gray outside already. We’re scheduled to be hit by another tropical storm in the next few days, most likely on Tuesday, and the rain is supposed to start coming in later today–it looks like the clouds are already here, and really, would it be a Saturday of Greg running errands if it didn’t rain? I need to take my library book–the Rock Hudson bio–back, and I also need to really get going with the cleaning and the writing today, especially now that the vacuum cleaner is working decently again. I need to take the rugs outside and shake them out, and do the kitchen floor before I put the rugs back. I suspect while the kitchen floor dries will be either the time to start reading Babylon Berlin or dive into some short story reading; I am very behind on that, and anthologies and single-author collections continue to pile up in the section of the living room where I keep them in order to have easier access to them when I am ready to read a short story. I also got the hard copy of the issue of Mystery Tribune with my story “The Carriage House” in it; I’d like to read some of the other stories in that issue as well. I don’t feel exhausted today–then again, I haven’t run my errands either, which always drains me–so I am hopeful that it will be a good day of cleaning and reading and writing around here today.

We watched the new episode of Ted Lasso last night, and I have to again beseech you to start watching this show; it’s really quite charming and lovely and funny and moving in all the ways Schitt’s Creek hit all those same sweet spots. We also thought we were watching the final episode of We Hunt Together, but apparently there’s another episode that hasn’t aired yet on Showtime so there’s yet another one to go. It didn’t really engage me very much, to be honest; it’s entertaining enough, but I also found myself checking social media on my iPad and even playing Bubble Pop at times while watching–which really isn’t a good sign, is it?–and with all the great and terrific crime shows that are currently airing, or have aired recently (Killing Eve, Broadchurch, even the earlier seasons of How to Get Away with Murder), the bar is set pretty high and this one just doesn’t click for me on all of its cylinders, which is a shame; the potential was definitely there. There are also two new episodes of Raised by Wolves that dropped this week, Archer is returning this coming week (huzzah!), and we also are curious to watch The Babysitter: Killer Queen–we watched the original last week and found it amusing and entertaining, and let’s face it, you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell in tight jeans and no shirt.

The new version of Rebecca also has me meandering down Memory Lane a little as well. Timothy is of course my Rebecca pastiche/homage; and is one of my personal favorites of my own books. Rebecca has long been one of my favorite novels of all time–Daphne du Maurier really was a mad genius–and it, along with several other favorites (In Cold Blood, Blood and Money, The Haunting of Hill House) are long overdue for rereads.

It also occurred to me yesterday, as I was going through the list of submission calls I am considering writing (or rewriting) stories for, that I am getting close again to have enough stories for another single-author collection, which is both interesting and scary at the same time. I had originally intended to call my next collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but have also come to realize that the title story, “Once a Tiger,” is more of a novella than a short story, which is why I can’t figure out how to end it as a short story, and since I have several other novellas also in progress (“Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies”, and “Festival of the Redeemer”) that I should just do them all as one collection. I think the next short story collection will be either This Town and Other Stories, or Moist Money and Other Stories, but I think the former works better than the latter. I also have to wait for some of the stories that have been already sold to come out in print first before I can put together another short story collection, which is rather exciting….which is also why it’s so damned important that I get this current book finished.

Because I want to get these other things finished, too, and I really want to start working on Chlorine.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for now. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Delusions of Grandeur

So, we survived yet another manic quarantine Monday, did we not? And here we are, ready to get on with our week with another Tuesday. Huzzah! Or so I think. The jury may still be out on this week.

I am working an early shift today, which is why I am awake while there is still dark pressing against my windows. But I’m on my first cappuccino (of the two I allow myself,  only on days when I have to get up this early) and so soon my mind will be dusted free of cobwebs and I can face looking at my email inbox…ha ha ha, just kidding! The only thing that would prepare me for my inbox is a good belt of bourbon, methinks–and one might not even be enough.

Focus.

I need to focus, for I have too much to do for me not to.  What else is new, though, right?

We started watching a dreadful new Netflix show, Outer Banks, last night. We’d finished the concluding chapter of Tales of the City on Sunday night, and thus needed something new to watch. It’s not good, but it was entertaining enough for us to watch the first three episodes (it’s really hard to decide based on a first episode alone–we made that mistake with Schitt’s Creek initially, and yes, it was a complete mistake)–it’s essentially set up as a locals vs. rich people struggle, Pogues against Kooks, and of course, as always, the poor scrappy law-breaking Pogues are who we’re supposed to root for; and there’s also a treasure hunt and murders involved–a ship carrying four hundred million dollars in gold sank off the Outer Banks back in the 1800’s, our hero’s missing father was looking for the ship, and so on. I doubt we’ll continue–when it was time for bed and turning off the television, we both decided, meh, it’s good as a back-up when we’ve exhausted every other possibility. 

And given how much I love me a treasure hunt story…yeah.

I also started reading Katherine Anne Porter’s story of the Spanish influenza, “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” and am reminded again how much I really dislike Katherine Anne Porter’s writing style. Several pages into the story, I don’t really give a shit about her characters, Miranda and Adam, because I don’t really know anything about them. Porter writes in a strange style, that follows Miranda’s thought processes, yet at the same time gives us nothing to make us care about Miranda. She comes across as relatively cold; living in her boarding house, worrying about money, dating Adam, with the war as a background in the distance that kind of always is in the back of everyone’s mind. The Spanish influenze pandemic is occurring at the same time yet it doesn’t seem real to Miranda; one thing I will give Porter is she does manage to capture precisely how self-absorbed we all are, and how that self-absorption blinds us to what is really going on all around us, but we ignore it until it directly affects us (writing this note in my journal last night I realized this is something du Maurier also does in her stories–distracting her characters with their own little personal dramas so that they don’t pay attention to what is going on right under their noses, especially in “Don’t Look Now”–and that also was a theme in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”). I don’t know that I’ll go back and finish reading the Porter story; as I said, I am not a fan, and yes, am aware that she won awards and was highly acclaimed as a writer. But…just not feeling it, frankly, not on this read nor on previous ones.

It’s funny that I am reading famous fiction about plagues and epidemics during a global pandemic, and it only just now occurred to me that I’ve not read any writing about HIV or AIDS in years. My novella “Never Kiss a Stranger” is, actually, my first attempt at writing this kind of fiction myself–and I am no longer so familiar with current gay literature that I don’t know if that’s something that has passed out of fashion with gay writers. I don’t think the m/m writers ever address it much; I’ve certainly never written about it before–for a number of reasons. When I first came to discover queer lit, there was a lot of it; almost every book or story about gay men being published, or that had been published since the mid-1980’s, involved it on some level or another. When I first started writing, it was still a question being debated in queer lit circles: was it irresponsible not to mention it, even in passing, in queer lit? Was it irresponsible to write erotica without the use of condoms? And while at the time I started publishing the drug cocktail had been discovered and the breakthroughs to extend life and lessen the impact of the diagnosis, when it came. I’ve very deliberately set “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the New Orleans of 1994, when HIV/AIDS was essentially wiping out the gay community in New Orleans, and I’m trying to capture that feeling of impending doom that hung over all of us back then, the sense of inevitability when it came to getting infected and dying, and how that felt to live through and experience.

The panel we did the other night for the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon was about writing during a pandemic; the interesting thing about that panel was two of us–J. M. Redmann and I–had both written during the previous HIV/AIDS epidemic; COVID-19 is our second time around. I think back to those days before I was a writer, when I was reading gay lit left and right, trying to familiarize myself with topics and themes; I think about the questions that we debated about our own work as we did panels and readings and so forth when my first book came out, and the other new writers doing the same. I remember that the big question then was whether or not we considered ourselves gay writers, or whether our books are gay (I distinctly remember Poppy Z. Brite replying to that question on a panel with “I don’t know, I’ve never asked my books if they were gay”); that all seems kind of silly now. (Frankly, it seemed silly then; it didn’t matter whether we considered ourselves gay authors or our books to be gay; that’s how they were going to be classified whether we liked it or not, and it was cute we thought we had come control over that–we had absolutely none.)

One of the things I am trying to do this week is determine how many things I have in some sort of progress–and I am not including the short stories that have lain unfinished in my files for years; I just want to get a handle on everything that’s in progress for now so I can get a better sense of where I stand on my next short story collection(s), and to see how many novellas there are that need completing–off the top of my under-caffeinated brain this morning, I can only think of three, but I think there are four in total–at least “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies,” and “Festival of the Redeemer” are the ones I can remember–perhaps later on I can remember more of them; there should be at least one more, because I remember thinking I could publish them all together in one book so there has to be one more–maybe it was “A Holler Full of Kudzu”? I don’t remember.

And on that note–my lack of memory–I’m going to dive back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Lost in Emotion

And somehow we’ve managed to make it to Thursday again, which is a lovely thing to contemplate.

I have to say, it was lovely to get back into writing and editing mode this week, having not had the time or energy for the last few weeks; much as I always seem to loathe writing while i’m actually doing it, it’s always enormously satisfying when I do it. I also tend to be more on the side of depression and so forth when I am not writing, or don’t have the time to; writing, much as I always seem to be loathe to do it, always somehow evens out my personality and blunts the edges somewhat.

I should put that on a sticky note and glue it to the wall above my computer, really.

Much as I want to get back to the Kansas book, I think I’m going to start revising Bury Me in Shadows instead. There are simply too many versions and too many changes that need to be made on the Kansas book–so many that I don’t think there’s any way I could get the draft finished by the end of this month, whereas Bury Me in Shadows is more solid. It needs some language correction, obviously, and more character development and there are more things that need to be woven into the text of the story, but I think that’s far easier than the massive overhaul the Kansas book needs–which means probably a draft to overhaul it and then another draft to correct it, and there’s simply no way I’d be able to get that done this month. I probably–because of my laziness and my tendency to be distracted by shiny objects–won’t get it finished this month, either, but a good strong push might just do the trick. One never knows.

I also want to work on “Fireflies” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” this month, and I’d like to get some other short stories polished and out to markets as well.

I finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule yesterday (more on that later) and have started reading Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, which is interesting–but at the same time, since it’s an old book it’s filled with questionable language and attitudes towards people of color–always an issue when you’re reading an old book about New Orleans (Voodoo in New Orleans, also by Robert Tallant, is another one of those)–which also made me think about the problems of doing historical research. Newspapers, the go-to in the archives, have not always been the bastions of truth and integrity we assume them to be today (although…), which of course means the only actual reporting on things is probably heavily biased (Lords of Misrule in particular pointed out how horribly biased the newspapers of the times could be, particularly in regards to trumpeting the values of white supremacy), which blurs and muddies the truth. But I am really enjoying my trip into my favorite city’s often horrific and terribly bloody history; there are times when I wonder if there’s some kind of weird curse of some sort on this city–similar to the town of Derry in Stephen King’s It, where horrible things happen….and then everyone just moves on like it never happened. I’d never realized how brilliant that aspect of It was; King tried to explain that away as part of the power of Pennywise…but it’s actually a terrible honest truth about humanity: we tend to move on from bad things and eventually lock them away into the darkest parts of our minds.

I slept pretty well last night, only waking up once or twice, and feel pretty rested this morning, which is lovely. I have to put in eight hours at the office today, but we aren’t doing clinic, just walk-in testing, which means it won’t be as busy as it usually is. I’m still trying to get adjusted to switching my eight hour shift from Wednesday to Thursday; I keep thinking it’s Thursday on Wednesday, and then today I’ll keep thinking it’s Wednesday. *eye roll to infinity* It’s really strange how much routine in my life I have, and how much comfort I actually draw from said routine.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but hey, there you go.

All right, time to get ready to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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I Want Your Sex

Here it is, Friday morning, and we’ve survived another work week, haven’t we? I can tell that the seasons are changing, as the light isn’t quite so bright in the early morning and it’s getting darker earlier.

The day job has been challenging this week. We’ve been  busier than usual–which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong–but being as busy as we’ve been wears me out. By the time I get home I’m drained and exhausted, which isn’t helpful when it comes to getting things done when I get home. I was already behind on things because of the massive volunteer project, and this doesn’t help. The next project, due to begin on October 1, has been pushed back so I have the month of October suddenly free to focus on my writing again, which is lovely. I am trying to decide if I want to revise the Kansas book, or work my way through Bury Me in Shadows for a second draft. Maybe this weekend as I work on the short stories I need to get finished I’ll be able to figure out, by reading through the manuscripts, which one I should get back to work on. I am more leaning toward the Kansas book; I’ve been dickering around with it in one form or another for nearly three decades and it’s probably time to finish it off, once and for all. It does, after all, make the most sense.

It would be lovely to spend all this time getting caught up on other things as well. I think getting those two short stories finished this weekend would be lovely, and perhaps some work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “Fireflies.” I’d submitted “Fireflies”–an ancient story I originally wrote in or around 1987–to an anthology that later commissioned me to write a story for them; they liked “Fireflies” but felt it would work better in longer form, perhaps as a novella. I never think about fiction in terms of novellas; novellas are even harder to place than short stories, and so for me it’s always about short story vs. novel when I come up with an idea. Last year I wrote “Quiet Desperation” as a short novella and self-published it on Amazon before adding it into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and while it didn’t exactly set the e-novella market on fire, it was kind of nice having it out there. That’s why I decided to do “Never Kiss a Stranger” as a longer form story, so I could make it more layered and explore the complexities of the characters more–I knew I could self-publish it as a novella in a worst case scenario, and then later add it to another short story collection. I’d never considered “Fireflies” as a longer form novella; part of the problem with the story has always been it’s much too short for everything that is happening and going on in the story. (Rereading it recently I saw this very clearly, and another one of its problems is how it jumps around in time; you can tell I had just read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury when I originally wrote it.) As I reread it recently, I realized just how richer and better the story would be if I expanded on it, so that’s also something I look forward to working on as well.

We started watching Succession last night, and wow. What a bunch of horrifically terrible human beings. We’re going to continue to watch–we also want to watch Unbelievable on Netflix–and of course, other shows we watch are back, like How to Get Away with Murder, and I also want to finish watching Murder on the Bayou, and the second season of Titans, which might call for a rewatch of season one, because I think Paul would enjoy it.

And on that note, I think I need to attempt to clean out my emails again. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Hocus Pocus

Tuesday morning, and I somehow managed to survive yesterday. Sunday night’s sleep wasn’t terrific, and by the late afternoon I was plenty exhausted and tired. I had to persevere, and what’s more, I was interviewed for a podcast last night when I got home from the office. Somehow I managed to get through that, and within half an hour of disconnecting from Skype, I was in bed and asleep within moments. Last night’s sleep was quite lovely–I feel amazingly rested this morning–and so this day might not be as terrible as the previous.

Today is going to be a good day.

I started writing two new short stories yesterday, “The Spirit Tree” and “Moist Money.” “Moist Money” is for an anthology I was asked to write a story for; it finally came to me sometime either Sunday evening or sometime during the day yesterday, and I scribbled down the first two paragraphs in my journal, which I transcribed yesterday, and then added another couple of hundred words. “The Spirit Tree” was inspired by moving books around on Sunday, and one of them–a nonfiction book about snake-handling churches in southern Appalachia–I opened the cover and looked over the first page–which was about “spirit trees”; trees that rural Appalachian folk, superstitious and religious as they are, create to keep bad spirits away. What they do is put glass bottles on tree branches, so the bottles clink together in the wind (“warriors, come out and play”) and the sound the glass tinkling against other glass makes supposedly scares away evil spirits and keeps them from infesting the house. I hadn’t thought about spirit trees since I was a child, and I thought, not only is that a great title, I can actually think of a rural noir story to write that matches it. Yesterday I got down about five to six hundred words of the opening; this is a story, I think, I might try to sell to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock when finished. I was too tired to do much more than write the openings of both stories last night; but I am hoping to get more written on them this week. I also need to get those three chapters of Bury Me in Shadows written, so it can sit and percolate for the next couple of months until I can get back to it.

It’s also weird to think Royal Street Reveillon will be out into the world next month. It seemed like it took me forever to write that book, and I guess it kind of did? But it’s nice; I’m glad to be putting another Scotty out there into the world, and I’m also not sure when I’m going to write the next one. I already know what it’s going to be–Hollywood South Hustle–but I’m just not sure when I’m going to get to it. I want to, as I have said in previous blogs, get all these books about teenagers I’m in some stage of writing cleared off my plate and out into the world before I start writing anything else–a cleansed palate, as it were–and keep writing my short stories and essays along with writing those. I’d love to get my second short story collection out into the world by 2021–that would be the one I’m calling Once a Tiger and Other Stories–and I also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger,” a novella, finished sometime before the end of the year, as well as “Fireflies,” my horror novella, as well.

So much to do, right? And I really need to proof Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go up for sale again. Maybe I can make that a goal of my long weekend for my birthday? Stranger things have happened. I really need to get all these things that are hanging over my head finished and out of the way, so I can focus more easily on writing Chlorine next year.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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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.

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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.