Here I Am (Come and Take Me)

Tuesday morning and all is quiet in the lower Garden District. I’m awake and well-rested; I had a very good night’s sleep last night, which is of course quite lovely. I have a lot to get done today–yesterday I was feeling very scattered, but did manage to get some things pulled together and finished. I started the next chapter of Bury Me in Shadows, which is off to a very rocky start, and worked some more on the massive project, which–God willing and the creek don’t rise–might actually be finished by tomorrow? Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also started reading S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. Laura Lippman is signing at Garden District Books tonight–I’ve preordered my copy of Lady in the Lake because I have to work and can’t be there–and I’ll be picking it up tomorrow morning before work as I run my errands. I was trying not to buy any more books for awhile, but I always make an exception for Lippman.

I also, of course (because I have nothing else to do) wrote the openings of some new stories yesterday; “Dead Man’s Shoes,” “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” “Flood Stage,” and “Festival of the Redeemer.”  Because I don’t have enough to write already, apparently. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s just how my mind works, and just how things go around here. I do need to stay laser-focused on some things–the big project, for one–but my mind always scatters and strays; that’s part of the process and always has been, and some things will never change, I suppose.

I also suppose I will never finish writing all these partial stories, or turning the fragments into finished stories.

Heavy sigh.

Anyway, I was talking about the story I wrote for that Pink Triangle Rhapsody the other day, “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” so here’s a taste for you:

I was hired to find a zombie the same day I found out I was dying.

The new client was waiting for me on my front porch when I got home from getting the news. I was still in shock. Even though I’d only had to walk a few blocks from the office on Decatur Street where a very nice blonde lady with reddish, watery eyes and a slight quiver in her voice delivered the bad news to me, I was drenched. It was a hot sticky July afternoon in the summer of 1995 and sweat had adhered my black T-shirt to my chest and back. As I trudged through the heat and humidity and vicious sunshine, I kept trying to convince myself it wasn’t true, there had been a mistake. Mistakes happen whenever there’s a human element involved. Yes, the number they’d given me matched the number on the printout from the lab, but numbers could get mixed up, couldn’t they?

But I’d been expecting this for years. And while a surprise, the real shock was that it had taken this long, really. I thought I’d been preparing myself for this for years, but I was wrong.

You’re never prepared to hear someone tell you that you’re dying.

Not bad, if I do say so myself. And now back to the spice mines.

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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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With Your Love

Here we go again, on the rollercoaster that is my usual work week! Good morning, Monday, how the hell are you?

I am still rather sleepy this morning; more of a tired eyes thing than anything else, really. I got new contact lenses (a trial pair) from my optometrist on Thursday; yesterday was my first time trying them out in real life, as it were (I wore them home from Metairie on Thursday, taking them out as soon as I got home). The new lenses didn’t really seem to fit in my right eye; that lens felt off the whole time Thursday, and again when I put them in yesterday. But within minutes my right eye adjusted and they became comfortable; the progressive lenses actually began to work as well, which they hadn’t any time I had tried previously with another set of lenses. I wound up wearing them for almost seven hours yesterday, which was kind of lovely. Today and tomorrow, however, are too long of work days to try them out again; I’ll hold off until Wednesday before trying them again. But it’s nice to have contact lenses again; I’ve not really worn contacts since discovering, five or six years ago, that I need progressive lenses (what used to be called bifocals).

This weekend, on June 1, I started posting on social media about queer crime books in order to celebrate Pride Month (last year I simply posted a queer book cover every day for Pride; this year I am specifically focusing on queer crime novels). I want to be absolutely clear that, in case there’s any confusion, I am posting queer crime books that were influences on me; or influential at some point in my lengthy (!) career. At the end of the month I will post the entire list here for more easy access to anyone looking to look at queer crime novels, or looking for such a list–I may not be an expert on queer fiction, or even on queer crime fiction, but I do have my list and I do know the books I read and enjoyed that made me think and develop my own queer crime novels.

And if I can bring attention to a queer crime writer who has somehow fallen off the radar, so much the better.

Yesterday we went to brunch at our friend Pat’s lovely deluxe apartment in the sky; she really has the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River at what’s called the Riverbend (from her dining room) and the rest of the city (from the terrace outside her living room). Her apartment is filled with natural light, gorgeous built in bookshelves filled with wonderful books, and amazing art everywhere. It’s kind of a dream apartment for me–one I’d never be able to afford in a million years–but every time I set foot in her apartment I do spend a moment or two fantasizing about living there (just as I always fantasized about living in her partner Michael’s former home in Hammond). It was, as always, a lovely afternoon, and enormously relaxing. I wasn’t able to do anything when I got home around six because I was so relaxed; instead, I started watching Chernobyl on HBO, which is incredibly sad and disturbing. I remember when Chernobyl happened in real life, just as I remember the Three Mile Island scare in the late 1970’s. It’s interesting that since those two scares that nuclear power plants are pretty much not talked about or thought much about anymore, when back in the day they were quite controversial (I’ve mentioned Scotty’s parents protesting nuclear power plants in the earlier books in the series) but that controversy doesn’t seem to exist as much anymore, as though activists have maybe given up on their dangers…or it’s not glamorous enough to be considered newsworthy anymore. I do recall after the natural disaster in Japan several years ago (earthquake/tsunami) there were concerns about a Japanese nuclear power plant…but those concerns also evaporated once the news cycle moved on from the Japanese disaster.

One thing that was interesting about visiting Pat’s apartment was her view of the river, mainly from the dining room windows–which was my first experience this year actually looking at how the river is in its flood stage. The river has apparently been in flood stage longer than it has any time since the Great Flood of 1927, which changed everything as far as governmental policies and procedures for fighting floods; this was the natural disaster that created the Southeast Louisiana Flood Project, building levees and dams all along the river and its tributaries. For only the third time in history all the spillways north of New Orleans are being opened–and the tributaries are all still flooding and continuing to rise. The river itself it almost to the top of the levees in Baton Rouge, and apparently a levee on the Mississippi breached further north yesterday or this morning; I saw the report on social media earlier this morning but didn’t read it; I think it was in Illinois, maybe?

Anyway, the river is really high and this reminds me that the river being high was a plot point in Bourbon Street Blues, all those years ago, and it also reminds me of how vulnerable the city is for this year’s hurricane season–if the river is already almost to the tops of the levees, a storm surge coming up the river would overtop them quite easily; which begs the question, would the levees be blown below the city to save it? Any time there’s potential flooding of New Orleans there’s always the belief that levees are blown to save the city; people believe the levee failure during Katrina was planned, to save the French Quarter and white Uptown; people still believe the levees were blown below the city for Betsy in 1965.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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