Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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I’ll Be Good To You

Well, wasn’t yesterday an amazing day for one Gregalicious? Not only was it payday, but I stopped and got the mail on my way to the office (there was a check!), and then right around the time I got to the office my phone (which was in my pocket) made the sound of breaking glass, indicating I’d gotten a notification from Facebook; I pulled it out of my pocket on my way up the stairs and lo! The Anthony Award short-lists had been announced, and I’d been tagged in the post. This usually means one thing and one thing only–a nomination–but I thought, no, that can’t be. But sure enough I clicked on the notification, scrolled down the list, and there I was, nominated for Best Short Story for “Cold Beer No Flies” from Florida Happens…along with four other amazing writers–Art Taylor, S. A. Crosby, Barb Goffman, and Holly West!

Wow.

It’s really lovely to be nominated for awards, and I know I’m luckier than so many others–who can go their entire careers without ever getting any award recognition. This is my second time up for an Anthony (I won, in Toronto, for Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou), and came as an incredibly pleasant surprise; the decision to not have a Best Anthology Anthony for Dallas Bouchercon was, I thought, the death knell of any shot I might ever have at possibly getting another Anthony nomination. I certainly never dreamed I’d somehow make the short-list for Best Short Story for my contribution to Florida Happens, “Cold Beer No Flies,” a story that’s been hanging out in my files in various different forms since the late 1980’s. But I am also pleased that it’s a story about a young gay man trapped in a small, conservative Florida panhandle town who has big dreams to get out of there–and isn’t afraid to break the law in order to make those dreams come true. This is also my second time nominated for a Short Story award from the mainstream mystery community–the first was the Macavity in Toronto, and the nod was for “Survivor’s Guilt” from Blood on the Bayou–and I also can’t even begin to tell you how thrilling it is to be nominated for a short story in the mainstream; but “Cold Beer No Flies” is, as I said before, a story with gay character/themes…and it might be the first time such a story has been nominated. (John Copenhaver is also nominated for Best First Novel, for Dodging and Burning–still in the TBR pile–and he’s also an openly gay writer of a book with gay characters and themes; I think it’s possible the two of us may have made history with our nominations as the first time this has happened; I could be wrong.)

This is especially thrilling when I take into consideration the fact that my writing self-esteem (never high in any discipline) is particularly low when it comes to short stories, as Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware. I love them, and I love the challenge of writing them, but…I’ve never had much luck with selling or placing them in places, but sometimes I do catch lightning in a bottle and the story works.

I spent most of yesterday trying to keep up with the congratulatory posts, comments, tweets and emails yesterday but failing miserably; I woke up this morning to a lot more of them and I suspect a lot of my free time today will be spent making sure I thank everyone.

Which is, frankly, kind of a lovely problem to have, amirite? I mean, I’d certainly rather spend a day basking in the glow of warm congratulatory messages/posts/tweets/comments than pretty much anything else, to be honest. Who woudn’t?

And to be on a short-list with talented writers like Art, Barb, Holly, and Shawn? Very very cool, quite frankly, and just the kind of flattering ego-stroke I needed at this moment as I struggle with the WIP (which I didn’t touch yesterday, for obvious reasons) but I am hoping to get back to today because things will, I am sure, be settling down somewhat. What’s interesting is that Holly is also nominated for her Florida Happens story; Barb also has a story in Florida Happens but is nominated for another work; and Art was the person who got me involved in working on Bouchercon anthologies in the first place. I met Shawn briefly in St. Petersburg at this last Bouchercon, and I am certain at some point in the future we’ll have a professional connection of some sort like these others–I certainly hope that’s the case, at any rate.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone, and thank you!

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You Thought

One of the things I loved about Go-Go’s music was it was high energy and danceable; and it didn’t matter if you had no rhythm, didn’t know how to dance, or were clumsy and awkward. Go-Go’s music was so good that it just didn’t matter–people who would never think about getting out on the dance floor would just dash out there and start bouncing around once the deejay put one of their records on the turntable.

When I basically invited myself to be a part of this anthology, many of the songs were already taken, but editor Holly West gave me a list of three to choose from. I looked up the lyrics of each…and one thing that struck me, right between the eyes, was how dark the lyrics were. The songs, played with a bouncy, danceable beat and catchy, ear-wormy lyrics with Belinda Carlisle’s oh-so-cheery voice and the lovely harmonies, were really, if anything, kind of noir…all those years of dancing and singing along with the records, I’d never really paid attention to what the lyrics were saying.

I don’t know that I’ll ever look at the songs in quite the same way again, frankly–but that’s not a bad thing; the songs have much greater depth than I’d ever thought, which is my failing, not the Go-Go’s.

Susanna Calkins’ story is the next up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s. Serendipity brought Susie into my life in 2018; her story “Postcard for the Dead” was selected for Florida Happens (and has also made the Agatha shortlist for Best Short Story) and we also worked together on another project. We met in person at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, and I hope that 2018 was the start of a terrific new friendship with this talent.

Her story is “You Thought.”

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Alison tightened her hand on her husband’s arm as they followed their real estate agent up the stone path to the 1920’s Craftsman bungalow. They’d waited so long to be shown a decent house within their limited budget. Finally, this one had come along and Sheila, clad today in an impossibly bubble-gum pink pantsuit, had reassured them it was a mustsee. “Perfect for a young couple,” she’d promised. “A steal at this price. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

Now, they gazed at the house in front of them. “Oh, Charlie,” Alison said, a catch in her voice. “Look at the front porch. We could sit outside after dinner. Enjoy the sunsets.”

Overhearing, Sheila smiled over her shoulder at them. “The house is charming, isn’t it? Did I mention there’s a basement? Just look at the yard! What a lovely place for children to play.”

Alison glanced up at her husband. Children! Perhaps that could happen now since they were finally settling down. After seven apartments in as many years, she could barely stomach the thought of another impermanent home. But she didn’t want to press him on that dream, at least not yet. “The begonias are beautiful, don’t you think?” she said instead, pointing at the pinkish-orange flowers in front of the house. “We could have a garden!”

There is nothing quite as stressful as making a major purchase that’s a lengthy commitment. I bought a brand new car in 2017, and I cannot even begin to tell you, Constant Reader, the agonies of indecision that went on for the weeks before I finally decided to bite the bullet and head to the dealership. I cannot even begin to imagine the stress involved with buying a home–particularly for the first time.

That is the beating heart at the center of this tale; Alison and Charlie are buying their first-ever house after seven years of marriage and seven years of moving from apartment to apartment; Alison falls in love with this house being shown to them by their realtor, Sheila. They end up in a bidding war that ends with them paying more than they can afford for the house, and once they move in…they soon learn that their realtor wasn’t really to be trusted.

I love the way Susanna takes the American Dream of home ownership and digs into it, exploring how home ownership can also be a trap as well as an investment into the future, and how financial distress can drive people to extreme measures.

Too Hot

Tuesday and the world has gone mad.

Polar vortexes and wind chills around fifty below! New Orleans in a freeze warning with the possibility of snow! Madness, sheer madness.

Yesterday was a pretty good day, over all. It was so lovely, and I’m so happy, that Susanna Calkins was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story for her contribution to Florida Happens, “A Postcard for the Dead.” It’s an absolutely wonderful story, too, an I couldn’t be happier for Susanna, who was an absolute delight to work with and whom I finally met at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg this past year. One of the things I love about being a part of the mystery or crime writing community is how many truly wonderful people are also a part of it, which always makes Bouchercon a wonderful experience for me. I always see old friends, meet new people and make new friends, and I always have the best time. For someone who is used to hiding out in his apartment most of the time being antisocial, Bouchercon and the Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend are seriously over-stimulating; I have a blast but when it’s all over I am drained and exhausted. Happy and still aglow, usually inspired to write, but drained and exhausted nonetheless. All of the Agatha nominees are terrific writers I admire; congrats to everyone.

I managed to proof read the first fifty pages of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories; remember talking the other day about much I hate reading my own work? What’s interesting–let’s face it, I find myself fascinating–is that I often find myself using the same phrase, or turn of phrase, in more than one short story; which is something I wouldn’t be aware of writing them at different times over the years, and I would never sit down and reread all my short stories all at once. I know that I have a tendency to write about men with black hair, tanned olive skin, and green eyes; dimples also show up often in male characters in my work (Colin in the Scotty series hits all that criteria, and so did Paul in the first two Chanse novels). I also write about my neighborhood, the Lower Garden District, a lot in my short stories (in the novels, Chanse and Paige live in this neighborhood; Scotty lives in the Quarter); in fact, two of the first five stories are set less than three blocks apart. I also tend to use similar names a lot–David is a particular favorite of mine to call my characters; I also use Gary and Tony a lot.

I probably should pay more attention to this than I do.

I also started reading  The Klansman on Sunday night; and it’s not an easy thing to read. I only read a single chapter, and it took me a while. I kept getting memories, memories of the time period the book is set in as well as the summer I read it; a hot, damp Alabama summer with no air conditioning. It’s interesting because that is the setting for the WIP, and so I kept putting the book down so I could scribble down some memories in my journal, things to use for the WIP should I ever get to the point where I can work on it again. What the book is about you can pretty much guess given the title, and it’s hard to read. I don’t remember much of the book; I remember reading it, and I do remember it making me think about the things the book talked about; thinking about them in a different way than I had before. I’ve remembered the book my entire life, but have never gone back and reread it; the copy I read wasn’t mine and I never thought to look for a copy whenever I haunted any bookstore. I’m interested in the period, and I am interested in the pop culture of the period; a short story I am currently working on, “Burning Crosses,” made me think of this book again–and of course, the Internet makes everything easy. I got a first edition hardcover from Ebay for less than five dollars, and my decision to read it again now, as part of the Diversity Project, is because I want to know if the book will make me think as much as it did when I was nine or ten….or if my own values and morality have changed enough from then that I won’t view it in the same way.

But…it’s difficult to read. Not that it isn’t well written; it’s too well-written, if you get what I mean.

And now, back to the spice mines. Stay warm, Constant Reader!

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O Holy Night

The last day of 2018. I can hear the garbage trucks outside getting the trash, which means I’ve actually woken up at a relatively decent hour. Today is our annual lunch at Commander’s Palace with Jean and Gillian, which means very inexpensive martinis and all that entails. I also registered for Dallas Bouchercon yesterday and booked my hotel room. So much getting things done! I also worked on my technology issues yesterday–yes, they continue, Mojave is the stupidest thing Apple has ever done as an operating system–and have also been trying to update my phone, which doesn’t seem to be working. I really don’t want to have to get a new phone, but it seems as though this is what Apple is pushing me to do, which is infuriating.

But the desktop seems to be working the way it’s supposed to. Hmmm.

I read a lot of books last year, but I also judged for an award so I really can’t talk much  about any books that were actually released in 2018; which is unfortunate. I really enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (for a book not published in 2018). I also read a lot of short stories. The Short Story Project was originally inspired, and intended, for me to read a lot of short stories and work as kind of a master class for me as far as writing short stories are concerned. As a project, I originally began it in 2017, but didn’t get very far with it. As a result, I decided to give it another try in 2018 and was much more successful with the project. Not only was I reading short stories, I wrote a lot of them. Some of those stories were actually sold; “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, “The Silky Veils of Ardor” to The Beating of Black Wings, “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune, “Cold Beer No Flies” to Florida Happens, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to another anthology whose name is escaping me at the moment. I also pulled together a collection of previously published and new stories, which will be released in April of 2019 but will be available for Saints and Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I also wrote another Scotty (I really need to finish revising it), which will also be out in the new year I think but I don’t have a release date yet. That was pretty productive, and I also managed eight chapters of a young adult novel, the current WIP.

Not bad, coming from someone who wrote practically nothing in 2017. So, on that score, I am taking 2018 as a writing win.

I also edited the Bouchercon anthology for the second time, Florida Happens, and read a shit ton of short stories for that as well. I was very pleased with how that book turned out, in all honesty, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.

I also published my first ever Kindle Single, “Quiet Desperation,” and also finally got the ebook for Bourbon Street Blues up for Kindle. At some point I do hope to have a print edition for sale as well, but I am happy to have the ebook available. I also have to finish proofing Jackson Square Jazz so I can get that ebook up as well.

So, writing and publishing wise, 2018 was a good comeback of sorts; I managed to get back into the swing of writing again, and started producing publishable work, which was absolutely lovely. I started to say I got my confidence back, but that wouldn’t be true; I’ve never had much self-confidence when it comes to  my writing. I also started writing in journals again in 2017, which was enormously helpful in 2018. (I actually went through my most recent one last night–the one I am currently using–and found a lot of stuff that I thought I’d lost in the Great Data Disaster of 2018; things I shall simply need to retype and of course will back-up immediately.

Yesterday, while electronic equipment repaired itself and made itself usable again–we’ll see how usable it is as the days go by–I watched two movies–The Omega Man and Cabaret on Prime, as well as the documentary Gods of Football (I highly recommend this one for eye candy potential; it’s about the shooting of a calendar in Australia to raise money for breast cancer charities, starring professional rugby players in the nude, and yes, the eye candy is delectable). I watched a lot of good movies and television shows over the course of the year–The Haunting of Hill House and Schitt’s Creek probably the best television shows–so it was a very good year for that. (I have some thoughts on both The Omega Man and Cabaret, but will save those for another post at another time.)

I also got my first New Orleans Public Library card this past year, and began reading New Orleans histories, which were endlessly fascinating, which led me into another project, Monsters of New Orleans, which is another short story collection about what the title says, crime stories based on real cases in New Orleans but fictionalized. And there are an incredible amount of them. I read the introduction to Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous Murder Cases in New Orleans, and while I am aware that Tallant’s scholarship is questionable (I figured that out reading Voodoo in New Orleans), his books are always gossipy, which makes them perfect for New Orleans reading. What is real, what is true, and what is not is always something one has to wonder when reading anything about New Orleans history; some of it is legend, which is to be expected, and unprovable; some of it is very real and can be verified. Some of the stories in this collection, which I am going to work on, off and on, around other projects, will inevitably be complete fictions; but others will be based on true stories and/or legends of the city, like the Sultan’s Palace and Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau. It’s an exciting project, and the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspiration I get, not only for this project but for other Scotty books as well…which is a good thing, I was leaning towards ending the series with Royal Street Reveillon, but now that I’m finding stories that will work and keep the series fresh…there just may be a few more Scotty novels left in me yet.

My goal of losing weight and getting into better physical condition lasted for only a few months, and didn’t survive Carnival season–it was too hard to get to the gym during the parades, and between all the walking, passing out condoms, and standing at the corner, I was simply too exhausted to make it to the gym, and thus never made it back to the gym. I began 2018 weighing 228 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been, and have managed, through diet and portion control, to slim down to a consistent plateau of 213. This is actually pretty decent progress; not what I would have wanted to report at the end of 2018, but I am going to take it and put it into the win column, and we’ll see how 2019 turns out.

The day job also had some enormous changes; we moved out of the Frenchmen Street office, after being there since 2000 (I started working there in 2005) and into a new building on Elysian Fields. This also caused some upheaval and change in my life–I’m not fond of change–and it wasn’t perhaps the smoothest transition. But I’m getting used to it, and making the necessary adjustments in my life.

Now we are on the cusp to a new year. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about new goals for the new year. It is, of course, silly; it’s just another day and in the overall scheme of things, a new year really doesn’t mean anything is actually new; but we use this as a measure of marking time, and new beginnings. I’ve always thought that was rather silly; any day is a new day and a new beginning; why be controlled by the tyranny of the calendar and the societally created fiction of the new year?

But it is also convenient. If you set new goals every new year, you then have a way of measuring success and failure as it pertains to those goals. I am not as black-and-white as I used to be with goals–which is why I use goals instead of resolutions, as there is also a societal expectation that resolutions are made in order to not succeed–and a goal is merely that, a goal, and not something that is fixed in stone. The endgame we all are playing with these goals and resolutions is to effect change in our lives and make them, in theory at least, better. So, any progress on a goal is a way of making your life better.

I didn’t get an agent this year; that was on my list of goals yet again. I am not certain what my own endgame with the agent hunt is; I need to come up with a book idea that is commercially viable for an agent to want to represent, and that isn’t easy. Most of my book-writing decisions were made, not with an eye toward the commercial, but with an eye toward I want to see if I can write this story. Was that the smartest path to take as a writer? Perhaps not. I don’t know what’s commercial. The manuscript I was using to try to get an agent never worked as a cohesive story for me, and in this past year I finally realized why; I was trying to make a story into something it wasn’t. If I ever write what I was calling the WIP but is in reality ‘the Kansas book’, I have to write it as I originally intended it, not as what I am trying to make it into. And that’s something that is going to have to go onto the goal list for 2019.

On that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

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Jungle Boogie

Yesterday, much to my delight and astonishment, Raven Award winning mystery reviewer and critic Oline Cogdill included Florida Happens on her annual “best-of” list for 2018. Check it out here, along with some other amazing books.

Being on a list–even merely as the editor of an anthology–with writers like Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott Alison Gaylin, Lou Berney, Jeff Abbott, Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, and Lori Roy, among so many others, is/was a bit overwhelming. Florida Happens was such a dream project; perhaps one of the easiest open call anthologies I’ve ever worked on (with the caveat that selecting the stories was probably the hardest job; we had such a bounty of riches submitted I could have easily done three fantastic volumes), and all the contributors were dreams to work with, in addition to their exceptional talent and their amazing stories.

It’s also kind of interesting that in a year I sort of dedicated myself to reading and writing more short stories, that the first anthology I’ve done in two years should get such an honor, and it is an honor.  I am still shaking my head in disbelief, but this is a credit to the fantastic stories my contributors wrote. Brava, one and all. (They also were ALL dreams to work with; completely professional and utterly reliable.)

So, here’s another short story I read recently, “From the Queen” by Carolyn Hart, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Annie Darling shivered as she sloshed through puddles. Usually she stopped to admire boats in the marina, everything from majestic ocean-going yachts to jaunty Sunfish. On this February day, she kept her head ducked under her umbrella and didn’t spare a glance at gray water flecked with white caps and a horizon obscured by slanting rain. She reached the covered boardwalk in front of the shops, grateful for a respite. She paused at the door of Death on Demand, shook her umbrella, and inserted the key.

The chill of the morning lessened as she stepped inside her beloved bookstore. In her view, Death on Demand was the literary center of the small South Carolina sea island of Broward’s Rock. She tipped the umbrella into a ceramic stand, wiped her boots on the welcome mat, and drew in the scent of books, old and new. She clicked on the lights, taking pleasure from the new book table with its glorious array of the best mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels of the month.

I was more than a little surprised–yet pleased–to see Carolyn Hart’s name in the TOC of this volume. She is certainly, if not the queen, a member of the royal court of the cozy mystery. I don’t recall reading Hart before–I do remember meeting her at my one appearance at Malice Domestic; I think we may have even been on a panel together–but she absolutely charmed me with her generosity of spirit and kindness. I’ve always meant to read her work–again, a most prodigious back-list–and have several of her works on my shelves and TBR piles…yet “From the Queen” is my first (I believe) experience reading any of her work.

More’s the pity, too, as this story is carefully and meticulously crafted, completely believable, and her characters drawn so fully, deftly, and completely that I felt I knew them as well as most of my real-life friends and acquaintances. At the center of Hart’s story is an exceptionally rare book–a first edition of Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie that is not only signed but inscribed to the Queen of England (Mary of Teck, grandmother to the current Queen and wife to George V), which only makes it even more valuable. It is come into the hands of a friend of Annie’s, someone who is financially struggling and has no idea of its worth (bless her heart, she thinks it might be worth a hundred dollars) and is quite overwhelmed when Annie delicately tells her that it is not only worth much more than that, but so valuable as to be life-changing. The book is stolen, and it’s up to Annie to figure out who the thief is and get the book back for her poor friend. Wonderful, just wonderful.

And like Elizabeth George did in her story in this volume, Hart liberally sprinkles call-outs to many terrific writers and their books throughout the story, showing off not only her impressive knowledge of the genre but how much she loves it.

That only added to the story’s value for me, but I loved it regardless. Perhaps it’s time to move Ms. Hart higher up in the TBR pile, for certain.

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