September Morn

So, yesterday I was lazing around, trying to fix a technology issue (involving calls to Tech Support and so forth) but not letting it get to me–despite the disruption to my day that this was causing. I did feel myself starting to slide down the slippery slope from irritation/frustration to the first stage of anger, but I distracted myself by watching something on television. I’d intended to spend the day–well, that doesn’t matter; suffice it to say my frustration was growing. I then watched something on television that completely shifted my mindset (more on that later); when Tech Support called back I simply suggested–since what needed to reboot wasn’t finished–that we simply call it a day and try again tomorrow at noon. Of course, not ten minutes after ending that call the final phase began–which meant, as I laughed at myself, that had I had them call me back in another two hours, we could finish resolving the problem. It’s kind of funny, but really–I wouldn’t have wanted to do with it two hours later, either.

But when I noticed that the final stage had started, and I laughed about it, I looked down at my notepad and opened another tab to do a search…and as soon as the results came up I just stared at my computer screen in stupefaction as the key to the next Scotty book opened a door in my brain. I think I mentioned this the other day, but there are two stories I want to tell for the next Scotty book; two different crimes, but how to connect them together? I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this for years now, years, and just looking at the search results page triggered exactly how to do it. Both stories will intertwine perfectly now.

And this? This is why writers drink.

But nevertheless, it was a good feeling, and made my evening. I like writing books with complicated plots, and I’ve always felt that the Scotty books (after Mardi Gras Mambo) weren’t as complex as the pre-Katrina ones. Bourbon Street Blues wasn’t complicated, but Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo were…and after Katrina I simplified the plots a lot. Royal Street Reveillon is a return to complicated plots and subplots, and if the series is going to continue, I have to be able to further challenge myself when I am writing the books. Part of the reason I went off-contract was because, despite the fact that I like routines and order, I felt the deadline treadmill I’d climbed on was a rut and I was becoming far too complacent with the work I was producing. (I’m not saying I’m not proud of the work nor that it wasn’t good work; and maybe that’s just all a part of my Imposter Syndrome complex, but I always feel like my work could be better, that’s all I am saying; and whether not writing on deadline is making the work better remains to be seen…but it’s not as stressful for me to create the work as it was.)

You never can win. I was just thinking that had I been on a deadline with Royal Street Reveillon, it would have wound up being a shorter book and a major subplot would have had to have been cut out from it. Maybe the longer version is more self-indulgent; I don’t know. But I feel good about the book; satisfied with it…and it’s been a while since I’ve written a book I felt this satisfied about. And that’s going to have to be my measuring yardstick going forward. How do I feel about the work? I know I’m not going to please everyone with it, and when people give me valid reasons for not liking it I will listen and decide whether it is something I should take into consideration going forward, or not.

This week I plan on getting back to work on the WIP. Today’s agenda is spending the rest of the morning reading Alafair Burke’s brilliant The Better Sister, cleaning out my email inbox, and rereading the first ten chapters I’ve written on the WIP. I also want to spend some time cleaning today; I still haven’t done the floors, and I’d wanted to do the staircase as well. I feel rested this morning–although I could probably sleep for another hour or so–and that’s kind of nice. I’m still not sleeping completely through the night, but some good sleep is better than none.

I watched a few more episodes of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and while I am enjoying it, it got me to thinking–as documentaries are wont to do–about sex trafficking and the abduction of children for whatever reason (Lori Roy addressed this very beautifully in Gone Too Long, and I will repeat myself: you need to preorder that book because you will love it) and how privilege comes into play with dead or missing children. Maybe at some point I, too, will write about missing children but at the same time I don’t want to seem exploitative…therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? It also astounds me that no one ever questioned the McCanns and their friends’ stories earlier than they did. But the big question for me–and I’ve not finished watching, but I know this story has no resolution–is, how did they get rid of the body and how were they able to do it? How did they know where to dispose of it?

Also, as I watched, I couldn’t help remembering Alex Marwood’s superb novel The Darkest Secret, which you should also read, Constant Reader, if you haven’t already (and if you haven’t, all the shame should be heaped upon you).

I suppose the whole privilege thing has been on my mind lately because of the college admissions bribery scandal that dropped this week. I, too, have heard the nonsensical complaints about “affirmative action” over the years–how students of color got to go to college for free and took the spot of a white student with a higher GPA; how allowances were made for minorities at the expense of white kids; how a person of color (or woman) got a job a white man should have; on and on it goes, lie after lie after mistruth after falsehood, all with the common denominator of no one is as oppressed as the straight white male. The public outcry about this admissions scandal was a bit of a surprise for me–what about legacies, or wealthy people who basically donate money to colleges so their kids can get admitted regardless of grades or abilities? That has been going on for years, and in particular at the elitist Ivy League colleges. One founding principle this country was founded upon was a mistrust of elites and a class-based society; the founders did not want their new country, their United States, to have the same problems with elites and classes that the mother society, that of Great Britain, had. And yet…here we are, with moneyed people convincing the poorer and middle classes to vote against their own best interests so the moneyed, privileged class can become wealthier and more privileged.

Ah, well.

And on that note, I should probably return to the spice mines. I am running out of time to get my moderator homework done, and that is a big no-no. I mean, I am sure I could lead a great discussion without having read the books–I’ve done it before–but I prefer to be better prepared, plus the books look fantastic.

God knows I’m loving Alafair’s.

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Song of the South

I am a son of the South; Alabama born and bred. Southerners like to think, or believe, that they are different from other Americans; they also believe they are the most patriotic Americans, despite the prevalence of Confederate flags and dedication to preserving memorials to traitors. I was born and grew up during the height of the Civil Rights movement. I remember the day Dr. King was murdered. I grew up amidst racism and segregation–there were no black children in my elementary school in Chicago, and the story was our principal would tell black families trying to enroll their children that the school was at capacity–but would then enroll the children of the next white family to come along. That racism at our school didn’t extend to Hispanics/Latinx; I shared classrooms with kids who were born in Mexico or Central America, whose families had come to the United States and Chicago–where my family moved when I was two–to escape war and poverty. Several of my teachers liked to call attention to the immigrant children in my classes, as examples of the American melting pot, how the country was a country of immigrants, and how our nation’s strength came from the combination of cultures and national identities.

Race has always been an issue in this country since the day the first slave ships arrived; the deadly seeds of poison and discord planted in a nation as yet unborn in the notion that some people are less than others, that owning human beings as though they were cattle was a legitimate enterprise. Slavery almost split the country in two; it took a rebellion and a bloody war to put an end to it…but that war didn’t solve the ultimate problem of slavery because it was never addressed: white supremacy and the belief that the US was a country of white people exclusively for white people. If you weren’t white, you could benefit from being an American but never as much as white Americans. I remember hearing, during the Civil Rights era, that Americans of color should be grateful they were Americans because they were better off as Americans than they would be anywhere else.

Even as a child, this begged the question, but isn’t the point of being American the idea that the next generation is better off than the previous? That the reason our country is great is because we all strive to do better than our parents? Isn’t that what people of color are trying to do?

Race issues in America has always been complex and complicated and nuanced.

I sometimes have wondered if I have failed as a writer by not dealing with issues of race in my books. I told a friend the other day that I will have to go back and reread all of my books to see if I allowed any racist ideas or sentiments to creep into it; even if it’s as little a thing as describing a person of color by their color, and if I fell into the horrific racist tropes of using food or drink to indicate the color of their skin–mocha, chocolate, cinnamon, etc.

Getting inside the head of racists…and people who are involved in the Klan…is something that is difficult for a lot of Americans. The rise of social media and the most recent elections have exposed a lot of people to shocking discoveries about relatives and friends, who harbor racist or at the very least, borderline racist ideologies. I’ve been pushing myself to deal with race and in particular how prevalent in can be in the rural south lately, so I am reading a lot more about it.

Lori Roy, on the other hand, decided to write a novel about it.

gone too long

The truck driving toward our house is black. Lots of cars drive past our house because there’s a good turnaround spot just down the road and the interstate is the other way. Most every car driving past wants to go the other way, and usually they’re in a hurry, but not this truck. It drives slow and it glitters when the sun hits it and the tailgate rattles like pennies in a mason jar. I hear it even though all the windows and doors are closed and locked, have to be. That’s the rule when Mama’s at work and I’m home alone.

The driver, he is a man. One of his arms hangs out the window, and something dangles from his hand. I don’t know what it is, but then he keeps slowing down, almost rolls to a stop, and as soon as he flings that something, I know. It has happened before. If Mama comes home and finds it, she’ll be angry and maybe even cancel her going-out plans for tonight. And if going-out plans are canceled, Julie Anna won’t come.

I wait until the truck rolls past before I slide off the sofa. Making sure no one will hear, I touch my feet down real soft, don’t jump like I sometimes do, and tiptoe to the front door. The lock is stiff and I have to use both hands to turn it. Mama’s big enough, it only takes her one hand to open the door, and someday, that’ll be me. The lock makes a loud click and I freeze. I tru to be quiet because I’m doing wrong and I know it. Someone is always watching, that’s what Mama likes to say, so I guess I’m sneaking so the someone, whoever that someone is, won’t see.

Lori Roy is one of our top crime writers publishing today–she has, over the course of four novels, won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and been nominated for a third. Gone Too Long is her fifth novel, and it, too, is an impressive achievement.

The book opens with the afore-mentioned first person characterization of a young girl named Beth, and the horrific thing that happens to her. She is kidnapped and held hostage in a basement somewhere, after witnessing the murder of her babysitter, Julie Anna. As if that isn’t horrific enough, we also know that it takes place seven years earlier, and that the action of the story is going to flash back and forth in time between the present and the recent past. The modern day character is a damaged young woman with red hair named Imogene, still recovering–through the use of alcohol and meaningless sexual experiences with men selected when she’s drunk–from the deaths of her husband and son in a car accident several years earlier.

Imogene just also happens to be the daughter of a recently deceased high-ranking member of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. In the present day, her father has just been buried, and her mother has found a strange wire…and asks Imogene to follow where it leads from their house. She does, comes upon an older house on their property that has been abandoned for years, and finds, in a basement similar to the one where Beth was taken, a young boy who would be about the age her son would be had he not been killed. The discovery of this child–and the discovery that the new Klan leader’s son’s girlfriend has tried to sell two incredibly expensive watches–triggers a series of events and revelations that expose the ugliness of the Klan, the ugliness of human nature, and the ugliness of life in general when your family has been devoted to the Klan for generations.

Gone Too Long is a brilliant read, immense in its scope of human emotions and the nuances of how people can rationalize the irrational, and how that irrationality can lead to the self-justification  of doing the most horrible things to other human beings; yes I know it’s wrong but I didn’t have a choice.

This is an incredibly powerful novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Alas, it won’t be available until its actual publication date on June 25th, but it can be pre-ordered, both on-line and from your local independent. Do so; pre-order it now so you can experience what is definitely going to be one of the top crime novels of 2019.

Stunning. Just stunning.

Deja Vu

Ash Wednesday!

Carnival is over for yet another year, and today it’s back to work and farewell to the flesh and all of that. We separated and sorted the beads last night, clearing off the coffee table, and now have several bags I’m going to drop off at the library donation spot this Saturday. Today is about heading back into reality; vacation is over along with Carnival, and today is about getting back on that horse. Heavy sigh. Obviously, my preference would be to stay home.

Yesterday was a day off for me; no social media, no emails, nothing. I spent the morning, after writing yesterday’s blog, reading Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long, which I am still digesting. There’s a review to come–the book isn’t released until June or July–but I want to spend some more time digesting the book and thinking about it before I write anything about it. It’s fantastic, as all Lori’s books are, but this one–and I hesitate to say this about books as a general rule–is important in some ways. I do think it’s probably going to be one of the year’s best; again, that usually is the case with any Lori Roy novel.

I also started reading Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, which is off to a rousing good start. This is part of my homework for the panel I am moderating for the Tennessee Williams Festival this year, and what a curse to have to read some fantastic books this month, you know?

I also scribbled notes in my journal for the WIP and a future Scotty, along with some notes on short stories and so forth. This most recent rejection of a short story has made me realize the stories have to dig deeper, and that’s what I am going to do with the next versions of the stories–I need to figure out who the characters are in my stories and build the stories outward from there. Usually, when I write a story, it begins as a fragment of some sort–an overheard conversation, a sentence defining who a character is–and then I build from there.  I think what I need to do going forward is branch out and write the story from its original kernel, and then break it down into its separate parts.

It’s always a learning process, isn’t it?

I also read another story from Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? 

The story is called “Pesticide”:

“And what about Jennie?” It was an old problem and the question made a kind of chorus through my life. My sister Angela was ten when I was born; my brother Bill, twelve, Margery almost fifteen. My mother had actually resumed work and I can imagine that my arrival caused her considerable inconvenience. Inconvenient–though far from unloved–I had remained; too young to share pastimes, interests, holidays; “a drag” as Angela had once said when Mother urged her to take me on a picnic.

Now, in June, as I was recovering–rather slowly–from having my tonsils removed, both my parents, archaeologists, were invited to join a “dig” in Turkey; Angela was perfecting her Italian in Perugia; Bill was doing a stint of good work with the Labrador Mission and Margery’s exact whereabouts were unknown. The last communication was from Libya, where she had a job as secretary-interpreter to a Dutchman who had a firm in Tripoli. It was a postcard of some splendid Roman ruin and it said, tersely, “Shall not be here long. will write.” No letter had arrived; nobody worried. As a family we were happy-go-lucky as well as cosmopolitan. But even my parents jibbed at the idea of leaving me alone in the house.

Several ideas were discussed and discarded for this reason or that; and then Mother had an inspiration. “I wonder if Effie could have her.”

Effie, it turns out, was the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook/babysitter who left the family before Jennie was born; she married and moved away. So Jennie now is sent to stay with Effie and her new husband–who is a monster of the worst sort, making Effie completely miserable and Jennie–a rather precocious ten year old–decides to take matters into her own hands.

Not really a ghost story, but it’s definitely Gothic and very chilling.

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Misunderstanding

Well, Iris is over for another year and as always, the ladies of Iris were most generous to Paul and I. The coffee table is now buried in beads and throws, and there’s a whole day of parades today, plus the magnificence that is Orpheus tomorrow night. We skipped Tucks and Endymion last night–we never have really gone to watch Endymion; we used to walk up St. Charles to go out dancing on that night, and always caught tons of beads from Endymion as we walked–and our attendance today is entirely dependent on the weather. The day parades have been moved up an hour already because of potentially inclement weather; but thus far Bacchus is scheduled to role tonight at its regularly scheduled time.

Paul went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday last night, leaving me home to my own devices for the evening, and so I pretty much spent the evening watching nonsense on television and reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long, which is so beautifully written I have to put it down every once in a while to digest it. I am hoping to finish reading it today before and between parade.  I am glad I have tomorrow off, so I can get all the odds-and-ends of my book finished before Orpheus rides, and on Fat Tuesday I am going to probably just relax and read most of the day. I am very behind, not only on the Short Story Project but on the Diversity Project, and I also have my TWFest homework to do as well–I have three books to read for that. But once the Festival is over and I have the first draft of the WIP finished (around April 1st, methinks), I can dive back into both projects. Huzzah!

And since I am taking today off from writing, I can spend the morning before the parades get here curled up in my easy chair with Lori’s book, which is an absolutely lovely way to spend a morning…and perhaps during the brief break between Thoth and Bacchus I can get it finished. It’s a very  well written book, and the story itself, intertwining present day grief in a family with a history of Klan leadership, is stunning in its scope and what it is trying to do, and I am here for it. It’s also interesting that it fits into one of my goals for the year–which is to read more diverse books as I try to get a better handle on this country’s horrific history with race and how that currently impacts and effects our current society–which was, as I started reading it, completely unintentional…so technically, it counts in the Diversity Project because it is about racial disparities and tackles the question of race head-on by doing something incredibly daring for this day and age–a look at the Klan from inside the family of one of its leaders.

Reminiscent of William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, which I reread earlier this year.

And now, I am going to retire to my easy chair with Lori Roy’s book and my iPad, with the electronic copy of Murder-a-Go-Go’s.

Happy Sunday, every one!

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Should’ve Never Let You Go

And my first morning of vacation looms bright, with a stunningly blue sky and the sun blinding me through my windows. The clouds will roll in later this afternoon, per the weather forecast, and the thunderstorms aren’t supposed to arrive until around eleven; well after the second parade has passed. Tonight’s parades are Druids and (Stevie) Nyx; so only two, to prep us for the madness of Thursday, which includes Muses.

So much to get done today, should I choose to do any of it; I need to get caught back up on Scotty revising, and there’s always cleaning to do around the Lost Apartment. I also have to make groceries and collect the mail, and I’d like to go to the gym at some point this afternoon as well to begin my reconnection with taking better care of my body. There’s also reading to do; I need to read the next story in the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, and I need to finish the ghost story I’m reading in Norah Lofts’ Hauntings, and of course, the delicious pleasure that is Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long also awaits on the end table next to my reclining chair. I need to set aside some time to finish that because I need to read my homework for the panel I’m moderating at the Tennessee Williams Festival–Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife, and Kristien Hemmerechts’ The Woman Who Fed the Dogs. I am also falling very far behind on the Diversity Project, which is enormously disappointing to me.

I’m sort of in a malaise in which I keep putting things off because I don’t want to do them, which isn’t really like me–or at least, the me I’ve been for the last half of my life. The first half of my life was when I just avoided things I didn’t want to deal with, which never ended well. I’m not entirely sure what’s causing it, and the Great Data Disaster of 2018 was so long ago now (three months, almost four!) that I can’t keep blaming things on it; but I can really trace this back to losing that weekend’s worth of work and getting derailed…because I was also on a roll at that point, and I’ve never quite gotten that momentum back.

Something innocuous I posted on social media blew up in a way I certainly never intended, and no, I don’t mean the post that someone needs to do a noir reboot of The Partridge Family, which I still think is a brilliant idea–after all, we never really know what happened to Shirley’s husband, who is rarely, if ever mentioned; and let’s face it, none of those kids looked even remotely related to each other. I envision Shirley as a not only a black widow going through numerous husbands and baby-daddies, but also being a horrific stage mother, forcing her children into musical careers, while having an affair with their sleazy manager, Reuben.

No, I idly posted that someone needs to do one of those music-inspired crime anthologies based on the music of Pat Benatar…and then came up with the title, Crimes of Passion: Crimes Stories Inspired by the Music of Pat Benatar.

Well, it kind of took off, with people replying to my tweet that they’d write to it, or responding on Facebook that they wanted to, even going so far as to pick the songs they wanted. At first–I was at work–I wanted to say, yo, everyone, it was just a thought, I’m not actually doing this but as the day went on I began to think, more and more, that hey, maybe you should think about doing this. More than enough people have offered to write for it, so many so that if anyone drops out there would still be more than enough stories to fill out a volume and for it to be really good.

So…I’m considering it, and considering publishers to approach. So maybe, just maybe, that will be my next anthology.

MAYBE.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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How Do I Make You

My last day of work before my Carnival vacation. It’s a long day; roughly eight am to eight pm, one of the notorious twelve hour days. But I slept really well last night, and while it’s gloomy and rainy and gray and a bit chilly out there, I am in a good mood and feel rested. Thunderstorms are forecast for the entire weekend of Carnival. I’m not sure what that’s going to do to the parade schedule, but adaptation is always necessary when it comes to the weather here. I just pray Endymion doesn’t rain out, so they wind up rescheduling to follow Bacchus on Sunday down St. Charles. That’s happened before, and it’s always a nightmare. The parade never finishes before three in the morning, and seriously–Sunday is already non-stop parades all day.

I did no revising yesterday. Shameful, I know, I was in a fairly good mood but completely unmotivated. I didn’t even read anything yesterday. Horrific, I know. I did start doing some laundry last night but didn’t finish, either. I am going to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home from work and get some things; at some point over the next few days I am probably going to make a Costco run as well. As always, I have a sink full of dishes and at least two loads of laundry to finish…

Ah, the excitement! I can only hope I won’t be too overstimulated to sleep.

I also think I am going to use this vacation time–I am out of the office from tomorrow until Ash Wednesday–to head back to the gym. I stretched a little yesterday morning, and it felt fantastic; at the very least, even if I can’t drag my enormous and ever-growing ass to the gym to do weights every day, I should at least stretch because it feels good and I love doing it. Seriously. I actually LIKE lifting weights and working out; I don’t know why I have so many issues with actually DOING it.

But that’s everything in my life, isn’t it? I love writing. I love revising. I love cleaning. I love cooking. I love working out. So why do I never want to do any of those things, and when I do them it’s always grudgingly?

So, my goals over the vacation are these: finish revising Scotty and get it to my editor; get back to writing the WIP; finish reading Lori Roy’s brilliant Gone Too Long; clean and organize the entire house; get my car washed (I parked it under a tree; you can guess the rest); get my brake tag; go to Costco and eat at Five Guys; and start working out again. I think I can make all these things happen, and hopefully once I am working out again I will continue working out. I don’t really need to lower my BMI all that much to trim off the excess fatty tissue; the problem with the size gains I’ve made over the last seven years or so is any excess fat makes it ALL look like fat. Heavy sigh.

I CAN DO IT.

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

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Desire

It’s a lovely morning, with a blue sky and the sun shining, and it might be a bit chillier than it was yesterday–but the high is forecast for the seventies and there’s no rain in the forecast.

I slept deeply and well last night, partly from exhaustion. Paul, of course, is in the final weeks before the Festival so has been working late at the office and then staying up till the wee hours of the morning working at home, so yesterday he was catching up on sleep most of the day so I was, alas, without my trusted parade route partner as I wandered down to the corner for the Pontchartrain and Choctaw parades. I did well for myself with bead-and-throw catching, but it started sprinkling while I waited for the third parade, so I walked back home. As soon as I sat down in my easy chair, however, exhaustion set in. My legs and lower back were aching, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip the next parade. As Sparta and Pygmalion were coming later, I started watching Versailles and actually got through three episodes. Paul got ready for the night parades…and it started raining. There was also thunder here–which also means lightning–and I decided that it simply didn’t make sense to stand in the rain and possibly catch a chill that would ruin the rest of the season, so I remained ensconced under my blanket in my easy chair and watched television: the CNN docuseries The 2000’s is very well done. This morning my back is still a bit sore and all the joints of my leg–hip, knee, ankle–ache a bit; but I have far too many friends riding in King Arthur to skip that one today.

And I also go on my little staycation on Wednesday, so there’s that, as well.

I do love parade season, I have to say. I may even have to write another Scotty-at-Mardi-Gras book at some point.

Or just some Mardi Gras set book. I could write a hundred books or stories about Mardi Gras and never really cover it all, you know.

How I do love New Orleans.

I also managed to revise a chapter of Scotty yesterday; I should be able to do another this morning as well. I read some more of Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long while I was grilling yesterday; it’s most excellent and you need to preorder it immediately. I also managed to get some emails cleaned out; hope to do some more this morning as well as reading the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, and perhaps another Norah Lofts ghost story.

I suppose I’ll watch the Oscars tonight after the parades. It’s really not much fun anymore, as all the pre-awards kind of take all the suspense and excitement out of the Oscars. The acting winners will be Regina King (who deserves all the awards), Mahershala Ali, Glenn Close, and Rami Malek, barring the every-once-in-a-blue-moon surprise. I’ll probably read while it’s on…although I’d love to see Olivia Colman win; not only was she amazing in The Favourite but her acceptance speeches are pure gold. But Glenn Close is way overdue; she should have won for both (or either) Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, which I’d actually like to watch again.

And now, I am waking up and needing some sustenance; perhaps some peanut butter toast or a bowl of honey-nut Cheerios?

And then it’s back to the spice mines.

Happy Carnival, all!

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