I’m Glad About It

I was very lucky with my career, in many ways. Having a partner who got a job working for a literary festival–the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival–meant years of volunteering at the event itself: writing panel descriptions, working the check-in desk on-site, and giving authors rides to and from the airport and to various events for the Festival that didn’t take place at any of the French Quarter venues. I was able to meet authors who were personal heroes of mine; some became friends, and all were open to giving advice and tips to a personal trainer in his late thirties with aspirations of being a published writer. (I also met a lot of celebrities who came to the Festival; from Kim Hunter to Alec Baldwin to Patricia Neal to Shirley Knight to Dick Cavett to Rex Reed to Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen and Zoë Caldwell–a personal favorite.) One of the biggest thrills was Sue Grafton, who was was more charming and witty and kind than I could have ever hoped. Sue Grafton, of course, was the dream career for a mystery writer: enormous success, both critical and financial; an incredibly original character that became iconic; and crowds of fans eager to meet her. But after meeting her, it was her gracious kindness that I aspired to–I might get books published but that kind of enormous success was an enormous longshot (we all aspire to have a career like that), but being gracious and kind was something I could–with a lot of self-evaluation and work on myself–actually replicate.

But one thing she said to me, with her self-awareness and trademark sense of humor, has always stuck with me. I asked her some innocuous beginner’s question about writing a series character–something she had probably been asked a gazillion times–and she took some time to think before she answered.

“Well,” she said, “One problem with having a popular series is you become a one-trick pony. All anyone ever wants from me is Kinsey–a new book, or a short story, anything, really–and that can be a bit stifling.” Then she grinned, winked, and leaned in close to add, “But you know what? I’m still grateful people want Kinsey from me, and that there are an awful lot of those people.”

The series used to be the thing for mystery writers; very few people had long term careers in the genre without having a series. But over the last twenty years, I’ve watched as series writers began straying away from their series and focusing more on stand-alones; which has not only resulted in some amazing books but extraordinary career growth. Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lehane, among many others, switched from enormously popular series to writing stand alone novels that give them more room to breathe and be creative with plot and character and voice.

And now, Kellye Garrett has joined their ranks.

I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found she’d died from the New York Daily News.

Her post was just as attention seeking as their headline. Hers came at midnight. Look back at it. #birthday #25 #grownfolksbusiness #home #nyc–all over a behind-the-back shot of her in nothing more than a black silk dress and no bra.

The article came less than twelve hours later. FORMER REALITY STAR DESIREE PIERCE FOUND DEAD IN LINGERIE IN BRONX WITH COCAINE AND NO SHOES.

I’d come straight here–to where they found her–as soon as I’d seen it.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe to confirm it was real. Maybe to hope it was not. Maybe to get one last glimpse of her even though I knew her body was long gone. Whatever the reason, I’d arrived at this particular playground in the Bronx on autopilot. The place my sister had come to just hours before. It looked how I felt–all reds and blues and worn down. It would never be accused of being the happiest place on Earth.

FORMER REALITY STAR DESIREE PIERCE FOUND DEAD IN LINGERIE IN BRONX WITH COCAINE AND NO SHOES.

I hated it. For what it said. For what it represented. For what it really meant.

Despite a lot of communication over the years, I don’t recall if I have ever actually met Kellye in person. We’ve been at many of the same events–but I don’t think we’ve ever actually met in person; if we did, it was one of those nights/afternoons in the bar at Bouchercon where alcohol has killed memory cells in my brain. But I read her first novel, Hollywood Homicide, which was the first in a series about Dayna, a struggling actress in Los Angeles who stumbles into a murder investigation. I enjoyed it tremendously; I loved the voice and the character of Dayna as well as her friends; I somehow managed to land an ARC of the sequel, Hollywood Ending, and in my inimitable Greg way, I was saving it for when her next book came out, so I would always have another Kellye Garrett book to read. Then, disaster. Midnight Ink, the publishers of the Dayna series, was sold and shuttered. I knew Kellye was still writing, so I kept holding on to Hollywood Ending, waiting for the new book. Her agent generously sent me a print ARC of her new book, Like A Sister, which I had already pre-ordered; (I entered a Goodreads giveaway Kellye tweeted; I replied “Done! (I never win anything.)” It arrived during a very busy Greg period–finishing my own book, Christmas, MWA board changeover–and so it sat on top of the TBR stacks in the living room, glaring at me when I was too tired in the evening after work to read anything. Then, last week, my preordered copy arrived–and what a gorgeous looking book it is. (Look at that cover up there!)

And yes, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

I started reading it this past week after work on Wednesday. Thursday night I was too tired to read; Friday was another busy work-at-home day for me, and so yesterday morning, after finishing my on-line duties for the day, I decided to treat myself to a few hours of the book before moving on to other chores and things that needed doing.

Five hours later I finished the book. It literally was one of those “oh, another half-hour won’t hurt” over and over again until “Well, I might as well finish; there’s only a hundred pages left.”

Wow. What a fun ride this book is, from start to finish. Garrett grabs your attention with that opening above, and never lets go.

The plot focuses on Lena Scott, who lives in the Bronx and is attending Columbia while living in the house she inherited from her grandmother. (Her grandmother’s long time partner also lives there in one of the two apartments inside–more on her later, and yes, I said her.) Her own mother is dead; she is estranged from her music mogul father and his wife; and she has also been estranged from Desiree, her half-sister, for two years. The guilt that she never made up with Desiree before she died eats at Lena, who doesn’t believe for one moment that Desiree overdosed on heroin–she was always afraid of needles–and of course, no one really listens to her, so she starts investigating on her own. There are a lot of twists and turns here, as well as the mystery serving as an self-realization journey for Lena–who begins finding out that a lot of the truths about her family she has always believed aren’t necessarily the truth. Along the way she meets a reporter who may or may not be a love interest; becomes close to one of Desiree’s best friends (the Instagram hashtag #likeasister is where the title of the book comes from); and the incredibly dysfunctional family pieces begin coming back together along the way. I particularly loved the relationship between Lena and her father; Garrett is wonderful at depicting these family relationships and how delicate they can be, and how easy it is for family to fall out and stay apart over misunderstandings.

The pacing of the book is remarkable; you become so deeply vested in the story and the characters you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them. Lena’s voice alone is reason enough to read the book; it’s powerful, vulnerable yet strong at the same time. We understand her, root for her, feel for her, want everything to work out for her, and we also feel her pain–pain born from years of fraught family relationships in a dynamic so complicated and delicate that it’s no wonder it went off the rails. But the writing is also strong and witty; some lines were so clever I shared them on social media, and would have shared even more had I been willing to take the time to put the book down to type on my phone. Character, story, and dialogue are all there at the highest level as well.

And being familiar with her former work, I am even more amazed at how easily Garrett was able to shift from a cozy mystery series into something else; a stand alone crime novel that also explores questions of privilege, celebrity, stardom, and family.

I also loved loved loved that Lena’s closest family attachment is to her grandmother’s widow, Aunt E. I loved that a long-term lesbian relationship was Lena’s only real role model for a successful romantic relationship. I loved that the fact her grandmother had a female partner was portrayed as not a big deal and normal (thank you thank you thank you for this) and that no one had a problem with it within the family. I love that an older lesbian character is the moral compass for the family. This, folks, is a master class on how to include queer characters into your work–and inclusion matters.

I was bummed to see the Dayna series end–but delighted this incredible growth as a writer was the result. I cannot wait to see what Garrett does next, and watching her career grow and develop further is going to be incredibly exciting for me as a reader and a fan.

Highly recommended, everyone. Jump on this one and thank me later.

Baby Love

Thursday and I have a lot of work to get done today. I was exhausted yesterday and very low energy for most of the day; the coffee never kicked into high gear (I assumed that all it managed in the face of yesterday’s exhaustion was keeping me awake, alas and alack) but it’s fine. Sometimes you need those low energy, low production days to recharge your batteries, and mine certainly feel charged this morning. I am hoping against hope that this means a highly productive day here in the Lost Apartment; one can certainly hope so at any rate. I did start some things yesterday that I never finished, so that’s up first while I am still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (which has always struck me as an odd thing to say) and then I am going to dive back into the book headfirst.

Under normal circumstances, I would have woken up at the Marriott Marquis at Times Square this morning and would be writing this on my laptop in my room while swilling coffee from the Starbucks on the eighth floor (with which I became very well acquainted during my stay there back in November). But thanks to the latest variant, the trip was cancelled and no New York for me in January for the second year in a row. It’s just as well, I suppose–I’m not certain I would have been able to finish the book while on the road, and that’s kind of important; although knowing the trip was still happening would have made me push harder last weekend and this week before leaving to try to get as much handled as possible.

I was very tired last evening after the day’s business was concluded, so I basically went down some Youtube wormholes while waiting for Paul to come home so we could get back into Stay Close, the new Harlan Coben show on Netflix, which is quite intriguing seeing how all the disparate stories are connected together as the show progresses. Ozark is coming back soon, which is exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing the new John Cena super-anti-hero show when it finally drops. Superman and Lois has also returned, and I watched the first episode of its second season last night while waiting for Paul to get home–it’s the best interpretation of the Superman mythos since Christopher Reeve; if you’re a Superman fan you really should be watching it–and it looks like the second season will be just as good as the first.

It’s chilly again this morning in New Orleans; not as bad as yesterday (I did wonder if the cold had something to do with my low energy day yesterday) but chilly enough to be noticeable. The sun is out though, which is always a plus, and the sunshine certainly helps my mood dramatically. I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I? Heavy sigh. But this is working to warm me up and get my brain going while I swill down my coffee, and that’s always what the purpose of this has been–to get my brain and creativity going in the mornings so I can get things done. I just realized I didn’t mark the anniversary of the blog, started on Livejournal back in the day; right around Christmas 2004, to be exact, which means this blog has been going now for well over seventeen years over two different servers. That is a ridiculous amount of blogging, really; it’s something I should probably be better about archiving. (Which reminds me: I still need to find my old journals, don’t I?)

I also want to start reading the new Alafair Burke; maybe I’ll carve some time out today between the writing and the watching of television to come tonight to spend some time with it. I am choosing not to read the jacket copy; I want to be completely surprised by the story when I read it. I also want to start reading some more of Laura Lippman’s short stories in her collection Seasonal Work, and of course my TBR pile is completely out of control. Heavy sigh. But I think I can get some pruning and organizing done around the writing today; sometimes you have to get up and walk away from the computer, and that’s going to help me get some other things done over the next few days (oh, the shelves in the laundry room stress me out every time I walk in there) and of course, there’s always some laundry to do, and the floors, and the dishes…heavy sigh. It never ends, does it?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow morning.

I’m In Love Again

Monday.

I was supposed to leave for New York on Wednesday, but thanks to anti-vaxxers and maskless wonders, our in-person board orientation for Mystery Writers of America was cancelled for the second consecutive year, which is annoying. I could cancel my vacation requests, but…am kind of hoping that I can use the time to get caught up on everything and my book is due soon, so….extra time certainly can come in handy about right now. So I only have two days in the office this week, and since next Monday is a holiday, I have essentially a week off from work, which is lovely.

I worked on the book yesterday–huzzah!–and now have only one chapter left to do and the revisions. The revisions aren’t going to be easy–but at least with the New York trip cancelled I’ll be home on vacation starting Wednesday, which should give me some breathing and working space in the meantime. Huzzah? Huzzah. At least the cancellation of the trip has a good side effect in one manner. Tonight after work I have to rush home to do a phone interview and after that, the January Bookathon for Bold Strokes Books; so it’s going to be a rather long day for me. I need to try to edit my short story and try to finish/edit the article I have due today between clients–which won’t be easy–so overall, it could very easily be a rather stressful day for me; long at any rate, and will undoubtedly be very tired when it’s finally comes to an end this evening, about an hour or so before I have to go to bed so I can get up early tomorrow morning…but then I have Wednesday off, so we’ll see how it all goes. Wednesday I definitely am going to have to spend writing and revising my butt off….Thursday and Friday as well. Sigh. But I like the book and think it is going to turn out okay, which is always pleasing for me–the crippling self-doubt will inevitably come later. It’s been a fun challenge working on this book; I am relatively certain by the time Monday rolls around I’ll be quite over it by then, in all honesty. but it’s a fun little book and I hope that the revision process develops it into the nice little read it has always intended to be (my brain is feverishly working on how it all turns out and how to get to that place in the story).

We got caught up on Yellowjackets last night, and have come to the sorry conclusion that this is merely season one and not a self-contained mini-series last night; I see no conceivable way they can wrap this all up and all the mysteries with a single hour episode–and I also suspect we are probably not going to get the answers we want and need, either. Which is fine; we certainly have been enjoying the ride thus far, and the writing and acting are pretty pinpoint sharp, too. We also started watching the new Harlan Coben Netflix show, Stay Close, which is also quite fun if a bit confusing. I still don’t understand how all the disparate storylines all come together or what is going on, but as always, it’s just fun to sit back and enjoy the ride with Harlan’s shows.

I also need to get back to reading once I finish this book; I’ve not been able to focus on doing any reading lately because I’ve been focusing what little energy I have on writing the book. I was on quite a roll there for a while, and it would be very nice to get back to reading again. The TBR pile continues to grow, and it’s past time for me to do another living room book purge. I’d intended to get another box down from the attic this weekend but…book and cleaning focus prevented that; I may be able to get to this whilst I am on vacation this week. (I suspect I am planning to be overly ambitious again this week with my time off, and of course a gazillion other things will pop up in the meantime that will distract me from getting everything finished that needs to be finished–as always–but hope will always spring eternal.)

Seriously, just looking at my inbox gives me the hives.

But recoiling away from it isn’t going to solve the problem, so it’s best for me to grit my teeth, put on my helmet, and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

Baby I’m Burnin’

Monday and a lovely vacation day, which meant not getting up at six and dragging for the earlier portion of my day. Instead, I stayed in bed until nine again–a streak that’s been going for several days now–and I suspect tomorrow morning’s alarm is going to be an incredibly rude return to reality. But I only have to get up early two days this week, and I only have one work-at-home day on Thursday because I decided to take the splurge and take my birthday off as well. Next week I only have to work two days before the Bouchercon vacation week kicks in, and then I don’t have to return to work until the following Tuesday.

I am rather glad I decided to keep that vacation week, in all honesty.

I am doing an event this evening on Zoom for the Anne Arundel County library; it’s a Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter panel on writing diversity, or diversity in your writing, or something like that. It seems like it will be a great and interesting time–I’ve been wrong before, but I have no worries on that score here–and if you have any interest in watching/listening, you can register here. They are obviously cutting off registration at the starting time of 7pm EDT. Join us! It’s an interesting group: Cathy Wiley, Sherry Harris, Cheryl Head, Paula Mays and Kristopher Zgorski–me, too, of course. I am looking forward to it.

I finished watching Loki last night, which was great fun–cannot wait for the second season–although I do wish they’d allow Tom Hiddleston to let him use his real hair and get rid of the wig. That long dark wig detracts from how pretty he is–at least in my opinion–and he has such gorgeous eyes. But I am digressing, and I do think it was a great fun show–very clever and interesting–with a great season-ending cliffhanger it will be interesting to see them write their way out of, in all honesty; I always am interested in major cliffhangers from a writer’s point of view; I always like to see how they write their way out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into. We then watched the most recent Titans episode, and then binged our way through the latest Harlan Coben Netflix show, Gone for Good, which was chock full of twists and turns and surprises–and the main story, as is often the case with Harlan’s work, isn’t what it appears to be in the very beginning, or even through the first episode or two. It was. French production, which meant listening in French and reading the English subtitles; it’s hard for me to imagine that there was a time when I wouldn’t watch shows because they were in foreign languages and subtitled. Ah well, we do continue to learn as we get older.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; I did finish a revision of “The Sound of Snow Falling,” but not much beyond that–other than some note-taking in my journal, as well as going through the last four or five of them and marking the pages containing notes on the Kansas book AND Chlorine; today I have errands to run, and I do have to go to the gym at some point, but I plan on getting the kitchen finished (ZOOM tonight, after all) and those notes on the Kansas Book typed up; the final revision of that book has to get started this week so I can buckle down next week whilst on vacation and get it completely redone the way it needs to be redone, so its readable. I am looking forward to this challenge, if not the actual work that has to be done.

So, was this long weekend a waste for me? Old Gregalicious would certainly think so; Chapter Four of Chlorine remains unwritten; just as the notes for the revision of #shedeservedit remain scribbles on several sheets of notebook paper and three boxes still repose under my desk. I haven’t gone anywhere near the attic to try to prune down the boxes up there; and I have yet to clean out the vacuum cleaner and run it over the floors of the downstairs. But I feel rested, relaxed, and remarkably stress-free; perhaps the bromide be kinder to yourself is actually working its magic on my psyche and my soul and my fevered brain.

Or I’ve simply gotten too old to care about that stuff anymore. It could be either, really.

My errands should be relatively simple and easy to get through (the post office, the bank, groceries, gas for the car) and then of course I need to walk to the gym in the middle of the heat-soaked humidity-laden afternoon. And of course then it’s time to get some stuff done around the house and maybe do some writing and reading before getting ready for tonight’s event. I am over half-way finished with The Other Black Girl, and it’s pretty amazing, really–more on it, of course, when I am ready to discuss the book on its completion. I think the next book I’m going to read is either Yes Daddy or A Beautiful Crime; it’s fun to be reading gay books again, and maybe I should stop shying away from them. I really don’t care anymore if people think I’m jealous of other people’s careers–I’m not, and I can’t control what other people think of me even if I was, and I’ve long since stopped caring what other people think of me at any rate; just as they can’t control what I think about anything or anyone.

So, I probably should get a-move on for this morning. I generally run errands around noon; which gives me about an hour of email answering and cleaning up to do around here before i leave the house. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Shake it Up

Well, I wrote the timeline for Bury Me in Shadows last night–lame as it was; I am waiting for my editor to write me back and say, um, you could have made more of an effort on this. But it’s done, and I am well relieved to be out of those woods–for now, at any rate. I am kind of mentally fatigued; two books back to back like this will tend to do that to one–although I used to do it all the time; book after book after book. But I also didn’t used to have to get up at six three days a week, either, nor did I ever have the insomnia issues like I do these days. Last night was another of those nights where Morpheus chose to not visit my bed, but I feel relatively okay at the moment, as I swill my first cappuccino. I am sure I will hit a wall later today. Tonight is also supposed to be a gym night, but…we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve decided to put aside the Thomas Perry novel for now. It’s very well done, but I am not connecting with it, which is more my problem than Perry’s; I am just not in the mind space right now for a hired killer thriller. I’ll come back to it at some point, I am sure; so it goes back into the TBR pile rather than into the donation box. I’ve actually gone on a tear with buying ebooks on sale (or for free) lately, and I’ve also gotten some wonderful e-galleys stored in my iPad–including this year’s titles from Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, not to mention some sparkling debuts and some wonderful classics. Yesterday I finally figured out how to sort my ebooks (I am such a Luddite) in the iPad by title, so I could see how many duplicates there were–and there were quite a few, so I deleted all the duplicates to free up space as well as make it easier to find things in there. I think when I go visit my parents, I may just take my iPad instead of books with me to read–although I am taking the hard copy of From Here to Eternity with me–that way I can read through take-off and landing…although I suppose one could just put the device on airplane mode but I still think they make you power it down. It’s been so long since I’ve flown anywhere, it’s hard to remember. I just ordered some more books with points from credit cards that should be arriving this week–yes, yes, I know; I shouldn’t continue buying more books when I still have massive TBR piles–but I’ve cleaned out so many books over the past few months that I thought why not use the points and get some new titles, as well as the Laurie R. King backlist. I am still planning on reading something else before treating myself to A Letter of Mary–I just haven’t decided what just yet. I am torn between She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau (which Les Diaboliques was based on) and The Cook by Harry Kressing, which was filmed as Something for Everyone with Michael York and Angela Lansbury–a classic and bizarre queer film from the early 1970’s–it’s on Youtube.

Or…maybe something else.

We watched another episode of The Innocent last night; this show is so damned good and full of didn’t-see-that-coming plot twists! Of all the Harlan Coben shows on Netflix, this is my favorite so far–not really surprising, since Paul and I have fallen in love with Spanish-language crime shows (cannot WAIT for season 4 of Elite to drop)–we talked about this last night, and Paul said–and I agree–this particular show wouldn’t be as good in English, or if it was set in the US or England or France.

Of course, hot Spanish and/or Mexican actors might play a part in our thought process. Just sayin’.

I also have a story in yet another anthology that is dropping in June and can be preordered now: Unburied, edited by Rebecca Rowland, from Dark Ink Press. My story is “Night Follows Night”; which I wrote an original draft of years ago for an MWA anthology–I think–that didn’t get accepted. I revised and rewrote it a number of times, and when this call for submissions was forwarded to me by Felice Picano (thanks, Felice!) I thought, well, “Night Follows Night” loosely fits this call, and sent it off–and was very delighted to hear back from Rebecca that she loved it and wanted it. Yay! This was the same period last year where I sent off five stories in one day and sold three of them within 24 hours–which was exactly what I needed to have happen at the time, as I was going through one of my malaise periods…nothing like selling three stories in less than twenty-four hours to get you past that hump (the other two were rejected, but that was expected; they were long-shots to begin with).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. I hope I have enough energy to make it through this day–I was planning on going to the gym tonight, but the lack of sleep for two days running means that probably won’t happen….

Run

Monday morning, and we had some amazing thunderstorms last night. I didn’t sleep great–I had hoped, being worn out from the gym, on top of the thunderstorms, would have done the trick but no such luck, of course. I don’t feel terribly tired or exhausted this morning–at least, not yet–but I am also not exactly bouncing off the walls or hanging from the ceiling, either.

Sigh. Just another day to get through, really.

I’m glad that I got the revisions finished and turned in–note to self: get timeline typed up and sent in today–and I think the book is fairly decent, not bad at all, really (I actually had worried my mind would change on that score after a day or two but no); and now on track for the fall release, which will be lovely. I also have an out-of-control inbox again this morning (as always) and am desperately going to try to get that under control again, or at least make it manageable, by the end of today.

I read The Butcher’s Boy for a while yesterday, but it’s not terribly compelling; it’s interesting, and I like Mr. Perry’s writing style, but at the same time it’s not really a page turner–or I haven’t gotten to the part where the story kicks heavily into gear yet; which is fine. I’d hoped to finish reading it over the weekend, but if I spend some time with it every night for a few hours, I should be able to dive into Laurie R. King’s A Letter of Mary without guilt this weekend. I am also going to try to get a short story revised and/or finished this week; I simply haven’t decided which one. Who knows? I may not ever even pick one–my mind is always such a sieve these days.

We started watching Harlan Coben’s The Innocent last night on Netflix, blowing through four episodes (halfway done), with episode four ending with a massive plot twist/cliffhanger. It’s a Spanish show, and the lead actor is incredibly, almost ridiculously good-looking (Mario Casas), and the show is very well-cast, well-written, and full of almost constant surprises. It’s much too complicated to try to do justice, but the lead, Mateo, accidentally kills someone in a fight outside a bar, goes to jail for manslaughter for four years, and then comes out and falls in love…flash forward a few years and his girlfriend has mysteriously disappeared, someone is trying to kill him, and a nun commits suicide….all of these disparate threads are inevitably connected….which is the big surprise at the end of Episode 4.

Cannot wait to dive back into it tonight.

Ah, the caffeine and the coffee cake are starting to kick in; the question remains how long will this last? Hopefully long enough to see me through this Monday. Can you believe, Constant Reader, that is already May? Where did the first third of this year go already? #madness. It just astounds me how endless 2020 seemed, and now 2021 is running through my hands like mercury. But I still hope to get my novellas and short stories and some other things done this year…FOCUS, Greg, FOCUS.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulous day, Constant Reader.

Every Little Counts

Sunday funday, and how are you, Constant Reader?

Yesterday was lovely because the fatigue was gone, which was so lovely you really have no idea, Constant Reader. My arm was still sore so I didn’t go to the gym (going today), but feeling alert and not being bone tired exhausted, to the point that climbing the stairs to the second floor was an actual ordeal? It was actually quite marvelous. I got up in the morning and had my coffee, and then started working. I cleaned and organized the laundry room and the bookshelves in there; cleaned up the kitchen and did a shit ton of filing; reorganized even more books; put some things up in the storage space over the laundry room; and then started going through my old journals. There were a couple of reasons for this, actually–first off, to remove the sticky notes marking the pages where ideas and thoughts and so forth for Bury Me in Shadows had been scribbled, and secondly, to mark the places where I’d scribbled thoughts and notes for the Kansas book. Revisiting the journals is always an interesting experience for me, to be honest. It’s always interesting (at least to me) to see evidence of how my mind works and how I follow the path my creativity lays out for me, from step to step to step. It was fun seeing how I worked out issues with Bury Me in Shadows–Royal Street Reveillon as well, since the journals bridged the last few years and the course of writing several books and numerous short stories. It was fun seeing the notes I took while watching a movie for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, or on books I was reading. And the short story ideas! During the filing, I came across numerous folders for short stories I couldn’t remember anything about; yet there was the genesis for many of them, in my big looping scrawl on the pages of my journal (and yes, the original, older posts called it Bury Me in Satin still). I was also pleased to see some valuable notes and insights into the Kansas book, the characters, and the plot.

I really should revisit my journals with a greater degree of regularity.

I also spent some time with Alyssa Cole’s marvelous When No One Is Watching–although I have to confess I made an enormous mistake in assumption that made me go back and recheck something from earlier. It was actually rather funny, but I will not humiliate myself further by telling you exactly what that mistaken assumption was–I have some pride; not much, but some. But it’s really a terrific book, and I am savoring it slowly, to make it last. (I am probably going to spend some more time with it this morning.)

Overall, I am very pleased with myself for all the work I got one yesterday; I am ready to start diving into the book. I went through the entire thing yesterday, catching a lot of things that will either need to be deleted and reworked,–there’s a lot to be added as well–and also made a cast list, to determine what names need to be changed and so forth. This was productive and am very glad that I did it to be completely honest. I feel like I know my characters and my story and my setting again, which is great, and I also worked for a while on a short story last night–“The Sound of Snow Falling”–which, of course, isn’t one of the stories I am considering sending out for submission anywhere, but for some reason the story was in my head last night and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I started scribbling in my journal.

We started watching season two of Servant last night, which is extraordinary. It’s very weird, very creepy, and the acting is so fucking stellar it’s hard to believe the show hasn’t caught more buzz. Lauren Ambrose is killing it, as is Rupert Grint in as huge a departure from Ron Weasley as you can get. It’s about tragedy, handling tragedy, and dealing with the fallout from a horrific tragedy. No one on the show is truly mentally well-balanced, and they are making all kinds of really bad decisions…but I can’t wait to see where it goes, because I have no clue where it’s going or what’s going to happen. We also finished off season two of Bonding, which wasn’t nearly as much fun or as witty as the first season, but it looks like season two is going to be the end of it. It’s an interesting look into the world of Dom/subs, though; particularly when it comes to consent. I do recommend it, despite the second season not being as interesting and well done as the first. But definitely check out Servant–it’s worth it for the performances alone.

My arm still is a bit sore this morning, so I am going to skip the gym again today; perhaps I will try to go tomorrow night after work, or will wait til Tuesday; not really sure and will probably play it by ear. But I slept very well again last night–even slept in a bit this morning–so at least my sleep is back under control for now. It really does make an enormous difference in my energy levels and in getting things done. The area around my desk still looks pretty messy and sloppy and cluttered, so I am going to work on that for a bit this morning as well.

Recently there was one of those things on Twitter–the kind that gets people a bit up in arms. Some author of whom I had never heard before tweeted something along the lines of “harsh truths”, claiming that for writers, other writers are not our friends but rather our competition, which made me rear back from my computer screen (it may have been my phone’s screen, I don’t honestly remember)…but my initial reaction was that is really way off base followed by what other writers do you know, dude to finally feeling kind of bad for the guy if that was his experience. Sure, writing can be considered a competitive thing; agents can only have so many clients, publishers so many slots for books, award nominations are limited, and so are reviews–no reviewer, after all, can cover every book published even under the best of circumstances–so yes, that is sort of true in a very very base, simplistic way of looking at the publishing industry. I have long made the point that writers should always be supportive of other writers, and that any success enjoyed by any writer is generally a win for all writers. How can that be, you may well ask, Constant Reader, so let me explain it a little further.

People love to take swipes at writers who have become so successful they actually are brands–James Patterson is a really good example of this–but the truth about Mr, Patterson is this: he gives back in many ways to the community. He has grants to support bookstores. He hires co-writers to do books with him and pays them extremely well–which also leads his vast legions of readers to check out that author’s solo works, and moves copies of those as well. His enormous success also gives his publisher a cushion to work with authors whose works might not be as hugely successful as Patterson’s, and this gives them a safety net–“this book is really creative and interesting and deserves to be published even though it might not have a big market, but we’re going to make a shit ton of money from this Patterson book in the same catalogue so we can take that risk.” This is one of the many reasons I never trash other writers here or on panels; no matter whether I enjoy their work or not, I have to respect the effort that went into creating the book (which is never easy, no matter what anyone may think).

I do, however, reserve the right to be snarky about the Twilight series.

But one of the things I’ve loved most about being a writer is that most writers are terrific people and a lot of fun to spend time with. I have a lot of friends who are also writers, but I don’t see any of them as “competition”, which is absurd on its face. How can I possible consider Harlan Coben or Laura Lippman or Michael Connelly as competition? Megan Abbott? Jeff Abbott? Michael Nava? We have completely different writing styles, we don’t write about the same characters, we don’t write the same stories. Sure we are all crime writers, but the notion of any of those people, all of whom I admire greatly, being competitors? If that is truly the case, I would have to give up. Period. I also don’t resent the success of other writers, either–I think any writer achieving success is a win for all writers, because it’s rare and hard to do. I personally love seeing an author break out–particularly if it’s someone who has been slogging along for a while with some small success. Sure, I would much prefer that I be the one to have that success, but that author’s success wouldn’t have been mine had they not come along with whatever book it was that broke them out..and resenting someone else’s success has always felt like bad energy to put into the universe to me.

The original tweet blew up, of course, and was eventually deleted due to backlash–I don’t think that was the kind of success the guy had in mind when he tweeted it–but one of the reasons I enjoy going to conferences so much isn’t speaking on panels or doing signings or readings…sure, I enjoy interacting with readers who’ve enjoyed my books or want to check them out, but for me, it’s about hanging around other writers…we inevitably have a great time, and it’s fun to be around other people who love books and writing and–no matter what their level of success may be–understand exactly how hard the process of writing and creating actually is for everyone who does it. And it is hard…but would it be worth doing if it wasn’t a challenge?

And on that note, tis back to Alyssa Cole and then the spice mines.

Independence Day

Sunday, and bleary eyed, having woken up at my normal time which is actually an hour earlier than usual. Yes, I set the alarm, so I won’t have trouble sleeping tonight. I fucking hate Daylight Savings Time, and if anyone ran on a ticket of cancelling it once and forever, that candidate would not only have my vote but my support for the rest of my life.

Probably an exaggeration.

Probably.

I slept in until nine o’clock this morning, which is really only eight, but you know how that goes. We stayed up late finishing Harlan Coben’s The Stranger on Netflix, and it was quite good and enjoyable; an extremely complicated plot, but those are always fun–if a little confusing at first when you don’t see how all the various threads are all connect together, but as they begin to come together and you start to see the pattern–it’s pretty cool.

I am still processing Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, and I imagine I will be for quite some time. It really is an exceptional novel, and I am really looking forward to reading the entire Goodman canon. As I said yesterday, it’s always the best writers who inspire me, give me ideas for new stories and new ways to tell stories, and inspire me to do better.

I also got about a hundred pages into Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, which is quite entertaining and a lot of fun to read as well. I hope to have some more time to read it today; but naturally yesterday I didn’t get as much writing done as I needed to get done–I did do some cleaning and organizing STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT–but the great irony was I had two story documents open and started working on them…only to write about a thousand words between before realizing neither one of these stories is due at the end of the  month, you fucking moron. Yes, I worked on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “You Won’t See Me” instead of the Sherlock story or the others that are due at the end of the month. Why? Because I am a complete and total moron, that’s why. So, today I am going to probably work on the Sherlock story and revise the one I am submitting to the Sacramento Bouchercon anthology; I doubt it will get picked because of the content, but at least I tried, you know? And I am going to do some work on the Secret Project this morning as well.

I also need to make it to the gym today, and today is a raise-the-weights day. Yay? But the great thing about the gym is I don’t have to go until later today–they are open until five, so I might as well get my work done before i head over there, because usually once I am done with the gym I don’t really seem to have the energy to get anything else done once i get back home. I also need to wade through my emails–not something I particularly want to do, frankly, but I can’t put things off forever, no matter how much I want to.

And sometimes I like to pretend they aren’t there, you know?

But it’s time for me to get on with it, I suppose–heading on into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

I cannot say I am not happy to see this past week end; for all intents and purposes, it was much more stressful than any week needs to be and equally disappointing. It was both tiresome and tiring; irritating, really, like an itchy rash that just won’t go away, frankly. By Tuesday night I was so exhausted already it felt like a Friday; and yet there were three more days yet to go and it never really got any better.

Begone, foul week! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I am so far behind on my emails now I may never dig my way out; that’s part of the plan for this weekend, at any rate; to try to get caught up on everything and make some progress. I had some stomach issues yesterday so I wound up staying home rather than heading to the office (the bathrooms aren’t close enough to my desk, and yes, I think you get the picture) so I spent most of the day recalibrating and doing some chores around the house and trying to get caught up on everything. But progress was made; I started getting my electronic files in the cloud better organized (which is quite a chore, I might add; one that is sort of mindless yet time-consuming in the worst way), and did some filing and so forth. There’s still quite a bit more to get done today, of course (isn’t there always?)  but I also want to get some writing done before the month slips away through my fingers. Ideally, I’d like to get a first draft of the Sherlock story finished as well as a revision of the one I’m revising for that anthology; and there’s another one I want to revise to send to the Bouchercon anthology. I’d also like to make some progress on the Secret Project, but that’s also predicated on my getting this short story work taken care of. I cannot believe how many stories I’ve started writing recently; it’s more than a little insane, methinks.

But then again, it seems pretty standard for my life–chaos, disorganization, and more chaos.

One would think I’d be used to it by now.

I also want to finish reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls today, if I can; so i can get started on Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One. I am moderating a panel with her, Elizabeth Little (Pretty as a Picture) and  Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake) at the Tennessee Williams Festival at the end of the month, and it’s always better to be prepared to discuss their latest works. Don’t worry, I’ll also be asking Lippman about My Life as a Villainess, her essay collection coming out later this year.

We watched another episode of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger last night. It’s a fun, twisty show, with a rather complicated narrative; I think it’s actually better than his last one, The Five. I am way behind on my Coben reading–so far behind I may never catch up–but I do enjoy that he writes suspense novels built around family/friend structures. I’m behind on everyone, so don’t feel special, Harlan! I am also way behind on my reading of Michael Koryta, Jeff Abbott, Stephen King, and any number of other white males; prioritizing diverse writers and women (and a year judging the Edgars) will do that to one, I suppose. I really wanted to read The Outsider (Stephen King) before watching the show; perhaps once I finish the Goodman and the Rader-Day I can move on to the King and we can finally watch the show. I’ve become rather an enormous fan of Jason Bateman, and really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

We also lose an hour tonight; the part of Daylight Savings Time that I really hate. But I do like having longer days; I like it still being light when I come home from work, or at least, the light fading into night rather than the velvety darkness of a winter nocturne. It’s a bright, sunny day out there today; I am debating whether I do want to go get the mail–it would be my only adventure out into the world today–and am thinking I might do it. I hate only going once in the week, but on the other hand I’m also not expecting any packages or anything urgent (read: a check) in the mail, either. But it looks like a lovely day outside–and perhaps I can do some scouting after I get the mail. We shall certainly see how I feel.

I think this morning I am going to read some more of the Goodman novel while I have my morning coffee, and then after a few hours of that I’ll decide whether I do, in fact, want to leave the house. (odds are I won’t, quite frankly. I know myself all too well)

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. May your Saturday be bright and happy and full of cheer.

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