Skullcrusher

Well, yesterday was not one of my better days; it started off not great–right around the time I started getting ready to leave for work–and continued through the beginnings of my day at the office. No need to get into the frustrations and irritations involved (one of them being not being able to find a check for a short story I last had my hands on Saturday but the fucking bank was closed and now I can’t find it), but just before my actual clients started showing up I took a very deep breath and cleared my mind and cleansed it of everything poisonous that the incompetence and thoughtlessness of others put there and sallied forth into my day.

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

After work I went to the gym–had been blowing it off for just over a week, he admittedly shamefacedly, but it was cold–and that was lovely. I came home and cleaned the kitchen, and when Paul got home we watched two more episodes of Bridgerton, which is oddly enjoyable and addicting. My favorite character by far is Eloise Bridgerton; what a delight she is, rejecting everything having to do with being a proper lady and just wanting to live her own life and expand her brain. We have yet but one episode left to go before it’s all over until the next season drops, and I shall sorely miss it; it’s just pure unadulterated fun, while at the same time making me wonder that for so many centuries we put so little store by women other than for them to be wombs, property of their husbands. It’s also a bit racy–I can’t believe one of the major plot points revolves around Simon not, er, um, shooting his load inside his wife, our heroine Daphne. But Regency England society was pretty racy; I was just talking to Paul last night about how this period has never been of much interest to me because of the Regency–Prince George was a bit of a monster–and of course by the time of the events of this show, Queen Charlotte was already dead; but frankly I am glad Charlotte is the one in charge instead of her wretched son.

Today is also pay day, aka pay the bills day (huzzah?)–it seems like we just got paid, really–and so at some point this morning I shall have to make the car payment as well as pay the other bills as well. Oh, how I long for the day when the car is finally paid off; it seems like I’ve been making that enormous monthly payment forever now. I didn’t sleep all that well last night–worry about all the things I have to do, no doubt; I feel as though there are several swords of Damocles hanging over my head at this point in time–but as always, there is nought to do but simply put my head down and start ploughing through everything until I can get as caught as I can while other new and interesting and sometimes tedious tasks and chores pile up around me. But at least this morning I came downstairs to a clean kitchen, which was lovely, and my desk is completely in order (I looked for that check again last night when I got home; nowhere to be found, alas; but it shall eventually turn up somewhere, I am certain), which was even lovelier, quite frankly. Although I didn’t sleep much or well over the course of the evening I don’t feel tired this morning–that will undoubtedly come along later–so I am very hopeful that the tiredness won’t be too terrible this afternoon and so I can get some writing done this evening. I have another short story I want to reconstruct for a submissions call with a deadline later this spring; I have a story that is absolutely perfect for the call–I just need to make some serious adjustments to it (I actually borrowed the entire structure and setting of this particular story for my Joni Mitchell story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings), but I already know how to revise it and make it work; it’s just finding the time to sit down and go through the many drafts it’s already been through and figuring out how to get it done properly.

I’m also trying to decide what to read next–I have e-galleys of the new Hilary Davidson as well as the new Alison Gaylin; both look superb–but I have so many wonderful books on hand in the TBR pile already! A plethora of riches, as it were.

I’ve also fallen down a massive Louisiana history black hole, something that may come in handy when I want to write another Sherlock story. Belle Grove was one of the biggest houses in Louisiana; located in Iberville Palace not far from Nottoway–the White Castle–Belle Grove was actually pink and called the Pink Palace. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt; I can’t imagine the upkeep on a place like that, or, for that matter, the upkeep on Houmas House or Nottoway or Oak Alley must be outrageous as well. I think my version of Belle Grove will be set in my fictional Redemption Parish; I always tie my stories together, remember? The modern Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock updated “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “A Scandal in Belgravia”; why should I not title mine “A Scandal at Belle Grove”?

These are the things I think about when my mind wanders, as it is so apt to do when given such an opportunity.

And on that note, tis back off to the shower with me, and off to the office. Have a lovely Inauguration Day, Constant Reader!

60 Miles an Hour

So yesterday I was a guest at Chicks on the Case blog, which was a lot of fun. I was invited to guest post by the delightful Ellen Byron, an accomplished mystery writer who writes a wonderful Louisiana Cajun country-based series beginning with Plantation Shudders, and also writes as Maria DiRico, who writes the catering hall mystery series. (you can read more about her, and order her books by clicking here!) I’ve not done the guest blog thing in a while, and it was quite fun. I tackled one of the weirder parts of my writing process–how I have to always start with a title, whether it is the final title or not–and was pleased to find out, based on the comments, that it’s not as strange as I had originally been led to believe! Yay, me!

Go Greg, go Greg, go Greg!

I am desperately trying to get my short story done; it’s due tomorrow, and writing it has been a real chore recently. I think my creativity feels like a worn out, dried out old husk right now–probably the push to finish the book, which I am still not sure is completely finished–and so have been forcing myself to have to write it. It’s not a bad story, by any means, it’s just been so damned hard to finish it I don’t know what to do with myself. But while today is a Greg-maintenance day–doctors appointments and so forth-I am hoping to get it finished today so I can polish it tomorrow and get it turned in and out of the way. I am daunted by how much work I also must get done this weekend–truly daunted and terrified–but there’s nothing to do but put my nose to the grindstone and start plugging away. The Lost Apartment is also a disaster area–I’ve somehow managed to keep the kitchen under control for once this week, so it’s mostly the living room that is the tragic mess–so I’d like to get the living room under control this weekend as well. I am going to try to repair my old desktop computer–the things they had me do to the laptop to try to make it functional should also work on the desktop, so keep your fingers crossed for me; it would be lovely to have an actual functional desktop computer here rather than having to keep fucking around with this piece of shit MacBook Air–but I am also not going to waste a lot of time on it. Either it works or it doesn’t, and if this fix doesn’t work I’ll have to figure out a way to dispose of it and get it out of the living room once and for all. There’s just so damned much clutter in the living room–and believe me, the more annoyed I become with the clutter, the less attached I remain to the stacks and piles of books. (If it weren’t for the damned coronavirus, I would have been able to get rid of many of these already; I don’t simply want to throw them away. I have a library book to pick up today as well, so when I call them to have them finish the check-out process and put the book outside on the gallery, I will ask them about how to donate books to them…because this shall not stand)

I also need to get back to reading rather then spending my evening streaming either CNN or MSNBC. The events of the past week have been historical, watching history unfold, and I felt an obligation–still do–as an American citizen to watch and stay informed of what is going on in the country. There’s an inevitable feeling to all of this, really–I always suspected in my heart of hearts (while hoping desperately to be wrong) that it would come to something like this, and as a long time citizen who actually believes, has always believed, and will continue to believe, that the ideals behind the founding of this country are something to always strive for, even if we have all too frequently, as flawed humans, failed to get there and always fallen short. Nowhere and at no time since the Civil War has the union and the Constitution been so threatened; and we remain very lucky we didn’t watch the wholesale slaughter of Congressional Democrats and the vice-president in real time.

And so many of this vile mob of seditious treasonous traitorous insurrectionists only have regrets because they are being arrested and losing their jobs. White supremacy is a potent and addictive a drug as heroin or meth, clearly.

But as I have said before, the world doesn’t stop because of events. The planet keeps turning and going around the sun at the same pace as ever; it halts for no man. As difficult as it is to tear one’s self away–the all-too-real fear of missing something horribly important–I must. Today I will get my routine maintenance done, pick up my library book, get the mail, clean and write my story. Tomorrow I will work at home making condom packs and trying to get back on top of all of my responsibilities, my emails, my writing, my career–and I also want to watch some more cynical 70’s movies while I make my condom packs. (Probably Saturday Night Fever and maybe Play Misty for Me) I also am hoping Paul and I can settle in for some more Bridgerton–we’re only two episodes in–and I also want to get some reading done; I want to tear through the first Mary Russell novel by Laurie R. King, and I have some e-galleys from two terrific authors (Hilary Davidson and Alison Gaylin) I can’t wait to dive into, as well as getting back to the Short Story Project, and also to get back into the swing of going to the gym again.

And with that, I need to start getting ready for my first appointment. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to.

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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Tender Love

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed this year about this year’s Bouchercon anthology (Florida Happens) is that three of this year’s contributors (Hilary Davidson, Barb Goffman, and Susanna Calkins) are also finalists for the Anthony in the Short Story category. (I am hoping to find the time to read the stories and talk about them on here as well; along with my on-going talking about the nominees for Best Original Paperback and the stories in Florida Happens.) Not a bad pedigree for my anthology, wouldn’t you say?

Next up in terms of our short stories in Florida Happens is Hilary Davidson’s “Mr. Bones.”

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Hilary’s bio reads:

Award-winning novelist and travel writer Hilary Davidson got her start in journalism in 1995, when she moved to New York for five months to intern at Harper’s Magazine. Afterwards, Hilary joined the staff of Canadian Living magazine in Toronto as a copy editor. Her first freelance article, “Death Takes a Holiday” — about a New Orleans cemetery — was published by The Globe & Mail. She left her day job to write full-time in June 1998. She went on to write 18 nonfiction books (17 of them for Frommer’s Travel Guides) and articles for wide array of publications including Discover, Martha Stewart Weddings, American Archaeology, Chatelaine, and CNN Travel.

Hilary’s debut novel, The Damage Done, won the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Crimespree Award for Best First Novel. The book was also a finalist for a Macavity Award and an Arthur Ellis Award. The novel’s main character, Lily Moore, is, like Hilary, a travel writer. While their personal lives have little in common, they do share a few things, such as a love of vintage clothing, classic Hollywood movies, and Art Deco design. The second book in the series is The Next One to Fall and the third is Evil in All Its Disguises. Hilary’s first standalone novel, Blood Always Tells, was published by Tor/Forge in April 2014 and released as a trade paperback in March 2015. Her next novel is One Small Sacrifice, which will be published by Thomas & Mercer in spring 2019.

Her short fiction has won the Derringer Award, the Spinetingler Award, and two Readers’ Choice Awards from Ellery Queen. Hilary’s story “The Siege” was a finalist for the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Short Story. Her stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Crimespree, All Due Respect, Crime Factory, Spinetingler, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir. Her work is featured in many anthologies, including Beat to a Pulp: Round One and Round TwoCrimefactory: First ShiftThuglit Presents: Blood Guts, & WhiskeyPulp InkD*CKED; and Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen

Hilary has served as an At-Large Director on the National Board of the Mystery Writers of America from January 2012 to January 2016. She has previously served on the Mystery Writers of America’s New York Board as well.

Pretty impressive, eh? Not mentioned in the above is her collection of short stories, The Black Widows Club, which you can buy here. I have it, and I need to get back to it; the stories I’ve read are pretty awesome.

You can visit her website here.

And so, without further ado, is the opening of her contribution to Florida Happens, “Mr. Bones.”

I’d be the first to admit that Mr. Bones wasn’t going to win any prizes for Pet of the Year. He was a pugnacious alley cat with mouse breath and an anger-management problem, but I loved him. So when I got home from a three-day dermatology conference in New York and discovered he was missing, I was devastated.

“Tell me exactly what happened,” I pleaded with my boyfriend.

“Nothing happened. Your cat just hasn’t come home,” Andrew said.

We were standing in the kitchen, and I couldn’t help but turn and look at the door to the backyard. Mr. Bones’ three bowls were there — dry food, wet food, and water — and they were all full.

“He didn’t eat anything today?” I asked. “Was he sick?”

 “Come on, Monica. There’s always something wrong with that cat.”

“What time did he go out this morning?”

 “I don’t know. It was early. He woke me with his screaming to get outside.”

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?”

 “Your hand is bandaged up.”

 “Oh, that’s nothing,” he said. “I was cutting an avocado. Should’ve known not to try that without you around.” He gave me a sweet smile, which made him look even more like Tom Hiddleston than usual. “I picked up takeout from Moe’s for dinner. I know you love their Southwest Salad with tofu.”

Andrew and I had been living together for almost six months, and it was going well. But I was too wound up about Mr. Bones to think about eating. “Thanks, but I need to look for Mr. Bones. He’s probably sulking right now.”

I stepped outside onto the patio behind the house. “Honey, I’m home!” I called out. Something rustled in the warm stillness of the night, but my cat didn’t come running. If he heard me, he would have, because he was more like a dog in that way. I called for him and waited.

Andrew rapped on the storm door. “Come on, Monica. He’ll be back when he’s ready.”

Oh, pets.

We love our little furry buddies, don’t we? And losing them is always heartbreaking; something you never get over but just learn to live with. (I still get sad remembering my childhood dog, or our previous cat, Skittle, whom we lost eight years ago.)  The bond between pet and owner is always powerful. I’ve never written a story about a pet–not sure why that is; I just never have. (I gave Scotty and the boys a cat in Garden District Gothic, though.) There are also some great pet short stories by crime writers–“Ming’s Biggest Prey” by Patricia Highsmith and “Less Than a Dog” by Agatha Christie are two particular favorites of mine–and Hilary Davidson’s “Mr. Bones” certainly belongs with those two classic tales. Monica a dermatologist, returns from a convention to find that her cat has gone missing in her absence, and her live-in boyfriend’s antipathy to the situation as she searches the neighborhood for her missing pet is notable–as is the nastiness of the old cat-hating woman who tears down her fliers. So, what happened to Mr. Bones?

And now, back to the spice mines.