Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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Don’t Mean Nothing

Well, I got up early this morning–with an assist from Needy Kitty, who has apparently decided this week that after getting fed really early in the morning two days in a row, that this should become a regular thing. It’s okay, actually, I was already awake when he climbed on me in bed and laid down. And it doesn’t kill me to get up early anyway, now does it? Today is my half day, Wednesday, which means running by the mail on the way to the office and I get off early enough to meet a friend for dinner. Huzzah!

I’m getting things done this week, even if it feels like I’m just treading water. I always have so much to do, you know, that it sometimes feels like I never make any progress; it seems like every time I cross something off the to-do list, something else rears its ugly head, you know? Or two something elses, sometimes three. Heavy heaving sigh. But I suppose it’s better than having nothing to do, or being bored, or something. One thing I never have to worry about is being bored–unless I am watching something boring, or am bored by whatever I’m reading.

As Bouchercon looms on the horizon, I should probably start doing some planning, or at least figuring out what I’m going to be doing, and when I’m going to be doing it. I also should talk some more about the Anthony nominees for Best Short Story, of which I am one, for “Cold Beer No Flies.” It’s lovely to be nominated for awards–it really is, no humility about this, folks, I fucking love making short-lists–and it’s a real joy to be nominated with writers like my fellow nominees: Holly West, S. A. Cosby, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor. Not only are they talented writers but they are also really awesome people. That’s one of the things I love about being a part of the publishing community, really–the vast majority of people in it are pretty awesome. Sure, there’s the occasional dirtbag asshole, but for the most part? A fun group of people. Can’t wait to see them all next week!

My email inbox is ridiculously full again; I feel sometimes like Sisyphus pushing that rock every time I look at it. Heavy heaving sigh. But all I can do is put my head down and keep clicking them open and responding to them, hoping against hope that each one I answer won’t engender yet another response to answer. Oh, well, it could be worse: I could get no emails except junk. Or ones from political campaigns. I wish I had a dollar for every email I get asking for money for a political campaign–I could leave the spice mines behind for good and relax in my hammock on the white sand beach while sipping a margarita.

I finally finished reading Norah Lofts’ short story collection Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? I really enjoyed them; they were more Gothic than straight up horror, and (breakthrough alert) I realized after finishing the book that perhaps the reason I am so bad at writing horror (I’m more of a fan than a horror writer) is because I like Gothic-style horror more than anything else. Oh, sure, I read all different styles of horror (I’m really enjoying Certain Dark Things), but when it comes to writing it, I tend to go more along the line of Gothic, which is more creepy and unsettling than scary. Bury Me in Shadows is a Gothic-style novel; I’d love to have a parody Gothic style cover with my cute teenaged gay boy running away from a big creepy house with one light on in a window, looking back over his shoulder…which is, now that I think about it, a really good idea.

I read a lot of Norah Lofts when I was a teenager; primarily her fictional biographies of royal women. She wrote about Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eleanor the Queen), Katherine of Aragon (The King’s Pleasure), Anne Boleyn (The Concubine), Napoleon’s stepdaughter Hortense de Beauharnais (A Rose for Virtue), George III’s sister Caroline-Matilda (The Lost Queen), and Isabella of Castile (Crown of Aloes). She also wrote Biblical fiction, with Queen Esther and How Far to Bethlehem?, and a lot of what was classified, marketed and sold as historical romances–but they weren’t really romances. They were dark stories about lost love and hopelessness and her women rarely had happy endings; Nethergate was one of those. She was an excellent writer with a good eye for details and character, that made her creations come to life–but she also wrote some Gothic horror, which included this collection of ghost stories. I don’t remember how it came to my attention or who reminded me of Lofts, but I ordered a copy of the Hauntings from a second-hand bookseller, and as I said, I really enjoyed it. I’d love to revisit some of her other work that I enjoyed, to see how it holds up and if my evolving and maturing tastes have altered how I read them, but again–my TBR pile continues to grow every day and I am never going to read everything I need and want to read.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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In Too Deep

Well, Constant Reader, we made it to Friday somehow, didn’t we? Huzzah, I guess?

The heat finally broke yesterday; it was very cool in the morning and evening. The afternoon didn’t feel nearly as bad as it has been, even though it did get up to about 87 degrees. There wasn’t any humidity, and the humidity is, after all, what is really horrible about the weather here. There’s also a tropical storm of some sort out in the Gulf–I should probably check on that, since it’s projected to pass by close to here–which undoubtedly is affecting the weather here somewhat as well.

I don’t have big plans for the weekend; I never do, really. Just the usual: make groceries, pick up the mail, clean, watch the LSU and Saints football games, cook out, and do some writing. Today is a short day at the office, and I’ve already started working on the cleaning this morning. I’ll undoubtedly do some more tonight when I get home from the office, and I’d also like to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which has pretty much lain fallow this entire week. I have done some thinking about it, of course, and there are changes to implement into the manuscript before moving on to those later chapters, but I am way off track to get it finished by the end of the month, as I had originally hoped and planned, unless I get back to work and start kicking some serious ass as I work on it.

And maybe–just maybe–with some dedication, I can get my emails all caught up. Stranger things have happened…and may happen again. Just you wait and see.

I slept really well last night–only woke up twice that I can remember–and feel very rested this morning. My throat is still sore, but the earache seems to be gone for good (huzzah!), and maybe tonight I’ll dose it with tea and honey before going to bed. I still haven’t started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things beyond that enthralling first page, but probably tonight when I get home from work I’ll make some time for it–Scooter always wants some cuddle time whenever I come home, so I find that’s the best thing to do–curl up in my easy chair with a book so he can sleep in my lap and purr. It’s weird how far behind I’ve fallen in my reading–I’d hoped to read more horror this month than I have–and I’ve also got to start preparing for my Bouchercon panels; I’m moderating two, and that requires prep work, particularly since I have so many ridiculously talented people on them. One features Cheryl Head, Alex Segura, Steph Cha, S. A. Cosby, Michael Nava, and my co-moderator, Carsen Taite; the other features Lou Berney, Wendy Corsi Staub, Alison Gaylin, Elizabeth Little, and Steph Cha (again–and if you haven’t read her brilliant new novel, Your House Will Pay, shame on you and get to it). Ridiculously talented and wicked smart panels…so I am really going to need to be prepared, else I will come across looking like a moron.

I am also on the Anthony Award Best Short Story panel, where I will be sharing the stage again with S. A. Cosby in addition to Art Taylor, Holly West, and the always delightful Barb Goffman. Barb and Holly have stories in Florida Happens (Holly and my nominated stories are from Florida Happens); Shawn and I are both in the upcoming Dark Yonder anthology; and Art is one of the most awarded and respected short story writers in our genre–his nominated story also won the Edgar this past spring. (Holly also edited Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which includes my story “This Town.”) I don’t hold out many hopes for an upset win and a second Anthony for my shelves; but it truly is a surprise and a delight to be nominated in the company of these other writers whom I admire and respect so deeply.

It’s nice to periodically take stock, you know? I get so caught up in the grind of editing and writing and promoting and reading and everything else I have to get done–not to mention the dispiriting slings and arrows that come along in your every day life as a writer (not the least of which is fucking Imposter Syndrome) that I never really ever take the time to sit back and reflect and enjoy what I’ve done so far, what I’ve accomplished. I think part of that is because I am always dissatisfied with where I am in my career as a writer and wanting to get more done, accomplish more, and get more work out there. It’s a grind, as I mentioned earlier, and I always forget to enjoy moments, or to even take a moment here and there to bask in the joys of accomplishment because I’m always so focused on what’s next oh my God I have so much to do and so little time when will I ever get this all finished? That, of course, is self-defeating. I’ve been trying to be better about blowing my own horn and taking some pride in myself, as well as working on my self-confidence.  I’ve written a lot–novels, novellas, short stories, essays–and I’ve won some awards, been nominated for even more. It’s a thrill to be nominated for a mainstream short story award–the second time I’ve been nominated for a mainstream short story award–and it’s really quite a thrill. It’s a thrill to be in the company of the other nominees this time; last time the other nominees included Lawrence Block and Joyce Carol Oates. (I know, right?)

So look at the positives, and ignore the negatives.

And on that note, I have some time before I have to get ready for work this morning, so I think I’ll do a bit of writing.

Have a lovely Friday!

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Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

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

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

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

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

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Long Train Runnin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Diamond Girl

So, how you doin’, Constant Reader?

Well, running the errands yesterday turned into a major challenge. It started raining before I left the house, but despite the heavy rain–those enormous big raindrops we get here in New Orleans, that feel like they’re leaving a bruise–I decided to go for it. I grabbed an umbrella and dashed to the car, getting soaked in the process despite the umbrella (the umbrella that can handle the rain in New Orleans has yet to be invented), and the rain came down even heavier as I headed uptown. At Jefferson Avenue, there was still blue sky and sunshine and no clouds, but while I was inside the postal service the storm arrived (I got some things I needed in the mail, some bills, and an ARC of Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden, thanks, Erin!) and dashed back out to the car and headed to the grocery store. It was pouring by this point, with thunder and lightning and everyone driving three miles an hour–but in fairness, the street gutters were filling with water. I sat in the car and waited a good five minutes before making a break for the store–but even walking quickly I still got very wet.

But at least while I was doing the shopping the rain let up a bit, and it was only sprinkling as I went out to the parking lot.

Getting home was a challenge as some streets had filled up with water; Felicity Street had a good six inches at least on it, and the gutters on Prytania were also full of water, but it wasn’t that deep. Everyone was driving, of course, like their car was about to drop into a sinkhole and disappear from sight–of course, driving slow rather than faster won’t change that at all, so I don’t really get it. Yes, you should drive slower through standing water–but you don’t have to literally crawl through it, either–and yes, local New Orleanians reading this, I know there are no-wake ordinances in the city (yes, that’s how often our streets flood with water; the city has passed ordinances dictating how fast you can drive through standing water), but when most of the street is not underwater, there’s no wake sending water into people’s homes, businesses or cars parked alongside the street.

It’s interesting that my neighborhood sort-of flooded again–the water on my street had been over the sidewalk but had drained by the time I got home; I could see the dirt and debris on the sidewalk–when it didn’t used to; and there are people alarmed in the city because we are seeing water rising and standing where it never used to before. It occurred to me yesterday that this could entirely be because of all the construction that’s taken place in the city over the last few years. Empty green lots are now paved over for buildings or parking garages; city blocks that used to simply be a ground level parking lot are now five story apartment/condo buildings. So the water used to spread out over the paved lots and also used to soak into the green lots; now that water is draining off those buildings with nowhere to go so it settles in the street. The two vacant lot on our street are about to be paved over and turned into a three story condo complex–which isn’t going to help our street in upcoming rains.

I seriously doubt that anyone–especially on the city permit level–ever took water drainage into consideration when handing out permits. Driving down O’Keefe Street now in the CBD is like driving down a canyon through higher-rising buildings, whereas before those lots were parking lots. I wonder if I am onto something here…

I spent the day yesterday, after getting home, working on getting my email down to a respective amount, and I also started reading Jay B. Law’s The Unfinished, for which I have agreed to write an introduction for the new edition being released by ReQueered Tales. Laws only wrote two books before he died of AIDS in the early 1990’s, this one and Steam, which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. The Unfinished was released after his death, and isn’t as well-known or well-remembered as Steam; being a posthumous novel undoubtedly had something to do with that. I thought I had read it years ago, but as I am reading it now, it’s all new to me…and while I am well aware that my memory is as reliable now as the water drainage system in New Orleans, this entire story and the character seem completely new to me; usually when I reread a book I’ve completely forgotten the story eventually comes back to me as I work my way through it–that isn’t happening here, and while it saddens me that I’ve not read The Unfinished before, I am actually kind of glad; it means I am experiencing an immensely talented writer’s final work for the first time…and the essay I want to write to introduce the book is already beginning to swirl around inside my head.

Today I have a million things to do–so much writing and editing to do, as well as reading–that it’s not even remotely amusing–although sometimes I do think all I can do, rather than weep when looking at the list, is laugh.

Along the lines of my recent decision to celebrate and own my accomplishments, as an addendum to today’s blog I am going to talk about having a story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, the Planned Parenthood fundraising anthology from Down and Out Books, edited by Holly West. I’ve loved the Go-Go’s from the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio, and have seen them in concert twice. Since I recently discovered the magic of Spotify, I find myself listening to their original three albums a lot lately, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all to me, which I think is the key to their success. One of the things I found interesting was I never listened to their music, or sang along to it, and thought about how dark their lyrics actually are, until Holly agreed to let me write something for this anthology (I basically invited myself to contribute to it, which is something I never do; which is another problem with myself and my career–I don’t assert myself or push myself forward into anthologies. The worst thing that can happen is the editor will say, ‘sorry, got enough people already, but thanks!’ My entire career I’ve worked to make rejection less painful and more of an oh well thing; I’m still working on making that sort of rejection/disappointment something that just rolls off my back rather than derails me for a time.

Sometimes you have to be assertive, and while that sort of thing kind of goes against my nature, you have to do it.

Anyway, Holly gave me a choice of three songs to use for inspiration, and as I looked up the lyrics on-line, I was struck by how dark the songs were. Without Belinda Carlisle’s cheerful, almost chipmunk-ish vocals and the high-energy beat of the music behind them, I couldn’t believe how noir the lyrics actually were. I eventually chose “This Town”–because it was the darkest of the three–and started writing it. I honestly don’t know how the idea came to me, or where I came up with it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite stories of my own; and other people seemed to like it a lot, too. “This Town” will probably wind up anchoring my next short story collection–should I do another one, which I am hopeful I will be able to do–and again, as I said, the feedback on the story has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous that as per usual, I didn’t really know how to respond to the compliments.

The story itself is the perfect illustration of what I think, in my mind, a crime story should be; which is why my work isn’t accepted into places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines; I don’t necessarily solve a crime in my stories, even though they are about crimes. (Of course, it could also be that the stories I send them aren’t in their best shape, either.) Getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock is a bucket list item of mine, and I’d also love to get another story into Ellery Queen, but I digress.

Okay, I should get back into the spice mines if I want to get anything done today.

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I’ll Be Good To You

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

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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