Me and You and a Dog Named Boo

Wednesday and yet another Pay-the-Bills Day. I also didn’t set my alarm last night–could have sworn I did, though–but fortunately managed to get up anyway shortly after six. That could have been truly scary, really; I could have easily slept for another few hours–even now that I am up and sipping coffee, I really can feel the pull of my bed, calling me back to its cozy, comfortable warmth. I would much rather spend a few more hours there than get cleaned up and head into the office any day of the week, quite frankly. I’m not sure why I was so deeply asleep last night yet again, but I am calling all of this great sleep I’ve been getting an awesome thing and just riding the wave as long as it continues, frankly. It’s weird feeling rested in the mornings, I have to admit. Nice, but weird.

I got my editorial letter for A Streetcar Named Murder yesterday, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be. I need to process it all, get it organized, and then get to work on it as soon as I can. I also need to finish the Bouchercon anthology and get it turned in as well; I also had a business call about a book project I am considering taking on. (Money makes the world go around, the world go around….) I also started working on a short story idea I had a while back and had gotten started on, called “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop,” for a very quick turn around short story submission call that I will most likely not get finished in time to turn in, but at the very least I will have a finished draft of the story at some point. I’m still not entirely certain what happens at the rest stop when my character winds up there–but I do have some thoughts–so we will see how it all goes. I also saw another submission call that struck my fancy recently; it might prove to be a home for another one of my stories that I can’t seem to find a home for–which is fine; my stories follow my imagination, and my imagination rarely works in a way that produces stories that short fiction markets like. (I do want to see if I can some out for submissions over the course of the next week or so; it’s all going to depend on my motivation, as everything always does…)

We also watched another episode of Candy last night, and it’s really interesting. I keep saying to Paul, “this suburban existence being depicted on this show–late 70’s, early 80’s–is my idea of hell. This was the environment I grew up in, and definitely was not the future I wanted for myself.” I’ve been hankering (my God did I really just say hankering?) to write about the 1970’s lately–probably has something to do with my turning sixty last year–and the suburbs and what that was kind of like; I have several ideas for stories/novels to be set in my fictional suburb outside of Chicago (where the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; remember, all of my books and stories, regardless of authorial name, are connected together in some way; the Gregiverse, if you will); one is based on a true story that happened when we lived there and I was a freshman in high school (a murder involving some students) and the other is sort of based on the Candyman serial murders in Houston. So yes, those days of cheap faux wood paneling and station wagons and lawn mowers and Schwinn bicycles with streamers coming out of the handgrips and cards woven through the tire spokes so they clatter will someday be written about by yours truly.

So many ideas, so little time to actually write any of them. Heavy heaving sigh.

I think today I need to make a to-do list. I have a bunch of things that need doing, and I cannot count on my memory to remember them all–not that I have been able to count on my memory for that sort of thing for quite some time; this is not something new that has developed with age; no matter how much I want to believe that I used to have this truly fantastic memory, the truth is I was always able to simply manage tasks through list-keeping and obsessive organization…both of which have kind of fallen off track over the years, hence me forgetting things. I did kind of let my life get out of control for quite a number of years; the process of getting reorganized is one that is so overwhelming that I’ve just kind of let it go (my file cabinet is terrifying, seriously; even though I know I can probably clean a shit ton of things out of it and make it into something functional and workable…it’s also incredibly time consuming and the one thing I never seem to have in abundance of any kind is actual time) and as such, I can never really find anything…not to mention that I will look for a folder I know I created, not find it, and simply make a new one…so yes, I have files every-fucking-where.

Sigh.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a happy Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.

Sometimes

Tuesday morning and so far so good. Yesterday was a relatively easy day at the office, really; a lovely way to start off the week, actually. I felt rested for most of the day, and had a relatively easy time getting home as well, which I wasn’t expecting; traffic lights in the Central Business District are still out or blinking, including the one at Poydras, which is the main artery of the district–which makes the drive a bit challenging. There wasn’t much traffic yesterday on my way home, so that intersection where I cross Poydras (Loyola) wasn’t as horrific as it has been in the past.

And tomorrow is payday; I had quite literally forgotten! Paying off the car has changed my life so dramatically for the better, Constant Reader, you have no idea. Before paying off the car, I would have been counting down the days to pay day, wondering how much I’d have left to buy food with, wondering if I would have enough to pay for everything. Not having that kind of extreme financial stress, like I’ve been experiencing for the last four years plus, has been literally absolutely lovely for me. I don’t know how people do it–and then buy another car right on top of paying off the old one, or trading one in before its completely paid for and…yeah, I will never understand the joys of having all that extra debt hanging over my head. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to buy a house or a condo or anything; the thought of being saddled with debt for the rest of my life like that absolutely curdles my blood.

And yes, I am quite aware that I still have to pay for housing anyway, that I am essentially throwing the rent money away every month that I could be “investing” in property, and all the rest of those financial security memes I’ve been told since I was a child. But I am not a fan of debt of any kind, quite frankly. I hate debt, hate it hate it hate it, and my next financial goal is to pay off the rest of the debt I am still carrying, which has become a bit easier since the car has been paid for. I don’t regret buying the car–I still love the car, and will for a long time, no doubt–but I am not sorry the debt is gone.

I didn’t think I slept very well last night–it seemed to take forever for me to fall asleep–and yet I still feel rested this morning. My Fitbit tells me that the majority of my sleep last night was “light” sleep, and I didn’t get the correct percentages of “REM sleep” or “deep sleep”. I imagine what this means is this afternoon I will run out of steam and get tired; that seems to be the case once the caffeine wears off. Ah, caffeine; such a harsh mistress you are.

Today is the official release day for Bury Me in Shadows (or it was yesterday; I’m really not sure how I still have a career, honestly) so there’s one more Blatant Self-Promotion post to come; I’ve been working on it since the weekend, and I hope to get it right and posted today. Tomorrow night I have the launch event at Murder by the Book in Houston (virtual), and I am doing a diversity panel for a library through Sisters in Crime (chessie chapter) this coming Monday. I know, two virtual events in less than a week, who am I? I also realized yesterday I had never posted the BSP post I’d written Sunday morning, so it went up yesterday instead.

I’m really not very good at this blatant self-promotion thing, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a mental thing; defeating myself before I have a chance to be defeated by the rest of the world. It would make sense, wouldn’t it?

I rewatched Scream 2 last night while I was waiting for Paul to finish working and come downstairs, and rather than switching to something else when he came down about halfway through the movie he was fine with just watching it through to the end–we’re both big Scream fans–and oddly enough, no matter how many times I’ve seen these movies they still work and are enjoyable. Greater horror minds than mine have dissected these films, how meta they are, and so forth to death; nothing I could say could possibly lend anything to the discourse already. But I do enjoy them more than most slasher/horror movies, it seemed fairly appropriate for Halloween, and since I have Peacock, which has all the Halloween movies streaming available, I may spend the rest of the month watching every Halloween movie; there are actually some I’ve not seen. And what better films for the Halloween Horror Film Festival than the Halloween series? (And if I can squeeze in a Scream or two, why not?) I didn’t write very much of anything yesterday and am not terribly happy about that, to be honest. I felt a bit tired when I came home from work yesterday–I stopped to pick up a few things on the way home–and tonight I have to go to the gym, since I can’t tomorrow. I did pull up Never Kiss a Stranger and started revising and re-ordering the story somewhat–beginning with the removal of about 2000 words at the beginning that might not be as necessary as I had originally thought; they can go further back in the manuscript than where they were originally placed, if used at all–so that was something, but I was tired and Scooter really wanted to nap in my lap in the easy chair and it was all so much easier to just give into the tired and relax with a purring kitty in my lap…yeah, it’s a wonder I get anything done around here at all.

And yesterday the current Superman–Jonathon Kent, son of Clark and Lois–came OUT. Superman is gay! * (That sound you just heard was any number of homophobes screaming about their childhoods being ruined.) I didn’t see it yesterday–I just saw the piece in the New York Times shared on Twitter–and will read it later this morning between clients. But this is quite thrilling, and that they timed the announcement for National Coming Out Day? Thank you thank you thank you, DC Comics.

Yesterday I also got a PDF file from an anthology I contributed a reprint story to; I had literally completely forgotten about it (my memory is completely worthless these days) and I never recorded it on my “out for submission” spreadsheet either; so my system completely failed. It happens, of course, and more regularly than I would prefer, to be completely honest. Anyway, it’s a gay erotic vampire anthology from Lethe Press called Blood on His Hands, and the story I gave them to reprint is my old “Bloodletting” story; which was originally written as a sequel story to my novella Blood on the Moon, and eventually became the first chapter of my Todd Gregory novel Need. I’ve not reread any of my vampire stuff over the years, and so last night, while I was trying to figure out to watch before settling on Scream 2 I spent some time revisiting this story. It isn’t bad, actually; I was very pleasantly surprised. (I often am pleasantly surprised to read something old of mine and see that it’s not terrible, or a steaming pile of shit…I really do need to stop being so hard on myself when it comes to writing; even as I started moving bits and pieces of Never Kiss a Stranger around last night I found myself thinking, “oh, this is good” or “this needs to be punched up some”–but “this is good” thoughts far outnumbered “fix this”, which was most pleasing to me. I have another story in another anthology coming out later this year–the story is “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” but I cannot think of the name of the anthology; I think it’s Pink Triangle Rhapsody? It really is a wonder I have a career of any kind in this business….

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will see you tomorrow on Pay-the-Bills-Day.

*Well, bisexual anyway, but he has sex with men and that’s more than enough for me. It’s a huge step for DC Comics and super-heroes in general; it’s fucking Superman, not some supporting cast super-hero most people have never heard of who only appears in some team-up books; it’s SUPERMAN!

Brown Eyes

Well, there’s something forming in the Bay of Campeche that doesn’t bode well for the Gulf Coast; yay for hurricane season? Heavy heaving sigh. So far, the path of this potential storm seems to have western Louisiana in its sights; a part of the state that still hasn’t completely recovered from the hits it took last year. Ah, well, it’s certainly never dull around here these days.

I am up early for the first time in a while because I am actually heading into the office today! Huzzah for some sense of normality, such as it is…of course, there’s no telling what I am walking into when I go there today–but I think some people have been into the office in the meantime, so it most likely won’t be a complete and total disaster area…or so we shall see at any rate.

I took this weekend to recalibrate and rest and try to get my head back together; I’ve been in a weird state since the power went out and am hoping to get my sense of normal–either what is or isn’t–back. I also know from experience from these sorts of things that there will be good days and there will be bad days, and that to remember, keep remembering, that while I and everyone else have been through a traumatic experience again, it could have been much much worse than it actually was, even for those who lost everything–the recovery won’t take as long as the post-Katrina one because the levees didn’t actually fail this time. Sure, many of us are going to be dealing with some frustrations and irritations–the last I checked the trash still hadn’t been picked up, and the debris out on our street is still there–but normality of a sort is beginning to return, but the last thing we needed is for Nicholas to form and come to part of Louisiana. I think it’s supposed to come ashore around the state line with Texas, or so it was the last time I checked yesterday, sometime tomorrow.

I should go check, shouldn’t I?

So, yes, the threat from this storm is currently Houston and the Texas gulf coast; and of course Lake Charles and the state line. We’ll undoubtedly get some weather effects from it–it’s only 78 degrees outside this morning, and weirdly gray and grim looking–but we shall be spared the brunt of it. While this is a relief, I cannot say it pleases me–again, wishing a storm away inevitably means wishing destruction and disaster on other people, so it never feels right or good or appropriate.

And the season doesn’t end until December 1.

The Saints won yesterday, rather easily at that, which was both a pleasant surprise and a lovely one. It’s going to take me a good long while to get used to the Saints playing without Drew Brees; the man had become an institution around here, and it was so fucking weird not even seeing him on the sideline. It really sunk in yesterday that the Brees era–undoubtedly the best era of the franchises’s history, without question–is officially over, and it made me more than a little sad. I was of course absolutely delighted to see the new phase of the team win convincingly over Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers, but at the same time it was a little bittersweet. The shadow of Drew Brees loomed large over the city since he was signed after the disastrous 2005 Katrina season, and how strange the new era begins right after the city took a direct or almost-direct hit from a category 4 hurricane.

We also watched the pressure of winning a Grand Slam and becoming the player with the most Slam wins of all time overtake and overwhelm Novak Djokovic, who lost all of his chances at history decisively, in three straight sets, to Daniil Medvedev, who won his first major tournament, and good for him. After the US Open and the Saints game, we moved on to get caught up on Animal Kingdom, which just isn’t the same without Ellen Barkin–whom they killed off at the end of the fourth season (SPOILER), and then watched the first episode of Only Murders in the Building, which we greatly enjoyed…although I couldn’t help but wonder what those apartments in present day New York would be valued at. I also like the premise–one that has interested me for a while since we moved to New Orleans–how well do you know your neighbors after all? I’ve addressed this, with New Orleans, in some of my short fiction–the novels tend towards how well do we know anyone, really?–but this was the premise of “The Carriage House,” just off the top of my head, and I am sure I’ve explored it in other stories but my frail, fragile mind cannot summon up the titles of any others that do this as well. At any rate, I am looking forward to watching more of it, and to be honest, it’s nice to see Steve Martin working again. I also like Martin Short, who rarely gets the credit he deserves for acting (he was stunningly brilliant in his season of Damages), and while Selena Gomez hasn’t really impressed me much on the show, I am sure she will get a chance to shine before it’s over.

And on that note, I need to get in the shower and get ready to return to the office since before–well, since around August 24th, which was my last day before my vacation started…talk to you later, Constant Reader.

Stomp!

Friday, Friday, got to get down it’s Friday!

Another lovely night’s sleep was enjoyed by one Gregalicious, and my mood is pleasant as a result. It really is insane how much better I feel when I’m getting regular sleep that is good; hopefully today I’ll be able to get a lot accomplished–despite the horror of knowing that we are in an excessive heat warning, with the heat index potentially climbing up to 115 this afternoon and staying there for most of the rest of the day. Yikes! I do have to go to the gym today–which would be on foot, which will send me out into the madness of the heat–but I shall survive. New Orleans and heat kind of go hand-in-hand, after all, and while this summer seems a bit more extreme than past ones, at least we have a working a/c system in the house now (which has also made a remarkably marked difference from the last two summers around here).

I need to make a to-do list, and I have a shit ton of emails to answer. Heavy sigh. It never ends.

I also need to type up my notes from my meeting with my editor yesterday, so that I am prepared to fix what’s wrong with #shedeservedit, so I can get it finished by the end of the month, which is when it’s due. I also have to finish going over the edits for Bury Me in Shadows, so I can get that finished as well–just to ensure that everything with it that she did (this is the line/copy edit) I’m okay with; fortunately I trust her but there are a few things she wants me to check. And while I do hate putting Chlorine aside for a little while, if I can get the Bury Me in Shadows things finished on time I can go back to working on it for Sunday. I don’t know, we’ll see how the weekend goes, I suppose.

Gregalicious plans, and the gods laugh.

But this morning my coffee is wonderful, and I am basking in the glow of feeling good about a lot of things. I’ve not felt good for a while; my memory is such a joke these days that it seems as though I haven’t felt good in a while about myself and my life and my writing in general for a long time. Not sure how true that is, or if it’s really just another side effect of a nasty pandemic (on-going!); but I definitely am hopeful this lasts for a while.

I watched the Olympics yet again last night; it was terrific to see Sunisa Lee become the first Asian-American all around gymnastics gold medalist, and I think possibly the first Olympic medalist of any kind of Hmong descent. The Hmongs are an ethnic minority of southeastern Asia, spread out over Vietnam, Cambodia and China; and they were recruited and used by the American military during the Vietnam War to fight the illegal war in Laos–and then of course, once we pulled out, we pretty much left them out to dry (see also: Iraqi Kurds after the First Gulf War. Sensing a theme?), and they were finally welcomed and recognized as political refugees and allowed entry to the US (big of us, right?) in the early 1980’s. I first became aware of the Hmong people and culture when I lived in Fresno–a large number of them settled there–and my parents also lived next door to a Hmong family in Houston (my mother became rather fond of the family matriarch over their years of being neighbors). I’m not sure if there are any Hmong-Americans in New Orleans; I do know there’s a large Vietnamese community here in the East (that French colonial tie between New Orleans and Vietnam–banh mih is like the Vietnamese version of a po’boy, although I think banh mih might have, probably, existed first).

Then again, there are a lot of other cultures in New Orleans that rarely get written about–Greeks, Vietnamese, the IsleƱos from the Canary Islands, the Haitians and Dominicans–which is yet another indication of how I could be writing about the city for the rest of my life and never scratch the surface of all the different cultures and ethnicities and influences here.

I also watched 54: The Director’s Cut again–I rented it a few years ago on Prime, I think–and while I remembered it as a much better movie than the theatrical release (which was really sappy and terrible and borderline homophobic), I’d forgotten how completely queer the director’s cut is. I was actually thinking last night about writing an essay about Studio 54-despite never having been there–but knowing that it existed was one of the first times in my young gay life that I became aware that it was possible for people like me to live differently than what I had been raised to believe was my life path and what was the cultural norm (“Looking for Studio 54” is the title I jotted down in my journal), and watching this (much better) version of the film while I made my condom packs yesterday was interesting (I also thought about doing a compare/contrast between the two different versions of the film, “A Tale of Two Studio 54’s”, but I can probably write that into my “Looking for Studio 54” essay); I think the first time I watched the director’s cut I was still completely in the headspace that Shane, the main character (a dazzlingly beautiful Ryan Philippe in all of his youthful glory) was straight but willing to do what he needed to do to get ahead; on second watch, it’s even more clear that Shane’s sexuality is incredibly fluid and while it was possible that he might be gay and just coming to realize it, it’s also not impossible that he could be bisexual. This film is a lot more sexual than the theatrical release, and has no problem exploring the gory details of the hedonism–the drugs and sex–that were the hallmark of that period and of the club itself. There are also some parallels between this movie and Saturday Night Fever–the good looking kid going nowhere who loses himself in the joys of a disco, the only really joy in his life–and there’s also the sense of Shane, rejected by his father for being a disappointment (how many gay men can relate to that experience?) and finding and making his own family; while Shane’s sexuality definitely is fluid in the film, and it never really answers the questions it raises, so much of Shane’s journey parallels the journey of so many young men in the 1970’s drawn to the glittering lights of New York away from their drab lives wherever they were originally from…yes, there’s definitely an essay there, and one that requires watching the film again and probably the theatrical release as well.

And on that note–hello spice mines! Good to see you–and Constant Reader, I will see you tomorrow.

Who Do You Think You Are

Wednesday and hump day; it’s the Wednesday between bi-weekly Pay the Bills Days and all the bills are paid and thus all is right in a Gregalicious world. Huzzah? HUZZAH!

I didn’t want to get up this morning–definitely didn’t want to get out of bed–which is a lovely contrast to a few weeks ago when I was getting up earlier than usual because I couldn’t sleep. The caffeine experiment also seems to continue to work–I wasn’t tired from less caffeine yesterday, didn’t crash from caffeine drop in the middle of the afternoon, and felt fine when I got home from work (other than exhaustion from being out in a heat advisory, which convinced me to skip the gym last night and try again tonight). I worked on Chlorine a little before being sucked into the Olympic vortex last night, but tonight I am going to try to get more work on Chlorine done and maybe do some editing etc. rather than staring at the television for most of the evening. I am really enjoying working on Chlorine–it hit me yesterday that I am having a lot of fun with the character voice, and another key to his character, who he is, came to me last night–more than anything, he’s a survivor, a queer man in a horribly homophobic society doing what he has to do in order to survive and work and keep going without being destroyed in the process–and as such, he has to make some moral compromises…but he truly sees those compromises as endemic to Hollywood and the system; everyone has to make compromises in Hollywood.

I am really, really liking the character, and really really liking writing it. I mean, yesterday I got to write the line “I’ve never cared much about dames.” That inordinately pleased me to no end, and is emblematic of the voice and the tone I am striving for in this book. And I’m actually believing this will be a really good one–which is a feeling I rarely get when I am in the midst of writing something, if ever.

So, I am just kind of basking in the glow of writing something I am enjoying and am proud of at the same time, since it’s such a unique experience for me.

I’m also speaking to my editor tomorrow about #shedeservedit, which she apparently thinks, in her own words, is “amazing”, which nevertheless means I’ll be taking a break from other writing relatively soon in order to do the revisions and edits on it for its January release. At long last, “the Kansas book” will be out there for people to read. I’ve kind of worked on this book, in one form or another, since 1977, really; it’s been a long time a-bornin’, as they used to say in the olden days in the rural midwest. There are some other Kansas book ideas in my head, but unless something really jumps out and grabs me by the throat, this may very well be my last Kansas book. Alabama, on the other hand…one of the things I need to do (which I forgot to add to the to-do list I created yesterday) is go through the Alabama stuff I’ve already written and clear up discrepancies and so forth, as well as make a list of who’s who in the county and the county’s history and so forth. I will be revisiting Corinth County again–for some reason, I’m thinking that one of the supporting characters from Bury Me in Shadows (namely, Beau Hackworth) may even get his own book at some point, and there are numerous other Corinth County stories I want to tell. I may even do some more California books, for that matter…and there’s definitely a book with a Houston tie-in I want to write eventually.

I guess we’ll see how it all turns out.

But I am pretty jazzed I’ve somehow made it to Wednesday relatively unscathed.

This bodes well for the future, methinks. And in a few more weeks I get a four day weekend; they are closing the agency on the 13th and the 16th as a thank you to the staff for working through the pandemic (which isn’t over yet, but I appreciate the long weekend) and we also all got a raise for the year, which was also rather nice. Bouchercon in New Orleans is also happening in a few weeks–at least, so far it is still happening–and while it’s going to involve social distancing and masking, I am still looking forward to seeing my friends whom I’ve not seen in years now. Years.

But if Louisiana’s numbers keep worsening…sigh.

And on that note, I am going to get my day started. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Candyman

I moved to Houston in the spring of 1989, basically to put the past into the rearview mirror and get my shit together. A fresh start was called for, my parents lived there, and so I shipped some stuff and whatever I couldn’t check as luggage or carry on was thrown away. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but rather what I needed to do; I was on a horrible downward spiral of depression and self-loathing and I didn’t see any way to break that cycle while remaining in California. So I boarded an early morning flight and moved to Houston.

I knew relatively nothing about the city. I knew it was in Texas and was a major port, but it didn’t appear to actually be on the Gulf Coast (I would later learn that the Houston Ship Channel was how the city had become a major port), it was big, they had a baseball team (the Astros) and a pro football team (at the time, the Oilers) and a basketball team (the Rockets) and the Astrodome was there. Anything else I knew about the city came primarily from reading Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–still one of my favorite true crime books–but admittedly, that wasn’t much. That book had been published fourteen years earlier, and one thing that is very true about Houston, and remains true, is that it changes all the time, sometimes very quickly.

I liked Houston, but as always, whenever I’ve moved there was some severe culture shock. Texas is most definitely not California…and I had never really driven on major highways in a city before. I was soon to learn that it was impossible to exist in Houston, for the most part, without spending time on highways. I was also kind of taken aback by the amount of gun racks in the back windows of pick-up trucks, and was also amazed at the size of some of those trucks. It was a weird, interesting, sprawling city, and I had no idea where anything was or how to get around or how to adapt…but I learned. I liked it there, and it was there, at my first job (selling natural gas, of all things) that I first heard about Dean Corll. I don’t remember how it came up in conversation–maybe a serial killer had been caught, I don’t remember, it’s lost in the mists of time–and she told me about Dean Corll–and even brought me a copy of a book about the killings–Mass Murder in Houston, by John K. Gurwell. It was very short–it was one of those quick books about true crimes that was cobbled together undoubtedly in a hurry to capitalize on the notoriety, but the one thing that always stuck with me was that one of the ways he and his accomplices would torture the boys was to insert glass rods into their penis and break it off.

After I returned the book, I never really thought much about Corll again, until we watched the Mindhunter series on Netflix. In one of the episodes the FBI guys interviewed Wayne Henley–and that reminded me. Paul had never heard of Corll, and the show reignited my interest in him, so I ordered a copy of Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders. But I was in the midst of something–probably writing another book or who knows what–and so I simply shelved the book and forgot about it….until we watched The Clown and the Candyman…and I hunted up the book and started reading it.

In his canary-yellow house on shady Twenty-seventh Street in The Heights, a worn-out section of Houston, Fred Hilligiest got up long before the sun. A gaunt, wind-dried man of forty-nine, he striped streets for the city of Houston no weekdays and ran a small painting business in his spare time. This morning he had to be on the job at five; the Gulf sun would catch him soon enough and sear another layer of brown into his deep-lined face, as dark and dry as old parchment.

Dorothy Hilligiest, a radiant, pudgy woman with china-doll hands and a small voice to match, saw her husband off and began to work through a list of chores. In a few days, the family would being its annual vacation to the riverside town of Kerrville and there were still errands to run–to the bank, the car wash, the grocery, the hardware store, to Sears for the last few pints of paint to finish trimming the windows. The Hilligiests worked on their house endlessly, landscaping and painting and decorating till the little bungalow gleamed like a model home on its corner lot. The fact that The Heights was generally considered run-down did not discourage the Hilligiests. A family could live in only one house at a time, and theirs was more than adequate. Others had weakened and lost heart, but Fred and Dorothy, deeply religious Catholics, intended to complete their ordained task of raising a family within these familiar walls.

Two children were already married and gone; three sons and a daughter remained, and by the time Mrs. Hilligiest returned from her first batch of errands in town, they were up and babbling about the vacation to come. It was May 29, 1971, Memorial Day weekend blazing hot in Houston. There was talk among the three boys about going to the pool at the Bohemian lodge to perfect a few strokes they would use later at the river. On the previous year’s visit to Kerrville, they had met a couple of young water nymphs who had impressed and outswum them; this year would be different.

David, the family’s blond-haired court jester and jazz drummer, called a friend to suggest a swim, but the friend was busy. By lunchtime, David still had not been able to round up a swimming companion for himself–being thirteen, he did not relish accompanying his younger brothers–and he ate his customary skimpy meal, a hot dog and a glass of root beer. As usual, Dorothy Hilligiest worried about him. He was a small boy with delicate features, five feet three inches tall and not yet a hundred pounds in weight, and he ate like a gerbil. “Don’t worry,” Fred Hilligiest had told his wife. “He’s as strong as a li’l ol’ bull.” Sometimes the boy earned a dollar an hour working for his father’s striping company and pulled a man’s load without complaint.

Like Blood and Money, one of the strengths of this book is its focus on the city of Houston as a character. He also picks a couple of families who lost their sons to Dean Corll and his accomplices, tracing their suffering from the day their child goes missing out of the blue to the discovery of the bodies. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them, and Olsen does a great job of exploring what they went through without being exploitative, as well as their shock and surprise that the Houston police aren’t in the least bit interested in looking for their sons, telling them their child clearly just ran away. (This is a common thread through a lot of the serial killer documentaries and stories from the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s; the assumption that missing kids just ran away because a lot of that was going on within the youth culture of the time–San Francisco, of course, being a primary destination for the lost kids running away. It’s also why the serial killers got away undetected for so long; the cops dismissed the concerns of parents–you can almost see the knowing smirk on their faces as they listened to parents insisting their child wouldn’t have run away.) That actually is haunting; the incredible suffering the parents must have gone through, knowing their child didn’t run away and being turned away by cops.

Olsen also explores Corll’s background–his many-times married mother, his own aversion to actual gay men despite his own sexuality–he wasn’t into going to gay bars or meeting other men of his own age, always being interested in young boys and children (his victims were of all ages, but I don’t think any were younger than twelve; I’d have to check to be certain though). There aren’t any answers here, though; why did he become what he did? How did he somehow convince two young men (Wayne Henley and David Brooks) to not only be accomplices but to lure in victims? Did Henley and Brooks tell the whole truth, or did they push most of the blame off on Corll?

I’ve been wrapping my mind around this horrible story since watching The Clown and the Candyman, and reading this book is currently an inspiration for an idea that is developing in my own head for a fictional approach to telling this story. I can see telling it from two directions, actually; which could also make for an interesting book, or two completely separate ones entirely.

It’s also weird that Corll is so completely unknown to most people these days; Gacy stole most of his thunder, and there haven’t been any books about Corll published, new scholarship or investigative reporting, in decades.

Mesh

Day three of heavy weather in New Orleans; there was a marvelous downpour around six this morning or so that lasted over an hour, complete with lightning and thunder. It’s still gray outside, not currently raining–but there’s a thunderstorm somewhere nearby, as there’s still lightning flashing but with a nice little break before the thunderclap, the kind that lasts for several seconds or more. I didn’t go to the gym last night because the rain was so heavy and had planned to go today–perhaps when I am done with my work-at-home duties today there will be enough of a break in storm bands for me to get over there. I could drive, of course, but that just really seems kind of silly to me since it’s so close. Why yes, I drove the four or five blocks to the gym to work out my body. Granted, rain changes everything, especially New Orleans’ kind of drenching rain, and since we are going into day three of it, the ground is already saturated and can’t absorb it so there’s more standing water than there usually is–and there’s inevitably a lot of standing water any time it rains here.

It just started raining again.

I came home last night fully intending to get a lot done, since the rain precluded the walk to the gym, and while I did do some piecework on Chlorine, I didn’t really do a lot. I was feeling tired, the way I usually do on Wednesday nights anyway, and I also didn’t even bother to unpack my backpack last night, which is not a good sign. I read some more of The Man with the Candy, which is so well-written! I’m really enjoying the book–it reminds me a lot, in how well it’s written, of my favorite true crime books of all time, Blood and Money, and not just because they are both set in Houston–it’s about how well the two different writers wrote about Houston itself, turning the city into a character in the books. This is what I always try to do when writing about New Orleans–giving the reader a strong enough sense of place that the city itself is almost a character in and of itself in my books. This is also triggering the memory that Blood and Money was part of the reason (besides living there) I wanted to set the Chanse series there originally–don’t get me wrong, I am not in the least bit regretful that the Chanse series exists in my own personal New Orleans fictional universe, but there’s always a bit of a pang for me that I have never written about Houston and probably never will, other than as an aside or something in a book. I have several ideas that begin with the character either living in, or being from, Houston; but nothing actually set there.

We also finished the second season of Very Scary People, with the two episodes on Dr. Swango, aka Dr. Death; I’d actually never heard of him before, so he was obviously new to me. We skipped the Bobby Durst episodes–after watching all six or so episodes of The Jinx I didn’t see any real need to spend another hour and a half with Bobby Durst–who, while interesting enough, doesn’t really deserve any more of my attention than he’s already had, frankly. There’s also a new limited series on Netflix, The Serpent (it may be HBO; it’s hard for me to keep track of whichever streaming service these days since there are so many), which is about Charles Sobhraj, a criminal and murderer who operated in Southeast Asia mostly. I read a book about him many years ago called Serpentine, which was also written by Thomas Thompson, who also wrote Blood and Money. It was interesting, and clearly I’ve never completely forgotten it–as soon as I saw The Serpent‘s trailer and its lead actor, I knew exactly who and what it was about–which we may be diving into tonight. There’s also a new mini-series on HBO with Kate Winslet that looks interesting, so there are a lot of options for us to choose from….maybe too many, really.

I’m not really sure why I am having so much trouble getting started on my day–although I suspect the weather has a lot to do with it. When it’s like this I really would much prefer being under a blanket and reading–there’s no better reading weather than rain, is there? It’s just so comforting to be inside and warm and dry while the house is being battered with rain and wind and the sky is rent with lightning and loud thunder….and even though it sometimes means flash flooding and so forth, one of the many things I love about living in New Orleans is the rain (Houston also has marvelous thunderstorms, as did Tampa). I lived for eight years in San Joaquin Valley in California, where it rarely, if ever rained–and we certainly never had this kind of amazing thunderstorm there.

All right, I’ve procrastinated quite long enough. Onward and upward into the spice mines, Constant Reader!

Vicious Circle

Ugh, Monday morning. I slept really well again last night–woke up before the alarm, in fact–and feel relatively well rested, if not completely mentally awake yet. I am sort of feeling like myself again; like my batteries have finally recharged, even if it meant putting some things off for a few days and just allowing myself to relax completely. The Lost Apartment is all pulled back together again; I’ve made some terrific progress with my writing, and my creativity is firing on almost all of its cylinders again, which is more than I ever thought would happen for me again. I finished reading The Russia House yesterday–it’s quite good, if unexciting; the writing itself is so marvelous the coldness of the story itself doesn’t matter, really–and we started watching season two of Very Scary People, getting through the Son of Sam and Night Stalker cases, and then part one of the Coed Killer (honest takeaway from this series: California sure has a lot of mass murderers and serial killers/rapists) before retiring for the evening. I also started reading Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (interesting title, because the term “serial killer” hadn’t really been coined yet), which is extremely well written, and also paints an interesting picture of Houston; coupled with Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–I’ve always wanted to write about Houston. I lived there for two years, and then six months again a few years later, and it’s an interesting, complicated city that no crime writer, at least that I am aware of, has set a crime series in, or written a crime novel set there….which is something I find interesting. I think it’s also true of Dallas.

Interesting trivia Greg fact: the Chanse series was originally set in Houston, and the first book was called The Body in the Bayou. I later, when I started writing it seriously (and got beyond two chapters) I moved the series to New Orleans and the story evolved into Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which is the real reason why Chanse was from Texas: he was originally supposed to have lived in Houston, playing for the (at the time) Oilers after attending Texas A&M before getting injured and becoming a private eye. (In the published series, Chanse went to LSU instead of A&M, and was injured in his final college game, which kept him from playing in the pros.)

I still think someone should write a cop or private eye series set in Houston. As wild and crazy as these true crime books set there make Houston seem, I doubt very seriously that the city isn’t wild and crazy still. I remember going to see the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) there, the very first time it was publicly performed (little known Greg fact), and the audience was interesting….I loved the guys in their formal jackets, ties, Wranglers and boots escorting women in evening gowns and furs and dripping with diamonds ( needless to say, I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt, but I spent the intermissions and the pre-performance time in the lobby literally just staring at the fascinating fashion choices for Houston’s moneyed class).

Oddly enough, there were not many children there; considering it was the stage production of a Disney animated film, you’d think there would be more kids there…but it was a world premiere, and more about Houston’s higher class showing off jewels, furs, and gowns more than anything else.

I also had fun brainstorming the background work for Chlorine over the weekend; naming characters and loosely sketching out bios for them, as well as trying to figure out how to pull off the plot and how to make it work. This is the really fun part of a book–figuring out everything–before the drudgery of actually writing it starts. I am very excited about writing this book, though, and it’s been a hot minute since I was excited about writing a book–in fact, so long that I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to write a book–it may have been Lake Thirteen, all those years ago–which is different than being happy to write a book. I also have to be careful not to worry about expectations of other people, too–Chlorine began its life as just a vague idea I had one morning while writing my blog, which somehow caught on with some of my friends on Twitter who started tweeting at me (some of them still, periodically, will bring up Chlorine on social media, wondering where it is and when I am going to write it), excited about the idea.

I also spent some time yesterday coming up with a to-do list, which I always enjoy doing when I’m not stressed and worn out. When I am stressed and worn out (hello, first three months of this year), to-do lists simply make things worse more than anything else; emphasizing how far behind I am and how much I have to get done and sometimes–not always, just sometimes–the to-do list defeats me once it’s written. Just looking at it causes me stress. I’m not sure how long I am going to be able to hold off stress at the moment–it’s always just lurking there, in my peripheral vision, waiting to pounce on my like a tiger and hold me down–but I am hoping that having the apartment back together and having the two deadlines in my rearview mirror will help stave off it’s inevitable return for a little while, at least.

Tonight I am planning–we’ll see how that goes–to return to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks, which means basically starting over with one set of everything, which means I won’t be there for terribly long, which for a Monday night is a good thing, most likely. Here’s hoping this will also help me fall asleep tonight; insomnia so frequently derails me. The office is also on track to going back to full staffing and regular open hours, possibly as early as May; I am curious to see how that winds up going. I’ve gotten used to the tumbleweeds blowing through our mostly empty department, and it will seem weird having other people around when they actually starts to happen.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, all, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

I Told You So

Finally, a good night’s sleep last night, and I feel rested finally–physically, emotionally, and intellectually–for the first time this week. I didn’t sleep through the night–I was awakened just before four this morning by a simply marvelous thunderstorm; lightning so close it was simply a white flash and then thunder claps that seemed to go on forever as the rain came down torrentially; the emergency notification alerts also came through on both of our phones at the same time. I didn’t get out of bed–I assumed it was a flash flood warning, given the strength of the downpour–but upon rising this morning you can imagine my shock to check my phone to see that it was a tornado warning “for this area”. However, in checking just now I don’t see any tornado reports for the area, but we were in a flash flood warning for four hours (it actually ends in about fifteen minutes–but it’s clear outside). The storms dropped three to five inches of rain a couple of hours–which means at some point I should go make sure the car didn’t get water inside.

But there really isn’t anything like being in bed, warm and comfortable under the blankets, while it’s pouring down rain outside.

I am working at home today, and I have to also get the apartment ready for the delivery of my new washing machine at some point tomorrow. I think I am going to have to take the saloon doors off the laundry room–that’s not going to be much fun–and I am also going to take the bottom shelf down from above where the washer and dryer sit for maneuverability purposes, as well as getting some other things out of the way to make it as easy as possible for the delivery guys. It’s going to be lovely, frankly, having a washing machine again–there’s a load of clothes that needs to be washed, and I also want to do the bed linens, since I couldn’t last week–and hopefully, that will do away with this weird, slightly off way I’ve been feeling since the washer broke last Wednesday night and flooded the laundry room and kitchen.

I think I’ve also been feeling more than a little off-center (off-kilter, off my game, whatever) because I was already not centered as I went into the big (and exhausting) push last weekend to get the book finished and turned in. Finishing a book is always an enormous relief, but that final push to get it done is always, inevitably, exhausting on every level–and then having to get up early for work (or to take Paul to Touro) just wore me down. Insomnia also bedeviled me almost every night this week (until last night, thank the Lord), so finally getting rested last night was most essential and very important. Paul got home late as well, so I sat in my easy chair for most of the evening going down Youtube video wormholes because I was really too tired to be able to focus on reading…although I am hoping to get back to The Russia House after I complete my work-at-home duties today as well as get everything moved around that needs to be moved around preparatory to tomorrow’s washer delivery.

And now I’ve got serial killers on the brain. A friend tipped me off to a series on HBO MAX, Very Scary People, which takes on serial rapists, mass murderers (yes, there’s two episodes about the Manson family) and serial killers. There’s a new book idea formulating in my head–when isn’t there, really?–and I’ve been making notes and so forth this past week, as well as looking up more information about Dean Corll on-line…plus I’ve been trying to remember the early 1970’s and life in suburban Chicago, which is where and when the book will be set. I know, I know, I’m going to write Chlorine next–when my creative batteries have completely recharged and reset–and I also have some submission calls I want to submit short stories to. I wanted to spend this week doing just that–writing/revising/editing short stories–but I just haven’t had the bandwidth to focus and look at the calls (and the in-progress stories I want to write for them) to figure out when things would be due and how much work would need to be done, etc. But I think it’s okay for me to take a week to let my brain recalibrate.

AH, so much to do and as always, the clock is ticking.

I’ve also started reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram. Everything I’ve read of Tuchman’s has become a favorite (A Distant Mirror may be the best history I’ve ever read), and while I have yet to get through her entire canon (The Guns of August is still in my TBR pile), I thought it would be interesting to read this tale of the inflammatory telegram that was primarily responsible for the United States entering the first World War. (I’ve also become very interested–primarily through the writing of my Sherlock Holmes story–in the historical period from, say, 1910-1930, particularly in New Orleans. I would love to write more Holmes pastiches, but am not entirely sure there’s a market for them; I do have one on deck right now–one of the afore-mentioned short stories in progress; I am trying to decide if writing a Holmes pastiche for the submission call would be a smart thing to do, or whether I should just write the story and leave Holmes out of it entirely.) This creative ADHD thing really does suck sometimes…but I am going to actually not berate myself for my brain being all over the map this week because–well, damn it, I just wrote two books totally approximately 195,000 words in total over the course of about five months, give or take. My brain should be fried.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. I need to get some things done before I start working for the day. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

Chemical

Sunday, and time for the final push on the book. I’m at the point in writing where I feel like my entire life has become subsumed by the book; that point where it has seized almost complete control of your brain and you are thinking in terms of when this is done I’ll have my life back. I am also at the point where I hate everything about it, am heartily sick of the story and the characters when I am not actually working on them, and also when I am questioning any and all of my life choices.

I had a socially distant drink (or two) with a friend in from out of town for the Easter holiday, and her mixology skills may have gotten me to switch my allegiance from vodka to gin when it comes to martinis. They are two very different drinks–I’d never particularly cared for gin when I’d tried it in the past, but the traditional martinis she made me yesterday were quite tasty. I did all the errands I had to do yesterday, including the laundromat trip I’d talked about–which was interesting, and I did get much further in The Russia House while I was waiting to switch clothes from washer to dryer and then to finish drying–and then I came home to work for a bit before the cocktail date. It has been quite a long while since I’ve had anything alcoholic to drink, and it was so nice and normal I wasn’t quite sure how to act. After I got home and made dinner, we watched the regional final (LSU qualified for the national semi-finals; they did better than they had the day before, but it was still a rather sloppy meet for them; they can do better and score higher than they have) and then it was on to watch another serial killer documentary series–The Clown and the Candyman (recommended by a friend on Facebook).

Gacy is the more famous of the two serial killers who targeted and tortured boys and young men; Gacy came after Dean Korll and is better remembered for some reason. I guess it’s the whole clown thing, but Korll was, I think, even more sadistic than Gacy and the whole candyman thing–he used to work in his mother’s candy store and gave candy away to kids. It’s kind of terrifying, really, to think about how things usually associated with children were twisted around by these horrible killers. It’s like if the ice cream truck driver turned out to be a serial rapist/killer (Stephen King kind of did this in Mr. Mercedes), or some other trusted person people felt safe having around their kids. This documentary touches on something the Gacy docuseries briefly touched on; that Gacy may have been involved with a nation-wide ring of pedophiles involved in sex trafficking boys. The similarities between the Korll and Gacy murders are eerie and creepy; the assumption has always been that Gacy kind of copied what Korll did, but what if they actually were connected in some way–which is even more terrifying to think about or consider. I’ve always wanted to write about Dean Korll; I heard about the mass killings in the Heights when I first moved to Houston back in 1989, and have been fascinated by the story ever since. I am really looking forward to watching the second half tonight….if I finish my book.

Speaking of which, I am so close to being finished!

So, when I finish this I am going to go back and read the previous drafts of these last two chapters–I don’t think there’s much to be saved from them, frankly, but hey, stranger things have happened–and get them reworked to fit the final narrative. It’s been quite a journey writing this book, frankly–going back all the way to the summer of 2015 when I wrote the first draft in a burst of energy and excitement that hot and fetid July in New Orleans. I’ve also been so horribly disorganized, computer wise, since the Great Data Disaster of 2018, when things started going haywire with my desktop computer and nothing has really been the same since (I’ve not really tried to organize my computer files since then, with so much to do and so much going on; one of the things I decided yesterday was to make sure that, with the manuscript finished and so forth, that I spend some time over the next month–when not revising Bury Me in Shadows one last time–getting all my files and so forth organized–it’s been an absolute bitch revising this manuscript because there are so many versions and so many drafts scattered throughout all my storage–iCloud, dropbox, back up hard drive–that I am never entirely sure I am using the most current version of any of it, to be honest; but it’s fine, really. I am pleased with this version of it, and if there exists better drafts of chapters I’ve been working on, oh well). It’s just so time consuming to go through everything, opening and reading files, determining where the right space for them is, and so forth.

Sigh. So much organizing to get done.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Easter, and have a lovely day.