The Power of Goodbye

At 3:00 pm, Saturday, January 14th eastern time, I officially (and symbolically) turned over my gavel as Executive Vice President of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s going to take some getting used to, methinks.

As you get older, your perspective changes on things when you look back. I’ve never been one to look back at my past–I’ve always tried to focus on the present and the future–but once I hit sixty, it was inevitable. January 20th this month is the twenty-first anniversary of the release of my first novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and with the closing of this chapter–my service to MWA–it’s hard not to look back and remember.

When I was first published, my mystery writer friends kept urging me to pursue mainstream markets and join mainstream organizations. A lot has happened since 2002: Lawrence v. Texas still hadn’t been decided so my sex life was still a crime; “don’t ask don’t tell” was still in place; and it’s not like you could get married to your same-sex partner when our sexuality was criminalized. That was a completely different world and society and culture than the one we currently live in. For one thing, for a gay mystery author, there were queer newspapers and magazines and bookstores. It was entirely possible to make a living and a career for one’s self outside of the mainstream–and this situation developed because of the mainstream’s rejection of most things queer. There had been some queer publishing booms, but I came in at the tail end of the last one–as all the New York publishers had started canceling queer imprints and slowly but surely removing queer writers from their lists. I decided that I would try to arrange signings and appearances at mystery bookstores as well as queer ones, and that was a lesson in homophobia I’ve never forgotten. One mainstream bookstore actually hung up on me after nastily cutting me off to say we don’t carry those kinds of books in our store–some variation of which I heard from all of them except one (which is why Murder by the Book in Houston will always hold a place in my heart). A friend bought me a membership in an organization as a gift (I won’t name it) but it was made abundantly clear to me that mainstream spaces weren’t welcoming or safe for a fledgling queer writer, so I didn’t bother joining any others or going to any mystery conferences–my concerns were always poo-poohed by straight mystery writer friends, which now, in reflection, was a kind of gaslighting, but I was inevitably always proven right (it’s always nice to be told you’re “nobody”). But when I emerged from the haze of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the wreckage it made of my life, publishing had significantly changed, as had the rest of the world. The queer stores were closing, and our newspapers and magazines were shuttering–as were some of our publishers. I took a look around and thought, what am I going to do now?

I took a deep breath and joined Mystery Writers of America. Within a year I was asked to run for my chapter board, and then was asked to run for chapter president, which would also give me a seat on the national board. I remember going to New York for my first board orientation, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel–I always loved staying there; it made me feel like an author the way I only really feel when I am in New York, to be honest–and walking into the room where the meeting was being held. I had already met MWA staffer Margery Flax (at the time administrative director, now Executive Director), who had made me feel not only welcomed but like I belonged, which was something I had only rarely ever felt outside of queer publishing. I remember being awestruck that I was in the same (proverbial) room where it happened; the same board meeting that giants of our genre had attended in the past. I was stunned when a beautiful woman asked me if the seat next to me was taken and I was like oh my god, that’s Harley Jane Kozak! (I knew her from my long addiction to daytime, but also from other films she’d done.) I sat there quietly, overwhelmed, absorbing it all, and that night at dinner I had the thrill of sitting next to Jess Lourey, and as we talked over dinner we became friends–something that has lasted to this day; I will always love Jessie–and over the next four years I slowly found my voice and began taking on more and more responsibilities. It became a huge part of my life, and I kept working, as is my wont, to try to achieve equity for everyone in MWA, specifically with the goal to make queer writers feel welcomed and a part of the organization as a vital part of our community. I made a lot of friends that I cherish to this day, and it felt very weird when my time there was finally up and I stepped away. Being involved with MWA, and making friends in the organization (which led to making even more friends in the genre) was what got me to start attending our genre conferences, getting involved and being more active in the community, and becoming better known than I was before.

It would have been easy to give up after the collapse of queer media and outlets. Mystery Writers of America gave me hope that my career could and would continue, and that the best part was yet to come.

So one can only imagine my surprise when four years after I left the board I was asked to return and serve as Executive Vice President (basically, chairman of the board). I was thrilled, flattered, and honored, particularly for being the first openly gay one in the history of the organization. What better way, I thought, to let queer writers know they were welcome than by being in a leadership position? There was admittedly some hubris involved in saying yes–the making history thing, for one, as well as thinking I could handle all that responsibility while maintaining a full time job and a full time writing career. I will never regret saying yes; the only regrets I have are the mistakes I made (there were plenty) and not having as much time to devote to the office as was needed so I could get everything done that I wanted to get done while I served. But I am not going to focus on the regrets, ever; instead I shall take pride in the things we were able to accomplish.

And now, it’s over. I could have served five years total, but bowed out after three. Were we still living in the same world we were in when I was initially approached in the fall of 2019, I probably would have stayed for the full five. But we’re not living in that same world–the pandemic that shut down the world within two months of my taking office overwhelmed every aspect of my life, from day job to running errands to my writing and publishing career to helping to oversee the operations of the organization. (I like to joke about how I was not only the first gay EVP in history but also the first EVP to cancel the Edgar banquet) Navigating an organization through the unknown waters of a pandemic and a changing world, where there was no previous experience to draw from was challenging, especially since I had to worry about my day job, adjust to working from home on some days and helping with the COVID testing at our office, exposing me to something that could quite possibly kill either Paul or myself every day I was there. The years between 2020 and now are all kind of blurry to me now; sort of the way everything from the Katrina evacuation through about 2009 is either a blank or blurry.

It’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s going to take a while before it sinks in that it’s no longer my responsibility.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences–both good and bad–for anything. Even though sometimes it was stressful and disruptive, and there were times when I got incredibly frustrated because I was very short on time and in the middle of a book that I needed to focus on, it’s going to be weird for me for awhile. It was very weird checking my emails this morning and seeing that there were none with (MWA) in the header line. I worked with some great people and made some friends–at least I like to think so, their mileage might vary–that I would have never made had I not served. I learned a lot about myself, and strangely enough I also think serving somehow has made me a better writer somehow; I know the work I am producing now is vastly superior to the work I did before I served. I know I have a stronger sense of the genre after my total of seven years of service.

The hardest part, I think, is going to be remembering that I no longer have anything other than an opinion and that I am now just one of the many members.

Thanks to everyone I served with, the membership, and the community. I no longer feel like an outsider looking in at the community, and maybe, just maybe, I made a small difference.

I can live with that.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.

I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.

I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.

Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.

I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!

College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.

As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.

I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.

Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.

Hey Now What You Doing

Huzzah for a paid vacation day! No getting up at six am this freezing morning, thank you very much–although the real horror is going to come tonight when it gets into the twenties–there’s a chance we’ll have snow for Fat Tuesday.

Madness.

Although it is frightfully cold for a Lundi Gras–forty degrees this morning, and of course our heat isn’t working, and will be getting gradually colder throughout the day until it gets into the twenties later this evening, with a chance of snow on Fat Tuesday for the first time since 1899. Needless to say, I am wearing layers today and have the space heater going–and it will be following me around whenever I move around the house–the easy chair, even up to the bedroom tonight when we go to bed, although the layers of blankets, Paul and Scooter all combined to keep me nice and warm last night. I slept like a dream, too. I stayed in bed a full hour after I woke up this morning, too, luxuriating in the warm comfort of the bed, and I feel no shame in that at all…why shouldn’t I relax and be comfortable, despite all the work that I have to get done?

I managed to finish going through the manuscript last night, changing it all into the present tense. I caught a lot of things that need to be fixed–changes in story and plot and so forth that weren’t eliminated through the various drafts the book has gone through. Today I am going to print it all out and start going through the hard copy, making notes and cuts and noting where new material has to go to fill in the gaps. I have approximately two weeks to get this all finished before it’s due, and I actually think I am going to be able to get it all done in time. I have a new framing device for the story that I have to write, and there’s a final chapter that needs to be written, and of course the cuts….I am always amazed at how often I repeat myself, and how passive the early draft voice I write in inevitably turns out to be. Today I am going to curl up, most likely in bed, with my laptop, my lap desk, and my notebooks, and start marking up the manuscript. Tomorrow, as it is Fat Tuesday, I am most likely going to take the day off and read and/or watch movies–the Short Story Project is definitely in need of some catching up on, and of course I’ve started a new project of rereading various books in the kids’ series I loved as a child (I am currently reading a Dana Girls volume, The Clue in the Cobweb, that I’ve never read before), and I would love to spend some more time with Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things–I really hate that my reading attention span comes and goes the way it does.

Needless to say, I am most pleased to have gotten through the manuscript yesterday. I am really looking forward to spending March mostly working on short stories as well as pre-planning both Chlorine and Twelfth Night Knavery–I even know how to open the story–and that will eventually lead into the tenth Scotty, French Quarter Flambeaux, which will lead into the eleventh, Quarter Quarantine Quadrille. I also want to try to get some of these novellas finished between working on books, too. Ash Wednesday I have to go into the office, and then it’s two more work-at-home days before I have yet another weekend…so things are looking up somewhat as far as my writing schedule is going. I certainly am getting a lot more finished this year than I did last year, and here’s hoping that I will stay motivated and continue getting things done.

We started watching the second season of Mr. Mercedes last night, which got off to a slow start but is picking up well now. WHat’s interesting is that the show is not following the Bill Hodges trilogy as written by King; they’ve skipped the second book of the series, Finders Keepers, and gone straight on to the third, End of Watch. From a television story-telling perspective it makes sense; the villain of the first book returns in the third, while the middle book is an entirely different story and case for Bill and the gang at Finders Keepers–the detective agency they open after the first book–and while that one may be my favorite of the series, the show’s been renewed for a third season, and I suspect that they will use the plot of the second book as the framework for the third season. There are some other shows dropping this week we want to watch as well–It’s a Sin on HBO and The Luminaries on either Starz or Showtime, it has Eva Green in it and I try not to ever miss anything with Eva Green.

And now it’s raining. We are either going to get rain tomorrow, or snow, or sleet; none of which are appealing, and quite frankly, I am happy for both krewes (Rex and Zulu) that aren’t going to have to deal with parading in such horrendous weather. (I wonder if Zulu is going to come down the river to the Quarter to meet Rex at five today?) I’m supposed to go to the gym at some point today–but there’s no way I am walking five blocks in cold and rain. Is it wimpy of me to take the car? I always used to drive to the gym until we joined one that’s literally right around the corner; our new gym is a longer walk, of course. I would walk to St. Charles Athletic Club in this weather; but Franco’s on Magazine is a bit too far for this kind of nasty weather.

I also have retrieved my blanket from the easy chair; I am actually feeling quite toasty warm here at my desk this morning–between the space heater, double layers, the blanket and my coffee….I could retrieve my fingerless gloves and then the only remaining part of me feeling the cold–my hands–would be taken care of as well. I hate that Paul is going to go out in this weather to go to his office–I’m actually hoping that once he gets up and sees how nasty it is outside, he’ll just work from home…all he needs is a computer and a phone and he can seriously do his job anywhere, but there is something about going into an office–the discipline or mentality that comes with being in your office…plus the guilt factor. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I know when I am at my office I feel guilty for not doing work-related things…it’s raining even harder now. Just truly nasty weather out there….

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–or as lovely a day as you can given the horrible weather everyone appears to be having.

Love Vigilantes

Friday! Friday! Gotta get down it’s Friday! Although I kept thinking yesterday was Friday, actually. It occurs to me that I actually keep this blog so religiously primarily because it helps me keep track of what day of the week it actually is, if not the actual date so much. I am of course working at home today–lots of data entry to do once I got this posted, and of course, it’s laundry day for the bed linens. Yesterday I spent the day making condom packs and then went to the gym, afterwards coming home and feeling completely brain-dead and unable to make any progress on the book–which I will have to correct tonight; I need to be revised through Chapter 10 by this weekend was the goal, which means I need to get four chapters revised tonight or tomorrow, so Sunday I can spend the day copy-editing and coming up with some plans for the second half of the book. If I have some spare moments that I wish to use not being a vegetable, I may work some more on “The Sound of Snow Falling,” which I am actually enjoying writing.

Shocking, right? And at some point I need to get back to Jess Lourey’s marvelous Edgar finalist, Unspeakable Things.

I also went into a bit of a wormhole last night about Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” and have long thought, in idle moments, that I need to address Cancer Alley in a Scotty book; I can think of nothing local that would drive his parents into full-on protest mode than that. (For those of you who don’t live in Louisiana,”Cancer Alley” is what Louisianans call the strip of petrochemical plants along a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The plants are generally located in relatively poor parishes and areas,; there is also a very high prevalence of cancer in those communities, hence “Cancer Alley.” Since the petrochemical companies have deep pockets and Louisiana politicians have always gone relatively cheap, nothing is ever done about it….Louisiana is slowly being destroyed from within because our state legislature, many of our state politicians–including those we send to Washington–are owned these companies in tandem with the oil companies, who are responsible for our gradually eroding coastline and increased vulnerability to hurricanes) Cancer Alley has been back in the local news (it never makes the national news) again because people are protesting again–this happens periodically–but this could be an enormous departure for a Scotty book, which is why I’ve never done Cancer Alley Canard (yes, I came up with the title for it yesterday), but it also doesn’t make any logical sense for Scotty’s parents to never ever talk about, or protest, Cancer Alley…and of course, it would have to begin with a protest (perhaps Scotty and Storm bailing their parents out from yet another arrest) and then an activist would have to be murdered–maybe even a journalist, I don’t know. But corporate evil is something I have always wanted to write about, and perhaps it’s getting closer to the time I do that with Scotty. (For those who are paying attention, that means I have ideas for at least four more Scotty books–this one, Twelfth Knight Knavery, French Quarter Flambeaux, and Quarter Quarantine Quadrille, with Hollywood South Hustle also in the mix.)

But I have to write Chlorine next. That’s the most important thing once I have this one sent off to my publisher.

As Constant Reader is aware, one of the things I do to entertain myself while making condom packs is to continue improving on my vastly inferior education in film. I decided to take a bit of a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and am again saving horror films for this coming October season. I had wanted to do a study of teen films and how they changed and evolved from the 70’s to the 80’s; but yesterday as I scrolled through those options I really didn’t feel like any of them were particularly appealing, given my mood. But as I scrolled, I came across A Room with a View, an 80’s classic from Merchant-Ivory, and I recognized that I had, in fact, never seen a Merchant-Ivory film. I’ve never been a particular fan of E. M. Forster, and while I do recognize the appeal in fictions set during the high noon of the British Empire (likewise, I felt much the same about the Regency period, but found myself thoroughly enjoying Bridgerton and have thus had to alter my thinking about that period, so why not?) at the same time, I have also recognized that the appeal of most of those fictions lies in there being about the privileged–those with country homes and scores of servants, and the ability to travel abroad. The Imperial English were also horrific racists and nationalists as well as classists, so while I was relatively certain Merchant-Ivory films were well made and well done, my attitude towards viewing them was more of a “meh” than anything else. Yet…I had never seen one; this film was one of Helena Bonham Carter’s first big roles; and you really can never go wrong with a cast filled with English actors. So, I queued it up and began watching.

Imagine my delight when within minutes of the film opening I discovered the cast included one of my all-time favorite actresses–the magnificent Maggie Smith–and Judi Dench! And of course, the first section of the film is set in my beloved Florence and Tuscany! I settled in, starting stuffing condom packs with a very delighted sigh, and began watching. The film seemed a bit slow at first–I felt the build-up into the love story between Lucy and George (gorgeous young Julian Sands) perhaps took a little too long, and then the whole matter of the “scandalous” secret that he kissed her in a poppy field during a rainstorm a bit silly (fully acknowledging that in their class, this was the kind of thing that could ruin a young woman’s reputation; one of my frustrations with older periods is how atrociously stifled women were), but once they were all back in England and Daniel Day-Lewis appeared on the scene as a fiancé for her, it got really going. (Might I add how marvelous it was seeing Day-Lewis, who would go on to win three Best Actor Oscars, in an early role as the pompous and very straight-laced Mr. Vyse? He was marvelous in the part, and of course, watching him I couldn’t help but marvel that the man inhabiting this role so perfectly would go on to My Beautiful Laundrette, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, and Lincoln–yes, what an exceptional talent indeed) And of course, Rupert Graves is so astonishingly beautiful as a young man. Visually the story is sumptuous; the writing witty and clever; and of course, the acting is top notch. I shall indeed have to watch more Merchant-Ivory films…and it also occurred to me, as I watched, that I have also never seen A Passage to India, and really should correct that oversight.

And perhaps should give Forster another try.

After completing my daily tasks and chores and the gym, I came home to clean and reorganize a bit. As I was putting books away, I came across my copy of Sanctuary, which I had taken down recently thinking about rereading it. I did reread the first chapter, but then I got caught up in Alyssa Cole’s amazing When No One Is Watching and digressed away from it. One of the reasons I was thinking about Faulkner again was, naturally, because I had been working on Bury Me in Shadows, and the whole world I’d created in that book– as well as a couple of published short stories, and numerous others unfinished–was rather inspired, not only by the region my family is from, but by Faulkner; I wanted to write about Alabama much the way Faulkner did about his jawbreaker of a county in Mississippi (Yoknapatawpha?) and writing various books and stories that were all set there and loosely connected; I also wanted to revisit Faulkner a bit because I wanted to remember the way he wrote; the dreamy texture and atmosphere of his prose, and how he presented his world as honestly and realistically as he could. (I know there are those who consider Faulkner’s works to be racist, and yes, of course they are; the use of the n-word is prevalent, of course, as well as depictions of racial inequities and racist white people; but he also doesn’t excuse them or try to present them as heroic or being right–he leaves that to the reader. Usage of the worst racial slur will never cease to make me recoil or flinch, which makes rereading his work more challenging than it did when I was younger, I am sad to confess.) I had originally read Sanctuary when I was in high school, and really do need to revisit it as an adult and as a published writer, so I can grasp it better and I am also curious to see how I will react to it. I began reading other Faulkner works after I had a very encouraging creative writer teacher in California (as opposed to the monstrous troll in Kansas); he recommended As I Lay Dying to me, and I not only devoured it, but then moved on to The Sound and the Fury, which remains to this day one of my absolute favorite novels. “A Rose for Emily” is also one of my all time favorite short stories as well–and I think it was this story that actually pushed me along the path to coming up with ideas for a fictional county in rural northwest/central Alabama; that story is so beautifully Southern Gothic…and so many small Southern towns have those kinds of eccentrics that it seemed like writing about those eccentrics was the proper way for me to go with my own writing.

My writing career has truly had so many stops and starts over the years…

And on that note, tis time to. head into the spice mines for today. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, and today is a day when I most likely won’t be leaving the house at all, which is also kind of lovely. I am going to be doing data entry until I finish it all; if there’s time left in my work day I shall then go back to my easy chair and condom packing….and seeing if I can find Maurice on a streaming service for free, or A Passage to India.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader!

Primitive Notion

Another good night’s sleep, only to wake up to a frigid forty degree morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have my cappuccino prepared, the space heater is blowing warm air in my general direction, and the ceiling fans are most definitely turned off. The kitchen is clean this morning, which is lovely–there’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher needing to be put away, but that can wait till after work–but it was marvelous to come down to a cleaned up and organized kitchen this morning.

Paul was working last evening, so I did the same. I got another two chapters of the book polished and revised; and hopefully will keep that momentum going this evening. I also started reading Jess Lourey’s Edgar finalist Unspeakable Things, and that voice! It’s quite good thus far, and I am really looking forward to getting further into it this evening after going to the gym. Yes, I have to go workout this evening; my shoulder is finally no longer sore from last week’s inoculation (hallelujah) and it has been nearly a week since I last went to the gym. My muscles and joints will no doubt protest and creak a bit as I put them through their rusty paces this evening, but I really have to get back into the swing of the regular workouts…and I also have been missing them. This is a good thing, and I am very pleased that my natural inclination of blowing off the gym has become, at least currently, a thing of the past; a former behavior, if you will.

I’ve also concluded that there are so many wonderful notes in my journals that when I am not actually writing on the book, I should start going through the journals yet again and pull ideas out of there, actually creating electronic files and folders to track the stories. I have written at least six or seven hundred words in my journal on “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and I need to convert that into a Word document as soon as I can so I can really start writing the story. I also can’t believe I allowed myself to go so long without keeping a journal; I believe it was 2017 when I started keeping them again, and it’s really been rather nice. While I no longer write for the most part by long hand–primarily to spare myself the ordeal of transcribing–I do find that brainstorming while scribbling has a restorative, creative effect; the journals were enormously helpful when writing both Royal Street Reveillon and Bury Me in Shadows–and there are an awful lot of helpful notes and brainstorming in them about the Kansas book, which are certainly coming in handy as I write the book. It has evolved so much over the decades since I started writing it all those years ago, and so much that I wrote in it originally has come in helpful over the years, being pirated and plundered for other books and stories. I am very deeply ensconced inside this manuscript now–to the point where I haven’t been thought about Chlorine since I started this deep dive into this final edit. This is unusual; earlier in my career I would become immersed in a manuscript the way I am now; but over the years it inevitably got to the point where I would always be thinking about–and wanting to work on–the next one while rushing to get through the current. I also think having this razor sharp focus is making the book better than it might have been.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?

I also was thinking about “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday for some reason, as well as “To Sacrifice a Pawn”–two other stories I think I started writing in December; yes, December, because the idea was to write something for a last minute Christmas anthology Gabino Iglesias was pulling together (it’s always interesting to me how I will write a story for a submission call of some sort, but the story rarely ever gets published by the market I wrote it for; take “The Snow Globe” for instance. That started out being written for a Halloween anthology HWA was doing; I never finished it and the deadline passed. I turned it into a Christmas story for another anthology call; it was rejected, but now I have sold it somewhere else entirely), but of course I was in the weeds with Bury Me in Shadows and never finished it; I think the most likely thing that’s going to happen is I will spend March planning out Chlorine while finishing some of these other stories and getting them out for submission. I think I still have two or three stories in anthologies that will be coming out this year at some point; I am really looking forward to seeing the finished books. And at some point soon, I will have enough stories for another single-author collection of my own, which is very exciting.

But the sun is rising over the West Bank with pinks and reds and pale blues staining the sky; and I must start putting together today’s lunch, packing my backpack, and getting into the shower to face down yet another day of clients and work at the office. I’m also going to need to start pulling together my tax information (yay); which I’m also kind of dreading…but I can do that after I finish the book, really. No rush there at all–which is a good thing; there are few things I hate more than prepping my taxes for the accountant.

And so I shall go ahead and bid you adieu for yet another morning, Constant Reader, and hope your Tuesday is as marvelous as you deserve.

How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?

I got up at five yesterday morning for the NO/AIDS Walk; which I worked for five hours. I also worked Saturday, so I gloriously have today off, and don’t have to go in until later tomorrow. I intend to go to the storage unit and retrieve some copies of the first two Scotty books, Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz, because I don’t have any copies in the Lost Apartment, and every once in a while people ask for copies, or I might be able to sell some, or something. In either case, it sucks not having copies on hand. I am a little worried they may be buried in the back of the unit, but I also need to start getting rid of the stuff stored in there anyway. I’m not going to get rid of it all, but obviously, there are things in there I don’t need to keep.

After I came home yesterday I was delighted to watch the Saints win, and we also finished watching Atypical, which is really a charming and funny show you can binge-watch on Netflix, and we also started watching Harlan Coben’s The Five, which is also very well done and interesting.

I also finished reading Linda Joffe Hull’s Eternally 21.

eternally 21

I didn’t think things could get much more for worse than the night my husband came home looking like his usual tall, dark, and handsome self but wearing a very unusual shade of  I’m-really-sorry-but-I-lost-everything-in-a-Ponzi-scheme. Suffice it to say, the news was shocking, distressing, mortifying, terrifying, and any number of other disaster-relating –ings. Given my husband happens to be Channel Three’s wealth-management guru, it was also potentially career ending.

After all, who would watch his show, Frank Finance, if Frank “Finance” Michaels was broke?

I needed to help make ends meet, but there was no out-of-the-way bar where I could cocktail waitress in guaranteed anonymity. Not one where I was sure my husband’s face wouldn’t appear on the corner TV. Beside, Frank had to let his personal assistant go, so I stepped in at a salary of hopefully we’ll be able to keep the house.

Under strict gag orders about our financial bind and obligated to keep up the appearance of what was suddenly our former lifestyle, I did was any resourceful, close to middle-age, stay-at-home mom with a computer would do–after I finished crying and had consumed all the Rocky Road, Doritos, and Girl Scout cookies in the house: Welcome to http://www.mrsfrugalicious.com, the website devoted to all things savings!

Four months had passed since I posted those words and I, Mrs. Frugalicious, AKA Mrs. Frank Finance, AKA Maddie Michaels–still felt a little thrill.

Okay, a big thrill.

In that remarkably skillful opening, Linda Joffe Hull sets up her series: Maddie Michaels is our erstwhile heroine; she runs a website devoted to tips saving money; and she explains not only who she is, but why she runs that website. This is also an incredibly, incredibly clever opening, and a mini-master class is defining character: because you see exactly how Maddie sees herself–she is a wife and mother and partner first and foremost, a person second. She even lists, towards the end there, how she sees herself, in order–Mrs. Frugalicious, Mrs. Frank Finance, Maddie Michaels. She herself doesn’t even realize how important being Mrs. Frugalicious is to her; it’s a career and persona she has created herself, by herself, for herself; her second most important identity is as the wife of a television personality, and lastly, herself. And as you turn each addictive page, the real story of Eternally 21 isn’t necessarily the murder mystery itself, but the story of a woman who has long subsumed herself in the identity of being supportive wife and loving mother, slowly coming to terms with, and accepting, her own power.

This isn’t to say that the murder mystery–a horrible store manager at the local mall Maddie frequents dies right in front of her–isn’t interesting and compelling, full of twists and turns, with some big surprises at the end I frankly didn’t see coming. It’s very deftly plotted, and of course, the most important part of any amateur sleuth novel is coming up with a believable way for the amateur to get involved in the case, and want to try to solve it.  And as she solves the mystery, struggles to keep her secret identity secret, continues to be the glue holding her family and household together, and pull off keeping her website going, it quickly becomes clear that Maddie Michaels is a force to be reckoned with. Maddie is someone the reader can identify with and root for, and her twin sons are also incredibly likable…and you begin to wonder why, precisely, she puts up with her narcissistic husband.

It’s a lot of fun. Published by Midnight Ink, an excellent press primarily focused on crime fiction–they also publish Jess Lourey and Catriona MacPherson’s terrific stand-alones and R. Jean Reid’s (J. M. Redmann’s pseudonym) new series–the book is compelling and a lot of fun; there are times when I smiled, others when I laughed out loud.

I do look forward to reading more in this series.