Skullcrusher

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

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

I Did Something Bad

Actually, it would be bigger news if I did something GOOD, frankly.

But here it is Friday and I am working from home yet again. I have my work supplies already in place, and will be adjourning to my easy chair after reading emails and getting caught up on things. I had intended to watch Aliens immediately after watching Alien earlier this week, but since that didn’t happen, I am now wondering if I should dip back into the world of 1970’s paranoia/conspiracy film (although the point could be made that both Alien and Aliens also fit into that category; I love how film, like novels and short stories, can straddle genres–which kind of defies the very notion of genre in the first place), and both The Parallax View AND Three Days of the Condor are on HBO MAX.

I’ve never seen either (but read the books back in the day) and I am very excited. All the President’s Men is also there, but I’m not sure I can bear, in these times, to watch a film about journalists actually doing their job and holding politicians accountable. Perhaps it’s possible they never did–our own history is littered with examples of journalistic lies and media manipulation–the Hearst empire and fortune was built on that, as The Alienist: Angel of Darkness reminds me in every episode (the Hearst papers, and others of their ilk, were partially, if not directly, responsible for the Spanish-American War, and it is this time period in which the show is set). We are continuing to enjoy this season, which is telling a compelling story and is very well produced, written, and acted. I am also looking forward to Lovecraft Country, and Season 2 (mayhap the final season) of Krypton is also now available on DC Universe.

I also discovered, to my great joy, that my story “The Carriage House” is in the current, or soon to be released, issue of Mystery Tribune (click to order); it also contains stories by Josh Pachter (“Paramus is Burning”; I read this in draft form as a sort of ‘sensitivity reader’), as well as Reed Farrel Coleman and others; they do a lovely job and the magazine is quite beautiful; you can also buy the electronic issue, which is less expensive and will be delivered electronically on August 20th, which also happens to be my birthday–which is in less than one week. I am hoping to be able to take a long weekend next weekend for my birthday–we shall see how it goes.

I’ve not had the energy this week to look at Bury Me in Shadows, but these last few nights I’ve slept extremely well and have felt very well rested each morning when I get up, so I am hoping this will hold through the weekend so I can get those first ten chapters polished and finished. Ideally, I would be able to get that taken care of on Saturday so that Sunday I could start marking up the next ten, but I also recognize that might be overly ambitious and I don’t want to end up berating myself for an inability to get something finished that was overly ambitious in the first place.

But…on the other hand, it’s much too easy to not be overly ambitious and underestimate what one can get done as well–which isn’t as effective, at least for me. If I plan “oh I’ll just get these five chapters done” and then breeze through them relatively quickly, I am not the type to say, “well, since that was so easy I should immediately move on to the next”–rather, I simply pat myself on my back for achieving the goal and walk away from my computer, which is not optimal.

I did, while waiting for Paul to finish up his work for the day (he inevitably will go upstairs when he gets home from work to continue answering emails and do chores before coming down to watch whatever it is we are currently watching), pull up Murder in the Rue Dauphine on my iPad to start reading it again–as I mentioned the other day in my post about the genesis of Chanse MacLeod, I think it might not be a bad idea to revisit the Chanse novels, particularly since I am thinking about writing about him again, eve if only in novella form–but I’d forgotten I’d written an introduction to the ebook edition, which was made available perhaps about ten years after the print book was released; it was this introduction that I read while I waited for Paul last night. It’s really not a bad essay, quite frankly, and since I received Laura Lippman’s My Life as a Villainess, a collection of her published essays and some new material, I found myself again thinking about my own potential collection of essays; while I haven’t published a great many of them over the years, I have published a few–and God knows I’ve been keeping this blog, in one form or another, since December 2004; this December will make sixteen years of blogging. There is, of course, self-doubt involved in even considering the project; it’s not like vast multitudes awaken every day and think oh I need to go see if Greg’s blogged yet. There’s also, I don’t know, this whole self-defeating sense of like anyone cares about your self-reflection or your opinion on anything.

God, it never ends.

I also managed to get Alex Segura’s Poe Dameron: Free Fall this week; and this is actually a Star Wars novel I will read rather than just place on the shelf and let collect dust (I read the novelization of the first film, obviously, many years ago, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster and credited to George Lucas, and enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was written and published between Star Wars–the first film will always be Star Wars to me, and I am ready to die on that hill–and The Empire Strikes Back; when the second film was released all of its revelations and surprises immediately made the book wrong and irrelevant and reduced it to simple fan fiction. I vowed then I would never read another Star Wars novel, other than novelizations of the films, because I couldn’t trust George Lucas to release a film that fucked with the books–and sure enough, the release of The Force Awakens wiped that universe clean and all the novels released since 1983 became non-canon–which made me glad to have not read them. But…the release of The Force Awakens also made remember my fanboy self, and I did start buying up the books again–especially the ones that were well-regarded, like the Thrawn trilogy. And yet I’ve never gotten around to reading any of them…but I will most definitely read Alex Segura’s because I know he’s an amazing writer).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and will check in with you again on the morrow.

A Man Could Get Arrested

And today I am going back to work. I took a vacation day yesterday–one last gasp, as it were–and actually managed to get some writing done. I got another two thousand (almost three) words done on the Sherlock story; which was great because I was beginning to think I was never going to get back into a writing groove again. They may not be good words, but they are words, and I will take them gladly, thank you very much.

It felt really nice to be writing again, and writing something that I should be writing, instead of all these story fragments and openings that I’ve been working on lately; something I need to be getting finished rather than letting my creative brain ping all over the place uncontrollably, like a pinball. It’s also kind of nice to be going back to work this morning; I am very much a boundary person, and because i am so jealous of my free time, there are definitely boundaries I’ve set up around my job–primarily if you aren’t getting paid don’t spend time on it.

It can be tricky sometimes.

But I’ve been out for over a week now, and as you can imagine, isolating myself entirely from my day job for that amount of time has left me without a clue as to what is going on at the office, and I do have to swing by there today, if not to stay and work (I’m not sure what will be needed or required from me now) or if I have to come back home and do data entry (but there’s something at the office I need in order to continue doing that), so who knows what the day holds for me?

Heavy sigh. These are, after all, strange times in which to be living.

The weather here has cooled off–the cold front that resulted in those dreadful storms across the south on Sunday has lingered; yesterday was actually kind of a lovely day, all things considered–sunny and cool in the low seventies, a beautiful and rare spring day–but alas, my trip to the uptown Rouse’s yesterday did not yield what I needed it to, and am going to have stop at the one in the CBD on the way home from the office to get the other things I need.

Oh! I am also guesting over at Art Taylor’s The First Two Pages today, talking about my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” in Josh Pachter’s anthology The Beat of Black Wings.

One of the more interesting things about this entire quarantine/shelter-at-home experience with COVID-19 is the behavioral changes I’ve made. I’ve already mentioned that I’ve become a bit addicted to my Kindle app on my iPad, after years of vowing not to read electronically; I’ve actually been using my phone as a phone as well, which is terrifying to consider. I’ve successfully avoided and staved off phone calls for years, other than calling in to board meetings. Who knows, I may even start listening to podcasts. The world has turned upside down.

But I also started a wondrous reread last night: Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandback, which is the first in one of my favorite series of all time, and introduces us to Amelia Peabody, the headstrong spinster heiress who decides to visit Egypt–her father was a classics scholar, while her older brothers married and moved away, she stayed with her father to take care of him and inherited his enormous fortune when he died, and decided to see all the places her father studied–and her wit and charm! Obviously, I loved the Amelia Peabody series, and the characters, but I had forgotten how much. My God, Amelia can make me laugh out loud, and revisiting the book, I remembered how much I loved her–and this book, where she meets the three people (Emerson, Walter, and Evelyn) who are destined to be her created family (along with Abdullah) and when she finally reaches Egypt and falls in love with the country…and that take charge and take no prisoners attitude….well, before I knew it, I was zipping along in the book and was close to being finished with it. Trust me, when I am finished there will definitely be a blog appreciation of Amelia Peabody.

And I should get to work now. Have a lovely day, all, and I’ll see you on the other side of the spice mines.

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The Silky Veils of Ardor

As Constant Reader knows, Gregalicious loves short stories. He regrets deeply that they are much harder for him to write than novels (I’ve often joked that I find it much easier to write a novel than a short story; the word count limitations are hard for me as I always tend to write probably more than is needed to illustrate a particular point–take this sentence, for example), and I am sure part of this insecurity comes from my oft-told tale about my first writing professor, who earwormed his petty nastiness into my brain and soul. (But also this gives me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction in that I know I’ve published more fiction than he did during his time on this planet; to this date, I still cannot find a single fiction publication for the prick.)

And while I am a firm believer in the mentality that writers should always be paid–even if merely a token–for their work, I will often write short stories if requested, and don’t mind donating a story for a good cause. The two stories I had in Bouchercon anthologies weren’t paid, nor was my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s; like I said, when I am asked to write a story I am genuinely so flattered that the editor thought enough of me and my work to ask. I like writing short stories, even if they are a struggle for me, and there aren’t many places where one can get them published these days.

I was enormously flattered to be asked by short story master Josh Pachter to write a story for his anthology of stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. The irony, of course, is that while I am familiar with Ms. Mitchell and her work–and I like what I know of it–I am not as familiar with her canon as I am with women singer-songwriters like Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton or Carole King; I also realized that the songs of hers that I could name off the top of my head–“Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, etc.–were the same ones anyone could; I wanted something not quite as famous and perhaps a little more obscure, something to which a Joni Mitchell fan would say oh yes, of course you chose that song.

So, I did what I often do in these situations: I asked my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford), and he immediately came back with “You should pick ‘The Silky Veils of Ardor.’ It’s about that hot guy all the high school girls fall in love with and breaks their hearts.”

That was definitely intriguing, so I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song several times as I listened to Joni’s sweet voice singing them…and I knew immediately what story I was going to tell.

jonicover.final

The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she stepped out into the hotel lobby and took a quick look around. At the front desk, a young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she was holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to head back to the elevators and punch at the UP button until the doors opened, get back to her room and repack her suitcases—everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet—was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this….

A dull murmur came from the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattle of ice against glass, the whir of a blender. From where she stood, she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses with trays balanced on one hand maneuvering expertly around groups of people.

Maybe no one there was from the reunion. Maybe she was early. Maybe—

You can do this!

She’d always had social anxiety. Had never made friends easily, couldn’t make small talk, sometimes said the wrong thing, alienated people without even knowing what she’d done. Parties and dances had always been agony. Even with friends, people she felt relatively certain actually did like her, there was always the irrational fear she’d say the wrong thing, forget a birthday, commit some horrific social faux pas that would turn them against her, show them what a damaged, worthless person she actually was. She’d started seeing a therapist after college, years after she should have, but her parents thought therapy was all touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo for the weak and all you had to do was suck it up and forget about it, not worry, lock it all away in some dark corner of your mind and move on.

I have never attended a high school reunion, and frankly, have little to no desire to ever do so–with no offense intended to anyone I went to high school with. Our school was very small and remote, for one thing–my graduating class had only 48 students, and at that point, were the largest graduating class in our high school’s history. It’s not easy to get there–one would have to fly into either Kansas City or Wichita, rent a car, and drive for at least an hour just to get to the county seat, and of course, my high school was about nineteen miles (give or take) north of the county seat. I do think about going back from time to time, more to take a look around and see what’s different now as opposed to then; to refresh my memories a bit for writing about the region–which I’ve done somewhat already, but not nearly as much as I could. Using Google Earth has already shown me that my memory is faulty–I’ve fallen into Google Earth wormholes frequently–so while there is some idle curiosity about going back, there’s very little desire or motivation. It’s difficult, I think, for my classmates to understand that I really don’t have much desire to revisit that time of my life; it’s certainly not their fault but the four or five years I spent in Kansas also contain some of the darkest periods of my life.

I wrote a short story about a high school reunion under my Todd Gregory pseudonym; “Promises in Every Star,” which eventually became the title story of my Todd Gregory collection. I first had the idea for that story when I received the invitation to my ten year reunion, back in 1988; the title is a lyric from one of my favorite til Tuesday songs, “Coming Up Close,” from my favorite album of theirs, Welcome Home, which I can listen to over and over again, and have, many times; it’s definitely in my Top Five favorite albums of all time. I don’t remember where I originally published that story, but it was many, many years later, after I had the original idea and wrote the first draft (in long hand), and after that, I figured I was finished with high school reunion stories.

Until “The Silky Veils of Ardor.”

As I listened to the song, the more the story began to take shape in my head; a high school reunion, twenty-five years later; returning to the town where she went to high school for the first time since she graduated and moved away with her family. I had already written the opening, for another short story; as I revised and retooled that particular story, the character grew and changed and wasn’t the timid, nervous, medicated woman she originally was–but I loved that original opening, and decided to lift it from the initial drafts of that story onto this one. I found the original word document of the first draft, erased everything after the opening few paragraphs, and renamed the file THE SILKY VEILS OF ARDOR. The rest of the story flowed out of me after I finished rereading and tweaking the original opening to fit the new story, and I was off and running. I revised the story several times, and one of the things, one of the points, I was trying to make with the story is about how differently we see high school than our friends and classmates did–which is an idea I’d been toying with after an exchange on social media with some of my classmates after I’d posted something–a status update or a blog post, or something along those lines–about how miserable I’d been in high school; my friends were all astonished because how remembered high school was very different from the way they remembered it, and me. I remembered feeling isolated and lonely, like an alien from another planet set down into their midst; a freak everyone kept at arm’s length. They, on the other hand, remembered me as being popular and well-liked by everyone.

And that, my friends, is where this story came from. I still think about those tricks our memories play on us; our inability to see what was right in front of us if we could just see clearly.

The book will be officially released on April 7th from Untreed Reads; you can preorder it at any vendor that sells ebooks. There’s a stellar line-up of writers, and some of the proceeds are going to charity.

And thanks again to Josh Pachter for inviting me.

Here’s a link to Joni singing the song–this is the video I listened to for inspiration.

Boot Scootin’ Boogie

Wednesday morning, and the month of March is already slipping through our fingers like water in a sieve. It looks again to be a gorgeous morning out there–at some point this morning I am heading to the gym. I’ve just finished the long part of my work week–the two twelve hour days, and yesterday was particularly brutal, quite frankly. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but alas, staying in bed all day won’t make the world go away nor will it deny the inevitability of Wednesday and all of its commitments arriving. So, I am going to slurp down some coffee, get some things organized, clean this messy kitchen/office, head to the gym, make a list of the errands I must get done today, and so on and so forth before I head into the office for four o’clock-ish.

I do feel tired this morning–I’m not sure if it’s tired from the two long days or a sleep hangover from my over-indulgence this morning–but I am sure the coffee will soon start kicking in and getting me over this hump. I did get a chance to write some more on my Sherlock Holmes story, but the primary focus for today needs to be my emails–at least for this morning–and maybe I can swing back around to working on the story later this evening. I’m relatively pleased with what I’ve done so far and the idea I have for the story; I am also working on another story with the same deadline–but this one is easier; I just have to revise a story that was turned down for another anthology and fix what was wrong with it to get it ready for this new submission.

But like the ant with the rubber tree plant, I’ve got high hopes.

This morning, the cover for the Joni Mitchell anthology I contributed to, The Beat of Black Wings, edited by the incomparable Josh Pachter, was announced and revealed over at the BOLO Books blog; click and go check out the cover  but the table of contents. I am enormously thrilled and excited to be sharing the TOC with such amazing writers as Elaine Viets, Donna Andrews, Art Taylor and Tara Laskoski, Sherry Harris, Brendan Dubois, and numerous other people who’s work I’ve enjoyed and admired for quite some time. My story was “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” inspired, naturally, by the song with the same name. When Josh graciously asked me to write something for the anthology, it was actually my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford) who suggested which song to use. I will admit that while I am a fan and have always liked her work, I’m also not familiar with a lot of it, and also figured that the songs that I knew were most likely the songs everyone knows, and I wanted to do something not quite as famous as, say, “Free Man in Paris” or “Both Sides Now” or “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Help Me”. That Bitch Ford came to the rescue, suggested the song I used, and once I listened to it, I was like, hell yes, I can write this story.

I always say the best advice I’ve ever received or can give to a writer is to never throw anything away, and this certainly proved to be the case this time. I had written a dark yet delicious story set in a hotel bar at a writer’s conference with the TERRIFIC title “Death and the Handmaidens” (I still have hope for that title and the story, to be honest) which never got anywhere. Everywhere I submitted it to rejected it, so I clearly had missed the mark with it somehow, but I liked the seedy hotel bar setting, and after listening to Joni’s song, which is basically about a beautiful boy all the teenaged girls fall in love with, I started , naturally, thinking back to high school and the beautiful boys all the girls had crushes on…and the more I thought about it, the more I realized the seedy hotel bar setting was perfect for this, only instead of a writer’s conference it was a high school reunion, and my main character’s social anxiety disorder (something I experience from time to time) fit into this story much better than it did in the original. I took the original three paragraphs from “Death and the Handmaidens,” used it for the opening of this new story, and it just took wings (if you’ll pardon the allusion) from there. Josh gave me only a couple of edits, which was again enormously flattering, and now the story will be available soon–along with all the others, which I am truly looking forward to reading. I believe the anthology is going to be officially released in late April/early May; right around the same time that another anthology, The Faking of the President, will become available with my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” included.

I do love writing short stories, even if it’s like amputating a finger sometimes, and I really love getting them into print. Last year saw my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, see print with some new stories, and also saw the inclusion of my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (all available for your Anthony ballots, just saying). “This Town” is probably my favorite of all my short stories ever published, at least in recent memory; if I do another short story collection I will probably make it the title story, aka This Town and Other Stories.

All right, it’s time to get my shit together. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you again tomorrow.

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Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

Well, I don’t know about coming down, but it’s definitely Sunday morning.

Then again, I did have to come downstairs, so I guess that’s somewhat applicable.

I wallowed in bed until nine this morning; I woke up originally at approximately seven AM and chose to stay in bed, it was kind of a lovely thing. The nice thing about football season being over is there’s no longer a need to get up early on the weekends in order to get things done before the games start–I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just stay in bed and relax and stay there until you really feel guilty about staying under the covers for so long. I stayed in bed pretty late yesterday morning–eight or nine, I don’t remember–but it is lovely, even if it throws my sleep schedule off a bit, seeing as how I must rise at six the next two mornings. But c’est la vie, right?

I did get some good work done yesterday on the Secret Project–which is going to be my primary focus this morning before I go to the gym–and I also have emails to answer. I also finished reading Tracy Clark’s terrific debut novel, Broken Places, yesterday, and then spent a good while trying to decide what to read next. As a general rule, I don’t like to read more than one book by a solitary author in a row, particularly when I have three of them to read; I’m interviewing Tracy for Sisters in Crimes’ quarterly newsletter, and so it behooves me to read them all. No worries–I am going to devote an entire entry at some point to Broken Places–probably shortly after I finish this one, to be honest.

I also got the lovely news that the Joni Mitchell anthology i contributed to, edited by Josh Pachter, The Beat of Black Wings, will be out and available in time for Malice Domestic! This anthology is a “crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell,” and the table of contents is a veritable who’s who of crime writers and people I am lucky enough to call friends. My story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” is one I particularly am proud of; I feel like I’ve been doing some terrific work on short stories over the past few years, dating back to the Short Story Project (which reminds me, I have another one I need to get started writing, and soon), and I do hope you’ll get a copy of the anthology. The proceeds are going to a charity; one of which Ms. Mitchell approves, and I believe the anthology is even going to promoted and featured on her website, which is very cool. More to come on that front, of course.

Oh, did I mention I am going to Malice Domestic this year? Yes, that’s correct, Constant Reader, I am going go be at Malice Domestic this coming May; I’ll be taking Amtrak down from Penn Station the morning after the Edgars to Malice Domestic. This is my second Malice, and I am really looking forward to it–particularly seeing friends win Agatha Awards two days after the Edgars. I’ll be flying home the following morning (that Sunday), but it’d going to be an absolutely lovely trip, and one which I hope will once again make me feel once again connected to the writing world.

Krewe de Vieux was last night, but I stayed home; Paul went to watch with friends, but I’m reserving my energy and strength for the St. Charles Avenue parade season, which opens this Friday with three parades. There are four or five more on Saturday, and then another two on Sunday; at least Sunday wraps up early in order for there to be rest and relaxation for the two-day break before the final stretch of six days and seemingly endless parades begins.

I can hardly believe it’s parade season again, but here we are.

I’m thinking, since we’re most likely going to start watching HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider this evening, that perhaps it’s time to crack the spine of the first edition hardcover I own and start reading it; I do like to read the book along with the series adaptation whenever I can–this worked really well with Big Little Lies–but I am also thinking that maybe I should read a cozy next? It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my toe into the cozy waters, and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to read one next? But I simply cannot seem to make up my mind, heavy sigh. Maybe a reread of Where Are The Children  as a memorial to Mary Higgins Clark?

So many books to read, and so very little time.

Well, I suppose I can put off the decision a little longer…and perhaps it is time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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I’ll Be True To You

Very, very tired this morning, but LSU won the national championship last night over Clemson, 42-25, snapping Clemson’s winning streak at 29 and capping off a season we fans could have only dreamed of, as recently as last August. I certainly never expected a 15-0 record-breaking national championship season–although I always hope–and even in my wildest, most fanciful dreams–it was never this dominant, complete, or amazing. I’m very tired this morning and my throat is a bit raw from yelling–but hopefully when I complete today’s twelve-hour shift, I can go home and go to bed for about twelve hours or so. I leave for New York for the weekend on Thursday morning–more about that later–and I have a lot to do before departing.

Despite the exhaustion, I am so happy, Constant Reader–so very, very happy, and so proud of the team and Coach O. What a gift to the fans this season was, indeed.

In other exciting news, I recently discovered that an anthology I contributed to has found a publisher! The anthology, compiled by Josh Pachter, is called The Beating of Black Wings and is crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell! My story is called “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” and is another dark tale of brooding and vengeance. (Hmm, sensing a theme in my work…) Josh announced the contributors include  the list of contributors features such fabulous authors as Donna Andrewsw, Abby Bardi, Michael Bracjen, David Dean, Brendan DuBois, John Floyd, Barb Goffman, Sherry Harris, ME, Matthew Iden, Edith Maxwell, Alison McMahan, Adam Meyer, Alan S. Orloff, Kathryn O’Sullivan, Christine Poulson, Marilyn Todd, and Stacy Bolla Woodson–plus the first-ever literary collaboration by Tara Laskowski And Art Taylor, and the first-ever fiction collaboration by Jackie Sherbow and Emily Alta Hockaday (managing editors of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Isaac Azimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Analog Science Fiction & Fact.

Pretty cool stuff, huh? Quite the array of talent there, and somehow I got snuck in there, too!

And the Lefty Award nominations ALSO came out:

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel
  ° Ellen Byron, Fatal Cajun Festival (Crooked Lane Books)
  ° Leslie Karst, Murder from Scratch (Crooked Lane Books)
  ° Cynthia Kuhn, The Subject of Malice (Henery Press)
  ° Catriona McPherson, Scot & Soda (Midnight Ink)
  ° Wendall Thomas, Drowned Under (Poisoned Pen Press)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial)
for books covering events before 1970
  ° Susanna Calkins, Murder Knocks Twice (Minotaur Books)
  ° L.A. Chandlar, The Pearl Dagger (Kensington Books)
  ° Dianne Freeman, A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder (Kensington Books)
  ° Jennifer Kincheloe, The Body in Griffith Park (Seventh Street Books)
  ° Sujata Massey, The Satapur Moonstone (Soho Crime)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel
  ° Steph Cha, Your House Will Pay (Ecco)
  ° Tracy Clark, Borrowed Time (Kensington Books)
  ° Matt Coyle, Lost Tomorrows (Oceanview Publishing)
  ° Rachel Howzell Hall, They All Fall Down (Forge Books)
  ° Attica Locke, Heaven, My Home (Mulholland Books)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel
  ° Tori Eldridge, The Ninja Daughter (Agora Books)
  ° Angie Kim, Miracle Creek (Sarah Crichton Books)
  ° Tara Laskowski, One Night Gone (Graydon House)
  ° John Vercher, Three-Fifths (Agora Books)
  ° Carl Vonderau, Murderabilia (Midnight Ink)

Hmm, not sure why that pasted as tables. Oh, well.

And now, let me sleep-walk my way into the spice mines.

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The Way We Were

Cold and damp. That’s New Orleans this week. Which doesn’t really make me want to do anything other than curl up under a blanket with my love-to-cuddle kitty with a good book. I didn’t do that on Monday night, because I made groceries on my way home and then I had to clean the kitchen preparatory to making dinner when Paul got home and by the time we were finished with dinner, I sat down and tried to finish Chapter fucking Four of the book, to no avail. I did manage to get about another three hundred words done, with the ease of extracting an impacted molar; but last night when I got home from the office I was able to–despite shivering–finish that miserable chapter and try to get started on Chapter Five.

Which went about as well as you might expect. Sigh.

But I did get some good news on another front: I sold a short story! Because I am superstitious I don’t want to say what story and to what market, until the contract is signed…but this hopefully will end the long horrible fallow period of no sales I’ve been working through for slightly over a year. I am really pleased, and I really like this story, so I am glad it has found a home–and one that will actually PAY me for using it.

Yay!

I do have two other short stories that will see daylight in 2019; “This Town” in Holly West’s Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which of course is crime stories inspired by the music of the Go-Go’s, and “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” in Josh Pachter’s The Beating of Black Wings, crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. I’m very proud of both stories, and look forward to their publication.

That’s the weird thing about this business. Maybe the upper tier of writers–those who are not only making a living but doing very well–might view things differently, but for me it’s a constant struggle to stay positive and believe in myself and what I’m doing–or rather, trying to do–with my writing and my stories. It can be quite disheartening, like when I am struggling trying to get Bury Me in Satin written, or at the very least, continue moving forward with it; rejections from short story markets or non-responses from agents can be a blow, no matter how hard you try to stay focused and positive. So these small victories–even a fifty dollar sale of a short story–really do help.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines.

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Who’s Johnny

Yesterday I spent a few hours rereading (skimming) the manuscript and I really need to stop being self-deprecating; as a whole, it actually holds together very well and there are some mistakes and loose ends that I did manage to catch; but overall, it’s a very solid, workable first draft and I am enormously pleased with it. I’ll probably do some more futzing with it tomorrow–time-lines and so forth–but I think with the notes I made and a very strong eye to line editing, I can have this finished by the end of the month after all.

HUZZAH INDEED!

I also went over the final edits for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and approved them for editor extraordinaire Josh Pachter, and send them off. Yet another huzzah! This pleases me to no end, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I was, as always, deeply concerned about the novel manuscript; I’m not certain when and where and how I developed this horrible mentality (an off-shoot of Imposter Syndrome or simply another deeply psychotic self-loathing version of it) that everything I write is terrible or garbage or whatever negative thing I can possibly think to say about it while in process; maybe it’s the familiarity and closeness to the story, knowing what I want it to be and what it’s not turning out to be on the page as I struggle through the first draft, but I’d hoped to avoid that with writing this book. This is why I went off deadline for the first time since 2001; so that I could take my time (other than my own personal deadlines) and not feel rushed to finish. My usual methodology for writing a manuscript evolved into writing on deadline and going back, when stuck, to the beginning and revising, with the end result that I usually wrote the last chapter or two the week (or days) before turning it in, and almost always after the original deadline. The end result of this was, to me, that the first two-thirds of my books were often rewritten, revised and polished repeatedly, while the final third maybe got a good going-over maybe once; which quite easily produced the mentality that my work fizzles out at the end rather than delivers.

Obviously, it never crossed my mind as a possibility that that final third of the book needed less work than the first two-thirds precisely because so much work went into the first two-thirds. When I reread my novels now, they seem seamless to me as they move from beginning to end; there’s no place where I can ever identify as definitely being, ah yes this is where I had to start rushing. In other words, it’s part of the self-loathing that comes from a lifetime of self-deprecation, the mentality that if it’s better if I point out my own flaws in a gently mocking, funny, amusing manner before someone else does it in a more cruel fashion.

As you can tell, the part of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette that had to do with self-deprecating humor resonated particularly strongly for me; this notion that I can head off humiliation at the hands of others if I voluntarily humiliate myself first, and that way I can be queer in public with a slightly higher degree of safety. I shall continue to reflect on this, think about it, blog about it more–but the truth is, self-deprecation is really not a good thing. Humility, the knowledge that your success is not only the result of hard work but also involved a healthy dose of what can only be described as sheer luck–whether that’s simply timing or whatever else it might be–is a completely different thing from self-humiliation. I know I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my career; most of it has benefited from being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, but none of that would matter without the work. 

If I hadn’t done the work–if I hadn’t written the books or the stories or edited the anthologies, none of the timing would have amounted to anything. So I need to stop allowing myself to think that luck is the sole source of my writing career. Yes, luck did, and has, played a part in my career, but it wasn’t all luck. And there’s nothing, nothing, wrong with allowing myself to take a little credit for the work I’ve done.

It’s really kind of sad that it’s taken me this long to get here–and I’m still not completely here; my default is automatic self-deprecation, and I’ve got to stop that. It’s certainly not healthy, and it’s certainly not helpful in any way.

The final story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”:

“You really see some tragic drag in this place at four in the morning,” Dennis said, shaking his head. He said it a little too loudly, and I glanced over at the counter nervously. He rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Don’t look so worried. She didn’t hear me.” He looked over at her with disgust on his face. “Besides, she’s so fucking wasted she doesn’t know what day it is.”

He plucked a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low out of the little caddy next to the ketchup and mustard bottles, and shook it a few times before dumping it into his red plastic cup of iced tea. He took a big swig before using a paper napkin to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead.

It wasn’t quite four in the morning, but I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. The digital jukebox was blasting a remix of Rihanna—“Only Girl in the World,” which weirdly enough seemed like the appropriate soundtrack for episode of The Real Housewives from Hell playing on the flat screen television mounted on the wall I was facing.

I wiped my own forehead with a napkin. It was hot in the Clover Grill and the air seemed thick and heavy with grease. Burgers were frying on the grill, and French fries were sizzling in the deep fryer. The smell was making me more than a little nauseous. I didn’t know how Dennis could possibly eat anything. I felt a wave of nausea coming on, so I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths till it passed. My lower back was aching, so I turned in my chair and put my back up against the wall. We were sitting at the table in the absolute back, and Dennis had his back to the front door. I put my feet up on the extra chair at our table and leaned forward a bit, trying to stretch the ache out of my back.

I took another big drink out of my red plastic cup of water and couldn’t help smiling to myself. I recognized the tragic looking drag queen sitting at the counter. I’d seen Floretta Flynn perform any number of times at various clubs in the Quarter. She was one of the better drag performers in the city, and was actually quite funny. She’d been hostess of the show we’d caught earlier in the evening at the Parade, while we were waiting for our dealer to show up. She’d clearly had too much to drink since then—Dennis swore drag queens were always smashed when they went on stage, but I couldn’t tell.  It was obvious now, though. She was seated at the counter on one of the revolving stools, leaning against a hot muscle boy who didn’t seem quite as wasted as she was. Her massive 1970’s country-singer wig was askew and her lipstick was smeared around her mouth. Her mascara was also smudged around her eyes, and it looked like she may have tried to wipe off some of the foundation and rouge on her cheeks. Her bright red sequined dress looked dirty, and she’d spilled something down the front of it.

This story was written for Jerry Wheeler’s Dirty Diner anthology; I’d written the beginning years earlier, based on the exact same conversation I had with a friend at the Clover Grill around four a.m. as we stopped to get something to eat on our way out of the Quarter. I originally saw this story, when it was conceived, as part of the ‘four-friends-in-the-quarter’ book The World is Full of Ex-Lovers; and it really ties in with some of my other stories about the same characters; though I’m not sure anyone else ever made the connection. This story has a theme that I’ve returned to over and over again in my fiction: finding validation after rejection.

That particular theme also calls for some further reflection, frankly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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