My Sweet Lord

Saturday, fucking finally.

This has been a not-good, no good week and here’s hoping it was an aberration and everything is going to reset right now and become something more resembling what passes for normality around here lately. Everything has been out of sync and/or messed up all week, and frankly it’s also kept me from getting anything done or making progress on any number of things I need to be making progress on, which as you can imagine is incredibly fucking annoying.

Jesus.

Today I am going to make a run to the mailbox and to drop off some books for the library sale, as well as do some other clean-up around here. I’ve decided the next book I am going to read is Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron (I am interviewing her next month for the book release at Blue Cypress Books in Riverbend) and I may as well get a jump on that, maybe come up with some questions for her ahead of time so I am not just winging it the night of–she definitely deserves to have a prepared interviewer, not the usual “I’ll make it up as I go” bullshit I always, inevitably fall back on whenever I have to do something of this sort. (Yes, that’s me: a thorough publishing professional.)

I slept deeply and well last night–I allowed myself to stay in bed until nearly eight o’clock–and as such I feel pretty rested and good this morning. I actually feel like I may even be able to get things accomplished this morning, which is a lovely change. I have to admit I’ve been concerned and worried about the depths and extent of my exhaustion lately, but this morning I feel good for the first time in a long while. Good thing, since the house is a disaster area; I am going to definitely be spending time on the Lost Apartment and the office area today cleaning and organizing and getting everything back under control around here. I am going to try to get that story written today, and some other odds and ends. With luck, I’ll be able to get it all out of the way and handled today before I run out of gas or the lazies set in; which is of course inevitable. But really, this mess is untenable, and I am more than a little annoyed I’ve allowed things to get to this point YET AGAIN. Yet I cannot deny that I was tired and worn out all week; it felt like I was sleeping well but obviously I must not have been, given how little I was able to get done all week.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

We finished watching Captive Audience on Hulu last night, about the tragedies of the Staynor family–perhaps best known as the I Know My First Name is Stephen story. We moved to the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, to be exact) when I was only nineteen; the story was still news even then, and I became fascinated by the story–a fascination that never went away and was only made more intense by Stephen’s tragic death at a very young age and even more intense by the fact his older brother became a serial killer, responsible for the Yosemite Murders. I had already moved away from the valley by then, but I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the story of the Stayner family and have always wanted to write about it–that horrific family dynamic of having one of your children stolen for seven years, and then having him return as an older, complete stranger. How does that affect the family dynamic? (Obviously, in this case, it turned one of them into a serial killer somehow.) How does the victim deal with returning to the family that isn’t what he remembers anymore, either? What’s it like to be the mom, the dad, the sisters, the neighbors? I recommend the docu-series–it’s in three parts–and it’s even more fascinating than I could have imagined; they also interviewed Stephen’s children. His daughter remembers him vaguely, his son not at all…and that’s an even greater tragedy. What is it like to lose your father when you are so young–traumatizing in and of itself–and then find out what he had been through? To find out an uncle you barely knew was responsible for the monstrous Yosemite Murders? There’s so much material there for fiction…I think about what Megan Abbott or Carol Goodman or Laura Lippman or any of our modern day great women writers could do with any bit of that story and can’t help but wonder about what might be. Maybe I’ll use it as the foundation for a book someday…but it’s one of those stories I always end up circling back to periodically, which makes me think it’s more likely to happen than any one of the great ideas that holds my attention for a day or two, write down or make a folder for, and then completely forget about.

Ah, being a creative. Always challenging.

I also want to, at some point this weekend, finish my blog post I’ve been writing about season 5 of Elité, and I also have another book review to write for here. Always, forever, so much to do at all times. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday however you choose to spend it, Constant Reader.

I’m Glad About It

I was very lucky with my career, in many ways. Having a partner who got a job working for a literary festival–the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival–meant years of volunteering at the event itself: writing panel descriptions, working the check-in desk on-site, and giving authors rides to and from the airport and to various events for the Festival that didn’t take place at any of the French Quarter venues. I was able to meet authors who were personal heroes of mine; some became friends, and all were open to giving advice and tips to a personal trainer in his late thirties with aspirations of being a published writer. (I also met a lot of celebrities who came to the Festival; from Kim Hunter to Alec Baldwin to Patricia Neal to Shirley Knight to Dick Cavett to Rex Reed to Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen and Zoë Caldwell–a personal favorite.) One of the biggest thrills was Sue Grafton, who was was more charming and witty and kind than I could have ever hoped. Sue Grafton, of course, was the dream career for a mystery writer: enormous success, both critical and financial; an incredibly original character that became iconic; and crowds of fans eager to meet her. But after meeting her, it was her gracious kindness that I aspired to–I might get books published but that kind of enormous success was an enormous longshot (we all aspire to have a career like that), but being gracious and kind was something I could–with a lot of self-evaluation and work on myself–actually replicate.

But one thing she said to me, with her self-awareness and trademark sense of humor, has always stuck with me. I asked her some innocuous beginner’s question about writing a series character–something she had probably been asked a gazillion times–and she took some time to think before she answered.

“Well,” she said, “One problem with having a popular series is you become a one-trick pony. All anyone ever wants from me is Kinsey–a new book, or a short story, anything, really–and that can be a bit stifling.” Then she grinned, winked, and leaned in close to add, “But you know what? I’m still grateful people want Kinsey from me, and that there are an awful lot of those people.”

The series used to be the thing for mystery writers; very few people had long term careers in the genre without having a series. But over the last twenty years, I’ve watched as series writers began straying away from their series and focusing more on stand-alones; which has not only resulted in some amazing books but extraordinary career growth. Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lehane, among many others, switched from enormously popular series to writing stand alone novels that give them more room to breathe and be creative with plot and character and voice.

And now, Kellye Garrett has joined their ranks.

I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found she’d died from the New York Daily News.

Her post was just as attention seeking as their headline. Hers came at midnight. Look back at it. #birthday #25 #grownfolksbusiness #home #nyc–all over a behind-the-back shot of her in nothing more than a black silk dress and no bra.

The article came less than twelve hours later. FORMER REALITY STAR DESIREE PIERCE FOUND DEAD IN LINGERIE IN BRONX WITH COCAINE AND NO SHOES.

I’d come straight here–to where they found her–as soon as I’d seen it.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe to confirm it was real. Maybe to hope it was not. Maybe to get one last glimpse of her even though I knew her body was long gone. Whatever the reason, I’d arrived at this particular playground in the Bronx on autopilot. The place my sister had come to just hours before. It looked how I felt–all reds and blues and worn down. It would never be accused of being the happiest place on Earth.

FORMER REALITY STAR DESIREE PIERCE FOUND DEAD IN LINGERIE IN BRONX WITH COCAINE AND NO SHOES.

I hated it. For what it said. For what it represented. For what it really meant.

Despite a lot of communication over the years, I don’t recall if I have ever actually met Kellye in person. We’ve been at many of the same events–but I don’t think we’ve ever actually met in person; if we did, it was one of those nights/afternoons in the bar at Bouchercon where alcohol has killed memory cells in my brain. But I read her first novel, Hollywood Homicide, which was the first in a series about Dayna, a struggling actress in Los Angeles who stumbles into a murder investigation. I enjoyed it tremendously; I loved the voice and the character of Dayna as well as her friends; I somehow managed to land an ARC of the sequel, Hollywood Ending, and in my inimitable Greg way, I was saving it for when her next book came out, so I would always have another Kellye Garrett book to read. Then, disaster. Midnight Ink, the publishers of the Dayna series, was sold and shuttered. I knew Kellye was still writing, so I kept holding on to Hollywood Ending, waiting for the new book. Her agent generously sent me a print ARC of her new book, Like A Sister, which I had already pre-ordered; (I entered a Goodreads giveaway Kellye tweeted; I replied “Done! (I never win anything.)” It arrived during a very busy Greg period–finishing my own book, Christmas, MWA board changeover–and so it sat on top of the TBR stacks in the living room, glaring at me when I was too tired in the evening after work to read anything. Then, last week, my preordered copy arrived–and what a gorgeous looking book it is. (Look at that cover up there!)

And yes, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

I started reading it this past week after work on Wednesday. Thursday night I was too tired to read; Friday was another busy work-at-home day for me, and so yesterday morning, after finishing my on-line duties for the day, I decided to treat myself to a few hours of the book before moving on to other chores and things that needed doing.

Five hours later I finished the book. It literally was one of those “oh, another half-hour won’t hurt” over and over again until “Well, I might as well finish; there’s only a hundred pages left.”

Wow. What a fun ride this book is, from start to finish. Garrett grabs your attention with that opening above, and never lets go.

The plot focuses on Lena Scott, who lives in the Bronx and is attending Columbia while living in the house she inherited from her grandmother. (Her grandmother’s long time partner also lives there in one of the two apartments inside–more on her later, and yes, I said her.) Her own mother is dead; she is estranged from her music mogul father and his wife; and she has also been estranged from Desiree, her half-sister, for two years. The guilt that she never made up with Desiree before she died eats at Lena, who doesn’t believe for one moment that Desiree overdosed on heroin–she was always afraid of needles–and of course, no one really listens to her, so she starts investigating on her own. There are a lot of twists and turns here, as well as the mystery serving as an self-realization journey for Lena–who begins finding out that a lot of the truths about her family she has always believed aren’t necessarily the truth. Along the way she meets a reporter who may or may not be a love interest; becomes close to one of Desiree’s best friends (the Instagram hashtag #likeasister is where the title of the book comes from); and the incredibly dysfunctional family pieces begin coming back together along the way. I particularly loved the relationship between Lena and her father; Garrett is wonderful at depicting these family relationships and how delicate they can be, and how easy it is for family to fall out and stay apart over misunderstandings.

The pacing of the book is remarkable; you become so deeply vested in the story and the characters you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them. Lena’s voice alone is reason enough to read the book; it’s powerful, vulnerable yet strong at the same time. We understand her, root for her, feel for her, want everything to work out for her, and we also feel her pain–pain born from years of fraught family relationships in a dynamic so complicated and delicate that it’s no wonder it went off the rails. But the writing is also strong and witty; some lines were so clever I shared them on social media, and would have shared even more had I been willing to take the time to put the book down to type on my phone. Character, story, and dialogue are all there at the highest level as well.

And being familiar with her former work, I am even more amazed at how easily Garrett was able to shift from a cozy mystery series into something else; a stand alone crime novel that also explores questions of privilege, celebrity, stardom, and family.

I also loved loved loved that Lena’s closest family attachment is to her grandmother’s widow, Aunt E. I loved that a long-term lesbian relationship was Lena’s only real role model for a successful romantic relationship. I loved that the fact her grandmother had a female partner was portrayed as not a big deal and normal (thank you thank you thank you for this) and that no one had a problem with it within the family. I love that an older lesbian character is the moral compass for the family. This, folks, is a master class on how to include queer characters into your work–and inclusion matters.

I was bummed to see the Dayna series end–but delighted this incredible growth as a writer was the result. I cannot wait to see what Garrett does next, and watching her career grow and develop further is going to be incredibly exciting for me as a reader and a fan.

Highly recommended, everyone. Jump on this one and thank me later.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Sunday morning and only daytime parades today. We skipped them all yesterday–all five of them–mainly because I felt mostly tired still; it was also a little on the chilly side outside. We will (or at least I will) be heading out there today for at least King Arthur; too many friends ride in it for me to blow it off completely. Since we didn’t have Carnival last year–and the year before was both so cold and so weird it didn’t really feel like Carnival–it’s hard to get motivated about it this year. There’s also the risk that being in the parade crowds will be super-spreader events; I can, of course, always test myself before going to work on Tuesday to make sure I’m still uninfected before heading to the office and spreading viral germs everywhere. And maybe going out there for King Arthur will make Carnival seem real again, I don’t know; listening to the marching bands crossing by at the corner didn’t seem to do it.

But I am going to go out for King Arthur even if it’s exhausting.

We watched three more episodes of Reacher last night, and it is very well done. The cast is very good, the writing is sharp, and there are high production values. I continue to grow more and more enamored of Alan Ritchson as Reacher–Willa Fitzgerald is also killing it as Roscoe–and the show is definitely making me want to revisit The Killing Floor. You owe it to yourself to check the show out if you like crime shows.

I didn’t read anything other than a couple of Laura Lippman short stories from her collection Seasonal Work, and I’m not going to go into great length talking about the stories primarily because I had actually read the two stories before–“Seasonal Work” and “The Book Thing”; I also had read the next one, “The Everyday Housewife”, before–but it’s nice to revisit them (I probably talked about them before on here or over on Livejournal). All three are sort of Tess Monaghan stories–they aren’t from her point of view but she appears in them; the latter is about her mom–which is also the approach I was thinking of taking in writing crime short stories with Chanse MacLeod in them (the ones I’ve already done are from Chanse’s point of view, and maybe the Chanse novella I am writing would be better told from someone else’s point of view; it’s an interesting idea and one I should really attempt–making a note as I type this out). Lippman is one of my favorite writers and I love her short stories, and reading (rereading) these has gotten me to reading again, which was the idea behind picking up the short story collection in the first place. I may go curl up with the book and read (reread) another couple of stories this morning.

I really would like to get back to doing more reading.

I also need to get back to writing. I’ve been having ideas lately–making notes, of course–but every time I look at “Condos for Sale or Rent” I am stuck and wind up having to go do a chore or something to try to prime the pump. Yesterday it was without avail. I wasn’t motivated much yesterday to do a whole lot–I overslept (as I did this morning) and then didn’t really have a lot of energy or creativity going on in my head for the rest of the day–it felt like my batteries were charged, but using them would have to be on accessory and drain them rather than recharging through use–and I wasn’t motivated to read, either, other than those couple of short stories. I did spend a lot of time thinking about another Scotty book–the title is Mississippi River Mischief–but at the same time I did a lot of thinking about not writing it. I always worry that my series–the Scotty primarily, since it’s the only one I am still continuing–isn’t challenging enough to me as a writer; it’s very easy for me to slip back into Scotty’s mindset and voice and start writing. I tried to make Royal Street Reveillon more complicated and complex than previous Scottys, like the second two books in the series were (the first and the fourth through seventh were very simple plots, A to B to C) and it’s one of my favorites of the series. I know what the heart of this book is going to be–political corruption in a bayou/river parish around the licensing of a casino boat on the river–and it occurred to me yesterday how to do a side story (something I had wanted to do in a Scotty book years ago but never did) and there needs to be more to it than the main story I’ve already dreamed up. But I made voluminous notes–and there’s also a personal story for Scotty and Frank I started in the last book that needs to be dealt with in this volume–and so maybe, just maybe, it’s not taking the easy way out by writing this after Chlorine?

We shall see.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

The Happening

So today I am off to Birmingham, once I’ve woken up completely and swilled down enough coffee to face the highway. It’s going to be horrible weather the entire way, of course–cold and rainy, potential thunderstorms–which will be ever so pleasant. But it’s a lovely serene drive, I’ll have a good audiobook playing, and it’s only about six hours or so to drive (sad that I now think only six hours? Piece o’ cake. Those twelve hour drives to Kentucky have certainly changed my perspective on what is or isn’t a long drive). It’s going to be fun to be around writers and readers and people who enjoy books for the weekend; it’s also an interesting switch to go back into author mode from my usual, every day Gregalicious mode.

My interview with Susan Larson for her show “The Reading Life” on our local NPR airs today (and again on Sunday); you can, if you are so inclined, you can listen to it here after 12:30 central time. Susan is hella smart, and incredibly well-read, and all of her shows are available to listen to at the link (check out the Laura Lippman episode, if you are so inclined), and has always been incredibly gracious to me about my writing and my career, and always so supportive. It’s lovely when you have the Duchess of the New Orleans literary scene on your side!

The weather last night was frightful, frankly. I managed to get home from work before it started in earnest, but poor Paul got stuck walking home in the torrential downpour, complete with thunder and lightning, and of course–it was 72 degrees yesterday morning when I went to work and by seven pm yesterday we’d have a thirty degree temperature swing. It’s going to stay in the thirties today (thank goodness for Paul’s sake we got the heat operational again), and it’s going to be cold up in Birmingham, too. I packed last night–there’s a few things left that need to be put in the suitcase, but really, all I have to do this morning is drink enough coffee to be functional, get cleaned up, and put the stuff in the car, and head out on the highway due northeasterly. It’s about six hours, give or take, as I mentioned before, not including the time out for bathroom breaks, lunch, and gassing up the car.

I slept very well last night–even though I woke up at five and six, the way I always seem to do every day now; and now that I am sitting here and the first cup of coffee is blazing through my veins, I can’t help but think if you are waking up that early organically, mightn’t it be easier on you to just go ahead and get up, so you don’t have to adjust again on the days you go into the office? But the bed is so comfy and warm–this morning I kept waking up but the warm comfort of my blankets couldn’t be denied, and I stayed there much longer than perhaps I should have; but again, there’s no rush to get on the road and therefore no need to get stressed or worked up about anything (who am I, and what have I done with Gregalicious?), right? Take it easy, take it slow, and take my time and don’t get worked up or freaked out about anything when it comes to traveling. At least I’m not flying and tied to times, you know?

I’m still a bit in the “post-turned-in-the-book” malaise aftershock; I tried to work on the short story that’s due on Monday a bit last night to no avail, which is worrying. I’m sure I can get it done this weekend, but last night I was just a bit too bleary to deal with it. I don’t feel exhausted this morning–that will undoubtedly change after hours in the car–which is a relief; I think a good night’s sleep last night was enormously helpful for me, and I’ll probably be flooded with ideas and thoughts for books and stories and essays while in the car, the way I always am; at least I certainly hope so. I hate the period after a project is completed when my creative batteries have been drained and are running on accessory rather than recharging–mainly because I always worry that this time the drain will be permanent and the creativity won’t come back. But I also have to take into consideration I wrote three books in the last year or so; which in and of themselves consisted of approximately 250,000 words.

When you look at it that way, I’m a little surprised that I’m not more exhausted than I already am. It’s probably not the smartest thing in the world for me to do a public appearance while I am so drained; the idea is to sound witty and clever and intelligent and get people to buy your books; I am always afraid that I am not going to be witty or clever or intelligent. Public appearances always make me nervous; I am always in great distress while I am on stage, with flop sweat running down my back and terror seizing up my stomach. People are always very gracious about how I do on these things, but then again, most people aren’t big enough assholes to say “wow, you were terrible up there!” (They save that for on-line.)

And on that cheery note, I am going to finish packing, get cleaned up, and do the little things I need to do to get on the road. Happy Friday, Constant Reader! Not sure if I will be able to post over the weekend or not, but stranger things have happened!

Nothing But Heartaches

It’s cold again on this Martin Luther King Jr Day here in the Lost Apartment, and as always when it’s cold and I don’t have to get up, I malingered in my bed much longer than was absolutely necessary. I won’t apologize for not wanting to get out of a warm, comfortable bed and from under a pile of warm blankets to brave the cold, either. Our new system came on briefly the other day when it was cold, and since then–nothing. I don’t know what I may have done wrong with switching it from cool to heat, but as usual, the guys are going to have to come back out and reset it or do something to make it functional. It’s not that big of a deal–the cold never really gets to the point where it is so incredibly unbearable (like last year on Fat Tuesday) that I am not functional, but it sometimes skates very close to that edge.

Yesterday came dangerously close, frankly. I was freezing all day to the point where I needed to use the heating pad underneath my blankets in my easy chair, which finally made me feel close to comfortable. I did manage to finish reading Alafair Burke’s marvelous Find Me (which you should also read), and then we finished watching the second season of Cheer–which sadly kind of limped along to the end, and by the season finale, poor Monica was simply a wreck; I think the show’s producers might have hit the “cost of fame and how to handle it” a little bit harder than they intended; but that message did come across fairly clearly, so maybe that was their intent. Dealing with the fallout from the scandals that arose in the wake of the first season–especially in the case of the breakout star who was accused of sex crimes with young boys–certainly put the producers (and the cast) into an awkward position: how do we deal with this? The episode that did deal with it did a fairly good job, and it’s also sad to see that abuse of children is just as rampant in cheerleading as it is with other sports at this level (gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, football).

We always hear so much about how “children” need to be protected from books and ideas almost every day–and yet protecting them from sexual and physical abuse doesn’t seem to be as big a priority with people. Hate to break it to you, but a book never sexually assaulted a child.

The sun is out this morning and I feel much better than I did yesterday morning. I overslept yesterday, if you remember, and felt sort of unable to engage my ignition yesterday and get the Greg started, if you know what I mean. I did make some notes yesterday and I did clear out the spam from my email inbox, but today I actually do have to get work done since I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. Today I am going to work pretty hard on the book, and I am going to try to read a Laura Lippman short story later on as a kind of reward for getting work done. My kitchen this morning is in pretty good shape overall; I do have a load of dishes to put away and some laundry to do around the writing schedule today. But I feel this morning like I can actually get stuff done tonight and not be derailed or distracted…probably because it’s not as cold this morning as it was yesterday (and believe you me, I am dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning). But I am going to get this finished, work on a review of the new Alafair Burke while drinking coffee and folding clothes and putting away clean dishes, after which I am going to get cleaned up and dive back into my manuscript.

I feel more like me today, if that makes any sense. It’s been a hot minute, frankly; I don’t know if it was subconscious depression over not being able to go to New York or something, but today is the day I would have been home–I was flying back yesterday–and so maybe my mind/subconscious was depressed and/or mourning the loss of the trip? I think I probably slipped into an alternative mindset/reality the moment the trip was cancelled and it’s taken me until when the trip would have been over to get over that loss, if that makes any weird kind of sense. Maybe I navel-gaze too much, but I know I can tell when the chemistry in my brain is off, and it always affects everything in my life. But the point is I can look at my to-do list and not be concerned about it to the point where I panic and think I’ll never get that all done but rather, “one task at a time gets all the jobs done”–which is kind of where and how I am feeling this morning. This is, of course, a good thing. I will admit that I had some ideas last night while watching Cheer (reading Alafair’s book helped in that regard as well) about other things to write and other things i need to get done. I also have edits on a short story I have coming out in an anthology next month–quick turnaround, what can I say?–but I have to say my year is getting off to a good start–despite the cancelled trip to New York.

Fingers crossed the year continues to remain not only on track but continues to get better rather than worse. But one can never tell these days–if we’ve learned anything from the last five years it’s not to constantly be optimistic that things will inevitably get better as we continue to move along.

And on that note, it’s time to drive right back into everything and get my act together once and for all for today. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Stop! In The Name of Love

Friday morning and it’s not as chilly in the Lost Apartment as it has been. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and all seems right with the world this morning. I have a lot to get done today–tomorrow is another work day, heavy sigh–and have errands to run later on. I am going to do some things this morning before I leave for the afternoon errands; hopefully once I return home from said errands I will be in the mood to do some writing/cleaning/filing/organizing. I’ve been remarkably productive thus far on this stay-cation (sob, I should be in New York right now); I need to keep that momentum going and I also need to make sure that I am getting properly rested as well. I feel like I’m getting decent sleep and I feel rested when I get up, which is always a plus.

Yay, well-rested Gregalicious!

And it’s a holiday weekend, which is theoretically marvelous. Monday was going to be my re-acclimate to reality after my New York trip, which is no longer necessary or needed, so I should be able to get my focus in order and write write write. I also want to get some reading done this weekend as well. I have Laura Lippman’s short story collection, the new Alafair Burke, and a massive TBR pile full of prospective treasures, which is very cool. I think maybe today when I get home from the errands I may curl up with a blanket and a book for the rest of the afternoon. It’s been a while since I’ve lost myself in a good book–or so it feels–and reading is a pleasure I don’t allow myself to indulge in as much as I would like. Partly because reading is compulsive for me; once I start reading a good book I really don’t want to do anything other than finish reading it, and will make endless excuses to justify or rationalize doing nothing other than reading until the book is finished. This is dangerous, obviously, when I am on deadline…I have enough trouble with deadlines as it is; I don’t need to add something else that will keep me from writing to the already crowded ADHD-addled brain inside my skull.

The kitchen needs to be cleaned, obviously, and of course the floors always need attention. I am going to try today to not be as awful as I have been about the upkeep on the Lost Apartment over the last few months; I am not certain how successful I will be with that, in all honesty. There’s been a lot of lethargy lately–not sure what that’s about, but it’s definitely not the post-book malaise, that’s for sure. I suspect it comes from being overburdened and overwhelmed a bit with everything I need to get done, which inevitably leads to the why bother I’ll never get this all done blues which includes paralysis and the inability to focus and get things done, when the answer is always make a list and start crossing things off. I need to make a grocery list this morning for sure; I am having some “Greg-time” today with an appointment for self-care and I intend to go get groceries once that is over. I need to empty the dishwasher, I need to take out the trash and recycling, and there are numerous other odds and ends that need taking care of around here–which is why the list is of utmost importance this morning. Putting it all down on paper makes it seem less scary and intimidating, and of course, once you have a picture of everything in your head that needs doing it becomes easier to get it all done.

So, after I finish this I am going to make a grocery list, a to-do list, and then I am going to start organizing and cleaning around the kitchen before showering and getting the day off to a good start. Sounds like a good plan, does it not?

And maybe this afternoon, after I read for a bit and while I wait for Paul to come home, I can watch a movie or a Marvel show on Disney Plus. I really liked Loki, despite its slow start, and would like to see some of these other shows as well. We did start The Book of Boba Fett but that first episode was really kind of boring, frankly; I don’t know that we’ll return to it. (I never got the Boba Fett fandom in the Star Wars fan-base; he was really not much of a character in the original trilogy but for some reason caught on, so Lucas made him a key player in the next trilogy…which didn’t play for me.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely pre-holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Baby Love

Thursday and I have a lot of work to get done today. I was exhausted yesterday and very low energy for most of the day; the coffee never kicked into high gear (I assumed that all it managed in the face of yesterday’s exhaustion was keeping me awake, alas and alack) but it’s fine. Sometimes you need those low energy, low production days to recharge your batteries, and mine certainly feel charged this morning. I am hoping against hope that this means a highly productive day here in the Lost Apartment; one can certainly hope so at any rate. I did start some things yesterday that I never finished, so that’s up first while I am still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (which has always struck me as an odd thing to say) and then I am going to dive back into the book headfirst.

Under normal circumstances, I would have woken up at the Marriott Marquis at Times Square this morning and would be writing this on my laptop in my room while swilling coffee from the Starbucks on the eighth floor (with which I became very well acquainted during my stay there back in November). But thanks to the latest variant, the trip was cancelled and no New York for me in January for the second year in a row. It’s just as well, I suppose–I’m not certain I would have been able to finish the book while on the road, and that’s kind of important; although knowing the trip was still happening would have made me push harder last weekend and this week before leaving to try to get as much handled as possible.

I was very tired last evening after the day’s business was concluded, so I basically went down some Youtube wormholes while waiting for Paul to come home so we could get back into Stay Close, the new Harlan Coben show on Netflix, which is quite intriguing seeing how all the disparate stories are connected together as the show progresses. Ozark is coming back soon, which is exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing the new John Cena super-anti-hero show when it finally drops. Superman and Lois has also returned, and I watched the first episode of its second season last night while waiting for Paul to get home–it’s the best interpretation of the Superman mythos since Christopher Reeve; if you’re a Superman fan you really should be watching it–and it looks like the second season will be just as good as the first.

It’s chilly again this morning in New Orleans; not as bad as yesterday (I did wonder if the cold had something to do with my low energy day yesterday) but chilly enough to be noticeable. The sun is out though, which is always a plus, and the sunshine certainly helps my mood dramatically. I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I? Heavy sigh. But this is working to warm me up and get my brain going while I swill down my coffee, and that’s always what the purpose of this has been–to get my brain and creativity going in the mornings so I can get things done. I just realized I didn’t mark the anniversary of the blog, started on Livejournal back in the day; right around Christmas 2004, to be exact, which means this blog has been going now for well over seventeen years over two different servers. That is a ridiculous amount of blogging, really; it’s something I should probably be better about archiving. (Which reminds me: I still need to find my old journals, don’t I?)

I also want to start reading the new Alafair Burke; maybe I’ll carve some time out today between the writing and the watching of television to come tonight to spend some time with it. I am choosing not to read the jacket copy; I want to be completely surprised by the story when I read it. I also want to start reading some more of Laura Lippman’s short stories in her collection Seasonal Work, and of course my TBR pile is completely out of control. Heavy sigh. But I think I can get some pruning and organizing done around the writing today; sometimes you have to get up and walk away from the computer, and that’s going to help me get some other things done over the next few days (oh, the shelves in the laundry room stress me out every time I walk in there) and of course, there’s always some laundry to do, and the floors, and the dishes…heavy sigh. It never ends, does it?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow morning.

(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart

The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.

As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?

The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.

If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.

There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.

But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”

And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.

And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.

George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.

Let Me Go The Right Way

A question I’ve been hearing a lot lately, when it comes to my new book. is why do you question whether you are the right person to tell this story?

It may entirely be a side effect of the long psychological disorder (one of many!) I possess that is more commonly known as Imposter Syndrome; but over the last decade or so there have been so many questions about who can tell what story that I don’t really think it’s so surprising that I would be concerned about my right to the tell the story of #shedeservedit that I chose to tell. It’s a book about toxic masculinity in a small town that manifests itself in a rape culture that devalues women, especially the girls, at the local high school; that toxic masculinity culture was created by the town’s worshipful devotion of the high school football team. Fans derives from fanatics, after all, and living in the South (and being Southern) has exposed me to the ‘football fan mob mentality’ that I was trying to recreate in my story. I’ve seen, for example, LSU fans rise up in righteous fury and indignation at the questioning of whether it’s animal cruelty for them to have a live tiger mascot with an amazing habitat on the campus; I’ve seen them rise up in defense of the administration and the players when players have been credibly accused of any number of crimes (not the least of which sexual harassment/assault of female students); and there are any other number of examples here I could cite–and that’s just LSU.

But in a story about toxic masculinity in a small town, I also centered a teenaged boy in the story; we see it all through his eyes, not that of any of the girls. That’s really the primary concern I had about how this book would be received: how could you put a boy at the center of a story about rape culture?

And I guess my response should be why wouldn’t I?

Because, as I read the articles and books that served as background research (there’s a chilling amount of research out there for anyone who is interested), all I could keep thinking was what is wrong with these boys? And from there I began to extrapolate further in my never-ending mental gymnastics. What do the kids who are not football players think about the privilege the players enjoy? High school is, after all, wanting/trying to fit in, not wanting to attract bad attention from people, not standing out from the crowd with an unpopular view or opinion. As I continued to read and research–and in the beginning, you have to remember, I started looking into all of this to begin with not because I wanted to write about it, but because the Steubenville/Marysville cases stoked my curiosity.

It was actually during the reading on Marysville that it hit me right between the eyes: the Marysville victim, Daisy Coleman, had not only been a cheerleader but her older brother was on the football team; the guys that got her drunk and assaulted her were not only guys she knew but felt safe with but were her brother’s teammates and friends.

And that was when I realized, you need to change the Kansas book to be about this, and write about the brother of a past victim when there is a new victim.

And then the other day, in an irony of ironies, I got my copy of Laura Lippman’s new collection, Seasonal Work, in the mail–and there it was, in the table of contents; her own story inspired by the Marysville incident, “Five Fires”; which I read when it was initially published; a story Laura and I had, in one of our infrequent but marvelous alcohol-fueled conversations, talked about (I’d forgotten what an integral part of shaping my own story that conversation with Laura all those years ago played).

“Five Fires” is quite marvelous.

“There was another fire last night.” That’s the first woman. Tennis skirt, Lacoste polo, gold chain with a diamond on it, like a drop of water.

The other woman–I don’t know either of them, you can’t, even in a town as small as ours, know everybody–says: “That makes three this month, doesn’t it?”

“Two. The one at the vacant–you know that place. And now behind Langley’s.”

And the playhouse, I want to say. The first one was that playhouse. But I don’t say it, because, again, I don’t know them. But three is right. There have been three since August 1, and it’s only August 10.

Whereas my story is told from the point of view of a victim’s brother–who is also on the football team–Laura’s story was inspired (if I remember correctly) by a newspaper article on Marysville, when the victim’s house was burned to the ground in a nasty work of arson–as if the family hadn’t been through enough already–and I don’t remember whether it was a photograph or a video she’d seen, of a vigil supporting the accused; there was a young woman in the picture that caught her attention and made her think, now why would that girl not support another young woman in a horrible situation? Why is it so easy for her to not believe the victim? And she thus wrote the story, to try to get into the mindset of a young teenaged girl who found it easy to believe an accused rapist and blame the victim.

It’s really quite an extraordinary story, and rereading it now, after all these years, I am even more impressed with how well done–touching, sad, and poignant–it is. It would be easy to make a villain of this girl, but Lippman approaches her with a strong sense of empathy, and while the character’s views and behavior can be quite repellant, the fact that Lippman gets so deep into her head and point of view makes character all the more compelling, and heartbreakingly sad at the same time–all the while never ever losing sight of who the real victim in the story is. It’s a terrific story, incredibly well done, and I strongly recommend getting this collection of stories; it’s worth it for “Five Fires” alone.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!