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As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The décor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Thursday and my last day in the office this week. Huzzah! Which means I do not have to get up at six tomorrow morning, which is lovely, and next week my work at home day is Monday, so I don’t have to be back in the office until Tuesday, which is kind of nice. I need to do a couple of errands tomorrow–brake tag and wash the car–but I am also kind of hoping against hope that I can make it to the gym tomorrow in the early evening as well. I hate that the first thing to go out the window whenever I am overwhelmed with work are the two things I enjoy most in life and are, really, things that are just for me: working out and writing.

I entered #shedeservedit for the Thriller Award for Best Children’s/Young Adult this week; I am not sure if there’s any point, really, but you cannot complain about queer books not making award shortlists if you don’t enter your own and encourage every other queer writer to do so as well. I am also entering it for the Edgars. Dream big, Gregalicious.

I have to admit I’ve not really been promoting #shedeservedit the way I should be, and I am not entirely sure why that is. Every step of the way of writing that book I was worried about whether I was the right person to tell that story or not…something I would have never even thought about ten years ago. I still don’t think I would have been the right person to tell the story had the main pov character been a girl; making it a guy, seeing everything that was going on in Liberty Center from a male teenager who is also on the football team, for me, made it more palatable–and it’s not just the story of the toxic masculinity and the rape culture permeating the town of Liberty Center: there’s a whole lot of just plain wrong going on in that town, and my main character, Alex, was affected and damaged by all of it, even as (sometimes) merely a witness to the shenanigans. Everything has a ripple effect, after all. But at the same time, the book has a content warning–which, I am ashamed to admit, never crossed my mind that it would need when I was writing it. How would a young woman who has experienced this, or knows someone who has, react to reading this story? That thought also kind of made me pull back a bit from the promotional stuff. Even with a content warning, is what happens in the book–even though it’s all already happened, and is seen only through flashbacks–going to be too difficult for a young woman (or a young man, for that matter) who has experienced something similar to read? The book has been out in the world now for over five months, it has a four and a half star rating on Amazon (I will not look at Goodreads, and no one can make me go to that barren hellscape for authors)…but at the same time there hasn’t been any pushback thus far on the book–which also doesn’t mean it won’t eventually happen, either.

But this week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (I honestly don’t know why I do this. Sometimes I have fun joking around with my friends there, and I’ve seen posts about books that I went on to read and enjoy, but for far too large a percentage of the time I have to step away from it in revulsion when I see how truly terrible so many people are willing to be behind the anonymity of a computer screen, a cartoon avatar, and a fake name…and how many more are unashamed to reveal their monstrous true selves with their actual names and images proudly on display for everyone to see) and I came across a piece from The Cut, which is a part of New York magazine and Vulture and I am not sure what all other websites and so forth are involved in that tangled mess of on-line and print publications. It purported to be about a high school teenager who “made a mistake” and “got canceled by his school.”

Ah, another story about the evils of cancel culture, I thought to myself, should I bother?

Reader, I bothered. And dear God in heaven, I am so sorry I did. If you want to read the nauseating swill for yourself, if it is still up, it can be found here: https://www.thecut.com/article/cancel-culture-high-school-teens.html. If you have high blood pressure, I would advise against it.

What makes the entire thing worse, in my opinion, is of course they assigned this piece to a woman. There’s a reason why men accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault will inevitably hire a female defense attorney–it subliminally communicates to the jury would a woman defend this person if he were a rapist? No woman would take on such a case! But when I was doing my research for #shedeservedit, one of the things I noted was how many women didn’t believe the girls, how many of their peers didn’t believe the girls, and that the nastiest and most vicious critics of the victims were other women/girls. I remember reading about Brock Turner’s mother, weeping and sobbing about how her son’s life was being ruined (implied: by that drunk slut!); the former girlfriend who wrote a character reference letter for him to the judge, and on and on. (I always wonder–as I did with Brock Turner–does he have any sisters or female first cousins? What do they think about this?)

Anyway, the author of this piece–whose sympathies are entirely with this boy whose only regret for sharing nude pictures of his girlfriend with his friends (when he was “drunk,” because I guess that makes it okay) is that he was shunned by his entire high school–misses the lede in this article so many times. She is so desperate to make us all feel bad for this kid for being made to feel the absolute least amount of consequence possible for his actions that she misses that the girls at this school felt so betrayed and dismissed by the system–which is supposed to protect them–that they took action on their own. That is the story here–what the students had to step up to do because THE ADULTS and the SCHOOL SYSTEM failed them.

But no, we get another “oh this poor boy”. (Who went to four proms and is leaving for college in the fall, where none of this will follow him.) By a woman writer who, per Wikipedia, has teenaged daughters of their own. How must THEY feel when reading their mother’s latest work?

Not even ten years ago the victims in Steubenville and Marysville were the ones shunned; not the guys who got them wasted and took advantage of them. (At least the Steubenville victim got some justice, as two of the boys were convicted; the poor girl in Marysville got nothing but slut-shamed and eventually she committed suicide.)

My original inspiration for writing this book honestly came back in the early 1990’s. Remember the Spur Posse at Lakewood High School? (No less an august literary figure than Joan Didion herself wrote about the Spur Posse, in her New Yorker piece “Trouble in Lakewood.”) I thought I had read about the Spur Posse in Rolling Stone–which, let’s face it, I was more likely to read at the time than the New Yorker–and was completely appalled…I sat down and started writing an idea for a book based on it, where the girls of the school, getting nowhere with the police and the school administration and so forth, become ‘avenging angels’ to publicly shame and embarrass the boys…and then they start dying. I wrote a couple of chapters, created some characters, and titled it When Stallions Die (stallions, obviously, a stand-in for Spur Posse); I always meant to swing back around to it at some point because it was an interesting idea (if you agree, you should read Lisa Lutz’ brilliant The Swallows from a few years’ back) and I still might–one never knows. But it was the Spur Posse situation that made me start thinking–long and hard–about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and the weird need that some women have to protect men at any cost: “boys will be boys,” “any red-blooded American boy”…”locker room talk.”

And since I had been wanting to write a Kansas book, and had been playing around with a story for a small city in Kansas, its teens, and its high school football team, #shedeservedit kind of evolved from there.

I don’t know why I am so reluctant and/or nervous to promote the book. It was a deeply personal book for me to write (as was Bury Me in Shadows), and yes, I put a lot of my teenaged self into that book–not the surface Greg everyone saw and knew, but the interior Greg, the one who was so deeply miserable and unhappy and alone on the inside.

Wow, this rambled on for a lot longer than I expected it to! That article clearly pissed me off, did it not?

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Automatically Sunshine

Monday, and my body clock–which had finally adjusted to me getting up early for work–is now all messed up again. Thanks, Daylight Savings Time, thanks a lot.

I woke up yesterday determined to get things done but that eventually didn’t happen, sadly. I started off the morning thinking, ah, I’ll read for a little while and then I’ll get going on my day but instead I got sucked into the book I was reading, and by the time I finished The Twelve Jays of Christmas, it was around three in the afternoon and I was… not fatigued or tired, but the malaise kind of set back into my day and it was rather unpleasant. I wound up getting sucked into war coverage, and finally caught up on Superman and Lois before eventually going to bed. I slept deeply and well and woke up this morning reluctant to get out of bed and get my day started. My body’s natural tendency–Greg’s natural tendency–it to default to laziness and doing nothing; a body at rest and all that, and my body and mind definitely wanted to stay at rest this morning. In fact, even as I sit here drinking my coffee and listening to the washing machine run, the bed is calling for me to return and burrow back beneath the covers and close my eyes, even though I am awake. But I have work-at-home duties to do, and later on I have to finish this final edit on my manuscript and start working on editing another one for someone else. I am getting closer to being caught up and getting big projects out of the way, which is lovely on the one hand, but on the other hand it is still incredibly daunting to have so many other things still hanging over my head.

I don’t know what it would feel like to not have something hanging over my head, though, so I am not sure how I would feel were that to ever happen. Knowing me, it would cause me stress and make me worried that no one is interested in any work from me anymore.

The weather has gotten cold here again, which isn’t conducive for me wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, either. It’s not as bad, obviously, as it is other places–we didn’t have a snowpocalypse, at least, for which I will be eternally grateful–but I do love how we always get sucked into thinking winter is over because we have a really warm week of sun and high temperatures, only to get it right between the eyes. March is indeed a cruel month–wasn’t March the month they used to say “in like a lion out like a lamb” about? (I’ve not heard that phrase since I was a child) That reminds me–speaking of odious chores hanging over my head–I need to get my taxes together. Ugh, indeed an odious chore, and once again, like an idiot, rather than keeping track of my deductible expenses all year I need to compile them now. *head desk*

I never learn, do I?

I guess that is the one constant in my life.

So, this morning I need to make this week’s to-do list. I have the weekend’s sitting here in front of me, and I managed to get three of the seven tasks crossed off; I never ran the errands, which is why nothing else got crossed off. I should have done them when I finished reading my book yesterday but I was, as I said earlier, very apathetic once I finished reading the book. Then I need to get my work-at-home duties taken care of, and then I will run those errands to get them out of the way once and for all. I think I am going to read Robert Jones’ The Prophets next; that or Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets. I also have the new Lisa Lutz sitting on my coffee table, which I am sure I will enjoy a lot as well–she’s never disappointed me yet. (I also found out over the weekend that the story I thought was due in early April isn’t actually due until April 30th; a bit of a respite that might help me simply spin the story out rather than try to write the damned thing in a massive rush the week it’s due…at least in theory, right?)

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am putting my miner’s helmet on and heading down into the spice mines. Have a happy Monday, Constant Reader.

Time Changes Things

I was a late adaptor to audiobooks; just like I was with ebooks (which I still kind of recoil away from, for some unknown reason; during the early stages of pandemic shutdown I revisited Mary Stewart and several other favorites on my Kindle or iBook apps and enjoyed them heartily–yet for some reason I never go back to the iPad to read…probably the enormous stack of hard copies in my TBR pile glaring at me from directly across the room from my chair). I always worried, you see, that I would get so caught up in listening to the book that I wouldn’t pay attention to the road, or my mind would wander and I’d miss something important. Several years ago on a trip to Kentucky I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up and End of Watch (by Stephen King) on the way back; both turned out to be highly pleasant experiences and yes, while my mind did wander at times–my subconscious was listening so I never got lost when I was able to give the book my attention again. The last time I drove to Kentucky I listened to Foundation on the way up and Donna Andrews’ delightful The Falcon Always Wings Twice on the way back. Audiobooks make the time pass much faster than listening to music and singing along (I am quite the rock star in my car), and so, when it was time to drive up to Birmingham this past weekend, I selected Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger to listen to on the way up and back; it wasn’t quite long enough to last the entire drive…but I also had some Lisa Unger short stories downloaded as well, and I figured once the Lutz was finished, I could listen to one of those.

But the Lutz…my God. Why on earth did I wait so long to read/listen this impressive work?

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body. I pumped his barrel chest and blew into his purple lips. It was the first time in years our lips had touched and I didn’t recoil.

I gave up after ten minutes. Frank Dubois was gone. Lying there all peaceful and quiet, he almost looked in slumber, but Frank was noisier asleep than he was awake. Honestly, if I had known what kind of snorer he was going to turn into, I never would have married him. If I could do it all over again, I never would have married him even if he slept like an angel. If I could do it all over again, there are so many things I would do differently. But looking at Frank then, so still and not talking, I didn’t mind him so much. It seemed like a good time to say good-bye. I poured a shot of Frank’s special bourbon, sat down on Frank’s faux-suede La-Z-Boy, and had a drink to honor the dead.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I was taking a shower when Frank died. As far as I could tell, he fell down the staircase all on his own. He had been suffering from vertigo lately. Convenient, I know. And I doubt he mentioned it to anyone. If I had waited for the place and told them the truth, maybe life could have continued as normal. Minus Frank.

This book was recommended by practically everyone I know; I’m not really sure why I never got around to reading it. I did read her next novel, The Swallows, and absolutely loved it; I also have her new one sitting on my coffee table waiting for me to get to it.

And as I said, now that I’ve listened to this one, I am really pissed off at myself for taking so long to get to it. I am not joking. When I arrived at the hotel in Birmingham on Friday, I literally stayed in the car until the chapter finished. When I got in the car to drive to Wetumpka Sunday morning, I even left earlier than I needed to in my eagerness to get back to the book, it was that good–and I had no idea how it was all going to turn out.

That opening! How do you stop reading after that? Who is this woman? Why does she have to go on the run after her husband’s accidental death? Who and what else is she running from? And most importantly–who is she? We’re never sure who “Tanya” really is; she picks up and discards new identities (who knew it could be so simply done? Even if it’s only temporary? But something bad happened in her past–something she is still terrified about, and doesn’t want the police to find her, so clearly it’s pretty fucking bad. As she goes on the run yet again, we start to understand who she is, in some ways–there are some things we’ll simply have to wait for Lutz to let us know about “Tanya”–but you can’t help but root for her. She has a sense of humor about her horrible situation, and you also can’t help but like her, whatever it is she did in her past. As the narrative continues, we are also fed some email communications between “Jo” and “Ryan”–one quickly picks up that at some point in her past, “Tanya” was also “Jo”–that rather cryptically talks about the past and the original situation that set her on the run.

And while “Tanya” never talks about what that was, or much about her past, we do get some information from her on that score: a distant mother who was alcoholic and went through men like Kleenex; an unstable home environment, she used to swim competitively–and each new piece of the puzzle fits securely into place.

As the book continues, she breaks the law to survive from time to time, and each new identity she takes on comes with its own challenges and difficulties and dangers. We follow her from one end of the country to another and back again; it’s almost like a series of vignettes, really, strung together into one over-arching narrative that you can’t stop reading. How is she going to get out of this? you wonder every single time, and the book just keeps barreling along until all the threads of her many lives come together at the very end, with a startling final twist just before the final resolution.

Do yourself a favor, Constant Reader, and get every Lisa Lutz book and read it. I certainly intend to.

All I Know About You

Well, home again and back to reality. Sigh.

I had a lovely time this past weekend. I drove up to Birmingham Friday afternoon for Murder in the Magic City, a lovely event at the Homewood Library (this was my third visit in five years, I think) organized by Margaret Fenton, and the drove down to Wetumpka for Murder on the Menu, a fundraising event for the Wetumpka Public Library organized by Tammy Lynn. I always have a great time whenever I go, and there’s inevitably friends invited that I already know, and then I get to come home having made some new friends (and more books to be added to the TBR pile). For some reason, these two particular audiences respond very nicely to me–which is lovely, and in my post “just turned the book in” malaise, was exactly what I needed. Everyone is just so kind, and they buy and read my books and like them and they like to tell me how much they enjoy my books and when I am on stage; it’s just really, really, lovely.

Who doesn’t love being told they’re wonderful?

But as always I had trouble sleeping in the hotel–I did get some sleep, but not much–and so my own bed, after the slightly less than five hour drive (it would have been even less had there not be highway construction on I-10 at the Mississippi/Louisiana border that brought traffic to a screeching halt and when it started moving again, it was at a snail’s pace). I listened to Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger on the road coming and going (finished it right around that traffic slowdown, so while I was stopped I cued up Lisa Unger’s longer short story “All My Darkest Impulses,” which I didn’t finish by the time I got home), and it was amazing. I had read and loved her book The Swallows (which was fan-fucking-tastic; her latest is sitting on my end table next to my easy chair), so I thought “Everyone loved The Passenger, I should listen to it on this drive” and boy, am I glad I did. (There will be more on that later.) I also read a book called The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics by Bruce J. Schulman, which I greatly enjoyed (but didn’t always agree with) and there will be more on that later as well.

As always, I loved listening to other writers talking about writing and ideas and their own work; it’s always inspiring, and of course I was madly scribbling notes as ideas popped into my head while I listened (I also was getting ideas on the drive, like I always do)–titles and characters and thoughts about the story I have to finish writing today, “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–it’s due today; I’d hope to do some work on it over the weekend but I was so tired from not sleeping–not to mention how draining being “on” is for me (public appearances cause me a great deal of anxiety and there’s always nervousness and stress and worry)–that whenever I made it back to my room I just lay down on the bed and opened my book. When I got home last night, my easy chair felt so amazing–I watched some of the Olympic team figure skating event (the US got silver! USA! USA! USA!)–and unpacked and did the laundry and went to bed; oh how marvelous did my bed feel! I slept deeply and well and comfortably, and didn’t really want to get up this morning, to be honest. (Even now I am resisting the siren song of my bed and blankets; today may be a “sit in the chair and make condom packs” kind of work-at-home day while my batteries continue to recharge–or I may burn another vacation day; I haven’t really decided yet. I hate that trips require a recovery day for me now.) It’s always hard readjusting back to reality when I come home from a writing event, but it’s even harder from these two events because the audiences are so warm and kind and lovely to me that I kind of want to stay in that bubble for a little while longer, you know?

And now I have a gazillion emails to deal with, a house to get in order, day job duties to get done, and a story to write. Back to the daily grind, back to reality, back to my usual every day existence.

So, I need to head into the spice mines here. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone

I finished the book and emailed it off to my editor yesterday. ENORMOUS SIGH OF RELIEF. It still needs some work–there’s a few things that need to be changed, methinks, and of course there’s probably lots of my usual sloppy errors (changing character names but not catching them all; repetitive writing; clunky sentences, etc.) but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was two days ago–my moods swing back and forth; one day I think it’s really good, two hours later I think it’s the worst piece of shit I’ve ever written–and I think letting it sit for a few weeks while my editor comes up with her thoughts and advice is going to be very good for it. Now I just have to get this pesky short story written and I can breathe a little bit.

For a very little bit, of course. It never ends around here, you know.

I am in that weird lull period of uncertainty; creatively and emotionally drained a bit from the big push to get the manuscript finished–along with the bipolarity of is it good or not writerly insecurity–and with my batteries drained so much, I didn’t have the energy to actually focus on reading anything, so I went onto Youtube and fell into a wormhole about the bubonic plague for a bit before I got rather fed up with myself and made myself do things. I emptied the dishwasher and did another load of dishes, did a load of laundry, and then sat down at my computer and started organizing the horror that is my back-up hard drive. I made some very good progress, but it was barely a scratch on the surface. I will never understand why I am so careless and/or lazy about computer files and their storage, really; would it kill me to take some time and carefully name files, check for duplicates, and file them away properly so they are easy to find again? The file search function on Macs has a lot to do with this; oh I can just do a file search later to find it–but the problem is really my memory; I will completely forget about something once it’s lost in the horror of the back-up hard drive. Last night, for example, I found a lovely word file with a single sentence in it that was so beautifully written and evocative I was certain I couldn’t have thought it up myself and written it…so I tried to do a google search to see where I’d originally found it–and if I couldn’t find anything, well, maybe I can use it. I didn’t find anything, but I am still not convinced; it sounds like something one of the great Southern writers–Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor–would have written.

More research is clearly needed, but DAMN I hope I thought that sentence up.

I’ve also been asked to write a story–or submit a story–to a market I’d never heard of before; it was an unsolicited email (I get those from time to time) and the offer of payment is actually pretty substantial (it’s not a guaranteed publication, but they’d like to see something from me and it’s not like I don’t have a gazillion stories and fragments of stories and ideas for stories lying around, right?), so I think I might actually take some time and dig through the files (now that I think of it, this was how the clean-up of the back-up hard drive began last night; me looking through the files and realizing that finding anything without doing the afore-mentioned search–if you aren’t looking for anything SPECIFIC–is well-nigh impossible, hence the start of the cleanse…) and see if I can find something. I have an idea for a weird story–I’ve had the idea for quite some time–and while I was thinking about this last night while I was going through the files, moving and rearranging and sometimes deleting, a great sentence came to me that could easily be the opening of this weird story I want to write. I opened a Word document and wrote it down, but unlike the gorgeous sentence I was talking about earlier, THIS time I gave the file the name of the story and added “sentence” to the title and saved it to the proper file for the story.

I do learn, eventually.

Tonight I want to do some more clean-up. I also have to pack, since I am driving up to Alabama tomorrow for the weekend–I may take the back-up hard drive with me so I can continue working on the clean-up, or I might not; it’s been a while since I have had a weekend of just listening to writers talk about craft and writing and books they love and authors who inspire them; why not simply bask in that environment and find inspiration from others who are passionate about writing? I am going to listen to Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger in the car (if you’ve not read her The Swallows, get on it and thank me later), and I am going to take something to read with me, too–not quite sure what; maybe Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey–to help me fall asleep every night (not that the book will put me to sleep, just that reading before sleeping helps me to relax). The weather is going to be frightful on the drive–thunderstorms the entire way–but the lovely thing about the drive is there is rarely traffic on I-59 between New Orleans and Birmingham other than when the highway passes through a city, and the majority of the cities I will be passing through (if not all of them) are all significantly smaller than New Orleans or Birmingham and the highway pretty much seems abandoned once you reach the Mississippi state line. (See: Jake driving to his grandmother’s in Bury Me in Shadows)

God, I have so much organizing to do! Maybe next weekend, when I am at home without a book deadline looming.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader.

Going Down for the Third Time

Wednesday and your biweekly Pay-the-Bills Day for one Gregalicious.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday to me, though; I’m still all messed up with my days of the week with the change in my work schedule. (I had to keep reminding myself last night that it was, indeed, Tuesday and not Monday.) I have to pay the bills today, finish revising the last chapter of the book, do some final tweaks on it, and turn it in. (Naturally, last night I was already breaking it down and figuring out how to fix it and make it better–slow down, Sparky, see what your editor says first….although it never hurts to prepare yourself and do your own critique.)

We finished Archive 81 last night, and it was interesting. The season ended on a cliffhanger, from which they can hang season 2, but I really enjoyed the show from beginning to end. I appreciated particularly the filming esthetic–you never realize how used you are to background soundtracks until you watch something that doesn’t have one, and it’s so odd it makes the show seem off-kilter, which was the exact right touch for this show. I think we’re going to move on to the second season of one of our Spanish language shows from Mexico next; the second season of Dark Desire drops today, and it stars our favorite Spanish-language hunk, Alejandro Speitzer (trust me, gorgeous)–although it’s been so long since we watched the first season (and have watched so many other shows in the meantime) that I don’t really remember a whole lot about the show, except it’s a well done crime show with all kinds of wild twists and turns along the way. I also remember the first season ended with a big surprise twist at the end, which was incredibly fun because it changed everything that had come before–always effective if you can pull it off, and far too ambitious for me to ever try.

Well, never say never.

It’s miserable in New Orleans today–wet and gray and drizzly, and yet warm at the same time (rainy weather always changes the temperature; if it’s already warm the rain makes it cold; if it’s cold the rain warms things up. It doesn’t make sense to me but I am also not a meteorologist). I’m going to make groceries–not much, really, just a few things–on the way home from the office tonight, and I was kind of lazy last night so tonight I have to do some clean-up around the apartment. My sense of days and time is completely fouled up; my default keeps telling me this is Tuesday and not Wednesday, which means I have to leave for Alabama in two days not three–which I think is why I messed up last night and didn’t clean the kitchen like I should have. I may go ahead and pack tonight as well to get it over with; one less thing to worry about tomorrow night after work, or Friday morning before I leave town (the drive to Birmingham is actually the same drive Jake makes in Bury Me in Shadows, which will make for some interesting thinking in the car). I’ve also downloaded Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger to listen to in the car; I may also make some phone calls while I am on the road. Stranger things have happened, and probably will again.

But I am very pleased that I am gradually making progress on the to-do list and everything that needs to get done. The list seems to endlessly refresh, alas, but I suppose that will always be the case until I am in an oxygen tent in the ICU waiting for the Angel of Death. (Note to self: update the to-do list.) But I still am having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that not only is today Wednesday but that doesn’t mean I do not have to come into the office tomorrow. Change is hard!

And on that note, methinks it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

You Can’t Hurry Love

No, you’ll just have to wait.

Friday morning and working at home. My new in-office schedule, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been shifted to Tuesdays thru Thursdays, so now I work at home on the bookends of the weekend, Fridays and Mondays. I have data to enter and condoms to pack, ZOOM work meetings (no offense, day job, but ZOOM is the bane of my existence and has been since March 2020)–technically it’s Microsoft Teams, which is kind of the same thing, and then later, chapters to write and clothes to launder and filing to do. It’s non-stop glamour around here at the Lost Apartment, right?

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday–just routine maintenance to get my prescriptions refilled–and then came home to work on the book. I am very pleased with how it’s shaping up so far (of course, as always, I go back and forth constantly between this isn’t terrible and this is going to ruin my career, which is essentially what I do with every manuscript, so everything is normal. Realizing that I am going through my usual emotional journey with this one eased my mind significantly). We watched the first episode of the new season of Resident Alien last night, which was rather fun, and then the new Peacemaker, which I am glad we stuck with. The first episode was okay, but we weren’t sold completely on the show; I love John Cena, so obviously we were going to keep going but I didn’t have high hopes; the show seems to be hitting its stride and this week’s episode was probably one of the best. I went to bed early and then slept deeply and beautifully; so whatever it was that was bothering me earlier in the week and keeping me from sleeping apparently eased off yesterday, which is always a plus.

I also got a copy of Lisa Lutz’ The Apprentice this week; I can’t wait to dig into it. One of the primary reasons I am looking forward to finishing this manuscript is because, as always when I am going into the final stretch, I am too nervous to read another writer’s work, particularly Lutz’, because I will inevitably feel like why do I bother when there are authors like this putting work out into the world? How can I possibly compete with these incredibly smart and literate writers? Then I have to stop feeling sorry for myself and sulking to get back into the right mindset for writing my new book; which is a process and I can’t spare the time for that right now, so the books continue to pile up (this is exactly what happened when I took a break for “just an hour” to indulge myself in Alafair Burke’s Find Me and then couldn’t put the book down until next thing I knew the book was done, and I’d (I can’t say wasted; reading Alafair is never a waste of time) lost an entire day of work. I know the new Lutz will have the same effect on me; so I need to not give into temptation and even crack the book open. (I may allow myself a Laura Lippman short story later on today, as a reward after the writing is done and before I crack open the wine.)

I also have a lot of other work to do over the course of the weekend; I have emails to answer as well as some writing to do for my friend’s website, which should be a lovely distraction from all of the other things I am (always) doing. I can’t wait for you all to see the cover for A Streetcar Named Murder; it’s absolutely gorgeous (I may have to get it made into a poster). It looks like I will be doing a “cover reveal” with a book blogger, which is a new thing for me. But this is actually a mainstream book (which is an offensive term on its face; but more on that later); my main character is a straight woman who lives in the Irish Channel, is widowed, and her twin sons have just gone away to college (LSU, of course) and suddenly finds herself (and the twins) as the beneficiary of a bequest from a relative of her husband’s that she didn’t know existed; and this is the heart of a mystery she (Valerie) finds herself in the middle of trying to figure out…and of course, it eventually leads to murder. I am doing something different here–I don’t think I’ve ever done something that could be called a cozy before; although in some ways the Scotty series is precisely that (but that can be a topic for another time)–and so am not sure if I am following the established rules for the sub-genre; but I also have to tell the story that I want to tell within that framework. It was a challenge to me as a writer; and one of the things I had been feeling as a writer over the last few years was that I was getting stale; that my work was in a state of stasis and I wasn’t growing within my work. In 2015 I felt that way, too, and so I took some time away from the writing and the grindstone I’d been pushing my nose against steadily for the preceding five or six years. This was when I wrote the first draft of #shedeservedit; this was when I decided to start taking more risks with the Scotty series, and when I decided to not continue the Chanse series. I am kind of looking at 2022 through that same lens; I decided to write this novel (possible first in a series) as a challenge to push myself to do something different, take a chance, and force myself to stretch my abilities and skills.

I think Chlorine is another step forward for me as a writer; writing a historical novel set in the recent past (although I suppose the 1950’s isn’t that recent past, really–which really makes me feel horrifically old) is going to push my talents and ability as a writer, and will require a lot more focus and research (which, while I love really history and reading it, the problem is that I can never really focus my interests in solely reading and researching what I actually need to look into for what I am working on–that ADHD problem) as well as writing in a different style than what I usually do; that rat-a-tat-tat pacing and use of language that keeps the story moving and says something about the times, the culture, and the characters themselves and how systemic homophobia can affect the lives of those with same-sex attractions; in addition to the toxic culture of sexual harassment and assault that was so prevalent in old Hollywood; the 1950’s were a transitional period for Hollywood as the old studio system began to crumble in the face of a new, changed society and the challenge of television.

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

The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.

Notorious

Hello, Thursday!

I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows last night, and I am still processing the experience. There will be more to come on this score, but for now, suffice it to say you all need to buy this book, everyone. It’s extraordinary. The voice, the characters, the story, the setting, the plot…and it’s wickedly, darkly funny, too. It’s one of those books that makes me question myself and my own work, and makes me want to do better.

This has been a particularly exceptional year for crime novels, so much so that I can’t even recall all of them off the top of my head.

The women are killing it, guys. Up your game.

I’m also greatly enjoying the campy ride that is American Horror Story: 1984. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not–no matter how off the rails a season of this show goes, I always end up watching it; the only season I bailed on was Hotel–but I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I was wondering how they were going to manage to get a season out of a slasher style tribute–after all, the main cast can’t be killed off from the very beginning, because you’d soon run out of cast–and last night I realized, ah, yes, every new character who is introduced in each new episode is going to die horribly. And yes, that’s what we have going on with this season, but it’s amazingly camp and funny and witty, and very much done in the style of the slasher films that were so popular in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s (have they ever gone out of style, though, really?).

Today I have to really get back on track with things. It looks like other than a nudge here and there, the massive volunteer project is finally over; just in time for some new volunteer projects, but none of those will be as time-consuming or all-encompassing as this one was–which is a very good thing, because I will need to use every minute available to me to get some things done before the end of the month. Hello, weekend–no rest for the wicked this week, alas. But it’s fine; primarily what I need to do is get these two stories finished. I also need to get back to the Diversity Project; next up is Michael Nava’s Lay Your Sleeping Head, which is actually a rebooted revision of his first Henry Rios novel, originally published as The Little Death. 

I am also moderating two panels at Bouchercon next month in Dallas, and so I need to start getting my shit together to be prepared for that, as well. I also have to write my column for the Sisters in Crime quarterly. Heavy sigh, it never ends, does it?

Make a list, Gregalicious, make a list, or you’ll never get any of this back under control.

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I also got an idea I didn’t need to have. I’ve written a noirish short story about a teenaged male figure skater–it needs work–and last night it popped into my head how to turn it into a novel, and that the story would work far better as a novel than as a short story. While it’s an excellent idea, this presents another problem for me. First of all, when on earth would I ever have time to write such a novel,  and secondly, I made a decision quite a while ago that I needed to stop thinking about stories in terms of novels when they would work as a short story. Maybe this is one that would be better as a novel rather than a short story; it’s hard to say, and the more I think about it this morning, the more I am leaning toward leaving it as a short story. Maybe I should just take another look at it again this weekend, since I am devoting the weekend to short stories and articles and essays, and decide then.

I made shrimp ‘n’ baked potatoes last night, so the kitchen is a horrific mess this morning, which I should get cleaned up before I head into the office–I hate coming home from work to a filthy kitchen–and then I’m going to try to get all my emails answered.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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