Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

IMG_1829

Daddy’s Home

Hello, Thursday morning, how are you?

Another lovely night’ sleep last night, and it’s quite marvelous to feel so rested and be energetic as I have been this entire week (which undoubtedly means I’ve now jinxed it and will not sleep well tonight). Have I gotten as much finished as I wanted to this week? Of course not. I was very tired when I got home from work last night, which means I wrote maybe 100 words on Chapter Nineteen; but it’s a hundred more words than I had yesterday morning, so I am calling that not only a win but a major win; I always count anything on a day when I was tired and didn’t want to do anything a major victory.

Yesterday was a very strange day for New Orleans in July; it was actually cool-and it was about twenty-thirty degrees cooler here than it was in places like, you know, PARIS. Anytime we have a relatively lovely day in New Orleans in the summertime is highly unusual; but it also kinds of messes with the city’s mentality and energy levels in many odd and different ways. I didn’t work very much on the large project that landed in my lap recently, but I think today I’ll be able to get some work done on it. Today is the first of my two short days this week, which is lovely; I can make groceries on my way home from the office tonight, finish the laundry and the dishes, and maybe even (gasp!) make dinner tonight. Depending on what time Paul gets home–he’s buried under with grants, as always, in July, which means getting home rather late every night (last night he got home after nine). This should give me some time to get some work done around the house as well as some work done on Bury Me in Shadows.

That’s the plan, at any rate. I also have an essay to write, some short stories to get going on, and of course, the Lost Apartment is a disaster area. Keeping the apartment neat and tidy is really a full time job, it seems, and of course on my two long days I simply don’t have the energy to do anything about it–or if I do, I won’t have the energy to write. This creates a war within myself; I cannot stand having a messy home and it both bothers and distracts me from writing, but if I do something about it I won’t have the time or the energy to get the writing done. The endless struggle…

But we shall see how today turns out. I may even go make the major grocery run tomorrow after I get off work; tomorrow is an early day and I get off work around run, which is plenty of time for me to run uptown and get the mail, while circling back around to make the grocery run before heading home to both clean and write. That’s really the question, isn’t it, how do I–or any other writer–find enough time to write the things we need to get written?  It really always comes down to finding the energy, really–one of the things I was thinking about the other day when I was talking about the need for self-absorption as a writer has everything to do with not wasting energy you need for your writing on people who ultimately won’t pay off in the long run.

Also, the Macavity Award nominations came out today:

The Macavity Awards are nominated by members of Mystery Readers International, subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal and friends of MRI. The winners will be announced at opening ceremonies at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in Dallas, TX, October 31, 2019. Congratulations to all.

If you’re a member of MRI, a subscriber to MRJ, or a friend of MRI, you will receive a ballot by August 15, so get reading.

Best Novel 

November Road by Lou Berney (William Morrow)

If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (William Morrow)

The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Flat Iron Books)

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur Books)

Hiroshima Boy by Naomi Hirahara (Prospect Park Books)

Under My Skin by Lisa Unger (Harlequin – Park Row Books)

Best First Novel 

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday)

Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver (Pegasus Books)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (Ballantine)

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor (Crown)

Best Nonfiction 

The Metaphysical Mysteries of G.K. Chesterton: A Critical Study of the Father Brown Stories and Other Detective Fiction by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland)

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox (Random House)

Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s by Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus Books)

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins)

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson (Pegasus Books)

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman (HarperCollins)

Best Short Story 

 “Race to Judgment” by Craig Faustus Buck (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov/Dec 2018)

“All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May/Jun 2018)

“Bug Appétit” by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov/Dec 2018)

“Three-Star Sushi” by Barry Lancet (Down & Out: The Magazine, Vol.1, No. 3)

“The Cambodian Curse” by Gigi Pandian (The Cambodian Curse and Other Stories)

 “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Jul/Aug 2018)

Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery 

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Kensington)

City of Ink by Elsa Hart (Minotaur)

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (Bantam)

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)

A Dying Note by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen)

A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd (William Morrow)

Lots of friends on that list! Congrats all!

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_1852

You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

IMG_0994

Our Lips are Sealed

As Constant Reader is already aware (primarily because I can’t stop talking about it), I have a story in the upcoming anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by the sublime Holly West and featuring an intro by the fabulous Jane Weidlin. As a huge fan of the Go-Go’s from the very first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio of my car (I immediately bought their first album, Beauty and the Beat, on my next pay-day; it remains one of my all-time favorite albums. I also liked Vacation, just not as much…but Talk Show is also brilliant.

Another thing that is exciting for me about being in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is who I am sharing the table of contents with! Some of the best writers in the genre today! Woo-hoo!

And first up in the table of contents is Lori Rader-Day. Lori is currently an Edgar Award finalist for her Under a Dark Sky, and she was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award for her first three novels (The Black Hour, Pretty Little Things, The Day I Died); winning for Pretty Little Things. She has won the Anthony Award twice, and been a finalist for the Macavity and the Barry Awards. A most impressive resume, particularly given there are only four novels to her credit thus far. I personally enjoy Lori’s work; which probably would be best classified as domestic suspense, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate classification. Her works are, like Megan Abbott’s, about the darkness inside women and their friendships.

And her story was inspired by “Our Lips Are Sealed”!

cover-west-murder-go-gos-front

When the credits for the movie the girls weren’t supposed to be watching started to roll, Colbie went to check that her mother was asleep, stamping down on the hand of her sister, Alexa, on the way out. Alexa sat up and sniffled into her fist but kept silent with effort. On the floor, Jane and Patricia picked white flecks of popcorn out of the kernels left at the bottom of the bowl. Nori slipped into the bathroom with her pajamas balled up in her fist.

Jane watched her go. “I usually sleep naked.”

“Bullshit,” Patricia said. Jane was older, by almost a full year, already thirteen. But Patricia was taller. If she needed to, she would hold Jane down and force her to say she was a liar.

Colbie returned to the doorway with a six-pack of soda cradled in her arms. “My mom’s either dead or she took one of her pills. Where’s Nori?”

“Peeing,” Jane said. She picked at the chipped blue nail polish on her big toe, leaving a patch of paint on the pink carpet of Colbie’s room.

“Why didn’t you invite boys over? I went to a boy-girl sleepover when I was at my old school—”

Patricia snorted. “For church? That doesn’t count.”

“Let’s do something else,” Colbie said.

“Not a lock-in, bitch,” Jane said. “A sleepover. With boys.”

Patricia rolled her eyes at Colbie. Everything seemed to have already happened to Jane, but out of sight, at her old school, in her old town. She sometimes wanted to ask Jane why she didn’t just go back if everything was so great there. She was sure Jane would say she couldn’t because she was a kid. Which, for once, would be the truth. They were all stuck where they were, being who they were. Patricia turned to Colbie. “What should we do?”

Nori opened the bathroom door an inch. “You guys?”

And seriously, is there anything more noir than a tween girls sleepover? Lori does an excellent job here playing with the power dynamics in a group of girls; girls who are just starting to become women and how they deal with the changes in their bodies and how they relate to each other.

Definitely a great start to the book!

No More Tears (Enough is Enough)

Good morning, and welcome to another cold January morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have some errands to run later today–later this morning, to be exact–and then I am spending the rest of the day holed up inside reading, cleaning, and probably watching figure skating on the television. We did watch the ladies’s final last night, which was quite fun, and am looking forward to seeing the competitions today. The European championships have also been going on this past week, so it’s all saved on Hulu for us to watch at our leisure. The Australian Open is also still happening–so much sport!–and so there’s that as well. I do want to finish reading my book today, and I want to read a short story, and start reading my next book as well.

And tomorrow I am cleaning out my email inbox if it kills me, and it just might.

I slept really well again last night–that’s three consecutive nights of good sleep, which is amazingly lovely.

Yesterday was also kind of a crazy day in the world, although it’s pretty safe to say that everyday has been kind of a crazy day for a while now. As I said to Paul the other night, “it’s like world politics has turned into Game of Thrones, only much scarier because it’s real.” And I know, world politics has always been very Game of Thrones, it’s just never been so obvious and apparent.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost February already, but there you have it and there it is. Carnival hovers on the horizon, and the Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners is just behind it. I am moderating a panel this year with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife) and Kristien Hemmerechts (The Woman Who Fed The Dogs) so I have some homework for that as well.

So much good reading to look forward to! Art Taylor also very graciously, along with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, made a pdf of his Edgar nominated short story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” available on-line, which I downloaded and look forward to reading. Art’s a terrific writer and a master of the short story (when I was nominated for the Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt”, Art was the winner, and his story was amazing), and it’s always terrific to read one of his stories. (Hint hint: Art, how about a short story collection? Hint hint.)

I’m also going to dissect some short stories I am in the process of editing–unless I get lazy again. I rarely do this when I am editing/revising short stories, which makes my short stories actually kind of hit or miss; if the story works, it’s because I simply got lucky with it. But I think if I actually break the story down into what it’s about, and who the characters are and why they are the people they are, more of my stories would probably work. It’s a theory, at any rate, and there’s nothing I love to do more than break down my work and put it back together again (I’m being sarcastic, if you couldn’t tell).

And on that note, I am heading out into the frigid cold to get my errands out of the way before coming home to mine spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

18193674_1340113092703418_9190892510622004853_n

Dancing in the Sheets

The sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed to 49 degrees. The boil-water advisory ended finally last evening–it’s just not a crisis in New Orleans unless we have a boil-water advisory!–and here I sit this morning, ensconced at my desk with a cup of coffee, a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, with great expectations of the day. I went to the gym last evening after work, and my muscles, while a bit tired, still feel stretched and worked and supple, if that makes sense. Probably the best thing about rededicating myself to physical exercise again is how much better I feel; I don’t ache or feel tired the way I did just last week, and the stretching and the treadmill are also making me feel ever so much better. Today, I am going to clean (if it’s Saturday I must be cleaning) but I am also going to write, edit and read today. Paul is going into the office to work (it’s that time of year again) and so I have the day to myself. I want to finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill” and I want to edit “Cold Beer No Flies.”

Among many other things; my to-do list is ridiculous, quite frankly. But the only way to make progress is not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the list but rather to keep plugging away at it.

I finished reading Miami by Joan Didion earlier this week, and it was quite good. Didion’s writing style is quite amazing, actually, and while the story of the book might seem, at first glance, to be rather dated; the truth is it is still very much appropriate to our modern times. Miami is a look at the Cuban exiles in the city, how they relate to each other, and how they impact south Florida politically; and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the US government with them as well as with Castro’s Cuba. During the Cold War Cuba was a much more terrifying apparition, close as it was to Florida, and it’s amazing how people do not realize the political clout, as a result of their sheer numbers, that the Cuban immigrants weld in that part of the state, and in the entire state as well. The importance of Florida as a swing state cannot be discounted; and therefore the Cuban-American community’s influence on national politics is something that has to always be considered. (A present day comparison would be the Puerto Ricans moving to Florida today in great numbers as a result of the hurricane destruction of their island; the difference being those Puerto Ricans are already American citizens who can register to vote and can impact 2018 already.) Didion’s look at Miami in the 1980’s, as a Caribbean city on the mainland, is also reminiscent of descriptions of New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city; the thing I love the most about Didion’s work is how she makes you think. Reading Miami made me want to write about Miami; I’ve been wanting to write about Florida for a long time, as Constant Reader already knows. Something to ponder.

miami

I also started reading Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is a look at the film industry through the lens of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, and how they were made. Harris’ thesis is that was the year that bridged the gap between old and new Hollywood; and the five Best Picture nominees illustrated that perfectly: an expensive musical flop (Doctor Dolittle); two old style Hollywood pictures about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night), and two films that illustrated new Hollywood and its influence by European filmmakers like Truffaut and Fellini and Antonioni (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). I, of course, have always been fascinated by Hollywood history and have been ever since I read Garson Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn and Bob Thomas’ Selznick as a kid; this book is right up my alley, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Hollywood history, I am looking forward to reading this (and his Five Came Back–I’ve already watched the documentary based on it).

The Short Story Project also moves apace; I am frequently surprised as I look through my shelves for something to read how many single author collections and anthologies dot them. My Ipad also has quite a few loaded onto the Kindle app; I often buy them when they are either free or reduced in price, and so my Kindle app is filled with books I’ve not yet read, primarily because I don’t like to read on it (which I realize is nothing more than stubbornness; if I can watch movies or television programs on it, why resist reading books there?) Yesterday I found my battered old Dell paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, which I remember loving as a child. I was looking for my copy of Lawrence Block’s first anthology inspired by paintings–those of Edward Hopper– In Sunlight or in Shadow, which I would have sworn I’d purchased in hardcover; yet it wasn’t anywhere on the shelves or in any of the TBR piles, before remembering I’d bought it as an ebook when the Macavity nominations come out; Block’s story “Autumn at the Automat” was a finalist, along with mine (I still can’t believe it) and I wanted to read all the other nominated stories for an entry, so the immediacy of the need required buying the ebook. It is a handsome volume, though, so I’ll need to buy a hard copy to pair with the new one. (New bucket list item: write a story for one of these anthologies by Lawrence Block)

Once I’d located it on the iPad, I scoured the table of contents and landed on a Joyce Carol Oates story, “The Woman in the Window.” I have to confess I’ve not read much of Ms. Oates; I am not even remotely familiar with what she writes. But she, too, was a Macavity finalist last year, for her story “The Crawl Space” (which also won the Stoker Award), and that story creeped me the fuck out. I know she’s been a Stoker finalist before, but I also think she tends to write across genre a lot and therefore isn’t pigeon-holed in one way or the other.

Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.

Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.

No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous!

It is eleven A.M. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven A.M.

This story, frankly, isn’t as strong as “The Crawl Space,” but it’s an interesting exercise in how thin the line between lust and loathing is; the woman of the title is a secretary having an affair with a much wealthier man, and as she gets older and older she is feeling more and more trapped in the relationship; he is married and he often has to break plans with her for his wife. There is also a shift occasionally to his point of view, and he’s not so fond of her anymore, either. Passion has cooled but habit has set in; and the way those lines can get crossed is chilling–and how destructive such a relationship can be to both parties, emotionally and mentally, is explored in great detail yet sparse language by Ms. Oates. The story’s not as creepy, as I said, as the other; but the end–which she leaves kind of hanging–you do feel that something awful is going to happen; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

I’ve not read Joe Hill before, and there are several reasons for that; none of which would make any sense to anyone who is not me; I am nothing if not aware of my own eccentricities, which is why I generally don’t share them with people; I don’t need someone else to point out that something doesn’t make sense. But I do have a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I spied on the shelves as I looked for my copy of the Block anthology. Aha, I thought, perfect. I can read a Joe Hill story for the Short Story Project. So, I curled up under a blanket in my easy chair, waited for Scooter to get settled in my lap, and started reading “Best New Horror.”

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once–when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America’s Best New Horror–he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

I did not mention the elephant in the room; said elephant, of course, being that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (The Kings are a very literary family; Mr. King’s wife Tabitha is a poet and a novelist; their other son Owen also writes, as does Owen’s wife, Kelly Braffet; I read a novel by Ms. Braffet sometime in the last couple of years–not aware of the King connection–and greatly enjoyed it.)

But simply based on a reading of “Best New Horror,” I have to say Joe Hill is also a terrific writer. And while it, like some of his father’s work, bears a strong resemblance to something I would have read in an Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery comic book–that is not a criticism. I loved those comics, and the stories I read in them; they had a deep influence on me not only as a writer but as a reader. “Best New Horror”, as you can tell by the opening, tells the tale of Eddie Carroll, a writing teacher and a long-time editor of the Best New Horror series, a chore he has learned to loathe and, basically, phone in every year for the money. This resonated with me; as an anthology editor myself, one of the reasons I stepped away from editing them–or took a break from doing it–was because it was becoming rote; a chore rather than something I found joy in doing. Eddie is an example of why I stopped–I didn’t want to become like him; embittered by the experience and tired of not finding anything fresh or new (unlike Eddie, I was able to keep the experience fresh because each anthology I did was a new topic; if I had done twenty anthologies with the same theme I would have gone on a killing spree). But in the mail comes a story from a new writer that is simply brilliant; original and fresh and resonant and horrifying in its reality; the story reinvigorates Eddie and makes the editing job no longer a chore; he has to have this story, and will do whatever he has to in order to track the writer down…but as with any horror  tale of obsession, it’s not going to end well. But Hill brilliantly keeps stringing the reader along, and the ending is just absolutely brilliant and clever. I am really looking forward to reading more of these stories.

And now, I must get back to the spice mines. There are clothes to fold, dishes to wash, floors to clean, stories to write and edit; I am probably coming back here for another entry later as I am trying to get caught up on posting the stories I’ve read–but I make no promises. I have another story to write as a call for submissions crossed my computer screen on Thursday; I have an unfinished story that I can repurpose, but I also need to get a first draft done so I can work the story out.

Until later, Constant Reader.

Lucky Star

New Year’s Eve, a time to look back on the past year and reflect on goals either achieved or missed; to look at what was accomplished and what wasn’t, to think about and make plans for the future year.

So, what kind of year was 2017? I didn’t achieve many, if any, of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I intended to write more short stories (which I sort of did) and publish more short stories (which I didn’t really do); I intended to start my search for an agent (which I did); but I didn’t seem to get much else done. I didn’t start working out more, but I did lose weight–so that one’s kind of a toss-up; I weigh 15 pounds less than I did a year ago. I did buy a new car, which was also a goal, and I’ve not regretted it once, despite the impact on my finances. I also didn’t write nearly as much this year as I had hoped/wanted to; there were no new novels published under my name this year; which is the first time I think that’s happened since 2005. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did in 2005, to be honest; my self-worth and identity as an author apparently no longer requires me to write and publish at the insane pace that I used to keep.

I read a lot of good books in 2017, discovered a lot of great new-to-me writers, watched some amazing television shows and movies, but creatively I spent most of the year in stasis; just kind of getting through the day every day and then watching as those days turned into weeks and then months. I started a number of short stories that I either didn’t finish, or finished but didn’t know how to fix. The WIP, the manuscript I am shopping to agents, needs some more work. I had started sending it out in the fall, but I am going to hold back on it for a few more months as I revise and polish it some more. I always felt it was missing something, even though I thought it was a good manuscript, and I’ve recently figured out what that something is; and I’ve also realized part of the problem I had with the manuscript and fixing it has to do with my own stubbornness. It’s starting point needs to be before where I start the book; I flash back to the beginning of the story and that kind of is not only a cliche but also steps on the action. Also, where I start the book itself is kind of hackneyed and cliched. There’s another subplot or two that needs to be woven into the story, and I  need to develop my main character more; and there are things about him that know that are kind of crucial to the story that don’t actually appear in the story, and some of the relationships between the characters need to be developed and deepened, more layered. It’s a very basic story right now, and it needs to be more complex; and it needs to go deeper into its theme.

So, that’s something, at any rate.

I also had a good year in that I was nominated for a Macavity Award (Best Short Story, “Survivor’s Guilt”) and an Anthony Award (Best Anthology, Blood on the Bayou). Both were completely unexpected surprises, and enormously gratifying.  As Constant Reader knows, I struggle with short stories and have very little to no self-confidence when it comes to them. So, to get nominated for a Macavity Award for a short story I wrote? That was probably one of the most meaningful things to happen to me in my career thus far. And I was nominated against some amazing writers–I read all the stories–and wasn’t in the least surprised when Art Taylor won; any of the other nominated stories were award-worthy. It was such an honor.

I was so certain I wasn’t going to win the Anthony Award that Paul and I booked our plane tickets home from Toronto for Sunday morning; I was boarding my flight to New Orleans when I started getting texts and tweets and Facebook messages that I’d won. It, too, was an incredibly lovely surprise, and I was extremely happy for the contributors, and thankful to them for their amazing stories.

I also realized this year that something I used to do when I was writing–something that was highly effective, and I don’t know why I stopped doing it–was write about whatever I was working on in long-hand in notebooks. I started doing that again this year, in these last few months–and it proved incredibly helpful with a couple of things I was working on at the time. So, I am going to make that a goal for the new year; to return to buying a blank book to carry around with me at all times, to use for notes and questions I have for myself, for developing characters and things. I think I stopped using the blank books because I started keeping physical files, and it was easier to use a spiral notebook for notes that could be removed and put in the files. There’s no reason I can’t stop doing that, either; but the point is that I need to start doing things like that in long-hand again. It was an excellent way of brainstorming and free-associating that I’ve sadly gotten away from over the years.

Despite getting off to a rough start, LSU also had a great season, one with lots of highlights and excitement, and wound up 9-3 on the year, with a chance for a ten-win season with a bowl win. The future also looks fairly bright for the Tigers going forward; the Saints are also having a great season. Back in September this football season was looking really bleak; who could have foreseen that both of our teams would have such a remarkable turnaround?

I had a lot of fun this past year. Last January I did two library events in Alabama, which were way fun, and was invited back again this year; I also spoke at an event at the University of Mississippi as well as at the Alabama Book Festival (both events were in teh same week, so I was driving around the deep South quite a bit then), and of course, Bouchercon in Toronto was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to this year’s event in St. Petersburg, and I am also looking forward to a trip to England this spring.

We’re having lunch later at Commander’s Palace; our annual New Year’s Eve meal with Jean and Gillian, which is always a lovely way to ring out the old year. I’ve started reading John Hart’s Redemption Road–I greatly enjoyed his The Last Child and Iron House, so am greatly looking forward to this one. Next weekend I am appearing at Comic Con at the Convention Center every day; that should also be a lot of fun.

And so, I should get some things done before it’s time to go to lunch. The spice mines are always calling me, so here’s one last hunk for 2017, Constant Reader, and have a lovely and safe and happy new year.

IMG_1911