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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.

Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

It Don’t Come Easy

The future’s so bright, we have to wear shades.

I’m referring to the crime fiction world. I’ve been having a marvelous time reading debut authors lately–Mia P. Manansala, Wanda M. Morris, just to name two–and I have to say, the debut authors are simply killing it lately. I am glad I’ve not been asked to sit on any judging panels for best firsts lately, because while it would be amazing to read all of these exceptional debuts for an entire year, having to winnow them down first to five and then to pick a winner would be incredibly difficult. It’s hard enough participating in fan-voted awards, like the Leftys and the Anthonys.

That is also particularly true when it comes to queer crime. Some of the queer crime novels I’ve been reading over the last year or so have been exceptional–and Marco Carocari’s Blackout fits right in with the premise of this post: an exceptional debut novel, and with gay characters, issues and themes front and center; and written by a gay man. Blackout was a Lefty finalist for Best First Novel (a truly packed category, seriously) and I couldn’t have been prouder of Marco–especially once I finished reading the book.

Franco couldn’t deny it any longer. This had been a mistake. “I’m sorry…hold on a second,” he said, gripping the rooftop’s metal railing to keep his balance, his blue gym shorts around his ankles. All around him low hanging pinkish clouds held back SoHo’s city lights, dousing the neighborhood in a muted glow.

The half-naked man behind him grunted and stepped back. “Dude, this isn’t working for me.”

Franco detected frustration in his voice, but found it hard to care. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he scratched the blond stubble on his cheek, his naked skin damp from from the sultry air. “Sorry, I…need a moment. I don’t feel so hot,” he said over his shoulder, straightening up. He spat on the ground, but the strange metallic taste lingered in his dry mouth. He swayed and saw double. “What the hell was in that thing?”

He got no answer and glanced at his bare chested hunk of a date standing there, zipping up.

Okay, considering this had barely taken ten minutes, date was probably grossly overstated. Franco eyed the ripped, olive-skinned stud who went by Pitcher9 on the MeatUp app, but whose real name he’d already forgotten. Pressed, he’d go with Hey since that was an intimate an introduction the situation warranted. A fading, crudely drawn mermaid tattoo on the man’s left oblique, possibly a blast from his youthful past, only increased his bad boy vibe.

Well, that’s an opening, isn’t it?

When I discovered that not only was queer fiction a thing, but that queer crime fiction was a strong and vital force in the genre, I was in heaven. I devoured queer fiction, and especially queer crime fiction of any kind. I discovered the rich history of queer fiction by reading writers like Joseph Hanson, Barbara Wilson, Richard Stevenson, Michael Nava, Ellen Hart, and Katherine Forrest–and any number of others. I was a queer book reviewer for years. I was editor of Lambda Book Report and served as a Lambda judge any number of times. I kind of burned out on it, to be honest…but I kept reading it and I certainly was paying attention. There has been any number of ups and downs in queer crime over the decades, but the flourishing we’re seeing now is pretty amazing for me to witness.

First of all, Marco’s book begins with the above scene (there’s a set-up introduction chapter, that dates back to the New York blackout of 1977), and it’s from a crime fiction small press. Not a small press that is queer owned and operated, but a crime fiction small press. That’s some serious in-your-face gay sexuality going on in those opening paragraphs; a hook-up gone bad on a rooftop in Manhattan. It is both blunt and frank and right there, in your face–and I cannot even begin to express how exciting it is for me, not just as a gay author but as a gay man of a certain age, to see gay sexuality expressed so bluntly and openly from a small crime press. Just as it amazed me that PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus was published (and promoted heavily) by one of the big presses in New York, it’s also lovely to see that small crime fiction publishers are embracing this kind of content.

It’s lovely, frankly.

The book itself is a strong debut novel from someone who will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with in the years to come. Franco smokes a joint with his trick, but the joint is laced with something so Franco becomes what we call an unreliable narrator/unreliable witness. He thinks he sees a murder happen in the window across the street–but the police find nothing to corroborate or back up his story. Did he really see something? Was it the drugs? And slowly, as Franco and his friends try to figure out what is going on and what is happening to Franco, it all seems to lead back in time to that night when the lights went out in New York…

Franco is a terrific character–likable if frustrating from time to time–but how would anyone react in this kind of situation? The trope of “I think I saw a murder but I may not have” isn’t original–Agatha Christie’s brilliant What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw is one of the best of these types of stories, but Carocari giving it a gay twist–and what a gay twist it was, indeed!–made it fresh and original and new. I don’t know if Carocari plans on writing more books with Franco as his protagonist–or if what he writes next will be a crime thriller or gay at all; but whatever it is, I am looking forward to reading it when it comes out.

I am a fan. Well done, Marco, and welcome to the queer crime fiction club!

Rose Garden

And today we fly back home from the glamour of New York and the Edgar Awards; to reality and what I would usually describe as the drudgery of my day to day existence. I do love New York; I love walking the streets and looking in shop windows and looking at the menus posted in the windows of little restaurants (and the bigger ones) and the crowds of people. I don’t know if I could handle living here–I’m far too old to try to find out now, at any rate–but there’s a part of me that kind of wishes I had run away to the big city from the provincial and pedestrian life I lived up until I was thirty; but that would make my life different than it is now and I am pretty damned happy with my life now. Could be better, but could also but a shit ton worse than it is, too.

I could also be dead had I been here during the plague years, so there’s also that.

Yesterday was a lovely and relaxing recovery day from the Edgar banquet. I slept really well that night (and last night; I don’t get it but for whatever reason I’ve been able to sleep here at the hotel and it’s been quite marvelous), and spent the day exploring and meeting friends here and there for coffee or drinks. I actually met a friend at the Campbell Apartment in the mid-afternoon for drinks; I had never been before but it was quite marvelous! It was like being back in old New York, with the gorgeous old decor, the magnificent window behind the bar, and sipping on a martini (dirty vodka, of course; aka the Gaylin) while talking about books and publishing and writing with a writer friend; one of the things I love about coming to New York–particularly when it’s on Mystery Writers of America business–is that it reminds me of what I used to dream being a writer was like: coming to New York, walking the busy streets from meeting to meeting, talking to other people in the business about the business and about writing and books. I always feel like An Author when I am in Manhattan in ways that I don’t when I am anywhere else–even if it’s a writer’s conference. There’s just something about Manhattan that gets into my system somehow and makes me feel like I’m really a writer. I guess it’s because when I was a kid everything I ever saw, in movies and television or even read in books, about being a writer always involved either living in New York or coming to New York to meet with editors, agents, etc.

I love New York because I love feeling like An Author, and I never feel that as intensely as I do when I am here.

I also spent some more time with Raquel V. Reyes’ marvelous Mango, Mambo and Murder, which she described on stage while accepting her Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery a few weeks ago, as her “Spanglish mystery,” and while I wasn’t sure what she meant by that when she said (as I hadn’t read the book yet) now that I am about two-thirds of the way through, I totally get it. Miriam, her main character, is a Cuban-American who is absolutely (as she should be) proud of that heritage and wants to keep it alive with her son, who has a white father. She speaks Spanish to her son (his father speaks English to him) so he will grow up bilingual and understanding and appreciating his maternal heritage; she speaks Spanish with other Spanish speakers; and her mother-in-law is…well, let’s just call her horrible and passive-aggressively racist in that way that certain white women can be. There have been any number of times in the book where I’ve wanted to slap the snot out of Mother-in-Law; and while intellectually I’ve always known how awful that kind of behavior (and equally awful those snide little remarks) are, experiencing it through the eyes of a character you’ve grown to like and admire and respect and identify with–all the while knowing I can just put the book down and escape from it, which people of Hispanic/Latinx heritage cannot in every day life–is always a little eye-opening and makes me understand just how much privilege my skin gives me (there was a weird incident at Left Coast Crime I’ve not blogged about that kind of put me in the shoes of a non-white person for a little while; I’ve not written about it because I am not really sure how to, and I’ve not managed to fully process the experience, to be honest, and there’s also the reality that this momentary sort-of-racist experience I had isn’t common, isn’t likely to happen again, and as a general rule I enjoy a lot of privilege due to my lack of melanin.)…which is precisely why books like Raquel’s (and Kellye Garrett’s, and Rachel Howzell Hall’s, and Mia Manansala’s, and so many others) are important. So many of us don’t understand how privileged we are as a category (it’s always infuriating when people are tone-deaf and make it about them–“I’ve struggled”–rather than stepping back and recognizing that it’s about the group and not individuality), and these books can help us see things from a different perspective as well as exposing us to other cultures within our over-arching society that we should actually embrace and celebrate and learn about in order to be more fully rounded and developed as people. I’ll probably finish reading the book either at the airport or on the flight; I have some more on deck in my backpack so I won’t be without a book to read (We also have to change planes in Nashville, and we have about an hour or two there as well).

I’d best wrap this up and get ready. Checkout time is 11, and our car is coming for us at 11:45 to take us to LaGuardia. I need to pack the last few odds and ends into the suitcases, take a shower, and get Paul up. So farewell to you, my beloved New York and Manhattan, and I promise to be back again at some point.

And I’ll check in with you again tomorrow as always, Constant Reader.

Do You Know What I Mean

The traditional mystery often gets a bum rap by mystery fans. I’m not sure why that is; these books have never gone out of style, have never decreased in popularity, and have always been the backbone of the crime/mystery genre. They are often (wrongly, I think) identified with Agatha Christie–if anything, Christie should be identified with every sub-genre of crime/mystery fiction. She wrote private eye novels (Poirot); dark noir (Endless Night); spy fiction (N or M?, The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad); historicals (Death Comes as the End); and even romantic suspense (as Mary Westmacott). Sure, she often relied on the amateur sleuth–her most famous amateur being probably Miss Marple–but she literally did everything first, really.

Probably why everyone refers to her as the Queen of Crime Fiction.

But the traditional mystery, for some reason, gets short shrift in our modern world, despite being one of the most popular subgenres of crime fiction. Why? I don’t really understand it. Sure, there’s not any blood or sex or violence–the sort of thing generally used to sell everything from television shows to movies to laundry soap and deoderant. Many of us grew up reading books about amateur detectives, from Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys to Trixie Belden. So why do so many turn their noses up at the traditional mystery, also known as the cozy mystery?

I think it’s much harder to write about crime without using the tough guy male lead (stereotype), blood, violence, swear words, and sex. Is it this lack of the “rougher” aspects of crime that earned these books the nickname “cozy”?

What precisely does the word cozy mean, used as a book descriptor in this way? Ask five mystery fans/writers, and you will get five different answers. It’s often hard to quantify the variety of subgenres within the mystery/crime field. Everything else aside, I think the most important thing, the key, for a mystery novel to get this kind of classification is that the book focuses, on one level, on a sense of community; the reader develops a warm, comfortable feeling, the kind that you usually get from visiting family and friends you don’t get to see all of the time. You open the book and start reading and already feel relaxed and at home; happy to see people you care about, are interested in, and are excited to find out what they have been up to. Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series is an excellent example of this; so is Leslie Budewitz’ Spice Shop mystery series (both series, obviously, are favorites of mine). These books welcome you in, invite you to put your feet up, get comfortable, and spend some time with your old friends you’ve not seen in a while.

This, naturally, is very difficult to establish when writing the first book in a new series of this kind; how do you immediately establish this warm environment where the reader feels comfortable enough to kick off their shoes and relax? It’s not the easiest thing to pull off for an accomplished writer; so it’s all the more remarkable when someone nails it in their very first book.

Mia P. Manansala nailed it in her debut.

My name is Lila Macapagal and my life has become a rom-com cliché.

Not many romantic comedies feature an Asian-American (or dead bodies, but more on that later), but all the hallmarks are there.

Girl from an improbably named small town in the Midwest moves to the big city to make a name for herself and find love? Check.

Girl achieves these things only for the world to come crashing down when she walks in on her fiancé getting down and dirty with their next-door neighbors (yes, plural)? Double check.

Girl then moves back home in disgrace and finds work reinvigorating her aunt’s failing business? Well now we’re up to a hat trick of clichés.

And to put the cherry on top, in the trope of all tropes, I even reconnected with my high school sweetheart after moving back to town and discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

Okay, that last part is a joke, but I really did run into my high school sweetheart. Derek Winter, my first love.

First of all, can we talk about the voice?

It is impossible not to fall in love with Lila’s voice from the very first sentence of the book. She is smart and funny and eminently likable, which is important in a traditional mystery (no one wants to read a cozy whose main character is an unlikable bitch) and much harder to do than most people who don’t actually write books think it is. Lila is a remarkable character; very clear-eyed about what she wants and what she doesn’t, as well as who she thinks she is and wants to be. She’s returned from her big escape to the big city to the small town she wasn’t terribly happy in when she was growing up–her past experiences continually are reminding her, and not in pleasant way, of why she left in the first place. She never intended to return home (as Thomas Wolfe said, you can’t go home again), but she is back and rather than focusing on what she is certain everyone she knows or is related to sees as her “failure,” she intends instead to focus on helping save her aunt’s restaurant business.

The immense strength of this story rests upon those family bonds, and Lila’s recognition of just how important those bonds–family, friends, community–actually are to her; and her growing realization, over the course of the books, that those things she once thought were strangling and restraining her are actually where her own power comes from.

The mystery itself is also strong: Lila’s wretched local ex, whose mother has since married a businessman who rents Tita Rosie’s building to her and is a total dick, has taken to writing shitty reviews of local restaurants, apparently targeting one and trying to destroy its business before moving on to another. Lila’s relationship with him is also strained; and she also doesn’t like the dickish stepfather either. It is while she is serving them lunch that her ex keels over face-first into his plate–dead from arsenic poisoning. In the food Lila fed him, and came from her aunt’s kitchen. The financially strapped business is shut down pending an investigation into the murder and a health department inspection, and there is the very real fear that Tita Rosie may lose her restaurant. Lila takes it upon herself to investigate and find the real culprit, to clear herself as well as her aunt and the beloved family business of any wrongdoing and scandal. The journey, which introduces us to her friends and family, and welcomes the reader into their charming world and community, twists and turns and is full of surprises every step along the way–as Lila also learns just how much the restaurant, her family, and her friends really mean to her.

This book is absolutely charming, well-written, and very fun. I cannot wait to revisit Lila and her crew in the second book, Homicide and Halo-Halo. Mia P. Manansala is definitely one to watch, and it’s going to be fun watching her career reaching even more heights than she has already achieved.

Brown Sugar

Wednesday morning and today is my work-at-home day. I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff; and of course, household chores to do when I need to back away from the computer for a moment or two. I’ve sort of gotten caught up on my chores around the house–it’s also Pay-the-Bills Day, hurray–but there’s always something that needs to be done around here. There are dishes in the dishwasher that need putting away, and laundry as well, the bed linens didn’t get their weekly laundering on Friday because I was out of town, and so forth. I slept deeply and well last night and feel incredibly well rested this morning–for the first time since leaving, really; yesterday was merely an improvement on Monday because this is supposed to be how I feel when I get up. I’m a bit groggy, but the coffee will undoubtedly help with that, and I’ve already done Wordle–I am finding that to be very helpful in kicking my mind back into gear again in the mornings–and now I just have to finish writing this entry. I also have entries to do on Mia Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobe and Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets, and I am getting close to finishing Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House, which I am really enjoying.

I came straight home from work yesterday and did some chores when I got home, which included putting away the stuff in the dishwasher and folding clothes, before settling in to read some more of Catriona’s book. Scooter climbed into my lap and turned into his usual contented purr-ball self (we think we have a new outdoor kitty; Guzman has also come back and isn’t skittish anymore; and Tiger has resurfaced as well), and when my mind finally became too fatigued to go on reading, I started watching some videos on Youtube (I started watching another one about the inbred Spanish Hapsburgs, but turned it off when it failed to note that Charles V had also married a first cousin on his mother’s side, adding to the inbreeding coefficient dramatically; the Iberian royal houses of Castile, Aragon and Portugal had already been inbreeding for centuries) and then Paul got home. I’ve also discovered a new wonderful channel on Youtube about music, “Todd in the Shadows,” and I really enjoy his lengthy looks at one-hit wonders (last night I watched his videos about “Mickey,” “I Touch Myself,” “Missing,” and “What is Love”–I’ve watched quite a few of these in the past and while I don’t always agree with his opinion about the song itself, it’s interesting to hear the backstories of the artists and the songs themselves, as well as what they tried to do to follow up the success of their one hit wonder. And of course, when Paul came back downstairs, we binged the rest of the fifth season of Elite, which we both greatly enjoyed and might be one of the best seasons thus far; certainly it was stronger than season 4. I think this deserves its own entry, frankly; so I think I am going to go ahead and do one at some point. And then it was off to bed and I fell asleep almost immediately, which was lovely, and slept deeply and well through the night, which was also pretty amazing.

Huzzah!

And hopefully, once I am done with my work-at-home duties, I can work on finishing that short story. I really need to get it finished and turned in before I leave for the Edgars in two weeks. Woo-hoo! (Although yes, I am terribly worried about sleep once I am in New York, too. Fortunately I will have at least one night to get used to sleeping in a new bed before the banquet.

It looks kind of cloudy outside this morning, and the crepe myrtles–which are getting more full since the butchery last year–are swaying in the winds. I should probably check the weather to make sure this isn’t going to be another one of those “potential tornado” days–we’re all a little jumpy after that one a few weeks ago–and it looks like it could be another one of those days. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to make a to-do list; the one I am working off is from before the trip to Left Coast Crime (so much fun!) and is, therefore, dated.

Sigh.

I also need to get some other stuff done–the Bouchercon anthology needs more organizing, I need to start planning Mississippi River Mischief, and I also got, ordered on-line, another copy of William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Helped Shape Hollywood, which I already have a copy of somewhere but it was simply easier to order a new copy than go through every fucking box in storage to find it, and is going to be important research for Chlorine. I was planning on writing a draft of Chlorine in May, but I may push that back a month and do another first draft of something that has drawn some interest from another potential publisher; it’s something I’ve also been wanting to write for some time but have never gotten around to, so we shall see. The day job is changing a bit, so that’s also going to have some impact on my writing schedules and so forth. Heavy heavy deep heaving sigh.

It’s always something.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, pay the bills, and get started on my day. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Monday morning and I slept very well last night. This is, of course, a good thing because I have a lot of work to do today (what else is new?). I did manage to get some things mostly taken care of yesterday (I am missing a 1099, which is going to be problematic, taxes wise; I’ve already written to get a copy of it) and of course, this week is when I leave for Albuquerque. Once I am finished writing and posting this I will undoubtedly make a to-do list of things I have to get done today–of course I have work-at-home duties today as well. But I slept great last night–the first time I’ve slept through most of the night in a very long time–and as such I am feeling a bit more invigorated than I usually do in the mornings. This is a lovely thing, I think….feeling rested is always a good thing, methinks.

It really bothers me that I can’t find that 1099, though. But where would it have been had I not put it in the file with the others? I know my organizational skills have slipped in the last few years (thank you, pandemic brain) but this is…well, this is something important, and it’s the first time I’ve misplaced something important I will need in, well, years.

But I got all my expenses for the year figured out, scanned all other tax documents, and I also did some work that needed to be done; that should, in fact, all be wrapped up this week. So yay for that, at any rate. I also spent some time reading Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo, which is quite marvelous, actually. I’ve had an e-galley forever, but as Constant Reader knows, I am not a huge fan of reading on my iPad, so it’s languished there ever since it arrived. When I was in Metairie for appointments a few weeks ago, between appointments I ducked into the Barnes & Noble on Veterans’, and grabbed not only a print copy of it but the second book in the series as well. I doubt I will finish it before I leave Thursday, which will make it my airport/plane book for the trip. (note to self: pick out other books to take with me on the trip) The voice of the main character is terrific, and while I am only a few chapters in, I am enjoying it very much. Mia does a great job of developing character and place, as well as the relationships between the series characters–all of which are so crucial in a mystery series. You literally feel like you’ve been set down in the middle of a world that has always been there, and are there for the next chapter in these peoples’ lives. What more could one ask for?

I have to say, I’ve been reading a lot of excellent work lately. Exciting, but also a little bit on the intimidating side as I am also a writer. But it certainly all adds in to my belief that we are living in a Golden Age of crime fiction, with perhaps the most amazing and diverse community of active writers in the history of the genre. That also gives me hope for the future of the genre, you know?

We finished watching Dark Desire last night, and it took several turns before the finale, which was in and of itself a big surprise. I would imagine if I sat down and tried plotting out the story, with all the subplots, red herrings, and so forth, I would most likely find any number of contradictions and/or holes in the plot and/or subplots that were abandoned along the way, but I try not to watch movies, books and television–when I am doing it for pleasure and relaxation–in a critical way (unless, like with Cruella, it’s so blatant and in-your-face you can’t help but notice). Elite‘s new season drops on Friday (while I will be in Albuquerque) so we’ll probably have to wait to watch that until I get back from the trip. I think the final episodes of Ozark drop at the end of the month when we will be in New York, too.

But I have to say, it’s nice having Paul back to normal and having him around more. I’ve seen him more over this past week than I have in the past few months and I have been greatly enjoying that. I also have some errands to do today around my work-at-home duties–mail and groceries to make (not many, thank you Baby Jesus)–and some organizing to get done as well. Heavy sigh. (Like right now I am eying things where i may have stashed that 1099 in a moment of incredible stupidity.)

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

The Wisdom of Time

Hello, Monday morning, how are you?

It was cold when I woke up this morning–but its warming up; definitely springtime in New Orleans where the differential between night and day can range from about ten degrees to as much as thirty. Yay?

Well, that there was an interruption, wasn’ it?

I took today off because I had appointments this morning–hello, Metairie!–and thus wasn’t able to get this finished before leaving the house. Sorry about that, y’all; I know how important it is to you all to get your started with Gregalicious and coffee, and I have failed you miserably, and on a Monday, too. There’s simply no excuse for this, is there? I am hanging my head in shame as I type.

But yesterday was a good one. I started reading Alex Segura’s marvelous Secret Identity, read some issues of the Nightwing Rebirth run, finished editing that manuscript I was working on (now I have to get the edits into the electronic version; I work on hard copies because I find electronic edits make it hard for me to see the overall story and its arc–which is one of the reasons I don’t edit much anymore. y old-fashioned methodology for working shouldn’t cost us the rain forest when it’s easier for me to stop doing that kind of work. I then started watching the Young Justice series on HBO MAX–which I really am enjoying as well; looks like Alex has dragged me back into the world of comics and super-heroes again for another round. I also went down some Nightwing Internet wormholes.

I really love Nightwing, if you couldn’t tell.

So today, now that my appointments are over and I am home, I think I’m going to take the rest of the day off. Yes, there’s always work I could be doing–always, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some time away from the world every now and then. I need to get ready for the workshop I am teaching on Friday–it’s been soooooo long since I’ve taught; I definitely will need to do some rehearsing at home–and I also need to prepare for my panel on Saturday (why I hate moderating; if you’re on the panel you can just show up), but I have so much to do I am not going to get much chance to enjoy either the Tennessee Williams Festival or Saints & Sinners this year. Sunday I probably won’t even head down at all; I’ll need to get over two consecutive days of public speaking for one thing (just thinking about it wears me out) and then I have about two weeks to get ready for the trip to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime (my first time ever).

I also stopped in the Barnes & Noble on Veterans’ while i was out there, between appointments, and picked up Rob Hart’s The Paradox Hotel and Mia P. Manansala’s two Tita Rosie’s Kitchen mysteries, Arsenic and Adobo and Homicide and Halo-Halo. I also got The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook by Kenaz Filan because, well, why not? I don’t know an awful lot about actual New Orleans Vodoun, and since I’ve been doing all these New Orleans and/or Louisiana deep dives over the last few years, I thought it time to get something to supplement Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans, which I don’t think I trust entirely. That pretty much is the case with a lot of the old New Orleans histories–the trinity of Tallant, Lyle Saxon and Harnett T. Kane are suspect, and that’s a generous assessment–but they are interesting to look through and read to get a better grasp of the legends and stories.

And legends and stories can make an excellent starting place for my own fictions.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Y’all have a good Monday, okay?