Do It Again

Here it is, Saturday morning and I am awake and on my first cup of coffee. I have things to get done today–two interviews and a roundtable (the round table is terrifying; I looked at the questions and I’m not really certain I am smart or knowledgeable enough to participate, but I said I would and I never back out of things I agree to–or rarely). It’s weird, one would think I would love the chance to talk about myself and my writing as they are basically my favorite subjects, but it always makes me feel, at best, awkward and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.

All that childhood conditioning against arrogance and bragging, I suppose.

I didn’t quite finish cleaning out my inbox yesterday–in fact, I didn’t get even remotely close to cleaning it out, so it’s going back to the list for today. I need to get the mail and I need to make a short grocery run this afternoon, and I would like to go to the gym and try to get started on a regular workout routine again, but that becomes even more difficult given the heat advisory. But thinking about going to the gym, while not the same thing as actually going, is a step closer to getting there, I suppose. I also need to stop by Office Depot to buy some padded envelopes; the arrival of the box o’books also means signing and mailing out copies I owe to friends and reviewers and so forth. Signing and packaging the books is a chore, but I don’t find it as odious as one might think.

Yesterday, as you already know, Constant Reader, I finished reading S. A. Cosby’s delightful My Darkest Prayer, and I am very thrilled and happy to know that he recently signed a two-book contract, so I can look forward to new work from Shawn in the future. Yay! I love discovering new writers, and I love when they have new work. I do have this insane thing where I try not to finish reading everything an author has published so I always know there’s one more book by them to read–I was looking at my bookshelves yesterday as I reorganized the living room, realizing there are still three Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton I haven’t read yet, and was saddened again to know that those will always be the last three Sue Grafton novels, and actually was thinking I should, at some point, start reading the books to clear them off the shelves. I am already at the point with some of my favorite authors, like Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott, where I have finished everything they’ve published (Lippman’s new one, Lady in the Lake, is on deck and I am probably going to start reading it today). I am also behind on some of my favorite authors–I was caught up on Donna Andrews, but I read for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original last year, which put me behind on everyone who wasn’t in that category last year (some of which I want to go back and reread, taking my time to savor them the way I ordinarily would), and I am also years behind on numerous authors I enjoy…but new books are being released every damned day. Sigh. There’s simply never enough time.

In my review of Shawn’s book, I wrote about something I truly believe–and the more I diversify my reading in my own genre, the more I believe it to be true. I believe that women writers saved the crime genre in the 1980’s, and while they are still doing some serious heavy lifting, the diverse voices of authors like Shawn are reinvigorating and reinventing the crime genre, and breathing new life into it. (I’m really looking forward to October, when I will switch to reading horror, and reading novels by diverse voices in that genre–there are some new and exciting people of color writing in that genre…plus, reading horror will further diversify my reading by taking me outside of crime for a month.) Some of the diverse voices I’ve read thus far this year–Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Walter Mosley, Steph Cha, Angie Kim, etc.–are doing extraordinary work that needs to be recognized, promoted, and pushed by all of us; they are breathing new life into our genre, as are women writers like Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, Jamie Mason, Elizabeth Little, and many, many more. And while I often generically refer to the “straight white men”–let’s face it, some of today’s men are writing exceptional work, too–Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, to name a few amongst many. I think this is a very exciting time for crime fiction, and I look forward to reading more work by queer writers, as well. I’ve not gotten to some of the newer queer crime writers yet, which I am going to try to focus on more in the latter part of the year. I am really looking forward to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths, as it is a queer novel by a queer woman set in the rural South; something I can certainly relate to.

I kind of had a lackadaisical day of rest yesterday, really, where I accomplished little other than reading my book and doing the laundry, and couldn’t really motivate myself to do much more than that–I did make a delicious shrimp stir-fry for dinner last night, though–and we watched two episodes of The Movies last night, “The 80’s” and “The 90’s.” There’s only one more episode left, unless they release “The 50’s,” which is also a rather interesting period in the history of film. I started reading, for research, City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s, by Otto Friedrichs (recommended by Megan Abbott), and it has a lovely bibliography in the back which should be enormously helpful for further research into the time period. I also have a copy of E. J. Fleming’s The Fixers, which should also come in handy for research; again, as a starting place with the gold mine of a bibliography in the back.

So, here’s hoping that today will be that unusual thing; a highly productive, but at the same time, a restful day. Last night’s wonderful sleep is, of course, a wonderful basis for the rest of my day.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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This Masquerade

 Yes, I am now beginning a glorious four-day weekend, during which I plan to read and clean and write and rest and watch movies and just have a glorious time relaxing and trying to catch up on things. I started cleaning, for example, out my jump drive yesterday–there’s an absolutely absurd amount of duplicates, old pictures from a million years ago, old files, etc on it–and I am probably going to try to spend some time trying to do that; get better organized with my computer files and so forth. I also intend to spend some time on a deep clean of the apartment–we’ll see how that goes, but my windows are filthy and I really do need to move things and clean beneath them; and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to clean and organize all the cabinets and drawers, either.

Ambition. We’ll see how that works out, won’t we?

But I slept fantastically last night, waking up this morning feeling wonderfully rested. My burnt lips are healing (you have no idea how fun it is to test people for syphilis while warning them of the dangers of the disease while your lips have enormous looking blister/wounds on them) and hopefully by the time I return to work on Tuesday morning, they will have healed completely and I will no longer have to worry about their syphilitic appearance any more. *whew*

So, here I am, just before nine in the morning with four glorious days off stretching out in front of me. I am going to write a little this morning–probably finishing the revision of “The Snow Globe,” and then hopefully revising the latest chapter of the WIP–while cleaning. I am going to try to do a deep dive clean, one that is sorely overdue here in the Lost Apartment–baseboards, floors, windows, window sills and frames, etc–which can, of course, be incredibly tedious, but it also needs to be done. It’s also launder the bed linen day, and so I have that to do as well. I also want to curl up with Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which I’ve not had the chance to get back to this week, and after that, I’d like to read either John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning or Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which are both Lambda finalists (John is also a Strand and Anthony Award finalist). And then I am not sure what I’ll read after that; I got a stack of fabulous books this week to add to the TBR pile, including Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove and the new Michael Koryta…and there’s already so many wonderful treasures waiting for me in the the pile already.

An embarrassment of riches, as it were.

We also watched the new Wanda Sykes comedy special on Netflix last night, and she’s just as funny and pointed as ever, which is lovely as I am a big fan.

I’m probably going to watch the finale of Game of Thrones again at some point over this weekend, as well–I have found, this season particularly, that it helps to rewatch the episodes after having some time to digest them; I find that it helps me appreciate the show more; the first time I watch I am so busy watching to see what happens that I miss subtleties I am able to catch on a reviewing. I know a lot of fans hated this final season of the show–some going as far as to hate the last two seasons–but I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it as spectacle, and I enjoyed it even despite holes in the plot and subplots that went nowhere and so on and so forth; primarily because it did the unexpected, and it did from the very beginning. Game of Thrones never gave us what we were expecting because it didn’t follow traditional story-telling arcs–for example, once Jon Snow was identified as the true Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne, I was a little disappointed (despite the thrill); because I thought, ho-hum, here we go, it’s just another telling of the King Arthur legend–but as it turned out, it wasn’t that at all.

And I think that may be why so many fans were so disappointed–they were expecting the traditional story arcs, and Game of Thrones went the other way and rejected those.

Then again, what do I know? The Last Jedi is one of my favorite Star Wars movies, which also apparently renders me suspect as a forty-year Star Wars fan.

And on that note, it’s time to start cleaning and writing which means closing the web browsers.

Hello, spice mines!

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Boogie Fever

Friday morning. Looks like we made it through another week, Constant Reader–and earlier this week it was kind of touch-and-go there for a moment. But we did, and here we are, and life is all the better for it.

I managed to get my tax stuff to my accountant this week and my taxes are filed, huzzah! I actually made less money this past year than I did in 2017, and yet my refund is half of what it was last year–which means my taxes went up.

Clearly, elections matter.

I went to bed early last night, knowing I had to get up extremely early this morning, and I actually feel rested and alive this morning, which is not my norm, you know? But I only have to work a half-day today, which is lovely, and this afternoon I plan to finish reading my Steph Cha novel while I launder the bed linens. I’ve got some other projects to work on as well as the WIP, but I really want to finish Steph’s book. I have definitely decided to read Alison Gaylin’s ARC for Never Look Back when I finish Steph’s, and, to keep the Diversity Project going, I decided that between books by diverse readers to read something by a woman author, with the occasional straight white male thrown in for good measure–I’ve got the new Harlan Coben, for example, and Jeff Abbott’s latest, and then there’s the Michael Koryta backlist to work through.

To be honest, the more I think about the Diversity Project the more uncomfortable it makes me–but that’s a good thing, you know? We have to examine our own biases and prejudices in order to correct them, and you can’t examine something if you aren’t aware that you have them. I may be fifty-seven going on fifty-eight, but there’s still room for personal growth on a lot of issues that I was raised to believe incorrect things about–and as much self-examination and self-education as I have gone through over the last thirty or so years, I still surprise myself when an errant thought pops up from nowhere in my head. It’s a constant process, and I will probably be re-educating myself on my death bed.

The Diversity Project, while good intentioned, is one of those things that when I think more about it, the worse it seems despite the good intentions. I shouldn’t have to make a point of reading marginalized authors, and doing so, and calling attention to the fact that I’m doing it, can read as…I don’t know, maybe virtue signaling? And signaling the fact that I am doing something that I should have already been doing is actually kind of…embarrassing? Sad? Tragic?

But on the other hand, it’s not like I went into this expecting praise for doing it–and I shouldn’t get any, other than for helping spread the word about diverse writers.

WHICH WE ALL SHOULD BE DOING.

*breathes*

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Does Your Mother Know

It is so wonderful to sleep in your own bed after being away for almost a week. I don’t sleep well anywhere other than my bed, no matter how tired I am, and so last night when I tumbled into my own bed for the first time since the previous Sunday night, I was asleep almost the moment I hit the pillow and slept deeply and well. I feel very well rested this morning, if a little disoriented from traveling, which is always a good thing. And the new car is a rock star.

I have the day off from work today, so I can decompress and run errands and get everything around here back under control; jumping back into the day job today would have been a mistake and I would have been tired the rest of the week, which is never optimum. The house needs tidying and there’s laundry to do as well; and at some point I am retiring to my easy chair in order to finish reading Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. I’d thought I’d be able to finish it this past weekend in Birmingham, but alas–we were all having so much fun I wound up getting back to my room too late to spend some time reading. Thank you to Margaret Fenton and Tammy Lynn for organizing a wonderful books weekend to support two libraries, and thanks to the engaged audience of readers who showed up in both cities. I got to hang out and get to know some acquaintances better, some quality time with good friends, made some new ones, had a lot of laughs, went to visit the Vulcan statue in Birmingham, AND SOLD ALL OF MY BOOKS. Yay! I also feel very energized about writing again, and I (of course) came up with an idea for a new series while there.

I call that a win.

One of the many books I read last week was Last Words by Michael Koryta. I had an ARC from a few years ago (thanks Erin!) that I had not read, and so I decided to take it along with me on the trip to read. I’ve been a huge fan since I read So Cold the River a few years back, and his Those Who Wish Me Dead was one of my absolute favorites books of the year a couple of years ago. He is one of those writers whose books I parcel out to read because I don’t want to be out of new Koryta books, you know? I never want to think, “I’ve read all of his books and will have to wait for him to write a new one”.

But Last Words reminded me again of how great a writer he is, and I am going to have to resist reading everything he’s written over the next few weeks. I may allow myself another, though.

The last words he said to her: “Don’t embarrass me with this shit.”

In later days, months, and years, he will tell everyone who asks, and some who do not, that the last words from his lips to her ears were “I love you.” Sometimes, during sleepless nights, he can almost convince himself that it is true.

But as they walked out of their building and into the harsh Florida sun that September afternoon, Mark Novak didn’t even look his wife in the eye. They were moving fast even though neither of them was running late. It was the way you walked when you were eager to get away from someone.

Great beginning, right? Pulls you right into the story.

Mark Novak is the our main character, but there’s also another point of view character, Ridley Barnes. Ridley isn’t a reliable narrator (it is a third person point of view novel, but the point of view of both characters is so sharp and strong it may as well be first person). Mark and his wife worked for Innocence Incorporated, a non-profit legal firm that investigates death row cases to prove the innocence of the convicted (a not-so-well disguised fictional rendition of The Innocence Project). His wife was an attorney, Mark is an investigator. When they separated that hot summer day, she was off to interview a psychic who’d contacted them about one of their cases; he thought it was a waste of time and they argued about her going. SHe went off to the interview and he headed for the beach house they’d rented for a vacation…and time passes and she never shows up. Koryta does an excellent job of walking the reader through the stages of this sort of thing: the annoyance that she’s late; the anger because he hadn’t wanted her to go in the first place; and finally, worry and fear that something has happened. Something did happen: eventually, state troopers show up to let him know that her car was found in a ditch and she was dead; shot in the head.

Flash forward a couple of years, and Michael is still reeling from his wife’s death, and has done some things that have put his job in jeopardy. His boss has sent him up to Indiana to look into a murder case where there was no conviction or even a trial; Ridley Barnes was the chief suspect in the death, but there was never enough evidence against him for a trial or even an arrest. Barnes has written to them, and wants them to look into the case; to prove once and for all whether he did or did not commit the murder.

A young girl and her boyfriend had gone into the Trapdoor Cave and gotten separated. After days of searching, Barnes–who was an expert caver and an expert on the mine–separated off from the search party and eventually came out carrying her dead body. Michael is convinced the case is a waste of time–and it’s winter in Indiana. But once he gets to the small town and starts asking questions, strange things start happening, and what he remembers from his first day of questioning people is completely different from other people who witnessed the events report back. Has Michael lost his mind, or is everyone in the town part of a conspiracy to make him look crazy? And Barnes himself, who claims he doesn’t remember what happened down in the cave when he found the girl, often goes into the cave (or others in the area) to get away from people and calm himself. He believes that the cave is sentient and speaks to him; and there’s also a ‘dark man’ down there.

Two of my biggest fears are the dark and tight spaces (I have severe claustrophobia), and there are scenes when Barnes is working his way through the cave where I literally got so creeped out I had to put the book down, from the descriptions of the dark and the tight spaces. Barnes also has to get back into the cave with another search party when Michael is kidnapped and left alone in the cave in his underwear, in the cold and the tight and the dark with no idea where he is. That entire sequence is so chilling I thought I would have nightmares.

But as the book rushes along to its final solution, the pacing is exceptional, the writing vivid and exceptional, and the characterizations strong and great; reminding me again why Michael Koryta is one of my favorite writers. His most recent books is a sequel to Last Words, and I am really looking forward to getting into it–but I am resisting temptation as I have already selected the next book I am going to read.

Highly recommended.

S. O. S.

I was incredibly tired all day yesterday; so much so that I’m surprised my eyes weren’t crossed most of the day. This is to alert you, Constant Reader, that I did not read another short story yesterday, and so have nothing to offer you this morning. But to give myself a little bit of credit, I’ve done much better this Short Story Month than I have in previous years, so that’s something. And in reading these stories, I’ve also learned a lot about the craft and art of writing short stories, and I’ve also had to think about that as well–so this is the first time Short Story Month has actually had the desired effect on me. So I am counting this as a win, no matter what others might think. So there.

I depart on Monday for a trip to the frigid North to visit my family, and then on the way back, as I previously mentioned, I am doing the Murder in the Magic City weekend event in Birmingham and Wetumpka before returning home to New Orleans a week from this Sunday. I don’t have anything pressing to work on while I am gone–still, taking the MacBook Air just in case something comes up (despite hating to work on it), but hoping nothing will. I hope to do some reading–I’m taking four books with me; including an Ace Atkins and a Michael Koryta and a Laura Lippman–and I also have a lot of comic books on my iPad to catch up on as well.

I also think I am starting to come out of the post-book(s) malaise a bit; I woke up this morning with a great idea about the essay I need to write, and am very hopeful that I can bang that out today and tomorrow so I can not worry about it this weekend. Huzzah!

I am also going to try to read Ace Atkins’ story in Mississippi Noir for tomorrow.

And on that note, I am going to get my day going. I am going to run some errands before going into the office–another late night of bar testing looms–and then after tomorrow, my vacation starts, so yay!

Here’s a hunk for you, Constant Reader.

Knowing Me Knowing You

Monday, of a three day weekend. I sincerely hope everyone has a lovely day, and takes a least a minute or two to think about the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in this country. It still boggles the mind, doesn’t it, to think that just sixty years ago (and less) segregation and Jim Crow were still the law of the land…we’ve made some progress since then, but we still have a long way to go.

Today will be spent finishing, at long last, the Book That Would Not Be Finished; I promised it (late) to be turned in today. It doesn’t suck nearly as much as I thought it did last week, which is something, but I am not overly fond of this manuscript. I’m sure no small part of that is being utterly sick of it and the desire to be finished with it once and for all; it can be quite a relief to finish something and turn it over to an editor for a final go over once and for all. I have two essays and some short stories to work on the rest of this month; and then, once all of that is finished, I am going back to another couple of projects that have been lying fallow and waiting for me to get back to them. I do think 2017 is going to be a very good year. I also have another book idea I’d like to start messing around with; a noir with a gay main character. The working title for it is Muscles, but that may change as it gets worked on. I’ve had the idea since the early 1990’s, and perhaps it is time to get to serious work on making that book happen.

I also am hoping to get the brake tag for the new car today. The Shell station on Magazine Street, where I’d been getting brake tags since we moved back here after The Lost Year in Washington in 2001, is no longer at that location! It was still open when we went to Pat’s Christmas party last month, but it has since moved to Claiborne Avenue. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was located–and I didn’t take my phone with me on Saturday so I could look it up–so I just went on to the grocery store and figured I would check it out once I got home. They may be open today; I am going to call them in a moment to find out. If they aren’t, I’ll have to go on Wednesday morning on my way to work. Woo-hoo!

But at least I don’t mind driving any more, so there’s that. It should count for something, right?

I still haven’t finished reading “Grail”, either. I spent most of yesterday working on the manuscript, and then last night when I was burned out and tired, we watched another episode of Slasher–which we decided we may not continue watching, because it progressively gets worse and worse with each episode–and then started watching Westworld on the HBO app. I’m not really sure what to think of the show, after only watching one episode…I know I’ve seen some critiques of it that made me stop and think about it a bit, but the show is extremely well done, and is extremely well cast. The concept behind it is interesting. I barely remember the original film, with Yul Brynner, from the early 1970’s, but I do remember thinking it was exceptionally clever. Michael Crichton, the mind behind The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, and Sphere, wrote the original screenplay for the original film. (I don’t remember if I ever read Jurassic Park; obviously, I saw the movie, but I do remember reading a lot of his other work. You’d think I’d remember reading it, especially since I remember the other novels of his I read. Interesting….but now that I think about it, I did read it; I remember the ending. At any rate, we will continue watching for now.

I’ve also started thinking about what books to take along with me on my trip; I am leaning toward a Michael Koryta, an Ace Atkins, Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, and a Laura Lippman novel I came across the other day while organizing that I never read (I know, right? Madness), The Most Dangerous Thing. It’s always fun to suddenly realize you’ve not read something by one of your favorite authors; it’s also kind of exciting.

So, as I prepare to head back into the spice mines for the day, here’s your hunk for today.