On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!

Radiophonic

And somehow, another week is finished and here it is, Friday morning again.

This was a good book week–Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; Lot by Bryan Washington (Lammy winner); The Chill by Scott Carson; The Zimmerman Telegram By Barbara Tuchman; The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright; and If It Bleeds by Stephen King all are now in my hot little hands, and while I really didn’t need more books (as I will never finish all the ones I have on hand) I had points that were expiring and the only place they were valid where I had any use for them was the Evil Empire, much as I hate to give them anything–but they also didn’t cost me anything, so there’s that–thank you, credit card points. I’ve been wanting to read the Ng for awhile, and having greatly enjoyed the television adaptation, I am really looking forward to the book. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Lammy winner for Best Novel, Scott Carson is the name Michael Koryta is using now to write horror, and of course, one can never go wrong with Stephen King and Barbara Tuchman. The Steven Wright is a debut, and my friend Laura highly recommended it to me; now I need to finish the Woolrich so I can move on to some of these.

It’s truly unbearable how far behind I am on reading, and there’s nothing worse than being too tired (or exhausted) to read.

Perhaps this weekend, I shall have the time to get everything–oh, who am I trying to fool? I’ll get done this weekend what I have the energy to get done. I need to finish revising my Sherlock story, which I haven’t looked at this week, and of course the Secret Project glares at me from its file folder balefully every time I sit at my desk. I’m hopeful that since I’ve been relatively healthy all week–still drinking the electrolytes and the water every day carefully–that this weekend will be restful enough to give me the ability to power through everything, and head into next week fresh, happy and rested, while feeling powerful from getting everything done. It’s also a short week leading into a three-day weekend, which is even more lovely.

I cannot really decide what to read tonight for Queer Noir at the Bar. I don’t really get the opportunity to read from my work; and while on the one hand it’s lovely to do so, on the other it’s always quite stressful for me; and doing it on-line means that I can literally see myself doing it. I generally prefer not to spend much time looking at myself, and of course, on-line means it’s usually recorded and I loathe the sound of my voice. It’s strange, and I do think that once someone hears me speak the lightbulb goes on and, without me having to explicitly state it, most people tend to know I’m gay. That’s not why I don’t like my voice–I am gay, after all, and why not make it easy for others, after all; personally, I think my voice sounds strange. It’s deep, in a lower register, yet somehow high-pitched at the same time–like it cannot make up its mind which tone it wants to be, which probably doesn’t make sense because I don’t have a strong grasp of vocal terminology and cannot explain it more clearly. I also am always terrified I am going to make a poor showing of it; that people in the (virtual) audience will be clearing their throats, shifting in their seats, taking a drink or doing anything to help make the time pass so this hellish experience will end.

I feel like I slept well last night, and hopefully that rested feeling I am experiencing right now will last throughout the day and through the reading tonight. I also am a bit groggy this morning–I could have stayed in bed easily for another few hours at the very least, but I was also awake and Scooter was hungry and thirsty so I went ahead and got up. It’s weird looking outside again this morning–I guess the Saharan Dust Storm is here; I got an emergency alert about it yesterday, which explains the weird conditions out there and why I feel like I am smelling dust this morning.

Last night we started watching season one of Titans, on DC Universe. I had already watched it about a year or go or whenever it was originally current; Paul hadn’t, and since I didn’t really remember a whole lot about what happened and the story, I figured we needed something to watch and I wanted to watch the second season, so I may as well go ahead and watch it again. I like it; I think it’s very well done, fairly decently acted, and the production values are quite good. It’s also an excellent “origin” story for the Titans team; they were my favorite when I was a kid reading comic books back when they were the Teen Titans, which was kind of a junior version of Justice League only for the sidekicks. Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad were key members–eventually they started adding members who weren’t actually sidekicks for main heroes, and eventually they evolved into simply the Titans. Robin/Nightwing is probably one of my favorite heroes, and the young man they’ve cast to play him in the show is perfect for the part. He’s now ex-Robin on the show, and hasn’t evolved into Nightwing yet; I’m really looking forward to seeing Nightwings’s costume debut. Jason Todd, who replaced Dick Grayson as Robin, is also a character on the show–not a part of the regular cast, but someone who shows up now and again, and he’s just as big a dick on the show as he was in the comics back in the day.

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Well, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 in Louisiana has now jumped to 867, with 20 deaths; by my brain calculator that is somewhere between 2 and 3 percent, which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible. As we start amping up our testing here–and I suspect my day job is going to eventually become a testing center–the numbers will only continue to rise, which means an even longer period of self-isolation and this “shelter-at-home” order.

As I said to a friend earlier this morning, I’ve seen New Orleans this empty and quiet before; it’s just weird that a hurricane isn’t involved. I realized yesterday I was sort of expecting there to be an evacuation order eventually in my subconscious, which is where this sense of anxious waiting was coming from. And of course, once I realized my mind had lapsed into “hurricane prep mode”, the anxiousness went away.

I didn’t do much writing yesterday, but I’m fine with it, really. I’m going to try to focus today, and at least finish the revision of one story while hopefully getting to work on another. All of these writing projects, the ones that began before the virus outbreak, seem like they are from a different place and time; almost as though they are someone else’s stories. But that’s okay, really; I am hoping that I’ll be able to start focusing better now that I’ve achieved what passes for mental stability around here. I’ve decided to start reading short stories, picking up the Short Story Project again because my attention span doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to reading longer works of fiction at the current moment. I tried getting back into the book I was reading before all of this started, but unfortunately it had been so long I couldn’t really remember what was going on and who the characters were, so I sadly put it aside. I also am not sure where this came from, but I am going to look for my copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; although now that I think about it more, I think someone was making a joke about watching the movie. I’ve not read the story but am vaguely familiar with it; I think it takes place during a cholera outbreak in Venice which is why someone mentioned it on Twitter yesterday. I refreshed my vague memory of what Death in Venice is about, and I began to wonder–how much of Daphne du Maurier’s is an homage/pastiche to Death in Venice? I had also been thinking about rereading “Don’t Look Now,” perhaps I should read them back to back to get a grasp on whether there is anything to the thesis. As one of my many projects-in-progress is set in Venice, it cannot hurt to read other works about Venice, and my own story was sort of an homage to “Don’t Look Now” in some ways, so yeah, it can’t hurt.

I also want to get some straightening/organizing done in the living room, which has been let go for far too long. Books are piled up everywhere, I haven’t vacuumed in God knows how long, and every time I sit in my easy chair to watch something on the television, I get a little perturbed looking around at the settled dust and so forth. It’s also time to do another cull of the books; I have books I haven’t read that I’ve forgotten that I own, and if reading short stories again will get me reading muscles flexed and warmed up and ready to go again, it’s not a bad idea to start looking through the stacks to see what I want to read next. Maybe something by Michael Koryta? He’s one of my favorite writers, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and then there also my Alafair Burke backlist; some Daphne du Mauriers I’ve not read yet; and so it goes.

Having so many unread books by so many talented authors around the house makes it  hard to decide what to read next–especially when you’re also trying to reread things.

SO, for now, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee, curl up in my easy chair with du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” and once I am finished reading that, I’ll find my copy of Death in Venice and read it before heading back to the computer to finish revising this short story, and then I’m going to try to get everything organized that I need to get organized so I can sail into the week prepared and ready for whatever challenges the pandemic will be sending my way.

Have a lovely Sunday.

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It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

I cannot say I am not happy to see this past week end; for all intents and purposes, it was much more stressful than any week needs to be and equally disappointing. It was both tiresome and tiring; irritating, really, like an itchy rash that just won’t go away, frankly. By Tuesday night I was so exhausted already it felt like a Friday; and yet there were three more days yet to go and it never really got any better.

Begone, foul week! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I am so far behind on my emails now I may never dig my way out; that’s part of the plan for this weekend, at any rate; to try to get caught up on everything and make some progress. I had some stomach issues yesterday so I wound up staying home rather than heading to the office (the bathrooms aren’t close enough to my desk, and yes, I think you get the picture) so I spent most of the day recalibrating and doing some chores around the house and trying to get caught up on everything. But progress was made; I started getting my electronic files in the cloud better organized (which is quite a chore, I might add; one that is sort of mindless yet time-consuming in the worst way), and did some filing and so forth. There’s still quite a bit more to get done today, of course (isn’t there always?)  but I also want to get some writing done before the month slips away through my fingers. Ideally, I’d like to get a first draft of the Sherlock story finished as well as a revision of the one I’m revising for that anthology; and there’s another one I want to revise to send to the Bouchercon anthology. I’d also like to make some progress on the Secret Project, but that’s also predicated on my getting this short story work taken care of. I cannot believe how many stories I’ve started writing recently; it’s more than a little insane, methinks.

But then again, it seems pretty standard for my life–chaos, disorganization, and more chaos.

One would think I’d be used to it by now.

I also want to finish reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls today, if I can; so i can get started on Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One. I am moderating a panel with her, Elizabeth Little (Pretty as a Picture) and  Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake) at the Tennessee Williams Festival at the end of the month, and it’s always better to be prepared to discuss their latest works. Don’t worry, I’ll also be asking Lippman about My Life as a Villainess, her essay collection coming out later this year.

We watched another episode of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger last night. It’s a fun, twisty show, with a rather complicated narrative; I think it’s actually better than his last one, The Five. I am way behind on my Coben reading–so far behind I may never catch up–but I do enjoy that he writes suspense novels built around family/friend structures. I’m behind on everyone, so don’t feel special, Harlan! I am also way behind on my reading of Michael Koryta, Jeff Abbott, Stephen King, and any number of other white males; prioritizing diverse writers and women (and a year judging the Edgars) will do that to one, I suppose. I really wanted to read The Outsider (Stephen King) before watching the show; perhaps once I finish the Goodman and the Rader-Day I can move on to the King and we can finally watch the show. I’ve become rather an enormous fan of Jason Bateman, and really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

We also lose an hour tonight; the part of Daylight Savings Time that I really hate. But I do like having longer days; I like it still being light when I come home from work, or at least, the light fading into night rather than the velvety darkness of a winter nocturne. It’s a bright, sunny day out there today; I am debating whether I do want to go get the mail–it would be my only adventure out into the world today–and am thinking I might do it. I hate only going once in the week, but on the other hand I’m also not expecting any packages or anything urgent (read: a check) in the mail, either. But it looks like a lovely day outside–and perhaps I can do some scouting after I get the mail. We shall certainly see how I feel.

I think this morning I am going to read some more of the Goodman novel while I have my morning coffee, and then after a few hours of that I’ll decide whether I do, in fact, want to leave the house. (odds are I won’t, quite frankly. I know myself all too well)

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. May your Saturday be bright and happy and full of cheer.

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Heartbreaker

Thursday rolling into my world like nobody’s business. I cannot believe how quickly time moves the older you get. I mean–parades are starting soon! MADNESS! The lead-up to the parade season part of Carnival always seems to fly past; it’s also interesting that the first parades this year are on Valentine’s Day–talk about your double whammy. Without enough vacation time this year to take the parade days off–I’ll probably wind up taking Lundi Gras as a vacation day–it’s going to be quite interesting trying to schedule my office hours around getting home early enough that the streets aren’t closed off, and of course, parade traffic.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

But I’ve been making to-do lists this week and tearing through them; a great sign of productivity for me, and there are very necessary; I need those lists to keep me going and aware of what all I have to get done. I even wrote yesterday for a little while–not long–on the Secret Project, but most importantly, I discovered the character’s voice. This is always key for me when I’m writing; until I find my main character’s voice I struggle with the actual writing. I was most pleased to find the voice finally yesterday; I had already started writing the opening but it wasn’t feeling right; so I basically revised/rewrote the 1500 words or so I had already done yesterday, and should be able to get even more done before Monday.

That’s the goal, at any rate.

I also want to finish reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, which is fantastic, and I can’t wait to get back into it. After that I am going to start reading Tracy Clark’s series (the most recent is a nominee for the Grafton Prize, which is hella exciting–do people still say hella? It always annoyed me, and I think that might be the first time I’ve ever used it?), and then I am going to try to work my way through my TBR list. That list has grown exponentially since award lists have started coming out; heavy sigh. There’s never enough time for me to read, you know? I’ll go to my grave not having finished my TBR list, which is, of course, inevitable, really; there’s always new books coming out that I need/want to read. I am also terribly behind on some of my favorite authors–Donna Andrews, Michael Koryta, etc.–and then of course there’s all the classics I want to read as well, and then there’s the Reread Project and…

Yeah. I’m like Sisyphus and the rock, aren’t I?

And look at me, up so early this morning and a-rarin’ to go! Having my entire day free, and not having to go into the office until four, was amazing. Oddly enough, I think I function best when I go to work later in the morning/early afternoon, even if it means getting off work later. Mornings have traditionally always been my most productive time–going back years to when I worked for the airline and always picked shifts that started at eleven am or later–and I hadn’t realized how much I missed having those mornings free. I still have to be at work early for long days on both Mondays and Tuesdays, but now i feel like with Wednesday as a really late day to play catch-up and then my normal 11-12 start times on Thursday and Friday, this is a schedule that’s going to really work for me.

Then again, we’ll see.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines and get through my emails, then do some cleaning and filing and possibly a little reading, possibly a little writing, before I go into the office. I’ve got laundry running right now, and of course, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and reloaded and run again.

Happy Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Something So Strong

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning and feel like I could have easily slept another three or four hours. But alas, that is not to be; too much to do and I have to get some of it done before I head into the office for my last day of work before my vacation starts Friday (I am taking the week off next week, and decided to throw this Friday into the mix just for fun). I’m getting a little burned out–which happens a bit more frequently the older I get–and so the time off will be lovely. I need to take the car into the dealership for an oil change, which means i can have lunch at Sonic (huzzah!), and I’ll probably go ahead and make groceries while I’m over there; I’ll most likely do all of that tomorrow. I also need to write my blog entries about the Ross MacDonald and Richard Stark novels I read recently, as well as some more writing and editing and cleaning and organizing; I can’t simply blow off this entire week of vacation and get nothing done.

I started reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys last night, and I have to say it: Whitehead is a national treasure. It’s such an amazing book already, and the writing is superlative. I can’t wait to get back to it and savor the writing some more.

Yesterday was a good mail day for me. I got my copy of the anthology Dark Yonder, which is built around Eryk Pruitt’s bar, Yonder, that he opened this year, and the anthology was edited by Liam Sweeney, and benefits the North Texas Food Bank. It’s always delightful to write and publish a new short story, and this looks to be a very fine volume. My story is called “Moist Money” (how much do I love that title?) and I reread it last night, because I could barely remember it…and wow. It’s a dark and nasty little tale, and thematically similar to two other stories I’ve written recently (one is out on submission, the other published last year) but all three stories are dramatically different in tone, character, and setting–even if the theme and structure are similar. Anyway, if you want to get a copy of Dark Yonder–there are some terrific writers I am sharing those pages with–you can order it right here.

I also got a contract for another short story, and a finished copy of a book I blurbed; The Committee by Sterling Watson, from Akashic Books. I don’t really blurb books much any more; I simply don’t have the time to read as much for pleasure as I did, and when asked I never promise to do anything other than to try. I made an exception in this case, primarily because I respect Akashic Books very much and the subject matter of this one–the gay purge at the University of Florida in the 1950’s–was something I felt was important enough for me to take the time to read the book and provide a blurb for it if I liked it. I did like it, very much, and provided requested blurb….and now they’ve graciously sent me a complimentary copy–and the cover has a blurb from MICHAEL KORYTA, and there on the back cover am I, along with LORI ROY and GALE MASSEY. How enormously flattering for me to be a blurber along with three writers whose work I simply love.

It’s interesting how thrilling I find these little things, isn’t it?

I’m also thinking about writing more short stories. It has everything to do, no doubt, with getting the contributor’s copy of Dark Yonder and the contract for the other story–plus having Susan Larson compliment me on my short story collection the other morning–but I do love writing short stories, despite how painful they always seem to be for me; the experience can be excruciating. I was thinking last night about another story I’ve been working on for a while, “Burning Crosses”, and last night I figured out how to make the story work better. It’s a delicate subject to tackle, for sure–the title alone should make that obvious–but it’s a story I’ve had in my head for a long time, and last year I finally sat down and wrote a first draft of it. I was pretty pleased with the first draft, and have done another since then, but again felt like the story just missed the mark. Last night it hit me between the eyes what is missing from this story, and how I can make it even better, perhaps even publishable. (Something else to get worked on while I am on vacation.) My goals for the vacation obviously are going to be next to impossible to accomplish, as always; I’m going to want some goof-off time as well as some reading time, and so the writing and editing is going to be pushed off to the side for a while.

Not to mention cleaning.

Okay, on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

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Control

So, we’ve got tickets to the LSU-Florida game for tomorrow night! Saturday night in Death Valley! Number 5 LSU taking on Number 7 Florida in a battle of the unbeatens! SEC and national implications! Woo-hoo! I mean, Tiger Stadium is always fun–but it is going to be rocking Saturday night.

Needless to say, it was quite a pleasant surprise when Paul got home last night and proceeded to tell me that we were being gifted with tickets to perhaps the biggest game played this season in Baton Rouge. I am, as I am sure you can tell, incredibly excited about this.

HUZZAH!

I came to a realization last night also, as I was pulling Bury Me in Shadows together–that maybe, just maybe, I am rushing to get the book turned in and maybe I should relax, take some of the pressure off myself, and do a more thorough job of revising/editing/pulling it together. Sigh. I’ll think about it tonight–Paul is going to the Mortuary haunted house with some friends, and so I’ll be home this evening all alone; so I might just take the laptop and the manuscript and sit in my easy chair while streaming a football game or a movie or something for background noise and read through the last fifteen chapters a little bit more, see if there’s more that needs to be added. I’m going to have most of the day tomorrow before we leave for the game as well to work on revisions and additions and so forth, too, so there is that.

I have to say, writing and editing and revising is something I truly enjoy; and maybe that’s why I’ve been sleeping so well lately–I did wake up a few times throughout the night last night, but I was able to get back to sleep without much trouble; I feel terrifically rested this morning too, which of course is absolutely lovely. I think a lot of my sleep issues stem from the inability to turn off my brain–and if I’m writing or revising or editing, that exhausts my brain’s creativity synapses so I am able to shut down completely when I go to bed. It certainly has worked that way this week, and for about the last two weeks, all told, really, and it’s quite lovely. If this means I have to write or do something creative every day so I can sleep well every night, so be it. The worst thing that can happen is I’ll get a lot of work done.

Yeah, there are definitely worse things than that, right?

I’ve also fallen behind on my reading–it’s not easy for me to both read and write a lot at the same time, and I do want to get Deliverance finished at some point this weekend, so I can move on to one of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s terrific novels, either Certain Dark Things or Gods of Jade and Shadow; I’ll decide when I get to it, I suppose. I try to read horror during the month of October–I am also way behind on my Stephen King reading–and have been enjoying going back through The Haunting of Hill House this month (which is also part of the reason I’ve not been able to finish Deliverance), and there’s no reason I can’t combine October horror with the Diversity Project, either. There are so many good books in my TBR pile–I really don’t need to buy anything new for quite some time, and really shouldn’t, not with all these books on hand that I have yet to get to. I am also way behind on reading some of my other favorite authors as well–Michael Koryta, for example, and Donna Andrews for another–so there’s really not much reason for me to buy any more books, quite frankly, for quite some time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I love buying books!

I’m also still reading Ready to Hang as part of my New Orleans history reading. I am now reading about the murder of district attorney J. Ward Gurley, in the chapter titled “A Problem in Good and Evil” (which is an amazing title which I might have to purloin), and this morning I came across this sentence:

There was a murder in New Orleans nearly every day, but seldom was the district attorney the victim.

This was in 1903! And people talk about the murder rate in New Orleans now, like the city is sliding into lawlessness and danger–when the city averaged almost a murder a day one hundred and sixteen years ago…which proves the point I’m slowly starting to understand more and more, the more history of the city I read: New Orleans has always been a dark city with a crime problem, almost from the very beginning.

That isn’t to say that the city shouldn’t work on lowering our crime rate by any means; but the fact that the city has historically been a hotbed of crime puts the hand-wringing over our current crime situation into a rather different light, doesn’t it?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.


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Only in My Dreams

Sliding into Wednesday and pay day–or as it’s known around the Lost Apartment, Pay the Bills Day. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I sent in two stories for submission yesterday, which is always a lovely accomplishment. One is for a blind read so I can’t talk about that one, but the other is “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” for an anthology I was asked to write a story for. I’m never quite sure if that means we’re taking your story or what, but I tend to never take anything for granted when it comes to this literally insane industry I find myself a part of these days. And even more exciting, I woke up to a very pleased editor and a congratulatory email re: “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” Always lovely, particularly when one has little to no self-confidence when it comes to writing short stories.

I won’t find out about the other one for months. As it is a blind read, I can’t really talk about the story, but it’s for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, this time being edited by one of my writing heroes, Michael Koryta. Getting into an MWA anthology is one of my bucket list items, and while I’ve submitted numerous stories to them over the years, I have yet to get into one. The competition is fierce, of course; there are only so many slots and lots of entries, which is what makes getting into one a major accomplishment. It probably won’t help in the self-confidence area for more than a day or two, of course, but one also never knows.

I also started revising another short story last night, which I’m probably going to try to get submitted somewhere today. I think this week’s focus is going to be on revising short stories, to cleanse my palette before I dive back into the manuscript of one of the books I’ve got in progress. Since the LSU game is so early on Saturday, I can spend the rest of the day rereading Bury Me in Shadows and making notes while flipping back and forth between other college games–I only have to give LSU my full attention, after all. I think Auburn and Florida are playing Saturday as well; both are in the top ten, and both are on LSU’s upcoming schedule. Auburn looked really good spanking Mississippi State last weekend–their offense looked very much like LSU’s, frankly, scoring at will–which means Auburn-LSU is going to be another one of those heart-stopping shootouts.

Then again, Auburn-LSU has always been a heart attack game, pretty much coming down to the last minute of every game most of the time.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday, but it’s not really grabbing me yet–but then, they haven’t gone into the wilderness so far.

We finished watching The Politician last night, which took a really surprising–and highly entertaining–turn last night, with the additions of Judith Light and Bette Midler to the cast to set up season two, which I wasn’t so sure about going into last night’s episode. but they did a truly terrific job of jumping ahead a few years, and letting us see what was going on with the kids from the high school now that they’re in college…and, like I said, they did an amazing job setting up the second season.

I’m also finished reading Lords of Misrule as well, which takes the history of Carnival (and it’s racial politics) up to the year before I came to my first Carnival, and two years before I finally moved here and got my life started. Since that’s also the approximate time period for my story “Never Kiss a Stranger,” reading this has been enormously helpful. It catches me off guard a little that the 1990’s is now so far away; kids born in the 1990’s are in college now, after all–are old enough to marry and have their own kids.

I also realized, last night as I was reading after we finished watching The Politician, that it’s October, which is when I usually read horror fiction–and since starting the Diversity Project, I was waiting for October to read some diverse horror. So, I will try to get Deliverance finished this week, do my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, probably over this weekend, and then next week I am going to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, or her more recent Gods of Jade and Shadow.

And since today is Pay Day, I should probably go pay the bills. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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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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