I’m Livin’ in Shame

As Constant Reader is aware, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with short stories.

I love them as a form. I love reading them–there are few pleasures greater than a biting short story with a sting at the end (I’m looking at you, Karin Slaughter’s “An Unremarkable Heart”)–and I love writing them…but I also hate writing them. I hate that there are fewer and fewer paying markets for them. Every writing class I took when I was younger always emphasized the short story and its importance (although I know any number of novelists who can’t or won’t or don’t write them), so it’s always a bit sad for me to see markets drying up and going away. I’ve had some great highs in my writing career thus far, and some of them have been thanks to short stories.

The thing about short stories is there are two ways to write them: you either get the idea for one and start working on it, or you’re asked to contribute one (or come across a call for submissions). I am not so great at writing for a submission call; I am inevitably on deadline for a novel (when am I not?) and the time frame inevitably for the calls never works out for me. I’ve had some luck with selling to markets with submission calls, but often I end up submitting a story I don’t feel is 100% there yet because it’s the day of the deadline and I’ve run out of time…so I will send it in, hoping I’m wrong and the story actually IS finished.

I am rarely wrong.

So, I generally just write stories when I get the idea. Sometimes I can get the first draft finished before the well runs dry or I have to put it aside to move on to something else I have to write; sometimes I just scribble down the title and the concept behind the story.

“This Thing of Darkness” was originally written for one of the MWA anthologies; I believe it was for the Michael Koryta When a Stranger Comes to Town. I didn’t think the story was actually ready to be read by anyone outside of my apartment, but it was the deadline and I thought why the hell not, nothing ventured nothing gained, and it’s an anonymous read so the judges won’t judge me PERSONALLY if it sucks. It was rejected–as I’d figured it would be, which was fine; those are such a long shot getting in through the hundreds of slush submissions is truly an accomplishment, kudos to those who have!–and so I tinkered with it here and there, now and then, over the years since that first submission. I didn’t think it was appropriate for most crime markets–it’s about a gay man to whom something horrible happened when he was a teenager, and I kind of went into detail about what happened to him–so I wasn’t surprised when I sent it to one and it was deemed “inappropriate” for their readers. So, I sat on it and figured it would be included in This Town and Other Stories.

Then Frank W. Butterfield contacted me for a story for his anthology of Valentine’s crime stories, and I thought, “You know, “This Thing of Darkness” is set during Halloween…you can change it from Halloween to Valentine’s Day” and so I did–and Frank graciously took the story.

Climbing the steps alongside the fenced in wooden deck, he couldn’t help but smile. He’d always loved that the place was named Tacos and Beer. So simple and unpretentious, in a world growing more complicated every day. The patio deck was crowded, filled with what he guessed were hipsters, with bare arms covered in vibrant multi-colored tattoos, the young men with their greasy-looking hair pulled back into manbuns, the women’s streaked with bright, vibrant colors and cut in a variety of styles. They seemed to all wear clunky boots and old, long out of style clothing stained and worn and riddled with holes. The sun glittered on their numerous piercings. He guessed their employers didn’t care about the artwork on their skin, or the posts and hoops bedazzling their faces.

He knew he was hopelessly, tragically, unhip. He’d never been one of the cool kids, and long since lost the desire to be one.

Although he would have thought they’d be too cool to celebrate Valentine’s Day? But many of them were obviously couples. Flowers wrapped in tissue paper adorned tabletops: carnations in various shades of pink, white and red; bullet-headed roses with baby’s breath; and arrangements of lilies and snapdragons and blooms he couldn’t identify. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, still tightly wrapped in cellophane, sometimes caught the light of the dying sun while he glanced at them.

He sat down at a tall table-top for two inside, perching on a stool facing the door. The inside wasn’t nearly as crowded as the deck. It was the first sunny warm day in New Orleans in quite some time—Carnival had been cold and gray and damp and miserable– and what young person didn’t want to be outside basking in the sunshine while drinking their artisanal craft beers and munching their tacos, laughing, enjoying being young and in love? He watched through the window, imagining he could hear the youthful spirit in their voices.

Oh, to be young again.

Or to be in love, for that matter.

This is, even though it is set in one of my favorite (or used to be, anyway; I don’t know if it’s still there or not) places to eat in my neighborhood, Tacos and Beer on St. Charles Avenue, really not a New Orleans story; it’s one of my Kansas stories. Glenn, my main character, grew up in Kansas and now is a writer living in New Orleans. (Hmmm.) The premise of the story is that, years after he left Kansas never to return, he gets an email out of the blue from someone he went to high school with, someone he hasn’t seen since Graduation Night, David Zimmer. David was the first friend he made when he moved to rural Kansas and started up new as a junior at Kingston County High. David stayed his friend even as he moved on to hanging out with more popular kids and, having been the bullied gay kid at his old high school, Glenn gives in the allure of being a football player and being part of the “in” crowd, having friends and not being picked on, desperately afraid that the gay rumors and bullying will somehow catch up to him at Kingston County High. Sadly, it does…and then one night at an end of the school year party, Glenn gets deeply into trouble, and needs David’s help–David, the first friend, the one he left behind in his need to be a “cool kid,” is the only person to whom he can turn in his hour of need.

At Graduation, they both agreed it was best they never see or speak to each other again.

Until now, and David is coming to New Orleans and wants to meet.

The idea for this story originated in something that actually happened; I did hear from an old friend I went to high school with; whom I’d neither seen nor spoken to since we graduated from high school (he went away to school at MIT; I eventually left Kansas, never to return), and he was coming through New Orleans on his way to run a marathon or something in Mississippi, so we decided to have dinner together and catch up. We did indeed meet at Tacos and Beer–but the horrible thing that happened to Glenn in high school never happened to me at any rate, and I’d certainly not turned to him for help in a dire situation we’d kept secret for forty years. I did, as the character in the story did also, arrive early. In fact, while I was sitting there waiting for my friend, watching the people out on the deck, that the idea for the story came to me.

I think it went something like I should write a story about two high school friends meeting up for the first time in nearly forty years to but what would the story be about to ah, they covered up something when they were in high school, were never found out, and have avoided each other deliberately for all that time, so of course the email out of the blue has made my main character nervous–what could he want after all this time?

And the longer I waited, the more I delved into the story in my head (and yes, this is also a cautionary tale about knowing writers: literally everything is material for us, and we can find inspiration for a new story almost anywhere), the more I liked the idea behind it, and when I got home (I only drank iced tea so I could write the story down when I got home) I parked at the computer and started writing.

I am very happy with the story and how it wound up turning out; dark and twisted, yet all under the happy veneer of a busy restaurant on St. Charles Avenue.

And if you’re interested in a copy of Cupid Shot Me, order it here.

Take a Chance on Me

I got my boosters shot yesterday; other than some arm soreness, I seem to be okay–no gills have developed, no wings, and no scales–but the day is young. The weather here turned very cool yesterday, which was incredibly lovely; fall and spring are so divine here, it makes us forget the swampy hell of the summer every year. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day; I managed to get a lot of work-at-home duties done, while watching Foundation (I am all in on the show now) and then started, of all things, Peacock’s original series adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol (more on that later). I have quite the busy day ahead of me now; lots of work at home duties and as always, the Lost Apartment is a disaster area. I am actually up much earlier than I have been getting up on my non-going-into-the office mornings, and it kind of feels good. The light outside is different than it has been–another indication that the world’s turning has shifted and daylight savings is looming on the horizon (next weekend)–and it’s a nice morning here with my coffee here in my kitchen-office.

The house was power-washed this week, and despite the fact we’ve been living here on this property since 2003, I had always thought under all the accumulated grime from the air here (our air quality is something I try not to think about very often, but it’s hard when you see how much of it gets on your car and windshield) the house was painted a pale blue; turns out it is pale coral. Who knew? They also power-washed the concrete sidewalks around the house; the difference is very startling. I am taking the power-washing as a hint that the apartment needs an even deeper dive cleaning. There’s no LSU game tomorrow (thank God, really; I am dreading the Alabama game next week), so I have the entire day free. There are some good games airing, but there’s no need for me to sit in my chair and spend the entire day watching college football, either. There is a Saints game on Sunday–Tampa Bay and Tom Brady–but that’s late enough for me to watch so I can get things done during the day; and a 3:25 start time is also a nice time to call it a day on everything else I am doing around here.

I haven’t started Scott Carson’s The Chill yet, either; ironically I got a copy of his new release. Where They Wait, this week (as well as a copy of Lucy Foley’s The Guest List), so I should probably crack the spine of The Chill at some point today. Scott Carson is the name Michael Koryta (one of my favorite authors) uses now to write horror (he used to write it under his own name. Not sure why the switch/rebrand, but probably has something to do with Koryta being branded for top notch crime fiction; seriously, check out his work if you haven’t. I recommend starting with The Prophet, and if you’ve not read Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, they pair together very nicely).

I also really, really need to write this weekend. I need to write a lot. I also have to do the page proofs for #shedeservedit, but they aren’t due until a week from Monday, and I think the more time I take away from that manuscript the better job of proofing I will do on it. I am a shitty shitty shitty proofreader, which is probably why there are more mistakes in my finished books than there should be in anyone’s printed books. But at least there’s time for me to let them sit and percolate before I jump on them; I am usually so heartily sick of any book at the proofreading stage that I don’t pay as close attention as I might. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that I am being too hard on myself, which is something of which I am frequently guilty. No one is as hard on me as I am on myself. At some point in my life I pretty much decided if I was super-critical of myself, other people’s criticisms wouldn’t hurt me as much as they had before–and it became deeply engrained into my psyche, and it’s actually more damaging to me than accepting criticisms from others.

Many years ago I decided to stop being unkind to writers and their books on my blog. If I read a book I didn’t care for, I wasn’t going to dis it on the Internet–because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, primarily, and I am not always highly receptive to negative nastiness about my own work. (I tend to say “I’m not the right audience for this book” now.) I didn’t want to be become like those professional reviewers who hate everything, and make their reviews about how smart the reviewer is and how bad of a book they are destroying in print. At the time I made that decision, I also decided there were two exceptions to my rule: Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown. What was my small voice, after all, in the chorus of critics and readers worldwide who loathe their writing? It did strike me as hypocritical from time to time, and so I stopped even doing that. They are, no matter how much success and money they have, still human beings with feelings, and there’s a sense that mocking and insulting their work, no matter how small my platform or voice, is just piling on.

Having said that, I will admit I greatly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code when it was released, enough so that I went back and read the first Robert Langdon novel, Angels and Demons (which I actually thought was better). It was a great ride, and I already had some familiarity with the idea of the Christ bloodline, having read Holy Blood Holy Grail at some point in the 1980’s, with its outlandish (if interesting) claims that were eventually turned out to have been based in a great fraud. It combined a lot of things that tick off boxes for me: treasure hunt based in history, actual historical events, the Knights Templar, the Cathar heresy, the Crusades, and of course, making the Catholic Church the great villain of the story (the only better villains are Nazis, really). Was it greatly written? I honestly can’t say now, it’s been so long since I read it. But I did read The Lost Symbol, his follow-up, when it was released and absolutely hated every word of it. I tried to read the next, Inferno, and gave up after the first chapter. I’ve never watched any of the films–although now I am thinking it might be interesting to do so. When I saw the Peacock was adapting The Lost Symbol, I actually (thank you, faulty memory) thought it was the Brown novel I hadn’t finished. After I got caught up on Foundation but still had at least another couple of hours’ worth of condom packing to do, I decided to try The Lost Symbol. Even as I watched the first episode, none of it seemed familiar to me, and it wasn’t until they mentioned the painting “The Apotheosis of George Washington” (that may not be the actual name; but it’s the painting in a government building ceiling where it looks like Washington is being greeted into heaven as a god) that I began to suspect that I had actually read the book; by the time they descended into the tunnels below the city and met the Architect of the Capital I thought, oh yes I did read this and didn’t much care for it. But the show itself held my attention–it’s an adventure story, after all, and Ashley Zukerman was very well cast as Langdon. I look forward to continuing watching it–at least while I wait for the new episodes of everything else we are currently watching to be loaded for streaming.

And on that note, it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader–I’ll come back tomorrow to check in.

Morning Rider on the Road

So, going back to the office wasn’t a terrible experience. We didn’t see any clients yesterday–we’re hoping to get the supplies we need delivered today, so we can get started again tomorrow–but I was able to go into the office and get some things done before coming home and doing some more work at home as well. I am going in again today–good to get the routine back on track again–and am hopeful that tomorrow will be another step forward in returning to normality.

It looks like we’re going to feel something from Hurricane Nicholas, which looks to be following a particularly strange path for a tropical disturbance, but the majority of whatever it may be won’t be until Thursday. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, but I think overall the weather should be fairly decent today? I suppose I should check.

Yes, it’s supposed to rain all day today, with the heaviest fall around eleven this morning. Yay. But I kind of like gloomy, rainy days, to be perfectly honest. My preference for them is to be at home under a blanket with a book, but you can’t always get what you want.

When I visited my parents a while back, one of the books I took with me was James Jones’ unabridged From Here to Eternity, which apparently included the scenes referencing gay bars and gay activity amongst the soldiers–and how some weren’t averse to making some extra money getting paid for sex. It’s always been one of my father’s favorite books (and movies), but I had never read it. I started it a few times when I was a teenager (I always enjoyed World War II stories) but with these scenes restored (they were cut from the original publication, for obvious reasons) I thought it might prove of interest–particularly since I have an idea (don’t I always?) for a book set on Oahu that opens on December 8, 1941. I got maybe three hundred pages into the book, and literally reading it was torture. I finally gave up and moved on to something else; I don’t remember what it was, but I certainly enjoyed it much much more than I was enjoying From Here to Eternity–and the primary reason I was hating the Jones novel was because all of the characters were, basically, assholes with few if any redeeming qualities. Last night as I sorted things for work at home, I decided to watch the film again–the original, from 1953–and…yeah, I’m not really certain it holds up after all this time either. My primary takeaway from the film was how ridiculously lean and fit the actors (Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra) playing the main leads were. It’s funny, because the book’s frank look at sexuality (Clift’s character falls in love with a prostitute; Lancaster has an affair with his superior officer’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr) is so ridiculously tame by our modern standards; crime series currently airing on network television are more risqué than this film–let alone soaps. (Kind of like Peyton Place–there’s more lurid content in an episode of The Young and the Restless than in the entire book!) I wasn’t overly impressed with the film, to be honest–and it was hardly a glowing depiction of the military. But it was interesting…and made me think about that book I mentioned earlier than I want to write someday.

But the gym is back to its normal hours, and so I’ll be able to get back there to workout after work today. Yay! I’ve actually missed going to the gym in these turbulent times; I did make it over there last week for a quick workout one day, and I am really looking forward to things going back to routine again. I like my routines, I like my patterns, I like my ruts, frankly; and again trying to remember what all was going on and what all I was working on before this disruption began has been challenging. Head down, nose to grindstone; get it all together, man!

We also watched a few more episodes of Only Murders in the Building, which we are really enjoying. I’m not really sure if this is a murder mystery, or about three true crime aficionados who’ve become convinced they are not only investigating a murder but making a podcast about it at the same time. I am really enjoying the show; the Martin Short character gets on my nerves periodically, but I really like the Steve Martin character, and those apartments! I can only imagine what those apartments are actually worth in today’s Manhattan rental climate.

I am also hoping to get back into Velvet was the Night soon. I read a chapter last night (or was it the night before?) and am really enjoying it thus far, and we haven’t really gotten into the story itself yet; Moreno-Garcia is letting us get to know our two main characters first; she really is a gifted talent, and am looking forward into delving more into her work in the future–perhaps either Mexican Gothic or Gods of Jade and Shadow will be up next. I love that she doesn’t limit herself to genre, which used to be a no-no in this business; you were supposed to pick a genre and if you wrote in another one, you used another name (Michael Koryta has written both crime and horror under his own name; lately he’s started publishing the horror as Scott Carson). God, how this business has changed in the years since I took my first tentative steps into it so long ago. Some of those changes are for the better–prime example being Moreno-Garcia slipping between genres effortlessly under the same name–and some not so much; I miss writing gay erotica from time to time…although I love that my erotica fell out of favor with “current” readers of gay male pornography because when I write it, it’s about lust and sweat and masculinity and control–as opposed to roses and music and love and fading to black and cuddling when fading back in.

And I need to get back to writing, which I am assuming will happen once I feel more settled, with the ground more stable beneath my feet again. Today is the 14th, which means I only have 16 days left in which to finish the first draft of Chlorine like I had wanted; I think I am going to continue working on it, while prepping for writing the next book and revising some of the other things I have on hand that aren’t finished or in early draft form; I need to make a list, don’t I?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader, never fear!

Two To Make It Right

Thursday morning and I am slurping coffee and trying to get awake and ready for an exciting day of data entry and condom packing. I’ve not been terribly successful with my goal of cleaning out my inbox; I am going to try to work on that today after I finish working, after I go to the gym, and after I get today’s writing done.

I’ve identified a problem–a pattern, if you will–with my writing. I will get to a point in a short story where I am kind of stuck, and whereas what I do with a novel (write my way out of it) I won’t do that with the story, instead agonizing over it for a bit before consigning it to the oh well I’ll finish this later at some point folder. This is defeating, and why, ultimately, I have so many unfinished stories languishing around in my files. So, I am determined to solider on with the one I am currently working on, “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and try to get it finished. I am also determined to revise chapter one of Chlorine this weekend, and hopefully get into my next novella–either “Never Kiss a Stranger” or “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–and also get the Lost Apartment back under control at some point.

It’s amazing how little time it takes yet how easy it is for this place to look like a disaster area in need of FEMA assistance.

I also want to get back to reading–oh, how the books pile up!–and maybe it’s something I should do before I go to bed every night. I had tried for a brief while–after that less screen time before going to bed will help you sleep better thing circulated a few years ago–to read before bed every night; I have a non-fiction book on my nightstand that is now coated in dust that I would love to get back to reading–but it also wouldn’t hurt to do some fiction reading downstairs before I go up to bed, risking the getting caught up in the book and not wanting to put it down thing, which all too often happens to me with reading fiction. I am still greatly enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, by the way; Caro is an exceptional biographer. I also love how he weaves historical context into his biographies–I’ve only read the first volume of the Johnson biographies, and his description for how hard life was for poor rural women has never stopping haunting my mind–and always am blown away. I’ve never read the two biggest biographies of this century–Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton or McCullough’s John Adams, which I need to remedy–but then again my non-fiction reading (outside of necessary research for writing) has been woefully overshadowed this century by my fiction reading.

I also received copies of the MWA anthologies Deadly Anniversaries (edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini) and When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta), which reminded me of how much I’ve been languishing on the Short Story Project–while continuing to buy anthologies or single-author collections, which are also piling up around me. I also have a lot of short stories to read for my Bouchercon panel in August; I am on, of all things, a short story panel; which kind of caught me off-guard because I don’t consider myself a master of the form–or even half-way decent at it. But I have published quite a few of them, and my goal is to publish more (which means writing more of them) and I figure with the terrific panelists, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from some of them.

We started watching another Spanish language show last night, High Seas (Alta Mar in Spanish), which is a murder mystery set on a luxury liner sometime in the 1940’s, traveling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro. It’s gorgeously shot, the period costumes and decor are first rate, as is the acting. We’re on episode 4 now; there have already been two murders and some mysterious shenanigans, including a fire, and yes, we are completely sucked into it. (We’re taking The Underground Railroad slowly, because it’s not really something to be binged, since it raises so many philosophical and societal questions; you kind of need to absorb each episode. It’s really one of the most literate series I’ve ever watched, in part because the visuals are so incredible and poetic; I think it’s one that needs to be rewatched as well because it’s almost too cerebral–yet compelling–to absorb all at once for someone of such diminished intellectual capabilities as me–it’s also making me want to revisit the novel)

And on that note, I am heading into today’s spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

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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