Hard Advice

And now it’s Thursday, my last day in the office until Tuesday (I scheduled my work at home days to bracket my birthday weekend, so I don’t have to shower or get dressed if I don’t want to). Yes, probably more information than you ever wanted or needed from me, but live with it–it’s my birthday this week!

Which is funny, really; I really don’t care that much about my birthdays. My parents never made a big deal out of birthdays and while it was always nice to get presents, I never really thought of it as “my day” or “MY DAY” (as some people insist). It’s the anniversary of the day I was born, and an arbitrary marker of my age. I inevitably add a year to my age once the first of the year rolls around, anyway, and I generally don’t run around reminding co-workers or hinting to Paul for gifts or what I want to do or anything like that. I prefer there not to be a fuss–Facebook and other social media will be lovely on my birthday, of course, as lots of people will wish my a happy day and all of those lovely thoughts–and will probably spend the day at home, trying not to do anything. That, to me, is the perfect birthday–no stress, no emails, no writing, no pressure on myself, and no need to do anything other than what I want to do, which is get up in the morning and swill coffee while writing my blog entry for the day (I’ve actually already started the entry, for the record; I do that sometimes) and then retiring to my easy chair to finish reading my book and maybe even move on to the next in the TBR pile.

I might clean, though. I actually enjoy that, especially if I have nothing else to do–and as I said, I am taking my birthday off completely.

I finished the second chapter of the new Scotty last night. It’s terrible–oh, Lord, how terrible is it? It’s kind of scary how bad it actually is, and how bad I can write when I am trying to start something new–and last night, as I sat in my easy chair while we finished watching I Just Killed My Dad–what a sad, strange case; it was interesting to watch, and such a strange case; how do you decide in such a case what is justice?–I started thinking about tweaking those first two chapters before I can move on to the next one. On the one hand, there are sloppy messes, but on the other hand, isn’t that what the next drat is for, or the one after that? I’m not entirely certain, though, how to start Chapter Three, so maybe it’s not the worst idea in the world to go ahead and revise them, get them into better shape, and maybe that will help me roll into the next chapter. I am excited to be writing another Scotty book–excited to be writing another book of any kind, really–and for the first time since probably the start of the pandemic, I am sort of feeling like myself for the first time in a very very long time, which is kind of cool. I wasn’t tired again when I got home from work last night, and I feel like I slept pretty decently again last night, too. Could I have stayed in bed for another hour or two? Of course I could have, but I am conscious, not feeling groggy or physically tired, and my coffee is definitely hitting the spot this morning. I don’t know if that means I have finally gotten used to this schedule or not, but I am not going to question it and am going to roll with it.

Tomorrow of course is a work-at-home day and I have an enormous stack of work that I’ve brought home for me to get through tomorrow and Monday. At some point, I suppose we are going to lose our one day at home per week, and it’s going to feel really strange for me to have to actually head into the office again Monday through Friday, which will require even more adjustments for me. Heavy sigh. As soon as I get used to something…never fails, right?

It’s also hard to believe that Bouchercon is actually coming up–it’s only a couple of weeks now before Paul and I will be heading for the airport, changing planes at Chicago Midway, and arriving in Minneapolis for a short stay where I will be on the run almost from the very beginning. I started putting together my schedule for the weekend–I have four panels (!) and a signing; a publisher party to attend and several meetings and happy hours and so forth with other groups–so needless to say, I will most likely be extremely exhausted when we fly home that Sunday. But I will also hopefully feel invigorated and recharged and like a writer again, a member of the publishing community, which is always absolutely lovely. I’m really not happy when I don’t feel like a writer; it’s so much a part of my identity that not being around other writers or talking about writing or getting feedback on my work helps trigger Imposter Syndrome, which is something I utterly loathe and despise because it leads to depression and imbalances my mind. I am very excited to be going back to Bouchercon; I’ve not been since 2018 because I had to cancel Dallas the week of because I got sick–inner ear infection prohibiting flying–but had I known it would be another three years before I’d get to go again, I would have driven to Dallas.

Ah, hindsight.

And on that note, I am going to swill down some more coffee and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday everyone, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Mama’s Pearl

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I have a rather lengthy weekend of work staring me down. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se; I’ve certainly had much worse ones over the years. I didn’t have to be at the office at the usual time–Fridays I can go in later, which is so lovely–and I had slept really deeply and well the night before so the morning started off in a much better manner than usual. I ran some errands on the way home from the office, including making groceries (so I wouldn’t have to do it this weekend), and came home to a nice, lovely and sort of quiet-ish evening. The heat has been miserable here–and there’s already tropical systems forming in the Atlantic and in the Gulf, whee!–and I am already a bit concerned about the power bills to come this summer. It was ninety-five degrees yesterday when I left the office–which is high, even for June, if I recall correctly.

It’s usually the humidity that makes it so miserable here…it feels like August already, so i can only imagine how miserable August itself will actually be.

But I will worry about that when I have to. For now, I am just going to enjoy the cool loveliness of the climate controlled Lost Apartment and pretend I have money to (quite literally) burn.

I slept well last night. We finished watching The Little Drummer Girl and Beneath the Banner of Heaven–both of which I recommend–and I started reading Tara Laskowski’s Anthony nominated The Mother Next Door, and it’s excellent, y’all. I only read the first chapter, but I was immediately sucked in–which is a very good thing; that means I can use the book as a reward for working this weekend, aka if I get this far, I can spend two hours reading Tara’s book. I can see why it was so acclaimed and has gotten so much award recognition–it’s currently nominated for the Anthony for Best Paperbook/Ebook/Audiobook Original–and I am very excited that it’s finally worked its way up to the top of the TBR pile. I keep talking about the golden age of crime fiction we are currently living through–seriously, reading the first chapter of Tara’s book served as further confirmation of that theory.

Today is going to be spent mostly working on the edits, of course. Once I’ve swilled enough coffee for my mind to function–I am also getting the hang of Wordle, I’ve been getting it in two or three tries this past week–and some of this mess organized and cleaned up and put away–I will probably dive headlong into the edits. They went really well last night–I was very pleased with the progress I’ve made and how much better the book is becoming (an editor is really worth their weight in gold, and I am very privileged to be working with Terri Bischoff on this one) as I go. I hope to get really deep into it today, so I can finish it tomorrow and then have Monday to go over it one more time before turning it in, once and for all. I’ve also been seeing a lot of submission calls I find interesting and that I may have something for–there was one in particular that I’d like to submit for, since it was for novellas and those are indeed rare, rainbow and glitter unicorns, and since I have like four or five of them in progress…I should be able to get something together for it, don’t you think? And at the very least, it means I would have one of them finished.

My writing schedule has been so off and so fucked up this year. What a strange year this has been thus far: I am discovering that I am so unused to traveling now that whenever I do it, it takes a few days to recover, which I usually don’t have; the binge-writing thing hasn’t changed, but it’s getting harder and harder to do it now–and much more tiring; I’ve been off my gym/workout schedule for months now, and my body doesn’t like it even one little bit; and my goal to broaden my cooking skills has failed miserably. I have, in fact, traveled only three times thus far this year–Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Kentucky–and I have only two more trips planned for this year, Fort Lauderdale in July for Sleuthfest and Minneapolis for Bouchercon. I’ll probably wind up going to Kentucky a few more times this year, but I will worry about that when the time comes. I will most likely take the rest of this coming week off from writing anything after I turn the edits in on Monday, and then try to dive back into the short stories and various other projects next weekend–although I do have to teach that workshop at the library on Saturday, which also means I will go to That’s Amore and order us a deep dish Chicago style pizza on my way home–as well as start working on cleaning out the attic preparatory to cleaning out my storage unit (I’d like to get that emptied out by the end of the month so I can close the account and stop spending that money every month; it’s ridiculous I’ve been paying that every month now for so many years), but if not, maybe by August 1 at least. I need to start pruning the books out of the apartment again, too. The only thing I really need to keep is research materials, if that–most of that can be found on-line or as ebooks–and it would really be nice to get rid of some of this stuff, you know?

Clean like you’re moving, Gregalicious.

And of course, I need to get started on Mississippi River Mischief at some point. The story is starting to coalesce in my head, as more and more ideas and things to include come along…I’m actually kind of excited about it, to be honest, and even more excited to have to make some field trips to some of the bayou parishes to get a look around and take some pictures and get some background color for the book. It’s going to be a little bit weird to write more about a fictional parish outside of New Orleans than about New Orleans itself; and yes, I am inventing a fictional parish to go along with the other fictional parish I use for some of my paranormal stuff–St. Jeanne d’Arc and Redemption parishes–just as I have invented some things for the current project in edits. I never used to do that, but if people want to ding me for making some shit up so be it. I find myself not quite as tied to “can’t invent something that isn’t there in the city because I want to” as I used to be–but I will never write about basements or subterranean caverns beneath the city (although I do suppose there are underground drainage tunnels down there).

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy Saturday wherever you are, Constant Reader, and I’ll let you know tomorrow how things are going with the edits. I know–the suspense, right?

Amos Moses

Sunday morning and I slept in again, which was marvelous. I fell asleep in my chair last night while watching television, which makes me think that no matter what time I arise, ten is now my bedtime, and I am not really sure how I feel about that, to be completely honest. I welcome the good sleep, though, and the rested and refreshed feeling I’ve been experiencing in the mornings. Yesterday was a good day; I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted, but c’est la vie; such is life, and I did get things done. I worked on the kitchen, did some cleaning, working on my CV a bit more (more on that later), and laundered the bed linens (clean bed sheets and blankets always make sleep feel better for some reason I choose not to question). I did a load of dishes, cleaned some things out of the refrigerator that needed cleaning out, and organized some.

We rented Spider-Man: No Way Home yesterday and yes, I do think it was the best live action Spider-Man film (barring Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, which was animated). The young cast (Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalan) are absolutely pitch-perfect; the concept of the story was actually good; and it was a sweeping epic that caught us up in the narrative. I hate to think this might be Tom Holland’s last go round as Spidey, frankly; I adore the kid, and have ever since his Lip-Sync Battle performance doing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” (that was what got me into the theater to see Spider-Man Homecoming, which I didn’t care much about seeing before that clip won me over, and these three Tom Holland outings as my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man are my favorite Spidey live-action movies), and I hope this isn’t the end of this cast in these roles. I don’t know how the franchise can go on now, given the events of the movie, but in some ways it’s very true to the original comic books–Peter being alone and friendless. Tom Holland is also one of our best young actors; I’ve loved him in everything I’ve seen him in, even if the film itself was flawed. I’m sure he’s destined for a long and successful career, and he certainly has the money and success to focus only on projects that interest him as an actor; kind of like Daniel Radcliffe and the other kids from Harry Potter.

It would be a lovely place to be in as an actor, I would think.

After that, we switched over to Netflix to watch Heartstopper, a young adult gay romance series from Britain (with Olivia Colman in a very small party) and coming on the heels of season 5 of Elité, it was marvelous to see a love story between gay teens actually played by teens who weren’t perfect looking and beautiful. We deeply enjoyed this show, which was just incredibly sweet and adorable; how can you not fall in love with main character Charlie? How can you not empathize with him being mocked and bullied, yet despite this remaining first and foremost an incredibly kind and caring young man who loves his friends and wants to protect the people he loves from suffering the way he has suffered? It was apparently a graphic novel first, which was a bit of a surprise (I may have to go looking for it now; I definitely would read the novel if there was one) but a very pleasant one. It didn’t have any of the falseness or inauthenticity of other queer young adult fictions I’ve read and/or seen before; there was also lesbian representation as well as a very well rounded and developed trans character. It was so remarkably well done…I cried a couple of times. Rugby star Nick’s struggle to understand what he was feeling, and how to express himself in ways he’d never learned or thought about was also remarkably touching to see. I defy anyone to watch Heartstopper and these wonderful teens and not want to do everything in their power to protect them from hate and bullies–of which there is far too fucking much in the world, and has roared back lately thanks to the right wing hate machine. (It’s also been horrific watching people who consider themselves “allies” betraying us at every opportunity and turn…I’d forgotten how that felt, and frankly, I’ve cut people out of my life for far less than this…more on that later; I have been trying to compose a Julia Sugarbaker entry for several weeks now about the vicious political attacks on my community lately, but it’s not easy to do so without swearing vociferously and shredding people–mind you, they deserve it with both fucking barrels, but reason and logic is the best way to battle bigotry and hatred and garbage human beings.

I reserve the right to experience righteous anger and express it, though, because sometimes it is absolutely fucking necessary.

It’s weird that we’ve spent the weekend with superhero films, watching The Batman on Friday night and Spider-Man last night; we also started watching Severance last night, which I was also enjoying–my falling asleep during the second episode was more a result of my being tired more than anything else; I am going to rewatch it this morning while Paul sleeps–and there are several other shows I want us to get watching. We leave for New York on Tuesday, though–tonight and tomorrow night will be more about me packing and getting ready to head for the airport on Tuesday more than anything else; our flight is around noonish, I think–I need to double check, especially since I have to check us both in tomorrow–so we have time to drop Scooter off at the kitty spa before we have to head for the airport. (One of the things I need to do today is make sure I have everything I need, paperwork wise, for the trip–the car service from LaGuardia, the discount parking coupon for USPark, the confirmation number for the flights and the hotel)

Today I need to work on my story some more, do some more things, and get everything together that I need to get together before we leave town.

I’ve been updating my CV lately (something I’ve not done since 2009, and it wasn’t even really complete then) because I am doing a favor for a colleague (whom I also consider to be, at the very least, a friendly acquaintance) which requires me having an updated CV. As I was adding short stories, essays, articles, books and anthologies to the list, I began to realize why precisely people refer to me as prolific (which I always just smile and shrug off). The damned thing is already seven pages long, and I’ve not included everything–old books reviews, author interviews, columns, etc.–and there are some things I wrote for websites that I am no longer able to locate or remember (if it’s not in print, the chances I won’t remember it expand exponentially) and really, it doesn’t need to be that exact for this purpose; but it does make me think I really do need to, at some point, make sure every single thing I’ve ever written is included in my CV. I mean, it already looks impressive; I can only imagine how long it will be once it is as complete as I can make it. I mean, I wrote a fitness column every two weeks for IMPACT News and later for Window Media, for at least four years. That’s well over a hundred columns right there…not to mention all the book reviews I used to do. I think I have produced millions of words over the course of when I first started writing professionally all the way back in 1996 in Minneapolis, which was really when my writing career began; so I’ve been at this now for over twenty-six years, which is kind of amazing, really.

And perhaps it’s best for me to head into the spice mines now, so I can get a jump on the day. Have a happy Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.

Want Ads

I can’t believe Chris Owens died.

It’s hard to imagine New Orleans without Chris Owens.

Obviously, New Orleans was here long before she was born, and yes, as with everything, New Orleans will go on. It’s hard to describe Chris Owens to outsiders, really; she was an entertainer, owned her own club on Bourbon Street, and continued performing there at least once a week for decades. I always meant to go see her perform, as I felt it was like paying homage to a local legend and should be done; Paul and some friends did go when I was out of town one week, and I’ve always regretted not ever going. Looks like that’s a regret that I will carry with me to my own grave.

Tomorrow I leave for Albuquerque early in the morning–well, the flight is at 9:50, but that means I have to be there two hours ahead of time, and have to get there, and all of that, you know. So I’ll probably be getting up around the same time I usually do, at six. I have to check in for the flight this morning and I have to pack tonight when I get home from work. Yay? I am excited to be traveling again, excited to be going to a mystery conference, and a little trepidatious about going…just a little bit. I am always a bit nervous about going to an event where I don’t know a lot of people, or the usual people I gravitate towards hanging out with aren’t going to be there. But I am bringing books with me to keep me entertained, of course; I am hoping to finish Arsenic and Adobo on my flight, with Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets also in my bag “just in case”. I am also taking Robert Jones’ The Prophets and Julia May Jonas’ Vladimir and Rob Osler’s Devil’s Chew Toy. An ambitious reading plan, to be sure, but I would also rather not run out of books–although I am also relatively certain I’ll be flying home from Albuquerque with more books than I flew in with. I mean, I may end up hanging out in the bar with people, or I might not. As I said, while I do know a lot of people who are going to be there…my usual con-gang won’t be. I’ll have to wait to see them all at Bouchercon in Minneapolis this September.

Last night I felt a little done in by the time I got home from work, with laundry to get done and dishes to do. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work on the chores–I hate leaving the house messy when I travel, but I don’t think I will have enough time tonight before I have to go to bed to do any repairs to the mess, alas–and when they were completed, I retired to the easy chair (Scooter had been waiting for my lap, occasionally yowling to display his anger and disappointment that I wasn’t giving in to lap duty the moment he realized I was home and he’d been fed) and watched this week’s John Oliver before moving on to Young Justice (which I am really enjoying; it’s nice seeing the ‘not quite as famous’ DC superheroes in the show). Paul got home just after eight, and I stayed up a little while longer playing Scooter bed before retiring to my own bed for the night. I am also worried about being able to sleep on this trip, but at some point I know I will sleep deeply. And at least I do not have to get up early to fly back home. Huzzah!

I am also hoping to get some inspiration this weekend, which will mean attending panels and listening to writers opine about writing, character, plot, story etc. I generally do come away from these weekends invigorated and inspired (if exhausted), so here’s hoping. I have literally written nothing this entire month other than this blog and shitload of emails, and I do have a story due later this month. (note to self: reread that Stephen King story you were thinking of the other day, to see how he structured it) I also want to spend May writing the first draft of Chlorine, June writing the first draft of Mississippi River Mischief, July finishing off the novellas, and then circling back around to the novel manuscripts again. I am hoping that the lack of writing is burn out from all the work I did over the last seven months–finishing and polishing and working and writing like a madman–but then again, there’s always that fear in the back of my mind that it’s actually gone away for good this time. Do other writers worry about things like that? Maybe. I don’t know. I can only speak for myself, obviously–I never speak for anyone other than myself, so don’t ever assume that I am speaking for any community–but I do know I have this experience inevitably every time I finish writing something, or finish a massive binge-writing marathon.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, everyone!

Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone

Well, hello and good morning, Sunday! I have a shit ton to get done today (what else is new? Same song, next verse) but that’s okay; I feel good and rested and as long as I don’t get sidetracked today, I should be able to get a lot finished. The new heating system continues to make the Lost Apartment livable (it’s almost embarrassing to think how long we just accepted that the Lost Apartment would just be freezing cold when the temperature dropped, without questioning whether the system was actually working properly) and so we watched more Ozark last night; Laura Linney and the rest of the cast continues to kill it every episode. The new season of Apple TV’s bizarre but compulsively watchable Servant also has dropped, I believe, and some other shows we really enjoy are coming back soon. (I also want to get back to Peacemaker.) While I was waiting for Paul to get home last night after I finished my day’s work, I decided to finish watching the reboot of Gossip Girl, which, having now binged the entire original, I can say with complete confidence–the new one is terrible. Too earnest, too determined to be socially conscious in a ridiculously heavy-handed Nancy Reagan way; the writers/producers completely missed out on what made the original a guilty pleasure: the new show simply isn’t any fun.

I also saw on Twitter this morning that Stephen King has yet another book coming out this year, Fairy Tale, which further reminded me of how far behind I am on his novels. Gah. I don’t have the time to read as much as I would like–what else is new–and the books keep piling up. And with the recent release of this year’s Edgar and Lefty nominations, my TBR pile continues to ridiculously increase. Hopefully I will go on a trip soon, so I can get some more reading done. I am driving up to Birmingham in the first weekend of February to do Murder in the Magic City (Saturday) and Murder on the Menu (Sunday in Wetumpka); so I am hoping to listen to a book on tape while driving both ways; it’s about six or seven hours in either direction. Then of course in April I am off to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime, and later that month (hopefully) to New York for the Edgars–so that’s a lot of time on planes and in airports, so I should be able to get some reading done on those trips. I’m still planning on Sleuthfest in Florida later this summer, and Bouchercon in Minneapolis in October; whether those trips will actually happen remains to be seen.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But the good news is I don’t feel lazy this morning–which is a lovely change of pace; maybe because I made myself get up when I woke up rather than lounging in the comfort of my bed–so maybe, just maybe, I can get everything I need to get done this morning/afternoon. This is the first week where I have to go in four days per week (ugh) which hopefully won’t be a regular occurrence; someone supposedly wants to take over my Mondays, which would be rather lovely if and when it happens. (I am not holding out hope that’s actually going to happen, by the way–it’s something I’ve been told–and I am also expecting to be very tired on Thursday this week)

I am also trying to stay focused and not look beyond the immediately important; which means no thinking about other books I want to write the rest of this year, no more thinking about short stories and/or essays I want to write, no more character inventions or story ideas until this book is finished and emailed off to the publisher. This doesn’t mean I don’t still get ideas or thoughts or stop being creative–I have creative ADHD, after all–it just means that I write the idea down and get it out of my head and go back to work on the book. I have three chapters at least to get done today, and if I can manage that I should be close to being back on track for getting it finished on time (extended deadline by two weeks).

And really, getting up just an hour earlier today than I did yesterday has made a significant difference to my day and the productivity factor–well, that remains to be seen, of course, but when I reached the point yesterday that I almost was finished with the blog it was nearly eleven; and then I had errands to run and by the time I was finished with all of that I was hardly in the mood to do much writing after getting everything put away and the dishes taken care of and all that jazz. It was also much easier to convince myself that I could stop working when I hadn’t reached the day’s goal–which means I have to finish yesterday’s goal as well as get today’s done. (I knew I’d regret quitting early yesterday, but I am always about immediate gratification and tomorrow’s stress be damned–ninety percent of my problem, really.

And on that note, I should probably head into the spice mines for the rest of the day. You have a lovely and restful Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow morning.

Whisper You Love Me Boy

I am so messed up this week. I literally had no idea what day of the week it was for most of the day and had to keep reminding myself it was Tuesday and not Monday. It was very annoying and terribly irritating, as I am sure you can imagine. And it kept messing with me the entire day. I kept thinking oh two more days in the office despite the fact that there was actually only one (I have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday so have taken the day off) and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion of it being Tuesday all day. I certainly hope today isn’t going to another disorienting don’t know what day it is kind of day.

So far so good this morning, really. I feel more awake and a lot less discombobulated than I did yesterday, which is definitely a plus. It also doesn’t feel as cold today as it did yesterday, which I am also taking as a win; Friday is supposed to be miserably cold, but I’ll deal with that when that comes around (note to self: look for other space heaters this evening when you get home from work); hopefully it won’t cause the “cold paralysis” I sometimes experience–when it’s so cold I can’t do anything but huddle for warmth under blankets. Our heat isn’t working again; I turned it on last week and it came on…but then it turned off and hasn’t come back on again since. I really hate our new system because I cannot grasp how it works, and it seems to be so incredibly sensitive to everything that anything even just the tiniest bit incorrect will shut it down completely and we have to call the guys out again. I don’t even know if Paul has bothered mentioning it to our landlady this time, to be honest. It seems like having a working HVAC system is simply not in the cards for us.

Yesterday I got some lovely new editions of Joseph Hansen’s first four Dave Brandstetter mysteries in the mail, which is very exciting. It’s been decades since I read Hansen; and frankly, I am not entirely certain I read the entire series–but that’s lost in the murk of the past; I cannot imagine I didn’t if they were in print, and I do distinctly remember some lovely paperback editions I picked up at Tomes and Treasures in Tampa…but I don’t recall reading them all. So I have decided that I am going to reread Hansen’s novels again–it’ll be interesting to see what my take on them is now that I am also twenty years into a mystery-writing career as opposed to the mystery-writer-wannabe I was when I originally read them (I also seem to recall picking some up at the Borders in Minneapolis at the corner of Lake and Hennepin). Hansen isn’t nearly as remembered as he should be, frankly; I think it’s a disgrace he was never an Edgar finalist or named Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America.

I got the cover art and the proofs for an anthology I contributed a story over the last few days: Cupid Shot Me: Valentine Tales of Love, Mystery and Suspense, edited by Frank W. Butterfield. This is the place where I finally found a home for my nasty little story “This Thing of Darkness”, which was inspired by a visit to New Orleans a few years ago from someone I went to high school with–I met him at Tacos and Beer, which is just around the corner from my house, and of course while I waited for him and watched the crowd there, I started writing a nasty little story in my head that began precisely that way: the protagonist meeting a friend from high school he hasn’t seen in forty years for dinner in New Orleans at Tacos and Beer (which just goes to show–a writer will take inspiration from pretty much any-fucking-where), and as I wrote the story in my head while I waited it took a much darker turn. I was working on the Kansas book at the time (yet another draft of it) and here I was seeing someone from high school back in Kansas…so it really took a dark, nasty turn. I had been doing some research on, of all things, the nuclear missile bases scattered across Kansas (there was one near our high school) which led me into another Youtube wormhole about the TV movie The Day After…and also made me think about an entire book that could be built around one of the abandoned missile bases…anyway, after dinner I went home and started writing this story. It wasn’t originally called “This Thing of Darkness” (which is from Macbeth, by the way); I don’t remember what I originally called the story, but “This Thing of Darkness” was originally the title for the story in Unburied, “Night Follows Night”, but was too good of a title to not use, so I switched whatever the title of this was out for it.

I do like the story, twisted as it is, but it also got me to thinking about patterns in my short stories and how I write them–which I would talk about it here but the thought is still completely unformed, which has never stopped me before, of course, but it is so unformed that I would embarrass myself writing my way through exploring it, and I am not entirely sure that I actually regularly do what I think I do–following the same story structure in all of my stories–so I would need to reread more of them at once to determine whether that is something I actually do with my work…

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

Hellbent

It has been raining pretty steadily since yesterday afternoon, perhaps even earlier; I only noticed around one o’clock. It was pouring when I drove home yesterday–I got soaked walking to my car from the office and then again getting from the car to the Lost Apartment. I decided not to walk to the gym in the pouring rain during a flash flood advisory–there were two yesterday, from 1-4 an then again from 6-10–and last night’s rain came from some intense thunderstorms; some of the longest peals of thunder I can recall. It’s still raining this morning–everything I can see outside my windows is slick and wet–which means getting to work this morning will be interesting, to say the least. No one in New Orleans knows how to drive in rain, which amuses and irritates me at the same time. How can you live in a city where it rains as much as New Orleans (let alone floods) and not know how to drive in rain? It would be like living in Minneapolis and not knowing how to drive in snow…although every day it rains I am grateful I learned how to drive in a state that has seasons, so I learned how to drive in all weather conditions.

I managed to get a lot done yesterday–made some serious progress on the inbox, if not enough on my book–and did a lot of picking up and straightening up around the Lost Apartment. I started watching a Netflix documentary series, The Lost Pirate Kingdom, which is a non-fiction historical account of the Bahamas/Nassau piracy community (which was also fictionally depicted in Black Sails, still a favorite show of mine and one that hasn’t achieved nearly the attention and praise and audience it deserved), and it was very interesting. I did start futzing around with my iPad during the second episode, which I finally turned off when I realized I wasn’t really paying as much attention as I should, so I will probably come back to the series and rewatch episode two at some point. I’ve always wanted to write a gay pirate adventure set in the early eighteenth century (whoa! That was some major lightning, and the thunder lasted nearly thirty seconds….it’s still dying off now)…it was swirling around in my head again last night while I watched The Lost Pirate Kingdom, and scribbling down notes and ideas was what originally led to my distraction during the second episode. I also made a note to reread The Deep by Peter Benchley; I reread it again a few years ago and wasn’t as impressed with it as I had been when I first read it back in the 1970’s.

I just checked the weather and we are in a flash flood advisory thru Thursday; heavy heaving sigh. New Orleans floods whenever we get a lot of heavy rain in a short period of time (tropical climate, remember?) and it’s always enervating; you have to worry about your car being parked in the right place and hope you don’t have to cross through any deep water on your way to work and so forth, not to mention hope nobody is driving like an idiot (and in New Orleans, you encounter that in the best of weather and driving conditions). Heavy sigh. It’s also going to be weird at work–heavy weather usually means a lot of cancellations and no-shows on our schedule, plus wondering if the city is flooding…

At least tomorrow I am working from home. I can make condom packs or do data entry while cuddled up under a blanket in either the bed or my easy chair while listening to the rain…how comfortable would that be? I certainly didn’t want to get out of the bed this morning. There’s just something so…snug and comfortable about being underneath blankets while it rains outside…I should probably go to the gym tonight, depending on how hard it’s raining, I suppose. It was pouring yesterday and continued to pour, which was why I decided not to go–not to mention the walk there would take me through low-lying areas that often flood during rains like we were having last night (this morning it doesn’t seem so bad–overcast with thunder and lightning, of course, but the rain isn’t coming down like someone opened a spigot, the way it usually does when it pours here.

And of course this weekend is the World Figure Skating Championships! Woo-hoo!

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

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