Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

Lean on Me

GEAUX TIGERS!

I still can’t believe we have tickets for tonight’s game. We try to make it to at least one game every season, if we can; we’ve managed to go to at least one game per season since our first trip to Tiger Stadium, when we went to the Ole Miss game in 2010. We’ve seen some exciting games there; we’ve seen some blowouts, and we’ve seen some games that were closer than they should have been. One of the things I love about being an LSU fan is that they are never boring to watch. That 2007 national championship year was probably, overall, the most interesting and fun season of college football that I can remember. It’s also LSU’s Homecoming, and of course, we’re playing hated rival Florida; both teams undefeated, both ranked in the Top Ten. And while a loss for either team doesn’t necessarily mean being taken out of the conference championship race, or out of national hopes, it would mean an uphill battle the rest of the season–and another loss will spell the end of all hopes for the season.

Not looking forward to driving to and from Baton Rouge, though.

But Death Valley is going to be rocking–after all, it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!

It’a also going to be in the 60’s–perfect stadium weather tonight.

Very exciting.

I’m going to try to get some writing done, as well as some cleaning around the Lost Apartment, before we head out this afternoon. I also have to walk over to the International School to vote in the Louisiana primaries.

I’m not really sure what to do with Bury Me in Shadows. On the one hand, I’d really love to get it finished and turned in soon; on the other, I’m worried that I’m rushing to get it out of my hair. Of course, I can always turn it in and do a final revision before the official deadline it will be given, but…I don’t really like doing that. I did it with Royal Street Reveillon, though, and that seemed to work really well. So, maybe? I don’t know; I am very torn. I do think this might be one of the better books I’ve written, and more attention to it could make it my best. But again, I am terribly worried about turning it in, getting it on the schedule and then trying to get another finished draft finished before it’s due for production–because I absolutely have no idea what my life will be like at that time.

Last night I watched, of all things, the E! True Hollywood Story: Dynasty on Youtube. It occurred to me, really, how correct they were when they said Dynasty encapsulated the 1980’s more than any other television show; Dallas might have averaged higher ratings throughout its lengthy run, and there were certainly other successful night time soaps in the 1980’s, but Dynasty really captured the era more so than anything else–and let’s not forget, Dynasty had the first openly gay character in a television drama series (Jody on SOAP was probably the first; but it was a comedy), and then of course, Rock Hudson’s appearance on the show when he was dying from HIV/AIDS–not revealed until after he’d left the show–made the epidemic world-wide news and shone a bright light on an epidemic that was actually being largely ignored by the world at the time and when it was talked about, well–as said by a horrific bigot on Designing Women a few years later, “it’s killing all the right people.”

I also watched the final episode of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou last night, and cannot help but feel sorry for the families of the victims. The mystery of who murdered the Jeff Davis 8 will most likely never be solved, which is an absolute shame, but it is such amazing fodder for a novel. Every time I watch an episode, I think to myself how to structure such a book, and start populating it with characters. It’s definitely a Chanse novel more so than a Scotty; obviously I could do it as a stand alone–which is still a possibility–but almost from the very beginning I’ve seen it as a Chanse novel; primarily because Chanse is from a small town in east Texas, which would give him good insight into the class differentials in a small town, as well as some insight into police corruption. I’ve never done a Louisiana corruption novel yet; this is almost too perfect a case to hang such a story upon.

I know I said Murder in the Arts District was probably going to be the last Chanse novel, but I always add the caveat “unless I get a good idea.” I was burned out on writing Chanse when I finished that book, and I felt like it was probably past time to retire the character from my canon. I’ve written one short story with him as the main character, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which was included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started writing another one, “Once a Tiger,” which started off strong but then petered out as I wrote it. It’s still unfinished, and I think it’s going to have to be overhauled completely. It’s a great idea–Chanse comes back to LSU to solve a murder at his old fraternity–but it doesn’t really get traction in the way I started writing it. As I was thinking about the story for the new Chanse novel last night, I also recognized that some things that I was thinking about, as far as Chanse was concerned, would have to change; I really do need to go back and read the last few books in the series again. I am probably going to cross over a character from the Scotty series into this Chanse, should I write it–Jerry Channing, the true crime writer. I may not, it just seemed like he would be the perfect person to bring the murders in a western Louisiana parish to Chanse’s attention.

Anyway, we’ll see. I need to finish Bury Me in Shadows, the Kansas book, write some more short stories, finish “Never Kiss a Stranger,” and, of course, Chlorine.

I also found myself thinking about some other stories I have in progress, in particular “Please Die Soon,” which I think is going to be pretty good–if I ever finish it.

And on that note, I’m going to get cleaned up and go vote. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Shining Star

Well, good morning, Thursday, how do you do? I’m a bit giddy, as I always am after working thirty-two hours in three days. I am in the home stretch of the week with my short days, and a three day weekend! Huzzah! Huzzah!

I can’t wait to sleep in. I also love days when I don’t have to go outside at all, other than perhaps walking to the gym or Walgreens or taking out the garbage. And as the Scotty work is going so well–I have only chapters one through five left to go over again, and then I can start inputting the changes and making the necessary corrections, and I need to finish rewriting the opening and I need to write the afterward–it also serves as a boon to my mood. I am really itching to be done with this, and I am so glad I took my time with this manuscript. I think it’s going to be one of the better Scottys, if I pull off everything I’m trying to do, and I have to say, it’s lovely to feel ambitious with a Scotty book. I think that was why the Chanse series felt like it was running down to me; I didn’t really feel particularly ambitious for the series and the character anymore. It’s been nice writing short stories about Chanse; “My Brother’s Keeper” in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is my first Chanse short story and it’s also my first-ever private eye short story. I’m feeling kind of excited about writing private eye stories–I wrote one for another anthology (not a Chanse, alas) and I really want to get back to the other Chanse story I started, “Once a Tiger.” I never thought I’d be able to write private eye stories, and now I feel confident enough to try writing them. I am feeling ambitious with my short story writing, and that’s also a really good feeling. I think I am getting better at it, and am starting to understand them better, if that makes any sense. I also spent some time over the last few days rereading some of my stories critically–“The Problem with Autofill” and “The Snow Globe”–and I think I know how to fix them. I am going to do the same with “Moves in the Field” and “Burning Crosses” over the next couple of days.

I’ve reached the point in my reread of Pet Sematary where the book starts to take off with its story; Louis is home alone at Thanksgiving while the family visits Rachel’s wealthy parents in Chicago (some back story of the bad blood between Louis and her parents is also established here), and of course, Ellie’s beloved cat Church is killed by a passing car on the road. Naturally, Louis doesn’t know how he’s going to deal with both Rachel (who has a very well-established death phobia) and his daughter, who is sure to be devastated and heartbroken. Father figure from across the road Jud, however, comes to his rescue, and later that evening, takes Louis and Church beyond the deadfall (which the ghost of Victor Pascow already warned him against crossing) and the pet sematary and into the woods and the swamp beyond, to the Micmac burying ground…and of course, Church comes back. Different, but back.

As I read this section of the book (of course, Ellie comes home and knows Church is different–so different she really doesn’t want anything to do with him; echoing Jud’s comment “sometimes dead is better”) I began to remember some of the issues I had with the book on first read. Namely, almost every step of the way the book and story has the problem that is probably best encapsulated as why would you do this? Like in horror movies, the group being hunted by the killer always splits up, or the girls always wear heels before running in the forest, etc. Louis is incredibly passive when it comes to the Micmac burying ground visit with the cat’s corpse; never once does he ever stop to question what he’s doing or to ask Jud why they are going so deep in the forest, or why he isn’t simply burying the cat in the regular pet cemetery. And when Church comes back…I don’t know; he seems to take the resurrection of the cat much easier than you’d think a doctor would. And of course when he asks Jud, after Church returns, if anyone’s ever buried a human up there…well, you just know at that point that someone is inevitably going to be buried up there; it’s simply a matter of who, and what’s going to happen when that person returns. I know if, for example, my own cat returned from the dead I’d freak out a whole lot more than he did.

But I am enjoying the book a lot more this time around; it reads very quickly and easily, and the Creed family are immensely likable.

I didn’t watch another episode of Titans last night, instead getting sucked into the Australian Open, which will undoubtedly happen more and more as the tournament goes on. (But I am looking forward to watching one when I get home; it’s an early day for me and I do have some cleaning to do, but I am definitely penciling in both more reading time and time to watch another episode.)

Tomorrow morning i have to get up early to take my car in for routine servicing, and then in to work. It’s also another early day for me–only four hours–and hopefully tomorrow evening when I get home I can finish the cleaning for the weekend so I can work on writing and editing all weekend as well as finishing my reread of Pet Sematary. My next read is going to be a Diversity Project read; I’m going to read my library book, Caleb Roerig’s Last Seen Leaving,  a queer y/a title, and after that, probably something by an author of color. I’m also going to work on rereading Stephen King novels this year, methinks–that’s a lot of reading projects, isn’t it–and I also have some Stephen Kings on hand that I’ve not read…which is something I intend to take care of this year as well.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the rest of the morning. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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I Can’t Wait

So, yesterday I signed the contract to publish my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, with Bold Strokes Books for an April 2019 release date–which means it should be available at Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in late March.

I am inordinately excited about this, you have no idea, Constant Reader! It’s the first book contract I’ve signed since 2015, for one thing–everything came out in 2016 or early 2017, so yeah, it’s been a hot minute–but I am also excited because it’s a short story collection and it isn’t erotica.

In 2004 Starbooks collected my wrestling stories into a short-lived collection called Wanna Wrestle?, that went out of print very quickly for various reasons, none of which had to do with actual sales; it’s a rarity and few copies exist out there in the wild. Bold Strokes also did a collection of my Todd Gregory erotic stories, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, a few years back as well. But I’ve always wanted to do a collection of non-erotic short stories, but never thought I would ever have enough stories, enough material, to actually do so.

But I also had no way of knowing I would also lapse into a short story writing mania the way I have  this year. I mean, I can’t believe how much short story writing I’ve been doing this year.

But, also in fairness, only four of the stories in this collection are new.

Here’s the table of contents:

Survivor’s Guilt (originally published in Blood on the Bayou, which won the Anthony Award for Best Anthony and the story was nominated for a Macavity Award)

The Email Always Pings Twice (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Keeper of the Flame (originally published in Mystery Week magazine)

A Streetcar Named Death (originally published in the anthology I Never Thought I’d See You Again, edited by Lou Aronica)

An Arrow for Sebastian (originally published in the anthology Cast of Characters, edited by Lou Aronica)

Housecleaning (originally published in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley)

Acts of Contrition (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Lightning Bugs in a Jar

Spin Cycle (originally published in Men of the Mean Streets, co-edited by me and J. M. Redmann)

Cold Beer No Flies (originally published in Florida Happens, coming in September)

Annunciation Shotgun (originally published in New Orleans Noir)

Quiet Desperation (originally published as a Kindle single)

The Weight of a Feather

My Brother’s Keeper

Don’t Look Down

Smalltown Boy (originally published in Rebel Yell 2, edited by Jay Quinn)

So, only four of the stories, (five, if you count “Quiet Desperation,” which was a Kindle single) are original. And technically, “Cold Beer No Flies” is a new story; but by the time the collection comes out next year Florida Happens will also be out, rendering it no longer a new story.

But even more exciting? “My Brother’s Keeper” is the first Chanse MacLeod short story ever, and now that I’ve written one, it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’ve already started another, “Once a Tiger,” and who knows? Maybe I will write more. I don’t think I’ll ever write another Chanse novel, but short stories? Why not? Writing private eye short stories is challenging; more of a challenge than just the usual crime story I write, and so I see writing more private eye stories as an opportunity to grow further as a writer, and get better at what I actually do.

The great irony is that my short story writing mania of this year actually has provided me with almost enough stories for a second collection, all unpublished stories, and I have about another dozen or so in some form or stage of being written. Freaking crazy.

Oh, and you know that messy Chapter Fourteen of the Scotty book? Was so fucking easy to fix it’s not even fucking funny. It literally required the deletion of about 200 words and the addition of 120 or so back, and it’s fucking fixed. Blam. Problem solved; the same problem I might add, I’ve been avoiding for like  three weeks.

Because, you know, avoidance. My go-to.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Here’s the opening paragraph of “Don’t Look Down,” aka the Italy story:

Jase shifted the Fiat’s engine into a lower gear as he started up the steep hill. He hadn’t driven a standard transmission since college, but he did remember hills required downshifting. As the Fiat started climbing he passed two handsome, tanned men on mountain bikes, sturdy thighs straining against their brightly colored Lycra casing. According to the directions, he would be in Panzano when he reached the top of the hill.  There was a parking lot off to the left and just beyond that he could see a stone wall. The hill—or mountain, he wasn’t sure which—dropped off into a valley to the right, vineyards and olive trees spreading out to the next sloping hill.  A low stone wall hugged the right side of the road nearer the crest of the hill, with barely enough space for pedestrians or mountain bikes. All the roads had been incredibly narrow since he’d left the highway, with many sharp blind curves as the road weaved in and out and around and along mountains.  At one point an enormous bus coming the other way had almost forced him onto the shoulder, missing the black rental car by inches. He glanced up at the directions tucked into the sun visor. At the crest of the hill there would be another sharp, almost ninety-degree turn to the left, and to his right would be the triangular town center of Panzano-in-Chianti. To get to the hotel, because of the narrow one-way streets, he’d have to circle around the  triangular town square to get to the little hotel. 

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Sugar Walls

Sunday morning. Yesterday wasn’t nearly as productive as I would have hoped; but I am pleased to report that “My Brother’s Keeper” is finished,  and “Don’t Look Down” isn’t nearly as big of a mess as I thought it was before reading it from beginning to end. It needs some serious polishing before I can consider it to be done–or read it aloud–but I think another push on it today and it will be done. I also started writing yet another story yesterday–“This Thing of Darkness”–which is kind of an interesting idea. We’ll see how it goes. My goal for today is to finish “Don’t Look Down” and “Fireflies” today so they are ready for the read-aloud. And, of course, once “Don’t Look Down” is finished, my collection will be as well–which is kind of exciting.

I didn’t work on Scotty yesterday; I am going to hold off on going back to work on him until tomorrow. I want to get this collection finished, and he needs to sit for another day. I may go back and reread what I’ve already written; the first fourteen chapters, so I can figure out where, precisely, this next chapter needs to go.

I also finished reading Megan Abbott’s amazing Give Me Your Hand last night.

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I guess I always knew, in some subterranean way, Diane and I would end up back together.

We were bound, ankle to ankle, a monstrous three-legged race.

Accidental accomplices. Wary conspirators.

Or Siamese twins, fused in some hidden place.

It is powerful, this thing we share. A murky history, its narrative near impenetrable. We keep telling it to ourselves, noting its twists and turns, trying to make sense of it. And hiding it from everyone else.

Sometimes it feels like Diane was a corner of myself broken off and left to roam my body, floating through my blood.

On occasional nights, stumbling to the bathroom after a bad dream, a Diane dream, I avoid the mirror, averting my eyes, leaving the light off, some primitive part of my half-asleep brain certain that if I looked, she might be there. (Cover your mirrors after dark, my great-grandma used to say. Or they trap the dreamer’s wandering soul.)

Megan Abbott has been a favorite of mine, since years ago when I first read Bury Me Deep as a judge for the Hammett Prize. A period noir, set in the early 1980’s and based on a true story, I was blown away by its deceptive simplicity and hidden complexities. It echoed of the great noirs of James M. Cain and great hardboiled women writers, like Margaret Millar and Dorothy B. Hughes; a tale of desperation and love and murder, crime and ruined reputations, as it delved into the complex emotions that could lead a woman to commit a horrifically brutal murder; its exploration of small-town corruption was reminiscent of Hammett’s Red Harvest. Over the years since that first reading, I’ve gone on to read Abbott’s other brilliances: This Song is You, Queenpin, Dare Me, The End of Everything, You Will Know Me. Her women aren’t victims in the classic sense of victims in crime fiction; her women have agency, they make their decisions and they know their own power; a common theme to all of her novels is the discovery of that power and learning to harness it; whether it’s sexual power (The End of Everything), physical power (You Will Know Me), cerebral (Give Me Your Hand), or inner strength (Dare Me).

And somehow, she manages to continue to grow and get better as a novelist, as a writer, with every book.

She is probably the greatest psychological suspense writer of our time; her ability to create complex inner lives for her characters, to explore the duality of weakness and strength we all carry within us, and the delving into the complicated nuances of female friendships, with all their inner rivalries and passions and jealousies and affections, is probably unparalleled. Her books are also incredibly smart and layered; this one has references, both subtle and overt, to both Hamlet and Macbeth seamlessly woven into the text; the dual, competing themes of inertia despite the knowledge of a crime versus unfettered ambition; and what to do when faced with both. How do you decide? And what does your decisions say about you as a person?

Give Me Your Hand is set in the world of research science, which may seem a weird setting for a crime novel…but competition for research funding and positions, for advancement in career, the thin veneer of civility and camaraderie between co-workers angling for plum research assignments, is at its very heart, noir. One of the characters, Alex, says at one point, jokingly, “we’re a nest of vipers”…and it turns out to be very true.

The novel follows the complex friendship between the main character, Kit Owens and Diane Fleming, who first meet as young teens at Science Camp, and again later their senior year of high school. They become friends, with similar interests; Kit and Diane push each other to be their very best. It is the friendship with Diane that sets Kit on the road to  her career as a research scientist; yet their friendship is blown apart by a secret Diane shares with Kit,  and the knowledge of that shared secret haunts both women for the rest of their lives. Their paths cross again years later, working in the same lab and competing for a limited number of spots on a new, important research project having to do with how excessive premenstrual syndrome: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The book also offers two timelines: the senior year, with its heavy influence of the Hamlet theme, and the present, which is more on the lines of Macbeth. Blood also is used, repeatedly, brilliantly, as an image; the study is on a disorder caused by menstruation, and of course, blood as in relatives, as a life-force, as a motivator.

The book is slated for a July release; usually when I get advance copies I wait until the release date is imminent for me to blog about these books. But this one couldn’t wait; I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since finishing it late last night.

Preorder the hell out of this, people.

 

Sentimental Street

It’s Saturday morning! Lots to do today; Chapter Fifteen, read “My Brother’s Keeper” aloud, work on “Don’t Look Down,” revise “Burning Crosses,”–the list goes on and on. It’s supposed to rain today as well; not sure if that’s going to actually be a thing today, but it does look sort of gloomy-esque outside my windows this morning.

And the Apartment is, of course, a complete and total mess.

I was thinking last night, as I started reading Megan Abbott’s extraordinary Give Me Your Hand, about my own writing (reading amazing writers always makes me contemplative) and putting into some perspective. Megan is one of our best writers, and the crime genre is very lucky to have her writing within our boundaries. Reading her work is always very humbling for me, whether it’s a novel or one of her jewels of a short story (hello, publishers! A Megan Abbott short story collection is way overdue! Get! On! It!), as I find myself wondering how does she think of putting these words together? Her sentences are never overly complicated and yet she manages to put them together in such a way as to create a very vivid and complex image, not to mention how she uses her sentence structure to create these characters that are so nuanced and real and complicated…she really is a master of the written word. I will dive back into her novel today, when I am finished with all of the things I must, I have to, do today; it’s always lovely when there’s a wonderful reward waiting for you at the end of tedious writing and editing and cleaning. (I also have ARC’s of Lori Roy’s The Disappearing and Alex Segura’s Blackout; I cannot wait to dive into those as well.)

And while I should be thinking, of course, about where the Scotty novel needs to go in Chapter Fifteen and going forward from there, I was thinking last night about short stories. I always abhorred writing short stories before, thought them incredibly difficult to write, and a discipline of writing that I was not particularly good at (I am also horrible at writing horror fiction, for example). I always believed that whenever I was actually successful at writing a short story, it was purely by accident; not anything conscious that I managed because I wasn’t good at the form. But in writing these reams of short stories this year, I am finding that not to be true; I am having to revise my thinking about so many things I once believed true about me as a writer. Yes, a short story might fail; everyone makes false starts. The Archer Files, with its final section of short story fragments that Ross Macdonald had started yet never finished, taught me that. My own files are filled with fragments of short stories that I began yet never finished; first drafts of stories I never finished because I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t convinced, that I knew how to fix and repair, how to edit and revise to make right. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at writing short stories. It simply means those stories are ready to be finished; that Ifor whatever reason, am simply not ready to finish them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

This is, and has always been, just another way my lack of self-confidence in my ability to write manifests itself.

I started writing another story last night, currently untitled; I’m not sure what its title will be but I do have a vague idea of what it’s about. There’s a great little place to eat in my neighborhood, in the same block as my gym, called simply Tacos and Beer; I am meeting someone in town for an early dinner there on Sunday. That, of course, got me thinking about that great simple name for the place, and what a wonderful opening that would make for a story; someone going there to meet someone for dinner and choosing that place because it’s simple, straightforward name pleases them so much. The story is still amorphous, of course. But perhaps I’ll be able to work on it today. I’m also thinking I might even get to work on Muscles  a little bit today.

Who knows? The day is fraught with possibilities still. I may wind up being lazy and not doing a fucking thing.

Here’s the raw opening of “Burning Crosses”:

“Population four thousand four hundred and thirty two,” Leon said as they passed the Welcome to Corinth sign. There were a couple of bullet holes in it, as there had been in every official green sign they’d passed since crossing into Corinth County. “I guess it’s not hard to imagine lynching here.”

“I can come back with someone else,” Chelsea Thorne replied. Her head ached. She needed coffee. Her Starbucks to go cup was long empty. “Can you check on your phone and see if there’s a Starbucks in town?”

Leon laughed. “I don’t have to look to know the answer is no,” he shook his head. “There’s not even five thousand people in this town, girl. There ain’t no Starbucks. I’ll bet there’s a McDonalds, though.”

“It’ll have to do.” The throbbing behind her temple was getting worse. It didn’t help they’d gotten lost trying to find this little town, the county seat of a county she’d never heard of, let alone knew where to find. It wasn’t even near a highway. They’d had to take a state highway out of Tuscaloosa and drive about an hour or so, depending on the roads and depending on traffic. It took longer to get out of Tuscaloosa than they’d planned, thanks to some road work and then another delay because of Alabama Power cutting down some tree limbs, but they’d finally gotten out of town when she was halfway through her latte. Leon had dozed off, snoring slightly with his head against the window as they got out of town on the state road, passing through fields of cotton and corn and orange-red dirt. The state road was stained orange on the edges, the white lines looking like her fingertips after eating a bag of Cheese Puffs. It was supposed to be an easy drive; she didn’t need to make any turns, just keep following the state road that would take them straight to Corinth. But a bridge over a stream was being worked on and there was a detour, taking them down an unpaved road with cotton fields on either side, barely room for her Cooper Mini, and God help them if they met a truck or something coming the other way. Ten minutes down that dirt road and her latte was gone, finished, nothing left. Then she’d turned the wrong way when she’d reached the other state road—but it wasn’t her fault. She’d thought the sign was wrong—how could a right turn take her back to Tuscaloosa? But then she’d figured there must have been more twists and turns on the back road than she’d thought, and turned left. She’d gone almost seven miles before she say the TUSCALOOSA 7 miles sign, and had to make a U-turn in someone’s driveway.

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was stereotyping, but she hated driving on country roads in rural parts of the South.

You can see how rough the story is in its initial stage; it definitely needs work. There are also things missing from it in this draft; things I need to add in to make it stronger, to add nuance, to make the sense of dread and discomfort the characters feel more clear; I want the reader to feel that same sense of unease.

And I do think writing all these short stories this year has been enormously helpful to me, not only as a short story writer but as a writer in general; short stories give you the opportunity to stretch and try things you can’t try in a novel; different themes and voices and styles.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Dress You Up

I started writing another book yesterday.

Please note I didn’t say worked on the book, but started writing another book. Yes, that’s right; I am working on a Scotty book (I did start writing Chapter Fifteen yesterday), have the WIP as well that I’ve not touched in a while, and am trying to whip the last two stories for my short story collection into shape–but I started writing another book yesterday.

I am clearly completely insane.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a noir novel for awhile, with a gay main character; kind of a Hard Case Crime-style novel with a gay male protagonist. I know who my main character was; I knew who the young, sexy young man and young woman who would be the focus of the cover were, and even had a slight, amorphous idea of the plot of the book; I even knew the opening scene of the book would take place in a deserted alley late at night behind the gym the main character owned; the gym was simply called Muscles, and that was also the name of the book. But as I finished polishing “My Brother’s Keeper” for it to be read aloud for its final polish, an idea kept nagging at me. And as I started writing Chapter Fifteen, it began taking shape in my mind. And I knew it was the opening of Muscles, which I’ve never known quite how to structure. It came to me yesterday while I was working on other things, so I decided–in my Greg is completely crazy way, that the smart thing to do was go ahead and write it down, before I forgot it–I’ve done that so many times–and so I started writing it. Next thing I knew I was a thousand words in, and I ran out of words–but I know where it needs to go from that opening, and I even know how chapter two is going to play out. I really have this wonderful idea for the continuation of the chapter that I really want to try to do–weaving back story in around action–which is going to be hard to pull off, but I am very excited to try it.

I can’t wait for this weekend to get here so I can seriously work on all of this stuff!

I’ve also had three more ideas for short stories pop up lately–all amorphous, all thoughts simply swirling around inside my head, without form, without fully formed characters, without a cohesive plot or story–but the titles are there: “Malevolence,” “Headshot”, and “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge.” It feels so good to be creative again, you have no idea, Constant Reader; last year was such a barren, fallow experience creatively that, while it’s frustrating in some ways to have so many ideas swirling around inside my head, making it hard for me to focus the way I need to on the stuff that needs to be focused upon, it’s also kind of a blessed relief to know my creativity is still there. It’s also weird, because I’d forgotten that it’s always like this when I am writing a book; my creative ADD kicks in and I am all over the place, and every time I have to re-discipline myself, keep it under control and focus it on the work at hand. I think this is also why I never like my novels very much and am never very satisfied with them; because the entire time i am working on them I want to be working on something else and it feels forced.

WHY DIDN’T I FIGURE THAT OUT THIRTY BOOKS AGO?

Sigh.

At least I’m still capable of learning, which is something.

So, in honor of me learning something, here’s the opening of the first Chanse MacLeod short story EVER, “My Brother’s Keeper”:

It had been twenty-five years but Cottonwood Wells still stank.

I’d forgotten about the smell from the oil refinery just outside of town, near the oil fields where my father had worked. It hung over the town like a shroud, poisonous and foul. When the wind blew from the north the stench was almost unbearable. The trailer park where we lived was on the side of town closest to it so there was no escaping it, but I never got used to it. I tolerated it, like so many other things I tolerated growing up in that town, but I was always aware of it.

There was a Best Western now at the exit from I-10, and a Days Inn across the street. I pulled into the Best Western parking lot because it was easier. I got my briefcase and rolling suitcase from the hatch of my Subaru Forrester. In the distance, on the other side of town, I could see the flaming stacks where they burned off excess gas at the refinery. What used to be fields just on the way into town from the highway was now the enormous parking lot of a sprawling Wal-Mart Super Center, a Lowe’s on the other side. Like everywhere else in America, Cottonwood Wells had fallen victim to the plastic commercialization of the chain stores. There was a Whataburger and a McDonalds on the other side of the highway, and gas stations. I could see the line of fast food signs on the way into town past the Wal-Mart: Burger King, Arbys, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut. All we’d had when I was a kid was a Sonic Drive-in downtown on the main drag, and a McDonalds.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Fresh

Well, I managed to get that slog of Chapter Fourteen finished yesterday; only managed about twenty-seven hundred words, but as I mentioned in the morning, I was tired and slightly out of sorts all day. I also worked on “My Brother’s Keeper” a little bit; not enough to get it finished and ready for what I call the “read aloud polish”, in which I read the story out loud to make sure the language and sentences flow properly. It also helps me catch repetitions. But its getting closer to that stage, and I am most happy about that; perhaps I’ll be able to do the read-aloud this weekend. I’d also like to do a read aloud of another story–not “Don’t Look Down,” there’s a lot more work necessary on that story, pruning and tweezing and adding things; since it’s a longer story I need to know my main character a lot more, and I am still not sure I have the opening right.

I have also decided that I am going to try to write a story for the Malice Domestic anthology for 2019; it has a gastronomy theme. I love testing myself with themed anthologies; to see if I can write to the theme, stretch the theme, and stretch myself as a writer. I rarely, if ever, get into these anthologies, of course; but I enjoy the challenge of trying.

(Oh, sure, I get a little bitter when I don’t get accepted, but then I move on and get over it. Life’s too short, you know. Well, is IS.)

We were also terribly distressed to realize last night that we were caught up on The Terror; I hadn’t realized the show was still airing. Sigh. Now we have to find something else to watch, as another episode won’t be available until next week. Incredibly annoying, but there you have it. I do have some thoughts about it–some especially about the gay character of Cornelius Hickey, adroitly played by Adam Nagaitis, who may be stealing the entire series out from under the rest of the cast–but I am going to reserve those opinions until I finish watching the series. It does, however, speak to how compelling and good the show is that Paul and I were both enormously disappointed to realize we had to wait until next Wednesday for another episode; we were really looking forward to seeing it through until it’s inevitable end this week.

Adam Nagaitis:

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And here’s hoping Chapter Fifteen will not be the slog Chapter Fourteen was.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

All She Wants to Do is Dance

Hello, Wednesday, how are you this morning? I’m a little out of sorts this fine spring morning in New Orleans; my sleep has been restless this week and thus I am not as rested as I would prefer. The book has turned once again into a slog, but the best thing about the slog is–as I was slogging through Chapter Fourteen yesterday–I had one of those “only when I am writing a Scotty book” moments: when I get bored with what I’m writing so I toss in a plot twist out of nowhere. And it’s a good one too; I can’t believe it never crossed my mind to do this. It also makes sense with what else is going on. I do think this book is going to eventually turn out to be something pretty decent; it’s just getting this slog of a first draft finished. It’s going to be a lot more sloppy than the first drafts usually are; because I am not going back and polishing whenever I get stuck, I am simply forcing myself to keep going.

It also occurred to me yesterday that since it was May 1, I am officially further behind than I’d wanted to be. I wanted to have the first draft finished by now, and obviously, I am still slogging through the middle, with at least another eleven chapters to go. Zounds! Zoinks! Heavy sigh! I also need to finish revising/rewriting some short stories, and need to remember to buy and send a mother’s day card to my mother.

Must. Make. List. Must. CONSULT. List. Regularly.

There’s no point in having a list if you don’t look at it, after all, and avoiding consulting the list for fear its length, and the things still to be crossed off, is not an excuse. It’s simply enabling the procrastination.

So, despite being tired, I am determined to get Chapter Fourteen finished today, and I am going to go back and polish/revise “My Brother’s Keeper.” That is the goal for the day (well, that and paying bills since its payday; avoiding thinking about it because it’s depressing isn’t going to make it go away).

Sad, harsh truths.

What was really funny was yesterday I was looking through real estate listings for a part of New Orleans where one of my characters in the book lived; I’d found a house the day before whilst working on Chapter Thirteen and described it. But the website was still up yesterday, and I looked at it again, and the perfect house for this character was sitting right there, a couple of rows below the one I’d used; one of those ‘faux Tara’ type houses that pretentious nouveau riche southern people like to build and live in; with the wide veranda and, of course, the ever-present, stereotypical COLUMNS. But I wasn’t feeling particularly witty at the time, nor did I want to take the time to revise the entire section, so I simply put in a note in bold, revise this and make it a plantation style house and make lots of snarky Gone with the Wind jokes.

I do love when that happens.

We are also still watching The Terror, which is quite well done. I am always amazed when the credits roll because the episodes go by rather quickly, despite the fact that the story actually moves rather slowly. I did comment last night, after we had watched two episodes, that I couldn’t believe we were only five episodes in, because the show is so complex and layered yet seems so simple on the surface, that it seems we’ve been watching for a long time and should be closer to the end than we actually are. That’s some pretty masterful storytelling, I think. I think I’ll be terribly sorry when this is finished.

In other exciting news, I got an ARC of Megan Abbott’s forthcoming Give Me Your Hand in today’s mail, which has me thrilled to no end. I love her work; and she somehow manages to surpass herself with each successive novel, which is no easy trick. Now, to find the time to read it. I also have ARCs of Lori Roy’s new novel as well as Alex Segura’s, and I simply have got to find the time to read these books.

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I know I’ve not been keeping up with the Short Story Project, but I have read a shit ton of stories already this year! I’ll get back to it, I promise, but I also think I’m going to proceed a little differently than I have been. I’ve been talking about every story I’ve read here, and I don’t think I am going to do that from now on; instead, I am only going to talk about ones that hit it out of the park for me. That may also mean I don’t post about newly read stories every day, but I think I would rather do this than try to find something to say about stories I didn’t care for as much as others; this ends up diluting the Short Story Project, and not allowing me the time nor the opportunity to delve as deeply into the stories I really enjoy.

And now, back to the spice mines. I only managed two thousand words yesterday; and as I said, I am behind. So, must make daily word counts!

Do What You Do

Ah, it’s only midweek and I’ve not made much progress on anything; the kitchen is a mess, and time is just slipping through my fingers on a daily basis. It’s a frustrating feeling, made even all the more frustrating because I know, even as I procrastinate, that I am going to deeply regret the procrastination the following day; and yet, I do it. I suppose this would be fodder for my therapist; why do I defeat myself all the time, or set myself up to fail? Is it a fear of failure, so if I do it to myself it won’t feel like failure?

These are the mysteries of Greg that I ponder on a daily basis.

I did work on a story yesterday, rather than the Scotty book or the website writing I’d promised to do, which I need to do, both of which I should just fucking do and get out of the way. Eye roll.  The story isn’t one I am sure about; it’s one that I originally wrote back in the late 1980s during one of my I’m going to take this writing thing seriously even though I have no idea what I’m actually doing periods when I used to write piles of short stories (rather like I have done this year already), and it’s one that I’ve always thought would work. I’ve taken a run at it again several times over the years, but at last I think I have it in a place where it will actually work. The voice is the key to this story, and I think I’m getting it right; the story itself is working itself out, but once I am finished with it this time around I need to go back and make sure I’ve got the voice right. This is, of course, not one of the stories I’m including in the collection, or the one I need to get the edits done on (of course, see what I mean about being self-defeating?), and the irony, of course, is that the edits aren’t that involved; and yet somehow I just can’t make myself do them.

Idiot.

But so it goes, and how it goes every day of my life. I am often called prolific, which always amuses me to a degree; I think of myself as lazy, because I know how much more I could get–or should be getting–done. I also know about all the time I waste, and how that time could have been used ever so much more productively.

In my own defense, however, I will say that I like this story I am working on–“Fireflies”–and I’ve always liked the story, and am glad that I am finally getting to it. I have so many story partials; so many stories that have been dancing around elusively in my brain for so long, yet whenever I try to finish them they dance away just out of the reach of my fingertips; “Fireflies” is one of those stories. It’s nice to finally be getting it finished, even though I should be working on other things. But I’ve diagnosed what’s wrong with both “Don’t Look Down” and “My Brother’s Keeper” this week; I’ve also figured out what’s wrong with “Once a Tiger” and how I can move forward with it. These are good things, really; and I am getting somewhere with the Scotty book as well with my brainstorming.

I just need to get past this feeling that Chapter Eleven is such a sloppy mess that I don’t want to even look at it again. I either need to go fix it, or move on to Chapter Twelve instead of agonizing over it like an idiot.

We started watching Shooter, a really terrific Ryan Philippe series last night; I think it was a limited series–a one-off, because I don’t really see how it could go another season. He plays one of the top Marine sharpshooter/snipers, who has retired; he is dragged back into the business by an old Marine buddy who now works for the Secret Service to figure out how someone is going to try to assassinate the president. He doesn’t realize he is being set up to take the fall for the assassination, and the conspiracy runs pretty fricking deep; but he manages to get away from the authorities and has to prove his innocence. It’s pretty good–and Ryan Philippe never disappoints. I’ve been a fan since his days as gay teenager Billy Douglas on One Life to Live back in the early nineties; and I am glad to see him keeping his career going on television now that he’s no longer in demand for film roles. He really makes a hot dad.

I also read two short stories for the Short Story Project. First up was “A Bus Ticket to Phoenix” by Willy Vlautin, from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music:

Otis woke that morning to Lenny in the bathroom yelling on the phone. It was past 11 a.m. at Winner’s Casino in Winnemucca, Nevada. Under the covers he shivered in the cold and could his breath fall out and disappear into the room. He got up to find the window open and the heat off.

He set the thermostat to high, shut the sliding glass window, and looked out to see some snow falling. It covered the van and trailer and the houses behind the motel. He stood seventy-seven years old, tall and thin with greasy brown hair. He found his clothes on the floor, dressed, and walked across the street to the casino. He used the toilet, lost five dollars on video poker, and went to the casino restaurant for breakfast.

Vlautin, the author, is a seasoned professional musician, which explains why this story rings so true and authentic, I suspect. Some old guys, professional musicians who are now getting old and have never made it big, just always managed to find work and have spent almost their entire lives on the road, are now touring with some musclebound young up and comer in country music. The crime is that their stuff keeps disappearing, with something being stolen at every stop on this tour. The singer is kind of a dick, and so is his manager…and while the crime aspect of the story isn’t it’s strength, the depiction of the lonely, melancholy life on the road–and coming to the end of your lives without ever having made it big while continuing on because you can’t do anything else, is the most poignant and powerful part of this story.

I then moved back to Ross Macdonald’s The Archer Files, for another Lew Archer story, “Wild Goose Chase.”

The plane turned in towards the shoreline and began to lose altitude. Mountains detached themselves from the blue distance. Then there was a city between the sea and the mountains, a little city made of sugar cubes. The cubes increased in size. Cars crawled like colored beetles between the buildings, and matchstick figures hustled jerkily along the white morning pavements. A few minutes later I was one of them.

The woman who had telephoned me was waiting at the airport, as she had promised. She climbed out of her Cadillac when I appeared at the entrance to the waiting room, and took a few tentative steps towards me. In spite of her height and her blondness, the dark harlequin glasses she wore have her an oddly Oriental look.

“You must be Mr. Archer.”

A man is on trial in this unnamed northern or central California city for the murder of his much older, much wealthier wife. He clearly killed her for her money, or so the prosecution would have you believe. His only defense is at the time of the murder, he was with another woman–another woman whom he will not name, despite her being his only real chance at acquittal since everyone thinks he’s guilty. It is this woman who has hired Archer, and she has her own reasons for not wanting to be named…and so as Archer goes about his investigation, another murder is committed and he finally solves the case by finding the real killer…and yet everyone involved is guilty to some degree; perhaps not legally, but at least morally. This is the kind of case where the detective needs a long hot shower after to wash the stink off; which is of course, for me as a reader, the best kind of story. (Oh, yes, all that time period racism and misogyny is on display in this story; which kind of, as always, put me off–as you can see in the above opening paragraphs of the story.)

And now, to stop procrastinating and get back to the spice mines.

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