Up and Down

Tuesday morning and here we are. Life continues to move forward, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, and I continue to wake up every morning…which, let’s be fair, some mornings is a victory in and of itself.

I managed to get the Secret Project sent off yesterday, so we now we play the waiting game to see if it’s actually wanted. It was, quite actually, a lot of fun to do (I say now that it’s done) and I actually wound up taking 8000 words, polishing and revising, and wound up with 16,000. That was a lot of work to get done in one weekend, if I do say so myself, and I am feeling rather smug about it right now, thank you very much; it’s been awhile since I’ve felt smug about writing, so bear with me and let me have this for today, thank you very much.

And now, of course, I am free to get back to work on those pesky unfinished manuscripts that are just lying around, thank you very much, Baby Jesus.

I was exhausted yesterday and so slept really well last night; so I think today will be a better day than yesterday was. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se, but I was tired all day and when I’m tired I’m more prone to being emotionally on edge, which means I am constantly biting my tongue because I don’t want to snap at people for something that I wouldn’t ordinarily snap at someone for when I am not tired, which is a rather long run-on sentence. When I got home from work I retired into my easy chair to relax, which is what I pretty much did the entire evening (other than some filing, which I did when I got home). Dark Desire took a sudden turn in the episodes we watched last night, which was cool as I was beginning to get bored with its Fatal Attraction-type plot; these turns made it into something entirely different, which was very cool, and sparked my interest in watching again.

So, now it’s back to Bury Me in Shadows this coming weekend; this week I’m going to rest up my creative novel energies while messing around with some of the many short stories I’ve been thinking about but haven’t finished writing. It’s actually been a lovely year or so (not calendar, twelve months) of short story writing for me; even since I started the Short Story Project several years ago, where I decided to seriously focus on my short story writing while reading as many as I could, I’ve been doing fairly well with my short story writing–so much so that when I start thinking about the stories I’ve sold and published since turning in my last collection to my publisher, I inevitably forget some; I know when I was listing them the other day I forget a couple that were published last year–which puts me even closer to another collection than I thought I was. Maybe I’ll start making a more comprehensive list of those stories this week; and then go through the unfinished ones to determine which to include, so I’ll have a starting place and a plan–and you know, Constant Reader, I am all about having a plan.

And having the proposal finished has felt enormously freeing; I certainly feel as though a burden has been lifted from me this morning (I was too tired to really feel the relief yesterday) and I am excited to get back to my other writings again. I want to finish reading Cottonmouths so I can move on to the new book on the very top of my TBR pile: S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which I’ve been dying to read since its publication was first announced. I loved his novel My Darkest Prayer, which I read last year and thought was quite marvelous; and this new one has been getting raves everywhere, which is most exciting.

There are tropical things out there forming; one off the Texas coast, one deep south in the Caribbean Sea, and one out in the Atlantic. We’re going to feel their effects here in New Orleans undoubtedly; we always get something from them if they enter the Gulf of Mexico. One of the things I always dislike intensely about hurricane season is how it exposes our innate selfishness; we always want the hurricanes to go somewhere else–which means we are wishing death and destruction on faceless others. I’ve never been comfortable completely with that, nor with the relief that comes when a storm turns into a direction that means we’re out of danger.

But that’s all a part and parcel of life in the storm zone; the hurricane belt or whatever you want to call it (I don’t recall at the moment if they’ve ever given those of us on the Gulf Coast who are always in danger during the season a name, like Tornado Alley) and God knows I certainly am not in the mood or have any desire to deal with an evacuation of any kind this season–although it’s always a possibility. This year is the fifteen year anniversary of Katrina.

And yesterday was Paul’s and my twenty-fifth anniversary, which we celebrated by doing absolutely nothing other than bingeing episodes of Dark Desire.

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

Domino Dancing

I was very tired yesterday for most of the day, with the end result of not going to make groceries on my way home–an odious chore that has now defaulted to today. I slept very well last night, for the first time in a couple of nights, and slept later than I’d intended. I woke up at seven this morning, as is my wont, and I thought, oh just a few more minutes, the bed feels lovely and the next thing I knew it was after eight. I also feel like I could have stayed in bed for the rest of the morning without the slightest quibble or problem. But I peeled myself out of the bed and am now drinking my first cup of coffee. I was too tired last night when I got home to do much of anything, either, so I pretty much stayed in my easy chair for most of the night. We’re giving up on Defending Jacob, because the plot isn’t making much sense–it kind of went off the rails, which is a shame; it’s done very well and has a remarkable cast, but there’s only so much you can do with a script and plot that don’t really work all that well. It’s a shame, since I love both Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, but the material didn’t do right by them. We then started watching Dead to Me–the second season dropped yesterday–but while Christina Applegate (whom I love) and Linda Cardellini are pitch perfect, again, the story of season two didn’t grab either one of us, so we moved on to an Acorn show, Gold Digger, starring Julia Ormond, as a recently divorced, wealthy woman of sixty who has fallen for a handsome young man the age of her oldest son–and naturally, her children aren’t terribly thrilled about this. It isn’t clear if her lover actually loves her or is a gold digger; there are only two episodes, so I guess we’ll find out tonight.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. Shitstorms aplenty and as always, lots of foolishness. Rather than try to explain, I will send you to S. A. Cosby’s response to the attacks and outrage from “y/a twitter” (most of whom are pieces of shit, quite frankly) about ALA Booklist using the cover of his upcoming novel Blacktop Wasteland (which is getting the kind of advance buzz you don’t see very often in this business; similar to the buzz that built for Gone Girl and Rob Hart’s The Warehouse last year). You can see his response here, or if you’d rather, you can read the entire response not as a thread on Booklist’s website, right here. Perhaps the best thing about the entire controversy (which still makes my blood boil a little bit) is the incredible self-own of so-called “woke y/a twitter” to the cover of a crime novel written by a man of color and centering a man of color being featured on the cover of the American Library Association’s trade publication. I want you to sit and think about that for a moment: the American  Library Association. Which means librarians were the ones who saw it and became “outraged”, and therefore decided ALA needed to change the cover….LIBRARIANS. I’ve noticed over the years that “y/a Twitter” is borderline trash; they’ve already taken over the world of y/a publishing, obviously, and have decided that they, and only they, can anoint and crown the proper authors and the proper books; and the elitism and privilege on display is horrifying. Libraries, after all, are the key to the success or failure of y/a as a general rule; the librarians come after you, and your book, and you’re done. Y/A Twitter has done this before–there are at least three novels I can think of that they have come for; in one case, the book was pulled to be revised and I don’t remember what happened to the other two, frankly, after they were charged with racism and otherism (one was called The Black Witch–you can tell by the title it had a target painted on it almost from the font); I’d always meant to go read those books to see for myself how problematic they actually were (while recognizing that I read through a lens of white privilege). This happened to a friend of mine who wrote a book with a trans character; he got a detail wrong and y/a Twitter came for him and his book–the charge led by a trans librarian whose own book, I might add, was released recently to much applause from y/a Twitter. You see how insidious this is? How the self-righteous Madame Defarges and their knitting needles can pick and choose whose book is going to do well and whose isn’t?

And yet, for all their “woke” screaming and screeching about how “we need diverse books” and “own voices”–they have no problem rewarding straight white women writing books about queer youth for mainstream presses, while ignoring the work being done by actual queer voices writing about actual queer youth, rather than the nice straight white suburban lady’s view of what queer youth is. Only those published by the Big 5 need apply, as well–actual books about queer youth being written by actual queer people and being published by queer presses? Ignored, pushed away and aside–those books don’t matter (because obviously, if you aren’t published by the Big 5, clearly you don’t matter). God forbid the same straight white woman write about any other marginalized community; then they would be cultural appropriators and buried under a firestorm of angry tweets….but it’s perfectly okay for them to write about queer people.

Interesting, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I’ve recently decided to change the age of my main character in Bury Me in Shadows from seventeen to twenty-three was because I knew ALA and y/a Twitter would ignore the book completely; a book about a queer seventeen year old by a queer writer and published by a queer press? Not queer enough and not important enough–but by all means let’s applaud some books by straight women writing about teenaged gay male eunuchs who are just looking for love and romance. Straight y/a characters, of course, are allowed to experience love and lust and desire; gay characters have to be eunuchs…because, you know, gay sex is actually kind of icky, right, ladies?

I kind of have mixed feelings about the ALA, to be honest. I love libraries, and I love librarians, who are actually kind of fierce and usually are out there on the front lines every day fighting for the First Amendment and against the banning of books. But when I had my own experience with suppression and so forth; the ALA sat aside and pretended it wasn’t happening. I actually wrote to the ALA asking for help in that situation. They didn’t respond. Neither did Lambda Literary, for that matter, or any of the gay press. I wasn’t a big enough Hollywood star to merit any attention for what was actually happening from either Out or The Advocate–which have been joke publications cine before the turn of the century–but when push came to shove, not a word of support, nothing. The Publishing Triangle in New York and the ACLU took some action…but I can honestly say there’s no worse feeling than being targeted by a right-wing hate group, smeared and slandered by said hate group, and seeing ALA and Lambda Literary sit on their hands and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The great irony is that in the spring of 2006, well after this all had happened, ALA came to New Orleans–the first major conference to return to the city after the flood–and asked me to do a reading at one of their events. I did it, of course–but the whole “we did nothing at all while you and your work were under attack, but please, come read to our conference” kind of left me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth.

But y/a Twitter? As they pat themselves on the backs for their “wokeness”, they can all fucking go to hell and burn there for all eternity. By all means, keep promoting the people who kiss your ass and build up the books by your friends; because that’s really what ALA should be all about, right? Gatekeeping?

Disgraceful.

It is also very important to add to this that even after it was repeatedly pointed out to them by actual crime writers that it was 1) a book cover 2) a book by a man of color and 3) the cover was one that the author loved, they doubled down, refused to listen, and insisted that the cover was offensive and racist.

Yes, that’s right: y/a Twitter got a man of color’s book cover taken off the cover of ALA Booklist because they thought it was racist.

As for me, well, I cannot wait to read Blacktop Wastelandwhich you can order right here. Cosby’s first novel, My Darkest Prayer, was a revelation; and I honestly believe Cosby is destined to become one of crime fiction’s biggest stars. Blacktop Wasteland is going to be one of the books of the year–it’s getting starred reviews all over the place; the reason it was selected to be on the cover of the magazine in the first fucking place was because of the great review it got in Booklist, and their staff recognizing how important of a book it’s going to be this year.

Today I have to go get groceries because I was too tired to do so yesterday; I was tired all day for some reason, and I just got more and more tired the longer the day progressed. Maybe that was why I was so not into anything we were trying to watch last night; but I did manage to read another chapter of Thunder on the Right, and I did get another thousand words done on “Falling Bullets”–which I also want to try to get finished this morning before the Rouse’s run. There was a wonderful storm last night–lots of thunder and torrential rain, which I always enjoy and always helps me sleep better–and it looks hazy out there this morning. There’s branch and tree debris all over our sidewalk, so there was clearly some strong wind last night as well.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Do It Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Ramblin’ Man

I grew up reading and loving crime fiction (same with films and television shows), from the kids’ series to the stand-alone stories I could buy through the Scholastic Book Fairs. I moved on to Ellery Queen, Charlotte Armstrong, Agatha Christie, Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Erle Stanley Gardner as I aged out of the kids’ mysteries, but towards the tail end of the 1970’s, as I approached adulthood the crime stories being published no longer held much interest to me; I still read Holt and Stewart and Whitney other books usually referred to as “romantic suspense”; the stories with the straight white male experience centered were of less and less interest to me. The genre was growing stagnant in my eyes; even the later Whitney and Holt novels didn’t hold as much appeal as their earlier works did.

But the 1980’s ushered in a new era for crime fiction, as women stepped up and reinvigorated the genre, with writers like Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton taking the old tropes long-since grown tired and worn, and breathed fresh life into them by centering women and their point-of-view; hard-boiled tales of tough women who took no shit and were just as strong and intelligent and kick-ass as their male counterparts.

The crime genre is thriving currently; women continue to do extraordinary work in our field, but one of the more exciting developments in their wake is the work that traditionally marginalized voices have been doing. I myself noted towards the end of last year that I needed to diversify my incredibly lily-white reading list, and started added diverse voices into my selections, the new crime fiction, and I am so excited to see writers of color and queer writers breathing new life into our genre. It has been an education, from the brilliance of Steph Cha and Angie Kim, through the authentic and original voices of Kellye Garrett, Walter Mosley, Rachel Howzell Hall, and now, S. A. Cosby.

my darkest prayer

I handle the bodies.

That’s what I say when people ask me what I do for a living. I find that gets one of two responses. They drift away to the other side of the room and give me a nervous sideways glance the rest of the night or they  let out a nervous laugh and move the conversation in another, less macabre direction. I could always say I work in a funeral home, but where’s the fun in that?

Every once in a while, when I was in the Corps, someone would see me at Starbucks or that modern mecca Wal-Mart in my utility uniform. Sometimes they’d catch me in my dress blues after a military ball just trying to grab something before heading back to the base. They would walk up to me and say, “Thank you for your service.” I’d mumble something like “no, thank you for your support” or some other pithy rejoinder, and they would wander away with a nice satisfied look on their faces. Sometimes what I wanted to say was, “I took care of the bodies. The bodies with the legs blown off or the hands shredded. The bodies full of ball bearings and nails and whatever some kid could find to build his IED. I loaded the bodies up and dragged them back to the base, then went out on another patrol and prayed to a God that seemed only to be half-listening that today wasn’t the day that someone had to take care of my body.”

But I don’t think that would have given them the same warm and fuzzy feeling.

My Darkest Prayer is a debut novel for an amazing new voice, one that needs to be heard, and one I am looking forward to reading more from. It’s as hard-boiled as they come; as I read I heard echoes of influence from writers as disparate and diverse as Ross MacDonald and Walter Mosley; our hero Nathan Waymaker is a former Marine who now works–and lives–at a funeral home–he indeed, as he states so clearly in his opening sentence, handles the bodies.

I don’t know if there are many crime novels or crime series where the main character works in a funeral home, but if My Darkest Prayer is an example of the sub-genre, I’m here for it.

Nathan is, as I mentioned, a former Marine, a current funeral home employee, and a resident bad-ass. He’s got some baggage of his own–his parents were killed by a drunk driver, whose father was a bank president, and all the evidence “disappeared”. As the book opens, a local preacher, head of the local New Hope Baptist Temple in a neighboring town, Esau Watkins. Esau used to be a petty crook before finding the “light”–but Nathan is pretty sure it was all a con–and although the death is ruled a suicide, handling the body Nathan is also pretty certain it was murder–and the same crooked sheriff’s department that covered up his parents’ deaths is also covering up the truth about how the good reverend met his end. One of the ladies from the Temple offers Nathan a couple of grand to ask questions and to help figure out how the good reverend came to his end…and soon, we are being led on a fast-paved thrill ride involving orgies, porn stars, megachurches, corrupt cops, and blackmail.

I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and can’t wait to read more of Cosby’s writing. This book is unsentimental and sometimes harsh as it explores issues of faith, spirituality, class and race; and there are so many simple truths stated so baldly and honestly that it’s not only refreshing but a revelation.

“No one ever buries an evil man,”  he said.

He was a short tank of a man with broad shoulders and a wide chest.

Nowadays, the refuge was becoming a ghost town. With desegregation came freedom. Freedom gave birth to choices. Now brown and black people could go to the mall, to the beach, to the movies relatively certain they wouldn’t be lynched or beaten. Most of the time.

This is a simply extraordinary debut novel, and as I said, I’m really looking forward to Cosby’s next novel.

Kodachrome

Friday morning bliss.

It kind of feels like Saturday, which means I’m going to soon be completely disoriented, with no idea what day it is any day. Which is kind of lovely; I rather enjoy being a little off-kilter. It’s one of my many peculiarities; the vast number of weird idiosyncrasies housed inside my head. I didn’t sleep well at first last night, so I took something around two in the morning to help me sleep, so I wound up sleeping later than I usually do and am still a bit groggy this morning. While this is most definitely not a terrific start to my long weekend mini-vacation, I am going to roll with it. I am going to keep drinking my coffee, eat a little something (I forgot to eat yesterday, so my stomach is empty and deeply unhappy with me this morning), and perhaps retire to my easy chair a little later on to finish reading S. A. Cosby’s  My Darkest Prayer, which I am really enjoying.

I just hate that I have so little time to read during the week anymore. Books continue to pile up and the TBR pile grows like kudzu over a field in Alabama. But it’s okay; it’s always been that way around here; never enough time to read everything I want to read. That’s what it would say on my tombstone, were I to have one: NEVER ENOUGH TIME TO READ. (I do not intend to be buried or have any kind of tombstone/marker/any such thing; I want to be cremated and the ashes spread into the Mississippi River at Jackson Square–after all my organs are harvested)

I also suspect, given how groggy my body still feels (that first cup of coffee worked only on my brain thus far) that I most likely won’t be leaving the house today, other than taking recycling and/or garbage to the cans in the front of the house. I like those days, really; if I were given a choice I would probably never leave the house, which is one of the many reasons it’s probably best that I never have a work-at-home job ever again; I would never interact with people outside the artificiality of social media.

I do intend to write today–I have a couple of interviews I need to get done–and I’d like to maybe even get started on my next chapter of Bury Me in Shadows–and there are a ridiculous amount of emails that need to be answered or deleted in my various inboxes. A ridiculous amount–I’ve let them slide all week knowing I had a five-day weekend with which to deal with/answer them. I’m also going to launder the bed linens (it’s Friday, after all) and there’s also a load of laundry in the dryer that’s going to need to be folded and put away. The kitchen/office is messy–at least, it needs to be straightened up, and I of course need to move that stack of books off the counter, where I placed them in order to pose them for the obligatory stack of copies of the new book photos, which I took Thursday morning, methinks, or Wednesday night; I cannot be certain of when I precisely did take the pictures, as well as put together the stack of books to send to people to whom I owe copies of the book.

Which also means I need to go get envelopes to put them in–which means venturing out into the heat advisory to get them from the Office Depot on St. Charles. Heavy heaving sigh. I suppose there are worse things? I was also thinking it might be fun to get a pizza from That’s Amore this weekend (it IS my birthday weekend, after all), but that might need to wait until Saturday or Sunday.

Last night we watched Animal Kingdom, and after Paul retired upstairs to do his usual “night-before-work” prep, I watched a documentary about Bob Fosse on Youtube; Steam Heat, which was rather interesting. (As you might be thinking, my interest in Bob Fosse–and Gwen Verdon–came from watching Fosse Verdon, which was spectacular.) I find the Fosse choreographer/director aesthetic interesting; and I’ve also enjoyed watching old clips of Gwen Verdon performing live–there aren’t many, unfortunately; particularly when you consider she was one of the biggest Broadway stars of her time; she won more Tonys than any other major stage diva, including Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, but isn’t as well known as they are to modern audiences. Verdon’s virtuosity and charisma doesn’t come across as completely on film as it must have on stage, but you cannot help but admire the commitment and the dance ability she displayed. I was telling Paul how ubiquitous the music from Sweet Charity was at the time it was playing on Broadway. Everyone knew “If They Could See Me Now” and “Hey Big Spender”; it was interesting watching a clip of the latter from the film version and realizing that I knew all the words, every beat of the song, and every highlight–simply from watching variety shows on television in the late 1960’s.

And let’s face it–even the film version of Cabaret was right up Verdon’s alley had she been young enough; Sally Bowles is the kind of role she inhabited to perfection.

Which reminds me, I would like to watch Cabaret again. I watched it again a few years ago, for the first time since I was a teenager (when I didn’t get it at all; but was watching the disemboweled ‘cut-for-television’ version, where the bisexuality was completely erased from the film, which also removed the sense from the story), and was enthralled by its absolute brilliance. (I still think The Godfather is a far superior picture, but can see why Academy Awards voters went for it in so many categories at the time instead of voting for The Godfather.)

And maybe I should reread The Berlin Stories by Isherwood again. I did read most of the Isherwood oeuvre back in the day, but would probably appreciate his work more now than I did when I read them.

All right, I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read My Darkest Prayer for the rest of this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Do You Wanna Dance?

VACATION!

I’m in the Lost Apartment and I am home and I am vacation for the next five days. Sing hallelujah!

I’m planning on not doing much of anything today–just rest up, relax, and get some shit done around here–cleaning and organizing, mostly–and not even going to try to read or write anything today. I have to admit I am a bit fried from this past work week, more so than usual, but it’s most likely the hangover from finishing the big project this past weekend.

And you know it doesn’t kill me to take some down time every now and then.

But I do want to spend the next five days polishing off Bury Me in Shadows, I want to finish reading My Darkest Prayer and read Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, I want to get some other writing done, and I want to clean out my kitchen cabinets and reorganize the books on the laundry room shelves. I need to ship some copies of my book out to people I owe copies to, and I want to do some research on Civil War letters for a short story I’m writing. I also have two sets of interview questions to answer, and some interview questions to write, and there’s a round table discussion I agreed to participate in that I keep meaning to do and then forgetting to do because I never put it on any of my to-do lists–but I’m hopeful that mentioning it on here might do the trick of triggering my mind to remember about it. One can hope, at any rate.

Or…I may not do a goddamned thing.

That’s also a possibility.

I cannot believe my birthday, which has always served as a reminder to me that the year is coming to a close, is almost here. But there you have it. Time slips past so quickly these days. I’ll be fifty-eight. I think I look okay for my age–people always think I’m younger than I am, or are just incredibly kind–and even if I am deluding myself, who am I hurting? Nobody, that’s who, and if you don’t like it, I don’t care.

I love that the older I get the less I care about things that used to matter so much to me, and find it so hard to believe I ever gave those things a second thought.

And now, I am off to my easy chair to begin my fabulous long weekend.

Later, bitches,

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Why Can’t We Live Together

Wednesday! What a lovely day, as the countdown to my long birthday weekend begins. Just one full day at the office today, and then a partial day tomorrow, and then it’s vacation time for me. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

It’s funny–I am doing this Facebook challenge, where you share the cover of a book you enjoyed reading every day for seven days, with no comment, review or explanation. I am doing books I loved the hell out of reading, and started with Valley of the Dolls (of course) and The Other Side of Midnight, and yesterday’s was Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, which is long overdue for a reread. (For that matter, I should reread both Valley of the Dolls AND The Other Side of Midnight as well; I’ve not read a Sidney Sheldon novel since the 1980’s–I think the last of his I read was Windmills of the Gods.) Another book due for a reread is today’s choice, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is, quite simply, superb and remains one of my favorite books of all time to this day (maybe I’ll treat myself to a reread this coming long weekend?).

I wrote nary a word yesterday–not one single word, unless you count yesterday morning’s blog, of course. I never count the blog in my daily writing totals, by the way; I always see it as more of a warm-up exercise for writing, any way, a tool I use to get the words flowing and forming in my head so that throughout the day I can, whenever I can, scribble some words down. I slept deeply and well again last night–huzzah!–and with two successful night’s sleep, should be able to get home and write tonight after work (I was exhausted again last night–the twelve hour days are becoming a bit much for my aged self, methinks). Paul and I relaxed last evening and watched “The 60’s” episode of the CNN docuseries The Movies, which is a very interesting decade of America history, particularly when you look at, for example, the path of American film in that decade. (I also recommend Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is about the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967, a true turning point for American film, where the last vestiges of the studio system were finally being swept away and a new, uncertain era for American film was set up.)

It’s an interesting journey from the days when Doris Day’s was the biggest box office star with her sex comedies to seeing Midnight Cowboy win Best Picture.

This morning, after I finish this, I need to do the dishes and I need to run get the mail on my way to the office. I have some books arriving, thanks to cashing in my health insurance points (it’s a long dull story; suffice it to say that my health insurance has a program where doing healthy stuff and taking care of yourself properly earns you points, and you can then use those points for gift cards; I chose Amazon so I can get books.) Some have already been delivered, others should be arriving today and hopefully will be there by the time I head down there–I got another copy of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, because I want to reread it and write an essay about the sexually fluid Ripley–along with the new Silvia Moreno-Garcia horror novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and Richard Wright’s Native Son.  I read Native Son when I was in college for an American Lit class….and I’d really like to give it another read when I am not being constantly bombarded with foolish professorial pronouncements about its meaning and symbolism from an old white man and a bunch of racist white students.

I also need to read more James Baldwin, and I need to read these Chester Himes novels in the TBR stack as well. I also need to finish reading My Darkest Prayer. Perhaps today between clients? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Heavy heaving sigh. There’s simply never enough time to read.

I was thinking the other day that, in a perfect world for me, my days would be get up in the morning, answer emails and do other on-line duties, write for the rest of the morning and the early afternoon, run errands, go to the gym, and then come home to read. Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely? It certainly does to me. But alas, this is not a perfect Greg-world and I have to go to a day job Monday through Friday, but at least my day job is one in which I help people every day, which does make it a lot more palatable. I can’t imagine how miserable I would be if I had a job that I hated. I actually don’t hate my job, and consider myself lucky as one of the few Americans who don’t; my only resentment is the time spent there could be time spent reading or writing, which would be my preference.

And on that cheery note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I need to get Chapter 23 written and be one step closer to finished with Bury Me in Shadows, and I’d also like to get some words written on “Moist Money” today–“The Spirit Tree” can wait.

Have a lovely Wednesday, all.

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Get Down

Monday morning, and perhaps a more restless night of sleep than one would have preferred; but I did sleep and am counting that as a win. It may take a little longer this morning than usual for me to become human, but I am awake, I do feel sort of rested, and it’s the first day of a rather short week for me. Friday begins the long weekend I am taking for my birthday, so my half-day on Thursday will be the end for me until the following Wednesday, which is rather awesome, actually, and I believe I come back to a half-day Wednesday, even–one of my co-workers wants to permanently switch Wednesday and Thursday with me, which is fine. Having two long days, a short day, a regular day and then a short day seems more do-able, and workable, than what I’ve been doing and I’ve been thinking lately that I need to somehow change my schedule; a co-worker’s need for his class schedule made up my mind for me. We’ll see how it works out, won’t we?

Yesterday I finished Major Project around two in the afternoon, which is an enormous load off my mind. I spent the rest of the day watching the US Gymnastics championships (men in the late afternoon, women last evening) before calling it a night and going to bed; as I sat at my computer drinking my sleepy-time tea, an idea for the story that’s due at the end of the month came to me. I actually wrote the first couple of hundred words in my journal; today I’ll turn them into the beginnings of the short story. I have three chapters left to write in the WIP, and two short stories to write by the end of the month as well as an essay I need to get finished by the end of the month. With Major Project out of the way, now it seems like I’m swimming in time; so much free time to get everything finished I want to get finished by Labor Day, plus two long weekends for me before we get there. I suddenly feel so much more comforted than I did last week.

It’s amazing what getting a huge hunk of work out of the way can do for your confidence.

I also want to finish S. A. Cosby’s wonderful My Darkest Prayer this week, so I can devote the weekend to Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, and then I will probably get back to the Diversity Project, reading Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava. I also have the new Alex Marwood, The Poison Garden (hello, Labor Day weekend!) on hand, as well as several others I really would like to get to. I had some points through my health insurance at work (it’s a long, complicated, boring story how all that works, so I won’t bore you or me with it) so I converted them to an Amazon gift card, so I have some birthday presents to myself coming in the mail–amongst them Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird, the new Donna Andrews (putting me three books behind in my Andrews reading), Terns of Endearment, and of course Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which will be released on my birthday and should also arrive on my birthday. There are some others as well–I don’t remember what all I ordered, to be honest–but I should have some more points to convert over this week, and I am going to order some more. There are so many good books, and so little time in which to read them all.

The gymnastics yesterday was fun to watch; Sam Mikulak, the six time US champion, is adorable, and of course Simone Biles, who won her sixth title this weekend as well, is probably the greatest gymnast of all time. She’s so much better than everyone else in the world, and keeps getting better as she gets older. And of course, next year is the Tokyo Olympics, which is always a good time. Although…it will be weird watching an Olympics without Michael Phelps.

And on that note, perhaps it is time to get back to the spice mines.

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Last Song

Sunday morning, and so much on my plate this morning. That’s okay, Constant Reader, I slept really well and once I have enough caffeine in my system, I will be up for the challenge. I still need to do some chores around the apartment today as well, but I am going to be keeping my head down and focussing on the things that need to be finished today–or at least, that’s the plan this morning. Being distracted is, of course, always a possibility; I may even close my web browsers to avoid that once I get started on my work.

Yesterday I spent some time with S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer, which is absolutely fantastic. That voice, and the influence of writers of color–Walter Mosley and Gary Phillips–are apparent, as are the biggies of crime–Chandler and both MacDonalds (Ross and John  D.) are also there. The result is staggeringly original, a little raw, and completely absorbing. One reason I want to get all my writing and chores done this morning is so I can curl up in my chair with the book later today.

I also started streaming a CNN documentary series last night on Hulu–The Movies, which is very similar in set-up to their decades documentary series; a history of film by decade, which is quite frankly the smartest way to go; you certainly can see the difference in film by decade. It was fun to see films I’ve either not seen nor heard of (or had but forgotten) talked about, along with the blockbusters, the big movies, the award-winners, and how stars built their careers from their big break movie. I highly recommend The Movies, even if you aren’t a film fan; it’s also an interesting look at how films reflected the times they were made, which is always, for me, the best way to examine popular culture. (I really wish someone would write a non-fiction book about the gay publishing boom of the 1970’s, a decade that saw a gay novel, The  Front Runner, hit the New York Times bestseller list; saw the birth of a queer literary sensibility, and also saw the enormous success of the Gordon Merrick novels–and no, please don’t say why don’t you write it, Gregalicious? There’s no time for me to write anything like that, and as it is, I have to start reading VOLUMES of research about gay life in post-war Hollywood, as well as what was going on in Hollywood in that time as well, and again, so very little time.) I think literature also holds up a mirror to society much in the same way as film and television does; it would be interesting to see a series of essays on how books published not only reflected, but influenced the society which produced them.

As I was reading My Darkest Prayer yesterday, I was thinking about how some of our larger cities, with their more cosmopolitan and international feel, should be reflected more in crime novels by, about, and for minorities. I’d love to read some crime fiction about New Orleans about people of color by people of color–whether it’s African-American, or Latino, or Vietnamese, for that matter. I’d love to see the same for cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, to name a few. I loved Steph Cha’s Juniper Song novels, as well as her soon-to-be-released Your House Will Pay, which is, simply stated, genius. I’ve always wanted, for example, to give Venus Casanova, the African-American police detective who is both my Scotty and Chanse series (as is her partner, Blaine Tujague) her own story–but at the same time I have never thought myself capable of telling her story, or having the right to do so, at any rate. I have a great idea for such a story–a way of writing the end to her story, as it were, which would of course mean removing her from the two series I already write afterwards, which would probably rank up there with shooting myself in the foot as it would mean introducing a new cop to both series…although that in and of itself might not be such a bad idea, either. Could be just the thing to shake both series up a little bit.

I’ve also thought about writing a stand-alone Colin book. I’d once thought about spinning him off into his own series–wouldn’t a gay undercover operative make for a great series? I had thought, originally, that after the initial Scotty trilogy I would write Colin out of the series (SPOILER) and possibly give him his own series. I thought it would be fun to do a gay kind of Indiana Jones/James Bond hybrid with our boy Colin as the lead of the story. (It’s always fun to revisit ideas I had in the past.) Katrina of course ended that possibility, but I am still thinking it might be an interesting idea to write a Colin stand alone before tackling the next Scotty, which is going to be Hollywood South Hustle. There are–I will tell you this now–some unresolved Colin issues left over at the end of Royal Street Reveillon, and it might be interesting to tell Colin’s story before we get around to getting back to another Scotty book. I’m also probably going to do at least one more Chanse novel as well, but I don’t know when I’m going to get to either of these stories–Chanse, Scotty, or Colin’s.

But the Venus story is reverberating in my brain, and I might just have to write it to get it out of my system. It’s working title is Another Random Shooting and I’m jotting ideas down in my journal as they come to me.

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. I want to get the Major Project done today, and some work on the book, too.

We’ll see how it goes.

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