Spooky

I’ve decided to launch a new reading project for this year: one in which I tackle rereading middle-grade mysteries. I am not going to limit myself to merely the series books I loved (although they will play a big role in the project), but will also include other mysteries I have, either in one of my reading apps or an actual hard copy, that do not belong to the series. My childhood memories aren’t as clear as I would perhaps like; then again, that period of my life was around fifty years ago, so it would be more of a miracle if I did have stronger memories.

The first two series books I ever read were not from either the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series; they were from the Trixie Belden series (The Red Trailer Mystery) and The Three Investigators (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave). Both series wound up being favorites of mine once I eventually got back to them and remembered them; I remember buying five Trixie Belden books at a store at the Ford City mall in Chicago, and I got my first five Three Investigators books from a Toys R Us, I think in the Chicago suburb of Berwin? The two series weren’t as ubiquitous or available as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; which made finding more of them a kind of triumph for me. I’ve already blogged about The Secret of Terror Castle, which was the first Three Investigators book in the series, so I won’t cover that one again. But recently I sat down and reread the second book in the series, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, and remembered again why I love this series so much.

“Help!” The voice that called out was strangely shrill and muffled. “Help! Help!”

Each time a cry from within the mouldering old house pierced the silence, a new chill crawled down Pete Crenshaw’s spine. Then the cries for help ended in a strange, dying gurgle and that was even worse.

The tall, brown-haired boy knelt behind the thick trunk of a barrel palm and peered up the winding gravel path at the house. He and his partner, Jupiter Jones, had been approaching it when the first cry had sent them diving into the shrubbery for cover.

Across the path, Jupiter, stocky and sturdily built, crouched behind a bush, also peering toward the house. They waited for further sounds. But now the old, Spanish-style house, set back in the neglected garden that had grown up like a small tropical jungle, was silent.

“Jupe!” Pete whispered. “Was that a man or a woman?”

Jupiter shook his head. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “Maybe it was neither.

The Three Investigators cases often began this way; with two of them (sometimes all of them) landing smack dab in the middle of something mysterious; whether it was the sight of a weird ghost as they walk past an abandoned house being demolished (The Mystery of the Green Ghost) or biking past an enclosed estate (The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow) or simply riding in the gold=played Rolls Royce limousine and almost getting into an accident (The Mystery of the Silver Spider). Many of their other cases begin with them being hired to find a lost pet, which turns into something more complicated and complex: The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon and The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy fall into this category….while the majority of their cases come by way of referrals from Alfred Hitchcock himself (and why has no one ever done a book about the licensing of the Hitchcoc name, and all the products the great director attached his name to? It’s far overdue.). The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot combines all three: the boys were referred by Hitchcock to a friend whose recently purchased parrot has either been stolen or gotten free; they are on their way to visit Professor Fentriss to talk to him about the missing parrot–which stuttered–when they hear the cries for help coming from within the house. They are confronted outside by a man with a revolver (he is described here, and throughout the book, as a fat man–even by Jupiter, who hates being called fat), who claims to be Mr. Fentriss and that the bird has returned; he also claims that Hitchcock had called him to say the boys were on their way over. As they are leaving they realize that the house had no telephone wires (which used to actually be a thing, before cell phones), so they go back. Indeed, the man they met was an imposter and Mr. Fentriss is also tied up in his home. They rescue him, discover that he bought the missing parrot from a sickly Hispanic man selling the birds (there were others) out of his donkey cart, and that his friend Irma Waggoner sent the peddler to them. (Note: the man is described, and referred to, over and over as a Mexican; he actually is Mexican, so it’s not necessarily problematic–other than the fact that no one knew he was Mexican at first; referring to all Latinx/Hispanic people as Mexican when they may not actually be Mexican is problematic. In an update they would undoubtedly change it to Hispanic–as he did speak Spanish as a first language and his English isn’t good–which we see when the boys find him later in the book.) Miss Waggoner’s parrot has also disappeared; it also spoke, as did Mr. Fentriss’. (I kept thinking as I read it for the first time but parrots don’t stutter; he would have to be taught to do that. Very early on Jupiter also mentions this; I always feel inordinately proud of myself every time I read Jupiter saying this) Eventually, it turns out that the man who taught the birds special speeches had a masterpiece painting in his possession, and each parrot speaks a clue to the location of where he hid it when he realized he was dying–so the boys not only have to find all the parrots to get all the messages, they also have to decipher the clues and find the painting. Eventually they do–while also trying to avoid a flamboyant international art thief and his thugs–in a spooky, abandoned graveyard in the fog. A little bit of luck, and the boys solve the mystery–but despite that piece of luck, the entire case is actually solved by deductions based on the evidence presented thus far, with Jupiter revising his theories whenever new evidence is presented.

I love this series, and the books still make for compelling reading today. Some of the story is dated of course–no cell phones, no computers for research (Bob does all their research at the library, where he works part time), the casual racism of the time–but many of the books still hold up. Hitchcock’s death obviously impacted the series, but I’ve never understood why The Three Investigators never became as popular as–if not more so–than Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. The three boys have distinct personalities–you know Pete will never want to investigate anything complicated, but will inevitably prove how courageous he actually is; Bob is studious and not as easily excitable as Pete, and he’s the one who usually follows Jupiter’s train of thought while Pete always gets confused; and Jupiter himself is a young Sherlock Holmes. Robert Arthur, who wrote the original series up through number 11, The Mystery of the Talking Skull (someone else wrote number 10, The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, which also ironically is the first of the series I actually read). Arthur won two Edgars from Mystery Writers of America for his radio plays; he also ghost edited some of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies I remember from my childhood. The Three Investigators are no longer in print, because of legal disputes between the Arthur estate and Random House about who owns the characters and so forth; it’s a shame. The books are still in print in many different languages–and are especially popular in Germany–where two of the books were actually filmed.

Most of my series books are in storage, but there are some still in the Lost Apartment–and I think when I am too tired to read something new, I may just get down a series book as an homage to my childhood and revisit some of these kids’ series.

Peace

And we have now slid into Saturday. I have to make groceries today–the first exploration of non-Rouse’s grocery making in over a decade- -get the mail and pick up a prescription, but other than that I have the entire day to myself to work on writing, read, try to get organized, and clean. It’s an ambitious program, but I suspect I can get much of it done today. I want to get the draft of my story for MWA finished this weekend, so I can polish it before I send it in (on the last possible day, of course) and I also have a lot of other work to buckle down and do for MWA.

I just need to focus, keep my head down, and not worry about how much I have to get done; that’s when I’ll get overwhelmed and literally get nothing finished, which I cannot allow to happen.

This also means I need to stop scrolling through Twitter and checking the news–but I have to say, yesterday was one of those days where I alternated between fury at the terrorist attack on the Capitol and laughing at the fucking stupidity of the treasonist traitors and their mea culpas as the terrorists get arrested, lose their jobs, and issue public statements claiming that’s not who I am. Um, it’s is EXACTLY who you are, you fucking treasonous trash, and I do really hope the rest of your life was worth it–because you aren’t heroes, 88% of Americans strongly disapprove of your behavior, and your own family, friends and co-workers are turning you into the FBI and other law enforcement. And Republican enablers? Miss me with that “healing” talk until they are all in jail–and I include Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in that, as well as the entire Trump family other than Barron. I also think Melania should be stripped of citizenship and deported for committing immigration fraud, not just for herself, but for her parents as well. There needs to be consequences and no leniency, otherwise it will happen again–and next time, they might be better organized and actually succeed.

I seriously can’t wait for the trials to begin, and the Congressional investigations. More people died at the Capitol than at Benghazi.

As I tweeted at Kellyanne Conway, your harvest has come in, Tokyo Rose, and you’re never going to wash the stink off.

But I am going incommunicado today, because as much I feel it’s important to witness history as it occurs, that witnessing isn’t going to pay the bills–and the bill always need to be paid. I also need to do some reading–I’ve got the ebooks of the latest MWA anthology, Deadly Anniversaries; an advance copy of Edgar winner Alison Gaylin’s The Collective, and am about to, at long last, start reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series*, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The threat to our nation from this past week is going to have to be put aside for me this weekend–no promises on next week’s between-client activities–so I can make sense out of the mess the Lost Apartment is in, and try to get some of these other things caught up as well. It’s very cold, if bright, this morning in New Orleans; I slept magnificently last night and feel incredibly well-rested this morning for the first time in a while. (Also, good news from the friend who had to have emergency surgery this week; that had also been weighing heavily on my mind.) Paul and I also need to find some new things to watch…

Yesterday as I made condom packs I watched an HBO MAX documentary called Alabama Snake, which was fascinating. The rural part of Alabama this happened in is a county in northeast Alabama, on the Tennessee state-line and very close to the Georgia. The highway I take when I drive north to Kentucky misses this county by quite a ways–swinging into Georgia, where I switch to I-75 in the lower Appalachians to head north through Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was, obviously, about a snake-handling pentecostal church whose preacher was convicted of trying to murder his second wife with rattlesnake bites. This all happened in the early 1990’s, and while I’d like to think things have changed in the nearly thirty years since, I suspect they haven’t changed that much (I have plans for my Corinth County where Bury Me in Shadows is set; there will be more stories and books set there methinks, and watching Alabama Snake helped a lot with that), which makes me feel a bit better about the manuscript I just turned in.

I seriously keep looking around at this mess and chaos I am in the midst of and every time, I am a little surprised someone hasn’t come along and taken care of it all for me! Which is probably the segue I need to bring this to a close for the day and get started on everything I need to get done around here. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

*Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series is one of my favorite mystery series of all time, and I strongly encourage you to read it, Constant Reader.

Break 4 Love

Thursday morning.

I slept rather well last night, even if I did keep waking up periodically throughout the night. I’m not sleepy or tired–at least not thus far,  but it’s still early, Today I have to turn in my Sherlock story, which means going over it one more time today and formatting it properly; it shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Am I nervous? Of course I am; it’s always nerve-wracking when you submit a story that outside of your comfort zone. I also learned yesterday at some point that McSweeney’s is taking submissions for a “queer” issue; I have a couple of stories that might work to submit there–with a little tweaking–so hopefully I will have the wherewithal to deal with doing both of those today.

We watched another episode of The Plot Against America last night, and it’s very well done, and creepy on so many levels. I’ve not seen much about the show in the zeitgeist, but it’s really quite worth watching.

I was tired last night when I finished my work-at-home work (well, it’s not finished, just finished for the day), and so it was another evening of scrolling through Youtube and falling into Youtube wormholes of lists and so forth–and old music videos–before Paul got home and I made dinner, then we talked for a while before watching an episode of the show. Such an exciting life I lead! I literally sometimes  wonder why I bother making myself write these entries every day.  But I am looking forward to this weekend at long last, and my email inbox has already gotten out of control and depressing to look at; my goal for this morning between screening people is to try to get it as cleaned out as possible. Not every email requires an answer, after all, and getting into the trap of answering every email is a fool’s game.

I’ve been extremely scattered again this week, what with all these new story beginnings and ideas I’ve been having. Creative ADHD is certainly the worst, and there are times when I simply can’t reign it in, no matter how hard I try. It’s also sort of frustrating because I know I’m never going to get all these stories written, no matter how hard I work on it; it’s just that some of the titles are almost too good to pass up, you know? I really think “Procession of the Penitents” is a great title; and the idea behind it is also equally good; an assistant ADA, new to her job, sitting second chair to the ADA in charge of sex crimes prosecutions, and the case is a gang-rape at a fraternity party. Then again, it might be too much story for a short story–I’m not certain I can get all the story into six thousand words or less; which sometimes is the problem with my ideas. Before I used to always think in terms of novels–oh this would make a great novel–knowing full well I’ll never get a chance to write every novel I want to write. When I started the Short Story Project two or three years ago, the entire point of it was to retrain my brain into thinking in terms of short stories with the new ideas; it’s worked in that regard, and only in some cases have I come to understand that it’s too much for a short story; but now at least I am thinking in terms of longer stories being novellas. There’s another one I’d love to write–novella or novel–centering Venus Casanova and her last case before she retires from the NOPD; it’s a great idea but then again we have the issue of “should a white gay man write about a black woman?” I mean, sure I can, but will it be authentic? Should I be sucking the air out of the room and taking a publishing slot away from a woman (or man) of color? Probably not, and being a minority myself (although, as I always say, I hit the jackpot by being a cisgender white male; gay is my only crime) doesn’t necessarily make it okay.

The Edgars are being announced today on Twitter at 11 am EDT; you might want to follow @EdgarAwards so you won’t miss a single announcement. Pretty cool. Ordinarily, about now I’d be waking up at the Grand Hyatt in another hour or two, getting some coffee, and getting ready to face the day of the Edgar banquet. I haven’t been in years–I think 2015 was my last attendance–and while I was dreading getting up on stage to speak in front of that glittering room of publishing literati, I’d rather be doing that right now than slurping down coffee and preparing to go to another day of work screening people for symptoms before letting them into our respective buildings. (I work at one building in the morning before switching to the other in the afternoon.)

But such is pandemic life. None of us saw this coming, and back in January when I assumed the role of Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, I certainly had no clue that I’d be presiding over the cancellation of the banquet (first time ever) and symposium (first time ever). Yay for making history?

Heavy heaving sigh.

Yesterday was also payday, but since the first isn’t until tomorrow I don’t have to start paying bills until then–so I am leaving things be, so as to maintain the illusion I have money in the bank for yet another day.

And on that note, hello spice mines! Time to put on my mining helmet and head on back in. Have a lovely Edgar Thursday, Constant Reader!

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I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

And so we go into self-isolation, of a sort.

Yesterday was not a good day, Constant Reader, I’m not going to lie to you about it. I got up early and went to the office, only to stay for only about four hours or so before departing to run some errands and come home. There’s a surreal feeling about everything. I was reminded of 9/11; after watching the news non-stop for hours and sending emails to friends and calling people and trying to get through, I ran some errands just to get out of the house and I remember, to this day, how eerie it felt. There weren’t any people out and about; not many, at any rate, and it was such a beautiful September afternoon. Everything seemed subdued. That’s how it felt yesterday driving to the post office. I stopped at Wal-mart as well to get a few things, and like Rouse’s on Saturday, so much empty shelving.

And of course, Mystery Writers of America had to cancel the Edgar banquet yesterday.

Cases in Louisiana continue to rise, and we had our fourth death overnight. It’s so weird, because the weather is so beautiful outside and even the construction site two lots over from the Lost Apartment is proceeding apace–I can hear them working on the building while I drink my morning coffee. I am going into the office today, once I get cleaned up and get going on my day–I have data entry work to do, and there’s other work that can be done while we aren’t seeing clients. It’s going to be very weird being in the office mostly by myself, but I am going to wear gloves and a mask to prevent contaminating any surfaces, and of course I’ll be washing my hands and face fairly regularly. There’s a lot of work to be done that we generally don’t get around to doing because we are so busy seeing clients, so I am going to try to get to work on those things over the next few days (or weeks) until we have the clearance to open and start up our programs again. I suspect we are also going to see a spike in STI’s in the upcoming months–gay men are still going to be horny and bored, and if the HIV risk didn’t stop people from having unprotected sex, I seriously doubt that this infection risk is going to stop anyone, either. But at this point I have no idea when we will be able to re-open and get back to work.

We streamed some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and I have to tell you, Constant Reader, watch this show. If you loved night-time soaps, especially in the 1980’s, and Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives, you’re going to love this show. Good campy melodrama, and all the stripper boys are pretty to look at. The true star of the show, though, is the actress playing Macarena (seriously) Medina. She’s magnificent, steals every scene she is in, and is just fantastic. She’s the Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan of this show, and she is absolutely amazing. There’s also a gay character and story-line on the show–young Jairo the stripper, who’s also mute, is gay and works as a hustler in addition to his stripping, and he’s sort of fallen into a relationship with Macarena’s emotionally damaged son. There’s drug cartels and murders and backstabbing and corporate espionage and–seriously, it’s amazing.

I’ve not written anything in days, and the deadlines loom, so I am going to have to get into the writing headspace soon or else I’ll never get anything finished the way I should.

And on that note, I am going to get ready to head into the office now. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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Breathe

Well, yesterday was wretched. The weather here changed once again overnight on Sunday, so my sinuses went haywire. Again. Coughing, didn’t sleep well, woke up every hour all night–it was dreadful, and there’s simply nothing worse than suffering through a twelve hour day when you’re worn out and don’t feel well. It kept up all through the day as well; I literally thought my head was going to explode a few times. I didn’t manage to get any writing done last night or any reading either; I just sat in my easy chair and whined a lot.

And ugh, how I hate losing an entire day’s work like that.

I do feel somewhat better this morning–there’s still a little congestion and coughing, but I did sleep better last night and do feel a better. I’ll probably go ahead and keep swigging Dayquil all day; it can’t hurt, and it’s not a bad idea. Hopefully I can get some writing done tonight after work. We shall certainly see, at any rate.

Obviously, with all the concerns about the coronavirus–and I fluctuate between thinking they’re over-exaggerating the crisis for ratings and they’re not telling us the whole truth to prevent a panic; sadly, both are viable options. As someone who has read Stephen King’s The Stand about thirty or forty times (it’s one of my favorite novels of all time; I’ve not reread it in a while so who knows if I’d find it problematic now?), alas, it’s easy to see what’s going on now and how it’s being reported as echoes from that novel.

But it’s okay; when your body isn’t up to par it’s okay to lose an evening’s work, even if it puts more pressure on you for the future. It’s also–as I sat in my easy chair waiting for death, like Camille–entirely possible that I won’t be able to get all three stories done in time for the end of the month, and the one I should truly focus is on is the Sherlock since it pays the best. But when have I ever done the thing that makes the most sense? Never. But I keep thinking that somehow I’ll manage to pull all three stories out of my ass somehow; the sale of my story on Sunday was an enormous confidence boost. Yes, I have a lot of responsibility and things to get done in my role with Mystery Writers of America, which has limited my time for writing; returning to the gym regularly also sucks more oxygen out of the room.

It’s interesting how, despite all the years and all the sales and all the books and all the award nominations, I am still insecure about my ability to write and produce good stories that people want to read. I have fought against this lack of confidence most of my life, quite frankly; ironically, I had more faith in my ability to write and create before I started publishing–it was always the fall-back: yeah, this job (or situation) sucks, but once I get my writing career going things will be better. I never had any doubt that I would one day be published; even if I had no idea how to go about making it happen or when, or what to do, or anything. It was only after I started writing and getting published that the doubt and insecurity began to plague me. It never seems to let up, either. I seem to recall earlier in my career, during the Scotty at Kensington/Chanse at Alyson days, that I wasn’t as insecure as I might be now; but it’s also entirely possible (since those were the antideluvian days before Katrina) that I don’t remember it as well; most of that time is fuzzy and seems to be the distant past to me now.

But I do know that I never had much confidence in my short story writing ability; and I think that’s the bottom line of all of this. I can never forget completely that fucking college professor who told me I’d never be published, based on a single short story I wrote for his class. If you’re still alive, sir, I hope your life is a complete misery because you had such a negative, long-lasting impact on mine, you worthless motherfucker. I’m probably the only one of your students who’s ever made it and I am probably the student you treated the worst–although if he did that to me, I’m sure he did it to others, and I wonder how many dreams he killed? And seriously–that is not your job as a writing professor; your job is to help your students get better. Had he ripped my story to shreds, had he taken it apart, bit by bit, to tell why it didn’t work and why the characters didn’t ring true–that would have been brutal at the time, but it would have done me some good. DOn’t just sit there and smugly assert that I’ll never be published. I was willing to learn, and would have worked my ass off with a bit of encouragement and some strong feedback. I’ve always responded well to feedback, and I appreciate it.

I also woke up this morning to the news–well, I was already awake–that Royal Street Reveillon  made the Lambda short list for Best Gay Mystery. It’s been a hot minute since I made their short-list, but I think–and I could be wrong–this is either the thirteenth or the fourteenth time this has happened? I honestly had forgotten about this as a possibility–it’s been around four or five years since the last time; the awards were presented on the same day that Jean and Gillian got married at City Hall in New York, so whenever that was. I suppose I could go to their website and check, but it doesn’t matter to me that much, and the fact that you can’t search a name in their database to pull up said person’s nominations is irritating; you can certainly search by name on Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar database. I stand corrected, and owe them an apology; I just went to count and you can now search by name; so under my own name and various pseudonyms, this is  number fifteen. Yay for me, and so much for never getting published.

That fucker.

I guess, other than feeling like shit yesterday and still not be 100% today, this has been kind of a good week for me.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Don’t Toss Us Away

Edgar Allan Poe is credited with inventing the detective story, or so the lore of our genre goes, which is why the Mystery Writers of America named their awards for excellence in the field after him. The private detective has gradually evolved over the years from the times of Poe’s Auguste Dupin (“Murders in the Rue Morgue”–which Constant Reader should recognize as the source for my Chanse titles, beginning with Murder in the Rue Dauphine) through Conan Doyle’s terrific Sherlock Holmes to the twentieth century masters of crime-solving: Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, Lew Archer, Philip Marlowe, etc. The 1970’s served as a bridge for the post-war detective to the dawning of a new age–which was necessary because by the early 1980’s the genre had become a bit stagnant, repetitive, overloaded with tropes that were deeply misogynistic.

In the 1980’s, three women–Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller–breathed new life into the genre by introducing three hard-boiled women private eyes; tough women who could hold their own with their male counterparts and were also incredibly well-developed and extremely well written. All three women were named Grand Masters by the Mystery Writers of America in their turn; alas, only Paretsky is still publishing, and we still mourn the loss of Grafton to cancer several years ago, before she finished her alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone.

And while there is still great private eye work being produced today by both men and women, it’s also very exciting now to be on the verge of yet another re-invigorization of the private eye novel–and crime fiction in general–with new takes on old tropes, subversion of those tropes, and the exciting arrival of writers of color and queer writers. The passing of Sue Grafton was a great tragedy, but her publisher, Putnam, partnered with Mystery Writers of America to create an award to honor her and her work; by celebrating the series private eye novels with women firmly centered as the investigator. The first Grafton Prize, awarded last year, went to Sara Paretsky for Shell Game; this year there are six finalists: Linda Castillo (Shamed); Tracy Clark (Borrowed Time); Edwin Hill (The Missing Ones); Sujata Massey (The Satapur Moonstone); Gigi Pandian  (The Alchemist’s Illusion), and Marcie R. Rendon (Girl Gone Missing)–all books I am looking forward to reading,

Ironically, I had already arranged to interview Tracy Clark for the Sisters in Crime quarterly column I do, “The Conversation Continues”–so I had already obtained copies of all her works.

Yesterday I  finished reading the first Cass Raines mystery, Broken Places.

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Chicago cops had to be on the lookout for any number of nefarious mopes eager to take a potshot, but this morning my biggest enemy was turning out to be the scorching rays of the summer sun. I slid into the driver’s seat of the unmarked car and cranked the windows down, balancing a rapidly melting iced tea, extra ice, between my thighs. A few feet away, my partner, Detective Ben Mickerson, stood in front of the Dairy Queen basking in the hellfire. “Vitamin D,” he said, ruddy face pointed skyward. “Soak in that Vitamin D.”

“You say Vitamin D, I say skin cancer,” I groused, The hot vinyl seats nearly seared through my blazer and pants–and they were both summer weight. I checked myself in the rearview. The little makeup I’d started the day with was long gone now, melted away by flop sweat. I flicked at the sweaty ringlets at the nape of my neck and wiggled uncomfortably in my bulletproof vest, my breasts pressed flat, as though squeezed between the hot plates of a waffle iron.  I looked like I’d gone through a car wash, and it was just ten AM. No great loss, though. Five mintues tops was all I ever invested in primping. I didn’t have the patience for it, and in the long run it seemed rather silly. Thugs and killers didn’t care what I looked like. They spotted the cop car, they ran, then I had to run after them. I’d be thirty-five in the spring. Eyeliner and blush weren’t going to make the running any easier.

“The sun is going to kill you,” I yelled out the window.

Cass Raines, Clark’s private eye, is actually a cop when the book opens; and she and her partner are tracking a problem kid, a gangbanger who killed four members of a rival gang, starting a war of attrition and revenge. They chase him down to a rooftop, and Cass almost has him talked down when another douchebag of an officer–protected by powerful political connections–ruins the situation and she ends up having to shoot the kid. She resigns from the force, haunted by the kid she killed, and become a private eye. This backstory plays out over the first several chapters, and then we flash forward two years to the present day. Cass is a complicated young woman–her mother died when she was young; her father took off and she was raised by her grandparents, whose home she inherited–and she is very solitary. This, her first case, kicks off when her father figure, a local priest (she’s lapsed) hires her to find out who is following and harassing him; but before she can even get truly started on her investigation Pops (as she calls Father Ray Heaton of St. Brendan’s) is found dead in the confessional booth, with the gun in his hand, an apparent suicide–and there’s another body in the church, a young Latino gangbanger named Cesar. The police–including her nemesis, the douchebag who ruined her attempt to bring the kid in several years earlier–are very quick to rule it a murder-suicide, but Cass doesn’t believe it for a minute, and begins her own investigation.

The case itself is full of surprising twists and turns, and Cass takes quite a beating as she tries to find out the true story of what happened that night at St. Brendan’s–and her personal life also starts to grow a little complicated, with the return of her birth father and the introduction of a possible love interest police detective for her. Well written, Cass is the kind of character you love to get behind and root for; she has, like all the best private eyes in fiction, a strong moral code of her own that turns her into a complex and fascinating character, one you can’t help but like even when she maybe isn’t behaving at her best. Clark has done a fantastic job of breathing life, not only into Cass, but into her supporting characters and the people she comes across throughout the course of the case.

Clark also makes Chicago into a very real place. I spent eight years of my childhood growing up on the south side, and she brings Chicago to life, with all of its problems and charms, with a loving but critical eye. It’s not the same Chicago we see through the eyes of Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, but it’s to Clark’s credit that she doesn’t try to imitate the queen of Chicago crime, but rather emulate her.

An impressive debut, and I am looking forward to reading further adventures of Cass Raines.

I Just Want to Love You

Oh, Mondays. The start of a new week, a new beginning–as it were, sort of like a mini-New Year’s in some ways. The cycle of employment. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night–I kept waking up, but feel somewhat rested and not mentally fatigued, the way I usually feel on a morning when I have to get up at the crack of dawn (actually, it’s dark outside and so I am getting up before the dawn) when I didn’t sleep well. AH, well, hopefully tonight I will sleep well–I may even try to go to bed earlier than I usually do to try to make up for last night’s not-so-good sleep.

A good friend passed through New Orleans yesterday, so I met him for a beer at the bar on the corner after I worked all morning. I am such a lightweight–the one beer made me slightly tipsy, and so when I got back home I wasn’t really feeling up to getting back to work. it’s fine–I did manage to get a lot done in the morning, and I never feel like I’ve wasted time if progress is made–and most importantly, I’ve almost managed to get my email inbox almost completely emptied out. Of course, when I send the emails I drafted yesterday this morning, they will beget even more emails in response–which is fine. As long as I keep up with them, and don’t allow myself to get overwhelmed by the volume, I won’t get behind again. There are, however, times when I just can’t face my emails.

We watched the figure skating last night before we went to bed; it’s always lovely to watch Nathan Chen be his usual fantastic self, and then it was off to bed. I didn’t make any progress on the Secret Project, which now becomes a priority going forward. I have to get that finished this week so I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows and the short story I need to write by the end of next month. I also didn’t get a chance to read more of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, but being social, getting out of the house, and spending time with someone I rarely see was actually quite nice. I do wish, though, that I’d cleaned the kitchen. I hate starting the week with the kitchen a mess. But as I make our lunches I’ll see if I can get the sink cleaned out and the dishes in the dishwasher put away. At least tonight I won’t come home to a messy kitchen in that case.

Such excitement, right? It’s no wonder I can’t sleep, given how massively exciting my life is.

But Carnival is coming–the parades start on Valentine’s Day, and my life will become very complicated again. Our office is now too far for me to ever try to get there and back on foot–being old doesn’t help, either–and so I have to either get off work on parade nights early enough for me to get home before the streets close, or I am trapped; destined to be stuck in traffic while trying to take the only possible exit from the highway into my neighborhood–and then of course parking anywhere is completely impossible. I think I can figure out how to do it all without having to take too much time off work–which is a good thing, as I don’t have enough vacation time this year to take the entire second parade week off–but it’s going to be challenging. Very very challenging. I’ve not wanted to deal with it–as well as making my future travel arrangements for upcoming trips and so forth–but this is the week I need to get this all taken care of, and it’s gone on the list.

And frankly, it’s lovely to have to-do lists that I actually pay attention to and use and cross things off from as they get done. I’ve missed that feeling of accomplishment, frankly. I actually think my additional new responsibilities with Mystery Writers of America is going to help me to get better organized as well as be more productive, because I don’t have a choice. I do better when there’s not a choice, as insane as that probably seems.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. I need to make this week’s to-do list, make sure that I don’t miss anything, and get back to work. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

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Sweet Desire

Friday morning and it’s a bit chilly here in the Lost Apartment this morning–but the temperature’s supposedly gradually rising from how cold it was at the beginning of the week.

Hilariously, I have just one jacket–one really doesn’t need more than one in New Orleans–and it’s a wonderful black leather jacket I’ve had since before Katrina, I think. I believe it was a gift from my mother; I’m not entirely sure. I had a great leather jacket before this one, but the sleeve ripped on a door frame nail, and I think I got this jacket to replace it? I don’t know, the jacket is old. I’ve been struggling with the zipper, which would sometimes jam–it did walking in the snowfall in New York Saturday night–but as I waited for the parking lot shuttle here at the airport, I managed to zip it all the way up. (Every time I have trouble with the zipper I think I need to get this zipper replaced, but have never done it because, you know, procrastination) When I got out of the car at home, I realized that the zipper teeth had come apart at the bottom, and had separated all the way up to my chest. I tried to get the zipper teeth back together so I could unzip it, to no avail. Finally I pulled it up over my head like a sweatshirt and ripped the zipper open, thinking, great, now I HAVE to get the fucking zipper replaced. Heavy sigh. But as I emptied my suitcase into the washing machine, Paul–who was upstairs reorganizing our disaster of a shared closet, came down the stairs with a lovely jacket on a hanger. “Is this yours?” he asked. I had no memory of buying it–I still don’t–but it’s gorgeous and my size. We finally had to assume that I bought it at one of our trips to the outlet mall in Gonzalez, probably with the intent to take it to New York for the January board meeting years ago–and then it got swallowed into the closet and completely forgotten.

FOR YEARS.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been wearing this week, and now I have a terrific winter coat to take next January to New York with me.

It also should go without saying that now I am really curious about what else is in that closet that I’ve forgotten about.

This has been a lovely week of getting re-acclimated to my normal existence, and I’ve actually been having a lovely time. My new duties as Executive Vice President of MWA have forced me to get organized and start planning my time better–and I’ve also slept remarkably well all week. I’ve also started setting my alarm to get up at seven on the mornings I don’t have to go in at eight–while the extra sleep is absolutely lovely, I can’t lose that extra hour or two every morning. There’s always a lot of emails that need answering, and keeping up is going to be crucial–I can’t let myself get either overwhelmed or defeated by my emails. And I still need to have time to both write and read; the evenings before sleep just aren’t going to cut it anymore. So now I am determined to get up at seven every morning but Sunday–I’ll allow myself to sleep in on Sunday mornings, since Monday is one of those hellish six a.m. mornings–and I also am aware that once my body is trained to get up every morning at seven, I’ll probably get up at that time on Sundays, too. I need to start going back to the gym as well, and watching my diet again. I’m going to be fifty-nine this year, and so I should probably get back into a healthier lifestyle, which is going to be much harder now than it was when I was thirty-three and originally made that change.

Plus, I actually enjoy working out. But like writing, which I also actually enjoy doing, I always dread it and have to force myself to do it. #madness.

I am also looking forward to finishing Elizabeth Little’s stunning Pretty as a Picture. I am enjoying this book so much, Constant Reader–you have no idea. I’m also learning a lot about how a movie gets made, behind the scenes, which is something I’ve always been interested in. I need to get some serious writing done this weekend too–despite the US Figure Skating Championships, the European Figure Skating Championships, and the Australian Open all taking place over the course of this weekend. Yikes. I also have to go to the grocery store and make plans for trips later in the year and oh my God there’s never enough time but you know what? To-do lists are fantastic, and were always the key to my getting everything done in the past.

We also have to finish watching Messiah, Sex Education, and get caught up on Dare Me. Hilariously, a few weeks ago we had nothing to watch; now we have too much to watch.

And on THAT note, tis back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone!

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Killin’ Time

As Constant Reader is aware, on 2019 I embarked on something I called The Diversity Project for myself; an effort to read books by authors who were not straight or white or cisgender. I had hoped to use 2019, and this project, as not only a way to broaden my reading and make up for years of lost time, but also to broaden my mind, my knowledge, and my experience.

It does not escape me that it’s kind of shitty that I actually had to make an effort, make in into an actual project, to ensure that I read outside of my own privileged experience. I don’t deserve a cookie or praise for doing something I should have been doing my entire life. It’s horribly shitty that my entire reading life could best be described as a mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder bread. I’ve also been trying to remember something, anything, other than Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird that I read as a child that had people of color as characters (and frankly, those two problematic books don’t count). Bayport and River Heights and Rocky Beach and Sleepyside and all the other towns and villages in the teenaged sleuth series for kids I read were all lily-white.

Several  years ago, Brash Books brought the entire Blanche White series by Barbara Neely, all four of them, back into print. I had never read Ms. Neely’s books; I’d never, to be completely honest, even heard of them. But the concept sounded fantastic, and unlike anything I’d ever read before, so I went ahead and ordered Blanche on the Lam, the first book in the series, which proceeded to languish and collect dust in my (massive) TBR pile. Mystery Writers of America recently selected Ms. Neely as a Grand Master, and as I was heading up to New York for the board retreat/orientation for 2020, I thought to myself, self, take Ms. Neely’s book with you on the trip to read–it’s serendipity and meant to be, and also far past time.

And that’s exactly what I did.

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“Have you anything to say for yourself?” The judge gave Blanche a look that made her raise her handbag to her chest like a shield.

“Your Honor…I’m sorry…I…”

“Sorry? It most certainly is sorry! This is the fourth, I repeat, the fourth time you’ve been before this court on a bad-check charge. Perhaps some time in a jail cell will convince you to earn your money before you spend it, like the rest of us! Thirty days and restitution!”

“But, Your Honor…” Blanche’s legs were suddenly weak. Her hands were freezing. Beads of sweat popped out on her nose. She wanted to tell the judge that a jail cell was cruel and unusual punishment for  a person who panicked in slow elevators. She also wanted to ask him where the hell he got off, lying about her like that! This was her second, not her fourth, charge. Furthermore, just as she’d done the last time, she would have made good on the checks even if she hadn’t been summoned to court. Hadn’t she already covered three of the five checks she’s written? And right here in her handbag she had the forty-two-fifty she still owed, plus fifty dollars for the fine–same as the judge had made her pay last time. But last time she’d had a judge with his mind already on the gold course. He’d hardly bothered to look at her. There’d been no talk of jail that time.

From the opening sentence, Neely is being completely subversive to her readers–not only is she writing about a woman of color, front and center, that woman is also working class and struggling to make ends meet. She is dealing with–in even a small way–with the criminal justice system that is tilted against her–poor, working class, of color–and sure enough, she gets screwed. And while some might argue she shouldn’t have bounced checks (it’s not really clear whether she deliberately wrote bad checks, or if she wrote them thinking she was going to get paid, and then didn’t), I think everyone can agree that thirty days in jail–and a judge sentencing her based on a false premise that she was a more habitual offender–is excessive.

Blanche’s voice is one that is rarely, if ever, heard in crime fiction, either before or after this series, and that’s a shame. The book itself is thoroughly enjoyable, as Blanche manages to take advantage of a distraction at the courthouse and walk out, unimpeded…thus going “on the lam”, and not knowing what to do or where to go, remembers that she was supposed to take a temp gig as a housekeeper, and goes to that address. She winds up going out of town to work at a wealthy family’s vacation home, and it soon becomes very apparent that there is something really wrong with the family.

It’s also next to impossible not to root for Blanche, to want her to do well, and somehow get herself out of the predicament she’s found herself in. After all–there is a murder, she’s a fugitive from “justice,” and of course she’s a woman of color in a corrupt, racist place–it would be incredibly easy for law enforcement to simply pin the murder on her and wash their hands of the entire mess. It’s an absolute joy to see Blanche–with her own heart and compassion, not give in to impulses she shouldn’t, and to think her way out of everything, and not only exceed the reader’s expectations but subvert them completely.

Read this book. Read the entire series. There’s seriously no question that Barbara Neely is a grand master. None whatsoever. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

On My Knees

Thursday morning in New Orleans, and it looks to have rained overnight–which might account for my deep and restful sleep last night. It’s been cold since I returned to New Orleans on Sunday evening–I wore not only a T-shirt under my sweaters to work this week but also tights under my jeans. When I got home from work late yesterday afternoon it was still bitterly cold; but the overnight rain was expected to warm things up a bit. It’s not as cold in the Lost Apartment as it was last night when I went to bed, but it’s still not balmy. Rain is forecast for most of the day today, but it’s not raining now, so we’ll just have to see how that all works out. I don’t get off work until late this evening–eight-ish–but Thursday are generally (knocks wood) slower than the other days of the week. Not sure why that is, but there you have it.

I’ve not written much this week. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by my new responsibilities and trying to get caught up on everything I need to get caught up on for Mystery Writers of America; I’ve been alternating between being excited and being terrified, off and on, for the last few days. I have made some notes, and the secret project I’ve been working on (and wanted to get finished this week) has been taking shape in my head. Now I just need to find some time to actually sit down and start committing it all to paper (a Word document, actually, but you know what I mean). I’ve also had another Scotty book taking shape in my head over the last week or so, and its not the one I thought I was going to write next. It’s a different one; an idea about the gentrification of the city post-Katrina that I’ve been calling Bywater Bohemia Bougie in my head all this time. It’s a bit of a mouthful–well aware of that–but it does fit the usual schematic of Scotty titles. I have several ideas about what the book should cover, and now I just have to figure out how to pull all those disparate thoughts and ideas all together in a cohesive story.

I am also still reading Bourbon Street, and am now to the 1960’s, and the monstrous Jim Garrison years as district attorney, as Bourbon Street began to shift from what it was before to what it is now, and as tourism slowly began to overtake everything else as the leading industry for the city. I can’t recommend this book enough, Constant Reader; Richard Campanella is fantastic, and his writing makes a terrific subject even more enjoyable.

We’re nearly finished watching Messiah, which we are still enjoying, and also started watching the second season of Sex Education, which is just as funny and entertaining and charming as the first season was–I do recommend it, and Gillian Anderson is fantastic as the main character Owen’s mother, a sex therapist. The entire first episode is about an outbreak of chlamydia at the high school–which isn’t nearly as bad as people think it actually is because none of them actually know how chlamydia is transferred. (when it is first mentioned as being airborne, I literally said out loud No it isn’t. The day job–no matter what, it’s always there in the back of my mind) We laughed out loud multiple times, and that of course means the show is a winner in our book.

It’s also going to be a little strange and weird this weekend to not have any football to watch–but at the same time, it frees up a lot of time for me to write, clean, plan and do all those things–including read–that I don’t get done during football season. Of course the US Figure Skating Championships are this weekend, so…yeah, there’s that, too. Heavy sigh.

I also took some time last night to read another fifty pages of Elizabeth Little’s fantastic new novel, Pretty as a Picture, and I am loving it. Like all the best writers, reading Liz makes me want to be a better writer and also inspires stories of my own that I want to write–which always is an indicator, to me, that the author is spectacular at what they do. If you’ve not read her first, Dear Daughter, do so–you won’t be sorry, and then you’ll then have the exquisite pleasure of reading Pretty as a Picture when it is finally released into the wild.

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

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