Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

So, this came this week:

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Pretty cool, right? I really like the cover.

This, on the inside, is also kind of cool.

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Yes, that’s the two page illustrated title page for my short story, “Neighborhood Alert,” which is in the spring issue of Mystery Tribune magazine.

I know, right? Gregalicious is breathing some rarified air these days!

Wonder of wonders, Trish found a parking space in front of her townhouse on Euterpe Street, which hardly ever happened. A good omen, she thought as she grabbed her purse and the reusable cloth grocery bag from the passenger seat. It was cold for New Orleans, down in the thirties. An overnight rain with a cold front right behind it had dropped the temperature thirty degrees. The city was in a hard freeze warning overnight. She wasn’t sure if her pipes were in danger, but always ran the water to be on the safe side. She couldn’t imagine the hell of busted pipes. She lived in constant fear of something going wrong with her townhouse—termites, ants, broken pipes, the ground shifting. She had some money put aside, but not enough for any of those catastrophes.

She clicked the key fob to lock her car and frowned. Her gate was ajar. She would have sworn she’d closed and locked it, but it was such an automatic habit she couldn’t be sure. She’d been having trouble sleeping, which made her foggy in the mornings. She wasn’t sure what was causing it; her doctor said to cut back on caffeine, but if she didn’t sleep well at night and was groggy in the morning, how was she supposed to do her job without drinking some coffee? She’d compromised, giving up on extra shots of espresso and just having regular coffee…but was still restless at night, tossing and turning and waking up to stare at the ceiling. She shut the gate and locked it with the key. The wrought iron fence was tall, spikes on the top, and since she started living alone, she made sure the gate was locked whenever she was home. Anyone wanting in had to ring the buzzer, and she could check from the safety of the house to see whether she wanted to let them in. She grabbed the catalogues and junk mail from the mailbox, wondering who still used catalogues and slipped it all into her grocery bag. She tried to reduce her carbon footprint by recycling and not using the disposable grocery bags, but she still felt guilty driving to and from work every day. It wasn’t even a mile, but she rationalized that her company paid for her parking space whether she used it or not, and the St. Charles streetcar was two blocks from her front door and four blocks from her office—not bearable in heels or the heat of the summer.

And at least, she reasoned, she did feel guilty about it. Most people didn’t even think about it.

As she unlocked the front door, a sheet of paper sailed out and came to rest on the third step of the hanging staircase. She frowned, shutting the door and turning the deadbolt. There was a mail slot on the front door that wasn’t used anymore; not since she’d installed the big fence, buzzer and gate lock after the divorce. She’d left the gate unlocked and someone had slipped something—a sales notice, probably, or a lost pet flyer—through the mail slot.

I wrote “Neighborhood Alert” last year, during that period of time when I was focusing on writing short stories, early in 2018, and I’d originally intended for it to be included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I honestly don’t recall why I decided to submit it to Mystery Tribune, but I did one day and then kind of forgot about it. (I do have a spreadsheet where I keep track of submission dates and markets, but I wasn’t making notes on the calendar yet–which I now do, so I can check on the submissions and so forth; I am trying to get better organized, Constant Reader, I AM!) As I was pulling everything together for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, I always included “Neighborhood Alert,” so you can imagine my surprise when I got the email from Mystery Tribune that they wanted to publish my story! Huzzah, indeed! I then had to put a different story in the collection, but I got a rejection from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine  and I swapped that story in for the this one, and problem solved.

“Neighborhood Alert” first came to me as an idea years ago, when someone put one of those ‘registered sex offender in the neighborhood’ flyers through our mail slot when we lived on Camp Street. On the one hand, I certainly understood the neighborhood’s right to know there was a convicted predator moving in; on the other hand, he’d served his time and how can you move forward with your life when everyone in the neighborhood knows about your crimes? I wrote the idea down in a journal, and when I was going through my journals last year during that manic short story writing period, it occurred to me, what if you’d lost your only child to a predator, and then a few years later you get a one of these alerts?

This was the story that resulted from that thought. And I am very proud that it’s my first publication in Mystery Tribune.

And it will be in my next collection.

And now back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone.

Wake Up Everybody

Well, I finished reading Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things yesterday (spoiler: it’s terrific and you should pre-order it, like right now; more on it later) and then started Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which is also off to a terrific start.

You really can never go wrong with a crime novel written by a woman, frankly.

So, of course last night Game of Thrones ended, and I have to say I was satisfied, if not thrilled, by how it ended. Some of it was inevitable, and to be honest, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how it would all end; I absolutely hated the idea of Jon as king–he’s not the type, quite frankly, but will admit I was also all in for Sansa. So, in a way, I got what I wanted with Sansa being Queen in the North–but having a separate kingdom to the north will inevitably lead to problems with the Six Kingdoms; and what exactly ever happened to the cities Dany conquered in Essos? I was more sad to see the show end than I could ever be disappointed in how it ended; as I said to Paul, “You know, when we first started watching this show, we still had cable, didn’t stream anything, and we watched this on DVD’s that came in the mail from Netflix before giving in and paying for HBO again. We didn’t have Scooter yet, and we still  had our old television with a DVD player.”  Game of Thrones, no matter what you thought of it to begin with, whether you watched it or you didn’t, was a cultural event in this country (I am reluctant to say world, as that reeks of American exceptionalism, but I do believe the show was a world-wide phenomenon) that had everyone talking about it almost from the very beginning, and maybe was the last show of its kind–the kind where everyone waits patiently to watch, week after week, and everyone talks about and discusses and argues about. I don’t think we’ll see its like again; I doubt another show will ever take up as much room in the public discourse as Game of Thrones did.

And while everything was sort of tied up nicely with a ribbon last evening, as the credits rolled I turned to Paul and said, “What happened to the Dothraki? We know what happened to the Unsullied…but they never said what happened to the Dothraki.”

I guess they are just loose in Westeros?

I started working on one of my short stories yesterday; I couldn’t find the motivation to do much else of anything, to be honest. I did clean some and get some things organized, and of course, I was also busy reading, as I mentioned above, and I am kind of excited to be reading They All Fall Down, which is off to a really good start. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed this past weekend, if I am going to be completely honest, and while I am not feeling as overwhelmed this morning as I’ve been feeling, I am still in one of those “how am I going to get all of this done?” places this morning. But you know, it will all get done and I will handle everything that needs handling because I somehow always manage to do so.

As you might recall, I sold my story “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune magazine; I am proud to say it appears in the quarterly issue that is now available as e-magazine or print editions; you can order it right here.

I like the story, and I hope you will like it, too.

I really need to get more stories out.

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

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Love Machine

Ah, Monday of the week that ends with the tenting and the Weekend o’Festivals. Just thinking about getting through this week and this weekend makes me tired. Very tired.

We started moving perishables and other things that could be poisoned by the termite gas over to the carriage house yesterday; even as we did so, I kept remembering and finding more things that need to go over there. I’ve never experienced termite genocide before, that oh-so-uniquely New Orleans experience that so many others have before multiple times. It’s got me thinking about the possibility of murder by termite tent, of course–although I am pretty certain I’ve read a book where that happened, I think it was by Elaine Viets.

Murder-a-Go-Go’s officially releases today as well, so those who preordered it should be getting it delivered to your electronic reading devices and those who ordered hard-copies should be getting them soon. Huzzah! I love book birthdays; my own for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is soon to come; April 10th, officially. Order, order, order! And don’t forget, the first ever Chanse MacLeod short story is in this book!

I reread my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s again yesterday, primarily because another idea came to me yesterday, which I shared on social media: Someone really needs to write a spring break noir called WHERE THE BOYS DIE and I would read the hell out of that. I do think that’s a terrific idea; is there any better setting for a noir than a small beach town taken over by tens of thousands of partying college students? (I also had another idea for a book, based on an actual brutal murder that took place over spring break several decades ago; hat tip to Scott Heim for reminding me of that murder) I had always wanted to do one over the course of Southern Decadence weekend as well; I still might do that one. Anyway, I’m digressing. So, on my post about Where the Boys Die some suggested I write it, others that it sounded like an anthology, and then Jessica Laine said, you already wrote this story for MURDER-A-GO-GO’S, and I loved your story. 

The thing about being a writer is that all-too-often you don’t remember things about your work once it’s finished. “This Town,” my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s, is one of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written, to be honest; I think it’s also one of my best. But, when I read Kristopher Zgorski’s lovely review and he singled out my story as one of many for individual praise, and then seeing Jessica’s lovely comment, I decided I should probably reread the story since my recollection of what I actually wrote was so vague…and there it was. Constant Reader, it’s good. I then pulled up my story “Neighborhood Alert,” which is going to be published in Mystery Tribune, and it, too, is good. This was revelatory for me; as I may have mentioned, another story of mine was recently rejected by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and that had, of course, put me into a bit of a tailspin as far as my writing of short stories was concerned…astonishing at how easy it is to have one’s confidence in one’s own work shattered, isn’t it?

And that also got me to thinking about the second Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” that has tragically been stalled for so long. Short stories are actually more intimate than novels; in that you have much less space to develop a story and less room for characters so it has to be scaled back some. “Once a Tiger” is struggling because, quite simply, there are too many characters in it; how does one investigate a death at a fraternity house on a college campus when there would have to be well over a hundred brothers and pledges? That was where I struggled with the story; even the police would have trouble sorting all of this out, so imagine the trouble Chanse would have with it, working alone as he does. I still want to write a murder mystery set at Chanse’s LSU fraternity, where Chanse has to come back and solve the crime, but I just don’t–at the moment–see how that can be done as a short story. Maybe now that I’ve said that it will come to me–just like the other day, how to weave the two plots for the next Scotty book came to me from out of nowhere.

I love when that happens.

And now back to the spice mines.

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O Holy Night

The last day of 2018. I can hear the garbage trucks outside getting the trash, which means I’ve actually woken up at a relatively decent hour. Today is our annual lunch at Commander’s Palace with Jean and Gillian, which means very inexpensive martinis and all that entails. I also registered for Dallas Bouchercon yesterday and booked my hotel room. So much getting things done! I also worked on my technology issues yesterday–yes, they continue, Mojave is the stupidest thing Apple has ever done as an operating system–and have also been trying to update my phone, which doesn’t seem to be working. I really don’t want to have to get a new phone, but it seems as though this is what Apple is pushing me to do, which is infuriating.

But the desktop seems to be working the way it’s supposed to. Hmmm.

I read a lot of books last year, but I also judged for an award so I really can’t talk much  about any books that were actually released in 2018; which is unfortunate. I really enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (for a book not published in 2018). I also read a lot of short stories. The Short Story Project was originally inspired, and intended, for me to read a lot of short stories and work as kind of a master class for me as far as writing short stories are concerned. As a project, I originally began it in 2017, but didn’t get very far with it. As a result, I decided to give it another try in 2018 and was much more successful with the project. Not only was I reading short stories, I wrote a lot of them. Some of those stories were actually sold; “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, “The Silky Veils of Ardor” to The Beating of Black Wings, “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune, “Cold Beer No Flies” to Florida Happens, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to another anthology whose name is escaping me at the moment. I also pulled together a collection of previously published and new stories, which will be released in April of 2019 but will be available for Saints and Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I also wrote another Scotty (I really need to finish revising it), which will also be out in the new year I think but I don’t have a release date yet. That was pretty productive, and I also managed eight chapters of a young adult novel, the current WIP.

Not bad, coming from someone who wrote practically nothing in 2017. So, on that score, I am taking 2018 as a writing win.

I also edited the Bouchercon anthology for the second time, Florida Happens, and read a shit ton of short stories for that as well. I was very pleased with how that book turned out, in all honesty, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.

I also published my first ever Kindle Single, “Quiet Desperation,” and also finally got the ebook for Bourbon Street Blues up for Kindle. At some point I do hope to have a print edition for sale as well, but I am happy to have the ebook available. I also have to finish proofing Jackson Square Jazz so I can get that ebook up as well.

So, writing and publishing wise, 2018 was a good comeback of sorts; I managed to get back into the swing of writing again, and started producing publishable work, which was absolutely lovely. I started to say I got my confidence back, but that wouldn’t be true; I’ve never had much self-confidence when it comes to  my writing. I also started writing in journals again in 2017, which was enormously helpful in 2018. (I actually went through my most recent one last night–the one I am currently using–and found a lot of stuff that I thought I’d lost in the Great Data Disaster of 2018; things I shall simply need to retype and of course will back-up immediately.

Yesterday, while electronic equipment repaired itself and made itself usable again–we’ll see how usable it is as the days go by–I watched two movies–The Omega Man and Cabaret on Prime, as well as the documentary Gods of Football (I highly recommend this one for eye candy potential; it’s about the shooting of a calendar in Australia to raise money for breast cancer charities, starring professional rugby players in the nude, and yes, the eye candy is delectable). I watched a lot of good movies and television shows over the course of the year–The Haunting of Hill House and Schitt’s Creek probably the best television shows–so it was a very good year for that. (I have some thoughts on both The Omega Man and Cabaret, but will save those for another post at another time.)

I also got my first New Orleans Public Library card this past year, and began reading New Orleans histories, which were endlessly fascinating, which led me into another project, Monsters of New Orleans, which is another short story collection about what the title says, crime stories based on real cases in New Orleans but fictionalized. And there are an incredible amount of them. I read the introduction to Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous Murder Cases in New Orleans, and while I am aware that Tallant’s scholarship is questionable (I figured that out reading Voodoo in New Orleans), his books are always gossipy, which makes them perfect for New Orleans reading. What is real, what is true, and what is not is always something one has to wonder when reading anything about New Orleans history; some of it is legend, which is to be expected, and unprovable; some of it is very real and can be verified. Some of the stories in this collection, which I am going to work on, off and on, around other projects, will inevitably be complete fictions; but others will be based on true stories and/or legends of the city, like the Sultan’s Palace and Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau. It’s an exciting project, and the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspiration I get, not only for this project but for other Scotty books as well…which is a good thing, I was leaning towards ending the series with Royal Street Reveillon, but now that I’m finding stories that will work and keep the series fresh…there just may be a few more Scotty novels left in me yet.

My goal of losing weight and getting into better physical condition lasted for only a few months, and didn’t survive Carnival season–it was too hard to get to the gym during the parades, and between all the walking, passing out condoms, and standing at the corner, I was simply too exhausted to make it to the gym, and thus never made it back to the gym. I began 2018 weighing 228 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been, and have managed, through diet and portion control, to slim down to a consistent plateau of 213. This is actually pretty decent progress; not what I would have wanted to report at the end of 2018, but I am going to take it and put it into the win column, and we’ll see how 2019 turns out.

The day job also had some enormous changes; we moved out of the Frenchmen Street office, after being there since 2000 (I started working there in 2005) and into a new building on Elysian Fields. This also caused some upheaval and change in my life–I’m not fond of change–and it wasn’t perhaps the smoothest transition. But I’m getting used to it, and making the necessary adjustments in my life.

Now we are on the cusp to a new year. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about new goals for the new year. It is, of course, silly; it’s just another day and in the overall scheme of things, a new year really doesn’t mean anything is actually new; but we use this as a measure of marking time, and new beginnings. I’ve always thought that was rather silly; any day is a new day and a new beginning; why be controlled by the tyranny of the calendar and the societally created fiction of the new year?

But it is also convenient. If you set new goals every new year, you then have a way of measuring success and failure as it pertains to those goals. I am not as black-and-white as I used to be with goals–which is why I use goals instead of resolutions, as there is also a societal expectation that resolutions are made in order to not succeed–and a goal is merely that, a goal, and not something that is fixed in stone. The endgame we all are playing with these goals and resolutions is to effect change in our lives and make them, in theory at least, better. So, any progress on a goal is a way of making your life better.

I didn’t get an agent this year; that was on my list of goals yet again. I am not certain what my own endgame with the agent hunt is; I need to come up with a book idea that is commercially viable for an agent to want to represent, and that isn’t easy. Most of my book-writing decisions were made, not with an eye toward the commercial, but with an eye toward I want to see if I can write this story. Was that the smartest path to take as a writer? Perhaps not. I don’t know what’s commercial. The manuscript I was using to try to get an agent never worked as a cohesive story for me, and in this past year I finally realized why; I was trying to make a story into something it wasn’t. If I ever write what I was calling the WIP but is in reality ‘the Kansas book’, I have to write it as I originally intended it, not as what I am trying to make it into. And that’s something that is going to have to go onto the goal list for 2019.

On that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

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Let’s Get Rocked

How about dem Saints? Damn, they look like the Alabama of the NFL.

A long day in the car stretches before me. Just thinking about it makes me tired, oh so tired.

So don’t think about it, bitch.

In exciting news, I can now announce that my story, “Neighborhood Alert,” has sold to Mystery Tribune.

“Neighborhood Alert” was one of the stories I wrote in the flurry that was the first quarter (or first half?) of the year. I’d had the idea for a long time; the inspiration came to me one day when we were living back on Camp Street. I never used the front door of the apartment–or rarely, at any rate–because we had off-street parking and I usually came in through the apartment’s back door. But one morning when I was coming home from training a client I noticed there was a white piece of paper stuck in the mail slot in the front door. When I retrieved it, it was one of those sex offender notices–we are required by law to let you know a sex offender has moved into your neighborhood–and while I certainly understand why this is done…at the same time, there’s an element of continuing to punish the criminal after they’ve served their time about it that makes me a little squeamish.  But if I had a child I’d want to know, and if I were a woman I’d want to know. So, therein lies the intellectual and moral dilemma.

And, in the back of my head, I always wanted to write a story which opens with a character getting one of those notices on his/her front door. And vóila, at some point early in the year I wrote that story and started shopping it around.

And now, it has sold. How lovely is that?

I will talk about the story more when it is closer to seeing the light of day.

I’ve successfully managed to download A Game of Thrones to my phone, so hopefully I’ll have that for listening as I drive north, and I’ll decide if audiobooks are indeed something I can make a part of my reading life going forward. I’ve added the Duolingo app to my iPad so I can continue with my Italian lessons–some of the words are starting to stick with me, but being able to hear and identify the words isn’t going quite as well.

I also read “The Nature of My Inheritance” by Bradford Morrow, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

In the wake of my father’s death, my inheritance of over half a hundred Bibles offered me no solace whatsoever, but instead served to remind me what a godless son I was and had always been. Like the contrarian children of police officers who are sometimes driven to a life of crime, and professors’ kids who become carefree dropouts, my  father’s devotion to his ministry might well have been the impetus behind my early secret embrace of atheism. In church, listening to his Sunday sermons, as I sat in a pew with my mother near the back of the sanctuary, I nodded approvingly along with the rest of the congregation when he hit upon this particularly poignant scriptural point or that. But in all honesty, my mind was a thousand light years away, wallowing, at least usually, in smutty thoughts. His last day in the pulpit, his last day on earth, was no different. I cannot recall with precision what lewd scenario I was playing out in my head, but no doubt my juvenile pornography, the witless daydream of a virgin, did not make a pretty counterpoint with my father’s homily.

One of the fun things about reading anthologies is discovering new writers, or rather, new-to-me writers. I’d not read Morrow before, but I’ve added him to my list of writers whose canon should be explored. This story is interesting and goes places I certainly never imagined; and the voice of the young man who is telling the story–a slightly amoral young man whose father’s devotion hid a lot of secrets, which his son will slowly uncover, is exceptional. The story could have just as easily been called something like “Lessons My Father Taught Me” or something like that; but this title is just fine–it doesn’t give anything away, and it’s truly a wonderful, fun story. I was very pleased with it.

Once I get caffeinated and clean the kitchen, I’m hitting the road.

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Kyrie

Well, I finished “Fireflies” yesterday and got it sent in to the market; we’ll see how it goes. It’s kind of a stretch for that particular market, I suppose, but we’ll see how it goes. If they don’t want it, at least it’s finished. Who knows, there may be some editorial notes that will make it even better.

Two stories I sent out into the world–“Lightning Bugs in a Jar” and “Neighborhood Alert”–were turned down; no surprise, really; I am starting to realize my stories, while crime oriented for the most part, aren’t really mysteries, which kind of precludes their acceptance into mystery magazines. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing them, of course. I’ve thoroughly been enjoying myself this year writing short stories, so why stop doing something that gives me pleasure? They are also wonderful exercises in voice, tone, character; even in plotting, to a certain degree; I also feel that working on them is improving my writing (although, from looking at the Scotty book and the WIP, I am not so certain that’s true! Ha ha ha–just kidding; no more self-deprecation here). The problem, of course, is how does one monetize that work, so that it’s not just a writing exercise but something that can provide an income stream? The truth is, of course, that there are markets out there for crime fiction that may not be recognized necessarily as markets for crime fiction. But at the same time, getting published in places outside the recognized crime genre could be a way of getting my name out there and recognized, building the brand, as it were.

God damn, how I hate the term brand when it comes to writing! It just seems wrong, but I get it, and why it’s used. But that doesn’t have to mean I like it.

I have to confess, I had a slight crisis of confidence on the WIP yesterday.  I’ve been working on it for so long–off and on for at least two years–that I was starting to think, meh, maybe I should table it for good and be done with it. But as I was watching Harlan Coben’s Safe on Netflix last night (we enjoyed it), it suddenly occurred to me that there was a glaring hole in the middle of the entire thing; I’ve never really understood why some of the things that happen in the book actually do happen. Without that knowledge, is it any wonder I can’t get inside the characters? And without being able to really understand the characters and why they do the things they do, how can I possibly write about them honestly, realistically, and have the story I’ve devised for them actually work? So, the problems with the WIP that I’ve had all along basically stem from two things: a lack of understanding of who the characters are and their motivations, and not really knowing how to end it properly. So, my goal for this week is to do exactly that; go back to the beginning and figure out who my characters are and what the plot of the book really is. I still like the idea of having the entire book play out over the course of a weekend, from Friday night to Monday morning, and I think I can make that work, but I need to know who the characters are, what drives them, what drove them, and why they do the things they do. Which is what is missing from the book, the emotion and the understanding. “Oh, I need this kid to be a bastard, so he is a bastard.” No, that doesn’t work.

So, it’s kind of back to the drawing board for me. I am going to work on those characters and the plot of this book while I work on the Scotty; and if ideas some to me about Muscle, so be it; I will also work on it. But the primary focus has to be the Scotty book, which I need to get finished by July 1. And that’s very do-able. The first draft is nearly half-way finished; so the goal this week is to read what’s already done and take notes, while preparing for the next four or five chapters.

And, as I have always said, it’s never a bad thing to go back to the drawing board sometimes. You shouldn’t ever force a book or a story.

For your enjoyment, here’s the opening for “Don’t Look Down”:

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

The sunlight breaking through the clouds in the valley was beautiful.

Philip would have loved this, Jase thought. He always wanted us to see Italy.

All he felt was a twinge of sadness, which was better than breaking down into tears. He was healing, needed to get away from the apartment, the neighborhood, seeing Philip everywhere he turned, everywhere he looked.

And what better way to do that than two weeks in Italy?

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The Longest Time

I went to bed early on Monday night, around ten, because I was tired, and woke up yesterday around four. I stayed in bed, and managed to drift back to sleep again, but was wide awake around five-thirty, so I decided to get out of bed and get my day started, figuring at the very least I’d be so tired last night I’d have no choice but to go to bed early. It worked; I was in bed just before ten, and am awake, shivering, at my computer this morning. It is twenty degrees outside this morning, and was so cold and windy and wintry last night we left the heat running overnight, which we never do. (Mainly for the outdoor cats; the vents run under the house so we figured they could shelter from the storm under the house and if they huddled near the vents they’d be warm.) I am going to brave the cold for the gym this morning; I can’t get over how much better I feel for one day of weight-lifting, stretching and cardio.

I also wrote a short story yesterday; rather, finished one I started Monday: “Neighborhood Alert.” I’m going to let it sit for a few days before looking at it again; I have some other writing and editing to do, and I find that letting things sit for a while is enormously helpful. I rather like the story, if I do say so myself. I am going to work on another one today as well–the title is “The Trouble with Autofill” (changed from “Sorry Wrong Email”) and of course, I have a lot of other writing to do. Heavy sigh. I do prefer being busy, though.

The Short Story Project continues apace. Last night, after an episode of Broadchurch, and before I went to bed, I read two stories, both from single-author collections from ChiZine Press (another bucket list item: be published in some form by ChiZine–they do wonderful stuff, and they publish my friend Michael Rowe), one by Christopher Golden, the other by Bracken MacLeod.

I read Bracken’s story first, from 13 Views of the Suicide Woods, “Still Day: An Ending”:

The morning breeze passed between the blanched, lifeless trees rising like fractured bones jutting from the forgotten marsh. The only sign of its passing, a light and silent ripple on the surface of the shallow water. The clear sky reflected brightly, blue above and blue below. The facets of the wind on water on water sparkled like diamonds in the light. A lone blue heron sailed from its nest, searching for something to eat, unconcerned with the line of traffic creeping by a hundred yards away. Drivers sat in their cars with the windows up and radios tuned to the recap of last night’s game at Fenway or NPR or empty morning talk, paying no attention to the wetlands beside them, staring ahead, squinting against the rising sun as they ate, shaved, checked e-mail, made calls, and put on make-up. All focused on the toad ahead, the day ahead, the growing anxiety of sitting still with so much to be done. Not a single one looked toward the trees or the water. They were blind to the calm and elegant wood that had once been living trees growing up over a hundred years. Before they were born, before the road was built, there was the fen and the trees and the water and sun above shining on it all.

The heron flew back to its nest unnoticed.

The woman lay in the water, unseen.

Nice, right? Bracken wrote one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Stranded, which was a Stoker Award finalist I believe and seriously, one of the might chilling and terrifying things I’ve read in years. I’m really looking forward to his next novel. I have a previous work of his somewhere in my TBR pile, Mountain Home, which I need to get to as well. ANyway, this story, which is incredibly short, and may not even be a thousand words, opens this collection and it’s beautiful and sad and a lovely contrast between the magic of nature and the artificial construct of human life; the rushing around like busy little bees in our hive and how we ignore what’s around us; also the startling contract between those who are alive in traffic and the peaceful, dead woman floating nearby, unnoticed, in the water. We don’t know anything about the woman, or how she wound up in the water like the Lady of Shallott, but is she any more dead than those stuck in traffic and not noticing the world around them, so focused as they are on what’s to come rather than what’s around them? An excellent start to this collection; I am looking forward to reading more of these stories.

I’ve also been enjoying Christopher Golden’s work; I greatly enjoyed Ararat and Dead Ringers, and Snowblind is in my TBR. I had read one of his stories, the first one, in this collection from ChiZine Tell My Sorrow To The Stones, “All Aboard,” during one of my past years’ Short Story Months, and greatly enjoyed it; last night I read “Under Cover of Night.”

Long past midnight, Carl Weston sat in a ditch in the Sonoran Desert with his finger on the trigger of his M16, waiting for something to happen. Growing up, he’d always played Army, dreamed about traveling around the world and taking on the bad guys–the black hats who ran dictatorships, invaded neighboring countries, or tried exterminating whole subsets of the human race. That was what soldiering was all about. Taking care of business. Carrying the big stick and dishing out justice.

The National Guard may not be the army, but he had a feeling the end result wasn’t much different. Turned out the world wasn’t made up of black hats and white hats, and the only way to tell who was on your side was looking at which way their guns were facing. Weston spent thirteen months in the desert in Iraq, and for the last three he’d been part of a unit deployed to the Mexican border to back up the Border Patrol.

One fucking desert to another. Some of the guys he knew had been stationed in places like El Paso and San Diego. Weston would’ve killed for a little civilization. Instead he got dirt and scrub, scorpions and snakes, land so ugly even the Texas Rangers had never spent that much time worrying about it.

This a well-crafted story about a combined National Guard/Border Patrol/DEA operation about stopping illegal aliens smuggling drugs into the country. Golden captures the voice of Weston perfectly; the grunt with no illusions about who he is or what his job entails, seeing no glory in shooting and killing people but it’s just a job to him. His relationship with the rookie he shares a ditch with at the start of the story, Brooksy, is perfectly rendered–can he trust the trigger happy fool with the crazy eyes who thinks gunfire is beautiful? And the raid begins, but something else even more horrifying is going on than the shootings and arrests and poor souls being forced by a drug cartel to mule cocaine or heroin across the border (they are doomed either way–the cartel herders will kill them or they’ll fall into the hands of the DEA)–there are screams crossing the desert night, and soon Weston becomes aware there is something else out there in the darkness with them, something infinitely more terrifying.

The suspense builds beautifully, and the denouement…well, it’s a lot more horrifying, and says so much that needs to be said, than I was expecting. Brilliantly done.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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