My Little Town

It is quite impossible to have heard of every writer and every book, even in a subgenre; there are simply too many books published in the past, with new ones coming out every day and new ones getting signed for future release every day. When it comes to my own reading, I like to draw from a wide and deep pool of styles, genres, and authors. Most of my reading is generally confined to the crime genre–and I do confess that I need to broaden that pool even further. I need to read more literary fiction, science fiction, horror, romance, and fantasy; more true crime and biography and criticism; and even within my own crime genre I tend to not read as much of some sub-genres as others.

I’ve always liked cozies, and have never understood why they get so much grief and are so readily dismissed by those who neither write nor read them. I don’t read enough of them, to be honest, but again, there are so many terrific cozy writers and there’s only so much time. But recently in a review of my A Streetcar Named Murder, the reviewer mentioned that it was perfect “for fans of Katherine Hall Page.” This intrigued me, because I didn’t know her nor was I familiar with her work. I quickly checked in with some cozy writer friends, who all assured me it was a great compliment, so I decided to check out her Faith Fairchild series.

Faith Fairchild, recently of New York City, paused to catch her breath. Benjamin, her five-month-old son, was sound asleep, securely strapped to her chest in his Snugli. Her aching shoulder blades and the fact she has been focusing on the own path beneath her feet instead of the autumnal splendor to either side reminded Faith that Benjamin was definitely getting a bit too chunky for this mode of transportation. She straightened up and looked around.

It was New England with a vengeance: riotous orange and scarlet leaves beneath enormous, puffy white clouds suspended in a Kodacolor blue sky. A calendar maker’s dream. And of course brisk, clear air as crisp as a bite of a McIntosh apple just off the tree.

Faith hated McIntosh apples.

She walked up the Belfry Hill path a bit farther to a small clearning, which gave her an unobstructed view of the Aleford village green far below. She sat down and sighed heavily.

Her life was becoming terribly quaint, Faith thought. Time was when “village” meant “the Village” and “town” was up or down. And when did she start using phrases like “time was”? She let another sigh escape into the pollution-free landscape and longed for a whiff of that heady combination of roasted chestnuts and exhaust fumes that meant autumn to her.

It didn’t take me very long in reading the book to realize just what an incredible compliment that comparison actually was.

I pointed out in one of my entries about cozies–probably a blatantly self-promotional entry, if I recall correctly–that often-times there’s a “fish out of water” element to a cozy series; the main character is often someone from the big city who has, for whatever reason, found him or herself in a new small town environment that has its charms but at the same time they miss their big city. Faith Sibley Fairchild is no exception to this. Born and raised in Manhattan as the child of a minister and a wealthy heiress, Faith has her own trust fund and her interest in food led her to start her own, hugely successful catering company, Have Faith. But she has since fallen in love with a small-town minister, married him, temporarily shuttered her business and moved to pastoral Aleford in Massachusetts, having now had a baby and is trying to adjust to small town life as the minister’s wife. (I was reminded frequently of the Vicar’s wife in St. Mary Mead in Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage; the younger woman whom the villagers aren’t quite sure what to make of other than she’s not like any vicar’s wife they’ve ever known.)

On this particular morning she is heading up to the town belfry to just relax and have a little picnic with her baby son–only to discover the body of Cindy Shepherd, a perfectly awful young woman whom no one in the village of Aleford likes very much. Suspicion immediately falls on her long-suffering fiancé, who doesn’t have much of an alibi–and Faith finds herself intrigued by the case and starts asking around. She found the body, after all, and as she starts asking questions and bouncing from villager to villager, she finds herself learning more about her town and the intricate yet almost invisible threads that tie everyone in Aleford together–and soon finds that not only was Lucy unpleasant, she was an outright villain, who only cared about herself and was not above using whatever means at her disposal necessary to get what she wants. The investigation itself is also an excellent way for Page to introduce Aleford (as well as Faith’s own backstory) to the reader in a very organic way that is not only easy to follow but keeps the reader turning the page. Ms. Page also has a lovely, easily accessible and slyly witty voice that engages the reader, and you can’t help liking Faith and rooting for her–as well as looking forward to your next visit. There are currently twenty-six volumes in the series–daunting, to be sure–but I’m excited about that lengthy canon; I won’t be running out of Katherine Hall Page novels to read any time soon.

Lake Thirteen

Ah, Lake Thirteen.

Lake Thirteen is one of my personal favorites of all my books.

Are authors not supposed to have favorites of their own books, like parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children (untrue in my experience, for the record; I’ve certainly observed enough to note which children are favored by their “impartial” parents)? Oh, well, too bad so sad. Every book I’ve written means something to me in some way, and sometimes I do remember others more fondly.

I love Lake Thirteen primarily because I love what it reminds me of–and it was also one of the easiest books I’ve ever written. It literally just flowed out of me, almost from the very beginning (although the opening of the book was very different in my original version than what saw print; I got some excellent advice from my editor about where the proper place to start the book was, and she was 100% correct in her assessment, thereby earning my eternal gratitude and respect) and so, simply for the ease of writing it would be a fond memory…but I was inspired to write this book by a trip I took, which just goes to show how sometimes books can organically create themselves in your mind. The trip was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had, and it was also a time when I got waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone…which just goes to show sometimes it pays to get outside your comfort zone.

How I eventually wound up writing for Bold Strokes Books is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that one of the things I found most interesting, once I’d moved there, was how the business tried to foster a sense of camaraderie between the staff as well as amongst the authors. It was the kind of mentality you don’t usually find in publishing–one that focused on we’re all in this together so let’s be supportive of each other, which I found to be highly refreshing for a change. They also hosted group events all over the country to which we were all invited and welcomed to attend; being reticent and shy and one who never does well when he is in an environment where he doesn’t know anyone, I always said no to these things. But eventually I felt guilty about always saying no, and said yes to a week-long retreat in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, nearly two hours’ drive north of Albany, at the Garnet Hill Lodge.

I committed, agreed to go, and bought my plane ticket…and then started having the second thoughts and doubts that are trademarks of my life. I don’t know anyone very well…I’m going to be the only male there…

But once I got to the airport, I relaxed. Ali Vali was on both of my flights, and once we reached Albany, we retrieved our rental cars and headed north in a convoy. As I made my turn onto the road that would lead me to the camp and up the side of the mountain, I noted that the road was THIRTEENTH LAKE ROAD. Well, I thought to myself, that would make a great book title, Lake Thirteen.

“Are you listening to me, Scotty?

My mom’s voice was so loud, I almost dropped my cell phone. I looked up. She was smiling at me in the space between the two front seats of the rental Subaru Forester, but her eyes meant business.

“Seriously,” she went on, her smile never wavering, “if you’re going to spend the whole week staring at your phone or fiddling with it, I’ll just take it away from you now.” She held out her right hand, palm up. “I’m not joking.”

I looked at the screen of my phone and sighed before slipping it into my shorts pocket. I smiled back at her. “There, happy?”

“It’s only a week,” she said before turning back around. “You’ll live, trust me.”

Easy for you to say, I thought, turning to look out the window. It was still raining. It was raining when our flight from Chicago landed in Albany and hadn’t let up for even a minute as we headed north. I pressed my forehead against the rain-spattered glass as the GPS gave my dad another direction and he headed up an off-ramp.

“It’s only about another half hour,” my dad said as he came to a stop at the top of the ramp, turning on his left-turn signal. He looked at me in the rearview mirror. “You’re not still nervous, are you?”

I bit my lower lip and didn’t respond.

“I think you’re worrying for nothing,” Mom said. “Nancy and Jerry and Lynda and David raised their kids right, just like we did with you.”

Easy for you to say, I thought, looking out the back window at the two other rental cars following us. You’re not gay, and you didn’t just come out to them all in an e-mail.

We’d been taking these joint family vacations my entire life—I couldn’t remember a summer when our three families hadn’t taken one of these trips together. When we were kids, we’d shared a cousin-like camaraderie and looked forward to seeing each other every summer. But now that we were teens, we were like five strangers with a shared past. The last few years, it seemed to take a few days before everyone stopped sulking about having to come and decided to make the best of the situation. By the end of the week, the old bonds would be strongly and firmly in place again, and there would be sad good-byes at the airport. For about a week or so after, there would be a lot of texting and e-mailing. Once we settled back into our real lives and routines again, the contact became rarer.  Within a month it died down again to an occasional comment on Facebook.

 I was an only child, so it always seemed like I looked forward to the reunion more than the other four.

This year was different, though. This year, I’d dreaded coming, hadn’t wanted to leave our nice suburb of Chicago and spend a week with four almost-strangers my own age.

All I knew about their lives was gleaned from Facebook, which was hardly the best source for personal information.

One would never know from looking at my Facebook page, for example, that I was gay.

That first night at the Lodge, we all went down to North River, the nearest town, for a wonderful meal…and then came the big thrill of the evening: ghost hunting in a very old cemetery–one of the turn off roads was named CEMETERY ROAD, so we felt pretty confident there was a cemetery, and we were right. Maybe it was just us and we’d hyped ourselves up too much, but the cemetery was really spooky–there was also a low fog close to the ground that helped the atmosphere–and I felt myself drawn to a particular tombstone: ALBERT LINCOLN, who’d died at sixteen. “How sad, he was only sixteen. I wonder how he died?” I said out loud–and while I have never believed in the paranormal completely (too many questions that will never be answered) the strangest thing happened as soon as I finished speaking. I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and melancholy, almost like my entire subconscious let out a sigh of incredible sadness. All the hair on my arms stood up, I got a cold chill–it was a muggy night–and I made sure to show this to some of my fellow ghost hunters to witness.

It was so weird, and I felt pretty confident that night I would have nightmares.

I couldn’t stop thinking about poor Albert, dead at sixteen (if he had died a decade later, I would have assumed is was the Spanish flu epidemic, but his tombstone read 1908 not 1918)…after we were finished and went back to the lodge, we watched Rosemary’s Baby on the DVD player in the lounge…and then I had to walk back to my cabin, a short walk down the road through the woods by myself. It was pitch black, and of course I could hear all kinds of weird noises coming from the woods as I walked, absolutely terrified, until I finally saw the light on the door where my room was. I happily escaped inside, and went around closing all the blinds and curtains because it was ink-black outside and if I ever looked over and saw someone or something in the window, I would have dropped dead on the spot.

I opened my laptop and wrote It seemed like a good idea at the time, and then started writing, doing an entire chapter about five teenagers staying at a rustic lodge in the Adirondacks who go ghost-hunting in a cemetery on the mountain only to stir up ghostly forces from a long-ago tragedy.

And I knew I was going to write that book someday, and it was going to be called Lake Thirteen.

I’ve always loved ghost stories; they are my favorites (if pressed to name a favorite novel, it would probably be The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson); I’ve always been drawn to stories about past tragedies and souls being tethered by the violent emotions felt before dying–and the quest for the truth to be known so that they can finally rest in peace. This was the driving force behind Lake Thirteen, with my main character Scotty’s (how many books have I written where I named the main character Scotty? I really need to stop doing that) visit to the cemetery leading him to a connection with a tombstone similar to the one I felt. The rest of the week, as we explored the area and the woods, I took tons of pictures everywhere to use to help with setting and place. It really was a marvelous week–I think all I did all week long was laugh and laugh and laugh more–and I was sorry to see it end.

And eventually, I did write the book. I did open it with It seemed like a good idea at the time with the teens all sitting around in the lodge bored–three families take a trip together every year, Scotty has recently come out and he doesn’t know what his friends from the other family will say or how they will react. My editor wrote back and said, This isn’t where you should start the story. Remember how the directions we were all given were bad and everyone was getting lost on the mountain trying to find the lodge? Open with them on their way, and that way you can get all the backstory in.

It was an easy fix, and it made the book a gazillion times better. It remains a personal favorite of my own stuff, and I even named the characters after some of my ghost-hunting buddies.

A few years later, at another similar event in Palm Springs, we went to visit the not-quite ghost town of Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea–I still haven’t written that book yet.

Cheaper Than Free

Friday and my last day as a sixty year old.

I am working at home today, which is kind of nice. I do have an errand to run this morning–or rather, on my lunch break–but have lots of data to enter and so forth, so I will be ensconced in the home workspace for most of the day. I am also laundering the bed linens–an every Friday chore–and have some odds and ends to clean up around here. I am going to try to get the chores done today so I don’t have to do a damned thing tomorrow; I think I’m allowed on my birthday to take an entire day off–not wash a dish or do any laundry or run any errands or do anything I don’t want to do. I want to spend all day tomorrow reading and relaxing and just chilling out; that’s my favorite kind of birthday. Paul is going to get us Chinese food for a birthday dinner treat, which we haven’t had in an extremely long time..one of my favorite things to do whenever I go to New York is to get good Chinese food. (I know it’s Americanized, don’t @ me.)

I was tired yesterday, the usual Thursday “I’ve gotten up at six a.m. four mornings in a row” thing more than anything else. I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have hoped, but as I said, I felt tired all day–both body and brain fatigue–so when I got home from work yesterday I just kind of allowed myself the evening off. I finished rereading the first two Sandman graphic novels–Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House–which the first season of the show covered, and they were just as marvelous and well-done as I remembered. Hopefully, this weekend I will be able to get back into reading–which is my entire plan for my birthday; I want to finish reading the book I started two weeks (!!!) ago, and move on to the next book on my list. Sunday I will write and edit; and then of course Monday is another work-at-home day as August slowly but surely slides back into September. Whew. At some point–Sunday, most likely–I will need to run some errands, but I’m not going to worry about that today…although I do need to update ye Olde To-Do List.

Last night we couldn’t decide what to watch. I started watching a documentary series about British cinema while I was waiting for Paul to finish working, and when he came downstairs we just started chatting while the documentary continued streaming–and when it got to the part about James Bond, Paul remembered seeing something about the young woman who played Rosie Carver, the first Black Bond girl (who also turned out to be a double agent) and as we chatted, we both confessed that we had a special soft spot for that Bond film (Live and Let Die), which led to me remembering that watching that movie (the first Bond I saw in the theater, and why Roger Moore was always my favorite Bond–although I’ve really come to appreciate Connery’s a lot more and of course, DANIEL CRAIG) and I said, “I bet that movie doesn’t hold up anymore–I watched it a couple of years ago while making condom packs and I was a little surprised at how racist it actually was; why don’t we watch it again and see what we think?” I had also read the book when I was a teenager–very very little in common with the film, I might add–and had reread it sometime in the last decade and, like rewatching the film, more than a little taken aback about how racist it was. (Live and Let Die will probably be an essay I’ll write at some point, both book and movie.) There are some funny moments in the movie–Moore had a much lighter take on Bond than Connery, and the switch in actors resulted in a dramatic switch in tone for the films–and it’s highly entertaining…but yes, it definitely traffics in the worst 70’s stereotypes of Black people and the voodoo aspects of the story on the fictional island of San Monique are pretty bad, as well. Live and Let Die was also filmed and released during the “blaxploitation” period of film, which saw movies like Superfly, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Cleopatra Jones, Shaft, and Coffy being made and released–the time when the incredibly marvelous Pam Grier’s career took off. Was it an attempt to be relevant and possibly try to reach the audience for blaxploitation movies? Probably, but one of the few things that carried over from the book to the movie was that the villains were Black.

And yes, when we finished watching we agreed that the depiction of Black characters were, at the very least, problematic. The movie does have one of the best theme songs of the entire series of films, though (probably the best song Paul McCartney and Wings ever recorded, for that matter).

I had always kind of envisioned Colin from the Scotty books as a kind of cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones–one of the reasons I originally decided to never really talk about what Colin was doing when he wasn’t in New Orleans is yes, even back then I was thinking about spinning Colin off into his own action/adventure series before realizing can you write an action/adventure novel, Greg? I still would like to try–part of the reason my career is so strange and all-over-the-place is me trying new things to see if I could actually, you know, do it–but action has always been difficult for me to write (and now that little voice in my head is saying which is precisely why you should try to write one, jackass) and of course, an international intrigue plot would require a lot more planning than what I am used to doing. I might still do it, you never know–I have a plot in mind that involves the 4th Crusade and the sack of Constantinople; one that’s been in my mind now for several decades–but there are so many things I want to write, and time is running out…

Which, of course, is why I think I’m lazy and am taken aback when people say I’m prolific. My novels and short stories published are maybe about a fifth (if that much) of all the ideas I’ve had or things that are in some sort of progress; that’s what I think about when someone calls me prolific–the files and files of incomplete stories and ideas and characters and scenes languishing on the back burner and collecting dust.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Greg’s Birthday Eve, everyone!

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Thursday and my last day in the office this week. Huzzah! Which means I do not have to get up at six tomorrow morning, which is lovely, and next week my work at home day is Monday, so I don’t have to be back in the office until Tuesday, which is kind of nice. I need to do a couple of errands tomorrow–brake tag and wash the car–but I am also kind of hoping against hope that I can make it to the gym tomorrow in the early evening as well. I hate that the first thing to go out the window whenever I am overwhelmed with work are the two things I enjoy most in life and are, really, things that are just for me: working out and writing.

I entered #shedeservedit for the Thriller Award for Best Children’s/Young Adult this week; I am not sure if there’s any point, really, but you cannot complain about queer books not making award shortlists if you don’t enter your own and encourage every other queer writer to do so as well. I am also entering it for the Edgars. Dream big, Gregalicious.

I have to admit I’ve not really been promoting #shedeservedit the way I should be, and I am not entirely sure why that is. Every step of the way of writing that book I was worried about whether I was the right person to tell that story or not…something I would have never even thought about ten years ago. I still don’t think I would have been the right person to tell the story had the main pov character been a girl; making it a guy, seeing everything that was going on in Liberty Center from a male teenager who is also on the football team, for me, made it more palatable–and it’s not just the story of the toxic masculinity and the rape culture permeating the town of Liberty Center: there’s a whole lot of just plain wrong going on in that town, and my main character, Alex, was affected and damaged by all of it, even as (sometimes) merely a witness to the shenanigans. Everything has a ripple effect, after all. But at the same time, the book has a content warning–which, I am ashamed to admit, never crossed my mind that it would need when I was writing it. How would a young woman who has experienced this, or knows someone who has, react to reading this story? That thought also kind of made me pull back a bit from the promotional stuff. Even with a content warning, is what happens in the book–even though it’s all already happened, and is seen only through flashbacks–going to be too difficult for a young woman (or a young man, for that matter) who has experienced something similar to read? The book has been out in the world now for over five months, it has a four and a half star rating on Amazon (I will not look at Goodreads, and no one can make me go to that barren hellscape for authors)…but at the same time there hasn’t been any pushback thus far on the book–which also doesn’t mean it won’t eventually happen, either.

But this week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (I honestly don’t know why I do this. Sometimes I have fun joking around with my friends there, and I’ve seen posts about books that I went on to read and enjoy, but for far too large a percentage of the time I have to step away from it in revulsion when I see how truly terrible so many people are willing to be behind the anonymity of a computer screen, a cartoon avatar, and a fake name…and how many more are unashamed to reveal their monstrous true selves with their actual names and images proudly on display for everyone to see) and I came across a piece from The Cut, which is a part of New York magazine and Vulture and I am not sure what all other websites and so forth are involved in that tangled mess of on-line and print publications. It purported to be about a high school teenager who “made a mistake” and “got canceled by his school.”

Ah, another story about the evils of cancel culture, I thought to myself, should I bother?

Reader, I bothered. And dear God in heaven, I am so sorry I did. If you want to read the nauseating swill for yourself, if it is still up, it can be found here: https://www.thecut.com/article/cancel-culture-high-school-teens.html. If you have high blood pressure, I would advise against it.

What makes the entire thing worse, in my opinion, is of course they assigned this piece to a woman. There’s a reason why men accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault will inevitably hire a female defense attorney–it subliminally communicates to the jury would a woman defend this person if he were a rapist? No woman would take on such a case! But when I was doing my research for #shedeservedit, one of the things I noted was how many women didn’t believe the girls, how many of their peers didn’t believe the girls, and that the nastiest and most vicious critics of the victims were other women/girls. I remember reading about Brock Turner’s mother, weeping and sobbing about how her son’s life was being ruined (implied: by that drunk slut!); the former girlfriend who wrote a character reference letter for him to the judge, and on and on. (I always wonder–as I did with Brock Turner–does he have any sisters or female first cousins? What do they think about this?)

Anyway, the author of this piece–whose sympathies are entirely with this boy whose only regret for sharing nude pictures of his girlfriend with his friends (when he was “drunk,” because I guess that makes it okay) is that he was shunned by his entire high school–misses the lede in this article so many times. She is so desperate to make us all feel bad for this kid for being made to feel the absolute least amount of consequence possible for his actions that she misses that the girls at this school felt so betrayed and dismissed by the system–which is supposed to protect them–that they took action on their own. That is the story here–what the students had to step up to do because THE ADULTS and the SCHOOL SYSTEM failed them.

But no, we get another “oh this poor boy”. (Who went to four proms and is leaving for college in the fall, where none of this will follow him.) By a woman writer who, per Wikipedia, has teenaged daughters of their own. How must THEY feel when reading their mother’s latest work?

Not even ten years ago the victims in Steubenville and Marysville were the ones shunned; not the guys who got them wasted and took advantage of them. (At least the Steubenville victim got some justice, as two of the boys were convicted; the poor girl in Marysville got nothing but slut-shamed and eventually she committed suicide.)

My original inspiration for writing this book honestly came back in the early 1990’s. Remember the Spur Posse at Lakewood High School? (No less an august literary figure than Joan Didion herself wrote about the Spur Posse, in her New Yorker piece “Trouble in Lakewood.”) I thought I had read about the Spur Posse in Rolling Stone–which, let’s face it, I was more likely to read at the time than the New Yorker–and was completely appalled…I sat down and started writing an idea for a book based on it, where the girls of the school, getting nowhere with the police and the school administration and so forth, become ‘avenging angels’ to publicly shame and embarrass the boys…and then they start dying. I wrote a couple of chapters, created some characters, and titled it When Stallions Die (stallions, obviously, a stand-in for Spur Posse); I always meant to swing back around to it at some point because it was an interesting idea (if you agree, you should read Lisa Lutz’ brilliant The Swallows from a few years’ back) and I still might–one never knows. But it was the Spur Posse situation that made me start thinking–long and hard–about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and the weird need that some women have to protect men at any cost: “boys will be boys,” “any red-blooded American boy”…”locker room talk.”

And since I had been wanting to write a Kansas book, and had been playing around with a story for a small city in Kansas, its teens, and its high school football team, #shedeservedit kind of evolved from there.

I don’t know why I am so reluctant and/or nervous to promote the book. It was a deeply personal book for me to write (as was Bury Me in Shadows), and yes, I put a lot of my teenaged self into that book–not the surface Greg everyone saw and knew, but the interior Greg, the one who was so deeply miserable and unhappy and alone on the inside.

Wow, this rambled on for a lot longer than I expected it to! That article clearly pissed me off, did it not?

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

If You Really Love Me

Wednesday morning and I forgot to set my alarm. No worries, because my body went ahead and woke me up before the alarm would have gone off, so that I could see that the alarm hadn’t been set–which isn’t, frankly, very like me, but yesterday was a weird transitional day where I went to the office and had to deal with the jarring reentry into my normal everyday life after the high of the Edgar banquet last week. I think I slept well last night; I certainly feel awake and alert this morning, more so than I did yesterday, which is great. I have some errands to run on my way home from the office tonight–mail, groceries–and then I am in and settled for the evening. We finished watching Minx (I do have some thoughts on this show) last night and started Under the Banner of Heaven, starring Andrew Garfield and based on the Jon Krakauer book (I am a fan of Krakauer, but I never got around to reading this one), so am not really sure what true crime the book was based on, so the entire thing is new to both of us, and we are definitely enjoying it. I didn’t get to spend any time reading or writing last evening because I had a long overdue phone call with a friend (it was marvelous) when I got home from the office and by the time we were finished talking Paul was home and it was time to watch some of our shows.

Scooter has also readjusted to being back home, and it’s not he was never boarded now and has completely forgiven us (or forgotten it happened, more likely) and is back to normal again. He spent most of the evening moving from my lap to Paul’s and back again; moving whenever one of us got up and/or shifted how we were sitting (or lying down, in Paul’s case), so he’s happy again, which is nice. I always feel guilty about boarding him, especially since the kitty spa he boards at is also where we acquired him; so I always worry he thinks he’s being abandoned again whenever we take him there. I know animals may not think in those kinds of terms, but I always imagine they do, and it kind of breaks my heart for them.

My own reentry/readjustment period actually comes to fruition today, I think. Yesterday was difficult in some ways adjusting back to the work schedule and routine of the every day; today feels more in line with how things were before I left for New York. I’m not traveling again until June (I also am traveling in July; again in September, and then hopefully not again until the holidays; I may be heading up to New England again in November but we’ll just have to see how that works out, with vacation times and all but I don’t really want to think that far ahead of things, either), if then–the jury remains out on that one–and time is really slipping away through my fingers. I need to get back to writing, and soon–I am glad that I have that story draft finished–and I also need to get the Bouchercon anthology finished as well. I think if I can get these fragments of things finished and crossed off the list that will make getting back to actually writing something much much easier as I move forward through this swimming pool we call life.

“The swimming pool we call life.” Jesus fricking Christ, I can get full of myself and write some garbage, can’t I? This is yet another example of why no one sees early drafts of anything I write.

The Anne Rice tribute anthology I was asked to write a story for–which wound up being “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–is going to be released later this month; it’s called Dancing in the Shadows: A Tribute to Anne Rice and it’s a fundraiser for a charity Mrs. Rice supported during her lifetime–although I cannot for the life of me remember what that is right now (no worries, Constant Reader, at some point I will post the cover art and the name of the charity along with buy links and the opening of my story, as I always do with anthologies that I am in).

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

I Love You For All Seasons

I really really love my life.

Sunday morning in the Lost Apartment, and my sleep schedule appears to have snapped back to normal. I slept decently last night–not as decently as I was sleeping in New York, for some reason, but at the same time I was worried that my sleep patterns were going to need to be reset once I got home and that would be problematic–and feel pretty decent this morning, although my coffee doesn’t taste right (which is concerning, obviously; loss of taste is a symptom of the dreaded COVID-19 but I decided to snack on something and I can taste it, so I’m not sure what the deal with the coffee is this morning; it tastes watery to me). I started doing laundry last night (unpacking the suitcases directly into the washing machine) so I have to get that finished today, and there are some other tedious chores I need to get done. I also need to make groceries and go to Costco at some point.

The flight home was uneventful, but you could see the differences between the red and blue parts of the country in evidence: LaGuardia Airport almost everyone was masked, no one was in Nashville. But everything was on time, our bags arrived, the shuttle to the parking lot came almost immediately, and we were able to get home within slightly more than an hour after our flight landed. I miss Scooter, of course; we can’t pick him up until tomorrow from the kitty spa so the Lost Apartment feels very strange not having him bitching at me for food or cuddles every so often. After the inevitable re-acclimatization to being home, we watched two episodes of Ozark, which is heading for its finale before retiring for the evening for bed. I am going to hate finishing Ozark, a show I’ve loved from the beginning for its intricate plotting and exceptional character development. Today I’ve got to dig through the emails and start making lists and getting shit done. I need to finish this short story, I need to make a lot of plans, and I need to get my life and career kickstarted. New York was lovely, as always, and it was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a very long time. (Not much competition, I have to confess, but still.) Because I slept so well the entire time I was gone I didn’t come home exhausted, and all I am really experiencing this morning is “I flew yesterday” fatigue of a bit. But I am feeling just as motivated as I was feeling while I was up there, and it is lovely to be back staring at my enormous computer screen again (note to self: make eye appointment stat) with something other than dread and that horrible overwhelmed feeling. Sure, I have a lot to do, but let’s face it–I can do it.

I finished reading Mango, Mambo, and Murder on the flight from LaGuardia to Nashville (chef’s kiss, Raquel; more on that later) and then started reading Carol Goodman’s debut novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, originally published twenty years ago. I’ve become a big fan of Carol’s and need to read more of her canon; I’ve loved everything she’s written that I’ve read and this book is no exception. (If you’re not reading Carol Goodman, shame on you and correct that immediately) She is also as delightful in person as she is on the page–I met her at St. Petersburg Bouchercon at the HarperCollins cocktail party, and I fanboyed all over the place and I regret NOTHING. I’m also looking forward to digging into more of the TBR pile as well as some of the new additions I picked up off the book table after the banquet. I also read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not while I was on this trip (more on that later), so my reading mojo seems to be back; I think I am going to try to have at least an hour set aside every day to read. I also have to read Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief before our bookstore event in a few weeks. Such an odious chore! Anyway, the Goodman is fantastic, as I knew it would be, and am enjoying the hell out of it.

But as I reflected in my easy chair last night while watching Youtube videos about Heartstopper (more on that later; but I am obsessed with that show; and want to watch it again), I’ve been incredibly lucky with my life and last week was a very strong reminder of that. I think, in some ways, this past week in New York snapped me almost completely out of the pandemic funk I’ve been in since the beginning and as I said the other day, I feel like me again. This trip had a lot to do with it, for sure. It’s lovely when you can get some clarity, and it was lovely that I was able to travel and get some rest and not be tired all the fucking time while I was away. I am hopeful that will be an exciting new trend for me going forward: sleeping well while not at home. One can hope and dream, at any rate–but that’s not the right attitude to have, and I think that’s been a lot of the problem over the last few years; my attitude has been negative about everything and that’s not helpful or workable. Here’s hoping those days (well, years) of a poor attitude are in the rearview mirror.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I have a lot on my plate and I need to start cleaning it so I can make another trip to the buffet of life and load ‘er up again. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

If You Could Read My Mind

Friday morning after the Edgars and I feel very drained emotionally and intellectually. Physically I am fine; I cannot believe how well I’ve been sleeping in a hotel up here in New York. I slept for about ten hours again last night–I’d forgotten how that actually feels, and it’s marvelous, really–so I am simply not going to question it, you know? We fly home tomorrow and today is one of those busy days where I am meeting people for coffee and drinks and trying to get all kinds of other stuff taken care of while I am here, and of course tomorrow we fly home. Sunday is going to be a regrouping kind of day, and I do get to work at home on Monday, so that will help me ease back into the regularity of what is my regular day-to-day life. I think I am already ahead of the game in that I am physically rested rather than exhausted, which is my usual when I travel. I have fallen behind on a great many things–April was simply a terrible month for one Gregalicious, and I think a lot of that had to do with being so tired most of the month. I still can’t wrap my mind around the way the Left Coast Crime trip just blasted me with both barrels; I was literally afraid that I couldn’t handle traveling anymore. But this trip has been marvelous; I’ve slept a lot on this trip (more than I do at home, which is even stranger) than I usually do at home, and the lovely thing is that when I feel rested, I feel like I can get anything and everything done, including taking over the world.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that, too. I’d almost forgotten how amazing it feels.

I feel like me this morning, and I haven’t felt like me in a long time.

I didn’t take a single picture last night, either. I tried to keep my anxiety under control before I had to get up and speak, and I honestly don’t remember what I said when I was up there on stage–I always just kind of go into some weird dissociative state (probably not that extreme, but that’s how it feels) when I have to do things like that (panels and moderating are different; at least those I can remember some things I said and can remember being up there) and afterwards I have to really focus on breathing and so forth to come back into myself. I didn’t do a very good job of managing the anxiety, obviously; certainly not as well as I controlled the travel anxiety the other day when we flew here. (That experience gave me the false hope that I could possibly start being able to control my anxiety in other situations..obviously, I was wrong. But hope will always spring eternal.)

I still can’t get over how late I’ve been sleeping in here. And it’s not that weird half-sleep thing, either; I actually am sleeping. Obviously it something remarkable since I can’t stop writing about it, right?

But now that this is out of the way–I also think the anxiety was subconsciously building all month which helped make April a much worse month than it needed to be–and my mind is clear again, it’s time to start making lists and figuring out where everything stands and clean out the email inbox and start ticking things on the list and making progress again. I feel like, in some ways, I’ve been in this weird holding pattern for a long time without the energy or the drive or the desire to actually accomplish things. I don’t know what caused it; there was an awful lot of burnout I think for some reason. Probably all the juggling and plate-spinning I’ve been doing, and of course the first few months of the year are inevitably overwhelming on many different levels for me. I mean, I was on-boarding a new board of directors for Mystery Writers of America; coordinating and organizing the Bouchercon anthology; writing my own book; and writing several promised short stories (the one due tomorrow the editors graciously gave me another week so I am going to really have to buckle down and do a great job on the story–no pressure there, and of course the festivals and Carnival as well as other transitions at the day job. So yeah, the first third of the year were kind of rough, but I am–at least this morning–feeling like I can get everything done.

There’s nothing worse than that overwhelmed feeling of defeat.

I really don’t like it, because it also starts a spiral into hopelessness and I hate that most of all. That’s the why bother phase, the “why do I try because nothing matters and it doesn’t make any difference anyway” and I absolutely despise that; I call it the Pit of Despair (thanks, The Princess Bride). I seem to have spent a lot more time in the Pit of Despair lately than I have in years, and I don’t like feeling that way.

Or maybe I’m just on a high from the awards last night. It was a bit overwhelming being in such a big crowd, as well as seeing people I’ve not seen in years thanks to the goddamned pandemic; I wanted to see and talk to everyone and chat and laugh and get caught up, but it’s also kind of impossible in that kind of situation and yeah, it can be a bit much, particularly when you’re socially awkward and much more of an introvert than you should be when your job requires you to speak publicly and be social and circulate and all of those things. There are so many weird contradictions and oppositions built in my psyche and personality that are constantly at war with each other…for one example, obviously I would love to be more successful than I am, but success also comes at a price. The more successful you are, the more public events you have to do as well as public speaking (things I am terrible at, cause me stress and anxiety, and drain me completely) not to mention the small talk. One thing I’ve never been good at is receiving compliments. I don’t know what to say to people when they’re complimenting me and my work…I just stammer and blush and say “thanks you’ve very kind” but somehow can’t engage any further than that because I get awkward and feel stupid.

And on that note, I am going to post this and get some work done. Have a great post-Edgar Friday, Constant Reader.

Don’t Pull Your Love

Ah, New York.

The travel day wasn’t bad at all, really; I didn’t allow anxiety to seize control of my day OR my mood, and everything went smoothly. We had an open seat in between us on our flight, our bags came right off the plane, and the only really problem was our car service was late picking us up and bringing us to our glorious hotel on Times Square. I did manage to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not on the trip (do not recommend, but am willing to give one of his better works a shot, although there was plenty of reasons in this particular volume to make me never read Hemingway again ever)–I am certain there will be more about that later–and I think I am going to dig into Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder next; I also brought along Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man , L. C. Rosen’s Jack of Hearts, and the divine Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Lost Languages. I won’t probably get to all of them on this trip, but I should make a significant dent into this traveling TBR pile while I am here. I do have some other things to keep my busy–I really need to finish writing that short story this week, and I am doing a ZOOM thing about Ira Levin’s Deathtrap for the Jefferson Performing Arts Center tomorrow, between going into the MWA office to work as well as then meet some folks later for drinks.

Nonstop action in New York, y’all.

I was very tired when I got here yesterday, and by the time we were all checked into our hotel and unpacked, we just ordered room service and chilled in our room. I got about two chapters into Mango, Mambo and Murder before the words started swimming in front of my eyes and I had to put it down and go to sleep. The bed was very comfortable, and I slept really well–if off and on; but compared to Albuquerque it was like getting the sleep treatment in Valley of the Dolls–so I at least feel very rested this morning. I am about to get into the shower and walk down Broadway to the MWA office to do some last minute work pre=banquet (I still am not entirely sure what I am going to say about there, but one thing I do know for sure is I am not going to get up there and try to wing it; but I am not nearly as stressed about this as I was at Left Coast for some reason–maybe my decision to try to tamp down the anxiety is working? I managed to remain calm and relaxed all throughout my travel day yesterday, and I am not really stressing much about the banquet itself.

After all, there’s plenty of time for me to freak out about it tomorrow, right?

Well, I need to get a move on, so have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Never Can Say Goodbye

Today is the day: New York bound in a few hours for the Edgars. I dread the traveling part–the drive to the airport, the waiting for boarding at the gate, claiming luggage and finding the car service, the ride into Manhattan–but later today I will be in the city for something truly exciting. Paul’s birthday is the night of the Edgars, and then we are flying back home on Saturday. Last night wasn’t bad. At first I was stressed and anxious and freaking out a little bit–the norm the night before a trip–but at some point I decided to stop being ridiculous and relax. I made a list of what I needed to pack, and gathered everything and then packed the suitcases. When Paul got home he packed. And I just relaxed, didn’t stress about anything, and then went to bed. I didn’t sleep well last night–of course, which I assumed was excitement about the trip as well as my mind punishing me for not getting anxious and letting my anxiety take over and make me completely miserable. It was actually lovely to not be stressed about the trip; likewise this morning I am relaxed and calm and not allowing myself to get stressed about getting to the airport and taking Scooter to the kitty spa and so forth.

I wonder how long this will last…but it’s lovely, frankly.

I am still obsessing about Heartstopper; I am not prepared quite yet to blog about both the show and the graphic novels (both of which I absolutely adored) as I am still processing it all. I may watch the show again once we get back from New York; it really was that good and enjoyable, and all eight episodes add up to about four hours of television. I’ve also fallen in love with Heartstopper Mixtape playlist on Spotify, which is essentially the soundtrack of the show (which really used music perfectly; I particularly love the song “What’s It Gonna Be” by Shura; it’s the song that plays during the rain scene–and there’s a lyric that keeps running through my head: if you let me down let me down slow. I suspect that’s going to wind up being a story title or the theme of something I write in the near future; there’s just something about the heartbreak in that line that touches something inside of me the same way the lyric “promises in every star” from ’til Tuesday’s song “Coming Up Close” haunted me for years before I wrote a story with that title). I mean, it really is the sweetest show; it even moved my bitter brittle heart, and I happy cried a few times watching it–no small feat to pull off, right?

I did finish my CV yesterday and it wound up being eleven pages long. I’ve written more novels than I’ve been giving myself credit for, as well as more short stories. The articles/columns/essays section is underreported; it ends in 2001, and I know I’ve written a lot more pieces than what I’ve recorded in the CV; someday when I get a wild hair (or want to avoid writing) I’ll go up into the attic and get the file box with all my copies of the articles/columns etc. and get it filled in, which will be kind of fun. It’s just nice to have the damned thing finally caught up with the fiction, frankly (eleven pages! JFC!) and it’s nice to have on hand. I should update it every once in a while when I think about it; but I certainly am never going to let it go fifteen years between updates (and to be fair, when I originally started putting it together back in 2007, I never completed it in the first place, so having it in some sort of order now is enormously satisfying) again.

I’ll take my victories where I can get them, you know?

I feel very calm this morning, which is unusual, and I think it’s because I am not letting myself get freaked out or anxious or stressed about this trip. It’s kind of nice, actually.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will probably check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Tomorrow we leave for New York.

I’m both excited and nervous for the trip, to be honest; nervous about having to speak at the banquet for one thing, excited to be in New York and to see friends for another. Today is going to be, around clients, last minute attempts to get ready for the trip, making a packing list to make sure I don’t run off tomorrow morning to the airport without things packed that i will need once I am there (I forgot something rather important for Alburquerque), and hoping, always hoping, that I will be able to sleep once I am there. I’ve slept well for the last few days, which has been really nice, and fingers crossed that will continue once I travel. The flight is nonstop on the way there; we have to change planes in Nashville on the way back. I always am hopeful that things will go smoothly whenever I travel; there was some delays involved on my last trip but I think everything ran on time the last time I went to New York.

I continue to obsess about both season 5 of Elité as well as Heartstopper. I actually went ahead and got the graphic novels the show (Heartstopper) is based on (more on that to come), and really enjoyed reading them yesterday. I guess I never realized how much I needed to see a sweet young love story between teenagers? I’ve tried reading the big gay y/a novels over the last few years without much luck; I never was able to really connect with the characters or the stories I was trying to read (without much luck) and even some of the films/TV shows based on them, but they didn’t really engage me. I am happy these books and stories and their adaptations exist–representation matters, believe me, it does–but there’s nothing wrong with my not being able to enjoy them, either. I didn’t like much y/a fiction when I was an actual young adult, and maybe I do somewhat try to write the stories that I would have liked to have read when I was that age with my own work–I don’t know if I succeed with that or not; the jury remains out and probably will remain out until long after I die–but I also enjoy writing them. (Not that I am enjoying writing anything these days, but you know what I mean.)

I also continued to work on my CV yesterday–it’s close enough to complete now to turn over to my friend for the favor they asked for, needing a bit of editing and moving things around–but it’s now eleven or twelve pages long, and I could easily (well, not easily; it would require digging through boxes in storage to get all the fitness columns and book reviews and author interviews out that I wrote over the early years in my career) fill up probably another three to four pages. That’s pretty fucking long, really; I am now up to almost forty novels (there, if you count novellas as novels) and I think I need to count my short stories again as well. I also know I have a lot more essays out there somewhere…but as I said, a twelve page CV more than meets the requirements necessary for this current purpose.

Jesus Christ, I’ve written a lot since 1996–and this doesn’t even count all the drafts, unpublished stories, false starts on books that only got a few chapters in before running out of steam, essays, and most important of all–this fucking BLOG. Even if these only average 500 words per (and many of them run much longer), I’ve been doing this almost every day since December 2004. Eighteen fucking years. Assuming that I miss at least forty-five entries per year, I’ve written 103, 680 words (assuming the blogs are all 500 words). That’s fucking insane.

But I think I am going to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not next; I picked it up and opened to the first page yesterday and kind of actually got sucked into it. So I will read that at the airport and on the flight tomorrow and have a back-up in my backpack. I picked out other books to take with me on the trip, of course–and of course, there will be giveaways after the banquet on Thursday night to bring home–so I am all set on that score. And we watched some more of Severance last night (after a really bad gay movie called The Pass with Russell Tovey; I do not recommend it. It’s full of self-loathing and toxic masculinity and while the actors are good… yeah, the story leaves a lot to be desired), which I am really enjoying. I don’t know what’s going on yet–and I doubt very seriously that any of the questions I have are going to be answered in one season (we’re three seasons in on Servant and still have no fucking clue what is really going on in that household).

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Monday of Edgar week, Constant Reader!