The Nightwatchers

I never really thought much about writing vampire fiction.

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I read a battered paperback copy of Carrie when I was fourteen, and ‘salem’s Lot continues to be a top 5 King novel for me, if not my favorite (it’s always a toss-up between this and The Stand, frankly) and despite my attempts to turn myself into a King clone in the 1980’s, I’ve never been very good at writing horror. I love to read it–there are some truly terrific horror writers publishing now (if you’ve not read Paul Tremblay, you really need to start), and they are, if you’ll pardon the incredibly cheap pun, killing it. I can do creepy. I can do Gothic. I can do atmosphere and all those marvelous things I love in horror fiction. But I cannot, for the life of me, scare people. I don’t know why I can’t write anything that gets under your skin and into your nervous system; the kind of thing that makes you leave a light burning after you go to bed. I wish I could write like that. I’ve certainly tried a few times…I still have an idea for a horror novel sitting in the back of my brain that I am really going to have to try to get around to writing at some point, because I really should give it a real try sometime.

I have always enjoyed reading vampire stories. “salem’s Lot has always been one of my top five Stephen King novels; I loved Dracula (oh to write an epistolary novel!) and numerous other such tales. It took me awhile to come around on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (a tale for another time), but I did eventually. Twilight never struck any chords with me. But the one thing I never thought I would do was write about vampires, despite loving them the way I do–going all the way back to my childhood and Dark Shadows. I don’t think I ever would have written about vampires, but my editor at Kensington thought I could; thought I would do a good job at it, and encouraged it, beginning with an offer to write an erotic vampire novella for a collection to be called Midnight Thirsts.

Go home, old man, Rachel thought, tapping her black fingernails on the counter.

It was a quarter till nine, fifteen minutes before she could lock the doors. Everything was clean and the cash register was already counted down. All she had really left to do was dump the remains of the day’s coffee down the sink, lock the cash drawer in the safe, and turn everything o. She’d be gone by ten minutes after at the latest.

She glanced out the big windows fronting the coffee shop. The streetlight just outside cast a yellowish glow in the thick mist pressing against the glass. She shivered and looked back at the old man. He was sitting at one of the tables in the far corner, with the same cup of coffee he’d ordered when he came in around seven thirty. He hadn’t touched it. It was still as full as when she’d filled the cup, only no steam was coming off the black surface now. He didn’t seem to be watching for anyone, or waiting. He never glanced at this watch, which she’d spotted as a platinum Tag Heuer, nor did he ever look out the window. Every once in a while. he would look up from his newspaper and catch her staring. He’d smile and nod, then go back to his reading.

Apparently, he was determined to read every word.

She stood up, bending backward so her back cracked. The night had been really slow. The Jazz Café, even on weeknights, usually was good for at least thirty to forty dollars in tips. Tonight, when she counted out the tip jar, it yielded less than seven dollars. Just enough to get her a pack a cigarettes and a twenty-ounce Diet Coke at Quartermaster Deli on her way back to her apartment. It wasn’t, she thought, wiping down the counter yet again, even worth coming in for.

Usually, on this kind of night, cold and damp and wet, Rachel was kept busy with orders for triple lattés. The tables would be full of people who would coming in shivering, bundled against the cold wetness in the air, which seemed to penetrate even the thickest coat. They’d hold their steaming cups of coffee with both reddened hands, talking and laughing. SOme would be doing their homework on laptops.

She liked busy nights, when the orders kept coming and the tip jar filled. Then, the time seemed to fly by, her closing shift passing in the blink of an eye. She hated the slow nights, when every passing minute seemed to take an eternity. She glanced back at the clock on the wall, then back at the old man. If you would just leave, she thought, I could go ahead and close early.

He’s kind of good-looking, she thought as she sipped her tepid cup of green tea, for an older guy.

At that moment he look up, and their eyes met. His were blue, a deep blue with some green in it. Once again, he nodded his head to her and smiled, but this time he didn’t go back to his newspaper. He held her eyes.

Not to worry, my child, I’ll be gone soon enough.

She turned away, shaking her head, the hair on the back of her neck standing up…

As is frequently the case with my work, The Nightwatchers began as a short story. Within a year of moving here, Paul had struck up a friendship with the director of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (which is where he now works), and as such he volunteered us both to help out with the 1997 Festival. I worked at the sign-in desk, where people picked up their badges and so forth, and it was in the lobby of Le Petite Theatre de Vieux Carre, a marvelous old theater on the corner of Chartres and St. Peter, right across the street from the Cabildo, and kitty-corner to Jackson Square. It was very old, and the main stage was named for Helen Hayes, who’d actually played there before. It was haunted, too–every building in New Orleans is–and I heard some of the stories. Being a volunteer, I had access to back stage, upstairs to the balcony, the prop attic; everywhere. (I eventually used some of this knowledge in Jackson Square Jazz.) At some point during the weekend I had an idea for a story–a horror story–about a theater company rehearsing in an old haunted theater in the French Quarter, where the person always cast in the lead female roles is also sleeping with the director. The young actress who deserved the part doesn’t listen to company gossip, but she does eventually find out that the rumors are true, and at some point made a deal with a devil who appeared to her in her dressing room, on and on and on. I called the story The Nightwatchers, because to me, that was what the devils/demons were called–they watch at night for souls to prey on. When I was asked to write this novella, I dug out the story and reread it, deciding it was perfect to adapt into something new.

I played with it a while, and couldn’t quite get it right in my head until I decided to abandon the theater idea; I’d tried turning the girl into a gay guy but it didn’t really work. I also couldn’t seem to get the atmosphere right, either, and I was convinced–still am, in fact–that the atmosphere had to be just right or the story wouldn’t work. Then one night I was walking through the lower Quarter in December–meeting Paul somewhere, I think–and it was one of those evenings when the fog is so insanely thick that you literally can’t see more than a foot or so in front of you at any time. As I walked along the sidewalk, with the old buildings pushing up against the sidewalk, when I heard the sound of hooves on the street–and realized, bemusedly, that in the fog and the only light from a gaslight–that I could have traveled back in time. Only in New Orleans can you feel like you’ve traveled back in time when it’s foggy, I thought, and wrote an entire scene around that feeling when I got back home. It was the perfect mood/atmosphere for the story, and it worked very well.

And as I wrote the novella, I got more and more into the characters and started imagining my own supernatural world, with vampires and witches and werewolves and everything else, including a ruling council over the paranormal world, the Council of Thirteen, and the old man Rachel sees in the coffee shop is a representative of the Council, in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire…a vampire who believes her young friend Philip Rutledge (now the center of the story) is the reincarnation of someone he loved hundreds of years earlier when he was human (shades of Dark Shadows!) and so wants to turn Philip into his eternal companion, and it’s up to Nigel and Rachel to rescue Philip.

It was a lot of fun to write, and I left the ending a bit open so I could write more about the characters if I ever chose to do so; I actually slotted a continuation novel into my writing schedule; it was supposed to be what I wrote next after finishing Mardi Gras Mambo…needless to say, life conspired to keep me from ever getting around to this book. I am still a bit disappointed I never carried on with the story; I used this same mythology when I returned to writing about vampires again several years later with Blood on the Moon.

So, that’s how The Nightwatchers came to be a story. Writing this now I see the parallels between what I wrote and some things I read and enjoyed (or watched, a la Dark Shadows); and is my “Nightwatcher” group that different from Anne Rice’s Talamasca? Probably not.

I did read and enjoy the other novellas back in the day; I’ve been meaning to revisit Michael Thomas Ford’s because it was particularly memorable.

Brown Eyes

Sunday morning and another lovely night’s sleep. I feel rested and relaxed this morning–yesterday I still felt like I wasn’t completely recharged yet–so I think today will be a good day of getting things done for me. One can hope, at any rate. Once I finish this I have to start getting ready for my podcast discussion on My Cousin Rachel this morning, which I am not certain I am prepared for. I also need to order that Costco delivery I never got around to yesterday–I felt tired after running my errands yesterday, and my brain wasn’t really functioning the way it needed to be to write, so I just sat in my chair and watched Tennessee beat Florida (the one time per year I root for Tennessee) and then LSU dismantle New Mexico 38-0 last night. I’ve not checked other scores, but I don’t think there were a lot of surprises other than Oklahoma’s almost-predictable almost-annual loss to Kansas State. I’ve not been giving college football much attention this season, but there were an awful lot of almost-upsets yesterday, which should make for an interesting season the further along we get into it.

Tropical Storm Ian continues to slightly move his track ever-so-slightly more west, so the Cone of Uncertainty keeps drawing nearer and nearer to New Orleans, but it looks as though landfall is going to be Wednesday–and ironically, being on the western side of the storm means we will get some lovely cooler weather as a result. I hate that about hurricane season, and obviously I worry about people in Florida (although if I were a right-winger, I’d say God isn’t clearly happy with the way Florida is being run) while at the same time being relieved we don’t have to worry about doing without power or having to leave for this one….but just because we’re getting closer to October doesn’t mean we’re done with the season just yet–it runs through December, after all. Hurray.

I got my contributor’s copy of Magic is Murder, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley yesterday, and what a lovely book it is, too. It’s always lovely to get a copy of your work in print, and as I am sure you’re been made aware by my endless self-promotion on this score, my story here is “The Snow Globe.” It’s another one of my New Orleans paranormal stories–I think there will be three of them seeing print this year (“The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “The Snow Globe” are already out; “A Whisper from the Graveyard” will be out soon) and I am in the process of writing yet another (“Parlor Tricks”) and developing still another (“When I Die”). It’s been a decent year for me and short stories, it appears, and I am hoping once I get this Scotty out of the way and finish the promo for Streetcar’s release that maybe I can focus on writing short stories again for awhile. I’d like to get those novellas finished and out of the way; there are three that are close to being finished and I think I can get them all published into one volume (those would be “Never Kiss a Stranger”, “Fireflies,” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–although sometimes I think the first and third might actually work as full-length novels ) and there are a couple of others I’d like to get finished in the new year (and how weird is it that I am already thinking about 2023?). I will probably also try to write another Scotty in the New Year (French Quarter Flambeaux is next up in that series) and I am thinking about maybe another Alabama book. And there’s also that romance I want to write, and the Leonardo mystery, and…

Yeah, I will never run out of ideas, I feel pretty confident in saying that.

We also finished Dahmer last night, which means we can move on to the new Star Wars show, Andor, which is cool because I absolutely loved the character in Rogue One and even though I know how he dies, I am glad they are giving him his own pre-Rogue One series. (I should watch Rogue One again at some point.) And a new episode of The Serpent Queen should drop tonight as well; so many riches to enjoy! And there are some other shows dropping soon that I can’t wait to see–both new shows and new seasons of old favorites (when will Ted Lasso be back? Anyone?)–and I’d also like to finish reading my Donna Andrews, so I can focus on reading horror for the month of October. October is also the month where A Streetcar Named Murder is set, so I should probably be doing some more promo this month to get ready for the release date in early December.

And of course, I need to get some writing done today around the Saints game.

On that note, I need to head into the spice mines so I can get the kitchen ready for the podcast. I am assuming that the podcast is merely an oral recording and not a visual broadcast, so I am not going to shave this morning…I may regret that decision in about an hour and a half. Have a terrific Sunday, y’all, and GEAUX SAINTS!!!

Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

I also love the word “enchantress.” Go figure. Must be something about the sibilant s.

I moved from Kansas to Fresno, California in February of 1981. It was cold and there was snow on the ground when I boarded an Amtrak train at 2 in the morning with my mother. I fell asleep before the train left the station in Emporia; when I woke up it was gray outside and we were in western Kansas. The trip seemed endless, and our train was delayed because of weather crossing the Rocky Mountains; that part was terrifying, honestly. There were times when there was only enough room on the mountain ledges we rode over for the train tracks, and the wind was powerful enough to rock the train. I’ve always been afraid of heights, so obviously this was completely terrifying for me. I had brought books with me to read on the train, but I’d finished them all by the time we reached Barstow, California–missing our connecting train by half an hour–and thus were stuck there for twelve hours until the evening train to Fresno.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent twelve hours in a train station in Barstow, California.

(Although reading everything in the magazine rack in that train station completely fueled my soap opera obsession–but that’s a story for another time.)

After I finished writing the first draft that became Sara I put the manuscript aside and started working on another one, which I called Sorceress.

Why was the move on Amtrak to California pertinent to the story of Sorceress and how it came to be? Because it’s one of the few books–in fact, the only book–I’ve written under my own name that is set in California (all the Todd Gregory ‘fratboy’ books are set in California).

It was a beautiful day to die.

The sun was shining and she could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.  Through the window on the other side of the room she could see a gorgeous blue sky with wisps of white cloud drifting aimlessly. The house was silent around her, and she closed her eyes again, biting her lower lip.

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

There was a glass pitcher of water sitting on the nightstand just out of her reach. Drops of condensation glistened in the sunlight as they ran down the sides, pooling on the wood. She licked her lips and dry-swallowed again.

“Please.” She’d intended to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears of frustration filled her eyes.

This can’t be happening to me, she thought as the tears began to run down her cheeks. She felt the wetness against her lips, flicking her tongue out to catch the moisture.

It might not be much, but it was something.

She tugged at the handcuffs again, and moaned as the raw skin around her wrists rubbed against the metal, dull arrows of pain shooting up her arms.

That isn’t going to work. You’ve got to think of something else. There has to be something.

As if on cue, the phone on the other side of the room began ringing.

If only I could reach the phone!

If only I weren’t handcuffed to this stupid bed,” she said aloud.

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

Five o’clock. Maybe four more hours until the sun goes down.

She was safe until the sun went down.

She heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the closed door.

“I’m thirsty!” she shouted. “Please! I’m so thirsty!”

The footsteps stopped. She was about to shout again when heard the footsteps start again—only now they were moving away from her door.

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

I started writing the novel Sorceress sometime in 1992 or 1993; I’m not sure which. Sorceress was the easiest of the early manuscripts for me to write, and this was because I knew the story, from start to finish, before I started writing it–which is incredibly rare for me; I even knew the middle, which I always have the most trouble with. I originally wrote Sorceress in the late 1980’s as a novella that originally clocked in at around seventeen thousand words. But even as I wrote that incredibly long short story (at the time all I knew about novellas was that Stephen King sometimes wrote really long stories, like “The Mist”) and had always put it aside, because I knew there was more story there and it needed to be longer–novel length, in fact. So when I finished the first draft of Sara and was ready to move on to something else, I decided to finally expand Sorceress out into a novel.

Fresno wasn’t a pretty city, by any means. It had a desert climate (the entire San Joaquin Valley has a desert climate) that was very dry and climbed to well over 100 degrees in the heart of the summer (sometimes even getting up to over 110) and was all brown, mostly; brown, palm and orange trees, and concrete in the unforgiving sun. My parents bought a house in a subdivision in a city that bordered Fresno yet somehow wasn’t considered a suburb. It had a pool, two orange trees, and several eucalyptus trees. These seemed exotic and cool and fun–until you realized how much fruit one tree, let alone two, could produce, and there was no way to keep up with them, either; inevitably, the back yard was always dank with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting oranges. The eucalyptus trees with their slim, silvery leaves were also a pain in the ass; those leaves would get into the pool, and unless fished out, became water-logged and sank to the bottom, where they would stain and/or discolor the bottom of the pool. It seemed like those little leaves were always fluttering through the air and unerringly landing in the water.

Never again will I live a place where I am responsible for a swimming pool.

But the true beauty of Fresno was its location. It was within a few hours’ drive of many wonderful places: Yosemite, Sierra, and Kings Canyon parks, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. LA was the furthest away–four hours down the Grapevine; and the final descent through the mountains into the plains on the other side was one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven down–but in college I also made friends with students who came from some of those mountain communities–Sonora, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Tuolumne–and wound up visiting them at times. I spent most of my time visiting the mounts in either Sonora or Tuolumne. I’d never spent much time in the mountains before or since, and the thing that always stuck in my head was how close the stars in the night sky seemed up there, almost like you could reach up and grab one. I decided to create my own version of these small mountain towns and call it Woodbridge. When I started writing Sorceress as a novel, I set it in the countryside in the mountains outside of “Woodbridge.” By this time, I had already discovered y/a horror, obviously, and so “Woodbridge” was going to be the anchor of all my stories–they were all going to be connected, and in some ways the center of that fictional universe I was building was going to be Woodbridge (Sleeping Angel is also set in Woodbridge). I also put a college there; a campus of the University of California (UC-Woodbridge) which also gave me college students to play with as well as the high school kids. Laura, my main character, was originally from the same area of Kansas where Sara was set; I even mentioned her in passing in Sara, as a friend who’d moved away to California and who had been betrayed after she left by her best friend and her boyfriend…which also figured into the plot of Sorceress.

Sorceress was also the first book I wrote where I followed the Gothic tropes: a young woman all alone in the world after the death of her parents is summoned by an elderly aunt she didn’t know existed to California. The elderly aunt has a huge Victorian mansion in the mountains, a man-servant/housekeeper/butler, and once there Laura begins to suspect that not only are things not the way they seem, but that her own life might be in danger. There’s also a hint of the paranormal here as well…and some of the kids Laura meets in Woodbridge also figured into some of my other books for young adults as well.

When I had the opportunity to write something on spec for Simon and Schuster teen in the summer of 2005, Sorceress was the one I chose to revise and rewrite for them. I felt it was the most complete and needed the least amount of work, plus I loved the entire Gothic mood of the story. Then of course Katrina came along and knocked that right out of my head; I kept trying to revise it but focus was incredibly difficult, and finally I gave up. This is the story I mentioned in conversation with a friend, who was later given a job as an acquisitions editor, and this is the story she wanted me to pitch to her. I did, but they didn’t pick it up, but when she went out on her own later and started her own small press specifically for juvenile and y/a fiction, she wanted Sorceress, so I dragged it back out and went to work on it again. It was released in 2010, I believe; it’s hard to remember dates these days for me. Anyway, this is the book where I told Bold Strokes I was publishing a y/a with a friend’s small press, which got the response “you know, we do y/a too” that led to me giving them both Sara and Sleeping Angel, and led to all the others.

I also wrote another Woodbridge story–a very long novella–that I intend to either revise as a novella or expand out into a novel. This story directly references events in Sorceress and Sleeping Angel, as well as characters…so while it might be entirely too late to release another book in that linked universe I originally intended to create, a good story is a good story. I just am not sure about the ending of that one, which is one of the reasons it remains in the drawer.

Maybe someday.

Rock a Little

Well, here we are on Saturday after a rage-infested Friday during which my anger burned with the white hot heat of a dozen burning suns. I somehow managed to get things done–the world keeps turning, no matter how shitty whatever is going on that day might be–and yet succumbed to the need to rage-tweet and retweet; Twitter is such a horrible place and it just feeds on itself.

The other day I was talking about #shedeservedit and why I wasn’t entirely comfortable promoting the book–but the abomination of the ‘supreme court’ and its rulings of this past week have completely changed my position about that entirely. I am very glad that I wrote that book, because part of its story also addresses the need for legal abortion. YES I AM PRO-CHOICE AND I ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, even when I was a child. I remember when the Roe decision originally came down; I was twelve years old, and everyone was talking about it. My sister wrote an anti-abortion piece for our high school newspaper, so I knew where she came down on the issue; my parents never really talked about it but I felt pretty safe in assuming, based on their upbringing and their faith, where they came down on the issue. It seemed kind of wrong to me, but the more I read about it and the more I understood the position of those who argued in favor of it, the more I came around to the pro-choice side. No one should have to carry a child to term against their will, period. I don’t know why that is so difficult for so many men to understand or grasp; if men could get pregnant Planned Parenthood would have drive-thru service. And the right to privacy these judicial activists just struck down? The ripples of government intervention into personal life choices that are none of the government’s or anybody else’s decisions is the epitome of government intervention and overreach that conservatives are always screaming about. The abominable sexual predator Clarence Thomas* even specifically named other decisions regarding privacy and government overreach he felt were ‘wrongly decided.’ Hey, if I was married to one of the biggest traitors in American history this side of Benedict Arnold I’d probably have all the seats and keep my mouth shut, but you do you, predator.

Sigh. I’ll probably never stop being angry about this.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I did my day job duties. I also took a short break to go wash and vacuum out my car (I finally found a do-it-yourself car wash that is easy to get to); I also got my brake tag renewed, which was marvelous. (It expired during the shutdown of 2020, and there were no places open to have it done. Naturally, I forgot all about it until a conversation at the office the other day.) I don’t have to worry about that again until 2024. I also picked up the mail and came back home to do more work. After my work duties were finished, I made three binders for working projects–yes, this is something that I do. I print out every draft, three hole punch it, and put into a three-ring binder used specifically for that purpose. I had recently emptied out the binder for A Streetcar Named Murder, and so I am reusing that one of Mississippi River Mischief. I also made a new one for Chlorine, one for “Never Kiss a Stranger ” (and the other novellas), and one for another project I am slowly but surely working on for some reason that doesn’t really make sense to me; someone has shown an interest in it and so I am writing it when I can’t make any progress on what I am currently focused on working on. Today I have an eye appointment in Metairie at noon; I’m debating as to whether to donate books to the library today to get the boxes out of the living room before heading out there. I am probably going to treat myself to Atomic Burger on the way home–I was thinking Sonic, but I’ve not had Atomic Burger since pre-pandemic times so that sounds like more of a treat for me than going to Sonic. (it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve had Five Guys…)

We watched this week’s episode of The Boys last night (thoroughly enjoyed the season finale of Obi-wan Kenobi the night before) before catching another episode of Loot (seriously, Maya Rudolph is killing it on this show; one of the best female comedy performances since Veep–she and Jean Smart will be definitely fighting it out for the Emmy this year, and the entire cast is actually quite good. Very sharp comedic writing, as well, and then once we were caught with that we moved on to First Kill, which we are still enjoying, weird as it is. I also want to spend some time today with The Savage Kind by John Copenhaver–it’s quite wonderful–before I head out to the burbs. (I also laundered the bed linens and got caught up on the dishes as well.) I do want to finish reading it this weekend, so I can find out where it’s going and enjoy every page as well as to move on to my next read before Pride Month runs out. I have all these marvelous books just collecting dust here in the Lost Apartment, and just begging to be read.

On that note, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee and head over to the easy chair with my book before I have to start getting ready to head out to the eye appointment. Have a great Saturday, and remember–channel your rage into action. To quote Game of Thrones, “there is no justice in this world unless we make it.” I intend to spend the rest of my life, as I have spent so much of it already, fighting for justice. I’d kind of hoped that I wouldn’t have to anymore, but letting your guard down just gives the Fascists an opportunity to regroup.

“Henceforth I shall only refer to him in this manner, just as Kavanaugh will always be “the rapist Brett Kavanaugh.”

Garbo

Saturday morning and I feel rested, somewhat. Later today I get to head out into the heat to run errands–one of which involves self-care, so we’re counting that as a necessity, and I also figured it was easier to do all the errands I need to run all at the same time to get them out of the way. On the Monday holiday I intend to return to the gym for the first time in months (huzzah!). I got to sleep in all the way till eight this morning, which is pretty amazing for me lately. I also got most of my chores around the kitchen done last night–the few that are left I will get to over the course of the morning, before I have to get cleaned up and head out for the errands–and Paul didn’t get home terribly late. We watched the new Emma Thompson movie on Hulu, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which wasn’t bad–nothing like I expected, but enjoyable; Emma Thompson is always fantastic in everything she does–and then two more episodes of Why Are You Like This?, which continues to amuse us. While I was waiting for Paul I started watching a documentary series on Epix about Watergate–I watched the first episode about Martha Mitchell, since we’d just watched Gaslit–and then I was watching the last episode (I know the sequence of events and I know the story, so watching the entire thing in order wasn’t necessary), which was about the Saturday Night Massacre. I think it’s good that Watergate is getting talked about again since we are in the midst of more congressional investigations into the possible criminality of a president; it’s also interesting seeing that some of the same players–Roger Stone, for example–were involved then as they are now. The short term memory of our collective nation is appalling, really; it’s also appalling that there are people who continue to support a criminal even as the depth of the criminality is exposed as even more reprehensible in fact then it appeared from the outside.

I mean, no one’s talking about or reporting on Ukraine anymore, it seems; it’s like that war is over and we’ve all moved on to the next bright, shiny object. Guess what? It’s not.

Today I am going to do background work when I get home from the errands (and shower again). I managed to get some work done on a project yesterday, which was lovely; so today I kind of want to do some writing–always need to do some, every day, no matter what–as well as planning, and then I am going to curl up in my easy chair with Scooter in my lap and The Savage Kind by John Copenhaver in my hands. Tomorrow I hope to spend mostly reading and writing all day–we’ll see how that goes–and the same for the work holiday on Monday (I also have to run an errand to the North Shore that morning). The excitement truly never stops around here…but I am feeling good again this morning, just as I did yesterday morning, so that’s always a good thing. (I am worried that the heat outside, however, will defeat my good intentions and wear me out by the time I get home; we are at that point already in the summer where going outside is exhausting. It’s amazing the way heat and humidity can leech the energy right out of you.) But i must say it felt really good to write some last night–which was a lovely change from the recent “pulling teeth with pliers” way it’s been going lately, and even after I stopped writing (Scooter was most insistent that I provide a lap for him to sleep in) I was still thinking about what I had written and what I would write next on that particular project.

Which makes for a lovely change from the malaise I’ve been going through since I finished the edits of Streetcar.

I also need to edit and rework some short stories; I want to get some submissions out before the end of the month. Some of which will be long shots, as always; others more of a safe bet, but everything in this business is a crap shoot. I think part of the problem I’ve been having is that I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to write and what I want to submit and when things need to be turned in and so forth. I had hoped to have a second short story collection ready to go this year, but I don’t think that is going to happen–which is okay; I’d also wanted all the novellas to be finished and turned into a book this year as well. Ah, well, dreams die first.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I have an appointment at eleven, and I need to get ready for that as well as stop to air up my tires on the way there. I hope to be home around two from everything, and yes, I will be completely drained and exhausted from being out navigating the heat and so forth, as well as lugging groceries in from the car. Heavy heavy sigh. But best to get it over with and out of the way today…and we shall see how the rest of the day goes.

Have a happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

We’re supposed to get hurricane strength wind tomorrow and potential tornadoes. Southeastern Louisiana won’t be getting the worst of this storm–that will be further north, but New Orleans and Baton Rouge will still get some shit flung at us. Hurray. The high today is going to be eighty-one; it’s currently sixty-six degrees. I guess it’s sweatshirt under a T-shirt weather for the office again? Most likely.

Paul returned home yesterday morning, and again, it never ceases to amaze me how different it is when he’s home as opposed to when he’s not; it’s not like he’s this enormous person or anything, but the apartment always feels empty and quiet when he’s not home. Scooter, of course, was absolutely delighted to have both daddies home last night, going back and forth between my lap and Paul on the couch–and he was also a lot more quiet than he’s been in quite some time. Of course, Paul’s been missing a lot over the last few months anyway; me only seeing him when he got home and I woke up, groggily, for a moment before going back to sleep and then seeing him sleeping while I dressed for work the next morning. I regret not being able to spend more time down in the Quarter at Saints and Sinners; maybe next year I can plan my life events better so it won’t be a problem for me to spend time seeing people and going to panels. It is a pain in the ass to get down there and come back home every day, of course, but for fuck’s sake–these are my people: queer writers. And the opportunities to see them are rare and we are all getting older and yes, I definitely need to plan better for next year.

I did finish reading Alex Segura’s Secret Identity last evening, and it’s quite wonderful. I enjoyed and savored every page. There will be more to come on that score later. I think now I am going to move on next to Chris Holm’s Child Zero. I also got some older books yesterday in the mail that I ordered on eBay; The Lute Player and The Claw by Norah Lofts (an unjustly forgotten writer of the mid-twentieth century) and one of those Literature Classics leather bound editions of Daphne du Maurier’s Echoes from the Macabre, which is probably my all-time favorite short story collection. It’s a lovely edition in pristine condition, and I am very happy to have a very good copy of it on my bookshelves. The Lute Player is Lofts’ novel about Richard the Lion-hearted, his sad queen Berengaria, and Blondel the minstrel–and was also the first time I realized (when I read it as a freshman in high school) that the great Richard, hero of legend and fiction, was actually….for wont of a better term, not into the ladies so much. I’ve always wanted, since then, to write my own story of Blondel–but then Gore Vidal beat me to it with his A Search for the King, which I read and enjoyed twenty or so years ago. I don’t remember anything about it other than that I enjoyed it; I do like Vidal, and the older I get the more I appreciate his work. I just got a wild hair and thought it would be fun to revisit The Lute Player, and The Claw is her attempt at writing a novel about a serial rapist; heady stuff for 1981. (I’d never read it, but it sounded interesting. I also enjoyed her collection of ghost stories that I read a few years ago; Lofts is terribly underrated and underappreciated as a novelist.)

I do feel a bit disoriented this morning; like I’ve not been into the office in weeks. Literary event over the weekend, sandwiched around work at home hours, undoubtedly has something to do with that. I don’t feel like I know what I am doing or what I need to get done. I do need to make a new to-do list; when I checked the list yesterday morning I had done a terrific job of getting things crossed off (the things I hadn’t crossed off had to do with writing, natch).

I was also thinking last night, after finishing Alex’ superb novel, that I need to figure out my writing schedule for the rest of the year. I had originally planned to try to get a working first draft of Chlorine finished in April, and then get a working first draft of Mississippi River Mischief done in May, then alternate revisions for the rest of the summer while also writing short stories and finishing novellas. I don’t know if that is going to work; I do have a story to write already for April (and haven’t really gotten far into the physical writing of it; I already know how the story is going to work–it’s mapped out in my head) so that’s why I was thinking April–since it also includes trips to Albuquerque and New York–might be better to do short stories and novellas while pushing everything back a month.

Decisions, decisions.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in again tomorrow.

Stoned Love

It’s Ash Wednesday and before dawn as New Orleans crawls out from under and returns to what passes as normal around here–which by the standards of everywhere else, ain’t normal.

I’m kind of glad to see it over this year. I’m sort of glad we had it–it felt like a return to normalcy of a kind, even if I didn’t feel excited about it or participated in it much–but I’m also happy it’s over. I feel very weird having been essentially trapped inside the house for the last six days or so, with small windows of opportunity here and there to run necessary errands and get things done. I spent a lot of the time tired–I’m not sure what that’s all about it, but “low energy” has been a thing around here for quite some time–and last night I went to bed at nine. I did submit a story to that magazine that asked for one–I finally gave up on “Parlor Tricks” yesterday morning–it literally was like pulling teeth–and instead edited what. I have on “Never Kiss a Stranger” down to about 4000 words, tacked on an ending, and turned it in as “To Kiss a Stranger (Summer of 94)”. I doubt they’ll use it–hell, I may never even hear back one way or the other; professionalism when it comes to short story submissions, with some exceptions, seems to have gone the way of the dodo over the years–but at least I tried. I now also am wondering if this story needs to be a novella or not; slicing all that extra stuff out of it felt really good, and while the ending wasn’t necessarily stuck (that can always be fixed, of course), the story itself wasn’t bad in its trimmed down state. Which naturally puts me on the horns of a dilemma: keep it as a short story and fix the ending, or leave it as a novella and finish revising/writing it?

Or…why not both?

We finished Toy Boy last night (I keep calling it Boy Toy, which is incorrect) and….not as good or as interesting as the first season, alas. By the time the final episode rolled around I realized I hadn’t been paying as close attention as I did during the first season and thus had literally no idea what was going on in the finale–which ended remarkably well, given how dull the season actually proved to be–and set up the next season quite well…which means we will probably watch the third season, if there is one. Paul’s late night schedule and Carnival has thrown me off on everything we watch; I don’t remember what series that are currently airing that we were watching–but it should show up on my up next on Apple TV.

At least I can hope.

I also have to pay the bills today–always a joy–and probably should go back to the gym tonight. I’ve not been since Wednesday night–Friday was one of those horrible low-energy days where everything was sore and achy; going to Muses Thursday night, even briefly, was undoubtedly a mistake. And I also need to start digging out from under because I am so far behind now I don’t even know what’s what. I know I have a story due sometime in April that I need to start writing; I need to get caught up on my MWA stuff and the anthology I am editing; and I need to start a significant final revision edit of my book coming out in December. So first things first: make a to-do list, go through my notebooks and look through my notes about pending things that need addressing, and try to get my energy levels high and stop allowing myself to feel defeated before I even try.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Ash Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk at you tomorrow.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Sunday morning and only daytime parades today. We skipped them all yesterday–all five of them–mainly because I felt mostly tired still; it was also a little on the chilly side outside. We will (or at least I will) be heading out there today for at least King Arthur; too many friends ride in it for me to blow it off completely. Since we didn’t have Carnival last year–and the year before was both so cold and so weird it didn’t really feel like Carnival–it’s hard to get motivated about it this year. There’s also the risk that being in the parade crowds will be super-spreader events; I can, of course, always test myself before going to work on Tuesday to make sure I’m still uninfected before heading to the office and spreading viral germs everywhere. And maybe going out there for King Arthur will make Carnival seem real again, I don’t know; listening to the marching bands crossing by at the corner didn’t seem to do it.

But I am going to go out for King Arthur even if it’s exhausting.

We watched three more episodes of Reacher last night, and it is very well done. The cast is very good, the writing is sharp, and there are high production values. I continue to grow more and more enamored of Alan Ritchson as Reacher–Willa Fitzgerald is also killing it as Roscoe–and the show is definitely making me want to revisit The Killing Floor. You owe it to yourself to check the show out if you like crime shows.

I didn’t read anything other than a couple of Laura Lippman short stories from her collection Seasonal Work, and I’m not going to go into great length talking about the stories primarily because I had actually read the two stories before–“Seasonal Work” and “The Book Thing”; I also had read the next one, “The Everyday Housewife”, before–but it’s nice to revisit them (I probably talked about them before on here or over on Livejournal). All three are sort of Tess Monaghan stories–they aren’t from her point of view but she appears in them; the latter is about her mom–which is also the approach I was thinking of taking in writing crime short stories with Chanse MacLeod in them (the ones I’ve already done are from Chanse’s point of view, and maybe the Chanse novella I am writing would be better told from someone else’s point of view; it’s an interesting idea and one I should really attempt–making a note as I type this out). Lippman is one of my favorite writers and I love her short stories, and reading (rereading) these has gotten me to reading again, which was the idea behind picking up the short story collection in the first place. I may go curl up with the book and read (reread) another couple of stories this morning.

I really would like to get back to doing more reading.

I also need to get back to writing. I’ve been having ideas lately–making notes, of course–but every time I look at “Condos for Sale or Rent” I am stuck and wind up having to go do a chore or something to try to prime the pump. Yesterday it was without avail. I wasn’t motivated much yesterday to do a whole lot–I overslept (as I did this morning) and then didn’t really have a lot of energy or creativity going on in my head for the rest of the day–it felt like my batteries were charged, but using them would have to be on accessory and drain them rather than recharging through use–and I wasn’t motivated to read, either, other than those couple of short stories. I did spend a lot of time thinking about another Scotty book–the title is Mississippi River Mischief–but at the same time I did a lot of thinking about not writing it. I always worry that my series–the Scotty primarily, since it’s the only one I am still continuing–isn’t challenging enough to me as a writer; it’s very easy for me to slip back into Scotty’s mindset and voice and start writing. I tried to make Royal Street Reveillon more complicated and complex than previous Scottys, like the second two books in the series were (the first and the fourth through seventh were very simple plots, A to B to C) and it’s one of my favorites of the series. I know what the heart of this book is going to be–political corruption in a bayou/river parish around the licensing of a casino boat on the river–and it occurred to me yesterday how to do a side story (something I had wanted to do in a Scotty book years ago but never did) and there needs to be more to it than the main story I’ve already dreamed up. But I made voluminous notes–and there’s also a personal story for Scotty and Frank I started in the last book that needs to be dealt with in this volume–and so maybe, just maybe, it’s not taking the easy way out by writing this after Chlorine?

We shall see.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Reflections

Tuesday morning and feeling slightly a little bit off–I am unused as of yet to this entire shift in my work week, which now sees me heading into the office on Tuesdays thru Thursdays. I feel very well rested this morning; I had a lot to get done over the weekend and for the most part, I was finished with everything I needed to get done last night when it was time to repair to my chair for Archive 81, which is hypnotically addicting (more on that later). I slept very well last night–no doubt due to my emotional, physical and mental exhaustion after getting so much work done over the weekend–and feel very rested and awake and slightly a-rarin’ to go this morning. I still have come clean up work to do on A Streetcar Named Murder, and I suspect there will be voluminous editorial notes on it once it goes in, but that’s okay and fine. I am just mostly relieved that I will be able to get it turned in tomorrow the way I am supposed to–two weeks extended deadline–and I am quite sure the release of that particular pressure had a lot to do with the release of the stress valve in my brain last night and why I slept better than I have in weeks last night.

It’s always a stress relief when you finish a book, regardless of what condition it is when you turn it in (#shedeservedit was a total bloody mess; my editor on that one saved me from myself like you wouldn’t believe). And while it’s not finished–there’s still some clean-up on Aisle 10 that is required before I finally attach it to an email and send it off once and for all–it’s going to be, and knowing that I will be able to get it in tomorrow probably also has something to do with my mood this morning. I feel weirdly, oddly satisfied this morning; there’s really no other way to describe it, really. I also feel light, like a weight has been lifted from me. Of course, that doesn’t mean the entire world won’t blow up in my face between now and when I leave for Alabama on Friday; but for now I am just going to relax and enjoy the feeling for as long as it lasts (which probably won’t be that long, in all honesty). I also took some time and thought about my future over the weekend–what’s left of it, at any rate–and made some decisions about what, exactly, I want to do over the next few years. I need to come up with a five-year plan that will carry me through my retirement from the day job; I need to be in a position by then to have that loss of income replaced–Social Security sure as hell isn’t going to cut it, let’s be honest–and of course, Medicare will only do so much so the insurance issue also has to be resolved in five years as well. It’s a daunting through, and more than a little scary–but being afraid of it isn’t going to solve it or make the problem go away.

Although I suppose if I am not working forty hours a week and volunteering the way I have always done, I will have more than enough time to do a lot of writing.

Which of course means I would have to make myself do it–never an easy chore!

Of course, I still have a short story–“The Rosary of Broken Promises”–due on Monday, but I think I should be able to get that finished on time, now that the book is out of the way, and the only other writing commitment that I can think of is “Solace in a Dying Hour,” which I think is due in April, if I am not mistaken. I want to take February to do some finishing touches on things–some of the novellas, other short stories–and then I want to jump into Chlorine in March. If I stay focused I should be able to have a first draft finished by the end of that month, and then I can jump in the next Scotty in April. By June, the plan should be to have all the novellas finished as well as those first drafts; I’d like to spend the summer pulling together the next short story collection, and once that’s done, I want to start revising the manuscripts I finished in the early part of the year, and that should easily carry me into the next year. For 2023, I’d like to maybe write Voices in an Empty Room and possibly start a new series with a gay main character; my gay true crime writer from New Orleans–whom I’ve already introduced into the Scotty series–but the problem is ensuring he isn’t Chanse or Scotty; I tend to get very lazy with things like that. I have some other stand alone ideas, too.

It never really ends, does it?

It’s going to take some getting used to the idea that today is Tuesday and not Monday; it still is bitch slapping me and probably will continue to do so for the rest of the day. Ah, well, there is nothing to be done about that other than trying to get used to it, I suppose.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

In and Out of Love

Monday morning and it’s a weird new work thing for me; I now work at home on Mondays and go into the office on Thursdays instead; it’s going to take me a little while to get used to this. I woke up at six this morning, and just kind of drifted in and out of sleep until around eight, when i finally rose. I feel very rested this morning, but have a daunting day ahead of me. I have my work at home duties, of course, and then when I am finished with those I have some things to get done for me personally. I have one more chapter to write in the book, and then some final revising, before it’s finished. (I am at the point where I keep thinking but does this make sense? How do I make this part make sense? Does changing this make this confusing? which means I am in the final stretch of finishing it.) I have some writing to do for a friend’s website, and I have some MWA things to get done. But if I keep my head down I should be able to get everything done–and then once the book is out of my hair, things should open up for me.

Pressure. I should have named this blog entry “Under Pressure.” Maybe that’s what i can call my memoir.

I did get work on the book done over the weekend and it is very close to being finished–so close it’s almost kind of scary, really. It’s been a lovely challenge–it’s completely out of my wheelhouse, but as always, anything that forces me to write in a different way or pushes me out of my comfort zone is precisely the sort of thing I should be writing. I do worry about getting stale; I know I’ve mentioned finding patterns in my work, whether it is character arcs or story structure or themes I return to again and again. When I took the contract break in 2015–and then made the decision to never sign a contract without a complete first draft at least on hand (a rule for myself that I broke with this one I am finishing; which is also reminding me of why I went this way in the first place, as the stress and pressure of finishing on an <extended> deadline has really had me on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the last month or so) in order to try to better manage my stress AND my writing habits–I decided to keep writing and doing things that push and challenge me. Royal Street Reveillon was an attempt to get back to Scotty and how I originally wrote him; the last few books had much more simplistic A to B to C plots, and I wanted to get back to those insanely complicated, twisty plots I dreamed up for him in the first three books in the series. The end result was that RSR was one of my favorite Scottys in a very long time to write; it felt like a return to form that had been lost or forgotten in those amorphous, nebulous years that followed Hurricane Katrina; and I felt like I was challenging myself with the writing again. RSR was the make-or-break Scotty title–how it went and how it turned out would determine whether the series would continue.

Reader, it will continue, probably later this year. I do want to get a Scotty done this year, but I also want to get a strong first draft of Chlorine done first. If all goes according to plan, Chlorine will be finished no later than the end of April and I can start working on Mississippi River Mischief over the summer. Fingers crossed, Constant Reader. I also plan on getting the novellas finished as well as get another short story collection pulled together this summer. The essay collection will have to be punted until next year, undoubtedly; I don’t see how I would have the time to start pulling it together this year, especially when I don’t know what all I have on hand that is ready to go and what I need to write new and what I need to finish writing that is already started. Heavy heaving sigh.

It kind of feels like I’ve been in the weeds with this book since the beginning. I remember getting the contract offer right around Hurricane Ida–I remember desperately communicating with the publisher via email with my spotty cell service those horrible hot days without power–so all told, from contract offer to finished book to turn in was about five months, give or take. Pretty quick, really, especially for a book that only had fifty pages written on spec and had an entirely different setting for the key to the series. But there will be plenty of time to bore you to tears with A Streetcar Named Murder, Constant Reader; I probably should still be shilling #shedeservedit but it’s hard to focus on that while stuck finishing another book.

And on that note, I am going to have some more coffee and head into the spices mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.