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Another Saturday and lord, so, so much to do–and absolutely no desire to do any of it, quite frankly. I had some trouble sleeping last night, but I feel okay this morning; it may have taken me a few hours to go to sleep, but when I finally did, the sleep was deep and restful, which is all that matters. I woke up again before seven, then slovenly stayed in bed for another couple of hours because it was comfortable. Yesterday was one of those days where I got overwhelmed with everything, primarily because it was humid and muggy and sticky and nasty; and staying down in the garage at the office to screen people and help with the syringe access program was miserable. That kind of weather literally sucks the energy out of you, and by the time my shift was over and I was on my way home, I was enormously grateful that I remembered to get up early and put the turkey breast into the crock pot, so all I had to do when I got home was shred it and make the instant stuffing for dinner.

We watched another episode of Gold Digger–still not sure where this story is going, but the way it’s filmed, it has to end with some kind of crime or something happening; whether Julia Ormond’s much younger lover ends up being killed and killing someone from her family in self-defense remains to be seen–or he may just kill her once they are married; it’s definitely filmed as a crime show, but I’m not really sure where it’s going, to be honest. It’s very well done and very well-acted, and as I have a short story in progress that follows the same sort of set-up (“Please Die Soon”), it’s intriguing to see how and where the story goes.

We also got caught up on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, which is also incredibly well done, and I really love that they are showing the Latinx community in Los Angeles during this time period. There was a moment when I remembered the Zoot Suit riots, and vaguely remembered a movie about them from the early 1980’s called Zoot Suit, and yep, there it was–the racist LAPD breaking up a Latinx dance club where all the guys were wearing zoot suits. It’s really interesting, now that I think about it, how little of a role the Latinx community of southern California plays in most crime fiction of the time, or set in the time (although I will admit I’ve yet to read most of James Ellroy); it’s amazing how little representation minorities have in crime fiction, or in fiction in general.

This morning Facebook reminds me that last year on this date the Anthony Award nominations for 2019 were released; I’m still thrilled and honored that I was nominated for Best Short Story for “Cold Beer No Flies”, from Florida Happens. I think one of the biggest surprises to me in my career thus far is that award recognition from the mainstream mystery community has primarily come to me for short stories; I was nominated for a Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt” and then an Anthony. (I won an Anthony for Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou.) I’ve been writing a lot of short stories over the past few years–more so than in general; usually I simply will write a short story or find one I’ve worked on at some point when there’s a call for submissions for an anthology. I am hoping to pull together another collection of stories–its current working title is Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but that will inevitably have to change, unless I can come up with something different for “Once a Tiger”; the original concept of the story doesn’t seem to work–and last night I did get an idea for a new version (I’ll undoubtedly finish writing the other, only with a different title) which is something more workable, I think, and I also like the idea of Chanse finally dealing with his past with his fraternity at LSU.

I have a board phone call this morning, and I have to do a live on-line reading tonight for another story, “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” from Peter Carlaftes’ anthology The Faking of the President. I have yet to work myself up into a state of complete and utter anxiety about this yet, but there’s still plenty of time. I hope to carve some time out this afternoon to rehearse–but one can never be certain, can one, that you won’t stumble over words when you read your work out loud, which is always mortifying. This afternoon I intend to do some work–I am debating the wisdom of going to the gym, which is probably not wise; but my body really needs to exercise….

I also want to work on the Secret Project, now that I’ve found my character’s voice, and I also need to clean and get organized; I also need to go to Office Depot at some point and buy an ink cartridge for my printer and a new journal, as the current one is filling up. And at some point, I should go back through all the new journals to look for notes and so forth on projects–and ideas I scribbled down in the heat of the moment in order to write later.

All right, these dishes arent’t going to do themselves, so let me get started on that mess.

And until tomorrow, have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader, and as always, thanks for checking in.

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Man of Constant Sorrow

This week a new anthology with a story by one Gregalicious is dropping, The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Rooms Press. Three Rooms also produced the 2018 St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology I edited, Florida Happens, and thus it was lovely to be working with Peter, Kat, and the Three Rooms Press gang again. The book has turned out to be absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be asked to write a story for this.

The concept behind the book was, of course, to create noir stories built around a president. I was torn at first when asked to choose a president; there were any number of them that I truly like and admire….yet so many mediocrities. The 1850’s, the lead up or prelude to the Civil War, has been of particular interest to me of late, and I decided to chose someone from that period, where we had a string of mediocre presidents take up residence in the White House: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and finally James Buchanan. Buchanan is widely considered to be (or was considered to be, YMMV) the worst president in American history; he was the last president before Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of the Civil War. Buchanan did nothing to stop the coming eruption of war; if anything, he exacerbated the ill feeling between the two sections of the country. All the 1850’s presidents were Yankees with Southern sympathies; they were called “dough-faces” at the time (I don’t know why that particular term was used; so don’t ask. Google is your friend), and yes, many parallels between that time and our present day kind of exist, if you care to look to see them. Buchanan also conspired with the worst Chief Justice to ever lead our Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, in the court decision that flamed the fans of regional hatred into an unforeseen heat that made the war even more inevitable than it already had been; Buchanan and Taney thought they were putting the slavery question to bed once and for all with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; by striking down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas/Nebraska Acts as unconstitutional, the two attempted to make slavery the law of the land and permissible in the vast unsettled (by white people) territories as well as make it legal in the states that prohibited it.

Yeah, that kind of backfired.

Buchanan was also the only president who never married; and while there is certainly no proof or evidence that is conclusive, it is widely suspected that Buchanan was our first gay president. He lived, for example, for a long time with Senator Rufus King of Alabama; Andrew Jackson jeeringly called Buchanan “Aunt Fancy”; and their surviving letters bespoke an affection and longing between the two that went a bit deeper than being just good buddies. So, as a gay writer, I decided to write about Buchanan. But writing a period story set in the DC of the late 1850’s seemed a bit much and certainly more than I could handle; plus I couldn’t really come up with a plot. I thought about having Buchanan murder a slave he’d been forcing to be his lover and the ensuing cover-up; I made several abortive attempts at writing that story before finally abandoning the idea.

I had no idea what I was going to write–until I read an article on-line somewhere about Buchanan’s mysterious sexuality and sexual preferences, and the author said something along the lines of but for some historians, short of finding daguerrotypes of Buchanan naked with another man, nothing will ever serve as conclusive proof for the deniers.

And there it was. I started writing “The Dreadful Scott Decision.”

faking of the president cover

 

The cheap whiskey tasted like flavored turpentine, burning so intensely as it went down it felt like it was leaving scorch marks in its wake. Scott Devinney was just high enough from the joint he was smoking to consider that a plus—a sign that he was still alive no matter how numb he felt.

He was sitting in the dark in his cheap apartment near campus, streaming the panel he’d been on at the presidential historians’ conference at UCLA the previous weekend. It had aired live on a PBS network in Los Angeles—it took him a while to figure out how to access it, and now that he was watching it was even worse than he feared. He’d always suspected Pulitzer prize-winning historian Andrew Dickey was a homophobe; his behavior on the panel proved it without question.

Alas, Scott allowed Dickey to get under his skin. He wasn’t proud of that, and his doctoral advisor, Dr. Keysha Wells-Caldwell—also head of the department at UC-San Felice—wasn’t happy, either.

He wasn’t about to apologize to Andrew Dickey, though. He’d die first.

“You have no proof!” Dickey wagged his finger at Scott on the computer screen, his face reddened and his voice raising. “Just like the activists who try to claim Lincoln was gay without proof, there is no proof Buchanan was, either, no matter how bad you want him to be!”

He sighed and closed the window. He didn’t need to watch himself screaming in rage, embarrassing himself and the university in the process.

Which was what Keysha really cared about.

At one time, I seriously considered becoming a historian. I’ve always loved history, have loved to read it and study it,  and even write it (I still would love to do a Tuchman-like study of regnant women in the 16th century called The Monstrous Regiment of Women), but as with so many other things, poor professors in college stomped that desire right out of me. (The other problem, of course, being that I could never decide on a period to specialize in–although if forced I probably would have chosen the 16th century) I have heard, over the years, from friends who work in academia as well as reading books and so forth set in the academic world, how cutthroat and nasty the war over tenure can be; office politics as played by the Borgias or the Medici. My story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” was sort of set in the academia milieu; I even considered writing a series about a college English professor at one time–it’s still there on the backburner; I may write it still. One of the novels I wrote under a pseudonym was set at a quasi-Seven Sisters style college in New England, and of course, my Murder-a-Go-Go’s story “This Town” was about sorority girls, and of course several Todd Gregory novels were set in fraternities.

So, what better idea for this story than a gay Buchanan historian, attempting to prove to the world that Buchanan was, indeed, the first gay president? And how far would he go to get that proof–which is the noir angle I needed for the story? And so the story was born…and you can order a copy here, or from any retailer.

And as you can see from the cover above, there are some fantastic writers who contributed to this book. I am very pleased to be sharing the table of contents with these amazing writers, and a bit humbled. Check it out–you won’t be sorry!

When Smokey Sings

And just like that, the vacation is over and it’s back to work with me.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But in all honesty, it feels like I haven’t set foot in the office for months. It also feels like I haven’t written anything in months, either.

But let’s face it, and be honest with myself: yesterday was also the first time I have felt human,  or like myself, in weeks. I managed to get good sleep almost every day for the last five or six days; it’s amazing what a difference good sleep can make in one;’s day to day life. Even this morning, despite being untimely ripped from my bed–I’m not sleepy or tired; just not fully awake yet, and the coffee–with an assist from a shower–will change that all fairly rapidly.

I started –and finished–Richard Stark’s The Hunter yesterday, and I’m not quite sure how I felt about it. I thought it was written very well–the pacing was particularly good–but…it’s a 1962 novel, and that shows with misogyny and a couple of homophobic slurs, as well as some seriously questionable sexualization. But it’s also a pulp novel from the early 1960’s; Stark was a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, and it read very quickly and very fast….the main character, Parker, is described as an anti-hero; I’d say he’s more of a sociopath than anything else, really, although I do suppose to that does make him a bit of anti-hero….I am still thinking about the book, and will write more about it at another time, most likely. After I finished reading it, I moved on to The Ferguson Affair by Ross Macdonald. I don’t think I’ve read it before–to date, to the best of my knowledge I’ve not read any of Macdonald’s non-Archer novels, and that very much is what this one is; but it’s got Macdonald’s trademark writing style, and I am enjoying it. I think the Parker novel inevitably led to the Macdonald, really–there were some things about Parker that reminded me of both Macdonalds, Ross and John D.; I actually was looking for a non-McGee novel of John D. MacDonald’s to read, and finally decided on the Ross Macdonald The Ferguson Affair. As I read the book, it reminds me of something I’ve read before–perhaps not another Macdonald novel, but perhaps one of the Lew Archer short stories I read in The Archer Files last year when I was doing the Short Story Project.

I also had to do the editorial notes on my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” which is appearing in the anthology The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes of Three Rooms Press–they also published Florida Happens last year–and got that turned in; I also saw the cover, which was shared on Facebook. I do like this story that I wrote; it wasn’t one of the easier ones to do. Primarily the reason it took me so long–other than I was writing Bury Me in Shadows at the same time–was because it was so difficult to come up with an idea for what I was going to write. Ordinarily I like writing stories to order–trying to come up with a story that fits a theme (and I usually will push those limits) is always a fun challenge; this one was a bit more difficult, and I am really happy with what I finally managed to come up with. I did worry, as the deadline loomed, that the story wasn’t going to come together properly; I always have that fear, it’s the flip side (or a primary symptom) of Imposter Syndrome. But it’s finished, the editor liked it, and I got my corrections done….now I just have to figure out how to write this Sherlock Holmes pastiche I agreed to write. I already have the idea, and how I want to do it, and where it’s set and the title, which I love….I just now have to figure out the story itself.

I also figured out how to revise two short stories I’ve been unable to get; one was simply because in order for the story’s title to work, one of the characters had to be a moron; and the other because it was a little too, shall we say, spot on? It’s also a great title, and I think it’s a great story; I just have to revise it and change some of the things in it before I make one last try to get it published somewhere.

It’s actually been a pretty good year, career-wise, for me so far….and with only two months left to go–what can I accomplish in the meantime?

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

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