Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Diamond Girl

So, how you doin’, Constant Reader?

Well, running the errands yesterday turned into a major challenge. It started raining before I left the house, but despite the heavy rain–those enormous big raindrops we get here in New Orleans, that feel like they’re leaving a bruise–I decided to go for it. I grabbed an umbrella and dashed to the car, getting soaked in the process despite the umbrella (the umbrella that can handle the rain in New Orleans has yet to be invented), and the rain came down even heavier as I headed uptown. At Jefferson Avenue, there was still blue sky and sunshine and no clouds, but while I was inside the postal service the storm arrived (I got some things I needed in the mail, some bills, and an ARC of Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden, thanks, Erin!) and dashed back out to the car and headed to the grocery store. It was pouring by this point, with thunder and lightning and everyone driving three miles an hour–but in fairness, the street gutters were filling with water. I sat in the car and waited a good five minutes before making a break for the store–but even walking quickly I still got very wet.

But at least while I was doing the shopping the rain let up a bit, and it was only sprinkling as I went out to the parking lot.

Getting home was a challenge as some streets had filled up with water; Felicity Street had a good six inches at least on it, and the gutters on Prytania were also full of water, but it wasn’t that deep. Everyone was driving, of course, like their car was about to drop into a sinkhole and disappear from sight–of course, driving slow rather than faster won’t change that at all, so I don’t really get it. Yes, you should drive slower through standing water–but you don’t have to literally crawl through it, either–and yes, local New Orleanians reading this, I know there are no-wake ordinances in the city (yes, that’s how often our streets flood with water; the city has passed ordinances dictating how fast you can drive through standing water), but when most of the street is not underwater, there’s no wake sending water into people’s homes, businesses or cars parked alongside the street.

It’s interesting that my neighborhood sort-of flooded again–the water on my street had been over the sidewalk but had drained by the time I got home; I could see the dirt and debris on the sidewalk–when it didn’t used to; and there are people alarmed in the city because we are seeing water rising and standing where it never used to before. It occurred to me yesterday that this could entirely be because of all the construction that’s taken place in the city over the last few years. Empty green lots are now paved over for buildings or parking garages; city blocks that used to simply be a ground level parking lot are now five story apartment/condo buildings. So the water used to spread out over the paved lots and also used to soak into the green lots; now that water is draining off those buildings with nowhere to go so it settles in the street. The two vacant lot on our street are about to be paved over and turned into a three story condo complex–which isn’t going to help our street in upcoming rains.

I seriously doubt that anyone–especially on the city permit level–ever took water drainage into consideration when handing out permits. Driving down O’Keefe Street now in the CBD is like driving down a canyon through higher-rising buildings, whereas before those lots were parking lots. I wonder if I am onto something here…

I spent the day yesterday, after getting home, working on getting my email down to a respective amount, and I also started reading Jay B. Law’s The Unfinished, for which I have agreed to write an introduction for the new edition being released by ReQueered Tales. Laws only wrote two books before he died of AIDS in the early 1990’s, this one and Steam, which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. The Unfinished was released after his death, and isn’t as well-known or well-remembered as Steam; being a posthumous novel undoubtedly had something to do with that. I thought I had read it years ago, but as I am reading it now, it’s all new to me…and while I am well aware that my memory is as reliable now as the water drainage system in New Orleans, this entire story and the character seem completely new to me; usually when I reread a book I’ve completely forgotten the story eventually comes back to me as I work my way through it–that isn’t happening here, and while it saddens me that I’ve not read The Unfinished before, I am actually kind of glad; it means I am experiencing an immensely talented writer’s final work for the first time…and the essay I want to write to introduce the book is already beginning to swirl around inside my head.

Today I have a million things to do–so much writing and editing to do, as well as reading–that it’s not even remotely amusing–although sometimes I do think all I can do, rather than weep when looking at the list, is laugh.

Along the lines of my recent decision to celebrate and own my accomplishments, as an addendum to today’s blog I am going to talk about having a story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, the Planned Parenthood fundraising anthology from Down and Out Books, edited by Holly West. I’ve loved the Go-Go’s from the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio, and have seen them in concert twice. Since I recently discovered the magic of Spotify, I find myself listening to their original three albums a lot lately, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all to me, which I think is the key to their success. One of the things I found interesting was I never listened to their music, or sang along to it, and thought about how dark their lyrics actually are, until Holly agreed to let me write something for this anthology (I basically invited myself to contribute to it, which is something I never do; which is another problem with myself and my career–I don’t assert myself or push myself forward into anthologies. The worst thing that can happen is the editor will say, ‘sorry, got enough people already, but thanks!’ My entire career I’ve worked to make rejection less painful and more of an oh well thing; I’m still working on making that sort of rejection/disappointment something that just rolls off my back rather than derails me for a time.

Sometimes you have to be assertive, and while that sort of thing kind of goes against my nature, you have to do it.

Anyway, Holly gave me a choice of three songs to use for inspiration, and as I looked up the lyrics on-line, I was struck by how dark the songs were. Without Belinda Carlisle’s cheerful, almost chipmunk-ish vocals and the high-energy beat of the music behind them, I couldn’t believe how noir the lyrics actually were. I eventually chose “This Town”–because it was the darkest of the three–and started writing it. I honestly don’t know how the idea came to me, or where I came up with it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite stories of my own; and other people seemed to like it a lot, too. “This Town” will probably wind up anchoring my next short story collection–should I do another one, which I am hopeful I will be able to do–and again, as I said, the feedback on the story has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous that as per usual, I didn’t really know how to respond to the compliments.

The story itself is the perfect illustration of what I think, in my mind, a crime story should be; which is why my work isn’t accepted into places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines; I don’t necessarily solve a crime in my stories, even though they are about crimes. (Of course, it could also be that the stories I send them aren’t in their best shape, either.) Getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock is a bucket list item of mine, and I’d also love to get another story into Ellery Queen, but I digress.

Okay, I should get back into the spice mines if I want to get anything done today.

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