Twenty-Four Hours a Day

Wednesday and the mid-week point. I only have to work this morning–I have a doctor’s appointment at one this afternoon, so I’ll be leaving the office around twelve to head uptown–and then to home, probably the gym and hopefully to get some writing done. One can dream, cannot one?

The doctor’s appointment is the pre-colonoscopy preparation visit; today I will get the procedure scheduled–can’t wait–but while I am not thrilled at the prospective, potential scary diagnoses that could come from it, it’s better to know rather than not. Whether there’s a genetic predisposition to cancer or not, both sides of my family have seemed to have had an excess of cancer diagnoses, which makes me tend to think I am relatively high risk (although neither parent has ever had it). There’s also all the other genetic predispositions–high blood pressure, heart disease, all those lovely things that do tend to run in families–and of course, I get all of it from both sides, which isn’t terrific. But there’s also little I can do about genetic predispositions–other than eating better (which is always a problem for me) and healthier and of course, going to the gym regularly–which has completely fallen off since the power went out. Today I need to climb back onto the horse and work my ass out.

Last night I was very tired. My last two appointments canceled on me, so I came home early and did some on-line trainings, and still have several more to do (hello, two days working at home!). And I didn’t have either the energy to read or write last night after I was finished with bloodborne pathogen training (try not to envy me too much, okay?) The LSU game is at eleven on Saturday, which means any and all errands will be delayed until Sunday; my mood for the rest of Saturday is entirely dependent on how well LSU fares in its first SEC game. A loss here means a potential season of no-wins in the conference; the division just keeps getting better–even Arkansas and Mississippi look vastly improved this year–and Mississippi State (Saturday’s game) was one of our inexplicable losses from last year…and that’s not taking into consideration the murderer’s row of Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Heavy sigh. It’s going to be a long, ugly football season I fear, and the Saints didn’t look too great last weekend, either.

Yay.

But I had some excellent book mail this week: These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall (it was supposed to be delivered the week after Ida; it took a bit longer, needless to say); Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; and Bitterroot Lake by Alicia Beckman (a pseudonym of the fabulous Leslie Budewitz). So, if I can ever finish reading Velvet Was the Night, I have some other excellent reading in store–but October is rapidly approaching, and I want to spend October reading horror, beginning with my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I also have so much writing to do–Christ, I haven’t written much of anything since before the power went out (a phrase I am using so regularly I am beginning to think I should start referring to it as Before The Power Went Out), although yesterday I did spend some brainstorming time on my next book and I did try to work on an essay. Progress? But it was something, at any rate, and something is better than nothing at this point, quite frankly.

And yet…

Maybe–and this is a big maybe–this week is a period of readjustment, as life returns to normality (or what at least passed for it Before The Power Went Out–oooh, I do like that) I need to get used to my normal schedule again before I can settle into it and get my shit together again–or I’ve just gotten incredibly good at justifying laziness and procrastination after a lifetime of practice. But today is the first day of autumn officially (I rather jumped the gun on Twitter yesterday, getting a resultant scolding from my friend Alafair), and tonight the low is dipping into the sixties, and it will do that very thing every night through the weekend. It wasn’t horribly humid yesterday–at least it didn’t feel like it; it felt much cooler yesterday despite my car telling me it was 92 degrees when I left the office yesterday–and even this morning, the air was a bit thick (it rained a bit overnight) but there was a bit of a nip in the thickness, which indicates the ignominy of the summer heat is finally past. There were still occasionally be days where it gets up into the high eighties/low nineties, but the humidity is pretty much finished for the year (please please please don’t prove me wrong) so it’s actually lovely; rather southern California-ish outside.

So, here’s hoping to a nice little visit with the doctor this afternoon, a lovely workout at the gym, and some quality reading/writing time this evening. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

One Night Stand

Saturday morning and I slept late again. I am feeling better this morning–I actually think recognizing what was going on inside my brain and calling it by its true name yesterday morning (in the blog post I forgot to post yesterday) helped me get past it in some way; like finally knowing what it is assists in getting past it in some way. I also know that it’s insidious and sneaky, and comes in waves, so will probably go back and forth between waves of depression and possibly manic bursts of energy and creativity; I need to really get focused on channel the energy as productively as I can because of the time I’ll lose when depression’s cold fingers wrap around my subconscious again. Ugh, it’s so awful, really; but I also know from cold hard experience that anti-depressants inevitably always make me feel numb all the time…which can be in some ways equally as bad as the depression itself as far as living my life and being productive is concerned.

I am hoping to get some writing done today, as well as running some errands before today’s college football games start airing. I’ll clean while the games are on, and possibly get some reading done if I can–I really want to finish Velvet Was the Night, in no small part because the new Rachel Howzell Hall, These Toxic Things, finally arrived yesterday. We made a late Costco run last night after work, and it was sad to see how understocked even Costco was (I don’t know why I was thinking Costco would be immune to the delivery issues affecting the city’s grocery stories) but we still managed to spend a ridiculous amount of money there; part of it was buying new throw rugs for the kitchen because the old ones are kind of gross now. But we were able to get almost everything on the list (there were a few things they didn’t have that we wanted, alas) and of course, we went off-list big time in order to spend the amount of money that we did…and we still didn’t replace everything completely. I had to clean the refrigerator out again last night–I either missed some spots on the initial clean or mold spontaneously reappeared somehow–but I am hoping that I simply wasn’t as thorough with the cleaning as I thought I had been–another side effect of the depression is doing something half-assed and then giving up, thinking meh it’s good enough.

It’s literally the worst.

Today I have some errands to run–yet again to make groceries, pick up the mail, that sort of thing–and then I am going to probably park in my easy chair with my journal while the games play on television. I am primarily interested in Auburn-Penn State and Alabama-Florida, with tonight’s LSU-Central Michigan game on deck; but we are also a bit behind on our shows that we watch; everyone dropped a new episode in the last few days, and we also started the new season of Sex Education on Netflix, which hasn’t dropped it’s delightful teen gay romance (huzzah!) and seems to be just as delightful, since the characters have actually grown some emotionally since the end of the last season, which is very cool and something I all too often complain about with shows; usually if characters don’t experience some degree of growth I lose interest.

I also have a book I need to write. YIKES! (Two, actually.) The Saints play early tomorrow, which is kind of a drag–I prefer them to play later in the day than noon, which means I will need to go to the gym earlier than I would prefer tomorrow–but it’s workable. I really really really need to get through everything today and make a complete and incredibly thorough to-do list; I am still so disoriented and disconnected from the pre-Ida life that I can’t remember everything I needed to get done, get going on, and of course the insidious depression at work inside my fevered brain keeps whispering you were supposed to finish a draft of Chlorine this month, remember? Honestly, depression is such a son of a bitch! Like I need any help undermining myself?

I also need to sign books and ship them off to people to whom I owe copies of the next one. I had hoped to get that done this morning so I can mail them today when I pick up the mail, and perhaps there will be time for that before I get up from my desk and get a move-on for the day.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

I Think I Love You

I actually slept until ten o’clock this morning. I cannot remember the last time that happened, or that I stayed in bed so long. I’ve been exhausted since the power went on–physically, emotionally, mentally–and so I am relatively certain the extra sleep was completely and totally necessary, but…whether to identify that sleep as perhaps a problem or as a necessary first step in getting better? THAT remains to be seen.

Monday I am going back into the office for the first time since–well, it’s been a hot minute, has it not? I was on vacation (stay-cation, the time I took off for Bouchercon) when Ida developed and came roaring at us; then there was the week without power, the long weekend in Alabama, and then the week of working at home because the office didn’t have power. I need that routine back, so even though we aren’t seeing clients, I am going to start going back into the office effective Monday to get a sense of stability again after the last few weeks. I think that will help, and I think it’s a necessary first step for me. I’m not going to lie, my mind has gone to some really dark places over the last few weeks, and I need something to grasp onto in order to help my life get on solid ground again. I have a prescription to pick up today from CVS, and since I am going that way I will pick up the mail and possibly stop by the grocery store–I haven’t really decided yet–and I think I am going to go by the gym this afternoon as well.

My primary focus over this weekend is to get a grip, a better handle, on my life and everything I need to be doing right now and what things have slipped through the cracks in the meantime; what needs to go onto my calendar (but isn’t there yet–bad Greg, bad Greg) and start sketching out my plans for the final quarter of the year–which is going to be rolling up on us before we even think about it, before we realize it–one morning we’ll wake up and it will be OCTOBER already–and then what do we do? LOL. Deal and move forward, undoubtedly, but at the same time there will be obvious concerns about lost and/or wasted time.

We watched the US Open last night–an impressive win by Novak Djokovic, who is a slightly more than a little bit problematic champion, in four sets, in his quest to become the first man to win the calendar year Grand Slam in the Open era; this will go a long way to proving his claim to be the GOAT in men’s tennis; not only will he have the calendar Slam should he win the Open, but that will give him nineteen Slam titles over all; one behind the record holders, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have twenty each. Whatever one thinks of Djokovic (the anti-vaxxing nonsense, the COVID denial, etc.), you cannot take his accomplishments away from him. I’ve always liked him, despite his personal beliefs and occasional diva-like moments; I do admire the focus, the skill, and the hard work ethic that have taken him to heights greater in the sport of tennis than anyone other than Federer and Nadal–and how terrifically lucky tennis fans have been to have three of the greatest of all time playing at the same time? While at the same time on the women’s side we’ve been blessed with the sublime Williams sisters, Venus and Serena? The next stage of tennis–when these five have all decided to retire and do something else with the rest of their lives–isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or fun to watch, methinks and fears.

We watched this week’s Ted Lasso after the US Open, which was wonderful and heart-warming, as it always is; Paul and I marvel at the only comedy series we’ve ever seen that makes up both tear up at least once per episode–which is no small feat. I am already dreading the end of this season, to be honest–not having an episode to watch every Friday night is going to be sad again.

In other exciting news, the Box o’Books of Bury Me in Shadows arrived yesterday, and I have to say the books look marvelous–although I really have no idea where to put them. My personal “books by Greg” bookcase is already filled and overflowing; as is the cabinet where I hide the ones that already don’t fit into it. But this is one of my favorite covers and one of my favorites of my own books–trust me, you will get very tired of me talking about this book as launch day, 10/12, slowly and inexorably draws nearer and nearer. I was very pleased the books arrived, because it was an indication that the mail service–never the best since the current postmaster general took over–is moving again; things are getting through again. Ink I ordered for my printer before the storm have also arrived; I’m still waiting for my new Rachel Howzell Hall novel to arrive–it should have been here last week but obviously that didn’t happen–and the new Colson Whitehead should also be arriving in the coming week, which is also terribly exciting. I do intend to spend some time reading today; I should have finished Velvet was the Night days ago–the knowledge the new Rachel Hall will be in my hot little hands soon was just the push I needed to decide to get back to reading this novel WHICH I AM ENJOYING, which makes the inability to read it that much harder to deal with. And I still owe this blog entries for Dead Dead Girls and A Letter of Mary….perhaps today.

And on that note, I think I am going to head back into the spice mines. I’m playing the weekend pretty much by ear other than the errands and the gym–so we’ll see how it all turns out in the end, won’t we? Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader.

Ode to Joy

I went through a Robert Ludlum phase in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; I don’t remember why exactly I began reading him–spy thrillers and international intrigue have never been of particular interest to me–but I know the first Ludlum I read was The Osterman Weekend, which I didn’t really follow or think was all that great, in all honesty; but I picked up a copy of The Gemini Contenders at a used bookstore and then I was hooked. I bought all of his backlist, and began buying his new novels in hardcover when they were released. I stopped reading Ludlum when Ludlum stopped writing his books–I don’t recall which the last of these was; I see that I am actually incorrect; I stopped reading Ludlum after The Road to Omaha–apparently he wrote and published three more, but this was when I was deep into reading only gay and lesbian fictions for the most part. I was always amazed at how intricately his books were plotted, and many of them–mainly The Gemini Contenders–were my favorite kind of thrillers: the treasure hunt. Ludlum was also where I learned that the best villains, second only to Nazis, came from the Vatican (Dan Brown made a shitload of money using that premise). Even as a fairly uneducated reader and writer, Ludlum’s overuse of exclamation points annoyed me–but I loved his intricate plots, his heroes, an he also wrote some really amazing women characters as well. I’ve been meaning to revisit Ludlum over the last few years–mainly because if I ever really do a Colin spin-off (stand alone or series), Ludlum would be a good author to study (along with LeCarre, of course) for plotting and structural purposes.

I’ve also always kind of wanted to do a gay Jason Bourne type story–which could also work for Colin as well.

Hmmm. I mean, maybe on one of his missions he gets amnesia? It’s a thought.

I had a pretty good day yesterday. I managed to get back on schedule with the book yesterday, which is great, and so today I am going to start going through it all, cleaning it up more and writing an outline as I go, and figuring out where to put the new things that need to go in it. I also need to do some writing rather than revise/rewriting; I’ve figured out a great way to bridge back story and build it into the book without having it be an actual part of the story/story, and it’s something that could easily build into another book or perhaps a series. Who knows? I also managed to work through my email inbox–the endlessly refilling inbox; it’s like Sisyphus or trying to clean the Augean stables or killing the hydra, I swear to God, and I have let it slide for far too long. I’m trying to get my life better organized–I don’t know what kind of fog I’ve been in, or for how long I’ve been actually in it, but I do know this: it’s gone on for far longer than I should have allowed it to, that’s one thing I know for certain. I also don’t know how long this “non-fog” situation will last (probably it will come to a screeching halt on Monday when the alarm goes off at six in the morning), but I need to take full advantage of it while I can. I also need to get to the gym today and groceries need to be made. After I finished work I watched a history program about a woman who was a Union spy in Richmond during the Civil War, which also talked about a young slave girl she raised and loaned out to the Davises so she could also spy on them and report back. What an interesting novel that would make–for a Black author to take on. I’d love to see what a writer like say, Kellye Garrett or Rachel Howzell Hall or Colson Whitehead could make of the story…history is chockfull of wonderful stories to be told, and after I finished watching that we watched Framing Britney, which was kind of chilling…I’m not sure what’s going on there, but the documentary made a very compelling case, and the thought that someone of her stature and stardom was essentially blackmailed into giving up control of herself, her career, and her money (they held their kids over her head) and she cannot break free of the conservatorship is truly frightening. I said to Paul at one point, “People always thought she was stupid but she wasn’t–she’s very smart; she just had a thick Southern accent and so, of course, that meant she was an idiot.” It also reminded me of an idea I had a while back of doing a modern-day version of Valley of the Dolls set in Las Vegas; a Britney-type filling in for Neely, more of a tragic role than Susann’s monster-in-training.

I mean, it could work.

Its gray and foggy this morning in New Orleans; with a bit of a chill in the air as well. I am going to drink some more coffee and then kickstart my day by going to make groceries before coming home to go to the gym and then getting cleaned up and probably working on trying to finish responding to my emails and putting away/cleaning up my desk area before rereading the first ten chapters of the manuscript I have revised and doing a hard edit–these revisions were pretty simple, really–and catching the things I know I was noticing when I was revising: duplications, saying the same thing in different chapters (this is my worst habit, repeating myself–which is a direct result of writing books a chapter at a time and then not remembering what was in previous chapters, or if I’ve said something before. It’s also trickier because I’m writing it in the present tense, and there are flashbacks and memories that have to be written in the past tense, which is going to undoubtedly give my editor fits. The present tense for the things happening in the present works much better than the past tense I usually write in; but not having a lot of experience with present tense is making this much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Perhaps I should consult Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style? After all, I do have a copy sitting here on my desk in easy reach; mayhap after the gym and getting cleaned up I shall retire to my easy chair with the manuscript and that copy of Strunk & White.

I also slept really well last night, which was lovely. The bed was most comfortable, and it was probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite some time, which is, of course, lovely but begs the question, why did I sleep so much better and restfully last night than I have in quite some time? I did have some Sleepytime tea before I went to bed, which could have had something to do with it…I always mean to have a cup before bed but always manage to forget; I will definitely have one again tonight. The problem is that my body will adjust and adapt to almost anything relatively quickly; so it’s not like the tea will work every night…but if last night was indicative, I need to make more of an effort to have a cup more regularly than I have been doing.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader. I certainly intend to do so.

Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Do It Again

Here it is, Saturday morning and I am awake and on my first cup of coffee. I have things to get done today–two interviews and a roundtable (the round table is terrifying; I looked at the questions and I’m not really certain I am smart or knowledgeable enough to participate, but I said I would and I never back out of things I agree to–or rarely). It’s weird, one would think I would love the chance to talk about myself and my writing as they are basically my favorite subjects, but it always makes me feel, at best, awkward and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.

All that childhood conditioning against arrogance and bragging, I suppose.

I didn’t quite finish cleaning out my inbox yesterday–in fact, I didn’t get even remotely close to cleaning it out, so it’s going back to the list for today. I need to get the mail and I need to make a short grocery run this afternoon, and I would like to go to the gym and try to get started on a regular workout routine again, but that becomes even more difficult given the heat advisory. But thinking about going to the gym, while not the same thing as actually going, is a step closer to getting there, I suppose. I also need to stop by Office Depot to buy some padded envelopes; the arrival of the box o’books also means signing and mailing out copies I owe to friends and reviewers and so forth. Signing and packaging the books is a chore, but I don’t find it as odious as one might think.

Yesterday, as you already know, Constant Reader, I finished reading S. A. Cosby’s delightful My Darkest Prayer, and I am very thrilled and happy to know that he recently signed a two-book contract, so I can look forward to new work from Shawn in the future. Yay! I love discovering new writers, and I love when they have new work. I do have this insane thing where I try not to finish reading everything an author has published so I always know there’s one more book by them to read–I was looking at my bookshelves yesterday as I reorganized the living room, realizing there are still three Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton I haven’t read yet, and was saddened again to know that those will always be the last three Sue Grafton novels, and actually was thinking I should, at some point, start reading the books to clear them off the shelves. I am already at the point with some of my favorite authors, like Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott, where I have finished everything they’ve published (Lippman’s new one, Lady in the Lake, is on deck and I am probably going to start reading it today). I am also behind on some of my favorite authors–I was caught up on Donna Andrews, but I read for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original last year, which put me behind on everyone who wasn’t in that category last year (some of which I want to go back and reread, taking my time to savor them the way I ordinarily would), and I am also years behind on numerous authors I enjoy…but new books are being released every damned day. Sigh. There’s simply never enough time.

In my review of Shawn’s book, I wrote about something I truly believe–and the more I diversify my reading in my own genre, the more I believe it to be true. I believe that women writers saved the crime genre in the 1980’s, and while they are still doing some serious heavy lifting, the diverse voices of authors like Shawn are reinvigorating and reinventing the crime genre, and breathing new life into it. (I’m really looking forward to October, when I will switch to reading horror, and reading novels by diverse voices in that genre–there are some new and exciting people of color writing in that genre…plus, reading horror will further diversify my reading by taking me outside of crime for a month.) Some of the diverse voices I’ve read thus far this year–Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Walter Mosley, Steph Cha, Angie Kim, etc.–are doing extraordinary work that needs to be recognized, promoted, and pushed by all of us; they are breathing new life into our genre, as are women writers like Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, Jamie Mason, Elizabeth Little, and many, many more. And while I often generically refer to the “straight white men”–let’s face it, some of today’s men are writing exceptional work, too–Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, to name a few amongst many. I think this is a very exciting time for crime fiction, and I look forward to reading more work by queer writers, as well. I’ve not gotten to some of the newer queer crime writers yet, which I am going to try to focus on more in the latter part of the year. I am really looking forward to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths, as it is a queer novel by a queer woman set in the rural South; something I can certainly relate to.

I kind of had a lackadaisical day of rest yesterday, really, where I accomplished little other than reading my book and doing the laundry, and couldn’t really motivate myself to do much more than that–I did make a delicious shrimp stir-fry for dinner last night, though–and we watched two episodes of The Movies last night, “The 80’s” and “The 90’s.” There’s only one more episode left, unless they release “The 50’s,” which is also a rather interesting period in the history of film. I started reading, for research, City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s, by Otto Friedrichs (recommended by Megan Abbott), and it has a lovely bibliography in the back which should be enormously helpful for further research into the time period. I also have a copy of E. J. Fleming’s The Fixers, which should also come in handy for research; again, as a starting place with the gold mine of a bibliography in the back.

So, here’s hoping that today will be that unusual thing; a highly productive, but at the same time, a restful day. Last night’s wonderful sleep is, of course, a wonderful basis for the rest of my day.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

12318_104711849573566_100001042557199_40782_6934493_n

Thunder Island

As Constant Reader already is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify my reading this year. The Diversity Project, as I’ve been calling it, has been revelatory for me; I’ve been reading books and authors I should have been reading all along, but somehow, despite having bought the books, they’ve collected dust and cobwebs in my TBR pile as I somehow always manage to reach for something else when it’s time to read something new. But it has been, as I said, revelatory to me; and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the ride. My endgame, as it were, is that when I finish this “project”, any subconscious bias I might have in deciding on what to read will have been ripped out, root and stem, and it will simply fade away into something I won’t need to call attention to because I’ve bested the worst biases in my psyche–and aren’t the ones we aren’t aware of the worst?

Yes, they are.

So over the last week I read Rachel Howzell Hall’s wonderful They All Fall Down.

they all fall down

The Los Angeles International Airport was the worst place to lose your mind in post-9/11 America. Especially if you perspired like Kobe Bryant in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Especially if you popped Valium twice a day to combat anxiety. And there I was, standing in the TSA security clearance line at LAX, a sweaty, anxious black woman wearing sweaty green silk, sipping air and blinking away tears.

Miriam, keep it together. They’re gonna pull you out of line if you keep on. Calm down. But “calm” was slipping further away, an iceberg on a quick current being pushed by a pod of enthusiastic killer whales.

And so I closed my eyes and I prayed again. God, don’t let them kick me out of LAX today. Please help me stay calm.

“Next.”

In my mind, I said, “Amen,” then opened my eyes. I forced myself to smile at the gray-eyed TSA agent seated behind the little podium, and hoped that she thought I was a slow blinker and not a terrorist praying one last time before setting one off.

The agent flicked her hand at me and said, “ID and boarding pass, please.”

I’m not sure how I became aware of Rachel Howzell Hall, but I think it was while I was serving on the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America and I was chairing the committee to recruit new board members; we were determined to diversify the board and I think the wondrous Margery Flax suggested her to me as a possible, viable candidate. We had a lovely email exchange and I bought one of her books, Land of Shadows, which went into the TBR pile and never came out of it. I’d heard lots of good things about They All Fall Down, so I got a copy, and decided to read it next.

And am I glad I did!

Sometimes I talk about Agatha Christie, but it’s been years since I’ve read any of her books (I did reread a favorite, Endless Night, a few years back; it’s the most noir of Christie’s novels, which are all, frankly, much darker than she gets credit for) but one cannot deny Christie’s rightful place as the greatest mystery writer of all time; she did it all, and she did it first. One of my absolute favorites of hers is And Then There Were None, which was groundbreaking and highly original and has been copied numerous times: the set up of taking a group of people somewhere remote, stranding them without chance of rescue or escape, and setting a murderer loose amongst them. Margaret Millar, for example, used this set-up for Fire Will Freeze; and it’s been the basis for many slasher movies, etc. I thought about doing my own version of this a few years ago–because the set-up is so classic and enduring, I wanted to give it my own spin–but the problem was how to strand a group of people without cell phone service or the Internet or even satellite phones, without using Christie’s “send them to a remote island” trope.

Let’s face it, though–the remote island is the perfect set-up.

They All Fall Down has been compared to And Then There Were None, and it’s apparent, almost from the first: a group of people have been invited to Mictlan Island, a remote location somewhere in the Sea of Cortez; all with different understandings of why they’ve been invited. Miriam Macy, Hall’s main character, believes she’s been invited to join the cast of a Survivor type reality television show; she’s hoping to win and use the prize money to reboot her shattered life. Hall only doles out information about Miriam slowly, over the course of the novel, but it’s a testament to her skill as a writer that there are two mysteries going on at the same time–the mystery of Miriam’s past, and the mystery of who is killing people on the island. The book is full of surprises and twists, the cast of characters is diverse, and the themes Hall explores are original, or given enough of a new spin to make them seem fresh and new.

But the real revelation of the book is the character of Miriam Macy, and the way Hall breathes life into this complicated woman who has done something horrible and yet continues to justify what she did rather than accepting any culpability for it. You can’t help but root for Miriam, an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, and the brilliance of Hall’s talent is that you keep rooting for Miriam as the story goes on, even after you find out the full story and her history, because her experience on the island is helping her to grow and see the darkness she has denied for years.

This book is an extraordinary accomplishment, and I can’t wait to read more of Hall’s work. Buy it, read it, and love it.

Summer

Memorial Day, and I woke up early. Last night wasn’t a deep sleep, but rather a nice restful one that involved some occasional waking from time to time. My eyes are kind of blurry and burning this morning as well–probably not as well rested as the rest of my body feels.

Yesterday was a nice day. I chose to take the day off from writing yesterday and just read–although I have to admit it wasn’t really much of a choice: I decided to spend an hour reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, only to not be able to stop reading it until I was finished. It’s quite a book, frankly; I’ll talk more about it in its own blog entry, perhaps even later today. I then started reading Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which is also extremely well written; but the opening reminded me a lot of the opening of Sara J. Henry’s A Cold and Lonely Place, which is one of my favorite books of the decade, quite frankly–do yourself a favor and read it, if you haven’t already. I’m probably going to do some more reading this morning before I embark on the rest of my day–I still have cleaning and straightening up to do, and there’s always more writing that needs to be done–but this four-day weekend has been absolutely lovely. I only have a four day work week as a result–one long day, one normal day, then two short–and then it’s again the weekend, which will be rather lovely. I’ll probably turn the 4th of July into a long weekend as well, which will also be lovely.

We watched the Game of Thrones documentary last night, The Last Watch, and while it was interesting and informative, there were places where it dragged a bit; the problem was scope, at least for me; the show was simply too big to condense a “behind the scenes” documentary into slightly less than two hours. But it did fill the enormous hole in my Sunday evening that the ending of the show has left; I hate the idea there won’t be any more Game of Thrones. We came to the show late, of course; everyone was already talking about it and it was already winning Emmys when Paul and I started watching it all those years ago, with discs from Netflix delivered in the mail; I believe it was Season Three where I finally broke down and started paying for HBO so we could watch the show as it aired on Sunday evenings. I’m still processing this final season, and while I can understand the disappointment a lot of fans had with it, it also kind of worked for me–and I also would like to remind people, it could have been much, much worse. I was glad that the traditional story-telling tropes the show never followed it continued to deny right up to the very end; I mean, wasn’t the show building to Jon Snow killing the Night King and winding up seated on the Iron Throne as the last male Targaryen heir? It certainly looked that way, and I couldn’t really see any other ending. The show constantly surprised and angered us all over the years by consistently doing the unexpected, as the books do as well.

The enormous disappointment and hard feelings held by so many fans kind of tells me the show did its job properly; we were so vested in the characters that not having the expected endings for them embittered so many.

We’ve saved the second season of Killing Eve for a binge tonight; which is why I want to get all of the things done I want to get done today done early. So, once I have finished writing this and answering some emails, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee and adjourn to my easy chair and the Olshan novel, which I will read for a little while before getting up and cleaning the windows. After I clean the windows I am going to try to get some writing done; probably working on the outline for the rest of the WIP, some more work on another project, and I think I am going to dig out “Never Kiss a Stranger” and do some more work on it. I want to send some stories out for submission this week, so I’m going to need to spend some time reading and polishing those stories today as well. Yes, yes, so much to do, and sitting here isn’t getting it done, either.

So, it’s off to mine spice for me. Have a lovely day, everyone.

192787_10150103635452078_648027077_6386930_4516394_o

Baby Face

Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and I am feeling well rested and lively and energetic and all of that. I always forget how important it is for me to take these mini-breaks, to keep my sanity and recharge my batteries. I woke up just before eight this morning–I stayed up later than I’d planned, but the latest version of Halloween was available to stream on HBO and we didn’t discover it until after nine last night, so my plans of going to bed regularly between ten-thirty and eleven were all for naught. There’s condensation on my windows this morning, which means it’s humid as fuck outside; I’d planned on lugging the ladder outside and cleaning the windows this morning–which I still may do, mind you, I haven’t ruled it out–in addition to some other cleaning.

Yesterday was quite lovely, and I realized, yet again, how my ideal life would be that of a stay-at-home writer; it’s lovely to get up, check emails, bounce around social media a bit, then clean and organize around writing. I finished the laundry room yesterday, with the baseboards and everything in there, and progressed into the kitchen/office area. I did the lower windows on the inside, moved the file cabinet to clean behind it, and reorganized things around my desk. There’s still some debris piled up on the counter that needs to be sorted and filed away properly; that’s a chore for this morning with my coffee, methinks, along with the dirty dishes in the sink. I’m also taking the pictures down and wiping the dust off them; New Orleans is the dustiest place I’ve ever lived, and it’s a constant battle. I was going to be a feather-duster yesterday but they didn’t have any at Rouse’s, which was, as you can imagine, a horrible disappointment to me. I also couldn’t believe I didn’t have one to begin with; I searched high and low for it yesterday morning, certain there was one somewhere….and then I remembered…you have a cat. Skittle destroyed your feather duster years ago, and you saw no point in buying another as long as you still have a cat.

Fortunately, Scooter is not nearly as vicious a hunter/destroyer of worlds the way Satan’s Kitty was, so I think I might be able to get away with having one again.

It’s the little things, you know, that truly make me happy.

I also worked yesterday, shocking as it may seem; little as I wanted to, of course, I still managed to sit down and work. I read the rest of “The Snow Globe” all the way through, and realized I needed to add another scene to it–it ends too abruptly for the new end I have in mind, and so I have to reread the entire thing from beginning to end. I always aim for my short stories to come in around five thousand words as an ideal length (which I also realize is quite silly; it comes from editing anthologies and thinking “twenty stories of five thousand words each is a hundred thousand words and voila, anthology is finished!) and it’s subconscious. The story is now at about just over 4800 words, and there’s no way to add this sequence in only 200 or so words and so I pulled back from the story. This morning, in the cold harsh bright light of a new day, I realized so fucking what if it winds up over five thousand? You can actually make it SIX thousand if you fucking want to. So, I’ll probably be revisiting that as well.

I took a look at Chapter Eleven of the WIP as well; realizing that starting it one week and finishing it the next without rereading what was already done resulted in some repetition of things; yesterday I chose not to deal with it, and instead did some background work. I pulled up the outline, that only went through Chapter Five, and added the next six chapters to the outline, intending to outline the next five as well so as to have something to fall back on without having to create it out of thin air. But I sincerely (not lazily) couldn’t figure out what to do in the next five chapters and so I put it aside as well and worked on something else–something else that I’ve been asked to do and has been hovering in the back of my subconscious creative brain while I struggle to finish this first draft. I am not ready to talk about it completely and openly just yet–still far too nascent for any public commentary/discussion–but I started doing the background work necessary, and realized what I’d been thinking of doing was probably the wrong place to start, and I actually thought of the proper place to start, so I was busily making notes and writing things down and actually creating, which is always kind of fun. I’m probably–we’ll see–going to try to get Chapter Eleven straightened out today, and will work on this new thing for a bit, and I’d also like to work on another story I’ve got hanging around unfinished. If I can get all this writing–and cleaning–done today, tomorrow I may reward myself just a little bit by allowing myself some down time to read–in fact, this morning, I am going to read for a little while before tackling the dishes; I find reading is also a lovely way to wake up the mind, and I really do want to get deeper into Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which is quite superbly written.

We did watch the newest Halloween last night, and it was quite enjoyable. I love the concept that Carpenter basically threw away everything already filmed as canonical sequels to the original, and simply pretended none of those films had ever happened; instead making a straight-up sequel/reboot of the series; I’m not really sure what you would call this film in terms of the rest of the Michael Myers canon. But it was clear Halloween H20 or whatever it was called never happened; in this world Laurie had a daughter, not a son, and we find Laurie Strode in straight-up Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 mode; someone who has spent her entire life preparing herself for when he comes back to  kill her–and there’s no doubt in her mind that he’s going to, eventually. The trauma of the murders when she was a teenager has damaged her, certainly, and has definitely affected the relationship with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, and she lives in a secure fortress (think Sydney in Scream 3), which also makes sense. I couldn’t help but think as I watched how much better this all would work as a novel; as we could actually get inside the heads of certain point-of-view characters, and how Laurie’s residual trauma has affected/damaged them–wouldn’t that novel, from the point of view of all three women, each a different generation with a different outlook and experience with the trauma, be absolutely fascinating?

I’ve become a lot more interested, I think, as a reader and as a writer, in the aftermath of trauma–how precisely does one deal with that kind of trauma, and what does it do to you as a person, how does it affect the rest of your life and your relationships, etc.  As a writer, I’m becoming less interested in the solving of a crime rather than the actual aftershocks created by the crime; as well as the motivations behind the crime–what drives the criminal to commit the crime in the first place? I think the reason Murder in the Rue Chartres is often considered my best work is because it deals with trauma; the trauma of a  damaged and destroyed city after a major natural disaster, as well as the trauma of getting past the murder of someone you loved.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. Tomorrow I hope to spend the day doing a deep clean of the living room and the staircase, done around the writing and reading I need to get done, and then hopefully we’ll start getting caught up on Killing Eve.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

08

This Masquerade

 Yes, I am now beginning a glorious four-day weekend, during which I plan to read and clean and write and rest and watch movies and just have a glorious time relaxing and trying to catch up on things. I started cleaning, for example, out my jump drive yesterday–there’s an absolutely absurd amount of duplicates, old pictures from a million years ago, old files, etc on it–and I am probably going to try to spend some time trying to do that; get better organized with my computer files and so forth. I also intend to spend some time on a deep clean of the apartment–we’ll see how that goes, but my windows are filthy and I really do need to move things and clean beneath them; and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to clean and organize all the cabinets and drawers, either.

Ambition. We’ll see how that works out, won’t we?

But I slept fantastically last night, waking up this morning feeling wonderfully rested. My burnt lips are healing (you have no idea how fun it is to test people for syphilis while warning them of the dangers of the disease while your lips have enormous looking blister/wounds on them) and hopefully by the time I return to work on Tuesday morning, they will have healed completely and I will no longer have to worry about their syphilitic appearance any more. *whew*

So, here I am, just before nine in the morning with four glorious days off stretching out in front of me. I am going to write a little this morning–probably finishing the revision of “The Snow Globe,” and then hopefully revising the latest chapter of the WIP–while cleaning. I am going to try to do a deep dive clean, one that is sorely overdue here in the Lost Apartment–baseboards, floors, windows, window sills and frames, etc–which can, of course, be incredibly tedious, but it also needs to be done. It’s also launder the bed linen day, and so I have that to do as well. I also want to curl up with Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which I’ve not had the chance to get back to this week, and after that, I’d like to read either John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning or Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which are both Lambda finalists (John is also a Strand and Anthony Award finalist). And then I am not sure what I’ll read after that; I got a stack of fabulous books this week to add to the TBR pile, including Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove and the new Michael Koryta…and there’s already so many wonderful treasures waiting for me in the the pile already.

An embarrassment of riches, as it were.

We also watched the new Wanda Sykes comedy special on Netflix last night, and she’s just as funny and pointed as ever, which is lovely as I am a big fan.

I’m probably going to watch the finale of Game of Thrones again at some point over this weekend, as well–I have found, this season particularly, that it helps to rewatch the episodes after having some time to digest them; I find that it helps me appreciate the show more; the first time I watch I am so busy watching to see what happens that I miss subtleties I am able to catch on a reviewing. I know a lot of fans hated this final season of the show–some going as far as to hate the last two seasons–but I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it as spectacle, and I enjoyed it even despite holes in the plot and subplots that went nowhere and so on and so forth; primarily because it did the unexpected, and it did from the very beginning. Game of Thrones never gave us what we were expecting because it didn’t follow traditional story-telling arcs–for example, once Jon Snow was identified as the true Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne, I was a little disappointed (despite the thrill); because I thought, ho-hum, here we go, it’s just another telling of the King Arthur legend–but as it turned out, it wasn’t that at all.

And I think that may be why so many fans were so disappointed–they were expecting the traditional story arcs, and Game of Thrones went the other way and rejected those.

Then again, what do I know? The Last Jedi is one of my favorite Star Wars movies, which also apparently renders me suspect as a forty-year Star Wars fan.

And on that note, it’s time to start cleaning and writing which means closing the web browsers.

Hello, spice mines!

23faffb9b8455b8f8468d75c128b9908