(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.

I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.

I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.

Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.

I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!

College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.

As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.

I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.

Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.

Empire State

Friday has arrived, Constant Reader, and it’s glorious (although I keep thinking it’s Saturday because I’d gotten used to going into the office on Fridays). After all the week’s insomnia, I slept gloriously last night–when I first went to bed Scooter joined me, cuddled up to me and started the purr machine, which draws sleep like a moth to a flame. Paul got home later than expected, so we watched Andor and an episode of Chucky, which we are about to give up on. It’s campy and funny, but it literally makes so little sense–which is admittedly also a part of its charm, and I do love that two of the three main characters are a young teen gay couple–we might be giving it up fairly soon. I also have some errands to run today–I have to get my flu shot and pick up a prescription–and I am also debating whether to make a Five Guys run while I’m out there. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the glory that is Five Guys…but on the other hand, I could look at it as look how well I’ve done not eating any fast food for so long and not go, too. Decisions, decisions.

Then again it is Halloween season–we’ll probably stream Halloween Ends tonight–so it doesn’t seem right to not be watching horror, you know? I hope to finish my revisit of Interview with the Vampire today and move on to a reread of salem’s Lot; I also have Paul Tremblay’s short story collection and Joe Hill’s so perhaps I should consider diving into some short stories for a while as well. I think I only got one story into each–and I also want to read Shirley Jackson’s Edgar Award-winning short story at some point as well as part of another long term project I am working on (because how many things can I be working on at the same time? Let’s find out!), and I also got both the new Donna Andrews and the new Raquel V. Reyes novels (Dashing Through the Snowbirds and Calypso, Cooking and Corpses, respectively). Lots of good reading in my future, really–but there always is; my TBR stack is a who’s who of brilliant writers, really.

And when I am finished with my work for the day, I think I am going to start planning out the rest of the Scotty book (after finishing the chapter I am currently struggling with). It certainly can’t make writing it any harder, right?

A few weekends ago I talked to Ricky Grove, the host of The Paperback Show podcast about Daphne du Maurier and My Cousin Rachel (you can listen here if you’d like), which was a lot of fun–any excuse, really, to talk about Daphne du Maurier will be leapt at here in the Lost Apartment, for future reference–and Ricky is always fun to talk to; I can’t believe how long I’ve known Ricky now, where does the goddamned time go, anyway?

It has been quite a long time since I got into this business–as I said the other day, I’ve been doing this a third of my life now, which is simply insane, really, to think about–and it’s been quite a ride, to be certain. I’m a totally different person than I was twenty years ago, and there’s no way in hell twenty years ago I could have foreseen what those two decades held in store, just waiting for the time to be right to pounce on me. But it’s cool, you know; I’m pretty happy with the life I have and the direction it’s heading, even if I am more aware of the ticking down of the clock than I was before, to be sure. I’m behind on everything as always but progress was made this past week, and now that I have the schedule back that I prefer for the day job, I am hoping I will adapt to it rather quickly again and so I won’t have the insomnia or the “tired all day” feel that brings with it. There’s a short story deadline tomorrow that I wanted to make, so I thought last night about potential stories I have on hand that I could possibly polish tomorrow and try to get turned in–if they say no, they say no, and you can’t be accepted if you don’t turn anything in at all–so that’s a potential thing for me to do tomorrow. I also want to drop some books off at the library sale, and maybe wash and clean out the car. LSU plays a night game tomorrow, so I have the entire day free (I’ll probably have the Alabama-Tennessee game on in the background, ROLL TIDE!) to get things done and write and read and clean and…I guess we’ll just have to see how it all goes, won’t we?

And on that note, I am. heading into the spice mines before i head over to the office to get my flu shot. Have a happy and productive day, Constant Reader.

Book of Love

Wednesday and another edition of the biweekly Pay The Bills Day! Woo-hoo! But this is also my last paycheck at my old rate of pay; I am curious to see what my paychecks will look like when they reflect my raise–check back, Constant Reader, in precisely two weeks to find out.

Can you stand the suspense? I barely can.

I was very tired yesterday, and I slept about the same last night so I can also plan on hitting the wall today around three. I took a long lunch yesterday to record Susan Larson’s marvelous radio show The Reading Life, which will air on December 6th, and that was naturally delightful as every moment spent with Susan is. But by the time I got back to the office and got settled back into the seeing clients routine, I was very tired. I had a ZOOM meeting when I got back home last night, which was interesting and fun–it’s always lovely seeing that group of people (queer crime writers! Woo-hoo!)–and then I settled into my chair to watch Reboot and another episode of Diary of a Gigolo, which is just so much fun. I did get some writing done yesterday–terrible writing, I might add–but am hopeful that tonight I’ll get back on track. I feel like I slept about the same last night, waking up several times and never really falling deep asleep again, but this morning so far I feel good. I managed to somehow get quite a bit finished yesterday, which I didn’t think would actually be the case, given how sleepy and tired I was yesterday afternoon, but looking back over the day I can see that yes, indeed, I did get a lot done despite the exhaustion. I am adjusting to the new work week schedule, methinks; tomorrow is my last day in the office and usually I am worn down the day before my last day in the office for the week, so this is a major plus.

And now to consult the to-do list…sigh. It can wait until later, surely?

I don’t know why this morning I feel like I’ve turned some kind of corner, which makes absolutely zero sense, but that’s kind of how I feel; like I’m shaking off some kind of malaise or stupor and my mind is functioning correctly again. It’s entirely possible the booster shot I got on Monday fogged my brain for a few days–I’m blaming the insomnia issues on it for fucking sure–and now this morning that fog has cleared. I don’t know, I really can’t explain it other than that, but this is one of those mornings where I feel like I am mentally rolling up my sleeves and taking a look at all and everything I need to get done and diving in headfirst. LOL, we’ll see how long this feeling lasts, won’t we? But I feel good–and that is reflected in my mood, I guess; I’m in a pretty good mood this morning (at least thus far) but it’s probably too much to hope for that it will last the rest of the day.

Probably not, but you never know.

I was thinking last night–after talking to Susan about the next book (should there be one) in the new series, and of course my copy of Raquel V. Reyes’ second novel arrived yesterday–about how important the second book in a series is, and how much different the second books in both of my series are from the first book in each series. In the first book you have to introduce the characters and their backstories and how they relate to each other (the kind of relationships they have with each other) as well as who your main character is and try to get the reader to relate to them and like them enough to buy into the series as a whole. In the second book, you’ve already done all of this work so all you need is little sound bytes here and there to recap those backstories and so forth and you can spend a lot more time developing your plot and story. Murder in the Rue St. Ann was very different than Murder in the Rue Dauphine; revisiting the Scotty series I can see how much more complicated and layered the story of Jackson Square Jazz was in comparison to Bourbon Street Blues, which had a much simpler plot. Likewise, A Streetcar Named Murder is the launching place for this series, and hopefully it will continue (my second one is tentatively titled The House of the Seven Grables, which will probably be changed by the publisher if there is a second book in the series), and the plot I have in mind for this second Valerie book is a lot more all over the place and complicated–especially as we dig deeper into the Cooper family mystery that was brought to light in the first book.

My favorite part of writing a book is the planning stage, really.

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

Carousel

As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The décor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

The Highwayman

And he is home in the Lost Apartment, swilling coffee after having a good night’s sleep for the first time since, well, last Tuesday night, really; I had to get up at five on Thursday, after all. I got home around nine last night; I got a ride to the airport many hours before my flight–which I don’t mind, as long as I have something to read and an Internet connection, I am more than capable of entertaining myself. The flight home was uneventful, I retrieved the car and there wasn’t any traffic to speak of on I-10 so the drive home was practically nothing. Now I have to adjust back to my normal reality, which is also fine–it can be very tiring and exhausting being at a conference for the weekend, but as I mentioned yesterday, I had a marvelous time. Sleuthfest is a lovely event (kudos to the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America, with an especial shout out to president Alan Orloff and chairs Michael Joy and Raquel Reyes) I’ve always enjoyed when I’ve had the opportunity to attend; I certainly hope it works out for me to go again next year. I met some new people and reconnected with others I’ve not seen since pre-pandemic (some of course I’ve met and seen since the pandemic started), and over all, it was truly a lovely weekend. I also managed to get some writing done over the course of the weekend, which is always a pleasant surprise when it happens.

But there’s also something quite lovely about being home, in my own desk chair drinking my own coffee and looking at my big desktop screen instead of the laptop. I have a million emails to get through and try to answer; data to enter for my day job; and at some point later today I have to run errands and finish re-acclimating to New Orleans and my usual, ordinary, day to day existence. I did manage to finish reading my friend’s manuscript (which I greatly enjoyed), as well as The Great Betrayal, and got about half-way through Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy, which I hope to finish this week. I have some stories to finish polishing to get out into the world this month, and I need to get back to the writing, of course. I’m also still a little reeling from how well my reading from Chlorine went at Noir at the Bar; yesterday people were still coming up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how much they were looking forward to reading it when it’s finished. I suspect Chlorine might be the breakout book I’ve been waiting to write most of my career…it certainly seems like it, doesn’t it?

I am feeling a bit better about where I am at with everything and my writing, I have to say. That’s the lovely thing about events like Sleuthfest–writers with careers like mine often are operating in a vacuum. Sure, people say nice things to us about our work on social media or in Amazon or Goodreads reviews, but for the most part we don’t get many opportunities to engage with readers or other authors in person. I doubt, for example, that I will ever be so popular that my signings or readings or appearances will be ticketed events. It’s always possible, of course, but at this point hardly likely. having in person interactions with other writers and readers. Writing is different from other jobs; you mostly do it by yourself and it’s not like you have an office filled with other co-worker authors to go to every day. I never am overly concerned about how good of a job I am doing at my day job; I know my job inside out and I provide good care and education to my clients every day. But writing is an entirely different animal. You work on something by yourself for quite some time and polish it and edit it and rewrite it and you have no idea what’s going on with it–if it’s any good or not, because you’re not a good judge of your own work, and then you send it out and wait and wait and wait to find out if it’s any good or remotely publishable. And even then, you don’t get any feedback outside of your editor for months and months and months after you wrote it–and in some cases, by the time the book or story comes out, you’ve completely forgotten what it was about and who the characters were and so on.

Heavy sigh.

That’s why, at least for me as an author, going to events like Sleuthfest are so important. I need that reinvigoration every once in a while; it inspires me and pushes me and gets me back to feeling like an author again. It’s really nice.

But now I have to get back to reality–balancing day job with writing and volunteer work and keeping the house–and I know my next event will be Bouchercon in September, at the end of the dog days of summer and as football season once again kicks into gear. So for now, I am going to make another cup of coffee, put some things away and start doing some chores around here before I dive back into the duties of my day job. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

Sweet City Woman

I’ve been making an effort over the past few years to get outside of my reading comfort zone and delve into books and writers and subgenres of crime fiction that I’ve sadly been neglecting over the course of sixty years of living on this weird planet. I’ve always been grateful that I developed a love of reading when I was very young; I was set on this path very young and one of the great pleasures of life, I have found, is curling up with a good book. I’m never bored, because there’s always something to read, and I never go anywhere without a book to read if I have to wait and pass time–whether it’s traveling or getting my car worked on or the doctor’s office or anything. (I have regrettably developed a social media/on-line default in those instances; I’m working on breaking that hideous habit…there’s nothing ever on social media that ever needs an immediate exposure or response by any means, and I hate that we’ve all become so addicted to our phones that we prefer to stare at a small screen rather than interact with the world…or get lost in a world created by a truly gifted writer.) I have very limited reading time (if I had my way I would spend at least half of every day reading a book–and even if I did that I don’t think I would ever really clear my TBR pile), and so I should be certain to utilize every bit of down time that I have inside the pages of a book.

Hmmm…kind of veered away from my original point, didn’t I?

Anyway, several years ago I decided to embark on reading sub-genres I usually don’t default to within the umbrella of crime writing, and two of the biggest gaps in my reading were traditional mysteries and writers of color, so I made it a point to stop defaulting to books by straight white people. It actually makes me a bit ashamed that I had to make a point of doing so; my own internal subconscious biases needed to be dragged out of my head by the roots, and while I am ashamed it took me so long to do this, I am so glad that I did. I’ve discovered so much rich and wonderful writing by amazing writers from communities that we as a society and culture have failed for so long…I feel like I’m becoming a better person and a more nuanced reader than I’ve ever been, and as someone who’s always prided himself on being a discerning reader, correcting my failings in my reading choices was certainly long overdue.

And what a marvelous time I had in Coral Beach, getting to know Miriam Quiñones-Smith in Raquel V. Reyes’ wonderful Mango, Mambo, and Murder.

“¡Basta, Alma! I told you I’m not doing the show.” I accentuated each word with the knife I held in my hand before I stabbed the packing tape and sliced open box number five of forty-eight.

“You are perfect for it. And come on, Miriam, what else are you doing?”

I narrowed my eyes and glared at my best friend, Alma. “¿Qué es esto?” I waved my hand like a hostess showing someone to their table. “Is this house going to unpack itself?”

“Porfa, this is not going to take all week. The cooking spot is next Friday. Today is Tuesday. You have a week and a half. It’s a short cooking demo on a morning show.” Alma shook her pinched hand like a stereotypical Italian grandmother. Except, of course, she wasn’t Italian, and neither was I. We’re Cuban American. Both cultures talked with their hands. Or, in my case, with whatever was in my hands at the moment.

I crumpled the New York Post page that wrapped a chipped green dinner plate. Before placing it on the stack that was building in the cupboard of my new Florida home, I shook the plate like a tambourine, “But I don’t cook!”

Representation matters, Raquel said as part of her poignant and moving and impassioned acceptance speech when she won the Lefty Award at Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque a few weeks ago, and while I’ve always known the truth of that two-word sentence, it’s been resonating with me a lot since the Left banquet. The fifth season of Elité and Netflix’s wonderful Heartstopper reminded me, very deeply and emotionally, how much carefully crafted stories about young gay men would have impacted my much younger gay self; it cannot be said enough how many unfortunate queer kids are isolated and feel very much alone in the world.

From page one, Raquel throws her readers headlong into the life of her heroine, a Cuban-American woman named Miriam who fell in love and married a white man; they have a young son Manny who is, along with Roberto, her husband (his name is Robert Smith, but she calls him Roberto affectionately, which I absolutely loved), the center of her life. Her parents have retired to the Dominican Republic, and despite being raised in Miami, she went north for college and fell in love, ironically, with an Anglo from a suburb of Miami–or at the very least a very elite (and very white) bedroom community for greater Miami, Coral Shores. Miriam is an interrupted-academic: her field of study is food anthropology, with a particular emphasis on how colonialism and the Caribbean diaspora affected the development of foods, cooking, and how from one Latinx culture to another, the basics veered into different directions (it actually sounds fascinating) based on the region and cultural adjustments. Her best friend, Alma, is a top realtor in the area and helped Miriam find a house for her family; they’ve moved back because Roberto has gotten a job down there. Alma is very well connected and also gets Miriam a gig on a local Spanish-language talk show doing cooking demonstrations.

Alma drags Miriam along to a women’s club meeting (in which Miriam has no interest in attending, let alone joining) during which an attendee at Miriam’s table face-plants into her plate of chicken salad (flavorless); she is pronounced dead–and little does Miriam know how this sudden death is going to help change the direction of her life.

While this is a fine mystery–I enjoyed following Miriam along her route as she becomes a reluctant amateur assistant to the investigation officer, Detective Pullman to try to clear Alma, who has been accused of not just this death but another that follows shortly thereafter–the real strength of this book is Miriam herself. Reyes had created a lovable character, fiercely proud of her own heritage and determined that her child be appreciative and a part of that heritage (I love that she only speaks Spanish to Manny while Roberto speaks to him in English so he will grow up bilingual), and she is absolutely real; fully developed with a strong history, an inquisitive and intelligent mind, and trying very hard to adapt to being a fish out of water in her own home region–Christ, the microaggressions she has to put up with on a daily basis (I wanted to slap her bitch mother-in-law any number of times)–and despite being off-balance, she is very centered even as life keeps throwing things at her.

I also loved that Miriam brings to an end a long-time family rift as well.

I loved this book, and i am really looking forward to getting to know Miriam more in the future.

NOTE: This is the second book I’ve read where a foreign language–in this case Spanish–was used and never demarcated by italicization. It caught me off-guard at first, but as I got more used to it I began wondering why that was ever done in the first place? Did publishers think readers would be confused and think the foreign words were typos unless delineated as “different”? Oy.

Glad to see that practice ending.

I Love You For All Seasons

I really really love my life.

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

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

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

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

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

Rose Garden

And today we fly back home from the glamour of New York and the Edgar Awards; to reality and what I would usually describe as the drudgery of my day to day existence. I do love New York; I love walking the streets and looking in shop windows and looking at the menus posted in the windows of little restaurants (and the bigger ones) and the crowds of people. I don’t know if I could handle living here–I’m far too old to try to find out now, at any rate–but there’s a part of me that kind of wishes I had run away to the big city from the provincial and pedestrian life I lived up until I was thirty; but that would make my life different than it is now and I am pretty damned happy with my life now. Could be better, but could also but a shit ton worse than it is, too.

I could also be dead had I been here during the plague years, so there’s also that.

Yesterday was a lovely and relaxing recovery day from the Edgar banquet. I slept really well that night (and last night; I don’t get it but for whatever reason I’ve been able to sleep here at the hotel and it’s been quite marvelous), and spent the day exploring and meeting friends here and there for coffee or drinks. I actually met a friend at the Campbell Apartment in the mid-afternoon for drinks; I had never been before but it was quite marvelous! It was like being back in old New York, with the gorgeous old decor, the magnificent window behind the bar, and sipping on a martini (dirty vodka, of course; aka the Gaylin) while talking about books and publishing and writing with a writer friend; one of the things I love about coming to New York–particularly when it’s on Mystery Writers of America business–is that it reminds me of what I used to dream being a writer was like: coming to New York, walking the busy streets from meeting to meeting, talking to other people in the business about the business and about writing and books. I always feel like An Author when I am in Manhattan in ways that I don’t when I am anywhere else–even if it’s a writer’s conference. There’s just something about Manhattan that gets into my system somehow and makes me feel like I’m really a writer. I guess it’s because when I was a kid everything I ever saw, in movies and television or even read in books, about being a writer always involved either living in New York or coming to New York to meet with editors, agents, etc.

I love New York because I love feeling like An Author, and I never feel that as intensely as I do when I am here.

I also spent some more time with Raquel V. Reyes’ marvelous Mango, Mambo and Murder, which she described on stage while accepting her Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery a few weeks ago, as her “Spanglish mystery,” and while I wasn’t sure what she meant by that when she said (as I hadn’t read the book yet) now that I am about two-thirds of the way through, I totally get it. Miriam, her main character, is a Cuban-American who is absolutely (as she should be) proud of that heritage and wants to keep it alive with her son, who has a white father. She speaks Spanish to her son (his father speaks English to him) so he will grow up bilingual and understanding and appreciating his maternal heritage; she speaks Spanish with other Spanish speakers; and her mother-in-law is…well, let’s just call her horrible and passive-aggressively racist in that way that certain white women can be. There have been any number of times in the book where I’ve wanted to slap the snot out of Mother-in-Law; and while intellectually I’ve always known how awful that kind of behavior (and equally awful those snide little remarks) are, experiencing it through the eyes of a character you’ve grown to like and admire and respect and identify with–all the while knowing I can just put the book down and escape from it, which people of Hispanic/Latinx heritage cannot in every day life–is always a little eye-opening and makes me understand just how much privilege my skin gives me (there was a weird incident at Left Coast Crime I’ve not blogged about that kind of put me in the shoes of a non-white person for a little while; I’ve not written about it because I am not really sure how to, and I’ve not managed to fully process the experience, to be honest, and there’s also the reality that this momentary sort-of-racist experience I had isn’t common, isn’t likely to happen again, and as a general rule I enjoy a lot of privilege due to my lack of melanin.)…which is precisely why books like Raquel’s (and Kellye Garrett’s, and Rachel Howzell Hall’s, and Mia Manansala’s, and so many others) are important. So many of us don’t understand how privileged we are as a category (it’s always infuriating when people are tone-deaf and make it about them–“I’ve struggled”–rather than stepping back and recognizing that it’s about the group and not individuality), and these books can help us see things from a different perspective as well as exposing us to other cultures within our over-arching society that we should actually embrace and celebrate and learn about in order to be more fully rounded and developed as people. I’ll probably finish reading the book either at the airport or on the flight; I have some more on deck in my backpack so I won’t be without a book to read (We also have to change planes in Nashville, and we have about an hour or two there as well).

I’d best wrap this up and get ready. Checkout time is 11, and our car is coming for us at 11:45 to take us to LaGuardia. I need to pack the last few odds and ends into the suitcases, take a shower, and get Paul up. So farewell to you, my beloved New York and Manhattan, and I promise to be back again at some point.

And I’ll check in with you again tomorrow as always, Constant Reader.

Help Me Make It Through the Night

I actually slept last night here at my hotel, and slept late this morning, both of which are so unusual it does bear remarking on. I also walked a lot yesterday here in Manhattan; it’s about fourteen blocks from the hotel to the MWA office; a straight shot up Broadway. That’s a lot more walking than my tired old fat-ass is used to, so perhaps that had something to do with the deep sleep. I also met a friend for drinks with Paul last evening (here in the hotel bar), and then we came back up to the room and I read for a bit before I got cross-eyed with sleep (I am really enjoying this Raquel V. Reyes novel tremendously; although I probably won’t get much chance to finish it before the flight home Saturday, which should give me plenty of time to not only finish reading Mango Mambo and Murder but to read (or make good headway on reading) one of the other books I brought along for the ride. (There will also be giveaway books at the banquet tonight…)

It really is remarkable how much I dislike working on a laptop, thought. Mostly it’s because the screen is too small for my aging eyes (note to self: make an eye appointment stat, maybe new glasses will take care of this for me) but I have my wireless keyboard (I hate typing on a laptop most of all) and my wireless mouse with me, which makes it a bit easier for me to deal with.

I was also surprised that I slept so well last night mainly because, well, the banquet is tonight and I have to be up on stage to begin with to welcome everyone and do some thank you’s and introductions, which I have to be stone cold sober to do–which, given there’s an hour of cocktail reception before hand, isn’t going to be easy for one Gregalicious, who never likes passing up free wine or champagne–and of course being stone cold sober is going to make it a bit more stressful, although the days when I used to drink heavily to deal with the stage fright anxiety are long in the past and let’s face it, was never a particularly smart thing to do (ah, the wisdom that comes with age). The awards are going to be broadcast live on our Youtube channel (if I were better at my job as EVP I’d share a link, but I am not better at the job so oh well) which means it will also be recorded and always be up there for all eternity (the Internet is forever, after all) so the possibilities of me doing something stupid and going viral, therefore burning MWA to the ground, are much higher than say, my speaking for a few moments at the Lefty Banquet. But I am trying very hard to manage my anxiety and stress–I handled the travel here very well, after all–and so this new calm centering thing I am doing seems to be working. I feel remarkably relaxed and rested this morning, in fact, which is highly unusual.

After I finish this and do some more emails, I will probably work on my short story a bit more.

Oh! I also did a ZOOM thing yesterday for the Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS) for their upcoming production of Deathtrap; which of course was a huge Broadway hit comedy/thriller written by one of my literary heroes, Ira Levin (who also wrote A Kiss Before Dying, This Perfect Day, Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil, for a few highlights). It was actually quite fun–I love the opportunity to talk about other writers; talking myself up is an entirely different subject–and I am not sure when or where it will be available to view on-line, but I don’t think I made a fool of myself.

I’ve been wrong before.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines and get to work on that story some more. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will recap the banquet for you tomorrow.