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.

Don’t Pull Your Love

Ah, New York.

The travel day wasn’t bad at all, really; I didn’t allow anxiety to seize control of my day OR my mood, and everything went smoothly. We had an open seat in between us on our flight, our bags came right off the plane, and the only really problem was our car service was late picking us up and bringing us to our glorious hotel on Times Square. I did manage to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not on the trip (do not recommend, but am willing to give one of his better works a shot, although there was plenty of reasons in this particular volume to make me never read Hemingway again ever)–I am certain there will be more about that later–and I think I am going to dig into Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder next; I also brought along Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man , L. C. Rosen’s Jack of Hearts, and the divine Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Lost Languages. I won’t probably get to all of them on this trip, but I should make a significant dent into this traveling TBR pile while I am here. I do have some other things to keep my busy–I really need to finish writing that short story this week, and I am doing a ZOOM thing about Ira Levin’s Deathtrap for the Jefferson Performing Arts Center tomorrow, between going into the MWA office to work as well as then meet some folks later for drinks.

Nonstop action in New York, y’all.

I was very tired when I got here yesterday, and by the time we were all checked into our hotel and unpacked, we just ordered room service and chilled in our room. I got about two chapters into Mango, Mambo and Murder before the words started swimming in front of my eyes and I had to put it down and go to sleep. The bed was very comfortable, and I slept really well–if off and on; but compared to Albuquerque it was like getting the sleep treatment in Valley of the Dolls–so I at least feel very rested this morning. I am about to get into the shower and walk down Broadway to the MWA office to do some last minute work pre=banquet (I still am not entirely sure what I am going to say about there, but one thing I do know for sure is I am not going to get up there and try to wing it; but I am not nearly as stressed about this as I was at Left Coast for some reason–maybe my decision to try to tamp down the anxiety is working? I managed to remain calm and relaxed all throughout my travel day yesterday, and I am not really stressing much about the banquet itself.

After all, there’s plenty of time for me to freak out about it tomorrow, right?

Well, I need to get a move on, so have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted

WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EVERY SEASON OF ELITE.

One of the most moving moments during Left Coast Crime came during Raquel V. Reyes’ acceptance speech for Best Humorous Mystery for Mango, Mambo, and Murder. Raquel spoke very eloquently about her love for the crime fiction genre, and why it was so important for her to write a Latina sleuth heroine in her series: “Representation matters,” she emphasized, her voice breaking a little bit. This naturally got me to thinking about representation and its importance. It reminded me of the weird little boy in Chicago (and later, in the suburbs and on the plains of Kansas) who believed he was so weird, unnatural, and anything but normal; and how those rare appearances of gay men in fiction–scattered here and there in paperbacks–meant so much to me and made me feel, even if just for a moment, that I wasn’t strange and weird and an outsider. There were people like me out there somewhere, and maybe, just maybe, someday I’d find them and my community and feel like, finally, I belonged somewhere.

I was thinking about this very thing as Paul and I binged our way through Season 5 of our favorite show, Elité, on Netflix recently (the new season dropped while I was in Albuquerque).

I don’t remember how, when, or why Paul and I started watching Elité, but I am so glad we did. I know it was pre-pandemic, because I do remember both of us being concerned about when the fourth season would drop and whether it would be delayed because of the pandemic. But regardless of when we started watching, this Spanish-language Gossip Girl type show (far, far superior to Gossip Girl, sorry, stans, don’t @ me) really captured our imaginations and we became full fledged addicts. (The best way to describe the show is as a terrific hybrid of Gossip Girl and How to Get Away with Murder, yet better than both). I think part of it was the great cast–everyone was not only gorgeous, but they were remarkably talented as well, and the writing/plotting/story construction was superb; take note, American television series. I also greatly enjoyed the Ander/Omar romance, which began with both deeply closeted and meeting guys on hook-up apps, which is how they met. They began building a relationship, coming out to friends and family–it didn’t go well with Omar’s Palestinian parents–and their romance was given equal weight to that of their straight cast members; I don’t recall many shows where that happens. It was handled very well, and they literally became one of the show’s “super couples”, to borrow a daytime soap term. Fans loved them, and their romance was handled so beautifully that I was impressed, all the way from the terrors of the closet to fears about acceptance to actually coming out and developing a romance, with all the drama and upheavals young straight couples usually have to deal with. Omar and Ander were no different from any other romantic couple on the show; their story was just as important as the others, and there was never any sense of “oh they’re just pandering because we’ll always watch something with gay representation on it.”

And it wasn’t just Omar and Ander, either. Polo and Carla were in a long-term relationship since they were children; deeply in love and yet somehow bored with each other, both found themselves attracted to sexy new student Cristian; and that progressed from Polo watching Cristian and Carla together to joining them! Polo’s sexuality became a bit more murky than it was at the beginning. Is he bisexual, pan, or are they all three polyamorous? Carla and Polo end up breaking up and Cristian left the show after a tragic accident; but the intricacies and intrigues from their long-term relationship continued to play out and affect their storylines as well as others along the way. A lesbian romance was introduced into season 4, as well as a new villainous gay character, whose entire purpose was simply to be rebellious against his father and try to come between Omar and Ander. Played by the strikingly beautiful Manu Rios, I liked the idea of a manipulative gay villain (think Erica Kane as a gay man), but hoped they would flesh him out more. I felt Manu Rios was more talented than the material they were giving him, and hoped that in Season 5 we’d get to know him better.

(There are many other reasons I love the show–the other characters are also incredibly well developed, and their behavior fits their characters as they’ve developed along the way; no one ever acts in a way that doesn’t feel realistic simply to suit a story-line, something else American show runners should pay attention to.)

Season 5 literally dropped the Friday night I was in Albuquerque, and as soon as I got back to New Orleans, Paul and I started watching, and binged the entire season in like two nights. Season 4 wasn’t as good as the first three seasons (the bar was set high, to be fair), but it was also a transitional season; at least half of the cast graduated at the end of season three and thus left the show–which I thought was probably a good thing, despite losing some absolute favorite characters from those earlier seasons. Season 4 transitioned the story as the show added new cast members to replace those who’d left; so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we could have (more original cast members departed at the end of season 4) and so I was worried that Season 5 wouldn’t be as good, either…but I am delighted to report I was totally wrong on that score. -With Season 5, the show is back at the incredibly high level/standard it set for itself in those first three seasons, and while it is very hard to compare the one season with the interconnected stories of those first three, I don’t know. Season 5 might just be my favorite.

And of course, now that we’ve seen Season 5, the stage has been set for a very strong new, sixth season, and I literally cannot wait.

But the primary strength of this most-recent season comes from the further development of the character of Patrick, played by the stunningly beautiful young actor Manu Rios, through a truly terrific storyline that let us see sides of Patrick we’ve not seen before.

I mean, look at that stunning face.

The body isn’t too shabby, either.

Patrick joined the cast of characters, as I mentioned, in season 4. The openly gay character was primarily brought in as an agent of chaos: self-absorbed, narcissistic and rebelling against his strict father (the new principal), his role in season 4 was primarily to cause drama and disruption between the long-running gay romance storyline between Omar and Ander (again, and it can’t be said enough, how lovely was the Omar/Ander storyline, where a gay couple in a soapy show got the kind of story usually reserved for opposite sex teen couples?), so he was kind of a villain character–striking out angrily whenever he was hurt but inevitably causing more trouble for himself than for others, but the role was played with such sensitivity and style by Manu Rios that we as viewers couldn’t hate him the way we should have, the way we wanted to; since he was really “the other guy” and causing trouble between the already fraught Ander/Omar relationship we were all rooting for. Patrick was really nothing more than the latest obstacle to their happily ever after; but when Ander also left the show after season four, I wondered if Patrick and Omar would pick back up–it didn’t seem likely, but they were the gay characters, so…

And even I didn’t fully appreciate how talented Manu Rios was during season four–but that changed in a matter of moments in Season 5. I mean, I could see he was beautiful–anyone with eyes can see that–but could he turn what was essentially a one-note character into someone who seemed perfectly real to the viewers?

The answer was yes yes a thousand times yes.

You see, there’s a new student at Las Encinas in season 5, who catches Patrick’s eye on his first day: Ivan Carvalho, played by André Lamoglia.

This picture doesn’t do him justice in the least, either. He’s beautiful. And the way his face lights up when he smiles–utterly irresistible. (Lamoglia is also a remarkably good actor.) His father is a world-famous soccer player, Cruz Catalho, and there’s no sign or mention of Ivan’s mother. But Cruz lives the good life of the hard-partying rich superstar, often telling his uptight son–who’s moved around the world following his father’s career, unable to make lasting friends or set down roots anywhere as a result–to loosen up. Ivan just wants a normal life–with Cruz always telling him to relax and enjoy the great life Cruz is able to provide for him.

And the character is so kind and loving and understanding…it’s easy to see why Patrick would not only be attracted to him for his looks but drawn to him as a person. He sees Patrick in a way no one else ever has before. It’s impossible not to root for them to fall in love with each other.

Ivan first comes to Patrick’s attention when he is looking for directions to the high school locker room–which, at the time, didn’t strike me as odd but now looking back, it kind of does; he was in his gym clothes and in need of a shower, but I SUPPOSE that it’s entirely possible he could have gotten turned around–new school and all, I guess. Immediately interested and attracted to this handsome stranger, Patrick not only gives him directions but offers to take him there “since I was on my way there anyway.” They talk as they shower–but Ivan is onto Patrick; after the shower he points out with a smile, “you just wanted to shower with me to see me naked” he teases, pointing out Patrick’s arousal. As I mentioned, Ivan is breathtakingly gorgeous. When he smiles, you can’t do anything but melt. And yet, the two boys have undeniable chemistry.

But Ivan is straight. He keeps telling Patrick this, over and over again, but…

We actually first meet Ivan as he is getting ready for school, climbing over the passed out bodies in the living room to see if his father will drive him to school. Instead, Cruz winds up hugging the toilet and telling Ivan to take the car. During his first initial meeting with Patrick, Ivan definitely points out that he isn’t gay, but he’s not put off by Patrick’s sexuality, either. They can be friends–but that’s all it’s going to be. He knows Patrick is attracted to him, and he’s a bit of a tease; sending mixed signals that confuse and anger Patrick.

This, too, is an old trope of a story, and I was really not overly thrilled with it; it’s clichéd and one of the tired old reasons the homophobes trot out whenever they want to deny us our rightful place in society and culture: we want to convert everyone.

Because it’s just that easy.

But at the same time, Patrick’s desperate crush on his new straight best friend isn’t played as exploitative. There’s more there than just him being a cocktease, really; Ivan clearly cares very deeply for Patrick, and their friendship means a lot to him. He cares, and this is a new experience for Patrick; he isn’t used to anyone genuinely caring for him. He’s a disappointment to his father, he loves his sisters but those relationships are very tense, and he really just wants to be loved. So the fact that he has found someone who genuinely loves him is confusing; he loves being loved, but he is also strongly attracted to Ivan, in love with him (at one point Ivan teases him, “you’ve fallen for me”) and isn’t sure how to react or behave or what. Ivan is attracted also to Patrick’s sister Ari–and the heartbreak when Patrick sees them together is completely believable; and it’s all done in his incredibly expressive face. After seeing Ivan and Ari having sex on a boat on the lake…heartbroken Patrick goes back to the dock and sits there, hating himself and hating his life. While he’s sitting there, Ivan’s father Cruz comes out there–they’ve already had a couple of run ins already, and Patrick is on to the fact that Cruz isn’t as straight as he acts–and as Cruz comforts Patrick–they begin to kiss!

Did. Not. See. That. Coming.

At the time, I was rather impressed with the writing, frankly. What better set-up for drama than having Patrick, in love with Ivan, wind up in a relationship with Ivan’s dad? (Yes, aware of the creepiness of an adult man sleeping with a high school student; yet I still thought it make an interesting story.) But the writers are even more clever than that.

Patrick winds up comforting Ivan after his brief little fling on the water with Ari–who no longer wants to even speak to him–and the two boys go back to the Carvalho household. Cruz isn’t happy with this–he has his own developing feelings for Patrick, so he acts homophobic, but privately he invites Patrick to join him later after Ivan falls asleep. Later, when Patrick cleans up before bed and walks into Ivan’s room, he sees Ivan watching porn and they come oh-so-close again to something physical happening…but Ivan pulls aways again. Frustrated and hurt AGAIN, Patrick goes to the guest room. While watching porn on his phone and masturbating, he gets a text from Cruz asking is Ivan asleep yet? Hating himself but hurt AND horny, Patrick gets up to go join Cruz–but when he walks out of the guest room Ivan is there in the hallway.

IVAN: I can’t sleep.

PATRICK: Count sheep.

IVAN: No, no, I want you to come back to my room with me.

PATRICK: You need to stop. I am going to get really angry with you.

IVAN: I can’t stop thinking that…what if…because of prejudice or fear or something…what if I am missing out on something amazing…with someone amazing…who makes me feel amazing.

PATRICK: Stop.

Ivan then tries to kiss Patrick, but awkwardly. Patrick pushes him away, and Ivan apologizes. “I’m sorry, I’m just really nervous but I want this.”

The look on Patrick’s face literally made me tear up as he said, “No, let me.” And then they kiss. When Patrick pulls away he says, “Are you okay?”

Ivan smiles and just nods, and the two boys go back to Ivan’s room.

What followed was the most amazing slightly longer than five minutes gay sex scene I’ve ever seen outside of gay porn. But it wasn’t raunchy (it’s definitely not gay porn); it was sensual and beautiful and erotic; an expression of love between two young men who’ve never been really in love before. It wasn’t all candlelight and roses; it was Ivan’s first time (at one point, he’s doing oral on Patrick for the first time, and Patrick stops him–“watch the teeth!” I defy anyone to find a gay man who has never said that or had that said to him once in his life. ) and while i know rimming scenes have become more commonplace on cable shows, I’ve never seen two males do it as realistically as it was done here. Patrick allows Ivan to top him, and even that was realistic, honest, authentic. The entire thing was beautifully shot and scored (EDIT: the song playing in the background is Brian Eno’s “By the River,” which is beautiful and perfect for this scene), and the acting was fucking fantastic (the pun was deliberate). I literally got tears in my eyes.

There were three more episodes in the season after this–with ups and downs and more pain and heartache for the two–but it all comes together in the incredible season finale, which again left me in tears.

This entire season could have simply focused on Patrick and Ivan’s story, and I would have been happy. But the other storylines of the season–which didn’t seem all that great in the first half–coalesced in the second half of the season, with twists and surprises and suspense; this show is fantastic at surprise twists that make you gasp.

But this story…wow. How much of a difference would it have made in my life to have seen something like this play out on a television series when I was a teenager? Even in my early twenties? Both young actors are fantastic. The acting is stellar, and I have to admit it’s one of the few times I’ve seen a gay storyline play out like this where I was absolutely 100% convinced they were in love with each other, was rooting for them, wanted them to end up together against all the odds.

Manu Rios and André Lamoglia steal the fifth season right out from under the rest of the cast–which is no small feat, as Elité’s biggest strength has always been its incredibly talented cast.

I loved this show already, but I love it all the more now. I have no idea what they are going to do with Ivan and Patrick for the next season; but whatever it is, I am here for it…and so are the rest of the fans of the show around the world. (Yes, I did a deep dive the other day on-line; Patrick and Ivan and their story are the breakout stars of season 5…as they should be.)

I would seriously write Patrick/Ivan fanfic.

Bravo, Elité and Netflix, and thank you.