You Give Good Love

It’s a gorgeous morning here in New Orleans; glorious because I had a deep and restful sleep overnight; relaxing because I am going to run some errands and do a favor for a friend a little later on. I was exhausted yesterday when I got home; I did some laundry, the dishes and some light cleaning, then settled down into the easy chair to watch this week’s Riverdale, and then ran a few episodes of Versailles on Netflix; as the Affair of the Poisons kicks into higher gear the show is becoming more interesting. We have also been introduced to the Duc d’Orleans’ second wife, Elisabeth Charlotte (Liselotte), the Princess Palatine; whose gossipy letters and diaries about life at Versailles are a treasure trove. Madame Scarron has also shown up as governess to the bastard children of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan; those familiar with Louis’ story will know precisely who she is, and how important she is going to be.

I also watched Peggy Scott Laborde’s WYES show, Steppin’ Out, last night, because Paul made his debut on it talking about Saints and Sinners, alongside Susan Larson, who talked about the Tennessee Williams Festival. It’s hard to believe the events begin in just a few days; I’ve been so wrapped up in my short story writing that the time has simply flown and I was unaware that they were looming so near until some time this past week.

I also read some short stories last night.

Speaking of short stories, I’m trying to develop a plan and a working schedule for myself over the next few months. I was talking to a friend yesterday over lunch–the same friend I am doing a favor for this afternoon–which was more thinking out loud than anything else. The market for short stories has really dried up so much; there are very few paying markets for short stories out there any more–at least ones that pay decently–so that writing them has to be primarily for the love of the form; and of course, crime stories, being genre, have an even more limited marketability; crime stories about gay men even less so. When I started writing these stories back in January I purposely wasn’t writing about gay characters, themes or tropes for precisely this very reason. But the Chanse stories…well, Chanse is gay, even if the stories I am writing aren’t about gay themed; I will be curious to see how that plays out, as I intend to , once they are finished and polished, submit them to mainstream markets. Two of the other stories also have a gay male main character; so we shall see how that plays out. My story in the Bouchercon anthology is also about a gay character and the sexuality plays a factor in the story. Will it be as well received as “Survivor’s Guilt” was two years ago? We shall see; but that is what makes the writer so crazy, you know; maybe the story simply isn’t as good. There’s no way of ever knowing for sure, which, of course, is the path to madness.

So, anyway, the plan is to wrap up all of these stories by the end of this month, which will require focus and work; April I am devoting to the two novels, before diving back into something else for May. I’d love to start writing this noir novel that’s brewing in my head for years; perhaps with focus and hard work I can get it done in May. This does sound terribly ambitious, and I am very much aware of that. And see–if my under-caffeinated fog this morning I forgot all about the y/a manuscript I need to get revised; that was my original plan for May. Heavy sigh.

I also have read two more of the Lew Archer stories by Ross Macdonald collected in The Archer Files. First up was “The Sinister Habit.”

A man in a conservative dark gray suit entered my doorway sideways, carrying a dark gray Homburg in his hand. His face was long and pale. He has black eyes and eyebrows and black nostrils. Across the summit of his high forehead, long black ribbons of hair were brushed demurely. Only his tie had color: it lay on his narrow chest like a slumbering purple passion.

The sharp black glance darted around my office, then back into the corridor. The hairy nostrils sniffed the air as if he suspected escaping gas.

“Is somebody following you?” I said.

“I have no reason to think so.”

“The Sinister Habit” is the more than slightly sordid tale of the Harlans, brother and sister, who have some money and run a private school in Chicago. It is the brother who engages the services of one Lew Archer. His sister has eloped with a man he feels is going to rob her blind and steal all of their money; the sense is given that the brother–who is fussy and prim– is probably gay but it’s never addressed or talked about; it’s that casual homophobia thing I’ve mentioned before. Their mother ran out on them when they were children with another man as well; the mother lives in Los Angeles. The story becomes twisty and turny after that; the man the sister has run off with is one Leonard Lister, who may or not be a four-flusher, as they used to say. People switch sides, Archer keeps digging, there’s a murder and then a gunfight at the conclusion when the true murderer is finally revealed.

This not the strongest story, not one of Macdonald’s best,  but still a pleasant read; while the characters may not always work and the plot itself gets resolved far too neatly at the end, it is a fun read due to Macdonald’s writing style; there are excellent word choices and incredibly clever phrases.

Next came “The Suicide.”

I picked her up on the Daylight. Or maybe she picked me up. With some of the nicest girls, you never seem to know.

She seemed to be very nice, and very young. She had a flippant nose and wide blue eyes, the kind that most men liked to call innocent. Her hair bubbled like boiling gold around her small blue hat. When she turned from the window to hear my deathless comments on the weather, she wafted spring odors towards me.

She laughed in the right places, a little hectically. But in between, when the conversation lagged, I could see a certain somberness in her eyes, a pinched look around her mouth like the effects of an early frost. When I asked her into the buffet car for a drink, she said: 

“Oh, no. Thank you. I couldn’t possibly.”

The vast majority of the Archer short stories begin with someone walking into his office and engaging his services. “The Suicide” is one of those rare cases when a chance encounter somewhere draws Archer into a complicated investigation; in this case, it’s on a train from San Francisco back to Los Angeles where Archer meets a very beautiful young woman who appears to be in some distress. She doesn’t accept the drink offer because she’s not old enough to drink; but when he offers her food, she is more easily persuaded. She winds up eating two sandwiches and pouring out her tale of woe to Archer; she’s worried about her older sister. She is a student at Berkeley, and her weekly check from her sister hasn’t arrived; she has also called and called to no avail. No one seems to know where her sister is, or what has happened to her. Archer decides to help out this damsel-in-distress, and thus begins a wickedly twisting tale that includes a brutal ass of an ex-husband; Las Vegas mobsters; a fortune in missing money; and a horrific, disfiguring beating of a woman. It’s a clever tale; it works better than “The Sinister Habit,” and all of Macdonald’s writing strengths are here; great brief staccato sentences, whip-like descriptions, the world-weary cynicism. Perfection,

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Like a Virgin

Well, it’s a chilly, gray Friday morning in New Orleans, Constant Reader, and we’ve managed to survive yet another week Again, this is a short work day for me at the office, so I’ll be able to make groceries this afternoon and go to the gym this evening before curling up in my easy chair with Karen M. McManus’ y/a bestseller, One of Us is Lying. (I will also continue with the Short Story Project, never fear! I just haven’t decided where I want to go next–whether it’s a single author collection or an anthology I want to dip into; or maybe go back to the Laura Lippman and Sue Grafton collections; mystery or horror.) I’m all caught up on posting about short stories after today’s post, too, so I need to decide, and soon.

Last night I worked some more on the WIP; moving on to Chapter Two. This chapter didn’t flow as easily as the first, and I only got about 1800 words done on it (which made the writing day a bit of a failure) but I also tweaked Chapter One a bit and got another 200 words or so added to it; a two-thousand word day is a win, for me, even if the goal is always to do at least three thousand–particularly considering how just last month I would have considered a hundred words a triumph. So, thus far this year I’ve written four short stories, one and a half chapters of the WIP, and one chapter of the Scotty–and I even know what the second chapter is going to be–which is how Scotty books usually work; no plan, but the next chapter reveals itself as I write the current. I also have tossed out the entire plot as it was; new victim, new everything. But I am hopeful I can get this all finished by the end of February; Mardi Gras notwithstanding. I also solved the problem with another manuscript I’ve been sitting on for a long time, and I know how to make it work as well now, but it’ll have to wait until I am finished with these two projects and another.

It feels so good to have my creativity kicking into gear again.

I also watched Riverdale last night, which has replaced Teen Wolf as the gayest show on television. Oh, sure, like Teen Wolf there’s only one gay character on the show; but all of the guys are fricking gorgeous with amazing bodies that are shown off pretty regularly–you haven’t lived until you’ve seen KJ Apa in a low cut singlet without a shirt underneath–and there was even a locker room scene where Archie was talking to gay Kevin, while in the background between them was some amazing hunk wearing only a towel standing at the sink–yay for gratuitous male bodies!

So, as this weekend looms I hope to get a lot done. We shall see how that works, but…hope springs eternal.

Today’s first short story is Sarah Weinman’s “The Big Town”, from Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block:

You don’t expect to see a portrait of your mother hanging on the wall of your gangster boyfriend’s living room. especially when the portrait shows your mother without a stitch of clothing on but for a pair of green heels.

“Where did you get that painting?” I asked, my voice more querulous than I wished. It was my first time in his house. I hesitated about a return visit even before seeing the portrait, but now I knew. I would not be back.

He turned to face the portrait. I looked at his back, the white collared shirt barely covering dark matted hair. I’d run my fingers through that broad, fleshy forest the few afternoons we’d fucked in a Ritz-Carlton hotel suite. Again I remembered what I found attractive about him: power, status, money. And what I found ugly: body, face, manners.

The story is really quite good and a poignant story about love and loss at the same time. The main character is a rural Canadian girl who ran away to the big city to avoid a prearranged marriage, her only future being a farmwife and having a passel of kids; she’s kind of become a good time girl, doing whatever necessary in order to survive on the fringes of society. But once she sees the portrait of her mother, who died when she was young, she becomes obsessed with getting the portrait away from the vile gangster and learning its history; how it came to exist in the first place.

I’ve read a lot of Weinman’s non-fiction before, and of course, just finished reading her stellar anthology Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives, which was exceptional. Nonfiction writing, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into good fiction writing; but Weinman hits the ball out of the park with this one. That yearning, sense of drifting is captured perfectly, and her main character is the kind of woman I like to read about; transitioning from a woman to whom things happen into a woman who makes things happen. The sense of learning more about her mother, that drive to know and understand her biological mother better, is something that resonates with every reader: how well do we really know our parents? Particularly if one parent died really young? This is a great story, absolutely great.

 The second story I read was the last one in Alive in Shape and Color, Lawrence Block’s “Looking for David.”

Elaine said, “You never stop working, do you?”

I looked at her. We were in Florence, sitting at a little tile-topped table in the Piazza di San Marco, sipping cappuccino every bit as good as the stuff they served at the Peacock on Greenwich Avenue. It was a bright day but the air was cool and crisp, the city bathed in October light. Elaine was wearing khakis and a tailored safari jacket, and looked like a glamorous foreign correspondent, or perhaps a spy. I was wearing khakis too, and a polo shirt, and the blue blazer she called my Old Reliable.

We’d had five days in Venice, This was the second of five days in Florence, and then we’d have six days in Rome before Alitalia took us back home again.

I said, “Nice work if you can get it.”

I’ve not read any of the Matthew Scudder novels Mr. Block has been writing for decades; as I have said before, my education in my own genre is often sorely lacking in many regards. But this story was irresistible to me for several reasons–it’s set in Florence, for one, and of course it is inspired by Michelangelo’s David, which also has inspired me for a novel that I hope to someday write. The story begins as above, with Matthew recognizing someone in the piazza that he had arrested, and soon remembers the gruesome butchery of the case. The man comes over, introduces himself, and then invites them to his villa for lunch the following day. Elaine bows out of the lunch, and over the course of the meal the man explains, at last, why he committed the brutal crime Scudder remembers and never knew the motivation behind (he’d pled guilty, served his time, got out and retired to Italy; would that I could do the same!). It’s a macabre story of a stunted gay life, and how once he fell in actual love with another man he abandoned his old life without a care and took up a new one, that ended in tragedy. It’s actually quite good, and bravo to Mr. Block for taking on such a topic without dealing in tropes, or stereotypes; it was also lovely to read a gay villain, as it were.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Union of the Snake

So, I braved Costco AND the grocery store on a frigid Saturday two weeks before Christmas; but I did manage to get a lovely space heater at Costco which has already changed everything in the frigid kitchen.  I also forgot to turn the heat off when I went to bed last night, but it wasn’t obnoxiously hot upstairs–which makes me tend to think that it must have been really cold outside last night. But whatever. I am up this morning, my kitchen is getting warmer thanks to the space heater, and I have some things I need to get done today so I am going to buckle down and try to get it all done as much as possible. Next weekend I have to work on Saturday, so it’s a very short weekend for me, but I can hang with it.

Pual went to a gallery opening last night for the guy who donated his art for the cover of the Saints and Sinners Anthology, and so while Scooter dealt with his abandonment issues by sleeping in my lap I got caught up on this season of Riverdale; I hadn’t realized they hadn’t gone on midseason break and had missed two episodes, with the midseason finale coming up this week. I am pleased to report that KJ Apa was shirtless a lot in last week’s episode (finally), and this season’s mystery is deepening nicely. It really is a good show, probably the best young actors on a teen soap-style show I’ve ever watched, and visually it’s just stunning. I also got our tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi for next Sunday at one, which is also incredibly exciting. I only have to avoid spoilers for a week.

I also watched two episodes of Soundtracks last night, the CNN series about how cultural and societal events influenced the popular music of the time. I watched the episodes about gay rights and Hurricane Katrina; each one made me unexpectedly tear up at moments as I remembered things. I recommend the series; I’m going to keep watching it. CNN series are really quite good; I’ve enjoyed their Decades series and their History of Comedy; and when I am not in the mood to write (or finished for the day) and not in the mood to read, they’re an excellent way to pass some time.

I think I’m going to read Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire next. It’s gotten some excellent reviews, and I’m a fan of hers; Jessica Jones was terrific, and Paul and I both enjoyed Don’t Trust the B, her one season sitcom. I actually think I may spend the rest of the year focusing on reading y/a fiction, to be honest. I have a lot of amazing books in my TBR pile, but…I want to get the WIP whipped into shape to start the agent hunt again in earnest next year; and I have two more y/a manuscripts to whip into shape as well as the Scotty to completely redo. I hate having to throw out eight chapters worth of work–and maybe some editing can get them into decent shape and usable again. As I said, in talking to my friend Susan last week I realized the plot I was developing for the book simply doesn’t work; primarily because New Orleans is such a small town, and New Orleans society is an even smaller one. There’s no way Scotty wouldn’t have known something before he was surprised with it; just given both sides of his family he would have met the person any number of times and would have heard about him; that kind of throws that plot right out the window. Maybe the entire thing should just be scrapped and I should start over completely. I don’t know.

But so yes, there’s a lot I need to get done. I also have a short story due by the end of the month I need to work on, another project is also calling my name, and I have a grant application I need to get ready. I’ve decided to start applying for grants, long shots that they are; but you cannot get one without applying, and while I may not have an MFA or a Ph.D. behind my name I do have an awful lot of publications; my c.v. is at least fifteen pages long–and it hasn’t been updated in years. But I think I have proven that I can write. And I think perhaps a collection of personal essays, of experiences and observations I’ve made throughout my life, studying our culture and the deep flaws in our society and culture, could actually be rather interesting. I have years of diaries and blog entries to cull from; and I often find writing personal essays, on those rare occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to write them, quite rewarding. My favorite essay is “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”, which was in Love Bourbon Street, and was edited down to be included in another collection, and I could possibly make that the lynchpin of the collection. I also want to pull together my horror and crime short stories into a collection, which will undoubtedly have to be self-published. So many projects, so little time.

And yes, reading Joan Didion has inspired me a bit on that front.

And on that note, I am going to dive back into the spice mines this cold morning in New Orleans. Here’s a lovely hunk to get your week off to a lovely start:

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Time after Time

Saturday morning! I have to work today, and then am going to make groceries on the way home from the office–and I am going to go to the gym before the LSU-Tennessee game tonight. Yes, I’m going to do it, and I am going to lift weights–easing myself into it, with one set of fifteen with low weights and doing a full body workout; just like I did when I first started back in 1994. I am actually looking forward to it. (Right? Who am I, and what have I done with Gregalicious?)

I have a lot to do over the next few weeks, but I am embracing it rather than fearing it. I have to get a short story finished this weekend, and maybe some chapters written; and I am also going to work on the Scotty Bible a bit. I also need to clean the house a bit, and I am going to play with the structure of the WIP yet again. I do have moments when I think that maybe, with all the revisions and problems I’m having with it, that maybe that means I should simply give up on it–but I am being stubborn, and I do think there’s a really amazing novel in there, and if I keep tinkering away at it I’ll eventually get to it. I’m not used to having to work so hard on a book, but I also think hard work and pushing myself isn’t a bad thing, either.

I also need to copy edit the hell out of the manuscripts for Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz.

So much to do. This is why, I think, I don’t get as much done as I should; I get overwhelmed simply thinking about everything I have to do. But I need to get past that, and of course, the best way to do that is to make a to-do list; which I am going to do as soon as I finish this. There’s also a city election today, so I need to walk to my polling place and take care of that as well before I head to to the office.

I got caught up on Riverdale last night–I was three episodes behind–and wow, did this show ever take a turn for the dark. I really do like the show; it started out as a kind of cross between your typical teen CW drama and Pretty Little Liars, only using the canon Archie Andrews/Riverdale characters, but this update is pretty incredible. The kids are dealing with serious issues that modern day teens have to deal with (although I doubt many of them have to deal with serial killers or murder or incest or….), and the young cast is incredibly appealing–and their character arcs actually make sense. I also love that Madchen Amick from Twin Peaks plays Betty’s mother Alice–ALICE COOPER (I giggle every time someone says it)–and that she’s kind of a villain. I also love that Molly Ringwald occasionally guest stars as Archie’s mother.

We also got caught up on The Exorcist last night, and I have to say, Season 2 is way better than Season 1. The episode we saw last night took the story down an even darker path than it was on originally, and the addition of Alicia Witt to the cast was a genius touch. Nice job, The Exorcist!

Okay, so it’s time for me to tackle the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and see you tomorrow.

Here’s your daily hunk:

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Footloose

Friday! Huzzah!

I am very pleased to say that I think the malaise has passed. Yesterday I shook myself up a little bit and got organized. I’ve really been letting a lot of things slide–I’ve been blaming the post-Bouchercon blues, but truly, the malaise had set in well before that. I’m not sure what causes it; but it’s horrible when it strikes and I find myself getting depressed rather easily when it strikes…trying to work and/or get things done, but allowing myself to be easily overwhelmed, or if the work isn’t going well, letting the why do I bother mentality kick in.

But I’m back in my “I can conquer the world” mode again, and intend to ride that train as long as I can.

Before bed last night, after watching Riverdale and American Horror Story, I did two loads of laundry, the dishes, a shit-ton of filing, cleaned my kitchen counters, and started organizing the copies of my books I got from storage. (I still haven’t located the copies of Mardi Gras Mambo I’ve been looking for, which means I am going to have to go back again; but I am going to let that sit for a few weeks. There’s no urgency to find them, after all.)

I also, while cleaning and organizing, had some breakthroughs on projects I am working on; which is one of the reasons cleaning and organizing is such an important part of my process–when I am busy doing something that doesn’t require my full attention, my mind wanders and it always goes to places with book projects that need fixing. And am absolutely delighted this has happened. I made some decent progress on the Scotty book yesterday, and will be making some crucial notes on another project this morning, now that I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

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

Here’s a hunk for you, Rafael Nadal for Armani:

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Human Nature

I slept well again last night–which keeps the streak of good sleep alive at five nights and counting. I don’t have to work today, which is lovely; I am hopefully having lunch with a friend and running a couple of errands before coming home to clean, edit, revise, and hopefully do some writing.

The Lost Apartment is also a mess, so part of my day will be taken up with cleaning. It really is tragic how messy this apartment can become over the course of a week, and I haven’t done the floors in forever. The windows are also pretty nasty; this lovely cool weather we are enjoying will be most helpful in that regard, since I know I won’t be drenched in sweat the moment I go outside. I need to make a grocery list, and I also want to read some more of Anna Dressed in Blood, which started kind of slow but is starting to pick up a little. I also want to start rereading The Haunting of Hill House this weekend, which means I need to finish reading Anna.

I got caught up on Riverdale last night, and I have to say the first two episodes of this season are pretty damned dark. There were three murders in the second episode of this season (SPOILER), and now that they’ve recast Reggie, he’s front and center–and a drug dealer. Wow, didn’t see that coming. The young cast continues to get better, and are incredibly appealing, and apparently the ratings are really up, which is terrific. Now we need to get caught up on The Exorcist, and maybe give the reboot of Dynasty a whirl. I’m not sure how I feel about Dynasty being rebooted; I guess they decided, since the Dallas sequel never really caught fire, to just start over with the tale of the Carringtons and the Colbys, which I guess I can understand…but I also don’t want them to follow the original storylines, either. From everything I’ve read so far, they aren’t doing that…and it looks like Steven’s homosexuality isn’t going to be so “is-he-or-isn’t-he” as it was back in the 80’s, when it was hugely controversial (and the show completely ignored HIV/AIDS) to have a gay character in the first place.

A story I’d sent out for submission was rejected yesterday, which I was expecting. My short story game isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, and while I love this story, it doesn’t really fit in well with the theme of crime, you know? I also wasn’t pleased with how it ended, which means that the ending wasn’t set up properly, so I am going to let it sit for a while before rereading it and figuring out how to tweak that ending to make it work properly. It clearly didn’t work the way it’s currently written. But it’s a story I want to tell…and even last night, as I mourned in the usual way I do when rejected (even when I’m pretty sure the submission will be rejected) it did occur to me that I might know a way to make it better already. So I need to make that note and shove it into the folder.

Onward and upward, as they say.

And here’s a hunk to slide you into the weekend:

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Sugar Sugar

So, I finally watched the season finale of Riverdale last night, and I have to say, well done! I went into Riverdale not sure what to expect–and worried I’d be disappointed–but the show really worked on many levels The writing was strong, if a bit uneven at times; the way it was shot–the production values, cinematography, use of color, etc–was always on point; but the biggest strength of the show was the cast. The young actors playing the Gang were appealing and imminently likable; and following the lead of Pretty Little Liars, the older members of the cast were former teen heartthrobs (Jason Gedrick, Luke Perry) or had become successful as young stars (Madchen Amick, Robin Givens). I am really looking forward to the second season.

Well done, Riverdale!

I slept really late this morning, which kind of felt good. I need to finish going over my editorial notes, and making those corrections–I intend to spend tomorrow polishing the book from beginning to end, and I also have to go into the office for a few hours today, as well as make groceries. I’d thought about doing the groceries this morning, but oversleeping took care of that, as well as wiping out my plan to finish the editorial notes. I’ll now have to do that when I get home from the office/making groceries. That’s fine, too; this morning before work I can organize/clean the kitchen and finish the laundry and do all those other lovely chores before running to get the mail and heading in to the office. Hurray! (There really needs to be a sarcasm font.)

I also started reading John Colapinto’s About the Author last night. It was recommended to me by a friend when I told them the basic premise behind my short story “Quiet Desperation”. I am only a few pages in but I am enjoying it so far. When I finish, I think I am going to read either The Sympathizer (won both Pulitzer Prize and Edgar) or Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (recently won the Edgar). Definitely some good reading in my future! Huzzah!

I also, for the first time in a while, looked at Mardi Gras Mambo, aka Scotty Three, and was more than a little startled by how much the tone, how much the character, had changed since then. People change, of course–things that happen affect who you are, affect how you react to things, change your perspective–but in just reading the introduction and the first three chapters, the change was so dramatic it was startling. Should I go back to Scotty–when I go back to Scotty–it only makes sense to read the series over again, from start to finish. Maybe it’s too late to get that sense of the earlier Scotty back now, I don’t know. But some things I’d been feeling make sense now; maybe in rereading the entire series I can figure out how to do the new one.

I have to say, I am starting to enjoy myself again with writing and editing. I think the break from deadlines was precisely what I needed.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you:

 

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