Is This Love

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

Here it is, Friday, and the last few days of my vacation, such as it was. I do not intend to mourn not getting anything much accomplished over this week; I did get some things done and for that I am profoundly grateful. I am also truly grateful for the opportunity to relax, rest, sleep, and overall just recharge my batteries; at my advanced (advancing) age that is necessary sometimes.

Yesterday was lovely. In the morning I finished reading Colson Whitehead’s terrific The Nickel Boys (more on that later), which was simply brilliant–I think I liked it better than I liked The Underground Railroad, which I also loved–and then started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, but didn’t get very far into before Paul woke up. (I intend to spend some times with it this morning, once I get this filthy disgusting kitchen cleaned up.) We spent the afternoon watching the first three episodes of Dublin Murders (terrib;e, terrible title), which is based on Tana French’s In the Woods and The Likeness. I’ve not read Ms. French’s work; I do know she is critically acclaimed and enormously popular–but as I always say, too many books and far too little time. I do intend, after watching the first three episodes, that I will most likely now add French to the TBR pile. I do not know, for example, if the show is a faithful adaptation; there were a few things that confused me a bit, but I imagine that is made much more clear in the novels.

We also watched the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!). The game was strange and sloppy and weird; the Saints had difficulty scoring touchdowns, and at the last minute it looked as though the Falcons’ furious comeback attempt might actually succeed. However, the Saints defense looked pretty amazing for the most part, and they stepped up to sack Matt Ryan on a fourth down that pretty much ended the game, with the Saints clinching the division and guaranteeing that at least their first play-off game will be in the Superdome.

As I have said before, it’s been a banner year for Louisiana football fans, between the Saints and LSU.

After the Saints game, we tried to start watching the AMC adaptation of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, but couldn’t really get into it. I tried reading the book, but couldn’t get into it, either. I also tried with Hill’s Horns, both book and film, to no avail. Hill is a fine writer–I absolutely loved the short stories of his I read during last year’s Short Story Project–and I want to like his novels, but am afraid they just aren’t for me. I’ll undoubtedly continue reading his short fiction, and will undoubtedly try to read his novels again at some other point.

I’m also sorry I missed the bizarre end of the Mississippi-Mississippi State game; I considered switching over to it after the Saints game ended, but as I am not a fan of either team…it’s hard to watch a game simply for the joy of watching a well-played football game if you can’t root for one of the teams; I always try to pick a team in any game I’m watching when I am not a fan of either….but wasn’t up for it last night. Apparently the Rebels scored a potential game-tying touchdown in the closing seconds, and simply needed to kick an extra point for overtime. But one of the Rebels’ players mocked the Mississippi State team by going down on all fours and lifting his leg, like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant (the MSU team name is Bulldogs) and they got flagged for a fifteen-yard penalty….and then missed the extra point, so game, set and match to the Bulldogs. An incredibly stupid thing to do in the heat of the moment, although I do feel a little sorry for the player–as he will never ever live that down.

No matter how frustrated I get with college players, I always try to remember they are really just overgrown kids; most of them still in their teens.

Tomorrow will be a big day of football–with Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and then LSU-Texas A&M; so I doubt I’ll get much done tomorrow. I do have some errands to run in the morning–prescriptions, mail, possibly grocery store–and after that I’ll be parked in my easy chair watching college football and reading during breaks. There won’t be a Saints game on Sunday, so I intend to spend that day trying to get organized and figuring out my writing schedule for the rest of the year–although I’ve not had much luck with scheduling writing this year so far, have I? But I do believe I’ve cracked the code of the current manuscript as well as the one on deck, and it’s just now a matter of writing it all down or correcting the computer files and pulling it all together.

Sounds easy, at any rate, doesn’t it?

And now to do these dishes, start my review of The Nickel Boys, and back to reading the Benedict novel.

Have a lovely day after Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

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To Be a Lover

LSU beat Alabama yesterday, 46-41.

I still can’t completely wrap my mind around it, but it was a great game–I was never relaxed, from the opening kick-off until I realized LSU could simply run out the clock and that the game was actually, in fact,  already over, if not officially–and both teams acquitted themselves well. LSU played exceptionally well; at half-time I said out loud in disbelief, “we’re ahead of Alabama 33-13 at half-time?”

In my wildest dreams of LSU beating Alabama again, I never dreamed it would go down the way it did yesterday afternoon. Like I said, I can’t wrap my mind around it.  But, as I say, to be the best you have to beat the best, and Alabama is the gold standard of college football, and has been since 2008. You just don’t get better than the Alabama program–historically or recently. Their recent dynasty has pulled them ahead of other gold standard programs–USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, Notre Dame–because you simply cannot argue with the success they’ve had. Every national champion since 2008 has had to beat Alabama to get there–or it was Alabama. Every national champion from the SEC since 2009 has been from the western division–and if you go back another two years, LSU won it in 2007 (Florida won in 2006 and 2008).

And it looks like, at long last, we might have another shot at it again this year.

GEAUX TIGERS!

Needless to say, I literally got nothing done after the game was over. I didn’t read anything, didn’t write anything, didn’t clean anything. I just kind of stayed in my easy chair, scrolling through social media while the Tennessee-Kentucky game played in the background, to see the reactions to the game and the videos of the team plane landing in Baton Rouge to an enormous crowd–which even lined the road cheering as the team busses took them back to campus from the airport. We all are, of course, huge fans of the underdog, and what is this year’s LSU team is not a team of underdogs? No one wanted running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire; too small to play in the SEC, they said. He was phenomenal last night–that final first down that iced the game once and for all was an incredible display of running as he dragged almost the entire Alabama defense the entire ten yards to put the game away once and for all. The transfer quarterback who didn’t get the starting job at Ohio State; now almost has a lock on the Heisman Trophy and has already broken most, if not all, of the quarterback records at LSU.

And of course, Coach O–the interim coach who finally got the job after two bigger names turned it down; the coach LSU “settled” for, who went on to lose to Troy in his first full season as head coach. Remember that? It was just two years ago, and everyone wrote Coach O for dead that season. Even this year, Coach O was “on the hot seat”, according to every sports journalistic out there–the Cajun home-state coach with the gravelly voice; who wages a battle at every press conference with the closed-captioning. And yet, here LSU sits, 9-0, ranked Number One, having just gotten the Alabama monkey off its back for the first time since the 2011 season and suddenly is everyone’s favorite for the college football play-offs.

After the Texas game, when LSU won in Austin, I said to Paul, “how cool would it be for LSU and Ohio State–Joe’s two teams–to meet for the national championship, and how fitting would it be to write, as Joe’s final act as a college football player, to beat the team that wouldn’t start him to win the national title?”

It seemed far-fetched at the time, but now? It’s definitely possible.

LSU has to keep its head in the game though–there are three games left in the conference (Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M), and then the conference title game–most likely against Georgia; even if Georgia loses to Auburn they’ll win the East–and should Georgia win out, and LSU win that game…it will be the fifth time they’ve beaten a Top Ten ranked team this season.

Sorry if you’re not a football fan, but I am aglow still this morning, and that glow will probably last for me a little while…but the Saints are playing the hated Falcons today at noon, so I’ve got to get ready for that game, too.

GEAUX TIGERS!

If you could have turned the joy in Louisiana last night into pure energy, we could have powered the entire country last night.

Thank you, and bless you, boys.

JEAUX BURREAUX FOR THE HEISMAN!!!!!!

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Mandolin Rain

Thursday, aka Friday Eve, has arrived and I have a purring kitty interfering with my computer usage this morning before I go to the office. Which is fine; he usually doesn’t want to sit in my lap when I’m at the computer and he seems to be okay with that this morning, which is lovely.

It’s been a week for the publishing world, let me tell you, Constant Reader. I am not going to talk about any of that here; I have another blog entry I am working on, where I talk about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, which correlates with the crazy publishing week, so it’s best left to there.

Last night we watched perhaps the best episode of Castle Rock that has aired, either season, to date; as we learned about Annie Wilkes’ childhood and her relationship with her parents–and the two actors who played her mother and father were astonishingly good. It was riveting television, and I was truly sorry to see the episode end. It also seriously paid homage to Misery, and a lot of the things we are familiar with Annie saying were all learned from her parents. I know Castle Rock is theoretically set in an alternate universe to King’s novels, which enables them to use his characters, settings, and stories to create new versions–which is genius, really–and doing an entire season with Annie Wilkes as a younger woman was incredibly smart. Lizzy Kaplan is giving an Emmy worthy performance as young Annie, and watching this is making me want to reread Misery, which I still consider one of the best books of the last century.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to finish this entry yesterday; it’s the first blog day I’ve missed in quite a while. There’s been a lot of drama in two writing communities I belong to this week, and I’ve not been able to look away from either–one in particular I described to Paul as a slow-motion train wreck, and just when you think the last car has finally come off the tracks, here comes another train on the same line. Today, however, I am determined to ignore the train wreck as much as possible because I have too much to get done. I’ve not even been able to catch up on my emails, and the inbox just keeps filling up every damned day. So, today I am going to finish paying the bills, clean out my inbox, and do some goddamned writing. I’ll never finish this fucking book if I don’t focus, and I have some short stories that need to be reworked and revised and so forth as well.

Last night we watched the second-to-last episode of American Horror Story: 1984, and have just about decided that the only way one can watch a season of anything produced by Ryan Murphy is to simply not think about it, because once you start thinking about it you see all the holes in the plot and all the contrived behavior that makes no sense in terms of character–because the characters are only there to service the plot, which is the penultimate story-telling sin. But I can’t stop myself from watching–and somewhat enjoying–these shows. Some of the kids at work were streaming the Hotel season, which I’d stopped watching as it aired and never finished; and it seemed a bit more cohesive in a binge. I may go back and rewatch it, just to see if it works better as a binge show where you don’t have time to think about these things.

It certainly worked with The Politician.

I also want to finish reading The Ferguson Affair, which is making me think about some other issues with old works being read through the present-day lens (which also occurred with me reading The Hunter and, a few months back,  I the Jury)–and the age-old question of separating the artist from the art (not in Macdonald’s case; as far as I know he was never problematic, but the attitudes of the time, translated into fiction, are what I am talking about in this case–in particular, women and minorities and how they are represented on the pages of the book).

I am also slowly but surely making my way through Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and enjoying the trip immensely. New Orleans history–dark and bloody as it is–is endlessly fascinating, and I am always finding inspiration for more stories and books the more of it I read.

I’m not really sure how much I am going to get done this weekend–the emotional drains of the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday, followed by the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday–is probably going to be prohibitive of doing any writing–unless I do it in the mornings–all weekend. So, mostly reading will be on the agenda this weekend, methinks.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I don’t have to head into the office until around noonish, so I have this morning free to write and answer emails and put away dishes and…sigh. I’m getting tired just thinking about it, so I better just do it.

Til tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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