So Hard

Monday has rolled around again, and for the most part, I’m okay with it, really. I had a lovely weekend away from the Internet, which was enormously relaxing, and was able to get two stories revised yesterday. Of course, later on last evening I realized there’s yet another deadline looming, but I think I can make it. It is Friday, and Friday is when the 4th of July holiday lands for me; yes, a three day weekend to look forward to, and a deadline for Friday. So, in the worst case scenario, the story I want to submit for Friday needs at most another read through and polish; should the week go to hell (as they’ve been known to do lately) I at least have Friday to do so.

I spent most of the afternoon and early evening trying to get my computer files organized so I could more easily find things I need to be working on, and that was certainly a time suck. But it was necessary and needed to be done, and I made significant progress, which is always a plus. I had intended to start reading Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths–I opened to the first page and read the first few paragraphs, which are simply marvelous–but then got deep into the file organizing, so it will have to wait until this evening and the reading hour–I’ve decided to spend at least an hour every day devoted to reading, as it’s the only way I’ll ever get caught up on my reading (which is a Sisyphean task, as more books I want to read come out all the goddamned time).

I did manage to get the revisions on the two stories done yesterday, as I explained earlier, and today I am going to try to find the time to line edit them as well as read the other story that’s due on Friday. I have so much to do–my email situation is truly tragic–but hopefully I’ll have some time to get everything I need to do together into a comprehensive to-do list today. Obviously, the first thing on the to-do list is to make a comprehensive to-do list.

And maybe, just maybe, when I get these stories out of my hair I’ll be able to get back to work on the Secret Project this coming weekend and get it finished once and for all and out of my hair. And maybe then I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows, which I am going to change from a y/a into a book not for teens, which may not be as easy as I would like to think it is. For one thing I need to rewrite the entire beginning–which is predicated on our main character being a high school student; I’ve decided to age him to college graduate preparing for graduate school in New Orleans, but still be from Chicago–and it won’t be as easy to make changes later on, yet I think it’s for the best, to be honest. It’s very Gothic in subject matter, after all, and plus–the y/a publishing world, at least on-line, is a snake pit.

I’m also thinking about what the next Scotty should be. I’m still wrapping my mind around a quarantine mystery; as I’ve said before, I have the title already, but I think I would like to write something in the period between the end of Royal Street Reveillon (Christmas) and the quarantine; which gives me an approximate three month period with which to work. I really do want to write about Mardi Gras again, with Scotty older and perhaps not quite as into it still as he was in Mardi Gras Mambo–I kind of want to capture that weird feeling and horrible energy the city had during this past Mardi Gras. I had an idea for a Mardi Gras short story, featuring Venus Casanova, “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” but I’m not so certain I have the right to–or should–write about a Black female lead. I’ve been writing about Venus for almost twenty years now, as a supporting character in both the Scotty and the Chanse series, and have always wanted to explore the character in greater depth–I have another story written with her as the main character, “Falling Bullets,” and an idea for a novel, Another Random Shooting–but I don’t think I should be writing such books and stories now, if ever; now is the time to amplify actual “own voices” rather than taking publishing slots away from actual Black writers, who already have enough issues in trying to be heard and paid for their work equitably.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

The End of the World

FRIDAY!

And while I am always happy to see the work week come to an end, I am more than a little daunted by what is facing me this weekend: a lot of fucking work. I have some writing to do for a website; the Secret Project; another project; and I want to finish writing the first draft of “Falling Bullets” and “Condos for Sale and Rent.” That’s a lot of fucking writing, Constant Reader, and that doesn’t take into consideration how much filing and organizing and cleaning I also have to do. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to run errands, and am debating whether to wait until Saturday to do them, or do it tonight on the way home from work. That would probably be easiest, and let’s be honest: if I go straight home from work tonight, am I going to actually do any work? I tend not to; and there are always 2019 LSU football games to play in the background while I either clean or read. No matter how much I think all day about how much work I’m going to get done after I get home from work, every Friday I wind up doing not a damned thing because I’m so glad it’s Friday and I don’t have to work the next morning.

Yeah, I should probably go to the grocery store when I get off work and be done with it. They are open till eight and I get off work at five, so I might as well just get it over with.

And that, Constant Reader, is how the decisions get made around here.

I was tired most of yesterday; I never went into a deep sleep on Wednesday night and so didn’t feel rested. I’m trying to wean myself off the prescription medication that helps me sleep at night–I’m truly terrified of becoming addicted or dependent on anything; I can’t afford to go to rehab–and so periodically I like to stop taking it and try to sleep without it. I was actually functional yesterday, if tired, and so that has to count as a win, right? I always tend to the extremes–I’m rarely in the middle, which would be lovely; rather, I am always swinging from one extreme to the other without a stop–so there’s that, I suppose. I did get some work done on “Falling Bullets” yesterday; it’s weird, though. I’ve several ideas for stories centering Venus Casanova–the police homicide detective who is in both the Chanse and Scotty series–and as she is a woman of color, it’s a bit outside my comfort zone. I do love the character; always have, ever since I first thought her up way back in 1997, when I started writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and have even considered giving her a book all to herself (the idea is still simmering in my brain, Stations of the Cross; but if I ever do write it, that one probably won’t be a Venus story), and I have a really great idea for a case for her to solve without Chanse or Scotty around (her partner, Blaine, is gay, and that way I can still shoehorn in a gay character), but she also appeared in my first story to ever sell to Ellery Queen, “Acts of Contrition,” and I have two other short story ideas for Venus–this one, and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman.” I wonder if I should be writing stories about a black female cop–after all, I am neither black nor female, and I do worry that I won’t get things about her right; not to mention the fact that if I sell the story, I might be taking a slot away from an author of color, male or female.

It’s not enough to just say I want to write about a black woman and I’m a writer and no one can tell me what I can or can’t write about. It’s not enough to say “well, sure, I’m not black or a woman, but I’ve written about vampires and ghosts and supernatural creatures, so why can’t I write a black female character?” (That defense against “own voices” is the one that pushes my blood pressure into the danger zone; there’s nothing like denying someone’s humanity to excuse writing about that person–and make no mistake, comparing writing any marginalized character to writing about creatures that don’t exist? You’re a bigot, period–making that statement disqualifies you automatically from any defense)

It’s something to think about, anyway. The other funny thing is how, this morning, reviewing what I wrote last night–I originally wrote about five hundred words, and wrote another fifteen hundred last night–doesn’t match the original paragraphs because I didn’t reread what I’d already written, just dove right in, and I’ll have to go back and fix that before I move forward with the story any further.

And last night, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, I did a live reading for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop; the first time I’ve done such a thing, and it was, indeed, a thing. It was remarkably easy and I went through no anxiety at any point in the proceedings, which was absolutely lovely–readings and panels and so forth always make me incredibly anxious and stressed; and that’s not gotten any easier since I first started doing them. But this was absolutely lovely; stress free other than the occasional stumble over words as I read them, and I honestly think, going forward from the pandemic, that this methodology of meeting readers is going to continue and tours are slowly but surely going to go away, unless you’re an enormous name.

And I slept well last night. I did wake up a few times during the night, but was always able to go back to sleep and I feel definitely rested this morning.

Huzzah!

And now, back to the spice mines. Happy Friday!

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Birthday Boy

Today is Paul’s birthday, and while he generally prefers to be left out of my blog and social media posts, it bears mentioning. I’m not really sure what one can do for a pandemic shelter-in-place birthday, but I’ll probably stop at the grocery store and get cupcakes or something. We’ve also reached the point in our relationship–25 years this summer–where we really don’t bother with gifts much anymore, for either birthdays or Christmas or anniversaries; we generally don’t need anything much, as we always just go ahead and buy what we want or need when we want or need it, which makes it incredibly difficult when it comes to buying gifts for each other. I’ve always taken pride in how thoughtful my gifts are, but Paul always got me better gifts than I got him, almost from day one, so it’s also kind of nice to no longer feel that competitive impulse and stress anymore.

And yes, gifts can turn into competition, thank you very much. Anything can, if you have a competitive personality. It’s something I personally don’t like about myself, so I try not to indulge myself by giving into that particularly unattractive aspect of my personality anymore.

I’m also seeing a lot of quarantine-themed ebooks being released–primarily, the social media promotional posts about them–and I have to give credit where it’s due. Mid-March was basically when places started going on lockdown, and here we are, a mere six weeks later, seeing books inspired by the situation out there for the reading public. I guess we’re going to find out relatively soon if there’s an audience for these types of books and who that audience might be–leave it to romance to be the first genre to truly dig deeply into it. I myself started writing a quarantine noir story a few weeks ago–triggered by the realization that the construction site two lots over from my house was considered “essential” by the city–and of course, over the weekend I roughly sketched out the start of another Scotty book, set during the quarantine; which also begs the question of timing and so forth. If I start writing the book now–and were able to completely commit to it–the earliest I could conceivably have a strong first draft done would be by July, possibly mid-June; assuming I wouldn’t be able to stick to a schedule of writing a chapter a day. But even if I managed to get the entire thing written and polished and turned in to my publisher, and they rushed it through the process, the earliest it would be available to readers would be by December, and that’s really pushing it. And who knows where we might even be by then? It could already be over by then, or we could still be in the midst of it, and IMAGINE how sick everyone will be of the quarantine by then if we’re still in it. I know no one wants to think about the length of this thing, but it’s entirely possible we could still be dealing with it at Christmas.

And seriously, perish that fucking thought, right?

Nobody wants a pandemic Christmas.

I did manage to get the vast majority of my emails handled yesterday–I took the day off from the day job; I would have been working from home anyway, and yes, well aware I could have pretended to be working but I am not wired that way–and spent some serious time wading into them and answering the ones I’d been hoping might go away at some point; I also filed some of them away that didn’t require a response and deleted still others that were of no consequence. It was actually kind of lovely, and if I can manage, from hereon out, to stay on top of them, perhaps they will not build up to such a disgraceful and out of control number again. I shudder to even look this morning, to be perfectly honest. But I got both stories edited and revised, huzzah, and I even submitted one already; the Sherlock story will be sent in most likely on the day it’s actually due, or this Wednesday. I’m actually relatively pleased with it, to be honest. Is it a real Sherlock story? Perhaps, perhaps not. As I always say, I am not the best judge, and when it comes to Sherlock, what I don’t know would fill the Library of Congress and there would still be things left over.

And now I only have a few odds and ends to get finished–the Secret Project, for one, and I’d like to get some of these other stories out into the wild before I dive back into writing (or trying to write) my book. Madness, right?

Right.

And now, off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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For Your Own Good

As Monday rolls around again–huzzah?–and we’re in the last week of April. These last two months have certainly lasted forever, haven’t they? Christ the Lord.

I did something really strange yesterday morning; or rather, more strange than my usual, which is pretty strange. I started writing another Scotty book. It may come to nothing, but ever since the title Quarter Quarantine Quadrille popped into my head a couple of weeks ago, my mind has toyed with the thought over and over again. And since the intro to every Scotty book opens with an homage to the opening of a truly famous classic novel (Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Lolita, Peyton Place, to name but a few) the thought crossed my mind that I could do an homage to “The Masque of the Red Death”, so I looked it up on-line and cut and pasted the first two paragraphs into a word document, and started playing with it a bit. I’ll probably look at the openings of other pandemic-related fictions, like Death in Venice or The Plague before finally deciding on which one to actually use–or even if a Scotty quarantine book is something the world wants or needs–but the actual opening of the first chapter came to me on Saturday night, while we watched that dreadful Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary movie: as I watched a fight scene where Hemsworth’s character took on basically a team of soldiers by himself and killed them all in less than two minutes, Paul said, “I wonder how long this script was? Two pages of dialogue, maybe?” and I thought to myself, this is probably what a Colin novel would have to look like, and from there I leapt to Scotty, Frank and Taylor sitting around during quarantine, watching a movie like this, and Taylor saying, idly, “This is what Colin actually does when he’s not here, isn’t it?” and then forces the questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few books–especially in the last one–about morality and ethics and how do Scotty and Frank and the family look past what Colin’s source of income is? And since I signaled at the end of the last book that Colin was on his way home…and it did come up, during the book, that being involved with Colin makes them targets…that maybe, just maybe, it was time to deal with that in a Scotty book. So I wrote the first few paragraphs of a first chapter, where exactly that happens: they are watching an action/adventure movie when Taylor makes the observation, and the awkward conversation that ensues from it.

It might be a false start and a dead end–Lord knows I already have enough on my plate without trying to write another Scotty book on top of it–but…stranger things have happened.

I also reviewed my Sherlock Holmes story, which was actually much better than I ever dared dream; revising it and making it stronger will not actually be the odious chore I feared it might. On the other hand, I cannot be certain that the editor will feel much the same way about the story as I do, so it must be honed and refined and polished till it gleams in the light of day. (Ironically, I couldn’t remember the end….) But I did a much  better job than I thought I had–yes, I am my own worst critic, this is absolutely true–and this pleases me to no end. The story itself works, and just needs a little bit of tweaking the language and an added sentence here, a subtracted sentence there…yes, I am very pleased with it. Once I get it in shape, off it goes–and I think my other one that’s due this week only needs a tweak here and there as well.

HUZZAH!

Always good news.

We also watched Hustlers–didn’t care too much for it; sorry, felt like it could have been much better–and then the first episode of the Penny Dreadful spin-off, City of Angels, set in Los Angeles in 1938, and I liked it. A lot. It has a very noir sensibility, crossed over with some supernatural/horror elements, and it addresses not only race but Nazi infiltration into Los Angeles in that year–and pulls no punches. Draw your own conclusions, but I thought it was terrific, and look forward to watching the rest of the season. Nathan Lane is very well cast as a hardboiled LA homicide detective, and you can never go wrong with Natalie Dormer. I then watched–while Paul got ready for the week–watched a historical mini-series on Starz called Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, I think a multi-language production? Sometimes it sounded like French, sometimes like German, sometimes like something in between; perhaps Flemish? Anyway, it’s quite well-produced and this royal couple never gets the attention they quite deserve, given their marriage resulted in nearly five hundred years of wars between France and Germany (through its many iterations, from Holy Roman Empire to Austrian Empire to German Empire). The fifteenth century is an interesting time; one of blood feuds between branches of both the royal families of England (the Wars of the Roses) and the French Valois (the Orleans and Burgundy branches, respectively; ending with the Burgundy branch being absorbed into the House of Habsburg…so yeah), and a tighter unifying of the Holy Roman Empire into a hereditary throne for the Habsburgs. It was also the century in which Spain was freed of Moorish occupation and unified into Spain again–and once again, the Habsburgs wound up getting involved there and absorbing another throne. I’d known about the series for quite some time, and was glad to see it finally available to stream on one of my (too many) services. Yay, HISTORY!!!

I woke up feeling tired this morning, so I decided to make today another vacation day, stay home and get some things done around the house. I may venture out to the grocery store, but then again, I may not; those trips always seem to exhaust me, and why push it if I don’t have to? I have to be jealously guard my health these days, and my energy–bearing in mind the subconscious depression and angst can also be wearing down my body fairly regularly; another post-Katrina lesson–sometimes you’re not even aware of the depression bogging you down until it actually does. I spent the weekend pretty much in a complete state of exhaustion; it was very odd, and limiting in what I was able to work on and get done. Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted I reread all these in-progress short stories that have been languishing in my “edit” folder for so long–so much so that I actually got ideas on how to fix and rewrite and revise them all; there may be a massive flurry of submissions coming to the few publications out there that take crime stories–but the lack of energy I experienced for the majority of the weekend wasn’t very helpful, really.

And it seems to have carried over into today as well. Yay? Not really.

But I have about a million emails to reply to, several more to initiate, and then I’ going to probably head first into the spice mines, where I need to stay for most of the day. Since I am taking a vacation day, I need to make it worthwhile.

And so, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely and productive Monday, Constant Reader. I know I hope to.

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Confidential

Here we are, Sunday, and I don’t feel nearly as tired as I did yesterday. Friday and Saturday were days of exhaustion, really; nothing quite makes me feel so old as having to spend most of Saturday on my fainting couch (easy chair) because I have so little energy I can’t really get much of anything done. Oh, I got the laundry finished, and I did a load of dishes, but other than that….yeah, most of the time was spent in the easy chair. We watched Parasite last night on Hulu (it’s streaming free there) and was quite impressed and moved by it; it definitely was not like anything I’ve ever seen before, and that’s saying something, given how most films are merely rehashes of other films, as evidenced by Extraction, the Netflix original film we watched directly after, starring Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary hired to kidnap back an Indian drug lord’s son from the enemy Indian drug lord who’d kidnapped him. That was essentially the plot, and the movie was mostly explosions, guns being fired, and physical fighting scenes (at one point, it occurred to me that I could open a Scotty book with Scotty, Frank and Taylor watching a similar type film, and Taylor idly saying, “This is what Colin does, isn’t it?”–which opens up a huge can of worms.); entertaining mildly, but not a satisfying film-watching experience. It was apparently based on a graphic novel…but let’s just say it was no Watchmen, and leave it at that.

I didn’t write much of anything yesterday because I was so tired, and I tried to read, but my brain couldn’t handle continuing to read a novel, and Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin deserves better focus from its readers, so I moved on to some short stories. I read W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” (more on that in its own entry) and started reading his “Rain” before my mind derailed again and I had to set the iPad down. I also reread some of my own short stories, that are in some sort of progress–remember how I said the other day that I had nineteen in some stage of completion? There’s actually more than that, if I am being completely honest with myself (which I also knew) and some of the ones I didn’t count–“The Trouble with Autofill,” “Night Follows Night,” “The Enchantress,” “Moves in the Field”, “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” “Once a Tiger,” “Please Die Soon”, “Burning Crosses”–are actually closer to completion than I originally thought; some of them are actually better than I remembered; and letting them sit for so long…rereading them now I was able to see for myself what else the stories needed; the necessary tweaks to get them done and ready to go.

Sometimes you need distance.

Today I have to revise the Sherlock story again, as well as the one I am submitting to a blind-read anthology. They’ve both sat, like the others, for quite some time (at least a week) since I last looked them over, and so I am hopeful that, just as yesterday, rereading the two stories today will help me see what they are missing, so I can get them in order to send them out. April is nearly over, and I need to get these finished, as well as get back to work on the Secret Project; the sooner that is finished the better, quite frankly, and I need to get these things finished and out of my hair; or at least not have them hanging over my head anymore.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling better these days about myself as a writer. I’m not sure what that’s all about, to be honest, but it’s kind of nice. The problem is finding the time and energy to devote and commit to it. Working a basic 9-5 schedule these days is highly unusual and taking more than a little while for me to get used to, if I am being completely honest, and I think the early rising every morning is what is making me so worn out by the end of the week–and sometimes it feels like i need an extra day to recover sometimes. But it is what it is, you know, and the sooner I get adapted to this new reality the better off I’ll be. It isn’t easy, after a lifetime of mostly never working 9-5, to get used to working 9-5. (Cue Dolly Parton’s classic, should have won an Oscar, song.)

I’m behind on everything, I might as well add, not just my writing and not just my reading. My email inbox is overflowing with matters needing my attention; I simply haven’t had the energy or strength over the last two days to even face them, and that must needs be remedied today (I always answer emails as drafts over the weekend, preparatory to send them all on Monday mornings; my first rule of emails is never answer on the weekends because emails beget emails). I knocked off the box of index cards I use as an address book (it’s very twentieth century, and I really need to move everything from it to the spreadsheet address book I created years ago) and those need to be sorted and put away somewhere safe that I won’t knock them over again. I need to do the floors, both kitchen and living room. The sink is again full of dishes. I need to clean stuff out of the refrigerator that is no longer edible–the noodles from over a week ago; the Swedish meatballs from last weekend–and I also need to figure out how to stretch my upcoming paycheck to last another two weeks.

And I have to write today. I want to spend some time with my new story “The Flagellants,” and at least get the ideas about the opening in there and written down. I want to write some more on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I want to read some more, since I clearly can focus this morning; I think after I finish writing this and my entry about Maugham’s “The Letter” I may go ahead and do some stretching and then get cleaned up; that always seems to help with motivation and energy. I think this week I have to do some ZOOM things for promotion; I’ll need to check the calendar so I don’t miss out–which has tragically happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again. I suppose there are worse things….it’s really a wonder I have any career at all, quite frankly.

And yet, here I am, some thirty or so novels and some fifty or so short stories into it. Plugging along like some blunderer who doesn’t know what he’s doing so he happily keeps going, writing books and selling stories and getting more publication credits as he goes with little or no direction. I used to  have a plan; I used to make plans–and then everything got so completely derailed during the Time of Troubles that I no longer look ahead, think ahead, plan ahead–what’s that saying? Man plans and the gods laugh?

The Laughter of the Gods would make a great title for my memoirs, should I ever write them. It’s actually a pretty great title, and I should make use of it. *makes note*

I also, of all things, have an idea for a period mystery short story, set in the Roman Jubilee of 1350–that Barbara Tuchman providing me with more ideas all the time. I’d had an idea about writing a crime series set in the fourteenth century and in Italy, following the last years of life of English soldier for hire Sir John Hawkwood, who retired to Italy and died in Florence–but I don’t think he was there in 1350, when someone attempted to murder the Papal Legate and he got an arrow through his cap–this made me think of a story called “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, in which the Papal Legate hires Hawkwood to find out who committed this borderline sacrilegious assault on, basically, the Papacy. There is but scant mention in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror of the incident, and so more research would clearly be needed–I’m not even sure Hawkwood was in Italy at the time, but of course I could fictionalize the character as well, if need be–but I like the idea of writing a period story. I’ve only done a few of those, and while they may be historicals now, they were set during a period I was actually alive and lived through; “The Weight of a Feather” is probably the first and only story I’ve published set during a time I hadn’t been born yet.

So…maybe a trial balloon with a historical story? Why not? I do love history.

And on that note, I’d better head back into the spice mines.


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A Different Point of View

Several nasty storm systems passed through last evening–loud and long claps of thunder, high winds, and a downpour. It was lovely–as was the drop in temperature–and there’s few things I love more than being safe and cozy inside while there’s a downpour outside.  It’s still kind of gray and hazy outside this morning, which is nice, and I am sure the weather helped me sleep better last night. I didn’t sleep well on Friday, and wound up sleeping later than I’d wanted (the same thing happened this morning as well but I slept better last night) and the day wound up a wash. I was tired and suffering from burn out, I think, and having to go deal with the grocery store was a bit much. The grocery store is an odious chore under the best of circumstances, and under quarantine it’s even worse. For one thing, I feel guilty for being out in a public space, and for another, I feel so bad for the underpaid staff who are out there risking their lives and their health so that we can buy groceries. I try to be as helpful and as polite as I possibly can, but I don’t blame them in the least for resenting their customers. My job is also deemed essential, so outside of the shifts in how everything from grocery shopping and so forth have been altered, my life hasn’t really changed that much. I still get up every day and go to work. I may not be able to go to the gym anymore (for the duration), and I may go to the grocery store less…but my life has only changed in the times I work, more than anything else, and what I do at work. I don’t resent our clients–but I would imagine, if I were a grocery store employee, I’d resent the hell out of the customers.

Yesterday was, as I said, a wash. I woke up feeling tired and out of sorts, with very low energy, and making groceries is even more draining and exhausting than it usually is. I had very little creative energy yesterday morning, and after making groceries, I did some cleaning and retired to my easy chair. Paul got us lunch from the Please U Cafe–shrimp po’boys and homemade onion rings–as a treat, and of course, I couldn’t finish the onion rings and was stuffed, not needing dinner. I was going to do some reading, but Paul and I wound up watching the rest of the first season of My Life is Murder, which I greatly enjoyed, and then we moved on to the Netflix continuation of Tales of the City, which is very well done; much better than the originals, to be honest. We only have two episodes left, and we stayed up later than we should have watching. I’m hoping to start rereading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin today, if I have time. Since I took yesterday off to recharge my batteries, I have to get a lot done today. I need to get that first draft of the Sherlock story finished; I need to get another story edited; and I am doing a live ZOOM panel discussion tonight for Bold Strokes Books weekend book-a-thon, which is going to be interesting. I’m not really a fan of the whole ZOOM thing, to be honest–I hate seeing myself on screen, and I really hate the sound of my own voice–so these things are like Kryptonite for me. But in this brave  new world, I need to start doing these things…which also kind of terrify me. I’m always afraid, like book signings, that no one will click to watch or no one will show up if I do a live reading on-line or anything like that. And I am so highly critical of myself…yeah, I’m not sure I want to open that door or not.

But how does one sell books in the time of quarantine? Post-quarantine? Who knows?

I am going to make chili in the slow cooker today; it’s been awhile and it will help clear my head to get writing this afternoon–there’s nothing like doing something that doesn’t require full concentration (like chopping peppers and rinsing beans and dicing up a chicken) that opens the floodgates to my creativity. I just have to make sure that I channel that creativity properly; the last thing in the world I need to do is come up with ideas for new stories–because I’ll never write all the ideas I already have as there will never be enough time in my life for me to write everything I want to write. So, once I finish this I am going to try to get the kitchen organized and cleaned up while I get the chili started, and then I’m going to get cleaned up before sitting down to do some serious writing this afternoon, and then hopefully I’ll have some time to read before it’s time for the panel.

I’m also very conscious of the way time is slipping through my fingers. I had hoped to write several books this year, and here it is past mid-April already without a single novel manuscript finished. A lot of it has to do with my usual procrastination and laziness, plus the emotional unbalance triggered by a global pandemic, creative ADHD, and the occasional bout with PTSD. I honestly don’t want to think about how many short stories I’ve started writing since the year (and haven’t finished); that goes along with the other story fragments I have started over the last two years or so. Some of them are great ideas, and I think could really turn into something; others I am not so sure about. But my goal for the rest of April is to get these stories due by the end of the month finished, and then try to get some of the others done as well by May 1st. I intend to spend May whipping Bury Me in Shadows into place so i can get it turned in; spend June doing the same to the Kansas book, and then spend July writing the first draft of Chlorine, before moving on to the next Scotty book. This is, needless to say, a very ambitious writing schedule; one that I most likely will be unable to keep. But it’s always good to plan ahead, and be more ambitious than you think you’ll be able to go with (although I am very well aware that an overly ambitious schedule presents the potentiality of setting one’s self up to fail, which can trigger another downward spiral in addition to awakening that horrible voice in my head) because even if you can’t keep up with it, you should still be able to get a lot finished. And there are other distractions along the way–can never forget that I’m the Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, and that inevitably cuts into my writing time as well.

But on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines and start getting some things done around here–and to that end, I am going to do my stretching, and get cleaned up.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Harper Valley PTA

Hey, hey, Saturday, what have you got to say?

I feel very good this morning, after another deep and restful night’s sleep. I’ve been allowing myself to stay in bed longer than usual–figuring if I have a mild case of the virus, as I suspect I do–that more rest certainly can’t hurt and might even help. It looks overcast this morning in New Orleans, and one of the things I did last night with the buzz I got from the Chardonnay was start the organization process in my kitchen. It was lovely, actually, to wake up and come downstairs to an organized and neat desk. My next thing to do is get my MWA stuff organized, and this morning I am going to get through everything in my email inbox, if it kills me.

I honestly don’t think it will.

And I want to get some writing done today as well. As I said, I feel terrific this morning; I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning and felt great, rather than however it was I was feeling when I got up. I think I’ve turned a corner, and here’s hoping that I can start whipping everything back into shape and getting my life back under control–which is something I’ve not really been feeling lately. That’s the problem with crises like the pandemic; they are so big and enormous and overwhelming that you can’t really grasp them, with the end result you’re almost paralyzed and unable to get anything accomplished. The truth is you can’t worry about it too much, you can’t worry about the future, and you have to let go–which is incredibly difficult, not as easy or as incredibly simplistic as it sounds–and simply focus on what you can do to keep yourself going and get your mind off it. Stress and worry isn’t going to solve anything, and in fact might make things worse by draining your energy and making you feel everything is so hopeless that it can easily turn into depression and lethargy. (I’m genuinely concerned about the suicide rate and mental health issues over the next few months; I remember that Katrina aftermath far too well.

Simply put, the entire country kind of needs a Xanax prescription.

Paul is going into his office today. He assumes the building is going to be completely closed down soon, and is assembling everything he needs to continue working from home. It looks as though I will be able to start going back into the office, if to do nothing else than helping out with the screenings to let people into the building, so that’s going to get me out of the house. I was very tired yesterday after all the interaction and five hours of screening in the very warm garage of our building, but I’ll also be able to retreat into the air conditioning of the building and head up to my desk where I can do some work up there as well. I do like the idea of having to leave the house every day, even as the city continues to shut down more and more; the lack of traffic and the ease of getting around the city certainly makes a difference.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with–and perhaps other writers have been as well–is what do we do with our writing? It is, at best, an enormous national trauma we’re dealing with; do we pretend in our fictional worlds that the pandemic never happened? As with Katrina, it was difficult to do while it was ongoing because you didn’t know how it was all going to play out; so since the end wasn’t in sight there was no happy ending with the Katrina story and we also don’t know how this is going to play out. How can I start writing another Scotty book, other than setting in the past before the pandemic, without knowing how this is going to play out? It was easy to never talk about 9/11 in the Scotty or Chanse books, but obviously I couldn’t ignore Katrina, and I suspect this pandemic is going to be roughly the same. It also occurs to me this morning as I type this–this is how my mind works; as I type I start thinking who in Scotty’s world would die from this? and immediately I went to the grandparents. When I think about ages and so forth I realize how old Scotty’s grandparents–and his parents–have to be now that he’s in his forties and the youngest of three; and I realize I’ve always alluded to their being more relatives on the Diderot side but have never really explored it any further than that. I touched on the Bradley side of the family a little bit more than usual in Who Dat Whodunnit, but for the most part, at least for Scotty, his family primarily consists of his siblings, his parents, his Diderot grandparents, and the boys. Maybe this is the time to explore the extended family a bit more?

I don’t know, I was kind of torn about whatever the next Scotty may be; I have a list of titles to chose from and some amorphous ideas about what the next one will be, ranging from Hollywood South Hustle to Bywater Bohemia Bourgie to Congo Square Conga–I have so many of these titles already thought up, you can rest assured that I will never run out of Scotty titles–and the plots to go with them. Scotty plots are always amorphous and ambiguous when I start writing them; I don’t feel like I did the entertainment industry and movie stars the proper treatment in Murder in the Rue Ursulines, which, if you will recall, was originally intended to be a Scotty book, and then was adapted into a Chanse instead. The original idea behind Hollywood South Hustle was that Scotty would be minding his own business as he walked home from his parents (or the bars) when someone shoots at him in front of a walled-in house on one of the side streets in the lower Quarter, because it turns out from behind he can pass for a Brad Pitt-like movie star who has moved to New Orleans and is being targeted for some reason–and this draws him into the weird world of Hollywood celebrity. I don’t know that I would use that same opening and methodology of drawing Scotty into the case–particularly now that he and the boys have sort of adopted Frank’s college student nephew–but there’s also a good local scandal from the last ten year about the film industry I could use; and perhaps graft that onto another abandoned idea for a Scotty–the book I was going to write next when Katrina happened; Hurricane Party Hoedown, because I was interested in exploring the corruption of wealth and power, in which the young scion of a wealthy Louisiana family becomes obsessed with a a handsome young gay man and ends up throwing acid in his face, only to escape to Europe to avoid prosecution and now, ten years later, the runaway heir is returning to New Orleans to face the music and his victim is obviously worried. (One night as I sat in my easy chair wishing I was finished with Royal Street Reveillon and thinking about the next Scotty and going through all the story ideas I have for him, it occurred to me how I could graft that particular story onto the movie scandal and tie the two separate storylines into one book; I may go ahead and do that.)

But once I get everything unfinished here in the Lost Apartment under control I am going to start writing Chlorine. That is the next and most important thing for me to get done, and in order to get to that I have to get this other stuff finished. As I was organizing my files and filing last night I realized that over the last month or so I have started a ridiculous amount of short stories without finishing a first draft of any of them: “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop”, “Festival of the Redeemer”, “You Won’t See Me”, the Sherlock story, “He Didn’t Kill Her”, and “Gossip”–in addition to all the unfinished ones I already have on hand, which is frankly insane. But today I am going to work on the Sherlock story, get back to the Secret Project, and start writing down ideas for the next Scotty.

And while I am doing that, I am going to clean my apartment and maybe even do a little bit of pruning with the books–which are slowly but surely starting to take over the apartment again.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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King of the Road

Wednesday.

Yesterday wasn’t so bad–other than having to wear a mask  at work because I have a cough (stupid sinuses)–but I was still more tired than I needed to be or should have been, frankly. I did sleep better on Monday night than I did on Sunday.

I know, The Sleep Chronicles. Absolutely fascinating.

But one of the things we’re doing at work to deal with the looming pandemic is shorten our evening testing hours; it’s a long story, but basically our last clients will be seen at six because the people pre-screening clients before they can come into the building will be leaving at six, so we’re not staying open later than that. I can stay later, of course–I have data entry to do, and there are other chores around the office that need to be done every night, so I don’t have to get up and come in any earlier any day other than Wednesdays–today, in fact–which just means I need to come in around 2 instead of 4, and I can go to the gym at night when I get home from the office. It’s an adjustment, but life is nothing if not a long series of adjustments, am I right?

And today I feel perfectly fine. I slept deeply and well and later than normal, but I feel great this morning. Sinuses and head clear of phlegm and snot, throat not ticklish at all…yeah, this is great. Yay! I hate how when you’re sick you can’t remember what it feels like to not be sick anymore…but then when you don’t feel sick it’s so lovely.

For a few brief moments earlier this week my inbox was empty empty empty. It was so lovely while it lasted, really. Now here I sit with my first cup of coffee, wondering if I will ever know such bliss ever again.

Christ. But then I’ve always been a bit of a drama queen.

But yesterday’s fifteenth Lambda nomination, coming on the heels of the acceptance of my short story by that market on Sunday evening, was a nice confidence boost. It’s been awhile since the last time I was nominated–three or four years or so, at least–so I’d been beginning to think that I was out of step with their judging panels now, or at least what I was writing and publishing anymore was.  ON the other hand, I feel like Royal Street Reveillon was probably one of the best Scotty books I’ve done in the series, and I felt, I don’t know, present while I was writing it.

I probably am going to write another Scotty book, perhaps later this year, and possibly another Chanse next year; I haven’t decided, really, on the Chanse. I don’t have to use Chanse as the main character and voice on that story, but it would just be easier–and I don’t know that I want to write anything that feels easy to me anymore. I want to write challenging books that push me; making deeper dives into the characters and actually have a point to make. I just wish I could remember the mindset I used to have when I wrote the first Chanse and Scotty books, but it was a long time ago and it was pre-Katrina, so it’s all kind of a fog for me.

This morning I need to work on those emails, and I need to go to the grocery store and pick up the mail, and now that I am working 2-6 instead of 4-8 I think I am going to wait and go to the gym when I get home. I would be too pressed for time to try to get everything done before I head into the office, so I don’t see too much point in making myself crazy and rushing around. Slow down, you move too fast and all of that.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Breathe

Well, yesterday was wretched. The weather here changed once again overnight on Sunday, so my sinuses went haywire. Again. Coughing, didn’t sleep well, woke up every hour all night–it was dreadful, and there’s simply nothing worse than suffering through a twelve hour day when you’re worn out and don’t feel well. It kept up all through the day as well; I literally thought my head was going to explode a few times. I didn’t manage to get any writing done last night or any reading either; I just sat in my easy chair and whined a lot.

And ugh, how I hate losing an entire day’s work like that.

I do feel somewhat better this morning–there’s still a little congestion and coughing, but I did sleep better last night and do feel a better. I’ll probably go ahead and keep swigging Dayquil all day; it can’t hurt, and it’s not a bad idea. Hopefully I can get some writing done tonight after work. We shall certainly see, at any rate.

Obviously, with all the concerns about the coronavirus–and I fluctuate between thinking they’re over-exaggerating the crisis for ratings and they’re not telling us the whole truth to prevent a panic; sadly, both are viable options. As someone who has read Stephen King’s The Stand about thirty or forty times (it’s one of my favorite novels of all time; I’ve not reread it in a while so who knows if I’d find it problematic now?), alas, it’s easy to see what’s going on now and how it’s being reported as echoes from that novel.

But it’s okay; when your body isn’t up to par it’s okay to lose an evening’s work, even if it puts more pressure on you for the future. It’s also–as I sat in my easy chair waiting for death, like Camille–entirely possible that I won’t be able to get all three stories done in time for the end of the month, and the one I should truly focus is on is the Sherlock since it pays the best. But when have I ever done the thing that makes the most sense? Never. But I keep thinking that somehow I’ll manage to pull all three stories out of my ass somehow; the sale of my story on Sunday was an enormous confidence boost. Yes, I have a lot of responsibility and things to get done in my role with Mystery Writers of America, which has limited my time for writing; returning to the gym regularly also sucks more oxygen out of the room.

It’s interesting how, despite all the years and all the sales and all the books and all the award nominations, I am still insecure about my ability to write and produce good stories that people want to read. I have fought against this lack of confidence most of my life, quite frankly; ironically, I had more faith in my ability to write and create before I started publishing–it was always the fall-back: yeah, this job (or situation) sucks, but once I get my writing career going things will be better. I never had any doubt that I would one day be published; even if I had no idea how to go about making it happen or when, or what to do, or anything. It was only after I started writing and getting published that the doubt and insecurity began to plague me. It never seems to let up, either. I seem to recall earlier in my career, during the Scotty at Kensington/Chanse at Alyson days, that I wasn’t as insecure as I might be now; but it’s also entirely possible (since those were the antideluvian days before Katrina) that I don’t remember it as well; most of that time is fuzzy and seems to be the distant past to me now.

But I do know that I never had much confidence in my short story writing ability; and I think that’s the bottom line of all of this. I can never forget completely that fucking college professor who told me I’d never be published, based on a single short story I wrote for his class. If you’re still alive, sir, I hope your life is a complete misery because you had such a negative, long-lasting impact on mine, you worthless motherfucker. I’m probably the only one of your students who’s ever made it and I am probably the student you treated the worst–although if he did that to me, I’m sure he did it to others, and I wonder how many dreams he killed? And seriously–that is not your job as a writing professor; your job is to help your students get better. Had he ripped my story to shreds, had he taken it apart, bit by bit, to tell why it didn’t work and why the characters didn’t ring true–that would have been brutal at the time, but it would have done me some good. DOn’t just sit there and smugly assert that I’ll never be published. I was willing to learn, and would have worked my ass off with a bit of encouragement and some strong feedback. I’ve always responded well to feedback, and I appreciate it.

I also woke up this morning to the news–well, I was already awake–that Royal Street Reveillon  made the Lambda short list for Best Gay Mystery. It’s been a hot minute since I made their short-list, but I think–and I could be wrong–this is either the thirteenth or the fourteenth time this has happened? I honestly had forgotten about this as a possibility–it’s been around four or five years since the last time; the awards were presented on the same day that Jean and Gillian got married at City Hall in New York, so whenever that was. I suppose I could go to their website and check, but it doesn’t matter to me that much, and the fact that you can’t search a name in their database to pull up said person’s nominations is irritating; you can certainly search by name on Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar database. I stand corrected, and owe them an apology; I just went to count and you can now search by name; so under my own name and various pseudonyms, this is  number fifteen. Yay for me, and so much for never getting published.

That fucker.

I guess, other than feeling like shit yesterday and still not be 100% today, this has been kind of a good week for me.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Act Naturally

Monday morning and there’s still dark pressing against my windows this morning. Mondays and Tuesdays are the worst two days of my week; long hours spent at the office and most of the day gone before I can retreat, as quickly as I can, to the safety of the Lost Apartment.

The gym yesterday felt terrific. I upped the weights as it was time (every Sunday) and while I’ve felt the workout before–even with a light, practically nothing weight, you’ll feel three sets of twelve–yesterday I actually felt like I was pushing myself for the first time. I didn’t up the weights on legs–I do that every two weeks instead of every week, because I go up in increments of ninety pounds; whereas with everything else I go in ten pound increments–but it still felt pretty intense on the lower extremities. I also got back on the treadmill–only fifteen minutes after the five minute warm-up because it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done the treadmill–and that also felt good. I watched more of the Anthony Minghella The Talented Mr. Ripley film adaptation because I couldn’t get my Disney Plus app to work for some reason (I want to start watching the Clone Wars series while tread-milling) so I decided to finish watching Ripley. I still have about another forty-two minute to go, so I should finish watching it on the treadmill on Friday.

And hopefully by next Sunday I’ll have this Disney Plus mess straightened out.

I have chosen Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief as my next reread, for the Reread Project, and started reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls yesterday; I didn’t mean to get as far into it as I did, either–but once I started reading, the book was moving like a speeding Maserati and I couldn’t stop until it was time to make dinner. Damn you, Carol Goodman! I’d intended to use that time to write! But now that things are sort of normal again–the first normal, full work week since Carnival’s parade season began–I am hoping to get back into some sort of swing of normalcy and get back into my normal, regular routine.

I didn’t get as much writing done this weekend as I had wanted to; those short stories turned out to be like pulling teeth without novocaine or anesthesia, but some progress is always better than none, as I always like to say. I seem to have not had a really good, long writing day in quite some time; but here’s hoping now that things are back to some sort of normal and I can reestablish a routine, that the words will start flowing again soon. I need to get to work on the story due at the end of the month; I’ve got it vaguely shaped inside my head, and so now I need to get to work on putting the words to paper, preparatory to getting them in the proper sounding voice and so forth. I’m excited about the challenge, to be completely honest, and I am relatively certain I should be able to get it moving relatively soon, if not a good strong first draft completed in no time at all.

One can hope, at any rate.

My goal for March is finishing: finishing that story, finishing the Secret Project, finishing some of these short stories. April I will return to Bury Me in Shadows with a fresh eye, and I am also hopeful I can get it finished that month, so I can move back on to the Kansas book to finish in May, so I can get started on Chlorine in June, spending the summer writing a first draft, before turning to the next Scotty/Chanse or whatever the hell it is I intend to spend the fall writing. It isn’t going to be easy, and I am going to have to fight off the distractions that always seem to be trying to keep me from getting things done–and my own personal laziness; the default always being to go lie in my reclining chair with a book or to watch television.

We streamed the entire series of I Am Not Okay With This last night; which is another teen show oddly rooted in the 1980’s–musically, esthetically, and visually; which is an interesting if weird trend (both It’s The End of the Fucking World and Sex Education also have the same vibe, as does, obviously, Stranger Things; it’s almost like Netflix is targeting those who were kids/teens in the 1980’s…hmmmm). After we finished it–we really liked it–we started watching Harlan Coben’s new series on Netflix, The Stranger, and we are all in on it; the first episode was kind of strange, with all the different concurrent plot threads, but episode two began to seamlessly sew the threads all together, and we are completely hooked. It’s also fun seeing Jennifer Saunders playing someone besides Edina Monsoon. Not sure when we’ll finish it–probably an episode a night until the weekend–but it’s great fun. I recommend it.

And now it’s time to get ready for my work day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

 

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