My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!

Blue Savannah

Tuesday morning, with the dark pressed against my windows and the overhead light necessary in order to see; it’s also very chilly this morning and I didn’t want to get out of the bed. I slept extremely well last night–much deeper than Sunday night (without checking the Fitbit to see)–but it was a very deep restful sleep the alarm jarred me out of this morning; the bed and blankets were marvelously comfortable and welcoming, and I deeply resented the alarm going off. I think today will be a better day than yesterday–the sleep alone is a vast improvement over yesterday already–and I also don’t have an event tonight after work. Last night I did an event on diversity via ZOOM for the Chessies chapter of Sisters in Crime; I believe it was for a library in Alexandria, Virginia. These things always cause me stress, and I think with it hanging over me all day yesterday that put me into a stressful mood; like the sword of Damocles was hanging over my head all day. But it was lovely–and informative. Moderated by Cathy Wiley, my co-panelists included the wonderful Sherry Harris, Kristopher Zgorski, and Smita Harish Jain (I hope I spelled that correctly), and it was a very pleasant hour talking about writers and diversity and how to increase diversity in your work.

And yes, sure, it gets old sometimes always being asked to diversity stuff, but it needs to be done. Maybe in my lifetime we’ll reach the point where diversity conversations and panels will be no longer necessary; wouldn’t that be lovely? A lot has changed in our country and society during the course of my many years on this planet; that one would be more than welcome, certainly.

Paul was working last night as I finished the ZOOM panel, and I was literally exhausted. I sat in my easy chair and watched some videos on Youtube. I tried to read for a bit to see if I wasn’t too tired to focus–I was–and wound up going to bed very early. On the way home from work tonight I need to stop and get the mail as well as make groceries; tomorrow is procedure prep day, so I am working at home as my system cleans itself out (such a revolting thought, really) and I can stay close enough to a bathroom so it’s not going to be an issue. That means I can sleep a little later than usual tomorrow (although I need to stay up late that night and get up ridiculously early the morning of the procedure) and relax around the house, making condom packs and doing data entry.

I am also starting to feel like I am caught up a bit, and this is always a dangerous thing. Getting caught up inevitably winds up with me thinking about other things oh now I have plenty of time so it can wait which inevitably leads to me getting behind again. I will never, I think, learn the lesson to stop taking down time until everything is finished so I can do it relatively guilt-free, and when other things need my attention again I don’t have to worry about feeling overwhelmed or buried…however, this is how I’ve been my entire life, and I don’t think sixty is when I am going to effect sincere and successful behavior change.

Stranger things, however, have happened.

And always seem to, for one reason or another.

I did manage to spend some time revising the first chapter of A Streetcar Named Murder, the latest thing I am terribly behind on. I was trying to do this while I waited for the ZOOM panel time; while also moving everything off my kitchen counters and hiding them so no one can see the condition the Lost Apartment is in during the early part of the week. (For the record, my washer and dryer currently have a shit ton of stuff sitting on top of them; I’ll have to do something about that tonight) I am hoping to work on the book some more tonight after work–before or around watching the season (series?) finale of Only Murders in the Building, which we are enjoying tremendously. I’d like to get the first four chapters revised by the weekend, so I can focus on writing the next two or three this weekend. (Note to self: check what time the LSU game is on Saturday; the Saints play Monday night) Ah–the game is at 2:30; so I have the morning to go run errands, go to the gym, and write. That will make for a busy morning, methinks. Maybe if I run the errands on Friday after work I won’t have to go out on Saturday other than the gym?

We’ll see how it all goes.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get ready for work. Check in with you again tomorrow morning, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Tuesday!

Take Me Home

Tuesday morning and it’s dark out there this morning. I really hated the world this morning when the alarm went off; I’ve gotten rather used to sleeping until past eight these last five mornings. But…at least this week it’s just today and tomorrow; next week it’s only Monday and Tuesday, and I believe it’s only two days a week until after the Labor Day holiday, which will be quite lovely.

And sixty inches ever closer, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I’m really leaning in on turning sixty; in many ways it’s kind of cool to be getting to this landmark birthday. Mostly, it means I’m a survivor, I suppose; somehow I muddled through everything and made it this far–no small feat for a gay man of my generation; we lost quite a few of us back in the day, after all. In some ways, I think, part of my mentality about getting to this age has a lot to do with all the losses; I should celebrate this milestone birthday for all those like me who will never get to, who never made it to thirty or forty or even fifty. Of course, heavy thoughts for this morning, but I’ve been having a lot of heavy thoughts lately.

I didn’t get everything done yesterday that I wanted to get done; partly because I was doing a ZOOM event last night for the Anne Arundel County Library; a Sisters in Crime Chessie Chapter panel on diversity in crime fiction, with Paula Mays, Kristopher Zgorski, Sherry Harris, Cheryl Head, and moderated by Cathy Wiley. It was very fun and interesting–these types of panels always are–but, as always, I was drained and exhausted when we were finished; ZOOM or in person, it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot as far as that goes…the anxiety over the event built up pretty much all day. I also babbled a lot; I tend to unspool once I start talking, partly because my mouth never can keep up with my head, but I don’t think I was horrible this time–at least, not completely. I did get my errands finished, though, and made a lot more progress on organization–always welcome–and I got those boxes out from under my desk, which was really quite lovely. So….progress was made, if not enough.

Yesterday also brought a bit of pleasant news that caught me completely off-guard; a reviewer tweeted a recommendation that people buy and read Bury Me in Shadows!

This is the tweet:

In what should be a surprise to no one, @scottynola‘s BURY ME IN SHADOWS is *fantastic.* Fans of Southern gothic, pre-order you some twisty, atmospheric goodness! AND included a buy link! How fucking fantastic was that? Pretty fucking fantastic.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about how this book will be received, or the one after, #shedeservedit. Both are me taking on social problems through the lens of a crime story and a young gay protagonist; and it is very easy for someone like me–white male–to make a huge mistake and be unintentionally offensive. These concerns go much further than my usual ones, which are inevitably related to my ongoing Imposter Syndrome issues–the last thing I ever want to do is offend people are already marginalized in society (I never care if racist homophobic misogynists are offended by my work; I hope it not only offends them but forces them to take a long hard look at themselves–but they generally aren’t intelligent enough to be self-aware enough to self-reflect in the first place; as Kathy Griffin once said, they are aggressively stupid). I also am always worried (this is part of the Imposter Syndrome, in case you needed to be made aware of the differences) that I am not a good enough writer to tackle difficult subjects, and that I will end up coming across as preachy and ABC After-school Special-like…which is tedious and boring and horrible to read, frankly. (Even as a wet-behind-the-ears callow child I despised being preached to in such a heavy-handed manner.)

Sigh. It really never ends–the self-doubt–at least for me, anyway.

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

Boot Scootin’ Boogie

Wednesday morning, and the month of March is already slipping through our fingers like water in a sieve. It looks again to be a gorgeous morning out there–at some point this morning I am heading to the gym. I’ve just finished the long part of my work week–the two twelve hour days, and yesterday was particularly brutal, quite frankly. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but alas, staying in bed all day won’t make the world go away nor will it deny the inevitability of Wednesday and all of its commitments arriving. So, I am going to slurp down some coffee, get some things organized, clean this messy kitchen/office, head to the gym, make a list of the errands I must get done today, and so on and so forth before I head into the office for four o’clock-ish.

I do feel tired this morning–I’m not sure if it’s tired from the two long days or a sleep hangover from my over-indulgence this morning–but I am sure the coffee will soon start kicking in and getting me over this hump. I did get a chance to write some more on my Sherlock Holmes story, but the primary focus for today needs to be my emails–at least for this morning–and maybe I can swing back around to working on the story later this evening. I’m relatively pleased with what I’ve done so far and the idea I have for the story; I am also working on another story with the same deadline–but this one is easier; I just have to revise a story that was turned down for another anthology and fix what was wrong with it to get it ready for this new submission.

But like the ant with the rubber tree plant, I’ve got high hopes.

This morning, the cover for the Joni Mitchell anthology I contributed to, The Beat of Black Wings, edited by the incomparable Josh Pachter, was announced and revealed over at the BOLO Books blog; click and go check out the cover  but the table of contents. I am enormously thrilled and excited to be sharing the TOC with such amazing writers as Elaine Viets, Donna Andrews, Art Taylor and Tara Laskoski, Sherry Harris, Brendan Dubois, and numerous other people who’s work I’ve enjoyed and admired for quite some time. My story was “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” inspired, naturally, by the song with the same name. When Josh graciously asked me to write something for the anthology, it was actually my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford) who suggested which song to use. I will admit that while I am a fan and have always liked her work, I’m also not familiar with a lot of it, and also figured that the songs that I knew were most likely the songs everyone knows, and I wanted to do something not quite as famous as, say, “Free Man in Paris” or “Both Sides Now” or “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Help Me”. That Bitch Ford came to the rescue, suggested the song I used, and once I listened to it, I was like, hell yes, I can write this story.

I always say the best advice I’ve ever received or can give to a writer is to never throw anything away, and this certainly proved to be the case this time. I had written a dark yet delicious story set in a hotel bar at a writer’s conference with the TERRIFIC title “Death and the Handmaidens” (I still have hope for that title and the story, to be honest) which never got anywhere. Everywhere I submitted it to rejected it, so I clearly had missed the mark with it somehow, but I liked the seedy hotel bar setting, and after listening to Joni’s song, which is basically about a beautiful boy all the teenaged girls fall in love with, I started , naturally, thinking back to high school and the beautiful boys all the girls had crushes on…and the more I thought about it, the more I realized the seedy hotel bar setting was perfect for this, only instead of a writer’s conference it was a high school reunion, and my main character’s social anxiety disorder (something I experience from time to time) fit into this story much better than it did in the original. I took the original three paragraphs from “Death and the Handmaidens,” used it for the opening of this new story, and it just took wings (if you’ll pardon the allusion) from there. Josh gave me only a couple of edits, which was again enormously flattering, and now the story will be available soon–along with all the others, which I am truly looking forward to reading. I believe the anthology is going to be officially released in late April/early May; right around the same time that another anthology, The Faking of the President, will become available with my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” included.

I do love writing short stories, even if it’s like amputating a finger sometimes, and I really love getting them into print. Last year saw my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, see print with some new stories, and also saw the inclusion of my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (all available for your Anthony ballots, just saying). “This Town” is probably my favorite of all my short stories ever published, at least in recent memory; if I do another short story collection I will probably make it the title story, aka This Town and Other Stories.

All right, it’s time to get my shit together. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you again tomorrow.

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