Kitty Girl

Friday and I like my new doctor. It’s nice to finally be in the care of an actual doctor again–with no offense intended at all to the nurse practitioners I’ve seen over the last two years; they were also wonderful–but there’s something subconsciously psychologically more affirming about seeing someone who has the actual title of doctor, which is curious in and of itself–what is that rooted in? What kind of societal expectation, which may be based in absolutely nothing rational, created that as a comfort zone for me, and further, made it instinctual?–which I will leave in the hands of the clinically trained behavior experts to research.

Instead of working on anything already in progress last night, of course I started writing another short story. This one is called “Wash Away Sins”, which makes a sort of loose sense in my fevered creative brain, and it’s another Alabama story and it’s a follow-up to “Smalltown Boy,” actually; I can’t remember precisely the thought chain that wound up there, but I read something somewhere that made me think of washed in the blood of the lamb, which means baptized, and in the Christian sect i was raised in, that meant your baptism washed away all your sins before the baptism….which made me think of everything before the baptism as a “wash away sin”, and then i thought about the opening of “Smalltown Boy” and how that poor woman killed her husband to end the abuse, and the sentence You could have knocked everyone down with a feather when Vonda Hackworth answered Brother Burleson’s call to salvation and I was off to the races. I was writing in my journal, though, rather than typing the story up–which I will have to do at some point, probably today or maybe tomorrow.

Again, not anything I should be working on, of course.

I also started reading S. A. Cosby’s marvelous Razorblade Tears yesterday while at the doctor’s office, and it is, actually, quite marvelous. Maybe the most delightful thing of being a part of this community, as well as being an avid reader, is watching talents grow and develop. I’ve always enjoyed Shaun’s work, but every book is exponentially better somehow than the one before….and that is saying something. I am really looking forward to a deep dive on the book this weekend. Huzzah!

I also had a dentistry appointment this morning, and I hope, whenever the health care situation in this country is ever resolved, that the dentisty insurance issue is also addressed. I’ve always had terrible teeth–the only good thing about them was they were perfectly straight–and now I am going to have to spend a lot of money on my bottom teeth to have a functioning mouth again. It’s horribly depressing, really–hurray for even more debt–but I suppose it’s money I need to spend.

Or I can keep going through life looking like a Clampett.

Today turned out to be almost a complete waste. After the dentist experience–which took much longer than anticipated–i made groceries and then decided to go upgrade my phone. Again, took waaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated; seriously, y’all, I left the house for the dentist at nine this morning and i got home from the AT&T store after three…so I figured, fuck it, I may as well get the gym out of the way and take pictures with my new phone on the way home so that’s what I did. The new phone, an iPhone 12 Pro, is pretty amazing. The sound quality is so dramatically better than the old phone–which I thought had amazing sound, actually–and my word, the pictures are so much better, too! I am going to need to play with this phone’s camera a bit, methinks.

And on that note, I am ending this tiresome entry and ending my on-line presence for the day.

Who’s Crying Now

I’m not going to tell the story of my college writing professor who read the short story I turned in for his class and told me I would never be a published writer–as tempting as it is (oops, looks like I told it again, didn’t I?) but every time I sell a short story I do think of him and the smug look on his face as he tried to obliterate my life-long dream. I think of it every time the anthology or magazine or wherever I’ve sold the story to comes out, when the reviews begin (even the ones that don’t mention my story or didn’t like it) coming out, every time I Iook at the pdf file to proof, and so forth.

And I definitely think about him when I cash the check.

As I hurtle towards sixty (less than three months away) I have been remembering a lot about my life, reflecting and looking back, memories long buried coming to the forefront of my fevered little brain. I really had horrible professors in college, without fail–one after the other at that godforsaken college; it’s little wonder I experience bouts of imposter syndrome.

Let it go, Elsa, let it go.

Zane parks his wobbling shopping cart next to the island divided in half. The side he parked beside contains cantaloupes, separated by a partition from round, green-striped watermelons beneath a sign reading Red Seedless Personal Watermelons, $3.99 The cantaloupes are cheaper, per the sign casting shadow on the stacks of melons below. He glances around. There’s an older woman, rooting through the baking potatoes like a pig hunting truffles. A younger woman is inspecting the rubber-banded clusters of green onions. Two men in uniforms are building salads at the salad bar, scooping things into Styrofoam boxes. Three people are waiting for their orders at the deli meat counter, their backs to him.

No one is paying him the slightest bit of mind.

He picks up one of the cantaloupes and does what he’s seen others do. He sniffs it where the vine had been attached, holds it up to his ear and thumps it with his thumb. He doesn’t know how it should smell or sound if it’s ripe or not, but he’s too self-conscious to not go through the same motions everyone else does when selecting a melon. He’s terrified someone will notice him not thumping and laugh at him, mock him for his stupidity, point out he doesn’t belong in this big modern supermarket with its aisles and aisles of bounty. He’s always afraid someone, anyone, will notice he doesn’t know how to do a simple task every other shopper seems to know how to do instinctively, something so incredibly simple his failure will be like an enormous neon sign announcing to the other shoppers in their yoga pants or tennis skirts that he doesn’t belong here.

One of these things is not like the others.

Stop thinking like that, he scolds himself as he puts the cantaloupe back with the others. You belong here just as much as anyone. Who knows what secrets these other shoppers might be hiding?

He closes his eyes for a moment, hears his heart thumping rapidly in his ears.  It’s too fast, but that isn’t anxiety or stress, it’s because he just taught back to back spin classes, it’s why his legs are tired and why he’s in the produce section of the Rouse’s Supermarket on Tchoupitoulas Street, listening to melons while wearing a black tank top drenched in sweat and tight bike shorts under looser-fitting cotton ones and shivering in the air-conditioned coldness.

I love dark fiction, and particularly love horror. I used to go back and forth between horror and crime; I couldn’t decide which I wanted to do more. The first books I wrote to completion (besides that silly, lengthy Peyton Place ripoff I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, from which I regularly pilfer characters and plots from)were horror, technically; Sara, Sorceress and Sleeping Angel–which eventually, with a lot of revision and updating, saw print; although Sleeping Angel in its final form was more of a mystery than anything else. I don’t write “jump-scare” horror, and eventually realized that I didn’t have the imagination to write horror; almost everything I tried–story, novel, whatever–inevitably was highly derivative of other books, authors, stories. Inspiration for crime stories were everywhere–the daily news, for example–and I also realized my bent was more along the lines of Gothic stories and/or psychological horror.

The inspiration for “Night Follows Night” came from one of my several-times-per-week visits to the grocery store; that mundane experience we all have, we all deal with; the necessary chore that can only be put off for so long. As a slightly obsessive-compulsive person, I always plan my trips to the grocery store for maximum efficiency; no wasted time, no wandering down aisles, no just looking around. I have a list every time I go grocery shopping, and the list is made completely predicated on where everything is located in the store–so I don’t have to waste any time. I go only to the aisles where the things I need are stocked; skipping the ones I don’t need anything from, and work my way from the right side of the store to the left before completing the circuit by checking out and heading back out through the same doors I entered, having parked near them. One afternoon I stopped at the Rouse’s on Tchoupitoulas, list in hand (always on a small legal pad) and pen in pocket, when I got a cart from the corral with a loud, wobbly squeaky wheel–again. I always get a cart with a wobbly, squeaky front wheel; it doesn’t matter where I shop, it happens every time. (Of course, I could always put it back and get another, but somehow that disturbs my sense of order.) As I pushed the cart into the store, the wheel wobbling and squeaking, and headed for the melons–a seedless watermelon was on my list, the very first thing–and I picked one up and thumped it…and as I placed it in my cart I wondered, what precise sound is the thump supposed to make? Am I just so lucky that I pick up a ripe one every single time? What does an unripe one sound like?

And as I worked my way through the list with my wobbling, squeaking cart that day, the story kept forming in my mind; someone doing the mundane task of making groceries (as we say here) in a brightly lit, sparsely crowded supermarket–the character taking shape in my mind, having a near breakdown and his tightly held grip on reality and sanity starting to slip–but why? What would trigger such a reaction, and who is this guy? He held my imagination, my mind idly wondering about him and coming up with reasons for this break in a public place–which, I figured, would also make it worse for him–and I started thinking about that sense of not belonging there; that he feels like he doesn’t belong still, in a normal everyday environment, and wondering why that was as I drove home, unloaded the car and putting the groceries away, and I sat down at my computer and started to write this story–which, through several title changes and various iterations, became, finally, “Night Follows Night.” It languished in my files for about a year until a friend–Felice Picano, to be exact–sent me the call for submissions for Unburied, and I thought to myself, “hmmm, that grocery store story might work for this” and I opened the file and polished it again before sending it in early last year. It was one of four stories I sent out in a day, and one of the two that were accepted within twenty-four hours, by editor Rebecca Rowland, and now the entire anthology is available.

Some of the reviews, and information about the other contributors and their stories as well as ordering information can be found here.

Bette Davis Eyes

And I am at Louisville Airport ready to fly home to New Orleans. I have to change planes in Tampa–the very airport I used to work in; even the same airside where I used to work–and should be landing at Armstrong around five thirty. I need to make a couple of stops on the way home; I need to put air in a tire and get some things at the store and also need to possibly pick up dinner–the jury has yet to come in on that one. I am going to be pretty tired by the time I get to New Orleans, and having to deal with rush hour traffic isn’t exactly something I am looking forward to, frankly.

But it is what it is. I am a little tired already. I never sleep terribly well when I travel under the best of circumstances, and the insomnia lately has been incredibly brutal at home–so I didn’t have very high expectations for while I was here. I think I got maybe one good night of sleep on Friday–I was so completely exhausted at that point the surprise would have been had I not lapsed into a coma.

Well, my travel day Thursday turned into quite the nightmare, but overall, I handled it as best I could; rolled with it, and just finally had to laugh about it all. I had trouble getting up in the morning and then had even more trouble being awake–the cannabis oil might not have knocked me out, but it really relaxed me–and of course, it was pouring rain as I headed to the airport. I also forgot a mask, but remembered before I got on the highway and was able to get back home quickly, grab two of them, and dash back out in the rain to the car and head for the airport. The parking lot for the airport is now two exits past where we used to get off the highway; which felt weird, but I was able to find the lot in the pouring rain, get the car parked, and head to the airport. I checked my bag, got my boarding passes….and just as I reached the gate I got a text from Southwest that my flight was going to be two hours delayed–and I only had an hour and a half to change planes in Dallas to begin with. I wound up being routed from Dallas to Louisville via Chicago Midway–and arriving almost five hours after originally scheduled. The rerouting also cost me my priority boarding, and I wound up in the C boarding group on the last two flights. Yay. So I was stuck in a middle seat on both of my last two flights…the greatest irony was I had originally booked my ticket to leave on Wednesday with the same itinerary; only to be notified that Southwest had changed it to a 12:30 departure arriving in Louisville at 9:20, with two changes of plane. I didn’t want that, so I changed it to Thursday…yet wound up leaving New Orleans at 12:30 and changing planes twice and not getting to Louisville until 9:20–and the last flight was about twenty minutes late; it took forever to get my bags…we ended up leaving the airport for the ninety mile drive around 10:15 and not getting to my parents’ until almost midnight.

So far so good for the flight home today, though. Fingers crossed that will hold.

I read From Here to Eternity on my travel day down, but wasn’t terribly vested in it. I was about 250 pages into it when I arrived at Louisville, and while it is entirely possible the horrors of the travel day may have influenced how I felt about the book, I wasn’t into it, didn’t like any of the characters–the most likable was Maggio, and he’s barely in the first quarter of the book–and so put it aside. I may try it again another time, but I am not sure I will like it any better the next time around. I then started The Complete Stories of James Purdy–an almost forgotten writer of the 20th century, and the stories are interesting and well written; he reminds me of a hybrid of Shirley Jackson with a dash of Flannery O’Connor filtered through a John Waters sensibility. I read half of the stories, but last night before bed I wanted something else, so I got out the iPad and my ARC of Laura Lippman’s new one, Dream Girl, and the next thing I knew it was past time to go to bed and I regretfully had to put it aside. I will read it on the plane today; hopefully finishing before I land in New Orleans. It’s quite good and interesting and absorbing…but I won’t review it on here until it’s closer to the release date.

I also started writing a short story, “Beauty Sleep,” Saturday night. I got about 700 or 800 words into it–not sure how far–before realizing that I wasn’t sure where the story was going. I hate when that happens; my short story writing methodology clearly needs work. I never really know where the story is going when I start writing them–very rarely do I know how the story will end, or what it is really about–and they inevitably wind up in a computer folder and languishing in the electronic drawer, as it were. It can be annoying and frustrating, sure–I probably should try to work through what the story is about and how it is going to end before starting to write it, even though I inevitably start writing because the opening and the characters are interesting and I want to get that down before I forget them in the mists of my mind–but it’s also a good writing exercise. And sometimes I get lucky and the story starts coming to me as I write. That doesn’t happen as often as they stall out, of course, but often enough that I keep doing this.

Okay, I think I am going to go try to find something to eat. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader!

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’

Up early to head to the airport and fly up to visit my parents. I never did get the damned prescription refill situation resolved (who knew that something as simple as a prescription refill–which simply needs to be called in or sent to a pharmacy–is beyond the capabilities of a nurse practitioner? I think it’s time for me to find a new doctor, frankly), so that will have to wait till I get back from the trip–and trust me, I am going to go all Julia Sugarbaker on that bitch’s ass when I get back; I may not even do it over the phone and might just go to the doctor’s office in person…I have not slept now since Saturday. A co-worked suggested a cannabis tincture, so last night on the way home from work I stopped at a CBD store and bought some. It really really relaxed me, but it didn’t turn my brain off, so while I was incredibly relaxed and comfortable in bed all night, I never really slept.

I am actually beginning to think this is some kind of insane endurance contest at this point.

Anyway since I’ll be gone, I may not be posting here as much. I did get all packed last night, checked in for my flight, and all of that day-before-you-leave stuff was handled, and then I went to bed early (for all the good it did) and now am up swilling coffee; I’ve got From Here to Eternity and a short story collection by James Purdy in my carry-on bag, as well as my iPad and the MacBook Air…but again, don’t know how much I’ll be on-line, if at all, while I am there. I’ve not seen my family in well over a year and a half–I didn’t go home to visit during the 2019 football season, so it was definitely before that–but my memory is so shot I can’t remember when exactly I did go up there. I’m hoping to do some writing and reading and relaxing, but even WITH my helpful prescription I have trouble sleeping while I am there, so…I don’t imagine it’s going to get any easier. (I may have to up the CBD dosage; I’ll try that tonight.)

I did order martini glasses yesterday; they should be here by the time I get back on Monday…so next up is learning how to make dirty vodka martinis. Maybe a martini and some CBD before bed will do the trick. Who knows? It’s certainly worth a try, and I was certainly relaxed the other night after I had two, even if I didn’t sleep that night.

I got the final edits on a short story I wrote for an anthology being done by the Chessies chapter of Sisters in Crime (that’s the chapter I elected to join; I have an insane amount of friends in that chapter–writers and editors I admire deeply and am so thrilled to call friends). I don’t remember the name of the anthology at the moment, nor do I remember the theme, but I finally found a home for the story “The Snow Globe”, and I have to say, after the input from the editors, it really is a story I am proud of, and am proud to have in a Sisters chapter anthology. Naturally, I will be posting more about the story when the anthology is closer to being released, which is next spring.

I hope the thrill of selling a short story is something I never lose.

I have been feeling disconnected from writing again lately–and need to get my shit together and start writing again. I have lots of short stories to finish, I need to get back to Chlorine, and I am going to get edits on other manuscripts at some point soon–so I need to get back into my good writing habits. It’s hard, though, to be creative when your brain isn’t centered or rested and you haven’t been sleeping…although I always can find an excuse not to write, can’t I?

The weather looks pretty nasty out there this morning–I hope my flight isn’t delayed. I don’t have much time at my change of planes destination (Dallas Love)…but I also don’t have any texts from Southwest, so I am assuming all systems are still go. I do worry that if I misconnect in Dallas it could turn into an all-day ordeal trying to get up there.

But I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

So, have a great day, and I’ll check in again when I have the chance or time.

Video 5 8 6

Last night wasn’t perhaps the best night of sleep I could have had, but it wasn’t too bad. I think I may have gone into a deep sleep for a while, but spent some time in the dreaded, dreadful half-sleep I’ve come to know and despise. I am working at home today–the apartment is definitely in need of some straightening, organizing, and cleaning–and I have some phone calls I need to make. I also have to swing by the office at some point, because I ran out of lube for the condom packs yesterday, and thus need another case of it.

I love that I have a job where I can casually say, welp, ran out of lube again so I have to run by the office.

Pretty cool.

We finished watching season 1 of Who Killed Sara? last night, and then began watching a Freeform show–a teen crime drama I’d made note of when seeing previews a while back–called Cruel Summer. It’s an interesting show–not even based on a novel, which I thought it must have been–in that it has three different timelines; three consecutive summers, in which we see dramatic changes in the main character, Jeannette: the first summer, where she was nerdy with frizzy hair and glasses and braces (the typical way show business always depicts nerdy); the second summer, where she has transformed into a beauty whose is popular and beloved; and the third summer, where she has no friends, is hated, and has been accused of something–in the first episode we aren’t sure what happened; another pretty, popular girl is missing in the second summer timeline, and we don’t find out exactly what happened to her until the second episode. We watched the first two episodes–became completely absorbed into the story by the second, and there are two more to stream, after which we will have to wait every week for a new episode. A lot of new seasons of shows we already are into start dropping in mid-May; including Who Killed Sara?, so we should have plenty of things to watch in the upcoming months.

I started writing a short story in my journal last night; the idea has been niggling at the back of my brain for the last few days, and finally last night I started scribbling in my journal. The working title for the story is “The Glory in Damnation,” which is a great title but doesn’t really fit what I am writing, so I’ll have to come up with another. Don’t get me wrong, I like that title–will probably use it again at some point, but right now I don’t have a better one for this story so will leave it as is. (I won’t start typing into Word until I have the right title for it; I use the titles for the file names and changing file names is one of those things that I dislike doing, while being full aware it doesn’t make any sense.) I want to spend some time this weekend with my short stories, while getting ready to do revisions of #shedeservedit, and of course I need to outline the first act of Chlorine.

Hopefully, I won’t be a lazy slug this weekend and can get this all done–plus the cleaning.

While I was making condom packs yesterday, I rewatched a film I haven’t seen in a while, The Last Picture Show. The book (by Larry McMurtry) and film both had an impact on me when I was a teen; both remain on the list of my favorites. I tried to reread the book a few years ago, but stopped when I got to the part about the teen boys having sex with heifers; the book had such a weirdly nonchalant attitude toward bestiality, like it was a normal part of rural Texas boys’ growing up, that I was a bit repulsed and put the book down. I also loved the movie, and had been wanting to watch it again, to see if it would actually hold up as well as fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. It does, on both levels; and I kind of want to dive back into the book again. Peter Bogdonavich, who directed and co-wrote the movie, did an inspired job with it; this was the start of his hot streak, which included the superb What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. The film was shot in black-and-white (as was Paper Moon), and every time I’ve watched it I marveled at the genius behind this choice. The cinematography gives the film an almost dreamy, slightly out of focus quality, which really works and makes an impact; Bogdanovich made a 1950’s style movie with an 1970’s sensibility. The acting was superb; Timothy Bottoms was fantastic as Sonny, as was Jeff Bridges as Duane, and of course, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won Oscars for their pitch-perfect performances as Sam the Lion and Ruth Popper–that final scene with Leachman is staggering in its impact and she earned that Oscar. Ellen Burstyn is stunning and beautiful as Lois Farrow, and Eileen Brennan’s Genevieve didn’t get nearly the accolades she deserved. Cybill Shepherd made her first appearance on film as beautiful, selfish, narcissist Jacy Farrow, and she was absolutely the right choice for that part as well. Randy Quaid also has a small role as Lester Barlow, who is instrumental to Jacy’s story; he is painfully young in this, and years away from his break with reality. When he grins, you can actually see a resemblance to his brother Dennis–which he grew out of as he got older. The film opens with a panning shot of the main street of the town of Anarene (Thalia in the book), with the only sound the howling of the wind as dust blows, and Bogdonavich ends the film with a similar panning shot, which centers firmly the dying small town as the anchor to the story. (In the book, Sonny is the emotional heart of the story.) It’s nostalgic, but not seen through rose-colored glasses; both book and movie focus on how the town and the times warped the lives of the characters; how they endure the body blows of a hard life and yet somehow continue enduring. I’m glad I watched it again–because it does indeed hold up and is a classic that doesn’t get neat the attention it should.

And on that note, I need to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Notorious

Hello, Thursday!

I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows last night, and I am still processing the experience. There will be more to come on this score, but for now, suffice it to say you all need to buy this book, everyone. It’s extraordinary. The voice, the characters, the story, the setting, the plot…and it’s wickedly, darkly funny, too. It’s one of those books that makes me question myself and my own work, and makes me want to do better.

This has been a particularly exceptional year for crime novels, so much so that I can’t even recall all of them off the top of my head.

The women are killing it, guys. Up your game.

I’m also greatly enjoying the campy ride that is American Horror Story: 1984. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not–no matter how off the rails a season of this show goes, I always end up watching it; the only season I bailed on was Hotel–but I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I was wondering how they were going to manage to get a season out of a slasher style tribute–after all, the main cast can’t be killed off from the very beginning, because you’d soon run out of cast–and last night I realized, ah, yes, every new character who is introduced in each new episode is going to die horribly. And yes, that’s what we have going on with this season, but it’s amazingly camp and funny and witty, and very much done in the style of the slasher films that were so popular in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s (have they ever gone out of style, though, really?).

Today I have to really get back on track with things. It looks like other than a nudge here and there, the massive volunteer project is finally over; just in time for some new volunteer projects, but none of those will be as time-consuming or all-encompassing as this one was–which is a very good thing, because I will need to use every minute available to me to get some things done before the end of the month. Hello, weekend–no rest for the wicked this week, alas. But it’s fine; primarily what I need to do is get these two stories finished. I also need to get back to the Diversity Project; next up is Michael Nava’s Lay Your Sleeping Head, which is actually a rebooted revision of his first Henry Rios novel, originally published as The Little Death. 

I am also moderating two panels at Bouchercon next month in Dallas, and so I need to start getting my shit together to be prepared for that, as well. I also have to write my column for the Sisters in Crime quarterly. Heavy sigh, it never ends, does it?

Make a list, Gregalicious, make a list, or you’ll never get any of this back under control.

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I also got an idea I didn’t need to have. I’ve written a noirish short story about a teenaged male figure skater–it needs work–and last night it popped into my head how to turn it into a novel, and that the story would work far better as a novel than as a short story. While it’s an excellent idea, this presents another problem for me. First of all, when on earth would I ever have time to write such a novel,  and secondly, I made a decision quite a while ago that I needed to stop thinking about stories in terms of novels when they would work as a short story. Maybe this is one that would be better as a novel rather than a short story; it’s hard to say, and the more I think about it this morning, the more I am leaning toward leaving it as a short story. Maybe I should just take another look at it again this weekend, since I am devoting the weekend to short stories and articles and essays, and decide then.

I made shrimp ‘n’ baked potatoes last night, so the kitchen is a horrific mess this morning, which I should get cleaned up before I head into the office–I hate coming home from work to a filthy kitchen–and then I’m going to try to get all my emails answered.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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All 4 Love

So, yes, it’s my birthday. I took the day off from work and am staying home for the most part. But I do have to go to Costco AND the grocery store today; living large, right? This might be my wildest birthday ever! (Sarcasm.)

I mean, do I know how to celebrate a birthday or what?

But this is the fifty-seventh, and I wasn’t really raised to be overly sentimental about birthdays; I’ve never really made a big deal out of mine, and now all it really is, is simply an excuse to take a day off from the office. I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I would have liked; yesterday was lovely–I don’t think I went outside even once, which to me is of course a lovely lovely day.

I really  do want to become a recluse. I remember someone asked me on a panel once to describe what my dream success would be, and I replied, to make enough money to  not only not have to have a day job but to be able to pay someone to run my errands for me so I’d only have to leave the house to go to the gym.

Is that really so much to ask? Apparently. Ah, well.

I hope to do some writing today as well. We shall see how that goes.

Next up in Florida Happens is Neil Plakcy’s “Southernmost Point.”

Neil S. Plakcy is a U.S. writer whose works range from mystery to romance to anthologies and collections of gay erotica. He has twice been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men’s Mystery Novel.

Plakcy began his professional publishing career with the first of his Hawaiian mysteries, Mahu, acquired and edited for Haworth Press by mystery author Greg Herren. With the second book in the series, Mahu Surfer, Plakcy moved to Alyson Books, which continued the series with Mahu Fire and Mahu Vice, and published their own edition of Mahu in 2009. After the close of Alyson, MLR Books picked up the series, publishing new editions of the first three and then continuing the series.

Plakcy and long-time friend Sharon Sakson co-edited a collection of stories by gay men about their experiences with their dogs, entitled Paws and Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog. A frequent contributor to gay anthologies, Plakcy has also edited numerous collections of gay erotica.

With the publication of GayLife.com in 2009, Plakcy entered the M/M romance genre, basing the book on his own experiences in software and web development and his familiarity with Miami Beach.

Plakcy has been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award three times: twice in gay mystery, and once in gay romance. He won the “Hawaii Five-O” award given by attendees at the Left Coast Crime fan conference and his work has been enthusiastically reviewed by mainstream and specialty publications as well as by many fans.

neil

It started with a selfie, and the drag queen who photo-bombed my boyfriend Lester and me.

Lester represents single-batch whiskeys, based out of Fort Lauderdale, where we both live. His region extends all the way to Key West, and one weekend in January he had a couple of promotions set up at bars on Duval Street, in the center of the entertainment district. I had a couple of days’ vacation coming to me from the FBI, where I work as a Special Agent attached to the Violent Crimes Task Force, so I took them and went along for the ride.

And a beautiful ride it was, once we ran out of highway, then cleared the urban congestion of Key Largo. All of a sudden there was water on both sides of the road, the dark blue-green of the Atlantic to our left, the lighter green of the Gulf of Mexico to the right. The long emptiness of the Seven Mile Bridge was liberating, even with the skeleton of the old railroad bridge beside us.

We made it to Key West late on Sunday afternoon, and after we checked into a bed-and-breakfast on Duval Street, we rented bikes and cycled over to the Southernmost Point, a big marker striped in yellow, orange and black that indicated we’d reached as far as you can go on the US mainland.

“Imagine living down here,” Lester said. “Only ninety miles to Cuba, and nearly twice that back to Miami.”

“I think there’s a kind of person who likes to live at the edge,” I said. “So far from everything else. Like you can leave all the troubles you had wherever behind you and kick back with a margarita and a pair of flip-flops.”

“Thank you, Jimmy Buffett,” Lester said. “Come on, let’s get a picture of us with the marker in the background.”

This is a fun, suspenseful tale about, interestingly enough, what happens when you get photobombed by a stranger and post the picture on social media; a sly commentary, really, about how social media has reduced the size of the world and shows us, sometimes daily, how many degrees of separation we really are all from each other–which isn’t as separated as one might think. Neil does a deft job of keeping the action moving, as well as developing his vacationing gay male couple with just a few quick lines here and there, and their relationship as well through the couple-dialogue speak they share. It’s a fun story, with lots of Key West color, and I’m very glad to have it in the book.

And now, off to the spice mines.

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Hump Day!

I got up this morning early (well, early for me) to meet an old friend for coffee and donuts at District Donuts. I’ve never actually been there before–although I have partaken of their donuts when someone else has purchased them, and they are amazing–but the best news is that their cappuccinos are fantastic. Seriously, the only decent cappuccinos I’ve had in the US were the ones I got at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, and these…and the fantastic news is this place is not only in my neighborhood it’s easily walkable, so some morning when I want a change of pace I can grab my journal, walk over, and treat myself to a cappuccino. Huzzah!

This is big news in Gregalicious world, just so you know.

Well, I’ve not gotten nearly as much done by this point in the week as I would have preferred. I am currently revising the first draft of the afterward to the story collection, and intend to work on Scotty some this week (before the week comes to a screeching halt already). June is slipping quickly through my fingers, and I also need to get two more stories written this month, so I am putting everything else to the side for now. It kills me not to work on “Never Kiss a Stranger,” but if I am going to get the first Scotty draft finished this month, and get these two other stories written, I have to focus on them.

Must. FOCUS.

So, I am going to get the revision of this afterward finished today so that book is finished, finis, complete. I am going to get this sixteenth chapter of the Scotty book finished this week. I am going to get first drafts of these other stories finished this week. I am going to keep going.

Just watch and see if I don’t!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Can’t Wait

So, yesterday I signed the contract to publish my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, with Bold Strokes Books for an April 2019 release date–which means it should be available at Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in late March.

I am inordinately excited about this, you have no idea, Constant Reader! It’s the first book contract I’ve signed since 2015, for one thing–everything came out in 2016 or early 2017, so yeah, it’s been a hot minute–but I am also excited because it’s a short story collection and it isn’t erotica.

In 2004 Starbooks collected my wrestling stories into a short-lived collection called Wanna Wrestle?, that went out of print very quickly for various reasons, none of which had to do with actual sales; it’s a rarity and few copies exist out there in the wild. Bold Strokes also did a collection of my Todd Gregory erotic stories, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, a few years back as well. But I’ve always wanted to do a collection of non-erotic short stories, but never thought I would ever have enough stories, enough material, to actually do so.

But I also had no way of knowing I would also lapse into a short story writing mania the way I have  this year. I mean, I can’t believe how much short story writing I’ve been doing this year.

But, also in fairness, only four of the stories in this collection are new.

Here’s the table of contents:

Survivor’s Guilt (originally published in Blood on the Bayou, which won the Anthony Award for Best Anthony and the story was nominated for a Macavity Award)

The Email Always Pings Twice (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Keeper of the Flame (originally published in Mystery Week magazine)

A Streetcar Named Death (originally published in the anthology I Never Thought I’d See You Again, edited by Lou Aronica)

An Arrow for Sebastian (originally published in the anthology Cast of Characters, edited by Lou Aronica)

Housecleaning (originally published in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley)

Acts of Contrition (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Lightning Bugs in a Jar

Spin Cycle (originally published in Men of the Mean Streets, co-edited by me and J. M. Redmann)

Cold Beer No Flies (originally published in Florida Happens, coming in September)

Annunciation Shotgun (originally published in New Orleans Noir)

Quiet Desperation (originally published as a Kindle single)

The Weight of a Feather

My Brother’s Keeper

Don’t Look Down

Smalltown Boy (originally published in Rebel Yell 2, edited by Jay Quinn)

So, only four of the stories, (five, if you count “Quiet Desperation,” which was a Kindle single) are original. And technically, “Cold Beer No Flies” is a new story; but by the time the collection comes out next year Florida Happens will also be out, rendering it no longer a new story.

But even more exciting? “My Brother’s Keeper” is the first Chanse MacLeod short story ever, and now that I’ve written one, it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’ve already started another, “Once a Tiger,” and who knows? Maybe I will write more. I don’t think I’ll ever write another Chanse novel, but short stories? Why not? Writing private eye short stories is challenging; more of a challenge than just the usual crime story I write, and so I see writing more private eye stories as an opportunity to grow further as a writer, and get better at what I actually do.

The great irony is that my short story writing mania of this year actually has provided me with almost enough stories for a second collection, all unpublished stories, and I have about another dozen or so in some form or stage of being written. Freaking crazy.

Oh, and you know that messy Chapter Fourteen of the Scotty book? Was so fucking easy to fix it’s not even fucking funny. It literally required the deletion of about 200 words and the addition of 120 or so back, and it’s fucking fixed. Blam. Problem solved; the same problem I might add, I’ve been avoiding for like  three weeks.

Because, you know, avoidance. My go-to.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Here’s the opening paragraph of “Don’t Look Down,” aka the Italy story:

Jase shifted the Fiat’s engine into a lower gear as he started up the steep hill. He hadn’t driven a standard transmission since college, but he did remember hills required downshifting. As the Fiat started climbing he passed two handsome, tanned men on mountain bikes, sturdy thighs straining against their brightly colored Lycra casing. According to the directions, he would be in Panzano when he reached the top of the hill.  There was a parking lot off to the left and just beyond that he could see a stone wall. The hill—or mountain, he wasn’t sure which—dropped off into a valley to the right, vineyards and olive trees spreading out to the next sloping hill.  A low stone wall hugged the right side of the road nearer the crest of the hill, with barely enough space for pedestrians or mountain bikes. All the roads had been incredibly narrow since he’d left the highway, with many sharp blind curves as the road weaved in and out and around and along mountains.  At one point an enormous bus coming the other way had almost forced him onto the shoulder, missing the black rental car by inches. He glanced up at the directions tucked into the sun visor. At the crest of the hill there would be another sharp, almost ninety-degree turn to the left, and to his right would be the triangular town center of Panzano-in-Chianti. To get to the hotel, because of the narrow one-way streets, he’d have to circle around the  triangular town square to get to the little hotel. 

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Never

Wednesday. I am working only a half-day today, and then I am taking a short vacation. I don’t have to be back at the office until Tuesday of next week, so I am going to try to relax, get caught up on some things–without any pressure to do any of those things–and recalibrate my head, my heart and my soul.

And do something about how disgusting I’ve allowed my apartment to get in the meantime. I do think a thorough clean will help purge my soul; when my apartment isn’t clean and organized, it weighs on me.

I worked a little on the WIP and the Scotty yesterday, and primarily worked on another short story, “Never Kiss a Stranger.” One of the funny things about me, and my stubbornness, and my tendency to get caught up in tunnel vision, is my regular insistence that I am writing everything in the present day. Part of my struggle with “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the past was trying to make it work in the present; yesterday it occurred to me you can set this in the past, you know, and presto! By moving the story from 2018 to 1994, it clicked into place and started working. My main character is a gay man with twenty years in the military; at age thirty-eight, in those days before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” being gay was grounds for a dishonorable discharge; after the Gulf War he finds out he is on a ‘to-be-investigated’ list and so puts in his retirement papers. His parents dead and not having a relationship with anyone else in his family, he comes out into the general world and decides to move to New Orleans to start his life anew; it’s also his first opportunity as an adult to live openly as a gay man. As I revised what had already been written, the character’s voice clicked in my head and I was able to remember New Orleans in that time period; when I was visiting and falling in love with the city, as well as remembering what a different time period it was, even though it was only slightly more than twenty years ago. No cell phones or Internet, HIV/AIDS was still pretty much a death sentence (or rather, just a matter of time once infected), and New Orleans was riddled with crime everywhere and inexpensive to live; a beautiful old city decaying in her splendid, rotting beauty in the sun.

And it’s kind of fun writing about the past sometimes, being able to  use my own memories (and my journals) to remember things. And at the same time, incredibly freeing to finally realize something so obvious; that everything needn’t be in the present.

We finished watching both The Terror and Thirteen Reasons Why last night; The Terror, while unsettling, ended inevitably in the only way that it could; I am sorry to be finished with it, and will, when it’s free for streaming, probably watch it again to understand it better. It should be a leading contender for all the Emmys; the question only being which stellar member of the cast should take the trophy home. Thirteen Reasons Why’s second season was…interesting, yet incredibly disappointing in its third season. The resolution of some story lines, which had long since been played out, ended in unsatisfying ways that were, while bitter, realistic and honest and true to life. Rapists get away with slaps on the wrists far too often and our judiciary often lets female victims know that their lives really have no value and there is no justice for them. The final episode, with its bittersweet closure, worked in that respect while at the same time set the stage for a third season with horrifyingly depicted brutality, showing that the damage that was caused by the incidents that triggered the first two seasons have deeper and far more lasting consequences; when damage isn’t repaired and the systems that allowed that damage to occur aren’t corrected, far worse damage can occur. The close of the episode, I felt, was a bit of a cop-out; but I understand why they didn’t see that story through, and it did leave me curious to see where it can go next. There hasn’t been an announcement, as far as I know, that there will be a third season; I’d like to see it, if for no other reason than curiosity to see how these newly planted seeds will grow.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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