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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Secret Lovers

I slept so well last night that I didn’t want to get up this morning, which is perhaps the greatest feeling of all. Huzzah! It also means I am not heading into the weekend feeling tired, which will be yet another great feeling. Hurray! Huzzah! Of course, the kitchen’s a disaster area, but I may have the time to correct that this morning before I head into the office. One can always hope, at any rate.

I do think “Burning Crosses” is ready for a read aloud; there’s one more paragraph I need to add, and maybe a sentence here and there, but other than that, it’s close to done. I have also made progress on “This Thing of Darkness,” and I think, as far as short stories go, I am ready to get back to finish/polish/read out loud “Once a Tiger” and “The Problem with Autofill.” I also want to get back to the WIP and the Scotty; I need to read Scotty from the beginning and make notes; and likewise, Chapter Two of the WIP needs to be rewritten, may even need to be a completely newly written chapter because I need to add a scene. But I am hopeful I am setting myself up for an incredibly productive weekend. I am going to a book signing on Saturday afternoon for Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes at Tubby and Coo’s (hello, Five Guys!) and I am also supposed to go to a party on Saturday evening, but we’ll see how that all plays out. I may just make Saturday an errand day and try to spend Sunday focusing on writing.

We shall see.

The Terror continues to enthrall, as it moves along to its inevitable end. The ninth episode, which we watched last night, was just non-stop misery and powerful acting from everyone involved. After we finished watching, Paul and I talked about how much we’re enjoying it and The Handmaid’s Tale, and I made the curious realization that the two shows we’re enjoying the most right now are horrific stories of human beings caught up in the most terrifyingly horrible of circumstance, and how interesting is it that we are so enthralled by what basically are, thematically, stories of survival and how much can you take, how much can you handle without giving up entirely?

The writing, and the acting, always stellar, is Master Class worthy in this heartbreaking episode. I fear The Terror will be overlooked for awards, when that season is upon us; which is absolutely wrong. It should win all the awards; I would be hard-pressed, though, to decide on which actor to vote for; there are all that good.

I have to say, yesterday was a lovely day for me professionally. The table of contents for the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology I am in was released, and it’s quite stellar. It was lovely to see the social media response; all the likes and retweets and excitement. I am very pleased to be in this book, and I am equally pleased with the story I wrote for it. The book won’t be available until 2019, alas; but it’s going to be a truly good one.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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I Miss You

Well, “Don’t Look Down” is now ready for the read-aloud phase. Huzzah! I am pretty darned excited about it, too. I think this most recent draft is actually not bad, to be honest–and I am pretty psyched to be so close to done with this collection. Huzzah! Perhaps it will happen this very weekend. Hope springs eternal.

The question is, does it need an author introduction? I don’t think it does, to be honest; and every time I’ve tried to write one I’ve either drawn a blank or written something that sounded so pompous it annoyed me.

I’m really uncomfortable talking up my accomplishments, because it feels like bragging, and every time I do, I hear a voice sneering in my head, really? I hate that; it always undermines my confidence and makes me doubt myself, which then leads to me not getting anything done or not putting myself forward for anything, and on and on and on it goes.

I also reread the fourth chapter of the most recent revision of the WIP, and it was embarrassingly bad. I literally cringed reading it–and this is not me being self-deprecating or not taking myself seriously. I mean, it’s bad. I’ve not gone back and reread the first three chapters, and I do realize that a lot of this has to do with switching from limited third person POV to first person POV–I am basically just going through and changing the POV, but as I was doing that in this chapter I was really struck by how bad so much of the actual writing was. It was kind of boring, and that’s death for a y/a.

I guess now I know why no agent responded to my queries. I was also right in worrying that it was too early to send it out. The problem is I need to learn how to discern between serious, honest concerns about my writing and the tendency to trivialize, minimize, and self-defeat myself.

Case in point: I was convinced Royal Street Reveillon was terrible. I reread some bits to revise, and realized, nope. it’s not terrible at all. It needs some polish and some work, but it’s pretty good.

I need some serious therapy.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Neutron Dance

Hey there, peeps! Welcome to Tuesday. Last night was a restless night for one Gregalicious; I was awakened at some point during the night when a thunderstorm rolled into the parish. It’s still gray and chilly and raining this morning; the kind where you’d rather stay in bed under a blanket with a nice warm cup of coffee and a book. But alas and alack, I must away to the office this morning. It’s Tuesday and thus my long day.

I finished the first draft of the Chanse short story yesterday morning; it’s very rough but on the other hand, I am rather pleased with it. I’ve never written a private eye short story before, and as I said, it’s incredibly rough; but on the other hand, I’ve now written a private eye short story. Jon Michaelson very graciously asked me about it on Facebook when I mentioned it the other day; there’s no publisher for it as of yet, because that’s how short stories work. You can write a novel under contract and you can write a novel without a contract, but in either case I write them with a particular publisher in mind, or at least I have some sort of idea what the next step is going to be. With short stories, it’s not quite the same; there are limited markets for short stories that pay, and those that pay well are even scarcer. I’d love to get this story into somewhere like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but as one of the few well-paying markets that every crime writer is trying to get into, the competition is nothing if not quite fierce. There’s also not a rush; I can take my time and get back to it whenever I choose or whenever the inspiration hits me; I may submit it to an anthology, who knows? The Bouchercon anthology next year will be Texas-themed, if not Dallas-themed; and since this story is set in Texas maybe I can hold onto it and prepare it for that. Who knows? We shall see.

I also muddled through a transitional chapter in the Scotty book; it needs a bit more before it’s finished, and then the book should start flowing more smoothly. Huzzah!

Also, we went public with the table of contents for the Bouchercon anthology yesterday (alphabetically; the order hasn’t been decided on as of yet):

PATRICIA ABBOTT, “When Agnes Left Her House”
J. D. ALLEN, “The Unidentifieds”
JACK BATES, “The Fakahatchee Goonch”
LAWRENCE BLOCK, untitled as yet
SUSANNA CALKINS, “Postcard for the Dead”
REED FARREL COLEMAN, “The Ending”
ANGEL LUIS COLON,    “Muscle Memory”
HILARY  DAVIDSON, “Mr. Bones”
BRENDAN DUBOIS, “Breakdown”
JOHN FLOYD, “Frontier Justice”
BARB GOFFMAN, “The Case of the Missing Pot Roast”
GREG HERREN, “Cold Beer No Flies”
ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES, “All Accounted for at the Hurray for Hollywood Motel”
JOHN D. MACDONALD, “The Hangover”
PAUL D. MARKS “There’s an Alligator in My Purse”
CRAIG PITTMAN, “How to Handle a Shovel”
NEIL PLAKCY, “Southernmost Point”
ALEX SEGURA, “Quarters for the Meter”
DEBRA LATTANZI SHUTIKA, “Frozen Iguana”
HOLLY WEST, “The Best Laid Plans”
MICHAEL WILEY, “Winner”
It was such an embarrassment of riches to choose from; seriously.  I am grateful to everyone who served as an advance reader for the blind readings.
And now, back to the spice mines.
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Human Nature

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

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

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

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

Onward and upward, as they say.

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

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She’s a Beauty

I always find the process other writers use fascinating; I remember back in the day when I used to read books about writing (never, ever read The Art of Fiction by Robert Gardner unless you’re actually reading it for its unintentional hilarity and incredible pomposity; stick with Stephen King’s On Writing, which actually imparts wisdom born of experience, and some damned good advice) and was interested in all the different components of writing, and how different the advice was; it wasn’t until I actually began to write seriously that I realized that the best thing you can get from another’s writer’s process is to simply try the various methods as a starting point; a way to find your own way into what works for you.

That’s what I tell workshops I teach; I’ve taught many over the years and I’ve also worked with/edited many writers at the start of their careers. What works for, say, Sue Grafton–which enormously productive and successful for her–might not work for you. I have been asked any number of times what my process is; but it’s really not that simple.

You see, just as I have creative ADD whenever I’m working on something, I don’t always use the same process. Kristi Belcamino, a friend and fellow writer, asked me yesterday in a comment about my process; so here it is.

I wrote the first Chanse novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, (working title: Tricks) without an outline. I knew what the crime was, I knew who the killer was, and I thought I knew how to get from Point A (Chanse being hired) to Point B (unmasking the killer). After writing an enormously lengthy first draft, I realized that I’d actually gotten it very wrong; I got to Point B all right, but around Chapter Ten the book went off course and veered crazily along like a drunk driver trying to drive in a straight line and failing miserably. Even the unmasking of the killer didn’t work; I had to basically throw out the second half of the book and start it over. Starting over the second half then meant that the first half didn’t really fit with the new second half, so I had to go back and redo the entire first half of the novel. It was a long, painful process, and I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way to do this.

So, when I started writing the second Chanse novel Murder in the Rue St. Ann (working title: Murder in the Rue Royal, changed because of the alliteration which annoyed my editor) I outlined the whole thing, from beginning to end. By doing this, I was able to see–hey, the story is getting derailed here–and could fix it before I wasted time writing a lot of material I wasn’t going to be able to use and would have to throw it and rewrite. I thought this was a much easier way to do it, frankly, and it made more sense. I was able to catch errors in the plot and fix them before I actually sat down to write the manuscript, if that makes sense. I did this, and it worked. But while this was the first novel I wrote after getting my first novel signed, it wasn’t my second novel to get published. That was Bourbon Street Blues, when I introduced a new character, Scotty Bradley.

Bourbon Street Blues was only intended to be a stand-alone, not the start of a series that has lasted now for fifteen years and eight novels (I am writing the eighth now). I pitched the idea to a different publisher instead of my original publisher, and got a two-book contract for a series. As I said, it was intended to be a stand alone, but I figured I’d deal with the series concept when it was time to do that. Having had some success with an outline, I tried something a little bit different this time. My outline for Rue St. Ann was basically a paragraph for each chapter breaking down what happens in the chapter; for Bourbon Street Blues I decided to make the outline a little more detailed; it also made sense to me that hey, if the book has to be this many words long, figure out how many chapters its going to take, divide that number by the word count, and then every chapter has to be that long, give or take. Making every chapter about the same length will also subconsciously give the reader a structure to the story without realizing what I’ve done.

The difference between this and what I’d done with the Chanse books was I started writing this longer, more detailed outline with no idea of how it was going to end, or what was going to happen. But it worked, and successive drafts was just filling in more details, etc. so that I then had a finished draft and then went back over it to tighten language, deepen character, etc. This free-wheeling style of writing seemed to work for Scotty; it was kind of who he was as a person, and so all future Scotty books were done this way; a short first draft, each successive draft making the book longer and then a final polish. Sometimes I get stuck when I’m writing Scotty and don’t know where to go next; then I go back and revise the earlier chapters and get an idea of how to go from there. Sometimes I have to outline the next five chapters, and as I struggle with that outline the answers come to me. (I am also terrified this is going to not work someday.)

So, when I start with the Chanse books I know how I am going to end the book, and have to fill in, with an outline, how to get from Point A to Point B. With Scotty I write a short first draft that’s kind of an extensive outline to get me through when I have no idea what the story is going to be or how it’s going to end. I find with Scotty I go back and revise earlier chapters a lot before it’s finished, so I am always worried later chapters don’t get as much attention as the earlier ones.

My stand-alones–the y/s and so forth–are kind of a combination; it depends on the book. If I know how it starts and I know how it ends, I do an outline to get me from beginning to end. If I don’t know how it ends, and simply have the opening premise, I do a long outline, let it come to me as I do it, and then go back and see if it works, fix what doesn’t (or at least try to), and do it over and over. I usually end up doing three drafts total, maybe four; and then do a quick polish of the final draft before turning it in.

The current WIP, that I keep talking about? I didn’t know how it was going to end, and just started writing. I knew the characters, I knew what the premise was, and basically, I was adapting a story I came up with years ago, using the characters and so forth I’d already created, only using it with a different story and a different theme. I still like the original idea I had, and I may be able to eventually turn that into telling the story I’d originally wanted to tell..but I really like this story I am telling now. I wrote the first draft in less than six weeks, total; I started writing two years ago in June and finished it in early July. I let a friend whose opinion I deeply respect read it, and she gave me some amazing notes. I went through and made some changes–the original draft was over a hundred thousand words, without a final chapter–and then I printed the whole thing out and did the line edit I’ve been bitching about for so long. But in doing all of this, I figured out how to tell the story I wanted, how to get the message I want across, and now know what changes have to be made to the manuscript for this final draft. But when I was writing the first draft, I had a goal to meet every day: three thousand words every day. Sometimes I met it, sometimes I went over it, sometimes I didn’t come close. But writing the book was very organic; it literally came to  me as I wrote it. And this weekend I am going to spend some time reading this leaner draft and figuring out where to put the things I need to add to it, and then write the final chapter. The goal was to start submitting it to agents on October 1; I think I’m going to make it.

Incidentally, this current Scotty? I started outlining the next five chapters…but by the time I finished the second chapter of this outline I knew what Chapter Six needed, and so I started writing it.

Sigh. Does that make sense?

I also try to write something every day–my goal for every day is to write 2500 words minimum, on something. On good days I can get that done in two hours; on bad days it can take me, off and on, all day; on the worst days I don’t do anything. But it’s something I try to maintain; whether it’s the manuscript I am working on, or a short story in progress, an essay; I try to write something every day. I have about ten short stories in progress right now, and ideas for many many more. I don’t use the same process with short stories; they are much harder for me because often I know the set-up and have the idea for the beginning, and sometimes when I don’t know the ending it comes to me while I am writing it and I am able to finish a first draft. Other times I get stuck and it gets put aside for awhile. Sometimes I come back to them, sometimes I never do. Right now, I have the following short stories in progress: “The Gates of Guinee,” “Fireflies,” “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” “The Brady Kid,” “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “For All Tomorrow’s Lies,” “This Thing of Darkness,” “Circumstance,” “The Weight of a Feather,” “The Terrortorium,” “Quiet Desperation,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Passin’ Time,” “Closing Time,” “The White Knuckler,” “The Ditch,” and “The Weeping Nun.” I hope to finish them all someday; maybe some of them will never be finished. I also have several other book ideas I want to write at some point; one is a horror novel with no title, and I have some (what I think) are terrific ideas for some. I also have an idea for another Scotty book.

Damn, just thinking about all this made me really tired.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Hello I Love You

Ah, a lovely night’s sleep, only interrupted by having to get up at five to get Amie an Uber to the Amtrak station; after which I returned to bed for another few hours of sleep. During that second round of sleep last night (or rather, this morning) a major thunderstorm rolled into the city. The crepe myrtles are swaying outside my windows, it’s completely gray out there, lightning and thunder, a downpour of rain. Right now, the rain has ceased, but there was just another flash of lightning and some more thunder, so who knows? It’s supposed to rain until around two this afternoon, which will, of course, make getting to work a JOY.

Oh, well, I haven’t driven the new car anywhere in the rain yet (outside of Alabama; I was rained on almost all the way from Wetumpka to Mobile on that trip). So, we’ll see how it handles in the rain on the slick, uneven streets of New Orleans…

I feel rested and awake this morning, which is quite lovely. I don’t have to work a long day tomorrow, either (my day today is shorter than usual), and am planning on making a Costco run tomorrow before going into the office (must remember to make list). These next two days and the weekend are going to be spent getting caught up on everything that has been let slide in the madness of the last few months–I’ve really felt like I’ve had no grasp of everything lately, and I need to get back on top of everything–which includes cleaning the Lost Apartment, organizing, filing, you name it. I am delighted that I’ve gotten everything to my accountant so I don’t have the burden of the taxes hanging over my head again. But at least now we have some semblance of normality for awhile again (until my trip to Alabama and Mississippi in late April), and as far as I know there shouldn’t be any other trips on the horizon at any time soon–although I do have to go back to Kentucky at some point, and Paul and I really want to go spend a long weekend at the beach at some point).

I didn’t write yesterday because, of course, because my mind was bouncing all over the place and I was so physically tired and mentally sleepy. I hate those days, when I can’t focus and know I just have to somehow just get through the damned day. Paul is very excited about this weekend, as there’s a major tennis tournament, the LSU gymnastics team is competing at regionals, and the World Figure Skating championships are also this weekend–so I doubt very seriously if I am ever going to be able to get him off the couch, but that’s also fine. He deserves some rest, frankly.

I’m hoping to get a first draft of “Quiet Desperation” finished today. Here’s hoping.

Here’s a Thursday hunk for you:

Money Money Money

I made my first car payment today, and despite everything I’ve done with the car since going to the dealership–registering it, getting a brake tag, insuring it, driving it, learning how to use the functions, teaching myself how the bluetooth works, etc.–now it seems like it’s really mine; even writing the check for the down payment didn’t make it seem real, you know? But authorizing the electronic transfer of the first payment from my bank to the finance company–the first payment that’s coming from my paycheck–has made it all too real.

I worked on my short story “Quiet Desperation” and my essay yesterday, without much success; writing anything this week has turned into a horrible chore. I don’t know if that’s because of the usual post-book malaise I usually go through–and I wrote so much last year I never really was able to allow the malaise to play out; or rather, I did and then was forced to do a lot to meet deadlines. I don’t know; I don’t know why I can’t just sit down every day and spend two hours of dedicated time to writing. Yet it never seems to work out that way for me; and I just can’t seem to make myself do it. I can usually, on a good day, write anywhere from three to five thousand words in two hours or so; so if I did it every day imagine what I could get done in a year. But…yet…I don’t know why I can’t ever make myself do these things that would, ultimately, make my life so much easier.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Ah, well.

So, I read another short story yesterday, yet another one from The Best American Mystery Stories 2014, edited by Laura Lippman. There are some terrific authors in that collection, as well as some whose work I have not read before. I was going to read the James Lee Burke story, but then decided to read one by someone whose work I’ve not read before. I chose Ed Kurtz’ “A Good Marriage,” because I have a copy of his novel The Rib From Which I Remake The World in my TBR pile, and thought I should get started reading his work, since I probably won’t get around to the novel for a while.

Wow. What a chilling, yet great, story.

We were at the Allens’ anniversary party, which I hated, and Hannah hated it too. It was not as though we didn’t like the Allens–Joe Allen, anyway, a big, fat, affable bear of a man–it was just all so tacky. I was of the opinion that notifying other people of one’s forthcoming birthday was vulgar enough (don’t forget my gift!), but an anniversary always seemed like a private thing, a husband/wife thing, nothing to do with me or my debit card. Joe could buy his wife lunar real estate for all I cared, just leave me out of it. As far as I knew, Hannah felt the same way.

But Joe insisted, and his wife made sure to send us their wish list by e-mail, so with twin engine grumbling we went and presented them with the Waterford vase they wanted. She cooed hungrily over the damn thing and he nodded with appreciation. There were a lot of people there. The gifts were piling up in the corner by the fireplace. Finally, after the inimitable Mrs. Allen opened their (her) last gift, the assemblage was freed to drink, drink, and be drunk. A trio of hulky guys whose guts were threatening the structural integrity of their shirts swarmed the keg. Hannah and I opted for the crappy boxed wine.

God, I’ve been to that party.

“A Good Marriage” is a terrific story. Kurtz paces it nicely, building up steam as we soon learn that ‘good’ is really dependent on, to quote Obi-wan, “your point of view.” The story isn’t about the party at all; but the party is what kicks off the story, and there’s an incident there–mild, nothing, innocuous–which triggers what happens in the rest. And that nothing incident triggers such a strong reaction that the reader begins to understan, subtly, that things are not as they appear in this tale of marriage; and that in fact this ‘good marriage’ is anything but…and in fact, it’s quite horrifying. He also flips the script; what’s wrong in this marriage isn’t what usually is wrong in this type of marriage. Chilling, and very well-done.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk for you.

Careless Whisper

So, I’ve decided to give Short Story Month another go. The idea is to read a short story every day, and then write a blog entry about it; or at least include a discussion of said story in that day’s blog entry. I really do love short stories, and I am not completely certain why I have so many mental blocks, both about writing and reading them. Go figure. I think the thing about reading of them comes from having edited so many anthologies; although having edited over two hundred (at least) novels hasn’t affected my ability to read them. Hmmm, interesting.

Today is the final day of my three day weekend, and I have a lot to get done today–and this week. Saturday I am on a panel at Comic Con here in New Orleans, which is exciting; and our friend Michael is having a gallery show opening later that evening. So, my Saturday is pretty much spoken for this week, but due to long days at the office the next two days I only have to work a half-day this Thursday so I can do all the errands–grocery, etc–that day before going into the office.

Last night I started reading George Pelecanos’ The Way Home and really got into it more; he’s quite a good writer, and I am curious to see how the rest of the book plays out. We also finally got the Showtime app on our Apple TV to work again (I had to delete and download it again) so we could get going on Ray Donovan again, which is also an interesting show. I am quite enjoying it but am not hooked, if that makes any sense? Paul is going into the office today, and I have to go to the grocery store–direct result of sleeping in Saturday morning, damn it; obviously I would have rather slept in this morning–but at least it looks like the incessant rain has finally let up.

The first short story of this month is an Edgar Award winner from 2013; Karin Slaughter’s “The Unremarkable Heart,” which I have revisited for this occasion. It was originally published in MWA’s anthology Vengeance (I wrote a story for this, but I don’t remember which one; obviously I have not checked off ‘getting a story into an MWA anthology’ off my bucket list–I failed again this year but didn’t think it was going to get accepted this time around, didn’t have much hope as it felt rather forced), and went on to win the Edgar. I was at the ceremony, and obtained a copy of Vengeance specifically so I could rest this story. I did read the entire book on my flight home–airport and so forth–but Karin’s story was quite remarkable; it reminded me very much of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier: it was that good.

June Connor knew that she was going to die today.

The thought seemed like the sort of pathetic declaration that a ninth-grader would use to begin a short-story assignment–one that would have immediately elicited a groan and a failing grade from June–but it was true. Today was the die she was going to die.

The doctors, who had been so wrong about so many things, were right about this at least: She would know when it was time. This morning when June woke, she was conscious not just of the pain, the smell of her spent body, the odor of sweat and various fluids that had saturated the bed during the night, but of the fact that it was time to go. The knowledge came to her as an accepted truth. The sun would rise. The Earth would turn. She would die today.

June had at first been startled by the revelation, then had lain in the bed considering the implications. No more pain. No more sickness. No more headaches, seizures, fatigue, confusion, anger.

No more Richard.

That opening is like a punch in the mouth. Grim and unrelenting, Slaughter sets up her unsuspecting reader like a master: here we have a woman who, at long last, after a debilitating illness, is finally going to die and she knows it. As she reflects, in her deathbed, about finally being finished with the messy business of dying, she adds one more thing that she is finished with: Richard.

As the story unfolds–I won’t spoil it, the unfolding is part of the mastery of the story-telling–the sense of horror continues to grow as June reflects back on the horror of her own life, the tragedies she has seen and lived through, how she somehow managed to survive things that would break lesser people. It continues to insidiously unfold, as Slaughter keeps playing out her cards carefully, taking each trick from her mark like a punch to the solar-plexus, each new revelation an even bigger, more horrific shock than the last…until she gets to the very end, and the reader faces the biggest horror of them all. I remember reading this story on the plane and when I reached the final sentence of the story, I gasped and dropped the book.

I’ve not read anything else by Karin Slaughter; I know she is enormously popular and successful, and I have copies of several of her books which are in the TBR pile. But I am a fan, simply based on the brilliance and utter horror of this short story. The Edgar was well deserved; this story has resonated with me in the years since I read it and I’ve never once forgotten how horrific and smart and well-written it is.

If you’re a fan of short stories, you really need to read this one.

And now, back to the spice mines, and here is your Monday morning hunk: