Save Me a Place

Oddly enough, as I sat in my easy chair the other day watching college football games and letting my body and mind and creativity rest, I had an idea for either a stand alone book or a new series, one way or the other, and it’s something I find interesting enough that I might even consider it. It would be a difficult proposition, to be sure–given the decline in retail sales and everything going to an on-line and electronic model–but I was looking at a map of New Orleans on my iPad because it occurred to me that I didn’t know where Tulane’s not-so-new-anymore on-campus football stadium was; so I pulled up a map to look because I was thinking that was a great line for a Scotty book–I always forget there’s a football stadium in Uptown-so of course I had to go looking for it. The map also brought up businesses in the area and lo and behold, there’s a comic book shop uptown on the lake side of Claiborne and it hit me: no one has ever done a cozy series about a comic book shop and that opened up an entire world of possibilities for me: the main character is an aspiring comic book artist who works in the shop, and of course, you can get into the whole thing about who actually is into comics and the history of comic books and it would give me an excuse to actually learn more about comics and their history and…

You see how this ends up going, don’t you?

I know any number of comics geeks–Alex Segura Jr, author of this year’s brilliant Secret Identity, about the business side of producing comics, is one–and one of my best friends from college owns a comic book shop in central California, or did at some point–and of course my neighbor Michael is also heavily into comics, having gone to Comic Con in San Diego, even. And of course I’d get to make up shit, which is always a huge plus for me. I love making up shit! And of course, it would be fun to write from the point of view of a struggling artist.

I mean, it’s not like I wouldn’t know anything about that…

The Saints played terribly yesterday and logged another “L” in the record book (how bad are the Falcons?) yesterday; I didn’t watch but rather followed on Twitter while I did things around the house. The Saints games sometimes cause me too much stress and then I am emotionally exhausted afterwards–too drained to be of much use, so sometimes I just follow it on Twitter or it’ll be on in the living room while I work in the kitchen. I did get the Costco delivery yesterday, and should probably run some errands at some point today, but it is Work-at-Home Monday and I have work I have to get done. I am behind still from the Bouchercon trip and the ensuing back injury, but am hopeful I will start getting caught up somewhat soon. Emails beget emails, though, and therefore that is a sisyphean task indeed.

We watched the new Star Wars show Andor last night, and I am so happy Deigo Luna’s character is getting an origin story. So far, the only show they’ve done I didn’t buy into completely was The Book of Boba Fett, and am thinking maybe we should give that another try at some point. After those three episodes we moved on to The Serpent Queen and American Gigolo, which I think we’re going to give up on. I love Jon Bernthal, but I’m just not buying this story for the character. It’s an interesting idea–and full props to them for turning it into a sequel series in which Julian actually goes to jail for the murder he was accused of committing in the film, but I’m just not really getting vested into the show, either, no matter how much I want to. The Serpent Queen remains fantastic, and gets better with each episode as Catherine explains to her new maid her philosophy of survival, illustrated with scenes from her past. Samantha Morton is fantastic as the older queen and the actress who plays her as a young woman is also equally good. But it’s a period of history I particularly love, and of course, Catherine de Medici is one of the most fascinatingly complex women to hold power in history. The reality of her life was dramatic enough to drive a series, and they’ve done a pretty decent job of following the actual history, with some adjustments here and there.

Also keeping an eye out for Hurricane Ian, which seems to have Florida’s Gulf Coast clearly in its sights. We are just outside the Cone of Uncertainty, which doesn’t mean we’re safe–there could always be another westward shift to the potential path–but I do concern myself with Florida and friends there. I don’t remember the last time Tampa took a direct hit; I don’t think they have in quite some time, and I can imagine a storm surge into the bay and into the rivers that drain into it would be enormously problematic for the city–as well as for Clearwater and St. Petersburg on the peninsula on the other side of the bay. Stay safe, people.

My podcast interview about Daphne du Maurier, with a particular emphasis on My Cousin Rachel, went really well. It was for my friend Ricky Grove, whom I know from my days in the Horror Writers Association and when I put on World Horror Con back in the day here in New Orleans (he is the author Lisa Morton’s partner–have you read Lisa? You should read Lisa). I can talk about du Maurier all day, and we did continue talking for at least another hour after we stopped recording; I do love to talk books and writing, after all, with the end result that I felt horribly drained when it was over. Ah, yes, the age-old problem of the introvert having to be an extrovert on a day when he usually doesn’t have to do anything of the kind. I retired to my easy chair, but found the draining of my energy to have been far too effective for me to focus clearly on anything. I did do another blog entry about my work–this time my Todd Gregory erotic novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, while starting others about Baton Rouge Bingo and the second Todd Gregory book (Games Frat Boys Play)–but when I tried to work on the book or anything else (including trying to read) I couldn’t get anything done so finally gave up and made myself useful around the house. Hopefully after an eyes-crossing day of data entry and quality assurance on testing logs, I’ll be able to dive back into the Scotty book. I know I am procrastinating with Chapter Three and should probably just stop worrying about it and move on, but that’s just not how my creativity works. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s okay, the stress of being behind will come in handy as December 1 draws ever more near.

Or so I tell myself.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Hope you have a marvelous and lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Sugar Daddy

If I had to do my life over again–but could keep my memories of this life’s experiences–I would focus on weights more as a teenager and once old enough, looked for a sugar daddy.

Then again, I had absolutely no self-confidence when I was younger (don’t have near enough now for that matter), so yeah–that would have wound up going very wrong.

Here it is Tuesday so I am back up before the dawn and heading back into the office for the last week of work before Labor Day. A week from tomorrow we are leaving for Bouchercon–can’t believe how quickly the summer has passed–and getting to see everyone. I am going to be kept hopping the entire time I am there at Bouchercon, and will no doubt be thoroughly exhausted when I get back a week from Sunday, but them’s the breaks, you know? I haven’t been to a Bouchercon since St. Petersburg in 2018 (I missed 2019, and the next two were virtual), so this should be fun, if exhausting. I’m also pleased with the writing I’ve been doing–not with what’s being written (which needs work) but that I am actually writing again. I’ve got to figure out what to do next with the Scotty–I know what needs to come next, just not sure how to get it done or how to do it–so I’ll probably start futzing around with it tonight when I get home, to at least get a start on it, and of course there’s a three-day weekend coming up…although I am going to try very hard not to get sucked into the US Open.

I did watch Serena WIlliams play last night, and what a joy it was to see her on form on the court again, playing like the Serena of old. I don’t think she’ll win the US Open–much as I would love that kind of Disney ending, they never seem to happen very often in tennis–and it saddens me to think this is the last hurrah of one of the greatest athletes in the history of sport. As Paul and I watched last night, we were thinking back to when she and Venus first exploded onto the scene–and how much has changed since then. Serena won her first US Open in 1999. Bill Clinton was president, Jennifer Capriati was about to make her big comeback in 2000, and Monica Seles was still playing. On the men’s side, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were still the two biggest names on that side of the draw. I hadn’t even published my first book yet when Serena hoisted her first slam trophy. As I said to Paul, “we’d only been together four years when Serena won that first US Open title.”

Time has definitely passed, has it not?

In other exciting news, the anthology Magic is Murder, edited by the dream team of Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Barb blogs about it here and provides some order links. My story is “The Snow Globe,” which I posted the opening for sometime last week and how the story came to be. I’m very excited to be in the same company as the other contributors, and of course it’s always a bit of a thrill for me to see a story of mine in print.

I did sleep really well last night. I think my body is finally adapting to going to be early and waking up before the sunrise, even if I don’t like it. Even that, I think, is a vestige of hating to being awakened by an alarm clock, in all honesty. Most mornings I wake up before the alarm; sometimes as much as an hour before (this morning I woke up the first time at four, and went back to sleep) but stay in bed until I have hit the snooze button twice. Why does my subconscious want the snooze button to be hit twice? I have no idea, but I’ve been this way as long as I’ve ever had to get up to an alarm. I suppose part of it is knowing that my clock is set fifteen minutes fast, so when it goes off that third time I know it’s a few minutes after six and it’s time for me to get up. Tonight on the way home from work I am going to swing by and pick up the mail–no other errands necessary this evening; I have all my prescriptions refilled so that’s out of the way for awhile, and I don’t think we need any groceries. I’ll probably order a few things to pick up this weekend (oooh, it’s Labor Day, I may actually go inside the store) but since we’re going to Bouchercon next week, not much point in getting a lot of stuff, you know? That will probably be my last trip until Thanksgiving, when i drive up north to see the family, and I probably am not going to do much traveling in the future. I kind of want to save my vacation time for actual vacations, you know? Paul and I have been wistfully thinking about going back to Europe–either Spain or Germany or France (any of the three would work for me, frankly)–but if I keep using my vacation time to go to conferences, that will never happen. I think the only conferences I’ll do going forward with be of course Tennessee Williams here in New Orleans and Bouchercon. I love all the conferences, really; have had a marvelous time at every one I’ve been to…but the nickel and diming of my vacation time, already limited, has proven problematic this year.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Monday Morning

And here we are on another work-at-home Monday.

It has been quite a while since I managed the kind of word count that I did yesterday. I got up at seven yesterday morning, wrote my morning blog entry and then finished writing about how my novel Sorceress came to be (I am gradually working my way through all of my books), started another entry on Lake Thirteen (still to come), and then went to work on my Scotty book. I banged out Chapter Three, and then moved on to another project I am working on for a friend; I was writing a chapter of that book per week to send on to him but it went off-track and I knew it. So, I had to go back and reread those first four chapters that are already completed to see–and the fix was so much easier than I had been fearing, with the result that rather than actually fixing the problem, I simply made notes on how to fix it for the binder where I keep the printed pages (I do this with every book the last few years or so; it’s just easier to print it out, three-hole punch it and put it in a binder where I can access it easily and make notes whenever necessary). So I wrote Chapter Five of that project, bringing today’s word count to six thousand, not counting the blog entries. Whew, did my shoulder hurt once I was done for the day, but I actually felt like I earned the rest of the day off.

So, overall it was a pretty good weekend. I am working at home today with lots of data to get entered before I can take off my spice-mining helmet and head to the easy chair to relax. Labor Day is this weekend, which means it’s also Southern Decadence in New Orleans, and I haven’t really checked the schedule to see what I am going to have to do–if anything–for the day job this weekend. Next week we’re off to Bouchercon, which I am looking forward to; it’ll be lovely, even if smaller than it usually is. It’s the first in-person one since Dallas in 2019 (I still swear sometimes that LSU had the best football season of all time in 2019 and that broke the world) and there will be people I’ll get to see that I haven’t seen since St. Petersburg in 2018. My schedule is already filling up; I had to create a day by day schedule of where I have to be and what I have to do and dates I’ve made with people already (to avoid double booking as well as to keep track); it’s going to be hectic, and I also bet I am not going to get to sleep a lot because of my hotel room insomnia issues, which makes the trip even more tiring and draining. And then I get to come back and go to work at the office all week. Yay.

I’ve done a lot of thinking this summer in those rare moments when I have some time to sit and think about things–I really don’t get to do this as often as I should; I am thinking that maybe once every three months I just need to take a three day weekend and go stay in a hotel by myself somewhere–maybe do some exploring of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, I don’t know–to take stock of my life, evaluate where I am at and where I want to go, and what do I need to do to make the things I want to happen for me actually, you know, happen. The nine-day bout of COVID, with its exhaustion, fatigue and continual brain fog, forced me to not work, to not do much of anything other than trying to just stay on top of my emails. The forced rest actually gave me time to deconstruct my life and everything I do and all of my commitments, and recognize some things about my life and what I want out of it. One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result; I’ve been doing just that for quite some time now. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities over the years with my writing career–and while I am certainly of the mindset that everything happens for a reason and grabbing on to one of those opportunities might have changed my life in ways I cannot conceive, making it entirely possible that my life could be worse than it is now–one of the primary reasons I adopted the old “no regrets about the past” mantra–but I am getting old and many of those opportunities may never present themselves again. Now, I am at the point where my energies and abilities are growing more limited, yet the demands on my time, energy and ability don’t ever seem to ease up or abate in any meaningful way. I’ve made some decisions about my life and my future going forward; I also feel like they are the right ones to make and my mind is made up. (There are few things I find more annoying than making a decision and having that decision questioned, or having people try to talk you out of it. I rarely, if ever, change my mind once it’s definitively made up.)

I need to make writing a major priority again in my life. Yesterday it felt marvelous to get up in the morning, drink some coffee, and then sit down at the computer and start writing. I don’t know if my Scotty book is coming along well or not–it could be shit; and first drafts are usually pretty awful anyway–or if the other project is working or not, but it literally was so satisfying to sit at the computer and just create for hours. When I was finished for the day, too, I felt like I’d actually accomplished something and I liked the feeling. If I write a chapter of the other project every week while still managing to get two or three chapters of Scotty done every week, the Scotty will be finished on deadline and the other will have a completed first draft in another fifteen weeks. Juggling two completely different books and two entirely different styles is going to be a challenge, but I’ve always been about challenging myself when I write. (Even if it doesn’t seem like it.) I’ve also really been enjoying revisiting my books and remembering where the ideas came from, what I was trying to do with the book and story and characters; I hope those blog entries are entertaining. But…if they aren’t, you can always skip them, Constant Reader. I won’t mind. I’m also trying to write the book entries slowly, take my time with them, not write them all in one burst in one sitting the way I do the daily “this is what I am doing” entries.

I suppose I’ve always used this blog incorrectly. I probably should use it to do giveaways of copies of my books or engage with readers more, or turn it into a writing advice blog or something like that; develop a plan for it and stick to it rather than just pantsing it every morning. But that’s how I’ve always done it, and maybe when I’ve retired and don’t have to get ready for work every morning (the blog is part of my waking up to go to work process) I can take it another direction. Ah well, that’s about four years into the future, so I can worry about it then–if I even live that long.

We also binged Bad Vegan last night, which was insane but interesting, and of course episode 2 of House of the Dragon, which was markedly better than the first episode. (I did laugh at the opening credits of Episode 2, which weren’t included in episode one…reusing the Game of Thrones theme and using the same kind of “model” assembling itself was an interesting choice.)

And on THAT cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Love Changes

And we’ve made it to Wednesday and Pay-the-Bills day. Hurray? But, as I do like to continually remind myself, at least you CAN pay the bills and still buy groceries and other things, which is a dramatic improvement over the way life used to be. I think back to the days when I worked for the airline and cannot believe the way I used to live; always broke, scrounging for change in the car to buy cigarettes (why didn’t I just quit?), never sure how I was going to get something to eat that day…sometimes not eating at all. Since this was also the period where I tried to get in shape and lose weight–not eating wasn’t as big an issue for me then as it is now. Then again, I’ve always had issues with food, body image, and body dysmorphia (which I still have, I just don’t pay as much attention to it as I used to back in the day when I cared more).

If there’s any kind of neurosis, it seems to be very welcome in my brain.

I was absolutely correct about the insomnia effects yesterday, I might add. Sure enough, all morning long I was a bit cloudy in the head and by the afternoon I was very tired; but I did get some emails answered that needed to be answered and some progress on things that needed to have progress made on them. By the time I got off work, I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to go pick up the groceries I ordered but Constant Reader, I persisted. I was fucking exhausted after I got them into the house and put away, but I did it. I also swung by and picked up the mail on the way home as well. There were a couple of things that I forgot to put on the list that I considered stopping to pick up as I headed home, but decided they could wait for another evening (tonight, in fact; I can stop by the grocery store in the CBD on my way home, which is not only convenient but easy as well). Yay for me, I think. Today I have to get through that damned to-do list if it kills me–which it might–and so I can start seeing daylight again, or at least get to the surface where I can start treading water again.

I did finish proofing the Bouchercon anthology last evening–I suppose I could start calling it what it actually is, Land of 10000 Thrills, rather than the Bouchercon anthology–and it’s quite the good collection of stories. And an interesting variety of voices, stories, and crimes, at that. I think you will all enjoy it, Constant Reader, when it comes out, and I will be sharing the preorder links and the cover design as soon as they drop into my inbox. This is my third Bouchercon anthology; I did the first New Orleans one (won an Anthony for it, as well) and the St. Petersburg one (my story in that one was nominated for an Anthony Award) and now I’ve done this third one–and I am nominated for two Anthony Awards this year (as Paul says, “two chances to be a loser!”)–and this is it, the last one. I said that after Florida Happens, of course, but I kind of don’t ever want to do any more anthologies of any kind, to be completely honest. I think I am good at putting them together, but there’s not really any money in them anymore–and especially the ones like this, that don’t pay anything at all and are simply a donation of my time and energy, both of which I no longer have in great quantities any longer. I need to save my creative strengths and energies (such as they are) for novels, short stories, and essays. I shouldn’t have agreed to do this one, frankly–something I’ve reminded myself of over and over most of this year–but here we are. To be honest, I don’t remember agreeing to do this one, but I am betting it happened on that horrible drunken afternoon at St. Petersburg Bouchercon when bad influences got me to drink that Low ‘n’ Slow stuff.

Yes, that’s probably when it happened.

I did not, in fact, get trained on the monkeypox vaccine yesterday after all. Our program’s nurse had an emergency and couldn’t make it in, so we had to reschedule it. I’m right now blanking on when that was moved to, but I’ll certainly find out tomorrow morning when I get to the office (I only bring the laptop home on the weekends, because Monday is my work-at-home day). I also slept really well last night–my sinuses kicked in at some point overnight, so I’m a bit phlegmy this morning (ugh) but I am also fairly certain a Claritin will do the trick on that. I have one more thing to get done today before I am finally free and clear to work specifically on Mississippi River Mischief, and I hope to get that story edited today. I also read some more of Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man, which I am enjoying–the book certainly gets off to a big start–and we watched some episodes o Control Z last night–we’re on Season Three, but don’t really remember much of the plot or the story from previous seasons, although they are doing something rather interesting with a queer storyline that I’m not very certain how I feel about. But it makes me think, which is always a good thing–good art, whether it’s a book, film or TV show, should always make the viewer/reader think a little bit; that’s what art is supposed to do, challenge and inspire.

I also picked up copies of new releases yesterday: Donna Andrews’ Round Up The Usual Peacocks, Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home, and Amina Akhtar’s Kismet. Definitely some good reading in my future; I’ll probably move the Iglesias up the TBR Pile to next position after I finish the Ippolito.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines. You have a lovely day now, you hear? And I will check in with you again tomorrow. Happy Wednesday to all!

Knock Three Times

Tuesday morning and only two in-the-office days this week, as I am heading off to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime on Thursday. I have never been before, and none of my usual convention crew buddies will be there–which means I’ll probably spend a lot of time in my room, reading. It’s my first mystery convention of any size since Bouchercon in St. Petersburg all those years ago–but I did go to Crime Bake back in November up in Boston (Dedham, to be precise). I slept really well last night–two nights in a row, huzzah!–and so am thinking I might be able to face the day after all. I got all my data entered yesterday, ran the errands I needed to run, and got the annual, tedious chore of my pulling together all of my taxes and getting it to the accountant finished. Huzzah!

We started watching Slow Horses on Apple TV as well last night; very well cast, very interesting premise, and are definitely intrigued enough to keep watching. Alas, only two episodes had dropped thus far, so after the second episode we were stuck, and then remembered we’d never finished watching the most recent (third?) season of Servant, so we watched a few of those before retiring for the evening to bed. It’s a weird show–very well acted, very creepy–and Lauren Ambrose is brilliant in the female lead. It’s hard to explain what it’s about–M. Night Shyamalan is producer/director/writer (one of those or maybe all; I am not sure) and that seems to be about par for the course for most of Mr. Shyamalan’s work, doesn’t it? I do recommend it, if for no other reason than seeing how perfectly cast Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) is as Lauren Ambrose’s alcohol swigging, drug snorting/smoking brother.

I’ve also not written anything in a while; hopefully going to Left Coast will get me off my lazy writer’s ass and going on this story I need to get written. I just went over edits on another story–a reprint–and I also proofed another story I have in another anthology yesterday. In other interesting news, I also had a brief conversation with an acquiring editor who is interested in Chlorine–despite it not being written yet, which is always lovely when someone is interested in something just from reading arbitrary and oblique commentary about it that I’ve written here. I also told him about two other future projects I have in mind, which was also nice. I love talking about my projects and ideas. I’ve just been so unmotivated lately–I still think I am a little bit burned out from the rush to get the last manuscript finished, timed as it was with the release of #shedeservedit and the closing of submissions for the Bouchercon anthology, and the turnover/onboarding of the new board for Mystery Writers of America…yeah, it’s really not a surprise that I am a bit on the burned out side. It happens, you know?

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

When I Call Your Name

One of the great pleasures I have in life is reading; I’ve always loved to read, always been able to escape whatever ailed me at the time–loneliness, depression, heartbreak, self-loathing–by escaping into the pages of a book; imagining myself to be a part of the story, getting lost in the words and the sentences and paragraphs of an engaging author; finding sanctuary from a far too frequently cold and cruel world. I’ve always found my solace in books–whether it was Hercule Poirot using his little gray cells to outwit a killer or Perry Mason casting a spell in a courtroom or a Gothic heroine fearing she was married to someone who wanted to kill her in a palatial mansion or castle somewhere–books were my safe place. It’s why I’ve always treasured them, why I hoard them, why I am reluctant to part with them once I’ve experienced the world contained between its covers.

I’ve heard great things about Carol Goodman and her novels over the years; I had the great pleasure of meeting her in person at the HarperCollins party at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg when I was a little the worse for wine but she was gracious and friendly and kind to me. She had recently won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for The Widow’s House, and more recently a friend (whose taste is impeccable and I trust implicitly) told me that Goodman was a modern-day Daphne du Maurier.

And for me, there is no higher praise.

So last weekend, when another friend had sent me the ARC for Goodman’s latest, The Sea of Lost Girls, I decided it would be the first of hers that I would read. Last Saturday as I sat in my easy chair, shifting around the stack of books on the end table I picked it up, thinking first ugh another “girl” title and flipped it open to the first page, just to get a taste.

The next thing I knew I was one hundred pages in and reluctantly had to put it aside to do something else. I carried it with me all week, waiting for an opportunity to delve into it again, but such a moment never happened…until this morning, as I tore through the book with my morning coffee.

And may I just say, wow?

Scan

The phone wakes me as if it were sounding an alarm inside my chest. What now, it rings, what now what now what now.

I know it’s Rudy. The phone is set to ring for only two people–Harmon and Rudy (at least I made the short list, Harmon had once joked)–and Harmon is next to me in bed. Besides, what has Harmon ever brought me but comfort and safety? But Rudy…

The phone has stopped ringing by the time I grab it but there is a text on the screen.

Mom?

I’m here, I text back. My thumb hovers over the keypad. If he were here maybe I could slip in baby, like I used to call him when he woke up from nightmares, but you can’t text that to your seventeen-year-old son. What’s up? I thumb instead. Casual. As if it isn’t–I check the number on the top of the screen–2:50 in the freaking morning.

I defy anyone to stop reading after those opening paragraphs.

The Sea of Lost Girls isn’t another one of those “girl” books that have become so prevalent since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl became a viral sensation; the only commonality is the use of the word “girl” in the title, but Goodman’s tale is as dark and rich and layered and complex as Flynn’s. It’s also incredibly literate, but one supposes that is to be expected, given the setting is an elite boarding school on the Maine coast near Portland (the Maine coast has always held a fascination for me, thanks to Dark Shadows). The main character, a teacher married to another teacher, is a big fan of The Scarlet Letter; her troubled teenaged son is currently playing the lead in a school production of The Crucible. Both of those works have a lot of bearing and similarities to the plot of this incredible novel, but saying any more than that would be a spoiler.

The book’s set-up is that Tess’ troubled son has finally found a girlfriend–an intelligent student who is directing The Crucible–and on this night in question Tess goes to pick up her son at their “safe place”, which has to do with a rock causeway leading out to Maiden Island; legend holds that the stones are Indian maidens who drowned and were turned into rocks. Her son is soaking wet and his sweatshirt has blood on the sleeve; a nervous Tess takes him home, launders the shirt and gives her son her husband’s sweatshirt–exactly the same, drying on a radiator–to wear instead. That simple act has enormous ramifications, particularly when Rudy’s girlfriend Lila’s body is found near the rocks on the causeway.

Does Tess cover for her son? She does…but her husband, because he wore the sweatshirt jogging, now becomes a prime suspect. Husband or son?

If that was the lynchpin of the story it would be another adequate, enjoyable thriller; but there is so much more to the story of what happened to Lila–as well as the secrets Tess has kept hidden about her own past. The school used to be a Home for Wayward Girls, and the school’s own dark history, which Tess is also a part of,  has an important part to play in this riveting story of a wife and mother torn between the husband and son she loves, both suspects in a murder–which maybe her own secrets have something to do with as well.

This exploration of motherhood rates up there, in my opinion, with Laura Lippman’s And When She Was Good and Hush Hush and James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce as a classic.

And, as always when I read something extraordinary, it inspired me and gave me ideas for my own work.

It also made me want to reread both The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter.

It is being released this month. Get it now. You won’t be sorry.

Take This Job and Shove It

My very first job was at a McDonalds.

I was sixteen, a senior in high school, and I actually wanted to work; make my own money to buy things for myself. I was a very good employee; I wasn’t to begin with, but an honest conversation with an encouraging manager turned me into one. I knew how to do everything by the time I quit; I could open or close; work the grill, a cash register, or the drive through; I could clean grills and take apart the ice cream and shake machines and put them back together again; I knew how to slake french fries and how to package hamburgers; how to dress them and toast the buns; how to clean the floors and drain the grease vats; to tube tartar and special sauce. I knew how to make pancakes and scrambled eggs; Egg McMuffins and sausage patties. My uniform was brown polyester and a paper hat. I could take your order, tray it, ring you up and give you your correct change within ninety seconds. Thank you and come again with a smile to every person I worked with; you were given orders with a please and you acknowledged with a thank you. We weren’t allowed to stand around–if I heard if there’s time to lean then there’s time to clean once, I heard it so many times it felt like I heard it in my sleep. I was paid $2.25 an hour; minimum wage increased after a year and I also got a nickel raise per hour, bringing me up to a whopping $2.60 per hour.

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the course of my life, and no matter how crappy a job it was, I always tried to make the best out of it and do the best I could at it. I usually would get bored once I’d mastered an aspect of my job; I needed to learn new tasks and do different things in order for me to not eventually quit–or get so bored on the job I’d make a heinous and stupid mistake that got me fired. I always took getting fired as a sign that yeah, I should have moved on already, thanks for the kick in the pants. All I ever really wanted to do was write–and for so much of my life I was convinced that it was just a pipe dream that would never ever come true, for so many varied and different and just plain sad reasons, with the end result that I was always trying to find a career, something that could hold my interest, and to no avail, with the end result that I was completely miserable.

Every once in a while, whenever I get frustrated or angry with the publishing business–whether it’s a late payment, or another rejection, or another publisher that isn’t paying their authors, or systemic oppression of some kind or another–and I start to think fuck this business, it’s brutal and it sucks and why on earth do I keep doing this to myself…I do something to remind me how grateful I am for this career, this crazy, infuriating, never really quite what I want it to be career: I like to  think about the path that it took to get here, some of the jobs I’ve had;  all the missed opportunities and how easy it was to get discouraged and for self-doubt to insinuate itself into my consciousness and get me to give up again for a period of time…

But I always somehow came back to the wanting to write.

This was a good year for me, although I don’t seem to remember ever thinking that over the course of the year as it passed. I published the eighth Scotty Bradley novel this past October, Royal Street Reveillon, and I am, for once, actually rather pleased with a book that I’ve published (which is a step in the right direction, right?). I also published a collection of short crime fiction stories; some originals, others previously published: Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Two of the stories were nominated for awards; the eponymous title story was a Macavity finalist and “Cold Beer No Flies” (originally published in Florida Happens, the St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology) was an Anthony Award finalist. Pretty cool, right? There was also that Anthony nomination, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to have lost to Shawn Cosby. My story “This Town” was included in Holly West’s Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, a cause near-and-dear to me. The story is one of my personal favorites of my own, and got some really nice feedback from people. I also got my story “Moist Money” in the Dark Yonder anthology, which is also a fundraiser for a food bank.

I managed to write several drafts of a new novel manuscript, but it remains incomplete at this time; I also have two other novels in some sort of progress just sitting around waiting for me to get them done. I do not see this as a failure (I used to do just that; something unfinished? You failed) but as symptomatic of me taking my time and trying to do better work. I felt like I was getting stale, and so I decided to take some time away from writing as well as try to rejigger the way I work on fiction. And if it means that it takes longer to write a book I’m completely satisfied with, so be it.

I also came up with a great idea for a new noir novel, set in the ambiguous early 1950’s–Chlorine–and even took a few hours to bang out a first chapter. Likewise, I also came up with ideas for another Scotty book and another Chanse book, as well as a stand alone crime novel built around Venus Casanova, at least in conception; I may not be able to  use the “world of New Orleans” I’ve built in my two series and several short stories, which are all kind of interconnected. I wrote several short stories this year, but still have any number of unfinished ones and others than need additional drafts. I started planning out another short story collection, and an essay collection.

So, in retrospect, it was kind of a good year for me as a writer. I also made several recommendation lists, for people to check out my work–both as a gay writer and as a New Orleans writer. I still have some things on my bucket list to check off, like getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and an MWA anthology, doing a Noir at the Bar, among many other things.

So, while I may have spent most of the year feeling miserable about my writing career, a look back shows just how negative I actually was being–which is something I really need to work on. I’m trying to not be so self-deprecating as I have been my entire life, belittling my own accomplishments, because it’s kind of self-defeating. Sure I could have probably written more, and done more, and gotten further along in my career–but everything happens the way it does for a reason, and I have to believe always works out in the best way possible for me–I have to believe that because it has proven true, over and over and over again.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. LSU plays Oklahoma this afternoon in the play-offs, and while obviously I want LSU to keep winning and keep this magical season going….the disappointment won’t be too great if they do lose; because we do have this magical season to look back on.

Have a lovely last Saturday of 2020, Constant Reader.

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Slow Ride

Well, I finally finished that fucking Chapter Fourteen, and yes, it’s rough, but it’s not nearly as bad as I feared it would turn out, nor as it was heading last week when I tried to work on it. Today I figured out a way to plough through it, and now I have to figure out how the fuck I am going to get another eleven chapters out of this story–but truth be told, the elements of the plot are pretty much all in place now and now it’s a matter of playing them out. I also recognized that there’s not an emotional stability at the core of the story–there is, I just haven’t been putting it in, so that’s the next thing I need to do in the next draft, or as this one progresses along I can start putting it in.

I keep saying to myself that someday this will get easier, but thirty-odd books later and here I still am, plodding through a manuscript and ready to throw in the goddamned towel.

Sunday morning and I’m on my second cup of coffee. My kitchen is a mess, and I have to figure out how to use a new app on my computer because I’m being interviewed by Eric Beetner and S. W. Lauden for their Writer Types podcast, which is very cool. I was briefly on it when they were interviewing people in the bar at St. Petersburg Bouchercon, but that was also the now notorious Low ‘n’ Slow afternoon, so I only vaguely remember it and still to this day have no idea what I actually said to them. Not good, really, when it’s going to be broadcast. I think I listened to it, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly; but I’ve been told any number of times that people can’t tell when I’m wasted.

I’ve always thought they were being kind to lessen my own embarrassment. Maybe they were, who knows?

My relationship with alcohol has always been a tricky one. I only had liquor once before I graduated from high school and I got very drunk at a friend’s birthday party my junior year. I didn’t drink again until the night I graduated, and after I recovered from that horrible hangover I pretty much was drunk every night until we moved to California, where the drinking age was 21 and I was still only nineteen. California was also a lot stricter about checking ID’s than Kansas had ever been, so I was totally sober for two years before I came of legal age to drink again….and then was drunk every night for the next six or seven years again, followed by another few years of utter sobriety, and then when I started going out to gay bars, I still remained sober most of the time, drinking only water and finally, gradually, progressing back to beer again. I don’t drink much anymore–there were many years of New Orleans life where Paul and I went out every weekend night, including Sunday Tea Dance–but since I hung up my dancing shoes, I don’t really drink hardly at all anymore. I’ll have a drink or two when I’m out for dinner, or at a party, or during a conference–I am usually wasted every night at Bouchercon–but once the conference is over, I come back home to sobriety. We generally don’t drink at home–I still have a bottle of wine I bought on the notorious Target expedition with Wendy Corsi Staub in St. Petersburg–and we still have bottles of vodka and gin and tequila left over from the Iris parties of old; and we haven’t had an Iris party in about five years or so.

Although I am sure this October in Dallas there will be drunken, sloppy tales of Gregalicious to tell.

I’m probably going to try to get some writing done after the interview, and some cleaning, and I’d like to read more of Black Diamond Fall. I’m not reading as quickly as I used to, and I am sure it has something to do with social media and they need to constantly be checking it–which is a need that absolutely positively has to be reined in because it’s such a waste of time.

And that sounds like the perfect segue back into the spice mines this morning. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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I’ll Be Good To You

Well, wasn’t yesterday an amazing day for one Gregalicious? Not only was it payday, but I stopped and got the mail on my way to the office (there was a check!), and then right around the time I got to the office my phone (which was in my pocket) made the sound of breaking glass, indicating I’d gotten a notification from Facebook; I pulled it out of my pocket on my way up the stairs and lo! The Anthony Award short-lists had been announced, and I’d been tagged in the post. This usually means one thing and one thing only–a nomination–but I thought, no, that can’t be. But sure enough I clicked on the notification, scrolled down the list, and there I was, nominated for Best Short Story for “Cold Beer No Flies” from Florida Happens…along with four other amazing writers–Art Taylor, S. A. Crosby, Barb Goffman, and Holly West!

Wow.

It’s really lovely to be nominated for awards, and I know I’m luckier than so many others–who can go their entire careers without ever getting any award recognition. This is my second time up for an Anthony (I won, in Toronto, for Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou), and came as an incredibly pleasant surprise; the decision to not have a Best Anthology Anthony for Dallas Bouchercon was, I thought, the death knell of any shot I might ever have at possibly getting another Anthony nomination. I certainly never dreamed I’d somehow make the short-list for Best Short Story for my contribution to Florida Happens, “Cold Beer No Flies,” a story that’s been hanging out in my files in various different forms since the late 1980’s. But I am also pleased that it’s a story about a young gay man trapped in a small, conservative Florida panhandle town who has big dreams to get out of there–and isn’t afraid to break the law in order to make those dreams come true. This is also my second time nominated for a Short Story award from the mainstream mystery community–the first was the Macavity in Toronto, and the nod was for “Survivor’s Guilt” from Blood on the Bayou–and I also can’t even begin to tell you how thrilling it is to be nominated for a short story in the mainstream; but “Cold Beer No Flies” is, as I said before, a story with gay character/themes…and it might be the first time such a story has been nominated. (John Copenhaver is also nominated for Best First Novel, for Dodging and Burning–still in the TBR pile–and he’s also an openly gay writer of a book with gay characters and themes; I think it’s possible the two of us may have made history with our nominations as the first time this has happened; I could be wrong.)

This is especially thrilling when I take into consideration the fact that my writing self-esteem (never high in any discipline) is particularly low when it comes to short stories, as Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware. I love them, and I love the challenge of writing them, but…I’ve never had much luck with selling or placing them in places, but sometimes I do catch lightning in a bottle and the story works.

I spent most of yesterday trying to keep up with the congratulatory posts, comments, tweets and emails yesterday but failing miserably; I woke up this morning to a lot more of them and I suspect a lot of my free time today will be spent making sure I thank everyone.

Which is, frankly, kind of a lovely problem to have, amirite? I mean, I’d certainly rather spend a day basking in the glow of warm congratulatory messages/posts/tweets/comments than pretty much anything else, to be honest. Who woudn’t?

And to be on a short-list with talented writers like Art, Barb, Holly, and Shawn? Very very cool, quite frankly, and just the kind of flattering ego-stroke I needed at this moment as I struggle with the WIP (which I didn’t touch yesterday, for obvious reasons) but I am hoping to get back to today because things will, I am sure, be settling down somewhat. What’s interesting is that Holly is also nominated for her Florida Happens story; Barb also has a story in Florida Happens but is nominated for another work; and Art was the person who got me involved in working on Bouchercon anthologies in the first place. I met Shawn briefly in St. Petersburg at this last Bouchercon, and I am certain at some point in the future we’ll have a professional connection of some sort like these others–I certainly hope that’s the case, at any rate.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone, and thank you!

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Vacation

Vacation was the name of the Go-Go’s second album, and also the first single from the record. The video was instantly iconic; even despite the really bad attempt to convince the viewer that the Go-Go’s were actually doing the water-skiing as the chorus played. But the cheesiness of the blue screen effect actually helped make the video even more fun; and the song was definitely impossible to not sing along to, or dance to, whenever the deejay played it. I always cranked it when it came on the radio.

Vacation was my least favorite of the three original albums, though; outside of the title song, I don’t even remember any of the other songs from the album without having to look them up. My tastes were also kind of evolving at the time; MTV was changing the music industry and exposing Americans to new kinds of music.  The Go-Go’s went on hiatus after this record, due to Gina Schock’s heart condition and a health issue for Charlotte Caffey…and I thought they were kind of done…until they came roaring back with Talk Show a few years later.

Anyway, the next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is S. W. Lauden’s take on “Vacation.”

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The alarm is wailing again, just like every other morning. I was already awake when it started, flipping through this notebook to remember what I wrote last night. I must have been exhausted because I only filled three pages. My handwriting looks like the work of a lunatic toddler, so messy in some places that I can’t figure out what it says. Safe to say the pills they force down my throat are screwing with me. But I have to admit the voices are quieter—not gone, but not screaming, either. Not like that goddamned alarm. That beep-beep-beeping makes me want to murder somebody.

My roomie just hit the snooze button, delaying the inevitable. It’s amazing how some people can go right back to sleep, even when they know the attendants are coming to herd us off. I don’t think we’ve said more than a few words to each other since I came in, which is fine. Nobody talks to me much in this place, not unless it’s their job. I’d be surprised if half the bullshit I spew to my doctor is true.

These pages are the only place where I can be totally honest because I’m the only one who knows they exist for now. Those fuckers wish they could bore their way into my private thoughts, but I’m too smart for them. The words I write in here are for our eyes only. I can’t wait to share them with you, but that has to wait until I earn my mail privileges back.

Speaking of the fuckers, here they are now. Time to hide you away until after lunch. Right now, I have to go see a specialist they brought in just for me. Should I feel special? I already met with him yesterday, one of the worst hours of my life. My regular doctor was there too, but she didn’t say a word to me after “hello.” Just leaned over to whisper in the specialist’s ear every once in a while. He’s an asshole, but it’s nice to have somebody else I can lie to for a change.

I don’t know if I’ve ever met S. W. Lauden in person; it’s entirely possible, given how many drunken nights at Bouchercons I’ve experienced over the last six years. I have a sinking suspicion I may have met him on the now notorious Low-and-Slow Saturday in St. Petersburg, but I cannot be held responsible for any gaps in my memory that occurred that day.

But this story is terrific; it subverts itself over and over again, and while the trope of the unreliable narrator might be getting a bit overdone in crime fiction, the way Lauden toys with the trope to keep his readers on the edge of their seat, reading on and on with an eyebrow raised as they try to grasp what is real and what isn’t, is quite masterful.

Adding Lauden to my must-read-more list!