Can’t Fight This Feeling

Parades tonight–three to be exact. I have to walk to the office today; and then I get to walk home tonight after work. Ah, Carnival, how you mess with my life. It’s also supposed to rain throughout the day; huzzah! Can’t wait.

There’s actually a lot of rain forecast over this final weekend of Carnival, and the police chief has already said they cannot accommodate rescheduled parades; so it’s roll or cancel. That’s actually kind of a relief, to be honest; I’ll never forget that year Endymion was rescheduled to follow Bacchus on Sunday night. It was absolutely insane in the ‘hood; I don’t think Endymion finished passing until three in the morning. There was another year when all the Thursday parades were moved to Friday; again, they were still going past in the wee hours of the morning. I mean, sure it sucks for the krewes and the riders to have to cancel; but rescheduling totally sucks when you live inside the parade route.

Needless to say, as I continue to work on Sunny Places Shady People the Short Story Project has kind of taken a few days off; I’ll probably get back to it at some point over the weekend. I also got back to work on the new Scotty this evening; Chapter Three is getting there. I only managed to write about six hundred words today, but I’ve not written since last Thursday so I am taking six hundred words as a win. Hopefully I’ll get more this week.

I didn’t want to get up this morning, and the weather is actually looking relatively pleasant out there–no sign of the rain yet–and I decided not to go to the gym this morning; more out of a sense of not being rushed and stressed. I don’t have to be at the office tomorrow until around one, which gives me the morning to work out, get some things done around here, and plenty of time to walk to the office and be on time. I also don’t have to be there until later on Friday as well–condom outreach–so I am going to commit the cardinal sin of lifting weights two days in a row. Oh, dear! But it’ll be fine, and I am glad I am getting into a regular routine, which means that even if I have to miss it’s not out of laziness but rather practicality, and I plan to replace that day’s workout. And we all know how much I love planning.

Yay!

All right, I’d best be getting back to the spice mines. Here’s a shirtless hunk to tempt the fascists at Facebook to ban me yet again.

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Easy Lover

And lo and behold, my Facebook banning has now ended. Will I go back to wasting a ton of time on there? I am not sure; right now I am feeling doubtful. Although I have to say…I’ve spent a lot of time on there since the ban ended, trying to get caught on everything I’ve been behind on in the meantime. Heavy sigh. And I have so much to do today!

But I will get it all done, you just watch and see! I am feeling confident! I can do anything!

LOL. The deadline for the Bouchercon anthology, Sunny Places Shady People, has ended, and I am doing all the editorial work–logging stories, trying to stay organized, and I have to create a tracking spreadsheet so I know where every story is in the process of reading and being judged by the blind readers–and hopefully by next Monday I’ll have some stories in place to be contracted. Exciting, no? I am pretty jazzed about it. We got well over two hundred stories this time–a lot more than we had for New Orleans–and we also have a tighter turnaround then we did for New Orleans, so I’ll be working my ass off this month–and it’s Carnival. YIKES!

I also agreed to write another book–which I’ll talk more about when I am back on top of things again; which I am hoping to be sometime this week. We’ll see, though; it’s been a crazy month and a crazy weekend.

As I said, I did have the best time in Alabama this past weekend.

And before I head back to the spice mines, I’m going to leave you with one of the more fun pictures from the weekend:

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Take on Me

Well, that was a week. Here it is Friday morning and I haven’t posted in days. I started writing a post the other day about a short story I’d read, but there’s a lot to digest and think about in regard to that story, so it’s not an entry I can just dash off the top of my head while I am waking up over coffee, the way I usually do. (I have several of those posts in the draft file.) This week also signaled the deadline for submissions for this year’s Bouchercon anthology, Sunny Places Shady People, so I was downloading stories, sending acknowledgements of receipt, and then logging them all into the submissions spreadsheet. The deadline was yesterday, so I am pleased to report that’s all done and caught up. Now comes the tricky part, though, and I only have a month to corral the initial readers, assign stories, track their scores and then sent out rejections and acceptances, corral the contracts and bios, and pick the story order. At least Mardi Gras will be over week after next.

Anticipating having to work on the anthology so extensively this month, I was trying to get as much done on everything else as I could before this weekend–later this morning I am off to Alabama–and I am pleased to report that I am now partway through Chapter Three of the new Scotty, and also on Chapter Three of the WIP. The Scotty book actually feels like a Scotty book in this iteration, which was an enormous relief; I was worried I might have been done with him and not by choice.

I also revised two short stories this week of my own, which wasn’t as easy as I would have liked. One of them needs to go through another revision/rewrite, I think; the other is finally done. Huzzah! I have two more that I also need to revise/rewrite, but there’s no rush on those as there’s no particular anthology or deadline for them to be submitted; those are going out into slush piles. I also got a submissions call for another anthology I want to try for; I actually have multiple first drafts of short stories that would fit that anthology, so it’s a matter of picking one and going from there.

So, Gregalicious has turned back into a writing/editing machine, and it kind of feels good you know? It’s been a while since I’ve been motivated and working this hard. Is there a connection between that and also getting back into the gym regularly? Perhaps, but I’m not looking either gift horse in the mouth, you know?

And now, I need to clear out my email inbox before I go the gym and then hit the road.

Happy weekend, Constant Reader!

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Pink Houses

Another cold morning in New Orleans. The Saints are up in Minneapolis playing the Vikings today, with the winner going to the NFC championship game to play Philadelphia in Philadelphia, so I shouldn’t complain about how cold it is here! I am hoping to finish cleaning the kitchen this morning so I have to time to go lift weights for the first time since AUGUST before the game. And stretch, and do some cardio. I am taking this get back in shape goal for this year seriously, Constant Reader.

I also didn’t read a short story yesterday, but I started reading one of the Kinsey Millhone stories in Kinsey and Me, and it’s quite good; I look forward to finishing it today during the game, and reading another to get back on track. But I am doing much better this year on the Short Story Project than I ever have in past years, and I have so many short story collections and anthologies to choose from; which is part of the reason I decided to make 2018 the year of the short story. I was also inspired yesterday to start writing two short stories–“Sorry Wrong Email” (which is going to take a lot of work to get right) and “Neighborhood Warning”, which I think can be really really good. I also want to work on finishing the final draft of another short story today, and this week I need to start reading the submissions for Sunny Places Shady People. With no offense to my Blood on the Bayou contributors, I think this one might be even better, I also need to finish an interview for my Sisters newsletter column (basically, writing the introduction and putting the questions in the proper order for flow) and I also need to work on my two manuscripts, and of course the Scotty Bible languishes. Heavy heaving sigh, the work of a Gregalicious is never done. I also want to read a novel; another goal for the year is getting the TBR pile down to a workable size. Tomorrow I am going to Target, and probably going to make it Leg Day at the gym in the afternoon (I have a long work day on Tuesday, so I can’t do an every other day; the nice thing about Leg Day is no cardio; just stretch, do legs, and some abs).

I watched the 1970 film Airport yesterday, based on the Arthur Hailey novel, it was one of the year’s biggest hits and was nominated for lots of Academy Awards, and even got great reviews. It was also the movie that kicked off the ‘disaster movie’ trend of the 1970’s, and spawned several sequels. The opening sequence of the movie was pretty interesting, as they showed all the ticket counters for the various airlines at “Lincoln International” in Chicago; obviously a stand-in for O’Hare. What made it interesting was how none of the airlines whose counters were shown, or were mentioned in the PA announcements over the opening credits (Continental Airlines Flight 220 is now boarding) exist anymore: Northwest, Eastern, TWA, Continental, Braniff, Pan Am. It’s hard to imagine today, with our limited choices, but just twenty years ago they were a lot of options.

The movie had, as all these types of films usually did, what was called an ‘all-star cast’; Oscar winners Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Van Heflin, and Helen Hayes (who would win a second Oscar for her role); as well as other bankable stars as Dean Martin and Jean Seberg; newcomer Jacqueline Bisset, stunningly beautiful who would hit major stardom later in the decade in The Deep; stage actress Maureen Stapleton in one of her first roles and who would later win an Oscar of her own; and assorted others (Gary Collins, for example) in small parts early in their career. The premise of the film is simple: a major airport is in the throes of a several day long snowstorm; it was inspired by the blizzard of the winter of 1966 (which I remember), and how the airport operates in such a crisis, and the personal stories of the airport employees intercrossed with those of several people who pass through the airport. Burt Lancaster plays Mel Bakersfeld, general manager of the airport, who is married to his job and ignores his wife and family as a result. His marriage to Cindy (Dana Wynter) is in shambles, and he’s strongly attracted to the widowed Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) who is some sort of manager for Trans Global Airlines (her job is never really defined in the movie; it certainly was in the book–Hailey was nothing if not thorough). They of course don’t act on their attraction, but it’s there–and she is considering a transfer to San Francisco and  ‘fresh start’ since they have no future. He fights with his wife several times on the phone, mostly to show how unreasonable she is–obviously his job should come before his wife and family! Dean Martin plays asshole pilot Vernon Demerest, who also happens to be Mel’s brother-in-law, married to Mel’s sister (played by Barbara Hale, best known for playing Della Street on the original Perry Mason series). He’s a great pilot, but a dick–and he and Mel disagree frequently about airport operations, etc. He’s also having an affair–the latest of many–with co-worker Gwen Meighan (Jacqueline Bisset), who tells him before they work their flight to Rome that she’s pregnant–including the icy line “You can stop twisting your wedding ring, I know you’re married”–which in turn doesn’t really either of them sympathetic. The head of Customs and Immigration’s niece is also going to be on the Rome flight…as it soon becomes apparent that this particular flight is going to be the film’s focus and everyone’s paths are going to cross in some way regarding Trans Global Flight 22, The Golden Argosy. Helen Hayes plays Ada Quonsett, an older woman who stows away on flights to try to visit her daughter and grandchildren in New York, caught and being sent back to Los Angeles, but she manages to evade her watcher and sneak aboard Flight 22. Also on the flight is D. O. Guerrero, a bankrupt failure with mental problems and lots of debts who also happens to be a demolitions expert, and his briefcase, which contains a bomb. He wants to blow up the plane so his wife (coffee shop waitress Inez, played by Maureen Stapleton) will collect on his flight insurance. (He’s played by Van Heflin.) This is before security, metal detectors, etc., and the rash of hijackings in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s started the change to tighter airport security (so many New York to Florida flights were hijacked and redirected to Havana that it became a joke in the zeitgeist; “my flight was hijacked to Cuba.'” Of course, after the flight takes off it becomes apparent to those on the ground that he must have a bomb; the flight crew tries to get it from him with the end result he sets it off in the bathroom, blowing a hole in the side of the plane and causing explosive decompression. Gwen was trying to get into the bathroom to him when the bomb goes off and experiences severe injuries. The damaged plane has to return to Chicago as all other airports are closed; and of course, the issue of the big runway being blocked by a plane stuck in the snow that opens the movie now becomes crucial; the plane must be moved because the damaged aircraft needs as much room as possible to land, since its rudder, and steering are damaged which means the brakes might be as well.

Complicated, right? Of course the plane gets moved, and the flight lands safely. Mel’s wife admits she is having an affair and wants a divorce, and it looks like asshole Vern might do the right thing with Gwen after all. At least if Mel and Tanya get involved, they’ll be together at the airport all the time, although as they prepare to drive off together at the end, there’s another crisis…but this time Mel says “let him handle it” which means…what, exactly? He’s not going to be a workaholic anymore?

The acting in the movie isn’t good, but then again they aren’t really given a lot to work with. Hailey’s books probably don’t hold up, but they were huge bestsellers in their day–I read them all. He always focused on an industry or business–medicine, hotels, airports, hospitals, banks, power companies–did a lot of research, and then wrote enormous, sprawling books that not only showed how the businesses worked but told melodramatic stories about the people who worked there or were involved somehow. His novel Hotel was also filmed, and then turned into a Love Boat like weekly television series in the 1980’s; in the book and movie the St. Gregory Hotel was in New Orleans (based on the Monteleone, actually), in the TV show it was moved to San Francisco. The book, written in the 1960’s, also dealt with racial issues; I should really reread both it and Airport. The Moneychangers, which was about banking, I read when I worked for Bank of America, and I was amazed at how spot-on he got working in a bank. I should reread Airport to see how different airports were in the 1960’s than they were in the 1990’s, when I worked for Continental. But his male leads, who usually ran the business, were Ayn Rand-ian style supermen: married to their jobs, good at them, and devoted to the point there was no room in their lives for a personal life, which also kind of made them unlikable.

But back to the film–as corny and badly acted as it was, despite the terrible dialogue, they did a really great job of building up the suspense about the bomb as well as would the plane be able to land safely; and since that was the most important part of the film, it worked on that level. It was also hard to not laugh a bit from time to time, having seen the spoof Airplane! so many times I can speak the dialogue along with the movie when watching; it’s weird seeing this stuff not being played for laughs  (although Airplane! was primarily based on Zero Hour! with elements from Airplane 1975. In an interesting aside, Arthur Hailey did the novelization of Zero Hour!, which was called Runway Zero-Eight). It was also interesting seeing how much things have changed since this film was made: divorce isn’t the societal horror it was back then; people don’t stay in bad marriages “for the sake of the children” anymore; abortion wasn’t legal in the US when the film was made so Gwen’s abortion would have to be in Sweden, if she chose to have one; and of course, all the changes in airport security. The plane itself was a Boeing 707; which aren’t used anymore. Stowaways can’t really get onto planes anymore, either.

Plus, back in the day the concept that airline crews were boozing and sexing it up all the time, and that flight attendants (then stewardesses) were good time girls fucking every pilot they could lure into their clutches was such a stereotype–one the airlines actually bought into because they had age, size and looks standards for the women, and ran print and television ads playing up the sexiness of their stewardesses–that it took years for that to be changed…and it still exists to a certain extent.

It was certainly not something I learned from the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids! I’ve always wanted to write a crime series about a flight attendant–kind of an update of Vicki Barr but not for kids–but can never really figure out how to make it work. Maybe someday.

Back to the spice mines! The kitchen ain’t going to clean itself!

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Let the Music Play

I had already decided to make January a theme month on the blog, and to once again make it Short Story Month, with the goal to read a short story every day. As such, I was looking around the shelves of the Lost Apartment for anthologies and single-author collections, and it occurred to me that I have a book at the office that would be absolutely pitch-perfect for this: The Best American Noir of the 20th Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. It’s a gorgeous volume; absolutely beautiful, and it’s also signed by Otto. I must have picked it up one year at the MWA Board event at the Mysterious Bookshop. But it literally is a time capsule of great noir stories, going back to 1923, and what better education in not only short stories, but noir, than to read this marvelous collection, one story at a time, day by day?

I’ve also ordered Lawrence Block’s latest anthology of crime stories inspired by pictures, Alive in Shape and Color.  I may have to extend Short Story Month to Short Story Quarter, and read a story a day until April. Which really isn’t a bad idea, frankly. This is also the period where I’ll be putting together Sunny Places Shady People, the St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology, so reading short stories should be a priority, don’t you think?

I certainly do.

I also finished reading Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire last night–Paul was at a play.

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 State Highway 59 becomes Plantation Road two miles after the exit for Barrens. The old wooden sign is easy to miss, even among the colorless surroundings. For years now, on road trips from Chicago to New York, I’ve been able to pass on by without any anxiety. Hold my breath, count to five. Exhale. Leave Barrens safely behind, no old shadows running out of the dark woods to strangle me.

That’s a game I used to play as a kid. Whenever I would get scared or have to go down to the old backyard shed in the dark, as long as I held my breath, no monsters or ax murderers or deformed figures from horror movies would be able to get me. I would hold my breath and run full speed until my lungs were bursting and I was safe in the house with the door closed behind me. I even taught Kaycee this game back when we were kids, before we started hating each other.

It’s embarrassing, but I still do it. And the thing is, it works.

Most of the time.

Alone, locked in a gas station bathroom, I scrub my hands until the skin cracks and a tiny trickle of blood runs down the drain. It’s the third time I’ve washed my hands since I crossed the border into Indiana. In the dinged mirror over the sink, my face looks pale and warped, and the memories of Barrens bloom again like toxic flowers.

This was a bad idea.

The trauma that is high school is something that many of us apparently never get over, and it’s certainly becoming a crime fiction trope. But this isn’t a bad thing. As I said, almost all of us have traumatic memories of high school, and therefore can relate to the characters and the stories in these types of books. Hell, I’ve drawn from my own high school traumas enough times in my own work to recognize it as a trope of my own (Sara, Lake Thirteen, and both Chanse and Scotty have moments of reflection on their own past that are directly drawn from mine).

Bonfire is a compelling read, and very well written. Abby Williams, our main character who is telling the story in a first-person point of view, fled her hometown of Barrens after a traumatic childhood that included the painful death of her mother from cancer, her father’s religious mania and the resultant brutal parenting that came from it, being not popular, and having her best, childhood friend, Kaycee Mitchell, turn on her and terrorize her with a group of mean girl new friends. But towards the end of their senior year, Kaycee and her friends all became ill–with very odd and strange symptoms. It turned out they were faking it, and Kaycee disappeared. Now, there are some complaints about the factory near town, Optimal Plastics, that has revitalized the dying town but may possibly be poisoning it. Abby, now an environmental lawyer for a non-profit firm that handles such cases, is leading the investigative team and thus has to come back to Barrens to not only run this investigation but deal with her own demons. But are her theories and investigation tainted by her past, and her relationships with people from when she as a child? And why is she so obsessed with the missing Kaycee–whatever happened to her? Was she really faking it, or were the girls really sick? And what the hell is going on in Barrens?

Obviously, the sickness of the girls reminded me a lot of Megan Abbott’s brilliant The Fever from a few years ago; which was based on an actual case. And Ritter’s debut novel is crisply written, with a powerful sense of scene, character and plot that continues to build until it comes to its conclusion. I really enjoyed the book tremendously, and resented not having the time to actually sit down and read it through; I did manage to do so last night while Paul was at a play. It’s probably one of my favorite reads from the year, and I highly recommend it. Well done, Ms. Ritter.

And now back to the spice mines.

Eyes Without a Face

Monday morning, and I’m not really too bummed about the end of a weekend and the start of a new work week. I had a relatively nice weekend; I did a lot of cleaning and did some writing and editing; I went to a wonderful Christmas party on Saturday night and got to spend time with people whose company I always enjoy; and I slept really well all weekend. I am not sluggish or tired this morning, either–although the morning is slipping through my fingers much faster than I would like it to. I have almost finished reading Donna Andrews’ How The Finch Stole Christmas,which is terrific (I’ve laughed out loud a couple of times), and I also started slowly reading Joan Didion’s Miami, which is also pretty amazing. As I may have mentioned the other day, I watched the documentary about her, The Center Will Not Hold, the other night, and it had some pretty interesting things to say about writing. And the way she uses language is most impressive; in Miami she used a great John James Audubon quote that I’m going to use to open Sunny Places Shady People, the Bouchercon anthology for St. Petersburg.

Which is cool.

I finished a short story this weekend–“Passin’ Time”–and writing that story (which the editor loved, which was a wonderful confidence booster for the weekend) also, along with a conversation I had with a friend about the Scotty book at the party Saturday night seems to have blew out the rust in my head and kicked me back into gear. I got some writing done this weekend, and it wasn’t hard, I didn’t have to make myself do it, and it didn’t feel like pulling teeth or ripping out hair, strand by strand. That doesn’t mean that other things are now going to be easier to write, or that I’ve jump-started my writing mode, but I can’t help but think things are going to go a lot more smoothly now than they have been. But…I feel  a lot more confident about it, and isn’t that really the most important thing? And when the writing finally starts flowing…it’s such a great feeling.

It’s hard to explain, but writing is so integral to who I am that when I am not writing it does affect my moods, and even my sleep (I slept so well last night!). I am looking forward to getting some more writing done tonight; I have a short story due by the end of December, have some stuff that needs to be edited, and of course, there’s always Scotty and the WIP, and the Scotty Bible to get done…so much work to do, but for the first time in a long time I’m not looking at it as a Sisyphean task but rather a challenge.

It’s interesting, but I think talking to my friends at the Christmas party on Saturday night, talking about books and writing and so forth–and New Orleans, how it has changed over the years since I first moved here–had something to do with that as well. It was while I was talking to my friend Susan that I realized this is what is wrong with the Scotty book and why it isn’t working; why you can’t get to serious work on it. You knew there was a big hole in the story and it didn’t make sense; you’ve basically just said so out loud….knowing that, you now need to either fix the hole in the plot or start over with a new one.

And frankly, that isn’t too frightening.

And so, back to the spice mines. Here’s today’s Calvin Klein ad:

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Oh Sherrie

Wednesday morning. I just paid the bills, so the glow of seeing my post-electronic-paycheck-deposit swollen bank account has worn off more than a little bit, but hey, what can you do? Bills must be paid–the little mundanities of life, you know? Bills must be paid, floors must be cleaned, dishes must be washed, laundry must be folded, faces and scalps must be shaven, and so it goes, every morning, every few weeks, every month, every year, ad nauseum.

I slept fitfully last night but at least I feel rested this morning and not foggy; yesterday was one of those dreadful morns where I was tired and sluggish and wasn’t really able to shake it off, the kind of tired that aches. That was partly because, of course, of working in storage Monday and moving boxes around; my back muscles are still achy this morning and my legs feel a bit tired, but nothing that I can’t handle and nothing I can’t get through. I am, of course, behind on everything, but I am taking Paul to the airport tomorrow since I don’t have to go to work until later–he was surprised when I offered, but I had to remind him (and myself) that part of the reason I wouldn’t take him to the airport had everything to do with hating driving and not the drive itself; now that I have the new car and no longer hate driving…rides aren’t really an issue for me anymore.

It’s amazing what a difference a reliable, lovely new car can make in one’s life; which is something I have to remind myself of every time I make that substantial payment every month.

The MWA anthology deadline is Friday, and it’s kind of a relief to know that I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t make it. The second story, or even revising the first one, aren’t an option and I have some other things I need to get done that are more pressing. Having Paul gone means I’ll have a needy cat to deal with, but I will also be incredibly bored; and what better way to deal with boredom than getting things done?

Also, I am editing the St. Peterburg Bouchercon anthology, Sunny Places Shady People, and the submission call went out yesterday. Here’s the link: one click here and there you are!

And on that note, I am back to the spice mines.

Here’s today’s Calvin Klein ad.

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