Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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Space Oddity

So, the eighth Scotty book drops in exactly one week. Those of you who preordered (and thank you!) might even already have Royal Street Reveillon in your hot little hands. Yay, for preorders, and thank you again if you did preorder.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, or do any of those lovely things that make me feel better about myself, are probably aware of one of my primary mantras of writing: never throw anything away because nothing you write is waste. It can, after all, always come in handy later. I’ve repurposed work before; Murder in the Rue Ursulines, the fourth Chanse novel, began life as the fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle. My short story “Survivor’s Guilt,” nominated for a Macavity Award, began life as a short story called “Blues in the Night,” and so on, and so on, and so on. Fragments removed from a novel have ended up in a short story; short story pieces have wound up inside novels. That’s why I always save everything, including drafts and partials–I never know when that writing might come in handy for something later, and it inevitably always does.

Many years ago, the publishing of fiction as ebooks only exploded with the development, and sales, of Amazon’s Kindle device, as well as those from competitors–I chose to go the iPad route, and use the apps for book reading; Kobo and Kindle and iBooks. A friend had started her own e-publishing company, and was encouraging me to develop a long-dormant idea for a series–the idea I had, almost from the earliest days of the Chanse series, of spinning off his reporter best bud, Paige Tourneur, into her own series. I am always willing to give new things, and new technology, a spin, and so I produced two lengthy novellas with Paige as a main character, out of a proposed five: Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans. The former was originally a short story I sat on for years; the latter an idea born of my interest/borderline obsession with reality television, primarily Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. It was born of a joke between Paul and I, while he suffered in silence through my watching of these shows (mostly the New York and Beverly Hills editions; I never got into the others quite as much, although Atlanta and now Potomac I”m more hit and miss with) in which we picked women we thought would make interesting choices for a New Orleans franchise, and then would simply laugh and laugh, saying “Can you imagine?” The novellas, however, were on a very tight turn around time, and I was writing them between other novels I had contracted. They were good, but I was never completely satisfied with them, and Paige was, frankly, not as popular with readers as I thought she might be. People either loved the character or hated her; and of course, some Amazon reviewers disliked Paige’s feminist politics and her habit of using foul language.

Also, as it turned out, ebook marketing is a lot of work–work I didn’t have the time or knowledge to put in, and ultimately the return on the investment was simply not worth it. My friend and I agreed to cancel the series and the contracts, and shortly thereafter both novellas were pulled from Amazon.

And that, I thought, was the end of the great Paige experiment of mainstream crime fiction writing for me.

But I still believed, and still do, that the Dead Housewives idea was a good one, and deserved better than it got as an e-novella for Paige.

So…I decided to reboot and repurpose the idea, and develop it into a Scotty novel; and so a forty thousand word novella turned into a Scotty novel of closer to a hundred thousand words; it’s the longest Scotty book since Jackson Square Jazz. If you are an avid Greg reader, and you read Dead Housewives (thank you for that, by the way), some of Royal Street Reveillon might seem familiar; the opening party for the show, some of the characters and their relationships to each other, and so on. But the outcome of the story is different, and there’s a lot more going on in this book than in the original. Royal Street Reveillon is much closer to what I always wanted the story to be, and really, it works much better as a Scotty story than it ever would did as a Paige story. The “Grande Dames of New Orleans” are all the same women; I introduced Serena Castlemaine in Garden District Gothic, and also previewed the filming of the reality show in that book. Margery, Megan, Rebecca, Fidelis, and Chloe are the same women from the original, but their stories and relationships to each other (and in some cases, to their spouses and the men in their lives) are dramatically different. The first murder is different, and there are several more story threads in this final version of the story than there were before. And there is a lot more of Scotty’s personal story, and that of those he loves, in this book than in the original (obviously, as Scotty wasn’t in the original story).

And, for the record, the resolution of the mysteries (yes, plural) are markedly different than what it originally was.

Also for the record;  I am much more pleased with this book than I was with the original story. I hope you’ll like it, too.

I spent my entire Labor Day, well, laboring over a volunteer project; it’s still not quite finished despite the eight or so hours I dedicated to it yesterday, but I feel very confident that it will be finished tonight. So, while I didn’t really get to spend my long weekend relaxing as much as I would have liked, I was able to get some things done, including the draft of Bury Me in Shadows, this volunteer project, and I did sign the contract for that short story, which was lovely.

And so now on to a short week. I don’t have a short day this week until Friday, as I am covering for someone tomorrow evening, but that’s fine. I seem to have my sleep back under control again as well, which is a major plus and very satisfying.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me for the day. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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No More Tears (Enough is Enough)

Good morning, and welcome to another cold January morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have some errands to run later today–later this morning, to be exact–and then I am spending the rest of the day holed up inside reading, cleaning, and probably watching figure skating on the television. We did watch the ladies’s final last night, which was quite fun, and am looking forward to seeing the competitions today. The European championships have also been going on this past week, so it’s all saved on Hulu for us to watch at our leisure. The Australian Open is also still happening–so much sport!–and so there’s that as well. I do want to finish reading my book today, and I want to read a short story, and start reading my next book as well.

And tomorrow I am cleaning out my email inbox if it kills me, and it just might.

I slept really well again last night–that’s three consecutive nights of good sleep, which is amazingly lovely.

Yesterday was also kind of a crazy day in the world, although it’s pretty safe to say that everyday has been kind of a crazy day for a while now. As I said to Paul the other night, “it’s like world politics has turned into Game of Thrones, only much scarier because it’s real.” And I know, world politics has always been very Game of Thrones, it’s just never been so obvious and apparent.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost February already, but there you have it and there it is. Carnival hovers on the horizon, and the Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners is just behind it. I am moderating a panel this year with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife) and Kristien Hemmerechts (The Woman Who Fed The Dogs) so I have some homework for that as well.

So much good reading to look forward to! Art Taylor also very graciously, along with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, made a pdf of his Edgar nominated short story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” available on-line, which I downloaded and look forward to reading. Art’s a terrific writer and a master of the short story (when I was nominated for the Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt”, Art was the winner, and his story was amazing), and it’s always terrific to read one of his stories. (Hint hint: Art, how about a short story collection? Hint hint.)

I’m also going to dissect some short stories I am in the process of editing–unless I get lazy again. I rarely do this when I am editing/revising short stories, which makes my short stories actually kind of hit or miss; if the story works, it’s because I simply got lucky with it. But I think if I actually break the story down into what it’s about, and who the characters are and why they are the people they are, more of my stories would probably work. It’s a theory, at any rate, and there’s nothing I love to do more than break down my work and put it back together again (I’m being sarcastic, if you couldn’t tell).

And on that note, I am heading out into the frigid cold to get my errands out of the way before coming home to mine spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

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Suddenly

Yesterday I finished revisions on four stories, took a deep breath, and submitted them. Now, we wait. I’m not entirely certain the stories were right for the markets I sent them to, but you know what? Letting them just sit in my computer wasn’t getting them out there. Better to try and fail than not to ever try at all.

As I said yesterday, my confidence in my writing, which, despite all appearances to the contrary has never been strong, was dramatically shaken in the last year; I am only now starting to come out of it, and I am coming back out of it by working. I’ve written well over a hundred thousand words thus far in 2018; most of it short stories, some of it work on a new Scotty novel, still other the manuscript I intend to try to lure the ever elusive agent into my web with; and since sitting down and actually taking stock, I am realizing what I’ve accomplished, and am very proud of myself. The stories I worked on again this week, revising and editing and reading aloud, were quite strong; the two I am struggling with perhaps not as strong–although I do like their titles. Forcing myself to continue working on them is futile at this moment; much as I am loath to put them to the side, I am going to; there is nothing more self-defeating and depressing than trying to force yourself to write something that just isn’t coming. The stories are there, of course; I just haven’t yet worked out how to get them down onto paper yet. I think very often we, as writers, get so bogged down in our stubborn determination to finish something we are working on that we just keep fighting, pounding our head determinedly against an immovable wall–when the smart thing is to take a break from it and work on something else; then come back to the wall with fresh eyes and a rested forehead.

A vanity project that I have always had in the back of my mind was to put together a short story collection of my crime stories. I first had the idea several years ago, but didn’t have enough stories and was going to combine my horror and crime together: the folder and table of contents I created at the time was for Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. I’ve never forgotten this vanity project; and even now, when I should be preparing the manuscripts of Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz for their long overdue ebook editions, I go back to the vanity project again and again: well, I’ve published THESE stories since then, maybe I can just go ahead and remove these others that don’t fit as well–take these horror stories out, since my horror is clearly not as strong as my crime fiction. I made another table of contents, just the other day; only now I am calling it Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Whenever I’ve been stuck this past week or so, for want of anything else to do, I’ve started pulling the stories together into a single document to get a word count. The realization the other day of how many stories I’ve done so far this year already, and adding them casually to the table of contents–today it hit me: the manuscript is already publishable length, is over eighty thousand words, without an introduction  and without all of the stories I’ve done so far. I removed all the horror–goodbye, “Crazy in the Night” and “Rougarou” and “The Snow Queen” and “The Troll in the Basement”–and added some more of the newer material. It was astonishing to realize how much there actually was; that I cannot add much more because there simply isn’t room, and that I might have enough for a second volume in a couple of years.

Mind-blowing, really.

Short story collections don’t sell as well as novels, of course; short stories are the bastard stepchildren of publishing, and crime stories even more shunned at the family holiday dinner table. I don’t know if my publisher will want this collection, and I may end up having to self-publish it. Whereas I would have shrank in horror from that possibility a few years ago, it doesn’t matter as much to me now as it did then to have a traditional publisher pull the book together; although I would like another pair of eyes on it, some copy editing, a cover design and packaging done for me. But I am very proud of all of these stories; each one of them means something to me in some way. And if my fears about crime stories with gay characters in them not being acceptable to mainstream short story publications, well, I can always get them seen this way. And I am proud of the new crime stories I’ve written with gay characters in them.

I didn’t write crime stories for the longest time because of that fear; the fear that no matter how high the quality of the story, gay characters would make them unpublishable. The two stories I published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Acts of Contrition” and “The Email Always Pings Twice,” were mainstream–not a gay character in either story. I did publish two stories in Novelists Inc. anthologies with gay characters, “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian.” My stories in New Orleans Noir and Sunshine Noir (“Annunciation Shotgun” and “Housecleaning”, respectively) were about gay characters. My story in Blood on the Bayou, nominated for the Macavity Award last year, “Survivor’s Guilt,” wasn’t gay in any way, nor was my story “Keeper of the Flame,” published in Mystery Week. Some of the new stories are gay, some are not. Two that went out today were about gay characters, two of them were not. I was originally not intending to write any crime stories with gay characters this year; it just sort of happened. I think the Chanse story I’ve written–which needs a new title–is pretty decent; but am I limiting my chances of getting the stories into print by writing about gay characters? It’s already a difficult haul finding markets that still take short stories, and the competition is obviously fierce.

And again, as I said yesterday, you never can be certain your story was rejected because you wrote honestly about gay characters. It’s all part and parcel of the insanity of being a gay writer, or a writer who is gay, or whatever the hell label fits on my sash as I walk across the stage at the beauty pageant of publishing.

But I’ve got more than enough stories for a collection now, and I am going to keep playing with the manuscript; what is the proper mix of previously published stories versus new material? Should it all be new material, or should it all be previously published material?

Decisions, decisions.

Therein, indeed, lies the path to madness.

I also read some short stories. First was “Still Life with Teapots and Students”, by Shirley Jackson, from the  Let Me Tell You collection.

Come off it, kids, come off it, Louise Harlowe told herself just under her breath. SHe smiled graciously at her husband, Lionel’s, two best students, noticing with an edge of viciousness that they both held their teacups exactly right, and said lightly, “You’re going to have a pleasant summer, then?”

Joan shrugged perfectly, and Debbi smiled back, as graciously as Louise had smiled, but with more conviction. “It will be about the same as the others, I guess, ” Debbi said. “Sort of dull.”

They’re both too well bred to tell me what they’ll be doing, Louise thought, and asked deliberately, “You’ll be together, of course?”

Jackson is one of my favorites, and while she is mostly known for “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House and macabre, Gothic work, she wrote a lot more than people think and not everything she wrote was macabre. This nasty little tale, in which a professor’s wife has two of his students over for tea–during the course of which she lets the rich little bitches she knows about their affair with her husband, and what’s more, doesn’t care because they are nothing more than something of the moment, is quite rich and layered and textured. From a modern day perspective the wonder is why she doesn’t leave him, as it becomes clear this happens regularly; they politely discuss another faculty wife who wasn’t quite as calm in confronting the student her husband was messing around with, and it’s all very polite and reserved…yet, in this modern era of #metoo and power differentials, the agency both Jackson and the wife in the story give the students–and the contempt and hatred for them the wife feels, but never reveals–makes me wonder. I’m still unpacking this story, several days after reading it; which is how amazing it–and Jackson–are.

And then it was time for “The Doll” by Daphne du Maurier, The Doll: The Lost Short Stories.

I want to know if men realize when they are insane. Sometimes I think my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror–too great a despair. And there is no one; I  have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this?…Vomit forth the poison in my brain.

For I am poisoned, I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face..

If only it had been a dream, something to laugh over, a festered imagination

It’s easy enough to laugh, who wouldn’t crack their sides and split their tongues with laughing. Let’s laugh till the blood runs from our eyes–there’s fun, if you like. No, it’s the emptiness that hurts, the breaking up of everything inside me.

DuMaurier’s story often have a polite, observational distance and formality to them; much like her novels, even in the first person. This story, of obsession and lust and desire, all of which are thwarted, is not only reminiscent of My Cousin Rachel, but also, as I was reading, made me wonder. We never learn the name of the first person narrator, but the object of his obsession is a woman named Rebecca–you see where my mind was going with that, don’t you? And in some ways, it works as an almost prequel for the novel; the deep obsession and need; the mysterious woman who plays out her cards slowly. What of course doesn’t fit is the doll itself; the woman owns a male doll she has a strange attachment to, a doll our narrator despises, hates, is jealous of; it’s a terrific story of darkness and deep passion and obsession and perhaps, madness….a great example of why I love du Maurier so much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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You Give Good Love

It’s a gorgeous morning here in New Orleans; glorious because I had a deep and restful sleep overnight; relaxing because I am going to run some errands and do a favor for a friend a little later on. I was exhausted yesterday when I got home; I did some laundry, the dishes and some light cleaning, then settled down into the easy chair to watch this week’s Riverdale, and then ran a few episodes of Versailles on Netflix; as the Affair of the Poisons kicks into higher gear the show is becoming more interesting. We have also been introduced to the Duc d’Orleans’ second wife, Elisabeth Charlotte (Liselotte), the Princess Palatine; whose gossipy letters and diaries about life at Versailles are a treasure trove. Madame Scarron has also shown up as governess to the bastard children of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan; those familiar with Louis’ story will know precisely who she is, and how important she is going to be.

I also watched Peggy Scott Laborde’s WYES show, Steppin’ Out, last night, because Paul made his debut on it talking about Saints and Sinners, alongside Susan Larson, who talked about the Tennessee Williams Festival. It’s hard to believe the events begin in just a few days; I’ve been so wrapped up in my short story writing that the time has simply flown and I was unaware that they were looming so near until some time this past week.

I also read some short stories last night.

Speaking of short stories, I’m trying to develop a plan and a working schedule for myself over the next few months. I was talking to a friend yesterday over lunch–the same friend I am doing a favor for this afternoon–which was more thinking out loud than anything else. The market for short stories has really dried up so much; there are very few paying markets for short stories out there any more–at least ones that pay decently–so that writing them has to be primarily for the love of the form; and of course, crime stories, being genre, have an even more limited marketability; crime stories about gay men even less so. When I started writing these stories back in January I purposely wasn’t writing about gay characters, themes or tropes for precisely this very reason. But the Chanse stories…well, Chanse is gay, even if the stories I am writing aren’t about gay themed; I will be curious to see how that plays out, as I intend to , once they are finished and polished, submit them to mainstream markets. Two of the other stories also have a gay male main character; so we shall see how that plays out. My story in the Bouchercon anthology is also about a gay character and the sexuality plays a factor in the story. Will it be as well received as “Survivor’s Guilt” was two years ago? We shall see; but that is what makes the writer so crazy, you know; maybe the story simply isn’t as good. There’s no way of ever knowing for sure, which, of course, is the path to madness.

So, anyway, the plan is to wrap up all of these stories by the end of this month, which will require focus and work; April I am devoting to the two novels, before diving back into something else for May. I’d love to start writing this noir novel that’s brewing in my head for years; perhaps with focus and hard work I can get it done in May. This does sound terribly ambitious, and I am very much aware of that. And see–if my under-caffeinated fog this morning I forgot all about the y/a manuscript I need to get revised; that was my original plan for May. Heavy sigh.

I also have read two more of the Lew Archer stories by Ross Macdonald collected in The Archer Files. First up was “The Sinister Habit.”

A man in a conservative dark gray suit entered my doorway sideways, carrying a dark gray Homburg in his hand. His face was long and pale. He has black eyes and eyebrows and black nostrils. Across the summit of his high forehead, long black ribbons of hair were brushed demurely. Only his tie had color: it lay on his narrow chest like a slumbering purple passion.

The sharp black glance darted around my office, then back into the corridor. The hairy nostrils sniffed the air as if he suspected escaping gas.

“Is somebody following you?” I said.

“I have no reason to think so.”

“The Sinister Habit” is the more than slightly sordid tale of the Harlans, brother and sister, who have some money and run a private school in Chicago. It is the brother who engages the services of one Lew Archer. His sister has eloped with a man he feels is going to rob her blind and steal all of their money; the sense is given that the brother–who is fussy and prim– is probably gay but it’s never addressed or talked about; it’s that casual homophobia thing I’ve mentioned before. Their mother ran out on them when they were children with another man as well; the mother lives in Los Angeles. The story becomes twisty and turny after that; the man the sister has run off with is one Leonard Lister, who may or not be a four-flusher, as they used to say. People switch sides, Archer keeps digging, there’s a murder and then a gunfight at the conclusion when the true murderer is finally revealed.

This not the strongest story, not one of Macdonald’s best,  but still a pleasant read; while the characters may not always work and the plot itself gets resolved far too neatly at the end, it is a fun read due to Macdonald’s writing style; there are excellent word choices and incredibly clever phrases.

Next came “The Suicide.”

I picked her up on the Daylight. Or maybe she picked me up. With some of the nicest girls, you never seem to know.

She seemed to be very nice, and very young. She had a flippant nose and wide blue eyes, the kind that most men liked to call innocent. Her hair bubbled like boiling gold around her small blue hat. When she turned from the window to hear my deathless comments on the weather, she wafted spring odors towards me.

She laughed in the right places, a little hectically. But in between, when the conversation lagged, I could see a certain somberness in her eyes, a pinched look around her mouth like the effects of an early frost. When I asked her into the buffet car for a drink, she said: 

“Oh, no. Thank you. I couldn’t possibly.”

The vast majority of the Archer short stories begin with someone walking into his office and engaging his services. “The Suicide” is one of those rare cases when a chance encounter somewhere draws Archer into a complicated investigation; in this case, it’s on a train from San Francisco back to Los Angeles where Archer meets a very beautiful young woman who appears to be in some distress. She doesn’t accept the drink offer because she’s not old enough to drink; but when he offers her food, she is more easily persuaded. She winds up eating two sandwiches and pouring out her tale of woe to Archer; she’s worried about her older sister. She is a student at Berkeley, and her weekly check from her sister hasn’t arrived; she has also called and called to no avail. No one seems to know where her sister is, or what has happened to her. Archer decides to help out this damsel-in-distress, and thus begins a wickedly twisting tale that includes a brutal ass of an ex-husband; Las Vegas mobsters; a fortune in missing money; and a horrific, disfiguring beating of a woman. It’s a clever tale; it works better than “The Sinister Habit,” and all of Macdonald’s writing strengths are here; great brief staccato sentences, whip-like descriptions, the world-weary cynicism. Perfection,

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Lucky Star

New Year’s Eve, a time to look back on the past year and reflect on goals either achieved or missed; to look at what was accomplished and what wasn’t, to think about and make plans for the future year.

So, what kind of year was 2017? I didn’t achieve many, if any, of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I intended to write more short stories (which I sort of did) and publish more short stories (which I didn’t really do); I intended to start my search for an agent (which I did); but I didn’t seem to get much else done. I didn’t start working out more, but I did lose weight–so that one’s kind of a toss-up; I weigh 15 pounds less than I did a year ago. I did buy a new car, which was also a goal, and I’ve not regretted it once, despite the impact on my finances. I also didn’t write nearly as much this year as I had hoped/wanted to; there were no new novels published under my name this year; which is the first time I think that’s happened since 2005. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did in 2005, to be honest; my self-worth and identity as an author apparently no longer requires me to write and publish at the insane pace that I used to keep.

I read a lot of good books in 2017, discovered a lot of great new-to-me writers, watched some amazing television shows and movies, but creatively I spent most of the year in stasis; just kind of getting through the day every day and then watching as those days turned into weeks and then months. I started a number of short stories that I either didn’t finish, or finished but didn’t know how to fix. The WIP, the manuscript I am shopping to agents, needs some more work. I had started sending it out in the fall, but I am going to hold back on it for a few more months as I revise and polish it some more. I always felt it was missing something, even though I thought it was a good manuscript, and I’ve recently figured out what that something is; and I’ve also realized part of the problem I had with the manuscript and fixing it has to do with my own stubbornness. It’s starting point needs to be before where I start the book; I flash back to the beginning of the story and that kind of is not only a cliche but also steps on the action. Also, where I start the book itself is kind of hackneyed and cliched. There’s another subplot or two that needs to be woven into the story, and I  need to develop my main character more; and there are things about him that know that are kind of crucial to the story that don’t actually appear in the story, and some of the relationships between the characters need to be developed and deepened, more layered. It’s a very basic story right now, and it needs to be more complex; and it needs to go deeper into its theme.

So, that’s something, at any rate.

I also had a good year in that I was nominated for a Macavity Award (Best Short Story, “Survivor’s Guilt”) and an Anthony Award (Best Anthology, Blood on the Bayou). Both were completely unexpected surprises, and enormously gratifying.  As Constant Reader knows, I struggle with short stories and have very little to no self-confidence when it comes to them. So, to get nominated for a Macavity Award for a short story I wrote? That was probably one of the most meaningful things to happen to me in my career thus far. And I was nominated against some amazing writers–I read all the stories–and wasn’t in the least surprised when Art Taylor won; any of the other nominated stories were award-worthy. It was such an honor.

I was so certain I wasn’t going to win the Anthony Award that Paul and I booked our plane tickets home from Toronto for Sunday morning; I was boarding my flight to New Orleans when I started getting texts and tweets and Facebook messages that I’d won. It, too, was an incredibly lovely surprise, and I was extremely happy for the contributors, and thankful to them for their amazing stories.

I also realized this year that something I used to do when I was writing–something that was highly effective, and I don’t know why I stopped doing it–was write about whatever I was working on in long-hand in notebooks. I started doing that again this year, in these last few months–and it proved incredibly helpful with a couple of things I was working on at the time. So, I am going to make that a goal for the new year; to return to buying a blank book to carry around with me at all times, to use for notes and questions I have for myself, for developing characters and things. I think I stopped using the blank books because I started keeping physical files, and it was easier to use a spiral notebook for notes that could be removed and put in the files. There’s no reason I can’t stop doing that, either; but the point is that I need to start doing things like that in long-hand again. It was an excellent way of brainstorming and free-associating that I’ve sadly gotten away from over the years.

Despite getting off to a rough start, LSU also had a great season, one with lots of highlights and excitement, and wound up 9-3 on the year, with a chance for a ten-win season with a bowl win. The future also looks fairly bright for the Tigers going forward; the Saints are also having a great season. Back in September this football season was looking really bleak; who could have foreseen that both of our teams would have such a remarkable turnaround?

I had a lot of fun this past year. Last January I did two library events in Alabama, which were way fun, and was invited back again this year; I also spoke at an event at the University of Mississippi as well as at the Alabama Book Festival (both events were in teh same week, so I was driving around the deep South quite a bit then), and of course, Bouchercon in Toronto was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to this year’s event in St. Petersburg, and I am also looking forward to a trip to England this spring.

We’re having lunch later at Commander’s Palace; our annual New Year’s Eve meal with Jean and Gillian, which is always a lovely way to ring out the old year. I’ve started reading John Hart’s Redemption Road–I greatly enjoyed his The Last Child and Iron House, so am greatly looking forward to this one. Next weekend I am appearing at Comic Con at the Convention Center every day; that should also be a lot of fun.

And so, I should get some things done before it’s time to go to lunch. The spice mines are always calling me, so here’s one last hunk for 2017, Constant Reader, and have a lovely and safe and happy new year.

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Can’t Stop the World

So, here is my Macavity nominated short story, if anyone would like to read it.

Survivor’s Guilt

By Greg Herren           

I’m going to die on this stupid roof.

It wasn’t the first time the thought had run through his mind in the –how long had it been, anyway? Days? Weeks?—however long it had been since he’d climbed up there. It didn’t matter how long it really had been, all that mattered was it felt like it had been an eternity. He’d run out of bottled water—when? Yesterday? Two days ago?  It didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was thirsty and hot and he now knew how a lobster felt when dropped in boiling water, how it felt to be boiled or scalded or burned to death.

He was out of water.

Not that the last bottles of water had been much help anyway.

In the hot oven that used to be the attic of the single shotgun house he’d called home for almost twenty years, the water inside the bottles had gotten so damned hot he could have made coffee with it and it tasted like melted plastic, was probably toxic, poisonous in some way. Wasn’t plastic bad for you? He seemed to remember reading that somewhere or hearing it on the television a million years ago when his house wasn’t underwater and there was still air conditioning and cold beer in the fridge instead of this…this purgatory of hot sun and stagnant water and sweat-soaked clothes.

But drinking hot water that tasted like plastic and was probably, maybe, poisonous—that was better than dying of thirst on the hot tiles of this stupid stinking roof. He’d tried to conserve it, space it out, save it, trying to make it last as long as possible because he had no idea when rescue was coming.

If it ever came at all.

He’d been on the roof so long already—how long had it been?

Days? Weeks? Months?

Should have left, should have listened to her, should have put everything we could in the truck and headed west.

But they’d never gone before, never fled before an oncoming storm, laughed at those who panicked and packed up and ran away, paying hotels and motels way too much money for days on end.

Hadn’t the storms had always turned to the east at the last minute, coming ashore somewhere to the east, and New Orleans breathed another sigh of relief at dodging another bullet while saying a prayer at the same time for those getting hammered by high winds and storm surges and power outages and downed trees?

Hell, that last time the storm had gone up into Mississippi and the highways south had been damaged and blocked, keeping people who’d gone that way marooned for well over a week.

So, no, there wasn’t no need to go this time, either, because Katrina would surely turn east like so many before her had.

Stupid, so damned stupid.

He could be in a hotel room in Houston at this very moment, basking in the air conditioning, drinking lots of ice cold water, waiting for the water to recede and come home, see what survived, see what could be saved and what couldn’t.

Ice.

He’d sell his soul for an ice cube.

But when rescue came, he’d have to explain…

No, no need to think about that now.

If—no, when— rescue came, he’d deal with it then.

The sun, oh God, the sun.

He’d never been this hot in his life before, at least not that he could remember.

The closest was t the beach in summertime, but there was always something cold to drink, the warm gulf waters to plunge into for some relief.

He felt like he was broiling inside his own skin.

Sometimes when it became too much he’d slip back down inside the attic. The oven. The air down there so thick and humid and hot and dusty in there he could barely breathe, but at least he was out of the sun. The air was barely breathable, clinging to his skin, so thick and wet he felt sometimes like he was drowning,

Every so often the wind would come, blowing through the vents at either end of the attic, and it felt so good he felt like crying.

But he couldn’t stay down there for long. He had to stay out on the roof, in case rescuers came. He couldn’t take a chance on missing them.

If someone came for him.

Don’t think that. Someone had to come, rescuers will come. If I don’t believe that I’ll lose my damned mind.

Maybe it’s divine punishment for—

Yet another helicopter flew past overhead, the latest of many. He’d stopped waving and yelling and jumping up and down when they passed overhead, like he wasn’t even there. His throat was so sore from yelling he could barely make a sound anyway. They never stopped, but he knew—he knew they were rescuing people. They had to be. What else was the point to the big basket hanging from the underside of the helicopter, if not for lowering down to people stranded up on roofs like he was?

He just had to be patient. It would be his turn eventually.

He just had to stay alive until it was his turn.

The whole city was probably underwater for all he knew.

At least it was for as far as he could see, shimmering filthy water everywhere.

Should have left, should have listened.

One of them would –had to—stop for him, before he died.

Meantime, roasting, baking, frying, dying in the late August sun, or was it September now?

Every once in a while he heard a boat motor passing close by. He didn’t bother making noise anymore when he heard those, either. There wasn’t any point. They hadn’t heard him when he could still yell. Back when he could still yell, whenever that was. However long it had been.

They never heard him. They never came.

His throat hurt so badly from all the yelling he’d done when his throat could still make a sound other than a hoarse rasp he might have damaged his vocal chords. He might never be able to talk again.

Which wouldn’t matter, anyway.

If I never get off this roof.

He picked up the wine bottle again, poured the last swallow of hot red wine into his mouth. Alcohol dehydrated the body, he knew that, remembered that from somewhere. But some liquid was better than no liquid.

The sour hot wine hit his empty stomach. He hadn’t eaten, hadn’t had anything to eat in—it felt like an eternity. He’d passed the point of being hungry.

But he worried that since all that was left was hot wine, he might make himself sick.

If he started throwing up he might just throw himself off the roof and drown himself.

It was tempting to think about. The thought came now and then, when he was so hot he could barely stand it, when his skin hurt so bad, blistered from sunburn that he climbed down into the stiflingly hot attic and wept, but was too dehydrated for tears to form. That was when he thought about drowning himself, diving through the trap door into the water and drowning himself.

Joining her down there.

Then he would get back to his right mind and open another bottle of wine and sip it slowly.

He looked at the empty bottle in his hands, and tossed it off the end of the roof.

It splashed when it hit the water.

It was the last of the wine. All that was left now was hard liquor—a bottle of hot gin and a bottle of hot cheap tequila.

He hadn’t wanted to touch the liquor, so he saved it for when there was nothing else left. Every time he took a swig of the wine he got light-headed, so there was no telling what the liquor would do, on his empty stomach and dehydrated body.

He wasn’t even hydrated enough to sweat anymore. He hadn’t had to relieve himself since—weeks ago? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.  Time didn’t matter anymore, it was all one endless nightmare of heat and humidity and the sun, oh God, the sun.

Water, water, everywhere— but not a drop to drink.

No one was ever going to come.

I can’t believe I’m going to die on this stupid roof. I should just kill myself and get it over with.

No, someone will come.

Someone had to come.

Should have left, should have listened.

The sun was setting in the west in an explosion of oranges and reds reflecting off the stagnant, dark, oily water. The roof of his truck was still slightly visible when he looked down over the side of the roof, its white roof almost glowing through the filthy water. Paid for, finally, years of paying off that damned loan finally come to an end just a month ago, the pink slip arriving in the mail last week. And now it was drowned, just like the city and God knows how many people. Ruined, gone, the money he put into it wasted. He’d babied it, too—oil change every three months without fail, servicing it before it was needed, the fucking thing so well taken care of it would have lasted easily another five to ten years if he kept babying it.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Everything’s ruined. The city’s dead. We’ll never come back from this.

Thank God the old house had an attic—yes, thank God for that—the kind with a trap door with a long dangling chord that hung down in a corner of the bedroom. You pulled the chord, the door came down, and a wooden ladder unfolded. He’d left the door open when he came up, when the water came, as the house filled up, left it open thinking it might help when rescue came.

If rescue ever came.

Even though she was down there.

Someone will come, he told himself again, someone will come for me.

Someone has to.

If he didn’t believe rescue would come, he would lose his mind.

If he didn’t believe someone would come, there wasn’t any point in going on, to this suffering, to this agony of broiled skin and dehydration and starvation and air so thick he could barely breathe it, the stink of the wet wood rotting down below.

And despite the delirium, despite the agony, somehow–somehow he wasn’t ready to give up.

If he gave up now, the suffering of the days? Weeks? Months? Was for nothing.

Nothing.

But it would be so much easier to give up. Then I wouldn’t be thirsty anymore. Then I wouldn’t be hungry anymore.

If he stopped believing one of the helicopters would lower a basket for him, or a boat might come by to take him to safety, through the end of the world to whatever might still be out there, away from the water, he might as well kill himself now.

There was a rope coiled in a corner of the attic. He could tie a noose and find something, somewhere, on the roof or in the attic, to loop it around and just let his weight fall, his neck snapping, death coming quickly and easily.

That would be so much better than this slow, horrible death from heat exhaustion and dehydation on the roof.

But the sun was going down at last, and night was coming.

He’d survived another day.

It would still be hot, and humid, and the smell of the water wouldn’t go away, but the night was better.

Now he had to just survive another night.

He could still see the skyline of the business district in the distance in the darkening sky. There were no lights anywhere. Thick black plumes of smoke billowed in several places he could see, but there hadn’t been an explosion in a while.

Or gunfire. He hadn’t heard gunfire in a while.

Night wouldn’t relieve the relentless humidity, but at least being out of direct sunlight would be better, give his blistering and salt-crusted skin some relief.

There might even be a breeze.

And he could stay out on the roof, not have to climb down inside to get away from the vicious rays of the sun.

No air moved in the attic, the heavy wet air almost suffocating in its thickness.

He could smell his own stink, and sometimes imagined he could even smell his flesh frying in the hot sun. His skin was burned, red, raw, but he couldn’t breathe the fetid stale dead air in the hot attic all day. A cold shower to bring his skin temperature down was all he could think about, or packing himself in a tub of ice. That wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

Ice. The thought of it made him want to weep.

Should have left. Should have listened.

She’d been right.

“We need to go,” she’d said on Saturday, whenever that had been, however long ago that had been. She’d never been afraid of storms before, never wanted to leave. This unease, this nervousness, was something new, something he’d never seen before in her. There had been storms before when he’d wanted to go, and she’d laughed in his face, mocked him, and they hadn’t gone. She’d been right those times.

He liked that she was afraid of this one, that it made her nervous. She seemed off-balance, for once, not sure of herself.

“It won’t come this way, you know they always turn east before land fall,” he’d replied, dismissing and laughing at her, shutting her down every time she watched another emergency news conference, or when the Weather Channel ran another worst-case scenario for the city, as everyone began packing up and heading west for Houston, north for Jackson, and the city began to empty out. He mocked her panic, her nervousness, enjoying this new side of her he’d never seen before, and was determined to take advantage of it as long as it lasted. He sent her to the store for supplies. Batteries and bread and bottled water and peanut butter and protein bars and hell, might as well get some liquor, too.

Liquor never went to waste, after all, and it didn’t spoil.

She came home hours later, complaining about how crazy the Wal-Mart had been, everyone talking about evacuating and the city being destroyed, whining the way she always did when she didn’t get her way.

“You know they say that every time,” he’d replied, sure of himself, smug he’d held firm and not given in, cracking open a beer and flipping away from the Weather Channel with it’s constant predictions of doom and aerial views of the traffic snarl on the highways out of town. He found a baseball game and relaxed in his easy chair.

Probably no work on Monday, he’d thought as she clattered around in the kitchen angrily, muttering to herself, so might as well kick back and have a nice little mini-vacation.

Some mini-vacation this had turned out to be.

The sun usually set around nine in the late summer, didn’t it?

His watch was down on the first floor, under the water. The power had been off before the nasty filthy dirty murdering water had started filling up the house, drowning everything as far as the eye could see. Days, time, had all lost all meaning for him. The only thing that mattered was night or day. He didn’t sleep well—could anyone under the heavy hot wet blanket of humidity?

He didn’t really care anymore. Nothing really mattered other than the sun was going down and his skin would have some blessed relief.

And he would hear her again, whispering.

We need to go, Mike. We can’t stay here.

Every time the sun went down. Every time it got dark.

It’s a big storm. At least the power will go out and do you want to be here without the a/c?

Sometimes he thought he might just be going insane.

If he wasn’t already, that was.

He wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

We can stay with my sister in Houston, we don’t even have to pay for a motel, Mike, can’t we go, please?

The water lapped against the side of the house.

Water, water, everywhere.

Through the attic door into the downstairs, he could see things floating when he looked. Furniture, books, cushions, once even the dresser was there.

He hadn’t seen her down there in a while.

He was always afraid he’d look down and see her face, floating just below the surface, her eyes staring at him.

Should have closed her eyes.

He wasn’t sure where she was and he didn’t care.

Sometimes he would see her, walking on the surface of the oily water, pointing her finger at him, complaining, whispering, we should have left, I wanted to go, this is all your fault, you know, like everything is always your fault you can never do anything right this is why I never listened to you…

And he would wake from his fevered sleep, shivering even though it was so hot, even though the air was so damp and heavy and warm it just pressed down on him until he thought his bones might break.

His lips were so damned chapped. His skin was red and hurt, blisters here and there on the peeling baked skin. He wanted water to drink, something to eat besides chips and crackers and peanut butter and bread. He wanted off the roof. He wanted a bed. He wanted to be away from New Orleans, it didn’t matter where as long as it was far away from the drowned city. Sometimes he wondered if the entire world was under water, that it wasn’t just New Orleans that drowned.

Someone would come, he knew it. He just had to hold on, stay alive no matter how horrible it got. He wouldn’t die on the damned roof of the house he’d never liked in the first fucking place.

She’d wanted the house. Once she saw it when they were driving around looking, this was the house she wanted, even though it was on the wrong side of the Industrial Canal, even though it was in the 9th Ward. “It spoke to me,” she’d insisted, “and it’s cheap! We can fix it up ourselves. It’ll be perfect!”

He’d given into her, even though he didn’t want to live down here. She was right about the price—it was less than they’d been thinking they’d spend, and the monthly mortgage payments were a lot more affordable than any of the other houses they’d looked at. It wasn’t until later, when they’d moved in, that it even occurred to him that it was the only place they’d looked at in the 9th Ward. When he brought it up to her, she’d admitted she’d found it on her own and fell in love with it, colluded with the realtor to get him to see it.

They’d worked on him until he’d given in.

It wasn’t the last time she’d gotten her way.

We need to go, Mike. It won’t be safe here. I’m scared.

She always got her way, didn’t she?

Not this last time.

Which was why he was up on the roof. Because just once he didn’t want her to get her way, wanted to stand up for himself and not give in for once, put his foot down for good and MEAN it.

So, really, in a way, it was her fault.

And if someone did finally come, if someone ever did come to rescue him, he was never coming back to this godforsaken place.

Because she would be here, waiting for him. She would never leave him alone, not as long as he was here, even if the house was bulldozed and he built a new one.

Mike we have to go, it’s scary, it’s a big storm, we’ve got to go.

He lowered himself back down through the hole in the roof, carefully avoiding the jagged edges of the beams he’d hacked through with the ax to make the hole in the roof, so he could get out there, out of that suffocating attic, away from the rising water. He switched on the flashlight, looking for the liquor, and saw there was actually another bottle of the red wine after all—it had rolled off to the side, and he hadn’t noticed before. There was no need to switch to tequila just yet. He fought with the corkscrew, chewing the cork up, little flakes floating down into the wine but he didn’t care, he could always spit them out, and took a slug out from it. The sourness made him wince but it was wet, and that was all that mattered.

He heard a splash.

That wasn’t from outside.

The trapdoor to the lower level was open, a large rectangle of dark with the long shadows creeping across the floor.

He took a deep breath and backed away, not losing his sweaty grip on the green bottle. He’d closed it before he went back out on the roof, hadn’t he?

He couldn’t remember.

Hadn’t he decided to close it, in case he saw her down there in the water again?

He could hear his heart beating.

He focused on keeping his breathing even, taking deep breaths, ignoring the rising fear creeping up his spine.

I just forgot to close it, is all, I meant to close it but maybe it didn’t latch, that’s all there is to it, just close it now. She couldn’t have gotten up here. I’d have heard her.

She’s dead, you idiot.

But that wouldn’t stop her, would it?

Just close the damned door. All that’s down there is water. You’re making yourself crazy. She’s dead, dead, dead. Just close the door and you won’t have to worry about her.

But he couldn’t move, wouldn’t move, he kept standing there and staring and trying to remember if he’d closed it or not. He would swear that he did, but he wasn’t sure of anything anymore. The heat, the humidity, the damned bugs and the sun and the monotony, the way everything kept changing in his mind, the way he couldn’t remember how long he’d been up on the damned roof, how long it had been since the water rose, since he’d climbed up the damned ladder to the attic, since he’d taken the hatchet and chopped his way out to the roof.

The shadows were getting longer. Soon it would be completely dark.

Mike we have to go really, it’s a big storm and what will happen to us if the levees fail?

“Shut up shut up SHUT UP!” he yelled, or tried to, but all that came out of his sore and parched throat was a croak.

He took a step forward, swallowed, and took another.

One after another until he was standing next to the dark opening, looking down into the flooded house.

She wasn’t there.

Shaking now, he reached for the flashlight and flicked it on, pointing it with trembling hands into the darkness.

The oily dark water reflected the light back up at him, the filthy water swirling around in what used to be his bedroom.

Their bedroom.

He closed his eyes and said a prayer before opening his eyes again.

No, she still wasn’t there.

The last time he’d looked down and seen her—when was that? It didn’t matter, it was after the water came and he’d gone up to the roof– she was still there, face up floating in the water, her dark hair fanned out in the filthy water, eyes wide open and staring up at him accusingly.

You killed me. We should have left, but we stayed and you killed me.

He knew he couldn’t really hear her, she was just in his head, but still—he kept the light shining down there, swinging back and forth. He heard another splash somewhere down there—maybe it was a gator? There wasn’t any telling what was down in that water.

During the day, he could see the river levee in the distance—maybe it had held, but there was no telling where the water had come from. That didn’t matter anyway. All that mattered was that it was there.

So maybe…if the bayous and canals or even the swamps had filled with water, it wasn’t out of the question there could be gators in the water-filled city.

But wouldn’t he have heard something if a gator had gotten her? Some loud splashing or something?

She’s dead so she couldn’t fight it but still a gator wouldn’t have been able to get her underwater without making some noise?

He’d seen snakes a couple of times, making s curves to move forward in the water outside, but not inside the house.

The house.

What was left of the house.

The plasterboard was probably dissolving from the wet, and there was no mistaking the smell of wet, rotting wood. Hell, black mold was an issue even when the house wasn’t underwater—how many times had he had to climb a ladder to wipe down the ceiling around the air conditioning vents with bleach to kill it?

Yeah, this house had been a good investment.

Even if the water somehow got pumped out—and it didn’t look like that was going to happen any time soon—the house was ruined. It would take a lot of money to make it habitable again.

Maybe this time New Orleans would be left to drown.

He turned off the flashlight and backed away from the hole. He took another slug of the hot, cloyingly sweet wine.

She’d wanted to evacuate Sunday morning when the Weather Channel and all the weather broadcasters had gone into full-scale panic mode. “The mother of all storms,” the mayor had called it. He just shook his head at her fears, her complaints, his mind was made up and that was that. “They say this every time,” he’d scoffed at her, “remember Ivan? Jorges? I can’t even remember how many times they said it was the end. If you’re so damned scared, you go. I’m staying put.”

She wouldn’t go by herself. He knew that.

And why get in the damned truck and be stuck in stop and go traffic, eight hours to go the seventy stinking miles to Baton Rouge just to hole up in a hotel somewhere that jacked up their room rates to gouge the evacuees only to have the stupid storm turn east like they always did at the last minute and New Orleans would be fine.

Yeah, no way.

They weren’t going anywhere.

They’d lost power sometime in the early morning before the full fury of the storm came, and when it did come, it wasn’t that bad. Howling winds and crashes outside, sometimes the house itself shook, but then, after what seemed like an eternity, it was over.

It was over and they’d survived.

He’d gone outside. Some tree branches were down, debris everywhere he looked, a big live oak down the street had been uprooted and smashed through a house. Everyone else was gone, evacuated, holed up in a hotel or shelter somewhere west on I-10.

They had a few hours before the house started filling up with water.

He’d lost his temper when she started panicking. He just meant to slap her but he hadn’t meant to slap her so hard, it was an accident, she slipped in the water and hit her head on the table and went limp, and before he knew it the house was filling up with water and she was dead and he had to get up into the attic, had to make sure food and liquid was up there—

He reached over and looked down into the darkness. He shone the light down, his heart pumping, as he waved the beam of light around.

Nothing but floating furniture.

No sign of her.

He heard something.

Was that an outboard motor?

Bottle of hot wine still in one hand, he tucked the flashlight into the waistband of his shorts and climbed back out onto the roof.

It was definitely an outboard motor, and getting closer from the sound of it.

The flashlight dimmed in his hand and went out.

Swearing, he shook it as he tried to yell, but his vocal chords were too fried, his throat too raw.

Miracle of miracles, the flashlight came back on, and he started waving it in the direction the motor sound was coming from.

Oh please god oh please God oh please God

He was almost blinded as a strong spotlight shone in his eyes.

“Hey there,” a voice called as the motor idled, close by, near enough for him to see if not for the damned spots in front of his eyes. But as the bright red shapes began to fade, he could see someone swinging up onto the roof, and heard footsteps, and something cold and icy and wet was put in his hands. He almost wept, it felt so good, the cold against his hot skin. “Have some water, man. My name is Pete LaPierre, me and some buddies came down from Breaux Bridge to rescue some people—they told us we couldn’t and we thought, damned if we don’t have our own boat all we need is some water to put it in  and here we are.”

He twisted the cap off the water and poured some of it down, the coldness stinging his throat. He dropped the wine bottle he’d forgotten, heard it hit the roof and roll down the side and splash when it hit the water. He didn’t care, this cold water was like he’d died and gone to heaven, he just wanted to cry—

“Are you the only one here? No one else around here, down in the attic? You must have been pretty lonesome.”

He took another drink of the water, slow and steady, and felt a cramp forming in his stomach—too much cold too fast—­and he breathed in and out for a moment, waiting for the cramp to pass, pressing the cold plastic bottle against the hot skin of his forehead.

He shook his head no.

“Come on, then, let’s get you out of here.” Pete LaPierre clapped him on the back, and he followed him down the side of the roof, and dropped down over the side into the boat. It wasn’t much, just a fishing boat with an outboard motor and a large cooler filled with ice and water and beer and—

“You need you a hot shower,” Pete said, and he revved the motor, steering the boat away from the little house and away through the dark night, using the spotlight to make sure there was nothing beneath the surface.

He looked back at the house.

He might never ever see it again.

He slumped down in the boat and took another drink of water.

Someone was pressing a sandwich on him, one of Pete’s buddies, but he just waved it away.

They might not ever find her.

He exhaled, and watched the stars pass by overhead.

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