Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

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

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After the Event

I’ve loved, and been fascinated, by ancient Egypt ever since I was a kid. I don’t remember when, precisely, Egypt became so lodged into my brain; but for as long as I can remember, the ancient history of one of our oldest civilization has intrigued me, and held my interest. I’m hardly an expert–not even close–but I remember pestering my parents to subscribe to the Time-Life Great Ages of Man series; the very first volume of which was, naturally,  Ancient Egypt (for the record, I still have my entire set of those books). Cleopatra, of course, also interested me; I’m not sure if my Egyptian interest came before or after watching the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra on television. (I still am terribly interested in Cleopatra; the court intrigues and politics of the Ptolemy dynasty makes the Borgias and the Medici look like pikers. I always wanted to write a book about–of all things–Cleopatra’s older sister Berenice, who briefly overthrew their father and took the Egyptian crown. The Romans sent legions to support her father, so her reign was very brief. Her younger sister, Arsinoe, who fought Cleopatra for the throne–only to be defeated by Caesar, also interests me.) I’ve always been interested in Akhenaten (loved Allen Drury’s two books about the Amarna revolution, A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes), Tutankhamun (of course), and Hatshepsut (I read a great Scholastic mystery set during her reign called The Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Treasure, and I think I bought a copy from eBay a while back; I may have the name wrong.)

But as much as I love Egypt, I didn’t love it enough to read Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. I borrowed it from the library, and couldn’t get through the first chapter.

Sorry not sorry.

As a teenager who loved mysteries, I gravitated towards women authors once I’d fairly exhausted the canons of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner primarily because I couldn’t relate or identify with the crime novels being written by men at the time. Grim and hard-boiled and toxic masculinity wasn’t a combination I was terribly interested in at the time; I did appreciate noir (discovering James M. Cain when I was about nineteen was wonderful), though–but that was because I associated it with all those great movies I used to watch with my grandmother. I eventually came around, and started enjoying John D. MacDonald and Hammett and Chandler as I got older.

But when I saw this book on the paperback rack at the grocery store in Emporia, I had to get it. It was a mystery; blurbed by one of my favorite writers, Phyllis A. Whitney, and of course, that was the Sphinx on the cover. I bought it, read it, loved it–and forgot about Elizabeth Peters for about a decade or so (I came back to Barbara Michaels in my mid-twenties, and when I discovered she was also Elizabeth Peters, it didn’t register with me.) Then one day I was in the Waldenbooks and More on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa when I saw a book on the end cap that called to me: The Last Camel Died at Noon, plus an unmistakably Egyptian scene on the cover. The title and the cover alone sold me–and I also knew by then that Elizabeth Peters was the same writer as Barbara Michaels. I bought it and when I got home, I opened to the first page and started reading….about a page in I stopped. Wait, Emerson and Peabody? I turned back to the beginning of the book and there it was, on the BY THE SAME AUTHOR page: THE AMELIA PEABODY SERIES, and the first title was Crocodile on the Sandbank! 

You can only imagine my delight. I loved those characters, loved that first book, and to find out now there was a series? I read The Last Camel Died at Noon cover to cover in about twenty-four hours, and the next day I went back to Waldenbooks and More and bought the entire series, and settled in to get reacquainted with two of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

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When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome–(I am informed, by the self-appointed critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error. If those seemingly simple English words do indeed imply that which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing.)

In justice to myself, however, I must insist that Evelyn was doing precisely what I have said she was doing, but with no ulterior purpose in mind. Indeed, the poor girl had no purpose and no means of carrying it out if she had. Our meeting was fortuitous, but fortunate. I had, as I always have, purpose enough for two.

I had left my hotel that morning in considerable irritation of spirits. My plans had gone awry. I am not accustomed to having my plans go awry. Sensing my mood, my small Italian guide trailed behind me in silence. Piero was not silent when I first encountered him, in the lobby of the hotel, where, in common with others of his kind, he awaited the arrival of helpless foreign visitors in need of a translator and guide. I selected him from amid the throng because his appearance was a trifle less villainous than that of the others.

I was well aware of the propensity of these fellows to bully, cheat, and otherwise take advantage of the victims who employ them, but I had no intention of being victimized. It did not take me long to make this clear to Piero. My first act was to bargain ruthlessly with the shopkeeper to whom Piero took me to buy silk. The final price was so low that Piero’s commission was reduced to a negligible sum. He expressed his chagrin to his compatriot in his native tongue, and included in his tirade several personal comments on my appearance and manner. I let him go on for some time and then interrupted him with a comment on his manners. I speak Italian, and understand it, quite well. After that, Piero and I got on admirably. I had not employed him because I required an interpreter, but because I wanted someone to carry parcels and run errands.

My God, that incredible, incredible voice.

By the end of the second page, I was madly in love with Amelia Peabody; by the end of the third, I wanted to be Amelia Peabody. How could you not love her? She’s fiercely intelligent, even more fiercely independent, spoke her mind, got straight to the point, and had no desire whatsoever to deal with frivolities, sentimentality, and so forth. The youngest child and only daughter of a classics scholar, her six older brothers got married and left her home to take care of their father. She speaks four languages fluently, and frequently curses the accident of birth that left her a female. Her father died and left her everything–which her brothers thought was fair, until it turned out he was a lot richer than anyone thought and had left her half a million pounds, which was an insane amount of money in the late nineteenth century. Unmarried at thirty-two, she considers herself to be too plain, too old, and too sharp-tongued to ever marry, and has decided she is going to die a spinster. (I could never respect a man who would allow his wife to dominate him, but at the same time I could never allow any man to dominate me.) She decides to use her fortune to travel to visit the places she’s always dreamed of and read about in books–which is what brings her to Rome, along with her paid companion–whom she doesn’t care for, and just chance puts her in the forum at the same time as Evelyn, who faints and Peabody, of course, takes charge. She decides to help Evelyn–who was seduced away from her wealthy family and “ruined”, as well as cut off, and she’d come to Rome with the man she thought she loved only to be abandoned by him, with no clothes but what she is wearing and not a penny to her name. Peabody and Evelyn hit it off, she sends the paid companion back to England and engages Evelyn as her new companion, and they depart for Egypt.

So, now two of our players are now in place; it’s time to meet the other two. Once they are all checked in at Shepheard’s in Cairo, Peabody is quickly besotted with Egypt, and pyramids, in particular–and reading Peabody’s descriptions of the country, you cannot help but fall in love with it, too (not a problem for me; I was already there before I read the book). They go to the Antiquities Museum one afternoon–the director was a friend of Peabody’s father–and Peabody is put off by how disheveled and disorganized–and dusty–everything is. She picks up a dusty pot and begins to wipe the dust from it, only to have an enormous man explode with rage at her. They give each other what-for–they are suitably matched in that regard–and this is Emerson, archaeologist with a passion for discovery and knowledge and preserving the past. Emerson’s brother makes apologies, and a spark is lit between Walter and Evelyn. Soon, the Emersons are off to their dig at Amarna, and Peabody and Evelyn rent a sailboat–a dahabeeyah, to be exact–and begin their trip down the Nile.

Naturally, they stop at Amarna, and stumble into quite a bizarre mystery, which includes an animated mummy and several attempts on our troop’s lives. But the four are definitely up to the task–there are times when I laughed out loud–and hilariously, while both Peabody and Emerson become quite irritated with Walter and Evelyn, who can’t see that the other is madly in love with them; Peabody and Emerson are also falling in love, and refuse to see it, bickering and fighting and–oh, it’s just wonderful and charming, and I know I am failing to do the magnificent Ms. Peters’ work any kind of justice. Amanda is just so, so wonderfully fearless and courageous and pure, and doesn’t even worry about her own safety when those she loves are in danger. The book has a most satisfying resolution, and I remember putting it down that first (much as I do every time I reread it) with a happy smile on my face. The Peabody and Emerson books bring me a lot of joy.

I devoured the entire series, loving them all–the way Peters deftly ages her characters and deepens their relationships, and of course the children…one thing that will always make The Last Camel Died at Noon special for me was that was also the adventure that introduced our merry band of archaeologists to Nofret–and therein lies another tale, for yet another time.

I am so, so delighted I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank. If you’ve not read this series, you really should treat yourself to it, because it is just that: the most amazing gift you can give yourself.

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Wednesday, and here we are, in the middle of the week suddenly. It’s also a new month; didn’t March seem to last forever, to the point where it actually felt like it wasn’t just March but Bataan Death March? Does anyone besides me even know what the Bataan Death March was? Americans’ grasp and knowledge of our own history is astonishingly slender and leaves a lot to be desired–which is why the same policies that have failed, repeatedly, throughout our history–“trickle down economics”, anyone–always end up coming back around and fucking us all over again, repeatedly, as new generations continue to be fooled by the desire of the rich and the corporations to fuck us repeatedly, counting on the knowledge that no one knows it has all happened before.

It is astonishing how no one studies the past so we can learn from mistakes made and not repeat them, isn’t it?

I’m actually not, as today’s title might suggest, a coal miner’s daughter but actually a coal miner’s grandson; my grandfather was a coal miner, and received disability until the day he died for the black lung disease he acquired as a result. Alabama isn’t known for coal mining, and I do know that he used to go away to work in the coal mines, so I’m not exactly sure where it was he went to do the work; as a child I didn’t really listen to the stories as closely as perhaps I should have, or it’s the old memory-sieve thing, but I do remember seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter in the theater when it was released, and thinking, when they showed the shack Loretta Lynn grew up in, how similar it was to my maternal grandmother’s house. The house my father grew up in–where my grandfather lived up till pretty close to when he died, I think–wasn’t as ramshackle as my maternal grandmother’s. It never dawned on me to think about how much poverty my parents grew up as children; my maternal grandfather died when my mother was around eleven, and so the only money they ever got was his military pension from serving in the Pacific during the war–and it wasn’t much. My grandmother used to make most of her children’s clothes as well as her own; when I was a kid I remember my mother had mad sewing skills, but they fell into disuse as we moved up the economic ladder as I got older. My parents were, in fact, a perfect example of the upward mobility, the American dream, as it used to exist in those decades that followed the second world war. They married young and moved to Chicago when they were barely twenty and had two small children; they both worked in factories while my dad went to school at night to finish his engineering degree. By the time they were thirty they owned a house in the suburbs and my father was on his way up the corporate ladder; my mom stopped working when he finally made it to management and we were transferred to Kansas. It was always ironic to me that when I was a small child my parents both worked while everyone else I knew’s mom was a housewife; when the economy shifted in my teens my mother became a housewife while most other families became two income.

I didn’t grow up in Alabama, but I grew up thinking of Alabama as home and was raised to have a fierce, deep pride in not only being Southern but in Alabama. I grew up understanding the importance of both Alabama and Auburn football to the pride of the state, and pride in that the fierce rivalry between the two programs was one of the biggest and best in college football. My love for Alabama has grown more conflicted over the years, as I began to reexamine things I was raised to believe in as moral and right and developed my own code of ethics, morality, and right and wrong. Writing Bury Me in Shadows is, in some ways, an attempt to regurgitate and make sense of that through writing. The vast majority of my writing has always firmly centered New Orleans, and writing about New Orleans is probably what I’m best known for, if I am known at all. I have written bits and pieces here and there about other places I’ve lived; I turned Fresno into Polk for the frat boy books, and Tampa into Bay City for other stories, and of course, with the exception of Dark Tide, which was set in the panhandle of Alabama, I primarily fictionalize where I’m from in Alabama as Corinth County–which is where the main character of Dark Tide was from.

Bury Me in Shadows is my first book-length writing about Corinth County; and I decided to show it from the perspective of a native who didn’t grow up there, whose mother moved away before he was born, and has spent very little time there–and hasn’t, in fact, been there since he was eight years old. I am having some fun with it–you can’t go wrong with a meth lab, a burned out plantation house, and the rural woods in northwest Alabama–but it needs some work, and I think I’ve been away from it long enough now so that when I do have the time to go back and start revising and reworking and getting it ready to turn in, my eyes and perspective will be fresh.

I am starting to get more tired though, and it’s harder to get up in the morning than it was earlier in the week. I am only working the morning shift today; this afternoon I have some errands to run and I am going to do some work at home. I think that will help me with the tiredness–the screening process can be draining–and if I get my work done early, I can maybe spend some time reading or writing. I was too tired to read much more of “The Archduchess,” the du Maurier tale I am trying to get through this week, but it’s very interesting. The darkness that always imbues her work is there as the story goes on, which is about a very small European nation whose spring water has some kind of mystical rejuvenating power, but I haven’t gotten to the meat of the story as of yet. But it’s interesting, and I am curious to see where she is going with the story.

I also have a gazillion emails to try to get answered at some point today.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines. Have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Hey Good Lookin’

Hey there, Sunday morning, how’s about you doin’?

Well, we’re still here, aren’t we? That’s something to be grateful for, I suppose; I don’t know what horrors today might still have in store for me, or what fresh new ones await on the morrow, but for now–I am okay, we’re all okay, and it’s always okay to take a step back away when you need to because it can be so overwhelming.

Yesterday was lovely. I slept in, I read some emails, I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. I organized the stuff on the cabinets on the stove-side (downtown in New Orleans) of the kitchen; I had a protein shake for lunch and peanut butter toast for breakfast. I worked on the laundry room shelves, and reorganized the bathroom vanity. I read Daphne du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” which was both creepy and charming at the same time–which only makes it creepier, doesn’t it? I made a shopping list for the next time I go to Costco. I made progress on getting organized, despite the on-going irritations with my computer which finally resulted in it doing a deep crash, but now it seems to be working just beautifully. I didn’t lose anything but time, and well–the one thing to come out of the dramatic shift and change in my work schedule is eight hour days, five days a week–and despite getting up early and having to go to bed early as a result–I find myself with more free time than I had before. There’s no sports to watch on television; this weekend I would have been running around getting exhausted (but having a great time doing it) at TWFest/S&S. That’s correct; that is what would have been the normal madness of life I associate with this time of year–part of the reason, I suspect, I feel so unmoored most of the time; this is anything but a normal time–and I also know, from past experience,  that normal is going to be different from now on. There’s no going back to December 2019, when we were all looking forward to the end of an annus horribilis; we had no idea what horrors our eldritch reality had waiting in store for us in 2020.

An innocent, more carefree and hopeful time. Hard to believe it’s only been three months since Christmas.

But yesterday I stayed away from the news and scrolled past it on the rare occasions I ventured into the Internet yesterday; it made for a much more relaxed day, and I even refused to worry about how many bad things might be happening while I wasn’t paying attention–and then realized with luck, some of the stuff that probably shot by in our daily dystopian news reality, the stuff I’ll never go back and get caught up on, hopefully won’t be necessary. The only news I want to hear at this point is that this whole situation has miraculously resolved itself and everything is back to normal, and if that were the news, I’ll find out soon enough, right?

Right.

But it was lovely to feel like it was my life again, and a normal Saturday. I could feel the tension slowly easing itself out of my shoulder blades as the day passed and I grew more and more relaxed, as the ease of repetition and mindless work put me into a more zen-like state, where my mind could release itself from its bonds and be creative; think creatively and solve problems and get organized; and of course the memories from AFTER Katrina, of going to the gym to develop a routine for every day and sticking to that; setting a routine of things to do to keep me occupied, my mind focused elsewhere than what the reality was outside my front door. None of this is possible now, of course; but I am going to start stretching every morning so at least I am doing something to take care of my body. But I am trying to adapt and change to a new system, a new normal, a new reality; and finding time to write–which I am going to do today–goes a very long way to reestablishing a new reality for me.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and I already miss it. It’s quite an excellent show; and as I mentioned already, Kiernan Shipka is perfectly cast as Sabrina (I also kept thinking, as I watched, what a good Nancy Drew she would make); in fact, everyone is pretty much perfectly cast, and the high production quality of the show is something to see indeed. After we finished Sabrina, we started with the third season of Ozark, and if you haven’t been watching that show, you need to start from the beginning and go to binge-heaven. Cleverly written, beautifully directed and filmed, and remarkably cast–Julia Garner as Ruth is a particular stand-out–Ozark is one of the best shows of the last few years. And then we moved on to Tiger King, the docu-series everyone is talking about, and wow–what an interesting show. The funny thing is I had always wanted to write a book built around the Big Cat Rescue organization run by Carole Baskin; I had a base idea formed around it, and when Paul and I stayed at the Saddlebrook Tennis Resort north of Tampa a few years ago (probably more than a few years ago; I think it was 2012? 2013? Time holds little to no meaning to me anymore) I had considered contacting them to do some research while we were there. The name of the book was going to be The Stripes of the Tiger and I actually came across my file with notes a few days ago when I was organizing and filing in the kitchen. (I often have ideas that hold my interest for a little while and then I see another new, shiny object and move on)

“Ganymede” was a chilling and charming story, as I mentioned earlier–and I can see why it’s compared to “Death in Venice’; there are definitely similarities under the surface of the stories; an older tourist comes to Venice on holiday, becomes obsessed with a much younger, extremely beautiful teenager, and the end result of both stories is death. The Mann story, of course, ends with the death of the tourist from a cholera outbreak; the du Maurier ends very differently. Naturally, I prefer the du Maurier story, which is dark and twisted, and I’ll say it if no one else wants to make the comparison: “Ganymede” also has a lot in common with Lolita. I’ll have more to say about “Ganymede,” but I think I’ll save that for a dedicated post.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Diamonds and Pearls

Monday after Bouchercon.

It’s always lovely to sleep in my own bed; I have trouble sleeping when I travel so usually I am completely exhausted when I get home, and this trip was no exception. The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg is absolutely stunning; as Paul and I said to each other as we walked into our room, “This place is too nice for the likes of us.”

Our room had two balconies.

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The reason the image is a little blurry and not as sharp is because my camera lens kept fogging up every time I walked out there.

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Seriously, stunningly beautiful hotel. Paul was out at the pool every day and now has a tan on a par with the one we came back from Acapulco with twelve years ago. And oh, what fun was Bouchercon this year! I was a busy little bee making honey almost from the get go. And for someone who, no matter what, will always  be a fanboy…the first night we went to the Guest of Honor dinner, where I sat with Lawrence Block and Ian Rankin at my table–too starstruck to speak to either, frankly–but a lovely meal was had and I listened to some great conversation.

The next day, Thursday, I did the Coat of Many Colors event at nine in the morning with a Bloody Mary, and it was an absolutely lovely event, and a lot of fun. It’s rather fun always, methinks, to celebrate diversity in our genre as well as reminding people of terrific writers and books that may not have gotten the attention they should have. That day was also the anthology launch for Florida Happens, which entailed all the contributors present signing. I sat next to Debra Lattanzi Shutika, who was utterly and completely charming (you’ll love her story “Frozen Iguana,” people), and then came the big adventure.

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My friend Wendy had shattered her iPhone screen, and Paul and I had rented a car….so I offered to take her to the Apple Store.

In Tampa.

On the other side of the bay.

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So something simple–oh, let’s go get your phone fixed and have noodles for lunch–turned into a four hour adventure that probably should have ended with us being banned from Tampa, malls, healthy smoothy shops, and Targets for the rest of our lives. That night we ended up going out for dinner and having a lot of laughs and a lot of drinks (why did nobody ever tell me about the wonder that is a bleu-cheese stuffed olive in a dirty martini before?) we staggered back to the hotel to have more drinks and then I poured myself into bed. The beds at the Vinoy, by the way, just might be the most comfortable beds of all time.

Friday was my big day. Yes, not only did I have to be on three panels but I also ran for the Bouchercon board. The first panel was the sex panel, called “Nooner”, moderated by the divine Helen Smith, and my other panelists were the amazing Catriona McPherson, Heather Graham, Hilary Davidson, and the always hilarious and entertaining Christa Faust. The panel was smart, funny, fun….and I learned a few things.

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After that was the Bouchercon general election, and yes, I did win a three-year term on the Bouchercon board (although I am not certain “win” is the right word, KIDDING), which was absolutely lovely, and then I had to dash off to my next panel. I was moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony award finalists panel, with the amazing James Ziskin, Eryk Pruitt, Thomas Pluck, Lori Rader-Day (who won the award on Saturday night), and the always amazing Nadine Nettman. This was so much fun, even though the entire time I was up there I had flop sweat and kept checking my phone to see how much time was left, and didn’t relax until I knew there was only fifteen minutes to go. (I always feel like I fail as a moderator; always.)

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(Thanks to Catriona McPherson for not only keeping time, but for taking this terrific picture of us afterwords.)

Then came to the Rainbow Connection panel, moderated by Terri Bischoff, where I got to meet some new-to-me writers and it was a really great discussion. Absolutely great.

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Immediately after this, I ran and changed so Paul and I could be the plus-ones of our friends Wendy and Alison at the Harper Collins cocktail party. (And yes, we started drinking wine in Wendy and Alison’s room.) After ensuring I’ll never publish at Harper (but I got to meet Carol Goodman, a writer whose work I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time, and NOW I REALLY WANT TO BECAUSE SHE IS ABSOLUTELY LOVELY) I somehow invited myself along to a dinner, where I drank more wine, and then I went to a rooftop cocktail party I was invited to where I was surrounded by enormously talented and incredibly smart people whom I admire. I stumbled back into my room around three in the morning after drinking almost all the wine in Florida.

Saturday….I made a lot of bad decisions, thanks to the encouragement of some dear friends.

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Although…now I am questioning the use of the word friends.

I remember going to dinner, and drinking more there. (The dinner was terrific, and again, surrounded by incredibly smart and successful and talented people.) Then we returned to the hotel and things are kind of fuzzy after that.

But the trip home went incredibly smoothly so smoothly that I almost didn’t trust it. But a lovely time indeed it was, and I already miss it.

Next year in DALLAS.

(Apologies to whoever I stole these pictures from; I wind up never taking pictures at Bouchercon and having to lift them from Facebook and Twitter.)

Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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