Alone

GEAUX TIGERS!

LSU plays Northwestern State tonight; I’m sure it’s being televised somewhere. I just haven’t had the chance to look it up yet. This has been such a crazy and exhausting week I’ve barely had time to think, let alone plan or get anything done. I need to make certain I avoid being overwhelmed, because that is the surest path to not getting any of it done. I have a lot of writing to get caught up on, not to mention how filthy and disgusting the Lost Apartment’s current state is. Heavy heaving sigh. I didn’t sleep well again last night; for the last two nights I’ve not been taking the medication that puts me to sleep because, as always, I fear dependency issues arising. I also have to get my email under control; because it is completely out of control.

Yesterday after I got off work I met my friend Lisa for a drink. Lisa is in town for the weekend from Atlanta–we’re having coffee again tomorrow morning before she leaves town–and I never get to see Lisa nearly enough. I met her at the Elysian Bar in the Marigny, which is part of the Hotel Peter & Paul complex, which used to be a Catholic church and convent. Paul had actually been there earlier in the week–they might be using the place for a Williams Festival event–and came home raving about how lovely and cool the place is. It actually is quite lovely, and I had a lovely time hanging out with Lisa. I also got to meet her friend Audrey, whom I only know through Facebook, and local television anchor Sheba Turk (both, along with Lisa, are absolutely gorgeous women–intelligent and talented and smart). It was absolutely lovely, then I stopped at Rouse’s on the way home. I started watching a BBC series on Netflix, The A List, which is just weird, yet oddly entertaining, and each episode is less than half an hour.

Paul and I then watched the first episode of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou, based on Ethan Brown’s book. I’d already watched a similar docuseries on the murders on Hulu earlier this year, only that was called Death in the Bayou: The Jennings 8, and was very different than Brown’s book (which I read after watching the series on Hulu); it left out some crucial details about the women’s lives, but that was undoubtedly because the show was produced with the cooperation of one of the victim’s sisters; if you remember, this show and book inspired me to consider writing another Chanse book, based on the case, which I still might actually–probably will–do; it’s just such an interesting and fascinating case, and still unsolved.

We have to take Scooter to the vet for his annual physical later this morning–he always loves getting into the carrier so much–and he’s also going to get his razor-sharp claws trimmed. I probably should get over my fear and reluctance to trim his nails myself; I just remember a friend doing that once and cutting them too close and the poor kitty was bleeding and in pain, which of course I wouldn’t be able to ever get over the guilt if I were to do the same thing. It’s probably not that difficult, and Scooter is passive enough to probably sit still for it–it only took him about eight years to get used to his flea medication application enough to not fight it anymore–but again, I’m too afraid of hurting him to go through with it. I’ve noticed on-line that have nail caps for cats; I’ve considered getting those. He loves to knead bread when he’s purring, and of course the claws come out and go right through my clothes to the skin. He doesn’t understand, naturally, that he’s hurting me in his show of affection, and I always feel bad that I have to stop him because those fucking claws are sharp.

This weekend I have to finish an essay and a short story, at the bare minimum, and I’d like to get a chapter of Chlorine written if I can. I feel rather defeated this morning, quite frankly, and I am not sure how to get around that other than actually getting things done, you know? I mean, what better cure for feeling overwhelmed with work than making progress, right? And perhaps if I can get a lot of work done today, I can reward myself with Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, as I’ve also fallen horribly far behind in my reading. And the books keep piling up.

All right, I am going to get to work on the kitchen and doing the laundry, opening my essay file and try to get some work done this morning.

Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Your Mama Don’t Dance

Well, Monday has rolled around again after a lovely, restful weekend, and I am hopeful that this week–the tail end of July and the beginning of August–will be lovely and productive.

Yesterday I managed to have the hole in the page open and finished off Chapter Nineteen–which, once I started, was much easier than I’d thought it would be, and I was also able to get Chapter Twenty set up at the end of that chapter. I’m also, as I go into the final act, aware of things that I need to set up earlier in the manuscript; which is lovely, even though this is wrong way around; I should have known all this when I was writing it, which is my usual way of doing things. (Although, if I am being completely honest, the Kansas book wasn’t written this way, and I only figured out how to end Royal Street Reveillon while I was writing it; this is a trend I don’t like and needs to end now. Perhaps when I start writing Chlorine, things will follow the more traditional Greg writing path.)

Speaking of Chlorine, I did manage to find my copy of Tab Hunter’s memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. I met Tab Hunter years ago, at a Publishing Triangle party in New York (he was with Joyce Dewitt–yes, the one from Three’s Company, and she was absolutely charming), and he was still incredibly handsome and a very nice man. He eventually came to the Tennessee Williams Festival (yes, I played Good Husband and asked him if he would do it, got his manager’s card, and passed that along to Paul), and was again, just as handsome and charming as ever. We have a signed copy of the book, but I’ve never read it–it’s been in the TBR pile for over a decade–and I am delighted now to have a work-related excuse to read it, along with any number of other Hollywood histories and books about show business and celebrities from the 1950’s. (Must find biographies of Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, and Anthony Perkins…and George Cukor, for that matter.) It’s going to be ever so much fun to submerge myself in post-war Hollywood and Los Angeles.

Steph Cha’s novel Your House Will Pay also continues to fascinate, entertain, and enthrall. It’s quite excellent, and I am savoring the pages, the chapters, the development of the parallel stories of the two families tied together by a trauma in the past. It’s also incredibly immersive; the characters are so very terribly real, as is the world they inhabit. It’s turning out to be so much more than I thought it was going to be–and I was excited for what I thought it would be–so it’s even more of a gift than I originally thought it was going to be.

We are also getting drawn in more to the Prime series The Boys, which is also, like the Cha novel, turning out to be so much more than I’d anticipated. It’s darker, for one thing, and kind of exceptional in showing how powerful a single, average human being actually can be, without the assistance of extra-special powers of some kind. It’s also a much more complex examination of how extraordinarily gifted humans would be monetized, branded, and image controlled–very similar to the Hollywood period I am going to be immersing myself in shortly. Yay! It’s a fascinating period, and definitely one I want to know a lot more about.

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines.

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Get Closer

Several years ago Gillian Flynn published a book that became a runaway bestseller and  was also turned an Oscar nominated film. I read Gone Girl within a few weeks of its release; I remember I was off to Killer Nashville and New Orleans was within the cone of uncertainty for a hurricane whose name I no longer remember. I started reading the book while sitting at my gate at Armstrong International, read it while I flew on Southwest to Nashville, and couldn’t wait to get checked into my hotel room so I could go upstairs, unpack my clothes and get into the bed and keep reading. It was an incredible ride, full of shocking twists and turns, and I also loved Flynn’s writing style. I’d already read and loved Sharp Objects, and the whole time I was reading Gone Girl I was thinking about stories and turns of phrase for my own work; I always think the best writers’ work is inspirational. As with anything that’s enormously popular, after a few months it became fashionable to mock the book and its influence on popular culture.

And like with everything, just as The Da Vinci Code opened the door for dozens and dozens of copycat thrillers with their stories firmly entrenched in actual history, Gone Girl opened the door for dozens of books that may not have been actually inspired by Flynn’s success, but the big publishers were all looking for “the next Gone Girl,” and I suspect many a book was signed based on a short elevator pitch along the lines of “more Gone Girl than Gone Girl.

There was the inevitable slew of books with girl or woman in their title in the publishing seasons after (although to be fair, Steig Larssen’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series preceded Gone Girl, as did Laura Lippman’s The Girl in the Green Raincoat, but Gone Girl is usually given credit for kicking off the trend), and what Sarah Weinman calls “domestic suspense” became the hot ticket in publishing, with even male bestselling suspense writers writing books from a female point of view–which I am all for, frankly; the tired misogynist trope that men’s stories are universal while women’s are contained is almost as tired as societal sexism.

So, when I get an ARC of Samantha Downing’s debut novel, My Lovely Wife, and saw lots of comparisons to Gone Girl I kind of just rolled my eyes and sat down to read.

Well.

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She is looking at me. Her blue eyes are glassy, they flicker down to her drink and back up. I look at my own drink and can feel her watching, wondering if I’m as interested as she is. I glance over and smile to show her I am,. She smiles back. Most of her lipstick is gone, now a reddish smear on the rim of her glass. I walk over and take the seat next to her.

She fluffs her hair. It is unremarkable in both color and length. Her lips move, she says hello, and her eyes are brighter. They look backlit.

Physically, I appeal to her the same way I would appeal to most women in this bar. I am thirty-nine, in excellent shape with a full head of hair and a deep set of dimples, and my suit fits better than any glove. That’s why she looked at me, why she smiled, why she is happy I have come over to join her. I am the man she has in mind.

I slide my phone across the bar toward her. It displays a message.

Hello. My name in Tobias.

And so begins the rollercoaster ride that is Samantha Downing’s superb debut novel. Downing introduces us first to her point of view character, the husband in this marriage, who is pretending to be deaf to pick up a woman in a bar. And from that moment on, the surprises and twists come very quickly; it seems sometimes as though every chapter has a new surprise that changes the story and how we view our main character.

You see, he is not only a successful tennis instructor with a gorgeous wife and two precocious children he adores…he and his wife get their kicks from picking out victims, stalking them, and then taking them prisoner for a while before finally killing them.

That’s how they keep their marriage fresh.

And Downing’s insidious genius is how well these sociopaths (psychopaths?) manage their careers and their family in their upscale gated community; they think they are great parents and are doing a great job with their kids…but that’s only part of the surprises in store for the reader.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Samantha was the panel I moderated this past year at the Tennessee Williams Festival (joining me, Alafair Burke, and Kristien Hemmerichs), and quite frankly couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t have predicted any of the twists and turns and surprises in this book–and Downing does a great job of making the reader care about her incredibly unsympathetic characters…the ending is very tricky to pull off, but she managed.

I am looking forward to her next book.

Sara Smile

Well, I slept much later than I usually do; I did wake up at seven but through nah, too early and went back to sleep, not awakening again until nine-thirty-ish. And yes, that is late for me, but I also stayed up later than I usually do because Paul and I got sucked into a marathon binge of season three of Santa Clarita Diet, which dropped this week. We have three episodes left to go–which will probably be watched this evening–and then we have to decide which of the shows we’d already started we want to finish–either Umbrella Academy or You. There are also some other shows we need to finish, others that look like possibilities, and Netflix also added some great classic films I’ve been wanting to watch again; namely Bonnie and Clyde, All the President’s Men, Deliverance, the reboot of Friday the 13th, and the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. I also intend to start reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home, kicking the Diversity Project back into gear, and I also want to finish reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s for the Short Story Project.

I also need to start doing some sort of promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, but I’m not exactly sure what and how and…you get the picture; again, I don’t really know how I have a career.

I was thinking about the Diversity Project the other day, and I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think it’s right that I have to turn reading diverse authors into a “project” to make diversifying my reading happen. Even saying The Diversity Project makes it sound effortful, as though if I didn’t make a point of it I wouldn’t do it. And that’s clearly wrong on every level. And I’ve been failing miserably at it thus far this year, no matter how many excuses I want to make for it. This of course has me examining my own prejudices. I’ve bought the books, of course, which is an important first step and every sale helps, but I also need to not only read the books but talk about them. Here it is April and the only one I’ve talked about is Walter Mosley; what kind of an ally am I to minority writers, of which I am one?

Apparently, not a very good one.

I had already softened the project’s goal from focusing on only reading minority writers to interspersing them with others; so if I read a book by a non-minority writer the next one I have to read must be by a minority writer. That hasn’t worked overly well, either; part of it has been due to my own, I don’t know, weird ambivalence to this year–something that’s been going on since around the Great Data Disaster of 2018. I’ve also realized, just this past week, that the Great Data Disaster wasn’t really where it all started. My life has been in an almost constant state of upheaval of some sort or another since late October, just before Halloween. My day job moved from the office where we’d been located since I was hired back in 2005 (the office actually opened in 2000) into a new location, which required all sorts of adaptation. For almost the entire first month of the existence in the new office we didn’t do a lot of testing, which is what my job is, which meant I was working a weird (to me) early morning to late afternoon shift–say, 8-430ish. This freed my evenings and I was going to town on writing and revising Scotty in those free evenings, because the Festivals were also kicking into high gear and Paul was coming home late. Then came December with a readjustment to working a new schedule all over again, followed by the Great Data Disaster, the Christmas holidays, and then Carnival. During that time period I was also working on finishing up my job as a book award judge and diving into a new task for this year, also involving award judging but not actually having to read anything (I really can’t say more than that about it; but it’s a big endeavor and I will leave it at that)I don’t think I ever really got a handle on anything, which is why I felt like my life was happening and I was not actively participating in it.

And softening the goal also makes me question myself and my internal, subconscious prejudices and biases. Yes, I had to read three books to moderate my panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival, which wasn’t easy and really involved a lot of cramming at the end. Why do I automatically reach for a book by a straight white writer when it’s time to chose another book to read? Why will I justify taking that book out of the stack rather than reaching for a book by a minority writer? It is these unconscious biases and prejudices that need to be ripped out by the root and plowed under with salt so they won’t take root again; and  not just in reading, but in life. 

I think I do a better job with my life than I do with my reading, quite frankly.

I also had thought, when I started on this, that I would expand the project outside the bounds of crime fiction and include other genres as well. I’ve always believed that reading more widely outside of one’s genre will make one a better author by exposing you to different styles of writing, different stories and different characters. Horror is always my immediate go-to when it comes to reading outside of mystery, but I also need to read more fantasy, science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. I also don’t want to stop reading women crime writers, either.

The exposure to other voices, other thoughts, other mindsets, will not only make me a better writer but a better person. What better key to understanding experiences outside my own is there than actually reading books outside my own experience, and to see the common humanity?

My first thought on rising so late this morning was well, you’ve shot your day to hell. But that isn’t true. I can still get things done today as long as I don’t allow myself to bog down on generalities or give up on the day. It would be ridiculously easy, you know, to simply write the entire day off and do nothing, but I really don’t want to waste the day. I’d like to get another chapter of the WIP finished, for one thing, and I’d like to work on this proposal I’m putting together. The kitchen needs work and there’s always filing that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of mess around. I also need to make a quick run to the grocery store as well.

So, on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Love Hangover

Tuesday morning and I am up before dark. Today I return to the day job after the Weekend o’Festivals and TERMITE ARMAGEDDON. I didn’t get nearly as much done yesterday as I would have liked; but I retrieved Scooter from the spa, made groceries, picked up prescriptions and the mail. I continued putting the house back together–didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have liked, but there is now stuff for me to do this weekend as far as that is concerned.

Digging back into the WIP is my top priority for this month (well, that and getting my taxes filed by the 15th, if possible), and I see no reason why I shouldn’t have a strong first draft finished by the end of the month. I also need to start my return to the gym this month. At my check-up on Friday I’d lost another three-to-four pounds to weigh 208; which is another milestone for me. I’ve broken the 210 barrier–although the last time I weighed myself it was 211, and three pounds is probably a fairly accurate weight fluctuation–but I like the idea that 208 is now the low end of the fluctuation. The lower the low end goes, the better I like it–the more progress it shows. But going back to the gym is a vital part of this struggle–because, you see, the Tennessee Williams Suite we stayed in at the Monteleone has a massive, gorgeous, wonderful bathroom….that is almist entirely mirrored. So, every time I showered or shaved or anything, I could see my entire body reflected back at me in the mirrors, from every side and every angle.

And no, I do not see the appeal of a room full of mirrors.

In other exciting news, the three books I’d thought I’d lost turned up! Yes, I must have been really tired, because they were in the front pocket of my backpack, which is absolutely delightful news. I am also going to try to finish my library book this week–it’s due on Friday–and it’s part of the Diversity Project. Now that my TWFest homework is over, I can get back to the Diversity Project and the Short Story Project. Which is good, because I have my own short story collection dropping officially on April 10th this month. I also have to figure out Paul’s birthday present–his birthday is at the tail end of the month–and hopefully, now that the festivals are over, our lives can get back to what passes for a semblance of normal around here.

And Scooter–who is always a sweet cat–was so loving and affectionate after I got him home yesterday. It took him a few hours to forgive me for taking him to the spa, but once he was over it, he just kept crawling into my lap (no matter where I was sitting), curling up and going to sleep while purring his head off.  And yes, it is completely adorable.

So glad we got lucky and found Scooter eight (!) years ago.

And now, I have to get ready for work. It’s only been four days, but it feels like I haven’t been there in forever. There’s also basic stuff I have to get done as well–paying bills, the checkbook, etc.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Guess it’s time to dive back into the spice mines.

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50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Saturday morning and I am swilling coffee in the Tennessee Williams Suite at the Monteleone Hotel. I slept much better than I would have thought last night–the bed is ridiculously comfortable here–but that also may have had to do with the dirty vodka martini I had last night with dinner. I have to, once I finish writing this, get a bit cleaned up, swill more coffee, and start trying to work on my moderating duties for my panel this afternoon–a mystery panel at the Muriel’s location, with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing, and Kirstien Hemmerichts. I’ve read their most recent books (Samantha’s is her debut, My Lovely Wife) and while I’ve not yet met Samantha, I did meet Kirstien at the opening reception at the Historic New Orleans Collection last night. I’m hoping to ask some interesting questions and have a terrific discussion about women in crime fiction–both as characters and as writers. I have been a long time advocate, as Constant Reader should know, of women writers, particularly in the crime genre. So, we shall see how this goes. Tomorrow I have another panel (for Saints and Sinners) and a reading to do (I am going to read “This Town” from Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which I know is probably not the self-promotional thing to do; I should read from Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, since it’s my new release–again begging the question how do I have a career?)

I also had a lovely dinner at G. W. Fins last night with the amazing Alafair Burke and the equally amazing Sarah Weinman (you really need to read her The Real Lolita); what can I say other than #ilovemylife? The dinner was superb, the service exceptional, and the conversation? The kind of thing I used to dream about when I was a teenager, late at night, before I fell asleep and dreamed my big dreams.

And hopefully, tomorrow after everything is over I’ll be able to head home and start putting the house back together after TERMITE ARMAGEDDON. I’m going to have to do a lot of laundry and a lot of loads for the dishwasher, so the sooner I can get a jump on doing that the better, obviously, since I have to return to work on Tuesday morning. It’s not like I wanted to spend my day Monday cleaning the house thoroughly and doing all that laundry and those loads of dishes, but it has to be done and I don’t really have a choice; supposedly the gas dissipates on its own but doesn’t it get in the fabrics and so forth, and better safe than sorry? Plus, it gives me an excuse to clean out the cabinets and the drawers…so yes, part of my evening tomorrow will be figuring out a more efficient way to use the cabinets and the drawers….because it’s always an ongoing thing, you know? (My spice rack actually might be something I throw away; I don’t use the stuff in it very much and it takes up counter space and collects dust.)

I do have some writing to do–website stuff–that is due on Monday, so I’ll probably get to work on that after my panel this afternoon.

Okay, and on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me!

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December 1963 (Oh What a Night)

Friday morning, and TERMITE ARMAGEDDON is nigh. I am up before dawn because they are coming to tent the house and commit genocide around eight, so I have to wrestle Scooter into his carrier before then so I can get him to the spa when they open at eight. Then I am going to drive back and leave the car at the house, and Lyft down to the hotel for the Weekend o’Festivals. I also have to go to my doctor at 1:30 in the afternoon; I think I’ll leave early and take the streetcar, so i can sightsee and read on my way. And then…it’s just about the festivals for the weekend until we are cleared to come back to the house. I’ll probably do that on Sunday after my panel, if I can, so I can start laundering things and washing dishes and moving the perishables back over from the carriage house, so I can go get Scooter first thing Monday morning and then go make groceries.

Heavy heaving sigh. I keep finding things that might get contaminated. Well, when I take Scooter to the kitty spa I guess I’ll be loading more things into the hatch of the car than I’d thought I would have to.

Now that the morning of Termite Armageddon is here, I am much calmer than I thought I’d be. My suitcases are packed, the majority of the cabinets have been emptied, and all I have to do is wrestle Scooter into his carrier. I think I can manage it on my own, although it’s usually a two-person job. I think I’m also just going to grab the streetcar and come back here to get the car; that way I can go pick up the mail as well…or should I just take the streetcar all the way so I can keep reading? Decisions, decisions. One of the things I hate the most about anything is having to rush. Rushing causes me stress–almost to the breaking point–so I always try, when I have mornings like this, to get things done and try to give myself enough time so I don’t have to get stressed and rush and freak out–which, of course, is how I always wind up forgetting things along the way.

But tonight I get to have dinner with Alafair Burke and Sarah Weinman!

ENVY ME.

Yesterday I’m not going to lie; I was stressed as all hell, so feeling so calm this morning is quite lovely. I don’t know if I am actually calm or if it’s because I’m actually not quite awake yet, but in either case, there it is, you know? It is what it is, and whatever I didn’t get out of the Lost Apartment are things that will have to be thrown away at some point when we come back home, which I’m more than fine with. Moving the perishables to the carriage house made me realize something–not only do I hoard books, I hoard food. I think it comes from being poor, being hungry, and not having anything to eat in the house (my mom’s house is practically bulging with food; now i wonder if the poverty from her early married days, when my sister and I were kids, has something to do with that as well) and I  am realizing that there’s really no reason for there to be so much food in the house. So, in some ways, the Termite Armageddon is a good thing, because it’s forcing me to clean out my refrigerator, freezer, and kitchen cabinets.

In a way, I am having spring cleaning forced on me, because definitely Monday I am going to have to spend the majority of the day cleaning the house.

Again, not a bad thing.

But it is what it is.

So, I am hoping this weekend will give me the boost I need, the kick in the part, as it were, to get me writing and thinking about my writing, again. I am having a lovely time–albeit going rather slowly–revising the WIP, and I am already thinking ahead to the next thing. I’d like to see April spent writing up a storm, and revising short stories, making another push to get some stories into print. I also need to get caught up on all sorts of other things–I still haven’t gotten the damned brake tag–and I have taxes and things to sort. I am hoping that the weekend in the suite at the hotel will do the trick; give me some time to relax, read, and get caught up on things that I have been seriously lagging on. I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a malaise thus far this year; since finishing Royal Street Reveillon, if I am going to be completely honest, and going back to the Great Data Disaster of 2018. But the Weekend o’Festivals has always given me the kick in the pants I need to get there.

And now, I need to go load the car and sneak the kitty carrier down out of the storage without Scooter seeing it, else I’ll never get him out from under the bed.

Oh, spice mines….how I wish I could resist your siren song.

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