Skullcrusher

Well, yesterday was not one of my better days; it started off not great–right around the time I started getting ready to leave for work–and continued through the beginnings of my day at the office. No need to get into the frustrations and irritations involved (one of them being not being able to find a check for a short story I last had my hands on Saturday but the fucking bank was closed and now I can’t find it), but just before my actual clients started showing up I took a very deep breath and cleared my mind and cleansed it of everything poisonous that the incompetence and thoughtlessness of others put there and sallied forth into my day.

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

After work I went to the gym–had been blowing it off for just over a week, he admittedly shamefacedly, but it was cold–and that was lovely. I came home and cleaned the kitchen, and when Paul got home we watched two more episodes of Bridgerton, which is oddly enjoyable and addicting. My favorite character by far is Eloise Bridgerton; what a delight she is, rejecting everything having to do with being a proper lady and just wanting to live her own life and expand her brain. We have yet but one episode left to go before it’s all over until the next season drops, and I shall sorely miss it; it’s just pure unadulterated fun, while at the same time making me wonder that for so many centuries we put so little store by women other than for them to be wombs, property of their husbands. It’s also a bit racy–I can’t believe one of the major plot points revolves around Simon not, er, um, shooting his load inside his wife, our heroine Daphne. But Regency England society was pretty racy; I was just talking to Paul last night about how this period has never been of much interest to me because of the Regency–Prince George was a bit of a monster–and of course by the time of the events of this show, Queen Charlotte was already dead; but frankly I am glad Charlotte is the one in charge instead of her wretched son.

Today is also pay day, aka pay the bills day (huzzah?)–it seems like we just got paid, really–and so at some point this morning I shall have to make the car payment as well as pay the other bills as well. Oh, how I long for the day when the car is finally paid off; it seems like I’ve been making that enormous monthly payment forever now. I didn’t sleep all that well last night–worry about all the things I have to do, no doubt; I feel as though there are several swords of Damocles hanging over my head at this point in time–but as always, there is nought to do but simply put my head down and start ploughing through everything until I can get as caught as I can while other new and interesting and sometimes tedious tasks and chores pile up around me. But at least this morning I came downstairs to a clean kitchen, which was lovely, and my desk is completely in order (I looked for that check again last night when I got home; nowhere to be found, alas; but it shall eventually turn up somewhere, I am certain), which was even lovelier, quite frankly. Although I didn’t sleep much or well over the course of the evening I don’t feel tired this morning–that will undoubtedly come along later–so I am very hopeful that the tiredness won’t be too terrible this afternoon and so I can get some writing done this evening. I have another short story I want to reconstruct for a submissions call with a deadline later this spring; I have a story that is absolutely perfect for the call–I just need to make some serious adjustments to it (I actually borrowed the entire structure and setting of this particular story for my Joni Mitchell story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings), but I already know how to revise it and make it work; it’s just finding the time to sit down and go through the many drafts it’s already been through and figuring out how to get it done properly.

I’m also trying to decide what to read next–I have e-galleys of the new Hilary Davidson as well as the new Alison Gaylin; both look superb–but I have so many wonderful books on hand in the TBR pile already! A plethora of riches, as it were.

I’ve also fallen down a massive Louisiana history black hole, something that may come in handy when I want to write another Sherlock story. Belle Grove was one of the biggest houses in Louisiana; located in Iberville Palace not far from Nottoway–the White Castle–Belle Grove was actually pink and called the Pink Palace. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt; I can’t imagine the upkeep on a place like that, or, for that matter, the upkeep on Houmas House or Nottoway or Oak Alley must be outrageous as well. I think my version of Belle Grove will be set in my fictional Redemption Parish; I always tie my stories together, remember? The modern Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock updated “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “A Scandal in Belgravia”; why should I not title mine “A Scandal at Belle Grove”?

These are the things I think about when my mind wanders, as it is so apt to do when given such an opportunity.

And on that note, tis back off to the shower with me, and off to the office. Have a lovely Inauguration Day, Constant Reader!

Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

The Truck Driver and His Mate

And somehow here we are at Friday again. Christ, these weeks seem to last forever, and yet somehow I still manage to get so very little fucking done. It seems as though every Friday morning I find myself staring into the gaping maw of my email inbox, with so many emails to answer and some not only need to be answered by require me to do something; to look something up; to verify something; or make some sort of decision. I’m trying very hard not to make myself crazy (crazier, at any rate) and yet…and other emails are getting pushed down further into my inbox, and I know what I really need to do is reverse the order so that the oldest ones are at the top, but I shudder at the very thought of that. And yet, realistically, I know I have to do that one morning and deal with those emails, because with every day they become that much older.

Yesterday was exhausting. By the time I got home–after making works bags all afternoon for the needle exchange and gathering today’s supplies for condom packing (I have calls to make today, so rather than watching my next selected films–Alien and Aliens back to back on HBO MAX–I will be talking on the telephone as I make my condom packs, at least for part of the day; multi-tasking, as it were). And when quitting time rolls around later this afternoon, rather than curling up with Blacktop Wasteland, as I would much rather prefer, I am going to have to start the heavy lifting on the revisions of chapters one thru ten of Bury Me in Shadows, because in order to remain on schedule with it I need to have that finished by Sunday evening in order to begin work on chapters eleven through twenty.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life where I don’t feel crushing guilt for not responding to emails within five minutes of their reception; for not having the energy after a lengthy day at the office or of doing day-job activities at home to work on my writing or read a book; for not having the drive to get things done, for not always being in motion, for not being, basically, a Stepford wife. My apartment is a disaster area, there’s another load of dishes to be done, and its Friday, the day I usually launder the bed linens. The car has a tire with a slow leak in it, so at some point I need to find the time to head over to a gas station to refill the tire with air, and also need to find the time to take it back into the dealership to have the tire dealt with, as well as have routine maintenance done. I am sleeping deeply and well every night, but so deeply that every morning I could probably, if I could, sleep several hours more and my body harbors a resentment towards my brain for forcing my body out of the bed and pouring coffee down its throat and trying to get some kind of grip on the day ahead. Even as I sit here typing I can see the number changing on the tab where my email inbox is opened; possibly more junk to simply be deleted, but there will inevitably be something in there I need to read, that will need to be responded to, will perhaps require me to think or take some kind of further action.

Partly this malaise I feel this morning is inevitably connected to the relief that the lumps in my pectorals are nothing more than genetic fatty deposits hardening into cysts that do not endanger my health nor require any further action or activity on my part; while I was doing my best to repress those worries and push them down deep into my brain and consciousness, the worry and stress wasn’t gone, and the feeling of relief has released a lot stress I wasn’t aware I was carrying. There’s probably some other sort of cathartic release of pent-up stress and energy I could and should be doing; that might help me get motivated and stop feeling so defeated every day.

And I probably should get back into therapy, if I only could carve that time out in my weeks.

Part of it has to do, I am certain, with the sense that I am not organized; but I am also very well aware that even should I carve a day out to get organized it won’t help at all with the sense of drowning and being overwhelmed; the feeling that I have that each limb and appendage is tied to a horse facing a different direction and someone is about to fire the starting pistol. And yet, even now, as the coffee and caffeine from my first cup courses through my veins and my mind begins to throw off its sluggishness and that melted feeling begins to fade from my muscles, I am aware that all the things that I allow to frustrate me (I wish I had a place where I could spread the manuscript out and piece it back together after tearing it all apart and I wish I had enough space for all my books and I wish I could rearrange my time so that I had time for everything I need to get done and I wish I could stop being so lazy or at least stop imagining and believing that I am lazy and I wish I had more self-confidence and I wish I could I wish I wish I wish) can neither be helped nor changed by simply wishing it to be so, and therefore allowing these immutable, unchangeable facts about my current situation in life to defeat or frustrate me is, ultimately, self-destructive (a regular pattern in my life deeply rooted in my consciousness from being told repeatedly that I was a loser so I started believing it, believed it for years, and revert to that mentality frequently whenever under stress or pressure) and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, instead I should be looking back at this past year and what I have accomplished. I have had any number of successes with short stories, giving the lie to the insidious belief that I am not a good short story writer. Just this week I sold another one, “The Snow Globe”; I had two come out in anthologies around the same time (“The Silky Veils of Ardor” in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Joni Mitchell and “The Dreadful Scott Decision” in The Faking of the President); I sold “The Carriage House” to Mystery Tribune and Night Follows Night” to an anthology titled Buried; I pushed myself by writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” to The Only One in the World anthology; and my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” was sold to an anthology I really need to follow up with, as I’ve not heard anything about it in quite some time. I still have two out on submission, but those are both long shots I don’t have a lot of confidence will land–and that is not self-deprecation; both are fine stories, but are undoubtedly buried in piles of hundreds of submissions, hence the strong possibility they won’t be sold. Both stories are works I am pleased with, “Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness,” and while the short story market has certainly dried up dramatically since I started publishing, I enjoy writing stories and would love to publish more of them.

But I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, so I can get the Kansas book worked on one more time and turned in as well, and then I can get going on Chlorine. I can get everything done that I need to get done, and need to stop allowing negativity to creep into my brain; there’s enough negativity in life already that I don’t need to create my own.

And so I am going to go get my second cup of coffee, and I am going to start digging through the emails. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and remember–don’t let anyone, especially yourself, hold you back.

Did You See Me Coming?

And somehow, just like that, we made it to Wednesday again. Well done, Constant Reader; sometimes it feels like we’re just not going to get there.

So, yesterday morning between screenings, I checked out my iCloud drive to just see what precisely I have in progress at the moment (not counting everything else that has been unfinished for years) and the count is: four novels, four novellas, and at least nineteen short stories. (And y’all wonder why I talk about having creative ADHD. Barbara, please.) Then again, should I get all of these things finished by the end of the year, I would absolutely have another short story collection completed (there are already several unpublished, finished stories I have in my “to submit” folders as well, and three that have been sold–two of which are out now–in The Beat of Black Wings and The Faking of the President; so at some point that second collection will be ready to go within the next year or so*) and so it looks as though the dearth of Gregalicious publications will be solved once he gets off his ass and starts finishing things.

Heavy heaving sigh.

One thing I noticed yesterday as I drove to my essential job (yes, my job is considered essential) is that there was a lot more traffic then usual at that time; and then I remembered driving home Friday night after work in heavier traffic than usual as well. Oh no, I thought, I wondered how long it would be before New Orleanians couldn’t stand the isolation anymore and despaired; but there was so little traffic on my way home from work last night that I managed to play one song on my phone through the car speakers as I pulled onto the highway and it was just finishing as I pulled into a parking space across the street from my house (yes, I managed to hit every light as green once I got off the highway too; I LOVE when that happens), so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

These are such strange and new times, and I’m never really certain what to think about them, you know? Or to try to think ahead; this week is about all I can handle right now, thank you very much and good night.  But I’m also a planner, even if the plans and their timing remains somewhat amorphous all the time; it’s just kind of who I am. I’m also aware that if you don’t plan ahead a bit, you tend to get very surprised along the way and that is never, ever a good thing.

Yesterday I discovered, entirely by accident, that one of my favorite old movies–The Letter, starring Bette Davis, had actually been a short story by W. Somerset Maugham first, before he himself adapted it into a play which then became the basis for the two film versions (the more famous Bette Davis version was actually a remake of the Jeanne Engels version from the previous decade), and it was in the public domain, so I downloaded a copy of it to read for the Short Story Project; it’s a long story, clocking in at over 13,000 words, which in today’s world I suppose would make it a novella. I am, of course, rather excited to read the original source material, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read Maugham before–just another one of those great old white male writers I’ve never read; and it occurs to me just now that one of the things I should reread for the Reread Project is Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I’ve never really gotten Hemingway, and certainly didn’t when I was forced to read him in high school–hating the experience so much I never went back to him–but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give Papa another turn. Perhaps as a more mature adult and reader I can appreciate him more (although my recent reread of The Great Gatsby made me hate the book even more than I already did); but I certainly didn’t mind reading some other Old White Men over the years, like Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser (I should tackle the massive An American Tragedy sometime; I really liked Sister Carrie when I read it), and I should probably make up one of the greatest gaps in my reading history–The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I’ve never read–but I’ve read a lot of Twain over the years.

It is absolutely insane how many works I have in progress! (I just reread the opening of this entry again) But I do believe that perfectly illustrates my point about my creative ADHD….and there are even more short stories than that, really; those are the ones I’ve worked on at some point over the last few months. And of course, more ideas come to me all the time. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I need to get ready to face my day. Have a good Wednesday, Constant Reader!

*the third, “The Carriage House”, has been sold to Mystery Tribune, and I’m not sure when it will be released; so stay tuned!

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A Man Could Get Arrested

And today I am going back to work. I took a vacation day yesterday–one last gasp, as it were–and actually managed to get some writing done. I got another two thousand (almost three) words done on the Sherlock story; which was great because I was beginning to think I was never going to get back into a writing groove again. They may not be good words, but they are words, and I will take them gladly, thank you very much.

It felt really nice to be writing again, and writing something that I should be writing, instead of all these story fragments and openings that I’ve been working on lately; something I need to be getting finished rather than letting my creative brain ping all over the place uncontrollably, like a pinball. It’s also kind of nice to be going back to work this morning; I am very much a boundary person, and because i am so jealous of my free time, there are definitely boundaries I’ve set up around my job–primarily if you aren’t getting paid don’t spend time on it.

It can be tricky sometimes.

But I’ve been out for over a week now, and as you can imagine, isolating myself entirely from my day job for that amount of time has left me without a clue as to what is going on at the office, and I do have to swing by there today, if not to stay and work (I’m not sure what will be needed or required from me now) or if I have to come back home and do data entry (but there’s something at the office I need in order to continue doing that), so who knows what the day holds for me?

Heavy sigh. These are, after all, strange times in which to be living.

The weather here has cooled off–the cold front that resulted in those dreadful storms across the south on Sunday has lingered; yesterday was actually kind of a lovely day, all things considered–sunny and cool in the low seventies, a beautiful and rare spring day–but alas, my trip to the uptown Rouse’s yesterday did not yield what I needed it to, and am going to have stop at the one in the CBD on the way home from the office to get the other things I need.

Oh! I am also guesting over at Art Taylor’s The First Two Pages today, talking about my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” in Josh Pachter’s anthology The Beat of Black Wings.

One of the more interesting things about this entire quarantine/shelter-at-home experience with COVID-19 is the behavioral changes I’ve made. I’ve already mentioned that I’ve become a bit addicted to my Kindle app on my iPad, after years of vowing not to read electronically; I’ve actually been using my phone as a phone as well, which is terrifying to consider. I’ve successfully avoided and staved off phone calls for years, other than calling in to board meetings. Who knows, I may even start listening to podcasts. The world has turned upside down.

But I also started a wondrous reread last night: Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandback, which is the first in one of my favorite series of all time, and introduces us to Amelia Peabody, the headstrong spinster heiress who decides to visit Egypt–her father was a classics scholar, while her older brothers married and moved away, she stayed with her father to take care of him and inherited his enormous fortune when he died, and decided to see all the places her father studied–and her wit and charm! Obviously, I loved the Amelia Peabody series, and the characters, but I had forgotten how much. My God, Amelia can make me laugh out loud, and revisiting the book, I remembered how much I loved her–and this book, where she meets the three people (Emerson, Walter, and Evelyn) who are destined to be her created family (along with Abdullah) and when she finally reaches Egypt and falls in love with the country…and that take charge and take no prisoners attitude….well, before I knew it, I was zipping along in the book and was close to being finished with it. Trust me, when I am finished there will definitely be a blog appreciation of Amelia Peabody.

And I should get to work now. Have a lovely day, all, and I’ll see you on the other side of the spice mines.

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The Silky Veils of Ardor

As Constant Reader knows, Gregalicious loves short stories. He regrets deeply that they are much harder for him to write than novels (I’ve often joked that I find it much easier to write a novel than a short story; the word count limitations are hard for me as I always tend to write probably more than is needed to illustrate a particular point–take this sentence, for example), and I am sure part of this insecurity comes from my oft-told tale about my first writing professor, who earwormed his petty nastiness into my brain and soul. (But also this gives me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction in that I know I’ve published more fiction than he did during his time on this planet; to this date, I still cannot find a single fiction publication for the prick.)

And while I am a firm believer in the mentality that writers should always be paid–even if merely a token–for their work, I will often write short stories if requested, and don’t mind donating a story for a good cause. The two stories I had in Bouchercon anthologies weren’t paid, nor was my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s; like I said, when I am asked to write a story I am genuinely so flattered that the editor thought enough of me and my work to ask. I like writing short stories, even if they are a struggle for me, and there aren’t many places where one can get them published these days.

I was enormously flattered to be asked by short story master Josh Pachter to write a story for his anthology of stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. The irony, of course, is that while I am familiar with Ms. Mitchell and her work–and I like what I know of it–I am not as familiar with her canon as I am with women singer-songwriters like Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton or Carole King; I also realized that the songs of hers that I could name off the top of my head–“Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, etc.–were the same ones anyone could; I wanted something not quite as famous and perhaps a little more obscure, something to which a Joni Mitchell fan would say oh yes, of course you chose that song.

So, I did what I often do in these situations: I asked my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford), and he immediately came back with “You should pick ‘The Silky Veils of Ardor.’ It’s about that hot guy all the high school girls fall in love with and breaks their hearts.”

That was definitely intriguing, so I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song several times as I listened to Joni’s sweet voice singing them…and I knew immediately what story I was going to tell.

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The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she stepped out into the hotel lobby and took a quick look around. At the front desk, a young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she was holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to head back to the elevators and punch at the UP button until the doors opened, get back to her room and repack her suitcases—everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet—was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this….

A dull murmur came from the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattle of ice against glass, the whir of a blender. From where she stood, she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses with trays balanced on one hand maneuvering expertly around groups of people.

Maybe no one there was from the reunion. Maybe she was early. Maybe—

You can do this!

She’d always had social anxiety. Had never made friends easily, couldn’t make small talk, sometimes said the wrong thing, alienated people without even knowing what she’d done. Parties and dances had always been agony. Even with friends, people she felt relatively certain actually did like her, there was always the irrational fear she’d say the wrong thing, forget a birthday, commit some horrific social faux pas that would turn them against her, show them what a damaged, worthless person she actually was. She’d started seeing a therapist after college, years after she should have, but her parents thought therapy was all touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo for the weak and all you had to do was suck it up and forget about it, not worry, lock it all away in some dark corner of your mind and move on.

I have never attended a high school reunion, and frankly, have little to no desire to ever do so–with no offense intended to anyone I went to high school with. Our school was very small and remote, for one thing–my graduating class had only 48 students, and at that point, were the largest graduating class in our high school’s history. It’s not easy to get there–one would have to fly into either Kansas City or Wichita, rent a car, and drive for at least an hour just to get to the county seat, and of course, my high school was about nineteen miles (give or take) north of the county seat. I do think about going back from time to time, more to take a look around and see what’s different now as opposed to then; to refresh my memories a bit for writing about the region–which I’ve done somewhat already, but not nearly as much as I could. Using Google Earth has already shown me that my memory is faulty–I’ve fallen into Google Earth wormholes frequently–so while there is some idle curiosity about going back, there’s very little desire or motivation. It’s difficult, I think, for my classmates to understand that I really don’t have much desire to revisit that time of my life; it’s certainly not their fault but the four or five years I spent in Kansas also contain some of the darkest periods of my life.

I wrote a short story about a high school reunion under my Todd Gregory pseudonym; “Promises in Every Star,” which eventually became the title story of my Todd Gregory collection. I first had the idea for that story when I received the invitation to my ten year reunion, back in 1988; the title is a lyric from one of my favorite til Tuesday songs, “Coming Up Close,” from my favorite album of theirs, Welcome Home, which I can listen to over and over again, and have, many times; it’s definitely in my Top Five favorite albums of all time. I don’t remember where I originally published that story, but it was many, many years later, after I had the original idea and wrote the first draft (in long hand), and after that, I figured I was finished with high school reunion stories.

Until “The Silky Veils of Ardor.”

As I listened to the song, the more the story began to take shape in my head; a high school reunion, twenty-five years later; returning to the town where she went to high school for the first time since she graduated and moved away with her family. I had already written the opening, for another short story; as I revised and retooled that particular story, the character grew and changed and wasn’t the timid, nervous, medicated woman she originally was–but I loved that original opening, and decided to lift it from the initial drafts of that story onto this one. I found the original word document of the first draft, erased everything after the opening few paragraphs, and renamed the file THE SILKY VEILS OF ARDOR. The rest of the story flowed out of me after I finished rereading and tweaking the original opening to fit the new story, and I was off and running. I revised the story several times, and one of the things, one of the points, I was trying to make with the story is about how differently we see high school than our friends and classmates did–which is an idea I’d been toying with after an exchange on social media with some of my classmates after I’d posted something–a status update or a blog post, or something along those lines–about how miserable I’d been in high school; my friends were all astonished because how remembered high school was very different from the way they remembered it, and me. I remembered feeling isolated and lonely, like an alien from another planet set down into their midst; a freak everyone kept at arm’s length. They, on the other hand, remembered me as being popular and well-liked by everyone.

And that, my friends, is where this story came from. I still think about those tricks our memories play on us; our inability to see what was right in front of us if we could just see clearly.

The book will be officially released on April 7th from Untreed Reads; you can preorder it at any vendor that sells ebooks. There’s a stellar line-up of writers, and some of the proceeds are going to charity.

And thanks again to Josh Pachter for inviting me.

Here’s a link to Joni singing the song–this is the video I listened to for inspiration.

Boot Scootin’ Boogie

Wednesday morning, and the month of March is already slipping through our fingers like water in a sieve. It looks again to be a gorgeous morning out there–at some point this morning I am heading to the gym. I’ve just finished the long part of my work week–the two twelve hour days, and yesterday was particularly brutal, quite frankly. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but alas, staying in bed all day won’t make the world go away nor will it deny the inevitability of Wednesday and all of its commitments arriving. So, I am going to slurp down some coffee, get some things organized, clean this messy kitchen/office, head to the gym, make a list of the errands I must get done today, and so on and so forth before I head into the office for four o’clock-ish.

I do feel tired this morning–I’m not sure if it’s tired from the two long days or a sleep hangover from my over-indulgence this morning–but I am sure the coffee will soon start kicking in and getting me over this hump. I did get a chance to write some more on my Sherlock Holmes story, but the primary focus for today needs to be my emails–at least for this morning–and maybe I can swing back around to working on the story later this evening. I’m relatively pleased with what I’ve done so far and the idea I have for the story; I am also working on another story with the same deadline–but this one is easier; I just have to revise a story that was turned down for another anthology and fix what was wrong with it to get it ready for this new submission.

But like the ant with the rubber tree plant, I’ve got high hopes.

This morning, the cover for the Joni Mitchell anthology I contributed to, The Beat of Black Wings, edited by the incomparable Josh Pachter, was announced and revealed over at the BOLO Books blog; click and go check out the cover  but the table of contents. I am enormously thrilled and excited to be sharing the TOC with such amazing writers as Elaine Viets, Donna Andrews, Art Taylor and Tara Laskoski, Sherry Harris, Brendan Dubois, and numerous other people who’s work I’ve enjoyed and admired for quite some time. My story was “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” inspired, naturally, by the song with the same name. When Josh graciously asked me to write something for the anthology, it was actually my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford) who suggested which song to use. I will admit that while I am a fan and have always liked her work, I’m also not familiar with a lot of it, and also figured that the songs that I knew were most likely the songs everyone knows, and I wanted to do something not quite as famous as, say, “Free Man in Paris” or “Both Sides Now” or “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Help Me”. That Bitch Ford came to the rescue, suggested the song I used, and once I listened to it, I was like, hell yes, I can write this story.

I always say the best advice I’ve ever received or can give to a writer is to never throw anything away, and this certainly proved to be the case this time. I had written a dark yet delicious story set in a hotel bar at a writer’s conference with the TERRIFIC title “Death and the Handmaidens” (I still have hope for that title and the story, to be honest) which never got anywhere. Everywhere I submitted it to rejected it, so I clearly had missed the mark with it somehow, but I liked the seedy hotel bar setting, and after listening to Joni’s song, which is basically about a beautiful boy all the teenaged girls fall in love with, I started , naturally, thinking back to high school and the beautiful boys all the girls had crushes on…and the more I thought about it, the more I realized the seedy hotel bar setting was perfect for this, only instead of a writer’s conference it was a high school reunion, and my main character’s social anxiety disorder (something I experience from time to time) fit into this story much better than it did in the original. I took the original three paragraphs from “Death and the Handmaidens,” used it for the opening of this new story, and it just took wings (if you’ll pardon the allusion) from there. Josh gave me only a couple of edits, which was again enormously flattering, and now the story will be available soon–along with all the others, which I am truly looking forward to reading. I believe the anthology is going to be officially released in late April/early May; right around the same time that another anthology, The Faking of the President, will become available with my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” included.

I do love writing short stories, even if it’s like amputating a finger sometimes, and I really love getting them into print. Last year saw my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, see print with some new stories, and also saw the inclusion of my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (all available for your Anthony ballots, just saying). “This Town” is probably my favorite of all my short stories ever published, at least in recent memory; if I do another short story collection I will probably make it the title story, aka This Town and Other Stories.

All right, it’s time to get my shit together. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you again tomorrow.

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Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

Well, I don’t know about coming down, but it’s definitely Sunday morning.

Then again, I did have to come downstairs, so I guess that’s somewhat applicable.

I wallowed in bed until nine this morning; I woke up originally at approximately seven AM and chose to stay in bed, it was kind of a lovely thing. The nice thing about football season being over is there’s no longer a need to get up early on the weekends in order to get things done before the games start–I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just stay in bed and relax and stay there until you really feel guilty about staying under the covers for so long. I stayed in bed pretty late yesterday morning–eight or nine, I don’t remember–but it is lovely, even if it throws my sleep schedule off a bit, seeing as how I must rise at six the next two mornings. But c’est la vie, right?

I did get some good work done yesterday on the Secret Project–which is going to be my primary focus this morning before I go to the gym–and I also have emails to answer. I also finished reading Tracy Clark’s terrific debut novel, Broken Places, yesterday, and then spent a good while trying to decide what to read next. As a general rule, I don’t like to read more than one book by a solitary author in a row, particularly when I have three of them to read; I’m interviewing Tracy for Sisters in Crimes’ quarterly newsletter, and so it behooves me to read them all. No worries–I am going to devote an entire entry at some point to Broken Places–probably shortly after I finish this one, to be honest.

I also got the lovely news that the Joni Mitchell anthology i contributed to, edited by Josh Pachter, The Beat of Black Wings, will be out and available in time for Malice Domestic! This anthology is a “crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell,” and the table of contents is a veritable who’s who of crime writers and people I am lucky enough to call friends. My story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” is one I particularly am proud of; I feel like I’ve been doing some terrific work on short stories over the past few years, dating back to the Short Story Project (which reminds me, I have another one I need to get started writing, and soon), and I do hope you’ll get a copy of the anthology. The proceeds are going to a charity; one of which Ms. Mitchell approves, and I believe the anthology is even going to promoted and featured on her website, which is very cool. More to come on that front, of course.

Oh, did I mention I am going to Malice Domestic this year? Yes, that’s correct, Constant Reader, I am going go be at Malice Domestic this coming May; I’ll be taking Amtrak down from Penn Station the morning after the Edgars to Malice Domestic. This is my second Malice, and I am really looking forward to it–particularly seeing friends win Agatha Awards two days after the Edgars. I’ll be flying home the following morning (that Sunday), but it’d going to be an absolutely lovely trip, and one which I hope will once again make me feel once again connected to the writing world.

Krewe de Vieux was last night, but I stayed home; Paul went to watch with friends, but I’m reserving my energy and strength for the St. Charles Avenue parade season, which opens this Friday with three parades. There are four or five more on Saturday, and then another two on Sunday; at least Sunday wraps up early in order for there to be rest and relaxation for the two-day break before the final stretch of six days and seemingly endless parades begins.

I can hardly believe it’s parade season again, but here we are.

I’m thinking, since we’re most likely going to start watching HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider this evening, that perhaps it’s time to crack the spine of the first edition hardcover I own and start reading it; I do like to read the book along with the series adaptation whenever I can–this worked really well with Big Little Lies–but I am also thinking that maybe I should read a cozy next? It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my toe into the cozy waters, and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to read one next? But I simply cannot seem to make up my mind, heavy sigh. Maybe a reread of Where Are The Children  as a memorial to Mary Higgins Clark?

So many books to read, and so very little time.

Well, I suppose I can put off the decision a little longer…and perhaps it is time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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You Give Love a Bad Name

Christ, what an irritating day this has been so far. I had to get something resolved, and I am glad I managed it, but it also wound up taking two hours and I am really annoyed about losing that time that I’d intended to use a LOT more productively. I am now going to try to shake it off so I can get some work done today…

…or there may be a body count.

I got very little done yesterday; I didn’t sleep well on Friday night and tossed and turned, so I was exhausted and more than a little brain dead yesterday. I did get some work done on the afterward to the short story collection, but not good work and I finally just walked away from the computer. I was also ridiculously exhausted after making groceries, so I just retired to my easy chair with my journal and my book and then did some film streaming. I rewatched an old 1980’s noir, Masquerade, starring Rob Lowe, Meg Tilly,  Kim Cattrall and Doug Savant; I’d really enjoyed the film at the time I saw it on the big screen, and wanted to see how well the movie held up. Tilly plays heiress Olivia Lawrence, sheltered and shy and worth over $200 million since her mother passed away several months before she graduated from college. Unfortunately, her “mother’s last husband”, as she calls him, has an income from the estate plus has the use of her family homes….including the one on the Hamptons, where most of the story takes place. To say they do not get along is an understatement. She becomes interested in Rob Lowe’s character, Tim Whelan, who races sailing boats and is currently employed by the wealthy Morrisons; he is also having an affair with the trophy wife, played by Kim Cattrall. Tim and Olivia meet at a party and begin a romance…only it turns out that Tim and the wicked stepfather are out for Olivia’s money. There’s a murder, a cover-up, and things keep twisting and turning and there’s another big surprise twist about two-thirds of the way through the story.

It does hold up well, and watching the movie I realized something I hadn’t realized before; a lot of the imagery I used in Timothy, how I pictured it all in my head–the estate, the beach, the water, everything–was visualized primarily through my memories of this movie. One thing I’m not quite sure that does hold up; the trope of the wimpy, mousy heiress who is married for her money; this was an extremely popular trope of romantic suspense–think Suspicion, or almost everything Victoria Holt wrote–but this was filmed as noir; which means the points of view come out on display. (So many Victoria Holt novels were built around the mousy heiress who thinks her husband married her for hr money and is trying to kill her!) My friend Rebecca Chance one said that romantic suspense was “noir for women” back in the day, which I’ve always thought was a brilliant take, and a great basis for an essay; perhaps someday I’ll write it.

We also watched a really good gay movie last night, Retake, starring Tuc Watkins (whom I remember from One Life to Live) and Devon Graye, both of whom were really quite good; and the plot, which took a while to get going, was pretty compelling, actually. I do recommend the film.

And now I need to get to work.I should have a cover reveal this week for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I also got the final acceptance of the latest version of “Silky Veils of Ardor,” which is going to appear in The Beat of Black Wings, edited by Josh Pachter. I also need to make a to-do list, and I also need to clean the fuck out of this kitchen today.

Okay back to the spice mines.

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