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.

The View from Your Balcony

And here we go, Sunday and a new week. Huzzah, I suppose.

Yesterday was actually a very good day. Not only did I manage to get some work done on the Secret Project, I got some excellent work done on the Secret Project. It was quite a relief, actually; I’ve tried this first fucking chapter I don’t know how many times and could never get it right; plus I could never get the voice right, it seemed. I despaired, in fact, that I would ever get this under control. But yesterday I opened the most recent draft of the first chapter, started reading it, and thought oh no this will NOT do at all and started fixing it; reordering things, and finding the character’s voice in the process. Before I knew it several hours had passed and not only had I gotten the first chapter under control and whipped into shape, I’d managed to do the same with the second.

This was, as you can imagine, an enormous relief. I can’t speak for other authors, but I always fear it’s going to go away–the ability to construct decent stories and realistic characters and how to write something good, quite frankly. It’s why lovely feedback, like I got recently with the two short stories I sold, is so beneficial and helpful; it also always seems to come around when I need it the most.

It also helps that I wasn’t distracted, and could absolutely focus on what I was doing. Focus is so crucially important, and I have so little time where I can actually sit at my computer, ignore the cat’s whines for attention, and focus on what I’m doing; whenever I can I see everything so clearly and the work is so much better. The times, alas, this year when I have that ability, that clarity of focus, to write, seem to be few and far between.

I did also realize this morning as I lay in bed lazily waiting for the mood to get up to strike, that I am well on my way to having another collection of previous published short stories ready. Granted, some of them haven’t seen print yet–and might not until next year–but some of them have: “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”,”This Town”, “The Carriage House”, “Night Follows Night”, “The Dreadful Scott Decision”–and there are three more still out on submission, although one has already been accepted, but I have no idea when that will ever see print–“A Whisper from the Graveyard”–and the other two–“Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness” will inevitably and undoubtedly be rejected; those two were submitted to literary fiction markets and we’ve already ascertained , numerous times throughout my life, that I am not a literary writer. There may even be more that I am not even thinking about right now–I’m still on my first cappuccino, don’t you dare judge me–but that’s nearly ten stories, and I generally think of a collection being somewhere between sixteen to twenty; unless there’s a novella included. (I’ve decided that “Once a Tiger,” the Chanse short story, is really a novella, and if I ever do finish writing it–and the other novellas–I’ll probably just bind them all into one volume.)

Last night we finished watching Dark, which is superb (it’s so good it deserves its own entry) and then we watch Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs on Hulu, which was a cute little piece of fluff with some truly funny moments, and then moved onto another Mexican crime show, Dark Desire, which also stars Alejandro Spietzer, the gorgeous actor (pictured below) who was also the star of The Club–and is also dating Ester Exposito, who played Carla so superbly in Elite. It’s quite interesting so far–we’re two episodes in–and will continue with it. It’s so weird how we pay more attention to foreign language shows because of having to read the subtitles, while if whatever we are watching is in English, I’ll periodically reach for the iPad.

I’m also having dinner with a writer friend tonight who is in from out of town; so I need to make sure I get all the chores finished and get the rest of these chapters done on the Secret Project, so I can start writing the proposal and then it’s out of my damned hair.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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It Always Comes as a Surprise

Yesterday was unusual in that it was a Saturday where I actually had to interact with the outside world more than I usually do on a given Saturday: I had a business conference call at noon, and then last night I did a live reading and discussion of my story for The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and the event was in conjunction with the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, California. Also reading were Abby L. Vandiver, Alison Gaylin, and Kate Flora. It was very interesting and fun, and my story, of course, is “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I didn’t spend much time writing yesterday, but I do think I solved some of my computer issues with the desktop; at least it is working fine for now and not making me want to smash it into little pieces with a hammer. We shall see how it goes from now on, however; I reserve the right to lose my temper over it wasting enormous amounts of my time going forward.

It was fun talking about presidents, and history, and my story last evening. The story was fun to write, once I figured out what I was going to write about and how to frame the story. As I have said repeatedly, short stories are difficult for me to write, and I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much–both writing and reading–is because they are a challenge for me; plus, I can explore something–style, character, voice, etc.–vastly different from what I usually do, which I think also helps me become a better writer. I will always accept an invitation to write for an anthology or a magazine or something to challenge myself. The Sherlock Holmes story was a challenge for me–I still don’t know if they are going to use  it, or if it’s going to come back to me all marked up with lots of revision requested, or it’s going to be passed on–but once I got into the rhythm of the voice and the period, it was kind of a fun challenge. I’ve even thought about writing another one, which is really crazy when you think about it. I have never been a Sherlockian, although I’ve always appreciated the character and the importance of the stories to the history of crime fiction–seriously, where would any of us be without Holmes?–but it’s not like I’ve joined any fan groups, or have considered writing pastiches before…I certainly wouldn’t have written this one had I not been asked–and I do think it could be fun to write other Holmes stories set in that pre-American participation in WWI period, from say around 1912-1917, and maybe even beyond. It could, for example, be a lot of fun to write a story around German espionage in New Orleans, and it’s a very interesting time in New Orleans history. Maybe “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” could turn into the start of a whole new direction for me. Who knows? That’s the fun thing about short stories–you’re never sure where writing one might wind up leading you.

But I have my entire day free today, and I am going to shortly adjourn to my easy chair to drink more coffee and read more of The Red Carnelian before I buckle down to my own writing. I am hoping to get a lot of progress on the Secret Project done today, and maybe some work on one of my short stories, perhaps even one of the novellas. I just realized next weekend is actually a three-day weekend–where has May gone already?–and so I should also be able to get a shit ton done next weekend….or at least, so one might think.

Paul and I also started watching The Great on Hulu last night, with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s a sort of based on the real story, but a lot liberties are taken with actual history (for one example, Catherine’s husband was not the son of Peter the Great but his grandson; his aunt Elizabeth was actually the empress and selected Catherine as his wife for him–and he didn’t rule for long after Elizabeth died before Catherine usurped his throne. However, the time between Catherine’s arrival in Russia and her seizure of the throne was about twenty years or so; she was no longer a young woman when she became empress–but you can’t spread this story out over twenty years or the series wouldn’t be very interesting.

I also like that they admit up front they are taking liberties; as opposed to The Tudors or The White Queen, which also did but didn’t admit it. It’s also written by the same guy who wrote The Favourite, and the entire show has a similar feel to that movie.

And now, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I know I intend to!

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Here

Another Saturday and lord, so, so much to do–and absolutely no desire to do any of it, quite frankly. I had some trouble sleeping last night, but I feel okay this morning; it may have taken me a few hours to go to sleep, but when I finally did, the sleep was deep and restful, which is all that matters. I woke up again before seven, then slovenly stayed in bed for another couple of hours because it was comfortable. Yesterday was one of those days where I got overwhelmed with everything, primarily because it was humid and muggy and sticky and nasty; and staying down in the garage at the office to screen people and help with the syringe access program was miserable. That kind of weather literally sucks the energy out of you, and by the time my shift was over and I was on my way home, I was enormously grateful that I remembered to get up early and put the turkey breast into the crock pot, so all I had to do when I got home was shred it and make the instant stuffing for dinner.

We watched another episode of Gold Digger–still not sure where this story is going, but the way it’s filmed, it has to end with some kind of crime or something happening; whether Julia Ormond’s much younger lover ends up being killed and killing someone from her family in self-defense remains to be seen–or he may just kill her once they are married; it’s definitely filmed as a crime show, but I’m not really sure where it’s going, to be honest. It’s very well done and very well-acted, and as I have a short story in progress that follows the same sort of set-up (“Please Die Soon”), it’s intriguing to see how and where the story goes.

We also got caught up on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, which is also incredibly well done, and I really love that they are showing the Latinx community in Los Angeles during this time period. There was a moment when I remembered the Zoot Suit riots, and vaguely remembered a movie about them from the early 1980’s called Zoot Suit, and yep, there it was–the racist LAPD breaking up a Latinx dance club where all the guys were wearing zoot suits. It’s really interesting, now that I think about it, how little of a role the Latinx community of southern California plays in most crime fiction of the time, or set in the time (although I will admit I’ve yet to read most of James Ellroy); it’s amazing how little representation minorities have in crime fiction, or in fiction in general.

This morning Facebook reminds me that last year on this date the Anthony Award nominations for 2019 were released; I’m still thrilled and honored that I was nominated for Best Short Story for “Cold Beer No Flies”, from Florida Happens. I think one of the biggest surprises to me in my career thus far is that award recognition from the mainstream mystery community has primarily come to me for short stories; I was nominated for a Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt” and then an Anthony. (I won an Anthony for Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou.) I’ve been writing a lot of short stories over the past few years–more so than in general; usually I simply will write a short story or find one I’ve worked on at some point when there’s a call for submissions for an anthology. I am hoping to pull together another collection of stories–its current working title is Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but that will inevitably have to change, unless I can come up with something different for “Once a Tiger”; the original concept of the story doesn’t seem to work–and last night I did get an idea for a new version (I’ll undoubtedly finish writing the other, only with a different title) which is something more workable, I think, and I also like the idea of Chanse finally dealing with his past with his fraternity at LSU.

I have a board phone call this morning, and I have to do a live on-line reading tonight for another story, “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” from Peter Carlaftes’ anthology The Faking of the President. I have yet to work myself up into a state of complete and utter anxiety about this yet, but there’s still plenty of time. I hope to carve some time out this afternoon to rehearse–but one can never be certain, can one, that you won’t stumble over words when you read your work out loud, which is always mortifying. This afternoon I intend to do some work–I am debating the wisdom of going to the gym, which is probably not wise; but my body really needs to exercise….

I also want to work on the Secret Project, now that I’ve found my character’s voice, and I also need to clean and get organized; I also need to go to Office Depot at some point and buy an ink cartridge for my printer and a new journal, as the current one is filling up. And at some point, I should go back through all the new journals to look for notes and so forth on projects–and ideas I scribbled down in the heat of the moment in order to write later.

All right, these dishes arent’t going to do themselves, so let me get started on that mess.

And until tomorrow, have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader, and as always, thanks for checking in.

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Man of Constant Sorrow

This week a new anthology with a story by one Gregalicious is dropping, The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Rooms Press. Three Rooms also produced the 2018 St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology I edited, Florida Happens, and thus it was lovely to be working with Peter, Kat, and the Three Rooms Press gang again. The book has turned out to be absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be asked to write a story for this.

The concept behind the book was, of course, to create noir stories built around a president. I was torn at first when asked to choose a president; there were any number of them that I truly like and admire….yet so many mediocrities. The 1850’s, the lead up or prelude to the Civil War, has been of particular interest to me of late, and I decided to chose someone from that period, where we had a string of mediocre presidents take up residence in the White House: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and finally James Buchanan. Buchanan is widely considered to be (or was considered to be, YMMV) the worst president in American history; he was the last president before Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of the Civil War. Buchanan did nothing to stop the coming eruption of war; if anything, he exacerbated the ill feeling between the two sections of the country. All the 1850’s presidents were Yankees with Southern sympathies; they were called “dough-faces” at the time (I don’t know why that particular term was used; so don’t ask. Google is your friend), and yes, many parallels between that time and our present day kind of exist, if you care to look to see them. Buchanan also conspired with the worst Chief Justice to ever lead our Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, in the court decision that flamed the fans of regional hatred into an unforeseen heat that made the war even more inevitable than it already had been; Buchanan and Taney thought they were putting the slavery question to bed once and for all with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; by striking down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas/Nebraska Acts as unconstitutional, the two attempted to make slavery the law of the land and permissible in the vast unsettled (by white people) territories as well as make it legal in the states that prohibited it.

Yeah, that kind of backfired.

Buchanan was also the only president who never married; and while there is certainly no proof or evidence that is conclusive, it is widely suspected that Buchanan was our first gay president. He lived, for example, for a long time with Senator Rufus King of Alabama; Andrew Jackson jeeringly called Buchanan “Aunt Fancy”; and their surviving letters bespoke an affection and longing between the two that went a bit deeper than being just good buddies. So, as a gay writer, I decided to write about Buchanan. But writing a period story set in the DC of the late 1850’s seemed a bit much and certainly more than I could handle; plus I couldn’t really come up with a plot. I thought about having Buchanan murder a slave he’d been forcing to be his lover and the ensuing cover-up; I made several abortive attempts at writing that story before finally abandoning the idea.

I had no idea what I was going to write–until I read an article on-line somewhere about Buchanan’s mysterious sexuality and sexual preferences, and the author said something along the lines of but for some historians, short of finding daguerrotypes of Buchanan naked with another man, nothing will ever serve as conclusive proof for the deniers.

And there it was. I started writing “The Dreadful Scott Decision.”

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The cheap whiskey tasted like flavored turpentine, burning so intensely as it went down it felt like it was leaving scorch marks in its wake. Scott Devinney was just high enough from the joint he was smoking to consider that a plus—a sign that he was still alive no matter how numb he felt.

He was sitting in the dark in his cheap apartment near campus, streaming the panel he’d been on at the presidential historians’ conference at UCLA the previous weekend. It had aired live on a PBS network in Los Angeles—it took him a while to figure out how to access it, and now that he was watching it was even worse than he feared. He’d always suspected Pulitzer prize-winning historian Andrew Dickey was a homophobe; his behavior on the panel proved it without question.

Alas, Scott allowed Dickey to get under his skin. He wasn’t proud of that, and his doctoral advisor, Dr. Keysha Wells-Caldwell—also head of the department at UC-San Felice—wasn’t happy, either.

He wasn’t about to apologize to Andrew Dickey, though. He’d die first.

“You have no proof!” Dickey wagged his finger at Scott on the computer screen, his face reddened and his voice raising. “Just like the activists who try to claim Lincoln was gay without proof, there is no proof Buchanan was, either, no matter how bad you want him to be!”

He sighed and closed the window. He didn’t need to watch himself screaming in rage, embarrassing himself and the university in the process.

Which was what Keysha really cared about.

At one time, I seriously considered becoming a historian. I’ve always loved history, have loved to read it and study it,  and even write it (I still would love to do a Tuchman-like study of regnant women in the 16th century called The Monstrous Regiment of Women), but as with so many other things, poor professors in college stomped that desire right out of me. (The other problem, of course, being that I could never decide on a period to specialize in–although if forced I probably would have chosen the 16th century) I have heard, over the years, from friends who work in academia as well as reading books and so forth set in the academic world, how cutthroat and nasty the war over tenure can be; office politics as played by the Borgias or the Medici. My story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” was sort of set in the academia milieu; I even considered writing a series about a college English professor at one time–it’s still there on the backburner; I may write it still. One of the novels I wrote under a pseudonym was set at a quasi-Seven Sisters style college in New England, and of course, my Murder-a-Go-Go’s story “This Town” was about sorority girls, and of course several Todd Gregory novels were set in fraternities.

So, what better idea for this story than a gay Buchanan historian, attempting to prove to the world that Buchanan was, indeed, the first gay president? And how far would he go to get that proof–which is the noir angle I needed for the story? And so the story was born…and you can order a copy here, or from any retailer.

And as you can see from the cover above, there are some fantastic writers who contributed to this book. I am very pleased to be sharing the table of contents with these amazing writers, and a bit humbled. Check it out–you won’t be sorry!

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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Diamonds

Saturday, and later this afternoon is the SEC championship game (GEAUX TIGERS!). But this morning I am going to focus on cleaning up and straightening things up around here, as well as trying to get some writing done. I’ve been horribly lazy this week; I made some decent progress at the beginning of the week on the Bury Me in Shadows revision–comparatively speaking, I didn’t do that much–and I need to get back on that horse before it escapes the barn and leaves me in the dust.

Last night, we started watching V Wars on Netflix. It’s entertaining, and good enough, but it feels a little…I don’t know, familiar? The premise of the show is that melting ice in the Arctic frees up some biohazard that awakens an inactive gene in human DNA–not everyone has that gene–and turns them into vampires. As the germ (I am calling it a germ; they hadn’t really gotten into what it is yet in the show) spreads, more people become vampires–and these vampires are brutal killing machines, whose victims don’t also become vampires (at least, not so far). It’s okay….entertaining enough but it didn’t grab either one of us, probably because it’s too similar to other shows we’ve watched/seen; The Strain, for one example. Ian Somerholder is gorgeous as ever as the main character–as he gets older he gets better looking; he now looks like he could be Rob Lowe’s brother, and he’s a good enough actor to carry the show. The dialogue was a bit stiff, and some of the situations in the first episode or two seemed a bit over the top, ridiculous, and unbelievable. The problem with plague stories like this is the slow development–the inevitable “only one person who figures out the truth and has to convince everyone else as more people die” trope; who in the cast is going to die, etc. etc. etc. Stephen King brilliantly did this in The Stand; once the plague was spreading he jumped ahead a week or so to the point where most people were dead and the survivors were coming to terms with the end of civilization, trying to figure out what to do next, and then begin having the dreams that drive the rest of the story. The Walking Dead put Rick Grimes into a month-long coma, and when he woke up most of humanity had turned into walkers. Both The Strain and V Wars depend on the “fighting impending doom” narrative to build suspense; but it also makes the story drag a bit. As Paul said, “when do we get to the wars part?” Because the very title makes it abundantly clear that the plague is going to spread and it’s going to come down to a war between those afflicted and those who are not–of course, our noble doctor wants a cure to save the afflicted; the government is more concerned with a vaccine and killing the infected–setting up the inevitable conflict between the forces we’re supposed to be rooting for, even though whether they are on the right side or not remains to be seen. We might come back to it at another time, but it just didn’t grab us. Your mileage might vary. The show is based on a book by Jonathan Maberry, and it apparently became the most-watched show in the world on Netflix the day it dropped–so kudos to all involved. It’s done very well, as I said; it just didn’t grab us. Check it out–you might like it. It’s entirely possible we just weren’t in the right place at the time. And we’ll probably go back to it. Anyway, kudos to Jonathan–who is an incredibly nice and generous man–for having a major Netflix hit.

This morning I have some chores to do around the house before I run to the grocery store to pick up a few things; I really don’t want to go, and am looking for excuses not to. But it won’t kill me to go, and it’s never a bad thing to get out of the house. Today we’re going to have our last “tailgate” of this year’s college football season–barbecuing burgers and dogs for the SEC championship game–and I really need to get this apartment under some sort of control. After I finish this I am going to spend some more time answering my emails and cleaning out that inbox once and for all, and then I am going to work on the manuscript for a little but before I head to the grocery store. I’ve been writing a lengthy entry about this LSU season–I started writing it after the Alabama game, and then realized I should wait until the season is over to post it; that way I can reflect on the entire, magical season; I’ll undoubtedly finish that tomorrow morning and finally post it.

Yesterday I got an ARC of an anthology being released next year that I contributed to: The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Room Press (who did the Florida Happens anthology and were an absolute dream to work with). It contains my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision”, which, of course, is a play on the Dred Scott Decision, a horrific Supreme Court ruling that made secession and the Civil War just a little bit inevitable; and yes, I wrote about James Buchanan. I’m very pleased with my story, and I am even more pleased to be in this anthology, with co-contributors on the level of Alison Gaylin, Eric Beetner, Sarah M. Chen, Nikki Dolson, S. A. Cosby, S. J. Rozan, Alex Segura, Erica Wright, Angel Luis Colon, Gary Phillips, and several more people whose talents I’ve long admired. You’re going to want to pre-order this one, people.

It’s also the time of the year when everyone is making their best of lists; I am slightly uncomfortable doing that, quite frankly–although I always do qualify my choices by calling such lists The Best Books I Read This Year, which is really what all of those lists boil down to. I read a lot of amazing books this year, and am completely terrified that I’ll miss one in making such a list; but seriously, 2019 was an amazing year in crime fiction–and the women are fucking killing it. Steph Cha, Jamie Mason, Lisa Lutz, Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Angie Kim–I could go on forever.

Which reminds me, I also want to spend some time with Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside this weekend.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee and get going on my day.  Hello, spice mines!

Y’all have a good one, you hear?

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You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right to Party

Good morning, Thursday, how it’s hanging?

It was bitterly cold in New Orleans yesterday, and of course our heater isn’t working. This tends to happen at least once a winter, and usually the first time we need to turn it on; I think the pilot light goes out? Anyway, the handyman guys should be coming by at some point to see what’s going on.

In the meantime, we shall suffer in silence.

Colder weather means deeper and more restful sleep; it also means not wanting to get out from the warmth of the bed in the morning. But I managed to drag myself out this morning, and the space heater is going next to my desk, and I feel fine–although I need to find my stocking cap.

I just finished paying the bills and, oh how I hate doing that, watching my bank balance drain and all of that, you know. Heavy heaving sigh.

We finished watching Catherine the Great last night, which was extremely well done, and of course Helen Mirren was spectacular in the role. One of the things about the show–and one of the most fascinating aspects of Catherine–was the fact that, as her son Paul kept mentioning, she had absolutely no right to the Russian throne. She wasn’t a Romanov–hell, even her husband wasn’t a Romanov; he was a Romanov only through his mother–and she staged a coup that overthrew him; he was later murdered. At first she was only theoretically a regent for her son; when he came of age she abandoned that pretense and refused to let go of power. She also was a great ruler, if oppressive; she made Russia a great power, and it was her grandson Alexander who toppled Napoleon, and as such, she is worthy of study. Russia today would not be what it is without Catherine, the minor German princess born into poverty who made a great marriage, educated herself, and played a long game when it came to seizing and maintaining power. Her son passed a law forbidding women to rule, so she was the last woman to rule Russia…despite the fact that the vast majority of Russian rules in the eighteenth century were women (Catherine I, Anna, the Regent Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine II–it’s also worthy to note that Catherine I was also only a Romanov by marriage; she was a peasant who became the mistress of Peter I, who eventually married her and left her his throne).

Catherine, like all women who gained and maintained power in the past, has had her reputation vilified and her sexuality criminalized and stigmatized in the years since she died–it even went on while she was alive of course; her voracious sexual appetite and the hideously misogynistic rumor about the horse, which has come down through the centuries and is often quoted as an absolute fact. Other powerful women throughout history were vilified as sexually promiscuous; while Catherine never hid her passions and her love affairs, they weren’t as extreme as the rumors spread by her enemies made them seem. Eleanor of Aquitaine was also painted as a woman of loose morals, which may or may not have been true when she was young; after she married her second husband there was never any question about her fidelity; England’s Elizabeth I was also painted in sexually unflattering lights by her enemies, but her successes, and being queen of England, countered those rumors coming down through time as fact. Marie Antoinette was also accused of being a whore…sexuality has traditionally been used as a way to vilify and demean women, and despite societal changes, still is today.

I admire Catherine the Great for many reasons, but she was also a tyrant–and her concern for the poor and the serfs really came to nothing in the end.

The writing is still tragically stalled; I am hoping to kick start it into gear today. When I got home yesterday from the office and the grocery store, I was a bit frazzled and worn down; so I chose to sit in my easy chair and make notes in my journal and relax with some wine. I consider this, quite frankly, to be a viable use of my creative time. Prep work is important for writing; it’s much more difficult to write something you’ve not put any thought into. I am looking forward this week to get my contributor’s copy of Dark Yonder, which contains my story “Moist Money,” and I also got the cover art/contract for The Faking of the President, which contains my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I have two more stories out on submission; one which I hopefully know about by the end of the year, the other I’ll find out about sometime in the spring. Both, I think, are good stories, but I think I have–see? the time spend in my easy chair is often helpful and productive in the long run–figured out why I have so much trouble with short stories, and how I can correct that problem in the future, making the writing of them that much easier.

Well, we’ll see.

And since I am falling way behind again on everything, I am going to have to recalibrate my schedule to determine what I can–if I actually stick to the plan and do some work–get done by the end of the year.

And on that note, tis best for me to head back into the spice mines.

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Someday

Wednesday morning, although my internal calendar is all messed up from not working on Monday. I kept thinking yesterday was Monday all day–and it was most irritating. But the good news is I made it through an entire twelve hour shift without getting tired (I did get a bit sleepy toward the end, though) and I had yet another lovely night of sleep last night, which was marvelous.

Sleep is so underrated, really. I’ve really come to cherish it as I approach sixty.

Last night we watched the ice dance competition from Grand Prix France, which occurred over the last weeked–we also are most delighted that the Olympic Channel airs a lot of figure skating competitions; we are big fans and always have been, and in recent years the lack of air time for figure skating competitions has made it a lot harder to follow and remain a fan. I think one of the upcoming US Nationals is actually in Nashville, which is drive-able, and therefore do-able (I am really getting to the point where I will avoid flying and airports as much as I possibly can). We then discovered the Netflix has dropped season two of It’s the End of the Fucking World, and very much kudos to the showrunners and writers for taking the show in a completely unforeseen direction in episode one. Tonight will drop new episodes of Castle Rock and American Horror Story: 1984, so our television needs for this evening are already met; but it’s nice to know Fucking World is there when we need something to watch.

I’ve also managed to almost get completely caught up on emails; alas, there was a thing yesterday on a board of directors on which I serve, which took up a lot of time yesterday in reading all the emails, thinking about the situation, and figuring out what we needed to do–if anything–so that kind of threw me off getting through the rest of my emails as well as getting anything written yesterday. I did manage to get the editorial corrections to my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” finished and turned in, and I also got the cover art and an eye on the other contributors–which was quite thrilling; there are some folks in there I am very excited to be sharing a table of contents with–more on that later, but I really love the cover and I really love the entire concept of the anthology, The Faking of the President, and I love even more the fact that I was asked to write for it and was included.

The Dark Yonder anthology, to which I contributed my story “Moist Money” (and how much do I love that I wrote a story called “Moist Money”? And thanks again to the wonderful Bill Loefhelm for telling me I needed to use that as a title) is also going to be available at some time this month; I think the official release date is Black Friday? It’s actually been, all things considered, a pretty good year for me and short stories. I have another one or two out there for submission. And as I said, over the course of this past weekend I finally figured out how to fix two stories that have gone through a ridiculous amount of drafts and rejections: “Death and the Handmaidens” and “The Problem with Autofill.” In both instances I was too stubborn to see the necessary changes that would make the stories work, because those changes were pretty intensive; including a title change for “The Problem with Autofill”–which is still a great title and can still be used for another story, but the one I wrote doesn’t fit that title and trying to force it to fit that title is why the story isn’t working.

One of the biggest problems I face as a writer is my own, innate stubbornness. I CAN make this work is always my go-to, and I cling to that even when it’s patently obvious to me that I cannot make it work. If I had all that time back…but there it is. It may take me in some cases years to get to that point with something I am working on, but I do eventually get there.

I also worked a bit on Bury Me in Shadows before I went to bed last night. It’s coming along more slowly than I would like–and I suspect I am going to have to go back over the first twelve chapters again because I didn’t include everything on this go round that I needed to include, which is fine. I didn’t finish it in October like I wanted to because I got sick towards the end, but I am choosing that as a sign that it didn’t need to be finished by the end of October and perhaps shooting for the end of November is the way to go. That means I can’t work on the Kansas book again until December, but I do think with focus and drive I can finish that one in a month, which frees me up to move onto Chlorine in January. My goal is to get a good first draft written in a month, put it aside to breathe and settle, and then write that next Chanse book I’ve been thinking about for the last few months.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me this morning before work. I have a half-day today, and have some errands to run this morning before heading into the office, which is fine. I’m also doing a better job of keeping up with the chores, so hopefully this weekend, around the LSU and Saints games, I’ll be able to do some touching up. Have a terrific day Constant Reader!

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When Smokey Sings

And just like that, the vacation is over and it’s back to work with me.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But in all honesty, it feels like I haven’t set foot in the office for months. It also feels like I haven’t written anything in months, either.

But let’s face it, and be honest with myself: yesterday was also the first time I have felt human,  or like myself, in weeks. I managed to get good sleep almost every day for the last five or six days; it’s amazing what a difference good sleep can make in one;’s day to day life. Even this morning, despite being untimely ripped from my bed–I’m not sleepy or tired; just not fully awake yet, and the coffee–with an assist from a shower–will change that all fairly rapidly.

I started –and finished–Richard Stark’s The Hunter yesterday, and I’m not quite sure how I felt about it. I thought it was written very well–the pacing was particularly good–but…it’s a 1962 novel, and that shows with misogyny and a couple of homophobic slurs, as well as some seriously questionable sexualization. But it’s also a pulp novel from the early 1960’s; Stark was a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, and it read very quickly and very fast….the main character, Parker, is described as an anti-hero; I’d say he’s more of a sociopath than anything else, really, although I do suppose to that does make him a bit of anti-hero….I am still thinking about the book, and will write more about it at another time, most likely. After I finished reading it, I moved on to The Ferguson Affair by Ross Macdonald. I don’t think I’ve read it before–to date, to the best of my knowledge I’ve not read any of Macdonald’s non-Archer novels, and that very much is what this one is; but it’s got Macdonald’s trademark writing style, and I am enjoying it. I think the Parker novel inevitably led to the Macdonald, really–there were some things about Parker that reminded me of both Macdonalds, Ross and John D.; I actually was looking for a non-McGee novel of John D. MacDonald’s to read, and finally decided on the Ross Macdonald The Ferguson Affair. As I read the book, it reminds me of something I’ve read before–perhaps not another Macdonald novel, but perhaps one of the Lew Archer short stories I read in The Archer Files last year when I was doing the Short Story Project.

I also had to do the editorial notes on my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” which is appearing in the anthology The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes of Three Rooms Press–they also published Florida Happens last year–and got that turned in; I also saw the cover, which was shared on Facebook. I do like this story that I wrote; it wasn’t one of the easier ones to do. Primarily the reason it took me so long–other than I was writing Bury Me in Shadows at the same time–was because it was so difficult to come up with an idea for what I was going to write. Ordinarily I like writing stories to order–trying to come up with a story that fits a theme (and I usually will push those limits) is always a fun challenge; this one was a bit more difficult, and I am really happy with what I finally managed to come up with. I did worry, as the deadline loomed, that the story wasn’t going to come together properly; I always have that fear, it’s the flip side (or a primary symptom) of Imposter Syndrome. But it’s finished, the editor liked it, and I got my corrections done….now I just have to figure out how to write this Sherlock Holmes pastiche I agreed to write. I already have the idea, and how I want to do it, and where it’s set and the title, which I love….I just now have to figure out the story itself.

I also figured out how to revise two short stories I’ve been unable to get; one was simply because in order for the story’s title to work, one of the characters had to be a moron; and the other because it was a little too, shall we say, spot on? It’s also a great title, and I think it’s a great story; I just have to revise it and change some of the things in it before I make one last try to get it published somewhere.

It’s actually been a pretty good year, career-wise, for me so far….and with only two months left to go–what can I accomplish in the meantime?

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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