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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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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