O Holy Night

The last day of 2018. I can hear the garbage trucks outside getting the trash, which means I’ve actually woken up at a relatively decent hour. Today is our annual lunch at Commander’s Palace with Jean and Gillian, which means very inexpensive martinis and all that entails. I also registered for Dallas Bouchercon yesterday and booked my hotel room. So much getting things done! I also worked on my technology issues yesterday–yes, they continue, Mojave is the stupidest thing Apple has ever done as an operating system–and have also been trying to update my phone, which doesn’t seem to be working. I really don’t want to have to get a new phone, but it seems as though this is what Apple is pushing me to do, which is infuriating.

But the desktop seems to be working the way it’s supposed to. Hmmm.

I read a lot of books last year, but I also judged for an award so I really can’t talk much  about any books that were actually released in 2018; which is unfortunate. I really enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (for a book not published in 2018). I also read a lot of short stories. The Short Story Project was originally inspired, and intended, for me to read a lot of short stories and work as kind of a master class for me as far as writing short stories are concerned. As a project, I originally began it in 2017, but didn’t get very far with it. As a result, I decided to give it another try in 2018 and was much more successful with the project. Not only was I reading short stories, I wrote a lot of them. Some of those stories were actually sold; “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, “The Silky Veils of Ardor” to The Beating of Black Wings, “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune, “Cold Beer No Flies” to Florida Happens, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to another anthology whose name is escaping me at the moment. I also pulled together a collection of previously published and new stories, which will be released in April of 2019 but will be available for Saints and Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I also wrote another Scotty (I really need to finish revising it), which will also be out in the new year I think but I don’t have a release date yet. That was pretty productive, and I also managed eight chapters of a young adult novel, the current WIP.

Not bad, coming from someone who wrote practically nothing in 2017. So, on that score, I am taking 2018 as a writing win.

I also edited the Bouchercon anthology for the second time, Florida Happens, and read a shit ton of short stories for that as well. I was very pleased with how that book turned out, in all honesty, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.

I also published my first ever Kindle Single, “Quiet Desperation,” and also finally got the ebook for Bourbon Street Blues up for Kindle. At some point I do hope to have a print edition for sale as well, but I am happy to have the ebook available. I also have to finish proofing Jackson Square Jazz so I can get that ebook up as well.

So, writing and publishing wise, 2018 was a good comeback of sorts; I managed to get back into the swing of writing again, and started producing publishable work, which was absolutely lovely. I started to say I got my confidence back, but that wouldn’t be true; I’ve never had much self-confidence when it comes to  my writing. I also started writing in journals again in 2017, which was enormously helpful in 2018. (I actually went through my most recent one last night–the one I am currently using–and found a lot of stuff that I thought I’d lost in the Great Data Disaster of 2018; things I shall simply need to retype and of course will back-up immediately.

Yesterday, while electronic equipment repaired itself and made itself usable again–we’ll see how usable it is as the days go by–I watched two movies–The Omega Man and Cabaret on Prime, as well as the documentary Gods of Football (I highly recommend this one for eye candy potential; it’s about the shooting of a calendar in Australia to raise money for breast cancer charities, starring professional rugby players in the nude, and yes, the eye candy is delectable). I watched a lot of good movies and television shows over the course of the year–The Haunting of Hill House and Schitt’s Creek probably the best television shows–so it was a very good year for that. (I have some thoughts on both The Omega Man and Cabaret, but will save those for another post at another time.)

I also got my first New Orleans Public Library card this past year, and began reading New Orleans histories, which were endlessly fascinating, which led me into another project, Monsters of New Orleans, which is another short story collection about what the title says, crime stories based on real cases in New Orleans but fictionalized. And there are an incredible amount of them. I read the introduction to Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous Murder Cases in New Orleans, and while I am aware that Tallant’s scholarship is questionable (I figured that out reading Voodoo in New Orleans), his books are always gossipy, which makes them perfect for New Orleans reading. What is real, what is true, and what is not is always something one has to wonder when reading anything about New Orleans history; some of it is legend, which is to be expected, and unprovable; some of it is very real and can be verified. Some of the stories in this collection, which I am going to work on, off and on, around other projects, will inevitably be complete fictions; but others will be based on true stories and/or legends of the city, like the Sultan’s Palace and Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau. It’s an exciting project, and the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspiration I get, not only for this project but for other Scotty books as well…which is a good thing, I was leaning towards ending the series with Royal Street Reveillon, but now that I’m finding stories that will work and keep the series fresh…there just may be a few more Scotty novels left in me yet.

My goal of losing weight and getting into better physical condition lasted for only a few months, and didn’t survive Carnival season–it was too hard to get to the gym during the parades, and between all the walking, passing out condoms, and standing at the corner, I was simply too exhausted to make it to the gym, and thus never made it back to the gym. I began 2018 weighing 228 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been, and have managed, through diet and portion control, to slim down to a consistent plateau of 213. This is actually pretty decent progress; not what I would have wanted to report at the end of 2018, but I am going to take it and put it into the win column, and we’ll see how 2019 turns out.

The day job also had some enormous changes; we moved out of the Frenchmen Street office, after being there since 2000 (I started working there in 2005) and into a new building on Elysian Fields. This also caused some upheaval and change in my life–I’m not fond of change–and it wasn’t perhaps the smoothest transition. But I’m getting used to it, and making the necessary adjustments in my life.

Now we are on the cusp to a new year. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about new goals for the new year. It is, of course, silly; it’s just another day and in the overall scheme of things, a new year really doesn’t mean anything is actually new; but we use this as a measure of marking time, and new beginnings. I’ve always thought that was rather silly; any day is a new day and a new beginning; why be controlled by the tyranny of the calendar and the societally created fiction of the new year?

But it is also convenient. If you set new goals every new year, you then have a way of measuring success and failure as it pertains to those goals. I am not as black-and-white as I used to be with goals–which is why I use goals instead of resolutions, as there is also a societal expectation that resolutions are made in order to not succeed–and a goal is merely that, a goal, and not something that is fixed in stone. The endgame we all are playing with these goals and resolutions is to effect change in our lives and make them, in theory at least, better. So, any progress on a goal is a way of making your life better.

I didn’t get an agent this year; that was on my list of goals yet again. I am not certain what my own endgame with the agent hunt is; I need to come up with a book idea that is commercially viable for an agent to want to represent, and that isn’t easy. Most of my book-writing decisions were made, not with an eye toward the commercial, but with an eye toward I want to see if I can write this story. Was that the smartest path to take as a writer? Perhaps not. I don’t know what’s commercial. The manuscript I was using to try to get an agent never worked as a cohesive story for me, and in this past year I finally realized why; I was trying to make a story into something it wasn’t. If I ever write what I was calling the WIP but is in reality ‘the Kansas book’, I have to write it as I originally intended it, not as what I am trying to make it into. And that’s something that is going to have to go onto the goal list for 2019.

On that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

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Bridge over Troubled Water

Looks like we made it, Constant Reader; through another week of trials and tribulations and who knows what all, quite frankly. I woke up at six, but stayed in bed until just before eight, and feel obscenely well-rested, not tired at all; maybe a bit of a sleep hangover, but other than that, in tip-top shape for this lovely weekend. There’s condensation all over the windows around my workspace this morning; I suspect it rained over night and the air out there is probably warm and thick with water. It’s also not cold inside, which is a tip-off that it’s probably a lovely day outside. Paul is going to go into the office at some point today; I intend to go run some errands later as well as get some serious writing done. Conference championship football games are on television all day, but I really don’t care who wins any of them, if I’m going to be completely honest. The kitchen seems scattered and messy today, so does the living room, and of course, Paul is leaving for his winter visit to his family on this coming Wednesday, so I will have almost a full week of alone time.

I am, for December 1, disgustingly behind on everything; from Bury Me in Satin, stalled at Chapter Six, to finishing touches on both the Scotty book and the short story collection. I also need to proof read Jackson Square Jazz at some point so that can finally be available as an ebook; it never seems to end, does it? But I did somehow manage to tear through my to-do list this past week (other than anything writing/editing related that was on it) and I think now, finally, the day job is finally going to settle into a kind of routine schedule. I also picked up Bibliomysteries Volume I, edited by Otto Penzler, at the library yesterday, so I have a wealth of short stories to read. (I also still have all the volumes of anthologies and single author collections I was reading earlier in the year on the mantel in the living room; I should probably get back to those at some point as well.) I am probably going to keep The Short Story Project rolling into the new year; I do love short stories, and I keep finding more unread collections on my bookshelves.

I got some books in the mail yesterday; the two most recent Donna Andrews Meg Langslows, Toucan Keep a Secret and Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (which I wish I could read over the Christmas holidays; I love reading Donna’s Christmas books during the season but I doubt I’ll have time to read Toucan first; and yes, I have to read them in order DON’T JUDGE ME); two novels by Joan Didion, Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted; two books by Robert Tallant, one fiction (The Voodoo Queen, an undoubtedly error-riddled and racist biographical novel about Marie Laveau) and one nonfiction (Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders); the next volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, A Clash of Kings; and Hester Young’s follow-up to The Gates of Evangeline, The Shimmering Road. 

So, yes, my plate is rather full this weekend–but I shall also have plenty to do while Paul is gone. I am also thinking about buying the third and final season of Versailles on iTunes to watch. I will probably make an enormous list of all the things I want to get done while Paul is in Illinois and wind up doing none of them.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also need to figure out his Christmas presents while he’s gone, so I can get them and have them all wrapped before he gets home.

And so now, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me

Thursday morning, and my quest to readjust to, ahem, civilian life is getting there gradually. I no longer feel like my batteries need to be recharged–at least, not for the moment–and there is some semblance of order to my kitchen. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and once again there are dishes in the sink, but the situation is neither as dire nor extreme as it seemed the other day. I’ve still not finished catching up on my email, nor have I had the mental fortitude to get back to reading Circe (which is killing me), nor have I written a single word of fiction this week…but I will. I am almost to the end of my latest journal, which means I’ve been carrying around two with me this week–the almost-finished, and the new one–which means I need to make sure that ideas and story fragments inside of it must be marked or retyped or scanned or something, so as not to be forgotten.

I came up with the idea for a hilarious Nancy Drew type spoof one morning while hanging out with Dana Cameron; actually it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the easiest way to describe it, which I happily scribbled away about in my journal, and I also came up with an idea for a crime short story which I am interested in exploring at some point; I have the WIP to work through, and the rewrite of the Scotty manuscript as well. I need to buckle down, don’t I? But I think that this week of readjustment and recharging my brain is necessary. I am inspired and I want to work hard on my writing again, I just haven’t the energy or creative strength to do it this week.

I have to run errands this morning; I don’t have to be at work until later this afternoon.

I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I?

I am also toying with the idea of writing a supernatural-style series; it’s been on my mind for a while, and while I was in St. Petersburg I thought of a way to make it work, and combine some of the short stories I’ve written about that area of Louisiana already (and yes, The Gates of Evangeline helped with that). I am also becoming more and more interested in the history of Louisiana, and the possibility of a historical series, maybe New Orleans in the pre-WW1 era, or the 1920’s. I can’t decide.

But even though I am not putting words down, I am thinking, and that kind of counts as working, doesn’t it?

And now back to the spice mines.

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Live and Learn

Trying to settle back into the mundanity of every day life again. Dishes piled up in the sink, a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, books and files and papers and note cards and silverware, bottle caps and letter openers and my checkbook scattered about with reckless abandonment and no discernible pattern other than a concurrent lack of desire and energy and interest to do anything about it. Clothes are strewn across the floor of the laundry room while books gather dust on top of the dryer. For yet another day, I allowed myself to wallow in the malaise aftermath of a writerly weekend; a foot back into the swirling and comforting waters of my writing career. At some point–most likely tomorrow morning–I shall rise and make myself some coffee, answer the seemingly insurmountable amount of emails that have clustered in my various in-boxes, organize electronic photos downloaded and stolen from various social media sites to further document the weekend, and generate emails of thanks and gratitude. But tonight, realizing I didn’t even post a blog entry today, I chose to simply sit down as my tired mind and exhausted body wind down for bed and compose a start to tomorrow’s blog in an effort to maximize efficiency and leave more time in the morning for making lists and figuring out what needs to be done and what needs to be worked on, prioritizing and reordering and stepping full-time back into the day-to-day existence of going to work and running errands and cleaning and writing and reading and trying to stay on top of things and at the very least tread water rather than losing more ground.

Traveling does this to me, and especially traveling for writing; each time I am immersed full time into the writing/publishing/reading community it always takes me a little bit longer to pull back from it, to stop missing it, and get back to the business of being Gregalicious again.

One of the loveliest things about traveling, for me, is being able to read. I don’t know how people travel by air and don’t read, to be honest with you. The time just flies past and you can forget that you’re in a busy airport with some people who don’t care about clipping their toenails or other such horrific things in public, or hurtling through the air in a long metal tube thousands of yards above the ground through the theory of lift, a Physics principle I wish my father the engineer had never explained to me because now it creeps into my head every time I fly. I was not only able to finish reading The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young as our flight taxied to the gate in Tampa; and I started reading Madeline Miller’s brilliant Circe on the way back and cannot wait to finish it.

But The Gates of Evangeline was truly a stunning work.

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The sky is a dismal gray when I finally go to remove my son’s car seat. It’s raining, a cold autumn rain that feels both cliche and appropriate for a moment I’ve spent more than three months avoiding. I stand by my Prius, peering through the rear window at the empty booster seat, wondering for the hundredth time about the thin coating of mystery grit Keegan always left behind. And then I do it.

I don’t give myself time to think, just proceed, quickly and efficiently. Loosen the straps. Dig into the cushions of the backseat and unhook the metal latches. One tug, and the car seat lands with a thunk on my driveway.

They never end, all these little ways you have to say good-bye. I turn my face toward the drizzle.

The summer has gone, slipped away without my noticing it, and somehow October is here, flaunting her furious reds and yellows. Squinting, I take in the houses of my neighborhood their wholesome front yards: trim lawns, beds of waterlogged chrysanthemums, a couple of pumpkins on doorsteps. And leaves, of course, everywhere, blazing and brilliant, melting into the slick streets, clogging gutters.

These are actually not the opening paragraphs of the novel, but rather the opening paragraphs of Chapter One. I chose to not use the opening of the prologue to share, primarily because, while the prologue is extremely well done and gripping, it primarily serves to set the mood for the story, rather than introducing the reader to the main character, Charlotte Cates–whom everyone calls Charlie–and Charlie is the driving force of the novel; its success with the reader entirely depends on how you feel about Charlie, as a character, as a person, as a woman, and as a mother. That is key to the novel; if you don’t like Charlie, you aren’t going to enjoy the book.

Which is a shame. The plot of the book is powerful, an interesting mystery about a missing small boy of wealth and privilege who vanished from his room on the palatial family estate of Evangeline in Cajun Country, Louisiana. Charlie is a successful career woman, managing editor of a Cosmo-like magazine, divorced her husband for cheating, and was raising her son on her own. Her parents died young and she was raised by her grandmother; her parents were, as we say down here, “pieces of work.” But then her young son dies suddenly of a rare aneurysm, casting her down the road of grief, pain, blame, and horror. Whatever flaws she might have, Charlie is grieving, and her grief is so real and palpable that you start rooting for her as she leaves her job and drives to Louisiana to write a true-crime book about the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau. Many mysteries haunt the plantation, and Charlie has to navigate those while digging into what happened to Gabriel. The book is beautifully written, and how Charlie begins to slowly come out from under the dark cloud of her own grief, through her interactions with the others at Evangeline and the local people she becomes involved with, is even more powerful than the mystery she is trying to unravel. Charlie also has psychic visions she doesn’t understand, sometimes seeing the past and sometimes seeing the future; and one of those visions–of a boy being taken, rowed into a swamp by someone who has sexually abused him and plans to kill him–is the impetus that gets her to shake off her grief and head to Louisiana in the first place. The visions, which easily could be used to move the story along, etc., are intertwined into the story instead in such a way that seems organic and never seems manipulative.

I greatly, greatly enjoyed this book. As I said, it’s a crime novel but it’s really about coming to terms with grief, accepting tragedy, and moving on. I cried at the end. I will say I had a couple of quibbles, but over all, a great read.

There’s apparently a sequel, which I will definitely seek out.

Can’t Let Go

We took Scooter to Kitty Camp yesterday morning, and I spent the rest of the day packing and cleaning, around treating every available surface for fleas and watching the US Open (GO SERENA! GO RAFA!). But I managed to get everything that might have fleas or flea eggs in it treated with the death-to-flea spray we got at the Cat Practice, and to be honest, I’ve never seen any fleas anywhere except for occasionally finding a sluggish one on Scooter. It’s possible–they said this at the Cat Practice–there are so many fleas outside that we track them in with us, and when they get on him his flea treatment kills them. I don’t know. I just know that when Skittle had fleas they were fucking everywhere, once we took him out of the house.

Heavy sigh.

It is awfully lonely around here without Scooter, I have to say.

I am, as I said yesterday morning, greatly enjoying Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline. This is, at least so far, what Southern Gothic should be; elegant, dusty, slightly decayed and morally askew; the writing is absolutely stellar and the main character is incredibly compelling: a single mother who works as managing editor at a Cosmo type magazine whose child has died, suddenly, of a rare brain aneurysm, and trying to put her life back together again. She also is a touch psychic, but is never really sure if she is seeing things, dreaming, or it’s grief and drug-induced. Absolutely loving it; trying to decide if I should save it for the airport/airplane or if I should dive back into it some tonight…but worried if I did I wouldn’t be able to set it aside to sleep; I really needed to go to bed early last night; so I put it aside for today’s flight/sitting in the airport. I got up before the alarm this morning, as well–it was set for six and I got up at five thirty.

Heavy heaving sigh. Which means I’ll be exhausted tonight; which I hope means a good night’s sleep.

I am also packing Madeline Miller’s Circe with me to St. Petersburg, and I am sure I will pick up some books once there (there are a lot of giveaways, always, which for a book hoarding nerd like me is heavenly) so I don’t think I’ll run out of things to read. I’ll also have the iPad with me, so I can read any of the number of books on there that I’ve downloaded over the years. And I’d really like to get back to the Short Story Project; although it was fun reading the books for my panel, and talking about the wonderful stories in Florida Happens–I’m thinking there will be some award nominations for the contributors coming in the next year, which is awesome. I’m very proud to have helped in organizing and putting the book together, which was a lot of work and a lot of fun, even though a lot of people wound up being disappointed. But I acknowledged every submission when it was received, and I let everyone know who submitted and wasn’t selected as well.

It’s called being professional, people.

I am very glad travel day is finally here though–much as I have traveling, that’s primarily because I hate the actual traveling. Once I am in St. Petersburg and all checked in and comfy in my fabulous room at the Vinoy Renaissance, I am sure I will be more than fine.

But ugh, airport and so forth.

And now to start getting ready to leave.

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Live and Learn

So, the governor declared a state of emergency last night for Tropical Storm Gordon, which may be a Category 1 when it comes ashore tonight. Right now it’s projected to pass through here around one in the morning, which means when it’s time to get up in the morning and head to the airport it might still be raining, but the storm should have passed long before. Our flight should be fine, barring any complications from airport damage or a power outage there. Fingers crossed! Paul and I discussed it at great length last night, and decided that in a worst case scenario–rebooking and an inability to get out of here until Friday–that we would just turn it into a stay-cation and bid adieu to Bouchercon for this year. It cannot be helped and while it would be an enormous disappointment, there’s no point in being sad, depressed or upset about it, since it’s completely outside of our control.

I did get some things done yesterday that I needed to get done; today’s plan is to take Scooter to the Kitty Camp where he will board until we return, finish packing, get some things done around here cleaning-wise, and get back to reading The Gates of Evangeline, by Hester Young, which I started last night and am enjoying tremendously. Lori Roy mentioned it recently in an article about top Southern Gothic novels, and I remembered that I had a copy; Lori is someone whose opinion about books I deeply respect (check out her most recent, The Disappearing, which is exceptional, but you can’t go wrong with any of her amazing novels) and she has again proven my faith in her taste to be correct. It’s gorgeously written and perfect Southern Gothic–which last night got me to thinking about Southern Gothic. I really think Southern Gothic, and Southern noir, is really what I should be writing; my best short stories (and therefore what I consider to be my best work) really are Southern Gothic; “Survivor’s Guilt” is a good example of that.

Something to ponder, at any rate.

I also finished reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie yesterday morning, so my Bouchercon homework is complete, one day ahead of time.

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When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gate of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. A rawboned middleweight, he was broad at the shoulders and hips, as if God had attempted to halt his growth and he’d thickened out of spite.

“Go one,” the guard said. Jay couldn’t remember his name, but he was all right, as far as CO’s went. “Ride’s waiting for you at the curb.”

Jay squinted at the road. The only vehicle waiting in the early summer heat was a black Suburban parked at the yellow curb. The wind played with his shock of black hair. He had spent twenty-five years locked inside a dank Shaolin prison dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

Mama Angeline raised him to understand that some folks just needed killing. There was nothing you could do for them.

And she’d been right.

And so begins the final Anthony nominee for Best Paperback Original. I was already acquainted with Jay–he appeared in Pluck’s short story contribution to Blood on the Bayou, “Gumbo Weather,” and was delighted to read about him again. The book reads like a classic old black and white film, as Jay tries to figure out what happened to his life and the people he cared about while he was locked up–as well as looking out for vengeance–and it reads like a cross between a Jim Thompson novel and perhaps a Lee Child; non-stop twists and turns and surprised, written in a style the compels you to keep reading.

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