Baby Love

Thursday and I have a lot of work to get done today. I was exhausted yesterday and very low energy for most of the day; the coffee never kicked into high gear (I assumed that all it managed in the face of yesterday’s exhaustion was keeping me awake, alas and alack) but it’s fine. Sometimes you need those low energy, low production days to recharge your batteries, and mine certainly feel charged this morning. I am hoping against hope that this means a highly productive day here in the Lost Apartment; one can certainly hope so at any rate. I did start some things yesterday that I never finished, so that’s up first while I am still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (which has always struck me as an odd thing to say) and then I am going to dive back into the book headfirst.

Under normal circumstances, I would have woken up at the Marriott Marquis at Times Square this morning and would be writing this on my laptop in my room while swilling coffee from the Starbucks on the eighth floor (with which I became very well acquainted during my stay there back in November). But thanks to the latest variant, the trip was cancelled and no New York for me in January for the second year in a row. It’s just as well, I suppose–I’m not certain I would have been able to finish the book while on the road, and that’s kind of important; although knowing the trip was still happening would have made me push harder last weekend and this week before leaving to try to get as much handled as possible.

I was very tired last evening after the day’s business was concluded, so I basically went down some Youtube wormholes while waiting for Paul to come home so we could get back into Stay Close, the new Harlan Coben show on Netflix, which is quite intriguing seeing how all the disparate stories are connected together as the show progresses. Ozark is coming back soon, which is exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing the new John Cena super-anti-hero show when it finally drops. Superman and Lois has also returned, and I watched the first episode of its second season last night while waiting for Paul to get home–it’s the best interpretation of the Superman mythos since Christopher Reeve; if you’re a Superman fan you really should be watching it–and it looks like the second season will be just as good as the first.

It’s chilly again this morning in New Orleans; not as bad as yesterday (I did wonder if the cold had something to do with my low energy day yesterday) but chilly enough to be noticeable. The sun is out though, which is always a plus, and the sunshine certainly helps my mood dramatically. I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I? Heavy sigh. But this is working to warm me up and get my brain going while I swill down my coffee, and that’s always what the purpose of this has been–to get my brain and creativity going in the mornings so I can get things done. I just realized I didn’t mark the anniversary of the blog, started on Livejournal back in the day; right around Christmas 2004, to be exact, which means this blog has been going now for well over seventeen years over two different servers. That is a ridiculous amount of blogging, really; it’s something I should probably be better about archiving. (Which reminds me: I still need to find my old journals, don’t I?)

I also want to start reading the new Alafair Burke; maybe I’ll carve some time out today between the writing and the watching of television to come tonight to spend some time with it. I am choosing not to read the jacket copy; I want to be completely surprised by the story when I read it. I also want to start reading some more of Laura Lippman’s short stories in her collection Seasonal Work, and of course my TBR pile is completely out of control. Heavy sigh. But I think I can get some pruning and organizing done around the writing today; sometimes you have to get up and walk away from the computer, and that’s going to help me get some other things done over the next few days (oh, the shelves in the laundry room stress me out every time I walk in there) and of course, there’s always some laundry to do, and the floors, and the dishes…heavy sigh. It never ends, does it?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow morning.

Storm in a Teacup

I first discovered Stephen King when I was a sophomore in high school. A friend was carrying a paperback copy of Carrie around with her, and I neither recognized the title nor the author. The cover was interesting looking, in that weird kind of alternate reality type way that speculative fiction covers so often got at that time. “What is this about?” I asked when I picked it up and examined the book.

“It’s about a bullied girl with psychic powers,” she replied. “My mom was worried about letting me read it because she’s afraid I’m like her.”

It rather broke my heart a little to hear my friend, who was overweight and had very bad skin but also incredibly kind and intelligent, say this; but I could also relate a bit because I, too, was picked on and bullied. I, too, knew what it was like to walk past a gaggle of kids both pretty and “cool”, notice that they stopped talking as I approached only to whisper and laugh once I walked by…while simultaneously feeling grateful that they had the decency to whisper so I couldn’t hear what was said (and typing that really made me sad).

I opened the book to the first page and there it was, about halfway down the first page, in italics: Carrie White eats shit.

The preceding sentence, not italicized, read: “Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:”

The realism of this, its brutal reality and recognition of the horrors bullied kids face, was like a 2 x 4 across my forehead. I started reading, and kept reading, until the bell rang and I was about thirty pages in, completely drawn into the story. I’d never read anything like it before; it was so real, so honest, so like what high school was actually like as opposed to the cutesy stories I was accustomed to reading about teenagers, where the concerns were “who will take me to Prom?” or “should I go ahead and have sex now or do I wait till I get married?” This was visceral, and I regretfully passed the book back to my friend, thinking, “I’ll look for it at Zayre’s when we go there next.”

My friend, who shared my love of reading, just smiled and said, “I haven’t started it yet–why don’t you go ahead and finish it and then give it back?”

I read it instead of paying attention in my next class–it was Drama, the little play we were rehearsing for class had me assigned stage managing duties, so I really had nothing to do since I wasn’t rehearsing–so I sat in a seat in our school theater, reading. I read it on the bus ride home. I read it when I got home, sitting on my bed with my back propped up by cushions. And I finished it that night–establishing a pattern with King’s fiction that lasted for decades: I would read the book as soon as I got a copy from start to finish, usually in one sitting (It kept my up all night because I couldn’t put it down).

When I saw Night Shift on the wire racks of the News Depot several years later in Kansas, I was terribly excited. A new Stephen King! I bought it immediately and took it home…slightly disappointed to discover it was merely a short story collection, and I wasn’t a big fan of reading short stories; I only read the ones I was required to read for a class assignment.

I read the first story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” and didn’t like it at all; I put the book aside and didn’t return to it until months later…the next story, however, was “Graveyard Shift” and it was amazing…suffice it to say, I read the rest of the book through in one sitting–and it’s also been my go-to for rereads and so far when I don’t have a lot of time, or I want to simply relax and enjoy reading…one of the reasons for years I would often reread a favorite book.

But last night we started watching Chapelwaite, which I knew was an adaptation of that first story I didn’t care for–and have never reread as a result–and so I decided to go ahead and revisit the story.

I am really glad that I did.

Oct. 2, 1850

Dear Bones,

How good it was to step into the cold, draughty hall here at Chapelwaite, every bone in an ache from that abominable coach, in need of relief from my distended bladder–and to see a letter addressed in your own inimitable scrawl propped on the obscene little cherry-wood table beside the door! Be assured that I set to deciphering it as soon as the needs of the body were attended to (in a coldly ornate downstairs bathroom where I could see my breath rising before my eyes).

I’m glad to hear that you recovered from the miasma that has so long set in your lungs, although I assure you that I do sympathize with the moral dilemma the cure has affected you with. An ailing abolitionist healed by the sunny climes of slave-struck Florida! Still and all, Bones, I ask you as a friend who has also walked in the valley of the shadow, to take all care of yourself and venture not back to Massachusetts until your body gives you leave. Your fine mind and incisive pen cannot serve us if you are clay, and if the Southern zone is a healing one, is there not poetic justice in that?

Yes, the house is quite as fine as I had been led to believe by my cousin’s executors, but rather more sinister. It sits atop a huge and jutting point of land perhaps three miles north of Falmouth and nine miles north of Portland. Behind it are some four acres of grounds, gone back to the wild in the most formidable manner imaginable–junipers, scrub vines, bushes, and various forms of creeper climb wildly over the picturesque stone walls that separate the estate from the town domain. Awful imitations of Greek statuary peer blindly through the wrack from atop various hillocks–they seem, in most cases, about to lunge at the passer-by. My cousin Stephen’s tastes seem to have run the gamut from the unacceptable to the downright horrific. There is an odd little summer house which has been nearly buried in scarlet sumac and a grotesque sundial in the midst of what must once have been a garden. It adds the final lunatic touch.

But the view from the parlour more than excuses this; I command a dizzying view of the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite Head and the Atlantic itself. A huge, bellied bay window looks out on this, and huge, toadlike secretary stands beside it. It will do nicely for the start of that novel which I have talked of so long (and no doubt tiresomely).

When I first read this story (and disliked it so intensely) I was a teenager completely turned off by the archaic style of writing, as well as the concept of a story told in letters and diary entries (I wasn’t aware of the concept of epistolary fiction at the time; it was also why I stopped reading Dracula when I first tried as a teenager), and the story itself was just kind of…weird–with all its references to things inside the walls and “great worms” and “horrors from beyond the cosmos”…it wasn’t until I read King’s study Danse Macabre that I became aware of Lovecraft’s work and eldritch horrors; but remembering how much I disliked this story, it didn’t exactly inspire me to go on to read Lovecraft or works in a similar vein (the cultural war over Lovecraft in the speculative fiction community over the last decade–not sure of the time line, frankly, and don’t care enough to go look; I am loosely affiliated with that community and have many friends in it, so can’t not be aware but simply observed).

But watching Chapelwaite put me in mind of this source material for the show again, and I decided to reread it this morning, since I’ve never reread the story since its initial read back in the 1970’s. I’ve since read Dracula; Les Liaisons Dangereuses was the book that cured me of my disdain for epistolary fiction–the book is extraordinary–but yet, never gave “Jerusalem’s Lot” another try.

I’m glad I did.

This second read made me appreciation the story a lot more than I did over forty years ago. A quick glance at the copyright page for Night Shift shows that the story was an unpublished work included in this collection and seeing print for the first time; a shame, because it not only shows King’s incredible versatility as a writer but also it’s chilling and creepy; it’s almost Gothic in tone, certainly using a writing style from the past (although I don’t know that a man in 1850 would mention needing to relieve his bladder in a letter to a friend); one that is very formal and I didn’t care for much as a teenager but have come to greatly appreciate in the years since. The story is simple: Charles Boone, after some ill health after the loss of his beloved wife, has inherited a family estate on the coast of Maine. There was a family rift between his grandfather and great-uncle; the death of the former master of Chapelwaite has left Charles as the lone survivor of the family. Once he and his man-servant arrive, they begin to experience strange phenomena that they originally tribute to rats in the walls; but rats don’t explain when no one in the nearby town of Preacher’s Corners will come near the place, or will have anything to do with Charles. A few miles from the house is a pristine yet abandoned village: Jerusalem’s Lot (yes, the same name of the town from King’s classic vampire novel ‘salem’s Lot), and Charles–despite being warned (do people in horror stories ever listen to warnings?) investigate the little town, and…yeah.

GREAT story, and the end is *chef’s kiss*.

Very glad I decided to revisit the story, so thank you, Chapelwaite, for getting me to do so.

And I will add there’s another Jerusalem’s Lot story in Night Shift, “One for the Road”–which I deeply love.

And now back to the spice mines.

I Love Saturday

It’s true. I do love a Saturday.

Yesterday was gloomy in New Orleans–clouds everywhere; white and fluffy, but too thick for the sun to get through, so there was kind of a weird dullness to the light. I spent most of the day doing data entry for my work-at-home chores, and then starting proofing the pages of #shedeservedit, which are due on Monday. I hope to get a lot done this weekend; I have writing to do and edits to make and everything else; I am leaving on a trip on Tuesday to the northeast so writing is probably not going to be much of an option while I am traveling. I will try, however; just as I will try to write here every day so you won’t miss me terribly. (I crack myself up, seriously; no one would notice if I didn’t post! I am not that arrogant.)

But today is bright and sunshiney; I woke up feeling really good after a very lovely night’s sleep–long and deep and restful–and I feel like this morning is the start of a great new time for me. (It’s really amazing what a great sleep will do for one’s outlook, isn’t it?)

Yesterday was a work-at-home day, and by the end I was bleary-eyed from staring at a computer screen entering data for the most part. I was very glad to finish–it’s tedious, and while it does appeal to my obsessive-compulsive side as well as the completist aspects of my persona, any kind of simple data entry work can become tedious and make your eyes cross after awhile. After Paul got home last night we caught up on this week’s episode of The Morning Show and started watching Chapelwaite, with Adrien Brody from EPIX, which is, of course, based on Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” from the Night Shift collection (which I now want to go back and reread, at least this particular story). “Jerusalem’s Lot” was never a favorite of mine of King’s, and I never revisited it; it was written a very old Gothic style, like Dracula–mostly epistolary, in the form of letters and journal entries–and King himself has said it was very Lovecraftian in influence and style (I’ve never read Lovecraft; something I should perhaps remedy at some point. I’ve always admitted my education in classics is sorely lacking.) and I didn’t much care for it as a callow youth. But as an adult I’ve become more enamored both of epistolary tales (I love the concept of people writing incredibly lengthy letters to each other; and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, one of my favorite books and stories of all time, is completely epistolary), and I suspect a quick reread of the story will actually give me a better appreciation for it. Plus, I think to get back into the habit of reading again, I may need to revive the Short Story Project. I’ve been struggling with my reading again lately, not sure why, but maybe reading short stories will help me work my way around it.

Today I have writing to do, as always. I am going to finish writing this and continue to swill coffee while finishing some odds and ends here in the kitchen; I’ve made some impressive (to me) progress with the organizational project I’ve undertaken (goal: to be completely organized by the end of the year), and I might even sit outside and read for a bit this morning. It’s definitely fall here now–yesterday it was in the 60’s–and quite lovely. I do want to go for a walk in the neighborhood where my book is set, to get another feel for it–so that will probably be on the agenda for either today or tomorrow.

In other exciting news, I may have found a home for one of my own short stories, a particularly dark and twisted tale no one I’ve submitted it to wants to touch. An editor compiling an anthology of gay-themed and written crime stories reached out to me this week; I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and realized that this story actually, with a few tweaks, could easily be made into something that fits this theme. So, add that to the list of things to do. I didn’t really do anything in the world of short stories this past year–something I hoped wouldn’t turn out to be the case; I’d been hoping to write and sell a few every year going forward, but this crazy year has just slipped through my fingers and as such, don’t really have much in the way of short stories to show for myself, which is terribly disappointing. Then again I rarely cease to find myself disappointing….

And on that note, I am going to grab my iPad and read that Stephen King short story. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you yet again tomorrow.

When I Grow Up

Saturday morning and yesterday was lovely, as we slowly begin counting down the last days of my fifties. Hurray!

Yesterday was actually kind of lovely. I had my spa day (in full transparency, that means I got a back wax) which I enjoyed (at some point in time I will discuss how I feel about body hair, particularly that which grows on one’s back), got my prescription, got Scooter’s insulin syringes, got the mail, made groceries, and got phô (AT LAST), and the phô (from Lilly’s Cafe on Magazine) was truly magnificent. I got home around two thirty; it was a weird weather day in New Orleans, where the sun was shining in parts of the city and there was a downpour in others, along with thunder and lightning; which enabled me to experience all the vagaries of a summer day’s weather in the city in August over the course of two hours. After the errands were completed and my phô bowl was empty, I spent the rest of the day relaxing and organizing and cleaning–yes, yes, I know, but organizing and cleaning (like the LSU 2019 football season) is my happy place. I wound up not reading much, nor doing any writing, but I managed to get a lot done. I am still not as organized as I would like to be, as I think I should be, but I have three more days without work pressure to get through, and so while I am going to spend some time writing and reading over the next three days, I also want to finish getting organized. I’ve been so scattered and disorganized for so long–really, since the Great Data Disaster of 2018–that getting that particular act together has been enormously helpful, and I think if I actually can go ahead and get completely organized, that will make my getting everything done that I need to get done finished that much easier.

I am going to spend some time this morning with The Other Black Girl. I have to get the mail today–I am expecting some things–after which I’m planning on braving the West Bank to do some box store shopping (the traffic over there is always horrible, even on the best of days; and now that I am thinking about it some more, perhaps I should just wait and go on Monday; it’s not pressing. I can just get the mail today, really, and pick up a few things at the corner Walgreens–which I now think might be the best option? We’ll see how I feel).

But I got all my Chlorine research organized–I went through my journal (the most recent one) last night and marked the pages where I brainstormed the book; I need to do that to several more of the last ones, actually)–and I also have a secret project which I look forward to telling you about, Constant Reader; I know it’s disappointing on some levels, but I am having to push writing the next Scotty, Mississippi River Mischief, to the first quarter of next year. I also managed to get some other things organized; I need to do something about these boxes of files under my desk for one thing, and in looking through the stuff in my filing cabinet, I also realized that a lot of the stuff in there could be shifted into boxes and moved up into the attic. I do have the boxes….and I am also thinking it may be time to do another book purge, in order to drop off some boxes on this coming Thursday to the library sale.

In other words, I am looking forward to a typical Saturday around the Lost Apartment. I do need to get to the gym today (I didn’t go yesterday) and will be going again on Monday rather than Sunday; but I also have to get really started on the edits of #shedeservedit if I am going to get those finished by the end of the month. The fact that I have absolutely no desire to do it is of course indicative of how much I need to do it and how much I will actually enjoy doing it once I get started going on them. I also need to finish the second draft of “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and what better time to do that than this weekend? I love the new computer and it’s so much easier to work on than the old one was; but I best be using the hell out of it now that I spent the money on it. I’m still a bit in awe of it–the picture quality is so good it’s like having another television for the kitchen (I went ahead and watched the latest episode of Ted Lasso on here last night while Paul worked on a grant–I know, but the great thing about Ted Lasso is rewatching isn’t an ordeal, and this last episode, a Christmas episode airing in August, was just absolutely perfect and made me tear up several times as well as laugh out loud; I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to do a Christmas episode/movie/book of any kind any more without it being heavy-handed and cheesy…but I need to stop ever doubting Ted Lasso; the show is always a joy and those twenty Emmy nominations, especially those for the cast, are extremely well-deserved)–and the sound and picture is amazing. That means I can watch football games in here this fall while cleaning and/or doing other things…which is heavenly.

And yes I am well aware of the fact that the honeymoon period will end soon….but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the fuck out of it while it’s still happening.

I also got caught up on my Real Housewives watching. I had cut back to just watching the two I started with (New York and Beverly Hills), but these aren’t good seasons for either; and just watched the Erika Jayne/Girardi divorce/criminal investigation/civil suits play out makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t have much sympathy for either her or her husband–you can deny all you want to, but settlement money for victims disappearing means it went somewhere, and one thing so many people in this country don’t understand is you can still be punished for profiting from a crime even if you didn’t know you were profiting from a crime. I don’t see how she thinks she can escape financial liability–possibly a sympathetic judge and jury would spare her from jail time–but it’s difficult to watch her excuses and her self-pity; she has no tears or empathy for her husband’s victims. Rather, it’s all about her and what she’s going through; and frankly, every time she cries me me me me I think to myself lock this bitch up and throw away the key. So, between the snooze-fest that is this seasons New York and the real life criminality being exposed on Beverly Hills–and being coddled–might have me finally cutting the cord with these two shows. I have no desire to watch Dallas, but have heard good things about both Potomac and Salt Lake City (which also is filming during the real-life criminal exposure of a cast member)…but I also kind of wonder if these shows haven’t already run their course? Society and the culture have experienced a significant shift over the last four years….and maybe the time for shows like this is past.

And on that note, I am going to get another cup of coffee and spend some more time with The Other Black Girl, which is truly terrific. Have a lovely August Saturday, Constant Reader–and I will check in with you tomorrow, if not later.

Finally

Friday and the cusp of the weekend, which is always nice. I am working at home again today, slept really well last night, and am waiting for my caffeine to kick in, which will be most lovely. I have a lot to do today (besides the condom packing and so forth); I am slowly digging back out from under with most things at long last and recognizing how best to move forward with everything I have to do, how to get it all done without making myself stressed and crazy in the meantime, and trying to keep my moods and everything level in the future.

Although last night I got to write the line I signed an autograph for Big Dick Barney and left, which was fun. I must say, I am enjoying myself with Chlorine–I am loving the main character’s voice, and diving into the mentality of someone who knows the rules and system are stacked against him through no fault of his own, so he has no issues using and twisting the rules and the system to his advantage. He’s an anti-hero, sure, and a bit amoral, but the whole point of telling this story is to show how people like him in his time period had two choices: either be a victim, or do what you have to in order to survive.

My character chooses not to be a victim, which in some ways makes him heroic. I guess we’ll see how it all turns out.

I have some writing to do for my friends’ website this weekend–which I should be able to knock out tomorrow morning–and the proofs for Bury Me in Shadows are due on Monday as well. So, around going to the gym, cleaning and organizing the Lost Apartment, and reading The Other Black Girl, I should be able to get a lot of this all done. I also want to revise my short story “The Sound of Snow Falling” over the weekend as well. Last night I came up with another story idea (I’ve had two new ones this week, actually), inspired by coming across Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” on a playlist yesterday–the lyric she took a midnight train going anywhere has always been one I enjoy, thinking it very evocative; it hit me yesterday that it could make for a great title for a short story (“The Midnight Train Going Anywhere”) and the story began to slowly form in my head–someone escaping a whistle stop, sitting next to to someone on that train, and telling them their story–but I am not sure if it will work or not, but the title! Oh, what a wonderful title. The other story idea I had this week is “Jerry’s Problem”, in which a newly retired gay man is drinking a Margarita in his back yard, hanging out in his hammock and reading a thriller, when a car speeding past his back yard fence tossed a gym bag over the fence–just as he hears the sounds of a pursuing police siren coming. The gym bag is filled with money and cocaine…and now Jerry has a problem: will the crooks come looking for their drugs and money? Should he turn it into the cops? Or….could he keep the money and sell the drugs, without attracting the attention of either the cops or the drug dealers?

It’s one of my stories, so I think the answer to the questions is fairly obvious–the recurrent theme to my short stories is bad decisions.

Write what you know, indeed.

Of course, all I really want to do is curl up with a good book under a blanket and spend the day reading. Ah, well, my new vacation–I’m not canceling the time off I took for Bouchercon–will hopefully give me that kind of relaxing day or two in a few weeks. And of course next weekend we have four days off from the office, which is rather lovely. So perhaps I can also reserve one of those days for just reading…

One can dream, at any rate, can’t one?

And on that note, heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

Devils in the Canyon

More years ago than I care to remember, I returned to Palm Springs for the first time in years for a Bold Strokes authors weekend event. It was a lot of fun–I always enjoy visiting Palm Springs–and this time I rented a condo on Flipkey (this was before Air B-n-B became a thing), which was a short walk from Las Casitas, a women’s only resort place that hosting the event. It was a great trip. We made side trips to Joshua Tree National Monument (it was cold), I had my first In-n-Out Burger, and we also took an early morning expedition to Bombay Beach, a failed resort village on the shores of the Salton Sea. People still lived there, but most of the place was derelict and looked bombed-out, post-apocalyptic.

The place fascinated me, and in the years since I’ve occasionally, idly, when in between books and other research…looked it up on line to do vague informational research with an eye to eventually writing about it. It still fascinates me…sometimes stuff will come across a social media feed, or I don’t know, some reading material will be suggested to me by the algorithms. That whole area of California really is interesting to me–more so than Los Angeles or the other more, better known, better documented parts of the state–which is also why I enjoyed reading Ivy Pochoda’s Imperial Valley so much.

So when I heard about this short story collection–and the Salton Sea was mentioned, I thought, hey let me take a look at this.

Three hours out of the hospital, his left foot too swollen for a shoe, Shane’s car breaks down. It’s July, a trillion degrees outside, Interstate 10 a gray ribbon of shit unspooling east out of Palm Springs toward Arizona. Not exactly where he wanted to go, but who the fuck wants to go to Arizona? It’s what was on the other side of Arizona that mattered to Shane, the chance that there might be another life in that direction. He never liked being on the coast. The one time he ever tried to swim in the Pacific–during a vacation with his dad, so, over twenty years ago, half his lifetime now–he was gripped with the ungodly realization that unlike a pool, there were no sides. You were always in the deep end.

It was a feeling that stuck with him, even when he was in one of those towns in the San Fernando Valley that sounded like an escape route from an old Western: North Hills…West Hills…Hidden Hills…

The Honda was the one damn thing Shane thought he could depend on. But as soon as he pulled out of the parking lot at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, the check-engine light flashed on. A hundred thousand miles he’d put on that fucking car and not a single problem and the one time he really needed it, it was telling him to fuck off. He didn’t have the time–or the money–to swing by the mechanic considering he’d left the hospital before the nurse had filled out the paperwork for the cops, which was a problem. Not as big a problem as staying would have been. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would have the cops trawling the city for him, especially since the wound did look self-inflicted, since it was…someone else holding his fucking hand while he shot himself with his own damn gun.

And so begins the first story in the collection, “The Royal Californian,” and what a ride this story is!

This story reminded me of a story I read in college, in a writing class, by Barry Hannah–all nerves scratched raw and in-your-face. The voice is incredible, and the noir sensibility–really, what could be more noir than the desert of southeastern California?–is right there. We don’t really learn a whole lot about Shane, but just enough to understand who he is, why he behaves the way he does, and that weird sense of desperation that drives him. This low-end, low-rent motel he finds himself in, the Royal Californian, kept reminding of the Eagles’ classic hit, “Hotel California”–this was a place you check in, but you never leave. Everyone he encounters at this place–from the two-bit lawyer, the knowing bartender who’s seen too much and doesn’t care, and the mysterious clown at the motel bar–is kind of a lowlife, kind of a desperate character, and out for themselves. No one can be trusted at this hellish motel– least of all Shane. As the story unfolds we learn why he was on the road on his way out of California, and a little of his backstory…and while you kind of want him to get his shit together, everything he does indicates that he is not going to.

And there’s also a truly marvelous twist at the end, that gives this story that extra little sharpness in its edge that makes it truly memorable.

I was highly impressed with this story, and am looking forward to reading more of Tod Goldberg…I just wish I had before!

Cold-hearted

I’ve spent a lot more time over the last year reminiscing about my past than I probably have in the last three decades of my life. I’ve never been quite sure why that is–probably the rapidly approaching sixtieth birthday–but it’s been interesting; trying to remember things, looking things up on-line to verify memories, listening to music from those various periods, and remembering things of social and historical and cultural importance, which were at the time primarily just background noise.

Some of it is undoubtedly because I had to mine my memories for the two books I wrote over the last year–Bury Me in Shadows (Alabama) and #shedeservedit (Kansas)–and the creation of fictional places based on real places where I lived (often forgetting that since I was fictionalizing them, I could change things and they didn’t have to be exact–which was helpful while realizing my memories were often incorrect!). I’ve mined my memories for work before–mostly short stories, really–but never to the extent that I had to for those two books.

And now that I think about it, that probably has more to do with these frequent trips down Memory Lane than the milestone birthday approaching.

I’ve been meaning to start reading short stories again lately; I’ve really fallen off on the Short Story Project over the last year, but today I decided to read “The Boy Detective and The Summer of ’74”, by Art Taylor, which has been nominated for a ridiculous amount of awards–as Art’s work so frequently is.

And what a jewel of a short story it is.

That summer, the summer of 1974, all the boys in the neighborhood wanted to be Evel Knievel–John especially, who’d gotten a brand new bike with chopper-style handles for his birthday. He and his younger brother Paul and I, like a brother myself, raced constantly around the hot asphalt of the small block where we lived. We built rough ramps out of old bricks and leftover plywood, jumped Tonka toys, a rusty wagon, a battered Big Wheel.

Other times, we tried to be like the Six Million Dollar Man, sprinting from yard to yard, mimicking with our lips that metallic reverb that meant we’d engaged our bionic powers. We liked Kwai Chang Caine from the Kung Fu show too, and Paul sometimes thrashed his arms in karate chops as we wandered into the woods and fields behind our neighborhood–land that my father owned and that he was waiting to develop, same as he had built each of the nine houses that made up our small corner of that North Carolina town.

Turns out that while we aspired to be Evel Knievel or Kwan Chang Caine or the Six Million Dollar Man, my father had his own ambitions for me–that was another thing about that summer.

But one dream was mine alone. Secretly, I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown. And the summer of ’74 offered the chance for that dream to come true.

We founds the first bone about midmorning one day in late June….

Art Taylor is an exceptional short story writer. Every time I read one of his short stories, his skill–constructing beautiful sentences, creating amazing images, the structure of the story and the strength of the voice–consistently blows me away. He never tells the same story twice, or falls back into the ease of reusing a voice he has used before, either.

Reading this story took me back to my summers as a child in Alabama. I could hear the cicadas and crickets and tree frogs, feel the heavy wet air, smell the freshly mown grass; I could remember the innocence and how it felt to want to be like the characters in the mystery stories I loved to read–whether it was Encyclopedia Brown or The Three Investigators or Trixie Belden, hoping to stumble over a mystery that I would be able to solve through my sharp observations and my deductive reasoning, stunning the adults by my intelligence, savvy and acumen. He also manages, in this story, to evoke that childlike sense of innocence, of noticing weird things adults do while not completely comprehending what they mean, and while this is obviously told as a flashback story–an adult man remembering something from his childhood, it’s not done in an obvious way; and I also like the choice to not tell it in the young boy’s voice–which is a difficult balancing act and one that is very difficult to do.

I love this story so much, can you tell?

And as always, with great writers, reading this story unlocked the key to a long-dormant story that I’ve never been able to solve the problem with–so I can now dust it off and finally get it finished.

Seriously–do yourself a favor and track down Art Taylor’s short stories. You can thank me later.

Money Can’t Buy You Class

Saturday and the start of a three day weekend. Huzzah? HUZZAH!

I slept well last night–despite some odd dreams–and even slept later than usual this morning, which was strange. (Never fear, alarm clock Scooter finally woke me up because it was past his feeding time.) I am still a bit groggy this morning, but I am certain my coffee will wake me up and make me lucid eventually. Yesterday was an exciting day of data entry and condom-packing, after which I went to the gym (HUZZAH), and then came home to read Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow. I am really enjoying this book, I want to be clear–but Scooter of course climbed into my lap and went to sleep while I was reading, and of course–it being his superpower–I dozed off as well. I do not want to give the impression that I am not enjoying this book, because I really am–but between being tired and all the writing I’ve been doing lately, I just haven’t been able to carve out the time to read like I would like. I do plan on finishing it today, though–as well as writing.

I didn’t write again yesterday, which has all my alarm bells going off (YOU BROKE THE CYCLE NOW YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO WRITE ANYMORE OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU), but I am also aware it’s kind of like going to the gym; once I sit down and start seriously writing again, I’ll get back into it and enjoy myself and next thing you know I will have written multiple thousands of words and all will be right in the world again. Honestly, I am not sure why I go through this kind of thing all the time–whether it’s writing or going to the gym, anything I actually enjoy doing, really; I always have to make myself do it and then find myself enjoying the hell out of it once I do. I am easing myself into working out again after a lengthy break of just over a week–but I realized, as I lifted yesterday, that I don’t have to be so easy on myself after missing a couple of workouts; my body has adjusted to working out again and thus I am not only going to not be sore, it’s not going to be a strain. Yesterday was a return to three sets of everything and guess what? It was easy. Moving up in weights as I intend to do on Monday (the gym is open normal hours on Monday; it’s a holiday for me, and is only open from 9-12 tomorrow, and I can’t see myself getting my act together and to the gym in that narrow window of time tomorrow morning) is what I probably should have done this week, despite the lay off due to the tooth…and so yes, it’s time to start actually pushing myself. I am going to keep adding weight this month every week, with a goal to changing the work out into separate body parts beginning in August, and possibly adding a day or two of cardio in September. I am excited about this–and it’s only a few months later than when I had planned to do so this year already.

I also need to finish a load of laundry this morning and finish the cleaning of the downstairs that is dramatically overdue. I have the entire weekend to get the cleaning done, but step by step and piece by piece is always a greay way to get things started. I also think it’s time to clean the vacuum cleaner filter–I am trying to take care of this one better so it will last longer and continue working longer. I also want to figure out what to do with these boxes under my desk–I have four boxes of folders under my desk (filled, of course) that i want to move out of here. I probably should put them in the attic, but that would mean taking things out of the attic to make room for them, and that would mean going through boxes of books–again, not a bad thing and something that needs to be done, but just thinking about doing it makes me feel tired.

Sigh. And that right there is the classic example of how things never wind up getting done around here.

After I went to the gym yesterday, I detoured on my way home and walked back on the uptown side of Jackson Avenue, which is the Garden District. (Jackson Avenue is the border between my neighborhood, the Lower Garden District, and the enclaves of the wealthy, the actual Garden District.) I took numerous photographs with my phone as I did, posting some of them to Instagram/Facebook, but there are of course any number of others in my phone that I didn’t actually post. Taking these pictures is of a two-fold purpose; one, to have things to post on my social media, and two, to give me the opportunity to look around at the beauty of my city and drink it in, actually making me notice and pay attention to how beautiful this city, particularly the part of it in which I live, is–and by doing so, reconnect with it and appreciate it again. Despite the heat, I am thinking that I need to be doing this more frequently, and expanding into other neighborhoods as well. Oh, I have to pick up the mail? Let me detour on a street in Uptown and take some pictures. The heat and humidity, of course, are always oppressive, but at the same time I need to be out in it and experience that, if I intend to continue writing about New Orleans, noting the weather and thinking of other, new ways to describe how the weather feels here, its peculiarities and how it feels on the skin, on the body, and so forth.

Or, I will let laziness win as I so frequently do.

And on that note, I am going to read an Art Taylor short story while enjoying my coffee, and then get my day actually started. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

Two To Make It Right

Thursday morning and I am slurping coffee and trying to get awake and ready for an exciting day of data entry and condom packing. I’ve not been terribly successful with my goal of cleaning out my inbox; I am going to try to work on that today after I finish working, after I go to the gym, and after I get today’s writing done.

I’ve identified a problem–a pattern, if you will–with my writing. I will get to a point in a short story where I am kind of stuck, and whereas what I do with a novel (write my way out of it) I won’t do that with the story, instead agonizing over it for a bit before consigning it to the oh well I’ll finish this later at some point folder. This is defeating, and why, ultimately, I have so many unfinished stories languishing around in my files. So, I am determined to solider on with the one I am currently working on, “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and try to get it finished. I am also determined to revise chapter one of Chlorine this weekend, and hopefully get into my next novella–either “Never Kiss a Stranger” or “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–and also get the Lost Apartment back under control at some point.

It’s amazing how little time it takes yet how easy it is for this place to look like a disaster area in need of FEMA assistance.

I also want to get back to reading–oh, how the books pile up!–and maybe it’s something I should do before I go to bed every night. I had tried for a brief while–after that less screen time before going to bed will help you sleep better thing circulated a few years ago–to read before bed every night; I have a non-fiction book on my nightstand that is now coated in dust that I would love to get back to reading–but it also wouldn’t hurt to do some fiction reading downstairs before I go up to bed, risking the getting caught up in the book and not wanting to put it down thing, which all too often happens to me with reading fiction. I am still greatly enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, by the way; Caro is an exceptional biographer. I also love how he weaves historical context into his biographies–I’ve only read the first volume of the Johnson biographies, and his description for how hard life was for poor rural women has never stopping haunting my mind–and always am blown away. I’ve never read the two biggest biographies of this century–Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton or McCullough’s John Adams, which I need to remedy–but then again my non-fiction reading (outside of necessary research for writing) has been woefully overshadowed this century by my fiction reading.

I also received copies of the MWA anthologies Deadly Anniversaries (edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini) and When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta), which reminded me of how much I’ve been languishing on the Short Story Project–while continuing to buy anthologies or single-author collections, which are also piling up around me. I also have a lot of short stories to read for my Bouchercon panel in August; I am on, of all things, a short story panel; which kind of caught me off-guard because I don’t consider myself a master of the form–or even half-way decent at it. But I have published quite a few of them, and my goal is to publish more (which means writing more of them) and I figure with the terrific panelists, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from some of them.

We started watching another Spanish language show last night, High Seas (Alta Mar in Spanish), which is a murder mystery set on a luxury liner sometime in the 1940’s, traveling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro. It’s gorgeously shot, the period costumes and decor are first rate, as is the acting. We’re on episode 4 now; there have already been two murders and some mysterious shenanigans, including a fire, and yes, we are completely sucked into it. (We’re taking The Underground Railroad slowly, because it’s not really something to be binged, since it raises so many philosophical and societal questions; you kind of need to absorb each episode. It’s really one of the most literate series I’ve ever watched, in part because the visuals are so incredible and poetic; I think it’s one that needs to be rewatched as well because it’s almost too cerebral–yet compelling–to absorb all at once for someone of such diminished intellectual capabilities as me–it’s also making me want to revisit the novel)

And on that note, I am heading into today’s spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’

Up early to head to the airport and fly up to visit my parents. I never did get the damned prescription refill situation resolved (who knew that something as simple as a prescription refill–which simply needs to be called in or sent to a pharmacy–is beyond the capabilities of a nurse practitioner? I think it’s time for me to find a new doctor, frankly), so that will have to wait till I get back from the trip–and trust me, I am going to go all Julia Sugarbaker on that bitch’s ass when I get back; I may not even do it over the phone and might just go to the doctor’s office in person…I have not slept now since Saturday. A co-worked suggested a cannabis tincture, so last night on the way home from work I stopped at a CBD store and bought some. It really really relaxed me, but it didn’t turn my brain off, so while I was incredibly relaxed and comfortable in bed all night, I never really slept.

I am actually beginning to think this is some kind of insane endurance contest at this point.

Anyway since I’ll be gone, I may not be posting here as much. I did get all packed last night, checked in for my flight, and all of that day-before-you-leave stuff was handled, and then I went to bed early (for all the good it did) and now am up swilling coffee; I’ve got From Here to Eternity and a short story collection by James Purdy in my carry-on bag, as well as my iPad and the MacBook Air…but again, don’t know how much I’ll be on-line, if at all, while I am there. I’ve not seen my family in well over a year and a half–I didn’t go home to visit during the 2019 football season, so it was definitely before that–but my memory is so shot I can’t remember when exactly I did go up there. I’m hoping to do some writing and reading and relaxing, but even WITH my helpful prescription I have trouble sleeping while I am there, so…I don’t imagine it’s going to get any easier. (I may have to up the CBD dosage; I’ll try that tonight.)

I did order martini glasses yesterday; they should be here by the time I get back on Monday…so next up is learning how to make dirty vodka martinis. Maybe a martini and some CBD before bed will do the trick. Who knows? It’s certainly worth a try, and I was certainly relaxed the other night after I had two, even if I didn’t sleep that night.

I got the final edits on a short story I wrote for an anthology being done by the Chessies chapter of Sisters in Crime (that’s the chapter I elected to join; I have an insane amount of friends in that chapter–writers and editors I admire deeply and am so thrilled to call friends). I don’t remember the name of the anthology at the moment, nor do I remember the theme, but I finally found a home for the story “The Snow Globe”, and I have to say, after the input from the editors, it really is a story I am proud of, and am proud to have in a Sisters chapter anthology. Naturally, I will be posting more about the story when the anthology is closer to being released, which is next spring.

I hope the thrill of selling a short story is something I never lose.

I have been feeling disconnected from writing again lately–and need to get my shit together and start writing again. I have lots of short stories to finish, I need to get back to Chlorine, and I am going to get edits on other manuscripts at some point soon–so I need to get back into my good writing habits. It’s hard, though, to be creative when your brain isn’t centered or rested and you haven’t been sleeping…although I always can find an excuse not to write, can’t I?

The weather looks pretty nasty out there this morning–I hope my flight isn’t delayed. I don’t have much time at my change of planes destination (Dallas Love)…but I also don’t have any texts from Southwest, so I am assuming all systems are still go. I do worry that if I misconnect in Dallas it could turn into an all-day ordeal trying to get up there.

But I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

So, have a great day, and I’ll check in again when I have the chance or time.