I’m Livin’ in Shame

As Constant Reader is aware, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with short stories.

I love them as a form. I love reading them–there are few pleasures greater than a biting short story with a sting at the end (I’m looking at you, Karin Slaughter’s “An Unremarkable Heart”)–and I love writing them…but I also hate writing them. I hate that there are fewer and fewer paying markets for them. Every writing class I took when I was younger always emphasized the short story and its importance (although I know any number of novelists who can’t or won’t or don’t write them), so it’s always a bit sad for me to see markets drying up and going away. I’ve had some great highs in my writing career thus far, and some of them have been thanks to short stories.

The thing about short stories is there are two ways to write them: you either get the idea for one and start working on it, or you’re asked to contribute one (or come across a call for submissions). I am not so great at writing for a submission call; I am inevitably on deadline for a novel (when am I not?) and the time frame inevitably for the calls never works out for me. I’ve had some luck with selling to markets with submission calls, but often I end up submitting a story I don’t feel is 100% there yet because it’s the day of the deadline and I’ve run out of time…so I will send it in, hoping I’m wrong and the story actually IS finished.

I am rarely wrong.

So, I generally just write stories when I get the idea. Sometimes I can get the first draft finished before the well runs dry or I have to put it aside to move on to something else I have to write; sometimes I just scribble down the title and the concept behind the story.

“This Thing of Darkness” was originally written for one of the MWA anthologies; I believe it was for the Michael Koryta When a Stranger Comes to Town. I didn’t think the story was actually ready to be read by anyone outside of my apartment, but it was the deadline and I thought why the hell not, nothing ventured nothing gained, and it’s an anonymous read so the judges won’t judge me PERSONALLY if it sucks. It was rejected–as I’d figured it would be, which was fine; those are such a long shot getting in through the hundreds of slush submissions is truly an accomplishment, kudos to those who have!–and so I tinkered with it here and there, now and then, over the years since that first submission. I didn’t think it was appropriate for most crime markets–it’s about a gay man to whom something horrible happened when he was a teenager, and I kind of went into detail about what happened to him–so I wasn’t surprised when I sent it to one and it was deemed “inappropriate” for their readers. So, I sat on it and figured it would be included in This Town and Other Stories.

Then Frank W. Butterfield contacted me for a story for his anthology of Valentine’s crime stories, and I thought, “You know, “This Thing of Darkness” is set during Halloween…you can change it from Halloween to Valentine’s Day” and so I did–and Frank graciously took the story.

Climbing the steps alongside the fenced in wooden deck, he couldn’t help but smile. He’d always loved that the place was named Tacos and Beer. So simple and unpretentious, in a world growing more complicated every day. The patio deck was crowded, filled with what he guessed were hipsters, with bare arms covered in vibrant multi-colored tattoos, the young men with their greasy-looking hair pulled back into manbuns, the women’s streaked with bright, vibrant colors and cut in a variety of styles. They seemed to all wear clunky boots and old, long out of style clothing stained and worn and riddled with holes. The sun glittered on their numerous piercings. He guessed their employers didn’t care about the artwork on their skin, or the posts and hoops bedazzling their faces.

He knew he was hopelessly, tragically, unhip. He’d never been one of the cool kids, and long since lost the desire to be one.

Although he would have thought they’d be too cool to celebrate Valentine’s Day? But many of them were obviously couples. Flowers wrapped in tissue paper adorned tabletops: carnations in various shades of pink, white and red; bullet-headed roses with baby’s breath; and arrangements of lilies and snapdragons and blooms he couldn’t identify. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, still tightly wrapped in cellophane, sometimes caught the light of the dying sun while he glanced at them.

He sat down at a tall table-top for two inside, perching on a stool facing the door. The inside wasn’t nearly as crowded as the deck. It was the first sunny warm day in New Orleans in quite some time—Carnival had been cold and gray and damp and miserable– and what young person didn’t want to be outside basking in the sunshine while drinking their artisanal craft beers and munching their tacos, laughing, enjoying being young and in love? He watched through the window, imagining he could hear the youthful spirit in their voices.

Oh, to be young again.

Or to be in love, for that matter.

This is, even though it is set in one of my favorite (or used to be, anyway; I don’t know if it’s still there or not) places to eat in my neighborhood, Tacos and Beer on St. Charles Avenue, really not a New Orleans story; it’s one of my Kansas stories. Glenn, my main character, grew up in Kansas and now is a writer living in New Orleans. (Hmmm.) The premise of the story is that, years after he left Kansas never to return, he gets an email out of the blue from someone he went to high school with, someone he hasn’t seen since Graduation Night, David Zimmer. David was the first friend he made when he moved to rural Kansas and started up new as a junior at Kingston County High. David stayed his friend even as he moved on to hanging out with more popular kids and, having been the bullied gay kid at his old high school, Glenn gives in the allure of being a football player and being part of the “in” crowd, having friends and not being picked on, desperately afraid that the gay rumors and bullying will somehow catch up to him at Kingston County High. Sadly, it does…and then one night at an end of the school year party, Glenn gets deeply into trouble, and needs David’s help–David, the first friend, the one he left behind in his need to be a “cool kid,” is the only person to whom he can turn in his hour of need.

At Graduation, they both agreed it was best they never see or speak to each other again.

Until now, and David is coming to New Orleans and wants to meet.

The idea for this story originated in something that actually happened; I did hear from an old friend I went to high school with; whom I’d neither seen nor spoken to since we graduated from high school (he went away to school at MIT; I eventually left Kansas, never to return), and he was coming through New Orleans on his way to run a marathon or something in Mississippi, so we decided to have dinner together and catch up. We did indeed meet at Tacos and Beer–but the horrible thing that happened to Glenn in high school never happened to me at any rate, and I’d certainly not turned to him for help in a dire situation we’d kept secret for forty years. I did, as the character in the story did also, arrive early. In fact, while I was sitting there waiting for my friend, watching the people out on the deck, that the idea for the story came to me.

I think it went something like I should write a story about two high school friends meeting up for the first time in nearly forty years to but what would the story be about to ah, they covered up something when they were in high school, were never found out, and have avoided each other deliberately for all that time, so of course the email out of the blue has made my main character nervous–what could he want after all this time?

And the longer I waited, the more I delved into the story in my head (and yes, this is also a cautionary tale about knowing writers: literally everything is material for us, and we can find inspiration for a new story almost anywhere), the more I liked the idea behind it, and when I got home (I only drank iced tea so I could write the story down when I got home) I parked at the computer and started writing.

I am very happy with the story and how it wound up turning out; dark and twisted, yet all under the happy veneer of a busy restaurant on St. Charles Avenue.

And if you’re interested in a copy of Cupid Shot Me, order it here.

Everything is Good About You

Friday morning and all is quiet in the Lost Apartment.

It’s in the thirties here this morning and very gray outside, which is not typical unless it’s raining. Rain is in the forecast today–yesterday’s dramatic thirty degree temperature drop was supposed to be the result of rain but we never really got much, in all honesty–but it also doesn’t feel as cold as it should at this temperature, if that makes any sense? The last time it was in the 30’s here a week or so ago it was bitterly cold inside the Lost Apartment, but it’s not that bad today. Maybe because I knew it was coming so I layered when I got up this morning and turned on the space heater next to my desk? (Our heat is still not working.) Regardless, I don’t feel as miserable today as I did the last time it was this cold, so I am taking that as a win.

Paul has been buried with work trying to get the programs for the festivals finished, so I’ve been at loose ends in the evenings this week. I’ve been very fatigued every night, and with Scooter sleeping in my lap (not affection, he’s cold–don’t get me wrong, he is affectionate, but I can tell when body heat is the driving factor in his affection; it has to do with how he cuddles when he’s cold), I’ve found myself dozing off in my chair while I watch some documentary about history (last night, I learned how and why Hanover and Great Britain went their own separate ways; about Queen Barbara Radziwill of Poland; how Catherine de Medici earned her horrible reputation and was it deserved; and how the curse of the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar is often given credit for the extinction of the main line of the Capetian royal family in France–some of these things I already had some knowledge of, but it’s always nice to learn more. Sometimes these documentaries are intended for people with absolutely no knowledge of history or the time period being discussed; I find that ones that originated with the BBC, National Geographic, or the Youtube channel Kings and Generals often have interesting little nuggets of information I didn’t know before; I was just thinking last night how much more interesting French history is than English–no offense to the English, of course; the French are just more all over the place). Barbara Radziwill was an important player in the sixteenth century, which was what sucked me into that video; as Constant Reader is already aware, I’ve always wanted to write a popular history of the sixteenth century by examining all of the powerful women of that century; it was one of the few times in history when women rose to power regularly and across Europe, and naturally the title would be The Monstrous Regiment of Women, taken from the misogynistic tome by John Knox and about that very thing: women in power.

I did manage to work on the book last night, which was nice–I was starting to worry about it, frankly–and I did get some other work done that needed doing. Today I am data entering for the day job most of the day, as I shiver a bit and try to figure out if I actually want to leave the house today (I am leaning towards not, frankly) before digging back into the manuscript. I also need to consult my to-do list to make sure I am following it despite not looking at it–and I suspect I will be horribly disappointed in myself when I finally get to it and see how there’s nothing to be crossed off from it. Heavy heaving sigh. But avoiding the list is also avoiding the tasks, so the list must be faced.

So many things must be faced this morning. My email inbox is getting more under control, so that’s always a pleasant thing and a big surprise, but there are emails that need responses that I haven’t gotten to yet–which just reminded me I had a DM on Facebook I need to reply to; please don’t ever contact me there if you want a response because I get a lot of junk DM’s there and so things tend to get pushed down and not get answered unless I remember to go looking for it (that is today’s PSA of how to reach me and get a response).

I also managed to proof my story “This Thing of Darkness” for Cupid Shot Me, which will release on Valentine’s Day (natch). It’s always lovely to get another short story out there for people to read; I love short stories and I love writing them–I do find them much harder to do than writing novels, for example–and it’s also an excellent editorial exercise for me: why is this story not working? Sometimes I can figure it out, sometimes I can’t. I just got asked this morning about writing for another anthology, which I even already have a story ready for; which means I need to take it out and reread and revise it. Yay!

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. That data ain’t gonna enter itself, alas. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a wonderful Friday.

Whisper You Love Me Boy

I am so messed up this week. I literally had no idea what day of the week it was for most of the day and had to keep reminding myself it was Tuesday and not Monday. It was very annoying and terribly irritating, as I am sure you can imagine. And it kept messing with me the entire day. I kept thinking oh two more days in the office despite the fact that there was actually only one (I have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday so have taken the day off) and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion of it being Tuesday all day. I certainly hope today isn’t going to another disorienting don’t know what day it is kind of day.

So far so good this morning, really. I feel more awake and a lot less discombobulated than I did yesterday, which is definitely a plus. It also doesn’t feel as cold today as it did yesterday, which I am also taking as a win; Friday is supposed to be miserably cold, but I’ll deal with that when that comes around (note to self: look for other space heaters this evening when you get home from work); hopefully it won’t cause the “cold paralysis” I sometimes experience–when it’s so cold I can’t do anything but huddle for warmth under blankets. Our heat isn’t working again; I turned it on last week and it came on…but then it turned off and hasn’t come back on again since. I really hate our new system because I cannot grasp how it works, and it seems to be so incredibly sensitive to everything that anything even just the tiniest bit incorrect will shut it down completely and we have to call the guys out again. I don’t even know if Paul has bothered mentioning it to our landlady this time, to be honest. It seems like having a working HVAC system is simply not in the cards for us.

Yesterday I got some lovely new editions of Joseph Hansen’s first four Dave Brandstetter mysteries in the mail, which is very exciting. It’s been decades since I read Hansen; and frankly, I am not entirely certain I read the entire series–but that’s lost in the murk of the past; I cannot imagine I didn’t if they were in print, and I do distinctly remember some lovely paperback editions I picked up at Tomes and Treasures in Tampa…but I don’t recall reading them all. So I have decided that I am going to reread Hansen’s novels again–it’ll be interesting to see what my take on them is now that I am also twenty years into a mystery-writing career as opposed to the mystery-writer-wannabe I was when I originally read them (I also seem to recall picking some up at the Borders in Minneapolis at the corner of Lake and Hennepin). Hansen isn’t nearly as remembered as he should be, frankly; I think it’s a disgrace he was never an Edgar finalist or named Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America.

I got the cover art and the proofs for an anthology I contributed a story over the last few days: Cupid Shot Me: Valentine Tales of Love, Mystery and Suspense, edited by Frank W. Butterfield. This is the place where I finally found a home for my nasty little story “This Thing of Darkness”, which was inspired by a visit to New Orleans a few years ago from someone I went to high school with–I met him at Tacos and Beer, which is just around the corner from my house, and of course while I waited for him and watched the crowd there, I started writing a nasty little story in my head that began precisely that way: the protagonist meeting a friend from high school he hasn’t seen in forty years for dinner in New Orleans at Tacos and Beer (which just goes to show–a writer will take inspiration from pretty much any-fucking-where), and as I wrote the story in my head while I waited it took a much darker turn. I was working on the Kansas book at the time (yet another draft of it) and here I was seeing someone from high school back in Kansas…so it really took a dark, nasty turn. I had been doing some research on, of all things, the nuclear missile bases scattered across Kansas (there was one near our high school) which led me into another Youtube wormhole about the TV movie The Day After…and also made me think about an entire book that could be built around one of the abandoned missile bases…anyway, after dinner I went home and started writing this story. It wasn’t originally called “This Thing of Darkness” (which is from Macbeth, by the way); I don’t remember what I originally called the story, but “This Thing of Darkness” was originally the title for the story in Unburied, “Night Follows Night”, but was too good of a title to not use, so I switched whatever the title of this was out for it.

I do like the story, twisted as it is, but it also got me to thinking about patterns in my short stories and how I write them–which I would talk about it here but the thought is still completely unformed, which has never stopped me before, of course, but it is so unformed that I would embarrass myself writing my way through exploring it, and I am not entirely sure that I actually regularly do what I think I do–following the same story structure in all of my stories–so I would need to reread more of them at once to determine whether that is something I actually do with my work…

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

Christmas Won’t Be The Same Without You

I did not want to get up this morning.

A quick look at today’s temperature–it is currently forty-eight degrees–explains it. It is chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning, and my heavy blankets felt all too marvelous for me to want to get out from underneath them when the alarm began it’s insistent cacophony far too early this morning for my tastes, quite frankly. The first day of winter looms nigh this week–perhaps even today or tomorrow–and then we’re in for the cold spells of winter in southeastern Louisiana, I would presume.

It’s weird–since Christmas is this weekend I only have my three days of work in the office this week, and then I have a four-day holiday. The holiday will be spent, of course, trying to get back on schedule with everything–I had a semi-productive day yesterday, and that productivity needs to continue today–but as my coffee kicks in I am also not tired, I am finding; more like I was groggy and didn’t want to come fully awake just yet. The stiff soreness in my shoulders also isn’t there this morning, so perhaps after work tomorrow I can actually return to the gym and start easing my way back into working out again. Yay? Yay.

I spent some time with Vivien Chien’s delightful Death by Dumpling yesterday, which is also an immersive experience into an Asian business center in Cleveland; which is interesting. I know we have a rather nice-sized Asian immigrant community in New Orleans–there was a section along Canal Street that was once our Chinatown–and there are a lot of Vietnamese families in New Orleans East (Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse explored the New Orleans Vietnamese community)–yet another part of New Orleans’ rich and varied culture/community/history I’ve never touched on in my work. The lovely thing about New Orleans is you can never ever run out of things to research, explore and write about here; the sad thing about New Orleans is realizing there is so much that it’s incredibly humbling; I always kind of laugh to myself when I hear myself being described as a “New Orleans expert”–please. There’s so little that I actually do know as opposed to the actuality; I am always realizing how little I do know about the city and its history and culture.

I also spent some time writing on the book yesterday, and it is beginning to really take shape nicely. If I can maintain a decent schedule on it, I should be able to finish on time–which will be just in time to head to New York next month, barring the trip getting canceled for one reason or another (please please please let that not happen again). I also managed to get the promo recordings done–I hate, as I have mentioned, hearing and seeing myself on recordings, so I can’t rewatch them to see if they are any good or not–but maybe I should start recording myself doing readings from my books and stories as promotional materials? I don’t know, it’s hard for me to imagine that succeeding, but…is that part of the self-destructive mentality that is rooted in my deeply felt Imposter Syndrome, or is that a valid critique of me, my attempts to promote myself and my career, and that very really sense that no one cares whether you do or you don’t?

Heavy thoughts this morning on my second cup of coffee, right?

But at least I got an email this morning from one of the places I recorded a video for–a brief read of “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”, from The Only One in the World–and Narrelle Harris, the very kind editor, seemed to have really liked it, so there’s that part going for me this morning. Yay, I think?

I also got the cover artwork for one of these anthologies I have a story in–Cupid Shot Me, Valentine’s Day gay crime stories, and that is the book that “This Thing of Darkness” is going to be revised/edited for (I made a note on my list of stories/manuscripts due this morning to note that this is the one due on January 10th)–and it’s pretty cool. I do love landing short stories, wherever I can. I hate that the short story market isn’t as strong as it used to be; even writing gay erotica was a nice supplemental income back in the days before everyone began truly using the internet to scratch their porn itches…remember the days of porn videos, either renting or buying for the exorbitant price of $89.95? The bargain bins of gay porn videos that had been remaindered? I’ve never pretended not to have written gay porn (or erotica, whichever makes you feel better about it), but it has been a hot minute since I’ve actually written or read any. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever again–there’s some gay noir I want to do that needs to be lusty, sweaty and erotic–but for now…it’s certainly not in my immediate future or in my plans for what I need to get done over the next two months.

And on that note, tis perhaps time for me to head into ye olde spice mines. There’s a lot I have to get done before the holidays this weekend.

Have an awesome Monday, Constant Reader!

I Think I’m In Love With You

Good morning, Friday, hope all is well with everyone out there in Constant Readerland, as we head into a three day weekend. HUZZAH!

I didn’t write again yesterday–I know, I know; I’m trying not to read the worst into two days of not writing back-to-back–but I did reread both “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” (what’s done so far), and yes, both need revision and work and clean-up, but they also aren’t as terrible and won’t require near as much work as I might have feared (well, did fear). I got the tone and mood right, which was the most important thing in these drafts, and what I was really looking for in the rereading. I was also worried they might start too slow, or be too wordy, before the story gets underway–a worry one has with a novella; finding the right spot to start because you have more room than in a short story and thus there’s a danger of that happening. But overall, I am quite pleased with both. I am going to get back to work on “Stranger” today after work, and I am then going to spend some time with a revision of “Redeemer.” I also reread other stories in progress–notably, “The Sound of Snow Falling” and “A Dirge in the Dark”–with an eye to the repairs the stories need; I already know what I need to do to fix “This Thing of Darkness,” which is an odd story and will undoubtedly need to go into the next short story collection as no one will likely publish it. I am going to try to get the other two submitted to magazines for publication; wish me luck with that, and then next week I am going to try to get back to work on Chlorine again, with a goal of finishing a very rough first draft by the end of the month–it may bleed over into August, which is also fine.

I also spent some time with Daphne du Maurier’s Echoes from the Macabre after I finished reading my own stuff, and Jesus, was she good. “Don’t Look Now” remains one of my favorite all time short stories; the tone and voice she managed to get into her work was so extraordinary and exceptional…and distinct; I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone who managed to have such a powerful authorial voice that was so easily identifiable yet managed to change enough from book to book and from story to story to ring authentic to her characters; the main characters in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are so incredibly distinct and different, yet you know without doubt you are reading du Maurier.

God, I need to make time to read. The books are piling up and Shawn Cosby’s Razorblade Tears will be arriving next week.

We finished watching Line of Duty last night and yes, the series finale was a little bit underwhelming. I get why it ended the way it did–every season was kind of unsatisfying at the end–and the end of the series was definitely in line with the tone and mood the show had set from the very beginning…the acting and writing remained en pointe as well, but yeah, I too was left feeling a bit saddened and disappointed. But most of all, disappointed that there won’t be more. We really enjoyed the show every step of the way, and hate to say goodbye to it. But Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, and Outer Banks will all be dropping new seasons this month, so huzzah for that!

Today I will be doing data entry for most of the day, and then it’s three day weekend time. I also spent some time last night cleaning and organizing and trying to get filing done–it’s not finished, but my work space doesn’t look as horrendous as it did yesterday morning. My primary project for this weekend is to do something with my workspace to open it up and make it more roomy rather than the tightly packed cozy thing I’ve had going on for so long. While it certainly has never affected my productivity, some of this stuff needs to go–and I really need to clean out my file cabinet, which is an odious chore I’ve put off for YEARS.

Oh! They fixed the air yesterday, so the upstairs and downstairs now are at the same temperature. It felt weird coming downstairs this morning…it’s felt like entering a meat locker for weeks, and today it’s temperate–could be adjusted down a little bit, because it’s humid outside and the air feels heavy in here this morning, which isn’t good.

I made jambalaya last night, too–I’d been hankering for some lately, and so the other day when I was making groceries I bought some turkey sausage and a box of Zatarain’s (which is excellent when you’re not in the mood to make it from scratch, which I knew I wouldn’t be. I have an excellent from scratch recipe from the Louisiana cookbook Can Your Mama Make a Roux?), but as I said, yeah, not in the mood. I cut up the sausage and sautéed it in olive oil, and then added it with the Zatarain’s and it turned out quite marvelously. I had two bowls, if that tells you anything.

And why have I not used jambalaya in a Scotty title? Seriously, falling down on my Louisiana job, aren’t I?

Okay, that data isn’t going to enter itself. Catch you in the morning, Constant Reader!

Love Less

Wednesday, and pay-the-bills day yet again has rolled around. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least I can pay them, for which I should be–and am–grateful.

This morning a PDF proof of my Sherlock Holmes story dropped into my inbox for me to proof-read; this is very exciting for me, to be honest. The book is called The Only One in the World, and is from Clandestine Press in Australia–so not really sure if or how it will be available in the United States….but it’s still exciting for me. I am far enough distant from the writing of the story to not really remember much about it, so rereading it will be kind of like reading something new for me–also kind of exciting. The cover looks pretty cool, too.

I am getting so close to being finished with the book it isn’t even funny. I can almost taste it, I am so close…it’s due tomorrow, so by the time I go to bed tonight I should have a better idea as to whether I am going to get it finished tomorrow or not, or if I will need the long holiday weekend (thank you, Louisiana Catholics!). Last night I had every intention of going to the gym once I got home from the office, but I hit a wall on the drive home and so once I was home, it was to the easy chair with the laptop and the Taylor Swift Vimeo account for background noise. Paul came home later and had to work on a grant, so he went upstairs and I kept writing until I burned out and couldn’t stand the sound of my own written voice anymore and put it aside.

I felt like I slept really well again last night, but my espresso machine is giving up the ghost. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it–and let’s face it, I didn’t buy a top-of-the-line one and as cheap as it was, it’s a miracle it’s lasted as long as it did–so I am now in the market for a new one. I am going to obviously keep this one until I get the new one, and hope that whatever was wrong with it this morning was just me being tired and doing something stupid…but it is old–I bought it right after our trip to Italy (sigh, Italy) which was seven years ago. (Wow.) So, I think seven years worth of work from a relatively cheap espresso machine is probably pretty fucking great; when I bought it I figured it would last, at most, two years. I have a lot of work to do at home tomorrow…the endless hell of CDC data entry…but at least I can do it in my sweats without showering, and I can also do it in my easy chair with a purring sleeping kitty in my lap, which is really my favorite way of doing anything, really.

Although I wish I had thought to pick up The Russia House for a few more chapters, but my brain was kind of fried and frazzled. I am really looking forward to being finished (well, for now, at least) with writing this book. I do need to go through my folder of submission calls I am interested in to see if there’s anything I have on hand–either partially written or needing a revision–that will fit any of them. I know I was thinking about one for “Death and the Handmaidens,” and there was another for “The Blues Before Dawn” and yet still another one I remember thinking “He Didn’t Kill Her” would work for as well. I also need to look over “This Thing of Darkness” again and see if i can figure out how to make it work–I suspect in its current iteration it doesn’t, which is why its been rejected twice–and I really would like to finish “Please Die Soon” to send somewhere, maybe Ellery Queen.

Or Alfred Hitchcock. That’s a bucket list item I’ve yet to cross off my list.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow!

Jingle Bell Rock

Constant Reader may have noticed that I have started using Christmas songs and hot guys in Christmas costume, effective this past weekend. This is my annual countdown to Christmas–twelve days leading up to it rather than the twelve after; most people wouldn’t get that I was doing Christmas to Twelfth Night (which is the night Carnival technically begins–but we aren’t really having Carnival this year in New Orleans, yet another crippling blow to the city’s economy), and I prefer to confuse people as little as possible–particularly since it is generally so easy to do, frankly.

It’s dark and cold this morning as I sit sipping my cappuccino; it’s a mere forty-eight degrees outside, with the high for the day projected to be a toasty fifty-nine degrees. It was cold last night as I walked to the gym–yes, I went after work, which was nice and felt great, and then it was back home to write for a bit before bed. I was very tired–getting up early AND the gym–but I did get some work done on the complete overhaul of Chapter Eighteen, which is going to slow me down considerably, but it’s actually okay. I still have time, and if I can get more than one chapter done in a day I’ll still have time to get it all done and let it sit momentarily before sending it in after one last polish. I did get the final cover design yesterday, which is absolutely gorgeous; definitely one of my favorite covers.

We also watched a couple of episodes of The Hardy Boys before retiring for the evening, and I have to say, I am very impressed with the show. I get why the purists object to it, but the show is better written, acted, and plotted than the dreadful 70’s iteration, which the purists seem to love. But oh no! Diversity! The boys aren’t a year apart! Aunt Gertrude is too young and goes by Trudy! THE HORROR! I think it’s well done, and the series is very close to the spirit of the books–if not as cardboard and two dimensional and simplistic–which has me curious to give Nancy Drew another whirl. (In fairness, I also liked the first episode of that reboot, but I watched it by myself one night when Paul was working late and never got back to it.)

I think maybe this next year will be the year I try to write my middle grade series.

But I slept really well last night, and don’t feel tired at all this morning, which is absolutely lovely. I have taken the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, which means I’ll be out of the office for nearly ten days (New Year’s Eve is a workday, but it’s also a work-at-home day, which means…out of the office for nearly ten days), and I am looking forward to that. It’s also an opportunity to have a lot of down time in case I need it for finishing the book–which hopefully I won’t need–and it will also give me a chance to get started on the final rewrite of the next one, due on March 1, and after that, I will focus on Chlorine until I can get a good first draft out of the way. I ordered The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson yesterday, and it should be here by the weekend, and it’s the final piece of research I need for the Hollywood casting back ground stuff. I will also need to do some other background reading–studios, economics of the period, what else was going on, what was LA and Hollywood like in that period, etc. And perhaps at long last I will also read James Ellroy’s LA Confidential–it seems fitting.

Oh! And I. need some time to finish my short story for the MWA anthology, which will hopefully make it stand out from the submissions pile and get selected. One more thing to scratch off my “bucket list”–get into an MWA anthology. I wish I had some things ready to end out for submission, but alas, I don’t. Maybe “This Thing of Darkness”, after a bit of a tweak, and “Death and the Handmaidens”–again, after another tweak or two–but I hate that I’ve not sent any stories out for submission lately. I also want to finish some of these that I’ve got started.

So. Much. Writing. To. Do.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and hope you’re having as lovely a holiday season as a pandemic will permit.

The Best Day

And just like that, it’s Thursday again. Wow, where did this week go? It seems as though time is taking an eternity to pass–pre-pandemic times now seem as far back in the past as the Bronze Age–and yet here were are, at the Ides of October. Time keeps on slipping into the future…

I have to proof one of my stories this week; as Constant Reader may (or may not) remember, I sold “Night Follows Night” to an anthology of queer horror called Buried, being edited by Rebecca Rowland, and the galleys to proof dropped into my inbox this week. “Night Follows Night” is the story that begin its life as “This Thing of Darkness” and then was changed to “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” before I finally settled on “Night Follows Night,” which may be the name of an old noir movie? Let me check the Google…hmmm, nothing coming up. I think I ran across it sometime when researching something–maybe it’s an old Cornell Woolrich title?–and thought, that actually fits my story better than “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down”, and so I changed it. (But “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is a great title, and I am going to use it for another story at some point, I am sure.) Anyway, I am quite pleased with how the story turned out, and I also like the cover art for the anthology quite a bit. I’ll share it when I can, and of course will be happy to provide purchase information and so forth when it’s available.

And the story is one of the best examples of how something completely mundane can inspire a story: this story was born when I went to make groceries in a particularly bad mood one morning and wound up with a shopping cart that wobbled because of a loose, squeaky front wheel. I tried a second; same thing. The third cart was also in the same condition, so I sighed and gave up, thinking as I pushed the cart into the store (Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s, in case you were wondering) and thought to myself, why do I always get the cart with the wobbling squeaky wheel as I went to the cantaloupes, picked one up, and thumped it…and then thought, do I really know what I am listening for when I thump a melon and then the story started forming in my head…and miracle of miracles, I still remembered it when I got home from the store, and scribbled down notes before putting away the groceries…and once the groceries were safely stored, I sat down at the computer and started writing. I think I submitted it somewhere it got rejected from; but nevertheless, I am very pleased that it’s finally found a home.

The LSU-Florida game this weekend has been postponed, possibly to December, because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Gators team. (Nick Saban and the athletic director at Alabama also both have tested positive this week; maybe having even a shortened season wasn’t the best idea?) Obviously, I am disappointed–even if they lose, I look forward to seeing LSU play every Saturday–but let’s face it; this football season is abnormal and weird and should have been skipped entirely. Whoever winds up winning the National Championship is going to have an asterisk next to their name, since it was a shortened, non-normal season to begin with, whether it’s college or pro; so while I understand the need to make bank for both…it really is amazing what a difference a lack of crowd noise makes when watching a game on television. Part of the fun of home games at LSU is the roars of the crowd in the background; listening to them spell out T-I-G-E-R-S after a touchdown, etc. etc. etc. The Saints games in the Dome with no crowd are equally strange and uninvolving. Who would have ever guessed?

Certainly not me–the guy who hates laugh tracks on comedy shows.

I started writing something new this week–yes, not something I am supposed to be revising, or finishing, or anything like that, you know, like I am supposed to be doing and I don’t know if I am going to be able to finish a first draft. It’s called “Parlor Tricks,” and it’s a short story that opens at a tedious dinner party in the Garden District–a trope I’ve used before, most notably in “An Arrow for Sebastian”–and one of the guests is a celebrity medium (Easter egg alert: the same woman who told Scotty’s parents he had the gift when he was a child) who, after dinner, conducts a seance, and it’s from the point of view of a non-believing young woman. I’m not really sure where the story is going to go–having her become convinced the medium has powers would be too cliched and has been done many times–but there’s a small kernel of an idea germinating there that I can’t quite force out into the open somehow; this, you see, is precisely why I have so many unfinished stories in the files.

Scooter continues to be much better, now that he’s getting insulin twice a day; but I still continue to be concerned that he isn’t eating enough. He is permitted to have a can and a quarter of this special diet wet food, but he won’t eat it if it’s been sitting out for a while, and he also wants a fresh spoonful whenever he gets hungry. He’s always been weird about eating–he’ll eat whatever is in the center of the bowl and then act like it’s empty once he can see the bottom, despite their being a ring of food around the empty space–and this is carrying over to the wet food, with the end result that we are wasting about a half-can of it every day. He’s going back to the vet for a follow-up visit this weekend; I am hoping we can dispense with the insulin shots, frankly.

I am working from home today and tomorrow; this was my first week of three days in clinic, and I wasn’t nearly as tired last night as I thought I might be, but I was definitely getting sleepy around ten–which is when I’ve been going to bed. I woke up at six again this morning, but stayed in bed for another hour or so, but feel very well rested this morning as I drink my coffee and keep adding another spoonful of wet food in Scooter’s bowl once he can see the bottom again. We started watching The Haunting of Bly House last night, but Paul didn’t really care much for it (he didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House either; I wound up watching it on my own) so that’s probably what I’ll watch this week while making condom packs, and we’ll have to find something else to watch in the evenings. There’s only a few films left in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival any way; and this month is supposed to be my month to watch (or rewatch) horror films anyway–and since their true American heyday began in the 1970’s…they are kind of an off-shoot of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival anyway.

I also remembered that usually every October is when I reread The Haunting of Hill House, and I got down my worn and much-read copy last night after I got home from work. Christ, that opening is such genius! I also think it’s smart to read a haunted house story again while I am writing a ghost story, and perhaps maybe rereading some of my favorite Barbara Michaels ghost stories might be in order. It is the season, after all, and it couldn’t hurt to read some more of Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories, either. (I’ve not done my annual reread of Rebecca in quite some time, either. I guess I can’t call it the ‘annual reread’ if I am not rereading it annually, can I?)

One thing I was doing between clients yesterday was looking fora classic book opening to parody for the next two Scotty books–yes, I have two in mind; French Quarter Flambeaux and Quarter Quarantine Quadrille–and as you may know if you’ve read the series and paid attention, each book opens with a parody of a famous novel’s famous opening (amongst those I’ve parodied thus far include Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Anna Karenina) and I’ve picked out An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser for the former and I think I found one for the latter; but right now I cannot remember what it was. For you Scotty fans, the story for French Quarter Flambeaux is already starting to take form in my mind; it has to do with a closeted Jefferson Parish elected official, the collapse of a hotel on Canal Street, Carnival, and of course the conclusion to the spy intrigue began in Royal Street Reveillon; the second book will be the recycling of a Scotty plot that was originally planned to be the fourth book in the series–and yes, there’s possibly even a third brewing in my mind. I’m not entirely certain I should keep writing the Scotty books, to be honest; I love the characters and I greatly enjoy writing them, but at the same time writing a Scotty book always seems like a safe choice for me; so I need to, if I keep writing them, make them complicated and take chances with them and push myself creatively. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and it’s definitely, I feel, taken a toll on my creativity. I guess we shall see, shall we not?

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

Mirrorball

The sun is shining and there doesn’t seem to be any wind at all outside my windows this morning. The sidewalk is littered with leaves and some small branches, and even that’s not really indicative of much beyond having a thunderstorm here last night. I don’t remember hearing any thunder, nor even any rain last evening–but I am rather nervous about seeing what damage Delta did to western Louisiana. The road to recovery there is going to be long, sadly, and even longer because this was the second time they got hit in less than two months. Just awful.

Today I have a lot of writing to do; I have to finish revising an essay as well as a short story, and I also have some website writing to get done. I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon, after I finished condom packing for the day and was going about cleaning the Lost Apartment–I don’t know where my doldrums and malaise about both writing and my career has come from lately; if it was merely a combination of overwhelming factors (COVID-19, the news on a daily basis, stress from my volunteer work, or a combination of them all, coupled with the shift in my routine from the changes at work that are COVID related, and of course, the dying desktop–JFC, what a shitty year this has been) but yesterday I seemed to snap out of it somewhat. I spent a lot of the evening last night cleaning up my Cloud drive–it still needs work–but I also started thinking about all the writing I’ve done and all the writing I need to do and literally it was like slapping myself in the face. There are a lot of things about this business I have no control over; but one thing I do have control over is the writing itself. All I can do is write the best work that I can, focus on making it the best it can be, and send it out into the world and hope for the best. I’m going to try to not beat myself up so much over everything as much as I have been doing this year–in other words, I need to stop being so hard on myself and give myself a break every now and again.

There are only so many hours in every day, and sometimes it’s okay, and necessary, to spend some time letting your brain recharge.

Sometimes I feel like this entire year my mind has been functioning as though through a fog of some sort, and it’s perfectly okay. It has been a traumatic year for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that next year will be any better–remember when we all couldn’t wait for 2019 to end?–but I plan on moving forward while trying to stay positive about everything. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already, and there’s certainly no need for me to add anything to that. But I think what’s been missing this year, at least for me, is my ambition–I’ve not been particularly ambitious this year, and I’ve sort of been letting my life happen rather than trying to take control of it, which is what I did the first thirty-three years I was alive, drifting through life aimlessly to see where it led me, and that’s a horrible waste of time. Obviously, there are certain things that are completely out of our control, but I’ve also not been grasping the reins of the things I can control. I’ve been allowing myself to simply be a pinball bouncing around in a game being played by a master, who’s managed to keep the ball in play, sending me from flipper to bumper to flipper to slingshot to bumper to flipper again–and I need to grab hold and start steering again.

Because the LSU-Missouri game was moved to Columbia from Baton Rouge, the game is now airing at 11 CDT, which means in only a couple of hours. I am going to finish this, go through my emails, and then retire to my easy chair with my laptop and work on the essay during the game. It should be over by three, and then I can work on the website writing–I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day watching football games, frankly, but my mind could easily be changed/distracted and head in that direction later–and if I can get the essay and the website writing done today, I can focus on the short story revision tomorrow, and maybe even move on to Chapter 11 of Bury Me in Shadows, which I would love to have a finished draft of by Halloween, so I can spend the next month or so polishing and revising it before I send it in–early, even, if I am lucky. The final revision and polish of #shedeservedit is going to take longer than this one, so giving myself more time to work on it is probably the wisest course of action.

And then….it’s on to Chlorine, which I am really excited about.

There are also some calls for submission I’ve seen lately that I might have something for, which is exciting, and there’s also the possibility that I could write something new as well. I really want to get back to my pandemic short story, “The Flagellants,” which I am not sure anyone will want to publish but the story has taken some shape in my head; there are a couple of others I can revise and send out there to markets–“Death and the Handmaidens,” “Moves in the Field,” “This Thing of Darkness”–and some others I want to finish–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “No Place Like Home,”–as you can see, Constant Reader, I am feeling particularly ambitious this morning–and there’s another period Sherlock story I would like to write, “The Mother of Harlots.” (Look at me, writing another Sherlock story with no market for it!) There was also a submission call for stories set in the 1960’s, and methinks I would love to write a short story around the Clay Shaw trial, which would be kind of fun to do (God, New Orleans history is so richly layered and textured it’s not even funny!) and of course, I need to be reading.

We started watching season 2 of The Boys last night, and it’s still very well done, just as the first season was, and of course, the entire concept of super-heroes as assholes remains perfect–and it got me to thinking about Superman and what’s been wrong with the recent adaptations of the Man of Steel on film. Henry Cavill is absolutely perfect in the role, but the issue I have with the films is this angsty look at Superman they’ve been giving us. Superman is suppose to be a beacon hope–the great American Boy Scout–as opposed to his darker counterpart, Batman. There will be more discussion of this at a later blog date, once we’ve finished The Boys.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and if you have some spare cash, can you donate something to western Louisiana hurricane relief? It would be most appreciated.

Red

Getting up early is the bane of my existence, and has been for nearly my entire life. I think alarms are evil, frankly–necessary sometimes, admittedly, but there’s nothing worse than being ripped out of a deep sleep by the incessant braying of a fucking alarm clock. My preference would be to wake up naturally every morning; those are the days when I never feel tired the rest of the day–waking up to an alarm inevitably means being tired at some point, and depending on how difficult it is for me to wake up after said alarm goes off, I could quite easily be tired for the rest of the day.

We’re not enjoying The Vow nearly as much as we did in the earlier episodes, and with no offense to Catherine Oxenberg, the documentary’s shift from being about what the cult (NXIVM) is doing and how it hounds people who try to leave–and their attempts to bring it down–and to a focus on her attempts to rescue her daughter was jarring; those original episodes were a lot more interesting than these last few focusing on Oxenberg and her daughter. It’s like the series shifted focus in mid-stream, and while I know Oxenberg played a very important role in bringing NXIVM down, this shift felt strange, awkward, and weird–almost inorganic.

There’s another storm out in the Caribbean Sea, and New Orleans is almost entirely the cone of uncertainty. When I looked at it last night, it looked like it could become a category 2 by the time it makes it ashore at the end of this week. This is Delta–an ominous name for people who live in the Mississippi Delta, or rather just above it–and while I am not necessarily feeling any stress about this storm just yet (give it another day or so, or another cup of cappuccino) it’s definitely not pleasing to have such a thing out there, looming and lurking and slowly making its way towards us. It’s projection right now is a dead-center hit on New Orleans as a Category 2, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will be another near-miss or a big old nothing.

This morning, Delta seems to be strengthening in the Caribbean Sea, with it possibly getting up to Category 4 in the Gulf, but only coming ashore as a 2. A 2 is still rough, mind you; that’s what Laura was in western Louisiana and she wrought havoc and destruction; so am I getting a little unsettled and unnerved by the presence of this storm lurking out there, with almost two full months left in the season? Damned straight I am. I don’t seem to be having any PTSD at the moment, unlike the previous storms that threatened here this year, so that’s a good thing–unless I am so beaten down already by the year that I no longer have the bandwidth to spare any emotion anymore, which is probably a very strong possibility.

But it will certainly make the end of the week interesting, at any rate.

We started watching the new Gillian Flynn show–she’s producer, writer and show-runner, I guess–on Prime, Utopia. I’m still not quite sure what I think of it, but it’s pretty amazing. Very hard-boiled, very realistic, very interesting, surprising twists, and boy is it ever dark. I’m not even sure I can describe the plot adequately enough to do it justice–it’s like trying to figure out how to explain Orphan Black to someone; you inevitably give up and say, “you have to watch. It’s marvelous.” The acting and writing are top notch, the direction and editing and overall visual aesthetic are cinematic at the best of the meaning of the word, and you can’t really look away from it. It’s very violent. But I really hated to stop watching when it was time for bed last night. Oh, and John Cusack is in it. There’s this amazing sense of paranoia that runs through it, that is also reminiscent of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the decade of conspiracies and theories and cults.

Note to self: rewatch the original Fame movie. It’s very dark, as I recall, as was Saturday Night Fever.

Paul actually got home early last night so I wasn’t able to get any writing done–or reading, for that matter–which of course has me still behind the 8-ball with everything I need to get done. I did make some progress yesterday; I got a lot of my emails responded to, which was lovely, and hopefully I can get the rest of them cleaned up and cleaned out today and tomorrow. I also need to clean the kitchen this evening; I kind of let things slide last night because I wasn’t expecting Paul to be home so early and then we started watching Utopia. I also want to start wading into Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories; I’d hoped to be able to get that started yesterday. Since I’m having so much trouble focusing enough to read novels, it might be time to get back to the Short Story Project, and there are certainly enough single-author collections and anthologies lying around the Lost Apartment to keep me reading for quite some time. I also realized that I do have two short stories that are almost completed; “This Thing of Darkness” and “Moves in the Field”–the two stories that were rejected by the markets I sent them to–that can be reread, revised, and sent back out into the world, which I’ve been thinking about again lately–the need to get some more short stories out on submission again. I need to be writing more–scheduling and exhaustion (both mental, emotional and physical) cannot be allowed to defeat me and keep me from writing. Writing is what keeps me level and sane (or what passes for it around here), and it’s when I am not writing something, anything, that things tend to go off the rails around here.

And more than anything else, I need to keep things on the rails as much as possible.