It’s funny, but the word umbrella is now forever linked to Tom Holland in my brain because of his brilliant lip sync of it.
I overslept this morning; I hit snooze when the alarm went off and the second time, I usually turn it off and get up. This morning I turned it off and fell asleep again. Fortunately, I woke up ten minutes later so no harm to my day, other than the off-balance feeling that comes from it not being the usual get up before dawn morning. (I easily could have slept another two hours, at least.) Tomorrow my work-at-home day will be built entirely around the delivery of the new dryer; they’re supposed to call me tonight to give me my “two-hour window” period for planning purposes. On the one hand, I kind of hope it’s early so I can get it out of the way and start catching up on laundry; on the other I kind of want it to be later so I don’t have to get up early yet again tomorrow. My coffee seems to be working, though; my brain is alert even if most of my body is still relaxed into sleep mode.
I made groceries yesterday on the way home from the office, and I broke down and bought some frozen Lean Cuisines to bring for lunch, as back-ups for when I don’t want to cook anything or things get out of whack the way they have been lately. Yesterday I brought a salad and by the time I got off work was so hungry I almost felt sick; naturally, by the time I shopped and got home and put everything away the hunger had gone away. I did empty the dishwasher and refill it to run another load; I still have some dishes in the sink and so hopefully tonight I will get the dishes caught up. I’m sure deliverymen have seen apartments in much worse shape than ours, but I still don’t want it to be disgusting when they bring the dryer tomorrow (really glad I cleaned out from behind the dryer when I had it moved; I should do that more than every seven to ten years, probably). Scooter of course wanted a warm lap and didn’t really give me much chance to get things done before the howling commenced, and he pretty much spent the entire evening in my lap. I know he’s missing Paul, who is hardly ever home in these weeks leading up to the Festivals, which is yet another reason I always commute between the hotel and the Lost Apartment over that weekend.
I turned in a story yesterday for an anthology that I am not entirely sure it’s right for, but I like the story and would love to see it finished and in print at some point. I also started pulling together another short story collection yesterday–just to see how much material I had and how much new material would be needed, and lo and behold, the collection currently sits at 72, 143 words without an introduction or conclusion; the sweet spot is always between 80 and 100k words. So, apparently not much more is needed; as little as two or as many as five to six stories, or one single novella. It’s going to be called This Town and Other Stories, and I also realized yesterday that, like Daphne du Maurier, the category of fiction where my short stories fall is macabre–a combination or cross between horror, suspense, and crime. (Maybe the title should be This Town and Other Macabre Tales?) It felt good to turn the story in–even if it’s wrong for the anthology–because I also had to edit and polish it before turning it in, and it felt good to be doing that kind of work again. I want to get a lot done this weekend–going to make lists for every day to keep me on track like I did last weekend–and will probably try to get any and all errands finished on Saturday so I can relax, sleep in, and just hang out around the house working and doing stuff on Sunday. I’m beginning to enjoy my weekends again, because while yes, I have a lot to do and a lot to get done, it’s nice to not feel stressed on my weekends with the sense of impending doom just out of sight–but visible out the corner of my eye. It’s nice to get relaxing sleep and rest for a change.
The toe is still painful but now I can walk without limping or wincing. I’m aware of it, and of course the longer the days goes and the more I walk on it the more it starts hurting–I made it till almost bedtime last night without limping–but I am seeing my doctor next week. If it is either psoriatic arthritis or gout, at least there’s treatment and medication options. I already take enough medication that I am hesitant to add more to the mix…but then again, I am over sixty and have never taken care of myself so I should be grateful that there are still treatment options.
Tonight after work I am going straight home. The mail can wait until tomorrow, and I don’t have any other errands that are necessary before Saturday, anyway. I hope to put away the dishes, do another load, and possibly even start doing some laundry. I know there are at least two loads of clothes that need doing (always a joy) and I can still use the dryer in the carriage house–and since the toe isn’t so bad, walking over there and climbing the steps to the second floor isn’t as bad as it was. I want to read more of Cheryl’s book so I can write about it here (as well as start preparing for the panel I am moderating), and I need to get back to writing and editing and all of that fun stuff.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
Another new year. 2023. This year it will have been forty-five years since I graduated from high school. That feels weird to me, but it must be true. Forty-five years. Kids born the year I graduated from high school are full on having mid-life crises already. Not exactly a cheery thought to kick off a new year, though, is it?
I got my writing done yesterday and have a daunting day of more writing ahead of me. I managed to get it all done in a little less than three hours yesterday (what can I say? I was on a roll, and the book is really coming together here at the end), and I was thus able to watch some college football games yesterday, namely TCU-Michigan and Georgia-Ohio State. Both games were completely insane, but I am sure OSU fans are not happy with their unfortunate head coach. I imagine now, after two straight losses to Michigan and no national title wins, they are every more unhappy than they have been with their head coach; it’s almost like Ohio State and Michigan have switched their annual trajectories. I also spent some time reading A Walk on the Wild Side, which I am starting to appreciate more. I am not a fan of twentieth-century straight white male MFA writing, which is what this kind of is (look at me! my book will be taught in universities!) and I’ve never cared for (Hemingway comes to mind) but I’m starting to like it more. There’s a dark, noir undertone to it that I am appreciating, and now that the main character (Dove) is making his way to New Orleans now–well, it’s going to be a lot more interesting to me once the action moves here, which is the entire reason I am reading the book in the first place. We also finished off season two of Sex Lives of College Girls, whose second season didn’t live up to the first, but it was still enjoyable. Tonight we’ll probably go back to Three Pines and watch a movie; there was something Paul mentioned last night that he wants to watch but I’ve already forgotten what it was.
I felt remarkably rested and relaxed yesterday; the writing going so well had a lot to do with it, I am sure. I slept well again last night and feel rested again this morning–I really do like these lengthy weekends, and am going to miss them once they are over–so I feel confident I can bang out the word count i need to get done for today as well. Yay! So, I am going to do exactly the same thing I did yesterday; read this morning over my coffee, then take a shower and get cleaned up before diving into the next chapter I need to write.
As is my wont, I am setting goals for 2023 rather than making resolutions–and while this hasn’t been as successful for me as it should have been over the years (some goals remain the same, year after year after year), I still like goals better than resolutions. So, without further ado, here we go:
Get an agent
This has been at the top of my goals every year since i started setting goals rather than resolutions, which goes back to the beginnings of my blog, way back in December 2004. I have made running lists of potential agents to try for years, always adding someone new whenever I come across their information or someone being excited to be signed by one. Having an agent doesn’t mean a significant change to my writing or my earning potential or the possibilities of my career getting bigger, but none of those things are likely to happen without an agent: I am not getting signed to a major publisher like William Morrow or Random House unless and until I have an agent. I may never sign with one of those houses–I may never get an agent–but I also never really try, either. So, the goal isn’t necessarily to get an agent in 2023, but to at least make an effort.
Finish everything on deck
I have five novellas in some sort of progress, as well as two other books I am at least four or five chapters deep into. I want to finish all of these projects in 2023 and get them out of my working files. I don’t think I will ever finish every short story or essay I’ve begun over the years, but getting some sort of completion here would be really nice. I would love nothing more than to have a working first draft of both Muscles and Chlorine by the midpoint of 2023. I also would like to pull together a second short story collection, which would be incredibly cool (This Town and Other Stories). It would also be nice to get those novellas completed. It is very tempting to turn them all into novels–a couple of them might be able to be stretched out that way–but I know some of them simply do not have the depth or story potential to play out that way. The nice thing about novellas is the length is up to you; I know these stories are all too long to pare down to something readable and enjoyable for six thousand words or less; but some of them need to be longer than the twenty thousand words I was shooting for.
More short stories sent out on submission.
I really do need to finish some of these other short stories I have in progress to try to get them out on submission. I have over eighty stories in some sort of progress, with still others yet to be started and/or finished. I’ve not been doing so great with the short stories as I would have liked over the last few years. I have some really good ones to work on–there’s one I fear that’s going to end up being longer than a short story, because there’s more to the story than can fit in the confines of six thousand words or less, but then you also never know.
Clean like we are moving.
I really need to get rid of things that have accumulated over the sixteen or so years we’ve been living in this apartment. I need to clean out the storage attic and the storage unit; donate a shit ton of books to the library sale, and just in general rid the apartment of all this clutter that seems to be weighing us down and closing in on us. Part of this is my inability to rid myself of books once I’ve read them, but I’ve also become much more ruthless when it comes to pruning them–I still can’t believe I donated so many of my old Stephen King first edition hardcovers, and my Anne Rice first editions as well, but they were just collecting dust in boxes so what use were they? Paul and I set this goal–clean like we’re moving, which in other words means would you move this or trash this? The first few times I pared down the books it literally was painful, but I am getting better. And after being a lifelong book hoarder, well. you can’t just turn that off after decades of doing it.
Volunteer less of my time.
All due respect, I’ve done my time. I have volunteered relentlessly for the overall betterment of the writing community–whether it’s the mystery community or the queer writing community–for quite some time now. I write stories for free for charity anthologies all the time. I step up and judge awards because I think they’re important. I’ve served on the Mystery Writers of America and Bouchercon boards. But now that I’m older, I need to scale back. I don’t have either the time or the prodigious energy that I used to have, and while I’ve enjoyed all the volunteer work, something has to give. I just can’t do all the things that I used to do because things have changed: my day job takes more out of me physically, emotionally, and intellectually than it ever has before (the switch to working early mornings didn’t help); I tire out much earlier than I used to since my COVID situation last July and I can’t write or be productive or even read when I am bone-tired exhausted the way I am when I get home from work some nights. This also includes giving blurbs, I am sad to say; blurbing means reading the entire book, and I just don’t really have the time or mind-space to do much of that anymore; same with judging. I want my reading to be for pleasure or education for the rest of my life. This doesn’t mean I’ll always say no when asked, just that I am going to be more discriminatory. I need to be more jealous of my free time, and I can honestly say few people in the mystery community have done more volunteer work than me. I’d just like to start getting paid for working.
Take better care of myself.
The one-two punch of getting older and having COVID last summer has brought home very clearly to me that I need to take better care of myself and that physical things are just going to get harder. It’s been incredibly difficult over the last few years getting into a gym/workout routine with everything else I had to do plus the exhaustion thing; but the truth is physically I need to start working my body more–and the longer I go, the weaker my body gets and the harder it will be to get back into decent physical condition again. I also need to start paying more attention to my diet now than I am in my early soon to be mid-sixties–my diet needs to be healthier and I need to eat better. I weighed myself last week at the office and I am back up to 218; which is better than 220, but I had gotten myself down to nearly 200 at one point and I’d like to get back there. I don’t like this extra weight on me, and sure, maybe I can carry it and it would surprise people to know how much I actually do weigh, but I’m aware of it. And while it would be easy to think who cares, you’re almost sixty, you’re practically in the grave so why start depriving yourself of things you love at this age? But there’s a defeatist mentality there, a laziness speaking that is far too easy for me to go ahead and give into, and I don’t think that’s perhaps the wisest decision to make? I also need to get some more work on my mouth done–I’m tired of looking like an inbred hillbilly.
It’s incredibly easy to come home and collapse into my easy chair and flip on Youtube videos–whether its football highlights, lists, music or military or European history, or reaction videos–it’s easy to just mindlessly lay there in the chair while watching endless videos, one after the other, about whatever subject catches my fancy. But I could read instead–and there’s plenty of nonfiction lying around the apartment. Over the past few days I’ve been reading either Bad Gays or Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J. F. Andrews–about heirs to thrones that got supplanted by people with more spurious claims in the Middle Ages–or Holy Wars by Gary L. Rashba (about crusades and ancient wars in the Holy Land, going back to Biblical times); and there are plenty of other non-fiction books lying around here that I could get to more quickly if I read rather than watched Youtube videos. But at the same time, when I am exhausted, it’s almost therapeutic. I guess we’ll see how it goes, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to read history or other nonfiction while trying to rest, relax and decompress from a day in clinic.
Be more assertive and less self-deprecating.
In general, this is a good idea. I need to break the conditioning I was raised with, in which you never praise yourself and simply wait for others to notice and do it for you. No, this just doesn’t work and it’s not a good trait for a writer to have. I need to stand up for myself, my work, and my career because let’s face it, nobody else is going to do it for me.
New years can be daunting as they are not only full of potential for either good or bad but they are unknown. You can’t know what’s coming, so all you can do is be hopeful things will always work out in the end. I want to also try to be more positive, and try to enjoy the good things without fear of the inevitable bad things that will inevitably come along. I also need to get out of the mindset that enjoying good things that happen will trigger bad things to happen as punishment; I need to learn to navigate that line between self-confidence and arrogance, which isn’t an easy task.
And on that note, I am going to go read for a little while before i dive into today’s writing. Happy New Year, Constant Reader!
Work-at-home Friday has rolled around again, and today I get to do data entry and quality-assurance on forms until my eyes cross. I have a couple of errands to run this afternoon–but other than that, I am looking forward to a nice, peaceful day at home doing my work-at-home duties and my chores. Later on, I hope to get some good work done on the book before I repair to my easy chair with the latest Wanda Morris novel. It was a tough choice between that and the new Donna Andrews, but I am thinking since Dashing Through The Snowbirds is a Christmas tale, I may save that for Christmas reading this year–it makes the most sense, and since I generally don’t watch any Christmas movies or specials anymore (I do sometimes watch A Charlie Brown Christmas–it’s my favorite), maybe I could read Christmas-themed books and stories this year in December; maybe call it “The Twelve Reads of Christmas” or something like that. Hmmm, it’s a thought.
It really is amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for you after a few days of insomnia and exhaustion/fatigue.
Last night I didn’t sleep as deeply or as well as I did on Wednesday night. I kept waking up, partly due to Scooter’s restlessness and sometime need to let me know his outrage about something, but was always able to fall back asleep. I had to have bloodwork done this morning; I got an email from the lab telling me I had lab orders waiting for me, so I scheduled it. I got there this morning and checked in–mind you, I needed to fast, so I didn’t eat last night or have anything to drink or eat this morning before leaving the house–only to find out they didn’t, in fact, have lab orders for me. Hilariously, I am terrible about remembering to do the labs after my doctor appointments, so this last time in July I made the appointment for Labs the same week as my doctor appointment and had them done. Once they told me I didn’t have orders in, I looked in the app and saw that I had, indeed, had them done back in August. So, no need to fast overnight, no need to not have coffee before leaving, no need to leave, in fact. Heavy sigh. But I did start reading Wanda Morris’ new book while waiting to be told I didn’t really need to be there, and it’s quite marvelous already. I knew it would be–her debut novel was superb–and it’s such a delight, as always, to see exciting new voices grow and become even stronger as their career progresses.
Last evening as I relaxed before heading to bed I watched another documentary about the history of gay pornography–I’ll probably watch another one later today–which of course put me in mind of writing about that history. I really do need to focus on getting this Scotty book and the next thing I have to write finished so I can get back to Chlorine; my goal for the rest of this year and 2023 is to get these two books finished, finish two other in-progress projects, and wrap up some other things that are unfinished but need to be finished so I can cross them off the list. I may do another short story collection; I’m not sure but I think I have enough sold and/or published for another collection to actually be possible. This one, when it materialized, will be called This Town and Other Stories, because the strongest story I’ve done since the last collection was “This Town”, which was in Holly West’s anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. At least in my opinion, although The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy and Other Stories would probably sell better…
And of course, tomorrow is a big day for the Southeastern Conference, with division championships on the line. LSU can actually get a leg up in the West by accomplishing the gargantuan task of beating Alabama in Baton Rouge for the first time since 2010–but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Sure, it’s possible–anything is possible in college football on any given Saturday; I am sure no one would have thought Kansas State would shellack Oklahoma State the way they did last weekend–but despite all the hype chatter, I’m not getting my hopes up terribly high. Yes, I want the Tigers to win–but I don’t have any expectations, just as I really haven’t all season. I’m just delighted the program seems to be on the rise again after the last two horrible years. I certainly would have never thought LSU would be coming into the game with Alabama tied with them and Mississippi for first place in the division. And earlier in the day Georgia and Tennessee will play for the leg up in the East–which again, no one would have seen coming before the season started; no one really give Tennessee much thought as the program has been moribund since at least 2007, the last time they won their division (which also happened to be the year a two-loss LSU team won the national championship–see how you can see omens and portents in everything?). I am not a Tennessee fan by any means–I rooted for them during the Peyton Manning years because I thought he was a phenomenal athlete plus I despise Florida with every fiber of my being, but that was about it. I only root for them in non-conference games and bowls, but I am happy for their fans–just as I was happy for Georgia fans last year as they finally beat Alabama and won the national title; I always think back to what a glorious ride 2019 was for LSU fans, so it’s always nice to see a long-starved fan base finally get something they can be excited about. Pundits and fans are already comparing 2019 LSU and 2022 Tennessee…but it’s really not even the same. Sure, no one thought LSU would be as great as they were in 2019, but they were also coming off a 10-3 season. Tennessee was 7-6 last year, so it’s an even bigger turnaround for them on that level. I plan to get my writing and my errands and chores finished tomorrow morning well before the 2:30 Georgia-Tennessee kick-off, so I can spend the rest of the day nervously cleaning with the games on in the background. Paul also comes home tomorrow (yay!) so I am going to need groceries, too.
And my kitchen, as always, is a disaster area on a Friday morning, so it’s perhaps time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you later or tomorrow.
Sunday morning, and not only is the Super Bowl today, but it’s also our Costco run day. Hurray! And in a moment of perfect timing, this morning I also got the emailed rebate coupon from my Costco Visa, so we have almost a hundred dollars off whatever we spend there today. One really has to love serendipity when it happens, doesn’t one? It’s been a hot minute since we’ve been to Costco, and I am really missing my dark chocolate sea salt caramels…we’ve been out for a while. And with the next two weekends lost to parades, this is the last opportunity we have to go until after March.
Is it insane that I am excited about going to Costco? It also says a lot about the quality of my life, doesn’t it? LOL. Yesterday was a good day–I also had another good night’s sleep, which was lovely–and I got a lot accomplished around the Lost Apartment as far as cleaning and organizing are concerned. Everything looks, if still a bit cluttered, neat and tidy–at least the clutter is stacked nicely–and it really does make a difference in how I feel about the place. I also worked on “Condos for Sale or Rent” for a bit yesterday, made groceries (got Doris Day parking and everything), and settled in to watch the Olympics. I wasn’t thrilled with the ice dancing results–as always, the Americans were under-scored–but we’ll get a medal of some kind; the French were always a lock on the gold anyway. And both of our top teams won a silver medal in the team competition, so…really, can’t complain about too much at all here.
I got the edits for “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday, and it took me about ten minutes to get through them and make corrections where necessary. The story turned out a lot better than I had obviously thought, but the good news is the story is finished and turned in and the edits are done; so I can put the file away, add the title to the Table of Contents for my next short story collection, and move the electronic file into the This Town and other Stories folder. I have ten published stories, which is about half of the new collection, and of the other ten, well, four have complete drafts–and of course, I have two more stories to finish in the next few months as well. So, that will give me sixteen at some point, which is lovely, and even closer to a finished collection–would be, should I decide to throw a novella in there at some point. I also retrieved my folder on Chlorine so I could again read over what I’ve already written–with an eye to getting back to it in March or April; I’ve not really decided yet what I should do next other than these short stories. I also started writing a blog post about Joey Burrow that I will try to get finished today–I don’t think I’ve been such a fan of any pro quarterback since the glory days of Drew Brees–otherwise there isn’t much point. I won’t be watching the Super Bowl–or certainly not all the entire thing–since I have to get up early tomorrow (all week, in fact; I have to go into the office four mornings and I have to get up early again on Friday to take the car in for its oil change), but obviously the first thing I will do upon rising tomorrow is see how it all turned out.
I also want to go to the gym today after we go to Costco–I know, crazy, right?–but it looks lovely outside today (yesterday was so beautiful I got out the charcoal and barbecued burgers) so the walk to the gym will undoubtedly be lovely, and I want to get a lot of work done today once that’s over and done with. Paul is still working on Festival programming, so I need to make certain I am utilizing my free time wisely. After organizing the books and making them look more orderly yesterday, I am debating not buying any more books until I can get some more of these read and donated and out of the house. It does seem weird to be continually buying books when you have so many that you’ve never read–many of them classics and award-winners–and so maybe, just maybe, the time I usually was spending in the evenings writing could be utilized for reading for an hour or so every night, which will gradually bring me through the books. (I doubt I will get much reading done during parade season, frankly.) The only parades I really care about this year are Muses and Iris, frankly; but there are reasons Paul and I might end up going out there every night of parades, or many of them, at any rate. (Not my story to tell, but being supportive of a friend.) Note to self: get more take home COVID tests from the office.
And on that note, I am going to bring this to a close and start doing some more clean-up around here before we go to Costco. Paul’s alarm just went off, which means he’ll be getting up soon (later rather than sooner, of course) and I need more coffee to fortify myself for the journey.
Have a lovely Super Bowl Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.
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 wereobviously 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.
So, the HVAC guys came yesterday to fix our heat. We got a new system last year after the old one finally died just before the Fat Tuesday Freeze (the coldest I’ve ever been in my life, and I lived in Minneapolis for a winter), but we’d never needed to ever use the heating aspect of it once it was installed; the weather changed in mid-February and it wasn’t needed again. When it got cold last week, I turned it on, it ran for a bit, then kind of coughed and stopped working. Within an hour of them getting it running yesterday, the house was not only bearable but temperate. The old system never warmed the downstairs and inevitably turned the upstairs into a sauna; this one actually moderates the temperature based on the floors so that doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t even need to wear my slippers because the floor isn’t too cold for stockinged feet. This morning it is thirty-seven degrees outside but I am not wearing layers or slippers inside the Lost Apartment this morning and it’s kind of lovely.
As I said to Paul last night as we started watching the final season of Ozark, “clearly, we’ve needed a new system since we moved in here, and this is how everyone survives the cold spells in New Orleans.”
I had often wondered, frankly. I’ve even written about it, convinced that heating these old houses in New Orleans wasn’t truly possible…and now I know I was wrong, all along.
Which is kind of embarrassing, really.
It’s weird to be sitting here at my desk, shivering and cold. It’s also nice.
As always, this is a Saturday where I must get lots done. I am behind still on the book, and of course the place is a disaster area and I have to run errands out in the cold at some point–which I am really not looking forward to. Tomorrow I have a goal of going to the gym and working out again for the first time in months; this should be interesting but I also know it’s going to feel amazing to be going to the gym fairly regularly again; fingers crossed, right? And now that it’s no longer cold in the apartment, I have no excuse for not getting anything done; when it’s cold I am too cold to function and all I want to do is huddle in my easy chair under a blanket. Well, don’t have that excuse anymore in a temperate indoor climate, do I? Which is a good thing. I didn’t have any it’s warm here in the bed and cold out there thoughts about getting up this morning–I still stayed in bed longer than I probably should have, but what can you do? Lazy’s going to lazy, I am afraid, but the fewer excuses I can give myself, the better.
I heard about a new anthology I am excited to submit a story for, particularly because I already have a story ready for it. I don’t remember what I originally wrote the story for, but it was for a submission call but I cannot remember which anthology it was for; it wasn’t taken, and I’ve played with the story off and on over the years. Now that I know it’s got a potential home, once this book is finished and turned in, I can get back to it and put the kind of detail into it that will make it sing and stand out; it’s a bit ghoulish, really; but I really liked the story and its potential; I had always intended to get back to it, maybe for my next short story collection (This Town and Other Stories; not sure when that will eventually see the light of day, but I am getting a lot of stories into print and once this current book is finished will be sending out more to other markets and hopefully getting some more traction with the stories, as well as writing others to fill it out. I am actually very excited about getting this collection together this year, frankly).
I also saw the final draft of the cover for A Streetcar Named Murder, which had a mistake on it, which is why I am not sharing it with you, Constant Reader; I should have the final cover design early next week and I cannot wait to share it. It’s gorgeous and perfect and I love it. Now I just have to finish writing it…
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Will check in with you tomorrow and let you know how the day went, Constant Reader. Have a great Saturday yourself, okay?
Well, I over slept this morning. As someone who regularly suffers from insomnia, you can imagine how weird it felt to wake up, look at the alarm, and see that it was after nine (yes, nine is what I consider oversleeping; on days when the alarm isn’t needed I generally rise sometime between seven and eight); yet at the same time it was kind of delightful. I feel very rested this morning, which is definitely a good thing, so even though my morning hours were cut back by sleeping, I can still spend some time reading S. A.Cosby’s delightful Razorblade Tears all while still being able to get the writing and organizing done today that I need to get done. Huzzah!
And I also need to get to the gym this afternoon as well, around one-ish/one thirty.
Yesterday was a bit odd, if I do say so myself. I intended to get some writing done, and do some cleaning and organizing. But writing yesterday’s blog entry put me into a weird state of mind, also partially triggered by starting to write “Wash Away Sins”, and I wound up getting down my Todd Gregory short story collection, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories to see if I had, indeed, included “Smalltown Boy” in it the way I had originally thought I had. The answer is I didn’t; I originally intended to but finally pulled it because, while there is a tiny bit of a sex scene in it, it wasn’t then and never has been considered an erotic short story (or porn, if you will) and so I did pull the story–even though I didn’t remember pulling it. This also reminded me that not only has one of my favorite short stories never been collected into either of my short story collections, but that it was available to go into my next one, This Town and Other Stories; it fits better into a crime story collection anyway, even though the crime isn’t the heart of the story, the aftermath of the crime does drive it–which also makes me want to write “Wash Away Sins” all the more. I do have another story that fits into the same universe, “Son of a Preacher Man,” which is definitely erotica (and is available in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories) but is also definitely in the voice of “Smalltown Boy” and “Wash Away Sins,” which is also the voice for “A Holler Full of Kudzu”, which had me wondering yesterday if I should actually put them all into a single book–a novella and short stories, all from the same voice and all set in an around Corinth, Alabama…which also sparked my imagination in a million different ways; such was the state of my mind yesterday.
This also made me remember, or think about, another story or two I had published way back in the day under a pseudonym, “The Troll in the Basement” and “The Snow Queen”; neither of which had ever been published in either of my collections. Both are more like horror than anything else (although “The Snow Queen” has some erotic elements to it), and I had used a pseudonym which I’d hoped to use as my “horror” brand, but it wasn’t a good pseudonym (it sounded like a soap opera character more than anything else) and I only used it twice….so those stories are just kind of amorphously out there. Needless to say, I then had to track down copies of all these stories, and reread them, just to see what needed to be done with them, and then of course I also tracked down the unpublished novella, Spellcaster, which I then spent some time rereading and trying to decide if it could be turned queer and how much work would that entail. I just didn’t really see how I could add 30k plus words to it as it stood, and then realized, maybe the ending isn’t really the ending, and maybe the story goes on from there? And my fevered brain started working and I thought, yes yes this will work and will be fucking clever so I started writing a gazillion notes and then the next thing I knew the evening had rolled around.
I find it both amusing and terrifying that I have work lying around that I have completely forgotten about.
Which is inevitably why it’s important for me to go back and reread my work. I kind of need to reread Dark Tide, if for no other reason is that it’s an offshoot of the Corinth Alabama stories (the main character is from Corinth, even if the book is set elsewhere), not to mention this is where Scotty’s sort of nephew Taylor hails from, which means now the Scotty books are connected to my y/a’s, and the y/a’s are all connected to each other in some way, and…yeah.
So that was where my day yesterday mostly went. I cleaned out my inbox, did a shit ton of filing–and there’s still a shit ton of organizing that remains needing to be done–and perhaps one day I will find the time to get it done, tedious chore that it is–but I have not really been organized since the Great Data Disaster of 2018, and three years is an incredibly long time to go without some sense of organization, which is undoubtedly the core symptom of the disconnect I’ve been feeling for several years (probably since the Great Data Disaster of 2018). I also took all the book-length projects (anything destined to be more than 20k, to be fair) and bound the print-outs into binder clips, which makes the organization of them in my “needs work” pile MUCH easier, but when I took a picture and posted it I realized I had not included the short story collection or the essay collection; and there’s another pseudonymous manuscript lying around here somewhere as well. WHICH IS WHY I AM BURIED IN PAPER, SERIOUSLY.
I do kind of wish I’d learned to write and edit after everything went electronic, to be honest. All the paper…JFC. I am undoubtedly responsible for the loss of hundreds of acres of the rain forest. I try to work electronically, but I spend so much time at a computer already that the idea of reading and editing entirely this way gives me hives.
And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and may your day be terrific.
I survived the tooth extraction! I am debating whether i want to take some of the painkillers this morning–they didn’t give me anything addicting; prescription strength Tylenol and ibuprofen only, but they made me sleepy and zone in and out all day after I got home, which made yesterday a productivity bust. But my word, how well I slept last night! I do feel pretty amazing this morning–even though I can’t go to the gym again until Monday at the earliest and no solid foods till then either; which means a steady diets of soups, yogurts and protein shakes, which are filling but not satisfying in the least–so I am hoping to get a lot done this morning. We’re going to go visit Pat and Michael this evening–we haven’t seen them since pre-pandemic–and I am very excited about that as well.
So, the plan for today is to write and read and clean and edit–the usual Saturday fare–and we’ll see how that goes. There are two blog entries I’ve begun and not finished; one talking about the first openly gay guy I ever met, and the other about Superman and Lois–so I am hoping to get those written this morning as well. The kitchen has totally slid since I cleaned it Thursday night after work, and so I am going to be doing dishes and organizing and vacuuming this morning around my cleaning (and answering of emails). I want to revisit “Festival of the Redeemer” this weekend, and try to get a first draft of “The Sound of Snow Falling” finished this weekend as well as trying to revise the first chapter of Chlorine. I also have some other in-progress story drafts open on the laptop–one called “Beauty Sleep,” which stalled because i had the opening idea and the title but don’t know where to take it from there, and I think I’m just going to try to write my way out of it. I also want to spend some time pulling what I have available for the next short story collection (This Town and Other Stories) together.
An ambitious plan, to be sure.
I tried watching Camelot yesterday on HBO MAX, and was soon bored of it. It’s simply not a good film–and Franco Nero’s almost unintelligible, heavily accented English would have been fine had the dubbing of his singing also been accented. I saw this movie in the theater when I was a kid–my grandmother took me and my sister to see it at the Colony in Chicago–and LOVED it, but have never seen it since. Maybe it would be better on the big screen–it was letterboxed, so it was meant to be seen that way–but on my big screen television, the magic was lost. It was from that period after movie musicals like West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music–lavish, enormous spectacles–did huge box office and won lots of Oscars; unfortunately, it also led to expensive gambles–like Camelot, Paint Your Wagon, Dr. Dolittle, and Sweet Charity–that were massive failures (Mark Harris does a great job exploring this phenomenon in his marvelous Pictures at a Revolution; he writes wonderful books about the film industry and I hope there will be a new one soon) that bankrupted studios and eventually ended the movie musical genre (with a few notable exceptions, like Cabaret) for a good long while, which changed the movie industry as well. (hey, Mark–why don’t you write about how the summer spectacle film, beginning with Jaws, also changed the industry by moving it away from the gritty realism and cynicism of the 1970’s? Just a thought).
Okay, I took some painkillers. I don’t know if it was actually pain or discomfort I was feeling, but regardless–there was no need for either when I had pills on hand to take care of it.
I am all about better living through chemistry, and they gave me quite a supply, so I have to assume the mentality is for me to use them as needed–which is what both bottles say anyway.
We watched this week’s Line of Duty–there’s only one more episode, the series finale–and enjoyed it, before switching over to the US Gymnastics Olympic trials. I was drifting in and out of sleep through both, so when they were over, I went to bed–at shortly after nine! And had a great night’s sleep, I might add. We also have this week’s episodes of Physical–which is great, if you’re not watching–and Lisey’s Story–also great–to get caught up on this evening after we get home from Pat and Michael’s. We also want to watch a movie on Disney–Freaky, a riff on Freaky Friday in which a spree killer and a teenage cheerleader switch bodies, which could be either hilarious or awful–and I will probably go to bed early this evening as well. My body is starting to adapt to getting up at six three days a week, and I am not sure if I like it or not. I woke up at 6:30 yesterday morning–imagine my shock to discover, around eleven, that it was only eleven…but I used to always get a lot of work done before noon in the olden days, so maybe this is a return to my old productivity? Maybe NOT getting up early every day was the change that shifted everything?
The jury is still out, and you will, of course, be updated with regularity on this situation as it develops, Constant Reader.
So, I was interviewed recently by Sumiko Saulson for the Horror Writers’ Association’s Pride Month celebration. You can click here to read it, should you so choose:
Pretty cool, huh? Sumiko is awesome–we met on a diversity panel a million years ago at the Stokercon that was in Las Vegas–and I’ve been following her career ever since. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s talented, and she’s also pretty cool.
The sun is out this morning, for a change, and today I am going to head back to the gym at some point. I’m going to do as much on my to-do list (yes, I actually went ahead and made one yesterday, finally) as I can this morning and in the early afternoon before heading over there, and I am going to light the charcoal and make dinner later on as well. I want to spend some time reading this morning–by morning, I mean the extended period before I go to the gym–and I do still have some filing to do–there’s a big stack of paper sitting on my desk this morning to my right that has to go–and I actually did some writing yesterday as well. I am starting to feel like I am fitting back into my life again, and that the world is also starting to get a bit more normalized, too.
Well, that’s what I’m hoping, at any rate.
The writing I actually did yesterday wasn’t really very much of anything, and wasn’t what I actually put on my to-do list to work on (rationalizing and justifying to myself that the to-do list was for next week, which didn’t start until this morning or until tomorrow, whichever I decide upon), but something I’ve been toying with for a while. I’ve been wanting to set something in Venice for quite some time–ever since my all-too-short twenty-four hours there seven (!) years ago–and I fixated on an event they have there every summer, the “Festival of the Redeemer,” which is nearly, if not as, popular as their Carnival celebrations. The idea was to send a gay couple, whose relationship is rotting and falling apart, there together as it was a rather expensive birthday trip scheduled by the wealthier, prettier partner for the less attractive, less financially stable one; the wealthier one now sees it as a farewell gift as the relationship is, in his opinion, now completely over–and he plans on never seeing or communicating with his soon-to-be-ex once they return to the states. The visit is scheduled during the Festival; and they are staying at the glamorous Gritti Palace, right on the Grand Canal and near the Piazza San Marco; with their own balcony so they will have a spectacular view of the fireworks and the celebrations. The story is, of course, told through the point-of-view of the soon-to-be-ex; who is beginning to suspect that his beloved partner is planning to dump him–and when they are shown to their rooms and they each have their own bedroom, his suspicions are confirmed–and then he meets a beautiful young Italian, and the intrigue and suspense begin. I do have about 3558 words of this finished, but the novella isn’t anywhere near to being finished; I opened the document yesterday and started making my way through it, editing and revising to get back into the head of the main character, flight attendant Grant…and I really do like the story, to be honest. I’m not entirely sure where it’s going to go–I do know how I want it to end–and so I also found myself looking through my pictures from the trip there and looking at others on-line for further inspiration. And while I wasn’t actually creating anything new–I hadn’t reached the part quite yet where I would have to start putting new words on the page–it felt really good to be writing again.
This is also why, I realized, I haven’t read Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime yet; I didn’t want to read another gay crime story set in Venice until I had at least finished a first draft of my own–which is further incentive to get this first draft finished.
So, once I finish this and get it posted, get some other things done–like getting all this crap off my desk–I am going to dive back into this novella and try to get through the rest of this first 3558 words, maybe add another thousand or so to it, and then start scratching things off my to-do list. I want to try to get my inbox cleared out as much as humanly possible; put the dishes in the dishwasher put away, and I really like starting off the week with the Lost Apartment as cleaned up as humanly possible so…well, so as I get more tired and lazier during the work week, it’s not as much of a disaster to deal with next weekend.
I’m also, while working on Chlorine (I want to get a first draft finished by the first of July) going to go ahead and try to make some progress on my next short story collection, This Town and Other Stories. I’ve also been thinking about the next Scotty book, believe it or not, and while I do want to eventually write about the cursed Carnival of 2019 and the pandemic, I have been thinking that perhaps the most recent Scotty, Royal Street Reveillon, might have taken place over Christmas of 2018 and I now have all of 2019 to play with before I have to deal with those other stories; and I could easily write another Scotty adventure set in the spring of 2019 before having to deal with any of those other real world times. I know a lot of writers are saying they don’t want to write about the pandemic, which is perfectly understandable, but I also can’t wrap my mind around NOT dealing with it–it’s like Hurricane Katrina for me; it happened and how do we not talk about it? I suppose I could deal with it by writing about it after it happened; but that kind of feels like cheating to me. I don’t know, maybe the further we get away from the shutdown, the less likely I will feel that I need to write about it. Maybe I could simply write about the Spanish Flu epidemic in a Sherlock story, back in the day? I’ve been reading about the Spanish Flu pandemic (I love that I keep making typos and writing Spanish Fly epidemic instead)–which reminds me, I need to check John Barry’s The Great Influenza out of the library–and maybe writing about that pandemic as a symbol of this most recent one will help me with that?
Wednesday, and to quote Bon Jovi, “we’re halfway there, Oh! Oh! Livin’ on a prayer!”
Yesterday the city made it official: there will be no Mardi Gras parades in Orleans Parish in 2021. It’s more than a little bit shocking, to be honest; I seriously doubted that the City would actually pull the trigger on this. It’s going to be an enormous economic blow to the city, obviously, but it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how this will play out in the long run, obviously, but I can’t help but feel bad for all the public service businesses and their employees who depend so heavily on Carnival for their income.
I did come up with an idea for the Christmas horror anthology–the title is “To Sacrifice A Pawn” (which I really really like), and the Louisiana monster I am using is a “grunch”–it was difficult not to go with the Cajun Fairy (the fee follay) or the unbaptized babies (the letiche)–but I can always use those at another time. But I am using Redemption Parish–my weird, self-created “haunted” parish that first appeared in either Murder in the Arts District or The Orion Mask–simply because I think it’s a great name for a Louisiana parish bedeviled by supernatural things. (One of the major drawbacks of being “prolific” is trying to remember things that you’ve written and published already; Christ on the cross, it’s not easy) And let’s face it, how much do I love the entire concept of Redemption Parish? I mean, there are parishes named Assumption and Ascension–although no Annunciation, which is a street in New Orleans, and a great name for a parish.
We finished watching the first season of Mr. Mercedes last night, and much as I wanted them to, they really didn’t stick the landing. I’m not sure why they made the choice to de-emphasize the characters of Jerome and his family, or reduced Holly to such a tiny role, but I think it was a mistake. I can also understand the change in what the crazed psychopath Brady’s final target for the climax was–it would be much too expensive and much too hard to film an attempted bombing at a boy band concert filled with teenagers–but it really did, somehow, shift the dynamic and make the climactic finale seem a little less urgent in some ways. The second season requires paying to join Peacock to watch, and as I’ve discussed numerous times already, I am not really up for paying for still another streaming service.
So, today is my last day in the office for a while. I work at home this week on Thursday and Friday, and then I am on holiday vacation next week, starting with this Saturday. I have a lot planned for this week off; we shall see if I achieve any of it. I need to finish two short stories, dive back into the book and get into a groove of writing it so I can get it turned in on time, an of course, the apartment itself is a pigsty. The LSU game this weekend hasn’t yet been either cancelled or postponed, but it doesn’t look very good for them regardless. Arkansas is surging this year (and really, good for them; their program has really slid into the basement over the end of this past decade, and while I am not a fan, you do hate to see it) and they really get up to beat LSU; not sure why they hate us so much, but there it is, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if our four year winning streak against them comes to an end this year.
And with all the short story stuff that’s been going on this year, I was thinking about my next story collection, and started trying to get a table of contents together for the next one. I’d always intended the next one to be called Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way “Once a Tiger” will work as a short story (moving it into the novella camp) and so I need a new title; I am torn between using This Town and Other Stories or Neighborhood Alert and Other Stories; but then who knows? I may come up with yet another story in the meantime whose title is better for a collection. The other thing is I keep forgetting stories I’ve written and published, which is very strange–as I was pulling it all together yesterday evening, I know I forgot “Moist Money”, and who knows what else I’ve forgotten in the meantime?
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.