My Tears Ricochet

Ah, memory lane.

It’s a place I don’t go very often, frankly–or at least, try not to go to very often–because while memories can be lovely, there’s always that incredible danger of remembering things through the rose-colored glasses; the development of the sense that things were better in the past than they are in the present. Nostalgia is both intoxicating and addictive, and frequently, incorrect, which is why I try not to visit there more than once in a great while. We tend to not remember things correctly, and we also tend to remember things in ways that make us look and feel better in that same way, which isn’t terrible but can be dangerous.

As Constant Reader is aware, I was recently reminded me of that post-Katrina period, when I wasn’t sure about the future of either series I was writing and frankly, wasn’t sure about being a writer anymore. I had, after all, already accomplished my dream: I’d published fiction with my name on the spine, and had even published short stories. It seems funny now to remember a time when I thought I was finished with writing–particularly since that was over thirty novels and I don’t even know how many short stories ago–but those were pretty dark times. I do wish my memories of that time weren’t quite as hazy as they are; it’s almost like I am trying to look back (when I do try) through gauze or even darkness. But my blog entries from those days still exist; I can, should I want, go back and reread them whenever I would like to–which, I think, is part of the reason I continue to keep this blog almost sixteen full years after it began, even though I’ve moved it here to WordPress from Livejournal. I do miss Livejournal though, and I miss how easy it was to connect with other people there. Blogs are, so I’ve been told countless times, a relic of the past and my stubborn refusal to let mine go is seen as quaint. People don’t read them anymore and they don’t have the reach that they once did, but that was never why I blogged in the first place.

I have some errands to run today–which I am delaying doing–and it’s gray outside already. We’re scheduled to be hit by another tropical storm in the next few days, most likely on Tuesday, and the rain is supposed to start coming in later today–it looks like the clouds are already here, and really, would it be a Saturday of Greg running errands if it didn’t rain? I need to take my library book–the Rock Hudson bio–back, and I also need to really get going with the cleaning and the writing today, especially now that the vacuum cleaner is working decently again. I need to take the rugs outside and shake them out, and do the kitchen floor before I put the rugs back. I suspect while the kitchen floor dries will be either the time to start reading Babylon Berlin or dive into some short story reading; I am very behind on that, and anthologies and single-author collections continue to pile up in the section of the living room where I keep them in order to have easier access to them when I am ready to read a short story. I also got the hard copy of the issue of Mystery Tribune with my story “The Carriage House” in it; I’d like to read some of the other stories in that issue as well. I don’t feel exhausted today–then again, I haven’t run my errands either, which always drains me–so I am hopeful that it will be a good day of cleaning and reading and writing around here today.

We watched the new episode of Ted Lasso last night, and I have to again beseech you to start watching this show; it’s really quite charming and lovely and funny and moving in all the ways Schitt’s Creek hit all those same sweet spots. We also thought we were watching the final episode of We Hunt Together, but apparently there’s another episode that hasn’t aired yet on Showtime so there’s yet another one to go. It didn’t really engage me very much, to be honest; it’s entertaining enough, but I also found myself checking social media on my iPad and even playing Bubble Pop at times while watching–which really isn’t a good sign, is it?–and with all the great and terrific crime shows that are currently airing, or have aired recently (Killing Eve, Broadchurch, even the earlier seasons of How to Get Away with Murder), the bar is set pretty high and this one just doesn’t click for me on all of its cylinders, which is a shame; the potential was definitely there. There are also two new episodes of Raised by Wolves that dropped this week, Archer is returning this coming week (huzzah!), and we also are curious to watch The Babysitter: Killer Queen–we watched the original last week and found it amusing and entertaining, and let’s face it, you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell in tight jeans and no shirt.

The new version of Rebecca also has me meandering down Memory Lane a little as well. Timothy is of course my Rebecca pastiche/homage; and is one of my personal favorites of my own books. Rebecca has long been one of my favorite novels of all time–Daphne du Maurier really was a mad genius–and it, along with several other favorites (In Cold Blood, Blood and Money, The Haunting of Hill House) are long overdue for rereads.

It also occurred to me yesterday, as I was going through the list of submission calls I am considering writing (or rewriting) stories for, that I am getting close again to have enough stories for another single-author collection, which is both interesting and scary at the same time. I had originally intended to call my next collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but have also come to realize that the title story, “Once a Tiger,” is more of a novella than a short story, which is why I can’t figure out how to end it as a short story, and since I have several other novellas also in progress (“Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies”, and “Festival of the Redeemer”) that I should just do them all as one collection. I think the next short story collection will be either This Town and Other Stories, or Moist Money and Other Stories, but I think the former works better than the latter. I also have to wait for some of the stories that have been already sold to come out in print first before I can put together another short story collection, which is rather exciting….which is also why it’s so damned important that I get this current book finished.

Because I want to get these other things finished, too, and I really want to start working on Chlorine.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for now. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Epiphany

Friday, and day two of a Gregalicious long birthday weekend.

The actual birthday yesterday wasn’t too bad. I ran by the office and got my prescriptions, ran to the post office and got the mail, and then stopped at the Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s to make groceries. Of course, when I left the house it was sunny and humid, and by the time I made it to the Rouse’s parking lot it was pouring rain–like always whenever I go make groceries. Heavy sigh. But then I lugged everything in, and by the time I had everything put away I was completely exhausted. I wound up hanging out in my easy chair, getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and then Paul and I started watching something neither of us really cared for–a comedy series, which seemed to think bigotry with a smidgin of homophobia is still uproariously funny and should be played for laughs. Needless to say, I didn’t find it engaging or particularly funny. It was a high school thing, and after watching Never Have I Ever, Sex Education, and various other teen comedies that didn’t need to stoop to such sophomoric levels to be engaging, funny, and charming–how this other shit got on the air is a mystery to me. We won’t be watching any more of that, believe me. I was pretty tired for some reason last evening, so I retired early and found myself waking up terribly late this morning–much later than I usually get up (oooh, I slept in a WHOLE EXTRA HOUR, alert the media! Then again, given my occasional bouts of insomnia, this was a quite lovely development.)

So, overall it wasn’t a bad day. I am going to have my scroungy day today, where I don’t shower or shave and spend the whole day in dirty yet oddly comfortable sweats that should be going into the laundry but I’m willing to wear one more time first–oh, don’t sneer. We’re all basically slobs at heart, and imagine how disgusting we’d allow ourselves to get if we didn’t have to clean up. Oh, is that just me? Never mind then. Although I am also thinking I should probably shower to just wake up, if not for hygienic purposes. And while it is Friday and day two of Gregalicious Long Birthday Weekend, I fully intend to keep up the Friday tradition of laundering the bed linens. I am going to spend some time being sluggish today–I want to spend some time with Lovecraft Country, and I am weeks behind on The Real Housewives of New York–but emails and so forth have been piling up during my exile from doing anything of consequence yesterday, and so I am going to have to start doing something about that today, little as I want to. The Lost Apartment is also a dreadful mess.

There are two tropical storms out there, with another tropical something forming off the coast of Africa. Laura has already formed, and her track has New Orleans on the outer edge of her Cone of Uncertainty; the other in the Gulf, forming off the coast of the Yucatan, will be named Marco when and if he becomes anything. Currently both are slated to hit the Gulf Coast merely as Category 1’s, but those are no picnic, and I do hope they all miss Puerto Rico (isn’t it odd how no one ever talks about, or reports on, the Puerto Rican recovery?).  Interestingly enough, both storm tracks show that they will hit landfall on the Gulf Coast within hours of each other, and each, as I said, have New Orleans on their outside track. So, Laura could be hitting anywhere from New Orleans to Pensacola at around two in the morning on Wednesday, while Marco could be coming ashore at around the same time anywhere from Corpus Christi to New Orleans. 

Talk about a one-two punch. And if ever there was a base for a Scotty story, simultaneous hurricanes would be it–although I do think Tim Dorsey did this in one of this Florida novels, and if I recall correctly, the eyes converged somewhere over central Florida. As I have, in recent years, come to a greater appreciation of Carl Hiassen (I have a PDF of his next one in my iPad; and I really should read more of his work), I should give Dorsey another go. Back in the day, the genre I’ve come to call “Florida wacky” never appealed to me, but once when I was on a work trip to DC I finished reading all the books I’d brought with me and went to a nearby Barnes and Noble, and Hiassen’s Bad Monkey was on the sale table for $2.99 in hardcover and I thought, oh, why not, and bought it–and couldn’t put it down. It also made me laugh out loud numerous times, and I went on to read several more of his with great appreciation–so perhaps I should give Dorsey another go. Dave Barry, the columnist, also wrote a couple of novels that fit into this category, and I know I read his first and really enjoyed it. 

Florida–at least the panhandle–played a part in my childhood and shaping me as a person; I also lived in Tampa for four years as an adult, and I have spent quite a lot of time in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Miami over the years. I had originally intended to set Timothy in Miami; I eventually went with Long Island because same-sex marriage was legalized there long before it became national, and I didn’t really feel quite as comfortable writing about Miami as I did about Long Island. It also made more sense to set it on Long Island–although I found the perfect house on one of the Miami islands to base the mansion on. I eventually had my main character meet his future spouse in Miami–South Beach, to be exact–but it really made more sense for it to be based in New York City and Long Island and the Hamptons. I’ve written a little bit about Florida in my fiction; “Cold Beer No Flies” was set in the panhandle, and I have innumerable other ideas that would be set either in the panhandle or my fictional version of Tampa (Bay City), but New Orleans is still my center and still where I inevitably set everything I write.

I’ve always wanted to send Scotty on an adventure in the panhandle–Redneck Riviera Rumble–and perhaps I still might. There’s an amorphous idea in my head for such a tale, which would involve Frank’s retirement from professional wrestling and his final show somewhere in the panhandle, sex trafficking, and drug smuggling; if I can ever pull it all together, you can bet I will be writing it.

And on that note, I need to get to work being a slug. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

 

 

On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!

Pandemonium

And yesterday morning I awoke to the delightful news that I sold another one of the three stories I sent out on submission on Monday; how splendid! So, “Night Follows Night” will be out in an anthology next year; I will of course keep you all posted on further developments.

So, that was a great twenty-four hours for my always desperately needy authorial ego, was it not? That, along with the excellent reception my reading for Timothy got last Friday night, was a lovely balm for me and my ever-tortured soul. This is what I mean when I talk about the bipolarity of writing; so much of the time it’s just you and the computer screen, the accusatory blank Word document open before you (or one with some words, not good, grouped together on it already) as you grimly search your mind for something intelligent, or at least semi-coherent, to start typing. And even when you manage to get something typed up and saved and rewrite and revise and polish…there’s still no guarantee you’ll eventually sell the story, and even when you do–no guarantee anyone reading it will like it, it will be included in reviews in a positive way, or there will ever be any feedback (and sometimes, awful as it is, I appreciate the negative because it means someone noticed, which is really, when you examine it more deeply, kind of sad.

“Night Follows Night” was actually inspired by my watching some documentary–I’m not sure what it was called–about a young man who had escaped from a religious cult his parents still belonged to; I think he and his brother had gotten away from it. It was horrifically sad, more than anything else–I want to say the cult was called the Children of God, but that wasn’t it, I don’t think–and all I could think about was how difficult it must have been to find the courage to run away from that and out into a cold, cruel world with just the clothes on your back and whatever money you were able to scrounge up. Around this same time I was reading one of Margaret Millar’s brilliant novels, How Like an Angel, which was also built around a religious cult, and I started thinking about it some more….the cult in the documentary also sexually abused its members, regardless of age or gender, and that also struck a chord in my head. When I started writing it I called it “This Thing of Darkness”–because, really, this backstory is incredibly dark, and carrying that around in your head would also be remarkably dark. But after the first draft or so, I chose to use that title for another story and changed this one’s title to “And The Walls Came Down.” While that kind of fit better, I still didn’t much care for it, and eventually came up with “Night Follows Night”–which I think truly fits; because for my poor main character, he never really gets to enjoy the daylight; it’s always night in his head.

Wouldn’t that be a horrible way to live?

And maybe–just maybe–I’m better at this writing thing than I ever give myself credit for?

Yes, I know–I need to stop that crazy talk right now!

This week for some reason seems to have lasted forever already; Paul and I both commented on this very strange occurrence after watching some episodes of season two of Titans, which is much better than Season One–and I really liked Season One. The boy candy is certainly there, and the women characters are enjoyable; and the fight scenes have yet to start seeming “I’ve seen this before”, which eventually killed Arrow for us; much as we loved the earlier seasons. I’m so delighted to see one of my favorite comic book super-hero teams done so well; there are too many members to do the Legion of Super-Heroes justice, so I’ll settle for Titans. I was also sorry to read that Krypton was cancelled after its second season; I have yet to watch it (I may get Paul to rewatch Season One with me), and am hoping it’s going to show up on DCUniverse or HBO MAX one of these days.

And there’s a delightful three day weekend looming. I am itching to get back to some of the short stories I have in progress, and I want to get the Secret Project completed. I actually have an extra day (HUZZAH!) so I can laze around for an entire day, gradually cleaning and so forth as I read Cottonmouths and perhaps do the floors (which are frankly disgusting) and I probably should clean the vacuum cleaner, and as always, so much to be done. But if I take that kind of a day on Friday, that means I have Saturday and Sunday to write (oh, and Hamilton is airing Friday night on something streaming–Disney Plus, perhaps?) and there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t get some great writing done.

Unless, of course, I undermine and defeat myself again as I am so prone to do.

Sometime during my first cup of coffee Entergy shut off our power–they were doing some work out there on the street for about thirty minutes–and this is, of course, one of the major flaws of the Keurig: what happens when the power goes off during your first cup? But it wasn’t as big a catastrophe as one might have thought; remember, I was cutting back on caffeine during the Great Dehydration Debacle of 2020, and I realized that I could survive a low caffeine morning–hell, there were mornings last week where I had zero caffeine, and there was no body count.

I also tried a new recipe Monday night–creamy pasta with shrimp and mushrooms (basically, it’s an Alfredo sauce, and who knew it was that fucking easy to make homemade Alfredo sauce?)–and it was actually quite delicious, despite the fact I forgot one of the ingredients. I added more cheese to the sauce then the recipe called for (because OF COURSE), and I will certainly make this again; and will eventually begin fiddling with the recipe to see if I can make it even better.

And on that note, tis time to return to the mines of spice. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

Screaming

I think it’s Thursday? I could be wrong. I don’t know anymore.

But apparently the Saharan Dust Storm will be here today and tomorrow; we are being asked to stay inside, preferably in air conditioning, until Saturday and to only go outside when it’s necessary, and to wear coverings for our face.

Yay, Saharan Dust Storm!

Seriously, this year has been so fucking whack already–and seems determine to top itself at every opportunity.

I slept pretty decently last night; it was a lengthy, emotionally and physically draining day. And through it all I was sitting at my desk here at home, making condom packs while talking on speaker phone or quickly answering an email. Ah, multi-tasking at its finest. But it also helped to have something relatively mindless to do while some stuff was going on yesterday, and as always, I find that a mindless task can always be somewhat soothing. I am going into the office this afternoon, as I have some work there to do and some on-line trainings that need to be done…I was expecting it to rain this morning but the sun’s out in a strange ghostly way–which may very well be the Saharan Dust Storm effect–which is, again, interesting for these times.

And next weekend is the fourth of July/long weekend. Thank you, Jesus. As always, I am spinning my wheels in mud, trying to get caught up so I can breathe and relieve some of my stress; although the stress keeps me from being almost completely dead inside (kidding) and reminds me I am alive. Honestly. One of the things I wanted to do yesterday was to make a to-do list; I really need to get back into the habit of not only making one but actually following it, rather than trying to remember what I need to get done–because there’s always so much I cannot remember and there’s always new things being added.

It ain’t easy being a Gregalicious. Don’t try this at home, kids.

I am looking around at my kitchen in horror. I’m doing one of those virtual Noirs at the Bar tomorrow evening–queer edition–and my desktop computer is still wonky, so I’ll probably have to use a laptop or the iPad, but I certainly can’t let anyone see my counters and sink behind me; I definitely have to get that taken care of this evening when I get home from the office. It’s also very difficult for me to get things done when my kitchen/office is in chaos–it always bothers me on multiple levels, interrupting my thought process and hovering just out of my peripheral vision–and it’s quite often during such cleaning/sorting/organizing that I get some thinking about writing done in my head….or start getting other ideas for stories/books to write. STOP THAT CREATIVE ADHD.

I also have to decide what I am going to read from tomorrow night. I think I might read the opening of Timothy; I’ve never had the opportunity to read aloud from it, and it’s one of my favorite books of my own. I think I’ll practice it, and my story from The Faking of the President–or maybe I should read “This Town” from Murder-a-Go-Go’s? It’s not a queer story, though…damn. “This Town” I think is one of my favorite stories of my own, actually. Decisions, decisions.

And on that note I should head into the spice mines.

Fancy

Anyone who follows this blog, or follows me on social media, or has ever heard me on a panel anywhere talking about influences and so forth on me as a writer, knows that I love Daphne du Maurier. My novel Timothy is an homage/pastiche of her greatest success as a writer, Rebecca, a terrific novel I reread every year or so because it’s so multi-layered and so surprising; despite the near-constant rereads for most of my adult life, I can still pick it up and marvel at her mastery and how I can still find things in the book that surprise me; new nuggets of insight that change the entire way the book reads. It’s exceptional, it really is, and part of her incredible gift as a story-teller. I would love to–and definitely need to–reread My Cousin Rachel, which Megan Abbott encouraged me to read several years ago and it, too, blew me away completely; I want to reread it because, like everything du Maurier wrote, it changes when you reread it and I can’t wait to see how My Cousin Rachel reads differently on a second time through.

The opening of Mardi Gras Mambo is also an homage to Rebecca; I opened the book with this sentence: “Last night I dreamed I went to Mardi Gras again” and then the next paragraph also was a pastiche and homage to Rebecca. (Little known fact: almost every Scotty book opens with an homage/pastiche to the opening of a famous novel.)

Du Maurier was a terrific novelist, and there are still novels of hers I’ve not read; as I often say here, I hate knowing that there are no more books by an author I love to read, and since du Maurier is dead…yes, there will be nothing new from her, ever again; and so some books, like The House on the Strand and Rule Britannia and The Scapegoat I will pick up off my shelf, pause, and then put back. What also makes it easier to not finish her canon is the fact that, as I mentioned above, you can always reread her novels and they always seem fresh and new. (I would like, at some point, to also reread Frenchmen’s Creek, Jamaica Inn, and The King’s General.)

Du Maurier was also a short story master.

“Don’t Look Now” is one of my all-time favorite short stories (the Visconti film, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, is also a masterpiece), and I reread it from time to time. It came up again on a thread by Ed Aymer on Facebook recently, which was all about favorite short stories, and I remembered again how much I love this particular story, and wanted to read it again.

My story “Don’t Look Down” is sort of an homage to this du Maurier tale as well; but I made a very deliberate point of not rereading “Don’t Look Now” while I was writing and revising it because I was not only afraid that I might copy her story but I was also concerned that reading her story and being reminded of how good du Maurier was at writing short stories might intimidate me into not finishing it. This morning I took the book down and reread the story, and now I am kind of furious at myself for not rereading the du Maurier during the writing process of my own story; because as I read the du Maurier I realized oh I could have done such a better job on that story. Inevitable, of course, that I would feel that way, but…

“Don’t look now,”  John said to his wife, “but there a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotize me.”

Laura, quick on cue, made an elaborate pretence of yawning, then tilted her head as though searching the skies for a non-existent airplane.

“Right behind you,” he added. “That’s why you can’t turn around at once–it would be much too obvious.”

Laura played the oldest trick in the world and dropped her napkin, then bent to scrabble for it under her feet, sending a shooting glance over her left shoulder as she straightened once again. She sucked in her cheeks, the first tell-tale sign of suppressed hysteria, and lowered her head.

“They’re not old girls at all,” she said. “They’re male twins in drag.”

Her voice broke ominously, the prelude to uncontrolled laughter, and John quickly poured some more Chianti into her glass.

“Pretend to choke,” he said, “then they won’t notice. You know what it is–they’re criminals doing the sights of Europe, changing sex at each stop. Twin sisters here on Torcello. Twin brothers tomorrow in Venice, or even tonight, parading arm-in-arm across the Piazza San Marco. Just a matter of switching clothes and wigs.”

“Jewel thieves or murderers?” asked Laura.

And so du Maurier begins her tale, of mystery and supernatural intrigue and suspense, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Venice. It starts out innocently enough; a happily married couple on holiday, having a bit of fun at their lunch. But as the story continues, and John and Laura keep joking about the possible identities of the twin sisters. Finally, Laura decides to follow them into the bathroom to “check on them”, with a joking request that if she doesn’t come back, John is to notify the police. So far so good, and actually incredibly charming. But while Laura is gone, John reminisces on the reason for their trip; their daughter, wearing a bright red coat, had drowned accidentally, and while they still have a healthy son at school, he’s brought Laura here to get away and to help her get over how miserably unhappy she’s been since. This immediately shifts the focus of the story in a way only du Maurier can; a charming domestic scene between a happy couple, only to strip away the artifice and expose the raw nerves and unhappiness below. Laura is gone long enough for John to become concerned; and when she does return, what she tells him, high-spiritedly, is that the blind twin is actually psychic, and could see their daughter seated at the table with them! John’s heart sinks, as he is worried about Laura’s mental health, and he immediately concludes the two sisters are charlatans trying to pull some kind of scam, and he worries about their influence on his emotionally fragile wife. There’s also a great throwaway line here,  that foreshadows the outcome of the story–there’s no such thing as a throwaway line in du Maurier, you must pay attention to everything, because she’s so brilliant at sleight of hand; she does this throughout the story, indicating how we all can become so self-obsessed that we don’t see what is plainly in front of us, and a danger–where Laura off-handedly mentions to John that the blind twin also said that he was also psychic, but wasn’t aware of his own gifts.

The construction of this long story is absolutely marvelous, and even when you know the big twist ending, you really have to look for the way du Maurier set up the big twist, and was setting it up, the entire time; almost from the very beginning, and that’s why, when it comes, once the shock and surprise wears off, you kind of smile to yourself, because she didn’t cheat–she was setting you up the entire time.

I tried doing that with my story “Don’t Look Down”, and obviously, didn’t pull it off as well as du Maurier did in “Don’t Look Now” and in many other stories…which is why she is a master and I merely a Gregalicious.

If you haven’t read this story, you really need to–and I also highly recommend, once you’ve read it, that you watch the film, which is also extraordinary.

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Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

So here we are, New Year’s Eve, and the last day of the twenty-teens. It’s been a long haul; 2010 seems a million years ago, and my life and careers have taken many paths over those last ten years. 2010 was the year after one of my publishers collapsed–or rather, stopped paying me while continuing to sell my books. They never did finish paying the advance for my last book for them in 2009, Murder in the Garden District, and and they never paid my royalties for the books of mine they still had in print; my last check from them for royalties was received in January 2009. I never received another cent from them after that; I’d already received the first half of the advance for Garden District when I turned it in to them in late 2008. They never answered my emails, ignored my registered letters–yet continued to sell and make money from my work. 2010 was also the year I served on my local chapter board of Mystery Writers of America, and also the year I was elected president near the end and joined the National Board for the first of four years.

2010 was also the year Paul and I went to Tiger Stadium for the first time ever, to watch LSU play Mississippi live; we got there many many hours early before the game started so we could drink in the entire experience of Game Day on a college campus in the South. Paul had never been to a major college stadium before; had never been to a live SEC game before, and part of the pleasure I derived from that day was seeing Paul experience an SEC Game Day for the first time. We’ve been to many games since then, but that first one–in which LSU scored in the final minute to win–remains one of my favorite memories.

I went to Bouchercon in San Francisco that year, saw some college friends for the first time in decades, and was still a starstruck fan boy. I have since been to many others; Albany and Long Beach and Raleigh and New Orleans and Toronto and St. Petersburg (I had to miss Dallas this year because I was ill). I am even on their board now.

I started publishing y/a fiction that year as well; Sorceress came out that year, followed by Sleeping Angel the next. In the twenty-teens I published four new Scotty novels and two additional Chanse novels; some stand-alones; dabbled in romantic suspense (Timothy, The Orion Mask); and somehow managed to get nominated for some mainstream crime writing awards. (I’m 1 for 3 at this point.) I made some amazing new friends along the way this past decade, and while I definitely got older, slowed down, and experienced other physical changes I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, it’s been, for the most part, an absolutely lovely ride. I also lost some friends along the same way, but that’s not something (or anyone) I waste too much time worrying about.

This past year was a lovely capper to the decade that was; an Anthony nomination for a short story was lovely, as was the publication of my short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and the eighth Scotty, Royal Street Reveillon. I had a lovely short story in the wonderful Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology (“This Town”–and now, whenever I hear the song, I think of it as mine), got a story into the Dark Yonder anthology (“Moist Money”), came up with a great idea for the next book I intend to write if I ever clear out the unfinished ones languishing on my flash drive, and of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the magical season LSU is having this season. New Orleans is going to be insane the weekend before and the day of January 13th. (I am debating whether I should take the day off and go wandering in the Quarter and to the LSU pep rally; I mean, how often will I get the chance to do just that?)

In a few hours I’ll be at Commander’s Palace for the annual New Year’s Eve lunch which will be lovely as well–I’m already thinking about my Bloody Mary–and then Paul and I will come home to chill and relax. Paul is probably going to go down to the Quarter with some friends to watch the fireworks; I, tired old soul that I am, will probably be asleep before the fleur-de-lis drops at Jackson Square. But that’s okay; I love that I’ve also somehow managed, in the twenty-teens, to drop the FOMO (fear of missing out) I’ve had for most of my life. That’s a personal improvement, I think.

I like to think I’m a better person than I was at the dawn of 2010; there are those who would, perhaps correctly, say that’s a very low bar to clear. Regardless, I am not as prone to anger as I was back then, not as likely to engage on social media (in fact, I only engage with friends and usually to either agree with something they’ve said or tease them), and I’ve also become more aware of things pervasive in our society and culture–racism, misogyny, transphobia–and not just zeroed in on homophobia. I’ve learned, through reading, reasoning, and rational use of logic, that all of these things have the same root and are all simply branches of the same tree: the tree that is White Supremacy, and therefore, all of us–people of color, transfolk, queers, women–are engaged in the same fight against the same enemy, and that the primary tactic of that insidious enemy is divide and conquer–as long as we squabble amongst ourselves while fighting for our rights, their united front seems invincible; because it is through unity of cause and purpose that this horror poisoning our society, culture, and nation can be defeated.

The common enemy has many faces.

And while it is tempting, at my advanced age, to put down my sword and let others take up the fight…I can’t.

So, what does this new decade hold in store for me? What does this New Year mean, what surprises and shocks and opportunities will it bring? I don’t know, I honestly don’t. but while the unknown can be terrifying, I am choosing to embrace it and look forward with hope and optimism. I will continue to write my books, I will continue to work on myself, and I will continue to fight against injustice as long as my fingers can type and as long as I can breathe.

Laura Lippman says you should simply pick a word for the new year rather than set resolutions or goals; I think mine for 2020 is improvement.

So Happy New Year, Constant Reader. Thank you for following me, for reading these words I write every day as I try to figure out the world and my life and who I am; thank you for reading my books and stories. Your support is truly wonderful, and appreciated, and while it might not always seem like it, I am always grateful.

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Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Tuesday and my second long day of the week; just like last week, Mondays and Tuesdays coming in as long days. When we move into our new building in October (I am still in denial about that) my schedule will probably be long days on Monday and Tuesday every week, so I am trying to get used to it ahead of time. I wasn’t tired at all yesterday; but remember, Sunday I was drained and worn out from the game Saturday night and went to bed relatively early that night. I’m not necessarily tired today, but more a little on the drained side. Hopefully, I won’t be too tired to finish editing/revising two Scotty chapters tonight when I get home from work.

If so, I’ll try to read some more of Circe. I hate that it’s taking me this long to read it! Not an indication of its quality, people! Buy it! Read it! Savor it!

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, ever since I was a kid and I read a library book, when I was about eight or nine, called The Windy Walls of Troy. I’ve also always wanted to write about the Trojan War; it’s a tale I’ve always loved, and one I have always wanted to try my hand at telling. (Which is why the Troy: Fall of a City series on Netflix was so disappointing; as was the Brad Pitt film Troy.)  I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a y/a set during the last year of the war; the part that the Iliad primarily focuses on, from the point of view of one of Priam’s bastard sons, promised to the priesthood of Apollo and raised in the temple, but still a part of the royal family. (I’ve also tried tracking down a copy of The Windy Walls of Troy, to no avail.) Madeline Miller also covered the Trojan War with The Song of Achilles, one of my favorite novels of this century; it made me weep, and I kind of want to read it again, now that I am enjoying her Circe. She did a really interesting job of weaving the gods and demigods into her narrative; how does one write about the Trojan War without including the gods? My thought, of course, was to try to do it as real, without the gods actually appearing in the story, but rather things that happen being seen as their work. But how do you do the Judgment of Paris without the golden apple and the three vindictive, spiteful, jealous goddesses?

Something to think about, at any rate.

I’m also having a lot of fun doing some slight research into the history of both New Orleans and Louisiana; I had another book idea the other night as a result of a Twitter conversation with Clair Lamb and Rebecca Chance (so it’s THEIR fault), but I think it actually applies and will fit into a paranormal series I want to write set in rural Louisiana in the parish I invented, Redemption Parish–doesn’t that just sound like a perfect name for a parish where supernatural stuff happens? It’s a matter of tying in all the stories and things I’ve already written set there…it also occurred to me the other night that even the novels and stories I write that aren’t connected to others actually are–I realized that my character Jerry Channing, who appears in the Scotty series AND appeared in The Orion Mask, also writes for Street Talk magazine and that awful editor who Mouse worked for originally in Timothy, which ties Timothy to the Scotty series as well. I always thought Timothy was the one book that stood on its own…not so much, as it turns out.

And now back to the spice mines.

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You Give Love a Bad Name

Christ, what an irritating day this has been so far. I had to get something resolved, and I am glad I managed it, but it also wound up taking two hours and I am really annoyed about losing that time that I’d intended to use a LOT more productively. I am now going to try to shake it off so I can get some work done today…

…or there may be a body count.

I got very little done yesterday; I didn’t sleep well on Friday night and tossed and turned, so I was exhausted and more than a little brain dead yesterday. I did get some work done on the afterward to the short story collection, but not good work and I finally just walked away from the computer. I was also ridiculously exhausted after making groceries, so I just retired to my easy chair with my journal and my book and then did some film streaming. I rewatched an old 1980’s noir, Masquerade, starring Rob Lowe, Meg Tilly,  Kim Cattrall and Doug Savant; I’d really enjoyed the film at the time I saw it on the big screen, and wanted to see how well the movie held up. Tilly plays heiress Olivia Lawrence, sheltered and shy and worth over $200 million since her mother passed away several months before she graduated from college. Unfortunately, her “mother’s last husband”, as she calls him, has an income from the estate plus has the use of her family homes….including the one on the Hamptons, where most of the story takes place. To say they do not get along is an understatement. She becomes interested in Rob Lowe’s character, Tim Whelan, who races sailing boats and is currently employed by the wealthy Morrisons; he is also having an affair with the trophy wife, played by Kim Cattrall. Tim and Olivia meet at a party and begin a romance…only it turns out that Tim and the wicked stepfather are out for Olivia’s money. There’s a murder, a cover-up, and things keep twisting and turning and there’s another big surprise twist about two-thirds of the way through the story.

It does hold up well, and watching the movie I realized something I hadn’t realized before; a lot of the imagery I used in Timothy, how I pictured it all in my head–the estate, the beach, the water, everything–was visualized primarily through my memories of this movie. One thing I’m not quite sure that does hold up; the trope of the wimpy, mousy heiress who is married for her money; this was an extremely popular trope of romantic suspense–think Suspicion, or almost everything Victoria Holt wrote–but this was filmed as noir; which means the points of view come out on display. (So many Victoria Holt novels were built around the mousy heiress who thinks her husband married her for hr money and is trying to kill her!) My friend Rebecca Chance one said that romantic suspense was “noir for women” back in the day, which I’ve always thought was a brilliant take, and a great basis for an essay; perhaps someday I’ll write it.

We also watched a really good gay movie last night, Retake, starring Tuc Watkins (whom I remember from One Life to Live) and Devon Graye, both of whom were really quite good; and the plot, which took a while to get going, was pretty compelling, actually. I do recommend the film.

And now I need to get to work.I should have a cover reveal this week for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I also got the final acceptance of the latest version of “Silky Veils of Ardor,” which is going to appear in The Beat of Black Wings, edited by Josh Pachter. I also need to make a to-do list, and I also need to clean the fuck out of this kitchen today.

Okay back to the spice mines.

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Up Where We Belong

Oh, Florida.

I am connected to Florida, and despite all the negative reactions just saying Florida can often trigger simply by saying the word, I have a genuine fondness for the pork chop shaped state. My grandparents retired there, to the Panhandle, when I was a kid; an aunt owned a summer house a few blocks from the Gulf in Panama City Beach. I spent a lot of time there during the summers when I was young (part of the annual jaunt to Alabama); and I wound up living there in the early 90’s when I worked for Continental Airlines. I visited Miami and South Beach frequently; I have many friends who live (or have residences) in Fort Lauderdale. I’d intended to set my novel Timothy there originally–the house was going to be on one of the islands across the Intercontinental Waterway from Miami. (I did have my couple meet and fall in love on South Beach, although the story moved them back to the beautiful house on Long Island, near the Hamptons.) I’ve always wanted to write about Florida, and I’ve always loved reading about Florida. There’s something noir and gritty and hardboiled about Florida, yet at the same time there’s this zany wackiness to Florida (so people will post link to bizarre news stories about things that happen there on social media and say “Oh, Florida.”)

There are so many wonderful books about Florida; so many amazing writers have set their novels there–from Robert Wilder’s Flamingo Road to John D. MacDonald’s noirs and Travis McGee novels to Elaine Viets’ badass Helen Hawthorne series to Edna Buchanan to the sublime Vicky Hendricks (you MUST read Miami Purity, Constant Reader) to Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford series–the list could go on and on and on. Everything works in Florida; whether it’s hard-boiled crime or hilariously funny crime or noir.

There’s actually a Florida noir in my mind right now, that I am hoping to get to at some point this year (if I don’t run out of time; if I do, it’ll be next year.)

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On the fifteenth of March, two hours before sunrise, an emergency medical technician named Jimmy Campo found a sweaty stranger huddled in the back of his ambulance. It was parked in a service alley behind the Stefano Hotel, where Jimmy Campo and his partner had been summoned to treat a twenty-two-year-old white female who had swallowed an unwise mix of vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed and stool softener–in all respects a routine South Beach 911 call, until now.

The stranger in Jimmy Campo’s ambulance had two35-mm digital cameras hanging from his fleshy neck, and a bulky gear bag balanced on his ample lap. He wore a Dodgers cap and a Bluetooth ear set. His ripe, florid cheeks glistened damply and his body reeked like a prison laundry bag.

“Get out of my ambulance,” Jimmy Campo said.

“Is she dead?” the man asked excitedly.

And so begins my latest Carl Hiaasen read, Star Island. 

I chose to read another Hiaasen rather something heavier and darker because, quite frankly, this entire past week had been so crazy on every level–what with what was going on in the country in general, madness at home, madness at the office–that I wanted something that would help me escape from it all, and Hiaasen always delivers. His books, which seem so zany and wild and yes, fluffy, on the surface are actually much more; there are layers and depth there that may not be readily apparent. Star Island not only has the trademark Hiaasen wacky wit, but it’s also a very subtle critique of our current celebrity culture,  and how an entire media has built up around ‘entertainment news.’

Star Island focuses on the misadventures of a young pop star who rose to fame by selling sex in her videos at age fourteen: Cherry Pye, and her team of handlers who really see her as a cash cow and not as a human being. Cherry is beautiful and sexy, but not much talent–relying on autotune and back up vocalists being dubbed in and over her own off-tune warblings. Cherry is the worst kind of diva: spoiled, selfish, narcissistic, and used to having her team–which includes her awful parents–clean up her messes so she never has, and is wholly incapable of, taking any responsibility. Because she is so frequently in and out of rehab, her team has had to hire a look-alike, Annie DeLusian, an actress, play her in public to cover up overdoses, etc. The book opens with Cherry on the verge of another comeback with a new album, Skantily Klad, and also overdosing on the combination of things in the excerpt above while partying with a young three-named actor. Annie fills in for her to fool the paparazzi while the team slips the girl out the back–and the story is off to the races. Will her team be able to keep Cherry sober and out of trouble long enough for the investment in her new album put her back on top again? Will the paparazzo completely obsessed with her get the shots he needs to get himself out of the hole? And what about Annie, the only decent person in this whole mess? Tired of playing Cherry and dealing with her horrible team, will she be able to find her way out of this and maybe get some gigs that actually use her talent?

Star Island also brings back two Hiaasen characters from past books: Skink, the ex-governor of Florida who now lives in the wilderness and wreaks havoc on corrupt developers and others who work to destroy the complex Florida ecosystem; and Chemo, the criminal sociopath who lost a hand to a barracuda and had it replaced with a weed whacker. (Yes, it sounds crazy. The first Hiaasen I read, over twenty years ago, was Chemo’s first adventure, and was so silly and over-the-top that I refused to read another Hiaasen until I picked up Bad Monkey off a sale table at a Barnes and Noble in DC a few years ago; now I get what Hiaasen is doing with his work and enjoy it.)

Star Island made me laugh out loud several times, and somehow, with all of its twists and turns, everything was wrapped up at the end in a very satisfying package. Hiaasen novels are intricately and complexly plotted, which I admire–plot is always an issue for me, and I am always afraid I am leaving threads hanging when I finish writing a novel.

The book was exactly what I needed to read this weekend.