Walking in the Rain

And we’ll make it to Wednesday.

So, in less than one week Bury Me in Shadows will officially be out into the world. I’m not sure which book of mine this is—somewhere between thirty-five and forty, I think; I am so tired of counting and I inevitably forget something—and I suppose I should qualify that by book I mean novel; there are also twenty-two anthologies, and I am working on the twenty-third, Land of 10000 Crimes,even as we speak. So, in all, there are close to sixty books with either my name, or that of a pseudonym, on the spine; not bad for the last twenty years.

That said, I should probably talk a bit about Bury Me in Shadows, so you, my very dear Constant Reader, can decide whether or not you wish to bite on this opportunity to read it or not. As I have mentioned before, this story began as a short story called “Ruins” that I wrote while I was in college, on an IBM Selectric with corrective ribbon; remember those? I still have the original draft I typed…(sidebar: I hated typewriters, and freely admit that had computers not evolved and become common place, I’d still be a wannabe writer and unpublished)…but anyway, as I said the other day, I always knew there was more story there than could be contained in a short story, so I put it aside and figured I’d eventually come back to it at some point when I had the time and mind-space to turn it into a novel. It was always there in the back of my head—maybe this year I’ll do the Alabama ghost story—and I’m not sure what finally drove it to the forefront of my mind to start writing the book; I know it happened sometime after the pandemic shutdown, and I had a deadline in January of this year to get it finished. (My memory has become so terribly faulty, you see.)

I really like my main character, Jake Chapman—I know, I know, I always like my main characters, and they usually, inevitably, always have a lot of similarities to each other, in temperament and attitude and intelligence; what differentiates them all is their back stories. When I originally started writing this as a book, Jake was still in high school, attending a fictional Chicago Catholic high school, with plans to work at the school pool over the summer because a boy he had a huge crush on was also going to be working there. (Actually, scratch that; it originally was set in a suburb and he had gotten a job at a fast food place for the summer to be closer to his crush; how could I forget that? And then I moved him into the city when I couldn’t get that story to work; I kept the suburban component but for his father’s second family) Originally I had him flying to Birmingham from Chicago, and being picked up at the airport by Kelly (another one of the characters)…but those original chapters felt very fake to me or something. It just didn’t work. It felt very much like something I had read before many times, and while I originally made Jake very strong and secure in who he is, I also thought it might not work—he needed to have insecurities, he needed to have flaws. And while I know things have changed, I still think an openly gay kid at a Jesuit high school, even in Chicago, would have issues…but am willing to admit I could be wrong about that. But my Jake does, so there.

So, I decided to advance his age a bit and have him attending Tulane here in New Orleans, and I needed a stronger trigger for his mother to send him to Alabama for the summer—especially given her feelings about her past and her family and its history. And that, I realized, was what I needed to establish with the back story; if she kept him away from there since he was a child, why would she send him there now? He couldn’t be a well-adjusted young man, completely secure in himself and his sexuality…and then he started forming in my head. He doesn’t remember his parents being married; they divorced when he was too young to remember. He doesn’t fit into his father’s second family and their suburban life. His mother has been through several husbands—including the most recent, whom she is shedding as the book opens, and he is much younger, a tennis pro. His mother is the only real stability in his life, and she, as a hugely successful lawyer who also teaches law, wouldn’t be around very much. He loves his mother, admires and respects her, but also doesn’t feel as close to her as he thinks he should. Then being a lonely out gay kid at the Catholic school, socially awkward because he isn’t used to having friends, becomes the lonely gay kid at Tulane—shy and awkward and not sure how to meet someone, make friends, even how to be gay. (And yes, I am aware of the Internet and apps and so forth so he could easily educate himself that way, even have encounters with strangers…I do address this a little bit; he does use apps to get laid, but always feels cheap and empty when it’s over.) At Tulane he gets picked up by a gay guy at a party, and lonely, he latches onto him (Tradd) and thinks they have more of a relationship than they really do; it makes him very unhappy and miserable, and one final fight between them with Tradd walking out on him sends Jake out drinking and doing drugs on a binge that ends, finally, with him collapsing in a gay bar and being rushed to the hospital. His mother’s concerns about him—he tried suicide in high school—is what overrides her aversion to Alabama and her home place, and she decides to send him there for the summer. His grandmother has come home from the hospital to die in her own bed—she’s had a massive series of strokes and is bedridden, mostly—and his mother, Glynis, figures someone from the family should be there in the house with her. A distant relative, an orphan named Kelly, who is a senior in high school, has been living there since his own mother died the previous year; Glynis doesn’t quite trust the kid, and once the old woman dies—well, there needs to be an inventory of everything in the house done, so why not pay Jake to do that while spending the summer there?

That, to me, was a much more interesting back story and set up for the book, and so when I started working on it in earnest, that was what I went with.

So, we have a young man who has spent most of his life in cities—Chicago and New Orleans—coming to rural Alabama for the summer. He has faint memories of his grandmother and the old house; the ruins of the original plantation house are still on the property, but over the years as the family lost their money and had to begin selling off all the land, the woods have grown back up so the ruins are actually hidden from the road and from the main house by trees. Jake is recovering from a broken heart and from an overdose.

I like the set-up, and it worked, at least for me, in terms of writing the story. As I said, I really became vested in Jake; I wanted to get to the root of who he is, the traumas he’s endured, and wanted him to learn things about himself now that he has the distance from his life to reexamine the things that have held him back from becoming the best Jake he can be. I really wanted to show his emotional growth and development over the course of the summer.

I guess we’ll see how well I succeeded, won’t we?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone.

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)

I managed to get the page and cover proofs for Bury Me in Shadows finished yesterday, and yes, I am at the point again where I am so heartily sick of this book I’d rather not ever look at it again. It’s a good book; I like my main character and I enjoy the story and how it all plays out; I even think I got the tone I was going for correct–I just don’t ever want to have to read it ever again; this is par for the course, and frankly, I was a little surprised as I started going through the proofs that I wasn’t already there; I usually am by this point, and so I am taking this as a good sign for the book. Soon it will be up to the reviewers and the readers and there’s nothing I can do about it anymore. Now all I have to do is fill out the forms and turn them in and I can close up the box with all the drafts and notes and thoughts and everything else under the sun for the book and put it away up in the attic with the other accumulated boxes…which I really need to decide to do something with, and sooner rather than later. Tulane’s Louisiana Historical Research Center had shown some interest in them about a decade or so ago; I should probably renew that conversation at some point; maybe the Historic New Orleans Collection would be interested–I honestly don’t know. But the sooner this stuff it out of my attic and my storage the better, frankly. I should set a date to get them donated and if no one does, indeed, want them–toss them out and be done with it once and for all.

I also wrote an outline/synopsis of what I am going to finish writing for my friend’s website this morning, which I will need to flesh out and finish this morning. Over all, yesterday was a very good day–I also wrote notes for Chapter Four of Chlorine, which I hope to get to finish today, around going to the gym, which would also be lovely.

We’re watching the final season of Animal Kingdom on Hulu; the show seems weird without Ellen Barkin’s chilling performance as Smurf at the heart of it–and I don’t think the flashbacks to her as a young mom committing crimes and using/discarding men are necessary; the actress playing her as a young woman is good–but as I said to Paul last night, “but I think of young Ellen Barkin and how she’d be killing this role, and this young actress just isn’t young Ellen Barkin.” The show is still high quality, though–we’re enjoying it and I would recommend it–and I think tonight we may start watching the new season of Ted Lasso. We’ve been holding off on starting because it’s such a joy to binge-watch; but I am getting more and more impatient to get started. Several other shows we’ve enjoyed–Sky Rojo, Control Z, Dark Desires, Titans–have either dropped new seasons or will be at some point this month, so we should be set for viewing for a while.

I also started writing a short story yesterday–yes, I know, I know, but this is the curse of creative ADHD–called “A Midnight Train Going Anywhere.” Yes, the title came to me while I was listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and I thought, she took a midnight train going anywhere was a great image (I’ve always thought so) and as I thought about it some more, I saw a train pulling into a whistle stop station in the middle of Kansas (Kansas has been on my brain a lot lately, because my main character from Chlorine is from there and of course I am about to give the Kansas book it’s final polish from editorial notes) and I just had the image–the lonely platform, the train’s whistle on a cold clear night, the darkness lying on the town at midnight, the only light the station–and a man, sitting on the train, heading west, awakened by the change of the rhythm of the train wheels, getting up to walk around the station platform to work out the kinks in his legs, back and shoulders from riding on the train–but beyond that, I couldn’t really think of anything. I wrote down that entire set-up scene, scribbled away in my new journal (started a new one yesterday!) and didn’t know where to go from there….I have some vague, amorphous ideas, but I also love the idea about writing about a train in a past time–it was also very clear to me this wasn’t an Amtrak train so it had to be set in the distant past (also another nod to Chlorine), but am not sure where it will go or if it will come to anything; I’ll wind up transcribing it today at some point, I am sure. Maybe it will turn into something, maybe it will go into the files with all the others and collect dust there, who knows? What I do know is I have until the end of September to finish Chlorine, so I can spend the final quarter of the year writing Mississippi River Mischief, which will be Scotty IX.

Yikes, right?

The house is also still a hideous mess; I am going to finish the laundry (folding) and empty/refill the dishwasher this morning before i dive into the website writing and the writing of Chapter 4 of Chlorine before heading to the gym this afternoon. I’ve been terrible; I just haven’t had the wherewithal to actually face the heat and walk over there this past week; I don’t think I’ve been since Sunday, to be perfectly honest with you (I had a horrible moment yesterday where I couldn’t remember Thursday–which was a bit terrifying, and then I shrugged and gave up trying, essentially thinking obviously nothing major happened on Thursday if you can’t remember anything), so today’s workout will undoubtedly be exhausting and more than a little painful; but I can hang with it. It’s weird not having the motivation of results anymore–I really don’t care if I look good; that ship has long since sailed and the latest age-related shifts to my body have pretty much let me know I will never be as lean and defined and muscular as I was fifteen years ago, and that’s perfectly fine–but this phase of Greg’s workouts is about feeling better, feeling stretched, maintaining the strength and flexibility of my body, and if the muscles grow and the overall body gets leaner, so be it.

At least I am not obsessively looking at myself in the mirror trying to find trouble spots where fat has accumulated and obsessing about how to get rid of it, thinking that will solve everything. (Helpful hint: it solved nothing.)

I’d also like to spend some time reading this morning; maybe an hour before I get to the writing stuff, after folding the laundry, putting away the clean dishes as well as washing the dirty ones and putting them in the dishwasher. I like Sundays, really; it would be my favorite day of the week if it didn’t end with going to bed and waking up to Monday morning. I seem to always be fairly level on Sundays, focused and relaxed and able to get things done that I want to get done, if you know what I mean. I have a four day weekend next weekend thanks to the office closing to give us all a mini-thank you-vacation for working in a public health clinic during a world-wide pandemic; I am hoping to dive into the revisions of the Kansas book over that weekend and then finishing it during my vacation during the next week (my time off for Bouchercon).

As long as everything goes as planned, by the end of the year I’ll have a great first draft of Chlorine ready to go, as well as a ninth Scotty ready to be turned in; and if I stay motivated maybe even the novellas and short story collections might be ready to go as well.

Fingers crossed as I head back into the spice mines this morning….have a great day, Constant Reader!

Rhythm is Gonna Get You

Thanksgiving Eve is here, and I am about to make my famous mac’n’cheese for the office potluck. Yes, I am going into the office on one of my vacation days, but there are worse things I could do. I have some errands to run today anyway, so after I leave the office I shall run them. It’s also payday, so I get to spend a moment or two or three paying the bills this morning. Yay? I guess I should just be grateful I can pay the bills, right? I have a book to pick up at the library and the mail, and I should also stop and get some groceries while I am out; not a major shopping expedition–perhaps enough to get us through until Saturday, as I am not going anywhere near any place to shop on Friday.

That would be madness.

And while that will make a dent in my day, it’s fine. I’ll just do some cleaning and organizing–my electronic files, particularly in the cloud, where I just throw things with a flippant I’ll worry about organizing them later mentality on an almost daily basis, with the end result that the files are a complete and utter mess. I also want to get some more work done on reimagining the current book. I’m now torn as to whether the first chapter is necessary or not; or if I should simply start the book with his arrival at Birmingham airport. There’s something a bit cliche about starting a book with your main character arriving at an airport, and that also would mean a shit ton of back story to shoehorn in, so that it all makes sense–so there, I’ve just worked that out in real time, see how a writer works? I struggled with revising the first chapter yesterday, so naturally my mind went to, this is hard maybe I can just cut the chapter. 

Always, always, always looking for the easiest, laziest way to do something. Shameful, really.

I also managed to waste some time yesterday trying to track down George Washington Cable’s stories about Madame LaLaurie. A post by the Preservation Resource Center here about the LaLaurie house on Facebook yesterday led me down into that wormhole; I shared the post along with the comment I am going to write about the LaLaurie house of horrors someday (see: Monsters of New Orleans) and someone commented that Cable had written short stories about Madame LaLaurie (who is probably most famous outside of New Orleans due to her being a character on American Horror Story: Coven, played by Kathy Bates), and so then I went for a deep dive, trying to see if I could find copies of the stories on-line. I got sidetracked into Project Gutenberg for a while, where I found his novella Madame Delphine, which was NOT about Delphine LaLaurie. I did eventually find the stories I was looking for, and will read them at some point.

Cable is not the only writer from the past to write about New Orleans and Louisiana history that I’ve not read; I’ve also not read much of Arnett Kane or Robert Tallant or Lafcadio Hearn or Lyle Saxon; some, but not much. I’m not entirely sure they are completely trustworthy as sources, but I am going to read them for ideas at the very least. I also need to spend some time at the Williams Research Center and the Historic New Orleans Collection, as well as the Louisiana Research Center at Tulane. I’m greatly enjoying these little journeys into New Orleans’ past that I’ve been taking over the last year; I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is giving me a definite feel for colonial New Orleans, which is going to be enormously helpful.

Especially for this Sherlock Holmes in New Orleans short story I’ve agreed to write; which will also entail reading some Holmes stories, to get a feel for the vibe and the tone and the voice. I’m enormously fortunate that I have two dear friends who are Sherlockians, and have agreed to read my story before I turn it in for pointers and notes and so forth.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. I have a lot of cheese to grate for the mac’n’cheese….have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Land of Confusion

Wednesday, and my body clock  has apparently, finally, after all these years, adjusted back to getting up early the first two days of the week. This morning I woke up again around four, went back to sleep, woke up again around six, and then fell asleep again so that I could wake up just after eight feeling rested and refreshed. Which is cool and lovely, since today is a half-day for me and I can get sort of caught up on things around the Lost Apartment. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, and there are two loads of laundry in some sort of the process of being laundered; the living room is a mess, and so forth. I can also run get the mail after work, and stop at the grocery store for a minor grocery run as well.

Pulling Bury Me in Shadows together is proceeding apace; by the end of this evening I hope to  have over half of it done, with the corrections and additions made that need to be made. This does put me right on schedule for turning it on Monday of next week, which is lovely. It feels good to be producing again, and of course, the whole “Moist Money” thing was really cool this week, too–that’s two short stories I’ve placed over the last few months, which is truly a lovely thing to contemplate. I put some more out for submission earlier this week, too, so hopefully there will be more good news in the future….

..or devastating confirmations of my imposter syndrome. We’ll see how it goes.

Yesterday Facebook memories reminded me that nine years ago was the day we brought Scooter home from the Cat Practice for a two week trial, to see whether we wanted to adopt him or not. He was home with us for exactly two hours before we decided he was a keeper, and went back the next morning to finalize the adoption. It’s so funny; over the years neither Paul nor I had ever had a cat; I’d had roommates with cats, but for the most part they were distant and aloof and rarely seen. Friends had cats, but we were both more dog people, and the sad truth is, we only acquired Skittle when we lived in the carriage house because we had a mouse. Owning Skittle turned us both into cat aficionados; whenever we visit anyone who has a cat, Paul will spend most of the night trying to befriend the cat. Skittle’s untimely demise from cancer was devastating to both of us; Paul was so torn up over it we weren’t sure we’d get another cat. But the Lost Apartment felt so empty without one…when I went back to the Cat Practice to pick up Skittle’s ashes, there was a cat up for adoption in one of the cages behind the front desk–an orange cat whose name was Texas. He was very sweet, and I told Paul that night about him, as Paul was already looking into getting another cat. “Why don’t you go down there and take a look at Texas?” I told him, and so Friday morning before work he walked down there and did, indeed, take a look at Texas. He emailed me when he got to his office and we decided I’d pick Paul up later that afternoon and we’d go get Texas for a trial. I remember letting him out of the carrier, and Scooter immediately, timidly his under the coffee table. He stayed there for a while, with Paul teasingly saying “now, if all you’re going to do is hide under the table we’re not going to keep you.” We turned on the television and started watching….and before long he came out, climbed up onto Paul’s chest, purring and cuddling, and we were his.

And have been, ever since. Nine lovely years. He’s such a sweet cat, too. I finally wrote him into the Scotty series–he’s Taylor’s cat, but Scotty and the boys are all wrapped around Scooter’s paws, the same way we are. It’s always lovely, you know, to come home from a day at work (especially on those shitty days) and have a cat climb into your lap, purring and wanting to cuddle and offering no-strings affection.

We got caught up with The Righteous Gemstones last night, which I am enjoying a lot more than I ever thought I would, and also started watching On Becoming a God in Central Florida–which I’m not so sure about whether we’ll continue watching. The first episode just made me feel incredibly sorry for the main characters, although I didn’t see the shocking death coming. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a comedy–perhaps a dark comedy?–or not, but it didn’t feel funny to me; I don’t like humor where poor people are the butt of the joke , and that’s how it seemed to me…I hate seeing even dark humor where the dreams of poor people to better themselves are mocked or belittled. I don’t care for that, because all I wind up doing is feeling sorry for them. I’ll probably give the show another episode or two, but if that’s all it’s going to be I don’t think we’ll finish watching–but Kirsten Dunst is terrific in the lead role.

I also finished reading “Murder in Basin Street” in Ready to Hang and am now onto the next famous murder, “Juliette and the Kind Doctor,” which seems like an almost perfect story to adapt into a fictional novel. As I read more and more New Orleans history, it’s astonishing to me how dark that history is; almost from the very beginning. I am definitely most likely going to wind up writing historical fiction about New Orleans at some point, I suspect; I see many hours in the archives at the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Williams Center, and the Tulane Louisiana Historical Research Association in my future. There’s just such a rich history to explore and dive headlong into….and as a history addict, I can get lost in such research for years.

Which reminds me, I have been asked to write a story for an interesting anthology; a book of Sherlock Holmes stories where the only requirement is that it can’t be set in England and Holmes/Watson cannot be English. My first thought on reading the email was I can’t write a Holmes story–I haven’t read Doyle since I was a kid and immediately thereafter, Oh, I can set the case in Storyville in the 1910’s and I can use that title I’ve been sitting on for years–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy!” 

Naturally, this made me very excited, and now I have to not only do some more research on the time period, but I need to go back and reread some Holmes stories, to get not only a feel for the character that isn’t influenced by either television series (Sherlock with Cumberbatch and Elementary), but it more Doyle-influenced. I’ve never been much of a Sherlockian; I did enjoy reading the stories when I was young, and I read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s (The Seven Per Cent Solution and The West End Horror), but other than watching the TV series and the occasional film (Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr, which was really just Holmes as Tony Stark in the nineteenth century), my interest in Holmes and Doyle is fairly minimal. Will writing this story turn me into a Sherlockian? I’ve already recruited some of my avid Sherlockian friends to give me advice and perhaps read early versions, to see if I am getting it right.

And stranger things have happened.

And on that note, I’ve got some emails to answer. Back to the spice mines with me!

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