Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

You’re Not Sorry

There are few things I despise more than the non-apology.

These tumultuous times in which we find ourselves inhabiting now has, amongst its innumerable other crimes, introduced the world to the apology that really isn’t an apology; in which someone refuses to admit fault and isn’t sorry for what they said; they’re merely sorry you misinterpreted what they said. It generally runs along the lines of something like I’m sorry if my words offended anyone–which, to me, kind of places the blame on the people who were offended by the shitty thing said in the first place–and usually, for the record? What was originally said was pretty fucking offensive; insensitive to the point where I have to seriously question the empathy and humanity of the speaker, and generally leaves me feeling sorry for anyone related to said speaker, or who is forced to have to interact with them in any way, shape or form, because of work.

This happens constantly these days; it’s become sadly predictable: someone says something incredibly shitty, people are justifiably shocked, horrified and outraged, which inevitably leads to the person apologizing for their words, but at the same, they are also very careful not to take on any blame themselves. I don’t understand this mentality, but it’s a linguistic knot people are always very careful to tie with precision: I’m sorry what I said offended you, not I’m sorry I offended you by saying that. The difference is pretty clear; the first relieves the original speaker of any fault and places all blame on the people taking offense (really, it’s just gaslighting); while the second accepts blame and begs pardon and is actually a sincere attempt by a decent person to take responsibility and implies a promise to do better in the future.

And personally,  I don’t accept these non-apologies. I find them, frankly, to be worse than the original offense. My response? “Seriously, go fuck yourself. And yes, I fully intended to offend you and I am not sorry at all; in fact, you might to fuck off now before I really focus on hurting your feelings–because I can, and am quite good at it.”

I’m not sure when we as a people, society and culture ceased being able to admit we were wrong, admit fault, and promise to do better. What is so terrible about being wrong? We are all human, and we all make mistakes, don’t we? It’s inevitable; it’s embarrassing somewhat, but seriously–the world will not end if you ever admit you’re wrong. I’ve admitted I’m wrong and apologized even when I didn’t think I was wrong in the first place–because it isn’t about MY feelings.

I guess thinking about other people’s feelings isn’t something we do anymore? When, precisely, did that change? Or was the whole “care about others” thing just another part  of the massive gaslighting of me about everything else this life has turned out to be, from politics to history to religion?

I will admit it here, I will admit it there, I will admit it everywhere. I’ve been wrong many times in my life, and will probably be wrong quite a few more times before my ashes are sprinkled into the Mississippi (although I am beginning to think I may have some of them sprinkled there and some sprinkled into the Rigolets; I must remember to make provision for that in my will–and yes, now that I am in my sixtieth year, I need to start thinking about those things and taking them a lot more seriously than I have in the past). I see this bizarre “refusal to ever admit error” every day on social media–not as much as I used to, as I tend to unfriend and/or hide narcissistic sociopaths who have nothing better to do with their lives and their time than to troll people on the web as a way of making themselves feel superior to other people. To paraphrase  Sixteen Candles, “why do you want to be King of the Dipshits? Well, you can hold court without me, O Wise and All-Knowing One.”

I know I should be more tolerant, but I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with this kind of trash any longer, nor do I want to see it on my feeds. And as I grow more and more conscious of how little time I may have left in this world–I certainly don’t want to spend what there actually is left listening to this kind of nonsense anymore.

Enough! Life exposes me to enough toxicity that I cannot control; but I can control what I chose to see on my social media. And if you want to smugly assert that I am fooling and deluding myself by putting myself into an echo chamber–feel free to assume your moral and intellectual superiority. I, for one, am tired of being exposed to homophobia and racism and misogyny and bigotry and prejudice and ignorance; I’ve been around it my entire life and I’d really prefer not to be around it anymore.

Ugh.

I am also, in an effort to control this narrative that my life has become, trying to be more positive about things. Yes, I recognize the irony in that this entry began as a rant about awful people and their gaslighting ways; but cutting as much negativity as I can out of my life like the cancer it is will be the first step in looking at the world in a more positive light. It would be very easy to look at yesterday and think, ah, yes, started out the day terribly behind and after an enormously frustrating day where everything that could go wrong did, I am choosing to look at what I managed to get done, despite the endless frustrations, as a triumph. I did manage to get some organizing done. I got some research notes recorded for a future project. I got some chores around the Lost Apartment done, and tried to organize my computer files around a computer update that came out of nowhere and really annoyed the hell out of me at the time. It took a while–it always does after these things–for my computer to go back to functioning properly, but this morning it’s running better than it has in a while. So, I guess there’s that. I’m trying not to feel like I lost the day yesterday, and being frustrated and annoyed with the circumstances beyond my control isn’t going to help me get anything done today.

I started reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and as I got through the first two chapters I began remembering the show more. The book is so well-written, and I love how Ng puts these little touches of truth in to deftly set the narrative up very quickly; after a mere two chapters I know what Shaker Heights is like to live in, the kind of relationship Mia and Pearl have, and the entire family dynamic of the other family–parents with their children, the children with each other. I can’t stop wishing Id read the book along with the show, but that cannot be helped now, and I’m really enjoying the book.

I slept later than I wanted to this morning, but then again I stayed up later than I’d intended to last night as well. We watched another HBO MAX documentary show, in two parts, Who Killed Garrett Phillips? Coming hard on the heels of The Case Against Adnan Syed, Paul and I have been having good conversations about just how broken our criminal justice system is. I’ve also been seeing some great conversations on social media between crime writers about this very thing as well, and about how we, as crime writers, are also sort of complicit in the perpetuation of the mythology of the infallible police department. The enormously popular Law and Order franchises have done an excellent job of depicting criminals as scumbags and our Constitutional rights as essentially “get out of jail free” cards that keep the good, hardworking cops from putting away the dangerous criminals that prey on every day citizens. Obviously, it isn’t that black and white, and there are many more shades of gray involved; people also tend to forget the entire point of our Constitutional rights are to protect everyone against abusive conduct from the state. Is it incredibly frustrating when someone isn’t convicted of a crime? Sure, but how do we–how does anyone–ever know that someone actually is guilty if theres little to no evidence one way or the other? I am stunned, frankly, that Adnan Syed was convicted based on how little evidence there actually was against him, other than someone who was pretty much an unreliable witness who testified against him. The multiple years of the Potsdam police and district attorney’s office trying to hang the murder of Garrett Phillips on a black man when the only evidence of anything they had against him was that they were in the school parking lot at the same time was completely racist and insane; they didn’t even look at anyone else or at any other option. Within 24 hours, based on NOTHING, they became convinced that one of the few black men in the area, an ex of the child’s mother, was guilty and only looked for evidence that would put him behind bars. It was infuriating to watch, frankly.

And it does make you wonder how many people who didn’t do anything wrong are sitting in jail right now.

I’ve briefly touched on this from time to time in my books; I know for a fact that I said once–probably in a Chanse book, but I don’t remember which one–that the cops decide early on who’s guilty and stop looking for facts and information that don’t bolster the case they are building. The question I’ve seen a lot on social media lately is whether we, as crime writers, are complicit in building up a mythology of police work as opposed to the reality. It’s a difficult question, one that is very nuanced, and brings up many philosophical questions as well. J. M. Redmann always says that we as writers write about the search for justice in a world where justice is rarely found; I think about that a lot when I write. I know that I also prefer to end my books with a criminal caught and behind bars; even if the justice is Pyrrhic, at least for a time, at the end of my books, the bad guys are in jail and order of a sort has been restored to the worlds of my characters. I never talk about the trials; I’ve thought about using Chanse testifying at a trial as a framing device for one of his investigations, but it was something I never got around to doing; Chanse novels inevitably always follow the A leads to B leads to C structure Ive used since the beginning; Scotty books inevitably do that as well, even if the story skitters about a lot more in a more confused pattern than the Chanse one do.

As citizens, we don’t like to think that our justice system has become corrupted or broken, or that it operates in a way that isn’t fair to everyone; in order to maintain our semblance on sanity (or what passes for it) far too many of us are willing to look the other way or just believe what we are told. In Who Killed Garrett Phillips? so many of the people of that small town simply found it so easy to believe that the black guy must be a killer (and did so very quickly) and when the cops told the family he was the guy, they simply believed it and never questioned it–likewise, the Korean family of the victim in The Case Against Adnan Syed never questioned the police and district attorney’s viewpoint that Hae Min Lee’s ex-boyfriend was so jealous of her new relationship that he would, with no previous indication before or since that he was that kind of person, plan to kill her and then execute the plan; a grieving family will always believe what they are told by the police, and nobody ever wants to question why they are so quick and easy to believe what the police say mainly because we want to believe they are right, because if we ever stop believing that the police aren’t impartial, that their investigations aren’t carried out in a professional, unbiased, and impartial way, then what happens when we need them?

The abuses in the Garrett Phillips case carried out by the now-sanctioned former district attorney, Mary Rain, and her obvious racism and bias was appalling to see, and disheartening. We may never know who killed that boy now, and it’s partially her fault; her determination to convict an accused black man and absolute refusal to even consider for a moment that he might not have done it, to follow any of the myriad of other leads that were possible, is a horrifying abuse of justice and power. And never fool yourself that prosecutors don’t have a lot of power, or that they can abuse that power for any number of reasons, not the least of which is political power and furthering their own political careers.

I had an idea recently–time has no meaning any more, so it may have been any time during the past three years–about writing a book about Venus Casanova’s last case as a New Orleans police detective. Having put in for retirement already, in her last month she’s been assigned desk duty to ease her out of the workforce–obviously you don’t want to assign an active case to someone who might not be able to see it through–and she’s essentially catching up on all of her paperwork and interviewing suspects for other detectives’ cases in her remaining time. Her ritual has always been to go out to the neighborhood coffee shop before going to work and reading the paper over her coffee. With less than a month to go she reads about a shooting of a young Black man in a sketchy neighborhood–but soon realizes that the young man’s grandmother, who was raising him, was someone she went to high school with many years ago and lost touch with when she went away to college. She decides to check with the investigating officer, and he tells her “it’s just another random shooting.” (The book would be called that, Just Another Random Shooting.) He’s not going to look into it anymore, dismissing it as another drug related crime with no witnesses and no evidence, and so she asks if he minds if she talks to the grandmother–and it turns out to be something else entirely; and that lackadaisical response from the police–‘just another random shooting’– was something the killers planned on. It’s an interesting idea, and it worries at my brain from time to time, particularly when I see another local news report about another young Black man being killed for no apparent reason in a sketchy neighborhood. And then I wonder, am I the right person to tell this story? Who am I, as a gay white man, to write from the perspective of a straight Black woman in a city with a violent history of oppressing people of color?

I can think of any number of reasons to justify writing from Venus’ perspective; I’ve always loved the character, I’ve always wanted to write from her perspective; I’ve thought many times over the years of centering her in a book about her; I feel like I know her inside and out already.  But…on the other hand, sure, writers write and have a right to write about whatever they choose, but….

It is a good idea, though, and I also don’t see the story working from any other point of view. Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

So Hard

Monday has rolled around again, and for the most part, I’m okay with it, really. I had a lovely weekend away from the Internet, which was enormously relaxing, and was able to get two stories revised yesterday. Of course, later on last evening I realized there’s yet another deadline looming, but I think I can make it. It is Friday, and Friday is when the 4th of July holiday lands for me; yes, a three day weekend to look forward to, and a deadline for Friday. So, in the worst case scenario, the story I want to submit for Friday needs at most another read through and polish; should the week go to hell (as they’ve been known to do lately) I at least have Friday to do so.

I spent most of the afternoon and early evening trying to get my computer files organized so I could more easily find things I need to be working on, and that was certainly a time suck. But it was necessary and needed to be done, and I made significant progress, which is always a plus. I had intended to start reading Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths–I opened to the first page and read the first few paragraphs, which are simply marvelous–but then got deep into the file organizing, so it will have to wait until this evening and the reading hour–I’ve decided to spend at least an hour every day devoted to reading, as it’s the only way I’ll ever get caught up on my reading (which is a Sisyphean task, as more books I want to read come out all the goddamned time).

I did manage to get the revisions on the two stories done yesterday, as I explained earlier, and today I am going to try to find the time to line edit them as well as read the other story that’s due on Friday. I have so much to do–my email situation is truly tragic–but hopefully I’ll have some time to get everything I need to do together into a comprehensive to-do list today. Obviously, the first thing on the to-do list is to make a comprehensive to-do list.

And maybe, just maybe, when I get these stories out of my hair I’ll be able to get back to work on the Secret Project this coming weekend and get it finished once and for all and out of my hair. And maybe then I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows, which I am going to change from a y/a into a book not for teens, which may not be as easy as I would like to think it is. For one thing I need to rewrite the entire beginning–which is predicated on our main character being a high school student; I’ve decided to age him to college graduate preparing for graduate school in New Orleans, but still be from Chicago–and it won’t be as easy to make changes later on, yet I think it’s for the best, to be honest. It’s very Gothic in subject matter, after all, and plus–the y/a publishing world, at least on-line, is a snake pit.

I’m also thinking about what the next Scotty should be. I’m still wrapping my mind around a quarantine mystery; as I’ve said before, I have the title already, but I think I would like to write something in the period between the end of Royal Street Reveillon (Christmas) and the quarantine; which gives me an approximate three month period with which to work. I really do want to write about Mardi Gras again, with Scotty older and perhaps not quite as into it still as he was in Mardi Gras Mambo–I kind of want to capture that weird feeling and horrible energy the city had during this past Mardi Gras. I had an idea for a Mardi Gras short story, featuring Venus Casanova, “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” but I’m not so certain I have the right to–or should–write about a Black female lead. I’ve been writing about Venus for almost twenty years now, as a supporting character in both the Scotty and the Chanse series, and have always wanted to explore the character in greater depth–I have another story written with her as the main character, “Falling Bullets,” and an idea for a novel, Another Random Shooting–but I don’t think I should be writing such books and stories now, if ever; now is the time to amplify actual “own voices” rather than taking publishing slots away from actual Black writers, who already have enough issues in trying to be heard and paid for their work equitably.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

The End of the World

FRIDAY!

And while I am always happy to see the work week come to an end, I am more than a little daunted by what is facing me this weekend: a lot of fucking work. I have some writing to do for a website; the Secret Project; another project; and I want to finish writing the first draft of “Falling Bullets” and “Condos for Sale and Rent.” That’s a lot of fucking writing, Constant Reader, and that doesn’t take into consideration how much filing and organizing and cleaning I also have to do. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to run errands, and am debating whether to wait until Saturday to do them, or do it tonight on the way home from work. That would probably be easiest, and let’s be honest: if I go straight home from work tonight, am I going to actually do any work? I tend not to; and there are always 2019 LSU football games to play in the background while I either clean or read. No matter how much I think all day about how much work I’m going to get done after I get home from work, every Friday I wind up doing not a damned thing because I’m so glad it’s Friday and I don’t have to work the next morning.

Yeah, I should probably go to the grocery store when I get off work and be done with it. They are open till eight and I get off work at five, so I might as well just get it over with.

And that, Constant Reader, is how the decisions get made around here.

I was tired most of yesterday; I never went into a deep sleep on Wednesday night and so didn’t feel rested. I’m trying to wean myself off the prescription medication that helps me sleep at night–I’m truly terrified of becoming addicted or dependent on anything; I can’t afford to go to rehab–and so periodically I like to stop taking it and try to sleep without it. I was actually functional yesterday, if tired, and so that has to count as a win, right? I always tend to the extremes–I’m rarely in the middle, which would be lovely; rather, I am always swinging from one extreme to the other without a stop–so there’s that, I suppose. I did get some work done on “Falling Bullets” yesterday; it’s weird, though. I’ve several ideas for stories centering Venus Casanova–the police homicide detective who is in both the Chanse and Scotty series–and as she is a woman of color, it’s a bit outside my comfort zone. I do love the character; always have, ever since I first thought her up way back in 1997, when I started writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and have even considered giving her a book all to herself (the idea is still simmering in my brain, Stations of the Cross; but if I ever do write it, that one probably won’t be a Venus story), and I have a really great idea for a case for her to solve without Chanse or Scotty around (her partner, Blaine, is gay, and that way I can still shoehorn in a gay character), but she also appeared in my first story to ever sell to Ellery Queen, “Acts of Contrition,” and I have two other short story ideas for Venus–this one, and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman.” I wonder if I should be writing stories about a black female cop–after all, I am neither black nor female, and I do worry that I won’t get things about her right; not to mention the fact that if I sell the story, I might be taking a slot away from an author of color, male or female.

It’s not enough to just say I want to write about a black woman and I’m a writer and no one can tell me what I can or can’t write about. It’s not enough to say “well, sure, I’m not black or a woman, but I’ve written about vampires and ghosts and supernatural creatures, so why can’t I write a black female character?” (That defense against “own voices” is the one that pushes my blood pressure into the danger zone; there’s nothing like denying someone’s humanity to excuse writing about that person–and make no mistake, comparing writing any marginalized character to writing about creatures that don’t exist? You’re a bigot, period–making that statement disqualifies you automatically from any defense)

It’s something to think about, anyway. The other funny thing is how, this morning, reviewing what I wrote last night–I originally wrote about five hundred words, and wrote another fifteen hundred last night–doesn’t match the original paragraphs because I didn’t reread what I’d already written, just dove right in, and I’ll have to go back and fix that before I move forward with the story any further.

And last night, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, I did a live reading for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop; the first time I’ve done such a thing, and it was, indeed, a thing. It was remarkably easy and I went through no anxiety at any point in the proceedings, which was absolutely lovely–readings and panels and so forth always make me incredibly anxious and stressed; and that’s not gotten any easier since I first started doing them. But this was absolutely lovely; stress free other than the occasional stumble over words as I read them, and I honestly think, going forward from the pandemic, that this methodology of meeting readers is going to continue and tours are slowly but surely going to go away, unless you’re an enormous name.

And I slept well last night. I did wake up a few times during the night, but was always able to go back to sleep and I feel definitely rested this morning.

Huzzah!

And now, back to the spice mines. Happy Friday!

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Don Juan

Looks like we made it to Wednesday, for whatever that may be worth. Days and dates really seem to have little to no meaning anymore; I can only imagine how bad it is for people who are sheltering in place. We used to be able to tell what day of the week it was based on what was airing on television, but now that we stream everything and rarely watch anything live…yeah, if I didn’t use a Google calendar to keep track of when the bills are due and deadlines and appointments or so forth, I’d never know the date, let alone the day.

I know when I was quarantined at home for that week, I had no clue of days or dates by the time I was cleared to return to work…so those of you who continue to be stuck at home sheltering in place, you have my deepest sympathies. I can’t even imagine. I was going stir crazy after a little less than a full week–well, it was more like nine days total, I think, from beginning to end–and so I cannot imagine how awful it must be for people who’ve been trapped in doors this entire time.

I wonder how many Rear Window type stories are being written as I type this?

I love the whole concept of the Rear Window style of crime and suspense stories. I think my story “The Carriage House,” recently sold to Mystery Tribune, is that precise kind of story; what I think of as ‘the accidental witness.’ I think about this sort of thing all the time; in my neighborhood, for example, the houses are very close to each other. Sometimes as I walk back to my apartment I can hear someone on the other side of the fence, talking on the phone; I can see their upper floor windows from the windows around my desk, and of course, I see my neighbor who lives in the carriage house walking in front of my windows all the time, when he’s coming or going. Likewise, from our bedroom windows we can see into the house next door’s upstairs windows; I never look, really, and most of the time being inside I think no one can see me, either–which is hilarious. (We always think of our homes as being safe spaces, but it wouldn’t be very hard for someone to kick in my front door, really; this is why break-ins and robberies, etc. are so unsettling and feel like such violations–our homes are supposedly our safe sanctuaries, and being reminded that we aren’t safe in our homes in such a way makes things uncertain and uncertainty is often the worst.) Throughout New Orleans, no matter how big the lot our home sits on, we live in close proximity to others; particularly in the French Quarter and most of the neighborhoods of the city; I’m always curious and interested how we all live in such tight quarters to each other and yet pretend we are isolated in our own safe little worlds.

I worked on two of my stories yesterday: “Falling Bullets,” which is a Venus Casanova story, and “Condos for Sale or Rent”, which is one of those “living in close proximity”stories. (And I know–New Orleanians don’t live in nearly as close proximity as New Yorkers or San Franciscans) I also have come to the conclusion that one of my short stories–which I have been trying to make into a short story–is probably more likely to be a novel than a short story; I am going to try to revise it one more time, just to be sure, and if that doesn’t work, “Death and the Handmaidens” is going into the “potential novel” file. I think it’s a good story and one that kind of needs to be told…but it’s been rejected everywhere I’ve ever submitted it; but I do think it still has some potential to work as a short story, so I am going to give it the old college try once more.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work–those early mornings on Tuesday and Thursday are particularly rough on me–and watched some more of Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which is very well done, and we started Killing Eve–free trial on AMC; we decided the quality still holds, but are willing to wait until we can binge the entire season over the course of an episode. I slept really well last night, but still feel a little dragged out this morning. Then again, I’m only on my first cup of coffee; that does make a significant difference to how awake I do actually feel.

I read for a little while on Thunder on the Right last night, but my mind was too tired to focus, so I gave up on reading after a few pages. It is much better than I remembered, and it’s also one of the few Mary Stewart novels that isn’t written in the first person. I’m not certain why she made that choice–it isn’t evident yet–and I’m assuming there’s a reason why she deviated from her usual; perhaps as I read further into the book it will become more obvious. (Assuming there’s a story structure reason for not using the first person is a very author-like assumption to make; I myself inevitably fall back on the first person simply–but not entirely–because it’s easier not to make POV mistakes in the first person.)

The weather here is getting warmer–and the Formosan termite swarms have started–but we still haven’t been punched in the face by humidity quite yet, and every day the 80 degree or so temperature this week has been offset by a lovely, cool breeze that has made it seem temperate, which has been really nice.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines this morning. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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Break 4 Love

Thursday morning.

I slept rather well last night, even if I did keep waking up periodically throughout the night. I’m not sleepy or tired–at least not thus far,  but it’s still early, Today I have to turn in my Sherlock story, which means going over it one more time today and formatting it properly; it shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Am I nervous? Of course I am; it’s always nerve-wracking when you submit a story that outside of your comfort zone. I also learned yesterday at some point that McSweeney’s is taking submissions for a “queer” issue; I have a couple of stories that might work to submit there–with a little tweaking–so hopefully I will have the wherewithal to deal with doing both of those today.

We watched another episode of The Plot Against America last night, and it’s very well done, and creepy on so many levels. I’ve not seen much about the show in the zeitgeist, but it’s really quite worth watching.

I was tired last night when I finished my work-at-home work (well, it’s not finished, just finished for the day), and so it was another evening of scrolling through Youtube and falling into Youtube wormholes of lists and so forth–and old music videos–before Paul got home and I made dinner, then we talked for a while before watching an episode of the show. Such an exciting life I lead! I literally sometimes  wonder why I bother making myself write these entries every day.  But I am looking forward to this weekend at long last, and my email inbox has already gotten out of control and depressing to look at; my goal for this morning between screening people is to try to get it as cleaned out as possible. Not every email requires an answer, after all, and getting into the trap of answering every email is a fool’s game.

I’ve been extremely scattered again this week, what with all these new story beginnings and ideas I’ve been having. Creative ADHD is certainly the worst, and there are times when I simply can’t reign it in, no matter how hard I try. It’s also sort of frustrating because I know I’m never going to get all these stories written, no matter how hard I work on it; it’s just that some of the titles are almost too good to pass up, you know? I really think “Procession of the Penitents” is a great title; and the idea behind it is also equally good; an assistant ADA, new to her job, sitting second chair to the ADA in charge of sex crimes prosecutions, and the case is a gang-rape at a fraternity party. Then again, it might be too much story for a short story–I’m not certain I can get all the story into six thousand words or less; which sometimes is the problem with my ideas. Before I used to always think in terms of novels–oh this would make a great novel–knowing full well I’ll never get a chance to write every novel I want to write. When I started the Short Story Project two or three years ago, the entire point of it was to retrain my brain into thinking in terms of short stories with the new ideas; it’s worked in that regard, and only in some cases have I come to understand that it’s too much for a short story; but now at least I am thinking in terms of longer stories being novellas. There’s another one I’d love to write–novella or novel–centering Venus Casanova and her last case before she retires from the NOPD; it’s a great idea but then again we have the issue of “should a white gay man write about a black woman?” I mean, sure I can, but will it be authentic? Should I be sucking the air out of the room and taking a publishing slot away from a woman (or man) of color? Probably not, and being a minority myself (although, as I always say, I hit the jackpot by being a cisgender white male; gay is my only crime) doesn’t necessarily make it okay.

The Edgars are being announced today on Twitter at 11 am EDT; you might want to follow @EdgarAwards so you won’t miss a single announcement. Pretty cool. Ordinarily, about now I’d be waking up at the Grand Hyatt in another hour or two, getting some coffee, and getting ready to face the day of the Edgar banquet. I haven’t been in years–I think 2015 was my last attendance–and while I was dreading getting up on stage to speak in front of that glittering room of publishing literati, I’d rather be doing that right now than slurping down coffee and preparing to go to another day of work screening people for symptoms before letting them into our respective buildings. (I work at one building in the morning before switching to the other in the afternoon.)

But such is pandemic life. None of us saw this coming, and back in January when I assumed the role of Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, I certainly had no clue that I’d be presiding over the cancellation of the banquet (first time ever) and symposium (first time ever). Yay for making history?

Heavy heaving sigh.

Yesterday was also payday, but since the first isn’t until tomorrow I don’t have to start paying bills until then–so I am leaving things be, so as to maintain the illusion I have money in the bank for yet another day.

And on that note, hello spice mines! Time to put on my mining helmet and head on back in. Have a lovely Edgar Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Take This Job and Shove It

My very first job was at a McDonalds.

I was sixteen, a senior in high school, and I actually wanted to work; make my own money to buy things for myself. I was a very good employee; I wasn’t to begin with, but an honest conversation with an encouraging manager turned me into one. I knew how to do everything by the time I quit; I could open or close; work the grill, a cash register, or the drive through; I could clean grills and take apart the ice cream and shake machines and put them back together again; I knew how to slake french fries and how to package hamburgers; how to dress them and toast the buns; how to clean the floors and drain the grease vats; to tube tartar and special sauce. I knew how to make pancakes and scrambled eggs; Egg McMuffins and sausage patties. My uniform was brown polyester and a paper hat. I could take your order, tray it, ring you up and give you your correct change within ninety seconds. Thank you and come again with a smile to every person I worked with; you were given orders with a please and you acknowledged with a thank you. We weren’t allowed to stand around–if I heard if there’s time to lean then there’s time to clean once, I heard it so many times it felt like I heard it in my sleep. I was paid $2.25 an hour; minimum wage increased after a year and I also got a nickel raise per hour, bringing me up to a whopping $2.60 per hour.

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the course of my life, and no matter how crappy a job it was, I always tried to make the best out of it and do the best I could at it. I usually would get bored once I’d mastered an aspect of my job; I needed to learn new tasks and do different things in order for me to not eventually quit–or get so bored on the job I’d make a heinous and stupid mistake that got me fired. I always took getting fired as a sign that yeah, I should have moved on already, thanks for the kick in the pants. All I ever really wanted to do was write–and for so much of my life I was convinced that it was just a pipe dream that would never ever come true, for so many varied and different and just plain sad reasons, with the end result that I was always trying to find a career, something that could hold my interest, and to no avail, with the end result that I was completely miserable.

Every once in a while, whenever I get frustrated or angry with the publishing business–whether it’s a late payment, or another rejection, or another publisher that isn’t paying their authors, or systemic oppression of some kind or another–and I start to think fuck this business, it’s brutal and it sucks and why on earth do I keep doing this to myself…I do something to remind me how grateful I am for this career, this crazy, infuriating, never really quite what I want it to be career: I like to  think about the path that it took to get here, some of the jobs I’ve had;  all the missed opportunities and how easy it was to get discouraged and for self-doubt to insinuate itself into my consciousness and get me to give up again for a period of time…

But I always somehow came back to the wanting to write.

This was a good year for me, although I don’t seem to remember ever thinking that over the course of the year as it passed. I published the eighth Scotty Bradley novel this past October, Royal Street Reveillon, and I am, for once, actually rather pleased with a book that I’ve published (which is a step in the right direction, right?). I also published a collection of short crime fiction stories; some originals, others previously published: Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Two of the stories were nominated for awards; the eponymous title story was a Macavity finalist and “Cold Beer No Flies” (originally published in Florida Happens, the St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology) was an Anthony Award finalist. Pretty cool, right? There was also that Anthony nomination, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to have lost to Shawn Cosby. My story “This Town” was included in Holly West’s Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, a cause near-and-dear to me. The story is one of my personal favorites of my own, and got some really nice feedback from people. I also got my story “Moist Money” in the Dark Yonder anthology, which is also a fundraiser for a food bank.

I managed to write several drafts of a new novel manuscript, but it remains incomplete at this time; I also have two other novels in some sort of progress just sitting around waiting for me to get them done. I do not see this as a failure (I used to do just that; something unfinished? You failed) but as symptomatic of me taking my time and trying to do better work. I felt like I was getting stale, and so I decided to take some time away from writing as well as try to rejigger the way I work on fiction. And if it means that it takes longer to write a book I’m completely satisfied with, so be it.

I also came up with a great idea for a new noir novel, set in the ambiguous early 1950’s–Chlorine–and even took a few hours to bang out a first chapter. Likewise, I also came up with ideas for another Scotty book and another Chanse book, as well as a stand alone crime novel built around Venus Casanova, at least in conception; I may not be able to  use the “world of New Orleans” I’ve built in my two series and several short stories, which are all kind of interconnected. I wrote several short stories this year, but still have any number of unfinished ones and others than need additional drafts. I started planning out another short story collection, and an essay collection.

So, in retrospect, it was kind of a good year for me as a writer. I also made several recommendation lists, for people to check out my work–both as a gay writer and as a New Orleans writer. I still have some things on my bucket list to check off, like getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and an MWA anthology, doing a Noir at the Bar, among many other things.

So, while I may have spent most of the year feeling miserable about my writing career, a look back shows just how negative I actually was being–which is something I really need to work on. I’m trying to not be so self-deprecating as I have been my entire life, belittling my own accomplishments, because it’s kind of self-defeating. Sure I could have probably written more, and done more, and gotten further along in my career–but everything happens the way it does for a reason, and I have to believe always works out in the best way possible for me–I have to believe that because it has proven true, over and over and over again.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. LSU plays Oklahoma this afternoon in the play-offs, and while obviously I want LSU to keep winning and keep this magical season going….the disappointment won’t be too great if they do lose; because we do have this magical season to look back on.

Have a lovely last Saturday of 2020, Constant Reader.

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