Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day has rolled around yet again. Woo-hoo!
Yesterday I was working on cleaning out my inbox–an ongoing struggle, but it’s suddenly gotten easier lately–and around noonish an email from Left Coast Crime dropped in letting me know that A Streetcar Named Murder had been selected as a finalist for the Lefty Awards! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that to ever happen, so thanks to everyone who listed me on their ballot. It’s a tough category–the other nominees are Ellen Byron for Bayou Book Thief, Catriona McPherson for Scot in a Trap, Jennifer Chow for Death by Bubble Tea, and A. J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom. Such a thrill, really, and to be nominated against authors for whom I have so much respect and admiration for their talents and achievements already? And so many other amazing nominees in the other categories as well–including lots of friends! Kellye Garrett, Alex Segura, James L’Etoile, Karen Odden, Laurie R. King, Gigi Pandian, Rob Osler, Eli Cranor, Wanda Morris, and Catriona again (nominated TWICE!!!!). I’m really sorry I won’t be going to Left Coast this year. I had a marvelous time last year, but it’s also the week before TWFest and Saints & Sinners, and there’s no way I could take that much time off so close together–let alone leave the week before the festivals. I’d come home to find the locks changed, seriously. So many amazing reads this past year on this list, and there I am, right there with some of my favorite people.
It’s always lovely to get recognized, of course. Award nominations are always a lovely pat on the back, and yes, while I often joke about always losing everything I am ever nominated for (I love pretending to be bitter and cynical about losing awards), it is indeed a great honor and a thrill and all those things they’re supposed to make you feel like. Being nominated for mainstream awards, like this and the Anthonys, was never in my thoughts or calculations (to be fair, I never think about awards when I’m writing something)–so yes, for the kid who used to give acceptances speeches to the mirror holding a shampoo bottle as a stand-in for an Oscar, it’s an honor and a thrill and a privilege. I mean, winning isn’t really in my control–anyone who’s ever nominated’s control–so I just look at it as a lovely nice job thumbs-up from the community and add it to my author bio.
I slept really well again last night and this morning I don’t feel tired or sore and my mind is completely alert–yesterday there was some residual fog from my trip still, and leftover exhaustion–but today feels absolutely great. I ran errands after I got off work yesterday–some books and other things came in the mail yesterday, including my Rainbow candles (a client gave me one for Christmas; I loved the smell, and then had to go searching on line to find more of them) and the leather-bound copies of Rebecca and Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier as produced by the International Collectors’ Library (about time I got two really nice editions of two of my favorite books). I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday so I pretty much melted into my easy chair with Scooter asleep in my lap and just watched videos on Youtube (I went down a Rihanna wormhole for a good while–I’d forgotten how amazing her music was–while also looking up videos from Hadestown, whose score I’ve been listening to every since I got home; I cannot tell you how much I loved this show). I need to pay the bills today and get back to work on the book–I’m behind again and am really going to have to work my ass off to get it done by the end of the month now, no time for goofing off or anything other than a major push; I also have a short story to finish that I’ve promised to a friend for an anthology; that will be a nice creative and intellectual challenge to try to get finished around the book, too.
So, yes, Constant Reader, as you can probably tell I’m in a really good place this morning. My coffee is marvelous, I got a lovely pat on the back from the mystery community yesterday (“they like me! they really like me!”), and I am feeling great about my writing and my future. We’ll see how long this happy feeling and inspiration lasts, won’t we? I also think the cold or sinus thing that’s been going on with me since I flew to New York has finally been given the boot by my immune system, which is really nice. (I always feel terrible when I travel–part of it is the lack of sleep and the dehydration caused by the pressure changes required for flying; one of these days I’ll learn to drink water and replenish electrolytes when I travel instead of just drinking Cokes and coffee and alcohol; you’d think I’d know better by now but I clearly do not) But I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like a really long time, and it’s going to take some getting used to and adjusting again. (This weekend especially is going to feel weird as fuck, to be honest.)
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.
And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.
I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.
I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.
Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.
I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!
College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.
As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.
I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.
Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.
Monday morning and back to the office with me! It was a pretty good weekend, overall; I got some work done on the book, made groceries, did all kinds of chores, finished reading my Wanda Morris book and started reading another, and somehow managed to get some rest around all of that as well. I was very pleased with the work I did on the book, and who knows? Maybe I’ll even somehow manage to get it turned in by the extended deadline. #madness
And now it’s Monday morning, and I am up earlier than I need to be. I really need to focus, as a lot of things have been slipping lately as I focus on the book and getting it finished, and there’s been a kind of malaise–the feeling that usually comes along when I’ve actually finished a book, and has never before come while I was writing one. These last few years haven’t been easy for writing, to be honest, and yet–I’ve also produced some of my best work somehow during this time. I think Bury Me in Shadows is one of my best works, and while I don’t think it’s as good, #shedeservedit was also one I was terribly pleased with. And all I’ve seen anywhere for A Streetcar Named Murder has been highly positive. Land of 10000 Thrills was also one of the better anthologies I’ve done, and some of the short stories I’ve been doing during these last few years have also been really good. I also think that some of the stuff I have in progress–“Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Festival of the Redeemer,” Chlorine, Muscles, etc.–are also really good stuff. Some of the work I did this weekend is pretty damned good. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this confident in my writing before in my entire life, to be honest, but as long as I keep confidence from bleeding over into ego, I should be okay.
We watched all four episodes of Three Pines last night, and i think it’s very well done. Alfred Molina is perfect as Inspector Gamache, and while I must confess to only have read the first Louise Penny novel, Still Life, I was very impressed with it and liked it a lot (not sure why I’ve not gone back and read more of them; I do have the first three or four, but it probably has more to do with time and the massive TBR pile than anything else). I thought the show didn’t have the same feel as the books, in some ways, but it’s also a different medium and there are always changes. When I was reading the book (and again, only the first in the series so I am hardly an expert on Penny’s writing or her series) I like the town, and enjoyed my visit there. It was a nice, quirky, small town–but translating that to the screen is an entirely different ball of wax. I think the producers and writers decided that because the show is about murder, it needed to be a little darker, and Three Pines comes across as a small town full of eccentrics in the show, more like Twin Peaks, Picket Fences, and Northern Exposure than Penny’s creation….but I think it was a smart direction to go with the show. Penny’s strength is offsetting the charm of the town against the darkness of the crimes committed there, and I don’t know how well Penny’s vision could have translated to the screen any better. We both really liked it. We also watched a true crime documentary about Charlie Cullen, the killer nurse–which was creepy as fuck.
I’m hoping against hope that this good feeling will last all week. I’m going to have to stop and make groceries on the way home from the office–heavy sigh–but no need to swing around uptown for the mail until tomorrow. I have to remember to buy a shipping envelope to mail a copy of Streetcar to the winner of the drawing from Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen–I should add that to my to-do list…which I need to make a new copy of it. The problem is I don’t remember everything I am supposed to be doing, and I need to get back into the habit of making a new list every weekend so things don’t get lost.
I also spent some more time with Nelson Algren’s (I was spelling it wrong in the last blog) bleak A Walk on the Wild Side, which I am enjoying but isn’t precisely a quick read by any chance. It reminds vaguely of another novel set in the same time period, A Garden of Sand by Earl Thompson, which I’ve started any number of times but have never managed to get very far into because it is also not an easy read. I am going to try to devote an hour to reading every night–an hour a day is far better than what I’ve been doing, which hasn’t been helping to budge the TBR pile at all–and I think tonight we are going to finally start watching Wednesday. I’ve been reluctant to jump into it, despite the great reviews, because the Christina Ricci version from the 90’s films was, at least for me, definitive. But we keep hearing good things about the show as well as Jenna Ortega’s performance in the lead, so I think tonight will be the night we take the plunge.
It rained all day yesterday–it was even raining when I went to pick up the groceries–and it seems a bit gray outside this morning as well. I have a lot of emails to write and a lot of emails to answer and all kinds of stuff to do today–one of the reasons I got up an hour earlier than I needed to this morning–so I am trying to be proactive and not laze in bed the way I usually do on the mornings when I don’t have to get up at six. I am getting used to getting up early for the first time ever in my life, and quite frankly, I don’t like it. But I also don’t see the clinic hours being changed any time soon, either; I fear my afternoon/early evening shifts are a thing of the remote past now.
And on that note, I have quite a bit to do today, so it’s perhaps best that I make another cup of coffee, some toast, and dive right in. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.
Ah, yes, time for hot men in Christmas clothing. I usually wait and just do the twelve days of Christmas thematically here, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure that out. And why not do an extra couple of days of holiday cheer? We could always use more cheer and happiness and joy in this sometimes grim and grotesque world and life. Today is going to be dedicated to three things: more work on my book, picking up the groceries I ordered, and making potato-leek soup. I’m also going to spend some time this morning reading. I finished Wanda Morris’ marvelous Anywhere You Run yesterday, and started Nelson Ahlgren’s A Walk on the Wild Side. Someone on Facebook had posted they were going to watch the film (starring Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda) and I, who have never seen it, vaguely remembered it was connected to New Orleans. I did some research and yes, sure enough, it was indeed a novel first; and since it’s about the demimonde here in the 1930’s, I figured it was a necessary read for my understanding of the past of the city and perhaps even a needed read for the canon of New Orleans fiction. No one ever talks about this book in connection with the city, maybe because Ahlgren wasn’t a native? One can never be completely sure, can one? So, I will probably read some of that for about an hour–I like the idea of dedicating one hour every day to reading; maybe that will help me get through the ever-growing TBR pile. I know I wanted to do some Christmas reading–I am saving Donna Andrews’ Dashing Through the Snowbirds for Christmas day as a gift to myself–and I have some Christmas crime short story collections on hand as well, so I could do a story a day–maybe that will be what I do for the Twelve Days? Not a bad idea.
I slept well last night, which was a lovely experience–Scooter cuddled and purred with my for most of the night, which helped me enormously; making us doze off is truly his super-power–and woke up at a decent hour this morning. I think I am going to be able to get a lot more work done on the book than I did yesterday. It’s finally taking shape and I know where I am going with it along the way now, so I have to revise and redo the first half of the book to get it in line with how the final act will play out. I got started on it yesterday, and the story makes a lot more sense now than it did (and that is not me being hard on myself, either; what I had already done wasn’t badly written, it was just disjointed and had a lot of info dumps that have to be put into the story in a more organic way). I pulled up Spotify yesterday and listened to music while I worked on the book–Paul wasn’t home–which was cool. I listened to the Liza Minnelli that was produced by the Pet Shop Boys (it is truly outstanding; give it a listen sometime) and then cycled through some Pet Shop Boys albums as that was clearly the musical theme of the day. Paul will be home today, so I’ll probably just put in my ear buds and listen that way–I’d forgotten what a difference having music on makes to my writing and productivity.
We watched another true crime documentary last night, The Lost Boys of Bucks County, which–similar to the ones we were watching about the Murtaugh family–shows again the difference in how the law treats the wealthy and powerful as opposed to people that are considered unimportant and disposable. “They were just trash to be thrown away,” someone said towards the end of this sad story, in which four young men were pointlessly murdered over the course of three days. I’ve been thinking about–toying with, teasing it around inside my brain for quite some time–writing a suburban serial killer in the 1970’s book, based on the suburb where I lived for five years and the life people lived there, and then grafting a serial killer based on Houston’s Candyman onto the story. I’d been calling it Where the Boys Die for quite some time now, which I don’t think is the right title for this story; Where the Boys Die is a spring-break revenge spree killing story, and I think this one should be The Summer of Lost Boys or something along those lines. I know, I know, I talk about books I want to write all the time and never seem to get around to…but I think 2023 is going to be the year of finishing things that aren’t finished and getting them out of the way. Groan, that’s going to be a lot of work…but the kind of work I love doing, so there’s also that–and yes, I am well aware that I always have to force myself to do things I love. What can I say? I love being lazy and doing nothing the most out of everything.
When I was at home for Thanksgiving, my recently retired brother-in-law asked me what my plans for Retirement were. I know what he was really asking–my family is nothing if not predictable (are you going to move up here to be close to us once you no longer have a job? because it does not compute to any of them on any level that it’s not my job that anchors me in New Orleans. I live here because I choose to live in New Orleans, and I love it here. They can’t imagine making any such decision that would keep them out of the bosom of the family deliberately.)–but I chose to respond with “Well, I can’t wait for it to come. Counting the days” and he replied, “Oh, you’re in for a big surprise–you might want to hold your horses a bit on that.” He meant well, and I know what he meant; he’s been bored since he retired and the adjustment to not having to be somewhere for a set amount of time Monday through Friday hasn’t been easy. It wasn’t easy for my father, either–still isn’t. They, and other men of their generations, were conditioned to work and to identify their selves with their job and the work. That isn’t me. I love my job, don’t get me wrong–it’s the perfect fit for me on every level, and even now the only thing I don’t like about it is we no longer have non-traditional hours. I miss not having to be at the office until eleven most of the week and having my mornings free to get things done before going into the office, and not having to be in bed by ten most nights. The only thing I truly dislike about my job is the forty hours I have to spend working at it–because I would much rather be utilizing that time to write. Will I be bored when I retire? Probably not. I am never bored and can always find something to do. There’s the TBR pile, for example, and I am always writing something anyway. There’s a shit ton of classic films for me to work my way through, and other films and television shows I would love to rewatch and revisit.
And there’s always going to be books to read, errands to run, dishes to wash, clothes to launder, and so on. I’d also probably go to the gym with a higher degree of frequency as well.
So, no, I won’t be bored when I retire from my day job. I’ll probably wind up working even harder once I do retire.
And now I am going to read for an hour, and get back to work on the book. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
One of the great joys of being a voracious reader is discovering a new-to-me talent: a terrific writer capable of creating relatable characters; telling great stories using wonderfully constructed, lyrical prose; and illuminating experiences and lives that are vastly different from my own, using fiction as a method to not only entertain but educate.
Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of reading Wanda M. Morris’ impressible debut, All Her Little Secrets, which I raved about in a blog entry. Of course, that was her book from last year, so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this year’s Wanda M. Morris novel, Anywhere You Run, and it does not disappoint in any way other than coming to an end.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Wanda earlier this year at Left Coast Crime, and she is as lovely a person as she is as a writer.
All four men passed around a bottle of Jim Beam as they peeled up State Route 19, giddy with excitement about what they’d do once they hog-tied those coons and got them to a tree. The engine revved as they hit the crest of the road, doing 80 mph. Getting pulled over was the least of their concerns because Olen’s cousin, Sheriff Bickford, was riding shotgun. Bickford had gotten a tip and rounded up the other three to head from Jackson over to Meridian and then north to Neshoba County.
Olen, sitting there in the back seat, threw back a swig and passed the bottle on, assuring the others they were doing God’s work. “The last thing anybody needs is for them to start votin’. Bad enough the goddamn government wants us to let ’em eat in our restaurants and sit beside us on a bus. If the Lord has meant for whites to mix with coloreds, he woulda’ made the coloreds a hell of a lot smarter. Either we stay all white or we die amongst ’em.”
A couple of the other men nodded in silent agreement.
Anywhere You Run is, in some ways, a kind of prequel to All Her Little Secrets, in that it gives us the backstory on some of the characters in the first novel. Set in the turbulent 1960’s, during the Civil Rights struggle in the old Confederate states and the resistance to racial equality from the Southern bigots, this may be one of the first novels I’ve ever read to show that time from the perspective of a woman of color? (There was a woman of color point-of-view character in William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but I’d need to revisit that book to make a comparison, but I know the visceral sense of being othered, of knowing there is no justice for you in this world and society, wasn’t as strong in the Huie novel as it is in this one.) I’m not going to go out on a limb and claim that as fact, but it is likely–and being Southern, and seeing the South of the time through this lens (remember, I was alive then, too, but my perspective was greatly different), was sobering. Morris brings the time to life with a vivid, powerful brush that makes it very clear what it was like to be a second-class citizen in a system designed to keep you there.
The story focuses on two sisters from Jackson, Mississippi–Violet and Marigold. Their parents are dead, as is their older sister, Rose; the two sisters are very different and on different paths, but they love each other very deeply and have a strong sisterly bond. Marigold has been working at a Civil Rights office in Jackson while having an affair with a married lawyer, come south for the summer to work on voting rights, and finds herself pregnant. SHe’s been seeing a man she doesn’t love, Roger Bonny, and decides to marry him and move north with him to Cleveland, leaving the Jim Crow South far behind her. Violet also wants out of Jackson and the book opens with her running–but for different reasons and in an entirely different situation. Violet was raped by a white man, and knowing there was no justice possible for a woman of color under these circumstances, kills him. She’s also been dating a white man, Dewey Leonard, who claims to be in love with her–and wants to run away with her and marry her in Boston. Violet doesn’t love Dewey, but she sees him as her ticket out of town. As the two of them flee, they are stopped by a cop once they’ve crossed the Alabama state line, and the fact Dewey has to act like she’s in his employ to save them both only convinces her that her plan to run away from Dewey the first chance she gets is the right one. She avails herself of the first opportunity that presents itself–ironically, at the same Birmingham Greyhound station where the freedom riders were attacked by a mob and police dogs–and catches a bus to a nowhere little town in rural Georgia–Chillicothe, which is very important in All Her Little Secrets.
But Dewey isn’t ready to let go of Violet, and hires a white-trash no account to track her down for him. He loves her and wants her back–but probably would be willing to let her go except for the wallet, which contains something that puts both Violet and Marigold’s lives in grave danger.
This is an exceptionally good novel, tightly plotted and highly evocative of the period Morris is writing about. It couldn’t have been easy, researching this painful past that we as a nation should be incredibly ashamed of; no writer is powerful or talented enough to truly bring the totality of the horror that was life for people of color in this country, particularly in the South, to life. But Morris does it beautifully; by focusing on how individual lives were affected and impacted, the implications of how truly horrible this time was on a macro level can easily be extrapolated. There are also slurs, accurate to the time and the characters using them, which are jarring to come across in the present day in the printed word.
But I’ve also heard those words used…not in a very long time, but seeing them in print I can hear them again vividly in my head, dripping with venom and hatred and contempt.
This book is fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and I urge you, Constant Reader, to start reading Wanda M. Morris.
It really isn’t, you know. Each and every day I become more and more aware of how precious time is, how quickly it can pass, and how finite it actually is. That makes the time I am forced to spend recharging my batteries or simply resting–something I need to do more and more of the more that goes by–into something I resent automatically and always have to remind myself that I am no longer not only forty but not even fifty and sixty is in the rearview mirror now, and don’t have the energy or stamina that I used to take for granted.
I’ve taken a lot for granted my entire life, in truth.
Yesterday was one of those work-at-home with tasks that are relatively mindless while doing chores that are also relatively mindless. This was a very tiring, up and down week (I always marvel at how whenever I should be having a good time and enjoying something, I inevitably end up having to deal with something unexpected and irritating. It does keep me grounded, I suppose, and my ego in check–those great reviews won’t pay for a new tire or change this one or heal your arm, will they? As though I actually need anything else to keep my ego in check. I am trying to actually develop more of an ego, and more of a selfish nature. Perhaps ego isn’t the right word? I don’t like it–for me the word has negative connotations–and I think confidence is a better fit and more accurate. I am working to increase my self-confidence, and my belief in my own value and the value of the work that I do.
I was talking to a friend recently about my future–what’s left of it, at any rate–and what I should be doing and focusing on. I’ve not made plans in years, or thought very far ahead much with my career; I think the lack of cogent plan with my writing career is fairly apparent from a quick glance at its history. I think after Katrina I made up my mind that making plans was a waste of energy and/or time, as one has no control over one’s future. Life is always going to be throwing spitballs and curveballs at you, no matter how good your stance or your grip on the bat and the technique of your swing, you’re going to miss more often than you hit one out of the park. It is very easy for me to get distracted and side-tracked–thank you, brain chemistry–anyway, and oft times I will be thinking quite enthusiastically about one idea when I get another and the first one is forgotten, lost in the mists and cobwebs of the farthest reaches of my imagination, only to be stumbled across years later with an oh yeah lightbulb going on over my head. But I am going to carve some time out this weekend to try to plan ahead a bit, or at least try to plan my writing year for 2023. I have so many things in progress already that need to be finished that it’s not even funny–which I should also make a list of; not the short stories (far too many of those unfinished to make a list–it was somewhere over eighty the last time I counted them) but the books and novellas and other things that I’ve made a start on that need finishing at some point.
I allowed myself to sleep in this morning until eight, and then over my coffee I finished reading Wanda M. Morris’ superlative Anywhere You Run, which was simply marvelous and superb and fantastic–it’s hard to believe she is only two books into her career; it will be interesting to see how she continues to grow and develop as a writer as she gets further into her career–and yes, there will be more about this book later. I feel marvelously rested this morning, and the coffee is doing a lovely job of waking me. I am going to do some futzing this morning–dishes, filing, cleaning a bit–before getting cleaned up and diving into my manuscript for the rest of the day. I really need to stop being so goddamned lazy and get on with it, you know? It simply isn’t going to write itself, and I am very hopeful that I can make some terrific progress on the book today. There’s not any college football today–the season is over except for bowl games and play-offs–and so there are no distractions to be had; no “Oh I’ll just turn on the television to check some scores” only to transition to “oh, it won’t hurt to watch the rest of this half” to “oh, well, tomorrow I can work on my writing.”
And the hilarious part of it is that I will always, always, feel enormously satisfied, pleased, and happy when I stop writing for the day. Every single time.
Friday and a work-at-home day, except for the morning department meeting I have to attend in person, which means I didn’t get to just roll out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, throw on some sweats, and get a cup of coffee just before nine…no, I have to be there at nine. I’ll run a couple of errands on my way home, which spares me from having to leave the house on Saturday; I may order groceries for pick-up on Sunday, but I don’t need to decide that right now.
This week wore me down and wore me out. I didn’t sleep terrific all week long to begin with, then of course it was one thing after another to have to deal with. But it’s Friday and I am relatively unscathed, methinks; I slept really well last night and think that could again be the case tonight. I was completely worn out when I got home from work last night, so I collapsed into my easy chair and watched a lengthy James Somerton video on Youtube called “What Ever Happened to Good Taste?”, which was about camp classic films, beginning with All About Eve before cycling through Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Mommie Dearest, and the drag queen road movies of the early 90s, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. (I must confess to being enormously disappointed that Showgirls didn’t make the documentary; it is, after all, an all-time classic.) Paul got home shortly after I finished watching (it was two hours long) and we watched another episode of Welcome to Chippendales, which could have been just a movie and not a series I think; there’s a lot of padding out of the story to stretch it out into a mini-series. I have a lot to do this weekend; one of my tasks for today is of course a to-do list for the weekend. I need to get caught up on the book, I need to get caught up on a lot of things, and I want to finish reading Wanda Morris’ marvelous latest work. Perhaps after I get home from the meeting at the office this morning and get through my work-at-home chores today, I can spend some time with Wanda’s book and finish it. I am going to run some errands on my way home from work today, too–hoping that I won’t have to leave the house much this weekend so I can get things done.
My arm continues to get better every day, so I think it is something that didn’t necessarily require the emergency room costs or a forced-onto-the-schedule doctor’s appointment. It means I won’t be able to start back to the gym this weekend as I’d planned–I like to start going again before the new year when everyone’s resolutions crowd the place to within an inch of its life come January–but I cannot lift weights with this arm, which pretty much eliminates every upper body exercise. I could, I suppose, go a couple of times a week and simply focus on legs–but the weight plates would be a problem, too, you see. So, that’s going to have to go back on hold until my arm feels better.
I was very surprised and pleased yesterday to see that a couple of Instagram users did “reels” talking about A Streetcar Named Murder, and I have to confess this week–shitty as it was personally–has been a really terrific week for me professionally. It certainly was a good one for my writer’s ego, for sure. The outpouring of support and appreciation for my book from the cozy reading and writing community has been quite nice, rather unexpected, and I am enormously appreciative and grateful for it all. In some ways, it’s kind of validating; over the past few months I’ve really come to understand that I have an enormous chip on my shoulder when it comes to my own writing, and have tried unpacking that a bit. (I’ve spent quite a bit of time since turning sixty in the wake of a global pandemic unpacking my behaviors and the events that occurred that shaped those behaviors.) How different would my life have been had I gotten support and encouragement when I was younger? Had people taken my ambitions and desire to write seriously rather than dismissively? I honestly don’t know, can never know, will never know–the great pleasure of human life is you can never do anything more than speculate about how differently a shift in something, even a very small minor one, can alter the course of a life and a career.
The other night, before my Murder by the Book event with the marvelous John McDougall and my very dear Ellen Byron, John asked me “Now that I’ve read your book, Greg, I have to ask–why did it take you so long to write a cozy? Why haven’t you been doing this all along?” and my answer was “I really don’t know.” It absolutely gave me pause, and has lived rent-free in my brain ever since Tuesday. Why did it take me so long to write a cozy? I still don’t have an answer that makes any kind of sense. Let me see, I’ve always read them, always appreciated them, and have always done my best to fight the stigma attached to them by some elitists who need to feel better about themselves by looking down on a subset of other writers. I hate that, particularly because I know how it feels to not be taken seriously or be respected by your peers (there’s that enormous chip on my shoulder again).
But despite all the difficulties encountered during the time of its writing, I really enjoyed writing A Streetcar Named Murder. Sure, it was hard, and sure, I had to make myself do it (like always), but when I finally held the finished copies in my hands, I was incredibly proud of it. I have always said that I want to always be challenged by what I am writing, that I don’t ever want to fall into a familiar pattern of writing that feels like painting by the numbers (which is why I ended the Chanse series), which is incredibly easy to do. Writing a cozy presented me with a challenge, and yes, it was hard and yes, it was outside of my comfort zone. But I created likable, believable characters and an interesting story, with new situations and paradigm/life shifts that all played out throughout the course of the story. Now that it’s out in the world, it is an interesting question as to why I never tried to write one before, or even why I believed that I couldn’t write one in the first place.
And in some ways, it’s almost like starting my career over again. I am finding a new audience. I didn’t center queer characters and stories. I just wrote about New Orleans again but from an entirely different perspective, and it was enjoyable.
And I am proud of the book, and of myself. It feels weird to say that, but at the same time it also feels good to say it.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.
I have to go to the West Bank this morning to buy two new tires for the car. An active pothole destroyed my driver’s side front tire the other day, and so I need to get at least one new tire, probably two so their wear pattern will match. The tires are supposed to be good for 50k miles; I don’t even have 30k on my car yet, which makes this even more frustrating. Perhaps this is my punishment for writing about potholes the other day on the Wickeds blog, with “The Orange Cone”? I may have angered the pothole gods, and they must be appeased to the tune of several hundred dollars.
Ah, well, there’s nothing to do but go whip out a credit card and pay for new tires. At least I can take Wanda Morris’ Anywhere You Run with me to read while I wait for the tires to be mounted and put on the car.
I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work. I didn’t sleep well Monday night (did better last night, frankly) and so was already tired going into the day. I was monitoring my blog post at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen so I could reply to everyone’s comments, and they were keeping me occupied between clients and the end of my shift. When I got home, I had a few hours to make the kitchen presentable before going live with Ellen Byron and Murder by the Book, which was a lot of fun. Paul came home as we were wrapping it up, so we could watch another episode of Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, which moved on to the Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell connection to Victoria’s Secret, and it seems as though human trafficking and models being pimped out by their agencies might very well have been happening in the industry before Epstein, from the looks of things. B
But the event went really well–it was nice seeing John from the store again, and he said very nice things about my book beforehand, including “After reading it and liking it a lot, I have to ask, why did it take so long for you to write a cozy?” which I thought was the highest compliment I could ever receive. There have been times that I have felt like a carpetbagger in the subgenre; poaching in territory not my own. But one thing I will say about the cozy subgenre–the authors and readers are incredibly kind, supportive and welcoming to new authors entering their territory. It’s been lovely seeing all the support from other cozy writers and readers on social media in the weeks leading up to the book’s release, and it’s also something I’m really not used to, to be honest. I don’t want to make it sound like I haven’t had support from colleagues and readers before–because that wouldn’t be the truth–but this entire experience, from the announcement of the contract to the cover reveal to the release, has been so incredibly lovely and affirming that like John, I wonder why it took me so long to join the ranks of the cozy writers? Ellen and I did agree on camera that my Scotty series was a more of an edgy cozy series that breaks some of the rules (profanity, sex, violence and blood on the page) than anything else; Scotty may be a licensed private eye but no one ever hires him–he just stumbles into bodies and mysteries all the time through no effort of his own.
Christ, I am so behind on my Scotty book. Heavy heaving sigh.
(Even in the midst of self-promotion, I can always feel guilty about the progress of whatever it is I am working on at the moment.)
After I get the tires put on the car and paid for, then it’s off to the office to finish my work day. This week has been a weird one; sick on Monday, flat tire, promotional events, book launch, and now a morning spent at the car dealership. Not exactly how I saw the week going Sunday morning while I was drinking coffee and planning ahead–which is another great example of ‘man plans, the gods laugh”–and now today is even Pay-the-Bills Day and I didn’t really notice because. well, I need to get to the dealership this morning and buy new tires…all the while hoping the spare makes it to the West Bank intact. (It’s supposedly good for fifty miles and I haven’t gotten anywhere close to that kind of mileage since changing the tire.)
But life always has a habit of interfering with your best laid plans, doesn’t it?
And on that note, I am hopping into the shower and heading over to the West Bank. Wish me well, Constant Reader, and that it’s quick and easy to get in and out. Fingers crossed, at any rate.
Well, it’s Tuesday morning and all I have to say about that is good. Monday was a dreadful day, and the less said about it the better. I woke up feeling ill, and it was just all downhill from there. The only good thing I can say about yesterday was I got to spend the entire morning lying down, covered up in blankets, reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere YouRun, which is fantastic. I didn’t get to finish reading the book–hopefully that glorious day will come soon–and losing yet another day of work on the book was quite a savage blow. Tonight after work I have to do an on-line event for Murder by the Book with the always delightful Ellen Byron, which will leave me exhausted as those things always do, so tonight is pretty much out. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least college football is over, which frees up my entire day Saturday, which is nice. And I feel well this morning–I knew taking Claritin and resting all day (sort of) would stave off the coming sinus infection (but I’ll take another one today just to be on the safe side). We also started watching the Victoria’s Secret documentary–I think it’s called Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons–because the owner of the company was weirdly involved with Jeffrey Epstein? It’s interesting enough. I vaguely remembered the collapse of the brand–and who knew there were so many other stores, all belonging to the same person? Remember Structure?–but I didn’t remember that there was an Epstein connection.
It still seems a bit weird to me to have this book out in the world at long last. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this release date for a very long time, and now it is here. Will people like it? Will people buy it? Will my regular readers like this completely different (not really, but you know what I mean) type of book from me? Naturally, I hope so; I’ve been really surprised and delighted by the unexpectedly and overwhelmingly positive response to the book thus far. I’m not used to it.
But just as it occurred to me the other day that my perceptions of New Orleans have changed–i.e. that all the little oddities and eccentricities that used to amuse me and give me things to write about now seem commonplace and normal to me now–I think my perception on my writing has also started changing a little bit–which is really lovely and nice and long overdue. I’ve talked about this before–the dichotomy of how I was raised to always be humble and never, ever brag about myself–and how its really the exact worst way to raise any kind of artist. Being an artist (or writer) is difficult enough with those constant self-doubts and “do I really know what I am doing here” and everyone’s favorite, Imposter Syndrome. If you don’t know what Imposter Syndrome is, consider yourself very lucky. For me, it manifests itself in “I’m really just faking it and don’t really have any insights because I literally don’t know what I am doing, but as long as I can keep fooling people I’ll keep going until they realize the Empress has no clothes.” My perception of my own writing and my own work is slowly starting to shift–yes, Constant Reader, after twenty-odd years and over forty books, etc etc etc, I am starting to feel some confidence in my actually work. Rereading A Streetcar Named Murder the other week–I had to do so because I’d forgotten a lot about the book in the meantime, so I could do some more Blatant Self-Promotional blog entries–and realized it wasn’t, in fact, terrible but was actually an enjoyable read. (This may not seem like much to you, Constant Reader, but for me this was huge.) I do think that this book, along with my last three (Royal Street Reveillon, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit) is some of the best work of my career thus far. And when I was rereading the old Scottys to prepare me for writing the new one, I was impressed with them rather than wincing. I think maybe I’ve managed to flip the “editorial” switch off when I read my books again? So rather than rereading them and catching errors or thinking oh I could have said this or that better, I read them as they were and for what they are. It was definitely some major progress, methinks, towards a better mental attitude for me, not only for my work but for my life in general.
It only took me over sixty-one years to start getting there.
A lot of it, I think, comes from my determination to not take myself seriously, which probably goes back to my childhood. I know the self-deprecatory shit comes from a mentality of if I make fun of myself I can beat everyone else to it which was a self-defense mechanism I developed to shield myself from being mocked, made fun of, and insulted by other kids. I can’t claim it as a gay experience because I would imagine every queer kid’s experience is different and there are probably some who never were bullied, were never made fun of, were never the butt of everyone else’s jokes as an easy target because I didn’t fit the societal image of what a little boy was supposed to be. I think I was seven or eight the first time someone called me a fairy? (At the time, I didn’t realize they meant fairy as in Tinkerbell and not ferry as in a boat that conveys cars over water; I couldn’t understand the ferry reference until a few years later when it was accompanied by such lovely terms as fag, faggot, femme, homo, cocksucker and so forth; when I was conditioned to be ashamed of myself and of who I was, through no fault of my own….and well, if I make fun of myself I can head them off before they go down that road.) This of course presupposed that people were going to make fun of me or call me names–and I can now see how toxic and self-destructive that actually can be. You should never default to the idea that other people will make fun of you.
You can see how that mentality can be damaging to a writer.
I carried a lot of baggage into this career that I should have discarded a long time ago.
I am, if nothing else, always a work in progress.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
I woke up not feeling so hot this morning. There was a touch of fever, a lot of sinus, and just over ickiness. I did take a COVID test that came back negative–praise the Lord–but I am achy and not feeling myself, so I bit the bullet and called in sick. Yay. And then to add insult to injury, my Internet went out. Grrrreeeeeeaaaaattttt. I turned my phone into a Hotspot, and Cox is quite generously sending someone out today between 5 and 7 because unplugging it and resetting the modem simply isn’t doing the trick the way it is supposed to. In fairness, I think we’ve had this modem since we moved back into the Lost Apartment just before Christmas of 2006, so I suppose it has lasted a really long time. But it is still fucking irritating to risk a data overage on my phone simply because Cox has a shitty customer service mentality. I’d switch to another provider but…I’ve heard terrible things about all of them, so maybe this is yet another case of the devil you know. I expect Cox to suck, so it’s frustrating but not a surprise.
My Apple TV router is also getting up there in years, too. Probably will need to replace it sooner than I’d prefer as well. Heavy heaving sigh.
I feel a little better now than I did this morning–I took a Claritin and it seems to have helped some–but I still have stomach upset and everything feels a little more tired than it should. I also have a mild headache–it was a major one before I took the Claritin, so it’s sinus-related. Our weather has been weird the last few days–very humid but not super-hot, even coldish–so we’ve had a lot of foggy mornings and nights which are never good with my sinuses. So I am assuming I’ve developed yet another sinus infection (hurray!) which hopefully the Claritin will spare me the worst of. But at least I didn’t feel good this morning, so I was at home for the Internet shenanigans. Imagine if I had gone to the office, come home to this after their hours, and had to deal with it? Who knows when they would deign to come fix is? I probably would have had to call out for work on another day, so at least this is all going to be handled today.
I’ve spent part of the morning under my blanket in my easy chair reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere You Run and Constant Reader, it is marvelous. It’s even better, I think, than her debut All Her Little Secrets and if I’m not mistaken, I believe the two books may actually be connected, which is super cool. I had the great pleasure of meeting Wanda this year, and she’s just as kind and warm and lovely in person as she is a talented writer, which is amazing.
I was feeling off yesterday–which I guess was the start of this whatever the fuck it is–and so I wrote for a while yesterday morning before collapsing into my easy chair around three yesterday afternoon. We watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which has been recommended to me by several people whose opinions I respect, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have hoped, predicated on the enthusiasm with which it was recommended to me. I do love Robert Downey Jr. (pre-Iron Man; I never cared for his Tony Stark but hey, congrats, it made you richer than you could have ever imagined) and I thought the story was clever. I don’t really care for the breaking of the fourth wall so much, but I also loved that it was sort of based on a Brett Holiday novel (i’ve never read Holiday; I should rectify that sometime but I am not really a huge fan of the tough-guy books that proliferated in the pulpy post-war era. I absolutely hated I the Jury, and there’s not enough money in the world to persuade me to read another Mickey Spillane novel, and I suspect his Mike Shayne books fall into that category–the hard-nose tough guy, sexy two-dimensional “broads” who are devious, and so on) and it did have a lot of clever things that I appreciated. We then moved on to watch another episode of Welcome to Chippendales, which is interesting but could be better, and last night we watched The Texas Killing Fields docuseries about the I-45 murders between Houston and Galveston, which I vaguely remember from when my parents lived in Houston. (I also thought it was interesting that the first batch of killings, mostly young girls, teenaged or younger, was going on at the same time the Candyman was killing teenaged boys in another part of Houston. Houston: serial killer capital of Texas, clearly.) I was dozing off during the docuseries, so I missed a couple of important pieces to the story, but it wasn’t hard to stay up on the story and get caught up when I’d wake. We also got caught up on Andor and some of the other shows we’re watching.
Okay, I am feeling a bit woozy again so I am going to go back to my chair and Wanda’s book. Hope you have a better Monday than me, Constant Reader.