Thursday, December 31, 2020

My First Day of Retirement

 So I'm sleeping late. Leave me alone. I'll have something for you next week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy Holidays


While 2020 has been a large, runny turd in the punchbowl of life, it has not been uneventful here at Castle Schadenfreude. Alas, not all the goings on have been good.

I was diagnosed late last year with a form of macular degeneration in my right eye. Monthly treatments have kept my vision relatively stable. About the only thing I don’t do is drive on unfamiliar roads at night, though most everything else takes a little longer. It could be a lot worse, but we’re staying on top of it and I have a great doctor, so the outlook is as good as can be expected.

·       In February, Dr. Sole Heir’s mother gifted her a car with one catch: The Good Doctor had to pick it up in Maryland and get it to New Orleans. I volunteered to co-pilot, and it was a weekend well spent.

·       In the spring John A. Hoda was kind enough to have me as a guest on his fine podcast. Even better, I had the slot between two major forces in the business, Michael Koryta and Joseph Wambaugh.

·       The newest Penns River novel, Pushing Water, came out in May. Leaving the Scene comes out in the spring of 2021.

·       I read at a virtual Noir at the Bar in May. Kudos to Ed Aymar for keeping the flam going for these events in the DC area.

·       My mother died from the virus on August 13. If anyone wonders why I’ve been such a hard case about social distancing and staying safe, this is a large reason. Everyone has to die, and Mom had a 93-year run, but no one should have to die like that.

·       Public Service Announcement: When sump pump backup batteries die, they smell like a gas leak. So much so the fire company doesn’t even fuss about what amounts to a false alarm when they scramble to see what’s what. We’re more than grateful for their speedy and friendly response, though it will not prevent the cops in my books making fun of firefighters.

·       In a matter unrelated to the battery failure, the sump pump failed in October. The damage was minor, but it was a week spent moving things and drying to dry out The Beloved Spouse’s craft room, made even tougher due to the rising street value of Lysol and other disinfectants

·       One bit of unadulterated good news: I am retiring at the end of the year. I’ll likely keep my hand in part-time, but I’m using my brother as role model, appreciating that I now have the hammer and can choose when, how much, and on what to work.

 Corky has kept busy during her enforced confinement, as well:

·       She’s an active quilter. Each project gets a little more elaborate and challenging.

·       She still makes cards, though not as much as she used to, given the time taken up by quilting.

·       She spent a lot of time back in the early days of the virus making masks. We have a variety of colors and styles, as do some friend, relatives, and Zack’s entire class at flight school. (More on him later.)

·       We broke down and bought an air fryer, which keeps her busy keeping up with its features, as it also grills and does so many other things I can’t keep track. Last week it woke me up, made coffee, and emptied the dishwasher.

 Rachel (aka “Dr. Sole Heir”) is well into the second year of her internal medicine residency at Tulane. She doesn’t want too much made of it because she hasn’t seen many covid cases since the post-Mardi Gras surge, but things are picking up down there again, making all of us doubly happy to see she got her first vaccination on December 16.

 Zack (aka “The Sole Son-in-Law”) finished the basic portion of flight school for the Coast Guard and is currently on hiatus before starting rotary-wing training. Both he and Rachel are exactly where they are supposed to be, doing exactly what they want to do, and we couldn’t be prouder of them.

 Stay safe and patient, folks. The vaccines are at hand, even if they don’t roll out as quickly as we’d like. We hope to see you down the road a ways.


Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Go West, Old Man

 The Western novel lingers. I set it aside when I got stuck, then the current Penns River story took precedence. I thought to look west between Penns River drafts but was asked to contribute to an anthology, which was well worth the diversion. I have high hopes for the project.

 A couple of weekends ago The Beloved Spouse and I spent an evening with Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, Unforgiven. The story bears no resemblance to mine except for the time period and general geographic are, but it put the bug in me. Every couple of days since then I find myself reaching for the journal or opening Scrivener to add notes. If nothing else, I figured out what was holding me up.

 A year or so ago I came across half a dozen writing tips from Edith Wharton that sum up what my problem had been.

1.     Know your scope. The original plan was to write a book about a town cobbled out of four ranches, and the frictions that ensued. This was too broad. The real story concerns the interactions of a town marshal, his protégé, and a federal who comes to town in pursuit of a fugitive.

2.     Do less, better. I’m narrowing the scope to sharpen the focus.

3.     Lead with your characters. Whatever goes on in town must support the three main characters in some way, which means I need to create fully realized settings and subordinate characters who help add depth to the big three.

4.     Dialog is where you learn most about your characters. This I already had pretty well under control.

5.     Create peaks and valleys. I had them, but they were random. Pushing the emphasis more toward the three major characters will help with this.

6.     Have a point. I had one when I started but it became diffused. Writing about a town can show certain qualities of the people, but focusing on the people allows a point to be made more relatable.

 I’m changing the name of the town, and the title. The town, formerly called “Necessity” because the founding ranchers desperately needed something to provide them with economies of scale on the Wyoming prairie, is now called “Savior Springs” after a wagon train that got lost was saved from dying of thirst by the source of water and decided they’d gone far enough. (I suspect in time I’ll come up with a reason for the town to prosper, at least enough to support the story.)

 The title, which was to be “Necessity, Wyoming Territory,” (about the town, right?) will now be “Lawmen.” That’s who it’s about now, with the added benefit of having more of a Western sound to it. I’m revved up to get the next draft of the WIP done so I can get back to this.

 Good thing I’ll be retired in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Post-Retirement Writing

 Last week I talked about my retirement plans. Writing was mentioned only in passing. That doesn’t mean I don’t have plans along those lines.

 I’m already into the second draft of the “official” WIP, working title “Officer Involved.” It’s the seventh Penns River novel, about a Black cop shooting a white man. Not just any white man; a white supremacist. A bunch of Whitey’s buddies decide this can’t go unremarked upon and the local cops have their hands full.

 I also have a story that needs one or two more passes. It’s a Western based on the song “Seven Spanish Angels.”

 Queued up behind them are:

  • Another Penns River story about illegal high school football betting. Tentative title: “The Spread.”
  • A return to Nick Forte. Forte leaves Chicago to help Goose, who has gone to the hills to help his family. Tentative title: “The Bottom.”
  • A Penns River short story, “The Box,” that has been awaiting edits since the 35-day government shutdown a couple of years ago.

 The first few weeks, while practicing the Chinatown Principle*, I intend to watch a Western a day to whet my appetite for the Western novel I’ve picked up and set down several times. There are good bits there, but I haven’t found the narrative I want to tie them together. Maybe some immersion will help.

 After that? I have notes on a high-octane thriller I may write for the hell of it, just to see if I can do it. I suspect it will end up being a bit of a satire, but that’s okay, too.

 I also have an itch to write a straight-up comedy novel. Maybe even a caper. My mind doesn’t tend to plot as tightly as a caper requires, but this is how we learn, right?

 I suspect I’ll have other ideas as time goes. I’m going to be disappointed if I’m not retired for a long time.

 (*--Evelyn Mulwray: What were you doing [in Chinatown]?

Jake Gittes: Working for the District Attorney.

Evelyn Mulwray: Doing what?

Jake Gittes: As little as possible.)


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Into the Stretch Run


I gave my notice at work this week. December 31 is my last day before retirement.


It’s an odd feeling. I’m still working, and there are things I need to accomplish, but the sense of urgency is both less and greater. Greater because there’s a true hard stop; less because, much as I don’t want to leave my co-workers holding bags of shit with my name on them, none of that is my problem as of New Year’s Day.


How will I spend newly free time? I’ll do more writing, for sure. And more reading. My eyes won’t be as much of a concern because I’ll be able to spread things out through the day to rest them as needed. I have projects lined up and I’m looking forward to getting at them.


Road trips. Obviously we didn’t get one this year, but we’re looking at two long ones next year, maybe three:

1. Yellowstone, by way of the Badlands, then through Colorado to see the family before coming home

2. New Orleans for Bouchercon, going down early to spend time with Dr. Sole Heir (and hopefully Sole Son-in-Law) before the conference.

3. Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime, though this trip depends on the vaccine and virus situation far more than the others.


In coming years I see trips to New England, Florida (I’ve never been to spring training), Chicago, and random places that catch our fancy. We’ve been saving up for when we have the time, and in 28 more days I’ll have plenty of it.


I’ll try to keep my hand in with the old job doing piecework to hold off when I claim Social Security. More book promotion, even if only virtual. I’m also toying with the idea of a live interview series.


There will be day trips. (We live fourteen miles from Washington DC, home of more free museums and historical attractions than you can shake a dead cat at.) There will be mini-road trips (Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg, Colonial Williamsburg, Yonder) and “home” trips back to Pittsburgh (friends, family, Primanti’s, Glen’s). There are home improvement projects, games, walks, movies, and TV series to keep me occupied. Naps.


The Beloved Spouse™ likes to tease me how I already have 27 hours a day booked. That’s fine. I’m not going to do all of the above every day.


I’m going to do them all, though.