I Can’t Tell You Why

Wednesday morning, and it’s also pay day–on which I pay the bills and watch all the money I worked so hard for vanish in the blink of an eye. I cannot believe in two days the first parades will roll down St. Charles Avenue…which means when I get off work on Friday I need to run all my errands, because making groceries will be an impossibility over the course of the weekend–at least until Sunday night. But then…I only have to work two days next week, and then I am on vacation until Ash Wednesday.

Woo-hoo! Vacation!

I only got halfway through yesterday’s chapter; I was tired last night after a second long day at the office–I didn’t even watch another episode of Versailles, and was also too tired to read. My short days are coming up, though, and I should be able to get caught up on my reading and my revising over the course of the rest of the week…bearing in mind there are parades this weekend. Oshun and Cleopatra are Friday night, and there are five on Saturday–Ponchartrain, Choctaw, Freret, Sparta and Pygmalion. Sunday there are four: Femme Fatale, Carrollton, King Arthur, and Alla.

There will be beads.

But the true madness begins next week.

I seem to be having some trouble this morning getting motivated; I am feeling lazy this morning. Perhaps it is a lack of caffeine, perhaps it’s just a holdover from the last two length work days, I don’t know. The weather took a strange turn yesterday. It was chilly and wet in the morning before raining all afternoon. Usually, this means another drop in temperature at this time of year…yet the fog rolled in and when I left the office last night it was extremely humid and warm. My car windows were all fogged up, as were my windows here at the Lost Apartment…and the sweater I’d worn because it was chilly was too heavy and hot. I have no idea what I should wear to work today…maybe a sweater over a T-shirt, so I can remove the sweater if it gets too warm. My windows are covered in condensation, which means it’s much warmer outside than in.

So, I just looked at the weather. It’s 72 degrees right now and the low is 63. Yeah, probably no sweater today after all.

All right, I am going to try to finish revising that chapter before work. Back to the spice mines!

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Don’t Let Go

Tuesday morning. I am not as tired or sleepy this morning as I usually am on Tuesday mornings; I suspect my body is, at long last, adapting to my new work schedule. It’s only taken, what? Three months? And I am about to have another break. Next week I only work Monday and Tuesday, and then I am on vacation until Ash Wednesday.

So I’ll probably have to get used to my schedule all over again. Huzzah.

But I revised another chapter of the book last night, which was absolutely lovely. I am getting closer and closer to being finished, and this fills me with absolute delight. I also realized that there are parades this weekend, so getting a chapter done per day is not only wise but necessary; chances are I’ll be too tired and worn out this weekend from parade-going to get caught up if I fall behind…so I can’t fall behind; I need to keep revising at least a chapter a day in order to be finished by next Wednesday.

Huzzah! I think.

I also have decided, after further thinking on the subject, that my short story “The Blues Before Dawn” would actually work better as a novel rather than a short, so I am putting it on my list of novels to work on. It’s a period piece, probably will be set in the late 1950’s, and will require a lot of research about gay life in New Orleans during the Eisenhower years. Looking some things up in the index of Richard Campanella’s book Bourbon Street was what finally convinced me that it was a novel rather than a short story; I had originally intended for the story to be set in Storyville during the time the United States entered World War I. (I do think there’s some stories and/or novels, perhaps even a non-fiction research book to be written during that time period; as I continue to read up on New Orleans history, and once I start actually doing the research, I feel certain the floodgates will open and I’ll have all sorts of ideas for stories and things…and I need stories for Monsters of New Orleans.)

I watched another episode of Versailles last night, and yes, they’ve completely tossed any semblance of historical fact away for this final season. I’m no longer sure of what year it’s supposed to be; it’s somewhere after the Affair of the Poisons yet sometime before the War of the Grand Alliance. The dying out of the Hapsburg line in Spain is part of the story this season; which only confuses matters more. Louis XIV’s wife, Marie-Therese, was a Spanish Hapsburg, and the older half-sister of the last Hapsburg king of Spain, Carlos II. In last night’s episode much was made of the fact that not only was Carlos ill, but how close Marie-Therese was to him and so it was not out of the question that she’d want to return to Madrid one last time to see him before he dies.

This is a-historical. At the time Marie-Therese married Louis XIV, her father had only two children, she and a sister who married the Holy Roman Emperor.  Because Philip IV had no sons at the time, it was possible his daughters might be his heirs; so it was written into the marriage contract that Marie-Therese renounced all claims to Spain for her and her heirs; her sister, since she was marrying a Hapsburg, did not have to do so; this way Spain would remain a Hapsburg possession. Carlos II wasn’t born until Marie-Therese was already queen of France; she could not be, therefore, close to someone she’d never met. She also died in 1683, so this has to be set in the time period before 1683.

Sigh.

Incidentally, when Carlos II did finally die, he’d been persuaded to leave his possessions and his throne to his French relatives rather than the Austrians. This resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession.

I will keep watching, though, because I do love the period, the production design is spectacular, and they are also tackling the mystery of the man in the iron mask, one of my favorite mysteries of French history.

And now back to the spice mines.

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You Thought

One of the things I loved about Go-Go’s music was it was high energy and danceable; and it didn’t matter if you had no rhythm, didn’t know how to dance, or were clumsy and awkward. Go-Go’s music was so good that it just didn’t matter–people who would never think about getting out on the dance floor would just dash out there and start bouncing around once the deejay put one of their records on the turntable.

When I basically invited myself to be a part of this anthology, many of the songs were already taken, but editor Holly West gave me a list of three to choose from. I looked up the lyrics of each…and one thing that struck me, right between the eyes, was how dark the lyrics were. The songs, played with a bouncy, danceable beat and catchy, ear-wormy lyrics with Belinda Carlisle’s oh-so-cheery voice and the lovely harmonies, were really, if anything, kind of noir…all those years of dancing and singing along with the records, I’d never really paid attention to what the lyrics were saying.

I don’t know that I’ll ever look at the songs in quite the same way again, frankly–but that’s not a bad thing; the songs have much greater depth than I’d ever thought, which is my failing, not the Go-Go’s.

Susanna Calkins’ story is the next up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s. Serendipity brought Susie into my life in 2018; her story “Postcard for the Dead” was selected for Florida Happens (and has also made the Agatha shortlist for Best Short Story) and we also worked together on another project. We met in person at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, and I hope that 2018 was the start of a terrific new friendship with this talent.

Her story is “You Thought.”

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Alison tightened her hand on her husband’s arm as they followed their real estate agent up the stone path to the 1920’s Craftsman bungalow. They’d waited so long to be shown a decent house within their limited budget. Finally, this one had come along and Sheila, clad today in an impossibly bubble-gum pink pantsuit, had reassured them it was a mustsee. “Perfect for a young couple,” she’d promised. “A steal at this price. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

Now, they gazed at the house in front of them. “Oh, Charlie,” Alison said, a catch in her voice. “Look at the front porch. We could sit outside after dinner. Enjoy the sunsets.”

Overhearing, Sheila smiled over her shoulder at them. “The house is charming, isn’t it? Did I mention there’s a basement? Just look at the yard! What a lovely place for children to play.”

Alison glanced up at her husband. Children! Perhaps that could happen now since they were finally settling down. After seven apartments in as many years, she could barely stomach the thought of another impermanent home. But she didn’t want to press him on that dream, at least not yet. “The begonias are beautiful, don’t you think?” she said instead, pointing at the pinkish-orange flowers in front of the house. “We could have a garden!”

There is nothing quite as stressful as making a major purchase that’s a lengthy commitment. I bought a brand new car in 2017, and I cannot even begin to tell you, Constant Reader, the agonies of indecision that went on for the weeks before I finally decided to bite the bullet and head to the dealership. I cannot even begin to imagine the stress involved with buying a home–particularly for the first time.

That is the beating heart at the center of this tale; Alison and Charlie are buying their first-ever house after seven years of marriage and seven years of moving from apartment to apartment; Alison falls in love with this house being shown to them by their realtor, Sheila. They end up in a bidding war that ends with them paying more than they can afford for the house, and once they move in…they soon learn that their realtor wasn’t really to be trusted.

I love the way Susanna takes the American Dream of home ownership and digs into it, exploring how home ownership can also be a trap as well as an investment into the future, and how financial distress can drive people to extreme measures.

Our Lips are Sealed

As Constant Reader is already aware (primarily because I can’t stop talking about it), I have a story in the upcoming anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by the sublime Holly West and featuring an intro by the fabulous Jane Weidlin. As a huge fan of the Go-Go’s from the very first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio of my car (I immediately bought their first album, Beauty and the Beat, on my next pay-day; it remains one of my all-time favorite albums. I also liked Vacation, just not as much…but Talk Show is also brilliant.

Another thing that is exciting for me about being in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is who I am sharing the table of contents with! Some of the best writers in the genre today! Woo-hoo!

And first up in the table of contents is Lori Rader-Day. Lori is currently an Edgar Award finalist for her Under a Dark Sky, and she was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award for her first three novels (The Black Hour, Pretty Little Things, The Day I Died); winning for Pretty Little Things. She has won the Anthony Award twice, and been a finalist for the Macavity and the Barry Awards. A most impressive resume, particularly given there are only four novels to her credit thus far. I personally enjoy Lori’s work; which probably would be best classified as domestic suspense, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate classification. Her works are, like Megan Abbott’s, about the darkness inside women and their friendships.

And her story was inspired by “Our Lips Are Sealed”!

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When the credits for the movie the girls weren’t supposed to be watching started to roll, Colbie went to check that her mother was asleep, stamping down on the hand of her sister, Alexa, on the way out. Alexa sat up and sniffled into her fist but kept silent with effort. On the floor, Jane and Patricia picked white flecks of popcorn out of the kernels left at the bottom of the bowl. Nori slipped into the bathroom with her pajamas balled up in her fist.

Jane watched her go. “I usually sleep naked.”

“Bullshit,” Patricia said. Jane was older, by almost a full year, already thirteen. But Patricia was taller. If she needed to, she would hold Jane down and force her to say she was a liar.

Colbie returned to the doorway with a six-pack of soda cradled in her arms. “My mom’s either dead or she took one of her pills. Where’s Nori?”

“Peeing,” Jane said. She picked at the chipped blue nail polish on her big toe, leaving a patch of paint on the pink carpet of Colbie’s room.

“Why didn’t you invite boys over? I went to a boy-girl sleepover when I was at my old school—”

Patricia snorted. “For church? That doesn’t count.”

“Let’s do something else,” Colbie said.

“Not a lock-in, bitch,” Jane said. “A sleepover. With boys.”

Patricia rolled her eyes at Colbie. Everything seemed to have already happened to Jane, but out of sight, at her old school, in her old town. She sometimes wanted to ask Jane why she didn’t just go back if everything was so great there. She was sure Jane would say she couldn’t because she was a kid. Which, for once, would be the truth. They were all stuck where they were, being who they were. Patricia turned to Colbie. “What should we do?”

Nori opened the bathroom door an inch. “You guys?”

And seriously, is there anything more noir than a tween girls sleepover? Lori does an excellent job here playing with the power dynamics in a group of girls; girls who are just starting to become women and how they deal with the changes in their bodies and how they relate to each other.

Definitely a great start to the book!

You’re Only Lonely

Monday, and this week parades start–this Friday, to be more precise. I think it’s Oshun and Kleopatra; perhaps Alla as well? I’ll have to check my handy-dandy Mardi Gras Guide to be certain.

It’s raining this morning, which means it will be colder than I thought it would be; I didn’t bring a coat or wear an undershirt beneath my sweater, which might be problematic much later in the evening. Ah, well.

Yesterday I managed to revise four chapters of the Scotty, so that revision is going very well. Once again, I am at that point where if I do a chapter every day, the book will be finished by March 1. My goal, however, is to get more of it done per day, so that I can let it sit for a couple of days before looking at it one last time. We shall see how that goes.

I also read more of Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long, which is, frankly, a master class in crime writing. JFC, she’s so good, peeps! I still have two of her backlist to read–which, as is my wont, I am hoarding against the day when there may not be another Lori Roy left in my TBR pile (which would be a horribly sad day indeed). I also read another short story in Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? I will, of course, talk more about it later; but one of the things I love about these Lofts stories is they aren’t necessarily scary; they tend to be more Gothic and creepy more than anything else.

I also downloaded season 3 of Versailles last night, and now, alas, the show has finally decided, in its final season, to be completely a-historical. It’s still great fun, and the palace is actually finished now…so they are using the actual exteriors–or CGI, or something. And it’s even more breathtakingly beautiful than it was in previous seasons. In the first episode of this season, the Hall of Mirrors was completed finally and Louis showed it off to an important visitor, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold. I am not certain that this is the correct Emperor for the time period, and it’s also very vague as to what year this is taking place…but it’s certainly not as a-historical as The Tudors was, or The White Queen. 

Or the mess that was Reign.

I do wish someone would make a series about Catherine de Medici. There was NEVER a period in her life that was dull…

She fascinates me; I’d say probably she and Eleanor of Aquitaine are at the top of my list of favorites Queens in history.

And on that note, this manuscript ain’t going to revise itself. Back to the spice mines with me!

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Rise

Sunday! Yesterday I braved the AT&T store and upgraded my phone. It’s kind of cool. I wanted a red one, but had to settle for silver as they were out of red. Maybe next time.

I didn’t really want a new phone, but since it’s a lease–which I really am not sure I understand how that works, but whatever–it was overdue for a replacement. Other than the lengthy wait–and the usual irritating length of time it always takes for Apple operating systems to load and so forth–it wasn’t that bad. And now I have a new phone.

Now I need to get that pesky brake tag, and I’ll be all set. DON’T JUDGE ME.

I also put some books away in storage, and filed away the last few editions of manuscripts I’ve worked on over the last year. I still have to figure out where that extra seventy dollars in my checking account came from, do my taxes, and clear out all my emails…heavy heaving sigh.

But despite the limited progress on anything of merit yesterday, I am refusing to berate myself as per the usual. I work forty hours a week, after all, and write around my job. I don’t quite have the energy I used to have, so recharging a bit on the weekend is necessary and also kind of the only time I have to do it. So, having a low-energy not get a lot of writing done day is kind of work; I need to recharge in order to get the work done.

I also began reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long and once again, I am completely blown away at her mastery of language. She truly has mastered what I think of as Southern Gothic, and when I am reading her work I am always reminded of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Gone Too Long has also come along at precisely the right time in my reading; it’s about the Klan in Georgia. One of the things I love about Roy’s work is how patiently and deftly she plays her cards, never letting you know anything you don’t need to know until you absolutely need to know it; there’s also a haunting, dream-like quality to her work that I wish I could figure out how to do myself, quite frankly. I am savoring the book, and not wanting to rush through it. I read some more this morning with my second and third cups of coffee; and now am reluctantly putting it aside in order to get the work done I didn’t do yesterday.

Had I done the work yesterday, I could spend more time today reading Gone Too Long.

Which is yet another shining example of not putting off till tomorrow what you can do today because you will definitely regret it.

On the other hand, if I get everything done that I want to get done today, I can go back to reading it. I also want to finish reading a short story from Hauntings: Is There Anybody There?

Always so much to do, so little time in which to do it, and very little desire to get it done.

But I also got up early this morning, so there’s no excuse. If, for example, I buckle down and start writing now, I can be finished in a few hours and have the rest of the day to enjoy this book.

We also started watching Russian Doll last night, which is holding our interest–more so than The Umbrella Factory–and so we’ll probably delve into another episode of that this evening as well.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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Cool Change

Saturday morning and I slept late, which felt positively marvelous. I feel rested and ready to kick some ass and take some names–at least for now, at any rate. Paul is going to be out of the house most of the day–appointments and going to the office–and therefore I have the Lost Apartment to myself for most of the day and no excuse not to get a lot of things done. I am still planning on walking over to the AT&T store to replace my phone–who knows how that is going to go?–but other than that, my day is pretty much set for cleaning, revising, and reading.

Last night, we started watching the new Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, based on the Dark Horse comic series–and while I didn’t madly love it, I am curious enough to continue watching. For one thing, it has both Ellen Page and Tom Hopper (who I’ve been crushing madly on since his days as Billy Bones on Black Sails), and it has an interesting premise. We will be continuing with it tonight, I think. I had just started reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long when Paul got home last night, and then was distracted by getting caught up on How to Get Away with Murder and then The Umbrella Academy.

And I’ve been dealing with yet another Apple upgrade issue that has fucked with my desktop, laptop, phone and iPad since last night. Now the cloud drive is missing from both my desktop and my laptop (I managed to resolve the handheld device issues last night) and so am trying to get that resolved this morning. Seriously, Apple–when you update/upgrade your systems, is it absolutely necessary to fuck up everything for your customers? 

Seriously, Apple. Do better.

So I am trying to resolve all this before scheduling a call from Apple Support…which I also don’t understand; you used to be able to do this in an on-line chat, but now of course they make you take a phone call. Why, precisely? And how able-ist is this? What about those of us who are hard of hearing, or those who are deaf? Seriously, fuck you in the ass without lubrication, Apple. HARD.

Thank you for allowing me to vent about these issues, Constant Reader. It’s helping me reduce the future body count.

This week I got a copy of Kyle Onstott’s bestselling Mandingo from the 1950’s. As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify not only my fiction reading but to learn more about the horrible history of race in North America. Part of this has taking an amorphous shape in my head around a lengthy essay, tracing revisionism of slavery and the Old South and civil rights from such novels as The Clansman (which was filmed as Birth of a Nation) to Gone with the Wind to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Klansman, which I recently reread. As I was scrolling through Amazon Prime looking for something to watch the other night, I came across the late 1970’s film Mandingo, and remembered that it was also a novel. I bought a copy from eBay which arrived this week (I wasn’t able to get far in the movie because it was just incredibly bad; not even campy bad, like Showgirls, just bad.) The book arrived this week and….just looking at the note from the publisher in the beginning was horrifying. Yet Mandingo might just be the only novel about slavery and the Old South that actually tears the veneer of respectability and gentility away and exposes the true horror of what the “peculiar institution” was actually like. (Even John Jakes’ dreadful North and South series never delved deeply into the actual horrors; Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad was one of the first novels to truly explore this that I’ve read.) Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, set in New Orleans before the Civil War, also does a terrific job of exploring how deeply entrenched and horrible racism/slavery were.

This essay I am thinking about would probably wind up, should I ever have the time to read the books and write it (it would, for example, require a reread of Gone with the Wind and it’s over eleven hundred pages, as well as some in depth reading of actual history) would probably be a part of Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life…which is a project I really do want to work on someday.  Mandingo takes on an aspect of slavery and the South that is rarely, if ever, touched on in fictions: the sexual abuse of the female slaves by their masters (come on, like it never happened. Really?) as well as the breeding of actual slaves for better, more valuable stock, as well as raising them for fighting–kind of a human version of cock-fighting or dog-fighting. Is it more likely that never happened, or that it did? Slavery, as Harriet Beecher Stowe repeatedly explained in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, debases both slave and master; are we really supposed to believe that slave-owners didn’t abuse their ‘property’?

Given how people of color–theoretically free and equal in the eyes of the law in the twenty-first century–are treated in the present day, I’m not buying the notion of the kind, gracious slave owner.

Take, for example, this passage from the Publisher’s Note to the movie tie-in paperback edition which I just received in the mail:

From today’s vantage point,, almost a hundred years after the cataclysm, the developing situation may be viewed objectively. Actually, the finger of blame should be pointed at no one geographical group of people. Although the factions that promoted the abolition of slavery were ethically in the right (emphasis: mine), Southern planters in general are shown to have been victims of circumstance rather than diabolical tyrants as they have sometimes been painted. (again, emphasis mine.)

Doesn’t get more apologetic than that, does it? Those poor planters. (massive eye roll)

And is it any wonder that we still have so many societal problems of racial injustice today?

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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