Daylight

Well, here we are again, back to something resembling normality, whatever that may be, for this awful year of 2020. The stress hangover has finally, seemingly, passed; and now I have to try to remember what I was working on and what is in progress and what is finished and what I need to do. Lord. It also seems weird to be talking about my stress hangover while western Louisiana still is in ruins, with Mobile and Pensacola and everything in between joining them after this latest natural disaster. (And California is still burning.) But, as I always say, suffering isn’t an Olympic sport, and admitting to being in a weird place emotionally doesn’t demean or diminish those who are losing, or have lost, everything.

Ah, well. That which doesn’t kill us, or whatever.

This week is very off, as so many this year have been. I have trouble remembering that today is Thursday, frankly; I’ve had to stop and think about it several times this morning already and occasionally there’s even a thought o oh wow it’s Thursday already isn’t it? Yeesh.

I feel rested and rather emotionally stable this morning–always a plus, and becoming more of a rarity it seems these days–and so I am hoping that today will be an enormously productive day as well. The sun is shining outside, there’s no haze and I can see white clouds and blue sky; so overall that’s a very pleasant way to go into the day. I think one of the primary issues I’ve been having lately is related to the lack of a football season thus far–I know games have been played, but the SEC season hasn’t started, and for me, that (mostly LSU) is how I gauge the season, and so for me at least, I won’t think of it as having started until LSU plays a game. It’s also going to be weird that the entire conference is having a conference-only schedule. I suppose this season will have an asterisk beside it for all eternity? I don’t know–but I feel like people should be aware in the future that 2020 wasn’t a normal year on any level.

I’ve not really been able to do much reading or writing this week; hell, keeping up with my emails has been an utter failure all week and I may even have to give up on the clearly impossible dream of ever being completely on top of my emails. I tried picking up Babylon Berlin again last night while I waited for Paul to come home, but couldn’t even open to the page where I left off, and even my current nonfiction read, The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, held no interest for me last night. I will say, though, that I am leaning more and more towards writing a stand-alone Colin adventure–a historical one–and that is becoming more and more appealing to me the more I think about it, particularly since I can go back in time and write an entire series of Colin books going back to the late 1990’s without having to deal with writing about anything in the present or current day, which I will admit is more than a little cowardly on my part. I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and then the Kansas book so I can write Chlorine and then do a Scotty book, or perhaps the novellas I’ve been working on. Time slips through my fingers so quickly that it’s really upsetting and frightening on some levels to know that the there will be at the very least a two–if not three–year gap between the last Scotty and the next now; and there’s also a little voice in my head telling me not to write another Scotty and let the series end, or at least write another to end the series once and for all. I don’t know what to do.

I rewatched Don’t Look Now yesterday, even though it doesn’t really fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, yet it is a film of that decade and while it may not be a cynical film per se, it certainly has its moments. It’s naturally based on one of my favorite short story/novellas of all time, the superb Daphne du Maurier tale “Don’t Look Now,” and while the film has differences from the story (I much prefer the opening of the story, frankly), it has to be, because things that are told in the story to set it up, the backstory, cannot really be done properly on film, so the tale of John and Laura Baxter and their agonizing grief spools out on film by taking us to the moment they lost their daughter, Christine, by opening with her death by drowning in a pond while wearing her bright red slicker. In the story, they’ve come to Venice for a holiday to get away from home and its haunting memories; the pain is still too fresh and Christine is still too raw. In the film, they are living in Venice now while John works restoring an old church; time has passed since Christine’s death, but Laura is still not completely recovered from it; the pain is still there, a lingering grief that still throbs like an aching tooth you’ve gotten used to. The film does an excellent job of building the tension and suspense in much the same way du Maurier did in her story–God, if you’ve not read it, you really must, Constant Reader–and the imagery director Nicholas Roeg uses–those reds!–really amplifies it. Julie Christie is stunningly beautiful as she underplays the role of the grieving mother; Donald Sutherland is also at his young handsome best (those eyes! that mop of curls!) as skeptical John–at a lunch, they encounter two sisters, one of whom is blind and psychic, who tells Laura that she sees Christine and she’s happy and laughing, but that John is in danger in Venice and must leave. John doesn’t believe in any of that–afterlife, psychics, ghosts, etc.–and so he thinks they are after something from his wife–even though he does keep having close calls with accidents and possibly death…and he also keeps seeing a small figure running around Venice, wearing a red slicker like the one Christine died wearing….

Christ, what a great film and story.

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

Holy Ground

I came across the coroner’s obituary last night.

As I typed it, I realized what a New Orleans-like thing it was to say; and it made me smile a little bit. The coroner in question wasn’t currently serving New Orleans; he had retired in 2014 after ten terms in office, and his name was Dr. Frank Minyard. He played the trumpet, and was actually a gynecologist rather than a pathologist. Was he good coroner or a bad one? A little of each, I would gather, based on the obituary by John Pope you can read by clicking here.

But he was, like so many New Orleanians used to be, quite a character. New Orleans has always been a city full of characters, which is why so many people write about New Orleans, and write about it well. Not only can you probably get away with writing anything crazy-seeming about New Orleans; chances are if you dig a little into our history here, you’ll inevitably find crazier shit than anything you could dream up on your own. I have to say I have really been enjoying reading up on our local history here.

Hurricane Sally came ashore earlier this morning, and it had continued turning enough to the east that we didn’t get much of anything here in New Orleans. The panhandles of Alabama and Florida (in particular Mobile and Pensacola) are an entirely different story; my heart sank down into my shoes (well, my slippers) on seeing footage and images from that section of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season is so emotionally exhausting, really; all that stress and tension and worry, and then when it goes somewhere else the enormous guilt one feels about the relief that your area escaped unscathed while others are losing everything–including some lives–is horrible, just horrible. It’s oddly gray and hazy-seeming outside the windows this morning, with the crepe myrtles and the young live oaks in the yard on the other side of the fence doing their wavy dance thing they do when the wind blows; the sidewalk outside also looks wet so we must have gotten some rain as well overnight, but not enough for me to notice anything as I slept through it all. (That’s the other thing about hurricanes, particularly the ones that come ashore overnight; you go to bed wondering what you’ll wake up to find in the morning–or worse yet, disaster will rip you out of a deep sleep.)

So, yes, this morning I feel very emotionally drained; well rested, but exhausted emotionally.

And then, of course, once the danger has passed, you have to reset yourself and get back to normality–whatever the hell that is, or what passes for it, at any rate.

Yesterday’s entry in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival was The Omen, which was a huge hit back when it was released in 1976 and spawned two sequels, Omen II: Damien and The Final Conflict. I had never seen the sequels, and I think I originally rented the film–I don’t think it played at the Twin Theater in Emporia–but I did read the book (the book was written by David Seltzer, who apparently, according to the opening credits of the film, wrote the screenplay; which came first? I don’t care enough to look it up) and of course, was put in mind of it by paging through The Late Great Planet Earth, which laid the groundwork for the movie. Obviously, it’s about the anti-Christ, who is Damien Thorn; the movie opens with the Robert Thorn (played with an almost wooden-like quality by Gregory Peck) arriving at a hospital in Rome only to be told that the child his wife has given birth to has died; he worries about her mental stability and how she will handle the news–and so a priest offers a substitute baby whose mother died giving birth. (And this is the first place I called shenanigans on this rewatch; one, he is about to start a lifetime of lying to his wife and two–was there any need to tell Robert Thorn his child died? If the idea was to have the Thorns accept the anti-Christ into their home as their child, wouldn’t it simply make more sense to swap the babies, so neither of them knew? Because how could they have been so certain Thorn would accept this literal deal with the devil?) The movie is paced fairly well, and it moves right along–there’s not a lot of gore or blood and guts, but it does beggar credulity at more than one point–and perhaps I am looking at it with jaded eyes some forty years later, but both Peck and Lee Remick, who plays his wife, seem to just be phoning it in for the paycheck and there’s also the element of their age; they seem to be fairly old to just be trying to start having a child at the opening of the movie. (I think the book plays this up more, stating that Kathy Thorn has suffered innumerable miscarriages leading up to this birth and it has shaken her mental stability; kind of hard to do that on film but it certainly would have made his motivation in accepting this needless deception–again, they could have just as easily substituted the baby without having to go through this entire risky rigmarole.) After finishing, I looked for Omen II but it’s not streaming for free anywhere; I then watched The Final Conflict, which was simply terrible (outside of Sam Neill, who was terrific and charismatic as an adult Damien, saddled with an incredibly bad and far-fetched script).

The movie does fit, however, with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, because here we have yet another conspiracy, one in which some members of the Catholic Church have turned to Satan to try to bring about the end times as well as the birth of the Antichrist–because whereas in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, it would have been unimaginable for such a film to be made, but also to be believable; who would have ever believed such a thing was possible? Of course, both book and film of Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for The Omen, but both were later 1960’s, when things were starting to change, times were getting more cynical, and so were people. Rosemary’s Baby changed almost everything, both in the world of novels and film, in showing that horror was both bankable and mainstream. The early 1970’s saw the publications, and enormous success, of books like Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s Gothic horror masterpiece The Other, and eventually, Stephen King’s out-of-nowhere bestseller Carrie. Soon Peter Straub would publish Ghost Story and Carrie would become a hit movie, triggering a horror revival that brought both the literature and the films into the mainstream. This revival didn’t lose steam until the 1990’s, and frankly, I think horror is on the verge of another revival.

I could be wrong, of course. I certainly have been before, but I am seeing some really terrific work as well as amazing new voices–over the past year alone I’ve read some astonishing work by new-to-me writers, and I only wish I had more time to read everything I really want to. Paul Tremblay is amazing, and so is Bracken MacLeod, Christopher Golden, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, among others; I’m seeing a lot of new and interesting looking titles being announced or reviewed almost every time I turn around.

I guess today is Wednesday? I am really not sure, living in this weird world that comes with hurricane watches, where it is very easy to lose track of dates and times and what day of the week it actually is. But a quick glance at Weather.com assures me that all the other storms out in the Atlantic basin pose no threat to Louisiana, so I guess we can relax for a little while, at least.

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

Sad Beautiful Tragic

And here we are, Tuesday morning before the sun comes up. Huzzah?

I’m very pleased that I did manage to read three terrific books over the course of the Labor Day weekend, even if it meant not getting as much writing done as I would have liked. But sometimes, as I rationalize to myself fairly regularly, one has to allow the creative mind and batteries to rest and recharge, and it never hurts to read works by really gifted writers while allowing the creativity to recharge. I do, however, pity the author of the next book I read, as Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay have truly set the bar ridiculously high.

Ergo, I must choose wisely.

But I do believe I have chosen wisely: next up is Babylon Berlin. I loved the show, and from a glance over the first page it looks to be really well written (or should I say translated? I’m never really sure about these things), and I love the idea of going back in time with my reading.

I did work on a chapter yesterday, adding some important things to it, including a scene where my main character goes to the grocery store in town and is recognized by someone he doesn’t know; this happens to me every time I go back to where we are from in Alabama, without fail, and I was realizing, as I looked at the chapter yesterday, that several things were missing from the story thus far: him running into someone who recognizes him because of the family resemblance (including the unsettling “I changed your diapers!” which always bothers me, and I am only sorry I never said what I always think when someone says that to me, “Why do you want me to know you’ve seen my dick?”), any mention of guns or church; and more information about what the town is like. The book is already too long; the next draft/version will be about trimming the fat and making it more lean, but I am still pretty pleased with it and how it’s coming, even if it is coming more slowly than I would like.

When I get through this version, I think I am going to have to take some time off from work and spend like five concentrated days with it.

I am also still thinking about Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is really saying something; and I keep thinking about things I could have said in my review yet somehow didn’t. I am really looking forward to my next venture into reading Mr. Tremblay, which will most likely be Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He also has another one coming out soon, Survivor Song, which sounds absolutely terrifying.

I am treating myself to cappuccinos this morning, as a reward for having to get up so early. I do love my cappuccinos, even if they are made with a rather cheap machine I got somewhere as a kind of back-handed gift to myself, but I now have a really terrific milk frother that I love and does a truly terrific job on making my milk nice and warm and frothy. (Plus I need the extra kick from the concentrated caffeine to help me get underway with my day.) I had insomnia again last night–which seems to always inevitably happen the night before I have to get up early; I wonder if stress about oversleeping or sleeping through the alarm is part of the problem? If so, it’s not something I am consciously aware of, and perhaps something I should take some kind of initial steps to take care of–less caffeine the day before, etc.

We started watching a new crime show last night on Showtime, We Hunt Together, which seems to be rather clever; particularly in depicting the police team investigating the crimes as a mirror image of the couple committing the crimes; white woman, Black male immigrant. So far their victims have been pretty awful men who kind of had it coming, so there’s that, and it’s cast very well. We also watched the older Netflix film The Babysitter, which was interesting and funny in parts; we primarily watched because a sequel is being released soon that is highly recommended. You also can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless–he is absolutely beautiful, and he must have a Netflix contract because he shows up in a lot of their movies/shows…as do any number of other young actors and actresses; makes you wonder if the studio system is sort of coming back.

But this is a short week–feels like Monday, even though it’s really Tuesday–and so that’s also a win.

I’ve also decided not to stress too much about what I get done this week; I always have extremely high hopes going into the week every week, only to suffer crushing disappointment at my inability to get things done. Maybe it’s not the best thing to lower expectations, but it’s better to feel good about getting things finished rather than bashing yourself for not getting more things done, isn’t it?

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

Jump Then Fall

Sliding into Sunday with two storms heading this way, less that two days apart. Ah, 2020, you just keep 2020-ing, don’t you? We are in a flash flood warning from today through Thursday, as I see over at nola.com, and are in a hurricane warning as well. Parking restrictions have been lifted, and I am feeling fairly certain that this time around our street will likely flood again–as it has done only once before, and not during a hurricane–because the fucking two empty lots have a stupid condo building going up on it, so there’s no place for water to go this time. I’ll probably have to move my car this afternoon to get it up higher than where it is parked right now. I checked my phone this morning but there’s nothing from work; which is in and of itself interesting: with so few people actually working in the office, what exactly is the policy and procedure during a hurricane? Monday is supposed to be clinic hours, of course, but since the hurricane could be hitting us smack dab in the middle of those, are we really going to have our clinic? Although–looking at the latest track, it appears to have slowed down some and is now predicted to cross over us around seven pm on Monday–whereas last night before I went to bed it was one pm.

May we live in interesting times, indeed.

I just hope we don’t lose power–although the two storms will indubitably amp up the humidity, I don’t think it will be as hot. That was what saved us that week when Ike knocked out our power and hovered over the city for a couple of days; the cloud cover made it cooler, otherwise it would have been completely unbearable.

Yesterday was a rather relaxing one. I did run an errand–which I may regret, as I wound up buying more perishables, and–sigh–my freezer is full–and then came back home to relax some more. I worked on Bury Me in Shadows a bit, finishing Chapters Two and Three and pulling up Chapter Four before going to bed, and it’s coming along rather nicely. We watched Jojo Rabbit last night–didn’t really care that much for it, to be honest; I guess it was just too smart for me–and then started watching Warrior Nun, which really didn’t engage us very much after the first episode, but we are intrigued enough to give the second episode a chance–you can never really judge a show competently by its first episode (although the first episode of Lovecraft Country was off the chain amazing), and sometimes it takes an episode or two to get going (hey, Outer Banks took four episodes to hit the ground running), but our standards have been set pretty high this year–we’ve watched some amazing programs this year.

I also decided to treat myself to cappuccinos this morning because why not? Marco tomorrow, Laura Wednesday; the potential of living a week in August without power; yeah, who cares about the mess and all the moving parts of the espresso machine to clean this morning? Besides, the jolt I’ll get from two cups will power me through the rest of this morning and I’d like to get more chapters finished today–since who knows how long we’ll have power this week–and I am busily charging up all of my devices; granted, as long as the car isn’t under water and will start I can always go out there, turn the air conditioning up as high as it can go, and sit there while my phone recharges, like during Ike.

I also managed, from the looks of things, to get some organizing and cleaning done around the kitchen/office yesterday, which was not only necessary but needed. There are still some things I need to get straightened up, of course, and some things to get filed, but it’s not nearly as messy as it has been lately. I also tend to get neater the more into writing a book I get, so there’s that. I am really feeling my characters now, and I think I am doing some very good work on this book now. Ideally, it will be finished by the end of the month–that was the goal, and while it no longer seems likely anymore–am I really going to revise 21 chapters in eight days?–at least I am on track to get it finished and turned in sometime in September, which is lovely; and then I can get to work on the Kansas book and finally get that fucking albatross from around my neck.

I also gassed up the car yesterday just in case. And the lovely thing about a Honda is that IF we do need to suddenly have to evacuate, a full tank will get me pretty damned far. Although I am not worried about a sudden evacuation, of course; no one seems to be leaving New Orleans today and the storm will be here tomorrow.

It’s weird looking outside my windows this morning, which is definitely a sign that a storm is coming–that weird eerie stillness and surreal glow to the light.

And so, I need to put hurricane warnings and thoughts aside, otherwise my obsessive personality will find me sitting here, refreshing weather.gov every few minutes looking for updates, and waiting to hear from work whether I actually have to go into the office tomorrow. I am going to put all those worries and anxieties aside–as worrying and being anxious will solve nothing, it never does–so that I can be as productive as I possibly can this morning.

I think I’m going to have another cappuccino and curl up with Lovecraft Country for awhile.

Have a safe and lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Call It What You Want

Sunday sliding in like a surprise guest at your birthday party.

Hope all is well with everyone out there this morning. I stayed up later than I intended last night; Paul and I finished The Alienist: Angel of Darkness and greatly enjoyed it, then moved on to Never Have I Ever on Netflix, which is both funny and sweet at the same time. It’s a Mindy Kaling show, so I knew it would be both, and I’m looking forward to more of it.

I also started reading Lovecraft Country yesterday, and am enjoying it thus far. I’m not going to lie, I wince and recoil from its undoubtedly accurate depictions of how horrific 1950s racism was (not that any racism is ever non-horrific, regardless of time period) but while I would have probably stopped reading it ten years ago precisely because of that discomfort, now I keep reading because that’s the purpose of it; to make white people uncomfortable and we need to be made to feel that way from time to time. And I can handle a little discomfort during my reading–it’s nothing compared to the discomfort non-white people feel living their lives every damned day. And since a lot of the first part of the book has to do with dealing with racism while moving around the country–yup, there’s another privilege I never even was aware of that I enjoy for the most part; not having to fear moving around the country because I might drive through a place where not being white would get me killed. (I do have some fears about being gay while driving through the rural South; but on some levels I can pass for straight, whatever that means…maybe I can’t and just think I do, but that fear is always there in the back of my mind, and the more rural the area where I stop the bigger the fear) Oddly enough, the author of the book appears to be white–and the descriptions of his other works in the back of the book sound intriguing. There’s one called The Mirage, which apparently is an alternative-history type thing that reverses the United States and the Middle East, so that 9/11 happened to Baghdad and not New York…so the author often tackles difficult subjects in his books.

I did get some work done on Bury Me in Shadows yesterday; I managed to redo the first chapter. One down, nine to go to hit my goal for the weekend. YIKES. But I also spent some time cleaning and organizing yesterday–a scattered, disorganized workspace makes me feel scattered and disorganized, which makes writing even harder–and I feel as though today I will be able to get much further along in the story than I did yesterday. The living room is still a complete mess, but the chores yesterday as well as some time spent reading in my easy chair have me feeling relaxed and rested this morning–which bodes well for the writing today. I may even get to do some organizing of the books and cleaning of the living room. IMAGINE THAT.

This coming week holds my birthday, and I am leaning towards taking a four day weekend–my birthday is Thursday–which will enable me to get a lot of rest, do some reading, and get further caught up on my writing. I’ve not decided completely as to whether I should take both days off as of yet, but am leaning towards it. I always take my birthday off–I can think of no less pleasant way to spend one’s birthday than at work–but even though I can simply work from home and save my vacation time, I think I’d rather just have the days off, if I am going to be completely honest with myself.

I’ve also, truth be told, having some doubts and imposter syndrome about the book I’m currently writing. It’s not that I don’t think I can write it–I know I can, for fuck’s sake I have a completed sloppy first draft–but some of the issues I wanted to address in it I pretty much left out of the entire first draft. I know I can get them into this next draft, but one of my biggest issues about writing about important issues is not wanting to come across as preachy, or ABC Afterschool Special-ish. I do like the changes I’ve made to it so far, and I think I’ve slid some messaging into this first chapter the proper way…but who knows? I’m not sure why I am having so much doubt–so much more doubt–with this book than I have had with others. But I really really want to get this right, and I’m worried about it, which I guess is a good thing.

I suspect if I ever felt good about something I was writing and working on, I’d be even more worried.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Sorry if I’ve bored you this morning, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

I Did Something Bad

Actually, it would be bigger news if I did something GOOD, frankly.

But here it is Friday and I am working from home yet again. I have my work supplies already in place, and will be adjourning to my easy chair after reading emails and getting caught up on things. I had intended to watch Aliens immediately after watching Alien earlier this week, but since that didn’t happen, I am now wondering if I should dip back into the world of 1970’s paranoia/conspiracy film (although the point could be made that both Alien and Aliens also fit into that category; I love how film, like novels and short stories, can straddle genres–which kind of defies the very notion of genre in the first place), and both The Parallax View AND Three Days of the Condor are on HBO MAX.

I’ve never seen either (but read the books back in the day) and I am very excited. All the President’s Men is also there, but I’m not sure I can bear, in these times, to watch a film about journalists actually doing their job and holding politicians accountable. Perhaps it’s possible they never did–our own history is littered with examples of journalistic lies and media manipulation–the Hearst empire and fortune was built on that, as The Alienist: Angel of Darkness reminds me in every episode (the Hearst papers, and others of their ilk, were partially, if not directly, responsible for the Spanish-American War, and it is this time period in which the show is set). We are continuing to enjoy this season, which is telling a compelling story and is very well produced, written, and acted. I am also looking forward to Lovecraft Country, and Season 2 (mayhap the final season) of Krypton is also now available on DC Universe.

I also discovered, to my great joy, that my story “The Carriage House” is in the current, or soon to be released, issue of Mystery Tribune (click to order); it also contains stories by Josh Pachter (“Paramus is Burning”; I read this in draft form as a sort of ‘sensitivity reader’), as well as Reed Farrel Coleman and others; they do a lovely job and the magazine is quite beautiful; you can also buy the electronic issue, which is less expensive and will be delivered electronically on August 20th, which also happens to be my birthday–which is in less than one week. I am hoping to be able to take a long weekend next weekend for my birthday–we shall see how it goes.

I’ve not had the energy this week to look at Bury Me in Shadows, but these last few nights I’ve slept extremely well and have felt very well rested each morning when I get up, so I am hoping this will hold through the weekend so I can get those first ten chapters polished and finished. Ideally, I would be able to get that taken care of on Saturday so that Sunday I could start marking up the next ten, but I also recognize that might be overly ambitious and I don’t want to end up berating myself for an inability to get something finished that was overly ambitious in the first place.

But…on the other hand, it’s much too easy to not be overly ambitious and underestimate what one can get done as well–which isn’t as effective, at least for me. If I plan “oh I’ll just get these five chapters done” and then breeze through them relatively quickly, I am not the type to say, “well, since that was so easy I should immediately move on to the next”–rather, I simply pat myself on my back for achieving the goal and walk away from my computer, which is not optimal.

I did, while waiting for Paul to finish up his work for the day (he inevitably will go upstairs when he gets home from work to continue answering emails and do chores before coming down to watch whatever it is we are currently watching), pull up Murder in the Rue Dauphine on my iPad to start reading it again–as I mentioned the other day in my post about the genesis of Chanse MacLeod, I think it might not be a bad idea to revisit the Chanse novels, particularly since I am thinking about writing about him again, eve if only in novella form–but I’d forgotten I’d written an introduction to the ebook edition, which was made available perhaps about ten years after the print book was released; it was this introduction that I read while I waited for Paul last night. It’s really not a bad essay, quite frankly, and since I received Laura Lippman’s My Life as a Villainess, a collection of her published essays and some new material, I found myself again thinking about my own potential collection of essays; while I haven’t published a great many of them over the years, I have published a few–and God knows I’ve been keeping this blog, in one form or another, since December 2004; this December will make sixteen years of blogging. There is, of course, self-doubt involved in even considering the project; it’s not like vast multitudes awaken every day and think oh I need to go see if Greg’s blogged yet. There’s also, I don’t know, this whole self-defeating sense of like anyone cares about your self-reflection or your opinion on anything.

God, it never ends.

I also managed to get Alex Segura’s Poe Dameron: Free Fall this week; and this is actually a Star Wars novel I will read rather than just place on the shelf and let collect dust (I read the novelization of the first film, obviously, many years ago, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster and credited to George Lucas, and enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was written and published between Star Wars–the first film will always be Star Wars to me, and I am ready to die on that hill–and The Empire Strikes Back; when the second film was released all of its revelations and surprises immediately made the book wrong and irrelevant and reduced it to simple fan fiction. I vowed then I would never read another Star Wars novel, other than novelizations of the films, because I couldn’t trust George Lucas to release a film that fucked with the books–and sure enough, the release of The Force Awakens wiped that universe clean and all the novels released since 1983 became non-canon–which made me glad to have not read them. But…the release of The Force Awakens also made remember my fanboy self, and I did start buying up the books again–especially the ones that were well-regarded, like the Thrawn trilogy. And yet I’ve never gotten around to reading any of them…but I will most definitely read Alex Segura’s because I know he’s an amazing writer).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and will check in with you again on the morrow.

Beautiful Ghosts

Last evening was the first night in quite some time where Paul and I didn’t have an episode of Babylon Berlin to enjoy rapturously; it was quite a devastating moment as we retired to our posts in the living room at the usual time and I pulled up Netflix with a sad, sigh knowing there were no further episodes of Gereon and Lotte to watch and enjoy. But then I remembered that I thought I had seen that season two of The Alienist had either aired or was airing; and yes, there it was, waiting for us on Hulu: The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, and so we settled in for the first two episodes. It’s a very well done and well acted show; but there are some things I don’t understand about it’s apparent liberties with actual history–which is something I generally am willing to simply side-eye and overlook for the most part, unless it is especially egregious, and I fear that these liberties might indeed wind up being terribly unforgivable to mine eyes. But I do love Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning is tres magnifique as Sarah Howard, so I am going to try to pretend it’s simply all fictional.

Although it does put me in mind of writing about the first New Orleans policewoman, from the days of Storyville, who was known as “Mrs. Officer,” which I think you will agree, is a terrific title for a series and would also work well as the title of the first book in said series.

We had another marvelous thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, with the usual flood warnings for Orleans Parish; fortunately I was working from home so I was busily making condom packs while talking on the phone for business purposes, and when I wasn’t on the phone (multi-tasking, as it were) I watched Alien on HBO MAX, which I had actually never seen before. I’d seen Aliens, and I think the fourth one, and both of the prequels, but I had never actually seen the movie that started them all–but everyone has seen the classic “penis-like alien bursting out of John Hurt during dinner” scene, and I also knew, from watching the sequel, that Ripley was the only one getting out of there alive. It’s actually quite a marvelous film, especially for its time, and all I could think about, as I watched, was how incredibly creative and inventive the screenwriter was. And despite some obvious things that look dated now–the computer screens and controls for the ship, not to mention the body-cameras on the crew as they explored the crashed, dead ship on the planet sending the “distress” signal would have been digital, not analog (but how could they have known that in 1979?)–it overall holds up very well. I can’t imagine why I didn’t go see it in the theater, but I never actually saw it until yesterday.

I must say, it’s kind of nice to do the condom packing at home and catch up on films I’ve never seen and educate myself more on film in general. On the whole, I’d rather be at the office seeing clients; but if I have to make condom packs all day, it’s nice to broaden my knowledge of film.

And Sigourney Weaver is quite fantastic as Ripley–I still think she deserved an Oscar for Aliens, and probably should have been nominated for Alien.

I also started reading a wonderful biography of Rock Hudson (research for Chlorine) called All That Heaven Allows by Mark Griffen, and am enjoying it tremendously. The story of Chlorine is really beginning to take shape in my mind, and I am really itching to get to writing it. But I’ve got to find the time to finish both Bury Me in Shadows and the Kansas book before I can sink my teeth into it–and even then, I am postponing other things that are in progress…I am just going to content myself for now doing the research and making notes.

And on that note, I need to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!

The Truck Driver and His Mate

And somehow here we are at Friday again. Christ, these weeks seem to last forever, and yet somehow I still manage to get so very little fucking done. It seems as though every Friday morning I find myself staring into the gaping maw of my email inbox, with so many emails to answer and some not only need to be answered by require me to do something; to look something up; to verify something; or make some sort of decision. I’m trying very hard not to make myself crazy (crazier, at any rate) and yet…and other emails are getting pushed down further into my inbox, and I know what I really need to do is reverse the order so that the oldest ones are at the top, but I shudder at the very thought of that. And yet, realistically, I know I have to do that one morning and deal with those emails, because with every day they become that much older.

Yesterday was exhausting. By the time I got home–after making works bags all afternoon for the needle exchange and gathering today’s supplies for condom packing (I have calls to make today, so rather than watching my next selected films–Alien and Aliens back to back on HBO MAX–I will be talking on the telephone as I make my condom packs, at least for part of the day; multi-tasking, as it were). And when quitting time rolls around later this afternoon, rather than curling up with Blacktop Wasteland, as I would much rather prefer, I am going to have to start the heavy lifting on the revisions of chapters one thru ten of Bury Me in Shadows, because in order to remain on schedule with it I need to have that finished by Sunday evening in order to begin work on chapters eleven through twenty.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life where I don’t feel crushing guilt for not responding to emails within five minutes of their reception; for not having the energy after a lengthy day at the office or of doing day-job activities at home to work on my writing or read a book; for not having the drive to get things done, for not always being in motion, for not being, basically, a Stepford wife. My apartment is a disaster area, there’s another load of dishes to be done, and its Friday, the day I usually launder the bed linens. The car has a tire with a slow leak in it, so at some point I need to find the time to head over to a gas station to refill the tire with air, and also need to find the time to take it back into the dealership to have the tire dealt with, as well as have routine maintenance done. I am sleeping deeply and well every night, but so deeply that every morning I could probably, if I could, sleep several hours more and my body harbors a resentment towards my brain for forcing my body out of the bed and pouring coffee down its throat and trying to get some kind of grip on the day ahead. Even as I sit here typing I can see the number changing on the tab where my email inbox is opened; possibly more junk to simply be deleted, but there will inevitably be something in there I need to read, that will need to be responded to, will perhaps require me to think or take some kind of further action.

Partly this malaise I feel this morning is inevitably connected to the relief that the lumps in my pectorals are nothing more than genetic fatty deposits hardening into cysts that do not endanger my health nor require any further action or activity on my part; while I was doing my best to repress those worries and push them down deep into my brain and consciousness, the worry and stress wasn’t gone, and the feeling of relief has released a lot stress I wasn’t aware I was carrying. There’s probably some other sort of cathartic release of pent-up stress and energy I could and should be doing; that might help me get motivated and stop feeling so defeated every day.

And I probably should get back into therapy, if I only could carve that time out in my weeks.

Part of it has to do, I am certain, with the sense that I am not organized; but I am also very well aware that even should I carve a day out to get organized it won’t help at all with the sense of drowning and being overwhelmed; the feeling that I have that each limb and appendage is tied to a horse facing a different direction and someone is about to fire the starting pistol. And yet, even now, as the coffee and caffeine from my first cup courses through my veins and my mind begins to throw off its sluggishness and that melted feeling begins to fade from my muscles, I am aware that all the things that I allow to frustrate me (I wish I had a place where I could spread the manuscript out and piece it back together after tearing it all apart and I wish I had enough space for all my books and I wish I could rearrange my time so that I had time for everything I need to get done and I wish I could stop being so lazy or at least stop imagining and believing that I am lazy and I wish I had more self-confidence and I wish I could I wish I wish I wish) can neither be helped nor changed by simply wishing it to be so, and therefore allowing these immutable, unchangeable facts about my current situation in life to defeat or frustrate me is, ultimately, self-destructive (a regular pattern in my life deeply rooted in my consciousness from being told repeatedly that I was a loser so I started believing it, believed it for years, and revert to that mentality frequently whenever under stress or pressure) and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, instead I should be looking back at this past year and what I have accomplished. I have had any number of successes with short stories, giving the lie to the insidious belief that I am not a good short story writer. Just this week I sold another one, “The Snow Globe”; I had two come out in anthologies around the same time (“The Silky Veils of Ardor” in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Joni Mitchell and “The Dreadful Scott Decision” in The Faking of the President); I sold “The Carriage House” to Mystery Tribune and Night Follows Night” to an anthology titled Buried; I pushed myself by writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” to The Only One in the World anthology; and my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” was sold to an anthology I really need to follow up with, as I’ve not heard anything about it in quite some time. I still have two out on submission, but those are both long shots I don’t have a lot of confidence will land–and that is not self-deprecation; both are fine stories, but are undoubtedly buried in piles of hundreds of submissions, hence the strong possibility they won’t be sold. Both stories are works I am pleased with, “Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness,” and while the short story market has certainly dried up dramatically since I started publishing, I enjoy writing stories and would love to publish more of them.

But I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, so I can get the Kansas book worked on one more time and turned in as well, and then I can get going on Chlorine. I can get everything done that I need to get done, and need to stop allowing negativity to creep into my brain; there’s enough negativity in life already that I don’t need to create my own.

And so I am going to go get my second cup of coffee, and I am going to start digging through the emails. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and remember–don’t let anyone, especially yourself, hold you back.

My October Symphony

At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.

But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)

We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.

And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.

Then again, you never know.

We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.

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