(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart

The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.

As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?

The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.

If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.

There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.

But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”

And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.

And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.

George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.

Come See About Me

Tuesday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment, if a little tired/tiring.

Georgia won the national championship last night! I had to go to bed at the start of the fourth quarter, when the score was 13-12 (Alabama had first and goal inside the five, and had to kick a field goal to pull within one) and I thought to myself, Georgia might actually win this–something I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to, quite frankly–Alabama being, well, Alabama–but I can only imagine how wonderful it felt last night for the Dawg fans to finally beat Alabama and win a title–of any kind (and yes, I can completely relate–I still savor memories of LSU’s win over the Tide in 2019 for the first time in eight long years). This is the third time in the last decade an SEC team has won the national title without winning the conference (Alabama has done it twice already); the third straight year a different SEC team has won the national championship (LSU, Alabama, Georgia); and the first time a team from the SEC East has won a national title since 2008 (Florida)–as well as Georgia’s first since 1980 (!). FIVE SEC teams have won national titles since the turn of the century (LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, and now Georgia)–which should definitely bring the SEC haters out of the woodwork for sure.

And for the record, haters, only Alabama has won more national titles this century than LSU.

I was tired last night by the time the game actually started–I had the time wrong, and tuned in at the end of the first quarter, just before Georgia tied it 3-3–because I’d been doing the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon promotional reading with four other writers with new books out this month, which was a lot of fun…but coming as it did after an hour-and-a-half television interview that came on top of rushing home from work to get there in time for the call…yeah, by the time I settled into the easy chair and opened up Hulu I was worn out. I managed to revise/edit a short story yesterday during my lunch break and while the other authors were reading–I am nothing if not a multi-tasker–and also finished another blog post for the Bold Strokes website. I also managed to get most of my email answered yesterday; there’s no telling what’s in there this morning as I haven’t really had the heart to look, to be frank. (I just did–nothing really other than spam, huzzah! At least for now.) It’s also only 41 degrees this morning–small wonder I didn’t want to get out of bed, really–so that means a sweatshirt under my T-shirt for work this morning and a lot of bitterness on my part. But at least I am on vacation starting tomorrow (this would have been my travel day to New York) which means I don’t have to get up tomorrow and I can dive into the final revision of the book. It’s technically due on Saturday and Monday is a holiday, so I’ll be checking with them to make sure it’s okay if I send it in on Monday (probably really late that night), but I am assuming it will be since most publishers don’t work on weekends or holidays).

Fingers crossed!

I am kind of looking forward to this staycation, despite the enormous disappointment in not going to New York. I have a lot to do–as long as I stay focused–and I am hopeful I will be able to get most of it taken care of since I have been so productive lately. Last night’s interview went well, as did the ZOOM reading, even if that much extroversion exhausted me. I want to get back to reading again–I stalled out on the last book I was reading, and have decided to alas cast it aside and choose another; returning that one to the TBR pile for another shot later…sometimes a book just doesn’t click with me when i try to read it, so I always try to give said book a second chance later. If it doesn’t take on the second try…that’s when it goes into the donate pile. I probably shouldn’t give books a second chance–given the status of the tottering stacks of books in the living room–but there have been any number of books that really grabbed me the second time I tried (The Stand is actually one of these, and there was another one in the pandemic times that I picked up and tried again with the end result that I absolutely LOVED it; I wish I could remember which one it was…) and so I am hesitant to deny myself even the possibility of missing out on a chance to read something fantastic.

But I also need to do something about the books. I also need to stop buying more until and unless I actually get rid of some that I have on hand–or at least until I can clear out some space in the storage attic to move some of these to…but that again shows the hoarder mentality–I will never go digging through boxes in the attic to find a book that’s stored up there; I would just buy another copy. So…maybe just clear them out and if I want to read them at some point in the future just suck it up and buy another copy, or get it from the library?

I don’t know.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and congratulations again, Georgia fans!

I’m In Love Again

Monday.

I was supposed to leave for New York on Wednesday, but thanks to anti-vaxxers and maskless wonders, our in-person board orientation for Mystery Writers of America was cancelled for the second consecutive year, which is annoying. I could cancel my vacation requests, but…am kind of hoping that I can use the time to get caught up on everything and my book is due soon, so….extra time certainly can come in handy about right now. So I only have two days in the office this week, and since next Monday is a holiday, I have essentially a week off from work, which is lovely.

I worked on the book yesterday–huzzah!–and now have only one chapter left to do and the revisions. The revisions aren’t going to be easy–but at least with the New York trip cancelled I’ll be home on vacation starting Wednesday, which should give me some breathing and working space in the meantime. Huzzah? Huzzah. At least the cancellation of the trip has a good side effect in one manner. Tonight after work I have to rush home to do a phone interview and after that, the January Bookathon for Bold Strokes Books; so it’s going to be a rather long day for me. I need to try to edit my short story and try to finish/edit the article I have due today between clients–which won’t be easy–so overall, it could very easily be a rather stressful day for me; long at any rate, and will undoubtedly be very tired when it’s finally comes to an end this evening, about an hour or so before I have to go to bed so I can get up early tomorrow morning…but then I have Wednesday off, so we’ll see how it all goes. Wednesday I definitely am going to have to spend writing and revising my butt off….Thursday and Friday as well. Sigh. But I like the book and think it is going to turn out okay, which is always pleasing for me–the crippling self-doubt will inevitably come later. It’s been a fun challenge working on this book; I am relatively certain by the time Monday rolls around I’ll be quite over it by then, in all honesty. but it’s a fun little book and I hope that the revision process develops it into the nice little read it has always intended to be (my brain is feverishly working on how it all turns out and how to get to that place in the story).

We got caught up on Yellowjackets last night, and have come to the sorry conclusion that this is merely season one and not a self-contained mini-series last night; I see no conceivable way they can wrap this all up and all the mysteries with a single hour episode–and I also suspect we are probably not going to get the answers we want and need, either. Which is fine; we certainly have been enjoying the ride thus far, and the writing and acting are pretty pinpoint sharp, too. We also started watching the new Harlan Coben Netflix show, Stay Close, which is also quite fun if a bit confusing. I still don’t understand how all the disparate storylines all come together or what is going on, but as always, it’s just fun to sit back and enjoy the ride with Harlan’s shows.

I also need to get back to reading once I finish this book; I’ve not been able to focus on doing any reading lately because I’ve been focusing what little energy I have on writing the book. I was on quite a roll there for a while, and it would be very nice to get back to reading again. The TBR pile continues to grow, and it’s past time for me to do another living room book purge. I’d intended to get another box down from the attic this weekend but…book and cleaning focus prevented that; I may be able to get to this whilst I am on vacation this week. (I suspect I am planning to be overly ambitious again this week with my time off, and of course a gazillion other things will pop up in the meantime that will distract me from getting everything finished that needs to be finished–as always–but hope will always spring eternal.)

Seriously, just looking at my inbox gives me the hives.

But recoiling away from it isn’t going to solve the problem, so it’s best for me to grit my teeth, put on my helmet, and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes

As I mentioned yesterday–these blog post titles taken from the Supremes discography sometimes feel a bit off as I do some Blatant Self-Promotion about my new soon-to-be-released novel #shedeservedit.

I got my first ignorant comment on one of those blog posts yesterday; someone posted a link to a video about “toxic femininity” and how it’s “as bad if not worse” than “toxic masculinity.” Needless to say, I not only didn’t approve the comment but marked it as spam and blocked the user from commenting/reading my blog. For those of you who are new here–I don’t engage with trolls, not do I permit them the energy or the oxygen of allowing their ignorance to be seen by anyone here. This is my blog and I pay for it; therefore I will curate the content here and if you want to troll me, well, it’s just going to earn you a comment marked as spam and get you blocked, so don’t waste your time or energy on me. You may, of course–I cannot stop you, but I won’t engage with you nor will I allow Constant Reader to see your ignorance, so there you have it.

I wrote yesterday, and it felt good to get another chapter down. I only have two more to go and the revisions, and I have to say, pantsing this thing on a tight deadline hasn’t been the easiest way to write this book, but it’s working. I’ve got the plot all worked out now, who the killer is and why, and now all I have to do is cram the resolution into the last two chapters and we are finished, done, ready to go off to the editor with prayers that she likes what I’ve done and doesn’t require a complete overhaul, which is also entirely possible and within the realm of probability–one of the reasons, frankly, that I’ve not signed. a contract to dive straight away into another book when this one is finished; I thought it best to leave my time free just in case. (I am going to start working on Chlorine and Mississsippi River Mischief while waiting for my edits; there’s always something to write, after all–I can also work on the revisions of the novellas in the meantime as well.)

There’s always something…

Today’s BSP is going to focus on writing about small towns, rather than what I’ve been covering (toxic masculinity). The first book I remember reading about a small town that really stands out to me–as an examination of small town dynamics, rather than merely a setting for the story–was Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, which was, if you are an Ellery Queen fan, the first Wrightsville story. There were several of these novels–the second, I believe, was The Murderer is a Fox–and I enjoyed them all; Queen clearly loved writing about Wrightsville, since he kept returning to the scene of the crimes, as it were, but the best, the true standout for me, was the first: Calamity Town. This book–published well over a decade before Grace Metalious scandalized the world with Peyton Place–also covers the same territory as Peyton Place: scandal and hypocrisy and the paralyzing power of gossip in small town America. Calamity Town remains a favorite mystery novel of mine to this day; I should reread it. It’s plot is ingenious and entirely rooted in human psychology, and it also contains one of the best and most clever misdirections in crime fiction history. It was Calamity Town that made me first start thinking about how small town society is actually a microcosm of American society as a whole, all encapsulated in a small package, and also that made me realize, for the first time, how claustrophobic small towns can be; where everyone knows everyone and you can’t really do anything without someone knowing; and how secrets kept can become very damaging over time. Queen is, at first, struck by the apple-pie Americana of Wrightville…and then he begins peeling back the layers.

Peyton Place, which I found to be far less scandalous than either General Hospital or All My Children by the time I got a copy at a secondhand bookstore in Emporia when I was seventeen or eighteen, also showed me again how claustrophobic small town life could be. Sure, there’s some bad to the point of laughable writing in the book (“your nipples are hard as diamonds”, anyone?) but other than those brief moments, overall it’s a very well-constructed book and a damning indictment on the hypocrisy of American small towns. I also read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street around the same time for an American Literature class (I still think we should have read Elmer Gantry instead, or It Can’t Happen Here, but I was not in charge of the syllabus), which is also about the falseness of keeping up appearances and worrying what the neighbors think. I find it interesting that “small town American values” are frequently–particularly by conservatives–pointed out as what is the backbone of our country and so on and so forth (part of the entire “cities are BAD” thing we have had going on culturally for decades, if not centuries), but when that veil is peeled back, there is just as much rot and decay as in any “wicked” city. As I pointed out on Susan Larson’s radio show the other day, the vast majority of the soaps were originally set in very small towns, rather than urban centers.

Nobody does small towns quite like Stephen King, and the first time he really addressed small town life was in ‘salem’s Lot–although it can be argued he did a masterwork on small town life with Needful Things–and it was in his tale of small town Maine being overrun by vampires, he also did an incredible job of painting the town, it’s working class citizens and the minutiae of their lives; how circumstances trapped some of them and killed their dreams–and how others never had any dreams to be killed in the first place. The way he interweaves the lives of his small town characters, their relationships and histories and how everything is interconnected is masterful; has anyone ever done a critical analysis of King’s work with small towns? It also falls into this group; what King does with Derry is just as exceptional as his work on Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot in the other works.

I based Liberty Center on Emporia, Kansas, geographically; my town is loosely laid out the same way Emporia is; there’s a small college there, as in Emporia, and there’s a meat packing plant on one side of town that reeks of death and stale blood on the south side of town, and of course, the waterfall on the river on the way out of town heading south and the park that goes with it. Other than that, it’s memory and invention; I’ve not set foot in Emporia in nearly forty years and have no plans to ever do so again. (Likewise, when I write about my fictionalized county in Alabama–it’s loosely based on where my family is from, but I haven’t been there in thirty years and will most likely never go visit again, so it’s all memory and invention for me.) I don’t know if I will write another novel about Kansas–I have some other ideas, of course, don’t I always–but it seems weird to create another fictional small city so similar to Liberty Center, but at the same time it seems even weirder to set another book there after having already done so (although i should probably revisit Sara sometime and see how I did it–and what I called the towns in Kahola County–before deciding one way or the other).

Heavy sigh.

Today I need to write another chapter, and I also need to work on revising a short story as well as writing a promotional article–and of course, there’s the horror that is my email inbox which needs to be dealt with this week once and for all (it’s all relative; answering everything and emptying it out inevitably means generating more emails there; my email responses will trigger emails in response which turns it into a Sisyphean task without end), and today is the men’s US figure skating championships, which naturally I plan to watch so I need to get my writing done before then, don’t I?

So on that note, I head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Tears of Sorrow

And just like that, it is now 2022.

We’ve been having a more than abnormal heat wave lately; Thursday when I went to run my errands it was over eighty degrees, according to the car’s temperature gauge, and yes, since you asked so nicely, I was in fact running the air conditioner. The air conditioner in the house has also kicked on and off several times over the past few days. I prefer it to be warm than cold, without question, it just seems a bit weird.

I did give in to my curiosity a bit and watched some of the College Football Play-off games yesterday; in which Alabama spanked Cincinnati and Georgia dominated Michigan to set up yet another championship game between the two. This will be the first time they’ve played twice in the same season though; the question is whether or not Georgia will at long last get the Alabama monkey off their back and finally get a title win. I won’t get involved in the “Did Cincinnati/Michigan belong in the play-offs” conversation because they earned their way in and I don’t think there was anyone else (sorry, Ohio State/Notre Dame/Baylor fans) who might have done any better than they did against this year’s two juggernauts; this is like how in 2011 LSU and Alabama were so much better than anyone else they were the only teams capable of beating each other. Paul said earlier in the season, “It’s really just Georgia and Alabama, and then everyone else” and he was right. People are already bored with the notion of two SEC teams playing for the national championship again for the third time in just over a decade; I am curious to see if this development will result in another reshuffling/change to the system.

We also finished watching Gossip Girl the OG last night, and while it’s nice to finally be finished with the show, I feel like the last season was a bit hurried, and the final outcomes of the cast mates’ lives–who they wound up with for their HEA’s–wasn’t necessarily the best outcome or the one I wanted to see, but life sometimes just works out that way. The identity of the actual “gossip girl” was never really, to me, a big mystery of the show–whenever I did think about it, the big reveal at the end was the only outcome that could possibly make sense over all, even if they did cheat a bit from time to time to throw the viewers off the scent, but at the same time–I was more interested in the melodrama playing out on screen between the characters than actually caring about the mystery at the heart of the show, or finding out who it actually was. I still think–without watching the rest–that the OG is vastly superior to the new edition, but I may go back and finish watching the sequel series simply because I am, if nothing else, a completist.

I need to work this weekend; I need to write and revise and edit and work on my email inbox, among other things, and at some point I need to make a grocery run (something I am really not looking forward to, but there are definitely worse things at this point that going to the store), and of course, there’s always housework that needs to be done. I was very tired these last two days–not sure what that was about, some combination of physical, mental, and intellectual exhaustion, no doubt–so waking up feeling good and rested and not sluggish was a lovely feeling; an excellent portent for the new year. I’ve also decided to set my goals for 2022 in a different entry for clarity’s sake.

Reflecting back on 2021, as I’ve been doing these past few days, hasn’t been easy–in no small part because the last two years have sort of blended together in my head as “the pandemic year” even though we are about ready to go into Year Fucking Three of it, which was completely and utterly unnecessary–but one great reading pleasure I forgot to mention in my round-up of what I enjoyed this last year was Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, which has brought me no small amount of pleasure in this pandemic time. I still have a long way to go in the series before I can even consider myself close to the point of running out of books to read within it; but I would also like to revisit King’s Kate Martinelli series and some of her other work as well. She really is particularly gifted as a writer, and she’s made me fall in love a bit with Sherlock Holmes, and Conan Doyle didn’t even manage that particular feat. (I also kind of want to revisit the Nicholas Meyer iterations of Holmes; there’s a brand new one out now that involves Egypt, so naturally I want to dig into that one.)

I also need to figure out what I need to revise and write that I’ve agreed to do thus far…yikes! I will be the first to admit I’ve been sluggish these last couple of weeks–the holidays always do that for me–but I feel rested and alert and capable this morning, which is more than I can say for any other morning lately. So I am going to finish this off, do my 2022 goals entry, and then get my day going. I don’t know if I am going to watch any of the bowl games today–I don’t find myself caring very much about any of the games being played today, and I might put them on for background noise while I do other things. (I spent a lot of time yesterday while doing things listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and then some of the earlier session versions of the songs that come along with the “deluxe bonus” version of the album on Spotify; one of the earlier session recordings of “Gold Dust Woman” is spectacular–That Bitch Ford made sure I listened to it–and I might spend some time listening to other Fleetwood Mac albums today as well.)

So, today I need to spend some time with the book; spend some time with a promotional article I need to write for #shedeservedit, and need to do one last final edit/revision on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I feel like that’s an ambitious enough program for the first day of the new year, and should I finish these things as planned, I can reward myself with some reading time.

I seriously cannot wait to be finished with writing this book, frankly.

And on that note, I am going to move on to writing up my goals email. Have a lovely New Year, Constant Reader–and I will check in with you again later with the goals and then again tomorrow morning.

Joy To The World

The day after Christmas is always a bit on the weird side.

I decided to take yesterday off from the world, not looking at emails or social media or even trying to work. I mean, it was Christmas, and yes, I am behind on everything but sometimes recharging is necessary and needed and shouldn’t be questioned. Paul got me some lovely gifts, which was nice, and I made pulled turkey breast for dinner. We spent a lovely day basically hanging out together and enjoying each other’s company, which is all anyone can really ask for Christmas. Of course, that means I need to make up for yesterday today with the writing and the spice mines and I have to go back to work tomorrow (another short week, though, which is kind of nice); heavy heaving sigh. But the year is winding down and before you know it, it will be 2022; one week from today will be the second of the new year. Very weird, very weird indeed.

But while i may not have been typing words to put on paper, I was thinking about the book some more, and I have a very good idea of the proper direction to take it, so today when I get cracking (after getting properly caffeinated, of course) I should be able to bang out some work on it. I also was thinking about some other things–whenever I let my mind wander creatively, it’s never just about the current project; I just let it go in the directions it wants to go rather than where I want it to go, which is probably why I have so many folders filled with ideas and partials and incomplete things–but I also find that trying to rein in my creativity and focus it when it’s free-styling is inevitably a mistake because it just doesn’t work that way, alas; any attempt to control it inevitably means shutting it down completely. So while it can be tiring as my mind pinballs from bumper to bumper and flipper to flipper, sometimes it comes up with some serious gold, and therefore it’s all worthwhile.

Or at least so I think. I can never be completely sure, you know. I am rarely, if ever, the best judge of my own ideas and work.

But I am looking forward to diving back into the book this morning, and cleaning up the mess I left behind in my kitchen while preparing dinner last night. I am probably going to make sautéed shrimp tonight to serve over baked potatoes–a highly fattening dish I save for rare occasions (the recipe calls for bacon grease, butter, and heavy cream, in case you were wondering) and post-Christmas sort of sounds like the right night for that to be happening. Not sure what I will do for New Year’s next weekend–although I strongly suspect we will be finished OG Gossip Girl at long last by the end of that weekend. We are well onto season five now, with only season six’s half-season left when we finish out this one–and then we’ll have to go looking for something new to binge-watch. (We also have some shows to finish watching–The Sinner, for one, and of course there are some new shows that dropped while we were indulging ourselves in Gossip Girl) I also want to finish reading Vivien Chien’s book–I’m enjoying it a lot, but for whatever reason right now I am not in a reading phase, which is bitterly disappointing, but I am sure it also has to do with home-stretching the new manuscript–and I also found some more I need to put back in the TBR pile as I cleaned out a box of books from the storage space (I am still looking for those old journals, by the way; I want them for “Never Kiss a Stranger” research because those journals include the time period when I first began visiting New Orleans, and I’d like to remember things I’ve probably lost to the mists of time and old age that stand out from that time period; like trying to remember songs that played in the gay bars at that time since my character works in one).

It really does bother me that I have literally no idea where I stored those journals. I remember finding them, and I cannot believe I just put them back into a box and away again.

Which wasn’t really very smart of me. I know I didn’t want to go through them at the time–I really rarely enjoy revisiting old diaries and so forth because it’s more than a little embarrassing to read how immature I was, or how easily my feelings were hurt–in other words, what a drama fucking queen I used to be back in the day; but I wrote all those things down, at the very least, to try to process the feelings and why I felt the way I did without ever admitting things that I didn’t want to admit to myself were true; self-deception used to be a major factor in life, and essentially seeing how I deluded myself into thinking things isn’t exactly highly appealing to me at this time (or any time, for that matter)…but it would also be interesting to take a look at ideas I had for stories and books from back then; music I was liking and listening to; and of course my dreams that were expressed on those pages; even the books I was reading at the time.

And isn’t that always the way, really?

I also started, the other day, going through my old blog entries from earlier this year to remember what I was reading and what I was watching. I don’t really see much point in making a list of favorite reads and watches from the year; I would inevitably forget something that I really enjoyed, and it was a year of truly terrific reading for me. I read a lot of great books this past year, and we watched a lot of great television shows as well. It’s also an interesting journey is seeing what books I wanted to write this past year and never got around to doing; I never finished writing Chlorine’s first draft, or Where the Boys Die, or a new Scotty (the idea for which switched around an awful lot during the year, I might add; going from Twelfth Night Knavery to French Quarter Flambeaux to Mississippi River Mischief over the course of the second year of a pandemic) and so many short stories thought up and begun yet never finished…this, you see, is why I scoff when people say I’m prolific; there are so many pieces I’ve started writing but have never finished.

And on that note, I should probably head back into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Boxing Day or day after Christmas or Sunday or whatever meaning you might have assigned to this day.

Feliz Davidad

And so it was Christmas.

I have to say this weekend has been quite lovely thus far. I’m getting work on the book done, I am getting things done, and I am somehow remaining relatively relaxed and sane while I accomplish things, which has been quite nice. I am sleeping very well and sleeping in every day, which is going to require some adjustments when Monday rolls around again, sadly. I feel remarkably well-rested and refreshed this morning, which is also nice as I sip my coffee and think about what to have for breakfast; probably yogurt and fresh berries, before they go bad. I am going to make pulled turkey today for the holiday in the slow cooker, so dinner’s already sorted for me, which is also kind of nice. I am intending to clean out the refrigerator today as part of my chores for the day; Paul is going to work out with his trainer this morning and I am not sure what his plans for the rest of this holiday might be. I need to write a chapter of the book today, which shouldn’t be terribly hard–I’ve written some really dreadful chapters over the last few days–and should probably spend some time with Vivien Chien’s Death by Dumpling today; I had hoped to have it finished before today so I could spend the day with the most recent Donna Andrews novel; but I may just make that my New Year’s Day reading, to close out the holiday season (even though Carnival will be starting on Twelfth Night, which is even sooner than one might think).

I also found an essay I’d been looking for; I, like Paul, have an obsessive side to my personality that I try to combat and not give into when it takes hold of my brain; often to no avail, sadly: when my brain goes into obsessive mode, there’s really not much else I can do rather than either ride it out (not easy) or give in to it. This most recent obsessive conduct had to do with an essay I had written; the other day I remembered it and started looking for it, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember what the file was named. I had been asked to write a letter to myself at age sixteen the summer we went to Italy; I started writing it before we left for the trip but had never finished it. I eventually finished it, as I recalled vaguely the other day, on the trip to Venice from Florence; I wrote it on the train, saved the file, and hit send. I could not find it anywhere; and obsessed about it all day yesterday as I dug through electronic files (which are in much worse condition as far as organization than I even feared, which I will have to do something about at some point). After Paul got home, I talked to him about it and as I spoke to him it hit me: I had emailed the story in, maybe it was in my ancient sent email folder. And sure enough, there it was; and doing a second search by the title proved that it was saved nowhere in my files; I am not sure how that could have happened, but my biggest fear about my electronic files has now proven true: there are things that have disappeared from them over the years.

But this Christmas miracle is worth enjoying; a piece I’d feared had disappeared forever (the website where it was posted no longer exists; so much for the Internet is forever) has been retrieved, and it can be the opening piece in my collection of personal essays, should I ever decide how to do that and how to pull it all together.

If 2021 was the year of finishing things–Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit having been in progress for years, even decades–I think that mentality needs to continue forward in 2022: finish things. I do want to finish the novellas, the short story collection, and potentially the essay collection; I also want to finish Chlorine, and possibly something else. I’ve also spent some time going over my blog from the earlier part of 2021, to try to remember things I watched and books I read; my memory is even faultier than I remembered it being in the first place. But it’s also kind of fun seeing what I was reading and watching earlier this year–the impact of HBO MAX’s It’s a Sin combined with my sixtieth birthday this year had me revisiting and thinking about the past a lot, for example, and forced me to process a lot of things I had never processed before, which may have had something to do with a lot of my own issues: never deal with it, just keep moving forward may not have been the most mentally healthy plan for me to get through my life, but it was also necessary for survival, and I will not/shall not judge my younger self for whatever coping mechanisms and skills I may have developed in order to get through everything I had to deal with in this my life.

And on that note, I think I am going to finish this, eat my breakfast, and head into the spice mines for a little visit. Have a lovely Christmas, Constant Reader, even if it’s just another Saturday to you.

The Night Before Christmas

It is now Christmas Eve–how lovely for everyone–and I do hope that everyone has the kind of holiday experience they want to have; whether it’s with actual family, chosen family, or just all alone and by yourself, may you have yourself the kind of day that will make you happy and relaxed and chilled out completely. I have to write again today–the joys of impending deadline–but that’s actually okay; I enjoy writing, so what better way for me to spend Christmas Eve? I’ll probably treat myself to a celebratory cocktail of some sort this evening; martini or margarita or Bloody Mary. I think Paul is going into the office for a few hours this afternoon anyway, so I can spend that time organizing and writing and cleaning and all of that fun stuff I get to do when Paul’s not home but I am. I was very creative last night, too–writing all kinds of notes about potential future projects and just letting my mind run a little wild; but that’s what happens when I allow my mind free rein to free-associate and start thinking of ideas. I even came up with a first last night; an idea for a gay romance called A Better Man, which might actually be fun to write. I also came up with a crime story about obsession (Missing White Woman, title gacked from Kellye Garrett on Twitter), and The Ones Who Walked Away, which is a title that could go in several different directions as far as length (short story, novel, novella) as well as what it’s about.

It’s actually kind of fun when I have the time to sit and think and come up with ideas and thoughts and so forth. The manuscript-in-progress is going to be a lot more fun now that I’ve taken some time to put some serious thought into it.

I am also taking a break from Blatant Self-Promotion because of the holiday. No one–well, certainly not me at any rate–wants Blatant Self-Promotion on Christmas Eve; hence a break from me, a respite as a holiday gift from me to you, Constant Reader (although making that decision has immediately caused that wretched little voice in my head to whisper this is why you don’t have a bigger career).

Well, to be fair it’s also a respite for me, since I hate doing it unless I can find a way to make it interesting.

And as the year winds down, I generally start looking back over the past year and thinking about the things I enjoyed, the things I didn’t, the progress made and the progress thwarted. But the pandemic years all seem to have run together somehow in my fevered brain; I don’t remember when I read a particular book or watched a particular movie or television show from the last two years. I also read so many damned good books and watched so much great entertainment (series and films) on my television that my picking some as highlights for the year would be incredibly, incredibly difficult–AND I would undoubtedly miss some. It’s also difficult for me to pick out a favorite (except Ted Lasso) of anything; I enjoyed so many different things for so many different reasons.

Although it would be interesting to go back and reread my blog entries from this same time last year. I know I was trying to get Bury Me in Shadows ready for submission at this time last year–one accomplishment of this past year was getting two books finished and turned in for publication, which was a big step past the previous year; my last book, Royal Street Reveillon, was released in the fall of 2019, so there was literally nothing from me in 2020 other than short stories here and there–and I cannot remember which ones, where and when, for that matter, either; I keep thinking, for example, that “The Dreadful Scott Decision” came out in The Faking of the President earlier this year, but it was actually last year. I think my Sherlock Holmes story and some others came out this past year, but it’s not something I’d be willing to testify about under oath, either. I do hate when that happens.

I’ve also been obsessively trying to locate two things (it’s actually more, but I am grouping many into one): several years back, while going through boxes, I found my old journals from back in the day, which actually inspired me to buy another one and start carrying one with me again (which has been wonderful), but I also don’t remember what I did with them so I’ve been trying to find them again. The other thing I am trying to find is a copy of an essay I wrote on the train from Florence to Venice (or vice versa). It was one of those “letters to myself at age sixteen”, and the other day I was trying to get a better handle on all the essays I’ve written over the years so I can compile them all into one (or more) collections; the fitness columns and essays on writing alone could probably be their own collections. Anyway, I remember having to write it on my laptop on the train–either to or from Venice, I honestly don’t remember, but I do think it was on the way–and it got a lot of engagement on social media, I do remember that but I can’t find a copy of the essay itself anywhere. It’s entirely possible it is one of those things that got lost over the years, and I also don’t remember what I called the file; but I am sure I saved it somewhere….only now I can’t find it and have been obsessively searching for it and realizing at the same time how messy and sloppy my computer files and all the back-ups actually are. I mean, neither thing (journals or essay) are particularly imperative that I put my hands on them immediately, but at the same time it’s really annoying and frustrating and I feel the obsessive side of my personality trying to come out.

So, I will probably spend some time looking for both at some point today–most likely when I am stuck on the book while writing.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Christmas Eve, Constant Reader, whatever you are celebrating or not celebrating, and I will speak with you tomorrow.

Santa Baby

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am a bit tired. I went to the retirement party last night (note: it was not in the Bywater, but actually in Holy Cross, on the other side of the Industrial Canal; a neighborhood I’ve not been to in years. But then again, I’ve really not spent much time in the Bywater in forever either), and it was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed spending time away from the office with my co-workers in a relaxed environment, it’s been a hot minute (and not just because of the pandemic, either) and it was nice spending time getting to know them outside of a professional environment. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, and stayed much later than I had planned–it was almost one in the morning when I finally rolled into the Lost Apartment, but was very delighted. I had a glass or two of champagne spread out over five hours (and they were very small), so was okay to drive, but have a bit of a headache this morning.

It feels more sinus-y then anything else as well, so I think once I take a Claritin that problem will clear itself right up.

Today I have a lot to get done; I need to get back on track with the book, I need to go to the gym (but continue to baby the left shoulder, which is still a bit sore this morning; note to self: Icy Hot), I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and I also want to finish watching Chapelwaite. I only have two episodes left, and despite that really slow burn first episode, it really picks up steam and starts going full blast, the pace picking up with every episode without losing the integrity of the story or the characters. It also has inspired me to write a sort-of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows–well, that’s not quite true; I’d always intended to return to Corinth County with another book, and but watching this show gave me the inspirational story spark I needed to come up with the story. I scribbled down a lot of notes yesterday, and while I need to focus on the current book, I am itching to get to this one sooner rather than later (a constant problem with this my writing career, which never seems to change despite my advances in age) but I definitely need to get to Chlorine next.

So, next year is going to be about Chlorine, another Scotty, and this second Corinth County book, which will start tying the threads of the county spread out over many different stories, both short, novella length, and novel, together. (Which was one of the primary reasons I was dreading writing such a book; tying these threads together was going to be difficult, but now i sort of know how to do it all; there’s one novella in particular that isn’t going to be easy to tie into the others, but I think I know how to do it now)…) And the novellas. And the short story collection. And the essays. And….yikes. Just typing all this out made me very tired.

I also had a rather scary moment this morning when I saw a headline about a fatal, catastrophic tornado (or rather, series of them) devastating Kentucky; I really wish the news would be less generic in headlines or click titles for articles about such things. The vast majority of states are actually rather large in size and scale, and while obviously I feel terrible for the residents of the state affected by this disaster, at the same time I was extremely relieved to go look at a map and see it was in western Kentucky, a significant distance from my family in eastern Kentucky. I understand the need for clicks and so forth is the on-line Internet business model, but still. Nevertheless, these tornadoes devastated a vast swath of that area, including Arkansas and Tennessee and I believe Missouri, and as someone who has lived through and dealt with natural disasters myself, I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones as well as homes and property (the gulf parishes south of New Orleans are still struggling to recover from Ida, by the way). Please donate to the relief efforts if you can.

And on that note, I have an excess of emails to clean out, a kitchen office to organize and get ready, and a book to get back to writing, amongst many other things to do and they ain’t getting done the longer I sit here writing this. Have a happy healthy Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check back in with you tomorrow with a progress report.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Friday morning and I have a dear friend’s retirement party to attend in the Bywater this evening. I have to run some errands–including stopping by the office–at some point during the day, and it looks like I shall have to postpone working on the book until tomorrow as there isn’t any way to make time for it today. But these things happen; sometimes life doesn’t allow an author an opportunity to write. It’s not the best possible outcome of a day, of course, but there it is.

I also further aggravated a muscle strain in my left shoulder (usually it’s my right one that becomes an issue, from an old wrestling injury) at the gym last night. I noticed the ache the last time I went to the gym–and thought I could push through it at the gym again last night. I noticed it when I was doing the chest exercise–I had to significantly lower the weight in order to do the exercise–but ironically, the only other time it was an issue was doing tricep pushdowns, when the shoulder merely works as a stabilizer for the working of the triceps. I had to abandon that entirely, and it did make me wonder as I walked home how I strained the muscle in the first place? It’s also worrying, now that I am back into the swing of actually working out again, that I now have a ready-made excuse to talk myself out of going every other day. On the other hand, it’s just a strain of some sort–not even a pull–so it can undoubtedly be worked around. The gym was also very crowded last night, which was irritating; I really need to get used to going into businesses that are more full than I’ve gotten used to over the past year or two. And especially since it’s now Christmas time; everything and everywhere is going to be more crowded.

Sigh.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I started watching Chapelwaite on Epix. I originally started watching it with Paul, but he thought it was too slow and didn’t care to continue watching it. I knew almost from the get-go that it was most likely a slow-burn; it was very Gothic in feel, which inevitably means a slow-burn (a friend asked me if I was watching, and when I said we’d stopped, told me to go back and finish–and she was right). The show is exceptional–it did take me a while to get used to Emily Hampshire playing someone not Stevie on Schitt’s Creek–and if you’re into Gothic horror and suspense, it’s right up your alley. It also handles issues of class, race, prejudice and provincialism extremely well; and the steady sense of dread and building suspense is quite remarkably done. I am really looking forward to finishing watching, to be honest. The afternoon flew past as I watched. It’s based on the story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” by Stephen King, from his Night Shift collection, and yes, it does sort of fit into the mythology of his terrific novel ‘salem’s Lot. I’m not sure if that was his intent when he wrote the story–Chapelwaite, the house in the story, is in some ways similar to the Marsden House in ‘salem’s Lot–which is yet another reason I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

It also gave ma a good idea for another Alabama book, a sort of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows. So huzzah indeed!

But as Friday looms, there’s a lot I have to get done this weekend–I really need to get caught up on the book; I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and as always, there are endless chores to be done, and don’t even get me started on my email inbox–but I have faith that I shall persevere, and will come out on the other side of the weekend with much ado and accomplishment. (Yes, I do crack myself up from time to time, thanks for asking.) I slept really well last night–we got through the second season of OG Gossip Girl and are now into season three; it really is fun to watch, especially seeing bigger name stars of the present in early roles–Armie Hammer (although one can argue he no longer has a career of which to speak) was in the second season, for example, and yes, shame that he turned out to be what he turned out to be, as he was very good looking and reasonably talented–and our addiction to this show is allowing other shows we watch, or ones we want to watch, pile up so we’ll have plenty to watch in coming weeks and months, which is lovely.

I also think I am finished with Paul’s Christmas presents, but am not entirely sure. I’ll assess once they are in my hot little hands and wrapped (and hidden). And I do need to do my Christmas cards at some point–tick tock, said the clock.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again tomorrow.