Hypnosis

Tuesday after the Edgar nominations were released–which is always one of my favorite days of the year. I love seeing how excited everyone–especially those who make the short-lists–always is. It’s also three weeks until Mardi Gras; which is going to be weird and kind of sad. It’s a bit of a shame, since last year’s was so cursed with bad energy almost from the very beginning. I’m glad I don’t have to plan my life around the parade schedule this year–that is quite nice–but it’s still kind of sad.

Insomnia returned last night, and this morning I am already feeling tired and worn out. The cappuccino is waking me up, but I feel very tired and drained and my eyes are all messed up; burning and watering from lack of sleep. It is most unpleasant, actually, particularly since I was planning on going to the gym after work tonight. I have a sneaking suspicion that may not happen; we’ll have to see how I feel when I get off work today and get home. Although I will say the shower really helped, and I think the caffeine is starting to take effect in my system as well. I have about a gazillion emails to answer today–yikes–and I really need to start working on the book at some point now that time is running out on the deadline.

Nothing like a deadline to kick your ass into gear.

We finished watching Flack last night and it is truly amazing. Anna Paquin is riveting as a spin doctor, who has an almost frightening ability to rationalize anything and excuse everything and come up with some absolutely insane ideas to protect her clients’ careers and reputations–with little to no care about how it impacts other people or the others in her clients’ lives. The primary problem is she has adapted what works for her in her day job into her private life–spinning merrily away and damaging her romantic relationship as well as those with the people she is close to–and most especially, her sister. It’s an exceptional performance–everyone in the cast is excellent, and all the roles are well written. But it’s Sophie Okenodo as the woman who runs the firm that steals the show–her ruthlessly ambitious executive has the best lines, and Okenodo plays it to the hilt. There’s a scene between her and a lowly intern in the season finale that alone should get Okenodo an Emmy; but since it’s on Prime who knows? Tonight we are starting the second season of Servant, M. Night Shyamalan’s fever dream of a nightmare series for Apple Plus; Lauren Ambrose is amazing–again, the entire cast is great–and it’s very cleverly written and creepy as all get out. I hope the second season is as good as the first.

I also am looking forward to reading more of Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching–which is an Edgar finalist for Best Paperback Original. I can certainly see why; the first few chapters I’ve read already are extremely well-written with a strong voice for the main character. There are a lot of terrific books on the Edgar shortlists; more books I may never get around to reading, alas.

Ah, I see what kind of day this is going to be–ebb and flow with energy. I just had a bit of a low, but now I am wired again. So bizarre, really. But I am just going to have to power through the low energy cognitive function and see what I can do about getting everything caught up. It would be amazing to get caught up on a day when I am not functioning at anything remotely close to 100%, wouldn’t it? But I keep looking at my emails and not having the energy or courage to even open one to read, let alone answer. But they won’t go away and the longer I go without answering some of these the worse off I will be in the long run, and let’s not forget–more will just keep coming in, like Sisyphus pushing the boulder.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did notice yesterday that my body is changing–the regular working out is reshaping my body again, and while I doubt I am ever going to fit into size 29 pants again (I doubt i will ever go lower than 31, and even that would be miracle) it is nice to see that the workouts I am doing are having an effect–even if I think most of the time that my workouts are pretty wimpy; I have a really good base of muscle underneath the layers of fat, and even the little bit of exercise I am doing is having an effect. My posture is improving and my chest/shoulders/upper back are looking nice and bigger, which is having the desired effect of making my waist look smaller. I was in the bathroom yesterday washing my hands and happened to glance up into the mirror and was like, hey, when did that change occur? It was a most pleasant surprise, and I was quite delighted to see it. Probably at the end of February I am going to change from a full-body workout to a targeted body part program; it will mean the return of the much-loathed Leg Day, but that’s the most effective kind of program…I am hoping my body can handle it by the beginning of March.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Blue Monday

And Monday again; the work week is reborn and refreshed and ready to go again. Whether one Gregalicious can say the same about himself remains to be seen, but it is early yet and this is still my first cup of coffee, so the rest remains fairly unclear. I have high hopes for today and this week; I am hoping that I will have the energy, drive and will to finally get caught up on everything.

Then again, this week could also bitch-slap me back into place at any particular moment, so there’s that as well.

It turned out to be stunningly beautiful yesterday–mostly cloudy, but still managed to get up into the lower seventies. As I walked to and from the gym, I marveled at how lovely the weather was for late January…but stopped myself from the false hope the fake early spring we always seem to get in late January inevitably gives rise to; there’s always another cold front that seems to roll in, with rain and damp and cold winds, before March returns with the first hints of real spring. The workout was also nice; I always love that post-workout tired feeling, when your muscles are fatigued.

I also had a great morning reading yesterday. I read the opening chapter of Faulkner’s Sanctuary; three short stories (“Miss Bianca” by Sara Paretsky, originally published in MWA’s Ice Cold and reprinted in Paretsky’s own collection, Love and Other Crimes; “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” by Edith Wharton, from The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton–also my first time reading Ms. Wharton; and “Mermaids on the Golf Course” by Patricia Highsmith, from The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith. The Paretsky was my favorite of the three, but I do feel there will inevitably be a blog post about older ghost stories vs. modern); and then dove headfirst into Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching, which is particularly quite marvelous, and a solid entry into a new subgenre I hope we’ll see more of–gentrification noir. I had thought about doing a Scotty book about New Orleans gentrification–Bywater Bohemia Bougie–and I still might–it’s an awesome title, after all, but I am not sure of what the actual story would be; an unscrupulous developer is kind of a no-brainer, wouldn’t you say, though?

We only have one episode left of Flack, and I must say we are really enjoying it. I hate to see it end, but season 2 of Apple Plus’ chilling Servant has also dropped, so we have something interesting and disturbing to move onto.

Yesterday was kind of lovely; I felt rested, did a lot of reading and cleaning, and eventually did some more brainstorming on the book, which I am almost ready to start revising. Always a plus.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

Singularity

I am starting to feel good again. I am not sure what that is all about–nor am I certain how long it’s going to last, but no worries, Constant Reader–I am going to ride this wave until it inevitably breaks around me. Thursday, I must confess, wasn’t a good day for one Gregalicious, and I hate those days and the inevitable despair that comes along with those awful days. An emotional and physical and intellectual valley, if you will; which generally manifests itself as the inability to do much or face anything or accomplish anything.

It’s gray again this morning in New Orleans. It rained off and on all day yesterday, never heavy enough to be of any real concern for anything but mostly mist more than anything else; one of those winter days where it’s so humid it eventually turns to water in the air because it isn’t warm. The clouds are very low this morning, brushing against the tree tops in the distance. I spent most of yesterday working–trying to get organized, cleaning up the office space in the kitchen as well as doing some cleaning and so forth–but I also took time out to finish reading the Patti Abbott story I had started at the dealership on Friday morn, which I greatly enjoyed–and while I most definitely would have preferred getting more done than I did, I’ll take what I got done and try to get even more done today. I have to go to the gym today at some point as well. But now that football season is over for Louisianans, my weekends are completely freed up now for rest and work and anything else I might be up for getting accomplished along the way. This is good, because I need to really start getting focused on the Kansas Book, as its deadline looms large in the near future. AUGH.

But as I sip my coffee on this gray foggy New Orleans morn, March 1 seems a long time off and so I can still muse about being able to get it finished without physically working on it just yet. My final revision is taking place in my head, as I revise and rewrite and restructure the story in my head and put in the things that are missing from the story. The theme I am mostly trying to follow for it–that many societal ills truly are based and steeped in misogyny, and how that harms everyone–is, I think, important; and I have a relatively strong grasp of my point of view character; I spent quite a bit of time yesterday putting other pieces into place and figuring out some things, which is never a waste of time. I’ll probably spend some time with the manuscript today, mostly reading it over and trying to get a fixed outline in place. There are things missing from the manuscript, as I mentioned already; there are several characters who primarily are just talked about and never actually appear in the story itself, and that’s kind of a cheat, and unfair to the reader and the characters. Heavy heaving sigh.

We started watching Anna Paquin’s new show on Amazon Prime last night, Flack, in which she plays Robyn, a deeply troubled young woman who works at a PR firm for high-end celebrities, cleaning up the messes they make and controlling the narratives of their lives. It’s quite good–Paquin is always amazing when given great material (Sookie on True Blood could become annoying and irritating, but then when given material worthy of her she was shined)–and we will most likely delve back into it this evening when we are ready to relax and recharge from this day. I’ve got a stack of folders and papers that really need to be put away–more like find a place to put more than anything else–and I’ve got some more organizing to get done. I’d also like to start reading my next book; I’m not sure which I am going to choose, to be completely honest, but I have such a plethora of riches from which to choose that I know I’ll pick something absolutely delightful that I will greatly enjoy. Maybe even a reread? There are any number of books that I would like to reread–and you know, even as I type this I am thinking perhaps a revisit of Faulkner’s Sanctuary might be just the trick. I was a teenager when I originally read it, and so didn’t quite grasp much of the story and what was going on; it would be interesting to take another look at it now and see how I react to it. It’s definitely noir, or borderline noir; and I do remember enjoying it the first time I read it, even if a lot of it went over my head. If not the Faulkner, maybe I should read something that isn’t a crime novel, just to expose myself to other characters and narratives and styles of writing. I don’t read enough outside of my own genre, which isn’t a good thing; I’ve always felt it important to read outside of the genre whenever I can, but there are always so many good mysteries to read and so many wonderful ones that are already published and new ones being published all the time I know that I will never have the time to read everything I want to read, which is kind of sad, really.

I could, of course, reread Sanctuary slowly, and read something else at the same time more quickly. Hard to say, really. I could also dive back into the Short Story Project; I certainly have enough anthologies and single-author collections to get through.

Ah, well, I shall certainly figure it all out at some point.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Cries and Whispers

And just like that it is Saturday again. Another good night of sleep–I did wake a few times, but had little to no difficulty in falling back to sleep, which was lovely–and I feel relatively well-rested this morning. Yesterday was, of course, a work-at-home Friday, and I had to take a bit of a break to go to the West Bank to get the car serviced; it was perhaps a bit overdue on the oil change, and I also learned something new about my car–it doesn’t really desperately need an oil change until the orange wrench lights up on the dashboard, or once a year, whichever comes first. I’ve had the car for nearly four years or so at this point, and since I have slightly less than 17,000 miles on it in that amount of time–hence the answer about the oil change. I’m still, obviously, unused to having a car produced so recently; all the old rules about oil changes and service and everything else stemming from having an ancient car no longer applies. It’s quite lovely, actually, but I am still not used to it, frankly.

I also love my car dealership–they are always so professional, courteous, and friendly. I have never had a single bad experience with them, and should the day come that I would replace my car, obviously I would go there and buy the new car from them. As much as I resent that car payment depleting my checking account every month–and the insurance payment–I really do love my car and am very pleased with it. It runs like a dream, I love that my phone syncs with the car stereo via bluetooth so I can make hands-free calls when I drive if I so choose–I generally choose not to, but there have been times I’ve been in the car and gotten a call. needed to take, and I prefer the hands-free method, frankly. I also grabbed lunch at Sonic since I was over there already–I always do this, and it had been a while since I’d had Sonic (there’s also a Five Guys on Manhattan Boulevard now; but I wanted tater tots so Sonic was the obvious choice), and then settled in for an afternoon of condom packing and watching movies.

Yesterday I was talking about 80’s Neo-noir, triggered by a rewatch of the terrific Angel Heart, and so as I scrolled through the watch-lists I’ve made on various streaming services (some of them really need to be cut out, quite frankly) I came across The Big Easy on Prime. This is a film that is almost universally reviled in New Orleans; I’ve not watched it since we moved here, but it also, like Angel Heart, piqued an interest in New Orleans I had always had, so it also played a small part in my eventually winding up living here, so it always has a special place in my heart for that very reason. I also thought it might be interesting to rewatch it after living here for nearly three decades, and to see it from the perspective of a local (I will always be a local, an important distinction from a native here). It wasn’t long into the film before I started laughing and cringing, to be honest, but it’s also a fun movie to watch because, as with anything filmed here, you start trying to pick out the various locations where it was shot. It also had some very weird geography for New Orleans, as does every movie filmed and set here.

But the movie is not completely terrible. When I originally saw it, in the theater, I had an enormous crush on Dennis Quaid–insane grin and all–because of that extraordinary body he had as a young man, and he also had charisma and charm on screen. Having him play a Cajun cop in New Orleans wasn’t perhaps the best casting choice; but given the way the role was written and the screenplay itself, he wasn’t bad–he did the best he could with what he was given to work with. It’s another one of those movies that assumes New Orleans is a Cajun city, which it is not; there are Cajuns in the city, yes of course, but they aren’t the dominant demographic nor do you here Cajun accents everywhere you go; I’d say I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Cajun accent, or Cajun language, used here. (One of my former co-workers was from Lafayette, in the heart of Acadiana, and he would talk Cajun to me sometimes; I always enjoyed it. The Cajuns are, frankly, fascinating to me, and I would love to study their culture and history more) The film also portrayed the New Orleans police department in a non-too-flattering light; almost all of the cops are corrupt in some casual way, whether it’s actually the drug trade or taking kickbacks from the “widows and orphans” fund, including detective Remy McSwain; the police department is practically a family business for the McSwains. Ellen Barkin, with her own style of unique beauty and sexiness, plays a new ADA in the city, Ann Osborn, and her job is primarily to investigate corruption in the police department–she was brought in by the Feds. Again, the role was written in a horribly sexist way; Ann is smart and capable and hard-working–why else would the Feds bring her in, particularly when the corruption is so deeply embedded that it’s such an accepted part of the police culture that no one even thinks twice about it? And yet Remy is so hot and charming and sexy, she struggles between her ethics and her knowing he’s corrupt and basically turns into an idiot in his presence at all times–clumsy, bumping into things, dropping things–and of course, she only wears her glasses when she’s working. Eventually she brings him around to recognizing that he’s one of the bad guys, and they combine forces–and have steamy sex scenes–to close the case they are both investigating, an apparent drug war between rival gangs which may not be real, just made to look real. The city looks beautiful–there are so few places in this country that look so astonishingly beautiful on film (hence the draw for me) and the story itself is a pretty decent one. But they managed to get so much wrong about New Orleans–beginning with the fact no one here calls it that, or “N’awlins.” I can certainly see why the film is so loathed here. It was adapted into a television series that began airing when Paul and I first moved here, and if the movie’s depiction was bad, the television show’s was even worse. We hate-watched it until it got so bad it wasn’t even campy anymore; the series was up on Prime for awhile, and I rewatched the first episode but had to turn it off after ten minutes because I couldn’t take how terrible it actually was.

I also started reading a short story by Patti Abbott yesterday, from the Lawrence Block anthology From Sea to Stormy Sea while I was waiting for them to finish servicing my car, and I intend to finish reading that story today–it’s amazing to me how quick and efficient the service at my dealership is–and I will probably read some more stories in that anthology over the course of the weekend. I have a lot of work to get done–so much work–and I really need to start working on the book as well. Time is slipping away fairly quickly, which means February will be incredibly stressful for me if I don’t get my shit together, but at least there are no parades to have to plan around this year.

And now to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader.

Here to Stay

And it’s Friday. January is slowly slipping through my fingers, but that’s okay; I’d rather life not really slow down to accommodate me, to be perfectly honest. It’s raining and gray outside this morning–last night I managed to sleep completely through the night, which was a quite lovely thing, to be honest, and I feel awake and rested this morning. Rain always helps me sleep better, so I always prefer the rain to come during the night, frankly–but I love rain as long as I don’t have to go anywhere and do anything important while it is happening.

We finished Bridgerton last night, and I must say the show definitely lived up to its hype and word-of-mouth. It was a delightful entertainment, with a gorgeous young cast (and even the older members of the cast were quite marvelous, both in talent and appearance) and I daresay many of this cast will become stars in their own right–the leads, Daphne and Simon, are impossible to look away from when on screen and I am not afraid to confess I got teary at points, particularly the scene at the ball in, of all things, the rain. Visually the show was absolutely stunning–those sets, those costumes, those color palettes!–and the writing was strong. I’d say Shonda Rimes deserves every penny of her massive Netflix contract; the same cannot be said for Ryan Murphy. I am now quite curious to read the novels by Julia Quinn, to see if they are as delightful as the show. I’ve always enjoyed romance novels–while always preferring crime, of course–and it has been a long time since I have read one, immersing myself in crime novels the way I have over the past two decades. Perhaps broadening my reading to other genres again would be advisable? I had mentioned when we first started watching Bridgerton that in another lifetime I might have been a romance novelist; now I am thinking that writing one might be the kind of writing challenge I need in order to keep my own writing fresh and invigorate my own career again. Despite my own cynicism, which has only gotten deeper and more strong as I have aged, I am a hopeless romantic who always wants there to be a happy ending for the characters I read about, and TV shows and movies often move me to tears. The aforementioned rain scene had tears spilling down my cheeks, and I am not ashamed to admit it. (Both The Princess Bride and the animated Beauty and the Beast still bring tears to my eyes, despite the fact I have seen both dozens of times.)

I was exhausted yesterday; pretty much the entire day I was running on accessory. I thought upon waking yesterday morning that it might be a good day, but it was not to be, alas. For some reason I felt tired and drained almost the entire day, like my batteries were recharging, and I had no energy to face anything or even try to get much done. I couldn’t face my emails! Let alone trying to get any writing done; I abandoned that possibility early in the day when I realized my brain was fatigued. I made condom packs for most of the day, and watched two movies–one was a rewatch of the exceptionally amazing Angel Heart, starring a young and astonishingly beautiful Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, Lisa Bonet, and Charlotte Rampling. Part of the film was shot in New Orleans–still stunningly beautiful and different in the 1980’s, but still the same New Orleans–and the visuals are exceptional. The plot is genius, with all of its twists and turns–I read the Edgar winning novel on which it was based several years ago; it’s also quite excellent–and I don’t know if it gets enough credit. I find myself becoming very interested in 80’s “Neo-noir”, whatever that means; I consider these films to be noir, but am also not an expert on noir or film, nor am I really sure why the noir films of the 70’s and 80’s are called “Neo-noir” rather than noir–more research obviously must be done here–but I think that may well be my next film festival–but shall have to come up with a catchy name for it, undoubtedly. There were some terrific noirish films made in those decades–Masquerade, Body Heat, No Way Out, Angel Heart–and I wonder if there is–there inevitably always is–a book or two examining these films?

The second half of yesterday’s double bill was a 1983 British made for television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which reminded me of why Holmes never really resonated with me when I was younger. Perhaps it was simply the film, but the characterizations were so two-dimensional the story never really caught fire–and I do remember this was my favorite Holmes story when I was younger; which is even odder because Holmes is hardly in the story at all–but I’ve always been drawn to hauntings and family curses. As I watched, I kept thinking to myself how I could possibly adapt this story to my own Sherlock world–now that I’ve dipped my toe into those waters I cannot stop thinking about them–and rather smiled to myself when I thought my version could be called The Hound of the Mandevilles and be set on the North Shore. I already have an idea for a ghost dog story set in New Orleans–“The Hound of St. Roch”–but I don’t think that would work as a Sherlock story, unfortunately.

I really need to get Sherlock out of my mind, and I suppose watching film adaptations of his stories is probably not the best way to do that, is it? But I’ve grown weary of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival and need a break from it for awhile; but I think I’ll hold off on a Holmes film festival for a while. Last night while I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen I kept thinking about writing a Holmes novel–which is the last thing I need to be thinking about right now.

And on that note, it is time to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Nothing but a Fool

Ah, it is Thursday and we have a new president. It was kind of nice to wake up without that sense of existential dread and worrying about what new horrors the day would bring–or what I may have missed while I was sleeping. I also slept deeply and well, and I am enjoying my first cup of coffee thus far this morning. I don’t have a full day of working at home, as I worked longer hours in the office so can shave some off my day today, which is lovely. I can spend the morning with my emails and blog and drinking coffee and waking up gradually–which is my actual preference–I suppose no one likes waking up to an alarm. It’s more along the lines of how used to it you can get. I personally hate the alarm, but there’s simply no way I would ever get up at six in the morning without one. I don’t think my body will ever adapt to that–it never has before, and I can’t imagine that changing as I rapidly approach the big 6-0 later this year.

And Twitter, wonder of wonders, has stopped–for the moment, at least–being the bleak horrific portal to hell it has been for such a long, long time. This, coming so soon after the horrific redesign of Facebook that seems designed and intended to drive all of its users away, has resulted in me spending more time there than I have been on Facebook lately, and frankly, this actually hasn’t been a bad thing. I have freed up a lot more time–Twitter has been fun, but ultimately I am not overly fond of it–and so I find myself taking the time I used to spend endlessly scrolling and commenting and sharing and liking things to do other things, like read or brainstorm or clean.

And is this really a bad thing? I don’t think so. The first and hopefully last social media presidency has shown us all the dangers inherent in unmoderated social media; how quickly it can be harnessed to undermine civility and societal norms and our democracy. The steadfast refusal of social media for years to not try to control the dangerous lies being spread and amplified on their platforms is something that will be studied for generations–and I suspect people like Mark Zuckerberg and their sociopathic desire for blood profits will not come off well in those histories.

Good.

So now I must buckle down and stop watching history unfold and get all the things done that I need to get done. There are some deadlines for short story submissions coming up, my deadline for the Kansas book also is hanging over my head in the near future, and there are any number of other things I need to get a handle on. I have yet to decide on what the next book I will read will be–it’s a toss-up between too many excellent titles, to be sure–and may cowardly delay the decision by delving back into short stories. It’s been a hot minute since I read any short stories, and I also got two wonderful single author collections of ghost stories–those of Edith Wharton and E. F. Benson. (The Benson volume is much thicker than the Wharton.) I have never read Edith Wharton–as I have often confessed, my education in the classics has been sadly lacking–and I am fond of ghost stories, particularly those from that period in literature. I love the formality of the writing with the touch of Gothic to them; I have a ghost story in progress called “The Weeping Nun” I would also like to write in that same kind of style, and perhaps even change it from a modern setting to the past, with the sound of horses’ hooves on the cobblestones and flickering gaslight through the fog in the French Quarter.

Ironically, I had started writing that story on my iPad in Pages; recently I discovered the trove of things written in that app I had completely forgotten about, and so I uploaded them all to the Cloud and converted them to Word documents; hilariously, the opening of “The Weeping Nun” is the scene–or at the very least inspired–the opening to “The Snow Globe.” I had started writing “The Weeping Nun” for an HWA anthology built around the theme of Halloween; and it opens with Satan not only had a six-pack but he also had one of the finest asses I’d seen in a while. The main character is up on the balcony at the Parade watching the street when a muscle boy in a Satan costume comes out of Oz, and that is the point where the story began. I never got more than a thousand words done on the story–I don’t recall why I was too busy or tied up or whatever to finish the story, but when I started “The Snow Globe” for the original anthology I sent it in to, I remembered that opening and changed it from Satan to Santa–and away I went with the story.

I’m still prepping for the final push on the Kansas book as well, the final draft. There will have to be some new scenes and chapters written; more than I’d prefer will have to come out of it; and so much cleaning up to do–the mind positively reels in horror from the amount of work this manuscript needs–which is really why I’ve been avoiding getting back into it, if I am going to be completely honest with myself. But it’s not going to revise or edit or rewrite itself, obviously, and the only way it’s going to get finished is if I stop procrastinating and fearing doing the work (which I inevitably end up enjoying doing anyway, which makes it all the more irritating and annoying that I have to make myself do it) but I’ve also decided that the thing to do is reward myself for getting work on it done; seems silly, but it works. So, for every three chapters I refine, revise and polish I am going to spend some time developing Chlorine, which is what I really want to be writing anyway. I have a lot of ideas and a loose sense of the plot/story floating around inside my head, and I probably need to start writing it all down and piecing it all together, as well as start building the characters and fleshing them out more. I like my amoral, do-whatever-it-takes-to-make-it himbo movie “star”; I think I can make his cynicism and hard-edged morality understandable and likable. I’m kind of excited to start working on it.

And on that note, it is time for me to answer some emails and then start today’s condom packing duties. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

Skullcrusher

Well, yesterday was not one of my better days; it started off not great–right around the time I started getting ready to leave for work–and continued through the beginnings of my day at the office. No need to get into the frustrations and irritations involved (one of them being not being able to find a check for a short story I last had my hands on Saturday but the fucking bank was closed and now I can’t find it), but just before my actual clients started showing up I took a very deep breath and cleared my mind and cleansed it of everything poisonous that the incompetence and thoughtlessness of others put there and sallied forth into my day.

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

After work I went to the gym–had been blowing it off for just over a week, he admittedly shamefacedly, but it was cold–and that was lovely. I came home and cleaned the kitchen, and when Paul got home we watched two more episodes of Bridgerton, which is oddly enjoyable and addicting. My favorite character by far is Eloise Bridgerton; what a delight she is, rejecting everything having to do with being a proper lady and just wanting to live her own life and expand her brain. We have yet but one episode left to go before it’s all over until the next season drops, and I shall sorely miss it; it’s just pure unadulterated fun, while at the same time making me wonder that for so many centuries we put so little store by women other than for them to be wombs, property of their husbands. It’s also a bit racy–I can’t believe one of the major plot points revolves around Simon not, er, um, shooting his load inside his wife, our heroine Daphne. But Regency England society was pretty racy; I was just talking to Paul last night about how this period has never been of much interest to me because of the Regency–Prince George was a bit of a monster–and of course by the time of the events of this show, Queen Charlotte was already dead; but frankly I am glad Charlotte is the one in charge instead of her wretched son.

Today is also pay day, aka pay the bills day (huzzah?)–it seems like we just got paid, really–and so at some point this morning I shall have to make the car payment as well as pay the other bills as well. Oh, how I long for the day when the car is finally paid off; it seems like I’ve been making that enormous monthly payment forever now. I didn’t sleep all that well last night–worry about all the things I have to do, no doubt; I feel as though there are several swords of Damocles hanging over my head at this point in time–but as always, there is nought to do but simply put my head down and start ploughing through everything until I can get as caught as I can while other new and interesting and sometimes tedious tasks and chores pile up around me. But at least this morning I came downstairs to a clean kitchen, which was lovely, and my desk is completely in order (I looked for that check again last night when I got home; nowhere to be found, alas; but it shall eventually turn up somewhere, I am certain), which was even lovelier, quite frankly. Although I didn’t sleep much or well over the course of the evening I don’t feel tired this morning–that will undoubtedly come along later–so I am very hopeful that the tiredness won’t be too terrible this afternoon and so I can get some writing done this evening. I have another short story I want to reconstruct for a submissions call with a deadline later this spring; I have a story that is absolutely perfect for the call–I just need to make some serious adjustments to it (I actually borrowed the entire structure and setting of this particular story for my Joni Mitchell story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings), but I already know how to revise it and make it work; it’s just finding the time to sit down and go through the many drafts it’s already been through and figuring out how to get it done properly.

I’m also trying to decide what to read next–I have e-galleys of the new Hilary Davidson as well as the new Alison Gaylin; both look superb–but I have so many wonderful books on hand in the TBR pile already! A plethora of riches, as it were.

I’ve also fallen down a massive Louisiana history black hole, something that may come in handy when I want to write another Sherlock story. Belle Grove was one of the biggest houses in Louisiana; located in Iberville Palace not far from Nottoway–the White Castle–Belle Grove was actually pink and called the Pink Palace. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt; I can’t imagine the upkeep on a place like that, or, for that matter, the upkeep on Houmas House or Nottoway or Oak Alley must be outrageous as well. I think my version of Belle Grove will be set in my fictional Redemption Parish; I always tie my stories together, remember? The modern Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock updated “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “A Scandal in Belgravia”; why should I not title mine “A Scandal at Belle Grove”?

These are the things I think about when my mind wanders, as it is so apt to do when given such an opportunity.

And on that note, tis back off to the shower with me, and off to the office. Have a lovely Inauguration Day, Constant Reader!

Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)

I am the first to admit that I am a crime writer who was always kind of meh about Sherlock Holmes. I read some of the novels and some of the stories when I was in junior high, and while I enjoyed them somewhat, I was never particularly driven to go on to read the rest. I did read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s–The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution, The West End Horror–but was never particularly driven to go back to Doyle. I never actually went back to Doyle (until recently; bear with me) but Holmes is so ubiquitous, so part of the crime fiction zeitgeist that it was impossible not to be aware of him and iconic parts of his canon, even the ones I’d not read–Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, Mary who married Watson–and of course, like many others, I’ve watched a great deal of the Holmes film canon, including Young Sherlock Holmes, and am a big an of the Benedict Cumberbatch interpretation; we even watched the first few seasons of the Americanized Holmes, Elementary. But for the most part I’ve avoided pastiches and the originals, with the exception of a story here and there by one of the modern-day aficionados who worship at the altar of Sherlock.

I have always known that my lack of Sherlockian knowledge was perhaps detrimental to my career as a crime writer. Several years ago, I managed to find a gloriously beautiful hardbound edition of the Baring-Gould The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and I have periodically dipped into it; no more so than when I was tasked to write my own Sherlock story, which became “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy.” Writing the story, putting my own interpretation on someone else’s characters and breathing life into them to try to make them engaging and new while respecting the originals was quite a challenge for me, one at many times I felt I was not equal to bringing to fruition. The story was written and then revised with editorial input, which made the story much stronger (in my opinion) than how I’d originally envisioned it, and it also unlocked potential in my creative brain: I want to, and plan to, return to the New Orleans of 1916 that I created for iteration, and even see how some other historic stories about New Orleans could easily fit into my Sherlock world, could prove to be cases for the great brain residing at 821 B Royal Street in the French Quarter.

I also decided that reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series was long overdue.

And seriously, what a treat it was.

Dear Reader,

As both I and the century approach the beginnings of our ninth decades, I have been forced to admit that age is not always a desirable state. The physical, of course, contributes its own flavour to life, but the most vexing problem I have found is that my past, intensely real to me, has begun to fade into the mists of history in the eyes of those around me. The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood. The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter. With us will go our memories.

I do not remember when I first realized that the flesh-and-blood Sherlock Holmes I knew so well was to the rest of the world merely a figment of an out-of-work medical doctor’s powerful imagination. What I do remember is how the realisation took my breath away, and how for several days my own self-awareness became slightly detached, tenuous, as if I too were in the process of transmuting into fiction, by contagion with Holmes. My sense of humour provided the pinch that woke me, but it was a very peculiar sensation while it lasted.

Now, the process has become complete: Watson’s stories, those feeble evocations of the compelling personality we both knew, have taken on a life of their own, and the living creature of Sherlock Holmes has become ethereal, dreamy. Fictional.

I first discovered Laurie R. King’s work with her Kate Martinelli series; I received a review copy of Night Work when I was editor of Lambda Book Report. I wasn’t familiar with the series, which caught me off guard–how did I not know about a crime series with a lesbian police detective as the protagonist?–and the book itself caught me completely off-guard. It was brilliant, so strongly written and the characters so real I was quite literally shocked to find out, many years later, that King was not herself a lesbian. I went back and read the entire series, loved each one, and was saddened when King ended the series with Book 5, moving on to a new series with Mary Russell–a series so completely different and disparate from the Martinelli series I didn’t see how it could work…and then add in the fact that it was actually a Holmes pastiche, and well, I wasn’t terribly interested.

It was sometime during the past year while working alongside King on the Mystery Writers of America board of directors (I will never get used to the big names I rub elbows with through my years of volunteering with MWA), and in the wake of my own Sherlockian writing experience, I thought, you love and admire her as a writer AND as a person, you should read her Mary Russell series.

It was quite literally one of the smartest decisions I have ever made.

I finished reading Book One of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and as you can see from the above paragraphs, immediately I was immersed in the story. The voice, the style, everything about the character and the story was as far removed from the more hard-boiled, gritty Martinelli series, but the intelligence and warmth and humor was still there–only in a completely different manne, a completely different way. You could read a Kate book and then a Mary and easily believe it was two different authors, they are so different. This is genius, by the way; the ability to create such completely different worlds, completely different characters, completely different voices? And I was riveted by Mary Russell. By the end of the first chapter I was crazy about her–she reminds me of two of my favorite female series characters of all time, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow–and her warmth and intelligence and humor…she was more than a match for Holmes, and by seeing Holmes through the eyes of an intelligent, independent woman rather than an admiring doctor also helped greater humanize Holmes himself, something I never got from the Doyle works (but that could also entirely be my own failing; I am going to leisurely revisit Doyle this year methinks), and I also found myself caring about them deeply–not just about the case, but about them as people.

So, if you’re avoiding this series because you aren’t a Sherlockian, you’re being ridiculous because you can have no knowledge of Holmes whatsoever to enjoy this, and I can’t see how you can’t enjoy this if you are a Sherlockian. This is a version of Holmes that deserves to be shared on a screen–television or theater, it doesn’t matter–and I can also see any number of today’s younger actresses playing this role. And while I have only seen the television adaptation of The Alienist, but the young female detective played so brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, Sara Howard, seems to also have a lot in common with Mary Russell.

I cannot wait to read the next A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and not just because of that great title resonating with me (I’ve always wanted to write a history of the 16th century by exploring the many powerful regnant women, pilfering that title from the John Knox tract denouncing the most ‘unChristian’ fact of so many powerful women on the scene at the same time).

Color me a big fan!

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.