You’re the Inspiration

Ah, another week.

I finished watching Black Sails this weekend, and wow. Wow. WOW. That was, without a doubt, one of the best series finales I have ever seen. I cried. Yup, I did. There was a twist there at the end that I did not see coming, and it was so incredibly moving and emotionally satisfying…I mean, wow.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.

I love pirates, which was part of the reason why the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were so innately disappointing; sure, I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s performance in the first one, but after that they just seemed like parodies of the first, and the plots, such as they were, were ridiculous. I think I was very young when I saw Treasure Island in two parts on The Wonderful World of Disney, and around that same time A High Wind in Jamaica also aired. I became all about the pirates–there were even Nancy Drew (The Haunted Showboat) and Hardy Boys (The Secret of Pirates’ Hill) and Three Investigators (The Secret of Skeleton Island) adventures revolving around pirate treasure; and any number of Scholastic Book Club mysteries about searching for treasure left behind by pirates. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was around ten; it was an illustrated version, and I remember the pictures as if I just saw them yesterday.

So, yeah, I’ve always loved pirates.


I started watching Black Sails a year or so again, and it just didn’t catch on with me. I don’t know why, nor do I remember why. I gave it two episodes and stopped, and I do remember thinking, meh, it’s visually stunning, but I don’t care. But earlier this year, needing something to keep me entertained whilst on the treadmill, I decided to give it another whirl, and got sucked right in.


Visually, it is an absolutely stunning show. Set in the Bahamas in the early eighteenth century, Nassau in particular, the scenery is spectacular. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful; the ships at sail, the water, the island, the beach, the town, the costumes. Visually, it’s a sumptuous feast.

In the first episode we meet Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones; as soon as I heard the names (I only knew it was a pirate show) I knew what it was: a prequel to Treasure Island. This time around, that really got my interest going. But what was strange was that there were also characters who actually existed in history: Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Edward Teach. The lines between the real characters and the fictional soon became so blurred that I forgot I was watching a prequel to Treasure Island most of the time, and was watching a fictionalized version of history; Nassau and the Bahamas were  a failed British colony basically taken over by pirates; the British Empire was too busy dealing with the War of the Spanish Succession to be bothered with doing anything about Nassau; and Captain Flint’s plan to set up a republic of pirates and escaped slaves was actually based in history; I have a book about it called The Republic of Pirates that I haven’t gotten to read yet (but I’ve moved it up the TBR pile).

And of course, the cast is stunningly beautiful.

I mean, Tom Hopper as Billy Bones:


Toby Stephens as Captain Flint:

2016 Winter TCA Portraits

Luke Arnold as John Silver:


Zach MacGowan as Charles Vane:


And my favorite character turned out to be Jack Rackham, played by Toby Schmitz.

Black Sails Season 4 2017

What was also enjoyable to me was that the cast was also diverse; and the women weren’t there simply to look pretty, be ogled, or be used as sexual pawns. They were integral parts of the cast, and drove a lot of the action on the show, and were incredibly strong. Eleanor Guthrie ran Nassau; Max moved from being a mere worker in the brothel to major position of power; Madi was Queen of the Maroons and spoke for/led her people, and of course, Anne Bonney was just a badass.

black sails women

I also loved that the show included the Maroons; escaped slaves who made their own community and resisted being recaptured.


All of the characters were fully realized; and the plot was so intricate as each character formed friendships/romances/alliances, and betrayed others, as they tried to gain the ascendancy, not only in Nassau but also over the treasure of the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima. It was interesting watching the characters change and evolve based on their experiences, what they went through, and what they suffered. The relationships, the friendships, completely made sense–even when it came to the betrayals. I was so caught up in the story that it wasn’t until the fourth season that I started remembering, “oh, no, this is the prequel to Treasure Island, and the pirate republic eventually collapsed,” which meant, to my fear and horror, that most of the cast wasn’t going to get out alive.


Also, serious props to the characterization of Woodes Rogers, the British man who comes to the Bahamas determined to solve the piracy problem with a good heart and good intentions; watching him slowly evolve into one of the best villains on the show as his ideals are slowly stripped from him by circumstance and reality was mesmerizing.


All of the characters evolved and changed, which is a rarity in any television series, but the acting and writing in Black Sails was so superb it never hit a false note.

Black Sails Key Art Shoot 2015

And it was interesting in that not only were women shown nude, but there was full frontal male nudity as well.

In the first season there was a lesbian relationship–which I figured, of course there is, gotta give the fanboys some hot girl-on-girl action–but again; while there were sex scenes, the relationship wasn’t prurient and was depicted as honestly and as importantly as any of the heterosexual romances.

I don’t want to give spoilers, and I won’t–because some of the most powerful surprises in the show have to come as a surprise, or will lose their impact–but in Season 2 as we get the back story on one of the principle male leads….he’s gay, and that changes, not only the character, but everything that came before. And his story is absolutely heartbreaking, and played brilliantly.

And the ending! Again, no spoilers, but I cried. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series finale that felt so right, so perfect, as an end for a story. Where Black Sails succeeded was in making you care about the characters and understanding their relationships, rather than just focusing on story and the size and scope of the show–which, don’t get me wrong, is also pretty amazing.

Bravo, Starz. This is the second series of yours I’ve watched all the way through–the first being Flesh and Bone, which was also brilliant–and I have to say, Starz is kicking ass on the series front. Wow. Loved it.


Everytime You Go Away

There really is nothing like your own bed.

My inability to sleep in a hotel bed is becoming increasingly problematic the older I get; it’s hard for me to do public speaking events when I have trouble sleeping. I can rest; I just don’t fall deeply asleep and instead wind up in that half-sleep all night. In the morning I feel rested physically but not mentally, and I start getting tired. I also wind up drinking a lot more caffeine than I need to stay alert and focused, which then further complicates the inability to fall asleep. Heavy heaving sigh.

But the two events I did in Alabama this weekend–Murder in the Magic City on Saturday in Birmingham at the Homewood Library; Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka Sunday at the Civic Center–are wonderful events. They draw lovely crowds, all of whom love to read and also buy books, and are incredibly well organized. A special shout out to Margaret Fenton, who organizes Murder in the Magic City, and to Tammy Lynn Rushing and Fran Holland, who put together the Wetumpka event. If you ever get invited to speak, or have the chance to attend, you really should. Despite my inability to sleep, I always feel creatively invigorated as well as personally rewarded. I also really love the little town of Wetumpka; as weird as it sounds, I would like to go back there and spend a weekend exploring. I’ve always wanted to write about a small town in Alabama; and there’s lots of material, I suspect, there. I love that there’s a casino and a meteor crater there; one of the only concrete suspension bridges in the country; and two rivers. Driving from Birmingham to Wetumpka is always interesting; as at least a third of the trip is on state highways and not interstates, and as I drove, listening to my music and observing my surroundings, again I had many flashbacks to my own childhood and my own memories of Alabama. I also got re-inspired on a short story idea I had a couple of months back, and serendipitously an anthology it would be perfect for just popped up on my radar. Huzzah!

I took today off from work–a wise move–so I can get caught up on everything that slid while I was away this weekend. I have errands to run, some cleaning to do, some writing and editing, and a lot of organizing. *Whew*. Just thinking about it makes me feel very very tired. But I slept really well last night–there’s really nothing like your own bed, as I mentioned before–and I also need to get to the gym. I missed both Friday and Sunday workouts this weekend; I can make up the Sunday workout today but Friday’s, alas, is gone. I do miss it, and my body is all, what the hell man? And with Carnival getting back into full swing on Wednesday; it’s not going to be easy. I am going to skip cardio these next few workouts; I have to walk to and from work every day from Wednesday thru Friday, so those cardio workouts aren’t as necessary. I can go lift weights today, Wednesday, and Friday; I have Lundi Gras off so can replace the Sunday workout with one on Monday, and then get back to my regular schedule after Fat Tuesday. Huzzah!

And maybe I should start looking into eating healthier, too….sob.

I did manage to keep going on the short story project while I was in Alabama; I took Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her collection with me and read the stories “Femme Fatale,” “Honor Bar, ” and  “A Good Fuck Spoiled.” (There were other stories there, like “Pony Girl” and “ARM and the Woman”, which I’d already read in their original publications; I even reprinted “ARM and the Woman” in my co-edited –with J. M. Redmann–anthology Women of the Mean Streets.) I loved these stories, and one of the things I love the most about Lippman’s short stories is how dark they are; they are most definitely hard-boiled and noir. I also love that the stories are about women who aren’t what would typically be called ‘nice girls;’ these are women with shady pasts who aren’t sorry about their pasts and will do what they need to do.

“A Good Fuck Spoiled” though, isn’t about a woman, although in some ways it is; it actually spins the tired trope of the older man/younger woman adulterous affair on its head. This is one of those stories where someone who is basically your average, every day husband and father is pushed over the edge into doing something dark in order to get out of a bad situation his own apathy kind of allowed him to drift into. It’s also exceptionally clever by playing with the entire concept of ‘betrayed wife’ against ‘golf widow,’ and of course, the husband, once he does what he needs to do–sees it exactly that way; I love how Lippman shows how someone can do something amoral and then completely justify it. God, this collection is amazing. Laura Lippman is definitely respected as one of our best crime writers today–but I don’t think she gets near enough credit as a short story writer.

And on that note, I need to make a list and start checking things off it.


Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Monday morning. The weekends never really quite seem long enough, do they? Oh, it’s fine…I do like my job ((even if I don’t like waking up in the morning so much) but I’ve been going to bed earlier to make getting up easier. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I do feel considerably more rested than I used to in the mornings. This weekend is the first weekend of parades, but I am off to a weekend of events in Alabama, which I am, oddly enough, looking forward to; lovely people will be there, which is always nice.

I do hate missing the first weekend of parades, though.

Although….it’s not like there won’t be plenty of them the next weekend, right? It’s so weird how greedy  we are when we it comes to parades. There’s probably an entire essay in that, as well.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked this weekend–I never do, of course, I always think I can get more done than I can–but I am rolling with it. I’m not sure how much–if anything–I can get done while I am in Alabama; as I recall last year, we all hung out together all evening and laughed and laughed, and one of the attendees this year is Carolyn Haines….and if you’ve never met her, she’s good energy and she is pretty damned fun and funny. I suppose I can read.

Speaking of which, I did read two short stories yesterday, and I also read a novel over the course of the weekend (I’ll save the novel for another entry).

The first story was Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person,” which was published on-line and in print by the New Yorker last month, and rather went viral; it seemed like everyone was reading it and everyone was talking about it, and Roupenian came out of it all with a healthy book contract (GOOD FOR HER! Seriously, I never understand why other writers get so snarky about the success of other writers. I always see it as a win for one is a win for all). I didn’t read the story at the time–discussions and arguments about it were everywhere, and I didn’t want to be influenced in my reading by the social media furor. But yesterday, after my workout (yes, made it to the gym again!) I curled up in my easy chair and read it.

Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of h er fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and about a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.

“That’s an…unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

Flirting with her customers was a habit she’s picked up back when she worked as a barista, and it helped with tips. She didn’t earn tips at the movie theatre, but the job was boring otherwise, and she did  think that Robert was cute. Not so cute that she would have, say, gone up to him at a party, but cute enough that she could have drummed up an imaginary crush on him if he’d sat across from her during a dull class–though she was pretty sure that he was out of college, in his mid-twenties at least. He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a bit too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he was protecting something.

I thought this story was very well done, myself–but I can certainly see why it upset men, and why women embraced it. I don’t think I’ve ever read before such an honest depiction of a bad date and bad sex in my life. God knows I’ve had bad sex before, but I’ve certainly never written about it; usually when I write about sex its erotica so it kind of has to be hot, you know what I mean? Whoever writes about bad sex? There were times, when reading it, when she encapsulates a conversation into a paragraph of prose (then he said this, and she thought well this but said that, and so forth) where I would have much rather read the actual conversation, but other than that complaint I kind of enjoyed it; although given all the discussion I’d seen on line made me know where it was going–but that ending was so incredibly perfect. Perfect.

Then I read Michael Bailey’s “I Will Be The Reflection Until the End”, from Tales from the Lake Volume 4:

My sister used to collect cherry plum pits in her napkin secretly, under the kitchen table. A strainer full of mixed yellow and red and deep-purple fruits would separate us each spring, with a small bowl next to it to collect the pits–although mine were typically the only ones in there–and a plate beneath the strainer to collect any drips from the rinsed fruit. My sister was coy like that. Her lie had become our lie, and every once in a while she’d throw a pit in the bowl to make it look like we were being honest. She knew I wouldn’t bring it up to Mom, because that meant I could have more if I kept my mouth shut. It was one of the few secrets we kept from Mom in our  youth. Call it a sibling bonding moment.

This story is on the longlist for the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Short Fiction, and it is a beautifully written, moving short story. It reminded me a little of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, “The Last Rung on the Ladder”–it’s a gorgeously written tale about a younger brother remembering his older sister, loving childhood memories of closeness that went away as she got older, and things went wrong with her. I absolutely loved it. I met Bailey and his wife several years ago at Stokercon in Las Vegas, and they charmed me completely; this is my first time reading his work, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only reason I can’t see this story not making the short list (or winning) is because I’m not entirely certain it’s horror; it may qualify, but not the in-your-face, jump scare or gross out horror–it’s a quiet horror of the Shirley Jackson kind; the horror of the heart from what life can do to someone we love.


Dancing in the Sheets

The sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed to 49 degrees. The boil-water advisory ended finally last evening–it’s just not a crisis in New Orleans unless we have a boil-water advisory!–and here I sit this morning, ensconced at my desk with a cup of coffee, a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, with great expectations of the day. I went to the gym last evening after work, and my muscles, while a bit tired, still feel stretched and worked and supple, if that makes sense. Probably the best thing about rededicating myself to physical exercise again is how much better I feel; I don’t ache or feel tired the way I did just last week, and the stretching and the treadmill are also making me feel ever so much better. Today, I am going to clean (if it’s Saturday I must be cleaning) but I am also going to write, edit and read today. Paul is going into the office to work (it’s that time of year again) and so I have the day to myself. I want to finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill” and I want to edit “Cold Beer No Flies.”

Among many other things; my to-do list is ridiculous, quite frankly. But the only way to make progress is not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the list but rather to keep plugging away at it.

I finished reading Miami by Joan Didion earlier this week, and it was quite good. Didion’s writing style is quite amazing, actually, and while the story of the book might seem, at first glance, to be rather dated; the truth is it is still very much appropriate to our modern times. Miami is a look at the Cuban exiles in the city, how they relate to each other, and how they impact south Florida politically; and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the US government with them as well as with Castro’s Cuba. During the Cold War Cuba was a much more terrifying apparition, close as it was to Florida, and it’s amazing how people do not realize the political clout, as a result of their sheer numbers, that the Cuban immigrants weld in that part of the state, and in the entire state as well. The importance of Florida as a swing state cannot be discounted; and therefore the Cuban-American community’s influence on national politics is something that has to always be considered. (A present day comparison would be the Puerto Ricans moving to Florida today in great numbers as a result of the hurricane destruction of their island; the difference being those Puerto Ricans are already American citizens who can register to vote and can impact 2018 already.) Didion’s look at Miami in the 1980’s, as a Caribbean city on the mainland, is also reminiscent of descriptions of New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city; the thing I love the most about Didion’s work is how she makes you think. Reading Miami made me want to write about Miami; I’ve been wanting to write about Florida for a long time, as Constant Reader already knows. Something to ponder.


I also started reading Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is a look at the film industry through the lens of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, and how they were made. Harris’ thesis is that was the year that bridged the gap between old and new Hollywood; and the five Best Picture nominees illustrated that perfectly: an expensive musical flop (Doctor Dolittle); two old style Hollywood pictures about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night), and two films that illustrated new Hollywood and its influence by European filmmakers like Truffaut and Fellini and Antonioni (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). I, of course, have always been fascinated by Hollywood history and have been ever since I read Garson Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn and Bob Thomas’ Selznick as a kid; this book is right up my alley, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Hollywood history, I am looking forward to reading this (and his Five Came Back–I’ve already watched the documentary based on it).

The Short Story Project also moves apace; I am frequently surprised as I look through my shelves for something to read how many single author collections and anthologies dot them. My Ipad also has quite a few loaded onto the Kindle app; I often buy them when they are either free or reduced in price, and so my Kindle app is filled with books I’ve not yet read, primarily because I don’t like to read on it (which I realize is nothing more than stubbornness; if I can watch movies or television programs on it, why resist reading books there?) Yesterday I found my battered old Dell paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, which I remember loving as a child. I was looking for my copy of Lawrence Block’s first anthology inspired by paintings–those of Edward Hopper– In Sunlight or in Shadow, which I would have sworn I’d purchased in hardcover; yet it wasn’t anywhere on the shelves or in any of the TBR piles, before remembering I’d bought it as an ebook when the Macavity nominations come out; Block’s story “Autumn at the Automat” was a finalist, along with mine (I still can’t believe it) and I wanted to read all the other nominated stories for an entry, so the immediacy of the need required buying the ebook. It is a handsome volume, though, so I’ll need to buy a hard copy to pair with the new one. (New bucket list item: write a story for one of these anthologies by Lawrence Block)

Once I’d located it on the iPad, I scoured the table of contents and landed on a Joyce Carol Oates story, “The Woman in the Window.” I have to confess I’ve not read much of Ms. Oates; I am not even remotely familiar with what she writes. But she, too, was a Macavity finalist last year, for her story “The Crawl Space” (which also won the Stoker Award), and that story creeped me the fuck out. I know she’s been a Stoker finalist before, but I also think she tends to write across genre a lot and therefore isn’t pigeon-holed in one way or the other.

Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.

Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.

No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous!

It is eleven A.M. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven A.M.

This story, frankly, isn’t as strong as “The Crawl Space,” but it’s an interesting exercise in how thin the line between lust and loathing is; the woman of the title is a secretary having an affair with a much wealthier man, and as she gets older and older she is feeling more and more trapped in the relationship; he is married and he often has to break plans with her for his wife. There is also a shift occasionally to his point of view, and he’s not so fond of her anymore, either. Passion has cooled but habit has set in; and the way those lines can get crossed is chilling–and how destructive such a relationship can be to both parties, emotionally and mentally, is explored in great detail yet sparse language by Ms. Oates. The story’s not as creepy, as I said, as the other; but the end–which she leaves kind of hanging–you do feel that something awful is going to happen; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

I’ve not read Joe Hill before, and there are several reasons for that; none of which would make any sense to anyone who is not me; I am nothing if not aware of my own eccentricities, which is why I generally don’t share them with people; I don’t need someone else to point out that something doesn’t make sense. But I do have a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I spied on the shelves as I looked for my copy of the Block anthology. Aha, I thought, perfect. I can read a Joe Hill story for the Short Story Project. So, I curled up under a blanket in my easy chair, waited for Scooter to get settled in my lap, and started reading “Best New Horror.”

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once–when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America’s Best New Horror–he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

I did not mention the elephant in the room; said elephant, of course, being that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (The Kings are a very literary family; Mr. King’s wife Tabitha is a poet and a novelist; their other son Owen also writes, as does Owen’s wife, Kelly Braffet; I read a novel by Ms. Braffet sometime in the last couple of years–not aware of the King connection–and greatly enjoyed it.)

But simply based on a reading of “Best New Horror,” I have to say Joe Hill is also a terrific writer. And while it, like some of his father’s work, bears a strong resemblance to something I would have read in an Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery comic book–that is not a criticism. I loved those comics, and the stories I read in them; they had a deep influence on me not only as a writer but as a reader. “Best New Horror”, as you can tell by the opening, tells the tale of Eddie Carroll, a writing teacher and a long-time editor of the Best New Horror series, a chore he has learned to loathe and, basically, phone in every year for the money. This resonated with me; as an anthology editor myself, one of the reasons I stepped away from editing them–or took a break from doing it–was because it was becoming rote; a chore rather than something I found joy in doing. Eddie is an example of why I stopped–I didn’t want to become like him; embittered by the experience and tired of not finding anything fresh or new (unlike Eddie, I was able to keep the experience fresh because each anthology I did was a new topic; if I had done twenty anthologies with the same theme I would have gone on a killing spree). But in the mail comes a story from a new writer that is simply brilliant; original and fresh and resonant and horrifying in its reality; the story reinvigorates Eddie and makes the editing job no longer a chore; he has to have this story, and will do whatever he has to in order to track the writer down…but as with any horror  tale of obsession, it’s not going to end well. But Hill brilliantly keeps stringing the reader along, and the ending is just absolutely brilliant and clever. I am really looking forward to reading more of these stories.

And now, I must get back to the spice mines. There are clothes to fold, dishes to wash, floors to clean, stories to write and edit; I am probably coming back here for another entry later as I am trying to get caught up on posting the stories I’ve read–but I make no promises. I have another story to write as a call for submissions crossed my computer screen on Thursday; I have an unfinished story that I can repurpose, but I also need to get a first draft done so I can work the story out.

Until later, Constant Reader.

Got a Hold on Me

Friday morning, and a short day at the office. I am very pleased to report that looking out my windows this morning I see no snow and ice, so I think perhaps this cold snap has finally come to its bitter end. We’re now having water pressure problems in the city, a boil water advisory, etc. etc. etc. Heavy heaving sigh. But other than that, things are going well. Like I said, I have a short day today; I am going to go to the gym this afternoon when I get home from the office, and I am going to spend the weekend writing and editing and reading. I started writing another short story yesterday, “The Trouble with Autofill,” which I think is kind of clever, and have lots of other editing and writing to do. Woo-hoo! Exciting weekend, no? I also want to get some reading and cleaning done. But I think as long as I keep going–sticking to my goal of positivity and focus, things will go well.

Maybe today’s blog should be titled When You Believe.

So, my agenda this morning is to get my kitchen cleaned up, get better organized, clean out my email, and do some writing. I’m going to get the mail before heading to the office, and I also need to pack my gym clothes so I can just ran in, grab the bag, and head back out the door. I also have lost three more pounds this week, finally breaking through that pesky 214 pound plateau I was at–I haven’t weighed 211 in years, so huzzah for working out! Now to keep going.

I started watching Black Sails again this week. I tried it several years ago, and just couldn’t get into it, even going so far as to think it kind of boring. I don’t know why; it has everything I love–pirates, beautiful locations, great period costumes, hot sweaty men in buccaneer outfits–but for whatever reason I just didn’t get into it. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention? Something. Anyway, I am enjoying it a lot more this time around, so I am in for all four seasons. I love pirates–always have–despite having given up on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after the second movie–and while I am not sure why that is the case, I just have. I’ve always wanted to write a pirate novel; and I still have a Scotty adventure having to do with Jean Lafitte’s treasure still floating around in the back of my  head. I’m making all kinds of notes as I watch this show–reread Treasure Island, do some research on pirates, reread The Deep–so who knows? My creativity is certainly flowering these days; and I do think this go back to your roots thing is really working for me. I am doing that with my workout program–all the way back to how I got started, in 1994/1995; and carrying my little blank book around has certainly kick-started my creativity. How cool is that?

I’ve also added a lot of fun Alfred Hitchcock movies to my watchlist on Amazon Prime, some I haven’t seen and others I already have: Saboteur, The Birds, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, Frenzy, Psycho, Family Plot, and Vertigo.

The Short Story Project is also continuing; I read a shitload of short stories on my Snow Day Wednesday, but am still doling them out two at a time here. 😉 First up today: “Lord of Madison County by Jimmy Cajoleas, from Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin:

“Are yall ready to worship?” says Pastor Jerry. He’s got his eyes shut, one arm raised high to Jesus in some weird half-Nazi salute. Frosted hair slicked back, bald spots barely showing. Graphic T-shirt that says, Lord’s Gym, and has Christ bench-pressing a cross on it. Cargo shorts that he still thinks are cool.

I’m a little ways back in the youth room, chewing on a pen cap. The worship band kicks in; it’s all reverbed guitar and concert lights and the bullshit praise lyrics projected onto a screem behind them. You know, the songs that are the kind of crap you say to your girlfriend but it’s supposed to be about God? You are beautiful. You alone are my rock. You alone are my one and only. Oh, Jesus, baby!

Out in the crowd of youth-groupers are my customers. The girl with her hands up in the air giggling, singing louder than anyone? That’s Theresa. Everyone thinks she’s weird, that maybe she’s one of God’s holy fools, but they all agree that she’s on fire with Jesus.

Nah, she just popped a molly.

This is a great opening; I had wondered if anyone was going to address the Southern relationship with religion, and Christianity, in particular. My own psyche has been deeply scarred by a love-hate relationship with the Southern brand of Christianity; the entire nation was recently stunned by the Alabama evangelical embrace of pedophile Roy Moore–which was something that neither surprised nor shocked me. I need to write about religion; I do wish someone with a book called Religion in America: A History of the Turbulent American Relationship with God. Writing is very therapeutic, and I do have such a story that I’ve been working on for going on thirty years; I seriously doubt anyone would publish it. Anyway, I digress. This story, about a young drug dealer who has a fraught relationship with his mother, his father, and his mother’s boyfriend, is very clever and tightly written, with surprise twists and turns that take it in directions I didn’t see coming. Doug, kicked out of his wealthy private school where he was making money dealing to the rich kids, realized the best new market for his merchandise was the youth group at a local church. His dealing increased the youth group’s membership, and he has his own fraught relationship with Pastor Jerry, whom he rather despises, while dating Jerry’s daughter Kayla. Kayla is the big surprise here, a femme fatale right out of the James M. Cain classics, and a true delight. I’d love to read more about Kayla.

After Mississippi Noir, I took down The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four, edited by Ellen Datlow, and the first story there was Stephen King’s The Little Green God of Agony.”

“I was in an accident,” Newsome said.

Katherine MacDonald, sitting beside the bed and attaching one of the four TENS units to his scrawny thigh just below the basketball shorts he now always wore, did not look up. Her face was carefully blank. She was a piece of human furniture in this big house–in this big bedroom where she now spent most of her working life–and that was the way she liked it. Attracting Mr. Newsome’s attention was usually a bad idea, as any of his employees knew. But her thoughts ran on, just the same. Now you tell them that you actually caused the accident. Because you think taking responsibility makes you look like a hero.

“Actually,” Newsome said, “I caused the accident. Not so tight, Kat, please.”

There’s a reason why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. One of the reasons is his uncanny ability to get into the heads of his characters, turning them into three dimensional beings that sound like someone you know. Kat, the physical therapist for an incredibly wealthy man–“the sixth wealthiest man in the world’–is tired of her job and tired of her patient. He won’t do the work required to get better and she is tired of watching him waste money and time on quick-fix quack cures that don’t do anything. This time, he’s brought in a small-time preacher from Arkansas who is going to exorcise the demon of pain from Newsome; it’s all she can do to keep a straight face and not say anything. Finally, she can’t resist and the preacher, Rideout, calls her out on a lot of things, seeing deep into her soul and telling her truths she doesn’t want to face herself, let alone share with anyone. And then the exorcism begins…in Danse Macabre, his later 1970’s/early 1980’s study of the genre, King talks about how horror comics of the 1950’s influenced his writing; as I was reading this story I could easily see it illustrated in Tales from the Crypt or House of Secrets. It’s terrific, absolutely terrific, and I was reminded again of why I love nothing more than curling up with Stephen King’s writing. It also vaguely reminded me of his novel Revival; I think this story may have triggered his creativity in that direction.

And now, I have spice to mine. Have a great Friday, Constant Reader!




Yes, we had freezing temperatures in New Orleans the last two nights, and when I woke yesterday morning it was only 20 degrees; it’s 21 today. There was snow and ice outside both yesterday and today–not much, it’s New Orleans, seriously–but the exciting news yesterday morning was work was canceled because the roads were closed! The text went out around nine in the morning, but I, good boy who is determined to stick to his goals that I am, was at the gym. Yes, I got up yesterday morning, bundled up against the cold, and went to the gym. There were tumbleweeds blowing through there, of course, but I did my stretches, my workout, and twenty minutes  of cardio(okay, it was 17:58, but it was nine and I thought I needed to get home and get ready for work). I came home, did the dishes, packed Paul’s lunch, got cleaned up, packed my own lunch and headed out to the car, which had ice all over its windows. I got inside, started the car and turned the defrosters on, and was about to plug my phone into the stereo when I saw that I had 15 text messages….the initial messages about the office being closed and responses from co-workers. I immediately shut off the car and came inside and put my sweats back on.

Here is the horror that was New Orleans yesterday morning:

Really not much of anything, seriously. But as I told my boss last night, I know how to drive in snow and ice, but these people down here? Not so much.

The problem, apparently, was that the bridges into New Orleans–we’re kind of an island, surrounded by water and swamp and you have to cross a bridge to get into the city no matter from what direction–were icy, and of course, that makes them dangerous because people here don’t know how to drive on ice and the bridges are all pretty high. So the bridges were closed and so commuters couldn’t get into the city; the highways are also raised in many places and therefore dangerous when icy. So basically, the entire city shut down. I could have made it to work, but hey, you know, the office was closed. Today so far I’ve not heard about anything–I doubt very seriously we would close two days in a row, and I have no problem with going in.

But it was nice having a free day to stay home with the cat, you know? I did laundry, and since it was so cold at my desk in the kitchen even with the space heater on, decided to make it a real Snow Day and simply retire to my easy chair with the cat in my lap and work on the Short Story Project. I read a Lee Child story from one of the Lawrence Block painting anthologies, and a Laura Lippman from her collection Hardly Knew Her.

Lee Child’s story was “Pierre, Lucien, and Me”, from Alive in Shape and Color:

I survived my first heart attack. But as soon as I well enough to sit up in bed, the doctor came back and told me I was sure to have a second. Only a matter of time, he said. The first episode had been indicative of a serious underlying weakness. Which it had just made worse. Could be days. Or weeks. Months at most. He said from now on I should consider myself an invalid.

I said, “This is 1928, for fuck’s sake, They got people talking on the radio from far away. Don’t you have a pill for it?”

No pill, he said. Nothing to be done. Maybe see a show. And maybe write some letters. He told me what people regretted most were the things they didn’t say. Then he left. Then I left. Now I have been home four days. Doing nothing. Waiting for the second episode. Days away, or weeks, or months. I have no way of knowing.

I’m a fan of Lee Child, and one of my favorite memories was walking to Green Goddess with Alafair Burke when Romantic Times was here one year, and we ran into Lee on the street. I was a big fan, of course, but had never met him. Alafair, of course, knew him, and she invited him to join us. So I not only got to have lunch with Alafair Burke but also Lee Child. (How awesome are my namedropping skills?)

Anyway, he was as charming and self-deprecating as I’d heard–ridiculously tall and slender as well.

I love his Reacher series, but am many years behind on it, alas–so many books, so little time–but this story was short and quite lovely. The main character, as you can tell from the opening, is dying, and reflecting on his life; thinking back on whom he might need to apologize to or make amends with, and cannot really think of anyone. Then a name pops into his head; a millionaire he rather swindled, and the tale of the swindle makes up the rest of the story. The voice is charming and the swindle itself isn’t really that terrible, as far as these things go; he didn’t cause any harm, really, even if what he did was a crime.

I then moved on to Laura Lippman’s “Hardly Knew Her”, from her amazing collection Hardly Knew Her:

Sofia was a lean, hipless girl, the type that older men still called a tomboy in 1975, although her only hoydenish quality was a love of football. In the vacant lot behind the neighborhood tavern, the boys welcomed her into their games. This was in part because she was quick, with sure hands. But even touch football sometimes ended in pile-ups, where it was possible to steal a touch or two and claim it was accidental. She tolerated this feeble groping most of the time, punching the occasional boy who pressed too hard too long, which put the others on notice for a while. Then they forgot, or it happened again–they touched, she punched. It was a price she was more than willing to pay for the exhilaration she felt when she passed the few yew berry bushes that marked the end zone, a gaggle of boys breathless in her wake.

But for all the afternoons she spent at the vacant lot, she never made peace with the tricky plays–the faked handoffs, the double pumps, the gimmicky laterals. It seemed cowardly to her, a way for less gifted players to punish those with natural talent. It was one thing to spin and feint down the field, eluding grasping hands with a swivel of her nonhips. But to pretend the ball was somewhere it wasn’t struck her as cheating, and no one could ever persuade her otherwise.

Sofia, called Fee by her family and by no one else–she won’t allow it–has a father with a gambling problem; he plays in a game in the neighborhood tavern every Friday night. When he does well, there are gifts for the family on Saturday; when he doesn’t, he takes those gifts in the middle of the night and pawns or sells them, or turns them over as payment for a debt. He’s not a good bluffer, like his daughter, depending on the luck of the draw for his success or failure. But Fee is given a lovely amethyst necklace for her birthday–an heirloom–and when her father takes it to pay a debt, Fee is finished with her father, finished with this existence, and decides she is getting her necklace back. How this all plays out for Fee is a coming-of-age tale like no other I’ve read; one that only a talent like Laura Lippman could write. This collection of short stories is really quite extraordinary; as is the Block anthology; y’all really need to read these two books if you are a fan of short stories.

I also started watching, of all things, original episodes of Scooby Doo Where Are You? through Amazon Prime; I’ve been thinking a lot about Scooby Doo and its predecessor, Jonny Quest, since getting to meet one of the directors/animators for Hanna-Barbera at Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago. Jonny Quest is actually the first memory I have of watching something mystery/adventure related, and my love for Jonny Quest never really abated; I think, therefore, that the show was what triggered my lifelong love of mysteries and the crime genre; Scooby Doo came along around the time I was discovered the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I’ll keep watching and musing about this some more, before making a post. I also still owe a post about I Tonya. I also finished reading Joan Didion’s Miami last night; so I’ll have to post about that as well.

So, that was how I spent my Snow Day; resting and relaxing and reading. It was actually quite lovely; we watched two episodes of Broadchurch last night and only have three to go before finishing the show. This third season is also quite good, and it’s cool how they’ve woven characters from the initial story into the present investigation; this entire season is an exploration about sexual assault, sex in genre, and porn. I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

And now, back to the spice mines. As I said, I don’t think we’ll get another Snow Day today, so I have to get back to work. But how lovely to have a day where I didn’t really have to do anything; it’s been a long time. (Okay, I did the dishes and a load of laundry, but overall, it was a light responsibility day.)



Round and Round

So, I did it. I went to the gym yesterday for the first time in months, and God knows when the last time I went without a trainer appointment. I am very proud of myself for taking this first step, and I have to remember to stay motivated. It felt fantastic. I’d forgotten how great endorphins feel. I went in, and did some stretches before heading to the weight machines. I went all the back to my origins (something I seem to be doing a lot this year), and started doing my work outs the way I did when I first got back in shape way back in 1995: a full body workout (chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, leg press, and calf raises, then abs and cardio) and did low weights, tried to not overdo it, and only did one set of 15 on everything. I will go up to two sets of everything on the fourth workout; three sets on the seventh, and up the weights on the tenth, and then on every fourth thereafter. I am not concerned about gaining size; this is more of a cardiovascular than strength workout. Maybe by the summer I might change to something more muscle building, but any workout with weights is going to gain some size. I’d like to hit my goal weight of 200 by July; we shall see. I also am not certain what that is going to do to my build, to be honest. But I can adapt…and posting publicly about this is also going to shame me into being more consistent.

And this morning I still feel good; I can tell I exercised, but am not sore. Yay! SO lovely to know I am doing it right. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long since I learned about the body and how to exercise properly. I wonder–yes, I just googled my old gym in Tampa; it closed in 2003 and was still owned by the same person when it closed as when it opened. Good ole Metroflex and Alan. When I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine I based the gym Chanse worked out at on Metroflex; I even named the manager Alan. I’d completely forgotten about that until just now….

We watched I, Tonya last night and really enjoyed it. I have a lot of thoughts about it, but I’m going to let them digest for a few days before I post about it. The cast is excellent, and I think the movie is, too.

I have lots I want to get done on this holiday Monday; I am making an excursion to Metairie, and have lots of writing to do, and lots of editing, and tons of emails to anwer and get caught up on.

The Short Story Project continues. Yesterday I read the first story in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me, “Between the Sheets”:

I squinted at the woman sitting across the desk from me. I could have sworn she’d just told me there was a dead man in her daughter’s bed, which seemed like a strange thing to say, accompanied, as it was, by a pleasant smile and carefully modulated tone. Maybe I’d misunderstood.

It was nine o’clock in the morning, some ordinary day of the week. I was, I confess, hungover–a rare occurrence in my life. I do not drink often or much, but the night before I’d been at a birthday party for my landlord, Henry Pitts, who’d just turned eighty-two. Apparently the celebration had gotten out of hand because here I was, feeling fuzzy-headed and faintly nauseated, trying to look like an especially smart and capable private investigator, which is what I am when I’m in good form.

My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m thirty-two years olds, divorced, a licensed P.I., running my own agency in a town ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. The woman had told me her name was Emily Culpepper and that much made sense. She was very small, one of those women who at any age will be thought “cute,” God forbid. She had short dark hair and a sweet face and she looked like a perfect suburban housewife. She was wearing a pale blue blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a heather-colored Shetland sweater with grosgrain ribbon down the front, a heather tweed skirt, hose, and Capezios with a dainty heel, I guessed her to be roughly my age.

“Between the Sheets’ is a delight, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s actually a traditional mystery story; one that is solved by viewing the crime scene, interviewing people, and observing the clues left behind by the killer and making deductions. This is particularly fun because the Kinsey novels are hardboiled style private eye novels, tough with sparse prose and told from Kinsey’s slightly cynical, world-weary point of view. This short story, still in that voice, though, has several moments os humor, and could easily have been an Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason story, or an Agatha Christie–although Christie’s short stories always seemed to me to border on the noir side.

The other story I read was “Barn Burning” from The Collected Stories of William Faulkner, an enormous volume I’ve only occasionally dipped into:

The store in which the Justice of the Peace’s court was sitting smelled of  cheese. The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more: from where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet devils and the silver curve of fish–this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little but of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of blood. He could not see the table where the Justice sat and before which his father and his father’s enemy (our enemy, he thought in that despair; ourn! mine and him both! He;s my father!) stood, but he could hear them, the two of them that is, because his father had said no word yet:

“But what proof have you, Mr. Harris?”

Faulkner is one of my all-time favorite writers; his “A Rose for Emily” is one of the greatest short stories ever written–if not the greatest–and both Sanctuary and The Sound and the Fury are works of art most writers can only aspire to. There’s no sentimentality in Faulkner, at least not to me; he doesn’t romanticize poverty, he doesn’t romanticize the rural Southern experience, nor does he write about heroic figures. He writes about damaged and flawed human beings, and while his work is called “Southern Gothic,” I’m not sure if gothic is the right word. For me at least the descriptor gothic conjures up an entirely different image and style of story and writing. Reading Faulkner reminds me of home, reminds me of relatives and summers spent in rural Alabama, of orange-meat watermelons and fireflies and  four o’clocks and screen doors and ticks on dogs and red dirt and big red Coca-Cola coolers with a bottle opener on the side. “Barn Burning” is told from the perspective of a young boy, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, and opens with his father being found not guilty, for lack of evidence, of burning the Harris barn after a dispute about a loose hog; but despite the lack of evidence the Snopes family is banished from the county and sent on their way to the next sharecropping farm, where things go bad yet again, but this time Sarty can’t let it happen. It’s about learning the difference between right and wrong, and learning that sometimes loyalty to blood simply because of blood isn’t enough. It’s a terrific story, with great imagery and beautiful language use, and yes, reminded me of my long love affair with Faulkner’s work. He’s not easy to read by any means; but so worth the effort.

And now,  back to the spice mines.