Every Song Is You

Wednesday morning!

Yesterday was a really good day. I was productive again–not as much as the previous two days, but still, I’m counting it as a win. I even wrote. I worked on a short story and an essay–granted, the short story was a revision, so somewhat easier than actually writing something from scratch on a blank page–but it was still pretty awesome to be flexing some creative muscles again. I also think my editorial eye has become a lot more clear than it’s been in over twenty-one months; I definitely think I am going to be tweaking this story perhaps one more time. But it felt amazing to be writing again–rewriting, as it were–and so my new plan is to try to get this three short stories I’ve been trying to revise forever revised this week, and start working on A Streetcar Named Murder in earnest this weekend.

Tonight after work I am going to go to the gym for Leg Day, and try to get some more editing done. I also want to finish reading Velvet Was the Night so I can start my Horror for Halloween reading, beginning with the annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House. I had also planned to read one of the Stephen Kings I have on hand but not yet read–probably The Institute–and another Paul Tremblay at the very least; but I’ve got to finish what I am already reading before I can move on to anything else. I think this decommitment to watching college football all day on Saturday will help, and just the occasional check-in on the Saints on Sunday should also help free up some of my time. I think today’s lower energy mode is probably just the usual oh I’ve gotten up at six for three straight mornings tired; even now as the coffee kicks into gear I am starting to feel more alert and more on top of things–which is pretty fucking cool. Yay!

I’ve also been writing blog posts to promote Bury Me in Shadows; I wrote a rather lengthy one about the backstory behind the book–where the Civil War ghost story aspect of the book came from, and why it was kind of difficult to write such a thing in the present time, knowing that the rebel side was wrong and problematic–and the underlying root cause of all the racial tension and problems we still face as a country today (I’ve preordered The 1619 Project, and can’t wait to read it). One of my primary worries/concerns with writing this book was how easy it would be to step wrong and write something offensive. I still worry from time to time that I did exactly that, and when the book is released there will be controversy. But if I got something wrong, or wrote something that is offensive, I will own my mistakes, apologize for them, and try to do better going forward.

I don’t understand when admitting you were wrong or made a mistake became a sign of weakness in this country. I also don’t understand it. I don’t like being wrong, but I am also not going to double down on being wrong. Not meaning any offense doesn’t mean you won’t offend someone, and for the record, I’m sorry you were offended is not the same thing as I’m sorry I offended you. The first is a non-apology, and the speaker isn’t really sorry for what they said, they are only sorry you were offended by it. The second takes ownership of the situation and doesn’t let the original speaker off the hook, and personalizes the apology. I also don’t understand why this is so hard for people to understand.

Yesterday Twitter was all abuzz about the Kidney Woman story in the New York Times, which tried to stir up the whole argument about drawing inspiration from someone else’s life or story. I’ve always believed that it’s impossible for any writer to create either a character or situation lifted from real life; if anything, it’s only a starting place, because a writer cannot know everything about any real life person–you don’t know their every experience, you don’t know what the seminal experiences that created who they are and how they react to things, you don’t know how their mind works or how they even think; at best, all you really see if how they outwardly react to a person or a situation–you don’t know what they are thinking, you don’t know their triggers, you don’t know anything, really–so you have to make up a lot of it, and you base it on your observations of how that person behaves and reacts. Observation is very key, yes, and an understanding of psychology, but again, everyone is different and no one can predict how anyone else will think or react or behave in any given situation. Which is why we are always surprised by the behavior of people we know; we don’t really know them at any great depth so of course we are always going to be surprised and caught off guard by their actions. Nobody likes to think people talk about them behind their back; no one really wants to know what people that dislike say about them. But you have to understand that it’s very human–friends tell each other things, and everyone talks about everyone else (it always amazes me that this salient fact of life is always addresses so insanely on reality televisions shows–“don’t talk about me behind my back!” Um, everyone does it, hello? And most of the time it means nothing. If someone has pissed me off, I will inevitably talk about it to a mutual friend–just to get it off my chest and out of my system. Usually, I am over it once I talk it through with another person–everyone needs to vent, why is this so hard to understand? And it doesn’t have to mean anything more than that…”yes, I was mad at you, but once I talked it through with X I realized it wasn’t anything, I was over it, and why hurt your feelings or start a fight with you when it really wasn’t anything?”). I certainly don’t want to know what people say about me when I’ve irritated them or pissed them off; I’m perfectly happy being oblivious.

With the caveat that if I behave in a way that really gets on someone’s nerves regularly, I would like to know so I can decide to change the behavior or not.

Then again, I’ve never understood the rules of friendship, either.

We finished Midnight Mass last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mike Flanagan, who also did The Haunting of Hill House (which I was able to enjoy as I merely viewed as fan fiction rather than a straightforward adaptation of the classic novel–one of my favorites), did an excellent job here. It’s a deep meditation on religion and the power of belief, juxtaposed with some serious horror. The acting is superb; the characters deeply drawn and compelling, and it’s hard to look away. I prefer this kind of creepy, unsettling horror to jump scares and gore, frankly. I do recommend the show, but prepared to think some heavy thoughts about the power of religion and its potential for abuse–as well as how easy it is to misinterpret something as holy when it most certainly is not.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Walking in the Rain

And we’ll make it to Wednesday.

So, in less than one week Bury Me in Shadows will officially be out into the world. I’m not sure which book of mine this is—somewhere between thirty-five and forty, I think; I am so tired of counting and I inevitably forget something—and I suppose I should qualify that by book I mean novel; there are also twenty-two anthologies, and I am working on the twenty-third, Land of 10000 Crimes,even as we speak. So, in all, there are close to sixty books with either my name, or that of a pseudonym, on the spine; not bad for the last twenty years.

That said, I should probably talk a bit about Bury Me in Shadows, so you, my very dear Constant Reader, can decide whether or not you wish to bite on this opportunity to read it or not. As I have mentioned before, this story began as a short story called “Ruins” that I wrote while I was in college, on an IBM Selectric with corrective ribbon; remember those? I still have the original draft I typed…(sidebar: I hated typewriters, and freely admit that had computers not evolved and become common place, I’d still be a wannabe writer and unpublished)…but anyway, as I said the other day, I always knew there was more story there than could be contained in a short story, so I put it aside and figured I’d eventually come back to it at some point when I had the time and mind-space to turn it into a novel. It was always there in the back of my head—maybe this year I’ll do the Alabama ghost story—and I’m not sure what finally drove it to the forefront of my mind to start writing the book; I know it happened sometime after the pandemic shutdown, and I had a deadline in January of this year to get it finished. (My memory has become so terribly faulty, you see.)

I really like my main character, Jake Chapman—I know, I know, I always like my main characters, and they usually, inevitably, always have a lot of similarities to each other, in temperament and attitude and intelligence; what differentiates them all is their back stories. When I originally started writing this as a book, Jake was still in high school, attending a fictional Chicago Catholic high school, with plans to work at the school pool over the summer because a boy he had a huge crush on was also going to be working there. (Actually, scratch that; it originally was set in a suburb and he had gotten a job at a fast food place for the summer to be closer to his crush; how could I forget that? And then I moved him into the city when I couldn’t get that story to work; I kept the suburban component but for his father’s second family) Originally I had him flying to Birmingham from Chicago, and being picked up at the airport by Kelly (another one of the characters)…but those original chapters felt very fake to me or something. It just didn’t work. It felt very much like something I had read before many times, and while I originally made Jake very strong and secure in who he is, I also thought it might not work—he needed to have insecurities, he needed to have flaws. And while I know things have changed, I still think an openly gay kid at a Jesuit high school, even in Chicago, would have issues…but am willing to admit I could be wrong about that. But my Jake does, so there.

So, I decided to advance his age a bit and have him attending Tulane here in New Orleans, and I needed a stronger trigger for his mother to send him to Alabama for the summer—especially given her feelings about her past and her family and its history. And that, I realized, was what I needed to establish with the back story; if she kept him away from there since he was a child, why would she send him there now? He couldn’t be a well-adjusted young man, completely secure in himself and his sexuality…and then he started forming in my head. He doesn’t remember his parents being married; they divorced when he was too young to remember. He doesn’t fit into his father’s second family and their suburban life. His mother has been through several husbands—including the most recent, whom she is shedding as the book opens, and he is much younger, a tennis pro. His mother is the only real stability in his life, and she, as a hugely successful lawyer who also teaches law, wouldn’t be around very much. He loves his mother, admires and respects her, but also doesn’t feel as close to her as he thinks he should. Then being a lonely out gay kid at the Catholic school, socially awkward because he isn’t used to having friends, becomes the lonely gay kid at Tulane—shy and awkward and not sure how to meet someone, make friends, even how to be gay. (And yes, I am aware of the Internet and apps and so forth so he could easily educate himself that way, even have encounters with strangers…I do address this a little bit; he does use apps to get laid, but always feels cheap and empty when it’s over.) At Tulane he gets picked up by a gay guy at a party, and lonely, he latches onto him (Tradd) and thinks they have more of a relationship than they really do; it makes him very unhappy and miserable, and one final fight between them with Tradd walking out on him sends Jake out drinking and doing drugs on a binge that ends, finally, with him collapsing in a gay bar and being rushed to the hospital. His mother’s concerns about him—he tried suicide in high school—is what overrides her aversion to Alabama and her home place, and she decides to send him there for the summer. His grandmother has come home from the hospital to die in her own bed—she’s had a massive series of strokes and is bedridden, mostly—and his mother, Glynis, figures someone from the family should be there in the house with her. A distant relative, an orphan named Kelly, who is a senior in high school, has been living there since his own mother died the previous year; Glynis doesn’t quite trust the kid, and once the old woman dies—well, there needs to be an inventory of everything in the house done, so why not pay Jake to do that while spending the summer there?

That, to me, was a much more interesting back story and set up for the book, and so when I started working on it in earnest, that was what I went with.

So, we have a young man who has spent most of his life in cities—Chicago and New Orleans—coming to rural Alabama for the summer. He has faint memories of his grandmother and the old house; the ruins of the original plantation house are still on the property, but over the years as the family lost their money and had to begin selling off all the land, the woods have grown back up so the ruins are actually hidden from the road and from the main house by trees. Jake is recovering from a broken heart and from an overdose.

I like the set-up, and it worked, at least for me, in terms of writing the story. As I said, I really became vested in Jake; I wanted to get to the root of who he is, the traumas he’s endured, and wanted him to learn things about himself now that he has the distance from his life to reexamine the things that have held him back from becoming the best Jake he can be. I really wanted to show his emotional growth and development over the course of the summer.

I guess we’ll see how well I succeeded, won’t we?

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

Together We’re Better

Yesterday actually turned out to be quite lovely.

I was a little bleary when I got up yesterday morning (my Fitbit advises me I only slept deeply for 3 hours, 48 minutes; the rest was “light sleep” and I woke up three times), but for whatever reason, I decided to start getting to work on things. I started answering emails (I am very careful with email. I refuse to let it control my life, which it easily can; so I answer emails over the weekends and in the mornings, save my responses as drafts, and send them all after lunch. I do not send emails after five pm CST; I do not read them, either. Email at one point took over my life, which made getting anything done impossible and raised my stress levels to unbelievable heights. I realized anyone who absolutely, positively needs to reach me has my cell phone number…and if I don’t trust you with my cell phone number…you don’t really need an answer right away. And guess what? The world didn’t end, I didn’t miss out on anything, and nothing became harder) while reading coverage of the LSU debacle from Saturday night (one thing I did mean to mention and didn’t yesterday; I try not to be overly critical of college athletes because they are basically kids. It’s easy to forget that when you’re watching on television, but when you see them on the sidelines with their helmets off, or while walking down Victory Hill to the stadium in their suits and ties…you see a bunch of teenagers and young men in their early twenties. They are kids—and those baby faces on those big muscular bodies is a very strange juxtaposition sometimes). I decided on the way home from Baton Rouge that while I do, indeed, love football, I really shouldn’t give up my weekends to it all fall. Now that LSU is definitely out of the running for anything, I’ll probably not watch as much football as I would if they were still in contention for anything. I’ll still watch LSU, and occasionally I may spend an afternoon watching a big game—the SEC title game, the play-offs—I am not going to spend every Saturday pretty much glued to the television all day, flipping between games all day. And I also rarely enjoy watching the Saints—I love them, they’re my guys, my team, my heart—but their games are so damned stressful it’s hard to enjoy them, and when the games is over I am always, win or lose, emotionally and physically and mentally exhausted. So, I decided it made more sense to get things done, check in on the score periodically, and not sweat it too much. (Good thing. Like LSU, the Saints led the entire game, folded like a newspaper in the fourth quarter and wound up losing.) I made groceries, filled the car’s gas tank, and before going, I started weeding shit out of my iCloud and saving it all to my back-up hard drive.  I wound up freeing up over four hundred and seven gigabytes in my flash storage, and suddenly my computer was running very quickly again.

And yes, it’s my fault.* I have a gazillion pictures files, going back to digital camera days. I used to back up my hard drive and my flash drives regularly to the cloud—and those folders are enormous. I don’t probably need all of it—I was weeding through bits here and there as I moved the files over to the back-up hard drive (eventually planning on copying them up to Dropbox), and started finding all kinds of interesting things. Story fragments I’d forgotten, book ideas and anthology ideas and essays I’d started; some of these things are in very rough, first draft form—and got left behind as my addled, AHDH-like brain moved on to the next thirty or forty ideas for all of the above. I also was kind of amused to see how I often I plagiarize myself; I had a completely different idea for the book I wanted to call A Streetcar Named Murder fifteen years ago—which I can still use at some point, just have to come up with a new title. I’d forgotten that all the way through the process Need was called A Vampire’s Heart; my editor suggested changing it after I turned the book it. It was a wise choice; my title was very romance sounding and Need was hardly that. It was also interesting seeing, over the years, how many different ideas I’ve had for a gay noir set in the world of ballet (damn you, Megan Abbott!). I discovered that Murder in the Garden District actually began as Murder on the Avenue (a title I can repurpose for an idea I had last week); I found the original files for Hollywood South Hustle, the Scotty book that turned into a Chanse MacLeod, Murder in the Rue Ursulines; I found the files for the Colin book that tells us what he was doing and where he was between Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo; I found the original Paige novel I started writing in 2004, in which an Ann Coulter-like pundit from New Orleans is murdered; I found the first three chapters of the Scotty Katrina book, Hurricane Party High,  in which they don’t evacuate during a fictional hurricane, and the chapters where I rewrote it, had the, evacuate to Frank’s sister’s in rural Alabama (and we meet Frank’s nephew Taylor for the first time—and I also remembered that they belonged to some weird kind of religious cult and that Taylor was going to come to New Orleans in the future to visit during their version of rumspringa, but eventually abandoned the idea completely and never did a Scotty/Katrina book; was reminded that Dark Tide began as Mermaid Inn; that I wrote the first chapter of Timothy during the summer of 2003; and if I even tried to list all the iterations that wound up being #shedeservedit, we would be here all day (Sins of Omission, I think, was my favorite earlier title; again, a completely different book with some slight similarities…I may have to take a longer look at some of those iterations because being reminded of them all, I also remembered that I really liked all the versions).

I also found many, many nonfiction pieces I’ve written over the years—many of which I’d long since forgotten about—so maybe that essay collection won’t take quite as long to pull together as I had originally thought. Huzzah!

And I also discovered something else that I knew but had slipped out of my consciousness: that Bury Me in Shadows was called, for the first and second drafts, Bury Me in Satin—which gives off an entirely different vibe, doesn’t it? I wrote a very early version of it as a short story while in college, called it “Ruins,” but never wrote a second draft because I knew it wasn’t a short story; it needed to be a book, and one day I would write it. I was never completely comfortable with the story, to be honest; I wasn’t sure how I could write a modern novel built around a Civil War legend in rural Alabama. I absolutely didn’t want to write a fucking Lost Cause narrative—which is what this easily could have become, and people might come to it thinking it is, and are going to be very angry when they find out it is not that—but I really wasn’t sure how to tell the story…and in my mind, I thought of it as Ruins—which I freely admit is not a great title, and has been over-used.

As luck would have it, I was watching some awards show—I can’t begin to try to remember what year—and one of the nominated groups performed. I’d never heard of The Band Perry before; and the song they performed, “If I Die Young,” absolutely blew me away. (I just remembered, I kind of used the title as guidance when writing Need—always trying to remember he became undead very young) The first two lines of the chorus are this:

If I die young,

Bury me in satin

And I thought to myself, Bury Me in Satin is a perfect title for the Civil War ghost story! Melancholy and sort of romantic; I’ve always thought of hauntings as more about loss than being terrifying (you do not have to go full out jump scare, use gore or blood or violence to scare the reader, and if you doubt me, read Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home), which is why I’ve always loved the Barbara Michaels novels that were ghost stories. That was the feeling I wanted to convey, that sad creepiness, and longing—I wanted a Gothic feel to the book, and I felt that line captured what I wanted perfectly. But as I wrote it, it didn’t quite feel as right as it did in that moment (I still love the song—and the video is interesting and kind of Gothic, doing a Tennyson Lady of Shalott thing), and then one day it hit me: changed ‘satin’ to ‘shadows’, and there’s your perfect title.

And so it was.

Oh dear, look at the time. Till tomorrow, Constant Reader! I am off to the spice mines! Have a lovely Monday!

*I will add the caveat to this that anything stored in the Cloud should not affect the flash storage in the actual computer and its operating system, and yes, I am prepared and more than willing to die on that hill.

Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

I’m On My Way Back Home

Saturday morning and I feel remarkably well rested this morning, and better than I have for weeks when I wake up. I’m not sure what this is about–I am not going to talk about the absence of insomnia lately, which has been marvelous–but I am merely going to take it as a lovely occurrence and run with it.

I guess the most exciting news around here is that we have a mouse in the house, living inside the walls and emerging from behind the dishwasher/refrigerator to occasionally raid Scooter’s food dish. The exterminator came yesterday–and we also discovered the reason the dishwasher is leaking is because the fucking mouse ate through a hose, the little shit–so hopefully this problem will be rectified soon. Scooter has done a good job of keeping the mouse trapped in his area–but he’s not always downstairs. I saw the mouse the other day, eating out of Scooter’s food bowl, and chased it back to his hiding place/residence. It’s not a terribly huge deal–with this old house and all the wildlife thriving in this jungle, tropical climate, it’s really amazing we’ve not had one in over ten years; my theory is the mouse came exploring under the house, and was chased into the house by one of the outdoor cats, and once he was inside, well, wouldn’t you live in the walls of the nice safe house where you can hide out of reach of the predatory cat inside, rather than in the dangerous wilds below the house where any number of cats roam?

I guess we should be glad it isn’t an opossum–the family that was living in the crepe myrtles have disappeared since some of the trees were cut down and the ones left behind trimmed down. Those are almost impossible to get out of the house.

Last night we watched Ted Lasso, which was marvelous (I teared up several times, as I do with every episode, and yet the show always leaves you feeling joy), as well as some other episodes of shows we’re watching but right now I cannot think of what any of them were. How peculiar. Oh, of course, The Morning Show. Foundation is also up on Apple TV now, and i really want to watch it, but am not sure if Paul will be interested. I read the entire Azimov series (ironically, when I read it, it was simply called The Foundation Trilogy, because there were only three at the time; same with Dune. The fourth books in both series were released after I’d read the original trilogies, and now both have been adapted at around the same time!) when I was relatively young–it was definitely before the release of the fourth book, Foundation’s Edge–and I greatly enjoyed them; they were my window into the world of Azimov’s science fiction, which I eventually read a lot of (he eventually connected his other trilogies–the Robot books and the spacer books–to this same trilogy into a sweeping history of the galaxy, really) and greatly enjoyed. I don’t really remember many characters or much of the story of Foundation, other than mathematician Hari Seldon could, using mathematical formulas, accurately predict the future, and when the series opens, his calculations show that the mighty Galactic Empire is falling–and the period of darkness for humanity that will follow in the wake of the collapse of the Empire will last for ten thousand years. However, if he and a team of Encyclopedists are given funding and a place to work without interruption or interference for a thousand years, collecting all the knowledge and history of the galaxy in that time, the darkness will only last a few hundred years or so because of the Encyclopedia. This is the basic premise of the series, which eventually proves to be so much more involved and so much else going on…it was fascinating. But I am not sure how it will work as a series–the trailers look epic–so it might not interest Paul, which means something else I’d have to watch on my own.

The LSU game today is on at eleven, which is insane and unusual and really kind of puts a fly in the ointment of the day, doesn’t it? There aren’t many good games today–the only other one of even slight interest is Arkansas-Texas A&M–so I should be able to get through the emotional rollercoaster of the LSU game early enough to get things done; at least finish reading Velvet Was the Night, which is what I really want to do, and maybe do some writing/editing; it’s way overdue, but I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the writing lately, so it’s time to put those thoughts onto the page before other thoughts and ideas push them out and they languish, forgotten and abandoned, in the deepest and darkest recesses of my brain. Christ, the Saints game is also at noon tomorrow. Whatever happened to night fucking games?

I did manage to get some cleaning done up in the kitchen yesterday after work; I got caught up on the dishes (which have been piling up since the dishwasher started leaking; the days of rinsing something out and/or using a sponge to clean it with soap before placing it in the dishwasher to keep the sinks free are gone until that hose is replaced; the handyman is theoretically going to do it on Monday) and the laundry, started picking up things around the living room, and also pruned some more books off the shelves. Now if I can get the desk area/office space better organized…maybe I can even make myself sit at the computer and write for a while? Stranger things have happened.

I am also doing a promo thing for my publisher tonight at six o’clock central time; it involves a reading and a chat about my book along with other Bold Strokes authors who have books coming out in October; you can register here if you would like to.

And at some point today, I’ll need to pick a small section of the book to read from; and practice a bit.

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

Twenty-Four Hours a Day

Wednesday and the mid-week point. I only have to work this morning–I have a doctor’s appointment at one this afternoon, so I’ll be leaving the office around twelve to head uptown–and then to home, probably the gym and hopefully to get some writing done. One can dream, cannot one?

The doctor’s appointment is the pre-colonoscopy preparation visit; today I will get the procedure scheduled–can’t wait–but while I am not thrilled at the prospective, potential scary diagnoses that could come from it, it’s better to know rather than not. Whether there’s a genetic predisposition to cancer or not, both sides of my family have seemed to have had an excess of cancer diagnoses, which makes me tend to think I am relatively high risk (although neither parent has ever had it). There’s also all the other genetic predispositions–high blood pressure, heart disease, all those lovely things that do tend to run in families–and of course, I get all of it from both sides, which isn’t terrific. But there’s also little I can do about genetic predispositions–other than eating better (which is always a problem for me) and healthier and of course, going to the gym regularly–which has completely fallen off since the power went out. Today I need to climb back onto the horse and work my ass out.

Last night I was very tired. My last two appointments canceled on me, so I came home early and did some on-line trainings, and still have several more to do (hello, two days working at home!). And I didn’t have either the energy to read or write last night after I was finished with bloodborne pathogen training (try not to envy me too much, okay?) The LSU game is at eleven on Saturday, which means any and all errands will be delayed until Sunday; my mood for the rest of Saturday is entirely dependent on how well LSU fares in its first SEC game. A loss here means a potential season of no-wins in the conference; the division just keeps getting better–even Arkansas and Mississippi look vastly improved this year–and Mississippi State (Saturday’s game) was one of our inexplicable losses from last year…and that’s not taking into consideration the murderer’s row of Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Heavy sigh. It’s going to be a long, ugly football season I fear, and the Saints didn’t look too great last weekend, either.

Yay.

But I had some excellent book mail this week: These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall (it was supposed to be delivered the week after Ida; it took a bit longer, needless to say); Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; and Bitterroot Lake by Alicia Beckman (a pseudonym of the fabulous Leslie Budewitz). So, if I can ever finish reading Velvet Was the Night, I have some other excellent reading in store–but October is rapidly approaching, and I want to spend October reading horror, beginning with my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I also have so much writing to do–Christ, I haven’t written much of anything since before the power went out (a phrase I am using so regularly I am beginning to think I should start referring to it as Before The Power Went Out), although yesterday I did spend some brainstorming time on my next book and I did try to work on an essay. Progress? But it was something, at any rate, and something is better than nothing at this point, quite frankly.

And yet…

Maybe–and this is a big maybe–this week is a period of readjustment, as life returns to normality (or what at least passed for it Before The Power Went Out–oooh, I do like that) I need to get used to my normal schedule again before I can settle into it and get my shit together again–or I’ve just gotten incredibly good at justifying laziness and procrastination after a lifetime of practice. But today is the first day of autumn officially (I rather jumped the gun on Twitter yesterday, getting a resultant scolding from my friend Alafair), and tonight the low is dipping into the sixties, and it will do that very thing every night through the weekend. It wasn’t horribly humid yesterday–at least it didn’t feel like it; it felt much cooler yesterday despite my car telling me it was 92 degrees when I left the office yesterday–and even this morning, the air was a bit thick (it rained a bit overnight) but there was a bit of a nip in the thickness, which indicates the ignominy of the summer heat is finally past. There were still occasionally be days where it gets up into the high eighties/low nineties, but the humidity is pretty much finished for the year (please please please don’t prove me wrong) so it’s actually lovely; rather southern California-ish outside.

So, here’s hoping to a nice little visit with the doctor this afternoon, a lovely workout at the gym, and some quality reading/writing time this evening. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Love Is All That I Ever Needed

And now it’s Tuesday and the world keeps turning.

Hilariously, Facebook flagged yesterday’s hunk as being against their “community standards” and removed the posts from both my main page AND my author page. I protested this ruling and won–yet despite not doing anything wrong, they left the 24 hour ban on me in place. Um, why am I banned when you admitted you were wrong about my posts? Ah, Zuckerberg. You make me want to believe hell is real…and while it is highly irritating to have to protest a suspension and get the “yeah you right our bad” while the suspension remains in place, it’s kind of amusing as well.

I really do miss a world without Facebook. Seriously. And honestly–those four or five days without Internet would have been lovely if we’d had air conditioning and power.

Getting up early is beginning to already become tiresome–so that means things are getting back to sort of normal for one Gregalicious here. I was also relatively tired when I got home last night, so didn’t get much of anything accomplished after getting home from work last evening. I’d intended to get some things done, and made a good start, but once I parked myself into the easy chair the day was essentially over, really. I don’t feel sleepy this morning, or like I had to force myself up and out of bed this morning or anything; I actually feel more awake than I usually do, and the coffee is quite tasty this morning as well. I also keep forgetting that I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at one, and therefore only have to work in the morning. I also need to take my car in the have a tire repaired; it’s always had a bit of a slow leak, which has only gradually gotten worse….in the beginning I needed to air it up maybe once every few month, if that often, but it’s becoming a much more regular thing, and so…might as well get it fixed and/or replaced now before it becomes an actual issue somewhere along the line. Heavy heaving sigh. I hate having to get these things taken care of myself, you know–I’d much rather let someone else come along and handle it all for me, or to be able to simply toss the car keys to someone and say, yes, can you get this handled for me today?

Then again, I’d probably not enjoy having someone work for me.

I don’t think I would make a good boss.

I did try to write last night, so don’t get me wrong on this. I just couldn’t think of anything to say, really, which isn’t good. I guess that means the depression is still there, insidiously working on my brain subconsciously. Outside of this blog I’ve not really been able to write anything other than emails for quite some time, and that doesn’t exactly made me thrilled in the least, you know. I am always worried about losing the ability to write–it’s always there, in the back of my mind–but I inevitably can get through it, you know, and eventually will force myself to write something, anything, and the words will start coming and I am over it and the fears recede for a while. But it was really sad last night; I just stared at the words on the essay I had already started quite some time ago and maybe added one sentence to it…if that…and still wasn’t entirely certain it was even much of a sentence, let alone a good one. I know I need to push myself as I go–part of the reason I am so worried about how the next two books are going to be received is because I pushed myself for one and I took on difficult subjects that I generally try to avoid as a rule (or at least that’s what I think, at any rate)…so I am not really sure how the books will be received, which makes me nervous. Working on something new also always makes me nervous, and so this newly contracted book has me a little terrified to work on it, too.

I don’t know why I allow these things to prey on my mind, I really don’t. I really wish I could get past the fear that I am eventually going to dry up; that the next time I go to the well of creativity the bucket will come up empty. It hasn’t yet–although there have been plenty of misfires over the years (just look inside the “short stories in progress” folder in my computer sometime, if you want to see how often it does happen)–but the fear is always there that one day, it will just go away. I can’t imagine ever retiring from writing, or stopping doing it ever (unless the aforementioned fear comes true) until I die, but stranger things have happened and one truly never can say never about anything, really (other than eggs; I will never eat an egg again); I shall certainly, per the filing cabinets and stacked-up notebooks, never run out of ideas before I die, at any rate. There’s always that wealth of ideas to pull from, after all….and of course, there’s always the news, which never fails. I read a news report this morning about the sexual abuse of a bullied teenage boy at a private school in a small town in Louisiana; and as I read it my mind filled with how to present that as a novel; which characters to use for pov, what the point of the story would be, etc etc etc.

I suppose I will only ever stop writing on the day when I no longer want to type anymore.

Tonight after work I am hoping to get the kitchen cleaned, finish the laundry I started last night, and read and/or write for a little while before Paul comes home. I will also probably make dinner while I am doing all of these things; it’s weird knowing tomorrow I only have to work half-a-day, and that I can go to the gym in the afternoon after my doctor’s appointment; and then I will have the rest of the day. I did make a to-do list yesterday, but am not really certain that I have everything on it that needs to be on it, frankly; always a problem and always a possibility.

We also watched some more episodes of Sex Education last night, which is actually an incredibly good show that isn’t getting near the attention it deserves. I can’t remember ever seeing a show addressing teenage sexuality so frankly (Paul and I both wondered if everyone we went to high school with was having this much sex in high school, since neither one of us was having any); and the romance between Maeve and her disabled neighbor Isaac, including a love scene last night where they explored each other and he was telling her what he could feel, what he could experience, and what he was capable of doing, was so sweet and tender and honest; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sexuality of people with disabilities ever talked about before, let alone so honestly and frankly and intimately. Seriously, check it out–plus there’s amazing gay representation on the show, and the romance between Eric and Adam (while slightly problematic in how it all began) is actually incredibly sweet and charming.

Honestly, there’s so much wonderful queer representation happening in film and on television these days I cannot possibly list them all, let alone watch them all. To be sure, there is still problematic representation, of course; but I also cannot help but think what a difference watching something like this Sex Education would have made for me as a teenager….likewise, I love seeing how men are changing it up and taking risks for their red carpet/awards show looks, as evidenced in part at the Emmys the other night. I’ve always hated that men were always stuck in suits or tuxedos, with very little creativity in anything other than color combinations. I loved that the actor who plays Coach Beard wore a top hat and a walking stick; it was really very cool (I had already decided that should I ever need to dress up again, I wanted a top hat, a walking stick, and tails).

It really is such a completely different world from when I was a kid, seriously.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

That’ll Be The Day

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

The thing I always get wrong about depression is I never can identify it until it’s passed–or is in the process of passing–through my mind. I’m not sure why i have so much difficulty in recognizing it when I am experiencing it; I guess because I am sort of able to function (“sort of” being the key words there), and I always tend to think of depression as being so overwhelming that you cannot function when you are going through it–to the point of being almost even suicidal. I almost always, once I am no longer in its grasp, recognize it afterwards–oh yes you were in a heavy depression–but for some reason I never can understand that is what is wrong while it is wrong. I suffer from it periodically–I think everyone does, to some degree–and while mine never goes as deep anymore as it used to (thank GOD for medication and health insurance), I’ve been lost in its throes probably ever since the power went out on the morning of August 29th. The true, tell-tale sign is that once I was in an environment with power again–the flight into Alabama–I wasn’t able to write and I haven’t been even able to do much reading. The loss of my ability to focus on something is always a telltale sign that something is wrong in my brain; and when I spend hours at the computer (like I did last night) going through hundreds and hundreds of picture files to file, name or delete them, because it is rather soothing to me…yeah, that’s really a sign. Today I feel better about things in general–even though it’s kind of an icky day outside–and have been able to get some things finished today. I still haven’t been able to get through my emails, but I am going to try to work on that once I am finished with work today.

And hopefully, this weekend I can start writing again.

My choice for the movie to watch yesterday while working from home was Coma, starring a very young Micharl Douglas, Genevieve Bujold, and Richard Widmark, with Rip Torn and Elizabeth Ashley in supporting roles (also in brief cameos were pre-fame Tom Selleck and pre-bald/pre-fame Ed Harris). This was an excellent choice for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival; Coma was yet another film of the time that took a cynical, jaundiced eye at one of the pillars of modern society/civilization: medicine. The book was a phenomenon at the time. It was Robin Cook’s debut thriller, and caught fire, like lightning in a bottle. EVERYONE was reading and talked about Coma; it was an “event book”, like Jaws had been a few years earlier. I read the book when it was released in paperback. I didn’t love it, but it was interesting; my primary problem with reading it was that Cook–a physician in real life–put too much medical detail into the book for the lay reader; paragraphs upon paragraphs about medical information which really wasn’t necessary to follow or understand the story…if anything, these medical moments pulled me out of the story completely. It’s actually ripe for a remake, honestly; I bet it could be done and made much more suspenseful and scary than the original film was. The film was a hit–it’s weird looking at young Michael Douglas, in the process of trying to transition from television star to movie star and not quite there yet–but as a thriller, it left a lot to be desired.

The story is focused on a female resident at “Boston General Hospital,” Dr. Susan Wheeler. While this book and movie was set not that long ago–within my lifetime, certainly, and around forty years ago–the rampant sexism and misogyny of that period is sometimes hard to take. Susan was dealing with it on a regular basis; she was a strong, accomplished, hardworking doctor–but she was still a woman trying to make it in what was still primarily a man’s world/profession. The way the men–especially the older ones–condescend to her and talk down to her like she’s a child is almost infuriating to watch…but that misogyny and sexism are integral to the story: no one will believe her and she is dismissed as a hysterical woman. Susan’s best friend comes into Boston General for a routine D&C–a medically necessary abortion–but never regains consciousness; slipping into an unexplained coma. While all the men agree with Susan that what happened was a tragedy, they are all too willing to write it off as a medical anomaly and drop the subject. Susan won’t, however, and keeps looking into it–Boston General has had, over the past year, a remarkably high amount of patients who went into comas after a routine procedure (eight in total–up to ten by the middle of the book, including her friend and another patient shortly thereafter; and yes, given the amount of surgeries performed in the hospital annually, eight isn’t much…but as Susan retorts when her mentor and the hospital’s chief of staff says that to her, “Isn’t one too many?” Susan keeps digging, and the further she goes it soon becomes apparent that she isn’t just risking her career–she’s onto something that could put her life at risk. The book had an ambiguous ending which, even though it’s been forty years, I won’t spoil here–but they changed the ending for the movie, which I felt cheated the story and the audience–but the book’s ending was vastly better than the film’s. I wouldn’t seek the movie out unless you have a high tolerance for misogyny; and now that I think about, the misogyny was so important to the plot that I don’t think it could be remade today–Susan would have gone straight to HR and/or gotten a lawyer and sued the fuck out of that hospital in today’s world.

Robin Cook went on to have quite the career writing medical thrillers–although my favorite of his novels was Sphinx, his second, which was set in Egypt and was an archaeological thriller–and I kept reading him for a while. I think I read his first four books, but I cannot think of the name of one of them, but I am pretty sure the last one I read was Fever, and then I just kind of stopped reading him. Not because I wasn’t enjoying them still, I think I just kind of forgot about him…but I still love Sphinx, which I would love to reread sometime.

Heavy sigh. So much to read and reread, so little time.

Keep on Loving You

My friend Laura often says there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure; that we should embrace anything and everything that provides us with entertainment because life is so damned fucking hard that we such take our joys and pleasures wherever we can find them and to hell with feeling guilt about any of it. It’s a wonderful theory that I’ve tried to adapt, but yet….somehow my reading and viewing choices inevitably make me feel guilty about some of them. I mean, when most writers-to-be were reading Faulkner and Hemingway and Barry Hannah and that other one–ah, yes, Raymond Carver–with an eye to Writing The Great American Novel, I was reading Harold Robbins and James Michener and Sidney Sheldon and any number of “trashy” novels.

My tastes have always skewed low, I’m afraid.

Take, for example, the Real Housewives shows.

Yet…something has changed.

I used to watch all the shows religiously, but finally I hated Teresa Guidice so much–and the fact that she kept her job after going to jail–pushed me away from watching New Jersey. I tired of Nene Leakes and her antics, so put Atlanta on the back burner; never watched Dallas or started Salt Lake City, and while I enjoyed Potomac, never could seem to remind myself to watch. I had eventually gotten to the point where I was only watching two: New York and Beverly Hills, but these current seasons of each have me wondering why do I still bother?

I bailed on the previous season of Beverly Hills before it finished–I had little to no interest in watching Brandi Glanville’s desperate attempt to gain relevance and get back on the show by slandering Denise Richards, and watching the rest of the cast gleefully torturing Ms. Richards over something that could have actually affected her custody struggle with her insane ex, Charlie Sheen was really not the kind of trash television I enjoy watching. I also really started hating Lisa Rinna, whom I’d always enjoyed before, to the point where all I want to do when I see her face is change the channel–let alone how grating the sound of her voice has become.

And while I did watch New York all the way to its bitter end last season, I found myself not really caring about their return this season, and yes, it took me awhile to get interested in even giving them another shot. I was actually of the mindset that, with all the things going on in the world and the pandemic and all, giving these women any more of my time was a waste, and have begun to think that the entire idea of these shows has run its course. In a time where a pandemic is killing people, anti-vaxxer ignorance is making things worse, and the country is being ripped apart over a significant part of the nation’s inability to look beyond themselves and have empathy for people being systemically oppressed…it’s hard to shut that reality off and enjoy the “reality” of spoiled, privileged women wasting their lives arguing over petty bullshit–particularly ones that are so self-absorbed to such a high level of narcissism that it really begs, if not for them to be institutionalized, but at the very least kept away from other human beings for the protection of society as a whole.

And that bothers me. Why has my opinion about these shows changed so dramatically? Is it the pandemic and all the racial reckoning we’ve been dealing with as a country and as a society? Or have I simply outgrown them?

It’s also occurred to me since I wrote about them in a (very thinly) veiled way in my last Scotty book–renaming the series The Grande Dames–that I can really no longer justify watching anymore. I definitely try to subscribe to Laura’s mentality about guilty pleasures, but as I have watched this season’s episodes of both shows, I find myself bored and not enjoying them so much. All shows tend to have a natural tendency to become less interesting the longer they run, and reality shows are no different from their scripted brothers and sisters. These shows are rather like soaps–that comparison has been made before by a lot of television and cultural critics (including the horrible Camille Paglia, which proves the old adage about stopped clocks)–which is why soaps regularly wrote characters out and brought in new ones to try to stay relevant and fresh. The night time soaps eventually ran out of steam–popular characters couldn’t be let go, and how do you keep the villains and heroes fresh when they continually have to make the same mistakes, over and over again, as the stories eventually end up repeating themselves?

I do think that’s what is happening, in my mind, with the Real Housewives…they’ve run their course, the long-running characters’ awful behavior and mistakes get repeated, over and over again, with every new cast member, and it’s hard to watch people behaving the same way for decades and never really learning and growing from the experiences. I guess that isn’t why people watch these shows–for character growth and development–the key to their popularity is how awful the women actually are, and how lacking in self-awareness…but having spent most of my adulthood shedding toxic people from my life as soon they make their toxicity known, it’s weird to watch shows for years about people who are primarily toxic at their core, with few, if any, redeeming qualities. But a show about a bunch of lovely women with money who are decent and do good things with their money wouldn’t be interesting to watch, either. It’s the conflict we watch for, I suppose, and the bad behavior, and deciding who’s right and who’s wrong and being entertained. And sometimes these shows are painful to watch as they go to really dark places occasionally–as I was watching New York yesterday, I found myself thinking about one character–who is clearly in a very bad place and when she drinks too much she blacks out and her behavior is horrifying–and wondering why no one in production, or no one else in the cast, is stepping up and trying to get her the help she so obviously needs?

But this out-of-control behavior drives ratings, I suppose, and that leads to the next question, is it okay to watch these women, who hunger for fame and attention, debase themselves and allow themselves to be debased for our entertainment?

I think that is what is driving my current discomfort with watching–and also driving why I am questioning having ever started watching them in the first place.

I also suppose as long as I continue to watch I can’t really criticize the shows, but I suppose I can critique them as well as the reasons why I watch them.

I also have a real problem with this season’s Beverly Hills primary story; the Erica Girardi/Erika Jayne “was she complicit in her husband’s fraud” story, playing out in real life as we watch how it played out when the story first broke…doesn’t sit well with me. Her decision to continue being the cold-hearted snake she plays on the show on social media–with not a bit of concern for the victims of her husband’s fraud; instead claiming martyrdom/victimhood for herself–will inevitably turn up in court when it comes to that; I cannot imagine what the fuck her lawyers are thinking letting her still have access to her own social media or not advising her to keep her fucking mouth shut while in front of the cameras is, at the very least, legal malpractice. If she even showed the least, smallest bit of concern for her husband’s victims…as opposed to making it all about her and what she’s “lost” (sorry your Sugar Daddy can’t steal more money to buy you jewels with)…I could be sympathetic….but yeah, go fuck yourself, grifter.

But given the state of our society and culture, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the grifting Girardis get away with their crimes. But if there’s no reckoning of any kind for her, and she remains on the show…I won’t be watching in the future.

At least the Giudices on New Jersey were white collar criminals who just didn’t pay their taxes. The Girardis–and Jen Shah on Salt Lake City–belong behind bars.

And maybe–maybe it’s time we stopped celebrated bad people behaving badly on television. I don’t know. But I am terribly disappointed with the producers for seeing ratings, instead of suffering. IMAGINE being one of Tom Girardi’s victims and watching her play victim? It turns MY stomach, and I am not one of their victims.

I don’t know. Maybe I can find joy in these shows again. But for now…I really don’t see how I can justify watching another season of either.

Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here

I’ve never been terribly interested in historical mysteries.

It really doesn’t make sense, when I sit and think about it. I love history, I love crime stories; you’d think a novel or short story that combined the two together would be my proverbial catnip. Yet with few exceptions (Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, and Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder, to namecheck a few) I generally don’t read historical mysteries. I am not sure why that is, to be honest; I used to love historical fiction when I was a kid, and of course, the great Gothic ladies of the mid-century often set their novels in the past–looking at you, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt–and yet…I also love reading books written contemporarily that are now historical in setting (Margaret Millar, Mary Stewart, and Charlotte Armstrong spring to mind, as do Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie, for that matter).

Paul and I are also huge fans of the German series Babylon Berlin–I really do need to read the books sometime, as well as those of James Benn–but for some reason, I never ever reach for the historical mysteries when I am looking for something to read.

But I am really glad I put my hands on Dead Dead Girls when I was looking for something to read when the power was out.

The wind whips against her face. Snowflakes stick to her hair, her cheeks, her eyelashes.

She’s disoriented as she tries to find her way home. The sun set at four in the afternoon, but it’s much later now. It’s so dark that it feels as if blackness has swallowed up the city. She’s making her way down the streets, relying on streetlamps and muscle memory. It’s impossible to see in the snow.

She knows two things: first, that she’s going to be in big trouble for being so late; second, that it’s not going to be easy to locate her house in this terrible storm. It’s a small home. She’s the oldest of four girls. The youngest are twins–high energy and overly demanding of her patience. It’s exhausting to keep them in line. They don’t behave as they’re supposed to. Even worse, they’re all crammed into one bedroom.

They live with their widowed father and his sister. Her aunt is strict, but her father is ruthless. He works in the church and has high standards for his children. She also suspects he resents all of them for not being boys. He can snap at any time, for ay reason. Anything she can do to protect the twins, she will do.

Nekesa Afia’s debut novel is an absolute pleasure to read. The 1920’s are a great decade for crime novels, with everything that was going on during that post-war, post-plague decade. Prohibition and speak easies; the rebirth of the Klan; grotesque class inequities and racial discrimination codified; it was a period when there was money to be made in bootlegging and investments and everyone was frantically trying to have a good time to make up for the misery of the previous decade. I have often thought a stand alone–or series–set in New Orleans during this time would be interesting; as Storyville was being broken up and broken down, and of course everyone in the city was ignoring Prohibition…but it was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, and that is the setting for Afia’s impressive debut.

The main character is Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman who works as a waitress at a tea room (which is actually a cover for the nightclub/speak easy on the upper floor. Louise is strong-willed and determined; when she was young she was kidnapped, along with some other girls, and Louise not only got away but helped the others do so as well, and took down the kidnapper, earning her some notoriety as Harlem’s Hero. Years later, she is estranged from her minister father and the rest of her family, is staying at a Harlem boarding house for women and sneaking out at night to go drinking and dancing in the speak easies of Harlem. Young Black women–many of whom are also working as prostitutes, meeting johns at the speak easies and then retiring with them to rooms or apartments–are being murdered; their bodies being left at the doors of the speak easies. Louise knew the most recent victim, and as someone who can get places the cops can’t–and can possibly get others to speak to her in ways they won’t speak to the police–Louise is dragged into the police investigation, at a huge risk to not only her life but those of the people she is closest to-especially a beautiful young woman named Rosa Maria, and Rosa Maria’s brother Rafael.

It’s a fun read; Afia brings the period–and it’s horrible racism, both casual and overt–to life. Her depiction of the most popular of the clubs, the Zodiac, makes you wish you could actually go and dance to the live music and drink the swill of the liquor served, working up a sweat on the dance floor. Louise is an interesting and likable character; with her flaws and foibles and estrangement from her family, you can’t help but root for her as she navigates a path that is made that much more difficult by her gender and her race–and then Afia adds in, like it’s nothing, that Rosa Maria and Louise are actually in love, and Rafael also swings to the beat of his own gender. It was so matter of fact the way these sexualities were introduced into the story, so nonchalantly, and not mentioned on either the cover or the publicity materials–which is really kind of how it should be; it’s just another facet of the character, it’s not that big a deal to them and therefore it shouldn’t be for the reader, either.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and I am hoping that it’s the first in a series. Towards the end of the book Louise gets a pair of pants–and I felt like this was a huge step in her development as a series character…fingers crossed, because I would love to get to know her better and watch the character develop over the years in a series.

And like Babylon Berlin, this could be the basis for a terrific television series. Fingers crossed.