Bottle of Wine

Oxford, Mississippi is a beautiful little town. I arrived here yesterday afternoon–the drive didn’t leave me nearly as exhausted as the one to Montgomery did, even though it was longer; I suspect it was because I worked late the night before doing bar testing so was already tired. I checked into the Inn at Ole Miss, and then went foraging for dinner as well as exploring.  I had a lovely dinner at City Grocery; shrimp and grits, similar to the dish I make but slightly better–but I also was able to spot the spice differences, as well as the obvious addition of sautéed mushrooms, so the next time I make it I am going to make those alterations and see if it turns out the same way. I washed it down with a lovely glass of a Napa Chardonnay, and then wandered back down to the Inn, taking lots of pictures and getting all kinds of inspirations and ideas for a campus crime novel.I am not sure what the situation here is as far as campus crime, but I am making notes and a file, and perhaps some other time I can come up for a few extra days, talk to some more people, do some research and figure out how to get the story whipped into shape.

I also finished reading Jessica Knoll’s sublime Luckiest Girl Alive, which was absolutely amazing, and I intend to discuss that wonderful novel in more depth once I am home and at a computer rather than writing this on an app on the iPad (don’t get me wrong, this is very cool, and this is the first trip I’ve taken where I’ve not brought the laptop–and I will most likely never bring it again, as the iPad basically can replace it completely, and it weighs significantly less. I also started reading Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman, which I am enjoying and focuses on two women who have always fascinated me: Cleopatra’s sisters, Berenice and Arsinoe, and whom I myself have always wanted to write about.

My panel is this afternoon at four; they are picking me up at 3:30 in front of the Inn and I am really not certain what the discussion is going to be about. It’s a month-long event called the Radical South, a counter-event to Confederate History Month (in a moment of irony, I am here at a counter-event to Confederate History MOnth while the Confederate monuments in New Orleans are being taken down; which is also a subject for another time as I have very strong feelings about that myself) and after that I am being taken out to dinner. Tomorrow I intend to rise early, avail myself of the complimentary breakfast here at the Inn (it was sublime this morning), and then check-out and head home, as I have to work tomorrow night. But that also gets me a short day on Thursday, which is also lovely.

The weather is also sublime; rather cool for late April, but not humid, which is always a plus.

And now, I am going back to the spice mines.IMG_1725

 

Sealed with a Kiss

Very tired this morning. I only woke up less than an hour ago–I drove home from Montgomery last night, and of course, had trouble sleeping in the hotel on Friday night. Ten hours plus of driving over the course of two days wore me out, and tomorrow I am driving to Oxford, MIssissippi–approximately five and a half hours or so, with stops probably closer to seven hours–and when I drive back Wednesday I also agreed to do two testing events that night for work. Sigh. I am going to be the walking dead by the time I get home Wednesday night, and Thursday is going to suck pretty badly. Ah, well. Such is life, you know? And Paul is going to take the train Thursday up to Hammond for his birthday to see our friends Bev and Butch; I’ll have to drive up there on Saturday to get him, so that weekend is going to be a bit of a mess as well.

Ah, well, I’ll get over it.

The drive up to Montgomery on Friday was nice; it was a beautiful day for a drive, and Alabama is quite beautiful. I did go ahead and make the detour through Chef Menteur Highway and over the Rigolets bridge (which was rebuilt after Katrina and is much more impressive than it was before), and while I didn’t stop, I am glad I did it because it took me through New Orleans East (still showing the wreckage from last year’s horrific tornado) and I also saw Little Vietnam, which I don’t remember seeing the last time (2003) when I was out that way. I am glad I drove out there, as it gave me a better idea of what it’s like out there, and will make writing my story about it even easier. And it really only was an extra fifteen minutes. I’ll go again, when I have time to stop and take pictures, walk around, and get a better idea of the area, but am very glad I went. (And frankly, it was really kind of inspiring. I am going to do a lot more exploring, not just of the city but the area around New Orleans. Seeing it makes me want to write about it, you know?)

I had never been to Montgomery before, and the part of the small city where I was, downtown and near Old Alabama Town (the historic part of the city) was really quite nice and lovely. The Book Festival itself was a lovely event, and everyone was very kind. I signed a lot of books, and the panel I was on was interesting with great questions posed, not only by the moderator but by the audience when it was opened up for questions. After my signing, I got in the car and drove home, getting home just before nine. We finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and then the first episode of The White Princess. Jay Asher was at the Alabama Book Festival, and I wanted to meet him/hear hims peak, but during his talks I went to lunch because I was tired and hungry and had to be at my best for my panel. Missed opportunity, but ah, well. I don’t know that I’m quite ready yet to talk about the show–I am still tired and foggy from the trip–and I have to go to the grocery store at some point today, and I need to pack for the Oxford trip. But it was lovely talking about books and writing with book people–it’s very invigorating–and I am hoping when I get back from Oxford I’ll be able to get some more, good, work done.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you.

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Magic Carpet Ride

I got up early this morning to take a friend to a doctor’s appointment, and so, having finished Finders Keepers, dug out my copy of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why to take along to read while I waited for her.  We watched another three episodes last night–it really is compulsively watchable, if more than slightly annoying (Paul and I have a tendency to yell at the television periodically “JUST LISTEN TO THE REST OF THE TAPES DUMBASS!” but other than that, we are really enjoying it, despite some plot holes). I managed to read almost 100 pages during the hour or so I waited–it’s a quick read, the book isn’t as long as it looks–double spaced, big font, lots of short, one sentence paragraphs–and again, despite some plot holes, it’s compulsively readable; I want to know all the reasons. The book is also different than the show, in that Clay apparently does what Paul and I want him to do in the show–he listens to the tapes all in one night. I can see why that isn’t possible in the show; you probably couldn’t get thirteen one hour episodes out of the story if it all took place in one night, but on the other hand…does it really need to be thirteen hours? But the young actors are all incredibly appealing and are quite good in their roles, as I said before, and it’s compulsively watchable.

The show also pushes buttons from time to time for me; “wow, are they really showing the kids getting high? Drinking beer? Getting drunk? How incredibly irresponsible!” and then I have to snap out of it. Teenagers deal with these things, they did when I was in high school, and one of the things that annoyed me about entertainment aimed at teens when I was one is that it was so unrealistic.

Then again, Judy Blume was just getting published and writing frankly about teens, and scandalizing the country and getting banned everywhere, when I was a teen–and I always see Judy Blume as the person who changed the world of young adult fiction, and for the better.

Ironically, I just checked the schedule for the Alabama Book Festival this weekend and see that Jay Asher is speaking there. Synchronicity, or serendipity, or both?

I think one of the reasons I’m enjoying Riverdale as much as I am (the young actor who plays Reggie on that show is also on 13 Reasons Why; the first time he turned up on screen I said out loud, “Reggie!” He and the character are being under-utilized on Riverdale, which I hope changes) is seeing the squeaky clean, highly sanitized comic books I read when I was very young made more realistic. Riverdale is a dark teen soap, owing debts not only to Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210, but also a big one to Pretty Little Liars–which in turn owes a debt to The Edge of Night, the long running daytime soap whose story-lines were based not only in romance but in crime and suspense. 13 Reasons Why is another teen soap built around a mystery; while Riverdale‘s main driving story is”who killed Jason Blossom, and why” this one’s is “why did Hannah kill herself, and why the tapes?”

I’ve also been thinking about my own young adult fiction a lot lately, probably because of what I am currently working on. I’ve put the Scotty book aside for the time being, because I just wasn’t feeling it, to be honest, and writing it felt like I was forcing it and the story itself didn’t work for me. So, I am going to take a break from it for a bit, work on some short stories, and forge forward with this manuscript I am intent on revising. I’m actually enjoying myself doing all this editing and revising because there is no pressure of a deadline. I can take my time, think things through, rather than trusting my instincts and hoping for the best while the clock inexorably continues to tick as time slips through my fingers. (There really is something to be said for no deadlines.)

Sorceress began as a short story of slightly less than ten thousand words, and I originally wrote it in 1989, long hand, on notebook paper. I remember paying someone to type it for me, and as a lengthy short story it didn’t work–it was too rushed, too much happened in too short a period of time on the page. When I reread the story, it occurred to me that it was really just a lengthy synopsis, and might make a book. It was the third novel I completed a first draft of (in 1993!), and it eventually made it to publication in 2010. I know I wrote it originally as an homage to Jane Eyre, Victoria Holt, and other gothic writers I had long admired; I gave it more of a supernatural edge, though, but it was really the same premise that even Dark Shadows began with: a young orphaned girl comes to live in a big, spooky house where mysterious things happen. (I wonder why so many books/stories of this type start this way? Is it because it’s a voyage to the unknown, or a fresh start in a new place? 13 Reasons Why kind of fits into this as well, since part of Hannah’s problems begin with her being the new girl in town.)

Hmmmm.

All right, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

 

Hold Me Tight

Monday morning of a short work week, as I am traveling to Alabama on Friday, returning to New Orleans on Sunday, and then it’s off to Ole Miss and Oxford, MS for another event.

It was a rather lovely three day weekend, quite frankly; I wish there was some way to make every weekend three days, to be honest. Having the extra day makes all the difference, really. I spent one day running errands and cleaning, another day cleaning and reading, and the last day reading and writing. I now feel completely relaxed and rested and thoroughly prepared for this week, as opposed to whining about how the weekend never lasts long enough. Alas, there won’t be another such three day weekend until Memorial Day at the end of next month. Heavy heaving sigh.

I finished reading Finders Keepers yesterday, and I did really enjoy it. It was an excellent follow-up to Mr. Mercedes, and it was fun catching up with the remaining cast of that novel: Bill Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, who team up to help out a teenaged boy who has discovered a treasure trove–a buried trunk full of money and manuscripts, the haul from the robbery/murder of noted American author Joel Rothstein. Like all of King’s novels, it was compulsively readable, highly entertaining, with strongly built characters and relationships, brilliants touches of pop culture, and a good story. And, like so many of King’s novels/stories, at the center of the story was an author and his work–not to mention how that work affected his readers. Like Misery, one of his readers takes the work too seriously and becomes overly attached to the main character, doesn’t like what the author does to the character, and that fanaticism is what leads to the robbery/murder, and triggers the rest of the story.

I often chastise myself for writing about writers; I’ve always considered it more than a little self-indulgent, and as I get older and further along in my writing career, writers as characters continue to pop up in my work. “Quiet Desperation” is about writers and writing; and an author character popped up in The Orion Mask– Jerry Channing, a character I became so attached I brought him back for Garden District Gothic, and even considered giving him his own stand-alone adventure. It also occurs to me that the unnamed protagonist of several short stories I’ve written–an author–are really early incarnations of Jerry (the only short story about him that’s been published so far was “An Arrow for Sebastian”). Yesterday I started a second draft of “Quiet Desperation”–an actual rewrite, rather than an edit (which is, I think, long been a part of my problem with writing; I don’t rewrite, I simply edit what I’ve already written, which is lazy) and it will eventually require me to drive out to New Orleans East, because where the new opening of the story takes place is a part of New Orleans I haven’t seen in over ten years, and I am pulling from my memories–and Katrina occurred since then, so the topography of that part of the city/parish has undoubtedly been changed by the hurricane and aftermath. Of course, now that I have a new car, that’s not an issue; nor is driving out there. It’s just a matter of finding the time. Next weekend is definitely out, since I’ll be in Alabama, and when I’m  not in Alabama I’ll be too busy preparing for the trip to Mississippi–although I could drive out that way on the way out of town to Alabama on Friday; it’s on the way.

Hmmmm. ’tis a thought.

We also watched last night’s Feud, and I have to say, both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are absolutely killing it. I’m not sure who’s going to win the Emmy, but my guess is on one of them–with Nicole Kidman’s performance in Big Little Lies giving them both a run for their money.

We also started watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and got through the first three episodes. Had I not needed to get up this morning for work, we would have watched more. There are some questionable aspects of the story/plot for me, but the young actors are incredibly appealing, and Dylan Minnette, who plays main character Clay Jensen, is quite compelling as the quiet loner. I have some thoughts about him, his character, and where this is all going, but I will keep those to myself and continue to watch.

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I also have a copy of the book in my TBR pile, where it’s been forever, and might just go ahead and read it now–reading Big Little Lies while watching the show didn’t hurt either, frankly.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

A Beautiful Morning

I belong to a Facebook group devoted to collectors and fans of children’s mysteries, either the series (i.e. Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Three Investigators, etc.) and the ones that stood alone, like Phyllis A. Whitney’s and Mary C. Jane. The stand alones you generally got from either the public library, the school library, or the Scholastic book catalogue. The subject of the Scholastic catalogue came up on that thread, with some of the collectors posting their copies of the books. I recently ordered, from ebay, some of the ones I remembered from my childhood–The Ghost of Dibble Hollow, The Ghost Rock Mystery, and some other Mary C. Janes–because the one thing I am sentimental about is books/TV shows/comic books/movies that I loved when I was a kid. My favorite day of school at Eli Whitney Elementary was the day the Scholastic catalogue came, and I got to go home and my parents would let me pick out two or three books to order. Remembering that also made me remember how my mom used to always deposit my sister and I at the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library while she ran errands, like to Walgreens and other places, like going to the dentist, and would retrieve us when she was finished with my big stack of books. The first Phyllis Whitney book I read was checked out of the library–The Mystery of the Hidden Hand–which was set in Greece and had to do with a long lost statue of Apollo, thus combining my love of mysteries, mythology, and history. I loved to read when I was a kid because the world was such a strange place to me, and I didn’t really fit into it. I didn’t like to do the things that boys supposedly were into–baseball and other sports, playing outside, fishing, etc. All I ever really wanted to do was curl up somewhere with a book, or make up my own stories.

I’ve been questioning my writing lately, more along the lines of my career rather than the actual writing. Yesterday was quite a lovely day; I slept late and Paul went into the office, and I started cleaning the kitchen while listening to music on my iPod. (I still haven’t done the windows yet.) I started reading Finders Keepers, am about a chapter in, and am enjoying it. I’ll get back to it today, of course, at some point. Paul’s going to run errands with our friend Lisa today–they like to haunt second hand stores, and he wants to get another individual small dresser and small bookcase–which means I’ll pretty much be home alone again for most of the day. I intend to finish the living room today, run to the grocery store and post office, and then maybe work on the upstairs. I also want to get another three to four chapters of the secret manuscript reread and outlined; I am very pleased with the quality of it, for a first draft, and I think I can really turn it into something good. Letting it sit for so long the way I did has really helped me with it; I now have the proper distance to get back to it and read it/edit it/revise it, rather than being so deeply immersed in it. I am, Constant Reader, rather excited about this turn of events–and it’s been awhile since I’ve been this excited about something I’m writing. I am also going to critique some short stories I’ve written today, see if I can whip them into submission shape….the market for short stories is, alas, so limited these days.

I may even go to the gym today. We’ll see how the day plays out. I am kind of planning out the day, while accepting that it may not go the way I am planning, and I am also fine with that. Yesterday was such a lovely day–I got to have drinks with my friend Laura, who is in town for the weekend, and we had a lovely chat about books and writing–and it was perfectly timed; sometimes the things I think or even write about on here, need to be SAID ALOUD TO SOMEONE to attain their full power.

There’s something about saying things out loud. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there you have it. Bearing this in mind, I’ve come with some daily affirmations to say to myself in the bathroom mirror every morning. Feel free to mock me for this; I did it this morning and saying the words aloud, I don’t know, made it seem real, made it seem possible.

A lack of belief in myself has often been my downfall throughout my life. It’s the one piece of the puzzle that’s missing, so I am going to work on that.

And now, off to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk for Easter Eve for you, Constant Reader.

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Angel of the Morning

Last night was a late night of bar testing at the Pub, so this morning I am a little groggy. I also haven’t yet had my second cup of coffee, either, so there is that. I am feeling a little out of sorts emotionally, too–nothing major, just some sincere dissatisfaction with a lot of things–and while I can, of course, blame that on Mercury being in retrograde, I am also choosing to look at it as a good thing: it’s time to shake things up a bit.

I decided to stop reading The Nest last night. I am about a little over a third into the book, and with no disrespect intended to the author, I am not her intended audience because none of it was resonating with me. I am going to move on to something else; I shall, once I am finished here, go peruse the stacks and shelves to find something juicy I can really sink my teeth into and get lost in the story. I’m not really sure what I am in the mood for reading right now, to be honest, and may make a false start on a novel or two until I find something that sweeps me away–although I am thinking I may read Stephen King’s Finders Keepers next; I loved Mr. Mercedes, and King so rarely disappoints…that might be just the thing for me tomorrow around running errands and cleaning this filthy, filthy apartment.

I’ve also decided to focus on editing and writing the second draft of the secret manuscript. Trying to edit/rewrite it while writing another Scotty and other short stories as well is scattering my creativity and my energy; and I’m just not feeling the Scotty novel right now, so it’s time to put it aside and move on. If the revisions go as easily as the writing of the first draft does, I’ll be finished with it in a month or two anyway. I don’t, however, want to go through it quickly, though; I want to take my time and really do a good job on it. The most important thing now is to go through and edit, while also writing up an outline and making a list of characters and so forth. Yes, that sounds like a plan, and to accomplish everything I want to get done this weekend once I’m showered and fully awake I am going to make a to-do list. (At least my taxes are done and filed; I also owed Louisiana state tax–BASTARDS–but have already paid it.)

And on that note, I am going to get ready for work.

For Throwback Thursday, here’s a hunk from the past: Steve Bond, from his days as Jimmy Lee Holt, the bastard Quartermaine, on General Hospital.

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Reach Out Of The Darkness

It’s quite bizarre. I no longer have to work early on Tuesday mornings–I now don’t have to go in until eleven-ish, at the earliest–and I was disoriented most of the day; mainly, I kept thinking it was Wednesday and getting terribly confused. I’ve been coming in at 8 on Tuesday mornings for so long that NOT having to get up at six seems, at the very least, strange. But I am certain I can adjust to not having to get up so damned early.

And there’s a three day weekend this weekend! Woo-hoo! Maybe I’ll go see Beauty and the Beast.

I am definitely going to go to the gym, that’s one thing I am going to accomplish this weekend. STOP LAUGHING I MEAN IT.

Bastards.

I finished reading Ben H. Winters’ controversial Underground Airlines yesterday morning before I went into the office, and it was quite exceptional. He was recently nominated for a Thriller Award for Best Novel from the International Thriller Writers, and I have to say, it’s a well-deserved honor. I met Winters several years ago, at the Edgar Award banquet when he won for Best Paperback Original for The Last Policeman, the first in a highly acclaimed trilogy that blended both the crime fiction and science fiction/alternate reality genres (the trilogy is in my TBR pile, which is, as I am sure you’ve assumed by now, pretty much is my entire living room), and so I was sorry to see the criticisms leveled at him for writing and publishing this book. The book is an alternate reality novel, based on the premise that the Civil War was never fought and slavery (or, as it is called in the book, Persons Bound to Labor) still exists in only four states, known collectively as The Four: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Carolina–the two states were combined into one. The main character is a man of color who works for the Federal Government as a slave chaser, and the book focuses on one particular case–which goes very deep, and is horrifying as you get more and more into the book and the true story of what’s going on starts to unfold.

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“So,” said the young priest. “I think I’m the man you’re looking for.”

“Oh, I hope so,” I said to him. “Oh, Lord, I do hope you are.”

I knitted my fingers together and leaned forward across the table. I was aware of how I looked: I looked pathetic. Eager, nervous, confessional. I could feel my thin, cheap spectacles slipping down my nose. I could feel my needfulness dripping from my brow. I took a breath, but before I could speak, the waitress came over to pour our coffee and hand out the menus, and Father Barton and I went silent, smiled stiff and polite at the girl and at each other.

Then, when she was gone, Father Barton talked before I could.

“Well, I must say, Mr. Dirkson–“

“Go on and call me Jim, Father. Jim’s just fine.”

“I must say you gave LuEllen quite a start.”

I looked down, embarrassed. LuEllen was the receptionist, church secretary, what have you. White-haired, apple-cheeked lady, sitting behind her desk at that big church up there on Meridian Street, Saint Catherine’s, and I suppose I behaved like a wild thing in her tidy little office that afternoon, gnashing my teeth and carrying on. Throwing myself on her mercy. Pleading for an appointment with the father. It worked, though. Here we were, breaking bread together, the gentle young priest and I. If there’s one thing they understood, these church folks, it’s wailing and lamentation.

I understand why this book set off warning bells for people, and as a white man, maybe I’m not the best judge as to whether it’s offensive or not; but I thought it was amazing. Well-written, completely believable yet horrifying at the same time because of that believability; a stinging indictment of the horrors of systemic racism by showing what kind of desperate measures desperate times can call for. I highly recommend it; I greatly enjoyed it even as it deeply unsettled me.

And now, back to the spice mines.