Soon You’ll Get Better

Saturday morning in New Orleans, and all is as well as can be expected in this hellish timeline we are all living through at this point. I’ve been sleeping exceptionally well lately–not sure why, but don’t want to question it and simply enjoy it for as long as it lasts, frankly–and I may even just stay in bed as long as I want to tomorrow; I could have easily lazed in bed much longer this morning. I may treat myself to cappuccinos while I get everything on-line done that I need to get done before closing my browser and shutting the Internet down for the rest of the day so I can get to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which I haven’t even looked at all week, much to my deep and abiding shame. I’ve not completely adjusted to working 8:30 – 5 every day, really; and am always tired and mentally fatigued when the daily shift comes to an end; too mentally fatigued to read anything, let alone write anything. I did manage last night to clean up/organize some electronic files, though.

While I was condom packing yesterday (I filled three boxes of them, a personal best thus far) I continued my journey through 1970s cinema, with yesterday’s theme being paranoia. Paranoia was a big thing in the 1970’s, and the films and novels of the decade reflected that–not surprising, given it was also the decade where Vietnam came to an end (1975), when Watergate occurred (1972-1974), and of course, the decade where terrorism really became a thing–it was the decade of the Munich Olympic massacre, the Entebbe skyjacking, etc. It was a decade where trust in institutions began to erode and fade; where conspiracy theories really began to come into their own; and cynicism replaced optimism–if optimism could be said to have ever been an integral part of the American outlook and not simply another part of the mythology we were being sold. It was the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, the Amityville horror, UFO’s, and countless other strange conspiracies and/or cover-ups; when Area 54 really entered the public consciousness, and a time when it became much easier to believe that the government was lying to us about everything and that corporations and billionaires were truly running the world for their own benefit and profit. (This was, of course, the primary theme of Taylor Caldwell’s bestselling novel Captains and the Kings, a thinly veiled history of the Kennedy family’s rise to wealth and power, which was made into a mini-series later in the decade.)

The two films I watched yesterday while condom packing were definitely reactions to the paranoia of the times: The Parallax View (starring Warren Beatty) and Three Days of the Condor (starring Robert Redford). Both were based on novels; both were about conspiracies and/or cover-ups led by incredibly powerful people; and both had very cynical endings. The Beatty film was about the cover-up of a political assassination, in which Beatty played a crusading journalist trying to get to the bottom of the story; the Redford film was about a man who worked for a CIA front (the American Literary History Society) and whose job was to read books, articles, journals, etc., looking for coded references to spy organizations and conspiracies (which was, in and of itself, another example of paranoia); the Redford character finds some curious reoccurring references in some South American and Greek novels and articles and writes a report. One day when he goes out to pick up lunch for the office he returns to find everyone dead; even the guy who called in sick was murdered in his apartment. Redford, whose code name is “Condor”, is not a field agent and has no idea what is going on, other than his life is in danger and he needs help. He winds up taking Faye Dunaway hostage at some point at gunpoint and getting her to help him–she eventually succumbs to Stockholm syndrome, winds up helping him rather than escaping, and they even have sex together*–and throughout the course of the movie you never are certain who can be trusted or who cannot, as people keep switching sides, including the professional assassin (played by Max von Sydow), and the end of the movie is also cynical, implying that not even journalists can be trusted (subverting the popular 1970’s trope of the crusading reporters, inspired by Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of Watergate).

It was an interesting decade to experience puberty and adolescence through, that’s for certain.

We’re nearly finished with The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, and are really enjoying it. I think we’re going to go with Never Have I Ever next; we’ve pretty much been watching non-stop noir-like heavy crime dramas for quite some time now (although the foreign ones have been absolutely delightful) but I think some light comedy will be welcomed gratefully into the Lost Apartment.

We also had an astounding thunderstorm/flash flood warning yesterday afternoon, which seems to be happening almost daily now. I love rain–I don’t even mind being caught in it as long as I am not having to lug shit into the house while it pours–and there’s nothing quite so comforting as being safely warm and dry inside while it pours outside and the sidewalks get covered in an inch or so of water. I’m not sure if it’s going to rain today–there’s nothing but sunshine and blue sky outside my windows this morning–but I feel fairly confident it will at some point; after all, it’s pretty much a daily occurrence now.

I also realized belatedly last evening that part of the funk I’ve been in lately has to do with the impracticality and uncertainty surrounding the football season for this year. I usually spent most of August excitedly reading everything I can about the Saints and college football, wondering what the coming season will hold; will it be an exciting one or a disappointment; but no matter what happens, I am always entertained–and last season was, as Paul reminds me pretty regularly, one for the books. As huge LSU fans last season was like a fairytale, a Disney film come to life–with every element in place for a great uplifting movie, and the ending was perfect, too; LSU stuck the landing and gave all us fans a season we will always remember with a smile. I am deeply grateful I got to see that championship team play twice in Tiger Stadium–we went to the season opener against Georgia Southern and the Florida game, which was one of the best times I’ve ever had in Tiger Stadium, and we’ve been to exciting games before but that one was everything–and am even more grateful I got to see Joe Burrow play, not only those two games last year but in the games we were able to see the year before. Not knowing if there’s even going to be a season, or if there is, what it will look like, has been kind of depressing on top of everything else; it’s as though all the things in life I find joy in are all gone, with just the bullshit left in its place. I’m not even sure how I feel about the conferences trying to make a limited season happen; it just seems vastly unfair to the players to put them at so much risk, and I don’t know if I should encourage that by even watching the games if they do happen and air on television.

I will never forgive the non-maskers for the loss of this football season, or however it turns out–whether it’s shortened, messed up, or cancelled. NEVER. Thanks for being such complete selfish assholes! You, for the record, are why we can’t have anything fucking nice–although the loss of college football is the LEAST of your crimes. Enjoy meeting your God with that black sin on your soul.

So, I am going to finish this and head back into email hell for a while, before showering and getting back to work on my book. I’ll probably try to do some cleaning and organizing while I’m at it; I still haven’t started–or even selected–my next fiction read, although Poe Dameron; Free Fall is sitting right there….but I also want to read Lovecraft Country before I start watching the show.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

*This is the same trope that Robert Ludlum used in The Bourne Identity, in which his character, Jason Bourne, who has been shot in the head and now has amnesia and no idea why everyone is trying to kill him, kidnaps a woman and takes her hostage; by the end of the novel they are in love and making a future together–and no one thinks anything of this, and it’s presented as normal; another sign of the times, I suppose. I’ve been meaning to reread The Bourne Identity as well as revisit Ludlum; his career as a novelist actually began in the 1970’s with a paranoia novel, The Osterman Weekend, which was also made into a movie, and almost all of his books have some sort of paranoia at their heart. I loved Ludlum when I discovered him in the late 1980’s; I’ve meant to revisit him for quite some time now, to see how he holds up. My favorites of his were The Chancellor Manuscript, The Gemini Contenders, and of course, The Bourne Identity, but I read all of the books he wrote himself until he died–I’ve not read any of those written by other authors since his death.

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

Paper Rings

Well, Constant Reader, we certainly survived Monday, did we not? At any rate, I’m typing this for you to read later, so hopefully we survived Monday; I did, at any rate.

This has been such a weird shit-show of a year already that I’ve completely forgotten that my fifty-ninth birthday is creeping up on me. Yes sir, next week is the big 5-9 (I’ve been saying I was fifty-nine for the entire year so far already) and I don’t know if any celebration is called for; I don’t really make a to-do of my birthday, never have (they weren’t really made much of when I was a kid, and so I still to this day don’t think my birthday is a big deal) and am always kind of amazed when people actually DO make a big deal of theirs. But some years I do things on my Facebook page to indicate another year of my life has passed me by in the wink of an eye; one year I kept changing my profile picture to old pictures of me from my past. Another year I started posting my books covers to count it down. For this year, I think I am actually going to take a long weekend–my birthday falls on a Thursday, so I may take Thursday and Friday as vacation days, and take a lovely long weekend to indulge myself in reading and organizing and working on the book (yes, for me that always feels like an indulgence). I think I’m going to go ahead and start reading Lovecraft Country–I kind of feel the need to read something in the horror vein, after the stunning brilliance of Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland–and perhaps once I’ve finished that, I’ll read Babylon Berlin.

I also need to get back into the Short Story Project.

I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep well Sunday night for whatever reason there was for me to not sleep well–(whatever it was, it was annoying) so when I got home from work yesterday I was really too tired, mentally and physically, to do much of anything other than wait for Paul to come home so we could watch Babylon Berlin. There are only two episodes left, which is sad, but we’ve really been gulping them down very quickly. It’s really well done, the writing is astonishing, and there are so many characters and subplots, brilliantly interwoven within each other, that it’s quite masterful; and seriously hard to keep track of–the recaps at the beginning of each episode are enormously helpful. It’s also very dark; bad things seem to happen to all of the characters, and there never seems to be any way out of their predicaments. It’s also a remarkable depiction of Weimar Germany and the Berlin of that period; a period that really isn’t particularly well known. The world-wide economic crash is coming–the one that began in the United States with the collapse of the stock market–and so the times are about to get even darker. Season 4 is going to be quite intense, I suspect.

I slept very well last night, so hopefully today I will have the energy to deal with things that need to be dealt with. I have to admit I have been in a bit of a funk the last week or so, partly due, no doubt, to medical appointments and things of that nature, and loss of sleep due to that incumbent stress, and hopefully today will be more of a normal Greg day. I like normal Greg days; in fact, I much prefer them, to be honest. I really dislike this entire switch, dependent on so many exterior factors, in what kind of day I am going to have; it’s truly unpleasant and awful. But, as I said, I feel more awake and rested this morning than I did yesterday, so here’s hoping today is a better day.

And on that note, ’tis time for me to get back into the spice mines.

Mirrorball

And here we find ourselves, yet again, on the dawning of a new work week; the oft-despised and maligned Monday.

I’m feeling tired this morning–it’s not groggy; just kind of dragging, if that’s a thing. More like I should have slept for at least another hour kind of thing. But it’s a “to-the-office” morning, and we have a full schedule both today and tomorrow, which is great, actually–I really enjoy working with clients–and just wish I was a little more awake this morning.

Paul and I blasted through eight (!!!) episodes of Season 3 of Babylon Berlin last night; the third season is just as high quality as the previous two, and I am now thinking I might want to move the book higher in the TBR pile. I had planned on reading Lovecraft Country next, preparatory to the show airing on HBO this month–it’s nice to mix a different genre in every once in a while–and I do love horror, when it’s well done. This one explores racism and Jim Crow through a reimagining of the notorious racist H. P. Lovecraft’s horror, (Lovecraft has been the subject of a raging battle in the horror genre for the last decade or so; he was an enormous influence on the genre and is still quite widely read to this day–but was also a horrific racist. I’ve actually never read Lovecraft–I tried when I was a teenager and it didn’t hold my interest–so I cannot comment on his influence, other than what others say about it) and the trailers for the show look terrific.

I also have some anthologies and short story collections to start digging into; I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection and Lawrence Block’s The Darkling Halls of Ivy sitting on my end table. (I would love to have a story in one of Block’s anthologies; they are inevitably terrific, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them I’ve read thoroughly.) I’ve kind of been diverted away from the Short Story Project during these dark times; and since they can be gulped down relatively easily and quickly, I may be taking the Block with me to work today for reading during my lunch break; the lovely thing about short stories are they are short and can be finished in a short period of time, without the sadness that comes with having to set aside a truly fabulous novel one is reading.

I’ve read some very good books thus far this year; as I said in my entry about S. A. Cosby’s quite marvelous Blacktop Wasteland, these are terrific times to be a fan of crime fiction because so much wonderful stuff is being published these days. I honestly think the move towards greater diversity and publishing more diverse voices is pumping new blood and new life into our genre; this needs to happen every so often, I think–and with no offense intended towards anyone, there’s a tendency for creative fiction to stagnate, to continue upholding the status quo–and new voices are vital for our genre to survive.

I spent a good portion of yesterday going over the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and yes, I was correct; a lot of work needs to be done on them still. But I made some good progress, and if I can get these first ten whipped into shape the second ten, and the final five, will be much easier to work on and correct and fix. It took me about five hours to get through everything, as well as realize what all needs to be done to pull this all together; I am hoping to find the time to do it all during this week so I can spend the weekend working on the next ten, hopefully getting them all finished so I can have the entire book ready to be turned in by the first of September.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!

Vampires

And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.

I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.

Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.

It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.

I really miss doing my job every day.

And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.

Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.

We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.

So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.

Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.

I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.

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

The Truck Driver and His Mate

And somehow here we are at Friday again. Christ, these weeks seem to last forever, and yet somehow I still manage to get so very little fucking done. It seems as though every Friday morning I find myself staring into the gaping maw of my email inbox, with so many emails to answer and some not only need to be answered by require me to do something; to look something up; to verify something; or make some sort of decision. I’m trying very hard not to make myself crazy (crazier, at any rate) and yet…and other emails are getting pushed down further into my inbox, and I know what I really need to do is reverse the order so that the oldest ones are at the top, but I shudder at the very thought of that. And yet, realistically, I know I have to do that one morning and deal with those emails, because with every day they become that much older.

Yesterday was exhausting. By the time I got home–after making works bags all afternoon for the needle exchange and gathering today’s supplies for condom packing (I have calls to make today, so rather than watching my next selected films–Alien and Aliens back to back on HBO MAX–I will be talking on the telephone as I make my condom packs, at least for part of the day; multi-tasking, as it were). And when quitting time rolls around later this afternoon, rather than curling up with Blacktop Wasteland, as I would much rather prefer, I am going to have to start the heavy lifting on the revisions of chapters one thru ten of Bury Me in Shadows, because in order to remain on schedule with it I need to have that finished by Sunday evening in order to begin work on chapters eleven through twenty.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life where I don’t feel crushing guilt for not responding to emails within five minutes of their reception; for not having the energy after a lengthy day at the office or of doing day-job activities at home to work on my writing or read a book; for not having the drive to get things done, for not always being in motion, for not being, basically, a Stepford wife. My apartment is a disaster area, there’s another load of dishes to be done, and its Friday, the day I usually launder the bed linens. The car has a tire with a slow leak in it, so at some point I need to find the time to head over to a gas station to refill the tire with air, and also need to find the time to take it back into the dealership to have the tire dealt with, as well as have routine maintenance done. I am sleeping deeply and well every night, but so deeply that every morning I could probably, if I could, sleep several hours more and my body harbors a resentment towards my brain for forcing my body out of the bed and pouring coffee down its throat and trying to get some kind of grip on the day ahead. Even as I sit here typing I can see the number changing on the tab where my email inbox is opened; possibly more junk to simply be deleted, but there will inevitably be something in there I need to read, that will need to be responded to, will perhaps require me to think or take some kind of further action.

Partly this malaise I feel this morning is inevitably connected to the relief that the lumps in my pectorals are nothing more than genetic fatty deposits hardening into cysts that do not endanger my health nor require any further action or activity on my part; while I was doing my best to repress those worries and push them down deep into my brain and consciousness, the worry and stress wasn’t gone, and the feeling of relief has released a lot stress I wasn’t aware I was carrying. There’s probably some other sort of cathartic release of pent-up stress and energy I could and should be doing; that might help me get motivated and stop feeling so defeated every day.

And I probably should get back into therapy, if I only could carve that time out in my weeks.

Part of it has to do, I am certain, with the sense that I am not organized; but I am also very well aware that even should I carve a day out to get organized it won’t help at all with the sense of drowning and being overwhelmed; the feeling that I have that each limb and appendage is tied to a horse facing a different direction and someone is about to fire the starting pistol. And yet, even now, as the coffee and caffeine from my first cup courses through my veins and my mind begins to throw off its sluggishness and that melted feeling begins to fade from my muscles, I am aware that all the things that I allow to frustrate me (I wish I had a place where I could spread the manuscript out and piece it back together after tearing it all apart and I wish I had enough space for all my books and I wish I could rearrange my time so that I had time for everything I need to get done and I wish I could stop being so lazy or at least stop imagining and believing that I am lazy and I wish I had more self-confidence and I wish I could I wish I wish I wish) can neither be helped nor changed by simply wishing it to be so, and therefore allowing these immutable, unchangeable facts about my current situation in life to defeat or frustrate me is, ultimately, self-destructive (a regular pattern in my life deeply rooted in my consciousness from being told repeatedly that I was a loser so I started believing it, believed it for years, and revert to that mentality frequently whenever under stress or pressure) and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, instead I should be looking back at this past year and what I have accomplished. I have had any number of successes with short stories, giving the lie to the insidious belief that I am not a good short story writer. Just this week I sold another one, “The Snow Globe”; I had two come out in anthologies around the same time (“The Silky Veils of Ardor” in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Joni Mitchell and “The Dreadful Scott Decision” in The Faking of the President); I sold “The Carriage House” to Mystery Tribune and Night Follows Night” to an anthology titled Buried; I pushed myself by writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” to The Only One in the World anthology; and my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” was sold to an anthology I really need to follow up with, as I’ve not heard anything about it in quite some time. I still have two out on submission, but those are both long shots I don’t have a lot of confidence will land–and that is not self-deprecation; both are fine stories, but are undoubtedly buried in piles of hundreds of submissions, hence the strong possibility they won’t be sold. Both stories are works I am pleased with, “Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness,” and while the short story market has certainly dried up dramatically since I started publishing, I enjoy writing stories and would love to publish more of them.

But I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, so I can get the Kansas book worked on one more time and turned in as well, and then I can get going on Chlorine. I can get everything done that I need to get done, and need to stop allowing negativity to creep into my brain; there’s enough negativity in life already that I don’t need to create my own.

And so I am going to go get my second cup of coffee, and I am going to start digging through the emails. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and remember–don’t let anyone, especially yourself, hold you back.

Violence

So I had a new and interesting experience yesterday: a mammogram.

Yes, that’s correct, I said a mammogram. I’ve had a lump in my right pectoral for years now, and two others just below. I had asked my doctor about them several times over the years during routine exams, but they always kind of blew it off, saying it was nothing to worry about, and so I never did…although, occasionally during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d touch it thoughtfully, and wonder. As I said, this last time when I went to for my check-up, and she was so relentlessly thorough, she came across it while examining me and said, “How long has that been there?” and I replied, “well, a long time, frankly. I’ve always been told not to worry about it.” She frowned back at me. “Well, if it hasn’t grown or been painful, it’s probably just a fatty cyst, which is a genetic thing and nothing to worry about, but by the look on your face you’d prefer to know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

And so the mammogram was yesterday. And it was precisely that, a fatty cyst which is genetic (note to self: thank parents for that, along with tendency for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), and not only that–there were two more in my left pectoral I wasn’t even aware of. They aren’t harmful or dangerous in any way, and I was advised against having them removed–“it just leaves an ugly scar, and no one will ever notice them unless they fondle your chest”–and so made the decision not to bother with them. And yet–I felt an enormous relief when the radiologist told me all of this, so clearly on some levels it was stress and worry I was retaining.

As we tell our clients at Crescent Care, you really need to advocate for yourself. Going forward, I am not going to let my doctors with their silly medical degrees pooh-pooh a concern that is actually very real to me. There’s no reason I couldn’t have had this subconscious worry put to rest years ago. Lesson learned.

And now I can officially tell you, Constant Reader, that I have placed another short story! “The Snow Globe” will be this coming year in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder, edited by Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley. I am quite thrilled by this–as I always am whenever I place a story somewhere–and have had to sit on the news for a few days before the official announcement. I still have two out on submission that are pending, but I’m having a fairly lovely year when it comes to placing short stories thus far. “The Snow Globe” has an interesting genesis; a thread on a friend’s wall about Hallmark Christmas Movies and an enchanted snow globe that featured in one, and I commented “I’d be more interested if it were CURSED”, and this was around the same time a publisher was doing a War on Christmas anthology, so I decided to write about a cursed snow globe for it. I messed up the story on that iteration; the notes I got with the rejection note showed me that I had, indeed, made the wrong decision with the story (which I had suspected) and so even though it wasn’t being included (that anthology would up not happening, either), I went ahead and revised it based on those notes and changed it to the way I had originally thought it should be before I second-guessed myself and changed it. And now it has found a home.

The funny part is the opening line was actually lifted from an idea I had for a Halloween story for an anthology the Horror Writers Association was doing (I never wrote this story). One night, years ago, I was standing on the balcony at the Pub/Parade during Halloween weekend (in my usual slutty whatever costume; my costume default always involved slutty in the title and involved lots of exposed skin) and someone came out of Oz across the street as Satan–horns and a wig and goat legs, but also a bare torso body painted red–and I thought, wow, Satan has a great six pack and laughed, thinking that’s a great opening line for a story. I was going to use it for my Halloween story, along with the Gates of Guinee; I never wrote the story, but when I was figuring out my cursed snow globe story, I thought, You know, “Santa has a great six-pack” is also a great opening line, and you can work Guinee into this, and thus “The Snow Globe” was born.

And yes, it’s a story about a gay man placed in a mainstream anthology, which pleases me even more. (I mean, an opening line like that would have to be the start of a story about a gay man, wouldn’t it?)

I watched two movies while making condom packs yesterday: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Altered States, which, while they may not seem similar at first glance, after watching them they kind of are. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (I hated his version of The Shining; Barry Lyndon was probably the most boring film ever made; and while I enjoy A Clockwork Orange…it’s not something I’d care to watch again, frankly), and when I watched 2001 for the first time, years ago, when it debuted on television, all I could think was I don’t understand this movie at all. I went on to read the book, by Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), which sort of explained what was happening better, but it wasn’t until I saw and read the sequel, 2010, that it all began to make sense. Visually and sound-wise, it’s an exceptional film, particularly for when it was made; no science fiction space movie had looked so realistic before, and would Star Wars have been possible without 2001? But as with other Kubrick films I’ve seen, the acting wasn’t terrific (although Keir Dullea is stunningly gorgeous to look at; he came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, and has aged spectacularly well), and there was a distinct coldness to the movie, a distance that I felt was deliberate–to show how vast and empty and cold space is. It was also kind of funny in that the flight out to the Moon in the beginning was a Pan American flight, and on the station there was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; they had no way of knowing that either, at the time the movie was made, would be no longer in business by the actual year 2001. It was also interesting that women were still in subservient roles in this fantasy 2001, except in the case of the Soviets (also no way of knowing there would be no Soviet Union by the actual year 2001); which always makes futuristic films interesting time capsules once the future they depict has come and gone in actuality. The basic plot of the movie–sandwiched in between the strange appearances of the monolith at the dawn of mankind and encountered again at the end by Dave–is a horror/suspense tale, told unemotionally and rather coldly–about the malfunction of the computer, HAL 9000, who controls the spaceship and begins trying to kill the astronauts aboard, which undoubtedly also influenced Alien.

Altered States is a Ken Russell film, starring a very young William Hurt and Blair Brown. Hurt is still in the full flush of youthful male beauty, and like in his other early films I’ve watched lately (Eyewitness, Body Heat) his body and looks are highly sexualized; he’s naked a lot in this, and there’s even a brief view of his penis in one shot, which I am sure was quite shocking for the time. Like Kubrick, I’ve never been a particular fan of Ken Russell as an auteur; Altered States is a deeply flawed film that could have been so much more. Hurt and Brown play highly educated academics at the top of their field who eventually become professors at Harvard. Hurt is primarily interested in his field of research; he believes that in a heightened sense of consciousness, one can tap into the millions of years of human development that is locked into our brains and DNA. He is conducting experiments into altered consciousness in the beginning of the movie, by putting himself into a sensory deprivation tank (remember those?), which is part and parcel of the times in which the film was made. Eventually, he discovers there’s a remote native tribe in the mountains of Mexico that still performs, and lives in the same manner, as their Toltec ancestors; they also have visions and regress when taking a type of brew made from a certain kind of mushroom only grown where they live during a mystical ritual. (Interesting aside: Greek actor Thaao Penghlis, who gained fame playing Tony DiMera for decades on Days of Our Lives, plays the Mexican anthropologist who not only tells Hurt about this tribe, but takes him there–because he was dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair, of course he was convincingly “Mexican” to play the part) As expected, things go terribly wrong and he becomes more and more obsessed; by taking the drug concoction made by this tribe while using a sensory deprivation tank he is able to unlock primordial memory as well as regress physically as well, until his friends intervene and his love for Brown somehow manage a strangely weird happily ever after. It’s really just another film warning about the hubris of scientists and playing God, in the long line of tradition dating back to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blair Brown is also naked a lot, for no apparent reason other than to show off her body, and it was, as I said, flawed. But the climactic scene where he changes again physically and has to fight off regressing to early man is also reminiscent of both the beginning and end of 2001–which shows the birth of mankind and intelligence, and how Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes, thanks to the strange monolith, also regresses and changes and evolves, into what was called the Starchild. (You really have to read or watch–or both–2010 for any of that to make sense.)

We also continue to watch Babylon Berlin with great enjoyment; we have but one more episode to go in Season 1.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

My October Symphony

At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.

But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)

We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.

And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.

Then again, you never know.

We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.