Blue Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singularity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Are You Ready for This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything’s Gone Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superheated

And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.

But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.

Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.

I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.

I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!

I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.

And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

60 Miles an Hour

So yesterday I was a guest at Chicks on the Case blog, which was a lot of fun. I was invited to guest post by the delightful Ellen Byron, an accomplished mystery writer who writes a wonderful Louisiana Cajun country-based series beginning with Plantation Shudders, and also writes as Maria DiRico, who writes the catering hall mystery series. (you can read more about her, and order her books by clicking here!) I’ve not done the guest blog thing in a while, and it was quite fun. I tackled one of the weirder parts of my writing process–how I have to always start with a title, whether it is the final title or not–and was pleased to find out, based on the comments, that it’s not as strange as I had originally been led to believe! Yay, me!

Go Greg, go Greg, go Greg!

I am desperately trying to get my short story done; it’s due tomorrow, and writing it has been a real chore recently. I think my creativity feels like a worn out, dried out old husk right now–probably the push to finish the book, which I am still not sure is completely finished–and so have been forcing myself to have to write it. It’s not a bad story, by any means, it’s just been so damned hard to finish it I don’t know what to do with myself. But while today is a Greg-maintenance day–doctors appointments and so forth-I am hoping to get it finished today so I can polish it tomorrow and get it turned in and out of the way. I am daunted by how much work I also must get done this weekend–truly daunted and terrified–but there’s nothing to do but put my nose to the grindstone and start plugging away. The Lost Apartment is also a disaster area–I’ve somehow managed to keep the kitchen under control for once this week, so it’s mostly the living room that is the tragic mess–so I’d like to get the living room under control this weekend as well. I am going to try to repair my old desktop computer–the things they had me do to the laptop to try to make it functional should also work on the desktop, so keep your fingers crossed for me; it would be lovely to have an actual functional desktop computer here rather than having to keep fucking around with this piece of shit MacBook Air–but I am also not going to waste a lot of time on it. Either it works or it doesn’t, and if this fix doesn’t work I’ll have to figure out a way to dispose of it and get it out of the living room once and for all. There’s just so damned much clutter in the living room–and believe me, the more annoyed I become with the clutter, the less attached I remain to the stacks and piles of books. (If it weren’t for the damned coronavirus, I would have been able to get rid of many of these already; I don’t simply want to throw them away. I have a library book to pick up today as well, so when I call them to have them finish the check-out process and put the book outside on the gallery, I will ask them about how to donate books to them…because this shall not stand)

I also need to get back to reading rather then spending my evening streaming either CNN or MSNBC. The events of the past week have been historical, watching history unfold, and I felt an obligation–still do–as an American citizen to watch and stay informed of what is going on in the country. There’s an inevitable feeling to all of this, really–I always suspected in my heart of hearts (while hoping desperately to be wrong) that it would come to something like this, and as a long time citizen who actually believes, has always believed, and will continue to believe, that the ideals behind the founding of this country are something to always strive for, even if we have all too frequently, as flawed humans, failed to get there and always fallen short. Nowhere and at no time since the Civil War has the union and the Constitution been so threatened; and we remain very lucky we didn’t watch the wholesale slaughter of Congressional Democrats and the vice-president in real time.

And so many of this vile mob of seditious treasonous traitorous insurrectionists only have regrets because they are being arrested and losing their jobs. White supremacy is a potent and addictive a drug as heroin or meth, clearly.

But as I have said before, the world doesn’t stop because of events. The planet keeps turning and going around the sun at the same pace as ever; it halts for no man. As difficult as it is to tear one’s self away–the all-too-real fear of missing something horribly important–I must. Today I will get my routine maintenance done, pick up my library book, get the mail, clean and write my story. Tomorrow I will work at home making condom packs and trying to get back on top of all of my responsibilities, my emails, my writing, my career–and I also want to watch some more cynical 70’s movies while I make my condom packs. (Probably Saturday Night Fever and maybe Play Misty for Me) I also am hoping Paul and I can settle in for some more Bridgerton–we’re only two episodes in–and I also want to get some reading done; I want to tear through the first Mary Russell novel by Laurie R. King, and I have some e-galleys from two terrific authors (Hilary Davidson and Alison Gaylin) I can’t wait to dive into, as well as getting back to the Short Story Project, and also to get back into the swing of going to the gym again.

And with that, I need to start getting ready for my first appointment. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to.

Style

And this is the first Tuesday of 2021, how are you all doing?

I was very tired yesterday. I slept well Sunday night, but the stress of finishing the book was messing up my sleep leading into Sunday night, so yesterday wasn’t an easy day for me. I also think my caffeine intake might have gone up while I was on vacation, so I am not really sure if it was book stress or perhaps caffeine messing with my sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night either–and I am going to the gym after work tonight. I’m a little stressed out because I really allowed the Sisyphean task of answering my emails be pushed aside focused on getting my book finished, and it was more than a little traumatizing yesterday to see how out of control my inbox had gotten. But que sera sera, as Doris Day used to sing.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, and bravo to everyone involved. Sabrina was one of the most fun shows we’ve watched over the past few years, I highly recommend it. Kiernan Shipka is pitch perfect as Sabrina–the entire cast is perfect, really; not a false note anywhere–and of course, the guy who plays Lucifer is fucking gorgeous. The four seasons was a wonderful ride, as Sabrina went from wide-eyed, goody two-shoes half mortal/half witch to owning her own power and using it to save herself, her friends, her family–and eventually, the entire cosmos. I was bummed when I heard the fourth season would be its last…but the final season was perfectly written, and ended all of the story arcs satisfactorily, tying the entire run up with a bow. Sorry to see it go, but absolutely delighted that they clearly planned the show’s end.

I do feel a bit at sea, to be honest; the usual disorientation after the tight focus required to finish a book. I printed out #shedeservedit–it’s at around 100,000 words right now and needs to be trimmed down because there’s some additions that need to be made to it, but it cannot come in at 125+. I also periodically have some fears about Bury Me in Shadows–which is inevitable, I suppose; imposter syndrome never goes away, even after you’ve written over thirty books at this point in your career. I’m not certain why this happens to me still–or what I need to rewire in my brain to stop it happening–if that’s even possible at this point in my life. I rather am who I am, and I doubt that change is possible for me now. I do try to continue to learn and grow–I don’t think I ever want to stop learning and growing, as a person or as a writer–but sometimes I wonder if I am so deeply mired in who I am as a person for that to even be possible anymore. I was also thinking about books and stories I’d like to write in the future, and then wondering, am I the right person to tell that story? As an example, I had an idea I really liked a few years back (probably longer than I remember) which was centered around a family of Vietnamese refugees who owned a small business somewhere along the Gulf Coast, either Florida or Alabama, from the point of view of a teenager who was born in the US and so is torn between his family culture and becoming assimilated, when something from the matriarch’s past in Vietnam–from the war days–comes back into their lives,, affecting everyone and changing everything. It’s a really good idea…but then, am I the right person to tell that story? Wouldn’t a Vietnamese-American write a more authentic story, and would my writing such a book take a publishing slot away from a Vietnamese-American writer?

While I do believe that writers have a right–perhaps even a duty–to write the stories they are compelled to write, I also don’t see that compulsion as a “get out of jail free” card. You have to do the work to make sure you aren’t using cheap stereotypes, are creating authentic characters whose experience lives and breathes and is real to the reader, and are telling honest stories about them. You can’t just shrug and smile and say, “well, if people only wrote from their personal experience we wouldn’t have stories about vampires and werewolves and space aliens”; nothing makes me angrier than seeing someone using that to answer criticism about authenticity in their work.

Because people of color and queers, for the record, aren’t mythological creatures that only exist in fiction and in our imaginations. We all exist, and to have our lives, our experiences, and our very existence compared to “vampires and werewolves and space aliens” is not only insulting, it’s dehumanizing–which is absolutely what racism and homophobia are about when boiled down to their base point: people who are not straight and white aren’t REALLY human beings.

And anyone who uses that excuse most definitely should not be writing outside of their own experience, because they are NOT coming from a good place.

When I was first starting out, there was an ongoing debate/discussion about whether we should identify as gay writers or just as writers. The debate died off as traditional publishing backed away from publishing queer writers–and the ones they did continue publishing weren’t marketed as “queer.” I could see the merits on both sides of the discussion; sure, I’d prefer to be seen as a crime writer and have my works stocked in the mystery section of bookstore–but that was also not a reality. As I would say back then–and it’s still true today–“it doesn’t matter what we consider ourselves and our work to be; the publishers and the booksellers are going to label us and or work however they think best in order to sell it, and no matter what we do, our thoughts and opinions and definitions will always be overruled by Marketing.” That label also trumps everything that comes after it–whether it’s romance or mystery or literary or science fiction or fantasy or horror, gay or queer overpowers everything else. I think that is beginning to change. I see books written by queer writers centering queer characters being published by the big houses to great reviews and getting attention, which is lovely. I love the entire “#ownvoices” conversation, and the move to course-correct the overwhelming white straightness in book publishing.

Ironically, it causes me to doubt myself. When I was writing Bury Me in Shadows, I questioned myself constantly: do I have the right to write this book and tell this story? Can a white Southern gay man write about issues of race in the rural South? Am I writing authentic characters or perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes? Do I have anything really insightful to bring to the discussion, or have I gone completely off the rails? It’s a whole new kind of imposter syndrome I wasn’t expecting!

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

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

So yesterday was the last day of my vacation. Heavy heaving sigh. It was a bit on the weird side, though, because of the holidays and so forth I kept losing track of what day it was. Friday seemed like Saturday to me, and every day last week I had to really sit down and think about what day it actually was–or look at my Google calendar. #madness

I did finish the book yesterday, and sent it to my publisher two days late. I really thought I was going to get this one in on time–still not certain the final chapter is complete, but the manuscript currently sits at over 90,000 words and I just can’t think about the book anymore. I’m delighted to be finished with it, disappointed it took me an extra two days, and now I am going to breathe a bit as I try to get caught up with everything I let slide while I slogged through finishing this book.

As always, I overestimated how much time I can spend staring at a computer screen and underestimated how long it would take to put the copy edits/corrections into the entire document. And of course, the MacBook Air problems continued this morning as well. I fucking hate this thing, seriously.

But Bury Me in Shadows is finished; and now I can start figuring out how to finish #shedeservedit by March 1 and a short story by 1/15. And oh my God, the emails I’ve been ignoring while I tried to get this done. But I am glad to be going back to work this morning, despite having to get up at a ridiculously early hour, and I feel fairly well rested; I had issues sleeping during my vacation–of course–but now that I am going to go back to my usual schedule, hopefully that will be a thing of the past. I haven’t been to the gym since getting my inoculation (part one); my shoulder was sore and moving my left arm in an upward motion–required for the gym–hurt, so I thought it smart and prudent to skip it. I will go tonight after I get off work, of course, and try to make up for the lost time.

Since I was on deadline for a book, I never really had the opportunity to reflect on the shit-show that was 2020. It’s weird, too, because usually I am looking forward to Carnival–Twelfth Night is Wednesday, which kicks off the season, and there were King cakes already out at Rouse’s yesterday–but the parades are cancelled due to the pandemic, so Carnival is going to be weird this year. I’m kind of glad I don’t have to plan my life around parades, to be honest–but it’s still going to be different and strange…and imagine how insane parade season will be next year! I will eventually recap my 2020 for this blog at some point–favorite books and movies and television shows and so forth–but that isn’t going to happen today, as my memory is shot and I will have to go through old blogs to see what I read and what I watched this past year. I also haven’t really done a goals post for 2021 the way I usually do, either–primarily because there was one goal, and that was to get the book done. It was nice having the holidays and the little bit of vacation time to work on the book; it was one of those ah this is what life would be like if I only had to write books things, and it was quite lovely. One thing I noticed, too, while I was working on the final polish was that one of my biggest worries is that I forget things, or start something and never finish it off, leave subplots dangling without an answer, etc.–or names change for characters, that sort of thing. Partly it’s because when I write and I come to a place in the story where I have to remember something from earlier in the book, I usually don’t remember and guess–and it’s amazing how often my subconscious rises up and makes the correct guess for me. I always used to be able to remember the plot and things like that in my head; my memory is shot now, so I am generally terrified as I give the final a final polish and copy edit…there were only a couple of small minor things–a character’s last name changed once, a location’s name was the incorrect one–so I was pretty well pleased and the final step not nearly as difficult as anticipated or expected. (Thank God, as it took me three days to get through the manuscript and input those corrections and deletions; who knows how long it would have taken if the manuscript was more of a mess?) It also went from a book about a high school student to a college student–almost from the very beginning of its origins as a short story, the main character was young; going from about thirteen in the short story to seventeen in the original draft to twenty in the final. It also went from first-person/present tense to first person/past tense, and it was amazing to me how many verbs I’d missed going through and making those changes. Laziness, probably, being the correct answer to that.

As always, when I am pressed to finish a book my mind becomes very creative. I was scribbling down ideas in my journal almost all of last week, and I even came up with a new Scotty title, which might even be the next book–Twelfth Knight Knavery, which is just so fun I am going to have to do it. I had originally planned on doing a pre-pandemic book (French Quarter Flambeaux, primarily because the shitty Carnival season of 2019 deserved to be recorded for posterity), but this one….I kind of like the idea behind this one, and there’s no reason I can’t do two pre-pandemic books for Scotty before Quarter Quarantine Quadrille. My timeline for Scotty, after all, is completely under my own control. And I suspect people aren’t going to want to be reading about the pandemic for a little while at any rate. I do love the title Twelfth Knight Knavery, though.

We’ve also been watching the final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and my God, how I love this show. I hate that it’s ending, but also get it–this final season has the gang taking on the Eldritch horrors, and where do you go after that? We only have two episodes left to watch, which will most likely occur tonight or tomorrow. The Saints also won yesterday, so football season is theoretically not over yet for Louisiana fans, but while people around here are talking Super Bowl…I dunno.

And on that note, it’s time to get back to the spice mines and try to get caught up on things. Have a lovely first Monday of the new year, Constant Reader.

Ours

And here we are on the second day of the new year. I didn’t not finish polishing the book yesterday; I am doing it old school–editing on paper–because of course there are endless issues with my MacBook Air still; the very problem I tried to get resolved the other day has returned, which means I am going to have to go to the fucking Apple Store in Metairie (because, you know, I have nothing but fucking free time) to get this piece of shit’s problems resolved once and for all. It’s a fucking iCloud issue (of course, the worst and stupidest fucking thing Apple ever came up with–hey, you don’t need any storage in your computer! You can just save everything in the Cloud! Oh, but if you do, it’s going to also somehow eat up the miniscule amount of storage we gave you in a laptop that cost WELL over a thousand dollars.

I will probably be arrested when I do go to the Apple Store.

So I was kicking it old school yesterday–sitting in my easy chair and going through it, line by line, page by page, catching discrepancies and contradictions and mistakes and repetitions. I only have about 100 pages left to go, so I am hoping I can get that done quickly and then start pulling the entire manuscript together so I can get it sent in. I had originally planned on writing a short story for 1/15 deadline this weekend and getting caught up on everything else I am doing (and am woefully behind on) but around eight o’clock last night my eyes started blurring and crossing and I knew better than to keep going with this. The work would just shoddy and sloppy–and the whole point of this polish was to get rid of the shoddy and sloppy writing (of which there is a ridiculous amount). But I should get it finished and turned in this weekend, and then I can move on to the next thing–the short story, and the manuscript due on 3/1.

After I finished last night I also had a bit of a crisis in conscience and confidence about the book–I’m not really sure why, to be honest. I am writing about race in the south, but I am also writing it from the perspective of a gay white college student whose been unexpectedly thrust into the midst of it by spending the summer in Alabama, and his dysfunctional family’s many dark secrets from the past start having an impact on the future. So, of course, last night as I sat in my chair watching the final episode of A Teacher (horrible right to the end; leaving us to question what the entire point of the show was in the first place) and the latest episode of The Stand (also not very good, but as a huge fan of the book I will watch to the bitter end), my mind started racing: am I depicting the people of color in the book properly and inoffensively? Should I be writing about Southern racism while centering a white character? Is the story itself offensive? Is this going to be another one of those “well he meant well but” things? I approached the whole thing respectfully, I think, and while having a main character who was raised not to be racist having to confront the racist past of his own family might come across as preachy–another fear–I think about all the young people I’ve worked with over the years and how open-minded they are; and they give me hope for the future–and that is what I drew from for this character and this book.

And ultimately, if I wind up getting called out for insensitivity, well, all I can do is apologize and try to do better.

But–sloppy and shoddy parts aside–as I read to revise I kept thinking this is actually much better and more cohesive than I thought it was, and things I was thinking I needed to add–about the family history, etc .–I already had, which was kind of lovely; I just need to make sure what’s in the early part of the book matches what’s in the later, and of course, hopefully whatever I may miss will be caught by my editor.

SO, it’s Alabama and Ohio State for the national championship. I watched the games–well, had them on in the background as I edited and read–occasionally looking up and being startled by the scores. They didn’t just win; they pummeled Notre Dame and Clemson, respectively. After the ACC championship game, I kept saying it didn’t make sense nor was it fair to put both Notre Dame and Clemson in the play-offs, giving them a chance to possibly play for the third fucking time, while shutting USC, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M out of the play-offs entirely. (Well, Cincinnati lost to Georgia in a nail-biter–I also had that one on in the background, and watched the closing two minutes or so as Georgia rallied to win) But I think it is safe to say, yet again, that the four-team play-off just doesn’t work, and it’s maybe time to again look at and consider going to a six or eight team play-off.

I am skipping the gym again today because my shoulder is still sore from the inoculation Thursday.

And on that note, it is back to the spice mines for me. Y’all have a great day, okay?

Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!