It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)

So, for today’s BSP about Bury Me in Shadows, I am going to talk about where the actual story that goes to the heart of the plot came from.

My grandmother was probably one of the biggest influences in my life, for both good and bad. I won’t talk about the bad—I was raised to believe you never bleed in public—and there was quite a bit of it; I didn’t speak to her the last thirteen or so years of her life. But the good was good, really. She loved old movies and passed that love of the glory days of Hollywood on to me; she always encouraged me to read and to be a writer; and she was the one who instilled in me my love for crime films and (to a lesser degree) horror ones—what she used to call “scary movies”; I watched The Haunting for the first time with her, and sometimes when I rewatch an old classic, like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers or The Letter, I remember watching it with her on the couch. She was also the one who introduced me to some authors I love, Victoria Holt (The Secret Woman) and Mary Stewart (The Ivy Tree), and she also encouraged my interest in history, which she also really enjoyed. She used to tell me stories about the past all the time when I was young—stories that at the time, and for most of my life, I remembered as being “family history” and was very surprised as an adult to find out they were fairly common legends and stories from all over the South, as well as from books and movies. In other words, none of the stories were true…but when I was thinking about this again the other day it occurred to me that it was entirely possible I was remembering it wrong—it was a long fucking time ago, after all, and my memory has been wrong before. It’s entirely possible she was just telling me stories, that I assumed were family histories…anyway, there were a lot of them, and when I was in college I started writing a lot of the ones I remembered down. They were often tales of blood and murder and crime; sometimes ghost stories.

The Lost Boys, the legend I used as the basis for the book’s background, is one of those stories.

And yes, bits and pieces of the story are apocryphal; sewn together by my grandmother into one story to entertain me.

Long story short: before the Civil War the county where my family comes from (again, not sure if this is true or not; the histories of the area I’ve read indicate that it’s not; so she either was weaving a story for me or I misunderstood the story or altered it in my memory as I got older) used to mostly belong entirely to one family—from which I am theoretically descended from (my grandmother also had a lot of delusions of grandeur)—and after the war, they lost nearly everything, except for a small tract of land that still remains in the family to this day. Anyway, the father and the oldest son went off to war, leaving his wife and two younger sons behind. The father was killed in the war. When the son came home after the war was over, the house had burned to the ground and there was no sign of wife or the two youngest sons anywhere; they’d vanished without a trace. No one ever knew what became of them; and the story, according to my grandmother, was that a deserting Union soldier burned the house and killed them (yes, the same story as appeared in Gone with the Wind, among others; my grandmother also told me another story about a Union deserter committing murder of a defenseless Southern woman—which I also turned into a short story that collects dust in my files), and that on or around the anniversary of their deaths, you could hear the younger boy calling for his mother in the woods near where the old house had been. Good stuff, right? I certainly thought so, and what a great basis for a story.

Of course, when I started researching the history of the county, none of this appeared to be true—the Union army never came any closer to the county than Tuscaloosa, for one, so the odds of a deserter making it all the way there on foot are pretty slim, and especially if no one else saw him—and of course, none of my ancestors owned most of the county. But it was a good story, even if not true, and I felt that writing about it could make for an interesting tale. My main character, Jake, is aware of the old family legend; he wrote a paper about it in high school, but doesn’t believe it’s anything more than a legend. I thought it would be cool to leave the ruins of the original house there, deep in the woods, far from the county road and the current domicile of the family, the crumbling house on the dirt road just off the county road. I also brought in a team of archaeologists from the University of Alabama, excavating the ruins—one of the few sites left that haven’t been excavated—and the professor leading the team, Dr. Brady (named after a historian friend), while intrigued and interested in the legend, isn’t trying to find proof one way or the other; he’s simply interested in what information about how the family lived can be unearthed.

The book is more than this, of course; but the Lost Boys legend was the starting point from which the rest of the book grew. I have a very complicated relationship with Alabama, to be honest; it’s my homeplace and I love the state. It’s stunningly beautiful. Even the poor rural county we came from is beautiful, with rolling hills and small mountains covered in pine forest, hollows filled with kudzu, muddy orange streams and rivers, riotously colored flowering bushes, and the air…oh, how wonderfully clean and fresh and pure the air smells. I love the orange dirt, and how round and smooth the gravel can be. The sky is a gorgeous cerulean, and of course, when it rains, it really rains. I can remember how still and heavy and damp the hot summer air was, the gnats and mosquitoes and dirt daubers and wasps and hornets and bees and horseflies. Whenever I stop as I drive through on my way somewhere else (usually Kentucky or Atlanta), I am always amazed at how lovely the young people are working in the small highway-side town’s fast food places. I remember screen doors with a coil so they’d always shut (or slam, if you just let go), and the big red Coca-Cola coolers with the bottle opener on the side in the general stores—and of course, the big old style Dr Pepper signs, that looked like a clock with only the numbers 10, 2 and 4—because that was the time for a Dr Pepper. (I also remember it was considered a cure-all when you were sick; just heat some Dr Pepper on the stove and add lemon; just like 7-Up was a cure for an upset stomach.)

But the state’s history– enslaved people, what happened to the indigenous tribes, Jim Crow, Selma, the institutionalized racism–is also deeply problematic. How does one write about the problematic history of the state? How do you point out how wrong all of that is without becoming preachy? I’ve often taken issue with white-written narratives about the pre-Civil Rights era in the South, as well as those set during that era and after; I remember reading one book where the heroine was doing research about the history of an incredibly racist town where a race-related murder had occurred, driven by the Klan–but focusing on the good, non-racist, non-Klan members of the town–what I call the see? We aren’t all bad take. I definitely didn’t want to write one of those stories. A few years back, I found a copy of a book I read when I was fairly young–it belonged to my uncle, actually–about the Civil Rights era in Alabama, called The Klansman by William Bradford Huie, whom I believe was actually a journalism professor at the University of Alabama…and it was different than I remembered, yet still chilling. I’m not sure what Huie was trying to do with the book, to be honest; the Klan sympathizers really came across badly, and even those who weren’t out and out members of the Klan were still racists who saw the Klan as a necessary “evil”–the sheriff couldn’t get elected without the support of the Klan, and he spends the book trying to walk the line between pleasing the Klan and not doing anything illegal…but you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas. (I read it the same summer as I read To Kill a Mockingbird, which also belonged to my uncle; the two books are forever linked in my mind.)

Bury Me in Shadows may be many things, but it’s not a Lost Cause narrative, nor is it a “look at the nice white saviors” novel, either.

And I think that’s enough about that for today.

Every Song Is You

Wednesday morning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking in the Rain

And we’ll make it to Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together We’re Better

Yesterday actually turned out to be quite lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

If I die young,

Bury me in satin

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

And so it was.

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

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

Something New Got Old

Saturday and tonight we will be in Death Valley, watching the LSU-Auburn game. Huzzah!

But that means a really long day ahead. The game isn’t until eight pm, which means we may not get out of the stadium and into the car before midnight, which will get me home around one thirty in the morning at the earliest. That is way past my bedtime, and could also prove incredibly problematic when it comes to having a productive day tomorrow, which is absolutely necessary. I slept deeply and well last night–Scooter woke me up for water around three, and for food again around six (and yes, I should have filled the food bowl at three but I was barely conscious; I’m surprised I even remember getting up to get him water at three)–and feel pretty rested this morning. I am debating as to whether I should make a grocery run today–I doubt I will feel up to it tomorrow–but looking at my grocery list, there’s really nothing that makes such a trip necessary, really; but I should probably go looking through my cabinets to be thorough before making any decision. For some reason lately running errands makes me tired; but that could be a combination of any number of other things, not just being sixty. It’s also not like the month of September (with the end of August added in for good measure) was an easy one, after all.

I had to get up really early yesterday to take my car to the West Bank for servicing–new air filters, and the tire with a slow, steady leak became the tire with a regular pretty quick leak–and it got all patched up and everything. I had ordered a new lap desk so I can use the laptop in my easy chair–the old one I bought while we were still living in the carriage house the first time; so it was pretty old–and the new one is pretty fancy–pockets and so forth, as well as a built in mousepad on the surface. Whether or not that means I will actually start using the laptop in my easy chair remains to be seen. I also want to move the ratty old one upstairs for use in bed; we do have a television in the bedroom we never use, and maybe having the lap desk will encourage me to work from the comfort of said bed. Anyway, I love my new lap desk, and can’t wait to try it out this morning (once I post this I am planning on moving to the easy chair).

I think I am going to have to make that grocery run today; might as well, and then I can get the mail and I also need to fill the tank with gas for the drive to Baton Rouge. And since I have to go out into the world today anyway…might as well get that odious chore out of the way.

I also made that “Mississippi roast” in the slow cooker yesterday; that recipe that keeps popping up everywhere you turn around, with people raving about it–the one that calls for a packet of au jus and a packet of ranch, with a stick of butter added to the top of the roast and no liquids added. I will fully confess I assumed it would be terribly bland (living in New Orleans and learning to cook Louisiana style has certainly spoiled me when it comes to flavor and spices and so forth–everywhere else’s food always seems terribly bland to me now) but I always follow the recipe the first time I make anything so I can see how it turns out, before starting to experiment every time after (I generally never make the same recipe the same way twice; I am always tweaking recipes but ironically never track the changes and adaptations, which means I can never repeat it if I find a perfect way to make something by experimenting). I am pleased to report that it actually tasted quite good as written; the only thing I might change the next time is to add mushrooms or perhaps small potatoes (although there really isn’t a lot of gravy; I think the potatoes would have to be added about half-way through, and the mushrooms with an hour left to go), and maybe–maybe–some white pepper and basil.

I really do love to cook.

I did read some more Velvet Was the Night while I was waiting at the dealership for the work on my car to be finished. I hope I’m not giving the impression that the book isn’t good, given how long it is taking me to finish it. That has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with an inability to focus. Yesterday at the dealership, I was really getting caught up in the story when they came to let me know the car was ready. I meant to get back to it last night after work, but Paul was home early and so we started watching our shows–getting caught up on Only Murders in the Building, Titans, Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, and American Horror Story: Double Feature–and since there’s game all day today, we probably won’t get to Midnight Mass again until tomorrow. AHS wrapped up it’s odd story about the talent vampires in Provincetown, and so the second half of this season is the second feature, which apparently has to do with aliens in the Southern California desert, near Joshua Tree/Palm Springs area (I guess the Salton Sea was too much to hope for). It’s strange–with all four of the college student leads (including the guys, who are a young gay couple) winding up pregnant after an alien experience none of them remember; they just remember a bright light and all of them waking up in the car in different seats–but intriguing. I will be interested to see how this plays out, and if it goes off the rails as so many plots on this show tend to do.

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

It’s All In Your Mind

Wednesday, which is also Pay Day, which means it is also Pay the Bills Day. Huzzah! (That, in case you were wondering, Constant Reader, was sarcasm.) At least I can pay the bills without bankrupting myself, so that’s a plus.

I just booked my hotel room for Bouchercon Minneapolis. I am, needless to say, very excited about the possibility of actually going to Bouchercon this year–I’ve not been in years; the last one held in person was Dallas and I got an inner ear infection the week of that prohibited me from flying, which kind of sucked; I would have driven had I known it would be four years between attendances for me. Paul will be coming with me, methinks; we did use to live up there (he was there much longer than my eight months) after all, and I am thrilled at the thought of traveling again. I still am hoping to get to New York and Boston for Crime Bake in November; we’ll see how that turns out.

It rained yesterday afternoon, and my final client was a bit late so I ended up staying much later than I normally do–and by much, I mean a half-hour (in fairness, the difference in traffic between 4:30 and 5 pm is significant)–but it was also pouring rain as I drove home. I had considered stopping at the grocery store AND going to the gym last night after work, but the rain put the kibosh on that. I was a little tired last night also, so I didn’t get as much done as I probably should have. There’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher that need to be put away, for example, but at least I got the laundry done. I also spent quite a bit of time organizing. My computer files are an absolute disaster, frankly; but I am getting there. I also need to stop downloading images and articles that *may* come in handy later at some point (I am constantly seeing something and thinking oh this would be the good basis for a story at some point and then I need to have it available to me at some point, so I download it and save it; this includes photographs and images (my Chlorine folder is filled with images of men being intimate in some way, going back over a hundred years, so whenever I get the “I don’t know how they would have looked or dressed or whatever” I can just scroll through the images and think, “ah, yes, here we are”); I am also worried about transferring files from computer to computer and am always worried I am going to wind up deleting something I’ll need later, so I will end up with, for example, five copies of the same word document. It does make finding things a challenge, and this is also helping me. Organizing and filing are always a pain in the ass to do, but I always find it soothing in some way; like when I am folding clothes or doing the dishes.

I did do some editing yesterday; not much of anything, really, but progress was made and it was good. I should be able to finish that listicle article thingamabob today and get it sent off to the website it’s for; which will be lovely. I’m going to push to get some things edited and revised over the next two days, and of course, once it’s October first, I have to get to work on the new mystery, A Streetcar Named Murder. I also have to figure out what name to use for it. Also beginning on October 1, I have to start really pushing and promoting Bury Me in Shadows, which officially drops on October 12–and I’ve done very little on this front in quite some time. Seriously, I really do wonder sometimes how I have managed to have a writing career for as long as I have…

I am a bit tired this morning. I woke up several times throughout the night, sadly, and it took me a while to fall asleep as well. I wouldn’t call last night’s sleep insomnia, but it wasn’t as restful or as relaxing as it could have been (I should have gone to the gym; that would have tired me out enough to sleep, surely) so I am sure sometime around three this afternoon I will undoubtedly run out of energy and just drag through the rest of the work day. It’s also supposed to rain all day, which will inevitably also make me sleepier. Great.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a happy Wednesday, Constant Reader, and will chat with you again tomorrow undoubtedly.

Last Night

I can’t stop thinking about that Chippendales documentary I watched this past weekend.

I felt better yesterday than I have in a long time, even as I was making a list of all the things I need to get done in the meantime. (The list, by the way, is quite extensive.) Paul was working last night and I was tired when I got home. I tried to read for a little while but my mind was too tired to focus, so I put the book aside and watched some history documentary videos on Youtube, which really is quite addicting. (Youtube has become quite fascinating overall to me; and it’s very easy to fall into a video wormhole almost impossible to climb out from…I’m undoubtedly very late to this party, but it’s interesting what you can come across while digging around on there.) I also slept pretty well last night; I feel rested this morning and good, the way I did yesterday morning, and I think a lot of this has to do with being back on schedule; with going into the office Monday thru Wednesday and getting my schedule back in order the way it’s supposed to be. Normality, I suppose, is what it’s called, and getting back into a normal-seeming routine is what truly matters in trying to feel normal again.

My dishwasher was repaired yesterday, so last night I was able to get the most recent stack of dirty dishes cleaned and run through it without incident, which was also quite lovely. (It really takes so very little to make me happy, seriously.)

September is almost finished, as hard as that is to believe. The weather was simply stunningly gorgeous yesterday, too. And we have tickets for the LSU-Auburn game this Saturday! (Way to bury the lede.) It’s a night game, which means we won’t get home until midnight or so from Baton Rouge, but it’s also been two years since we’ve been to a game (the last time was the Florida game in 2019), and I am very excited. LSU isn’t playing great this year, but neither is Auburn (despite their almost-win at Penn State); so fingers crossed the Tigers will get their act together this week and be able to pull off the upset win at home. It’ll also be a beautiful night for a football game. And I can wear my new cap Paul got me for my birthday! Very exciting!

So, things are slowly starting to get back to what passes for normalcy around here, and I am slowly starting to feel like I am getting a handle on everything I should and need to be doing. I spent a very little time yesterday writing the first few paragraphs of “Condos for Sale or Rent”; I had already started the story sometime last year but didn’t like where it was going or what I was doing so I decided to start over, and there I was, writing fiction again. Maybe not anything I should have been working on (naturally) but it felt good to flex those writerly brain muscles again and start writing something again.

I also realized last night (while watching a video about the sad life of Elisabeth of France, sister of Louis XVI) that I’ve felt scattered and disorganized ever since the Great Data Disaster of 2018; which has been three fucking years since my desktop computer went on the fritz and I started having to develop work-arounds, and also right around the same time that our work computers stopped reading flash drives plugged into them, which started the horrible period on which my work was always spread over three different computers and I had to teach myself how to use the Cloud–which wasn’t easy, given the issues I was having with my desktop computer on top of everything else. I did somehow manage to write a couple of books and some short stories during those three years, but I’ve never really felt on top of things since that mess all began. I was actually starting to feel caught up and back on top of things again When The Power Went Out, and so for the last month it was back to flailing and the sad, defeatist attitude that everyone whose always told me I was a loser was correct and I was never going to be able to get everything done that I needed to get done–and that I was barely keeping my head above water this entire time. Being organized is the only way you can ever be truly efficient and highly-functioning, and I’ve not felt organized since December 2018. I am starting to feel better about being organized, and while the process is ongoing, I also feel like I’ve already made some great strides in getting better, holistically, with everything.

Tonight, I am hoping to have the energy to go to the gym for Leg Day (sobs softly to self) as well as stop and make some groceries on the way home–just to pick up a few little things–and then would love to spend some time reading Velvet Was the Night after the shower and so forth. I think Paul still has a grant to work on, so my evening is free; perhaps I can also get some writing done after the gym and shower. We shall see.

At any rate, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

Hello Hello

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

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

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

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

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

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

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

I Woke Up In Love This Morning

Sunday morning and I am still trying to adjust to everything that has changed–primarily the weather change is what has me a bit off-balance this morning. I overslept, as I am wont to do these days now that I don’t seem to have the insomnia problem quite as much as I used to before, this morning–I’d intended to get up early so the six a.m. alarm wouldn’t be quite so horrific tomorrow morning, but best intentions and all that.

LSU won yesterday 28-25 over Mississippi State, but the win wasn’t terribly impressive and the season remains questionable still as to how it will go. A win is a win, however, and as Paul rightly pointed out, LSU lost to Mississippi State last year in Tiger Stadium, so this inevitably is better. The SEC West got a lot more interesting yesterday than it was looking on Friday; Auburn got incredibly lucky to win at home against Georgia State, while at the same time Arkansas was handing Texas A&M their butts in Dallas–the Razorbacks, who’ve been dwelling in the SEC West cellar for quite some time, are now ranked in to the Top Ten with two impressive wins over programs (A&M and Texas) that were supposed to be much better than Arkansas…but next week they are going to Georgia to take on the Number 2 team in the country, so it’s another test for the Hogs. They win that game and they might even jump into the Top 5; lofty heights for their long-suffering fans. Clemson got beat again yesterday, effectively ending any hopes they might have of a return to the national play-offs, barring this becoming another one of those completely weird years, like 2007….and this year is definitely looking like a weird year. Oklahoma somehow managed to eke out another squeaker of a win; any less lucky and they’d be 1-3 right now. Clemson’s out of it already. Ohio State cannot lose another game if they have any hopes of reaching the play-offs, either. Alabama is sitting pretty right now–I don’t know who might have a shot of beating Alabama–and Georgia’s got a tough schedule ahead of them, too, with Florida next month and surprising Arkansas this week. Florida cannot lose another game, either, if they want a shot at the play-offs; Georgia could lose to Florida but still make the play-offs as a one-loss SEC team if Florida loses a rematch with Alabama in the SEC title game. A&M’s loss to Arkansas pretty much ends their shot at the play-offs, unless they run the table, making their game with Alabama a must-win….which is not exactly the best scenario for anyone.

Like I said, an interesting year of college football.

Last night we watched the first three episodes of a documentary called The Curse of the Chippendales, which was interesting. I knew there had been a true crime connection with the strip show, of course; what I didn’t remember (but I had known at one time) was that Dorothy Stratten’s husband/murderer had been involved in their creation, and I had also forgotten how BIG the Chippendales were at their height, with clubs in New York and LA and two tours running at the same time. Chippendales was a social phenomenon that hasn’t really gotten as much attention as it should, given its societal and cultural impact; while the shows were for women-only, they certainly couldn’t control who bought their calendars, posters, and merchandise, or who tuned in when they appeared on Donahue or Oprah or whatever local area talk show would book them on. There was definitely an impact on how we as society and culture see male bodies and male sexuality; Chippendales took what we had been doing to women for centuries and flipped the script, making men the objects of desire, fantasy and lust. Would we have beefcake calendars or as much sexualization of the male body as we have today, had Chippendales (with an assist from Playgirl) never existed.

The Saints play at noon today, but I think I am going to the gym during the game. I love the Saints, but watching them causes me almost too much stress for me to enjoy the game, frankly. I’ll sit and watch LSU stink up the stadium till the bitter end, but I can’t do it with the Saints for some reason. I get too into the game; too agitated and stressed.

I did get some things done around here yesterday–surprisingly enough–and our “new releases” ZOOM thing went really well last night. It also reminded me I should probably be pushing Bury Me in Shadows a lot more than I have been; the book releases in just a few more weeks (preorders ship on October 1, if you order directly from the publisher, hint hint) but I am a lot more nervous about this book than any other I’ve done before, for any number of reasons–which would be something I can actually explore here on the blog to promote it, couldn’t I?

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely, restful, wonderful Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you tomorrow morning again.

I’m On My Way Back Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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