Walk Away from Love

Wednesday and I am being betrayed, left and right, by idiotic technology.

I had to take my fucking phone back to factory settings because despite updating my phone the other day, last night my computer didn’t fucking recognize my phone again. (You can certainly tell Steve Jobs died…the quality of Apple’s overpriced products has gone into steep decline since his death. This kind of shit never happened on his watch.) And my email inbox is also having some issues today as well.

I don’t have time for this nonsense.

Seriously.

I’ve not written hardly at all this week, because I got sucked down into a rabbit hole regarding the crime fiction community these last two days–yet another train wreck I can’t look away from. I hope to get back in the writing saddle again today, though; fingers crossed there won’t be any more developments of nonsense! But the way things have been going…it certainly wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

I watched another episode of Chernobyl last night, and seriously, this is some extraordinary television. It’s depressing and horrifying as all  hell, but like the crime fiction kerfuffle or a train wreck, I simply can’t stop watching. The fourth episode–if you’re a pet lover, do not watch. The show is doing a terrific job of showing the disaster from the point of view of every day citizens affected, and what the disaster has done to them and their lives; episode four is particularly ghoulish and while true, it was awful and heartbreaking to watch: you see, all the people had to be evacuated out of the hot zone, but they didn’t take the contaminated animals with them…including pets. So, a team of people were assigned to go around and shoot all the cats and dogs the citizens had to leave behind–they were contaminated and it was a mercy, rather than letting them die a horrific, slow painful death from radiation. The part of the episode dealing with this was all shown from the point of view of an eighteen year old newly inducted soldier who volunteered to help out in the hot zone. I had to pause and get up and walk away several times during the episode because it was, frankly, too much. There’s one scene in particular…Christ, I can’t even write about it.

Chernobyl, despite the incredible acting, writing, and production values, is not an easy thing to watch. It’s filmed like a horror movie–very bleak and hopeless–and what makes it worse is something I realized after Hurricane Katrina; that no matter how bad something looks on television or in a film, the reality is so much worse. I will never get the images of what the lower 9th ward looked like that October of 2005, and how television didn’t even capture a fraction of the actual horror and devastation.

And on that note, I am heading back to the spice mines.


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Young Hearts Run Free

I continue to watch Chernobyl, which is mesmerizing as it is horrible. I am now up to episode four, and can’t look away. It’s horrifying and amazing and terrifying and so bleak, and perhaps the thing I can’t get out of my head is you were alive when this happened and was being reported in the news and I don’t ever recall knowing it was this bad–it was bad, but I never knew it was THIS bad.

And that is terrifying, so terrifying that it upsets my stomach and makes my blood run cold.

It is also a very cold, analytical look at what happens during a major disaster in a country where the news is under government control, and when a government is not only authoritarian, but where everyone is afraid to tell the next person higher up in the chain the truth when it’s bad news. It’s heartbreaking, and done in an almost documentary style. There was a point last night when watching that I thought, why are they all outside around the facility without any kind of shielding from the radiation? 

And then realized at that time, it no longer mattered; they were already so badly exposed their lives were essentially over. “Within five years,” is what they were told, and what they tell each other.

Absolutely horrific.

I didn’t get much writing done yesterday because I am at the point in the book where social issues come into play, and I am struggling because I don’t know how to make the points I want to make without sounding preachy or too “ABC After School Special”; I suppose the thing to do is not worry about any of that stuff because I can tighten and clean it up later, but when I am in the midst of writing I never think that way until the following morning, as I gaze bleary-eyed outside my windows into the grayness of the early dawn–you know, after I squandered my writing time the day before struggling.

Heavy sigh.

But in other good news, I have now slept well for two successive nights, which is lovely, and I woke up this morning without a problem when the alarm went off. Hopefully, that means not only will I make it through this long, long day, but won’t be bone-tired and exhausted when I get home. Of course, it’s Tuesday which means it’s a Real Housewives night, but frankly I find the Beverly Hills franchise to be rather boring this season. Perhaps some day I’ll write an entry about these shows and why I watch them, and what entertainment I get from them–but as Camille Paglia (whom I utterly detest, she is completely vile) once said, these shows replaced soaps, and the viewers are the same people who watched soaps; there is something camp and over-the-top about these shows, and the line between entertainment and reality has become so blurred with them that it is, actually, very soap-like; soap characters were like real people to their viewers, who talked about them like they were the people down the street. I don’t think Paglia’s analysis–it was part of a longer interview about culture in general–was particularly deep; it was kind of off-the-cuff and she hadn’t put much thought into the analysis, but she did strike a vein of truth with this, one that bears deeper thought and analysis and comparison (although I really disliked her comparing Tamra from Orange County to Donna Mills’ Abby from Knots Landing), and maybe someday I will do that.

When I have time. Because I have so much free time these days.

I also fell down into a rabbit hole yesterday–which, while a lot of fun, was also an enormous time-waster. This morning, the curiosity I had about the rabbit hole which was so intense and couldn’t be ignored, somehow doesn’t seem quite as intense as it did yesterday in the heat of the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I am still quite curious…but I don’t need to be refreshing social media to see new theories or discoveries.

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

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With Your Love

Here we go again, on the rollercoaster that is my usual work week! Good morning, Monday, how the hell are you?

I am still rather sleepy this morning; more of a tired eyes thing than anything else, really. I got new contact lenses (a trial pair) from my optometrist on Thursday; yesterday was my first time trying them out in real life, as it were (I wore them home from Metairie on Thursday, taking them out as soon as I got home). The new lenses didn’t really seem to fit in my right eye; that lens felt off the whole time Thursday, and again when I put them in yesterday. But within minutes my right eye adjusted and they became comfortable; the progressive lenses actually began to work as well, which they hadn’t any time I had tried previously with another set of lenses. I wound up wearing them for almost seven hours yesterday, which was kind of lovely. Today and tomorrow, however, are too long of work days to try them out again; I’ll hold off until Wednesday before trying them again. But it’s nice to have contact lenses again; I’ve not really worn contacts since discovering, five or six years ago, that I need progressive lenses (what used to be called bifocals).

This weekend, on June 1, I started posting on social media about queer crime books in order to celebrate Pride Month (last year I simply posted a queer book cover every day for Pride; this year I am specifically focusing on queer crime novels). I want to be absolutely clear that, in case there’s any confusion, I am posting queer crime books that were influences on me; or influential at some point in my lengthy (!) career. At the end of the month I will post the entire list here for more easy access to anyone looking to look at queer crime novels, or looking for such a list–I may not be an expert on queer fiction, or even on queer crime fiction, but I do have my list and I do know the books I read and enjoyed that made me think and develop my own queer crime novels.

And if I can bring attention to a queer crime writer who has somehow fallen off the radar, so much the better.

Yesterday we went to brunch at our friend Pat’s lovely deluxe apartment in the sky; she really has the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River at what’s called the Riverbend (from her dining room) and the rest of the city (from the terrace outside her living room). Her apartment is filled with natural light, gorgeous built in bookshelves filled with wonderful books, and amazing art everywhere. It’s kind of a dream apartment for me–one I’d never be able to afford in a million years–but every time I set foot in her apartment I do spend a moment or two fantasizing about living there (just as I always fantasized about living in her partner Michael’s former home in Hammond). It was, as always, a lovely afternoon, and enormously relaxing. I wasn’t able to do anything when I got home around six because I was so relaxed; instead, I started watching Chernobyl on HBO, which is incredibly sad and disturbing. I remember when Chernobyl happened in real life, just as I remember the Three Mile Island scare in the late 1970’s. It’s interesting that since those two scares that nuclear power plants are pretty much not talked about or thought much about anymore, when back in the day they were quite controversial (I’ve mentioned Scotty’s parents protesting nuclear power plants in the earlier books in the series) but that controversy doesn’t seem to exist as much anymore, as though activists have maybe given up on their dangers…or it’s not glamorous enough to be considered newsworthy anymore. I do recall after the natural disaster in Japan several years ago (earthquake/tsunami) there were concerns about a Japanese nuclear power plant…but those concerns also evaporated once the news cycle moved on from the Japanese disaster.

One thing that was interesting about visiting Pat’s apartment was her view of the river, mainly from the dining room windows–which was my first experience this year actually looking at how the river is in its flood stage. The river has apparently been in flood stage longer than it has any time since the Great Flood of 1927, which changed everything as far as governmental policies and procedures for fighting floods; this was the natural disaster that created the Southeast Louisiana Flood Project, building levees and dams all along the river and its tributaries. For only the third time in history all the spillways north of New Orleans are being opened–and the tributaries are all still flooding and continuing to rise. The river itself it almost to the top of the levees in Baton Rouge, and apparently a levee on the Mississippi breached further north yesterday or this morning; I saw the report on social media earlier this morning but didn’t read it; I think it was in Illinois, maybe?

Anyway, the river is really high and this reminds me that the river being high was a plot point in Bourbon Street Blues, all those years ago, and it also reminds me of how vulnerable the city is for this year’s hurricane season–if the river is already almost to the tops of the levees, a storm surge coming up the river would overtop them quite easily; which begs the question, would the levees be blown below the city to save it? Any time there’s potential flooding of New Orleans there’s always the belief that levees are blown to save the city; people believe the levee failure during Katrina was planned, to save the French Quarter and white Uptown; people still believe the levees were blown below the city for Betsy in 1965.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Be Tender With My Love

Saturday morning, and how is your weekend so far, Constant Reader? Mine is going just fine, thank you for asking–you’re always so thoughtful.

I woke up early this morning–I’d just planned on sleeping until I woke up, and boom! There I was wide awake at seven thirty this morning, so I just rolled with it and got out of bed and decided to start the day.  Yesterday afternoon was kind of lovely; as I said yesterday I spent the afternoon backing up devices, cleaning, doing the laundry, that sort of thing, while trying to cleanse my mind and prepare myself for the next chapter of the WIP. There’s also still some cleaning and straightening up to do, and later I have to go pick up a book at Garden District and my prescriptions from CVS. After that I intend to come home and read or write or clean for the rest of the day.

I started watching Good Omens last night, and rather enjoyed it. Paul didn’t care for it, so it’s something I’ll have to watch on my own, and then we watched another episode of Killing Eve, which has gone into a whole new level. I daresay this second season is even better than the first? The primary thing I love about this show is it constantly surprises me; I never have the slightest clue which direction the story is going to go next, which I absolutely love. There’s nothing better than a completely unpredictable show, you know? This is why I loved Game of Thrones and Dead to Me so much; why I continue to enjoy How to Get Away with Murder, which no longer even makes any logical sense, but is just a wonderfully over-the-top campy soap opera now. (I am also aware that a lot of people have stopped watching Murder for that very reason; but I’ve always enjoyed soaps so I don’t have a problem with it–I also remember that Melrose Place became a lot more fun once it stopped trying to be realistic and went full-on over-the-top)

I also want to work on a couple of proposals this weekend, and I’d love to send some more of my short stories out into the world. I have a couple that I think might be ready to go out; but it’s difficult, as I’ve said before, since my short stories tend to be crime stories that aren’t necessarily mysteries. Writing a mystery short story is incredibly difficult, of course; I’ve tried it a few times and I’m not certain I had any success with it. But I do think there may be some stories I have on hand that might be ready to be sent out into the world, and the worst thing that could happen would be they say no, right? And no doesn’t mean I suck, of course, it just means the story wasn’t right for that particular medium.

It’s also Pride Month, today being the first day of it, and lately I’ve been seeing (and sharing some of the) posts about the history of Pride, or “pictures from this city’s pride in this year” and one of the things that strikes me as I look at photos from pride celebrations in the 70’s or 80’s or 90’s is how overwhelmingly white and male the pictures are; which is kind of a sobering thought. Where are the gays of color, where are the lesbians, where are the transpeople? One of the problems we have as a community is that we are a microcosm of the society at large; so the queer community comes with its own racial/misogynist baggage carried over from the bigger society. And while progress has been made in the right direction within our community, we do still have a long way to go.

I often doubt, as I am wont to do about anything to do with me being a writer, my ability to tell stories about race, misogyny, and homophobia well; without being preachy, without being over the top, without making out those who believe in those things cardboard cutout villains with no redeeming qualities. Can a racist or a sexist or a homophobe have any good qualities? And therein lies the rub. No matter how much of a good person someone with any of all of those qualities might be, I don’t think their good qualities can outweigh the bad ones, quite frankly. “I’m glad you rescue dogs. Unfortunately, your commitment to the belief that (fill in the blank) are secondary citizens not entitled to full and equal protection under the law negates the good you do.”

Ava DuVarnay’s seminal mini-series about the Central Park 5, When They See Us, has been released and is apparently wrenching. I know I need to watch it, but I am resistant to it because I know it’s going to expose some horrific things, and from everything I’ve seen or heard it is a wrenching experience. But I do think it’s important, and not watching would serve to only make me even more complicit in systemic racism; I consider this to be yet another step in my ongoing re-education on the subject of race in America.

I’m also hearing good things about Chernobyl, which Paul also doesn’t want to watch.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Getaway

Friday morning, and I survived not only going out to Metairie yesterday for my eye exam, but driving back into New Orleans from Metairie during rush hour. It wasn’t that bad, actually, but if I had to do that every day–well, let’s just say there would be a body count and leave it there, shall we?

Yesterday I also managed to finish Chapter Thirteen; only got slightly over 900 words done, but it’s hard for me to start a new chapter when I know I’m not going to finish it in one sitting, you know? That’s how I  generally like to mark my daily progress; a chapter a day, and it unsettles me when I leave a chapter unfinished overnight. I think so far this has been about a 7000 word week (maybe more, I don’t remember when I wrote Chapter 11; but if it was this week I passed the 10k mark. Huzzah!); and today when I leave the office I am going to get the mail and stop to make groceries–just a few things–before heading home to clean and hopefully get some writing done. I’d also like to get some more reading done; I am enjoying Black Diamond Fall so am hoping to have some more time to read it this weekend.

And whoa, boy, is this season of Killing Eve amazing! Seriously, binge it, people.

Well, here it is five o’clock this afternoon and I never finished this entry this morning before work, did I? I actually even forgot I was writing it until I just now saw the tab open. Not sure what that says about either my attention span or my short term memory, but there you have it.

The weather has turned hot here in New Orleans, so much so that I am seriously considering getting my car windows tinted. Is it just me, or has the sun gotten brighter and hotter; or am I simply more sensitive to it now that I am older? These and other questions plague me constantly these days. The air is also humid, so heavy you can almost feel yourself moving through it. The river is also really high, and there’s still more flooding up the river basin that has to make its way down here. As we enter hurricane season, these things are always in the back of my head.

But I got the mail and made groceries on my way home, and I’ve been doing the bed linens and cleaning odds and ends while my mind roams and wanders. I need a nice day of cleaning to clear my head of noise and refocus on the WIP. Chapter Thirteen ended with a lovely twist, but now I have to figure out how to deal with the fall out from that twist; a way that makes sense for my characters without coming off as either preachy or contrived or unearned or melodramatic–it’s a very fine line.

But I am glad I came across this; so that I can finish and post.

Back to the spice mines for me, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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Still the One

I know it makes me a bad person, but I can’t help but giggle to myself as more and more of former congressman/homophobe closet case Aaron Schock’s nudes (stills and videos) surface. On the one hand, he is a very good looking guy with a great body who clearly takes care of himself–eating right and exercise–but on the other…he did (or tried to do) as much damage to LGBTQ+ Americans as he could while in pursuit of a political career.

Contrast that with Mayor Pete, and you can see why the schadenfreude is kind of delicious.

I mean, seriously. Vote against the LGBTQ+ community your entire career in Congress, lose your career because you essentially stole campaign funds to bring your boyfriend with you on official travel and to redecorate your office, never come out ever, and then move to WeHo and get on every hook-up app imaginable, along with nude stills and videos–and then not think gays who know who you are will circulate them and share them on the Internet to mock and publicly embarrass/humiliate you?

Dude, seriously? You might as well do a gay porn movie and collect a big check at this point–because someone would pay you a fortune to do one.

Yesterday was a pretty good day, writing wise. I managed over two thousand words, which was kind of bitchin’, especially since when I opened the document for Chapter Twelve I literally had no idea what Chapter Twelve was going to be about. I didn’t finish the chapter, but I know how to finish it, so I should be able to get that done today as well as move on to Chapter Thirteen, which is very cool. I am looking forward to working on it more over the weekend, as well.

We finished watching Fosse/Verdon last night, and seriously–just go ahead and give every award there is for television performances to Michelle Williams already. It is a testament to how good Williams is that Sam Rockwell’s stellar performance alongside her as Bob Fosse doesn’t stand out as much–and both are giving Oscar-worthy performances. I’m sorry the show has ended, but now we can devote ourselves to Killing Eve, and Animal Kingdom has returned for its fourth season; Archer is also back for its final season. So, just as Game of Thrones and Veep end (forever), some of our other shows have returned to fill the void left behind.

I’ve not managed to get very far into Black Diamond Fall, between the writing and the television viewing, but I am about two chapters in and really liking it. Joseph Olshan is a good writer, obviously, and I am hopeful this weekend I’ll be able to get more of it read.

I can’t believe it’s almost June. Mary Mother of God. Where has this year gone already? Next thing you know it’ll be football season and then it’s Thanksgiving and then Christmas and BOOM, it’s 2020. Twenty fucking twenty. Yeesh.

I had some thoughts also last night about an essay I want to write about friendship that’s been brewing in my mind for a long while; partly triggered by an on-line conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked to in several years. It was lovely catching up, of course–it always is–and I love that I have so many friends I can go a long time without communicating with and then pick right back up where we left off before like no time has passed. I always feel like I’m a terrible friend–I am, as regular readers know, terribly self-absorbed and self-involved, and I own that, thank you very much–and honestly, have never really understood the concept; I either overdo it and put too much energy into it, or I don’t put any energy into it at all; neither is a recipe for lasting relationships. But I do have friends I’ve known for decades, people that are still in my life, even if remotely. So I guess that’s something, I suppose.

I’m being creative again, which is quite lovely, honestly. It’s about time, but I am enjoying writing again, and I am doing it again, which is nice. I always worry it’s going to go away, that the well is going to go dry sometime–especially when I have to force myself to do it, which is most of the time. But it’s still there, it still comes when I need it to, and I am pretty darned pleased about it. The dream of being a writer is what got me through some lean and terrible times in my life…

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

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Thunder Island

As Constant Reader already is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify my reading this year. The Diversity Project, as I’ve been calling it, has been revelatory for me; I’ve been reading books and authors I should have been reading all along, but somehow, despite having bought the books, they’ve collected dust and cobwebs in my TBR pile as I somehow always manage to reach for something else when it’s time to read something new. But it has been, as I said, revelatory to me; and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the ride. My endgame, as it were, is that when I finish this “project”, any subconscious bias I might have in deciding on what to read will have been ripped out, root and stem, and it will simply fade away into something I won’t need to call attention to because I’ve bested the worst biases in my psyche–and aren’t the ones we aren’t aware of the worst?

Yes, they are.

So over the last week I read Rachel Howzell Hall’s wonderful They All Fall Down.

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The Los Angeles International Airport was the worst place to lose your mind in post-9/11 America. Especially if you perspired like Kobe Bryant in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Especially if you popped Valium twice a day to combat anxiety. And there I was, standing in the TSA security clearance line at LAX, a sweaty, anxious black woman wearing sweaty green silk, sipping air and blinking away tears.

Miriam, keep it together. They’re gonna pull you out of line if you keep on. Calm down. But “calm” was slipping further away, an iceberg on a quick current being pushed by a pod of enthusiastic killer whales.

And so I closed my eyes and I prayed again. God, don’t let them kick me out of LAX today. Please help me stay calm.

“Next.”

In my mind, I said, “Amen,” then opened my eyes. I forced myself to smile at the gray-eyed TSA agent seated behind the little podium, and hoped that she thought I was a slow blinker and not a terrorist praying one last time before setting one off.

The agent flicked her hand at me and said, “ID and boarding pass, please.”

I’m not sure how I became aware of Rachel Howzell Hall, but I think it was while I was serving on the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America and I was chairing the committee to recruit new board members; we were determined to diversify the board and I think the wondrous Margery Flax suggested her to me as a possible, viable candidate. We had a lovely email exchange and I bought one of her books, Land of Shadows, which went into the TBR pile and never came out of it. I’d heard lots of good things about They All Fall Down, so I got a copy, and decided to read it next.

And am I glad I did!

Sometimes I talk about Agatha Christie, but it’s been years since I’ve read any of her books (I did reread a favorite, Endless Night, a few years back; it’s the most noir of Christie’s novels, which are all, frankly, much darker than she gets credit for) but one cannot deny Christie’s rightful place as the greatest mystery writer of all time; she did it all, and she did it first. One of my absolute favorites of hers is And Then There Were None, which was groundbreaking and highly original and has been copied numerous times: the set up of taking a group of people somewhere remote, stranding them without chance of rescue or escape, and setting a murderer loose amongst them. Margaret Millar, for example, used this set-up for Fire Will Freeze; and it’s been the basis for many slasher movies, etc. I thought about doing my own version of this a few years ago–because the set-up is so classic and enduring, I wanted to give it my own spin–but the problem was how to strand a group of people without cell phone service or the Internet or even satellite phones, without using Christie’s “send them to a remote island” trope.

Let’s face it, though–the remote island is the perfect set-up.

They All Fall Down has been compared to And Then There Were None, and it’s apparent, almost from the first: a group of people have been invited to Mictlan Island, a remote location somewhere in the Sea of Cortez; all with different understandings of why they’ve been invited. Miriam Macy, Hall’s main character, believes she’s been invited to join the cast of a Survivor type reality television show; she’s hoping to win and use the prize money to reboot her shattered life. Hall only doles out information about Miriam slowly, over the course of the novel, but it’s a testament to her skill as a writer that there are two mysteries going on at the same time–the mystery of Miriam’s past, and the mystery of who is killing people on the island. The book is full of surprises and twists, the cast of characters is diverse, and the themes Hall explores are original, or given enough of a new spin to make them seem fresh and new.

But the real revelation of the book is the character of Miriam Macy, and the way Hall breathes life into this complicated woman who has done something horrible and yet continues to justify what she did rather than accepting any culpability for it. You can’t help but root for Miriam, an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, and the brilliance of Hall’s talent is that you keep rooting for Miriam as the story goes on, even after you find out the full story and her history, because her experience on the island is helping her to grow and see the darkness she has denied for years.

This book is an extraordinary accomplishment, and I can’t wait to read more of Hall’s work. Buy it, read it, and love it.