Up the Ladder to the Roof

It’s a gray Saturday morning, and my body clock has definitely reset. I woke up just before six again, wide awake, but stayed in bed for another hour (just like yesterday). I don’t feel as energetic as I did yesterday, though; but I have things to dig through and work to do and lots of coffee on-hand for fueling. But that’s okay; I don’t have huge plans for the day. I am going to start doing some editing, I am going to work on my short story a bit, and i am going to spend some more time with Kellye Garrett’s Like A Sister, which will be my reward for getting the other stuff done. I need to go make groceries at some point this weekend, just haven’t decided which day to do that. I also need to go to the gym, maybe later today. There’s always organizing and cleaning to do, too.

In other words, another normal weekend around the Lost Apartment.

But that’s cool, I suppose. Trying to do normal things helps me deal with the over-all concern about the world burning to the ground around us, which sometimes makes doing anything feel completely pointless. (I do remember all the hesitation from people in December about trying not to get thrilled or be happy that 2021 was coming to an end; we all felt that way every December for several years only for the new year to be even worse than the one before. Looks, sadly, like those people were right.) It’s a weird place to be in for someone my age, or in my generation, or those of us who remember the world before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m sure many of them, like me, had forgotten what it was like to live under the daily threat of nuclear annihilation and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. But that’s what we did back then–we went about our daily lives with that worry in the back of our minds at all times. I remember the amazement and joy when the Berlin Wall came down, and Germany reunified; part of their punishment for causing World War II and uncountable war crimes was allowing the Russians to basically split the country, turning East Germany into a communist satellite state while West Germany became a democracy and joined NATO and the west–basically for protection from a Communist takeover. I don’t miss nuclear apocalyptic fiction and films; Neville Shute’s On the Beach was such a bleak read, and the television movie The Day After was also dark and hopeless. There was an abandoned nuclear missile base about two or three miles from my high school in Kansas (which I’ve always wanted to write about); I remember there was a PBS documentary that aired when I was in high school about nuclear war, which was also the first time it ever crossed my mind that Kansas, of all places, would be a strategic military target for the Russians (because of all the missile bases spread across the prairie), they even named the closest town to the abandoned base as a target (Bushong, Kansas, population 37 at the time). And of course, The Day After made that very clear, as it took place in Kansas City and environs. Testament is another bleak film about the aftermath of nuclear war; and I remember reading another book, War Day, by Whitley Strieber and someone else, set about twenty years after a nuclear war between the superpowers. We used to learn about all kinds of things, like the electromagnetic pulse (the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere which somehow–I don’t remember how it worked–rendered anything requiring electricity to cease working), often simplified to EMP. We were taught that iodine helped with radiation sickness, along with the grim knowledge that those killed instantly were the lucky ones. Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction used to be about the aftermath of nuclear war.

I didn’t realize how lovely it had been to be able to push those concerns completely out of my mind.

And what unique privilege it is, to be so consumed with worry over what may happen that might affect me and my life, while people are literally being slaughtered by the minute and large cities are being bombed and shelled ruthlessly and refugees are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands.

And there are other atrocities occurring around the world that aren’t being reported on, or covered as widely by the western media–primarily because the people being slaughtered or bombed aren’t white.

The great irony is that we consider our current civilization as the apex of humanity thus far–that civilization continues to evolve and grow less barbaric with the passage of time, while knowing that future generations will look back to our times and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them? How could they not see how fucked up the world was, and do something about it?

What is happening in Ukraine is just another chapter in the never-ending on-going series of books showing how incredibly inhumane humans are.

I don’t know what’s going to happen over there, and I worry that a peaceable resolution is not possible. I don’t see how Putin can possibly survive this, and he is a desperate thug with a massive Napoleon complex. I don’t know how many Ukrainians have to die before the rest of the world says enough. I don’t know how you get a madman with a nuclear arsenal to stop making war on civilians.

So, I just keep going. I get up every morning and have coffee. I check my emails, read some, delete some and reply to others. I check the news to see the latest from the front. I work on day job responsibilities and my writing and MWA business and edit. I do my dishes and clean my house and cook dinner and try to read to take my mind off the nightmares unfolding in the far corners of the world. I donate what I can to relief efforts. Little things, here and there, to cope with a reality that is incredibly worrisome and stressful and so overwhelming that I can’t allow myself to spend too much time going down that road–because I have the privilege to not have to be concerned about surviving today’s bombings. I have food and medicine and access to services. I have power and water and a working car. I have resources to draw upon. I am lucky.

I create. I write novels, fictions which may or may not have any meaning, trifles that can serve as a distraction from the worries and cares of a burning world over which I have little to no control. I have always been hesitant to use the word art when it comes to my writing; I’ve always felt that it isn’t for me to decide whether my work is art or I am an artist. But literature is a form of art, so therefore by extension my work is art and I am an artist; whether good or bad, important or forgettable is for others to discuss, debate and decide. But one of the foundations of civilization is art; art can survive the centuries and epochs and tell future generations stories about the times in which we live, to give them context for our civilization and our country and what we do and how we live. Fiction can educate and distract; it can provide a needed distraction and escape from the horrors of reality and provide comfort and joy in times of stress and terror. I have always escaped into books, and as a writer, I can also now escape into worlds and characters of my own creation. Reading and writing have always been my escapes; and now, more than ever, those kinds of escapes are necessary.

So, writers–we need to keep creating even as the world burns. There is always a need for beauty and truth, especially in times like these. And with electronic books–our words can now last for eternity, forever–or at least as long as civilization as we know it exists. I have no crystal ball; I do not have visions–although there have been times I’ve felt like Cassandra screaming on the walls of Troy, ignored and mocked as she tells them their future and of their folly. I do not know how this will all turn out, I do not know where we will be tomorrow or the next day. But as long as I have the ability to do so, I will keep working. I will keep making to-do lists and crossing off the tasks as I complete them. I will go on, living my life and doing whatever small thing I can do to try to keep the light burning. I will always try to make sense of the senseless, and I will always keep going.

No matter how dark the world might seem, no matter how much suffering we have to witness.

And on that somber note, I am going to dive into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hope you and all your loved ones are safe and secure, and continue to be.

You’ve Been So Wonderful To Me

Wednesday morning and hope today is better and there is more energy to be had for me today. Yesterday was a drag, in a lot of ways; I was mentally awake but also physically and intellectually drained, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t. The one-two punch of turning in a book one week and a short story less than a week later bracketed around a out of town trip combined to kick my ass. I didn’t want to get up again this morning–I don’t think I will ever hear an alarm and cheerfully sit up, stretch and get up, fully awake and ready to go, once in my life. Which is fine, of course; some of us simply aren’t meant to be wrenched from sleep every morning before we are ready to get up. But I don’t feel as drained this morning as I did yesterday–which is a good sign as the sun rises over the West Bank (don’t ask. tl;dr: “West Bank” means west bank of the river, which doesn’t flow perfectly north and south). I was exhausted when I got off work last night; so exhausted that I couldn’t do much of anything other than watch Youtube documentaries about the Hapsburgs while Scooter purred in my lap. I am hoping (hopeful) that I will not be so tired today, and will be able to get some things done tonight when I get home.

I am very tired of being too tired to read, too.

I do have another story (!) to finish by the end of the month, but I think perhaps the best thing to do this week is let my creative batteries recharge so next week I can dive back into my writing. And yes, I am well aware that this could simply be my deeply engrained subconscious desire to be lazy justifying and excusing not doing any writing this week–but like I said, I am very tired and drained; and I don’t think this is subconscious so much as it is conscious. Parade season looms, and while I know we’ve been planning on skipping what will, for the most part, be a super-spreader event (crowds of people catching things thrown from strangers? No one masked? ) I cannot help but feel that it will be hard to NOT heed the siren song of the marching bands and walk to the corner “just to see.” I really did miss Parade Season last year; I love Carnival every year even as it exasperates and aggravates me at the same time. And I want to write more about Carnival…there’s another Scotty Carnival book in my head somewhere, and there’s the potential new series, too. And short stories! So many potential short stories…I think my creative batteries may be getting some charge stored up in them again, after all.

Huzzah!

It’s nice to start feeling like myself again–whenever the exhaustive malaise sets in, I always worry that this time it might be permanent which, of course, is an absolutely terrifying thought. I wonder if I will ever stop worrying about the ability or desire or need to write going away; I suppose once it finally does, if it ever does, that will be when I can be fairly certain that the end is drawing near. Well, there’s a cheery thought for a Wednesday morning, wasn’t it?

So, I have some clean-up stuff to do with another project this week–I should be finished with that part already, but what can I say? I’ve gotten far behind on everything while I was in “finish the book” mode; as I inevitably do, and of course playing catch-up is not my favorite thing to do–my emails alone are a Sisyphean task–but I am hoping if I can get everything on track this week and over this weekend, next week I can get back to possibly writing and getting organized for what I want to get done for the rest of this year. It’s kind of a surprise that it’s so late in the month already (Valentine’s Day is Monday!) and March is already looming, so I’ve really got to get my act together and start getting things in order. A Greg at rest can no longer stay at rest, no matter how much I want that to happen…and on that note, perhaps it is time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Hump Day, Constant Reader! Talk to you again tomorrow.

Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart

Saturday!

I slept very well last night. I got my day job work done during the day, I got two more chapters revised and edited last night, and Paul and I watched the latest episode of Servant last night (which is very bizarre and we are no longer sure we are following it, but it’s well produced and well acted, so it’s always interesting to watch), and then I watched a short National Geographic documentary about the Renaissance Popes (an episode from their series Pope), which was interesting–but it didn’t cover much more ground than Barbara Tuchman covered in her section on them in March of Folly.

Today dawns bright and sunny with a gorgeous, cloudless pigeon’s egg sky out there. I have some emails I have to do this morning, and I have to run some errands (prescriptions, mail) this morning (I am saving groceries for tomorrow). I also have to buy a new all-in-one printer as my latest one lost wifi capabilities yesterday for some reason, ergo rendering it utterly useless for my needs (just as well, I had just run out of ink and needed to buy more; money saved by the death of the printer) so when I go run my errands, the last thing I will do is swing by Office Depot on St. Charles to purchase a new one. I think they have a decent one at a reasonable price in stock; if they don’t, I’ll have to check either Best Buy or Target, neither of which is an option I particularly want to indulge myself in at the moment. Although a trip to the West Bank would also mean I could get lunch at Sonic, so…decisions, decisions. (Paul and I were, in fact, just last night talking about how we don’t really eat fast food at all anymore–he stopped at McDonalds on his way home from getting his hair cut in the Quarter yesterday) I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost last year, alas; not sure how that happened, precisely, but have no doubt that there’s a connection to me not going to the gym in months, for sure. Once this book is done….or at least under more control, at any rate…maybe on Monday afternoon when I am finished with my work-at-home duties. I am hoping to get three chapters of the book done today, which means I have to write/revise and polish the final two chapters over the next few days as well as go through and polish and tweak (hence the need for a printer) before finally turning it in and diving into the Bouchercon anthology work, which needs to be concluded by the end of February. I also have a short story due in early February–and next weekend I am going to Alabama for the Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu weekend in Birmingham and Wetumpka. (Note to self: get an audiobook for the drive.)

So much to do, so little time, so little opportunity for procrastination, laziness and pushing things off until tomorrow, right?

Heavy heaving sigh.

But there’s also cleaning to do around here, filing as always, and some book organization is also needed. I am not feeling particularly overwhelmed in any sense this morning, which is always a really good thing, and I feel confident that I can get everything finished that I need to get finished as well as get a jump on future things that need to get finished. I am really looking forward to spending some time every week getting rid of paper files, too–you have no idea how much I am looking forward to that; realistically, there’s no reason for me to keep paper files on anything unless it’s something I am currently working on; otherwise it can remain electronic; and realistically, I can donate a back-up hard drive to an archive mush easier than I can sort and organized paper files…and if they don’t want that, well, then that’s the end of that, you know.

And I still will have gotten rid of all the fucking paper files.

So, win-win?

And on that note tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Everything is Good About You

Friday morning and all is quiet in the Lost Apartment.

It’s in the thirties here this morning and very gray outside, which is not typical unless it’s raining. Rain is in the forecast today–yesterday’s dramatic thirty degree temperature drop was supposed to be the result of rain but we never really got much, in all honesty–but it also doesn’t feel as cold as it should at this temperature, if that makes any sense? The last time it was in the 30’s here a week or so ago it was bitterly cold inside the Lost Apartment, but it’s not that bad today. Maybe because I knew it was coming so I layered when I got up this morning and turned on the space heater next to my desk? (Our heat is still not working.) Regardless, I don’t feel as miserable today as I did the last time it was this cold, so I am taking that as a win.

Paul has been buried with work trying to get the programs for the festivals finished, so I’ve been at loose ends in the evenings this week. I’ve been very fatigued every night, and with Scooter sleeping in my lap (not affection, he’s cold–don’t get me wrong, he is affectionate, but I can tell when body heat is the driving factor in his affection; it has to do with how he cuddles when he’s cold), I’ve found myself dozing off in my chair while I watch some documentary about history (last night, I learned how and why Hanover and Great Britain went their own separate ways; about Queen Barbara Radziwill of Poland; how Catherine de Medici earned her horrible reputation and was it deserved; and how the curse of the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar is often given credit for the extinction of the main line of the Capetian royal family in France–some of these things I already had some knowledge of, but it’s always nice to learn more. Sometimes these documentaries are intended for people with absolutely no knowledge of history or the time period being discussed; I find that ones that originated with the BBC, National Geographic, or the Youtube channel Kings and Generals often have interesting little nuggets of information I didn’t know before; I was just thinking last night how much more interesting French history is than English–no offense to the English, of course; the French are just more all over the place). Barbara Radziwill was an important player in the sixteenth century, which was what sucked me into that video; as Constant Reader is already aware, I’ve always wanted to write a popular history of the sixteenth century by examining all of the powerful women of that century; it was one of the few times in history when women rose to power regularly and across Europe, and naturally the title would be The Monstrous Regiment of Women, taken from the misogynistic tome by John Knox and about that very thing: women in power.

I did manage to work on the book last night, which was nice–I was starting to worry about it, frankly–and I did get some other work done that needed doing. Today I am data entering for the day job most of the day, as I shiver a bit and try to figure out if I actually want to leave the house today (I am leaning towards not, frankly) before digging back into the manuscript. I also need to consult my to-do list to make sure I am following it despite not looking at it–and I suspect I will be horribly disappointed in myself when I finally get to it and see how there’s nothing to be crossed off from it. Heavy heaving sigh. But avoiding the list is also avoiding the tasks, so the list must be faced.

So many things must be faced this morning. My email inbox is getting more under control, so that’s always a pleasant thing and a big surprise, but there are emails that need responses that I haven’t gotten to yet–which just reminded me I had a DM on Facebook I need to reply to; please don’t ever contact me there if you want a response because I get a lot of junk DM’s there and so things tend to get pushed down and not get answered unless I remember to go looking for it (that is today’s PSA of how to reach me and get a response).

I also managed to proof my story “This Thing of Darkness” for Cupid Shot Me, which will release on Valentine’s Day (natch). It’s always lovely to get another short story out there for people to read; I love short stories and I love writing them–I do find them much harder to do than writing novels, for example–and it’s also an excellent editorial exercise for me: why is this story not working? Sometimes I can figure it out, sometimes I can’t. I just got asked this morning about writing for another anthology, which I even already have a story ready for; which means I need to take it out and reread and revise it. Yay!

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. That data ain’t gonna enter itself, alas. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a wonderful Friday.

Moonlight and Kisses

Thursday and I have the day off for a doctor’s appointment later. I slept very well last night–wasn’t sure how that would go, actually–and feel more rested and centered today than I have. I think I actually know what day it is today (I did keep thinking yesterday was Tuesday all day), and it’s not cold today, which is odd. New Orleans weather bipolarity at its best–it’s going to rain today and the rain is going to bring very cold weather behind it. Tomorrow is supposed to be very cold–30’s!–and I am, naturally, dreading it.

I have to work today of course; the to-do list progress belies the success of me making to-do lists, and so today must buckle down and get work done. The house is, as always on a Thursday, a horrific mess that belies, at a glance, that anyone has ever cleaned here; there’s a stack of filing to be done; and of course I haven’t even unpacked my backpack from yesterday. When I got home from work last night I was very tired and so just dropped off the backpack where I always do (next to the two shelf bookcase next to my desk) and unpacked my lunch bag and just kind of settled in for the night. I had also fully intended to start rereading Joseph Hansen last night, but my brain was fatigued and I couldn’t focus, so naturally I went down a Youtube wormhole–seriously, having access to Youtube on my television hasn’t been the best thing to develop for me technologically lately; it’s become yet another way for me to waste time and distract myself, but I also know that when my brain is fatigued as it was yesterday it’s useless to try to make it do anything, whether it’s read or write or anything productive. My mind also generally tends to wander when I am watching these videos–and they are slightly entertaining on some levels–and so sometimes I solve problems with things I am writing or dealing with in regular every day life while I am mindlessly, brainlessly watching a video about how Naples and Sicily had one of the most enlightened cultures of the Middle Ages during the Norman rule of the region in the twelfth century, and how they integrated Greek, Arab, and European culture and education into one, fusing them into a very enlightened society with equality for all and freedom of religion.

Plus, education by osmosis. I’d known that already, of course, but not in great detail and it was interesting to me intellectually. (The post Roman Empire history of Italy is actually incredibly interesting.)

Anyway, today I am going to try to get dug out from under my emails (knowing, of course, that emails always beget emails) as well as work on the book; I also have some housekeeping to manage on the Bouchercon anthology front–that, while incredibly tedious, needs to be done–and of course, a sink full of dishes and loads of laundry to tackle. Yesterday was pay-the-bills-day, and I of course only paid the immediately due rather than everything that falls due before the next Pay-the-Bills Day, so at some point over the course of this weekend–so much work to do–I need to go ahead and get those out of the way as well. (It’s always so depressing.) But I feel like, daunting as everything may seem, that I can get it all done if I focus on the job at hand and start working my way down the list, everything will get done and it’s much easier, after all, to focus on one task and disregard the others until you can give them your full attention. That has always worked before, and has always put me in good stead.

And so, on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will catch you on the other side.

Nothing But Heartaches

It’s cold again on this Martin Luther King Jr Day here in the Lost Apartment, and as always when it’s cold and I don’t have to get up, I malingered in my bed much longer than was absolutely necessary. I won’t apologize for not wanting to get out of a warm, comfortable bed and from under a pile of warm blankets to brave the cold, either. Our new system came on briefly the other day when it was cold, and since then–nothing. I don’t know what I may have done wrong with switching it from cool to heat, but as usual, the guys are going to have to come back out and reset it or do something to make it functional. It’s not that big of a deal–the cold never really gets to the point where it is so incredibly unbearable (like last year on Fat Tuesday) that I am not functional, but it sometimes skates very close to that edge.

Yesterday came dangerously close, frankly. I was freezing all day to the point where I needed to use the heating pad underneath my blankets in my easy chair, which finally made me feel close to comfortable. I did manage to finish reading Alafair Burke’s marvelous Find Me (which you should also read), and then we finished watching the second season of Cheer–which sadly kind of limped along to the end, and by the season finale, poor Monica was simply a wreck; I think the show’s producers might have hit the “cost of fame and how to handle it” a little bit harder than they intended; but that message did come across fairly clearly, so maybe that was their intent. Dealing with the fallout from the scandals that arose in the wake of the first season–especially in the case of the breakout star who was accused of sex crimes with young boys–certainly put the producers (and the cast) into an awkward position: how do we deal with this? The episode that did deal with it did a fairly good job, and it’s also sad to see that abuse of children is just as rampant in cheerleading as it is with other sports at this level (gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, football).

We always hear so much about how “children” need to be protected from books and ideas almost every day–and yet protecting them from sexual and physical abuse doesn’t seem to be as big a priority with people. Hate to break it to you, but a book never sexually assaulted a child.

The sun is out this morning and I feel much better than I did yesterday morning. I overslept yesterday, if you remember, and felt sort of unable to engage my ignition yesterday and get the Greg started, if you know what I mean. I did make some notes yesterday and I did clear out the spam from my email inbox, but today I actually do have to get work done since I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. Today I am going to work pretty hard on the book, and I am going to try to read a Laura Lippman short story later on as a kind of reward for getting work done. My kitchen this morning is in pretty good shape overall; I do have a load of dishes to put away and some laundry to do around the writing schedule today. But I feel this morning like I can actually get stuff done tonight and not be derailed or distracted…probably because it’s not as cold this morning as it was yesterday (and believe you me, I am dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning). But I am going to get this finished, work on a review of the new Alafair Burke while drinking coffee and folding clothes and putting away clean dishes, after which I am going to get cleaned up and dive back into my manuscript.

I feel more like me today, if that makes any sense. It’s been a hot minute, frankly; I don’t know if it was subconscious depression over not being able to go to New York or something, but today is the day I would have been home–I was flying back yesterday–and so maybe my mind/subconscious was depressed and/or mourning the loss of the trip? I think I probably slipped into an alternative mindset/reality the moment the trip was cancelled and it’s taken me until when the trip would have been over to get over that loss, if that makes any weird kind of sense. Maybe I navel-gaze too much, but I know I can tell when the chemistry in my brain is off, and it always affects everything in my life. But the point is I can look at my to-do list and not be concerned about it to the point where I panic and think I’ll never get that all done but rather, “one task at a time gets all the jobs done”–which is kind of where and how I am feeling this morning. This is, of course, a good thing. I will admit that I had some ideas last night while watching Cheer (reading Alafair’s book helped in that regard as well) about other things to write and other things i need to get done. I also have edits on a short story I have coming out in an anthology next month–quick turnaround, what can I say?–but I have to say my year is getting off to a good start–despite the cancelled trip to New York.

Fingers crossed the year continues to remain not only on track but continues to get better rather than worse. But one can never tell these days–if we’ve learned anything from the last five years it’s not to constantly be optimistic that things will inevitably get better as we continue to move along.

And on that note, it’s time to drive right back into everything and get my act together once and for all for today. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Ask Any Girl

Sunday morning and I wish I was coming down.

But a cold spell has descended upon New Orleans overnight, and its chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning. I overslept–much later than ever–and didn’t rise until ten this morning; obviously, all that “outgoing energy” I spent on the MWA ZOOM board orientation drained my batteries completely. That, and the cold, I suspect, combined to make me not want to get out of bed this morning–in fact, I could just as easily go straight back to bed and probably could fall asleep for a while. I am sure that has more to do with the cold than anything else; all I really want to do is get underneath a blanket and stay warm–so when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair under a blanket and read some more of the new Alafair Burke novel before diving into this morning’s writing. I am going to do my best to pretend my email inbox doesn’t exist today and solely focus on resting, reading, and writing.

We finished watching Murders at Starved Rock last night, which was actually kind of annoying; the entire premise of the documentary is the man who served over forty years for the murders might be innocent, and yet they finished filming before the DNA tests came back (due in 2022)? I mean, sure, they can always do one more episode later, but come on–you left the audience hanging? Why put the documentary together and release it now? Paul and I found this to be terribly irritating and annoying. We then moved on to Season 2 of Cheer–I had wondered if they would do another season, given how incredibly popular the original was back in those early days of the pandemic; I actually think it may have come out before the pandemic–it’s so hard to remember these things now. I had wondered how they would do the second season–given how successful the first was–and I have to say, the decision to focus on how the sudden fame has affected everyone there at Navarro College and the town, while still trying to get prepared for the next Nationals–and taking a look at their arch-rival from Trinity Valley as well–was a very wise choice. The Trinity Valley coach also makes a good villain, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. So far so good; will keep you posted as we get further into the season.

We haven’t even gotten to the part where one of the breakout stars is arrested for inappropriate behavior with an underaged boy yet–although I am not sure I am all that keen on watching how that plays out, really, other than in a “can’t look away from the train wreck” kind of way. And isn’t that really the allure of reality television in the first place? The opportunity to be voyeurs without judgment? (Hmmm, that would be an excellent jumping off point for an essay, wouldn’t it? Hmmm.)

But I need to write today; reshaping and revising my manuscript so that it’s ready to go to the editor, and everything else I have to do is going onto the back-burner to simmer for a little while longer. I have been thinking also a lot about a couple of stories I need to get finished, “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “Solace in a Dying Hour,” and I need to go over “The Sound of Snow Falling” one more time. I was also very pleased to see the Cincinnati Bengals won their play-off game yesterday (I don’t really care about the NFL outside of the Saints, but I, as an LSU fan, am also a huge fan of both Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, who are now killing it at the professional level so I follow the Bengals a bit; I also pay attention to the Chiefs more than I ordinarily would because two favorite LSU players are also on their roster.)

And on that note, I am getting another cup of coffee and retiring to my chair to read some more of Alafair’s new book before diving back into mine.

Have a happy Sunday, Constant Reader!

My Heart Can’t Take It No More

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and I slept fairly well. I will be spending most of my day on ZOOM with the new Board of Directors for Mystery Writers of America doing Orientation (we should be doing it in person in New York today, but yet another event is a victim of the coronavirus variants). I am not a fan of ZOOM, for obvious reasons–I cannot stand seeing myself on camera, and hate the sound of my voice–and while I can’t necessarily hear my own voice, I can see my face on screen, and I really don’t like that. I don’t really have space for a ZOOM studio in my little nook office right off my kitchen–and I need to make sure all the counters are cleared off and the cabinets are closed, etc.–and so I’ve avoided doing ZOOM things like the plague during these plague years. I am not an extrovert by any means (and yes, well aware that my claims to be painfully shy, socially anxious, and introverted are often greeted by laughter; but the appearance of calm and ease I project in these situations is always just pure dumb luck because I am always a twisted tangle of anxiety-ridden knots on the inside the entire time, and completely exhausted when it’s over), and thus these things are never easy on me. I imagine this afternoon when the calls ends I will adjourn to my easy chair with a drink and will spend the rest of the day there.

Yesterday we started watching Peacemaker with John Cena on HBO MAX; it took a minute for us to get involved in the story but we eventually got sucked in. It’s an odd kind of super-hero show, really; Peacemaker is theoretically a villain (I’m not familiar with the Suicide Squad and haven’t seen any of the movies) but he sees himself as a hero. John Cena is a very charismatic leading man; there’s something about him that is very watchable, and he plays comedy very well; which is surprising, since he comes from the world of WWE (then again, Dwayne Johnson and Bautista also did, and also play comedy very well, so maybe it’s not surprising), and he really shines in this part. I’ve always been a fan, and am glad to see his career outside of WWE taking off. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the show. We also started watching a docuseries on HBO MAX after we finished the three episodes of Peacemaker that have been loaded for streaming called Murders at Starved Rock, which is interesting enough but probably isn’t going to have a resolution.

I did started reading Alafair Burke’s Find Me yesterday and am enjoying it thus far–maybe when the meeting is over I can spend some time with the book, which would be marvelous and a definite reward for spending so much of the day talking to my computer (which is some seriously weird Jetsons shit). I started making a to-do list yesterday so I can keep track of everything I need to do and need to get done and with some sort of time-line involved; I am confident I can get everything done but it’s going to take some serious focusing on my part to get it all done. It’s a bit overwhelming and stressful to be sure, but as long as I can get a handle on everything I need to do, it can all get done. Over the next two days I am going to work, over my morning coffee, on getting my email inbox cleared out once and for all; I am going to get some filing in order; and I’d like to finish reading Alafair’s book. I think we’re probably going to watch some movies in the evening–Power of the Dog and The Tragedy of Macbeth are at the top of my list–over the next couple of days, and I am also hoping to start back at the gym tomorrow morning (after getting all my morning chores finished); hope springs eternal. My weight has climbed back up somehow, and so getting back to the gym is a lot more important than it has been. I hate that my weight is climbing again, and I am sure it has to do with me being more sedentary over the last few months than I had been in the months before. (Just thinking about how good it will feel to stretch and work my muscles out again just sent a shiver of delight down my spine.)

But making the list made me feel much better about things, honestly; I don’t know why I have so much trouble falling back into the habits that help me get things done and reduce my stress.

I bought our first King cake of the season yesterday–and yes, it’s quite delicious. I don’t think I bought any last year, since there were no parades or hardly anything Carnival-like; I doubt very seriously that Paul and I will be heading down to super-spreader central out on the corner this year. It’s a shame because we’ve always loved the parades and catching throws, even when the weather is bad; how many times have we stood out there in the rain to catch things? (It’s actually more fun in the rain because most people leave and there’s more room and they throw more because there are less people to throw to…) But I just can’t see taking the risk of getting sick out there–and you know there are going to so many unvaccinated people out there who won’t wear masks at all; the parishes surrounding Orleans are ridiculously defiant when it comes to taking measures to protect other people, which is terribly sad–but those are also the people who drive in to the city and hang out along our parade routes (while posting comments on news articles about how much they hate New Orleans and how the city is so dangerous and riddled with crime–keep your racists asses out in your paradise parishes then, trash), so yeah, no desire to put myself at that much risk, thank you very much. I can only imagine what Carnival is going to do to our infection rates.

Given how many people used to die annually in New Orleans AND Louisiana from malaria, yellow fever, and other pandemics that used to rage through the population, you’d think we’d handle things better as a state, city and parish, but nooooooooo….(if you ever want to read a great book about the horrors of a pandemic and massive death in New Orleans during the nineteenth century, Barbara Hambly’s Fever Season is pretty amazing)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have to hide things from the computer camera and do some straightening up as well as preparing. Heavy heaving sigh. And I will see you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!

Pretty Baby

Tuesday morning and the year continues to wind down in the inimitable way that every year does, with a whimper rather than a bang, like the last of the helium escaping from the leaky balloon.

My new book will be out in sixteen days; slightly more than two weeks. Those who preordered from my publisher (as well as those who requested ARC’s–advance review copies)will be getting them within a few days, actually, which is panic-inducing as well as more than a little bit terrifying. I am not so certain that I am more nervous about the release of this book than I have been around the release of any others in my past, or if this is the same nervous condition I always experience when a book is about to be released with my name (or whatever name I chose to use at the time I signed the contract) on the spine. I don’t remember; I am not certain if that is symptomatic of me aging or if it’s some kind of protective thing the brain does to spare my psyche; much as how one forgets how painful a teeth cleaning or a blood draw is between the last time it was done and the next time such things are scheduled; if we don’t forget how awful or painful or uncomfortable those experiences actually are, we would most likely never schedule another. (It is most fortunate that it will be years before I need another colonoscopy; that is an experience I would prefer to never live through another time, quite frankly.)

But I am nervous about the book. This one, as I have mentioned tirelessly (tiresomely?) takes on a societal and cultural problem for which I have no solution–well, that’s not entirely true, I always have a solution, but it’s never one people are willing to actually adopt–but it’s also kind of shameful that it has actually taken me so long to address this actual social problem; it’s also kind of shameful for me to admit that it took me so long to realize it was actually a problem. I mean, I knew intellectually it was, but I never realized how extant and/or extreme the problem actually was until the last decade or so. Now I am hyper-aware of sexual assault and it’s plainer, but just as ugly sibling, sexual harassment.

When I became aware that I was different from other boys–from other males–I also became aware of strange disparities that caused some cognitive dissonance in my young, unformed mind; why is sexual expertise, and experience, for men something to be lauded and applauded while the same thing is a source of shame for women?

This never made sense to me; how could men get experience and expertise without women? Why was one thing something to be admired in one gender but must be shamed in the other? In order for men to get the “conquests” and “experience” they needed to be admired and respected (the word that so often pops up in older books is “cocksman,” a word I loathed when I first read it and still do to this day), there had to be women to accommodate those needs and desires…which, I guess, was my first introduction to the “madonna/whore” concept. Societal expectations on women were, frankly, ridiculous; they were supposed to be pure and chaste while at the same time doing nothing to inspire passion or desire in a man; to not attract his attention this way; in other words, if a man became overcome with desire to the point that he stopped listening to a woman telling him to stop…it was her fault, not his; men were clearly slaves to their own passions, while women needed to always keep theirs in check, or else.

Boys, after all, will be boys.

I knew the word rape before I actually knew what it meant–from reading history; barbarian hordes and invading armies inevitably “raped and pillaged.” There was the very famous story, part of the founding myth of Rome involving the “rape of the Sabine women”; I think that was around the time where I began thinking rape meant abduction. The 1970’s, and the burgeoning women’s movement, brought with it a discussion of rape into the public sphere; how it actually affected women and how the judicial system essentially punished women for daring to accuse a man of forcing himself on her; this was the horror known as stranger rape, which belied the sad truth that most sexual assaults inevitably are ones where the assailant and the victim knew each other: aka date rape.

Usually, when the subject was brought up on a daytime soap, it was a date rape situation; star-crossed lovers being kept apart for one reason or another until the man at some point becomes carried away and forces himself on his “true love” against her wishes. This played out on Days of Our Lives–later, and more notoriously, on General Hospital and as late as the 1990’s on One Life to Live (ironically, the story as depicted on One Life to Live was brutal and honest and horrible; the storyline went off the rails later as the lead rapist became redeemed and an anti-hero star of the show).

Rape was often used as a plot device in romance novels (horrifying, isn’t it?); who can ever forget the night Rhett get drunk and in his jealous rage rapes Scarlett in Gone with the Wind–which is also the first time in her life she actually enjoys sexual relations with a man? What precisely is the message being sent here to the readers?

One of the things that struck me the most about the Marysville and Steubenville cases–besides the horrific similarities–was the reaction of the girls in the towns about what happened. Rather than feeling solidarity with the victims–and realizing there but for the grace of God go I–the general reaction was the opposite: the victims deserved what happened to them. There are few crimes where the automatic default is to blame the victim–in fact, outside of sexual assault/harassment I can’t think of any–and the level of blaming and shaming in both of these cases was appalling. Steubenville, the more famous of the two cases, resulted in convictions (and notoriously several reporters editorializing the “waste” of the lives of the convicted rapists; my sympathy is with the victims, frankly); no charges were ever filed in the Marysville case, and the victim, Daisy Coleman, eventually committed suicide (that was still years in the future when I first started writing my book).

I couldn’t get past it. I tried to think about it in terms of my own sister: what if this had happened to MY sister? My niece? My mom?

And the hashtag from Marysville haunted my mind: #shedeservedit.

I knew the hashtag was going to be my title, and that I was going to change the Kansas book one last time; my quarterback was still going to disappear at the beginning, but the story wasn’t going to solely be about that. My fictional town already had a decades-long successful high school football program and was already dying economically; with a growing addiction epidemic and declining population as employment possibilities also dried up. And with all that success, with the town’s identity entirely subsumed by its high school football team (ironically, the Trojans), it stood to reason that the town would rally behind its team and the players–and woe be to anyone who stood against any of the team’s abuses.

But…the question remained: could a man–even a gay one, or especially a gay one–write such a book? Was it my place to do so? Was writing this book an attempt to atone for not being aware of the problem for so fucking long? Could I approach it with the proper amount of sensitivity?

I guess there’s nothing left for me to do than wait and see, I suppose. I have my author copies, ARC’s are going out, and soon those who want to read it will be reading it.

And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy Tuesday, Constant Reader.