Somewhere

Sunday morning, and all is well in the Lost Apartment.

Yesterday was, well, yesterday, and I think I was still kind of off-balance from sleeping well and not feeling sick, you know? Naturally, my computer decided hey he slept well and doesn’t feel sick, so let’s start acting up!

Oh, poisoned Apple. How sharp is thy sting.

Another night of good night’s sleep, and I am choosing to accept that the computer frustrations of yesterday–irritating as they may have been–were really more of a sign from the heavens (the Fates, the Muses, the Gods, whatever) that i really needed to not work at all yesterday and just kind of have a lovely, do-nothing kind of day. We finished the first season of Titans, which was nice, and moved on to Season 2 (in which the first season’s entire storyline, and cliff-hanger, was resolved relatively quickly–so quickly that I kind of questioned it; very rushed…but then as the episode progressed to its finish, I understood why–they wanted to get to the meat/villain of Season 2 as quickly as possible: the reformation of the team and the return of Deathstroke as the big bad). I’m not sure if we aren’t going to see Kory or Hawk and Dove anymore; which is a shame, as I like them all. We shall see, I suppose; I guess we’ll be blazing through season 2 this week.

So, today’s plan, computer cooperation pending, is to revise the Sherlock story and revise another for a submission deadline on July 1. I know what I need to do with the Sherlock story, and I also know what I want to do with the other story–which is a long shot (aren’t they all?) and hopefully, if I can get both of these done today, I can spend the afternoon finishing reading the Woolrich preparatory to moving on to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths.

I also need to do some straightening up and filing work–the on-line files yesterday was what triggered the computer issues, which led to research on-line, which led to frustration, which led to watching LSU clips from last season–but while I was doing dishes and later folding laundry I figured out how to correct Bury Me in Shadows, my Civil War ghost story Gothic, so that was kind of a win for the day, don’t you think? And over the past few days I’ve also figured out how to rewrite and restructure the Kansas book. So, if I can focus on the Secret Project this week, get those stories revised and submitted today–I should be able to spend July revising Bury Me in Shadows and August revising the Kansas book, and then both will be out of my hair for awhile–so I can also focus on Chlorine.

Oh, I also figured out what “Never Kiss a Stranger” needs, and how to fix it as well, so that I can finish it.

Maybe yesterday wasn’t such a loss as I thought I was after all…

I also think I need to figure out and map out the rest of my year–June 30th will bring the first half of the year to a close, and might as well set some goals for the second half, since so many things beyond my control this first half of the year derailed me every step of the way; I am also (huge step here) not beating myself up for not managing to figure out a way to get my writing done during a pandemic, chronic illness, and the world essentially going insane outside my windows.

BUT–if the world going insane outside my windows means systemic societal change, more power to the insanity and might I add, such insanity is far overdue?

And on that particular note, tis time to return to the spice mines this morning. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.

I Hope You Dance

New Orleans is almost completely shut down.

Yesterday I ventured forth to the office, to do my data entry and to clean my desk area. We had several meetings via the Internet, and several trainings–including one in which we were taught how to do work from home–and I wound up bringing my work home with me. We also had a department meeting on-line, to explain things we could be doing while self-quarantined and to make up hours lost by the shutting down of our testing programs. After my enormous freak-out on Monday (yes, it wasn’t a pretty thing when I got home from the office Monday afternoon), I feel a bit better about my job. It’s so weird, because I am used to being out there on the front lines doing testing and getting people treated…and to be instead isolated at home is a strange thing. What was even weirder was driving home. Under normal circumstances I would never leave the office at six; if I did, I wouldn’t take the highway home because I have to take the big off ramp from I-10 West to I-90 to the Westbank, and the bridge traffic usually has the highway backed up to Claiborne, where I get on the highway. Yesterday I didn’t even have to brake, that’s how light the traffic was–at six pm on a Tuesday. There were cars on the highway; I could see cars on the streets below (the highway is elevated as it passes through downtown)–and there were some peoples strolling on St. Charles…but other than that, nothing.

We finished watching Toy Boy last night, which was terrific and a lot of fun, and ending its first season with a terrific cliff-hanger to set up the second season. It’s great for bingeing, y’all; good trashy escapist fun to make you forget that we are trying to survive and live through a terrifying pandemic and the even more terrifying economic fall out from said pandemic. I also have to remember that I cannot stay inside the entire time; I need to get out of the Lost Apartment and take walks, enjoy the sunshine and the weather, and to take my phone or camera with me. No matter how introverted you are, you need to get out of the house sometimes–unless, of course, your introversion has turned into agoraphobia, which naturally means going outside would be the absolute worst thing for you to try to do.

I still have three stories to try to get written by the end of the month, and I am definitely going to give it the old college try. My mind has clearly been somewhere else over the last week or so–it’s hard to believe it’s only fucking Wednesday; this past weekend seems like it was years ago, last week a different life entirely and Mardi Gras? A different reality completely.

I haven’t even been able to focus enough to try to read–which is weird, as reading is always where I go for escape.

But the nice thing about working from home is that I can clean while taking a break from my data entry; I can also have trainings or webinars on my computer to listen to while I clean and organize the kitchen–and I can even broadcast said trainings and webinars to my television while cleaning the living room. This is a strange new work reality–it’s been years since I worked at home primarily–and one I am going to have to adapt to. I saw someone posting on social media yesterday a poll over whether people thought once this has passed, if things will go back the way they were or will be different. It’s a silly question, because this is a big cultural and societal change; it can never be the way it was before again–just like New Orleans isn’t the same city it was before Katrina, and it will never be that city ever again. Things never go back the way they were; just like the United States will never be the same country it was before 9/11 again.

We don’t know what our new reality is going to look like once we get past this crisis, so trying to speculate is kind of an exercise in pointlessness.

But one of the things, the mantras, that helped me get through the aftermath of Katrina was to focus on the things I could control. One of those things was my body; post-Katrina was probably the most dedicated periods I’ve ever had to my health and fitness and my physical appearance. Since the gyms are closed that’s not really a possibility this time around; although I can still stretch every day and go for nice walks, it’s not the same thing as hitting the weights three times a week. I also focused on my writing and editing; I didn’t write as much as I did before the interregnum–there were times I thought I’d never write again–but that didn’t stop me from my editorial duties, and I did eventually start writing again; this was the period that produced Murder in the Rue Chartres and “Annunciation Shotgun” and Love Bourbon Street. I also think writing–particularly since I’d be writing about a non-virus non-pandemic world–will provide a nice escape for me.

I also signed the contract with Mystery Tribune yesterday for my story “The Carriage House”–remember how last week actually started out with good news in my world? That also seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? I’m always happy to sell a short story, and it’s always lovely to sell one to a mainstream market with a gay main character. (You can talk about how publishing needs to diversify all you want, but it’s still not easy to sell a story with a gay main character to a mainstream market.) It’s a terrific story, or at least I (and the people at Mystery Tribune) think it is, and it’s a concept that’s been lying around in my head ever since we first moved out of the carriage house and into the main house the first time, in June 2005, and came back to me when we moved back into the main house in December 2006. Many years ago–probably when I was far too young–I read a book by (I think) Gerold Frank, a true crime account of The Boston Strangler. There was a bit in the book about a woman who ran a boarding house, and began to suspect one of her tenants might be the Strangler; he was always agitated and acting strange the day of the murders, etc.; lots of circumstantial evidence but nothing ever definite. She remembered one day him staring at an advertisement in a magazine featuring an African-American woman for about ten minutes or so, rather obsessively; and she thought to herself, the next victim will be a black woman and sure enough, it was. You know, that sort of thing; the sort of thing that would be the basis for a Hitchcock movie (I’ve never seen The Lodger, which is a Hitchcock film–possibly based on a novel–about a woman who begins to believe one of her tenants is Jack the Ripper. I’ve always wanted to see it.) and it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. I used to joke that I never wanted to be one of those people interviewed on the news with a caption under my name (NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED SUSPECTED NOTHING), but the concept of living in close quarters with a serial killer, or a thrill killer, or a killer of some sort–and beginning to suspect that you do, has always been an interesting thought and something I’ve always wanted to write about. “The Carriage House” is a culmination of all those thoughts and inspirations, and I am delighted you will finally get a chance to read it.

It’s also one of those stories that I originally thought would be a short novel, but it works much better as a short story.

More on that to come, of course, and now, back to the spice mines.

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Only One Love In My Life

Hey there, Friday. Here’s looking at you, Kid.

So all the stuff with Romance Writers of America finally came to an end yesterday with the resignations of their president (good riddance) and his partner in crime, the executive director (see ya!). What does this mean? It means that perhaps the long and slow and painful process of rebuilding the organization can begin–and a lot of the nasty racists outed themselves, which is always a good thing. Me? I’d rather know who they are myself–same with the homophobes and the misogynists and all the others.

But all of this reminded me of one of my favorite mystery novels of all time: Die for Love by Elizabeth Peters.

Elizabeth Peters is one of my favorite writers of all time, bar none. I am also an enormous fan of her more supernatural pseudonym, Barbara Michaels. Her novels as Peters, though–my God, so clever and witty and laugh out loud funny. I absolutely adore her Amelia Peabody series; decades of reading pleasure as we follow the adventures of heiress Amelia as she meets, falls in love and marries  her Egyptologist husband Emerson–all the while solving murders and catching antiquities thieves. The series was wonderful.

But Die for Love isn’t a Peabody novel. Peters also wrote two other series; one featuring an assistant museum curator named Vicky Bliss (some of the best opening lines ever), and another, featuring Jacqueline Kirby, head librarian at a small Midwestern college who is sharply intelligent and knows how to not only take advantage of an opportunity but squeeze every bit of use out of it as well. The earlier Kirby novels are quite intelligent and well done; The Murders of Richard III is a particular standout, in which a Richard III society’s members begin to be murdered in the same manner–and order– as the King’s victims in the Shakespearean play of his life.

Jacqueline, as head librarian, has a budget that allows her to travel to literary events–in order to increase her knowledge and to find authors/books to highlight and stock in the library–and generally finds events in places she wants to visit. So she decides to visit a romance convention in New York, and murder–and hilarity–ensue. I’ve always loved this book, and one of the things that is perhaps the funniest–or was to me, over the years, but now I’m kind of rethinking it–is that Jacqueline, who is a speed reader, reads some of the romance novels written by the biggest names in the business while she’s investigating the murder, and realizes I can do this. She also starts, whenever she has a spare moment, scribbling away at her own romance novel.

In the next, and sadly, final book of the Kirby series, Naked Once More, we find that Jacqueline is no longer employed as a librarian as she is now an international bestselling romance novelist. Naked Once More is just as funny as Die for Love, frankly; all of Peters’ books are delightfully witty and funny.

I should reread Die for Love. Let me add it to the Reread Project.

I am putting in eight hours today rather than my usual half-day Friday because I am taking Monday off for the game. We’re supposed to have horrible weather tomorrow morning (hail, tornadoes, flash flooding), so welcome, Clemson fans? But then I am coming home and hoping to get back to the writing. I am working on a secret project–Lord, how many things am I working on at the same time?–which actually started coming together the other night, and I am anxious to get that all done, hopefully over the course of this weekend, along with the website copy I need to write and some short stories, as well as some more work on Bury Me in Shadows.

We started watching Manhunt on Acorn last night, and it’s intriguing; we will continue, and then another episode of Messiah, which is really picking up speed. I’ve also heard good things about Dracula, and of course HBO’s adaptation of The Outsider premieres this weekend as well. Sex Education and Schitt’s Creek are also back, if not already, then soon–so that’s my television watching in my free time sorted for quite some time.

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

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Do They Know It’s Christmas

Christmas Eve, and all through the house–not a kitty is stirring, and we don’t have a mouse.

It’s a bright sunshiny morning here in New Orleans, and I slept very late because we stayed up watching a show on Acorn TV (a streaming subscription I’d forgotten I had) called Loch Ness, which was highly entertaining, fairly well written, beautifully shot, and well acted. I do recommend it–there were some definitely unanswered questions in the resolution, but it pretty much wrapped itself up for the most part, and as I said, we really enjoyed it. Loch Ness also looked incredibly beautiful; I always pictured it as cold and gray and foggy–assuming, of course, that it was shot on location.

I also woke up this morning–late–to see that Romance Writers of America is burning to the ground this morning, having had their board make a decision that being called a racist is much much worse than actually being a racist, or doing and saying racist things. I have my own issues with RWA, of course–a long-standing policy of passively encouraging homophobia and queer exclusion, which I thought they were getting better about, but active institutional support of racists and racism against authors of color has completely and irrevocably erased those thoughts once and for all; because quite naturally pointing out homophobia would mean being punished for doing so–because the only thing worse than homophobia is being accurately accused of it. Shame on you, RWA, shame on you.

Yeah, not going anywhere near that dumpster-fire of an organization.

So, what am I going to do today, with this gorgeous day? Am I going to try to get writing done? Am I going to try to do much of anything on this fine Christmas Eve here in the Lost Apartment? Or am I simply going to curl up in my easy chair with a book? Probably going to just curl up in my chair with my book. I am getting further into Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, and greatly enjoying it the deeper I get into this interestingly twisted tale. I do have some cleaning and straightening up to do around here, but I can save that for later this evening. We are venturing out to see Rise of Skywalker tomorrow–thank you, everyone on my social media feeds for not posting spoilers–and of course, this weekend is the college football play-offs, with LSU facing Oklahoma in one semi-final.

But there’s plenty of time between now and Saturday for me to get stressed about that.

I’ve also been looking through Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, which is one of my favorite romantic suspense novels of the mid-twentieth century (originally published in 1962!) primarily because it has a unique spin on the genre of the preyed-upon heroine: she’s pregnant with the heir to the family fortune and estate. A pregnant romantic suspense heroine? I think Kirkland Revels might even be the only romantic suspense novel with a pregnant heroine–I can’t think of many novels of any kind where the heroine was pregnant almost the entire course of the story, other than Rosemary’s Baby–which is actually an interesting observation. (I also believe that Rosemary’s Baby is perhaps one of the most brilliant studies in paranoia ever written; Levin did much the same with The Stepford Wives; no one wrote paranoia better than Levin, and he is also one of my favorite writers. His canon is well overdue for a revisit.)

I also may rewatch the premiere of Megan Abbott’s television series adaptation of Dare Me. It was really quite good, and a second viewing will possibly enable me to write a post about it that doesn’t simply say “OMG it’s so good you have to watch it.”

GAH. SO little time to do all the things I want to do!

And on that note, I should probably finish this and go do something, anything, else.

Have a merry Christmas eve, everyone.

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Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Rock Steady

Watchmen is, quite frankly, brilliant television.

While I would never consider myself a comics nerd, I did grow up with them, and have periodically returned to them as an adult. I’m a fan of the genre of super-heroes, but would never consider myself anything more expert than any other sideline, keeps up with it slightly, fan. (Although the world of comics fans endlessly fascinates me; I’ve loved attending the local version of Comic Con, and suspect the bigger ones would be too overwhelming and too much for me.)  Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying I’ve never read the source material for this show, but have heard about it for years. I’m enjoying this show so much I now want to go back and read the original source material (which I’m sure is now readily available, certainly) as well as go back and watch the film that was made of it several years ago. I would say that’s a statement about how much I am enjoying the show, while admiring it at the same time; I now want to know the entire story, or as much of it as I can glean to get a better understanding of the show.

A need I never felt, quite frankly, with The Walking Dead, and only somewhat with Game of Thrones (I won’t commit to reading that entire series until it’s completed, thank you very much).

The Saints also managed to win a heart-attack inducing game yesterday, which I was felt quite certain they were determined to lose for some unknown reason. But they managed to get the last second field goal and dodged the bullet; the Panthers missed their own just moments before. The Saints aren’t playing as solidly as I would like, but I would imagine there’s an adjustment period when you have to switch quarterbacks again–and it takes some time to get fully back into the old rhythms again. Still, we’re having a glorious football season in Louisiana, one that I hope everyone is taking the time to enjoy.

This week is Thanksgiving, and as I’ve been thinking about American mythology a lot lately, it seems only fitting that yet another myth looms on the horizon; a holiday where Americans gather to be grateful and give thanks for what they have…as the final, massive full frontal assault of Christmas commercialism looms just over the horizon. I watched another couple of hours of World War II-Pacific theater documentaries yesterday–I’m not sure why I am so drawn to that particular period of history lately, or that particular theater of that particular war; draw your own conclusions–and again, found myself as a present-day prosecutor, trying the United States for war crimes for the use of nuclear weapons on civilian populations. It is easy to be judgmental in hindsight; my living room in New Orleans in November 2019  is vastly different than the Oval Office in Washington in July 1945, and I certainly don’t have the future of the world in the palms of my hands; it’s easy to question decisions of the past with the hindsight of the present.

But I also find it hard to believe we would have used nuclear weapons on Germany.

Hindsight.

Looking back at the past with the mindset of the present.

Watchmen‘s entire approach to racism and the past is incredibly powerful, and also incredibly important. A pivotal event in the narrative is the obliteration of the a economically strong and growing black community near Tulsa back in the 1920’s; a horrifying racist slaughter and eradication of a community for daring to believe American mythology and trying to live the American dream as non-whites.

It also got me thinking about diversity, and the push for it in publishing, particularly in crime fiction lately, given some of the incidents that have occurred recently at crime events, or involving crime fiction organizations over the last few years. It occurred to me that inclusion, and diversity, are important words that may not carry with them their own importance; what we are really trying to accomplish is the desegregation of publishing and the creative arts; integrating writers of color and queer writers into the mainstream of publishing. Integration and segregation are much more powerful words; but desegregation is an incorrect term, in that it presupposes that there are separate but equal publishing worlds, which isn’t true; perhaps that’s why integration isn’t the word we use about talking about diversity in publishing.

But I think integration gets the point across more than inclusion does.

I am still reading both The Nickel Boys and Bourbon Street, hope to get more of the Whitehead read today, in fact. This first day of Thanksgiving week vacation–after three days of essentially relaxing and doing something periodically, but mostly doing nothing active–needs to be more of an active day than a passive one. I am going to work on my emails today, I am going to write today–not sure just quite yet what it is I will be writing, but I am going to be writing today for sure–and making other arrangements as well. There’s a lot of filing and cleaning that needs to get done, but I am going to be home alone all day with the needy kitty–who will insist on sitting in my desk chair once Paul leaves for the day–and I am determined to get all of this finished….or at least progress. I’ve kind of been letting a lot of stuff slide because I haven’t wanted to deal with it; well that day of reckoning has now arrived.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Cross My Broken Heart

I slept well again last night, so here’s hoping that Monday night’s shitty night of sleep was an aberration. I feel very rested and well this morning, which is a lovely change from yesterday morning’s horror.

Paul was home late last evening, so I was able to finish watching Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, which I highly recommend. It’s incredibly well done, and powerfully moving. The final two episodes, “Liberation of Buchenwald” and “Hiroshima”, are the perfect pair to end the series with; in my last post I talked about how the “Dresden Firestorm” episode brought up questions of morality, both national and that of war; how absolutely fitting that “Liberation of Buchenwald” was the very next episode; so that any sympathy one might have felt for the German citizens killed during bombing raids and so forth, evaporates almost immediately. The documentary is also one of the first times I’ve ever seen anything about World War II and the Holocaust that absolutely puts the lie to the German everyday citizen’s claim, afterwards, that they didn’t know anything about the death camps. They knew, and at best, just didn’t care. At worst, cheered the mass slaughter of “undesirables”. Thank God Eisenhower brought in the press to document the horrors of the camps.

Even more horrifying is knowing that the threat of Soviet Communism was deemed so terrible that the Western nations chose not to pursue a lot of war crimes trials against horrible Nazis, and instead helped rehabilitate them into German society, deciding it was simply better to move on–the past was the past, the Nazis were defeated, and Communism was apparently worse–to our everlasting shame.

“Hiroshima” naturally deals with the development of atomic weapons and the lead-up to the decision to use them on the Japanese. The reason given at the time was that Japan would never surrender, and the conquest of the home islands would have cost many American lives; so President Truman–also wanting to finish off Japan as quickly as possible, before the Soviet juggernaut could turn east–made the decision to wipe two cities off the map–and the xenophobic racism that allowed the Americans to be more brutal with the Japanese then they ever were with the Germans; had the Germans won the Battle of the Bulge and taken Belgium back, would the Americans have dropped atomic bombs on say, Frankfurt and Munich? Highly unlikely.

I highly recommend this series. World War II changed the face of the world, and politics, forever; and almost everything that has gone on in the world ever since the war ended has been affected and colored by the war. It was the war that made minorities in the United States–who fought, bled and died for this country in a brutal and bloody war–no longer willing to accept second class status. For many closeted queers, it gave them the opportunity to meet others like themselves, and planted the seeds for the gay neighborhoods in places like San Francisco and New Orleans and New York–gay men and lesbians no longer felt isolated and alone, knew there were others like them, and tried to make community, eventually leading to the queer rights movement. Women participated in the war and stepped up to replace the fighting men in their jobs, and soon realized they could be more than wives and mothers, chafing against their once-again restricted roles after the end of the war–which of course led to the Women’s Movement…and that’s not even taking into consideration the changes wrought in the world in geopolitical terms.

Even if you aren’t interested in watching all ten episodes, I strongly encourage everyone to watch “The Liberation of Buchenwald.” The Holocaust was real, it happened, the Western nations allowed it to happen, and it must never happen again. And if you have the capacity to even consider, for one moment, the notion that it was a hoax–fuck all the way off, and I hope your death is slow, painful, and horrific.

I kind of want to revisit Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War/War and Remembrance series; such a well done fictionalization of the war, as seen through the eyes of the Henrys, a naval family. Of course the two volumes total something like three thousand pages–I’ll never in a million years ever have the time for a deep reread–but they were amazing, and I read them as a teenager.

Yesterday I taped Susan Larson’s “My Reading Life” with Jean (J. M.) Redmann, which is always a delight. Susan is smart and fun, as is Jean, and it’s all I can do to keep up with them and not come across as a drooling idiot. But it’s always lovely to talk to Susan and Jean about books and writing, and even more delightful, Susan told me she’d enjoyed Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, which was of course the crowning jewel of my month. As you know, Constant Reader, I have constant doubts about my short story writing ability, and so getting Susan’s stamp of approval meant a lot. I’ll post a link for the show when it airs.

Today is a half-day, and after tomorrow my vacation for Thanksgiving begins. I’m hoping to get a lot done–like always–and maybe I won’t; but at least I feel confident I can get a lot of reading done. I also have my blog entries about The Hunter by Richard Stark and The Ferguson Affair by Ross MacDonald to write. I also would like to catch up on all the things–little things, nothing major–that I always seem to let slide since I don’t have much time.

LSU has also managed to maintain its number one ranking, despite the abysmal showing of the defense last Saturday against Mississippi. I saw an interview with Joe Burrow after the game in which he simply shrugged and said, “You know things have changed at LSU when we score 58 points and get over 700 yards of total offense and the locker room mood is disappointment at how badly we played.” YIKES. But I tend to agree–I was enormously disappointed by the defense in both the Vanderbilt and Mississippi games; but the offense was spectacular in both games and ordinarily I’d be aglow by those high-scoring offensive performances. Maybe it’s true; maybe we do get spoiled quickly–God knows I get annoyed when the Saints don’t play well and they’ve consistently been one of the best teams in the NFL since 2006. Sigh.

But the last two games of LSU’s season are at home, against Arkansas and Texas A&M, and if they win either of those games they clinch the West division and are going to Atlanta to play Georgia for a shot at LSU’s first SEC title since 2011. Woo-hoo!

I hope to start reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys today; today is my half-day and so I can get home earlier, possibly do some writing, and then curl up in my easy chair while I wait for Paul to get home. I still haven’t written a damned thing recently, and I really need to get back on that.

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

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Meet Me Half Way

LSU won last night, 58-37, over Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford; but the defense gave up a lot in the second half–yards and touchdowns–and at times had me wondering if this would indeed turn into a trap game. A couple of offensive mistakes that the Rebels capitalized on, and suddenly they had pulled back within two touchdowns to 44-30 before the Tigers scored twice more to effectively ice the game. I may have sworn at the television a few times, as LSU’s pristine, well-oiled precision in the first half got sloppy in the second.

I suppose it is a measure of LSU’s success this season that a 21 point win in a rivalry game on the road felt disappointing; I guess this is what it means to become a member of an incredibly spoiled fan base. 58 points and over 700 yards on offense–and I was swearing at the television. Lord.

But the defense is going to have to play better than this if LSU is going to win the SEC title game against Georgia, who clinched the East by beating Auburn yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day on many fronts. I cleaned and organized, which of course always makes me happy; I didn’t get to the floors yesterday, but everything else is cleaned and organized, with a few more things to finish off this morning before I get back to work. I did have a relatively good day yesterday–cleaning and organizing capped by an LSU game is always the best Saturday possible for me. I also managed to read some more of The Ferguson Affair, and making notes on it. It’s not one of the stronger MacDonald novels–definitely not as good as some Lew Archers I’ve read–but it’s an interesting story, and I do like how the entire case begins with the main character, an attorney, being called in to represent a young woman accused of stealing, or rather, being part of a burglary gang robbing wealthy residents of the small city–and how it unrolls from there. I also made some notes on my current work-in-progress; dissecting why the story isn’t playing well in my head and realizing that it’s my own stubbornness and refusal to change things–even when they aren’t working. I always try to  make it work somehow before recognizing finally that it’s not working and must be changed; I have to go back and redo the first chapters of the book–which I’ve already kind of done. Part of the reluctance to see things clearly is because I don’t want to redo work I’ve already done—but if the work doesn’t work, accept that the time was wasted and redo it, for fuck’s sake. And so that is the task that lies before me today. I am going to go ahead and finish redoing chapter 13, because I’ve been in the middle of it for quite some time now–not finishing because deep down I knew I was going to have to go back and rework the earlier stuff, and why keep going when you know you’re going to have to revise and edit and rewrite what you are currently revising and editing and rewriting? Not an effective use of time or energy…and sometimes you have to just accept that you’ve wasted the time and be done with it. But I do believe I have now solved the key problem with my story, and it will now work going forward.

The other day I talked about the Stephen King short story “The Raft” (filmed as part of Creepshow 2), primarily in the terms of a book idea inspired by the trope of the story–essentially, four (or more) young people go somewhere no one knows they are, and something bad happens to them there–and they know rescue isn’t coming because no one knows where they are, and even if they did, it would take a while before anyone figured out they needed help–and wouldn’t know where to find them. Because of this, I kept thinking about “The Raft,” and finally at one point yesterday I got down my copy of Skeleton Crew and reread the story.

It’s extraordinary, really, and a good reminder of why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers.

It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there. They had come in Deke’s Camaro. Deke didn’t waste any time when he was sober. After a couple of beers, he made that Camaro walk and talk.

He had hardly brought the car to a stop at the pole fence between the parking lot and the beach before he was out and pulling off his shirt. His eyes were scanning the water for the raft. Randy got out of the shotgun seat, a little reluctantly. This had been his idea, true enough, but he had never expected Deke to take it seriously. The girls were moving around in the back seat, getting ready to get out.

Deke’s eyes scanned the water restlessly, side to side (sniper’s eyes, Randy thought uncomfortably) and then fixed on a point.

“It’s there!” he shouted, slapping the hood of the Camaro. “Just like you said, Randy! Hot damn! Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

“The Raft” is a terrifying story, and one that is all too easy to relate to. Randy is the main character of the story, and we see it all through his point of view. Deke is his best friend and roommate, on a football scholarship, handsome and well-built and holding the world in the palm of his hands; things come easily to him, especially women. The two girls with them on this adventure are Rachel, Deke’s current girlfriend, and LaVerne–who, as it turns out, isn’t a particularly nice girl in how we tend to define that sort of thing. Randy likes Rachel but really is into LaVerne; one of the dynamics of the story is that Deke and Rachel’s relationship is ending (but she isn’t aware) and LaVerne is poised to move in on Deke–and it happens during the course of the story. Randy loves Deke, Deke is his best friend and he admires him and would do anything for him; but he also harbors a bit of resentment for his beloved best friend–for whom everything seems to be easy, and women willing to crawl into his bed are easy to find; he also resents that women don’t seem to notice him when Deke is around. This is excellent character building by King; this makes Randy relatable.

(When I first read this story in the mid-1980’s, I had already become accustomed to being the “friend no one notices”; I always had male friends who were good looking and well-built and a lot of fun to be around, so I always felt eclipsed and that no one noticed me. This continued for many years, even after I came out in every aspect of my life–that weird mixture of love and resentment one can have for a friend who is always the center of attention who doesn’t even try to be; it just happens. It also reminds me of the dynamic at the root of A Separate Peace, which I read as a teenager; I need to go back at some point and reread that book to get a better sense of the novel and the queer undertones that even I–a closeted and terrified thirteen year old–was able to pick up on.)

The building of suspense–and the terror that comes when they realize the weird little oil slick on the water not only has intelligence but is a predator–is phenomenal, and yet another example of King’s story-telling genius.

I also could relate to the story because when I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a nearby lake we often went to, for swimming and so forth; it was out in the middle of nowhere, and it, too, had a raft you could swim out to and sunbathe on. (I used that lake in my novel Sara; in what I think is probably the best, most frightening horror I have ever written–that chapter at the lake is absolutely terrifying–or at least I think so, at any rate.)

But remembering–and rereading–“The Raft” also reminds me of the Short Story Project from last year, which I hadn’t intended to stop doing, but I got sidetracked with this year’s Diversity Project, among other things. But it’s time for me to get back to work on everything this morning, and so, Constant Reader, I bid you adieu as I head back into the spice mines.

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Right on Track

I’m going to go vote as soon as I post this, as it’s run-off election day and the gubernatorial race is far, far too close for comfort, to be completely honest. It’s astonishing to me that this is even close, but hatred of Democrats runs deep in some sections of Louisiana. We have, despite our laxness in so many ways here, a deeply conservative streak running through the state; which is fine, a lot of states do, but here in Louisiana the fact that Bobby Jindal was so popular–even as his economic policies dismantled and destroyed the state while he used Louisiana as a launching pad for the White House–that he essentially ran for reelection unopposed, is absolutely terrifying. Louisiana has not completely recovered from the horrors wrought upon on every level by Jindal, whose desire for power and attention overruled any common sense approach he might have towards governing, and the thought we could return to those very policies that nearly bankrupted the state and could have resulted in our universities being shuttered, is absolutely terrifying. As I said, this shouldn’t even be close….and yet it’s going to be.

Tonight LSU goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Magnolia Bowl; the renewal of another storied SEC/Southern college football rivalry, perhaps best known as the rivalry that  featured Billy Cannon’s run on Halloween night in 1959, as the Number One and defending national champion Tigers took on third-ranked Ole Miss. The punt return for a touchdown was LSU’s only score and a goal line stand as time ran out–Billy Cannon made the game-winning tackle as well–and LSU won. (Alas, LSU lost a later game in the season and didn’t win a second national championship; and just like in 2011, the Sugar Bowl was a rematch of that ‘game of the century,’ with LSU losing the rematch–also like in 2011, only with Alabama–21-0–which was also the score of the Alabama rematch in 2011.) The first time Paul and I went to a game in Tiger Stadium was the Ole Miss game in 2010; we went to the Ole Miss game in 2012 as well. Ole Miss always, somehow, manages to play LSU really tough, even in years when they should be a pushover; they take the rivalry very seriously–more seriously than LSU does–and have pulled off the upset more than once. (LSU returned the favor in Tiger Stadium in 2014, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season and ending their SEC–and national– championship hopes 10-7)

I also want to break the habit of referring to the University of Mississippi as Ole Miss, which has always bothered me and I’ve wondered for years when it would be brought up. The University is in turmoil these days–and kind of has been for decades, really; you would be hard-pressed to find another university in the South with stronger ties to the Confederate/Jim Crow/racist/segregationist past. The team name in the Rebels; for years the mascot was Johnny Reb; a white-haired, white-mustached white man in a gray Confederate uniform, and the fans in the stadium inevitably waved, rather than pom-pons or towels like so many fan bases do, Confederate flags. That flag–which is really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, so didn’t even really have a tie to the state of Mississippi other than as a symbol of racism and white supremacy–was also seen as a symbol of the school. Johnny Reb is no longer the mascot–it’s a black bear–and the fans no longer wave Confederate flags. But there’s some serious issues going on with the selection of the new university chancellor, and there’s also a movement to get Ole Miss removed as a designation/nickname for the school. It’s going to be hard to break the habit of shortening Mississippi to Ole Miss; but the nickname, sadly, also has its roots in the racist, slave-owning past.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for people to figure that out, or to think about it.

“Ole Miss” is what the slaves called the matriarch of the family that owned the plantation; whether she was the “master’s” mother or wife–there could, at times, be an “Ole Miss” and a “Young Miss.” It’s right there in the pages of Gone with the Wind; the Fontaines have an Ole Miss and a Young Miss; the slaves at Tara call the white women “Miss”–Miss Ellen, Miss Scarlett, Miss Carreen, Miss Suellen–and it’s a sign of deference; as an older white man living in a Southern city I still see signs of this from time to time with my clients; younger people of color always call me “Mr. Greg” while young white people call me by my first name only. I cringe a little whenever they do, and always thank them for their politeness, but insist they drop the mister. It also makes me sad when they find it hard to do so; continuing to slip and call me Mr. Greg.

Anyway, there’s a movement afoot to remove the nickname from Mississippi–but seriously, typing that out even seems weird, and calling them Mississippi seems even weirder. But I’ve decided I cannot call them by that nickname any more. It may not be much, but it’s the least I can do.

I went up to Oxford for an event a couple of years ago; The Radical South–got put up in a gorgeous hotel on campus, paid a rather lovely honorarium, taken out for a lovely meal by the organizer who’d invited me (Theresa Starkey, who co-edited Detecting the South, the academic book of essays on Southern Crime fiction I contributed a piece to, that recently was released; one of my proudest career moments–not the least of which meant sharing a table of contents with Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins), and I actually rather fell in love with Oxford. It’s a charming little old Southern town, complete with a picturesque Town Square, with a courthouse on one side of it; my immediate thought was oh my God, Mayberry DOES still exist. As I walked around the town and explored, I was inspired, particularly because I kept finding places that were perfect for disposing of bodies (the crime writer mind is always active), and I began putting together a novel in my head; a series of rapes on campus with the serial rapist escalating, as the university and town desperately try to keep the rapes quiet until a body is found. Obviously, that couldn’t be set at the actual campus of Mississippi; I’d have to fictionalize it. I took tons of pictures and, as is often my wont, think about that book every once in a while.

What’s also interesting to me is that there’s no airport in Oxford–LSU flew into Memphis last night, and I would imagine bussed from there to Oxford, which is about a little under an hour away and just over the state line from Tennessee–and Oxford isn’t even on the Interstate; you have to take a state highway for about twenty minutes or so before you reach Oxford. (Mississippi State’s hometown of Starkville is also not on an interstate highway; the only major universities in the SEC that are in towns not on an interstate, at least that I’m aware of. Lexington, Knoxville, and Athens are off I-75; Vanderbilt’s in Nashville, etc etc)

Hopefully, we’ll keep our streak going tonight. A lesser team without the amazing offense we are running this year buried the Rebels last year–LSU has won three straight game in the rivalry; has only lost five times this century and one of the Rebels’ wins was forfeited. But as I said, the Rebs have always (I cannot tell you how hard it is to not default to calling them Ole Miss–Mississippi seems weird, as does calling them the Rebels or the Rebs–although in all honesty, if they changed their mascot to a Minuteman or a Revolutionary War soldier or  general it would make calling the Rebels or Rebs less fraught) played tough against LSU–those games we attended in 2010 and 2012 came down to the last minute before the Tigers prevailed.

Okay, I am going to finish this and go vote. I am going to come home and read The Ferguson Affair (it’s taking longer to read than it should, and I do have a serious problem with the main character, which I’ll talk about when I talk about the book), do some cleaning, brainstorm on the book and maybe even sit down and do some writing. I’ll probably put the Auburn-Georgia game on, but will try to keep myself occupied rather than just sitting in my chair and blowing off the entire day.

I also have to get the campus serial rapist/killer book out of my head for now, too.

FOCUS.

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