Two To Make It Right

Thursday morning and I am slurping coffee and trying to get awake and ready for an exciting day of data entry and condom packing. I’ve not been terribly successful with my goal of cleaning out my inbox; I am going to try to work on that today after I finish working, after I go to the gym, and after I get today’s writing done.

I’ve identified a problem–a pattern, if you will–with my writing. I will get to a point in a short story where I am kind of stuck, and whereas what I do with a novel (write my way out of it) I won’t do that with the story, instead agonizing over it for a bit before consigning it to the oh well I’ll finish this later at some point folder. This is defeating, and why, ultimately, I have so many unfinished stories languishing around in my files. So, I am determined to solider on with the one I am currently working on, “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and try to get it finished. I am also determined to revise chapter one of Chlorine this weekend, and hopefully get into my next novella–either “Never Kiss a Stranger” or “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–and also get the Lost Apartment back under control at some point.

It’s amazing how little time it takes yet how easy it is for this place to look like a disaster area in need of FEMA assistance.

I also want to get back to reading–oh, how the books pile up!–and maybe it’s something I should do before I go to bed every night. I had tried for a brief while–after that less screen time before going to bed will help you sleep better thing circulated a few years ago–to read before bed every night; I have a non-fiction book on my nightstand that is now coated in dust that I would love to get back to reading–but it also wouldn’t hurt to do some fiction reading downstairs before I go up to bed, risking the getting caught up in the book and not wanting to put it down thing, which all too often happens to me with reading fiction. I am still greatly enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, by the way; Caro is an exceptional biographer. I also love how he weaves historical context into his biographies–I’ve only read the first volume of the Johnson biographies, and his description for how hard life was for poor rural women has never stopping haunting my mind–and always am blown away. I’ve never read the two biggest biographies of this century–Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton or McCullough’s John Adams, which I need to remedy–but then again my non-fiction reading (outside of necessary research for writing) has been woefully overshadowed this century by my fiction reading.

I also received copies of the MWA anthologies Deadly Anniversaries (edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini) and When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta), which reminded me of how much I’ve been languishing on the Short Story Project–while continuing to buy anthologies or single-author collections, which are also piling up around me. I also have a lot of short stories to read for my Bouchercon panel in August; I am on, of all things, a short story panel; which kind of caught me off-guard because I don’t consider myself a master of the form–or even half-way decent at it. But I have published quite a few of them, and my goal is to publish more (which means writing more of them) and I figure with the terrific panelists, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from some of them.

We started watching another Spanish language show last night, High Seas (Alta Mar in Spanish), which is a murder mystery set on a luxury liner sometime in the 1940’s, traveling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro. It’s gorgeously shot, the period costumes and decor are first rate, as is the acting. We’re on episode 4 now; there have already been two murders and some mysterious shenanigans, including a fire, and yes, we are completely sucked into it. (We’re taking The Underground Railroad slowly, because it’s not really something to be binged, since it raises so many philosophical and societal questions; you kind of need to absorb each episode. It’s really one of the most literate series I’ve ever watched, in part because the visuals are so incredible and poetic; I think it’s one that needs to be rewatched as well because it’s almost too cerebral–yet compelling–to absorb all at once for someone of such diminished intellectual capabilities as me–it’s also making me want to revisit the novel)

And on that note, I am heading into today’s spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

Together Again

Oh, wow, it’s pay the bills day and I didn’t even see it coming! How weird is that?

I managed to write 1500 words or so on a short story yesterday–AND I went to the gym. I slept well again last night, which was also pretty marvelous. It’s lovely to feel rested, as well as to feel awake when I leave the house, rather than walking and driving in a fog I don’t remember later. As such, my moods have been better and I haven’t been on edge, either. While this is all quite marvelous, at the same time I find myself reluctant to deal with odious chores or tasks–simply because I worry about opening Pandora’s box and releasing the demons of stress, irritation, and insomnia into my little world again.

The short story I am working on is called “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and it was one I had thought up in order to submit to the Minneapolis Bouchercon anthology I am co-editing with the marvelous Terri Bischoff. But I have also been thinking lately that I probably shouldn’t submit anything to the blind read; I did for the other two I edited, and my stories were chosen. No one ever said anything, but after the books were released I always felt a little uncomfortable because it could be seen as improper (the New Orleans story was nominated for a Macavity Award and the St. Petersburg for an Anthony, so that helped alleviate that somewhat), but I am thinking this time around that it’s better to not mess with it at all. I like the idea behind the story, and I might try to actually go the submit it to a magazine route, but we’ll see. Right now I am just regurgitating stuff up on the page that I’ll have to whittle down later to make it work, but I love the title and I am interested in the story, so will keep going with it and see how it turns out. I am thinking this weekend I am going to edit stories–I have one that was rejected by the last MWA submissions call that needs a bit of work, and of course, the novella; hopefully I’ll have a first draft of this one finished to edit this weekend. I also would like to do some reading this weekend–but this is all dependent on how things go with the tooth extraction. If I am still on painkillers this weekend, well, it’s not very likely I’ll be writing or editing or doing much reading–if my memory of painkillers is accurate–but I am not going to worry about any of that now, and am just going to proceed with making my plans. It won’t be the first time life interfered with the plans of mice and Greg.

I am enjoying writing again, frankly, and it feels very good, to be honest. I am enjoying going to the gym again. I feel like in some weird way that I am more of myself now than I have been in a long time, and I am not really sure what that is all about, to be completely honest; like I’ve just been going through the motions for a very long time and somehow in a dark cloud that turns everything into an odious chore, one more thing I need to check off the list, one more task to accomplish on the slow descent into the grave or something. Plotting out the Scotty is also turning out to be something a lot more fun than I had thought it would be; I am enjoying thinking and plotting and creating, and also thinking of other ways to challenge myself and stimulate myself into taking bigger chances with the writing and pushing myself harder. I’ve been thinking a lot about one of Michael Nava’s questions for us all on the San Francisco Public Library panel on queer crime writing–how do you keep your series fresh? It also came up during Laura Lippman’s interview on CBS This Morning that I watched the other day; and it’s a valid question. One of the reasons I stopped writing the Chanse series was a sense that I had fallen into a repeating pattern with the stories–and now that I am thinking back on the Scotty series, I am also seeing patterns developing in the last few books. I’ve already mentioned here about someone asking how many car accidents HAS Scotty been in?–which is actually valid; I think he’s been in one at least four times out of eight books–and last night I was thinking, you know, the last two Scotty books opened at parties–or rather, with him GOING to a big party, which then set up the story for the rest of the book…

Not good, Gregalicious. But this new one–working title Mississippi River Bottom, although Mississippi River Mayhem fits the alliteration pattern of the previous books in the series better–will NOT open at a party, and there will be some changes for the boys as well–no, I am not moving them out of the Quarter, no worries on that score–but some significant changes nonetheless. For one thing, and I’d hinted at this in Royal Street Reveillon–Scotty has bought the building from Millie and Velma, who have retired to the Florida Gulf Coast (which will give me a chance to the send the boys to the panhandle at some point to solve a mystery). But I’ve also got a sticky note on my computer reading NO CAR CRASHES THIS TIME.

I also worry about repeating myself with short stories and the novellas, frankly. I was thinking about my 1994 New Orleans novella, “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and realized that the scene I originally envisioned for my main character meeting the younger man he becomes involved with I had lifted and used in another story, “A Streetcar Named Death.” I mean, there’s clearly no reason why my character can’t first see the young man on the streetcar in the early hour of the morning–it happens, and it’s definitely a way for people to meet in New Orleans, for sure–but there’s always that nagging worry about have I done this already? Is this story pattern the one I default to following all the time?

Sigh. It’s never easy being a Gregalicious,

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

What Have You Done For Me Lately

So, yesterday I finished the first draft of the novella!

It was around 1200 words when I started working on it again about a week or so ago; for some reason Venice was haunting my imagination, and so were my two poor gays in the majorly dysfunctional relationship gone there for a holiday. To be honest, I’ve been having so much trouble finishing anything since I turned in the last book manuscript (which needs more work) that I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to be able to get anything finished ever again, ever. I couldn’t even finish short stories (in fairness, I’ve always found the shorter form to be harder than the longer, which I also am very aware makes little to no sense except in my warped brain); despite having made some amazing starts and having some amazing ideas. And yet, when I started working on this novella again, BAM! Words started pouring out of me, and even though I had no plan for the story (I knew the end, that was it) it just kept going, new scenes and twists and turns coming to me as I wrote. It’s sloppy, I know, and there needs to be more of a pay-off for a subplot (which I allowed to peter out like a wet firecracker), but I am also certain I can easily repair it with a vigorous edit…after letting it sit for a while and rise like yeast.

But yeah–I wrote close to 20,000 words in just over a week; usually getting anywhere fro three to four thousand done in a sitting–and those sittings were generally around two hours, give or take.

Not fucking bad at all.

I also got the web copy done before I started work on the novella, too, and then with everything done I wanted to get done, I left for the gym. I had a lovely workout–and while I was there, it rained pretty hard for a bit, but was it was all over by the time I finished. I walked home a different way than I usually do, wanting to document my neighborhood some more on Instagram, and thinking, I should take a picture of the Norwegian Seaman’s Church on Prytania, since it was a pivotal part of the part of one of the Scotty books. But as I aimed my camera (well, the phone) at it, I realized all the signs marking it as the Norwegian Seaman’s Church were gone, and it looked…well, renovated. This bothered me a little–the Norwegian Seaman’s Church had been there for 112 years! But while it sort of IS a gentrification issue, it’s not one as bad as I might have feared; turns out in 2018 the Norwegian government stopped funding this churches around the world, and without a funding source, they had to close the church and sell the property. The new owners are turning it into an accessible wellness center–I didn’t know there was a pool!–and I am curious to see how that’s going to work out. I wouldn’t mind doing some yoga–my flexibility as I am now aged has become a concern, and as we all know, flexibility is one of the three measures of fitness (and the one everyone ignores).

So many changes to the city, seriously. It’s part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from the city for so long–between my job and everything else going on–not the least of which is my office moving from Frenchmen Street to Elysian Fields and Claiborne–I don’t really feel like I know the city as well as I used to. I think–once the weather gets back to something resembling bearable again–I am going to have to take a few trips down to the Quarter to explore and see how things look now. What if the Nelly Deli is gone? YIKES! How can I write another Scotty novel without knowing what’s going on in the Quarter?

I can’t, that’s how!

And I really cannot imagine moving Scotty and the boys out of the Quarter. But…everything changes, doesn’t it?

I slept fairly well last night, inevitably having to get up groggily a few times because I always drink a lot of water on gym days. I am a bit groggy this morning–which the cappuccinos are helping with–and am actually looking forward to seeing what I can get done today. We started watching Lisey’s Story on Apple Plus last night., and are pretty absorbed into it. I don’t really remember much of the book, to be honest–I enjoyed reading it, as I always do with Stephen King novels (the only ones I didn’t like were The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher)–but I don’t remember much other than her dead husband was a writer, there’s a psychotic fan, and a different world her husband was somehow able to slip away into from time to time–and he’s left clues behind for her to somehow slip into that world looking for something. I don’t remember her having sisters in the book–although Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Allen are killing it in the adaptation–and I am actually kind of glad I don’t remember the book well, to be honest; it makes enjoying the series that much easier. I do remember, reading the book, that King does a great job when he centers women in his books–Delores Claiborne was also exceptional–and it’s a great part for Julianne Moore, who is one of our finest actresses.

It’s also very cool that television productions of high quality are there so terrific actresses can continue to do great work once they’ve reached that age where film roles become sparse because they’re considered too old; sexism is still rampant in the film world, despite #metoo and #timesup, alas; while sexual harassment and the casting couch were addressed (though probably still a reality) the sexism and ageism (which only applies to women) has not…

And now to make a to-do list for the week. I am hoping to get caught up on my emails and maybe finish “The Sound of Snow Falling” this week; perhaps do some edits on another story, and revise the first chapter of Chlorine. Again, very ambitious plans, but definitely do-able….as long as I continue to get sleep every night and nothing untoward drops into my lap. Have a great Monday, Constant Reader!

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Who Do You Think You Are

Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.

And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?

But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.

And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.

Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.

But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.

I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.

It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.

We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.

We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.

After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.

And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.

I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.

And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

The Winner Takes It All

All is calm outside my windows this morning. Claudette’s eye has passed–to the east of my neighborhood, leaving us on the dry side–and while there are reports of heavy rainfall and flooding on the north shore and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we remained here pretty unscathed. The flash flood warning for New Orleans has been cancelled, but we remain under a tropical storm warning, with the possibilities of high winds and heavy rainfall still there. Inevitably, it’s always a relief when we are merely struck a glancing blow, but there’s something untoward, for me at least, about being grateful somewhere else got hit instead. But that’s the nature of hurricane season–wishing to be spared means wishing disaster on someone, somewhere, else.

I didn’t get much writing done yesterday after all; perhaps about two or three hundred words on “Festival of the Redeemer”–after I finished my work yesterday I was feeling tired again, both mentally and physically, and was actually rather pleased with that minuscule output, honestly. I slept extremely deeply and well last night–the occasional odd dream was there, but this morning I don’t really remember much of them other than some weird communal living situation Paul and I found ourself in, trying to insist on our privacy as others came in and out of our living space while at the same time allowing their cats access to it, thereby traumatizing poor Scooter. This led me to wake up around six in the morning–I always seem to wake up around that time, thanks to my three-days-per week early mornings–but had no problems whatsoever falling back asleep again for another two hours, which was lovely. Today I intend to make more headway on the Lost Apartment and perhaps make a final push to get this novella’s first draft completed and out of the way; I’d also like to make another strong push to get my story “The Sound of Snow Falling” completed, but I’m not entirely certain what the possibilities of managing both, while getting that web copy written, are.

I also need to get my inbox cleared at some point this weekend as well.

Work, work, work. And perhaps make some time to read; we’ll see how that goes.

Last night I also made a second attempt at making a dirty vodka martini, and was much more successful this time around. I took a co-worker’s advice (she also bartends) and simply swished the dry vermouth around in the glass before dumping it; adding the vodka, shaken with ice and then the olives and juice. I can certainly see why excellent vodka is called for; since the drink is almost entirely vodka (it’s really just a big chilled vodka shot, with garnishes), and I had found an old bottle of Rain, leftover from the days of the Iris parties, and I was quite pleased with how it turned out. I had one in honor of Season 4 of Elité dropping on Netflix, and we binged six episodes last night. There are only two left, and I have to give the show props–they lost nearly half the cast, so had to introduce new characters as well as terminate relationships between characters who remained and those who left; and it would be incredibly easy to simply make the new characters carbons of the old. They didn’t do this, and while these new characters are mostly unlikable, the old characters had three seasons, for the most part, to make us care about them. There is a crime–the show is following the former pattern of the previous seasons–flashing back between the present and the past to show the build up to the crime; but as Paul said, “some of these relationships feel a bit forced.” He’s not wrong–but as I said, this is the most new characters they’ve ever had to add into a season before, and weaving them into what is basically a reboot season isn’t as easy as adding in new characters, scattered amongst the established cast, was in previous seasons. I am enjoying it, and it’s still everything I loved about the previous seasons–sexy, lots of queer representation, high production values, interesting twists and turns; but sadly, characters like Lucrezia and Carla (played brilliantly by Danna Paola and Ester Exposito) are incredibly hard to replace. But, all things considered, they are doing a great job with season four.

I feel, of all things, oddly settled this morning, and calm–like it is outside. I’ve been feeling off-balance for quite some time now; something I hadn’t really noticed until this morning, since I seem to have stopped rocking back-and-forth for now and feel rested. (I think rested is truly the key word in that sentence; I am not feeling tired this morning–physically or emotionally or intellectually–which is quite a marvelous feeling, frankly. I have things to do, as is always the case, but I also feel no stress about any of them; today I feel like I can conquer the world, which is a pleasant feeling and one I’ve not had in quite some time. But really, it’s lovely to be in a good place. I am writing an being very productive at it; I’ve sorted out some issues in my head that have not been easy to get through; and while this year has been a bit tough–writing two books at the beginning; dealing with burnout and some other issues I won’t bore you with–I feel pretty good right now. That may vary– I could wake up tomorrow feeling like something the cat dragged in–but for now, I am doing great and that’s all that really matters right now.

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

Guilty

So it looks like we’re going to take a direct hit from Claudette tonight–with conditions deteriorating throughout the day with the worst of it passing through overnight and into tomorrow morning. Yay. I have to run out to Metairie this morning to get my new glasses at some point, and I had hoped to make it to the gym after my work day; we’ll see how that goes. Much as I hate to not go and skip yet again, if we are having torrential rains and street flooding, I’ll have to give myself a break and not beat myself up over not making it today.

I also managed to write last night. When I opened up the document for “Festival of the Redeemer” last night, it was at around 10, 670 words; when I finished working on it and saved it last night it was at well over fourteen thousand. Yay! The original plan was for it to clock in at around twenty thousand; if I am going to do a book of novellas, four at twenty thousand would be a total of eighty thousand, and I always think a book should be between seventy-five and a hundred thousand words, give or take. My last Scotty was nearly a hundred thousand; my next two are certainly over ninety, and I think that’s always going to be my goal from now on; to try to hit that sweet spot between eighty and a hundred thousand words. I also, more importantly, kind of like seeing how the story develops as I write it; I really had no plan other than some vague, amorphous thing like troubled gay couple comes to Venice and something dark happens, so it’s kind of free form writing that I generally shy away from, out of a sense of “don’t waste time or energy on things you’ll eventually have to cut from the story and not use”–especially since I have always managed to use that deleted material in something else at some point. But I am really enjoying writing this, which is really the big news, and once again I am not really paying attention to how much I’ve written as I am writing–the hole in the page (thank you, Stephen King!) opens and I fall into it and before I know it, I’ve written an almost obscene amount, which is always absolutely delightful.

I was tired yesterday, which is never a good thing–partly because of the weird sleep of the night before; I slept extremely well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing since I have to go to Metairie. It’s also only about eighty degrees outside, which is also lovely (and indicative of a tropical disturbance on its way). The power outage the other night also messed up the calibration of our air conditioning system, meaning there’s again about a fifteen degree difference between the upstairs and the downstairs–the living room/kitchen feels like a freezer, and the upstairs beach weather–but it is slowly but surely beginning to even out; the difference this morning isn’t as significant. But it was so cold downstairs–and yes, I did turn the setting to higher, to no avail–I was literally wearing a T-shirt under my sweats and a stocking cap to keep my head warm.

I think I may allow myself to take the day off from writing the novella today; I have a lot to get done today–not the least of which is the drive out to Metairie–and I want to get to the gym, weather permitting; I also have some website writing to get done, which I will probably tackle tomorrow morning, if we have power–always an issue–so I need to be sure I have all laptops powered up as well as my phone, so I can turn it into a hotspot to email the copy in when it’s done if we don’t have power. It’s always so hit or miss, really, with these kinds of storms. But it’s also nice to know that even if we don’t have power, I can probably get it all done and turned in anyway–and I can even write on the novella as long as I have a laptop that has power, and I am not going to have to use both to write the copy, so there’s that. The novella really went in a stranger direction than I expected it to yesterday, but it’s happening organically, so I am going to see where this developing plot takes me.

And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and finish waking up before I get going with the rest of my ay. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

Every Woman in the World

Our power went out for nearly two hours last night–we were watching The Housewife and the Hustler, the damning ABC News documentary focusing on the crimes of celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi and his spouse, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Erica Girardi (whose alter-ego is entertainer Erika Jayne, who has had some hits on the dance charts)–and while it was out, I fell asleep in my chair and when it came back on, I was too drowsy and tired to write last night. I had done about two or three hundred words before we started watching the documentary, and was really looking forward to making some more progress on the novella last night. Alas, it was not to be–and I have yet to check the progress of the tropical depression in the Bay of Campeche, which is aiming directly for us and would arrive at some point over the weekend. (note to self: fill car’s gas tank TODAY)

UPDATE: I just checked. Strong possibility it will form into Hurricane Claudette, but the primary threat appears to be heavy rainfall over the weekend as it comes ashore. Sort of relief, not really. What it does mean is errands must be run and completed before the weekend; we could lose power at some point; and probably at least being housebound with the car at risk of being flooded (and ruined) if the street floods.

Oh, well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

I had weird restless dreams last night–nightmares, actually–so I am not as well rested as I could be this morning. I also made it to the gym last night, so my muscles are a bit achy and tired this morning. But I am not sorry I went to the gym–and believe me, I had to make myself go–but I could do without the groggy tiredness this morning. I have a lot to get done today and very little desire to do any of it; but am also up way earlier than I usually am on a Thursday so hopefully that will translate into a lovely night’s sleep tonight.

I can dream, at any rate.

Any way, as I walked home last night from the gym, sweating sweating sweating, I continued the Instagram experiment, which is actually going fairly well. I did worry about it a bit last night–thinking to myself you don’t want to get addicted to likes and so forth, and allow your obsessive personality to take over here–but at the same time, if I can subversively slip some promo in, why not? I also love taking pictures–I have literally tens of thousands of picture files saved in various digital storage locations, and since I am never going to ever be a professional photographer, why not share the with the world? At least the good ones? And I do live in a very picturesque area in an incredibly beautiful city. Last night, for example, I took a picture of a house that I used in The Orion Mask; the house in New Orleans my main character, Heath, inherited from his mother the painter–who died from a gunshot wound when he was a toddler; the story being it was self-inflicted–and the actual house was merely a starting place. I loved this house in my neighborhood; still do, it’s one of my favorite houses in the city, actually, but I changed and made alterations to it. I needed the gallery to run all the way around the house, on each side, rather than just in the front (like the original’s); and I have no idea what the house’s floor plan was. In the book I made the entire downstairs one big room, with the amazing ten foot windows and shutters on each side; so that when the shutters were all opened the downstairs would be flooded with light–and her studio was a corner of that room, figuring a painter would want lots of light and lots of windows for views and inspiration from the gorgeous colors of the vegetation in the city.

New Orleans really is a breathtakingly beautiful city.

It occurred to me though, as I was posting the picture of Heath’s inheritance, that I don’t ever really write about working class or poor people, at least in my books (and of course, now that I’ve written that, Heath was from a middle-class background and worked for an airline; the hero of Dark Tide was definitely working class/poor, and the main character in Timothy wasn’t exactly rolling in money either–before marrying the master of Spindrift, at any rate. Likewise, Tony in Sara wasn’t even middle class, either. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be so rough on myself about issues of class) and I can’t help but think I should do that some more. I know that if I ever write Where the Boys Die (and I will; it’s really just a matter of time and when I will get to it; MUST FOCUS ON WRITING) it’s going to be set in a white-flight suburb and focus on families at various levels of the class system in this country; as would You’re No Good, should I ever get to that one as well.

So many ideas to write. Honest to God, I will never have the time to write them all, especially since my work ethic isn’t what it used to be–which is mainly from not having the energy I used to, in all honesty. I keep hoping that going to the gym regularly (if and when I ever get to the point where I have developed a routine that I can stick to) that there will be an increase in stamina and energy for me as I get back into better physical condition. I can dream, I guess.

All right, it’s nearly time for me to head back into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Thursday, okay?

Just the Two of Us

So, “Festival of the Redeemer” is now over 10,000 words. Yup, the hole in the page opened and I fell into it (to paraphrase Stephen King’s Paul Sheldon in Misery) and the next thing I knew I’d written over four thousand words. SURPRISE! I certainly was. It’s been a really long time since the days when I used to be able to write over three thousand words at a time; I’d actually begun to think I couldn’t do it anymore, or was incapable. How lovely to know that it is still possible. The question, however, does remain–was that a fluke, or is it a return to my enormous productivity capabilities?

Also, writing about Venice and a deteriorating relationship that is going to turn very dark is a lot of fun, I have to say. Venice is considered, after all, one of the world’s most romantic cities–and setting this kind of story there is so much fun. It’s also very fun to not care how likable the main character is.

And I am enjoying writing, which is really the best part. I am not worrying about how long it is, or whether it needs to be edited down or if I have left parts out or if I am just blurting out too much or if I am just vomiting garbage up on the page. The most important thing here is that I am having a great time writing this, and I am having a great time writing, just in general. Maybe my batteries have been recharged or something, but I feel like I bursting with ideas and simply–as always–don’t have the time to write everything that I want to write. I need to take some time to sit down and sketch out what I am going to do for the next Scotty, and once I get this novella finished I am going back to Chlorine.

Plus…it’s really fun to revisit Venice. I have always been sorry we weren’t able to spend more than twenty-four hours there; I loved it there. I loved Italy and hope to return someday; Florence and Tuscany….sigh, Italy. I also reread what I have already written–all 10,167 words of it last night, and for a first draft, it’s not bad. Sure, there’s some clean-up and tightening necessary, but it’s really going the way I want it to go and the tone is right and the character’s voice is perfect…I am actually pleased with something I am writing!

*waits for earthquake or lightning strike*

Last night I stayed up past my bedtime (yay for being old and having to get up early!) to do a mystery panel for the San Francisco Public Library, moderated by Michael Nava (one of my heroes) and including Cheryl Head, Dharma Kelleher, and PJ Vernon–writers whom you should all be reading–and it was really fun and interesting. I love talking about writing and books with fellow queer writers, and I always learn something from listening to other writers. It’s always nerve-wracking for me–that social anxiety thing–but after my contribution to a technical glitch (I really cannot be trusted with computers or technology), I was able to relax somewhat. It was also fun because yesterday was the launch day for PJ’s second book, which was also his first book to center queer characters. (My copy of Bath Haus arrived yesterday; great cover and great opening–I peaked–and I think I am going to bump it up on my TBR list to follow Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow. But I also somehow managed to have a terrific night’s sleep–deep and wonderfully restful, AND NO DREAMS (that I can remember, at any rate), so this morning I am rested and awake an ready to go. It’s also my last day of the week to go into the office, so I don’t have to get up quite so early tomorrow–and all of our shows’ next seasons are dropping, it seems, this month and next (Elite season 4 drops on Netflix on Friday night, HUZZAH!).

I am also looking forward to the gym tonight after work; the book I requested from the library (Sarah Schulman’s ACT UP in New York history, Let the Record Show) is in; and while there is the chance of a tropical depression coming through New Orleans this weekend, I am looking forward to just being able to chill out, relax, clean, and get some writing/reading/working out accomplished.

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