Tell Me Why

Monday on a vacation week isn’t nearly as brutal or as unpleasant as it is on a normal work week. Ordinarily I am up and out of bed at six in the morning every Monday; today I was able to be a slug-a-bed until around eight, which is when I generally begin the waking process when I do not have to go into the office. One week from today when I am getting up at six again I shall look back on the glory of this halcyon morning and will, as I shut off my alarm and blearily open my eyes, undoubtedly will wish I were still on vacation.

The Saints won yesterday–Taysom Hill played really well for his first start and first full game as quarterback—which was quite delightful. It was more delightful that they were playing the Falcons. The Saints have now won like seven straight games, which is great, but many of them were squeakers, so while I think it’s great, I’m not so gung-ho about the play-offs as one might expect. But 8-2 is much better than I was expecting for them at this point in the season, so I am going to happily take it.

I did manage to reread the first ten chapters of Bury Me In Shadows yesterday; it was necessary because it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it I couldn’t remember where I was at or what was going on. I found a lot of errors (and even more egregious examples of terrible writing), and I am going to spend some time today on fixing those. I also did an outline as I went, which I am going to continue to update as I work my way through the book, and I am feeling a lot more confident about making that due date than I was just yesterday. I just need to focus and keep writing and keep fixing. I need to thoroughly immerse myself in the book, and I think I can do that this week. (As I started making the outline and listing the character names at the beginning, I literally could not remember the main character’s name. That’s how long it has been since I’ve even looked at this; which is rather disgraceful, but also telling about my mental state, my brain, and my memory.)

I also managed to work on “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday morning before diving back into the book. I have no idea where this story is going or what’s going to be about, but it’s in my head and it’s worrying me, like how you always worry a loose tooth with your tongue. I keep thinking about the story, even when I’m not writing it. It’s shaping up to be vastly different than anything I’ve ever done before, and while I am not entirely sure it will be publishable anywhere–the problem with short stories: at some point, you have to think about reshaping them to fit markets, or they sit dormant in your files until the proper submission call rolls around. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how self-destructive my creativity can be? I mean, I have two submissions calls I want to write a short story for, the timelines and deadlines for both are tight, so what do I write? A story that doesn’t fit either call.

We watched the new episodes of both The Undoing and Murder on Middle Beach last night, and another episode of Le Manti. All three are quite good, and we’re enjoying them tremendously. There’s only one more episode left of The Undoing, in which we will find the answers; I don’t see how they could stretch this into a second season, but I also thought the same with Big Little Lies, and they did a second season of that, so anything is possible these days–which is kind of cool but at the same time, sad.

I have a lot of work and other things to get done today. My back is still aching–not sure what it is, quite frankly, and am getting rather tired of it–but I am also going to the gym later this morning and hopefully that won’t affect it too negatively. It’s very weird; I should probably get it looked at, but if it’s just muscle strain I’d feel like an idiot, and rightly so. So at some point today I need to use my back massage roller thingee, and while it will inevitably tighten back up later, I should probably start thinking about stretching it/using the massage roller every day.

And on that note, the spice isn’t going to mine itself. Have a lovely Monday before the holidays, Constant Reader.

Big Star

Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.

LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).

I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.

I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).

My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.

And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?

A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.

We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.

Today Was a Fairytale

It is Saturday and I am also on vacation for a week. Huzzah!

I have a lot to do, of course, as always, and of course, LSU is playing Arkansas today at eleven–how far the mighty have fallen, to be playing a Western division conference game at eleven in the morning on the SEC Network–so I will undoubtedly watch the game while reading, making notes on things I am working on, and trying to get caught up while not getting terribly saddened by the game and how it turns out.

But of course, as always, the intent behind this vacation is to get caught up on everything, which is no easy chore, believe you me. I need to whip the book into shape and get it rolling again; I need to finish a short story that has to be submitted by January 15th; the Lost Apartment is a disgusting pigsty that desperately needs to be deep-cleaned; and I’d love to be able to finish reading The Hot Rock as well as some other short stories. I also have a goal to relax and get rested, which will also be lovely.

I am sort of looking at the vacation as a kind of reboot, quite frankly; a time to snap out of the writing malaise I’ve been experiencing for the last few months and get back into my writing again. Getting caught up would be absolutely lovely, but as I always tend to be behind on everything…it doesn’t help that Louisiana and New Orleans history is so colorful and fascinating that I will often go down a major wormhole triggered by something I come across looking for something else–I spent several days in the wormhole created by having my curiosity aroused by the Mississippi River forts, for example, and came away from it with no story ideas other than an amorphous Sherlock Holmes story and perhaps something more recent, but again, amorphous and not much else. I spent a couple of days immersed in Cajun and Louisiana folklore, looking for something I could use for the Christmas horror story, only to come up relatively empty-handed. I have the opening for the story, still don’t know what the rest of the plot is, and am not convinced I chose the correct Cajun folk story/monster to use–which is part of the reason I decided to give up on trying to get the story finished by December 1st.

I also have a sink full of dishes and papers and files and books stacked everywhere. Not good, not good at all.

Yesterday Rex–the main krewe that still parades on Fat Tuesday, and whose “king” (Rex) is traditionally considered the King of Carnival, cancelled their ball and also announced that, with no ball and no parade this season, they will not be naming a King and Queen this year. This came as a surprise to me–let’s face it, few krewes are as conservative politically as either Rex or Comus (who chose not to parade once the city passed an ordnance not allowing krewes to discriminate in their memberships) so having Rex cancel its festivities is indicative of the seriousness of the pandemic, really. I know a lot of New Orleanian traditionalists were still holding out hope that parade season would happen, but with Rex making this stand you can be pretty certain that the party’s over for 2021. While this is obviously sad–who isn’t sad that Carnival isn’t going to happen?–it also means that 2022 Carnival will be epic and balls-to-the-wall; I also hate that the last Carnival was the cursed Carnival of 2020. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a great article about the thirteen times parades were cancelled over the 150 years or so we’ve been having Carnival here in New Orleans; naturally, now I am thinking about writing something during a cancelled Carnival of the past.

It’s weird when norms vanish, isn’t it? I would have never dreamed Carnival would ever be cancelled, and yet, here we are.

But will people still turn out in costume on Fat Tuesday? It’s still a holiday, after all, and I can, sadly, see people turning out to drink all day and celebrate.

I meant to read some short stories yesterday, even got started on reading one or two, but after I got home from the gym I wasn’t in the mood and so none of them took with me; I hope to do better with that today. I did make it to the gym last evening, and it was lovely. There’s still some tightness and muscle soreness in my back, but it’s not nearly as bad it was originally, and going to the gym actually made it seem better, to be honest. We watched an episode of The Mandalorian last night–this week’s not being one of the stronger episodes, although the story of the Child progressed a little bit (note to producers: more Giancarlo Esposito, please) and then I fell into a wormhole of Ten Minute History videos on Youtube before retiring for the evening. I do feel very well rested this morning, and not especially groggy; which should bode fairly well for the rest of my day. The lovely thing about this abbreviated and bizarre football season is I am not vested in it other than in watching LSU play; and with the game on early today I should be able to get plenty of things done today (in theory, at least); but seriously, if nothing else, I should be able to make progress on my reading.

And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, alas, so it’s time to mine spice. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

How You Get The Girl

Friday morning and all is right in my world–at least so far so good, one would think.

The weather has been truly spectacular here these past few weeks–despite dipping into the “almost too cold for Gregalicious” category after the sun goes down–and I’ve been really enjoying it. LSU is playing tomorrow–although I don’t have very high hopes for the game, since the program is now in turmoil, not only from having a surprisingly bad season but from allegations of sexual assault from players and ensuing cover-ups, which is despicable, frankly–and of course the Drew Brees injury has things looking rather bleak for the Saints as well. Ah, 2020 football season–so much worse than I’d ever thought it could be for fans in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion yesterday that I am not going to try to get my story finished for that “monsters of Christmas” anthology. Much as it would be fun to be in the book if accepted, while the pay would certainly be lovely and welcomed, and I also loved the idea of trying to get a story written and publishable (maybe) in such a short period of time–despite all of those things, I really shouldn’t take time away from either the book or the other story already in progress that is developing nicely. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do, and can I really spare the necessary time to get it done? Probably not, so while I am not crossing it off my to-do list entirely, I am not going to pressure or push myself to get it done.

My back is still sore this morning–but sitting in my easy chair with the heating pad while making condom packs certainly helped dramatically. I’m still not entirely sure what I did at the gym to cause this soreness, and the last time I went to the gym I didn’t feel it getting worse as I went through my workout, so who the hell knows? More heating pad today, and hopefully when I go to the gym later it’ll be okay.

Yesterday I watched two films while making condom packs, and while both fit squarely into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the other also crossed over, theoretically, into the Halloween Horror Film Festival–or would have, had it not been so incredibly terrible.

The first was Deliverance, which was an enormous hit on its first release, made Burt Reynolds a bonafide movie star, and has added so much to the common vernacular that people probably quote it without knowing the source material. While I knew the whole “squeal like a pig” thing came from Deliverance, I did NOT know “he’s sure got a pretty mouth” also came from the film. My parents took my sister and I to see it at the drive-in (and in retrospect, what in the name of God were they thinking? That movie is definitely inappropriate for junior high school students), and while I do not recall the other movie that played with it (which might have explained the choice better), I was pleasantly surprised in some ways by Deliverance. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot in the back woods/mountains of Georgia–breathtakingly beautiful. James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his only novel–he was primarily known as a poet, and was also an alcoholic–and I’ve tried several times to read the book; I have a copy on my shelves somewhere right now. The film definitely fits in that paranoid 1970’s sub-genre of city people discovering how truly terrifying the country can be, despite the entire American mythology of the country and rural communities being the real America (which still rears its ugly head from time to time today). I could write an entire essay debunking that myth, frankly, as I am rather surprised no one has ever written (doesn’t mean someone hasn’t) an essay or a treatise about this entire sub-genre of film and fiction novels.

Deliverance is also an interesting exploration of 1970’s masculinity; the concept of masculinity, and what is traditionally masculine, was already starting to change and shift around the time the book was written and the film made; in its four characters we see the four masculine archetypes of the time, and how they compare/contrast with each other. The basic premise of the story–a river is being dammed to create a lake, and the dam will provide hydroelectric power for Atlanta, while the lake will flood towns and force communities to relocate away from land held in their families for generations, so these four men decide to canoe down the river one last time in a kind of “back to nature” type weekend thing that was becoming more and more popular with city-dwelling men whose city lives were beginning to make them think they were soft. Burt Reynolds, with his rubber zip up sleeveless vest, with the zipper strategically unzipped enough to show off the thick black pelt of hair on his chest, stood in for the masculine ideal; a strong man who, despite living in the city, only truly comes alive when pitting himself against nature in a game of survival; he is also the only member of the party who understands the dangers of the wilderness–the other three men in the party all think of it as a fun lark. He keeps referring to the Ned Beatty character as Chubby–he’s out of shape and not as fit; out of his element in the wilderness and often complaining and unable to meet the physical demands of the trip. Jon Voight, still at the height of his blonde youthful beauty, is prettily masculine–overshadowed by Reynolds’ machismo, but able to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. The fourth member of the trip–played by Ronny Cox–is yet another soft city type, definitely out of his element; while not seen as useless as the Ned Beatty type, also not as useful in a crisis as he could have been. The film’s bottom line is ultimately about survival, and who will survive when a fun weekend goes wrong. Deliverance also plays into a lot of the stereotypes about poor rural Southern white people–in fact, I would go so far as to say that Deliverance is responsible for cementing a lot of those stereotypes into the public consciousness. It’s a very good, if slightly bizarre, film; it certainly has to be one of the first films to depict male-on-male rape (and that’s one of the flaws in the film; why on earth did that happen? Why did the two rednecks attack them? Maybe it makes more sense in the book), and one of the reasons I always wanted to read the book was to see if there was more information, more explanation, to make the story work better. But I never have been able to get past the first chapter–Dickey was also one of those hard-drinking macho bullshit Hemingway-type writers, oozing with toxic masculinity, and that really comes through in the first chapter of the book, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten without putting it aside with a wince. But there’s an interesting essay to be written about masculinity and how it is portrayed in the film; reading the book and including it, with a comparison/contrast, could be enlightening.

The second half of my double header was Damien: Omen II, which is now available on Amazon Prime–but wasn’t back when I rewatched The Omen and The Final Conflict, the third part of the trilogy. Damien is just a bad movie, from beginning to end; it opens shortly after the conclusion of the first film, and the archaeologist in the Holy Land, Bugenhagen, telling a friend that Damien Thorn is the anti-Christ, proving it by showing him a newly excavated wall where a medieval monk who was visited by the devil and went mad, painted the images the devil showed him; amongst those images are the anti-Christ at numerous stages of his life–and he looks like Damien Thorn. Bugenhagen also has the ritual daggers that must be used to kill Damien…which is interesting, since he gave them to the Gregory Peck character in the first film, who was trying to use them at the end when he was killed; how did the old man get the daggers back? Was there more than one set? The rest of the movie is about Damien slowly learning who he is, while people continue to die around him, including his cousin/best friend. Damien was taken in by his father’s brother and his second wife, played by William Holden and Lee Grant (and just like in the first film, they are way too old to have thirteen year old sons), and the movie makes no sense, isn’t scary in anyway, and just really comes across as a pale imitation of the first, which wasn’t very good to begin with.

I also read a short story last night, from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, and while I did enjoy reading the story, “Einstein’s Sabbath,” by David Levien, in which a Princeton student after the second world war, one who was on the ship that sent the planes with the atomic bombs to Japan, comes to Professor Einstein’s home to blame him for the use of the bombs, and their creation. It’s an interesting story, but like the Jane Hamilton, not really a crime story per se; which is the only real problem I had with it.

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

Fifteen

Wednesday, and to quote Bon Jovi, “we’re halfway there, Oh! Oh! Livin’ on a prayer!”

Yesterday the city made it official: there will be no Mardi Gras parades in Orleans Parish in 2021. It’s more than a little bit shocking, to be honest; I seriously doubted that the City would actually pull the trigger on this. It’s going to be an enormous economic blow to the city, obviously, but it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how this will play out in the long run, obviously, but I can’t help but feel bad for all the public service businesses and their employees who depend so heavily on Carnival for their income.

I did come up with an idea for the Christmas horror anthology–the title is “To Sacrifice A Pawn” (which I really really like), and the Louisiana monster I am using is a “grunch”–it was difficult not to go with the Cajun Fairy (the fee follay) or the unbaptized babies (the letiche)–but I can always use those at another time. But I am using Redemption Parish–my weird, self-created “haunted” parish that first appeared in either Murder in the Arts District or The Orion Mask–simply because I think it’s a great name for a Louisiana parish bedeviled by supernatural things. (One of the major drawbacks of being “prolific” is trying to remember things that you’ve written and published already; Christ on the cross, it’s not easy) And let’s face it, how much do I love the entire concept of Redemption Parish? I mean, there are parishes named Assumption and Ascension–although no Annunciation, which is a street in New Orleans, and a great name for a parish.

We finished watching the first season of Mr. Mercedes last night, and much as I wanted them to, they really didn’t stick the landing. I’m not sure why they made the choice to de-emphasize the characters of Jerome and his family, or reduced Holly to such a tiny role, but I think it was a mistake. I can also understand the change in what the crazed psychopath Brady’s final target for the climax was–it would be much too expensive and much too hard to film an attempted bombing at a boy band concert filled with teenagers–but it really did, somehow, shift the dynamic and make the climactic finale seem a little less urgent in some ways. The second season requires paying to join Peacock to watch, and as I’ve discussed numerous times already, I am not really up for paying for still another streaming service.

So, today is my last day in the office for a while. I work at home this week on Thursday and Friday, and then I am on holiday vacation next week, starting with this Saturday. I have a lot planned for this week off; we shall see if I achieve any of it. I need to finish two short stories, dive back into the book and get into a groove of writing it so I can get it turned in on time, an of course, the apartment itself is a pigsty. The LSU game this weekend hasn’t yet been either cancelled or postponed, but it doesn’t look very good for them regardless. Arkansas is surging this year (and really, good for them; their program has really slid into the basement over the end of this past decade, and while I am not a fan, you do hate to see it) and they really get up to beat LSU; not sure why they hate us so much, but there it is, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if our four year winning streak against them comes to an end this year.

And with all the short story stuff that’s been going on this year, I was thinking about my next story collection, and started trying to get a table of contents together for the next one. I’d always intended the next one to be called Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way “Once a Tiger” will work as a short story (moving it into the novella camp) and so I need a new title; I am torn between using This Town and Other Stories or Neighborhood Alert and Other Stories; but then who knows? I may come up with yet another story in the meantime whose title is better for a collection. The other thing is I keep forgetting stories I’ve written and published, which is very strange–as I was pulling it all together yesterday evening, I know I forgot “Moist Money”, and who knows what else I’ve forgotten in the meantime?

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

I’d Lie

And here comes Tuesday, sliding into your week like a runner stealing home base.

Yesterday was kind of nice; we had a mellow day at the clinic, and I wasn’t terribly tired; I am getting used to getting up early, which really isn’t an issue as long as I remember to go to bed at a decent hour every evening. I never really thought this 9 to 5ish existence would ever work for me, but here I am, enjoying getting home from work with most of my evening ahead of me to read, write, hang out with Paul and Scooter, and watch some television. I was bad about reading this weekend–which should not be blamed on what I am reading (Westlake’s The Hot Rock) but rather my own scatterbrain and inability to focus. The weekend was…well, it was a weekend, of course, and I did manage to get some cleaning and organizing done. I took next week off, hoping that I’d be able to go home to see the family for the holiday but that isn’t going to be happening, so instead I will be home in the Lost Apartment, and what a great opportunity this will be for me to get caught up on things–cleaning, filing, writing, reading– as long as I don’t fall into the always happens trap of I have nine days off total, I can goof off today, can’t I?

That’s how it always starts, you know.

But….there’s a call for submissions (very short notice) that I would like to write a story for–a “monsters wreck Christmas” themed one–and while ironically that is how “The Snow Globe” originally got started (a “war on Christmas” anthology), I did have more time to compose that story. I really do like this idea of monsters wrecking Christmas. I have two deeply sentimental Christmas stories in my archive that I might be able to adapt–although rereading them will undoubtedly be painful; these original first drafts were written in 1996–but I also have another fragment that could easily be turned into something fitting this theme: “The Pestilence Maiden.” That could actually be kind of fun. But fifteen days? That’s a very short period of time for me to brainstorm and come up with something and write it, polish it, turn it in….ah, what the hell. I’ll go forward with it; the worst thing they can do is reject it, and I can always retool/rework/revise it and sell it somewhere else.

It’s what writers do.

Plus, it puts pressure on me to get things done. And apparently, pressure is something I desperately need else nothing will ever get done.

And seriously–a quick Internet search of monsters, legends and folklore of Louisiana certainly brings up a plethora of possibilities…clearly, my collection of horror stories shouldn’t be Monsters of New Orleans but Monsters of Louisiana.

You really gotta love Louisiana folklore. Seriously. I went into a definite Internet wormhole of Louisiana folklore, tradition, and terrifying supernatural creatures last evening, even dragged out my copy of Gumbo Ya-Ya..there was nothing in it about the Fee Folay (in French, le feu follet), aka the Cajun Fairy, which lures unsuspecting Cajuns to their deaths in the swamps, but it does have some information on letiche–which is either the ghost of an unbaptized child or a child taken and raised by alligators. Rather than helping me narrow my thoughts down to a single story, I now have a veritable plethora of Louisiana horrors to choose from; alas, I have already done the most famous, the rougarou, in a story (aptly titled “Rougarou”). But yeah, all this made Monsters of Louisiana look like a definite possibility; I may even be able to do both Monsters of New Orleans and Monsters of Louisiana as separate volumes.

I’ve actually never read Gumbo Ya-Ya–it was recommended to me years ago as an essential piece of Louisiana reading, so I got a copy. I think it was shortly thereafter that I found out, or realized, that any histories or Louisiana subjects covered by any of the three authors of the book (Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant, and Edward Dreyer) was at best suspect and at worst untrue; the authors were certainly ‘gentlemen of their time’ (aka deeply racist, not only in their thinking but in their writings); but it’s a nice place to start looking for information, as is their other works of New Orleans and/or Louisiana history.

I slept very well last night–we watched two episodes of Mr. Mercedes, and have only the first season finale left; Peacock insists that we pay to join if we want to watch the next season, and I really am not sure how I feel about buying another streaming service. Sure, there are things on Peacock I like (and secret: they’ve optioned a series by a friend of mine that I hope actually winds up being filmed and available), but I already am paying for so many other streaming services I don’t see how I can justify paying for another–and Hulu just let me know yesterday they are upping their price ten dollars per month. Of course, I could pay to join, finish the show, and then cancel after a month, which would be way cheaper than buying the series from either Prime or Apple…heavy sigh, I don’t know. Why is the cost of everything increasing but my salary isn’t?

Ah, well, and on that note–it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

The Man

Yesterday was rather lovely, if I do say so myself.

I woke relatively early after a wonderful night of sleep, and drank my coffee while primarily doing some chores around the kitchen/office. Once I was sufficiently fortified with coffee, I sat down and edited/revised my story “The Snow Globe,” and Constant Reader, I have to tell you–I feel like an absolute idiot for putting off doing it for so long. There really are few things as satisfying as editing and revising something you’ve written, making the language better, making the story flow better, deepening the characters, and tying up the ending in a more satisfying bow than the one you originally used.

Why do I always forget how much I FUCKING love doing my job? WHY do I always have to force myself to do it?

One of the eternal mysteries of life, I suppose. I always have to force myself to do things I enjoy–like going to the gym and working out, which is what I did as soon as I finished the revision. I really need to put that on a sticky note for my computer: REMEMBER YOU LOVE TO WRITE.

I also spent some time plotting out my novella-in-progress “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which I hoping doesn’t turn into a novel. I like the story a lot; it actually began life as the idea that eventually became “A Streetcar Named Death”–that happens to me sometimes; I get an idea that could go off in two different directions, and they both wind up becoming stories of their own. I like–still do, in fact–the idea of “chance meeting on a streetcar”, which is such a lovely way to open a story, really, but it truly fit with “A Streetcar Named Death” better than with “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and it didn’t take me long before I realized that this particular story was too long to be a short story–I needed to go too in-depth with the main character as it was, and then other characters began talking to me more, insisting on being more important to the story, and I finally realized fuck it, it’s a novella, deal with it and just write it. I have several other novellas in progress at the moment (insanity, well aware)–“Fireflies,” “Once a Tiger,” “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” and “Spellcaster” being the others (I’m probably forgetting one–still on my first Monday morning cappuccino)–and feel fairly confident that at some point I’ll get them all finished and ready to be published.

My Internet is out this morning; fortunately I can turn my phone into a hotspot so functionality this morning isn’t lost completely. Yet it’s still annoying–as I muse every time we lose power, we’ve become so dependent on modern conveniences that even something so minor as a cable/Internet outage is teeth-grindingly annoying.

We watched another episode of both Mr. Mercedes and The Undoing last night–Donald Sutherland is extraordinary–and I’m not really sure where The Undoing is going; it’s an interesting mystery thus far, and I am not really sure if Hugh Grant is a killer or not. But there’s more going on in that family and marriage than we’ve already seen–or that they’ve shown us–and I am hopeful the show isn’t going to blow its premise. It is based on a novel–You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, that I’d never heard of before. I also think I prefer the original title, frankly–and am also thinking that maybe David E. Kelley should adapt one of Alafair Burke’s novels, like The Ex or The Wife.

I slept really well last night–I even woke up before the alarm this morning at six–and am hopeful this will be a nice, productive week. I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, and I also need to work on getting a draft of “A Dirge in the Dark” completed; I have an amorphous idea of where I want to go with the story, and it isn’t going to be easy, frankly–which is part of the reason I’ve been delaying working on everything (nothing is going to be easy) and that’s just stupid, really; part of the reason I kept pushing the revision of “The Snow Globe” to the bottom of the to-do list was because I thought it was going to be difficult to do–and it wasn’t, really. I need to stop doubting my creativity and my ability to do my work–but that’s been something I’ve struggled with pretty much my entire life so far. It would be lovely if at age sixty I finally turned the corner there.

I also made it to the gym for a workout yesterday, which was lovely; I’ve managed three workouts a week for three consecutive weeks now, and if I keep my head down and keep plodding along, I’ll continue feeling better and sleeping better and getting shit done. The Saints also won yesterday–they’ve now won six straight, although they just as easily could have lost any number of those games–and so who knows? Perhaps they are going to turn out to be a contender this year after all.

And on that note, my dear Constant Reader, I am returning to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.

Long Live

Good morning, Sunday!

I did the windows yesterday, and it is literally amazing how I can forget between window cleanings what a difference it makes. It had been so long since I’d done it I need to do them again–it’s never easy getting all that caked on dirt and dust and debris off the glass, even when you do it weekly, as I used to do–but it’s a start.

I woke up early and feeling rested yesterday, which was absolutely lovely–and it was an absolutely lovely day in New Orleans, if a bit warm for mid-November. Did I get as much done as I needed and/or wanted to? Of course not. I did some other cleaning and straightening around the Lost Apartment; made some notes on some projects I am working on, and reread “The Snow Globe” to get a better idea of what I am dealing with on the revision, which I am going to get done today before I go to the gym. I’m also making the week’s to-do list, doing some other chores around the house, and feeling a lot better about things. Yes, I am behind on everything, but a little bit of focus and a little bit of desperation never hurt me, or anything I’ve worked on.

Rereading the story was, actually, something i’d been dreading doing; I always hate to reread something I’ve written, as I always tend to be highly critical and negative, and this story was no exception. I do love the story a lot–it was written to be submitted to a war on Christmas anthology and wasn’t accepted (the anthology never happened, either; long ugly story)–but it definitely needs some work. I originally came up with the story for a Halloween anthology, to be completely honest; there was a call for submissions, I think maybe from the Horror Writers’ Association, for stories with a Halloween theme. I distinctly remember reading the call and then an image popped into my head–me standing on the balcony at the Pub, looking down on Bourbon Street and the front doors of Oz, as a man in a devil costume came out; and he was hot as fuck; perfect body, body paint to make his skin red, and a skimpy red bikini, and thought Satan has a great six-pack, which I then made the opening line of the story. I believe at the time the story was called “All Hallow’s Eve” or something along those lines; but the story never made it past the opening paragraph. When the chance to write a story for the Christmas anthology came along, I remembered that opening and I remembered the joke I made on the Facebook post and thread about Christmas horror stories–I wanted to write about a Satanic snow globe–and immediately saw how to turn my unfinished Halloween story into a Christmas horror story called “The Snow Globe” merely by changing a single letter in the opening line: Santa had a great six-pack.

Voila! And the story began to flow. As I said, it was rejected from the anthology I wrote it for–and in the notes I got from the editors, which was lovely (one rarely gets notes on a rejected story) they basically told me I should have made it more than it was–which I had also thought about doing, but was afraid to–and so naturally, with that confirmation that the initial instincts I’d ignored from lack of confidence were, in fact, correct, I went back to the drawing board and revised it. And clearly, it needed one more revision. I have editorial notes on this story already, which I completely agree with, and I don’t know why–other than utter and sheer laziness–that I have not gone ahead and worked on this story to get it finished and out of the way. That is my goal for this morning–get the damne thing finished and be done with it–and then I can move back on to the book that has been stalled for weeks now.

Last night we watched a few more episodes of Mr. Mercedes, which finally introduced the character of Holly Gibney, who quickly became one of my favorite King characters–which was why I was so delighted she showed up in The Outsider–and so far the character is being played as she was written in the book, which is quite lovely. I think the show has padded/built up some things that I don’t remember from the book–but since I don’t remember them from the book, I am not entirely sure there were changes made. I just know I am deeply enjoying the show–it’s really a shame it hasn’t gotten as much success as it should have. (Maybe it did, I don’t know; but I rarely, if ever, heard anything about the show and there are three seasons…so there wasn’t a lot of social media buzz about it.)

The Saints play this afternoon–I think the game starts around three-ish, if I am not mistaken–and then of course there will be a new episode of The Undoing tonight. That should give me more than enough time to get this story finished, some chores done, and a trip to the gym for a workout. This is my fourth week since we rejoined the gym, and I am eminently proud that I have gone three days a week ever since. I can’t get over how much better I feel physically–the stretching really helps, too–and that correlates with how much better I’ve been sleeping. Who knew that exhaustion would help one sleep? (Sarcasm, don’t @ me)

I also read a few more chapters of The Hot Rock yesterday, which I am enjoying. Westlake’s style in this book is very reminiscent of Rob Byrnes’ brilliant caper novels (Straight Lies, Holy Rollers, Strange Bedfellows)–although since Westlake is the influence here, I should probably say I can see his influence on that unappreciated trilogy; it still kind of amazing to me that I’ve not read more Westlake (or Lawrence Block, for that matter), which is something I am going to need to rectify. (I’ve also never read Ed McBain, but I read some of his Evan Hunter novels.)

As I have often said, my education in crime fiction is a little lacking when it comes to the classics; I’ve not read all of Ross MacDonald or Raymond Chandler, for example, and I’ve also never read a Dick Francis novel either, for that matter. I think I’ve read a Nero Wolfe or two, but not many–although I have thought about using the trope of that series for a book of my own–the brilliant investigative mind who never leaves his/her house so needs a legman, from whose point of view the story is told–and there are any number of other classic crime fiction writers I’ve not cracked a spine on. But with new books I want to read being released all the time and being unable to even keep up with the canon of current writers whose work I love–not to mention all the new-to-me writers I keep discovering–there’s just simply no way I can ever read everything I want to read.

I’ve been doing some more research on Chlorine, recently reading Confidential Confidential, about the scandal rag of the 1950’s, and Montgomery Clift Queer Star, an academic treatise of multiple essays about reading Clift performances and films as queer, which was very interesting. Reading these two books also reminded me of something else that was going on in the time period which I wish to cover–red-baiting and the House Un-American Committee hearings; another period of America not living up to her ideals. It’s probably hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up, or were old enough, to remember the existential threat of the Soviet Union that had Americans seeing Communist spies and Communist infiltration everywhere; without an understanding of the highly paranoid state created by politicians and news outlets, neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars would have most likely happened. That fear of Communism was also used by conservatives to gin up racial hatred as well as systemic discrimination against people of color and queer people–the queers were considered a national security threat because if you were queer and worked for the government in any capacity, you were thus opened up to blackmail by Communist agents. This was an actual thing, and I all too often see that key element left out of writings about the time, both fiction and non-fiction.

It would thus be wrong to leave Red-baiting out of Chlorine, which will mean more research. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, the dryer just clicked off, so I should fold the clothes and get ready to get back to to work on the story. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Babe

Saturday morning and no LSU game today–kind of a relief, really; I imagine watching us play Alabama this season would be kind of painful and awful, to be honest. I am going to go make groceries and pick up the mail later on–and then I am hopefully going to write and work the rest of the day. The Saints are playing tomorrow, so that’ll take up the late part of the afternoon, so I will be going to the gym in the morning and then heading home to write, read, and clean some before the Saints game starts.

Yesterday was nice. I can’t say why yet, but it started off very nicely and continued in that same vein for the rest of the day. It was a gorgeous day, and I took some time off in the early afternoon to go to the gym and go to Garden District Books to get my next journal–the current one isn’t finished yet, but I like to get the next one ahead of time–and it was just stunningly beautiful in New Orleans yesterday, stunningly beautiful; sunny and low 70’s and blue skies everywhere you looked when you looked up. I am still behind on everything–what else is new?–but am hopeful things will start turning around sooner than later. The Lost Apartment is starting to look much better–neater, cleaner, better organized–which is a lovely, absolutely lovely thing, and that is helping me to get better and more organized with everything else, which is also lovely.

It is a beginning, which is a very lovely place to start.

It looks to be another beautiful late fall day here in New Orleans–gorgeous sky and lots. of sunlight; I have my laptop turned to the side and my chair pulled over to the side of my desk, like I had to do yesterday–and while I do have to get the mail and make groceries at some point today, the lack of an LSU game today and the total lack of care about any other games being played today has opened up my entire day for me, which is absolutely lovely. I’m afraid to think that this year has begun to turn around somewhat–the pandemic’s second wave is still rising after all–but hope has returned.

We watched The Mandalorian last night, and yesterday I was kind of amused to see there was a backlash of sorts to last week’s episode, in which The Child was eating the eggs of the Frog Lady–the eggs she was hoping to get to her husband to fertilize else they would be the last of their line (there seems to be some confusion as to whether it was the end of their race or the end of her family line; I took what she said to mean family line, not race)–and honestly, people need to get a fucking life. It’s a fucking television show, for one thing, and it depicts things that happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Aren’t there enough genuine problems confronting us to be concerned about rather than what happens on a science fiction/western hybrid television program? We’re still enjoying the show, and apparently The Child became attached to the babies as they hatched, which was a nice coda to that story. But it also remains one of the best Star Wars universe tales, and as I said before, they should have ditched the Skywalker saga and moved on to other tales from the same universe.

We also watched another episode of Mr. Mercedes, which continues to enthrall and hold our attention. I didn’t give near enough credit to the actors playing the Hartsfields: Harry Treadaway (best known as Dr. Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful) as the psychotic killer known as Mr. Mercedes, and Kelly Lynch as his mother, with whom he has a disturbingly incestuously close relationship with–both are killing it, as is Jharrel Jerome as Jerome. This show is really well done–one of the best King adaptations I’ve seen–although I do wish Cynthia Erivo was playing Holly in this, as she did in The Outsider. Holly Gibney is one of my favorite King characters; and while she hasn’t appeared yet in this show, I am really looking forward to seeing Justine Lupe’s interpretation of the role. Brendan Gleeson is also perfect as Bill–I’m not sure why they decided to go with making him Irish, to fit the actor, but it’s working. I also couldn’t help but think what a great role this would have been for Ed Asner or Ernest Borgnine or Carroll O’Connor or Burl Ives. I also don’t know why this show didn’t really get much attention, unless it was because it was on a lesser streaming service. Here’s hoping it being on Peacock will help it find a bigger audience. It is so well done, and Dennis Lehane wrote last night’s episode!

Ironically, I’d been thinking about Stephen King a lot lately–the Halloween Horror thing, along with the rewatches of Carrie and Christine–and while I am probably not as rabid a fan of his as I was for a very long time (I no longer buy the book on release day and everything in my life comes to a screeching halt while I devour the book) I am still a fan. The Hodges trilogy is King in top form, and so was Joyland, his paperback original for Hard Case Crime. I’ve never finished The Dark Tower, primarily because so many years passed between The Waste Lands and Song of Susannah that I lost the thread of the story and realized I’d be better off rereading the entire thing; I thus decided to wait until the series was finished and then go back and read it all the way through. Surprise! I haven’t done that yet, and there are still some volumes of his that I have yet to read (Doctor Sleep, 11/22/63, The Outsider, The Institute, If It Bleeds) which would have never happened back in the day. I enjoyed all of King’s earlier work–I never reread Pet Sematary or Cujo, primarily because they were too disturbing, which I understand now; a recent reread of Pet Sematary made me very aware of how actually brilliant it is–and reread them constantly; The Stand is one of my all-time favorite novels, and of course so many of the others are equally brilliant. The Tommyknockers was the first book of his I actively disliked, and believed the entire first third of the book could have easily been cut out. And while the books that followed were either hit or miss for me–more hits than misses–I can honestly say that Dreamcatcher was one of the worst things I’ve ever read. I absolutely hated that book, hated everything about it, and even the characters—usually a major strength of his–weren’t memorable or overly likable. One thing King does that he doesn’t nearly get enough credit for is writing about working class people, and how the grind of poverty, or the fear of lapsing into it–drives and hardens people.

Ironically, I saw a thread yesterday on social media where some writers were taking a whack at King, since King has been on my mind so much lately these days. I am constantly amazed at how many pseudo-intellectual writers always smugly assert their own dismissive opinions of King–when I’ve never heard of them, probably will never hear of them again, and kind of don’t want to ever hear about them again. I strongly disapprove of writers trashing other writers (although hypocritically I am down with it if it’s Stephenie Meyer or E. L. James) and books–which is why I stopped being a paid reviewer years ago–and sure, it’s easy to take potshots at writers who’ve become brands, like King (and Anne Rice and John Grisham and Dean Koontz and numerous others), but I always like to remember that those brand name authors sell huge amounts of books, which keeps publishers in the black and enables them to take chances with other authors who might not be as marketable or salable.

I slept really well last night also, which was absolutely lovely. I feel very well rested, and looking forward to my fourth week of working out, which begins tomorrow morning. I really am hoping to get a lot done this weekend. Wish me luck as I head back into the spice mines!

Half of My Heart

And now it’s Friday. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost Thanksgiving already, but the initial pandemic shutdown also seems like it was more than a million years ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth–rather than a mere eight months or so ago. Eight months we’ve been dealing with this; even though it seems more like eight fucking decades. But I’ve noticed that time has sped up lately–for the longest time it felt like time was dragging and was taking forever to pass, but now…now time is flying.

I suspect it’s the looming deadlines and being behind on everything, quite frankly.

The sun is bright this morning in my eyes and I cannot find my baseball cap–it’s probably stashed somewhere I thought I’d remember where it was–so I’ve had to move my chair and I am writing this while sitting at a weird angle to my desk. I’m working at home again today, and will be walking to the gym for today’s workout when I am finished with this afternoon’s work. Yesterday for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival I watched The Boys from Brazil and The Towering Inferno–more on those later–and I think that for today I might just dip back into some more Halloween horror. We also started streaming Mr. Mercedes, which is now available on Peacock for free–I am actually impressed with everything they are offering; it’s very similar to HBO MAX, but am still not willing to pay for another premium service yet–and I have to say, I am enjoying this adaptation. It’s fairly true to the books–at least as I remember, although I don’t remember the neighbor Ida, played by the amazing Holland Taylor–and I have to say, the three Bill Hodges novels (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) have been my favorite Kings of this century thus far; Mr. Mercedes very deservedly won the Edgar for Best Novel some years back, and as much as I loved the books, I was very sad when I reached the end. King himself was an executive producer, and the television series adaptation was written by David E. Kelley, who has also been responsible for a lot of good television over the years, including Big Little Lies and The Undoing, which we are greatly enjoying as well. There are three seasons of this adaptation, and I assume each season covers one of the books.

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting film, and very much of its time. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, both book and film were very much of the 1970’s, and also encapsulated that cynicism and paranoia of the decade perfectly. It was also one of those stories that permeated the zeitgeist; everyone knew what”the boys from Brazil” were without reading the book or seeing the movie. The movie is a very close adaptation of the book–Ira Levin was known for his brevity as a writer, so rarely did things need to be cut out of the books for the screenplay. The Boys from Brazil was actually Levin’s longest novel–I could be wrong, but I don’t think so–and the film has some impressive star power, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason in leading roles, and an incredibly impressive supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris, Anne Meara, and Uta Hagen. The film also opens with a focus on a young character played by an extremely beautiful young Steve Guttenberg (whatever happened to him? He was a big deal in the 1980’s and then just kind of faded away) as a young Jewish-American man who goes Nazi hunting in Paraguay, and is actually the one whose investigation tips off the big Nazi hunter played by Laurence Olivier about what’s going on and kicks the film into gear before he is, of course, caught and murdered by the Nazis.

It’s hard to imagine now that the 1970’s were forty years or so ago now; the world has changed so much…but the 1970’s were also only a few decades removed from the second world war and Nazi war criminals were still being hunted down worldwide by the Israeli secret police. (The Germans were also hunting them down for trials; the Israelis were killing them.) The Lieberman character played by Olivier (he got an Oscar nomination; ironically, he also got one for playing an escaped Nazi war criminal in Marathon. Man a few years earlier) was based on Simon Weisenthal; does anyone even remember Weisenthal today? (Weisenthal was one of the people who helped track down Eichmann.) It’s no secret that many Nazis escaped to South America after Berlin fell, and Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in particular; so much so that it was so much a part of the zeitgeist that everyone knew and a casual reference was easily picked up on. Levin took that, decided to make Josef Mengele, the escaped Nazi “angel of death”, and put him at the center of the story. And the scene where Leibermann finally realizes what Mengele’s plans are–that is the scene that earned Olivier the Oscar nomination. The film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that the book does–probably because by the time the film was released, most people knew what the title referenced and what it was about (Levin was a master of the huge surprise twist), which killed some of the suspense. Gregory Peck isn’t very good as Mengele, either; paired with his listless performance in The Omen, Peck was clearly phoning it in for the most part in the 70’s and cashing the checks.

And as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains. The two best Indiana Jones movies have him fighting Nazis; you just can’t come up with better villains–having the opposition be Nazis alone immediately makes your hero pure of heart and decent and makes you root for him. (The Vatican, however, is an excellent fallback choice.)

There’s also an excellent essay to be written about The Boys from Brazil, comparing and contrasting it to Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant, which is also about an attempt to resurrect the Third Reich, with the the seeds planted in the waning days of the war.

The Towering Inferno was part of the big wave of disaster movies that was a thing in the 1970’s, spawned by the huge success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Like all disaster films, it boasted an all-star cast chock full of award winners and household names–Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, and Richard Chamberlain, to name a few–and a terrible script that was focused more on the adventure than the actual characters. (It’s also jarring to see O J. Simpson in a supporting role; and to remember he had a fledgling acting career before he murdered two people) Disaster movies inevitably fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because they are always about preventable disasters that wind up happening because of greed and people in positions of power that invariably shouldn’t be; there’s always one scene where the person in charge of cleaning up the mess and solving the problem sanctimoniously lectures the person they feel is responsible for it: in this case, fire chief Steve McQueen lectures architect Paul Newman about the irresponsibility of building skyscrapers from a firefighter’s point of view (and having witnessed 9/11….yeah, watching the scene made me squirm more than a little bit)–but Newman, you see, is the hero; the fire and the building’s failure to be properly prepared isn’t his fault; construction manager Richard Chamberlain cut corners on the electrical wiring and so forth to stay on schedule and under budget to please building owner (also his father-in-law) William Holden. I watched the movie for the first time several years ago–and couldn’t make it all the way through on a rewatch. The acting is too bad, the writing too awful, and the story not compelling enough. It was nominated for like seven Oscars, including Best Picture–which should give you an idea of what a bad year that was for film. It was based on two novels, published around the same time, that covered the same ground–a fire in a new skyscrape–so the rights to both had to be secured to prevent lawsuits: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by by Thomas Scotia and Frank Robinson, with their titles blended into The Towering Inferno.

Around the time I originally watched The Towering Inferno I rewatched three other big disaster movies of the time–Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake–and none of them really hold up. There were scores of other disaster movies of the time too–several Airport sequels, a movie about killer bees, etc.–but if the BEST of the time don’t hold up, the ones that weren’t considered good at the time must be really horrific.

And on that note, it is back into the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow.