Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

I Woke Up In Love This Morning

Sunday morning and I am still trying to adjust to everything that has changed–primarily the weather change is what has me a bit off-balance this morning. I overslept, as I am wont to do these days now that I don’t seem to have the insomnia problem quite as much as I used to before, this morning–I’d intended to get up early so the six a.m. alarm wouldn’t be quite so horrific tomorrow morning, but best intentions and all that.

LSU won yesterday 28-25 over Mississippi State, but the win wasn’t terribly impressive and the season remains questionable still as to how it will go. A win is a win, however, and as Paul rightly pointed out, LSU lost to Mississippi State last year in Tiger Stadium, so this inevitably is better. The SEC West got a lot more interesting yesterday than it was looking on Friday; Auburn got incredibly lucky to win at home against Georgia State, while at the same time Arkansas was handing Texas A&M their butts in Dallas–the Razorbacks, who’ve been dwelling in the SEC West cellar for quite some time, are now ranked in to the Top Ten with two impressive wins over programs (A&M and Texas) that were supposed to be much better than Arkansas…but next week they are going to Georgia to take on the Number 2 team in the country, so it’s another test for the Hogs. They win that game and they might even jump into the Top 5; lofty heights for their long-suffering fans. Clemson got beat again yesterday, effectively ending any hopes they might have of a return to the national play-offs, barring this becoming another one of those completely weird years, like 2007….and this year is definitely looking like a weird year. Oklahoma somehow managed to eke out another squeaker of a win; any less lucky and they’d be 1-3 right now. Clemson’s out of it already. Ohio State cannot lose another game if they have any hopes of reaching the play-offs, either. Alabama is sitting pretty right now–I don’t know who might have a shot of beating Alabama–and Georgia’s got a tough schedule ahead of them, too, with Florida next month and surprising Arkansas this week. Florida cannot lose another game, either, if they want a shot at the play-offs; Georgia could lose to Florida but still make the play-offs as a one-loss SEC team if Florida loses a rematch with Alabama in the SEC title game. A&M’s loss to Arkansas pretty much ends their shot at the play-offs, unless they run the table, making their game with Alabama a must-win….which is not exactly the best scenario for anyone.

Like I said, an interesting year of college football.

Last night we watched the first three episodes of a documentary called The Curse of the Chippendales, which was interesting. I knew there had been a true crime connection with the strip show, of course; what I didn’t remember (but I had known at one time) was that Dorothy Stratten’s husband/murderer had been involved in their creation, and I had also forgotten how BIG the Chippendales were at their height, with clubs in New York and LA and two tours running at the same time. Chippendales was a social phenomenon that hasn’t really gotten as much attention as it should, given its societal and cultural impact; while the shows were for women-only, they certainly couldn’t control who bought their calendars, posters, and merchandise, or who tuned in when they appeared on Donahue or Oprah or whatever local area talk show would book them on. There was definitely an impact on how we as society and culture see male bodies and male sexuality; Chippendales took what we had been doing to women for centuries and flipped the script, making men the objects of desire, fantasy and lust. Would we have beefcake calendars or as much sexualization of the male body as we have today, had Chippendales (with an assist from Playgirl) never existed.

The Saints play at noon today, but I think I am going to the gym during the game. I love the Saints, but watching them causes me almost too much stress for me to enjoy the game, frankly. I’ll sit and watch LSU stink up the stadium till the bitter end, but I can’t do it with the Saints for some reason. I get too into the game; too agitated and stressed.

I did get some things done around here yesterday–surprisingly enough–and our “new releases” ZOOM thing went really well last night. It also reminded me I should probably be pushing Bury Me in Shadows a lot more than I have been; the book releases in just a few more weeks (preorders ship on October 1, if you order directly from the publisher, hint hint) but I am a lot more nervous about this book than any other I’ve done before, for any number of reasons–which would be something I can actually explore here on the blog to promote it, couldn’t I?

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely, restful, wonderful Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you tomorrow morning again.

I Would Have Loved You Anyway

And suddenly, it’s Friday again: WEEKEND EVE!!!!

Late September is a gift Mother Nature gives to New Orleans; one that’s kind of owed to us after the brutality of a normal New Orleans summer. I greatly enjoyed my walk Wednesday afternoon, and walking to the gym after work yesterday was equally marvelous. The gym workout felt incredible; my muscles had clearly been aching to be worked and stretched, and they feel absolutely wonderful this morning. My creativity is slowly coming back–the walk on Wednesday kind of kick-started it all; and I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about this upcoming new series book I have to write, that I am looking forward to writing. First and foremost, as with all my books set in New Orleans, it needs to be more about New Orleans than what I’ve already written on it; I think I am going to spend some time over the next few days revising and rewriting those first four or five chapters to get more of a “New Orleans” feel to them; I think that’s what is missing and why I feel so dissatisfied with them.

I definitely need to reread them, at any rate.

I also need to reread and edit the first three chapters of Chlorine; I’d like to get chapter four written this weekend as well as–if not an actual outline for the rest of the book, than at least– a working synopsis of how it all is going to come together in the end. I am very behind and i need to start getting caught up, even if that means no more lazing around in my easy chair watching documentaries from the BBC/Odyssey about ancient Egypt with a bizarre British Egyptologist/historian with raspberry colored hair as the star–but the woman clearly loves not only history but all things Egypt, so it is very difficult to not get caught up in her enthusiasm about her subject. Each documentary is about an hour, and I’ve not been watching them in order; I’ve watched the one about Amenhotep III and the Armana revolution, as well as the one about the foreign conquerers, leading eventually to the final recognized dynasty of pharaohs, the Ptolemies–who fascinate me; there’s so much more there than the story of the final and most famous Cleopatra (yes, she’s fascinating, but I’ve long been more interested in her sisters/rivals, Berenice and Arsinoë).

I also watched, for the very first time, the original film of The Postman Always Rings Twice, which, surprisingly enough, I’d never seen. I’ve never really been much of a Lana Turner fan (I’ve never had a lot of respect for her as an actress–certainly in Peyton Place and Imitation of Life she never seemed to inhabit her characters and simply followed her director’s orders) and I’ve never really thought she was all that pretty; there was always something artificial about her to me–though the body was definitely stunning. The costume designer was incredibly smart in putting her always into white ensembles, that went with the stiff white hair, and John Garfield was pretty good as the homicidal, lovesick drifter; he had the right “beaten around by life” lived-in look that was perfect for the character. Cecil Kellaway as Cora’s husband was the best performance in the film, really; he stole every scene he was in, but was the movie progressed Turner seemed less stiff and mannered, and Garfield’s performance of a man so driven mad by lust and love that he would cold-bloodedly murder Cora’s husband to be with her (Body Heat was often compared to Double Indemnity, but I think it’s more like Postman, in all honesty). I also felt the changes to the script and to the ending actually worked better than in the book (same with Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce, even though I love Cain as a writer). I also couldn’t help thinking, as I watched, what Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift could have done with the role of the drifter, and Marilyn Monroe could have done with Cora. (Dream casting: filmed in 1954 with Brando and Monroe; with Karl Malden as the husband–what a film that would have made!) But it’s a very good movie, very well done, and I greatly enjoyed it; it’s definitely a classic. I’ve never seen the remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, but what a terrific version could be made today, starring someone like Robert Pattinson along with Margot Robbie or Rosamund Pike.

It also got me thinking about noir again, and what fun it is to write, plot, and think about; as well as got me thinking about Laura Lippman’s marvelous Sunburn and everything by Megan Abbott.

I’ve also been, since my walk the other day, thinking about my noir story about the condos built recently on my street, “Condos for Sale or Rent” and so maybe I can squeeze in the time to work on it a bit this weekend…

Big dreams, as always, but at least I am thinking in terms of getting things written again, which is a big step in the right direction.

We also finished watching season two of The Other Two, which is fantastic and has one of the best, most honest and realistic gay characters–struggling actor Cary Dubek–that I’ve ever seen on television. The premise of the season finale–Cary takes a photo of his butthole to send to a potential Grindr hook-up, only he has his camera on LIVE rather than PHOTO, and the little LIVE feature means you can not only see his face at the beginning but you can also hear the flight announcements (he does it in the First Class bathroom on a flight from New York to LA)…and it kind of goes viral. It’s hilarious, and the fact that this is the primary STORY for the gay character in a TV show (granted, it’s HBO MAX) had me impressed for the writers’ willingness to go there, but how fucking funny it all turned out to be.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines, and a happy Friday to all.

Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here

I’ve never been terribly interested in historical mysteries.

It really doesn’t make sense, when I sit and think about it. I love history, I love crime stories; you’d think a novel or short story that combined the two together would be my proverbial catnip. Yet with few exceptions (Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, and Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder, to namecheck a few) I generally don’t read historical mysteries. I am not sure why that is, to be honest; I used to love historical fiction when I was a kid, and of course, the great Gothic ladies of the mid-century often set their novels in the past–looking at you, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt–and yet…I also love reading books written contemporarily that are now historical in setting (Margaret Millar, Mary Stewart, and Charlotte Armstrong spring to mind, as do Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie, for that matter).

Paul and I are also huge fans of the German series Babylon Berlin–I really do need to read the books sometime, as well as those of James Benn–but for some reason, I never ever reach for the historical mysteries when I am looking for something to read.

But I am really glad I put my hands on Dead Dead Girls when I was looking for something to read when the power was out.

The wind whips against her face. Snowflakes stick to her hair, her cheeks, her eyelashes.

She’s disoriented as she tries to find her way home. The sun set at four in the afternoon, but it’s much later now. It’s so dark that it feels as if blackness has swallowed up the city. She’s making her way down the streets, relying on streetlamps and muscle memory. It’s impossible to see in the snow.

She knows two things: first, that she’s going to be in big trouble for being so late; second, that it’s not going to be easy to locate her house in this terrible storm. It’s a small home. She’s the oldest of four girls. The youngest are twins–high energy and overly demanding of her patience. It’s exhausting to keep them in line. They don’t behave as they’re supposed to. Even worse, they’re all crammed into one bedroom.

They live with their widowed father and his sister. Her aunt is strict, but her father is ruthless. He works in the church and has high standards for his children. She also suspects he resents all of them for not being boys. He can snap at any time, for ay reason. Anything she can do to protect the twins, she will do.

Nekesa Afia’s debut novel is an absolute pleasure to read. The 1920’s are a great decade for crime novels, with everything that was going on during that post-war, post-plague decade. Prohibition and speak easies; the rebirth of the Klan; grotesque class inequities and racial discrimination codified; it was a period when there was money to be made in bootlegging and investments and everyone was frantically trying to have a good time to make up for the misery of the previous decade. I have often thought a stand alone–or series–set in New Orleans during this time would be interesting; as Storyville was being broken up and broken down, and of course everyone in the city was ignoring Prohibition…but it was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, and that is the setting for Afia’s impressive debut.

The main character is Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman who works as a waitress at a tea room (which is actually a cover for the nightclub/speak easy on the upper floor. Louise is strong-willed and determined; when she was young she was kidnapped, along with some other girls, and Louise not only got away but helped the others do so as well, and took down the kidnapper, earning her some notoriety as Harlem’s Hero. Years later, she is estranged from her minister father and the rest of her family, is staying at a Harlem boarding house for women and sneaking out at night to go drinking and dancing in the speak easies of Harlem. Young Black women–many of whom are also working as prostitutes, meeting johns at the speak easies and then retiring with them to rooms or apartments–are being murdered; their bodies being left at the doors of the speak easies. Louise knew the most recent victim, and as someone who can get places the cops can’t–and can possibly get others to speak to her in ways they won’t speak to the police–Louise is dragged into the police investigation, at a huge risk to not only her life but those of the people she is closest to-especially a beautiful young woman named Rosa Maria, and Rosa Maria’s brother Rafael.

It’s a fun read; Afia brings the period–and it’s horrible racism, both casual and overt–to life. Her depiction of the most popular of the clubs, the Zodiac, makes you wish you could actually go and dance to the live music and drink the swill of the liquor served, working up a sweat on the dance floor. Louise is an interesting and likable character; with her flaws and foibles and estrangement from her family, you can’t help but root for her as she navigates a path that is made that much more difficult by her gender and her race–and then Afia adds in, like it’s nothing, that Rosa Maria and Louise are actually in love, and Rafael also swings to the beat of his own gender. It was so matter of fact the way these sexualities were introduced into the story, so nonchalantly, and not mentioned on either the cover or the publicity materials–which is really kind of how it should be; it’s just another facet of the character, it’s not that big a deal to them and therefore it shouldn’t be for the reader, either.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and I am hoping that it’s the first in a series. Towards the end of the book Louise gets a pair of pants–and I felt like this was a huge step in her development as a series character…fingers crossed, because I would love to get to know her better and watch the character develop over the years in a series.

And like Babylon Berlin, this could be the basis for a terrific television series. Fingers crossed.

Mary Mary

I have always loved strong female characters, having cut my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames, just to name a few. As an adult reader of mysteries, two of my favorite series are Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (simply the best) and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (also a gem of a series); primarily because I love the characters of Amelia and Meg both so very much. They are both fiercely intelligent women with a very dry sense of humor, and are the kind of strong women that everyone around them comes to depend on for support–and droll wit. The death of Dr. Barbara Mertz (who wrote as Peters AND as Barbara Michaels) ended the Peabody series forever, much to my heartbreak; the Meg Langslow series is going strong still, so I am hopeful that I will have years and years of reading pleasure yet to come from Donna.

And then, last year I discovered Mary Russell.

The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before. With the shock of the sudden change, my vision stuttered, attempted a valiant rally, then slid into complete rebellion and would not focus at all.

I leant back into my chair with an ill-stifled groan, peeled my wire-rimmed spectacles from my ears and dropped tjem onto the stack of notes, and sat for a long minute with the heels of both hands pressed into my eye sockets.

I was already a fan of Laurie R. King from her brilliant Kate Martinelli series, about a lesbian police detective. (If you’ve not read that series, you need to–it’s one of the best of the last thirty years.) I was reluctant to read the Mary Russell series, as Constant Reader may remember from my previous posts about earlier books in this series; for any number of reasons, but primarily not ever really getting into the Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle stories. This shifted and changed when I was asked to contribute a Sherlock story to Narrelle Harris’ The Only One in the World anthology; this required me to go back and do some reading of Doyle, and having worked with Laurie R. King on the MWA board, I decided to give her feminist take on Sherlock a go.

And I have not regretted that decision once.

Mary has stepped up to replace Amelia Peabody as one of my favorite on-going series; I love the character–a strong-minded, fiercely independent woman of no small intelligence who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Holmes. Theirs is, despite the age difference, a true partnership of equals; I love that Holmes, in King’s interpretation of him, isn’t quite so misogynistic or incapable of feeling–which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a male-written version. I like King’s Holmes; the strong female character who is his equal was the perfect solution to whatever misogynistic issues I may have had with other interpretations. I also love that Russell is also pursuing a life of the mind; her studies into theology at Oxford are not just asides to add color and flavor to the character but are just as important to whom she is as a character as the love interest/relationship with Holmes. As I also have an amateur’s curiosity into the history of Christianity and how the faith changed and developed throughout the centuries following the New Testament stories…how that was shaped and influenced by men with not the purest of motives…is something I’ve always been interested in.

I think the first book that challenged Christian orthodoxy in a fictional form that I read–the first time I became aware of the possibilities that the BIble wasn’t actually the pure word of God and had been edited and revised repeatedly in the centuries since Christ ostensibly lived, died and was resurrected–was, of all things, a book by Irving Wallace called The Word (Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he wrote enormous books of great length that were huge bestsellers, and the subject matter and style of the books was essentially that they were very bery long thrillers: The Prize was about the maneuvering to win a Nobel; The Plot was about an international conspiracy to kill JFK; The Second Lady was about a Soviet plan to kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a lookalike who was a Soviet agent; etc etc etc). The premise of The Word is simply that a new testament, a document hidden away for centuries in a monastery in Greece, claims that not only did Jesus not die on the cross but went on to live for many decades, preaching his own ministry and even visiting Rome. This, of course, is a cataclysmic document–it would change everything everyone had ever known and believed…if it is indeed authentic.

I’ve always loved a good thriller with a base in theology, ever since; and A Letter of Mary is just that, even if more of a mystery than a thriller. The role of Mary Magdalen has been questioned a lot in the last few decades–not the least reason of which is Holy Blood Holy Grail–an interesting concept if one that has been proven to based in a falsehood in the times since (or was THAT part of the Vatican’s plot?)–which inevitably led to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I don’t find the idea that the Magdalen was a beloved disciple of Jesus–and that she may have been his favorite–a reach; likewise, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in the actual New Testament that essentially says she was a prostitute, a “fallen woman.”

This book begins with Russell despairing over her research only to receive a letter that she and Holmes are going to be receiving a visitor–someone they met during their time in the Holy Land some time earlier–glossed over in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but apparently explored more deeply in O Jerusalem! The visitor, an older heiress of no small means who is fascinated with archaeology and has been funding digs in the Holy Land, presents the pair with a gift as well as an ancient letter, unauthenticated, which is ostensibly a letter from Mary Magdalen some years after the death of Christ, written to a sister as the city of Jerusalem falls under seige by the Romans during the Jewish Wars, around 70 AD, that saw the sack of the city and the start of the diaspora; which makes it very clear that, if authentic, the Magdalen was one of the disciples and heavily involved in the ministry of the Christian church. Their guest returns to London, and is killed when she is stuck by a car the following day. Holmes and Russell sniff around the crime scene and find evidence that the old woman was murdered…but by whom? Why? Is this about the letter from Mary?

King always tells a great story–you never can go wrong with one of her books, really–and the characters are so well-defined, so real, that even if she didn’t tell a great story, you want to read about those characters more, get to know them better, and cheer them on to their successes and sympathize with their failures. Her writing style is also a joy to read; the Mary Russell voice is so different and so clearly distinct from Kate Martinelli that you can’t not marvel at her mastery.

The next book in the series is The Moor, and I am really looking forward to it.

Lay It On The Line

I woke up this morning and knew immediately it was Thursday, which is progress of a sort, isn’t it? I may not know the actual DATE, but I know the day of the week, which is a step in the right direction.

I made it to the gym yesterday after work for a very brief, one 15 rep set of everything upper body related–it had been well over a week since my last workout, so I was worried about overdoing it and straining the muscles too much, but it felt so amazing, and I felt so good afterwards–I woke up this morning feeling good, too–that I think a lot of the stress, tension and tightness I was feeling in my neck, shoulders and back could have been from not working out in addition to being stressed on top of everything else. I also slept incredibly well last night without taking anything chemical–I was sleepy when I went to bed, and decided to see if I was tired enough to sleep without medical assistance, and apparently I was. I may try to sleep without assistance tonight again myself, just to see–I do worry about becoming chemically dependent; the last thing I need at my age is rehab–so we will see how it all goes this evening.

I feel normal this morning for the first time since the power went out. I can’t really say why–I honestly don’t know–unless going to the gym yesterday kicked my brain back into some sort of normality or present reality or something. It’s nice to feel normal again, though–the trouble with these paradigm shifting disruptions is you’re never sure what normal feels like in the new reality, but this morning I kind of feel normal, which is really lovely. I have more work at home duties to get through today–more on the horizon tomorrow–and am curious to see what is in store for work for next week. Will we be seeing clients again? Will the building be open? There’s an all-staff call on Tuesday again–which makes me tend to think the office may or may not be open by then, but then again, I used to always miss these calls because they were during the time I was seeing clients, so I don’t really remember if this was a weekly thing or not. I am hopeful–always–that somehow, getting through this as another off-week and through the weekend will continue with this feeling of normality. We shall see–I guess the next test is to see whether I can write or not.

I spent some time yesterday evening watching documentaries on Youtube–there was a particularly good one on Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of my all time favorite historical women. I’ve also discovered a channel on Youtube that focuses primarily on biographies, short for the most part, no longer than fifteen minutes at the longest, that focuses on the French House of Bourbon. I love seventeenth century France (always have, hence my obsession with The Three Musketeers), have always wanted to write about it, and maybe someday I will. (To be fair, I am also obsessed with the sixteenth century history of all Europe, not just France…and perhaps someday I will write my history about the powerful women of the sixteenth century. Catherine de Medici and her life remain absolutely fascinating to me; I’ve always wanted to write about that turbulent period of French history–the Religious Wars of the latter part of the century–and de Medici’s Flying Squadron–women trained in the art of seduction in order to spy on potential enemies of the throne. Maybe someday, when I’ve retired.)

And since we returned, I find myself unable to read. I am probably going to get caught up on my Real Housewives watching while stripping condom packs today–yes, it’s a big and exciting day of work-at-home duties for Gregalicious today, but I don’t know if I can face the tedium of the data entry; maybe I can get my shows watched and perhaps a movie, and then move back into the data entry, I don’t know; I will play it all by ear today methinks. And I need to make a new to-do list….

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

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Ah, Venice.

I’ve always loved Venice: the idea of a city that exists in a place where no city really should but does anyway (like New Orleans); a city with a long and remarkable history that at one time was one of the major powers of the world, despite not really having much population yet somehow carving out an empire; and always dreamed of visiting there. When Paul and I lucked into our marvelous trip to Italy back in 2014 (I think it was 2014? I could be wrong, it may have been 2015 but it really doesn’t matter) I definitely wanted to include Venice in our itinerary. We wound up only being there for twenty-four hours, but I was enchanted (I was enchanted by all of Italy, really), and have always wanted to go back and spend more time there. We were incredibly lucky when we were there; it was the week before Labor Day weekend, and there were no real crowds there (I have since seen horrible pictures of crowds so thick you can barely move), and we just wandered around looking at beautiful buildings and crossing canals and going into churches and eating gelato–lots and lots of gelato (which was every day, everywhere, while we were in Italy–we even got some at the airport when we flew back out).

Venice is also the setting for my all-time favorite novella and movie based on it (Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now”). I love the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, in which a lonely unmarried teacher comes to Venice and is also enchanted by how gorgeous the city is, and also finds a bittersweet romance with a handsome Italian man. One of my favorite parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is set there. I finally read Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as part of my “plague days” reading last year when COVID-19 shut down the country; as well as Daphne du Maurier’s take on the tale, “Ganymede.” John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, about the La Fenice fire and the insanity in rebuilding the fabled opera house, was a remarkably insightful look at how things work in Venice, as well as the restoration works on the city and its gnarled bureaucracy, as well as the blasé attitudes of the locals about how corrupt and insane everything is there.

It goes without saying that the similarities between Venice and New Orleans are striking, and run much deeper than the constant threat of water and Carnival.

I started writing a novella this year set in Venice–which I’ve wanted to write about ever since I visited–and at some point I will revise it to get it ready for publication; it’s on my to-do list–and so naturally, Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime was added to my TBR pile as soon as I knew of it.

And what a delight it turned out to be.

Down below the cry of gulls, below floors of tourists undressing and dressing for dinner, below even the shrinking figure of his killer. a man lies crumpled and bleeding. He’s been dead for only a few seconds. He’s sprawled on his stomach, his body twisted at the hips, his left arm hooked in a U above his head. From a distance, from high above, he looks almost as if he were sleeping. It’s the blood leaking through his pink shirt that gives the crime away.

Outside, the sun is setting on what is unarguably the most beautiful city on the planet. There are a lot of dead bodies in this town. Upstairs in the man’s room, an English guidebook recommends taking a boat out to San Michele to visit an entire island of them. Among the legions buried there are the composer Igor Stravinsky, the ballet director Sergei Diaghilev, and the poet Ezra Pound.

The city is sinking and has been for centuries. Enjoy it while you can. The blood is pooling around the body. Screams are blaring from all directions. The killer is making a run for the exit.

But none of this has happened yet.

I don’t think I’d heard of Christopher Bollen before I heard about this book; I may have read some of his work (he writes for both Vanity Fair and Interview magazines), but I was not prepared for how good this book would be.

And the really good news is its his fourth; he has three more books for me to read and cherish and enjoy. Huzzah! (It’s always delightful to discover a new-to-you writer you love, isn’t it?)

The premise behind this book is pretty genius: a young gay couple who have fallen quickly and madly in love with each other, come up with a “foolproof” plan to con a wealthy douchebag out of enough money for the two to ride off into the sunset together after paying off their unsurmountable debt…and Venice is where the action happens. Bollen spent time in Venice interning at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which pays off in this complex and riveting noirish thriller. Bollen brings Venice to life in a way that few other writers have; you can smell the canals, taste the food, enjoy the bite of the liquor and savor the wine and the spellbinding beauty of the city through the eyes of his characters.

Our young, intrepid gay couple are Nick Brink and Clay Guillory. Nick came to New York to escape his sterile and stale childhood home in the Midwest, and soon has a very well-to-do older man in love with him; Ari, who is an expert in antique silver and runs one of the few silver businesses left in the country. Nick loves Ari, but it’s not a deep passionate love; it seems more like gratitude and appreciation more than anything else. Ari does love Nick, but his plans for their future (he also employs Nick at the silver shop, which is pivotal to the plot of the book) are making Nick claustrophobic and feeling trapped. Nick looks at the years ahead with Ari (and possibly a child) and is terrified of what his life will become; while this is stable and nice and everything he could have possibly wanted…now that he has it, he’s not sure it is what he wanted after all.

Clay is the surviving companion of an older gay man, Freddy van der Haar, last scion of one of the first families of New York (going back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch settlement); Freddy was one of the last surviving colorful characters of the wild and crazy Bohemian artist scene in New York, and had the wealth to really pursue the kind of life and lifestyle that no longer seems possible or to exist anymore. Everyone, of course, believes Clay is a gold digging conniver who may have even murdered Freddy for the inheritance. But the truth is not how it appears on the surface; there was no money left, and Clay has even gone deeply into debt taking care of Freddy as he declines slowly into death. Clay owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to student loans and medical bills, and doesn’t see any way out of his situation.

The two meet by chance at Freddy’s memorial service; Ari knew Freddy, of course, and Nick doesn’t want to be there. He slips out for air and meets Clay on the steps–Clay isn’t attending (he knows very well what Freddy’s friends think of him) but just wants to make sure that the flowers he ordered arrived. They encounter each other again shortly thereafter, when Clay brings in the last of the van der Haar silver collection for appraisal and possible sale; unfortunately it’s all worthless junk. But the mutual attraction is there, and soon Nick is slipping away from work and his shared apartment with Ari for afternoon trysts at Clay’s inherited brownstone in Brooklyn, which he is selling to help pay down the debts of Freddy’s estate as well as his own.

And the two lovers come up with a plan: part of Clay’s inheritance is a small piece of a palazzo in Venice which the van der Haars once owned completely. The rest of the palazzo is now owned by a wealthy investor named Richard West (whom Freddy despised), who has an obsession with the van der Haar family and wants to possess some of their silver. Why not have Clay try to sell the junk to West, and have Nick–who works for an antique silver firm, after all–falsely authenticate it so they can pay off all that debt and live happily ever after? West is a major scumbag, after all, who fucked Clay over once already; and is it really a crime to fuck over someone who is so awful? Not only will their debts be paid but Clay will finally have vengeance against the man who cheated him out of his dream job…and so begins the game of cat-and-mouse.

And what a delight it is. Bollen is a terrific writer–his gift for sentences and paragraph construction is amazing–and his characters all seem quite real. He peoples the book with a terrific supporting cast, all of whom are actualized; from Daniela the transwoman (who is old school; refuses the term “trans”) with whom Nick stays in Venice, to Freddy himself to West and his entourage. As the deception goes deeper, the pacing also begins to pick up, as well as the sense of dread as they change and adapt their plan and decide to go for even more money…and like the best Hitchcock films and all great noirs, the deeper they get into the deception, the more dangerous the game becomes.

Venice itself is a character; Bollen writes about the city with such love and affection that it becomes impossible to imagine the book being set anywhere else–and he also addresses the primary issue in Venice: the crowds of tourists and the outsiders buying apartments to rent out as Air BnB’s, thus driving up the cost of real estate and living in the city that is forcing the locals out (just like New Orleans! Something else the two have in common!)–and this also plays an integral part in the story.

I loved this book, and even though for a while it was making me think I need to scrap my Venice novella…I soon realized I don’t have to. My novella is in the perspective of a tourist falling in love with the city, whereas Bollen’s is written from the POV of someone with intimate, personal knowledge of the city that comes from living there and truly experiencing what it is to be a Venetian.

Highly recommended; it’s a great read.

Only a Moment Ago

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

Of course, the emergence of a potentially major storm heading for the Gulf and our coastline–and how quickly it has happened–has certainly sucked a lot of the energy out of the room. The fact it will come ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina (Sunday) hasn’t triggered a lot of PTSD for me, strangely; although I was remembering it all last night as I sat in my easy chair watching Margaret Orr on local television (and checking her Twitter feed). The weather outside my condensation-covered windows this morning doesn’t look that great, to be honest–we’ve had rain all day yesterday off and on–but I don’t know if we are going to need to leave yet or not. It’s not looking good for us right now; at the very least we’re going to probably be without power for a few days (yay). But at least if we do end up leaving (probably tomorrow morning, if we go) at least I have a relatively new car, and I believe I already have a tank of gas. I have some errands to run today–I am getting my teeth cleaned later this morning, and I need to get the mail. I had planned on doing some grocery shopping today but am not sure if it’s wise to get anything perishable, so am probably just going to let that sit until afterwards.

I’m also having dinner with a friend tonight–scheduled to come in for Bouchercon, she decided to keep her trip since her daughter goes to school here anyway–which should be a good time; social contact outside of my office has remained low, so it will be sort of nice to get out of the house and spend the evening with someone whose company I enjoy…especially with a hurricane looming. If it stays on center track, it’ll pass us to the west–putting New Orleans on the bad side of the storm. I’m kind of surprised I am not having flashbacks triggered by any or all of this, to be honest. I only remember the anniversary now when I am reminded–I’d not even given it a thought until the other day when this system developed below Cuba–although I am also now remembering there have been issues with I storms in the past–Ike and Isaac, for example; one of them sat on the city for like three days and we were without power for nearly a week. The other was our last evacuation and it, too, was around this same time. Late August, after my birthday and before Labor Day–never a good combination for an I-named storm in the Gulf, apparently.

I rewatched an old Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie last night while I was waiting for Paul to come home (working late because of grant deadlines and potential hurricane; potential loss of power means everyone has to get things done earlier than they’d thought). I had wanted to rewatch Pillow Talk, which was the best of the their three films together, but couldn’t find it streaming anywhere, so settled for the follow-up, Lover Come Back, which, while not as good as the first, was still quite entertaining–if problematic. The message of the Day/Hudson movies–at least the first three; they played a married couple in their third pairing–was always that Day was an uptight and repressed career woman with no interest in men or marriage–who really just needed a good fuck. The irony that the good fuck she needed was being delivered on-screen by a gay man escaped audiences of the time, who made the films huge hits and made Doris Day the biggest money-making star in the country. It’s great, though, that she was shown as a highly successful, talented, and driven career woman; unfortunate that the screenwriters seemed to think that went along with an empty life without love or a man. Given how beautiful and sexy Day was, it’s kind of hard to believe that she wouldn’t have men hanging off her–but she’s kind of portrayed as an ice princess, who needs a man to thaw her out. The games Hudson plays with Day–mimicked in both films–where he pretends to be a shy, inexperienced (read: almost gay) man whose sweetness she falls for doesn’t really play today for a sex comedy; such a movie would never be made today.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I worked on the manuscript, and have maybe a third of it left to go. I’ve already edited out almost ten thousand words, making it leaner and cleaner, but it’s still such a horrible mess I cannot believe I turned it in to my long-suffering editor. But it’s getting better, and the primary issue is that there were so many different versions over the years of working on it that I missed things when merging all the versions together to get a final one–the great irony being the problem with the manuscript not ever being what I thought it was, so all those different drafts were relatively pointless; it’s terrible when you are writing a book and you aren’t really completely sure what it’s about consciously. I’ve always said this book was about rape culture, but it’s actually not–although that’s a part of it; what it’s actually about is toxic masculinity from the point of view of someone trapped inside of it who desperately wants out and doesn’t know how to get out. I didn’t completely understand that–and something else–until this final editing run; glad I figured this out before it went to press, right?

So I am going to try to get some things done around here this morning before leaving for the dentist, then I am coming home to work on the manuscript. I’d like to get this pass finished today–not an easy task, since its taking me hours to get through small sections, longer than I’d thought it would, honestly–so it can sit for a day or two; if we lose power and I have to stop working on it, I am hoping I’ll be able to at least get it sent off somehow–if I need t make my phone a hotspot and send it from my laptop or something, I should be able to get it done and in on time. I was going to try to make it to the gym today, but think I’ll just push that off until tomorrow and focus on getting the manuscript finished today. Once I finish and post this, I am going to clean out my inbox (or try to) before having to get ready for the teeth cleaning expedition (not looking forward to this either, I might add). I had wanted to spend some time getting organized–but the need to get this manuscript out of the way in case of power loss, at least getting this pass finished, at any rate, has overcome any desire to work on the other things that need to be worked on around here; I can go to the gym tomorrow and clean/organize then (if we aren’t in the car, that is).

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Bandala

And top o’ the morning to you, Constant Reader, on this last day of work before I start my little stay-at-home vacation!

Hurray for Vacation Eve! It sure does seem like I’ve had a lot of time off from the office this month, doesn’t it? Probably because there has been so much of it lately; I don’t think I am working a full week again until after Labor Day–and haven’t the last three weeks, either, including this one–so yeah, that’s actually quite a bit. I really didn’t want to get up this morning, either–yet here I am, swilling coffee and watching it getting light outside and hoping that it’s an easy day to get through.

I got more work done on the revisions; the manuscript is somewhere between thirty and forty percent finished, which isn’t bad. As I was reading it again last night and catching all these horrific little mistakes, again the sympathy for my editor came out again–not to mention embarrassment: you let your editor see a manuscript this fucking sloppy? What the hell is wrong with you? A very good question, indeed.

Yesterday I signed, and got the electronic counter signature on, a contract for a new book which could be the first in a new series. This is both exciting and daunting; it’s going to be something utterly and completely different from anything I’ve ever done before–and Constant Reader knows how much I enjoy a challenge–and of course, after I got bleary-eyed from corrections last night my mind started wandering all over the place with potential ideas for the book and for future ones in the series. I also started fleshing out the supporting cast for the series, and had some (what I think) really good ideas. It was actually a lot of fun–part of the reason I write in the first place is because I enjoy it so much; at least the exercise of my creativity, at any rate–and whether any or all of those ideas and thoughts will make it to the final product certainly remains to be seen, it was a lot of fun sitting in my easy chair and writing them all done and letting my mind wander freely. This is pretty exciting, all in all, and as I said, a bit of a departure for me writing-wise. The manuscript is due on January 15th of next year, which means I am having to adjust my writing schedule (sorry, folks, Scotty will be pushed back to the first quarter of next year) but again, it’s not that terribly big of a deal to do so in the first place…and while I am still saving September for Chlorine, I am going to start the work on this new one–background and so forth–while doing so. Wednesday I am going scouting for locations; that will also be incredibly fun, methinks–and I am also going to have to try to remember what things were like here in the past (not too much, of course, but somewhat), which will also dovetail a bit with “Never Kiss a Stranger” as well.

I guess all the New Orleans/Louisiana history I’ve been reading will come in handy a bit, won’t it?

We had a particularly intense thunderstorm–or string of them–last night beginning around six pm; it was nice, as always, to listen to the thunder and the continuous downpour while snuggled into my easy chair under a blanket with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap as I made notes in my journal. I was tired by the time I got home last night–I really need to make a to-do list and focus on things–and so I wasn’t really in the mood to do a whole lot of editing or anything else (hence why I am not as far along with the manuscript as I would have hoped to be by today); I did some laundry and discovered the my leaking dishwasher–well, the leak from the dishwasher–might not actually have a whole lot to do with the dishwasher and everything to do with my garbage disposal, which hasn’t been working lately. I was doing the dishes last night, not using the dishwasher, but water was pooling up on the floor in front of the dishwasher. I know they are connected somehow–sometimes when the dishwasher runs, soapy water will come up into that sink–but that could solve the mystery; there’s probably nothing more than a pipe that needs to either be tightened in some way or replaced. I suspect, however, that this will involve a process of moving the dishwasher out and getting back into there and–ugh, just the thought of having to deal with any of this is making me tired already.

It is always something, isn’t it? But it’s okay. I am kind of looking forward to doing a deep clean of every room in the downstairs while I am on vacation; perhaps one room per day, or something, I don’t know–but I definitely want to get a lot of this stuff all taken care of while I am home all those days. I am also very well aware of my own tendency to procrastinate AND be lazy–oh, I can skip doing anything today because I have five more days off–but the plan, for right now at any rate, is to get as much done this week so that I can take three days off this weekend (Saturday thru Monday) to read and do as little as possible and just relax and get all rested up so I can really do a deep dive into the first draft of Chlorine next month.

One can hope, at any rate. And now to get ready for an exciting day at the office. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

It’s Not Right But It’s Okay

Sunday morning and it’s probably about time that I get back to work. I don’t want to–this birthday mini-vacation has been quite lovely–but I have things that need to be finished and turned in by the end of this month (hello, edits and revisions) and I have to stop putting that off. I only have to go to the office twice this week–tomorrow and Tuesday–before my Bouchercon vacation begins–but my plans for that time is to get things done and then take time to myself.

Well, I may take Wednesday as a day off. I need to drive around New Orleans and do some research; Wednesday should be perfect for doing that, methinks….so maybe taking a day off to begin with to get into the groove of getting everything done that needs to be done by the end of the month could wait until Thursday to get started…but then on the other hand, maybe it a sight-seeing research trip around the Irish Channel wouldn’t be a huge distraction from getting things done that day….alas, I was supposed to have dinner with great friends that night (fucking Delta variant anyway) but I am going to try, very hard, not to let these things disappoint or depress me. That’s a sure way to guarantee I’ll get nothing done.

I started reading Megan Abbott’s The Turnout yesterday and was, of course, immediately enthralled. She manages to somehow lure you in with the opening sentence, something cryptic, eerie, and yet compelling. Her books always have this same voice–I’d say mournful, but that’s not accurate either–always a variation that fits the story and the characters, but that lyrical, poetic, economic way of establishing mood and dramatic tension is almost ethereal and dream-like; even if the dream will, as always, eventually bare its teeth at the reader. God, how I wish I could write like that. I always wonder how writers as gifted as she write their books–do they write a sentence and then agonize over how to find the right words that create the right rhythm, or do they agonize over which word to add as they go? Me? I just vomit out three thousand or so words at a time and then go back and try to make it say what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it; nothing poetic, lyrical, or dream-like about my work. But I write the way I write–I used to want to be Faulkner when I was in college; I think it’s fairly safe to say that ship has sailed–and I cannot be terribly disappointed by anything I write anymore. I am pleased with the work I am doing–have been doing–and as long as I remain pleased by everything I write going forward, I am going to be just fine. I am intending to spend some more time with Megan Abbott this morning before diving into the edits/revisions before heading to the gym; and intend to do even more revisions/edits after my brief workout this afternoon.

We started watching The White Lotus last night and I am on the fence. I really don’t care much for any of the characters–the acting is terrific, the writing is fine, but I can’t wrap my mind around a point, if there even is one, you know? I rewatched this week’s Ted Lasso, and one thing I’ve noticed–there are so many lovely little touches to this show–that is one of my favorite things is that Keeley always laughs at Ted’s jokes, no matter how corny, no matter how bad the pun–she always laughs, and she always did, from the absolute beginning. In fact, Keeley was the first character on the show to see and accept and like Ted; which made her even more likable.

I also managed to finally get my TCM app working on the Apple TV yesterday–you’ve always needed a television provider for access; once I let Cox go it wouldn’t allow me to use Hulu, but now it does–and I immediately cued up and watched The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a terrific noir with Barbara Stanwyck as Martha…and as I watched, I realized how much that plot device–a murder committed and covered up by kids, only to have everything come home to roost when they’re adults–gets used a lot today. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a kid, with my grandmother; WGN used to show old movies after the 10:00 pm news in Chicago as well as every afternoon at 3:30 (which is where my educational grounding in classic old films started). I’d forgotten that the magnificent Judith Anderson played Stanwyck’s horrible old aunt that she winds up killing; Anderson was robbed of Oscars at so many turns in her film career–Rebecca, And Then There Were None, this–it really is a shame; but at least those great performances are preserved forever on film. I am very excited, to say the least, about having access to the full range of TCM again; I can now watch movies instead of getting sucked into watching old LSU games on Youtube or history videos (I’ve been watching a lot of biographies of the Bourbon royal family of France during the seventeenth century, and will ask again: why has no queer biographer/historian/novelist written about Louis XIV’s openly gay brother, Monsieur, Philippe duc d’Orleans?). Just glancing through the app yesterday, there were so many movies I wanted to either see for the first time, or rewatch for the first time since I was a child…and of course, watching old film noir (along with reading old noir novels) works as research for Chlorine.

That’s me, multi-tasking and always finding a way to justify wasting time/procrastination. I am quite good at it as well, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I also woke up earlier–well, I woke up around the time I usually do, just got out of bed earlier than usual. The last few days of not getting up before nine, while lovely and restful, also managed to somehow keep the lethargy going throughout the rest of the day. I am hopeful that will not be the case today. I am going to spend an hour or so immersed in Megan’s new book, and then I intend to straighten things up around the kitchen before digging into the edits/revisions of the Kansas book–which I have allowed to languish for far too long–and I also need to clean out some things (spoiled food) from the refrigerator as well as try to get my lunches prepared for the two days in the office this week.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you on the morrow.