Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

I fell into an Internet wormhole the other day–history, of course, was involved–and now, with my scattered ADHD mind, I can’t stop thinking about the unintended research I was doing. An ad popped up on the evil Facebook (or the even more evil Twitter) about the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453; and yes, that triggered me going into a search about the fall of the city, why it happened, who was the last patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church at the time of the fall, what was the last Byzantine Emperor’s story, and so forth.

I’ve always had a Colin stand-alone adventure novel in the back of my head, going all the way back to Bourbon Street Blues when I first introduced the character. My original plan, as you know, Constant Reader, was to make Bourbon Street Blues a stand-alone as well; when I introduced Colin and came up with his backstory, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a series about a gay undercover op for hire? I had always had this idea for a treasure hunt novel–yes, inspired by Indiana Jones, if you must know, go ahead and judge me–but it had to do with something smuggled out of Hagia Sophia before Constantinople fell to the Venetians and the Crusaders in 1204; but having researched that actual event, it doesn’t really work for the story. But the final fall of the city–turning it from the Christian capital of the East to the capital of an Islamic empire, and also ending the Roman Empire once and for all–actually would work for this story, based on what I read yesterday. The thing that was smuggled out was a document, or an original manuscript, of a secret book of the new Testament that challenged the very nature of Christianity as it was known then; Catholicism and Orthodoxy–which means the stakes in the current day would also be pretty high.

Will I ever write a Colin stand-alone novel? Probably not, but you never know. I have so many other things to write. I’ll never be able to write everything I want to write before i die, I fear.

Such is life. There’s never enough time, and of course, I am horrifically lazy, which doesn’t help on any level.

And of course, now that it’s around four in the afternoon I am getting tired. I woke up at six this morning, stayed in bed until seven, and then got started on my day. I drank coffee and cleared out my email inbox; I wrote a bunch of emails and saved them in the drafts folder to send first thing in the morning; and then I went to the grocery store. After putting the groceries away, I started making a birthday cake for a co-worked–a new red velvet cheesecake recipe I’d been wanting to try–and of course, while I was working on the cheesecake layer my hand mixer burned out. Complete with burning electrical smell and smoke coming out of the motor (three hours later the kitchen still smells like an electrical fire) and so, not wanting to go to Walmart on a Sunday, I walked over to the Walgreens on the corner, vaguely having seen that they sell kitchen appliances. I rarely go there–and usually only in case of an emergency, which this certainly was–and of course, they’ve rearranged the entire store since the last time I was there. And of course there are aisles of Christmas stuff where other things ought to be. But I persisted, because I really didn’t want to go to Wal-mart on a Sunday afternoon just to buy a hand mixer, and I found one. It seemed a bit pricey, but then I figured you bought the last one twelve years ago so prices may have gone up since then besides you’re paying a premium for convenience. 

So I bought it.

Constant Reader, that was the best money I could have spent on a hand mixer. It’s so much better than my old one it’s not even funny; on the slowest setting it mixes with more power than the old one–a BLACK AND DECKER–did on it’s highest setting. In other words, that cheesecake was beaten and ready to go in the oven in no time. And who knew whipped cream was so easy to make?

Well, it is with my new mixer, at any rate.

So the red velvet cheesecake is now chilling in my refrigerator. I tried working on the book but I am tired and my brain is tired too. I am even too tired to read, methinks. So, I am going to go try to find something to watch on the television while I relax in my easy chair.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll have the energy to write later.

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Bridge over Troubled Water

Looks like we made it, Constant Reader; through another week of trials and tribulations and who knows what all, quite frankly. I woke up at six, but stayed in bed until just before eight, and feel obscenely well-rested, not tired at all; maybe a bit of a sleep hangover, but other than that, in tip-top shape for this lovely weekend. There’s condensation all over the windows around my workspace this morning; I suspect it rained over night and the air out there is probably warm and thick with water. It’s also not cold inside, which is a tip-off that it’s probably a lovely day outside. Paul is going to go into the office at some point today; I intend to go run some errands later as well as get some serious writing done. Conference championship football games are on television all day, but I really don’t care who wins any of them, if I’m going to be completely honest. The kitchen seems scattered and messy today, so does the living room, and of course, Paul is leaving for his winter visit to his family on this coming Wednesday, so I will have almost a full week of alone time.

I am, for December 1, disgustingly behind on everything; from Bury Me in Satin, stalled at Chapter Six, to finishing touches on both the Scotty book and the short story collection. I also need to proof read Jackson Square Jazz at some point so that can finally be available as an ebook; it never seems to end, does it? But I did somehow manage to tear through my to-do list this past week (other than anything writing/editing related that was on it) and I think now, finally, the day job is finally going to settle into a kind of routine schedule. I also picked up Bibliomysteries Volume I, edited by Otto Penzler, at the library yesterday, so I have a wealth of short stories to read. (I also still have all the volumes of anthologies and single author collections I was reading earlier in the year on the mantel in the living room; I should probably get back to those at some point as well.) I am probably going to keep The Short Story Project rolling into the new year; I do love short stories, and I keep finding more unread collections on my bookshelves.

I got some books in the mail yesterday; the two most recent Donna Andrews Meg Langslows, Toucan Keep a Secret and Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (which I wish I could read over the Christmas holidays; I love reading Donna’s Christmas books during the season but I doubt I’ll have time to read Toucan first; and yes, I have to read them in order DON’T JUDGE ME); two novels by Joan Didion, Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted; two books by Robert Tallant, one fiction (The Voodoo Queen, an undoubtedly error-riddled and racist biographical novel about Marie Laveau) and one nonfiction (Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders); the next volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, A Clash of Kings; and Hester Young’s follow-up to The Gates of Evangeline, The Shimmering Road. 

So, yes, my plate is rather full this weekend–but I shall also have plenty to do while Paul is gone. I am also thinking about buying the third and final season of Versailles on iTunes to watch. I will probably make an enormous list of all the things I want to get done while Paul is in Illinois and wind up doing none of them.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also need to figure out his Christmas presents while he’s gone, so I can get them and have them all wrapped before he gets home.

And so now, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Show and Tell

So, audiobooks and A Game of Thrones.

I am, of course, a huge fan of the HBO program Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice. 

As I explained to Paul when we started watching, “It’s like medieval history, only with magic and zombies and dragons.” The first season was incredible–I had not read the books–and I remember thinking, in the season finale, as Dany walked out of the smoking ashes of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre with baby dragons perched on her, my god, this entire season was simply set-up, before we get to the main story.

Little did I know what we were in for–although I liked, with the execution of Ned Stark, whom it seemed was the main character, the reality that anyone can die at any time–which of course increases the dramatic tension; if any character can die at any time, the stakes are much higher–and Paul and I have thrilled to the ups and downs and highs and lows. The show has done a wonderful job of weaving his story as well as forcing us, as viewers, to understand that, ultimately, life isn’t fair and good doesn’t always win over evil in the end.

I had been resistant to reading the books, primarily because they aren’t all written and published; I despise having to wait for the next book in a series, particularly when it’s very possible that by the time that book has come out you’ve lost the thread of the story and forgotten who is who with the characters (I’m looking at you, Stephen King and The Dark Tower); this epic series, though, is a bit different precisely because there’s a television show, which would make the remembering easier. But still…I hate waiting for another book. I did order a paperback set of the series books currently available, but when I saw how long they were and realized the time commitment that would be involved, I just didn’t think I could do it.

Flash forward to week before last, and my decision to give listening to Audiobooks a try on long car trips. As I may have mentioned before,  the concept of Audiobooks wasn’t something I was terribly keen on; I’ve always hated being read to, and I also had no idea how long audiobooks were and how long it would take to listen. But I did think, “I bet A Game of Thrones would be long enough to last the entire drive” and I set about looking for an audio book I could download. Nothing from the Public Library, and so finally, after trying out some other options, I finally went with the thirty-day free membership to Audible and downloaded A Game of Thrones…only to see that the recording lasted just over thirty-three hours. I also knew that if I really got into the story, I wouldn’t want to wait three days to finish listening, so I decided to go ahead and take my physical copy of the book with me, so I could finish reading it.

Which I did, in a lot less than the over twenty-one hours that was left on the Audiobook.

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“We should start back,” Garen urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”

“Do the dead frighteb you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.

Garen did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”

“Are they dead?” Royce asked softly. “What proof have we?”

“Will saw them,” Gared said. “If he says they are dead, that’s proof enough for me.”

Will had known they would drag him into the quarrel sooner or later. He wished it had been later rather than sooner. “My mother told me that dead men sing no songs,” he put in.

If you can remember back that far, the very first episode of the TV series opened with this exact scene; members of the Night’s Watch, in a frozen cold forest north of the wall, investigating…only to encounter the horror that is coming. The story then switches to the epic power struggle in the seven kingdoms of Westeros, primarily the set-up of the bad blood between two of the major houses: Stark and Lannister. The Starks are of course set up as the good guys; the Lannisters, with their deceit and money and incest, the bad. As I listened–and later, read–I found myself getting very caught up in the story, even though I knew most of it already; the book is more layered and obviously has more backstory and information than the television series. Also, as I read along, I was reminded of my original comment to Paul: its medieval history with magic and zombies and dragons.

I’ve always loved history; I’ve read a lot of historical fiction and I’ve read a lot of history. I mentioned before Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings series, recently reissued and marketed as the “inspiration for Game of Thrones!” , with introductions by Martin himself. (I took my new copy of The Iron King with me on the trip, and started reading it after I finished the Bibliomysteries Volume 2 and A Game of Thrones.) I’ve always wanted to write my own history, with countries and lords and ladies and so forth all invented in my fevered brain; primarily because I wanted to change the way some histories ended. (What if the Babington Plot succeeded and Elizabeth I was assassinated?, for one example) This is kind of what A Song of Fire and Ice is; and I am of course the perfect audience for this.

I’ve not read much fantasy fiction. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings, of course (who hasn’t, really?), and I read the first few books of the The Shannara Chronicles many years ago; I’ve also read a few volumes of David Eddings’ The Belgariad, and of course McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern (hello, Showtime? This series would be perfect for a television show). One of the common themes of all of these series, along with Martin’s, is a lesson we never heed: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In each of these series, there was an enormous and great threat from the past that everyone has forgotten or dismisses as “legends”; but the threat is very real, the stories are true, and in the present day, the threat is reemerging and everyone has to remember how to fight it.

Another theme of A Song of Fire and Ice is also history, and politically, related: people will always put short term gain ahead of long term success; instant gratification, apparently, being far far more satisfying that careful and strategic planning; selfishness often leads to doom.

I am really looking forward to reading more of A Song of Fire and Ice.

I Can’t Make You Love Me

GEAUX SAINTS!

So, it’s another chilly Sunday here in the Lost Apartment. It’s sixty degrees now outside, but it dipped into the forties overnight, so it’s going to take awhile for the Lost Apartment to recover–if it ever does. Today I need to pack up for the trip tomorrow morning. I’m not taking the MacBook Air with me, so I am not entirely sure how I’ll be able to crosspost the blog–should I write any entries–to Facebook and other social media because cutting and pasting on the iPad confuses me.

Don’t judge me.

The LSU game last night was a romp; never in doubt from the first snap, and ending with a 42-10 score. It was 28-3 at half-time and was never in doubt. As such, there was very little-to-no tension on my part, so I was able to sit in my easy chair like a millennial, scrolling through apps on my phone while also taking some time to read. I stopped by the Latter Library yesterday to pick up another book I’d reserved (Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken–more about that later) and also renewed Bibliomysteries Volume 2 for another week. I am taking both books with me to Kentucky, and am also taking A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin; I think it’s time I got started writing A Song of Ice and Fire, now that the end of the television series is in sight with this past week’s announcement that the final season will begin airing in April.

I took yesterday as my day off for the weekend; I didn’t clean anything, nor did I organize or file or edit or write. I was basically just a lazy slug, sitting in my easy chair and flipping between football games while reading. I’m still rereading ‘salem’s Lot but have now reached the end game, the final section of the book called “The Empty Village,” and the tracking down of the vampires concluding with Ben and Mark running away to Mexico while Ben writes his book isn’t as interesting to me as the opening of the book; as I said when I discussed the reread initially, I am more interested in how King depicts the town more than anything else, which was the impetus for the reread. And how much do I love this sentence, which opens section 2, “The Emperor of Ice Cream”:

The town knew darkness.

It’s very Shirley Jackson-esque, and the passage that follows is perhaps my favorite part of the entire book.

I also think I am going to give The Shining  a reread; The Shining is, for most fans, critics and readers, King’s best work. I couldn’t get into it when I first bought the paperback, with the boy’s head with a blank face drawn on a shiny silver cover. I picked it up again a few years later and tore through it in one sitting; but as creepy and horrifying as it was, and how nasty the Overlook Hotel was…it was one of the few I never reread completely. I’ve picked it up and started it again, flipped through it and read sections, but I’ve never read it from beginning to end. I think the complexity of Jack Torrance as a character cut a little too close to home for me, but now that I have over fifty books out there with my name (or a pseudonym) on the spine…I don’t have to be too stressed about the failed author character being too close to home for me anymore.

At least one can hope so.

Tomorrow is the dreaded twelve hour car ride through Mississippi, Alabama, a bit of Georgia, and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I need to go get the mail before I leave town and possibly stop by the bank, so I am going to be getting a later start than I would have perhaps wished, but a twelve-hour drive is a twelve-hour drive no matter when you get started, and I am most likely going to shower and go straight to bed when I arrive in Kentucky. I am still trying to figure out what digital book to download and listen to in the car–who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?–but none of A Song of Fire and Ice are available as audiobooks from the library, and the library’s app isn’t as intuitive as I would like (translated: I’m too old to figure out the easiest way to use it). I wanted to start Charles Todd’s brilliant series set during the end of the first world war, but the first book isn’t available from my library (BASTARDS!!!!) and so I have to choose something else. I’ll spend some time on there today–maybe on the library’s website, which is easier for a Luddite like me–and perhaps the second Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novel might do the trick.

Or maybe The Shining. Ooooooh.

Most of today is also going to be spent on odds and ends. I may get some writing work done, or I may not. I think after the Saints game we are going to watch either Love, Simon or Call Me By Your Name; both are available for free streaming on one or another services I pay for now. I also am assuming I’ll finish watching Knightfall while I am in Kentucky, as my parents both go to bed early every night.

And yesterday I also managed to read “The Gospel of Sheba” by Lyndsay Faye, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Letter sent from Mrs. Colette Lomax to Mr. A. Davenport Lomax, September 3rd, 1902.

My only darling,

You cannot comprehend the level of incompetence to which I was subjected today.

You know full well I never demand a private dressing room when stationary, as the very notion implies a callous disrespect for the sensitivities of other artists. However, it cannot pass my notice when I am engaged in a second class chamber en route from Reims to Strasbourg. The porter assured me that private cars were simply not available on so small a railway line as our company was forced to book–and yet, I feel justified in suspecting the managers have hoaxed their “rising star” once again. The reek of soup from the dining car’s proximity alone would depress my spirits, even were my ankles not confined one atop the other in a padlock-like fashion.

I do so loathe krautsuppe. Hell, I assure you, my love, simmers with the aroma of softening cabbage.

Lyndsay Faye has twice been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel (for The Gods of Gotham, which I adored, and for Jane Steele, which is still in my ever-growing and enormous TBR pile), and she is also a delight to know in addition to her enormous gift for writing. Lyndsay is an enormous Sherlock Holmes fan (Sherlockian?), and even her first novel, Dust and Shadow, was a Holmes tale; she recently published an entire collection of Holmes short stories. “The Gospel of Sheba” is sort of a Holmes story; both he and Watson do appear in the story, but it’s primarily told from the point of view of a sub-librarian, Mr. Lomax; he is married to a professional singer who at the time of the story is currently on a tour–her presence in the story is either through her husband’s point of view or epistolary; we get to see occasional letters from her. Her husband’s point of view is seen through diary entries where he talks about the mystery of the Gospel of Sheba, a grimoire a member of a private men’s club with an interest in the supernatural has discovered and that makes anyone who reads it ill. One of the things I love the most about Faye is she writes in the formal style of the nineteenth century, but it always reads as organic and never forced. There’s never a sense from the reader of Oh I see what you’re doing here or from her as the author of see how clever I am? She’s somehow modernized that formal style, breathed fresh life into it, and uses it to help set the mood and the time and the setting. You can almost hear the hiss of gas in the lamps, and see the flickering gaslight. This is a terrific story, and reminds me of why I loved The Gods of Gotham so much, and also reminded me I need to dive back into her backlist.

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

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Bennie and the Jets

What a lovely weekend this past one was, seriously; the Abomination in College Station aside, and even that was more of a seriously? than anything else.

I got back to New Orleans around seven pm on Friday night; there’s a time zone change going and coming, but it always seems like because of that I make better time coming home than going. It’s a mental thing, obviously; same amount of time, same amount of miles (slightly less than 1500 round trip), and yet…it seems to go so much faster. I always think–and I know this makes literally no sense–that since I am driving south and going from a higher elevation to a lower one, that it’s all downhill.

said it didn’t make sense.

I also somehow managed to wrestle with some ideas and projects-in-progress while I was gone; whether those solutions to the problems will work (or if the problem is a real problem in the first place) remains to be seen.

But Saturday morning I had coffee with my friend Pat, preparatory to my Costco run; it was actually a most productive meeting. She helped me with some great info for a short story I am writing, and she also gave me some tips on how to do my New Orleans research (and also thought Monsters of New Orleans was a great idea). The Costco trip wasn’t as bad as one might have thought the Saturday after Thanksgiving; I assume everyone burned out on shopping on Black Friday. But Costco is never an ordeal, even when it’s crowded; which really says a lot about their management philosophy and how well they treat their employees. Everyone is always so nice and friendly and polite; compare that to the staff at, let’s just say Wal-mart, and you see what I mean.

This actually set the mood for a rather lovely weekend. I relaxed and recovered from the trip, while getting caught up on things around the house–grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. It was quite lovely. I actually finished reading End of Watch during the Abomination in College Station, and one benefit of spending time at my mother’s house? I really think my house needs a deep thorough cleaning and reorganization; i.e. my kitchen could be more efficiently set up. I also need to clean out kitchen and bathroom drawers, and as for my TBR pile–well, if I have had it for more than two years and haven’t read it, time to donate it. And if, later, I decide I want to read it…well, I guess I can buy it again if I want to read it that badly. (I’m talking big, but I know once I start going through the books I am my book-hoarding tendencies are going to re-emerge.)

I know myself all too well.

I also read  “The Book of the Lion” by Thomas Perry,  from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Dominic Hallkyn played back the voicemail on his telephone while he took off his sport coat and hung it up to dry in the laundry room. The smell of rain on tweed was one that he knew some people might say was his smell, the smell of an English professor. The coats–tweed or finer-spun wool in the winter and seersucker or summer-weight fabrics in the late spring or early fall–were his work uniform, no different from a mechanic’s coveralls. He wore them to repel the skepticism of the young.

The first couple of calls were routine: a girl in his undergraduate medieval lit course has been sick, so could she please hand in her paper tomorrow? Of course. He had plenty of others to deaden his soul until that one arrived. Meg Stanley, the Department Chair, wanted him to serve on a Ph.D. oral exam committee. Unfortunately, he would. Reading the frantically scribbled preliminary exam and then asking probing questions in the oral would be torment to him and the student, both of them joined in a ritual of distaste and humiliation, all of it designed to punish them both for their love of literature, but it was part of his job.

Thomas Perry is another luminary of the crime fiction world whose work I’ve neither tasted nor sampled until now. One of the lovely things about anthologies, such as this, is that you can get a taste of an author’s work, a feel for their writing style, without the commitment to reading an actual full-length novel, and you can then decide whether you wish to add the author to your must-read list. “The Book of the Lion,” a tale of academic/rare book intrigue, certainly got Perry added to my list of authors to explore. In this story, our stuffy professor Hallkyn receives a mysterious phone call from a man who claims to have discovered a rare copy of an even rarer work; Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Book of the Lion,” a romantic history of Richard Couer-de-Lion that has been lost to the ages. The value of such a book, of course, would be in the eight figures at the very least; it’s worth to literary scholarship perhaps even higher. It’s a sort of historical treasure hunt story–this reminds me of William Martin’s Harvard Yard, which involved the search for Love’s Labour’s Found, a long-lost Shakespearean play–and also had several delightful twists.

So, yes, Mr. Perry has been added to my list.

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The Streak

Yesterday was, for the most part, a great day (do NOT mention the travesty/joke that was the LSU game last night; that entire officiating crew, including the booth, should be fired with extreme prejudice. I am not one to blame officiating for losses, but LSU won the game three times and they kept giving A&M just one more chance. Fuck. Off. It’s very hard to not begin–after so much of this the entire season, and not just against LSU–as corruption from the SEC office on down. Greg Sankey needs to resign. NOW.). I got up early and started trying to play catch-up (I was unplugged for most of the week) and then had coffee with my friend Pat, who is a noted historian and a terrific person. I was picking her brains about New Orleans research and she also had an experience I wanted to know about as background for a short story I am writing (“Please Die Soon,” if you must know), and we wound up spending almost three hours chatting, and she also gave me some more ideas for Monsters of New Orleans, which was a lot of fun. We met at the PJ’s on Maple Street in a part of Uptown I’m not sure what to call (Uptown? University? Riverbend?) but it was quite nice to see a part of New Orleans I rarely go to–and discover things–like there’s a lovely breakfast place next door to PJ’s, along with a Christian Science Reading Room (who knew?) and a Starbucks across the street (“Caffeine Alley,” I joked). So after we were finished, I went over to the Starbucks and got some espresso beans for the house, and an insulated travel mug. From there it was about a ten minute drive to Costco, and then back home. I finished reading End of Watch, did the laundry, cleaned and organized the kitchen, and started organizing and doing things in the living room while football games played in the background.

One thing about staying with my family–my mother makes Joan Crawford look like a filthy hoarding slob–was all I can see is how dirty the Lost Apartment is, and how irrationally and inefficiently organized it is. So, yeah…I’m working on that, and probably will today as well.

I need to start digging through all the emails that piled up while I was gone, and I also need to pay bills and update my checkbook. Heavy sigh. But I’ve slept well since coming home, which is lovely, and today I have to make a grocery run, which I will do later this morning.

One thing about driving across country is one is reminded precisely how beautiful this country actually is, or how incredibly vast. New Orleans to Kentucky is over seven hundred miles and takes about twelve hours to drive; and that’s not even close to being halfway across the country. As I drive through Mississippi, Alabama, a small piece of northwest Georgia and through Tennessee–particularly Tennessee–I cannot help but marvel at how beautiful it is; the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville in particular at this time of year as the leaves are turning. Every time I drive through there I wish I had more time, so I could stop at Scenic Lookout points and take photographs so I can share the amazing beauty with you, Constant Reader.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the Confederate flags mounted on the front license plate frames of pick-up trucks and BMW’s and Hondas. This always saddens me when I see it; this clinging to a horrible past and ignoring what that flag actually means to most Americans. Its use, to me, is basically saying fuck you, slavery was a good thing to everyone who sees it, and rather defiantly, at that. As I drove home on Friday, after seeing a proliferation of these on the highway between Fort Payne and Birmingham, an idea for an essay came to me (“Song of the South”) about the “heritage not hate” mentality, and developed that thought even further after talking to Paul about the trip when I got home.

I have so much to write, and so very little time to do it in. Heavy sigh. Sometimes it feels to me that time is nothing more than sand held in my cupped hand on a windy morning at the beach; the grains slipping out of the palm and through the fingers as I desperately try to cling to it.

Heavy sigh. I also want to write up A Game of Thrones and End of Watch.

But I did read short stories while I was gone, and next up is “Mystery, Inc.” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler.

I am very excited! For at last, after several false starts, I have chosen the perfect setting for my bibliomystery.

It is Mystery, Inc., a beautiful old bookstore in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a town of less than two thousand year-round residents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean between New Castle and Portsmouth.

For those of you who have never visited this legendary bookstore, one of the gems of New England, it is located in the historic High Street district of Seabrook, above the harbor, in a block of elegantly renovated brownstones originally built in 1888. Here are the offices of an architect, an attorney-at-law, a dental surgeon; here are shops and boutiques–leather goods, handcrafted silver jewelry, the Tartan Shop, Ralph Lauren, Esquire Bootery. At 19 High Street a weathered old sign in black and gilt creaks in the wind above the sidewalk:

MYSTERY, INC. BOOKSELLERS

NEW & ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS

MAPS, GLOBES, ART

SINCE 1912

As you can clearly see, Constant Reader, Mr. Penzler only recruits the upper echelon of crime writers for his Bibliomysteries, and few literary names have as much luster as the highly-acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates. Again, Ms. Oates is an enormously prolific and gifted writer; I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Oates canon but her work often leaves me awestruck and inspired and more than a little humbled.

“Mystery Inc.” is another one of her toothsome tales of darkness; the main character in this story owns several mystery bookstores in New England and has decided that this lovely bookstore in a small town on the New Hampshire coast is the next one he wants to acquire. The loving descriptions of the store, the artwork and rare books for sale make it sound, in Oates’ delightful prose, like a place I’d certainly wish to visit and somewhere you would have to pry me out of with a crowbar. The main character covets the store, and rarely have I ever read such a story of covetousness I could identify with so completely. But the main character not only wants the store, but has a dark plan for acquiring it. And, as always in an Oates story, things in the store might not be what they seem on their surface; the store has a dark, ugly history which the present owner shares…terrific story, absolutely top tier.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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We Got a Love Thang

Vacation, all I ever wanted…vacation have to get away!

But in fairness, I dread being in the car for nearly twenty-four hours over the course of five days.

Shudder.

And there’s so much to do before I leave.

I fixed our front door last night. Paul’s key got stuck in the front door lock and wouldn’t come out. I just shrugged and said I’ll just take the deadbolt apart, fetched a screwdriver, and did precisely that. I not only got the key out of the lock but I also reassembled the deadbolt, fixing what had gone wrong with its mechanism. Once I was finished, I was a little amused; I certainly never would have dreamed I’d ever be that handy. I wish I were handier; I wish I knew how to change the oil in my car and how to rewire things. I am, in fact, very uneducated about how my current car works, and I’ve had it for almost two years. I really do need to read the manual.

I am thinking about working on Bury Me in Satin today, after I run my errands and before the LSU game this evening. I also think the last two chapters have been incredibly difficult because I am having to make it up as I go. I have this amorphous idea of a story, but am not entirely sure I know how I am going to tell it; hence the problems I’ve had with the last two chapters. What I need to do is some planning; some brainstorming on the characters and who they are and what they want, and perhaps even some plotting and outlining. I also wonder if I am simply, in reaction to having such a hard time writing the last two chapters, coming up with excuses for not actually doing any writing (“well, there’s really no point in even trying to write anything since I don’t know this and this and this”) which could in reality be some kind of self-sabotage crossed with Imposter Syndrome with perhaps just a pinch of my tendency to procrastination and shameless laziness.

And, just for fun, there’s the distinct possibility that all of it is true.

This is why writers drink.

I slept incredibly deeply and well. I stayed up later than I’d wanted to because I chose to wash the bed linens last night, rather than today, and the dryer struggled with the blankets–it does this sometimes, with no rhyme or reason to it–and finally rolled into bed just past twelve last night. I got up at nine this morning; it really makes a significant difference to wake up organically, rather than be untimely ripped from the arms of sleep by the brutality of an alarm.

I started watching a series on Netflix called Knightfall last night–well, I’d started it one night in the last week when Paul was late getting home, and it’s interesting. I don’t care about the historical inaccuracies; whenever I watch historical fiction I generally do unless it’s so glaring it cannot be ignored. It’s about the last of the Knights Templar, and borrows somewhat from The DaVinci Code, which of course borrowed heavily from Holy Grail Holy Blood, which was a rather lengthy non-fiction tome built around a conspiracy theory (the authors went on to write two more books, following the same theme; their primary source was later revealed to be a liar). I read Holy Grail Holy Blood back in the 1980’s, when it was newly in paperback; I read it again in the 1990’s, primarily because I was interested in the sections on the Cathar heresy in the south of France and the Albigensian Crusade that wiped them out. Thus, the ‘big reveal’ in The DaVinci Code  wasn’t really a big reveal to me; as soon as it became clear that the plot had to do with the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion, I knew what it was.

Anyway, I digress.

Knightfall is about the Knights Templar, and is set in France during the reign of Philip IV, the Fair (which meant handsome and had nothing to do with justice). Now, I know Philip IV, conniving with Pope Clement, eradicated and wiped out the Templars; but Clement’s predecessor Boniface is in this–and he is working with the Templars. The basic plot of the story (thus far) is that the Templars once had possession of the Holy Grail in the Levantine city of Acre; but as they escaped the city before the armies of the Arabs, the ship it was on sank. Fast forward a few years, and something is going on within and without the Templar order; we found out last night that the actual Grail isn’t at the bottom of the harbor at Acre but somehow made it to France.

This is actually a deeply fascinating period in French history; Philip IV, who is not particularly well known (we as Americans are not particularly knowledgeable about French history; which is to be expected as former colonies of the British, and French histories/biographies written in English by either British or American historians are few and far between–unless they are about Louis XIV, the French Revolution, or Napoleon), reigned over a particularly turbulent era in French history. The eradication of the Templars–to whom he owed an obscene amount of money–was part of a carefully laid plan he executed with the assistance of Pope Clement, who was basically a tool of the French throne. Philip had come into conflict with Pope Boniface, had taken him prisoner, and basically forced Clement down the throat of the cardinals. The Papal court was then moved from Rome to Avignon in the south of France (the Papal period known as the Babylonian Captivity), and Clement appointed enough French cardinals to outnumber the rest, ensuring the popes would continue to be French and would stay in Avignon. (This eventually led to the great schism, with two different popes–at times, there were more than two–competing for power and the obedience of kings and their subjects, excommunicating anyone who followed a different pope, and degrading the Catholic Church–which eventually led to the Protestant reformation….so yes, Philip the Fair was actually the father of the reformation), and the Templars were rounded up, convicted of heresy in trumped up trials, and burned at the stake. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Moray, was convicted of heresy and burned. The King, the Pope, and the King’s great minister were present when the Grand Master issued a curse from the flames, calling them all to account for their crimes before God within a year. (Whether this actually happened or not is up for debate.) But within a year, all three men were dead. Philip’s three sons all died without sons, following each other on the throne successively; when the last one died, his daugher’s son, Edward III of England, claimed the French throne through his mother as the closest male heir to Philip IV and his sons; the nobility gave the crown to a cousin who became Philip VI, and thus the Hundred Years War began.

The fourteenth century is fascinating. An excellent history of it is Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. French novelist Maurice Druon wrote an entire series of fictional books about the dying out of the main line of the French royal house, the destruction of the Templars, and all the scandals that plagued the children of Philip IV, beginning with The Iron King; new editions have been published in English due to the popularity of Game of Thrones, and the books have introductions by George R. R. Martin–because he read them and they helped inspire Game of Thrones. I read this series of books–The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown, The Royal SuccessionThe She-Wolf of France, The Lily and the Lion, and The King Without a Kingdom–collectively known as The Accursed Kings, when I was a teen. Druon opens the series with the breaking up of the Knights Templar and Moray’s curse…and then proceeds to show how the curse worked on France and its royalty for decades.

Anyway, I am enjoying Knightfall. It’s a truly fun romp, and the main character is played by the very handsomely bearded Tom Cullen. It’s apparently a History Channel show, and has been renewed for a second season.

I also found a French show, Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which looks very promising; about the marriage between Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy in the late fifteen century; a marriage that was, frankly, the root cause of every major European war from 1476 to 1914. It is in French, which means subtitles, but I am slowly but surely getting over my aversion to subtitles as my hearing gets worse–I tend to turn on the subtitles on even English language movies and television shows because I can’t understand what they’re saying; particularly if it’s British made. It might be something interesting to watch and explore while I am in Kentucky next week.

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

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