(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.

I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.

I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.

Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.

I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!

College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.

As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.

I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.

Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.

Under the Boardwalk

My last work-at-home day for 2022, and technically my last day of work for the year at the day job. It still freaks me out a little, or doesn’t feel right, to write 2022 on my clinical testing forms; 2023 is going to be even stranger to write. Where the hell has this decade gone already? It’s almost 2023. I certainly didn’t think I’d make it this far, yet here I am.

It got up into the seventies again yesterday–we literally went from the mid-sixties to a hard freeze back to the seventies in about a week–which is why you can never write about New Orleans without writing about the weather. Our weather affects everything here, and can change everything happening and going on in a matter of hours. It also messes with your moods and how you feel–how can your sinuses adapt to such dramatic weather changes in such a short period of time? And that’s not even taking into consideration the humidity and rain. You always have to plan your day and your life around the weather here, and you ignore it at your own peril (he said, having been caught unawares in enough flash-flooding events to know whereof he speaks). With a great HVAC system I didn’t find myself minding the cold quite as much this past weekend, but don’t get me wrong–I’m not sorry to see it gone, and good riddance to it.

I also had a ridiculous amount of chores to do last night when I finished work. Two loads of dishes, two loads of laundry, and of course I had to do something about the refrigerator, and since I was already doing chores I decided to go ahead and launder the living room comfort blankets and do something about the floors (a chore I’ve been avoiding for far longer than I dare to admit publicly, given my reputation as a housekeeper). I decided not to try for my quota for the day, which of course increased today’s quota, but thought it best to go ahead and reread everything I’ve been doing and get a better sense of things so I can figure out how to get to the end of the book from where I’m at now. Sometimes it’s best to relax and let the muscles rest when you’ve been pushing them for a while; burn out is always a fear, and I suspected yesterday that I was reaching that point and should probably rest from it for at least the night, while planning what to do next. I do have a lovely three day weekend looming, and if I ignore college football bowl games–which shouldn’t be difficult to do–I should be able to leisurely get this done and sent off Monday.

Whew.

I’m still a little tired this morning, and it’s gray outside. Ah, yes, a quick glance at the weather (I seem obsessed this morning with the weather, I know) and it appears that we’ll be having thunderstorms for most of the day. I do have to go out into the outer world at some point today–the postal service is closed tomorrow through Monday–so I won’t be able to get the mail again until after work on Tuesday. I should also spend a little time figuring out what, if anything, I need from the grocery store so I don’t have to leave the house again until Tuesday morning. That’s really turning into my biggest contest–how long can I go without leaving the house? (Along with “how few showers can I take this weekend? ” and “How long can I go without cleaning the house?” These do not speak well of me, I am well aware.) I also am going back to reading Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side, after my break from it to read Donna Andrews for Christmas; it’s slow going because it’s an old book written in twentieth century cis-white male literary style, which is something I don’t really care for as a general rule. But I do want to read the parts where the main character (whose backstory is currently being explored) gets to New Orleans and experiences the demimonde; I’d also like to see the film, which I haven’t ever viewed. (I know, right? Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda and I’ve never seen it? Bad gay, bad gay.)

After getting the chores done–Paul didn’t come home until late again–I spent some time read Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller, which takes a look at some gay men in history who weren’t exactly role models for gay men or behavior–some of whom I had heard of, others I had not– which is an interesting approach (usually writers and historians are always looking for positive role models, or take normal human beings and idealize them into heroes). I was a little disappointed to see that my favorite historical homo wasn’t included–Philippe d’Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIV and known as Monsieur (I’ve always wanted to write about Monsieur, he fascinates me to this day)–but the authors did include James I of England and Frederick the Great, so no complaints on royal representation in the book. (But if you’re looking for bad examples of gay men in history, choosing James I over Richard the Lion-Hearted or Edward II was an interesting decision.) I read the sections on Oscar Wilde and Bosie, Frederick the Great, and James I (primarily because the most ambitious book idea I’ve ever had involved James I’s successor as well as his last love, George Villiers Duke of Buckingham); and I enjoyed them. They weren’t very in depth, as they were only given a chapter, so they were at best slightly superficial, but it was interesting to read. I really do need to read a biography of Frederick the Great, who has fascinated me since I was a kid (again, interesting that even as a child I was fascinated by a king who turned out to be gay in the long run); I’ve read histories of Prussia and Europe and other monarchs of the period, but biographies of Frederick aren’t as easy to come by as say, biographies of any Tudor, the Wars of the Roses, or Louis XIV. (Try finding a biography of Louis XIII or said George Villiers, for that matter. There are quite a few of Cardinal Richelieu–but not as many as one would think. Americans seem to be more interested in British history than anything else, and not many of them at that.)

Lightning just flashed, and it’s getting grayer outside, never a good sign for the weather in New Orleans. Then again, spending a little time reading this morning during a thunderstorm while drinking my coffee before starting my work-at-home duties could be just the ticket for kick-starting this day into high gear, so on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Play with Fire

Well, I met quota again last night which was marvelous. It’s still a bit chilly this morning. By the weekend it should be back into the seventies (it was yesterday as I ran my errands after work; it’s sixty-one this morning but it does feel colder outside of my bed and blankets), as the Alabama and Kansas State fans start arriving for the Sugar Bowl. LSU is also playing on New Years’ Day in the Citrus Bowl against Purdue, which will probably be the only game I actually watch that day.

There’s been a conversation going on over at Book Twitter lately that doesn’t really impact me in any way, but it’s been kind of interesting to follow. The conversation has to do with concerns about what is and isn’t considered y/a fiction as well as what is, or should be, considered age-appropriate reading material for teenagers and pre-teens. It doesn’t impact me because no one considers me a young adult writer, for one thing; despite having written numerous books with younger and/or teenaged characters (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit), most people think of me as a gay mystery writer. Everything published under my own name is a mystery novel of some sort, whether it’s one of the series books or one of the stand-alones. I’ve never really marketed myself as a writer of young adult fiction, really; I shy away from that, I think, because of The Virginia Incident and the subconscious fear that one day that controversy might resurrect itself (which is ludicrous, and I know that; it certainly would have by now and it hasn’t, which further proves my belief that The Incident had nothing to do with me or my writing or my career and everything to do with systemic homophobia and othering used for political gain). It just seems weird to me that in less than five years after that happened–when I was deemed a menace to America’s youth–I could publish books for teenagers without a single whiff of complaint or scandal or even the raise of a single eyebrow.

Interesting, isn’t it? Almost like the whole thing was just more smoke and mirrors whose sole intent was to rile the homophobic base.

I just love that my existence is considered by some as a constant and continued threat to children.

One of the things that has always mystified me over the years is what is and isn’t considered age-appropriate. Intellectually I was far more advanced that most of my classmates (my emotional and personal maturity being an entire other subject–I’d say I am still behind on that score) and I started reading early. The library and the Scholastic Book Fairs were my best friends as a child, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved history, from which grew an appreciation and love for historical fiction (which I really don’t read much of anymore, which is odd. I really want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books…) and of course, my grandmother got me interested in “scary” movies and mysteries.

You’d think I’d be a huge fan of historical mysteries, but I actually don’t read many of them. I did love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and I’ve become a huge fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series…I think exploring historical mysteries might be a project for 2023.

But the point was I was reading books far too advanced for most people my age when I was young. I freely will admit that in my first read of Gone with the Wind at age ten I didn’t know Rhett raped Scarlett the night of Ashley’s surprise birthday party–it wasn’t until a reread in my late teens where I thought oh, this isn’t right–let alone that she enjoyed being overpowered and forced. I also read The Godfather when I was ten, and there was no mistaking anything about Sonny Corleone and Lucy Mancini. He had a cock the size of a horse’s and her vagina was apparently the Lincoln Tunnel. (Although the she felt something burning pass between her thighs still mystifies me to this day.) I also read The Exorcist when I was ten and I was also very well aware of what was going on in the crucifix masturbation scene. As a kid, I was fascinated by these sex scenes (aka “the dirty parts”), and it wasn’t until I was older than I began to question the entire Sonny-Lucy thing (and why it was even in the book in the first place); and while the crucifix scene was gross, shocking and basically icky to me at ten–when I reread the book sometime in the past decade it seemed prurient, to be honest–used primarily for shock value and to get people to talk about it.

So, yes, I started reading books for adults when I was around ten. I also read Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots and Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra that same year–I remember doing a book report on Mary Queen of Scots and my teacher not believing that I had read the thick volume; he started opening the book at random and asking me questions–which I was able to answer, so he grudgingly accepted the book report and gave me an A. (Teachers have doubted me all of my life; can’t imagine why I am insecure about my intelligence…)

Over the course of my teens I also read books by Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann and Gordon Merrick-every last one of them crammed to the gills with racy sex scenes. I was also reading Stephen King, Irving Wallace, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney and any number of authors who wrote for adult audiences not teens. Were there things in the books I didn’t understand? Sure there were. Were there things in those books that were probably inappropriate for teenagers? Undoubtedly. (I’ve also never forgotten the scene in Joyce Haber’s The Users where a Liza Minnelli-based character fucked herself with her own Oscar; some images are simply too vivid to forget methinks.)

This is one reason I shy away from calling some of my books with teenagers “young adult” novels. Megan Abbott’s Dare Me centered teenagers, but I would never consider Dare Me a young adult novel. I was thinking about this the other night while watching Sex Lives of College Girls (it’s hilarious, you really should be watching); can I authentically write about teenagers anymore? Have I ever been able to? I don’t speak their language anymore, and I haven’t been one in over forty years (!!!!); I don’t know the technology they use or their slang or what they watch or listen to. I don’t know what today’s teens think about virginity and sexuality these days; do the tired old tropes still exist? Does that whole “good girl/bad girl” dynamic still exist, or are today’s teenaged girls a bit more sophisticated than they were when I was in high school when it comes to sex and sexuality? (Contrasting two high school shows with queer content makes you wonder–there’s the jaded cynicism of the rich kids in Elite vs the wholesome purity and innocence and sweetness of Heartstopper, which also had me wondering–although I feel certain Heartstopper might be closer to reality than Elite…or that’s just my hope?) Of course I have other ideas for more books about young people–I have another in-progress one that’s been sitting around for a very long time that I need to repurpose–and I’d kind of like to write more at some point, but I don’t know. My suburban 70’s serial killer preying on teenaged boys book would be told from the perspective of a twelve year old, but it would definitely not be a young adult novel–but will probably be marketed and sold as one.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines on my last day in the office for 2022. Check back in with you later, Constant Reader.

Thank God It’s Christmas

And now it’s Christmas morning, with tidings of great joy and all that. It’s thirty-six degrees in New Orleans and our Hard Freeze Warning doesn’t let up until nine this morning, but it’s still not exactly going to be warm or anything. But that’s fine. I have lots to do today and I slept in again (it’s been marvelous, sleeping late this long weekend but it’s going to make getting up Tuesday morning in the cold difficult, I fear) and feel rested this morning. Which is a very good thing, don’t get me wrong on that. But when I finish this I need to clean up the dishes from yesterday before I dive back into my Donna Andrews Christmas read for a bit before I dive headfirst back into the book. I did get some writing done yesterday–didn’t make the quota, so will have to make up for that today as well as meet today’s–and I am enjoying Donna’s book tremendously. After Paul got home from his trainer, I gave up on reading and we settled in to watch some movies: See How They Run (great cast, clever concept, not completely executed properly); The Banshees of Inisherin (not seeing how that was nominated for comedy Golden Globes, unless it’s such dark humor that I completely missed it. There are some terrific performances in it, though); All Quiet on the Western Front (a remake of the Oscar winning classic; perhaps one of the grimmest and darkest looks at how miserable war really is and definitely an Oscar contender); and finally–well, I don’t remember the fourth film we watched last night before going to bed, which is probably not a good sign of either its memorability or my memory. Maybe it’ll come to me as I write this, who knows?

I made pulled turkey for Christmas Eve, with an eye to not having to cook anything today, and I bought too much. I usually get one of those small boneless turkey breasts from Butterball, but I couldn’t find one anywhere this week, but Friday they had turkey breasts at Rouse’s, so that’s what I got. It was twice the size of what I usually get–and we can never really finish eating–and it had bones. It barely fit into the crockpot but…it was delicious when it was finished, much better than those boneless ones, and I can’t help but wonder if the bones somehow make a difference? It was a time shredding the meat (since there were bones), and I made some Stove Top to go with it (I can make real cornbread dressing from scratch like my mom makes, but it’s a shit ton of work and it makes a shit ton of dressing, which we would never be able to completely eat). But today I shouldn’t have to cook anything, other than maybe a grilled cheese for lunch or something, and once I finish this I am going to clean the kitchen and read for a little while before getting cleaned up and diving back into the book.

It’s also a very short work week at the office, since tomorrow I have off as a holiday and so only have three days in the office this week preparatory to another three day weekend this coming weekend. There will be football games to watch over that weekend, which will make it much harder to get writing done, but the book must be turned in on January 1. I am trying not to feel guilty about not getting any more writing done yesterday and for leaving the apartment in such a mess, but one of the things I’ve become more aware of as I get older is that I need more down time to recover and regroup and recharge. There’s nothing wrong with it, of course, other than I think I used to not need the recovery time nearly as much as I do now. Then again, it’s also entirely possible I simply don’t remember and it’s merely yet another memory lie my mind is telling me, allowing me to look backward through rosy lenses to see things as markedly better in the past than they are in the present. That’s always the trick of getting older–your mind always wants you to believe that things were better or easier or made more sense in the past, when that wasn’t true; the struggle was simply different back then than it is now, but there’s always some kind of struggle going on in people’s lives. We are also masters at hiding our struggles from other people–I know there have been many times in the past when I wondered how other people managed to do so well while I was doing so poorly; now with the “wisdom” of age and experience I know they were probably all struggling too, I just didn’t know it or was too self-absorbed to notice.

Probably more of that latter part, actually.

The Saints did win yesterday, which was lovely–I had the game on in the background while I read, and then once Paul and I started watching See How They Run I followed it on my iPad and Twitter–but I am finding I am not caring much about the post-season for college football. I’ll watch LSU’s bowl game with Purdue, but other than that, I don’t care very much. I always say that, but inevitably always end up watching the national title game, regardless. I have no stake in the game, other than wanting SEC dominance to continue, and quite frankly, I’ve turned a bit on Georgia–their decision to go for two when up thirty against LSU in the conference title game so they could hit fifty left a sour taste in my mouth; enjoy your run while it lasts, Bulldogs, because your day will come again. And if you think LSU’s players, coaches and fans won’t remember that for the rest of time, think fucking again.

Then again, Joe Burrow did make the Dogs look like a high school second string in 2018 and 2019, so maybe there was some payback there from them, I don’t know. But Cajuns and Louisianans have long memories and will carry a grudge to the grave; and on that score I am definitely an honorary Cajun. (I said to a friend the other day, “I may not remember the reason, but I remember the grudge.”)

So, on that cheerful holiday note, I bid you adieu as I head into the spice mines, Constant Reader. Have a lovely day, whether you celebrate the holiday or not; at least have a lovely free day from worry or care, and I’ll check in which you again later.

Old Man River

Can you believe I’ve written all these Blatant Self-Promotion* posts about New Orleans and my book A Streetcar Named Murder and haven’t yet written about the most defining thing about the city–the Mississippi River?

Why, we would not be here if not for that mighty river, the Father of Waters.

Sometimes, just for shits and giggles, I try to imagine what it was like for the Europeans to see the Mississippi for the first time. Imagine you’re a colonizer, heading west and hacking your way through the Forest Primeval, and you suddenly come upon this enormous river. Or imagine you’re on a boat powered by the wind, following along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico and suddenly the water becomes muddy and messy and dirty, as opposed to the sparklingly clear blues and greens you’d been seeing since sailing into the Gulf in the first place? And then to come into the delta, trying to find the primary channel, and finding yourself in the fast-moving currents of an enormous river? Spaniard Hernando de Soto was the first European (well, probably one of his men, but he was the leader so naturally took credit for it) to lay eyes on the river inland just below Natchez; a Spanish navigator had already mapped the Gulf coastline by this time. Father Marquette explored the river, as did Joliet later (Marquette and Joliet played a very big role in my learning of History as a child in Chicago; a nearby suburb of Chicago was named Joliet. So learning the history of the Chicago area taught me about the exploration of the river by the French, coming south from Quebec and along the St. Lawrence through the Great Lakes). De la Salle discovered the mouth of the river and claimed it and all the land in its valley for France; Iberville rediscovered the mouth about fifteen years later and began exploring up the river, eventually deciding to settle a port/town/colony on the shores of the river where there was high ground…and that settlement became New Orleans.

For the record, the location was actually the perfect place for a city to be built, despite the climate, the water and the swampy land. New Orleans is the southern-most point on the river that is protected from the sea enough to accommodate shallow water ships but where it’s also deep enough to handle ocean-going ships. (The river is incredibly low right now–too low for barges to make it down here.) New Orleans became a vitally important city as the continent was slowly and gradually colonized by Europeans and later their descendants; water was the easiest mode of transportation before railroads and roads, and you can get almost everywhere within the two mountain ranges of the northern American continent by water. I think you used to be able to actually sail into the St. Lawrence down through the Great Lakes and down the Chicago and Illinois rivers to connect to the Mississippi and the Gulf, but am not sure if that is still true.

Because of the river and the Gulf, New Orleans became one of the most important ports in the western hemisphere and gradually one of the largest cities in the United States, and certainly one of the wealthiest.

I love the Mississippi River. It’s fascinated me since childhood; this enormous river that divides the country in two. As a child fascinated by history–beginning with US history–the importance of the Mississippi, and how it was linked to how the country grew and developed over the centuries, and how it was vital strategically and economically to a developing nation. The early fall of New Orleans during the Civil War guaranteed the Confederacy would fail. When Thomas Jefferson offered to buy New Orleans from Napoleon, the French conquerer, recognizing that without New Orleans the rest of the Louisiana territory was essentially worthless, threw in most of the North American continent in for a few million more. The primary takeaway for me from reading Mark Twain was his love of the river that I came to share. I also loved that I moved to New Orleans, practically the furthest south you can live on the river, from Minneapolis, practically the furthest north you can live on it. I can remember on a trip to the South from Chicago that we detoured and went to where the Ohio and Mississippi meet; I actually stood on that corner of Kentucky with the Ohio to my left and the Mississippi to my right. (The Ohio used to fascinate me as well; another river pivotal to the colonization and conquest of the continent.) I remember thinking how cool it was that the Ohio was blue and the Mississippi brown; that the wall of blue ended at the wall of brown–but there was a blue streak running down the middle of the brown for a good distance.

I love living here by the river, and one of the things I miss the most about working on Frenchmen Street is I don’t get the opportunity to walk down to Jackson Square, climb the levee, and stroll along the Moon Walk beside the river. It’s so massive that sometimes we forget how truly huge the river actually is; how when you fly into New Orleans over the river you can look from the window and see massive freighters that look like toys in a bathtub. Standing on the levee looking at the big freighters coming in or going out, they do seem almost like toys. I love how the city is below the river level, so when you’re driving down Tchoupitoulas the big ships are higher than the street.

I’d love to read about folk legends about the river, too–the size of the catfish and other creatures in its depths. And I want to write more about the river, too.

*Technically, I should be doing more of them, frankly.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Oh, seriously, sometimes I wonder how I manage to still have a career. I did a list of great New Orleans crime novels–a place to get started, because there are a lot of them–for Crime Reads; you can click here to read it. It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to the few I selected, but I also wanted to be certain that the ones I chose were ones I absolutely, positively loved. (The one exception is Dinner at Antoine’s; I read that one as a teenager when I went through a Frances Parkinson Keyes phase–I the King is my absolute favorite) and of course, I didn’t mention James Lee Burke because really, does anyone really need to mention him when it comes to New Orleans and Louisiana crime novels? He’s the uncrowned king of Louisiana crime fiction, plus not picking him relieved me of the duty to figure out which book to choose. (Although I would have undoubtedly gone with The Tin Roof Blowdown, his post Katrina novel, which made me cry several times.)

After making groceries yesterday morning–yes, it’s always smart to go to the Rouses in the CBD on a Saints home-game day, seriously–I came home and relaxed a bit before digging back into the book. I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have preferred; yesterday was one of those pulling hen’s teeth days. But the Saints managed to hang on to sweep Atlanta for the season, which is the highlight of their terrible season thus far (but we never lost to the Falcons this season), and then we finished watching Smiley (which is absolutely delightful) and then started Wednesday, which I’d been nervous about starting. I watched the original television version of The Addams Family, and Addams Family Values is one of my top three comedy movies of all time. I am still annoyed that Christina Ricci wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for either film; I’ve been a fan ever since and Wednesday, who didn’t really have much of a role on the original show, became my favorite character. I’d been putting it off, despite the great reviews, because I was worried I’d be disappointed. Constant Reader, I was not. Wednesday is terrific, and Jenna Ortega really nails the part. Catherine Zeta-Jones is fine as Morticia, but it’s hard to replace Anjelica Huston, who was sublime. We wound up bingeing almost the entire first season. Absolutely loving it.

It’s hard to believe this is it, the final countdown to Christmas. It’s this coming weekend, and while we still don’t have a refrigerator–out Christmas gift to ourselves this year–maybe we can get a great deal on one after Christmas. The ones with the freezer on the bottom are apparently all about an inch or two too tall to fit into the cubby where ours goes; it’s the damned unusable cabinets about it that are the problem. I don’t know if the cabinet needs to be torn out or if it can be raised a few inches and remounted on the wall; probably the easiest thing to do is just get the freezer-on-top size that fits and be done with it. It certainly would be the easiest thing to do, really. I just had my heart set on one with the freezer on the bottom–another disappointment I’ll need to learn to live with, apparently.

It’s cold again this morning, still sub-fifty degrees. The new heating system in the Lost Apartment works incredibly well–the only reason I even had the slightest clue that the it was cold outside was how cold the downstairs floor is beneath my socks. It’s supposed to freeze this weekend with a slight potential of snow–SNOW IN NEW ORLEANS (which I really need to write about sometime; the way the city reacts to snow always amuses me in a mean sort of way. Most people down here have no idea how to drive in snow or deal with it in any way, and why would they? It doesn’t snow enough for them to ever get used to driving in it. I don’t think it’s snowed here since before 2010? I don’t remember the last time it snowed here, but I remember the only really big snow we ever had; I just don’t remember what year it was. 2007? 2008? Something like that. But my goal for the holiday weekend is to get everything done that I need to get done on the way home from work on Thursday, so I don’t have to go outside for another four days in the cold. I’ll probably spend a lot of time working feverishly on finishing the book, of course, but will take Christmas day as a holiday from everything.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Monday, okay? I’ll be back in the dark tomorrow morning.

Underneath the Tree

Ah, Sunday. Sundae would be better, of course–who doesn’t love a sundae?

It’s below fifty this morning in New Orleans, so the predictions of colder weather coming our way in the forecast were clearly correct. It’s so nice having a heater that actually works. We didn’t turn it on upstairs, so when I got out of bed I felt a bit cold, but then I came downstairs where it is nice and comfortable. Maybe I can handle the cold weather with a working heater in the house. Who knew?

I worked a lot on the book yesterday and made a lot of progress with chores and things around the house. I’m hoping to get a big push today as well, and the only other thing I have to really do is go make groceries–I am debating as to whether or not that can wait until tomorrow on the way home from work but I am leaning towards going today and getting it over with. I also did some more refrigerator research–trying to find what I want in the price range we want that will also fit into the refrigerator space in the kitchen is proving to be more of a challenge than one would have expected. I think I found one that will barely fit into the space–it’s a matter of fractions of an inch–but we are also wondering if we can simply have the cabinet above the refrigerator removed to allow more room. Decisions, decisions–but there’s no rush, I suppose, other than my obsession now that we’ve decided to make the plunge and get a new one.

We started watching Smiley on Netflix last night, another Spanish language show with queer characters–it’s kind of a romantic comedy; there’s a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a straight couple, all loosely connected (the pretty young gay bartender works with one of the lesbian couple at her bar; the older gay guy works with the straight guy at an architectural firm) and kind of charming. The premise is that both Alex (the bartender) and Bruno are single and about ready to give up on romance and love. Alex has a string of one night stands with guys who ghost him; Bruno has no luck with dating apps–getting some really nasty responses when he reaches out. For some reason, Alex decides to use the bar phone to call his last ghosting date, all furious and hurt and angry–but misdials and leaves the message on Bruno’s phone instead. Bruno finally decides to call back–just to let Alex know the person he meant the message for never got it–and they start talking and decide to meet. It doesn’t go well, and they end up arguing–and end up back at Alex’s having the best sex either of them have ever had, but misunderstandings continue to get in the way. The lesbians are also at a crossroads in their relationship, and decide to work through the issues rather than breaking up, and the straight couple is also having some trouble. It’s cute, it’s funny, and the actors are all pretty appealing–and of course, it’s nice seeing an “opposites-attract” gay rom-com happening on my television screen. And the young man who plays Alex is really pretty. He was also in Merli, another Spanish show we started watching but gave up on; his name is Carlos Cuevas. The guy who plays Bruno is also far too handsome to be the troll we’re supposed to believe these gay boys think he is–he’s handsome, he’s successful, he’s intelligent–Miki Esparbé; or maybe it’s because he’s older, I don’t know. But I’m interested to see how this plays out.

Christmas is next weekend, which doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Part of this is because I am so focused on trying to get the book finished as well as trying to stay on top of everything else I am doing that days seems to slip through my fingers and the next thing you know, Christmas is next weekend. This whole year has been like this, frankly–the last few, if I am being completely honest, and in that same spirit, really everything from March 2020 on has been a confusing blur and I don’t remember when or where things happened. It’s also hard for me to grasp that 2010 was almost thirteen years ago, and trying to remember that entire decade isn’t easy. I guess this is what happens when you get older? Ah, well, it’s something I may never get used to but simply have to accept as reality, you know?

This week at work should also be interesting–the week before Christmas, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a weird time around the office. We never have a lot of appointments, and we also have a lot of no-shows, which can be a pain. Paul and I haven’t watched anything even remotely Christmassy; although the Ted Lasso Christmas Special might be a fun thing to revisit.

It’s also weird as the year comes to a close as I start reflecting back on the year, and what is different going into this new year as opposed to going into the last new year. The fact that I have trouble remembering what happened throughout the year is also not any help to me at all, frankly, and neither is the fact that I always have to stop and think was that 2020 or 2021? There are also a lot of draft posts accumulated here; things I wanted to write about when I was more awake and not caffeine-deprived, so that I didn’t misspeak or say something that out of proper context could be problematic. I never talked about my reread of Interview with the Vampire or my thoughts about the new show, which I greatly enjoyed and thought was very well done, for example. (And Mayfair Witches will be debuting in the new year, which I am really looking forward to watching.)

The blog has always been my way of waking up and warming up my brain and my writing muscles, which is why it is always so scattershot and all over the place. I’m not exactly sure when it went from a daily writing exercise to a “daily writing exercise while I wake up in the morning”, but that happened at some point in the last eighteen years; my livejournal began in December of 2004, and I’ve been plugging away either there or here ever since. How much has changed since then? It snowed that December, I remember that, and we were living in the carriage house with Skittle. I know we’d put up a tree, and we were kind of looking forward to 2005 being an easier year after everything that happened in 2004. Little did I realize the evangelical Christians of Virginia were waiting in the wings, as well as a little hurricane that would be named Katrina. I had only published four novels, and only two short stories that weren’t erotica. (I just remembered that when we lived in the carriage house I had to do the laundry at a laundromat–I don’t miss that at all, even if it did get it all over with much more quickly than here at home.)

But the blog was also supposed to be a place where I could write personal essays about subjects that matter a lot to me; things I want to write about but no one will pay me to write about, you know? I started getting more cautious about writing about touchy subjects around 2008, when I went full-time at NO/AIDS (I no longer work for NO/AIDS either; as much as I appreciate the way HIV/AIDS treatment and so forth has changed, I do kind of miss the days when we were a struggling queer health non-profit), despite being reassured by NO/AIDS management that I didn’t need to worry about anything I did or said as long as I wasn’t on the clock–I still didn’t want to do or say anything here that some hater could latch onto and make trouble for the agency with. So, I started censoring myself a little bit, and the more I became involved with other non-profit volunteer work the less I felt comfortable writing about sensitive or touchy subjects, especially as the country became more and more polarized. I’m very careful never to talk about my volunteer work or my day job on here as anything other than my volunteer work or my day job. I’ve compartmentalized my life–the way I always have, back to when I was closeted to one large segment of my life and not to a much smaller part–so much so, in fact, that I’m not certain that I can stop doing it. I think one of my goals for 2023 will be to not compartmentalize as much, and to maybe spend more time finishing those personal essays that I’ve started here and never finished.

But of course, there’s also a time issue. Isn’t there always?

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines and try to get going on everything I need to get done today. Have a lovely and comfortable Sunday wherever you are, Constant Reader. I will chat with you again soon, promise.

All I Want for Christmas Is You

Well, yesterday was a bit dramatic.

As I believe I mentioned, we were in a severe weather alert for most of the day, with everyone in the meteorology game saying conditions would seriously deteriorate in the mid-to-late afternoon. We started getting emails from upper management and operations in the mid-morning letting us know they were monitoring the weather as the afternoon drew nearer. (I had not really been aware of the bad storms that had passed by the north of us the day before, either.) The decision was made around three to close the building and send everyone home for their safety. I texted Paul to make sure he left his office (fortunately, he was working at home) and hurried home myself. It started raining by the time I got home, and settled in. Maybe about an hour or so later the warning alert on my phone went off, so I quickly tuned into the local meteorology maven Margaret Orr on WDSU (I love her, it’s going to be such a loss when she finally retires) as the storm was drawing nearer and it looked like it was going to form a tornado on the West Bank, just like that horrible storm back in March that also produced one. The maps they use on television aren’t the greatest, especially when they are pulled back as far, so it looked like my neighborhood was in the direct path for awhile. That was a bit nerve-wracking, especially as they were also giving times of arrival–“this storm will be in the lower Garden District in five minutes”–so we just braced ourselves and waited. But fortunately for us (but not for others) this storm followed almost the exact same path as the one in March–following the river and jumping across at Arabi and the lower 9th ward. But we did have some major rain and wind rattling the house. Fortunately, I had Scooter sleeping in my lap, which is always calming, and then it was past and over.

The Entergy power map seems to indicate the office has power, so operations will resume today, one would assume.

It’a also colder today–right now it’s in the fifties–which could account for me not wanting to get up this morning; it’s always so comfortable and comforting when you’re under a pile of blankets when it’s chilly. I feel like I slept through the night for the most part. I think I woke up once? But I feel more rested this morning than I have all week, which is a good thing. This is my last day in the office this week, with tomorrow being a work-at-home day. I made it through another week, but man, time is flying. I spent most of the evening reading parts of When Women Ruled the World on my Kindle or randomly opening The Prime Time Closet to read bits and pieces. When Women Ruled the World is about the sixteenth century; a period I’ve mentioned before because more women held power that century than any century before or since, and I’ve always wanted to write about those women in a book called The Monstrous Regiment of Women, taking its title from John Knox’ horrifically misogynistic text; but whereas I would want to merely overview the women who have been written about extensively already (Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, etc.) while paying more attention to the ones not as famous (infamous?) in today’s popular culture, like Margaret of Austria, Mary of Hungary, Marie de Guise, Catherine de Medici, Queen Margot, etc. (It was also the same century that produced Elizabeth Bathory…) I should have read more of Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side, but after the adrenaline rush and emotional distress about being in the potential path of a tornado, my mind was too fried to focus on fiction. I did work on the book some, but my mind was just not in the right place for that sort of work. Hopefully, tonight and tomorrow progress will be made and I can get this under control.

And of course, Christmas is next weekend. Next weekend? Yikes!

Something awful happened to me yesterday on social media that I am still processing, so I am not really quite ready to talk about it here. It ties into a blog entry I’ve been toying with for quite some time now; but it’s not really something I can write when I am waking up and swilling coffee; it’s too personal and too complex to trust to a tired brain that isn’t as awake as it should be to tackle such a subject. I mean, it’s bad enough when you see people you know being openly homophobic or transphobic on social media, it’s even worse when it’s directed specifically at you. By someone you’ve known for years, and maybe didn’t quite consider a friend, but was definitely an acquaintance with whom you were friendly. Well, that ship has sailed–and it’s really interesting to me to see how many people who claim to be allies draw the line when it comes to my transgender siblings. But make no mistake about it: you come for the T you’re coming for me as well. When the right wing comes for the trans community and/or drag queens (which are often not the same thing), make no mistake about it, they are coming for all of us. Just as they used to vilify gay men and lesbians until most decent human beings saw how repugnant it was, they think drag queens and transpeople are an easier way to get to legalize the discrimination against all of us that they want. The language they are using is the same as the ones Anita Bryant used in the 1970’s, and the bigots who have come along in her wake have picked up the banner and use the same coded language she did. “Protect the children!” has always been their battlecry, but who are they to decide how parents should raise their children? What children should be exposed to? Your complaints about “the children” stop at your own. You do not have the right to tell other parents how to raise their children or what they can or cannot be exposed to; and the entire concept of “exposing young children to drag queens is sexualizing them!” is complete fucking bullshit on its face–and you fucking straight people have nerve saying that to queer people while keeping your fucking mouths about toddler beauty pageants. Where are the fucking Proud Boys with their AK-47’s at those events, where they paints the faces of children and dress them provocatively to the point most of them look like incredibly cheap streetwalkers? And don’t you fucking dare ever tell me that Drag Queen Story Hours are inappropriate for children because basically you are fucking saying no queer people should be around children.

Go straight to fucking hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

And don’t you ever dare speak to me again.

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

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah, yes, time for hot men in Christmas clothing. I usually wait and just do the twelve days of Christmas thematically here, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure that out. And why not do an extra couple of days of holiday cheer? We could always use more cheer and happiness and joy in this sometimes grim and grotesque world and life. Today is going to be dedicated to three things: more work on my book, picking up the groceries I ordered, and making potato-leek soup. I’m also going to spend some time this morning reading. I finished Wanda Morris’ marvelous Anywhere You Run yesterday, and started Nelson Ahlgren’s A Walk on the Wild Side. Someone on Facebook had posted they were going to watch the film (starring Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda) and I, who have never seen it, vaguely remembered it was connected to New Orleans. I did some research and yes, sure enough, it was indeed a novel first; and since it’s about the demimonde here in the 1930’s, I figured it was a necessary read for my understanding of the past of the city and perhaps even a needed read for the canon of New Orleans fiction. No one ever talks about this book in connection with the city, maybe because Ahlgren wasn’t a native? One can never be completely sure, can one? So, I will probably read some of that for about an hour–I like the idea of dedicating one hour every day to reading; maybe that will help me get through the ever-growing TBR pile. I know I wanted to do some Christmas reading–I am saving Donna Andrews’ Dashing Through the Snowbirds for Christmas day as a gift to myself–and I have some Christmas crime short story collections on hand as well, so I could do a story a day–maybe that will be what I do for the Twelve Days? Not a bad idea.

I slept well last night, which was a lovely experience–Scooter cuddled and purred with my for most of the night, which helped me enormously; making us doze off is truly his super-power–and woke up at a decent hour this morning. I think I am going to be able to get a lot more work done on the book than I did yesterday. It’s finally taking shape and I know where I am going with it along the way now, so I have to revise and redo the first half of the book to get it in line with how the final act will play out. I got started on it yesterday, and the story makes a lot more sense now than it did (and that is not me being hard on myself, either; what I had already done wasn’t badly written, it was just disjointed and had a lot of info dumps that have to be put into the story in a more organic way). I pulled up Spotify yesterday and listened to music while I worked on the book–Paul wasn’t home–which was cool. I listened to the Liza Minnelli that was produced by the Pet Shop Boys (it is truly outstanding; give it a listen sometime) and then cycled through some Pet Shop Boys albums as that was clearly the musical theme of the day. Paul will be home today, so I’ll probably just put in my ear buds and listen that way–I’d forgotten what a difference having music on makes to my writing and productivity.

We watched another true crime documentary last night, The Lost Boys of Bucks County, which–similar to the ones we were watching about the Murtaugh family–shows again the difference in how the law treats the wealthy and powerful as opposed to people that are considered unimportant and disposable. “They were just trash to be thrown away,” someone said towards the end of this sad story, in which four young men were pointlessly murdered over the course of three days. I’ve been thinking about–toying with, teasing it around inside my brain for quite some time–writing a suburban serial killer in the 1970’s book, based on the suburb where I lived for five years and the life people lived there, and then grafting a serial killer based on Houston’s Candyman onto the story. I’d been calling it Where the Boys Die for quite some time now, which I don’t think is the right title for this story; Where the Boys Die is a spring-break revenge spree killing story, and I think this one should be The Summer of Lost Boys or something along those lines. I know, I know, I talk about books I want to write all the time and never seem to get around to…but I think 2023 is going to be the year of finishing things that aren’t finished and getting them out of the way. Groan, that’s going to be a lot of work…but the kind of work I love doing, so there’s also that–and yes, I am well aware that I always have to force myself to do things I love. What can I say? I love being lazy and doing nothing the most out of everything.

When I was at home for Thanksgiving, my recently retired brother-in-law asked me what my plans for Retirement were. I know what he was really asking–my family is nothing if not predictable (are you going to move up here to be close to us once you no longer have a job? because it does not compute to any of them on any level that it’s not my job that anchors me in New Orleans. I live here because I choose to live in New Orleans, and I love it here. They can’t imagine making any such decision that would keep them out of the bosom of the family deliberately.)–but I chose to respond with “Well, I can’t wait for it to come. Counting the days” and he replied, “Oh, you’re in for a big surprise–you might want to hold your horses a bit on that.” He meant well, and I know what he meant; he’s been bored since he retired and the adjustment to not having to be somewhere for a set amount of time Monday through Friday hasn’t been easy. It wasn’t easy for my father, either–still isn’t. They, and other men of their generations, were conditioned to work and to identify their selves with their job and the work. That isn’t me. I love my job, don’t get me wrong–it’s the perfect fit for me on every level, and even now the only thing I don’t like about it is we no longer have non-traditional hours. I miss not having to be at the office until eleven most of the week and having my mornings free to get things done before going into the office, and not having to be in bed by ten most nights. The only thing I truly dislike about my job is the forty hours I have to spend working at it–because I would much rather be utilizing that time to write. Will I be bored when I retire? Probably not. I am never bored and can always find something to do. There’s the TBR pile, for example, and I am always writing something anyway. There’s a shit ton of classic films for me to work my way through, and other films and television shows I would love to rewatch and revisit.

And there’s always going to be books to read, errands to run, dishes to wash, clothes to launder, and so on. I’d also probably go to the gym with a higher degree of frequency as well.

So, no, I won’t be bored when I retire from my day job. I’ll probably wind up working even harder once I do retire.

And now I am going to read for an hour, and get back to work on the book. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

What a Shame

One of the great joys of being a voracious reader is discovering a new-to-me talent: a terrific writer capable of creating relatable characters; telling great stories using wonderfully constructed, lyrical prose; and illuminating experiences and lives that are vastly different from my own, using fiction as a method to not only entertain but educate.

Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of reading Wanda M. Morris’ impressible debut, All Her Little Secrets, which I raved about in a blog entry. Of course, that was her book from last year, so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this year’s Wanda M. Morris novel, Anywhere You Run, and it does not disappoint in any way other than coming to an end.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Wanda earlier this year at Left Coast Crime, and she is as lovely a person as she is as a writer.

All four men passed around a bottle of Jim Beam as they peeled up State Route 19, giddy with excitement about what they’d do once they hog-tied those coons and got them to a tree. The engine revved as they hit the crest of the road, doing 80 mph. Getting pulled over was the least of their concerns because Olen’s cousin, Sheriff Bickford, was riding shotgun. Bickford had gotten a tip and rounded up the other three to head from Jackson over to Meridian and then north to Neshoba County.

Olen, sitting there in the back seat, threw back a swig and passed the bottle on, assuring the others they were doing God’s work. “The last thing anybody needs is for them to start votin’. Bad enough the goddamn government wants us to let ’em eat in our restaurants and sit beside us on a bus. If the Lord has meant for whites to mix with coloreds, he woulda’ made the coloreds a hell of a lot smarter. Either we stay all white or we die amongst ’em.”

A couple of the other men nodded in silent agreement.

Anywhere You Run is, in some ways, a kind of prequel to All Her Little Secrets, in that it gives us the backstory on some of the characters in the first novel. Set in the turbulent 1960’s, during the Civil Rights struggle in the old Confederate states and the resistance to racial equality from the Southern bigots, this may be one of the first novels I’ve ever read to show that time from the perspective of a woman of color? (There was a woman of color point-of-view character in William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but I’d need to revisit that book to make a comparison, but I know the visceral sense of being othered, of knowing there is no justice for you in this world and society, wasn’t as strong in the Huie novel as it is in this one.) I’m not going to go out on a limb and claim that as fact, but it is likely–and being Southern, and seeing the South of the time through this lens (remember, I was alive then, too, but my perspective was greatly different), was sobering. Morris brings the time to life with a vivid, powerful brush that makes it very clear what it was like to be a second-class citizen in a system designed to keep you there.

The story focuses on two sisters from Jackson, Mississippi–Violet and Marigold. Their parents are dead, as is their older sister, Rose; the two sisters are very different and on different paths, but they love each other very deeply and have a strong sisterly bond. Marigold has been working at a Civil Rights office in Jackson while having an affair with a married lawyer, come south for the summer to work on voting rights, and finds herself pregnant. SHe’s been seeing a man she doesn’t love, Roger Bonny, and decides to marry him and move north with him to Cleveland, leaving the Jim Crow South far behind her. Violet also wants out of Jackson and the book opens with her running–but for different reasons and in an entirely different situation. Violet was raped by a white man, and knowing there was no justice possible for a woman of color under these circumstances, kills him. She’s also been dating a white man, Dewey Leonard, who claims to be in love with her–and wants to run away with her and marry her in Boston. Violet doesn’t love Dewey, but she sees him as her ticket out of town. As the two of them flee, they are stopped by a cop once they’ve crossed the Alabama state line, and the fact Dewey has to act like she’s in his employ to save them both only convinces her that her plan to run away from Dewey the first chance she gets is the right one. She avails herself of the first opportunity that presents itself–ironically, at the same Birmingham Greyhound station where the freedom riders were attacked by a mob and police dogs–and catches a bus to a nowhere little town in rural Georgia–Chillicothe, which is very important in All Her Little Secrets.

But Dewey isn’t ready to let go of Violet, and hires a white-trash no account to track her down for him. He loves her and wants her back–but probably would be willing to let her go except for the wallet, which contains something that puts both Violet and Marigold’s lives in grave danger.

This is an exceptionally good novel, tightly plotted and highly evocative of the period Morris is writing about. It couldn’t have been easy, researching this painful past that we as a nation should be incredibly ashamed of; no writer is powerful or talented enough to truly bring the totality of the horror that was life for people of color in this country, particularly in the South, to life. But Morris does it beautifully; by focusing on how individual lives were affected and impacted, the implications of how truly horrible this time was on a macro level can easily be extrapolated. There are also slurs, accurate to the time and the characters using them, which are jarring to come across in the present day in the printed word.

But I’ve also heard those words used…not in a very long time, but seeing them in print I can hear them again vividly in my head, dripping with venom and hatred and contempt.

This book is fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and I urge you, Constant Reader, to start reading Wanda M. Morris.