Baby I Love Your Way

So, it’s Friday, and $562 later (not including the cost of the appointment itself) at the optometrist’s later, I am home. But I have my first new glasses in three years on order, and a year’s supply of contact lenses, which I am trying to get better about wearing more regularly. Part of the resignation to being old and not going to the gym regularly (if at all) anymore was the loss of contact lenses as an option years ago…I still don’t like the progressive lenses, but I am getting used to them, and I am very hopeful my vanity is going to kick in and get me off my ass.

I mean, if I don’t have to wear my glasses…

Don’t hold your breath.

So, here’s an insight into how my brain and my memory works. For years, I’ve been trying to remember the name and author of a book I read during a horror phase in the 1980’s–during that time I fantasized of being a horror novelist. When I worked at Bank of America, I didn’t have a car, and had to take the bus to and from work. I had to change busses at the Manchester Mall, going and coming, and on paydays I would, rather than catching the next bus, going into the mall, go to the B. Dalton and browse the books, and after getting a bag of books, I would eat in the food court–there was a place that had an amazing hamburger with grilled onions and bell peppers, but it wasn’t cheap and this was part of my payday treat for myself. (It was during this time period that I also went through a fantasy period; this was when I read the rest of The Shannara Chronicles and  The Belgariad) There was a horror novel that I read that has always stuck with me; when I moved to Houston from California I left most of my books behind, alas. For years I’ve been trying to remember the author’s name and the book’s title; it was set in rural New Jersey, the main characters were from New York and for some reason were spending the summer, independently of each other, in this small rural town. I remember there was a demon or a devil in a tree in the prologue which consumed someone; but there’s not much more I remember, except how brilliantly and vividly the author described things; there was a scene with the young woman working in a public library in Manhattan that was so vivid I could see the cracks in the paint and the plaster.

Today I was listening to Spotify and cued up The Best of New Order. When the song “Ceremony” came on I thought, that’s a great title for a horror short story or novella sand I was starting to reach for a pen when it hit me between the eyes, that novel set in rural New Jersey you’ve been trying to remember for twenty years was titled The Ceremonies.

A quick check on Google, and sure enough, the book is The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein.

And now I need to get a copy so I can reread it.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Walk Away from Love

Wednesday and I am being betrayed, left and right, by idiotic technology.

I had to take my fucking phone back to factory settings because despite updating my phone the other day, last night my computer didn’t fucking recognize my phone again. (You can certainly tell Steve Jobs died…the quality of Apple’s overpriced products has gone into steep decline since his death. This kind of shit never happened on his watch.) And my email inbox is also having some issues today as well.

I don’t have time for this nonsense.

Seriously.

I’ve not written hardly at all this week, because I got sucked down into a rabbit hole regarding the crime fiction community these last two days–yet another train wreck I can’t look away from. I hope to get back in the writing saddle again today, though; fingers crossed there won’t be any more developments of nonsense! But the way things have been going…it certainly wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

I watched another episode of Chernobyl last night, and seriously, this is some extraordinary television. It’s depressing and horrifying as all  hell, but like the crime fiction kerfuffle or a train wreck, I simply can’t stop watching. The fourth episode–if you’re a pet lover, do not watch. The show is doing a terrific job of showing the disaster from the point of view of every day citizens affected, and what the disaster has done to them and their lives; episode four is particularly ghoulish and while true, it was awful and heartbreaking to watch: you see, all the people had to be evacuated out of the hot zone, but they didn’t take the contaminated animals with them…including pets. So, a team of people were assigned to go around and shoot all the cats and dogs the citizens had to leave behind–they were contaminated and it was a mercy, rather than letting them die a horrific, slow painful death from radiation. The part of the episode dealing with this was all shown from the point of view of an eighteen year old newly inducted soldier who volunteered to help out in the hot zone. I had to pause and get up and walk away several times during the episode because it was, frankly, too much. There’s one scene in particular…Christ, I can’t even write about it.

Chernobyl, despite the incredible acting, writing, and production values, is not an easy thing to watch. It’s filmed like a horror movie–very bleak and hopeless–and what makes it worse is something I realized after Hurricane Katrina; that no matter how bad something looks on television or in a film, the reality is so much worse. I will never get the images of what the lower 9th ward looked like that October of 2005, and how television didn’t even capture a fraction of the actual horror and devastation.

And on that note, I am heading back to the spice mines.


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Wham Bam

So, I burned my upper lip over the weekend (my lower lip also, but not as bad as the upper) and this is something I’ve never done before, so am not really sure how to deal with it. My lips hurt, of course, and it’s not like you can bandage your lip. I just kept putting Blistex on them the last few days whenever it felt like they were cracking (yes, that’s a thing) but I ate pizza for dinner last night and must have burned the upper lip even more because this morning I woke up with it covered in dried blood and kind of scabby. I carefully washed it, clearing off the dried blood, and then of course it started bleeding again. It has since stopped, thanks to regular blotting with tissue, but nonetheless, it was a rather traumatic way to start the day, but there we are.

I set my alarm to get up at seven, allowing myself an extra hour’s sleep than Monday and Tuesday, but naturally hit snooze and wound up getting up at eight thirty. Not disgraceful, mind you, but not pleasing in my eyes.

I wound up not working on the book yesterday, after all; a review of Chapter Eleven showed me that writing it disjointedly the way I had meant that there are things in the first part of the chapter that I repeat in the second half, which means I need to revise it before moving on. This was actually fine with me; I used the day to start rewriting “The Snow Globe” based on the lovely notes I’d received from the editor who’d rejected it (thank you again and a big shout out to Sandra Kasturi!) and the story is better and more cohesive now; it actually makes sense, and again, returning to a story months after the last time I’d looked at it–yeah, clunky sentences and paragraphs that don’t flow into each other, etc., to the point that I was actually embarrassed I’d let Sandra read it in the first place as she is an editor I admire. Oh, well, I’m sure it was neither the first nor the last time an editor read something of mine and thought, how in the hell did he get published, and how the hell did he win those awards?

Sigh.

I decided to take Friday off so I have a four-day weekend to look forward to, which is, naturally, quite lovely. I hope to get a lot done–don’t I always–but if I don’t, I am fine with just getting rested and doing some writing and some cleaning. I will, of course, come up with an enormously lengthy list of the things I want to get done, but we’ll see how it goes. I made a to-do list for the week yesterday, which is a lovely and nice change–I really need to get back into the habit of doing that–and I also made an eye appointment so I can get new glasses/contact lenses. Look at me, getting things done!

We also watched the most recent episode of Fosse/Verdon last night. The show is amazing on every level, and not just for the stunning performances of Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams in the leads. Williams deserves an Emmy, but the Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category is going to be a tough one, I suspect, this coming year. But as I watched the original production of Chicago coming together, and Gwen baring her teeth–especially when she had to have surgery on her vocal chords and walk away from the show for six weeks, being replaced by Liza Minelli, who then turned the show into a huge hit–I couldn’t help thinking of Valley of the Dolls and Helen Lawson, which then led me down a primrose path in my head of imagine if this story was being told by Jacqueline Susann, a thought that’s still, obviously, lingering in my head this morning.

The other interesting thing I am taking away from watching the show is astonishment at realizing just how HUGE a star on Broadway Gwen Verdon actually was; I’d heard of her before, of course–who doesn’t know Damn Yankees, and we actually did it in high school–and Sweet Charity, but I’d literally no idea precisely how big a star she actually was. She was considered the best singer/dancer on Broadway in the 50’s/60’s–and you have to remember who the other women appearing on Broadway during that time were to realize how important she must have been: Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, and Chita Rivera, to name a few–and she won four Tonys. FOUR.

Damn it, now I am going to have to read the book the series is based on, Fosse.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Happy Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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Welcome Back

I managed fourteen hundred words today, and then came up blank. I hate when that happens, but I just can’t force the creativity, you know? And those fourteen hundred words were hard to do, frankly. But I printed out the next chapter (Chapter Seven, to be exact) and will reread that at some point before getting to work on it, perhaps later, before Game of Thrones airs. I am planning on making this weird combination Swedish meatball/beef stroganoff dish for dinner (I’ve made both, and then one time when I was making Swedish meatballs later I realized I’d used the stroganoff recipe, but you know what? I also liked it. A lot. And I’ve made it that way ever since) later, and the kitchen is relatively clean already (and my goal is to leave it clean when I finish cooking; the worst thing is to go into my two long days at work with a messy kitchen, knowing it will most likely stay that way, getting worse, until Thursday–unless I somehow have more energy during the week than I usually do). I’ve filed stuff, cleaned the floors, paid the bills, made groceries, mailed things that needed to be mailed, and I wrote fourteen hundred words on the WIP today before running out of steam. Perhaps someday I’ll work my way back up to those halcyon days of three thousand or more I used to do routinely, but having a nice, relaxing weekend where I am actually able to get started writing and get caught up on things and have a clean home is a lovely way to start, don’t you think?

I certainly do.

I’m going to miss Game of Thrones when it ends, and I doubt very seriously I will ever go back and watch the entire series again. It’s a tempting thought, to be honest, to devote several months to rewatching it in full, from episode one to its conclusion, in one massive binge and think about what I am watching, in terms of what I know is going to happen and watching for possible foreshadowing. I’ve always loved history, and that’s part of why I love Game of Thrones so much; it’s kind of like history where you don’t know how it all ends. When I was a kid I used to redraw maps of Europe and create countries and change the way wars ended and try to create my own Eurocentric history of the world; who knew that what I was actually doing wasn’t simply a waste of time but rather an incredibly creative experiment in world building via alternative history. Every so often, when I’ve been caught up in a science fiction or fantasy epic series, I wonder at the world building/universe building creativity of the author and think I could never do that. I’ve always wanted to, but never have; but perhaps that was simply a failing of my own. Of course I could do it, but whether I could do it well would be an entirely different thing.

I don’t read as much science fiction and fantasy as I would like–I’ve always geared more towards crime and horror–but I’ve certainly read and enjoyed the Dune series, The Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, The Shannara Chronicles, and Azimov’s science fiction novels about the robots and the empire and the Foundation, which wound up in the end all being one great big long series. There are writers out there now that I am looking forward to reading–I am not only diversifying the types of stories I read by race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, and sexuality, but I am also trying to read more broadly across genres. Reading science fiction, fantasy, romance, even what is condescendingly called “chick lit”, and even some literary fiction will influence me and help make me a better writer in the long run. I read primarily for enjoyment, yes, but I also want to be a better writer, and reading different stories and different perspectives can only serve to make me a better writer.

I guess in reality when the show ends I won’t be saying goodbye completely to Game of Thrones; I still have the books to finish reading, and there will undoubtedly be spin-off shows–but seriously, is anyone at HBO listening? Your next big series should be Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern. Her dragon books would be fantastic television, and for that matter so would Naomi Norvik’s (which I need to read; I started reading one a long time ago and was completely enthralled; something came up and I never finished and I never got back to it, and I’ve always regretted that).

I am also, in case you haven’t noticed, not only in that stage of writing where I never want to do it, have to force myself to do it, but when I finally do I am not happy with what I have done. I am completely convinced this book isn’t going to be what I want it to be, what I envisioned it to be, and its entirely due to my own various shortcomings as an author. It’s all part and parcel of the same neurosis, really; the endless cycle of Imposter Syndome, where you think you’ve somehow managed to con people for years that you can write but eventually the gig will be up and the marks you’ve been conning all along will finally wise up. This all too frequently translates I need to work today into what’s the point of writing? This book is shit, anyway, and no one is going to want to read it which very easily becomes let me get watch Youtube videos of Game of Thrones fan theories and listicles or highlights of exciting LSU football games or really hot well built muscular professional wrestlers or old music videos or clips from old episodes of All My Children–yes, those downward Youtube spirals can be quite frightening sometimes.

But I did make myself get those fourteen hundred words done today, even though I didn’t want to do it, even though I thought I should do three thousand, even though I currently think the words I wrote are crap and the chapter is crap and the character is two dimensional and I don’t know what I am doing, I FUCKING WROTE THOSE GODDAMNED WORDS TODAY.

And that’s fourteen hundred more words than I did yesterday, or Friday, or Thursday.

And I bet tomorrow I can do more than fourteen hundred.

Watch closely now.

What do I say to the God of Imposter Syndrome? NOT TODAY, MOTHERFUCKER, NOT TODAY.

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Sara Smile

Well, I slept much later than I usually do; I did wake up at seven but through nah, too early and went back to sleep, not awakening again until nine-thirty-ish. And yes, that is late for me, but I also stayed up later than I usually do because Paul and I got sucked into a marathon binge of season three of Santa Clarita Diet, which dropped this week. We have three episodes left to go–which will probably be watched this evening–and then we have to decide which of the shows we’d already started we want to finish–either Umbrella Academy or You. There are also some other shows we need to finish, others that look like possibilities, and Netflix also added some great classic films I’ve been wanting to watch again; namely Bonnie and Clyde, All the President’s Men, Deliverance, the reboot of Friday the 13th, and the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. I also intend to start reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home, kicking the Diversity Project back into gear, and I also want to finish reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s for the Short Story Project.

I also need to start doing some sort of promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, but I’m not exactly sure what and how and…you get the picture; again, I don’t really know how I have a career.

I was thinking about the Diversity Project the other day, and I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think it’s right that I have to turn reading diverse authors into a “project” to make diversifying my reading happen. Even saying The Diversity Project makes it sound effortful, as though if I didn’t make a point of it I wouldn’t do it. And that’s clearly wrong on every level. And I’ve been failing miserably at it thus far this year, no matter how many excuses I want to make for it. This of course has me examining my own prejudices. I’ve bought the books, of course, which is an important first step and every sale helps, but I also need to not only read the books but talk about them. Here it is April and the only one I’ve talked about is Walter Mosley; what kind of an ally am I to minority writers, of which I am one?

Apparently, not a very good one.

I had already softened the project’s goal from focusing on only reading minority writers to interspersing them with others; so if I read a book by a non-minority writer the next one I have to read must be by a minority writer. That hasn’t worked overly well, either; part of it has been due to my own, I don’t know, weird ambivalence to this year–something that’s been going on since around the Great Data Disaster of 2018. I’ve also realized, just this past week, that the Great Data Disaster wasn’t really where it all started. My life has been in an almost constant state of upheaval of some sort or another since late October, just before Halloween. My day job moved from the office where we’d been located since I was hired back in 2005 (the office actually opened in 2000) into a new location, which required all sorts of adaptation. For almost the entire first month of the existence in the new office we didn’t do a lot of testing, which is what my job is, which meant I was working a weird (to me) early morning to late afternoon shift–say, 8-430ish. This freed my evenings and I was going to town on writing and revising Scotty in those free evenings, because the Festivals were also kicking into high gear and Paul was coming home late. Then came December with a readjustment to working a new schedule all over again, followed by the Great Data Disaster, the Christmas holidays, and then Carnival. During that time period I was also working on finishing up my job as a book award judge and diving into a new task for this year, also involving award judging but not actually having to read anything (I really can’t say more than that about it; but it’s a big endeavor and I will leave it at that)I don’t think I ever really got a handle on anything, which is why I felt like my life was happening and I was not actively participating in it.

And softening the goal also makes me question myself and my internal, subconscious prejudices and biases. Yes, I had to read three books to moderate my panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival, which wasn’t easy and really involved a lot of cramming at the end. Why do I automatically reach for a book by a straight white writer when it’s time to chose another book to read? Why will I justify taking that book out of the stack rather than reaching for a book by a minority writer? It is these unconscious biases and prejudices that need to be ripped out by the root and plowed under with salt so they won’t take root again; and  not just in reading, but in life. 

I think I do a better job with my life than I do with my reading, quite frankly.

I also had thought, when I started on this, that I would expand the project outside the bounds of crime fiction and include other genres as well. I’ve always believed that reading more widely outside of one’s genre will make one a better author by exposing you to different styles of writing, different stories and different characters. Horror is always my immediate go-to when it comes to reading outside of mystery, but I also need to read more fantasy, science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. I also don’t want to stop reading women crime writers, either.

The exposure to other voices, other thoughts, other mindsets, will not only make me a better writer but a better person. What better key to understanding experiences outside my own is there than actually reading books outside my own experience, and to see the common humanity?

My first thought on rising so late this morning was well, you’ve shot your day to hell. But that isn’t true. I can still get things done today as long as I don’t allow myself to bog down on generalities or give up on the day. It would be ridiculously easy, you know, to simply write the entire day off and do nothing, but I really don’t want to waste the day. I’d like to get another chapter of the WIP finished, for one thing, and I’d like to work on this proposal I’m putting together. The kitchen needs work and there’s always filing that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of mess around. I also need to make a quick run to the grocery store as well.

So, on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Romeo’s Tune

It’s PARADE SEASON, boys and girls!

Tomorrow’s afternoon parades were moved up an hour due to the possibility of inclement weather–which does rather make one wonder about the evening parades–but tis Carnival Season in New Orleans, so the weather is what it is, and we celebrate and enjoy around it. I mean, it usually rains during Jazz Fest, too. And I don’t think I ever remember a Carnival season where there wasn’t at least one cold, rainy night for parades.

The weather has been interesting lately; what I like to call New Orleans Gothic. It’s gray, rainy and warm during the day, and then the fogs rolls in as the sun goes down and it gets about ten degrees cooler. The cloud cover reflects the lights, so the clouds above at night aren’t dark but strange, light shades of orange and pinks and blues, yet closer to the ground, beneath the live oaks, its dark and the fog wraps itself around things so things begin to disappear about five feet or so ahead of you.

As I drove home from work and running errands late yesterday afternoon I began to notice the tell-tale signs; portable fencing lined up on neutral grounds, ready to be put into place for the parades. More and more houses are hanging Carnival flags and putting up their decorations. Fences are festooned with beads glittering in the sun when it peeks through the clouds for a moment or two. The grocery stores have, of course, been stocking King cakes since before Christmas, and everything you would need to party outdoors for days on end are on prominent display throughout the stores. The mood of the city is also starting to lift, which is always lovely.

New Orleans is always in a state of flux; but change seems to come slower here than it does in other places, and there’s always some resistance to those changes. I was thinking the other day that the New Orleans of today is so vastly different than the New Orleans I moved to all those years ago, that I fell in love with even longer ago. But no matter what, it’s always New Orleans here; there are some things that never change, that never go away. The friendliness, for one, and that peculiar to New Orleans us against the rest of the world mentality I’ve never really experienced anywhere else; the way the city will fight and squabble and complain and argue and bicker, but band together as one against outsiders. (In some ways, the Saints are the embodiment of this particular virtue, but that’s a subject for another time.)

I was at the office a mere two hours this morning, which I spent doing odds-and-ends I’m responsible for, and then hit the grocery store on my way home since I won’t be able to get anywhere this weekend. It’s warm–low seventies–but yeesh, is it ever muggy out there! I was sweating bringing the groceries in from the car, which…I mean, it’s still February. But I got enough stuff to get us through until the staycation next week starts.

I also read another one of Norah Lofts’ ghost stories from Hauntings: Is There Anybody There?, titled “Victorian Echo:”

When my great-aunt Julia died she was eighty-seven, and she had attained her last objective, which was to die in her own house.

She left far more money than anyone would have expected. Most of it went to rather obscure charities, but she left her house, its contents, and a thousand pounds to me; a surprise, and a very pleasant one. She had always lived rather parsimoniously; I had sometimes wondered if she had enough to eat and on my visits had taken food, making rather thin excuses.

Jon and I went out to look at my inheritance on a Sunday, the only day on which we were both free. It was mid-March, a sunny, windy, hopeful day with catkins in th ehedges and primroses in the ditches. Joe did not know the house well; he had come with me a time or two, but Julia disliked him and showed it.

Norah Lofts’ ghost stories are more Gothic than scary; her goal isn’t necessarily to give you a jump scare, but rather to get under your skin and make it crawl just a little bit. Her Victorian style of writing is absolutely perfect for this; she’s very much in the school of The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson in that way. For our happily married young couple in this story, pinching pennies to make ends meet, this inheritance of a house and a small fortune is indeed a blessing for them…until they start to notice that their behavior changes when they are actually inside the house…

Great, great fun.

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Tired of Toein’ the Line

Friday! I’m in love!

Heh heh. Well, it’s true; I have been for almost twenty four years. It’s hard sometimes to wrap my mind around how long that is…it’s hard sometimes to wrap my mind around how old I am. But sometimes…when I have to get up ridiculously early (like today) I feel every minute of those fifty-seven years.

Heavy sigh.

But today is a short day and I’ll be off work at one this afternoon, and then it’s off to run my errands and come home to clean and revise the Scotty. The goal for today is to get somewhat caught up on the revision and to finish reading Devil in a Blue Dress, which I am really enjoying. I also want to read another one of Norah Lofts’ ghost stories from Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? I really like that her ghost stories are more Gothic and quietly creepy than anything else; that’s kind of the vibe I’m trying to go for in the WIP, so choosing to read her stories was probably a rather wise move on my part–unintentional, of course, but no less wise in any case.

And is it just me, or has the world gone crazy? Last night I saw the perfect tweet, one that perfectly encapsulated this week: If you didn’t predict that ‘politicians in blackface’ would get upstaged by ‘dick pics of billionaires’ by the end of the week, I don’t know what to tell you.

This brave new world in which we all live.

I made Swedish meatballs for dinner last night and they were most delicious, thank you very much. I don’t really follow a recipe anymore; I just kind of do it from memory, which means they taste different every time I make them. I have a slightly messy kitchen as a result, but it won’t take long to get it cleaned and set to rights again. And two weeks from today the first parades of Carnival roll down St. Charles Avenue. It’s hard to believe that the parades are nigh; I am kind of looking forward to them, to be honest. With the move to the new office and the realization that I simply can’t walk to work anymore during parade season, this will be the first time in years I’ll actually be able to enjoy the parades without having to deal with walking to and from work almost every day. I may actually make it through the season without the bone-tired exhaustion I’ve become accustomed to–madness.

The temperature dropped about twenty degrees overnight, and it’s supposedly going to drop a little further. Of course, that means it’s in the fifties, which is still much more tolerable than the bitter cold in many parts of the country; I think there’s a hundred degree difference between the weather here and in Montana, per a post I saw on Facebook this morning from a friend who lives up there. A hundred degree difference. How insane is that?

Pretty fucking insane, I’d say.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. I’m hoping to get the revision of Chapter 4 finished this morning before i head to the office…fingers crossed, Constant Reader.

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