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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Better Love Next Time

Hello, Thursday morning, how are you doing?

This week went by pretty fast, I am thinking, and this is the first time in a long time I can recall not being worn out and tired. Usually Monday night I start dragging, Tuesday night I’m exhausted, Wednesday I am a little regenerated but still tired, and by the time Thursday morning rolls around I am pretty much the walking dead. But last night I stopped on the way home from work at the grocery store–where I ran into Jean Redmann AND Wacky Russian–then came home and did the laundry. I also wasn’t all that tired last night. Mentally fatigued, sure–but not physically. And I can deal with mental fatigue much easier than I can with physical.

I feel pretty decent this morning as well, which is lovely. I only have to work half a day today and tomorrow at the office, and so when I get home this afternoon I should be able to get some things done before Paul gets home. I am in the midst of some chores–the dishwasher is full and needs to be emptied; I am in the midst of two loads of laundry, and of course the filing has piled up again, which is ridiculous. I did manage to get some revising done yesterday; not much, but I do feel I am doing a really good job on this round, and Scotty’s voice is starting to emerge at last. I am hoping to get caught up this evening and tomorrow, and really get moving on it this weekend.

Fingers crossed! I also want to finish reading Devil in a Blue Dress this weekend…and since there has been so much recent publicity about it, maybe I’ll read A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window next.

Yesterday I got a copy of Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? I read Lofts when I was a teenager, and mostly read her fictional biographies of queens and historical women–The Concubine, The King’s Pleasure, A Rose for Virtue, Eleanor the Queen, Crown of Aloes, How Far to Bethlehem?–and some of her ‘romances’ (I would hardly call them romances, but that was how they were marketed…I defy anyone to read Nethergate and tell me it’s a romance). She also wrote a witchcraft novel called The Little Wax Doll, which I don’t remember much about but I did enjoy reading. Somewhere recently I read an article or something on Lofts and her ghost stories…so started tracking down a copy of her collection. I read the first story yesterday between clients, and it’s called “Mr. Edward”:

If I’d been in the habit of bothering God about trivial, material things, I should have said that Miss Gould’s suggestion came as an answer to prayer. Ever since the Easter holiday I had been worried about the long one in the summer. When Tom died and I found a post as school matron and David went to boarding school, my father had said that we must spend all holidays with him. At first, though dull, they were pleasant enough; but as David grew older Father grew more critical, making outspoken remarks about the behavior of the young nowadays and accusing me of spoiling. I confess I am inclined to be indulgent during the holidays; David’s school is pretty Spartan, I don’t see him often, and I am very fond of him.

This is how the story starts, and our main character agrees to house sit and oversee renovation work being done on Miss Gould’s house for the summer. And once she and her son arrive…she begins having odd experiences around the house; small things, nothing absolutely terrifying, but very Gothic in their smallness…and Lofts shows that the little things can be just as terrifying as the BIG ones horror/supernatural tales seem to favor of late. I love the old Gothic style of scary stories, to be honest, and Lofts’ Gothic, formal writing style, reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, is very quiet and very unsettling.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Biggest Part of Me

WHO DAT! GEAUX SAINTS!

The temperature took a dramatic nosedive last night. It’s about forty degrees and gray in New Orleans this morning…but the city is full of nervous energy. The NFC Championship game is today, with our Saints taking on the Los Angeles Rams for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

WHO DAT!

I slept well last night, which was absolutely lovely. I also allowed myself to go back to sleep after I woke up at just before seven; the bed felt comfortable and warm, and I managed to fall back to sleep for a bit before I finally got up.

I am glad I took the time to reread Pet Sematary, a book of Stephen King’s I didn’t care for on the first read, and had never reread. I understand the book a lot better, as I said, as a fifty-eight year old than I did when I was twenty-two. Mortality and death are difficult things to deal with, particularly when you’re younger; despite reading a lot of crime novels and horror I was clearly not emotionally equipped at that age to deal with these kinds of questions; this was one of those books where, almost every step along the way, I was pleading with Louis, the main character, don’t do this don’t do this are you crazy don’t do this you know this won’t end well. And Louis continued making those bad, wrong decisions…the book is an epic masterpiece, almost a Greek tragedy, about hubris, life, death, and loss. Incredibly well-constructed, and the characters are so perfectly delineated with so many little truths imbedded in them that you can’t help but care about them and what happens to them.

Now I’m wondering if I should reread other Kings I didn’t like on first read, like The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher. I still have others of his I haven’t read yet, like The Outsider, 11/22/63, Bronco Billy, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Black House, and Doctor Sleep, so maybe I should just go on and finish reading the other Kings I have on hand.

But next up for my reading is something for The Diversity Project–a queer y/a by Caleb Roehrig–and after that, I think I’m going to move on to either Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress or Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide or something by Chester Himes. I am also moderating a panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival and so will have some reading homework for that as well.

Before the game today I am going to do some straightening up around here and I am going to try to do some writing–put this nervous energy to good use. And of course, tomorrow I have the holiday off (yay for three day weekends!) and am hoping I’ll be able to get a lot of writing done then as well.

One can hope, at any rate.

We also started watching a new show last night on Netflix, Sex Education, which is actually quite charming. I think it’s a British show, and Gillian Anderson plays the main character’s mother, a sex and relationship therapist, which is rather challenging for her son, a sixteen year old virgin with his own sexual issues. But he makes a new friend, Maeve, the class bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and they start a business–where he gives relationship and sex advice to other students with issues. The relationships between the characters are refreshingly real and honest, the show also dabbles a bit in class and gender issues, and over all, it’s quite charming and funny. I do recommend it–we watched almost all of it last night, and will probably polish off the final two episodes tonight after the game.

And now back to the spice mines.

GEAUX SAINTS!

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Lost in Love

Good morning, weekend.

I worked my usual half-day Friday yesterday and came home full of energy and ready to clean and straighten. I got the living room done and did a bit of a book purge. I did numerous loads of laundry, put clothes away, and worked on the kitchen a little bit, but didn’t finish. I’ll do that this morning before reading those pesky five chapters I’ve been avoiding all fucking week. Later on I am going to run errands, and then we’re going to go see The Favourite at the AMC Palace in Elmwood. I am looking forward to it; I love Olivia Colman, and I do like Emma Stone. I also enjoy seeing the sets and costumes and make-up from other periods, and this is a period I am not as familiar with as others in British history. I know about Queen Anne, of course; she was dull and lazy and indolent, the last Stuart to reign over the burgeoning British empire, and had seventeen pregnancies. She was never supposed to be queen; she was the second daughter of the second son of Charles I, and her mother was a commoner, Anne Hyde. But as the years passed and her uncle Charles II continued to have no legitimate heir, her importance–and that of her older sister, Mary, rose. After her mother died, her father the Duke of York married a Catholic princess, Mary-Beatrice of Modena, and converted himself. This, naturally, was not well-received by the very anti-Catholic English, and when his second wife gave him a son three years into his reign, Parliament said bitch please and invited his eldest daughter, Mary, and her husband to take the throne. James II went into exile, and William III and Mary II took the crown. Mary died about six years later, but William remained king until he died in 1702, when Anne took the throne. Anne actually wanted her half-brother to succeed her as James III; instead Parliament invited a very distant cousin to reign as George I. The current royals are his direct descendants, tracing their Stuart heritage back to James I. Anne was queen during the War of the Spanish Succession, pitting all Europe against France and Spain; it was called Queen Anne’s War in North America.

I’ve read no biographies of Queen Anne, and fiction about her is also relatively scarce. I know Jean Plaidy wrote a novel about her, but it’s one of the few Plaidy novels I’ve not read. So, I doubt I’ll know enough of the story to spot glaring historical inaccuracies, but those are to be expected in films of this sort. Her reign was pretty unremarkable other than the war; and her longest-running “favourite”, Sarah Churchill, was married to one of her most able generals and became Duke of Marlborough–Winston Churchill is one of their descendants.

Oh, that went on for quite a bit, did it not? My apologies, Constant Reader! But my initial awareness of Queen Anne was, of course, because of Queen Anne’s War.

I feel pretty good this morning; well-rested and all that. I’ve been sleeping pretty well these last few days, which gives me hope. Tomorrow of course is the Saints’ first play-off game, which will make things pretty tense around here; I am going to have to run to the grocery store in the morning, methinks, in order to get what I need for the week and be done with things. I was hoping to go to the gym to start over with exercise this year. I’ve lost another few pounds–the other morning I was shaving and noticed in the mirror that, without flexing, I could see the faint outline of my abs again–and when flexed they were very apparent. So another eleven pounds to my goal weight of 200 should do the trick, and regular exercise focused on weight-loss should do the trick. I also want to start stretching regularly; I did the other day and it felt so good…I also would like to get a massage at some point as well. I want the theme of this year to be self-care. This is more important the older I get, and let’s face it, exercise–while always a challenge and sometimes quite tedious–is the best way for me to stay strong and healthy and feel good.

I read some more of Pet Sematary yesterday, and will probably read more of it tonight after the movie. I am greatly enjoying this book this time around; I suppose maybe because I know what’s going to happen so it isn’t quite as disturbing this time around as it was the first. Now, I can instead focus on the marriage and the family dynamic/relationships, how well this is all crafted and constructed…it really is quite a marvelous gem of a novel.

And maybe, just maybe, if I get what I want to get done on the Scotty I can work on the WIP a little bit this weekend, too. Maybe.

And I am thinking it’s time to get back to the Short Story Project. I also think I am going to probably start the Diversity Project when I finish the King. I am most likely going to alternate–a diverse book, then a crime novel, etc. I also want to read outside the crime genre this year–more nonfiction, more of other genres–and in some cases they will overlap. I also want to reread some other Stephen Kings I’ve not reread in a while–The Dead Zone, Christine, Firestarter, The Eyes of the Dragon–as well as read the Kings I have on hand that I’ve not read. As I said before, I can’t just push for diversity in books and publishing and so forth if I myself aren’t diversifying my reading. I have always read and been supportive of women writers, and I am going to keep going with that as well this year–I really do think women are writing some of the best crime fiction of our time–but I need to read outside of my own experience and outside of my own genre more….and I need to expand my horror reading to include more authors than Stephen King. I’d like to reread Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (there’s actually a really good essay to write about frozen horror, since The Shining and Ghost Story were of a time) and Floating Dragon; maybe give some of my favorite Dean Koontz’ another twirl to see if they still hold up, and of course there are any number of horror novels in my TBR pile. I also need to read the next book in A Song of Fire and Ice, and there are any number of others books I would like to read and get out of the TBR pile.

Heavy heaving sigh. There’s so much to read, and so little time to read.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Cruisin

FRIDAY.

It was an interesting week, as I try to readjust to the new realities of my life. The older I get the longer it seems to take to make those necessary adjustments, but I eventually do make them. Change is good, for the most part; I often find myself in a comfortable rut that makes things seem easier–but ultimately hinders creativity and adaptability. And for a writer, things that hinder creativity and adaptability are not good things.

It’s funny,  my career has gone on so long now that I can barely remember the time before I was a published author, and my memories of those pre-Katrina years as a new author are hazy and scant. For some reason, last night I was thinking about those days for some reason–I think it had to do with the Saints being the number one seed in the play-offs, and the first game coming up this weekend; I started reading old blog entries from the season the Saints won the Super Bowl, and I started remembering back then…like how we watched the Return to the Dome Game on Monday night football while we were living back in the carriage house on a tiny little black and white television while the Lost Apartment was under construction, and how I used to always say Life is material for your writing.

It’s kind of crazy. This month–January 20th, to be exact–is the anniversary of the publication of my first novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and it’s been sixteen years since it came out. It is no longer in physical print, but sixteen years later the ebook still sells. It was a completely different world back then…my first book will be eligible for a driver’s license in nine days! Madness.

I am hoping to somehow be productive this weekend, around going to see a movie tomorrow and the Saints game on Sunday. Regardless of whether the Saints win or not, it’s been a great football season for us here in the Lost Apartment; LSU was only projected to win six games at most yet wound up 10-3 and in a New Year’s 6 Bowl game, and ended up ranked Number 6 in the final polls. The Saints are currently 13-3 and had some absolutely amazing, heart-stopping wins (kind of like the season when they won the Super Bowl); and, as I said, hold the Number One seed so all their play-off games will be in the Dome. We also need to finish watching Homecoming, and I want to start watching Titans on DC Universe.

The reread of Pet Sematary is coming along nicely; it’s really a well-written book, and there are some amazingly keen insights into relationships and marriage in these first 100 pages. I remember hazily that the book’s primary theme is about death and how to face it, how to deal with it; one of the reasons it bothered me on so many levels. I know, I know, I always hold that mystery and horror fiction are two sides of the same coin; that both genres are about death, but Pet Sematary deals with it on such a micro-level, worming its way into the reader’s thoughts and memories. The death of a pet, the death of a sibling, the death of a child; King takes on all of these horribly human experiences, confronts them, and puts an all-too-very-human face on all of them. I am glad to reread it, because I am really appreciating the genius of it this time through.

And now, back to the spice mines. Today is only a half-day for me, as was yesterday, and while yesterday I’d intended to get a lot done last night, I procrastinated and didn’t get anything done; I cannot allow that to be the story of this day.

Have a great Friday!

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