Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

I also love the word “enchantress.” Go figure. Must be something about the sibilant s.

I moved from Kansas to Fresno, California in February of 1981. It was cold and there was snow on the ground when I boarded an Amtrak train at 2 in the morning with my mother. I fell asleep before the train left the station in Emporia; when I woke up it was gray outside and we were in western Kansas. The trip seemed endless, and our train was delayed because of weather crossing the Rocky Mountains; that part was terrifying, honestly. There were times when there was only enough room on the mountain ledges we rode over for the train tracks, and the wind was powerful enough to rock the train. I’ve always been afraid of heights, so obviously this was completely terrifying for me. I had brought books with me to read on the train, but I’d finished them all by the time we reached Barstow, California–missing our connecting train by half an hour–and thus were stuck there for twelve hours until the evening train to Fresno.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent twelve hours in a train station in Barstow, California.

(Although reading everything in the magazine rack in that train station completely fueled my soap opera obsession–but that’s a story for another time.)

After I finished writing the first draft that became Sara I put the manuscript aside and started working on another one, which I called Sorceress.

Why was the move on Amtrak to California pertinent to the story of Sorceress and how it came to be? Because it’s one of the few books–in fact, the only book–I’ve written under my own name that is set in California (all the Todd Gregory ‘fratboy’ books are set in California).

It was a beautiful day to die.

The sun was shining and she could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.  Through the window on the other side of the room she could see a gorgeous blue sky with wisps of white cloud drifting aimlessly. The house was silent around her, and she closed her eyes again, biting her lower lip.

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

There was a glass pitcher of water sitting on the nightstand just out of her reach. Drops of condensation glistened in the sunlight as they ran down the sides, pooling on the wood. She licked her lips and dry-swallowed again.

“Please.” She’d intended to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears of frustration filled her eyes.

This can’t be happening to me, she thought as the tears began to run down her cheeks. She felt the wetness against her lips, flicking her tongue out to catch the moisture.

It might not be much, but it was something.

She tugged at the handcuffs again, and moaned as the raw skin around her wrists rubbed against the metal, dull arrows of pain shooting up her arms.

That isn’t going to work. You’ve got to think of something else. There has to be something.

As if on cue, the phone on the other side of the room began ringing.

If only I could reach the phone!

If only I weren’t handcuffed to this stupid bed,” she said aloud.

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

Five o’clock. Maybe four more hours until the sun goes down.

She was safe until the sun went down.

She heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the closed door.

“I’m thirsty!” she shouted. “Please! I’m so thirsty!”

The footsteps stopped. She was about to shout again when heard the footsteps start again—only now they were moving away from her door.

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

I started writing the novel Sorceress sometime in 1992 or 1993; I’m not sure which. Sorceress was the easiest of the early manuscripts for me to write, and this was because I knew the story, from start to finish, before I started writing it–which is incredibly rare for me; I even knew the middle, which I always have the most trouble with. I originally wrote Sorceress in the late 1980’s as a novella that originally clocked in at around seventeen thousand words. But even as I wrote that incredibly long short story (at the time all I knew about novellas was that Stephen King sometimes wrote really long stories, like “The Mist”) and had always put it aside, because I knew there was more story there and it needed to be longer–novel length, in fact. So when I finished the first draft of Sara and was ready to move on to something else, I decided to finally expand Sorceress out into a novel.

Fresno wasn’t a pretty city, by any means. It had a desert climate (the entire San Joaquin Valley has a desert climate) that was very dry and climbed to well over 100 degrees in the heart of the summer (sometimes even getting up to over 110) and was all brown, mostly; brown, palm and orange trees, and concrete in the unforgiving sun. My parents bought a house in a subdivision in a city that bordered Fresno yet somehow wasn’t considered a suburb. It had a pool, two orange trees, and several eucalyptus trees. These seemed exotic and cool and fun–until you realized how much fruit one tree, let alone two, could produce, and there was no way to keep up with them, either; inevitably, the back yard was always dank with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting oranges. The eucalyptus trees with their slim, silvery leaves were also a pain in the ass; those leaves would get into the pool, and unless fished out, became water-logged and sank to the bottom, where they would stain and/or discolor the bottom of the pool. It seemed like those little leaves were always fluttering through the air and unerringly landing in the water.

Never again will I live a place where I am responsible for a swimming pool.

But the true beauty of Fresno was its location. It was within a few hours’ drive of many wonderful places: Yosemite, Sierra, and Kings Canyon parks, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. LA was the furthest away–four hours down the Grapevine; and the final descent through the mountains into the plains on the other side was one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven down–but in college I also made friends with students who came from some of those mountain communities–Sonora, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Tuolumne–and wound up visiting them at times. I spent most of my time visiting the mounts in either Sonora or Tuolumne. I’d never spent much time in the mountains before or since, and the thing that always stuck in my head was how close the stars in the night sky seemed up there, almost like you could reach up and grab one. I decided to create my own version of these small mountain towns and call it Woodbridge. When I started writing Sorceress as a novel, I set it in the countryside in the mountains outside of “Woodbridge.” By this time, I had already discovered y/a horror, obviously, and so “Woodbridge” was going to be the anchor of all my stories–they were all going to be connected, and in some ways the center of that fictional universe I was building was going to be Woodbridge (Sleeping Angel is also set in Woodbridge). I also put a college there; a campus of the University of California (UC-Woodbridge) which also gave me college students to play with as well as the high school kids. Laura, my main character, was originally from the same area of Kansas where Sara was set; I even mentioned her in passing in Sara, as a friend who’d moved away to California and who had been betrayed after she left by her best friend and her boyfriend…which also figured into the plot of Sorceress.

Sorceress was also the first book I wrote where I followed the Gothic tropes: a young woman all alone in the world after the death of her parents is summoned by an elderly aunt she didn’t know existed to California. The elderly aunt has a huge Victorian mansion in the mountains, a man-servant/housekeeper/butler, and once there Laura begins to suspect that not only are things not the way they seem, but that her own life might be in danger. There’s also a hint of the paranormal here as well…and some of the kids Laura meets in Woodbridge also figured into some of my other books for young adults as well.

When I had the opportunity to write something on spec for Simon and Schuster teen in the summer of 2005, Sorceress was the one I chose to revise and rewrite for them. I felt it was the most complete and needed the least amount of work, plus I loved the entire Gothic mood of the story. Then of course Katrina came along and knocked that right out of my head; I kept trying to revise it but focus was incredibly difficult, and finally I gave up. This is the story I mentioned in conversation with a friend, who was later given a job as an acquisitions editor, and this is the story she wanted me to pitch to her. I did, but they didn’t pick it up, but when she went out on her own later and started her own small press specifically for juvenile and y/a fiction, she wanted Sorceress, so I dragged it back out and went to work on it again. It was released in 2010, I believe; it’s hard to remember dates these days for me. Anyway, this is the book where I told Bold Strokes I was publishing a y/a with a friend’s small press, which got the response “you know, we do y/a too” that led to me giving them both Sara and Sleeping Angel, and led to all the others.

I also wrote another Woodbridge story–a very long novella–that I intend to either revise as a novella or expand out into a novel. This story directly references events in Sorceress and Sleeping Angel, as well as characters…so while it might be entirely too late to release another book in that linked universe I originally intended to create, a good story is a good story. I just am not sure about the ending of that one, which is one of the reasons it remains in the drawer.

Maybe someday.

Mabel Normand

Saturday in the Lost Apartment and all is well–at least so far.

I ran errands last night on my way home from work so I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything today involving leaving the house, and I think I’ll go ahead and make groceries on-line today to pick up tomorrow; we don’t really need a lot of stuff but it must be done. There’s a part of me that feels incredibly lazy doing this for some reason–perhaps the more I do it, the less guilt I’ll feel about having someone else make my groceries for me. I guess that’s really what it is; getting used to a new service. I mean, even the Fresh Market will do this, too–but one of the things I like about the Fresh Market is, well, everything seems fresher than at the other groceries, and picking out fruit and vegetables isn’t something I am willing to trust to another person just yet. I like to see the fresh stuff I am buying and pick it (although I am still regretting not stopping at that roadside stand when I was on the North Shore last weekend and picking up some Creole tomatoes fresh from the field, especially since I’ve not seen any in stores since then).

It rained again most of the day, and of course we’re still under a flood warning through sometime tonight. There are two systems out there I’ve yet to check but probably will momentarily. It’s that time of year when we seem to be getting hit with a higher degree of frequency since Katrina–just before Labor Day–and I know there have been at least three more storms around this time that I can think of right off the top of my head (2008, 2012, and last year for sure). Well, I took a look and yes, there is still a system in the Caribbean near the Yucatan, and there’s another one developing in the eastern Atlantic (meaning there are now two out there) but at least we’re okay for now. Labor Day weekend, on the other hand, could be something else entirely. Last year’s Ida was more of a Labor Day thing, if I am remembering correctly, or at least its impact and aftermath lasted through Labor Day. (2021 is still kind of blurry for me.)

The sun is shining right now, and I rested really well last night. A good night’s sleep is always a pleasure on the weekends, of course, and I even allowed myself the indulgence of sleeping in a little later. I have some laundry to finish and a sink to clear in the kitchen, and some other casual cleaning up and household maintenance to take care of this morning before I dive back into the wonderful world of work. I did get Chapter One rewritten Thursday–still leaves something to be desired, but isn’t completely the shitty mess it was before–and I did get started revising Chapter Two, which is going to be trickier–and then I have to springboard into Chapter Three, which I still have to figure out. I also want to do some work on some other things I am working on (as always) and I want to dedicate some time to reading Gabino’s marvelous novel The Devil Takes You Home today and tomorrow. I’ve actually been better these last couple of weeks at not being completely exhausted when I get home, which has also enabled me to try, at some level, to keep up with the housework so I don’t have to spend the entire day today cleaning and organizing and filing–there will be some of that, of course, and I also have to spend some time revisiting older Scotty books; maybe one of the things I could do today is start working on the Scotty Bible? That would help me remember everything that’s going on in the family and refresh my brain about some other things (did I ever give Rain’s doctor husband a name, for one really strong example of bad memory) and of course it would never hurt to have all of that assembled in one place that is easily accessible. Heavy sigh.

We also are watching Bad Sisters on Apple TV, and am really enjoying it. It’s rather dark; it’s about five extremely close Irish sisters who lost their parents young and were all raised by the oldest sister, who now lives in the family home, is single and apparently unable to have children. One of the sisters is married to an emotionally abusive asshole named John Paul who apparently takes delight in torturing and being cruel not only to his wife but to her sisters. One decides he needs to die, and recruits the oldest to help her kill him…and then each episode details how another sister got involved in the plan. The show opens with his funeral, so we know they succeed at some point, but the story alternates between the past (the sisters slowly coming together to decide to kill The Prick, which is what they all call him) and the team of brothers who work for the insurance company who have to pay out the death claim. The brothers (half-brothers, actually; one is played by the same hot actor who played the escort Emma Thompson hires for sex in her most recent film, which we enjoyed and I can’t recall the name of now) don’t really get along either. The oldest is convinced John Paul was murdered, but the younger brother is really attracted to the youngest sister and they are starting to develop a romantic relationship. It’s quite cleverly written and plotted–and even before I was completely sold on the show, I realized I wanted to keep watching because I hated John Paul so much I wanted to see how they decided to kill him and how. But well into the second episode I had to confess to being hooked. I loved the dueling timelines (I have always been a sucker for stories that are told this way, both the past and the present, flashing back and forth; I’ve always wanted to do one that way, but it seems really hard. A good example of a crime novel using this technique is Alison Gaylin’s What Remains of Me), the writing is sharp, and the acting top notch. It also takes place in Ireland, with gorgeous cinematography. I’ll keep you posted as we continue to watch.

We also watched the latest episode of Five Days at Memorial, which was truly painful to watch. The first episodes didn’t really get to me, but episode five–the fifth day, when the decision was made that everyone had to be out of the hospital and whoever couldn’t get out would be left behind regardless of the consequences, was absolutely wrenching in a way the previous episodes had not been. My Katrina scars are as nothing compared to what a lot of other people experienced: I survived, I was able to get out before the storm arrived, and my scars, while still from loss, are from bearing witness by watching television and witnessing what I saw when I finally came home in October, as well as living in a nearly-empty, 90% destroyed city after my return. (Last year, when we trapped here as Ida came in, was bad enough; I cannot imagine how horrible it would have been to have been stuck here praying for someone to come rescue us. At least we were able, and had the means, to finally get out when we ran out of food and water.)

I’ve also found myself thinking a lot about my Katrina writing these last couple of days–my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”; my short stories “Disaster Relief” and “Annunciation Shotgun” and “Survivor’s Guilt”; and of course, Murder in the Rue Chartres. I was thinking about this book last night–partly because of watching Five Days at Memorial, because it reminded me that Rue Chartres wasn’t supposed to be the third Chanse book at all. The third Chanse book was supposed to be something else altogether, but obviously in the wake of Hurricane Katrina my plans for both the Chanse and Scotty series had to dramatically shift and change. Seventeen years ago was a Saturday, the Saturday we nervously watched the storm, having now crossed south Florida and entered the Gulf, intensifying and growing and taking aim directly at New Orleans. We decided to not leave just yet; every other time a hurricane had threatened the city after we moved here we watched and waited patiently, and were rewarded with the storm turning east before coming ashore and the city avoiding a direct hit. We never lost phone, cable or power during those other instances–we were nervous, still reassuring ourselves of the turn to the east before landfall but the reality that we would have to leave was becoming more and more real. It’s odd that this year the dates all on the same day they fell back in 2005, so it’s a reflective anniversary that mirrors the actual weekend it happened. I’m debating whether I want to watch the new documentary on HBO MAX, Katrina Babies–that might be definitely too much for me to handle. (I’m still surprised that we’re able to–and were willing to–watch Five Days at Memorial, to be honest.)

At least I know Paul won’t be shaking me awake tomorrow morning at eight saying, Honey, we need to go.

OH! I didn’t tell you. Yesterday my other glasses I ordered from Zenni arrived–the red frames and the purple frames, and I absolutely love them. I don’t think I need to order any more pairs, to be honest, but it’s so cool to have them! And to have options now. I never ever thought of glasses as anything other than utilitarian, to be honest; I needed them to work and that was all I cared about, and I also thought they were too expensive to treat as part of a “look” or to be more style conscious…but Zenni is so inexpensive; the three pairs I got are all cheaper than the pair I got with my eye exam, and using my insurance. Had I saved my insurance for use on Zenni, they would have been even cheaper.

Life. CHANGED.

And on that note, I am going to make some more coffee and dive back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Blue Letter

Friday!

I’m not certain why waking up on Friday makes me happy–or as happy as one can be when going through the tedious process of waking up from slumber–but I am sure it has to do with a light day at the office and then two days at home that are free (well, free from the day job, at any rate; I work all weekends as it is), and of course I will have errands to run as always, writing to do, laundry and dishes to clean up, etc etc etc. I want to finish reading Gabino’s book this weekend, and of course I want to write and do some other things as well. It rained overnight–a quite marvelous thunderstorm–and it’s still rainy and damp this morning now that I have arisen. It felt rather marvelous to sleep last night. There’s really nothing like rain/thunderstorms to help one sleep when one is buried beneath a pile of comfortable and very warm blankets.

I did work on Mississippi River Mischief some last night–the first chapter wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was, but it needed some fixing and things and so I was more than happy to add about a thousand words to it as well as clean some of it up. I also recorded a video for an on-line conference for A Streetcar Named Murder. I had to clean off my desk and straighten up the kitchen in order to get it done, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be to do, and I didn’t even mind seeing myself on video or hearing the recording of my voice as much as I usually do. Which was nice, of course–the initial shock of seeing how much older I look than I think I look seems to not be as great as it used to be. Acceptance? A final loss of vanity? Who knows? But it wasn’t as big an ordeal or as terrible as I feared it would be (few things ever are as terrible as I worry they will be, thanks to my vivid imagination). It’s also interesting to start transitioning into promo mode for A Streetcar Named Murder, which should be kind of different and fun than what I am used to experiencing when it comes to book promo.

I’m feeling good this morning, and my coffee is hitting the spot, and everything feels right, which is always a little unsettling for me as I inevitably wait for the other shoe to drop that is going to fuck everything up. It has always been my experience in life that there’s always another shoe about to drop. We finished watching one of the Fyre Festival documentaries last night–the Netflix one rather than Hulu, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. As someone who has done event planning, and is married to someone who basically has been an event planner since 1998, oh my God, how we both were cringing. Sure, we had hindsight, but…as we watched as the disaster unfolded and the guests started arriving into the mess that had been created, one of the people involved with it kept talking about how, right up until the last minute, the guy in charge–Billy something, who actually turned out to be a sociopathic schemer–kept thinking and believing and convincing everyone that it would somehow all come together and work out at the last minute. I turned to Paul and said, “what’s really frightening about this is knowing I’ve been that person many many times, oh, it’ll all come together while not being entirely sure that it will but thinking that because it always has before. Have you ever felt like that?”

And he replied, “every weekend before the Festival starts I basically have a panic attack.”

No matter how many lists you make, no matter how much attention you pay, no matter how many reminder notes you scribble down somewhere, there’s always this fear that you forgot something important that’s going to rise up and bite you in the ass at the worst possible time. It always reminds me of that bit from The Shining about the boiler–“that what was forgotten” (although I knew in the beginning of the book, when the hotelier spent so much time explaining the boiler to Jack, that at some point it was going to blow the entire hotel to smithereens–SPOILER, sorry!).

In fact, I had completely forgotten that I had chaired World Horror Con in New Orleans whatever year that was; 2014? 2015? 2013? It really wasn’t terrible, but all those spinning plates…but I was cautious and careful and made sure nothing went awry, and overall it ran relatively smoothly. Funny that I had forgotten about that. Is it my age and getting older that has damaged my memory so badly? Or is it that the older you get the more you have to remember, so there’s limited room in my memory banks so things get stored deeper in my brain and aren’t as easily accessible? That’s better and easier to believe than my memory is faltering and synapses are no longer firing.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely and dry Friday, Constant Reader. I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Italian Summer

Eight or so years ago at this time Paul and I were in Italy. Sigh, Italy. God, how I love that country. I would love to live there in a village in Tuscany–well, really, anywhere in Italy would work just fine, really. I do so hope we’ll be able to go back someday. I’d love to see Pompeii, Milan, and Rome. And both Corfu and Capri–especially after reading (listening) to Carol Goodman’s wonderful The Night Villa. (One of the real life incidents she mentioned in the book from Capri’s history fascinated me, and took me down a wormhole and now I want to write about that historical incident, of course.) I have since written a short novella (or long short story) set in Italy called “Don’t Look Down,” which was included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I have another novella-in-progress set in Venice called “Festival of the Redeemer,” which I hope to polish and edit at some point before the end of the year. Sigh, Italy. What a beautiful country, with lovely friendly people and the most amazing food and….so beautiful. You can see why the Renaissance flourished there.

I got the final edits on “Solace in a Dying Hour”–two questions (one in which I had made a mistake) and the rest was copy edits and the deletion of a paragraph. So that’s a wrap, methinks, and I am really fond of the story, too. It was my first venture into Louisiana urban legends and myth; well, really the second, because I did write “Rougarou” about a decade ago, but it’s been a while since I’ve turned to Louisiana legend and folklore to write a story, and writing about le feu follet was a lot of fun. I want to do more of these, of course; as Constant Reader may remember, I’ve become fascinated by the story of Julia Brown and the Great Hurricane of 1915, when her town, Freniere, was wiped off the map. Freniere was located on that narrow strip of land running between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain; if you’re driving west out of New Orleans on I-10, and then take the Hammond exit north on I-55, that’s the land the bridge is built on (when you’re actually driving over dry land, that is). I’ve always called that swamp the Manchac Swamp, but I don’t think that’s it’s real name (and I’ve called it that in books, too. Yikes!). You cannot get to the location where either Freniere or Ruddock (the other town in that area that was wiped away by the Great Hurricane of 1915) any way except by boat; apparently some of the swamp tours will swing by the old location where the graveyards still are, but the wreckage and remains of the towns are long gone. Both towns were only reachable by train or boat when they actually existed; there were no roads in or out of town, which always makes me think why would anyone want to live in such a remote and isolated place? But yes, you can bet the witch Julia Brown will appear someday in something I write.

I also got a rejection for a story yesterday, but it was one that I expected so it didn’t sting. I knew it was a long shot to begin with, so that’s fine, and I can certainly send it to another market, which I will most likely do after reading it again to make sure it’s actually quite terrible and I was in a complete state of denial about it being publishable in the first place. Rejection is just part of the game, of course, and there are any number of reasons your story doesn’t get accepted that have nothing to do with the story’s quality itself. I like my story and I think it’s clever, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be looked over another time, you know?

I feel rested this morning. I was very tired when I got off work yesterday afternoon, which is fine; I’d rather be tired after work then during it, you know? I didn’t get much of anything done once I got home, either–I had to pick up the mail and a prescription on my way home; today I can just come straight home–and I have some things I need to get taken care of when I get home from work tonight. Which is cool, I think I can spend a bit of time preparing (I have to make a promotional video–which clearly I’ve been putting off as it is due to be turned in tomorrow) and of course, I have to make the kitchen in the background behind me look–well, not embarrassing for me, at the very least. (Although I don’t know how much more embarrassed I can get filming myself. I hate the sound of my voice and I hate the way I look on video recordings–mainly because the actuality of how I look does not come close to the way I see myself in my head–pictures, recordings and the mirror often provide deeply disturbing shocks for me.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines this morning. Y’all have a marvelous day, and I’ll be back tomorrow for another entry. See you then!

You May Be The One

Tuesday and the week seems to be settling into a sort of groove that I can not only handle but isn’t too horrific, to be perfectly honest. The week has started off pretty okay, really; I was notified that Mystery Scene magazine had given an anthology I have a story in a glowing review which included a lovely shout out to my story, “The Snow Globe,” which is absolutely lovely. And I quote: “The Snow Globe,” by Greg Herren, is a dark and humorous Christmas tale–“Santa, Dylan thought, certainly has a great six-pack”–about loneliness, voodoo, and reconnecting with family.

Isn’t that lovely? Usually anthologies I am in get reviewed and my story doesn’t get mentioned; there was a review of one anthology in particular I recall where every single story was individually reviewed…except for mine, which wasn’t even mentioned. Since my story had gay content and characters, I can’t help but think that was due to the reviewer’s homophobia; why would you namecheck every story in the book with a few sentences about each and then not even mention mine, even to dog it? I know, I know, it’s not always homophobia, but one always has to wonder–especially when you have the only gay tale in the book and it is the ONE story that doesn’t even get mentioned. So how lovely was this?

I don’t even mind that the story was called “dark and humorous” even though it wasn’t supposed to be funny (this has happened so many times in my career….)

But, you see, this is yet another one of the problems of being a queer writer of queer work. When things happen like the aforementioned review (where my story was the only one unworthy of review or commentary), as a queer writer of queer work you always have to wonder: was my story that bad, or is this just your average, garden variety homophobia at work? This is always an issue for queer writers; is this a place that will publish a story about a gay man or will they just reject it out of hand? I wonder about this, particularly with the bigger markets for crime short fiction that are out there. I know I’ve sold a gay tale or two to some of the paying markets for crime short fiction; I also know there are some that have rejected every story with a gay character but have taken the ones that centered a straight character. I shouldn’t have to even wonder about this, to be perfectly honest; I should never hesitate about sending a story somewhere as long as it meets their guidelines. And yet, every time I submit something, anything, somewhere anywhere, I always wonder.

I ran my errands after work yesterday, came home and Paul and I relaxed in front of the television, watching the last episode of The Anarchists (weird and sad), and then got ourselves caught up on Becoming Elizabeth, which is quite well done for a Starz English royalty dramatization (earlier series, based on the Philippa Gregory books, were also well done, but not necessarily always historically accurate. Becoming Elizabeth follows the period between the death of Henry VIII and Elizabeth being crowned queen–the eleven year period of the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, which were quite turbulent and Elizabeth often found herself imprisoned, if not her life in jeopardy. It was in navigating those times that her character was formed, and she learned–often the hard way–how to play both sides as well as how to never ever cross the line into treason.

I slept decently, not great, last night, and this morning I am not feeling either tired or groggy, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hit the wall this afternoon, either. I have so much to do it’s not even funny, and I suppose, as always, that the key to getting everything done is to just go down the list and check things off once and for all. I did get some work done on the new Scotty yesterday–not much but any progress at this point is progress–but I was mostly tired when I got home last night, to be honest. I am hoping for a better day today than yesterday was–not that it was a bad day, but it was a very low energy, low motivation day (which probably had a lot to do with me going in on a Monday, which isn’t the usual and at some point I am going to have to get used to again, which I kind of don’t want to do, frankly) so hopefully today won’t be like that. They set up a work station in my testing room yesterday, which means I don’t have to commute back and forth from my desk all day anymore, so today will be me trying to get used to that and trying to figure out how best to utilize the space in the my room and how to make it easier for me to do my job with the new set-up; I don’t know how I am going to get it set up to be functional quite yet, which means work arounds in the meantime until I can get it all figured out.

If it isn’t one thing, it certainly is another.

I also had ordered a new pair of glasses from Zenni.com that arrived yesterday, and I really do like them–I especially like that they were about one fifth the cost of my last pair, which I bought from the optometrist. (I may order another pair or two today; I didn’t want to go crazy until I got the first pair and could see that they worked just fine, which they do.) I had never thought of glasses as being fashionable; they were too expensive, for one thing, to think about in terms of oh I should get different pairs in different styles to coordinate with outfits; which of course meant that, as with everything, I saw glasses as utilitarian rather than fashionable–function over form, if you will. But this pair of glasses was inexpensive enough that I can actually start thinking of my glasses as form and function, rather than as one. So, maybe on my lunch hour I will look around on their website and see if I can find some others that work for my round face and slight wattle.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! And I will see you tomorrow!

All The Beautiful Worlds

I would not describe myself as a big comics fan. I love them, still have a strong attachment to them and their characters, but I am hardly an expert–not even close.

I started reading comic books when I was very young–I remember all the iterations of Archie, Millie the Model, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Sugar ‘n’ Spice, etc.–and eventually moved into the world of super-hero comics (while still greatly enjoy the horror/suspense/mystery comics as well–The Witching Hour, House of Secrets, House of Mystery, Chilling Tales, etc.). I stopped reading them regularly when we moved out to the suburbs–they were harder to find in our little developing suburb when we moved there–and it wasn’t until we moved to Kansas several years later than I got back into comics again. I was always a DC kid; and the few years I’d been away saw some dramatic changes made to the DC Universe–trying to modernize and update them; the 70’s were a very weird time for Wonder Woman–and then, again, when I moved to California I stopped reading them again. A friend in college brought me around to them again, this time also introducing me to Marvel. When I moved to Houston, my nephew was really into comics, and so I started reading them again with him, and continued buying them for several years. This was post-Crisis and the first massive reboot of DC, so as I was going through the racks at a comics shop in Houston one day I saw The Sandman.

The post-Crisis reboot of DC had changed some of the comics, and the heroes (this was always my favorite version of Starman, Will Peyton) changed as well. But…I wasn’t prepared for The Sandman.

I’d never heard of Neil Gaiman before, but it was this comic book series that turned me into a fan. The incredible imagination involved in creating this bizarre mythology, of the Endless siblings who epitomized some aspect of the human experience–Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, Destiny–and of course, the main character of the book was Dream of the Endless, master of the Dreaming, where all humans go when we sleep, and he controls our dreams, creating both Dreams and Nightmares. The story line of “The Doll’s House” especially was fantastic and enchanting; it was one of the few comics (along with the Will Peyton run as Starman) where I went back and bought the back issues because I wanted to read them all. (I’ve also gotten some of the all-in-one collections of the stories, including “The Doll’s House.”)

I’ve always loved this comic run. and have always regretted never finishing it; I stopped buying comics before the series ended. The prospect of a film version never interested me much because I didn’t see how it could be done, plus it would inevitably be a disappointment; the comics were visually stunning, the characters and stories so layered and complex I didn’t see how any of them could be condensed into a two-hour film, and the expense of recreating the brilliant and beautiful images contained within the books seemed insurmountable. The announcement of a Netflix series didn’t inspire confidence; I didn’t care for, or finish, the adaptations of two Gaiman novels I loved, American Gods and Good Omens, which to me was an omen that The Sandman would be disappointing as well. I also wasn’t sure if Paul would like it, or that it would be so difficult to follow without knowing the source material he’d pester me with so many questions I wouldn’t be able to follow it myself.

Constant Reader, I couldn’t have been more wrong about anything as I was about The Sandman adaptation.

First of all, it’s very closely adapted to the comics, at least as how I remember them. My memory isn’t what it used to be, of course, and so I couldn’t really remember much about it other than he was Dream, aka Morpheus, and he was lord of the Dreaming and had six siblings. It was also kind of an anthology series, with stand alone issues as Morpheus visited human dreams or was forced to sometimes interfere with them. (I also always thought he looked like Robert Smith, the lead singer of the Cure) So as each episode unfurled before me, I would start remembering things. I remembered that out of all the Endless, Death was actually the kindest and most compassionate, who saw her job as necessary and thus wanted to appear as a kind friend and companion to the dead to ease them through the transition (I have always thought that was brilliant). I remembered the story of him being captured and trapped by humans, and that the Dreaming had been damaged and decayed by his absence and he needed to rebuilt his world as well as capture his creations who’d escaped into the Waking World…and of course, the appearance of the dream vortex which could have destroyed everything, and how that played out.

It is such an excellent adaptation that some of the scenes in the show are perfect recreations of panels in the books themselves; I found myself smiling in recognition, visually the scene in print as well as on the television screen before me. The show is also beautifully written and perfectly cast, from Tom Sturridge as Dream himself (I don’t know how he did the voice, but its other-worldly yet beautiful at the same time; one of the things I loved the most about The Sandman is how Gaiman made everything, no matter how terrifying or scary or steeped in fear, beautiful; beauty can also be terrifying and The Sandman expresses this better than anything I’ve ever seen or read before) to Gwendoline Christie’s chilling turn as Lucifer to Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine (a gender switch from the comics) to my personal favorite, Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne. It’s a terrific cast, including an Emmy-worthy supporting turn by John Cameron Mitchell and of course, break out star Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian.

I highly recommend it; its smart and funny and clever and intelligent and beautiful, the set and art design and costumes are first rate–and the cinematography is breathtaking.

I absolutely loved it, and so did Paul–who watched in utter spellbound silence and didn’t ask a single question.

I cannot wait for season two.

(Oh, and the show is queer and gender-bending AF, for the record.)

Wide Sargasso Sea

Thursday! Somehow we have managed to make it to Thursday, Constant Reader, which is definitely something to cheer about. Huzzah! This week has been a bit challenging, but I feel pretty good today (yesterday was one of those I slept well but never seemed to completely wake up days, which are getting harder and harder to deal with); I slept decently and I feel like I’m awake this morning, which is better than yesterday at any rate. I ran some errands on my way home from work last night, and then was tired. Paul was working on a grant so I just sat in my easy chair with my journal, trying to outline some projects that are currently in progress and get a stronger idea on where to go with the stories.

I’m not going to try to write that story whose deadline is the end of this month. As deep a wormhole as I’ve gotten into for the lost town of Freniere in the Manchac Swamp and Julia Brown the witch–which I am definitely going to write about at some time–I still don’t have an idea for a story, and I have another anthology I want to write something for by the end of the year that’s going to need some serious thought and consideration. The other contributors are very impressive names–it’s going to be another one of those one of these things is not like the other or why am I up here with these people? I was thinking about this same thing last night as I was telling Paul about my Bouchercon panels–in almost every case, I was thinking, what am I doing on these panels with these incredibly smart and talented people? Oh, well, the audience will be there for the other people and I’ll just be sitting up there, afraid to say anything for fear of proving that I don’t belong up there.

Ah, Imposter Syndrome. Such a delight at all times. Woo-hoo!

But as this month continues to slip through my fingers and everything I have to do continues to pile up with more and more things for me that I need to do–triage triage triage–and I am making a to-do list to try to make sure nothing gets overlooked or slips through the cracks. That’s always my fear; not that I won’t get everything done in a timely manner, but that I’ll forget something if I don’t write it down. That terrifies me. But I am pretty happy that I got a rough start to the Scotty book, have gotten some other things done, and am really hopeful that I’ll get to finish reading my book this weekend.

I continue to be endlessly fascinated by the Great Hurricane of 1915–in no small part because I wrote a New Orleans story set in 1916 (“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”) that makes no mention of it at all. This is one of the pitfalls of writing historical fiction–I am not an expert on New Orleans history and it never occurred to me to check to see what the hurricane situation in the preceding years was. On the other hand, I have read some New Orleans history for that period and NO ONE mentions the Great Hurricane of 1915. NO ONE. And considering it wiped some towns off the map (Ruddock and Freniere, in the Manchac Swamp), you’d think it would have merited a mention in some of these Storyville/French Quarter histories? It was a Category 3 or 4, so it had to have done some serious damage in New Orleans, and in the fall of 1916 the city would have still been rebuilding, one would think. Anyway, I picked a book on the hurricane from the library yesterday which I will also peruse this weekend to try to figure out how I want to write my story “When We Die” (yes, I already have a title for the story, I just don’t know how it’s going to go or what it’s going to be about or if it will even ever turn into anything…but now I also want to write a Sherlock Holmes story involving a hurricane….this is why, in case you were wondering, it’s so hard for me to get shit done because other ideas are always crowding their way into the front of my brain which is really annoying….)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Friday Eve, Constant Reader!

A Soldier’s Angel

Wednesday and the middle of the week, such as it is.

I managed to get all my errands run yesterday in a relatively short period of time, and then once I got home managed to finish Chapter One of Mississippi River Mischief, which was a delightful turn of events. It always feels good once the first chapter is finished, and for some reason, this was one was harder than most to get started and finished. I’m not sure if the chapter will stand as written, either–I may want to reshuffle some things around and maybe this isn’t the best place to start the book–but it’s a start that I am glad to have made, at any rate. It never feels real until that first chapter–messy and sloppy and choppy as it is in its pacing–is written. Now I can say I’ve actually started writing the book–even though I’ve been working on it inside my head for quite some time now.

I slept very well last night–I don’t think I even woke up once in the middle of the night, or my sleep was so deep and restful that I don’t remember waking up in the middle of the night, and I’ll take either one, quite frankly. I feel very well rested this morning in general–physically and mentally and spiritually–which is always a nice way to start the day; yesterday I was crabby and irritated from having to get up so early, so while I really didn’t want to get up this morning either, at least I’m feeling mellow about having to get up and go to work this morning. I have a lot to do today as always; I can’t imagine what it will feel like to get up in the morning and not have a lot of things to do, frankly. On the one hand it sounds lovely, but on the other it would make me wonder why I would have so little or nothing to do; does that mean my writing career is over, for example? I can see it either way, to be honest. I think it would be a relief to not have to make a to-do list or spend the day trying to squeeze in everything that needs to be done…I am just going to come home right after work today–the errands (mail, grocery store, etc.) can wait until tomorrow, quite frankly–although I will be out of blackberries for tomorrow morning, but should I go ahead and stop on the way home tonight or put it off until tomorrow or what? I’ll probably decide at the end of my shift today…see how I feel as the time on my workday runs out.

It’s going to be another wet Wednesday in New Orleans; thunderstorms all day with a possibility of flash flooding–which, let’s face it, will play a part in my decision as to whether to just run straight home or potentially stop somewhere for blackberries and a few other things; I don’t like running errands when streets are filled with water. It’s supposed to be like this mostly for the next five days, really; and there’s a tropical system forming out there in the east Atlantic. Ah, August, how much fun are you always in New Orleans?

I’m also curious as to what is going to happen with Southern Decadence this year, given the new COVID variants and the rise of the monkey pox. We aren’t doing condom distribution this year, which feels very strange and weird, but we have had lube on back order for well over a year now so we don’t have everything we need to make condom packs anymore, either. Who knew that lube would be one of the things we’d have supply chain issues with during a pandemic? I’ve also been thinking about Decadence a lot, obviously, because I am writing another Scotty and am trying to slowly revisit the entire series to get reacquainted with his world and community. I also have been thinking about this story I want to write about Julia Brown and the Manchac Swamp–which is also tied into the new Scotty book–and while I was in the shower this morning I started thinking about a potential story for an anthology I’d like to submit to, but probably won’t have the time to write anything for–stories based on Alice Cooper songs, and I have one in mind already; nothing that’s already been started and can just be renamed, of course but rather something that has to start from scratch and I’m not sure if I have the bandwidth to write anything else at the moment.

Right? I say that…

But then of course it will bother me, like a loose tooth I can’t stop worrying with my tongue, and then I will break down and write the damned thing. Well I just looked up the submission call and the stories have to be turned in by August 31, so I most likely will not be writing anything for it, but it’s horror, not crime, which means the dark and twisted idea that I had could potentially work after all. Hmmm. A conundrum, to be sure. I was thinking some dark and nasty and suburban…yes, maybe I can play with the idea a bit today between clients and see what is actually possible here. What can it hurt?

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely middle of the week Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Secret Love

Tuesday morning and it’s back to the office with me today. Hurray!

I really didn’t want to get up this morning–what else is new–but I could easily crawl back underneath the covers and go right back to sleep. But that isn’t possible, so I sit here and swill my coffee and try to wake up completely so I can get ready for work. Yesterday was a decent day of working at home duties and feeling rested; when I was finished for the day I did work on the new Scotty a little bit, and also did a little more research about Julia Brown, the witch of Manchac Swamp whose entire town was wiped out by the hurricane of 1915 (which has caused a bit of an issue for my Sherlock Holmes story, which was set in 1916 and never mentions the hurricane of the previous year; one would assume the city was still rebuilding at the time of that story, but I guess the lack of mention can be explained away easily enough if i put my mind to it–not that anyone will ever notice or say anything, naturally). After finishing work for the day entirely and moving to my easy chair, we watched the new episodes of The Anarchist and Loot, before starting season three of Who Killed Sara? I have a lot of errands to run after work tonight–prescriptions, the mail, and picking up library books–which is fine; there’s an easy pattern of driving I can follow to get it all done relatively easily and quickly, but the primary issue is that I probably won’t want to do any of those errands once I get off from work today.

Most likely not. But they need to be run, and I might as well get it all over with at once, don’t you think?

I concur.

My birthday is coming up, sooner than I would like–this month is just flying past, which is partly due to me trying to get through the work week as quickly as possible every week; as I’ve said before, doing this is wishing my life away, but what can I say? I vastly prefer the days when I don’t have to come to work than the ones where I do, sue me. Retirement–a mere four years in my future–looks to be more and more enticing all the time; however, I also don’t want the next four years to just blow by, either, so no more of this wishing my life away stuff; I need to focus on each day and squeezing as much worth and value out of every day that I can. I am very excited about working on the new Scotty book and whipping it into shape; making a story come together out of the amorphous nether regions is always kind of fun for me (no matter how much I bitch and/or complain about it) and of course, I find myself once again writing a book during football season–heavy heaving sigh, one day you’d think I would learn–but there’s also no telling what this season will be like for us LSU/Saints fans; both have new coaches and it’s kind of a new era for both teams; I find it highly unlikely, however, that LSU will have another season as bad as the last two, and of course last year’s Saints season was a total disaster. Can’t really complain though; Louisiana football fans have been terribly spoiled this entire century–LSU won three national titles, the Saints won the Super Bowl–so it was probably one of the best runs for Louisiana football in history, really.

The problem with this, of course, is that I really need to be doing some day trip exploring around the state for things I am writing. I really need to go into the river and bayou parishes and scope it out, get a sense of what it’s like there–the sights, sounds, smells, etc.–and if I am going to write about Julia Brown and the Manchac swamp, I kind of need to go have a look around there. I’ve written scenes in the Manchac Swamp before, but it’s been a hot minute since I explored around out there and I don’t trust my memory (which lies to me on a daily basis, the bastard)…and I also should drive around in the East a bit as well–taking pictures and so forth. But….if I can find the Saints on the radio, I can always listen to the game in the car as I drive around.

(I don’t care about missing the Saints games as much as I do the LSU games, honestly; I often will make groceries during the first half of a Saints game because the city turns into a ghost town.)

I also am really starting to like the Fresh Market on St. Charles. The fruit and vegetables are fresher than those at other markets; my blackberries, for example, don’t get moldy and fuzzy within two days when I get them from there. I also like the butcher counter–and in futzing around on their website yesterday I discovered that yes, I can indeed order for pick-up there as well. If I get this all under control relatively soon, I can get to the point where I never have to set foot inside a grocery store again…and I kind of like that idea.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. It’s going to be a lengthy and hopefully productive day down here in the mines, and I will chat with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.

In Your Dreams

Yesterday turned out to be relatively pleasant.

I ran my errands–got the mail (which had a check!), swung by the Latter Library (which will be the setting for one of my new series books if it takes off) and picked up my book about obscenity trials (Dirty Works: Obscenity on Trial in America’s First Sexual Revolution) and then swung by Fresh Market to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables and some other odds and ends. I returned home, felt pretty decent, and then spent the rest of the day cleaning and organizing and redoing the kitchen cabinets to make them feel a bit less cramped and crowded. When Paul got home from work we watched some television, finishing The Most Hated Man on the Internet (recommended), watched Uncharted with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg (not missing much if you skip this), and started The Sandman on Netflix, which is superb.

Today I am going to continue with some of the cleaning and organizing, but am hoping to squeeze out some time to write before sinking back into my easy chair to enjoy more of The Sandman, which is extraordinary. I read the comic series years and years ago–I have some of the hardcover collections, which I’ve always intended to go back to and reread–and loved it. I had also loved the Neil Gaiman’s books American Gods and Good Omens, but found the adaptations to leave something to be desired, so I was worried about The Sandman being well done and good. Rest assured, it is very well done; visually arresting and stunning, the story relatively easy to follow, and the casting is superb. I think I may have to take some time and go back and reread the collections I have on hand–I always like to read the source material while I am watching the adaptation–but I also want to spend some time with the Ippolito book, which I want to finish this week. I am definitely going to be working on my Scotty book this weekend; progress must be made on it sooner rather than later, else it’s going to turn into one of those nightmarish deadline scenarios and God knows I do not want to find myself in another one of those situations ever again, perish the thought. (I say that about every deadline, don’t I? I am nothing if not sort of self-aware…)

I’m also trying to decide what to cook. I’ve been wanting to make shrimp-fried rice, which requires making rice the day before (apparently it needs to be at least day-old in order to make it), and I’ve been thinking that it’s not a bad idea to cook some things today that Paul can just heat up at night for something to eat, primarily because I never feel like cooking (or rarely) on the days when I go into the office (I keep hoping that we’ll eventually go back to our old schedule so I can go back to my normal schedule, which will make my life ever so much easier to handle, mainly because insomnia won’t be such an existential threat to my well-being the way it is when I have to get up at six in the morning); it would also help to clear some things out of the refrigerator (which is something I have to deal with today–cleaning out the refrigerator) and that’s always a good thing, methinks.

I was trying to remember where I had sold stories to this year and what short stories I have coming out at some point in the near future last night, and of course, couldn’t remember some of the places I had sold stories–which is why I try to keep the spreadsheet of submissions and sales–and maybe today, if I have some time after working on the book (I really want to pull that first chapter together today and maybe even get started on the second, to be honest) I may work on one of my short stories in progress. I know I have promised two stories with paranormal elements in them to two specific calls, and there’s another one I want to submit to, but don’t mind if I don’t get into it. (Another thing to do this week if I have time; try to figure out what my next short story collection will look like) I am feeling rather ambitious this morning, am I not? I am going to try to get my writing, cleaning and organizing (and weekly cooking preparations) all taken care of before I sit down to try to read this afternoon, so I am going to try to stay focused this morning, which is never an easy process for me. I’m also writing an entry for here about the birth and growth of the Scotty series that I should probably work a little more on, as well as some of the other in-progress entries I have–that whole personal essay thing I was talking about the other day–and of course, I am in the process of inventing an entire parish in Louisiana for the new Scotty book. It’s not like it’s the first time; I think I invented one on the north shore for Baton Rouge Bingo that popped up again in Garden District Gothic, but I could also be remembering wrong. I know I am going to have to go back to an old Scotty book to dig out something from his past that he’s going to have to face up to in Mississippi River Mischief which is going to be a lot of fun for me to write, frankly.

Come to think of it, I’ve invented rural parishes outside of New Orleans for several books now; I should go back and reread through them to get a sense or semblance of what I’ve already done and pull it all together.

Hmmm.

And on that note I think I am going to head into the spice mines. I want to put the dishes away and get started on making this rice for tomorrow’s dinner (I also suspect it’s going to make way too much for both Paul and I to eat), and cleaning out the refrigerator while also doing some other chores until my brain is awake enough to start figuring out how to start this Scotty book and where it’s going to go. SO have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader. I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.