Mirrorball

The sun is shining and there doesn’t seem to be any wind at all outside my windows this morning. The sidewalk is littered with leaves and some small branches, and even that’s not really indicative of much beyond having a thunderstorm here last night. I don’t remember hearing any thunder, nor even any rain last evening–but I am rather nervous about seeing what damage Delta did to western Louisiana. The road to recovery there is going to be long, sadly, and even longer because this was the second time they got hit in less than two months. Just awful.

Today I have a lot of writing to do; I have to finish revising an essay as well as a short story, and I also have some website writing to get done. I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon, after I finished condom packing for the day and was going about cleaning the Lost Apartment–I don’t know where my doldrums and malaise about both writing and my career has come from lately; if it was merely a combination of overwhelming factors (COVID-19, the news on a daily basis, stress from my volunteer work, or a combination of them all, coupled with the shift in my routine from the changes at work that are COVID related, and of course, the dying desktop–JFC, what a shitty year this has been) but yesterday I seemed to snap out of it somewhat. I spent a lot of the evening last night cleaning up my Cloud drive–it still needs work–but I also started thinking about all the writing I’ve done and all the writing I need to do and literally it was like slapping myself in the face. There are a lot of things about this business I have no control over; but one thing I do have control over is the writing itself. All I can do is write the best work that I can, focus on making it the best it can be, and send it out into the world and hope for the best. I’m going to try to not beat myself up so much over everything as much as I have been doing this year–in other words, I need to stop being so hard on myself and give myself a break every now and again.

There are only so many hours in every day, and sometimes it’s okay, and necessary, to spend some time letting your brain recharge.

Sometimes I feel like this entire year my mind has been functioning as though through a fog of some sort, and it’s perfectly okay. It has been a traumatic year for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that next year will be any better–remember when we all couldn’t wait for 2019 to end?–but I plan on moving forward while trying to stay positive about everything. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already, and there’s certainly no need for me to add anything to that. But I think what’s been missing this year, at least for me, is my ambition–I’ve not been particularly ambitious this year, and I’ve sort of been letting my life happen rather than trying to take control of it, which is what I did the first thirty-three years I was alive, drifting through life aimlessly to see where it led me, and that’s a horrible waste of time. Obviously, there are certain things that are completely out of our control, but I’ve also not been grasping the reins of the things I can control. I’ve been allowing myself to simply be a pinball bouncing around in a game being played by a master, who’s managed to keep the ball in play, sending me from flipper to bumper to flipper to slingshot to bumper to flipper again–and I need to grab hold and start steering again.

Because the LSU-Missouri game was moved to Columbia from Baton Rouge, the game is now airing at 11 CDT, which means in only a couple of hours. I am going to finish this, go through my emails, and then retire to my easy chair with my laptop and work on the essay during the game. It should be over by three, and then I can work on the website writing–I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day watching football games, frankly, but my mind could easily be changed/distracted and head in that direction later–and if I can get the essay and the website writing done today, I can focus on the short story revision tomorrow, and maybe even move on to Chapter 11 of Bury Me in Shadows, which I would love to have a finished draft of by Halloween, so I can spend the next month or so polishing and revising it before I send it in–early, even, if I am lucky. The final revision and polish of #shedeservedit is going to take longer than this one, so giving myself more time to work on it is probably the wisest course of action.

And then….it’s on to Chlorine, which I am really excited about.

There are also some calls for submission I’ve seen lately that I might have something for, which is exciting, and there’s also the possibility that I could write something new as well. I really want to get back to my pandemic short story, “The Flagellants,” which I am not sure anyone will want to publish but the story has taken some shape in my head; there are a couple of others I can revise and send out there to markets–“Death and the Handmaidens,” “Moves in the Field,” “This Thing of Darkness”–and some others I want to finish–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “No Place Like Home,”–as you can see, Constant Reader, I am feeling particularly ambitious this morning–and there’s another period Sherlock story I would like to write, “The Mother of Harlots.” (Look at me, writing another Sherlock story with no market for it!) There was also a submission call for stories set in the 1960’s, and methinks I would love to write a short story around the Clay Shaw trial, which would be kind of fun to do (God, New Orleans history is so richly layered and textured it’s not even funny!) and of course, I need to be reading.

We started watching season 2 of The Boys last night, and it’s still very well done, just as the first season was, and of course, the entire concept of super-heroes as assholes remains perfect–and it got me to thinking about Superman and what’s been wrong with the recent adaptations of the Man of Steel on film. Henry Cavill is absolutely perfect in the role, but the issue I have with the films is this angsty look at Superman they’ve been giving us. Superman is suppose to be a beacon hope–the great American Boy Scout–as opposed to his darker counterpart, Batman. There will be more discussion of this at a later blog date, once we’ve finished The Boys.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and if you have some spare cash, can you donate something to western Louisiana hurricane relief? It would be most appreciated.

I Wish You Would

Hurricane Delta is moving ever closer by the moment to our shores. This is one of the worst parts–the inevitable waiting, the need to be completely flexible, and the need to be ready to pack up and get out of Dodge in a hurry if need be. In that regard we are luckier than most when it comes to natural disasters; we have warning so we can get out while there is still time. Tornadoes and earthquakes don’t give you those options; with tornadoes sometimes it’s merely a matter of minutes (those years in Kansas…); earthquakes give you no warning whatsoever. Hurricanes clearly trigger PTSD in me–and have, ever since Katrina–but I would still rather deal with them than tornadoes or earthquakes (been through those during my years in California).

Ugh, natural disasters. Earth’s way of reminding us how unimportant and insignificant we really are.

There was a thing going around Twitter the other day, reading something along the lines of : Fellow authors, creatives… do you think it’s wise to tweet your policital opinions using your author/creative twitter account, or should you keep politics out of your creative timeline? Do you think it might lose you followers, readers, even work, or hurt your cause?

It did make me think a little bit at first. I generally don’t talk about politics much about my social media, or here on my blog; but it’s not about worrying that I might offend and lose readers, for fuck’s sake. The funniest thing to me about that tweet was precisely how privileged it was, and how the person tweeting it didn’t even have the slightest clue about the place of privilege she was coming from.

Simply stated, any writers that are not cishet white heterosexuals has had their very existence politicized, over and over and over again. Two Supreme Court justices, just this very week, very nastily announced that they don’t think queer people are entitled to equality in the eyes of the law; no surprise it was dumpster fires Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. I would love to have the privilege of not having my existence, and my status as an American citizen, politicized and reviled and attacked by bigots and monsters masking their demonic tactics are “religious liberty”; and a little louder for those of you in the back: if your religion is teaching you to treat any other human being with anything less than empathy, understanding, and compassion, you are doing religion wrong.

Period.

Frankly, I don’t exactly see how I could possibly lose any readers who are homophobes or racists or transphobes or fire-breathing conservatives because they would never buy books by a gay man centering gay men and themes in the first place. These are the ones who don’t buy your books but will waste their lives away going on Amazon and looking for queer writers to one-star, with a sentence about “not wanting a political agenda shoved down (their) throat.”

Books by and about queer people are political by nature of their very existence–and this is something which we, like writers of color and any other underprivileged minority in this country do not get to have a choice. The personal is the political for us; it is very interesting to me to see how much privilege is on display in tweets like the one above; while assuredly the intentions of the tweeter were good and she was genuinely curious what other people thought on the subject–other straight white people, obviously. It is an interesting subject, after all; moral stances don’t pay the bills, obviously, and at what point does your survival outweigh your principles?

Some authors are big enough, and successful enough, to not have to worry about offending or losing readers–which is another kind of privilege; recently seen on display with J. K. Rowling, and previously seen with writers like Orson Scott Card, among others–while those writers who aren’t marginalized for something beyond their control and are barely scraping by, hoping their sales will warrant yet another book contract, trying to figure out how to get the word out about their books and sell more copies while balancing a day job and family and everything else, possibly cannot afford to alienate any portion of their reader base if they want to keep writing. I get that, I really do; part of the reason I am so productive (per other people) is a definite fear that at some point my writing career will end–although I have also come to realize that while my career as Greg Herren might end, I could always create a new name and start over again–but it would be really nice to have the kind of reality that makes asking that question even possible to consider. As a gay male writer who writes about gay men and their experiences navigating this country and this world, obviously my books make a political statement; just my existence makes such a statement.

I refuse to closet myself or my work for the convenience of making homophobes more comfortable.

Suck on that, bitches.

Honestly.

Anyway, a friend reminded me of a short story the other day, and it had been quite the hot minute since I’d read Ray Bradbury’s “The Whole Town’s Sleeping,” and so I thought, why not reread it for the Short Story Project?

So I did.

The courthouse clock chimed seven times. The echoes of the chines faded.

Warm summer twilight here in upper Illinois country in this little town deep and far away from everything, kept to itself by.a river and a forest and a meadow and a lake. The sidewalks still scorched. The stores closing and the streets shadowed. And there were two moons; the clock moon with four faces in four night directions above the solemn black courthouse, and the real moon rising in vanilla whiteness from the dark east.

In the drugstore fans whispered in the high ceilings. In the rococo shade of porches, a few invisible people sat. Cigars glowed pink, on occasion. Screen doors whined their springs and slammed. ON the purple bricks of the summer-night streets, Douglas Spaulding ran; dogs an boys followed after.

“Hi, Miss Lavinia!”

Isn’t that a lovely start? I have to confess, I’ve not read much Bradbury–I’m not even sure how I read this story in the first place, but I remembered it; there must have been a short-story collection I picked up somewhere and read that I don’t recall. I know that I read it sometime after I had read Night Shift by Stephen King; because when I originally read this story it made me think of his story, “Strawberry Spring,” both in its style, voice and content SPOILER: both are serial killer stories, and both are written in that same Norman Rockwell Americana type voice; look at this sweet, picturesque American community, isn’t it lovely and aspirational and oh, by the way, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Before rereading the story, all I could remember was that weird Rockwellian voice, the Americana of the depiction of the town, and the ending. I also remembered the suspense of the scene where Miss Lavinia, after walking her companions home after seeing the Chaplin movie, thinks someone is following her as she hurries home alone. I’d forgotten that she and one of her friends found the body of the latest victim on the way to the movie, and yet continue on; that was extremely weird, and I also remembered the wonderful twist of the final sentence of the story, once she has safely gotten home. The serial killer, The Lonely One, kills a woman every month–and yet, in this pristine little slice of Americana small town life, no one in the town seems to take the killer all that seriously, or worry all that much about becoming his next victim. The voice vs the content is a masterstroke of writing, frankly; and I must admit, I’m not really sure why I haven’t read more Bradbury. I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes–I also remember thinking recently that I should reread it–and Dandelion Wine, and there must have been a short story collection I read as well; but I never read any of the science fiction–my education in Heinlein and other science fiction greats is also sorely lacking (although I have read quite a bit of Azimov and of course, Dune). I think I’ve avoided the great science fiction writers of back in the day because the advances in technology in reality have made some of those stories probably obsolete–watching 2001 recently, along with Blade Runner, was interesting in seeing what major corporations of the time they were made are no longer around (Pan Am and Howard Johnson’s, for a few) that people of the time couldn’t possibly imagine wouldn’t be around in the future. Perhaps I’ll move Something Wicked This Way Comes closer to the top of the reread pile. I didn’t enjoy it all that much at the time–I was expecting something a little more Stephen King-ish–and with more of an adult, better read mentality, I might enjoy and appreciate it more. I am certainly intrigued by that voice, which is very similar to the one he used in the short story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely and safe Thursday, Constant Reader!

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

Red

Getting up early is the bane of my existence, and has been for nearly my entire life. I think alarms are evil, frankly–necessary sometimes, admittedly, but there’s nothing worse than being ripped out of a deep sleep by the incessant braying of a fucking alarm clock. My preference would be to wake up naturally every morning; those are the days when I never feel tired the rest of the day–waking up to an alarm inevitably means being tired at some point, and depending on how difficult it is for me to wake up after said alarm goes off, I could quite easily be tired for the rest of the day.

We’re not enjoying The Vow nearly as much as we did in the earlier episodes, and with no offense to Catherine Oxenberg, the documentary’s shift from being about what the cult (NXIVM) is doing and how it hounds people who try to leave–and their attempts to bring it down–and to a focus on her attempts to rescue her daughter was jarring; those original episodes were a lot more interesting than these last few focusing on Oxenberg and her daughter. It’s like the series shifted focus in mid-stream, and while I know Oxenberg played a very important role in bringing NXIVM down, this shift felt strange, awkward, and weird–almost inorganic.

There’s another storm out in the Caribbean Sea, and New Orleans is almost entirely the cone of uncertainty. When I looked at it last night, it looked like it could become a category 2 by the time it makes it ashore at the end of this week. This is Delta–an ominous name for people who live in the Mississippi Delta, or rather just above it–and while I am not necessarily feeling any stress about this storm just yet (give it another day or so, or another cup of cappuccino) it’s definitely not pleasing to have such a thing out there, looming and lurking and slowly making its way towards us. It’s projection right now is a dead-center hit on New Orleans as a Category 2, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will be another near-miss or a big old nothing.

This morning, Delta seems to be strengthening in the Caribbean Sea, with it possibly getting up to Category 4 in the Gulf, but only coming ashore as a 2. A 2 is still rough, mind you; that’s what Laura was in western Louisiana and she wrought havoc and destruction; so am I getting a little unsettled and unnerved by the presence of this storm lurking out there, with almost two full months left in the season? Damned straight I am. I don’t seem to be having any PTSD at the moment, unlike the previous storms that threatened here this year, so that’s a good thing–unless I am so beaten down already by the year that I no longer have the bandwidth to spare any emotion anymore, which is probably a very strong possibility.

But it will certainly make the end of the week interesting, at any rate.

We started watching the new Gillian Flynn show–she’s producer, writer and show-runner, I guess–on Prime, Utopia. I’m still not quite sure what I think of it, but it’s pretty amazing. Very hard-boiled, very realistic, very interesting, surprising twists, and boy is it ever dark. I’m not even sure I can describe the plot adequately enough to do it justice–it’s like trying to figure out how to explain Orphan Black to someone; you inevitably give up and say, “you have to watch. It’s marvelous.” The acting and writing are top notch, the direction and editing and overall visual aesthetic are cinematic at the best of the meaning of the word, and you can’t really look away from it. It’s very violent. But I really hated to stop watching when it was time for bed last night. Oh, and John Cusack is in it. There’s this amazing sense of paranoia that runs through it, that is also reminiscent of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the decade of conspiracies and theories and cults.

Note to self: rewatch the original Fame movie. It’s very dark, as I recall, as was Saturday Night Fever.

Paul actually got home early last night so I wasn’t able to get any writing done–or reading, for that matter–which of course has me still behind the 8-ball with everything I need to get done. I did make some progress yesterday; I got a lot of my emails responded to, which was lovely, and hopefully I can get the rest of them cleaned up and cleaned out today and tomorrow. I also need to clean the kitchen this evening; I kind of let things slide last night because I wasn’t expecting Paul to be home so early and then we started watching Utopia. I also want to start wading into Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories; I’d hoped to be able to get that started yesterday. Since I’m having so much trouble focusing enough to read novels, it might be time to get back to the Short Story Project, and there are certainly enough single-author collections and anthologies lying around the Lost Apartment to keep me reading for quite some time. I also realized that I do have two short stories that are almost completed; “This Thing of Darkness” and “Moves in the Field”–the two stories that were rejected by the markets I sent them to–that can be reread, revised, and sent back out into the world, which I’ve been thinking about again lately–the need to get some more short stories out on submission again. I need to be writing more–scheduling and exhaustion (both mental, emotional and physical) cannot be allowed to defeat me and keep me from writing. Writing is what keeps me level and sane (or what passes for it around here), and it’s when I am not writing something, anything, that things tend to go off the rails around here.

And more than anything else, I need to keep things on the rails as much as possible.

Fearless

And here we are, once again, on a Monday morning with the darkness pressing against my windows, a cappuccino in my hot little hands, and wondering how this week is going to play out. Admittedly, it’s kind of a fool’s game trying to anticipate a week in 2020–I rather miss the sameness of weeks in the before-times, and I am really not certain I’ll know how to behave once things become more like they used to be; if they ever go back to how they used to be. I suspect the before-times are gone forever and once whatever this new reality we are living in moves beyond, there will be a different new reality we are all going to have to adjust to and move on.

Keep moving on.

I’m adjusting quite nicely to using the Air, sitting atop my Baring-Goulds, as my primary desktop computer. There are still some adaptations that are going to need to be made, of course–I still need to get that adapter so I can use the printer and the back-up hard drive–but thus far I am pretty pleased with how it’s all working out. My desk is out of balance now, of course—which means I am going to have to rearrange and reconfigure the desktop itself, moving file holders and books and so forth around a bit more–but honestly, it’s just so nice being able to work without the spinning wheel of death showing up periodically to slow me down and make my head split in half in controlled rage that I may just keep this system for as long as the Air remains functional.

From lemons to lemonade, really. I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t figure this all out a while ago–but stubbornly I kept wanting to believe that my desktop was reparable. It still might be, and at some point (depending on extra cash) I may want to take it into the Apple Store and have it looked at before trashing it completely; but in the meantime I. just need an out-of-the-way place to keep it until the extra money shows up and I can take it into the shop in Metairie.

I also can’t believe how well this has worked for lowering my incredibly high stress levels.

The workspace is still going to need some tweaking, frankly–as I mentioned, i need the adapter to gain access to the back-up hard drive, for one, and I may decide to move the books off the desk at some point or maybe make the stacks on either side of the laptop lower, I don’t know; there’s a sense of clutter that sometimes bothers me and sometimes it doesn’t, so there is that as well.

I really do think my mantra needs to remain flexibility, the ability to change and adapt to circumstances rather than rigidly refusing to bend and thus getting damaged. I remember when I was hired by Continental Airlines and started the five week training; the first thing our instructor told us was “the most important thing to remember about the airline industry is the only constant is change” and that’s really pretty true for life in general, really; if you don’t adapt and change you risk becoming a rigid dinosaur and extinction, really. And while there is certainly some comfort to be derived from routine and sameness, there’s also stagnation.

So, this week I need to rewrite an essay, revise a short story, and make some progress on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I also have a shit ton of volunteer work to get caught up on, I owe everyone and their grandmother emails, and for the first time in a long time i feel like I can not only get caught up but can stay on top of everything once I do get caught up (Universe, this should not be seen as an invitation to pile more unexpected things up on me, for the record), and it kind of feels nice, you know?

Let’s see how long it lasts, shall we?

We started watching a new show, an anthology series, called Monsterworld on Hulu last night; the episodes are all based on short stories from Nathan Ballingrud’s collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories. I had literally just had my hands on the book when I was moving things around earlier yesterday–part of the rearrangement of the work space thing; pull a thread and so forth–and so, rather impressed with how well done the show is and how good those first two episodes were, I found my copy of the book again and opened to the first page.

The first two paragraphs were amazing; and it’s short stories, so I think I can add it to the Short Story Project and justify reading a story here and there.

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines.

Getaway Car

Saturday was a beautiful day.

I spent far too much time fighting with my dying desktop computer yesterday; in point of fact, I’ve been wasting far too much time lately fighting with the damned thing trying to get it to be functional at the very low level I require.

Since the time lost really cannot be spared any more, I needed to solve this problem rather than just keep bitching about it or else I would be so far behind I could never get caught up. So, I decided I am finally going to have to remove it from my desk and figure out a way to make the MacBook Air my working computer; it’ll also give me a place to put some books (as I will need to raise it to eye level)–some of those coffee table books will do a lovely job, actually–and I already have a keyboard and mouse for it. All I will need else is one of those USB converter things so the back-up hard drive can be hooked up to it (and the printer) and that will have to do until such time as I can afford to buy a new desktop. I know laptops are designed to be used as a main computer, but they just don’t work for me the way they used to. Part of it is the worsening of my aging eyes. The keyboard, the screen…yeah, not big enough, the screen is too small, and the inevitable resting of my wrists on the edge of the laptop simply will not due–it will take some getting used to, but better to start getting used to it now rather than putting it off and wasting more time. So, I need to get batteries for the wireless keyboard, I’ll start picking out the books to stack beneath it, and look for the spare cash for the adapters and so forth I need.

But now that I have made the decision to finally throw away the desktop–or see if I can trade it in, or something–it will be lovely to have that frustration behind me. I am actually writing on the laptop right now, in my easy chair, with it resting on my lap desk and I have the mouse with me as well and this isn’t bothering me near as much as I thought it might.

Maybe switching to a laptop permanently isn’t so out of the question as I had originally thought.

Hmmmm.

And you know what? Just making that decision yesterday loosened a knot of tension between my shoulders blades and my back muscles just unclenched. Clearly, the computer issues have been contributing to stress levels subconsciously; I need to remind myself this regularly from now on–that you can always figure out a way to work around the problem and thus possibly solve it. Look for the work around, rather than just focusing on the head-on approach–I hadn’t realized how stressed this issue was making me.

The weather was gorgeous yesterday as I ran my errands; it’s the fall season that always reminds me how wonderful living in New Orleans is. Our winters–all my bitching aside about how nasty damp cold can be–aren’t that bad, really; they get about as cold as is bearable for me, and the fall and the spring seasons are so amazingly beautiful that our four months or so of brutal summer are worth putting up with in exchange for our glorious falls and springs. I love that it gets chilly (for here) at night; it makes sleeping even easier, and actually using the stove (without setting it on fire) doesn’t turn the kitchen into an unbearable sweatbox. I can start making chilis and soups again; and grilled cheese is even lovelier in the cooler seasons than it is in the summer. Much as I dislike coming home from work in the dark (it’s really the only drawback), I really love this time of year.

Oooh. I should make lasagna.

That actually sounds pretty lovely.

LSU also won last night (GEAUX TIGERS!) and while yes, their 41-7 win over Vanderbilt wasn’t terribly impressive, the defense looked amazing in the second half and Miles Brennan is definitely getting his feet beneath him and is turning into a quite good quarterback. As embarrassing as the loss to Mississippi State was last week (made worse by their home loss to Arkansas yesterday, snapping a 20 game conference losing streak for the Razorbacks), at least the team seemed to gel last night. Who knows how good Auburn is now, but the real danger zones on the schedule now seem to be Florida and (surprise) Alabama, both of whom looked really impressive yesterday and so far this season.

I now have the Air set up as my desktop computer, with the wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse connected to it. I have it sitting atop my The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Baring-Gould; it may need to go a little higher, but the system is really working well this morning thus far. (Still not a huge fan of the tiny screen, but I can get used to it, methinks.) Just to see how hard it would be, I also started writing a short story from scratch on here yesterday afternoon–a story called “The Last To See Him Alive”, which had no plan, no idea, no nothing behind it rather than the start–which finds police detective Blaine Tujague arriving at a potential witness’s home and finding said potential witness a little the worse for wear; I managed 873 words of a story of which I neither know what the case is, why Blaine is there, and how this is going to end (this happens a lot to me, which is why I have so many damned unfinished short story fragments floating around in my storage), but I showed that if need be, I can write on the laptop keyboard itself, and having the wireless one, along with the wireless mouse, makes it that much easier.

And on that note, it’s time to head into the spice mines.

I Knew You Were Trouble

And here we are, Wednesday, the midpoint of the week and somehow the last day of the month of September. The weather is changing in New Orleans, with the temperatures dropping into the mid to high sixties overnight but still getting up into the eighties during the day. The temperature, for example, dropped so suddenly last night that I became aware that the floor felt cold, and had to put on my slippers. (Slippers always sounds so weird to me; we always called them house shoes when I was growing up and so I still think of them that way; I merely used slippers in this instance because after originally typing house shoes, I thought, no one will know what that means and changed it. Likewise, as a kid, there were exactly two kinds of athletic shoes: gym shoes and tennis shoes; some people called them sneakers. I still say “gym shoes” or “tennis shoes”, in fact. I guess it’s one of my many many many eccentricities.) The colder night weather also makes sleep easier for me, unfortunately, it also makes the I don’t want to get out of bed feeling I have every morning more intensive and powerful.

I have a lot to get done today, and I also think it might be time to move on from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival today; I’m not sure there are any more of those types of films available on HBO MAX; I know there are more on some of the other streaming services; I know I added both The French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon to my watchlists somewhere, but what I really want to watch is Serpico. I also think I should probably rewatch The Godfather, and I’ve actually never seen The Godfather Part II. I was also thinking I should rewatch Chinatown, but then you get into that whole “artist vs. the art” thing. (At least I was never much of a Woody Allen fan.)

I was tired when I got home from work yesterday; Paul was finishing off a grant so I basically sat in my easy chair last night, physically tired and emotionally drained, and too mentally tired to engage with a new book, so I basically watched history videos on Youtube and wrote notes in my journal. I somehow managed to come up with some more ideas for stories yesterday; and also tried making sense of some of my notes in the journal–which isn’t always easy; sometimes I just scribble stuff down without context–for example, I wrote down the words targeted individual and when I looked at it last night I literally had no idea what I meant, what it was supposed to be, or why I wrote it down in the first place. This morning, in retrospect, I think it came from watching The Vow about the NXIVM cult; I seem to recall someone on the show talking about someone as being a “targeted individual,” which essentially means someone the cult actively pursued to get them to join, because they were important enough in some way–influential, financial, celebrity–that would lend the cult credibility and visibility if said person joined. Even as I typed that, the more right I think I am with that interpretation; I liked the whole chilling concept of the phrase to the point that I most likely thought it was something interesting enough to look into and explore fictionally, and that it would also make a great title. (I also googled it, and found that there’s an even more interesting definition of the term–loosely, people think they are ‘targeted individuals’ and think the government or some big organization is spying on them, including the planting of listening devices in their homes and bugging their phones.)

I also had some breakthroughs about both of the manuscripts I am still working on; how to make them better and even more stronger than they are and hopefully, I will be able to make those changes to the manuscripts and make them tighter, the characters more relatable and believable, and get the damned things finished once and for all.

I also got copy edits on a short story I sold; I need to give it another once-over at some point; I have an essay to finish revising and another one to edit, and some website writing to do. It never ends around here, really, and I shudder at the thought of checking my email inbox this morning. I also have some day job research to do this morning before moving on to my condom packing this afternoon; I also have to get organized and pay my bills this morning (yup, it’s Pay-the-Bills day, my favorite every two week cycle). I can’t believe tomorrow is actually October. October. As long as this year has been–this long, interminable March we’ve never seemed able to move beyond–it nevertheless is shocking to me that it’s October already somehow. September went by in a blur, and even now, looking back at it and recognizing the issues of depression and so forth I was dealing with all month–it still seems like Labor Day was just last week, and the entire month is shrouded in clouds in my memory banks.

Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader–you’ve got this.

New Romantics

Despite my enormous sense of cynicism, at the same time I’m kind of a hopeless romantic. I want to believe that people are mostly good, that kindness is the way to change the world, and that selfishness is much rarer than we think it is, or despite all the evidence to the contrary. While deliberate cruelty no longer surprises me, it will always disappoint me.

And I will go to my grave, bitter to the very end, about the bill of goods I was sold as a child, about everything.

Yesterday was nice and relaxing, despite the LSU loss. Having the winning streak snapped– as well as being the first defending national champion to lose their season opener in almost forty years–was disappointing. Not to write the team off, either–there were some flashes of brilliance yesterday, and definitely, there’s potential there–but historically, LSU has followed up championship seasons with disappointing ones. LSU has also lost games early in the season they maybe shouldn’t have, only to pull it together and have a pretty decent season the rest of the way. I just feel bad for the players and the coaches; yesterday had to be horribly sobering, and the loss of the glow of being one of the best teams of all time last year to losing the opener to Mississippi State was a wake-up call. However, who knows? It’s early in the season, and maybe the Bulldogs are going to have a year. (I did watch, and enjoy, the end of the Kansas State upset of Oklahoma. What a terrific comeback! Go State!)

After that disappointment, however, we queued up Enola Holmes on Netflix, and what a delight it turned out to be. The previews I’d seen looked marvelous, and what a delightful cast as well. (I mean, you can never go wrong with Helena Bonham Carter, and Henry Cavill is a delight to look at, even if he never takes off his shirt.) It was also rather delightfully cleverly written, well produced, and Millie Bobby Brown has certainly proved herself to be more than just the girl from Stranger Things; even with the stellar cast, this is her show. She carries the movie from start to finish, and without being charismatic, charming, and giving a great performance as well, the movie would have sunk like a stone. And Henry Cavill makes a marvelous Sherlock; maybe not Benedict Cumberbatch-worthy, but it’s a terrific role for him and he did pretty well in it. I now want to read the entire Enola Holmes series–so the film served as an excellent marketing device for the novels, and watching it reminded me, yet again, how much fun I had writing that Sherlock pastiche earlier this year, and started thinking about perhaps doing another. The 1910’s and 1920’s are such a rich period in New Orleans history to draw from, for one thing, and as I watched I realized I didn’t include either Inspector Lestrade (the name works for a New Orleans police investigator, doesn’t it?) or Mycroft; and it was a fun world to inhabit for a while. I am not at the point where I feel like a true Sherlockian or anything; but it would be fun to revisit my Sherlock Holmes 1916 New Orleans again. Perhaps “A Scandal in Baton Rouge”? “Murder in Milneburg”? The possibilities are, as they say, endless.

Scooter is adapting to the new wet food, as well as slowly getting used to the idea that treats are no longer forthcoming. He still goes to the coffee table, stands where he used to when I would give them to him, and whines; but instead I put the wet food in his bowl and he goes and eats it. I managed to surprise him with his morning insulin shot while he was eating–he’s still not fond of being stuck, but he’s getting better about it. And with each successive shot, I felt better about giving it to him, and it becomes less of a big deal. The one thing that does bother me about it is the disposal of the syringes; if I didn’t work somewhere that did syringe access and return, I would probably just throw the damned things in the garbage, and while they aren’t really a huge risk of any kind to anyone–I also recap them–if a garbage man was to get stuck accidentally with one of them, they wouldn’t know it was an insulin syringe, and of course they would then have the stress of worrying about Hepatitis C or HIV infection, and rounds of testing.

And that’s not something I’d want to put anyone through, you know?

I also decided to set aside The Heavenly Table for now. It’s quite good, and so exceptionally well written; I will definitely come back to it, but it’s just so unrelentingly dark, and I don’t think I can handle anything like that right now. I just found myself reaching for it yesterday before pulling my hand back like I’d been burned, and realized that part of the reason I’d not been reading it on weeknights was because I was already in a dark place and reading something so dark wasn’t going to help matters any. When I finally finished that entry from yesterday about writing young adult fiction, and queer desire in it, I had to go reread the links I posted in it–and was reminded of a book called Release, by Patrick Ness, which I thought I remembered purchasing in support because of the criticism it was receiving at the time (I have a tendency to do that–buy books in support when controversy envelopes them–but feel it important to note that it depends on the controversy. I shall never, for example, buy American Dirt), and I started reading it, immediately becoming entranced by the writing style, which I liked very much, and also found myself liking the point of view character very much as well. So, I think I will most likely spend some more time with it today.

I also need to spend some time with Bury Me in Shadows–there’s really no excuse other than laziness for my reluctance thus far to tackle the revision of Chapter 11. Yes, it’s a poorly written mess that will require blood, sweat, and tears to repair and revise and make readable, but it is also not likely to rewrite itself, and the longer I put off working on it and making the all-too-necessary repairs, the longer it is going to take me to finish the book and turn it in–and that is simply not an option. I also want to work on a short story today, and I have to start writing an essay I promised to do with very little turnaround time.

I did manage to get come cleaning and organizing done yesterday, which was lovely.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you either later today (should I finish one of the drafts in the post draft folder) or tomorrow morning when I have to get up insanely early in order to go to the office.

Drops of Jupiter

I got my flu shot yesterday, as well as the second and final vaccination for shingles, and just like the first shingles shot, my shoulder (flu went into the left, shingles to the right) is achy and sore again this morning. But I have absolutely no regrets–a few days of sore shoulder is certainly worth never having shingles. Ironically, one of my goals for this year was to be better about my health in general; who knew, of course, when setting my goals there would be a global pandemic and all of the resultant fallout? But while I still need to get that damned colonoscopy scheduled, I have managed to get the lumps in my chest X-rayed (fatty cysts, RUDE!) and my shingles vaccination. I was in a regular routine of going to the gym again before it closed (and I really really miss it), and need to get into at least a regular routine of stretching, push-ups. and abs every morning (which hasn’t happened yet). I think that will help with what I call malaise, but really is depression.

Malaise just somehow sounds better to me than depression–but that’s also due to stigma. I don’t know why I am so reluctant to admit that I have depression sometimes–it never gets truly bad, just bad enough that I fail to see the point in doing anything of any kind–but of course, when i had to go to the office every day and see clients that helped keep it under control; helping people every day and talking to them about their own problems and issues made me feel better about myself–hey at least you’re helping people and you can do that even during a bout of depression–so obviously, only working with clients two days a week now does not help as much with that. I also am not one who likes to admit to weakness of any kind–thank you, systemic toxic masculinity–and so talking publicly about it, let alone admitting to it, has always been an issue for me.

I did watch The Believers while making condom packs yesterday, and yes, I was right; it doesn’t hold up and it’s really terrible about what is essentially just as valid a religion as Christianity. At one point an expert in santeria does explain to the main character–played by a very handsome younger Martin Sheen–that there is a difference between santeria (white magic; the forces of good) and brujeria (dark magic; the forces of evil)–but throughout the film it’s only referred to as santeria, and the entire point of the film is to exoticize an ancient African religion, make it seem mysterious and evil. Ironically, even though the film was made in 1987 or so, it actually fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival because it, too, is about paranoia and conspiracy and not being able to truly trust anyone. There was also a fear of Satanism rampant in the 1980’s; devil cults and so forth–and a lot of it had to do with heavy metal music as well. I suppose this swing back in the 1980’s was to be expected, almost predictable; after the social upheavals of the 1960’s and the cynicism of the 1970’s, the 1980’s saw a swing back to older values of a sort. Evangelicalism–which began to uptick somewhat in the 1970’s, on the wings of end-times religious theory, like The Late Great Planet Earth and The Omen, began preaching about “family values” and trying to censor film, books, television, and music. The film, which I didn’t really remember much of, played down some of the paranoia and motivation of the novel (which was called The Religion, until the release of the film); in the book the religion followers were being warned by the Seven Powers that child sacrifice–three children, in total–was necessary to prevent the coming end of the world; and the stakes of the novel lie in the fact that the main character’s son was to be the third. This plot point was written out of the movie, which obviously turned them into crazy child sacrificers; at least their motivations in the book were sort of pure–an end justifies the means sort of thing, which was a very popular mentality in the 1980’s, as I recall. The book ends with the main character, his new second wife (love interest throughout the book) and the son, saved from sacrifice, living on a farm somewhere; their radio and television goes out, and the adults look at each other with worry as the sky outside also begins to change to an eerie color…the movie obviously ends differently, and not as satisfyingly; I liked that the book depicted that their unwillingness to allow their son to be sacrificed in order to save the world–selfishness, really–doomed the entire world. (The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay also does a most excellent job of portraying this same dilemma–seriously, Constant Reader, you need to read that book.)

Thinking about this book, and rewatching this movie, naturally has me thinking about the connections between santeria and brujeria to the type of voodoo that was practiced in New Orleans; something I’ve long been interested in but hesitant to write about, particularly, as I’ve said before, because the historical writings about New Orleans and voodoo culture is extremely, horrifyingly dated and racist. My story “The Snow Globe”–coming next year in the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s anthology Magic is Murder–touches on New Orleans voodoo, and I was absolutely terrified of getting it wrong. The primary issue I have with both fictional and historical depictions of voodoo under any name is that it’s always painted as devil-worship and evil, which is predicated on the notion that Christianity is the only good religion. (I’ve also, often, noted that horror fiction–film, television, novels–while always attacked by Christians, actually almost always portrays Christianity as good, and true, and real; a confirmation of its beliefs and value systems. Vampires inevitably recoil from the cross and holy water; same with demonic possession–and inevitably not just Christianity but Catholicism in particular. I’ve always thought that rather curious.)

Scott Heim’s wonderful story “Loam”–available here at Amazon–was very interesting (not just because he’s a terrific writer and it’s very good) to me because it was about the after-effects, years later, of one of those devil-worshipping/Satanic cult scares from that time period, in which child abuse and so forth were also alleged, and convictions gained, only to later discover the kids had “false memories” that were implanted by the questioning (similar to what happened to Greg Kelley in that documentary we recently watched, where he was falsely accused and convicted of molesting two children). I’ve always been curious about the after-effects of these kinds of traumas, not just on the children but the adults involved as well. How do you parent in that situation? I have a book idea that’s been lying around here for quite some time called I Know Who You Are, which is sort of based on that idea; someone escaping a deeply troubled past and starting a new life with a new name somewhere else, only to have someone from that past turn up, because you can never escape the past. It’s a great idea, and one that I was originally intending to use as a Paige novel in that aborted series, but I think it will also work as a stand-alone–I’ve considered using it as the spin-off from my true crime writer Jerry Channing, who has shown up in the Scotty series a couple of times.

But I must get through these other manuscripts before I can even consider writing anything else.

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

Forever and Always

Wednesday morning and the sun is shining, which is always a lovely thing. After the last few days of incessant rain and gloom–but not as bad as a tropical storm coming through–it’s nice to see the sunshine again. The weather is also beginning to take that shift towards cooler, which is also incredibly lovely. I slept really well last night– I inevitably do on the morning after two consecutive days of getting up at six–and as such, I don’t feel very tired today. Also a lovely thing. I am working from home today–I think I am going to pick an 80’s movie today for watching during the inevitable making of the condom packs; I had already cued up Martin Sheen’s The Believers, a horror movie about santeria, because I wanted to see how it held up after all these years–and i am relatively certain it is probably guilty of a lot of things that would keep the film from being made today; not the least of which would be portraying a non-Abrahamic religion as a tool of evil. I read the book the film was based on as well, The Religion by Robert Stuart Nathan, and a quick google search brought up this: The Religion is a horror novel written in 1982 by Nicholas Conde*. It explores the ritual sacrifice of children to appease the pantheon of voodoo deities, through the currently used practice of SanterĂ­a. (*Nicholas Conde was the pseudonym he used for the novel.)

Yeah, that doesn’t sound terribly promising.

As I said, it’s probably a terribly offensive movie (and book), but reading/seeing it made me more interested in both voodoo and Santeria, and was the first place I learned about how the enslaved Africans in this hemisphere adapted their religion by replacing their gods and goddesses with Catholic saints to fool people into thinking they’d converted to Christianity. Voodoo was something I didn’t know much about at the time–I still don’t really know much about it–and I’d never heard of santeria before; I’ve always wanted to learn more about it, but the problem is so much of the available material cannot be trusted, particularly when it comes to the New Orleans version of the religion; so much history here is word-of-mouth legend, and when people started to write “histories” (such as Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans) most of what they wrote was deeply racist and most likely inaccurate–and can one really trust white Southern historians writing about the culture of people of color?

Probably not. At any rate, it’ll be interesting to rewatch the film through a modern lens.

We finished watching Ratched last night. It was highly entertaining, and visually spectacular, but you also kind of had to turn off your brain a bit, as there were enormous plot holes and there were more than a few things didn’t make sense; not to mention the connection to the character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was marginal, at best, and completely absent at worst. But the sets, costumes and visual aesthetic of the show was stunningly gorgeous, similar to the old Douglas Sirk films of the 1950’s. And it did keep me entertained, which is saying something–I don’t have much of an attention span these days, which is why I am having difficulty reading these days again. It’s so weird; I’ll have some sort of reading breakthrough and then tear through a bunch of novels in a short period of time, and then go back to not being able to focus again. I intend on working on the book again tonight once my workday is finished–I wasn’t joking about that mess of a chapter–and I also haven’t worked on anything short-story related at all this week either; even if it’s just to reread and figure out how to fix one that has a finished draft already, or one that is unfinished while trying to figure out how to keep going with it.

And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and get this day started. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.