Yesterday was…not a great day, really. I was physically tired, but not mentally tired, if that makes sense? The problem is that the physical tired makes it hard for the not-tired brain to focus on anything, and I get kind of punchy, which isn’t really the face I like to show to the world. But my day was okay for the most part. I think the tired primarily came about because of the early return of summer weather to New Orleans. Yes, I know to those of you who do not live here New Orleans always seems brutally hot all of the time, but there are degrees to New Orleans heat, and yes, it usually starts getting hotter in May and yes, the humidity usually is back in May. But it was ninety-five degrees on Wednesday; and even at the hottest part of the dog days of August it rarely gets to that. Usually it hovers somewhere between 88 and 93, but it’s the humidity that makes it so awful. Also, I’ve been more active this week than usual. I did Ellen’s book launch on Sunday evening, I had that ZOOM meeting on Wednesday night, and I had drinks with a friend in from out of town before the ZOOM meeting. So, that was a lot more of social interaction than I am accustomed to, and instead of going home from work Wednesday night (the way I usually do) and collapsing into my chair while going into a Youtube wormhole of some sort, I didn’t get to relax until after nine pm.
That is not my norm.
I stopped on the way home last night to get some things at the grocery store, and then spent some time doing some kitchen chores (since I had drinks with a friend before the ZOOM meeting, I had to move everything off the kitchen counters, shove it all in the laundry room, and then closed the doors so no one could see it; and the dishes in the sink had to be organized so nothing could be seen from the camera on the computer; I never realized having my work station in the kitchen would turn out to be so problematic, but I couldn’t have foreseen ZOOM in the summer of 2005 when we moved into the Lost Apartment, either) before collapsing into my easy chair to wait for Paul to get home.
So, there I was, minding my own business, watching first Superman and Lois before The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (I have tuned back in for this season, I have thoughts) and occasionally checking social media and my emails when…I got a notification on Twitter. I clicked to see this tweet from Katrina Niidas Holm:
GREG HERREN!!! You wrote a book so damn good, it got nominated twice! Congratulations, @scottynola! Hope you’ll remember us Pogues when…
(‘Pogues’ being an Outer Banks reference, a show she and her husband Chris–buy his Child Zero, available now and amazing–convinced me to watch with the result Paul and I fell in love with the show, too)
I literally had no idea what she was talking about and gave my usual intelligent response of wait what? at which point she linked to this year’s Anthony Award nominees. Bury Me in Shadows was nominated not only for Best Paperback/Ebook/Audio Original, but also for Best Children’s/Young Adult.
TWO NOMINATIONS FOR THE SAME BOOK IN DIFFERENT CATEGORIES.
I am still in shock this morning–a delighted shock, to be sure, but it’s still shock. It still hasn’t completely sunken in yet, either. It’s going to take me a hot minute to thank everyone who has tweeted or posted on Facebook their congratulations, as well as to congratulate the ridiculously amazing amount of friends that are also nominated in one of the categories–it really is, overall, a remarkable list with a lot of books nominated that I read and loved loved loved–but what a lovely chore to have, you know? And talk about turning your mood and your day around! So, this morning–needless to say I slept very well last night–I am sipping my coffee and riding the high a bit still. At some point I’ll need to make sure I thank everyone and congratulate everyone else nominated and get through my social media, but right now I am just sitting here at my desk feeling very proud and happy and content while I sip my coffee. Wow. I mean, wow.
I’ve not been in a very good place about my career lately, honestly–any number of things; the problems with getting myself to actually write, not feeling great about what I write when I do write, all the little doubts and insecurities that have built up over a lifetime of wanting to be a writer but getting little to no encouragement from anyone, really. It all kinds of builds up sometimes, and anything–no matter how small or inconsequential–will trigger it and send me spiraling down into the Pit of Despair. As I struggle with my schedule and all the things I need and want to get done, with a to-do list that seems to grow like the Hydra, with two new things to do replacing every single task that gets scratched off the list, this was precisely the right time to get this kind of reassurance from my community, my wonderful crime fiction world, and I’ll always be grateful for this. Bury Me in Shadows was a very hard book for me to write, emotionally; but digging deep into the issues I dealt with in the book–and that emotional difficulty–made it a better book, I think.
Wow. I mean, wow.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a wonderful Friday, Constant Reader.
Sunday morning and another decent night of sleep. I felt rested this morning, and still have an insane amount of things to get done, but progress was made yesterday. I did my work yesterday–I love when my work consists of reading, especially when the book is as delightful and charming as the one I read yesterday–and so have other things to get done today. Today’s primary task involves reading as well–I also have to come up with clever questions for Ellen Byron for tonight’s (this afternoon’s?) event at Blue Cypress Books, at 5 pm. Come on, come all! There’s also some filing and organizing for me to get done this morning while my mind slowly awakens, and of course, dishes to put away.
But I did get a lot finished yesterday, just not as much as I needed to, which seems to always be the case these days. That’s okay, you see, because I’ve also learned/am trying to be kinder to myself these days, in a successful (some days more than others) attempt to try to keep my stress levels down as well as the anxiety, which will inevitably combine into some sort of depressive, overwhelmed state during which I get nothing done and only compound the problem into a vicious cycle that winds up going around and around and around and where it stops, nobody knows. But my coffee tastes really lovely this morning, which is a good thing, and I feel rested and recuperated, which is also lovely.
Last evening, after we were finished with everything we could do during the day and decided to call it quits for the day, we finished watching Candy–I still am not entirely sure what I think of it, to be honest, but man did they capture the time period absolutely perfectly–and then watched the first two episodes of the second season of Hacks, which is even funnier this time around. Everyone in the show is so perfectly cast, from Jean Smart having the time of her life in a role that is absolutely perfect for her, all the way down to even the most minor characters. It is one of the best comedies on television now, frankly. We then moved on to The Outlaws, a British show on Amazon Prime starring Christopher Walken (who has been working a lot lately, and that isn’t a bad thing at all) which is about a group of disparate characters all brought together from being sentenced to community service together. The first episode wasn’t great, so we were on the fence about continuing but gave it another episode. SO glad we did; the show really kicks into gear in the second episode and the writing is so good, so intricate…definitely recommend it to you, Constant Reader. We also need to get caught up on Severance and The Offer, and there are a few other shows out there we’d like to get started with.
How are y’all doing this morning? I am feeling pretty good, in all honesty. There are some things I need to deal with that I would prefer not, but ripping off the scab and getting it taken care of is better than letting it sit, I suppose. I’m not at all stressed about doing a public appearance tonight–Ellen is a pro, witty and warm and charming, so really all I have to do is lob softballs to her so she can hit them out of the park–because I don’t mind interviewing people (I don’t mind moderating panels so much as I do public speaking; as long as the focus isn’t on me I am more fine than I am with having to give a talk where the focus is entirely on me; I am not sure why I am so uncomfortable in the spotlight). Ellen is also a friend, which makes it easier; it can be like a casual conversation between two friends who also happen to be writers and who both happen to write about New Orleans.
And speaking of New Orleans, I also went down a wormhole of research yesterday. I’m doing some research for the next Scotty book (more on that later), and found myself in yet another wormhole; I don’t even remember how it started (I think with a story that came across my feed about the Mississippi River battures and a street that used to be on other side of the levee, and still is in some places) and then of course one article leads to another leads to still another and so forth and before I knew it a lot of time had passed. There’s so much about New Orleans and its history that I do not know, or knew at one time and have forgotten, and every last thing I find or remember is fodder: oh, this is interesting, I should write about this. This new Scotty book is mostly going to take place outside of New Orleans for the most part; which is a big risk–writing a Scotty that’s not really a New Orleans story, but also is a New Orleans story. (That sounded confusing, even to me and I know what I am talking about.) You’ll just have to trust me, Constant Reader.
And on that note, this morning’s “haven’t completely woken up yet” chores are waiting. Talk to you tomorrow, and have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–it’s always a pleasure when you check in.
Wednesday and yet another Pay-the-Bills Day. I also didn’t set my alarm last night–could have sworn I did, though–but fortunately managed to get up anyway shortly after six. That could have been truly scary, really; I could have easily slept for another few hours–even now that I am up and sipping coffee, I really can feel the pull of my bed, calling me back to its cozy, comfortable warmth. I would much rather spend a few more hours there than get cleaned up and head into the office any day of the week, quite frankly. I’m not sure why I was so deeply asleep last night yet again, but I am calling all of this great sleep I’ve been getting an awesome thing and just riding the wave as long as it continues, frankly. It’s weird feeling rested in the mornings, I have to admit. Nice, but weird.
I got my editorial letter for A Streetcar Named Murder yesterday, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be. I need to process it all, get it organized, and then get to work on it as soon as I can. I also need to finish the Bouchercon anthology and get it turned in as well; I also had a business call about a book project I am considering taking on. (Money makes the world go around, the world go around….) I also started working on a short story idea I had a while back and had gotten started on, called “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop,” for a very quick turn around short story submission call that I will most likely not get finished in time to turn in, but at the very least I will have a finished draft of the story at some point. I’m still not entirely certain what happens at the rest stop when my character winds up there–but I do have some thoughts–so we will see how it all goes. I also saw another submission call that struck my fancy recently; it might prove to be a home for another one of my stories that I can’t seem to find a home for–which is fine; my stories follow my imagination, and my imagination rarely works in a way that produces stories that short fiction markets like. (I do want to see if I can some out for submissions over the course of the next week or so; it’s all going to depend on my motivation, as everything always does…)
We also watched another episode of Candy last night, and it’s really interesting. I keep saying to Paul, “this suburban existence being depicted on this show–late 70’s, early 80’s–is my idea of hell. This was the environment I grew up in, and definitely was not the future I wanted for myself.” I’ve been hankering (my God did I really just say hankering?) to write about the 1970’s lately–probably has something to do with my turning sixty last year–and the suburbs and what that was kind of like; I have several ideas for stories/novels to be set in my fictional suburb outside of Chicago (where the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; remember, all of my books and stories, regardless of authorial name, are connected together in some way; the Gregiverse, if you will); one is based on a true story that happened when we lived there and I was a freshman in high school (a murder involving some students) and the other is sort of based on the Candyman serial murders in Houston. So yes, those days of cheap faux wood paneling and station wagons and lawn mowers and Schwinn bicycles with streamers coming out of the handgrips and cards woven through the tire spokes so they clatter will someday be written about by yours truly.
So many ideas, so little time to actually write any of them. Heavy heaving sigh.
I think today I need to make a to-do list. I have a bunch of things that need doing, and I cannot count on my memory to remember them all–not that I have been able to count on my memory for that sort of thing for quite some time; this is not something new that has developed with age; no matter how much I want to believe that I used to have this truly fantastic memory, the truth is I was always able to simply manage tasks through list-keeping and obsessive organization…both of which have kind of fallen off track over the years, hence me forgetting things. I did kind of let my life get out of control for quite a number of years; the process of getting reorganized is one that is so overwhelming that I’ve just kind of let it go (my file cabinet is terrifying, seriously; even though I know I can probably clean a shit ton of things out of it and make it into something functional and workable…it’s also incredibly time consuming and the one thing I never seem to have in abundance of any kind is actual time) and as such, I can never really find anything…not to mention that I will look for a folder I know I created, not find it, and simply make a new one…so yes, I have files every-fucking-where.
And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a happy Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.
Sunday morning and I slept really well again. I woke up, as always, at just before seven, but stayed in bed lazily until nearly eight–when nature’s call became too much to be ignored for longer. But I have a nice fresh hot cup of coffee, a long Sunday with a lot to do and/or get done today (I also need to run to the grocery store this morning, which is always so exhausting) but I suspect that i can get everything I need to get done, done. Yesterday morning I spent some time with the Carol Goodman novel (which is really and truly spectacularly well done), went to do my self-care (which was lovely) and then picked up the mail and headed home to spend some time doing things. I did the bed linens, emptied the dishwasher and did another load (that needs to be emptied this morning) and also got some things organized for my next writing project. I did the Spirit of Ink interview at 2, as scheduled, and then when I was finished with that I was drained, as I knew I would be, so I did some more file organizing before retiring to my easy chair with my journal to make notes for Mississippi River Mischief, which I am also starting to get excited about writing (which is a lovely change from the usual, where I dread writing any and every thing).
So, overall, I was quite pleased with my Friday. Since we’d finished or gotten caught up on everything else we had started watching, we decided to binge through season two of The Hardy Boys on Hulu, which I am enjoying. Is it the Hardy Boys of my childhood? No, but neither was the 1970’s show with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. I belong to several kids’ series groups on Facebook (they are very interesting people; I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fandom) and they were, of course, quite unhappy with this adaptation (but not NEARLY as up-in-arms as they were about the Nancy Drew television series, in which Nancy actually has sex with Ned–who’s Black in the show–in the very first episode). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I don’t expect adaptations to match us precisely to the source material, and whether people in their fifties and sixties want to admit to it or not, both series in their original forms are horribly dated today. I did enjoy the show’s nods to the canon series throughout–one of the villains was named McFarlane (Leslie McFarlane ghost-wrote many of the original books) and the bad company is Stratemeyer Global (the Stratemeyer Syndicate created and owned both series, among many others), and there was also a single throwaway line at one point about “what happened at midnight” (which is one of the titles of the original canonical series); so that was all a bit fun for me. Even as I watched, I kept remembering all the dog-whistles of the fan group–disguised as “dedication to the original canon” of course–but when you use words like woke and so forth, your bigotry and personal biases are kind of put right out there on display.
And I can only imagine how upset they are that Aunt Gertrude (Trudy on the show) is a lesbian…which actually makes canonical sense, to be honest.
But it was a very pleasant way to waste the rest of the day, frankly, and I felt pretty marvelous when I went to bed last evening. I am really enjoying my sleep lately, which is marvelous, and lately I am feeling very–I don’t know, optimistic?–about my career and my future as a writer, which is always a plus. I am still waiting for my edits on A Streetcar Named Murder, and to hear back about my short story, but I am feeling pretty good about myself this morning (let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?) and tomorrow evening i am going to make a semi-triumphant return to the gym. This morning I am going to spend some time with The Lake of Dead Languages, and then I am going to head out to the grocery store, probably around elevenish, so I can come home and do some more writing and organizing and so forth. I am going to try to bang out a draft of a new manuscript by mid-June, and then I want to spend until August 1 finishing a first draft of Chlorine, at which point I will most likely have to start really working on Mississippi River Mischief. That’s a pretty good schedule, if I can stick to it–and then of course there are any number of short stories I want to get written in the meantime. There are two submission calls I saw recently (with very tight deadlines) I’d like to get something submitted to–but then it always comes down to time and motivation–both of which I am good at failing at–so it’s all going to depend, I suppose. But I am going to get organized here in my office space before retiring to read for the rest of the morning, which hopefully will mean productivity. We also need something new to watch, since we’ve binged our way through everything already–but there are any number of shows that dropped since the beginning of the year that we’d like to see that we never got around to, and more are coming out all the time.
I also want to rewatch Heartstopper at some point, so I can finish my post about it at some point. I really need to get those old unfinished posts finished and posted at some point, don’t I? I also have a bad review of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not to finish as well as a review of Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout, as well as some ruminations about the resurgence of anti-queer political homophobia which hs reared its ugly head again.
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!
Good morning, Constant Reader, and a happy Thursday to you. I am a bit groggy this morning as I swill my first cup of coffee, but Scooter has already been fed and so at least the cat cries have stopped.
For now, at least.
I slept pretty well last night again, and maybe my body has readjusted to my work schedule already, which is nice and I was a bit concerned that it might take a while for that to happen. But I seem to have slipped right back into the routine I was in before I left for New York, and that is, of course, quite lovely. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from the office yesterday and picked up a few things, then once I was home I retired to my easy chair to edit “Solace in a Dying Hour,” which actually is a much better story than I thought it was. In fairness to me, expecting the story to need a great deal of work really isn’t a case of Imposter Syndrome, as one might have expected (it so often is just that), but rather because it was so hard for me to write and took me so long to get into the story groove. It’s actually not bad at all, and just needs some tweaking here and there; which I should be able to do tonight and get turned in by the end of the day. This is actually rather nice, and I am most pleased about it, in all honesty. By the time I’d finished, Scooter was in my lap and I tuned in to get caught up on Superman and Lois; Paul came home while I was watching and we switched to the new Jane Seymour mystery series on Acorn, which is quite good. I’ve always appreciated Jane Seymour and thought she was more talented than she often received credit for; I suppose being a Mini-series Queen during the 1980s didn’t really help all that much–but I thought she was exceptional in the adaptation of East of Eden that was done in the 80’s, in which she played Steinbeck’s perhaps most evil creation, Cathy Ames. (She was also good as Natalie in War and Remembrance, having a remarkably long career for someone who started as a Bond girl in Live and Let Die.) The show is Harry Wild, and we quite enjoyed it; although it’s hard to think of a British crime series we haven’t enjoyed.
I also didn’t get an opportunity to read any more of my Carol Goodman novel, either, which didn’t please me. Perhaps tonight I can relax with my book and the Gothic story of what is going on at that boarding school on the lake. Really, y’all, if you’ve not read anything by Carol Goodman, you really should. But tonight I am coming straight home from the office–no detours, no stops to make–and so hopefully that means I can spend some good quality time reading tonight. Fingers crossed, at any rate, especially since Saturday I have an appointment in the late morning and a ZOOM appearance to make in the mid-afternoon, which means I won’t have a lot of time to do much of anything on Saturday other than making the kitchen background to my computer camera neat and tidy.
I was also delighted to see that the Saints signed former LSU and Kansas City Chiefs standout (and local high school star from St. Augustine’s) TYRANN MATHIEU. The Honey Badger is finally coming home to New Orleans (HUZZAH!) and I think this was an incredibly smart move by the Saints. Mathieu has already proven himself to be a leader who is interested in helping and giving back to the community (he helped fund the new state-of-the-art training center for the LSU football team, for example, despite the fact that he was kicked off the team and out of school for infractions after his sophomore year), and what better brand ambassador in the city of New Orleans for the Saints than a local kid who made good? I’ve never really understood why the Saints never signed anyone from LSU over the many years since Sean Payton took over–especially since so many of those stars were from either New Orleans or Louisiana–but maybe it was a “local hero ego” kind of thing. Who knows? (Paul and I dreamed that Joey Burrow would end up playing for the Saints, but that would have been too much to hope for, really.) I’ll be actually curious to see how LSU and the Saints will do this year; I remember the last time new coaches came in to both around the same time was 2005 at LSU (Les Miles) and 2006 with the Saints (Sean Payton)–both of those turned out well, so here’s hoping the new coaches at both for 2022 will also turn out well.
As always with football season, hope springs eternal.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!
Tuesday morning, up again before sunrise and heading back into the office for the first time since last Monday. Yesterday was a good working at home day; I managed to get quite a bit accomplished and even managed to get Scooter (the Lost Apartment certainly feels like the Lost Apartment again now that the cat is back and in full-throated you’re not paying enough attention to meeeeeeeee mode again) and the mail and even made a bit of groceries as well (I forgot things, of course, which means stopping on the way home from the office tonight, hurray) which is nice; I also made a very (relatively) thorough to-do list for me to work on for the rest of the week. I also finished a (very) rough first draft of the short story, which I am going to let sit for a day or so before marking up the fuck out of it before turning it in. I also spent some more time with Carol Goodman’s quite marvelous The Lake of Dead Languages, which really is magical–I don’t know how she manages that melancholy Gothic tone she pulled off in this book, but it’s really a master class–before making dinner and collapsing into my easy chair.
It did feel good to get the draft of the story done. It was at 2300 or so words, and now it is sitting at about 5500; and some of the original 2300 bit the dust, so I managed to write maybe about 4000 words yesterday in a couple of hours? It’s good to know that I can still do that I suppose; that’s always a part of the malaise I experience whenever I finish writing something major–the fear that the ability to write will go away in the future and can no longer be counted on. But it felt really good to write yesterday–when will I ever learn that writing, or rather, forcing myself to actually sit down and do it–always is the best way for me to alleviate stress. It’s the not writing that inevitably is at the root of all my anxieties and stress, and actually writing–no matter how bad the thing I am writing might be–always makes me feel better, always centers me, and is always the best cure for whatever ails me at any time. The secret is to write, of course, always.
Bearing that in mind, of course after I get home this evening I should spend some time writing before spending some more time with the Goodman before shutting my brain off and watching television. Paul and I started watching Minx–I’d only watched the first few episodes before stopping–and those earlier episodes were much funnier the second time around; but I think there’s still some issues I have with the show’s depiction of the main character, but I know I’m enjoying the show a lot more this time around. than I did the first time I tried to watch. I just have an issue with the entire trope of the fierce woman with no sexual experience (or much to speak of, at any rate) finally learning the joys of a vibrator or having really good sex to “lighten” up her point-of-view; the show really leans into the idea of the angry feminist trope and all the baggage that comes with it. On the other hand, it was an incredibly sexist and misogynist period (spousal rape was still considered not a crime at the time this show is set), and as the Supreme Court leak from yesterday showed…misogyny runs deep in this country. (I am still too filled with rage to go down that particular path right now, but I am deeply, deeply, furious about this prospective ruling.) But I like the show overall; and it’s good to have a reminder of just how fucking bad things used to be as a reminder of what the right wants us to return to…
I’ve also started looking over my story this morning and the opening is actually…not bad. Maybe this story isn’t going to need nearly as much work as perhaps I may have thought. This is, naturally, very exciting.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader–I’ll check with you again tomorrow.
Sunday morning in the Lost Apartment, and my sleep schedule appears to have snapped back to normal. I slept decently last night–not as decently as I was sleeping in New York, for some reason, but at the same time I was worried that my sleep patterns were going to need to be reset once I got home and that would be problematic–and feel pretty decent this morning, although my coffee doesn’t taste right (which is concerning, obviously; loss of taste is a symptom of the dreaded COVID-19 but I decided to snack on something and I can taste it, so I’m not sure what the deal with the coffee is this morning; it tastes watery to me). I started doing laundry last night (unpacking the suitcases directly into the washing machine) so I have to get that finished today, and there are some other tedious chores I need to get done. I also need to make groceries and go to Costco at some point.
The flight home was uneventful, but you could see the differences between the red and blue parts of the country in evidence: LaGuardia Airport almost everyone was masked, no one was in Nashville. But everything was on time, our bags arrived, the shuttle to the parking lot came almost immediately, and we were able to get home within slightly more than an hour after our flight landed. I miss Scooter, of course; we can’t pick him up until tomorrow from the kitty spa so the Lost Apartment feels very strange not having him bitching at me for food or cuddles every so often. After the inevitable re-acclimatization to being home, we watched two episodes of Ozark, which is heading for its finale before retiring for the evening for bed. I am going to hate finishing Ozark, a show I’ve loved from the beginning for its intricate plotting and exceptional character development. Today I’ve got to dig through the emails and start making lists and getting shit done. I need to finish this short story, I need to make a lot of plans, and I need to get my life and career kickstarted. New York was lovely, as always, and it was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a very long time. (Not much competition, I have to confess, but still.) Because I slept so well the entire time I was gone I didn’t come home exhausted, and all I am really experiencing this morning is “I flew yesterday” fatigue of a bit. But I am feeling just as motivated as I was feeling while I was up there, and it is lovely to be back staring at my enormous computer screen again (note to self: make eye appointment stat) with something other than dread and that horrible overwhelmed feeling. Sure, I have a lot to do, but let’s face it–I can do it.
I finished reading Mango, Mambo, and Murder on the flight from LaGuardia to Nashville (chef’s kiss, Raquel; more on that later) and then started reading Carol Goodman’s debut novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, originally published twenty years ago. I’ve become a big fan of Carol’s and need to read more of her canon; I’ve loved everything she’s written that I’ve read and this book is no exception. (If you’re not reading Carol Goodman, shame on you and correct that immediately) She is also as delightful in person as she is on the page–I met her at St. Petersburg Bouchercon at the HarperCollins cocktail party, and I fanboyed all over the place and I regret NOTHING. I’m also looking forward to digging into more of the TBR pile as well as some of the new additions I picked up off the book table after the banquet. I also read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not while I was on this trip (more on that later), so my reading mojo seems to be back; I think I am going to try to have at least an hour set aside every day to read. I also have to read Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief before our bookstore event in a few weeks. Such an odious chore! Anyway, the Goodman is fantastic, as I knew it would be, and am enjoying the hell out of it.
But as I reflected in my easy chair last night while watching Youtube videos about Heartstopper (more on that later; but I am obsessed with that show; and want to watch it again), I’ve been incredibly lucky with my life and last week was a very strong reminder of that. I think, in some ways, this past week in New York snapped me almost completely out of the pandemic funk I’ve been in since the beginning and as I said the other day, I feel like me again. This trip had a lot to do with it, for sure. It’s lovely when you can get some clarity, and it was lovely that I was able to travel and get some rest and not be tired all the fucking time while I was away. I am hopeful that will be an exciting new trend for me going forward: sleeping well while not at home. One can hope and dream, at any rate–but that’s not the right attitude to have, and I think that’s been a lot of the problem over the last few years; my attitude has been negative about everything and that’s not helpful or workable. Here’s hoping those days (well, years) of a poor attitude are in the rearview mirror.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I have a lot on my plate and I need to start cleaning it so I can make another trip to the buffet of life and load ‘er up again. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.
I’m both excited and nervous for the trip, to be honest; nervous about having to speak at the banquet for one thing, excited to be in New York and to see friends for another. Today is going to be, around clients, last minute attempts to get ready for the trip, making a packing list to make sure I don’t run off tomorrow morning to the airport without things packed that i will need once I am there (I forgot something rather important for Alburquerque), and hoping, always hoping, that I will be able to sleep once I am there. I’ve slept well for the last few days, which has been really nice, and fingers crossed that will continue once I travel. The flight is nonstop on the way there; we have to change planes in Nashville on the way back. I always am hopeful that things will go smoothly whenever I travel; there was some delays involved on my last trip but I think everything ran on time the last time I went to New York.
I continue to obsess about both season 5 of Elité as well as Heartstopper. I actually went ahead and got the graphic novels the show (Heartstopper) is based on (more on that to come), and really enjoyed reading them yesterday. I guess I never realized how much I needed to see a sweet young love story between teenagers? I’ve tried reading the big gay y/a novels over the last few years without much luck; I never was able to really connect with the characters or the stories I was trying to read (without much luck) and even some of the films/TV shows based on them, but they didn’t really engage me. I am happy these books and stories and their adaptations exist–representation matters, believe me, it does–but there’s nothing wrong with my not being able to enjoy them, either. I didn’t like much y/a fiction when I was an actual young adult, and maybe I do somewhat try to write the stories that I would have liked to have read when I was that age with my own work–I don’t know if I succeed with that or not; the jury remains out and probably will remain out until long after I die–but I also enjoy writing them. (Not that I am enjoying writing anything these days, but you know what I mean.)
I also continued to work on my CV yesterday–it’s close enough to complete now to turn over to my friend for the favor they asked for, needing a bit of editing and moving things around–but it’s now eleven or twelve pages long, and I could easily (well, not easily; it would require digging through boxes in storage to get all the fitness columns and book reviews and author interviews out that I wrote over the early years in my career) fill up probably another three to four pages. That’s pretty fucking long, really; I am now up to almost forty novels (there, if you count novellas as novels) and I think I need to count my short stories again as well. I also know I have a lot more essays out there somewhere…but as I said, a twelve page CV more than meets the requirements necessary for this current purpose.
Jesus Christ, I’ve written a lot since 1996–and this doesn’t even count all the drafts, unpublished stories, false starts on books that only got a few chapters in before running out of steam, essays, and most important of all–this fucking BLOG. Even if these only average 500 words per (and many of them run much longer), I’ve been doing this almost every day since December 2004. Eighteen fucking years. Assuming that I miss at least forty-five entries per year, I’ve written 103, 680 words (assuming the blogs are all 500 words). That’s fucking insane.
But I think I am going to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not next; I picked it up and opened to the first page yesterday and kind of actually got sucked into it. So I will read that at the airport and on the flight tomorrow and have a back-up in my backpack. I picked out other books to take with me on the trip, of course–and of course, there will be giveaways after the banquet on Thursday night to bring home–so I am all set on that score. And we watched some more of Severance last night (after a really bad gay movie called The Pass with Russell Tovey; I do not recommend it. It’s full of self-loathing and toxic masculinity and while the actors are good… yeah, the story leaves a lot to be desired), which I am really enjoying. I don’t know what’s going on yet–and I doubt very seriously that any of the questions I have are going to be answered in one season (we’re three seasons in on Servant and still have no fucking clue what is really going on in that household).
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Monday of Edgar week, Constant Reader!
And what a fucking glorious night THAT must have been, seriously. I’ve always found it interesting that Joan Baez of all people recorded that song and made it a hit. Maybe I should take a look at the lyrics to see how they look from a modern perspective? That’s a thought. There’s so many things we didn’t even notice were problematic back in the day in our comfortable privilege. (I don’t think I can ever watch Sixteen Candles again, honestly, and it was one of my favorite movies. I’m not so sure what that says about me, either.)
Today is another day in the office; I am not sure but I think I have to help out with testing during the needle exchange program today–like I said, I don’t know, but I will be there if they need me. I have other things to do at the office–most of which feels a bit like ‘make-work,’ if I am going to be completely honest, but it’s also tedious little chores that need to be done, and so I might as well do it to fill my day otherwise it may not get done after all. This has been a very weird week for me; I’ve been tired most of the week when I get off work so I’ve not really been getting as much done as I need to be getting done, which means I really need to get motivated for this weekend. I can do that, of course…it’s not always easy, but I can do it. I just have to work on not getting distracted.
Which isn’t as easy as it may sound on paper. (SQUIRREL!!!)
We watched The Batman last night on HBO MAX and I have to say, I really thought it was outstanding. It was nice seeing Gotham City looking like, you know, an actual city as opposed to the dystopic nightmare it has been in almost every Batman film since Tim Burton first brought the Dark Knight to the silver screen back in the 80’s. I also am very impressed with Robert Pattinson, who might be the most interesting iteration of the character yet–and seriously, how did the sparkly vampire from Twilight turn into one of the most interesting and talented young actors of our time? Zoe Kravitz can also be added to the list of well-cast Catwomen from over the years, and there was actually a plot to follow that involved Batman using his investigative skills to solve the mystery and find the Riddler–another excellent take I’d given up on seeing on the big screen–and overall, I didn’t really notice that the movie was nearly three hours long because I could follow the plot, it made sense, and the character arcs were well developed. I think we’re going to rent the most recent Spider-Man (No Way Home) this weekend–I do love Tom Holland–and then we need to figure out something else to watch. A lot of good stuff dropped during the Festival and its aftermath–so we can have our choices of things to watch for quite some time, methinks, which will be really nice. BUT I HAVE TO GET WORK DONE THIS WEEKEND BEFORE I LEAVE FOR NEW YORK OTHERWISE IT WON’T GET DONE UNTIL I GET BACK AND THAT IS SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE.
Most of all, I need to get that fucking short story written.
I really need to get motivated to get writing again–and I need to start going back to the gym as well. My weight hasn’t fluctuated very much since I went down to 200 and ballooned back up to 212 again; I’ve been a pretty steady 210-212 since then, and while I always thought that 200 would probably be the best weight for me, maybe my body is telling me 210 is where it prefers to be? I know I could, with discipline and hard work and proper eating, maybe get back to below 200 but my word, what a lot of work that would be and since I really no longer obsess about how my body looks (one way in which getting older has been beneficial; I really do not miss those days of body dysmorphia and constantly berating myself for not looking like a Calvin Klein underwear model), I don’t think I have the dedication anymore to do that again. It’s hard enough finding the time to go to the gym in the first place, let alone start eating in a different way and counting carbs and all of that nonsense. No thanks, not for me this time around, thank you very much. I suspect that the mild depression I’ve been dealing with over this last month or so has a lot to do with the not-writing and not-working out aspects of my life. That loss of serotonin probably has everything to do with it. I really need to focus.
I also still haven’t picked out my next read. I am thinking about rereading something–or maybe I am going to give Hemingway another try (Don’t Know Tough had a whole thing about the main character reading The Old Man and the Sea–which, along with A Farewell to Arms, I was forced to read in high school which gave me a deep and abiding distaste for Hemingway). I have a copy of To Have and Have Not, which is, in theory, Hemingway’s only crime novel–it was certainly made into a classic Bogart/Bacall movie–but every time I think about Hemingway I groan inside. But maybe now I am old enough to appreciate Hemingway–I also read Fitzgerald when I was too young, but I’ve always enjoyed Faulkner, which is weird. Maybe because he writes about the rural South? I’ve wanted to give Sanctuary another go for quite some time now as well.
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.
I know, it catches people off-guard that a sixty year old gay man is a massive football fan, but I’ve never subscribed to stereotypes. I love football, with an especial love for the college game (I used to only watch the Saints in the NFL, but have started rooting for the Cincinnati Bengals because, well, Joe fucking Burrow); I think everyone knows I am a massive LSU fan. (GEAUX TIGERS!)
There really isn’t anything else in the world like a Saturday night in Death Valley. I will remember the 2019 night game against Florida probably for the rest of my life. God, what a great game, and it was so much fun. I am aware that I am digressing.
Anyway, I grew up in a Southern football family (even if we didn’t live in the South, we were from the South and that’s all that matters), so it was inevitable that I should become both a football fan and a football player. I played all four years in high school, all of my cousins also played, and I have close relatives who played at both the college and professional levels (and I don’t mean some small college in the middle of nowhere; I mean in the SEC–Auburn and Alabama, and there may be even more that I don’t know about). I have relatives who were successful coaches. Every fall Saturday the television was tuned into whatever college game was playing–even if we weren’t fans of either team; it’s hard to imagine now with the 24/7 college football coverage, but when I was growing up ABC had a monopoly on all NCAA football games. They would usually play one game of national significance, and then the second game was regional–important to that region. As we did not live in the South, we rarely got to see SEC games other than Alabama–Alabama was almost inevitably the only Southern team of “national interest” throughout the 1970’s (I really don’t remember the 1960’s much, but we lived in Chicago so I imagine we saw a lot of Big Ten and Notre Dame games; I don’t really remember a lot of my life before the suburbs, really–some things, yes, but most things not so much)
I’ve never really read a lot of fiction about football, though; it inevitably winds up being something cliched and tired. I loved North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent; hated Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins; but do remember enjoying End Zone by Don DeLillo (I was going to reread this recently; but there’s so much to read. I did try to to reread Semi-Tough–but when I opened the book there were racial slurs and other mess on page one, so I threw it in the trash; no thanks). And I’ve also enjoyed other books with football involved, even if it wasn’t necessarily what the book was about. (The Hardy Boys were on the Bayport High football team in The Crisscross Shadow–the only time football is mentioned in the series.) There’s also a tendency, in books about high school and football to make the football players and cheerleaders the villains of the story, which has never really sat right with me. I was never bullied by anyone on the football team, and maybe the cheerleaders weren’t bitches to me because I was on the team and my sister was a cheerleader, but that wasn’t my experience (one thing I truly appreciated about Stephen King’s Christine was the horrible bullies at Libertyville High weren’t the football players but the hard-case kids–which was also my experience; which is probably yet another reason the book is one of my favorites of the King canon, methinks).
But…I can also see why it’s so attractive to make the jocks and cheerleaders the villains of high school dramas. And I sort of did something similar in #shedeservedit, didn’t I? Those boys on the Marysville and Steubenville high school teams certainly fit the bill of villainy.
So, when people started recommending Eli Cranor’s debut Don‘t Know Tough to me, I wasn’t so sure. I just published a book of my own about high school football and the toxicity it can engender in a small town (#shedeservedit), and revisiting my memories of high school and football was harder than I had thought it would be; I thought I could be dispassionate about it all while writing about it (I often write about things to try to distance myself from them and gain some perspective) but I was wrong. It was hard to write that book, much harder than I thought it would be–and it took years (first draft was written in 2015; published in 2022).
But enough people whose opinions I respect were raving about the book, so I got a copy and once I started reading it, there was no way I could stop.
Still feel the burn on my neck. Told Coach it was a ringworm this morning when he pick me up, but it ain’t. It a cigarette, or at least what a lit cigarette do when it stuck in your neck. Just stared at Him when He did it. No way I’s gonna let Him see me hurt. No way. bit a hole through the side of my cheek, swallowed blood, and just stared at Him. Tasted blood all day.
Tasted it while I saw in Ms. Miller’s class. Woke up in Algebra tasting it. Drank milk from a cardboard box at lunch and still, I tasted it. But now it eighth period football. Coach already got the boys lined up on either side of the fifty, a crease in between, a small space for running and tackling, for pain.
This my favorite drill.
I just been standing back here, watching the other boys go at it. The sound of pads popping like sheet metal flapping in a storm.
“Who want next?” holler Bull. Bull ain’t the head coach. Bull coach the defense. He as mean as they come.
One of my favorite books of all time about small towns is Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show (I also love the film, which is extraordinary and one of, in my opinion, the best films made during the 1970’s). I did try to reread it recently–I was interested in refreshing my memory of its gay subplots and the mental breakdown of poor Joe Bob Blanton, but I’d also forgotten the part about the bored teenaged boys decided to fuck some calves, so when I got to that part I put the book down in distaste. But now that I’ve finished Don’t Know Tough, I kind of want to go back and reread The Last Picture Show again (I can skip that distasteful part…weird that I didn’t remember it).
Don’t Know Tough is yet another incredibly impressive debut, further confirming the truth of what I said at the Lefty Award banquet–the last few years have seen so many amazing and diverse and extraordinary debuts that the future of our genre is in very good hands. I won’t lie–when I started reading the book, I wasn’t sure I could keep reading it; I was worried that the entire book would be written in that grammatically garbled first-person voice but as I kept reading that first chapter I got into the rhythm of the language and started seeing the beauty and fluidity of the style choice–which is no small feat to pull off, and pull off consistently, throughout the entire book…to the point I was also a little disappointed that the entire book wasn’t done in that same style. Billy Lowe is the character whose voice this is; and the story of the novel revolves around him and the horrific Shakespearean tragedy that his life actually is. His mother is an alcoholic, and lives with an abusive piece of shit who obviously directs violence at Billy. He has a younger half-brother who was fathered by this POS; he also has an older brother who lives elsewhere. Billy’s situation has turned him into a wild beast of rage with an exceptional gift for channeling that rage into playing football. He’s not big enough in size to go major college, but his coach feels like there’s a chance he could get a football scholarship to a smaller college, and break the cycle of poverty he is trapped in at the moment. Billy is exceptionally compelling–it’s hard to read his first person point of view and not have your heart break for this kid; and hope that it’s all going to work out for him in the end, despite the disturbing pattern of violence in both his life and behavior.
Denton High has made the Arkansas state play-offs, but without Billy in the backfield their chances of advancing are practically nil. It’s important for Denton to do well in the post season because their coach’s job depends on it. Trent Powers is a born-again Christian, whose last coaching job in California crapped out–winning only three games in his final three seasons before being fired. This job is another chance for him, even though his wife and daughters hate relocating to a small town in Arkansas from California (much is made throughout the book of Coach Powers’ Prius, seen by the locals are weird and strange and almost otherworldly and unmanly). Coach Powers also has a very soft spot for his star player, and not just because he’s a star player–he actually feels compassion for the horror the young player’s life has been up to that point, and he wants to help–even if Billy doesn’t want any help from anyone. Billy’s future, to Billy at any rate, is already set, and he’s not going to end up going anywhere or doing anything or having a good life and decent future. He doesn’t see himself being worthy of anything or of doing better than his assigned lot in life.
The Powers family is a direct contrast to Billy’s; loving and nurturing couple, raising two daughters and trying to do right by them. How far is too far to go when helping someone in Billy’s situation, is the question. Coach’s wife–the daughter of a successful football coach who took Trent in when he was a kid from a similar background as Billy’s…and yes, he slept with his coach’s daughter and got her pregnant. So both Coach and his wife have the fear that the same thing will happen to their daughter and Billy–especially when the daughter starts opening up to Billy.
But one night Billy’s abuser is murdered. No one would blame Billy for killing the abusive bastard–well, the law would. But the story of what happened that night is far more complicated, and far more surprising, than the reader can imagine.
The pacing is also exceptional, and I love the contrasts between the third person point of view we see much of the novel in, with the Billy point of view chapters mixed in. The language choices and imagery are spare and tight yet full and rich and immersive–reminding me not only of Megan Abbott and her brilliant Dare Me, but also with a healthy dash of Daniel Woodrell, Tom Franklin, S. A. Cosby, and Kelly J. Ford (all masters of Southern Gothic) mixed in. The little touches of how claustrophobic small Southern towns can be, the class disparities between the haves and the have nots, and what teenagers in those types of environments was simply masterful.
I was completely blown away by this amazing work, and suspect that you will be as well. Highly recommended. I cannot wait to see what Eli Cranor does next.