Another Brick in the Wall

We’re in a flash flood warning until six this evening, which doesn’t bode well for running my errands today. But all I have to do is stop at CVS, get the mail, return my library book, and possibly stop somewhere to get a gift for Paul for Christmas (which doesn’t have to be done today; I might even be able to do it on-line; I will probably check on that once I finish this blog entry).

I didn’t get nearly as much cleaning done as I’d intended last night; I hit a wall of exhaustion at one point, and so the cleaning still mostly needs to be done. I pretty much spent the rest of the evening lying in bed and reading, and part of today is probably going to fall into that category as well. I am fluffing the last load of clothes right now in the dryer, and I also have a dishwasher load to put away. The floors need to be done, and of course, there’s the disaster area currently passing as the upstairs. I also need to start rebuilding my flash drive and organizing the former back-up back-up hard drive to be the back -up hard drive. My biggest concern over the Big Data Disaster of December 2018 is that I’ve lost a lot of momentum–not knowing what I was working on, or where I was at with it, is, as you can probably imagine, more than a little annoying.

I remain hopeful that reconstructing both drives will somehow get my momentum going again. We shall see.

So, once I finish with the dishes and the laundry this morning I’m going to start cleaning while doing the reconstruction work. I am also going to try to work on revising the early chapters of Bury Me in Satin, which I am considering renaming We Shall Die in Darkness. I’m not convinced that I should make this change, of course; it occurred to me last night that as spooky and Gothic as Bury Me in Satin sounds, it doesn’t really fit the book; perhaps part of my problem with getting this bitch of a novel written is coming directly from slight dissatisfaction from the title not really fitting perfectly. Maybe I’ll read some T. S. Eliot, see if there are any great lines in The Four Quartets I can use.

Eliot is often good for that; so is Shakespeare.

I also have some organizing to do for a project I am going to be spending most of next year coordinating; and if I start out organized, I will be ahead of the game.

We shall see how that works out, won’t we?

I already feel like I’ve wasted this entire weekend, and it’s only Saturday morning.

So, without further ado, ’tis back to the spice mines with me.

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Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Paul leaves today for a week to visit his mother and family. I don’t mind being alone–well, alone except for an exceptionally needy cat–and so hopefully I will find the time to get things done. I managed almost three thousand words on the book last night, and I have some more work to do on the Scotty and the short story collection. If I focus–and I know I can–there should be no reason whatsoever that I can’t get all of this revising and editing and some writing done over the course of the week he’s going to be gone. I am hoping that my weird issue with the original back-up hard drive can be resolved by simply plugging it in to Paul’s computer this evening and then moving everything on it to the Cloud–and I will definitely need to spend some time cleaning up my iCloud drive. I tend to simply move stuff there and just leave it, so it isn’t very organized. I am really angry at myself for not being as anal this year about backing things up as I’ve been in the past, and while I know I’ve lost some things, I am hopeful that most everything that might be gone (the flash drive is gone forever, I fear) should be recovered from that backup hard drive.

Heavy heaving sigh. But must keep focused, must keep moving forward, must get things done.

I suppose one of the best things about not having published much (if at all) in the last few years is that there’s nothing lost permanently, at any rate. And I’ve printed most of everything out–people mock me for this, but you know what? It’s not as easy to lose a printed copy of something as it is apparently for electronic back-ups to disappear in the blink of an eye.

I was very pleased that I was able to log all those words last night while Paul packed. While it was a bit of a slog, and they aren’t good words by any means, I also realized last night before I went to bed that it’s a first draft and many times a first draft is just me vomiting up story and setting and characters; the real work begins with the second draft as I flesh the characters out and tie up the story and delete diversionary secondary stories that never go anywhere. I had wanted to have the first draft finished by the end of November–which plan turned out to be a complete and utter failure–but I would like to get the first draft finished by the end of December so I can get something else going after the first of the year. I’m hoping to be able to get back to the WIP, maybe get it all finished and tied up in a lovely loop by the end of February, and start getting it sent out to prospective agents in the new year.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

And on that short note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I am hoping to get some of the next chapter done this morning before I take Paul to the airport on my way to work.

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Bridge over Troubled Water

Looks like we made it, Constant Reader; through another week of trials and tribulations and who knows what all, quite frankly. I woke up at six, but stayed in bed until just before eight, and feel obscenely well-rested, not tired at all; maybe a bit of a sleep hangover, but other than that, in tip-top shape for this lovely weekend. There’s condensation all over the windows around my workspace this morning; I suspect it rained over night and the air out there is probably warm and thick with water. It’s also not cold inside, which is a tip-off that it’s probably a lovely day outside. Paul is going to go into the office at some point today; I intend to go run some errands later as well as get some serious writing done. Conference championship football games are on television all day, but I really don’t care who wins any of them, if I’m going to be completely honest. The kitchen seems scattered and messy today, so does the living room, and of course, Paul is leaving for his winter visit to his family on this coming Wednesday, so I will have almost a full week of alone time.

I am, for December 1, disgustingly behind on everything; from Bury Me in Satin, stalled at Chapter Six, to finishing touches on both the Scotty book and the short story collection. I also need to proof read Jackson Square Jazz at some point so that can finally be available as an ebook; it never seems to end, does it? But I did somehow manage to tear through my to-do list this past week (other than anything writing/editing related that was on it) and I think now, finally, the day job is finally going to settle into a kind of routine schedule. I also picked up Bibliomysteries Volume I, edited by Otto Penzler, at the library yesterday, so I have a wealth of short stories to read. (I also still have all the volumes of anthologies and single author collections I was reading earlier in the year on the mantel in the living room; I should probably get back to those at some point as well.) I am probably going to keep The Short Story Project rolling into the new year; I do love short stories, and I keep finding more unread collections on my bookshelves.

I got some books in the mail yesterday; the two most recent Donna Andrews Meg Langslows, Toucan Keep a Secret and Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (which I wish I could read over the Christmas holidays; I love reading Donna’s Christmas books during the season but I doubt I’ll have time to read Toucan first; and yes, I have to read them in order DON’T JUDGE ME); two novels by Joan Didion, Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted; two books by Robert Tallant, one fiction (The Voodoo Queen, an undoubtedly error-riddled and racist biographical novel about Marie Laveau) and one nonfiction (Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders); the next volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, A Clash of Kings; and Hester Young’s follow-up to The Gates of Evangeline, The Shimmering Road. 

So, yes, my plate is rather full this weekend–but I shall also have plenty to do while Paul is gone. I am also thinking about buying the third and final season of Versailles on iTunes to watch. I will probably make an enormous list of all the things I want to get done while Paul is in Illinois and wind up doing none of them.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also need to figure out his Christmas presents while he’s gone, so I can get them and have them all wrapped before he gets home.

And so now, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)

The cold has returned, after an absolutely stunningly beautiful weekend in New Orleans; more’s the pity, really. I sit here within my cold windows, with the gray light of early morning out there, shivering a bit; I probably could put on my fingerless gloves and a skull cap, but instead I simply sit here and shiver and shake.

Work schedule for the week is still messed up, or rather, not the norm; I have to go in early every day which means my evenings are free. Last night, I wrestled with the problem of my Mac having slowed down dramatically since the last iOS upgrade (to Mojave, by the way) but then I downloaded one of those “clean up your Mac” apps, and this morning it seems to be operating at a much better level; faster, at any rate–or at least I am not staring at the spinning wheel of annoyance the way I was when I got home last night–and proceeded to spend the entire evening getting that taken care of until frustration set in and I retired to the living room.

We’re currently binge-watching Schitt’s Creek, which is absolutely hilarious. It’s available on Netflix now; it’s a Eugene Levy creation, starring Mr. Levy and Catherine O’Hara–who makes everything she’s in better. Why she hasn’t won all the Emmys is a mystery to me.

I also signed a contract for the sale of my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to an anthology this morning, and emailed the signature page back into them. It’s for a gay male anthology called Pink Triangle Rhapsody, and my story is noir with a twist of the supernatural; or rather, as they say, “pulp”. It was a fun challenge to write, and is perfect for including in my future collection Monsters of New Orleans, which is clearly off to a very good start.

Yay, me!

I also read “The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy” by Elizabeth George, from  Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

For an entire generation, the story that follows could not be told. She who affected the vanishing of Langley, Washington’s most famous citizen was still among the living and had the knowledge of what she had done been revealed before this moment, there is little doubt that legions of the broken-hearted, the disenchanted, the disappointed, and the downright enraged would have ended up marching along the quiet street where she lived, bent upon violence. This, of course, would have followed whatever the afore-mentioned legions had done to a disused potting shed in the arboreal confines of Langley Cemetery, where the shape of a body on a moth-eaten blanket and a rotting first edition of an antique novel marked the spot of a deeply mourned departure. But now, at last, everything can be revealed. For all involved have finally passed, and no danger remains to anyone. Langley, Washington, has long since returned to the sleepy albeit lovely little village that has sat above the gleaming waters of Saratoga Passage for more than one hundred years. And what occurred there to its citizenry and to its gentle, well-meaning, but dar too malleable librarian has been consigned to history.

Elizabeth George.

It surprises me that I’ve not read any of Ms. George’s works, and I am not quite sure why that is the actual case. I certainly know of her, I know she is critically acclaimed and has been short-listed for, and won, numerous awards. And yet…Elizabeth George is a big hole in my mystery/crime education which must needs be remedied at some point. But there are so many authors, so many books, so little time; I certainly can relate to that old Twilight Zone episode where Burgess Meredith survives the nuclear holocaust and is delighted by the end of the world because now he has the time, finally, to read everything he wants to. And unlike his character, I don’t need my glasses to actually read, praise Jesus.

The premise of George’s story here is quite charming, if twisted; her main character, Janet Shore, loves to read but has the ability, by chanting and focusing, to actually put herself into books. She soon learns, much to her delight, that she also has the ability to put other people into them as well–she learns she can do this due to an argument over who killed Tom Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird with a stubborn friend whom she sends into the book to witness what actually happens for herself. Soon she is sending other friends into books, but after heartbreak in college she shuts herself off from other people–but finally returns home to her island off the Pacific Coast as librarian only to soon find herself back into the old position of putting people into their books. The story is quite original–at least to me–and I loved how George wove books into her narrative; along with slyly taking potshots at authors and books Janet Shore, with her deep and abiding passion for books, considers to be trash–Twilight, for one, and Fifty Shades for another.

Basically, what George has done with this tale is take the old cliched story of losing one’s self in books quite literally; books were Janet’s salvation as a child, as they were mine…and as I read this story, I wondered if I would take advantage of such a power were I to have it; I don’t think I actually should. But the finish of the tale is also enormously satisfying, and I was quite pleased with it.

And yes, I’ve added George to my “must read” authors list.

And now back to the spice mines.

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The Streak

Yesterday was, for the most part, a great day (do NOT mention the travesty/joke that was the LSU game last night; that entire officiating crew, including the booth, should be fired with extreme prejudice. I am not one to blame officiating for losses, but LSU won the game three times and they kept giving A&M just one more chance. Fuck. Off. It’s very hard to not begin–after so much of this the entire season, and not just against LSU–as corruption from the SEC office on down. Greg Sankey needs to resign. NOW.). I got up early and started trying to play catch-up (I was unplugged for most of the week) and then had coffee with my friend Pat, who is a noted historian and a terrific person. I was picking her brains about New Orleans research and she also had an experience I wanted to know about as background for a short story I am writing (“Please Die Soon,” if you must know), and we wound up spending almost three hours chatting, and she also gave me some more ideas for Monsters of New Orleans, which was a lot of fun. We met at the PJ’s on Maple Street in a part of Uptown I’m not sure what to call (Uptown? University? Riverbend?) but it was quite nice to see a part of New Orleans I rarely go to–and discover things–like there’s a lovely breakfast place next door to PJ’s, along with a Christian Science Reading Room (who knew?) and a Starbucks across the street (“Caffeine Alley,” I joked). So after we were finished, I went over to the Starbucks and got some espresso beans for the house, and an insulated travel mug. From there it was about a ten minute drive to Costco, and then back home. I finished reading End of Watch, did the laundry, cleaned and organized the kitchen, and started organizing and doing things in the living room while football games played in the background.

One thing about staying with my family–my mother makes Joan Crawford look like a filthy hoarding slob–was all I can see is how dirty the Lost Apartment is, and how irrationally and inefficiently organized it is. So, yeah…I’m working on that, and probably will today as well.

I need to start digging through all the emails that piled up while I was gone, and I also need to pay bills and update my checkbook. Heavy sigh. But I’ve slept well since coming home, which is lovely, and today I have to make a grocery run, which I will do later this morning.

One thing about driving across country is one is reminded precisely how beautiful this country actually is, or how incredibly vast. New Orleans to Kentucky is over seven hundred miles and takes about twelve hours to drive; and that’s not even close to being halfway across the country. As I drive through Mississippi, Alabama, a small piece of northwest Georgia and through Tennessee–particularly Tennessee–I cannot help but marvel at how beautiful it is; the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville in particular at this time of year as the leaves are turning. Every time I drive through there I wish I had more time, so I could stop at Scenic Lookout points and take photographs so I can share the amazing beauty with you, Constant Reader.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the Confederate flags mounted on the front license plate frames of pick-up trucks and BMW’s and Hondas. This always saddens me when I see it; this clinging to a horrible past and ignoring what that flag actually means to most Americans. Its use, to me, is basically saying fuck you, slavery was a good thing to everyone who sees it, and rather defiantly, at that. As I drove home on Friday, after seeing a proliferation of these on the highway between Fort Payne and Birmingham, an idea for an essay came to me (“Song of the South”) about the “heritage not hate” mentality, and developed that thought even further after talking to Paul about the trip when I got home.

I have so much to write, and so very little time to do it in. Heavy sigh. Sometimes it feels to me that time is nothing more than sand held in my cupped hand on a windy morning at the beach; the grains slipping out of the palm and through the fingers as I desperately try to cling to it.

Heavy sigh. I also want to write up A Game of Thrones and End of Watch.

But I did read short stories while I was gone, and next up is “Mystery, Inc.” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler.

I am very excited! For at last, after several false starts, I have chosen the perfect setting for my bibliomystery.

It is Mystery, Inc., a beautiful old bookstore in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a town of less than two thousand year-round residents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean between New Castle and Portsmouth.

For those of you who have never visited this legendary bookstore, one of the gems of New England, it is located in the historic High Street district of Seabrook, above the harbor, in a block of elegantly renovated brownstones originally built in 1888. Here are the offices of an architect, an attorney-at-law, a dental surgeon; here are shops and boutiques–leather goods, handcrafted silver jewelry, the Tartan Shop, Ralph Lauren, Esquire Bootery. At 19 High Street a weathered old sign in black and gilt creaks in the wind above the sidewalk:

MYSTERY, INC. BOOKSELLERS

NEW & ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS

MAPS, GLOBES, ART

SINCE 1912

As you can clearly see, Constant Reader, Mr. Penzler only recruits the upper echelon of crime writers for his Bibliomysteries, and few literary names have as much luster as the highly-acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates. Again, Ms. Oates is an enormously prolific and gifted writer; I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Oates canon but her work often leaves me awestruck and inspired and more than a little humbled.

“Mystery Inc.” is another one of her toothsome tales of darkness; the main character in this story owns several mystery bookstores in New England and has decided that this lovely bookstore in a small town on the New Hampshire coast is the next one he wants to acquire. The loving descriptions of the store, the artwork and rare books for sale make it sound, in Oates’ delightful prose, like a place I’d certainly wish to visit and somewhere you would have to pry me out of with a crowbar. The main character covets the store, and rarely have I ever read such a story of covetousness I could identify with so completely. But the main character not only wants the store, but has a dark plan for acquiring it. And, as always in an Oates story, things in the store might not be what they seem on their surface; the store has a dark, ugly history which the present owner shares…terrific story, absolutely top tier.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Dancing Machine

Thursday, and the weekend looms. The weather has remained cold, gray and damp here in New Orleans; it will stay cold through the weekend but next week the temperatures are going to go back up to something more normal for New Orleans in November; sixties and low seventies, with potential lows in the high fifties after dark.

Work on the book proceeds apace. Not well; I managed to crank out both chapters four and five over the last two nights, and reached, in Chapter Five, a final crucial point in the story, which is cool. I don’t know if that means writing the rest of the book is going to go any better than the beginning, but progress is fucking progress.

I also started–with one sentence, mind you–a new short story called “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge.” I’m not sure what the story is going to be about, but I’ve had the title and the story prompt–a picture my friend Erin posted on social media a few months ago–floating in my head for a while, and last night while I was eking out the last words of Chapter Five the first sentence of the story came to my head (I wouldn’t have even stopped at Brandy’s Lounge that night if I hadn’t gotten fired that afternoon) and I thought I should start a new document so I wouldn’t lose the sentence (which has happened before and is incredibly frustrating and infuriating on so many levels.

I really need to get back to “The Blues Before Dawn,” too. I need to get so much work done before I leave for the holidays on Monday….and the cold weather doesn’t help because my kitchen-office is the coldest place in the house. Those lovely windows that give me so much beautiful natural light most of the year? Well, they are COLD TRAPS when the temperature drops.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I paid all the bills yesterday, which was lovely; it’s nice to be all caught up and actually have some money left over–which is entirely because of how paydays fell this month and has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of magic spell I unleashed over my checking account and my bills–usually all my end of the month and first of the month bills, along with the car payment, have to be paid from the same paycheck, which is nightmarish. But this time, we get paid again on the 28th this month, so the end of the month bills and car payment fell due from this paycheck, and so I can pay the beginning of the month bills with the 28th paycheck.

Sweet.

Although whenever something happens like this and I have extra money…I always wonder what I’m forgetting to pay. But I kind of went through everything last night and I am relatively certain I’ve paid everything.

I also forgot to leave the water slightly running overnight during the hard freeze so you can imagine how terrified I was this morning when I got up and approached the sink to brush my teeth with some severe trepidation…but no worries; all was well. *Whew*.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Keep Coming Back

It dropped into the forties overnight, and this morning, it’s struggling to get up into the low fifties. This is utter and complete madness; we even are looking at a possible freeze alert by Tuesday–a freeze alert in November. Utter, total, unquestionable madness.

The LSU game…well, they won and let’s just leave it at that.

The Saints play Cincinnati today at noon; I intend to write all morning and then take a break to watch them play, after which I will try to get some more writing done. I wound up spending most of yesterday relaxing and reading. I dove back into ‘salem’s Lot, my Halloween reread for this year (you see how well that went), intending to only read a chapter, but promptly got sucked into the narrative. I finished reading part one, and chose to stop with Part II, “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” The essay about ‘salem’s Lot that is currently brewing in my head–“Peyton Place, But With Vampires”–is slowly taking shape within my head, which is lovely. Whether or not I am ever going to have the time to write it is an entirely different question, of course.

One of the interesting things about rereading ‘salem’s Lot is also seeing how carefully King structured his novel; the book isn’t–which is the point of my essay–so much about the vampires and the fearless vampire killers (well, they are hardly fearless), as it is about the town. I love that King shows how the other people in the town react to what’s going on; they of course aren’t privy to what the main, core characters (Ben, Mark, Susan, Matt, and the doctor–whose name is escaping me now) are; one of the other things King does so remarkably well in this, only his second novel, is depicting how small towns really work–hence the comparison to Peyton Place. His depictions of small towns only got better and more realistic as his career progressed; I think the secret strength of Needful Things is the honesty and truth in how he depicted Castle Rock; with all the resentments and anger and feuds all simmering just beneath the surface (I also need to revisit Needful Things).

I plan to get back to Bury Me in Satin today. I wrote less than three hundred words yesterday, and this shall not stand; I also need to get back on track with this manuscript. I am a little torn about how to proceed–I am also having questions about the time line and so forth–but these things should sort themselves out as I write and move the story forward. We’ll see how it goes today. I also need to work on these short stories. Heavy heaving sigh.

I also managed to read something yesterday for the Short Story Project: “Remaindered” by Peter Lovesey, from Bibliomysteries Volume 2, edited by Otto Penzler:

Agatha Christie did it. The evidence was plain to see, but no one did see for more than a day. Robert Ripple’s corpse was cold on the bookshop floor. It must have been there right through Monday, the day Precious Finds was always closed. Poor guy, he was discovered early Tuesday in the section he called his office, in a position no bookseller would choose for his last transaction, face down, feet down and butt up, jack-knifed over a carton of books. The side of the carton had burst and some of the books had slipped out and fanned across the carpet, every one a Christie.

Last Sunday Robert had taken delivery of the Christie novels. They came from a house on Park Avenue, one of the best streets in Poketown, Pennsylvania, and they had a curious history. They were brought over from Europe before World War II by an immigrant whose first job had been as a London publisher’s rep. He’d kept the books as a souvenir of those tough times trying to interest bookshop owners in whodunits when the only novels most British people wanted to read were by Jeffrey Farnol and Ethel M. Dell. After his arrival in America, he’d switched to selling Model T Fords instead and made a sizable fortune. The Christies has been forgotten about, stored in the attic of the fine old weatherboard house he’d bought after making his first million. And now his playboy grandson planned to demolish the building and replace it with a space-age dwelling of glass and concrete. He’d cleared the attic and wanted to dispose of the books. Robert had taken one look and offered five hundred dollars for the lot. The grandson had pocketed the check and gone away pleased with the deal.

Hardly believing his luck, Robert must have waited until the shop closed and then stopped to lift the carton onto his desk and check the content more carefully. Mistake.

This is actually my first experience with reading Peter Lovesey.  I mean, I know who he is and that he is in the upper stratosphere of crime writers, but I’ve not read him before. Reading “Remaindered” certainly has made me want to change that. The story is multi-layered, and exceptionally cleverly structured. It begins with the sad and sudden death of a second hand bookstore owner; due to a crate of Agatha Christie novels he’s just purchased, as indicated in the excerpt above. And that is where the story starts to twist and turn, changing shapes and throwing out the occasional surprise, twist after twist after twist; all of them organic and foreshadowed, and the story itself does an excellent, highly honest job of depicting the characters, their needs, their wants, and their incredibly surprising histories. I do highly recommend it.

The entire point of The Short Story Project was intended to be a sort of graduate course in short story writing for me. At the beginning of this year, the intent was for me to write a lot of short stories and to work on my craft with them, to improve as a writer. I’ve not had that much success with any of the new stories I’ve written this year; the rejections continue to stack up. But I shall continue to try writing them. I also realized last night that two stories I have coming out in anthologies next year are similarly themed, and I have like two or three more following not only a similar theme but a similar pattern in the works. Ruh roh.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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