Spooky

I’ve decided to launch a new reading project for this year: one in which I tackle rereading middle-grade mysteries. I am not going to limit myself to merely the series books I loved (although they will play a big role in the project), but will also include other mysteries I have, either in one of my reading apps or an actual hard copy, that do not belong to the series. My childhood memories aren’t as clear as I would perhaps like; then again, that period of my life was around fifty years ago, so it would be more of a miracle if I did have stronger memories.

The first two series books I ever read were not from either the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series; they were from the Trixie Belden series (The Red Trailer Mystery) and The Three Investigators (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave). Both series wound up being favorites of mine once I eventually got back to them and remembered them; I remember buying five Trixie Belden books at a store at the Ford City mall in Chicago, and I got my first five Three Investigators books from a Toys R Us, I think in the Chicago suburb of Berwin? The two series weren’t as ubiquitous or available as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; which made finding more of them a kind of triumph for me. I’ve already blogged about The Secret of Terror Castle, which was the first Three Investigators book in the series, so I won’t cover that one again. But recently I sat down and reread the second book in the series, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, and remembered again why I love this series so much.

“Help!” The voice that called out was strangely shrill and muffled. “Help! Help!”

Each time a cry from within the mouldering old house pierced the silence, a new chill crawled down Pete Crenshaw’s spine. Then the cries for help ended in a strange, dying gurgle and that was even worse.

The tall, brown-haired boy knelt behind the thick trunk of a barrel palm and peered up the winding gravel path at the house. He and his partner, Jupiter Jones, had been approaching it when the first cry had sent them diving into the shrubbery for cover.

Across the path, Jupiter, stocky and sturdily built, crouched behind a bush, also peering toward the house. They waited for further sounds. But now the old, Spanish-style house, set back in the neglected garden that had grown up like a small tropical jungle, was silent.

“Jupe!” Pete whispered. “Was that a man or a woman?”

Jupiter shook his head. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “Maybe it was neither.

The Three Investigators cases often began this way; with two of them (sometimes all of them) landing smack dab in the middle of something mysterious; whether it was the sight of a weird ghost as they walk past an abandoned house being demolished (The Mystery of the Green Ghost) or biking past an enclosed estate (The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow) or simply riding in the gold=played Rolls Royce limousine and almost getting into an accident (The Mystery of the Silver Spider). Many of their other cases begin with them being hired to find a lost pet, which turns into something more complicated and complex: The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon and The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy fall into this category….while the majority of their cases come by way of referrals from Alfred Hitchcock himself (and why has no one ever done a book about the licensing of the Hitchcoc name, and all the products the great director attached his name to? It’s far overdue.). The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot combines all three: the boys were referred by Hitchcock to a friend whose recently purchased parrot has either been stolen or gotten free; they are on their way to visit Professor Fentriss to talk to him about the missing parrot–which stuttered–when they hear the cries for help coming from within the house. They are confronted outside by a man with a revolver (he is described here, and throughout the book, as a fat man–even by Jupiter, who hates being called fat), who claims to be Mr. Fentriss and that the bird has returned; he also claims that Hitchcock had called him to say the boys were on their way over. As they are leaving they realize that the house had no telephone wires (which used to actually be a thing, before cell phones), so they go back. Indeed, the man they met was an imposter and Mr. Fentriss is also tied up in his home. They rescue him, discover that he bought the missing parrot from a sickly Hispanic man selling the birds (there were others) out of his donkey cart, and that his friend Irma Waggoner sent the peddler to them. (Note: the man is described, and referred to, over and over as a Mexican; he actually is Mexican, so it’s not necessarily problematic–other than the fact that no one knew he was Mexican at first; referring to all Latinx/Hispanic people as Mexican when they may not actually be Mexican is problematic. In an update they would undoubtedly change it to Hispanic–as he did speak Spanish as a first language and his English isn’t good–which we see when the boys find him later in the book.) Miss Waggoner’s parrot has also disappeared; it also spoke, as did Mr. Fentriss’. (I kept thinking as I read it for the first time but parrots don’t stutter; he would have to be taught to do that. Very early on Jupiter also mentions this; I always feel inordinately proud of myself every time I read Jupiter saying this) Eventually, it turns out that the man who taught the birds special speeches had a masterpiece painting in his possession, and each parrot speaks a clue to the location of where he hid it when he realized he was dying–so the boys not only have to find all the parrots to get all the messages, they also have to decipher the clues and find the painting. Eventually they do–while also trying to avoid a flamboyant international art thief and his thugs–in a spooky, abandoned graveyard in the fog. A little bit of luck, and the boys solve the mystery–but despite that piece of luck, the entire case is actually solved by deductions based on the evidence presented thus far, with Jupiter revising his theories whenever new evidence is presented.

I love this series, and the books still make for compelling reading today. Some of the story is dated of course–no cell phones, no computers for research (Bob does all their research at the library, where he works part time), the casual racism of the time–but many of the books still hold up. Hitchcock’s death obviously impacted the series, but I’ve never understood why The Three Investigators never became as popular as–if not more so–than Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. The three boys have distinct personalities–you know Pete will never want to investigate anything complicated, but will inevitably prove how courageous he actually is; Bob is studious and not as easily excitable as Pete, and he’s the one who usually follows Jupiter’s train of thought while Pete always gets confused; and Jupiter himself is a young Sherlock Holmes. Robert Arthur, who wrote the original series up through number 11, The Mystery of the Talking Skull (someone else wrote number 10, The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, which also ironically is the first of the series I actually read). Arthur won two Edgars from Mystery Writers of America for his radio plays; he also ghost edited some of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies I remember from my childhood. The Three Investigators are no longer in print, because of legal disputes between the Arthur estate and Random House about who owns the characters and so forth; it’s a shame. The books are still in print in many different languages–and are especially popular in Germany–where two of the books were actually filmed.

Most of my series books are in storage, but there are some still in the Lost Apartment–and I think when I am too tired to read something new, I may just get down a series book as an homage to my childhood and revisit some of these kids’ series.

Player in the League

And suddenly it’s Saturday.

This is the Saturday of the year where I’d ordinarily be putting Bailey’s in my coffee while a bottle of Prosecco chills in the fridge for my mixed drink of the day, which I would start indulging in around eleven: the Iris. Yes, today would ordinarily be the Iris parade followed by Tucks; Saturday afternoon parades being my favorite, absolutely favorite, since my first time at Mardi Gras back in 1995. I love the ladies of Iris, who are generous with their throws and bury me in beads; I love them so much that the only parade scene I’ve ever written in a novel–Mardi Gras Mambo–is the Iris parade. I have already decided that I am undoubtedly going to write at least two more Scotty books during Mardi Gras–last year’s benighted one, French Quarter Flambeaux, and of course this year’s no parades one, Quarter Quarantine Quadrille. I have ideas for at least two other Scotty books, so be happy, Scotty fans: there will be at least four more Scotty books…the series may even continue in some form or another, but suffice it to say there are plans for four more. Who knows, I may never write another–and the faster time passes, the less likely it seems–but you never know and let’s be honest….I thought the series had ended with Mardi Gras Mambo.

And Bourbon Street Blues was only supposed to be a one-off to begin with.

Man plans, and God laughs, indeed.

It’s forty-two degrees this morning in New Orleans (another blessing, really, that Iris was cancelled); the space heater is on and blowing very warm air on me and it feels quite marvelous. The bed was warm and comfy; I certainly didn’t want to get out from under the cocoon of my many blankets. It’s gray again this morning outside my windows. I have to run some errands and go to the gym later this morning–neither of which I am looking forward to (as Constant Reader knows, I hate nothing more than being outside when it’s cold) but the hope is that I won’t have to go outside again, other than going to the gym, for the next few days. I definitely need to get a lot of work on the book done; may even delve into one of the (ridiculously) many short stories I have in some sort of progress and of course, there’s a lot of cleaning that needs to be done.

We watched the LSU-Florida gymnastics meet last night–the top two ranked teams in the country–and LSU lost by only one-tenth of a point, while not competing at their full strength and an uncharacteristic fall on floor exercise cost them the win. It was very exciting to watch, and I am curious to see how LSU does in the post-season this year. (Last year’s post-season was cancelled, but LSU–after a bad start to their season–were making great strides towards peaking in the post-season.) We also watched this week’s episode of Servant, which just continues to get more and more bizarre as the second season progresses, managing to get even creepier with every episode.

I decided to continue my education in horror films while making condom packs and wound up selecting two terrible movies; the second so bad I couldn’t finish and had to find something else to watch. I am still puzzling over how I managed to sit through the completely laughable Final Exam, with it’s flat stereotyped characters and plot that made no sense–if you’re in finals week, fraternities and sororities no longer have pledges because they are initiated several weeks before finals; the dialogue was laughably bad; and as the movie went on–it seemed much longer than it’s ninety minute run time–the dialogue continued to get worse and worse and the story–such as it was–made even less sense. Given how amateurish the writing, directing, and acting all was–I’ve seen more convincing performances in high school plays–it’s no surprise that everyone in the cast didn’t have much of a career afterwards. I then moved on to Body Count–an Italian production that was somehow even worse than Final Exam, and the racism (it was built around the “oh no turns out the camp was built on an Indian burial ground!” trope; of course it’s the spirit of a shaman killing everyone, and I just couldn’t take it after thirty minutes or so) was so bad I couldn’t take it. Instead, I switched to the 2005 remake of The Fog. I had recently seen the John Carpenter original (speaking of Carpenter, the soundtrack for both Final Exam and Body Count were clearly plagiarized from the Halloween score Carpenter wrote; take my word for it and don’t watch to compare the scores, I beg of you) and thought it would be interesting to see the differences between the original and the remake. Kudos to the remake for casting Smallville’s Superman, the incredibly handsome and well-built Tom Welling, as the lead. It was actually better made than the original….the original was clearly made on a very low budget, and the remake had the advantage of all the advances in visual effects in the decades since. But….Selma Blair, whom I like, just wasn’t as good or compelling as Adrienne Barbeau (who really is irreplaceable), the absence of Jamie Lee Curtis left a void in the center of the film, and the revisions to the plot and story (moving it from California to Oregon; giving more of the back story of the history and why the dead are coming back for vengeance on Antonio Bay) were improvements on the original, as were the visual effects. But it was missing that John Carpenter core somehow, despite Carpenter being a producer; I found myself not necessarily caring about the characters and whether they survived or not. There was also a reincarnation story tacked on for good measure–and while I do love a good reincarnation story (see Lake Thirteen), it just didn’t really seem to work. If you’re a completist and a fan of John Carpenter, it’s worth a look to see how it was done with a bigger budget and more modern technology, but if you’re simply a fan of horror films, it’s probably best for you to just skip it.

I must say, one of the better side effects, though, of this pandemic and having to work at home is this long-neglected education in American film that I’m getting.

I also hope to find some time to spend with Jess Lourey’s Edgar nominated Unspeakable Things over this long weekend, as well as Alabama Noir–which I’d forgotten I had a copy of–and trying to get back into what I call The Short Story Project, in which I read more short stories to improve my education in–and hopefully, my skill at writing–short stories. I was idly paging through some of my Tennessee Williams volumes (yes, I have several volumes of his collected plays) and found several lines (his writing is so poetic) that could work as titles for short stories (I also generally use Williams quotes to open the Scotty books, just as the opening of the prologues is always a parody of a more famous work’s opening), which was kind of fun–I’ve been coming up with rather pulpy titles lately (I came up with one earlier in the week called “I Woke Up in Blood This Morning”–thanks to the Partridge Family wormhole I went down on Youtube recently, and the idle paging through Williams got me another: “I Married a Whore”, which could also be a lot of fun….I was this close to rewatching American Gigolo yesterday, and for the record, there’s a movie that deserves a remake, without the homophobia and with a tighter script; there are any number of beautiful young actors in Hollywood now who could play the part perfectly–Ryan Philippe ten years ago would have been perfect–but Kyle Allen or the guy from Bridgerton…I think Tom Hiddleston is still young enough to play it as well. I just feel that American Gigolo could have been a much better film–and given how excellent it’s production values were (not to mention that AMAZING soundtrack) it’s a shame that it didn’t have a tighter script that focused more on the noir (or Neo-noir, I should say) aspects of the story; especially it’s political aspects and the murder. I enjoyed it when I watched it a few years back, but couldn’t help but see all the unexplored potential that was wasted.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Saturday be all that you deserve, Constant Reader, and I will check in again with you later.

Dreams Never End

January 25, 2021, New York, NY – Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 212th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the nominees for the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2020. The 75th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on April 29, 2021.

BEST NOVEL

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (Penguin Random House – Random House)
Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney (Poisoned Pen Press)
Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Penguin Random House – Pamela Dorman Books)
These Women by Ivy Pochoda (HarperCollins Publishers – Ecco)
The Missing American by Kwei Quartey (Soho Press – Soho Crime)
The Distant Dead by Heather Young (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March (Minotaur Books)
Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen (Simon & Schuster – Gallery Books)
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (HarperCollins Publishers – Ecco)
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (Penguin Random House – Berkley)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Deep, Deep Snow by Brian Freeman (Blackstone Publishing)
Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
The Keeper by Jessica Moor (Penguin Random House – Penguin Books)
East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper 360)

BEST FACT CRIME

Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America by Mark A. Bradley (W.W. Norton & Company)

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg (Hachette Book Group – Hachette Books)

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)

Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country by Sierra Crane Murdoch (Penguin Random House – Random House)

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife by Ariel Sabar (Penguin Random House – Doubleday)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club edited by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper360/Collins Crime Club)

Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane (Chicago Review Press)

Ian Rankin: A Companion to the Mystery & Fiction by Erin E. MacDonald (McFarland)

Guilt Rules All:  Irish Mystery, Detective, and Crime Fiction by Elizabeth Mannion & Brian Cliff (Syracuse University Press)

This Time Next Year We’ll be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press)

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Summer Uncle Cat Came to Stay,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Leslie Elman (Dell Magazines)
“Dust, Ash, Flight,” Addis Ababa Noir by Maaza Mengiste (Akashic Books)
“Fearless,” California Schemin’ by Walter Mosley (Wildside Press)
“Etta at the End of the World,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Joseph S. Walker  (Dell Magazines)
“The Twenty-Five Year Engagement,” In League with Sherlock Holmes by James W. Ziskin (Pegasus Books – Pegasus Crime)

BEST JUVENILE

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Workman Publishing – Algonquin Young Readers)
Me and Banksy by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Penguin Random House Canada – Puffin Canada)
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Katherine Tegen Books)
Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor (Penguin Young Readers – Viking BFYR)
Nessie Quest by Melissa Savage (Random House Children’s Books – Crown BFYR)
Coop Knows the Scoop by Taryn Souders (Sourcebooks Young Readers)

 BEST YOUNG ADULT

The Companion by Katie Alender (Penguin Young Readers – G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR)
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown BFYR)
They Went Left by Monica Hesse (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown BFYR)
Silence of Bones by June Hur (Macmillan Children’s Books – Feiwel & Friends)
The Cousins by Karen M. McManus (Penguin Random House – Delacorte Press)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“Episode 1, The Stranger” – Harlan Coben’s The Stranger, Written by Danny Brocklehurst (Netflix)
“Episode 1, Open Water” – The Sounds, Written by Sarah-Kate Lynch (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1, Photochemistry” – Dead Still, Written by John Morton (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – Des, Written by Luke Neal (Sundance Now)
“What I Know” – The Boys, Written by Rebecca Sonnenshine, based on the comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson (Amazon)

 ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

“The Bite,” Tampa Bay Noir by Colette Bancroft (Akashic Books)

* * * * * *

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD

Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks (Minotaur Books)
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart (Minotaur Books)
The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)
Cold Wind by Paige Shelton (Minotaur Books)

* * * * * *

THE G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS SUE GRAFTON MEMORIAL AWARD

The Burn by Kathleen Kent (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King (Penguin Random House – Ballantine Books)
Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht (Tin House Books)
Dead Land by Sara Paretsky (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Sleeping Nymph by Ilaria Tuti (Soho Press – Soho Crime)
Turn to Stone by James W. Ziskin (Start Publishing – Seventh Street Books)

* * * * * *
SPECIAL AWARDS

GRAND MASTER

Jeffery Deaver
Charlaine Harris

RAVEN AWARD

Malice Domestic

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Reagan Arthur, Publisher – Alfred A. Knopf

We are pleased to announce that this year’s recipient of the Ellery Queen award is Reagan Arthur. She is currently the publisher at Alfred A. Knopf, after a lengthy career in editorial and editorial development. Amongst the authors she has worked with over the years include names like Michael Connelly and Kate Atkinson, and also the enormously successful Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. When informed of her selection as recipient of the Ellery Queen Award, Ms. Arthur commented, “Crime fiction has always been an important part of my life as a reader and as an editor. So it’s a great honor to join the illustrious list of recipients of the Ellery Queen Award, and to be selected by the MWA, an organization that has done so much on behalf of writers, booksellers, and readers.”

I Want You Back

And we have made it to Wednesday! A big, hearty clap on the back for everyone! We survived to the midpoint!

At this point, clearly I will take my victories where I can.

When I went to bed last night the election was still too close to call, but I couldn’t stay up–having to get up so early–to watch the returns come in, and so was absolutely delighted to wake up this morning to see the news. I didn’t sleep well again last night–this is becoming too regular of a thing, really–and each time I woke up, I thought, I am afraid to check the news. Yesterday was not a good day–I was tired for most of it (the sleep issue thing) and got some bad news about a dear friend before I went to the gym after work. Bad news from Georgia literally may have been too much to take this morning…so thank you, Stacey Abrams and Georgia voters, especially the Black women.

I am, when I don’t feel like I am knocking at death’s door from being tired, getting prepared to dive into the final revision of the Kansas book, aka #shedeservedit. I have the most recent full draft printed out and sitting in a pile on my desk, with the four chapters of the most recent partial draft–when I tried to write it in first person present tense, and the less said about that the better–to reread and start pulling out threads and seeing what unravels and unspools and what holds true. I wrote the manuscript originally in one month over the summer about six or so years ago–I wrote it partly in response to several horrific rape cases involving high school students and the subsequent on-line bullying of the victims in Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri–and wrote pretty much a three thousand word chapter almost every day to get it up to sixty thousand words (it currently sits at over seventy -two thousand), and I also never wrote the final chapter–still haven’t–because there was a gaping hole in the plot I needed to sew up…and over the years, I could never quite figure out how to do that. I did finally figure it out about a year or so ago, but have never had the chance to get back to the manuscript in the meantime, so now I am going to finally finish this thing and send it out into the world.

I also have to write a guest blog post at some point today–and I still don’t know what I am going to write about. Heavy heaving sigh–this is the problem with insomnia, you get too tired to think clearly. Caffeine isn’t working as well as I would like this morning, either, and I am hoping that the shower will do the trick. But at least tomorrow I can sleep a bit later, and it’s a work-at-home day, so I will be making condom packs and watching movies in my easy chair for a good portion of the next two days, and then it’s the weekend. Of course, the weekend doesn’t really matter when you’re fighting insomnia….

And I have so much work to do, not just on the writing front. I have to get that blog entry written, and I have to finish a short story over the course of this weekend, not to mention all the other stuff I have to do for other projects and volunteer work. This is partly why it’s so important for me to be able to sleep–my brain just doesn’t function properly without the right amount of sleep for the evening, and when it runs over the course of several days, as it has done lately–well, as you can imagine, it’s not the best for me.

Even sadder, I think my espresso machine is on its last legs, alas. I got it after our wonderful week in Italy–whenever that was (I looked it up; 2014, so nearly seven years ago. Ironically, the easiest way for me to find the date is to look up what year the LSU-Wisconsin game was; it was played the day we flew back, so I was checking the score repeatedly on my phone at Pisa Airport) and I’d been spoiled by having the marvelous cappuccinos you can literally get anywhere that serves coffee. It’s had a good run, and while it is still sort of working and it’s not something I need to replace immediately, I need to start making those plans because it’s going to suck the morning I get up and it has expired….

And on that note, I need to get ready for work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Our Song

So, as you have undoubtedly noticed–were you paying attention; I always assume you were–I didn’t have a book come out in 2020. Since my first book came out way back in 2002, I have only had a couple of years where something with my name–or that of a pseudonym–wasn’t released. 2005 was one, and there were a couple of those years in this past decade. I have two books coming out in 2022, though, and while neither are a Scotty nor a Chanse, I am pretty pleased with both of them. I am wrapping up the edits and revisions on the first, and then will be diving headfirst into the second to get it finished on time.

Here’s the jacket copy–and gorgeous cover–of Bury Me in Shadows, the first to be due and the first to come out.

After landing in the hospital after a bad break-up and an ensuing drug-and-alcohol binge, college student Jake Chapman is given two options: rehab, or spend the summer at his dying grandmother’s decaying home in rural Alabama. The choice is obvious

His grandmother’s land has been in Jake’s family since the early nineteenth century; the ruins of the old plantation house are a short walk through the woods behind her home. An archaeological team is excavating the ruins, looking for evidence to prove an old family legend—and there’s a meth lab just over the ridge. 

Once Jake is there, he begins having strange experiences—flashes of memory, inexplicable emotions—that he can’t explain, and he keeps seeing something strange out in the woods. As he explores his family history, he uncovers some dark secrets someone—or something—is willing to kill to keep hidden.

Sweeter Than Fiction

It’s gray and drizzly this morning in New Orleans. I haven’t looked at the latest tropical weather watch, primarily because I don’t really want to know the status of Beta, which became a named storm in the Gulf last night. I am kind of worn out with tropical weather at the moment, and maybe after another cup of coffee I can deal with it. But right now? Not so much.

I slept extremely well last night, and stayed in bed much longer than I should have this morning. I had intended (well, the intention wasn’t that sincere, since I didn’t set my alarm) to get up around eight this morning in order to start getting things done that I wanted to get done today; I actually did wake up around seven-ish, but since it was seven-ish I stayed in bed and wound up remaining there for another two hours. I don’t have a sleep hangover, though, the way I usually do on those mornings when I sleep later than I should, and so that’s something, at any rate. And I am pretty confident that once I do have that second cup–which is brewing right now–I’ll have the energy and motivation to get those things done.

One of those things is working on the book. I don’t know why I’ve been so lackadaisical about writing for the last few weeks (I know, it was the struggle with depression, which always makes writing difficult, plus the lack of discipline that comes with not having a deadline), but that needs to stop and I need to get back to work and get back on track. I’m not going to worry about being behind at this point–there’s no point in thinking about that, since there’s no way I will ever get caught up to where I wanted to be at this point with the book, so why bother being concerned with any of that at the moment–but I think I should be able to get some good work done on the book today, and then I am going to decide on which short story in progress to focus on finishing. There’s a veritable cornucopia of short stories that are in progress, and I need to decide which one has the most likely chance of being finished, which is always fun. It would be great if by mid-October I had stories out for submission at the various markets I usually try, as well as some of these anthologies that are upcoming and look promising.

I decided yesterday to put Babylon Berlin aside for the moment; it’s well done and very well-written, but it’s also very dense, and I’m not sure I can handle something dense right now–which I realized last night was why I’ve not been able to pick the book back up again and keep reading. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the depression I’ve been struggling with lately–the last few week, at any rate–and recognizing that while understanding what’s going on with me mentally so as to not be beating myself up over not getting things done, not writing, and not reading is even more counter-productive and only makes the depression worse. I was thinking of going back to the Reread Project or the Short Story Project, one or the other; but last night we watched The Devil All The Time on Netflix, and that kind of changed everything for me.

The movie is exceptionally well done, and it’s one of the most amazing rural noir, or Appalachian noir, films I’ve ever seen. One of the signs for me, as I always say and you’re probably tired of hearing, of good films/good books is that they make me think and inspire me to do better work. This was precisely the movie I needed to see to break through the depression and whatever-else-it-was-I-have going on with Bury Me in Shadows, and while this film was set in West Virginia and southeast Ohio, the Appalachian connection was there. The mountains in Alabama, or the lower foothills of the mountain range, are part of the Appalachians, and while I have always thought of northern Alabama as Alabama and singularly of Alabama, as I watched the movie last night I kept thinking this is the world my parents grew up in, and what I’m trying–in my own way, to recapture in this book.

As we watched the movie, I kept thinking to myself, this has to be based on a book and when the end credits rolled, I was pleased to see that not only was I correct, but the author of the book was someone I not only had heard of, but whose work had been recommended to me by friends whose opinion I deeply respect: Donald Ray Pollock. I also thought I have a copy of one of his books here somewhere, but not the one this movie is based on. And sure enough, I did find it last night before I went to bed: The Heavenly Table, and I decided, after looking at the first page, this is the book I am going to read next.

I do highly recommend The Devil All The Time. It’s a great film, if bleak, and extremely well done. The performances of Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson are exceptionally fine ones–at one point in the big confrontation scene they share I reminded myself , this is Spider-Man and Batman–and frankly, I don’t know how all this works anymore with Oscar nominations and so forth–if streaming movies are eligible for Oscars or Emmys or what–but both actors deserve recognition for their performances, as do some of the rest of the supporting cast. (Sebastian Stan, the Winter Soldier, also is in it and also gives a great performance.) Kristin Griffith, in particular, as Arvin’s grandmother, was stunning. It’s violent, it’s dark, and above all else, it’s honest and unflinching.

As I watched, one of the things that struck me was how real it was, despite all the death–whether suicides or murders–and I remembered something I was thinking about earlier while working on my own book, a recurring thought I’ve actually included in the book: the history of this county is written in blood. It reminded me of how in those kinds of poor, rural communities tragedies are borne with stoicism in public and talked about in hushed tones by others–yet still talked about, and very plainly, in a matter-of-fact “this isn’t a big deal” kind of way, like they’re talking about the weather. “Emmie Lou’s granddaughter is pregnant, and wasn’t yesterday’s rain a blessing? Yeah, Emmie Lou doesn’t think the boy is worth a bucket of spit, but thinks they’ll go ahead and get married, but it won’t last. My butter beans are coming in nicely.”

And that’s something I’m sort of missing in Bury Me in Shadows–but it’s also not written from the perspective of someone local, either; so it’s a bit different.

Since I just finished my second cup of coffee I decided to go ahead and take a look at the National Hurricane Center website, and it looks as though Beta isn’t going to be much of a threat here–at least, not at the moment–but it is out there, just off the Texas coastline, churning away, and I wonder if this rain this morning is because of it? Teddy appears to be heading northward away from the Gulf and up the Atlantic coast, and Wilfred is out there in the Atlantic with potential to come into the Gulf. It’s also only mid-September, and hurricane season doesn’t end until November 30. Sigh.

Last night, the news about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was pretty devastating; we have lost a giant, and I did go into a horrific downward spiral about the future of the country in the wake of her death before watching the movie. Ironically, I think that horrible news, combined with the inspiration drawn from the art of the movie, combined to break the horrific depression I’ve been fighting for so long and snapped me out of it; as though my subconscious processed the news while I slept and thought, yeah, this isn’t the time to give up. Yes, it’s tiring to have to keep fighting for the country and getting my work done, and it would be incredibly easy to just give into despair and stop–but really, what choice do we have? Even writing my books are resistance in their little way; by writing about gay characters and themes and issues, I am resisting against those who would silence us, those who would deny us our humanity, those who want us to just go away and be done with it.

I’m tired–we’re all tired–but if we give up now, all the work we’ve already done is for naught.

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

Stay Beautiful

I really do miss the gym.

All those years of inactivity, and of not going to the gym, and now of course I am becoming more acutely aware of how soft, saggy, and squishy my body has become. Heavy sigh. But, per my new mentality and outlook on life that I am trying to implement, I am not going to allow myself to regret said last time or anything of that nature, and simply will try to find time in each week to not only get a nice stretch done, but to do some crunches and possibly push-ups; based on the theory that some exercise is better than none. And I also know it helps make me feel better; I have one of those round ridged things that you can roll your back over to self-massage (I am describing this badly, well aware) and I used it yesterday, and felt exponentially better; I am going to try to use it as many days I can remember to do so. Self-care is always crucial, and during these difficult and strange times in which we find ourselves, even more so.

Yesterday morning I got up an hour earlier than I usually do on Mondays; something I was resisting doing because I am not now, nor have ever been, much of a morning person, and the thought of getting up at or around six in the morning was anathema to me. But I did it, and had coffee and breakfast and woke myself up a great deal more than usual, and I even managed to get to work early and have a jump on the day–and that was actually lovely. When I got home from work I was tired; very tired–partly from getting up so early and partly because there was some minor stress involved at work in the afternoon; I  was required to do some problem-solving, and while (he typed modestly) it’s something I am actually quite good at, it’s still draining and stressful and tiring while I am in the midst of it, and particularly when the adrenaline from the stress finally drains away. I came home and tucked myself up in my easy chair with Little Fires Everywhere (I cannot emphasize enough how much I am enjoying this book) and then did some organizing and cleaning in my office while the LSU-Texas A&M game from last season played on Youtube as delightful background noise while I waited for Paul to come home.

After Paul got home–and I read some more–we settled in to watch this week’s episode of The Vow, during which I kept dozing off, which I thought meant I had a lovely night’s sleep ahead of me. Alas, my old friend insomnia came back for a visit last evening, and so while I was enormously relaxed and comfortable in the bed, my mind never completely shut down, so I was partially awake for the majority, if not all, of the night, I’m not tired per se this morning as I drink my coffee, nor am I groggy; but I don’t have high hopes for a productive day other than seeing my clients. It’s definitely fine; I suppose–what other choice do I have, really–but a good night’s sleep would obviously have been more preferable. Ah, well, perhaps tonight that will happen–Lord knows I should be tired and sleepy tonight.

I also started working on a new short story for some reason last night instead of working on the book; reading Little Fires Everywhere started making me think of a new story–as good writing always does inspire me–and I wanted to write the opening down before I forgot it; it didn’t quite go the way I’d planned, as these things never really do, and it is definitely veering off the track I’d originally intended for it to go, but it’s called “Noblesse Oblige”–the relationship between Mrs. Richardson and Mia in the book made me start thinking about a certain kind of wealthy, or upper middle class, woman; whom I generally tend to refer to as “limousine liberals”–the kind who are all about the right causes and doing what they can to help those who aren’t as privileged as they are, but don’t want to get too close to those underprivileged people and are inevitably surprised and shocked when their “generosity” isn’t met with the worshipful adoration and gratitude they feel it should be–and become resentful. You know, the ones who say things like “after everything I’ve done for you”–which, to me, has become an incredibly loaded statement.

While the show Friends hasn’t aged terribly well, every so often there was an episode that was absolutely (and probably accidentally) insightful about the human condition; this was one in which Joey and Phoebe had an argument about doing charity work or doing things for other people; Joey’s position (which, ironically, was the same as Ayn Rand’s) was that there was no such thing as a selfless act, because even the most noble person gets a sense of satisfaction after doing something charitable. Phoebe, who “didn’t want to live in a world where Joey was right, desperately spent the entire episode trying, and failing, to prove Joey wrong. It was so strange to me, and jarring, to see a philosophy of Ayn Rand’s being illustrated so perfectly on a situation comedy on my television screen that I never forgot the episode (yes, I’ve read Ayn Rand; but unlike many who profess to be her devotees and acolytes I have read beyond Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; I also read her other novels–Anthem, We the Living–and most of her non-fiction as well–which is why I find the modern day political posturing of those who profess to be her followers revolting and a bastardization of her philosophy; because they clearly haven’t read anything beyond the two novels that she used to illustrate her beliefs and values. For the record, I believe her philosophy and theories were interesting, but ultimately would never truly work because they weren’t based in any sort of reality–however, the purpose of this entry is not to point out the fallacies in Randian philosophy and this is merely a sidebar); and I think about it every now and again whenever I am presented with someone’s “good works”.  One is never supposed to question someone’s motives for doing something charitable; it is always to be assumed they are doing it because they are a good, generous, kind and giving person; and it is cynical to question the motives behind charity: that the reason and motives behind the act aren’t important and shouldn’t be questions because the act is, in and of itself, such a good thing that it should be above reproach.

And while there is some truth to that, I always question motives, and if that makes me a cynic, so be it. I do a lot of volunteer work, and I’ve donated writing to charity anthologies over the years, and have edited, for free, others. Inevitably, though, I do gain something from all of this: self-satisfaction in helping others because I enjoy it, my name on the spine of a book is promotional even if I did the editing for free, and the same with the donated short stories–if someone who has never read my work before reads one of the donated stories and likes it, there’s always the possibility they will buy my other work–so inevitably the donation works as promotional material for my career. And I do get some satisfaction from helping people–it makes me feel good about myself, makes me feel like I am a better person than I probably am, and there’s also a sense of paying a cosmic, karmic debt in advance–the idea that doing something to help other people either repays people who’ve helped me, or will be banked so that someone will help me out in the future.

Which probably isn’t how that works, is it?

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

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Sail Away

So I went ahead and sent out three stories on submission yesterday; “This Thing of Darkness,” “Night Follows Night”, and the Sherlock story. Will any of them actually be accepted? Who knows, but that’s all part and parcel of the joy of being a writer who likes to write short stories despite being rarely asked to write them. I have like 86 short stories in some form of progress now, but it felt really good to write finis on these and sent them out. If they are rejected, oh well; I’ll just save them for my next short story collection.

See how that works? Staying positive is always a plus, you know?

And last night before I went to bed I checked the Pandora’s Box known more commonly as my email inbox to discover a delightful email from the editor of the Sherlock anthology that she loves the new edition of the story and is sending me a contract! How absolutely delightful. I am glad “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” will see print, and as always, it’s lovely to get that kind of affirmation. It’s also a period piece, which was just as daunting as writing a Holmes story set in New Orleans–the only rule for the anthology was that it couldn’t be set in London, and Holmes and Watson couldn’t be English. So I made Holmes a Louisianan–and we never are quite sure where Watson is from. But it was great fun, challenging, and very, as I said, daunting. While I’ve read the Holmes stories–and the Nicholas Meyer novels, and other stories written by modern day Sherlockians (notably, Lyndsay Faye and Laurie King), I don’t think of myself as an avid Sherlockian. Even now, I cannot think of the plot of either A Scandal in Bohemia or The Red-headed League.

So, I wasn’t a hundred percent certain I could write such a story that would be worthy of publication, but it was a challenge–and I do enjoy challenges. I like pushing myself as a writer, trying something different, seeing if I can continue to grow as a writer. (But just between you and me, the only reason I even thought I could possibly do this was because it was specified not to be canon–no London, not the late nineteenth century, no need for continuity. No, this was a way I could write a Sherlock story and make it entirely my own as well. And of course, setting it in 1916 was also a bit of a challenge for me as well; I’ve never done much period/historical writing, and since I knew, once the title came to me, that Storyville had to be involved (how else could one write “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” and not involve Storyville?), which presented a host of other issues. Fortunately, I’ve been reading lots of New Orleans history lately, and one of the books was about Storyville: Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin (highly recommended, by the way), and in a short story I wouldn’t have to have the ongoing detail a novel would require, so I thought, fuck it, let’s give it a shot.

I was also able to use one of the locations I often use in Scotty books, the Hotel Aquitaine, which made it even more fun for me.

So, apparently, the thinking positive thing might actually work. How lovely!

Also, yesterday I (the ever-present resident Luddite) managed to figure out how to go back and read the chat from the Queer Noir at the Bar reading on Friday night–I kept accidentally closing it, and when I was reading I never looked at it–and wow. Everyone was so gracious and kind about my reading! I’m glad, though, that I wasn’t reading the chat while I was reading because it would have freaked me out. Thank you all for being so kind.

I also started reading Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, and as I read, I began to remember why I hesitated to read it. Being from the South, and from a particularly poor part of the South, I sometimes have trouble reading about that world; because of the memories it brings back, and while Ford’s prose is magnificently beautiful, she also brought me right into a world I know so well–a world I’ve been trying to shake off my entire life. There’s probably something to be said, or perhaps written, about my struggle with where I am from; the deep pride instilled in me my entire childhood about being Southern and the defensiveness that automatically arises whenever someone else is critical of (what I still think of) as home; and how that pride also runs concurrent with a river of shame–two rivers, running parallel, a kind of Tigris and Euphrates within my soul, my psyche, my being. I’ve started and never finished any number of stories and novels set in Alabama; my files run over with them. Bury Me in Shadows is the first manuscript set in Alabama I’ve ever finished a full draft of (there are a couple of short stories I’ve finished; Dark Tide is also set in Alabama but down in a little town on Mobile Bay–which isn’t quite the same thing), and I have yet to complete it enough to turn it into my publisher. Reading Kelly’s book takes me to the same places Daniel Woodrell’s work takes me, or Ace Atkins’ The Ranger series…that inner conflict, that inability to decide, that pride of place and where I come from coupled with shame. I could see it all so clearly in my head as I read that first chapter…she may have been writing about rural Arkansas but it could have been rural Alabama. It’s real, it’s vivid, and it’s beautiful.

The rural south is savage in its beauty.

My whole life has really been about dualities; being Southern but not growing up there; closeted self v. authentic self; being a writer but also always having some other job for whatever reason. My identity has always been sort of splintered; it’s probably why I am so constantly down on myself because I never really feel whole, or like I fit in somewhere–because I’ve been outside my entire life.

And, I have found few things trigger me to dark emotion–anger or depression–than being reminded that I am an outsider.

We started watching Perry Mason, and we’re enjoying it–but it’s really not Perry Mason. It’s something entirely else, with the characters given the same names as the ones Erle Stanley Gardner used. The cast is fantastic, and it’s a terrific noir series (if a bit reminiscent of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels–which we stopped watching, for reasons that are not pertinent here), so we will keep watching–but, it’s not really the same show or characters.

And it makes me want to reread one of the originals again.

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

Love is a Catastrophe

Friday morning and I am home from work.

I got sent home yesterday; I started feeling bad on Tuesday afternoon, took a vacation day on Wednesday and got up yesterday morning to go to work. I felt terrible; dehydrated, exhausted, and some stomach issues I’d really rather not explain. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through the entire day, but of course, once I got to work they recognized that some of what I was experiencing could be COVID-19; so I was sent to get tested and then sent home to wait for the results to come back. This morning I am not as exhausted; I slept really well last night, but going up and down the stairs makes my leg muscles ache, and my joints are all achy, so today I am going to continue to try to take in as many fluids as I can–still dehydrated this morning–and rest.

Since I was so tired I decided to just sit in my easy chair yesterday and watch movies–the streaming services to the rescue! I watched the film version of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners on Disney; they adapted it as a starring vehicle for a teenaged Hayley Mills, and thus had to make changes to the plot and story that didn’t really work as well as the original plot, plus having her be a teenager took away one of the main strengths of every Stewart story; the agency of the heroine. She was still pretty capable, but it came across as a watered down version of the kick-ass heroine I remembered from the book. But Crete looked absolutely beautiful.

I then moved on to a rewatch of Cabaret, which holds up really well. It’s a really chilling film, and visually it’s stunning; but the more times I watch the film the more I appreciate Michael York and Joel Grey, and the less impressed I am with Liza. Don’t get me wrong–she’s fantastic, and the musical numbers showcase what a powerful performer she is, but I don’t think she really brings as much depth and sadness to the character as is warranted; but she certainly has star power. I think that Sally is actually a rather sad character, and while Minnelli beautifully captures the vulnerability, the sadness isn’t really there…and I found myself not wondering, at the movie’s end, what happened to her from there on; which isn’t usually a good sign. But she probably didn’t wind up happily married with a brood of children, did she, and who wants to think about that?

From there I moved on to a rewatch of How the West Was Won, one of those sprawling epic pictures from the time when that was what the Hollywood studios churned out to compete with television. Even small parts have stars in it, and I remember watching this movie when I was a kid and being impressed by its sprawl and sweep. I decided to watch it again, partly because of the recent discussion about Gone with the Wind and its problematic depictions of the slave owning South, the Civil War, and its aftermath; so I wanted to rewatch this picture through a modern lens and as an adult. I remembered in the second half of the film there was a scene where a US Army officer, who negotiated with the natives (Indians, of course, in the film) being angry because the railroads kept breaking their promises–which was pretty progressive for the early 1960’s, and to see how that could be viewed through the modern lens. The movie doesn’t really hold up, plot-wise; it’s very cheesy and corny, but there are some good performances–particularly Debbie Reynolds–and Spencer Tracy’s narration is quite excellent. The scene I remembered was there, and plays very well through a modern lens; George Peppard in all his youthful beauty plays the officer. Just the title itself is problematic though; but this, you must remember, was how the white settlement of the western part of the continent was viewed: the west was won by white people. I suppose How the West Was Conquered doesn’t have the same ring, but “won” is essentially the same thing. Anyway, the story hinges on the Prescott family–Karl Malden, Agnes Moorhead, Carroll Baker, and Debbie Reynolds–setting out for the west and encountering the problems of the frontier as they go; mostly white people who prey on those moving west. The parents are drowned when their boat encounters rapids; Carroll Baker has fallen for James Stewart, playing a mountain trapper, and they decide to settle on the land where the parents are buried while Debbie Reynolds keeps going west, winding up in St. Louis, where she becomes an entertainer and eventually winds up in San Francisco. As an older, bankrupt widow she moves to a ranch she owns in Arizona, and invites her nephew (the George Peppard character) and his family to join her there…and so on. I think it was nominated for a lot of Oscars, primarily for its high production values and it was a big hit at the time…but yes, definitely doesn’t hold up.

Paul came home shortly thereafter, and we watched the finale of 13 Reasons Why, and the less said about that the better. The cast is appealing and talented, but the finale was so manipulative emotionally–it does work, by the way, because of the cast; I was teary–as was the entire season that it’s hard not to be angry. Plus there was some serious misinformation included…maybe I will post about it, but it needs its own entry.

And now I am going to go lie back down again because I am not feeling so hot again.

Happy Friday, everyone!

I’m Not Scared

So, I kind of had a candy-assed workout yesterday morning. I haven’t, as I said in this morning’s post, been to the gym since last Saturday, and even then, my workouts were wearing me out–and that was after several weeks of trying to get my body back into the rhythm of exercise. I decided, when I got there this morning (managing to get there and back between rainstorms), to just lower the weights a bit from the last time and only do one set–and that wore me to a nub. I don’t think I could have made it through the workout I was doing before exhaustion this past week kept me out of the gym–but recognizing your own physical limitations is very key to not getting injured or over-exerting yourself. I hate that I can’t work out the same way I did ten years ago, let alone twenty, but it’s my reality and one that I need to get used to and accept.

I also felt pretty worn out all day with very little energy afterwards. I watched a documentary series called Europe on HBO MAX, and then we finished watching London Kills while we started waiting for Cristobal. The outer bands started coming in around seven o’clock last night, but it was mostly rain and no high winds. It’s dark out there this morning, but quiet. The storm seems to be still very disorganized as it’s coming ashore this morning; the rain wasn’t hard enough to wake me up last night, and apparently there was no thunder and lightning or high winds with the outer bands. My primary concern is a loss of power; but Entergy was out on Friday cutting down tree branches; the city was on our street cleaning out our catch basin, so maybe our street won’t have rising water if the rain comes quickly. I also fear this is going to be an extremely busy hurricane season, like 2004 or 2005 (YIKES!). I mean, why not? This year has already been a steaming shit show, why wouldn’t we have a dreadful hurricane season?

Today I want to get the Secret Project finished; which means I need to stay off-line the rest of the day once I get some of my emails finished. I think it should be relatively easy; as I said, the story is starting to really bloom in my head which is very exciting. I’m always afraid that my creativity is going to go away–which is kind of funny, since I will never ever have the time or energy to write all the stories I have ideas for–and so when it kicks back into gear on a project, that’s very exciting for me. I suppose I will never get over that fear; I think it’s one all writers have on some level–at least I tell myself that, so I can feel a little better about myself.

It was getting windy there for a minute, but now all is still outside; still grayish-dark.

I slept well last night, waking up a few times (one time was opportune, as I’d forgotten to turn on the dishwasher for bed, and all the parts of the espresso machine were in there) and finally got out of bed about an hour ago. I do have some odds and ends to clean around here this morning; I’ve not done the floors in a while and they are getting pretty damned disgraceful. (I can hear my mother’s voice in my head, and the disgust in her tone comes through loud and clear.)

But she don’t pay my rent, so she don’t get a say in how I keep my house.

So, it’s probably about time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat at you later.