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.

In the Night

And here it is, Saturday morning. After some more coffee, I am going to go to the gym and get in my workout (masked, of course) and then I will return home to get cleaned up, buckle down, and get to some serious work. I have high hopes for this weekend, quite frankly; we’ll see how that ends up turning out, of course, but for now? I am feeling relatively confident that I’ll be able to get everything handled that I need to get handled.

The Lost Apartment is still a sty, of course, but that can wait another week, methinks.

I broke out my espresso machine for the first time in a long time because I’ve been feeling the need for a cappuccino the last few days; I actually even wrote a scene in the Secret Project where my character gets one the other day, and like Pavlov’s dog I’ve been wanting one ever since. So, when I stopped to make groceries on my way home last night–I decided to do that and get it out of the way, and picked up my prescription as well–so that I could pretty much lay low and stay inside the Lost Apartment most of the weekend, getting stuff done and relaxing and all that jazz. Once I post this I intend to close my Internet browser (well, after answering some emails) and I intend to stay off social media for the majority of the weekend. I have far too much work to do this weekend and I don’t need the easy distraction of the Internet fucking with me, you know? (And let me tell you–this cappuccino is delicious, wonderful, marvelous; everything I needed it to be this morning)

We watched two more episodes of The Movies last night, taking us through the 1970’s and the 1980’s; and you know, the 1970’s (the decade of my puberty and teens) produced some amazing pictures. It was the decade that saw the bloat of the big budget expensive musical gone and the transition into the smaller, more realistic, intimate movie…but it was also the decade that, with Jaws and Star Wars, that launched the tradition of the big summer blockbuster movie; and as we watched I thought to myself, I haven’t seen this and oh I’d like to see this again and I definitely should rewatch this as an adult–and thanks to HBO MAX and all of my other streaming services, I should be able to watch or rewatch most of them. I definitely want to rewatch Body Heat this weekend; and the Disney adaptation of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners has finally gone live on Disney Plus. I’ve been wanting to rewatch that ever since I reread the book recently; I started it last night, just the first few minutes, and…yeah, I can already see why I preferred the book. (I saw the film years before I read the book.) For one thing, the main character isn’t traveling alone as she was in the book; her aunt, whom shows up later in the book, is with her when she arrives in the small village in Crete where everything happens, and of course, they turned her from a young independent woman in her early twenties to a teenager, so it could be a vehicle for Disney’s biggest female star of the time, Hayley Mills. The opening sequence on the crowded Cretan bus is a classic example of how not to open a movie–and of course, there are pigs and chickens on the bus along with people…a traditional first-world movie way to depict how backward another country is (this same trick was used much better in Romancing the Stone, but it’s still kind of offensive, even if it is realistic).

Paul’s going to spend the evening visiting some friends of his, so with luck, I can watch both Body Heat and The Moon-spinners tonight.

I also am going to go to the gym at some point today as well. I was originally thinking I’d drink a cappuccino or two, have my breakfast, finish the laundry and maybe do some work around the kitchen before heading to the gym and then coming back home to get the work done I need to get done to day–but now I’m thinking it makes more sense to get everything done and then get to the gym before they close at six this evening. Why risk the distraction of the workout and being too worn out from it to do my work? And no, this isn’t simply my way of rationalizing my way out of going to the gym today–although it could be my evil, lazy subconscious, trying to get me out of it. I will admit my workouts of this past week have not been good ones; but a bad workout is always better than no workout.

And on that note, boring as it may seem, I am going to go head into the spice mines. I’m going to make another cappuccino–I bought espresso beans at the grocery store last night, to give you an indication of how far in advance I’ve been fantasizing about this morning’s cappuccinos–and I’m going to put the dishes away, and then I’m going to get to work.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Legacy

A while back, I talked about how intimate living conditions in urban areas are, and how we all like to pretend that we do live in privacy. I was talking about my story “The Carriage House,” which was published in Mystery Tribune, but it really does apply to many other stories. One of the (ridiculously many) stories I have in progress now (“Condos for Sale or Rent”) is one of those stories; it’s also a quarantine story, which makes it even more claustrophobic–and of course, the ultimate urban lack of privacy crime story has to be Hitchcock’s film Rear Window, which also touches on the voyeuristic impulses so many of us have (to a lesser degree, that’s what Raymond Carver’s short story “Neighbors” is about as well). I wrote my own version of Rear Window years ago as an erotic short story called “Wrought Iron Lace”; which is a great title that I wish I’d saved for something more mainstream.

So, recently when I was looking into Cornell Woolrich, imagine my surprise to realize he had written the short story which the film was based on. WHo knew?

I read it yesterday, and it’s called “It Had to Be Murder.”

I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices. I didn’t even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me.

Sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom. That wasn’t my fault, that wasn’t the idea. The idea was, my movements were strictly limited just around this time. I could get from the window to the bed, and from the bed to the window, and that was all. The bay window was about the best feature my rear bedroom had in the warm weather. It was unscreened, so I had to sit with the light out or I would have had every insect in the vicinity in on me. I couldn’t sleep, because I was used to getting plenty of exercise. I’d never acquired the habit of reading books to ward off boredom, so I hadn’t that to turn to. Well, what should I do, sit there with my eyes tightly shuttered?

Just to pick a few at random: Straight over, and the windows square, there was a young jitter-couple, kids in their teens, only just married. It would have killed them to stay home one night. They were always in such a hurry to go, wherever it was they went, they never remembered to turn out the lights. I don’t think it missed once in all the time I was watching. But they never forgot altogether, either. I was to learn to call this delayed action, as you will see. He’d always come skittering madly back in about five minutes, probably from all the way down in the street, and rush around killing the switches. Then fall over something in the dark on his way out. They gave me an inward chuckle, those two.

The next house down, the windows already narrowed a little with perspective. There was a certain light in that one that always went out each night too. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad. There was a woman living there with her child, a young widow I suppose. I’d see her put the child to bed, and then bend over and kiss her in a wistful sort of way. She’d shade the light off her and sit there painting her eyes and mouth. Then she’d go out. She’d never come back till the night was nearly spent—

Once I was still up, and I looked and she was sitting there motionless with her head buried in her arms. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad.

The third one down no longer offered any insight, the windows were just slits like in a medieval battlement, due to foreshortening. That brings us around to the one on the end. In that one, frontal vision came back full-depth again, since it stood at right angles to the rest, my own included, sealing up the inner hollow all these houses backed on. I could see into it, from the rounded projection of my bay window, as freely as into a doll house with its rear wall sliced away. And scaled down to about the same size.

Woolrich was gay, lived with his mother for much of his life, and was an alcoholic–but he was a fantastic writer. “It Had to Be Murder” is a terrific story, absolutely terrific–and while many of the things from the movie (particularly the Grace Kelly character) are not in the story, it’s suspenseful and scary at the same time.

I highly recommend it, and can’t wait to read more of his work.

I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing

When I was a kid both of my parents worked, so my sister and I were latch-key kids before it was cool. In the mornings on her way to the bus stop my mom would drop my sister and I off at the home of an older Polish lady down the street, who would feed us breakfast and send us off to walk to block or so to school from her house. Eli Whitney Elementary School didn’t have a cafeteria nor did it provide lunches for the students, so everyone had an hour to walk home to get lunch and come back. We went to our babysitter’s, and she would feed us. She’d had like six or seven kids of her own, and the youngest was a senior in high school when we first started being watched by her; I guess she liked having kids around. Anyway, in the summer time we would spend the days with her–she watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows–and sometimes she would go to Goldblatt’s, a department store that seemed a million miles away to us as kids, and do her shopping. Whenever she went–and sometimes we went with our mom–Mom would give my sister and I a couple of bucks to spend. The real treasure of Goldblatt’s was the bargain basement, where they remaindered stuff, and there was always this enormous table filled with books for kids, marked down to 39 cents.

It was on this table that I discovered some of the lesser Grosset & Dunlap series for kids, and particularly the Ken Holt, Biff Brewster, and Rick Brant series (they also had copies of the Chip Hilton sports stories by Clair Bee; I would buy one or two of those because my parents were trying to make me more boyish than I was, and it always pleased them when I showed an interest in something more masculine than usual). I remember the very first two Ken Holts I bought off that table: The Secret of Skeleton Island and The Mystery of the Plumed Serpent. (I would also get The Rocket’s Shadow and The Egyptian Cat Mystery in the Rick Brant series, as well as the first three Biff Brewsters: Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery, The Mystery of the Chinese Ring, and Hawaiian Sea Hunt Mystery.)

And Ken Holt very rapidly became my favorite, above even the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.


The phone booth was hot and stuffy, and Ken Holt wiped the moisture off his forehead for the third time. He opened the door slightly to get some fresh air an just then the phone came alive.

“Here’s your party,” the operator intoned.

“Hello,” Ken said loudly. “Hello.”

“Global News,” came the answer. “Granger speaking.”

“This is Ken Holt, Mr. Granger. I’m out at school.”

“What’s up, Ken?” Granger asked. “Need some money?”

“It’s not that. I just wanted to know if my father had come in.”

“Your father?” There was a pause before Granger continued. “Why, kid? He’s not expected so far as the office knows. He’s still in France.”

“I got a letter from him last week saying he’d be in on the eighteenth and that he’d call me. I haven’t heard from him since. And today’s the twentieth.”

Some hundred miles of telephone carried Granger’s booming laugh from the busy offices of an international news agency to the quiet corridor of Galeton Preparatory School.

“That’s pretty good,” Granger said, after he had stopped laughing. “He’s only two days overdue and you’re worried. He‘s famous for that, son. We’ve lost track of him for weeks, but finally he’d let us know where he was or what he was doing. Forget it. He’ll turn up when he gets good and ready.”

Ken blinked a little to get the perspiration out of his eyes. He moved a little closer to the mouthpiece as if that would help Granger understand better.

“But you see, Mr. Granger, Dad wrote me that he’d be in on the eighteenth. He’s never missed a date with me.”

The Secret of Skeleton Island opens with Ken, as you can see, worried about his father, who’s two days overdue for a meeting–and Richard Holt, who tends to disappear or vanish while chasing a story, has never once in his life stood up Ken or been late without letting him know ahead of time–not an easy task, either, in times when operators had to place your phone calls for you and you either sent telegrams or wrote letters.

Having loved those first two Ken Holt novels I’d read, the next time I went to Goldblatt’s I got a few more: The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, The Clue of the Marked Claw, The Secret of Hangman’s Inn, and The Mystery of Gallows Cliff. But after that, they became much harder to find; we’d moved out to Bolingbrook by then, and they had already lapsed out of print (hence the Goldblatt’s sale table), and it took years for me to start collecting them again–in the wake of Katrina and my discovery of eBay. I still don’t have a complete set–and some of the copies I acquired were not in the best shape–and the ones I am missing are generally so rare that they command prices I am not willing to pay. But the quality of the series never let up, even in the later books–and the writing was always stellar.

Ken Holt also was responsible for me having a weird bonding moment with James Ellroy; during his Grand Master interview at the Edgar symposium, he mentioned reading the kids’ series when he was growing up, and preferring the Ken Holt over the rest–and asked, “Does anyone here remember the Ken Holt mysteries?” and I raised my hand, to which he replied something along the lines of, “Ah, only the gentleman right here in the sweater. You, sir, have excellent taste.” He also pointed at me with his index finger, cocked his thumb like he was pulling a trigger, and winked.

Strange, yes–but even with what little Ellroy I’ve read, I can actually see the influence. The Holt novels were pretty hard-boiled for kids’ books; and one of the things I loved about them (just like The Three Investigators) was that Ken actually solved the mysteries; and unlike the Hardy Boys, Ken and his best buddy Sandy frequently were involved in fisticuffs; threatened by criminals with guns or knives; and were often placed into incredibly dangerous situations where they literally had to, by use of their wits and whatever else might be handy, escape with their lives (there’s a particular scene in The Riddle of the Stone Elephant that has always stayed with me; they walked into a set up where the floor of an old shack collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plummeting down an old well; and they had to climb the slick walls of the well to get out; this scene, and its aftermath, had this weirdly homoerotic flavor to it that I remember to this day–and will inevitably write about it, I’m sure).

Shortly after this opening, Ken gets permission from the headmaster to head into New York and nose around his father’s apartment, to see if he can find out any clues to where his father is or what may have happened to him. As he waits at the train station (a six hour ride into the city; still not sure if he’s on Long Island or really far upstate, but my guess is, given speed and so forth, most likely Long Island) he is offered a ride by two men who purport to be from Global News; it isn’t until Ken is in the car with them that he realizes they are liars, and undoubtedly connected to whatever happened to his father–and they plan on using HIM as leverage against his dad. Ken has to figure out how to escape–and manages to do so near the town of Brentwood, running away and dodging into the only lighted building on the town’s main street, the offices of the Brentwood Advance, which is how he encounters the Allen family. He tells Pop, Bert and Sandy Allen–enormous beings with red hair, whom he convinces of the veracity of his story and they get on board with helping him. Sandy is his own age, and all the Allens:

Ken swung around quickly toward the direction of the new voice and saw two replicas of the man before him. They were much younger, one of them looked about Ken’s age, the second a bit older. They too were huge. There was no doubt in his mind that this trio was a father and two sons. Actually, the only difference between them was that the sons had flaming red hair and the father’s was beginning to gray. Ken almost felt like a pygmy surrounded by these three towering figures.

The Allens listen to his story, check it out, and believe hi–and the next morning he and Sandy go out to start looking into the case. The action comes fast and furious after this–there’s one particularly harrowing scene where the boys, captured by the bad guys, are duct-taped to chairs. Ken manages to break an alarm clock, and gripping a jagged edge of glass in his teeth, saws at the tape holding down one of Sandy’s arms (this feat is repeated in The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, only instead of a piece of glass he uses the jagged edges of a can lid, removed by an opener).

The adventure is pretty amazing; the boys wind up escaping the bad guys onto one of the freighters that the bad guys are using as part of their scheme, and find their way back to Skeleton Island, where the adventure also continues. So much action–and it’s all so well-written you feel like you’re a part of it, right there with Ken and Sandy as they basically use the combination of their wits and their brawn to get away and break the case wide open, rescuing Richard Holt and…in a lovely happy ending, it’s decided that Ken will finish his term at the boarding school and move in with the Allens.

It’s a great set-up for a series, and it’s mystifying to me that it never achieved the heights of popularity that the Hardy Boys did. Every one of the books is good–I can’t think of a single clunker in the entire series–and the typical masculinity based boys’ story (9-12 year olds aren’t, apparently, old enough to care about girls yet) sees neither Ken nor Sandy ever have a date or a girlfriend, or even anything remotely close to a romantic interest; in fact, the friendship bond between Ken and Sandy eventually grows so strong they are practically a couple–and that homoerotic undercurrent to the series (which, frankly, also existed in the Rick Brant series) was also an enormous part of its appeal to me. I wanted a “best friend” like Rick or Sandy; and the frequent references to how “big” and “muscular” Sandy is…well, yes.

Perhaps someday I will do an essay about the homoerotic undertones in both this series and the Rick Brant series.

You know, in my free time.

The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On

So, my gym opened last weekend, as a result of the gradual Phase One reopening of New Orleans. I’ve really wanted to go workout (I’ve really missed it since the shutdown started) and yet at the same time–I wasn’t sure if I should.

Since I work in public health, I was torn. Should I do something that is clearly, as a public health worker, risky, not only for me but for others? Is it hypocritical of me, as a public health worker who is recommending that people social distance, etc., to go work out at the gym when I’m not completely 100% on board with the gradual reopening of the city? And if that does make me a hypocrite, shouldn’t I set a better example by not going–not, of course, that anyone would notice whether I go or not.

On the other hand, public health (and most of my training in it) is all about reducing risk, not eliminating it–there are very few ways of eliminating risk completely, and the vast majority of them are unworkable (like the only way you can ever be completely certain you are never exposed to HIV is to be abstinent; which is really not a viable option for the vast majority of people).

Or, was it better to go to the gym and set an example to everyone by social distancing from other people, always keeping my mask on, and cleaning everything before and after I  use it?

Maybe I’m a “Chad”, that privileged white gay man who doesn’t care about the safety of others and whose driving need to workout is more important than my own health, and that of others? (The great irony of going to the gym–which is for my health–putting my own health and that of others at risk does not escape me.)

So, I finally decided that I would, in fact, go and do everything that I could to set a good example to anyone else in the gym. I would wear a mask the entire time I’m there–except when I drink my water–and clean the equipment both before and after I use it. I could also assess, when I arrive, how many people were there and whether I felt comfortable remaining; I could also continue assessing the entire time I was there–if I ever felt uncomfortable or that someone wasn’t obeying the risk reduction protocols, I would leave. 

And so I returned to the gym. I’ve been three times now over the last eight days; it feels good to be stretching and working my body again, and it’s responding already (I am very aware that it’s entirely psychological). My body feels better than it has since before the shutdown. I’m sleeping better again. But the entire time I’ve been at the gym I’ve noticed things–little slips, like forgetting to  use my towel to handle the weights (or forgetting to use hand sanitizer before I pick one up) as I load a machine, for example, or touching a dumb bell without cleaning it first; this is why quarantines are so necessary, you know–because no matter how hard you try to stay safe, there are so many possible ways to mess up. So, on the one hand, I still kind of feel hypocritical and Chaddish; but on the other…it feels good to be working out again. As Constant Reader, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my body; I generally don’t see anything that looks okay. Instead, I immediately zero in on a perceived flaw. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I ever thought I was so hideous that dogs would growl at my approach and children cry. 

I just seem to, with everything, always hold myself to an impossibly high standard, so high I can never achieve it and therefore can get down on myself about it.

It’s a constant struggle, really, to see myself with any kind of positivity. The great irony is that I can always look at old pictures of myself, back in the days when I worked out regularly, and think, damn I looked great! Why did I think I was fat and needed to drop some more weight?

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Take, for example, the above picture. I was thirty-three, had been working out like a fiend and eating a very restricted diet, and had gone from 215 pounds in August to the above, 155 pounds, by the following June. I was fitting into size 29 waist jeans and shorts.

And yet, when I saw this picture for the first time, my literal first thought was oh, nice, but maybe if I lose ten more pounds…

Ten more pounds?

From where exactly, psycho? And the diet I was following wasn’t a good one; but my weird relationship with food and eating–always problematic–worked in my favor this time. Essentially I ate mostly salads and turkey, and skinless chicken breasts, etc, and nothing that had more than 2 grams of fat per serving ever passed my lips, with one cheat day allowed per week. On the cheat day I’d allow myself a fast food burger and fries, or pizza. That was me, living large in the airline days.

And incidentally, according to those ridiculous BMI charts, at my height, I should only weigh five more pounds than I did in that picture to not be considered “overweight.” Is it really any wonder we have so many issues with body image and body dysmorphia in this country?

But like with everything, I’ve always been my own harshest critic, and my body has never been exempted from that harsh lens through which I view everything about myself; no matter whether it’s the way I look, the sound of my voice, my writing, my job performance, I’m always highly critical, and always have been. I think it  might partially come from an old defensive mentality, learned as a child–a combination of my parents and church constantly pushing humility, plus being mocked and made fun of by other kids eventually turned into if I am meaner about myself than nothing anyone else says can ever hurt me (which, now that I’ve typed it out and looked at it, is really a horrifying way to think, really); and I’ve spent most of my life trying to overcome those deeply rooted and ingrained ways of thinking. For one thing, the humility thing makes it very hard for me to talk about my books and my writing in a positive way, without self-deprecation–and face it, no matter how much we don’t want to believe this about publishing, a writer also has to be a salesperson, selling themselves as their product (which sounds kind of whore-ish when put that way, doesn’t it?)–and you can’t run around putting yourself and your writing down while expecting people to buy it, can you? “Yes, this car? Are you interested? Well, I’m not terribly fond of the color and sure, of course it runs well, but let’s face it, it’s no Porsche” said no car salesman, ever.

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The above photograph was taken in the early spring of 2002. We’d moved back to New Orleans in August 2001, after a year away; a year I generally block out of my memory and pretend never happened; I was incredibly miserable, couldn’t afford a gym membership, and so didn’t work out for over a year, while eating incessantly–directly related to being unhappy–and eating garbage. My weight ballooned, and when we moved back to New Orleans people were shocked to see me. I immediately started working out regularly again and changed back to much healthier eating patterns, and the weight began to drop off again, going from the 200 I weighed when we returned down to the 180 seen above. I was being interviewed for a gay porn magazine–I was writing porn in those days too–and the magazine wanted to interview me, not only about writing and editing porn, but about my mystery novel Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and they wanted to do a photo shoot to go with the piece rather than using book covers and author photos. I was a little taken aback when told to remove my undershirt and unbutton the flannel vest (it was a sleeveless flannel shirt–so yes, a vest, no matter what the sign on the sales rack at Structure read), and a little more nonplussed when asked to remove the vest entirely; it wasn’t so much that I was uncomfortable being photographed shirtless so much as I was worried how I would look in the pictures; plus the thought people would see the pictures and think that I was so arrogant as to demand to be photographed that way. I was sent digital copies of all the pictures, and wasn’t terribly thrilled with how I looked (SURPRISE) but when the piece ran with some of them, including the one above, the response was surprisingly positive, particularly when you consider every other picture in the magazine was of a naked porn star, without an ounce of body fat.

Because yes, porn stars and models are the standard we should use for the sake of  comparison.

Maybe someday I will stop holding myself to these ridiculous standards.

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The above photo was taken in 2003 or 2004; a good friend (who moved away before Katrina–glad he missed Katrina, but still sorry he’s no longer a New Orleanian) was also a terrific photographer, so I hired him to do some author photos for me. I had already started shifting away from writing and editing erotica under my own name, and I didn’t want to use my “serious” author photo for erotica writing, either as me or Todd Gregory; thinking something a little more daring was necessary. He was certainly game, and so I brought a bag of things I’d wear to the bar to give a try. I look at the above picture now and think, seriously? You were self-fucking-conscious about how you looked?

Yeah, I’d love to look that bad NOW.

When Katrina happened, one of the things that convinced me to stay in decimated New Orleans afterwards, when I came back to check on the house and get some more things out of it, was that my bank, gym, and grocery store were all open. And as I’ve said before, one of the things I clung to in the wake of Katrina was the things I could actually control; one of which being my body. When we moved back from DC and I lost all the weight again, I did it primarily by exercising and teaching aerobics–three good weight workouts a week built around teaching six high intensity step classes per week will shed weight from you very quickly, and I soon realized because I had a good base of muscle this time when I started, returning to working out regularly and teaching aerobics again kick-started my metabolism into a high fat-burning machine…and as such, I didn’t really need to be overly concerned about my diet–so I chose not to be. MISTAKE. I should have started eating healthier again, too. The result was those bad eating habits I’d returned to were even harder to change now, and since I was getting leaner without changing my eating…yeah. But since my body was something I had absolute control over, I focused on that to help me get through it all.

And yet, still felt unhappy with the way I looked.

This was a Mardi Gras costume I considered wearing–US Olympic Gay beach volleyball player–but when I saw these pictures…I decided against going out in public wearing this because I was afraid of being judged for not being in good enough shape.

And the only reason I was ever able to dress like that and go out on Fat Tuesday was I would tell myself the entire point of dressing in costume on Fat Tuesday was to look ridiculous.

Now, it’s not really about how I look. I injured my back in 2010, which kept me out of the gym for over a year or so (I could have the dates wrong here); and every time I’d go back, BLAM, I would hurt it again. That was why I eventually hired Wacky Russian; I needed someone to monitor my form and make sure I wasn’t going to injure my back again. Unfortunately, that became a crutch and I stopped going in to work out on my own; and my weight continued to spiral (around the time of the back injury was when I started teaching myself how to cook more and bake; when I started making cheesecakes and brownies, and discovered the joys of both heavy cream and butter) upwards. I started back to the gym last year, but Carnival interrupted my programs and I never went back again…so that’s why getting started up again this year was so good for me because this time I was enjoying it again.

And this time, I don’t honestly care about how my body looks, either to me or other people. I just want my muscles to remain strong and flexible; the exercise is good for my heart and cardiovascular system; and anything that can help get the cholesterol under control so I can stop taking medication for that and my blood pressure would be quite lovely. I’m pushing sixty, and I don’t think I’m ever going to be shirtless and sweaty in a sea of other shirtless, sweaty gay men dancing again any time soon–pandemic or no pandemic–but it feels good, you know? I like how I feel after working out, and I like how I feel in general.

I think having a healthier mindset this time around is also helping.

So, yeah. I’m that gay man.

Boy Strange

And the Edgar winners were announced today! Congratulations to everyone, winners and finalists, for the incredible work, and for raising the bar for the rest of us!

BEST NOVEL: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL: The Hotel Neversink by Adam O’Fallon Price

BEST FIRST NOVEL: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

BEST SHORT STORY: “One of These Nights,” by Livia Llewellyn, from Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

BEST FACT CRIME: The Less People Know About Us by Axton Betz-Hamilton

BEST CRITICAL/BIO: Hitchcock and the Censors by John Billheimer

BEST YOUNG ADULT: Catfishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer

BEST CHILDREN’S: Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught

BEST TV EPISODE: “Season 5, Episode 4” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD: “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” by Derrick Harriell, from Milwaukee Noir 

SIMON& SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD: The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman

THE G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS SUE GRAFTON MEMORIAL AWARD: Borrowed Time by Tracy Clark

THE ELLERY QUEEN AWARD: Kelly Ragland of St. Martin’s Press

THE RAVEN AWARD: Left Coast Crime

GRAND MASTER: Barbara Neely

Congratulations everyone!

 

 

 

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Birthday Boy

Today is Paul’s birthday, and while he generally prefers to be left out of my blog and social media posts, it bears mentioning. I’m not really sure what one can do for a pandemic shelter-in-place birthday, but I’ll probably stop at the grocery store and get cupcakes or something. We’ve also reached the point in our relationship–25 years this summer–where we really don’t bother with gifts much anymore, for either birthdays or Christmas or anniversaries; we generally don’t need anything much, as we always just go ahead and buy what we want or need when we want or need it, which makes it incredibly difficult when it comes to buying gifts for each other. I’ve always taken pride in how thoughtful my gifts are, but Paul always got me better gifts than I got him, almost from day one, so it’s also kind of nice to no longer feel that competitive impulse and stress anymore.

And yes, gifts can turn into competition, thank you very much. Anything can, if you have a competitive personality. It’s something I personally don’t like about myself, so I try not to indulge myself by giving into that particularly unattractive aspect of my personality anymore.

I’m also seeing a lot of quarantine-themed ebooks being released–primarily, the social media promotional posts about them–and I have to give credit where it’s due. Mid-March was basically when places started going on lockdown, and here we are, a mere six weeks later, seeing books inspired by the situation out there for the reading public. I guess we’re going to find out relatively soon if there’s an audience for these types of books and who that audience might be–leave it to romance to be the first genre to truly dig deeply into it. I myself started writing a quarantine noir story a few weeks ago–triggered by the realization that the construction site two lots over from my house was considered “essential” by the city–and of course, over the weekend I roughly sketched out the start of another Scotty book, set during the quarantine; which also begs the question of timing and so forth. If I start writing the book now–and were able to completely commit to it–the earliest I could conceivably have a strong first draft done would be by July, possibly mid-June; assuming I wouldn’t be able to stick to a schedule of writing a chapter a day. But even if I managed to get the entire thing written and polished and turned in to my publisher, and they rushed it through the process, the earliest it would be available to readers would be by December, and that’s really pushing it. And who knows where we might even be by then? It could already be over by then, or we could still be in the midst of it, and IMAGINE how sick everyone will be of the quarantine by then if we’re still in it. I know no one wants to think about the length of this thing, but it’s entirely possible we could still be dealing with it at Christmas.

And seriously, perish that fucking thought, right?

Nobody wants a pandemic Christmas.

I did manage to get the vast majority of my emails handled yesterday–I took the day off from the day job; I would have been working from home anyway, and yes, well aware I could have pretended to be working but I am not wired that way–and spent some serious time wading into them and answering the ones I’d been hoping might go away at some point; I also filed some of them away that didn’t require a response and deleted still others that were of no consequence. It was actually kind of lovely, and if I can manage, from hereon out, to stay on top of them, perhaps they will not build up to such a disgraceful and out of control number again. I shudder to even look this morning, to be perfectly honest. But I got both stories edited and revised, huzzah, and I even submitted one already; the Sherlock story will be sent in most likely on the day it’s actually due, or this Wednesday. I’m actually relatively pleased with it, to be honest. Is it a real Sherlock story? Perhaps, perhaps not. As I always say, I am not the best judge, and when it comes to Sherlock, what I don’t know would fill the Library of Congress and there would still be things left over.

And now I only have a few odds and ends to get finished–the Secret Project, for one, and I’d like to get some of these other stories out into the wild before I dive back into writing (or trying to write) my book. Madness, right?

Right.

And now, off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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