I Will Remember You

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day; which originally was called Armistice Day. The day began as a remembrance of what was then considered, and called, the Great War. There had never been any war prior that was so awful, so horrific, so bloody. It changed the face of the world…empires crumbled and new nations rose from the ashes of the old. But the peace treaty that ended it was short-sighted and vengeful.

World War I was a horrific experience. “The war to end all wars” was what it was called; in the United States it was sold to Americans as “making (sic) the world safe for democracy”–despite being allied with the despotic autocracy of the Romanov empire in Russia. It was a most hideous war, one that left both the winners and the losers heartily sick of the waste of war and its pointlessness…yet merely served as a prelude to the much more horrific second world war; its conclusion set the stage for the rise of the Fascists in Italy and Germany, and the utter collapse of the German empire around the world, as well as the utter exhaustion and weakness of the surviving empires of the French and the British, set the stage for the rise of Imperial Japan in the Pacific and Asia…this rise ultimately led Imperial Japan into conflict with the United States. So, the “peace” of the first world war planted and fertilized the seeds for the second.

The flower of Europe’s youth died in this war,  in the trenches, in the mud and the wet and the cold. PTSD was first recognized after this war in soldiers who came home; only it was called shell shock back then. The boys who went off to this war came home as men forever changed by what they’d seen and experienced and borne witness to. It was a new kind of war, one presaged by the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. It would take yet another war for humanity to begin to rethink war.

And of course, the existence of nuclear weapons also had a lot to do with that critical rethinking.

I abhor war because I’ve studied it; for me, supporting the troops has always, for me, meant not putting them in unnecessary danger. Wars might sometimes be necessary, but they are, above and beyond all else, waste. Waste of lives, waste of money, waste of resources, all in the service of what is far-too-often an unclear, amorphous goal or purpose. I value the lives of our military, and not only the sacrifice of those serving but of their families, and I don’t think their lives and limbs should be placed in jeopardy without being absolutely certain there is no other alternative, and if they are to be place in such jeopardy, it should be for clearly defined, well understood objectives. I also believe they deserve everything we can, as a country, can do for them after their service. Our VA Hospitals should be the best in the world. No veteran should be homeless or unable to get the help they need to get back on their feet. No service family should be on food stamps, or go hungry, or worry about how to pay their bills or feed and clothe their children.

It’s the absolute least we can do for them.

Happy Veterans’ Day, and thank you for your sacrifice and service.

The Saints won big! Huzzah! GEAUX SAINTS! That was a lot of fun to watch, and I must say, the Saints are looking pretty amazing this year.

I also read “The Compendium of Srem” by F. Paul Wilson, from Bibliomysteries Volume 2, edited by Otto Penzler, for the Short Story Project.

Tomas de Torquemada opened his eyes in the dark.

Was that…?

Yes. Someone knocking on his door.

“Who is it?”

“Brother Adelard, good Prior. I must speak to you.” Even if he had not said his name, Tomas would have recognized the French accent. He glanced up at his open window. Stars filled the sky with no hint of dawn.

“It is late. Can it not wait until morning?”

“I fear not.”

“Come then.”

With great effort, Tomas struggled to bring his eighty-year-old body to a sitting position as Brother Adelard entered the tiny room. He carried a candle and a cloth-wrapped bundle. He set both next to the Vulgate Bible on the rickety desk in the corner.

I’ve not read F. Paul Wilson before; I know of him, of course, and have always meant to get around to reading him…but you know how it is, Constant Reader: too many books and authors, not enough time.

But “The Compendium of Srem” is a terrific story; about a mysterious book that comes to the attention of Torquemada and the Inquisition in Avila. Wilson provides just enough background for the story to place it firmly in its time period: Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, during the time after the reconquest and after Columbus sailed; when they were purifying the country of heresy (Moors and Jews). This story shows how simple it can actually be to write historical fiction–just a dib and a dab lightly dropped into the story, to place it in a context of time and place, without over-embellishing or over-explaining (the dreaded info dump); which of course has put ideas into my head. I greatly enjoyed reading this story, and look forward to reading more of Wilson.

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Keep Coming Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Free Your Mind

Well, I slept deeply and well last night, only waking up twice–and both times I was able to go back into a lovely, lovely deep sleep. I also didn’t wake up until almost nine. I know, right? It’s so lovely to feel rested.

LSU’s game isn’t on until tonight, but there are some terrific games on throughout the day. I suspect I can finish the floors and cleaning the living room around and during some of these games; I can also get some writing done as well, methinks. I am leaning towards editing some short stories rather than working on the book–yes, I know that will put me two days behind where I want to be with it, but I am also stuck. (And no sooner did I type that, did I come up with a way to start Chapter Four in a way that will help advance the plot somewhat. Huzzah!)

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I stopped at the Latter Library on my way home from work to pick up a book I’d requested on-line, Volume 2 of Otto Penzler’s Bibliomysteries. If you aren’t familiar with the “Bibliomysteries,” these are slightly longer than your average short stories, written by today’s top crime writers, and have to focus or be centered around a book or a bookstore. I first became aware of them when I was a judge for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story a few years ago (maybe more than a few; time has become so fluid and untethered for me–particularly when I realize it’s fucking 2018 sometimes), and in fact we picked John Connelly’s Bibliomystery, “‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository,” as that year’s Best Short Story winner. Since then, I’ve read others–Megan Abbott’s “The Little Men,” Laura Lippman’s “The Book Thing,” Denise Mina’s “Every Seven Years”–and been blown away by their absolute brilliance (which reminds me, I really need to get back to the Short Story Project, which has sadly fallen by the wayside); so I am very excited to read this second collection of these singles; the stories are, you see, originally published as singles–you can buy them as ebooks or you can get a print copy.

I love the library, and was extremely pleased with myself, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, for finally getting my library card. I haven’t had one since I left Kansas in 1981; and even in Kansas I hadn’t used mine for years when we moved. Libraries were very important to me, as a kid and as a teen; I don’t know why I stopped using them–other than the fact that I often lost library books, or forgot to return them on time, which meant fines, which meant lectures from my mother about irresponsibility and on and on and on it went–but I remember the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library fondly; the library on 6th Street in Emporia, and the little library in Americus, as well as when the Bolingbrook Library opened. I often spent time in my school libraries as well as a kid. Stupidly, I suspect I stopped using libraries when I started working and had my own money to buy books with; I loved owning books, always coveted other people’s, and for years was also sentimentally attached to books and didn’t want to get rid of my copies of them. I still am, and I still hoard books, always buying more when I haven’t read all the ones on hand, and I was the same with the library; always checking out more than I could possibly read because I also wanted choices about what to read. I’m looking forward to reading–and reporting back–on the stories in this book I haven’t already read–the Abbott and Mina stories are also inside this collection of them. Writing a Bibliomystery is a bucket-list thing for me; but I will also need to become more important of a writer to be asked.

Last night, as I laundered the bed lines and blankets and coverlets, it took longer for the dryer to dry things then planned–it was damp yesterday, and damp always affects the dryer–so I had to stay up a little later than I wanted to, so I started streaming an 1980’s classic thru Prime: Night of the Comet, starring Robert Beltran, Catherine-Mary Stewart, and Kelli Maroney. I saw this movie in the theater when it was released; it’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it also recognized that it wasn’t a great movie and embraced its camp sensibility. The premise of the movie is this: a comet with an enormous orbit through space is going to pass close by Earth again for the first time in sixty-five million years (hello, dinosaur extinction event!), and of course, it turns into this thing, with comet-watching parties and so forth. Our two leading ladies manage to miss the comet by falling asleep inside of steel–Stewart in the cinema where she works in a steel-walled room for storing film; Maroney in a steel shed in the backyard–and the comet turns everyone into either dust or murderously insane zombies, and they have to survive somehow. Fortunately, the women–sisters–have a father in the military who taught them how to protect themselves. Beltran plays a truck driver (who passed the night inside his truck) they encounter, and eventually team up with for survival. I was just far enough into the movie to get to the part where they run into Beltran for the first time–having already realized most of the world is dead–when the blankets were finished. I also remembered some trivia–Stewart’s big break was being the original Kayla on Days of Our Lives (her replacement became one of the most-loved and popular stars of the show), and Maroney started out playing a manipulative spoiled bitch teenager on Ryan’s Hope. Stewart was also the female lead in a favorite scifi movie of mine from that same period, The Last Starfighter. Both kind of faded away which I always thought was kind of unfortunate–although watching the movie again last night and seeing their performances clearly, it’s really not that surprising.

And Beltran, of course, was part of the Paul Bartel stable, also appearing in Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Interesting that Bartel’s films, which were kind of the same style as John Waters movies, aren’t remembered or talked about much anymore. (Bartel and his usual female muse, Mary Woronov, also were in another classic from the period, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School–but I don’t remember if Bartel directed that one.)

I may finish watching Night of the Comet at some point today; we shall see how the day goes.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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That’s What Love Is For

Well, another week is in the books. I stopped on my way home from the office at the library to pick up my first-ever checked out book from the library (I even requested it on-line and they held it for me), picked up the mail, and stopped at the grocery store.

I don’t think I even have to leave the house now over the weekend. How awesome is that?

Pretty fucking awesome, if I do say so myself. The older I get, the less I want to leave the house. If I could possibly manage it, I would probably become a recluse. How I miss the days of working at home! Going to the gym whenever I felt like it, going to get the mail and grocery store when I was in the mood or stuck on whatever I was writing or editing; when the only pressing things were deadlines and the due-date of bills. I hope and I pray that someday, someday, I will be able to return to those halcyon days of yesteryear.

I am stuck with the book. This morning before I went into the office I opened a word document for Chapter 4, and literally just stared at it blankly. Nothing. Not a single word. I had no idea where I wanted to take the story and the characters next. And now that I’m home, I’m still in that same mindset. So…given that I’ve done about ten thousand words on it thus far, give or take, I think I am going to take the rest of the night off from writing. Maybe reread the first three chapters again, get an idea of where I was going, maybe jot down some notes in my journal…and hopefully will get kick-started again tomorrow when I wake up; hopefully well-rested and refreshed and raring to go.

One can hope, at any rate.

Well, I now have the groceries and a load of dishes put away; the second load of laundry is in the dryer, and I am making some sort of progress on getting everything straightened in the Lost Apartment; cleaning and filing and so forth, so I can spend the weekend relaxing and reading and writing. I also have a freelance editing job I should get out of the way this weekend. Huzzah!

And now ’tis back to the spice mines. A Gregalicious’ work is never done.

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Just Take My Heart

Hey hey hey, it’s Friday! Constant Reader, we did it again–we made it through yet another week. Huzzah for us! We rock.

The weather is supposed to get down into the fifties over the course of this weekend; it’s been humid and wet most of this week already. Some colder weather is probably overdue, particularly since Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks now.

My troubled sleep patterns continue; I sleep deeply for about two to three hours, wake up, and for the rest of the night go into light sleep with occasional wake-ups. I would dearly love to sleep through an entire night at some point, but luck has simply not been on my side on that account this week. It’s troubling, but I’ve not been sleepy nor tired during the day, so I suppose I am getting rest? It’s workable, though; it’s the dreaded being tired and sleepy all day that bothers me the most about my chronic insomnia.

I wrote another chapter of Bury Me in Satin last night; it’s really bad, if I am being completely honest, but that’s why it’s called a rough draft. The story is taking shape in my head, though, which is kind of nice. I do think this is going to be, as I said, a very rough draft; but I am hoping to get this draft almost 2/3rds finished before I head to Kentucky for the holiday. (I also need to give Royal Street Reveillon another going over, which I am hoping to do whilst in Kentucky as well.)

This weekend LSU is off to Arkansas, and I’m not sure where or who the Saints are playing, but here’s hoping their winning streak continues at least for another week. I have some things to do this weekend; I’m not sure what time I’ll be getting off today. I am working at the main office today, helping them pack since they are moving to the new building on Monday. Also, a book I requested is being held for me at the library–look at me, using my new library card! I’m terribly excited about this, needless to say.

I also need to finalize some short stories for the collection as well. I have decided to pull “Don’t Look Down” and replace it with two others; I am going to rework “Don’t Look Down” and publish it, methinks, as a Kindle single.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

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Real Love

Thursday morning feeling fine. How’s about you and your’n?

I wrote another chapter of Bury Me in Satin last night, and it’s….rough. But it’s a first draft, and usually I use the first draft as more of an extended outline rather than anything else; to get the story out, get a feel for the characters, and work out subplots and whether they work or not. The story, which has swirled amorphously in my mind for years now, is starting to emerge from those shadows and take shape, which is kind of cool (even after however many books it is I’ve written, this still amazes me every time it happens).

The day job move continues apace; yesterday I worked at the main office, helping to pack up stuff and clear things out–as with any move, it’s startling to see how much has accumulated over the years, and stuff that needed to be either shredded or thrown away years ago somehow just got put in a box and filed away somewhere. We all do this, I know; there’s nothing like moving to force you to purge.

I managed to borrow a copy of Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon from my friend Susan yesterday, and I am really looking forward to reading it. I can’t believe, as I have said many times recently, how little actual New Orleans history I’ve read; the only actual history I’ve read is the delightful Frenchmen Desire Goodchildren, John Churchill Chase’s brilliant history of the city, told through how the streets were named; and given the unique and strange street names we have here, it makes for a fun read. I highly recommend it; I may even need to take another read through its pages at some point. One of the most interesting things–to me at any rate–is how little mention there is of queer New Orleans history in so many of these books. It’s hinted at obliquely, or in passing–veiled references to “sodomy shows” and the occasional side reference to male prostitutes in Storyville in Empire of Sin–and even looking through the indexes of some of these books you find no mention of sodomy, homosexuality, or any of the other key secret words you would expect to find–which means my research is going to be difficult if not nigh impossible. But the best news about this is I have so many friends and connections in the city with research–I have a lot of friends at the Historic New Orleans Collection; I have friends who are local historians; and of course there are enormous archives at the UNO library, the public library, and at Tulane.

The only question is when will I have the time to do this research?

Time for me is always the question. And while I self-deprecate and self-lacerate a lot about my laziness, the truth is I just don’t have a lot of spare time–and I can’t work non-stop. You have to be able to recharge, relax, and rest, otherwise the work you do isn’t going to be much good.

But once the day-job move is over and I settle into yet another new weekly schedule and adapt, I think I’ll be able to get things going. And I am really looking forward to spending more time in the library.

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Would I Lie To You

Wednesday.

I’ve not been sleeping well for the last two nights; I’ve woken up after sleeping for a couple of hours and then been kind of half-asleep the rest of the night. Relaxed, resting, but not fully asleep. I’m not sure why this sudden change, especially after getting an amazing night’s sleep Saturday night, but there you have it.

I started working on Bury Me in Satin last night again, in an attempt to get past the stress and tension of election night. I am very pleased this morning to see that Louisiana passed the initiative to require unanimous verdicts in criminal trials; finally, that hideous Jim Crow law is off our books. I wasn’t able to concentrate fully on the writing, though, and eventually took to watching reruns of Jeopardy on Netflix, which is a lot more binge-addicting than you might think. Before I knew it, Paul was home and I’d burned through about five episodes–but it’s nice to know I can have that on now in the background as I do chores or read or make writing notes.

Once Paul was home, we watched the final episode of Bodyguard, a BBC political/suspense thriller starring Richard Madden (aka Robb Stark from Game of Thrones). It’s quite good, very twisty, and incredibly nerve-wracking; I do highly recommend the show. Madden, who is also very pretty, has been mentioned lately as a contender for taking over James Bond. I’ve not really seen it, to be honest; he was good (if annoying) on Game of Thrones (not his fault; the character, really) and he was good in Medici Masters of Florence, but I just didn’t see him as Bond. After watching Bodyguard, I can actually see it; he would be a very good choice (if we can’t have Idris Elba).

Our office moved this week; today I am working out of the main office, and then it’s back to the new building tomorrow and possibly Friday. I am not sure; I may have to go to the main office to help them pack up on Friday, as the rest of our department is moving over to the new building next Monday. The new building, on Elysian Fields past Claiborne on the UNO side, is quite nice and lovely. Lots of unpacking and setting up remain to be done; we are going to be operational and seeing clients apparently next week. I do miss the client contact, quite frankly; it’ll be nice to start seeing clients and getting used to the new work space.

And I am hopeful work on the novel will continue to go smoothly. The second chapter is my bane, a transitional chapter, which means it will seem odious and take me forever to slog through writing it. But I am excited to be finally writing this book, having thought about it forever–it started as a short story called “Ruins” that I wrote in the 1980’s, and while I like Ruins as a title, there’s a rather famous Scott Smith novel called The Ruins, and so I am not quite certain calling this one that is a good idea. I do like Bury Me in Satin as a title, and I am going to be trying to figure out my complicated plot a bit this weekend after I get deeper into the manuscript.

It’s probably the most complicated plot of a young adult novel that I’ve written, but I like my main character, Jake Chapman, a lot. He’s smart smart smart, and I like the idea behind the concept of the book. It remains, however, to be seen whether I can actually pull it off. We shall see.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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