Ooh Baby Baby

There is no question that Agatha Christie is one of the giants (if not the giant) of crime fiction.

Agatha Christie was one of my gateways to adult crime fiction (along with Charlotte Armstrong, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt); if I remember correctly the first book of hers I bought was Witness for the Prosecution (which I didn’t know was a short story collection) and the first novel of hers I read was Murder in the Calais Coach (best known as Murder on the Orient Express; the former was a short-lived American title for the book, and frankly, isn’t an improvement; why make the title about something no one would know what is was? Everyone knew the Orient Express). I eventually read everything she wrote, with a few exceptions (I still haven’t read Murder in Three Acts or Death in the Air) but the first Miss Marple novel I read was A Caribbean Mystery. I always preferred Miss Marple to Poirot, but I kind of want to give a Poirot or two a reread; Donna Andrews made a very clever observation about him on one of my social media posts which provides another lens for me to read through.

I found a hardcover copy of A Caribbean Mystery somewhere since we moved into the Lost Apartment; I’m not sure where. I certainly don’t remember buying it on eBay (the only other Christie I have in hardcover, Halloween Party, is missing its dust jacket, and I think I got it at a yard sale? But wait! It’s a Poirot! And has Ariadne Oliver, Christie’s stand-in! Yes, that’s a reread for the new lens for Poirot! And now that that’s sorted…), so there’s no telling where it came from. I don’t know why it took me so long to reread it–it’s actually on the short side–but it did take me a while. Maybe because there was no urgency because I remembered who the killer was?

“Take all this business about Kenya,” said Major Palgrave. “Lots of chaps gabbing away who know nothing about the place! Now I spent fourteen years of my life there. Some of the best years of my life, too–“

Old Miss Marple inclined her head.

It was a gentle gesture of courtesy. While Major Palgrave proceeded with the somewhat uninteresting recollections of a lifetime, Miss Marple peacefully pursued her own thoughts. It was a routine with which she was well acquainted. The locale varied. In the past, it had been predominantly India. Majors, colonels, lieutenant-generals–and a familiar series of words: Simla. Bearers. Tigers. Chota Hazri–Tiffin. Khitmagars, and so on. With Major Palgrave the terms were slightly different. Safari. Kikuyu. Elephants. Swahili. But the pattern was essentially the same. An elderly man who needed a listener so that he could, in memory, relive days in which he had been happy Days when his back had been straight, his eyesight keen, his hearing acute. Some of these talkers had been handsome soldierly old boys, some again had been regrettably unattractive; and Major Palgrave, purple of face, with a glass eye, and the general appearance of a stuffed frog, belonged in the latter category.

Miss Marple has bestowed on all of them the same gentle charity. She had sat attentively, inclingin her head from time to time in gentle agreement, thinking her own thoughts and enjoying what there was to enjoy, in this case the deep blue of a Caribbean sea.

I decided to reread this book for several reasons. First, I am reading a lot of “cozy” mysteries (mysteries with amateur sleuths as the main crime-solver) because I am writing one myself; second, because I’ve been wanting to revisit Christie on a smaller scale (there’s no way I could reread her entire canon again); and third, because I read a piece recently somewhere (Crime Reads, perhaps?) about the enduring legacy of Christie despite some problematic aspects to some of the books (I was well aware of the classism and anti-Semitism, and VERY WELL AWARE of the various problematic title changes for And Then There Were None over the years), and this one was mentioned. I remembered the book, I remembered the story; I remembered that this was the book where Miss Marple met Mr. Rafiel and she became, in some ways, Nemesis to the two of them (one of the later Marples was, in fact, Nemesis, and Mr. Rafiel sent her a murder to solve from beyond the grave); but I wasn’t so sure I remembered why precisely this book was problematic, could be see that way. So, I took it down from the shelves, and started reading.

The premise of the book is this: Miss Marple had a rough winter, having contracted pneumonia, and her nephew, bestselling novelist Raymond West, has decided to send his beloved elderly aunt to a warmer climate to recuperate–St. Honoré, to be exact, in the Caribbean, or the West Indies–at the Golden Palm Hotel resort. (St. Honoré is, of course, fictional; I may use it if I ever need a fictional Caribbean setting) As she sits in the warm sun, knitting and observing the people around her–she is always watching–and half-listening to the pompous bore rattling on to his captive audience (this scene, and her thoughts about Major Palgrave being of a type who really doesn’t need anyone to really pay attention, but to just be in hearing range with the proper noises being made when necessary, is quite insightful and brilliant; haven’t we all been there in that situation?), when he asks her if she wants to see the picture of a murderer? Since she isn’t really listening, she assents and continues to observe and watch everyone around her, and as he is reaching into his wallet to show her a picture of said murderer, he stops, turns quite purple, shoves the photo back into his wallet and loudly changes the subject. This does catch her attention, and she turns around to see what he saw–but doesn’t see anything or anyone that could explain this behavior change. He then makes excuses and leaves.

And of course, he dies that night–and this incident nags at Miss Marple. His death is explained away by him having high blood pressure, and having drank too much on top of his medication; but she isn’t so sure. And then she makes up a lie about the photograph, which she tells the doctor, and it turns out the photograph is missing.

Obviously, the Major was murdered, and did he really have high blood pressure, or is that merely gossip? As Miss Marple observes, “it’s very easy to get a rumor about, and people will just repeat it. There’s never any first-hand knowledge; it always A heard it from B who heard it from C and no one can really pinpoint where the story started.”

It’s a good story, with lots of suspects and suspicious behavior and trying to sort rumor from truth, but two more people wind up dead–a very common theme in Christie is a murderer having to kill others to cover up their original crime–before Miss Marple remembers something and figures out not only who the killer is, but who their actual target was from the very beginning.

And yes, there’s some serious problematic views of the islanders from the British paternalistic colonialist point of view. But Christie herself never says anything problematic–it always comes from the mouth of one of her characters, who, given the time period, would inevitably think that way–side comments about how many of the islanders are in committed relationships without benefit of clergy; etc. etc. etc.

So, I would say it held up about 95% on the reread; yes, there’s some problematic stuff that might be jarring for someone to read now for the first time and would probably not be allowed past the editorial process today–and excising it wouldn’t harm the book in the least.

Christmas Alphabet

Thursday and working at home today. Huzzah!

I got some very good work done yesterday on the book, as well as an invitation to write a story for a tribute anthology, which meant it was a very good day. Today I am working at home, and am also very excited because finally, at long last, I have found Johnny Tremain on a streaming service! And while it disturbs me to no end to actually have to pay to rent it, but I’ve been wanting to see it again for a very long time, and I think I can cough up the couple of bucks to pay for it.

I’ve long wondered where my interest in history came from, and when I saw Johnny Tremain available to stream at long last on Amazon Prime the other day, it hit me: when I was in the first grade, at Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago, one afternoon we all gathered in the auditorium and they screened the movie for us. It was my first time seeing anything to do with American history–at that point, I was aware of the Civil War (I was from the South and lived in Chicago; of course I did) and who Washington and Lincoln were, but it was watching this movie–about a teenager in Boston during the period leading up to the American Revolution, that triggered my interest. This was when I started looking for books on American history at the library instead of ones about dinosaurs, and I was in the fourth grade when I finally got a copy of the book (I didn’t know it was a book first) from the Scholastic Book Fair, and it remained a favorite of mine for the rest of my life. I’ve always, always, remembered watching that movie and wanted to see it again; but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that it was the trigger that led me to my interest in American history, and from there to history in general. I am sure, since it’s a Disney picture made in the 1950’s, that it’s very rah-rah patriotic–there’s a thirty minute clip from it on Disney Plus that I tried to watch out of context, but it was so…hit you over the head with AMERICANA and FREEDOM and LIBERTY that I couldn’t really watch all of it; I am hoping that the entire movie won’t be such blatant propaganda, but then again, it was during the height of the Red Scare and it probably was intended to indoctrinate (white) children with a pro-America mentality; patriotism to the nth degree.

So, we’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

I got some good work on the book done last night, after which I was very tired, so I climbed into the easy chair (with a sleeping purr-kitty in my lap) and finished reading A Caribbean Mystery. (More on that later.) I also started reading Nightwing: Leaping into the Light (based on a recommendation from my friend Alex, who always knows whereof he speaks) and it reminded me (again) of why Nightwing is and always has been my favorite super-hero ever since I was a teenager (since he evolved from Robin into Nightwing); and it also finally hit me last night precisely why that was the case; it should make for an interesting blog entry when I get to it. I have so much writing to do–and fortunately I am in a creative state of mind these days, which needs to be more laser-focused. I am pretty confident I will get the book finished in time now, as well as everything else I need to do. We need to make a Costco run at some point, and of course there’s always mail to pick up, dishes to do, floors to clean, and laundry. I also have condoms to pack, and so much reading to do. I inevitably always have more than enough books on hand so that I will never run out of things to read–and that’s not even taking into consideration the ebooks loaded into all the reading apps on my iPad. I slept really well last night–a lovely side effect to being exhausted yesterday–and my shoulder is starting to feel better–at least I can move my arm without feeling a stab of pain, but I do want to keep resting it for another few days before attempting the gym again. I think tonight I might also walk around the Garden District taking pictures of Christmas decorations, which is always a lovely thing to do; one of the many things I love about this city is how it dresses itself up for any and every holiday, which makes it always seem so festive here.

I also have all my Christmas shopping done, and I actually did my Christmas cards last night as well. Now if only my house weren’t such a mess, I could claim I was winning at life!

Paul and I have decided that 2022 is going to be a year dedicated to living our best lives, and we’re thinking about taking another jaunt to Europe (pandemic permitting); but Amsterdam and Berlin will be our destinations. I’ve always wanted to visit both–there’s really nowhere in Europe I don’t want to visit, really–and the appeal of the art museums in both, plus Amsterdam is primarily a walking city, is a hard pull to resist. I’m thinking we might even take the occasional weekend getaway to a panhandle beach, why not? I have to do some traveling for my career (pandemic willing), and I am sure Paul will want to come to Minneapolis with me for Bouchercon, since we both lived there (he lived there much longer than I did; I only lasted eight months, and only agreed to live there on the guarantee it would be eight months and then we would move to New Orleans–other than the weather I really liked it there) it makes sense for him to come with. He works so hard, and he really does deserve to have down time where he can just relax and have fun.

Yesterday at the office I was walking out of our cubicle area to a testing room because one of my clients had arrived. I had noticed that the Crescent Care shirt I was wearing fit rather nicely; I have three of them in purple (one for every clinic day) and one of them, for some reason, fits better than the others and looks more flattering when I wear it. I actually had just thought about it again when I stood up from my desk (“hey, my pecs looks HUGE in this shirt”) and as I walked out, our nurse (hired in July) was sitting at the front desk and she said, “You know Greg, I can see the potential that you were fine when you were younger.” Fifty year old me would have been offended (“what? I look old and tired now?”) but sixty year old me accepted it in the spirit it was intended–a compliment–so I just laughed and replied, “thank you, I was.” Like I said, ten years ago I would have let that hurt my feelings; now I saw it as a compliment–if worded a bit bluntly–and it amused me. Even thinking about it, I am smiling about it.

I do wish I hadn’t been so insecure and self-conscious when I was younger. I also wish I could transfer this very mentality to my writing. I don’t get Imposter Syndrome as much as I used to–more maturity of age, perhaps?–but I do worry about whether people will get what i am trying to do when I write. I worry about unintentionally offending people more than I ever used to before (trust me, if I am trying to offend you, it’s pretty fucking clear); and I am trying to be kinder, more aware, and to exercise empathy as my default rather than getting offended myself. I don’t know how well I am succeeding, but I certainly don’t have my Julia Sugarbaker tirades are regularly as I used to.

Interesting.

Maturity, or just tired?

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

I’ll Be Home With Bells On

To be honest, I’ve never really understood what the phrase today’s song title means. Did people actually used to go to things wearing bells? I suppose it’s more along the lines of oh I am going and you will SO know that I am there, but it’s puzzled me ever since I was a child. Not enough to look it up, of course, but it’s still a mystery to me. Okay, I looked it up–it means arriving in a noticeably festive way.

Although if someone literally showed up anywhere with actual bells on, they’d deserve what happened to them next, methinks.

Last night wasn’t the best night of sleep I’ve had this week, but I shall have to persevere and push through this day. I am sleepy/tired as I sip my coffee, looking out my windows at the darkness, but hopefully it will revive me enough to get me going and through the morning. Damn, I am sleepy still. Hope the groggy wears off, but that’s what the coffee is for–although doesn’t it seem unnatural to wake up before you’re ready and then to use a stimulant to help you wake up? That’s why I hate getting up to alarms, to be honest, and always have. Oh, Greg, you’re just lazy, is the response I always get when I make this comment, but doesn’t it make more sense to listen to your body’s needs? My shoulder feels better this morning–speaking of listening to your body’s needs–so I might, depending on how this day goes and how the tired/grogginess develops/fades throughout the day–make an attempt at going to the gym tonight.

Or should I let it rest another day and try tomorrow? Decisions, decisions.

But as I sit here this morning swilling coffee groggily and hoping to wake up, I am all too aware of the ticking clock on my manuscript and a short story revision that is due around the same time as well as the fact that my next book will be released around the same time as those are due; one month from today is the due date for everything, and the book will come out three days prior to that…and I will be in New York that same weekend. I worked on the book last night–the work is slow but I also don’t have a lot of time dedicated to it every day, so that’s to be expected–but it’s taking shape nicely, which makes me feel a lot better about everything. If I buckle down on the weekends, I should be able to get it all finished on time–but yes, that does require buckling down on the weekends, doesn’t it? Heavy heaving sigh.

In checking my emails this morning I’ve got an invitation to write a story for a tribute anthology for charity–it’s something I would really like to do, but it’s going to depend on the timing, really; or whether I have something on hand already that can easily be adapted to fit the theme; which basically is “gothic,” which is definitely in my wheelhouse; it’s also going to depend on whether I have the time to look for something that can be adapted to fit into the theme. I am sure I have some Gothic stories on hand that can be adapted; I love Gothic, and it’s really the only kind of horror that I do write, really–and so this means I really do need to buckle down on the weekends.

And while it’s nice to fantasize abut “all the writing I could do” if I didn’t have a day job, the truth is…I probably wouldn’t write more than I do now. I’d find incredibly creative ways to avoid writing. I know this because there were periods of time where I not only did not have a day job, but years where I only worked part time…and I’ve actually been more productive while having a full time job. Does this make any sense? It only does in Gregalicious land.

I did spend some time before Paul got home last night reading A Caribbean Mystery, and while you may remember me reading, a while back, a piece about “problematic” Christie books and titles that needed to be changed–and wondering why this book was included–I’ve come to realize I must have misunderstood the article I was reading; they meant the book when they referred to this title–which was some seriously unclear writing, frankly. But the book is incredibly racist; there have been several times where something I’ve read has made me wince–the locals on St. Honoré are clearly seen by the colonialist British ruling class as sub-human, barely better than animals, and definitely uncivilized. I’m close to the end–I know who the killer is; I remember, and I also remember the clue Miss Marple missed in correctly identifying the killer earlier on in the book–and so will probably be able to finish it tonight. And then I think I am going to move on to either Vivien Chen’s Death by Dumpling or Julia Henry’s Pruned to Death.

And on that note, tis time to head in ye olde spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

Merry Christmas Darling

Yesterday the box o’books for #shedeservedit arrived; which was an extraordinarily pleasant surprise on an otherwise wretched day (I won’t bother you with the details of why it was wretched, simply take my word for it). The arrival of the finished books is always a delightful experience, even if it means having to find a place to keep them (the Lost Apartment is running out of space very quickly), so for now they are stacked up on the kitchen counter; I’ll worry about finding a space for them at some point this week when I am more awake and not, well, not feeling as defeated as I am this morning. It’s nothing really, just more of a sense of how much there is to do and it seems as though every day more pressure is building up on me to get things done and more things seem to get added to the to-do list exponentially faster than I am able to get things crossed off.

I did, however, have a lovely, if brief, time with the manuscript yesterday. It’s finally coming together, and my character’s voice is coming through at long last–a little too late if you ask me, but better late than never–which means I am hopeful that the the rest of the book is going to flow much easier and faster. My shoulder still is sore this morning, so a return to the gym tonight is doubtful; I am not going to allow myself to get stressed about that because well–I need to let the muscle heal before trying to get a new rhythm going again, and why keep straining it before I let it heal? My workouts won’t be very productive until such time as the muscle can handle them anyway, and it is what it is, right? I also have to ignore that snide voice in my head telling me that I am again making excuses not to go to the gym, because I do want to go. I’ve finally broken through that mental block I’ve had for so long where I don’t want to go at all; ironic that a strained muscle is slowing down the momentum.

It’s also hard to believe that Christmas is practically upon us; next week I have a short work week as a direct result of the holidays, and again the following week. I am not terribly sorry to see 2021 come to an end, in all honesty; it was another dreadful year, with absolutely no guarantee that 2022 will be any better, quite frankly. Years are arbitrary things anyway; my usual questioning of why everyone gets so excited about New Year’s Eve and so forth when it’s simply a relatively arbitrarily fixed date (why not start the new year on February 1? March 15th? etc etc etc), although there probably is a reason that I’ve simply never bothered to research or look up. There is, as always, a sense of time slipping through my fingers; that one day I’ll wake up and my book is due and I am nowhere near ready to turn it in (that is my version of the nightmare of showing up to school unprepared for a test one has forgotten about), but I think I can buckle down and push through it–especially now that I have found my character’s voice. I think the problem was before that I was trying to not write her to be snarky–one of the complaints about Paige was she was too bitchy, when I feebly tried to spin her off into her own series–but the reality is she just needed a bit of softening. Paige kind of was a bitch, by design; Valerie, my new character, can be snarky but she’s also needs to be kind as well, and that was the balance I needed to find.

And now, I think I’ve at last found it.

Eureka!

We are still working our way through the original Gossip Girl, and still enjoying it. It’s delightfully bonkers, really, in that crazy, over the top Melrose Place campy way Paul and I like. It’s eminently sweeter than Melrose Place, though, and never completely goes completely insane the way Melrose did; they don’t have, for example, a regular psycho character like Kimberly, but they have some who will show up for a short arc before disappearing again–Agnes the skank model and Georgina the seriously unbalanced heiress, for example; the episode last night saw Agnes’ return, for example, and here’s hoping that was simply a single episode arc, because she’s so awful and dislikable I really don’t want to see her on the screen again–but it’s also interesting to see that the original villains in the cast, Blair and Chuck, are really the only characters who’ve exhibited any growth or real development as characters–and they are much more interesting than the “good” characters (Dan and Serena) that the audience is supposed to be rooting for. I mean, none of them ever make good choices, but at least the villains have developed into much more interesting and more richly developed characters than the one-note terrible people they were originally written to be.

And no, I didn’t get a chance to finish A Caribbean Mystery last night. When I got home I put away the dishes in the dishwasher and did another load (they’ll be waiting for me when I get home tonight, and I’ll probably have to do another load of laundry as well)–the endless toil and strife of the American housewife, trying to have it all–but tonight I am definitely going to spend some time reading after I finish doing my writing.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulously lovely day, Constant Reader.

Oh Christmas Tree

Monday morning. The high today is only going to be 69, and it’s actually in the fifties as I look out into the dark of the early morning. I slept well again last night–the bed and blankets felt very warm and comfortable this morning as I hit the snooze button repeatedly–and as always, really didn’t want to get out from the warm cocoon this morning. I have, as always, ever so much to do today (this entire week, really) and my shoulder seems to be okay this morning–there’s a bit of pain there, but not really as much nor is it as obvious as it was before. I still think it needs more rest and recovery time before I try to lift weights with it again–and I am going to have to use less weight when I do go back (I think the primary issue is I over-exerted it when I went back to the gym) but that’s fine. I’m not trying to get “swole” or whatever the term the gym-boys like to use today (it’s annoying; I’ve always hated “swole” because it should be swolen, if anything at all), for me it’s more about burning calories and exercising and the stretching and so forth. I am going to try to keep the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule I was on before, with perhaps a trip down for some cardio on Sundays; but we’ll see how it all plays out.

Today I need to make some headway on everything–Christmas cards, etc–and since it’s my theoretical off night from the gym, I am going to run some errands on the way home from work this evening. I will need to work on the book tonight, of course, and I need to clean up from dinner last night. But the laundry is caught up (for now), and there are a few other things I’ll need to touch up around here…and of course, I want to finish (finally) A Caribbean Mystery. Christmas is a week from Saturday–how weird that it’s so soon–so next week will be a short work week, as will the week after with New Year’s being involved. I need to buckle down and get working on things as quickly as I can; I also have a short story or two that need one last round of polishes done on them. Yesterday I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have liked, frankly, but I think resting yesterday was a lot more important than working, to be honest. I feel like I can make it through the day today without much difficulty, which is nice–I am not tired, as I mentioned earlier, and feel very rested, which is also incredibly lovely. Maybe that means I will have a productive day, maybe it won’t–but at least I can go into the office without feeling tired and worried about how I am going to make it till the end.

Yay!

But I feel good, which is always a plus, and I am working my way down the to-do list I made yesterday and that’s terrific. I also went down some wormholes yesterday while researching a few things, and while I actually didn’t write anything new, I did figure out what the problems with current manuscript are, and how to fix them–brutally cutting out a character, reducing the status of one from main supporting cast to merely someone who is mentioned but never seen; how to get the timing and dating flow of the story to work better; how to get the “New Orleans” feel there; how to better do the main character’s back story; how to build up the rest of the story so the intensity grows with every chapter as the original mystery (the one that will run through the course of the first few books at the very least) deepens and then the actual mystery to be resolved in the book course corrects, and how to make that seem less abrupt and more….organic, for lack of a better word.

And that is some serious progress, methinks. I am itching to get into the manuscript and make these changes and get them underway. I think this will help me get the damned book finished, too–I am finding my character’s voice, and that was crucial.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in again tomorrow.

Santa Baby

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am a bit tired. I went to the retirement party last night (note: it was not in the Bywater, but actually in Holy Cross, on the other side of the Industrial Canal; a neighborhood I’ve not been to in years. But then again, I’ve really not spent much time in the Bywater in forever either), and it was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed spending time away from the office with my co-workers in a relaxed environment, it’s been a hot minute (and not just because of the pandemic, either) and it was nice spending time getting to know them outside of a professional environment. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, and stayed much later than I had planned–it was almost one in the morning when I finally rolled into the Lost Apartment, but was very delighted. I had a glass or two of champagne spread out over five hours (and they were very small), so was okay to drive, but have a bit of a headache this morning.

It feels more sinus-y then anything else as well, so I think once I take a Claritin that problem will clear itself right up.

Today I have a lot to get done; I need to get back on track with the book, I need to go to the gym (but continue to baby the left shoulder, which is still a bit sore this morning; note to self: Icy Hot), I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and I also want to finish watching Chapelwaite. I only have two episodes left, and despite that really slow burn first episode, it really picks up steam and starts going full blast, the pace picking up with every episode without losing the integrity of the story or the characters. It also has inspired me to write a sort-of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows–well, that’s not quite true; I’d always intended to return to Corinth County with another book, and but watching this show gave me the inspirational story spark I needed to come up with the story. I scribbled down a lot of notes yesterday, and while I need to focus on the current book, I am itching to get to this one sooner rather than later (a constant problem with this my writing career, which never seems to change despite my advances in age) but I definitely need to get to Chlorine next.

So, next year is going to be about Chlorine, another Scotty, and this second Corinth County book, which will start tying the threads of the county spread out over many different stories, both short, novella length, and novel, together. (Which was one of the primary reasons I was dreading writing such a book; tying these threads together was going to be difficult, but now i sort of know how to do it all; there’s one novella in particular that isn’t going to be easy to tie into the others, but I think I know how to do it now)…) And the novellas. And the short story collection. And the essays. And….yikes. Just typing all this out made me very tired.

I also had a rather scary moment this morning when I saw a headline about a fatal, catastrophic tornado (or rather, series of them) devastating Kentucky; I really wish the news would be less generic in headlines or click titles for articles about such things. The vast majority of states are actually rather large in size and scale, and while obviously I feel terrible for the residents of the state affected by this disaster, at the same time I was extremely relieved to go look at a map and see it was in western Kentucky, a significant distance from my family in eastern Kentucky. I understand the need for clicks and so forth is the on-line Internet business model, but still. Nevertheless, these tornadoes devastated a vast swath of that area, including Arkansas and Tennessee and I believe Missouri, and as someone who has lived through and dealt with natural disasters myself, I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones as well as homes and property (the gulf parishes south of New Orleans are still struggling to recover from Ida, by the way). Please donate to the relief efforts if you can.

And on that note, I have an excess of emails to clean out, a kitchen office to organize and get ready, and a book to get back to writing, amongst many other things to do and they ain’t getting done the longer I sit here writing this. Have a happy healthy Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check back in with you tomorrow with a progress report.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Friday morning and I have a dear friend’s retirement party to attend in the Bywater this evening. I have to run some errands–including stopping by the office–at some point during the day, and it looks like I shall have to postpone working on the book until tomorrow as there isn’t any way to make time for it today. But these things happen; sometimes life doesn’t allow an author an opportunity to write. It’s not the best possible outcome of a day, of course, but there it is.

I also further aggravated a muscle strain in my left shoulder (usually it’s my right one that becomes an issue, from an old wrestling injury) at the gym last night. I noticed the ache the last time I went to the gym–and thought I could push through it at the gym again last night. I noticed it when I was doing the chest exercise–I had to significantly lower the weight in order to do the exercise–but ironically, the only other time it was an issue was doing tricep pushdowns, when the shoulder merely works as a stabilizer for the working of the triceps. I had to abandon that entirely, and it did make me wonder as I walked home how I strained the muscle in the first place? It’s also worrying, now that I am back into the swing of actually working out again, that I now have a ready-made excuse to talk myself out of going every other day. On the other hand, it’s just a strain of some sort–not even a pull–so it can undoubtedly be worked around. The gym was also very crowded last night, which was irritating; I really need to get used to going into businesses that are more full than I’ve gotten used to over the past year or two. And especially since it’s now Christmas time; everything and everywhere is going to be more crowded.

Sigh.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I started watching Chapelwaite on Epix. I originally started watching it with Paul, but he thought it was too slow and didn’t care to continue watching it. I knew almost from the get-go that it was most likely a slow-burn; it was very Gothic in feel, which inevitably means a slow-burn (a friend asked me if I was watching, and when I said we’d stopped, told me to go back and finish–and she was right). The show is exceptional–it did take me a while to get used to Emily Hampshire playing someone not Stevie on Schitt’s Creek–and if you’re into Gothic horror and suspense, it’s right up your alley. It also handles issues of class, race, prejudice and provincialism extremely well; and the steady sense of dread and building suspense is quite remarkably done. I am really looking forward to finishing watching, to be honest. The afternoon flew past as I watched. It’s based on the story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” by Stephen King, from his Night Shift collection, and yes, it does sort of fit into the mythology of his terrific novel ‘salem’s Lot. I’m not sure if that was his intent when he wrote the story–Chapelwaite, the house in the story, is in some ways similar to the Marsden House in ‘salem’s Lot–which is yet another reason I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

It also gave ma a good idea for another Alabama book, a sort of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows. So huzzah indeed!

But as Friday looms, there’s a lot I have to get done this weekend–I really need to get caught up on the book; I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and as always, there are endless chores to be done, and don’t even get me started on my email inbox–but I have faith that I shall persevere, and will come out on the other side of the weekend with much ado and accomplishment. (Yes, I do crack myself up from time to time, thanks for asking.) I slept really well last night–we got through the second season of OG Gossip Girl and are now into season three; it really is fun to watch, especially seeing bigger name stars of the present in early roles–Armie Hammer (although one can argue he no longer has a career of which to speak) was in the second season, for example, and yes, shame that he turned out to be what he turned out to be, as he was very good looking and reasonably talented–and our addiction to this show is allowing other shows we watch, or ones we want to watch, pile up so we’ll have plenty to watch in coming weeks and months, which is lovely.

I also think I am finished with Paul’s Christmas presents, but am not entirely sure. I’ll assess once they are in my hot little hands and wrapped (and hidden). And I do need to do my Christmas cards at some point–tick tock, said the clock.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again tomorrow.

The Christmas Song

Wednesday and yet another Pay-the-Bills Day. Huzzah? HUZZAH.

Yesterday I was tired. I slept better on Monday night than I had on Sunday night, yet somehow by the afternoon I was far more tired than I had been the afternoon before. I really didn’t want to go to the gym after I got home from work, but I did, and I also wrote a (shitty) chapter of the book before Paul got home. I felt really great after the gym, and I slept amazingly well last night. (The first time I woke up in the night–I did so twice–was to find a purring Scooter curled up next to me, which he never does; he always sleeps on the other side of Paul rather than in between us…and never underestimate the power of a purring cat to help you sleep.) It’s taking me a hot minute to wake up completely this morning–it’s also raining, which also makes me feel drowsy and is not helpful to the waking up process–but I feel very well rested, which bodes well for the rest of the day. I do have some bills to pay today, and lots and lots of emails to answer.

Ah, the sisyphean task of answering all the emails.

It’s funny, but the other day I was cleaning out/organizing electronic files and came across an essay I started writing several years ago as the introduction to an essay collection I was thinking about putting together (which I promptly forgot about; and didn’t remember when the idea occurred again earlier this year–so this year’s idea of an essay collection wasn’t even original!) and I opened it and started reading…hilariously, as mentioned parenthetically above, it was a reflection on getting older. Apparently, there’s no such thing with me as an original idea during this pandemic, because I had these ideas already and before. I keep saying that aging has never really bothered me but sixty kind of shook me up to my core, but there it was, an essay at age fifty-seven, triggered by me noticing (for the first time) that the skin under my chin/jawline was loose. (Yes, yes, it’s probably been loose for years, but I really don’t spend much time looking in mirrors; usually when I am shaving and I have to take my glasses off and so can’t really see anything but blur.) But it was interesting to revisit how I felt about confronting my age (in my head I am forever stuck at 35–even though my eldest niece is now in her forties, which makes it harder to keep that delusion going. Although I think I have finally pushed that deception out of my subconscious and have embraced being sixty…at least can say it without shuddering.)

So tonight when I get off work I am going to head directly home, methinks; home to clean the kitchen/office, perhaps the living room; do some laundry; write another chapter of the book; and hopefully spend some more time with A Caribbean Mystery. I was reading an article about Christie’s enduring popularity last night, and this book was mentioned (along with two others) as one whose title had to be changed because of racist implications in the title; which I didn’t remember (And Then There Were None had the most notorious original title; which was corrected to something considered less offensive but then became offensive, and hopefully its latest title in the UK–Ten Little Soldiers–will stick for the rest of its history), and so I looked it up. It did always have the same title, although its entirely possible that the offensive content was inside the book–I’d already marked some questionable content regarding the locals on St. Honoré–and will have to do some more research into the book and its history to see if it was, indeed, the content and if the edition I am reading is one where the content had been cleaned up.

It was foggy last night when I walked to the gym, and since I now generally go after dark, I’ve been taking pictures of Christmas decorations. The foggy night gave some of the pictures a more eerie feel, which was pretty cool, and so I think tomorrow night after the gym I might detour through the Garden District on my walk home–fabulous decorations on the houses there, of course–and I would like to head down to the Quarter at some point to see how it’s decked out for the holidays; it’s really such a lovely time of the year to do this sort of thing. It’s also helping me feel reconnected to the city in a way I’ve not really felt since our office moved, since I no longer work one block outside the Quarter anymore. I do miss that, and now that I am writing another book about New Orleans I really need to feel more of a connection to the city than I have in a while. I’ve really felt disconnected from everything, really, since this pandemic began, but am starting to feel much better about everything the more time passes and the more things slowly start coming back to some sort of what passed as normal in the before time.

I guess we’ll see how everything goes, won’t we?

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Someday at Christmas

Yesterday was so beautiful here that I grilled burgers outside, taking a pillow for my back to rest against as I took my Agatha Christie reread out with me and basked in the glory of the gorgeousness of the day. And it was gloriously beautiful outside yesterday; hard to believe it was December…but then, early December is often quite delightful here. I did not, alas, get everything done yesterday that I wanted to get done, but that’s also kind of par for the course. Sundays are always hard-to-get-anything-done days here in the Lost Apartment. It usually is a day for Paul and I to hang out together–he usually doesn’t work on Sundays (he went to the office, for example, Saturday and didn’t get home until around eight that evening)so I generally try to get everything finished in the time before he gets up (he also sleeps late on Sundays). I didn’t manage that yesterday, so of course there’s still things for me to get done left over from yesterday, but that’s okay. I had a lovely time hanging out with him yesterday and watching Gossip Girl–the original show is really quite addicting–with the occasional break, during which I read more of my Agatha Christie reread.

Christie’s later books are often seen as lesser than her earlier ones, primarily, I think, because the earlier ones were so groundbreaking. Trying to figure out who the killer is was always part of the fun of reading Christie (spoiler: it was often hard to figure out because it was all-too-frequently two people, working together), and one of the interesting things about revisiting this particular Christie–any Christie,really–is that over the years I’ve read a lot of criticism of Christie, primarily that her characters weren’t developed well and she was so focused on the puzzle aspect of her books that the writing wasn’t strong. I guess those critics read a different Christie than the ones I’ve read? There were several times yesterday–and I am not very far into the book–where I was struck by her insights and cleverness about human nature, behavior, and how clever and wise some of her sentences were. One, in particular, stood out: And now he was dead, buried, and nobody cared very much…a rather chilling, if honest, insight. There’s also the fact that the primary reason Miss Marple is so successful at ferreting out information and solving crime is because no one takes her seriously for the simple reason she is old; she often uses that condescending attitude of the young towards our elders (well not our, I certainly am old now) against them, even at times playing the part expected of her, prattling on and on to distract her targets from her real objective, and then they are a bit startled by just how sharp her mind is, to the point they blurt out information they didn’t intend to ever share with anyone. We never get into Marple’s mind; she sometimes will tell us what Jane is thinking, but we don’t see it from her perspective; when Christie writes in the third person, it’s from a remove. There are also other point-of-view characters, but just to give the reader a bit more insight into what else is going on around the murder and how that impacts others. It’s also–I’d quite forgotten–how often old women are referred to as “pussies”, or Marple as a “nice old pussy”; I am sure the word meant something different then than it does now; or maybe it’s another example of the difference between UK English and American English–like how fanny means something entirely different in England than it does here.

I cannot imagine writing a book now and referring to an old woman–any woman–as a pussy now. But you know how I know Christie is a good writer? Rereading this book was inspiring–I was getting ideas for new projects of my own and about the current project, which means reading Christie triggered my own imagination, and writers who trigger my own imagination are, at least in my eyes, the best writers.

Today I am up and the sun is rising as I drink my morning coffee. I don’t think I slept all that well last night; it was a bit warmer than usual, not warm enough for the air conditioner to be necessary but I did need a fan. I don’t know if the whirring of the fan was why my sleep wasn’t deep–it wasn’t restless, just light–but I also don’t feel terribly tired this morning; we’ll see how that lasts through the day. I have errands to run after work today, so no gym this evening–saving that for tomorrow–so when I get home tonight I’ll do the dishes and try to get the kitchen/office finished (something else I’d intended to get done yesterday and didn’t) and work on the book some more. I also have a lot of emails to answer between clients this morning; I did make the to-do list (perhaps not as detailed as it should be) and have already started striking things from it. But progress is progress, after all, and one should never really beat oneself up over not making enough progress. Celebrate the wins, however small, rather than treat them as defeats.

LSU is going to a bowl game this year–next, really, not sure why it’s so late on the schedule–playing Kansas State, which is a sort of split loyalty thing…not as much as one might think. LSU is my team, and while I won’t be happy should they lose the game, at the same time that loss won’t be terribly disappointing or upsetting. It’s weird, I guess the new head coach won’t be coaching the game–there’s an interim head coach–but it’s also on a weird day of the week; a Tuesday after New Year’s, which is, as I said, very strange. But that’s okay, I suppose. Not sure how many of the bowl games I am actually going to watch this year–the National Championship game is, after all, on a Monday night, and since LSU isn’t going to be in it, I am not staying up late that night since I have to get up the next morning; it was an entirely different thing LSU was playing it it that lovely season two years ago–but I might have the games on in the background while I am doing something else.

Who knows? But Happy Monday and I am heading into the spice mines. Catch you tomorrow!

(She’s a) Very Lovely Woman

Saturday morning and it looks kind of gray outside the windows this morning as I look out at the world blearily and drink my first cup of coffee. I slept very well last night–which is always welcome–but woke up feeling a bit groggy this morning. I am sure the caffeine will work–it generally does–but as I glance around at the chaos of my office/kitchen my inclination is to pour the coffee out and go back to bed and sleep the rest of the day away, hoping magical elves or something else will show up whilst I sleep to finish organizing and arranging this mess into something resembling workable order. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s going to happen, so I am going to need to wake up, buckle up, and put my nose to the proverbial grindstone. I’ve got to contain this mess–and do it properly, no more sweeping things under proverbial rugs to get mess out of sight–and I’ve got to work on the book today and I need to run some errands. I also have to go to the gym today, so I will most likely follow football championship games today by periodically looking on-line to check scores only. Paul is going into his office this afternoon to do some work as well, and I need to update my to-do list and…yes, it’s a very busy day for a Gregalicious.

I finished reading Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews last night–charming, as always, delightful and witty and funny–and decided, since I was talking about how much I preferred Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot the other day, that I should revisit one of the Marple stories. I have a hardcover copy of A Caribbean Mystery–I don’t recall where it came from–but it has some sentimental value for me in that it was the first Marple novel of Christie’s I had read all those many moons ago when I was a child, holing up in my room on Saturdays with a book and a bag of Bar-B-Q Fritos. (My first Poirot was actually Halloween Party, which I also have a hardcover copy of and again, do not recall where I got it or how long I have had it; I read most Christies in paperbacks purchased at the Bolingbrook Zayre’s off their wire paperback racks) In those first few pages of the book, it spelled out exactly what I loved about the Marple stories–about how living in a small village actually exposes one to almost every kind of human behavior there is in a smaller ecosystem, and the great irony that the smallness and rural aspects of the small community are all too frequently seen as provincial and inexperienced in the world (why Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place was so shocking when it was originally published some seventy years ago; that placid, idyllic on the surface looking village/small town/rural community has a lot more going on than one would think at first glance). This is an excellent set-up, really, for the story Christie is writing about this fictional resort on a fictional West Indies island; her nephew, the successful novelist Raymond West, has paid for this trip for her to get some sun and recover from an illness…and when she originally protested about the expense and “who will watch out for my home in St. Mary Mead”–this response (which I hadn’t remembered) hit me right between the eyes:

Raymond had dealt with everything. A friend who was writing a book wanted a quiet place in the country. “He’ll look after the house all right. He’s very house proud. He’s a queer. I mean–“

He had paused, slightly embarrassed–but surely even dear old Aunt Jane had must have heard of queers.

Now, what is one to make of that? It was a jolt, certainly. It put me in mind of something I came across on Twitter the other day, written by Wil Wheaton, in which he had answered at a con somewhere a question regarding the current debate of “can you separate the art from the artist?” This is something I’ve pondered about quite a bit–most recently, the feeling of guilt I experienced in rewatching Chinatown, knowing now what I–we all–know about Roman Polanski. I enjoyed Chinatown every time I’ve seen it, and I was now watching–rewatching–through a different lens than I had before; I was watching in terms of my own Cynical 70’s Film Festival, to see how a 70’s film that actually harkened back to old-style crime/hard-boiled/noir styles, but with a more modern (at the time) sensibility fit into that 70’s cynicism and darkness about humanity and human behavior. But the discomfort kept popping up, particularly because Polanski himself appears in the film…and I eventually decided not to rewatch another favorite, Rosemary’s Baby, because of it.

I am not going to consign Agatha Christie to the trash heap of history; she was an extraordinary writer, and one of the most influential in the field in which I myself write. Nor do I think a simple throwaway line or two in a book originally published in 1964 is enough to dismiss Christie and her canon as homophobic and never revisit her work. In fact, given the time period in which the book was written, I am surprised the two sentences weren’t, frankly, much worse. Reading the sentences didn’t offend or outrage me; it was just a surprise, primarily because I didn’t remember them at all in a book I’ve read multiple times over the years–and I think when this hardcover came into my possession (I won’t swear to it, but I think I got it during one of my many eBay buying frenzies after Hurricane Katrina, when I felt it necessary to get copies of books with some sentimental value to me) I did actually read it again because I didn’t remember the plot–and this either went right past me or I noticed and didn’t think much of it.

Revisiting this book and viewing it through a modern lens is going to be interesting. And like I said, the reference could easily have been worse–but seeing queer used in this way reminds me of how it used to be used. The younger generations are reclaiming the word, and I myself have been advocating for it as a generic term for the non-straight community for eons…but I also can see why there are people of my generation/the one before me/the one after me who object to its use and why.

But I would a thousand times rather see the word queer used in an Agatha Christie novel than faggot. And I also remember the sympathetic depiction of a lesbian couple in my favorite Marple, A Murder is Announced.

Interesting thoughts on a Saturday morning. The sun has come out now and it’s not quite so gray outside; the second cup of coffee is certainly hitting the spot right now and the grogginess is beginning to leave from not only my head but from my body. I still don’t want to straighten up this mess, but there’s no choice, really, and I want to get some good work on the book done today and tomorrow. I need to go to the gym either today or tomorrow as well; perhaps later this afternoon once I get some writing/cleaning/organizing completed. I cannot be completely lazy this weekend, much as I would like to be; I have to get things done, and the more things I get done now the fewer things I will have to do later this month (I am not, for example, going to want to write on Christmas). But once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.

And now it occurs to me that perhaps I am procrastinating here, so I am going to bring this to a close. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and will talk to you soon.