In Denial

And now we enter that eerie period of waiting and anticipation; as a storm hovers over the overly warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and decides which way north to follow. It appears that the eye of Cristobal is going to pass over Houma on it’s way ashore; Houma is about an hour drive from here, but southeastern Louisiana geography and direction is confusing. You do, for example, have to drive west out of New Orleans, out past the airport, to get there; and you cross the river on the way (I have a horrible story about coming back from doing an HIV testing event out there, but I’ll save that for another time). It’s more due west and south of New Orleans, and it’s levee backs up to what used to be wetlands, but because of coastal erosion the Gulf is on the other side. There’s a native reservation out there as well–Houma is named after the Houma tribe–and it’s one of those places we will undoubtedly lose to the encroaching Gulf at some point. Nicholls State University is also there. Some day when I have time I would love to go out there and explore the town more; when we used to test at Nicholls State I used to think about writing a story set there a lot. There’s a lot of sugar cane fields in the surrounding area as well.

It’s gray outside my windows this morning, which is to be expected; it’s going to be periodically raining and of course, there is the potential for flash flooding as always. I stopped to make groceries on my way home from work last night so I wouldn’t have to go out in it this weekend at all; I am going to go to the gym (I’ve not gone once this week, which is terribly disgraceful, but I was exhausted on every level all week) in a little bit, after which I am going to come home and write and clean the kitchen. My kitchen is absolutely a disaster area–I cleaned up in here on Thursday night, and it’s shocking how quickly it can again look like a bomb went off in here.

We’re still watching London Kills, which I do recommend, and we’ll probably finish it off this evening. We tend to watch movies a lot on the weekends as well–last weekend we watched Dolemite Is My Name, and I have to say, Eddie Murphy should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for that; the fact he’s only gotten one nomination over his lengthy film career is a disgrace–and there’s some good stuff on HBO MAX, which, along with Disney Plus, is a treasure trove. I also keep forgetting we have CBS All Access, which means I have all those new Star Trek series to watch as well as Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, and we also have Apple Plus. THERE ARE SO MANY STREAMING SERVICES NOW.

And it’s been so long since I’ve had the energy to pick up a book I had to stop for a minute to remember what I am actually reading, which is Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do think it’s appropriate reading for Pride Month, and then when I finish that I am going to go back and reread Larry Kramer’s Book Whose Title Got Me a Facebook Ban. I am also thinking I might revisit one of my favorite Three Investigators stories this weekend as well.

I got an idea for two stories yesterday–because when don’t I get ideas for new stories, right? One is “Dance of the Burning Fools”, which is something that actually happened in history, as described by Barbara Tuchman in her seminal work A Distant Mirror; a party at the court of Charles VI of France, which descended into madness when some of the costumed revelers, dressed as animals in fur and pitch, caught fire and some of them burned to death; the King was one of the men in costume but was rescued. I’m not sure how the story will take shape, but I just thought that perhaps an investigation into the tragedy after the fact? I don’t know, it’s very amorphous right now.

The other is called “Happy Hour at the Hangover Bar,” which was inspired by my noticing on my way to work yesterday that there is a bar on Claiborne Avenue with that very name: the Hangover Bar, and yesterday they had a Happy Hour sign out on the sidewalk in front, and the title popped into my head, with a vague idea about a story told from the point of view of the bartender, watching something unfold in his bar during Happy Hour.

Many years ago, maybe in the late 1990’s, I had an idea for a series of short stories about gay men that were all interconnected through a central character of a nameless bartender at Cafe Lafitte in Exile; one of my best (in my opinion) short stories was one I wrote with that idea in mind; it eventually evolved and the bartender himself became the main character. The story was called “Unsent”, and in one of my proudest moments as a writer, a friend who’d arranged for a collection of my erotic stories to be published in Spanish (thanks again, Lawrence Schimel!) forwarded an email to me from the copy editor, who’d emailed him to tell him that the story had made her cry. I think about that collection–that I’d intended to call The Bartender–every now and again; but so many ideas, so little time, and so much laziness will leave it on the backburner probably forever.

And now, I have to depart for the gym. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and keep the people of Houma, Louisiana in your thoughts this weekend.

It’s A Sin

Ah, SIN.

The human concept of sin is something that has alays fascinated me; as does the societal distinction that sin isn’t necessarily a crime. Adultery, after all, made the Top Ten in the Bible; but adultery isn’t a crime, at least in our country. Maybe I’ve been reading too much medieval plague history, but as a result the entire concept of sin v. crime has been running through my head a lot. We also always tend to speak and think of historical as being more religious and superstitious than our modern, “rational” time; which is why when the religious superstitions start finding their way out of the woodwork, people are always surprised. I’ve seen that a lot, actually, since 2008; the surprise of people who were just now noticing that much of organized religion is steeped in bigotry propped up by skillful, selective usage of their “holy” book while ignoring the parts that do not prove their bigotry and ignorance as holy. I’ve been toying, since the start of this current pandemic and the beginning of my own plague readings, with a story called “The Flagellants,” based on an idea obtained from rereading Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and it’s plague chapter–about a movement of religious fanatics who believed God had sent the plague as a punishment for mankind’s sin (as fanatics have always believed in divine punishment as long as they have believed there are gods in the sky), and marched through the streets praying and repenting loudly while flogging themselves; their theory (if one can call it that) was that they were representing mankind’s penitence to God and therefore their behavior was intended to get God to take the scourge away. This set me to thinking about that Christian group that loves to show up here in the Quarter during Southern Decadence and Carnival to loudly tell us all, through megaphones and over amplifiers, that we are all sinners that need to repent and find our way back to the Lord, and wondering why they weren’t parading through the streets of the Quarter, doing something similar. (Their faith isn’t as strong as they would have us believe, apparently.) And so I started writing said story, but wasn’t really sure where to take it…I have some ideas; hopefully this weekend will help me sketch some of those ideas out.

Ah, sin.

A three day weekend is always a delight; I’m of the mind that every weekend should be three days rather than two. It generally takes me one day to rest and recover from the weekend, which is when I do my errands and clean and so forth, and then I am centered enough and rested enough (after two good night’s sleep) to get some work done on Sunday. With a three day weekend, that gives me an extra day to simply focus on writing. Naturally, of course, if every weekend was a three day weekend it would eventually prove also to not be enough time for me, I suppose, and so probably best to leave things as they are and simply enjoy those weekends when they come around. I have some plans for today; primarily a grocery run and perhaps a trip to the gym, along with some cleaning and organizing and perhaps some writing/brainstorming.

We continue to enjoy The Great on Hulu; I do recommend it, it’s very entertaining if not always the most historically accurate–and as I have stated many times, when it comes to television or film adaptations of actual historical events, accuracy inevitably goes out the window (the most egregious example of this being The Tudors. By combining Henry VIII’s sisters Margaret and Mary into one person, and then having her die without children, they essentially erased not only the Brandon/Grey line–no Nine Days’ Queen Jane Grey–but also the Scottish Stewarts; so no Mary Queen of Scots or any of the royalty since the death of Elizabeth I); and complaining about historical inaccuracies in fictional representations of actual history is low-hanging fruit, as it were.

I also want to finish reading Phyllis A. Whitney’s The Red Carnelian, and I’ve also started rereading a book from one of my favorite kids’ series, the Ken Holt mysteries by Bruce Campbell. The Ken Holt series is always neck and neck with The Three Investigators as my favorite kids’ series; they are very well written, action-packed, and well plotted as well; with a kind of hard-boiled edge to them. The first book in the series, The Secret of Skeleton Island, (a title also used in The Three Investigators series) introduces us not only to our young hero but to the people at Global News (Ken’s father is a globe trotting reporter; his mother is dead, and since his father is gone a lot Ken is at a boarding school somewhere outside of New York; I always assumed it was up the Hudson valley but it may have actually been Long Island), and how Ken meets up with, and basically is adopted into, the Allen family. I’m actually enjoying the book–and considering it was written for 9-12 year olds in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, and it still holds up, is saying quite a bit. The fact these books never caught on or were as popular as, say the Hardy Boys, and have been out of print for decades, is disgraceful.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I look forward to speaking to you again this weekend.

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Confidential

Here we are, Sunday, and I don’t feel nearly as tired as I did yesterday. Friday and Saturday were days of exhaustion, really; nothing quite makes me feel so old as having to spend most of Saturday on my fainting couch (easy chair) because I have so little energy I can’t really get much of anything done. Oh, I got the laundry finished, and I did a load of dishes, but other than that….yeah, most of the time was spent in the easy chair. We watched Parasite last night on Hulu (it’s streaming free there) and was quite impressed and moved by it; it definitely was not like anything I’ve ever seen before, and that’s saying something, given how most films are merely rehashes of other films, as evidenced by Extraction, the Netflix original film we watched directly after, starring Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary hired to kidnap back an Indian drug lord’s son from the enemy Indian drug lord who’d kidnapped him. That was essentially the plot, and the movie was mostly explosions, guns being fired, and physical fighting scenes (at one point, it occurred to me that I could open a Scotty book with Scotty, Frank and Taylor watching a similar type film, and Taylor idly saying, “This is what Colin does, isn’t it?”–which opens up a huge can of worms.); entertaining mildly, but not a satisfying film-watching experience. It was apparently based on a graphic novel…but let’s just say it was no Watchmen, and leave it at that.

I didn’t write much of anything yesterday because I was so tired, and I tried to read, but my brain couldn’t handle continuing to read a novel, and Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin deserves better focus from its readers, so I moved on to some short stories. I read W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” (more on that in its own entry) and started reading his “Rain” before my mind derailed again and I had to set the iPad down. I also reread some of my own short stories, that are in some sort of progress–remember how I said the other day that I had nineteen in some stage of completion? There’s actually more than that, if I am being completely honest with myself (which I also knew) and some of the ones I didn’t count–“The Trouble with Autofill,” “Night Follows Night,” “The Enchantress,” “Moves in the Field”, “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” “Once a Tiger,” “Please Die Soon”, “Burning Crosses”–are actually closer to completion than I originally thought; some of them are actually better than I remembered; and letting them sit for so long…rereading them now I was able to see for myself what else the stories needed; the necessary tweaks to get them done and ready to go.

Sometimes you need distance.

Today I have to revise the Sherlock story again, as well as the one I am submitting to a blind-read anthology. They’ve both sat, like the others, for quite some time (at least a week) since I last looked them over, and so I am hopeful that, just as yesterday, rereading the two stories today will help me see what they are missing, so I can get them in order to send them out. April is nearly over, and I need to get these finished, as well as get back to work on the Secret Project; the sooner that is finished the better, quite frankly, and I need to get these things finished and out of my hair; or at least not have them hanging over my head anymore.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling better these days about myself as a writer. I’m not sure what that’s all about, to be honest, but it’s kind of nice. The problem is finding the time and energy to devote and commit to it. Working a basic 9-5 schedule these days is highly unusual and taking more than a little while for me to get used to, if I am being completely honest, and I think the early rising every morning is what is making me so worn out by the end of the week–and sometimes it feels like i need an extra day to recover sometimes. But it is what it is, you know, and the sooner I get adapted to this new reality the better off I’ll be. It isn’t easy, after a lifetime of mostly never working 9-5, to get used to working 9-5. (Cue Dolly Parton’s classic, should have won an Oscar, song.)

I’m behind on everything, I might as well add, not just my writing and not just my reading. My email inbox is overflowing with matters needing my attention; I simply haven’t had the energy or strength over the last two days to even face them, and that must needs be remedied today (I always answer emails as drafts over the weekend, preparatory to send them all on Monday mornings; my first rule of emails is never answer on the weekends because emails beget emails). I knocked off the box of index cards I use as an address book (it’s very twentieth century, and I really need to move everything from it to the spreadsheet address book I created years ago) and those need to be sorted and put away somewhere safe that I won’t knock them over again. I need to do the floors, both kitchen and living room. The sink is again full of dishes. I need to clean stuff out of the refrigerator that is no longer edible–the noodles from over a week ago; the Swedish meatballs from last weekend–and I also need to figure out how to stretch my upcoming paycheck to last another two weeks.

And I have to write today. I want to spend some time with my new story “The Flagellants,” and at least get the ideas about the opening in there and written down. I want to write some more on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I want to read some more, since I clearly can focus this morning; I think after I finish writing this and my entry about Maugham’s “The Letter” I may go ahead and do some stretching and then get cleaned up; that always seems to help with motivation and energy. I think this week I have to do some ZOOM things for promotion; I’ll need to check the calendar so I don’t miss out–which has tragically happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again. I suppose there are worse things….it’s really a wonder I have any career at all, quite frankly.

And yet, here I am, some thirty or so novels and some fifty or so short stories into it. Plugging along like some blunderer who doesn’t know what he’s doing so he happily keeps going, writing books and selling stories and getting more publication credits as he goes with little or no direction. I used to  have a plan; I used to make plans–and then everything got so completely derailed during the Time of Troubles that I no longer look ahead, think ahead, plan ahead–what’s that saying? Man plans and the gods laugh?

The Laughter of the Gods would make a great title for my memoirs, should I ever write them. It’s actually a pretty great title, and I should make use of it. *makes note*

I also, of all things, have an idea for a period mystery short story, set in the Roman Jubilee of 1350–that Barbara Tuchman providing me with more ideas all the time. I’d had an idea about writing a crime series set in the fourteenth century and in Italy, following the last years of life of English soldier for hire Sir John Hawkwood, who retired to Italy and died in Florence–but I don’t think he was there in 1350, when someone attempted to murder the Papal Legate and he got an arrow through his cap–this made me think of a story called “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, in which the Papal Legate hires Hawkwood to find out who committed this borderline sacrilegious assault on, basically, the Papacy. There is but scant mention in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror of the incident, and so more research would clearly be needed–I’m not even sure Hawkwood was in Italy at the time, but of course I could fictionalize the character as well, if need be–but I like the idea of writing a period story. I’ve only done a few of those, and while they may be historicals now, they were set during a period I was actually alive and lived through; “The Weight of a Feather” is probably the first and only story I’ve published set during a time I hadn’t been born yet.

So…maybe a trial balloon with a historical story? Why not? I do love history.

And on that note, I’d better head back into the spice mines.


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Closer to Heaven

Yesterday was Friday, and I was tired.

Really, really tired.

I slept for ten hours last night and woke up still exhausted this morning–bleary-eyed and bone-tired. It makes me a bit nervous, as the last time I was able to sleep so much, or do deeply, only to still be tired, was when I was sick this last time, and whatever that was, I sure as hell don’t want to see it return again. I just feel what we used to say down south–“bone tired”. (Hmm, that’s not a bad title.) So, while I have things to do today–we need to swing by the Cat Practice to get Scooter another bag of food, for one, and I definitely need to do some writing and cleaning and organizing around here, if I have the energy–and in a worst case scenario, I can always simply curl up with some books or short stories. I did manage to do some reorganizing/rearranging of the books last night–out Netflix app on the Apple TV is all fucked up; I’m probably going to have to delete and download it again, which is an enormous pain in the ass. Our wireless was also running ridiculously  slow the last few days, so I rebooted the cable box and the wireless router yesterday, which signed me out of everything fucking thing and I just was too tired to deal with that shit last night. We wound up watching an incredibly bad gay movie on Amazon Prime–I won’t name it out of respect for the effort, time and money that went into it, plus I don’t like dumping on gay creators–during which both Paul and I dozed off here and there, before it was over and I finally retired to bed. I was also too tired last night to focus on doing any reading–which was definitely a lost opportunity, and one that I deeply regret. I’d like to finish reading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin this weekend; it’s really quite wonderful, and I’d like to move on to his We Disappear once I finish it. I’ve also got a lot of short stories to read–not the least of which is W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter,” and I simply love that it’s the source material for one of my favorite Bette Davis movies, of the same name–and there’s another one, by Mark Twain, about an incident that happened at the court of Charles VI in France (I stumbled on this story somehow; the true story it’s based on is detailed in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, which is starting to seem like a really great inspiration for me, almost Biblical in its inspiration). Plus I have, as I noticed last night as I reorganized the books, The Collected Stories of Flannery O’Connor and the latest Lawrence Block anthology–Mr. Block does some seriously excellent anthologies, for the record–and so there’s all kinds of good reading on hand should I have the mental acuity to focus on some reading today.

It’s also not a bad idea to read the stories I am currently readying for submission by the end of the month. Perhaps I should spend the day in my easy chair with print outs of stories and perhaps spend some time with some of my favorite short story writers. It’s also not a bad idea to revisit Bury Me in Shadows, which I have decided to completely overhaul–the problem is the main character’s age, but because I envisioned it originally as being about a teenager, I was stubbornly clinging to that idea, and it actually works better if I advance his age to having just graduated Pre-Law from college and readying to attend law school in the fall; this having a free place to live in the summer and a paying job that is relatively easy makes more sense for the character to agree to what he’s doing; plus it eliminates the entire what is his mother thinking in letting him do this? It will also require me to do some other tweaking (not that kind of tweaking, those days are long in my past, thank you very much), but I also think it’ll be stronger and a better story for it.

Which is always a plus.

I would like to do some work this weekend on other stories that are currently hanging in stasis right now, not the least of which is my pandemic story, “The Flagellants.” I’m not certain why that story is nagging at me; I don’t know what it’s going to be or how its going to end; so I guess it’s one of those stories that will reveal itself to me as I write it, which is madness, really.

Recently someone–I think Gabino Iglesias? I could be wrong–tweeted asking writers to stop talking about how much they hate writing, and his tweets really resonated with me. I don’t hate writing, but it would be easy to assume that I do from reading what I post, tweet and blog about writing. I do love writing; I love everything about it, even the frustrations and irritations–which I usually have to express to get out of my system. Publishing is an entire different subject than writing; I reserve the right to always be able to bitch about the publishing industry and its quirks and utter seeming ridiculousness whenever I please, along with the right to complain about being frustrated with the writing process at any time. But I want to make it very clear that I love writing and that’s why I do it. I love writing what I write, even though I am well aware (and if I wasn’t, have been told enough times by my heterosexual colleagues) that there’s not really any money in writing gay crime stories. But I like writing gay crime stories; I like writing gay characters, and I also feel like the full potential for gay crime stories has yet to be tapped. But I’ve dabbled with heterosexual narratives in my short stories, and if I am ever going to write a novel about straight people–or centering the straight point of view–the short stories are an excellent way to practice.

And…every new story I finish writing puts me that much closer to a second collection of stories, which is very exciting to me. I was originally calling the second collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I am thinking about changing it to This Town and Other Stories, primarily because “This Town” is a better story than “Once a Tiger” and secondly, I like the symbolism of “this town” referring to New Orleans–even though that’s not what the Go-Go’s were referring to in their song of the same title, which was the inspiration for my story. (My original collection began as Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories before metamorphosing into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories.)

I also started writing a blog entry about my love of The Three Investigators, which will probably go up at some point over this weekend; depends, I suppose, on when I finish it. And there’s a shit ton of emails that need my attention in my inbox as well; but I just can’t face that yet today. Maybe later on, after I get some things done, I can spend some time answering emails (as drafts to send on Monday) as well as writing some that I need to send.

But I just heard the dryer stop, which means I need to go fold some clothes and add another load to the dryer, and my coffee cup is also empty and in dire need of refilling; my stomach is growling as well, so it’s probably time for me to push away from the desk, get more coffee, fold some clothes and then have some Honey-nut Cheerios–which has been my pandemic breakfast of choice these days.

It also looks like a beautiful day outside. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Casting a Shadow

And it’s Friday again! Cue the dancing horses.

I have a lot that I want to get done this weekend. I need to get those stories pulled together, and I want to get started on finishing off the Secret Project. Stupidly, I also started writing another short story yesterday, “The Flagellants,” which I am not really sure what it’s going to be about, or how to even finish the stupid thing. (An\d because I am twelve years old, sometimes when I think the title quickly it sounds like flatulence, which is a joke I may make in the story because I am twelve years old.) And yes, I got the idea from the bubonic plague chapter in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror; during the fourteenth century’s bubonic plague outbreak, the church was already in disrepute and many felt that the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful mankind, so there were some religious cults that sprang up; the flagellants movement was one of these, and it was enormously popular and spread throughout central Europe, primarily Germany. These penitents would march through town and flagellate themselves with whips and cat o’nine tails and knotted ropes, trying to take on the sins of all mankind.

Naturally, I found this interesting, and I really liked “The Flagellants” as a title, and we’re kind of in the midst of a pandemic…granted, we’re not that far into it as of yet, but we’ve already seen ridiculous behavior in the name of Jesus–so far, nothing I’m aware of from other faiths–but I began to think about it some more and wondered, what if this becomes more lethal and lasts longer than anyone is even considering now? The second wave of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 was much worse than the first, and in the wake of the Great War (aka World War I) and said pandemic there was a huge religious revival in the US during the 20’s–we tend to only think of that decade as flappers and bathtub gin, but that wasn’t all that was going on during that decade (it was also the decade that inspired Sinclair Lewis to write Elmer Gantry, and the decade of Aimee Semple McPherson)…and the old “what if” questions started running through my head, and I remembered the religious fanatics who always protest at Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence…and yeah, that’s kind of how stories get born. I’m not sure where this story is going to go or what it’s going to become–it’s kind of fun and different than anything I’ve written before–and I’m not entirely sure it’s going to end up as a crime story, which makes it even more fun.

I slept really long and well last night, and didn’t want to get up this morning, which was lovely–and a long time coming. It’s been a while since I’ve had such a great night’s sleep, and it was absolutely wonderful. I feel rested and ready to go mine some spice this morning.

As expected, Joey Burrow was the Number One draft pick last night, taken by the Cincinnati Bengals–and I said to Paul, “it’s going to be weird rooting for the Bengals now”–one of the many reasons I don’t get so far into the NFL is it is impossible for me to not root for former LSU players and their new teams to do well; and I really can’t devote more time to the NFL than I already give to the Saints. But after last night, I feel it’s pretty safe to say the Saints are Louisiana’s favorite team, and now the Bengals are our second favorite. I also never pay attention to the NFL draft, but I did last night because I wanted to see how the LSU players would do in it. Five players in the first round, I believe–Joey Burrow, K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen,  Justin Jefferson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (which is a record, I believe, for LSU and one short of the overall record)–and now I need to go read the Advocate to see how the rest of the team did, and where they wound up.

Obviously, I will always love this 2019 team and everyone on it. It’s kind of hard not to, after the dream season they just gifted us with–and it’s going to be a very hard act to follow; every LSU team going forward is going to be compared to this one.

This weekend, I hope to get some more writing done. I didn’t get hardly anything written this week (after having such a great writing weekend last weekend), but I do need to finish revising and polishing these stories that are due, and maybe even work some more on some of these ones that are in progress–I may just keep writing “The Flagellants” and see where it goes, just letting it develop as it goes–and I need to start getting some other stuff prepared to get back to work on. I also want to do some reading this weekend; I’ve really fallen behind on that, and I want to make reading more of a priority; it certainly is a better thing to do with my time than falling into Youtube rabbit holes.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Ring of Fire

One of the fun things about reading history is it gives me a lot of inspiration. Rereading the Black Death/bubonic plague chapter in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror recently, I stumbled across this:

The apparent absence of earthly cause gave the plague a supernatural and sinister quality. Scandinavians believed that a Pest Maiden emerged from the mouth of the dead in the form of a blue flame and flew through the air to infect the next house. In Lithuania the Maiden was said to wave a red scarf through the door or window to let in the pest. One brave man, according to legend, deliberately waited at his open window with drawn sword and, at the fluttering of the scarf, chopped off the hand. He died of his deed, but his village was spared and the scarf long preserved as a relic in the local church.

And so, an idea for my own story, “The Pestilence Maiden,” was born. So far it consists of one sentence: “Death again walked the crumbling, hole ridden streets of New Orleans.”

Great opening, isn’t it? But it’s not really a crime story; since the Pestilence Maiden would be a supernatural, purely symbolic creature representing the plague come to New Orleans, yet again.  After all, New Orleans has a long history of epidemics–yellow fever, typhus, cholera; hell, we even had bubonic plague in 1916–so is it so far out of the question that we would have a Pestilence Maiden walking the streets of the city? No, not really.

I returned to work yesterday, and it was lovely to get out of the house for a while and be out in the fresh air. I am working at doing the screenings; basically, our facility is open for certain services (the food pantry, the pharmacy, some lab work by appointment) and so everyone who goes into the building needs to be screened for symptoms, given a sticker and a mask, and some hand sanitizer before they go inside. Anyone with symptoms gets sent across the parking lot for COVID-19 testing; we no longer require a fever or multiple symptoms–all you need is one. We are also offering optional HIV testing for anyone who gets a COVID-19 test; we also have oral swab kits for people who want to pick one up and test themselves at home–but their exposure has to have been more than three months out, rather than our usual anyone can get an HIV test at any time we are open for testing. I’m very glad and happy that we are back to providing some HIV testing; we may not be what we were but at least we are able to do something, you know? I also suspect that people are violating quarantine for sex hook-ups, which means there’s going to be a strong need for STI testing once “shelter-at-home” orders have been lifted.

I mean, yay for job security, I guess? Even if it ghoulish.

I would much rather the HIV pandemic come to an end, frankly, even if puts me out of a job.

I finished rereading Crocodile on the Sandbank last night, and, well, Dr. Mertz deserved to be named a Grand Master for that book alone. The voice of Amelia Peabody–everything about Amelia Peabody–is absolute genius. Rereading the book, I fell in love with Peabody and Emerson and Evelyn and Walter all over again. The brilliance of how she constructed this book, those characters–I mean, wow, the woman was an absolute master. I mourn every year since Dr. Mertz’ death that there is no new Amelia Peabody adventure to enjoy, to laugh out loud at the rapier-like wit of the dialogue, and the frank adoration of both couples, not only for their partners but for their beloved friends, who all shared this initial adventure together and literally all met during the course of this book…wow. Just wow. It will get its own blog post soon enough, but oh, how I love and miss Peabody and Emerson.

I really missing visiting them and their Egypt.

It’s also Pay-the-Bills day, which is never, no matter what anyone might think, much fun. But I whipped through them all, and am glad to  have that mess behind me. I am also wondering about when I can schedule a Costco trip. I’d rather not go on the weekend, for obvious reasons–if there was a line to get in Wal-mart, I can’t imagine Costco isn’t doing the same thing, you know–but there are things I need to get from there, and so might as well bite the bullet and figure out when I can go. (The case of Pellegrino alone…)

We started watching Murder is My Life, an Australian crime series starring Lucy Lawless, on Acorn streaming last night. One can, of course, never go wrong with anything if Lucy Lawless is in it, and it’s actually quite fun and well done. (I was watching while at the same time racing to finish Crocodile on the Sandbank.) It’s always fun to find a new show, and let’s face it, Acorn is one of the esssential streaming services if you like British and/or Australian crime television.

How is everyone doing out there these days? Difficult times, to be sure–and it’s okay to get overwhelmed sometimes. While I have never–who has?–been involved or experienced anything this epic and global before, I’ve actually been through a local natural/manmade disaster; and some deeply personal level stuff that required my acquisition of numerous coping skills and mechanisms. Those coping skills have come in handy, believe you me, since the curtain came down and the world shut done to deal with this global pandemic. And as it seems to stretch out in front of us endlessly, with no real end in sight–there’s no way of knowing, so we are still charting strange new waters–just always remember this, Constant Reader: when you are starting to get overwhelmed by the scope and enormity of the macro, find something micro to fixate on, and focus on that–something small you can handle, get taken care of, and can be in control of; whether that’s cleaning out old clothes from the closet or dresser you will never wear again, or doing your windows, and a deep clean of your floors, including baseboards–that focus will get you through. Every single time, it will get you through.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. I am working from home today–the endless data entry–and need to get working on my emails.

Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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Heaven’s Just a Sin Away

I’m tired.

I think the worst thing of all this is the uncertainty, you know? Every time the fatigue sets in, every time my mind gets foggy, every time I can feel my temperature going up, after the great here we go again thought comes the what if you actually test negative? What does that mean? If you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?

Paul suggested that part of the fatigue could come from the lack of activity, and there’s a possibility that might be true. Once I finish this, I am going to get down on the kitchen floor and stretch, just to see how that feels. I am really not overly comfortable going for a walk, in all honesty; not knowing whether or not I am actually infected makes going out of the Lost Apartment seem like an incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do. I do have a mask–an official medical one, and gloves too–I had to buy these when Paul had his heart surgery all those years ago, and my tendency to hoard actually came in handy for once, so I suppose keeping a distance from others while wearing gloves and a mask should be okay, but there’s so much uncertainty about everything–hell, I don’t know if I actually am infected or not–that I just don’t know what I should be doing or should not be doing.

But I am lucky, because if I do indeed have this, at least it hasn’t moved into my lungs, at least not yet. I think it’s the lung part that is problematic for people; the inability to breathe, of course, would be horrifying, as well as feeling like you’re drowning. I go back and forth all the time on everything; it’s horrible to be indecisive, to not know what the right decisions are or even what the consequences of the wrong decisions could even be. This also isn’t like me, and I don’t know if it’s the foggy head or just the times or if I am simply being visited by some good old PTSD. Anything at this point is possible, and there are so many goddamned variables…and being trained since birth to always expect the worst doesn’t help much, frankly.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I did some chores around the house once I woke up, ate some cereal, and then was exhausted (again, lack of activity, or illness?) and so I collapsed into my easy chair and couldn’t even focus on reading. I did get a few chapters more into Ammie, Come Home but after awhile put it aside and got lost in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. ESPNU also decided to replay a series of LSU games from last season–the Mississippi game, then the play-off game with Oklahoma and the national title game–so I had that on while I read and dozed off and on. I never nap; and I always have trouble sleeping–which is the truly weird thing about all of this; the amount of sleep I’m getting, and then again–maybe I’m tired from sleeping too much, I don’t know. After Paul got home and we watched the end of Schitt’s Creek (which I am very sad to say goodbye to; it may be my favorite sitcom of all time), and then I read some more before going to bed.

The exciting life of a gay mystery novelist.

I do have creative bursts, though-which gives me hope that someday soon I might actually start writing again. I’ve been thinking through Bury Me in Shadows, and I think i might have actually solved the mystery of what’s wrong with the story. In fact, rather than reading any of my various books that I have spread out on the end table next to my easy chair (the two afore-mentioned, along with Du Maurier’s The Breaking Point and my iPad, which has a plethora of books in its various book-reading apps) I should probably reread the entire manuscript, perhaps even do an outline, and then figure out how to make it better and revise it, so when I can get back on a roll with writing again I can get back to it. I’ve also been thinking about the Kansas book, and I think I’ve cracked that code at long last–since I started writing it in either 2015 or 2016, about fucking time, wouldn’t you say–and so maybe, just maybe, i can get to that too. I also have to write my Sherlock story. The kitchen is also a mess–there’s a load in the dishwasher that has to be put away and the sink is full of dirty dishes as well, and there are clothes in the dryer as well-and God knows when the last time I did the floors was. I am going to try to get some of this stuff handled at some point today.

And on that note, I am going to try to get started on everything and see how much I can get done before I run out of energy–not that I have a lot right now, but the coffee is helping give me a bit of a boost, which is always nice–and see what can get taken care of before the malaise comes back.

Sorry to be such a downer, and I hope all is well with you, Constant Reader–and stay safe.

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Galveston

So here we are, on yet another Tuesday morning. Yesterday wasn’t a complete loss for me; I was very tired after going out and getting myself tested in the morning, so I came home and decided to take a “Greg Day”; no emails, no work,  and as little social media as possible. Easier said than done, of course, but you know–that’s how the ball bounces sometimes. I did get further into my reread of Ammie, Come Home (I always forget the damned comma in the title) by Barbara Michaels–one of the best Gothic ghost stories ever published, even if a little dated today–and I read a few chapters of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror–the 14th century is my second favorite century, behind the 16th–and when my brain couldn’t focus to read, I watched some videos on Youtube that sent me into yet another wormhole, this one of videos about American Horror Story.

In my defense, it started with a video about Jessica Lange’s roles on the show, which led to Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe, and…you get the picture.

And then, of course, ESPN replayed that particular Monday night football game from back in September, 2006. That warm night when the Saints played their first home game since the 2004 season. A year after Katrina, when the roof came off the Superdome and people died and still others were trapped there for days. When the city was almost completely destroyed, its economy gone, her people scattered. Our futures were uncertain that bleak fall of 2005, and even throughout 2006, with our abbreviated Mardi Gras and frustratingly slow, it seemed, recovery. We’d almost lost the Saints to San Antonio when the city drowned, but they’d stayed–and the true hero of that was Tagliabue at the NFL, not Tom Benson–and now the Superdome, long a symbol of the city and now a monument to its worst moments, was ready to reopen and create a new identity for itself, just as the city was seeking to be reborn, just as those who lived here were waiting for hope. I remember that day in the city–I knew the Saints were winning but I was busy; the Lost Apartment was still lost and still wouldn’t be finished for another two months. All we had was a tiny old black and white portable television in the carriage house, whose carpet had been ripped up to be replaced but hadn’t yet so there were carpet tacks sticking up out of the bare, scarred exposed wood. We were sleeping on a mattress on top of a box spring on the floor. Paul’s desk and computer were set up in one corner of the room, the staircase and railing took up another side and the little television, which was rarely watched, sat on top of a dresser. I ran errands that day and sensed something in the air–I knew the Saints were winning games but wasn’t paying attention because I was busy trying to make a living and keep myself to the very strict schedule I had to follow in order to have the slightest chance of getting anything done. But i could feel it when I went out to the car, in the air. People were wearing Saints jerseys, or at least black and gold, everywhere I looked. Saints flags were flying on the front of houses (we take flags seriously in New Orleans). Everyone was in Saints gear–the post office, the grocery store, Walgreens, everywhere–and when I got home I looked it up on-line: yup, the Superdome was reopening for Monday Night Football, and we were playing the hated Falcons. Paul and I watched on that little black and white television, screaming and cheering and getting a little teary eyed.  It gave us something we hadn’t had in a long time–hope. They called the game both “ReBirth” and “Domecoming”; both fit.

And while the Saints had always been our team before, that night they became OUR TEAM. Even New Orleanians who weren’t football fans became Saints fans that night. And the sheer joy with which the team played that night was so apparent, and so obvious, and they made it so clear they were doing it for the city…I’ve rarely felt so connected with a football team the way I did with that 2006 Saints team.

As glorious as winning the Super Bowl was, I have to say I think the Domecoming game was probably the greatest moment in Saints history.

Watching the game last night during another social and societal upheaval–one that is affecting the entire world and not just us this time–reminded me of that feeling. Tears spilled out of my eyes once again as Steve Gleason blocked that punt and the Dome erupted; listening to that crowd, seeing their faces and the tears of joy on their faces…having something like the Saints to cheer for, to help us through the hard times, and to give us hope again for the first time since Katrina crossed southern Florida…it’s hard to explain that, I guess.

Try to imagine what it’s going to be like when we have sports again–or the first time you can go out to a restaurant again, or what it’s like to be free of this worry and burden and fear…heady stuff, frankly.

And now…now I am feeling tired again, so I am going to go lie down for a bit. Stay safe, everyone.

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Amarillo by Morning

So, this morning when I woke up, as my first cup of coffee brewed, I dialed the COVID-19 testing hot-line for staff at the day job and made an appointment to get tested. They scheduled me for 9:20 am; I was called at around eight thirty, which left me with about fifty minutes to wake up, drink some coffee, and pull myself together. Our clinic’s COVID testing set-up is in the parking garage which is the ground floor of our building; staff simply drives into the garage and pulls up to the area where the tents and check-in desk are set up, and the doctor comes out and swabs your nose. Needless to say, as I swilled down coffee and brewed another quick cup to take with me in the car, my nerves were definitely feeling a bit frayed. Saturday was a better day than Friday; yesterday was better than Saturday. So far this morning I seem to feel okay other than fatigue–going up stairs to put on a T-shirt and shorts to drive over to the office made my legs and hips ache a bit; it also triggered a small coughing fit (note: the only time my lungs feel tight is when I cough; other than that I breathe fine and they don’t phase me at all. But when I cough, I feel a tightness in the center of my chest that is pretty severe–but as I said, once the coughing spasm passed, I feel fine) but I got dressed and drove over to the office. It didn’t take long as the streets are pretty empty–there’s some traffic, to be sure, and a pandemic and over-burdened hospitals doesn’t seem to be stopping people from driving like thoughtless assholes–and then I pulled into the garage, got checked in, signed my consent to be tested form, and Dr. Halperin came out and swabbed both nostrils.

And while I can see why the vice-president thought it was invasive–I imagine anything put it any of his orifices would be invasive to him–it really wasn’t that bad. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever had done to me; I’d certainly rather get my nostrils swabbed like that on a regular basis than have an abscessed tooth ever again, and the worst part of it wasn’t the invasiveness at all. The worst part is the chemical on the swab–it doesn’t quite burn per se, but the closest experience I can think of to it is when you accidentally and deeply inhale mothballs; my eyes watered and it burned a little bit, but not painfully.

In a best case scenario, the test results will be back within 2-4 days–it may be longer, who knows? But I have to go into a strict quarantine until the results do come back, which means not leaving the house or running any errands or doing much of anything. Of course I have gloves and masks, so I can theoretically do some things and leave the house if necessary, but I shouldn’t really take the risk of infecting someone else by going out in public until I know for a certain whether I currently have it, or did have it, or don’t have it at all. I was also a little confused because I’d assumed there would be a blood draw to go with the swab test, but I am also conditioned to thinking about testing for different viruses (HIV, syphilis, and Hep C) so I assumed the testing would also have to involve blood. But then I realized, afterwards as I was driving home, that mucous doesn’t carry the HIV, syphilis or Hep C viruses (virii?); but the COVID-19 virus can be airborne transmitted–which means it must be in the mucous membranes along with the antibodies.

At least that makes testing for it that much easier, so that’s kind of a plus?

I also noticed, this morning, a little bit of PTSD kicking in from the good old HIV/AIDS pandemic days–“oh, look, I need to get tested for a potentially fatal virus and have to wait days to get the results back”–but I quickly tamped that down, shoved the lid closed and firmly padlocked it. I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise that particular version of all the PTSD’s I have locked behind various doors in my brain took so long to try to worm it’s way out, but it did finally show up and I was able to beat it down rather easily.

Thank you, coping mechanisms, developed over several decades of seemingly endless trauma.

I didn’t have to take a nap yesterday, but after we finished watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a lovely stand-alone film follow-up to the wonderful Miss Fisher series from Australia (it was kind of an Indiana Jones-lite adventure, set in Palestine in 1928 and quite fun), I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and opened it up to the chapter about the Black Death. Yes, I recognize that my recent fascination with plagues and epidemics and pandemics is probably morbid, given the current state of affairs in the world, yet my curiosity had always had a bit of morbidity to it and it’s really not surprising that it would take this kind of turn. (And I’m actually kind of glad; I was glad to finally read “Death in Venice” even if it left me a little cold; and it also led me down the path to rereading “The Masque of the Red Death”, and back into my Daphne du Maurier short stories) Realistically, while everyone talks about the Spanish influenza pandemic of a hundred years ago, primarily because it was the most recent pandemic (note to self: reread Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse Pale Rider”), the worst pandemic in history was clearly the bubonic plague, the Black Death, or, as it was known more simply during the fourteenth century, “the pestilence.”

Here’s how the chapter opens:

In October 1347, two months after the fall of Calais, Genoese trading ships put into the harbor of Messina in Sicily with dead and dying men at the oars. The ships had come from the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya) in the Crimea, where the Genoese maintained a trading post. The diseased sailors showed strange black swellings about the size of an egg or an apple in the armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within five days of the first symptoms. As the disease spread, other symptoms of continuous fever and spitting of blood appeared instead of the swelling or buboes. The victims coughed and sweated heavily and died even more quickly, within three days or less, sometimes in 24 hours. In both types everything that issued from the body–breath, sweat, blood from the buboes and lungs, bloody urine, and blackened excrement–smelled foul. Depression and despair accompanied the physical symptoms, and before the end “death is seen seared on the face.”

The disease was bubonic plague, present in two forms: one that infected the bloodstream, causing the buboes and internal bleeding, and was spread by contact; and a second, more virulent pneumonic type that infected the lungs and was spread by respiratory infection. The presence of both at once caused the high mortality and speed of contagion. So lethal was the disease that cases were known of persons going to bed well and dying before they woke, of doctors catching the illness at a bedside and dying before the patient. So rapidly did it spread from one to another that to a French physician, Simon de Covino, it seemed as if one sick person “could infect the whole world.” The malignity of the pestilence appeared more terrible because its victims knew no prevention and no remedy.

The chapter is pretty horrific, and it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to live through in the fourteenth century. It’s impossible to know how many people died because they died so quickly that graveyards overflowed and burial pits had to be dug; people simply dragged the bodies of their dead loved ones to the pits and dumped them there. Estimates were obviously guesses and sometimes exaggerated; one monk’s reported death toll for one particular city, in fact, was more than what its recorded population showed. But it’s not inaccurate to guess that one third of the European population died during the pestilence; towns disappeared, families completely died out. Farms went untended because the farmers and their families died; there were also undoubtedly consequential deaths, not from the plague but because of it; young children whose parents had died starved to death, etc. Naturally they thought it was the end of the world, a punishment from God for sin; and the fourteenth century, which Ms. Tuchman describes as “calamitous”, was certainly ripe for that kind of belief.

One of the interesting things to me about this current pandemic is–and this may entirely be because I am not paying attention and my social media is sort of a bubble; but I cannot believe someone would be saying this about the pandemic and no one i know would notice it and be outraged enough to post about it–where are the evangelicals? Where are all those “end times” preachers and ministers and con artists to prey on the fears of their congregation? Why isn’t anyone pointing out that this could actually be the “rapture” where God is calling his own to him? I have seen that some trashbag minister called this God’s punishment for the gays–but it didn’t gain any traction.

Maybe one of the outcomes of this pandemic will be the ending of that nonsense. I rather doubt it, but you know, hope springs eternal.

I did read for a while yesterday–I got further into Ammie Come Home and I read a short story by Harlan Ellison, “On the Downhill Side”, from his collection Deathbird Stories, which I’d originally read years ago, before I moved to New Orleans, and this story is set in New Orleans. Oddly enough, when I opened the ebook in my Kindle app on the iPad (I was actually looking to see if the collection included his Edgar winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”–it does) it was already opened to that story, so I read it, and as always with Ellison, loved it–and while it certainly is brilliantly written, it was written by someone who didn’t live here. I did love the story; like all of Ellison’s stories, the humanity in it was overwhelming and identifiable and relatable. I’ll probably give it, at some point, its own entry here.

And now I am feeling a bit tired, so I am going to go rest for a bit.

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