My Head is Spinning

And somehow here it is Wednesday yet again.

And it’s pay day; or as it is known in my corner of the Lost Apartment, “pay the bills and hope there’s grocery money left day.” I’m still swilling electrolytes every day. I managed a cup of coffee yesterday without a relapse; I may try a second cup today (“Greg never has a second cup at home”–ten points to anyone who gets that reference); that’s me, always living on the edge. But I have been feeling better. I’ve been tired, but the kind that comes from insomnia, not that wretched exhausted-drained-of-all-energy tired that comes with whatever this is–dehydration or whatever. That is quite a relief. But I finally slept well last night, and actually feel rested and healthy this morning. Huzzah!

I woke up to an amazing thunderstorm (and the inevitable flash flood warnings in the city). It’s pouring outside, bright flashes of nearby lightning followed by rolling thunder that seems to last forever. One of the many things I love about living here in New Orleans is the glorious thunderstorms we have here; I don’t think I could ever live in a desert climate again with its dry heat and rare rain. And sure, the flash floods aren’t particularly fun–especially if you get caught in one in your car–but I’d rather that then little to no rain ever. I’m also kind of glad to be working from home today so I don’t have to go out into it; that’s also quite lovely–but as I’ve said before to friends–the thing about being out in New Orleans rain is that your umbrella is useless because you’re going to get soaked anyway, so you might as well give into it and enjoy it.

Sometimes getting drenched in a rainstorm is a lot of fun.

Last night we finished watching Ordeal by Innocence, and while it’s been quite a long time since I read the novel by Agatha Christie, I feel relatively confidence in saying that I don’t think the television adaptation hewed closely to the novel–like the adaptation of The Pale Horse we watched over the weekend; as opposed to that, however, at least this revision (or reimagining, if you prefer) of Christie’s original story was rather well done. Again, I’m not entirely sure why screenwriters and producers feel they can do better than Christie, but there it is, and as I said, at least this one was told well and interesting. Excellent cast, as well.

As always, the Lost Apartment is tragically a disaster area again this morning; the illness and exhaustion have sadly long kept me from doing a deep and thorough clean–I’ve accomplished some surface cleaning, but haven’t done the floors in quite some time, and it shows–and I am hopeful that today, once I’m through with my workday, I can get some writing done. I am so horribly and woefully behind on everything that I fear I may never catch up. I’ve simply got to get the Sherlock story worked on, and I need to get the Secret Project caught up, and there’s another couple of stories I really want to be working on as well–“Condos for Sale or Rent” and “The Flagellants”–and of course, the novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”. Sigh. Will I ever have time to work on everything and finish everything I want to finish? Most likely not.

And on that depressing note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Paninaro

Apparently, this old dog can learn some new tricks.

Yesterday morning, after the relapses of the previous weekend, I decided that I was going to have to give up caffeine again, as well as call my doctor’s office to see if I could get in sooner rather than later. After all, this has been going on for far longer than I would like, and perhaps more drastic measures were called for then just drinking Gatorade and water while cutting caffeine out. A friend suggested that I drink some PediaLyte, so on my way into the office I stopped at CVS, bought some–and suddenly, I felt like Gregalicious again. I just had always assumed, I guess, that Gatorade had whatever you needed in it to get over dehydration, and was apparently wrong. I drank water the rest of my shift, and was feeling a little dry-mouthed when I got home so I had another Pedialyte. Electrolytes were what were called for, and I am going to continue to drink one of these a day (at least) until this dehydration issue is taken care of. It was never something I ever really had to concern myself with–even after dancing all night on Ecstasy–but now, alas, yet another sign that my body is decaying.

But at least I know what to do now, even if it took me two weeks to figure it out.

I do learn, even if it takes me awhile.

It was lovely, though, last night to just feel tired and now it was from not sleeping well, rather than that horrible physical exhaustion.

Of course, I’m also on night four of insomnia.

But I am getting by. I’m still way behind on everything, and keep hoping that today–maybe–I’ll start to dig out from under. One can dream at any rate, can’t one? I need to get the Sherlock story worked on this week–in my fever state the other day I realized something could be cut and something should be added–and of course, last night as I was thinking about it, I started thinking about how much more could be done with the story; how much more could be done around Sherlock in New Orleans in the 1910’s; and how rich and layered and textured such a period piece could be…so of course I started wondering if I should think about possibly doing a Sherlock pastiche in this time period.

Because of course.

I read some more of the Woolrich last night; the pacing has picked up dramatically, although I’m still not sure where it’s going or how it could possibly end; and after Paul got home we tried to find a new show to watch, without much luck. Love Victor lasted about fifteen minutes–I wasn’t a big fan of Love Simon–and we tried a few other things before finally landing on another Agatha Christie adaptation, Ordeal by Innocence, which isn’t quite as I remembered the book either, but it’s an intriguing story and very well filmed and acted–and there are only three one hour episodes, so it’s not much of a commitment.

And let’s face it, Elite is a very tough act to follow.

I am tired again this morning, but this is entirely due to the insomnia as opposed to anything else; I am trying a cup of coffee this morning (after which I am going to have some Pedialyte) and it’s not sitting well with me; it’s kind of stuffy and sticky in the Lost Apartment this morning, and that’s certainly not helping any. I have to run errands after I get off work this afternoon–I have packages waiting at the postal service, and I need to stop at the grocery store for a few things as well–and so I am hoping today will be a productive one. There’s a million emails to sort and answer–and I really need to find my to-do list from before I relapsed into whatever this was the last two weeks and make a new one.

Every day I’m juggling.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Love Comes Quickly

And we’ve made it, yet again, to another Monday somehow; good for me, good for you, good for every single one of us. I am working in the clinic today, which is absolutely wonderful; I was really happy when we reopened last Tuesday because helping people is a large part of why I love my job and what keeps me in it. (Well, that and the health insurance.)

I was sick again yesterday; I was fine when I woke up, but after cleaning the kitchen and taking out the trash fatigue set in again and I had a touch of fever. I immediately went to my easy chair–I was able to read for a while on my Woolrich before even that became too much for me–and started watching movies. I watched Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (sigh, Venice), and then we watched a new show on Prime, Upload, which seemed kind of interesting, but after two episodes we moved on to an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse, which was nothing like the novel except for a few things, which is really annoying. Why do screenwriters and producers think they can tell a better story than AGATHA CHRISTIE? The arrogance is staggering…some Christies, of course, can’t really transition to film; Endless Night, which is one of my favorites, certainly can’t because it’s primarily internal. But I don’t remember The Pale Horse as one that was so tricky that filming the story as written by Christie–who was just one of the most successful writers of all time and certainly the biggest selling mystery writer of all time–was so damned impossible.

I am convinced that I am still not properly hydrated; for example, this morning when I woke up my mouth was completely dry and so were my lips. I drank coffee both Saturday and Sunday morning before the exhaustion/fever kicked back in, and that was a huge mistake, I think. I am going to try to go without caffeine for the next few days to see if I am able to make headway on the dehydration; I’m also calling my doctor today because something is clearly going on with me that needs checking out. In a worst case scenario, I may wind up going to the emergency room to get an IV. I think it could also be a combination of things–the dehydration makes me have no appetite, and my blood sugar might drop as a result of not eating as much. I made an effort to eat yesterday, and after eating I did feel better, but still–something is wrong with me and I need to get to the bottom of it.

I also lost yesterday as a writing day, which was the last thing in the world I needed to do, but there you have it. I am hoping to get caught up on some of the writing I am behind on this week, but we shall have to wait and see how that goes.

I’m hearing thunder out there this morning and it’s grayish and gloomy outside the windows, which isn’t promising. I haven’t checked to see if we have any weather alerts–so maybe the potential for flooding isn’t there, but who knows? I stand corrected; I just looked at my email and there’s a severe weather alert there, although I don’t understand why I didn’t get a text on my phone? The storm was located out in the East, near Lake Catherine, at the time the email was sent.

And on that note, I need to eat something and drink something and get ready for working in the clinic today. Hopefully the lack of caffeine won’t be an issue, and the lack of caffeine will result in feeling better most of the day.

Have a great day, Constant Reader.

King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.

I’m In Love with a German Film Star

Thursday morning, how you doing?

So New Orleans is slowly beginning to open up this Saturday morning–I’m kind of skeptical, quite frankly, but at the same time, I’m also kind of happy that my gym will be open again. Yes, I’m that shallow gay man. But I had really gotten into a groove working out before the country shut down for the first time in over ten years, and my body was actually responding to it. So, yes, I’ll put on my mask and go to the gym, cleaning everything before and after I use it, and try to maintain distance from people as much as I can.

Does that sound selfish? Now that I’m putting it own into words, it kind of does.

And of course, the irony of catching a potentially lethal virus while working out to be healthier does not escape me.

But I’ve tried to maintain some sort of exercise; taking walks, stretching every other day, and when I’m feeling particularly ambitious, some crunches and push-ups. And the fact that I’ve missed going to the gym, and am anxious to get back to it, is a good thing, right? And yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel maybe I’m being stupid? Ah, the conflict and inner turmoil! I can also be smarter about this, too–going when there isn’t as many people there, for one, and determining whether I feel it’s safe or not to go ahead and work out after getting there and seeing how many people are there and so forth. I suspect with the gym opening up it’ll be similar to January–always crowded at first as people try to stick to their resolutions and then gradually tapering off to normal. I don’t know, I’m really torn. While continuing to do my best while at work to reduce my risk of exposure, is it really smart to be at risk for exposure while at work and then go to the gym?

Well, I have until Saturday to figure it all out and decide.

I slept really well last night, probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages, frankly, and it was lovely. I am still a bit groggy this morning, but that good groggy feeling from sleeping well and wishing I could have stayed in bed a lot longer this morning. I was tired yesterday; and hopefully that will carry over into another good night’s sleep tonight. One can hope, at any rate. But the coffee is tasting particularly good this morning–another sign that I’m still groggy–and I have to leave work early today because I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon, after which I’ll run some errands before heading home.

I almost finished reading House of Many Shadows last night–I am, according to my Kindle, about 85% finished with the book, so it shouldn’t be an issue to finish reading it tonight. I am also now wondering what I should reread next. I was leaning toward another Mary Stewart–Madam Will You Talk?–but I’ve reread a lot of Mary Stewarts since beginning the Reread Project (each of which was a gem and a total pleasure to reread), and perhaps it’s time to move on to another writer for now, and save the Stewarts for later in the year? I do have an awful lot of Phyllis Whitneys on my Kindle, as well as some other terrific books I would love to reread–there’s also some Agatha Christies, including one that never gets talked about much but was always a favorite of mine, The Man in the Brown Suit–and there are any number of others as well.

Paul was working on things last night, so I watched One for the Ages, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary recapping LSU’s 2019 football season (I still can’t believe how amazingly good they were; better than my wildest dreams for an LSU football season) and then they replayed the national title game between LSU and Clemson. And no, I wasn’t really watching the game again, it was just on for background noise while I read. (I will admit to having watched it again more than once, but primarily skipping the parts when Clemson played well and scored; while I was doing my data entry yesterday in my easy chair I played through the games with Florida and Alabama on Youtube)

I am also hoping to get back to work on the Secret Project tonight. It took me awhile, but I think I have a better way to open the first chapter than the original way I had.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with yours truly. Have a happy Thursday, Constant Reader!

IMG_0998

Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Let’s Take The Long Way Around the World

Wednesday morning, and the beginning of a new era for one Gregalicious. I still only work a half-day, but now I work the second half of our testing schedule (4:30-8) rather than the first half (12-330) which I’ve been doing for quite some time now. When I asked my co-worker with whom I shift share if she’d mind switching with me once a month so I can make the monthly MWA board call, said she’d do it whenever necessary–and I realized, after we talked, that 1) it would actually be better for me overall to work the later half permanently and 2) it also worked better with her schedule for her to do the early, so we made the switch permanent (except for that pesky day when the parades get started, when I need to leave the office no later than 3:30 so I can get home before they close St. Charles Avenue. So, today is that first day, and while I do have a conference call this morning. I can spend the rest of the day getting things done around the house and I can even run the errands I need to run at a more leisurely place while still getting to work on time.

I love when things work out well, don’t you?

I was exhausted yesterday when I got home from work; partly because it was the second of my twelve hour shifts and partly because some days, my work is emotionally and physically draining. I’m a counselor, primarily for sexual health, and sometimes–well, sometimes it’s a difficult, draining job. I’m not complaining–I absolutely love my job and the work I do; my job actually makes a difference in some of our clients’ lives, which helps alleviate the fact that I’m actually a pretty awful person at heart. But I was so tired all I could do was, as usual, recline in my easy chair with Scooter curled up in my lap and cycle through Youtube videos. I enjoy Ms. Mojo’s list videos, for the most part, even when I don’t agree with their choices, and I don’t even remember which ones I was watching last night–although I do recall a lot of them had to do with Baby Yoda/The Child/The Asset and others with the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. 

It’s also a bit hard to realize that Carnival parades start relatively soon; the 14th of February, St. Valentine’s Day, to be exact, with all the disruption that entails.

I also this week booked my tickets to fly to the Edgars and Malice Domestic; I’ll be flying into LaGuardia on the Tuesday of that week; attending the Edgar symposium on Wednesday and going to the combination nominees reception/anthology launch for the new MWA anthology that evening, and then helping with last minute things on Thursday before attending the banquet. Friday morning I will Amtrak from Penn down to Union Station in DC before riding on the Metro to Bethesda for Malice. (I’m flying home from Washington National, which will entail taking the Metro again–probably having to change lines once; I’ll have to investigate that further.) But I’m excited to go to Malice–I haven’t been to Malice in years, and I’ve only been once. I had a great time and met a lot of lovely people; I enjoy the Malice crowd very much, and the train trip down from New York the last time was one of the best times I’ve ever had on a train before–since there were many of us traveling down from the Edgars. The train was full of crime writers! (I did have an idea for a book or a story inspired by that trip–“Murder on the Acela Express”, but could never wrap my mind around how to actually write it; the Christie original which of course inspired the title, Murder on the Orient Express, requires the train to be stranded out in the middle of nowhere for a period of time, and I couldn’t figure out how to strand the Acela in the middle of nowhere–even though now it occurs to me that it could just be the title that’s the homage rather than the story). I’ll probably be registering for Bouchercon in Sacramento later today or at some point this week–that’s going to be a rather long haul of a trip, but since I had to miss Dallas this past year I don’t want to miss the 2020 edition.

I’m still reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ delightful Dread Journey, but was too tired to read anything last night.

I also have to start reading some books to prepare for an interview I am doing for the Sisters-in-Crime quarterly, and am hoping to get some work done on the Secret Project today before heading into the errands and the office.

The kitchen is also a disgraceful mess this morning. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least I have time to do something about it before I head into work today.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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Frosty the Snowman

And just like that, we are now at Tuesday; a week before Christmas Eve.

Recently, I was tagged in one of those “post seven books you love with no explanation” things on social media–I posted the book covers on both Facebook and Twitter–and while I understand the motivation behind these things (someone might see one of the posts and think, Oh I want to read that) but for me, it’s always difficult to boil things down to a finite number; only seven books that I love? I don’t have favorites, really; the books I love can be quantified any number of ways: ones I’ve reread the most, etc. And I’ve literally read thousands and thousands of books over the course of my life; picking seven absolute favorites is always an odious chore, particularly as I inevitably forget one or more books. This last time, I decided to go with women crime writers I enjoyed reading when I was young, and excluding Agatha Christie. The seven books I chose were all written by women between the years 1956 (the oldest) and 1972 (the most recent); and they were all books that had appeared in print at least once with the inevitable women’s suspense book cover: woman in long dress running away from, or standing some distance in front of, a haunted-looking house, and the woman also always has long hair, usually blowing in a sharp breeze of some sort, and her face has a look of either apprehension or terror, or both, on it.

Those covers were almost inevitably always slapped on any book with any sort of suspense in it, if it was written by a woman and the main character was a woman. Thus, Mary Stewart often got categorized as romantic suspense–and while there might have been some romance in her novels, the mystery/suspense was the primary aspect of the books…I’ve always thought her novels were just straight up mysteries with female protagonists–in Airs Above the Ground she’s married, for Christ’s sake–but Charlotte Armstrong often got the same kind of covers, and she was far from romantic suspense.

But when I posted the cover of The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt, a friend commented, asking if “the secret woman” was a mistress. And I realized how deeply clever the novel actually was, as I started to reply.

There were several “secret women” in the book. One was a ship, the Secret Woman; the wealthy family in the book, the Creditons, were a shipping family with a fleet of merchant vessels. The main character in the book was a young orphaned girl who goes to live with her aunt Charlotte, who lives in the Queen’s House (supposedly because Queen Elizabeth I once slept there) and is an antiques dealer. Young Anna Brett is trained by her aunt her entire life to take over the antiques business, and nearby is the home of the Crediton family; and Anna’s life becomes eventually entwined with theirs, when she is hired as a governess for the son of an illegitimate Crediton–old man Crediton had an affair with a young woman named Valerie Stretton, who was also the “secret woman” the ship was named for. Anna needs to get out of England because she was tried for murdering her aunt when she died; she became friends with the nurse who took care of her aunt, and she takes the job so she and her friend can go take care of the young boy’s mentally deranged mother on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. She of course falls in love with the boy’s father…but all kinds of strange things go on, until we finally find out who has actually been going around killing people, and why. Anna herself is a ‘secret woman’; because she is in love with a married man and he with her. Holt was a pseudonym of British writer Eleanor Hibbert; who also wrote as Philippa Carr and Jean Plaidy. I went on to read most of her work under all her names, and enjoyed most of them. The Holt novels began to seem repetitive in the 1980’s, and so I stopped reading her at long last then.

I may revisit some of her work–Kirkland Revels is the one I’ve been thinking about; it;s the only romantic suspense novel I can recall whose heroine spent most of the novel pregnant.

I also finished reading  Watchmen last night, and it’s extraordinary. I will undoubtedly discuss it further, once I’ve digested it a bit more. It really is exceptional.

Insomnia also paid me a visit last night–which sucks, as today is a long day, but on the other hand I can’t complain because it really has been a long time since I lay in bed all night half-asleep/half-awake, only having to open my eyes to be awake. Hopefully that means I’ll be tired this evening and able to get right to sleep.

We shall see, at any rate.

I also got some writing done last night, so the malaise has, for now, gone away.

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

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U Got the Look

This week, The CW debuted a new version of Nancy Drew. I sort of watched it Thursday night, and will probably watch again so I can pay better attention. It’s definitely a reboot, with a lot of changes–Nancy’s mom died much later in her life, for example, and there’s no Bess. The story is also set in Horseshoe Bay rather than River Heights, and Nancy has hung up her sleuthing cap since her mother’s death and is now working as a waitress in a diner. George Fayne isn’t a close friend but now her boss, and they don’t get along–I expect that to change. Ned Nickerson is not white–a change I liked a lot–and prefers to go by Nick. It’s also a bit more in the vein of Riverdale than the classic Nancy Drew stories, but let’s face it–the real Nancy as originally written is kind of insufferable–bit more on that later.

I’m also sure these changes will enrage the Nancy Drew fanbase–anything other than the way she was originally written by a lot of ghostwriters generally sets them off. I am not such a purist–I recognize that changes have to be made for a different medium, for one thing, and for another–as I said earlier, Nancy was a bit insufferable as originally written.

I did enjoy the movie a few years ago with Emma Roberts (it might be the only time I’ve ever actually enjoyed an Emma Roberts performance, frankly); a lot was changed from the books to the series.

Nancy Drew and I go back to my fifth grade year at Eli Whitney Elementary in Chicago. I was already reading as many mysteries as I could get my hands on–those Scholastic Book Fairs were my favorite part of school–and I was checking out as many mysteries from the library as I could. (This was also the period of time when I discovered Phyllis Whitney’s mysteries for children; the first I read was The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye.) My fifth grade teacher had a big table in the back of the room with books for kids on them; we were on the honor system. We could borrow a book but we were supposed to return it when we finished reading it. The first day of school I wandered back there and looked at the books on the table; the first title to jump out at me was The Secret of Red Gate Farm. Above the title was NANCY DREW MYSTERY SERIES, and on the cover was a picture of a girl with wavy blonde hair, wearing a sweater and a long skirt, hiding behind a tree and looking, her mouth wide open in shock, fear or surprise, staring at the entrance to a cave  as some strangely robed figures entered it. I took it back to my desk, and started reading it.

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“That Oriental-looking clerk in the perfume shop certainly acted mysterious, ” Bess Marvin declared, as she and her two friends ended their shopping trip and hurried down the street to the railroad station.

“Yes,” Nancy Drew answered thoughtfully. “I wonder why she didn’t want you to buy that bottle of Blue Jade?”

“The price would have discouraged me,” spoke up Bess’ cousin, dark-haired George Fayne. Her boyish name fitted her slim build and straight-forward, breezy manner. “Twenty dollars an ounce!”

“Oriental-looking.”

Sigh. The great irony is that both the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series were rewritten and revised to remove racist stereotypes and language…

Anyway, The Secret of Red Gate Farm enthralled me, as Nancy and her friends tried to help a young girl and her grandmother save Red Gate Farm from mortgage foreclosure while also trying to expose a ring of counterfeiters. There was a list of intriguing-sounding Nancy Drew titles on the back of the book, and back on the table in my fifth grade classroom there were three more titles: The Mystery at Lilac Inn, The Haunted Showboat, and The Clue of the Leaning Chimney. As I scoped around, there was another series novel, but it wasn’t Nancy Drew; it was the Dana Girls The Secret of the Old Well, allegedly written by the same person: Carolyn Keene.

Nancy Drew introduced me to the world of Grosset & Dunlap series–which were actually all produced, for the most part, by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. I eventually found myself reading–and collecting–many of those series, including the Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Ken Holt, Rick Brant, Biff Brewster, Chip Hilton, and Judy Bolton, among others–I also wound up collecting Trixie Belden and the Three Investigators, too.

I always wanted to write a series like these when I was a kid; I even came up with a list of about forty titles I could use. I wrote one, actually, when I was in the fifth grade–called The Secret of the Haunted Mansion–which, to the best of my recollection, might be the first fiction I ever wrote; alas, it is lost in the mists of time. Periodically, I come back to the thought of writing such a series, but I don’t know that there’s a market for them anymore. Most of the series have gone out of print, with only Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, as far as I know, still available; Trixie Belden might be but I’m not sure. I still collect the books–it really pleases my OCD to have the series completed. I’m still missing a few from some of the harder to find series–like Biff Brewster and Ken Holt, and I do think I am missing a couple of Judy Boltons and Dana Girls as well–but I’ve stopped scouring eBay over the last few years because, well, money.

But at some point, I imagine I will go back and try to complete the series.

I do credit these series with a lot of my devotion to the world of crime and crime writing; while I always loved mysteries, it’s entirely possible I would have moved on to something else had I not discovered, and become addicted, to these series. These series led me eventually to Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen; and those authors eventually led me to others…and wanting to write crime fiction of my own.

So, thank you, Nancy Drew. It’s kind of your fault.

The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.