Friends in Low Places

I cleaned the staircase yesterday, wiping each step down and polishing the banister. It’s astonishing, really, how much dust can collect in New Orleans when you don’t have, or take, the time to keep after it. Add to that cat hair, and perhaps you can imagine the odious chore it actually turned out to be. It occurred to me, halfway down the steps, where they turn, that perhaps I should make the time once a week to do this, but I also had to recognize that I  was feeling particularly ambitious yesterday, and there was no guarantee that I would feel that ambitious every week at some point going forward. Yesterday was my first free day where I haven’t been either extremely tired or horribly ill or some combination of the two in quite some time, and I wasn’t really quite sure what to do with myself. Good Friday is one of our paid holidays from work, and I’m no longer sick, and this was the second of the two consecutive days without fever that I needed to get through in order to be cleared to go back to work.

On Monday.

So I took a look around, said to myself, “oh dear, no–this just won’t do” and got to work. I didn’t finish, but I will be able to make time over the next two days to get everything ship-shape and the way I like them.

Hell, I may even do the windows Sunday morning, with my coffee.

And now it’s Saturday, and the midst of what Christians–particularly Catholics–refer to as the Holy Weekend, commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of their redeemer–although I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, unlike Christmas, it isn’t a fixed date. It’s always struck me as odd, and while I am sure many critics have addressed the mystery of how such a deeply religious time for Catholics essentially began following the fertility rites of the the pagan calendar, it’s still worth remarking on, if not exploring.

Yesterday I chose to walk away from the Internet, my emails, and social media to focus on getting things organized and cleaned around the apartment, as well as doing some reading and writing around the cleaning schedule. It’s very difficult for me to write with a clear conscience and focus completely when my work space is in disarray; I can do it with a messy apartment but it still bothers me. One of the more interesting things to come out of this entire thing–something I’ve commented on to friends–is the discovery, in shaking up our normal routines and schedules and, frankly, ruts, of what’s necessary and what isn’t, and being forced to take a long, hard look, not only at our lives but at how we do things and what our priorities are, and what they should have been. When and if the quarantine has passed and the COVID-19 virus pandemic can be seen only in the rearview mirror, things are going to change going forward. For me, I am no longer doing to work double shifts on Mondays and Tuesdays any more; it wears me out too much and often renders me unable to get much, if anything, done for myself on those days of the week. And while yes, it is lovely to also have two half-days during the rest of the week, the first was always spent recovering from the exhaustion of the two lengthy days and the second, Friday–well, while i was able to get some personal things and business taken care of on Fridays, the truth is much of that could also be handled after work on that day; which is when I always stopped at the grocery store ON THE WAY HOME, and my time-off won’t change by going in earlier and putting in eight hours, either.

As you can see, I feel quite passionate about the subject.

It was lovely, yesterday, cleaning and organizing while taking the occasional break to dip back into my reread of Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, which I thoroughly and completely enjoyed, from page one to the denouement. I am, frankly, stunned at why I did not consider this one of her best books before; it may not have the twists and surprise of The Ivy Tree or Airs Above the Ground, but it’s still quite a suspenseful and thrilling ride and her heroine, Lucy Waring, is far more of a bad-ass than Stewart’s character ever are given credit for being–but more on that subject when I blog about the reread.

It was quite a lovely day yesterday, frankly, and I am hoping that today will be an even better one. I feel quite relaxed and peaceful this morning–and am hopeful that today will be an accomplishment day; I hope to get some writing done, some more cleaning, and get myself back into the groove of–well, being Gregalicious again.

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

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Crazy

And just like that, it’s Good Friday.

What’s so good about it? Well, if you live in a deeply Catholic state like Louisiana, that means it’s a paid holiday, which is certainly always welcomed in these parts. I never say no to a paid holiday–anything else would simply be madness.

Today I woke up after about ten hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep–I will usually wake up at least once or twice during the night–and my body feels almost completely back to normal now. Whatever that was that I had (and I am not convinced that my test result wasn’t a false negative, frankly–how bizarre that a usually healthy person came down with something–not once, but TWICE–that completely mirrored the majority of symptoms of COVID-19; regardless, I lived through it and it’s over now, thank you Baby Jesus on a Good Friday) seems to be gone now; I feel terrific, haven’t coughed in days, and the only reason I felt warm yesterday was because it was hot outside and it was daytime in New Orleans; air conditioning can only do so much in an old house in this climate–although rather than suffering through that down here this afternoon, maybe I’ll just go read in bed, and take the laptop with me just in case; for some reason it’s much cooler upstairs this year than downstairs, which makes absolutely no sense.

I finished reading Ammie, Come Home yesterday and you can read that entry here, if you missed it. I then moved on to Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, and remembered just how magical Mary Stewart was as a story-teller. I read most of Mary Stewart’s works when I was a teenager, with The Ivy Tree and Airs Above the Ground as my two particular favorites; the ones I would always grab from the shelf when I wanted to reread one of her books. The others I don’t remember quite as much; primarily because I didn’t reread them as frequently, if at all, as the other two. I hadn’t much liked The Moon-spinners the first time; I loved it all the more on the reread. Likewise, my memory of This Rough Magic was similar; I enjoyed it but never went back to it. (In fact, my mind I’d mixed up plot elements of the two books; I thought all the stuff with the dolphin was in The Moon-spinners; it’s actually in This Rough Magic.) I also only have a copy of the ebook–which I never read, really, other than for short story collections or anthologies–but there I was yesterday afternoon, reading the ebook of a novel on my iPad for the first time with a purring kitty in my lap and music playing through my speakers in the kitchen. It was quite lovely, and quite relaxing. A breakthrough? Only the future will tell.

I also read Harlan Ellison’s Edgar Award winning short story “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” yesterday; it was a part of his collection Deathbird Stories, which I had in hard copy but purchased the ebook on sale recently. I need to write a blog entry about it, and the other story from the same collection I’d read, “On the Downhill Side”, which was quite lovely and quite magical, particularly in the way he wrote about New Orleans, where the story was set; he did something that was absolutely genius–which is what everyone who writes about New Orleans but has never lived here should probably do when they decide to write about New Orleans. (There’s a snobbery all New Orleanians, and New Orleans writers, all have about people who aren’t from here but choose to set their fiction here; like everything, there’s good and bad elements to that snobbery. But even journalists doing features on New Orleans fuck it up, and fuck it up badly, so we’re always suspicious of outsiders writing about our beloved city.)

I need to get back to writing, now that I no longer have empty head from whatever it was I had these past two weeks; I have some things that are close to being due, I need to get that Sherlock story focused on and written, and I’ve also agreed to do an essay about my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” for The First Two Pages blog. In order to get back on track with writing and everything that needs to be done around the Lost Apartment before I return to work (once I am cleared; I am certain I’ll be cleared to return on Monday) so I have a strong grasp on everything. I also need to prioritize things and not allow things to detract from my writing time and my writing career. I realized recently that I will not have a book out this year, which isn’t good, and if I’m not careful I won’t have a book out next year, either. So I need to get this other stuff finished and out of the way so I can get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, then do the same with the Kansas book. I also have to get back to the Secret Project; so the goals for this month are to get all these loose odds and ends finished so I can focus on getting the books done. And if I focus, and don’t allow myself to get distracted, there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t get all that taken care of so I can focus on the novels this summer.

So, for today, I am going to work on my Sherlock story and my Venice story while trying to get everything around here cleaned and organized–cleaning and organizing may seem like me trying to procrastinate, but really, I can’t work when my office area is messy–and I will try to get as much done around here as I can until around four or five, when I’ll allow myself a few hours to read more of This Rough Magic. The books need work, too–it’s time to do another cull–and it’s been weeks since I’ve had the energy to take on the floors. Maybe even this weekend I’ll drag the ladder outside and do the windows around my desk–they are filthy, after all–so clearly I am starting to feel better because not only am I noticing these things, I’m paying attention to them, and they bother me; so I am definitely myself again.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. It’s been awhile, and it’s going to feel pretty good, methinks.

Happy Good Friday, everyone.

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Tennessee Waltz

Another major parade, another tragic death. Endymion was cancelled beyond float 12 last night, after yet another parade goer went under a tandem float and was killed. Remember how I said, after the Nyx tragedy Wednesday night, that it was a wonder it didn’t happen more often? Yeesh. The city has cancelled tandem floats for the rest of Carnival–what does that mean for the big ones, like the Bacchasaur or the Bacchagator, or the Orpheus train? Remains to be seen, I suppose, and I would imagine next year they are probably going to look at barricading the entire parade route–but I also wouldn’t think that would be practical or even possible. The routes are far too long, for one, and in many places there’s just sidewalk along the route, like in my neighborhood. How awful, how simply awful. I see in this morning’s news both Bacchus and Orpheus are complying with the city’s request…but ugh, how sad and what a pall over this year’s Mardi Gras.I can’t imagine what the families of the two victims are going through, nor how horrible it would be to have such a terrible, terrible Carnival tragedy happen to your family.

And of course, being me and being a crime writer, I did wonder if perhaps a serial killer is going to parades and shoving people under floats. There have been a couple of times, I will admit, during parades where I got so close to the floats and with the crowd pushing forward behind me, worried about going under one. It would definitely be a new twist on serial killers–although I suppose this would be more a thrill killer, wouldn’t it?

I definitely need to write another novel set during Carnival–and not just because of these awful tragedies. I said when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo that I could write twenty novels about Mardi Gras and never run out of material and would barely scratch the surface. I’ve been thinking more about that ever since the first parades this year–about how the parades bring about a sense of community for New Orleanians that I’ve never experienced anywhere else, and the sense of community persists throughout the year. I even thought about opening another Scotty Carnival book with The Carnival parades used to come through the Quarter on Royal Street back before it became a major tourist event. The route was changed when the crowds got too big for the narrow streets–too much of a fire hazard, too impossible to get medical help in for anyone injured or taken ill during a parade–and so now they all turn onto Canal Street when they get there from St. Charles, and bypass the Quarter, which becomes a deserted wasteland during the parades with only the die hard drinkers not pushing and shoving their way onto the sidewalks and neutral grounds of the city’s major street.

That’s actually not a bad opening, to be honest. *makes note*

While I was doing condom outreach on Friday afternoon (in the bitter cold) I remembered an idea I had about a multi-person point of view novel set during Southern Decadence called No Morals Weekend, but I don’t really experience Southern Decadence very much anymore, other than the occasional sweat-soaked condom outreach experience. I guess I could always write it as a historical; which I am more and more leaning towards doing with some of my work. I almost inevitably and always set my books in an amorphous, cloudy now; but “Never Kiss a Stranger” is set in 1994, and I keep wondering if “Festival of the Redeemer” should be set in the past as well. The early days of the Internet but pre-smart phones seems like a lovely time to write about, quite frankly..although for “Festival”, it’s more about Venice being too overcrowded with tourists than smart phones. Then again it’s set during one of Venice’s biggest events, so of course the streets would be filled with people–which again ties in with my thinking about another Carnival novel: imagine how difficult it would be to follow a suspect along the parade route, through the crowds, trying to not lose sight of someone in a sea of humanity with beads and things flying through the air. I’d wanted to do such a think in Mardi Gras Mambo, and while it’s been so long since I wrote it, or paged through it with a quick reread, I am wondering if I talked about limited availability to get around town because of the parades, etc.

When I had a moment of downtime yesterday, I intended to curl back up with Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, but couldn’t find it, so started rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners, which I’ve only read once and not again. I couldn’t remember anything of the plot–as I’ve said before, I primarily revisit and reread her Airs Above the Ground and The Ivy Tree when I do revisit her work–but I did remember two things: it was set in Greece (Crete, actually) and it was made into a Disney film starring Hayley Mills, but the only resemblance the film bore to the book were the Greek setting and a female main character. As I was reading–and the opening is quite spectacular, and Stewart’s writing is Mystery Writers of America Grand Master level amazing and literate; the way she is able to make the setting absolutely real and her main character relatable, likable, and someone you want to root for–I kept thinking about how she is so frequently described or remembered as a romantic suspense author, and how not accurate I believe that to be. Sure, I may not remember all the plots as well as I perhaps should (stupid old brain), and it’s pretty apparent that our ballsy young heroine Nicola Farris is undoubtedly going to fall for the wounded young man she stumbled over in the mountains of Crete and is now helping; but with Stewart, any romance involved is definitely secondary to the suspense element of her novels…like she tacked it on because her publisher or agent or readers expected it. I’ll probably read some more of it today–although I did find my Ali Brandon novel buried in beads on the kitchen counter.

I also remembered, out on the parade route yesterday, that I had an idea for a book or short story about a murder on Fat Tuesday; when a family throws open their house on St. Charles Avenue for an all day open house type party, with people coming in and out all day, and then finding a murdered body in one of the bedrooms upstairs as the party winds down. I also started writing another short story, “He Didn’t Kill Her,” whose opening came to me fully formed last night and so I had to sit down at the computer and write the opening paragraphs.

Carnival definitely makes me feel reconnected to New Orleans and inspired again.

There are five parades today–the final one cancelled on Thursday is rolling today after Thoth and before Bacchus: so today’s order is: Okeanos, Mid-City, Thoth, Chaos, and finally Bacchus tonight. I don’t know how much time I can spend out there, to be honest…but it’s a jam-packed parade day, and then tomorrow is going to be another one of those hideously busy days, as I try to get caught up on the emails that have been languishing, run errands (including Costco, the madness indeed!), go to the gym, and prepare for the evening’s Proteus and Orpheus parades.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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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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Don’t Stand So Close to Me

SATURDAY! I’ve already been to the gym–I did not want to wake up this morning and head over there, but like a good boy I did–and now am getting ready to clean the kitchen, make my post workout protein shake, and make a grocery list. I have the galleys of a pseudonymous novel to finish going over today, and I also want to get some more revisions done on the WIP. I have big plans for today, obviously, but we’ll see how it all turns out. I’m almost caught up on American Gods (one more episode to go and I’ll be current), and we also started watching 11/22/63 on Netflix this week–it auto-started after we finished this week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale–and we’re enjoying it. It’s very strange to watch something based on a Stephen King novel which I haven’t read; it’s one of the few I’ve not read (including the last three volumes of The Dark Tower, Black House, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Doctor Sleep, Bronco Billy, and End of Watch) and wasn’t, honestly, feeling all that inspired to read it–I wasn’t all that inspired to watch it, either; the whole Kennedy thing doesn’t really interest me anymore–but we are really caught up in the show, which makes me tend to think the book (which is almost always better than visual adaptations) is probably fantastic; it’s just so damned long. Paul and I have been talking about taking a long weekend and going back to a tennis resort like we did a couple of years ago; if we do that, I’ll probably take 11/22/63 with me to read.

I haven’t had the time to really get further in Ill Will, which is also something I hope to get further along with this weekend. The writing is exceptionally good, and I love the entire premise of the book, too. I’ve not read Chaon’s Await Your Reply, but I do have a copy of it as well. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Chaon; Ill Will is certainly bearing those good things out. And isn’t lovely to find a new writer you enjoy?

Yes, it is. Always.

I’ve also been rereading Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground this week, which is one of my favorite books of all time–Mary Stewart was simply brilliant. I love the premise behind the opening of this novel, just as I loved the premise of The Ivy Tree, and so many other of her books; I’d love to recycle those premises as an homage to her at some point; who knows? Every time, though, I reread a Mary Stewart novel I remember my friend Sara come up to me at a Bouchercon and telling me someone had said on a panel she was watching that “Mary Stewart’s heroines were just too passive for his/her tastes.” I was as appalled as Sara; Mary Stewart’s heroines were not passive; they had agency, didn’t need to be rescued,  and went sailing forth happily into adventures. Airs Above the Ground’s Vanessa March was one of those amazing heroines; and the premise–someone saw her husband on a newsreel somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and so naturally she heads off to find out what he’s doing, all the while suspecting he is having an affair. God, how I would love to use that same style of opening…but the premise of The Ivy Tree is even better; a young woman is hired to impersonate another young woman–missing for years–in order to manipulate a dying man into making sure his will leaves his estate to the people who hired her. So fucking brilliant, really.

And now, it’s probably best for me to return to the spice mines. Them galleys ain’t going to proof themselves.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you:

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