Skullcrusher

Well, yesterday was not one of my better days; it started off not great–right around the time I started getting ready to leave for work–and continued through the beginnings of my day at the office. No need to get into the frustrations and irritations involved (one of them being not being able to find a check for a short story I last had my hands on Saturday but the fucking bank was closed and now I can’t find it), but just before my actual clients started showing up I took a very deep breath and cleared my mind and cleansed it of everything poisonous that the incompetence and thoughtlessness of others put there and sallied forth into my day.

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

After work I went to the gym–had been blowing it off for just over a week, he admittedly shamefacedly, but it was cold–and that was lovely. I came home and cleaned the kitchen, and when Paul got home we watched two more episodes of Bridgerton, which is oddly enjoyable and addicting. My favorite character by far is Eloise Bridgerton; what a delight she is, rejecting everything having to do with being a proper lady and just wanting to live her own life and expand her brain. We have yet but one episode left to go before it’s all over until the next season drops, and I shall sorely miss it; it’s just pure unadulterated fun, while at the same time making me wonder that for so many centuries we put so little store by women other than for them to be wombs, property of their husbands. It’s also a bit racy–I can’t believe one of the major plot points revolves around Simon not, er, um, shooting his load inside his wife, our heroine Daphne. But Regency England society was pretty racy; I was just talking to Paul last night about how this period has never been of much interest to me because of the Regency–Prince George was a bit of a monster–and of course by the time of the events of this show, Queen Charlotte was already dead; but frankly I am glad Charlotte is the one in charge instead of her wretched son.

Today is also pay day, aka pay the bills day (huzzah?)–it seems like we just got paid, really–and so at some point this morning I shall have to make the car payment as well as pay the other bills as well. Oh, how I long for the day when the car is finally paid off; it seems like I’ve been making that enormous monthly payment forever now. I didn’t sleep all that well last night–worry about all the things I have to do, no doubt; I feel as though there are several swords of Damocles hanging over my head at this point in time–but as always, there is nought to do but simply put my head down and start ploughing through everything until I can get as caught as I can while other new and interesting and sometimes tedious tasks and chores pile up around me. But at least this morning I came downstairs to a clean kitchen, which was lovely, and my desk is completely in order (I looked for that check again last night when I got home; nowhere to be found, alas; but it shall eventually turn up somewhere, I am certain), which was even lovelier, quite frankly. Although I didn’t sleep much or well over the course of the evening I don’t feel tired this morning–that will undoubtedly come along later–so I am very hopeful that the tiredness won’t be too terrible this afternoon and so I can get some writing done this evening. I have another short story I want to reconstruct for a submissions call with a deadline later this spring; I have a story that is absolutely perfect for the call–I just need to make some serious adjustments to it (I actually borrowed the entire structure and setting of this particular story for my Joni Mitchell story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings), but I already know how to revise it and make it work; it’s just finding the time to sit down and go through the many drafts it’s already been through and figuring out how to get it done properly.

I’m also trying to decide what to read next–I have e-galleys of the new Hilary Davidson as well as the new Alison Gaylin; both look superb–but I have so many wonderful books on hand in the TBR pile already! A plethora of riches, as it were.

I’ve also fallen down a massive Louisiana history black hole, something that may come in handy when I want to write another Sherlock story. Belle Grove was one of the biggest houses in Louisiana; located in Iberville Palace not far from Nottoway–the White Castle–Belle Grove was actually pink and called the Pink Palace. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt; I can’t imagine the upkeep on a place like that, or, for that matter, the upkeep on Houmas House or Nottoway or Oak Alley must be outrageous as well. I think my version of Belle Grove will be set in my fictional Redemption Parish; I always tie my stories together, remember? The modern Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock updated “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “A Scandal in Belgravia”; why should I not title mine “A Scandal at Belle Grove”?

These are the things I think about when my mind wanders, as it is so apt to do when given such an opportunity.

And on that note, tis back off to the shower with me, and off to the office. Have a lovely Inauguration Day, Constant Reader!

60 Miles an Hour

So yesterday I was a guest at Chicks on the Case blog, which was a lot of fun. I was invited to guest post by the delightful Ellen Byron, an accomplished mystery writer who writes a wonderful Louisiana Cajun country-based series beginning with Plantation Shudders, and also writes as Maria DiRico, who writes the catering hall mystery series. (you can read more about her, and order her books by clicking here!) I’ve not done the guest blog thing in a while, and it was quite fun. I tackled one of the weirder parts of my writing process–how I have to always start with a title, whether it is the final title or not–and was pleased to find out, based on the comments, that it’s not as strange as I had originally been led to believe! Yay, me!

Go Greg, go Greg, go Greg!

I am desperately trying to get my short story done; it’s due tomorrow, and writing it has been a real chore recently. I think my creativity feels like a worn out, dried out old husk right now–probably the push to finish the book, which I am still not sure is completely finished–and so have been forcing myself to have to write it. It’s not a bad story, by any means, it’s just been so damned hard to finish it I don’t know what to do with myself. But while today is a Greg-maintenance day–doctors appointments and so forth-I am hoping to get it finished today so I can polish it tomorrow and get it turned in and out of the way. I am daunted by how much work I also must get done this weekend–truly daunted and terrified–but there’s nothing to do but put my nose to the grindstone and start plugging away. The Lost Apartment is also a disaster area–I’ve somehow managed to keep the kitchen under control for once this week, so it’s mostly the living room that is the tragic mess–so I’d like to get the living room under control this weekend as well. I am going to try to repair my old desktop computer–the things they had me do to the laptop to try to make it functional should also work on the desktop, so keep your fingers crossed for me; it would be lovely to have an actual functional desktop computer here rather than having to keep fucking around with this piece of shit MacBook Air–but I am also not going to waste a lot of time on it. Either it works or it doesn’t, and if this fix doesn’t work I’ll have to figure out a way to dispose of it and get it out of the living room once and for all. There’s just so damned much clutter in the living room–and believe me, the more annoyed I become with the clutter, the less attached I remain to the stacks and piles of books. (If it weren’t for the damned coronavirus, I would have been able to get rid of many of these already; I don’t simply want to throw them away. I have a library book to pick up today as well, so when I call them to have them finish the check-out process and put the book outside on the gallery, I will ask them about how to donate books to them…because this shall not stand)

I also need to get back to reading rather then spending my evening streaming either CNN or MSNBC. The events of the past week have been historical, watching history unfold, and I felt an obligation–still do–as an American citizen to watch and stay informed of what is going on in the country. There’s an inevitable feeling to all of this, really–I always suspected in my heart of hearts (while hoping desperately to be wrong) that it would come to something like this, and as a long time citizen who actually believes, has always believed, and will continue to believe, that the ideals behind the founding of this country are something to always strive for, even if we have all too frequently, as flawed humans, failed to get there and always fallen short. Nowhere and at no time since the Civil War has the union and the Constitution been so threatened; and we remain very lucky we didn’t watch the wholesale slaughter of Congressional Democrats and the vice-president in real time.

And so many of this vile mob of seditious treasonous traitorous insurrectionists only have regrets because they are being arrested and losing their jobs. White supremacy is a potent and addictive a drug as heroin or meth, clearly.

But as I have said before, the world doesn’t stop because of events. The planet keeps turning and going around the sun at the same pace as ever; it halts for no man. As difficult as it is to tear one’s self away–the all-too-real fear of missing something horribly important–I must. Today I will get my routine maintenance done, pick up my library book, get the mail, clean and write my story. Tomorrow I will work at home making condom packs and trying to get back on top of all of my responsibilities, my emails, my writing, my career–and I also want to watch some more cynical 70’s movies while I make my condom packs. (Probably Saturday Night Fever and maybe Play Misty for Me) I also am hoping Paul and I can settle in for some more Bridgerton–we’re only two episodes in–and I also want to get some reading done; I want to tear through the first Mary Russell novel by Laurie R. King, and I have some e-galleys from two terrific authors (Hilary Davidson and Alison Gaylin) I can’t wait to dive into, as well as getting back to the Short Story Project, and also to get back into the swing of going to the gym again.

And with that, I need to start getting ready for my first appointment. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to.

Temptation

A very cold Monday morning in New Orleans, and the sun has yet to peek its head out from under the blankets this morning. I slept deeply and well last night also, which made the getting up even more difficult this morning. My space heater is going on HIGH right now, and my cappuccino feels wonderful to my incredibly cold hands. This morning’s shower is going to be quite the challenge, though. But I do feel rested this morning, which is lovely, and while dealing with today’s cold temperatures will indeed suck, I feel like I am somehow up for the challenge.

Walking to the gym tonight after work will be a considerably different tale, I fear.

We started watching Bridgerton last night (that’s us, always on the cusp and cutting edge of what’s new and exciting) and as I watched, I found the word charming popping up in my head when thinking about the show, which is a word that has fallen out of favor and use as a descriptor for fictions, but I think needs to come back. (Ted Lasso, for example, is also a charming show.) As I watched, I began to understand the pull of romance novels again. It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a romance, and I think this has been a grave disservice, not just to the romance genre in general but to me as a critical thinker and writer. I loved romances when I was younger, with a particular appeal for those novels and authors who carried the label romantic suspense–because those combined my two favorite genres, romance and mystery. I also read an awful lot of historical romances–mostly ones based on true history; romance of queens and empresses and princesses and royal mistresses (one of my all time favorites is Anya Seton’s Katherine, which told of the great love story of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III, and his commoner mistress, Katherine Swynford; whom he had an entire brood of children with and married after the death of his second wife, raising her to be the highest ranking women in England, second only to the Queen herself), and as I watched the show last night, I thought to myself in an alternate universe you would have been a romance writer. The Regency period has never interested me much in England–although the clothes were quite marvelous, and any number of women today would benefit from the Empire style high-waisted dress–primarily because it wasn’t, to me, a particularly interesting period, what with the mad King and his awful sons, who created a succession crisis as they refused royal marriages while living with their commoner mistresses and having hordes of bastard children by them. The show is sumptuous and the attention to details of the period exact; it has the look and feel of care and money, and we were, as I said, quite charmed by it–and we certainly weren’t expecting that.

There is an interesting essay about how Americans enjoy watching rich people suffer as entertainment formulating in my brain as I type this–going back to the 1980’s prime time soaps and mini-series.

I tried working on my short story yesterday, and I did manage to get the 1600 words I’d originally written revised and polished and in better working order, but I did not write into the second act of the story, which is the part I always struggle with on everything, from short stories to essays to novels to novellas. The story is due on Thursday, so I think I am going to have to buckle down, avoid Twitter (yes, I continued trolling right wing politicians and Trump administration appointees yesterday. It’s so endlessly satisfying calling Sarah Huckabee Sanders a fake Christian, a liar, and a traitor to her face…or asking trash like Tomi Lahren why she hates the Constitution, reminding Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio they are cucks and traitors…but effective today I am banning myself from anything other than bantering with friends on there anymore–I have too much to do to bother with stating the obvious to treasonous traitor trash.)

The sun is now rising over the West Bank, and the light is very gray. The sky is covered with clouds–it may even rain today, if I am not mistaken–and this cold spell is supposed to last most of the week, dipping into the low forties after sundown.

I also read a marvelous short story yesterday called “The Fixer”, a collaborative work by Edgar winners Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, which was in the Mystery Writers of America anthology Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Grand Masters Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller–released in the midst of the lockdown last spring, so it didn’t get the attention it truly deserved. The story is quite marvelous–you can never go wrong in the hands of either Lippman or Gaylin, let alone when they collaborate–and I greatly enjoyed it. It’s kind of a “#metoo” story in some ways; it tells the story of a faded child star who appeared in a science fiction television series who now makes most of her living selling signed photos of herself at Comic Cons, who in the present day runs into someone who was her ‘handler’ some years earlier when she was making a movie that eventually was shut done and never finished–ending her career with it–and what happened back then. It’s quite chilling, and a very hard look at how women’s bodies, regardless of age, are seen as property by men in the industry–property those same men have a right to use and abuse how they see fit. There have long been rumors about pedophilia in Hollywood–both Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson wrote mystery novels around that very subject, which were two of their best books, I might add–and I highly recommend this story, and this anthology; every story in it was written by an Edgar winner, and I will be posting more about the stories as I read them.

The Saints also won yesterday, beating the Bears 21-10 (hey Bears fans, finished what Katrina started yet? Yeah. I have a looooooong ass memory) in an underwhelming game I had on while I cleaned the kitchen and made dinner. Next up are the Buccaneers, whom we’ve already beaten twice; will the third time be the charm for Tom Brady and his new team? Tonight is the Alabama-Ohio State game for the national title in college football, and I don’t find myself caring too terribly about that, to be honest. I might have it on? We’ll probably watch Bridgerton instead, and I’ll see who won when I get up tomorrow morning.

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

Peace

And we have now slid into Saturday. I have to make groceries today–the first exploration of non-Rouse’s grocery making in over a decade- -get the mail and pick up a prescription, but other than that I have the entire day to myself to work on writing, read, try to get organized, and clean. It’s an ambitious program, but I suspect I can get much of it done today. I want to get the draft of my story for MWA finished this weekend, so I can polish it before I send it in (on the last possible day, of course) and I also have a lot of other work to buckle down and do for MWA.

I just need to focus, keep my head down, and not worry about how much I have to get done; that’s when I’ll get overwhelmed and literally get nothing finished, which I cannot allow to happen.

This also means I need to stop scrolling through Twitter and checking the news–but I have to say, yesterday was one of those days where I alternated between fury at the terrorist attack on the Capitol and laughing at the fucking stupidity of the treasonist traitors and their mea culpas as the terrorists get arrested, lose their jobs, and issue public statements claiming that’s not who I am. Um, it’s is EXACTLY who you are, you fucking treasonous trash, and I do really hope the rest of your life was worth it–because you aren’t heroes, 88% of Americans strongly disapprove of your behavior, and your own family, friends and co-workers are turning you into the FBI and other law enforcement. And Republican enablers? Miss me with that “healing” talk until they are all in jail–and I include Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in that, as well as the entire Trump family other than Barron. I also think Melania should be stripped of citizenship and deported for committing immigration fraud, not just for herself, but for her parents as well. There needs to be consequences and no leniency, otherwise it will happen again–and next time, they might be better organized and actually succeed.

I seriously can’t wait for the trials to begin, and the Congressional investigations. More people died at the Capitol than at Benghazi.

As I tweeted at Kellyanne Conway, your harvest has come in, Tokyo Rose, and you’re never going to wash the stink off.

But I am going incommunicado today, because as much I feel it’s important to witness history as it occurs, that witnessing isn’t going to pay the bills–and the bill always need to be paid. I also need to do some reading–I’ve got the ebooks of the latest MWA anthology, Deadly Anniversaries; an advance copy of Edgar winner Alison Gaylin’s The Collective, and am about to, at long last, start reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series*, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The threat to our nation from this past week is going to have to be put aside for me this weekend–no promises on next week’s between-client activities–so I can make sense out of the mess the Lost Apartment is in, and try to get some of these other things caught up as well. It’s very cold, if bright, this morning in New Orleans; I slept magnificently last night and feel incredibly well-rested this morning for the first time in a while. (Also, good news from the friend who had to have emergency surgery this week; that had also been weighing heavily on my mind.) Paul and I also need to find some new things to watch…

Yesterday as I made condom packs I watched an HBO MAX documentary called Alabama Snake, which was fascinating. The rural part of Alabama this happened in is a county in northeast Alabama, on the Tennessee state-line and very close to the Georgia. The highway I take when I drive north to Kentucky misses this county by quite a ways–swinging into Georgia, where I switch to I-75 in the lower Appalachians to head north through Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was, obviously, about a snake-handling pentecostal church whose preacher was convicted of trying to murder his second wife with rattlesnake bites. This all happened in the early 1990’s, and while I’d like to think things have changed in the nearly thirty years since, I suspect they haven’t changed that much (I have plans for my Corinth County where Bury Me in Shadows is set; there will be more stories and books set there methinks, and watching Alabama Snake helped a lot with that), which makes me feel a bit better about the manuscript I just turned in.

I seriously keep looking around at this mess and chaos I am in the midst of and every time, I am a little surprised someone hasn’t come along and taken care of it all for me! Which is probably the segue I need to bring this to a close for the day and get started on everything I need to get done around here. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

*Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series is one of my favorite mystery series of all time, and I strongly encourage you to read it, Constant Reader.

Shake It Off

Believe it or not, we have finally reached the last Monday of 2020.

As always, I have a lot of work to do, but I slept exceptionally well for a change and the bed was comfortable and felt so lovely I stayed in bed for another hour after I woke up initially; sue me. I have a gazillion things to do today, including going to the bank and making groceries as well as going to the gym at some point; I also have to work on the book today. The work went very well yesterday and I was enormously pleased with what I managed to get done yesterday. I have a mere five chapters left to revise and a final chapter yet to be written; all of which needs to be done by Friday, and I do feel like it can be done–especially since I don’t even need to leave the house on either Tuesday or Thursday. I am not certain if the gym is going to be open on Friday–I guess I can ask when I go there today; I do find it strange that they don’t post their holiday hours anywhere around the front desk or on the front door, but it’s also not “my” gym, so I guess they can run it however they please. I also have a gazillion emails to answer, which doesn’t sound in the least bit fun or interesting, but it has to be done.

I did, as I mentioned earlier, manage to get a lot done yesterday–and not just on the book. More cleaning and organizing was required–still have some more to do today at some point–as well as making new folders, both physical and virtual, and of course, this meant more filing. While it was busywork, it needed to be done, and I actually did the floors in the kitchen–well, the rugs anyway–which always makes the kitchen look ever-so-much better. I am going to do the rugs in the living room today at some point, and then over the rest of the week do the actual floors themselves–and yes, I am going to do the windows as well.

I intended to start reading the new Alison Gaylin–I am lucky to have a very advance copy of The Colleciive, available from your local independents and on-line this coming summer of 2021–but I got caught up in Czity of Nets, which is, of course, Chlorine research, and after reading through it (I went ahead and bought the ebook; I do believe I must have donated the hardcover after I finished reading it, as Chlorine had yet to occur to me at the time I read it) I thought about it some more and was like, dude, you’re going to be writing the Kansas book next–maybe you should do some more background on it…because truth be told, most of it is being written based on almost forty year old memories of Kansas, and that really won’t do, will it? So, I went into a Kansas internet wormhole for quite some time and actually got pretty far afield from what I was originally looking up–you know how one thing inevitably leads to another on-line–and soon I was looking up rivers and lakes and the small rural towns scattered around the nucleus of Emporia, which was the county seat of where I lived as a teenager–towns with names like Admire and Allen, Bushong and Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove and Neosho Rapids, Olpe and Hamilton and Reading and Hartford. I’ll probably also take another read of In Cold Blood while I work on this revision as well; few writers have captured Kansas quite the way Capote did in that book. I also started looking at history as well–the history of Bleeding Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both of which were preludes to the Civil War. And as much as I am basing my fictional city of “Liberty Center” (shout out to Philip Roth and his When She Was Good) on Emporia, I also have to remember–just as how Bury Me in Shadows is a fictionalized version of the part of Alabama I come from–that I am fictionalizing the town; so I can make changes as needed and the fictionalization doesn’t have to be exact.

It’s so wild that the Kansas book is going to finally be finished and published–and all the different iterations it’s gone through over the course of my life. I actually started writing this book originally in high school–which is when I came up with the character names and places–and it was actually the very first manuscript I completed, by hand, in 1983 after writing it for about four years, continuing the stories I started writing about these characters in high school. This book will bear very little resemblance to any of those earlier iterations; over the years I’ve used the character names in other works, primarily my only other Kansas book, Sara–which I really need to reread to make sure I don’t re-use names I’ve already used. I think the ones I’ve used since high school were used in Sara, which I thought would be my one book about Kansas, so I threw all the character names and place names into it. I had wanted to connect this book in a way to Sara as well; since they are about the same part of Kansas, and I try to connect all of my work in some way, but I’ve never ever liked the name I came up with for the county seat, and now I’ve settled on Liberty Center….but I also tell myself that the two differently named counties can actually be next door neighbors, Liberty County can be right next to Kahola County, and thus Kahola High can be Liberty Center’s arch rival.

Looking into those small towns, some of them considered to be ghost towns now, also piqued my interest. I have several ideas about writing about Kansas–the Bloody Benders, of course, and I have a great title for a prairie noir called Kansas Lonesome I really want to write–and as I said, this book has been through many iterations. The great irony of finally publishing this–and finishing it, let’s be honest–still doesn’t mean I am writing the Kansas book I’ve always wanted to write; this book does focus on the murder of a high school football player, as the Kansas book I’ve been wanting to write since around 2002 did; but this is a vastly different story from what I originally wanted to write–and I still may write that book, centered around Kahola rather than Liberty Center; I’m not sure–and there’s also the cult college thing–the Way International and their Way College of Emporia, which isn’t there anymore; they closed the campus and sold the property to Emporia State University–and the Way has declined over the decades since they were large and wealthy enough to buy a bankrupt Presbyterian college in a small city in Kansas–but that’s a whole other story. There’s also the megachurch story I want to write about Kansas….which is also sort of tied into my original story of the quarterback’s murder. Who knew Kansas could be so inspirational?

But you see how I wind up wasting days….

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Those emails will not answer themselves, after all, and I’ve got a lot to get done today before the sun sets. Have a happy final Monday of 2020, Constant Reader!

Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

This Love

Today’s working from home adventure will be interrupted by a trip to the office for a working lunch! I love when we get paid to do work and get fed at the same time. One of the drug companies is doing a brief training for us, and they are treating us to lunch from Mona’s on Frenchmen. I miss Mona’s; when I worked all those years at the office on Frenchmen Street I used to treat myself to Mona’s periodically–their gyro plate was my go-to, always, and I’ve been missing my gyros, so you can imagine my delight when I learned about this training.

Huzzah, indeed!

Free lunch is always a plus.

I also have errands to do at some point, and I probably should go to the gym this evening. I plan to be super-productive today–I am going to watch The Stunt Man while I am making condom packs this afternoon as well–and of course, there are any number of household chores that need to be completed. Ugh, so much cleaning and picking up to do around here, as well as writing to do. I made a pretty decent start on Chapter 17 last night, so hopefully tonight I can get through it and Chapter 18; and with a strong push this weekend I can almost get all the way through the rest of the book, which would be amazing and would put me way ahead of schedule. So, that’s the goal for this weekend, at any rate. I also want to finish The Spy Who Came in From the COld, because I got a very advance copy of the next Alison Gaylin novel, The Collective, which I cannot wait to dive into.

If I can get the book finished this weekend, I can then spend next week working on short stories before diving back into the book’s final pass, and I might even be able to get it turned in early. I am also looking forward to getting the final cover design–which I fucking love–at any minute. I approved the final proof of it yesterday, and so it should be arriving in my inbox at any time. I am also feeling a lot more confident about the book itself, which is always a good thing; this final revision, I think, is helping to really pull it all together.

We tried watching His Dark Materials last night. I’ve never read the books, but that doesn’t mean I can’t watch and enjoy the show (I’ve still only read the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Game of Thrones both before and after I read the book), but there was too much going on that I didn’t understand and thus made it much harder to follow. Paul fell asleep–which should give you an indication of his level of enthrallment–and so I think we’re going to take a pass on it. We also started watching the new Hulu adaptation of The Hardy Boys (if you will recall, I was highly amused that the kids’ series fan pages were in a major uproar about the show and the changes made to it from the books, and I will agree, those changes are substantial enough to make you wonder why they bothered calling it The Hardy Boys–but would a show called something else get any traction?), which I liked just fine, even if it was a lot darker than anything ever seen in the books. I mean, their mother is murdered in the very first episode–the Hardy Boys, at least in the original series, never dealt with anything so dark and scary as a murder–and instead of the Hardys having always lived in Bayport, they live in “the city” and move to “Bridgeport” during the premiere. They’ve also turned Biff Hooper into a girl (I don’t have a problem with this) and overall, it’s not bad and we’ll probably continue watching. (I will, at any rate; Paul may not) I also want to give the CW series adaptation of Nancy Drew another shot; I actually liked the premiere, but never went back to it from there.

And seriously, there is such a book in these rabid fans and their reaction to changes to their sacred texts.

I also would like, at some point in 2021, to start pulling together my own kids’ series. It has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, and lately I’ve been feeling that gravitational pull to writing a kids’ series again. Oh, I know I have two books scheduled for deadlines already and that I need to dive into Chlorine once I get these both out of the way–and there’s probably another Scotty book out there I should write (at least the one)–but as I have mentioned more and more lately, I am becoming much more conscious of running out of time; when I was in my forties, it seemed like there was all the time in the world to write everything I wanted to write. Now that I am approaching sixty like a bullet, and more ideas come to me all the fucking time, I am becoming highly aware of the finite amount of time I have and that I am not going to be able to write everything I want to write. It’s a shame–I really have too many good ideas that will probably go to waste–but you know, that’s kind of how life works.

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

It Always Comes as a Surprise

Yesterday was unusual in that it was a Saturday where I actually had to interact with the outside world more than I usually do on a given Saturday: I had a business conference call at noon, and then last night I did a live reading and discussion of my story for The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and the event was in conjunction with the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, California. Also reading were Abby L. Vandiver, Alison Gaylin, and Kate Flora. It was very interesting and fun, and my story, of course, is “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I didn’t spend much time writing yesterday, but I do think I solved some of my computer issues with the desktop; at least it is working fine for now and not making me want to smash it into little pieces with a hammer. We shall see how it goes from now on, however; I reserve the right to lose my temper over it wasting enormous amounts of my time going forward.

It was fun talking about presidents, and history, and my story last evening. The story was fun to write, once I figured out what I was going to write about and how to frame the story. As I have said repeatedly, short stories are difficult for me to write, and I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much–both writing and reading–is because they are a challenge for me; plus, I can explore something–style, character, voice, etc.–vastly different from what I usually do, which I think also helps me become a better writer. I will always accept an invitation to write for an anthology or a magazine or something to challenge myself. The Sherlock Holmes story was a challenge for me–I still don’t know if they are going to use  it, or if it’s going to come back to me all marked up with lots of revision requested, or it’s going to be passed on–but once I got into the rhythm of the voice and the period, it was kind of a fun challenge. I’ve even thought about writing another one, which is really crazy when you think about it. I have never been a Sherlockian, although I’ve always appreciated the character and the importance of the stories to the history of crime fiction–seriously, where would any of us be without Holmes?–but it’s not like I’ve joined any fan groups, or have considered writing pastiches before…I certainly wouldn’t have written this one had I not been asked–and I do think it could be fun to write other Holmes stories set in that pre-American participation in WWI period, from say around 1912-1917, and maybe even beyond. It could, for example, be a lot of fun to write a story around German espionage in New Orleans, and it’s a very interesting time in New Orleans history. Maybe “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” could turn into the start of a whole new direction for me. Who knows? That’s the fun thing about short stories–you’re never sure where writing one might wind up leading you.

But I have my entire day free today, and I am going to shortly adjourn to my easy chair to drink more coffee and read more of The Red Carnelian before I buckle down to my own writing. I am hoping to get a lot of progress on the Secret Project done today, and maybe some work on one of my short stories, perhaps even one of the novellas. I just realized next weekend is actually a three-day weekend–where has May gone already?–and so I should also be able to get a shit ton done next weekend….or at least, so one might think.

Paul and I also started watching The Great on Hulu last night, with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s a sort of based on the real story, but a lot liberties are taken with actual history (for one example, Catherine’s husband was not the son of Peter the Great but his grandson; his aunt Elizabeth was actually the empress and selected Catherine as his wife for him–and he didn’t rule for long after Elizabeth died before Catherine usurped his throne. However, the time between Catherine’s arrival in Russia and her seizure of the throne was about twenty years or so; she was no longer a young woman when she became empress–but you can’t spread this story out over twenty years or the series wouldn’t be very interesting.

I also like that they admit up front they are taking liberties; as opposed to The Tudors or The White Queen, which also did but didn’t admit it. It’s also written by the same guy who wrote The Favourite, and the entire show has a similar feel to that movie.

And now, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I know I intend to!

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Dreaming of the Queen

And here we are, on yet another Thursday, awake before the crack of dawn so I can go screen people at our two offices–mornings at the Marine Building on Tulane Avenue, afternoon at the Elysian Fields office–before heading home. I’m also doing a live reading this evening for Tubby and Coo’s Bookstore; not sure how that’s going to work or how you can tune in–I think it’s a Facebook thing? But I’ll be posting on Twitter and Facebook etc once I have that information handy. I am not sure how I feel about this–I intensely dislike the sound of my own voice, let alone how I appear on camera–but this is a brave new world we’re all living in, and if I want to continue having a career, I am going to have to start doing all kinds of things I generally avoid doing, because doing things you don’t enjoy or like to do is part of the price one has to pay for a career in publishing. I’ve always admired authors who can do the public appearance thing with grace and wit and aplomb; I am not one of those, and inevitably, as is my wont, am aware of every single thing that goes wrong in a reading or on a panel; whether it’s me saying the opposite of what I mean or stumbling over words as I read…yeah.

Which is why I always get a terrified look on my face when people ask me for career advice. I so clearly don’t know what I’m doing that it’s almost laughable that anyone would want my advice on anything, really.

I read some more of Thunder on the Right last night; again, not really sure why Stewart opted to go with a third person point-of-view rather than her usual first; perhaps it will become more apparent as the novel progresses. I honestly don’t remember anything of this story–which is weird.  It’s set in the Pyrenees, a part of Europe I’ve always been interested in and rarely appears in fiction; and how could I forget the plot of a story that begins with the heroine going to visit a cousin staying in a remote convent in the Pyrenees, only to discover on arrival that her cousin died two weeks earlier. (Then again, I remembered very little of This Rough Magic, and even thought the dolphin was from The Moon-spinners; and was wrong wrong wrong)

We also watched another episode of Defending Jacob, which kind of is unspooling. Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery are both superb in this–at least, so far–but the plot itself…as I said to a friend on Twitter, who had issues with the book (I’ve not read the book), the story is familiar–the concept of ‘what would you do is your child was accused of a crime’ has been used plenty of times, and this is what would be called domestic suspense if it was written by a woman and the main character was the wife, not the husband (Alison Gaylin did a magnificent, Edgar winning job of this very story in If I Die Tonight, which you should read if you haven’t already), and the whole “Dad is a prosecutor but will hide evidence and interfere with the investigation to protect his son, thereby risking his entire career and life because he is so convinced his son is being railroaded” thing…the “heroic dad” trope is such a straight male fantasy that it’s very hard for me to take the show seriously. It’s hard to watch someone do stupid things, particularly when they’re supposedly really smart (LAWYER), that you know are only going to turn out badly because it’s necessary for the plot.

I also finished watching Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne. It’s really quite good, partly because it’s one of those weird historical royal marriages that was surprisingly happy. They were only married five years before Marie was killed in a fall from her horse; Maximilian, in an age when kings and princes and emperors rarely went more than a year between wives, didn’t remarry for nearly twenty years after Marie died. He had lots of mistresses, but never remarried–which was kind of a lovely tribute to his first wife. The show is really well done, and the German actor playing Maximilian is quite hot. (The actress playing Marie is also beautiful.) Their two children, Philip and Margaret, were also quite attractive; Philip is also known to history as Philip the Handsome; how good looking did he have to be to earn that nickname while he was alive? Later Hapsburgs, however, were not known for their looks.

Lord, I have a lot of work to get done this weekend, and I am really dreading it.

Heavy sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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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.