Kiss An Angel Good Morning

Ash Wednesday and solemnity has descended upon New Orleans, after two weeks of fun and frivolity. Carnival season actually begins on January 6th, on Twelfth Night–but it truly only kicks into major gear during parade season, which mercifully ended yesterday. Now I can drive my car without fearing I’m gone too late to get home or worrying about finding a place to park (the Carnival parking gods were definitely on my side this year; I was able to get groceries and park on my block AND made a Costco run and was able to park near the Lost Apartment, neither of which is a small accomplishment), and having to adjust my work schedule accordingly.

It’s gray outside the Lost Apartment windows this morning, and all is quiet on the Lower Garden District front. I haven’t checked the weather yet, but I am sure rain is part of the forecast; that’s usually what gray skies in the morning mean. I’m not as tired this morning as I thought I would be, and I’m also a little bummed I have to miss my workout today–the gym doesn’t open until noon, and there’s no way I could get home in time and make it to the gym before it closes after work tonight. But two workouts in one week is better than one workout, and so I guess missing the once isn’t really going to kill me. But I’ve gotten into such a great routine of following the regimen…again, I guess we’ll see on Friday morning if I don’t want to get up and go.

And yes, I started writing yet another short story yesterday evening, “You Won’t See Me.” It’s a similar tale, I suppose, to “Festival of the Redeemer”; unreliable gay male narrator who’s madly in love with someone who doesn’t return that affection–but at least that’s how they both start, at any rate. I have to get back to work on the Secret Project this week as well; so that’s at least five or six short story fragments I am working on in addition to the Secret Project. And yes, I am well aware that is complete madness.

We managed to watch McMillions over the past few days; we’d thought the entire series had finished airing so we were, needless to say, completely shocked to reach the end of episode 4 and realize we couldn’t watch anymore. I remember the scandal, vaguely, when the story broke; but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it–and am amazed at how far-reaching and complicated it became–not to mention all the unfortunate people who got suckered into the con and played along, for various reasons. One of the FBI agents discussed how he was constantly amazed at how people didn’t think they had done anything wrong, and how they could justify and explain committing fraud to themselves–the bottom line was whatever the circumstance or the reason, they committed a crime.

True crime–you really can’t beat it for real drama.

I also got some incredible book mail on Monday–Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely; an old children’s book about the Nazi invasion of Norway and the resistance, Snow Treasure, that I read when I was a kid; Alabama Noir, which I am really interested in reading; and the new Ivy Pochoda, These Women. I somehow managed to finish rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners around the insanity (there will be more to come on that front), and got a little further into Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which I am really enjoying. I’m also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which is also quite good.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday, which means this short work week is going to be weird, and feel weird, the entire time. I do have to put in longer days today and tomorrow than I usually do, because of the holiday yesterday and taking Monday off, but Friday will be my usual half-day and after that, we’re back to normal again. Huzzah? But February is on its way out and March is on its way in, which means the one-two punch of Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Festival is on its way as well. Kind of hard to believe that’s just right around the corner, but here we are, you know? And then at the end of April I’m off to New York and Maryland for the one-two punch of the Edgars and Malice Domestic. But after that, I’ll be done with travel until it’s time to head to Sacramento for Bouchercon, and then I won’t be doing much traveling unless I go visit my parents this year–which I kind of should. It’s just that the drive is so exhausting, but flying is equally awful, takes nearly as long, and is much more expensive. I suppose I could use Southwest points and fly into Louisville, but there’s no longer a non-stop flight from New Orleans to Louisville, and the things about connections is there’s always, always, a screw-up somewhere at that time of year that delays the return.

I also have an obscene amount of emails to read and reply to, which will engender more emails, of course–the endless cycle of cyber-communication–but I will eventually get dug out, slowly get caught up on everything, and somehow manage. I always somehow manage to do so, at any rate.

And now, back to the spice mines, Have a lovely Ash Wednesday, everyone.

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Killin’ Time

As Constant Reader is aware, on 2019 I embarked on something I called The Diversity Project for myself; an effort to read books by authors who were not straight or white or cisgender. I had hoped to use 2019, and this project, as not only a way to broaden my reading and make up for years of lost time, but also to broaden my mind, my knowledge, and my experience.

It does not escape me that it’s kind of shitty that I actually had to make an effort, make in into an actual project, to ensure that I read outside of my own privileged experience. I don’t deserve a cookie or praise for doing something I should have been doing my entire life. It’s horribly shitty that my entire reading life could best be described as a mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder bread. I’ve also been trying to remember something, anything, other than Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird that I read as a child that had people of color as characters (and frankly, those two problematic books don’t count). Bayport and River Heights and Rocky Beach and Sleepyside and all the other towns and villages in the teenaged sleuth series for kids I read were all lily-white.

Several  years ago, Brash Books brought the entire Blanche White series by Barbara Neely, all four of them, back into print. I had never read Ms. Neely’s books; I’d never, to be completely honest, even heard of them. But the concept sounded fantastic, and unlike anything I’d ever read before, so I went ahead and ordered Blanche on the Lam, the first book in the series, which proceeded to languish and collect dust in my (massive) TBR pile. Mystery Writers of America recently selected Ms. Neely as a Grand Master, and as I was heading up to New York for the board retreat/orientation for 2020, I thought to myself, self, take Ms. Neely’s book with you on the trip to read–it’s serendipity and meant to be, and also far past time.

And that’s exactly what I did.

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“Have you anything to say for yourself?” The judge gave Blanche a look that made her raise her handbag to her chest like a shield.

“Your Honor…I’m sorry…I…”

“Sorry? It most certainly is sorry! This is the fourth, I repeat, the fourth time you’ve been before this court on a bad-check charge. Perhaps some time in a jail cell will convince you to earn your money before you spend it, like the rest of us! Thirty days and restitution!”

“But, Your Honor…” Blanche’s legs were suddenly weak. Her hands were freezing. Beads of sweat popped out on her nose. She wanted to tell the judge that a jail cell was cruel and unusual punishment for  a person who panicked in slow elevators. She also wanted to ask him where the hell he got off, lying about her like that! This was her second, not her fourth, charge. Furthermore, just as she’d done the last time, she would have made good on the checks even if she hadn’t been summoned to court. Hadn’t she already covered three of the five checks she’s written? And right here in her handbag she had the forty-two-fifty she still owed, plus fifty dollars for the fine–same as the judge had made her pay last time. But last time she’d had a judge with his mind already on the gold course. He’d hardly bothered to look at her. There’d been no talk of jail that time.

From the opening sentence, Neely is being completely subversive to her readers–not only is she writing about a woman of color, front and center, that woman is also working class and struggling to make ends meet. She is dealing with–in even a small way–with the criminal justice system that is tilted against her–poor, working class, of color–and sure enough, she gets screwed. And while some might argue she shouldn’t have bounced checks (it’s not really clear whether she deliberately wrote bad checks, or if she wrote them thinking she was going to get paid, and then didn’t), I think everyone can agree that thirty days in jail–and a judge sentencing her based on a false premise that she was a more habitual offender–is excessive.

Blanche’s voice is one that is rarely, if ever, heard in crime fiction, either before or after this series, and that’s a shame. The book itself is thoroughly enjoyable, as Blanche manages to take advantage of a distraction at the courthouse and walk out, unimpeded…thus going “on the lam”, and not knowing what to do or where to go, remembers that she was supposed to take a temp gig as a housekeeper, and goes to that address. She winds up going out of town to work at a wealthy family’s vacation home, and it soon becomes very apparent that there is something really wrong with the family.

It’s also next to impossible not to root for Blanche, to want her to do well, and somehow get herself out of the predicament she’s found herself in. After all–there is a murder, she’s a fugitive from “justice,” and of course she’s a woman of color in a corrupt, racist place–it would be incredibly easy for law enforcement to simply pin the murder on her and wash their hands of the entire mess. It’s an absolute joy to see Blanche–with her own heart and compassion, not give in to impulses she shouldn’t, and to think her way out of everything, and not only exceed the reader’s expectations but subvert them completely.

Read this book. Read the entire series. There’s seriously no question that Barbara Neely is a grand master. None whatsoever. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Walking After Midnight

Here I am, up at the crack of dawn–well, not really, but earlier than I usually get up on a Thursday–so I can catch a flight to New York later this morning. And I think I packed the clothes I intended to wear on the plane this morning–which is fine. Not particularly smart, but I’ve been running on accessory all week as it is, so it’s not particularly surprising, either.

I also woke up well before my alarm this morning, too. Not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

Today is also my first time flying out of the new terminal at Armstrong, so that’s also kind of exciting.

I am taking probably too many books with me on this trip: The Talented Mr, Ripley; Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely; Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little; and Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes. I’ll probably finish Ripley at the airport and get started on the Neely on the plane. I hope to have some free down time periodically in order to do some work on my secret project; but knowing how these trips usually go that’s most likely never going to happen. But hope springs eternal and all that nonsense.

Last night didn’t do much of anything once I got home. I packed and spent the evening in my easy chair, watching videos on Youtube–clips and analysis of the LSU game on Monday, as well as discussions on whether or not this team is one of the best of all time. It’s kind of hard to argue against it, really; given the teams they beat and how they beat them. The last three games of the season were against Number 4 Georgia (37-10); Number 4 Oklahoma (63-28), and Number 3 Clemson (42-25). They beat everyone in the preseason top 4 (Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia). Excluding the LSU losses, those three times they beat at the end of the season totaled 2 losses total; add Alabama into the mix and that would be three; adding Florida would make it 4.

Sorry, I know I tend to run on and on about this LSU team, but damn, they were amazing.

But I’ll be glad when this trip is over and I get home Sunday evening. I have Monday off–Martin Luther King Jr Day–and so I can relax and recover and get some things done before I return to work on Tuesday. Traveling has become more and more of a chore the older I get; I always wonder if getting older has just made me crankier, or if traveling has, indeed, gotten terrible. I suspect it’s a combination of the two–less patience and more stupidity and inefficiency. But I do love New York; I never feel more like a writer then I do when I am in New York; probably because as a child New York was the nexus for authors–and certainly in every book I read that had a writer as a character, that was certainly the case; everything from You Can’t Go Home Again to Youngblood Hawke to Peyton Place, for that matter; and of course the crown jewel, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything. And I will be there this afternoon! It’s not that I mind trips–it’s the getting there, the actual travel, I’ve come to loathe–from getting to the airport to the check-in process to security to the seemingly endless wait at the gate; the gathering of luggage and transporting one’s self to the final destination.

And on that note, tis time to hop in the shower and make my final preparations for the departure. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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I’ve Always Been Crazy

Yesterday was rough. I was so tired all day, but somehow I managed to power through it all–God only knows how. It wound up not being that bad of a day, to be honest–although I kind of just drifted through the day and don’t really remember a whole lot of it, if I’m being completely honest.

But I am still so damned proud of the LSU Tigers. National champions, again. Just amazing, absolutely amazing. What an amazing season, what a fabulous joy ride for us LSU fans. This team will be remembered forever, just like the 1958 national champions are still talked about today. The entire season was a non-stop highlight reel.

Carnival this year is going to be lit.

And now it’s back to reality–although none of that feels quite real yet.

Tomorrow morning I leave for a short weekend in New York; I return to New Orleans on Sunday, and of course Monday is a holiday so I have a day to relax and recalibrate and recover from what is certain to be an exhausting trip; New York always wears me out. I’ll be busy the entire time–it’s a business trip–so making time to see friends isn’t really going to work out this trip; but I should be returning in late April/early May and maybe that trip I’ll be able to see and hang out with friends–I know so many people in New York it’s scary; I could go up for weeks and not see everyone.

But I slept really well last night–I was exhausted, so no real surprise there–and feel rested enough this morning to be able to focus and get back on the get-shit-done train. I need to swing by this morning and get the mail on my way to the office, and I should be getting started packing this morning, as well as cleaning the kitchen. I’ll have to leave for the airport tomorrow morning around eight–flight is at eleven, and have to account for traffic and shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal, so I won’t really have time tomorrow morning to do much more than drink some coffee and shower.  I need to make some headway on a new secret project–which I am focusing on to the exclusion of all other writing, at least for now, and I hope to have it all finished by next week so I can get back to finishing Bury Me in Shadows–and I am taking The Talented Mr. Ripley with me to read, along with Blanche on the Lam by newly minted MWA Grand Master Barbara Neely, and Pretty as a Picture, the new Elizabeth Little novel, which I have in ARC form. I may take one more book with me–just to be on the safe side, since reading is my favorite way to spend time in airports and on airplanes.

And hopefully, this trip will kick my ass into gear when it comes to reading. My reading has fallen off dramatically since I read for the Edgars in 2018–judging almost always, inevitably, burns me out from reading and it takes me a while to get back up to reading for pleasure again (having said that, though, I read some absolutely amazing books in 2019). I don’t think I’m going to judge again–it’s very time consuming, for one, and you don’t really get the chance to enjoy and savor the books the way I prefer; I intend to go back and reread the five books we selected as finalists and winner at some point, so I can enjoy them as reads rather than reading them critically, with an eye to selecting the best; the five books we selected were all fantastic, so they deserve to be read with an eye for enjoyment. Reading for an award also throws me terribly behind on my pleasure reading–I am now perhaps three or four books behind on my Donna Andrews reading, and this shall not stand! It always sucks to get behind on your pleasure reading because new books are coming out all the time and that makes it harder to get caught up and then you end up with a 2 or 300 hundred book TBR list and–

Yikes.

Not to mention how far behind I’ve allowed myself to get with my writing. But my weekends are free now–football is over and so I have no excuses any more for not getting a lot of writing or editing or reading or all three done every weekend anymore. We’ll probably watch LSU Gymnastics every Friday night–and of course, figure skating season is kicking into gear again too–but for the most part, there’s no reason why I can’t get back to work on the weekend as well as getting my fat old ass back into the gym regularly either; I intend to return to the gym on Monday and start slowly whipping this tired, flabby, sagging body back into some kind of shape again. People have been asking my lately if I’ve lost weight–I didn’t think I had, and I weighed myself yesterday to discover that I have not, in fact, lost even a pound since the last time I weighed myself. I’m not so concerned about losing weight, to be honest, this time around; I’ve come to accept 212 as the weight I am doomed to carry on my frame for the rest of my life, but I can at least trim some of the excess body fat off and get the muscles firmed up again.

I also have a short story I need to get written. I really need to make a list, don’t I?

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the rest of the morning before I head back into the office. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love

So, it’s the last Sunday morning of the year, and the Saints are playing today–I suppose I should look and see what time, but it’s hard to get overly motivated this morning about the Saints after yesterday’s LSU game–which was utterly and completely insane. I thought they’d win, but not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine the final score would 63-28, or that it would be 49-14 at half-time, or that Oklahoma wouldn’t be in it at all. In fact, when the Sooners scored to make it 7-7, I said to Paul, “oh, this is going to be like the Florida game and we’re going to have to outscore them.” Little did I know, right? At some point–maybe when it was 35-7 with seven minutes or so to go in the half, I just started laughing uncontrollably. My mind couldn’t process what I was seeing. LSU was beating the Big XII champion, the fourth ranked team in the country, the way they beat Georgia Southern, Utah State, Vanderbilt–well, actually, Vanderbilt and Mississippi scored more points on LSU than Oklahoma did. LSU made a very good Oklahoma team look like they’d finish, at best, 7-5 in the SEC….and that would be if they were in the Eastern division. But all along, as sportscasters and journalists, in the days leading up to the game, kept talking up the Sooners, I just kept thinking, so you’re saying Oklahoma is better than Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida?

But once I got the uncontrollable laughing under control, I started feeling bad for Oklahoma–the players, the coaches, their fans. I felt bad for Jalen Hurts, whose athleticism and ability I admired even as I cursed at him for leading Alabama to wins over LSU back in the day. The man is a great athlete and a terrific quarterback; he has a  NFL and I only hope this game doesn’t affect his draft stock too negatively. The guy was second in the Heisman voting!

But I’m still glad LSU won and is playing for the national championship again in New Orleans.

Should be a great game.

I slept deeply and well last night, and so today I must get things done. I did run errands yesterday, and then gave myself over to watching the play-offs (I also watched some of the earlier bowl games, but didn’t pay too much attention and couldn’t even tell you who actually played–Penn State and Memphis, maybe?), so today I kind of can’t do that. The kitchen’s a mess, so is the living room, and I haven’t written in days. I have a long day at the office tomorrow, and then am off for two days again, before finishing off the week with two more days…before reality returns on the following week. The New Year is almost upon us, and I’ve already reflected on the year in my writing, so I suppose I need to do the year in my reading, and other things I enjoy, before writing the Happy New Year here are my goals annual post. I also have to proof read a story of mine today, and like I said, this desk area and kitchen are a complete and total, utter mess.

I also got some books this weekend: In the Woods by Tana French (inspired by watching Dublin Murders; I’d tried reading this years ago but for some reason couldn’t get into it and am giving it another try); Blanche on the Lam by new MWA Grand Master Barbara Neely; Owl Be Home for Christmas by the amazing Donna Andrews; Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes, with an intro by the amazing Sarah Weinman; and The Bellamy Trial, by Frances Noyes Hart. I’d already decided to reread Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt next–and I will follow it up with the Neely, definitely.

We watched the season finale of  The Mandalorian on Friday night, and wow, what a fucking show this is. Seriously, y’all–I did watch Avengers Endgame on Disney Plus on Christmas Eve, but The Mandalorian alone is worth the cost of Disney Plus. I’m thinking I might even spent a nice lazy Sunday sometime rewatching the entire season, and now I cannot wait for Season 2. I also am looking forward to the new show with the Winter Soldier–love me Sebastian Stan–and all future Star Wars content. I may even go back and watch some of the animated Star Wars series.

We’ve also started watching Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, and while I still miss Phryne–that original series was just too good–the younger, Peregine Fisher is an admirable stand-in, and we are enjoying the 1960’s setting as well. (I’d forgotten I subscribed to Acorn TV a few years ago; we’re making up for lost time now.)

And of course, HBO is dropping their adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider in January; I should probably read the book as I watch the show.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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