Colour My World

Today’s title song was ubiquitous in the early 1970’s; I would be curious to know how many proms and other high school dances (fraternity formals, etc.) used “Colour My World” as their theme in the first half of that decade. I think my high school in the suburbs used it my freshmen year as the prom theme; my yearbooks were lost many years ago so I cannot verify anything for certain by taking one down from the shelf and looking. At first, I lamented the loss of so much of my high school and childhood memorabilia: letters for sport, letter jackets, scrapbooks, yearbooks, trophies, medals, certificates–you name it, it disappeared years ago. I do have my junior prom photo, some medals, and a plaque I got for something or another when I was in high school–everything else is gone. After the initial sadness at losing memorabilia of my youth, I got over it pretty quickly; it’s just stuff, and really, it’s nothing I’ve ever truly missed. Sure, sometimes I might remember someone or something, and think, oh if I had my yearbooks I could look this person up but it’s always very fleeting…although now that I am thinking about writing about the 1970s those yearbooks would probably come in handy…

Any other sentimental attachments I may have had regarding possessions were ended by Hurricane Katrina and the things we lost then–and we were lucky, we didn’t lose everything–but the mentality of it’s just stuff has really stuck with me since then. Sure, it’s still difficult for me to get rid of books–my storage attic and unit are proof of that–but I am getting there with the books, too. I am really tired of the attic being full and I am really getting tired of paying the storage unit bill. And if I take one box down from the attic every week and go through it–just to be sure–it will eventually be emptied out.

And of course there are other boxes of books stashed around the Lost Apartment, disguised as tables underneath small blankets working as makeshift tablecloths.

Last year Paul and I discussed our hoarder habits and had decided to “clean like we’re moving”–but we have yet to really pursue that goal.

I’ve been depressed and angry alternatively a lot lately; it really does seem sometimes like we are indeed living in the end times; I find my reaction to developing news lately to be all too frequently something along the lines of well, at least I’m old or #teamextinctionevent or something all those lines. I am so tired of having to fight for my rights and those of other non-straight non-white people, seriously. I try not to let this shit get me down by giving myself pep talks: the arc of history bends towards justice, our system often breaks down but always repairs itself, the majority of Americans really don’t want to take rights away from other Americans–all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But are those things really true? Democracies and republics historically have always collapsed into authoritarianism, going all the way back to Athens and Rome. Organized religion has always been oppressive and monstrous–but we’re supposed to somehow believe that its modern iterations aren’t (yeah, and I’ve got a bridge across the Mississippi River to sell you, too)–and its historical crimes are far too many to mention. Power and money literally corrupt everything, and religion is not free from that stain, despite all the warnings in the Christian Bible. One of my favorite histories to reread is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly, and my favorite part is “The Renaissance Popes Spark the Protestant Reformation”, about how those popes, from Sixtus IV through Clement VII, essentially through their pride, venality, and lust for power (and women) were so excessive that they drove Martin Luther to nail his ninety-odd theses to the cathedral door, changing history forever.

So, yeah, miss me with that “organized religion” is a societal good thing. It’s not, nor has it ever been, and religion is yet another way for people to be controlled–the opiate of the masses, as Karl Marx said. (oooh, I quoted Marx. Cue the accusations that I am a Communist!)

Heavy heaving sigh. I have an entire post about my rage about Roe and how we’re next in the crosshairs of the “supreme” Court, but I don’t know if I’ll ever post it. It might make me feel better to express my rage publicly, but will it actually make a difference in the world if I do? There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling helpless–it’s the absolute worst (and why religion exists in the first fucking place, don’t @ me) and the major issue with the world burning to the ground all around me, for me, is that when I get down or depressed or frustrated, that makes it much harder for me to actually write things. I want to get this story finished; I need to get the edits on Streetcar done; I have to finish the Bouchercon anthology; and I need to start planning out the next Scotty. I have this terrific idea for it–can’t talk about it publicly yet, obviously, but I’ve become incredibly proud of my own cleverness in this case–and I really want to spend some time playing around with it this weekend. if I can get the anthology finished, put in some good thinking about the edits and do some workarounds with the notes from my editor, and finish this story as well as a base synopsis of the Scotty book, I will be most pleased with myself come Monday morning.

I slept very well last night–even slept in a bit this morning, so am a bit groggy but shaking it off with the assistance of my morning coffee, but feel very rested. I did clean and organize a bit when I got home last night, which was lovely; the kitchen/office looks a bit better this morning than it did yesterday and I also managed to do all the bed linen (I did not, however, put away the load of dishes in the dishwasher, but still–progress). Paul and I watched The Lost City last night, which was a fun diversion, but it was ultimately overall a bit disappointing to me. I kept seeing the similarities to Romancing the Stone, and in comparison, The Lost City comes up short. Channing Tatum, though, is so adorable-especially when he’s playing a himbo–he carries most of the film on his back, really. I didn’t quite get it, really–Bullock is always charming in everything (I will always appreciate her, if for no other reason than Miss Congeniality is genius)–but for some reason she kind of wasn’t in this, for some reason. Maybe I was expecting more and was disappointed? But really, my primary response to the film was “I need to watch both Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile again.” I think the primary reason the movie failed was the power imbalance between their characters, really; Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were equals, Bullock and Tatum were not, so when Bullock is mean and dismissive of Tatum’s character, it just comes across as mean and bitchy, not funny–and the history between the two isn’t really set up very well, nor is Bullock’s back story as a heartbroken widow how just wants to hide in her house for the rest of her life. A few more scenes could have set this up and built up the dynamic between them better; it just doesn’t play the way it is edited now…which was enormously disappointing for me, because this is precisely the kind of romantic adventure/treasure hunt story I usually love. I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t watch, Constant Reader. Your mileage might vary, of course; but it essentially left me thinking this could have been so much better.

And now, back to the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely day, okay?

Boogie Fever

In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”

Ah, naivete.

Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.

But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.

This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.

Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.

Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.

The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.

The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.

My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?

Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.

You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.

This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).

Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.

Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart

Saturday!

I slept very well last night. I got my day job work done during the day, I got two more chapters revised and edited last night, and Paul and I watched the latest episode of Servant last night (which is very bizarre and we are no longer sure we are following it, but it’s well produced and well acted, so it’s always interesting to watch), and then I watched a short National Geographic documentary about the Renaissance Popes (an episode from their series Pope), which was interesting–but it didn’t cover much more ground than Barbara Tuchman covered in her section on them in March of Folly.

Today dawns bright and sunny with a gorgeous, cloudless pigeon’s egg sky out there. I have some emails I have to do this morning, and I have to run some errands (prescriptions, mail) this morning (I am saving groceries for tomorrow). I also have to buy a new all-in-one printer as my latest one lost wifi capabilities yesterday for some reason, ergo rendering it utterly useless for my needs (just as well, I had just run out of ink and needed to buy more; money saved by the death of the printer) so when I go run my errands, the last thing I will do is swing by Office Depot on St. Charles to purchase a new one. I think they have a decent one at a reasonable price in stock; if they don’t, I’ll have to check either Best Buy or Target, neither of which is an option I particularly want to indulge myself in at the moment. Although a trip to the West Bank would also mean I could get lunch at Sonic, so…decisions, decisions. (Paul and I were, in fact, just last night talking about how we don’t really eat fast food at all anymore–he stopped at McDonalds on his way home from getting his hair cut in the Quarter yesterday) I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost last year, alas; not sure how that happened, precisely, but have no doubt that there’s a connection to me not going to the gym in months, for sure. Once this book is done….or at least under more control, at any rate…maybe on Monday afternoon when I am finished with my work-at-home duties. I am hoping to get three chapters of the book done today, which means I have to write/revise and polish the final two chapters over the next few days as well as go through and polish and tweak (hence the need for a printer) before finally turning it in and diving into the Bouchercon anthology work, which needs to be concluded by the end of February. I also have a short story due in early February–and next weekend I am going to Alabama for the Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu weekend in Birmingham and Wetumpka. (Note to self: get an audiobook for the drive.)

So much to do, so little time, so little opportunity for procrastination, laziness and pushing things off until tomorrow, right?

Heavy heaving sigh.

But there’s also cleaning to do around here, filing as always, and some book organization is also needed. I am not feeling particularly overwhelmed in any sense this morning, which is always a really good thing, and I feel confident that I can get everything finished that I need to get finished as well as get a jump on future things that need to get finished. I am really looking forward to spending some time every week getting rid of paper files, too–you have no idea how much I am looking forward to that; realistically, there’s no reason for me to keep paper files on anything unless it’s something I am currently working on; otherwise it can remain electronic; and realistically, I can donate a back-up hard drive to an archive mush easier than I can sort and organized paper files…and if they don’t want that, well, then that’s the end of that, you know.

And I still will have gotten rid of all the fucking paper files.

So, win-win?

And on that note tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Urgent

History is, as the adage goes, written by the winners, and that has always certainly held true of US history.

As Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware, I love me some history, and always have; ever since I was a kid. The history I learned in school, as well as how it was taught, instilled a deep pride in me, as a citizen, of my country and its history. But I never limited myself to the textbooks and the classroom; as a voracious reader with an appreciation and love for history, I often read history for its own sake, because I found it interesting, and felt that the slight overview/outline I was taught in public schools–and later, in college (I remember writing an essay for an American History course in college about the Spanish-American War on a test in a blue book–remember those? do they still use them?–and my extensive reading outside of class, throughout my life, of history enabled me to write in greater detail in my essay than most of my classmates, who had only the textbook chapters and the outside reading assigned me of Edmund Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt to draw from; I knew from outside reading that the king of Spain at the time was Alfonso XIII and he was a child; that his mother, Queen Maria-Christina, was the actual regent, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say I got an A, and the instructor wrote in the margins how pleased he was that I had clearly done so much outside reading/study on my own, even going so far as to suggest I switch to a History major; I sometimes wonder–particularly whenever I think about writing about history–if I indeed should have. That, however, would have taken my writing career in an entirely different direction) wasn’t as in-depth as I would like, and because of all the reading I did on my own, I always found myself bored in History classes.

Again, I probably should have majored in history.

Anyway, twentieth century history was never something I was terribly interested in when I was younger. I had a vague working knowledge of it; I certainly knew more than most of my fellow citizens, but my interests inevitably always lay further distant in the past. I certainly didn’t have a strong knowledge of the First World War, other than the basics: how it started, how old-fashioned notions of government and war which hadn’t truly responded to the great advances in industrialization and modernization of technology resulted in a horrifying bloodbath that convulsed Europe and killed millions unnecessarily over old-fashioned notions of the honor of dynasties and the corresponding idiocies of secret treaties and alliances and spats between imperial cousins; that the peace that followed in the wake of a bitter war resulted in a far worse global convulsion in less than three decades; and that the entry of the United States very late in the war swung the bloody stalemate into a victory by the Allies. (Also recommended reading: The Fall of the Dynasties by Edward Taylor. )

One of my fraternity brothers was a History major, and one spring afternoon after classes, as we took bong hits and listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, I asked him what his concentration was in, and he replied the First World War. What followed was a rather interesting conversation about the war and its causes, and the American entry–that was probably not as interesting as I recall; stoner conversations are never as interesting later as they seem at the time– and when I mentioned the Zimmermann Telegram, he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Oh, it was so obviously a forgery!” Since that was his concentration for his major, I always took that fact at his word; he was majoring in the subject so therefore I assumed he had done the research to back up that assertion, and as I was becoming rather cynical on the subject of our government and the propaganda that was public school history courses, it was easy to believe that the British and President Wilson (a horrific racist) could have quite easily collaborated to deceive the American public and thus swing public opinion in favor of American entry into the war.

As an enormous fan of Barbara Tuchman’s, I have been working my way through her canon, and so was quite interested to read her take on the telegram; she wrote a very short book on the subject, perhaps the shortest of her career, aptly titled The Zimmermann Telegram.

I generally always am reading some kind of non-fiction at the same time as I am tearing through my fiction choices; the lovely thing about reading non-fiction–particularly history–is that I don’t feel the same urgency to finish it; non-fiction is always there, waiting for you to come back to it, and since you already know how it’s going to come out, there’s not the same sense of desire to see how it all plays out. For The Zimmermann Telegram, for example, I knew the book would end with the United States entering the war; there are no surprise twists waiting for you in history when you already have a basic knowledge going into it–likewise, any biography of Mary Queen of Scots isn’t going to end differently. The historian’s analyses of the facts may be different than those of others already read, but the bare facts remain: history is history, facts are facts, and the only difference from one to another is the analyses and interpretations of the facts (I also have my own theories about Mary Queen of Scots–again, interpretations and analyses inevitably differ, and the winners do write history; which is why I deeply appreciated The Creation of Anne Boleyn, which pointed out that our modern day interpretations of her are based in letters and chronicles of the time, which were hardly fair; I could take make the same case for the Queen of Scots–but facts are facts: she was executed in 1587; she lost her throne in 1567; her marriages were her marriages and her son was her son). Tuchman’s analyses are heavily researched and formed from extensive reading–and she generally comes across as fairly impartial; she also writes in a reader-friendly style that brings the personalities of the people she writes about to life and is never, ever boring–a tendency in even the most non-academic writing styles of the majority of historians.

She makes a very strong case for the authenticity of the Zimmermann Telegram–bolstered primarily by the fact that the Germans admitted its authenticity at the time (which essentially guaranteed American entrance into the conflict as a belligerent, which was hardly in the best interests of the German Empire at the time), and there was also a follow-up telegram to the original, even more damning than the first–whose existence remained secret at the time and wasn’t revealed until after the war; because the British didn’t want the Germans to know they had broken their code and were reading their telegraphic communiqués. She also does an excellent job of setting the stage, giving all the perspectives from every side–the neutral American, the Allied, and the Central Powers–and this was a terrific, wonderful read, as are all of Ms. Tuchman’s works.

(If you are not aware of the Zimmermann Telegram, essentially it was an attempt of the German Empire to draw Mexico into the war against the US as an ally of the Central Powers should Wilson lead our country into the war; the Germans promised Mexico they would have German assistance in reconquering Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Germans were also trying to draw Japan into a war against the US–promising them American possession in the Pacific and perhaps even the Pacific Coast states…essentially predicting the second World War as an added, interesting twist. As you can well imagine, when this telegram was made public the entire country went from pacifism to a demand for war)

Next for my non-fiction reading pleasure: Robert Caro’s enormous and exhaustively researched The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

I Love a Rainy Night

There’s really nothing like rain for a good night’s sleep, is there? There’s just so comforting about being under the covers, warm and snug and dry, while everything outside is getting drenched. I’m not sure why that is, but rain always helps me sleep–and I never want to get out of bed if it is still raining. I also love curling up under a blanket in my easy chair with a good book when it’s raining outside. There’s something about that constant pattering of drops against the house and the sound of the wind, the occasional brightening of the gloom with lightning, followed by the rolling thunder…one of the things I love the most about living in New Orleans is our wonderful rain, the marvelous raging thunderstorms–but I will admit, I am not thrilled about the streets filling with water and the potential risks of water damage from flooding to my car. (I got caught once in a downpour/flash flood with my old red Chevrolet Cavalier back in the say–it cost about $600 to get it running again, as well as to get the smell out of it. I can’t imagine how much it would cost now, or if the car would be totaled if the computer systems got wet…)

It’s rained off and on ever since Wednesday night, and it’s kind of gloomy outside my windows again this morning. I’ve been sleeping fairly well for over a week now–last night was the first night I woke up a few times and had some incredibly odd and vivid dreams. The house is still a mess–after my appointments and errands and so forth, I was very tired when I got home and just spent the rest of the day relaxing–at least, what was left of it. We got caught up on Hacks, which is so marvelous, finished the first season of The Sinner (it’s so weird that we watched it backwards, but it really doesn’t matter what order you watch in; as I said, the personal story of detective Harry Ambrose isn’t the point of the show, and its kind of interesting to see it unfold backwards), and then watched another episode of a Hulu show (like The Sinner, executive produced by Jessica Biel, and good for her) called The Sister, starring Russell Tovey. It’s an original crime series (not based on a book or anything) and what drew me to it was star Russell Tovey, whom I’ve enjoyed since his days as the werewolf on the original British Being Human, and he’s also an out gay actor. He’s great and the show is interesting with a clever premise, but the pace is a bit slow and the bad guy/villain is so over the top and creepy that he’s hard to watch (I keep thinking for fuck’s sake just kill him and make it look like an accident already); but we’ll probably keep watching it around other shows we are more interested in.

The rest of this morning is going to be spent organizing and cleaning and straightening up this kitchen/office, which is a disaster area, and then making my long overdue to-do list. I need to record a video somehow to promote a panel I’ m doing this month for the San Francisco Public Library on queer mysteries (moderated and arranged by Michael Nava, and including Dharma Kelleher, Cheryl Head, and PJ Vernon, whose Bath Haus I really need to get my hands on); I also have to make arrangements to record my panel for More Than Malice this month (another stellar line-up), and I am also doing something this coming Thursday for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop here in New Orleans.

I also kind of need to get back to my writing, and to the gym–but the gym is now open at its pre-pandemic schedule, so I can go much later in the day than I had to before.

I also want to finish reading The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara Tuchman, and Robyn Gigl’s impressive debut novel, By Way of Sorrow, and next up is either Mia Manansala’s debut Arsenic and Adobo or S. A. Crosby’s Razorblade Tears–his Blacktop Wasteland was one of my best reads last year, and has been winning all of the awards for last year’s books. I’ve also realized one of the reasons my TBR pile always seems so mountainous and ever-growing is because there are so many excellent choices to read that I become paralyzed with the inability to choose and as such, never progress and wind up choosing a movie instead, or history videos on Youtube.

And of course, I really need to start writing again, and deciding what I want to work on over the course of this weekend. I think I want to rewrite the first chapter of Chlorine–which is all that is done–and maybe chapter two; an I also want to get back into the short stories and novellas I’ve been working on; you can imagine my horror when I opened the file for “Never Kiss a Stranger” and realized most of what I thought I had written was actually just written in my head…oy–and the same goes for “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” I hate when my imagination is so vivid that I actually think I wrote things when I merely wrote them in my head…

And on that note–hello spice mines! I am heading in there now.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

California Dreamin’

Thursday and a work-at-home day for me, which is nice. I slept really well last night–deeply, only woke up a time or two (once was because Scooter was purring and making bread on me)–and it’s been lovely feeling rested lately, really lovely. I’ve been doing a lot of contemplation lately; thinking about my life, ways to get things under control, and what I should be prioritizing as opposed to what ultimately doesn’t really matter in my life; funny how the unimportant stuff always tends to wind up causing the most stress and eating up the most time and energy, isn’t it? It’s also amazing to me that my identity; how I see myself, is almost entirely wrapped up in being a writer, and yet it is inevitably the thing I devote the least amount of my time and attention to, which probably has a lot to do with why I always feels so off-center and disoriented and discontented; really, the only time in my life where I actually do feel content (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but roll with it) is when I am actually writing. I love the act of creation, of putting words and sentences and paragraphs together in order to bring characters and their story to life on the page–and the dichotomy of my always having to force myself to do something that brings me enormous joy and satisfaction (much like going to the gym and working out) is something I’ve never been able to get to the root of, even with the assistance of a therapist asking probing questions coming from things I’ve said while riffing on why I have such a tendency to be so self-defeating.

Case in point: I still haven’t made that to-do list I’ve been needing to make all week.

I guess my old standard for to-do lists holds, and the first thing I need to put on it is make a to-do list.

We’ve been watching a lot of terrific crime shows lately that we’re really enjoying/enjoyed: Mare of Easttown, Cruel Summer, the latest season of Line of Duty (I love this show and hate that this is the final season), and we’ve been bingeing our way through all the seasons of The Sinner, going backwards since each season is relatively self-contained; the character of the detective, Harry Ambrose (not sure if it is Harry), played brilliantly by Bill Pullman–his narrative arc as a person is so secondary to the primary crime story he is investigating that it doesn’t matter if you watch the seasons in the proper order. We watched the third first (because MATT BOMER), then the second (Carrie Coon was brilliant), and now are watching the original with Jessica Biel, and we’ve greatly enjoyed them all. (I will say that in this first season we are in the midst of, there’s more emphasis on Harry’s personal story, and it’s not as interesting as it could be and really pulls away focus from the crime investigation, which becomes more complicated and complex with each episode.)

I’ve also not been reading much lately, other than the occasional non-fiction (I am nearing the end of Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmermann Telegram, which I am enjoying) and have also taken to just opening up her A Distant Mirror to a random spot and immersing myself in the calamitous fourteenth century.

I’ve also been trying to figure out the point of this blog, and if there ever has been one. When I first started keeping one years ago–December 2004, to be exact–it was because I needed to do something, anything, to start writing again. I also was very naive; I never really thought of it as being something other people would find or read–this was before even MySpace, for God’s sake–and I do recall, back in those heady day on Livejournal, that it was a way for me to write about things I felt passionate about; the things I wanted to write about that no one would ever pay me to write about, to be completely honest. In the first entries I was trying to find my way, trying to figure out what this blog’s other purpose, besides just making myself sit down and do some writing every day again, after a lengthy fallow period following a personal trauma…and it really took off, somehow, after Hurricane Katrina–as I wrote out and processed the darkness and emotional trauma (on top of all the others from the period I’ve always referred to as the Time of Troubles) I was experiencing, the highs and lows of every day, the grim and gritty determination to hunker down and get on with life, somehow keep going. As social media became more and more popular in the years that followed and writing a blog became almost passé (I remember someone mocking me–kindly, or so I thought at the time–for having a blog on 2009 by saying something like “Oh, how 2002 of you”–yet here I am, twelve years later, going on with it), I kept plugging away, in my ADHD way of scattershot “I read the book or movie or TV show” or “why am I struggling with this book” or the utter mendaneness of my daily existence; whether slept well or the house is a mess or I have a lot to do and errands to run and on and on with barely a thought as to whether I was providing content that would draw people here every day or so; and whether or not I wanted this to be that sort of thing. I don’t want to now–never have–turn this into a thing where I feel stress or anxiety about whether people read it or not; I’ve never cared about that, nor have I ever cared about whether things I post here will get people to buy my books or turn them away from my books. (It really is a wonder I have a career….)

And now back to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, everyone.

Mr. Disco

Ah, Friday, and the weekend looms on the horizon.

Last night was odd; there was some sort of power problem in our neighborhood–a problem I’ve never experienced anything like before. The living room had power; everything in there worked fine. The upstairs lights? Flickering, and out most of the time. Same with the kitchen and the laundry room; the refrigerator was barely on, and the HVAC wasn’t working at all; and this was only affecting our block. So, so weird–and then around eleven thirty we got all the voltage we could possibly want. I’ve never experienced “low” power before; didn’t even know it was a thing, to be honest. But at least nothing in the refrigerator spoiled–always a plus.

The Edgars went smoothly yesterday, and there were some lovely surprises. All the nominees were deserving–they always are–and it’s always fun to see the excitement of those who get the statue. Obviously, it’s way more fun in person–fingers crossed for next year–and yesterday morning as I made condom packs and broke down expired test kits for biohazard disposal (seriously, my life is just a non-stop thrill ride) I remembered past Edgar ceremonies I attended and deeply enjoyed. I inevitably drink too much–it’s the free wine, always a danger for one Gregalicious–but my favorite ceremony remains the very first one I attended, when I wore a kilt and then took the train with friends the following morning to Washington for Malice Domestic. As I have mentioned before, my memory–once sterling and dependable–is now in tatters, so am trying to remember that first ceremony and evening and am finding it difficult, to be completely honest. I think that was the year Charlaine Harris was MWA president, and Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais were named grand masters, but I could be wrong. I also don’t remember which year Stephen King won for best novel–but it was the year Sara Paretsky was president of MWA, because I have a great picture of the two of them together from the cocktail reception before the ceremony. The third and final time I went–I think I’ve only attended three times–was the year my friend William J. Mann won for Best Fact Crime for Tinseltown. I always enjoy the Edgars and Edgar week activities; missing out on a ceremony the last two years was disappointing. I am hopeful next year we will be able to have it in person again.

Fingers crossed!

I also managed to get deeper into the revision of the book last evening before Paul got home and we settled in for three episodes of season 4 of Line of Duty–and Acorn loaded the fifth season yesterday as well.So, that’s the weekend pretty sorted. I also want to spend some time with The Butcher’s Boy, perhaps even finishing it–so I can dive into my next Mary Russell adventure. I am also currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram–and it occurs to me that all the espionage and so forth that went on before the American entry into the first World War between the Germans and Mexico (trying to keep the US occupied and distracted from what was going on in Europe, as well as disrupting the supplying of the Allies) could make for a wonderful “Holmes in New Orleans” story. New Orleans was a major port (still is, actually) and fairly close to Mexico…hmmm. I was also thinking about the banana intrigues–seriously, that is one of the most fascinating times in New Orleans history!

We really are enjoying Line of Duty, which is an interesting take on your typical crime show. The heroes of the stories–each season is relatively self-contained, although there was an over-all arc that tied all the first three seasons together–are an anti-corruption division; so the good guys are cops, but so are the bad guys. It is chilling to see how easy it is for the cops (at least in the show; I don’t know enough to comment on reality) to corrupt and divert an investigation; falsify evidence and so forth; with no concept of how deep and how high up the corruption actually runs. Thandie Newton is the dirty cop in season four, and like the previous villains/guest stars of previous seasons, she is terrific in the role. Can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

Yesterday afternoon as I made condom packs, I watched North Dallas Forty. This is a 1979 film starring Nick Note and Mac Davis (!), and was adapted from Peter Gent’s novel. I had read the novel, but had never seen the movie; it came up on Twitter a week or so ago when someone asked people for the best sports movie (I said Brian’s Song, and stand by my answer). Laura Lippman brought up North Dallas Forty, which made me think of Semi-Tough, another pro football novel and movie from the same period (remember? I tried to reread it and the blatant racism was so horrific I put it in the donate box after rereading the first page?). I’d like to reread the Gent novel–it was very dark; painkillers and drugs and alcohol and rapes and sexual assaults and racism and all kinds of horrible behavior–but unlike Semi-Tough, the Gent took those issues seriously and didn’t try to play them for laughs. The movie takes the same tone as the book–dark–and Nolte is really good as the wide receiver whose years playing have battered and broken his body and left him needing painkilling shots to play and swallowing pain killers to get through the day, and the alcohol and drug abuse. Mac Davis is surprisingly good as his best friend, the quarterback–who eventually betrays him in the end to keep his own contract alive. The game scenes are particularly funny; even in the 1970’s professional football stadiums were better than where these scenes were filmed; the “stadiums” they play in look like high school football fields–and not even the better ones. It definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–it exposes the “team as a family” mentality as the crock that it is, and that the players are all just cogs in a money-making machine for the owners, and the coaches don’t give two shits about their players, either.

I still stick with Brian’s Song as the best sports movie, though.

And on that note, this data isn’t going to enter itself nor are these condoms going pack themselves, so it’s off to the spice mines with me.

I Told You So

Finally, a good night’s sleep last night, and I feel rested finally–physically, emotionally, and intellectually–for the first time this week. I didn’t sleep through the night–I was awakened just before four this morning by a simply marvelous thunderstorm; lightning so close it was simply a white flash and then thunder claps that seemed to go on forever as the rain came down torrentially; the emergency notification alerts also came through on both of our phones at the same time. I didn’t get out of bed–I assumed it was a flash flood warning, given the strength of the downpour–but upon rising this morning you can imagine my shock to check my phone to see that it was a tornado warning “for this area”. However, in checking just now I don’t see any tornado reports for the area, but we were in a flash flood warning for four hours (it actually ends in about fifteen minutes–but it’s clear outside). The storms dropped three to five inches of rain a couple of hours–which means at some point I should go make sure the car didn’t get water inside.

But there really isn’t anything like being in bed, warm and comfortable under the blankets, while it’s pouring down rain outside.

I am working at home today, and I have to also get the apartment ready for the delivery of my new washing machine at some point tomorrow. I think I am going to have to take the saloon doors off the laundry room–that’s not going to be much fun–and I am also going to take the bottom shelf down from above where the washer and dryer sit for maneuverability purposes, as well as getting some other things out of the way to make it as easy as possible for the delivery guys. It’s going to be lovely, frankly, having a washing machine again–there’s a load of clothes that needs to be washed, and I also want to do the bed linens, since I couldn’t last week–and hopefully, that will do away with this weird, slightly off way I’ve been feeling since the washer broke last Wednesday night and flooded the laundry room and kitchen.

I think I’ve also been feeling more than a little off-center (off-kilter, off my game, whatever) because I was already not centered as I went into the big (and exhausting) push last weekend to get the book finished and turned in. Finishing a book is always an enormous relief, but that final push to get it done is always, inevitably, exhausting on every level–and then having to get up early for work (or to take Paul to Touro) just wore me down. Insomnia also bedeviled me almost every night this week (until last night, thank the Lord), so finally getting rested last night was most essential and very important. Paul got home late as well, so I sat in my easy chair for most of the evening going down Youtube video wormholes because I was really too tired to be able to focus on reading…although I am hoping to get back to The Russia House after I complete my work-at-home duties today as well as get everything moved around that needs to be moved around preparatory to tomorrow’s washer delivery.

And now I’ve got serial killers on the brain. A friend tipped me off to a series on HBO MAX, Very Scary People, which takes on serial rapists, mass murderers (yes, there’s two episodes about the Manson family) and serial killers. There’s a new book idea formulating in my head–when isn’t there, really?–and I’ve been making notes and so forth this past week, as well as looking up more information about Dean Corll on-line…plus I’ve been trying to remember the early 1970’s and life in suburban Chicago, which is where and when the book will be set. I know, I know, I’m going to write Chlorine next–when my creative batteries have completely recharged and reset–and I also have some submission calls I want to submit short stories to. I wanted to spend this week doing just that–writing/revising/editing short stories–but I just haven’t had the bandwidth to focus and look at the calls (and the in-progress stories I want to write for them) to figure out when things would be due and how much work would need to be done, etc. But I think it’s okay for me to take a week to let my brain recalibrate.

AH, so much to do and as always, the clock is ticking.

I’ve also started reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram. Everything I’ve read of Tuchman’s has become a favorite (A Distant Mirror may be the best history I’ve ever read), and while I have yet to get through her entire canon (The Guns of August is still in my TBR pile), I thought it would be interesting to read this tale of the inflammatory telegram that was primarily responsible for the United States entering the first World War. (I’ve also become very interested–primarily through the writing of my Sherlock Holmes story–in the historical period from, say, 1910-1930, particularly in New Orleans. I would love to write more Holmes pastiches, but am not entirely sure there’s a market for them; I do have one on deck right now–one of the afore-mentioned short stories in progress; I am trying to decide if writing a Holmes pastiche for the submission call would be a smart thing to do, or whether I should just write the story and leave Holmes out of it entirely.) This creative ADHD thing really does suck sometimes…but I am going to actually not berate myself for my brain being all over the map this week because–well, damn it, I just wrote two books totally approximately 195,000 words in total over the course of about five months, give or take. My brain should be fried.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. I need to get some things done before I start working for the day. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

People on the High Line

Several years ago–I have no concept of how long ago; time and its passing literally have no meaning to me anymore–I started what I called “the Short Story Project.” I wanted to become a better short story writer; it’s a form I’ve always struggled with, and it always seemed to my hypercritical self that whenever I was successful in writing a short story, it was more of an accident than anything I had planned when I embarked on writing the story. I’ve also become a little bit easier on myself on that score–sometimes, not every idea will work as a short story, and writing isn’t something that can ever be forced without it showing to the reader–and I did have a wonderful period of productivity with short stories after setting course for the Project–which not only entailed writing them but reading as many of them as I could. After all, what better way to improve my own short story writing skills than by reading good stories? I have, over the years, collected any number of single-author collections as well as anthologies, and yet, with few notable exceptions prior to the start of the Project, had rarely ever cracked their spines. Lately, as I have struggled with time and focus while I’ve been working on this revision of the Kansas book (aka #shedeservedit) I find myself unable to focus much on reading novels; my mind inevitably wanders, or I will set it down and not get back to it for days. So, this morning I decided, before getting in my work on the book for the day, to read some short stories over my coffee this morning, and I wound up reading four of them; all of them marvelous in their own unique, distinctive ways. The stories I read this morning were, in order: “Better Days’ by Art Taylor, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Mischief in Mesopotamia” by Dana Cameron, also from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Hop-frog” by Edgar Allan Poe; and finally, “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one on our stretch of the North Carolina coast who picked up the Washington Post on a regular basis, but I doubt anyone else it like I did–scanning the bylines, measuring the thickness of the paper and the heft of it, stifling the envy.

So begins Art Taylor’s “Better Days’, which won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story and was a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards. Art is one of crime’s best short story writers (and one of my favorite people), and it’s easy to see why he has won every award under the sun for crime short stories. Art’s stories are always tightly written, with characters so real and honest and human that you can’t help but care about them, as well as having a bit of an edge to them. He manages to capture the resigned despair someone whose career path didn’t quite go the way he wanted perfectly; the former Washington Post journalist downsized and back in coastal North Carolina, working for the local paper while still thinking about his past with an uneasy regret. The story focuses on a love triangle between the main character, the local bar owner he’s been seeing, and a newly arrived tourist on a yacht with money to burn. This story tightly plotted, flows perfectly, and the characters are people I wouldn’t mind spending some more time with. In some ways it kind of reminded me of John D. Macdonald; maybe it’s the sea and boats and so forth that put me in mind of Travis McGee. Highly recommended.

I sat across from a row of decapitated kings, gods, and heroes waiting for them to speak to me. I didn’t know a word of their language, and they’d been dead–their monuments erected, sanctified, and decaying–long before anyone speaking my language was born. Still, I waited, if not as patiently as they did.

That’s the opening paragraph of Dana Cameron’s “Mischief in Mesopotamia,” originally published in the November 2012 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and it went on to win both the Agatha and Anthony awards for Best Short Story the following year. (I initially met Dana the weekend she won the Agatha; she’s been a constant source of joy for me ever since.) The story features her series character Emma Fielding, and reading the story is my first encounter with her–and now I am going to have to go back and read the entire series of novels with Emma (you may also know her from the television films made from some of the books in the series, with Melrose Place alumnus Courtney Thorne-Smith playing Emma). Set on a tour of museums and archaeological sites in southeast Turkey, Emma and her group happen to be on-site when a museum robbery occurs–and Emma solves the crime through her keen observations of her fellow tour group members. The voice is delightful, as is Emma–there’s a hint of my fiction goddess Amelia Peabody about her–and the story is enormously satisfying.

I never knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the King was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kin, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people from fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean doer us a rare Avis in terris.

Yes, that first paragraph made me squirm a bit as I started reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-frog,” which I suppose can be held up as an example of how things don’t age well (the notion that overweight people are jolly, as evidenced here). The story itself, which is about a court jester who is also a little person (“dwarf”) and crippled at a royal court, mocked and laughed at and the butt of the jokes of the King and his advisors, along with another female who is also there for their entertainment–whom Hop-frog appears to love, eventually reaches his own breaking point when they mock him one time too many and when the female begs them to stop, the King throws wine in her face and humiliates her. There is a costume ball coming up, and Hop-frog chooses this for his revenge, convincing them all to dress up as “ourang-outangs”, which will require covering themselves with tar and pitch and fake fur….and they waltz right into his punishment, as they are set aflame and are burned alive. This is based in actual history–Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror details the “the dance of the burning fools,” where King Charles VI of France and some of his buddies costumed themselves in such a manner with the same outcome–some of them caught fire and were burned to death, although the King was not one of the victims. When I was rereading that book in the early pandemic days, I came across this true story and thought it might make for an interesting short story; doing further research, I discovered that Poe had written a story based on this actual event, and bookmarked it to read later. As with everything classic, my education in Poe is limited; but all the earmarks of a Poe’s story’s justice are here: justice is meted out to the foolish king and his cruel advisers…but it’s not one of his better efforts, which is why, undoubtedly, it’s not as well known.

Day had dawned cold and gray when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail. He climbed the high earth-bank where a little-traveled trail led east through the pine forest. It was a high ban, and he paused to breathe at the top. He excused the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock in the morning. There was no sun or promise of sun, although there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day. However, there seemed to be an indescribable darkness over the face of things. That was because the sun was absent from the sky. This fact did not worry the man. He was not alarmed by the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun.

I originally read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” in high school. It was assigned for us to read when we were studying short stories and fiction; it was assigned as an example of the theme “man v. nature.” I’ve never forgotten the story–I loathe the cold, as Constant Reader is aware, and London does an amazing job of getting that frigid climate across to the reader. The man is never given a name–his name doesn’t matter–and neither does the wolf-dog by his side have a name; their names don’t matter. This story is about human hubris–he isn’t worried about the cold, despite being warned about it, and he wants to get back to his camp. His job was to go upstream and see if its possible for logs to be floated downstream when the temperature is warmer and the waters of streams and rivers and creeks not frozen solid. His mission accomplished, he is heading back to his actual camp, with some food stored under his shirt next to his body and a pack of matches in case he needs to start a fire. The dread in this story builds slowly and smoothly as he begins to suspect he made an error in not respecting the cold for its ability to kill him; occasionally London goes into the perspective of the animal who is also beginning to sense the man–food and fire provider, nothing more–is out of his depth. Eventually he succumbs to the cold, after a series of misadventures that come about because he isn’t paying enough attention and is careless. Whether that is because the cold has affected his ability to think and reason clearly is never part of the story or his own consideration. Even now, after all these years, the story has the ability to make me wince and shiver and think yikes, there’s no fucking way I’d ever go outside when it was 75 degrees below zero, let alone make a trip of many miles through wilderness on foot.

And on that note, now I am finished with my morning and its back to the spice mines with me,

Come In With The Rain

So we survived Monday, did we not? And here we are,turning into Tuesday like nobody’s business and like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s 2020. Of course there’s going to be a tomorrow, most likely even worse than yesterday ever dared to be; I was joking with one of my clients yesterday about “remember back in December 2019 how much we were looking forward to that horrible year ending? Who knew 2020 would be even worse? I’m afraid to say I’m looking forward to 2021 now.”

The sad part is that it’s true–and that’s why it’s funny.

This is technically my “hump day,” since I am taking Thursday and Friday off, and I’m a little foggy this morning, ain’t gonna lie. I was, as I feared I would be, very drained when I got home from work yesterday; too physically and emotionally tired to do much of anything other than sit my in my car with Scooter sleeping in my lap while I watched videos on Youtube (there’s a great documentary on there, by the way, based on Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August) until Paul got home. Poor dear, he wanted to watch the next episode of Lovecraft Country, and I had to gently let him down with the news that it’s airing weekly, and we’ll have to wait until this weekend to watch a new episode. Instead, I clicked on Apple Plis and queued up The Morning Show….and can I just say wow? I’m not sure what I was expecting with it, but what I got wasn’t it–and it is amazing. A stellar cast, crisp writing, and engaging story; and Jennifer Aniston is perfectly cast and clearing enjoying every minute of playing morning talk show diva Alex Levy. Now, I’ll admit, I’ve always liked Aniston; she was the only reason I kept watching Friends, long after its expiration date (Rachel was literally the only character on the show who grew, developed, and evolved into a better, more whole person from the first episode through the last, and I’ve enjoyed her in the films of hers I’ve watched), but this performance in this role is a revelation, and she’s fantastic. So is Reese Witherspoon-in fact, the entire cast is quite literally perfect, as is Steven Carell. The Morning Show is about an eponymous network news show, similar to The Today Show and Good Morning America–light, fluffy entertainment with some (little) hard news to ease people into their days with their coffee; Steve Carell and Aniston play the long time anchor team (fifteen years!) and the show opens with the perfect premise: Carell and Aniston are kind of America’s “mom and dad”; and Dad just got fired because of sexual impropriety with people working on the show; and the chaos behind the scenes, from the staff to the network, that ensues. Aniston’s character is in the midst of contract negotiations with the network; the firing of her partner has given her, on the ropes because she’s getting older, a lot more power going forward with her negotiations, and the key now is ‘who’s getting the empty anchor chair’?

I had been avoiding the show, frankly, because I wasn’t sure what it was about and ‘behind the scenes’ shows like this, to me, have a very short shelf-life of being interesting; Paul and I were actually riveted and stayed up later than we should have in order to stream yet another episode. And much as I hate to say it, hats fucking off to Reese Witherspoon; her production company makes incredible television–Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, and now this. She has become one of the most consistently reliable television program commodities out there–and I will now probably watch anything her company comes up with, regardless of what it’s about or who is in it; but her company now has a pretty amazing track record of quality television with excellent and complex roles for women.

And I am here for it all.

I mean, I looked up the Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and was like, wow, these are all Oscar caliber performances, and great roles for women–from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer from Killing Eve to Laura Linney in Ozark to Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show to Zendaya in Euphoria to Olivia Colman in The Crown–I mean, I don’t know that I could pick a winner from those without just pulling a name out of a hat.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulous Tuesday.