Broken Hearted Me

So, in my desire to have a productive morning yesterday and rush home to start setting things to rights after Termite Armageddon, I thought I had a reading at one and a panel at two thirty; at nine am I thought  I can rush home, get started and then Lyft back to the Monteleone.

Then, while taking a break at eleven and thinking I’ll jump in the shower in a minute I checked the program to see who I was reading with and…my reading was at 11:30.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I think this might be the second or third time in twenty years of doing this that I’ve missed something I was supposed to do, so there’s that. Three times in twenty years isn’t bad, yet at the same time…oy oy oy.

Well, the good news was–lemons into lemonade– I had time to go make groceries and still had plenty of time to get cleaned up and Lyft down there for two thirty.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Hopefully, the next time the Weekend o’Festivals rolls around, we won’t be having to deal with a TERMITE ARGAMEDDON, so it won’t be as insane of a weekend. But the Lost Apartment feels very strange to be Scooter-and-Paul-free. When I get back I am going to continue cleaning and organizing, knowing that I can’t possibly get everything done that I want to get done. I think I need to take another stay-cation and clean the fuck out of this apartment, including cleaning out the cabinets (I found a lot of expired food stuffs yesterday morning that went into the trash) and I also need to check myself on the food hoarding thing. I mean, some of this stuff expired in 2015.

2015. Yeesh.

But, TERMITE ARMAGEDDON aside, it was a lovely weekend, as the Weekend o’Festivals tends to be. As always, I come away from it–despite everything–energized and excited to get back to writing again. I told a friend yesterday afternoon that I feel connected to myself again, in a way I hadn’t since the Great Data Disaster of 2018; I don’t know if it was being in the Quarter, or just being around writers and readers and people who love both, but it’s true. It kind of felt like a fog lifted, or I finally woke all the way up, if that makes sense? I have plenty to do this morning–I have to run to the office to get the stuff from our refrigerator that I stored there; I have to get Scooter; I need to get my brake tag and pick up some prescriptions and do another, minor grocery run and get the mail. I have some writing to do today for a website freelance project that is due today, and I would also like to work on the house some more and perhaps–perhaps–do some work on the WIP. I also bought some lovely books yesterday, but when I got home yesterday (I took the streetcar) I discovered my backpack had come open, and my copies of The Woman Who Fed the Dogs (Kirstien Hemmerechts), All Grown Up (Jami Attenburg) and King Zeno (Nathaniel Rich) had vanished at some point between the hotel and the Lost Apartment. Disappointing, but I can repurchase copies and hey, they get another royalty. But my copies of Frank Perez’ Southern Decadence in New Orleans, Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300, Constance Adler’s My Bayou: New Orleans Through The Eyes of a Lover, David Holly’s The Moon’s Deep Circle, Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men, and Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, all made it home safely, and I clearly have some fabulous reading in my future. I am very excited about this.

And I am very excited about getting back to both the Diversity Project and the Short Story Project.

I also feel well rested this morning, and like I can conquer the world. It’s been awhile, but it’s lovely to have a Gregalicious feeling again.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Walk This Way

Yesterday was a good day.

I slept really well Friday night (again last night, but not as well as Friday) and I ran my errands and went to the grocery store. I even went to the gym and lifted weights. I had every intention of doing some writing when I got finished with all of that, but got sidetracked into cleaning and decided to just kind of relax for the day and spend today doing the writing and so forth that I need to get done. (This is the trap, you see–now I have to write today. I don’t have a choice, but trust me, after I run my one errand today watch and see how I rationalize not writing today!) I started reading Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died yesterday, and I watched some interesting things on the television–including a short documentary on Studlebrities, hot guys who have big followings on social media and have managed to parlay their looks and followings into cash. It’s an idea, after all, for a story or a book; not sure which. But I do find the whole gay-for-pay/social media famous for their looks thing to be an interesting and fascinating subculture, and something that would probably make for a terrific noir or crime novel.

Yesterday also saw the release of the rave Publisher’s Weekly review of Florida Happens. It’s a great review, with shout-outs to some of the contributors, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Yesterday I started watching the film version of Phantoms, a novel by Dean Koontz which I remember fondly. It had an interesting cast–Rose MacGowan, Liev Schrieber, Joanna Going, Peter O’Toole and a very young Ben Affleck–and it got off to a really good start…but I gradually grew bored with it and stopped watching. I decided to finally watch it because I’d watched another adaptation of a Koontz novel, one I hadn’t read, on Friday night, called Odd Thomas, which I really enjoyed.

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I became a Koontz fan with the first novel of his I read, Lightning. I bought the paperback at a Sam’s Club in Houston; I went there with my mother on a visit. I’d heard of Koontz and seen his books everywhere, and I was in my I want to be a horror writer phase. Lightning was both clever and brilliant and smart, I thought, and I tore through it in no time flat–particularly enjoying the big twist that came in the middle. Basically, it’s the story of a woman who becomes a very successful writer, who has an ‘angel’ who shows up to save her in pivotal moments in her life–when her life is in danger. But it’s a lot more complicated than that…and it really is a great read. From Lightning, I went on to read the others than I consider his best: Phantoms, Watchers, Strangers, Midnight, and the ones that are probably lesser. I started reading his books when they came out in hardcover, but ironically, when he started writing the Odd Thomas series was when I stopped reading him. The novels had become more hit-and-miss for me; and the switch to writing a detective series–despite my interest in crime fiction–didn’t interest me very much at the time. I hadn’t enjoyed Peter Straub’s switch to crime fiction–Mystery, Koko, and The Throat, collectively known as the Blue Rose trilogy–which, while well-written, just didn’t gel for me. (I have occasionally thought about going back and rereading them; I might appreciate them all the more now.) Anyway, this Odd Thomas series didn’t interest me very much, and so I never read it.

Watching the film changed my mind.

Don’t get me wrong–the film is flawed–but it really is enjoyable to watch, and the mystery element of the plot is quite interesting and surprising and unpredictable. But the strongest part of the film, what holds it all together, is the late actor Anton Yelchin, in the lead.

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Yelchin is best known for playing Chekhov in the reboot of the original Star Trek movies; he was tragically killed when his car rolled down the driveway, pinning him against the gates to his home and he suffocated–his lungs were crushed. (What a horrible way to die, really.) He was good in the Star Trek movies, and kind of cute, but he really shone in Odd Thomas, where he basically carried the film, and his charm and charisma absolutely worked. The role didn’t really require a great deal of heavy lifting from him as an actor–basically, he simply had to be likable, but he really pulled it off. He had that indefinable thing we simply refer to as charisma or star quality; and again, what a shame he died so young.

I think he probably would have wound up being a really big star.

And maybe I’ll go back and read the books.

And now back to the spice mines.

Got a Hold on Me

Friday morning, and a short day at the office. I am very pleased to report that looking out my windows this morning I see no snow and ice, so I think perhaps this cold snap has finally come to its bitter end. We’re now having water pressure problems in the city, a boil water advisory, etc. etc. etc. Heavy heaving sigh. But other than that, things are going well. Like I said, I have a short day today; I am going to go to the gym this afternoon when I get home from the office, and I am going to spend the weekend writing and editing and reading. I started writing another short story yesterday, “The Trouble with Autofill,” which I think is kind of clever, and have lots of other editing and writing to do. Woo-hoo! Exciting weekend, no? I also want to get some reading and cleaning done. But I think as long as I keep going–sticking to my goal of positivity and focus, things will go well.

Maybe today’s blog should be titled When You Believe.

So, my agenda this morning is to get my kitchen cleaned up, get better organized, clean out my email, and do some writing. I’m going to get the mail before heading to the office, and I also need to pack my gym clothes so I can just ran in, grab the bag, and head back out the door. I also have lost three more pounds this week, finally breaking through that pesky 214 pound plateau I was at–I haven’t weighed 211 in years, so huzzah for working out! Now to keep going.

I started watching Black Sails again this week. I tried it several years ago, and just couldn’t get into it, even going so far as to think it kind of boring. I don’t know why; it has everything I love–pirates, beautiful locations, great period costumes, hot sweaty men in buccaneer outfits–but for whatever reason I just didn’t get into it. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention? Something. Anyway, I am enjoying it a lot more this time around, so I am in for all four seasons. I love pirates–always have–despite having given up on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after the second movie–and while I am not sure why that is the case, I just have. I’ve always wanted to write a pirate novel; and I still have a Scotty adventure having to do with Jean Lafitte’s treasure still floating around in the back of my  head. I’m making all kinds of notes as I watch this show–reread Treasure Island, do some research on pirates, reread The Deep–so who knows? My creativity is certainly flowering these days; and I do think this go back to your roots thing is really working for me. I am doing that with my workout program–all the way back to how I got started, in 1994/1995; and carrying my little blank book around has certainly kick-started my creativity. How cool is that?

I’ve also added a lot of fun Alfred Hitchcock movies to my watchlist on Amazon Prime, some I haven’t seen and others I already have: Saboteur, The Birds, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, Frenzy, Psycho, Family Plot, and Vertigo.

The Short Story Project is also continuing; I read a shitload of short stories on my Snow Day Wednesday, but am still doling them out two at a time here. 😉 First up today: “Lord of Madison County by Jimmy Cajoleas, from Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin:

“Are yall ready to worship?” says Pastor Jerry. He’s got his eyes shut, one arm raised high to Jesus in some weird half-Nazi salute. Frosted hair slicked back, bald spots barely showing. Graphic T-shirt that says, Lord’s Gym, and has Christ bench-pressing a cross on it. Cargo shorts that he still thinks are cool.

I’m a little ways back in the youth room, chewing on a pen cap. The worship band kicks in; it’s all reverbed guitar and concert lights and the bullshit praise lyrics projected onto a screem behind them. You know, the songs that are the kind of crap you say to your girlfriend but it’s supposed to be about God? You are beautiful. You alone are my rock. You alone are my one and only. Oh, Jesus, baby!

Out in the crowd of youth-groupers are my customers. The girl with her hands up in the air giggling, singing louder than anyone? That’s Theresa. Everyone thinks she’s weird, that maybe she’s one of God’s holy fools, but they all agree that she’s on fire with Jesus.

Nah, she just popped a molly.

This is a great opening; I had wondered if anyone was going to address the Southern relationship with religion, and Christianity, in particular. My own psyche has been deeply scarred by a love-hate relationship with the Southern brand of Christianity; the entire nation was recently stunned by the Alabama evangelical embrace of pedophile Roy Moore–which was something that neither surprised nor shocked me. I need to write about religion; I do wish someone with a book called Religion in America: A History of the Turbulent American Relationship with God. Writing is very therapeutic, and I do have such a story that I’ve been working on for going on thirty years; I seriously doubt anyone would publish it. Anyway, I digress. This story, about a young drug dealer who has a fraught relationship with his mother, his father, and his mother’s boyfriend, is very clever and tightly written, with surprise twists and turns that take it in directions I didn’t see coming. Doug, kicked out of his wealthy private school where he was making money dealing to the rich kids, realized the best new market for his merchandise was the youth group at a local church. His dealing increased the youth group’s membership, and he has his own fraught relationship with Pastor Jerry, whom he rather despises, while dating Jerry’s daughter Kayla. Kayla is the big surprise here, a femme fatale right out of the James M. Cain classics, and a true delight. I’d love to read more about Kayla.

After Mississippi Noir, I took down The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four, edited by Ellen Datlow, and the first story there was Stephen King’s The Little Green God of Agony.”

“I was in an accident,” Newsome said.

Katherine MacDonald, sitting beside the bed and attaching one of the four TENS units to his scrawny thigh just below the basketball shorts he now always wore, did not look up. Her face was carefully blank. She was a piece of human furniture in this big house–in this big bedroom where she now spent most of her working life–and that was the way she liked it. Attracting Mr. Newsome’s attention was usually a bad idea, as any of his employees knew. But her thoughts ran on, just the same. Now you tell them that you actually caused the accident. Because you think taking responsibility makes you look like a hero.

“Actually,” Newsome said, “I caused the accident. Not so tight, Kat, please.”

There’s a reason why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. One of the reasons is his uncanny ability to get into the heads of his characters, turning them into three dimensional beings that sound like someone you know. Kat, the physical therapist for an incredibly wealthy man–“the sixth wealthiest man in the world’–is tired of her job and tired of her patient. He won’t do the work required to get better and she is tired of watching him waste money and time on quick-fix quack cures that don’t do anything. This time, he’s brought in a small-time preacher from Arkansas who is going to exorcise the demon of pain from Newsome; it’s all she can do to keep a straight face and not say anything. Finally, she can’t resist and the preacher, Rideout, calls her out on a lot of things, seeing deep into her soul and telling her truths she doesn’t want to face herself, let alone share with anyone. And then the exorcism begins…in Danse Macabre, his later 1970’s/early 1980’s study of the genre, King talks about how horror comics of the 1950’s influenced his writing; as I was reading this story I could easily see it illustrated in Tales from the Crypt or House of Secrets. It’s terrific, absolutely terrific, and I was reminded again of why I love nothing more than curling up with Stephen King’s writing. It also vaguely reminded me of his novel Revival; I think this story may have triggered his creativity in that direction.

And now, I have spice to mine. Have a great Friday, Constant Reader!

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Magic Carpet Ride

We had the most marvelous electrical storm last night, which helped me sleep deeply and well. I don’t have to be at work until later–more bar testing tonight–and even as I sit here at my desk, it’s getting dark and gloomy outside, which clearly means another storm is on its way. I also had a weird dream about the Outdoor Kitties last night–I went outside to feed them and Scooter was outside, so I picked him up and brought him in…only another Scooter was inside, along with some gorgeously colored Maine coons and some beautiful kittens. This is when I woke up, confused that Scooter had somehow cloned himself, only to find him sleeping on me. Very weird, right? That’s the first dream I’ve had in years that I could remember when I woke up.

Figures it involves cats.

I still haven’t finished Cleopatra’s Shadows, but since I’m not going in until later today, I might be able to get through it today. It’s irritating, because there isn’t much left, and I really want to get to Universal Harvester. Ah, well. We watched another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale last night, and seriously, with everything else going on in the country today, it’s even more alarming and depressing in its realism. I also want to start watching American Gods; maybe this weekend. I have some appointments on Saturday, and some things to do–I definitely want to start working on the stored books sooner rather than later–and I want to get some work done on the book.

I’ve put the new Scotty aside for now, as I mentioned before. I was talking to a writer friend over lunch the other day–he’s in town for a conference, and very graciously treated me to lunch at Willa Jean in the CBD–and I was able to put my finger on precisely why I wasn’t feeling the new Scotty book. I had a similar problem with Garden District Gothic when I started writing it, and what I really think I need to do before I move forward with the new Scotty is go back and binge-read the first seven (!) books in the series. I kind of think something intrinsic to the series somehow might have gotten lost along the way in the books.

Garden District Gothic wasn’t supposed to be a Scotty book initially; it was intended to be another Paige book. (Just as Murder in the Rue Ursulines was originally intended to be a Scotty, and I turned it into a Chanse.) I won’t get into why the Paige series came to a premature end, but I will say that I love Paige, I loved writing about her, but I will say that I was being pressured to make that series something I wasn’t feeling, and I think it came across in the writing. I had created the character of Jerry Manning for one of the Paige books, with the intent of making him a focal point of the third. But I liked the character so much I also used him in The Orion Mask, and when I decided not to do another Paige, I didn’t want to lose the character in the process. I also liked the idea behind the book, the plot I came up with for it, and so I decided to simply turn it into a Scotty book and rejigger the story somewhat. Jerry was fun–I’ve debated giving him his own solo book, or series; a white trash boy who ran away from his repressive small town in Mississippi where he grew up, and had kind of a hardscrabble life when he got to New Orleans as a sixteen-year-old runaway with not much money. His backstory fascinated me. He worked days as a busboy in a French Quarter restaurant, lived in a crappy, run down roach-infested apartment in the Marigny, and then started dancing at the Brass Rail (my fictional version of the Corner Pocket). But Jerry was ambitious, refused to get caught up in the unfortunate world of the dancers there–although he did things for money he maybe shouldn’t have, while putting aside money with an eye to going to the University of New Orleans and getting a degree in creative writing, which he eventually was able to do. He also became a personal trainer and started working in Uptown, eventually becoming the personal trainer for wealthy women. (Aside: I’ve also always wanted to do a series about a personal trainer. The amazing thing about personal trainers is–at least, in my experience being one and having one–is that they are similar to hairdressers and bartenders, in that there’s a forced intimacy between the trainer and client; I learned a LOT about my clients, things they probably didn’t share with their close friends or in some cases, even their partners. That’s something I’ve always wanted to explore…) Because of this, Jerry was told a lot of insider gossip about New Orleans society, and when a big, shocking murder happened in the Garden District, one that exploded in the national consciousness, Jerry was privy to a lot of insider gossip, which he started recording, and eventually turned into a book he called Garden District Gothic. The book made him rich and gave him a perennial income (sort of like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and as a well-liked gay man who used pseudonyms for the real life people he wrote about, he wasn’t shunned but was actually welcomed into New Orleans society.

I love that character, and I wanted to tell that story.

Of course, I based the murder loosely on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, and since it was fictionalized, I was able to make up all sorts of things and follow my own (disproved) original theories on the case. The family was the Metoyers, old New Orleans society/money; the mother in this case was a former runner-up to Miss Louisiana who was the second wife and stepmother to the father’s twin sons from his first marriage; and the daughter was Delilah Metoyer, murdered and found in the carriage house on the grounds of the Metoyer mansion in the Garden District. By timing it the way I did, I also made it possible for the Metoyer twins to be classmates of Scotty’s at Jesuit High School, and also to give them a history together–one of the twins bullied Scotty for being gay, until Scotty went out for the wrestling team and kicked his ass one day. I also added a new element: the twins’ mother, after leaving their father, disappeared, and the bully now wants Scotty and the boys to find his mother, and maybe figure out what really happened to Delilah all those years ago. I also re-utilized a character from one of the Paige books, Serena Castlemaine, and had her buy the old Metoyer house, and throw a housewarming party. It’s at this party that Scotty runs into Jerry–they slept together a million years ago–and also meets Paige, who I decided to move into the Scotty series as well, since her series was dead in the water and I’d ended the Chanse series (I didn’t want to lose her character). This book also, because of the introduction of Serena, Jerry and Paige, was going to serve as the launching point for the next Scotty, in which I rebooted the second Paige novel about a Real Housewives of New Orleans type show and turned it into a Scotty, and wrote the story the way saw it.

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Writing the book was really a lot of fun, despite the deadline stress, and I liked what I did with it. I liked being able to open it with the Red Dress Run, I liked bringing back the character of Frank’s nephew, Taylor, and showing how he was adapting to life in the Quarter without any worries about being openly gay after being thrown out by his parents. (I still think about giving Taylor his own book someday.)

I also love this opening:

You know you live in New Orleans when you leave your house on a hot Saturday morning in August for drinks wearing a red dress.

It was well over ninety degrees, and the humidity had tipped the heat index up to about 110, maybe 105 in the shade. The hordes of men and women in red dresses were waving handheld fans furiously as sweat ran down their bodies. Everywhere you looked, there were crowds of people in red, sweating but somehow, despite the ridiculous heat, having a good time. I could feel the heat from the pavement through my red-and-white saddle shoes, and was glad I’d decided against wearing hose. The thick red socks I was wearing were hot enough, thank you, and were soaked through, probably dyeing my ankles, calves and feet pink. But it was for charity, I kept reminding myself as I greeted friends and people-whose-names-I-couldn’t-remember-but-whose-faces-looked-familiar, as we worked our way up and down and around the Quarter.

Finally, I had enough and called it a day.

 “I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life,” my sort-of-nephew, Taylor Wheeler, said, wiping sweat from his forehead as we trudged down Governor Nicholls Street on our way home.

“It is hot,” I replied, trying really hard not to laugh. I’d been forcing down giggles pretty much all day since he came galloping down the back steps the way he always does and I got my first look at his outfit. “The last few summers have been mild—this is what our summers are normally like.” It was true—everyone was complaining about the heat because it had been several years since we’d had a normal summer. It hadn’t even rained much the year before, which was really unusual.

“I don’t even want to think about how much sweat is in my butt crack,” he complained, waving the fan he picked up somewhere furiously, trying to create a breeze.

I gave up fighting it and laughed.

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

Little Green Apples

well, that’s over for another year.

The combination Festival weekend (Tennessee Williams and Saints & Sinners) was, as always, a lot of fun and inspiring. It’s always lovely to see friends I don’t get to see very often (if at all), it’s always fun to talk about writing, and listening to writers and readers talking about books and stories and so forth always rejiggers my creativity (which, granted, has been working overtime lately but hasn’t had the requisite ‘park ass in chair and type’ drive that is necessary to get anything done.

I didn’t sleep well either Thursday or Friday nights, so Friday and Saturday were slogs for me. After my reading Saturday I came home, and just basically sat around the house, too tired to write or clean or even read. I went to bed early, and FINALLY slept well, so I felt rested and was raring to go on Sunday…until the closing reception was over and once again I hit a wall. So I took the streetcar home and watched Rogue One, which I’d bought on iTunes on Friday morning (release day), and then Feud, before going to bed. I slept in again, and I don’t have to be at the office until later today…I have a short day which is absolutely lovely.

It’s always lovely to go to events where you get to mix with other writers. It doesn’t happen very often–I’m luckier than most writers in that I get to do so more regularly than others–and there’s always that, I don’t know, sense of BELONGING you get when you’re around other writers, that is so terrific to feel.

I also bought some new books this weekend: a new copy of A Confederacy of Dunces, due for a reread; Kristen-Paige Madonia’s Fingerprints of You (we were on the y/a panel together–the second time, and I had meant to get her first book the first time and remembered to get it this time); All Over But The Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg (whom I’ve never read): and Long Shot, by Tyler Bridges and Jeremy Alford, about the Louisiana gubernatorial election in which Senator David Vitter, the overwhelming favorite, was defeated by a relatively unknown state representative. (I had kind of wanted to write a book about the rise and fall of both Vitter and former governor Bobby Jindal, titled Implosion…but I am not a journalist nor do I know enough about Louisiana politics….so I am glad someone wrote a book about Vitter’s fall.)

So, this morning and this evening I am going to try to wade through my emails and get caught up on that and everything that went on in the world while I was safely inside my Festival Bubble. I also have some writing to do this week!

So, to launch the new week, here’s a hunk for you, Constant Reader: