(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart

The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.

As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?

The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.

If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.

There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.

But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”

And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.

And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.

George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.

Yesterday Once More

I’ve always believed that it is smarter to set goals every year rather than resolutions; resolutions have almost become kind of a joke in that no one ever really keeps them past the first few weeks of the new year. Years ago, I decided to change that up and set goals to achieve rather than resolutions to change behavior, and that has worked out much better for me. Sure, there have been some of the same goals set every year that have never been achieved (I’m looking at you, find an agent) but I find that it all seems to work out in the end, and the goals I never achieve and carry over just maybe need some more of my energy and focus applied to them

Before, however, I get into the goals for one Gregalicious in 2022, I’d like to go over some of the things that stood out for me in 2021, both good and bad.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2021: I was able to visit New York in November and then head up to Boston by train for Crime Bake, and it was a marvelous experience; I learned a lot more family history; made the list of
“other distinguished work” in Best Mystery and Suspense; finished writing and published Bury Me in Shadows at long last; finished the Kansas book finally; I read some great books and watched some great movies and television shows; signing a book contract with Crooked Lane; sold some short stories (“The Snow Globe”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” and “Night Follows Night”, among possible others I cannot recall at the moment); a visit to the Gardner Museum whilst in Boston; I bought a new computer with which I am still rather pleased; and I did some more deep diving into New Orleans history, which has been incredibly fun.

LOW LIGHTS: Hurricane Ida and the ensuing horrific power loss at precisely the worst time of the year to be without climate control in New Orleans (will never ride out another storm of that size again, ever); the on-going pandemic canceling the Edgars and conferences and limiting/prohibiting travel; no Williams Fest/S&S again; the horrible polar vortex that brought record low temperatures to New Orleans during Carnival and we had no heat, so I spent Fat Tuesday freezing under many layers of clothes, layers of blankets, and with a space heater on and still was shivering and cold and miserable; my inability to finish writing the first draft of Chlorine; and of course, not finishing any of the novellas I really wanted to get finished this past year–and any number of short stories as well.

I think the biggest goal I want to set for 2022 has to do with Chlorine. I want to get a viable first draft finished as soon as I can, because the second part of the goal with Chlorine is to finally get representation, or at least try again. I think once I get this current manuscript finished and some of the stories and novellas I have in progress out of the way, I can focus on getting Chlorine finished and out on spec. My goal is to make that my March project, giving me January and February to finish all the other stuff and get it out of the way.

My second goal, also to do with writing, is to get the next short story collection pulled together as well as the novella collections. I think I have enough completed work to get the story collection turned in this year–some of the stories I have in mind for it are still in progress, of course, and of course I have three completed drafts of novellas that need to be redone, revised, and two others that need to be written (or do I? I am now remembering that there’s a third that needs a revision but has a completed draft, so that’s four–and now that I think about it more deeply there are three in some sort of progress that I should be able to get finished in the new year). There’s also the essay collection, which is going to take some serious focus and concentration to pull together. I also want to write a Scotty book this year…which is a LOT to have on one’s plate in one year. (This could, of course, all change should Crooked Lane want a follow-up to the book I am currently writing; this is the sort of thing that makes someone like me–a planner–crazy because I cannot control what requests are going to be made for work from me.)

Next goal is, naturally, work out related. I need to make it to the gym three times per week, going forward into this new year. My fitness regimen has been all over the place since the pandemic started, but it’s been a lot more consistent since the pandemic started than it was in the (many) years prior when I just stopped going entirely and allowed my body to not only go to seed but to start breaking down. I feel better when I lift weights and stretch, and I should also add a cardio day to my workout schedule. I want my goal weight to remain 200–I’m not sure what I weigh now, frankly, but I know it’s not 225, which was where I’d allowed myself to get–and I’d like to get into 32 waist pants (comfortably) again in the new year. (I can get into 32’s in stretchy jeans, but 33’s in regular jeans, while I can fit into them, aren’t as comfortable as I would like them to be, and right now comfort above all else.) I don’t think I’ll ever get my Gumby-like flexibility back again, but the stretching does feel incredibly good when I do it (I also want to add stretching daily to the regimen; I can stretch at home just as easily as I can at the gym) so it needs to become more of a routine thing for me.

My next goal is to break my lifelong habit of falling into procrastination at every opportunity. While I will be the first to admit that it’s best to listen to your brain and your body and to not try to push them into things when they are exhausted or tired or fried, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s just laziness, and I own that completely: oh, there’s plenty of time to do this or oh I will just get this done tomorrow is too easy a habit to fall into; even as I write this I am thinking Oh I can go to the store tomorrow and I can also write tomorrow and there’s no need for me to do any of this today despite the fact I feel rested and relaxed and creative. So I am going to finish this and then I am going to get cleaned up and get back to my writing (the groceries, on the other hand, can 100% wait until tomorrow).

Another goal is to keep on top of the housework and the filing–and by that, I am also including the storage attic and the storage facility. I want to get the attic cleared out, and I want to clear out the storage as well so i can stop spending that money every month. This isn’t as easy as one might expect, but I figure if I can get rid of a box in the attic every week–again, not as easy as one might think–I should be able to get a handle on this all by the middle of the year. One box a week doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? And yet…

All right, on that note I need to get back to the writing. I think I can push through quite a bit today, even if I don’t want to–which I don’t–but I also have no choice. The book is due exactly two weeks from today, and I don’t want to turn in something as sloppy as what I have on my hands right now.

Have a wonderful New Year, Constant Reader!

Feliz Davidad

And so it was Christmas.

I have to say this weekend has been quite lovely thus far. I’m getting work on the book done, I am getting things done, and I am somehow remaining relatively relaxed and sane while I accomplish things, which has been quite nice. I am sleeping very well and sleeping in every day, which is going to require some adjustments when Monday rolls around again, sadly. I feel remarkably well-rested and refreshed this morning, which is also nice as I sip my coffee and think about what to have for breakfast; probably yogurt and fresh berries, before they go bad. I am going to make pulled turkey today for the holiday in the slow cooker, so dinner’s already sorted for me, which is also kind of nice. I am intending to clean out the refrigerator today as part of my chores for the day; Paul is going to work out with his trainer this morning and I am not sure what his plans for the rest of this holiday might be. I need to write a chapter of the book today, which shouldn’t be terribly hard–I’ve written some really dreadful chapters over the last few days–and should probably spend some time with Vivien Chien’s Death by Dumpling today; I had hoped to have it finished before today so I could spend the day with the most recent Donna Andrews novel; but I may just make that my New Year’s Day reading, to close out the holiday season (even though Carnival will be starting on Twelfth Night, which is even sooner than one might think).

I also found an essay I’d been looking for; I, like Paul, have an obsessive side to my personality that I try to combat and not give into when it takes hold of my brain; often to no avail, sadly: when my brain goes into obsessive mode, there’s really not much else I can do rather than either ride it out (not easy) or give in to it. This most recent obsessive conduct had to do with an essay I had written; the other day I remembered it and started looking for it, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember what the file was named. I had been asked to write a letter to myself at age sixteen the summer we went to Italy; I started writing it before we left for the trip but had never finished it. I eventually finished it, as I recalled vaguely the other day, on the trip to Venice from Florence; I wrote it on the train, saved the file, and hit send. I could not find it anywhere; and obsessed about it all day yesterday as I dug through electronic files (which are in much worse condition as far as organization than I even feared, which I will have to do something about at some point). After Paul got home, I talked to him about it and as I spoke to him it hit me: I had emailed the story in, maybe it was in my ancient sent email folder. And sure enough, there it was; and doing a second search by the title proved that it was saved nowhere in my files; I am not sure how that could have happened, but my biggest fear about my electronic files has now proven true: there are things that have disappeared from them over the years.

But this Christmas miracle is worth enjoying; a piece I’d feared had disappeared forever (the website where it was posted no longer exists; so much for the Internet is forever) has been retrieved, and it can be the opening piece in my collection of personal essays, should I ever decide how to do that and how to pull it all together.

If 2021 was the year of finishing things–Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit having been in progress for years, even decades–I think that mentality needs to continue forward in 2022: finish things. I do want to finish the novellas, the short story collection, and potentially the essay collection; I also want to finish Chlorine, and possibly something else. I’ve also spent some time going over my blog from the earlier part of 2021, to try to remember things I watched and books I read; my memory is even faultier than I remembered it being in the first place. But it’s also kind of fun seeing what I was reading and watching earlier this year–the impact of HBO MAX’s It’s a Sin combined with my sixtieth birthday this year had me revisiting and thinking about the past a lot, for example, and forced me to process a lot of things I had never processed before, which may have had something to do with a lot of my own issues: never deal with it, just keep moving forward may not have been the most mentally healthy plan for me to get through my life, but it was also necessary for survival, and I will not/shall not judge my younger self for whatever coping mechanisms and skills I may have developed in order to get through everything I had to deal with in this my life.

And on that note, I think I am going to finish this, eat my breakfast, and head into the spice mines for a little visit. Have a lovely Christmas, Constant Reader, even if it’s just another Saturday to you.

The Night Before Christmas

It is now Christmas Eve–how lovely for everyone–and I do hope that everyone has the kind of holiday experience they want to have; whether it’s with actual family, chosen family, or just all alone and by yourself, may you have yourself the kind of day that will make you happy and relaxed and chilled out completely. I have to write again today–the joys of impending deadline–but that’s actually okay; I enjoy writing, so what better way for me to spend Christmas Eve? I’ll probably treat myself to a celebratory cocktail of some sort this evening; martini or margarita or Bloody Mary. I think Paul is going into the office for a few hours this afternoon anyway, so I can spend that time organizing and writing and cleaning and all of that fun stuff I get to do when Paul’s not home but I am. I was very creative last night, too–writing all kinds of notes about potential future projects and just letting my mind run a little wild; but that’s what happens when I allow my mind free rein to free-associate and start thinking of ideas. I even came up with a first last night; an idea for a gay romance called A Better Man, which might actually be fun to write. I also came up with a crime story about obsession (Missing White Woman, title gacked from Kellye Garrett on Twitter), and The Ones Who Walked Away, which is a title that could go in several different directions as far as length (short story, novel, novella) as well as what it’s about.

It’s actually kind of fun when I have the time to sit and think and come up with ideas and thoughts and so forth. The manuscript-in-progress is going to be a lot more fun now that I’ve taken some time to put some serious thought into it.

I am also taking a break from Blatant Self-Promotion because of the holiday. No one–well, certainly not me at any rate–wants Blatant Self-Promotion on Christmas Eve; hence a break from me, a respite as a holiday gift from me to you, Constant Reader (although making that decision has immediately caused that wretched little voice in my head to whisper this is why you don’t have a bigger career).

Well, to be fair it’s also a respite for me, since I hate doing it unless I can find a way to make it interesting.

And as the year winds down, I generally start looking back over the past year and thinking about the things I enjoyed, the things I didn’t, the progress made and the progress thwarted. But the pandemic years all seem to have run together somehow in my fevered brain; I don’t remember when I read a particular book or watched a particular movie or television show from the last two years. I also read so many damned good books and watched so much great entertainment (series and films) on my television that my picking some as highlights for the year would be incredibly, incredibly difficult–AND I would undoubtedly miss some. It’s also difficult for me to pick out a favorite (except Ted Lasso) of anything; I enjoyed so many different things for so many different reasons.

Although it would be interesting to go back and reread my blog entries from this same time last year. I know I was trying to get Bury Me in Shadows ready for submission at this time last year–one accomplishment of this past year was getting two books finished and turned in for publication, which was a big step past the previous year; my last book, Royal Street Reveillon, was released in the fall of 2019, so there was literally nothing from me in 2020 other than short stories here and there–and I cannot remember which ones, where and when, for that matter, either; I keep thinking, for example, that “The Dreadful Scott Decision” came out in The Faking of the President earlier this year, but it was actually last year. I think my Sherlock Holmes story and some others came out this past year, but it’s not something I’d be willing to testify about under oath, either. I do hate when that happens.

I’ve also been obsessively trying to locate two things (it’s actually more, but I am grouping many into one): several years back, while going through boxes, I found my old journals from back in the day, which actually inspired me to buy another one and start carrying one with me again (which has been wonderful), but I also don’t remember what I did with them so I’ve been trying to find them again. The other thing I am trying to find is a copy of an essay I wrote on the train from Florence to Venice (or vice versa). It was one of those “letters to myself at age sixteen”, and the other day I was trying to get a better handle on all the essays I’ve written over the years so I can compile them all into one (or more) collections; the fitness columns and essays on writing alone could probably be their own collections. Anyway, I remember having to write it on my laptop on the train–either to or from Venice, I honestly don’t remember, but I do think it was on the way–and it got a lot of engagement on social media, I do remember that but I can’t find a copy of the essay itself anywhere. It’s entirely possible it is one of those things that got lost over the years, and I also don’t remember what I called the file; but I am sure I saved it somewhere….only now I can’t find it and have been obsessively searching for it and realizing at the same time how messy and sloppy my computer files and all the back-ups actually are. I mean, neither thing (journals or essay) are particularly imperative that I put my hands on them immediately, but at the same time it’s really annoying and frustrating and I feel the obsessive side of my personality trying to come out.

So, I will probably spend some time looking for both at some point today–most likely when I am stuck on the book while writing.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Christmas Eve, Constant Reader, whatever you are celebrating or not celebrating, and I will speak with you tomorrow.

Santa Baby

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am a bit tired. I went to the retirement party last night (note: it was not in the Bywater, but actually in Holy Cross, on the other side of the Industrial Canal; a neighborhood I’ve not been to in years. But then again, I’ve really not spent much time in the Bywater in forever either), and it was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed spending time away from the office with my co-workers in a relaxed environment, it’s been a hot minute (and not just because of the pandemic, either) and it was nice spending time getting to know them outside of a professional environment. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, and stayed much later than I had planned–it was almost one in the morning when I finally rolled into the Lost Apartment, but was very delighted. I had a glass or two of champagne spread out over five hours (and they were very small), so was okay to drive, but have a bit of a headache this morning.

It feels more sinus-y then anything else as well, so I think once I take a Claritin that problem will clear itself right up.

Today I have a lot to get done; I need to get back on track with the book, I need to go to the gym (but continue to baby the left shoulder, which is still a bit sore this morning; note to self: Icy Hot), I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and I also want to finish watching Chapelwaite. I only have two episodes left, and despite that really slow burn first episode, it really picks up steam and starts going full blast, the pace picking up with every episode without losing the integrity of the story or the characters. It also has inspired me to write a sort-of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows–well, that’s not quite true; I’d always intended to return to Corinth County with another book, and but watching this show gave me the inspirational story spark I needed to come up with the story. I scribbled down a lot of notes yesterday, and while I need to focus on the current book, I am itching to get to this one sooner rather than later (a constant problem with this my writing career, which never seems to change despite my advances in age) but I definitely need to get to Chlorine next.

So, next year is going to be about Chlorine, another Scotty, and this second Corinth County book, which will start tying the threads of the county spread out over many different stories, both short, novella length, and novel, together. (Which was one of the primary reasons I was dreading writing such a book; tying these threads together was going to be difficult, but now i sort of know how to do it all; there’s one novella in particular that isn’t going to be easy to tie into the others, but I think I know how to do it now)…) And the novellas. And the short story collection. And the essays. And….yikes. Just typing all this out made me very tired.

I also had a rather scary moment this morning when I saw a headline about a fatal, catastrophic tornado (or rather, series of them) devastating Kentucky; I really wish the news would be less generic in headlines or click titles for articles about such things. The vast majority of states are actually rather large in size and scale, and while obviously I feel terrible for the residents of the state affected by this disaster, at the same time I was extremely relieved to go look at a map and see it was in western Kentucky, a significant distance from my family in eastern Kentucky. I understand the need for clicks and so forth is the on-line Internet business model, but still. Nevertheless, these tornadoes devastated a vast swath of that area, including Arkansas and Tennessee and I believe Missouri, and as someone who has lived through and dealt with natural disasters myself, I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones as well as homes and property (the gulf parishes south of New Orleans are still struggling to recover from Ida, by the way). Please donate to the relief efforts if you can.

And on that note, I have an excess of emails to clean out, a kitchen office to organize and get ready, and a book to get back to writing, amongst many other things to do and they ain’t getting done the longer I sit here writing this. Have a happy healthy Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check back in with you tomorrow with a progress report.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Friday morning and I have a dear friend’s retirement party to attend in the Bywater this evening. I have to run some errands–including stopping by the office–at some point during the day, and it looks like I shall have to postpone working on the book until tomorrow as there isn’t any way to make time for it today. But these things happen; sometimes life doesn’t allow an author an opportunity to write. It’s not the best possible outcome of a day, of course, but there it is.

I also further aggravated a muscle strain in my left shoulder (usually it’s my right one that becomes an issue, from an old wrestling injury) at the gym last night. I noticed the ache the last time I went to the gym–and thought I could push through it at the gym again last night. I noticed it when I was doing the chest exercise–I had to significantly lower the weight in order to do the exercise–but ironically, the only other time it was an issue was doing tricep pushdowns, when the shoulder merely works as a stabilizer for the working of the triceps. I had to abandon that entirely, and it did make me wonder as I walked home how I strained the muscle in the first place? It’s also worrying, now that I am back into the swing of actually working out again, that I now have a ready-made excuse to talk myself out of going every other day. On the other hand, it’s just a strain of some sort–not even a pull–so it can undoubtedly be worked around. The gym was also very crowded last night, which was irritating; I really need to get used to going into businesses that are more full than I’ve gotten used to over the past year or two. And especially since it’s now Christmas time; everything and everywhere is going to be more crowded.

Sigh.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I started watching Chapelwaite on Epix. I originally started watching it with Paul, but he thought it was too slow and didn’t care to continue watching it. I knew almost from the get-go that it was most likely a slow-burn; it was very Gothic in feel, which inevitably means a slow-burn (a friend asked me if I was watching, and when I said we’d stopped, told me to go back and finish–and she was right). The show is exceptional–it did take me a while to get used to Emily Hampshire playing someone not Stevie on Schitt’s Creek–and if you’re into Gothic horror and suspense, it’s right up your alley. It also handles issues of class, race, prejudice and provincialism extremely well; and the steady sense of dread and building suspense is quite remarkably done. I am really looking forward to finishing watching, to be honest. The afternoon flew past as I watched. It’s based on the story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” by Stephen King, from his Night Shift collection, and yes, it does sort of fit into the mythology of his terrific novel ‘salem’s Lot. I’m not sure if that was his intent when he wrote the story–Chapelwaite, the house in the story, is in some ways similar to the Marsden House in ‘salem’s Lot–which is yet another reason I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

It also gave ma a good idea for another Alabama book, a sort of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows. So huzzah indeed!

But as Friday looms, there’s a lot I have to get done this weekend–I really need to get caught up on the book; I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and as always, there are endless chores to be done, and don’t even get me started on my email inbox–but I have faith that I shall persevere, and will come out on the other side of the weekend with much ado and accomplishment. (Yes, I do crack myself up from time to time, thanks for asking.) I slept really well last night–we got through the second season of OG Gossip Girl and are now into season three; it really is fun to watch, especially seeing bigger name stars of the present in early roles–Armie Hammer (although one can argue he no longer has a career of which to speak) was in the second season, for example, and yes, shame that he turned out to be what he turned out to be, as he was very good looking and reasonably talented–and our addiction to this show is allowing other shows we watch, or ones we want to watch, pile up so we’ll have plenty to watch in coming weeks and months, which is lovely.

I also think I am finished with Paul’s Christmas presents, but am not entirely sure. I’ll assess once they are in my hot little hands and wrapped (and hidden). And I do need to do my Christmas cards at some point–tick tock, said the clock.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again tomorrow.

He Darked the Sun

And now it’s Saturday again, and there are but two days left before I depart for Kentucky. Which is fine–I am actually looking forward to the drive and the alone-time in the car to listen to audiobooks; I downloaded Isaac Azimov’s Foundation, because it’s been decades and in the wake of the show I’d like to read (hear?) it again.

I also finished The Lost Symbol, which was kind of silly if you actually paid attention, but it also made me curious–I’d never seen any of the Dan Brown/Tom Hanks/Ron Howard collaborations–I am not a Tom Hanks fan; heresy, I know–and so I decided to go ahead and watch Inferno and The Da Vinci Code. They were actually well done–the plot of Inferno was nonsensical and also driven by the main character, Robert Langdon, having temporary amnesia, of all things (and yes, I am well aware that I used the trope of main character with amnesia in Sleeping Angel about ten or eleven years ago) and I never really quite grasped why he was so necessary–a symbologist, something utterly ridiculous and not a thing that was made up for the books, and he is also apparently an international bestselling writer of nonfiction books about symbols, because that, too, is a thing–but I didn’t mind The Da Vinci Code quite as much as I thought I might. I do remember enjoying the book when it came out; but it’s also one I’ve never revisited. I also read it when it was first released and before it became a thing–it was quite a thing for quite some time, before everyone turned on it. That is also something oddly prevalent in our culture–we embrace something and make it into a Very Big Deal, and then comes the inevitable backlash. But Brown was quite rich by the time the backlash began, and so I am sure it didn’t bother him very much. (It probably would bother me if I were in that situation; the months atop the bestseller lists and the cash pouring in from every direction would be lovely but even the slightest criticism would be certain to trigger the Imposter Syndrome, which is something I wish I could chisel out of my psyche.)

Today I have some errands to run and a lot of writing to do–as always. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about A Streetcar Named Murder lately, and I know how I am going to write the rest of the book now–oh, there will be some curve balls along the way, I am certain; there inevitably always are when I am writing a novel–but I know what the underlying force of the book (the theme, if you will, if this book could be said to have one; although I am thinking now it’s more of a underlying tone than a theme, really) is going to be. I did some more research after I finished work yesterday, and everything–the characters, the story, the subplots and the neighborhood and the sense of community–are beginning to take shape in my mind. I actually think I should be able to get a lot of writing done this weekend, to be honest. I am itching to get back to it, I feel better about writing and everything else that’s going on in and around my life, and I feel good for the first time in a long time.

I can’t speak for anyone else besides myself of course, and I do think I have been laboring with some degree of retrograde depression for some time now; even going back to before the pandemic dropped on the world (I also got caught up on The Morning Show, which is now dealing with the early days of the pandemic). I don’t know how else to describe it, but there’s been this gray fuzziness in my peripheral vision when I think, or wake up in the morning. There were mornings when the alarm would go off and I would lie there in bed, staring at the glowing red numerals on my digital clock and think fuck I just don’t want to deal with anything today and I sure as hell can’t face my email inbox. I’ve been lucky, too, with all of this plague shit–I’ve not lost any friends or family to it, at least that I’m aware of, at any rate–but it certainly didn’t do me any good. I did get some of my best writing done during the pandemic–Bury Me in Shadows is probably one of the best books I’ve ever written, and I also think #shedeservedit is pretty good, too; and I’ve done some really good short stories during the twenty or so months since the massive paradigm shift.

Today I have to get some stuff done. Writing, of course, as always, and some errands. I have a box of books to donate to the library sale, have to get the mail, and make some groceries–the Saturday before Thanksgiving, that’s going to be ever so much fun, yay–but if I get that stuff done today, along with the necessary cleaning around the house, I can focus tomorrow solely on writing and getting a lot done. I am going to try to get up early so I can leave early on Monday morning–Foundation safely downloaded to my phone, and I think I will probably download the next Donna Andrews for the trip home on Friday–because sooner is always better than later with lengthy drives. And now that I am waking up relatively early on the regular every morning, why the hell not take advantage of that? (oh yes, I need to make a packing list for the trip as well, don’t I?)

And so, so much cleaning to do. I’ve really let the floors and the living room go since the hurricane, and that must be rectified–there’s nothing worse than coming home to a house that’s not clean after a trip, which I experienced coming home last weekend–and so I am going to spend some time seriously working on the house. That will also help me get creative with the writing–my thoughts anyway–and I also need to check my to-do list and see what’s left to be done as well as make a new one. I’d also like to spend some time with Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon, which I am enjoying.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the rest of the day. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Breathe

Good morning, Friday. How are you today? I am feeling good, thank you for asking.

I got a very good night’ sleep last night, and I have, as always, a lot to get done over the weekend (and today) before I head to Kentucky for the holiday on Monday. I want to drop off more books for the library sale tomorrow, have tons of writing to do (as always), and I would like to be able to finish reading Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon, which I am deeply enjoying. I have a stack of cozy mysteries to take with me on this trip–Owl Be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews; Pruning the Dead by Julia Henry; Better off Wed by Laura Durham, and A Disguise to Die For by Diana Vallere, plus any number of them on my iPad as ebooks (I’m taking the iPad with me on the chance that I run out of books, which is a horrible fate to contemplate)–and I also need to figure out how to work the check out audiobooks from the library for the phone thing so I can listen to a book both coming and going. (Eleven hours in the car both directions)

And now that some things have settled and been settled, I can now go ahead and officially announce that I have signed a one-book contract for a potential new series set here in New Orleans with Crooked Lane Books; that is the book I am currently working on, having had to put Chlorine aside yet again to make room to write a new book. This is a series with a straight woman main character–a widow with twin sons who’ve just left for LSU, leaving her with a bit of empty nest syndrome and a beautiful old Victorian house in the Irish Channel that now is much too big for her, who gets an unexpected inheritance from a great-uncle of her late husband’s whom she didn’t know even existed. The book will be published under the name T. G. Herren, to differentiate it from my queer books and series. I just got the sketch art for the book cover, and I love it. The book is called A Streetcar Named Murder, and will be released in the fall of 2022. I will be talking about this book a lot over the course of the next year, so prepare thyself, Constant Reader. (T. G. for those who may be wondering, are my initials only reversed; longtime reader know that I reversed my names for my erotica pseudonym Todd Gregory, hence the initials T. G.) My editor is the exceptional Terri Bischoff, whom I have always wanted to work with, and now I am not only working with her on this but also on the Bouchercon anthology for Minneapolis 2022 (we are co-editors), Land of 10000 Crimes.

Life is pretty good for one Gregalicious at the moment, seriously. And I am really looking forward to my January release, #shedeservedit, while being incredibly nervous at the same time. I also got an invitation to contribute to another anthology that pays well in my inbox this morning, so I am feeling kind of good about myself…I give it a day or two. (Bury Me in Shadows has a great review in the next issue of Mystery Scene magazine, which thrilled me to no end when I saw it last night. More on that later.)

I also booked another trip to New York for January yesterday, which is exciting as well. I also made my hotel arrangements for a return engagement to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu–the Birmingham/Wetumpka one-two punch I did in consecutive years a while back, so you can see why I feel like my career no longer feels stagnant or in stasis at the moment. And yes, the goal for 2022 is to finally land an agent once and for all. I think Chlorine is the book that will do that for me; we shall see.

I got caught up on Foundation yesterday, and I am really impressed with how well the show turned out, considering how much it has veered away from the books. I’d like to read the books again, frankly–oooh, audiobooks for the car!–and I also watched another episode of The Lost Symbol, which frankly I don’t pay as much attention to as I perhaps should while I am watching. It’s very well done, but the plot is far-fetched (which is about the only thing I do remember from reading the book), but watching the show has made me curious about seeing the Tom Hanks films based on the other Dan Brown novels, which I didn’t really care about before. That’s something, I suppose.

And on that note it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you again tomorrow.

In My Arms

Thursday and working at home today. Data to enter and condoms to pack; but at least I don’t have to go out in public today, which is a blessing both for me and the public when it happens. I decided to stop and make groceries on the way home from work last night, to make this possible, and it’s an absolutely lovely thing to contemplate that I was smart enough to think ahead so I can just work from home and not go anywhere today, other than to the gym later on. My body isn’t happy that I’ve not been to the gym in weeks, and it is most definitely letting me know of its deep disapproval of this conduct. I may not even lift weights–but stretching is definitely on the agenda. I need to really stretch every day, to keep my muscles from tightening and knotting, and all the knots and tightness and tension I am feeling this morning is yet another example of why self-care, particularly in trying times, is so absolutely necessary.

I also really need to get back to writing more regularly. I always feel better when I’m working, writing, than when I am not. You’d think after over twenty years of writing, this would be firmly imprinted on my brain: writing and creating are imprinted into your DNA and when you aren’t doing it, you’re making yourself miserable. I’ve always believed the the so-called trope of “writer’s block” is actually a symptom of depression; there’s something else going on in your brain that is preventing you from creating. (I cannot, as always, speak for writers other than myself; this is my belief and my experience. I’ve also come to recognize that I don’t want to do it mentality when it comes to writing for me is my own personal version of writer’s block–the depression and the imposter syndrome insidiously doing its work on my brain: why do something you love to do when you can not do it and feel bad about yourself and question your ability to do it?) There have been a lot of distractions lately–really, since The Power Went Out–and I need to stop allowing shit to take me out of the mindset that the most important thing to do in my free time from now until January is to write the fucking book.

The book is the most important thing right now.

I did spend some time revising the first chapter last night, despite having the usual “third day in a row up at six” tiredness last night. It felt good, as I knew it would, and spending some doing something I truly love really gave me a rush of sorts; I was able to sleep deeply and well last night, I feel very even and stress-free this morning, and some of the knots in my shoulders, neck and back seem to have relaxed this morning, and I feel rested, more rested than I have felt in quite some time. Untangling the thorny knots of problems in a manuscript–while forcing me to think and use logic and reason while being creative–is perhaps the best cure for anything I have going on at the time. Escaping into writing has always been my solace, going back to the days when I was that lone queer kid in Kansas, and it still works to this day.

It’s actually an interesting challenge for me–writing a book set in New Orleans that doesn’t center a gay man or any gay issues. (There will be queer characters–I can’t write anything without including some; sue me.) The book is also centered in a neighborhood with which I have some familiarity, but I obviously don’t know it as well as the Lower Garden District (where Chanse lives, and where Paul and I have always lived) or the Quarter (where Scotty lives); it’s the same neighborhood where my main character in Never Kiss a Stranger also lives, so I need to get more familiar with how it is NOW…I tend to always think of neighborhoods as they were not as they currently are; which means I need to go walk around and take some pictures and get a sense/feel for who lives there, what it’s like now, etc. This neighborhood used to be considered sketchy when I first started coming here/when we first moved here; the price ranges for rentals and properties now (well, every-fucking-where in New Orleans now) are hard for me to wrap my mind around. (When I was writing my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, I made a reference to “million dollar homes in the Garden District; this was in the late 1990’s. My first reader–beta reader, they’d call it now–highlighted the sentence with the note there are no million dollar homes in New Orleans. The Internet then was not what it is now, of course, so I was surprised to look in the real estate listings in the Times-Picayune to see she was correct. Now, homes in neighborhoods that used to be considered ‘dangerous’ go for over $400k; I just looked at “houses for sale” on Zillow in the neighborhood I am using and was not in the least bit surprised to see that a house like the one my character lives in is listed for 1.15 million…which is actually a plot point I am going to use in the book. And while verifying this just now didn’t surprise me, per se, it did make me shake my head and wonder, who is paying this for a house in New Orleans?)

I don’t see how any working class people can actually afford to live here anymore, really. Sure, there are still neighborhoods that “affordable” when compared to the neighborhoods adjacent to the levees, but the fact that our original apartment, that we paid $495 per month for, now goes for $2100. And that’s something I think I should address in an upcoming book–whether in this new series, or in a Scotty.

I’ve also found myself going down wormholes about Louisiana and New Orleans history a lot lately; I’ve never been conversant in either other than the basics–Bienville arrived and set up camp; why English Turn is called English Turn; Spain takes over from France, and so on. Both city and state have a deep, rich and sometimes horrifying history; it’s little wonder the city is so haunted. So much ugliness, so much violence, so much criminal activity! (Which kind of thematically what I was exploring in Bury Me in Shadows–how the history of violence and ugliness in a particular area can poison it) It’s why I am always amused that the white-supremacists-who-don’t-want-people-to-think-they-are will always cry and whine about crime in New Orleans–when they haven’t lived here in decades and were part of the white flight when the schools were desegregated–they left because of crime, not because they didn’t want their kids to go to school with black kids, oh no! It was the crime! (But if you give them enough rope, they will always bring race into it eventually). New Orleans has always had a dark past, has always had high crime rates, has always had corrupt politicians…but the crime here is why they left…even though the white politicians were also always criminals, and there has always been a lot of violent crime here.

Anyway, I went into a wormhole the other day about the possible murder of Louisiana’s first Black lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn–who may or may not have been murdered in 1871. What a great historical true crime book that would make, wouldn’t it? Post war, the racial tensions in the city, Reconstruction going on…and on the other hand, it could also make a great historical mystery novel as well! Yet another idea, yet another folder, yet another possibility for the future.

It never ends.

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

Run to the Sun

Monday morning, huzzah.

It was a good weekend, really, overall; I’m just inevitably always sad when Monday morning rolls around and that horrible six am alarm goes off, ripping me out of the comfortably deep sleep I generally finally achieve shortly before it’s time to get up. I don’t think I will ever live long enough to reach the point where the alarm won’t annoy the fuck out of me every morning, or that I won’t resent having to get up to one. Alarms are my bĂȘte noire, I suppose, and always will be.

I did manage to get through the edits of the first two-thirds of #shedeservedit this weekend; I’m still waiting for the final third to look over, and then next step will be the page proofs. As I reread the book, it’s much better than I remembered it being–in all honesty, I know I am my own harshest critic, and all I see whenever I go over something I’ve written is all the flaws rather than what is good about it; I really wish I hadn’t been trained from earliest childhood to be so hyper-critical of myself and everything I do because it is incredibly difficult to shake that training as an adult, you know? But Bury Me in Shadows is getting a pretty decent reception, as best I can tell, and that makes me really happy. I think both books actually might be my best work to date, which isn’t (ah, the joys of self-loathing!) saying an awful lot. But it’s nice to have a book out in the world that I am actually proud of, and another one coming along shortly thereafter that, when I am going over the edits, I think to myself this is actually really good.

We spent most of yesterday watching Skate America, followed up by the world men’s gymnastics finals for the all around and then event finals; we eventually gave up to watch the most recent episode of The Morning Show, whose story this season has really taken a turn we didn’t see coming. I also like how they chose to time this season–in the time leading up to the pandemic, so even watching as the pandemic begins and starts spreading throughout the world slowly (and isn’t really seen as anything to be concerned about) as well as everything else that was going on at that time…my God, 2020 was a chaotic year, wasn’t it? 2021 doesn’t seem to be a whole lot better, in all honesty; it’s kind of been a shit show of a year, too, really; every year of the last decade was kind of a shit show, to be honest, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to turn around any time soon (Paul and I often grimly joke to each other after watching the news, “well, at least we’re old and don’t have children”–grim to be sure, but also 100% accurate.

I finished reading Paul Tremblay’s marvelous Disappearance at Devil’s Rock yesterday; after a slow start, it took off like a train afire and I couldn’t really put it down. I do think Mr. Tremblay (this is the third novel of his I’ve read) may be one of our best writers currently publishing; I’ve loved everything I’ve read that he’s written. I think I only have one more of his books, and it’s an ebook edition at that, of Survivor Song; and I think before he switched over into paranormal stuff he wrote crime fiction; I could be wrong, but I am definitely going to be going back and rereading his back list when I can. I am going to read Scott Carson’s The Chill next, for one last shot at Halloween Horror; I cannot believe Halloween is this coming Sunday, and suddenly it’s November, you know? Crazy ass shit, the way this year has flown by (2020 seemed to last decades; this year seems to be flying past…but then again, January seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? So it looks like I will only have two horror novels read for the Halloween season, which is enormously disappointing, but seriously, isn’t almost everything these days? Anyway, the book was fantastic and will get its own entry at some point this week.

I have a lot to get done this week, as always, but at least I am not feeling tired this morning. I also think the procedure last week might have actually lost some more weight for me? It’s not surprising, really, giving the “purging” aspects of the preparatory stuff I had to do. (I just checked and yes, I lost about seven pounds–not a recommendation for that as a weight-loss option, however) I’ve not been to the gym in over a week now–I didn’t go the weekend before the procedure, and I certainly didn’t go this past week or weekend–so I need to be getting my ass back in there. I’ll be traveling a bit in November–the New York/Boston trip, with a later drive to Kentucky for Thanksgiving)–which is going to make keeping up with the training harder, but I will get back on track, goddamnit. I am not going to go months without working out again, unless something terrible happens to prevent me from doing so.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.