Coal Miner’s Daughter

Wednesday, and here we are, in the middle of the week suddenly. It’s also a new month; didn’t March seem to last forever, to the point where it actually felt like it wasn’t just March but Bataan Death March? Does anyone besides me even know what the Bataan Death March was? Americans’ grasp and knowledge of our own history is astonishingly slender and leaves a lot to be desired–which is why the same policies that have failed, repeatedly, throughout our history–“trickle down economics”, anyone–always end up coming back around and fucking us all over again, repeatedly, as new generations continue to be fooled by the desire of the rich and the corporations to fuck us repeatedly, counting on the knowledge that no one knows it has all happened before.

It is astonishing how no one studies the past so we can learn from mistakes made and not repeat them, isn’t it?

I’m actually not, as today’s title might suggest, a coal miner’s daughter but actually a coal miner’s grandson; my grandfather was a coal miner, and received disability until the day he died for the black lung disease he acquired as a result. Alabama isn’t known for coal mining, and I do know that he used to go away to work in the coal mines, so I’m not exactly sure where it was he went to do the work; as a child I didn’t really listen to the stories as closely as perhaps I should have, or it’s the old memory-sieve thing, but I do remember seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter in the theater when it was released, and thinking, when they showed the shack Loretta Lynn grew up in, how similar it was to my maternal grandmother’s house. The house my father grew up in–where my grandfather lived up till pretty close to when he died, I think–wasn’t as ramshackle as my maternal grandmother’s. It never dawned on me to think about how much poverty my parents grew up as children; my maternal grandfather died when my mother was around eleven, and so the only money they ever got was his military pension from serving in the Pacific during the war–and it wasn’t much. My grandmother used to make most of her children’s clothes as well as her own; when I was a kid I remember my mother had mad sewing skills, but they fell into disuse as we moved up the economic ladder as I got older. My parents were, in fact, a perfect example of the upward mobility, the American dream, as it used to exist in those decades that followed the second world war. They married young and moved to Chicago when they were barely twenty and had two small children; they both worked in factories while my dad went to school at night to finish his engineering degree. By the time they were thirty they owned a house in the suburbs and my father was on his way up the corporate ladder; my mom stopped working when he finally made it to management and we were transferred to Kansas. It was always ironic to me that when I was a small child my parents both worked while everyone else I knew’s mom was a housewife; when the economy shifted in my teens my mother became a housewife while most other families became two income.

I didn’t grow up in Alabama, but I grew up thinking of Alabama as home and was raised to have a fierce, deep pride in not only being Southern but in Alabama. I grew up understanding the importance of both Alabama and Auburn football to the pride of the state, and pride in that the fierce rivalry between the two programs was one of the biggest and best in college football. My love for Alabama has grown more conflicted over the years, as I began to reexamine things I was raised to believe in as moral and right and developed my own code of ethics, morality, and right and wrong. Writing Bury Me in Shadows is, in some ways, an attempt to regurgitate and make sense of that through writing. The vast majority of my writing has always firmly centered New Orleans, and writing about New Orleans is probably what I’m best known for, if I am known at all. I have written bits and pieces here and there about other places I’ve lived; I turned Fresno into Polk for the frat boy books, and Tampa into Bay City for other stories, and of course, with the exception of Dark Tide, which was set in the panhandle of Alabama, I primarily fictionalize where I’m from in Alabama as Corinth County–which is where the main character of Dark Tide was from.

Bury Me in Shadows is my first book-length writing about Corinth County; and I decided to show it from the perspective of a native who didn’t grow up there, whose mother moved away before he was born, and has spent very little time there–and hasn’t, in fact, been there since he was eight years old. I am having some fun with it–you can’t go wrong with a meth lab, a burned out plantation house, and the rural woods in northwest Alabama–but it needs some work, and I think I’ve been away from it long enough now so that when I do have the time to go back and start revising and reworking and getting it ready to turn in, my eyes and perspective will be fresh.

I am starting to get more tired though, and it’s harder to get up in the morning than it was earlier in the week. I am only working the morning shift today; this afternoon I have some errands to run and I am going to do some work at home. I think that will help me with the tiredness–the screening process can be draining–and if I get my work done early, I can maybe spend some time reading or writing. I was too tired to read much more of “The Archduchess,” the du Maurier tale I am trying to get through this week, but it’s very interesting. The darkness that always imbues her work is there as the story goes on, which is about a very small European nation whose spring water has some kind of mystical rejuvenating power, but I haven’t gotten to the meat of the story as of yet. But it’s interesting, and I am curious to see where she is going with the story.

I also have a gazillion emails to try to get answered at some point today.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines. Have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)

Ah, Tuesday, with all your promise, dawning bright and early.

The weather has been absolutely stunning these past few days–well, it did get overcast yesterday afternoon, but it was still lovely out–even if it’s too early in March for the weather to be this nice; we are having April weather in early March. Maybe it’s just a passing front, or something–but it is peculiar. I, of course, don’t mind; spring and fall are the two times of the year where the weather is so spectacular we’re reminded why we live here; I wish it was like this year round, but I also recognize that summer is the purgatorial price we must pay for these beautiful days in late March thru early May (and those from mid-September thru Thanksgiving).

I started working on the short story that’s due at the end of the month last night, and it started flowing. I know the voice isn’t quite right, but that’s what the revisions and rewrites are for, you know? One of the problems with being a writer, at least for me, is the conflicting desire to always get something done right the first time you do it; which isn’t really how writing works. As opposed to how you generally do almost everything else in life, writing isn’t required to be done correctly the first time; there are always rewrites, there are always revisions, there is always editing. I do strive to get everything as right as possible in the first draft–something I can’t really help, it’s just who I am–but I often struggle with being tied to what I originally wrote and sometimes stubbornly refuse to see what needs to be fixed within my work. (Part of the reason the Kansas Book and Bury Me in Shadows both still are languishing within the electronic file folders, rather than being out there in the world for my readers to <hopefully> enjoy.)

Plus, you also have to add in the added insecurity which makes me question every word choice, every sentence structure, and every plot development.

It really is a wonder I am not in a strait-jacket.

I slept fairly decently last night, which was lovely; I didn’t want to get up this morning, but I did, knowing that I can sleep a little every day the rest of this week. Tomorrow of course is my late day; an early evening shift so I can get stuff done around here during the day and go to the gym in the late morning. I have all kinds of things to do tomorrow–which means rather than having a relaxing morning, I am probably going to have an irritating one; but again, that’s perfectly fine. I need to carve out some time during the morning to write as well; I also want to get back to Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, which I really shouldn’t have started reading and didn’t really mean to; I just picked it up on Sunday to read the first chapter, to get a sense of it, and the next thing I knew several hours had passed and I was almost to page 100. I need to get it finished, hopefully, maybe, during the rest of this week so I can move on to Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, and then I need to get back to reading Tracy Clark for the interview I am doing with her for the Sisters quarterly.

I am also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams as my current non-fiction; it’s quite exceptionally good, quite frankly.

Tomorrow an anthology I have a story in is having its cover reveal; I am very pleased to be in this anthology and I am very pleased with the story I wrote for it, as well as incredibly flattered to have been asked to be included. I have another story in another anthology that is dropping next month as well, so it’s turning out to be a fairly decent year for me, short story wise, at any rate. The preliminary Anthony ballots have already gone out, and I won’t lie: I’m really hoping my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s makes the short list. It’s probably my favorite story of my own that I’ve ever written and published; one of those few times when I’ve written something that turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, where everything–story, voice, character, mood–all came together in the way I wanted them to, and created a story that I think is one of my best efforts. I think the story in the anthology whose cover is being revealed tomorrow is another one of those instances; I am very proud of that story too–which began as something else completely, but I basically took the story set-up from a failed story and tacked new characters and a new story on it, and it worked beautifully. (I still have fond hopes for the original version of the story and its title; I just have to give those characters and that story a different set-up, is all. I am thinking a faculty cocktail party of some sort.)

I am also going to try to write something for another anthology that is coming to a close at the end of this month; I think some of the things I’ve recently started could actually work for this anthology’s theme, so I am going to go ahead and look them all over and determine which would work for the theme best and try to get it finished by the end of the month as well. I had a really great time working on the Sherlock story yesterday, and I think it’s beginning to coalesce and gel in my mind, so here’s hoping I can get the rough draft finished this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Act Naturally

Monday morning and there’s still dark pressing against my windows this morning. Mondays and Tuesdays are the worst two days of my week; long hours spent at the office and most of the day gone before I can retreat, as quickly as I can, to the safety of the Lost Apartment.

The gym yesterday felt terrific. I upped the weights as it was time (every Sunday) and while I’ve felt the workout before–even with a light, practically nothing weight, you’ll feel three sets of twelve–yesterday I actually felt like I was pushing myself for the first time. I didn’t up the weights on legs–I do that every two weeks instead of every week, because I go up in increments of ninety pounds; whereas with everything else I go in ten pound increments–but it still felt pretty intense on the lower extremities. I also got back on the treadmill–only fifteen minutes after the five minute warm-up because it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done the treadmill–and that also felt good. I watched more of the Anthony Minghella The Talented Mr. Ripley film adaptation because I couldn’t get my Disney Plus app to work for some reason (I want to start watching the Clone Wars series while tread-milling) so I decided to finish watching Ripley. I still have about another forty-two minute to go, so I should finish watching it on the treadmill on Friday.

And hopefully by next Sunday I’ll have this Disney Plus mess straightened out.

I have chosen Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief as my next reread, for the Reread Project, and started reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls yesterday; I didn’t mean to get as far into it as I did, either–but once I started reading, the book was moving like a speeding Maserati and I couldn’t stop until it was time to make dinner. Damn you, Carol Goodman! I’d intended to use that time to write! But now that things are sort of normal again–the first normal, full work week since Carnival’s parade season began–I am hoping to get back into some sort of swing of normalcy and get back into my normal, regular routine.

I didn’t get as much writing done this weekend as I had wanted to; those short stories turned out to be like pulling teeth without novocaine or anesthesia, but some progress is always better than none, as I always like to say. I seem to have not had a really good, long writing day in quite some time; but here’s hoping now that things are back to some sort of normal and I can reestablish a routine, that the words will start flowing again soon. I need to get to work on the story due at the end of the month; I’ve got it vaguely shaped inside my head, and so now I need to get to work on putting the words to paper, preparatory to getting them in the proper sounding voice and so forth. I’m excited about the challenge, to be completely honest, and I am relatively certain I should be able to get it moving relatively soon, if not a good strong first draft completed in no time at all.

One can hope, at any rate.

My goal for March is finishing: finishing that story, finishing the Secret Project, finishing some of these short stories. April I will return to Bury Me in Shadows with a fresh eye, and I am also hopeful I can get it finished that month, so I can move back on to the Kansas book to finish in May, so I can get started on Chlorine in June, spending the summer writing a first draft, before turning to the next Scotty/Chanse or whatever the hell it is I intend to spend the fall writing. It isn’t going to be easy, and I am going to have to fight off the distractions that always seem to be trying to keep me from getting things done–and my own personal laziness; the default always being to go lie in my reclining chair with a book or to watch television.

We streamed the entire series of I Am Not Okay With This last night; which is another teen show oddly rooted in the 1980’s–musically, esthetically, and visually; which is an interesting if weird trend (both It’s The End of the Fucking World and Sex Education also have the same vibe, as does, obviously, Stranger Things; it’s almost like Netflix is targeting those who were kids/teens in the 1980’s…hmmmm). After we finished it–we really liked it–we started watching Harlan Coben’s new series on Netflix, The Stranger, and we are all in on it; the first episode was kind of strange, with all the different concurrent plot threads, but episode two began to seamlessly sew the threads all together, and we are completely hooked. It’s also fun seeing Jennifer Saunders playing someone besides Edina Monsoon. Not sure when we’ll finish it–probably an episode a night until the weekend–but it’s great fun. I recommend it.

And now it’s time to get ready for my work day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

 

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Go Rest High on that Mountain

Saturday morning in New Orleans, and all is well. I slept really well last night–the deep dead sleep I love so much, because it’s so revitalizing–and can’t help but notice that I’ve been enjoying that kind of sleep a lot more since I started back to the gym. Coincidence? I think not.

Yesterday, I’m not going to lie, started out pretty fucking shitty. I got up feeling terrific. Well rested, ready to get out and kick some ass this weekend; as evidenced by yesterday morning’s blog entry. I went to the gym, had a tough workout–the motivation was there, but missing Wednesday had put my body out of sync with the weight-lifting, which made it more of a struggle than it should have been–then I came home. I started doing the laundry (I do the bed linens every Friday), made myself a protein shake, started getting the dishes taken care of, and then sat down at my desk to check my emails and social media. My twitter feed was filled with homophobic micro-aggressions from people who should, actually know better; as I read through I felt my anger and gorge rise. I was just about to send a PM to a friend (who definitely should know better) when Scooter jumped up onto my desk and knocked over my protein shake….all over my desk, my keyboard, my checkbook, my wallet, the research books I’ve been using for a writing project, my lap, and various file folders.

I was not pleased.

That took about half an hour to get cleaned up (thanks again, Scooter) and by the time I was finished I was already behind schedule for getting to work and running errands. I have a tire with low air, so I stopped at a convenient gas station (there is literally only one that’s convenient, and even it is out of the way) and of course, it was filled with morons. WHY WOULD YOU TAKE THE BACK PUMP INSTEAD OF PULLING TO THE FORWARD ONE?

I suspect her name was Karen.

The gas station turned out to be an exercise in aggravation and frustration, so I decided to say fuck it and do it over the weekend sometime. Then I got stuck behind a garbage truck, and when finally–after driving all the way uptown behind this idiot going 14 miles per hour–I got stuck behind a street cleaner on Jefferson on my way to Claiborne. We’ll just pretend there were no idiots on their cell phones on I-10 because I just can’t with people who think a phone call is more important than their life and the lives of everyone else on the highway.

Seriously, days like yesterday make me long for the next meteor and extinction event.

By the time I finally got home from work,  I was essentially done-in and exhausted. I later attributed it to the lack of a protein shake–I mean, the protein shakes I generally have after working out are enormous and have a lot of protein in them; because it spilled I had to have one of those prepackaged ones, which only had about half the protein in it that I usually rebuild with after a good workout–so note to self: should there ever be a repeat of the Protein Shake Incident, drink two of the pre-packaged ones, or you will suffer later.

So, it’s a gorgeous and sunny day outside; it’s a bit chilly here in the Lost Apartment, but that probably means it’s warmer outside. I have to walk over to the Home Depot (I need to get file folders and a new little notebook to replace my check register; yes, I still balance my checkbook, and yes, I still write everything I spend down), and the Lost Apartment  needs cleaning. I am way behind on my emails again (what else is new) and I have some things I need to get taken care of today; I want to finish reading my Ali Brandon novel this weekend, and I also want to pick out my next Reread Project read. I decided that since it’s Leap Day I shall also spend the day working on the numerous in-progress short stories I have; I am also going to try to get the Secret Project planned out and back on track again today, so I can launch myself full force into it again tomorrow. I also want to try to use today (and my new file folders) to get better organized. One of the worst things about Carnival is you literally just try to tread water with everything and you inevitably get scattered, disorganized and behind…and then it’s so hard to get everything back under control yet again once it’s over. I may not get much writing done today–certainly I know I won’t get as much done as I would like to get done–but the most important thing is to ensure that I am organized, know what I need to get done, and that way I can start organizing tasks and start getting them done.

I also got a shit ton of books in the mail this week; some definite treasures, some from authors I’m not familiar with, and once again, I weep at the idea of all the books I will never have the time to read. I am perhaps most excited about Alabama Noir, from the Akashic noir series; edited by Don Noble, it has stories from some of my favorite writers (Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, and Suzanne Hudson, among others) and of course, it’s ALABAMA, which I still feel such a strong pull towards, despite having never lived there and knowing deep in my bones and my soul that New Orleans is my home. Do other people feel that way about the states where they were born, where their parents and family are from? Or is it just a Southern thing? One of the reasons I started writing Bury Me in Shadows was because I wanted to write about Alabama, and the complexity of my feelings for the state. I’ve done some Alabama short stories, and I’ve set one book in Alabama–Dark Tide, which was mostly set down in the Gulf beach area–but I’ve always wanted to write more about Alabama. I think the reason Bury Me in Shadows has been so difficult to write for me is because I’m really not sure what the state is like now; and yes, of course it’s fiction, but I also don’t want to indulge in stereotyping and I want to be able to write honestly. I don’t have the time or the money to drive up there, look around, and get a better sense of place than my memories–plus, the part of the state I’m from isn’t the most friendly for people like me–but you never know. All it would really take is a long weekend and a cheap motel somewhere.

And on that note I just heard the dryer click off, so perhaps it’s time for me to get going on everything.

Have a lovely Saturday/Leap Day, Constant Reader!

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Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

I Just Want to Love You

Oh, Mondays. The start of a new week, a new beginning–as it were, sort of like a mini-New Year’s in some ways. The cycle of employment. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night–I kept waking up, but feel somewhat rested and not mentally fatigued, the way I usually feel on a morning when I have to get up at the crack of dawn (actually, it’s dark outside and so I am getting up before the dawn) when I didn’t sleep well. AH, well, hopefully tonight I will sleep well–I may even try to go to bed earlier than I usually do to try to make up for last night’s not-so-good sleep.

A good friend passed through New Orleans yesterday, so I met him for a beer at the bar on the corner after I worked all morning. I am such a lightweight–the one beer made me slightly tipsy, and so when I got back home I wasn’t really feeling up to getting back to work. it’s fine–I did manage to get a lot done in the morning, and I never feel like I’ve wasted time if progress is made–and most importantly, I’ve almost managed to get my email inbox almost completely emptied out. Of course, when I send the emails I drafted yesterday this morning, they will beget even more emails in response–which is fine. As long as I keep up with them, and don’t allow myself to get overwhelmed by the volume, I won’t get behind again. There are, however, times when I just can’t face my emails.

We watched the figure skating last night before we went to bed; it’s always lovely to watch Nathan Chen be his usual fantastic self, and then it was off to bed. I didn’t make any progress on the Secret Project, which now becomes a priority going forward. I have to get that finished this week so I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows and the short story I need to write by the end of next month. I also didn’t get a chance to read more of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, but being social, getting out of the house, and spending time with someone I rarely see was actually quite nice. I do wish, though, that I’d cleaned the kitchen. I hate starting the week with the kitchen a mess. But as I make our lunches I’ll see if I can get the sink cleaned out and the dishes in the dishwasher put away. At least tonight I won’t come home to a messy kitchen in that case.

Such excitement, right? It’s no wonder I can’t sleep, given how massively exciting my life is.

But Carnival is coming–the parades start on Valentine’s Day, and my life will become very complicated again. Our office is now too far for me to ever try to get there and back on foot–being old doesn’t help, either–and so I have to either get off work on parade nights early enough for me to get home before the streets close, or I am trapped; destined to be stuck in traffic while trying to take the only possible exit from the highway into my neighborhood–and then of course parking anywhere is completely impossible. I think I can figure out how to do it all without having to take too much time off work–which is a good thing, as I don’t have enough vacation time this year to take the entire second parade week off–but it’s going to be challenging. Very very challenging. I’ve not wanted to deal with it–as well as making my future travel arrangements for upcoming trips and so forth–but this is the week I need to get this all taken care of, and it’s gone on the list.

And frankly, it’s lovely to have to-do lists that I actually pay attention to and use and cross things off from as they get done. I’ve missed that feeling of accomplishment, frankly. I actually think my additional new responsibilities with Mystery Writers of America is going to help me to get better organized as well as be more productive, because I don’t have a choice. I do better when there’s not a choice, as insane as that probably seems.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. I need to make this week’s to-do list, make sure that I don’t miss anything, and get back to work. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

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