One of the Crowd

And it’s now the fifth of July, and so far–at least for me–the second half of this annus horribilis is off to an okay start. Yesterday was oddly not humid or hot; there wasn’t much direct sunlight and even by noon I hadn’t been forced to turn on the portable Arctic Air coolers that have so far made life in the kitchen/office bearable; I remain, as ever, buried and behind in all of my work, which is to be expected, of course–par for it, actually. I am always behind and scrambling to catch up, and since my personality is this peculiar combination of Type A mixed in with almost chronic laziness, this will most likely always be my state of being.

The sun is out, however, this morning, and while it remains cool here in the Lost Apartment, there’s no telling how hot it perhaps might get in here later this afternoon. I accomplished very little yesterday, truth be told; I started working on “You Won’t See Me” and didn’t get very far, because it was wandering off into a different direction than where it was originally intended to go–it wasn’t until I quit writing in disgust and adjourned to my easy chair that I realized (or remembered)where I’d wanted to go with the story in the first place, so I made some notes and went back to reading Cottonmouths. Later we streamed a lot more of The Club, which has a rather lengthy first season–it’s been a while since I’ve seen a season of anything recent that runs for over twenty episodes–and an awful lot has happened. We’re finally into the mid-teens, and halfway finished with the show, which we are still enjoying. And Cottonmouths remains quite delightful.

I refuse to allow myself to give into despair this fair morning over what I wasn’t able to get accomplished over the last two days. This morning I feel, for want of better terms, not only vivacious but alive and rested. The clouds of exhaustion that have made my thinking not as clear have lifted, or so it seems at this very moment, and we shall see how this day turns out, won’t we? I hope to get quite a bit accomplished today–we have the clinic open the next two days–and I have been sleeping well lately. I’m actually feeling close to normal for the first time in months, and while mentioning it also has me concerned that I might be jinxing it in some way, it’s actually been quite lovely.

It is very difficult to not fall into the ease of despair with the news every day–hell, every day for the last few years, quite frankly. The pandemic is raging out of control and might not get better for a while; Florida, for example, has reported more new cases over the last eight days than Louisiana has had since it first arrived here (um, where are all those people claiming it was irresponsible for us to have Carnival NOW? Cavorting on the beaches in Florida?), and as the crisis seems to continue to deepen rather than get better, the return to normality everyone seems to want gets pushed further and further back because of selfishness, frankly. As I joked to Paul yesterday about not getting much writing done yesterday, “What’s the point of writing anything new when who knows if there will even be a publishing industry next year?”

I’ve not, to be honest, thought much about my writing career this year, or at least since March. It was lovely being nominated for a Lambda Award–it’s been years since the last time–but I also knew once I saw Michael Nava’s name on the short-list I didn’t have a prayer of winning. But the nominations are always nice. I have thought about writing more Scotty books–I did leave their personal story on a cliffhanger in Royal Street Reveillon, after all–but there are two manuscripts in the hopper I need to finish first, and I want to work on Chlorine next. I need to get this Secret Project finished and out of my hair in order to get back to the two manuscripts–I’ve solved the issues with Bury Me in Shadows over the course of the pandemic–and I’ve also solved the plot issues with the Kansas book while I’ve essentially been too distracted and too exhausted and too ill to actually do any actual writing. My goal for this week–and yes, the week, not today–is to get that proposal finished; get a couple more of these stories under control and/or closer to finished; and if I have a highly productive week, to take next weekend off again to rest and recharge while trying to make some progress in the TBR pile. I want to reread another Perry Mason novel–I have The Case of the Calendar Girl in a hardcover I found in a used bookstore sometime during my travels over the past few years, and watching the new HBO Perry Mason has made me want to reconnect with the original character again–and I also want to get back into reading through both the John D. MacDonald and Ross MacDonald and Margaret Millar canons; which will help me get into a place where I will be able to get Chlorine written sooner rather than later. I also have some Dorothy B. Hughes novels on hand I’ve not read as well…and of course, there’s the Diversity Project to get back to at some point, in addition to the Short Story Project. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection on its way, as well as the latest Lawrence Block anthology, which I think is called In the Darkling Halls of Ivy (I could be wrong but it’s something like that), and of course, I still have his previous anthology on my side table, untouched.

So much to read, so much to watch, so little free time in which to do it all–and that includes, I might add, so little time to write everything I want to write before I die.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I certainly hope that I do.

Somewhere

Sunday morning, and all is well in the Lost Apartment.

Yesterday was, well, yesterday, and I think I was still kind of off-balance from sleeping well and not feeling sick, you know? Naturally, my computer decided hey he slept well and doesn’t feel sick, so let’s start acting up!

Oh, poisoned Apple. How sharp is thy sting.

Another night of good night’s sleep, and I am choosing to accept that the computer frustrations of yesterday–irritating as they may have been–were really more of a sign from the heavens (the Fates, the Muses, the Gods, whatever) that i really needed to not work at all yesterday and just kind of have a lovely, do-nothing kind of day. We finished the first season of Titans, which was nice, and moved on to Season 2 (in which the first season’s entire storyline, and cliff-hanger, was resolved relatively quickly–so quickly that I kind of questioned it; very rushed…but then as the episode progressed to its finish, I understood why–they wanted to get to the meat/villain of Season 2 as quickly as possible: the reformation of the team and the return of Deathstroke as the big bad). I’m not sure if we aren’t going to see Kory or Hawk and Dove anymore; which is a shame, as I like them all. We shall see, I suppose; I guess we’ll be blazing through season 2 this week.

So, today’s plan, computer cooperation pending, is to revise the Sherlock story and revise another for a submission deadline on July 1. I know what I need to do with the Sherlock story, and I also know what I want to do with the other story–which is a long shot (aren’t they all?) and hopefully, if I can get both of these done today, I can spend the afternoon finishing reading the Woolrich preparatory to moving on to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths.

I also need to do some straightening up and filing work–the on-line files yesterday was what triggered the computer issues, which led to research on-line, which led to frustration, which led to watching LSU clips from last season–but while I was doing dishes and later folding laundry I figured out how to correct Bury Me in Shadows, my Civil War ghost story Gothic, so that was kind of a win for the day, don’t you think? And over the past few days I’ve also figured out how to rewrite and restructure the Kansas book. So, if I can focus on the Secret Project this week, get those stories revised and submitted today–I should be able to spend July revising Bury Me in Shadows and August revising the Kansas book, and then both will be out of my hair for awhile–so I can also focus on Chlorine.

Oh, I also figured out what “Never Kiss a Stranger” needs, and how to fix it as well, so that I can finish it.

Maybe yesterday wasn’t such a loss as I thought I was after all…

I also think I need to figure out and map out the rest of my year–June 30th will bring the first half of the year to a close, and might as well set some goals for the second half, since so many things beyond my control this first half of the year derailed me every step of the way; I am also (huge step here) not beating myself up for not managing to figure out a way to get my writing done during a pandemic, chronic illness, and the world essentially going insane outside my windows.

BUT–if the world going insane outside my windows means systemic societal change, more power to the insanity and might I add, such insanity is far overdue?

And on that particular note, tis time to return to the spice mines this morning. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Forever in Love

Saturday.

I do love the weekends, even the ones when I have over a gazillion things to do.

So, I submitted a story to McSweeney’s. They did an open call for queer stories, and I am a queer writer of queer stories, and I just happened to have a dark little story that just needed to be polished a little bit, which I did yesterday morning and I sent it in. That’s three short stories I have out on spec right now, and my fingers are crossed. All three are kind of long shots, in a way, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’m hoping to work on the Secret Project this weekend and get it under control, tweak another story to send out on Monday morning, and maybe–just maybe–finish one of these stories of which I don’t have a first draft available to tweak/edit/revise. Which one, I’m not quite sure, but it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve worked on any of the novellas in progress…perhaps this weekend I should give a look to either “Festival of the Redeemer” or “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I kind of want to finish “Condos, for Sale or Rent”; it’s a pandemic story, after all, and it would be interesting to get one of  those written and sent out somewhere….although it could very quickly become dated.

Hell, I started writing it three weeks ago (I think) and it’s probably already dated.

We started watching the new Ryan Murphy Netflix show Hollywood last night, which is essentially about the film industry’s (and by extension, society’s) treatment of minorities and gays during the post-war period when television was rising and the studio system was collapsing. This is the same period I will be writing about in Chlorine, so naturally the show was of interest to me: the fabled Sunday pool parties at George Cukor’s with the gorgeous young men who wanted to be movie stars and if it meant the casting couch so be it; Scotty and the fabled gas station of prostitution; fictional characters mixed in with real ones; Henry Willson and his abusive and predatory agenting methods towards beautiful young men (and Rock Hudson, who is a character in this and very well cast); and the horrors of the LAPD vice squad and how a career could be ruined by an ill-timed arrest or visit to the nelly house (gay bar); and how relationships, actual relationships between men that were more than just sex, weren’t seen as possible (Billy Haines to the contrary). It’s the perfect background for a noir novel, quite frankly, and I also, while watching the first three episodes, came up with the one missing component to my plot for Chlorine–the stakes for my main character, which means now the book is completely possible. The show itself is very well done, the acting superb, and the period setting perfectly done (interesting that the last show we watched, The Plot Against America, was also a period piece and also very well done). I do recommend it; the cast is incredibly pretty, both men and women, and it’s very fun seeing Jim Parsons playing monstrous Henry Willson.

I slept very well last night–the weather was stunningly beautiful yesterday, a gorgeous and incredibly unseasonal cool day, without humidity–and got home from work not only not feeling tired, but fairly energetic. I spent some time once I got home in my easy chair with a purring kitty in my lap, rereading stories that I want to work on and some of the partials that need to become complete, before we tuned into Hollywood. Today, I need to make a brief grocery run, stop and pick up the mail, and run by the bank to deposit a royalty check–always a pleasant feeling, quite frankly–and then I am coming home to probably spend most of the day alternating between cleaning, reading Mysterious Skin (it’s not only haunting but compulsively readable), and doing some writing, as well as some organizing. As I said yesterday, I’d like to get more stories out for submission–it always comes in waves like this–but there are four more markets out there I don’t have something submitted to, and I spent a little time on Submittable looking for markets and found a few more with deadlines later this month that I ‘m going to consider looking at. I also need to finish the Secret Project this week as well; always so much to do.

And that’s not even looking at the emails that are piled up in my inbox. Heavy heaving sigh. But I can spend some time, here and there, today and tomorrow answering emails and saving the drafts to send on Monday morning; I refuse to send emails (except in emergency cases) on the weekends because that simply breeds more emails. And since I’m feeling energized this morning, I kind of want to take on things that need to be taken on, if you know what I mean.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I might check back in on you later today–stranger things have happened–or else I will just talk to you tomorrow.

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A Different Point of View

Several nasty storm systems passed through last evening–loud and long claps of thunder, high winds, and a downpour. It was lovely–as was the drop in temperature–and there’s few things I love more than being safe and cozy inside while there’s a downpour outside.  It’s still kind of gray and hazy outside this morning, which is nice, and I am sure the weather helped me sleep better last night. I didn’t sleep well on Friday, and wound up sleeping later than I’d wanted (the same thing happened this morning as well but I slept better last night) and the day wound up a wash. I was tired and suffering from burn out, I think, and having to go deal with the grocery store was a bit much. The grocery store is an odious chore under the best of circumstances, and under quarantine it’s even worse. For one thing, I feel guilty for being out in a public space, and for another, I feel so bad for the underpaid staff who are out there risking their lives and their health so that we can buy groceries. I try to be as helpful and as polite as I possibly can, but I don’t blame them in the least for resenting their customers. My job is also deemed essential, so outside of the shifts in how everything from grocery shopping and so forth have been altered, my life hasn’t really changed that much. I still get up every day and go to work. I may not be able to go to the gym anymore (for the duration), and I may go to the grocery store less…but my life has only changed in the times I work, more than anything else, and what I do at work. I don’t resent our clients–but I would imagine, if I were a grocery store employee, I’d resent the hell out of the customers.

Yesterday was, as I said, a wash. I woke up feeling tired and out of sorts, with very low energy, and making groceries is even more draining and exhausting than it usually is. I had very little creative energy yesterday morning, and after making groceries, I did some cleaning and retired to my easy chair. Paul got us lunch from the Please U Cafe–shrimp po’boys and homemade onion rings–as a treat, and of course, I couldn’t finish the onion rings and was stuffed, not needing dinner. I was going to do some reading, but Paul and I wound up watching the rest of the first season of My Life is Murder, which I greatly enjoyed, and then we moved on to the Netflix continuation of Tales of the City, which is very well done; much better than the originals, to be honest. We only have two episodes left, and we stayed up later than we should have watching. I’m hoping to start rereading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin today, if I have time. Since I took yesterday off to recharge my batteries, I have to get a lot done today. I need to get that first draft of the Sherlock story finished; I need to get another story edited; and I am doing a live ZOOM panel discussion tonight for Bold Strokes Books weekend book-a-thon, which is going to be interesting. I’m not really a fan of the whole ZOOM thing, to be honest–I hate seeing myself on screen, and I really hate the sound of my own voice–so these things are like Kryptonite for me. But in this brave  new world, I need to start doing these things…which also kind of terrify me. I’m always afraid, like book signings, that no one will click to watch or no one will show up if I do a live reading on-line or anything like that. And I am so highly critical of myself…yeah, I’m not sure I want to open that door or not.

But how does one sell books in the time of quarantine? Post-quarantine? Who knows?

I am going to make chili in the slow cooker today; it’s been awhile and it will help clear my head to get writing this afternoon–there’s nothing like doing something that doesn’t require full concentration (like chopping peppers and rinsing beans and dicing up a chicken) that opens the floodgates to my creativity. I just have to make sure that I channel that creativity properly; the last thing in the world I need to do is come up with ideas for new stories–because I’ll never write all the ideas I already have as there will never be enough time in my life for me to write everything I want to write. So, once I finish this I am going to try to get the kitchen organized and cleaned up while I get the chili started, and then I’m going to get cleaned up before sitting down to do some serious writing this afternoon, and then hopefully I’ll have some time to read before it’s time for the panel.

I’m also very conscious of the way time is slipping through my fingers. I had hoped to write several books this year, and here it is past mid-April already without a single novel manuscript finished. A lot of it has to do with my usual procrastination and laziness, plus the emotional unbalance triggered by a global pandemic, creative ADHD, and the occasional bout with PTSD. I honestly don’t want to think about how many short stories I’ve started writing since the year (and haven’t finished); that goes along with the other story fragments I have started over the last two years or so. Some of them are great ideas, and I think could really turn into something; others I am not so sure about. But my goal for the rest of April is to get these stories due by the end of the month finished, and then try to get some of the others done as well by May 1st. I intend to spend May whipping Bury Me in Shadows into place so i can get it turned in; spend June doing the same to the Kansas book, and then spend July writing the first draft of Chlorine, before moving on to the next Scotty book. This is, needless to say, a very ambitious writing schedule; one that I most likely will be unable to keep. But it’s always good to plan ahead, and be more ambitious than you think you’ll be able to go with (although I am very well aware that an overly ambitious schedule presents the potentiality of setting one’s self up to fail, which can trigger another downward spiral in addition to awakening that horrible voice in my head) because even if you can’t keep up with it, you should still be able to get a lot finished. And there are other distractions along the way–can never forget that I’m the Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, and that inevitably cuts into my writing time as well.

But on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines and start getting some things done around here–and to that end, I am going to do my stretching, and get cleaned up.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Being Boring

And just like that, we made it to Friday.

Do days and dates mean anything anymore? It’s hard for me to keep track, that’s for certain. And from what I gather, it’s not just me–everyone is having difficulty keeping track. I missed making a credit card payment this month because I didn’t put it on my Google calendar with an alert–the calendar alerts have literally been saving my ass since this whole thing started–and thank God for them, you know? They pop up on my computer, phone and iPad, so it’s unlikely that I will miss them, but stuff has to literally be on the calendar for me to get an alert, so that’s on me. It’s about time for me to start loading all the bills into the May calendar–perhaps that will be a chore for this weekend.

After all the pleasure I’ve had rereading Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters, I am thinking that I should keep the Reread Project going and reread something else that I loved and haven’t read in a long time. What that might be, I don’t know–there are so many books loaded into my Kindle app it’s terribly frightening–but I am also curious as to whether I’ll enjoy reading something new on there. I have some classic crime novels loaded in there–Charlotte Armstrong, Ellery Queen, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Mary Roberts Rinehart–as well as Ethel Lina White’s novel (blanking on the name) which was filmed as The Spiral Staircase, which is a great classic suspense story starring Dorothy McGuire (I think) that doesn’t get near enough credit or recognition. Then again, I haven’t seen it since I was a child, so who knows? Perhaps it doesn’t hold up. I just remember that the main character, the heroine, was either deaf or mute or both. And yes, the more I think about it, the more I think that should be my next read.

On the other hand, Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin is just sitting there, begging for a reread. I was thinking more about the book again last night–about how truly clever it was, and possibly about how it could be considered, perhaps, a crime novel; which of course made me want to read it again all the more.

Yesterday I was very tired when i got home; I had to get up early and so screenings at our other campus, and then come back to the other for the rest of the day. I slept better last night than I have previous nights of the week–although I did wake up a few times–and I really do need to get back to stretching and exercising here at home every morning. It helps with being tired, and it certainly helps me sleep better at night. I’ve lost seven pounds since the quarantine started–apparently every one else has gained weight?–and so, for the first time since around 2010 or 2011, I weigh less than 210, which was a plateau I was beginning to think I was too old to break through. And now I have, which means that getting down to my goal weight of 200 is possible. I’m not sure, with the muscle weight that I have now, that going below 200 is realistic; but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I never thought I was going to get below 210 ever again, and here I am.

We continue to watch Murder is My Life with Lucy Lawless on Acorn, and I highly recommend it. Lawless looks amazing–those eyes!–and of course, she’s always been an incredibly talented actress–more so than she’s ever been given credit for (she deserved an Emmy for Spartacus) and the structure of the story around her and her character is really quite good. When I get home from the office today, I’m going to finally sign into the CBS All Access app on Apple TV I’ve been paying for, so I can start watching not only Picard but Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot.

This weekend, I’ll need to run some errands–grocery store for a bit of odds and ends–and I am mostly going to spend the weekend relaxing, cleaning, organizing, and I need to polish a pair of short stories and finish the first draft of my Sherlock story, so I can revise and rewrite accordingly before turning it in at the end of the month. I’m also going to go back to the Secret Project, which I’d like to finish, along with these stories, by the end of the month. Then I can go spend May finishing the final draft of Bury Me in Shadows–I finally had the breakthrough on the story I was looking for–and then once that’s done, I can spend June and/or July doing a final of the Kansas book, and then–you guessed it–it’s time to tackle Chlorine.

Pretty cool, huh? I also want to start brainstorming on the next Scotty book, too. SO much writing to do, so little time….

And so I must return to the depths of the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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I Fall to Pieces

And this morning I woke up to the good news that my COVID-19 test came back negative, which now begs the question: what was wrong with me? Was it some weird combination of sinuses, allergies, flu, stress and exhaustion? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely thrilled to not have this and for this whole thing to be over, but…I’m very glad to know that I wasn’t infectious and out in public for a while. So I am just going to take the win, tomorrow’s a paid holiday, and I’m going to take the weekend to sort things out and hope I feel better and continue to rest.

I did wake up this morning feeling good for the first time in a very long time, which is also terrific. Today was the first day where I woke up and felt like myself–I have some things to deal with this morning, as I do every morning, but this time I woke up and didn’t dread dealing with any of it-and since I feel good, that makes me wonder just how much of this has been stress related? Probably more than I want to admit to; and there was probably some PTSD there as well. I also need to remember that feeling fine is also a relative thing and that it comes and goes with the PTSD stuff-and there could even be something today that makes it worse–always remember your emotions can turn on a dime when you’re going through something like this–and there’s never any indication that your mood is going to swing, or how wild that swing is going to be. Fun stuff–and the mood swinging lasts for a while after the situation normalized, too. 2005-2009 was not the most emotionally stable period of my life, if I am going to be completely honest, and fortunately most of it is now hazy in my mind. But I know there was some bad behavior on my part to people who didn’t deserve it–and I hope that I apologized for it.

Yesterday I was fatigued–my energy failed me in the afternoon–and that’s concerning, as I said earlier, but there’s really nothing I can do about whatever was wrong with me other than accept that it wasn’t COVID-19 and go on with everything in my life-and be extremely cautious going forward to make sure that I don’t get it now. It’s funny–knocking on wood here–but somehow I made it through the the HIV/AIDS pandemic without getting infected (I’ve never had any STI–gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis–other than HPV, and of course I had the bad kind, but without any re-occurrence) and so far I’ve not managed, despite Mardi Gras and a public contact job screening people for COVID-19, to not get that, either. At least so far–and I am going to be a lot more anal about going out in public and being around people from now on, too.

I read some more yesterday on Ammie, Come Home, and I marvel at how marvelously constructed this novel is. There’s never any point where it drags at all, and Barbara Michaels knows precisely how to build suspense and terror in such a… I want to say genteel way that makes it even more terrifying. The spectral encounters the characters have in the old house in Georgetown are absolutely heart-thumpingly terrifying and scary and creepy; it’s truly one of the most perfect ghost stories ever constructed…which is why it is one of my favorite novels of all time. Barbara Michaels was always considered a Gothic suspense writer, and some of her novels don’t have a supernatural touch to them, but the ones that do (House of Many Shadows, Witch, The Dark on the Other Side, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) are some of the best, quietest horror novels I’ve ever read; she built a quite large audience of readers who would most likely never read horror–but she certainly straddled the line between suspense and horror-which is why I think Gothic is such an interesting term.

Once I get this Sherlock story wrangled and under control, I am looking forward to going back to Bury Me in Shadows. It’s been on my mind a lot lately–and I’ve been having, as I previously mentioned, a lot of strange little creative bursts over the past week or so–and so today, once I get the business I need to get taken care of taken care of, I am going to get organized. I am going to whip this desk area into shape, organize all my notes and everything that is scattered all over the place, and be ready to hit the ground running once Easter has passed. I want to get this story finished–as well as several others that are in process–and then I am going to set a writing schedule to get Bury Me in Shadows whipped into submission shape so I can get it sent in to my publisher so I can then focus on doing the same for the Kansas book….and then I am going to start pulling together Chlorine. I probably won’t be this organized–I never am as organized as I plan to be, nor do I ever stick to the schedule I always try to stick to–but I like organizing and I like coming up with plans–that’s the sort of thing that makes me happy, and I am going to focus, as one always should in times of crisis, on doing things that make me happy.

And on that note, I am going to go take a shower, get cleaned up, and get moving again.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Harper Valley PTA

Hey, hey, Saturday, what have you got to say?

I feel very good this morning, after another deep and restful night’s sleep. I’ve been allowing myself to stay in bed longer than usual–figuring if I have a mild case of the virus, as I suspect I do–that more rest certainly can’t hurt and might even help. It looks overcast this morning in New Orleans, and one of the things I did last night with the buzz I got from the Chardonnay was start the organization process in my kitchen. It was lovely, actually, to wake up and come downstairs to an organized and neat desk. My next thing to do is get my MWA stuff organized, and this morning I am going to get through everything in my email inbox, if it kills me.

I honestly don’t think it will.

And I want to get some writing done today as well. As I said, I feel terrific this morning; I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning and felt great, rather than however it was I was feeling when I got up. I think I’ve turned a corner, and here’s hoping that I can start whipping everything back into shape and getting my life back under control–which is something I’ve not really been feeling lately. That’s the problem with crises like the pandemic; they are so big and enormous and overwhelming that you can’t really grasp them, with the end result you’re almost paralyzed and unable to get anything accomplished. The truth is you can’t worry about it too much, you can’t worry about the future, and you have to let go–which is incredibly difficult, not as easy or as incredibly simplistic as it sounds–and simply focus on what you can do to keep yourself going and get your mind off it. Stress and worry isn’t going to solve anything, and in fact might make things worse by draining your energy and making you feel everything is so hopeless that it can easily turn into depression and lethargy. (I’m genuinely concerned about the suicide rate and mental health issues over the next few months; I remember that Katrina aftermath far too well.

Simply put, the entire country kind of needs a Xanax prescription.

Paul is going into his office today. He assumes the building is going to be completely closed down soon, and is assembling everything he needs to continue working from home. It looks as though I will be able to start going back into the office, if to do nothing else than helping out with the screenings to let people into the building, so that’s going to get me out of the house. I was very tired yesterday after all the interaction and five hours of screening in the very warm garage of our building, but I’ll also be able to retreat into the air conditioning of the building and head up to my desk where I can do some work up there as well. I do like the idea of having to leave the house every day, even as the city continues to shut down more and more; the lack of traffic and the ease of getting around the city certainly makes a difference.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with–and perhaps other writers have been as well–is what do we do with our writing? It is, at best, an enormous national trauma we’re dealing with; do we pretend in our fictional worlds that the pandemic never happened? As with Katrina, it was difficult to do while it was ongoing because you didn’t know how it was all going to play out; so since the end wasn’t in sight there was no happy ending with the Katrina story and we also don’t know how this is going to play out. How can I start writing another Scotty book, other than setting in the past before the pandemic, without knowing how this is going to play out? It was easy to never talk about 9/11 in the Scotty or Chanse books, but obviously I couldn’t ignore Katrina, and I suspect this pandemic is going to be roughly the same. It also occurs to me this morning as I type this–this is how my mind works; as I type I start thinking who in Scotty’s world would die from this? and immediately I went to the grandparents. When I think about ages and so forth I realize how old Scotty’s grandparents–and his parents–have to be now that he’s in his forties and the youngest of three; and I realize I’ve always alluded to their being more relatives on the Diderot side but have never really explored it any further than that. I touched on the Bradley side of the family a little bit more than usual in Who Dat Whodunnit, but for the most part, at least for Scotty, his family primarily consists of his siblings, his parents, his Diderot grandparents, and the boys. Maybe this is the time to explore the extended family a bit more?

I don’t know, I was kind of torn about whatever the next Scotty may be; I have a list of titles to chose from and some amorphous ideas about what the next one will be, ranging from Hollywood South Hustle to Bywater Bohemia Bourgie to Congo Square Conga–I have so many of these titles already thought up, you can rest assured that I will never run out of Scotty titles–and the plots to go with them. Scotty plots are always amorphous and ambiguous when I start writing them; I don’t feel like I did the entertainment industry and movie stars the proper treatment in Murder in the Rue Ursulines, which, if you will recall, was originally intended to be a Scotty book, and then was adapted into a Chanse instead. The original idea behind Hollywood South Hustle was that Scotty would be minding his own business as he walked home from his parents (or the bars) when someone shoots at him in front of a walled-in house on one of the side streets in the lower Quarter, because it turns out from behind he can pass for a Brad Pitt-like movie star who has moved to New Orleans and is being targeted for some reason–and this draws him into the weird world of Hollywood celebrity. I don’t know that I would use that same opening and methodology of drawing Scotty into the case–particularly now that he and the boys have sort of adopted Frank’s college student nephew–but there’s also a good local scandal from the last ten year about the film industry I could use; and perhaps graft that onto another abandoned idea for a Scotty–the book I was going to write next when Katrina happened; Hurricane Party Hoedown, because I was interested in exploring the corruption of wealth and power, in which the young scion of a wealthy Louisiana family becomes obsessed with a a handsome young gay man and ends up throwing acid in his face, only to escape to Europe to avoid prosecution and now, ten years later, the runaway heir is returning to New Orleans to face the music and his victim is obviously worried. (One night as I sat in my easy chair wishing I was finished with Royal Street Reveillon and thinking about the next Scotty and going through all the story ideas I have for him, it occurred to me how I could graft that particular story onto the movie scandal and tie the two separate storylines into one book; I may go ahead and do that.)

But once I get everything unfinished here in the Lost Apartment under control I am going to start writing Chlorine. That is the next and most important thing for me to get done, and in order to get to that I have to get this other stuff finished. As I was organizing my files and filing last night I realized that over the last month or so I have started a ridiculous amount of short stories without finishing a first draft of any of them: “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop”, “Festival of the Redeemer”, “You Won’t See Me”, the Sherlock story, “He Didn’t Kill Her”, and “Gossip”–in addition to all the unfinished ones I already have on hand, which is frankly insane. But today I am going to work on the Sherlock story, get back to the Secret Project, and start writing down ideas for the next Scotty.

And while I am doing that, I am going to clean my apartment and maybe even do a little bit of pruning with the books–which are slowly but surely starting to take over the apartment again.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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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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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.

Blue Skies

And just like that, it’s back to reality.

It’s very cold in the Lost Apartment this morning; I have my space heater on as I sip my coffee and try very hard to control my shivering. It is actually only 37 degrees outside, with a high of fifty predicted for the day; #madness. Oddly, not only did I not mind the cold in New York, but it was actually snowing when we walked to dinner Saturday night; and it didn’t phase me in the least. But cold in New Orleans is something I can hardly take–particularly because it never feels warm inside.

Ever.

But today’s my long day at the office–I only have one long day this week, thanks to yesterday’s holiday–and I also need to hit the ground running. There’s no time for malaise anymore. I’ve got to get this new project wrapped up this week, so I can get back to work on finishing Bury Me in Shadows, and then on to the Kansas book, before I can finally get to work on Chlorine and either the next Scotty–maybe even another Chanse novel. The sky’s the limit, right now. Ha ha ha ha! As if.

I am also greatly enjoying my advance copy of Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture. It really is fantastic–if you’ve not read her debut novel, Dear Daughter, from a few years back, it really behooves you to go ahead and do so while you wait for this brilliance–and as I always say–reading great writers makes me want to do better and also always inspires me to create more. (I often say that’s how I can tell a truly great writer from a good one; when I”m reading a great one, I get ideas for books and stories of my own because my brain is being stimulated.)

We also watched another episode of Messiah, which is really quite compelling. I really do recommend this series, as it makes you think–a lot. I can also see why the show would be upsetting to people of any Abrahamic-descended faith; but at the same time I’ve always thoughts that things that upset those who are of faith, or makes them think about their faith, are rather important.

Then again, few things inflame a conversation more than talking about religion, so I should probably let that go, right? But as I’ve said before, I’ve always enjoyed books about the things that have been hidden for centuries–I recently saw a blurb for Steve Berry’s latest, which called him “the master of the religious-relic thriller” (which I didn’t realize was a thing), which is probably the best way to describe those kinds of books going forward. Watching Messiah makes me think about the Colin thriller I’ve always had in the back of my mind, and also makes me think I should perhaps write the Colin thriller before I do another Scotty, but then again, it doesn’t really matter because any Colin book could be set in the past rather than the present–running parallel to the books in the Scotty series, if that makes the slightest bit of sense?

In my own defense, it’s early and cold and I am still on my first cup of coffee.

But I just ate a small slice of king cake, am brewing my second cappuccino, and am about to jump into the shower to prepare for my day to start. I’m not going to lie–I didn’t want to get out of the comfortable warmth of my bed this morning–but it feels like I’ve not been to the office in forever, and it pays the bills, so I need to get my act together and get it on the road this morning.

May your day be ever lovely and bright, Constant Reader. I’m off to the spice mines.

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