Gold

Everyone has heard of Constantinople at some point in their life, I should think–at least they’ve heard that annoying song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Some may even know that it fell to the army and navy of the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, ending the Eastern Roman Empire after a thousand years of existence. The Ottomans relocated the capital of their empire there, renaming it as Istanbul. (Christian Europe continued calling it Constantinople for centuries; it’s only over the last hundred years or so that Istanbul has come into more common usage.) But few know much more about the city and the empire it served as capital for over a millenium. Of those, some may know the basics–the Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, recognizing that the enormous Roman Empire had become impossible to rule or enforce law or protect, split the empire into eastern and western halves, and founded a capital for the east on the site of the village of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 473 when the city fell; yet the eastern empire continued until 1453. Western Europe, always trying to reclaim the heritage of the Roman Empire (and ambitiously planning to rebuild it), always referred to the still existing Roman Empire as “Greek” rather than “Roman,” although the citizens of that great city and the vestiges of its empire continued calling themselves Romans until the Turks finally ended it.

But that thousand year history? It’s not easy to find information or books with much information; even the one history of the Empire I did read–Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth, along with his City of Fortune, a history of the Venetian Empire–glossed over centuries and only hit highlights. I’ve always wanted to write something historical set in the new Rome.

The Eastern Empire out-lasted its western counterpart by nearly a thousand years. Constantinople was one of the greatest Christian cities of all time; there was certainly nothing even remotely close to it in western Europe in terms of population, art, culture, education, and trade. It’s location put it in control of access and egress from the Black Sea; it also controlled the trade routes between Europe and Asia. Its fall in 1453 meant that those trade routes were now controlled by the non-Christian Islamic Ottoman Empire–and as such, other ways to reach the far east became necessary to the western Europeans, hence the Portuguese circumnavigating Africa and the Spanish attempt to sail west to find a route, leading to the “discovery” of the Americas. The fall of Constantinople was an incredibly important and necessary piece of the interlocking puzzle that led to European colonization and the global empires that resulted from it (as well as the oppression and enslavement and genocide of native populations); but Western historians–in particular, those monastic scholars in Catholic orders–have always tried to erase and /or lessen the importance of the eastern Empire and its capital, calling them “Greeks”, renaming the Eastern Roman Empire as the “Byzantine Empire,” etc.–and in no small part, this was also because of the Christian Schism of 1054, in which the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split in two over questions of dogma. Therefore, it was in the interest of the Western Europeans to underplay the vital importance to European history of the remains of the Roman Empire because western Catholics considered their Orthodox brethren as heretics; their church was the true one, even if it was in the east that the religion originally came from, and it was in the eastern half of the empire the tenets and dogma of the “true” faith were established. The Pope in Rome always tried to assert his own authority over the Patriarch in Constantinople; the Patriarch considered himself to be the head of the faith and the Pope just another bishop. Thus, when Charlemagne conquered most of central Europe, he and the Pope created the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, or Roman, or even really an empire in the traditional sense); the Romans in Constantinople were not pleased. (At the time, through some political machinations and drama, a woman was seated on the throne in Constantinople–the Empress Irene, one of the most interesting women in European history; she was also pretty terrible. The Pope decided there could be no such thing as a female Emperor, and so he crowned Charlemagne.)

The Holy Roman Empire also lasted over a thousand years.

Anyway, I’ve always been interested in the eastern Empire, even though it’s largely neglected in European histories. But one event in its history has always been interesting to me in particular –the fall of Constantinople to the Catholic 4th Crusade in 1204, which essentially set the stage for the second fall of the city, to the Ottomans in 1453. I also have an idea for a Colin book–which I’ve had for a very long time–that would have its beginnings in the 1204 sack of Constantinople.

It’s remarkably hard to find much information–granted, it’s not like I’ve tried very hard, but the fact that you have to try hard to find histories and/or books about the Empire and its capital, let alone the 4th Crusade–even histories of the Crusades themselves gloss over the fact that a Crusader army, blessed by the Pope, allowed itself to be diverted by the Venetians to capture and sack two Christians cities (Zara and Constantinople), and established “Latin” (western European) kingdoms and principalities out of the provinces that were once the Eastern Roman Empire. These Catholic kingdoms were so despised by their subjects that they didn’t last long, with another dynasty of the old empire arising to drive them out. The sack of the city and the pillaging and destruction that followed created such a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and the kings that followed the Pope that they preferred the Ottomans to a reconquest by the Catholic nations–which is saying something. Ernie Bradford’s The Great Betrayal: The Great Siege of Constantinople is a very thorough account of the tragedy and how it came to pass; the destruction of the mighty city–along with the destruction of priceless books and documents and art forever lost to us–was on a par with the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria.

The book itself is very interesting; the siege took nearly a year, and it’s actually kind of shocking that the Crusaders succeeded in taking the city, bearing in mind the strong defenses and so forth. A lot of things had to fit into place for it to happen, and they all did. The city came so close to holding them off successfully; it’s almost as though, as they would have said at the time, it was God’s will for it to happen. The city was also filled with all kinds of priceless Christian relics; after all, the religion was founded in the east, and as city after city fell to foreign invaders, a lot of priceless artifacts and holy relics were moved to the capital. (The great horses from the Hippodrome, for example, are proudly on display in the Piazza San Marco in Venice to this day.) A lot of the art was destroyed, jewels picked out of reliquaries, the gold or silver or bronze melted down for coin, and so forth.

As someone who has always loved history, and also has always loved treasure hunts–especially those that are involved with the history and development of Christianity, many years ago (I will freely confess to being inspired by Indiana Jones movies) I thought about writing such a treasure hunt story–where the ‘treasure’ being hunted was some important document or book or relic from the earliest days of Christianity that would revolutionize the faith as well as show how off-course it had gone since the earliest days…and wouldn’t it have made sense that whatever it was could have been kept in Constantinople, deep in the archives of the Orthodox Church? And with western, Catholic Europeans besieging the city, wouldn’t the Patriarch have wanted to keep it out of the hands of the Pope, and smuggled it out of the city to be hidden somewhere else, safe from the prying eyes of Rome?

And of course, when I created Colin–actually, when I brought him back in Jackson Square Jazz–I loved the character so much that I considered spinning him off; what about the jobs he’s on when he’s not in New Orleans? “Oh,” I thought, “my fall of Constantinople story! That could work for Colin!” And it even occurred to me the other day that I could even do them as “case files,” setting them throughout the past, both before and after he met Scotty and woven in between the Scotty stories. (It also occurred to me that I could do Scotty stories to fill in the years between books, if I wanted to…)

And reading this book–which i recommend if you want to know more about “holy wars” and how corrupt and unholy they actually were–made me think about it even more. I do want to include something about the Empress Irene, too.

Something to brainstorm at some point. Like I have the time to squeeze in another book…but it would be fun; although I don’t know how good I would be at writing action/adventure/thrillers.

It would be fun to find out, though.

Edge of Seventeen

Just like the white winged dove….

Sing it, Stevie!

So I managed to get some writing done yesterday–not only did I get some writing done yesterday but it actually flowed; it wasn’t nearly as painful or forced as it has been when I’ve been writing lately, which is lovely. I also read for a little while yesterday; I am moving into the final act of The Savage Kind and am really enjoying it; I hated put it aside yesterday when my allotted reading time had finally run out. I slept very well last night–didn’t want to get up this morning, or more precisely, didn’t want to get out of bed which felt unusually comfortable to me this morning–but I do feel well rested. I am working at home today, which is nice–I really don’t want to go out into the heat–but things change. We watched the first few episodes of Condor last night–it’s not bad, a more modern-day version of Three Days of the Condor, which was one of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival movies during the pandemic–and I do feel relaxed this morning….probably because I am still in denial about everything I have to do and get done.It just keeps building….

My anger has finally cooled over the so-called “supreme court” rulings of last week; but I still have a lot of righteous indignation and outrage left that can easily be fanned into red-hot flames. Louisiana, of course, had just passed its very own trigger law, which our piece-of-shit governor signed. Of course, my own rights will soon be overturned by this joke of a court; as I tweeted on Friday, “Somewhere in hell Roger Taney is smiling because his supreme court may no longer be the worst in our history.” I mean, when you are passing out rulings that are about on the same level as Dred Scott, you really should sit back and reflect on your life choices. It’s bad enough we have four perjurers on the court along with a sexual harasser, a probable rapist, and a woman whose religion has brainwashed her into a Stepford wife–someone on Twitter said yesterday “if the founding fathers could see us now they’d say ‘You let Catholics on the court?'” I love to point out that despite all evangelical claims that this is a Christian country, they never specify which brand of Christianity they mean. Pentecostal? Quaker? Lutheran? Catholic? Missouri Synod? Latter Day Saints? No two sects of Christianity agree on anything; it was precisely this division of belief within the same theoretical faith that led to centuries of war and oppression in Europe, and the very American standard of the separation of church and state. You also have to remember that originally nearly every colony since the Europeans decided they were taking over this continent from its natives followed a different sect: Maryland was Catholic; Massachusetts Puritan; Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams upon the very principle of religious freedom and became a haven for persecuted religious minorities; Virginia was Episcopal; and so on. Christianity isn’t a monolith where everyone believes the same thing–they can’t even agree on the basic principles of their religion or how to pray or who can preach or teach.

Although they do all have the symbolic cannibalism ritual–but again, all different versions.

But the “supreme court” has a long and tragic history of incredibly bad and damaging rulings–see Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Citizens United, etc.

There’s another Alabama story brewing inside my head–you know, that non-stop creative ADHD thing I have going–about a small town in Corinth County trapped and controlled by it’s radical fundamentalist religion. I know I had the idea for the town years ago–it’s called Star of Bethlehem–but this idea for using that town is vastly different than the original one I had (in which the town’s water supply was deliberately tampered with as a corporate experiment in which the townspeople began developing strange abilities; I can still make that work into this–imagine a small remote town in the grips of a maniacal controlling religious sect where this happens; are these miraculous abilities a gift from God or the work of the devil? Which, really, was kind of the point of the superb mini-series Midnight Mass) but it keeps nagging at me as I sit down to work on other things. I scribbled some notes in my journal last night while watching Condor–again, it’s an interesting modern take on the original story–and so we’ll see how it goes.

I also started writing Mississippi River Mischief yesterday. I was going back and forth, wondering how to open the book, and finally just decided to say fuck it and start writing it. I wrote 173 words on it, which while not much is certainly something. Hopefully after work today I can work on it some more. I’ve started figuring it out a bit more–I already know who the victim is, I already know what’s going to be going on in Scotty’s life during the course of this book–but there’s all kinds of things left for me to get figured out. But–as with every Scotty book–I usually tend to just jump into it headfirst and see what happens.

So, all in all, a relatively productive weekend and very few regrets. I still have a ridiculous amount of work to do, but…progress is all that matters and I refuse to allow myself to get stressed out.

And on that note, it’s Data Entry time. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader. Hope we all have a better week this time around.

Heavenly Action

I’ve always been—undoubtedly in part because I love history so much—an enormous fan of books where secrets from the past (even the far distant past) play an enormous part in the present lives of the characters in the story, and that solving those mysteries, learning the truth about the past, is necessary in the present for conflict resolution. As a history buff, the lack of a lengthy history as a nation is something I’ve always thought unfortunate; without ancient buildings and the way that history isn’t sort of always there in our faces the way it is in Italy or other older nations, it’s difficult for many Americans to either grasp, be interested in, or give a shit about our history—we have as a nation the attention span of a goldfish (thanks, Ted Lasso, for that reference).

To make a side by side historical comparison, for example, the Habsburg dynasty dominated central Europe for almost six hundred years, whereas the first European to actually arrive and establish a colony were under the aegis and flag of the Habsburg king of Spain—and that was in the early sixteenth century.

Secrets of the past casting a shadow over the lives of the living is often a theme in Gothics, my favorite style of novel/writing (noir is a close second). Rebecca is of course the master class in secrets of the past; the first Mrs. deWinter might not actually be haunting the halls of Manderley literally, but her ghost is definitely there. Victoria Holt’s romantic suspense novels inevitably were set in some enormous old mansion or castle, with potential ghosts a-plenty everywhere you turn. Phyllis A. Whitney’s one novel set in Britain—Hunter’s Green—also has a classic old British mansion with a potential ghost in it. Maybe it was the childhood interest in kids’ series, with the reliance on secret passages, hidden rooms, and proving that ghosts were frauds; every episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You? had the gang proving something supernatural was quite human in origin.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books when I was a kid was The Ghost of Blackwood Hall; I don’t really remember much of the story now, other than a fraudulent haunting was involved and a woman—Mrs. Putney—was being swindled by a medium? (Reading the synopses on a Nancy Drew website, apparently part of the story involves Nancy and the gang coming to New Orleans, which I absolutely do not remember; my only Nancy Drew-New Orleans memory is The Haunted Showboat—involving yet another haunting. Interesting.) When I was writing the original short story (“Ruins”) I needed a name for the old burned-out plantation house; I decided to pay homage to Nancy Drew by naming it Blackwood Hall, and naming Jake’s maternal ancestor’s family Blackwood (his grandmother was a Blackwood, married a Donelson; Jake has his father’s last name, which is Chapman). I did think about changing this from time to time during the drafting of Bury Me in Shadows, but finally decided to leave it as it was. It might make Nancy Drew readers smile and wonder, and those who didn’t read Nancy Drew, obviously won’t catch it.

Hey, at least I didn’t call it Hill House.

But writing about ghosts inevitably makes one wonder about the afterlife and how it all works; if there is such a thing as ghosts, ergo it means that we all have souls and spirits that can remain behind or move on after we die. So what does writing about ghosts—or writing a ghost story—mean for the writer as far as their beliefs are concerned?

Religion primarily came into existence because ignorant humans needed an explanation for the world around them, combined with a terror about dying. It is impossible for a human mind to comprehend nothingness (whenever I try, I can’t get past “there has to be something in order for there to be nothing, you cannot have nothing unless you have something” and that just bounces around in my head until it starts to hurt); likewise, whenever I try to imagine even the Big Bang Theory, I can’t get past “but there had to be something to explode” and yeah, my head starts to hurt. Even as a kid in church, studying the Old Testament and Genesis, I could never get past “but where did God come from?” I don’t begrudge anyone anything that gives them comfort—unless it starts to impede on me. I’ve studied religions and myths on my own since I was a kid; the commonalities between them all speak to a common experience and need in humanity, regardless of where in the world those humans evolved; a fear of the unknown, and an attempt to explain those fears away by coming up with a mythology that explains how everything exists, why things happen, and what happens when you die. (I am hardly an expert, but theology is an amateur interest of mine, along with Biblical history, the history of the development of Christianity, and end-times beliefs.)

Ghosts, and spirits, have been used since humanity drew art on cave walls with charcoal to explain mysterious happenings that couldn’t be otherwise explained. I am not as interested in malevolent spirits—ghosts that do harm—as I am in those who, for whatever reason, are trapped on this plane and need to be freed. This was a common theme in Barbara Michaels’ ghost stories (see: Ammie Come Home, House of Many Shadows, Witch, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) in which the present-day characters must solve the mystery from the past; why is the ghost haunting this house and what happened to them that caused them to remain behind? I used this theme—spirits trapped by violent deaths in this plane whose truth must be uncovered in so they can be put to rest—in Lake Thirteen and returned to it with Bury Me in Shadows. I did, of course, worry that I was simply writing the same book over again; repeating myself is one of my biggest fears (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?), but the two books, I think, are different enough that it’s not the same story.

At least I can convince myself of that, at any rate.

There’s a few more ghost stories I want to write, actually; (it also just occurred to me that there was a ghost in Jackson Square Jazz, the second Scotty book) any number of which come from those legends my grandmother used to tell me as a child. I have this great idea for one I’ve been wanting to write set here in New Orleans for a very long time called “The Weeping Nun;” I have the entire ghost’s story written in my head, I just don’t have a modern story to wrap around it (same issue I have with my New Orleans ghost story book, Voices in an Empty Room) and of course there’s “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain,” a short story about another Corinth County ghost I started writing and got to about five thousand words before the ghost even made an appearance. That great length is why I shelved the story—and now, of course, I realize I can do it as a novella, which is amazing news and life-changing, really. “Whim of the Wind,” the very first Corinth County story I ever wrote, is also kind of a ghost story, and maybe someday I’ll find the key to making it publishable (although I think I already did figure it out, thanks to the brilliance of an Art Taylor short story).

I’ve always believed part of the reason I was drawn so strongly to New Orleans is because the past is still very much a part of the present here—though not so much as we New Orleanians would like to believe, as several Facebook groups I belong to about the history of New Orleans often show how often and rapidly the cityscape has changed over the years—and you can sometimes even feel here, at times, under the right conditions (fog and/or mist are usually involved) like you’ve gone back in time, through a rip in the time/space continuum; which is something I’d actually like to write someday here—but that’s just an amorphous idea skittering through my brain.

And of course, I have an idea for a paranormal series set in a fictional parish here in Louisiana. I think about it every now and again, but am really not sure how I want to do it. I know doing a paranormal Louisiana town series will get me accused of ripping off Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, but that’s fine. I don’t think I would be doing vampire kings or queens or any of the directions Ms. Harris went with her series. (Monsters of Louisiana and Monsters of New Orleans—paranormal/crime short story collections—may also still happen; one never knows, really.)

As hard as it was sometimes to write, I think Bury Me in Shadows turned out better than I could have hoped. I think it captured the mood and atmosphere I was going for; I think I made my narrator just unreliable enough to keep the reader unsure of what’s going on in the story; and I think I managed to tell a Civil War ghost story (it’s more than just that, but that’s how I’ve always thought of it and that’s a very hard, apparently, habit for me to break.

I hope people do read and like it. We shall see how it goes, shall we not?

Mary Mary

I have always loved strong female characters, having cut my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames, just to name a few. As an adult reader of mysteries, two of my favorite series are Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (simply the best) and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (also a gem of a series); primarily because I love the characters of Amelia and Meg both so very much. They are both fiercely intelligent women with a very dry sense of humor, and are the kind of strong women that everyone around them comes to depend on for support–and droll wit. The death of Dr. Barbara Mertz (who wrote as Peters AND as Barbara Michaels) ended the Peabody series forever, much to my heartbreak; the Meg Langslow series is going strong still, so I am hopeful that I will have years and years of reading pleasure yet to come from Donna.

And then, last year I discovered Mary Russell.

The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before. With the shock of the sudden change, my vision stuttered, attempted a valiant rally, then slid into complete rebellion and would not focus at all.

I leant back into my chair with an ill-stifled groan, peeled my wire-rimmed spectacles from my ears and dropped tjem onto the stack of notes, and sat for a long minute with the heels of both hands pressed into my eye sockets.

I was already a fan of Laurie R. King from her brilliant Kate Martinelli series, about a lesbian police detective. (If you’ve not read that series, you need to–it’s one of the best of the last thirty years.) I was reluctant to read the Mary Russell series, as Constant Reader may remember from my previous posts about earlier books in this series; for any number of reasons, but primarily not ever really getting into the Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle stories. This shifted and changed when I was asked to contribute a Sherlock story to Narrelle Harris’ The Only One in the World anthology; this required me to go back and do some reading of Doyle, and having worked with Laurie R. King on the MWA board, I decided to give her feminist take on Sherlock a go.

And I have not regretted that decision once.

Mary has stepped up to replace Amelia Peabody as one of my favorite on-going series; I love the character–a strong-minded, fiercely independent woman of no small intelligence who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Holmes. Theirs is, despite the age difference, a true partnership of equals; I love that Holmes, in King’s interpretation of him, isn’t quite so misogynistic or incapable of feeling–which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a male-written version. I like King’s Holmes; the strong female character who is his equal was the perfect solution to whatever misogynistic issues I may have had with other interpretations. I also love that Russell is also pursuing a life of the mind; her studies into theology at Oxford are not just asides to add color and flavor to the character but are just as important to whom she is as a character as the love interest/relationship with Holmes. As I also have an amateur’s curiosity into the history of Christianity and how the faith changed and developed throughout the centuries following the New Testament stories…how that was shaped and influenced by men with not the purest of motives…is something I’ve always been interested in.

I think the first book that challenged Christian orthodoxy in a fictional form that I read–the first time I became aware of the possibilities that the BIble wasn’t actually the pure word of God and had been edited and revised repeatedly in the centuries since Christ ostensibly lived, died and was resurrected–was, of all things, a book by Irving Wallace called The Word (Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he wrote enormous books of great length that were huge bestsellers, and the subject matter and style of the books was essentially that they were very bery long thrillers: The Prize was about the maneuvering to win a Nobel; The Plot was about an international conspiracy to kill JFK; The Second Lady was about a Soviet plan to kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a lookalike who was a Soviet agent; etc etc etc). The premise of The Word is simply that a new testament, a document hidden away for centuries in a monastery in Greece, claims that not only did Jesus not die on the cross but went on to live for many decades, preaching his own ministry and even visiting Rome. This, of course, is a cataclysmic document–it would change everything everyone had ever known and believed…if it is indeed authentic.

I’ve always loved a good thriller with a base in theology, ever since; and A Letter of Mary is just that, even if more of a mystery than a thriller. The role of Mary Magdalen has been questioned a lot in the last few decades–not the least reason of which is Holy Blood Holy Grail–an interesting concept if one that has been proven to based in a falsehood in the times since (or was THAT part of the Vatican’s plot?)–which inevitably led to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I don’t find the idea that the Magdalen was a beloved disciple of Jesus–and that she may have been his favorite–a reach; likewise, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in the actual New Testament that essentially says she was a prostitute, a “fallen woman.”

This book begins with Russell despairing over her research only to receive a letter that she and Holmes are going to be receiving a visitor–someone they met during their time in the Holy Land some time earlier–glossed over in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but apparently explored more deeply in O Jerusalem! The visitor, an older heiress of no small means who is fascinated with archaeology and has been funding digs in the Holy Land, presents the pair with a gift as well as an ancient letter, unauthenticated, which is ostensibly a letter from Mary Magdalen some years after the death of Christ, written to a sister as the city of Jerusalem falls under seige by the Romans during the Jewish Wars, around 70 AD, that saw the sack of the city and the start of the diaspora; which makes it very clear that, if authentic, the Magdalen was one of the disciples and heavily involved in the ministry of the Christian church. Their guest returns to London, and is killed when she is stuck by a car the following day. Holmes and Russell sniff around the crime scene and find evidence that the old woman was murdered…but by whom? Why? Is this about the letter from Mary?

King always tells a great story–you never can go wrong with one of her books, really–and the characters are so well-defined, so real, that even if she didn’t tell a great story, you want to read about those characters more, get to know them better, and cheer them on to their successes and sympathize with their failures. Her writing style is also a joy to read; the Mary Russell voice is so different and so clearly distinct from Kate Martinelli that you can’t not marvel at her mastery.

The next book in the series is The Moor, and I am really looking forward to it.

Salvation Theme

Reading has always been my escape from the realities of the cruel, cold world. As long as I can remember, I found solace in books–I could always open a book and escape from realities I didn’t want to participate in, or when the world became too much, there was always the comfort of a story about other people and another world where I could go to get away from it all.

When I was a kid, I was more interested in stories about women and girls than I was in stories about boys; I couldn’t really relate to boys as easily as I did to girls. This was, I think, a part of the strict gender divide in the society and culture I was born into; there were specific and clear differences between things for boys and things for girls. Girls played at housekeeping and mothering; boys were supposed to be outdoorsy and adventurous and active. I was not an outdoorsy, adventurous, active little boy; all I wanted to do was be left alone with a book–and the more my parents tried to get me interested in boy things the harder I stubbornly resisted. I never understood why it was so wrong that all I ever wanted to do was read.

I think that part of the reason I’ve always preferred books by and about women are because I can relate to them more, if that makes sense. As someone who never became vested in what society viewed as what masculine behavior is, those behaviors–not always necessarily toxic, but certainly steeped in it–inevitably make me lose interest in the character and their story.

Likewise, one of the reasons I preferred Mary Stewart to Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney (still love Holt and Whitney, though) is because her heroines weren’t passive; they didn’t sit still for being victimized or playing the victim but rather took charge of the situation and were just as capable as any man. This is why one of my favorite fictional series characters of all time were those created by the great Elizabeth Peters: Jacqueline Kirby and Vicky Bliss were also take-charge characters who didn’t suffer fools gladly, and of then there’s her creation who may be my favorite series character of all time: Amelia Peabody. God, how I love Amelia Peabody. Peters’ death was a blow for me; knowing there would be no more books with Peabody and Emerson and Ramses and Nofret and Walter and Evelyn and David….

But then I had the enormous good fortune to discover Mary Russell.

I sat back in y chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action. The satisfaction was for the essay whose last endnote I had just corrected, the distillation of several months’ hard work and my first effort as a mature scholar: It was a solid piece of work, ringing true and clear on the page. The relief I felt was not for the writing, but for the concomitant fact that, thanks to my preoccupation, I had survived the compulsory Christmas revels, a fete which ha reached a fever pitch in this, the last year of my aunts controls of what she saw as the family purse. The anticipation was for the week of freedom before me, one entire week with neither commitments nor responsibilities, leading up to y twenty-first birthday and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. A small but persistent niggle of trepidation tried to make itself known, but I forestalled it by standing up and going to the chest of drawers for clothing.

My aunt was, strictly speaking, Jewish, but she had long ago abandoned her heritage and claimed with all the enthusiasm of a convert the outward forms of cultural Anglicanism. As a result, her idea of Christmas tended heavily toward the Dickensian and Saxe-Gothan. Her final year as my so-called guardian was coincidentally the first year since the Great War ended to see quantities of unrationed sugar, butter, and meat, which meant the emotional excesses had been compounded by culinary ones. I had begged off most of the revelry, citing the demands of the paper, but with my typewriter fallen silent, I had no choice but crass and immediate flight. I did not have to think about y choice of goals–I should begin at the cottage of my friend and mentor, my tutor, sparring partner and comrade-in-arms, Sherlock Holmes. Hence my anticipation. Hence my trepidation.

I first encountered Mary Russell last year when I read the first of her adventures with Holmes, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which took place over several years and was really a loosely connected series of different stories that showed the growing bond between the teenaged girl and the retired detective. Her wit, her style, her fierce intelligence–and her refusal to be a sidekick or passive made me fall madly in love with her–despite my long-held antipathy towards Sherlock Holmes. (I have since read more of Doyle, and find the antipathy I once felt fading; in no small part, I think, because last year I had to write my own spin on Holmes and Watson, which really changed everything I thought, felt, and believed about them.) I’m not sure what made me select the second Mary Russell to read recently; I do intend to read them all, of course, but there are sixteen or so (!) of them, and then there are King’s stand alones, and I’d also love to revisit her Kate Martinelli series, which is how I first came to read King in the first place. But I digress.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women is, of course, a terrific title; and I knew, of course, the source for it: the tedious Scot religious bigot John Knox’s 1550’s pamphlet primarily attacking Queen Mary I of England (aka Mary Tudor), “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” in which he blamed the sad state of Christendom at the time at the irreligious and unprecedented amount of women in power at that time in Europe–and, as I have said many times before, the sixteenth century had more powerful women running countries than any century before or since (and I’ve always wanted to write a history of that century, focusing on those women, and using that very same title King used here). So, going into the book, and knowing that Mary was studying theology at Oxford in the latter half of the first book, I assumed (correctly) that this book would have religion, and women, at its heart, so I sat down with the book rather eagerly.

It did not disappoint.

The book opens, as noted above, around Christmas time, just before Mary finally achieves her majority and comes into the inheritance her benighted aunt/guardian has been enjoying herself with since Mary’s family perished in an auto accident when she was fourteen. Rather the celebrate the holiday with her aunt and the aunt’s hangers-on, Mary escapes the house and goes in search of her old comrade, Holmes. This leads her to London and an encounter with a friend from earlier in her education at Oxford, which in turn leads her to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe–charismatic, suffragette, and also a religious mystic. (I was put in mind of Aimee Semple McPherson, who has always fascinated me and I’ve always kind of wanted to write about.) But there’s something unholy going on at the New Temple, and perspicacious Mary can’t quite put her finger on what’s wrong there–but it intrigues her and she gets deeper and deeper into what’s going on there.

There’s also a switch-up in the dynamic between her and Holmes in this book, but it is also to King’s credit that the groundwork for this was laid almost from the very beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and it neither seems out of place or untoward, either for the story or the characters–and despite the awkwardness this change-up creates between the two of them in their all-too-brief encounters in the story (for make no mistake about it; this is clearly Mary’s story, and Holmes no more than a supporting player on this stage), it makes sense and it also answers one of the questions the first book aroused in me; how can King keep writing about this opposite-sex pair through an entire series without the question of chaperoning and so forth not coming up, or them simply remaining good friends while the deep and growing affection between them is so plainly right there on the page?

The writing is masterful and intelligent, and the story–with its interesting twists and turns, along with some exciting ventures along some of the more disreputable sections of London–is so well paced and plotted that you simply cannot put the book down. I was, quite literally, only on chapter three when I picked the book up again yesterday morning; within moments I was a captive of King’s magic and completely incapable of putting the book down–to the point that I resented having to take breaks to get coffee or go to the restroom or feed the cat. I had decided, when I sat down with the book, that I had to stop reading at noon so I could get back to my own manuscript. Noon came and went, and still I kept reading. At one I flipped to the back to see how many more pages were left, and decided that it was ridiculous and incomprehensible to stop reading so close to the end, and I wouldn’t be able to completely focus on my own while I was so worried about how Mary was going to escape the peril in which King had placed her. So…rationalizing if I don’t finish my own editing today I can always finish tomorrow I plowed forward.

And–without spoilers–I will say King did an incredibly accurate and chilling depiction of how drug addiction takes hold of people.

She also explores the question of women’s role in the Christian religion beautifully, weaving these theological questions and issues seamlessly into the narrative. Each chapter begins with a quote about just that–either from the Bible or the great Christian philosophers, exposing the vicious misogyny that has poisoned that faith almost from the very beginning.*

I loved this book, loved loved loved it, and am really looking forward to the next, A Letter of Mary.

If you’ve not yet started this series, wait no more.

*I also made note of these quotes so I can shamelessly use them myself!

Drops of Jupiter

I got my flu shot yesterday, as well as the second and final vaccination for shingles, and just like the first shingles shot, my shoulder (flu went into the left, shingles to the right) is achy and sore again this morning. But I have absolutely no regrets–a few days of sore shoulder is certainly worth never having shingles. Ironically, one of my goals for this year was to be better about my health in general; who knew, of course, when setting my goals there would be a global pandemic and all of the resultant fallout? But while I still need to get that damned colonoscopy scheduled, I have managed to get the lumps in my chest X-rayed (fatty cysts, RUDE!) and my shingles vaccination. I was in a regular routine of going to the gym again before it closed (and I really really miss it), and need to get into at least a regular routine of stretching, push-ups. and abs every morning (which hasn’t happened yet). I think that will help with what I call malaise, but really is depression.

Malaise just somehow sounds better to me than depression–but that’s also due to stigma. I don’t know why I am so reluctant to admit that I have depression sometimes–it never gets truly bad, just bad enough that I fail to see the point in doing anything of any kind–but of course, when i had to go to the office every day and see clients that helped keep it under control; helping people every day and talking to them about their own problems and issues made me feel better about myself–hey at least you’re helping people and you can do that even during a bout of depression–so obviously, only working with clients two days a week now does not help as much with that. I also am not one who likes to admit to weakness of any kind–thank you, systemic toxic masculinity–and so talking publicly about it, let alone admitting to it, has always been an issue for me.

I did watch The Believers while making condom packs yesterday, and yes, I was right; it doesn’t hold up and it’s really terrible about what is essentially just as valid a religion as Christianity. At one point an expert in santeria does explain to the main character–played by a very handsome younger Martin Sheen–that there is a difference between santeria (white magic; the forces of good) and brujeria (dark magic; the forces of evil)–but throughout the film it’s only referred to as santeria, and the entire point of the film is to exoticize an ancient African religion, make it seem mysterious and evil. Ironically, even though the film was made in 1987 or so, it actually fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival because it, too, is about paranoia and conspiracy and not being able to truly trust anyone. There was also a fear of Satanism rampant in the 1980’s; devil cults and so forth–and a lot of it had to do with heavy metal music as well. I suppose this swing back in the 1980’s was to be expected, almost predictable; after the social upheavals of the 1960’s and the cynicism of the 1970’s, the 1980’s saw a swing back to older values of a sort. Evangelicalism–which began to uptick somewhat in the 1970’s, on the wings of end-times religious theory, like The Late Great Planet Earth and The Omen, began preaching about “family values” and trying to censor film, books, television, and music. The film, which I didn’t really remember much of, played down some of the paranoia and motivation of the novel (which was called The Religion, until the release of the film); in the book the religion followers were being warned by the Seven Powers that child sacrifice–three children, in total–was necessary to prevent the coming end of the world; and the stakes of the novel lie in the fact that the main character’s son was to be the third. This plot point was written out of the movie, which obviously turned them into crazy child sacrificers; at least their motivations in the book were sort of pure–an end justifies the means sort of thing, which was a very popular mentality in the 1980’s, as I recall. The book ends with the main character, his new second wife (love interest throughout the book) and the son, saved from sacrifice, living on a farm somewhere; their radio and television goes out, and the adults look at each other with worry as the sky outside also begins to change to an eerie color…the movie obviously ends differently, and not as satisfyingly; I liked that the book depicted that their unwillingness to allow their son to be sacrificed in order to save the world–selfishness, really–doomed the entire world. (The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay also does a most excellent job of portraying this same dilemma–seriously, Constant Reader, you need to read that book.)

Thinking about this book, and rewatching this movie, naturally has me thinking about the connections between santeria and brujeria to the type of voodoo that was practiced in New Orleans; something I’ve long been interested in but hesitant to write about, particularly, as I’ve said before, because the historical writings about New Orleans and voodoo culture is extremely, horrifyingly dated and racist. My story “The Snow Globe”–coming next year in the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s anthology Magic is Murder–touches on New Orleans voodoo, and I was absolutely terrified of getting it wrong. The primary issue I have with both fictional and historical depictions of voodoo under any name is that it’s always painted as devil-worship and evil, which is predicated on the notion that Christianity is the only good religion. (I’ve also, often, noted that horror fiction–film, television, novels–while always attacked by Christians, actually almost always portrays Christianity as good, and true, and real; a confirmation of its beliefs and value systems. Vampires inevitably recoil from the cross and holy water; same with demonic possession–and inevitably not just Christianity but Catholicism in particular. I’ve always thought that rather curious.)

Scott Heim’s wonderful story “Loam”–available here at Amazon–was very interesting (not just because he’s a terrific writer and it’s very good) to me because it was about the after-effects, years later, of one of those devil-worshipping/Satanic cult scares from that time period, in which child abuse and so forth were also alleged, and convictions gained, only to later discover the kids had “false memories” that were implanted by the questioning (similar to what happened to Greg Kelley in that documentary we recently watched, where he was falsely accused and convicted of molesting two children). I’ve always been curious about the after-effects of these kinds of traumas, not just on the children but the adults involved as well. How do you parent in that situation? I have a book idea that’s been lying around here for quite some time called I Know Who You Are, which is sort of based on that idea; someone escaping a deeply troubled past and starting a new life with a new name somewhere else, only to have someone from that past turn up, because you can never escape the past. It’s a great idea, and one that I was originally intending to use as a Paige novel in that aborted series, but I think it will also work as a stand-alone–I’ve considered using it as the spin-off from my true crime writer Jerry Channing, who has shown up in the Scotty series a couple of times.

But I must get through these other manuscripts before I can even consider writing anything else.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

Everything Has Changed

So, our appointments for this afternoon have been canceled as Sally draws near; so I have to run down to the office for a few hours and then come home to batten down the hatches, or at least whatever needs battening. Hopefully, we won’t get hit too hard; I’m more concerned with the rain and losing power more than anything else. Services have been canceled for Tuesday, so I get an extra day and a half this week of working at home. Not ideal, as I enjoy working with our clients and it’s lovely to get out of the house, but what can you do?

It will be an interesting few days, that’s for sure.

The weather looks weird outside the windows this morning; not the usual gray of the sun coming up through the darkness but a much weirder, unsettling kind of gray. As I said, I have to go in for a few hours this morning; clients and data entry that is due, and if I can’t get it all done before I leave to come home, I can do it at home as long as we have power. Sally seems to have slowed down in her approach to the coastline over night; it looks like the big hit will come tomorrow now rather than later today, but you never can really tell with these things, and the information weather channels and meteorologists share never is really helpful. When di we start getting the outer bands? When will the heavy rains start? When can we expect the high winds?

Instead, it’s all about the eye and when the center of the storm will come ashore, which isn’t really, you know, very helpful.

Yesterday was an interesting day. I spent most of the day trying to get my emails drafted so they could be sent today, and by the time I was finished with all of that, it was time for the Saints game. They did win, 34-23, I think was the final score; but it’s odd. My relationship with my Saints fandom has shifted a bit; I will always be a fan, but I’m not quite as, I don’t know, as big a fan of Drew Brees as I used to be. The enormous disappointment of his collaboration with the horrifically homophobic Focus on the Family, and how angry he became when this was pointed out, rather than an “oops, my bad”, just didn’t really sit well with me, and it still doesn’t, to this day. He has course-corrected on anti-racism, after stepping in it and that was great; but yet…I don’t know. Hero worship inevitably leads to disappointment, because humans aren’t completely heroic; humans are often too human to be heroic.

The Lost Apartment is starting to look less like an abandoned crack den and more like a home, so that’s progress of a sort. The vacuum cleaner works better than it did, but it’s still not quite as good as it was when new; then again, we’re all getting older and not as good at doing things as we used to be, aren’t we? And if we don’t lose power, I can probably keep vacuuming until the floors look like they normally should.

We watched the new episodes of Lovecraft Country and The Vow last night; it’s hard to decide which was creepier and scarier. The Vow gets creepier and more disturbing with each and every episode, and it was strange seeing Catherine Oxenberg (who was the original Amanda on Dynasty) on last night’s episode, worried about how to get her daughter India out of the clutches of NXIVM. As Paul and I continue to watch, we marvel at how insidious it all actually is; and how attractive the things they say to draw people in were in actuality. One can never really go wrong with self-improvement. This week’s Lovecraft Country (spoiler) was really about passing for white, only in this case a very dark-skinned woman of color, Ruby (who is a great character) uses magic to turn herself into a white woman and get the job at Marshall Field’s that she has always coveted…which is an interesting look at the old trope of “passe blanc”, which is something I’ve also always wanted to write about. It was interesting to see how this was handled in the book and in the show; I have to say, the show is also diverging from the book in very interesting and smart ways.

We are also trying out a Netflix comedy series called The Duchess, but after two episodes we aren’t really sucked into it, so I don’t know if we’ll keep going. Raised by Wolves has also slowed down and we’re losing interest in it. Visually it’s amazing, still; the story is losing us.

I’ve also been reading about another great 1970’s conspiracy theory that still effects us today, and one that most Americans don’t particularly know about, but really should. A while back, I remembered there was a book published in either the late 1960’s or early 1970’s that had to do with the end times, and it was an enormous bestseller, so I thought hey you should order a copy and read it. It was written by someone named George Lindsey, and was titled The Late Great Planet Earth. I’ve been reading it, off and on (wow, is it ever racist) and it’s all about Biblical prophecy, and how all these Biblical prophecies are coming true. (The most hilarious thing about it is how dated it now is; Lindsey, for example, didn’t find the Camp David accords bringing peace to Israel and Egypt in his Bible, and JFC, is it ever racist, and right-wing; you can almost hear him sneer the word liberal.) But what’s even more interesting (other than how wrong he has proven to be about so many things over the last four decades) is that the book, despite having been proven demonstrably wrong (the chapters about the Soviet Union and communism are especially cringeworthy) is that it is still in print, and this is a mindset that a lot more evangelicals actually believe in to this very day. When you look at their behavior and voting patterns in the light of what Lindsey claims in this book…it makes a lot more sense, and it’s also fucking scary. What else is interesting about this book is that it’s almost a complete blueprint for the movie The Omen (I can’t speak to the sequels or anything else since the first movie, as the movie and its novelization by Brian Seltzer are the only ones i am familiar with); almost everything in that movie (and the novelization) is directly lifted from Lindsey’s book–to the point where Lindsey should have gotten a story credit on the film. (And now, of course, I am going to have to look up Seltzer.)

This has also led me, in a roundabout way, back to the work of Elaine Pagels on early Christianity; I’ve been looking through her book The Gnostic Gospels, and like Dr. Pagels, I’ve always been interested in how Christianity was originally created as a religion rather than as a values system, and what was included from the New Testament and what wasn’t (it also interests me how evangelicals and other Christians literally believe what they read in their Bibles is the word of God, handed down over centuries yet never edited or wrongly translated from one language to another); this also ties into that Colin novel I’ve always wanted to write.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe in you’re in Sally’s path.

Friends in Low Places

I cleaned the staircase yesterday, wiping each step down and polishing the banister. It’s astonishing, really, how much dust can collect in New Orleans when you don’t have, or take, the time to keep after it. Add to that cat hair, and perhaps you can imagine the odious chore it actually turned out to be. It occurred to me, halfway down the steps, where they turn, that perhaps I should make the time once a week to do this, but I also had to recognize that I  was feeling particularly ambitious yesterday, and there was no guarantee that I would feel that ambitious every week at some point going forward. Yesterday was my first free day where I haven’t been either extremely tired or horribly ill or some combination of the two in quite some time, and I wasn’t really quite sure what to do with myself. Good Friday is one of our paid holidays from work, and I’m no longer sick, and this was the second of the two consecutive days without fever that I needed to get through in order to be cleared to go back to work.

On Monday.

So I took a look around, said to myself, “oh dear, no–this just won’t do” and got to work. I didn’t finish, but I will be able to make time over the next two days to get everything ship-shape and the way I like them.

Hell, I may even do the windows Sunday morning, with my coffee.

And now it’s Saturday, and the midst of what Christians–particularly Catholics–refer to as the Holy Weekend, commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of their redeemer–although I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, unlike Christmas, it isn’t a fixed date. It’s always struck me as odd, and while I am sure many critics have addressed the mystery of how such a deeply religious time for Catholics essentially began following the fertility rites of the the pagan calendar, it’s still worth remarking on, if not exploring.

Yesterday I chose to walk away from the Internet, my emails, and social media to focus on getting things organized and cleaned around the apartment, as well as doing some reading and writing around the cleaning schedule. It’s very difficult for me to write with a clear conscience and focus completely when my work space is in disarray; I can do it with a messy apartment but it still bothers me. One of the more interesting things to come out of this entire thing–something I’ve commented on to friends–is the discovery, in shaking up our normal routines and schedules and, frankly, ruts, of what’s necessary and what isn’t, and being forced to take a long, hard look, not only at our lives but at how we do things and what our priorities are, and what they should have been. When and if the quarantine has passed and the COVID-19 virus pandemic can be seen only in the rearview mirror, things are going to change going forward. For me, I am no longer doing to work double shifts on Mondays and Tuesdays any more; it wears me out too much and often renders me unable to get much, if anything, done for myself on those days of the week. And while yes, it is lovely to also have two half-days during the rest of the week, the first was always spent recovering from the exhaustion of the two lengthy days and the second, Friday–well, while i was able to get some personal things and business taken care of on Fridays, the truth is much of that could also be handled after work on that day; which is when I always stopped at the grocery store ON THE WAY HOME, and my time-off won’t change by going in earlier and putting in eight hours, either.

As you can see, I feel quite passionate about the subject.

It was lovely, yesterday, cleaning and organizing while taking the occasional break to dip back into my reread of Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, which I thoroughly and completely enjoyed, from page one to the denouement. I am, frankly, stunned at why I did not consider this one of her best books before; it may not have the twists and surprise of The Ivy Tree or Airs Above the Ground, but it’s still quite a suspenseful and thrilling ride and her heroine, Lucy Waring, is far more of a bad-ass than Stewart’s character ever are given credit for being–but more on that subject when I blog about the reread.

It was quite a lovely day yesterday, frankly, and I am hoping that today will be an even better one. I feel quite relaxed and peaceful this morning–and am hopeful that today will be an accomplishment day; I hope to get some writing done, some more cleaning, and get myself back into the groove of–well, being Gregalicious again.

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

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It Only Hurts for a Little While

Thursday morning and pay the bills day; I keep hearing about this booming economy I should be grateful for–but all I see is my paycheck staying the same and the cost of everything else going up, so yeah, I’m just not seeing it anywhere. Your mileage might vary, of course, but as for me? Yeah, not seeing it. At all.

If anything, based on my own personal finances, I’d say the economy isn’t really working for me.

Honestly, there’s nothing like paying the bills to send you spiraling down into an endless cycle of stress and anxiety and depression.

But I can’t let anything get me down and slow me in any way; there’s too much work I need to be doing and too many things to get done–and stress and anxiety aren’t going to make anything better or improve anything. I cannot allow myself to go down that path. I deal with enough stress, anxiety and depression as it is, you know?

Paul and I started watching Messiah on Netflix last night; the only reason I’d even heard of this show is because I saw somewhere on-line that it pissed off evangelicals, who wanted to boycott Netflix–so naturally I had to watch it. Apparently they are upset because the show depicts someone who might be Jesus come again to the earth, only he’s Palestinian…because everyone knows that if Jesus returned he’d be blond and blue-eyes and of course he would come to the United States. Honestly, the arrogance of American evangelicals really has no limits, does it? One of these days I’m going to write an essay about that very thing; I was raised that way myself, and it took a long time to deprogram myself–rarely a day goes by when I don’t catch myself automatically reverting to something I learned as an evangelical child and think, whoa, that needs to go. It’s kind of like how we are trained by culture and society and public education to make American exceptionalism our default…it’s insidious and it’s always there, inside our heads, lurking and ready to pounce out to our horror and shock.

But Messiah is a very good show; interesting, I suppose, to those of us who find religion and its impact on culture, history and society fascinating. One of my favorite plots for books always has to do with Biblical history–you know, things the church hid from the world and so forth; dating back to Irving Wallace’s The Word and Robert Ludlum’s The Gemini Contenders and Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade all the way through Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of stories–and let’s face it, outside of Nazis, who makes better villains than the Catholic Church and the Vatican? The concept that the Church hid things that might have altered the course of history or church development in order to maintain and strengthen their own power is something I’ve always believed to be true, and something I’ve always wanted to explore in my own writing. The Colin book I’ve always wanted to write, for example, would be one of these. I’ve always, as Constant Reader is aware, have wanted to write a Colin stand-alone book, or to even develop a series around his adventures when he isn’t in New Orleans with Scotty and Frank. I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind now for over thirty years–having to do with the 4th Crusade, the sack of Constantinople, and something that had been kept secret and hidden in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia that the Pope wanted to get his hands on, which led to the sack of Constantinople as cover for what the Pope wanted. What that artifact might actually be I was never able to brainstorm out, and as such, the story never truly developed the way I would have wanted to in order for me to actually plan it and start writing.

But it’s always there in the back of my mind.

Anyway, the plot of Messiah goes something like this: it opens in Damascus, with a young Syrian or Palestinian boy (they never really make the distinction) talking to his mother about seeing his father being shot down in the streets–Syria has of course been wracked by a civil war for years now–and then flashes forward to him, slightly older, burying his mother after another attack on the city. The city is about to fall to ISIL, and there’s a man preaching in an open area as the final assault on the city is about to begin. The preacher claims that God will save them all from ISIL–and as people jeer and rockets start hitting the area, an enormous sandstorm blows in from the desert. The storm lasts weeks, ultimately burying the ISIL forces and forcing them into retreat–the storm basically wipes them out and ends the war. The preacher than leads 2000 Palestinians into the desert and to the Israeli border; but he also has caught the attention of a CIA operative i DC who starts monitoring the situation, which becomes fraught when the refugees actually reach the border and Israeli forces take the preacher into custody. We then meet an Israeli intelligence agent, whose marriage has ended badly and he and his ex do not agree on anything. The preacher knows things about this tough man and his past that he cannot possibly know; which is obviously unsettling to the agent. The  episode ends with the preacher having vanished from inside his cell…and we chose to not continue until tonight. The hour sped past, which is a good sign for a show always, and I am intrigued enough to continue.

And on that note, I have emails to answer before I get ready to go to work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Victory

And wasn’t yesterday’s entry boring as fuck? I should think at this point that it’s pretty clear, Constant Reader, that I don’t utilize this blog the way one is supposed to when one is a writer: as a conduit to convince readers to buy my books. I think I’ve done an excellent job over the years of proving that I, without question, have no idea how to sell books or how to make my work sound appealing enough for people to want to read, let alone buy.

I really suck at promoting myself. But to give myself credit, I never once believed “social media” would sell books, and from everything I’ve been reading lately, I was right. But it can make loyal readers aware you have something new coming out, and since the gay and lesbian bookstores are long gone…yeah, I’ve literally got nothing when it comes to reaching out and finding new readers, or reconnecting with old ones. I tried the newsletter thing way back in the days of my first website, but was always a little shocked whenever I’d send one out and people would ask to be removed…I was always a little, Why did you sign up in the first place? I never simply added people to my newsletter; you literally had to fill out a form to get on the list…and after a little while it was kind of depressing, so I gave up on the newsletter thing. It’s not like I’m that fascinating, anyway.

I do applaud those who do one, though.

It’s Christmas season already–according to some merchants, it has been since September–and of course, I’m a bit of a sucker for the Christmas season. I’m not a sucker for Christmas displays in September, or endless playing of Christmas carols over and over again on the radio or in public spaces; and while I also understand the importance of Christmas to our (retail) economy, I tire very quickly of Christmas commercials on television–my personal favorite the ones where people gift each other CARS for Christmas, because really? I’m not a Christian anymore; I’ve been in recovery for nearly thirty years, but the “reason for the season” has been forgotten by almost everyone else in the clamor for dollars and status and spend spend spend mentality of the holidays. The basic presumption behind Christmas–peace on earth and good will to all men–is a lovely one that I can certainly get behind; but Christmas has not only been commercialized it has also been politicized…because nothing says put the Christ back in Christmas like commercializing and politicizing the holiday that ostensibly celebrates the birth of Jesus. As always, I tire very quickly and easily of hypocrisy; and I tire of all the nonsense Christmas seems to trigger annually.

But I do like Christmas and the mentality behind it. I like the idea of a season to celebrate peace and love amongst all of humanity. I always wanted to write about Christmas; which is incredibly hard to do without giving into what I call ‘cheap sentimentality.’ I wrote a story a long time ago, my own attempt at writing a gay Christmas story because, frankly, there weren’t any that I was aware of, and it of course was terrible, absolutely terrible. It’s very difficult to come up with anything original about Christmas; but there’s also the possibility that the comfort of familiarity is what many enjoy about it. They enjoy watching the same films and television specials, listening to the same music recorded by the same artists, and follow the old traditions that transport them back to when they were children and the world seemed so much less complicated than it does as adults, and they want to give their kids that same comforting holiday experience they remember. I was quite mercenary as a child, and for me, for the longest time, Christmas was about the gifts I was going to get. As I got older, it gradually became more about the gifts I was giving as I began to understand the message more–and the message does seem to get lost all too frequently.

I also greatly appreciate the extra days off from work as well.

But I wanted to write about Christmas, as I said earlier. Early in my career I realized there weren’t many, if any, gay Christmas stories, so I decided to do an anthology of them, Upon a Midnight Clear, which was, I think, released in 2004. (My story, of course, turned out to be a horror tale, “The Snow Queen,” and I used a pseudonym.) I greatly enjoyed doing that anthology, and am still rather proud of it today. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to get when I asked writer friends to write a story for me; but all of the stories were inventive and new takes on Christmas, from a gay perspective.

Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (which Constant Reader knows is one of my favorites) releases a Christmas mystery every year, and the way Andrews manages to turn out a highly original mystery every year centered on Christmas in Caerphilly is absolute genius. She never descends into cheap sentimentality, and yet manages to infuse the books with a healthy dose of the Christmas spirit each time. Caerphilly is one of my happy places; there’s no greater joy than spending some time there every year. I have already mentioned that Andrews kind of inspired me to write a Scotty book set during the Christmas season, and I am probably going to have to do another; the plot for this one was pretty much already set when I decided to have it take place in December, and so it kind of became a Christmas book by default….I will undoubtedly do another one at some point, one that is more centered on Christmas itself rather than just the season. I’d love to play with Christmas tropes and traditions a bit more–especially since Scotty and his parents are pagans.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, all.

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