The 1

November 1st, or All Saints’ Day; which is the perfect day for a Saints game, don’t you think? LSU lost yesterday, badly, and while it was incredibly disappointing to watch, I felt worse for the players. We always forget, regardless of how talented they are, they’re really little more than kids. And since so many starters are either true freshman or sophomores…I think they’ll be really good next year…if they can survive what looks to be a season on par with the late 1990’s. Yeesh.

I am up ridiculously early because of Daylight Savings time; I’d be up early regardless, but I am wide awake and decided, since I have to get up early the next three mornings, that it made sense to go ahead and get up now–one advantage of the so-called “extra hour” (because if 2020 needs anything, it’s more time) is that by not using that hour to get extra sleep, I can recalibrate my body clock to my own advantage for the next few mornings. The sun isn’t up yet completely, but the cutting down of the crepe myrtles next door–many of them, but not all–means that my workspace and kitchen are going to be flooded with a lot more direct sunlight, which is going to make it unbearable in here once it gets hot again; which means I am going to need to do something about window coverings, whether it’s curtains or blinds. We’ll see how much time I have before that becomes a massive priority–hell, it might become one later this morning.

I was still very tired and physically exhausted yesterday. I ran my errands, and then working on cleaning up our side of the house–leaves, branches, debris–and so I watched the LSU game, doing some cleaning and organizing around here in the meantime, and then for Halloween watched House of Dark Shadows on Hulu. I originally saw this movie in the theater–my grandmother, who got me started watching the soap in the first place–took me, and it was a very different take on the Barnabas Collins story. For one thing, there was no redemption of the character; he remained an evil, cruel vampire till the end, when he was killed for his crimes, and he also kind of killed off the entire family, other than Elizabeth and David, by the end. It was straight up more horror than melodrama, and the movie did well enough to inspire a sequel (with none of the same characters or actors), but it really wasn’t as good a story as the redemption of the vampire arc the show did.

I also took the time to read four novellas of Cornell Woolrich, collected together in one volume with the name Four Novellas of Fear (which is really not the best title, as it gives the impression that the novellas are more horror than suspense/crime; which is what they really are). The novellas are all interesting takes, some of which are dated and wouldn’t work today, alas: “Eyes That Watch You”, the first, was my favorite, in which a woman who is completely paralyzed and cannot speak overhears her daughter-in-law and her lover plotting to kill the woman’s son. Unable to communicate and warn him, the crime takes place…and then she becomes determined, somehow, to expose the murderers to the cops and send them to the chair. Great concept, marvelously handled. The next, “The Day I Died,” is about a man who finds out his wife is planning to kill him for the insurance; he comes home early from work and surprises her with the man she has hired to kill him. The hired assassin winds up dead, and the hard-boiled heroine convinces her husband to go through with the plan–they have a ready made corpse whose face they can disfigure and claim it’s suicide. But as he leaves town he runs into a co-worker on the bus…and now he has to kill the co-worker somehow. It’s very noir, very well done–but again, wouldn’t work in a modern setting because of technology and the difficulty of disappearing in the modern world. The third story, “You Won’t See Me Again,” is about a young newly married couple who have an argument, and she walks out–storming home to mother. When she doesn’t return–as he suspects and expects her to, after a day or so–it becomes a missing persons case and of course, the husband is always the prime suspect in those cases. So now he has to find not only the wife he loves to make sure she’s safe, but also to clear her name. It’s yet another story that wouldn’t work in today’s world because of technology, but it’s a charming time capsule. Likewise, “Murder Always Gathers Momentum” is about the slow descent into crime of a person who is broke and desperate and owed money he was cheated out of; rather than confronting the man and asking for his money he decides instead to break into his house and steal it. He’s caught, commits murder, realizes how easy it is to become a criminal, and starts killing people to cover his initial crime….(this is very similar to Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy, in which Dame Agatha and Miss Marple also explored the idea that once you’ve killed, it becomes easier to keep killing) and there’s a terrific ironic twist at the end, worthy of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Despite being dated, I enjoyed all four novellas–which were all very distinct and different, and cynical in their own ways. I certainly enjoyed them more than I enjoyed Night Has a Thousand Eyes, that’s for certain, and my own curiosity about Woolrich–who was a gay man, an alcoholic, and horribly unhappy in his personal life–deepened. (Just as watching The Other the other day, and thinking about the author of the book, Thomas Tryon–a closeted gay actor of the 1960’s who turned to writing novels in the 1970’s–reminded me that I had once thought him worthy of a biography, and I still kind of think that way; I just wish I had the time to devote to doing the research and traveling to Connecticut to examine his papers and so forth; he was also the long-time lover of the first gay porn star, Cal Culver, which is also an interesting footnote to his interesting life as well as of gay historical interest.)

I’m trying to decide what to read next, and have narrowed it down to four options (and may choose something else entirely): Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove; Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages (which I may have already read, but I don’t remember finishing it); The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier; or The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. I am leaning toward to du Maurier because I am thinking it may be time to finish her canon; but the others all look tremendously good, which inevitably always makes choosing difficult. I also want to start reading short stories again–I still have two volumes, for example, of Shirley Jackson stories to read–and I need to get back to my writing–if I can only remember where I was. I know I was rereading Bury Me in Shadows in order to get a grasp of the story–I also have been thinking about the tweaks it needs–and the deadline looms. I also need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” there’s about a million emails to catch up on, and there’s also the bills to pay.

Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to make it to the gym this morning. One good thing that has happened in this past week is managing three workouts; my body feels wonderful, my muscles feel more stretched and better than they have since the pandemic closed my old gym (we belonged there for eighteen years) and that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it? I think so, and I like that I am developing better workout habits. I’ll worry about correcting my diet and going full on Mediterranean diet after a few more weeks.

I’m also going to write a story–or rather, try to finish one–for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology. Getting a short story into one of those is on my bucket list, and I have two potential in-progress stories for this one; three, really: “Condos for Sale or Rent,” “Please Die Soon,” and “A Dirge in the Dark”. I guess I’ll need to read what’s been done on all four stories and then see about finishing any or all of them…it’s not a bad idea to get all three stories written, pick one to submit to the MWA anthology, and then send the others to other markets.

So many stories in progress.

The sun is rising and the loss of the trees has also made a significant difference to my view–which isn’t nearly as pretty or scenic as it was before, and will take some getting used to. The great irony is my landlady has been trying to get the property owner next door to trim the trees back for years–and trying to get her to trim them regularly, as they are problematic for hurricanes/tropical storms. It took Zeta for her to take the risk presented by the crepe myrtles seriously, with the end result that some were not only trimmed back dramatically, but others were removed entirely. I may have to hang up a small blanket or something in the meantime as a stopgap until I have the time and financial means to get curtains or blinds.

And on that note, I must head into the spice mines and start working on getting caught up, a Sisyphean task at best. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your Feast of All Saints.

The Best Day

And just like that, it’s Thursday again. Wow, where did this week go? It seems as though time is taking an eternity to pass–pre-pandemic times now seem as far back in the past as the Bronze Age–and yet here were are, at the Ides of October. Time keeps on slipping into the future…

I have to proof one of my stories this week; as Constant Reader may (or may not) remember, I sold “Night Follows Night” to an anthology of queer horror called Buried, being edited by Rebecca Rowland, and the galleys to proof dropped into my inbox this week. “Night Follows Night” is the story that begin its life as “This Thing of Darkness” and then was changed to “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” before I finally settled on “Night Follows Night,” which may be the name of an old noir movie? Let me check the Google…hmmm, nothing coming up. I think I ran across it sometime when researching something–maybe it’s an old Cornell Woolrich title?–and thought, that actually fits my story better than “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down”, and so I changed it. (But “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is a great title, and I am going to use it for another story at some point, I am sure.) Anyway, I am quite pleased with how the story turned out, and I also like the cover art for the anthology quite a bit. I’ll share it when I can, and of course will be happy to provide purchase information and so forth when it’s available.

And the story is one of the best examples of how something completely mundane can inspire a story: this story was born when I went to make groceries in a particularly bad mood one morning and wound up with a shopping cart that wobbled because of a loose, squeaky front wheel. I tried a second; same thing. The third cart was also in the same condition, so I sighed and gave up, thinking as I pushed the cart into the store (Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s, in case you were wondering) and thought to myself, why do I always get the cart with the wobbling squeaky wheel as I went to the cantaloupes, picked one up, and thumped it…and then thought, do I really know what I am listening for when I thump a melon and then the story started forming in my head…and miracle of miracles, I still remembered it when I got home from the store, and scribbled down notes before putting away the groceries…and once the groceries were safely stored, I sat down at the computer and started writing. I think I submitted it somewhere it got rejected from; but nevertheless, I am very pleased that it’s finally found a home.

The LSU-Florida game this weekend has been postponed, possibly to December, because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Gators team. (Nick Saban and the athletic director at Alabama also both have tested positive this week; maybe having even a shortened season wasn’t the best idea?) Obviously, I am disappointed–even if they lose, I look forward to seeing LSU play every Saturday–but let’s face it; this football season is abnormal and weird and should have been skipped entirely. Whoever winds up winning the National Championship is going to have an asterisk next to their name, since it was a shortened, non-normal season to begin with, whether it’s college or pro; so while I understand the need to make bank for both…it really is amazing what a difference a lack of crowd noise makes when watching a game on television. Part of the fun of home games at LSU is the roars of the crowd in the background; listening to them spell out T-I-G-E-R-S after a touchdown, etc. etc. etc. The Saints games in the Dome with no crowd are equally strange and uninvolving. Who would have ever guessed?

Certainly not me–the guy who hates laugh tracks on comedy shows.

I started writing something new this week–yes, not something I am supposed to be revising, or finishing, or anything like that, you know, like I am supposed to be doing and I don’t know if I am going to be able to finish a first draft. It’s called “Parlor Tricks,” and it’s a short story that opens at a tedious dinner party in the Garden District–a trope I’ve used before, most notably in “An Arrow for Sebastian”–and one of the guests is a celebrity medium (Easter egg alert: the same woman who told Scotty’s parents he had the gift when he was a child) who, after dinner, conducts a seance, and it’s from the point of view of a non-believing young woman. I’m not really sure where the story is going to go–having her become convinced the medium has powers would be too cliched and has been done many times–but there’s a small kernel of an idea germinating there that I can’t quite force out into the open somehow; this, you see, is precisely why I have so many unfinished stories in the files.

Scooter continues to be much better, now that he’s getting insulin twice a day; but I still continue to be concerned that he isn’t eating enough. He is permitted to have a can and a quarter of this special diet wet food, but he won’t eat it if it’s been sitting out for a while, and he also wants a fresh spoonful whenever he gets hungry. He’s always been weird about eating–he’ll eat whatever is in the center of the bowl and then act like it’s empty once he can see the bottom, despite their being a ring of food around the empty space–and this is carrying over to the wet food, with the end result that we are wasting about a half-can of it every day. He’s going back to the vet for a follow-up visit this weekend; I am hoping we can dispense with the insulin shots, frankly.

I am working from home today and tomorrow; this was my first week of three days in clinic, and I wasn’t nearly as tired last night as I thought I might be, but I was definitely getting sleepy around ten–which is when I’ve been going to bed. I woke up at six again this morning, but stayed in bed for another hour or so, but feel very well rested this morning as I drink my coffee and keep adding another spoonful of wet food in Scooter’s bowl once he can see the bottom again. We started watching The Haunting of Bly House last night, but Paul didn’t really care much for it (he didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House either; I wound up watching it on my own) so that’s probably what I’ll watch this week while making condom packs, and we’ll have to find something else to watch in the evenings. There’s only a few films left in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival any way; and this month is supposed to be my month to watch (or rewatch) horror films anyway–and since their true American heyday began in the 1970’s…they are kind of an off-shoot of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival anyway.

I also remembered that usually every October is when I reread The Haunting of Hill House, and I got down my worn and much-read copy last night after I got home from work. Christ, that opening is such genius! I also think it’s smart to read a haunted house story again while I am writing a ghost story, and perhaps maybe rereading some of my favorite Barbara Michaels ghost stories might be in order. It is the season, after all, and it couldn’t hurt to read some more of Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories, either. (I’ve not done my annual reread of Rebecca in quite some time, either. I guess I can’t call it the ‘annual reread’ if I am not rereading it annually, can I?)

One thing I was doing between clients yesterday was looking fora classic book opening to parody for the next two Scotty books–yes, I have two in mind; French Quarter Flambeaux and Quarter Quarantine Quadrille–and as you may know if you’ve read the series and paid attention, each book opens with a parody of a famous novel’s famous opening (amongst those I’ve parodied thus far include Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Anna Karenina) and I’ve picked out An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser for the former and I think I found one for the latter; but right now I cannot remember what it was. For you Scotty fans, the story for French Quarter Flambeaux is already starting to take form in my mind; it has to do with a closeted Jefferson Parish elected official, the collapse of a hotel on Canal Street, Carnival, and of course the conclusion to the spy intrigue began in Royal Street Reveillon; the second book will be the recycling of a Scotty plot that was originally planned to be the fourth book in the series–and yes, there’s possibly even a third brewing in my mind. I’m not entirely certain I should keep writing the Scotty books, to be honest; I love the characters and I greatly enjoy writing them, but at the same time writing a Scotty book always seems like a safe choice for me; so I need to, if I keep writing them, make them complicated and take chances with them and push myself creatively. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and it’s definitely, I feel, taken a toll on my creativity. I guess we shall see, shall we not?

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

King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Several years ago–more than I really care to recall, really–another writer told me he was “getting older and becoming more concerned with <his> legacy.” This took me aback. I’d never given a thought to such a thing, and to this day, it’s not something I give much thought or consideration to; I still don’t, really. I mean, it’s not really up to us as writers to worry about what legacy we leave behind, is it? I have always assumed once I am dead and gone both me and my work will eventually be forgotten; and even if by some weird, bizarre chance I should have some sort of revival or discovery by some future gay mystery scholar–who cares? I mean, won’t I be dead and beyond caring about such things?

Why should I be concerned about whether I’m just as unknown after death as I was when I was alive?

I became interested in Cornell Woolrich a few years ago; I don’t remember why exactly, or how he came to my attention; I just remember ordering this book and several others over the years. Woolrich has been dead for quite some time, and isn’t really remembered very much today outside of some enthusiasts of crime fiction history. I was very surprised to find out that some of his stories and novels had been filmed; “It Had to Be Murder,” for example, became Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which is something, right? Woolrich was gay and an alcoholic–so many writers of the period were (and frankly, I think using a typewriter for writing had a lot to do with it)–and he eventually died from complications from alcoholism. I thought it would be nice to read some of his work, particularly during Pride Month.

Every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night, about one. You do that when you’re young; walk along beside the river, looking at the water, looking at the stars. Sometimes you do that even when you’re a detective, and strictly speaking, have nothing to do with stars.

He could have taken the bus, ridden home as all the others did, when he came off duty. It wasn’t even the shortest route to where he lived, this walk beside the river. It took him out of his way a little. He didn’t mind that. It sounded better when you whistled, with the water there beside you. It made the stars seem brighter, and it made you want to look at them more, when the water was there below them to catch them upside down. It made you dream better; those dreams you have in your head in your twenties. You can’t dream in a bus, with all your fellows around you.

And so–every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night, about one, a little after.

It really took me awhile to get through this one, to be honest. I started it a few years ago, and it didn’t really grab me; this time I was determined to see my way through to the end. Sickness, and other things–it’s not like the world isn’t ablaze, after all–kept me from completing it, and in all honesty, even finishing it yesterday morning forced me to start skimming. It’s a great concept, but it’s got too much filler.

The concept behind it–a man who can see the future tells a rich man he knows when he is going to die, and the effect this has on the rich man and his daughter–is quite excellent; it’s in the execution that it falters. The opening is strong enough: Shawn, a young policeman, tends to walk home along the river after his shift is over. On this particular night he comes across a trail of things–money, a compact, a lipstick, things that might have fallen out of a woman’s purse; he eventually finds the purse, and the woman it belongs to is on a bridge, ready to jump. He stops her, takes her to an all-night diner, and she tells him the sad story of how her father and she became involved with this man who can see the future and how desperate she and her father have become as the man’s other predictions come true and they become convinced her father is going to die.

But the telling of the story is over half the length of the book, and Woolrich doesn’t take it into prose; he uses the device of her desperately telling her sad tale of woe precisely the way I just described it–she’s telling him the story, and the story drags precisely for that reason: it’s passive storytelling, not active, and certainly not how I would have told it. It’s a personal preference, and Woolrich IS a very good writer; I just don’t think he should have told it so passively. The suspense and drama comes from the question of whether the man with the gift of prophecy is actually a fraud or for real; but if it’s fraud, to what end? The second half of the book moves much faster, but also has a lot of dead weight/filler as well, hence the skimming; it may just be a more dated style. I also find it kind of hard to believe that the New York police would take this story seriously enough to put up to eight men on it–and there’s a horrific scene where the cops, needing access to an apartment so they can eavesdrop on the prophet, essentially set up the woman who lives there (and has been arrested for solicitation before, but not for over six years) for solicitation so they can use her apartment–and dismiss this horrifying abuse of power and her civil rights as just and necessary; and even laugh about her being sent away for at least thirty days!

But overall, it’s a good story and well-told, if a bit slow in places. Woolrich had a way with words, for sure, and sure, I think it’s worth a read; if for no other reason than to see how writers in the past handled suspense.

Was That What It Was?

And here we are, Saturday again; how lovely.

The Queer Noir at the Bar went very well, I think; they wisely let me go first so those whose who followed could make up for any bad impression my reading from Timothy might have given anyone in the audience. What was surprising to me was how actually star-studded the audience was; I stopped watching the comments being posted before I started reading when I saw names like Catriona McPherson, James Ziskin, Alex Segura, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Hank Philippi Ryan, Lori Rader-Day, Kellye Garrett, and Jess Lourey there (amongst many others) and I began to freak out a little–not good before I read on camera–so I closed the chat window, took some deep breaths, and went for it. I actually enjoyed myself, which is rare for me whenever I am doing a reading; but I’ve never read from Timothy before and I’d forgotten how much I love the book.

I really need to get over my aversion to reading my own work and perhaps should revisit it all sometime.

Also, it was lovely to see so much support for queer crime writers from the mainstream mystery community. What a lovely change from when I was first starting.

I slept extremely well last night; we watched a few episodes of Titans (and I was reminded yet again how much I’ve always disliked the second Robin, Jason Todd, and remembered that DC did a fan poll to see whether they should kill him off–with the result being the shocking and classic Batman tale “A Death in the Family”–and I also then remembered that the next episode we will watch will introduce us to Donna Troy, originally Wonder Girl and eventually simply known as Troia in the comics, and got a bit excited. Titans is really well done, and I am looking forward to getting into the second season. There’s also an episode that serves as a backdoor pilot for The Doom Patrol, which I’ve heard good things about, and so perhaps we can get back to that once we’ve finished Titans.

I slept extremely well last night–perhaps the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite some time, with the end result that this morning I don’t feel tired at all. It was a rather exhausting week, truth be told, and doing readings/public appearances–even virtual ones–are quite draining for me. I actually was asleep within moments of getting under the covers, which is also rather unusual for me, and while I did wake up a couple of times, I was able to fall back into the deep, nourishing sleep rather easily. I had to clean up the kitchen last night for the reading–I didn’t dare let anyone see how slovenly a housekeeper I’ve been lately–so this morning I don’t really have to do a whole lot of straightening in here. The dishes are done, the counters are cleaned; I can do some filing (I hid the stacks of paper from the camera) and the floors before making a relatively quick grocery run. I have a shrimp linguini recipe I’ve been wanting to try, and I need to get some mozzarella cheese for it, and a few other things are on my list–not much, but it must be done.

I need to get the Sherlock story finished this weekend, and I also need to work on the Secret Project. I want to finish reading the Woolrich this weekend–I’ve got those lovely new books to chose from, and after hearing Kelly J. Ford read from Cottonmouths last night, I want to dig it out of the TBR pile where it’s languished for far too long and tear into it. I also have Edwin Hill’s books to read, and–there are just too many good books and not nearly the time necessary to get to them all. Heavy heaving sigh. Ah, well, nothing to do but get to it, right?

It’s also lovely to feel like myself again this morning. It’s entirely possible that I might relapse later–I am allowing myself three cups of coffee this morning, to be followed by an electrolyte drink–but I am hoping against hope that won’t happen.

It looks weird outside this morning–perhaps the Saharan dust cloud is still affecting the visibility here, but as opposed to the last two mornings, this is more of a muted yellow out there; not as bright as it usually is here, just a little toned down on the yellow, like someone adjusted it on the RGB scale.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Paninaro

Apparently, this old dog can learn some new tricks.

Yesterday morning, after the relapses of the previous weekend, I decided that I was going to have to give up caffeine again, as well as call my doctor’s office to see if I could get in sooner rather than later. After all, this has been going on for far longer than I would like, and perhaps more drastic measures were called for then just drinking Gatorade and water while cutting caffeine out. A friend suggested that I drink some PediaLyte, so on my way into the office I stopped at CVS, bought some–and suddenly, I felt like Gregalicious again. I just had always assumed, I guess, that Gatorade had whatever you needed in it to get over dehydration, and was apparently wrong. I drank water the rest of my shift, and was feeling a little dry-mouthed when I got home so I had another Pedialyte. Electrolytes were what were called for, and I am going to continue to drink one of these a day (at least) until this dehydration issue is taken care of. It was never something I ever really had to concern myself with–even after dancing all night on Ecstasy–but now, alas, yet another sign that my body is decaying.

But at least I know what to do now, even if it took me two weeks to figure it out.

I do learn, even if it takes me awhile.

It was lovely, though, last night to just feel tired and now it was from not sleeping well, rather than that horrible physical exhaustion.

Of course, I’m also on night four of insomnia.

But I am getting by. I’m still way behind on everything, and keep hoping that today–maybe–I’ll start to dig out from under. One can dream at any rate, can’t one? I need to get the Sherlock story worked on this week–in my fever state the other day I realized something could be cut and something should be added–and of course, last night as I was thinking about it, I started thinking about how much more could be done with the story; how much more could be done around Sherlock in New Orleans in the 1910’s; and how rich and layered and textured such a period piece could be…so of course I started wondering if I should think about possibly doing a Sherlock pastiche in this time period.

Because of course.

I read some more of the Woolrich last night; the pacing has picked up dramatically, although I’m still not sure where it’s going or how it could possibly end; and after Paul got home we tried to find a new show to watch, without much luck. Love Victor lasted about fifteen minutes–I wasn’t a big fan of Love Simon–and we tried a few other things before finally landing on another Agatha Christie adaptation, Ordeal by Innocence, which isn’t quite as I remembered the book either, but it’s an intriguing story and very well filmed and acted–and there are only three one hour episodes, so it’s not much of a commitment.

And let’s face it, Elite is a very tough act to follow.

I am tired again this morning, but this is entirely due to the insomnia as opposed to anything else; I am trying a cup of coffee this morning (after which I am going to have some Pedialyte) and it’s not sitting well with me; it’s kind of stuffy and sticky in the Lost Apartment this morning, and that’s certainly not helping any. I have to run errands after I get off work this afternoon–I have packages waiting at the postal service, and I need to stop at the grocery store for a few things as well–and so I am hoping today will be a productive one. There’s a million emails to sort and answer–and I really need to find my to-do list from before I relapsed into whatever this was the last two weeks and make a new one.

Every day I’m juggling.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.

Nervously

I didn’t get as much writing done yesterday as I would have liked; but I get some of it done. Yesterday was one of those days where I questioned everything I wrote–which is annoying, because it’s part and parcel with imposter syndrome. I hate doubting myself, but at the same time I think I want this to be good so badly that I am being much harsher with myself than I usually am; I guess being in the midst of a tropical storm didn’t help matters much, either.

I finally gave up–I did make some progress, which I’ll settle for–and retired to my easy chair to read around three. I made some good progress on Night Has a Thousand Eyes–Woolrich was a master at setting mood–and then last night we started watching the final season of 13 Reasons Why–which is kind of silly, as the actors playing the teenagers have all aged over the course of the series but haven’t on the show, and, as I said to Paul last night, “they should have called this season 13 Reasons Why: Grad School.” Not to mention the fact that over the course of the show’s run these kids have been involved in first, covering up a sexual assault; proceeding with charges for the sexual assault; another sexual assault; stopping a mass shooting and covering that up; a murder; and on and on and on….it seems to me like all of their parents would be a lot more deeply concerned about their mental health and their response to the trauma they faced; college is going to be an interesting experience for them all. But it’s entertaining–they certainly have dealt with a lot of issues for teens, including coming out; bullying; sexual assault; bodily autonomy; and suicide–which is what kicked the show off to begin with.

Tropical Storm Cristobal passed over us last night as well; it wasn’t so bad here around the Lost Apartment as we had feared it could be; it rained pretty steadily all day, and we certainly had off-and-on rain all day, but the walk and yard never filled up with water (we’ve had more rain from just a regular thunderstorm) and I don’t think any streets in our neighborhood flooded at all; I’ve not checked the news to see how bad it was in the city. I know the coastal parishes got some storm surge flooding, and I do hope those folks are all okay. That’s the thing about tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes–the mix of relief and guilt; relief that where you live didn’t get hit that hard; guilt because somewhere else did and you kind of wished it on by wishing it away from you.

Incidentally, it just started raining again, which will make the trip to and from work a lot of fun, he typed sarcastically.

I was tired pretty much the entire weekend; I’m not really sure what that is all about, but I didn’t sleep well any of the three nights of this past weekend, nor did I sleep well last night or most of last week, which is making me very tired and punchy, and also is contributing to my general sense of exhaustion, I think. I slept well last night–I only woke up a few times–and am a bit lethargic this morning (the endless cycle of ‘didn’t sleep-need caffeine to wake up–can’t sleep–more caffeine is draining, frankly); but am hopeful to be able to kick it into a relatively high gear soon.

And on that note, best to get to it, I suppose. Have a lovely Monday wherever you are–and stay safe.

In Denial

And now we enter that eerie period of waiting and anticipation; as a storm hovers over the overly warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and decides which way north to follow. It appears that the eye of Cristobal is going to pass over Houma on it’s way ashore; Houma is about an hour drive from here, but southeastern Louisiana geography and direction is confusing. You do, for example, have to drive west out of New Orleans, out past the airport, to get there; and you cross the river on the way (I have a horrible story about coming back from doing an HIV testing event out there, but I’ll save that for another time). It’s more due west and south of New Orleans, and it’s levee backs up to what used to be wetlands, but because of coastal erosion the Gulf is on the other side. There’s a native reservation out there as well–Houma is named after the Houma tribe–and it’s one of those places we will undoubtedly lose to the encroaching Gulf at some point. Nicholls State University is also there. Some day when I have time I would love to go out there and explore the town more; when we used to test at Nicholls State I used to think about writing a story set there a lot. There’s a lot of sugar cane fields in the surrounding area as well.

It’s gray outside my windows this morning, which is to be expected; it’s going to be periodically raining and of course, there is the potential for flash flooding as always. I stopped to make groceries on my way home from work last night so I wouldn’t have to go out in it this weekend at all; I am going to go to the gym (I’ve not gone once this week, which is terribly disgraceful, but I was exhausted on every level all week) in a little bit, after which I am going to come home and write and clean the kitchen. My kitchen is absolutely a disaster area–I cleaned up in here on Thursday night, and it’s shocking how quickly it can again look like a bomb went off in here.

We’re still watching London Kills, which I do recommend, and we’ll probably finish it off this evening. We tend to watch movies a lot on the weekends as well–last weekend we watched Dolemite Is My Name, and I have to say, Eddie Murphy should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for that; the fact he’s only gotten one nomination over his lengthy film career is a disgrace–and there’s some good stuff on HBO MAX, which, along with Disney Plus, is a treasure trove. I also keep forgetting we have CBS All Access, which means I have all those new Star Trek series to watch as well as Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, and we also have Apple Plus. THERE ARE SO MANY STREAMING SERVICES NOW.

And it’s been so long since I’ve had the energy to pick up a book I had to stop for a minute to remember what I am actually reading, which is Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do think it’s appropriate reading for Pride Month, and then when I finish that I am going to go back and reread Larry Kramer’s Book Whose Title Got Me a Facebook Ban. I am also thinking I might revisit one of my favorite Three Investigators stories this weekend as well.

I got an idea for two stories yesterday–because when don’t I get ideas for new stories, right? One is “Dance of the Burning Fools”, which is something that actually happened in history, as described by Barbara Tuchman in her seminal work A Distant Mirror; a party at the court of Charles VI of France, which descended into madness when some of the costumed revelers, dressed as animals in fur and pitch, caught fire and some of them burned to death; the King was one of the men in costume but was rescued. I’m not sure how the story will take shape, but I just thought that perhaps an investigation into the tragedy after the fact? I don’t know, it’s very amorphous right now.

The other is called “Happy Hour at the Hangover Bar,” which was inspired by my noticing on my way to work yesterday that there is a bar on Claiborne Avenue with that very name: the Hangover Bar, and yesterday they had a Happy Hour sign out on the sidewalk in front, and the title popped into my head, with a vague idea about a story told from the point of view of the bartender, watching something unfold in his bar during Happy Hour.

Many years ago, maybe in the late 1990’s, I had an idea for a series of short stories about gay men that were all interconnected through a central character of a nameless bartender at Cafe Lafitte in Exile; one of my best (in my opinion) short stories was one I wrote with that idea in mind; it eventually evolved and the bartender himself became the main character. The story was called “Unsent”, and in one of my proudest moments as a writer, a friend who’d arranged for a collection of my erotic stories to be published in Spanish (thanks again, Lawrence Schimel!) forwarded an email to me from the copy editor, who’d emailed him to tell him that the story had made her cry. I think about that collection–that I’d intended to call The Bartender–every now and again; but so many ideas, so little time, and so much laziness will leave it on the backburner probably forever.

And now, I have to depart for the gym. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and keep the people of Houma, Louisiana in your thoughts this weekend.

I Want a Lover

Sunday morning and I’m sipping away at my first cappuccino (the cappuccinos went so well yesterday morning that I decided to treat myself to them again this morning) and I feel pretty good. It’s absolutely lovely outside this morning–the temperature is in the low eighties–and bright, sunshine glowing everywhere. New Orleans has the most beautiful sky when the sun is shining, and the light here is exceptionally gorgeous.

It also occurs to me that cappuccinos are probably the most cost effective way for me to get my morning caffeine as well. If I used the Keurig, I can go through as many as four K-cups each day, and even the cheaper ones from off-brands aren’t exactly cheap. But cappuccinos require me to grind beans, and bags of beans are certainly cheaper than boxes of K-cups (I also have the reusable ones, but they don’t work that great; I always wind up with grounds in my coffee, grounds in my coffee and you’re so vain…oops, sorry for the musical interlude) and they also go further. I also only need two of these every morning, and they are kind of delicious.

Yesterday was kind of a nice day, really. I slept really well on Friday night, and so was rested, and of course, the cappuccinos gave me an awesome joly of caffeine that gave me the energy to power through some work I had to do yesterday. I finished that around two, and then went to the gym. I worked out very hard, which felt amazing, and then I came home to do the dishes and laundry. I also intended to do the floors, but my muscles were worn out and tired, and instead I repaired to my easy chair, where I watched the last two episodes of The Movies, and, being kind of mentally exhausted, just curled up with Barbara Tuchman’s essay collection, Practicing History. I do love Tuchman, and I also love that she didn’t really have any background in studying history, yet became a major historian.

I went to bed relatively early last night as well, and again, had yet another lovely night’s sleep. And here I am this morning, with a cup of cappuccino, preparing to answer some emails and try to get my inbox cleared out (for now, at any rate) and then I am going to try to work on the Secret Project for a while. My goal was to get it done and out of the way today, so I can send it off into the wilds tomorrow; wish me luck. Most of this is revising and rewriting, with very little new writing needing to be done. I actually enjoy revising and rewriting, surprisingly enough; it always seems easier to me than writing the first draft, which inevitably is a disastrously written horrible mess. I love making order out of chaos; which also explains why I let messes build in the house and the filing to pile up. I simply love making order out of a mess. I’m not sure what that says about me and who I am, but it’s true.

However, I’m also kind of hoping today that I’ll be able to dive into Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do want to reread Faggots for the Reread Project, but it can wait, and the Woolrich has been waiting far too long for me to get to. Besides, it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve read something new to me, and I really want to start reading more of the Woolrich canon. I’ve got one of his short story collections on my Kindle, and between reading one of his novels and adding him into the Short Story Collection (which reminds me, I need to read W. Somerset Maugham’s “Rain”, which I started reading a while back), I think I can start developing an appreciation for him, as well as an understanding for his work. I want to enjoy reading them for what they are, but I will also, of course, be looking for that elusive “gay sensibility” in his writing that is most likely there and has been ignored by critics for decades.

It was definitely there in “It Had to Be Murder.”

And on that note, I’m going to head back into the spice mines. The sooner I get the work finished, the sooner I can get back to my easy chair with a book, and is there any better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with a book?

I think not!