You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Ah, Venice.

I’ve always loved Venice: the idea of a city that exists in a place where no city really should but does anyway (like New Orleans); a city with a long and remarkable history that at one time was one of the major powers of the world, despite not really having much population yet somehow carving out an empire; and always dreamed of visiting there. When Paul and I lucked into our marvelous trip to Italy back in 2014 (I think it was 2014? I could be wrong, it may have been 2015 but it really doesn’t matter) I definitely wanted to include Venice in our itinerary. We wound up only being there for twenty-four hours, but I was enchanted (I was enchanted by all of Italy, really), and have always wanted to go back and spend more time there. We were incredibly lucky when we were there; it was the week before Labor Day weekend, and there were no real crowds there (I have since seen horrible pictures of crowds so thick you can barely move), and we just wandered around looking at beautiful buildings and crossing canals and going into churches and eating gelato–lots and lots of gelato (which was every day, everywhere, while we were in Italy–we even got some at the airport when we flew back out).

Venice is also the setting for my all-time favorite novella and movie based on it (Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now”). I love the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, in which a lonely unmarried teacher comes to Venice and is also enchanted by how gorgeous the city is, and also finds a bittersweet romance with a handsome Italian man. One of my favorite parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is set there. I finally read Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as part of my “plague days” reading last year when COVID-19 shut down the country; as well as Daphne du Maurier’s take on the tale, “Ganymede.” John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, about the La Fenice fire and the insanity in rebuilding the fabled opera house, was a remarkably insightful look at how things work in Venice, as well as the restoration works on the city and its gnarled bureaucracy, as well as the blasé attitudes of the locals about how corrupt and insane everything is there.

It goes without saying that the similarities between Venice and New Orleans are striking, and run much deeper than the constant threat of water and Carnival.

I started writing a novella this year set in Venice–which I’ve wanted to write about ever since I visited–and at some point I will revise it to get it ready for publication; it’s on my to-do list–and so naturally, Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime was added to my TBR pile as soon as I knew of it.

And what a delight it turned out to be.

Down below the cry of gulls, below floors of tourists undressing and dressing for dinner, below even the shrinking figure of his killer. a man lies crumpled and bleeding. He’s been dead for only a few seconds. He’s sprawled on his stomach, his body twisted at the hips, his left arm hooked in a U above his head. From a distance, from high above, he looks almost as if he were sleeping. It’s the blood leaking through his pink shirt that gives the crime away.

Outside, the sun is setting on what is unarguably the most beautiful city on the planet. There are a lot of dead bodies in this town. Upstairs in the man’s room, an English guidebook recommends taking a boat out to San Michele to visit an entire island of them. Among the legions buried there are the composer Igor Stravinsky, the ballet director Sergei Diaghilev, and the poet Ezra Pound.

The city is sinking and has been for centuries. Enjoy it while you can. The blood is pooling around the body. Screams are blaring from all directions. The killer is making a run for the exit.

But none of this has happened yet.

I don’t think I’d heard of Christopher Bollen before I heard about this book; I may have read some of his work (he writes for both Vanity Fair and Interview magazines), but I was not prepared for how good this book would be.

And the really good news is its his fourth; he has three more books for me to read and cherish and enjoy. Huzzah! (It’s always delightful to discover a new-to-you writer you love, isn’t it?)

The premise behind this book is pretty genius: a young gay couple who have fallen quickly and madly in love with each other, come up with a “foolproof” plan to con a wealthy douchebag out of enough money for the two to ride off into the sunset together after paying off their unsurmountable debt…and Venice is where the action happens. Bollen spent time in Venice interning at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which pays off in this complex and riveting noirish thriller. Bollen brings Venice to life in a way that few other writers have; you can smell the canals, taste the food, enjoy the bite of the liquor and savor the wine and the spellbinding beauty of the city through the eyes of his characters.

Our young, intrepid gay couple are Nick Brink and Clay Guillory. Nick came to New York to escape his sterile and stale childhood home in the Midwest, and soon has a very well-to-do older man in love with him; Ari, who is an expert in antique silver and runs one of the few silver businesses left in the country. Nick loves Ari, but it’s not a deep passionate love; it seems more like gratitude and appreciation more than anything else. Ari does love Nick, but his plans for their future (he also employs Nick at the silver shop, which is pivotal to the plot of the book) are making Nick claustrophobic and feeling trapped. Nick looks at the years ahead with Ari (and possibly a child) and is terrified of what his life will become; while this is stable and nice and everything he could have possibly wanted…now that he has it, he’s not sure it is what he wanted after all.

Clay is the surviving companion of an older gay man, Freddy van der Haar, last scion of one of the first families of New York (going back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch settlement); Freddy was one of the last surviving colorful characters of the wild and crazy Bohemian artist scene in New York, and had the wealth to really pursue the kind of life and lifestyle that no longer seems possible or to exist anymore. Everyone, of course, believes Clay is a gold digging conniver who may have even murdered Freddy for the inheritance. But the truth is not how it appears on the surface; there was no money left, and Clay has even gone deeply into debt taking care of Freddy as he declines slowly into death. Clay owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to student loans and medical bills, and doesn’t see any way out of his situation.

The two meet by chance at Freddy’s memorial service; Ari knew Freddy, of course, and Nick doesn’t want to be there. He slips out for air and meets Clay on the steps–Clay isn’t attending (he knows very well what Freddy’s friends think of him) but just wants to make sure that the flowers he ordered arrived. They encounter each other again shortly thereafter, when Clay brings in the last of the van der Haar silver collection for appraisal and possible sale; unfortunately it’s all worthless junk. But the mutual attraction is there, and soon Nick is slipping away from work and his shared apartment with Ari for afternoon trysts at Clay’s inherited brownstone in Brooklyn, which he is selling to help pay down the debts of Freddy’s estate as well as his own.

And the two lovers come up with a plan: part of Clay’s inheritance is a small piece of a palazzo in Venice which the van der Haars once owned completely. The rest of the palazzo is now owned by a wealthy investor named Richard West (whom Freddy despised), who has an obsession with the van der Haar family and wants to possess some of their silver. Why not have Clay try to sell the junk to West, and have Nick–who works for an antique silver firm, after all–falsely authenticate it so they can pay off all that debt and live happily ever after? West is a major scumbag, after all, who fucked Clay over once already; and is it really a crime to fuck over someone who is so awful? Not only will their debts be paid but Clay will finally have vengeance against the man who cheated him out of his dream job…and so begins the game of cat-and-mouse.

And what a delight it is. Bollen is a terrific writer–his gift for sentences and paragraph construction is amazing–and his characters all seem quite real. He peoples the book with a terrific supporting cast, all of whom are actualized; from Daniela the transwoman (who is old school; refuses the term “trans”) with whom Nick stays in Venice, to Freddy himself to West and his entourage. As the deception goes deeper, the pacing also begins to pick up, as well as the sense of dread as they change and adapt their plan and decide to go for even more money…and like the best Hitchcock films and all great noirs, the deeper they get into the deception, the more dangerous the game becomes.

Venice itself is a character; Bollen writes about the city with such love and affection that it becomes impossible to imagine the book being set anywhere else–and he also addresses the primary issue in Venice: the crowds of tourists and the outsiders buying apartments to rent out as Air BnB’s, thus driving up the cost of real estate and living in the city that is forcing the locals out (just like New Orleans! Something else the two have in common!)–and this also plays an integral part in the story.

I loved this book, and even though for a while it was making me think I need to scrap my Venice novella…I soon realized I don’t have to. My novella is in the perspective of a tourist falling in love with the city, whereas Bollen’s is written from the POV of someone with intimate, personal knowledge of the city that comes from living there and truly experiencing what it is to be a Venetian.

Highly recommended; it’s a great read.

No One Else on Earth

Wednesday!

So, I guess Tropical Storm Fred is out there, taking aim at the Gulf Coast again…the Cone of Uncertainty looks good for us at the moment, but there’s also no telling if it will shift or what a hurricane/tropical system will do or where it will go; which is quite naturally a bit anxiety-inducing. Nothing to do but keep a wary eye peeled for the action in the Gulf, along with the guilt-inducing hopes it will go somewhere else–which always makes me feel like a shitty person, frankly–but is anyone so selfless they’d think hope it comes here and spares everyone else?

I rather doubt it. In fact, I’d be highly suspicious of said person’s mental stability, in all honesty. Who wishes disaster on themselves?

Although I would imagine, as with anything, there are some.

However, checking just now for this morning’s updates, it’s looking quite unpleasant for Florida now–the threat to us is diminished a bit from yesterday, but still is there.

I also will have some news eventually; sorry to be vague, but I tend to not like to think about or talk about things until they are for certain–been burnt too many times–but I am kind of excited and thrilled and it’s always lovely when a new challenge comes along and presents itself to me. (The thrill of a new challenge, incidentally, inevitably wears off when I am in the weeds working on the challenge) I also got invited to do an author’s event, which is kind of fun and exciting (I was thinking about going anyway, because friends are guests of honor) but until said invitation is confirmed, I probably shouldn’t come right out and say anything about it, either. VAGUE VAGUE VAGUE.

Paul has been watching videos–while he can’t sleep (it’s different for him than me; I just don’t fall completely asleep. He has trouble falling asleep but eventually does–it just takes him a very long time to do so)–about how to improve your ability to sleep well AND to fall asleep. Before I went to bed last night he was telling me about these videos and the various techniques they recommend. “Apparently, the optimal temperature for sleep–both falling asleep and staying asleep–is sixty eight degrees,” he said as I got under the covers.

“So,” I replied, trying and failing not to sound smug, “all these years I’ve been saying we need to turn the thermostat down to sixty-eight at night for sleep, there’s actually science saying I was right about that?” (I had noticed that I slept better when it’s sixty-eight degrees in the bedroom–years and years ago, to obvious resistance.)

This is, of course, the long way of saying that he turned the thermostat down to sixty-eight and it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time–to the point where I didn’t want to get out of the bed this morning (I never do, but it was a literal struggle this morning). So, clearly there’s something to it. I can’t wait till Friday when I can sleep as late as I want to–it’s going to be my day to do nothing without guilt this week–and feel amazing when I get up.

I worked on “The Sound of Snow Falling” last evening; the opening really needed some work (mainly because I didn’t know what direction the story was going to go when I started writing it, other than the main character was going to kill the other character–but I needed what Daphne du Maurier called “the breaking point” to be better set up, and the flood of resentments and grudges and anger that follows in the wake of that breaking point. The opening was fine, it just no longer fit the rest of the story–although, with my complete and utter lack of confidence in my writing, especially of short stories–I can’t help but wonder if I am wreaking havoc with the story with these revisions. You’d think after all this time in this business–writing everything you can imagine, really–I’d eventually gather some confidence in what I am doing; you’d be wrong to think that, of course. Don’t get me wrong–I do have some confidence in my ability to write stories; I couldn’t do this if I didn’t. But the primary issue is that every new story, every new book, every thing I start writing–begins with excitement and confidence, only to die off eventually as I am plagued with doubt and my confidence wanes and yes, I begin to wonder if I’ve lost my ability to write anything half-way decent, let alone readable.

Sigh. It never ends. I’ll go to my grave thinking I could have written this better….

But I am looking forward to this weekend, frankly. I’m really looking forward to a day where I literally have nothing to do but lounge around the house, reading and being a slacker and doing things for myself and myself only. It should be lovely–although yes, I am quite aware that I will inevitably clean or wind up doing some things around the house; I am not the type to just spend an entire day doing nothing.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines–have a most lovely and edifying Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Got to Be Real

Here it is, Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day yet again–MADNESS.

I wrote about twelve hundred words or so last night–not bad but not great–but it was also a transitional section of the novella, as we get ready to launch into the third and final act, and I’ve always struggled with transitions.But that’s cool–I did get twelve hundred words out before giving up the ghost for the evening–and while the night was not as productive as recent writing sessions, I’ll take whatever I can these days; especially on a work-at-the-office day, which tend to be more wearing than work-at-home days. Tonight, for example, after work I need to run errands before getting home and going to the gym, so not only do I have a very short window for writing, but I will also most likely be very worn out from the work out (even though it is likely to be a half-assed weeknight workout). But since this is a short week, I will be home for the next two days…

I am making a lot of progress on my efforts to get the apartment under control; I was expecting to be further along by now than I am, but Monday for whatever reason I was so exhausted I couldn’t get anything really done–cleaning or writing. I am also beginning to get the sense that July is starting to slip through my fingers again–never a good thing; I hate that time is beginning to feel like quicksilver in my hands, before I know it, it will be my birthday and I will be sixty–but the right amount of focus should be able to get me back into gear. Last night wasn’t a good night for sleeping, alas; but perhaps tonight will give me the rest I need. I am seeing my new doctor next week at long last; I am going to talk to him about upping the prescription refills and possibly prescribing something non-narcotic to help me sleep. I think Ambien is not a narcotic, but isn’t that the medication where people do things–like sleep-walk or sleep-drive? That makes me nervous…I get into enough trouble without having to add the worry of getting in trouble while I am asleep.

It looks to be a gloomy, rainy day today; which is never helpful when I am already feeling sleepy. But I shall make it through, and I will go to the gym, and I will pay these pesky bastard bills, and I will get some writing done. So let it be written, so let it be done.

I think we’re going to start watching a Swedish show on Netflix, Young Royals, which appears to be an angsty teen soap at an exclusive school with some queer content, which makes it all the more fun. I also need to get back to reading Bath Haus. My copy of S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears should be arriving today; I am itching to sink my teeth into that one, and of course I’ve got some other Diversity Project books piled up on my end table–there’s Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime–which I’ve been putting off reading because it’s set in Venice, and I wanted to get the first draft of “Festival of the Redeemer” finished before I read another gay crime story set in Venice. And since that draft is now finished–and now that I know how it ends, and I do think the ending is perfect; I just have to go through it and clean it up significantly, including rewriting some of the passages–I can move on to the Bollen after I finish the Cosby. I also have David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts on the table, and I really want to get to that one, too.

Not to mention everything I have on the iPad. I was thinking on my drive to work this morning that I really would like to go back and reread Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk?–I really enjoyed the Reread Project when I was having difficulty reading during the pandemic; and I am overdue on my reread of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which may be my favorite book of all time; I also want to read some more of the du Mauriers that I have not already read, like The House on the Strand, Rule Britannia, and The Parasites.

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

I Think I’m In Love With You

Good morning, Friday, hope all is well with everyone out there in Constant Readerland, as we head into a three day weekend. HUZZAH!

I didn’t write again yesterday–I know, I know; I’m trying not to read the worst into two days of not writing back-to-back–but I did reread both “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” (what’s done so far), and yes, both need revision and work and clean-up, but they also aren’t as terrible and won’t require near as much work as I might have feared (well, did fear). I got the tone and mood right, which was the most important thing in these drafts, and what I was really looking for in the rereading. I was also worried they might start too slow, or be too wordy, before the story gets underway–a worry one has with a novella; finding the right spot to start because you have more room than in a short story and thus there’s a danger of that happening. But overall, I am quite pleased with both. I am going to get back to work on “Stranger” today after work, and I am then going to spend some time with a revision of “Redeemer.” I also reread other stories in progress–notably, “The Sound of Snow Falling” and “A Dirge in the Dark”–with an eye to the repairs the stories need; I already know what I need to do to fix “This Thing of Darkness,” which is an odd story and will undoubtedly need to go into the next short story collection as no one will likely publish it. I am going to try to get the other two submitted to magazines for publication; wish me luck with that, and then next week I am going to try to get back to work on Chlorine again, with a goal of finishing a very rough first draft by the end of the month–it may bleed over into August, which is also fine.

I also spent some time with Daphne du Maurier’s Echoes from the Macabre after I finished reading my own stuff, and Jesus, was she good. “Don’t Look Now” remains one of my favorite all time short stories; the tone and voice she managed to get into her work was so extraordinary and exceptional…and distinct; I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone who managed to have such a powerful authorial voice that was so easily identifiable yet managed to change enough from book to book and from story to story to ring authentic to her characters; the main characters in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are so incredibly distinct and different, yet you know without doubt you are reading du Maurier.

God, I need to make time to read. The books are piling up and Shawn Cosby’s Razorblade Tears will be arriving next week.

We finished watching Line of Duty last night and yes, the series finale was a little bit underwhelming. I get why it ended the way it did–every season was kind of unsatisfying at the end–and the end of the series was definitely in line with the tone and mood the show had set from the very beginning…the acting and writing remained en pointe as well, but yeah, I too was left feeling a bit saddened and disappointed. But most of all, disappointed that there won’t be more. We really enjoyed the show every step of the way, and hate to say goodbye to it. But Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, and Outer Banks will all be dropping new seasons this month, so huzzah for that!

Today I will be doing data entry for most of the day, and then it’s three day weekend time. I also spent some time last night cleaning and organizing and trying to get filing done–it’s not finished, but my work space doesn’t look as horrendous as it did yesterday morning. My primary project for this weekend is to do something with my workspace to open it up and make it more roomy rather than the tightly packed cozy thing I’ve had going on for so long. While it certainly has never affected my productivity, some of this stuff needs to go–and I really need to clean out my file cabinet, which is an odious chore I’ve put off for YEARS.

Oh! They fixed the air yesterday, so the upstairs and downstairs now are at the same temperature. It felt weird coming downstairs this morning…it’s felt like entering a meat locker for weeks, and today it’s temperate–could be adjusted down a little bit, because it’s humid outside and the air feels heavy in here this morning, which isn’t good.

I made jambalaya last night, too–I’d been hankering for some lately, and so the other day when I was making groceries I bought some turkey sausage and a box of Zatarain’s (which is excellent when you’re not in the mood to make it from scratch, which I knew I wouldn’t be. I have an excellent from scratch recipe from the Louisiana cookbook Can Your Mama Make a Roux?), but as I said, yeah, not in the mood. I cut up the sausage and sautéed it in olive oil, and then added it with the Zatarain’s and it turned out quite marvelously. I had two bowls, if that tells you anything.

And why have I not used jambalaya in a Scotty title? Seriously, falling down on my Louisiana job, aren’t I?

Okay, that data isn’t going to enter itself. Catch you in the morning, Constant Reader!

I Am What I Am

Wednesday morning and I am I ever glad to be getting closer to a holiday weekend, Constant Reader–you have NO idea. The last two days weren’t easy–while not really having insomnia all night, I did for at least half the night both Sunday and Monday nights–and as such wasn’t able to remain centered as much as I would have liked. I did sleep deeply, restfully and well last night–I think making it to the gym was a huge help in that regard–and I certainly feel much better this morning than I have since the break I’ve had to take because of the tooth extraction. Heavy sigh.

I did, however, manage to write just under three thousand words last night on “Never Kiss a Stranger,” more or less (slightly less, I actually think). While it feels good to be writing so much, and doing so much on first drafts, I am very well aware that all of these things I am working on will require editing and revision before they are fit for human consumption, or to be seen by anyone else outside of me. But I am being productive again in the old way–the way I used to be–and it’s a lovely lovely feeling to be able to produce so much work in a few hours again. “Stranger” is going to need more work than “Festival of the Redeemer,” I believe; it’s out of order and I am bunching things together that need to be spread out more across the story, but that’s what edits and revisions are for. I’m also not breaking my novellas up into separate scenes, or chapters, the way so many writers of novellas do; but that’s a decision for me to make later, during the editorial process.

This, by the way, is why I hate editing myself. Inevitably I will come to a problem section and think, fuck, I don’t want to fix this it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass why did I leave this for my later self to deal with, you asshole?

It’s also why, I think, I’ve not been as productive in the last few years as I used to be; I have a tendency to self-edit as I go and try not to spend any time writing something that I am going to have to fix later, which is stupid–don’t get it right get it written. This inevitably leads me to not wanting to do what always works–start writing and eventually, as I keep quoting Mr. King, the hole in the page will open and the next thing I know I’ve written a lot. And as much of a pain in the ass as it can be to have to fix things, it’s easier to fix things than to write something completely new. Although…maybe that isn’t the case? Since all I have to do is focus and start writing?

Heavy sigh. But I want to get this finished because I want to spend the weekend editing.

Tonight when I get off work I am going to put the dishes away and finish the load of laundry I started last night–it’s been sitting in the dryer since I went to bed last night, and so it will need to be fluffed and folded–and then I am going to try to do some straightening up around the Lost Apartment so it won’t be a complete disaster when I get up tomorrow for the first of my work-at-home days (condom packs and data entry! woo-hoo!). I also have to make a Costco list for this weekend, and I want to finish reading Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow so I can start PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus…I also want to get back to the Short Story Project; I want to reread some of Daphne du Maurier’s short storie–“Don’t Look Now” in particular, and I also want to start some organizing of this essay collection I am thinking of doing…sigh. This is, you see, why I think I am lazy. I always want to get so much more done than I am actually capable of doing, and as a result when I cannot get it all done I think it’s because I am lazy and took some time off or goofed off for a while, and never can recognize or accept that DOWN TIME IS NECESSARY.

I really need to stop beating myself up over taking down time. It is self-defeating, and leads to other mental health issues, always.

And one of my goals for the year was to be kinder to myself, so I need to stop beating myself up over this kind of stuff and always remember: it is what it is.

It is what it is.

And on that note, back to the spice mines with me!

Make It Happen

Sunday morning after a fabulous night’s sleep, and I feel great! I actually stayed in bed until past eight–I got up at six and again at seven, but felt so relaxed and rested and the bed felt so comfortable I chose to remain there and keep resting. I don’t remember any dreams from last night, either–which is also delightful.

Yesterday was a very good day in Gregalicious-town. I managed to write somewhere around 3500 words, finishing the first draft of “The Sound of Snow Falling”, got some serious cleaning done around here (there’s more to do today, as there always is more to do), and then last evening we went to see our friends Pat and Michael in Riverbend, and got to hang out on their terrace (it’s too high up, really, to be considered a balcony) for several hours getting caught up. We hadn’t seen them for quite some time–even before COVID started–and I’ve missed them terribly. It was lovely talking to them and hanging out–I haven’t laughed that hard and often in I don’t know how long–and came home feeling quite good about anything and everything.

There’s really nothing like good friends, is there?

And I have so many of them. #trulyblessed #Ilovemylife

There’s still some slight pain from the empty tooth socket, but I am not too terribly concerned about it. I know it’s not dry-socket, which is always the big fear with tooth removal, and I have my mellow prescription pain pills if it becomes too much to deal with–which I doubt–and am really looking forward to getting back to solid food sooner than later. I probably should make a grocery run today–it’s not completely necessary, but it never hurts to stay ahead on things–and since I am out of the gym until Tuesday evening, it won’t hurt to get out of the house for a little while.

Today I want to revise the first chapter of Chlorine and perhaps start working on another novella–I can’t decide if I want to work on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” or “Never Kiss a Stranger”; I’ll probably decide once I actually start getting to it. I also want to reread duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now'” this week, as well as get back into my reading–I don’t feel quite as stressed out about writing as I was a while back, so taking time out to read every Sunday doesn’t seem like too much of a distraction from writing any more.. This probably also has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been getting so much writing done lately…I’m not as worried about the hole in the page opening and me falling in as I used to be (thank you, Stephen King, for that analogy, from Misery). I also want to do some more cleaning and organizing at some point during the day as well…and maybe, just maybe, get some editing done this week. I definitely need to make a to-do list this morning for this week, which also includes ye olde email inbox, which is truly daunting.

Mmmmmmm, my coffee is good this morning.

So, overall, a lovely Sunday morning for one Gregalicious; since I can’t go to the gym today, perhaps I’ll go for a walk later this afternoon. We shall see how it all plays out, shan’t we?

It’s lovely to be feeling so good these days, frankly. I don’t know if it’s the COVID-potentially-be-over thing, or what, but I’ve been feeling good for quite some time and hope that I can keep a positive outlook going forward. I know a lot of that has to do with me being able to sleep every night; the insomnia is such the first domino to fall in the misery sweepstakes, but again, it’s lovely to be able to sleep, to be writing again, to have energy again, and to be able to look at things in a positive light again. I always forget how important it is to stay focused on being positive; at finding the good inside the bad–which isn’t always easy–which was part of the life change I went through at thirty-three back in the day in 1994 when I started righting the ship of my life and starting to go for the things I wanted out of life. One can choose misery or joy; I try to always choose joy.

And yes, I am aware of how that may sound; how goody-goody two shoes it can come across. But as Scotty always says, life doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle–it’s how you handle it that matters.

I am really looking forward to getting back into writing about Scotty again, to be honest. It’s always fun to spend time in his world.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

False God

Yesterday’s big vacation excursion was Costco.

What? you may very well wonder in horror, You went to Costco TWO DAYS BEFORE THANKSGIVING?

It wasn’t bad at all, frankly. Costco’s parking lot can be packed and yet I rarely feel crowded inside the store, and the checking out and paying part of the trip never seems intrusive, never seems to take forever the way it can in other stores, and I never really mind. Plus, everyone who works there is so friendly, polite and nice–this makes the experience ever so much more pleasant. I even took Paul with me, and even that wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be. (I took Paul to Costco a while ago to get new glasses; it was his first time there and he loves it. How can you not, frankly? And every time I do go to Costco I wish I had a bigger freezer. Yes, honey, that looks wonderful, but we don’t have room for that in the freezer, sorry.)

I really hate that going to Costco makes me wish I owned a separate freezer.

Today is also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills-Day. and of course, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have a million things to do today–including making groceries–but once I get home from today’s errands I have every intention of not leaving the house over the course of the next four days for anything other than the gym. My back is sore again this morning, which is odd; how can it have not been sore since the other day and then have the soreness return again is beyond me. But I keep meaning to use the massage roller and never get to it; perhaps that is something I need to take a little more seriously and should do every morning as I swill down my daily caffeine supply.

I didn’t write a damned thing other than my blog yesterday–and I really don’t know how that happened, or how the day escaped me the way it did. It would, of course, be incredibly easy to simply blame it on the Costco trip and be done with it; Costco is a disruption, no matter how you look at it, and of course the living room corner is filled with boxes now–but I really shouldn’t allow that to make the rest of the day essentially worthless to me for writing (although, really, in all honesty, I pretty much will seize on any excuse not to write), but I did make some notes in my journal about “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–its at that kinda-stuck place now–but I really need to be buckling down on Bury Me in Shadows. The cover is coming–I looked at options yesterday, which is always fun (and also makes the book seem more real in some ways to me)–and I am no longer looking at this week as oh look at all the free time I have anymore. I haven’t done any deep cleaning, I haven’t organized anything, and yet somehow I am already on day 5 of my vacation with very little to actually show for it, other than I feel incredibly well rested and level emotionally, which is always a plus.

I kept thinking, all day yesterday, that it was Thursday and today would be Friday. This is a direct result of working from home on Thursdays and Fridays for so long, methinks. It was quite disorienting, and even this morning I have to keep reminding myself it’s Wednesday and not Friday. I have a gazillion emails to answer–it really is a bottomless pit–and of course I must pay the bills this morning as well (a loathsome chore) and I am definitely am going to write today once I get all that out of the way.

That is the plan at the current moment, of course.

I don’t even know what I’ve been doing these past few vacation days, if I am going to be completely honest about it. Yeah, the Lost Apartment looks better, but I haven’t even been reading much, either.

We did watch the new Sarah Paulson movie Run on Hulu last night, and it was much better–and completely different–than I was expecting. Paulson is one of our finest actresses of this period, and I’m glad she was here for the explosion of great television so her talents can be appreciated fully. She was terrific in Ratched, and she is terrific in this as well. It’s another one of those crazy moms with Munchhausen by proxy, like the Gypsy Lee Blanchard story and that side plot on Season One of The Politician (how bad must season two have been, despite Judith Light and Bette Midler, that it came and went so quickly without much notice?), but it’s not the same story at all and it’s quite excellently suspenseful; imagine if that plot line was given to Patricia Highsmith or Daphne du Maurier to write–that’s what Run is. And quite enjoyable, frankly. It’s also not getting much buzz, at least not that I’m aware of, and that’s a real shame.

And on that note I am. heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thanksgiving Eve, everyone.

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.

Enchanted

Daphne du Maurier has long been one of my favorite authors–ever since I discovered her short story collection Echoes from the Macabre when I was eleven or twelve; the first story in that collection, “Don’t Look Now,” remains one of my all time favorites; later in my teens I finally read Rebecca, and it has remained one of my favorite novels of all time, getting the periodic reread. One of the things I loved about du Maurier, as I tore through several of her other novels in the wake of Rebecca (The King’s General, The Flight of the Falcon, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchmen’s Creek) was that her novels subverted expectation; her books were marketed, or at least so it seemed to me, as romantic suspense novels and/or historical romances; yet the books were anything but that (whenever someone refers to Rebecca as romantic suspense it’s all I can do not to laugh in their face). The King’s General, for example, based on actual history, does not have a happy ending at all; and even the others aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. About seven or eight years ago I finally read My Cousin Rachel, at the recommendation of a friend who couldn’t believe I’d never read it; once I had, it immediately shot to the top of my list of all-time favorites.

I’ve not finished the du Maurier canon–not because I don’t want to, but primarily because she’s dead and I know at some point, I will run out of du Maurier fiction. I know this is silly; I should, now that sixty is just on the horizon, start finishing the canons of my favorites because it would really suck to die and not be finished with them. (But then we always think we have more time than we actually do, don’t we? It’s sometimes very difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I am, indeed, as old as I am.)

But watching the film of The Other made me think of this particular du Maurier, and I decided to give it a shot.

I left the car by the side of the cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins. It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the route nationale, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the windscreen wiper.

Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me during the past twenty-four hours had intensified. It was inevitable, always, during the last days of holiday; but this time, more than ever before, I was aware of time having passed too swiftly, not because the days had been overfull but because I had achieved nothing. The notes I had written for the lectures I was to give during the coming autumn were scholarly, precise, with dates and facts that I should afterwards dress up in language designed to strike a spark in the dull minds of inattentive students. But even if I held their flagging interest for a brief half hour, I should know, when I had finished, that nothing I had said to them was of any value, that I had only given them images of history brightly coloured–waxwork models, puppet figures strutting through a charade. The real meaning of history would have escaped me, because i had never been close enough to people.

It was all too easy to lose oneself in a past half real, half imaginary, and so be blind to the presesnt. In the cities I knew best, Tours, Blois, Orleans, I lost myself in fantasy, seeing other walls, older streets, the crumbling corners of once glittering facades, and they were ore live to me than any real structure before my eyes, for in their shadows lay security; but in the hard light of reality there was only doubt and apprehension.

There are very few writers who can write so poignantly about depression and dissatisfaction with life; the dark night of the soul, as it were. This is where the hero of The Scapegoat finds himself at the opening of the novel. John, our thirty-eight year old hero, is an Englishman who teaches French history, is fluent in French, and is becoming incredibly dissatisfied with his life. Although his French is flawless and spoken like a native, his fascination and love for France has slowly become disaffecting for him–he feels like he doesn’t belong there and doesn’t quite fit in as he is not actually French; his life is humdrum and routine and lonely; he has no family, few friends, no loves. He has stopped in Le Mans on his way to visit a monastery, and as he walks around the rain-drenched city, he feels his difference very deeply; and then something strange happens: someone mistakes him for someone else, and then very shortly thereafter he runs into his mirror image–and his life is never going to be the same again.

The double, Jean, the Comte de Gue, is also dissatisfied and bored with his own life, and the two men have a few drinks. Eventually they repair to a disreputable looking hostel for another drink–and then our hero, John, passes out, only to wake up more than fourteen hours later to find that “his” driver is there, waiting for him to take him home. He soon realizes all of his things–passport, wallet, ID, car keys–are gone; he has two choices open to him. He can either tell this fantastic story of his to the police and to the driver, who will most likely judge him insane….or go along with the pretense, and slip into the life of his double.

Naturally, since this is a du Maurier tale, he chooses the latter.

In the hands of a lesser writer this contrivance–obviously, without making this decision the rest of the novel cannot happen–would be too glaring, too crazy, too much, really; but du Maurier does such a magnificent job of capturing his own boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction with the dull, plodding life he has made for himself that it actually almost makes sense for him to made this insane decision, for how can he possibly hope to pull off such an imposture? The look-alike story has been done to death over the years, and its overuse on soap operas–generally used when a popular actor has left the show, was killed off, and wants to return; or the double is evil and is taking over the good character’s life (they did this on Dynasty, poorly, with a Krystle look alike)–has made it seem trite and boring and over-used, as well as ridiculous. But Dickens used it for A Tale of Two Cities (even making his dopplegangers English and French, as du Maurier did), and of course, Mary Stewart’s brilliant The Ivy Tree also used the look-alike trope quite ingeniously. (Apparently Josephine Tey did the same with Brat Farrar.) Du Maurier does make this work–ironically, the only creatures who doubt that the Comte is actually the Comte are dogs; but then again, even when he behaves out of character for his look-alike or doesn’t know something he should, no one has any reason to doubt him or believe that a double has replaced their Jean. Would you suspect someone you love and know quite well has been replaced by a twin? There are also some wonderful subplots, regarding the real Comte’s relationships with his family, and while there really wouldn’t be much consequence if he is caught out, a lot of the thrill of the book comes from him not just uncovering the truths behind the fraught relationships with his relatives and the darkness of the past, but also figuring out ways out of situations where he would be found out.

And du Maurier’s writing style itself is the real star. There’s a hypnotic, dream-like quality to her voice; she weaves her words and sentences and paragraphs together softly but beautifully; there’s a melancholy to her style that always hypnotizes her readers into buying into the conceits of her stories and plots.

I greatly enjoyed this read, and am now looking forward to finishing the du Maurier canon.

Like I said, limited time.