Oh Daddy

I am not doing well this morning.

Yesterday morning when I got up my back felt like it was on the mend; it was still a bit painful and tight, but better than it had been the day before so I thought, oh thank you baby Jesus–there’s an end in sight. Unfortunately, as the day progresses it began to hurt more and more until the end of the day, when picking up my back pack was agonizing, as was the drive home. I immediately changed into my sweats (which was painful) and repaired to my easy chair. Scooter climbed into my lap and went to sleep immediately while I caught up on this week’s episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (which really deserves its own entry or an essay; the phenomenon of these shows fascinates me–which is probably why I explored it in Royal Street Reveillon) and then…I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening, really. Paul came home, gave me a pain killer, and I know we watched the final two episodes of Five Days at Memorial (which posed some pretty interesting ethical questions that I don’t know the answers to) and then another of Bad Sisters (which I really like) before collapsing into bed and praying that this morning would be the same as yesterday….

…for naught. The painkiller didn’t really help all that much (although I can see why the drugs with oxy in their name are so addictive) but made me comfortable–I was still aware of the pain, but it was slightly more bearable. Yesterday afternoon I made the right decision–I told my supervisor I was taking a personal day to let my back get better; all that getting up and sitting down yesterday was no help at all–and so I am literally going to spend the day sitting in my easy chair, slathered in generic Ben-Gay with the heating pad attached to my back.

Getting old really and truly sucks. But I do have some reading to get caught up on–I need to reread everything I am working on, I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel as I am being interviewed on a podcast about it and du Maurier in a couple of weeks (seriously, how fucking thrilling is that?) and of course, I want to read the new Donna Andrews. I never did make the to-do list I’ve been talking about on here all week–the back pain really is excruciating–so maybe I can gather everything around me that I need to get to today while sitting in the chair and letting highlights of old LSU games stream on Youtube in the background (oh yes, I rewatch highlights of old LSU games–only big wins, of course–and it always puts me in a better mood, and yes, I am aware how weird that actually is. Sue me.), and hopefully Scooter will sleep in my lap for most of the day. I need to order groceries for pick-up (and Costco for delivery) but I am a little worried about carrying everything into the Lost Apartment.

I also slept later than usual this morning; I’ve been feeling exhausted all week and figured the world wouldn’t end should I stay in bed for an extra hour or two. The good news is I do not feel tired this morning–I am so tired of feeling tired–but, of course, the back is aching. My desk chair feels much more comfortable than my work chairs, for some reason it just seems to fit my back better so it’s not painful to sit here. I cannot explain it, it makes absolutely no sense, but I am going to take advantage of that fact not only to try to get this entry written but do my reviews of Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, both of which are SUPERB. (5 out of 5 stars, get copies NOW)

I’ve also realized I’ve not done much of a Bouchercon round-up–primarily because all of it was a blur, and maybe, just maybe, I hurt my back from laughing so hard for so long. A laughing injury! It is entirely possible, of course; I noted many times how much it hurt to laugh when I was in the midst of a laughing fit because of something hilarious someone said (I really do know the funniest people), and also all the standing; several times in the evening in the bar I noted that my back was getting sore–so naturally instead of sitting down or doing anything to baby it (because that would be admitting that I am too old to stand for long) I continued doing what made it hurt in the first place.

The uncomfortable airline seats on the flight home also did not help much in that regard.

So, that is the state of the Gregalicious this morning. I just made groceries for pick up tomorrow–I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it–and at some point tomorrow I’ll order Costco for delivery. But for now, I am going to take my heating pad and my aching back to my chair so I can chill for a bit.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader.

Mardi Gras Mambo

Or, my own personal Vietnam.

I’ve told this story any number of times; how the writing of the book was derailed by two awful things that happened in my life, and how I finally got back to writing again in the spring of 2005, managing to finish this and turn it into literally two or three weeks before Hurricane Katrina came barreling ashore and changed everything in my life, and the long recovery time from that paradigm shift, trying to adjust to the new reality I was facing every day. It felt weird going over the copy edits, weirder still doing the page proofs (I actually had the incredibly sharp-eyed Becky Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert do it for me while I was visiting the Compound, thanks again, guys!), and even stranger having to tour and promote a book about New Orleans set before Katrina while still dealing with the recovery.

I’ve told those stories before, and that isn’t really what these entries are about; these entries are about the books themselves and how I came up with the stories and so forth, and the writing of the books. The primary problem, of course, is that I wrote this book between and around tragedies; the two year period I call the Time of Troubles that began on Memorial Day weekend in 2004 and ran through about 2008, really; because that’s about how long it took after all those issues for me to feel like my feet were beneath me again and I once again had a grasp on my life. I don’t remember what the original story was about, other than it centered on the Krewe of Iris, Scotty’s Diderot grandmother’s best friend who’d married a much younger muscle-stud Russian, and that’s really about it. The Russian would have something to do with a Colin case–and it would turn out actually be the case that brought him undercover to New Orleans in the first place during Southern Decadence; in Jackson Square Jazz we find out what Colin’s real job is, and that he was in town originally about the Napoleon death mask–but he was also in town to keep an eye on the young muscle-stud Russian who’d married Scotty’s grandmother’s best friend. It wasn’t really working, and I didn’t much care for the story, to be honest; I’d already asked for an extension before Memorial Day weekend in 2004 when all the shit started happening; after Paul was attacked they took it off the schedule and told me not to worry about it. (I appreciated the courtesy greatly at the time, but at the same time had this sinking feeling in the back of my head uh oh, they may not want another one after this–which turned out to be correct. But I dismissed the fear as part of my on-going struggle with Imposter Syndrome. It took me about six months, more or less, to get back to writing. I started my blog right after Christmas that year, and there I was writing every day again, and by January of 2005 I was ready to get going on this book again. I remember rereading everything I’d already done, not liking it, and deciding to scrap it and start over with the same essential premise: rich older society woman in New Orleans has married a much younger Russian boy-toy; Colin is investigating the boy-toy; and it’s Carnival season. Shortly after getting about halfway into a new first draft, the Virginia thing happened and I was derailed again. After that was over and I went back to the book…once again I didn’t like what was happening in the story and I threw it all out and started over again.

But this time, I hit my stride and four months later I turned the book in at long last, along with a proposal for a fourth, Hurricane Party Hustle, which was going to be set during an evacuation and would wrap up the loose ends left at the end of Mardi Gras Mambo.

And of course, three weeks later Katrina changed everything, and Hurricane Party Hustle went into the drawer.

Last night I dreamed it was Mardi Gras again. It seemed to me I was standing inside an iron gate, watching one of the night parades go by. The sidewalks in front of the gate were crowded with people, all shouting, with their grasping eager hands up in the air. Out beyond the edge of the curb, I could see people sitting in lawn chairs. Still others were up on ladders, with coolers and plastic bags of booty piled around them on the ground. Fathers and mothers were holding up babies, while black kids with the crotches of their pants down around their knees walked behind the crowd, weighted down by the ropes of beads around their necks. Beads were flying through the air, some getting caught and tangled in the branches of the towering gnarled oaks lining the avenue.  The heavy upper branches of those oaks also blocked out the glow of the ancient street lamps so the night seemed even darker than it should. I could hear a marching band, playing a recent hip-hop hit, and the strange clicking sound of the baton girls’ tap shoes on the pavement. The air was heavy with the heavy fragrance of hot grease, corn dogs and the strange melted yellowish-orangey substance the vendors put on nachos that purports to be cheese—but no one is really sure what it is. A group of flambeaux carriers were passing by, dancing that odd little circular dance they do, their propane tanks popping and hissing, throwing long and twisted shadows that also danced inside the iron fence I was behind. Right behind them a huge float pulled by a tractor was coming and the crowd’s shouts became louder, more desperate, more pleading. On the float’s front was a huge white clown face, its bright red lips parted in what passed for a smile but seemed to me to be a frightening leer. The masks on the float riders glowed supernaturally at the hordes begging them for generosity in the strange light cast by the moon when it cleared the thick clouds in the cold night sky.   I stood inside the black iron fence, my arms wrapped around me against the cold as an increased sense of menace and dread built inside me. Something bad was going to happen—

Oh, get real, Scotty!

If I do have bad dreams, I don’t remember them when I wake up. I’ve certainly never been troubled in my sleep, even though crazy things always seem to happen to me. I’m just one of those people, I guess. For whatever reason, the Goddess has decided to throw some wild stuff at me—she always has, even when I was a kid—and what can you do? I just don’t think I am one of those people who were destined to have a nice, normal, quiet life. Maybe it’s because I was named Milton Bradley at birth. Yes, that’s right. Milton Bradley. My older brother started calling me by my middle name, Scotty, before I started school and thank the Goddess, it stuck. Can you imagine how cruel the kids would have been to someone named Milton, let alone Milton Bradley? And then of course there’s the gay thing. I was lucky—my parents are pretty liberal and were delighted to have a gay son—like it somehow proved how truly cool they really are or something. They are pretty cool, actually.

By now, I’d taken to starting all of my New Orleans novels with a Tennessee Williams quote; for this one I chose a line from Vieux Carré: “You’ve got a lot to learn about life in the Quarter.”

I had opened Bourbon Street Blues with a parody of “The name’s Bond, James Bond” and I’d done something similar with Jackson Square Jazz–“Danger is my middle name”, riffing on Trouble is My Business. I decided to open this book with a parody of the opening line of Rebecca: “Last night I dreamed I went to Mardi Gras again.” But that entire opening paragraph of du Maurier’s is so fucking brilliant, I couldn’t help myself and made my entire first paragraph a parody of that opening. I then decided that from then forward, every Scotty book would have a Williams quote and each prologue–where Scotty introduces himself and his cast of characters and gives backstory so I don’t have to do it in the text of the story itself–would parody the opening paragraph of a famous novel, rather than just the first line (I am actually struggling to find the proper opening to parody to start the prologue for this one. I’ve used Rebecca, Peyton Place, The Haunting of Hill House, and Lolita, among others so far already; I’ve tried with this one to use An American Tragedy, Atlas Shrugged and The Great Gatsby thus far, with no luck. I’ve tried Valley of the Dolls several times for other books in the series already, but I can’t ever get it to work for me).

I do remember that the one thing that didn’t come across in those earlier drafts that I had abandoned was the sense of insanity that Carnival always brings with it; that feeling of “controlled anarchy” we experience those two weeks of parades, of knowing you have to schedule your entire life around a parade schedule–true even for those who do not live inside the box, as we say here; the box being the Uptown parade route–I always have to schedule my job, my trips to run errands uptown, everything, predicated around having to get home at least two hours before the parades start, and am incredibly lucky if I can get a parking spot within three blocks of the Lost Apartment. The thing I kept forgetting in those earlier versions was the books are meant to be fun. Granted, I was hardly in a mental space to write something fun…and of course the decision to really take it completely over the top the way I did was something I still think about to this day and wonder, where on earth did you get the idea for identical triplets?

Which, while crazy, made more sense than the cloning story I tried to write the second time.

Maybe those bad things happened for a reason? Because I couldn’t be more pleased with how the story and the book turned out. I also ran out of room to finish the personal story…but I also was operating on the assumption I’d get a contract for a fourth book. If not for Katrina, Kensington might have made another offer and Hurricane Party Hustle might have been the fourth Scotty than something just sitting in the files.

The book was released on Fat Tuesday, 2006. Paul and I had been out of town–the truncated Carnival/parade season seemed almost too sad to handle, so we’d accepted a gig to speak at the South Carolina Book Festival. We flew back to New Orleans the Sunday morning before Fat Tuesday. I’d checked my email that morning before boarding the flight to Atlanta (we changed planes) and then our cab driver couldn’t get closer to St. Charles than Baronne Street. A parade was going as we got out of the car, and we had to cross the parade (it was in the high seventies and sunny) with our luggage–I’ll never forget looking up as we got ready to cross and catching a bag of beads with my hand just before it connected with my face–and got home. I checked my emails and my word! SO MANY EMAILS.

You see, that day’s edition of the Times-Picayune carried Susan Larson’s review of the book, and it was a rave! Everyone emailed me as soon as they saw it–I still bask in the glory of that review–and I was about to embark on probably the most ambitious book tour of my career.

I just didn’t see, though, how I could write another funny, light book about a city still in ruins whose recovery was still questionable.

The series was, for the moment, over–with the personal story not resolved the way I would have wanted, but it could stand as it was, should there never be another Scotty story.

Rereading it, I couldn’t but laugh at some of the outrageous twists and turns the plot took.

I guess you could say I’m proud of it.

Second Hand News

Labor Day Monday and I have a nice relaxing day ahead of me of writing and reading and who knows what else? We also leave for Minneapolis the day after tomorrow, which is also kind of exciting. I did make a small run to make groceries yesterday and had a small Costco order delivered. I also watched some tennis (Coco Grauff) and then we watched the LSU Game. Jury’s still out; they played very lackadaisically to me, it seemed; not quite gelled as a team yet, but lots of talented players with some kinks to work out yet. They ended up losing 24-23, could have tied and/or won the game at the end, and rallied from 24-10 down in the closing minutes, so that was promising. I am of course disappointed the comeback failed, but at one point it literally looked like we were going to lose 31-17, and that final drive went ninety-nine yards in sixty-five seconds. So, they could continue to improve and get better, which is a good sign. I impatiently was hoping this could be turned around in one year, but….it even took Saban an off-year before turning Alabama into what it is today. It was a fun weekend of football, to be sure, and I am always happier when it’s football season.

I mean, take away the two fumbled punts, the blocked extra point, and the blocked field goal, and LSU would be 1-0 right now.

I am curious to see how the rest of the season shakes out.

I skim-reread Jackson Square Jazz yesterday, and again, I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the book still reads, roughly nineteen years after release, and again–I really did do a great job with the characters. I am writing an entry about it, of course, and then started skim-rereading Mardi Gras Mambo, too. I really wish I could remember what the plot was in the first two failed attempts to write the book, but maybe it’ll come to me while I skim reread, but I rather doubt it; I forgot those original plots years ago. I am glad that reader asked me about the Scotty books, though. I had figured I’d talked about them often enough that Constant Reader didn’t really need me to write the backstories behind the books in this series, but I am having the most wonderful time revisiting the books and remembering the process that produced each one. And these first three are so far back in my distant past that it’s almost like reading new-to-me books; I always wondered if my own work would ever get to that point, and clearly, they have done so. I’m not sure how to feel about it, but I imagine Philip Roth didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his first couple of books, nor did Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, or Erle Stanley Gardner. (Not that I put myself up there with those greats of crime fiction, but you know what I mean.) We write books and we move on from them to write other books, and the farther in the past those old titles get, the more distance I feel from them and the less I remember about them, which makes them much easier to read (at least for me).

And it’s really helping me get back inside Scotty’s brain and his voice, too. Always a bonus, you know?

Today I am going to take it easy but still get things done. I need to write–which I’ve done woefully little of this weekend–and I also need to overhaul the first three chapters of this book before I can move on with it, which should be taken care of today. (I started to do it yesterday but…Coco Grauff was playing!) I also have some other things to get done today–maybe I should make a list of what all I want to get done today; can’t hurt–including making my packing list for the trip (I checked the weather; I think I can get away with taking a sweat jacket with me rather than a coat; every night it’s supposed to dip into the 60’s, which, as we all know, is the dead of winter to me) and some other loose odds and ends. And the skim-rereading of my books is at least getting me to read again–just wait till Wednesday afternoon at the airport though; I’ll be tearing through that Gabino Iglesias novel like it’s going out of style. I don’t think I’ll finish reading the Iglesias, the King, and the Andrews on the trip, but I am taking a book in reserve just in case–A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren. I also need to prep myself for reading only horror in October, the way I do every year; I know there are some Paul Tremblay and Stephen King and Christopher Golden and some other great horror novels sitting there waiting in my TBR Piles. There’s also some great short stories I should read, too. I am sitting on a Daphne du Maurier novella–“A Border-line Case”–and maybe I should spend some time today reading that?

I do love me some du Maurier (reminder to self: reread My Cousin Rachel).

So, we’re basically sitting on today and tomorrow as interim days. I think the house is in good enough shape as is for us to leave without doing some more cleaning, but I always do some cleaning while I am writing. There’s a load of dishes that need doing, and some other picking up and things needing to be put away, but that’s always the case, isn’t it?

And on that note, I am going to make a to-do list, finish those dishes, and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Labor Day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

7

Warm Ways

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all is well in the world. Southern Decadence is raging in the French Quarter–if someone would have told me as recently as ten years ago I would have ever reached the point where I didn’t care about going down there and diving into the sea of mostly undressed gay men from all over the country I would have laughed at the absurdity, but one gets older and things and priorities change. Do I have fond memories of years of going and having an amazing time? Absolutely. Do I miss those times? Somewhat, but I am also aware that I am older and that kind of wild-ass partying is too much for my old body to handle anymore.

I slept really well last night, which was a delightful and pleasant surprise. When I got home from the office yesterday–running errands on the way home–I was tired, of course, but still managed to do all the bed linens, get the rest of the laundry done, and did two loads of dishes in the dishwasher. There are still some odds and ends around here that need to be taken care of, but other than that, the Lost Apartment is sort of under control. For now, at any rate.

College football is also back this weekend (GEAUX TIGERS!) with LSU playing tomorrow night in the Super Dome. Monday of course is Labor Day, Tuesday I have to go into the office, and then Wednesday it’s off to Minneapolis. Huzzah! As such I will probably get no writing done at all while I am gone–I’ll be too busy running around everywhere–so it would be nice to make some good progress on everything I am working on this weekend. Of course, the temptation to be lazy and simply spend the weekend relaxing is, of course, always going to be there–will probably win out more often than not–but that’s okay. I am done beating myself up for not working every minute of every day every week of every month of every year. Everyone needs down time, and it’s absurd to think otherwise.

My reading is all picked out for the flights/airport time: Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, Donna Andrews’ Round Up The Usual Peacocks, and Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home, if I don’t finish it this weekend, with Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side on deck. I’ll probably get some books while I’m at Bouchercon, too–the book room is always too big of a temptation for me to avoid completely–and I am pretty overall excited about the trip, and neither flight requires getting up at the break of dawn, either, which is lovely. We also got caught up on Bad Sisters last night, a fun show on Apple Plus–but the one I am really looking forward to is The Serpent Queen, as I love me some Catherine de Medici, and I have long wondered why this fascinating, complex and extremely intelligent woman has never been deemed worthy of a film or a television series (it would have been a great role for Bette Davis back in the 1940s; she would have chewed the scenery like nobody’s business and gotten another Oscar nomination).

This morning’s coffee, by the way, is da bomb. Delicious and hitting the spot, which tells me yet again that I slept incredibly well.

I am feeling particularly good this morning, which is also nice. It’s always nice when you feel rested. Oh! I’ve also been invited to speak on a podcast about Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, which gives me an excellent excuse to reread it!

Alert Constant Readers will have noticed by now that I’ve been making posts about my stand alone novels over the last month or so (maybe just the last couple of weeks? I am not sure of anything anymore and I certainly don’t trust my memories); I am currently working on Timothy and The Orion Mask, after which I will most likely move on to some of the pseudonymous work I’ve done–the Todd Gregory novels, for example–but I should also, in honor of Southern Decadence, talk about Bourbon Street Blues this weekend; but I’ve already done plenty of writing and talking about Scotty and how he came to be, and how I came to write the book and where the idea for it came from, so I’m not entirely sure there’s anything left to say about Scotty and Bourbon Street Blues that I haven’t already said; I’m sure I just don’t remember everything I’ve written on my blog about that book. But it won’t hurt to revisit the book; I know there are some things about the books I’ve never talked about before. but we shall have to see.

And then should I do the short stories? The novellas? Why not? It is my blog, after all, and I can do whatever I please with it, can’t I?

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee before heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in again later.

If I Were Your Woman

Today’s emergency weather situation in New Orleans is an air quality alert; per the email I received this morning, people with breathing issues are encouraged to not go outside unless absolutely necessary; our air quality is at an “orange” level–not sure what that means precisely, but suspect it has something to do with a color-coded charted that I kind of don’t want to go look up, just in case. There was a heat advisory yesterday (IN JUNE); it’s clearly going to be one of those summers here in New Orleans.

I wound up taking the entire weekend off for the most part–no writing, no emails, no stress or anxiety. I finished reading Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Other Mother yesterday afternoon; I kept reading my 4th Crusade/sack of Constantinople book; and then last night we finished off Gaslit (Julia Roberts was amazing; and yes, Martha Mitchell was right from the very beginning) and started watching a new show (for us) on Acorn, The Victim, which is actually quite interesting and has a great concept and a truly terrific cast. We watched the first episode, and I am rather curious to see where this is going to go. One way in which British crime series are superior to the American counterparts is in that there are always so many layers to the British ones, and they often tackle complex situations that made you wonder, who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, or is the entire system bad and in need of overhauling?

I also have to decide what to read next, and there’s such a plethora of good things to read in my TBR pile I am not sure where to go next. I am torn right now between John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind (which just won the Lammy for Best Mystery this weekend–go John go!), Curtis Ippolite’s Burying the Newspaper Man, Rob Osler’s The Devil’s Chewtoy, or another Carol Goodman. I’ve also been wanting to revisit some classics I’ve not reread in a while–anything by Mary Stewart, really; or du Maurier’s Rebecca or Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, or maybe one of the du Mauriers I’ve not already read before.

Taking the weekend off felt absolutely lovely, if I am going to be completely honest. I did do some minor chores around the Lost Apartment–laundry, dishes, etc.–but nothing major; the place is a bit of a mess this morning. I do have to run some errands later today–prescriptions, mostly, and I need to put air in a tire–and I am going to swing by Office Depot as well to get some file organizational items so I have place to put all these files that are piled up all over the place around my desk area. After I am done with the day’s data entry (always a happy chore for me) and am free for the evening, I will spend it doing some cleaning up/organizing around here. I had hoped to start going to the gym again today, but I suspect I am not going to wind up making it over there after all. I also need to start getting binders together for the new book projects; I think I will make one for the novellas as well as one for the other three books that are currently in progress (yes, I am a glutton for punishment) but I do find that the binders are helpful for also editing and making notes and so forth.

And of course as always I need to make a to-do list for the rest of the month.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But one thing that is true after this weekend is that I feel refreshed, rested and recharged. I don’t know how long that will actually last or not–it’s always a crap shoot, let’s be honest–but fingers crossed it lasts for a long enough time to make a serious dent in the weekend. We have a paid holiday coming up on Monday, which is lovely–three days weekends are always nice, and July 4th also falls on a Monday so that’s another lovely three day weekend coming up in a few weeks–and of course, later that week I am off to Fort Lauderdale. Woo-hoo? Woo-hoo!

Paul and I also booked our plane tickets for Bouchercon last week, so that’s a go for me as well. Woo-hoo!

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

As Long As You’re There

And now it’s Friday.

I slept very well again last night, which was lovely–I’ve really been getting excellent sleep ever since The Power Came Back On, which is delightful–and I am looking ahead to this lovely weekend with great excitement and joy. The LSU game tomorrow is a night game, at undefeated Kentucky (when was the last time the teams played and KENTUCKY was the undefeated and ranked team of the two? Probably never), so I have tomorrow’s entirety free to get things done, run errands, go to the gym, and essentially do as I please until the game. I also am working at home today, and thus trying to find some horror to watch while I make the condom packs.

I started watching Friday the 13th Part II yesterday, and wasn’t far along into it before it started seeming familiar, like I’d seen it before–and I soon realized that I probably had, last year in October, so I switched it off in disappointment (not really; it was actually quite terrible) and switched over to the final episodes of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which I had not been watching because I was sick to death of Erika Girardi using the show to try to gain sympathy for herself as one of her husband’s “victims.” But I had read a piece somewhere about the show being the “best thing on television right now”, and then I read a piece run recently in the Los Angeles Times, an interview with the three ‘outsiders’ on the show (Garcelle, Sutton, and Crystal) talking about the season and the filming of the lengthy finale, and I thought, swallow your disgust at the behavior of this criminal accomplice and watch. Interestingly enough, the cringe-aspect of watching I was experiencing before taking a break was now gone; and while I still felt a bit squeamish about watching–de facto condoning her behavior by giving them ratings, which will lead to her getting signed for another season, which is again a reward for her terrible behavior–I found myself actually enjoying watching again. I still loathe two members of the cast completely–looking at you, Kyle and Lisa Rinna, and will continue to hope to see them humbled, humiliated and (best case) let go–but I think I can watch again. The show, which the cast had been overly producing for quite some time, kind of had that rigid artifice stripped away from it with the Girardi criminal case; there really was no way they could escape the litigation or comment on the investigations of the growing scandal.

Or maybe I’m not in a really dark place anymore? There’s still something that seems wrong about watching this…but I can’t get to the bottom of it, frankly. I guess I’ll just keeping discussing it here until i get to the bottom of why it feels so wrong.

Who knows? I may never get to the bottom of it.

We got caught up on some of our shows last night–Only Murders in the Building, American Horror Story: Double Feature, and Archer–which was lovely and relaxing. I think it was the last episode of Archer ever; it ended with a tribute to Jessica Walter, and I can’t imagine having the show without her character, so it most likely was. Archer has never been as funny in its later seasons as it was in its earlier ones, alas; and while I appreciated the show’s attempts to keep it fresh by changing things up with seasons devoted to a theme–outer space, becoming a drug cartel, doing a noir Hollywood story–they never quite equalled the humor of the original seasons. Pity. I am also kind of intrigued by the second half of this AHS season; the alien stuff is very strange and weird, even by AHS standards, and I am not really sure where this is going, but it’s holding our interest. Only Murders continues to hold its charm; I had assumed it was rushing to a conclusion, only to have a twist at the end of the latest episode that ensure that no, indeed, the season is not finished quite yet. And we have our other shows to watch this weekend, as well as some movies–Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the very top of the list, of course–and perhaps there are some other shows we can look into on the streaming services. (I really want to check out Stephen Amell’s new wrestling show on Showtime, Heels–which looks like it could be pretty good.)

So, I have some nice plans for the weekend–catching up on things, cleaning, organizing, writing, dropping off books to the library sale–and am really excited about possibly doing the writing part of the to-do list this weekend. I also want to fucking finally finish the book I am reading–which I am not going to name; my inability to stay focused and read lately has been really annoying and I no longer want to even hint at the possibility that I am not finishing the book because it isn’t good because it it very excellent; I may have to finish and then move on to short stories again. Short stories could also work very well for Halloween Horror Month; it never can hurt to dig into Stephen King or Shirley Jackson short stories, and of course Daphne du Maurier’s are often macabre and haunting. So, we shall see. I am going to try to finish the book I’m reading now, possibly reread The Haunting of Hill House, and if my reading focus remains fucked up, move on to short stories.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and will check in with you again tomorrow.

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!