I Walk the Line

It’s Thursday. Finally. I swear to God, this has been one of the longest and most bizarre weeks of my life thus far–and I’ve lived through some very strange and bizarre times. This reality, surreal for so long, is finally beginning to sink in somewhat, at least for me. I am someone who is completely dependent on structure and routine to achieve stability, which is required for me to function at a level sometimes (oft times) much higher than my natural tendency toward stasis, laziness, and a remarkable inability to finish things. I can’t be that person, and this sudden alteration of my reality was so quick I didn’t really have time to adjust to it. As such, my wiring has been completely off and my functionality dramatically slowed. But the shock is beginning to wear off, I’m adjusting if not adapting, and I might be able to start finding the order amidst the chaos again.

At least for as long as this new reality holds, at any rate.

It’s absolutely horrible to feel overwhelmed, and I sense that a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed right now. It’s a lot of change, all at once, and with very little warning. For some, the rug was literally pulled out from underneath them in  matter of hours. It’s terrifying to go from I wonder what I’ll do this weekend to oh my god how am I going to pay my rent in a matter of moments. I’ve certainly been feeling overwhelmed for quite some time now, with no end in sight. But if I learned anything from the Time of Troubles, there’s no sense in worrying or being concerned or making one’s self sick from stressing about things over which you have literally no control.

The best way to get through these things–which seem like they may never end–is to focus on micro rather than macro; the big picture is too overwhelming for our minds to grasp, grapple with and process. That’s the sure path to despair and depression–and the D twins don’t need much help gaining purchase in my brain. Your mileage might vary, but I think it’s terribly important to stay focused and stay positive, no matter how bad things are or how much worse they can get.

At some point this afternoon I am going to go for a walk, probably over to Magazine Street, just to get out into the fresh air and the sunshine. It’s overcast here today, but it’s been in the seventies and eighties all  week, so I can’t imagine that it’s not a simply gorgeous day out there. I need to not be inside all the time–tomorrow I am actually working a five hour shift at the office, primarily so I can get out of the house–the change of scenery is going to be crucial for the moment. I don’t know how long, obviously, we’re going to be on lock-down; it could go on for months, quite frankly, and adaptability, as I learned after Katrina, is going to be terribly important as a survival technique.

We picked up Dare Me again last night, on Episode 3, and I am amazed at how amazingly well done this show is; it’s very cinematic, the acting is pinpoint sharp, and this is a feminine point of view we’ve never seen much of before. Just as a visual, it’s a stunning show. I’d like to read the book again at some point–I’ve not read anything in a couple of weeks and I need to get back into reading again; it’s not like I don’t have lots of books on hand for me to sink my teeth and imagination into around here. Maybe I should, as I joked about on Facebook last week, reread The Stand. It has been awhile, and it’s always been one of my favorite King novels. A reread won’t require as much focus as reading something new…hmmm. And I am doing the Reread Project this year–although that seems like I started it a million years ago, doesn’t it?

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

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Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)

Monday morning and facing our new reality; one in which everything is being shut down and closed and who knows what the world will look like in yet another week? The dark is pressing against my windows this morning, but I slept really well–I was very tired and lethargic all weekend, so didn’t get much of anything done, really. I did get kind of caught up on the housework–laundry and dishes, piling up from most of last week–but my emails are still dramatically out of control, as always, and I am now way behind on any and all writing I am supposed to be doing. I have about fifteen days to finish writing three short stories. It’s possible, of course, but who knows how likely? My ability to focus seems to be gone.

I feel good this morning. I feel rested–despite being untimely ripped from my bed this morning–and I suspect people are going to being calling out sick from work. Whether it’s from actually being sick or self-isolation is hard to say. It seems to be spreading exponentially throughout New Orleans, and New Orleans seems on track to be one of the most heavily hit cities at the rate we’re going. Paul is going to self-isolate, and work from home beginning today; I’ll have to go ahead and check my accumulated sick and vacation time to see if and when I’ll ever be able to begin the same process. The economy–I don’t see how this can’t hit the economy hard. New York officially closed bars and restaurants for everything other than delivery; as most New Yorkers don’t really have functional kitchens in their living spaces, I’m not sure how people are going to actually be able to eat. At some point today I need to go to the CVS across the street from the office to get more Claritin.

We binged some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and it is such a fun show. And it’s cured me of my dislike of subtitles–well, watching British detective shows actually did that; I have to turn on the subtitles because I can’t really understand what they’re saying, and I realized that carried over into foreign language shows, which is kind of fun; I’m looking forward to moving on to Berlin Babylon, or Babylon Berlin, or whatever it’s called, at some point once we finish this and Dare Me.

At least with Paul self-isolating I know what time he’ll be home every night.

And we should be okay, food-wise, for a little while at least if it comes to that. I get paid on Wednesday, so I can also make another grocery run on that day if I need to.

Interesting times in which we live, are they not?

I can hear the garbage truck out on the street, so at least that essential city service hasn’t shut down.

I’ve not been, obviously, feeling terribly creative lately–which is not a surprise–but am curious if other writers are going through fallow periods as well? I do need to finish writing those three stories, as I mentioned earlier, and so perhaps at some point today I’ll find some time to work on my Sherlock story.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Stay safe, everyone–and self-isolate if you can.

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El Paso

Sunday morning and the sun is shining. I slept late–I need rest, frankly, whether I am actually sick or not–and am just now getting to my first cup of coffee. I decided to make yesterday a day of rest; I literally did nothing yesterday other than go to the grocery store. We got home from there, I put the groceries away while Paul went to pick up a prescription and lunch, and then we finished watching The Outsider and then started a new binge-watch on Netflix, a show from Spain called Toy Boy, which is just the kind if highly entertaining prime-time soap experience we needed. I highly recommend it; it’s extremely well done, and it’s packed full of twists and turns and drama. The main character, Hugo, was having an affair with a very wealthy and powerful woman her husband was murdered. Hugo worked as a Toy Boy, part of a stripper group of really hot young men (obviously) at Club Inferno, and was framed for the murder, spent seven years behind bars, and has just now been released because of faulty evidence and so forth used in his original conviction. Naturally, he has to prove he is actually innocent; his pro bono lawyer’s law firm has hidden reasons for wanting to help him, and every one of the dancers (except the black one, of course) have some kind of intense drama going on in their lives which makes the story move pretty quickly and there are some surprising twists along the way.

And obviously, there’s a lot of eye candy. Before we knew it we’d burned through quite a few episodes and it was after midnight. Make of that what you will. But it did make me nostalgic for the glory of the prime time soaps where everyone was beautiful and the stories moves at lightning speed and there was this gloss of glamour thrown into the mix.

But I am lethargic from doing nothing yesterday, and I am now debating whether I want to go to Wal-mart today or not. It’s the only place we can get the cat treats that Scooter likes, and let’s face it, the shelves at Wal-mart might be empty but I can’t imagine cat treats were an enormous priority for quarantine prep. I also recognize the stupidity of either putting myself at risk by going to get treats for the cat, or putting everyone else at risk if I am a carrier. These are the kinds of decisions I never thought I would have to make, you know? I was impressed with how efficiently Rouse’s was dealing with everything yesterday; regularly disinfecting the check out conveyer belts and the credit card machine, passing out wipes to everyone who walked in, and so forth. But my logical, rational, crime writer brain immediately went to but what about the food packaging? Who all has handled all these boxes and fresh fruit and vegetables and…then I decided it was simply better not to ask questions.

Sometimes having that kind of brain–as well as having it also be extremely creative–can be a curse, you know?

So, after blowing everything off yesterday I am trying to decide what to do with myself for today. ShDaould I risk going to the gym? I don’t have a mask to wear, but I do have rubber gloves that can be disposed of when I am finished (which will also undoubtedly make my hands sweat) and I can of course wipe down all the equipment I touch, which could make the work out take even longer, but it would get me out of the house and doing something. I cannot even stand to look around the filthy disgusting mess that is my kitchen, either. It only makes sense to get a handle on everything here, get the kitchen cleaned up, do the dishes and pick things up and file things, then make a run to Wal-mart to get the cat treats (as well as anything else they may have that I might need–bearing in mind their shelves are going to be extremely picked over)…or I could just walk to the Walgreens, see if they have them (they will be a few dollars more expensive there), and then go on to the gym. Decisions, decisions; the questions we ask ourselves during a pandemic.

Or I could just continue to self-isolate, recognize the fact that it’s not wise to continually put myself and others at risk, and stay my ass at home, knowing I can always start over again and stick with it once this passes. I can stretch at home and I can also use that massage roller on my back to loosen it up, and I think stretching would be enough to kick up some endorphins in order to motivate myself.

And the more I think about it, the stupider I think it is for me to go to Wal-mart and the gym. I’ll go to Walgreens, see if they have the treats there, and if they don’t–well, Scooter, you may be just out of luck when this batch runs out. As I said, I’ve had a cough for most of the week with the occasional head congestion; why am I putting others at risk? Honestly, sometimes I just have to think these things through so the realistic part of my brain can kick into high gear.

Although I definitely don’t need to be wasting the day binge-watching television–although if we finish Toy Boy we can go on to Dare Me, which I’ve been wanting to get back to for weeks.

Also, I greatly enjoyed The Outsider, even if it felt padded to get to ten full episodes. I was very delighted to realize that Holly, the character brilliantly played by Cynthia Erivo, was the same Holly from the Mr. Mercedes novels, whom I absolutely loved–and Erivo was absolutely perfectly cast. (I also hope this means we’ll see the character again in his fiction–and now I want to read the book even more than I did before; despite knowing how it turns out and what the central mystery is and how it’s resolved.)

So, now that I am wrapping this up, I hope to get the kitchen cleaned; do some stretching; perhaps walk over to Walgreens to forage for cat treats; and maybe–just maybe–do some writing at some point this afternoon. I need to at least get another thousand words finished today at some point, on some thing–probably the Sherlock story–and continue to self-isolate.

And I’m very lucky to be able to remain in isolation with Paul, who makes everything bearable.

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

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Sweet Dreams (of You)

It saddened me to see Left Coast had cancelled; even if I am not at a conference or some gathering of writers I can always look at the pictures of my friends and smile a little wistfully, wish I was there, and then get on with it. As one does,

This has been a rough week, Constant Reader, and I cannot lie. I’ve been all over the map emotionally, eventually I got to the usual tipping point of numbness. Yesterday I got some amazing book mail; copies of some of the Edgar finalists, which is way fun. Of course, I already have an enormous TBR pile; this only expands it and makes it bigger–way bigger, but it’s lovely, always lovely, to get books. If worst comes to worst and we would up quarantined or trapped inside for a few weeks or so, I have plenty of books. And as long as we have power, there’s so much television to catch up. Books are, of course, my  happy place; I’ve always found solace and escape in reading. I think that might be why I hoard books the way I do; it’s comforting to know that I’ll never run out of things to read.

I’ve gotten no writing done, or very little; I’ve also not read a word of anything. I am debating whether it’s okay to go to the gym if I take rubber gloves with me; if I am not touching any surface with bar hands, right, and definitely cannot touch my face except with a hand towel (brought from home) and I should be okay, I think, I hate getting out of the habit of going, and I also worry that at some point I’ll be forbidden from going to the gym, so there’s that as well. At some point today I have to make a run to the grocery store–although at this point I feel certain everything is picked over and the shelves are bare. I stopped at Rouse’s on my home last night in the CBD, and while it wasn’t completely insane, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I managed to get what I was after–two loaves of bread–and Paul and I just decided to escape the world and watch The Outsider last night, which was quite entertaining. We still have two episodes to go before we’re finished, but they seem to be dragging the story out with some seriously bad filler scenes that neither advance the plot or really teach us anything new about the characters–and these filler scenes are very amateurishly done, poorly written, and essentially pointless as anything other than padding to get the show out to ten episodes. We’ll finish that today, and then go on to Dare Me, which we’ve been saving to binge. We’d watched the first two episodes before Paul started having to work late all the time and so fell behind; but I am excited to get to see it in its entirety. It already looked like it was going to be one of the best shows to ever air on television; the source material is certainly one of my favorite books of all time.

One can never go wrong reading Megan Abbott.

The Lost Apartment is a mess, frankly, and I will probably spend some time cleaning it today; it’s well overdue and I’ve not had the energy to keep up with it this week. I imagine, looking back at the week in retrospect, that I probably had some depression–I’m never really aware of it until it has passed–which explains a lot. It’ll probably come and go–there’s probably also some PTSD mixed into it, both from the days when HIV/AIDS was decimating the gay community and, let’s be honest, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I was thinking, as I was reading articles this past week with headlines like Life is going to change forever and so forth, that I am kind of tired of life-changing events.

I also can’t help but wondering how this will change writing, and the publishing industry, and if there will be a new genre of fiction rising out of all of this. I want to think this won’t be as bad as it seems like it’s going to be–but you know, any death will cause grief and suffering, let alone on a great scale. Katrina fiction never really became a thing, although there were several novels (including my award-winning Murder in the Rue Chartres–see what I did there?) about the aftermath, and I think Katrina stories still continue to be published to this day, but to be honest I avoid them for the most part. I suppose its more like 9/11, in that the impact is actually more national than local, but even 9/11–while certainly a national trauma–was also primarily a local one. This is everywhere, and will impact everyone, and not just as witnesses, like 9/11 or Katrina. Will this be addressed in the future? Will there be a rash of books released beginning in 2021 the center this happening? How do you write a series and pretend like this didn’t happened? New Orleans series writers couldn’t ignore Katrina, pretend like it didn’t happen; we had to address it and as such anchored our series and our series characters in time. My two short stories “Survivor’s Guilt” and “Annunciation Shotgun” also dealt with the storm and the aftermath, and I’ve kind of let go of writing about it.

So, I think after running the errands today I am going to try to get some writing done. I have three stories I’d like to get finished by the end of the month, which is their deadlines, and one has to be entirely constructed from scratch–which is of course the most interesting and challenging one for me to write so I keep pushing it to the back of the queue.

And maybe it’s time to get back to work. Have a lovely, germ-free day.

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.