Control

So, we’ve got tickets to the LSU-Florida game for tomorrow night! Saturday night in Death Valley! Number 5 LSU taking on Number 7 Florida in a battle of the unbeatens! SEC and national implications! Woo-hoo! I mean, Tiger Stadium is always fun–but it is going to be rocking Saturday night.

Needless to say, it was quite a pleasant surprise when Paul got home last night and proceeded to tell me that we were being gifted with tickets to perhaps the biggest game played this season in Baton Rouge. I am, as I am sure you can tell, incredibly excited about this.

HUZZAH!

I came to a realization last night also, as I was pulling Bury Me in Shadows together–that maybe, just maybe, I am rushing to get the book turned in and maybe I should relax, take some of the pressure off myself, and do a more thorough job of revising/editing/pulling it together. Sigh. I’ll think about it tonight–Paul is going to the Mortuary haunted house with some friends, and so I’ll be home this evening all alone; so I might just take the laptop and the manuscript and sit in my easy chair while streaming a football game or a movie or something for background noise and read through the last fifteen chapters a little bit more, see if there’s more that needs to be added. I’m going to have most of the day tomorrow before we leave for the game as well to work on revisions and additions and so forth, too, so there is that.

I have to say, writing and editing and revising is something I truly enjoy; and maybe that’s why I’ve been sleeping so well lately–I did wake up a few times throughout the night last night, but I was able to get back to sleep without much trouble; I feel terrifically rested this morning too, which of course is absolutely lovely. I think a lot of my sleep issues stem from the inability to turn off my brain–and if I’m writing or revising or editing, that exhausts my brain’s creativity synapses so I am able to shut down completely when I go to bed. It certainly has worked that way this week, and for about the last two weeks, all told, really, and it’s quite lovely. If this means I have to write or do something creative every day so I can sleep well every night, so be it. The worst thing that can happen is I’ll get a lot of work done.

Yeah, there are definitely worse things than that, right?

I’ve also fallen behind on my reading–it’s not easy for me to both read and write a lot at the same time, and I do want to get Deliverance finished at some point this weekend, so I can move on to one of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s terrific novels, either Certain Dark Things or Gods of Jade and Shadow; I’ll decide when I get to it, I suppose. I try to read horror during the month of October–I am also way behind on my Stephen King reading–and have been enjoying going back through The Haunting of Hill House this month (which is also part of the reason I’ve not been able to finish Deliverance), and there’s no reason I can’t combine October horror with the Diversity Project, either. There are so many good books in my TBR pile–I really don’t need to buy anything new for quite some time, and really shouldn’t, not with all these books on hand that I have yet to get to. I am also way behind on reading some of my other favorite authors as well–Michael Koryta, for example, and Donna Andrews for another–so there’s really not much reason for me to buy any more books, quite frankly, for quite some time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I love buying books!

I’m also still reading Ready to Hang as part of my New Orleans history reading. I am now reading about the murder of district attorney J. Ward Gurley, in the chapter titled “A Problem in Good and Evil” (which is an amazing title which I might have to purloin), and this morning I came across this sentence:

There was a murder in New Orleans nearly every day, but seldom was the district attorney the victim.

This was in 1903! And people talk about the murder rate in New Orleans now, like the city is sliding into lawlessness and danger–when the city averaged almost a murder a day one hundred and sixteen years ago…which proves the point I’m slowly starting to understand more and more, the more history of the city I read: New Orleans has always been a dark city with a crime problem, almost from the very beginning.

That isn’t to say that the city shouldn’t work on lowering our crime rate by any means; but the fact that the city has historically been a hotbed of crime puts the hand-wringing over our current crime situation into a rather different light, doesn’t it?

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


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Heart and Soul

Friday morning and here we are at the end of the week! HUZZAH!

LSU plays tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of eleven a.m., which is usually when I run to the grocery store and do my errands, which means they’ll either have to wait until Sunday or until after the game–and I think we all know that means they’ll be waiting until Sunday, don’t we?

As always I have a lot to get done this weekend, and an early game time for LSU means probably the entire day will wind up being wasted–there’s also the Auburn-Florida game following directly after–and so I’ll probably wind up sitting in my easy chair for most of the day with Deliverance near at hand for me to read. I need to reread Bury Me in Shadows this weekend as well, but I have to pay very close attention to that one as it’s a revision reread, so watching between plays and during commercial breaks doesn’t exactly loan itself to a thorough, line by line reread. I will undoubtedly be horrified by some of the bad paragraphs and sentences as I do reread it. I think when i get home from work tonight I’ll try to get my cleaning done, and once the laundry is going and the kitchen is free of clutter and dirty dishes, I might be able to sit down with it for a bit before I start making dinner (Swedish meatballs tonight). I’d like to finish reading Deliverance so I can reread The Haunting of Hill House, which I do every October–it will also help me with the rewrite of Bury Me in Shadows to be rereading something so Gothic and scary.

I’m still on the first chapter of Ready to Hang–“Murder in Basin Street”–and enjoying it immensely. I really do like the idea of me writing some period pieces set in New Orleans; the more I read of this city’s dark and morbid history, the more I love the city.

I’m also realizing how much the volunteer project wore me out, and that I’m still recovering from all the fatigue resultant from that work. It’s cool, though, as I said; I’m glad to have done it despite the fact it threw me behind on everything and wore me out so completely. I did some really good work there, and I’m pretty pleased with it all. I started writing again this week, seriously writing, and that felt really good. I always forget how much I actually enjoy writing when I’m not. I always dread it, and try to push it off, but I’m that way about everything that requires effort (see: not setting foot in the gym for months) and am always glad I did it once I have.

Tonight we’re going to get caught up on the shows we’re watching–American Horror Story: 1984, etc.–and there should also be a new episode of Murder in the Bayou and Saturdays in the South, which is always fun to watch. I also want to get some writing done this weekend in addition to the revise reread of Bury Me in Shadows. 

We’ll see. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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Only in My Dreams

Sliding into Wednesday and pay day–or as it’s known around the Lost Apartment, Pay the Bills Day. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I sent in two stories for submission yesterday, which is always a lovely accomplishment. One is for a blind read so I can’t talk about that one, but the other is “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” for an anthology I was asked to write a story for. I’m never quite sure if that means we’re taking your story or what, but I tend to never take anything for granted when it comes to this literally insane industry I find myself a part of these days. And even more exciting, I woke up to a very pleased editor and a congratulatory email re: “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” Always lovely, particularly when one has little to no self-confidence when it comes to writing short stories.

I won’t find out about the other one for months. As it is a blind read, I can’t really talk about the story, but it’s for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, this time being edited by one of my writing heroes, Michael Koryta. Getting into an MWA anthology is one of my bucket list items, and while I’ve submitted numerous stories to them over the years, I have yet to get into one. The competition is fierce, of course; there are only so many slots and lots of entries, which is what makes getting into one a major accomplishment. It probably won’t help in the self-confidence area for more than a day or two, of course, but one also never knows.

I also started revising another short story last night, which I’m probably going to try to get submitted somewhere today. I think this week’s focus is going to be on revising short stories, to cleanse my palette before I dive back into the manuscript of one of the books I’ve got in progress. Since the LSU game is so early on Saturday, I can spend the rest of the day rereading Bury Me in Shadows and making notes while flipping back and forth between other college games–I only have to give LSU my full attention, after all. I think Auburn and Florida are playing Saturday as well; both are in the top ten, and both are on LSU’s upcoming schedule. Auburn looked really good spanking Mississippi State last weekend–their offense looked very much like LSU’s, frankly, scoring at will–which means Auburn-LSU is going to be another one of those heart-stopping shootouts.

Then again, Auburn-LSU has always been a heart attack game, pretty much coming down to the last minute of every game most of the time.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday, but it’s not really grabbing me yet–but then, they haven’t gone into the wilderness so far.

We finished watching The Politician last night, which took a really surprising–and highly entertaining–turn last night, with the additions of Judith Light and Bette Midler to the cast to set up season two, which I wasn’t so sure about going into last night’s episode. but they did a truly terrific job of jumping ahead a few years, and letting us see what was going on with the kids from the high school now that they’re in college…and, like I said, they did an amazing job setting up the second season.

I’m also finished reading Lords of Misrule as well, which takes the history of Carnival (and it’s racial politics) up to the year before I came to my first Carnival, and two years before I finally moved here and got my life started. Since that’s also the approximate time period for my story “Never Kiss a Stranger,” reading this has been enormously helpful. It catches me off guard a little that the 1990’s is now so far away; kids born in the 1990’s are in college now, after all–are old enough to marry and have their own kids.

I also realized, last night as I was reading after we finished watching The Politician, that it’s October, which is when I usually read horror fiction–and since starting the Diversity Project, I was waiting for October to read some diverse horror. So, I will try to get Deliverance finished this week, do my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, probably over this weekend, and then next week I am going to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, or her more recent Gods of Jade and Shadow.

And since today is Pay Day, I should probably go pay the bills. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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The Lady in Red

Tuesday morning.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday between clients, and while it’s not the sort of thing I typically read, an argument can be made that it is, in fact, a very dark crime novel; even noir, if you will. I’ll undoubtedly write more about that once I finish reading it, but it’s interesting thus far, and Dickey also proves the maxim I’ve held for quite some time–that poets make amazing fiction writers because they understand the music in language. I am not a poet–I don’t have the ear for it, and have never grasped the basic concepts of it, and my mind just doesn’t think that way.

We’re almost finished with The Politician. There’s only one episode left in this first season, which we will watch tonight, and then we’ll go back to Succession or watching one of the network shows we watch that have since returned. I was very tired last night when I got home from work–I hit a wall at one point yesterday afternoon–and wasn’t really able to get too much done before hitting the bed. I did revise the short story again yesterday. It’s due today, so before I head into the office today I’ll go over it one more time before sending it in to the editors. I don’t know if it’s any good–as I have repeatedly said, I am not the best judge of my own work–so I won’t be terribly disappointed if they decide against using it. I have another story I need to get revised–well, make that two stories I need to revise–and of course, now that it’s October, I need to start revising a manuscript for a novel. The question is, which one? Heavy heaving sigh. Tomorrow is a half-day for me, so I’ll probably hit the grocery store on the way home from the office and then will retire to my easy chair to reread Bury Me in Shadows. 

Although the Kansas book is also kind of calling to me. Hmmmm.

LSU plays Utah State with a very early start time on Saturday; the next weekend is Florida at night in Death Valley. The Saints continue to chug along, even without Drew Brees, so this could wind up being a terrific football season for Louisiana football fans.

I can also tell that the seasons are beginning to change somewhat. It gets light much later than it used to when I wake up on my early mornings, and it’s now dark when I come home from work. This makes my two lengthy days seem much worse than they did when I was going to work and coming home in the sunlight. There’s something soul-destroying about going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, like you’ve missed the entire day. And while on Mondays and Tuesdays I have indeed missed the entire day while being inside at work, it seems so much worse when it’s been dark for hours by the time I get off work. I know it’s a mental thing, and part of the reason I dislike the winter season so much–I dislike the shorter sunlight hours. It’s also starting to be cooler–there was hardly any humidity yesterday, and it was so cold in the office I was actually looking forward to going outside to move my car yesterday afternoon. It was certainly warmer outside, but the humidity was gone, and so going outside wasn’t like getting slapped in the face with a wet woolen blanket the way it has been since April or May.

I am also hopeful today I am going to get my inbox finally cleaned out so I can be finished with my emails once and for all.

An old man can dream, can’t he? Let me have this one.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Monday morning. I don’t feel tired this morning; we’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we? The Saints won a squeaker last night, 12-10, but they did end up winning the game despite scoring no touchdowns–when was the last time that happened?–and I went to bed shortly thereafter. We continued watching The Politician, and predictably, it’s plot has became more scattered the deeper into the season we get, like so many other shows from Ryan Murphy. We’ re still watching because it’s entertaining enough, and the acting is top-notch, and we only have a few more episodes to go before it’s finished.

I also am almost finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which will probably be finished tomorrow. I haven’t decided what my next fiction read will be just yet–I started pulling James Dickey’s Deliverance down from the shelves last night, but couldn’t make myself start reading it. I was quite young when I saw the movie–we saw it at the drive-in, and I don’t remember what the earlier feature was, but I do remember I fell asleep while it was playing and only woke up near the end, not knowing what had happened. Deliverance was one of those movies whose plot became a part of the zeitgeist; people today may not completely know where the reference comes from, but any time someone mentions being somewhere so rural “you can almost hear the banjoes”–it’s a reference to Deliverance. It also may be James Dickey the poet’s only work of fiction; I don’t know how true that is or isn’t, but it certainly used to be true.

I also finished watching episode three of Murder in the Bayou yesterday, which has also given me some ideas (along with the thinking about Deliverance) for my own book, Bury Me in Shadows, which is what I actually think I’m going to work on for the month of October. The Kansas book is still messing with my head. I can’t figure out what to do with the plot and there are so many different ways I could revise that story that I think it might be best to leave that mess alone for now. I still want to get it finished and out of my hair, but if I can’t decide precisely how to move forward with it, well, that makes it a little more difficult to get it finished.

I need to revise my short story today, and then give it some polish tomorrow before turning it in. It’s kind of a mess right now, but I am confident once I reread it today and make some notes, it’ll all fall into place for me. The pieces are all there, but they aren’t in the right place as of yet, and that’ll have to result in some moving of shit around to make the story more cohesive. I also need to work on that other story; I think I need to change its ending in order to make it more powerful.

And now it’s off to the shower to get ready for my day. It’s a long one, alas; but I am confident I can make it through to the other side.

Like there’s a choice or something. 😉

Happy Monday, Constant Reader!

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Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

I never used to have trouble with my sinuses, or allergies, or any of that; at least that I recall. But I would think I would remember having these horrible headaches, that reach down into my jaw, or the constant dripping and coughing and the fevers and the eyes burning and all that comes with sinus infections or allergies. I think it was sometime after 2001 that it happened the first time; the weather changed and spring sprung and suddenly I was feverish and coughing and my nose was running and a friend told me it was sinus-related; and that the best way to deal with it was taking stinging nettles. I thought it was weird, but on my way home I stopped at Walgreens and bought a bottle of stinging nettles in capsule form. I took two and within half an hour all of my symptoms were gone.

Like the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination.

The nettles worked so well that I started taking them every day even if I didn’t sense symptoms; along with my multi-vitamins and my workout supplements and other vitamins and fish oil and so forth, I took two capsules of nettles. It worked for years, but as time passed and I grew older, the nettles stopped being effective and I switched to Claritin-D, which is the only thing since the nettles that I’ve found that helps. But you can break Claritin-D down into something approximating crystal meth (I don’t know how it works or how you do it; I’ve never watched Breaking Bad) and so now the government keeps track of how much you can buy; you have to present ID and if its too soon after the last time you bought some…they won’t sell it to you. I’ve never quite been able to figure out how the limit works–I suppose I could research it on-line–but the bottom line of it is I treat my Claritin-D like gold. I won’t even let Paul have one, in case I need one and I’m out and it’s too soon to buy more. I used to try to buy some every time I pick up prescriptions to stockpile it so I will always have it when I need it; I’ve slacked off on that and this recent sinus infection has reminded me of the importance of having stock.

So, much as I would simply like to take a Claritin-D every day during the spring, I can’t because one-a-day is above the government monthly allowance. So, when my sinuses start reacting and we have heavy weather like we did over the weekend, because I am worried I might run out of it sometime when I really need it, I don’t take it preemptively and wind up with yet another sinus infection. So, note to self: when I can, I am going to buy more. And I am going to put a bottle of stinging nettles on the list, too. It can’t hurt to take it every day, supplementing with a Claritin-D as needed.

It’s also insane that anything I can get with a prescription doesn’t work as well. In all seriousness, make it a prescription medication again. Wouldn’t usage being easier to track and people using it to make drugs be easier to stop if there has to be a prescription filed in order for it to be obtained for use?

I don’t know, just spitballing here.

In case you couldn’t tell, Constant Reader, I still feel lousy and I am feeling pretty damned crabby over the whole thing. I had to use two days of sick time  and probably two days of being productive in other ways by being sick. Heavy heaving sigh.

I actually feel worse this morning than I did yesterday; my hope is this will all clear up somehow before tomorrow so I can go back to work and stop using sick time. My sinuses feel okay today, so that’s something; but it’s the rest that needs to clear up. My joints ache, I’m still feverish, and I had to get up in the middle of the night to throw up–yeah, that was lovely. I am going to be eating chicken soup today for lunch; I tend to not eat when I am sick, which makes me even weaker.

Again, lovely.

But I did get to read some more of Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday between bouts of dozing off and feeling sick; I’d read until I couldn’t focus and then put it aside. I might just curl up in my easy chair today with a blanket and watch movies; Bonnie & Clyde, All the President’s Men, and Deliverance are all available to stream from Netflix, and I’ve been wanting to see them all again. I’ve never seen Bonnie & Clyde in the theatrical cut, only seeing the badly butchered edited for television version, and since reading Mark Harris’ brilliant Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood I’ve been wanting to see all five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar for 1967–some again, some for the first time (I’ve never seen In the Heat of the Night, which won). Maybe if I can’t focus on reading…

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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