Mary Mary

I have always loved strong female characters, having cut my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames, just to name a few. As an adult reader of mysteries, two of my favorite series are Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (simply the best) and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (also a gem of a series); primarily because I love the characters of Amelia and Meg both so very much. They are both fiercely intelligent women with a very dry sense of humor, and are the kind of strong women that everyone around them comes to depend on for support–and droll wit. The death of Dr. Barbara Mertz (who wrote as Peters AND as Barbara Michaels) ended the Peabody series forever, much to my heartbreak; the Meg Langslow series is going strong still, so I am hopeful that I will have years and years of reading pleasure yet to come from Donna.

And then, last year I discovered Mary Russell.

The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before. With the shock of the sudden change, my vision stuttered, attempted a valiant rally, then slid into complete rebellion and would not focus at all.

I leant back into my chair with an ill-stifled groan, peeled my wire-rimmed spectacles from my ears and dropped tjem onto the stack of notes, and sat for a long minute with the heels of both hands pressed into my eye sockets.

I was already a fan of Laurie R. King from her brilliant Kate Martinelli series, about a lesbian police detective. (If you’ve not read that series, you need to–it’s one of the best of the last thirty years.) I was reluctant to read the Mary Russell series, as Constant Reader may remember from my previous posts about earlier books in this series; for any number of reasons, but primarily not ever really getting into the Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle stories. This shifted and changed when I was asked to contribute a Sherlock story to Narrelle Harris’ The Only One in the World anthology; this required me to go back and do some reading of Doyle, and having worked with Laurie R. King on the MWA board, I decided to give her feminist take on Sherlock a go.

And I have not regretted that decision once.

Mary has stepped up to replace Amelia Peabody as one of my favorite on-going series; I love the character–a strong-minded, fiercely independent woman of no small intelligence who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Holmes. Theirs is, despite the age difference, a true partnership of equals; I love that Holmes, in King’s interpretation of him, isn’t quite so misogynistic or incapable of feeling–which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a male-written version. I like King’s Holmes; the strong female character who is his equal was the perfect solution to whatever misogynistic issues I may have had with other interpretations. I also love that Russell is also pursuing a life of the mind; her studies into theology at Oxford are not just asides to add color and flavor to the character but are just as important to whom she is as a character as the love interest/relationship with Holmes. As I also have an amateur’s curiosity into the history of Christianity and how the faith changed and developed throughout the centuries following the New Testament stories…how that was shaped and influenced by men with not the purest of motives…is something I’ve always been interested in.

I think the first book that challenged Christian orthodoxy in a fictional form that I read–the first time I became aware of the possibilities that the BIble wasn’t actually the pure word of God and had been edited and revised repeatedly in the centuries since Christ ostensibly lived, died and was resurrected–was, of all things, a book by Irving Wallace called The Word (Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he wrote enormous books of great length that were huge bestsellers, and the subject matter and style of the books was essentially that they were very bery long thrillers: The Prize was about the maneuvering to win a Nobel; The Plot was about an international conspiracy to kill JFK; The Second Lady was about a Soviet plan to kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a lookalike who was a Soviet agent; etc etc etc). The premise of The Word is simply that a new testament, a document hidden away for centuries in a monastery in Greece, claims that not only did Jesus not die on the cross but went on to live for many decades, preaching his own ministry and even visiting Rome. This, of course, is a cataclysmic document–it would change everything everyone had ever known and believed…if it is indeed authentic.

I’ve always loved a good thriller with a base in theology, ever since; and A Letter of Mary is just that, even if more of a mystery than a thriller. The role of Mary Magdalen has been questioned a lot in the last few decades–not the least reason of which is Holy Blood Holy Grail–an interesting concept if one that has been proven to based in a falsehood in the times since (or was THAT part of the Vatican’s plot?)–which inevitably led to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I don’t find the idea that the Magdalen was a beloved disciple of Jesus–and that she may have been his favorite–a reach; likewise, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in the actual New Testament that essentially says she was a prostitute, a “fallen woman.”

This book begins with Russell despairing over her research only to receive a letter that she and Holmes are going to be receiving a visitor–someone they met during their time in the Holy Land some time earlier–glossed over in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but apparently explored more deeply in O Jerusalem! The visitor, an older heiress of no small means who is fascinated with archaeology and has been funding digs in the Holy Land, presents the pair with a gift as well as an ancient letter, unauthenticated, which is ostensibly a letter from Mary Magdalen some years after the death of Christ, written to a sister as the city of Jerusalem falls under seige by the Romans during the Jewish Wars, around 70 AD, that saw the sack of the city and the start of the diaspora; which makes it very clear that, if authentic, the Magdalen was one of the disciples and heavily involved in the ministry of the Christian church. Their guest returns to London, and is killed when she is stuck by a car the following day. Holmes and Russell sniff around the crime scene and find evidence that the old woman was murdered…but by whom? Why? Is this about the letter from Mary?

King always tells a great story–you never can go wrong with one of her books, really–and the characters are so well-defined, so real, that even if she didn’t tell a great story, you want to read about those characters more, get to know them better, and cheer them on to their successes and sympathize with their failures. Her writing style is also a joy to read; the Mary Russell voice is so different and so clearly distinct from Kate Martinelli that you can’t not marvel at her mastery.

The next book in the series is The Moor, and I am really looking forward to it.

Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)

I am the first to admit that I am a crime writer who was always kind of meh about Sherlock Holmes. I read some of the novels and some of the stories when I was in junior high, and while I enjoyed them somewhat, I was never particularly driven to go on to read the rest. I did read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s–The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution, The West End Horror–but was never particularly driven to go back to Doyle. I never actually went back to Doyle (until recently; bear with me) but Holmes is so ubiquitous, so part of the crime fiction zeitgeist that it was impossible not to be aware of him and iconic parts of his canon, even the ones I’d not read–Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, Mary who married Watson–and of course, like many others, I’ve watched a great deal of the Holmes film canon, including Young Sherlock Holmes, and am a big an of the Benedict Cumberbatch interpretation; we even watched the first few seasons of the Americanized Holmes, Elementary. But for the most part I’ve avoided pastiches and the originals, with the exception of a story here and there by one of the modern-day aficionados who worship at the altar of Sherlock.

I have always known that my lack of Sherlockian knowledge was perhaps detrimental to my career as a crime writer. Several years ago, I managed to find a gloriously beautiful hardbound edition of the Baring-Gould The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and I have periodically dipped into it; no more so than when I was tasked to write my own Sherlock story, which became “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy.” Writing the story, putting my own interpretation on someone else’s characters and breathing life into them to try to make them engaging and new while respecting the originals was quite a challenge for me, one at many times I felt I was not equal to bringing to fruition. The story was written and then revised with editorial input, which made the story much stronger (in my opinion) than how I’d originally envisioned it, and it also unlocked potential in my creative brain: I want to, and plan to, return to the New Orleans of 1916 that I created for iteration, and even see how some other historic stories about New Orleans could easily fit into my Sherlock world, could prove to be cases for the great brain residing at 821 B Royal Street in the French Quarter.

I also decided that reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series was long overdue.

And seriously, what a treat it was.

Dear Reader,

As both I and the century approach the beginnings of our ninth decades, I have been forced to admit that age is not always a desirable state. The physical, of course, contributes its own flavour to life, but the most vexing problem I have found is that my past, intensely real to me, has begun to fade into the mists of history in the eyes of those around me. The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood. The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter. With us will go our memories.

I do not remember when I first realized that the flesh-and-blood Sherlock Holmes I knew so well was to the rest of the world merely a figment of an out-of-work medical doctor’s powerful imagination. What I do remember is how the realisation took my breath away, and how for several days my own self-awareness became slightly detached, tenuous, as if I too were in the process of transmuting into fiction, by contagion with Holmes. My sense of humour provided the pinch that woke me, but it was a very peculiar sensation while it lasted.

Now, the process has become complete: Watson’s stories, those feeble evocations of the compelling personality we both knew, have taken on a life of their own, and the living creature of Sherlock Holmes has become ethereal, dreamy. Fictional.

I first discovered Laurie R. King’s work with her Kate Martinelli series; I received a review copy of Night Work when I was editor of Lambda Book Report. I wasn’t familiar with the series, which caught me off guard–how did I not know about a crime series with a lesbian police detective as the protagonist?–and the book itself caught me completely off-guard. It was brilliant, so strongly written and the characters so real I was quite literally shocked to find out, many years later, that King was not herself a lesbian. I went back and read the entire series, loved each one, and was saddened when King ended the series with Book 5, moving on to a new series with Mary Russell–a series so completely different and disparate from the Martinelli series I didn’t see how it could work…and then add in the fact that it was actually a Holmes pastiche, and well, I wasn’t terribly interested.

It was sometime during the past year while working alongside King on the Mystery Writers of America board of directors (I will never get used to the big names I rub elbows with through my years of volunteering with MWA), and in the wake of my own Sherlockian writing experience, I thought, you love and admire her as a writer AND as a person, you should read her Mary Russell series.

It was quite literally one of the smartest decisions I have ever made.

I finished reading Book One of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and as you can see from the above paragraphs, immediately I was immersed in the story. The voice, the style, everything about the character and the story was as far removed from the more hard-boiled, gritty Martinelli series, but the intelligence and warmth and humor was still there–only in a completely different manne, a completely different way. You could read a Kate book and then a Mary and easily believe it was two different authors, they are so different. This is genius, by the way; the ability to create such completely different worlds, completely different characters, completely different voices? And I was riveted by Mary Russell. By the end of the first chapter I was crazy about her–she reminds me of two of my favorite female series characters of all time, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow–and her warmth and intelligence and humor…she was more than a match for Holmes, and by seeing Holmes through the eyes of an intelligent, independent woman rather than an admiring doctor also helped greater humanize Holmes himself, something I never got from the Doyle works (but that could also entirely be my own failing; I am going to leisurely revisit Doyle this year methinks), and I also found myself caring about them deeply–not just about the case, but about them as people.

So, if you’re avoiding this series because you aren’t a Sherlockian, you’re being ridiculous because you can have no knowledge of Holmes whatsoever to enjoy this, and I can’t see how you can’t enjoy this if you are a Sherlockian. This is a version of Holmes that deserves to be shared on a screen–television or theater, it doesn’t matter–and I can also see any number of today’s younger actresses playing this role. And while I have only seen the television adaptation of The Alienist, but the young female detective played so brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, Sara Howard, seems to also have a lot in common with Mary Russell.

I cannot wait to read the next A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and not just because of that great title resonating with me (I’ve always wanted to write a history of the 16th century by exploring the many powerful regnant women, pilfering that title from the John Knox tract denouncing the most ‘unChristian’ fact of so many powerful women on the scene at the same time).

Color me a big fan!

Someone Like You

TUESDAY!!!!! How are you?

It’s cold again this morning in New Orleans–but one lovely thing about the cold is that I sleep better. I woke up this morning with the alarm, wide awake and feeling surprisingly rested, but stayed in bed because it was so comfortable and warm through several strikes of the snooze button. Even now, as I sip my cappuccino and sit very closely to the space heater, I can feel the cold…and it’s most unpleasant….as will be getting out to the car this morning, and from the parking lot to the office. Ugh. But tis life.

I’m still working on my short story that has to be turned in on Thursday–I think that’s the 15th? Perhaps it’s Friday, I am not sure, but regardless, I have another four thousand words to add to my story and then need to sit and polish and everything else before then. I did manage to get what I had already written very cleaned up, and I like to think I did a good job establishing who my main character is and where he is at in his life; the question is whether the story will turn out to be okay. The nice thing about these stories, of course, is that they can always wind up in a short story collection if the blind readers, for example, turn this one down. I’ve also started working my way through #shedeservedit, and am hopeful I can actually start the revisions as soon as I have this story finished. I have until March 1st to whip it into publishable shape, and then I think I am going to spend some time with short stories in April before spending May writing the first draft of Chlorine. That’s a doable, viable plan for the first half of the year, and I’d also like to spend June and July working on the next Scotty book, before returning to Chlorine. I have some there book projects potentially hanging around out there, floating in the ether, both ideas and potential leads for contracts, and I have a couple of pseudonymous things I’d like to see if anyone has any interest in out there.

Provided, of course, that the country manages to halt all upcoming treason and sedition and doesn’t collapse into an autocratic dictatorship. It’s been very hard for me to focus on anything other than what’s going on in the country since the attack on Congress last Wednesday–the very same one instigated by the president and some of his lickspittle lackeys (who are now calling for conciliation less than a week after they were calling for civil fucking war–looking at you in particular, Hee Hawley and Traitor Ted Cruz), the ones who are now trying to gaslight the country as though last Wednesday was not only a travesty but not one of the major crises of the Republic. The game I play is, what would they be saying and doing had the insurrectionist mob succeeded?

I’ll give you a hint: it most definitely would not be “we need to move on and unify.”

I need to be able to take Donna Andrews’ brilliant advice that I noted last week, about writing on 9/12, and put all of this out of my mind–or find a way to channel my anger into my writing. The story I am currently writing isn’t an angry one; in fact, it’s incredibly important to the story that the main character, and thus the story, remain calm and rational while fighting off rising panic and terror, so this story isn’t the way for me to get the anger out through words…and really, as much fun as I am having (or have been having) on Twitter isn’t really emotionally healthy for me for the most part, but channeling my anger about this outrage into tweets at those who are complicit, or making excuses for treason…well, after being told for decades that I am not a real American patriot while these anti-American fucking nut jobs appropriated the nation’s symbology (for the record, if you don’t understand what those symbols actually stand for, you’re actually fetishizing them and debasing them, along with yourself) while bleating about FREEDOM…yeah, miss me with that, traitors. You appropriated Christianity and perverted it, and you’re trying to do the same with our symbols and ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

I did watch some of the national title game, going to bed just as Alabama was about to make their first score of the second half. Congratulations, Tide, and thank you for continuing SEC dominance of the college football championships. I’ve lost track of how many titles Alabama has won since 2009, but I know LSU won three, Florida two, and Auburn one since the turn of the century. Only the ACC has two teams to win national titles this century; the SEC has twice that many–and LSU has won as many as both ACC teams have. DOMINANCE.

Hopefully, today I can focus and get things done that need to get done. And in that spirit, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day–unless you’re a traitor. Then I hope today’s the day you get arrested.

Girl at Home

So here it is Friday at last, and the first full week of 2021 is coming, mercifully, to a close. It has been a rollercoaster of a week (2020, perhaps, giving us one last taste of her horrors? I certainly hope it wasn’t 2021 laughing and saying, “hold my beer, bitches.”) It has been an emotionally and intellectually exhausting week, a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows and horrors, and one that I am frankly not in the least bit sorry to come to its inevitable end–kind of like 2020.

I also don’t believe the domestic terrorism threat is over, but then I inevitably start from a place of complete distrust to begin with when it comes to my fellow Americans, particularly those who historically come from a place of hate for anyone slightly different and have always been intolerant of anyone and everything that doesn’t conform to their small, incredibly narrow worldview.

Or, to be more succinct, you really can’t fix trash.

I am working from home again today, which is kind of nice. I did so yesterday as well–was able to watch a great, if problematic, movie yesterday–and have a lot to do around my job. Dishes, laundry, bed linens…all need to be taken care of today, and of course there are always more condoms to pack. This weekend I am going to have to make groceries–despite saying farewell forever to Rouse’s, as the co-owner of the company and the former HR director proudly posted pictures of themselves at the anti-democratic treasonous insurrection the other day, so the Rouse family will never see another cent from this household–and so now, with Breaux Mart on Magazine’s owner also outing himself as a traitor who supports treason against the democracy, I will be exploring other grocery options–the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, the Fresh Market on St. Charles, the Robert’s at Elysian Fields and St. Claude–and there are others as well. It’s truly sad–I was a loyal Rouse’s customer ever since they came to New Orleans, and I was happy to support a local, Louisiana led company–but sorry, the very thought that any money I worked hard for and paid taxes on going to support the traitorous actions of the company co-owner makes me sick to my stomach. So, I will never pass through their doors again. I don’t know how many other New Orleanians agree with me, but as the city went 84% for Biden and we are probably the biggest market the company is in–yeah, dramatic miscalculation on the traitor’s part, but then if he were truly intelligent, he wouldn’t be a traitor and would see through the con man he’s been throwing money at since at least 2015. Eat a bag of dicks, you treasonous trash.

And the next person who tells me we need to reach out to Trump supporters will get a wad of spittle in their face. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists, period. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley? Good luck washing this stench off, because the phantom odor will follow your treasonous asses for the rest of your lives and you will never be president, ever, no matter how much you backpedal now. The picture of Hawley holding up a fist in solidarity with traitors and criminals against the state will never ever go away–at least not as long as there is breath in my body.

I need to get to work on writing this weekend, which has been pretty much impossible since the terrorist attack on the Capitol. But I read a wonderful Facebook post yesterday by the amazing Donna Andrews, whose books I love and is also one of my favorite people of all time, about getting back to her writing after 9/11, on 9/12, to be precise, and she was right. As artists, we have to create, even as the world burns around us; and while I dislike calling myself an “artist” (I’ve always seen that as pretentious), in this instance I will allow it without protest; and crime writers in particular have a duty to continue examining society and its problems through the lens of our characters, our voices, and and our work. Hopefully tonight, when I am home from the gym and have finished my work for the day, I am going to be able to sit down and work on my story for the MWA anthology, the blog post I promised to write, and start reading the manuscript for #shedeservedit, so I can get some work done on it this weekend. Things have also been piling up in my email inbox, and I need to get organized if I have any hope of staying on top of everything I need to get done. At least I made my doctor’s appointment for next week, so I can get going on a goal for the year–taking better care of myself and taking full advantage of my insurance.

The film I watched yesterday was L. A. Confidential, and what a great film it was indeed. Set in 1950’s Los Angeles, and based on the novel by MWA Grand Master James Ellroy, it’s a dark story of ambition and murder and corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department of the time–so in a way it counts as research for Chlorine-a time where cops could easily get swayed by the press; when beating confessions out of suspects and planting evidence were de regeur for a day’s work; and the prevalence of racism in an entirely white police force was the norm, not the exception. (And really, given the last few years, can anyone really assert that they are different now?) The performances were excellent, although it was hard to watch Kevin Spacey without thinking rapist–and the irony that the other two stars of the film (Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce) got their start in queer-centered films, playing gay men (The Sum of Us for Crowe and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for Pearce) going on to play incredibly butch, ambitious tough guy cops is rather sublime. had it not been released in the same year as Titanic it probably would have been a big winner at the Oscars. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, to be honest. I’ve never been a huge fan of Ellroy–too much casual homophobia and racism in his work–but I have always wanted to try him again (I’ve only read Clandestine, which I do want to read again) because I do appreciate his unique writing style and the depth and density of layers in his novels. (another thing I want to do this weekend is actually read for pleasure; it’s been a hot minute)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader–you and I truly deserve one.


Violence

So I had a new and interesting experience yesterday: a mammogram.

Yes, that’s correct, I said a mammogram. I’ve had a lump in my right pectoral for years now, and two others just below. I had asked my doctor about them several times over the years during routine exams, but they always kind of blew it off, saying it was nothing to worry about, and so I never did…although, occasionally during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d touch it thoughtfully, and wonder. As I said, this last time when I went to for my check-up, and she was so relentlessly thorough, she came across it while examining me and said, “How long has that been there?” and I replied, “well, a long time, frankly. I’ve always been told not to worry about it.” She frowned back at me. “Well, if it hasn’t grown or been painful, it’s probably just a fatty cyst, which is a genetic thing and nothing to worry about, but by the look on your face you’d prefer to know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

And so the mammogram was yesterday. And it was precisely that, a fatty cyst which is genetic (note to self: thank parents for that, along with tendency for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), and not only that–there were two more in my left pectoral I wasn’t even aware of. They aren’t harmful or dangerous in any way, and I was advised against having them removed–“it just leaves an ugly scar, and no one will ever notice them unless they fondle your chest”–and so made the decision not to bother with them. And yet–I felt an enormous relief when the radiologist told me all of this, so clearly on some levels it was stress and worry I was retaining.

As we tell our clients at Crescent Care, you really need to advocate for yourself. Going forward, I am not going to let my doctors with their silly medical degrees pooh-pooh a concern that is actually very real to me. There’s no reason I couldn’t have had this subconscious worry put to rest years ago. Lesson learned.

And now I can officially tell you, Constant Reader, that I have placed another short story! “The Snow Globe” will be this coming year in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder, edited by Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley. I am quite thrilled by this–as I always am whenever I place a story somewhere–and have had to sit on the news for a few days before the official announcement. I still have two out on submission that are pending, but I’m having a fairly lovely year when it comes to placing short stories thus far. “The Snow Globe” has an interesting genesis; a thread on a friend’s wall about Hallmark Christmas Movies and an enchanted snow globe that featured in one, and I commented “I’d be more interested if it were CURSED”, and this was around the same time a publisher was doing a War on Christmas anthology, so I decided to write about a cursed snow globe for it. I messed up the story on that iteration; the notes I got with the rejection note showed me that I had, indeed, made the wrong decision with the story (which I had suspected) and so even though it wasn’t being included (that anthology would up not happening, either), I went ahead and revised it based on those notes and changed it to the way I had originally thought it should be before I second-guessed myself and changed it. And now it has found a home.

The funny part is the opening line was actually lifted from an idea I had for a Halloween story for an anthology the Horror Writers Association was doing (I never wrote this story). One night, years ago, I was standing on the balcony at the Pub/Parade during Halloween weekend (in my usual slutty whatever costume; my costume default always involved slutty in the title and involved lots of exposed skin) and someone came out of Oz across the street as Satan–horns and a wig and goat legs, but also a bare torso body painted red–and I thought, wow, Satan has a great six pack and laughed, thinking that’s a great opening line for a story. I was going to use it for my Halloween story, along with the Gates of Guinee; I never wrote the story, but when I was figuring out my cursed snow globe story, I thought, You know, “Santa has a great six-pack” is also a great opening line, and you can work Guinee into this, and thus “The Snow Globe” was born.

And yes, it’s a story about a gay man placed in a mainstream anthology, which pleases me even more. (I mean, an opening line like that would have to be the start of a story about a gay man, wouldn’t it?)

I watched two movies while making condom packs yesterday: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Altered States, which, while they may not seem similar at first glance, after watching them they kind of are. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (I hated his version of The Shining; Barry Lyndon was probably the most boring film ever made; and while I enjoy A Clockwork Orange…it’s not something I’d care to watch again, frankly), and when I watched 2001 for the first time, years ago, when it debuted on television, all I could think was I don’t understand this movie at all. I went on to read the book, by Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), which sort of explained what was happening better, but it wasn’t until I saw and read the sequel, 2010, that it all began to make sense. Visually and sound-wise, it’s an exceptional film, particularly for when it was made; no science fiction space movie had looked so realistic before, and would Star Wars have been possible without 2001? But as with other Kubrick films I’ve seen, the acting wasn’t terrific (although Keir Dullea is stunningly gorgeous to look at; he came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, and has aged spectacularly well), and there was a distinct coldness to the movie, a distance that I felt was deliberate–to show how vast and empty and cold space is. It was also kind of funny in that the flight out to the Moon in the beginning was a Pan American flight, and on the station there was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; they had no way of knowing that either, at the time the movie was made, would be no longer in business by the actual year 2001. It was also interesting that women were still in subservient roles in this fantasy 2001, except in the case of the Soviets (also no way of knowing there would be no Soviet Union by the actual year 2001); which always makes futuristic films interesting time capsules once the future they depict has come and gone in actuality. The basic plot of the movie–sandwiched in between the strange appearances of the monolith at the dawn of mankind and encountered again at the end by Dave–is a horror/suspense tale, told unemotionally and rather coldly–about the malfunction of the computer, HAL 9000, who controls the spaceship and begins trying to kill the astronauts aboard, which undoubtedly also influenced Alien.

Altered States is a Ken Russell film, starring a very young William Hurt and Blair Brown. Hurt is still in the full flush of youthful male beauty, and like in his other early films I’ve watched lately (Eyewitness, Body Heat) his body and looks are highly sexualized; he’s naked a lot in this, and there’s even a brief view of his penis in one shot, which I am sure was quite shocking for the time. Like Kubrick, I’ve never been a particular fan of Ken Russell as an auteur; Altered States is a deeply flawed film that could have been so much more. Hurt and Brown play highly educated academics at the top of their field who eventually become professors at Harvard. Hurt is primarily interested in his field of research; he believes that in a heightened sense of consciousness, one can tap into the millions of years of human development that is locked into our brains and DNA. He is conducting experiments into altered consciousness in the beginning of the movie, by putting himself into a sensory deprivation tank (remember those?), which is part and parcel of the times in which the film was made. Eventually, he discovers there’s a remote native tribe in the mountains of Mexico that still performs, and lives in the same manner, as their Toltec ancestors; they also have visions and regress when taking a type of brew made from a certain kind of mushroom only grown where they live during a mystical ritual. (Interesting aside: Greek actor Thaao Penghlis, who gained fame playing Tony DiMera for decades on Days of Our Lives, plays the Mexican anthropologist who not only tells Hurt about this tribe, but takes him there–because he was dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair, of course he was convincingly “Mexican” to play the part) As expected, things go terribly wrong and he becomes more and more obsessed; by taking the drug concoction made by this tribe while using a sensory deprivation tank he is able to unlock primordial memory as well as regress physically as well, until his friends intervene and his love for Brown somehow manage a strangely weird happily ever after. It’s really just another film warning about the hubris of scientists and playing God, in the long line of tradition dating back to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blair Brown is also naked a lot, for no apparent reason other than to show off her body, and it was, as I said, flawed. But the climactic scene where he changes again physically and has to fight off regressing to early man is also reminiscent of both the beginning and end of 2001–which shows the birth of mankind and intelligence, and how Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes, thanks to the strange monolith, also regresses and changes and evolves, into what was called the Starchild. (You really have to read or watch–or both–2010 for any of that to make sense.)

We also continue to watch Babylon Berlin with great enjoyment; we have but one more episode to go in Season 1.

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

Boot Scootin’ Boogie

Wednesday morning, and the month of March is already slipping through our fingers like water in a sieve. It looks again to be a gorgeous morning out there–at some point this morning I am heading to the gym. I’ve just finished the long part of my work week–the two twelve hour days, and yesterday was particularly brutal, quite frankly. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but alas, staying in bed all day won’t make the world go away nor will it deny the inevitability of Wednesday and all of its commitments arriving. So, I am going to slurp down some coffee, get some things organized, clean this messy kitchen/office, head to the gym, make a list of the errands I must get done today, and so on and so forth before I head into the office for four o’clock-ish.

I do feel tired this morning–I’m not sure if it’s tired from the two long days or a sleep hangover from my over-indulgence this morning–but I am sure the coffee will soon start kicking in and getting me over this hump. I did get a chance to write some more on my Sherlock Holmes story, but the primary focus for today needs to be my emails–at least for this morning–and maybe I can swing back around to working on the story later this evening. I’m relatively pleased with what I’ve done so far and the idea I have for the story; I am also working on another story with the same deadline–but this one is easier; I just have to revise a story that was turned down for another anthology and fix what was wrong with it to get it ready for this new submission.

But like the ant with the rubber tree plant, I’ve got high hopes.

This morning, the cover for the Joni Mitchell anthology I contributed to, The Beat of Black Wings, edited by the incomparable Josh Pachter, was announced and revealed over at the BOLO Books blog; click and go check out the cover  but the table of contents. I am enormously thrilled and excited to be sharing the TOC with such amazing writers as Elaine Viets, Donna Andrews, Art Taylor and Tara Laskoski, Sherry Harris, Brendan Dubois, and numerous other people who’s work I’ve enjoyed and admired for quite some time. My story was “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” inspired, naturally, by the song with the same name. When Josh graciously asked me to write something for the anthology, it was actually my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford) who suggested which song to use. I will admit that while I am a fan and have always liked her work, I’m also not familiar with a lot of it, and also figured that the songs that I knew were most likely the songs everyone knows, and I wanted to do something not quite as famous as, say, “Free Man in Paris” or “Both Sides Now” or “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Help Me”. That Bitch Ford came to the rescue, suggested the song I used, and once I listened to it, I was like, hell yes, I can write this story.

I always say the best advice I’ve ever received or can give to a writer is to never throw anything away, and this certainly proved to be the case this time. I had written a dark yet delicious story set in a hotel bar at a writer’s conference with the TERRIFIC title “Death and the Handmaidens” (I still have hope for that title and the story, to be honest) which never got anywhere. Everywhere I submitted it to rejected it, so I clearly had missed the mark with it somehow, but I liked the seedy hotel bar setting, and after listening to Joni’s song, which is basically about a beautiful boy all the teenaged girls fall in love with, I started , naturally, thinking back to high school and the beautiful boys all the girls had crushes on…and the more I thought about it, the more I realized the seedy hotel bar setting was perfect for this, only instead of a writer’s conference it was a high school reunion, and my main character’s social anxiety disorder (something I experience from time to time) fit into this story much better than it did in the original. I took the original three paragraphs from “Death and the Handmaidens,” used it for the opening of this new story, and it just took wings (if you’ll pardon the allusion) from there. Josh gave me only a couple of edits, which was again enormously flattering, and now the story will be available soon–along with all the others, which I am truly looking forward to reading. I believe the anthology is going to be officially released in late April/early May; right around the same time that another anthology, The Faking of the President, will become available with my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” included.

I do love writing short stories, even if it’s like amputating a finger sometimes, and I really love getting them into print. Last year saw my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, see print with some new stories, and also saw the inclusion of my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (all available for your Anthony ballots, just saying). “This Town” is probably my favorite of all my short stories ever published, at least in recent memory; if I do another short story collection I will probably make it the title story, aka This Town and Other Stories.

All right, it’s time to get my shit together. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you again tomorrow.

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Chiseled in Stone

Sunday! It’s raining and gray outside this morning; I’m not sure (because I haven’t looked) what that means for today’s parades (Femme Fatale, Carrollton, and King Arthur–which is over fifty floats and loaded down with gay men, most of whom I know so I always get buried with beads), but I will take a look later. This morning i need to get some work done, and I need to make it to the gym for the start of week three of my workouts–which means today is three sets rather than two of everything. However, I decided it only made sense to cut the treadmill/cardio part of my workouts during parade season; it only makes sense, you know–as I am doing a lot of standing and jumping and walking during the parades. We only went to the night parades yesterday–Sparta and Pygmalion–because Paul was sleeping during the day (it’s festival crunch time, and he stays up really late working) and yes, I could have gone by myself–but it’s not as much fun without him. If the parades are–heaven forbid–rained out, then I will have a lot of free time to get things done, rather than trying to get them done before and after the parades.

Instead of parades yesterday afternoon, I spent most of the day writing some and finishing rereading Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? It really is a hard book to put down, which was, of course, Mrs. Clark’s biggest strength as a writer–that, and her ability to tap into women’s biggest fears. I’m writing a rather lengthy post about the book already–so I won’t discuss it too much here. And if the parades are cancelled, I’ll probably get that finished today.

So, I intend to spend this morning prepping for the gym and answering emails, then when I get home from the gym I’ll get cleaned up and write some before the parades get here–if they are, indeed, coming; they might just be delayed. There aren’t any evening parades today, so of course they can all have their scheduled departures pushed back; they may also abandon the marching bands and walking crews to roll in the rain. I don’t know if we have the physical stamina to stand in the rain for four hours–neither one of us can risk getting sick at this point–but then again, there are overhanging balconies at the corner, so who knows? I guess I’ll judge how bad the weather is when I am walking to the gym this morning.

I also now have to make the all-important decision on what to read next. I think I’m going to take a break from books that I have to read and read something just for the fun of it, and I think I’m going to choose a cozy by a writer I’ve not read before. When I said I wanted to diversify my reading–and started, last year, doing so by reading more authors of color–I didn’t just mean reading books by authors marginalized by race or sexuality; I also meant books outside of what I generally read. I don’t read a lot of cozies, and I’m not exactly sure why that is; I’ve read Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, Leslie Budewitz and others, but I am now questioning whether or not those actually qualified as cozies? I generally get cozies in the gift bags given out at conferences, and I do buy them from time to time–I support women writers, and I do feel like cozies are treated as somewhat less than by the crime  genre in general–and I also feel like it’s time to change that perception, and give cozies their due. I have an interesting looking one on hand from Ali Brandon, Double Booked for Murder, and I think that’s what I am going to read next. My cozy reading is woefully less than what it should be, and I want to start making up for that lost time. After that, I’ll probably move on back to the books I need to read and one of my reading projects, whether it’s the Reread Project or the Diversity Project (I am thinking Mary Stewart’s The Moonspinners is way overdue for a reread), or even, perhaps, some Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich is one of those pulpy writers from the mid-twentieth century who wrote a lot of books and short stories, but was also a miserable alcoholic and a gay man who lived with his mother most of his life. He wrote the story Hitchcock adapted as Rear Window, and wrote several other important noir-esque pulpy novels. I had started reading The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but got sidetracked by something else–probably reading for an award–and never got back to it, which is a shame; I greatly enjoyed it, and I find Woolrich to be an interesting character. I wish I had the time and the energy and the wherewithal to devote more to writing nonfiction; I think a biography of Woolrich would make for interesting reading (I also have always wanted to do one of John D. MacDonald, but again–would I ever have the time to read his–or Woolrich’s, for that matter–entire canon? Not entirely likely; maybe once I’ve retired from the day job and have days to fill with writing and reading and research); I am also curious because it seems most writers from that time period–including Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald–all had drinking problems; as did Woolrich. I’m not surprised a gay man living in those times lapsed into alcoholism–it’s a wonder more gay men of my generation don’t have lingering addiction problems.

I’m still dealing with my creative ADD problem, alas; being aware that it’s going on and happening doesn’t make it easier to control. I just realized yesterday–as I was writing notes in my journal about another short story idea (“Die a Little Death”) that I’d also completely forgotten about “Never Kiss a Stranger”; which is still yet another long story (novella?) I am in process with, along with “Festival of the Redeemer,” and still another I’ve not pulled out and worked on in over a year. It’s absolutely insane how many works I currently have in some kind of progress, which means ninety-five percent of them will most likely never be finished or see print. (Well over a hundred short stories or novellas; I have at least four novel manuscripts in some sort of progress; and fragments of at least five other novels–and none of this is counting essays in progress, either…yeah, it’s unlikely that I will ever finish all of this. And still I persist. Just like I will never read all the novels I want to read, I will never finish writing everything I want to write. Sigh.)

All right, I’m going to go read for a little while before I brave the rain to go to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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Heartbreaker

Thursday rolling into my world like nobody’s business. I cannot believe how quickly time moves the older you get. I mean–parades are starting soon! MADNESS! The lead-up to the parade season part of Carnival always seems to fly past; it’s also interesting that the first parades this year are on Valentine’s Day–talk about your double whammy. Without enough vacation time this year to take the parade days off–I’ll probably wind up taking Lundi Gras as a vacation day–it’s going to be quite interesting trying to schedule my office hours around getting home early enough that the streets aren’t closed off, and of course, parade traffic.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

But I’ve been making to-do lists this week and tearing through them; a great sign of productivity for me, and there are very necessary; I need those lists to keep me going and aware of what all I have to get done. I even wrote yesterday for a little while–not long–on the Secret Project, but most importantly, I discovered the character’s voice. This is always key for me when I’m writing; until I find my main character’s voice I struggle with the actual writing. I was most pleased to find the voice finally yesterday; I had already started writing the opening but it wasn’t feeling right; so I basically revised/rewrote the 1500 words or so I had already done yesterday, and should be able to get even more done before Monday.

That’s the goal, at any rate.

I also want to finish reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, which is fantastic, and I can’t wait to get back into it. After that I am going to start reading Tracy Clark’s series (the most recent is a nominee for the Grafton Prize, which is hella exciting–do people still say hella? It always annoyed me, and I think that might be the first time I’ve ever used it?), and then I am going to try to work my way through my TBR list. That list has grown exponentially since award lists have started coming out; heavy sigh. There’s never enough time for me to read, you know? I’ll go to my grave not having finished my TBR list, which is, of course, inevitable, really; there’s always new books coming out that I need/want to read. I am also terribly behind on some of my favorite authors–Donna Andrews, Michael Koryta, etc.–and then of course there’s all the classics I want to read as well, and then there’s the Reread Project and…

Yeah. I’m like Sisyphus and the rock, aren’t I?

And look at me, up so early this morning and a-rarin’ to go! Having my entire day free, and not having to go into the office until four, was amazing. Oddly enough, I think I function best when I go to work later in the morning/early afternoon, even if it means getting off work later. Mornings have traditionally always been my most productive time–going back years to when I worked for the airline and always picked shifts that started at eleven am or later–and I hadn’t realized how much I missed having those mornings free. I still have to be at work early for long days on both Mondays and Tuesdays, but now i feel like with Wednesday as a really late day to play catch-up and then my normal 11-12 start times on Thursday and Friday, this is a schedule that’s going to really work for me.

Then again, we’ll see.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines and get through my emails, then do some cleaning and filing and possibly a little reading, possibly a little writing, before I go into the office. I’ve got laundry running right now, and of course, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and reloaded and run again.

Happy Thursday, Constant Reader!

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I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love

So, it’s the last Sunday morning of the year, and the Saints are playing today–I suppose I should look and see what time, but it’s hard to get overly motivated this morning about the Saints after yesterday’s LSU game–which was utterly and completely insane. I thought they’d win, but not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine the final score would 63-28, or that it would be 49-14 at half-time, or that Oklahoma wouldn’t be in it at all. In fact, when the Sooners scored to make it 7-7, I said to Paul, “oh, this is going to be like the Florida game and we’re going to have to outscore them.” Little did I know, right? At some point–maybe when it was 35-7 with seven minutes or so to go in the half, I just started laughing uncontrollably. My mind couldn’t process what I was seeing. LSU was beating the Big XII champion, the fourth ranked team in the country, the way they beat Georgia Southern, Utah State, Vanderbilt–well, actually, Vanderbilt and Mississippi scored more points on LSU than Oklahoma did. LSU made a very good Oklahoma team look like they’d finish, at best, 7-5 in the SEC….and that would be if they were in the Eastern division. But all along, as sportscasters and journalists, in the days leading up to the game, kept talking up the Sooners, I just kept thinking, so you’re saying Oklahoma is better than Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida?

But once I got the uncontrollable laughing under control, I started feeling bad for Oklahoma–the players, the coaches, their fans. I felt bad for Jalen Hurts, whose athleticism and ability I admired even as I cursed at him for leading Alabama to wins over LSU back in the day. The man is a great athlete and a terrific quarterback; he has a  NFL and I only hope this game doesn’t affect his draft stock too negatively. The guy was second in the Heisman voting!

But I’m still glad LSU won and is playing for the national championship again in New Orleans.

Should be a great game.

I slept deeply and well last night, and so today I must get things done. I did run errands yesterday, and then gave myself over to watching the play-offs (I also watched some of the earlier bowl games, but didn’t pay too much attention and couldn’t even tell you who actually played–Penn State and Memphis, maybe?), so today I kind of can’t do that. The kitchen’s a mess, so is the living room, and I haven’t written in days. I have a long day at the office tomorrow, and then am off for two days again, before finishing off the week with two more days…before reality returns on the following week. The New Year is almost upon us, and I’ve already reflected on the year in my writing, so I suppose I need to do the year in my reading, and other things I enjoy, before writing the Happy New Year here are my goals annual post. I also have to proof read a story of mine today, and like I said, this desk area and kitchen are a complete and total, utter mess.

I also got some books this weekend: In the Woods by Tana French (inspired by watching Dublin Murders; I’d tried reading this years ago but for some reason couldn’t get into it and am giving it another try); Blanche on the Lam by new MWA Grand Master Barbara Neely; Owl Be Home for Christmas by the amazing Donna Andrews; Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes, with an intro by the amazing Sarah Weinman; and The Bellamy Trial, by Frances Noyes Hart. I’d already decided to reread Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt next–and I will follow it up with the Neely, definitely.

We watched the season finale of  The Mandalorian on Friday night, and wow, what a fucking show this is. Seriously, y’all–I did watch Avengers Endgame on Disney Plus on Christmas Eve, but The Mandalorian alone is worth the cost of Disney Plus. I’m thinking I might even spent a nice lazy Sunday sometime rewatching the entire season, and now I cannot wait for Season 2. I also am looking forward to the new show with the Winter Soldier–love me Sebastian Stan–and all future Star Wars content. I may even go back and watch some of the animated Star Wars series.

We’ve also started watching Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, and while I still miss Phryne–that original series was just too good–the younger, Peregine Fisher is an admirable stand-in, and we are enjoying the 1960’s setting as well. (I’d forgotten I subscribed to Acorn TV a few years ago; we’re making up for lost time now.)

And of course, HBO is dropping their adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider in January; I should probably read the book as I watch the show.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Victory

And wasn’t yesterday’s entry boring as fuck? I should think at this point that it’s pretty clear, Constant Reader, that I don’t utilize this blog the way one is supposed to when one is a writer: as a conduit to convince readers to buy my books. I think I’ve done an excellent job over the years of proving that I, without question, have no idea how to sell books or how to make my work sound appealing enough for people to want to read, let alone buy.

I really suck at promoting myself. But to give myself credit, I never once believed “social media” would sell books, and from everything I’ve been reading lately, I was right. But it can make loyal readers aware you have something new coming out, and since the gay and lesbian bookstores are long gone…yeah, I’ve literally got nothing when it comes to reaching out and finding new readers, or reconnecting with old ones. I tried the newsletter thing way back in the days of my first website, but was always a little shocked whenever I’d send one out and people would ask to be removed…I was always a little, Why did you sign up in the first place? I never simply added people to my newsletter; you literally had to fill out a form to get on the list…and after a little while it was kind of depressing, so I gave up on the newsletter thing. It’s not like I’m that fascinating, anyway.

I do applaud those who do one, though.

It’s Christmas season already–according to some merchants, it has been since September–and of course, I’m a bit of a sucker for the Christmas season. I’m not a sucker for Christmas displays in September, or endless playing of Christmas carols over and over again on the radio or in public spaces; and while I also understand the importance of Christmas to our (retail) economy, I tire very quickly of Christmas commercials on television–my personal favorite the ones where people gift each other CARS for Christmas, because really? I’m not a Christian anymore; I’ve been in recovery for nearly thirty years, but the “reason for the season” has been forgotten by almost everyone else in the clamor for dollars and status and spend spend spend mentality of the holidays. The basic presumption behind Christmas–peace on earth and good will to all men–is a lovely one that I can certainly get behind; but Christmas has not only been commercialized it has also been politicized…because nothing says put the Christ back in Christmas like commercializing and politicizing the holiday that ostensibly celebrates the birth of Jesus. As always, I tire very quickly and easily of hypocrisy; and I tire of all the nonsense Christmas seems to trigger annually.

But I do like Christmas and the mentality behind it. I like the idea of a season to celebrate peace and love amongst all of humanity. I always wanted to write about Christmas; which is incredibly hard to do without giving into what I call ‘cheap sentimentality.’ I wrote a story a long time ago, my own attempt at writing a gay Christmas story because, frankly, there weren’t any that I was aware of, and it of course was terrible, absolutely terrible. It’s very difficult to come up with anything original about Christmas; but there’s also the possibility that the comfort of familiarity is what many enjoy about it. They enjoy watching the same films and television specials, listening to the same music recorded by the same artists, and follow the old traditions that transport them back to when they were children and the world seemed so much less complicated than it does as adults, and they want to give their kids that same comforting holiday experience they remember. I was quite mercenary as a child, and for me, for the longest time, Christmas was about the gifts I was going to get. As I got older, it gradually became more about the gifts I was giving as I began to understand the message more–and the message does seem to get lost all too frequently.

I also greatly appreciate the extra days off from work as well.

But I wanted to write about Christmas, as I said earlier. Early in my career I realized there weren’t many, if any, gay Christmas stories, so I decided to do an anthology of them, Upon a Midnight Clear, which was, I think, released in 2004. (My story, of course, turned out to be a horror tale, “The Snow Queen,” and I used a pseudonym.) I greatly enjoyed doing that anthology, and am still rather proud of it today. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to get when I asked writer friends to write a story for me; but all of the stories were inventive and new takes on Christmas, from a gay perspective.

Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (which Constant Reader knows is one of my favorites) releases a Christmas mystery every year, and the way Andrews manages to turn out a highly original mystery every year centered on Christmas in Caerphilly is absolute genius. She never descends into cheap sentimentality, and yet manages to infuse the books with a healthy dose of the Christmas spirit each time. Caerphilly is one of my happy places; there’s no greater joy than spending some time there every year. I have already mentioned that Andrews kind of inspired me to write a Scotty book set during the Christmas season, and I am probably going to have to do another; the plot for this one was pretty much already set when I decided to have it take place in December, and so it kind of became a Christmas book by default….I will undoubtedly do another one at some point, one that is more centered on Christmas itself rather than just the season. I’d love to play with Christmas tropes and traditions a bit more–especially since Scotty and his parents are pagans.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, all.

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