Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

So Hard

Monday has rolled around again, and for the most part, I’m okay with it, really. I had a lovely weekend away from the Internet, which was enormously relaxing, and was able to get two stories revised yesterday. Of course, later on last evening I realized there’s yet another deadline looming, but I think I can make it. It is Friday, and Friday is when the 4th of July holiday lands for me; yes, a three day weekend to look forward to, and a deadline for Friday. So, in the worst case scenario, the story I want to submit for Friday needs at most another read through and polish; should the week go to hell (as they’ve been known to do lately) I at least have Friday to do so.

I spent most of the afternoon and early evening trying to get my computer files organized so I could more easily find things I need to be working on, and that was certainly a time suck. But it was necessary and needed to be done, and I made significant progress, which is always a plus. I had intended to start reading Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths–I opened to the first page and read the first few paragraphs, which are simply marvelous–but then got deep into the file organizing, so it will have to wait until this evening and the reading hour–I’ve decided to spend at least an hour every day devoted to reading, as it’s the only way I’ll ever get caught up on my reading (which is a Sisyphean task, as more books I want to read come out all the goddamned time).

I did manage to get the revisions on the two stories done yesterday, as I explained earlier, and today I am going to try to find the time to line edit them as well as read the other story that’s due on Friday. I have so much to do–my email situation is truly tragic–but hopefully I’ll have some time to get everything I need to do together into a comprehensive to-do list today. Obviously, the first thing on the to-do list is to make a comprehensive to-do list.

And maybe, just maybe, when I get these stories out of my hair I’ll be able to get back to work on the Secret Project this coming weekend and get it finished once and for all and out of my hair. And maybe then I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows, which I am going to change from a y/a into a book not for teens, which may not be as easy as I would like to think it is. For one thing I need to rewrite the entire beginning–which is predicated on our main character being a high school student; I’ve decided to age him to college graduate preparing for graduate school in New Orleans, but still be from Chicago–and it won’t be as easy to make changes later on, yet I think it’s for the best, to be honest. It’s very Gothic in subject matter, after all, and plus–the y/a publishing world, at least on-line, is a snake pit.

I’m also thinking about what the next Scotty should be. I’m still wrapping my mind around a quarantine mystery; as I’ve said before, I have the title already, but I think I would like to write something in the period between the end of Royal Street Reveillon (Christmas) and the quarantine; which gives me an approximate three month period with which to work. I really do want to write about Mardi Gras again, with Scotty older and perhaps not quite as into it still as he was in Mardi Gras Mambo–I kind of want to capture that weird feeling and horrible energy the city had during this past Mardi Gras. I had an idea for a Mardi Gras short story, featuring Venus Casanova, “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” but I’m not so certain I have the right to–or should–write about a Black female lead. I’ve been writing about Venus for almost twenty years now, as a supporting character in both the Scotty and the Chanse series, and have always wanted to explore the character in greater depth–I have another story written with her as the main character, “Falling Bullets,” and an idea for a novel, Another Random Shooting–but I don’t think I should be writing such books and stories now, if ever; now is the time to amplify actual “own voices” rather than taking publishing slots away from actual Black writers, who already have enough issues in trying to be heard and paid for their work equitably.

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

How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?

Monday and here we are, getting ready to stare down yet another week.

We watched more of Little Fires Everywhere last night, and it really is extremely well done. It really is an interesting look at race and privilege and power; all while using tropes that were staples of soap operas. As the show amps up and starts racing along to its climax, the basis of the majority of the drama of the show is a custody struggle over an adopted baby–a storyline so stale for soap operas that I don’t know that the few left even use it anymore. But with strong writing, excellent production values, and an enormously talented cast, this stale trope not only works in this instance, but works very well. I am curious, though, as to why the book is set in 1997 rather than the present; the reason behind it isn’t apparent, and it feels incredibly current; although the music at school dances and so forth is rather jarring, and it takes a moment to remember that the story is set over twenty years ago. I don’t even notice the lack of smart phones and social media. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get a copy of the book to read along while I watch, which was such a terrific experience with Big Little Lies. 

And Reese Witherspoon certainly has a type of woman that she regularly plays, doesn’t she? Super Karen?

I finished a dreadful first draft of “Falling Bullets” last night, and it is dreadful. Fortunately there are other drafts to be done, and corrections and edits that can be made to it, but at this point I’m just happy I finished a draft–it’s been awhile since I’ve finished something I’ve started. At first I was rather nonplussed because about 1500 of the 2000 words I’d already written–mostly the stuff I’d written Friday evening–didn’t really work anymore; but I went back to the beginning and started tweaking things, and was even able to tweak enough of the 1500 problematic words to save most of them. So, while I am not pleased with the draft and its condition, I am pleased that it is finished, at around 4600 words.

I also finished reading Thunder on the Right yesterday, and had a lovely time with it. I do think it is one of the lesser Mary Stewart novels–but a lesser Mary Stewart is better than  a lesser writer’s best, so there’s also that.

I have decided to take today off from work; I am not feeling as great as I should, and literally cannot face another day of data entry and condom packing. Fortunately I have enough vacation time accrued for me to take yet another day off–although I really need to start letting the time build up again, for when this is all finally over and done with, so I can take an actual vacation, which is something I am going to be in seriously need of–and so am going to stay home, finish some odds and ends, and then get ready to face the rest of the week. I also have to work early tomorrow morning, so will have to get to bed early this evening; and I think we’re going to maybe start slowly opening the STI clinic next week. I am of two minds about this–I am certain we can do it safely, but at the same time I worry whether clients will be willing to come in to get their screenings done. I miss my old life, quite frankly, and like everyone else, long to get back to it. But unlike everyone else, I don’t see the old normal coming back. This situation has changed so much about our lives and how we do things, and in many cases, things that were considered “impossible” before have now been shown to be possible. I can’t imagine, for example, that the expensive old version of the book tour will return now that we have seen it can be done relatively inexpensively virtually. I easily can see publicists cutting expenses at publishers by arranging on-line interviews and readings and Q&A’s and book club meetings rather than spending money for an author to travel. And for authors who can’t foot the cost of their own tours, well–here’s an inexpensive alternative that may actually work.

Next up for the Reread Project is an old favorite of mine by Barbara Michaels, House of Many Shadows. Dr. Barbara Mertz wrote, of course, wonderful mysteries as Elizabeth Peters (if you’ve never read the Amelia Peabody series, you really, really  need to), and wrote suspense novels that may or may not have a supernatural bent to them–Ammie Come Home is, obviously, by far and away my favorite of these–as Barbara Michaels. I rediscovered the Michaels novels in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and became just as addicted to them as I would to the Elizabeth Peters novels later that decade; House of Many Shadows is one of my favorites of the Michaels novels; The Crying Child is another. The rest are also good without question, but to my mind those three are head-and-shoulders above the others. The Michaels novels also have great, great titles: Wait for What Will Come, Be Buried in the Rain, The Dark on the Other Side, and Witch, to name only a few. And, if I am being complete honest, Bury Me in Shadows was inspired by the Michaels novels; as was Lake Thirteen.

And the humor in the Scotty books probably owes more than a little to the influence of the Elizabeth Peters novels.

I also gave up on rereading Katherine Anne Porter’s long short story about the Spanish flu, “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I can certainly understand why critics and literary enthusiasts shit themselves over Porter’s writing, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care about her characters or what happens to them, and Porter is definitely one of those authors who–to me–loves the sound of her own voice; what could be said in a sentence or two turns into rambling pages and pages in which she basically says the same thing, over and over again. And she never wastes any time on making the reader care about her characters, or even getting to know them well. I thought, when I first read her Collected Stories years ago and found them to be tedious and boring (as I was rereading “Pale Horse Pale Rider” I could actually hear a Lit professor enthusing about her works in my head), and I thought I’d give them another chance, thinking perhaps I had matured enough as a reader to enjoy them now; that it was my own immaturity as a reader and lover of the written word that kept me from enjoying them in the first place.

I am pleased to report I am wrong, and that I find Porter’s work as constipated and dull as I did the first time, and there’s nothing wrong with not liking her work. I still dislike The Great Gatsby, even after reading it three times, after all; let the literary snobs come for me. I don’t care. Scoff at me all you like, I will never like or admire Porter.

And on that note, I think I’ll go lay back down for a bit. Have a lovely Monday.

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I Get Along

One thing I definitely dislike about getting older is that the weekends feels shorter. They aren’t shorter, of course, but I am generally so worn out by the week that Saturdays end up being a waste because I have little to no energy to commit to anything. I inevitably run an errand or so, and then wind up being so worn down from that and the week that I wind up getting very little to nothing done. I made groceries–it was in the sixties(!)–and then came home, made us lunch, and then collapsed into my easy chair, watching television for the rest of the day; we watched a second episode of Gold Digger before moving on to Deadwood Fell, with David Tennant, which was quite good (the next two episodes of Gold Digger drop tomorrow), and then we caught the first episode of Little Fires Everywhere, which is very good–although Reese Witherspoon seems to be making a career out of playing adult Tracy Glicks. She does it very well, mind you, but she might want to think about doing something different. (We still haven’t watched The Morning Show on Apple Plus, which I’ve heard good things about. We’re caught up on Defending Jacob, but I’m not sure if we’ll finish, frankly; other than out of a sense of needing completion.) We also watched Bad Education on HBO with Hugh Jackman and Alison Janney–both of whom were terrific in their roles, but the story wasn’t told particularly well, if that makes sense? (As you can see, I spent most of yesterday in my easy chair with my lap blanket and the remote control close at hand.)

As such, I have a shit ton of work that I need to get done today. I’d like to get this first draft of “Falling Bullets” finished, some work done on the Secret Project, and some more work done on some other stories I am working on, and it’s probably not a bad idea for me to get organized this morning, either. The kitchen is still a big, disgraceful mess–must do the dishes and clean off the counters, maybe clean out a couple of drawers or something–and as always, there’s reading I’d like to do. Probably after I finished writing this, I’ll retire to my easy chair with Thunder on the Right for about an hour or so, to finish waking up (always a risk, though, because I could get caught up in the story and want to keep reading) and really, there’re few things better than reading with your morning coffee, is there? But yes, this sloppy, messy kitchen/office area is too much to be borne.

It’s in the sixties again outside this morning, with today’s high project to be 76 degrees. It seems weird to have the weather be this lovely and cool in early May–because usually the lows are in the high seventies and the highs in the upper eighties by this time of year. Before it was moved up to coincide with the Williams Festival, Saints and Sinners always fell on Mother’s Day weekend, and everyone (from everywhere else) always seemed to have issues with the heat and humidity; which naturally made us locals giggle into our sleeves. But while yesterday was kind of gray, the sun is back today, and that also helps–the cool weather and haziness rather played into my torpor. But this bright sunshiny morning seems to be precisely what the doctor ordered; the cool of last evening helped me sleep deeply and well, and I feel more myself this morning than I did yesterday. Adapting to being older has not been an easy thing for me; and while I appreciate the fact that most people don’t realize I’m pushing sixty, can tell. Whereas the weekend used to be two wonderful days of cleaning and writing and editing and getting things checked off my to-do list; now I must always spend Saturday recovering from the week’s work and schedule, recharging my batteries in hopes that Sunday will make up for the loss of a day’s work to the recovery process.

I hate when my batteries run down, quite frankly. It’s rather unpleasant to have very little energy, but it’s even worse as a reminder that I am not as young as I might internally think I still am. I don’t believe youth is wasted on the young, as so many others occasionally will say or as the axiom states; but when you are young you never really think about what it’s going to feel like, be like, when you’re older. I probably wouldn’t have ever believed that my energy would have limits at some point; that I would need to conserve it from time to time in order to have a productive day.

One of the stories I sent out this past week has already been rejected, but I received a personal rejection rather than the standard one that comes through the Submittable program, which was quite lovely, with an explanation of why they couldn’t use it. I knew that story might have problems being placed; I probably should just submit it to the Saints and Sinners short story contest and be done with it. But it’s a good story and the editor really liked it; it just “wasn’t right for their audience”–whatever that means. I am choosing to believe the personal note rejection was a good sign; the not right for our audience catch-all is a polite way of getting out of getting into specifics. But, ironically, whereas rejections always used to send me spinning into spirals of why am I doing this I have no talent why do I keep beating my head against this wall I am taking encouragement from it; even if it is self-delusion.

Self-delusion isn’t always, after all, a bad thing.

And there are certainly worse things to be self-deluded about, quite frankly.

And now, to the easy chair with Mary Stewart for an hour.

Have a lovely Mother’s Day, Constant Reader!

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Domino Dancing

I was very tired yesterday for most of the day, with the end result of not going to make groceries on my way home–an odious chore that has now defaulted to today. I slept very well last night, for the first time in a couple of nights, and slept later than I’d intended. I woke up at seven this morning, as is my wont, and I thought, oh just a few more minutes, the bed feels lovely and the next thing I knew it was after eight. I also feel like I could have stayed in bed for the rest of the morning without the slightest quibble or problem. But I peeled myself out of the bed and am now drinking my first cup of coffee. I was too tired last night when I got home to do much of anything, either, so I pretty much stayed in my easy chair for most of the night. We’re giving up on Defending Jacob, because the plot isn’t making much sense–it kind of went off the rails, which is a shame; it’s done very well and has a remarkable cast, but there’s only so much you can do with a script and plot that don’t really work all that well. It’s a shame, since I love both Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, but the material didn’t do right by them. We then started watching Dead to Me–the second season dropped yesterday–but while Christina Applegate (whom I love) and Linda Cardellini are pitch perfect, again, the story of season two didn’t grab either one of us, so we moved on to an Acorn show, Gold Digger, starring Julia Ormond, as a recently divorced, wealthy woman of sixty who has fallen for a handsome young man the age of her oldest son–and naturally, her children aren’t terribly thrilled about this. It isn’t clear if her lover actually loves her or is a gold digger; there are only two episodes, so I guess we’ll find out tonight.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. Shitstorms aplenty and as always, lots of foolishness. Rather than try to explain, I will send you to S. A. Cosby’s response to the attacks and outrage from “y/a twitter” (most of whom are pieces of shit, quite frankly) about ALA Booklist using the cover of his upcoming novel Blacktop Wasteland (which is getting the kind of advance buzz you don’t see very often in this business; similar to the buzz that built for Gone Girl and Rob Hart’s The Warehouse last year). You can see his response here, or if you’d rather, you can read the entire response not as a thread on Booklist’s website, right here. Perhaps the best thing about the entire controversy (which still makes my blood boil a little bit) is the incredible self-own of so-called “woke y/a twitter” to the cover of a crime novel written by a man of color and centering a man of color being featured on the cover of the American Library Association’s trade publication. I want you to sit and think about that for a moment: the American  Library Association. Which means librarians were the ones who saw it and became “outraged”, and therefore decided ALA needed to change the cover….LIBRARIANS. I’ve noticed over the years that “y/a Twitter” is borderline trash; they’ve already taken over the world of y/a publishing, obviously, and have decided that they, and only they, can anoint and crown the proper authors and the proper books; and the elitism and privilege on display is horrifying. Libraries, after all, are the key to the success or failure of y/a as a general rule; the librarians come after you, and your book, and you’re done. Y/A Twitter has done this before–there are at least three novels I can think of that they have come for; in one case, the book was pulled to be revised and I don’t remember what happened to the other two, frankly, after they were charged with racism and otherism (one was called The Black Witch–you can tell by the title it had a target painted on it almost from the font); I’d always meant to go read those books to see for myself how problematic they actually were (while recognizing that I read through a lens of white privilege). This happened to a friend of mine who wrote a book with a trans character; he got a detail wrong and y/a Twitter came for him and his book–the charge led by a trans librarian whose own book, I might add, was released recently to much applause from y/a Twitter. You see how insidious this is? How the self-righteous Madame Defarges and their knitting needles can pick and choose whose book is going to do well and whose isn’t?

And yet, for all their “woke” screaming and screeching about how “we need diverse books” and “own voices”–they have no problem rewarding straight white women writing books about queer youth for mainstream presses, while ignoring the work being done by actual queer voices writing about actual queer youth, rather than the nice straight white suburban lady’s view of what queer youth is. Only those published by the Big 5 need apply, as well–actual books about queer youth being written by actual queer people and being published by queer presses? Ignored, pushed away and aside–those books don’t matter (because obviously, if you aren’t published by the Big 5, clearly you don’t matter). God forbid the same straight white woman write about any other marginalized community; then they would be cultural appropriators and buried under a firestorm of angry tweets….but it’s perfectly okay for them to write about queer people.

Interesting, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I’ve recently decided to change the age of my main character in Bury Me in Shadows from seventeen to twenty-three was because I knew ALA and y/a Twitter would ignore the book completely; a book about a queer seventeen year old by a queer writer and published by a queer press? Not queer enough and not important enough–but by all means let’s applaud some books by straight women writing about teenaged gay male eunuchs who are just looking for love and romance. Straight y/a characters, of course, are allowed to experience love and lust and desire; gay characters have to be eunuchs…because, you know, gay sex is actually kind of icky, right, ladies?

I kind of have mixed feelings about the ALA, to be honest. I love libraries, and I love librarians, who are actually kind of fierce and usually are out there on the front lines every day fighting for the First Amendment and against the banning of books. But when I had my own experience with suppression and so forth; the ALA sat aside and pretended it wasn’t happening. I actually wrote to the ALA asking for help in that situation. They didn’t respond. Neither did Lambda Literary, for that matter, or any of the gay press. I wasn’t a big enough Hollywood star to merit any attention for what was actually happening from either Out or The Advocate–which have been joke publications cine before the turn of the century–but when push came to shove, not a word of support, nothing. The Publishing Triangle in New York and the ACLU took some action…but I can honestly say there’s no worse feeling than being targeted by a right-wing hate group, smeared and slandered by said hate group, and seeing ALA and Lambda Literary sit on their hands and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The great irony is that in the spring of 2006, well after this all had happened, ALA came to New Orleans–the first major conference to return to the city after the flood–and asked me to do a reading at one of their events. I did it, of course–but the whole “we did nothing at all while you and your work were under attack, but please, come read to our conference” kind of left me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth.

But y/a Twitter? As they pat themselves on the backs for their “wokeness”, they can all fucking go to hell and burn there for all eternity. By all means, keep promoting the people who kiss your ass and build up the books by your friends; because that’s really what ALA should be all about, right? Gatekeeping?

Disgraceful.

It is also very important to add to this that even after it was repeatedly pointed out to them by actual crime writers that it was 1) a book cover 2) a book by a man of color and 3) the cover was one that the author loved, they doubled down, refused to listen, and insisted that the cover was offensive and racist.

Yes, that’s right: y/a Twitter got a man of color’s book cover taken off the cover of ALA Booklist because they thought it was racist.

As for me, well, I cannot wait to read Blacktop Wastelandwhich you can order right here. Cosby’s first novel, My Darkest Prayer, was a revelation; and I honestly believe Cosby is destined to become one of crime fiction’s biggest stars. Blacktop Wasteland is going to be one of the books of the year–it’s getting starred reviews all over the place; the reason it was selected to be on the cover of the magazine in the first fucking place was because of the great review it got in Booklist, and their staff recognizing how important of a book it’s going to be this year.

Today I have to go get groceries because I was too tired to do so yesterday; I was tired all day for some reason, and I just got more and more tired the longer the day progressed. Maybe that was why I was so not into anything we were trying to watch last night; but I did manage to read another chapter of Thunder on the Right, and I did get another thousand words done on “Falling Bullets”–which I also want to try to get finished this morning before the Rouse’s run. There was a wonderful storm last night–lots of thunder and torrential rain, which I always enjoy and always helps me sleep better–and it looks hazy out there this morning. There’s branch and tree debris all over our sidewalk, so there was clearly some strong wind last night as well.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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The End of the World

FRIDAY!

And while I am always happy to see the work week come to an end, I am more than a little daunted by what is facing me this weekend: a lot of fucking work. I have some writing to do for a website; the Secret Project; another project; and I want to finish writing the first draft of “Falling Bullets” and “Condos for Sale and Rent.” That’s a lot of fucking writing, Constant Reader, and that doesn’t take into consideration how much filing and organizing and cleaning I also have to do. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to run errands, and am debating whether to wait until Saturday to do them, or do it tonight on the way home from work. That would probably be easiest, and let’s be honest: if I go straight home from work tonight, am I going to actually do any work? I tend not to; and there are always 2019 LSU football games to play in the background while I either clean or read. No matter how much I think all day about how much work I’m going to get done after I get home from work, every Friday I wind up doing not a damned thing because I’m so glad it’s Friday and I don’t have to work the next morning.

Yeah, I should probably go to the grocery store when I get off work and be done with it. They are open till eight and I get off work at five, so I might as well just get it over with.

And that, Constant Reader, is how the decisions get made around here.

I was tired most of yesterday; I never went into a deep sleep on Wednesday night and so didn’t feel rested. I’m trying to wean myself off the prescription medication that helps me sleep at night–I’m truly terrified of becoming addicted or dependent on anything; I can’t afford to go to rehab–and so periodically I like to stop taking it and try to sleep without it. I was actually functional yesterday, if tired, and so that has to count as a win, right? I always tend to the extremes–I’m rarely in the middle, which would be lovely; rather, I am always swinging from one extreme to the other without a stop–so there’s that, I suppose. I did get some work done on “Falling Bullets” yesterday; it’s weird, though. I’ve several ideas for stories centering Venus Casanova–the police homicide detective who is in both the Chanse and Scotty series–and as she is a woman of color, it’s a bit outside my comfort zone. I do love the character; always have, ever since I first thought her up way back in 1997, when I started writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and have even considered giving her a book all to herself (the idea is still simmering in my brain, Stations of the Cross; but if I ever do write it, that one probably won’t be a Venus story), and I have a really great idea for a case for her to solve without Chanse or Scotty around (her partner, Blaine, is gay, and that way I can still shoehorn in a gay character), but she also appeared in my first story to ever sell to Ellery Queen, “Acts of Contrition,” and I have two other short story ideas for Venus–this one, and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman.” I wonder if I should be writing stories about a black female cop–after all, I am neither black nor female, and I do worry that I won’t get things about her right; not to mention the fact that if I sell the story, I might be taking a slot away from an author of color, male or female.

It’s not enough to just say I want to write about a black woman and I’m a writer and no one can tell me what I can or can’t write about. It’s not enough to say “well, sure, I’m not black or a woman, but I’ve written about vampires and ghosts and supernatural creatures, so why can’t I write a black female character?” (That defense against “own voices” is the one that pushes my blood pressure into the danger zone; there’s nothing like denying someone’s humanity to excuse writing about that person–and make no mistake, comparing writing any marginalized character to writing about creatures that don’t exist? You’re a bigot, period–making that statement disqualifies you automatically from any defense)

It’s something to think about, anyway. The other funny thing is how, this morning, reviewing what I wrote last night–I originally wrote about five hundred words, and wrote another fifteen hundred last night–doesn’t match the original paragraphs because I didn’t reread what I’d already written, just dove right in, and I’ll have to go back and fix that before I move forward with the story any further.

And last night, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, I did a live reading for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop; the first time I’ve done such a thing, and it was, indeed, a thing. It was remarkably easy and I went through no anxiety at any point in the proceedings, which was absolutely lovely–readings and panels and so forth always make me incredibly anxious and stressed; and that’s not gotten any easier since I first started doing them. But this was absolutely lovely; stress free other than the occasional stumble over words as I read them, and I honestly think, going forward from the pandemic, that this methodology of meeting readers is going to continue and tours are slowly but surely going to go away, unless you’re an enormous name.

And I slept well last night. I did wake up a few times during the night, but was always able to go back to sleep and I feel definitely rested this morning.

Huzzah!

And now, back to the spice mines. Happy Friday!

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Don Juan

Looks like we made it to Wednesday, for whatever that may be worth. Days and dates really seem to have little to no meaning anymore; I can only imagine how bad it is for people who are sheltering in place. We used to be able to tell what day of the week it was based on what was airing on television, but now that we stream everything and rarely watch anything live…yeah, if I didn’t use a Google calendar to keep track of when the bills are due and deadlines and appointments or so forth, I’d never know the date, let alone the day.

I know when I was quarantined at home for that week, I had no clue of days or dates by the time I was cleared to return to work…so those of you who continue to be stuck at home sheltering in place, you have my deepest sympathies. I can’t even imagine. I was going stir crazy after a little less than a full week–well, it was more like nine days total, I think, from beginning to end–and so I cannot imagine how awful it must be for people who’ve been trapped in doors this entire time.

I wonder how many Rear Window type stories are being written as I type this?

I love the whole concept of the Rear Window style of crime and suspense stories. I think my story “The Carriage House,” recently sold to Mystery Tribune, is that precise kind of story; what I think of as ‘the accidental witness.’ I think about this sort of thing all the time; in my neighborhood, for example, the houses are very close to each other. Sometimes as I walk back to my apartment I can hear someone on the other side of the fence, talking on the phone; I can see their upper floor windows from the windows around my desk, and of course, I see my neighbor who lives in the carriage house walking in front of my windows all the time, when he’s coming or going. Likewise, from our bedroom windows we can see into the house next door’s upstairs windows; I never look, really, and most of the time being inside I think no one can see me, either–which is hilarious. (We always think of our homes as being safe spaces, but it wouldn’t be very hard for someone to kick in my front door, really; this is why break-ins and robberies, etc. are so unsettling and feel like such violations–our homes are supposedly our safe sanctuaries, and being reminded that we aren’t safe in our homes in such a way makes things uncertain and uncertainty is often the worst.) Throughout New Orleans, no matter how big the lot our home sits on, we live in close proximity to others; particularly in the French Quarter and most of the neighborhoods of the city; I’m always curious and interested how we all live in such tight quarters to each other and yet pretend we are isolated in our own safe little worlds.

I worked on two of my stories yesterday: “Falling Bullets,” which is a Venus Casanova story, and “Condos for Sale or Rent”, which is one of those “living in close proximity”stories. (And I know–New Orleanians don’t live in nearly as close proximity as New Yorkers or San Franciscans) I also have come to the conclusion that one of my short stories–which I have been trying to make into a short story–is probably more likely to be a novel than a short story; I am going to try to revise it one more time, just to be sure, and if that doesn’t work, “Death and the Handmaidens” is going into the “potential novel” file. I think it’s a good story and one that kind of needs to be told…but it’s been rejected everywhere I’ve ever submitted it; but I do think it still has some potential to work as a short story, so I am going to give it the old college try once more.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work–those early mornings on Tuesday and Thursday are particularly rough on me–and watched some more of Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which is very well done, and we started Killing Eve–free trial on AMC; we decided the quality still holds, but are willing to wait until we can binge the entire season over the course of an episode. I slept really well last night, but still feel a little dragged out this morning. Then again, I’m only on my first cup of coffee; that does make a significant difference to how awake I do actually feel.

I read for a little while on Thunder on the Right last night, but my mind was too tired to focus, so I gave up on reading after a few pages. It is much better than I remembered, and it’s also one of the few Mary Stewart novels that isn’t written in the first person. I’m not certain why she made that choice–it isn’t evident yet–and I’m assuming there’s a reason why she deviated from her usual; perhaps as I read further into the book it will become more obvious. (Assuming there’s a story structure reason for not using the first person is a very author-like assumption to make; I myself inevitably fall back on the first person simply–but not entirely–because it’s easier not to make POV mistakes in the first person.)

The weather here is getting warmer–and the Formosan termite swarms have started–but we still haven’t been punched in the face by humidity quite yet, and every day the 80 degree or so temperature this week has been offset by a lovely, cool breeze that has made it seem temperate, which has been really nice.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines this morning. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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Someone Loves You Honey

The second day of the New Year, and I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I went to bed relatively late, but still. I stayed up watching Georgia and Baylor play in the Sugar Bowl; yesterday was pretty much a waste as I spent the day in my easy chair watching bowl games while rereading both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels. I also started writing two new short stories yesterday.

One is a Venus Casanova story–I’ve actually got another started as well, in the files–called “Falling Bullets,” inspired by the stupidity of people who fire guns into the air at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, either not knowing (or not caring) that the bullets aren’t fired into outer space, and that gravity will eventually bring them back down, possibly causing property damage or injuring, even potentially killing, another human being. I’d never heard of this before I moved to New Orleans; as we prepared to go out for the first time ever on New Year’s Eve while living here, there was a news report warning about falling bullets–and Paul and I looked at each other in completely stunned disbelief. As the years passed, and we were reminded, year after year, about the danger–including billboards along the highway that read Falling bullets kill–it just became one of those weird New Orleans things that just became part of the fabric here–the river might rise, a tropical storm might come, someone will be killed on New Year’s Eve by a falling bullet. I was reminded of this–it seems as though after Hurricane Katrina the  city-wide effort to convince people not to fire guns into the air abated somewhat, and I forgot all about it–recently when an article came across my Facebook feed….and it occurred to me that “Falling Bullets” would make a great title for a short story, and the story would have to be about someone who deliberately killed someone else but tried to make it look like a ‘falling bullet.’ The logistics of this are currently escaping me–how one would even try to pull this off–but that’s what the thinking process of writing is all about; figuring this shit out.

The other story is probably something I will never publish–or if I even try to get it published, will take a very long time and will take many, many intense revisions because the subject matter is, frankly, flammable. But the more I think about it the more I want to write it, which again is terrifying. It isn’t easy taking on big ugly subjects, but this one? It kind of wants to be written and so I am probably going to give it an attempt, even if it ends up never seeing the light of day.

I’m planning on getting back to work on Bury Me in Shadows this weekend; I’ve taken long enough of a break from it for it to start to seem like I’ve never seen any of it before, and that’s not really what I was going for, to be honest. This morning, despite being groggy, I feel as though something has clicked and my lethargy is no longer a thing anymore? Perhaps the malaise has passed? Perhaps spending the last two days really not doing much of anything and not stressing about anything was precisely what the doctor had ordered, you know? I feel very rested, sort of energized, and kind of ready to get back to it. It’s also one of the reasons why I despise these completely arbitrary calendar dates–as the year runs down, it becomes ever so much easier to simply say oh, I’ll never get this done before the new year so it may as well wait for then.

Yeah, not exactly productive, you know?

I’m also enjoying both of my rereads. One of the most interesting things about Highsmith’s Ripley is she never talks about his appearance; he’s a complete cipher to the reader. We don’t really ever learn much about his past, other than his parents died and he was raised by an aunt he despises in Boston and eventually ran away from her to New York, where he’s sort of living by his wits–and by his wits, my takeaway is that he is “depending on the kindness of strangers” while running little scams, taking a job here and there before quitting or being fired; and his sociopathic lack of concern for anyone he  encounters is a lot more clear to me on this reread. And yet Highsmith, who writes in what I would best describe as a distant style, manage to engage the reader with Tom–who you start rooting for. He is very clever, and he’s always, surprisingly, refreshingly honest with everyone; he tells, for example, both Dickie and Marge almost immediately upon meeting them that he can mimic voices and forge signatures, along with any number of little, not particularly legal, things he can do. Tom is very quickly fascinated with Dickie, whom he is being paid to convince to return to the United States; his enormous dislike of Marge, almost on start, is a foreshadowing of the future happenings in the small Italian coastal village of Mongibello.

The reread of Kirkland Revels is also quite enjoyable. Victoria Holt was possibly the preeminent author of Gothic novels in the second half of the twentieth century; she not only wrote terrific mysteries with romance (or romances sprinkled with mystery), she also wrote in the style of the classic nineteenth century Gothic writers; her debt to Jane Eyre and the Brontes is apparent on every page. It’s a very distinct, almost too proper style, but it works and it draws the reader into the feel of the story, as well as making one care about her heroine. Kirkland Revels is, if I recall correctly (and there’s no guarantee that such will be true), perhaps her spookiest of all  her novels; Kirkland Revels is a haunted house, and the ruins of the old abandoned abbey near the house are also haunted. I read the book once when I was younger; I read all of Holt’s novels when I was in my teens, and continued reading them into my early twenties–but the quality of the later novels began to slip as my own reading tastes grew more sophisticated, and I don’t think Holt would be as popular were she publishing today. Many of her books take a hundred or so pages before the story actually gets started; often she spends the first hundred or so pages of the book setting up the character’s back story, beginning with her childhood. I also reread Holt novels–I often reread favorites when I was younger and had more free time–but this is one I never reread, and it was only recently that I began to understand why Kirkland Revels wasn’t one of my favorites back then: it was because Catherine, the heroine, is pregnant throughout the course of the main part of the novel, and that added an additional layer of anxiety to the gaslighting she was experiencing. It is sadly all too easy to understand why no one believed her–they simply dismissed it as her pregnancy playing tricks on her mind–and that also made me uncomfortable. I also remembered Catherine as a wimpy heroine; she is not. Victoria Holt’s characters often needed to be rescued, once the killer revealed his or herself to her, and then left them to die somewhere. But these women weren’t pushovers, nor were they wimps; and even as I sit her writing this, I realize that that is a perception that was created in the years since  I read the books; the fact they always needed to be rescued somehow negated their own strength and their not-so-willing-to-give-in-to-societal-expectations attitudes.

So, hurray for me for doing these rereads!

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

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