Jack the Lad

And now it’s Tuesday.

Yesterday was a strangely low-energy day for me; it was kind of overcast all day and I never really did seem to kick into a higher gear at all.

I did manage to rewatch Body Heat last night, one of my all-time favorite movies, and am delighted to report that it does, indeed, hold up after forty years. And what a film. I saw it originally in the theater; drawn in by a great review I read in the paper that compared it to Double Indemnity, or said that it was loosely based on it, or something like that. I went by myself–I trained myself to go to see movies alone in my late teens–and it was a matinee so there weren’t many people there. I remember that opening shot, of William Hurt’s bare, sweaty back as he watched a fire in the distance from his bedroom window while his hook-up dressed behind him, sitting on the edge of the bed. I remember thinking how sexy he was, and once the character of Kathleen Turner appeared on screen, I also remember thinking how gorgeous she was, as well. I knew who she was–I knew her from her role as Nola on The Doctors, and I also knew she’d been fired from the show for being overweight….which was incredibly hard to believe as I watched her slink across the screen, saying my favorite line ever from a movie: “You’re not very smart, are you? I like that in a man.” I also knew she’d been replaced by Kim Zimmer–I knew all of this because flipping through the channels one day I stopped on The Doctors because Kim Zimmer was on screen and I thought to myself, she’s really pretty and kind of reminds me of Jane Elliott–who’d played my favorite character on General Hospital, Tracy Quartermaine–and at first I did think it was Jane Elliott. I used to read Soap Opera Digest in those days, and shortly thereafter they did a piece on Kim Zimmer, which was when I learned about Kathleen Turner. (Interestingly enough, there was a strong physical resemblance between Zimmer and Turner as well; Zimmer appeared in the film in a supporting role as well)

Body Heat blew me away that first time I saw it; I watched it again when it debuted on HBO, and I try to watch it again periodically. It showed up when I was searching through HBO MAX, and last night I thought, as I waited for Paul to come home, why not? It was very tightly written as well; although last night I spotted a couple of holes in the plot–but the cast was fantastic an it moves so quickly and inevitably to its climax that you don’t really have time to catch those holes until you’ve watched it numerous times. You also have a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as the assistant prosecutor who is a friend of Ned Racine, the low-rent shitty lawyer played by William Hurt, and a very young and beautiful Mickey Rourke as Freddy, the arsonist client of his who holds several keys to the plot in his sexy hands, and of course, both Hurt and Turner at the peak of their youth and beauty.

As I watched Body Heat again last night, something else about the film struck me: it was the first time I can recall seeing a film where the camera sexualized a man in the same way it usually sexualized a woman. Hurt was shirtless or naked at least half of the time he appeared on screen, and his body–which was, for the time, quite spectacular–was shot lovingly by the camera. One of the sexiest sequences I’ve ever seen on film was one shot, where Hurt’s hook up for the night is getting dressed and he is lying in bed, naked, with a sheet draped over his groin but his left leg is uncovered, and you can actually see his naked hip, and the curve of his ass on the bed; it’s an incredibly sexy shot, and not the kind of thing that was standard for a male in a film of the time. He was meant to be seen as sexy and hot; and I don’t remember ever seeing that before in a movie; men were usually considered to be hot and sexy by dint of just being male in movies…I could, of course, be wrong, but at least that’s how I remember it. And as the 80’s progressed, what I call the “gay male gaze” began to be used to shoot beautiful actors more regularly–think about how Rob Lowe was sexualized in almost every movie he made, and it became more of a regular thing.

Body Heat inspired me to start writing noir, quite frankly. I had already read some James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit), but as much as I loved his books it never occurred to me to start writing in that style. Body Heat, on the other hand, inspired a story I started writing called Sunburn (which was used by Laura Lippman as a title for her own noir homage to Cain a few years ago and is one of my favorite noirs), which eventually was retitled Spontaneous Combustion, and now sits in my files, waiting to be written. When I first moved to Tampa, and went for a drive along Bay Shore Boulevard, the big beautiful houses lining the road also inspired me; one in particular seemed the perfect locale for the story of the middle-aged wealthy widow who falls for a hot young man, which kicks off the story.

I’m reminded of that idea every time I watch Body Heat, and as I watched it last night, I thought about the noirs I want to write–a queer noir quintet–and as I write this I realize Spontaneous Combustion isn’t one of them.

Interesting. And on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

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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Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Will You Still Love Me?

Sunday morning. LSU managed to remain undefeated yesterday, squeaking out a 23-20 nerve-wracking win over Auburn and looking like LSU of old. It was a very tense, stressful afternoon here in the Lost Apartment, believe you me. But they did pull out the win to move to 8-0; with Alabama on the horizon in two weeks in Tuscaloosa. They will most likely be ranked 1 and 2 at the time of the game; the winner takes the lead in the division, becomes the favorite to win the SEC, and make the playoffs. There’s some talk, already, that even if LSU loses to Alabama they might still make the playoffs; Oklahoma’s shocking loss to Kansas State opening that door still wider. There are a number of good one loss teams in the SEC already–Georgia and Florida are about to play next week in a battle of once-beatens to determine who will win the East division, and a shot to play the winner of LSU-Alabama in Atlanta in December.

Likewise, it also wouldn’t be the first time Alabama lost to LSU and got to play for the national title.

I was emotionally spent after the game, so I spent the rest of the evening finishing reading Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders. Tallant isn’t the best writer, and he’s also, as they say, a product of his time; but I found his retelling of famous New Orleans murders quite entertaining. The last three chapters (“Let the Poor Girl Sleep!”, “The Axman Had Wings”, and “Fit as a Fiddle and Ready to Hang”) were quite interesting, and I can see easily how to translate those real life true crimes into fiction, particularly the last one–about a handsome young man who wanted to be a singer and went around killing older men with money. The book was written and published in 1952 originally, and so the story of Kenneth Neu, as written by Tallant, skirted around what was patentedly obvious to me at any rate–he flirted with older men to see if they might be interested in his looks, and then killed and robbed them. (When he was tried eventually, he was only tried for the murder he committed in New Orleans; a previous crime in New Jersey definitely involved homosexual activity, and they didn’t want to try him for that one in case the jury sympathized with him killing an older gay man…so obviously, the prosecutors in Orleans Parish successfully kept any possibility of homosexuality out of his trial.) Neu is an interesting character to me; originally from Savannah, served in the military, and extremely charming and good-looking. Even throughout his trial he was cheerful, trying to charm people, even singing and dancing for the audience in the courtroom during breaks in the trial. He’s almost like something out of Patricia Highsmith; there’s definitely some Ripley in Neu. And obviously, he would make for a fascinating character in an old time New Orleans noir.

I’m also working on a short story–have been for some months now–called “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which will go into my collection Monsters of New Orleans should I ever finish it; I’d also like to send it out for submission. It’s a Venus Casanova story, and while I got off to a relatively good start on it, it kind of stalled on me–primarily because I didn’t know the particulars of the true Axeman murders. I’d read some of it in Empire of Sin, but Tallant covered it a bit more thoroughly. I do need to come up with a timeline of the original Axeman murders, which should be relatively easy to do now, and see how I can work with that for my Venus short story.

I do intend to write today, Constant Reader, after two days of meaning to but never getting around to it. But the time has come, and I really must stop procrastinating. I don’t know what time the Saints game is today, but regardless, I have to sit here and at the very least finish off Chapter Twelve, whose rewrite has been in stasis now for over a week. I only have thirteen more chapters to go before the damned thing is finished–and while I know I’ll be holed up in a hotel room in Dallas for five days this coming week, well, I also know it’s Bouchercon and I won’t get any writing finished. I won’t even read much, except for the airport coming and going and the plane ride itself. I do want to finish Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things this week as well; hopefully in time to get another horror novel read by Halloween. I’ve really fallen down on my reading lately–I also have some terrific ARC’s on the pile, including Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture and Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden–and I really need to get back to dedicated reading again, rather then falling into Youtube rabbit holes every night. Reading also inspires writing, so there’s that, too.

I think the next non-fiction book I’m going to read is Richard Campenella’s Bourbon Street–as I continue my deep dive into New Orleans history.

And on that note, I think I’m going to get another cup of coffee and sit with Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things for awhile before i head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

 

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Wildflower

Back to reality.

I feel rested, relaxed, and ready to get back to the office and to writing. This is a really lovely feeling, Constant Reader, and one I’d love to feel more often, you know? But the truth is as I get older, I need to take these breaks from everything every few months, in order to keep on a-keepin’ on, as it were. I’d hoped to do some writing–didn’t happen, but I managed to get the proofs for Royal Street Reveillon finished, which was something, and I also made a to-do list, and tried to schedule out the books I need to write next, which is also an accomplishment. I have twelve–yes, you read that right, twelve–books in some form of completion; whether there’s a draft finished, a partial draft, an outline, or just a fleshed out idea. Twelve. 

And yes, I am completely and totally aware how utterly insane that is.

That doesn’t count the short story collections (two or three), or the essay collection, or the copy editing for Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go live.

So I guess it’s more like seventeen.

I also have agreed to write two short stories for anthologies, and I also want to write something to submit to the new MWA one whose deadline is coming up this fall. (Fortunately, I already have one written that fits the MWA criteria, so it just needs to be tweaked and cleaned up and polished and made pretty; I have to write the others from scratch, and I worry that won’t end well.) I am in the process of making a list, so that I can try to make sure I can get everything logged and written and therefore stay on top of things.

There’s a heat advisory today, from noon till about seven this evening, where it’s going to feel like 106-111 degrees outside, which should, of course, do wonders for my power bill for next month. Hurray. I’ll be curious to see how our new building handles this onslaught of heat; the side of the building we’re on is in direct sunlight after about one in the afternoon, so that should be lovely. It already gets hot over there in the afternoons as it is; I’m curious to see how that turns out. There’s also a low out in the Gulf, close to shore and in that corner of Florida where the peninsula descends from the mainland, that might turn into a tropical depression this week. Not likely to do anything to us other than outer bands, but not good for the Florida coastline.

I am reading Jay B, Laws’ second, and posthumous, novel The Unfinished. It’s being rereleased in a new edition by ReQueered Tales, and they’ve asked me to write the introduction for it, which is a lovely, nice thing to do. I read the book a long time ago, and barely remember any of it, but the opening sequence, in which our deaf main character (so far) has corrective eye surgery is not for the squeamish–I count myself amongst the squeamish when it comes to eyes–and I am really enjoying the ride again nevertheless. It’s amazing to me that I can’t remember anything about the story–I didn’t remember that the main point-of-view character was deaf, for that matter–because I used to be able to remember plot points and details of every book I’ve read; another by-product of age, I suppose, was the loss of many of those memories and details. I do remember, however, the enormous sadness I felt that Laws died so young of HIV/AIDS, back in the plague years, and was only able to produce two high quality gay-themed horror novels, this one and Steam.  HIV/AIDS did so much damage, not just to our community but also to our creative community that even now, so many years later, that we are struggling to recover from the losses.

I would imagine there’s an amazing academic study to be done on the impact of HIV/AIDS to the queer writing community, and how it shifted and changed our work, the direction of it, and how younger queer writers also lost the mentoring possibilities of the older, more established writers who were dying off, one by one. I myself have never once addressed the plague in my own work. It was a conscious choice back when I first started; the cocktail had already been discovered and lives being extended. The plague was no longer a death sentence for those diagnosed, and the advances that have been made in the years since I first started writing and getting published are the things we could only dream of during the 80’s and 90’s. Ironically, I wrote a short story for a horror anthology (more details on that to come) called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” which is the first time I’ve addressed the plague in fiction (the story was set in the early 1990’s), and I am writing about it in my so-far unfinished novella “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

God, so much writing to do and always, always, new ideas arrive. Even as I listed the books I plan to write yesterday, afterwards I remembered there were at least two more that I’d forgotten about.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And now, back to the spice mines, as I must prepare for my return to the office this morning.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Lowdown

I woke up to a major thunderstorm around seven this morning, and quite frankly, curled up under my blankets even more and went back to sleep. I didn’t wind up getting out of bed until after nine, which felt lovely and now I feel wide awake while well rested at the same time, which is actually quite nice. I need to run to the UPS Store today, pick up the mail and a prescription, stop by the bank, and make groceries at some point, but ugh, how horrible to do this in the rain. It’s supposed to rain here all day, alas. But that will certainly encourage me to get them done as quickly as possible so I can get home.

Today I need to also do some more cleaning around the house, and at some point I am going to close the browsers so I can focus on writing. I want to push through these revisions of these chapters of the WIP, and I’d also like to push through and get a strong revision of “And the Walls Came Down” done, so I can submit it to some markets this week. My short story for next week will be the “The Problem with Autofill,” which is a strong story but the ending needs to be altered and changed somewhat. I still like the concept of the story–it’s kind of a Sorry Wrong Number thing, only with email–but I’m still not sure how to make it work completely.  But I still persist in trying to make it work. I also would like to work some more on “Please Die Soon,” which I think is a terrific idea for a story, and I’ve done the requisite research to make it work, methinks. I really want to stick to this goal of either revising a short story or finishing an incomplete first draft of one every week.

Goals. Must stick to goals.

I survived Costco yesterday, my checking account less scathed than usual–although it easily could have become Sherman’s March to the Sea. Yet I was able to resist, and came very close to staying within the budget I set for the trip–and had I not bought two books off the book table (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis; the Owens was nominated for an Edgar while the Davis won the Pulitzer Prize) I would have stayed under budget.

The book table is always my downfall.

And while I didn’t accomplish near as much as I probably should have yesterday, I did manage to get some chores done, some of them loathsome, so that’s a win for the end of the week, methinks. The key is what I can get done today and tomorrow…and my primary focus has to be on writing. Once I get the writing gears dusted off and oiled, I am hoping I will be able to get the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of May (there’s a three day holiday this month as well, which I am really looking forward to enjoying).

The Gulf itself looks interesting. Most American histories, of course, focus on the Atlantic colonies and the spread westward from there; there really isn’t anything taught about the history of the Gulf of Mexico–which, once Florida, Louisiana and Texas passed into American hands, basically became an enormous American lake–and I am very interested in becoming better acquainted with this history. It can, after all, only help, since most of my fiction work is focused on the Gulf states. The more Louisiana history I know, and read, the better I feel my fiction will become.

I think once I finish Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things my next book will be either Rachel Howzell Hall’s All the Way Down or Joseph Olshan’s Lambda nominated mystery, Black Diamond Fall. I’m greatly enjoying the Mason novel, and perhaps at some point today, once I’ve run the errands and done the cleaning and written all I need to write today, I might curl up in the easy chair with The Hidden Things and make some serious headway on it. I also have an article to write and another column to start planning for. And yes, it does all seem a bit overwhelming, but what I need to do is make a list and just start checking off boxes.

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

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Blowing Kisses in the Wind

Rereading ‘salem’s Lot again, after many years, has proven to be quite a treat: there was clearly a reason why I loved this book so much and why I’ve reread it about a gazillion times. It has always been my favorite vampire novel, and certainly one of my favorite horror novels. It scared the shit out of me when I first read it back when I was a teenager, and it has always entertained me, every single I’ve read it, even though I know what’s going on in the town, what’s going to happen, who lives, who dies. I remember there’s been talk over the years–I think even Stephen King may have aided and abetted this at times–that there might be a sequel; I’ve long since given up on that hope–despite always wanting to know whatever became of Ben Mears and Mark Petrie…and did they ever return to that awful town in Maine?

In the 1980’s, I decided that I wanted to be a writer like Stephen King. I started writing horror short stories, and even came up with an idea for a full-length horror novel called The Enchantress; I still have those four chapters I wrote in my files before I finally put it away for good. The book itself, while influenced most strongly by King, was also influenced by Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon, which I had also recently read–I’d loved Ghost Story and If You Could See Me Now–and wanted to write about, the way King did so often, a small town where something supernatural–and terrifying–happens. I blatantly copied the narrative structure of Floating Dragon (oh look! Four different point of view characters! One an old man, one a child, one a man in his early thirties, and the other a woman with psychic abilities that have basically cursed her life!) but I was also trying to weave some other elements into the story that might not have ultimately worked; it was set in the panhandle of Florida, for one thing, and it had to do with the curse of a witch on four different families (a la Floating Dragon, only he didn’t have a witch), and I don’t think that would have ultimately worked. The idea was also built around a concept I had, an idea, about evil, killer mermaids. I eventually used some of the story and the concepts for Dark Tide, whose original working title was Mermaid Inn.

It’s funny that rereading ‘salem’s Lot brings back such weird memories, isn’t it? I may get around to writing The Enchantress someday–it just can’t be set in Florida, because it needs cliffs–so maybe I’ll move it to a fictional town on the California coast.

Like King–another thing I stole from him–almost all of my books are connected to each other in some way. For years, the connection between the Chanse and Scotty series were my cops–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague–appeared in both series; why have different homicide cops in the same city? I had originally intended to connect everything; Woodbridge in California, from Sleeping Angel and Sorceress are connected to the small town in Kansas from Sara; I don’t recall off the top of my head how Lake Thirteen plays into my world-building; but I think the Chicago suburb where the main character in that book is from was the same suburb that the kid from Sara was from, and so on. I always wanted to go back and write some more about Woodbridge; I kind of saw my teen/young adult fiction as being similar in type and style as the Fear Street series by R. L. Stine; which were all in the same town and often minor characters in one book was the main character in another. (Woodbridge was loosely based on Sonora, where some of my college friends were from; I visited them several times up there in the mountains and it was stunningly beautiful up there. One of the few great things about spending the 1980’s in Fresno was accessibility to Yosemite, Sierra National Forest, and Kings Canyon.)

I may get back to this at some point; Bury Me in Satin is connected in that it returns to the part of Alabama where the main character in Dark Tide is from, and more connections might develop as I write the book. I’ve pretty much decided to try to get the first draft of Bury Me in Satin written for Nanowrimo, which is something I’ve never done before; but why not? I am not going to officially participate, but why not use it as a goal to get the first draft of the story done?

I am on chapter nineteen of the revision of Royal Street Reveillon; one big strong last push is all it will take for me to get that finished by the end of the month, and I am enormously pleased at the prospect. It’s shaping up nicely; I think there are still a few holes in the story I am going to have to figure out how to plug later, but that’s perfectly fine.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Mysterious Ways

I hate being sick.

I noticed on Saturday something was off–I just assumed it was the disappointment of the LSU loss, but on Sunday I knew I was coming down with something; achy joints, burning eyes, fever that came and went, lack of energy, congested sinuses, etc. I took a Claritin-D, dosed myself occasionally as warranted with DayQuil, and slept decently that night. Monday I was still off–congested, achy, etc.–but it was bearable. Yesterday I was again low energy and achy, but was still hopeful I could ward it off.

Silly Gregalicious. When will you ever learn?

Yes, it hit with a vengeance this morning. All of my joints ache. I have a fever. I am constantly blowing my nose. I have a headache. Nausea. Draining sinuses and constant fits of wet, phlegmy coughing. Lovely.

So I regretfully called in sick. I will spend the day resting in my easy chair, reading, dosing myself with DayQuil and Vitamin C and juice and water. My throat is very scratchy and feels raw. There is so much pressure behind my eyes it feels like they’ll both pop out if I cough hard enough.

Yes, in case I haven’t made it clear, I am feeling absolutely miserable. Miserable.

Of course, it could be worse. It can always be worse. This is just some flu-ey thing that will go away. It’s not a chronic illness I have to live with the rest of my life, or something potentially fatal. New Orleans is being spared from the fury of Hurricane Michael (do stay safe, Floridians). So, yeah, all this whining for a minor inconvenience is pretty pathetic and sad, in the big picture.

Fuck the big picture. I feel sick.

I’ve been watching Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle, which is quite good. I am having trouble remembering Season 2–which I know I watched and enjoyed–but the show is very interesting…and somewhat troubling to watch. If you don’t know the premise, it’s based on a popular Philip K. Dick novel of the same title, which was an alternate history which imagined that the Nazis developed an atomic bomb, which they dropped on DC, ending World War II with an Axis victory. The United States has been divided up between Japan and Germany–the Germans have everything from the eastern seaboard to the Rockies; the Japanese everything on the other side to the Pacific coast (no mention of the Italians, which is interesting in and of itself), and the growing Resistance to the Fascist tyrants. After watching the first season I read the book, which is significantly different but equally compelling, but the show is really taking off. I do remember some terrific moral dilemmas for the characters–this is one of the show’s great strengths, frankly; when you are living under a fascistic regime, what is moral? It’s also an interesting look at collaborators, because of course there would be some–many, in fact.

I also read some more of Circe last night in my misery, and it is, as always, still compelling and beautifully written. Maybe between naps and misery i can actually finally finish reading it today.

And now to the easy chair with me.

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Make It Happen

Friday! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Yesterday I did something I’ve not done in a long time: posted a Throwback Thursday picture. I have a folder of pictures I got from my family and scanned from my childhood, and I picked one from there.

This one, to be more precise:

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As you can see, it was developed in February of 1974, which means it was taken on my sister’s little Kodak pocket camera in the summer of 1973. I also know that beach–Panama City Beach, Florida, where my aunt and uncle had a cabin about three blocks or so from the water they rented out and we often stayed at when we went south in the summertime.

As I posted the picture, I smiled fondly; I’ve never really written an awful lot about the Gulf Coast of Florida–there’s a couple of short stories I’ve never published, and ideas for more–but the most amazing thing about this picture, to me, is how empty the beach is for a July afternoon. I can’t even imagine that being possible today. Back then, there were no resorts, hotels, or luxury condos built on the beach side of the shore road; and there were no high rise buildings in Panama City Beach, either. Just little beach houses, very few year round residents in the area. The shore road wasn’t exactly lined with chain restaurants and fast food, either; mostly little mom-and-pop souvenir shops that also sold gasoline and cold soda and beer. Scattered along the shore road were family-owned seafood diners–I remember some amazing meals at these places. On the beach side of the road I remember there were these enormous ditches, with worn, weather-beaten wooden footbridges leading over them to the dunes–covered with sea grass and sea oats–and then on the other side you could climb down some weather-beaten gray wooden stairs to the actual sugar powder white sand. It was so beautiful there…the beautiful panhandle beaches spoiled me for all beaches I’ve been to ever since; setting a standard that is hard to beat. We used to go to Miracle Strip Amusement Park; the adults would sometimes go to the dog races at Ebro. The cabin had a big screen porch with a tin roof where all the kids would sleep in front; with just one of those little hooks to keep the screen door closed.

I can’t imagine parents letting their children sleep in such an unsecured location now; it seems like a recipe for children disappearing, doesn’t it?

Someday I suppose I will write about the panhandle of Florida back in the 1970’s; the only thing I’ve done thus far is an unpublished horror short story that is kind of cliche and will probably never be published anywhere (I am not a horror writer, but I keep trying. Or maybe I’m just not a good short story writer in general; or some combination of the two, I don’t know).

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Go Home

Sunday morning, with lots to do and a long, relaxing day ahead in which to do it all. I woke up relatively early this morning, which was a wonderful and pleasant surprise, and feel rested. I have a short story to work on, a reread of Royal Street Reveillon to get through, and I’d also like to make some progress on my reading of Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon. I cleaned and did errands and read yesterday; along with some note taking on various projects as well as filing. This coming week should be interesting, to say the least; I am doing some testing on Monday and Thursday at the Blacks in Government conference at the Riverside Hilton, which will be a lovely change from my ordinary routine, and I have a three day weekend next weekend in honor of my birthday.

Yes, the old man officially turns fifty-seven next weekend; although I always change my age on New Year’s. After this next New Year’s, I’ll be telling people I’m fifty-eight. Age has never mattered  much to me; for the early portion of my life I was always younger than everyone else around me; later on I was always older than everyone else I hung around with. I learned early on that age is a relative concept.

Yesterday was kind of a lovely day for me. It rained off and on most of the day, and there really is nothing lovelier than being inside and dry while it rains outside, and our rain is do torrential and tropical–so lovely to deal with when you’re inside rather than when you’re actually outside dealing with it. As the bed linens agitated in the washing machine and the wool blankets tumbled dry in the laundry room, I was filing and getting my desk area organized, listening to the rain and looking out my windows to see all the leaves outside glistening and wet, and water cascading out of the rain spout on the house next door when a phrase formed in my head, and I scribbled into my journal, standing up at the kitchen counter: It was one of those lovely summer Saturdays New Orleans gets sometimes in August–where thunderstorms roll through the city all day, the dark clouds creating an artificial twilight at three in the afternoon. Perfect for staying inside and cleaning, the washing and drying and folding of clothes. The cat sleeps lazily in the desk chair, waking up every now and then to groom before curling up again into a tight ball of differentiated ginger stripes.

I may never use that in something I write, be it a short story or a novel, but it’s a nice piece of writing nonetheless. My notebooks and journals are filled with such scraps of writing, of ideas and thoughts and fragments and character descriptions or settings.

And next up in Florida Happens, for the Short Story Project is “The Fakahatchee Goonch” by Jack Bates.

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Goonch is just another name for a catfish. A really big catfish.  Sometimes it’s called the Devil Fish or Black Demon because it lurks deep down there in the murkiest part of the Fakahatchee Preserve. Bottom feeders mostly. They eat gator leftovers or anything else that might get tossed into the swamps. Back in the mauve and neonMiami Vice days, legend had it the Everglades was a good place to dispose of a problem quick.  People think that’s how the goonch developed a taste for meat.

Of course, the guys who trawl for catfish say those fish are just as apt to eat water weeds and such if the pickings are slim.  Sometimes they feed on their own.  Had some guys drag in twenty to thirty pounders, about three feet long. That ain’t no fish tale.

Neither is this one. The catfish I’m talking about is an eight-man goonch. Know what that is? That’s when eight grown men stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder, and that goonch lays across all of their extended hands from tip to tail. That’s how big the Fakahatchee goonch was said to be. Had a mouth like the gaping orifice of hell, or so I’m told. I ain’t never seen it, but I know it’s there.

There have been nights when I’m frog hunting where the frog croaking will go quiet and the swamp gets real still. Something big enough to rock my aluminum skiff passes through the water. Up ahead in the dark there’ll be a splash and a few ticks off a clock later my skiff will rock a second time except maybe a little more treacherously on the creature’s return pass. and I’ll have to sit down, clutch the sides so I don’t tip out. Only way I know it’s safe to leave is when the frogs start croaking again.

Sometimes though, a frog will puff its chest and blowout its braggadocio regardless of the danger it’s in.

Jack’s bio reads “Jack Bates writes some pretty good crime fiction from the comfort of his loft office. His stories have appeared all around the web, in various anthologies, and in a few magazines. Three have been finalists for the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He’s also written award-winning scripts for stage and screen including a short-lived web series. An incomplete list of his works can be found on his blog http://flashjab.blogspot.com/.   When not writing, he plots or travels or runs errands or chats it up with other old movie buffs on twitter. He pens the Harry Landers, PI, series for Mind Wings Audio Books. He’s also released several ebooks with Untreed Reads which launched the Hack Ward PI series with Monkey See, Monkey Murder. In 2012, his YA Steampunk novel, Colt Buchanan and the Weather Walkers, was released by Red Willow Press.”

This short story is quite fun, and in the classic mold of slightly off, wacky Florida noir. Set in a dive bar on the west coast of Florida in a nothing town on the edge of a swamp, a stranger walks in with a wad of cash and an air of mystery about him; two tough rednecks are playing pool with their girlfriends when the two men decide to win some of the stranger’s money off him–and things continue to spiral downward from there. It reminded me of John D. Macdonald with maybe a dash of Hiassen thrown in for good measure, and is a very fun and satisfying read; one that I’m glad is in the book.

And now, I have spice to mine.