Dracula’s Castle

Hey there, Saturday! Hope all is well with you, Constant Reader. Yesterday was a lovely day, really–I managed to get a lot done, made a Costco run, loaded all the boxes of books into the car to drop off at the library today, cleaned and organized, and even went through the books again to fill up two more boxes, which need to be loaded into the car this morning. The Latter Library no longer requires appointments to drop off books to donate for the library sale–provided you drop them off during the sale, which runs from 10-2 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The decluttering of the Lost Apartment is off to a great start; with a goal of cleaning out the storage attic and the storage space as well, preparatory to closing the storage space rental once and for all. I put on the new Fleetwood Mac playlist I made on Spotify and just went to town, and of course as I washed dishes, reorganized kitchen cabinets to make room for the new stuff I’d bought at Costco (and seriously, I am not going to have to buy jalapeños or Reynolds wrap for several years now; I also bought an insanely box of garbage bags; again, won’t have to buy them for months again), my mind was off being creative, which is one of the reasons I love cleaning and organizing while I am working on a book. I did think a lot of stuff through with the book–always important, as I am in the final stretch–and then moved on to other book ideas and short stories and so forth, the way I always do–unharnessing my creativity is always a lot of fun, to see where it goes–and this morning’s job, before going to get the mail, stop at the library, and possibly–just possibly–make groceries (I cannot decide whether I should get it out of the way today and just go to the gym tomorrow; or if I want to do the groceries and the gym on the same day). Once I am safely home from the errands I am going to work on the book some more, and possibly read some more of the John LeCarré book I started this past week, The Russia House, which I am really enjoying.

One of the more interesting things about doing a sweep of the books was, of course, the memories–I often will buys books at a conference written by other attending authors whom I’ve just met and listened to on panels, as well as those of my friends who are writers–but once I’ve read the book, there’s really no need to keep it. I love being surrounded by books; I love books and always have, and prefer to always be surrounded by them. There will always be more books, and I will always continue to buy more books than I will ever have the time to read–although I am remembering with much fondness the week we spent in Acapulco back in 2006, and all the reading I got done on the balcony listening to the waves crashing ashore, or the time we went to the tennis spa north of Tampa for a long weekend, so Paul could play tennis and take lessons while I stayed in the adorable rental apartment on the property, writing and reading. My dream is to eventually live somewhere that has a spare bedroom so I can have an office, and then of course put out the books; I would have bookcases in both my office and the living room so there would be books everywhere. I think the next thing I need for the apartment is a taller file cabinet; the small two drawer one I currently use isn’t enough, and while obviously I would eventually fill up a taller filing cabinet (there’s always so much paper around here) I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sigh. Someday.

It looks gray again outside, and it must be in the sixties because the air isn’t on. I don’t think it’s going to rain, there’s just a massive cloud cover blocking out the sun–not a bad thing, now that the trees are gone (I’m still bitter about the loss of the crepe myrtles)–and I am very curious to see how our new system handles the summer. I suspect it will be much more bearable downstairs now, and those little portable air conditioners I bought last year will no longer be of use (although I may use one next to the bed to help me sleep better), which isn’t a bad thing, really. My sleep last night wasn’t as deep as I would have liked; I woke up several times but was always able to go back to sleep. I’d love to have one night of deep, long-lasting unbroken sleep, but I do feel rested this morning and not at all sore from yesterday’s workout (which, again, I had to make myself do); if anything, I feel like I stretched perfectly and the weight lifting actually has made everything feel better, which is quite lovely, if I do say so myself. Paul will be at the office again today and tomorrow–this weekend is the Writer’s Retreat for the Tennessee Williams Festival–and then he only has next weekend’s Festival itself to get through, and then it’s over for the year and hopefully, next year will be in person–still stressful and a lot of work, but at least everything will be over the same weekend rather than spread out over three. I also realized part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from New Orleans lately has been a combination of two things: I no longer work at the office on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, so I don’t drive thru the Quarter anymore on my way to and from work, and I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to enjoy the Festivals in the past three years. I was on a tight deadline the last time the Festival was an in-person event, so I didn’t get to stay down there for the entire weekend, plus I had to come home to tend to Scooter. I am still holding out hope that Bouchercon will happen this year…depends on how infections go this summer, I imagine.

I am also thinking I need to do some exploring. Maybe once this book is finished…

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Californian Grass

I really didn’t want to get up this morning–the bed was incredibly comfortable and loving–but Scooter needs an insulin shot every twelve hours so I hauled myself out of bed to make sure he got his shot when he needed it, and then I was up, so I stayed up. I am feeling incredibly lazy this morning as well–never a good sign, ever–particularly as I have so much to get done today. Our HVAC system was acting strangely yesterday–it didn’t automatically turn off the way it was supposed to when it reached a set temperature; at one point it was 60 degrees downstairs, so I turned it off. This morning it doesn’t feel like it’s freezing downstairs–and that’s not the hot coffee’s effect, either–so maybe it’s working the way it should now. The electricians who installed it are coming by today, so I intend to get some more information about how it works from them–I must have been doing something wrong yesterday, I would imagine. I just looked–the current temperature is what it is set to and it’s not on–so I think maybe I didn’t have it set on fan auto but just on fan, which I think means it will just run and run and run.

Yesterday was a thrilling day of data entry and condom packing; I got the date entry done and so this morning will be reading up on things on-line about developments and so forth with the COVID-19 virus before repairing to my easy chair to make condom packs and watch movies or binge a show (I still am looking at you, Dare Me, for a rewatch all at one time to see what I missed watching weekly). Yesterday I watched Friday the 13th again, and then, as though to punish myself further, I watched Friday the 13th Part II for the first time (I grimly was considering watching the entire series, but I really don’t think I have the patience or fortitude to do so). As I watched the original again, I was struck–just as I was the first time I watched it, right around the time we got our first “smart” television–how cheaply it was made. The entire thing looked like it was filmed with a camcorder as a high school class project (but I don’t think camcorders were readily available when the film was made), the writing and dialogue is terrible, and about the only thing it has going for it is a very young Kevin Bacon (straight from his role on Guiding Light) in a bikini and having a sex scene before getting killed by an arrow coming up from below the bed through the mattress. I always forgot Bacon was in the first one of these…but I decided to watch the second because–well, I still had condom packs to make and Prime suggested it, so here we are. You can tell the first film was an unexpected hit out of nowhere, because while the acting and writing in the sequel are equally as bad as the original–you can see they had a bigger budget. Better lighting, better sets, better cinematography–all the technical aspects of making a film were greatly improved from the first film….if the acting and writing remained as bad and trite and one-dimensional. The story also left something to the imagination–how did Jason survive in the lake all those years? Is he a demon or a ghost or what? It was also interesting to see he hadn’t yet donned the hockey mask yet–apparently, this was added in the third film, which I may watch at some point but certainly don’t have the stomach for today. The cast of the second was also larger than the first, and it also never explains why Camp Crystal Lake becomes, after the last string of murders, a place for camp counselors to go get training for their jobs, and it doesn’t even look it was filmed in the same place…although the nearby town seems to be the same place, and some of the townies from the first movie carry over to the second. I never got into the got slasher movies of the time when they were popular when I was a teen–I later came to appreciate Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street–but these films were also a bridge from the almost infantile, cheesy teen-targeted movies of the 60’s and 70’s to the teen films of the 1980’s, when John Hughes basically flipped the script on what a teen movie looked like.

Saints and Sinners begins today (well, it actually launched last night) and there’s all kinds of lovely things–panels and so forth–over the course of the weekend that are completely free to watch on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel. Check it out! (I’d post a link to the actual page, but there doesn’t seem to be one, which is odd….here is the link to the opening video, which will take you to the page. ) I am doing a panel on Sunday at 3 CST (don’t forget we lose an hour overnight on Sunday), talking with four women mystery writers (Carrie Smith, Cheryl Head, Carsen Taite, and J. M. Redmann) about crime and romance and inspiration and why do we all write about crimes and justice–or the lack thereof. It’s weird that both it and the Tennessee Williams Festival are both virtual this year; that’s two years in a row I’ve not spent the long weekend living at the Hotel Monteleone in the Tennessee Williams Suite (I look forward to that every year). Next year, though….

I picked up a library book yesterday: Eric Arnesen’s Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics 1863-1923. Yes, it’s more research into New Orleans history, but that’s a terrific time period to cover, and if I am going to continue to take inspiration from New Orleans history as well as write historical fiction set here, I need to know more about it. My current knowledge of New Orleans and its history is but a mere drop in the Lake Pontchartrain of fact and information that exists out there–I have yet to even get down to the Quarter to use any of the archives and collections housed there–and I haven’t even read all the New Orleans histories I have here in the Lost Apartment…but I am getting there. I also saw a sign that the Friends of the Library were having a book sale, so I walked back to the carriage house of the Ladder Library, and browsed briefly, conscious of time and that I was on my half hour lunch break. I found a nice hardcover copy of John LeCarre’s The Russia House and picked it up, along with a couple of better copies of several Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries to replace worn copies in my collection (for those who like to keep track of these things, the Nancy Drews were The Clue in the Diary, The Haunted Showboat, and Mystery of Crocodile Island; the Hardy Boys were The Secret of the Old Mill, The Twisted Claw, and The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, which I’ve never had a copy of and was delighted to pick one up in such good condition, practically mint!), and then as I was rather leaving and feeling rather self-satisfied, I glanced at the “free book giveaway” table, and saw one of the few Elizabeth Peters novels I’ve never read, The Camelot Caper, and believe you me I grabbed it and kept walking. I also learned that I can donate books to the library for their sales (intellectually I knew this in the back of my brain; but only recently have I started seriously thinking about pairing down the vast library I own, and it was good to not only get this confirmation but to learn how the process works–baby steps, Constant Reader, baby steps).

And if you’re ever In New Orleans and are a bibliophile, I do recommend the Ladder Library, housed in what used to be the Ladder estate. The library and its grounds are simply beautiful, and I kind of want to set a story of some kind there.

And on that note, I’m heading into the spice mines. Maybe your Friday be lovely and fulfilling, Constant Reader.

Are You Ready for This?

Ugh, Valentine’s Day.

The epitome of what I call the “Hallmark holiday”–a holiday primarily invented to sell products and cards, all under the guise of love and romance–I’ve never really understood the point of this “holiday”, really; shouldn’t we be showing the people we love that we love them every day without the necessity of a “holiday” forcing us to do so? And if I can recall correctly, the actually story of St. Valentine is actually creepy and sad; more like a John Carpenter version of a holiday than what billions of dollars of advertising over the past six or seven decades have embedded into American culture. I know, I know–I’m a spoilsport and perhaps a touch too cynical about these sorts of things, but seriously.

I mean….

It’s a frigid forty degrees in New Orleans today, with a deep freeze in the forecast for tomorrow night and the possibility of snow on Fat Tuesday. Ironically, the cancellation of the parades and the partying ban/restrictions in the French Quarter–which essentially cancelled Carnival’s bacchanal–while being an enormous economic blow to the city for this year, may have saved us of next year. Cold weather Carnivals are inevitably miserable and not as fun; and the following years see a dip in numbers and attendance before it starts building back up again. Not having hordes descend upon us for what may be record-setting cold for Carnival may be a blessing in disguise. It’s certainly too cold to go stand around on the corner for hours today for the four parades that would be rolling–but I am missing my corn dogs and mango daiquiris and funnel cakes this year. I have tights on this morning beneath my sweatpants, and may end up putting on a T-shirt underneath my sweatshirt. I have a stocking cap on, fingerless gloves, and the space heater is going on full blast. The sun is hiding behind cloud cover so it seems gray out there…I am dreading the inevitable rain that will come as well. But I intend to spend most of my day in my easy chair (huzzah for laptop computers!) under a blanket while music plays–I am going to be a Festival widow again today–and work on my book some more. I managed four chapters yesterday; don’t be impressed, as they were flashback chapters so the tenses isn’t need to be shifted, but I also saw places that need actual revisions, and made note of them for the big final push. I am hoping to actually get through this entire manuscript by Ash Wednesday, and then next weekend I’ll be able to start inputting the serious changes it needs, as well as some additions. There also needs to be one more, final chapter written. This will clock the book in at about a hundred thousand words, twenty-two chapters, and of course the inserts between each chapter I also need to write. I do think I should be able to get all of this finished by March 1 deadline; we’ll have to see. I am trying not to get into the mindset of well, I don’t have another deadline right behind this one, so I can be late without damaging the writing schedule for the year too badly–which is a thing for me, really; it’s never ceased to amaze me how easily I can talk myself out of doing the work.

Last night after Paul got home we watched the Australian Open; particularly the Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams matches, which were both quite entertaining and saw some amazing tennis being played, particularly Serena’s match. I spent most of the day working around the house. I ran errands early (mail, returned a library book, made groceries) and then came home and cleaned through the cold. Finally around two o’clock I adjourned to the easy chair and started revising and rewriting, and making notes. I also rewatched a beefcake movie about teenaged male witches called The Covenant, which objectifies its beautiful young male stars–their characters are conveniently on the swim team, so there are plenty of scenes in the water and in the locker room–and starred Chace Crawford, Sebastian Stan, Taylor Kitsch and Toby Hemingway in their youthful beauty; but the lead was played by Steven Strait, who was gorgeous and is now starring in The Expanse. It’s not a great movie by any means–a trifle, an entertainment–but the young beefcake was quite lovely to look at. Is there a term for young beefcake? There should be.

I also reread an old kids’ series book that I greatly enjoyed as a child; The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, which is a Three Investigators mystery and going to get–as it deserves–its own entry. When I was a kid, I loved the kids’ series books, collected them (continuing to do so as an adult because I am a completist and if I have any of the series I must have ALL of the series), and often reread favorites multiple times. I always used books as a child to escape from the reality of my world, in which I was an outsider and strange and may as well have been from another planet or dimension. Books were my source of comfort–I could always escape whatever was going on by slipping into a book. I have reread The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot any number of times–but this is the first time I’ve gone back to it in years. I am considering writing middle grade mysteries–not because I think I will get rich and famous that way (which I have long since learned in this business is a fool’s fantasy) but rather because I have always wanted to, and want to see if I can actually pull it off. I came up with the concept for a kids’ mystery series when I was a kid, patterned if not plagiarized from the ones I was reading, and believe it or not, I still have the list of titles and synopses of some of the books I’d intended to write in the series. Why not give it a shot? As the clock slowly runs out on my life–like sands through the hourglass–I am becoming very aware of how limited the time I have left in which I want to write everything I want to write (with new ideas popping up all over the place, all of the time) and so I am beginning to need to focus to get the ones that truly matter to me finished.

And yes, I am fully aware how morbid that sounds.

But it’s also reality. I suppose examining one’s mortality as the sixtieth birthday looms (seven months) is a cliché; sue me. I’ve never really thought about my age a whole lot before–other than being pleased that I don’t look my age–but I do find myself in quiet moments thinking about the past and wondering how much time I have left and when am I going to find the time to write everything I want to get written before Papa Legba comes to claim my soul. (Also, only this week did I learn how to make special characters on my computer…)

And on that note, I need to make another cup of coffee and do some things around here before settling in for today’s manuscript work. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader; I hope to get my blog entry on The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot finished today as well.

Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

Well, it’s now Thursday and let’s see how the rest of this week goes. I don’t have to go back to the office until Ash Wednesday–working at home today and tomorrow–and then over the weekend (all four days of it) I can leisurely clean and write and get things done, which is always a plus. Paul hasn’t been getting home from the office until almost ten every night this week–making me a Festival widow, as I always am every year at this time; the primary difference being Paul would come home for the parades and then work on things at his desk until all hours of the night while I went to bed. Last night’s Youtube wormholes included Kings and Generals videos about the Ottoman Wars; short documentaries about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret and Mary (who don’t get near as much attention as their famous brother– had Henry’s matrimonial efforts been a bit more in line with those of a normal king, Margaret and Mary would have most likely gone down in history for their own notoriety and scandalous lives…as it is, they are most forgotten footnotes to Tudor history. But all the British monarchy after Elizabeth I is actually descended from Margaret Tudor rather than Henry VIII); another couple about another favorite sixteenth century royal woman Marguerite de Valois (immortalized as Queen Margot in the Dumas novel); famous courtesans of history; and the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire. (I really have always wanted to write about palace intrigue in Constantinople–there’s a reason why “byzantine” has come to mean interconnected elaborate conspiracies with twists and turns and surprises)

I was also very tired yesterday, after my third “get up at six and go to the office” day in a row. I am acutely becoming more and more aware of my age and the increasing fragility of my body; nothing terribly original or insightful, really. The decay of our bodies is something we can generally spend a good portion of our lives not thinking about, and of course, we consistently always push aside thinking about our own mortality because–well, because no good can come of it, really, other than paralyzing depression and panic about the shortening of the life string held by the Three Fates. I have become very used to the idea that I am not going to be able to write all the things that I want to write in the limited time I have left to me (see what I mean about paralyzing depression? Just typing those words made my entire body shudder), particularly with all the new ideas I get on an almost daily basis.

And the more research I do about New Orleans and Louisiana history, the more fascinated I become. I was actually thinking the other day, as I idly went down a research wormhole about Alice Heine (the first American born princess of Monaco was NOT Grace Kelly, but Alice Heine–born and raised in the 900 block of the French Quarter in New Orleans), I couldn’t help but think man, I should have started studying all this New Orleans/Louisiana history YEARS ago–at least when we first moved here. There is so much rich, vibrant material in New Orleans’ checkered history; and when you expand it out to Louisiana as a whole, it becomes even more interesting. I had, in fact, primarily always assumed the prevalence of Spanish names in the state and region came from when the Spanish owned Louisiana….which in a way it kind of did; but it was because to populate their new lands and territories as a protective measure against both the British and the Americans, the Spanish governors encouraged immigration from the Canary Islands–their descendants are called los isleños; I knew about the isleños, but I never really knew when they came here and to what part of Louisiana they came. (There was also a Filipino settlement at a place called St Málo; outside the levees, that settlement was completely destroyed by a hurricane in the early twentieth century…which just goes to show precisely how much of a cultural and ethnic melting pot New Orleans is and always has been.) It’s all so goddamned interesting…the main problem is the older books about the state and city’s history aren’t necessarily reliable–Lyle Saxon, Harnett Kane, and Robert Tallant, in particular; their works weren’t always based in fact but in rumor and legend, and all too often in upholding white supremacy–but the stories are highly entertaining, if inaccurate, biased, and with perhaps too high a degree of fictionality built into them. But the stories themselves are interesting and could make for good stories–in particular Tallant’s book Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, (one can never go wrong with historical true crime, even if Tallant’s sources were faulty and included rumor and speculation)…the title tale is, in and of itself, one I’ve been interested in fictionalizing since I first became aware of it–I can’t recall the murderer’s name, but a very good-looking young man, he used to lure men in to rob and kill; and while he always had a girlfriend–sometimes accomplices–and Tallant never comes right out and says so, my takeaway from the story is that the guy basically preyed on older men with either gay or bisexual tendencies, which puts it right into my wheelhouse, really.

And of course, so many of these stories would work in my Sherlockian world of New Orleans in the first decades of the twentieth century.

And this, you see, is why I will never be able to write everything I want to write. Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your day be as splendid as you are, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow morning.

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

Santa Baby

And here we are, Wednesday already, and Christmas a mere week away.

I avoided a horrible Christmas blunder yesterday, so I have to give a shout out to Overstock.com for handling the problem quickly and efficiently and effectively saving Christmas.

Okay, that may be overstated a little, but STILL.

The last time I’d ordered from them I was still working at the office on Frenchmen Street, so I had whatever it was I ordered delivered there. Being an idiot–my default is always to have things shipped to my postal service, alwaysI didn’t bother to check when ordering, and it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I looked at the confirmation emails to verify the shipping. Overstock was able to help me get that corrected almost immediately. So, huzzah!  A Christmas miracle!

I was terribly tired yesterday and fairly unable to focus most of the day because of it, so no writing was done. When I got home last night–in the cold–I simply collapsed into my easy chair, covered myself with a blanket, and let Scooter curl up on me for even more warmth. I went to bed early and slept very well. I still woke up a couple of times in the night, but was able to easily return to the arms of Morpheus.

But today I am rested. I do have to work all day, as opposed to a half-day as is per usual on Wednesdays because I had to take last Friday off, tonight I’ll be doing data entry until it’s time to come home. And tonight hopefully I’ll be able to get some writing done. I really want to get this manuscript out of my hair by the end of the year. I’m not exactly sure how I am going to manage that–there’s not much time left in the year, after all, and I am notoriously lazy–but it would be great if that could happen. I think we’re going to go see The Rise of Skywalker this weekend; I’d like to go Saturday afternoon if we can get tickets; I’ll be trying to order them on-line later today. I can’t believe the Skywalker series of Star Wars films are coming to an end, but if Rogue One and The Mandalorian are examples of what can be done without the Skywalkers, count me all the way in.

I am still reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, but the fact it’s taking me so long to read it should not be counted against it–it’s quite excellent. I simply got sidetracked by the Watchmen graphic novel, Disney Plus, and a lack of time to read more. I am also still working my way through Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and we are finally at the point where the Vieux Carre Commission is being created and empowered to protect the historic value and integrity of the Quarter. New Orleans history is so fascinating and entertaining–and delightfully dark. I also want to reread Chris Wiltz’s fantastic The Last Madam, about Norma Wallace–who was, indeed, the “last madam.”

I had an idea a while back for a noir set in the Quarter–don’t I always?–and maybe noir is the wrong term; a pulp? There’s a difference, I suppose, between pulp fiction and noir; this would probably be a pulp more than a noir. Anyway, during the height of the “girl” title crime novel craze (not that it’s gone away), I made a joke that I wanted to write a book called Girls Girls Girls–after all, multiple “girls” in the title is surely better than just one? And while it started as a joke, like almost always, as I thought about it more, the more an idea for a book started to come to me; the strip clubs in the Quarter were being raided around this time–for drugs, prostitution, underage girls, etc.–and there was yet another crackdown on vice down in the Quarter; this happens, as I’ve learned through reading city history, periodically. (Notorious district attorney Jim Garrison, lionized by Oliver Stone in JFK despite the fact he was a headline-hunting power-mad Fascist who used his office to avenge political and personal slights, also led one of these campaigns back in the 1960s–clean up the Quarter!) And a germ of an idea started forming, about a female vice cop sent undercover to investigate a strip club–and the following descent into violence and darkness. I doubt, however, that the NOPD would ever ask one of its own to go undercover as a stripper; but she could certainly be a shot girl. The other day I started writing a short story–nothing much, just some fragments of sentences and paragraphs and general ideas and so forth–called “Shot Girl”; I also realized that this could be my introduction to the character who would eventually be the center of Girls Girls Girls. 

Just a thought, anyway.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

IMG_0973

Causing a Commotion

Last Saturday, as you may know, the Hard Rock Hotel, currently under construction at the corner of Rampart and Canal Street in the French Quarter, collapsed. Today, they are going to set off some controlled explosions to bring down the damaged cranes, which are no longer attached to the construction and present a clear and present danger to the area. Many of the businesses in a very large radius from the construction site are closed until further notice, causing the businesses and their employees financial hardship.

Several people were also killed as a result of the collapse.

I no longer drive to and from work on Rampart Street–we moved into new offices for the day job last November; it’s much easier for me to get on the Interstate coming and going to work now–but I pretty much made that drive every day from 2005 through last November, other than the years the street was torn up in order to resurface it as well as put in the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line. The construction site was where the Canal Street Woolworth’s was for decades; the very Woolworth’s whose lunch counter was protested during the Civil Rights era because it was segregated. I always hated that the Woolworth’s closed and was torn down, because I felt that it was of no little historic significance; particularly at a time when the Confederate monuments still polluted the city.  But Woolworth’s is no longer in existence, and what else to do with a prime real estate lot that wasn’t being used? There’s already a Hard Rock Hotel on Bourbon Street, but this complex was going to be much larger and was, I think, going to house a Hard Rock nightclub, if I’m not mistaken–because a nightclub at that corner is precisely what the city needed (eye roll).

The construction collapse also exposed some typical New Orleans corruption; the contractor is allegedly shady and has an apparently well-earned bad reputation on every level. There was also some bribery going on, and someone at City Hall, who was signing off on permits, and safety inspections that weren’t being done, was also arrested this week. I am very curious as to what that is going to mean for the future of the Hard Rock Hotel; even if they hire a reputable contractor, I would imagine everything already built will need to come down and be rebuilt; and how do you recover your reputation from that?

It will be interesting, and of course, I am thinking there’s a book or a story in this somewhere. I’ve already created a shady contractor in New Orleans, by the name of Sam Dreher, in Royal Street Reveillon; I can certainly use that character again, and who knows? French Quarter Flambeaux just might make a terrific Scotty novel.

It’s hard to imagine, though, at this point how the Hard Rock Hotel can continue to be built–I would imagine it would have to be torn down completely and started over, but what do I know? I am neither an engineer nor an architect. But I would also think it would be hard to get past the fact that several people died in a construction disaster while it was being built; here is the perfect set up for a French Quarter horror novel about a haunted hotel, don’t you think? One that is cursed with death and tragedy; similar to the Overlook in The Shining.

Interesting.

This also reminds me that Arthur Hailey’s bestselling novel Hotel, which was adapted into a television series in the 1980’s (it came on after Dynasty), was also set in New Orleans; the St. Gregory Hotel in the novel was on Common Street in the CBD, one block from the French Quarter–a grand old hotel of the city (the television show moved the setting to San Francisco; which I still think was a mistake. An anthology television series along the lines of a more serious The Love Boat, set in a hotel with guest stars every week playing out individual stories as they visit the hotel, to me, would work better in New Orleans than San Francisco; then again, I may be biased heavily) in desperate need of some financial investment.  Hailey, who is not so remembered today, was a huge bestseller of his time, and he wrote sprawling novels about industries, and the people who worked in them, and the people who got involved with said industry somehow; with the stories all intermingled. He also wrote Airport, which became one of the first disaster movies, and eventually a series of sequels about plane disasters; he also co-wrote the novel Runway Zero-Eight, also filmed–and that film was what Airplane! spoofed. He wrote about banks (The Moneychangers), hospitals (The Final Diagnosis), power companies (Overload), drug companies (Strong Medicine), car companies (Wheels), and news broadcasts (The Evening News). He also wrote a political thriller, In High Places, which was one of the most thoughtful cold war thrillers; it was written from the perspective of the Canadian government, negotiating desperately with the United States since the skies over Canada were going to be the battleground between the US and the Soviet Union.

I reread Airport after I actually went to work at an airport, and have to say, Hailey’s research was excellent; he really captured the behind-the-scenes activity of an airport impacted by a blizzard perfectly. Likewise, I read The Moneychangers when I was working at a bank–he actually researched Bank of America for the book, which is where I worked–and again, spot on.

Now I’m thinking about rereading Hotel, if only to see how it was done, and how he depicted New Orleans in the 1960’s.

Anyway. I’ll continue to follow the story of the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, and see where it goes, and maybe–just maybe–it could be the basis for something. As you can see, I’ve already had any number of ideas spring from the incident…as always.

And now back to the spice mines.

11707499_10205581348306753_1410007181850364070_n

Let’s Wait Awhile

Thursday and I still have no voice–well, I do, but my throat is still sore and my voice is still raspy-ish. But it is getting better–I really need to treat it with honey and tea, I suppose–but it’s annoying that it has lasted this long. I’ve also had an earache for a lot longer than necessary, which is terribly irritating. I’ve not actually had an earache in a very long time, and of course, now that sixty is just over the horizon, everything new and different and unusual that happens to me physically automatically turns into something traumatic in my head: I wonder if I damaged my hearing at Tiger Stadium last Saturday?

It wouldn’t surprise me. There were times during the game when the crowd was so loud I could feel the noise vibrating against my ear drums. Heavy heaving sigh. Of course I suppose now I can feign deafness when someone I don’t want to listen to is talking to me…

Oh, I already do that. Never mind.

But it’s Thursday morning, and I slept later than I probably should have this morning. C’est la vie. I kind of feel like I need another weekend to regroup and recover from everything; and I also can’t seem to get overly focused to work this week on my writing–or to read anything. It’s rather disappointing, but the earache from hell–which is sticking around, apparently, for another day–is enormously distracting and does make it harder for me to focus. I’m going to take a Claritin in a moment–my sinuses appear to also be fucked up; and maybe opening up my sinuses will alleviate the earache; stranger things have happened, after all–and hope that makes things better for the day.

I’m not really sure why we continue to watch American Horror Story: 1984. Last night’s episode continued to go even further off the rails, and the previews for next week’s episode seemed also incredibly unappealing. I had wondered how they would manage to draw out a slasher film homage into ten or eleven episodes, particularly since it was all taking place over the course of one night; and now I apparently have my answer. And yet, much as I am hating it, we’ll probably keep watching to the bitter end…the only season we ever completely bailed on was Hotel.

I’m hopeful that this weekend will be a productive one, since last weekend was a complete wash. I am so behind on everything now! It sucks being tired, and slightly ill, this entire week. It really sucks that my throat is so sore–and that it’s still not better. Is it worn from all the yelling last Saturday night, or is this a holdover from being sick? It sucks when they both happen at the same time so i can’t figure it out, you know what I mean? Just horrible. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I did manage to get the bills paid, and updated my debt list. It’s disheartening to see how much debt I’ve managed to accrue over the last few years, but it’s also somewhat heartening to know that it’s all, primarily, because I bought a new car, and have been trying to pay it off early ever since. It’s also lovely, and most satisfying, to see the debt owed on the car slowly but steadily decreasing. I haven’t been able to pay more down than the regular payment for most of the year, but it’s finally down into four figures, and should go much faster now that it’s that low. God, what will I do with all that extra money once the car is paid off? And if I take care of this car, it should last me for a good long time…

And once the car is paid for, the rest of the debt can get paid off. Thank you, baby Jesus.

Anyway, I am hoping to start reading Certain Dark Things today; I opened it the other night and read the first paragraph, and loved the style and authorial voice. My reading has certainly been suffering lately, and while I am desperately trying to get organized and rested and all that nonsense, I really need to focus. Sigh, I’ve been saying that for a really long time, haven’t I?

I am still reading my New Orleans history, though–I am now up to “The Last of the Mafia” in Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang, which is about the kidnapping of young Walter Lamana. I’ve already read about this case–it was talked about in Empire of Sin, I believe, although I could be wrong–but it’s always interesting to me to read about how the French Quarter, in the days before preservation began, had turned into a terrible slum (which is why, before the preservation movement took hold in the city, bulldozing the Quarter would come up every so often). Since I am going to be writing a short story or two during this period–did I mention I was asked to write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche? If not, I’ve been asked to write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and I have a terrific idea for it–I need to get an idea of what the Quarter was actually like back then, especially if Sherlock Holmes is going to be living in the Quarter.

My ADHD-addled brain has certainly been jumping all over the place lately, and I’ve been trying to write ideas down in my journal as they come to me.

And on that note, perhaps I should put on my miner’s hat and head into the mines. I don’t get off work this evening until eight, so I know when I get home I’m not going to want to clean or do much of anything; I’ll probably try to get some writing done this evening but I am not holding out much hope. This entire week has been almost a complete loss.

Sigh. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

11202112_978308898896797_6993275636760028453_n

Jacob’s Ladder

Tuesday morning and all is fine…at least so far.

I managed to finish the reread/outline of Bury Me in Shadows last night, which is very cool, and as I said the other day, it doesn’t need nearly as much work as I thought it did–which, given how it was written in fits and starts over the period of a few months, I figured there would be tons of repetition. As it is, I did repeat something–the first time my main character, Jake, was ever called a gay slur–about three or four times. Obviously, I only need to have that in there once.

What’s funny about it, though, is that each instance is based on a different time it happened to me when I was a kid–and I managed to remember four different times. Who knows how many others I can remember? Ah, the joys of being a queer kid in America back in the day.

But the book is, as I said, in much better shape than I remembered or thought, and so it’s not going to be as much work to finish it as I thought. Don’t get me wrong–it’s still going to be a lengthy slog, it’s just not going to take me as a long to finish this final edit than I thought it might. It’s still entirely possible that I could have it finished and ready to go sometime next week, which would be really lovely. One can certainly hope, at least.

I’ve managed to sleep well both nights so far this week–I didn’t even feel tired yesterday until after I got home from the office. I somehow managed to make it through an entire twelve-hour day without feeling exhausted or worn out. On the other hand, we were also pretty slow yesterday; perhaps not having client after client after client made the difference.

We finished watching Big Mouth last night, which is easily one of the funniest things on television right now, and will now slide back into watching our other shows each evening, trying to get caught up on them all. A plethora of riches for us to choose from, and we still have only watched the first episode of the first season of Succession, so there’s also that.

I’m not as energetic this morning as I was yesterday; but that’s probably par for the course. I may not have been as worn out as I usually am on Monday evening last night, but it was still a twelve hour day, and today is probably a vestigial hangover from that. That doesn’t bode well for the day, but I”m hoping it’s just a slow waking up morning type of thing. I’ve still got so much to do it’s not even funny. Motivation is the primary problem I am having this morning, and my coffee doesn’t seem to be working the way I generally expect/need it to. Oh, wait–there it is. Hello, caffeine!

There was a cold front that came through last night so today is supposedly going to be cooler than it has been–sad that temperatures in the mid-80’s is “cooler than it has been,” but that’s life down here in the swamp. This summer has certainly lasted longer than any have seemed to before, but that could also just be my own faulty memory. My memories are questionable, it seems. That’s why people who can write their own memoirs or autobiographies amaze me so much–how do you remember all of that? There are so many gaps in my memories, and memories that are simply flat out wrong; for example, I would have sworn on a Bible and testified to it in court that we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs in the winter of 1969, which is incorrect. We moved in the winter of 1971, two years later; I was ten years old and in the sixth grade. I knew I was ten when we moved, and yet somehow I always managed to convince myself we moved in 1969. Why or how or when that year became fixated in my brain as the year we moved is beyond me; I’ve always been able to remember the year we moved to Kansas because it was the summer before my junior year. I graduated in 1978, so we had to have moved to Kansas in 1976. It was also the Olympic year–Montreal–and the same Olympics where Nadia Comenici started throwing perfect 10’s in the gymnastics competition.

Why have I been thinking about the past so much lately? I’m not sure. Maybe because Bury Me in Shadows is set in a fictional county that is based on the county where my family is from, so I’ve been drawing on childhood memories to construct a fictional place based in reality from my past. It’s strange to look at Google Earth renderings of where we’re from, and see that my memories are, in fact, incorrect; but in fairness I never drove anywhere in Alabama. I was always a passenger, and I think driving cements directions and so forth in your mind–when you’re just riding in the car you don’t pay as much attention as you would if you were driving. I’m also writing “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which is set in New Orleans in 1994, so I’m having to delve into my memories of visiting here and remembering what the city was like then. It does seem different now than it was then–certainly the city has changed since that first visit all those years ago, when I first explored the gay bars and the Quarter and fell in love with New Orleans; part of the reason I am writing the story and setting it in that time is to write about, and preserve in fiction, my memories of the city back then and what it was like. I’m also glad I decided to turn it into a novella–I may do a book of four novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Full Dark No Stars–which would be kind of a departure for me. I already have “Never Kiss a Stranger” in progress, and there’s also “Fireflies,” and perhaps I have two other stories on hand that could easily be adapted into longer novellas….often the problem I have with writing short stories is the word counts; some stories struggle to come in under 6000 words.

Which, now that I think about it, could easily make “Once a Tiger” and “Please Die Soon” and perhaps even “Death and the Handmaidens” work; simply make them longer and that will probably solve the issues with all three stories.

An interesting and intriguing thought.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

644625_220760894720005_1824093505_n