Harper Valley PTA

Hey, hey, Saturday, what have you got to say?

I feel very good this morning, after another deep and restful night’s sleep. I’ve been allowing myself to stay in bed longer than usual–figuring if I have a mild case of the virus, as I suspect I do–that more rest certainly can’t hurt and might even help. It looks overcast this morning in New Orleans, and one of the things I did last night with the buzz I got from the Chardonnay was start the organization process in my kitchen. It was lovely, actually, to wake up and come downstairs to an organized and neat desk. My next thing to do is get my MWA stuff organized, and this morning I am going to get through everything in my email inbox, if it kills me.

I honestly don’t think it will.

And I want to get some writing done today as well. As I said, I feel terrific this morning; I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning and felt great, rather than however it was I was feeling when I got up. I think I’ve turned a corner, and here’s hoping that I can start whipping everything back into shape and getting my life back under control–which is something I’ve not really been feeling lately. That’s the problem with crises like the pandemic; they are so big and enormous and overwhelming that you can’t really grasp them, with the end result you’re almost paralyzed and unable to get anything accomplished. The truth is you can’t worry about it too much, you can’t worry about the future, and you have to let go–which is incredibly difficult, not as easy or as incredibly simplistic as it sounds–and simply focus on what you can do to keep yourself going and get your mind off it. Stress and worry isn’t going to solve anything, and in fact might make things worse by draining your energy and making you feel everything is so hopeless that it can easily turn into depression and lethargy. (I’m genuinely concerned about the suicide rate and mental health issues over the next few months; I remember that Katrina aftermath far too well.

Simply put, the entire country kind of needs a Xanax prescription.

Paul is going into his office today. He assumes the building is going to be completely closed down soon, and is assembling everything he needs to continue working from home. It looks as though I will be able to start going back into the office, if to do nothing else than helping out with the screenings to let people into the building, so that’s going to get me out of the house. I was very tired yesterday after all the interaction and five hours of screening in the very warm garage of our building, but I’ll also be able to retreat into the air conditioning of the building and head up to my desk where I can do some work up there as well. I do like the idea of having to leave the house every day, even as the city continues to shut down more and more; the lack of traffic and the ease of getting around the city certainly makes a difference.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with–and perhaps other writers have been as well–is what do we do with our writing? It is, at best, an enormous national trauma we’re dealing with; do we pretend in our fictional worlds that the pandemic never happened? As with Katrina, it was difficult to do while it was ongoing because you didn’t know how it was all going to play out; so since the end wasn’t in sight there was no happy ending with the Katrina story and we also don’t know how this is going to play out. How can I start writing another Scotty book, other than setting in the past before the pandemic, without knowing how this is going to play out? It was easy to never talk about 9/11 in the Scotty or Chanse books, but obviously I couldn’t ignore Katrina, and I suspect this pandemic is going to be roughly the same. It also occurs to me this morning as I type this–this is how my mind works; as I type I start thinking who in Scotty’s world would die from this? and immediately I went to the grandparents. When I think about ages and so forth I realize how old Scotty’s grandparents–and his parents–have to be now that he’s in his forties and the youngest of three; and I realize I’ve always alluded to their being more relatives on the Diderot side but have never really explored it any further than that. I touched on the Bradley side of the family a little bit more than usual in Who Dat Whodunnit, but for the most part, at least for Scotty, his family primarily consists of his siblings, his parents, his Diderot grandparents, and the boys. Maybe this is the time to explore the extended family a bit more?

I don’t know, I was kind of torn about whatever the next Scotty may be; I have a list of titles to chose from and some amorphous ideas about what the next one will be, ranging from Hollywood South Hustle to Bywater Bohemia Bourgie to Congo Square Conga–I have so many of these titles already thought up, you can rest assured that I will never run out of Scotty titles–and the plots to go with them. Scotty plots are always amorphous and ambiguous when I start writing them; I don’t feel like I did the entertainment industry and movie stars the proper treatment in Murder in the Rue Ursulines, which, if you will recall, was originally intended to be a Scotty book, and then was adapted into a Chanse instead. The original idea behind Hollywood South Hustle was that Scotty would be minding his own business as he walked home from his parents (or the bars) when someone shoots at him in front of a walled-in house on one of the side streets in the lower Quarter, because it turns out from behind he can pass for a Brad Pitt-like movie star who has moved to New Orleans and is being targeted for some reason–and this draws him into the weird world of Hollywood celebrity. I don’t know that I would use that same opening and methodology of drawing Scotty into the case–particularly now that he and the boys have sort of adopted Frank’s college student nephew–but there’s also a good local scandal from the last ten year about the film industry I could use; and perhaps graft that onto another abandoned idea for a Scotty–the book I was going to write next when Katrina happened; Hurricane Party Hoedown, because I was interested in exploring the corruption of wealth and power, in which the young scion of a wealthy Louisiana family becomes obsessed with a a handsome young gay man and ends up throwing acid in his face, only to escape to Europe to avoid prosecution and now, ten years later, the runaway heir is returning to New Orleans to face the music and his victim is obviously worried. (One night as I sat in my easy chair wishing I was finished with Royal Street Reveillon and thinking about the next Scotty and going through all the story ideas I have for him, it occurred to me how I could graft that particular story onto the movie scandal and tie the two separate storylines into one book; I may go ahead and do that.)

But once I get everything unfinished here in the Lost Apartment under control I am going to start writing Chlorine. That is the next and most important thing for me to get done, and in order to get to that I have to get this other stuff finished. As I was organizing my files and filing last night I realized that over the last month or so I have started a ridiculous amount of short stories without finishing a first draft of any of them: “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop”, “Festival of the Redeemer”, “You Won’t See Me”, the Sherlock story, “He Didn’t Kill Her”, and “Gossip”–in addition to all the unfinished ones I already have on hand, which is frankly insane. But today I am going to work on the Sherlock story, get back to the Secret Project, and start writing down ideas for the next Scotty.

And while I am doing that, I am going to clean my apartment and maybe even do a little bit of pruning with the books–which are slowly but surely starting to take over the apartment again.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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Desperado

Sunday morning, and a restful Saturday was had by everyone, I hope?

Who had Greg won’t get everything done he wanted to get done yesterday on their Bingo cards? Congratulations, you just may be Sunday morning’s big winner!

I did finish reading Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which was a lot of fun and a nice, fun read. I greatly enjoyed the main character, Darla, and the cast and characters around her Brooklyn bookstore, that she inherited from her great-aunt Dee. I also see that  building a mystery series around a bookstore is a good way to gently make fun of publishing and authors and crazy fans; perhaps that’s something I should think about doing? LOL. But it’s a very well-written, well developed novel, and an excellent start to a series. I will undoubtedly read more of Brandon’s series, as well as the books written by her alter-ego.

I also started reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, and got sucked in immediately. I was enormously reluctant to put it aside in order to get back to cleaning, and wish I could devote the entirety of today to reading it; alas, I have to get a lot done today that i didn’t get done yesterday. More writing, more emails, and more cleaning; I also have to get that tire aired up that is low, get gas, and go to the gym. I slept deeply and well again last night–I woke originally at seven, but the bed was entirely too comfortable and since I could, I stayed in for slightly more than an another hour this morning; what can I say? I did walk over to Office Depot to get file folders and a new check register (I use small spiral notebooks; my handwriting is too big and sprawling to use the ones banks provide) and I need to get my checkbook balanced again today. It’s also the first of a new month; how terrifying that it’s already March again. The weather was quite beautiful yesterday–sunny and in the 70’s–and it looks as though that will be the weather again today, which will be nice. I am going to work on my emails this morning and getting organized, then I’ll go take care of the car and go to the gym, and then come home to see if I can get some more writing done. I have a short story due at the end of the month; it finally came to me last night how I can actually write the story and have it make sense (thanks in part to reading the Ali Brandon novel; so thanks, Ali. Seriously, many times the solution to problems with my own writing is solved by reading that of others; the Brandon novel bears no resemblance to my story whatsoever, but reading it made me think about plot and structure, and that led to the breakthrough on my short story; so much of writing is reading, really).

I did write some more on some of the stories I currently have in progress–not very much, mind you, and not nearly enough–but it counts as work, so I am going to take it.

I also finally recognized that the primary problem (again, thank you, Ali Brandon) I was having with the Secret Project was (besides a singular lack of imagination) the old problem I always have with writing: I hadn’t really settled on a name for the main character that I was completely okay with. I went back and forth on several names, first and last, and then yesterday the perfect name for her came to me, and things started clicking into place. Naturally, I made a note of it, and to be honest, writing the short story “Gossip”–which was one of the ones I made some progress on yesterday–also clicked into place how to work on the Secret Project and how to make it work. There are also any number of other reasons this hasn’t worked and clicked into place yet–not the least of which is that I haven’t really done the back work necessary to write. I just started writing, thinking I could make it work as I go…but the thing kept stalling because there were things I didn’t know. My goal for this month now has shifted; now not only do I want to get that one particular story finished by the end of the month (which is when it’s due) but I want to get this finished as well. I am going to spend this week writing that story that is due, while doing the necessary back work on the Secret Project. Next weekend I will revise what I’ve already written, based on the back work, and then I’ll go ahead and get the next two chapters finished while building an outline. That’s a lot of work to get done this month–particularly since the Festivals are at the end of the month–but I think if I stay focused and don’t allow other things to distract me, there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t get this all finished.

Other than the usual Gregalicious reasons, of course.

So, perhaps it’s time for me to get back to it. There’s a load of dishes to put away with another waiting to go in; an enormous pile of stuff in my inbox that needs sorting and filing; and a whole  hell of a lot of emails that need responses. Heavy sigh. Lots of spice to mine today, folks, so enjoy your Sunday and think of me toiling away….

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On the Other Hand

We made it to Friday again, didn’t we?

Huzzah, I think. I’m ready for things to calm down, or some semblance of what passes for normalcy to come back around, and the sooner the damned better. I slept well again last night–only have a half-day today–and so I am returning to the gym this morning. It’s also rather cold here in New Orleans this morning; my space heater is on and I’m getting nice and toasty warm here at my desk. Yesterday was another slightly off-kilter day; I know Mercury is in retrograde (I’m not entirely sure I believe in that stuff, but one cannot deny that weird things happen fairly regularly whenever this astronomical thing occurs) and so that might sort of explain how things are off-center. I still think it’s just the entire city currently is in a state of low energy.

I really do have to write another book about Mardi Gras.

It occurred to me the other day that I have probably written more books about New Orleans than anyone else; not that means anything, of course. But eight books into Scotty and seven into Chanse puts me at fifteen books about New Orleans, and i don’t think anyone else has written that many that is a contemporary? Frances Parkinson Keyes was very prolific, and she also wrote a lot about New Orleans and Louisiana, but I don’t think everything she wrote was about New Orleans. But she certainly wrote one of the biggest selling books about New Orleans of all time: Dinner at Antoine’s. (It’s interesting, because I just finished reading about Pere Antoine–another, not famous restaurant in the Quarter is called Pere Antoine’s, and I’d always wondered who he was–in City of a Million Dreams–interestingly enough he was a Spanish priest the local French called Pere Antoine; he was also an Inquisitor, and that eventually led to him being sent away from New Orleans by Governor Carondelet)

This weekend I hope to get back on track with the Secret Project as well as finish some of these short stories I’ve got floating around. I worked a little bit on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Gossip” yesterday; I also did some work on “You Won’t See Me” that I can’t seem to find anywhere. Heavy sigh. I’ve also fallen behind on my reading. I need to finish the Ali Brandon, and I need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, preparatory to our panel at the Williams Festival towards the end of March. The kitchen and Lost Apartment are yet again a total mess; so tonight when I get home from work I need to get the kitchen and the apartment worked on so I can focus on writing and reading all weekend.

I plan on making white bean chicken chili this weekend as well; I may make it today, before I head into the office, so I can have it for dinner tonight. (Or maybe tomorrow. I don’t know. It depends on how much I can get done this morning around going to the gym, of course.) We’re also still watching the final season of Schitt’s Creek; I am going to be terribly sorry to see this show end. It really is funny and charming, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television before.

I do feel a little more like myself this morning; that feeling of being able to do anything and get everything I want out of life, which is kind of lovely. I miss feeling like that, to be perfectly honest, and I need to get everything back on track. It’s always difficult to get things going when Carnival is looming on the horizon, and the thing about Carnival is that it’s just long enough for everyone to be sick of it and ready for it to be over when it finally is; Carnival rarely leaves you wanting more.

It really is the perfect way to lead into Lent.

When I was at the grocery store on Wednesday night I saw someone with the cross of ashes on her forehead, which kind of took me aback–I’ve not seen that in quite some time. When we first moved here, New Orleans was still heavily Catholic, and seeing the ashes on people’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday was pretty common. With the influx of the new people after Katrina–they seemed to come in waves–the Catholicism of the city was diluted; that woman was the first person I’ve seen in years with ashes on her forehead–but then again, that may be because I am generally not out that much in public on Ash Wednesday as I used to be. I’d be curious to know if the percentage of Catholics in the city has dropped at all since the 2010 census.

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

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Don’t Rock the Jukebox

Monday, and after Orpheus finishes passing tonight, Paul and I are finished with Carnival. While we miss participating in the festivities of Fat Tuesday/actual Mardi Gras–it was always the best day–we both have to work on Wednesday and one last fling is too much for us–the penalty of growing older I suppose. But we both decided over this weekend that next year we’ll also take off Wednesday, and head down there for Fat Tuesday, walking up the Zulu and Rex route and enjoying the costumes and the sights and the fun and–DAMN I DO MISS GOING TO THE QUARTER FOR FAT TUESDAY.

But, as I was forced to admit to my neighbor CLM at the parades the other night–I only know how to do slutty costumes, and I haven’t had the body to do that for nearly a decade.

Maybe now that I am working out regularly again…maybe next year I can get away with Ole Man Slut? We shall see.

I tend to doubt it, but stranger things have happened. I could also up my costume game and do something that doesn’t require a lot of bare skin…

I felt enormously well rested yesterday; sleeping in was definitely the smart thing to do yesterday (after retiring relatively early the night before). But I have to say, despite it being a beautiful day for parades yesterday, the energy at the parades I attended seemed off; weird and not festive. To be sure, there were a lot of people out there, but given there was an another parade-related death on Saturday night at Endymion (causing the cancellation of the parade beyond float 12); that two riders fell off Thoth parade floats and had to be rushed to the hospital; and two people watching the parades from a balcony on a house on St. Charles managed to fall off the balcony (the railing gave way)–it’s not surprising the energy seemed off last night. Naturally, there are now stories circulating on social media and around town that this Carnival is cursed–and it’s because the city never recovered two of the bodies from the ruins of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site. I’m not normally superstitious, and I tend to scoff at things like curses and so forth–but then again, it’s very easy to believe in those sorts of things here in New Orleans. For some reason, the supernatural seems very natural here, and it’s always been that way. Reading all the New Orleans history, as I have been doing lately, has shown me plenty of evidence of the darkness and brutality that has always existed here; the history of the city is, indeed, written in blood and human suffering.

And of course, having a crime writer’s mind, the second death at a parade of someone being run over by a float made me think of a spree-thrill killer, going from parade to parade and shoving people under floats. It would be next to impossible to catch someone doing that very thing–and imagine trying to chase a criminal (any criminal, really) through the massive crowds on the parade route, with all the people in costume and bedecked in sequins and glitter and fright wigs and the Mardi Gras colors–and the still, many others, who are wearing actual costumes. A story I’ve got in some sort of progress already seemed perfect to graft this onto; I emailed myself notes I typed up between floats during Bacchus last night. I also, the other night, started writing two new stories that popped into my mind; “He Didn’t Kill Her” and “Gossip”. “He Didn’t Kill Her” is an entirely new story, that just suddenly took shape in my mind–I’m not sure how to finish it; all that occurred to me was the opening sequence and the title–but “Gossip” is one that’s been rolling around in my brain and subconscious for about thirty or so years. The opening popped into my head on Saturday, and so I started writing, as I am wont to do. (I’ve put off working on anything else until Ash Wednesday–but my mind never takes time off.)

I also spent some time yesterday bouncing back and forth between my reread of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners, which is absolutely delightful, and Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which is equally delightful. It would be enormously fun to write a crime series with a bookstore as the anchor; the ability to make fun of trends in publishing, authors who are assholes, customers that are jerks, etc. would be enormously fun, I would think. The premise behind the book is that an enormously popular author of a series of supernatural books for kids, Haunted High, is doing a booksigning at main character Darla’s inherited bookstore in Brooklyn–and I’ve laughed aloud several times–and I just got to the part where the author in question–Valerie Baylor–was killed. I’m enjoying both books; I will confess I didn’t enjoy The Moon-spinners quite as much on first read as I am on the second read. I think I was expecting the plot to be more like the Hayley Mills film, which in retrospect is terrible. The main character, Nicola, is very headstrong and determined, and very determined to not be pushed aside because she’s a young woman. She’s intelligent and capable and quite clever, with the ability to think on her feet quite brilliantly; in other words, she is a typical Stewart heroine and not a shrinking violet in need of being rescued all the time. There’s a dash of romance in this book, tossed in, I think, to appease her publisher, who saw Stewart as a romantic suspense author when she actually wrote quite excellent suspense novels; but it’s completely unnecessary–if to be expected.

I have errands to run and emails to sort through today; I am getting the mail, making a Costco run, and going to the gym. I also have a business call this afternoon; all of which must be taken care of long before Orpheus begins winding its way through the streets of New Orleans. I do hope the energy is more Carnival-esque tonight; yesterday wasn’t nearly as much fun as it usually is, or could be, during a more normal Carnival.

Tomorrow is a day to rest and relax and get organized as life begins to return to what passes as normal around here; try to do some writing, read some more, get the house back under control after the chaos of the last two weeks.

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

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