It Doesn’t Have To Be

Friday, Friday, gotta get down it’s Friday.

I find myself now in the post-launch haze; it’s been awhile since I’ve actually promoted a book–and usually so much else is going on the launch date might get some social media posts from me and not much else (it really is a wonder I still have any career to speak of)–but I actually feel a bit hungover from what little I did. (I admire other writers who hit it so hard; how do they do it? I sure as hell can’t.) I have nothing but the utmost respect for authors who can do the public appearance/promotion stuff and make it look easy and make it seem like they’re enjoying themselves; because that is not my experience with such things. I am always incredibly self-conscious, and inevitably my fallback response to being nervous and feeling uncomfortable is to try to be funny–which is, of course, completely subjective, and amps up the anxiety: what if no one thinks you’re funny? And with these on-line appearance (as opposed to in-person ones) I do not know if anyone laughs and that makes me even more anxious to the point that when it’s over I am a completely nervous wreck, emotionally, physically and emotionally exhausted; and the hangover from that carries over into the next day. I felt very drained and hollowed out yesterday. Today I feel better–I don’t think I slept that great, to be honest, but this morning I feel fairly well rested. Not I can conquer the world rested, but rested. This is a good thing. I don’t have to do anything outside of the apartment today other than go to the gym after I am finished working at home, and I am going to relish that. I have some data entry to do, condom packs to make, and there are also some other on-line trainings for the day job coming due–annual things we are required as a health clinic to take, like HIPAA, blood borne pathogens, biohazard, etc. (In all honesty, my favorite is the emergency training one–what do you do if there’s an electrical fire? What do you do if there’s a regular fire? What do you do if a patient collapses? I don’t know why that’s my favorite, but for some reason it is.)

Yesterday was spent mostly with on-line trainings for the day job; there was time, however, for some condom packing duties before LEG DAY at the gym (and yes, my legs are tired today. But good tired, not bad sore). I decided to keep going with my attempts at a Halloween Horror Film Festival, moving on to Friday the 13th, Part III. (turned out I must have watched the second part last October and completely forgot; my memory has now moved from sieve to a garbage disposal that clearly eats and grinds up each memory before spitting it out, forgotten) What. A. Shitty. Movie. The first one had a kind of “so-cheaply-made-it’s-kind-of-charming” feel to it, but each film cost more money…but the quality didn’t improve. The acting and writing is so incredibly bad, it’s easy to see why audiences started rooting for Jason as a kind of anti-hero; those who are about to die are such shitty, one-dimensional characters, played by actors who’d be lucky to get a supporting role in a bad dinner theater in Sarasota, Florida, you kind of enjoy watching them die horribly. I don’t know that I have the stomach to handle yet another entry in that endless series of sequels; maybe I’ll switch to the Halloween movies. Those, while equally small budget at first, are at least better acted, written, produced, and directed than their counterparts about Jason Voorhees. Paul came home rather late and had some work to do, so we watched the latest episode of Titans, which I really enjoy but this season, while interesting, is dragging a bit.

It also makes me terribly sad that this is a Friday without a new Ted Lasso.

I also need to get back to work on my writing; I got distracted with all the book promo stuff and so forth and well, now I am behind yet again. What else is new, right? When am I not behind on everything? Yes, it makes me crazy, which is partly why I am alway teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown, without question. I’ve been feeling very good about myself lately–which always makes me suspicious. My piece on Gothics for Crime Reads was well received, so was my piece on Superman posted here the other day, and Bury Me in Shadows also appears to be getting a good reception. My royalty statement came the other day and was significantly higher than I was expecting, which is always welcome news…and of course, I need to make a new to-do list. I also have some filing that needs to be done, and the apartment always needs cleaning. I do think our mouse is gone, though. Last week he was very noisy one night–Paul thought it sounded like death throes–and we haven’t heard him since. Scooter also doesn’t stare at the cabinet under the sink and the dishwasher anymore, either, which is the more likely sign that the mouse is gone at last. It’ll take me a while before I am comfortable turning the dishwasher on without putting a towel across the floor in front of it, though–the little bastard chewing through the hose is going to take me a while to get past.

I may also prune the books a little bit this weekend; the books can always be pruned, and I may even get a box of them down from the storage crawlspace today to go through–I really do need to clean out the crawlspace–and the night time lows this weekend may even dip in the high fifties; it’s definitely October in New Orleans. I think next weekend I may drive around taking pictures of Halloween decorations. One of the many things I love about this city is how so many people go all out decorating for holidays–I love the mansion on St. Charles with the annual skeleton theme–plus, A Streetcar Named Murder is set in early October. LSU plays Florida tomorrow at eleven in the morning (!), and I’ll have the game on but I doubt I will watch it from beginning to end. This has been a horribly disappointing season for LSU football–people are calling for the coach to be fired, as it looks like they’ll have their first losing season this century (!)–the last time that happened was 1999, which led to the firing of then coach DiNardo and the hiring of Nick Saban, which rescued and turned the program around to the point they won the SEC in his second season and a national title in his fourth. LSU fans have become very spoiled this century, but it’s been a very good run these last twenty or so years: four SEC titles and three national championships; only Alabama has done better during this run, and that’s a pretty high standard.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Data ain’t gonna enter itself and the condoms won’t pack themselves, either. Have a lovely Friday, everyone, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Chains of Love

Thursday morning coming at you like a burning ball of pitch hurled at the city walls from a catapult by the invading Huns.

I did two entries yesterday, neither of which was blatant self-promotion (I know, right?); one was my regular entry for the day and the other was…well, it was a really old entry I started writing a long time ago, about my love for Superman and how that actually began when I was a kid. I never finished the post–there are about thirty post drafts that I will someday finish, even though some of them are now YEARS old–but when the news broke about Superman’s bisexuality this week, I knew it was time to finish it and put it out into the world. I also knew when I read that piece of shit’s post on Medium that I was going to conclude by mentioning it, and taking a few nasty digs at his sorry, pathetic, will-die-alone-and-unmourned self. Was I perhaps more petty and mean-spirited, even perhaps nastier, than I usually allow myself to be on here over the last twelve or so years? Probably. Am I sorry? Not in the fucking least.

I woke up this morning at five, as I am wont to do every morning, and moaned a little softly to myself, well, at least I have another hour before I have to get up and then it hit me: It’s Thursday, fuckwit, you don’t have to get up before the sun comes up today, and thus happily burrowed back into my blankets and went back to sleep for a bit. It was lovely, frankly; I feel very good this morning and very alive and ready to get to it. I have a bunch of trainings I have to do on-line today around the condom packing and the data entry (the data entry website was updated, one of the trainings is on that); there’s laundry to do; files to file and an inbox to empty; Leg Day to get through; and of course the apartment is, as always, an utter disaster area. Typical Thursday, really, when you think about it. Yesterday was actually relatively lovely, for the most part; my piece on my favorite Gothic inspirations went live on Crime Reads’ website yesterday, and received an absolutely lovely response–and the afore-mentioned Superman blog piece I did yesterday also got a lot of attention and shares, which was also very nice. The event with Murder by the Book went well for the wonderful John McDougall, our wonderful host and moderator, and I really enjoyed listening to David R. Slayton talk. (I am reading his White Trash Warlock and really, it’s quite marvelous; do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.) Paul had dinner plans last night with friends, so I had the apartment to myself for most of the evening; by the time he got home we were both already exhausted–doing public things always drains me on all three levels (physical, emotional, intellectual) and so we both went to bed relatively early.

So, Bury Me in Shadows is out into the world, and it really was a nice, somewhat soft, release; one of the things I hate about the business side of being a writer is the self-promotion. I was raised in the worst possible way when you want to become a writer; I don’t know if my reluctance to promote myself and push myself on people is inherent, or if it was something I was trained from childhood to have. I was always told if you do good work, let others decide rather than telling them; if the work is good it will speak for itself. That doesn’t really work in this business, and while I am always comfortable to talk about books and writing publicly, I am not very comfortable with talking about myself or my own work or trying to convince people to read/buy it; I can sort of do that kind of thing on here because, well, it’s written and I am not speaking in front of an audience or for a camera. It’s always difficult, and I never think quickly enough to come up with good answers for the questions. I also tend to ramble and get sidetracked and go off on tangents when I talk–as anyone who has ever had a conversation with me in person can easily and happily attest to–which, when you are sharing the stage with another writer, isn’t a good thing. So, with much thanks to John and Murder by the Book for setting the entire thing up and for hosting, and to David for being so gracious and fun to chat with; and I will add my deepest apologies for my feral self and my incompetence at presenting myself as a competent publishing professional.

I also suppose I am far too old to get better at it, as well.

I also got my copy of Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories 2021, edited by Steph Cha and guest editor Alafair Burke–you know, the one where I am mentioned in the back for my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” from The Faking of the President, as “other distinguished work”, which is still an enormous thrill (I may still be picking up the book and opening to that page and marveling at the appearance of my name there)–which I am very excited to start dipping into again. My Halloween Horror Month hasn’t exactly worked out the way I had planned; too much other stuff going on, the release of a book, so on and so on and so on–but that’s okay. Things happen, life happens, and things get thrown off track, but I do always believe things work out the way they are supposed to in the end.

And on that note, I am going to get some things done before it’s time for me to start the endless rounds of training courses and meetings I have to attend virtually today. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again on the morrow.

Heavenly Action

I’ve always been—undoubtedly in part because I love history so much—an enormous fan of books where secrets from the past (even the far distant past) play an enormous part in the present lives of the characters in the story, and that solving those mysteries, learning the truth about the past, is necessary in the present for conflict resolution. As a history buff, the lack of a lengthy history as a nation is something I’ve always thought unfortunate; without ancient buildings and the way that history isn’t sort of always there in our faces the way it is in Italy or other older nations, it’s difficult for many Americans to either grasp, be interested in, or give a shit about our history—we have as a nation the attention span of a goldfish (thanks, Ted Lasso, for that reference).

To make a side by side historical comparison, for example, the Habsburg dynasty dominated central Europe for almost six hundred years, whereas the first European to actually arrive and establish a colony were under the aegis and flag of the Habsburg king of Spain—and that was in the early sixteenth century.

Secrets of the past casting a shadow over the lives of the living is often a theme in Gothics, my favorite style of novel/writing (noir is a close second). Rebecca is of course the master class in secrets of the past; the first Mrs. deWinter might not actually be haunting the halls of Manderley literally, but her ghost is definitely there. Victoria Holt’s romantic suspense novels inevitably were set in some enormous old mansion or castle, with potential ghosts a-plenty everywhere you turn. Phyllis A. Whitney’s one novel set in Britain—Hunter’s Green—also has a classic old British mansion with a potential ghost in it. Maybe it was the childhood interest in kids’ series, with the reliance on secret passages, hidden rooms, and proving that ghosts were frauds; every episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You? had the gang proving something supernatural was quite human in origin.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books when I was a kid was The Ghost of Blackwood Hall; I don’t really remember much of the story now, other than a fraudulent haunting was involved and a woman—Mrs. Putney—was being swindled by a medium? (Reading the synopses on a Nancy Drew website, apparently part of the story involves Nancy and the gang coming to New Orleans, which I absolutely do not remember; my only Nancy Drew-New Orleans memory is The Haunted Showboat—involving yet another haunting. Interesting.) When I was writing the original short story (“Ruins”) I needed a name for the old burned-out plantation house; I decided to pay homage to Nancy Drew by naming it Blackwood Hall, and naming Jake’s maternal ancestor’s family Blackwood (his grandmother was a Blackwood, married a Donelson; Jake has his father’s last name, which is Chapman). I did think about changing this from time to time during the drafting of Bury Me in Shadows, but finally decided to leave it as it was. It might make Nancy Drew readers smile and wonder, and those who didn’t read Nancy Drew, obviously won’t catch it.

Hey, at least I didn’t call it Hill House.

But writing about ghosts inevitably makes one wonder about the afterlife and how it all works; if there is such a thing as ghosts, ergo it means that we all have souls and spirits that can remain behind or move on after we die. So what does writing about ghosts—or writing a ghost story—mean for the writer as far as their beliefs are concerned?

Religion primarily came into existence because ignorant humans needed an explanation for the world around them, combined with a terror about dying. It is impossible for a human mind to comprehend nothingness (whenever I try, I can’t get past “there has to be something in order for there to be nothing, you cannot have nothing unless you have something” and that just bounces around in my head until it starts to hurt); likewise, whenever I try to imagine even the Big Bang Theory, I can’t get past “but there had to be something to explode” and yeah, my head starts to hurt. Even as a kid in church, studying the Old Testament and Genesis, I could never get past “but where did God come from?” I don’t begrudge anyone anything that gives them comfort—unless it starts to impede on me. I’ve studied religions and myths on my own since I was a kid; the commonalities between them all speak to a common experience and need in humanity, regardless of where in the world those humans evolved; a fear of the unknown, and an attempt to explain those fears away by coming up with a mythology that explains how everything exists, why things happen, and what happens when you die. (I am hardly an expert, but theology is an amateur interest of mine, along with Biblical history, the history of the development of Christianity, and end-times beliefs.)

Ghosts, and spirits, have been used since humanity drew art on cave walls with charcoal to explain mysterious happenings that couldn’t be otherwise explained. I am not as interested in malevolent spirits—ghosts that do harm—as I am in those who, for whatever reason, are trapped on this plane and need to be freed. This was a common theme in Barbara Michaels’ ghost stories (see: Ammie Come Home, House of Many Shadows, Witch, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) in which the present-day characters must solve the mystery from the past; why is the ghost haunting this house and what happened to them that caused them to remain behind? I used this theme—spirits trapped by violent deaths in this plane whose truth must be uncovered in so they can be put to rest—in Lake Thirteen and returned to it with Bury Me in Shadows. I did, of course, worry that I was simply writing the same book over again; repeating myself is one of my biggest fears (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?), but the two books, I think, are different enough that it’s not the same story.

At least I can convince myself of that, at any rate.

There’s a few more ghost stories I want to write, actually; (it also just occurred to me that there was a ghost in Jackson Square Jazz, the second Scotty book) any number of which come from those legends my grandmother used to tell me as a child. I have this great idea for one I’ve been wanting to write set here in New Orleans for a very long time called “The Weeping Nun;” I have the entire ghost’s story written in my head, I just don’t have a modern story to wrap around it (same issue I have with my New Orleans ghost story book, Voices in an Empty Room) and of course there’s “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain,” a short story about another Corinth County ghost I started writing and got to about five thousand words before the ghost even made an appearance. That great length is why I shelved the story—and now, of course, I realize I can do it as a novella, which is amazing news and life-changing, really. “Whim of the Wind,” the very first Corinth County story I ever wrote, is also kind of a ghost story, and maybe someday I’ll find the key to making it publishable (although I think I already did figure it out, thanks to the brilliance of an Art Taylor short story).

I’ve always believed part of the reason I was drawn so strongly to New Orleans is because the past is still very much a part of the present here—though not so much as we New Orleanians would like to believe, as several Facebook groups I belong to about the history of New Orleans often show how often and rapidly the cityscape has changed over the years—and you can sometimes even feel here, at times, under the right conditions (fog and/or mist are usually involved) like you’ve gone back in time, through a rip in the time/space continuum; which is something I’d actually like to write someday here—but that’s just an amorphous idea skittering through my brain.

And of course, I have an idea for a paranormal series set in a fictional parish here in Louisiana. I think about it every now and again, but am really not sure how I want to do it. I know doing a paranormal Louisiana town series will get me accused of ripping off Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, but that’s fine. I don’t think I would be doing vampire kings or queens or any of the directions Ms. Harris went with her series. (Monsters of Louisiana and Monsters of New Orleans—paranormal/crime short story collections—may also still happen; one never knows, really.)

As hard as it was sometimes to write, I think Bury Me in Shadows turned out better than I could have hoped. I think it captured the mood and atmosphere I was going for; I think I made my narrator just unreliable enough to keep the reader unsure of what’s going on in the story; and I think I managed to tell a Civil War ghost story (it’s more than just that, but that’s how I’ve always thought of it and that’s a very hard, apparently, habit for me to break.

I hope people do read and like it. We shall see how it goes, shall we not?

Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here

I’ve never been terribly interested in historical mysteries.

It really doesn’t make sense, when I sit and think about it. I love history, I love crime stories; you’d think a novel or short story that combined the two together would be my proverbial catnip. Yet with few exceptions (Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, and Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder, to namecheck a few) I generally don’t read historical mysteries. I am not sure why that is, to be honest; I used to love historical fiction when I was a kid, and of course, the great Gothic ladies of the mid-century often set their novels in the past–looking at you, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt–and yet…I also love reading books written contemporarily that are now historical in setting (Margaret Millar, Mary Stewart, and Charlotte Armstrong spring to mind, as do Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie, for that matter).

Paul and I are also huge fans of the German series Babylon Berlin–I really do need to read the books sometime, as well as those of James Benn–but for some reason, I never ever reach for the historical mysteries when I am looking for something to read.

But I am really glad I put my hands on Dead Dead Girls when I was looking for something to read when the power was out.

The wind whips against her face. Snowflakes stick to her hair, her cheeks, her eyelashes.

She’s disoriented as she tries to find her way home. The sun set at four in the afternoon, but it’s much later now. It’s so dark that it feels as if blackness has swallowed up the city. She’s making her way down the streets, relying on streetlamps and muscle memory. It’s impossible to see in the snow.

She knows two things: first, that she’s going to be in big trouble for being so late; second, that it’s not going to be easy to locate her house in this terrible storm. It’s a small home. She’s the oldest of four girls. The youngest are twins–high energy and overly demanding of her patience. It’s exhausting to keep them in line. They don’t behave as they’re supposed to. Even worse, they’re all crammed into one bedroom.

They live with their widowed father and his sister. Her aunt is strict, but her father is ruthless. He works in the church and has high standards for his children. She also suspects he resents all of them for not being boys. He can snap at any time, for ay reason. Anything she can do to protect the twins, she will do.

Nekesa Afia’s debut novel is an absolute pleasure to read. The 1920’s are a great decade for crime novels, with everything that was going on during that post-war, post-plague decade. Prohibition and speak easies; the rebirth of the Klan; grotesque class inequities and racial discrimination codified; it was a period when there was money to be made in bootlegging and investments and everyone was frantically trying to have a good time to make up for the misery of the previous decade. I have often thought a stand alone–or series–set in New Orleans during this time would be interesting; as Storyville was being broken up and broken down, and of course everyone in the city was ignoring Prohibition…but it was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, and that is the setting for Afia’s impressive debut.

The main character is Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman who works as a waitress at a tea room (which is actually a cover for the nightclub/speak easy on the upper floor. Louise is strong-willed and determined; when she was young she was kidnapped, along with some other girls, and Louise not only got away but helped the others do so as well, and took down the kidnapper, earning her some notoriety as Harlem’s Hero. Years later, she is estranged from her minister father and the rest of her family, is staying at a Harlem boarding house for women and sneaking out at night to go drinking and dancing in the speak easies of Harlem. Young Black women–many of whom are also working as prostitutes, meeting johns at the speak easies and then retiring with them to rooms or apartments–are being murdered; their bodies being left at the doors of the speak easies. Louise knew the most recent victim, and as someone who can get places the cops can’t–and can possibly get others to speak to her in ways they won’t speak to the police–Louise is dragged into the police investigation, at a huge risk to not only her life but those of the people she is closest to-especially a beautiful young woman named Rosa Maria, and Rosa Maria’s brother Rafael.

It’s a fun read; Afia brings the period–and it’s horrible racism, both casual and overt–to life. Her depiction of the most popular of the clubs, the Zodiac, makes you wish you could actually go and dance to the live music and drink the swill of the liquor served, working up a sweat on the dance floor. Louise is an interesting and likable character; with her flaws and foibles and estrangement from her family, you can’t help but root for her as she navigates a path that is made that much more difficult by her gender and her race–and then Afia adds in, like it’s nothing, that Rosa Maria and Louise are actually in love, and Rafael also swings to the beat of his own gender. It was so matter of fact the way these sexualities were introduced into the story, so nonchalantly, and not mentioned on either the cover or the publicity materials–which is really kind of how it should be; it’s just another facet of the character, it’s not that big a deal to them and therefore it shouldn’t be for the reader, either.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and I am hoping that it’s the first in a series. Towards the end of the book Louise gets a pair of pants–and I felt like this was a huge step in her development as a series character…fingers crossed, because I would love to get to know her better and watch the character develop over the years in a series.

And like Babylon Berlin, this could be the basis for a terrific television series. Fingers crossed.

Love on the Rocks

Yesterday was kind of lovely, actually.

I got up early because of that weird stress-inducing dream I’d had, and then spent the morning doing things–organizing the kitchen, doing some laundry, taking out trash, vacuuming (God, what a difference a good vacuum cleaner can make; I am so glad I bit the bullet and spent the money on a good one Saturday–and I am reading the manual AND will be taking care of this one, to make it last), and yes–I actually spent some time writing “Festival of the Redeemer,” which was lovely. I am actually enjoying writing this novella or whatever it is going to be–I can’t get it out of my head, so I keep writing on it, even though I should be working on other things, but there’s no deadline for anything and so why not while I wait for my edits on the two manuscripts I turned in? I am trying for a Daphne du Maurier Gothic style, but am trying very hard not to reread “Don’t Look Now” or “Ganymede”–her two Venice stories, much as I desperately want to because I don’t want it to be derivative; I really like the voice, and I like my untrustworthy narrator a lot. (oops, shouldn’t have said that, I suppose) It’s also interesting writing about a dysfunctional couple, one where there is an enormous power differential as well as an undefined relationship; which helps keep my main character off-balance–he wants to know but then he’s afraid to have that conversation because he is afraid of the answer–and while I know how I want this story to end, I am finding my way there slowly; I am just writing in free form without any real sense of what I am writing and where it is going and you know, just seeing where it is going to wind up as I keep writing. I’m not writing at the pace I generally do–but I am writing, which is kind of nice, and there is an element where I kind of want to get this finished instead of putting it aside; I kind of want to finish something since I’ve had so many false starts since turning in the Kansas book. (I’ve also had a few more ideas while working on this, but am just writing notes and coming back to this.)

We had quite a marvelous thunderstorm last night–which was undoubtedly why it was so oppressively humid yesterday; I think I must have sweated out ten pounds of water walking to and from the gym. Oh yes, I made it to the gym again yesterday and the stretching and weight lifting felt absolutely marvelous. I was actually a little surprised that my flexibility gains hadn’t been lost during the fallow weeks of not going, and as the summer continues to get hotter and more humid daily, there will undoubtedly be days when I won’t want to go. But I also need to remember how good I feel during and after–especially the next morning. I also took a lot of pictures on the walk home for Instagram, which I am really starting to enjoy doing. I don’t know why I never really got into Instagram before, but since I love to take pictures and I live in one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–cities in North America…it seems like it’s only natural that I bring them all together into one user app. I’ve talked about how I’ve felt sort of disconnected from New Orleans for a while now–several years at least; I feel like I’m no longer as familiar with the city as I used to be; the changes and gentrification plus all the working I’ve been doing in the years since Katrina have somehow weakened or lost my connection to the city. Yesterday, walking home and detouring a bit around Coliseum Square, I felt connected to the city again in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I also took and posted a picture of the house where Paul and I first lived when we moved here in 1996; the house, in fact, where Chanse MacLeod lives and runs his business from…we were living there when I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine, in fact…and I started remembering things from when we lived there and were new to the city. This is a good thing, making me feel anchored and tethered to the city again, and if I am going to write another Scotty book–well, the strength of my books set in New Orleans is that sense of love for the city I always feel and try to get across in the work.

I also had weird dreams last night. I rested well, but drifted in and out of sleep most of the night. I’m not sure what the deal is with the dreams; I dreamt that someone I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs came to New Orleans with some of her friends from her current life and wanted to connect again; and I did so, primarily out of curiosity other than anything else. (Maybe it was all the tourists I saw out and about yesterday?) But it was very strange–going to the casino and watching them drink the insane tourist-targeted colored drinks; meeting them at their hotel on the West Bank, listening to them talk about New Orleans to me in the insane and often offensive ways tourists will speak to locals about the place where we live, not even realizing they are being insulting and offensive. I don’t know; I cannot say for certain what is the deal with the weird dreams lately, but I’ve been having them.

We rewatched Victor/Victoria last night–we’ve been talking about rewatching it for a while now, and it recently was added to HBO MAX. I don’t remember what brought it up, or what made us think about it–I know it was Paul who did; I had already added it to my watchlist when it dropped and when he said he wanted to watch it again, I replied, “Its on the HBO app so we can, whenever we want to” and so last night we did–primarily to see if it still worked, if it was still funny, and watching it–a relatively tame movie, really–last night I remembered (rather, we remembered) how incredibly subversive it was at the time it was released in 1982; it depicted homosexuality and drag in a nonjudgmental way years before being gay was less offensive to society at large, as well as bringing drag into the mainstream years before RuPaul’s Drag Race. The performances are stellar–especially Robert Preston and Lesley Anne Warren in supporting roles–and the humor is kind of farcical and slapstick, which never really ages; as Paul said, “that kind of humor is kind of timeless.” It also struck me that it was very Pink Panther-like; the film, not the cartoon–which makes sense since Blake Edwards wrote, directed and produced both. Some of it wouldn’t play today, of course, and the movie probably couldn’t be made today–some of the sex humor was misogynistic, not to mention men trying to spy on “Victor” to find out if he was really a man or a woman, which is incredibly invasive and horrible, plus it was very binary about gender and gender roles. 1982 was also the year of Tootsie, which I also kind of want to rewatch now to see how it holds up as well. It would seem that both films–which were both critical and box office hits , rewarded with scores of Oscar nominations–seemed to signal a new direction for Hollywood when it came to queerness and gender; it was also around this time that the soapy Making Love was released as well. but HIV/AIDS was breaking around this time as well, and soon the repressive politics of the 1980’s would change everything.

Tonight after work I am going to run some errands and then I am going to be guesting on Eric Beetner’s podcast, along with Dharma Kelleher, to talk about three queer writers everyone should be reading year-round, not just during Pride Month. That should be interesting; I am also appearing on a panel for the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night being moderated by Michael Nava–one of my heroes–which should also be interesting and fun.

And on that note, it is time to go back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

To Step Aside

AH, hello, Thursday, how are you doing?

Yesterday was a good day, despite paying the bills. I worked from home, made a lot of condom packs, and had some lovely, lovely phone calls. I also remembered why I stopped talking on the phone–I can talk for hours, and now that I used the headphones and can actually hear, yes, well, pity the poor fools I called to talk to yesterday. I talked endlessly.

The telephone–cell phone, whatever–is really a marvelous invention, truly.

See? Even a tired old Luddite like me can adapt and change and learn some new tricks.

We started watching a German series, Dark, last night on Netflix. It’s really quite good, even if we’re really not sure after one episode what it’s about. I suspected Germans would be particularly good with dark suspense shows, and the German language, as I said to Paul last night, is perfect for that creepiness because it’s such a guttural language. My German is so rusty as to be non-existent anymore, despite the years spent studying and learning it, but I was able to pick up a word every now and then. I was reading an article the other day that said the easiest way to learn another language was to watch a show in that language with English subtitles–that way you learn pronunciations and the rhythm of the language, and then watch shows in English with subtitles in that language–so you read the words in German while hearing them in English. It’s an interesting idea, and I’ve always regretted losing my German, so maybe I’ll give it a try. I tried learning Italian last year with Duolingo, and was doing their short lessons one per day, but then got behind during Carnival and never caught up. I’d love to be able to at least understand some Italian or German, in case we ever go to Europe ever again, but laziness and a lack of time will undoubtedly hold me back.

I’ve also slept well every night this week, which is lovely and undoubtedly a product of the lower levels of caffeine in my system every day. (I’ve probably jinxed it and that bitch Insomnia will probably return this evening.) But it’s lovely, and feeling actually rested this many days in a row has been wonderful. The Lost Apartment is also looking better, as I am trying to get the clutter decluttered and the house better organized. I’ve also decided to slowly begin to cull the books; it’s not easy and frequently, far too frequently, I will pull a book off the shelves, put it back, take it down, and so on and so forth for much longer than it needs to go on. But it’s also silly to keep hard copies of books I have electronically, no matter how much I may cherish the actual physical copy (it’s so much easier to take a book down off the shelf and page through it, find a scene I enjoy, and reread it; but I am also not doing that nearly as much as I used to and really, these books can find better, more deserving homes).

And the older I get, the far less likely it is that I will ever write the exploratory essays or non-fiction books to study a particular style of book/subgenre/writing. I’ve always wanted to do an in-depth look at the style and themes frequently explored in Gothics/romantic suspense novels; beginning with the Bronte sisters, Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. But the truth is there isn’t a market for that, really, and while it may be interesting to me, I don’t know that it would be interesting to readers. I’m also not an academic writer in any way shape or form; a bunch of literary writers did a live watch of the Anthony Minghella film of The Talented Mr. Ripley and while following it was interesting, a lot of the commentary was about things I never noticed in my many viewings of the film; themes and symbolism and so forth. Which, of course, is why I don’t write criticism; I always rolled my eyes in Lit classes when we studied these things and the professor would so condescendingly ‘explain’ the work to us; I’ve always rebelled against the academy and its mindset and how it tried to teach us how to re-learn how to read. Sure, I could play the game once I intuited what the professor was looking for in our essays and get good grades–I am, after all, a writer at heart and always have been–but as an adult and one who no longer needs to suck up to a professor and toe the line they’ve set for a grade, I have no desire to revisit that methodology and ruin the reading experience for myself–I don’t need to write lengthy articles delving into the themes and symbolism and so forth in fiction to publish for free in academic journals in order to get tenure; so why on earth would I waste my time doing so?

I write enough for free as it is, and every year I make the determination that I will stop–but inevitably, it always seems to happen anyway.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines for me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, be safe and may all your dreams come true.

I Fall to Pieces

And this morning I woke up to the good news that my COVID-19 test came back negative, which now begs the question: what was wrong with me? Was it some weird combination of sinuses, allergies, flu, stress and exhaustion? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely thrilled to not have this and for this whole thing to be over, but…I’m very glad to know that I wasn’t infectious and out in public for a while. So I am just going to take the win, tomorrow’s a paid holiday, and I’m going to take the weekend to sort things out and hope I feel better and continue to rest.

I did wake up this morning feeling good for the first time in a very long time, which is also terrific. Today was the first day where I woke up and felt like myself–I have some things to deal with this morning, as I do every morning, but this time I woke up and didn’t dread dealing with any of it-and since I feel good, that makes me wonder just how much of this has been stress related? Probably more than I want to admit to; and there was probably some PTSD there as well. I also need to remember that feeling fine is also a relative thing and that it comes and goes with the PTSD stuff-and there could even be something today that makes it worse–always remember your emotions can turn on a dime when you’re going through something like this–and there’s never any indication that your mood is going to swing, or how wild that swing is going to be. Fun stuff–and the mood swinging lasts for a while after the situation normalized, too. 2005-2009 was not the most emotionally stable period of my life, if I am going to be completely honest, and fortunately most of it is now hazy in my mind. But I know there was some bad behavior on my part to people who didn’t deserve it–and I hope that I apologized for it.

Yesterday I was fatigued–my energy failed me in the afternoon–and that’s concerning, as I said earlier, but there’s really nothing I can do about whatever was wrong with me other than accept that it wasn’t COVID-19 and go on with everything in my life-and be extremely cautious going forward to make sure that I don’t get it now. It’s funny–knocking on wood here–but somehow I made it through the the HIV/AIDS pandemic without getting infected (I’ve never had any STI–gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis–other than HPV, and of course I had the bad kind, but without any re-occurrence) and so far I’ve not managed, despite Mardi Gras and a public contact job screening people for COVID-19, to not get that, either. At least so far–and I am going to be a lot more anal about going out in public and being around people from now on, too.

I read some more yesterday on Ammie, Come Home, and I marvel at how marvelously constructed this novel is. There’s never any point where it drags at all, and Barbara Michaels knows precisely how to build suspense and terror in such a… I want to say genteel way that makes it even more terrifying. The spectral encounters the characters have in the old house in Georgetown are absolutely heart-thumpingly terrifying and scary and creepy; it’s truly one of the most perfect ghost stories ever constructed…which is why it is one of my favorite novels of all time. Barbara Michaels was always considered a Gothic suspense writer, and some of her novels don’t have a supernatural touch to them, but the ones that do (House of Many Shadows, Witch, The Dark on the Other Side, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) are some of the best, quietest horror novels I’ve ever read; she built a quite large audience of readers who would most likely never read horror–but she certainly straddled the line between suspense and horror-which is why I think Gothic is such an interesting term.

Once I get this Sherlock story wrangled and under control, I am looking forward to going back to Bury Me in Shadows. It’s been on my mind a lot lately–and I’ve been having, as I previously mentioned, a lot of strange little creative bursts over the past week or so–and so today, once I get the business I need to get taken care of taken care of, I am going to get organized. I am going to whip this desk area into shape, organize all my notes and everything that is scattered all over the place, and be ready to hit the ground running once Easter has passed. I want to get this story finished–as well as several others that are in process–and then I am going to set a writing schedule to get Bury Me in Shadows whipped into submission shape so I can get it sent in to my publisher so I can then focus on doing the same for the Kansas book….and then I am going to start pulling together Chlorine. I probably won’t be this organized–I never am as organized as I plan to be, nor do I ever stick to the schedule I always try to stick to–but I like organizing and I like coming up with plans–that’s the sort of thing that makes me happy, and I am going to focus, as one always should in times of crisis, on doing things that make me happy.

And on that note, I am going to go take a shower, get cleaned up, and get moving again.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Someone Loves You Honey

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

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

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

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

Yeah, not exactly productive, you know?

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

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

So, hurray for me for doing these rereads!

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

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