I Forgot That You Existed

Good evening, Constant Reader! Look at this–two blogs in one day! More bang for your buck, as it were. A twofer, as Laura roils the Gulf and dances ever closer to our shores here on the Gulf Coast–although all we’re going to get here is a tropical storm effect; the state line is going to get a direct hit and I worry about Calcasieu Parish and the other Gulf parishes that are going to get hammered. I hope everyone is able to get out safely; I know they were bussing people without the means to evacuate to shelters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The storm surge–predicted to be at least twenty feet–may come as far inland as thirty miles. Lake Charles could be completely destroyed by morning.

Please, Constant Reader, keep that area in your thoughts tonight.

Hurricane season is always so traumatizing on the Gulf Coast, seriously.

It’s actually weird that New Orleans is a part of the Gulf Coast, since we really aren’t on the coast, technically; we are actually about 100 miles up the river from the Gulf of Mexico. Wow, right? But you also have to remember that’s in river miles; the river doesn’t run in a straight line to the Gulf from the port of New Orleans.

On the other hand, technically  we are on the Gulf coast, because Lake Pontchartrain isn’t really a lake, and neither is Lake Borgne. Lake Borgne is actually a very wide-mouthed bay–its opening to the Gulf is actually wider than the mouths of both Pensacola and Choctawhatchee Bays in the panhandle of Florida, and Lake Borgne opens into Lake Pontchartain through the Rigolets–a very narrow passage connecting the two “lakes” and therefore making Pontchartrain actually an extension of Borgne “bay” (Chef Menteur pass also connects the two ‘lakes’; I always forget about that one because I’ve never actually seen it, but I’ve crossed the bridge at the Rigolets, and of course, the twin spans are close to it where Pontchartrain begins to narrow towards the mouth). So, technically (Pontchartrain is shallow), a low draught boat could sail from the Gulf to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The British attack on New Orleans during the War of 1812 actually sailed into Lake Borgne, because it was faster and easier to get to the city that way than sailing up the river against the strong current. (In fairness, Lake Borgne also used to be more enclosed; those wetlands are sadly long gone.)

New Orleans geography is interesting, isn’t it?

The notorious MR-GO channel (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet), was cut from the river into Lake Borgne as a shipping channel to make it faster for ships to get from the gulf to port in New Orleans. Naturally, no one really used it, and it gained notoriety when it was a channel for Katrina storm surge to devastate St. Bernard Parish and the lower 9th ward–being nicknamed the Hurricane Highway for the devastation it was responsible for, and the fact that it was barely used didn’t help matters. Environmentalists estimate Mr. Go was responsible for the loss of over 27000 acres of wetlands; it’s now closed for good and attempts to repair the damage it caused are still underway. The wetlands always served as a barrier to hurricane storm surges–those wetlands were not only critical for the environment and for fish, birds, etc.; but they slowed storm surge as it came rushing for the dry lands.

But you know, OIL.

I generally don’t waste time on regrets; what I always call the woulda-shoulda-coulda’s. But one thing I do regret is not focusing more in my work on the environmental costs Louisiana has paid over the years; and I also regret not getting to know the rest of the state better. New Orleans is first and foremost in my heart, of course, and always will be, but falling in love with Louisiana took a longer time for me, and I do regret that. I regret the free time I used to have not being used to explore the state more, getting to know it more, understanding the incredible culture and history of this bizarre state built by river silt drained from 2/3rds of the country. I never really had a dependable car before–one that I didn’t take on a long drive without some degree of depridation and fear and crossing of fingers. Now, of course, I have a highly dependable car–but my weekends are always taken up by getting things done and the recharging of my batteries. Maybe the next time I have a three day weekend I’ll take a day and explore; there’s lots of interesting places that aren’t that far away–the old River Road, Jackson Barracks, the Battle of New Orleans battleground, and Houma…there’s so much of interest, and that’s not even crossing the lake!

Heavy thoughts as I await the storm’s outer bands to come to New Orleans–definitely a tourist who isn’t welcome here.

And on that note, I think I’m going to finish reading Lovecraft Country.

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Eyes Open

Well, it’s Tuesday and so far, we’re still here.

This time of year is always enervating, to say the least; one always wants to keep a close and careful eye on any and every storm that comes into the Gulf of Mexico, but at the same time it’s very easy to fall prey to panic and fear. It’s never easy, particularly around the anniversary of Katrina (fifteen years ago) and all those memories that entails, and while Marco fortunately fizzled somewhat, making landfall as a mere tropical depression (nothing to be sneezed at, in and of itself), one always has to remember Laura is still out there, and there’s yet another making its way across the Atlantic in our general direction–or at least there was; I’ve not heard a word about the system that will become the N storm, should it become organized.(I just looked for it on-line and can find nothing, so I am assuming it just fizzled out and died, which is, of course, good news for now). We’re going to be on the wet side of Laura, should she not continue tacking to the west, so we need to be braced for that, too.

I rewatched Jaws yesterday for the first time since the summer of 1975, when we went to see it in the theater after church (we often went to see matinees after church on Sundays; kind of like a treat of sorts. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it was a bribe to get us not to complain about going to church in the first place? Ironically, I didn’t mind going to church once I’d met some of the other kids and got active in the Youth Group–how things have changed, eh?). The theater was so crowded the usher actually had to find us seats, and the only three together (Dad didn’t go to church with us) were in the center front row. IMAGINE watching Jaws on the big screen in the front row! It’s actually a very well-made movie, and it still holds up after all these years; it didn’t scare me at all the way it did that first time because, of course, I still remembered all the jump scares and all the shark attacks–which clearly means the movie had made an impression on me. I had already read the book before we went to see the film; and the changes made to the movie from the story of the book–Mrs. Brody didn’t have an affair with the oceanographer in the movie and the ending was different–actually improved the story; the ending of the book wouldn’t have played in the movie (the shark finally dies as its coming in for a final attack on Sheriff Brody–just stops moving and disappears into the depths, and he swims for shore) and I also liked that the oceanographer didn’t die in the movie (the shark kills him when he’s in the cage; Brody is conflicted about this because he knew his wife was fucking the kid), but the end of the movie is kind of anticlimactic. But Jaws was the movie that changed everything: it was the first summer blockbuster, which changed Hollywood and how movies are released; it started out national obsession with sharks–there would be no “Shark Week” without Jaws; it turned Stephen Spielberg from a nobody into an A-list director; and–this is just a theory–set the stage for the revival of horror films that was to come in a few years, with Halloween and Friday the 13th, because above all else that Jaws was, it was a monster movie that scared people. I bought a copy of the book a few years ago–I think the fortieth anniversary edition of it–and have always meant to get around to rereading it; I still haven’t.

Jaws was also a bestseller, and it also set the stage for the huge hit the movie was, and the success of the movie also brought the book back to the bestseller lists. Peter Benchley, who’d written a non-fiction book about the sea already, became a bankable author–his next novel, The Deep, which I would argue is a better book than Jaws, was an instant bestseller and of course became a huge hit film–but the movie wasn’t as good as the movie of Jaws, and the success of the film was largely driven by the images of Jacqueline Bisset in a wet T-shirt, her nipples clearly visible (I could be wrong, but those images might have started the wet T-shirt craze as well; who knows?), and I’d always meant to reread The Deep  as well. When I was acquiring Benchley novels, triggered by the anniversary of Jaws, I also got some of his other, later books–also successful, not to the level of the earlier books, which include The Island (which I liked) and The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, which is probably his best, and definitely the most literary, of his books.

Today all of our appointments were canceled, just in case, so it’s another work-at-home day for me; I do have to run over to the office to restock my condom packing supplies as well as drop off the boxes I made yesterday, and I am not really sure what movies I want to watch today. After I finished working yesterday I managed to get another chapter done in Bury Me in Shadows, which was pleasing, Ironically, I found myself doing precisely the thing I described yesterday–revising and editing without looking at the hard copy pages, only to remember and discover that I had input the changes exactly as detailed in the notes–but am also getting a little worried that I am not remembering things and am making continuity errors; so to ease that worry I’m probably going to sit down and reread the first five chapters again before I started on Chapter Six tonight–which means I probably won’t have time to read Lovecraft Country tonight, alas. I’m also planning on making dinner tonight–it’s been a hot minute, believe me–and so my time this evening will be very limited, sadly.

We also started watching the documentary series The Vow, currently airing on HBO MAX last night, and it’s absolutely fascinating. This first episode was all about the people who are telling the story of the documentary getting involved in NXIVM, and I have to say, listening to the leaders and their conversations about working on yourself and being honest with yourself and realizing your own potential and that you often set up your own roadblocks–I was frankly thinking there’s something to this and was thinking about the ways I often roadblock and self-defeat myself. Of course, it’s really just another “power of positive thinking/reaffirmations” thing, and there really is something to that methodology; of believing in yourself and having the confidence to really chase your dreams, and how so often the self-destruct mechanisms we all seem to have inevitably have something to do with negativity introduced into our psyches by someone else (example: I may not remember his name, but I will never forget that writing professor who told me I had no talent and would never be published, as long as I live), and why do we let those things fester in our minds and allow them to continue to affect us–in this case–some forty years later?

I’m really looking forward to the next episode.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone, and see you tomorrow.

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Up and Down

Tuesday morning and here we are. Life continues to move forward, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, and I continue to wake up every morning…which, let’s be fair, some mornings is a victory in and of itself.

I managed to get the Secret Project sent off yesterday, so we now we play the waiting game to see if it’s actually wanted. It was, quite actually, a lot of fun to do (I say now that it’s done) and I actually wound up taking 8000 words, polishing and revising, and wound up with 16,000. That was a lot of work to get done in one weekend, if I do say so myself, and I am feeling rather smug about it right now, thank you very much; it’s been awhile since I’ve felt smug about writing, so bear with me and let me have this for today, thank you very much.

And now, of course, I am free to get back to work on those pesky unfinished manuscripts that are just lying around, thank you very much, Baby Jesus.

I was exhausted yesterday and so slept really well last night; so I think today will be a better day than yesterday was. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se, but I was tired all day and when I’m tired I’m more prone to being emotionally on edge, which means I am constantly biting my tongue because I don’t want to snap at people for something that I wouldn’t ordinarily snap at someone for when I am not tired, which is a rather long run-on sentence. When I got home from work I retired into my easy chair to relax, which is what I pretty much did the entire evening (other than some filing, which I did when I got home). Dark Desire took a sudden turn in the episodes we watched last night, which was cool as I was beginning to get bored with its Fatal Attraction-type plot; these turns made it into something entirely different, which was very cool, and sparked my interest in watching again.

So, now it’s back to Bury Me in Shadows this coming weekend; this week I’m going to rest up my creative novel energies while messing around with some of the many short stories I’ve been thinking about but haven’t finished writing. It’s actually been a lovely year or so (not calendar, twelve months) of short story writing for me; even since I started the Short Story Project several years ago, where I decided to seriously focus on my short story writing while reading as many as I could, I’ve been doing fairly well with my short story writing–so much so that when I start thinking about the stories I’ve sold and published since turning in my last collection to my publisher, I inevitably forget some; I know when I was listing them the other day I forget a couple that were published last year–which puts me even closer to another collection than I thought I was. Maybe I’ll start making a more comprehensive list of those stories this week; and then go through the unfinished ones to determine which to include, so I’ll have a starting place and a plan–and you know, Constant Reader, I am all about having a plan.

And having the proposal finished has felt enormously freeing; I certainly feel as though a burden has been lifted from me this morning (I was too tired to really feel the relief yesterday) and I am excited to get back to my other writings again. I want to finish reading Cottonmouths so I can move on to the new book on the very top of my TBR pile: S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which I’ve been dying to read since its publication was first announced. I loved his novel My Darkest Prayer, which I read last year and thought was quite marvelous; and this new one has been getting raves everywhere, which is most exciting.

There are tropical things out there forming; one off the Texas coast, one deep south in the Caribbean Sea, and one out in the Atlantic. We’re going to feel their effects here in New Orleans undoubtedly; we always get something from them if they enter the Gulf of Mexico. One of the things I always dislike intensely about hurricane season is how it exposes our innate selfishness; we always want the hurricanes to go somewhere else–which means we are wishing death and destruction on faceless others. I’ve never been comfortable completely with that, nor with the relief that comes when a storm turns into a direction that means we’re out of danger.

But that’s all a part and parcel of life in the storm zone; the hurricane belt or whatever you want to call it (I don’t recall at the moment if they’ve ever given those of us on the Gulf Coast who are always in danger during the season a name, like Tornado Alley) and God knows I certainly am not in the mood or have any desire to deal with an evacuation of any kind this season–although it’s always a possibility. This year is the fifteen year anniversary of Katrina.

And yesterday was Paul’s and my twenty-fifth anniversary, which we celebrated by doing absolutely nothing other than bingeing episodes of Dark Desire.

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

In Denial

And now we enter that eerie period of waiting and anticipation; as a storm hovers over the overly warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and decides which way north to follow. It appears that the eye of Cristobal is going to pass over Houma on it’s way ashore; Houma is about an hour drive from here, but southeastern Louisiana geography and direction is confusing. You do, for example, have to drive west out of New Orleans, out past the airport, to get there; and you cross the river on the way (I have a horrible story about coming back from doing an HIV testing event out there, but I’ll save that for another time). It’s more due west and south of New Orleans, and it’s levee backs up to what used to be wetlands, but because of coastal erosion the Gulf is on the other side. There’s a native reservation out there as well–Houma is named after the Houma tribe–and it’s one of those places we will undoubtedly lose to the encroaching Gulf at some point. Nicholls State University is also there. Some day when I have time I would love to go out there and explore the town more; when we used to test at Nicholls State I used to think about writing a story set there a lot. There’s a lot of sugar cane fields in the surrounding area as well.

It’s gray outside my windows this morning, which is to be expected; it’s going to be periodically raining and of course, there is the potential for flash flooding as always. I stopped to make groceries on my way home from work last night so I wouldn’t have to go out in it this weekend at all; I am going to go to the gym (I’ve not gone once this week, which is terribly disgraceful, but I was exhausted on every level all week) in a little bit, after which I am going to come home and write and clean the kitchen. My kitchen is absolutely a disaster area–I cleaned up in here on Thursday night, and it’s shocking how quickly it can again look like a bomb went off in here.

We’re still watching London Kills, which I do recommend, and we’ll probably finish it off this evening. We tend to watch movies a lot on the weekends as well–last weekend we watched Dolemite Is My Name, and I have to say, Eddie Murphy should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for that; the fact he’s only gotten one nomination over his lengthy film career is a disgrace–and there’s some good stuff on HBO MAX, which, along with Disney Plus, is a treasure trove. I also keep forgetting we have CBS All Access, which means I have all those new Star Trek series to watch as well as Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, and we also have Apple Plus. THERE ARE SO MANY STREAMING SERVICES NOW.

And it’s been so long since I’ve had the energy to pick up a book I had to stop for a minute to remember what I am actually reading, which is Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do think it’s appropriate reading for Pride Month, and then when I finish that I am going to go back and reread Larry Kramer’s Book Whose Title Got Me a Facebook Ban. I am also thinking I might revisit one of my favorite Three Investigators stories this weekend as well.

I got an idea for two stories yesterday–because when don’t I get ideas for new stories, right? One is “Dance of the Burning Fools”, which is something that actually happened in history, as described by Barbara Tuchman in her seminal work A Distant Mirror; a party at the court of Charles VI of France, which descended into madness when some of the costumed revelers, dressed as animals in fur and pitch, caught fire and some of them burned to death; the King was one of the men in costume but was rescued. I’m not sure how the story will take shape, but I just thought that perhaps an investigation into the tragedy after the fact? I don’t know, it’s very amorphous right now.

The other is called “Happy Hour at the Hangover Bar,” which was inspired by my noticing on my way to work yesterday that there is a bar on Claiborne Avenue with that very name: the Hangover Bar, and yesterday they had a Happy Hour sign out on the sidewalk in front, and the title popped into my head, with a vague idea about a story told from the point of view of the bartender, watching something unfold in his bar during Happy Hour.

Many years ago, maybe in the late 1990’s, I had an idea for a series of short stories about gay men that were all interconnected through a central character of a nameless bartender at Cafe Lafitte in Exile; one of my best (in my opinion) short stories was one I wrote with that idea in mind; it eventually evolved and the bartender himself became the main character. The story was called “Unsent”, and in one of my proudest moments as a writer, a friend who’d arranged for a collection of my erotic stories to be published in Spanish (thanks again, Lawrence Schimel!) forwarded an email to me from the copy editor, who’d emailed him to tell him that the story had made her cry. I think about that collection–that I’d intended to call The Bartender–every now and again; but so many ideas, so little time, and so much laziness will leave it on the backburner probably forever.

And now, I have to depart for the gym. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and keep the people of Houma, Louisiana in your thoughts this weekend.

Lowdown

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

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

Goals. Must stick to goals.

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

The book table is always my downfall.

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

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

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

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

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Make It Happen

Friday! Huzzah! Huzzah!

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

This one, to be more precise:

Scan 18

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

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

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

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