Fine Line

Saturday rolling into our lives and taking no prisoners!

I slept really well last night, which was a good thing. Yesterday wasn’t a good day–suffice it to say I got through it–and after I finished my work-at-home duties I went to the gym, which was lovely (and my muscles are feeling it this morning, which is perfectly fine with me). Paul will be going in to the office later this morning and most likely will be gone for the rest of the dy, leaving me home alone. It occurred to me the other day that this year’s Festival widowhood is different; usually I don’t get off work most nights until eight or so, so I only have a few hours home alone in the evenings before he gets home. Me finishing work every day by five stretches the entire evening out in front of me alone; I think that might be part of the doldrums. It’s noticeable in a non-pandemic year, but this year those lonely evenings are taking a bit of a toll on me. Paul has always been my favorite person to spend time with, and always will be; his absence is always noticeable.

I asked for a two week extension on my deadline for the book, and they actually gave me a month. The weight of that deadline stress lifting off my shoulders was considerable; that means I can try to spend this weekend getting caught up on everything else that has been piling up (and dear God, has it ever been piling up) while also working on the book without the great stress of “oh my GOD it’s due on Monday!”) as well as working on cleaning. Cleaning for some reason is calming and relaxing to me–plus being occupied with my hands frees up my mind to be creative (Agatha Christie said, in my favorite writer quote of all time, “my house is never so clean as when I am on deadline”). I’m also becoming less attached to my books, which are sprawling everywhere and taking up so much room it isn’t even funny. My goal is by June to have cleared out, through donating to the Latter Library’s weekend book sales, most of the piles of books. Should we ever have the means or find a place to live that will provide me with an actual room to serve as my office–so I can have walls and walls of bookshelves–I should have no problem whatsoever with filling those shelves. It’s a long time project, of course, and will require, in many instances, the purchasing or repurposing of boxes, but the truth is the only books I should be holding onto are research ones–and even those can be replaced with ebooks as needed; and let’s face it, ebooks are much easier to use than hard copies because you can search for key phrases and words, etc. much easier than flipping to the index and so forth.

The pandemic, of course, has had a lot to do with the weird, eerie, dream-like existence of the last year; and these additional stressors in my life have, like the Katrina aftermath, affected my short term memory. This entire last year–our office officially shut down services on March 16th last year–is kind of blurry to me; I don’t remember when this happened or when that happened and so forth; I thought, for example, we had closed down earlier than March 16th and opened up for limited services much later than we actually did. I have no recollection of my birthday in August. This is also kind of understandable, as there were none of the usual markers of the year that generally mark the passing of time: no Southern Decadence condom outreach, no Halloween, no Jazz Fest, no Bouchercon, no board meeting in New York in January. I miss those things; I miss my annual events and seeing everyone that I usually see and the social interactions…and given my general misanthropist attitude, that is saying a lot. I miss my friends, I miss my co-workers, I miss the way things used to be. (I do not, however, miss the past administration in the least.) And that’s okay; that’s normal, and I really need to get to a place and point in life where I stop beating myself up for, you know, having the same feelings and experiences everyone has.

I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking in my mind over the last few weeks of issues–and yes, pain–from my past as well as reexamining things that happened. I’ve always been hesitant to write about my past–I’ve always been uncomfortable about writing my memories or a memoir or anything like that, simply because none of the people I’ve known and/or interacted with over the years ever gave me permission to write about them, or tell my version of their stories, which is also why I generally don’t talk about people I know or interactions with them or so forth on here. What constitutes an invasion of privacy in these cases? I really don’t want to find out the hard way. But I am going to start, I think, writing personal essays that will most likely never see the light of day–or maybe, I don’t know. But writing about things has always been the easiest and best way for me to process and deal with them, and while I may not want to pull off the scabs in public here on my blog…I don’t know, maybe someday I could pull together a collection of them. I know when I was using the discography of the Pet Shop Boys for my blog titles last year I kept thinking that not only do their songs have great titles, but those titles would also make great titles for essays, as well as great starting points and inspirations for the essays themselves. Do I have anything interesting to say, anything deep or profound? As Eve Harrington said as she accepted the Sarah Siddons Award for a role written originally for Margo Channing, “everything wise and witty has long since been said–by minds more mature and talents far greater than mine.”

I really need to watch All About Eve again.

So, we will see. Once I finish slurping down my morning coffee and get my gears in order this morning, mayhap I’ll start writing an essay. I am going to spend some time with the manuscript for #shedeservedit–I’ll have the cover art soon, and I can’t wait to share it, y’all–and clean, clean, clean and organize, organize, organize.

I also started watching Allen v. Farrow last night on HBO Max. It’s very well done. I’m very curious to see the rest of it. I never followed the story that closely back in the day–but it was one of those things you couldn’t help but be aware of and everyone had an opinion. I’ve never been a particular fan of Woody Allen, and haven’t seen many of his films–of the ones I’ve seen, my favorite is Bullets over Broadway–nor do I have much inclination to go back and watch them now. I recognize this is yet another one of those “art v. artist” things; and perhaps the distinctions I make in other cases (I won’t watch anything made by Roman Polanski after his crime, but will rewatch both Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown–justifying those as being before he turned to criminal assault against minors, but apparently he was horrible to Faye Dunaway during the production….at the same time Dunaway is also notoriously difficult, so who is at fault in that instance?) are rationalizations to excuse myself. I won’t read Orson Scott Card nor Dan Simmons anymore, and really–there are so many books I want to read that I will never have time to read that cutting bigots out of my reading schedule isn’t an issue. I suppose the same goes for film–I’ll never have the time to watch every movie that I want to watch, so cutting out films made by predators or abusers or bigots really shouldn’t be an issue.

The art v. the artist! That could be an essay!

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Long Live

Good morning, Sunday!

I did the windows yesterday, and it is literally amazing how I can forget between window cleanings what a difference it makes. It had been so long since I’d done it I need to do them again–it’s never easy getting all that caked on dirt and dust and debris off the glass, even when you do it weekly, as I used to do–but it’s a start.

I woke up early and feeling rested yesterday, which was absolutely lovely–and it was an absolutely lovely day in New Orleans, if a bit warm for mid-November. Did I get as much done as I needed and/or wanted to? Of course not. I did some other cleaning and straightening around the Lost Apartment; made some notes on some projects I am working on, and reread “The Snow Globe” to get a better idea of what I am dealing with on the revision, which I am going to get done today before I go to the gym. I’m also making the week’s to-do list, doing some other chores around the house, and feeling a lot better about things. Yes, I am behind on everything, but a little bit of focus and a little bit of desperation never hurt me, or anything I’ve worked on.

Rereading the story was, actually, something i’d been dreading doing; I always hate to reread something I’ve written, as I always tend to be highly critical and negative, and this story was no exception. I do love the story a lot–it was written to be submitted to a war on Christmas anthology and wasn’t accepted (the anthology never happened, either; long ugly story)–but it definitely needs some work. I originally came up with the story for a Halloween anthology, to be completely honest; there was a call for submissions, I think maybe from the Horror Writers’ Association, for stories with a Halloween theme. I distinctly remember reading the call and then an image popped into my head–me standing on the balcony at the Pub, looking down on Bourbon Street and the front doors of Oz, as a man in a devil costume came out; and he was hot as fuck; perfect body, body paint to make his skin red, and a skimpy red bikini, and thought Satan has a great six-pack, which I then made the opening line of the story. I believe at the time the story was called “All Hallow’s Eve” or something along those lines; but the story never made it past the opening paragraph. When the chance to write a story for the Christmas anthology came along, I remembered that opening and I remembered the joke I made on the Facebook post and thread about Christmas horror stories–I wanted to write about a Satanic snow globe–and immediately saw how to turn my unfinished Halloween story into a Christmas horror story called “The Snow Globe” merely by changing a single letter in the opening line: Santa had a great six-pack.

Voila! And the story began to flow. As I said, it was rejected from the anthology I wrote it for–and in the notes I got from the editors, which was lovely (one rarely gets notes on a rejected story) they basically told me I should have made it more than it was–which I had also thought about doing, but was afraid to–and so naturally, with that confirmation that the initial instincts I’d ignored from lack of confidence were, in fact, correct, I went back to the drawing board and revised it. And clearly, it needed one more revision. I have editorial notes on this story already, which I completely agree with, and I don’t know why–other than utter and sheer laziness–that I have not gone ahead and worked on this story to get it finished and out of the way. That is my goal for this morning–get the damne thing finished and be done with it–and then I can move back on to the book that has been stalled for weeks now.

Last night we watched a few more episodes of Mr. Mercedes, which finally introduced the character of Holly Gibney, who quickly became one of my favorite King characters–which was why I was so delighted she showed up in The Outsider–and so far the character is being played as she was written in the book, which is quite lovely. I think the show has padded/built up some things that I don’t remember from the book–but since I don’t remember them from the book, I am not entirely sure there were changes made. I just know I am deeply enjoying the show–it’s really a shame it hasn’t gotten as much success as it should have. (Maybe it did, I don’t know; but I rarely, if ever, heard anything about the show and there are three seasons…so there wasn’t a lot of social media buzz about it.)

The Saints play this afternoon–I think the game starts around three-ish, if I am not mistaken–and then of course there will be a new episode of The Undoing tonight. That should give me more than enough time to get this story finished, some chores done, and a trip to the gym for a workout. This is my fourth week since we rejoined the gym, and I am eminently proud that I have gone three days a week ever since. I can’t get over how much better I feel physically–the stretching really helps, too–and that correlates with how much better I’ve been sleeping. Who knew that exhaustion would help one sleep? (Sarcasm, don’t @ me)

I also read a few more chapters of The Hot Rock yesterday, which I am enjoying. Westlake’s style in this book is very reminiscent of Rob Byrnes’ brilliant caper novels (Straight Lies, Holy Rollers, Strange Bedfellows)–although since Westlake is the influence here, I should probably say I can see his influence on that unappreciated trilogy; it still kind of amazing to me that I’ve not read more Westlake (or Lawrence Block, for that matter), which is something I am going to need to rectify. (I’ve also never read Ed McBain, but I read some of his Evan Hunter novels.)

As I have often said, my education in crime fiction is a little lacking when it comes to the classics; I’ve not read all of Ross MacDonald or Raymond Chandler, for example, and I’ve also never read a Dick Francis novel either, for that matter. I think I’ve read a Nero Wolfe or two, but not many–although I have thought about using the trope of that series for a book of my own–the brilliant investigative mind who never leaves his/her house so needs a legman, from whose point of view the story is told–and there are any number of other classic crime fiction writers I’ve not cracked a spine on. But with new books I want to read being released all the time and being unable to even keep up with the canon of current writers whose work I love–not to mention all the new-to-me writers I keep discovering–there’s just simply no way I can ever read everything I want to read.

I’ve been doing some more research on Chlorine, recently reading Confidential Confidential, about the scandal rag of the 1950’s, and Montgomery Clift Queer Star, an academic treatise of multiple essays about reading Clift performances and films as queer, which was very interesting. Reading these two books also reminded me of something else that was going on in the time period which I wish to cover–red-baiting and the House Un-American Committee hearings; another period of America not living up to her ideals. It’s probably hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up, or were old enough, to remember the existential threat of the Soviet Union that had Americans seeing Communist spies and Communist infiltration everywhere; without an understanding of the highly paranoid state created by politicians and news outlets, neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars would have most likely happened. That fear of Communism was also used by conservatives to gin up racial hatred as well as systemic discrimination against people of color and queer people–the queers were considered a national security threat because if you were queer and worked for the government in any capacity, you were thus opened up to blackmail by Communist agents. This was an actual thing, and I all too often see that key element left out of writings about the time, both fiction and non-fiction.

It would thus be wrong to leave Red-baiting out of Chlorine, which will mean more research. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, the dryer just clicked off, so I should fold the clothes and get ready to get back to to work on the story. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Safe and Sound

Coffee is quite marvelous. Hello, dark roast my old friend…I’ve missed you so these last few days.

Saturday, and all is well again in the Lost Apartment. The power came back on yesterday afternoon, almost exactly forty-eight hours after it went out; and I immediately did the dishes and started a load of laundry. The Lost Apartment was already a mess before the storm came, and without light…well, it’s not only hard to clean but it’s fucking hard to find anything. I also was sleeping a lot–what else are you going to do when there’s no light, no power, no television, no Internet–and ironically, all the extra sleep simply made me more tired.

Then again, it could have been THE LACK OF COFFEE.

So today begins the actual process of digging out. The sidewalk along the house is covered in branches and various other storm debris, which will need to be cleaned up, bagged, and put on the curb. I need to go make groceries today, stop by the bank, get the mail, all sorts of things that have to be done. I need to start going through my emails, remembering where I was with everything and pick that back up again. One of the sad results of the storm is the neighbors spent a lot of yesterday chopping down some of the crepe myrtles in their back yard–those crepe myrtles blocked the sun from my windows, so now with them gone the sun shines directly into them–which is going to be a problem when the summer rolls around again. This means I will probably, finally, have to hang curtains over my workspace windows–else the hot summer sun will turn my kitchen–which already gets too hot–into a green house, and make it completely unbearable in here. I do have the little Arctic Air conditioners, and may have to be a few more to handle this new development. I may even have to figure out a new set-up for my workspace, because even as I type this the sun is in my eyes and quite unpleasant. Damned crepe myrtles, anyway.

LSU plays Auburn today; the sportscasters call it the Tiger Bowl, as both team names are Tigers. It’s a rivalry of sorts–neither school likes each other very much, but it’s not as bitter as the rivalry with Florida, or as long as the one with Mississippi. There’s no trophy, like there is for the Arkansas game, and there’s not as much bad blood as there is with Texas A&M. But LSU-Auburn–which used to cause a lot of conflict with me (not any more)–is inevitably always a very good, exciting game; there are few blow-outs, and it often has come down to the last minute, if not the final seconds. LSU has won three in a row–the out-of-nowhere come from behind upset win in 2017; the walk-off field goal in 2018; and in 2019 Auburn held LSU’s championship team to it’s lowest point total of the season (23; it was the only game LSU didn’t score over thirty points, and one of the very few games in which they didn’t score over forty). The game this year is kind of a make-or-break game for the season for both teams, so I am not sure that LSU will make it four in a row. LSU has only lost to Auburn three times in the past decade (2010, 2014, 2016)–and had they snapped the ball one second faster in 2016 they would have won that game. The game is at Auburn this year; Auburn hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999–an impressive streak, actually. I need to get a lot done this morning so I can enjoy the game in peace, without worry or fear–and I also need to check the game time for the Saints’ game tomorrow.

We watched the season premiere of The Mandalorian last night, and as with every episode, I was incredibly impressed. The episode itself was kind of a throwback to the first Star Wars movie; it brings Mando and the Child back to Tatooine, to look for another mandalorian to help him find the Child’s people so he can deliver him back to his own kind safely, and involved the Tusken Raiders (sand people) from that first movie. They wind up working with guest star Timothy Olyphant (who really should be a much bigger star than he is), his town, and the Tusken Raiders to track down and kill a krayt dragon–which essentially was a sandworm from Dune, and a bit of a change for Star Wars and Tatooine; odd that these creatures never showed up or were mentioned before–but all in all it was a terrific episode and lots of fun, and as always, visually stunning. The Child–the break out star of the show–didn’t really have very much to do in the episode, but really, all he needs to do is be there. There’s also a teaser at the very end that Boba Fett–the Boba Fett–is still alive and on Tatooine; clues are dropped throughout the episode that allude to him, and wouldn’t that be an AMAZING development for the show? Yes, yes, it would. Needless to say, we love this show and are very excited for Friday nights for a new episode.

The weather has also turned; a cold front has rolled in behind the storm and it’s been a lovely change. It feels like fall now, just in time for Halloween. It doesn’t really seem like Halloween, quite frankly, despite the dressing up of houses and the candy on sale everywhere; I can’t imagine children are going to be trick-or-treating tonight, and of course Gay Halloween didn’t happen this year, or any of the big usual New Orleans Halloween things–masquerade balls, haunted houses, etc.–so like with so many other things this year that generally mark the passing of time, Halloween will come and go as just another date on the calendar.

I’m trying to decide what to read next; I have so many amazing books on hand that I want to get to that it makes deciding very difficult for me. I’m still reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, and am much further along in it than I thought I was. I’m feeling like I need to read some crime fiction, though some fantasy and horror novels I have on hand are looking pretty appealing at the moment. I didn’t do very well with my Halloween/October horror reading/watching month, which is of course is disappointing, but 2020 has been a rather disappointing kind of year, quite frankly. I think I have another unread Paul Tremblay I could start today–I also think there are some unread Christopher Goldens in my TBR pile as well.

I am kind of seeing the hurricane/power outage as a reboot of the year; like a force restart on my computer. I realize now that yesterday’s rant about the inconvenience of a power outage was evidence of privilege when others in the area are still without power, and lots of people are much worse off. But I also believe that you can’t even berate yourself for being frustrated with events beyond your control and shouldn’t stop yourself from venting simply because you are better off than others; that just bottles it all up and the explosion coming later is all the worse because you’ve bottled up anger and frustration–and Im sure this equanimity about it all this morning will change the moment I start going through my fridge and start dumping spoiled/ruined food that needs to be replaced.

Wednesday night wasn’t a good night, as I may have mentioned before; after the hurricane had passed the release of stress and so forth left me drained and exhausted and sleeping on and off before I went to bed very early (between nine and nine thirty!). Thursday night was kind of more fun; Paul and I lit all the candles and camped out in the living room and pretended we were back in college and one of us had forgotten to pay the power bill so we had to drink wine by candle light and hang out–and worry about paying the bill the next day. I’m rarely nostalgic for the past, and when nostalgia does come over me, it’s usually not my college years I look back to fondly…but there was something nice about sitting around with Paul drinking wine in candlelight and talking about things. I’ve decided to ignore politics and the election as much as I can; I’ve already decided who I am voting for and nothing is going to change my mind, so why torture myself with all the worry and stress and negativity? Everyone I know has decided, if not already voted; so I am pushing it all out of my mind until I get up Tuesday morning and walk over to the International School to cast my ballot for a return to sanity–and it’s all beyond my control anyway. I need to remember the lesson of not worrying about things I cannot control.

I went to the gym again yesterday morning before heading to the office for the afternoon; I am most pleased that I am sticking to the workout routine (although I’d intended to go on Thursday) and will be returning again tomorrow morning. My body feels so much better now that I am working out again, and as I get deeper into it, I am really looking forward to adding cardio and moving on to getting into better eating habits. I need to start checking my Mediterranean Diet cookbook–which I am also assuming will include more olives, feta cheese, and yogurt into my diet–but I need to dig back out from under again before starting something else new.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee and start the process of clean up. Have a lovely Halloween, Constant Reader, and may all your Halloween hopes and wishes come true.

Delicate

I can’t get over how much better my muscles feel after simply one workout with weights and stretching them out. Seriously. It’s like all the kinks and aches and tightness not only are gone, but it’s like they were never there in the first place. Obviously, my body has missed and craved the exercise. I cannot wait to get home from work today so I can head down to the gym and get in workout #2 of the week. Also–in examining my gym’s website and exercise class schedule, I see that they have a barre class on Saturday mornings I can attend–and barre is something I’ve been wanting to try; I really want to improve my flexibility again. I know I’ll never get back to the ridiculous, freakish flexibility of my teens and twenties again—but regular stretching will be most lovely, quite frankly, and I like the idea of regaining some of it. I am really looking forward to my second workout tonight after work….

We still appear to be in the center of the Cone for Zeta, but the cone continues to drift to the east. At the moment, the projected landfall is seven pm on Wednesday night; which means in theory I should be able to see all my clients and still get home before landfall. Outer bands will, of course, be problematic; but I think we should be okay even with a direct hit from Zeta. Again, the primary concern will be wind and the potential loss of power, but honestly. It’s almost fucking Halloween, for Christ’s sake.

Last night we finished watching season one of Servant on Apple Plus, and I have to say, wow. Dark and disturbing and full of surprises, it was hard to watch sometimes…and yet I couldn’t look away. It was about pain and guilt and suffering, the lengths people will go to stop hurting, and I certainly didn’t see the twist ending of the season coming. I’m frankly non-plussed that Lauren Ambrose got no award recognition for her performance as the emotionally damaged wife and mother–she was stunning in the role; and it wasn’t an easy part. Playing a woman in every stage of a complete mental an emotional breakdown, fooling herself because truth and reality were too much for her mind to handle, watching her performance was both painful to watch but impossible to stop watching; a tour de force; one of the best performances by an actress I’ve seen in a television series. It will be returning in January for a second season, and there’s no telling what will be the second season; there are any number of directions the story can go in. Just chilling and amazing, and we were on the edge of our seats the entire time. It was the perfect choice for Halloween season viewing, quite frankly.

It’s very dark outside my windows this morning. The time change is coming this weekend–an extra hour of sleep is always appreciated, of course, but at the same time I am dreading absolutely coming home from work in the dark every afternoon. I am definitely going to the gym after I get home from work tonight; my muscles feel marvelous still from Sunday’s workout. I can’t get over how much better I feel than I did before; I need to remember this whenever I have one of those “oh I don’t feel like going” moments about the gym. There’s also no telling how long the gym will stay open–whether we go back to gyms being closed for the pandemic, or whether it will survive the economic downturn–and so I must take full advantage of my membership for as long as I can.

The irony that the year I decided to get back to work on my body was the year a pandemic shut everything down and slowly but surely wrecked the economy has not escaped me.

November looms on the horizon as well. The weather is cooling down dramatically here; yesterday morning I actually had to wear a jacket to the office, but of course my car sat in the sun all day so was quite toasty warm by the time I got off work and drove home. It’s currently seventy three, with a projected high of eighty one, which means no need for a jacket this morning, and also means it will be hot in the car when I get off work this afternoon (early evening? I’m never sure where five o’clock officially falls in the divisions of the day).

I tried to watch the new version of Rebecca last night while I waited for Paul to get home. I knew I was inevitably going to be disappointed, perhaps to the point of not even finishing; the original film is a classic and one of my all-time favorites, and of course the book is still fucking amazing every time I reread it. (I always manage to see it in a whole new way practically each time I read it again; it’s absolutely a classic.) As I watched, the fact they filmed it in color was too jarring and took me out of it completely. Rebecca is one of those stories whose impact is really lost when removed from black and white cinematography; the use of light and shadow for creepy, eerie effect is completely lost in the splashy colors (and I just cannot ever picture Maxim de Winter in a yellow suit; Jay Gatsby he was most definitely not). I still think of it as a noir classic (both film and book; if you think du Maurier was a romance writer, you really need to reread and rethink everything of hers you’ve read), and while the term neo noir was coined specifically for noir filmed in color, very few films actually manage to capture the noir mood in color (although Body Heat, Masquerade, Chinatown, and No Way Out all did a great job..I’ve been thinking about writing about neo-noir films lately; just another essay for my collection that no one will ever read.

Today I am hoping to get some editing done on my lunch break and possibly get the email inbox finally cleaned out and caught up; fingers crossed. I feel very awake this morning–yesterday I was dragging a bit, and of course my muscles were all terribly tired from Sunday’s workout–and I am, as ever, hopeful I can get everything done I need to get done. No word on whether the hurricane is cancelling work yet tomorrow–I really hope it doesn’t, frankly; I’d much rather spend the day with my clients.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

The Lakes

Yesterday was one of those lovely autumn days in New Orleans that always reminds me how lucky those of us who get to live here actually are. Oh, what a gorgeous day it was, with the temperature in the mid-seventies, the sun shining and the sky that brilliant sapphire shade of blue. As I am sure you can imagine, Halloween is extremely popular in New Orleans, and I love seeing the way people go all out in decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holiday. So, driving uptown in the early afternoon hours of such a glorious day, and seeing the lovely houses all festooned in their orange and black spectral finery was quite relaxing and joyous. The shade from the live oaks also seems somewhat spooky in October–not sure why that is, it just is.

I definitely need to take my phone and go for a lengthy walk, taking pictures.

I proofed the story yesterday–a start on getting things done–and then turned on the television for background noise…and what a crazy day for football in the SEC. Auburn was upset by South Carolina; Texas A&M took out Mississippi State (whose only win is, natch, LSU); Kentucky embarrassed Tennessee in Knoxville, Arkansas somehow took out Ole Miss; and then in the big game of the day, Alabama took out Georgia decisively for the third time in four years after trailing at half-time. I suspect Alabama is going to run the table this year and be the SEC’s best chance for the national title yet again, which means things are sort of back to normal–although the usual suspects don’t seem to be in a position to challenge. Alabama and Georgia will probably play again the conference championship game–with Florida holding an outside chance at winning the East, but would also have to run the table–it’s possible, as I doubt LSU is going to take Florida down this year. The Saints are playing today at noon, but I’m not sure I am going to watch that or not. (Again, probably have it on as background noise, while I reread Bury Me in Shadows.)

Proofing my story yesterday allowed me to reread it again as well, and much as I hate to say things like this about my own work, “Night Follows Night” is actually a good story, and I did a good job on it. I also realized that, in some ways, the in-progress story “The Flagellants” could easily be tweaked into a sequel to it; which I may try to do, just to see…but by making it a sequel, I don’t know what the crime part of the story could turn out to be. So maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to see how it all turns out, I suppose.

I have two books on hold currently at the library–both of which are research for Chlorine–and I am a bit surprised they didn’t email me to let me know they were waiting for me. I can pick them up on Thursday, and will need to remember to call and make an appointment with them so I can do so. I also need to order prescription refills for Thursday as well, so I can get it all over and done with in one fell swoop. (That might be, in fact, a good day to take pictures of the skeleton house in Uptown–they always do such a great job of decorating for Halloween.)

It’s going to be weird not having Gay Halloween this year, just as it was weird there was no Southern Decadence for the first time in decades. It’s not like I’ve attended or participated in years–or for that matter, even go out on Halloween weekend anymore–but the absence still bothers me somewhat. I also have to go up to Kentucky this year–probably for Thanksgiving–which means I’ll be able to get a lot of reading done and maybe even get some writing done as well. The last time I went up there I checked out audiobooks from the library; I’ll have to do the same again this time. Perhaps Stephen King’s The Institute, or another one of his works that I’ve not had the chance to read yet? I am not so sure that it’s perhaps the wisest thing to do to travel–Mom and Dad are getting up there, and if I am an asymptomatic carrier…yeah, so I don’t know. Maybe I should put it off until after this is all over, I don’t know.

Perhaps indeed.

I need to get back to reading for pleasure and education again, seriously. I am still reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is well-written but rather dense–it’s not like it’s hard to put it down and walk away from it–and I want to dive back onto gobbling up short stories again. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the stack of collections and anthologies I set aside for the Short Story Project, for example, and of course the latest Lawrence Block anthology is right there next to it.

Yesterday I felt a little off–gastronomically speaking; mostly some terrible heartburn that thankfully seems to have gone away overnight while I slept, which of course had me more than a little concerned. I’ve not had that in a while–of course, I forgot to take my pills both Friday and yesterday, but even after taking them for yesterday the heartburn remained, which was disconcerting and alarming. Needless to say, I am quite delighted this morning that it’s gone away–and I should go take my pills right now, shouldn’t I, while I’m thinking about it and before I forget?

Okay, I am back now. The sun is in my eyes as it rises in the east over the West Bank–is it any wonder we are so off here in New Orleans?–but it’ll just be annoying and right in my eyes for a couple of minutes. Once I finish this, I think I am going to draft some emails to be sent tomorrow morning, and then adjourn to my easy chair with some short stories to read, as well as some of my own work to look over, reread, and correct. When the Saints game starts I’ll probably launch into the reread of Bury Me in Shadows–it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it, and so much is always going on that it’s hard for me to remember anything and everything, which is just plain wrong.

Sigh. I really miss my memory.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. One more cup of coffee, a Sara Paretsky short story, and then a shower to get my day going. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

I Almost Do

The days storms come ashore elsewhere–but still close by– are always weird.

There’s the guilt and shame at the relief that it’s not coming to where you live–which means you are relieved that others will suffer instead of you–and there’s still a lot of tension. While New Orleans will have nowhere near the damage or destruction western Louisiana, and particularly Lake Charles, will suffer yet again a mere six weeks or so after the last time they were hit hard, you never know. We are–or were–supposed to experience only the effects equivalent to a tropical storm, and those aren’t exactly nothing. Will trees come down, will power be lost, will streets flood? Will the high winds cause destructive tornadoes? And while suffering isn’t a contest, even typing those words riddled me with guilt yet again.

The sky has been mostly gray all day, with only occasional glimpses of the sun and blue during all-too-brief breaks in the cloud cover. The wind picks up and drops off–and some of the gusts are extreme. I went into the office for a few hours to help out with the syringe exchange, and both coming and going there were a couple of times when I could feel the wind battering my car, trying to move it–never strong enough to make me nervous, but just enough to be unsettling.

Scooter is currently sleeping on my backpack, next to my desk, and Paul is still upstairs working. I have laundered the bed linens today–it’s Friday, after all–and I currently am in the process of cleaning up my iCloud drive (and finding new frustrations with the MacBook Air, but it’s not as bad as it could be, and really, once I get the dongle adapter thingamabob to connect the back-up hard drive to to it, it should be fine. And at some point I will take it into the store in Metairie….unless I can still get help on-line for free), which is taking some time, but it has been a mess for quite some time, and therefore I have no one to blame but myself.

We finished watching Utopia this week, which we greatly enjoyed, odd as it was, and last night we started watching The Good Lord Bird on Showtime, which is also odd, weirdly entertaining, and kind of interesting. It’s about John Brown, the abolitionist hero of the 1850’s, and I am never entirely certain whether Ethan Hawke, who’s playing Brown, is giving an incredible performance deserving all the Emmys, or if he is overacting in a manner worthy of Nicolas Cage at his worst. It’s told from the point of view of a young Black slave, freed by Brown in the opening minutes of the first episode, who Brown for some reason becomes convinced is a girl and for another reason (you’d have to watch) starts calling by the name Onion. I’m sure we’ll keep watching–I was always raised to believe that John Brown was a monster, and while he was certainly not the sanest individual, his hatred of slavery was not wrong–and the show is set during the days of bleeding Kansas, which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately (the town in the Kansas book is called Liberty Center, and it’s called that because it was founded as a free town during those days–it’s also a call-out to Philip Roth, because it’s the town where When She Was Good was set), and wanting to write about at some point.

We’ve been holding off on watching The Boys’ second season until all the episodes were loaded (yes, binge-watching has spoiled us; we hate to have to wait) and I do want to go back at some point and finish Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, and I also want to watch The Haunting of Bly House, which just dropped on Netflix (Paul never got into The Haunting of Hill House for some reason), and there’s some other movies and so forth that are streaming now that we want to see (I keep meaning to watch Boys State on Apple Plus–I actually went to Boys State when I was in high school in Kansas, and why I have never written about that I honestly do not know).

But since it’s October and I had forgotten, I decided to start watching some horror this month while making condom packs. I watched Carrie yesterday (still wonderful) and today I watched one from the 1980’s called April Fools’ Day, which I think I watched on HBO or Showtime back in the day. It stars Deborah Coleman from Valley Girl and My Chauffeur (why she never became a bigger star is beyond me), Deborah Goodrich (probably best known for playing the imposter Silver Kane on All My Children), the guy best known for playing Biff in the Back to the Future movies, Tatum O’Neal’s brother Griffin, and a big crush of mine from back then whom I’d forgotten, Ken Olandt (he was also in Summer School, where he played a stripper so of course he caught my eye). It takes the ‘stranded on a desert island’ conceit of And Then There Were None (also similar to the one season favorite Harper’s Island) and plays the trope of the slasher film against it/–but it’s not very gory (back then I had no interest in the genre of slasher films because I didn’t like gore and buckets of blood everywhere, although I made an exception for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies; Paul was the person who got me to watch Halloween and Friday the 13th for the first time). It’s a fun little movie, scary and suspenseful enough, and entertaining enough, but a trifle that didn’t really leave much of an impact on the horror genre or on film in general. I added some more horror movies to my lists on various streaming services–I can give the Cynical 70’s Film Festival a break for a while, I think–and it’s actually amazing to me how many horror classics I either don’t remember, or haven’t seen–Fright Night, for example, and The Fog, for another–and so with so much streaming content, there’s no reason not to finally view these movies, right?

Right.

I’m also going to rewatch Christine, and some other King adaptations I’ve not seen (primarily because I heard they weren’t good).

And on that note, I am going to head into the living room with some wine and maybe watch some highlights of last year’s LSU season until Paul is ready to join me.

Have a lovely and quiet Friday evening, Constant Reader.

Haunted

It’s gray outside this morning, and right now the trees and the crepe myrtles are swaying in a strong wind. It must have rained at some point during the night because the sidewalk looks wet, but I’m not sure. We’re supposed to experience tropical storm conditions, and it looks as though that won’t be until later this evening; we’ll see how that turns out though. Our syringe program may be short-staffed today so I am probably going to go into the office to help out–the storm may not reach us until around five thirty and I should be able to get home by then (am I crazy? The jury, as always, remains out on that one).

I’ve been sleeping really well lately–stress reduction has occurred on many different levels over the past week. My back and shoulders feel relaxed and not knotted anymore–I hadn’t noticed how much of my stress was being carried there until it wasn’t there anymore–and maybe I am going to be able to start focusing with laser intensity again. I miss that, frankly; the ability to focus all my brain and creativity and intelligence (such as it is) on one particular thing and get it finished; I think I may even go back to being able to keep all the plates spinning again–stop that crazy talk, Greg!–so we shall see. As I said, some things that have been weighing heavily on my mind–and knotting my shoulders–have wrapped up now and if i can finally manage to get myself organized, look out world.

Do keep Lake Charles and western Louisiana/eastern Texas in your thoughts, Constant Reader, as they are going to get hammered again tonight.

Yesterday as I made condom packs I queued up Terence Malick’s debut film as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, Badlands,which starred a very young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek playing a version of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril (in the movie they are Kit and Holly); as they embark on their killing spree–although in the movie it’s South Dakota and Montana, as opposed to the Nebraska and Wyoming in reality. It is set in the 1950’s, which is also when Starkweather went on his spree (makes you think about how everyone remembers the 1950’s as this idyllic time; what I call Leave it to Beaver Syndrome), and the performances are stellar. The movie is narrated by Spacek’s Holly, in an almost unemotional monotone that captures the spirit of the movie itself. The movie doesn’t explain why Kit decided to start killing people, or why Holly chose to go with him, other than they fell in love and her father–the first victim–disapproved. (It’s also very weird seeing President Bartlet on a shooting spree, really.) Both are terrific in their roles, and the movie is visually stunning, really hammering home the isolation of the countryside in those rural states and their vast emptiness–and literally, how on the great plains or in the badlands there is no one to hear you scream. It made me think also of In Cold Blood; and of course, gave me some story ideas.

I decided to make it a Sissy Spacek double feature and queued up Carrie next–it was also a cynical 70’s movie, after all; and while it can hardly be termed a teen movie, it was about high school, after all, and the only adults in the film are supporting characters–Miss Collins the gym teacher; the principal; and of course, the piece de resistance, Margaret White–and everyone else is theoretically a teenager/high school student. I’ve not rewatched Carrie in years, and I’d forgotten what a great film it is; it’s one of the best (if not the best) Stephen King adaptations ever made–I might even go so far as to say it may be one of those rare instances when the film is better than the book. (And as a big King fan, I am quite aware of what blasphemy I just uttered.) Both book and film might be the first time bullying was addressed so strongly, and an argument can even be made that Carrie is one of two Stephen King novels that could be classified as young adult novels (Christine is the other one). Reading Carrie was a revelation to me as a teenager; it was the first time I’d ever read anything in fiction that depicted high school as I knew it that closely; most books and films at the time that did so were completely unrealistic. I had found junior and senior high school to be jungles of cruelty and viciousness with a rigid caste system; it was the first time I’d ever read anything centering the poor kid whom nobody likes, everyone picks on or mocks, and did it with sympathy. It was the first time I saw high school girls depicted as “mean girls”–it later became a trope–and the book was also the first time I ever saw in fiction anyone try to explain the weird, visceral group reaction to a figure who is more to be pitied than hated. (The book was also the first time I realized that we all love an underdog story–is there anything more popular in American popular culture than rooting for the underdog–while in real life the majority of us all will kick the underdog in the ribs or stand by and do or say nothing when they are being abused; King got that, as well as the shame decent people feel about doing nothing later) The movie is incredibly well done; there’s more gratuitous female nudity than perhaps necessary but it doesn’t feel exploitative; the locker room scene that opens the book features female nudity but it would be unrealistic to not show some–and later, we see Spacek’s nude body when she bathes and washes the blood off herself. It’s also very well-cast: Betty Buckley is terrific as the gym teacher who goes from irritated with poor Carrie until she realizes the girl has no idea what her period is; Amy Irving as Sue Snell, the decent girl who participates in the taunting but later feels remorse–a difficult role to be believable in, but she manages it; Nancy Allen is perfectly cast as spoiled hateful bitch Chris Hargensen; and of course John Travolta, playing against type as Chris’ low-life drop-out boyfriend and co-conspirator, which was really a brave move on his part–he was a star already and a teen idol from Welcome Back Kotter, and making his screen debut as a dirtbag thug was a risk (and his next film was Saturday Night Fever); but the movie truly belongs to Sissy Spacek, who is perfect as Carrie, and Piper Laurie as her mother, Jesus-freak Margaret White. Watching them again, I can’t help but feel that each deserved to win Oscars (they lost to Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, both in Network). The use of music in the movie is perfect, and the whole movie seems to be shot with this weird, slightly blurry, out of focus dreamlike style, like the camera was coated in vaseline or covered in gauze. And the clothes and hairstyles! The prom tuxedos with the ruffled shirts and in bizarre color choices! The feathered hair and the gym shorts pulled up so high they barely covered the girls’ asses! William Katt as Tommy Ross, the nice guy who takes Carrie to the prom! Even a young Edie McClurg as one of the teenaged girls, I think the character name was Frieda? As I rewatched the movie, I couldn’t help but think how King subverted the trope of the underdog story by making Carrie so sympathetic to the viewer, and then of course she blossoms at the prom with her make-up and her hair out of her face, in the beautiful dress she made herself, escorted by the most popular boy in the school, and elected Prom Queen–only to have it all come crashing down around her.

The movie differed from the book in several important ways, too–in the book, they do all laugh when Carrie is coated with the pig’s blood; the election for King and Queen isn’t rigged in the book; and in the book Carrie wreaks havoc and destroys the entire town on her walk home. The book also–a stylistic choice I may have questioned as an editor–made it very clear almost from the very beginning that Carrie’s story has a terrible ending, by intercutting the chapters with clips from news reports, books, etc. talking about the Black Prom–the reader just doesn’t know what happens at it, and whatever we may have been expecting, it certainly wasn’t the extreme it turned out to be–and my sympathies were entirely with Carrie, all the way to the very end.

I may need to reread Carrie.

It’s been such a fucked-up year that I forgot that I usually spend October reading horror novels, to celebrate the Halloween season. So maybe tonight, after I get home and the storm rages around us, maybe I’ll take Carrie down from the shelf and give it a reread.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Stay safe, everyone, and I will catch you later.

Violence

So I had a new and interesting experience yesterday: a mammogram.

Yes, that’s correct, I said a mammogram. I’ve had a lump in my right pectoral for years now, and two others just below. I had asked my doctor about them several times over the years during routine exams, but they always kind of blew it off, saying it was nothing to worry about, and so I never did…although, occasionally during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d touch it thoughtfully, and wonder. As I said, this last time when I went to for my check-up, and she was so relentlessly thorough, she came across it while examining me and said, “How long has that been there?” and I replied, “well, a long time, frankly. I’ve always been told not to worry about it.” She frowned back at me. “Well, if it hasn’t grown or been painful, it’s probably just a fatty cyst, which is a genetic thing and nothing to worry about, but by the look on your face you’d prefer to know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

And so the mammogram was yesterday. And it was precisely that, a fatty cyst which is genetic (note to self: thank parents for that, along with tendency for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), and not only that–there were two more in my left pectoral I wasn’t even aware of. They aren’t harmful or dangerous in any way, and I was advised against having them removed–“it just leaves an ugly scar, and no one will ever notice them unless they fondle your chest”–and so made the decision not to bother with them. And yet–I felt an enormous relief when the radiologist told me all of this, so clearly on some levels it was stress and worry I was retaining.

As we tell our clients at Crescent Care, you really need to advocate for yourself. Going forward, I am not going to let my doctors with their silly medical degrees pooh-pooh a concern that is actually very real to me. There’s no reason I couldn’t have had this subconscious worry put to rest years ago. Lesson learned.

And now I can officially tell you, Constant Reader, that I have placed another short story! “The Snow Globe” will be this coming year in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder, edited by Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley. I am quite thrilled by this–as I always am whenever I place a story somewhere–and have had to sit on the news for a few days before the official announcement. I still have two out on submission that are pending, but I’m having a fairly lovely year when it comes to placing short stories thus far. “The Snow Globe” has an interesting genesis; a thread on a friend’s wall about Hallmark Christmas Movies and an enchanted snow globe that featured in one, and I commented “I’d be more interested if it were CURSED”, and this was around the same time a publisher was doing a War on Christmas anthology, so I decided to write about a cursed snow globe for it. I messed up the story on that iteration; the notes I got with the rejection note showed me that I had, indeed, made the wrong decision with the story (which I had suspected) and so even though it wasn’t being included (that anthology would up not happening, either), I went ahead and revised it based on those notes and changed it to the way I had originally thought it should be before I second-guessed myself and changed it. And now it has found a home.

The funny part is the opening line was actually lifted from an idea I had for a Halloween story for an anthology the Horror Writers Association was doing (I never wrote this story). One night, years ago, I was standing on the balcony at the Pub/Parade during Halloween weekend (in my usual slutty whatever costume; my costume default always involved slutty in the title and involved lots of exposed skin) and someone came out of Oz across the street as Satan–horns and a wig and goat legs, but also a bare torso body painted red–and I thought, wow, Satan has a great six pack and laughed, thinking that’s a great opening line for a story. I was going to use it for my Halloween story, along with the Gates of Guinee; I never wrote the story, but when I was figuring out my cursed snow globe story, I thought, You know, “Santa has a great six-pack” is also a great opening line, and you can work Guinee into this, and thus “The Snow Globe” was born.

And yes, it’s a story about a gay man placed in a mainstream anthology, which pleases me even more. (I mean, an opening line like that would have to be the start of a story about a gay man, wouldn’t it?)

I watched two movies while making condom packs yesterday: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Altered States, which, while they may not seem similar at first glance, after watching them they kind of are. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (I hated his version of The Shining; Barry Lyndon was probably the most boring film ever made; and while I enjoy A Clockwork Orange…it’s not something I’d care to watch again, frankly), and when I watched 2001 for the first time, years ago, when it debuted on television, all I could think was I don’t understand this movie at all. I went on to read the book, by Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), which sort of explained what was happening better, but it wasn’t until I saw and read the sequel, 2010, that it all began to make sense. Visually and sound-wise, it’s an exceptional film, particularly for when it was made; no science fiction space movie had looked so realistic before, and would Star Wars have been possible without 2001? But as with other Kubrick films I’ve seen, the acting wasn’t terrific (although Keir Dullea is stunningly gorgeous to look at; he came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, and has aged spectacularly well), and there was a distinct coldness to the movie, a distance that I felt was deliberate–to show how vast and empty and cold space is. It was also kind of funny in that the flight out to the Moon in the beginning was a Pan American flight, and on the station there was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; they had no way of knowing that either, at the time the movie was made, would be no longer in business by the actual year 2001. It was also interesting that women were still in subservient roles in this fantasy 2001, except in the case of the Soviets (also no way of knowing there would be no Soviet Union by the actual year 2001); which always makes futuristic films interesting time capsules once the future they depict has come and gone in actuality. The basic plot of the movie–sandwiched in between the strange appearances of the monolith at the dawn of mankind and encountered again at the end by Dave–is a horror/suspense tale, told unemotionally and rather coldly–about the malfunction of the computer, HAL 9000, who controls the spaceship and begins trying to kill the astronauts aboard, which undoubtedly also influenced Alien.

Altered States is a Ken Russell film, starring a very young William Hurt and Blair Brown. Hurt is still in the full flush of youthful male beauty, and like in his other early films I’ve watched lately (Eyewitness, Body Heat) his body and looks are highly sexualized; he’s naked a lot in this, and there’s even a brief view of his penis in one shot, which I am sure was quite shocking for the time. Like Kubrick, I’ve never been a particular fan of Ken Russell as an auteur; Altered States is a deeply flawed film that could have been so much more. Hurt and Brown play highly educated academics at the top of their field who eventually become professors at Harvard. Hurt is primarily interested in his field of research; he believes that in a heightened sense of consciousness, one can tap into the millions of years of human development that is locked into our brains and DNA. He is conducting experiments into altered consciousness in the beginning of the movie, by putting himself into a sensory deprivation tank (remember those?), which is part and parcel of the times in which the film was made. Eventually, he discovers there’s a remote native tribe in the mountains of Mexico that still performs, and lives in the same manner, as their Toltec ancestors; they also have visions and regress when taking a type of brew made from a certain kind of mushroom only grown where they live during a mystical ritual. (Interesting aside: Greek actor Thaao Penghlis, who gained fame playing Tony DiMera for decades on Days of Our Lives, plays the Mexican anthropologist who not only tells Hurt about this tribe, but takes him there–because he was dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair, of course he was convincingly “Mexican” to play the part) As expected, things go terribly wrong and he becomes more and more obsessed; by taking the drug concoction made by this tribe while using a sensory deprivation tank he is able to unlock primordial memory as well as regress physically as well, until his friends intervene and his love for Brown somehow manage a strangely weird happily ever after. It’s really just another film warning about the hubris of scientists and playing God, in the long line of tradition dating back to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blair Brown is also naked a lot, for no apparent reason other than to show off her body, and it was, as I said, flawed. But the climactic scene where he changes again physically and has to fight off regressing to early man is also reminiscent of both the beginning and end of 2001–which shows the birth of mankind and intelligence, and how Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes, thanks to the strange monolith, also regresses and changes and evolves, into what was called the Starchild. (You really have to read or watch–or both–2010 for any of that to make sense.)

We also continue to watch Babylon Berlin with great enjoyment; we have but one more episode to go in Season 1.

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

Always

Kansas.

We moved to Kansas the summer I turned fifteen. It was a bit of culture shock; we’d been living a middle-to-upper middle class suburb of Chicago for about four years then, after spending eight or nine years in a working-class, very blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, populated primarily with eastern European immigrants, or second, maybe third, generation Americans from central to eastern Europe. All I really knew about Kansas, before moving there, was that it had been a part of the Dust Bowl during the depression; I’d read about “bleeding Kansas” in history books; and of course, tornadoes and The Wizard of Oz (which is a movie I’ve never cared for; I watched it once as a kid and never again). Neither Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys ever had an adventure there; nor had any of the other kids’ series or Scholastic Book Club mysteries I’d read. But it was in Kansas that I actually started writing seriously, and began to think about being a writer when I grew up. (It was also in Kansas that I had the bad creative writing professor, and other bad history professors; I actually cannot think of a single decent teacher I had at the university level in Kansas–but then again, I was incredibly miserable when I lived in Kansas and it’s entirely possible that misery bled over into every other aspect of my life.)

I also don’t want to make it seem as though the five or so years I spent there were completely miserable. I did have fun–I was always desperately trying to have fun to distract me from the terror that arose from my sexuality, which was a secret that must be guarded from everyone at all times; it’s laughable to think about it now, but that terror was very real to me then.

It was in Kansas I started writing about teenagers, and while none of that stuff I’d written was publishable–I still have the handwritten novel I started writing there somewhere; the thought of rereading it turns my stomach as I can only imagine how incredibly bad, trite, and cliched it all was–but those characters have lived on and appeared in my actual published work as an adult; primarily I kept the character names and the basis of who they were, fleshing them out and (hopefully) making them three dimensional. Sara is, to date, the only book I’ve published that is set in Kansas; Laura, the main character in Sorceress, is also from Kansas–but the book is set in California. And of course I’ve been playing with the Kansas book now for something like fifteen years–hopefully, that will be finished and done this year.

I love to read about Kansas, and two of my favorite crime writers–Lori Roy and Sara Paretsky–are also from Kansas; Lori’s first novel, Bent Road (it’s brilliant, as is everything she writes) is set in Kansas; Sara, of course, primarily writes about Chicago but wrote a stand alone several years ago called Bleeding Kansas I’ve always wanted to get around to. Nancy Pickard also wrote two stunningly brilliant novels set in Kansas–The Virgin of Small Plains and The Scent of Rain and Lightning; I cannot recommend them enough. One cannot talk about Kansas books, either, without mentioning Truman Capote’s “true crime novel” In Cold Blood, which I like to reread every now and then.

There’s just something noir about Kansas; I don’t know how to describe it, or why it feels that way to me; but there’s just something about the wide open spaces and the wind, that Peyton Place-like feel to the small cities…Emporia (the county seat; we lived about eight miles out of town in an even smaller town called Americus) even had its own full blown scandal where a minister and the church secretary had an affair and murdered their spouses; it was even made into a two-part mini-series filmed on location in Emporia starring Jobeth Williams as the femme fatale. Those small towns, scattered all over the northern part of Lyon County, once thriving and bustling but now barely hand on when I lived there…the abandoned schools, still standing (they’d all been consolidated into one high school in the 1950’s) in the emptying little towns…our consolidated high school, out in the middle of the country with the football field backing up to a pasture; and the explosive boredom for teenagers. I always turn back to Kansas somehow, whenever I am thinking creatively or wanting to write a new short story–so much material, really. Emporia even had a cult; the old Presbyterian College of Emporia had gone bankrupt sometime in the early 1970’s and The Way International had bought the campus, turning it into The Way College of Emporia and I have to tell you, those kids from The Way College were terrifying–and there were lots of stories and urban legends about what went on there on that campus; how much was true I’ll probably never know, but I do know they used to have armed security guards patrolling the edge of campus, and every teenager knew not to ever get cornered anywhere with no possible escape by two or more of those kids….they always traveled in groups, never less than two and rarely more than six, but always in multiples of two. They always looked very clean cut, but you knew them by the nametags they were required to wear, their empty glassy eyes, and the big smiles on their faces.

There’s also the story of the bloody Benders, serial killers who operated an inn and murdered their guests in the nineteenth century before disappearing; I’m sure every nook and cranny of Kansas has some kind of horrible tale of murder hidden away.

And about three or four miles from our high school–you had to turn right when you reached the state road from Americus to get there; if you turned left towards Council Grove you’d pass this place: an abandoned nuclear missile base, that is still there. We used to go there sometimes for kicks–opening the door and listening to the strange sounds from deep inside and water dripping. I had plenty of nightmares about that missile base.

But the only other gay novelist I know from Kansas is Scott Heim (or at least the only one I know of who sometimes writes about Kansas). I read his debut novel Mysterious Skin sometime in the mid to late 1990’s, and was blown away by it (the film is also quite good). Mysterious Skin is set in Kansas, of course, and while it is a literary novel, and a quite good one, for me there were some elements of noir to the story; I have moved it to the The Reread Project pile and hope to get to it again relatively soon, so i can discuss it with more credibility and authority. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear, but I’m adding them to the “need to get a copy” list.

Over this past weekend I read a short story Scott wrote for Amazon; part of something called The Disorder Collection, along with stories from several other authors. You can buy “Loam” here; it’s well worth the ninety-nine cents.

We agreed to share the driving. The early-morning flights had left us feeling run-down, but my sisters said my eyes looked the least bleary, so I should drive first. The clouds had gone gray; it had started to rain. But we could take our time. The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood.

At the rental counter, a cheery, silver-haired clerk had offered us a white sedan, but Louise had disapproved. “A simple compact is fine,” she said, “and no extra options. Just make sure it’s as black as possible. Is ‘funeral black’ a color?” She’d glanced across the desk to Miriam and me, urging us to smile. No one had smiled since we’d met in the arrival lobby with hesitant hugs.

The clerk didn’t seem to grasp Louise’s reference, but when she collected our licenses, she was attentive enough to catch our dates of birth. She turned and yelled, “Girls, come look–triplets!”

It had been years since we’d been subjected to this kind of foolishness. We watched as her pair of coworkers stood from their desks and approached the counter. I could guess what was coming next: we didn’t look anything alike; we had varying shades of brown and blond hair; even our bodies and the ways we dressed, so different. Louise stopped their small talk before it could start, outstretching her hand to silence the room. “Look, our father just died, okay? Let’s sign what we need to sign and get this over with.”

One of the things I love about Heim’s work–and having only read one novel over twenty years ago and now this short story–is that he often writes about the aftereffects, and the aftermath, of traumas and how the victims deal and cope. This is something that interests me; I often think and wonder about how people who’ve dealt with something–my husband is a serial sex offender; my father murdered my mother, my grandfather was a serial killer–they had no control over cope and go on with their lives; I’m actually writing a story dealing with that sort of thing right now (one of the many stories I have in some sort of progress right now; it’s called “He Didn’t Kill Her”), and also those who were directly victimized–how do they deal? How do they cope? How do they go on with their lives after something so traumatic happens to them?

This is why this century’s reboots and sequels to Halloween interest me, because they show how Laurie Strode, years later, was psychologically damaged and who she became; one of the things I loved about the Scream films is they showed how everything that has happened to her has turned Sydney into a different person from who she imagined she’d be before the murders started.

Heim doesn’t write about the peripherally damaged; he writes about those who actually were damaged first-hand. In “Loam”, his triplets are clearly damaged by something that happened to them when they were children; they are returning to bury their father and clearly have not been back to Kansas in years. It isn’t clear what happened to them–it may have just been bad parenting in the beginning–and it isn’t until they stop at a second-hand store (what we used to call “junk shops” when I was a kid) and find some strange and mysterious pictures of their first grade classmates on a table that the memories of the past–and what they went through–begin to come to the fore.

I do wish Scott Heim would write more. This story, sad and dark and mysterious, is everything I love to read.

This: The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood–I wish I’d written that.

Buy it or borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. It’s very well worth the time.

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Casanova

It’s Thursday morning in New Orleans and all is well–or right–in the world; well, at least in mine. It was also chilly and my bed comfortable and warm; and as I was sleeping well for yet another night, I didn’t want to get up. But I have things to do this morning before I head into the office, and once I’ve had enough coffee to sharpen and get my brain under control, I shall accomplish these tasks before getting ready for work.

I managed to get some chores done when I got home from work yesterday, so the Lost Apartment’s kitchen is not a disaster this morning. I made mac-and-cheese again (I think this week’s is better than last week’s was, frankly) but used some of my training from McDonalds as a teenager to “clean as I go” and as such, when the mac-and-cheese went into the oven everything I’d used to make it was cleaned and in the dishwasher already. I don’t know why I don’t do this every time I cook; it’s so lovely to finish cooking and have all the dishes and bowls and so forth I used be clean already.

The lessons one learns from working in fast food as a teenager will hold you in good stead later in life, apparently.

My mind is not fully cognitive yet this morning, but the space heater is blowing lovely warm air on my legs and my coffee is delicious and it surely won’t be much longer before I am functional. Or so I hope, at any rate.

Then I’ll start cleaning out the email inbox. I kind of need cognitive abilities to answer them all, and won’t it be lovely to have an empty inbox? That’s always my goal, every morning and every week, and it’s been far too long since I unlocked that achievement.

It also occurred to me–sometime late in November–that I should use my December blog entries to write about my most recent book; focusing not only on my characters but also on New Orleans, Christmas, and Christmas in New Orleans, since the book is set during the Christmas season. And not to worry–I have lots of pictures of hot guys in Christmas-type attire to share along with those entries. So, yes, y’all, Royal Street Reveillon is an actual Christmas-in-New-Orleans book in which I resisted the urge to try to adapt a traditional Christmas story to both Scotty and New Orleans–although it was incredibly tempting and I might do that very thing later in my life and in the series. One of my favorite Christmas episodes of any television series was the very first Christmas episode of Moonlighting–anyone else remember the show that made Bruce Willis a star?–in which Blue Moon Detective Agency secretary Miss DiPesto found a baby in a manger at Christmas time. They played very heavily on Christmas stories and traditions to tell the story in that extremely brilliantly witty way the writers had in the first season or so of the show; those first two seasons are some of the best television ever written and filmed. I thought about trying to do something similar with Royal Street Reveillon, but I also wanted to get the Grande Dames of New Orleans story into the book, and there was simply no way to graft all the reality show stuff onto a Christmas tale; so the book wound up simply being set during Christmas.

The Scotty series, which was originally intended to simply be a stand-alone, and then merely a trilogy, was built around holidays to begin with; the first was during Southern Decadence, and when it became a trilogy I decided to use the trinity of gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Carnival. When Book 4 rolled around, I set it around Easter and had the book open with the Gay Easter Parade. Book 5 was built around New Orleans winning the Super Bowl; Book 6 was built around Mike the Tiger (LSU’s live tiger mascot) and Book 7 didn’t really have a holiday or anything truly local to build it around. I’ve always felt there was some separation between the first three books in the series and the four that followed; primarily because of the gay holiday associations with the first three.

I decided, when putting this one together, to set it during the Christmas season because Christmas in New Orleans doesn’t get as much play as other holidays (not here, I mean nationally; no one thinks of “Christmas” and “New Orleans” together), and I do love Christmas–some of it. I love the idea of Christmas and its message; I despise the unrelenting commercialism and the playing of carols in September and the Christmas stuff being stocked in stores before Halloween and don’t even get me started on the horrors of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and so forth. I did think I could possibly work some of that into the story, of course; but there was literally so much going on in the book that snark about commercializing Christmas wasn’t needed or necessary, even though it would have been fun.

And let’s be honest: Charles Schultz did it best with A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1966.

But I’ve enjoyed Donna Andrews’ Christmas mysteries in her Meg Langslow series so much that I thought I should give one a try. And the result was Royal Street Reveillon.

And now it’s Christmas season in New Orleans; football season is winding up, but I am hoping that after this weekend, I can take a Saturday afternoon to head down to the Quarter–or drive around the city–taking pictures of Christmas lights and decorations and so forth. New Orleans, as I said in the book, loves nothing more than holiday decorating, and it’s so dark here at night the Christmas lights look even more magnificent.

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

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