Big Star

Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.

LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).

I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.

I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).

My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.

And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?

A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.

We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.

You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right to Party

Good morning, Thursday, how it’s hanging?

It was bitterly cold in New Orleans yesterday, and of course our heater isn’t working. This tends to happen at least once a winter, and usually the first time we need to turn it on; I think the pilot light goes out? Anyway, the handyman guys should be coming by at some point to see what’s going on.

In the meantime, we shall suffer in silence.

Colder weather means deeper and more restful sleep; it also means not wanting to get out from the warmth of the bed in the morning. But I managed to drag myself out this morning, and the space heater is going next to my desk, and I feel fine–although I need to find my stocking cap.

I just finished paying the bills and, oh how I hate doing that, watching my bank balance drain and all of that, you know. Heavy heaving sigh.

We finished watching Catherine the Great last night, which was extremely well done, and of course Helen Mirren was spectacular in the role. One of the things about the show–and one of the most fascinating aspects of Catherine–was the fact that, as her son Paul kept mentioning, she had absolutely no right to the Russian throne. She wasn’t a Romanov–hell, even her husband wasn’t a Romanov; he was a Romanov only through his mother–and she staged a coup that overthrew him; he was later murdered. At first she was only theoretically a regent for her son; when he came of age she abandoned that pretense and refused to let go of power. She also was a great ruler, if oppressive; she made Russia a great power, and it was her grandson Alexander who toppled Napoleon, and as such, she is worthy of study. Russia today would not be what it is without Catherine, the minor German princess born into poverty who made a great marriage, educated herself, and played a long game when it came to seizing and maintaining power. Her son passed a law forbidding women to rule, so she was the last woman to rule Russia…despite the fact that the vast majority of Russian rules in the eighteenth century were women (Catherine I, Anna, the Regent Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine II–it’s also worthy to note that Catherine I was also only a Romanov by marriage; she was a peasant who became the mistress of Peter I, who eventually married her and left her his throne).

Catherine, like all women who gained and maintained power in the past, has had her reputation vilified and her sexuality criminalized and stigmatized in the years since she died–it even went on while she was alive of course; her voracious sexual appetite and the hideously misogynistic rumor about the horse, which has come down through the centuries and is often quoted as an absolute fact. Other powerful women throughout history were vilified as sexually promiscuous; while Catherine never hid her passions and her love affairs, they weren’t as extreme as the rumors spread by her enemies made them seem. Eleanor of Aquitaine was also painted as a woman of loose morals, which may or may not have been true when she was young; after she married her second husband there was never any question about her fidelity; England’s Elizabeth I was also painted in sexually unflattering lights by her enemies, but her successes, and being queen of England, countered those rumors coming down through time as fact. Marie Antoinette was also accused of being a whore…sexuality has traditionally been used as a way to vilify and demean women, and despite societal changes, still is today.

I admire Catherine the Great for many reasons, but she was also a tyrant–and her concern for the poor and the serfs really came to nothing in the end.

The writing is still tragically stalled; I am hoping to kick start it into gear today. When I got home yesterday from the office and the grocery store, I was a bit frazzled and worn down; so I chose to sit in my easy chair and make notes in my journal and relax with some wine. I consider this, quite frankly, to be a viable use of my creative time. Prep work is important for writing; it’s much more difficult to write something you’ve not put any thought into. I am looking forward this week to get my contributor’s copy of Dark Yonder, which contains my story “Moist Money,” and I also got the cover art/contract for The Faking of the President, which contains my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I have two more stories out on submission; one which I hopefully know about by the end of the year, the other I’ll find out about sometime in the spring. Both, I think, are good stories, but I think I have–see? the time spend in my easy chair is often helpful and productive in the long run–figured out why I have so much trouble with short stories, and how I can correct that problem in the future, making the writing of them that much easier.

Well, we’ll see.

And since I am falling way behind again on everything, I am going to have to recalibrate my schedule to determine what I can–if I actually stick to the plan and do some work–get done by the end of the year.

And on that note, tis best for me to head back into the spice mines.

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Can’t We Try

And just like that, this is the last day of my combination of illness/vacation. The good news is that I think I’m over everything that prevented the trip to Bouchercon in Dallas; the other good news is that I feel remarkably rested, centered, and ready to get back into the world again. I slept deeply and well again last night–and for those of you who can sleep well every night, I hope you appreciate it! I certainly never did back in the days when I could fall asleep simply by putting my head on the pillow and closing my eyes.

That seems so very long ago now.

These little vacations, I think, are very important for me. I need to recharge more frequently than I used to, and the weekends, while helpful, simply aren’t enough anymore. I have another little week-long vacation coming at the end of this month; I always try to take them around office holidays–so I am taking the first three days of Thanksgiving week off. As I said, I do need to take these little vacations every now and then in order to continue functioning; I wear out a lot easier now that I am older.

Paul and I got caught up on Catherine the Great last night, which is quite enjoyable (although as I said to Paul, “Catherine’s life when she was younger, and how she came to power, is a lot more interesting than this part of her life; but since you have Helen Mirren, it has to be about her when she’s older.” And Helen Mirren is absolutely killing it.

We also watched the first three episodes of Watchmen last night, and we are all in on this one, too. Regina King is just a goddess, and one of our best actresses working today. The story is all too apt for this time, as well–it’s themes of racism and white supremacy and fighting it, while exposing all the ugly nastiness of white supremacy, is all too too timely for our present day–and the third episode, which brings the remarkably talented and vastly under-appreciated Jean Smart into the cast, was one of the best. As a federal agent who hates vigilantes, and has come to Tulsa to help fight not only the white supremacy but to also bust “vigilantes”–which would be, in her own words, “some rich asshole with too many toys”–Smart is the anchor the show needed–the first two episodes didn’t seem as cohesive or to make as much sense as they all do now; the addition of her and her character pulled the entire show together and has essentially set up the conflict for the rest of the season. I never read the graphic novel on which the show is based; but it’s another take at superheroes (vigilantes) like Amazon’s The Boys, and it veers away from the path that DC and Marvel set up with their own hero universes.

I started reading another book yesterday, but am not sure I’m going to finish it–too much misogyny and homophobia in it already–it was originally published in 1962–but I might go ahead and finish it; it would tie directly into the essay about toxic masculinity that reading I the Jury inspired, and let’s face it, that essay needs other examples rather than just Spillane. I know I want to reread James Ellroy’s Clandestine because of its remembered homophobia; it’s one of the reasons I never read more Ellroy, despite always wanting to. He’s an MWA Grand Master; deeply respected in the field, and considered one of the giants in the genre, plus LA Confidential alone sounds terrific. And reading Ellroy to get a sense of 1950’s Los Angeles is probably the best way to get a sense for the time, for Chlorine.

I’m also still thinking about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. It’s just that good, Constant Reader. I also saw she has signed to do a novel for Agora, the Polis Books diversity imprint; I seriously can’t wait to read that.

I’ve done very little writing since I went on vacation; I’ve been primarily focusing on resting, doing some cleaning and filing, and getting over being sick. I’ve felt really good the last few days, and I think I can face returning to the office again tomorrow. I’d like to get some writing done today–I also want to get my email inbox emptied out–but I am not going to pressure myself; I am simply going to take the day as it comes and try to get whatever needs to be done finished as it comes along. I kind of need to reread where I am with Bury Me in Shadows anyway; I’ve not even really looked at it much over the last two weeks as I was not feeling myself. Today I feel rested and relaxed and healthy enough to possibly get some work done; and even if I don’t–if I save my energy because I am going back to work again tomorrow–I should be able to get some reading done. I may go ahead and finish reading that book I started to read this weekend; it’s kind of short, and so it shouldn’t take terribly long to read, right?

And then I can move on to something else.

I’m still enjoying Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, although I always find the early Colonial period of New Orleans a bit dull and uninteresting…although I am curious to see how the street–and the city itself–eventually became such a rough place. People in Louisiana outside of New Orleans–the ones who comment on newspaper articles and television station websites–always trash New Orleans as being “dangerous” and “full of crime” and “unsafe”; which, to me, I have always considered codewords  for racists, who can’t stand the idea of all the people of color who live and work here. They often will talk, in their little comment/rants, about how New Orleans “didn’t used to be like that” and bemoan the wonderful, lily-white days before desegregation. But my reading of New Orleans history definitely gives the lie to those comments; historically, the city has always been a hotbed of crime and murder. Always. Those lovely “white flight emigrants” are like those people who seem to think the 1950’s was this idyllic period of American history, when it was anything but that; the ones who think Happy Days was a documentary, and Leave It to Beaver was reality television. Frankly, it wasn’t particularly a great time to be white, either–McCarthyism, the widespread fear of communism and the Soviets, the shadow of the mushroom cloud, the rise of the suburbs–it was not the wonderful time we are so often told it was. What was wonderful about the 1950’s? The economy was booming in the post-war period.

Which should tell you all you need to know about white American priorities.

Over this past weekend I got an idea about what to do with a failed short story I’ve done many drafts on and has been rejected everywhere. I do think I can now do something with it, and maybe even get it published somewhere. Stranger things have happened, after all.

And now, I think I’m going to get some more coffee, work on my emails for a bit, and then repair to my chair to read for a little bit while I figure out how to best spend my last day of vacation. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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I Heard a Rumor

And now it’s Tuesday.

Yay for Tuesday! I managed to get some things done yesterday–my Sisters column for one, and an interview with Crime Reads for being an Anthony short story finalist, which was pretty cool. I was going to do some work on Bury Me in Shadows, but I couldn’t find the chapter file I worked on over the weekend and decided, rather than obsessively hunting for it, to just push it off and forget about it for now. So, instead I worked on the proposal, which was interesting and something different. (I found the file this morning; I don’t know how it wound up saved to the directory it was saved.)

We watched Catherine the Great last night on HBO, starring Helen Mirren, and it’s quite good. She’s phenomenal, as always, and they managed to script it in a way that made it interesting–often a problem with historical adaptations/biographies of royalty–and really brought the era, and the problems she faced as an illegitimate usurping empress quite well. I’m looking forward to the next episode, as well as starting Watchmen.

And I’m feeling much better about things. Getting stuff done yesterday was a good way to start the week–despite feeling less than at my best–and I love the feeling of crossing things off my to-do list, you know? I got some other things done as well–things I can’t talk about publicly, alas, sorry to be a tease–but again, getting things done feels good, and I have felt kind of, I don’t know, discombobulated since the last epic volunteer project, which is what put me behind to begin with.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And today is the last of my “get up early” days this week. I know we’re taking Scooter in for a veterinary visit this Saturday, probably around ten, but if I’m not up by then on my own without the use of an alarm, well, then I am seriously in some kind of trouble. I slept really well last night–I’ve slept well the last few nights, actually, which has been kind of lovely–and while I don’t like to be “untimely ripp’d” from my bed in the mornings, once I shake off the sleep and fully become awake, it’s a whole different other story, you know? I suspect that not only have I not gotten over what made me so ill the weekend before last, but it’s coming back. This is, of course, terrible timing as I am scheduled to leave for Bouchercon next week. Not good, not good at all. I took a Claritin because my sinuses feel messed up, and then some DayQuil because I have post-nasal drip as well.

We’ll see how that goes, shan’t we?

Barb Goffman, one of my fellow nominees for the Anthony for Best Short Story next week, posted a rather lovely blog here, where we all talk about our stories, and she provides links to read them all. This was an incredibly generous thing for her to do, and since I’ve not read all the stories, this gives me an excellent opportunity to do so.

I’m still reading Certain Dark Things and Ready to Hang–although the story of the Lamana kidnapping has now progressed to the trial of the kidnappers, which isn’t that interesting.  But I should finish both by the weekend, so I can be prepared for the LSU-Auburn game. I’m not sure who the Saints are playing–I do love the Saints, but most of the time I don’t even know who they’re playing until Game Day.

And now it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Let Her In

Yesterday was simply lovely.

I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped, but I also suspected as much would occur–I know myself all too well–but I got the laundry room cleaned, even the baseboards–and all the bed linens done, vast arrays of dishes, and filing and organizing and other general duties that probably don’t get done as often as they should. I am really the most horrible housekeeper; my apartment would never pass muster, and the way my mother would react to it sends chills down my spine. I don’t like have a slovenly home, but there simply isn’t enough time for me to keep up with it all, let alone do the deep dive it really needs.

You learn to live with the dust.

I shudder to think what the tops of the cabinets look like, or what’s under the refrigerator.

But it was lovely, I enjoyed doing what I was doing and I listened to music and I made progress on answering my emails and I even looked over the revision of “The Snow Globe” I had begun. I also discovered that–utter Luddite that I am–that I can broadcast the screen of my computer onto the living room television. The mouse also works in there, but not the keyboard; I am not sure what the problem is there, but it’s probably solvable. Imagine, me being able to write on my computer while seeing it on the television screen while I recline in my easy chair with a lap desk.

How much fun would that be?

Pretty darned fun, methinks.

We started watching the new Renee Zellweger show on Netflix, What If, but lost interest in it about halfway through. Paul fell asleep and I was scrolling through my phone, and when he did wake up I really couldn’t explain what was going on because I hadn’t been paying attention–so off it went. We may try it again later, but we’ve never been big fans of hers, and while I hesitate to comment on the way people look, particularly people in the entertainment business, she’s had some work done and she doesn’t look quite right, if that makes sense. She looks pretty, but now there’s a kind of artificiality about her face which wasn’t there before, if that makes sense? Maybe not. Maybe I am being too hard on her and too hard on the show, but I was hoping for something good, particularly since one of the male actors was stunningly good looking and had a nude scene in the first few minutes, appearing again later in just some boxer briefs.

We may try again later.

I also watched another episode of The Spanish Princess, which is entertaining enough, if not as well done as other similar type series about royalty. I never did finish The White Princess, but I rather enjoyed The White Queen, and am really looking forward to HBO’s Catherine the Great with Helen Mirren–although that may be just a film. But watching The Spanish Princess, I was struck by how very different this take on Katherine of Aragon is then anything I’ve ever seen (or read) before. Katherine is primarily of interest to filmmakers/playwrights as an old woman, past menopause and having lost the love of Henry VIII, while desperately resisting his attempt to divorce her to marry Anne Boleyn. She is always portrayed sympathetically–the tragic devoted wife, deserted and abandoned for a younger model (the age-old story), proudly holding on to her dignity and fighting for the inheritance of her daughter. I’ve always kind of been more #teamAnneBoleyn, to be honest, and the older I get and the more I read the more suspicious I am of the kind of person Katherine was–and she doesn’t really have my sympathy. Don’t get me wrong, neither does Henry; he was an idiot and a fool and he didn’t understand his first wife at all. They were both willful and arrogant and too proud. Katherine should have understood her duty better; Henry should have known better than to ask his wife to say she’d lied to the entire world in order to invalidate their marriage.

Simply stated, there wasn’t any way Katherine was ever going to do that, and that he even asked guaranteed she would fight him to the end.

But it’s amazing how well she has done in the court of public opinion over the centuries; the “wronged woman” getting all the sympathy. One of the things I loved about Carrolly Erickson’s biography of Katherine’s daughter, Bloody Mary, is that she wrote about the influences constantly at war within Mary’s nature; her role in the world as a woman, and how that came into conflict with her role as princess and later Queen. (Her sister Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a master of playing both conflicting roles to her advantage, based on the situation at hand; Mary could have learned a lot from her much younger sister.)

But the interesting thing about The Spanish Princess is that we are, just as we can never be certain about the truth in history, not certain whether or not Katherine’s first marriage, to Henry’s sickly older brother Arthur, was actually consummated. The way the show was filmed (and I could be wrong), it implies that they did consummate the marriage–and she changed her story later to fulfill what she believed was her destiny: to marry a prince of England and bring the two countries into alliance against their common enemy, France. This is a very different take on Katherine’s story; usually it is pretty much taken for granted that she was telling the truth and she and Arthur never had sex.

I like this entire concept of telling the story from the perspective that she actually lied in order to become Queen of England; and I’ve always believed, from the very first time I read the highly sympathetic biography of her by Mary M. Luke when I was eleven (Catherine the Queen), that she may have lied because it was in her best interest to do so.

And having lied, she could hardly admit, thirty years later, that she had.

Such a fascinating woman, really. I still am not certain any biography has truly done her justice.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. There’s cleaning and reading and writing to do; and I need to run some errands later.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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