Urgent

History is, as the adage goes, written by the winners, and that has always certainly held true of US history.

As Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware, I love me some history, and always have; ever since I was a kid. The history I learned in school, as well as how it was taught, instilled a deep pride in me, as a citizen, of my country and its history. But I never limited myself to the textbooks and the classroom; as a voracious reader with an appreciation and love for history, I often read history for its own sake, because I found it interesting, and felt that the slight overview/outline I was taught in public schools–and later, in college (I remember writing an essay for an American History course in college about the Spanish-American War on a test in a blue book–remember those? do they still use them?–and my extensive reading outside of class, throughout my life, of history enabled me to write in greater detail in my essay than most of my classmates, who had only the textbook chapters and the outside reading assigned me of Edmund Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt to draw from; I knew from outside reading that the king of Spain at the time was Alfonso XIII and he was a child; that his mother, Queen Maria-Christina, was the actual regent, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say I got an A, and the instructor wrote in the margins how pleased he was that I had clearly done so much outside reading/study on my own, even going so far as to suggest I switch to a History major; I sometimes wonder–particularly whenever I think about writing about history–if I indeed should have. That, however, would have taken my writing career in an entirely different direction) wasn’t as in-depth as I would like, and because of all the reading I did on my own, I always found myself bored in History classes.

Again, I probably should have majored in history.

Anyway, twentieth century history was never something I was terribly interested in when I was younger. I had a vague working knowledge of it; I certainly knew more than most of my fellow citizens, but my interests inevitably always lay further distant in the past. I certainly didn’t have a strong knowledge of the First World War, other than the basics: how it started, how old-fashioned notions of government and war which hadn’t truly responded to the great advances in industrialization and modernization of technology resulted in a horrifying bloodbath that convulsed Europe and killed millions unnecessarily over old-fashioned notions of the honor of dynasties and the corresponding idiocies of secret treaties and alliances and spats between imperial cousins; that the peace that followed in the wake of a bitter war resulted in a far worse global convulsion in less than three decades; and that the entry of the United States very late in the war swung the bloody stalemate into a victory by the Allies. (Also recommended reading: The Fall of the Dynasties by Edward Taylor. )

One of my fraternity brothers was a History major, and one spring afternoon after classes, as we took bong hits and listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, I asked him what his concentration was in, and he replied the First World War. What followed was a rather interesting conversation about the war and its causes, and the American entry–that was probably not as interesting as I recall; stoner conversations are never as interesting later as they seem at the time– and when I mentioned the Zimmermann Telegram, he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Oh, it was so obviously a forgery!” Since that was his concentration for his major, I always took that fact at his word; he was majoring in the subject so therefore I assumed he had done the research to back up that assertion, and as I was becoming rather cynical on the subject of our government and the propaganda that was public school history courses, it was easy to believe that the British and President Wilson (a horrific racist) could have quite easily collaborated to deceive the American public and thus swing public opinion in favor of American entry into the war.

As an enormous fan of Barbara Tuchman’s, I have been working my way through her canon, and so was quite interested to read her take on the telegram; she wrote a very short book on the subject, perhaps the shortest of her career, aptly titled The Zimmermann Telegram.

I generally always am reading some kind of non-fiction at the same time as I am tearing through my fiction choices; the lovely thing about reading non-fiction–particularly history–is that I don’t feel the same urgency to finish it; non-fiction is always there, waiting for you to come back to it, and since you already know how it’s going to come out, there’s not the same sense of desire to see how it all plays out. For The Zimmermann Telegram, for example, I knew the book would end with the United States entering the war; there are no surprise twists waiting for you in history when you already have a basic knowledge going into it–likewise, any biography of Mary Queen of Scots isn’t going to end differently. The historian’s analyses of the facts may be different than those of others already read, but the bare facts remain: history is history, facts are facts, and the only difference from one to another is the analyses and interpretations of the facts (I also have my own theories about Mary Queen of Scots–again, interpretations and analyses inevitably differ, and the winners do write history; which is why I deeply appreciated The Creation of Anne Boleyn, which pointed out that our modern day interpretations of her are based in letters and chronicles of the time, which were hardly fair; I could take make the same case for the Queen of Scots–but facts are facts: she was executed in 1587; she lost her throne in 1567; her marriages were her marriages and her son was her son). Tuchman’s analyses are heavily researched and formed from extensive reading–and she generally comes across as fairly impartial; she also writes in a reader-friendly style that brings the personalities of the people she writes about to life and is never, ever boring–a tendency in even the most non-academic writing styles of the majority of historians.

She makes a very strong case for the authenticity of the Zimmermann Telegram–bolstered primarily by the fact that the Germans admitted its authenticity at the time (which essentially guaranteed American entrance into the conflict as a belligerent, which was hardly in the best interests of the German Empire at the time), and there was also a follow-up telegram to the original, even more damning than the first–whose existence remained secret at the time and wasn’t revealed until after the war; because the British didn’t want the Germans to know they had broken their code and were reading their telegraphic communiqués. She also does an excellent job of setting the stage, giving all the perspectives from every side–the neutral American, the Allied, and the Central Powers–and this was a terrific, wonderful read, as are all of Ms. Tuchman’s works.

(If you are not aware of the Zimmermann Telegram, essentially it was an attempt of the German Empire to draw Mexico into the war against the US as an ally of the Central Powers should Wilson lead our country into the war; the Germans promised Mexico they would have German assistance in reconquering Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Germans were also trying to draw Japan into a war against the US–promising them American possession in the Pacific and perhaps even the Pacific Coast states…essentially predicting the second World War as an added, interesting twist. As you can well imagine, when this telegram was made public the entire country went from pacifism to a demand for war)

Next for my non-fiction reading pleasure: Robert Caro’s enormous and exhaustively researched The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Good morning, Wednesday, how is everyone holding up so far this week?

So Laura apparently isn’t going to be too much of a thing in New Orleans, but things aren’t looking good for eastern Texas/western Louisiana. Keep safe, my friends, and everyone else, do keep them in your thoughts and send them positive energy, as I certainly shall be doing until this too has passed. It’s similar to 2005’s Rita; following the same path and intensifying pattern. We’ll still get about 2 to 4 feet of storm surge into Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, and a lot of sudden, intense rain (street flooding), but for the most part, New Orleans has yet again dodged a bullet.

And compared to a direct hit, yes, that’s not too much of a thing in New Orleans.

It was very strange to not have to go into the office this week (I did have to go by yesterday–and will again today–to get more supplies) to do any work; especially when you take into consideration the vacation days I took last week. I’ve not been into the office to actually work now since last Wednesday–a full seven days–and it’s made me feel very disconnected from my job this morning; I really don’t know how all of you who’ve been having to work at home all this time without ever going into your offices have managed to do that without feeling untethered at best, disconnected at worst. At this point, it feels as though the pandemic has been going on forever, and the last days of what was previously our normal existence–late February, early March–seem like ancient history to me now, and I’ve already accepted the fact that life, that world, that way of existing, is gone forever. Whatever it is we will see when this ends–should it ever end–will be completely different. This is one of those “sea change” experiences, where life and society and culture change irrevocably forever. The world before the first World War ceased to exist after it ended; the interregnum between the two wars was a kind of stasis world, where all the problems unresolved by the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the crash of the American–and by extension, world–economy created a bizarre vacuum which fascism swept in to fill, with the inevitable war that followed–one that took a look at what had been, up to that time, called “the Great War” and basically said, “Hold my beer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The world in the spring of 1914 was almost completely different in almost every way in the fall of 1945–a span of only thirty one years.

So what will our world, culture and society look like in a post-pandemic environment? Will we ever get to said post-pandemic environment? Or will those of us who survive this look back at this time and say, “ah, yes, the beginning of the dystopia?”

How depressing. Which is one of many reasons why I never look forward or back, and try to live in the now. The now is depressing enough as is, if you let it be.

While I didn’t work on the book yesterday or read anything, I did educate myself somewhat by watching the Kings and Generals channel on Youtube, something I discovered recently. I watched the episodes on the Battle of Lepanto and The 1565 Siege of Malta, which were extremely informative and educational. I had previously watched the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Sack of Constantinople in 1204; the Battle of Mojacs; and the Siege of Vienna. Most of my study of European history has always been western-centric, primarily focusing on Great Britain, Spain, and France, with a smattering of Germany/Holy Roman Empire thrown in for good measure (and primarily the Hapsburgs); it is only recently that I’ve realized how much I’ve not looked at eastern Europe, other than some post Peter the Great Russian history–which also is primarily because it impacted western Europe. My knowledge of Asian history is non-existent; and if you ignore the scanty knowledge of ancient Egypt, I really don’t know much about African history either, other than the colonial period and not much of that. I also don’t know much about Latin America, either. Several years ago–after the Italy trip of beloved memory–I started looking into Venetian history, which is entangled heavily with that of the Byzantine Empire and its successor, the Ottoman Empire–both of which I know very little about, and as I started reading more about these eastern European empires (the Venetian included), I began to get a better concept and grasp on how little of world history I actually knew.

I would love to have the time to study more of the history of Constantinople/Istanbul, as the capital of two major historical empires that covered 1500 years of human history.

We also watched a two part documentary on HBO about the Michelle Carter/Conrad Roy case, I Love You Now Die. If the names mean nothing to you, it’s the case where the boyfriend committed suicide while his girlfriend was texting him supposedly ordering him to do it. The facts of the case–which I hadn’t really looked much into before–aren’t what they seem and it was an interesting case; her conviction, held up under appeal, set a legal precedent that can be seen as either scary or good. Was she a sociopath? Or were they both emotionally damaged teenagers locked into a strange co-dependent relationship that was actually toxic, made it even more dangerous because no one else knew how toxic it had actually become? As I watched, I wondered–as I am wont to do–how I would tell the story were I to fictionalize it, and finally decided that the best way to do it would be from multiple points of view: both mothers, the sister of the suicide, and one of the Michelle’s “friends” from high school–all of whom claimed to not be really friends of hers in the first place–and the real story is loneliness, on the parts of both kis, really. A truly sad story, without any real answers.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I also continued with my 1970’s film festival by watching the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, which is one of the most cynical political films I’ve ever seen–and almost every political film made since that time has been highly cynical. The 1970’s was an interesting decade for film; a transitional period where the old Hollywood was done away with once and for all and cynical, brutal realism took its place. Watching these films has also reminded me, sometimes painfully, how questionable style and design choices were in that decade–clothing, cars, buildings, etc. It was an ugly decade–remember the hair styles, with the carefully blown dry “feathered bangs” hair-sprayed into place? Sideburns and porn-staches? The bell bottoms and earth tones? The enormous steel cars that were essentially tanks? How dirty everything seemed, and how trash littered the sides of the roads and waterways? It’s all there in these films, as well as that dark, bitter cynicism.

The Candidate is about an idealistic young lawyer who works for social justice causes named Bill McKay, whose father was a powerful two-term governor of California. Recruited by a political operative played to sleazy perfection by Peter Boyle, McKay–who has always disdained politics–agrees to run for senator against a long-term, popular Republican incumbent. No one expects him to win, and McKay agrees to it so he can talk about issues that are important to him–and he immediately makes it clear he wants his campaign to  have nothing to do with his father. The movie follows him from his own first faltering public appearances and watches as he slowly develops into an actual politician. He’s perfectly fine with everything, and he wins the primary–but the numbers extrapolate to a humiliating defeat in the general…so he starts watering down his message, speaking in generalities and never addressing issues directly–and his campaign begins to take off, and winning becomes more important to him than the issues, to the point he even allows his father, played with sleazy perfection by two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas, to get involved in the campaign. He pulls off the upset and wins, and as the celebrations begin, he asks his campaign manager, “So, what happens now?” as no thought has ever been put into the future should he actually win; and that’s how the movie ends, with that question unanswered. It’s a very strong indictment of modern politics, and still relevant today; essentially, he wins because he is handsome and never says anything that means anything. We never really are sure, as the viewer, what he wants and what he stands for; which is a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers–we’re basically shown a little bit behind the curtain, but mostly we see what the voters would see. This movie doesn’t have a Frank Capra ending, but the typical cynical view of the 1970’s. The screenplay, incidentally, won an Oscar.

Aliens was the second movie on yesterday’s condom packing double feature. I had originally intended to watch Alien and Aliens back to back; don’t remember why I didn’t rewatch Aliens back then, but I didn’t, but I also figured it was equally appropriate to rewatch the day after rewatching Jaws, because it too is a monster movie, and one of the best of all time. Sigourney Weaver is even better in this one than she was in the first; and while I love Marlee Matlin and think she’s a terrific talent, I still think Weaver should have got the Oscar for this (if not for Alien). Once again, a primary theme for the movie is “no one listens to the woman who is always proven to be right”–amazing how timeless that theme has proven to be–and again, as in the first film, the Ripley character is given a relationship to soften her and make her more “womanly”; in the first film it’s the cat–which really, I felt, weakened her character, while at least in this one it’s the little girl, Newt, that she risks her life to go back for when everyone else, including me, is screaming get the fuck out of there are you fucking crazy? There are also some other terrific performances in this movie, which is a non-stop adrenaline ride, including Bill Paxton’s first performance of note as Hudson; Michael Biehn (why was he not a bigger star?) in a  great follow-up to The Terminator as Hicks; and Paul Reiser, who was so sleazily perfect as the company rep (and should have been nominated for an Oscar himself) that I have never been able to stand watching him in anything else since I saw this movie for the first time because I hated him so much as Burke that I cannot see him as anything else. Everyone in the cast is terrific; but there are some small things that date the film–Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez (would this still be a thing that far into the future?); the analog transmissions rather than digital; and of course–the cigarette smoking; would cigarettes never evolve over time?

If all goes well, I expect to be here tomorrow morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader.

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Right Place Wrong Time

Well, I survived Monday’s return to the office–and there wasn’t a body count.

It is, however, still early in the week.

Yesterday’s heat was simply insane. The heat index was about 115, I think, and it felt every one of those degrees every time I had to go outside. It was 95 last night when I drove home from work at eight o’clock, which is also just completely insane.

I did a little bit of writing yesterday, not much, trying to get going on the WIP again. I’m a little bit at sea with the WIP right now; not touching it over the course of my vacation wasn’t exactly much of a help, and the heat and everything  yesterday, as well as adjusting to getting back to the office, kind of made that a bit on the difficult side. I will, of course, try again tonight.

Paul also got home really late last night, so Scooter and I are no longer on our own here in the Lost Apartment anymore. I’m glad he’s home–he’s always gone just long enough for me to get over the “home alone” thing; I enjoy the solitude at first, and then it gets a bit lonely by the end of his trip. And now we can get caught up on everything we’re watching, which is also another one of those win-win things. Huzzah!

I’ve been watching Netflix’ The Last Czars, which I am enjoying–it’s very well done, and the actors cast playing Nicholas and Alexandra are perfectly cast; but it’s a little bit different watching a show about doomed royalty than it used to be. There’s been a kind of tectonic shift in my mind and my way of thinking, and while the story of the last Romanovs is certainly tragic on a human scale, on a national scale I don’t really have that much sympathy for them as I might have in the past. He was an ineffectual ruler, and they were both religious bigots; they actually believed they had a divine mission from God to be autocrats and sole authority in Russia; and therefore they were always in the right–as their people starved and his bad decisions and policies brought the country to the brink of ruin, while they lived and dined in luxury and spent, spent, spent. It’s really not hard to think they sort of deserved the basement in Ekaterinburg–and the way history is taught, I’ve come to realize, with its emphasis on royalty and nobility with no interest on the lives of the people whose bodies, taxes, and lives were exploited by the ruling class–all with the blessings of their religion–isn’t necessarily the right way to teach history. I’m not saying the lives of the rulers aren’t important to the histories, just that the emphasis on them is misplaced. History should be taught as the history of the people, and the development of law and modern government–which the people have had to fight for, every step of the way…one thing I’m enjoying about this show–an odd combination of documentary, reenactment, and actual footage from the time–is that it doesn’t shy away from the crimes or the arrogance of the Romanovs, especially when it comes to their people. There’s one particularly brilliant scene where Alexandra scolds Nicholas for even considering giving in and creating a duma (the Russian version of parliament), while the nation is on the brink of revolution. “They’ll want more,” she scoffs, convinced of their divine right to power, “they’ll always want more, and then what?” She wasn’t wrong about that, but she was most definitely wrong about their divine right, and she was almost always wrong about the people.

I have agreed to write a forward to a new edition of an almost forgotten gay classic back from the plague years; the book was published posthumously after the author died from AIDS in the early 1990’s. The author, Jay B. Laws, had only managed to write two gay horror novels before died; the first, Steam, is better known than the second, and is one of my favorite horror novels as well as one of my favorite gay novels. I had read the second, The Unfinished, years ago but it’s quite odd; I don’t remember anything about it, so rereading it is like reading it for the first time. It’s quite good, and I don’t think I’ll have any trouble writing the forward–and I am also glad this has kind of forced me into rereading the book, which is practically like a new book to me. And, as a gay novel, it fits into the Diversity Project quite nicely.

There’s a low-pressure zone drifting from mid-Georgia into the Gulf, which will most likely turn into either a tropical depression or a tropical storm; forecast to dump a shit ton of rain on wherever it comes to shore, either Thursday or Friday, possibly this entire weekend. Hurray. The water in the Gulf is also ridiculously warm–89 degrees off the coast of Louisiana, near the mouth of the river and New Orleans–which isn’t really going to help matters much. (This heat wave has me already dreading my next power bill.)

Oh, yes, I also spent some time rereading the opening chapters of the Kansas book, which I’d started revising one last time last summer before being pulled away into other projects, and it’s in much better shape than I had remembered–I was still marking up the pages with a highlighter and my pen–but it also has me thinking that perhaps this final rewrite isn’t going to be nearly as painful as I first thought, or had been thinking since I got pulled away from it to work on something else. Huzzah!

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

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Loves Me Like a Rock

Saturday.

So, yeah, yesterday was something. I slept relatively well on Thursday night, woke up at eight, and while doing my usual morning blogging over my coffee as I woke up, I kind of casually mentioned an idea for a book I had several years ago–and now that I think about it, talking about James Ellroy, which then morphed into talking about Megan Abbott’s staggeringly brilliant period noir novels was what brought it back to the front of my mind–and some friends on Twitter fell in love with the idea for the book and began pressing me to go ahead and write it, which was really unexpected and lovely and overwhelming and nice. I posted the blog entry, went and did the dishes, and when I came back to the computer my Twitter mentions had blown up (I think that’s the way to say that, hopeless Luddite that I am).  Then I walked away again, started laundering the bed lines and then cleaned the staircase only to come back to even more mentions, and some lovely new followers.

But like I always say, I never ever will have enough time to write everything that I want to write. I had already kind of decided that next year’s plan was to write three gay noirs I’d been wanting to write for quite some time (Chlorine was one of these, the others being Muscles and Heatstroke), and then a couple of weeks ago I sat down and wrote the first chapter of yet another Chanse book, despite the fact I’d officially retired the series with Murder in the Arts District several years ago. The Chanse story is already burning in my mind, aching to be written, and I’d kind of figured I’d try to get it written by the end of the year…and all the while these thoughts and ideas and creativity are running through my fevered little brain, I am also not working on the WIP or the revision of the Kansas book, which I kind of need to get done at some point….and there’s yet another unfinished manuscript (it needs another two drafts, at least) languishing in my CURRENT PROJECTS folder.

This is why writers drink.

I also spent some more time with Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, which is simply extraordinary. I’m not even a fifth of the way through and it’s a marvel I cannot recommend to you highly enough, Constant Reader; it makes me wish I was a judge reading for a Best First Novel award so I could pick it, it’s really that good.

But I did manage to get the proofing done, or at least a first pass at them (I’ll most likely do it again this weekend since I got a bit ahead on things with it). They aren’t due back until Monday, so I think I’ll probably give them another going over tomorrow, with fresher eyes again, just to make sure nothing gets missed. Huzzah!

I have to venture out into the heat today–we are in a heat warning, I think, and an air quality warning as well–to get the mail and make groceries. Usually going out into the heat drains me of all energy, but I think what I’m going to do when I get home is self-care–use the back roller/self massage thing, exfoliate my skin, shave my head and face, so a psoriasis treatment, take a long hot shower, and perhaps then recline for a moment or two in my easy chair with Angie Kim’s novel.

I’ve not written a word this entire vacation, but I am going to get my proofs finished, which is lovely, and I’ve gotten a lot of cleaning done, too. I’ve wasted more time than I’ve spent doing things, but I don’t care. I’m allowed to have some down time, and I feel very rested, which is cool. I also seem to have trained myself to go to bed every night around ten…and get up around eight. Ten hours of sleep per night has been lovely; no wonder I’m rested, right? Also, I’ve managed to stay off social media for most of the time, other than yesterday’s Chlorine-fueled blowing up of my Twitter mentions. I also have discovered these amazing, short videos on Youtube that look at some moment in history–the Wars of the Roses, the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Hundred Years’ War, Charlemagne’s empire–with animation, humor and all in under ten minutes. They’re terribly clever, and are also informative in a very macro way; there was a lot, for example, that I didn’t know about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that was filled in by the video explaining it in ten minutes, which also explained how the British came to be in charge of Palestine and Egypt, as well as how the French wound up with Algeria–which I’d never really known before. This also led me to researching the history of the Franco-Spanish kingdom of Navarre; I never really quite understood how Henri IV, King of France, managed to be the son of a regnant queen of Navarre–particularly since Navarre is barely ever mentioned throughout European history (Richard the Lion-Hearted’s wife was from Navarre); I now understand it.

I love how, despite knowing more history than most people, there are so many gaps in what I do actually know.

I also need to figure out what I have agreed to write. I think there are at least three anthologies I want to write for, or have been asked to write for, so I need to figure out the deadlines and what I want to write for them. I am going to try for the Mystery Writers of America anthology again–I have a story already written that fits; it just needs some serious tweaking and revising before submission–and I think there are three others I’ve been asked to contribute something to? I really have been scattered this spring/early summer, which is disconcerting. I also, because of all the Chlorine stuff on Twitter yesterday, sat down and wrote down all the manuscripts I have started and have some version of finished, as well as the others I want to do, and some others I’ve been asked to pitch, and I am sure it will come as no surprise that Greg, the underachieving overachiever, has ten books on said list; and I want to do them all.

And of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t have more ideas in the meantime, either.

This is also why writers drink.

Correction: I just remembered two more, so it’s a list of twelve.

Yup, I am certifiably insane, in case there was ever any doubt.

And on that note, the bathtub isn’t going to scrub itself, the bastard.

Off to the spice mines, have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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O Say Can You See

The 4th of July; the supposed birthday of the United States of America, aka Independence Day.

It really isn’t the nation’s birthday, but rather the anniversary of the day that the thirteen English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard essentially said enough, and declared themselves to be free of the yoke of what they saw as royal and parliamentary tyranny; the war against the English had been going on for just over a year at this point, and the troubles between Mother England and her thirteen American daughters for just over ten years at this point.

As Constant Reader is aware, Gregalicious loves him some history. The United States did not spring into existence on July 4, 1776; the very concept of a “united states” was neither broached nor discussed during the process of the development of the Declaration of Independence, summarized in the previous paragraph (which leaves out, and/or ignores some very pertinent and important details).

The creation of the United States occurred eleven years later, in 1787, with the development and ratification of our true founding document; the Constitution. How the Constitution came into being is beautifully and intelligently described in one of my favorite books of history, Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Bowen’s book describes the painstaking process through which our government was developed, written, and agreed to by representatives of the thirteen independent states, and the lengthy, seemingly endless debates, held over between these extraordinary men during the oppressive heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer.

In the centuries since the Constitutional Convention, those Founding Fathers, those colonial Americans, have become rather deified in histories and common parlance; a pantheon of truly American gods whose names and reputations should never be besmirched or discussed in  human terms. But remarkable men as they were; they were also men, and they were, as such, just as flawed and complicated as any modern American. Thomas Jefferson had a slave as mistress, who also bore him numerous children; John Adams was not only vain but petty; and so on.

Of course the Constitution did not outlaw slavery, one of the country’s original sins; the repercussions of which are still felt today. The debates over slavery, the debates over the power of government and the freedoms held most dear, make for fascinating reading, even if one most always keep in mind the white supremacy that absolutely and positively drove almost every delegate at the convention. The United States was formed with only concerns for the rights of straight white men of European descent, and almost every freedom for the individual put into the document was for the benefit of straight white men–i.e. predicated on what they saw as abuses of their rights and privileges by the British government during the colonial period.

The ideals of the country, as set forth in this founding document which is still the basis for our government some two and a half centuries later, are most impressive; we have, as a nation, failed to live up to those ideals regularly. The founders’ compromises on slavery, their determination to make horrific compromises in order to forge a nation, unfortunately directly led to the sectional strife and divide that led to our bloodiest conflict, the Civil War, less than a hundred years after the Constitution was ratified. But even that conflict didn’t resolve the issues of white supremacy; racial conflict and strife continue to this day. The Constitution didn’t give women the right to vote or participate in the government; that didn’t come until 1920, and the equal rights of women are still not enshrined in the law to this day. Women are also still playing catch-up when it comes to representation in government either. All of our presidents have been men, and most elected officials to this day are primarily men. Racial equality is still a dream, an ideal, that we are still struggling to achieve; LGBTQ+ Americans also still are not seen as full citizens in the eyes of the law just yet.

And yet I love my country, despite its many flaws, despite its inability to live up to its founding ideals and the years of  floundering when it comes to equality for everyone un the eyes of the law. Our system is flawed because human beings are flawed; and we still have a ways to go before we are finally the nation of free people envisioned by those men in Philadelphia in 1787.

Here are the words Jefferson wrote in 1776, stirring words and ideals that we as Americans must continue to strive to achieve.

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

“Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

“For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

“For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

“He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Happy 4th of July to all.

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Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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Here Comes the Sun

For right now, I am trying to clear my head and figure out what I need to do. In the meantime….

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been watching Versailles and really enjoying it. I often talk about the sixteenth century and how I am utterly fascinated by it; I also love the seventeenth century, but in that particular century my fascination is almost entirely with France. Don’t get me wrong–the Stuarts in England were very interesting, and Charles II and the restoration period is definitely one of my favorites; but my heart, alas, is really in France.

And part of that, of course, has to do with Louis XIV.

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The Sun King, le Roi Soleil, le Grande Monarch. The third king from the house of Bourbon, who took the throne at age five and reigned for seventy-two years; which is the longest reign by a king (there were dukes and princes who ruled longer; but his was the longest for an actual King) in European history. His father was Louis XIII, the feckless and foppish king from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers; his mother was Anne of Austria, the Spanish princess whose honor the Musketeers and d’Artagnan were trying to protect/save (despite the fact, of course, that covering up the Queen’s adulterous affair with the Duke of Buckingham, the nation’s biggest enemy, was actually treason). His younger brother was Phillippe, duc d’Orleans; from whom most of Europe’s royal houses are descended. Louis XIV was the king who said l’etat c’est moi (I am the state), ruled without a chief minister, and centralized all political power in France in the person of the King; making him an absolute monarch and the envy of every other king in Europe who chafed under the rules and restrictions placed upon them by their governing bodies.

He also built the magnificent palace that was (is) Versailles; and because nobles couldn’t be trusted away from court–and also because he didn’t trust Paris, he made it mandatory for the court to live at Versailles, where he could keep his eye on them. It enhanced and centralized his power, but at the same time it planted the seeds for the eventual collapse of the French monarchy. But he built France into the major power all of Europe always had feared it could become; the conspiracies and ambitions of the great nobles had crippled the country for centuries–going back to the Norman conquest, which made the great northern province of Normandy the property of the king of England, setting both countries on the road to centuries of war and hatred.

Louis XIV fought several major wars in his later years, and France lost both, and was greatly weakened by those wars. But one must also take into consideration the fact that it took almost ALL of Europe combined years to defeat France in first the War of the Grand Alliance, followed almost directly by the War of the Spanish Succession. The fact that France was able to rally so quickly after defeat to wage another major war against almost all of Europe is indicative of just how strong and powerful the country became under Louis XIV. (Germany was also divided and squabbling for centuries, but that’s a tale for another time.)

I heard about this series a while ago, and it’s only recently become available in the US. I got it from iTunes.

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The series takes place early in the reign of Louis XIV, shortly after his mother/regent Anne of Austria has died and he has taken control of the reins of government. (No mention of Cardinal Mazarin, though.) Louis’ distrust of his nobility and his capital came from the civil wars known as the Fronde, which took place when he was still in his minority, and were basically a revolt of the nobility–which the backing of the Parisians–against his mother and Cardinal Mazarin’s regency. It was eventually suppressed, but Louis never trusted his nobles again, nor did he ever live in Paris once he started turning his father’s hunting lodge at Versailles into the palace it became.

The show is beautiful. I know some of it was shot on location at Versailles itself, and the palace is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I cannot imagine how amazing it must be in person. I’ve always wanted to go there, and now I really do.

The costumes! The sets! I love the way men dressed–well, royalty and the nobility, anyway–during this period. (The 1974 version of The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite movies of all time.)

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Stunning.

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And of course, the fountains and the grounds.

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The plot itself isn’t great–it gets off to a very slow start; and Louis XIV, while interesting, isn’t Henry VIII; his life doesn’t quite loan itself to the soapy fun that was The Tudors.

But they did not shy away from his brother Philippe’s sexuality…Monsieur, as he was known, preferred men to women; he had lots of children with his two wives, but he always had a male lover, or “favorite”, as they were called then.

I’m enjoying it, but it may not to be everyone’s tastes.

Let Her In

I often talk about the sixteenth century, primarily in the context of how in that particular century women held major positions of power, or were in positions to not only have an impact on history but did. Constant Reader knows I love me some history–right now I am thoroughly enjoying Versailles and having a bit of a seventeenth century period–but during this past football season, during games, I was rereading a book I first read when I was ten years old: Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots.

Ah, the tragic romantic heroine that is the Queen of Scots! I first discovered her, I think, when I was maybe eight years old when I read Genevieve Foster’s John Smith and His World; and there really wasn’t much about her, as Smith was only alive in the late Elizabethan period. I do remember reading the entry about her execution, and about how her spaniel was hidden inside her skirts as she went to her death–and how when the headsman held up her head, she was wearing a wig, her head fell to the ground, and the whimpering spaniel curled up around it.

How romantic! Almost sounds like the start of a ghost story, doesn’t it? “And ever after, at Fotheringhay Castle, the sound of a whimpering spaniel could be heard on the anniversary of her mistress’ death.”

Hmmmm….

Anyway, the first book I read about Mary Queen of Scots was one I found in the school library (her title always bothered me–shouldn’t it have been Queen of THE Scots?), and it was sanitized for children, and again, highly romantic: Mary was a romantic heroine, doomed by her gender to be treated as a pawn by the men of her court and, of course, her cousin Queen Elizabeth I was the villain of the piece. The 1971 film, with Vanessa Redgrave as Mary and Glenda Jackson (who was AMAZING) as Elizabeth pretty much told the same story; Mary was a romantic heroine and Elizabeth the villain.

It makes for a lovely narrative, and it’s one that is incredibly popular in fiction; the young beautiful Scottish queen who falls in love with and marries her cousin Lord Darnley only to realize it’s a colossal mistake, but then throws everything away because of her deep love for the Earl of Bothwell, winds up imprisoned by her wretched cousin Elizabeth who eventually has her executed. It does make for a lovely story.

Fraser, in her bestselling biography, tried to get to the truth of who Mary was, rather than paying lip-service to the romantic narrative. It is her thesis that Mary was actually much smarter than anyone at the time or since has given her credit for; and that her decisions weren’t emotional but made coolly as political moves in the game of thrones she was playing–and the end goal, of course, was to ascend the throne of England, uniting the entire island into one realm; an ambition her son James finally achieved.

Mary’s life, once she started getting into her marriage entanglements, was the stuff of high drama. She inherited her throne when her father died from wounds inflicted in the Battle of Solway Moss against the English; she was only six days old. She was the third child of King James V and his second, French wife, Marie de Guise; her two older brothers died of fevers while her mother was carrying her. (Inheriting the Scottish throne as children was a sad Stewart family tradition; James V was less than a year old when his own father was killed in battle–again against the English–in the Battle of Flodden Field; Mary herself abdicated in favor of her own son when he was less than a year old; James I was only twelve when he became king; James II was only seven; James III was nine, and James IV fifteen. These minority reigns helped empower the Scottish nobility and prevent the throne from becoming strong, as it did in say England, France and Spain.)

Her royal family was Stewart; her marriage to her cousin Henry Stuart changed the dynasty to the English spelling, which is why the royal family of England was known as the Stuarts, not Stewarts.

Her grandmother was Margaret Tudor, eldest surviving child of Henry VII of England and elder sister of Henry VIII, which is where her claim to the English throne came from. Until the birth of Edward VI to Henry VIII’s third wife in 1537, James was the only male heir to England. The marriage of Edward VI to young Mary was probably the wisest move, uniting the two crowns and ending centuries of strife between the two kingdoms, but Marie de Guise, Mary’s mother, was French and instead sent her infant daughter to the French court, where she was engaged to the Dauphin. The Tudor direct line ended with Henry VIII’s children, who were all childless; the death of Edward VI in 1553 brought the Catholic Mary to the throne. Once Mary died in 1558, Elizabeth became queen; but Catholics didn’t recognize Elizabeth’s legitimacy–Henry’s marriage to her mother Anne Boleyn was bigamous in the eyes of the Catholic Church and so therefore Elizabeth was a bastard. The nearest legitimate heir, in their eyes, was the young Queen of Scots–who was married to the heir to the French throne and a Catholic.

Obviously, the thought of those three crowns being united was a threat to both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, so they recognized Elizabeth. A year later Mary and her husband were King and Queen of France–a year later Mary was a childless widow returning to Scotland. Elizabeth never forgave her for claiming herself to be queen of England; and the game of thrones was on.

Four years after her return, Mary married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. This is where it gets complicated. Margaret Tudor, Mary’s grandmother, only had one child with James IV; after he died she married again and had a daughter, Margaret Douglas–who had no claim to the Scottish throne but a claim to England as a Tudor. She in turn married Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox–who was a descendant of James I and thus also was an heir to the Scottish throne. Their son Henry thus had claims to both thrones; he married Mary, and their son James would obviously be King of Scotland thru his mother; had a claim through his paternal grandfather, and a claim to the English throne from both his mother AND his father, both of whom were great-grandchildren of Henry VII.

Madness.

Lord Darnley, her husband, and other lords of the court were jealous of her closeness to her Italian secretary, and they murdered him in front of her when she was about six months pregnant. Somehow, later that night, as a prisoner of her husband and lords, Mary convinced her husband to come back to her side and they escaped together, rose an army, and with her loyal lords defeated the conspirators–who included her illegitimate brother. Mary had a son, and then, a few months later, her husband was murdered–the house he was recuperating from an illness in was blown up, but his strangled body was found in the gardens. Mary then married the Earl of Bothwell, who was commander of her armies–it was an incredibly volatile time, the Queen was Catholic and most of her subjects were not–and so it was very easy for public opinion to turn against her; particularly since most people believed Bothwell had murdered her husband so he could marry her.

Was she complicit? The marriage made it appear so–and soon enough her army was defeated, she was a prisoner, and forced to abdicate. She escaped to England, where Elizabeth promptly placed her under house arrest.

George R. R. Martin has nothing on the Queen of Scots.

She was eventually implicated in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth–after being a prisoner for almost twenty years–was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death.

So, was she a wanton adulteress and murderess? Was she a silly woman who allowed her emotions to lead her down the wrong path, or was she a calculating player who wound up being outplayed? Despite her high station, she had a pampered and spoiled childhood, and wasn’t raised or educated to be a regnant Queen; it was always assumed her husband the King of France would rule for her. So the odds were stacked against her from the beginning; and she learned her lessons the hard way; unlike her contemporary, Elizabeth, who spent her childhood and early twenties with the shadow of the executioner across her neck.

Fraser does a great job of defending her thesis; I’ve read many other books about both the royal cousins and the game they played with each other, and I think Fraser probably paints the most accurate picture of the Queen of Scots: a smart woman who played the game against overwhelming odds and lost.

Is there anything so romantic as a lost cause?

One of the biggest disappointments of the CW show Reign was, in order to try to draw in the younger audience, they told the story when she was a young girl in France–probably the most boring part of her life. Her life in Scotland was MUCH more interesting, and would have made for greater television. The best part of Reign was Megan Follows as Queen Catherine de Medici of France–one of the most fascinating women in history. Apparently, the struggle between the cousin queens became a part of the story in the third season…but Paul and I had bored of the show long before then.

And now back to the spice mines.