Treacherous

Tuesday morning, and. the second day of paid vacation leave. Yesterday was a pretty good day, all in all–I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have liked; but I did get some things done and progress was made. I also went to the gym, which was lovely; I actually identified which exercise I was doing that was causing my back to be sore–and frankly, it was one I didn’t like to do–so I eliminated it and substituted another one. My back is still a little sore today, but nothing like it was before and in fact, last night it didn’t hurt at all. So, again–progress.

“The Rosary of Broken Promises” now sits at a solid three thousand words, and in all honesty, I am just vomiting up on the page and will worry about cleaning it all up later. It’s going well–definitely will require revision and rework; as I said, I’m just kind of feeling my way through the story and figuring out who my main character is (and resisting the urge, which is constant, to turn it into the opening of another stand alone novel) and why he is who he is; the story, ostensibly a poor family’s Christmas story, has already taken a much darker turn than I’d originally intended. But it fits, it works, it makes the story darker and richer and more personal than what I was originally thinking when I sat down to write it. It’s definitely not right for that anthology call that inspired me to be writing a Christmas story to begin with, and seriously, I am not sure where it might be right for (always a problem with writing short stories–figuring out where to sell them) but I. like the story a lot and, as always, my worst case scenario would be another short story collection of my own.

And being creative, actually writing, is fun.

We finished watching Le Manti last night. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I was very disappointed with the incredibly lazy way the writers came up with for who the copycat killer actually was; it was a stereotype thing which has been already debunked, discredited, and is incredibly harmful. Then again, it was a French show and I don’t know how things work in France when it comes to things like this. It was quite a shame, because this laziness was unexpected, given the care they had taken with the story, the characters, and their past histories–and their current relationships. It’s a shame, because overall I enjoyed the show until that point and would happily recommend it, but now I feel like I can’t. Maybe they thought they were being edgy; I don’t know, but it was still terribly disappointing, especially in 2020.

Today I have some more errands to run–Paul wants to go to Costco (I knew he would become an addict the first time I took him there) and I have a prescription to pick up, and there’s a way to do all of this (and a few others) in a nice timely and efficient manner, which is always lovely. I don’t have to go to the gym today since I went yesterday, so other than that excursion, I’ll be home for most of the day, so there’s no reason I can’t write, read, and clean all day.

Other than utter laziness, of course.

I think tonight we’re going to watch that Sarah Paulson Hulu film, Run, which is another take on the Gypsy Blanchard thing–the mom who has Munchhausen’s by proxy and is making her child ill–but it’s done like a horror film rather than a drama, which is an interesting twist that I like an awful lot–although the concept of chronically sick children turning out to have been made ill by a psychotic caregiver is slowly turning into a stereotype.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

I’d Lie

And here comes Tuesday, sliding into your week like a runner stealing home base.

Yesterday was kind of nice; we had a mellow day at the clinic, and I wasn’t terribly tired; I am getting used to getting up early, which really isn’t an issue as long as I remember to go to bed at a decent hour every evening. I never really thought this 9 to 5ish existence would ever work for me, but here I am, enjoying getting home from work with most of my evening ahead of me to read, write, hang out with Paul and Scooter, and watch some television. I was bad about reading this weekend–which should not be blamed on what I am reading (Westlake’s The Hot Rock) but rather my own scatterbrain and inability to focus. The weekend was…well, it was a weekend, of course, and I did manage to get some cleaning and organizing done. I took next week off, hoping that I’d be able to go home to see the family for the holiday but that isn’t going to be happening, so instead I will be home in the Lost Apartment, and what a great opportunity this will be for me to get caught up on things–cleaning, filing, writing, reading– as long as I don’t fall into the always happens trap of I have nine days off total, I can goof off today, can’t I?

That’s how it always starts, you know.

But….there’s a call for submissions (very short notice) that I would like to write a story for–a “monsters wreck Christmas” themed one–and while ironically that is how “The Snow Globe” originally got started (a “war on Christmas” anthology), I did have more time to compose that story. I really do like this idea of monsters wrecking Christmas. I have two deeply sentimental Christmas stories in my archive that I might be able to adapt–although rereading them will undoubtedly be painful; these original first drafts were written in 1996–but I also have another fragment that could easily be turned into something fitting this theme: “The Pestilence Maiden.” That could actually be kind of fun. But fifteen days? That’s a very short period of time for me to brainstorm and come up with something and write it, polish it, turn it in….ah, what the hell. I’ll go forward with it; the worst thing they can do is reject it, and I can always retool/rework/revise it and sell it somewhere else.

It’s what writers do.

Plus, it puts pressure on me to get things done. And apparently, pressure is something I desperately need else nothing will ever get done.

And seriously–a quick Internet search of monsters, legends and folklore of Louisiana certainly brings up a plethora of possibilities…clearly, my collection of horror stories shouldn’t be Monsters of New Orleans but Monsters of Louisiana.

You really gotta love Louisiana folklore. Seriously. I went into a definite Internet wormhole of Louisiana folklore, tradition, and terrifying supernatural creatures last evening, even dragged out my copy of Gumbo Ya-Ya..there was nothing in it about the Fee Folay (in French, le feu follet), aka the Cajun Fairy, which lures unsuspecting Cajuns to their deaths in the swamps, but it does have some information on letiche–which is either the ghost of an unbaptized child or a child taken and raised by alligators. Rather than helping me narrow my thoughts down to a single story, I now have a veritable plethora of Louisiana horrors to choose from; alas, I have already done the most famous, the rougarou, in a story (aptly titled “Rougarou”). But yeah, all this made Monsters of Louisiana look like a definite possibility; I may even be able to do both Monsters of New Orleans and Monsters of Louisiana as separate volumes.

I’ve actually never read Gumbo Ya-Ya–it was recommended to me years ago as an essential piece of Louisiana reading, so I got a copy. I think it was shortly thereafter that I found out, or realized, that any histories or Louisiana subjects covered by any of the three authors of the book (Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant, and Edward Dreyer) was at best suspect and at worst untrue; the authors were certainly ‘gentlemen of their time’ (aka deeply racist, not only in their thinking but in their writings); but it’s a nice place to start looking for information, as is their other works of New Orleans and/or Louisiana history.

I slept very well last night–we watched two episodes of Mr. Mercedes, and have only the first season finale left; Peacock insists that we pay to join if we want to watch the next season, and I really am not sure how I feel about buying another streaming service. Sure, there are things on Peacock I like (and secret: they’ve optioned a series by a friend of mine that I hope actually winds up being filmed and available), but I already am paying for so many other streaming services I don’t see how I can justify paying for another–and Hulu just let me know yesterday they are upping their price ten dollars per month. Of course, I could pay to join, finish the show, and then cancel after a month, which would be way cheaper than buying the series from either Prime or Apple…heavy sigh, I don’t know. Why is the cost of everything increasing but my salary isn’t?

Ah, well, and on that note–it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

Beautiful Eyes

So here we are on Thursday and how is everyone?

I’m doing okay, myself. I got home from work last night and headed to the gym for a nice workout, before repairing back to the Lost Apartment and the ongoing struggle to maintain order and neatness to the Greg-sty. I slept extremely well, and am waking up gradually this morning. It’s a work-at-home day, so soon I will be entering data and making condom packs. I also discovered that a lot of the Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch that were on Prime and then disappeared are now on Peacock–some require paying for a membership, which I am resisting currently as I already pay way too much for way too many premium services–but there were also some terrific films on there for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival that Id’d been looking for, so I started adding things to the watch list while I waited for Paul to come home from the gym. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll watch today while I make condom packs, but there are a plethora of options for me now. …and no matter how much I am paying for streaming, it still is far far less than the Cox Cable bill used to be.

We watched another two episodes of A Teacher on Hulu last night, and while it’s interesting enough, last night as we watched (the trigger warnings! My God) I commented, “isn’t it interesting how female teacher/male student stories get so much attention? What about all the male teachers who get into inappropriate relationships with female students? Is it so commonplace that films and television shows depicting them are considered cliche? I’d almost rather see a show about a gay teacher having an inappropriate relationship with a student–although that would play into that wretched ‘all gays are pedophiles’ trope.” Paul also pointed out–props to him–that the true-life stories about female teachers/male students inevitably reveal a relationship; the women don’t see themselves as predators and fall in love with the boys; the male teachers who prey on their students do not and are serial predators, quickly moving on to the next student while leaving the girl feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and abused–and generally don’t report it (as we saw as the #metoo movement swept the country a few years back).

I also believe the male teacher/female student dynamic is more common–but that also could be my cynical gay man coming out yet again.

I also did something last evening that I’ve not done in years–I put my contacts in to wear to the gym. I’ve not put contacts in for quite some time–probably well over a year. I like contacts and would prefer not to wear my glasses, but the prescription is too weak for my eyes now (so are my glasses) so I can’t really function with them in. But I was also tired of my glasses fogging up from wearing a mask to work out in and breathing hard; so I thought I’d try to wear my contacts again. It wasn’t the worst experience, and henceforth I will most likely continue to do so in the future. I don’t object to wearing contacts–I used to wear them all the time–the reason I stopped is because my eyes have gotten so bad I need progressive lenses, and I don’t really like how they work; I’m sure they work fine for others, but they don’t progress as quickly as I would like, which gets weird for me. On the other hand, maybe wearing them more regularly will get me used to them. Who knows?

I also need to get better focused and get back to writing. I’ve figured out the Kansas book, and I’ve also figured out Bury Me in Shadows (about fucking time on both) and once I get this short story edited and revised, I can dive back into them. I have to work on “The Snow Globe,” and will probably do so today after I finish the condom packs and before Paul gets home. That will free up the weekend to deep dive back into Bury Me in Shadows. I’m also taking the week of Thanksgiving off, so I can get deeper into my “clean like you’re moving” project as well as working on the book and trying to get it all caught up. I’m really excited about getting back to work on the Kansas book (aka #shedeservedit) because I have finally figured out how to write it properly, and what the proper framing device (I always knew it needed one, I just couldn’t figure out how to do it) would be.

I also want to write a story for the next MWA anthology submission process, and the deadline for that is January 15th. I have three stories in progress that would work for its theme; and I’ve pretty much decided which one I want to finish and submit for that; I just need to get a first draft finished so I can work the whole thing out. This is great news for one Gregalicious, and I am quite pleased.

And on that note, I’m going to get another cup of coffee and get started on my day. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

Mine

Wednesday dawns, the midpoint of the week has been achieved, and all is right with the world.

The LSU-Alabama game has been postponed, and most likely will end up being cancelled–and the LSU-Arkansas game the next week is in jeopardy as well. Obviously, even though it is highly likely they would have lost both games–and probably very badly–I hate to see it. 2020 has really been a season LSU and its fans would like to forget, and get a lovely do-over for 2021. The good news about this is it completely frees up my Saturday for cleaning and writing and doing things. This is not a bad thing, really; as Constant Reader is well aware, I am behind on everything and so….yeah. Having an extra day where I am not completely distracted by football is probably a very good thing for one Gregalicious.

I have also decided, thanks to the inspiration of a co-worker making the decision to not renew her lease and find a new, more affordable place to live, that it’s time to really really de-hoard the Lost Apartment. As I was looking around the apartment tonight while I waited for the water to boil for the noodles for the evening meal, I realized we’ve lived here for fifteen years (more or less), and as such, we’ve settled in as people tend to do and started acquiring, and hanging on to, things. What we need to do, I thought, glancing around at stack of books and bags of beads/throws and cat toys and magazines, is clean like we’re going to move–deciding what is worth packing and what is not worth moving, and get rid of the stuff we wouldn’t move.

It was a rather inspired thought, and I found myself looking at things that have accumulated with a much more critical eye–and also allowed my cynical inner queen to come out. You’re never going to reread this, I found myself thinking as my eyes moved over the spines of books, and if you haven’t read this by now you never will. The library will take everything you don’t want.

And so this weekend the purge will begin. I had already started going through drawers and cabinets in the kitchen and the laundry room and ditching things (you can buy outlet adapters again if you go back to Europe) ad well as finding things I’d long since forgotten I possessed.

Last night we started to watch a show on Hulu called A Teacher; it looks to be another one of those dramas about a young teacher seducing one of. her students. It’s okay–I’m curious to see how they are going to put a new spin on this story that isn’t Mary Kay Letourneau or To Die For, but each episode is also only about half an hour so we aren’t so heavily vested we can’t quit if it and when it becomes tedious. Kate Mara plays the title character, and Nick Robinson from that dreadful Love, Victor plays the student. We’ll give it another episode or so before making a final decision to quit or keep going. We’d started Killing Eve‘s third season on Hulu over the weekend, but it is riddled with commercials–so many commercials–that the narrative was too broken up to become terribly involving, and as such we decided to give up on it and see if it eventually comes to Netflix. I’m not really sure how they can really keep that series going, but the first two seasons were quite excellent.

It’s also Pay-the-Bills day, always a depressing if satisfying day; it pleases my sense of order to pay the bills and tick them off, yet depresses me as I watch my checking account dwindle. Ah, well, isn’t that the American Dream? Work really hard so you can pay the bills and possibly buy groceries, if you’re lucky?

I also wound up not going to the gym last night. I had my labs done yesterday and while it wasn’t a lot of blood, I really didn’t think it was the best idea for me to go to the gym while I was low on blood. I’ll go tonight, which actually makes more sense–I don’t have to get up at six tomorrow morning, after all–and so it only makes more sense to go Wednesdays and Fridays rather than Tuesdays and Thursdays. But we’ll see how it goes next week. I am taking Thanksgiving week off–which will be lovely–with the end goal of trying to get caught up on everything. I am going to try that this weekend (since there’s no game on Saturday) and I need to really start focusing. Time is slipping through my fingers…but over the last few days I realized what is missing from Bury Me in Shadows (which is helpful, so I can now go into it and fix it) and I finally solved the big problem with the Kansas book (#shedeservedit)–and wrote it down, detailed, in my journal and then flagged the page with a post-it note. So, despite being behind I am in pretty good shape with the manuscripts and the thinking the stories through part; I just need to really hunker down and focus on the task at hand and get everything finished.

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

The Way I Loved You

I feel so much better that I’m almost afraid to trust it, frankly.

Last night I fell back into the Internet wormhole about the protective forts built to safeguard New Orleans years ago–there are more of them than you might think, and sadly, most of them are either unsafe to visit or hard-near-impossible to reach (Fort St. Philip particularly; only accessible by helicopter or boat). I’m thinking of debuting my fictional interest in Fort St. Philip in a short story–the idea came to me last night, and while it’s not fully formed, it’s there–but while making notes (as I did madly yesterday, and not just about Fort St. Philip but about the other forts protecting the city) it started coming together for me. We’ll see–I still have to work on the revisions of “The Snow Globe” and I still need to finish writing “A Dirge in the Dark”–and I am not entirely certain how one would define the story in the first place.

I slept really well again last night, which was lovely I am apparently adapting (at long last) to this “get up early” schedule, which is, while emotionally an unappealing thought, rather satisfying. I am hoping to be really productive today–have to go to the gym tonight after work–and then back to the story. We got caught up last night on this week’s episode of The Undoing, which I am finding more and more interesting with each episode–although my initial suspicion was the plot twist at the end of this week’s episode.

I’m feeling better now than I have in a very long time. I’m not entirely certain why that is–perhaps I am finally getting used to life in a pandemic? And while I am not entirely on board with the idea that I am used to life in a pandemic–it’s not something I think any of should have to get used to, intellectually–it is what it is, and I of all people need to get out of this weird stasis feeling I’ve had since March and get back to working on my writing and getting this apartment back under control. I also would like to get back into my reading groove; I’ve not read anything in novel form in quite some time and I really do need to get back into reading again. Reading always inspires me and helps get me into my writing groove, and The Hot Rock, cleverly written and intricately plotted, should prove inspiring.

I have several other books on hand that I am interested in getting to read soon–which I will not do until I am finished with The Hot Rock–including a reread of The Bad Seed, which I’ve not read since I was a teenager, in addition to an old Fletcher Knebel story, Night of Camp David, and I do want to reread Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages–and of course, there are short stories everywhere.

The LSU-Alabama game this weekend is in question because of COVID positivity amongst the LSU team; if the game is cancelled, it’s just going to be cancelled, as LSU is out of bye weeks and has already had to reschedule the Florida game, and there simply is no more time in this abbreviated schedule to reschedule this game. I am not saying this wouldn’t be an enormous relief for LSU fans, but the way they team is playing, and the way Alabama is playing this year–well, it would be an extremely excruciatingly painful experience for the team and fans. It’s already questionable whether I would inflict such pain on myself by watching–the collapse of the LSU program this season has already been horrific enough to witness–but what kind of fan would I be if I gave up on them? I never gave up on the Saints–even in 2005–so it would be wrong for me to bail on this benighted season.

Yesterday, the preview trailer for the Hulu series adaptation of The Hardy Boys dropped, and as expected, right on cue, all the “fan pages” I belong to on Facebook went insane. IN-fucking-sane. (However I always find the collective outrage of fevered fan boys and girls most amusing.) My personal favorite was the person who stated that he “hates adaptations that don’t follow the book(s) strictly”–which made me laugh out loud.

Um…has any book ever been filmed and adhered strictly to the original text? Outside of Rosemary’s Baby and a handful of others….yeah, he must not watch a lot of adaptations.

I really need to write a Scotty book about kids’ series fans.

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

The 1

November 1st, or All Saints’ Day; which is the perfect day for a Saints game, don’t you think? LSU lost yesterday, badly, and while it was incredibly disappointing to watch, I felt worse for the players. We always forget, regardless of how talented they are, they’re really little more than kids. And since so many starters are either true freshman or sophomores…I think they’ll be really good next year…if they can survive what looks to be a season on par with the late 1990’s. Yeesh.

I am up ridiculously early because of Daylight Savings time; I’d be up early regardless, but I am wide awake and decided, since I have to get up early the next three mornings, that it made sense to go ahead and get up now–one advantage of the so-called “extra hour” (because if 2020 needs anything, it’s more time) is that by not using that hour to get extra sleep, I can recalibrate my body clock to my own advantage for the next few mornings. The sun isn’t up yet completely, but the cutting down of the crepe myrtles next door–many of them, but not all–means that my workspace and kitchen are going to be flooded with a lot more direct sunlight, which is going to make it unbearable in here once it gets hot again; which means I am going to need to do something about window coverings, whether it’s curtains or blinds. We’ll see how much time I have before that becomes a massive priority–hell, it might become one later this morning.

I was still very tired and physically exhausted yesterday. I ran my errands, and then working on cleaning up our side of the house–leaves, branches, debris–and so I watched the LSU game, doing some cleaning and organizing around here in the meantime, and then for Halloween watched House of Dark Shadows on Hulu. I originally saw this movie in the theater–my grandmother, who got me started watching the soap in the first place–took me, and it was a very different take on the Barnabas Collins story. For one thing, there was no redemption of the character; he remained an evil, cruel vampire till the end, when he was killed for his crimes, and he also kind of killed off the entire family, other than Elizabeth and David, by the end. It was straight up more horror than melodrama, and the movie did well enough to inspire a sequel (with none of the same characters or actors), but it really wasn’t as good a story as the redemption of the vampire arc the show did.

I also took the time to read four novellas of Cornell Woolrich, collected together in one volume with the name Four Novellas of Fear (which is really not the best title, as it gives the impression that the novellas are more horror than suspense/crime; which is what they really are). The novellas are all interesting takes, some of which are dated and wouldn’t work today, alas: “Eyes That Watch You”, the first, was my favorite, in which a woman who is completely paralyzed and cannot speak overhears her daughter-in-law and her lover plotting to kill the woman’s son. Unable to communicate and warn him, the crime takes place…and then she becomes determined, somehow, to expose the murderers to the cops and send them to the chair. Great concept, marvelously handled. The next, “The Day I Died,” is about a man who finds out his wife is planning to kill him for the insurance; he comes home early from work and surprises her with the man she has hired to kill him. The hired assassin winds up dead, and the hard-boiled heroine convinces her husband to go through with the plan–they have a ready made corpse whose face they can disfigure and claim it’s suicide. But as he leaves town he runs into a co-worker on the bus…and now he has to kill the co-worker somehow. It’s very noir, very well done–but again, wouldn’t work in a modern setting because of technology and the difficulty of disappearing in the modern world. The third story, “You Won’t See Me Again,” is about a young newly married couple who have an argument, and she walks out–storming home to mother. When she doesn’t return–as he suspects and expects her to, after a day or so–it becomes a missing persons case and of course, the husband is always the prime suspect in those cases. So now he has to find not only the wife he loves to make sure she’s safe, but also to clear her name. It’s yet another story that wouldn’t work in today’s world because of technology, but it’s a charming time capsule. Likewise, “Murder Always Gathers Momentum” is about the slow descent into crime of a person who is broke and desperate and owed money he was cheated out of; rather than confronting the man and asking for his money he decides instead to break into his house and steal it. He’s caught, commits murder, realizes how easy it is to become a criminal, and starts killing people to cover his initial crime….(this is very similar to Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy, in which Dame Agatha and Miss Marple also explored the idea that once you’ve killed, it becomes easier to keep killing) and there’s a terrific ironic twist at the end, worthy of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Despite being dated, I enjoyed all four novellas–which were all very distinct and different, and cynical in their own ways. I certainly enjoyed them more than I enjoyed Night Has a Thousand Eyes, that’s for certain, and my own curiosity about Woolrich–who was a gay man, an alcoholic, and horribly unhappy in his personal life–deepened. (Just as watching The Other the other day, and thinking about the author of the book, Thomas Tryon–a closeted gay actor of the 1960’s who turned to writing novels in the 1970’s–reminded me that I had once thought him worthy of a biography, and I still kind of think that way; I just wish I had the time to devote to doing the research and traveling to Connecticut to examine his papers and so forth; he was also the long-time lover of the first gay porn star, Cal Culver, which is also an interesting footnote to his interesting life as well as of gay historical interest.)

I’m trying to decide what to read next, and have narrowed it down to four options (and may choose something else entirely): Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove; Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages (which I may have already read, but I don’t remember finishing it); The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier; or The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. I am leaning toward to du Maurier because I am thinking it may be time to finish her canon; but the others all look tremendously good, which inevitably always makes choosing difficult. I also want to start reading short stories again–I still have two volumes, for example, of Shirley Jackson stories to read–and I need to get back to my writing–if I can only remember where I was. I know I was rereading Bury Me in Shadows in order to get a grasp of the story–I also have been thinking about the tweaks it needs–and the deadline looms. I also need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” there’s about a million emails to catch up on, and there’s also the bills to pay.

Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to make it to the gym this morning. One good thing that has happened in this past week is managing three workouts; my body feels wonderful, my muscles feel more stretched and better than they have since the pandemic closed my old gym (we belonged there for eighteen years) and that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it? I think so, and I like that I am developing better workout habits. I’ll worry about correcting my diet and going full on Mediterranean diet after a few more weeks.

I’m also going to write a story–or rather, try to finish one–for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology. Getting a short story into one of those is on my bucket list, and I have two potential in-progress stories for this one; three, really: “Condos for Sale or Rent,” “Please Die Soon,” and “A Dirge in the Dark”. I guess I’ll need to read what’s been done on all four stories and then see about finishing any or all of them…it’s not a bad idea to get all three stories written, pick one to submit to the MWA anthology, and then send the others to other markets.

So many stories in progress.

The sun is rising and the loss of the trees has also made a significant difference to my view–which isn’t nearly as pretty or scenic as it was before, and will take some getting used to. The great irony is my landlady has been trying to get the property owner next door to trim the trees back for years–and trying to get her to trim them regularly, as they are problematic for hurricanes/tropical storms. It took Zeta for her to take the risk presented by the crepe myrtles seriously, with the end result that some were not only trimmed back dramatically, but others were removed entirely. I may have to hang up a small blanket or something in the meantime as a stopgap until I have the time and financial means to get curtains or blinds.

And on that note, I must head into the spice mines and start working on getting caught up, a Sisyphean task at best. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your Feast of All Saints.

Fearless

And here we are, once again, on a Monday morning with the darkness pressing against my windows, a cappuccino in my hot little hands, and wondering how this week is going to play out. Admittedly, it’s kind of a fool’s game trying to anticipate a week in 2020–I rather miss the sameness of weeks in the before-times, and I am really not certain I’ll know how to behave once things become more like they used to be; if they ever go back to how they used to be. I suspect the before-times are gone forever and once whatever this new reality we are living in moves beyond, there will be a different new reality we are all going to have to adjust to and move on.

Keep moving on.

I’m adjusting quite nicely to using the Air, sitting atop my Baring-Goulds, as my primary desktop computer. There are still some adaptations that are going to need to be made, of course–I still need to get that adapter so I can use the printer and the back-up hard drive–but thus far I am pretty pleased with how it’s all working out. My desk is out of balance now, of course—which means I am going to have to rearrange and reconfigure the desktop itself, moving file holders and books and so forth around a bit more–but honestly, it’s just so nice being able to work without the spinning wheel of death showing up periodically to slow me down and make my head split in half in controlled rage that I may just keep this system for as long as the Air remains functional.

From lemons to lemonade, really. I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t figure this all out a while ago–but stubbornly I kept wanting to believe that my desktop was reparable. It still might be, and at some point (depending on extra cash) I may want to take it into the Apple Store and have it looked at before trashing it completely; but in the meantime I. just need an out-of-the-way place to keep it until the extra money shows up and I can take it into the shop in Metairie.

I also can’t believe how well this has worked for lowering my incredibly high stress levels.

The workspace is still going to need some tweaking, frankly–as I mentioned, i need the adapter to gain access to the back-up hard drive, for one, and I may decide to move the books off the desk at some point or maybe make the stacks on either side of the laptop lower, I don’t know; there’s a sense of clutter that sometimes bothers me and sometimes it doesn’t, so there is that as well.

I really do think my mantra needs to remain flexibility, the ability to change and adapt to circumstances rather than rigidly refusing to bend and thus getting damaged. I remember when I was hired by Continental Airlines and started the five week training; the first thing our instructor told us was “the most important thing to remember about the airline industry is the only constant is change” and that’s really pretty true for life in general, really; if you don’t adapt and change you risk becoming a rigid dinosaur and extinction, really. And while there is certainly some comfort to be derived from routine and sameness, there’s also stagnation.

So, this week I need to rewrite an essay, revise a short story, and make some progress on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I also have a shit ton of volunteer work to get caught up on, I owe everyone and their grandmother emails, and for the first time in a long time i feel like I can not only get caught up but can stay on top of everything once I do get caught up (Universe, this should not be seen as an invitation to pile more unexpected things up on me, for the record), and it kind of feels nice, you know?

Let’s see how long it lasts, shall we?

We started watching a new show, an anthology series, called Monsterworld on Hulu last night; the episodes are all based on short stories from Nathan Ballingrud’s collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories. I had literally just had my hands on the book when I was moving things around earlier yesterday–part of the rearrangement of the work space thing; pull a thread and so forth–and so, rather impressed with how well done the show is and how good those first two episodes were, I found my copy of the book again and opened to the first page.

The first two paragraphs were amazing; and it’s short stories, so I think I can add it to the Short Story Project and justify reading a story here and there.

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines.

Look What You Made Me Do

It probably goes without saying that I wasn’t a typical boy-child; a complete mystery and disappointment to my parents. For years, I attributed the disappointment and confusion to my complete inability, and resistance, to conform to gender expectations of how little boys were expected to behave and what they were supposed to be interested in because I was not born heterosexual despite being born into a overwhelmingly heterosexual society, country, and culture. It took many years for me to recognize and understand that even had I not been innately attracted to males romantically and sexually and emotionally I still would have been an unfathomable mystery to my parents because I was an artistic child born into a family where an interest in the arts was just as foreign to them as if I had been a foundling from another planet they discovered on their doorstep one morning. We were a family of readers–everyone in my family was a reader–but no one was as voracious a reader as I was; because I was interested in stories and fictions, and because I felt like such an outsider in my own life that I was more interested in escaping it into the different worlds that books offered me.

Even when my parents, mystified, encouraged my reading habit (it was really more of an addiction more than anything else; the most effective punishment was denying me books) they were also mystified by what I wanted to read; I was interested more in books by and about women than I was in books by and about men. I’ve always wondered if their violent reaction to this interest in women pushed me further, in my innate stubbornness, along that path; why the forbidden Nancy Drew books were of greater interest than the Hardy Boys–the greatest irony, of course, being that my favorite series, in truth, were always books about boys (the Three Investigators, Rick Brant, Ken Holt) rather than girls. This preference for books by women over men continued into my adulthood; I inevitably read more books by and about women than I do by and about men. I am digressing a bit from the point of this entry, but one thing I’ve always rebelled against is this notion that men’s stories are universal while women’s are more micro and intimate; I prefer more micro, intimate stories to universal ones, and there is often more universal truths and intellectual honesty and curiosity in an intimate story than in what is supposedly a more universal one.

Take, for example, Celeste Ng’s brilliant Little Fires Everywhere.

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down. All spring the gossip had been about little Mirabelle McCullough–or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow–and now, at last, there was something new and sensational to discuss. A little after noon on that Saturday in May, the shoppers pushing their grocery carts in Heinen’s heard the fire engines wail to life and careen away, toward the duck pond. By a quarter after twelve there were four of them parked in a haphazard red line along Parkland Drive, where all six bedrooms of the Richardson house were ablaze, and everyone within a half mile could see the smoke rising over the trees like a dense black thundercloud. Later people would say that the signs had been there all along: that Izzy was a little lunatic, that there had always been something off about the Richardson family, that as soon as they heard the sirens that they knew something terrible had happened. By then, of course, Izzy would be long gone, leaving no one to defend her, and people could–and did–say whatever they liked. At the moment the fire trucks arrived, though, and for quite a while afterward, no one knew what was happening. Neighbors clustered as close to the makeshift barrier–a police cruiser, parked crosswise a few hundred yards away–as they could and watched the firefighters unreel their hoses with the grime faces of men who recognized a hopeless cause. Across the street, the geese at the pond ducked their heads underwater for weeds, wholly unruffled by the commotion.

Mrs. Richardson stood on the tree lawn, clutching the neck of her pale blue robe closed. Although it was already afternoon, she had been still asleep when the smoke detectors had sounded. She had gone to bed late, and had slept in on purpose, telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day. The night before, she had watched from an upstairs window as a car had finally pulled up in front of the house. The driveway was long and circular, a deep horseshoe arc bending from the curb to the front door and back–so the street was a good hundred feet away, too far for her to see clearly, and even in May, at eight o’clock it was almost dark, besides. But she had recognized the small tan Volkswagen of her tenant, Mia, its headlights shining. The passenger door opened and a slender figure emerged, leaving the door ajar: Mia’s teenage daughter, Pearl. The dome light lit the inside of the car like a shadow box, but the car was packed with bags nearly to the ceiling and Mrs. Richardson could only just make out the faint silhouette of Mia’s head, the messy topknot perched at the crown of her head. Pearl bent over the mailbox, and Mrs. Richardson imagined the faint squeak of the mailbox door opened, then shut. Then Pearly hopped back into the car and closed the door. The brake lights flared red, then winked out, and the car puttered off into the growing night. With a sense of relief, Mrs. Richardson had gone down to the mailbox and found a set of keys on a plain ring, with no note. She had planned to go over in the morning and check the rental house on Winslow Road, even though she already knew that they would be gone.

At this point, writing about Little Fires Everywhere is probably a bit of overkill; it was a New York Times bestseller and selected by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and adapted by same into a critically acclaimed and highly watched mini-series on Hulu; Kerry Washington currently is an Emmy nominee for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her stunning personification of Mia, the photographer whose arrival in peaceful quiet Shaker Heights with her daughter sets into motion the story of both book and television series. But this entry is about the book and not the television series (which you should watch, if you haven’t already), and the book is a gem all by itself.

Little Fires Everywhere focuses, on the surface, on the interactions between two completely different women, and by extension, their families. One is Mrs. Richardson; easy to recognize in any number of women we all know–we’ve all known, at one time or another, a Mrs. Richardson: the uber-organized working wife-and-mother who has definite opinions on everything and sees the world in black-and-white with no shades of gray; the woman who is so certain of her ultimate rightness that she can shape reality, and interpret things that happen in her life, to fit her worldview rather than expanding her worldview to fit new data, new experience, new people. It seems cruel to suggest that these women have calcified, but there’s also an element of truth to that; they have constructed their lives in such a way that they must convince themselves that they’ve always made the right choice, because anything that might make them question anything about themselves and their lives would create a crack in that facade of perfection they’ve built to show the world–but they are more worthy of pity and compassion than judgment and contempt, if not for the damage they cause in their correctness.

Mia, whose choices were so different from all of Mrs. Richardson’s (and therefore wanting, which also makes Mia suspicious to Mrs. Richardson if fascinating at the same time), is a Dionysian force in peaceful, nothing-ever-happens Shaker Heights. (Mrs. Richardson is the embodiment of Shaker Heights: planned, perfect, progressive.) Mia is a vagabond, an artist who pulls up stakes and moves on, following her drive to create and make art, choosing the kind of life Mrs. Richardson once might have chosen–but ultimately didn’t; so of course Mrs. Richardson must judge Mia and find her wanting, otherwise she might start questioning and doubting herself. We are, of course, meant to identify with and like Mia, while holding Mrs. Richardson at a cold distance and judging her and her choices. Ng always refers to her as Mrs. Richardson and her husband as Mr. Richardson, very formal, just as they think themselves above judgment and disapproval, while Mia is simply Mia: companionable, likable, a peer.

Mia’s past has its own secrets and choices, some of them questionable, others causing pain to others–not the least of which are her own parents. Like Mrs. Richardson, Mia is convinced her decisions were the right ones, and so she is kind of her mirror image; reflecting back at each other who they might have become had they made other choices at those crossroads of their lives, when they set their feet down on their opposing paths. The two women are much more alike, certainly more than either wants to think, or believe; this is inevitably why they come into conflict, and their very different choices about what it means to be a mother and parent, is clearly reflected in their children; the Richardson children are very different from each other, and often accurately named, and how they are treated and react to their mother, and who they become, is very much because of how she mothers them. Pearl is very much Mia’s daughter; compassionate and understanding yet mysterious at the same time–she understands her mother and is much closer to her mother than any of the Richardson are to theirs. To the Richardsons, their mother is an abstract presence that is always there–supportive and loving with Lexi; sometimes exasperated but caring with Trip; absent with Moody and antagonistic with Izzy.

The trigger that drives them all into opposite corners is of course the custody battle over Mirabelle/May Ling; the Richardsons are friends of the McCulloughs; Mia is a friend of the birth mother, and the book really is, ultimately, who or what is a good mother?

How that could not be a universal story is a mystery to me, frankly.

Ng is also a brilliant writer; sentences and paragraphs constructed as beautifully and carefully as her characters, all of whom are realistic and believable, people we all know, or at least, think we do. The book left me wanting more; wanting to know what happened to them all (the book set twenty years into the past) and where they are now. Are they happy? What choices did they make? And the writing is so strong and poetic that as I read along, the truths and honesty inspired me–new stories, new ideas, new insights into the characters of my own creation.

And for me, that’s the sign of a masterful writer: one whose work inspires other writers to new ideas, new creations, and to do better.

Beautiful Ghosts

Last evening was the first night in quite some time where Paul and I didn’t have an episode of Babylon Berlin to enjoy rapturously; it was quite a devastating moment as we retired to our posts in the living room at the usual time and I pulled up Netflix with a sad, sigh knowing there were no further episodes of Gereon and Lotte to watch and enjoy. But then I remembered that I thought I had seen that season two of The Alienist had either aired or was airing; and yes, there it was, waiting for us on Hulu: The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, and so we settled in for the first two episodes. It’s a very well done and well acted show; but there are some things I don’t understand about it’s apparent liberties with actual history–which is something I generally am willing to simply side-eye and overlook for the most part, unless it is especially egregious, and I fear that these liberties might indeed wind up being terribly unforgivable to mine eyes. But I do love Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning is tres magnifique as Sarah Howard, so I am going to try to pretend it’s simply all fictional.

Although it does put me in mind of writing about the first New Orleans policewoman, from the days of Storyville, who was known as “Mrs. Officer,” which I think you will agree, is a terrific title for a series and would also work well as the title of the first book in said series.

We had another marvelous thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, with the usual flood warnings for Orleans Parish; fortunately I was working from home so I was busily making condom packs while talking on the phone for business purposes, and when I wasn’t on the phone (multi-tasking, as it were) I watched Alien on HBO MAX, which I had actually never seen before. I’d seen Aliens, and I think the fourth one, and both of the prequels, but I had never actually seen the movie that started them all–but everyone has seen the classic “penis-like alien bursting out of John Hurt during dinner” scene, and I also knew, from watching the sequel, that Ripley was the only one getting out of there alive. It’s actually quite a marvelous film, especially for its time, and all I could think about, as I watched, was how incredibly creative and inventive the screenwriter was. And despite some obvious things that look dated now–the computer screens and controls for the ship, not to mention the body-cameras on the crew as they explored the crashed, dead ship on the planet sending the “distress” signal would have been digital, not analog (but how could they have known that in 1979?)–it overall holds up very well. I can’t imagine why I didn’t go see it in the theater, but I never actually saw it until yesterday.

I must say, it’s kind of nice to do the condom packing at home and catch up on films I’ve never seen and educate myself more on film in general. On the whole, I’d rather be at the office seeing clients; but if I have to make condom packs all day, it’s nice to broaden my knowledge of film.

And Sigourney Weaver is quite fantastic as Ripley–I still think she deserved an Oscar for Aliens, and probably should have been nominated for Alien.

I also started reading a wonderful biography of Rock Hudson (research for Chlorine) called All That Heaven Allows by Mark Griffen, and am enjoying it tremendously. The story of Chlorine is really beginning to take shape in my mind, and I am really itching to get to writing it. But I’ve got to find the time to finish both Bury Me in Shadows and the Kansas book before I can sink my teeth into it–and even then, I am postponing other things that are in progress…I am just going to content myself for now doing the research and making notes.

And on that note, I need to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

It Always Comes as a Surprise

Yesterday was unusual in that it was a Saturday where I actually had to interact with the outside world more than I usually do on a given Saturday: I had a business conference call at noon, and then last night I did a live reading and discussion of my story for The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and the event was in conjunction with the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, California. Also reading were Abby L. Vandiver, Alison Gaylin, and Kate Flora. It was very interesting and fun, and my story, of course, is “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I didn’t spend much time writing yesterday, but I do think I solved some of my computer issues with the desktop; at least it is working fine for now and not making me want to smash it into little pieces with a hammer. We shall see how it goes from now on, however; I reserve the right to lose my temper over it wasting enormous amounts of my time going forward.

It was fun talking about presidents, and history, and my story last evening. The story was fun to write, once I figured out what I was going to write about and how to frame the story. As I have said repeatedly, short stories are difficult for me to write, and I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much–both writing and reading–is because they are a challenge for me; plus, I can explore something–style, character, voice, etc.–vastly different from what I usually do, which I think also helps me become a better writer. I will always accept an invitation to write for an anthology or a magazine or something to challenge myself. The Sherlock Holmes story was a challenge for me–I still don’t know if they are going to use  it, or if it’s going to come back to me all marked up with lots of revision requested, or it’s going to be passed on–but once I got into the rhythm of the voice and the period, it was kind of a fun challenge. I’ve even thought about writing another one, which is really crazy when you think about it. I have never been a Sherlockian, although I’ve always appreciated the character and the importance of the stories to the history of crime fiction–seriously, where would any of us be without Holmes?–but it’s not like I’ve joined any fan groups, or have considered writing pastiches before…I certainly wouldn’t have written this one had I not been asked–and I do think it could be fun to write other Holmes stories set in that pre-American participation in WWI period, from say around 1912-1917, and maybe even beyond. It could, for example, be a lot of fun to write a story around German espionage in New Orleans, and it’s a very interesting time in New Orleans history. Maybe “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” could turn into the start of a whole new direction for me. Who knows? That’s the fun thing about short stories–you’re never sure where writing one might wind up leading you.

But I have my entire day free today, and I am going to shortly adjourn to my easy chair to drink more coffee and read more of The Red Carnelian before I buckle down to my own writing. I am hoping to get a lot of progress on the Secret Project done today, and maybe some work on one of my short stories, perhaps even one of the novellas. I just realized next weekend is actually a three-day weekend–where has May gone already?–and so I should also be able to get a shit ton done next weekend….or at least, so one might think.

Paul and I also started watching The Great on Hulu last night, with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s a sort of based on the real story, but a lot liberties are taken with actual history (for one example, Catherine’s husband was not the son of Peter the Great but his grandson; his aunt Elizabeth was actually the empress and selected Catherine as his wife for him–and he didn’t rule for long after Elizabeth died before Catherine usurped his throne. However, the time between Catherine’s arrival in Russia and her seizure of the throne was about twenty years or so; she was no longer a young woman when she became empress–but you can’t spread this story out over twenty years or the series wouldn’t be very interesting.

I also like that they admit up front they are taking liberties; as opposed to The Tudors or The White Queen, which also did but didn’t admit it. It’s also written by the same guy who wrote The Favourite, and the entire show has a similar feel to that movie.

And now, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I know I intend to!

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