Boogie Fever

In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”

Ah, naivete.

Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.

But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.

This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.

Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.

Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.

The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.

The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.

My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?

Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.

You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.

This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).

Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.

In and Out of Love

Monday morning and it’s a weird new work thing for me; I now work at home on Mondays and go into the office on Thursdays instead; it’s going to take me a little while to get used to this. I woke up at six this morning, and just kind of drifted in and out of sleep until around eight, when i finally rose. I feel very rested this morning, but have a daunting day ahead of me. I have my work at home duties, of course, and then when I am finished with those I have some things to get done for me personally. I have one more chapter to write in the book, and then some final revising, before it’s finished. (I am at the point where I keep thinking but does this make sense? How do I make this part make sense? Does changing this make this confusing? which means I am in the final stretch of finishing it.) I have some writing to do for a friend’s website, and I have some MWA things to get done. But if I keep my head down I should be able to get everything done–and then once the book is out of my hair, things should open up for me.

Pressure. I should have named this blog entry “Under Pressure.” Maybe that’s what i can call my memoir.

I did get work on the book done over the weekend and it is very close to being finished–so close it’s almost kind of scary, really. It’s been a lovely challenge–it’s completely out of my wheelhouse, but as always, anything that forces me to write in a different way or pushes me out of my comfort zone is precisely the sort of thing I should be writing. I do worry about getting stale; I know I’ve mentioned finding patterns in my work, whether it is character arcs or story structure or themes I return to again and again. When I took the contract break in 2015–and then made the decision to never sign a contract without a complete first draft at least on hand (a rule for myself that I broke with this one I am finishing; which is also reminding me of why I went this way in the first place, as the stress and pressure of finishing on an <extended> deadline has really had me on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the last month or so) in order to try to better manage my stress AND my writing habits–I decided to keep writing and doing things that push and challenge me. Royal Street Reveillon was an attempt to get back to Scotty and how I originally wrote him; the last few books had much more simplistic A to B to C plots, and I wanted to get back to those insanely complicated, twisty plots I dreamed up for him in the first three books in the series. The end result was that RSR was one of my favorite Scottys in a very long time to write; it felt like a return to form that had been lost or forgotten in those amorphous, nebulous years that followed Hurricane Katrina; and I felt like I was challenging myself with the writing again. RSR was the make-or-break Scotty title–how it went and how it turned out would determine whether the series would continue.

Reader, it will continue, probably later this year. I do want to get a Scotty done this year, but I also want to get a strong first draft of Chlorine done first. If all goes according to plan, Chlorine will be finished no later than the end of April and I can start working on Mississippi River Mischief over the summer. Fingers crossed, Constant Reader. I also plan on getting the novellas finished as well as get another short story collection pulled together this summer. The essay collection will have to be punted until next year, undoubtedly; I don’t see how I would have the time to start pulling it together this year, especially when I don’t know what all I have on hand that is ready to go and what I need to write new and what I need to finish writing that is already started. Heavy heaving sigh.

It kind of feels like I’ve been in the weeds with this book since the beginning. I remember getting the contract offer right around Hurricane Ida–I remember desperately communicating with the publisher via email with my spotty cell service those horrible hot days without power–so all told, from contract offer to finished book to turn in was about five months, give or take. Pretty quick, really, especially for a book that only had fifty pages written on spec and had an entirely different setting for the key to the series. But there will be plenty of time to bore you to tears with A Streetcar Named Murder, Constant Reader; I probably should still be shilling #shedeservedit but it’s hard to focus on that while stuck finishing another book.

And on that note, I am going to have some more coffee and head into the spices mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

Put Yourself in My Place

Thursday morning and I am groggy. I was afraid that would be the case this morning–I probably should have gone to bed an hour earlier (nine instead of ten…I feel so old) but Paul was late getting home anyway so I was waiting for him, and he got home just before ten. I think I slept fairly well, despite waking up again at four-ish and then drifting in and out of a half-sleep for the next two hours, finally getting into a deep sleep right around the time the alarm went off, naturally. (I had a very good sleep score last night, according to my Fitbit, so I’ll just accept that and be done with it.)

I got another chapter of the book done last night–so am still behind and trying to get caught up. Two chapters a day was an ambitious thought for work nights, but if I can get at least one done today the weekend will have to make up for it. I was hoping to not have to kill myself at the computer writing this weekend, but alas and alack, here we are. The book is being reshaped nicely, and my emails are getting answered–slowly but surely–but they are getting answered. I still haven’t had the time to make a to-do list (desperately needed) but am going to see if I can make that a priority this morning. I also am leaving work early today so I can keep a doctor’s appointment this afternoon, so I will get home a bit earlier than usual–which will help with the writing of two chapters, of course–and I am hopeful Paul will get home at a decent hour so we can spend a little time together before bed. Tomorrow I work at home, and next week I start having Mondays as a new at-home day (this was the only week with four days in the office), which will be kind of nice if odd. Adjusting to change gets harder and harder the older I get.

But the sun is coming up and it doesn’t look terribly cloudy out there this morning. Yesterday was a lovely, if chilly, day; today will also be chilly. It’s so weird; having a heating system that works properly hasn’t been easy to adjust to. It’s weird not having to wear slippers because the floor’s so cold, or having to wear layers, or having to get under a blanket in my easy chair to watch television comfortably. (I have wondered if the sleep issues of this week have to do with it not being freezing upstairs at night now. But it’s better that the cold doesn’t make me resent getting up every morning, so there’s that.)

But the coffee is kicking in, although I still feel a bit off this week; I am not sure what that’s all about, quite frankly. It’s very weird that the Australian Open is almost over and we’ve not watched a single match; maybe that’s why this week has seemed off? Paul hasn’t even mentioned it once, and usually every night we have matches playing on the television while I watch and play with my iPad–commercials are always lovely times to doom-scroll on Twitter or check in on Facebook or Instagram. There’s still a stack of things on my kitchen counter that needs to be sorted and filed away; I am actually thinking now in terms of simply throwing almost all my paper files away to clear room for stuff I actually need to keep. Maybe this will be a good project for after the book is finished, one Saturday? Empty the filing cabinets and the file boxes? There obviously are things I would need to keep–contracts, for one–but partial story print outs or early drafts are unnecessary to keep because I rarely go back and look at them; I usually look for the file on my computer anyway when I think about finishing something I’ve already started–mostly because my filing system is such a fucking mess. I can also scan copies of articles I’ve written, important things I want to keep but don’t necessarily need a hard copy of, and so forth.

I actually like the sound of this, and then maybe I can find an archive willing to take on my manuscripts and so forth. The older I get the less I care about future scholarship on queer writing and preserving my history–the books will live on forever in ebook editions anyway, and when I retire or die within a few years I’ll be forgotten, and I am actually fine with that. I don’t even know that anyone would ever be interested in actually studying me or not; I know that I am one of the few queer writers who wrote about New Orleans gay life before and after Katrina, but again–the books will always be available electronically, and God knows this blog will probably be accessible for all eternity as well. Soooo…,making a decision about that goes onto the year’s goals list.

But I can definitely start cleaning out the file boxes and the file cabinets. I can keep research in the file cabinet, as well as contracts and tax returns and important business stuff. There may not be enough to fill a single drawer, but that’s not an issue. The more I talk this through the more I like the idea.

Hmmm.

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

(She’s a) Very Lovely Woman

Saturday morning and it looks kind of gray outside the windows this morning as I look out at the world blearily and drink my first cup of coffee. I slept very well last night–which is always welcome–but woke up feeling a bit groggy this morning. I am sure the caffeine will work–it generally does–but as I glance around at the chaos of my office/kitchen my inclination is to pour the coffee out and go back to bed and sleep the rest of the day away, hoping magical elves or something else will show up whilst I sleep to finish organizing and arranging this mess into something resembling workable order. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s going to happen, so I am going to need to wake up, buckle up, and put my nose to the proverbial grindstone. I’ve got to contain this mess–and do it properly, no more sweeping things under proverbial rugs to get mess out of sight–and I’ve got to work on the book today and I need to run some errands. I also have to go to the gym today, so I will most likely follow football championship games today by periodically looking on-line to check scores only. Paul is going into his office this afternoon to do some work as well, and I need to update my to-do list and…yes, it’s a very busy day for a Gregalicious.

I finished reading Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews last night–charming, as always, delightful and witty and funny–and decided, since I was talking about how much I preferred Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot the other day, that I should revisit one of the Marple stories. I have a hardcover copy of A Caribbean Mystery–I don’t recall where it came from–but it has some sentimental value for me in that it was the first Marple novel of Christie’s I had read all those many moons ago when I was a child, holing up in my room on Saturdays with a book and a bag of Bar-B-Q Fritos. (My first Poirot was actually Halloween Party, which I also have a hardcover copy of and again, do not recall where I got it or how long I have had it; I read most Christies in paperbacks purchased at the Bolingbrook Zayre’s off their wire paperback racks) In those first few pages of the book, it spelled out exactly what I loved about the Marple stories–about how living in a small village actually exposes one to almost every kind of human behavior there is in a smaller ecosystem, and the great irony that the smallness and rural aspects of the small community are all too frequently seen as provincial and inexperienced in the world (why Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place was so shocking when it was originally published some seventy years ago; that placid, idyllic on the surface looking village/small town/rural community has a lot more going on than one would think at first glance). This is an excellent set-up, really, for the story Christie is writing about this fictional resort on a fictional West Indies island; her nephew, the successful novelist Raymond West, has paid for this trip for her to get some sun and recover from an illness…and when she originally protested about the expense and “who will watch out for my home in St. Mary Mead”–this response (which I hadn’t remembered) hit me right between the eyes:

Raymond had dealt with everything. A friend who was writing a book wanted a quiet place in the country. “He’ll look after the house all right. He’s very house proud. He’s a queer. I mean–“

He had paused, slightly embarrassed–but surely even dear old Aunt Jane had must have heard of queers.

Now, what is one to make of that? It was a jolt, certainly. It put me in mind of something I came across on Twitter the other day, written by Wil Wheaton, in which he had answered at a con somewhere a question regarding the current debate of “can you separate the art from the artist?” This is something I’ve pondered about quite a bit–most recently, the feeling of guilt I experienced in rewatching Chinatown, knowing now what I–we all–know about Roman Polanski. I enjoyed Chinatown every time I’ve seen it, and I was now watching–rewatching–through a different lens than I had before; I was watching in terms of my own Cynical 70’s Film Festival, to see how a 70’s film that actually harkened back to old-style crime/hard-boiled/noir styles, but with a more modern (at the time) sensibility fit into that 70’s cynicism and darkness about humanity and human behavior. But the discomfort kept popping up, particularly because Polanski himself appears in the film…and I eventually decided not to rewatch another favorite, Rosemary’s Baby, because of it.

I am not going to consign Agatha Christie to the trash heap of history; she was an extraordinary writer, and one of the most influential in the field in which I myself write. Nor do I think a simple throwaway line or two in a book originally published in 1964 is enough to dismiss Christie and her canon as homophobic and never revisit her work. In fact, given the time period in which the book was written, I am surprised the two sentences weren’t, frankly, much worse. Reading the sentences didn’t offend or outrage me; it was just a surprise, primarily because I didn’t remember them at all in a book I’ve read multiple times over the years–and I think when this hardcover came into my possession (I won’t swear to it, but I think I got it during one of my many eBay buying frenzies after Hurricane Katrina, when I felt it necessary to get copies of books with some sentimental value to me) I did actually read it again because I didn’t remember the plot–and this either went right past me or I noticed and didn’t think much of it.

Revisiting this book and viewing it through a modern lens is going to be interesting. And like I said, the reference could easily have been worse–but seeing queer used in this way reminds me of how it used to be used. The younger generations are reclaiming the word, and I myself have been advocating for it as a generic term for the non-straight community for eons…but I also can see why there are people of my generation/the one before me/the one after me who object to its use and why.

But I would a thousand times rather see the word queer used in an Agatha Christie novel than faggot. And I also remember the sympathetic depiction of a lesbian couple in my favorite Marple, A Murder is Announced.

Interesting thoughts on a Saturday morning. The sun has come out now and it’s not quite so gray outside; the second cup of coffee is certainly hitting the spot right now and the grogginess is beginning to leave from not only my head but from my body. I still don’t want to straighten up this mess, but there’s no choice, really, and I want to get some good work on the book done today and tomorrow. I need to go to the gym either today or tomorrow as well; perhaps later this afternoon once I get some writing/cleaning/organizing completed. I cannot be completely lazy this weekend, much as I would like to be; I have to get things done, and the more things I get done now the fewer things I will have to do later this month (I am not, for example, going to want to write on Christmas). But once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.

And now it occurs to me that perhaps I am procrastinating here, so I am going to bring this to a close. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and will talk to you soon.

Umbrella Man

And just like that, it’s once again Friday. I think over the course of this weekend, things will start to readjust to some semblance of normality again; I will probably, most likely, go into the office on Monday in an effort to readjust and reestablish some sense of being normal–or whatever passes for that–again. I am going to swing over there this morning to drop some things off that I’ve been working on, and just check things out in general. I also have to swing by and get the mail today as well, and I am going to go to the gym for a resurrection of Leg Day after I am finished doing my work today. Yay?

There still has been no trash pick-up in my neighborhood since before Ida, and our cans, with all that ruined food rotting in the early September heat, are beginning to smell quite ripe. There’s still a lot of debris on our sidewalks and along the gutters. Over all, not really much to complain about, and given so many people have lost everything, or have nowhere to live, or are still suffering without power in the heat…it seems like parsing and pinching things in order to find something to complain about. I’d forgotten that aspect of hurricane recovery–that sense of you can’t complain because other people have it far worse than you do rings in your ears every time you start to even slightly feel bad for yourself about your situation, or start the downward spiral of stress and aggravation and frustration. It makes adjusting and mental health integrity that much harder; one of the lessons from Katrina, really–knowing that it’s okay to complain and be frustrated and aggravated at the situation, while still recognizing your own good fortune (even if it seems like it’s a backhanded gift of a sort).

Last night, Paul and I got caught up on The Other Two, Archer, and Titans. I’m still enjoying the shows–even if the latter two aren’t quite as good as they were earlier in their run–and I think The Other Two is probably one of the better, most undervalued comedies airing on streaming right now. It’s certainly fun watching the gay brother–and the show is touching on comedic aspects of being gay I’ve really not seen covered anywhere else. As I was stripping condoms out of condom packs and doing other, various, “busy work” (it still needs to be done–these things would need to be done if the clinic was open and I was seeing clients three days a week, like pre-Ida) yesterday and watching television (I did watch this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–I am going to have to devote an entire entry to my reality shows at some point, particularly about how they are slowly starting to lose their appeal to me); although I cannot really remember what else I watched yesterday? Oh yes, some documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel, even if I cannot remember which particular ones, and I also rewatched the Brendan Fraser The Mummy–the original, which I realized I’d never actually seen; I’ve seen the sequel, but never all the way through from start to finish, which I may rectify today.

I am hearing noises from the street that sound like a garbage truck–the only inconvenience we are really experiencing at the moment is the stench of the cans when I walk out to the car–so the return of garbage pick-up would certainly serve as another indication that New Orleans is slowly coming back to what passes for normal around here.

I’m also finding it difficult to want to read again, which is weird. I’ve not written anything since Ida, and I’ve not read anything since we left town to find relief from the heat in Greenville, Alabama. I’m hoping this will change over the course of this weekend, but then…you never know. Maybe I read too much while we didn’t have power and I sprained the reading muscle in my brain. Stranger things have happened, after all. I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t enjoying Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s book, because I most definitely was; there’s just something off with the creative side of my brain–reading and writing both have been struck down by whatever this malaise is; but it’s more along the lines of being unsettled and not feeling like I have a strong foundation under my feet–this weird not knowing the day/date thing was very disorienting; and of course, there was all that tightness and tension built up in the muscles of neck, shoulder and back (which, oddly, going to the gym cleared up completely; obviously I am hoping going over there today after work will also be a great experience physically for me). I also still have two blog entries to write about books I read during the outage (Dead Dead Girls, A Letter of Mary) which I hope to get around to this weekend, and maybe–just maybe– I may do some writing. I know, I know, stranger things have happened, but I really need to figure out where I am with things and how much time is left in this year and when the deadlines for things are.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you soon.

I’m Here, You’re Here

I really have no concept of days and dates anymore. And since my office at the day job is closed and without power–at least thus far; I’ve not checked the Entergy map yet this morning–there’s no telling when I will start remembering the dates and what day of the week it is for the foreseeable future, honestly. I’m sleeping better than I was (anything is better than the powerless sleep of last week)yet my energy reserves still seem to be a little on the low side. Yesterday I hit a wall around five, but pushed through the final hour of work-at-home duties; we’ll see how long my energy lasts today before it starts flagging.

I stopped by Rouse’s yesterday; very picked over and the whole building was condensed to half it’s size; fruits and vegetables moved from their usual section over to where the dairy and bacon is usually stored on the river side of the store–but the bakery was operating and they had bread and milk, which was important, but were low on Cokes and Gatorade, which was a bit disappointing, but to be expected. There’s no telling when the trucks to restock will have the gas to get in or out of the city, so am rather glad we bought some things in Greenville to bring back home. Today I have more things to do at home–we still can’t get into the office, per yesterday (I’ve not checked yet this morning as to whether we can get inside or not, as I already mentioned)–but am worried about running out of things to do at home before we can get back inside the office.

Last night Paul and I caught up on the shows we missed during the evacuation–Ted Lasso, American Horror Story, and Archer–before retiring for the evening; as always with a power outage our a/c is now messed up, with it hovering in the high 60’s/low 80’s upstairs and mid-to-low 60’s downstairs, but seriously, am just so happy cold air is coming out of the vents I don’t even care in the slightest that the thermostats are fucked up again. I was laughing yesterday as I did the last load of power outage/evacuation laundry; my tights were in that load, and I remembered that the thermostats had gone all fucked up before the power outage, so I was wearing layers downstairs because it was so cold. I laughed because of the extremes–one day I am wearing layers downstairs because it’s so cold, the next I am sweating to death and can barely breathe. New Orleans is definitely not for the timid of heart.

Driving around yesterday was weird. There’s still a lot of debris out there being cleaned up, but there’s still a lot that hasn’t been as of yet. The streetcars aren’t operating yet–no idea when they will be rolling again–and it’s rained off and on a lot, which leads to water pooling because most of the catch traps or gutters are blocked with debris. The enormous live oak branches are the ones that make me sad; I hate seeing damage to live oaks, but I’ve only seen one or two of our beautiful trees uprooted and down, so that’s something. It seems like we lost more of them during Katrina than we did during Ida, but that may not be true; it’s just how I see it, and of course, my post-Katrina memories are in the foggy recesses of my brain any way.

And of course, now that I am home, I cannot focus on reading anymore. The Internet came back yesterday, so obviously we have television streaming capabilities again (thank you, Cox), so I was able to get my phone hotspot turned off and can also use my work laptop now to actually do the day job stuff–I try to keep my computers free from other uses; I try not to do dayjob stuff on personal computers and personal stuff on the dayjob computer, although it’s not always possible, frankly.

My plan for this week is to slowly get the apartment and the outside yard/walk under control this week–still debris out there that needs to be picked up–and re-acclimate myself to everything; find the last to-do list and make a new one; keep cleaning and purging things from the apartment; keep making a list of things we need to get to be prepared the next time there’s a storm and/or loss of power (candles being at the top of the list; preferably tapered ones), and just get back on top of things–a near impossible task, really, since I wasn’t on top of everything before Ida came ashore–so I can feel better about everything.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely whatever day of the week it is, Constant Reader–I’m going to guess Wednesday.

Do You Wanna Dance?

One of the (very very very very very) few benefits of losing power and all connection to the outside world is it gives you plenty of time to read. Our power went out, thanks to the outer bands of Hurricane Ida (in case you weren’t paying attention) at approximately eleven am in Sunday, August 29th–which also happened to be the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (Another benefit of not having power and not being connected to the outside world–I didn’t have to see all the doom-and-gloom coverage, plus the constant Katrina references; I lived through it already, and have seen enough news documentaries about it; no thanks–especially with the added DISASTER glee of a NEW HURRICANE!!! EVEN BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN KATRINA!!!)

At any rate, in those days before we finally said no mas to the lack of power and fled for the wilds of Alabama, I managed to read a fucking lot.

The book I was reading before and during the storm–I finished with a flashlight as the winds and rains of Ida battered my house–was Megan Abbott’s The Turnout, which I couldn’t put down.

You see, I love ballet.

It’s something that I’ve rarely had the chance to see in my life until the advent of Youtube; I’ve while away many an hour down a ballet wormhole on Youtube, marveling at the insane way the dancers can twist, contort, and launch their bodies in ways bodies weren’t meant to twist or contort or launch; and yet not only can they do it–it’s breathtakingly beautiful to watch. It’s part of what drew me to gymnastics and figure skating, too–the amazingly difficult things these athletes (and don’t ever for a moment believe that ballet dancers are not athletes) can do with their bodies, and how easy and beautiful they make it look. When I was a kid, we watched The Nutcracker on television; I hated it (still do) but was nevertheless amazed at the dancers, how disciplined and beautiful their movements were, how they used every muscle in their body and somehow made it all look as easy as breathing, as blinking, as smiling.

I remember thinking, I want to do that.

Ballet wasn’t an option, needless to say–and I probably wouldn’t have been good at it; I was incredibly clumsy (still am, really, just have a better sense of my body and better spatial awareness) and uncoordinated…on the other hand, it might have been the perfect thing for me, may have made me disciplined, changed my perception of self and worth by working hard at something I would love…but what can you do now? I’ve always wanted to write a ballet noir about a gay ballet dancer–I had the idea back in the early 1990’s, wrote it all out, including characters and a plot synopsis (and yes, of course I have the title). The folder is in my file cabinet in the “maybe get to soon” drawer; I often pause on it when I go through the drawer looking for something else. Occasionally, as I watch the videos on Youtube (and they have stuff from Nureyev, who fascinated me and kind of still does, as well as Baryshnikov and many many many others), I think about it. I was watching a documentary about the acid attack on the enfánt terrible director of the Bolshoi when Paul came home one night, and he was startled to see me watching it. He had no idea about my affinity for the ballet; I told him about my book idea and how I’d always loved ballet–and he got me tickets to see the Royal Ballet Company of Monaco when they came to New Orleans for Christmas, as well as several autobiographies of dancers.

And as always, it’s such a joy to read a new novel from someone who will be considered one of the greats of our time–even though she has now set the bar so high for crime novels about ballet I may never dare to even think about writing one myself.

They were dancers. Their whole lives, nearly. They were dancers who taught dance and taught it well, as their mother had.

“Every girl wants to be a ballerina…”

That’s what their brochure said, their posters, their website, the sentence scrolling across the screen in stately cursive.

THE DURANT SCHOOL OF DANCE, EST. 1986 by their mother, a former soloist with the Alberta Ballet, took up the top twofloors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. It had become theirs after their parents died on a black-ice night more than a dozen years ago, their car caroming across the highway median. When an enterprising local learned it had been their twentieth wedding anniversary, he wrote a story about them, noting their hands were interlocked even in death.

Had one of them reached out to the other in those final moments, the reporter wondered to readers, or had they been holding hands all along?

All these years later, the story of their parents’ end, passed down like lore, still seemed unbearably romantic to their students–less so to Marie, who, after sobbing violently next to her sister, Dara, through the funeral, insisted, I never saw them holds hands once.

Megan Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the best publishing in our time. Her books just blow me away, every time–and I never know what I am in for when I start reading one, either, as far as character and subtext and story and the complex, layered, complicated relationships between her fully realized characters, who all live and breathe and have interior lives–including those who appear in just a scene or two. I don’t know how she does it–Abbott can do more with a sentence (as far as character definition, mood, setting–any aspect of good writing, really) than most can do with several paragraphs.

The Turnout focuses on the two sisters, and Dara’s husband, a male ballet prodigy whose career was tragically cut short by a vicious spinal injury. The three grew up together under their mother’s tyrannical rule, and there is an odd, group dynamic at play there, where Dara and Charles are almost, sort of like surrogate parents to Marie–who has an oddly childlike quality to her. The story of the novel plays out during their preparation for their annual production of The Nutcracker (because of course it had to be the one ballet I loathe, LOL–but let’s be honest, it IS the ballet the school would put on at Christmas every year), and while the three of them split up the work of producing the ballet and running the school, our primary point of view character is Dara. Her relationship with her husband has an odd touch of brother-sister to it; they grew up together, of course, and her relationship with her sister has many layers and undercurrents. Marie has often tried to escape the town they live in and the school–but has always wound up coming back home, more fragile than before she left. The sisterly relationship is as equally complex as the marriage, and the weird dynamic of the two sisters having a deeply close relationship to the same man, who grew up as basically a brother to them, raised all kinds of flags for me as I read. Marie has broken free from the complex menage a tróis; she has moved into the attic of the school to try to break free of the claustrophobic family ties. But a fire in one of the studios results in damage and the hiring of a shady contractor; who soon infiltrates the tight little family and all of the traumas, public and private, within the family begin to resurface when Marie falls for the man, whom Dara hates pretty much on sight. As the needs of the production begin to multiply the closer the show’s run comes, with the one studio under repair and seemingly more and more money falling into the contractor’s hands while the school inches ever closer to bankruptcy–and the fragile little family unit also begins to feel the pressure begin building to the breaking point as well, when Marie becomes sexually involved with the contractor and Dara begins to fear what else her sister is sharing with him other than her body…because the Durants have some deep, dark secrets Dara does not want anyone to know about.

Abbott’s writing style is not only cinematic–you can visualize easily everything she writes about, whether it’s a ballerina breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes; the smell of ointments to ease the ache of sore muscles and enflamed joints; the bitter rivalries and cruelties of young girls competing for the lead; the demanding entitlements of ballet parents; the awkwardness of a young man who dances ballet despite his father’s objections; or the experience of trying to work while construction is going on around you. Dara, the more confident of the two sisters, the alpha of the three in the little family group, finds herself lost, losing her stability, the solid foundation her life is build upon, and cannot really handle the shift in her little world, left unsure and unable to explain or understand her sister’s behavior–or the distance growing between her and Charles, which she is ill equipped to do anything about. That sense of things spiraling out of control, the inability to stop the out-of-control train plunging forward, contrasts beautifully with the art of ballet–where control is so important.

Abbott does a magnificent job of building tension, keeping the reader enrapt and turning the pages as everything starts to not only boil, but boil over–and her gift for language, for putting the right words together in a sentence that appears to be quite simple but actually conveys a multi-layered complexity, is extraordinary. Her keen insights into the incredibly complicated relationships between the two sisters and Charles, the tragedy of Marie’s loneliness and inability to break free of her past and her family because of her own fragility, are sharp as a syringe.

I loved this book, but hated to see it end…because now I have to wait for the next Abbott novel–and however long it will take to get a new one is far, far too long.

Singing My Song

And HOME.

HUZZAH!

I am very exhausted, but very grateful that my air is back and we have power. The Internet is down, but my phone’s hotspot is working–that won’t help with the cable, so no television till Cox restores service again–but that’s okay; I can use the time more productively writing or reading and trying to clean up the utter disastrous condition we left the Lost Apartment in. The refrigerator, while emptied of anything that would rot or spoil, needs a thorough cleaning, and of course there’s still debris outside that needs to be picked up. But I am home, and that’s really all that matters to me at the moment.

And we have power–glorious, glorious electricity.

And my next power bill should be significantly lower, right? It was out for almost a week.

I am running all the clothes we wore on the trip and the towels and clothes we wore during the hellish no-electricity phase of this process; after that, the sheets and bed linens definitely need to be cleaned, and like I said, this whole place is a mess–a thorough thorough mess. But I think I can be forgiven for sitting just a moment and relaxing at my desk, by my windows, and just having a moment to breathe, right? I am exhausted, seriously; I didn’t realize how much so until I got home. We bought some groceries in Greenville just to be on the safe side–nothing much; bread and cheese and so on–and I will probably make an exploratory trip to Rouse’s just to see what they have tomorrow–I don’t really want to get back into the car again, to be honest.

But home again, home again. I really do know what it means to miss New Orleans.

It’s been a while since we’ve evacuated; not quite so long since the last time a tropical storm of one kind or another knocked out power out in the heat of summer for several days. The disruption is inevitably unwelcome–I love New Orleans, but without air conditioning I could not live here, period–and now I have to try to remember where I was at and what I was doing and what I was working on before the Great Derángement (yes, I know, probably inappropriate to call having to leave because of a natural disaster the same name the Cajuns called their expulsion from Acadia by the British after the French and Indian War); and I also have to figure out how to function with my day job duties and how to get work hours in so I don’t have to burn off what’s left of my vacation time. The office still didn’t have power the last time I checked; tomorrow is Labor Day, and sorry–I am not going to worry about any of this until Tuesday, which is a work day. (I have data entry to do, and as long as my hotspot is working, I can work on that at home. I also have to throw away all the condoms I have here at the house; and strip them out of the condom packs here that I’ve made….if the office had power I could go there and start throwing away spoiled test kits and condoms and break down condom packs…but I can only access the building with my badge, which requires electricity to let me in…)

So, I am just kind of going to settle in here at the Lost Apartment today. I am going to get things cleaned and organized, have a few well-earned cocktails later (hello, big bottle of tequila!), and just chill out. The cable might be out, but we can also revisit some old DVD’s for entertainment purposes, if needed; good thing I didn’t throw them away on a purge (or did I?).

But most of all, it’s going to be absolutely marvelous to sleep in my own bed, drink my own coffee, and really…just be grateful this entire situation wasn’t worse. Ida was stronger than Katrina–thank God the levees held–and it’s going to be a hot minute before New Orleans is back to a semblance of normal. But this things, this unforeseen catastrophes, are really good about resetting priorities and recognizing what is important….and as I sip my margarita later this eve, I am going to put some more thought into that.

And thanks, everyone–for the encouragement and support over the last week. It was only a week ago Ida came ashore. Seems like it’s been an eternity, at least to me.

I’m on the Road

We tried to stick it out, ever hopeful that Entergy would pull off a miracle, but today we cracked and couldn’t take it anymore. We were also out of food, and while some stores are indeed open (without power), it was incredibly ridiculously hot today; I’ve not really slept since the power went out Sunday morning; and we decided to go today. With it being the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, I knew–between Louisiana evacuees and “last holiday weekend at the beach” people, there was no point in following I-10 East and trying to find anywhere to stay. I only had a half-tank of gas, and wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any if we went north or west, so we headed east on I-10. We got gas near Biloxi (yay!) and once we hit Mobile we turned north. I knew we’d be able to find a pet friendly room somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery, and I was correct. Paul, Scooter and I are now checked into a motel in Greenville, Alabama. We’ve both taken our first hot showers since before the power went out, and are relaxing in the air conditioning (on high and full blast) while the US Open plays on the television. Everything is currently charging. Scooter isn’t sure what to make of this, as he has never stayed anywhere besides our house or the Cat Practice in the last eleven years, but he was great in the car and just slept…which is his usual state. I am looking forward to tonight’s sleep–you have no idea, Constant Reader, how much I am looking forward to finally getting some sleep. We have the room until Sunday–we’ll either go back to New Orleans or decide what to do next then. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.

It was very weird how quickly this storm came together–we barely had space to breathe or even think, and then it was already too late to go. I had to turn in my edits on #shedeservedit by the first; there were rumblings Friday morning that we were in trouble, and I had to power through the edits to get them done just in case (a wise decision, for once). I had to have my teeth cleaned Friday morning, and after I got home from that I just worked on the edits, finally finished about half an hour before I was due to meet my friend Ellen Byron for dinner at Red Gravy on Magazine Street. (The dinner and the conversation was marvelous.) Saturday morning I got up and by the time I was coherent–I overslept a bit, as did Paul–it was too late, really. I-10 in both directions a parking lot; I-55 and I-59 north both the same. We left very late for Katrina–and the crawl across the twin spans with the beginnings of the system starting to come in was not something I ever wanted to live through again. We just kind of looked at each other, and decided to ride it out and hope for the best–figuring if we made it through, we could leave afterwards. We watched a lot of television Saturday night, went to bed relatively early, and then of course, Sunday morning the power went out around eleven. I grabbed a book–I had started Megan Abbott’s The Turnout last week, and so I read for the rest of the day.

The storm was terrifying. The entire house rattled and shook, and there were times when I thought–I would swear to God this is true–I felt the house shifting before settling back to where it was once the gust had finished. I kept waiting for the windows to blow out–I moved my computer away from the windows–and finally, it was over. I never want to ride out a storm like that again, frankly; once was more than enough. And then we settled in to wait for the power to come back on, with no Internet and very very VERY spotty (did I say VERY) cell phone service, we were essentially cut off from the rest of the world. My friend Alafair texted me at some point and I asked her if the levees held; we literally had no idea what was going on, not only in the rest of the world, but in our own city–let alone our neighborhood. The weather was hot and humid but bearable–it was miserable, but it could have been much worse; had Monday been like today we would have left then.

I did manage to read a lot–I finished The Turnout and moved on to Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage (loved it!), Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (also recommend); A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen; Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; and A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. I started rereading Paul Monette’s The Gold Diggers, and also started Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, which came with me to Alabama. I am going to do blog posts on all of these books at some point–it was a week of amazing reading, frankly–and I also thought a lot about things I am working on and things I want to be working on, so it wasn’t a total loss of a week. I cleaned and organized in the kitchen some, and of course today I had to throw away everything in the refrigerator and the freezer, which was sad–all that money into the trash–but better to clean it out now rather than let it sit in there rotting and then come home to it. (A valuable lesson from Katrina.)

I thought about bringing manuscripts to edit with me, but then decided not to–I have the electronic files, after all, and I have enough paper around as it is. I started purging books again too–and I spent a lot of time, as I mentioned, thinking about things and life in general and what my priorities should be going forward–there’s nothing like a catastrophe to make you sit down and think about what is and isn’t important–and I am going to probably make some changes going forward. I hate that this disruption came when I was on a roll–with my writing, with the gym, with the reorganization of the apartment–but I am glad that it did happen in some ways; I was kind of letting myself drown again and a reset was kind of necessary. I also don’t know how long this particular disruption is going to last, either.

So, I am going to relax, enjoy hot showers and air conditioning and having access to the Internet again–and read and write and try to dig out from under.

And now I am going to take a doll and go to sleep.

Til tomorrow, then.

Only a Moment Ago

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

Of course, the emergence of a potentially major storm heading for the Gulf and our coastline–and how quickly it has happened–has certainly sucked a lot of the energy out of the room. The fact it will come ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina (Sunday) hasn’t triggered a lot of PTSD for me, strangely; although I was remembering it all last night as I sat in my easy chair watching Margaret Orr on local television (and checking her Twitter feed). The weather outside my condensation-covered windows this morning doesn’t look that great, to be honest–we’ve had rain all day yesterday off and on–but I don’t know if we are going to need to leave yet or not. It’s not looking good for us right now; at the very least we’re going to probably be without power for a few days (yay). But at least if we do end up leaving (probably tomorrow morning, if we go) at least I have a relatively new car, and I believe I already have a tank of gas. I have some errands to run today–I am getting my teeth cleaned later this morning, and I need to get the mail. I had planned on doing some grocery shopping today but am not sure if it’s wise to get anything perishable, so am probably just going to let that sit until afterwards.

I’m also having dinner with a friend tonight–scheduled to come in for Bouchercon, she decided to keep her trip since her daughter goes to school here anyway–which should be a good time; social contact outside of my office has remained low, so it will be sort of nice to get out of the house and spend the evening with someone whose company I enjoy…especially with a hurricane looming. If it stays on center track, it’ll pass us to the west–putting New Orleans on the bad side of the storm. I’m kind of surprised I am not having flashbacks triggered by any or all of this, to be honest. I only remember the anniversary now when I am reminded–I’d not even given it a thought until the other day when this system developed below Cuba–although I am also now remembering there have been issues with I storms in the past–Ike and Isaac, for example; one of them sat on the city for like three days and we were without power for nearly a week. The other was our last evacuation and it, too, was around this same time. Late August, after my birthday and before Labor Day–never a good combination for an I-named storm in the Gulf, apparently.

I rewatched an old Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie last night while I was waiting for Paul to come home (working late because of grant deadlines and potential hurricane; potential loss of power means everyone has to get things done earlier than they’d thought). I had wanted to rewatch Pillow Talk, which was the best of the their three films together, but couldn’t find it streaming anywhere, so settled for the follow-up, Lover Come Back, which, while not as good as the first, was still quite entertaining–if problematic. The message of the Day/Hudson movies–at least the first three; they played a married couple in their third pairing–was always that Day was an uptight and repressed career woman with no interest in men or marriage–who really just needed a good fuck. The irony that the good fuck she needed was being delivered on-screen by a gay man escaped audiences of the time, who made the films huge hits and made Doris Day the biggest money-making star in the country. It’s great, though, that she was shown as a highly successful, talented, and driven career woman; unfortunate that the screenwriters seemed to think that went along with an empty life without love or a man. Given how beautiful and sexy Day was, it’s kind of hard to believe that she wouldn’t have men hanging off her–but she’s kind of portrayed as an ice princess, who needs a man to thaw her out. The games Hudson plays with Day–mimicked in both films–where he pretends to be a shy, inexperienced (read: almost gay) man whose sweetness she falls for doesn’t really play today for a sex comedy; such a movie would never be made today.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I worked on the manuscript, and have maybe a third of it left to go. I’ve already edited out almost ten thousand words, making it leaner and cleaner, but it’s still such a horrible mess I cannot believe I turned it in to my long-suffering editor. But it’s getting better, and the primary issue is that there were so many different versions over the years of working on it that I missed things when merging all the versions together to get a final one–the great irony being the problem with the manuscript not ever being what I thought it was, so all those different drafts were relatively pointless; it’s terrible when you are writing a book and you aren’t really completely sure what it’s about consciously. I’ve always said this book was about rape culture, but it’s actually not–although that’s a part of it; what it’s actually about is toxic masculinity from the point of view of someone trapped inside of it who desperately wants out and doesn’t know how to get out. I didn’t completely understand that–and something else–until this final editing run; glad I figured this out before it went to press, right?

So I am going to try to get some things done around here this morning before leaving for the dentist, then I am coming home to work on the manuscript. I’d like to get this pass finished today–not an easy task, since its taking me hours to get through small sections, longer than I’d thought it would, honestly–so it can sit for a day or two; if we lose power and I have to stop working on it, I am hoping I’ll be able to at least get it sent off somehow–if I need t make my phone a hotspot and send it from my laptop or something, I should be able to get it done and in on time. I was going to try to make it to the gym today, but think I’ll just push that off until tomorrow and focus on getting the manuscript finished today. Once I finish and post this, I am going to clean out my inbox (or try to) before having to get ready for the teeth cleaning expedition (not looking forward to this either, I might add). I had wanted to spend some time getting organized–but the need to get this manuscript out of the way in case of power loss, at least getting this pass finished, at any rate, has overcome any desire to work on the other things that need to be worked on around here; I can go to the gym tomorrow and clean/organize then (if we aren’t in the car, that is).

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