Call It What You Want

Sunday sliding in like a surprise guest at your birthday party.

Hope all is well with everyone out there this morning. I stayed up later than I intended last night; Paul and I finished The Alienist: Angel of Darkness and greatly enjoyed it, then moved on to Never Have I Ever on Netflix, which is both funny and sweet at the same time. It’s a Mindy Kaling show, so I knew it would be both, and I’m looking forward to more of it.

I also started reading Lovecraft Country yesterday, and am enjoying it thus far. I’m not going to lie, I wince and recoil from its undoubtedly accurate depictions of how horrific 1950s racism was (not that any racism is ever non-horrific, regardless of time period) but while I would have probably stopped reading it ten years ago precisely because of that discomfort, now I keep reading because that’s the purpose of it; to make white people uncomfortable and we need to be made to feel that way from time to time. And I can handle a little discomfort during my reading–it’s nothing compared to the discomfort non-white people feel living their lives every damned day. And since a lot of the first part of the book has to do with dealing with racism while moving around the country–yup, there’s another privilege I never even was aware of that I enjoy for the most part; not having to fear moving around the country because I might drive through a place where not being white would get me killed. (I do have some fears about being gay while driving through the rural South; but on some levels I can pass for straight, whatever that means…maybe I can’t and just think I do, but that fear is always there in the back of my mind, and the more rural the area where I stop the bigger the fear) Oddly enough, the author of the book appears to be white–and the descriptions of his other works in the back of the book sound intriguing. There’s one called The Mirage, which apparently is an alternative-history type thing that reverses the United States and the Middle East, so that 9/11 happened to Baghdad and not New York…so the author often tackles difficult subjects in his books.

I did get some work done on Bury Me in Shadows yesterday; I managed to redo the first chapter. One down, nine to go to hit my goal for the weekend. YIKES. But I also spent some time cleaning and organizing yesterday–a scattered, disorganized workspace makes me feel scattered and disorganized, which makes writing even harder–and I feel as though today I will be able to get much further along in the story than I did yesterday. The living room is still a complete mess, but the chores yesterday as well as some time spent reading in my easy chair have me feeling relaxed and rested this morning–which bodes well for the writing today. I may even get to do some organizing of the books and cleaning of the living room. IMAGINE THAT.

This coming week holds my birthday, and I am leaning towards taking a four day weekend–my birthday is Thursday–which will enable me to get a lot of rest, do some reading, and get further caught up on my writing. I’ve not decided completely as to whether I should take both days off as of yet, but am leaning towards it. I always take my birthday off–I can think of no less pleasant way to spend one’s birthday than at work–but even though I can simply work from home and save my vacation time, I think I’d rather just have the days off, if I am going to be completely honest with myself.

I’ve also, truth be told, having some doubts and imposter syndrome about the book I’m currently writing. It’s not that I don’t think I can write it–I know I can, for fuck’s sake I have a completed sloppy first draft–but some of the issues I wanted to address in it I pretty much left out of the entire first draft. I know I can get them into this next draft, but one of my biggest issues about writing about important issues is not wanting to come across as preachy, or ABC Afterschool Special-ish. I do like the changes I’ve made to it so far, and I think I’ve slid some messaging into this first chapter the proper way…but who knows? I’m not sure why I am having so much doubt–so much more doubt–with this book than I have had with others. But I really really want to get this right, and I’m worried about it, which I guess is a good thing.

I suspect if I ever felt good about something I was writing and working on, I’d be even more worried.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Sorry if I’ve bored you this morning, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

Nervously

I didn’t get as much writing done yesterday as I would have liked; but I get some of it done. Yesterday was one of those days where I questioned everything I wrote–which is annoying, because it’s part and parcel with imposter syndrome. I hate doubting myself, but at the same time I think I want this to be good so badly that I am being much harsher with myself than I usually am; I guess being in the midst of a tropical storm didn’t help matters much, either.

I finally gave up–I did make some progress, which I’ll settle for–and retired to my easy chair to read around three. I made some good progress on Night Has a Thousand Eyes–Woolrich was a master at setting mood–and then last night we started watching the final season of 13 Reasons Why–which is kind of silly, as the actors playing the teenagers have all aged over the course of the series but haven’t on the show, and, as I said to Paul last night, “they should have called this season 13 Reasons Why: Grad School.” Not to mention the fact that over the course of the show’s run these kids have been involved in first, covering up a sexual assault; proceeding with charges for the sexual assault; another sexual assault; stopping a mass shooting and covering that up; a murder; and on and on and on….it seems to me like all of their parents would be a lot more deeply concerned about their mental health and their response to the trauma they faced; college is going to be an interesting experience for them all. But it’s entertaining–they certainly have dealt with a lot of issues for teens, including coming out; bullying; sexual assault; bodily autonomy; and suicide–which is what kicked the show off to begin with.

Tropical Storm Cristobal passed over us last night as well; it wasn’t so bad here around the Lost Apartment as we had feared it could be; it rained pretty steadily all day, and we certainly had off-and-on rain all day, but the walk and yard never filled up with water (we’ve had more rain from just a regular thunderstorm) and I don’t think any streets in our neighborhood flooded at all; I’ve not checked the news to see how bad it was in the city. I know the coastal parishes got some storm surge flooding, and I do hope those folks are all okay. That’s the thing about tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes–the mix of relief and guilt; relief that where you live didn’t get hit that hard; guilt because somewhere else did and you kind of wished it on by wishing it away from you.

Incidentally, it just started raining again, which will make the trip to and from work a lot of fun, he typed sarcastically.

I was tired pretty much the entire weekend; I’m not really sure what that is all about, but I didn’t sleep well any of the three nights of this past weekend, nor did I sleep well last night or most of last week, which is making me very tired and punchy, and also is contributing to my general sense of exhaustion, I think. I slept well last night–I only woke up a few times–and am a bit lethargic this morning (the endless cycle of ‘didn’t sleep-need caffeine to wake up–can’t sleep–more caffeine is draining, frankly); but am hopeful to be able to kick it into a relatively high gear soon.

And on that note, best to get to it, I suppose. Have a lovely Monday wherever you are–and stay safe.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

Wednesday, and Hump Day; whatever you prefer to call it. It’s the midway point of the week, at any rate, and it’s all downhill from here into the weekend.

I always regret the loss of Mondays and Tuesdays to twelve hour work days, to be completely honest; I generally can’t get anything done on either day rather than going into the office. I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday and Monday nights, and there’s also never a guarantee I’m going to sleep well, which is a terrifying prospect, particularly on Sunday nights as I head into the long stretch of the week. I slept extremely well last night–so much so that I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; I could have easily slept another few hours or so, and as I drink my first cup of coffee, still feel a little bit on the foggy side. We’re also supposed to have terrible weather this morning–thunderstorms, etc; I got one of those damned bad weather notices on my phone last night–which is, of course, still possible. The ground is wet so it may have rained during the night, and it’s cloudy and grayish outside. Hopefully the rain will hold off until after I go to the gym later this morning

I decided yesterday that I didn’t care for the work I’d done on the Secret Project already–although it was an admirable attempt–so I decided to start over, at a different place, and change the opening completely. I wish I could explain in more detail, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? But one thing that is frequently true about me–and my work, all too frequently–is that I am very stubborn about openings. I envision an opening for a story or a book, and that’s where I start…and even though it may soon become readily apparent that isn’t the right place to start the story, I stubbornly cling to it because that’s the idea I originally had…despite knowing that I often start the story in the wrong place and changing the opening would most likely make the writing flow better. If you will recall, I have had a lot of trouble with writing this lately–I was lucky to get five hundred words a day for the longest time, until finally I was able to get about 1200 down in a day to get the first chapter finished. But it still dissatisfied me, and I began to wonder if maybe the problem was writing it in the first person rather than the third; perhaps a tight third point-of-view was what was actually called for. So, I exhaled a heavy sigh and decided to give that a try. I started last night–despite my exhaustion–and as I thought about it in the third person, I realized that if I was doing it in the third person, I should start it somewhere else…and as I thought about the words, decided to try it in the first with the new starting place, and it clicked. Which is helpful, I think? We shall see. But I am rather pleased with this new starting place, and I can get some good progress made on this now, methinks.

One would hope, anyway.

The fog in my own brain is beginning to clear a bit this morning, as I now have moved on to my second cup of coffee, and I am going to need to get started on activities that simply must be done; it’s Pay Day and thus Pay-the-Bills-Day, which is always a fun delight to see how little I have left to live on for the next two weeks or so. It can be depressing at times, or stressful at others, but what else can I do rather than try to figure out how to increase my income? Obviously, buying the car and taking on a car payment (and a tripling of the monthly car insurance bill) at the same time as taking a step back from my writing career to assess and think and decide what to do was probably poor timing; but I love having my car despite the enormous hole its blown in my budget, and if I could just get past all the various forms of whatever-it-is  that seem to preclude me from actually writing– this would cease to be a problem, you know?

Imposter Syndrome is probably the biggest contributor to this; and it’s very easy to get triggered into a downward spiral of it: a short story rejection, a one-star review, not being included in a list of gay writers, etc. etc. etc. This spiral generally comes to the fore with a message running through my brain: why do I bother, no one cares. (And for the record, I’m not bringing this up to get affirmation from people; I know all too well that affirmation doesn’t help much in these situations; you always think oh, I have such lovely and supportive friends rather than having some kind of self-worth renewal. It’s very, very true that belief in yourself has to start within you; and I’d love to know the reason why I am so self-defeating–which, for the record, is an entirely different thing from self-destructing.) It’s very easy to get into the mindset that the world is against you, that everyone is conspiring to bring or keep you down; when the real truth is the vast majority of people don’t think about you at all.

It’s kind of like that rampant insecurity I used to feel when I first started venturing into gay bars, hesitantly and nervous, absolutely certain that everyone was looking at me and judging me, not finding me attractive or interesting or worthy of even making eye contact with. It was all stuff and nonsense, of course. Nobody spends that much time looking at and judging total strangers, or laughing at them in gay bars; and if they do, they’re not worth knowing anyway. I finally reached the point where I neither cared what strangers thought–which was incredibly freeing–nor concerned myself with what other people do. I had no control over either, so why concern myself with it?

I saw the other day, for example, that someone had collected all the one and two star reviews from Amazon and Goodreads for Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was kind of serendipitous; I had just finished rereading and enjoying the book for the Reread Project, and Highsmith is one of my favorite authors. It was kind of an eye-opening moment about writing and publishing: for fuck’s sake, if people are giving HIGHSMITH and probably one of her best titles one and two star reviews…why the fuck do worry about bad reviews? We all get them, and really, it doesn’t ever mean why do you bother (no matter how vitriolic), it just means your books and your writing and your story and your voice didn’t connect with that person. That’s really all it means, and should be viewed as such.

It’s getting gloomier outside, which means the predicted rain is coming. Ah, well, I shall simply have to take an umbrella with me to the gym. I’m actually not dreading the gym this morning, and I don’t think I’m going to have to make myself go. I have felt so much better physically just from going on Sunday; I’ve realized that my muscles are tired from the work, which is actually a good feeling. My goal is to go again today and Friday, and then again on Sunday. It won’t be easy maintaining this schedule during Parade Season–Parade Season is what finished me off and knocked me out of my routine the last time I started trying to get back into the gym, and that was last year? The year before? I don’t recall, but it ultimately doesn’t matter; I stopped going and I need to learn from that mistake this year.

And on that note, I should start paying the bills and getting things done. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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Before the Next Teardrop Falls

Saturday morning and a bit chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning. I slept ridiculously well last night–only waking when the cat decided to turn me into his bed, climbing on me while purring deep and loud, and of course kneading me with his paws for a while, to make me more comfortable to lie on, I suppose? I was tired last night–the week rather wore me down–and so am glad and grateful to have gotten a decent night’s sleep.

Mary Higgins Clark died yesterday, at the age of ninety-two, which of course is terribly sad news for the crime/mystery community. I remember reading Where Are The Children–it was one of the those phenomena books in the 1970’s; it was everywhere and everyone was talking about it (like Robin Cook’s Coma, Stephen King, and several others) back in the days before social media and “viral” sensations; Mary went “viral” back in the day when it was much harder to go viral. I also read her second novel, A Stranger is Watching. I deeply enjoyed both books. Mary’s career lasted over forty years and forty best-sellers; she became a living legend during her lifetime.

I met Mary when I attended the Edgars for the first time, clad in my kilt and beret and feeling excited and awed to be at the biggest event in my writing community for the year; I was both intimidated by the glittering stars of the genre in attendance that evening, yet thrilled at the same time. I couldn’t help but think, as I drank champagne at the cocktail party before the ceremony, almost too intimidated to make eye contact with anyone, about how when I was a teenager dreaming about being a writer back in Kansas that I used to imagine being at events like this, surrounded by amazingly talented people. I had a few moments of feeling overwhelmed by the occasion. I finally took my second or third glass and sat down at one of the tables…only to be joined a few moments later by Mary and her husband. I had seen her the night before at the Agents and Editors party, when the winner of the award she had started with her publisher to honor women who wrote books like hers was presented. The winner that year was Hank Phillippi Ryan, for The Other Woman. I was too tongue-tied to say much of anything–I was still in too much shock to be sitting at a table with MARY HIGGINS CLARK, along with a serious case of Imposter Syndrome. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember her asking me, in a very kind and interested voice, what I wrote–and I will never forget how she made me feel like both colleague and peer.

I’ve always regretted not getting a picture with her.

I decided, right then and there, to revisit Where Are The Children; I bought a copy soon thereafter and it has languished in my TBR pile ever since; but since I am focusing on The Reread Project this year, I am moving it further up the list.

Mary meant a lot to a lot of people, not the least of whom were her readers, as well as her contemporaries. She was kind and exceptionally generous to other writers, particularly women getting started in the business, and was a shining light in our community.

It’s going to be strange being at the Edgars this year and not seeing Mary.

I have a lot to do today; I need to get to work on the Secret Project as well as cleaning up around here; I have some errands to run and a some other, non-career related things to get taken care of today, and of course, the email does tend to pile up over night. My regular use email doesn’t get nearly as much spam as the gmail account I used does–that’s the one I use for reader contact and also for donating to causes I believe in, and of course, once you donate to something you get put on a chain list and it gets shared and/or sold, and it grows and grows and grows. I don’t check it as often as I should to clean it out, and there will be times when I go there and there’s over 300 new emails; all of it, for the most part, junk. I’ve finally started unsubscribing to mailing lists there, but it never seems to quite do the trick.

I also have a lot of organizing to do; I have to stay organized if I intend to get anything done and not miss anything. So, after I finish this, I am going to curl up in my easy chair for about an hour to read Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes, and then once I am fully awake I am going to start organizing and going through emails and so forth. I also have two blog posts, about The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels, to finish writing; perhaps today will be that day.

And on that note I am going to get another mug of coffee and head to the easy chair with Ms. Hughes. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Who Will You Run To

Vacation all I ever wanted….

Yes, I am off now for about nine days, which is incredibly lovely. Today I am getting the car serviced on the West Bank, and will most likely go ahead and make groceries while I am over there. After that, it’s home and chores; I’d love to get all the cleaning and organizing done today so I don’t have to worry about doing any of that over the next nine days–and possibly do some writing while I am at it. My writing muscles are horribly, disgustingly, rusty; almost as rusty as my actual muscles which haven’t exercised since earlier in the year. I am going to try to get back into a regular workout routine during this vacation period; I miss the endorphins, and I miss the feeling of genuine tiredness one gets from forcing one’s muscles to do work. I also need to stretch regularly and do the dreaded, hated cardio; I’m very disappointed in myself for letting my regular workouts fall by the wayside.

I also want to read The Nickel Boys, and get that out of the way.

We watched two more episodes of Netfix’ Unbelievable last night, and Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver are absolutely killing it. I do think this is a must-watch mini-series; the difference with which the two women treat the rape victims in their cases is such a 180 from the way the men treated poor young Marie in the first episode; and of course Marie’s entire life and experience has turned into garbage not just because she was raped but because of how she was treated, and not believed. I have a lot of thoughts about men and rape/sexual assault; I’ve had them for quite some time but have never truly articulated any of them–who am I to talk about these things?–but there’s a lot more complexity buried there that is never truly talked about or explored; as though there’s a third rail one cannot touch. I’m looking forward to finishing it, and getting caught up on Castle Rock, which is killing it this season.

Which of course always comes down, as ever, to Imposter Syndrome; the fear that I am not intelligent, smart or articulate enough to talk about sensitive things or subjects or topics; which is what holds me back from writing personal essays. Laura Lippman recently announced that her essays are being collected into a book called My Life As a Villainess, which will be released next year, and I can’t wait for it. Her essays are amazing and smart and well-thought out, articulated beautifully; but then again, she is one of our finest writers publishing today, so why wouldn’t they be? Laura once told me, when I said that I am not a strong essay writer and am not very good at them, “Um, you write a personal essay every day on your blog.” It was very kind, and meant a lot to me, and there’s possibly some truth there; but I always see the blog as a kind of free-form rambling, stream of consciousness thing that I do every morning over my first few cups of coffee as I shake off the cobwebs of my sleep–which was glorious again last night, by the way–and try to prepare to face a day of who knows what being thrown at me.

I’m also looking forward to the LSU-Arkansas game this Saturday night on ESPN. The Tigers, despite the dismal defensive showing in Oxford last Saturday, remain the Number One team the country–I still can’t believe this season and how it’s turned out–and of course the Saints game Sunday at noon. The Saints bounced back from that disgraceful outing against Atlanta two weeks ago, and we’ll see how it goes from here. It’s weird to have the top ranked team in college football at the same time as one of the top teams in the NFL; how crazy would it be if LSU won the national championship in the same year that the Saints won their second Super Bowl? Magical indeed; as well as unlikely, but my God, would that ever be cool, and the entire state would lose its collective mind.

As I have said a lot lately, I’ve felt disconnected from my writing life lately–my reading life, too–and I’m not sure what that is. I am hesitant to say “writer’s block,” because it’s not something I truly believe in; I do believe writers can go through fallow periods when they have nothing to say, or can’t think of anything to say; not being able to put words to page. But I don’t believe that–which I often refer to as a ‘malaise’–is the actual problem; I’ve always believed writer’s block is a symptom of depression. One thing I’ve often noted when reading up on writers of the past is how many of them had drinking problems, or certainly drank to excess fairly regularly; so regularly that I’ve sometimes wondered whether there’s a connection between creativity and addiction. I do think creative types are more emotionally volatile than their fellow citizens; more susceptible to vulnerability and emotional instability, which can lead to depression, which can lead to not being able to write, which then turns around in a vicious cycle to make the depression worse, and some people deal with that by using alcohol. I myself have a medicine cabinet filled with medications to help me navigate the fast-flowing, submerged danger everywhere river of my life, and they’ve helped with my own particular brand of crazy.

So, in a little bit I’m going to take a shower and head across the river to the dealership; and hopefully when I come home I’ll be able to get some clear-headed thoughts down on the page as well as some seriously deep-cleaning done on the Lost Apartment.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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When Smokey Sings

And just like that, the vacation is over and it’s back to work with me.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But in all honesty, it feels like I haven’t set foot in the office for months. It also feels like I haven’t written anything in months, either.

But let’s face it, and be honest with myself: yesterday was also the first time I have felt human,  or like myself, in weeks. I managed to get good sleep almost every day for the last five or six days; it’s amazing what a difference good sleep can make in one;’s day to day life. Even this morning, despite being untimely ripped from my bed–I’m not sleepy or tired; just not fully awake yet, and the coffee–with an assist from a shower–will change that all fairly rapidly.

I started –and finished–Richard Stark’s The Hunter yesterday, and I’m not quite sure how I felt about it. I thought it was written very well–the pacing was particularly good–but…it’s a 1962 novel, and that shows with misogyny and a couple of homophobic slurs, as well as some seriously questionable sexualization. But it’s also a pulp novel from the early 1960’s; Stark was a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, and it read very quickly and very fast….the main character, Parker, is described as an anti-hero; I’d say he’s more of a sociopath than anything else, really, although I do suppose to that does make him a bit of anti-hero….I am still thinking about the book, and will write more about it at another time, most likely. After I finished reading it, I moved on to The Ferguson Affair by Ross Macdonald. I don’t think I’ve read it before–to date, to the best of my knowledge I’ve not read any of Macdonald’s non-Archer novels, and that very much is what this one is; but it’s got Macdonald’s trademark writing style, and I am enjoying it. I think the Parker novel inevitably led to the Macdonald, really–there were some things about Parker that reminded me of both Macdonalds, Ross and John D.; I actually was looking for a non-McGee novel of John D. MacDonald’s to read, and finally decided on the Ross Macdonald The Ferguson Affair. As I read the book, it reminds me of something I’ve read before–perhaps not another Macdonald novel, but perhaps one of the Lew Archer short stories I read in The Archer Files last year when I was doing the Short Story Project.

I also had to do the editorial notes on my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” which is appearing in the anthology The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes of Three Rooms Press–they also published Florida Happens last year–and got that turned in; I also saw the cover, which was shared on Facebook. I do like this story that I wrote; it wasn’t one of the easier ones to do. Primarily the reason it took me so long–other than I was writing Bury Me in Shadows at the same time–was because it was so difficult to come up with an idea for what I was going to write. Ordinarily I like writing stories to order–trying to come up with a story that fits a theme (and I usually will push those limits) is always a fun challenge; this one was a bit more difficult, and I am really happy with what I finally managed to come up with. I did worry, as the deadline loomed, that the story wasn’t going to come together properly; I always have that fear, it’s the flip side (or a primary symptom) of Imposter Syndrome. But it’s finished, the editor liked it, and I got my corrections done….now I just have to figure out how to write this Sherlock Holmes pastiche I agreed to write. I already have the idea, and how I want to do it, and where it’s set and the title, which I love….I just now have to figure out the story itself.

I also figured out how to revise two short stories I’ve been unable to get; one was simply because in order for the story’s title to work, one of the characters had to be a moron; and the other because it was a little too, shall we say, spot on? It’s also a great title, and I think it’s a great story; I just have to revise it and change some of the things in it before I make one last try to get it published somewhere.

It’s actually been a pretty good year, career-wise, for me so far….and with only two months left to go–what can I accomplish in the meantime?

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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Land of Confusion

Wednesday, and my body clock  has apparently, finally, after all these years, adjusted back to getting up early the first two days of the week. This morning I woke up again around four, went back to sleep, woke up again around six, and then fell asleep again so that I could wake up just after eight feeling rested and refreshed. Which is cool and lovely, since today is a half-day for me and I can get sort of caught up on things around the Lost Apartment. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, and there are two loads of laundry in some sort of the process of being laundered; the living room is a mess, and so forth. I can also run get the mail after work, and stop at the grocery store for a minor grocery run as well.

Pulling Bury Me in Shadows together is proceeding apace; by the end of this evening I hope to  have over half of it done, with the corrections and additions made that need to be made. This does put me right on schedule for turning it on Monday of next week, which is lovely. It feels good to be producing again, and of course, the whole “Moist Money” thing was really cool this week, too–that’s two short stories I’ve placed over the last few months, which is truly a lovely thing to contemplate. I put some more out for submission earlier this week, too, so hopefully there will be more good news in the future….

..or devastating confirmations of my imposter syndrome. We’ll see how it goes.

Yesterday Facebook memories reminded me that nine years ago was the day we brought Scooter home from the Cat Practice for a two week trial, to see whether we wanted to adopt him or not. He was home with us for exactly two hours before we decided he was a keeper, and went back the next morning to finalize the adoption. It’s so funny; over the years neither Paul nor I had ever had a cat; I’d had roommates with cats, but for the most part they were distant and aloof and rarely seen. Friends had cats, but we were both more dog people, and the sad truth is, we only acquired Skittle when we lived in the carriage house because we had a mouse. Owning Skittle turned us both into cat aficionados; whenever we visit anyone who has a cat, Paul will spend most of the night trying to befriend the cat. Skittle’s untimely demise from cancer was devastating to both of us; Paul was so torn up over it we weren’t sure we’d get another cat. But the Lost Apartment felt so empty without one…when I went back to the Cat Practice to pick up Skittle’s ashes, there was a cat up for adoption in one of the cages behind the front desk–an orange cat whose name was Texas. He was very sweet, and I told Paul that night about him, as Paul was already looking into getting another cat. “Why don’t you go down there and take a look at Texas?” I told him, and so Friday morning before work he walked down there and did, indeed, take a look at Texas. He emailed me when he got to his office and we decided I’d pick Paul up later that afternoon and we’d go get Texas for a trial. I remember letting him out of the carrier, and Scooter immediately, timidly his under the coffee table. He stayed there for a while, with Paul teasingly saying “now, if all you’re going to do is hide under the table we’re not going to keep you.” We turned on the television and started watching….and before long he came out, climbed up onto Paul’s chest, purring and cuddling, and we were his.

And have been, ever since. Nine lovely years. He’s such a sweet cat, too. I finally wrote him into the Scotty series–he’s Taylor’s cat, but Scotty and the boys are all wrapped around Scooter’s paws, the same way we are. It’s always lovely, you know, to come home from a day at work (especially on those shitty days) and have a cat climb into your lap, purring and wanting to cuddle and offering no-strings affection.

We got caught up with The Righteous Gemstones last night, which I am enjoying a lot more than I ever thought I would, and also started watching On Becoming a God in Central Florida–which I’m not so sure about whether we’ll continue watching. The first episode just made me feel incredibly sorry for the main characters, although I didn’t see the shocking death coming. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a comedy–perhaps a dark comedy?–or not, but it didn’t feel funny to me; I don’t like humor where poor people are the butt of the joke , and that’s how it seemed to me…I hate seeing even dark humor where the dreams of poor people to better themselves are mocked or belittled. I don’t care for that, because all I wind up doing is feeling sorry for them. I’ll probably give the show another episode or two, but if that’s all it’s going to be I don’t think we’ll finish watching–but Kirsten Dunst is terrific in the lead role.

I also finished reading “Murder in Basin Street” in Ready to Hang and am now onto the next famous murder, “Juliette and the Kind Doctor,” which seems like an almost perfect story to adapt into a fictional novel. As I read more and more New Orleans history, it’s astonishing to me how dark that history is; almost from the very beginning. I am definitely most likely going to wind up writing historical fiction about New Orleans at some point, I suspect; I see many hours in the archives at the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Williams Center, and the Tulane Louisiana Historical Research Association in my future. There’s just such a rich history to explore and dive headlong into….and as a history addict, I can get lost in such research for years.

Which reminds me, I have been asked to write a story for an interesting anthology; a book of Sherlock Holmes stories where the only requirement is that it can’t be set in England and Holmes/Watson cannot be English. My first thought on reading the email was I can’t write a Holmes story–I haven’t read Doyle since I was a kid and immediately thereafter, Oh, I can set the case in Storyville in the 1910’s and I can use that title I’ve been sitting on for years–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy!” 

Naturally, this made me very excited, and now I have to not only do some more research on the time period, but I need to go back and reread some Holmes stories, to get not only a feel for the character that isn’t influenced by either television series (Sherlock with Cumberbatch and Elementary), but it more Doyle-influenced. I’ve never been much of a Sherlockian; I did enjoy reading the stories when I was young, and I read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s (The Seven Per Cent Solution and The West End Horror), but other than watching the TV series and the occasional film (Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr, which was really just Holmes as Tony Stark in the nineteenth century), my interest in Holmes and Doyle is fairly minimal. Will writing this story turn me into a Sherlockian? I’ve already recruited some of my avid Sherlockian friends to give me advice and perhaps read early versions, to see if I am getting it right.

And stranger things have happened.

And on that note, I’ve got some emails to answer. Back to the spice mines with me!

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Livin’ on a Prayer

Good morning, and a happy Sunday to you all.

LSU pummeled Northwestern State 65-14 last night; they were sluggish in the first half on both offense and defense, allowing the score to be 24-14 at halftime and me wondering if this was some kind of terrible, awful, no-good let down after last weekend’s big game. Never fear–Joe Burrow came out on fire in the second half. LSU scored on it’s four possessions of the third quarter to go up 44-14, adding three more scores in the final period with back-up quarterback Myles Brennan (who also looked fantastic, which is good news for the next two years of LSU football as well), and had the game well in hand. Northwestern State maybe got three first downs total in the second half? But it was amazing to see LSU score 41 points in a half. I never thought I’d ever see the day when that happened, and yet…here we are.

I managed to get the Lost Apartment relatively cleaned up yesterday, and worked on some writing that’s due soon, but have a lot more writing to do today. I am having coffee with my friend Lisa this morning before she leaves town heading home for Atlanta, but after that I need to come home, strap my ass into my desk chair, and finish writing everything that needs to get done today. The essay is the most important thing for me to get done as it is due today; I struggled with it yesterday but I know what I want to say in it but have to figure out how to order the points I am trying to make with it. That is a lot harder than it sounds, and I really want this to be a good essay. I have remarkably little confidence in my ability to write anything, but the scars from college about essays run even deeper than the ones for short stories. But, as my friend Laura always reminds me, my blog is a short daily personal essay, and I have been writing these almost every day for the last fifteen years–which is a terrifying thought, really. I don’t write one of these every day–although I do try–but even if I only do 200 per year….that’s 3000 of these.

Three thousand.

So, yeah, I’m not precisely sure why I still get imposter syndrome about anything to do with writing, other than basic insecurity. The insecurity is something I am trying to work on; it’s an on-going process, obviously. I mean, if I still get imposter syndrome about writing fiction–after all the books and short stories and awards and nominations–obviously it runs very deep in me. I’m not sure why that is–most likely because of the never feeling like I fit in that developed as a gay child–but there you have it. It’s not comforting that other writers experience it as well, although it does help somewhat to know I’m not alone in this.

Okay, sorry to be so brief, but I’ve really got to get to work. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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Superstition

And today is the last day of THIS vacation.

Heavy heaving sigh. Tomorrow is back to reality; to getting up at six in the morning and two twelve-hour days to kick off my return to work. Hurray. Huzzah. Meh, it’s a good thing i have a day job, frankly, no matter how much I whine about having one. If it weren’t for that, I’d only leave the house for the grocery store and other errands or to go to the gym, and the human contact is kind of necessary, not only for my sanity but for my writing. How can you write about people if you never encounter or interact with any?

Plus, I love my day job, so there’s that, too.

I had a horrible bout of Imposter Syndrome over the last two days and I am not sure what triggered it, to be honest. I did have that lovely time on social media on Friday, which helped a lot, but it came roaring back yesterday even uglier than it had been on Friday; so I finished reading Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, which is still resonating in my mind today, it’s that good. There was so much there, so much to unpack, so many things I find myself wishing I’d talked about when I talked about the book yesterday. Seriously, people, you need to read this book and see for yourself what an accomplishment it was.

I did write a little bit yesterday morning before the Imposter Syndrome kicked in; and no, it wasn’t on the WIP or any other in-progress manuscript (novel or short story) I have on hand; I wrote the opening for Chlorine, and then my mind went into a spiral about who my main character was, why he was the main character, and what his story was…and while my mind was in that creative loop, it became time to run the errands. It was when I returned from the errands and put everything away and sat back down that it started. Who knows? I’ve tried figuring it out over the years, and think it’s a combination of things.

I didn’t, as expected, accomplish remotely nearly enough as I’d planned over the course of this five day vacation, but at the same time I think the rest–both physically and mentally (creatively and emotionally) was absolutely necessary in order for me to move ahead and get things done. Unstructured days, such as these have been, aren’t good for me–I need to stick to rules and scheduling and routine; when I fall out of structure I don’t seem to get nearly as much done as I do when I have loads to do. Funny how that works, isn’t it? And when I have unstructured time, I tend to look at all the things I have to do and get overwhelmed by them, to the point of paralysis at first, shortly thereafter followed by well there’s no way I can get this all done so why trying? 

And that, my friends, is how the spiral starts. It’s often followed by if you don’t want to write how can you call yourself a writer? 

Self-destructive, isn’t it?

So, on this the last day of my vacation, I am going to try to get as much done as I can before I go to bed. I need to do some cleaning upstairs, I need to do some writing and filing and organizing downstairs, and I need to finish cleaning out my email inbox. I also need to spend the rest of the day focusing in, laser sharp, on what I need to get done. I think part of the problem I”m having (besides the inability to stick to a schedule) is the lack of list and long/short term goals; I’m not entirely sure what I’ve promised to do when, and I really need to write all of that down and get it on the calendar so I can start getting shit done, you know?

I did remember yesterday I’d promised to write an introduction to the rerelease of an old Jay B. Laws novel, The Unfinished, but I don’t remember what it’s about or anything about it; I’m not entirely certain I ever read it in the first place. I know I read his debut novel, Steam, which is one of my favorite queer novels, and favorite horror novels, of all time, and I really should reread it at some point.  But my copy of The Unfinished is on the end table near my easy chair, along with other things I need to read, and so perhaps, once I’ve accomplished all that I need to get done today, I can repair to the chair and read for a bit. I know I can’t write about the book until I’ve reread it.

I also have to get the proof corrections written up and turned in today as well.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time to head back into the spice mines. Wish me luck, Constant Reader! I may check in again later on.

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Miracles

I thought I was finished with the downward spiral into Imposter Syndrome I experienced yesterday, but I wasn’t.

So I walked away from my computer, ran errands, and came home to finish reading Angie Kim’s exceptional debut novel, Miracle Creek,

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My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie. He probably didn’t even consider it a lie, and neither did I, at first. It was just a small thing, what he wanted. The police had just released the protestors, and while he stepped out to make sure they weren’t coming back, I was to sit in his chair. Cover for him, the way coworkers do as a matter of course, the way we ourselves used to at the grocery store, while I ate or he smoked. But as I took his seat, I bumped against the desk, and the certificate above it went slightly crooked as if to remind me that this wasn’t a regular business, that there was a reason he’d never left me in charge before.

Pak reached over me to straighten the frame, his eyes on the English lettering: Pak Yoo, Miracle Submarine LLC, Certified Hyberbaric Technician. He said–eyes still on the certificate, as if talking to it, not to me–“Everything’s done. The patients are sealed in, the oxygen’s on. You just have to sit here.” He looked at me. “That’s it.”

I looked over the controls, the unfamiliar knobs and switches for the chamber we’d painted baby blue and placed in this barn just last month. “What if the patients buzz me?” I said. “I’ll say you’ll be right back, but–“

“No, they can’t know I’m gone. If anyone asks, I’m here. I’ve been here the whole time.”

And that lie, that simple little lie, opens Angie Kim’s amazing debut, Miracle Creek, which is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, if not one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.

Miracle Creek is and isn’t a legal thriller. The present-day setting of the book is a trial; but it’s also more than that, if that makes sense. A woman is on trial for setting a fire that results in two deaths and several bad injuries–it’s a lot more complicated than that, technically; it has to do with an alternative therapy in which people with chronic issues, such as autism or cerebral palsy or, in one case, low sperm count, are put into a submarine like contraption and gradually subjected to the same kind of pressure you’d get several fathoms down while breathing pure oxygen. The pressurization and the pure oxygen theoretically will help with these “incurable” conditions. The owner of the business, Miracle Submarine in Miracle Creek, Virginia, is a Korean immigrant named Pak Yoo; his wife and daughter help with the business. Someone starts a fire that ignites one of the oxygen tanks and sends flames through the tubes which supply the “submarine” passengers with air to breath, and there’s ultimately an explosion.

Elizabeth, the divorced mother of an autistic son, Henry, chose not to go into the tank with her son that night; her son is one of the victims. She also chose that night to rearrange the way everyone is seated inside, guaranteeing that her son was one of those attached to the tank that goes up and is killed. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to point to her guilt, and she is arrested and put on trial.

Mary Yoo, the daughter, is also blown up and scarred; she also goes into a coma for two months.

The book also bounces around from multiple points of view; all in the first person, and juggling these points of view, different voices and different experiences, is not an easy thing to do; Kim, in her debut novel, manages this with extraordinary skill.

This method of telling the story also allows Kim to share the true story of what happened that night, how one lie can lead to another, and how circumstances can all come together in a horrifying instant–if this hadn’t happened or she hadn’t done this or he had decided to do this, all of this could have been avoided–this randomness that can lead to tragedy, is horrific to contemplate but all too horrifyingly realistic and true.

Going inside the heads of different characters also allows Kim to explore multitudes of themes, all grouped together under the heading of parenting.

One of Stephen King’s greatest gifts as a writer, I have always felt, is how he is completely unafraid to take risks with who his characters are; he isn’t afraid to expose those horrible thoughts his characters have and the guilt that comes with those thoughts and feelings; it makes his characters come to life in a way less skilled writers can only dream about; Kim does the same, making her characters so real in their ugliness and their guilt, unafraid to show that parenting is an ugly job that sometimes has wonderful benefits but  showing how the day-to-day grind can sometimes wear a person down into saying or thinking things that are only too human but too horrible to contemplate or share with anyone else, that sense of resentment that is only too human but also too horrible to let anyone else know.

Her portrayal of the Korean immigrants, the racism they encounter, the fragile bonds of family that connect them yet also fray in a different world and culture than what they are used to, is overwhelmingly compelling.

On every level, the characters and their relationships–whether its husband and wife, mother and child, father and child–areas  layered and complex and complicated as the truth of the night of the tragedy.

All of the characters are flawed, all of them heartbreaking in their humanity, but perhaps the best, the strongest, the one who I will always remember, the one I keep coming back to is Elizabeth, single mother of an autistic only child, the defendant, whose humanity and heartbreak and guilt and suffering is almost too painful to contemplate, to read, and as the truth comes rushing out at the end…wow.

You’re only as sick as your secrets.

This book is amazing. I cannot recommend it enough.