Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)

Ah, Tuesday, with all your promise, dawning bright and early.

The weather has been absolutely stunning these past few days–well, it did get overcast yesterday afternoon, but it was still lovely out–even if it’s too early in March for the weather to be this nice; we are having April weather in early March. Maybe it’s just a passing front, or something–but it is peculiar. I, of course, don’t mind; spring and fall are the two times of the year where the weather is so spectacular we’re reminded why we live here; I wish it was like this year round, but I also recognize that summer is the purgatorial price we must pay for these beautiful days in late March thru early May (and those from mid-September thru Thanksgiving).

I started working on the short story that’s due at the end of the month last night, and it started flowing. I know the voice isn’t quite right, but that’s what the revisions and rewrites are for, you know? One of the problems with being a writer, at least for me, is the conflicting desire to always get something done right the first time you do it; which isn’t really how writing works. As opposed to how you generally do almost everything else in life, writing isn’t required to be done correctly the first time; there are always rewrites, there are always revisions, there is always editing. I do strive to get everything as right as possible in the first draft–something I can’t really help, it’s just who I am–but I often struggle with being tied to what I originally wrote and sometimes stubbornly refuse to see what needs to be fixed within my work. (Part of the reason the Kansas Book and Bury Me in Shadows both still are languishing within the electronic file folders, rather than being out there in the world for my readers to <hopefully> enjoy.)

Plus, you also have to add in the added insecurity which makes me question every word choice, every sentence structure, and every plot development.

It really is a wonder I am not in a strait-jacket.

I slept fairly decently last night, which was lovely; I didn’t want to get up this morning, but I did, knowing that I can sleep a little every day the rest of this week. Tomorrow of course is my late day; an early evening shift so I can get stuff done around here during the day and go to the gym in the late morning. I have all kinds of things to do tomorrow–which means rather than having a relaxing morning, I am probably going to have an irritating one; but again, that’s perfectly fine. I need to carve out some time during the morning to write as well; I also want to get back to Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, which I really shouldn’t have started reading and didn’t really mean to; I just picked it up on Sunday to read the first chapter, to get a sense of it, and the next thing I knew several hours had passed and I was almost to page 100. I need to get it finished, hopefully, maybe, during the rest of this week so I can move on to Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, and then I need to get back to reading Tracy Clark for the interview I am doing with her for the Sisters quarterly.

I am also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams as my current non-fiction; it’s quite exceptionally good, quite frankly.

Tomorrow an anthology I have a story in is having its cover reveal; I am very pleased to be in this anthology and I am very pleased with the story I wrote for it, as well as incredibly flattered to have been asked to be included. I have another story in another anthology that is dropping next month as well, so it’s turning out to be a fairly decent year for me, short story wise, at any rate. The preliminary Anthony ballots have already gone out, and I won’t lie: I’m really hoping my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s makes the short list. It’s probably my favorite story of my own that I’ve ever written and published; one of those few times when I’ve written something that turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, where everything–story, voice, character, mood–all came together in the way I wanted them to, and created a story that I think is one of my best efforts. I think the story in the anthology whose cover is being revealed tomorrow is another one of those instances; I am very proud of that story too–which began as something else completely, but I basically took the story set-up from a failed story and tacked new characters and a new story on it, and it worked beautifully. (I still have fond hopes for the original version of the story and its title; I just have to give those characters and that story a different set-up, is all. I am thinking a faculty cocktail party of some sort.)

I am also going to try to write something for another anthology that is coming to a close at the end of this month; I think some of the things I’ve recently started could actually work for this anthology’s theme, so I am going to go ahead and look them all over and determine which would work for the theme best and try to get it finished by the end of the month as well. I had a really great time working on the Sherlock story yesterday, and I think it’s beginning to coalesce and gel in my mind, so here’s hoping I can get the rough draft finished this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.

10150738_10152985573680260_1669249835_n

Kiss An Angel Good Morning

Ash Wednesday and solemnity has descended upon New Orleans, after two weeks of fun and frivolity. Carnival season actually begins on January 6th, on Twelfth Night–but it truly only kicks into major gear during parade season, which mercifully ended yesterday. Now I can drive my car without fearing I’m gone too late to get home or worrying about finding a place to park (the Carnival parking gods were definitely on my side this year; I was able to get groceries and park on my block AND made a Costco run and was able to park near the Lost Apartment, neither of which is a small accomplishment), and having to adjust my work schedule accordingly.

It’s gray outside the Lost Apartment windows this morning, and all is quiet on the Lower Garden District front. I haven’t checked the weather yet, but I am sure rain is part of the forecast; that’s usually what gray skies in the morning mean. I’m not as tired this morning as I thought I would be, and I’m also a little bummed I have to miss my workout today–the gym doesn’t open until noon, and there’s no way I could get home in time and make it to the gym before it closes after work tonight. But two workouts in one week is better than one workout, and so I guess missing the once isn’t really going to kill me. But I’ve gotten into such a great routine of following the regimen…again, I guess we’ll see on Friday morning if I don’t want to get up and go.

And yes, I started writing yet another short story yesterday evening, “You Won’t See Me.” It’s a similar tale, I suppose, to “Festival of the Redeemer”; unreliable gay male narrator who’s madly in love with someone who doesn’t return that affection–but at least that’s how they both start, at any rate. I have to get back to work on the Secret Project this week as well; so that’s at least five or six short story fragments I am working on in addition to the Secret Project. And yes, I am well aware that is complete madness.

We managed to watch McMillions over the past few days; we’d thought the entire series had finished airing so we were, needless to say, completely shocked to reach the end of episode 4 and realize we couldn’t watch anymore. I remember the scandal, vaguely, when the story broke; but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it–and am amazed at how far-reaching and complicated it became–not to mention all the unfortunate people who got suckered into the con and played along, for various reasons. One of the FBI agents discussed how he was constantly amazed at how people didn’t think they had done anything wrong, and how they could justify and explain committing fraud to themselves–the bottom line was whatever the circumstance or the reason, they committed a crime.

True crime–you really can’t beat it for real drama.

I also got some incredible book mail on Monday–Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely; an old children’s book about the Nazi invasion of Norway and the resistance, Snow Treasure, that I read when I was a kid; Alabama Noir, which I am really interested in reading; and the new Ivy Pochoda, These Women. I somehow managed to finish rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners around the insanity (there will be more to come on that front), and got a little further into Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which I am really enjoying. I’m also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which is also quite good.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday, which means this short work week is going to be weird, and feel weird, the entire time. I do have to put in longer days today and tomorrow than I usually do, because of the holiday yesterday and taking Monday off, but Friday will be my usual half-day and after that, we’re back to normal again. Huzzah? But February is on its way out and March is on its way in, which means the one-two punch of Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Festival is on its way as well. Kind of hard to believe that’s just right around the corner, but here we are, you know? And then at the end of April I’m off to New York and Maryland for the one-two punch of the Edgars and Malice Domestic. But after that, I’ll be done with travel until it’s time to head to Sacramento for Bouchercon, and then I won’t be doing much traveling unless I go visit my parents this year–which I kind of should. It’s just that the drive is so exhausting, but flying is equally awful, takes nearly as long, and is much more expensive. I suppose I could use Southwest points and fly into Louisville, but there’s no longer a non-stop flight from New Orleans to Louisville, and the things about connections is there’s always, always, a screw-up somewhere at that time of year that delays the return.

I also have an obscene amount of emails to read and reply to, which will engender more emails, of course–the endless cycle of cyber-communication–but I will eventually get dug out, slowly get caught up on everything, and somehow manage. I always somehow manage to do so, at any rate.

And now, back to the spice mines, Have a lovely Ash Wednesday, everyone.

1800231_10152224116731575_467610062_n

Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)

Hello, Thursday, and how are you doing this lovely morning?

Yesterday was bizarre. I got up in the morning and took care of some business while I woke up–laundry, dishes, etc.–aware that we were expecting bad weather. It rained off and on all morning–nothing unusual there–and I got sprinkled on a bit when I walked to and from the gym (and yes, that’s twice this week and I am doing quite well with this so far, and I’m still enjoying the way my muscles feel), and then as I was getting ready for work and a conference call, a nasty thunderstorm rolled in. I got out of the shower and as I was getting dressed, I heard this weird clicking sound. Puzzled, I walked over to one of the bedroom windows and saw little white pellets bouncing off the windows, the fence, and the crepe myrtles. Hail? It’s hailing in New Orleans? But it’s seventy degrees outside! 

That’s correct, it was seventy degrees and hailing.

Plagues of Egypt, anyone?

It’s also rained heavily all night overnight here in New Orleans; it’s still dark outside and sprinkling.  I slept very well–always sleep well during rainstorms–and certainly didn’t want to get up this morning. Working out does, apparently, help with sleep, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the kind of restful sleep I’ve been having this entire week, which is very lovely. It’s also lovely to be working out for the right reasons again; for so long I was working out for all the wrong reasons; making it about aesthetics and how I looked (and enjoying the kind of attention I was getting for having a worked out physique) rather than doing it because of how it made me feel and to be healthier. Now that I’m older, and am on blood pressure medication and another daily pill for cholesterol–well, I should have forced my old fat ass back into the gym before I had to go on both. But we’ll see now what, if any, difference regular working out makes to those–although it will also be hard to tell whether it’s the result of the workouts or the drugs I have to take. Curious.

We watched another episode of Sex Education, and I have to say, the show is really quite revolutionary and clever, while also being well-acted and well-written. As I said the other day, each episode is basically a lesson is actual sexuality; yesterday’s was one in which a group of the teenage girls, not friends, being forced to come up with what they have in common as women: the answer inevitably ended up being sexually assaulted in some way, or as one of them told their teacher as they walked out, “unsolicited penises.” And sadly, they did indeed bond over their shared trauma. What a horribly sad statement about what it’s like to be a woman–or a teenaged girl–in these modern times.

Today is a long day at the office, and once I’m fully awake I have some emails to answer and some bills to pay; as well as trying to assemble everything I need for my taxes so i can get them off to the accountant and filed and out of the way. I need to get to work on the Secret Project again–I didn’t even open the file yesterday–and I also need to get started on my Sherlock story. I’m just going to get it started and try to get the rough draft sorted; I can always fix things later, after all, and as I often say, it’s much easier to edit something then it is to write it. But at the moment I’m still feeling a bit groggy and not quite awake yet–still on the first cup of coffee–and so that will have to be later in the day at some point.

I also finished reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend. My next non-fiction history read about New Orleans will be Jason berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300, which should be quite fun. I’ve made lots of notes from the Campanella; I’m sure there will be plenty of notes to be made from the Berry. I certainly am enjoying finally learning the true history of my home, and it is certainly inspiring me to write more historical fictions about New Orleans.

And on that note, the coffee is starting to kick into gear, so I am heading back into the spice mines until it’s time to head into the office. There’s also a lull in the rain–which undoubtedly is helping me wake up–but it’s definitely one of those days where you’d rather just stay in bed and read–which actually sounds lovely; if it weren’t for the coffee situation, I should probably do that more in the mornings, you know?

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

1231520_256008661214780_1755497244_n

Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.