Jingle Bells

I was tired all day yesterday–very low energy for most of the day, too tired to deal with a lot of anything. I spent the day making condom packs and watching a strange reality show on HBO MAX–Finding Magic Mike–and it really wasn’t what I was expecting, to be honest. I was thinking it was going to be an excellent piece of camp; Bravo had tried this with the trashy Manhunt, which was about casting a male strip review in Las Vegas. But this was…different. This was about helping the contestants “find their magic” by gaining confidence in themselves by learning how to perform for women while taking their clothes off. “I don’t feel like the main character in my life story anymore,” one of them says in the first episode, and many of the others echo the same kind of discontent and dissatisfaction with their lives. The process of the show was kind of interesting, and the contestants were actually kind of likable? (One was incredibly arrogant, but the editors did a really nice job of softening his edges by showing other sides of him, interacting with the others and helping them? He was the closest thing to a villain the show had, and I was actually kind of glad the editing didn’t try to fit the contestants into the boxes you usually see on competition shows.) It was actually kind of nice to see, particularly as the contestants bonded with each other.

So, while I was kind of disappointed in it, at the same time I was rather glad I watched. It did make me think about a lot of this “cultural war” stuff; like how “men aren’t men anymore”–but I would posit that men never used to be men, either; it was all a facade because of societal expectations placed on men to be “tough” or “strong” or “big boys don’t cry” and make them emotionally distant and disconnected from everyone in their lives. Societal norms and expectations when it comes to gender roles are quite damaging, I think–and while of course there are those who bemoan the breakdowns of those cultural norms. I do think/feel/believe that that the breaking down of gender roles and the redefinitions coming in their wake will make for a stronger society in the long run. I found male gender roles to be terribly confining and revolted against them most of my life; which means–in theory, at any rate–that my life has been subversive.

Which, while a cheery thought, is also kind of sad.

And I certainly didn’t expect a reality show where guys learned how to strip like Vegas professionals to lead me down a brain wormhole of examining masculinity roles and expectations. So, well done, HBO MAX and producer Channing Tatum. Well done, indeed.

I am going to work on the book as much as I can today, while cleaning and organizing; I have to do a live reading and panel thing this afternoon–which means turning on the camera in the computer, which means people can see the kitchen behind me, which means it can’t be in the condition it currently is in–and I am also supposed to record some promo videos. Sigh. I really hate being on camera and I really hate the sound of my own voice. But I agreed to do all of this, like it or not, and so I really need to commit and get it all done. I also need to figure out when all the things I’ve agreed to do are actually due, because the first quarter of 2022 looks to be booking up with all kinds of things that need to get taken care of and I need to pay attention to, or else I am going to be horribly frantic in the first few months of the next year.

And one thing I really need to get done is this book. I need to make enough progress into it so that I am not feeling stress about it–good luck with that, right?–because that stress will shorten my fuse and make me start snapping at people, and that’s not a good thing on any level. For anyone. I need to plan and make lists and get organized.

Last night I dipped into Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien, and it’s absolutely charming. I also found my copy of Johnny Tremain and read the first chapter again–which is so dramatically different from the film that I am now wondering how much of what I remember of the book is actually from the film? Paul is going to be gone most of the day–he has Wacky Russian in the morning and then he is going into the office–so I am going to try to get as much writing done as I can before three my time, which is when I need to start rehearsing my reading for the panel at 4 central time. I also have to do a promo video for #shedeservedit, and I also have to record a short reading from “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” which I am dreading. I’ve never liked seeing recordings of myself, am usually not terribly fond of photos of myself either (until years have passed), and I absolutely hate the sound of my voice. I am not sure what that is–a lack of confidence in myself? More deep-rooted self-loathing? Not feeling like the main character in the story of my life? (Damn you, Finding Magic Mike, for triggering all these self-questioning self-examinations in my head!)

I also finished reading Nightwing: Leaping into the Light, and it was, as I expected it would be, truly wonderful. I also started evaluating Nightwing as a character and why I connect with him so much; which will inevitably the blog entry/review of the book, no doubt–and possibly another essay at some point as well. (Honestly. I have so many essay ideas…maybe make that a part of the new year’s goals; finish the essays.)

I did make a list yesterday of all the writing that I have to get done by the end of the year, or by the end of January, and it’s staring at me from my notebook. I am resisting the urge to flip it over and not look at it, but I really do need to know and I really do need to get to work on all of these things. Ass in chair, fingers on keyboard is what is absolutely called for here, and focus.

So, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday before Christmas, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Johnny Are You Queer?

I have been wanting to rewatch Johnny Tremain for quite some time now.

When Disney Plus went live, the first thing I did (after subscribing) was search for it there; I did this at least once every two weeks since the service launched, to no avail. I would look for it on Amazon Prime, Netflix, everywhere; whenever I would sign up for yet another streaming service I would look for it. I never quite understood–and still don’t–why Disney Plus doesn’t have it; but the other day at work I realized I hadn’t looked for it for a while, so signed into Disney Plus on my browser: nope. Oh might as well give Amazon Prime a try, I thought, although Disney not having one of its own properties while another streaming service had it was, I thought, highly unlikely.

And yet, there it was: to rent or buy. I didn’t want to buy it, and I really hate paying to rent to stream something when I already pay for far too many streaming services (I really need to get past the mentality of subscribing when I want to watch something when it’s far cheaper in the long run to merely rent the movie or show), but I’v been wanting to rewatch this movie for years and there it finally was; so I did, and rewatched it yesterday whilst making my daily allotment of condom packs.

I also remembered, when I found the film, that Johnny Tremain was my gateway drug to not only my lifelong interest in American history–which eventually led to an interest in history in general. We had an assembly at my elementary school to watch the movie, and I saw it again when it aired on The Wonderful World of Disney (it may even have still been Disney’s Wonderful World of Color). I eventually read the book, which I got from a Scholastic Book Fair, and it became a treasured favorite. I also recognized, before rewatching the movie as a sixty-year-old, that it was a Disney film aimed for kids made in the 1950’s during the Red Scare when we were all living under the shadow of the mushroom cloud; Walt himself was, among many other things, a deeply conservative pro-America anti-Communist homophobe, and given all those things, it was going to most likely be–if looked at with a cold, judgmental, independent eye–a barely disguised propaganda film. (I am also curious to reread the book; since it was published in 1943, during the height of the second world war, it was also probably pro-American propaganda, when all the country needed to be united to believe that we were fighting evil to make the world a better place, and since American democracy was the be-all end-all…you see what I mean?)

I mean, once you recognize and identify Lost Cause mythology as an ideation to perpetrate and protect white supremacy, it’s also relatively easy to start reexamining all of American history and see the mythology that has been built up around the founding and creation of the country, as well as the deification of the Founding Fathers.

But while I was researching the book and movie the other day, I also came across a paper–queer theory–by Dr. Frank Henderson at Furman University that essentially reexamines the text of the novel from a queer perspective looking for subtext: the piece is titled “Could Johnny Tremain Be Gay? Reinterpretation as a Subversive Act” and was published in the Journal of Homosexuality (I read the abstract, and an article about it, rather than paying $40 to access the actual paper and read it; seriously, how do academics research if this stuff is so expensive? I will probably try to track a copy down through the library; which I guess, actually, is what academics do), and it gave me some pause for thought. I do remember that Johnny was more bratty and selfish in the book than he was in the movie (I remember being startled by this when I read the book the first time) and he literally had nothing but disdain for Cilla or any other girl in the book (which, at the time, was part and parcel of that weird societal norm or belief that prepubescent boys think girls are icky and don’t like them or want anything to do with them–again, very odd in a heteronormative culture) but when he becomes friends with Rab, an older boy involved with the Sons of Liberty, he almost idol-worships the older boy and allows himself to forget his innate selfishness and get involved with something bigger than himself–the revolutionary thinking that led Boston to revolt in the first place. That can be read, as Dr. Henderson states, as a queer relationship between the boys, and that Johnny could be read as queer. I seriously doubt that was what Esther Forbes was thinking when she wrote the book–the book was meant for boys and there was, as I said, that weird “boys don’t like girls” norm for a very long time (it certainly was a consistent theme in Disney productions aimed at boys; same with the Hardy Boys book and other mystery/adventure series aimed at boys from the time). This was in theory erased from the film…but I’m not entirely sure it was.

First of all, there’s absolutely no question that Hal Stalmaster, who played Johnny but never really worked much afterwards, mostly guesting on television shows, was a stunningly beautiful young man.

He also wasn’t a very good actor, but the heavy-handed direction of any Disney live-action film aimed at kids for a very long time didn’t inspire the best work from the cast (Mary Poppins, of course, being an exception).

The young actor who played Rab was also ridiculously good looking–and turned out to be a younger Richard Beymer (billed as Dick) who would go on to play Tony in West Side Story and later, Twin Peaks–and they certainly had more chemistry together than Johnny had with Cilla, who was turned into a love interest of sorts, with him giving her a quick peck on the cheek (their only intimacy) as he runs through the streets of Boston with the news that the British would be leaving Boston “by sea”.

The movie was very typical Americana–so yes, propaganda–which sterilized and cleaned up the period in Boston before the outbreak of the war, with rather stiff pronouncements about ideals and principles and freedom and the rights of man and liberties and tyranny–all the patriotic buzzwords cast about by people who want to silence those who don’t agree with them–without any real explanation of what that means.

And yet, as oversimplified and “cleaned up” as this is made to be in the movie, it’s still effective–it’s very stirring to think about the nerve of the American rebels, doing something practically unheard of in history–not just defying their king (there was a long history of rebellions against the worst abuses of kingship throughout the centuries; just the century before the British actually beheaded their king and did without one for eleven or so years; 150 years before Louis XVI went to the guillotine in Paris) but defying the might of the most powerful and richest empire the world had ever seen. It’s hard not to think about–although everyone in this movie is a revolutionary, all Bostonians except for the villains, and the villainous American loyalists are actually worse than the British military themselves–what that period must have been like to live through; the divided loyalties, the betrayal of neighbor by neighbor, spies and treachery and murders. (I’d love to write a historical mystery set in Boston during this period, actually.)

It’s not a bad movie, but it’s also not a great one; and it certainly does its part in upholding the mythology created about the American revolution.

And yes, this could easily be yet another essay.

Deck the Halls

Christmas Eve is a week from today. How did this happen?

Not that I mind seeing this year coming to an end, but who knows if 2022 will be any better? I’ve always had that issue before with people being thrilled and/or happy that a year is coming to an end: the change of a calendar day doesn’t really mean a fresh start, or an “out with the old in with the new” reboot of any kind; it’s just another day. I know, it’s just symbolic, but people always seem to take it seriously. I hate to be the Debbie Downer raining on anyone’s parade, but…then again, it’s never stopped me before.

I have a lot to do today, and this morning, despite a good night’s sleep and feeling very rested, I am also feeling rather un-motivated. The coffee should help, of course–that’s what it’s for, isn’t it?–so hopefully by the time I have finished a second or third cup my brain should be clearing up and I should be raring to go. One can hope, at any rate. I did watch Johnny Tremain yesterday at long last, and I was right about some things and wrong about others; I did look for some of the queer reading of the story that I read about in an article I ran across while looking for the movie the other day–it’s there if you look for it–so now of course I want to take some time at some point and reread the book (and yes, I am thinking there’s an essay in there for me to write someday; I really need to start writing these essays that I think up else they will never get done). It’s been a very long time since I read the book, so I am not certain whether I am remembering the book itself or the film. Still, I should reread the book at any rate.

I have also picked out my book to read for the weekend–and have definitely landed on Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien. I kind of want to see the new Spider-man movie, No Way Home, but I am not sure that I really want to be sitting in a movie theater in the suburbs right now with a crowd of people with questionable vaccination status. I’ve been vaccinated and boosted, but at the same time I’d rather not become a carrier, even if I only get mildly sick from an infection. I am excited to read it, to be honest; I am really enjoying this trip I am taking down Cozy Lane, and of course I am saving the latest Donna Andrews as a Christmas treat for myself next weekend. I’ve not picked out my watching for today’s condom packing adventures yet–there’s a plethora of things to choose from, and I did spend some time looking at what’s new on several of the streaming services last night, but there’s such an overabundance it’s difficult to choose anything. I also need to figure out what I’ve agreed to write and when it is due; I think I’ve agreed to do any number of things and so of course I need to compile a detailed to-do list so I can work my through it. And of course, the house needs cleaning and organizing as it always does. Heavy sigh. I really need to let go of the self-defeating mentality that the insane standard of cleanliness ingrained into my head by my mother is not achievable to anyone with three full-time jobs and stop beating myself up over it, seriously.

And the good news this morning is that my shoulders don’t feel sore at all anymore, so I think the strain has finally healed, so I can go back to the gym this weekend. Huzzah! I would also like to take a walk around the Garden District after sunset at some point so I can take pictures of the Christmas decorations, but there just never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done.

I had a lovely evening last night hanging out with friends I’d not seen before Hurricane Ida; it was lovely catching up, talking about books and writing and TV shows we’ve watched and getting caught up in general with everything. It was also really fun to laugh really long and hard again–something that’s been missing in my life for far too long, or at least has become too much of a rarity since the World Closed Down. I think we are all kind of missing out on joy, if that makes sense? Paul and I have already made up our minds to try to enjoy ourselves as much as we can in 2022–which is the only kind of resolution I can get on board with; I think maybe if we all decided to spend as much time as possible in 2022 finding joy in life and the world–well, maybe things could turn around. I am tired myself of all the darkness and bad news and the constant gloom and doom that seems to be our world and our existence now. So, even if the face on insurmountable odds, I am determined to remain cheerful and happy and to always try to find the joy in things. As Ted Lasso says, “be curious, not judgmental.”

And there’s really so much to be curious about!

And on that note, as the coffee begins to kick in, I am heading into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely day, you hear? And happy Friday, Constant Reader–hope you have a lovely weekend.

Christmas Alphabet

Thursday and working at home today. Huzzah!

I got some very good work done yesterday on the book, as well as an invitation to write a story for a tribute anthology, which meant it was a very good day. Today I am working at home, and am also very excited because finally, at long last, I have found Johnny Tremain on a streaming service! And while it disturbs me to no end to actually have to pay to rent it, but I’ve been wanting to see it again for a very long time, and I think I can cough up the couple of bucks to pay for it.

I’ve long wondered where my interest in history came from, and when I saw Johnny Tremain available to stream at long last on Amazon Prime the other day, it hit me: when I was in the first grade, at Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago, one afternoon we all gathered in the auditorium and they screened the movie for us. It was my first time seeing anything to do with American history–at that point, I was aware of the Civil War (I was from the South and lived in Chicago; of course I did) and who Washington and Lincoln were, but it was watching this movie–about a teenager in Boston during the period leading up to the American Revolution, that triggered my interest. This was when I started looking for books on American history at the library instead of ones about dinosaurs, and I was in the fourth grade when I finally got a copy of the book (I didn’t know it was a book first) from the Scholastic Book Fair, and it remained a favorite of mine for the rest of my life. I’ve always, always, remembered watching that movie and wanted to see it again; but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that it was the trigger that led me to my interest in American history, and from there to history in general. I am sure, since it’s a Disney picture made in the 1950’s, that it’s very rah-rah patriotic–there’s a thirty minute clip from it on Disney Plus that I tried to watch out of context, but it was so…hit you over the head with AMERICANA and FREEDOM and LIBERTY that I couldn’t really watch all of it; I am hoping that the entire movie won’t be such blatant propaganda, but then again, it was during the height of the Red Scare and it probably was intended to indoctrinate (white) children with a pro-America mentality; patriotism to the nth degree.

So, we’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

I got some good work on the book done last night, after which I was very tired, so I climbed into the easy chair (with a sleeping purr-kitty in my lap) and finished reading A Caribbean Mystery. (More on that later.) I also started reading Nightwing: Leaping into the Light (based on a recommendation from my friend Alex, who always knows whereof he speaks) and it reminded me (again) of why Nightwing is and always has been my favorite super-hero ever since I was a teenager (since he evolved from Robin into Nightwing); and it also finally hit me last night precisely why that was the case; it should make for an interesting blog entry when I get to it. I have so much writing to do–and fortunately I am in a creative state of mind these days, which needs to be more laser-focused. I am pretty confident I will get the book finished in time now, as well as everything else I need to do. We need to make a Costco run at some point, and of course there’s always mail to pick up, dishes to do, floors to clean, and laundry. I also have condoms to pack, and so much reading to do. I inevitably always have more than enough books on hand so that I will never run out of things to read–and that’s not even taking into consideration the ebooks loaded into all the reading apps on my iPad. I slept really well last night–a lovely side effect to being exhausted yesterday–and my shoulder is starting to feel better–at least I can move my arm without feeling a stab of pain, but I do want to keep resting it for another few days before attempting the gym again. I think tonight I might also walk around the Garden District taking pictures of Christmas decorations, which is always a lovely thing to do; one of the many things I love about this city is how it dresses itself up for any and every holiday, which makes it always seem so festive here.

I also have all my Christmas shopping done, and I actually did my Christmas cards last night as well. Now if only my house weren’t such a mess, I could claim I was winning at life!

Paul and I have decided that 2022 is going to be a year dedicated to living our best lives, and we’re thinking about taking another jaunt to Europe (pandemic permitting); but Amsterdam and Berlin will be our destinations. I’ve always wanted to visit both–there’s really nowhere in Europe I don’t want to visit, really–and the appeal of the art museums in both, plus Amsterdam is primarily a walking city, is a hard pull to resist. I’m thinking we might even take the occasional weekend getaway to a panhandle beach, why not? I have to do some traveling for my career (pandemic willing), and I am sure Paul will want to come to Minneapolis with me for Bouchercon, since we both lived there (he lived there much longer than I did; I only lasted eight months, and only agreed to live there on the guarantee it would be eight months and then we would move to New Orleans–other than the weather I really liked it there) it makes sense for him to come with. He works so hard, and he really does deserve to have down time where he can just relax and have fun.

Yesterday at the office I was walking out of our cubicle area to a testing room because one of my clients had arrived. I had noticed that the Crescent Care shirt I was wearing fit rather nicely; I have three of them in purple (one for every clinic day) and one of them, for some reason, fits better than the others and looks more flattering when I wear it. I actually had just thought about it again when I stood up from my desk (“hey, my pecs looks HUGE in this shirt”) and as I walked out, our nurse (hired in July) was sitting at the front desk and she said, “You know Greg, I can see the potential that you were fine when you were younger.” Fifty year old me would have been offended (“what? I look old and tired now?”) but sixty year old me accepted it in the spirit it was intended–a compliment–so I just laughed and replied, “thank you, I was.” Like I said, ten years ago I would have let that hurt my feelings; now I saw it as a compliment–if worded a bit bluntly–and it amused me. Even thinking about it, I am smiling about it.

I do wish I hadn’t been so insecure and self-conscious when I was younger. I also wish I could transfer this very mentality to my writing. I don’t get Imposter Syndrome as much as I used to–more maturity of age, perhaps?–but I do worry about whether people will get what i am trying to do when I write. I worry about unintentionally offending people more than I ever used to before (trust me, if I am trying to offend you, it’s pretty fucking clear); and I am trying to be kinder, more aware, and to exercise empathy as my default rather than getting offended myself. I don’t know how well I am succeeding, but I certainly don’t have my Julia Sugarbaker tirades are regularly as I used to.

Interesting.

Maturity, or just tired?

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

Solsbury Hill

Thursday and working at home today. Huzzah!

Yesterday was yet another day when I woke up feeling rested and invigorated. I had thought, oddly enough, that I hadn’t slept particularly well the night before–I woke up several times throughout the night, and the last time was five thirty, so I just kind of laid there in a half-sleep until the alarm went off. But oddly enough, I never hit the wall yesterday afternoon and I was also full of energy and highly functioning and got a lot of stuff taken care of, which was absolutely lovely. I hope to match that productivity today. I only have to work a partial day because I had to stay late the other day, so I am hoping to get some writing and editing done today as well, and make it to the gym once I complete my work-at-home duties. Fingers crossed!

I went to sleep later than I’d planned last night. We finished watching Dopesick, which is an amazing production with exceptional acting and writing, and then I went into a wormhole on Youtube and wound up staying up until midnight. I woke up early this morning–earlier than I’d wanted to, but hey, more time to get things done–and I think I slept relatively well last night. I am awake, after all, and not tired physically or mentally; I call that a win, really. I also finished reading Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross–more on that later–and started reading Guilty as Cinnamon by Leslie Budewitz, who is a favorite writer of mine and one I should read more of–I loved Assault and Pepper, the first in her Seattle Spice Shop series, this is the second.

I’ve also been reflecting a lot on my trip to Boston. I made a mistake the other day when I was talking about visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; I referred to reading about Mrs. Gardner in a book called The Grande Dames by Stephen Buckingham; his name was actually Birmingham. I think I can be forgiven for that error, primarily because Buckingham seems like a more likely last name for an American than Birmingham–and buck instead of birm is a very easy mistake to make, and therefore forgivable, despite my incredibly high standards for getting these facts correct. But I always loved the story of Mrs. Gardner, the ultimate diva and grande dame of Boston, and now that I’ve seen the Italian palazzo she built as a home for herself and her extraordinary art collection…I need to reread Mr. Birmingham’s book again. The museum was spectacular, just spectacular.

The day began with me looking out the window of my room at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square to see it was drizzling a bit outside; and I had to decide: lug my suitcase through the subway, or summon a Lyft, or walk ten blocks to the new train station, Moyhihan Hall? Being a hardy New Orleanian, I decided I’d just walk the ten blocks–my Fitbit would love all the steps–and as long as I could keep my glasses dry, I should be fine. It was just a drizzle, after all. So, I rode the elevator down and walked out the front door and walked over to 8th Avenue and headed downtown. It was, despite the slight drizzle, a lovely walk. I debated stopping for coffee along the way–I’d not had any (and it was actually rather delightful to not be so dependent on caffeine this trip as usual, and perhaps that’s why I had no issues sleeping?), but decided to wait till I got to Moynihan before getting coffee–what were the odds there wouldn’t be at least a Starbucks, if not a Dunkin’ Donuts, inside? I made good time, and was actually enjoying people watching as I made my way down 8th.

So, of course, about a block and a half from my final destination, the sky opened with a deluge worthy of a New Orleans street-flooding strength downpour. By the time I reached the train station I was completely soaked, but was also highly amused by it all. I had a three and a half hour train ride to Boston ahead of me, and I was really looking forward to getting back into the book I was reading–These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall, see the blog entry where I discussed how terrific the book was–and the Amtrak ride from New York to Boston is one of my favorite train trips–Connecticut is so scenic and beautiful, and the train hugs the coast most of the way, with spectacular views of bays and inlets and estuaries and boats and lovely homes. So I got my coffee, wiped off my head and glasses with napkins, and debated battling with my suitcase in the bathroom to get dry clothing–I decided against it eventually–and finally boarded my train and headed for one of my favorite cities that I never get to spend enough time in, Boston (I’ve always had an affinity for the city because I love history, and of course, Boston was pivotal in the American Revolution, and Johnny Tremain is set there, and I love that book). Alas, the scenery was perhaps not as spectacular along the route as it usually is; it rained and was gray and cloudy and overcast the entire way, and whenever I tried to take a picture by aiming my phone at the window, all I got was a gray photo of water beaded up on glass and nothing beyond, which was terribly disappointing. But this lack of ability to take great scenic photos enabled me to focus on the book, which I was absolutely loving (see blog entry from several days ago where I discuss the phenomenal novel at great length). It was raining in Boston when the train pulled into the station, and my wonderful friends were there to pick me up, and we headed for the Gardner Museum.

I could spend days in that museum, seriously. The building itself is breathtakingly beautiful–as are the Sargent portraits of Mrs. Gardner on display–and so much other amazing art: paintings and sculptures and tapestries; the Velazquez painting of Philip IV of Spain that is perhaps the most famous image of that sad Hapsburg king; everywhere you look there is a spectacularly beautiful piece of art. It’s overwhelming, and even more awe-inspiring perhaps than even the Uffizi in Florence–you expect the palaces and collections of European nobility and royalty to be spectacular; and to be sure, Mrs. Gardner’s home and collection pales in comparison to that of the Medici, but she was an American heiress…and even though she was fabulously wealthy, to me even the wealthiest of the robber barons pale in comparison to the sumptuous palazzos of the Renaissance Italians. But it’s still an impressive collection, if not a Medici one, and that’s why I think it’s more impressive. Mrs. Gardner was simply a wealthy woman, not a Renaissance lady or princess or queen. She couldn’t be expected to compete, and yet…the collection is exceptional and extraordinary, as was the woman herself.

And of course, as a crime writer, the robbery–the empty frames that once held Rembrandts brazenly stolen and yet to be recovered still on display–is also fascinating to me, particularly since I love treasure hunts.

I am forever grateful to my friends Stuart and Robbie for taking me there–and I plan to visit again sometime.

Crime Bake, the event put on jointly sponsored by the New England chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, was why I went to Boston in the first place, so Stuart and Robbie dropped me off in Dedham at my hotel (which was where the event was) and I got a lovely night’s sleep–again, a complete shock, but is it a mere coincidence that the coffee I had at the train station was the only cup I had that day?–and I got up early the next morning for the breakfast buffet and to start attending panels. When I said earlier that I’d forgotten how much I love listening to writers speak about writing, and books, and everything to do with being a writer, I was not kidding. I haven’t been to anything like Crime Bake since the Williams Festival in March 2019; I missed that year’s Bouchercon because I developed an inner ear infection and couldn’t fly. It was so inspirational. I listened to writers I admired and writers I wasn’t aware of, and was scribbling notes in my journal the entire day. It was marvelous! And inspiring. I’ve talked on here a lot about feeling disconnected from writing and publishing; part of it was not being around writers and listening to them talk about craft, what inspires them, how they work, how they develop and flesh out their ideas–the joys and heartaches and the Imposter Syndrome–because writing can be a very lonely business (it’s just you, the keyboard and the computer screen much of the time), and it’s nice to connect with others and realize we all go through the same thing, the same frustrations, the same heartaches and aggravations and joys.

Today I have a lot of catching up to do–what else is new?–and I am hoping to get some writing done around my work-at-home duties. Wish me luck, Constant Reader, and have a lovely Thursday!

I’ll Stay With You

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee preparatory to going to the gym and getting my workout on. I didn’t go at all this past week–the cold, the cold, the cold–but I am ready to get back into the swing of things. My goal/hope with my workouts is to get to the point by June that I am so used to the exercising that I can switch it up–move from a full body workout three times a week to one that focuses on different body parts every visit (chest/back, arms/shoulders, legs) even though that will mean the return of the hated and feared LEG DAY.

Christ, even typing the words leg day sent a cold chill down my spine.

It feels sort of temperate this morning in the Lost Apartment, though a quick weather check shows that it’s fifty-three degrees outside–but today’s high is going to be a tropical 64 degrees. Huzzah! The sun is also out, so it’s very bright this morning in my workspace, which also kind of feels rather nice. I am still wearing layers, of course–I am going to make some groceries in a moment before going to the gym–but I think the cold spell may have broken–or is in the process of being broken; the ten day forecast indicates lows in the forties but highs up to 70 over the next ten days, so that’s much more bearable. Thank you, baby Jesus.

I managed to work on the book yesterday–I got through the first five chapters, and it was really a struggle–and then last night while we watched Servant and Resident Alien I scribbled out one of the podcast entries I need to get done. I do think this is actually going to turn out to be something pretty decent, if awful at the same time (a good book about an awful subject is probably the best way of putting it) and I did some other writing work yesterday as well, which was pretty lovely. I did watch a lot of Youtube history videos–Paul was at the office yesterday; he’s going back in today as well–and I discovered an old show on HBO, Sons of Liberty, a one-season show with six episodes from 2015 that I’d never heard of before, which is odd; given my interest in history I am usually aware of such shows. (Interestingly enough, I looked it up just now–it aired originally on the History Channel, and was one of their rare instances of actually showing a program about history–but only in three episodes; HBO must have broken each down into two parts.) It’s entertaining enough, and of course, as I watched the episode (Ben Barnes is way too young and way too hot to play Samuel Adams, but hey, it’s entertainment) naturally I started thinking about, of all things, writing a. murder mystery set in occupied Boston before the revolution breaks out. Pre-revolution Boston is one of my favorite historical periods–blame Johnny Tremain for that (and I am still bitter that movie hasn’t shown up on Disney Plus yet….hello? Are you listening, Disney Plus? It does rather make me wonder if there’s some content in the film that wouldn’t play today, the way the blatant racism of Song of the South got it locked into the Disney vault forever, despite having an Oscar-winning song in it), although there’s an excerpt of it on their streaming service. It’s very preachy, as pro-Americana Disney from that period always was–but I’d still like to see it again sometime. I’m not even sure you can pay to watch it on any streaming service. Hmmm; maybe its on Prime, and since Paul won’t be home most of the day….I can work on the book and when I am finished I can see if I can stream it…ah, yes, there it is on Prime, and relatively cheap, at that. Well, that’s my post writing day sorted. Huzzah!

Also, we are really enjoying Resident Alien, which we are watching on Hulu and is a Syfy show. It’s very clever and interesting approach to the trope of the lovable alien (see E. T. and Starman), and is actually quite funny as well, set in the tiny town of Patience, Colorado. Servant continues to be deeply dark and disturbing, which of course is fun, and I think tonight we will probably start watching It’s a Sin, provided Paul gets home from the office early enough, since I am back to work at the crack of dawn again tomorrow morning.

I was also very pleased to read four short stories yesterday morning with my coffee; I suspect that once I am finished here I will gather up my coffee and my copy of Alabama Noir to read a few stories in it this morning. It feels good to be reading again, even if I am not reading novels, and as I have said, I am hoping that once this book is finished to have the bandwidth to start getting caught up on my reading some more. My desk area is also a horrific mess in need of some work–the endless filing becomes endlessly tiresome–but I think it’s at the point where I can move stuff into an actual file box, if that makes any sense at all. Probably not, but I know what I am talking about. I have gathered so much research about New Orleans and Louisiana history–seriously, I have so much stuff that I want to write about at some point that I know I shall never live long enough to get it all written, but even if I never write about Louisiana and New Orleans history–which I know I will–it’s at least an interesting hobby for an amateur historian like me. Our history is so interesting and colorful, if horrifically racist…I have to say how incredibly disappointed I am in James Michener for never doing one of his epic historical novels about Louisiana. I mean, he wrote about Texas and Hawaii and Colorado; why not Louisiana? Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the race stuff–after all, before the Civil War we had that caste system, in which the whites were the elites, the free people of color the second class, and of course, the enslaved the bottom of the pyramid. I should go back and finish reading Barbara Hambly’s marvelous Benjamin January series, as well as revisit Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints. Louisiana’s free people of color are often written out of history, as is the German Coast slave uprising of 1811 and the impact of the Haitian revolution on Louisiana and New Orleans, with the emigrés from Hispaniola/Ste. Domingue fleeing here (Anne Rice also touched on this briefly with The Witching Hour; the Mayfairs were Haitian refugees, I believe, which is how they came to New Orleans in the first place–but it’s been years and I could be wrong about this, but I think Suzanne Mayfair was the witch from Ste. Domingue who came to New Orleans to establish the dynasty here; another book I should revisit)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and hope everyone I know in Texas is doing well this morning.

Walking the Floor Over You

I have always loved to read, and have always encouraged other people to read. It’s one of the great pleasures of my life, for as long as I can remember. Once I learned how to read, I never stopped reading. I will probably never stop reading. There are fewer non-sexual pleasures in life as satisfying as reading a good book.

As I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother got me really started into watching old movies–both horror and crime–and also encouraged me to read. She was the one who got me started reading Mary Stewart, by giving me her copy of The Ivy Tree; my friend Felicia in high school reminded me of Stewart and so I started reading more of her work. (I still have not read all of Mary Stewart’s work–that “I don’t ever want to run out of something new to read by Mary Stewart” thing I do) And while I enjoyed all of them, I enjoyed some more than others. For example, i remember reading The Moon-spinners, but not really enjoying it very much, frankly. I never revisited the book…but now that I am doing the Reread Project, I decided to give it another read.

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It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it. I won’t pretend I saw it straight away as the conventional herald of adventure, the white stag of the fairytale, which, bounding from the enchanted thicket, entices the prince away from his followers and loses him in the forest where danger threatens with the dusk. But, when the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the White Mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead, flicker in and out of the deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossom?

The car from Heraklion had set me down where the track for Agios Georgios leaves the road. I got out, adjusted on my shoulder the big bag of embroidered canvas that did duty as a haversack, then turned to thank the American couple for the lift.

“It was a pleasure, honey.” Mrs. Studebaker peered, rather anxiously, out of the car window. “But are you sure you’re all right? I don’t like putting you down on the hill like this, in the middle of nowhere. You’re sure you’re in the right place? What does that sign post say?”

The above pictured cover was the one I originally read; the reread was of a more recent edition. When I was younger, I was fascinated by ancient history: Egypt, Greece, and Rome, to be exact; Greek or Roman or Egyptian ruins on the cover of a book, especially if it was a suspense novel, drew me to the book like moth to flame. (That was what originally drew me to read Phyllis A. Whitney’s Mystery of the Hidden Hand, which I now believe–my memory lies, remember–was the first Whitney I read, because it was set in Greece) I had also remembered seeing a film version of The Moon-spinners, broken up over two weeks’ episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney, which starred Hayley Mills. I don’t remember much of the film now, but I do remember thinking it was vastly different from the book when I read it the first time. It’s not on Disney Plus (neither is Johnny Tremain or Now You See Him Now You Don’t, which has annoyed me regularly since I signed up for the service), and I’m not about to spend even three dollars on renting it on Amazon Prime–although I was tempted enough to look it up to see if it can actually be viewed anywhere.

Anyway.

I enjoyed the book much more greatly this time. I’m not certain why, precisely, I didn’t like it as much as Stewart’s other books at the time, but sometimes that’s just the way it is. The Moon-spinners focuses on Nicola Ferris, an adventurous young Englishwoman in her early twenties. She works at the British Embassy in Athens; her parents died when she was a teenager and she went to live with her aunt Frances, who is a leading botanist. Frances is also single and terribly independent, like most women in Stewart novels; Nicola admires and loves her aunt greatly and emulates her. Her aunt is taking a yacht voyage with friends around Greece and the islands; Nicola decides to take a vacation, meet up with Frances on Crete–a friend, a travel writer, has recommended a very remote village with a small hotel to them–and Nicola has the great good fortune, while on Crete, to meet an American couple (the above mentioned Studebakers) who are driving around Crete and offer her a lift to Agios Georgios, putting her there a day earlier than expected. (This sentence, describing the Studebakers,  They were both lavish with that warm, extroverted, and slightly overwhelming kindliness which seems a specifically American virtue–is a terrific example of Stewart’s exceptional skill as a writer; in that one sentence she tells you exactly who the Studebakers are.) The Studebakers aren’t terribly keen on letting her off in the middle of nowhere, to lug her suitcases and such over a dusty mountain trail to a village where she isn’t expected until tomorrow and where she will know no one; fortunately her work at the embassy has given her a passable knowledge of speaking Greek.  Nicola insists she’s fine and thanks them for their kindness, and starts trudging along the dusty path.

All of Stewart’s heroines are strong, capable, intelligent young woman who can take care of themselves; and courageous. It is while walking on the path that Nicola’s Greek adventure takes off–she stops at a pond to get a drink of water, and in the reflection of the water she sees a man’s face, watching her. Your average run-of-the-mill heroine would scream and run off or be terrified; Nicola is merely startled and curious. This is how she comes across Lambis, the Greek boatman, and young Mark Langley, who has been shot and needs medical attention. Nicola immediately makes Mark’s problems her own. Lambis, as it turns out, had put in his boat in a nearby bay so that Mark and his younger brother Colin could go exploring and look at the ruins of an old church, originally a shrine to a Greek god but converted during the days of the old Eastern Empire into a Byzantine church. As they are walking back to the boat they come across of small group of people arguing over a recently dead body. Mark is shot and left for dead; Colin is taken. And so, now of course, Nicola wants to help rescue Colin and help Mark–she isn’t, after all, expected for another day, and of course, the killers/kidnappers must be from the small town of Agios Georgios.

Stewart is, as always, an exceptionally talented writer. Her descriptions are simple yet poetic; she vividly brings the town, the mountains, the sea, everything to life so well you can easily imagine yourself there. And courageous Nicola, now possessed of dangerous knowledge that could get her killed, has to navigate the village while trying to help Mark find Colin, with no idea of who she can trust and where she can turn to help.

Nicola is a terrific heroine, and I can see why Stewart was so popular with women and teenaged girls; she wrote smart, no-nonsense, capable young women who were courageous and fearless and could pretty much handle anything. The suspense is, at times, unbearable.

There is an element of romance to the story as well; Nicola begins to have feelings for Mark, but it’s practically an afterthought, and it feels almost like it was inserted into the story. There’s absolutely no need for the two of them to develop feelings for each other; other than the psychological closeness that comes from a shared danger (one of the things I loved the most about the sequel to Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile, is that it showed that happy couples who bond over adventures don’t necessarily wind up living happily ever after; I’ve often wondered about the couples from these types of novels), and this is one of the reasons I no longer really consider Stewart a romantic suspense writer; the romances in her books often feel that way–something inserted into the story later to appease either her agent or editor–and they are completely unnecessary to the story; if anything, the romance develop organically because of what else is going on in the story; the suspense/mystery aspect is the most important part.

And Stewart consistently wrote some of the best openings in crime fiction.

Highly recommended; I will probably reread it again someday.

Ready for the Times To Get Better

Here we are, New Year’s morning, and I am on my second cup of coffee. I, being a tired and tragic old man, went to be around eleven last night and slept for almost ten hours; I did wake up a few times–both times by a purring cat cuddling up to me–and was able to fall back asleep almost immediately. Paul went down to the Quarter to watch the fireworks and watch the fleur-de-lis drop–something we never did when we used to go out partying in the gay bars on New Year’s Eve; we were always inside and wasted by the time midnight arrived–and so I spent a quiet evening at home, falling into Youtube loops of old songs that would remind me of other old songs and old television clips from old series and so forth. I wanted to rewatch Johnny Tremain on Disney Plus, but like Now You See Him Now You Don’t, it’s not there. What the actual fuck, Disney Plus? Ah, well, it will eventually turn up at some point, I would imagine.

There are football games all day today, and I am taking the day off. I am not going to pressure myself to write–although I did have two new short story ideas, and thought about the plot of a potential future novel some–and will undoubtedly spend the day in my easy chair, with The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels, both of which I am currently rereading, with the games on in the background.

Yesterday was, of course, our annual New Year’s Eve lunch at Commander’s Palace with Jean and Gillian, with special guest star Susan Larson. What a lovely time it was. As it was a weekday, the quarter martini special (limit of three, because no one needs more than three) was in effect. I had whatever the blue curacao martini is called, and followed it up with a melon martini. I was literally feeling quite well when we finished and came home, quite frankly, and incredibly glad I limited myself to two of those things. I had the shrimp and tasso in a pepper jelly for an appetizer, and then finished with the pork tenderloin over mashed sweet potatoes with pickled onions, with the bread pudding in bourbon sauce for dessert. Ah, Commander’s–you never fail to please. It’s really a lovely way to see the old year out.

I read a lot of books in 2019–I read a lot every year–but not as much this past year as I usually do; I think it was primarily burnout from being an Edgar judge for 2018.  I read some absolutely amazing novels this past year: The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict; Gone Too Long by Lori Roy; The Hidden Things by Jamie Mason; Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman; Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin; Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha; Miracle Creek by Angie Kim; Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett; My Darkest Prayer by S. A. Cosby; Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley; Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Not Dead Enough by J. M. Redmann; Empire of Sin by Gary Krist; The Warehouse by Rob Hart; They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall–all I will say is I am glad I was not a judge for the Edgars this year because there are so many damned fine novels that I read, and there were so many others I haven’t gotten to yet–the new Hilary Davidson, for one, and so many, many more. I can never read fast enough to read all the great new stuff that comes out every year, let alone ever get caught up from past years.

As I mentioned earlier, I am doing the Reread Project this year–rereading books I read in previous years or earlier in my life, not only to see if they still hold up or to look for more insights not only into writing and structuring but to recall what I enjoyed about them in the first place. I haven’t reread Rebecca now for nearly two years, and I was thinking about how genius it was again yesterday; I always get something new out of it every time I read it, like it’s an entirely brand new novel, and I also love how du Maurier always subverts the reader’s expectations. Genius, really.

I just have a feeling this is a going to be a good year–I’m not sure why, but I just have this sense. Obviously, I could be completely wrong; stranger things have happened.

All right, I am going to do some straightening up here in the kitchen and then it’s off to my easy chair. I think both Auburn and Alabama are playing at eleven, against Minnesota and Michigan, respectively, so that should be interesting. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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