Recoil

And now it’s Ash Wednesday, concluding the Carnival that wasn’t.

My God, yesterday was cold.

Gregalicious does not like the cold.

Yesterday’s high was 36; most of the day was in the 20’s, and without heat in the Lost Apartment, it was pretty miserable here. I spent the entire day in layers of clothing, under blankets, and with my space heater blowing directly on me. It’s in the thirties right now as I type this–shivering, with my gloves forgotten upstairs–but at least today’s high will be in the fifties. (And yes, well aware that ordinarily I would complain about the cold with it in the fifties, so yes, the irony doesn’t escape me at all. Last night, as I got into bed with all my layers still on, I said to Paul, “as much as I am dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning, I am looking forward to the drive to work because I know the heat in my car works.“) At least this morning I can feel the heat from the space heater–yesterday for most of the day I couldn’t, unless I got close to it, that’s how fucking cold it was in here…I could see my breath last night as I gulped down hot soup. Needless to say, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday, but I watched a lot of videos about history–I found a great American history channel, with a history teacher going over important points from our history–the compromises of 1820 and 1850 that just kicked the slavery question down the road a bit; the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the Dred Scott decision; and every other point in our history where the government tried to appease slaveholders in order to keep the peace.

Appeasement is never a solution; all it does it buy some time before the inevitable conflict comes.

I also just had a horrid thought–I do hope the heat is on at the office…although if it’s not, I doubt they will keep us there very long.

And I do think I’ve learned my lesson about getting out of bed. If it’s cold like this tomorrow, I am just going to grab my laptop and anything and everything else I have to work on tomorrow, and I am going to do it from under the blankets upstairs. And move my space heater up there as well. I can’t afford to lose another day of work because it’s cold–and the weather it going to remain cold over the next few days before finally returning to normal New Orleans winter weather temperatures on Sunday.

I found myself thinking yesterday, as I shivered and tried to start warm (my iPad was cold to the touch so I didn’t even want to hold it for significant periods of time) I found myself thinking, not only about the Kansas book which needs to be worked on, but about another Scotty book–or what will probably be the next Scotty book, Twelfth Night Knavery, which has a very basic plot already in place, so writing the book will just be putting meat and muscle on top of the skeleton I’ve already got in place. I think the next Scotty will take place a few weeks after the previous one, the one after that will take place during the Carnival of 2020, and then we’ll jump ahead to 2021’s Carnival for the next. I’m not sure if this is workable, in all honesty; three Scotty books over such a short time period will spread the writing out over three years, really, so this third one I am thinking about would wind up being a 2024 release….and that’s if no other writing projects/jobs come along in the meantime to kick the Scotty can down the road a while….this is an awful lot of pre-thinking and pre-planning for Scotty; certainly more than I’ve ever put into these books before….so it feels a little bit weird.

We’ve nearly finished the second season of Mr. Mercedes, which we are enjoying a lot after it’s slow start, and I was also very pleased to see that Season Three is going to drop (or start airing) on March 4th, so we don’t have to go too long between seasons. I also rewatched Scream yesterday, which, despite the advances in telephone technology, surprisingly still holds up after all this time–and despite having seen it any number of times, I still enjoy watching it. It really is one of the best slasher movies ever made–particularly in how it mocks the genre, subverting it while embracing it at the same time.

And on that note, I am off to the office, and to perhaps feel warm again for the first time in days.

Behind Closed Doors

Wednesday, Hump Day, all downhill into the weekend now. Woo-hoo, methinks?

I slept very well last night–about five hours consecutively, then in and out for the final three hours–and feel much better this morning than I did yesterday morning. I still have a ridiculous mountain of work to get done–the mind literally reels, but I’m trying not to feel defeated before even trying to get through it all. And of course, tomorrow I don’t have to get up before the sunrise. Tomorrow is also my second inoculation for COVID-19, which means a sore shoulder for a few days. Supposedly the second dose is worse than the first, and might make me a bit sicker than the first did–again, this is fine; I’d rather have a mild sickness than get the coronavirus, certainly! And I certainly should not complain about getting it, considering how early I am and how many people would love to get it done. It’s going to be strange being inoculated. I’m going to keep wearing masks of course–total strangers won’t know I am vaccinated nor do I plan on flashing my vaccine card at everyone I see–because quite frankly, not getting sick at all so far this winter has been lovely. Maybe, I don’t know, we should always wears masks and focus on cleaning our hands with regularity? It’s a thought, isn’t it?

We didn’t start watching season two of Servant last night after all; Paul didn’t get home until very late from the office last night, so I basically just sat in my easy chair, exhausted, trying to drum up the energy to read (Alyssa Cole’s book is so good) while scrolling endlessly through social media while Youtube videos played on the television screen. I also went to bed a bit earlier than I usually do–I was seriously exhausted yesterday–and so the sleep was, indeed, quite marvelous. I really miss the days when I used to fall immediately into a deep sleep that, as Paul once remarked, “a nuclear bomb couldn’t wake (me) from.” That’s probably the primary thing I miss from my pre-fifties life…no one ever told me that one of the things about getting older would be that your sleep patterns change.

Ugh.

But I feel like I can face today this morning–yesterday was one of those “I just want to hide in a corner” days; and while I despise having everything put on hold or pushed back to be dealt with another day, that is one of those things you just have to deal with. I have come to understand when I am that tired after an insomniac night I am really not at my best, and taking care of business when i am not firing on all cylinders is perhaps not the best thing for me or anyone I am having to deal with, work with, take care of, etc. I am still way behind on my book, but I am hoping that this weekend–with the proper amount of rest–I’ll be able to dive headfirst into the book and start heading towards the finish line. I think the current manuscript sits at around 75000 words; it probably needs another 20k to be complete and have everything tied up into a little bow. The trick is going to be figuring out where the new stuff needs to go. One thing I will say about myself as a writer that is complimentary is that I am very good at the transition between chapters–it’s usually very seamless, so inserting new chapters and scenes is a bit more of a challenge. What I need to do this weekend is break the book down to its moving parts, and see what I can do to make it more cohesive–as well as find the parts that are missing that need to be added to it. I think it’s going to be a good book–right now I am clearly not going through imposter syndrome–but a lot will hang on what I am able to pull together and get done.

I also have to revise and rewrite a short story; I need to check when that deadline is, and get it put on my calendar.

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

Nothing but a Fool

Ah, it is Thursday and we have a new president. It was kind of nice to wake up without that sense of existential dread and worrying about what new horrors the day would bring–or what I may have missed while I was sleeping. I also slept deeply and well, and I am enjoying my first cup of coffee thus far this morning. I don’t have a full day of working at home, as I worked longer hours in the office so can shave some off my day today, which is lovely. I can spend the morning with my emails and blog and drinking coffee and waking up gradually–which is my actual preference–I suppose no one likes waking up to an alarm. It’s more along the lines of how used to it you can get. I personally hate the alarm, but there’s simply no way I would ever get up at six in the morning without one. I don’t think my body will ever adapt to that–it never has before, and I can’t imagine that changing as I rapidly approach the big 6-0 later this year.

And Twitter, wonder of wonders, has stopped–for the moment, at least–being the bleak horrific portal to hell it has been for such a long, long time. This, coming so soon after the horrific redesign of Facebook that seems designed and intended to drive all of its users away, has resulted in me spending more time there than I have been on Facebook lately, and frankly, this actually hasn’t been a bad thing. I have freed up a lot more time–Twitter has been fun, but ultimately I am not overly fond of it–and so I find myself taking the time I used to spend endlessly scrolling and commenting and sharing and liking things to do other things, like read or brainstorm or clean.

And is this really a bad thing? I don’t think so. The first and hopefully last social media presidency has shown us all the dangers inherent in unmoderated social media; how quickly it can be harnessed to undermine civility and societal norms and our democracy. The steadfast refusal of social media for years to not try to control the dangerous lies being spread and amplified on their platforms is something that will be studied for generations–and I suspect people like Mark Zuckerberg and their sociopathic desire for blood profits will not come off well in those histories.

Good.

So now I must buckle down and stop watching history unfold and get all the things done that I need to get done. There are some deadlines for short story submissions coming up, my deadline for the Kansas book also is hanging over my head in the near future, and there are any number of other things I need to get a handle on. I have yet to decide on what the next book I will read will be–it’s a toss-up between too many excellent titles, to be sure–and may cowardly delay the decision by delving back into short stories. It’s been a hot minute since I read any short stories, and I also got two wonderful single author collections of ghost stories–those of Edith Wharton and E. F. Benson. (The Benson volume is much thicker than the Wharton.) I have never read Edith Wharton–as I have often confessed, my education in the classics has been sadly lacking–and I am fond of ghost stories, particularly those from that period in literature. I love the formality of the writing with the touch of Gothic to them; I have a ghost story in progress called “The Weeping Nun” I would also like to write in that same kind of style, and perhaps even change it from a modern setting to the past, with the sound of horses’ hooves on the cobblestones and flickering gaslight through the fog in the French Quarter.

Ironically, I had started writing that story on my iPad in Pages; recently I discovered the trove of things written in that app I had completely forgotten about, and so I uploaded them all to the Cloud and converted them to Word documents; hilariously, the opening of “The Weeping Nun” is the scene–or at the very least inspired–the opening to “The Snow Globe.” I had started writing “The Weeping Nun” for an HWA anthology built around the theme of Halloween; and it opens with Satan not only had a six-pack but he also had one of the finest asses I’d seen in a while. The main character is up on the balcony at the Parade watching the street when a muscle boy in a Satan costume comes out of Oz, and that is the point where the story began. I never got more than a thousand words done on the story–I don’t recall why I was too busy or tied up or whatever to finish the story, but when I started “The Snow Globe” for the original anthology I sent it in to, I remembered that opening and changed it from Satan to Santa–and away I went with the story.

I’m still prepping for the final push on the Kansas book as well, the final draft. There will have to be some new scenes and chapters written; more than I’d prefer will have to come out of it; and so much cleaning up to do–the mind positively reels in horror from the amount of work this manuscript needs–which is really why I’ve been avoiding getting back into it, if I am going to be completely honest with myself. But it’s not going to revise or edit or rewrite itself, obviously, and the only way it’s going to get finished is if I stop procrastinating and fearing doing the work (which I inevitably end up enjoying doing anyway, which makes it all the more irritating and annoying that I have to make myself do it) but I’ve also decided that the thing to do is reward myself for getting work on it done; seems silly, but it works. So, for every three chapters I refine, revise and polish I am going to spend some time developing Chlorine, which is what I really want to be writing anyway. I have a lot of ideas and a loose sense of the plot/story floating around inside my head, and I probably need to start writing it all down and piecing it all together, as well as start building the characters and fleshing them out more. I like my amoral, do-whatever-it-takes-to-make-it himbo movie “star”; I think I can make his cynicism and hard-edged morality understandable and likable. I’m kind of excited to start working on it.

And on that note, it is time for me to answer some emails and then start today’s condom packing duties. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

The B-Side

So, my maintenance all went well yesterday–my blood pressure was on the high end of okay, but I also had forgotten to take my pills and things yesterday morning, which was probably why. I am being assigned to yet another new doctor (my previous two left the practice as did the wonderful nurse practitioner I saw last summer), and I saw yet again someone different yesterday–another nurse practitioner whom I also liked–so I have my prescriptions all set and hopefully will get a call from the specialist for the routine exam I’ve been needing for quite some time but have yet to get, for one reason or another. Taking better control of my health was one of the goals for last year, which I vaguely remember in those foggy, long distant Before Times. It didn’t happen since this fucking pandemic has made everything so difficult on top of killing far too many others, and I worry all the time that I am an asymptomatic carrier.

Because apparently, despite the many accusations over the years, I am not in fact a sociopath. Who knew?

I also spent some time trying to fix the desktop. I fucked up–I had it in the right mode and in the right place to fix it–I erased the hard drive and was all ready to download the operating system again when I stupidly misread the instructions and restarted the computer before downloading the iOS; and now I can’t seem to get the thing to a place where I can download the iOS again. I think I got there once–and of course, fucked up yet again, and now have to remember what I did to get it to that place again. Ah, well, I am most likely going to keep futzing with it around the working at home today and making condom packs.

I also managed to finish a terribly rough draft of my story, due today, and once it was finished I immediately knew how I could fix it and make it stronger and better, which is always a good thing; I wasn’t really sure how to pull off the ending (stick the landing, as it were) and once I had actually written that ending–I knew I had to go back and tweak the story some more to make it better. I’ll do that this evening in the wake of the condom packing/movie watching.

I also started reading, at last, Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and I am loving it so far. The authorial voice of Mary Russell is superb, and reminds me of one of my other favorite characters in crime series fiction, the unflappable Amelia Peabody. The voices and characters are very similar–fiercely independent and intelligent, no patience with nonsense–and I quite love the way King has developed her character and her version of Holmes and his world; I also love the running digs at Conan Doyle’s version. King has always been one of my favorite authors–her Kate Martinelli series is quite superb–and I admit I’ve been holding off on reading this series primarily because I was never overly interested in Holmes. My mindset regarding Holmes has changed since I wrote my own version of him last year (I cannot wait to see the finished anthology with “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” in it; there are several anthologies I have stories in coming out this year that I am very excited about)–and I know that I am going to probably revisit ny Holmes-in-New-Orleans world again at some point. I already had a period story in progress called “The Blue Before Dawn” which seems like the perfect thing to adapt into a Holmes story; but for now I have to focus on getting this story finished and submitted, and diving into the Kansas book headfirst this weekend. Forcing myself to finish that story yesterday was probably the smartest thing I could have done–forcing myself to write when I don’t want to inevitably is always the smartest thing I could do, which I need to remember since I always seem to forget about it.

I also keep forgetting Monday is a holiday. Huzzah!

I also stopped at the Fresh Market on St. Charles on my way home from the final maintenance appointment, to scope it out as a potential new source for making groceries. It’s nice–I can never get past that it’s in what used to be the Bultman Funeral Parlor–and I picked up a nice California roll for lunch as well as some sliced turkey meat for sandwiches, but yeah, they don’t carry a lot of name brands and it seems very similar to Whole Foods–but easier to access. This weekend I’ll probably scope out the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, and maybe, since it’s a long weekend, I can make an exploratory expedition to Trader Joe’s in Metairie.

I also started watching the US Figure Skating Championships on Peacock yesterday, availing myself of the seven day free trial for extra access–and there are some movies on there I want to watch as well that could work with several of the film festivals I have in process. Paul, of course, is very excited that skating is going on and college gymnastics–we of course are big LSU Gymnastics fans–and so his weekend is pretty much set. The second season of Mr. Mercedes is also on there, among some other things that would be fun to watch–I am back to talking about Peacock–and a lot of the Hitchcock movies (I really want to do a Hitchcock Film Festival; while I have seen some of his more famous films, there are even more that I’ve not seen). I wish Rebecca and Suspicion were on there, but one can’t have everything I suppose. I really want to watch Shadow of a Doubt…and any number of the others I’ve not seen. It’s really a shame Hitchcock never directed a version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I also realized yesterday that my second vaccine is coming up quickly, which is also pretty exciting. It also appears like the car will be paid off this year–thank the Lord–which will alleviate a lot of my financial hardships–or the occasional ones, I should say, and then I can start paying down the rest of the debt with a goal of being debt free by the end of 2022. I think it’s a realistic goal right now; and one that is very pleasing to me. Being burdened with debt is absolutely the worst, frankly–and it’s a burden far too many of us have to carry for far too long.

And on that note, the spice mines are a-calling me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Someone Like You

TUESDAY!!!!! How are you?

It’s cold again this morning in New Orleans–but one lovely thing about the cold is that I sleep better. I woke up this morning with the alarm, wide awake and feeling surprisingly rested, but stayed in bed because it was so comfortable and warm through several strikes of the snooze button. Even now, as I sip my cappuccino and sit very closely to the space heater, I can feel the cold…and it’s most unpleasant….as will be getting out to the car this morning, and from the parking lot to the office. Ugh. But tis life.

I’m still working on my short story that has to be turned in on Thursday–I think that’s the 15th? Perhaps it’s Friday, I am not sure, but regardless, I have another four thousand words to add to my story and then need to sit and polish and everything else before then. I did manage to get what I had already written very cleaned up, and I like to think I did a good job establishing who my main character is and where he is at in his life; the question is whether the story will turn out to be okay. The nice thing about these stories, of course, is that they can always wind up in a short story collection if the blind readers, for example, turn this one down. I’ve also started working my way through #shedeservedit, and am hopeful I can actually start the revisions as soon as I have this story finished. I have until March 1st to whip it into publishable shape, and then I think I am going to spend some time with short stories in April before spending May writing the first draft of Chlorine. That’s a doable, viable plan for the first half of the year, and I’d also like to spend June and July working on the next Scotty book, before returning to Chlorine. I have some there book projects potentially hanging around out there, floating in the ether, both ideas and potential leads for contracts, and I have a couple of pseudonymous things I’d like to see if anyone has any interest in out there.

Provided, of course, that the country manages to halt all upcoming treason and sedition and doesn’t collapse into an autocratic dictatorship. It’s been very hard for me to focus on anything other than what’s going on in the country since the attack on Congress last Wednesday–the very same one instigated by the president and some of his lickspittle lackeys (who are now calling for conciliation less than a week after they were calling for civil fucking war–looking at you in particular, Hee Hawley and Traitor Ted Cruz), the ones who are now trying to gaslight the country as though last Wednesday was not only a travesty but not one of the major crises of the Republic. The game I play is, what would they be saying and doing had the insurrectionist mob succeeded?

I’ll give you a hint: it most definitely would not be “we need to move on and unify.”

I need to be able to take Donna Andrews’ brilliant advice that I noted last week, about writing on 9/12, and put all of this out of my mind–or find a way to channel my anger into my writing. The story I am currently writing isn’t an angry one; in fact, it’s incredibly important to the story that the main character, and thus the story, remain calm and rational while fighting off rising panic and terror, so this story isn’t the way for me to get the anger out through words…and really, as much fun as I am having (or have been having) on Twitter isn’t really emotionally healthy for me for the most part, but channeling my anger about this outrage into tweets at those who are complicit, or making excuses for treason…well, after being told for decades that I am not a real American patriot while these anti-American fucking nut jobs appropriated the nation’s symbology (for the record, if you don’t understand what those symbols actually stand for, you’re actually fetishizing them and debasing them, along with yourself) while bleating about FREEDOM…yeah, miss me with that, traitors. You appropriated Christianity and perverted it, and you’re trying to do the same with our symbols and ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

I did watch some of the national title game, going to bed just as Alabama was about to make their first score of the second half. Congratulations, Tide, and thank you for continuing SEC dominance of the college football championships. I’ve lost track of how many titles Alabama has won since 2009, but I know LSU won three, Florida two, and Auburn one since the turn of the century. Only the ACC has two teams to win national titles this century; the SEC has twice that many–and LSU has won as many as both ACC teams have. DOMINANCE.

Hopefully, today I can focus and get things done that need to get done. And in that spirit, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day–unless you’re a traitor. Then I hope today’s the day you get arrested.

Wildest Dreams

It’s Thursday, a work-at-home day before the holiday weekend. I know, it’s weird to take a vacation and then work a day before another holiday weekend, but there you have it. It’s also the last day of 2020, I am getting my COVID-19 vaccine (part one) today, and my book is due tomorrow. Heavy heaving sigh. I only have two chapters left to do and a final polish, so after I am done with day job duties, I should be able to power through those last two chapters this evening, and then I have all day tomorrow to reread, revise, and polish before turning it in.

It’s also New Year’s Eve, a holiday I’ve never quite understood but am more than happy to enjoy–I am always happy to get an extra day off with pay, any time anyone wants to provide me with one–but I’ve never really understood the point of celebrating the end of a calendar year and the beginning of another. I mean, it’s an excuse for a holiday and for people to get wasted, I suppose, but other than being a party for symbolism, I don’t understand it. I suppose it’s seen as a demarcation point, but it’s really not a new beginning; I’ve also never been one for resolutions, either. I prefer to set goals for the year, and then see how well I did after twelve months have passed. One of the major things of this past year for me has been memory loss–I can’t remember anything anymore–so I don’t remember the goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2020. I do remember that 2019 was a shitshow of a year, and I was very happy to see it end, as was most everyone, only to discover that 2020 would be so awful that I cannot remember precisely why 2019 was so dreadful, just that it was.

I am getting the COVID-19 vaccine because of my day job, which a lot of people don’t know much about because it’s not something I talk about publicly very much. I am always very careful to compartmentalize my life, keeping my writing career and public life very separated from my day job and my private life. I work at a public health clinic here in New Orleans that used to be the NO/AIDS Task Force, which evolved into Crescent Care Health sometime (my memory is completely shot) over the course of the last decade. I work at the Elysian Fields campus, and basically, what I do is test clients, by appointment, for HIV, syphilis and Hepatitis C; do all the necessary paperwork required by our funders; and basically interview and assess my clients for risk reduction messaging and what other services we provide that they might require. Once that is finished, I take them to a nurse who will draw blood for their PrEP labs (if they are taking PrEP) as well as testing them for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Over the course of the pandemic our services were initially shut down, and then we became a testing site for COVID-19. For several months I worked in the garage of our building, screening people for COVID symptoms before we let them into the building (we were on very limited services; some blood draws were still being done, the food pantry was still open, and so was the pharmacy on the second floor) or sending people who needed to be tested over to the COVID testing area. So, yes, I am in a public contact job that is health care related, and see clients three days a week, putting myself at risk of exposure. I follow our safety protocols stringently–which includes mask wearing, regular hand-washing or sanitizing, and cleaning the room where I see clients with virucidal wipes–their chair, the side of the table they sit at, the pen they handle, and their side of the plexiglass screen they stick their hand through in order for me to stick their finger and draw enough blood to run the tests I run. The clients also have to wear a mask the entire time they are in our building. So, that’s why I am getting the vaccination so early; I’d posted about it on social media and got some weird comments, like so lucky and so forth…which I understand; sure, I’m lucky to get it early, but at the same time I’ve been at a high daily risk of infection since late spring–and while I don’t think the age thing matters as much as they thought it did at the beginning of the pandemic, I am not that young–my next birthday will be my sixtieth.

So, that’s why I am getting the vaccine earlier than many. I am a front-line employee of a public health clinic–and while I may not be a doctor or a nurse, I provide essential health services–or serve as a gateway to accessing those services….and the Office of Public Health provided enough vaccines to our clinic so that all of our employees can be get one, so that our clinic can get back up and be fully operational (rather than on a limited basis) sooner rather than later.

And that’s probably the last time I will ever talk about my day job and what I do there publicly.

Yesterday was a very good work day–I am still behind, of course; I’d hoped to be finished with the entire thing on Tuesday so it could sit for a day or two before the final polish. Bury Me in Shadows has had an interesting journey to completion. It began as a short story I wrote sometime in the 1980’s called “Ruins”–and when I finished writing the story, I knew it wasn’t a short story but a novel. I filed the story away, dragging out the folder and rereading it occasionally over the last thirty or so years (it’s really difficult for me to grasp that 1980–and soon 1981–was forty years ago), and I’m not sure when exactly I decided to turn it into a novel or when I started working on it. The original title, once I started pulling the book together as a novel, was Bury Me in Satin, which is a line from the song “If I Die Young” by the Band Perry; I love the song, and when I heard that lyric the first time, I immediately thought, ah, that’s the title for the book built on “Ruins”, but at some point during the writing I changed it to the more Gothic Bury Me in Shadows. I had always, since the 1980’s, wanted to write about my fictional Corinth County, Alabama–which is where this book is set–and over the decades since have done some serious world-building. I have any number of short stories written, in some form or another, that are set there…and tried to weave some of those story strands into this book. I’ve already published one book with a character from Corinth County, even if the book wasn’t set there: Dark Tide. The book has also evolved in other ways from the original story; the main character was thirteen in the original story, and then evolved into a sixteen year old when I started writing the book. At some point in the process, I recognized that the character’s age didn’t work, and so I aged him into a college student, which actually works much better. This required completely overhauling and reworking the opening two chapters; but I do think the new versions are better than the originals, and I think the book works better this way.

I suppose I will always think of this book as my pandemic book, since that’s when it was written. Ironically, once this one is turned in I have to start working immediately on the next, which is due on March 1. The next has already been through a ridiculous amount of drafts–I started writing it in 2015, and have worked on it off and on since then (I wrote the entire first draft in July 2015; a chapter a day, basically), and so I guess this is all about finishing projects that have been lingering around for a while. (Even this Kansas book began being formulated when I was in high school, and has followed an interesting–to me–evolutionary pattern since then.)

Perhaps 2021 will be the year where I clear out all the projects that have been hanging around my office for years–decades, in some cases–so I can move on.

It would be so lovely if I could write a first draft of Chlorine in a month…

And on that note, I’m heading for the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Blank Space

Well, I am most pleased to let you know, Constant Reader, that I did manage to get those three chapters revised of Bury Me in Shadows yesterday, and yes, it felt fucking amazing to get back to work on my writing again, after that rather lengthy dry spell. Now, I need to go through the next fifteen chapters and change the tense, which will help me reread them as I go, which will be nice. I think I may even just do the corrections on the hard copies I have, before going and inputting them in the new files; I am most pleased with the work I’ve done on those first ten chapters, and think the book works much better now than it did–and it’s only going to get better as I continue to work on it. If I can manage a chapter a day I can actually have it ready for one final run through by the middle of October, which would be incredibly lovely–after which I can take some time off to recollect myself before diving back into the Kansas book, which I am also hoping to have finished and ready to go by the end of the year.

If I don’t get sidetracked and/or depressed again, that is. Heavy heaving sigh.

Which is, sadly, always a possibility.

But at least this week is off to an excellent start for me, and I couldn’t be more delighted. This past weekend I felt more like my actual self than I have in weeks; let’s hope that continues through these next two days of waking up early and seeing clients; we’ll also have to see what Tropical Storm Beta has in store for us this week, and where it’s going to come ashore. We had some rain over the weekend from Beta’s bands, and from yesterday’s weather, apparently we’re going to get a lot of rain, along with its evil twin, potential flash flooding, over these next couple of days. I certainly hope this isn’t going to result in any changes to my work schedule; I’d kind of like to get back going with my usual and somewhat normal routine again–as much normality as I can muster would be greatly appreciated.

But I am also starting this week with a relatively clean and organized downstairs, including the inevitably insanely cluttered workspace/office I have here in the kitchen. I did manage to get a lot of the filing done that needed to be done, and while there are still some loose odds and ends floating around, it’s not nearly as bad as it usually is when I am starting a week, so that’s already lovely. And if I can stay focused and not get tired/depressed/into a bad headspace again, I can keep it that way all week and not have to spend any time on the weekend doing a “make it not look derelict” lick-and-a-promise, but do some of the deep cleaning and organizing it so desperately needs.

We’ll see how that goes. I make no promises.

It was raining when I first dragged myself out of bed this morning; one cappuccino in and I’m not entirely certain that it is still raining; I’m not looking forward to negotiating a drive to work in the rain, or dealing with potential street flooding today. But I slept relatively well last night–dragging myself out of bed was not easy this morning–but I am hoping to be well awake and raring to go by the time I leave the house this morning. We’re almost finished with Ratched–one episode left–and we also caught this week’s episode of The Vow, which continues to get creepier and creepier with each episode; I’m assuming there’s only one week left in it. We tuned into the Emmys for a little while, but I’ve gotten so unused to the normal network commercial break that it quickly became tedious, and after Schitt’s Creek won everything in sight we switched back to Netflix and stayed there until The Vow was loaded into HBO MAX last night. A quick check of the weather shows we are expected to experience heavy rain through Wednesday, which is when the flash flood warning expires.

Heavy rains will probably mean more no-shows than usual at the office today and tomorrow; I certainly hope not–if everyone shows the day goes by a lot faster–but the caffeine is also starting to kick in some, so that’s a plus. I’m hoping to stay on track with the writing every day–there’s about a gazillion emails that need to either be answered or generated today as well–and I’d also like to stay on track with my goal of revising or finishing a short story every week. But the depressive state seems to have finally broken, and we can always hope that means that I’ll be able to be productive.

It’s also only in the 60s this morning, which is going to be quite a shock to the system when I leave the house. The rest of the week appears to be more normal–80’s during the day, 70’s at night–but it looks as though the heat has finally broken and we are finally reaching fall weather here in New Orleans–which would be summer most everywhere else.

LSU football also returns this weekend, so that will be interesting. I’m not really sure how I feel about this pandemic football season, to be honest; the Saints are playing tonight, and it already feels weird, off, not normal; not your usual football season, for sure. I’m not particularly hyped for it, either. Sure, I’ll watch every LSU game, and it’ll be weird to not go to any games this year (first time since 2010 we didn’t attend at least one game in Tiger Stadium), but it just doesn’t seem….right, somehow.

And on that note, it’s time to get ready to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader–I certainly intend to.

Daylight

Well, here we are again, back to something resembling normality, whatever that may be, for this awful year of 2020. The stress hangover has finally, seemingly, passed; and now I have to try to remember what I was working on and what is in progress and what is finished and what I need to do. Lord. It also seems weird to be talking about my stress hangover while western Louisiana still is in ruins, with Mobile and Pensacola and everything in between joining them after this latest natural disaster. (And California is still burning.) But, as I always say, suffering isn’t an Olympic sport, and admitting to being in a weird place emotionally doesn’t demean or diminish those who are losing, or have lost, everything.

Ah, well. That which doesn’t kill us, or whatever.

This week is very off, as so many this year have been. I have trouble remembering that today is Thursday, frankly; I’ve had to stop and think about it several times this morning already and occasionally there’s even a thought o oh wow it’s Thursday already isn’t it? Yeesh.

I feel rested and rather emotionally stable this morning–always a plus, and becoming more of a rarity it seems these days–and so I am hoping that today will be an enormously productive day as well. The sun is shining outside, there’s no haze and I can see white clouds and blue sky; so overall that’s a very pleasant way to go into the day. I think one of the primary issues I’ve been having lately is related to the lack of a football season thus far–I know games have been played, but the SEC season hasn’t started, and for me, that (mostly LSU) is how I gauge the season, and so for me at least, I won’t think of it as having started until LSU plays a game. It’s also going to be weird that the entire conference is having a conference-only schedule. I suppose this season will have an asterisk beside it for all eternity? I don’t know–but I feel like people should be aware in the future that 2020 wasn’t a normal year on any level.

I’ve not really been able to do much reading or writing this week; hell, keeping up with my emails has been an utter failure all week and I may even have to give up on the clearly impossible dream of ever being completely on top of my emails. I tried picking up Babylon Berlin again last night while I waited for Paul to come home, but couldn’t even open to the page where I left off, and even my current nonfiction read, The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, held no interest for me last night. I will say, though, that I am leaning more and more towards writing a stand-alone Colin adventure–a historical one–and that is becoming more and more appealing to me the more I think about it, particularly since I can go back in time and write an entire series of Colin books going back to the late 1990’s without having to deal with writing about anything in the present or current day, which I will admit is more than a little cowardly on my part. I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and then the Kansas book so I can write Chlorine and then do a Scotty book, or perhaps the novellas I’ve been working on. Time slips through my fingers so quickly that it’s really upsetting and frightening on some levels to know that the there will be at the very least a two–if not three–year gap between the last Scotty and the next now; and there’s also a little voice in my head telling me not to write another Scotty and let the series end, or at least write another to end the series once and for all. I don’t know what to do.

I rewatched Don’t Look Now yesterday, even though it doesn’t really fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, yet it is a film of that decade and while it may not be a cynical film per se, it certainly has its moments. It’s naturally based on one of my favorite short story/novellas of all time, the superb Daphne du Maurier tale “Don’t Look Now,” and while the film has differences from the story (I much prefer the opening of the story, frankly), it has to be, because things that are told in the story to set it up, the backstory, cannot really be done properly on film, so the tale of John and Laura Baxter and their agonizing grief spools out on film by taking us to the moment they lost their daughter, Christine, by opening with her death by drowning in a pond while wearing her bright red slicker. In the story, they’ve come to Venice for a holiday to get away from home and its haunting memories; the pain is still too fresh and Christine is still too raw. In the film, they are living in Venice now while John works restoring an old church; time has passed since Christine’s death, but Laura is still not completely recovered from it; the pain is still there, a lingering grief that still throbs like an aching tooth you’ve gotten used to. The film does an excellent job of building the tension and suspense in much the same way du Maurier did in her story–God, if you’ve not read it, you really must, Constant Reader–and the imagery director Nicholas Roeg uses–those reds!–really amplifies it. Julie Christie is stunningly beautiful as she underplays the role of the grieving mother; Donald Sutherland is also at his young handsome best (those eyes! that mop of curls!) as skeptical John–at a lunch, they encounter two sisters, one of whom is blind and psychic, who tells Laura that she sees Christine and she’s happy and laughing, but that John is in danger in Venice and must leave. John doesn’t believe in any of that–afterlife, psychics, ghosts, etc.–and so he thinks they are after something from his wife–even though he does keep having close calls with accidents and possibly death…and he also keeps seeing a small figure running around Venice, wearing a red slicker like the one Christine died wearing….

Christ, what a great film and story.

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

A Different Point of View

Several nasty storm systems passed through last evening–loud and long claps of thunder, high winds, and a downpour. It was lovely–as was the drop in temperature–and there’s few things I love more than being safe and cozy inside while there’s a downpour outside.  It’s still kind of gray and hazy outside this morning, which is nice, and I am sure the weather helped me sleep better last night. I didn’t sleep well on Friday, and wound up sleeping later than I’d wanted (the same thing happened this morning as well but I slept better last night) and the day wound up a wash. I was tired and suffering from burn out, I think, and having to go deal with the grocery store was a bit much. The grocery store is an odious chore under the best of circumstances, and under quarantine it’s even worse. For one thing, I feel guilty for being out in a public space, and for another, I feel so bad for the underpaid staff who are out there risking their lives and their health so that we can buy groceries. I try to be as helpful and as polite as I possibly can, but I don’t blame them in the least for resenting their customers. My job is also deemed essential, so outside of the shifts in how everything from grocery shopping and so forth have been altered, my life hasn’t really changed that much. I still get up every day and go to work. I may not be able to go to the gym anymore (for the duration), and I may go to the grocery store less…but my life has only changed in the times I work, more than anything else, and what I do at work. I don’t resent our clients–but I would imagine, if I were a grocery store employee, I’d resent the hell out of the customers.

Yesterday was, as I said, a wash. I woke up feeling tired and out of sorts, with very low energy, and making groceries is even more draining and exhausting than it usually is. I had very little creative energy yesterday morning, and after making groceries, I did some cleaning and retired to my easy chair. Paul got us lunch from the Please U Cafe–shrimp po’boys and homemade onion rings–as a treat, and of course, I couldn’t finish the onion rings and was stuffed, not needing dinner. I was going to do some reading, but Paul and I wound up watching the rest of the first season of My Life is Murder, which I greatly enjoyed, and then we moved on to the Netflix continuation of Tales of the City, which is very well done; much better than the originals, to be honest. We only have two episodes left, and we stayed up later than we should have watching. I’m hoping to start rereading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin today, if I have time. Since I took yesterday off to recharge my batteries, I have to get a lot done today. I need to get that first draft of the Sherlock story finished; I need to get another story edited; and I am doing a live ZOOM panel discussion tonight for Bold Strokes Books weekend book-a-thon, which is going to be interesting. I’m not really a fan of the whole ZOOM thing, to be honest–I hate seeing myself on screen, and I really hate the sound of my own voice–so these things are like Kryptonite for me. But in this brave  new world, I need to start doing these things…which also kind of terrify me. I’m always afraid, like book signings, that no one will click to watch or no one will show up if I do a live reading on-line or anything like that. And I am so highly critical of myself…yeah, I’m not sure I want to open that door or not.

But how does one sell books in the time of quarantine? Post-quarantine? Who knows?

I am going to make chili in the slow cooker today; it’s been awhile and it will help clear my head to get writing this afternoon–there’s nothing like doing something that doesn’t require full concentration (like chopping peppers and rinsing beans and dicing up a chicken) that opens the floodgates to my creativity. I just have to make sure that I channel that creativity properly; the last thing in the world I need to do is come up with ideas for new stories–because I’ll never write all the ideas I already have as there will never be enough time in my life for me to write everything I want to write. So, once I finish this I am going to try to get the kitchen organized and cleaned up while I get the chili started, and then I’m going to get cleaned up before sitting down to do some serious writing this afternoon, and then hopefully I’ll have some time to read before it’s time for the panel.

I’m also very conscious of the way time is slipping through my fingers. I had hoped to write several books this year, and here it is past mid-April already without a single novel manuscript finished. A lot of it has to do with my usual procrastination and laziness, plus the emotional unbalance triggered by a global pandemic, creative ADHD, and the occasional bout with PTSD. I honestly don’t want to think about how many short stories I’ve started writing since the year (and haven’t finished); that goes along with the other story fragments I have started over the last two years or so. Some of them are great ideas, and I think could really turn into something; others I am not so sure about. But my goal for the rest of April is to get these stories due by the end of the month finished, and then try to get some of the others done as well by May 1st. I intend to spend May whipping Bury Me in Shadows into place so i can get it turned in; spend June doing the same to the Kansas book, and then spend July writing the first draft of Chlorine, before moving on to the next Scotty book. This is, needless to say, a very ambitious writing schedule; one that I most likely will be unable to keep. But it’s always good to plan ahead, and be more ambitious than you think you’ll be able to go with (although I am very well aware that an overly ambitious schedule presents the potentiality of setting one’s self up to fail, which can trigger another downward spiral in addition to awakening that horrible voice in my head) because even if you can’t keep up with it, you should still be able to get a lot finished. And there are other distractions along the way–can never forget that I’m the Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, and that inevitably cuts into my writing time as well.

But on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines and start getting some things done around here–and to that end, I am going to do my stretching, and get cleaned up.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Always

Kansas.

We moved to Kansas the summer I turned fifteen. It was a bit of culture shock; we’d been living a middle-to-upper middle class suburb of Chicago for about four years then, after spending eight or nine years in a working-class, very blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, populated primarily with eastern European immigrants, or second, maybe third, generation Americans from central to eastern Europe. All I really knew about Kansas, before moving there, was that it had been a part of the Dust Bowl during the depression; I’d read about “bleeding Kansas” in history books; and of course, tornadoes and The Wizard of Oz (which is a movie I’ve never cared for; I watched it once as a kid and never again). Neither Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys ever had an adventure there; nor had any of the other kids’ series or Scholastic Book Club mysteries I’d read. But it was in Kansas that I actually started writing seriously, and began to think about being a writer when I grew up. (It was also in Kansas that I had the bad creative writing professor, and other bad history professors; I actually cannot think of a single decent teacher I had at the university level in Kansas–but then again, I was incredibly miserable when I lived in Kansas and it’s entirely possible that misery bled over into every other aspect of my life.)

I also don’t want to make it seem as though the five or so years I spent there were completely miserable. I did have fun–I was always desperately trying to have fun to distract me from the terror that arose from my sexuality, which was a secret that must be guarded from everyone at all times; it’s laughable to think about it now, but that terror was very real to me then.

It was in Kansas I started writing about teenagers, and while none of that stuff I’d written was publishable–I still have the handwritten novel I started writing there somewhere; the thought of rereading it turns my stomach as I can only imagine how incredibly bad, trite, and cliched it all was–but those characters have lived on and appeared in my actual published work as an adult; primarily I kept the character names and the basis of who they were, fleshing them out and (hopefully) making them three dimensional. Sara is, to date, the only book I’ve published that is set in Kansas; Laura, the main character in Sorceress, is also from Kansas–but the book is set in California. And of course I’ve been playing with the Kansas book now for something like fifteen years–hopefully, that will be finished and done this year.

I love to read about Kansas, and two of my favorite crime writers–Lori Roy and Sara Paretsky–are also from Kansas; Lori’s first novel, Bent Road (it’s brilliant, as is everything she writes) is set in Kansas; Sara, of course, primarily writes about Chicago but wrote a stand alone several years ago called Bleeding Kansas I’ve always wanted to get around to. Nancy Pickard also wrote two stunningly brilliant novels set in Kansas–The Virgin of Small Plains and The Scent of Rain and Lightning; I cannot recommend them enough. One cannot talk about Kansas books, either, without mentioning Truman Capote’s “true crime novel” In Cold Blood, which I like to reread every now and then.

There’s just something noir about Kansas; I don’t know how to describe it, or why it feels that way to me; but there’s just something about the wide open spaces and the wind, that Peyton Place-like feel to the small cities…Emporia (the county seat; we lived about eight miles out of town in an even smaller town called Americus) even had its own full blown scandal where a minister and the church secretary had an affair and murdered their spouses; it was even made into a two-part mini-series filmed on location in Emporia starring Jobeth Williams as the femme fatale. Those small towns, scattered all over the northern part of Lyon County, once thriving and bustling but now barely hand on when I lived there…the abandoned schools, still standing (they’d all been consolidated into one high school in the 1950’s) in the emptying little towns…our consolidated high school, out in the middle of the country with the football field backing up to a pasture; and the explosive boredom for teenagers. I always turn back to Kansas somehow, whenever I am thinking creatively or wanting to write a new short story–so much material, really. Emporia even had a cult; the old Presbyterian College of Emporia had gone bankrupt sometime in the early 1970’s and The Way International had bought the campus, turning it into The Way College of Emporia and I have to tell you, those kids from The Way College were terrifying–and there were lots of stories and urban legends about what went on there on that campus; how much was true I’ll probably never know, but I do know they used to have armed security guards patrolling the edge of campus, and every teenager knew not to ever get cornered anywhere with no possible escape by two or more of those kids….they always traveled in groups, never less than two and rarely more than six, but always in multiples of two. They always looked very clean cut, but you knew them by the nametags they were required to wear, their empty glassy eyes, and the big smiles on their faces.

There’s also the story of the bloody Benders, serial killers who operated an inn and murdered their guests in the nineteenth century before disappearing; I’m sure every nook and cranny of Kansas has some kind of horrible tale of murder hidden away.

And about three or four miles from our high school–you had to turn right when you reached the state road from Americus to get there; if you turned left towards Council Grove you’d pass this place: an abandoned nuclear missile base, that is still there. We used to go there sometimes for kicks–opening the door and listening to the strange sounds from deep inside and water dripping. I had plenty of nightmares about that missile base.

But the only other gay novelist I know from Kansas is Scott Heim (or at least the only one I know of who sometimes writes about Kansas). I read his debut novel Mysterious Skin sometime in the mid to late 1990’s, and was blown away by it (the film is also quite good). Mysterious Skin is set in Kansas, of course, and while it is a literary novel, and a quite good one, for me there were some elements of noir to the story; I have moved it to the The Reread Project pile and hope to get to it again relatively soon, so i can discuss it with more credibility and authority. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear, but I’m adding them to the “need to get a copy” list.

Over this past weekend I read a short story Scott wrote for Amazon; part of something called The Disorder Collection, along with stories from several other authors. You can buy “Loam” here; it’s well worth the ninety-nine cents.

We agreed to share the driving. The early-morning flights had left us feeling run-down, but my sisters said my eyes looked the least bleary, so I should drive first. The clouds had gone gray; it had started to rain. But we could take our time. The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood.

At the rental counter, a cheery, silver-haired clerk had offered us a white sedan, but Louise had disapproved. “A simple compact is fine,” she said, “and no extra options. Just make sure it’s as black as possible. Is ‘funeral black’ a color?” She’d glanced across the desk to Miriam and me, urging us to smile. No one had smiled since we’d met in the arrival lobby with hesitant hugs.

The clerk didn’t seem to grasp Louise’s reference, but when she collected our licenses, she was attentive enough to catch our dates of birth. She turned and yelled, “Girls, come look–triplets!”

It had been years since we’d been subjected to this kind of foolishness. We watched as her pair of coworkers stood from their desks and approached the counter. I could guess what was coming next: we didn’t look anything alike; we had varying shades of brown and blond hair; even our bodies and the ways we dressed, so different. Louise stopped their small talk before it could start, outstretching her hand to silence the room. “Look, our father just died, okay? Let’s sign what we need to sign and get this over with.”

One of the things I love about Heim’s work–and having only read one novel over twenty years ago and now this short story–is that he often writes about the aftereffects, and the aftermath, of traumas and how the victims deal and cope. This is something that interests me; I often think and wonder about how people who’ve dealt with something–my husband is a serial sex offender; my father murdered my mother, my grandfather was a serial killer–they had no control over cope and go on with their lives; I’m actually writing a story dealing with that sort of thing right now (one of the many stories I have in some sort of progress right now; it’s called “He Didn’t Kill Her”), and also those who were directly victimized–how do they deal? How do they cope? How do they go on with their lives after something so traumatic happens to them?

This is why this century’s reboots and sequels to Halloween interest me, because they show how Laurie Strode, years later, was psychologically damaged and who she became; one of the things I loved about the Scream films is they showed how everything that has happened to her has turned Sydney into a different person from who she imagined she’d be before the murders started.

Heim doesn’t write about the peripherally damaged; he writes about those who actually were damaged first-hand. In “Loam”, his triplets are clearly damaged by something that happened to them when they were children; they are returning to bury their father and clearly have not been back to Kansas in years. It isn’t clear what happened to them–it may have just been bad parenting in the beginning–and it isn’t until they stop at a second-hand store (what we used to call “junk shops” when I was a kid) and find some strange and mysterious pictures of their first grade classmates on a table that the memories of the past–and what they went through–begin to come to the fore.

I do wish Scott Heim would write more. This story, sad and dark and mysterious, is everything I love to read.

This: The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood–I wish I’d written that.

Buy it or borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. It’s very well worth the time.

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