Hate That I Love You

Tuesday and we survived Monday, Constant Reader–that has to count for something, doesn’t it? Actually, it wasn’t that bad, to be honest. I slept decently and woke up without problem with the alarm, and didn’t feel tired for most of the day. I had a highly productive day at the office, and then I came home and worked some more on the manuscript, which I am really starting to feel good about, believe it or not. I like my characters and I like the story, and I like that it isn’t set in either Uptown or the French Quarter or–where I always go–the Lower Garden District is always the default for me. This time out I set the book in the 7th Ward, on what we used to say was the “wrong side” of St. Claude (this is also the neighborhood where my office building is now, on Elysian Fields); even now people say this neighborhood is “unsafe”; and yes, we’ve had some instances where there was gunfire outside and we went into a code and locked down the office. Maybe I just have a false sense of security–which won’t change until something bad happens to me, as usual–but I never feel all that unsafe either going to or from my car before and after work. (I also love that realtors are trying to rebrand the neighborhood as ‘the new Marigny.” Um, no, it’s not and there’s no such thing as the ‘new Marigny.’)

I also slept well last night, which is great. I feel rested and relaxed this morning, but I also have to see clients today. I’ll probably be a bit tired when I get home tonight; seeing clients can drain you a bit, which is why I don’t see clients four days a week instead of three. I got some more work on the book done yesterday, and hope to get further along today as well–no relaxing until I get my work done tonight. I had a ZOOM meeting last night so I wasn’t able to get as much work done as i would have liked–still behind, of course, as always–but I am pretty happy with the work I am doing and how the manuscript is coming together, which is always lovely. I’m not hating the manuscript as I work on it, which is kind of a nice change, overall. Maybe I have finally gotten less self-loathing about my own work, after twenty-odd years? Nah, that can’t be it! Maybe I just feel centered for the first time in a long time? That is more likely.

It’s been a time, there’s no question about that. Mom’s health had been declining for years, so that was always weighing on the back of my mind, no matter how hard I tried to not think about it or even consider the possibilities inherent in recognizing that her health was failing; there was a pandemic and a dramatic shift/change in my day job; and of course I was doing a lot of volunteering around writing and trying to keep my authorial career going at the same time. I’m surprised I didn’t have more mental breakdowns over the last few years, in all honesty. It’s no wonder I was low energy, depressed, and tired all the time. There were paradigm shifts happening everywhere in my life, and I was completely unprepared for any of them, either physically or emotionally or intellectually. I don’t remember writing the books I wrote since the shutdown three years ago; Bury Me in Shadows, A Streetcar Named Murder, #shedeservedit–I remember the young adults because I’ve been working on them for years before I sold them; but the revision process? The editing? I don’t remember a fucking thing. I do worry some about how my brain works now; one thing that has definitely happened over the last three years is a complete loss of remembering how to deal with the ADHD, so focusing is a lot harder than it used to be. I don’t know if that’s related to the ten-day COVID I had last summer, or if it’s because of all the changes and shifts, or maybe it’s even a combination of all those things. I don’t know, but I know I haven’t been functioning at full brain capacity for quite some time now, and I am starting to feel normal (or what passes for that around here) for the first time in a long time. More like myself, I should say, rather than normal; I’ve always taken great pride in not being normal–once I accepted it.

But I also don’t remember much of my life post-Katrina, either; there are years after Katrina that are foggy memories, if that. It shouldn’t come as a surprise (or a shock) that things that occur during times of trauma and stress don’t go into the permanent memory bank (which isn’t as big and powerful as it used to be). I should be used to it by now, right? But I don’t think you ever get used to traumatic events, and your brain just figures out the easiest way to get through it all without causing more trauma, and if that means not remembering things that happen, well, who am I to question how my twisted brain works and functions?

I’m just glad it’s still functioning, really, even if it is all over the place.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again later.

We Got the Beat

Thursday and my last day in the office this week. Woo-hoo?

I slept really well again last night and feel very rested. Yesterday was a good day; today feels kind of like it might be one, too. I suppose we shall simply have to wait and see how it all plays out, won’t we? But when I got home last night I felt pretty good. I picked up my copy of Cheryl Head’s Time’s Undoing, which I really want to spend some time with this weekend, since I’ve been looking forward to reading it once it was announced to be forthcoming. Cheryl’s a terrific writer and a wonderful person, and it has been a pleasure and joy watching her career take off since we first met all those years ago.

I didn’t get much done last night, nor did I even get to read much either; not sure what happened to last evening once I got home, to be honest. I know I worked on the dishes for awhile, but never finished. Scooter was, as always, feeling needy and screaming for attention, and once I get in the easy chair and he starts sleeping/purring in my lap, I’m a goner. I know I watched a lot of Youtube videos but I honestly can’t remember doing much of anything other than going down Internet wormholes on my iPad. Today I believe is a slow day at the office, which should help me get caught up on things I am behind on there, and of course tomorrow is my work-at-home day. Tomorrow morning I am going to try to replace the dryer fuse–I do remember debating about trying to do this last night and finally deciding not to try, because of the extreme frustration that would result from that not being the thing that is actually wrong with the dryer, plus it’s not going to be terribly easy to begin with; I have to pull the dryer out from where it is snugly place beside the washing machine in a very small laundry room; it has to come all the way out and be turned around so I can access the back of it (I am dreading seeing what it looks like behind and beneath the dryer), which is going to be an irritating pain in the ass.

And of course, there’s always the chance Scooter will go back there and won’t come out. Heavy heaving sigh. But I am looking forward to being in New Orleans this weekend, and I am starting to feel a lot better about everything. It still sneaks up on me now and then–when people offer condolences, it becomes problematic as I tend to choke up when talking about it with people face to face–but when I am on my own, I tend to be able to handle it without breaking down, if that makes sense? It’s when I talk about it with kind people that it overwhelms me; I know they are trying to be a comfort and it’s coming from a very good place…but it’s rough. Everything’s rough, really, and I’m still trying to figure out everything and processing it all. I am definitely not over it yet, acceptance is beginning, but it still sneaks up on me from time to time.

Sorry to be so dull and keep going on about it. It is what it is, after all, and no amount of moping or sadness is going to change anything. I do think I need to spend some time writing about my mom, though; writing always helps, and fictionalizing things is always the best way for me to handle things that happen to me. Writing my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” and Murder in the Rue Chartres was enormously helpful to my healing process in the years after Hurricane Katrina; even last night as I was thinking about the Title IX issue in my old school district in Kansas (which I am becoming more and more obsessed by) and thought, you could write a book about this, and from the perspective of a queer adult from that school district who goes down a rabbit hole after his mother dies and…

Kind of pulled back a bit from that one as it developed, but it’s not a terrible idea.

And I already have so much else to write on the agenda. I’ve got to get these two manuscripts revised, I need to move on to Chlorine and the other one I have in progress, and of course I wanted to get all those novellas finished this year and I don’t think that is going to happen unless I get out of this malaise and affix my nose to the grindstone again. And there are short stories I need to get written.

Okay, on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Lust to Love

It’s literally amazing how much stuff fell by the wayside over the last couple of weeks, really. I realized yesterday that it was already the 26th and thought how can that be? Mom just died on Valentine’s Day–twlve days ago? But I went to the office the rest of that week and drove over for the funeral last weekend, and then I was on bereavement leave and worked at home–the Fat Tuesday holiday fell in the midst of my leave–and today I am going back into the office, which feels like a step in the right direction towards normalcy, of a sort. Life does goes on, and as I’ve moped around this last week, it also kind of feels like I’ve been in a fog of sorts for quite some time. I should be used to this sort of thing, as it always happens with a paradigm shift–like how the weekend before Katrina we’d gone to Hammond to celebrate my birthday and had a great time…and while we were evacuated, that seemed like was a different life, a different world, and even happened to different people. Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu seems like it was months ago. And hadn’t I just turned in the manuscript that week before I left, with plans to get back on it as soon as I recovered from that trip? Then Mom had her stroke and everything went up into the air, and now I’m trying to find all the balls I dropped somewhere that I had been somehow managing to keep up in the air.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day; it was eighty degrees when I made groceries and gassed up the car. I kept the toe elevated and iced for most of the rest of the day while I read more of Abby Collette’s marvelous Body and Soul Food–which I am really enjoying–and then around five gave up on everything for the rest of the day. I printed out a short story I need to read to see if I can revise it into something that I can turn in for this anthology I’ve committed a story to, and of course I have to dive back into the manuscripts. I have to write something for Paul for Saints and Sinners; and I think I may have agreed to write something else? I need to do thank you cards and I need to mail the books to the winners of the Facebook page takeover giveaway that I did. I need to check in on my dad and sister, and of course at some point this week the fuse for the dryer is going to arrive so I can see if I can get that working again (prayers are appreciated and welcomed; not having a dryer has really sucked). I also ordered some other things I need. I just feel like I don’t have a grasp yet on my own life, and I don’t really like the way it feels. It’s almost like I am swimming through a fog, and things I used to easily remember and keep track of now just go right out of my mind like they were never there in my head in the first place. I don’t like this feeling; I don’t like not being able to trust my memory anymore–but even now as I write this I am wondering hasn’t this been the case for a while? Isn’t that why you started making lists in the first place–because if you didn’t write it down you’d forget?

I can’t even trust my memory about my memory. There’s a Kafka novel in there somewhere.

I’m also more aware of how quickly I tire now, too. I know that’s been going on for a while–since last summer’s horrific bout with Long COVID–but I am hoping that once I get back into the gym I will start building up my endurance again, and I also have to accept that it won’t be quick and my body won’t change at the speed that it used to. For one example, I was overweight when I moved back to New Orleans in August of 2001; I’d lost twenty pounds and tightened up everything by Halloween so I could wear a slutty costume. I’m not going to be able to return to the gym and be able to dress slutty again within eight weeks. (Not that I would dress slutty now–I’m in my sixties, for God’s sake, and I don’t care whether people think I look good or not anymore. It was never the priority of the gym for me in the first place. Yes, I liked looking good and yes, I liked getting flirted with and hit on, but for me that was a nice side effect to having the endurance to dance for hours, or feeling good physically.

God, I used to be so vain! I don’t really miss vanity, though.

One of the things I was working on before Mom had the final stroke was building a website–just something to play around with when I have time (ha ha ha ha ha, sure, Greg, that’s going to happen) and of course, that was the same fucking day I got the text from my sister, so I’ve not done a whole hell of a lot there, you know? I did get the domain registered, and I loaded a picture as well as info on A Streetcar Named Murder, but it’s going to take me some more time to learn how to do all the things I want it to do.

Because I am just swimming in free time.

I’m a bit groggy this morning, mainly because I am out of the habit of waking up to the alarm now–it actually jolted me awake, as opposed to me already being awake when it goes off, which means a retraining of myself yet again as this does not feel natural to me. It feels weird having to go back to the office this morning, as well. My toe’s not quite as painful this morning, either–it still hurts, mind you, but I can walk without limping and it’s not as bad as it has been, which is progress. I am still going to message my doctor today, though. We’ll see how it feels at the end of the day, won’t we? I suppose I can always ice it again once I am home tonight.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have the best Monday you can, Constant Reader.

Shattered

Thursday morning, and I am about to head over to the West Bank to have my car serviced before I head to Kentucky.

Kentucky? Why are you driving to Kentucky when parades start tomorrow, Gregalicious?

I curate my life here on social media/blogs etc. I don’t talk about friends or family on here or my day job very often. I try not to be offensive, and I try to protect the privacy of my friends, family, and co-workers. Most of them never signed up for this (my writer friends did, kind of, but nevertheless I don’t talk about their personal lives or our friendships on here) and as a general rule, I try to keep my entries non-personal; I don’t write about Paul (he has specifically asked to be left off my social media other than in passing) or what’s going on with him or us on here. But while I generally like to protect everyone’s privacy–and I usually don’t like bleeding in public–I feel like I kind of have to mention this, even if it’s a violation of my family’s privacy.

My mother has been in poor health since Christmas of 2019, when she had a stroke. We almost lost her that time, and since then, she’s had several procedures and been to lots of doctors and had all kinds of things done; it’s hard to keep track because there has been so much. At one point–it’s hard to keep track–she was having chemotherapy because they’d found cancer; she also was suffering because one of her vertebrae had shattered, and eventually had to have surgery to have bone chips removed. The cancer was along her spine, and I think the shattered vertebrae had something to do with the cancer, but it’s hard to remember and hard to keep track, as it has been relatively relentless ever since, one thing after another. I’ve been watching her decline for the past few years, which has been difficult. For the rest of the family it’s been so gradual as to not be noticeable; for me, not seeing her all the day, it was always a shock to see how much she had changed since the last time I’d seen her, and I also knew, each visit, that this might be the last time I saw her.

So, I am heading up there today, with plans to drive back to New Orleans on Sunday. The situation may change, of course; I may not get there in time. I had debated, after getting the text from my sister, about waiting still longer, but as more time passed yesterday I finally realized that if she goes while you’re on the road, that’s one thing–but I think not getting there in time would be easier to live with if I had tried. So, I talked with my supervisor and left the office early yesterday. I came home to straighten up the house and do laundry and other mindless chores while I decided what to take with me and what audiobooks to listen to in the car (I’m going to finish The Lying Game on the way up there, and will listen to Carol Goodman’s The Stranger Behind You on the way back). Scooter, being an empath like all cats, knew something was wrong and kept insisting that I sit down so he could lay in my lap, sleeping and purring to make me feel better. It comes and goes; that’s the thing with grief–you never know when it’s going to sucker punch you again when you aren’t expecting it–and maybe the way I deal with it isn’t the most healthy. I prefer to grieve by myself, quietly; I don’t want sympathy and I don’t want pity and I don’t want everyone to comfort me because all that does is make me sadder and cry more. Talking about it is when I start choking up and getting teary-eyed; so I’d rather not talk about it. I like to process things alone, work it all out for myself. This is one of the reasons I despise funerals and avoid them as much as I can; putting your grief on display like that has always made me nervous and uncomfortable. I’ve never been good with attention–as I kept saying this past weekend in Alabama, “Praise makes me uncomfortable”–that also holds true for this kind of attention as well. We were always raised to be stoic in public–“never bleed in public”–which convinced me that grief is something private. Unfortunately, that has also translated into making me uncomfortable around other people’s grief; I am terrible when someone I care about loses someone they love. I never know what to say or do, and I always feel helpless because my natural instinct is to do whatever I can to make things easier for the people I love–but I can’t take away their grief and pain, so I feel like anything I do or say is futile and useless.

When my final grandparent died right after Hurricane Katrina, I remember heading up to Kentucky (it was Thanksgiving week) and once there, my dad saying to my mother, “Well, I guess we’re the old generation now.” It’s hard not to think about your own mortality when you are losing a parent; especially when you’re already in your sixties when you lose your first parent. (Ironically, I am almost the age my parents were when the last of my grandparents passed.)

And no matter how prepared you are for this (I’ve been steeling myself since December 2019, and it’s always been there in the back of my mind; every time I get a text message I tense up), it’s never an easy thing.

And I have twelve hours in the car to think about it, remember things from the mundane (oh, I’ll never have my mom’s dumplings again) to the painful (Dad is going to be a wreck) and of course, the ever popular what now?

But I know I’d rather tense up and worry when I get a text message than say goodbye.

Not sure when I’ll be back here, Constant Reader. Take care of yourself and give your loved ones a hug for me, okay?

Callin’ Baton Rouge

I have decided, at long last, to throw away my ratty old LSU sweatshirt.

This sweatshirt, for the record, predates Paul, that’s how old it is. It’s either thirty or twenty-nine; I cannot really remember one way or the other. It was, however, my very first LSU sweatshirt–the first of many–and I bought it at the bookstore on the LSU campus. I don’t remember which drive from Houston to Tampa it was when I stopped on campus and bought it–it was either a time when I was driving my new car from Houston back to Tampa, or when I was riding with a friend who was driving from Phoenix to Tampa–I flew into Houston, he met me at the airport and we drove on to Tampa from there, but for a very long time it was my only LSU sweatshirt, and I’ve always had a deep fondness for it. It’s been worn and washed so many times that it’s incredibly thin and threadbare; the neckline is fraying and so are the sleeves at the wrist. It’s stained and ratty and messy, so much so that I won’t even wear it to run errands. I only wear it around the house and usually only when all the other sweatshirts are dirty (I live in sweats when I am at home), and the other day as I was putting it on I realized not only how old it was but how bad of shape it was in. Why are you holding on to this sweatshirt? I asked myself, and then Saturday morning as I was folding it out of the dryer I thought throw it away, why are you keeping this? Sentiment? You pride yourself on your lack of that emotion, so I decided to take a photo of it, write a farewell blog entry to it, and put it in the trash–which I should have done years ago, really.

I don’t even remember why I decided to stop on campus and buy it, to be honest. I have no memory of that at all. Even now, when we are on campus for games and go by the store, it doesn’t look familiar at all from back then. Maybe they’ve built or redesigned the campus store, I don’t know; it’s certainly possible. But I don’t remember it being right by the stadium, either; it’s possible there are two stores on campus. I couldn’t say for sure.

Despite growing up as an Auburn and Alabama fan (in that order; the rule was you always rooted for Alabama unless they were playing Auburn), I’ve always kind of been partial to LSU, even though I had no connection to either the school or the state until much later in life. I’ve tried to remember why I always liked LSU, even as a kid–I think it was two things: purple has always been a favorite color of mine, especially when paired with gold, and the live tiger on campus (which I am now on the fence about–I see the arguments both for and against keeping a live tiger on campus as a mascot, but I love that tiger). My cousin actually was on the Auburn team that lost the Earthquake Game back in 1988–my family is still bitter about that 7-6 last minute loss–and when we moved to Louisiana, I got Paul into college football and he became an LSU fan because we lived here. I still rooted for Auburn and Alabama and LSU, in that order. I was still rooting for Auburn and Alabama when they played LSU, though; even in 2003 when LSU won its first national championship since 1958. It was 2005 when everything shifted for me on the college football landscape; that horrible 2005 season after Katrina, when LSU’s football team was about the only positive thing Louisiana had going for it that season, that was when I went full-on bleed purple-and-gold LSU fan, and have never looked back since. Paul of course had already gone full tilt LSU fan, and his enthusiasm was catching. I used to only care about college football; now I pay attention to almost every sport, from basketball to gymnastics to baseball to track so I can root for the Tigers.

Even before LSU moved to the front of the list, I was writing about LSU. Chanse played scholarship football for LSU, and would have possibly played pro had he not suffered a career-ending knee injury in the Sugar Bowl his last season of eligibility. Chanse was a tight end; and I had always intended for Chanse to go back to LSU and solve a murder on the campus, at his fraternity house. That story, “Once a Tiger,” is about four thousand words in; I’ve debated turning it into both a novel or a novella rather than a short story. Scotty is an LSU fan–I wrote about Mike the Tiger in Baton Rouge Bingo–and of course, in A Streetcar Named Murder Valerie’s twin sons are in their first semester up there.

Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? It served me well for nearly three four decades!

Paul and I went to our first LSU game in Tiger Stadium in November of 2010. It was the Mississippi game, the Magnolia Bowl; there’s not much love lost between LSU and Mississippi–their fans still can’t get over Billy Cannon’s Run back in 1959. LSU has ruined many a season for the Rebels, and vice versa, but I do think they hate us more than we hate them. The game was amazing, and we had a great time. We went to several games in 2011, and it wasn’t until the COVID year of 2020 that we went the entire season without going to a game; the only game we went to in 2021 was the first time the Tigers ever lost when we were at the game (Auburn, ironically; it was also Auburn’s first win in Baton Rouge this century). We didn’t go to any games this year, either; not sure if we will be going to any more in the future, either; but one never knows, and I would like to go to at least one more Saturday night game in Death Valley. We’ve been to some great games over the years, and I am very happy to say that we got to see that great 2019 team play twice–and we were at the Florida game, which was amazing and exciting and I couldn’t talk for at least three days afterwards.

And of course, this season was all over the place, but the team did something never done before in LSU football history: won at both Florida and Auburn…so obviously, the team has never won in Gainesville and Auburn and beat Alabama in Baton Rouge. Not even Joe Burrow could do that; in his first year as a Tiger he was 1-2 in those three games. So, if nothing else, Jayden Daniels has won a place in LSU history for that, and Brian Kelly did something in his first year in Baton Rouge that no LSU coach had ever done before–including Nick Saban (even the year Saban led LSU to a national title, that team lost to Florida in Tiger Stadium).

And so it’s goodbye to my old sweatshirt at long last. I don’t know why I didn’t throw it away sooner–it’s been ratty and stained and threadbare for years–unless it was an unconscious kind of sentimentality. I haven’t preserved much of my pre-Paul life–I’ve always viewed those years as a prologue to the rest of my life–but this was one of the few things left from that time.

But its time has passed, so farewell to you, old LSU sweatshirt. You served me well…and now I get to buy a new one to replace it. YES!

And here’s my Christmas gift from Paul this year:

The Christmas Waltz

The cold is coming!

New Orleans is going to have a hard freeze that lasts from this evening through Saturday night–which means I really need to make sure I don’t need to necessarily leave the house before Sunday, when the temperatures will be more normal for December in New Orleans. I’m just glad I am not flying anywhere this weekend–or driving. Yikes! It snowed the Christmas before Katrina–not really much of anything–which I’ve often pointed to as a sign that the horror was coming, but it’s snowed in New Orleans a couple of times since then without the city being destroyed the following year.

But it’s always in the back of our minds.

Thursday and my last day before the holiday weekend. I stopped and got the mail on the way home yesterday; I also made groceries. I also worked on the book some more, so I am hopeful that I can get some serious work done over the holidays. I am only going to take Christmas day off from writing–it’s the holiday after all, and I can swing a day to rest and do nothing and read Dashing Through the Snowbirds; it’ll be lovely reading over my morning coffee, which is really my favorite thing to do. Maybe in 2023 that can be my Sunday morning routine: coffee and a good book. Sounds marvelous, does it not?

Hilariously, I’ve been trying to remember my year of 2022 in an attempt to do some kind of end of year summary, or pick my favorite books and television programs and movies of the year, and to talk about highlights and so forth; but I’ve been wracking my brain to no avail. I couldn’t even remember when precisely I’d gone up north to visit my family in the spring, or if I didn’t go (I did, in going through the books I reviewed/discussed on here I came across the two audiobooks I listened to on my last trip, and those entries were in May; so yes, indeed I’d gone up there in the spring. I would have testified under oath not only that I didn’t go up in the spring but would have probably scoffed at the very idea). So, making a favorites of the year list would either be most likely incomplete or lacking validity in that I couldn’t remember everything. I also generally don’t like making favorites lists in the first place; how does one quantify what made me like one book more than another?

I’ve also spent some time this past year–and in the more recent weeks–thinking about my writing and my career and where to go with it next. I’ve been following a rather haphazard path since Hurricane Katrina; the hurricane showed me the futility of making plans and schedules and so forth for the distant future when nature can simply shred your plans in a matter of hours, leaving your life and your emotions in utter tatters. I know I want to make 2023 the Year of Completion; I’d love to get a lot of these unfinished projects around here done and out of the way. I do want to make a serious attempt at landing an agent in 2023; I say that every year but I’ve never really tried, so I think I am going to put myself out there in the new year and see what happens. I don’t think getting an agent will solve all of my career problems, or necessarily push me to resolve them myself–but it’s a step in the right direction, and I do think some of my in-progress works could do quite well for a publisher. Who knows? But at least having someone in my corner capable of giving me good advice–whether I take it or not is a different story, I am nothing if not headstrong–can’t really hurt going forward, can it? I have done pretty well for myself on my own, but going it alone my entire career was never part of the plan.

Ah well. Man plans, the gods laugh.

But yes, there are a lot of unfinished projects around the Lost Apartment, writing-wise. I need to get these first two finished as soon as possible, and then I am going to pick an unfinished project to work on every month. It’s an ambitious writing goal, to be sure, but I think if I focus–always an issue–I can make a lot of headway on a project. If it’s not finished at the end of the month, it goes back into the drawer and the next month will be spent working on the project scheduled for that month, and so on. Even as I typed that out I can foresee issues with it; what if I am on a roll at the end of the month? And is it that easy for me to switch from one voice and style to another? No, not really; it generally takes me a quick minute or so to get back in sync with the voice and the characters and the plot, but it does happen–writing my way through it always seems to help.

I did manage to pay all the bills and yes, I was correct–there was indeed a ridiculous amount of cash left over. A lot of bills, however, are coming due with that next paycheck, so I will have to conserve my cash to make sure I can make it through that rough almost-everything-comes-due-between-the-fifth-and-the-fifteenth period.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The traffic has been much lighter on the way to work this week–I imagine the same will hold true next week as well–and so I am not nearly as aggravated and stressed when I get to the office, which has been kind of nice. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and tomorrow I will check in with you about surviving the freeze. AIEEEE!!!!

Underneath the Tree

Ah, Sunday. Sundae would be better, of course–who doesn’t love a sundae?

It’s below fifty this morning in New Orleans, so the predictions of colder weather coming our way in the forecast were clearly correct. It’s so nice having a heater that actually works. We didn’t turn it on upstairs, so when I got out of bed I felt a bit cold, but then I came downstairs where it is nice and comfortable. Maybe I can handle the cold weather with a working heater in the house. Who knew?

I worked a lot on the book yesterday and made a lot of progress with chores and things around the house. I’m hoping to get a big push today as well, and the only other thing I have to really do is go make groceries–I am debating as to whether or not that can wait until tomorrow on the way home from work but I am leaning towards going today and getting it over with. I also did some more refrigerator research–trying to find what I want in the price range we want that will also fit into the refrigerator space in the kitchen is proving to be more of a challenge than one would have expected. I think I found one that will barely fit into the space–it’s a matter of fractions of an inch–but we are also wondering if we can simply have the cabinet above the refrigerator removed to allow more room. Decisions, decisions–but there’s no rush, I suppose, other than my obsession now that we’ve decided to make the plunge and get a new one.

We started watching Smiley on Netflix last night, another Spanish language show with queer characters–it’s kind of a romantic comedy; there’s a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a straight couple, all loosely connected (the pretty young gay bartender works with one of the lesbian couple at her bar; the older gay guy works with the straight guy at an architectural firm) and kind of charming. The premise is that both Alex (the bartender) and Bruno are single and about ready to give up on romance and love. Alex has a string of one night stands with guys who ghost him; Bruno has no luck with dating apps–getting some really nasty responses when he reaches out. For some reason, Alex decides to use the bar phone to call his last ghosting date, all furious and hurt and angry–but misdials and leaves the message on Bruno’s phone instead. Bruno finally decides to call back–just to let Alex know the person he meant the message for never got it–and they start talking and decide to meet. It doesn’t go well, and they end up arguing–and end up back at Alex’s having the best sex either of them have ever had, but misunderstandings continue to get in the way. The lesbians are also at a crossroads in their relationship, and decide to work through the issues rather than breaking up, and the straight couple is also having some trouble. It’s cute, it’s funny, and the actors are all pretty appealing–and of course, it’s nice seeing an “opposites-attract” gay rom-com happening on my television screen. And the young man who plays Alex is really pretty. He was also in Merli, another Spanish show we started watching but gave up on; his name is Carlos Cuevas. The guy who plays Bruno is also far too handsome to be the troll we’re supposed to believe these gay boys think he is–he’s handsome, he’s successful, he’s intelligent–Miki EsparbĂ©; or maybe it’s because he’s older, I don’t know. But I’m interested to see how this plays out.

Christmas is next weekend, which doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Part of this is because I am so focused on trying to get the book finished as well as trying to stay on top of everything else I am doing that days seems to slip through my fingers and the next thing you know, Christmas is next weekend. This whole year has been like this, frankly–the last few, if I am being completely honest, and in that same spirit, really everything from March 2020 on has been a confusing blur and I don’t remember when or where things happened. It’s also hard for me to grasp that 2010 was almost thirteen years ago, and trying to remember that entire decade isn’t easy. I guess this is what happens when you get older? Ah, well, it’s something I may never get used to but simply have to accept as reality, you know?

This week at work should also be interesting–the week before Christmas, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a weird time around the office. We never have a lot of appointments, and we also have a lot of no-shows, which can be a pain. Paul and I haven’t watched anything even remotely Christmassy; although the Ted Lasso Christmas Special might be a fun thing to revisit.

It’s also weird as the year comes to a close as I start reflecting back on the year, and what is different going into this new year as opposed to going into the last new year. The fact that I have trouble remembering what happened throughout the year is also not any help to me at all, frankly, and neither is the fact that I always have to stop and think was that 2020 or 2021? There are also a lot of draft posts accumulated here; things I wanted to write about when I was more awake and not caffeine-deprived, so that I didn’t misspeak or say something that out of proper context could be problematic. I never talked about my reread of Interview with the Vampire or my thoughts about the new show, which I greatly enjoyed and thought was very well done, for example. (And Mayfair Witches will be debuting in the new year, which I am really looking forward to watching.)

The blog has always been my way of waking up and warming up my brain and my writing muscles, which is why it is always so scattershot and all over the place. I’m not exactly sure when it went from a daily writing exercise to a “daily writing exercise while I wake up in the morning”, but that happened at some point in the last eighteen years; my livejournal began in December of 2004, and I’ve been plugging away either there or here ever since. How much has changed since then? It snowed that December, I remember that, and we were living in the carriage house with Skittle. I know we’d put up a tree, and we were kind of looking forward to 2005 being an easier year after everything that happened in 2004. Little did I realize the evangelical Christians of Virginia were waiting in the wings, as well as a little hurricane that would be named Katrina. I had only published four novels, and only two short stories that weren’t erotica. (I just remembered that when we lived in the carriage house I had to do the laundry at a laundromat–I don’t miss that at all, even if it did get it all over with much more quickly than here at home.)

But the blog was also supposed to be a place where I could write personal essays about subjects that matter a lot to me; things I want to write about but no one will pay me to write about, you know? I started getting more cautious about writing about touchy subjects around 2008, when I went full-time at NO/AIDS (I no longer work for NO/AIDS either; as much as I appreciate the way HIV/AIDS treatment and so forth has changed, I do kind of miss the days when we were a struggling queer health non-profit), despite being reassured by NO/AIDS management that I didn’t need to worry about anything I did or said as long as I wasn’t on the clock–I still didn’t want to do or say anything here that some hater could latch onto and make trouble for the agency with. So, I started censoring myself a little bit, and the more I became involved with other non-profit volunteer work the less I felt comfortable writing about sensitive or touchy subjects, especially as the country became more and more polarized. I’m very careful never to talk about my volunteer work or my day job on here as anything other than my volunteer work or my day job. I’ve compartmentalized my life–the way I always have, back to when I was closeted to one large segment of my life and not to a much smaller part–so much so, in fact, that I’m not certain that I can stop doing it. I think one of my goals for 2023 will be to not compartmentalize as much, and to maybe spend more time finishing those personal essays that I’ve started here and never finished.

But of course, there’s also a time issue. Isn’t there always?

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines and try to get going on everything I need to get done today. Have a lovely and comfortable Sunday wherever you are, Constant Reader. I will chat with you again soon, promise.

Supermodel (You Better Work, Bitch)

I think the thing I love the most about the cover of A Streetcar Named Murder is that the cat looking back over his shoulder with the bitch please look on his face was modeled on Scooter.

I’ve been putting my cat into books for a while now. Our Skittle was Paige’s cat, and I know I gave Taylor a cat in the Scotty books, but I don’t remember if it was Skittle or Scooter (and I need to find that out).

I never thought of myself as a cat person, to be honest. I think this was primarily because I never spent time with cats when I was a kid; I had a dog growing up and most people I knew also had dogs. If they had cats, well, the cats were aloof and uninterested for the most part, but every once in a while I’d be at a friend’s place who had a cat and their cat just fell in love with me for some reason–I’ve always attracted people’s pets, which is cool because by and large I do love animals–but it never occurred to me to get a cat. Paul also had dogs growing up, so he always kind of wanted us to get a dog. Much as I love dogs and much as they love me, though, I don’t have the time or the patience to have one, so I always nixed the idea of a pet. But that first winter we lived in the carriage house we had a mouse–and of course wanted to be rid of it. “It’s an old house in an old neighborhood,” our neighbors and landlady advised, “and the best way to get rid of a mouse is to get a cat.”

A cat?

But the mouse was freaking out Paul–I wasn’t thrilled to have one, but could manage a cold-war of tolerance with one if need be–and so we decided to go ahead and get a cat. It was Christmas Eve, I remember that, and we headed down to the SPCA in the Bywater. We looked at one, who seemed interesting–orange and big–but when the girl opened his cage he hissed at us all and clawed her hand. (I know now that he was probably terrified, hence the reaction, but what did I know about cats? All I saw was a mean one, and if it would claw the hand of a caretaker, I didn’t know how well he’d adapt to our house and our lives…) But there was a kitten in a nearby cage who kept sticking his paws out and chirping at Paul to get his attention, and once Paul started paying attention to him, he was purring and rubbing against the bars trying to get to us. The girl took him out of the cage and he started purring even louder. He was purring so loudly they couldn’t hear his heartbeat. We decided to take him, named him Nicky, paid the small fee and brought him home. I walked over to Walgreens to buy litter, food, a litter box, and a carrier, and thus we had our first cat. We never called him Nicky–the only person who ever did was our landlady–but he was amazing. Very loving, but at the same time a good hunter who could jump really high to take a bug out of the air, and of course he was beautiful, just beautiful. During the evacuation for Katrina Paul and the cat stayed at his mom’s–and his mom was the one who started calling him Skittle, because he “skittered around playing chasing things.) We had Skittle for almost seven years when he got the cancer, and it spread very quickly. The day we had to put him to rest was one of the hardest days of our lives–Paul was so depressed he barely got out of bed the entire weekend–and the apartment felt empty and lonely without our cat. The illness and the decision had been so hard on both of us to make that I kind of didn’t want to get another pet because I never wanted to go through that pain again, and Paul felt the same.

We lasted less than a week.

I went to the Cat Practice to pick up Skittle’s ashes on a Thursday after work. While I was waiting–I always have to wait whenever I am there–I always go around and look at the cats they have looking for forever homes (while I always hate having to leave without bringing them all home, it’s also kind of sad if there aren’t any there). In a cage behind the front desk was an orange boy, and according to the label on his cage his name was Texas and he was two years old. I walked over, and he was so friendly and loving–purring and rubbing against my hand–that I seriously thought I should bring you home with me, sweet boy,

That evening, we were watching something on television that wasn’t terribly involving–I was scrolling through the iPad and Paul dozed off on the couch. Suddenly Paul sat up with a gasp and said,”Oh my God!” and insisted he’d woken up and seen a mouse sitting on the lip of our garbage can. I saw nothing–and I’d looked over when Paul sat up, but not specifically at the can, so I could have missed it–but I also didn’t hear anything. (I will also confess to not hearing well–I’ve always been hard of hearing, and now that I am getting older it’s getting worse, so me not hearing anything isn’t as conclusive as it might be coming from someone else.) I just assumed he dreamed it, but he was insistent, and equally insistent we had to get another cat. I mentioned seeing Texas that afternoon, suggested Paul go see him in the morning on his way to work, and if he wanted him, to go ahead and get him, and I would swing by to pick him up after I got off work.

Needless to say, not only did I go pick him up after work, Paul went with me. We got him home, he immediately hid under the coffee table, so we decided to let him acclimate. It literally took about fifteen minutes before he came out from under the table, climbed up onto Paul’s chest and started purring. His coat was a little rough, but within two days he was soft as silk. Paul loves nothing more than to cuddle with the cat–Skittle tolerated it for a while before escaping–and we picked the absolute right cat: Scooter loves to cuddle and wants nothing more than a warm lap or body to curl up and sleep on. He will literally come and howl at me while I am working on my computer because he wants me to morph into a cat bed in my chair.

So, of course I gave Valerie a cat, named it Scooter, and made him a sweet orange boy, like ours. When they were designing the cover, I did tell them the cat was actually MY cat, and they asked me for a photo to give to the artist!

I am delighted that Scooter will live forever on the cover of my book.

He’s a sweet boy.

Time Is On My Side

It really isn’t, you know. Each and every day I become more and more aware of how precious time is, how quickly it can pass, and how finite it actually is. That makes the time I am forced to spend recharging my batteries or simply resting–something I need to do more and more of the more that goes by–into something I resent automatically and always have to remind myself that I am no longer not only forty but not even fifty and sixty is in the rearview mirror now, and don’t have the energy or stamina that I used to take for granted.

I’ve taken a lot for granted my entire life, in truth.

Yesterday was one of those work-at-home with tasks that are relatively mindless while doing chores that are also relatively mindless. This was a very tiring, up and down week (I always marvel at how whenever I should be having a good time and enjoying something, I inevitably end up having to deal with something unexpected and irritating. It does keep me grounded, I suppose, and my ego in check–those great reviews won’t pay for a new tire or change this one or heal your arm, will they? As though I actually need anything else to keep my ego in check. I am trying to actually develop more of an ego, and more of a selfish nature. Perhaps ego isn’t the right word? I don’t like it–for me the word has negative connotations–and I think confidence is a better fit and more accurate. I am working to increase my self-confidence, and my belief in my own value and the value of the work that I do.

I was talking to a friend recently about my future–what’s left of it, at any rate–and what I should be doing and focusing on. I’ve not made plans in years, or thought very far ahead much with my career; I think the lack of cogent plan with my writing career is fairly apparent from a quick glance at its history. I think after Katrina I made up my mind that making plans was a waste of energy and/or time, as one has no control over one’s future. Life is always going to be throwing spitballs and curveballs at you, no matter how good your stance or your grip on the bat and the technique of your swing, you’re going to miss more often than you hit one out of the park. It is very easy for me to get distracted and side-tracked–thank you, brain chemistry–anyway, and oft times I will be thinking quite enthusiastically about one idea when I get another and the first one is forgotten, lost in the mists and cobwebs of the farthest reaches of my imagination, only to be stumbled across years later with an oh yeah lightbulb going on over my head. But I am going to carve some time out this weekend to try to plan ahead a bit, or at least try to plan my writing year for 2023. I have so many things in progress already that need to be finished that it’s not even funny–which I should also make a list of; not the short stories (far too many of those unfinished to make a list–it was somewhere over eighty the last time I counted them) but the books and novellas and other things that I’ve made a start on that need finishing at some point.

I allowed myself to sleep in this morning until eight, and then over my coffee I finished reading Wanda M. Morris’ superlative Anywhere You Run, which was simply marvelous and superb and fantastic–it’s hard to believe she is only two books into her career; it will be interesting to see how she continues to grow and develop as a writer as she gets further into her career–and yes, there will be more about this book later. I feel marvelously rested this morning, and the coffee is doing a lovely job of waking me. I am going to do some futzing this morning–dishes, filing, cleaning a bit–before getting cleaned up and diving into my manuscript for the rest of the day. I really need to stop being so goddamned lazy and get on with it, you know? It simply isn’t going to write itself, and I am very hopeful that I can make some terrific progress on the book today. There’s not any college football today–the season is over except for bowl games and play-offs–and so there are no distractions to be had; no “Oh I’ll just turn on the television to check some scores” only to transition to “oh, it won’t hurt to watch the rest of this half” to “oh, well, tomorrow I can work on my writing.”

And the hilarious part of it is that I will always, always, feel enormously satisfied, pleased, and happy when I stop writing for the day. Every single time.

Oh! I also taped Susan Larson’s The Reading Life, which you can click here to listen to if you are so inclined.

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

Friends and Neighbors

Ah, community.

What is a cozy mystery without one? I don’t know because I’ve never read one that didn’t have a strong sense of community in it, but for me, the depictions of community is one of the primary draws of cozies.

As I have mentioned before, the vast majority of cozies are generally set in small towns, small communities where everyone always seems to come together, everyone knows everyone, and there’s an undercurrent of caring about others that makes them cozy and comfortable to read. I was worried at first about setting one in New Orleans, to be honest; New Orleans is many things to many different people, but I’ve kind of always seen New Orleans as a darker city than most, and that darkness that is always out there on the periphery of the bright sunshine, no matter how cheerful you might be or how lovely of a day it is. Part of it is the history here–New Orleans was a center of the slave trade, after all, and you don’t get much darker than human trafficking–and of course, the city has always been a major port…and ports aren’t exactly known as sedate places. There has always been a lot of crime here, and you really can’t go anywhere in New Orleans without overhearing people talking about the “crime problem” and shaking their heads at the decline of Western civilization as we know it down here by the riverside.

So, how can I write a light, breezy novel about a city that is so dark?

The key was community, of course. New Orleans is a city, but it’s also a city of neighborhoods, and always has been. Generations of families passed homes and property down to their children and their children and so on. “Where’d you go to high school?” was a question asked because the answer told the asker lots of things. Private school or public? What neighborhood did you grow up in? And as I thought more about it, I realized my lonely block in the lower Garden District has that sense of community to it. Neighbors look out for neighbors. We’ve lived in the same place since either 2002 or 2003; I’m never really sure I can remember when we moved onto the property; those years between moving back here in 2001 and Katrina are kind of blurry for me. But we’ve gotten to know our landlady pretty well as well as some of our neighbors; others have come and gone over the years but we always all end up down at the corner for parades during Carnival, catching throws and hanging out and having a good time.

And I realized I could do the same for Valerie.

In A Streetcar Named Murder I only introduced the reader to a few members of Valerie’s community in the Irish Channel: her best friend and neighbor Lorna; the gay couple next door in one side of a double and one’s mother, Mrs. Domenico, on the other side; and her friend Stacia who lives further down the street. I also mentioned there were a couple of houses being used as Air BnB’s, which may play a part in a book should the series get picked up. I had learned my lesson from the failed Paige spin-off series years ago; the mouthy, brash and snarky best friend cannot be the main character, but the book/community needed someone like that in the book. The main character has to be kind–but there’s always a more colorful secondary character necessary to say the funny and borderline mean things in place of the main character.

This is where Lorna comes in.

Lorna is very colorful indeed, and was a lot of fun to create. She’s married to an airline pilot who is often gone for long stretches of time (his name is Jack Farrow; since he’s a pilot she calls him Captain Jack Farrow). She’s British, speaks multiple languages, is fiercely intelligent and doggedly loyal. She also writes lusty romance novels that are huge bestsellers under the name Felicity Deveraux. Lorna is a great best friend who is also always up for anything, and naturally, she has a huge imagination and a big personality. Interesting and fun as Lorna is, I don’t think I would ever write about her as the main character because, like Paige, she would need to be toned down and I don’t really want to do that to her.

It is Lorna’s ambition to join a Mardi Gras krewe that actually puts Valerie at the scene of the crime in the book. See how that works?

But her neighborhood isn’t her only community, either; there’s a community around Rare Things, the antiques store she inherits–Randall Charpentier, her new boss; Dee, her co-worker; and of course the people who are in and out of the shop–the hot guy from an outer parish who repairs and refinishes furniture, for one–on a regular basis. If it becomes a series, I can flit the cases back and forth from her neighborhood to the store and vice versa; there are all kinds of plots and stories I can tell that could come from both.

And there’s still another community that Valerie belongs to that was only touched on in the first book–the parents’ group at Loyola High (it doesn’t exist in real life, folks, but it’s based on Jesuit), the Cardirents. This is how Valerie knew the victim in this book; they were both in the group, with a fraught history (which is more fraught than Valerie ever knew).

So, yes, it is possible to create the sense of community a cozy mystery requires in New Orleans; New Orleans, in fact, is ripe for it.

And on that note, I will sign off here. More blatant self-promotion to come, no worries on that score!