Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

Rose Garden

And today we fly back home from the glamour of New York and the Edgar Awards; to reality and what I would usually describe as the drudgery of my day to day existence. I do love New York; I love walking the streets and looking in shop windows and looking at the menus posted in the windows of little restaurants (and the bigger ones) and the crowds of people. I don’t know if I could handle living here–I’m far too old to try to find out now, at any rate–but there’s a part of me that kind of wishes I had run away to the big city from the provincial and pedestrian life I lived up until I was thirty; but that would make my life different than it is now and I am pretty damned happy with my life now. Could be better, but could also but a shit ton worse than it is, too.

I could also be dead had I been here during the plague years, so there’s also that.

Yesterday was a lovely and relaxing recovery day from the Edgar banquet. I slept really well that night (and last night; I don’t get it but for whatever reason I’ve been able to sleep here at the hotel and it’s been quite marvelous), and spent the day exploring and meeting friends here and there for coffee or drinks. I actually met a friend at the Campbell Apartment in the mid-afternoon for drinks; I had never been before but it was quite marvelous! It was like being back in old New York, with the gorgeous old decor, the magnificent window behind the bar, and sipping on a martini (dirty vodka, of course; aka the Gaylin) while talking about books and publishing and writing with a writer friend; one of the things I love about coming to New York–particularly when it’s on Mystery Writers of America business–is that it reminds me of what I used to dream being a writer was like: coming to New York, walking the busy streets from meeting to meeting, talking to other people in the business about the business and about writing and books. I always feel like An Author when I am in Manhattan in ways that I don’t when I am anywhere else–even if it’s a writer’s conference. There’s just something about Manhattan that gets into my system somehow and makes me feel like I’m really a writer. I guess it’s because when I was a kid everything I ever saw, in movies and television or even read in books, about being a writer always involved either living in New York or coming to New York to meet with editors, agents, etc.

I love New York because I love feeling like An Author, and I never feel that as intensely as I do when I am here.

I also spent some more time with Raquel V. Reyes’ marvelous Mango, Mambo and Murder, which she described on stage while accepting her Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery a few weeks ago, as her “Spanglish mystery,” and while I wasn’t sure what she meant by that when she said (as I hadn’t read the book yet) now that I am about two-thirds of the way through, I totally get it. Miriam, her main character, is a Cuban-American who is absolutely (as she should be) proud of that heritage and wants to keep it alive with her son, who has a white father. She speaks Spanish to her son (his father speaks English to him) so he will grow up bilingual and understanding and appreciating his maternal heritage; she speaks Spanish with other Spanish speakers; and her mother-in-law is…well, let’s just call her horrible and passive-aggressively racist in that way that certain white women can be. There have been any number of times in the book where I’ve wanted to slap the snot out of Mother-in-Law; and while intellectually I’ve always known how awful that kind of behavior (and equally awful those snide little remarks) are, experiencing it through the eyes of a character you’ve grown to like and admire and respect and identify with–all the while knowing I can just put the book down and escape from it, which people of Hispanic/Latinx heritage cannot in every day life–is always a little eye-opening and makes me understand just how much privilege my skin gives me (there was a weird incident at Left Coast Crime I’ve not blogged about that kind of put me in the shoes of a non-white person for a little while; I’ve not written about it because I am not really sure how to, and I’ve not managed to fully process the experience, to be honest, and there’s also the reality that this momentary sort-of-racist experience I had isn’t common, isn’t likely to happen again, and as a general rule I enjoy a lot of privilege due to my lack of melanin.)…which is precisely why books like Raquel’s (and Kellye Garrett’s, and Rachel Howzell Hall’s, and Mia Manansala’s, and so many others) are important. So many of us don’t understand how privileged we are as a category (it’s always infuriating when people are tone-deaf and make it about them–“I’ve struggled”–rather than stepping back and recognizing that it’s about the group and not individuality), and these books can help us see things from a different perspective as well as exposing us to other cultures within our over-arching society that we should actually embrace and celebrate and learn about in order to be more fully rounded and developed as people. I’ll probably finish reading the book either at the airport or on the flight; I have some more on deck in my backpack so I won’t be without a book to read (We also have to change planes in Nashville, and we have about an hour or two there as well).

I’d best wrap this up and get ready. Checkout time is 11, and our car is coming for us at 11:45 to take us to LaGuardia. I need to pack the last few odds and ends into the suitcases, take a shower, and get Paul up. So farewell to you, my beloved New York and Manhattan, and I promise to be back again at some point.

And I’ll check in with you again tomorrow as always, Constant Reader.

Shine on Me

Sunday morning.

I got up again before seven this morning–despite staying up an hour or so later last night than I usually do; I was waiting, hoping Paul would be coming home, but he didn’t get home again until after I went to bed. I didn’t get nearly as much done yesterday as I would have liked because I got distracted by reading Kellye Garrett’s marvelous Like a Sister, and by the time I finished the book it was late afternoon and the tiredness I was feeling yesterday morning–I mentioned it, remember? I wasn’t as awake and alert as I had been the day before–I decided to just kick back and relax for the rest of the day. I watched a lot of history documentaries on Youtube; watched a lot of news worried about Ukraine; and then last night I decided to watch The Drowning Pool, a 1970’s film version of Ross Macdonald’s book–with significant changes made to the book–moving it to Louisiana for one (more on this later). When the movie was finished I went to bed, and woke up early again this morning (body clock has reset, for good or ill). I have to make groceries this morning, as well as gas up the car (can’t wait to see how much gas costs today; but I am more than willing to pay more to save Ukrainian lives, frankly) and head home for some more editing work. I am going to work on my manuscript today; and I have a manuscript from Bold Strokes I need to get edited this week as well. Lots of heavy lifting to get done this week, but I think I can manage.

I also need to select my next book to read. I’ve narrowed it down some; the leading contenders include Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, The Twelve Jays of Christmas by Donna Andrews, The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr., and All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris. A plethora of treasures in my TBR pile, no? There’s also some short story collections and anthologies I want to start working my way through–not to mention a short story I need to write by the end of the month (see why I need lists?)–so I think once I get home from the grocery store I will most likely have to make this week’s to-do list. I also have some emails to write for sending tomorrow. But I don’t feel as paralyzed this morning as I usually am by a daunting pile of work that needs doing. We’ll see how I feel when I get home from the grocery store, though, I suppose. Usually dealing with the groceries wears me out and I am pretty much useless afterwards; I don’t know if that is actual physical or mental exhaustion or laziness settling in. I know that my energy levels have significantly decreased over the past pandemic years, and sometimes I do wonder if it’s maybe Long COVID; exhaustion and loss of energy seems to be one of its leading symptoms, and of course, both tend to trigger depression, which creates a massive downward spiral. But I keep testing negative for it, so what do I know?

So, The Drowning Pool starring Paul Newman as Lew Archer, renamed Lew Harper in the movie, and the location was moved from southern California to Louisiana for some reason. The movie is very cynical, so it definitely fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, but it’s not a very good movie. (I’ve read the book, and while the family structure of the film seemed familiar, there’s a lot of significant diversion from the book.) One of my favorite parts of the movie is one of those things Louisiana/New Orleans people always point out in movies and television shows: the geography makes no sense. Harper is summoned to New Orleans by an old flame, whom he meets in a Royal Street antique shop for some reason. She doesn’t anyone to know she’s hired him, so why would you meet in the Quarter? The airport is in Kenner; why would you make him drive all the way into the heart of the city when you could have simply met him at a lounge or bar out near the airport, where they would be a lot more anonymity? Anyway, the old flame (Joanne Woodward, wasted in a role far beneath her talents) has gotten him a room at a motel in the small town she lives in, and she runs off, promising to be in touch…and here is the weird Louisiana geography part. He leaves the Quarter, takes the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, eventually crossed the river in Baton Rouge, and then winds up somewhere in swampy Acadiana. That’s all fine…but why would you take the causeway to the north shore to get to Baton Rouge when I-10 heads directly there from New Orleans? He added at least another hour to his trip by crossing the lake. There’s another scene where he’s tracking someone down, following his girlfriend as she gets off the St. Charles streetcar, crosses the street, and enters a home. Harper later refers to the man’s “apartment in the French Quarter”–um, the streetcar doesn’t run through the Quarter, it didn’t in 1975, and it was clearly St. Charles Avenue (there are several more of these, in fact; the bayou area near the town was clearly filmed in the Manchac Swamp). The plot is convoluted and didn’t make a lot of sense–blackmail, Joanne Woodward’s husband is a closet case, someone has stolen an account book from a local oil baron’s company that exposes their pay-offs and bribes and other illegal activities–and Newman, while handsome and charming, doesn’t really put a lot of effort in the role. Your mileage might vary, of course, but I found it to be disappointing. The only thing about the film of note was very young Melanie Griffith playing Woodward’s nymphet teenage daughter…and I kept wondering how old IS she to be so sexualized in a film? But it was also the 1970’s…in catching up on the 1970’s films I’m constantly amazed at how much unnecessary nude scenes for women there are, or gratuitous sex scenes that add nothing to the plots in these films. But I also appreciate the grittier, more realistic if cynical point of view of the films; there’s nothing pretty or noble about humanity in these movies…which also kind of explains how “hopeful” movies like Rocky and Star Wars were so enormously successful during the latter part of the decade.

And on that note, i think I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

I’m Glad About It

I was very lucky with my career, in many ways. Having a partner who got a job working for a literary festival–the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival–meant years of volunteering at the event itself: writing panel descriptions, working the check-in desk on-site, and giving authors rides to and from the airport and to various events for the Festival that didn’t take place at any of the French Quarter venues. I was able to meet authors who were personal heroes of mine; some became friends, and all were open to giving advice and tips to a personal trainer in his late thirties with aspirations of being a published writer. (I also met a lot of celebrities who came to the Festival; from Kim Hunter to Alec Baldwin to Patricia Neal to Shirley Knight to Dick Cavett to Rex Reed to Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen and Zoë Caldwell–a personal favorite.) One of the biggest thrills was Sue Grafton, who was was more charming and witty and kind than I could have ever hoped. Sue Grafton, of course, was the dream career for a mystery writer: enormous success, both critical and financial; an incredibly original character that became iconic; and crowds of fans eager to meet her. But after meeting her, it was her gracious kindness that I aspired to–I might get books published but that kind of enormous success was an enormous longshot (we all aspire to have a career like that), but being gracious and kind was something I could–with a lot of self-evaluation and work on myself–actually replicate.

But one thing she said to me, with her self-awareness and trademark sense of humor, has always stuck with me. I asked her some innocuous beginner’s question about writing a series character–something she had probably been asked a gazillion times–and she took some time to think before she answered.

“Well,” she said, “One problem with having a popular series is you become a one-trick pony. All anyone ever wants from me is Kinsey–a new book, or a short story, anything, really–and that can be a bit stifling.” Then she grinned, winked, and leaned in close to add, “But you know what? I’m still grateful people want Kinsey from me, and that there are an awful lot of those people.”

The series used to be the thing for mystery writers; very few people had long term careers in the genre without having a series. But over the last twenty years, I’ve watched as series writers began straying away from their series and focusing more on stand-alones; which has not only resulted in some amazing books but extraordinary career growth. Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lehane, among many others, switched from enormously popular series to writing stand alone novels that give them more room to breathe and be creative with plot and character and voice.

And now, Kellye Garrett has joined their ranks.

I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found she’d died from the New York Daily News.

Her post was just as attention seeking as their headline. Hers came at midnight. Look back at it. #birthday #25 #grownfolksbusiness #home #nyc–all over a behind-the-back shot of her in nothing more than a black silk dress and no bra.

The article came less than twelve hours later. FORMER REALITY STAR DESIREE PIERCE FOUND DEAD IN LINGERIE IN BRONX WITH COCAINE AND NO SHOES.

I’d come straight here–to where they found her–as soon as I’d seen it.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe to confirm it was real. Maybe to hope it was not. Maybe to get one last glimpse of her even though I knew her body was long gone. Whatever the reason, I’d arrived at this particular playground in the Bronx on autopilot. The place my sister had come to just hours before. It looked how I felt–all reds and blues and worn down. It would never be accused of being the happiest place on Earth.

FORMER REALITY STAR DESIREE PIERCE FOUND DEAD IN LINGERIE IN BRONX WITH COCAINE AND NO SHOES.

I hated it. For what it said. For what it represented. For what it really meant.

Despite a lot of communication over the years, I don’t recall if I have ever actually met Kellye in person. We’ve been at many of the same events–but I don’t think we’ve ever actually met in person; if we did, it was one of those nights/afternoons in the bar at Bouchercon where alcohol has killed memory cells in my brain. But I read her first novel, Hollywood Homicide, which was the first in a series about Dayna, a struggling actress in Los Angeles who stumbles into a murder investigation. I enjoyed it tremendously; I loved the voice and the character of Dayna as well as her friends; I somehow managed to land an ARC of the sequel, Hollywood Ending, and in my inimitable Greg way, I was saving it for when her next book came out, so I would always have another Kellye Garrett book to read. Then, disaster. Midnight Ink, the publishers of the Dayna series, was sold and shuttered. I knew Kellye was still writing, so I kept holding on to Hollywood Ending, waiting for the new book. Her agent generously sent me a print ARC of her new book, Like A Sister, which I had already pre-ordered; (I entered a Goodreads giveaway Kellye tweeted; I replied “Done! (I never win anything.)” It arrived during a very busy Greg period–finishing my own book, Christmas, MWA board changeover–and so it sat on top of the TBR stacks in the living room, glaring at me when I was too tired in the evening after work to read anything. Then, last week, my preordered copy arrived–and what a gorgeous looking book it is. (Look at that cover up there!)

And yes, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

I started reading it this past week after work on Wednesday. Thursday night I was too tired to read; Friday was another busy work-at-home day for me, and so yesterday morning, after finishing my on-line duties for the day, I decided to treat myself to a few hours of the book before moving on to other chores and things that needed doing.

Five hours later I finished the book. It literally was one of those “oh, another half-hour won’t hurt” over and over again until “Well, I might as well finish; there’s only a hundred pages left.”

Wow. What a fun ride this book is, from start to finish. Garrett grabs your attention with that opening above, and never lets go.

The plot focuses on Lena Scott, who lives in the Bronx and is attending Columbia while living in the house she inherited from her grandmother. (Her grandmother’s long time partner also lives there in one of the two apartments inside–more on her later, and yes, I said her.) Her own mother is dead; she is estranged from her music mogul father and his wife; and she has also been estranged from Desiree, her half-sister, for two years. The guilt that she never made up with Desiree before she died eats at Lena, who doesn’t believe for one moment that Desiree overdosed on heroin–she was always afraid of needles–and of course, no one really listens to her, so she starts investigating on her own. There are a lot of twists and turns here, as well as the mystery serving as an self-realization journey for Lena–who begins finding out that a lot of the truths about her family she has always believed aren’t necessarily the truth. Along the way she meets a reporter who may or may not be a love interest; becomes close to one of Desiree’s best friends (the Instagram hashtag #likeasister is where the title of the book comes from); and the incredibly dysfunctional family pieces begin coming back together along the way. I particularly loved the relationship between Lena and her father; Garrett is wonderful at depicting these family relationships and how delicate they can be, and how easy it is for family to fall out and stay apart over misunderstandings.

The pacing of the book is remarkable; you become so deeply vested in the story and the characters you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them. Lena’s voice alone is reason enough to read the book; it’s powerful, vulnerable yet strong at the same time. We understand her, root for her, feel for her, want everything to work out for her, and we also feel her pain–pain born from years of fraught family relationships in a dynamic so complicated and delicate that it’s no wonder it went off the rails. But the writing is also strong and witty; some lines were so clever I shared them on social media, and would have shared even more had I been willing to take the time to put the book down to type on my phone. Character, story, and dialogue are all there at the highest level as well.

And being familiar with her former work, I am even more amazed at how easily Garrett was able to shift from a cozy mystery series into something else; a stand alone crime novel that also explores questions of privilege, celebrity, stardom, and family.

I also loved loved loved that Lena’s closest family attachment is to her grandmother’s widow, Aunt E. I loved that a long-term lesbian relationship was Lena’s only real role model for a successful romantic relationship. I loved that the fact her grandmother had a female partner was portrayed as not a big deal and normal (thank you thank you thank you for this) and that no one had a problem with it within the family. I love that an older lesbian character is the moral compass for the family. This, folks, is a master class on how to include queer characters into your work–and inclusion matters.

I was bummed to see the Dayna series end–but delighted this incredible growth as a writer was the result. I cannot wait to see what Garrett does next, and watching her career grow and develop further is going to be incredibly exciting for me as a reader and a fan.

Highly recommended, everyone. Jump on this one and thank me later.

Up the Ladder to the Roof

It’s a gray Saturday morning, and my body clock has definitely reset. I woke up just before six again, wide awake, but stayed in bed for another hour (just like yesterday). I don’t feel as energetic as I did yesterday, though; but I have things to dig through and work to do and lots of coffee on-hand for fueling. But that’s okay; I don’t have huge plans for the day. I am going to start doing some editing, I am going to work on my short story a bit, and i am going to spend some more time with Kellye Garrett’s Like A Sister, which will be my reward for getting the other stuff done. I need to go make groceries at some point this weekend, just haven’t decided which day to do that. I also need to go to the gym, maybe later today. There’s always organizing and cleaning to do, too.

In other words, another normal weekend around the Lost Apartment.

But that’s cool, I suppose. Trying to do normal things helps me deal with the over-all concern about the world burning to the ground around us, which sometimes makes doing anything feel completely pointless. (I do remember all the hesitation from people in December about trying not to get thrilled or be happy that 2021 was coming to an end; we all felt that way every December for several years only for the new year to be even worse than the one before. Looks, sadly, like those people were right.) It’s a weird place to be in for someone my age, or in my generation, or those of us who remember the world before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m sure many of them, like me, had forgotten what it was like to live under the daily threat of nuclear annihilation and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. But that’s what we did back then–we went about our daily lives with that worry in the back of our minds at all times. I remember the amazement and joy when the Berlin Wall came down, and Germany reunified; part of their punishment for causing World War II and uncountable war crimes was allowing the Russians to basically split the country, turning East Germany into a communist satellite state while West Germany became a democracy and joined NATO and the west–basically for protection from a Communist takeover. I don’t miss nuclear apocalyptic fiction and films; Neville Shute’s On the Beach was such a bleak read, and the television movie The Day After was also dark and hopeless. There was an abandoned nuclear missile base about two or three miles from my high school in Kansas (which I’ve always wanted to write about); I remember there was a PBS documentary that aired when I was in high school about nuclear war, which was also the first time it ever crossed my mind that Kansas, of all places, would be a strategic military target for the Russians (because of all the missile bases spread across the prairie), they even named the closest town to the abandoned base as a target (Bushong, Kansas, population 37 at the time). And of course, The Day After made that very clear, as it took place in Kansas City and environs. Testament is another bleak film about the aftermath of nuclear war; and I remember reading another book, War Day, by Whitley Strieber and someone else, set about twenty years after a nuclear war between the superpowers. We used to learn about all kinds of things, like the electromagnetic pulse (the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere which somehow–I don’t remember how it worked–rendered anything requiring electricity to cease working), often simplified to EMP. We were taught that iodine helped with radiation sickness, along with the grim knowledge that those killed instantly were the lucky ones. Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction used to be about the aftermath of nuclear war.

I didn’t realize how lovely it had been to be able to push those concerns completely out of my mind.

And what unique privilege it is, to be so consumed with worry over what may happen that might affect me and my life, while people are literally being slaughtered by the minute and large cities are being bombed and shelled ruthlessly and refugees are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands.

And there are other atrocities occurring around the world that aren’t being reported on, or covered as widely by the western media–primarily because the people being slaughtered or bombed aren’t white.

The great irony is that we consider our current civilization as the apex of humanity thus far–that civilization continues to evolve and grow less barbaric with the passage of time, while knowing that future generations will look back to our times and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them? How could they not see how fucked up the world was, and do something about it?

What is happening in Ukraine is just another chapter in the never-ending on-going series of books showing how incredibly inhumane humans are.

I don’t know what’s going to happen over there, and I worry that a peaceable resolution is not possible. I don’t see how Putin can possibly survive this, and he is a desperate thug with a massive Napoleon complex. I don’t know how many Ukrainians have to die before the rest of the world says enough. I don’t know how you get a madman with a nuclear arsenal to stop making war on civilians.

So, I just keep going. I get up every morning and have coffee. I check my emails, read some, delete some and reply to others. I check the news to see the latest from the front. I work on day job responsibilities and my writing and MWA business and edit. I do my dishes and clean my house and cook dinner and try to read to take my mind off the nightmares unfolding in the far corners of the world. I donate what I can to relief efforts. Little things, here and there, to cope with a reality that is incredibly worrisome and stressful and so overwhelming that I can’t allow myself to spend too much time going down that road–because I have the privilege to not have to be concerned about surviving today’s bombings. I have food and medicine and access to services. I have power and water and a working car. I have resources to draw upon. I am lucky.

I create. I write novels, fictions which may or may not have any meaning, trifles that can serve as a distraction from the worries and cares of a burning world over which I have little to no control. I have always been hesitant to use the word art when it comes to my writing; I’ve always felt that it isn’t for me to decide whether my work is art or I am an artist. But literature is a form of art, so therefore by extension my work is art and I am an artist; whether good or bad, important or forgettable is for others to discuss, debate and decide. But one of the foundations of civilization is art; art can survive the centuries and epochs and tell future generations stories about the times in which we live, to give them context for our civilization and our country and what we do and how we live. Fiction can educate and distract; it can provide a needed distraction and escape from the horrors of reality and provide comfort and joy in times of stress and terror. I have always escaped into books, and as a writer, I can also now escape into worlds and characters of my own creation. Reading and writing have always been my escapes; and now, more than ever, those kinds of escapes are necessary.

So, writers–we need to keep creating even as the world burns. There is always a need for beauty and truth, especially in times like these. And with electronic books–our words can now last for eternity, forever–or at least as long as civilization as we know it exists. I have no crystal ball; I do not have visions–although there have been times I’ve felt like Cassandra screaming on the walls of Troy, ignored and mocked as she tells them their future and of their folly. I do not know how this will all turn out, I do not know where we will be tomorrow or the next day. But as long as I have the ability to do so, I will keep working. I will keep making to-do lists and crossing off the tasks as I complete them. I will go on, living my life and doing whatever small thing I can do to try to keep the light burning. I will always try to make sense of the senseless, and I will always keep going.

No matter how dark the world might seem, no matter how much suffering we have to witness.

And on that somber note, I am going to dive into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hope you and all your loved ones are safe and secure, and continue to be.

But I Love You More

And just like that, in a snap of the fingers, it’s Friday again and I am working at home. Huzzah? Huzzah!

I have apparently reset my body clock at long last. It took until age sixty plus a few months, but I woke up this morning without the alarm at just before six. I chose to stay in bed until seven–it was very comfortable under my blankets this morning–but I am now out of bed, drinking my first coffee, and feeling pretty well rested and wide awake. I have, as always, a lot of things to do today (some errands to run, work that needs doing, chores that are overdue) but right now I am feeling like I can get it all done without a problem; that’s undoubtedly incorrect–at some point I’ll get derailed or hit a wall or something; it happens every time–but right now I am going to roll with it most happily. I’ve managed to keep up somewhat this week with the chores, so the Lost Apartment doesn’t need as much attention as it generally does as we roll into the weekend; but maybe that’s because we had a truncated work week (thanks Fat Tuesday!). Either way, I want to see if I can build on that and get more things cleaned–the other stuff that I never manage to get to; like dusting picture frames and so forth. I suppose we shall see.

And I might even be able to get caught up on everything. Ha ha ha ha, it had to be said, right?

So my goals for this weekend are to get through my to-do list and make a new one. I have editing to do and writing to do and decisions to be made about my career and my future–always a daunting subject, always put off for another time because i don’t want to deal with it–and hopefully, this weekend will be an opportunity. As I said earlier, I feel more rested this morning than I have in a long time–rested and relaxed–which means, at least for now, that I feel like I can do anything and everything and I can conquer the world, which is a nice feeling…I know I can’t realistically take over the world, but it’s always nice to feel like I can if I wanted to, you know? I definitely want to finish reading Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister this weekend; it’s quite good, and it feels good to be enjoying reading again. I’d intended to do some reading when I got home from work yesterday, but was very tired–drained, really; it was one of those days at the office for some reason–and so I just kind of hunkered down, let Scooter climb into my lap, and watched history videos on Youtube about Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine’s history. I want to spend some time this weekend figuring out my new Scotty’s plot and subplots–I want this to be a labyrinthine story, ever more so than Royal Street Reveillon was–and I also need to figure out what else I need to be writing this year, and there’s so much else that needs to be caught up on…heavy heaving sigh. But rather than feeling defeated, this morning I feel like I can get everything done and it’s just a matter of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, which is always a lovely feeling, frankly–and one I’ve not felt in quite some time. Yay? Yay.

Definitely yay.

So right now before my first work meeting of the day I have laundry going–it’s launder the bed linens day, after all–and have to unload the dishwasher. I need to make a grocery list. I need to work on my to-do list and create a new one. There’s always organizing to do around here (my computer files are finally starting to get it together, but there’s still a very long way to go, sadly), and there’s always another chore somewhere that I’ve not noticed (or have ignored for so long that it now escapes notice and seems normal for whatever it is to be the way it is–not a good thing) and of course, I need to get my taxes and stuff together. See? These are things that should be going on my to-do list, rather than being written about here. But that’s just the way my brain bounces around, you know? But it does feel nice to have shaken off the cobwebs and that aching bone-tired feeling, as well as the clouded brain thing. (I shudder to think how much worse this week would have been had I actively participated in Carnival as much as I have done in the past…yikes indeed.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines and try to get some things done before the work meeting. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to!

Everybody’s Got the Right to Love

Thursday morning and my last day (of only two) in the office this week. I went to bed early again last night–I was surprisingly productive when I got home from work last night, which was a pleasant surprise–and woke up well before my alarm again (I did stay in bed until the alarm went off, though), and so am pretty well awake this morning as I drink my coffee and prepare to face another day. I still have an insane amount of work to get done today–over all, in general, what else is new, right?–and frankly I’m just hoping to be able to keep everything in at least a holding pattern until this weekend when I can make serious inroads. I never got around to making that to-do list yesterday, which catapults it to the top of what I need to get done today, really, and so I’ve got to really buckle down and focus and do what I need to do.

Yesterday I managed to get Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister in the mail, and I started reading. As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve had issues reading lately for pleasure, and with Kellye’s book in hand, I decided to sit down and give it a shot. I was a few chapters in before I knew it, and regretfully had to put the book aside so I could do some chores that needed to be done. And of course, by the time I was finished with the chores I was tired and Scooter wanted to sleep in my lap so…I decided to try watching the news, and then found something else on television to watch to try to distract me from that…but it didn’t really hold my attention and finally went to bed early. I finally saw someone last night on the news talking about the history–finally–and why Ukraine…Kyev in particular… is so important to Russian leadership. It goes back to Peter the Great’s desire to make Russia a world power–access to the Black Sea being crucial for trade and for naval matters–because Russian history dates back to the days when Kyev was the capital of the Kyevan Rus; Kyev eventually fell to the Mongols and the Russian nation retreated north. The dream has always been to restore the empire that once was; the Russians have always considered themselves to be the heirs of the Eastern Roman Empire and Moscow to be the third Rome (Rome being the first, Constantinople being the second–tsar or czar is a Russianization of caesar). Ukraine is the heart of the Russian nation, and its true homeland…so a Ukraine independent of Russian control flies in the face of everything Russians have always believed about themselves as a people and as a nation. (It is lovely to see how much the Russian people hate and oppose this war, though.) Ukraine and the Black Sea were always the goal of first Peter the Great and then Catherine the Great….Putin sees himself as one of those great leaders, hence the need to return Ukraine and Kyev to Russian control. I don’t know how this is going to end, and I fear many of the possible outcomes…but I am also glad I have a smattering of knowledge about Russian history.

I’m not sure why I’ve always been drawn to Russian history, art and culture–particularly since I grew up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud with the idea that Soviet Union was the ultimate evil empire drilled into my head daily–but there it is. A friend bought me, as a birthday gift, a reading with a psychic (I’ve had two of these in my life–the second was a tarot card reading after we moved to New Orleans); it was an interesting experience. She kind of just read my past life history–but it was interesting. In my most recent past life, according to her, I had been nobility in Russia at some time in the past. I had a good, fruitful, productive life, and in my old age retired to a monastery. It was interesting–because I had always been drawn to Russia (and yes, well aware that I could never live in Russia; way too cold, of course)–and there was no way she could have known this; it’s not one of those “read body language and facial expression” things most psychics do; in the tarot reading the answers to my questions were ambiguous enough so they could be read as pretty much fitting anything. (This has been on my mind as I’ve been writing a psychic character lately in my short fiction–and of course, Scotty is psychic, although I’ve not really done much with that in the later books in the series.) But I’ve always been interested in Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra…the Romanov dynasty and Russia have always interested me. (I highly recommend any of Robert K. Massie’s Russian histories and biographies of the czars.)

I also need to get revising my manuscript and start working on “Solace in a Dying Hour,” which is due in early April. Sigh, so much to do. But I was really proud of myself for doing cleaning chores around the apartment last night–I even vacuumed–so the apartment looks sort of better; at least neater than it has in a while. Tonight I’ll fold the clothes in the dryer and put the dishes away from the dishwasher, and hopefully can carve out some time to read more of Like a Sister–it was very hard to put down last night; it’s really good, y’all–and of course, I don’t have to get up before dawn tomorrow so can stay up a little later tonight if I want to….although going to bed early has ceased to be a problem for me lately.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely and marvelous day, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

The Night Before Christmas

It is now Christmas Eve–how lovely for everyone–and I do hope that everyone has the kind of holiday experience they want to have; whether it’s with actual family, chosen family, or just all alone and by yourself, may you have yourself the kind of day that will make you happy and relaxed and chilled out completely. I have to write again today–the joys of impending deadline–but that’s actually okay; I enjoy writing, so what better way for me to spend Christmas Eve? I’ll probably treat myself to a celebratory cocktail of some sort this evening; martini or margarita or Bloody Mary. I think Paul is going into the office for a few hours this afternoon anyway, so I can spend that time organizing and writing and cleaning and all of that fun stuff I get to do when Paul’s not home but I am. I was very creative last night, too–writing all kinds of notes about potential future projects and just letting my mind run a little wild; but that’s what happens when I allow my mind free rein to free-associate and start thinking of ideas. I even came up with a first last night; an idea for a gay romance called A Better Man, which might actually be fun to write. I also came up with a crime story about obsession (Missing White Woman, title gacked from Kellye Garrett on Twitter), and The Ones Who Walked Away, which is a title that could go in several different directions as far as length (short story, novel, novella) as well as what it’s about.

It’s actually kind of fun when I have the time to sit and think and come up with ideas and thoughts and so forth. The manuscript-in-progress is going to be a lot more fun now that I’ve taken some time to put some serious thought into it.

I am also taking a break from Blatant Self-Promotion because of the holiday. No one–well, certainly not me at any rate–wants Blatant Self-Promotion on Christmas Eve; hence a break from me, a respite as a holiday gift from me to you, Constant Reader (although making that decision has immediately caused that wretched little voice in my head to whisper this is why you don’t have a bigger career).

Well, to be fair it’s also a respite for me, since I hate doing it unless I can find a way to make it interesting.

And as the year winds down, I generally start looking back over the past year and thinking about the things I enjoyed, the things I didn’t, the progress made and the progress thwarted. But the pandemic years all seem to have run together somehow in my fevered brain; I don’t remember when I read a particular book or watched a particular movie or television show from the last two years. I also read so many damned good books and watched so much great entertainment (series and films) on my television that my picking some as highlights for the year would be incredibly, incredibly difficult–AND I would undoubtedly miss some. It’s also difficult for me to pick out a favorite (except Ted Lasso) of anything; I enjoyed so many different things for so many different reasons.

Although it would be interesting to go back and reread my blog entries from this same time last year. I know I was trying to get Bury Me in Shadows ready for submission at this time last year–one accomplishment of this past year was getting two books finished and turned in for publication, which was a big step past the previous year; my last book, Royal Street Reveillon, was released in the fall of 2019, so there was literally nothing from me in 2020 other than short stories here and there–and I cannot remember which ones, where and when, for that matter, either; I keep thinking, for example, that “The Dreadful Scott Decision” came out in The Faking of the President earlier this year, but it was actually last year. I think my Sherlock Holmes story and some others came out this past year, but it’s not something I’d be willing to testify about under oath, either. I do hate when that happens.

I’ve also been obsessively trying to locate two things (it’s actually more, but I am grouping many into one): several years back, while going through boxes, I found my old journals from back in the day, which actually inspired me to buy another one and start carrying one with me again (which has been wonderful), but I also don’t remember what I did with them so I’ve been trying to find them again. The other thing I am trying to find is a copy of an essay I wrote on the train from Florence to Venice (or vice versa). It was one of those “letters to myself at age sixteen”, and the other day I was trying to get a better handle on all the essays I’ve written over the years so I can compile them all into one (or more) collections; the fitness columns and essays on writing alone could probably be their own collections. Anyway, I remember having to write it on my laptop on the train–either to or from Venice, I honestly don’t remember, but I do think it was on the way–and it got a lot of engagement on social media, I do remember that but I can’t find a copy of the essay itself anywhere. It’s entirely possible it is one of those things that got lost over the years, and I also don’t remember what I called the file; but I am sure I saved it somewhere….only now I can’t find it and have been obsessively searching for it and realizing at the same time how messy and sloppy my computer files and all the back-ups actually are. I mean, neither thing (journals or essay) are particularly imperative that I put my hands on them immediately, but at the same time it’s really annoying and frustrating and I feel the obsessive side of my personality trying to come out.

So, I will probably spend some time looking for both at some point today–most likely when I am stuck on the book while writing.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Christmas Eve, Constant Reader, whatever you are celebrating or not celebrating, and I will speak with you tomorrow.

Girl, You Make My Day

One of the things I’ve greatly enjoyed over the last few years has been the sea change in how publishing views works by non-white and non-straight authors; the push for more diverse voices in the publishing community has already borne wonderful fruit. I’ve been saying for years that the world of crime fiction was in danger of getting stale again, much as it did in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; particularly the private eye novel. The arrival of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller on the scene shook things up and shook things out; the private eye novel got a much-needed shot in the arm of adrenaline with these three women and the others their work inspired; I strongly believe the move toward diversity is going to bear fruit in much the same manner–and it already has, frankly; the works of diverse writers like S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Alex Segura, Tracy Clark, Cheryl Head, and so many others have joined the great pioneers like Walter Mosley and the wonderful Barbara Neely to open up new perspectives on crime and crime fiction; our society and world; and again, this was desperately needed–and is necessary every so often, for our genre to refresh and expand and become more inclusive. We’re also seeing more queer books being sent out into the world from the big houses in New York, which is also incredibly exciting (another shout out to Yes Daddy By Jonathan Parks-Ramage and A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen).

It’s a very exciting time to be a fan of crime fiction.

Noir has always been one of my favorite sub-genres of crime fiction, and I always enjoy reading modern takes on it. I want to write more noir, quite frankly; Chlorine would be the first of at least four I want to write, if not more (for now, I have ideas for four of them, with Chlorine being the most full formed). I always enjoy modern takes on noir–Laura Lippman’s Sunburn was quite marvelous, as was Christa Faust’s Money Shot and Choke Hold)–and of course, S. A. Cosby is a master of rural Southern noir; both Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears are destined to be considered classics, I think.

So, I was very curious to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s take on modern noir, Velvet Was the Night. It took me a very long time to finish–which is not indicative of the quality of the book, I hasten to add–because after I read so much during the post-Ida power outage, I kind of broke my brain and thus haven’t been able to really focus as much on reading as I would like; yesterday after the LSU game I sat down and finished it with Georgia-Kentucky on as background noise.

And what a fun ride it was.

He didn’t like beating people.

El Elvis realized this was ironic considering his line of work. Imagine that: a thug who wanted to hold his punches. Then again, life is full of such ironies. Consider Ritchie Valens, who was afraid of flying and died the first time he set foot on an airplane. Damn shame that, and the other dudes who died, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” Richardson; they weren’t half bad either. Or there was that playwright Aeschylus. He was afraid of being killed inside his house, and then he steps outside and wham, an eagle tosses a tortoise at him, cracking his head open. Murdered, right there in the stupidest possible way.

Often life doesn’t make sense, and if Elvis had a motto it was that: life’s a mess. That’s probably why he loved music and factoids. They helped him construct a more organized world. When he wasn’t listening to his records, he was poring over the dictionary, trying to memorize a new word, or plowing through one of those almanacs full of stats.

No, sir. Elvis wasn’t like some of the perverts he worked with, who got excited smashing a dude’s kidneys. He would have been happy solving crosswords and sipping coffee like their boss, El Mago, and maybe one day he would be an accomplished man of that sort, but for now there was work to be done, and this time Elvis was actually eager to beat a few motherfuckers up.

He hadn’t developed a sudden taste for blood and cracking bones, no, but El Güero had been at him again.

The recent rise of Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been meteoric, although I am sure to her it has seemed anything but. I read her terrific vampire novel, Certain Dark Things, a while back, loved it, and have been following her career ever since as she has turned out novels at a terrific rate–Gods of Jade and Shadow, Untamed Shore, Mexican Gothic–all of which have been critically acclaimed and sold very well; I love that she bounces from genre to genre–horror to fantasy to crime; even bouncing around in the sub-categories of the crime genre. This is only my second read of her work–I have them all, of course–and had been meaning to get around to her take on noir with a Mexican flourish for quite some time. (I am really sorry I broke my brain with all the reading I did after the power went out; I greatly enjoyed this book, but it was so hard for me to focus for some reason…but am glad I sat down yesterday with the book, determined to finish it at last.)

One of the things that strikes me about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that I am seeing Mexico, a place I greatly love, through a fresh new perspective; like all Yanquis, I always view Mexico through the prism of a tourist. I’ve always wanted to write about Mexico, and have several short stories in the files that are set there (I did write one erotica story as Todd Gregory set in Acapulco; from the perspective of a tourist, of course: “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”)…but reading Moreno-Garcia makes me aware of how scant my knowledge of our Southern neighbor is–all of the counties south of the Rio Grande, frankly–which is a stinging indictment of our education system. (Don’t even get me started on the concept of Latin America vs. “America”) I know very little of Mexican history after the Spanish conquest, other than the Mexican War and the French empire set up under a Hapsburg by Napoleon III during our civil war. I know very little history of any of the countries that make up the rest of the American continents, really–and isn’t that more than a little bit disgraceful? I also know very little about their cultures, their politics, and what goes on there; a quick glance through the news also will show very little information or news being reported about those non-United States/Canada American countries, which is really a shame.

Velvet Was the Night is set un 1971, a particularly politically rife period in Mexico. The US was terribly concerned about communism being spread by the Soviets in what has always been considered the American soft underbelly–I mean, look at our reaction to Cuba–and there’s no question that CIA operatives and money were working to subvert Communism while supporting borderline Fascist governments because that was preferable to Washington than another potential Soviet satellite state in our hemisphere. The vast paranoia of that time–which really lasted from 1945-1990, really–cannot be underestimated or understated. By rooting her story in actual events of 1971–the crackdown of the Mexican government on dissidents–Moreno-Garcia slyly gives us a taste of how American foreign policy of the time affected everyone in Mexico, as well as a history lesson. (One of the great modern deceptions of our society is this idea that we always act benevolently as a nation; we’re doing this for your own good.) The book has two point of view characters; one, depicted in the opening above, is “Elvis”, a very young man who works as a thug, basically, for an oppressive group of anti-Communists that try to infiltrate dissident groups and haunt protests in order to make them turn violent, so the military can intervene on behalf of the “people.” Elvis grew up very poor and sometimes imagines what his life would be like if he were able to pursue his primary interests–educating himself and music. He doesn’t know what his future holds but is vaguely aware the path he is on–violence and more violence–will not end well. Over the course of the book he begins to question the values he’s been taught to believe in his gang, and begins to aspire to get out of it.

The other main character is Maite, a legal secretary barely getting by on her low salary and barely able to afford food. Her car has been in the shop unclaimed because she cannot afford the mechanics’ bill. She leads a lonely and solitary life, has a very vivid imagination and fantasy world she prefers to inhabit, colored strongly by her love of romance comic books and the music she likes to listen to. Maite’s lovely neighbor, Leonora, asks her to feed her cat while she is away, and when she agreed, Maite unknowingly enters the world of political struggle and upheaval. The riot depicted in the first chapter, that Elvis helps engineer? A friend of Leonora’s has taken pictures that prove that the riot was started by government forces, and those two rolls of film are the McGuffin everyone in the book is after–except poor innocent Maite, who, like any main character in a great Hitchcock film, becomes involved in something life threatening by simply agreeing to feed a neighbor’s cat–something she resents agreeing to do. When Leonora doesn’t come back, Maite starts looking for her–primarily motivated by the fact she can’t afford to keep feeding the car, and Leonora promised her money for feeding it–money she needs to get her car back. Motivated by her own poverty, Maite finds herself getting involved more and more in this clandestine world, and her own life is in danger soon.

The true strength of the book lies in the careful characterizations of both Elvis and Maite; two desperate people trapped by poverty in lives they want to escape, and the parallel journeys they both follow that lead their paths to cross; and the richness of the reality of what life in Mexico City was like during the turbulent time when the book is set. Moreno-Garcia shows us, as she did in Certain Dark Things, what the reality of life is like in one of the world’s largest cities, the reality the tourists rarely, if ever, get a chance to see. And while the hopelessness of both their situations seem unresolvable at times, the pacing is strong and the story construction so tight, and you the readers finds yourself rooting for them both to get out safely.

I really loved this book, and am sorry my inability to focus forced me to take so long to finish reading it. It’s extraordinary, and I recommend it highly.

Ode to Joy

I went through a Robert Ludlum phase in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; I don’t remember why exactly I began reading him–spy thrillers and international intrigue have never been of particular interest to me–but I know the first Ludlum I read was The Osterman Weekend, which I didn’t really follow or think was all that great, in all honesty; but I picked up a copy of The Gemini Contenders at a used bookstore and then I was hooked. I bought all of his backlist, and began buying his new novels in hardcover when they were released. I stopped reading Ludlum when Ludlum stopped writing his books–I don’t recall which the last of these was; I see that I am actually incorrect; I stopped reading Ludlum after The Road to Omaha–apparently he wrote and published three more, but this was when I was deep into reading only gay and lesbian fictions for the most part. I was always amazed at how intricately his books were plotted, and many of them–mainly The Gemini Contenders–were my favorite kind of thrillers: the treasure hunt. Ludlum was also where I learned that the best villains, second only to Nazis, came from the Vatican (Dan Brown made a shitload of money using that premise). Even as a fairly uneducated reader and writer, Ludlum’s overuse of exclamation points annoyed me–but I loved his intricate plots, his heroes, an he also wrote some really amazing women characters as well. I’ve been meaning to revisit Ludlum over the last few years–mainly because if I ever really do a Colin spin-off (stand alone or series), Ludlum would be a good author to study (along with LeCarre, of course) for plotting and structural purposes.

I’ve also always kind of wanted to do a gay Jason Bourne type story–which could also work for Colin as well.

Hmmm. I mean, maybe on one of his missions he gets amnesia? It’s a thought.

I had a pretty good day yesterday. I managed to get back on schedule with the book yesterday, which is great, and so today I am going to start going through it all, cleaning it up more and writing an outline as I go, and figuring out where to put the new things that need to go in it. I also need to do some writing rather than revise/rewriting; I’ve figured out a great way to bridge back story and build it into the book without having it be an actual part of the story/story, and it’s something that could easily build into another book or perhaps a series. Who knows? I also managed to work through my email inbox–the endlessly refilling inbox; it’s like Sisyphus or trying to clean the Augean stables or killing the hydra, I swear to God, and I have let it slide for far too long. I’m trying to get my life better organized–I don’t know what kind of fog I’ve been in, or for how long I’ve been actually in it, but I do know this: it’s gone on for far longer than I should have allowed it to, that’s one thing I know for certain. I also don’t know how long this “non-fog” situation will last (probably it will come to a screeching halt on Monday when the alarm goes off at six in the morning), but I need to take full advantage of it while I can. I also need to get to the gym today and groceries need to be made. After I finished work I watched a history program about a woman who was a Union spy in Richmond during the Civil War, which also talked about a young slave girl she raised and loaned out to the Davises so she could also spy on them and report back. What an interesting novel that would make–for a Black author to take on. I’d love to see what a writer like say, Kellye Garrett or Rachel Howzell Hall or Colson Whitehead could make of the story…history is chockfull of wonderful stories to be told, and after I finished watching that we watched Framing Britney, which was kind of chilling…I’m not sure what’s going on there, but the documentary made a very compelling case, and the thought that someone of her stature and stardom was essentially blackmailed into giving up control of herself, her career, and her money (they held their kids over her head) and she cannot break free of the conservatorship is truly frightening. I said to Paul at one point, “People always thought she was stupid but she wasn’t–she’s very smart; she just had a thick Southern accent and so, of course, that meant she was an idiot.” It also reminded me of an idea I had a while back of doing a modern-day version of Valley of the Dolls set in Las Vegas; a Britney-type filling in for Neely, more of a tragic role than Susann’s monster-in-training.

I mean, it could work.

Its gray and foggy this morning in New Orleans; with a bit of a chill in the air as well. I am going to drink some more coffee and then kickstart my day by going to make groceries before coming home to go to the gym and then getting cleaned up and probably working on trying to finish responding to my emails and putting away/cleaning up my desk area before rereading the first ten chapters of the manuscript I have revised and doing a hard edit–these revisions were pretty simple, really–and catching the things I know I was noticing when I was revising: duplications, saying the same thing in different chapters (this is my worst habit, repeating myself–which is a direct result of writing books a chapter at a time and then not remembering what was in previous chapters, or if I’ve said something before. It’s also trickier because I’m writing it in the present tense, and there are flashbacks and memories that have to be written in the past tense, which is going to undoubtedly give my editor fits. The present tense for the things happening in the present works much better than the past tense I usually write in; but not having a lot of experience with present tense is making this much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Perhaps I should consult Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style? After all, I do have a copy sitting here on my desk in easy reach; mayhap after the gym and getting cleaned up I shall retire to my easy chair with the manuscript and that copy of Strunk & White.

I also slept really well last night, which was lovely. The bed was most comfortable, and it was probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite some time, which is, of course, lovely but begs the question, why did I sleep so much better and restfully last night than I have in quite some time? I did have some Sleepytime tea before I went to bed, which could have had something to do with it…I always mean to have a cup before bed but always manage to forget; I will definitely have one again tonight. The problem is that my body will adjust and adapt to almost anything relatively quickly; so it’s not like the tea will work every night…but if last night was indicative, I need to make more of an effort to have a cup more regularly than I have been doing.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader. I certainly intend to do so.