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And this is the first Tuesday of 2021, how are you all doing?

I was very tired yesterday. I slept well Sunday night, but the stress of finishing the book was messing up my sleep leading into Sunday night, so yesterday wasn’t an easy day for me. I also think my caffeine intake might have gone up while I was on vacation, so I am not really sure if it was book stress or perhaps caffeine messing with my sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night either–and I am going to the gym after work tonight. I’m a little stressed out because I really allowed the Sisyphean task of answering my emails be pushed aside focused on getting my book finished, and it was more than a little traumatizing yesterday to see how out of control my inbox had gotten. But que sera sera, as Doris Day used to sing.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, and bravo to everyone involved. Sabrina was one of the most fun shows we’ve watched over the past few years, I highly recommend it. Kiernan Shipka is pitch perfect as Sabrina–the entire cast is perfect, really; not a false note anywhere–and of course, the guy who plays Lucifer is fucking gorgeous. The four seasons was a wonderful ride, as Sabrina went from wide-eyed, goody two-shoes half mortal/half witch to owning her own power and using it to save herself, her friends, her family–and eventually, the entire cosmos. I was bummed when I heard the fourth season would be its last…but the final season was perfectly written, and ended all of the story arcs satisfactorily, tying the entire run up with a bow. Sorry to see it go, but absolutely delighted that they clearly planned the show’s end.

I do feel a bit at sea, to be honest; the usual disorientation after the tight focus required to finish a book. I printed out #shedeservedit–it’s at around 100,000 words right now and needs to be trimmed down because there’s some additions that need to be made to it, but it cannot come in at 125+. I also periodically have some fears about Bury Me in Shadows–which is inevitable, I suppose; imposter syndrome never goes away, even after you’ve written over thirty books at this point in your career. I’m not certain why this happens to me still–or what I need to rewire in my brain to stop it happening–if that’s even possible at this point in my life. I rather am who I am, and I doubt that change is possible for me now. I do try to continue to learn and grow–I don’t think I ever want to stop learning and growing, as a person or as a writer–but sometimes I wonder if I am so deeply mired in who I am as a person for that to even be possible anymore. I was also thinking about books and stories I’d like to write in the future, and then wondering, am I the right person to tell that story? As an example, I had an idea I really liked a few years back (probably longer than I remember) which was centered around a family of Vietnamese refugees who owned a small business somewhere along the Gulf Coast, either Florida or Alabama, from the point of view of a teenager who was born in the US and so is torn between his family culture and becoming assimilated, when something from the matriarch’s past in Vietnam–from the war days–comes back into their lives,, affecting everyone and changing everything. It’s a really good idea…but then, am I the right person to tell that story? Wouldn’t a Vietnamese-American write a more authentic story, and would my writing such a book take a publishing slot away from a Vietnamese-American writer?

While I do believe that writers have a right–perhaps even a duty–to write the stories they are compelled to write, I also don’t see that compulsion as a “get out of jail free” card. You have to do the work to make sure you aren’t using cheap stereotypes, are creating authentic characters whose experience lives and breathes and is real to the reader, and are telling honest stories about them. You can’t just shrug and smile and say, “well, if people only wrote from their personal experience we wouldn’t have stories about vampires and werewolves and space aliens”; nothing makes me angrier than seeing someone using that to answer criticism about authenticity in their work.

Because people of color and queers, for the record, aren’t mythological creatures that only exist in fiction and in our imaginations. We all exist, and to have our lives, our experiences, and our very existence compared to “vampires and werewolves and space aliens” is not only insulting, it’s dehumanizing–which is absolutely what racism and homophobia are about when boiled down to their base point: people who are not straight and white aren’t REALLY human beings.

And anyone who uses that excuse most definitely should not be writing outside of their own experience, because they are NOT coming from a good place.

When I was first starting out, there was an ongoing debate/discussion about whether we should identify as gay writers or just as writers. The debate died off as traditional publishing backed away from publishing queer writers–and the ones they did continue publishing weren’t marketed as “queer.” I could see the merits on both sides of the discussion; sure, I’d prefer to be seen as a crime writer and have my works stocked in the mystery section of bookstore–but that was also not a reality. As I would say back then–and it’s still true today–“it doesn’t matter what we consider ourselves and our work to be; the publishers and the booksellers are going to label us and or work however they think best in order to sell it, and no matter what we do, our thoughts and opinions and definitions will always be overruled by Marketing.” That label also trumps everything that comes after it–whether it’s romance or mystery or literary or science fiction or fantasy or horror, gay or queer overpowers everything else. I think that is beginning to change. I see books written by queer writers centering queer characters being published by the big houses to great reviews and getting attention, which is lovely. I love the entire “#ownvoices” conversation, and the move to course-correct the overwhelming white straightness in book publishing.

Ironically, it causes me to doubt myself. When I was writing Bury Me in Shadows, I questioned myself constantly: do I have the right to write this book and tell this story? Can a white Southern gay man write about issues of race in the rural South? Am I writing authentic characters or perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes? Do I have anything really insightful to bring to the discussion, or have I gone completely off the rails? It’s a whole new kind of imposter syndrome I wasn’t expecting!

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

Hey Good Lookin’

Hey there, Sunday morning, how’s about you doin’?

Well, we’re still here, aren’t we? That’s something to be grateful for, I suppose; I don’t know what horrors today might still have in store for me, or what fresh new ones await on the morrow, but for now–I am okay, we’re all okay, and it’s always okay to take a step back away when you need to because it can be so overwhelming.

Yesterday was lovely. I slept in, I read some emails, I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. I organized the stuff on the cabinets on the stove-side (downtown in New Orleans) of the kitchen; I had a protein shake for lunch and peanut butter toast for breakfast. I worked on the laundry room shelves, and reorganized the bathroom vanity. I read Daphne du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” which was both creepy and charming at the same time–which only makes it creepier, doesn’t it? I made a shopping list for the next time I go to Costco. I made progress on getting organized, despite the on-going irritations with my computer which finally resulted in it doing a deep crash, but now it seems to be working just beautifully. I didn’t lose anything but time, and well–the one thing to come out of the dramatic shift and change in my work schedule is eight hour days, five days a week–and despite getting up early and having to go to bed early as a result–I find myself with more free time than I had before. There’s no sports to watch on television; this weekend I would have been running around getting exhausted (but having a great time doing it) at TWFest/S&S. That’s correct; that is what would have been the normal madness of life I associate with this time of year–part of the reason, I suspect, I feel so unmoored most of the time; this is anything but a normal time–and I also know, from past experience,  that normal is going to be different from now on. There’s no going back to December 2019, when we were all looking forward to the end of an annus horribilis; we had no idea what horrors our eldritch reality had waiting in store for us in 2020.

An innocent, more carefree and hopeful time. Hard to believe it’s only been three months since Christmas.

But yesterday I stayed away from the news and scrolled past it on the rare occasions I ventured into the Internet yesterday; it made for a much more relaxed day, and I even refused to worry about how many bad things might be happening while I wasn’t paying attention–and then realized with luck, some of the stuff that probably shot by in our daily dystopian news reality, the stuff I’ll never go back and get caught up on, hopefully won’t be necessary. The only news I want to hear at this point is that this whole situation has miraculously resolved itself and everything is back to normal, and if that were the news, I’ll find out soon enough, right?

Right.

But it was lovely to feel like it was my life again, and a normal Saturday. I could feel the tension slowly easing itself out of my shoulder blades as the day passed and I grew more and more relaxed, as the ease of repetition and mindless work put me into a more zen-like state, where my mind could release itself from its bonds and be creative; think creatively and solve problems and get organized; and of course the memories from AFTER Katrina, of going to the gym to develop a routine for every day and sticking to that; setting a routine of things to do to keep me occupied, my mind focused elsewhere than what the reality was outside my front door. None of this is possible now, of course; but I am going to start stretching every morning so at least I am doing something to take care of my body. But I am trying to adapt and change to a new system, a new normal, a new reality; and finding time to write–which I am going to do today–goes a very long way to reestablishing a new reality for me.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and I already miss it. It’s quite an excellent show; and as I mentioned already, Kiernan Shipka is perfectly cast as Sabrina (I also kept thinking, as I watched, what a good Nancy Drew she would make); in fact, everyone is pretty much perfectly cast, and the high production quality of the show is something to see indeed. After we finished Sabrina, we started with the third season of Ozark, and if you haven’t been watching that show, you need to start from the beginning and go to binge-heaven. Cleverly written, beautifully directed and filmed, and remarkably cast–Julia Garner as Ruth is a particular stand-out–Ozark is one of the best shows of the last few years. And then we moved on to Tiger King, the docu-series everyone is talking about, and wow–what an interesting show. The funny thing is I had always wanted to write a book built around the Big Cat Rescue organization run by Carole Baskin; I had a base idea formed around it, and when Paul and I stayed at the Saddlebrook Tennis Resort north of Tampa a few years ago (probably more than a few years ago; I think it was 2012? 2013? Time holds little to no meaning to me anymore) I had considered contacting them to do some research while we were there. The name of the book was going to be The Stripes of the Tiger and I actually came across my file with notes a few days ago when I was organizing and filing in the kitchen. (I often have ideas that hold my interest for a little while and then I see another new, shiny object and move on)

“Ganymede” was a chilling and charming story, as I mentioned earlier–and I can see why it’s compared to “Death in Venice’; there are definitely similarities under the surface of the stories; an older tourist comes to Venice on holiday, becomes obsessed with a much younger, extremely beautiful teenager, and the end result of both stories is death. The Mann story, of course, ends with the death of the tourist from a cholera outbreak; the du Maurier ends very differently. Naturally, I prefer the du Maurier story, which is dark and twisted, and I’ll say it if no one else wants to make the comparison: “Ganymede” also has a lot in common with Lolita. I’ll have more to say about “Ganymede,” but I think I’ll save that for a dedicated post.

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

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The Gambler

Saturday morning, and we’ve made it through yet another week, Constant Reader. It got a little hairy here and there this past week–Wednesday afternoon I was literally hanging by a thread and barely in control of my temper–but having Thursday to stay home and collect myself was absolutely lovely. I got rested, got my equilibrium back, and so yesterday I was fine. I managed to make it through an entire eight hour shift at work with aplomb; I was even able to spend some time getting some of my data entry work accomplished. There were some difficult times yesterday, I cannot lie; it’s going to get harder and harder as the epidemic continues weaving its evil, viral way through our parish, and as more and more people get sick. I also believe the city is reaching its tipping point with the hospitals close to being overwhelmed; they are preparing the Convention Center with beds to turn it into a makeshift hospital ward for those who are sick and need care, but don’t need ventilation. This, of course, brings back horrible memories of the days after Katrina; so far there’s been no word about the Superdome being used in this capacity, primarily because it’s not as easily accessed as the Convention Center–you can walk inside the Morial Center from the sidewalk, whereas at the Superdome you have quite a climb and walk to get inside, so it’s probably not practical for use in that manner.

Yesterday I had to stop at Rouse’s on the way home, and I was expecting–well, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. Since I made the Costco run on Lundi Gras (which in hindsight was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve made in my life; certainly the most important decisions I’ve made in 2020), toilet paper isn’t a concern so I didn’t check that aisle at all; but as picked over as the bread aisle was, I  managed to get two small loaves of Bunny Bread (the local Louisiana version of Wonder Bread, don’t judge me–it makes excellent toast and grilled cheese sandwiches, so back off). I also noticed that Rouse’s bakery is now making fresh bread, cut for sandwiches, and only charging 99 cents per loaf.

I do love my friendly neighborhood Rouse’s.

And as our case numbers and death toll continues to rise in New Orleans, I am pleased to say that the city is doing what it always does in times of crisis: it is pulling together. No matter how scared people might be, no one we have to turn away from getting tested for not having the applicable symptoms becomes irate or angry, even out of a sense of being scared or frustrated–they all accept it with aplomb, thank us for helping the sick, and promise to keep checking to see when we have more testing capacity.  Restaurants are feeding service workers who no longer have incomes. One of the hotels in the CBD has opened itself to the homeless population, to get them off the streets and put a roof over their heads and giving them access to running water and a bed. Everyone in Rouse’s, from the customers to the staff, were all pleasant and polite and kind to each other.

I don’t think I will ever get used to getting on I-10 at 5 pm and seeing no traffic–I certainly hope I don’t ever get used to it, at any rate.

Last night, we continued our binge-watch of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and my God, how addicted are we to this show? It doesn’t hurt, of course, that all of the men are incredibly hot, but the character of Sabrina, and the way Kiernan Shipka plays her, is the heart of the show. It’s become increasingly more and more fantastic, as any show dealing with the supernatural inevitably does; but Shipka manages to root her performance–and thus carry the show–in reality, which makes it work perfectly. All of the acting is stellar and top-notch, and while it plays fast-and-loose with a lot of things having to do with the dark arts and dark magic–it’s still kind of cool to see the world-building taking place, and that it all seems to come together and work on the show. I also have a HUGE crush on Luke Cook, the Australian actor who plays Lucifer. (Do yourself a favor and do a google-image search for “Luke Cook shirtless.”)

I also love the way Sabrina is the center of the show–and the way the men inevitably wind up doing what she tells them to.

And–as weird as this may sound–I find that my best coping mechanism to get back to my own center after getting home from a tough day at work is to watch highlights of LSU games from this past season. I also particularly enjoy watching the last five minutes of the first half of the Alabama game (as LSU took a 16-13 lead and in under five minutes turned it into an unsurmountable 33-13 half-time lead) or the final ten minutes of the first half of the national championship game against Clemson (when LSU went from trailing 17-7 to a 28-17 half-time lead; scoring enough points to win the game before half-time). As I said to Paul last night as I cued up that Clemson game yet again, “You know, this is the last time I remember being completely happy.”

These are, indeed, strange times in which we are living.

Today I am going to step away from the Internet (once I finish this) while checking in periodically on social media, and instead I am going to spend most of the day organizing and cleaning and hopefully getting some writing work done. I have the tops of the other cabinets to organize and make tidy; and I may start working my way through the kitchen drawers. I slept extremely well last night and I slept till nine this morning, so I feel rested; I am going to use my massage roller to loosen up the tightness in my back and I am also going to do some stretching this morning; just because I can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean I can’t do stretching exercises. I also forgot two things at Rouse’s yesterday–cat food and charcoal–so I am going to walk over to Walgreens at some point and see if they have both at a reasonable price; if they don’t, I am going to walk to the Rouse’s in the CBD and take pictures of the deserted streets as I go. I feel like I should be documenting these strange times here in the river city; and am probably missing golden opportunities to take pictures of landmarks and so forth that could be used for book covers and so forth because there are no tourists to photo shop out of them.

Maybe I should walk down to Woldenberg Park and also take some pictures of the river. Lost in all this COVID-19 stuff is the fact that the river is very high right now–we may need to open the spillway again this year–and of course, hurricane season is just around the corner….but I am not allowing myself to think about that just yet; there’s plenty of time to worry about storms when the time comes.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and STAY SAFE.

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