Together Again

Oh, wow, it’s pay the bills day and I didn’t even see it coming! How weird is that?

I managed to write 1500 words or so on a short story yesterday–AND I went to the gym. I slept well again last night, which was also pretty marvelous. It’s lovely to feel rested, as well as to feel awake when I leave the house, rather than walking and driving in a fog I don’t remember later. As such, my moods have been better and I haven’t been on edge, either. While this is all quite marvelous, at the same time I find myself reluctant to deal with odious chores or tasks–simply because I worry about opening Pandora’s box and releasing the demons of stress, irritation, and insomnia into my little world again.

The short story I am working on is called “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and it was one I had thought up in order to submit to the Minneapolis Bouchercon anthology I am co-editing with the marvelous Terri Bischoff. But I have also been thinking lately that I probably shouldn’t submit anything to the blind read; I did for the other two I edited, and my stories were chosen. No one ever said anything, but after the books were released I always felt a little uncomfortable because it could be seen as improper (the New Orleans story was nominated for a Macavity Award and the St. Petersburg for an Anthony, so that helped alleviate that somewhat), but I am thinking this time around that it’s better to not mess with it at all. I like the idea behind the story, and I might try to actually go the submit it to a magazine route, but we’ll see. Right now I am just regurgitating stuff up on the page that I’ll have to whittle down later to make it work, but I love the title and I am interested in the story, so will keep going with it and see how it turns out. I am thinking this weekend I am going to edit stories–I have one that was rejected by the last MWA submissions call that needs a bit of work, and of course, the novella; hopefully I’ll have a first draft of this one finished to edit this weekend. I also would like to do some reading this weekend–but this is all dependent on how things go with the tooth extraction. If I am still on painkillers this weekend, well, it’s not very likely I’ll be writing or editing or doing much reading–if my memory of painkillers is accurate–but I am not going to worry about any of that now, and am just going to proceed with making my plans. It won’t be the first time life interfered with the plans of mice and Greg.

I am enjoying writing again, frankly, and it feels very good, to be honest. I am enjoying going to the gym again. I feel like in some weird way that I am more of myself now than I have been in a long time, and I am not really sure what that is all about, to be completely honest; like I’ve just been going through the motions for a very long time and somehow in a dark cloud that turns everything into an odious chore, one more thing I need to check off the list, one more task to accomplish on the slow descent into the grave or something. Plotting out the Scotty is also turning out to be something a lot more fun than I had thought it would be; I am enjoying thinking and plotting and creating, and also thinking of other ways to challenge myself and stimulate myself into taking bigger chances with the writing and pushing myself harder. I’ve been thinking a lot about one of Michael Nava’s questions for us all on the San Francisco Public Library panel on queer crime writing–how do you keep your series fresh? It also came up during Laura Lippman’s interview on CBS This Morning that I watched the other day; and it’s a valid question. One of the reasons I stopped writing the Chanse series was a sense that I had fallen into a repeating pattern with the stories–and now that I am thinking back on the Scotty series, I am also seeing patterns developing in the last few books. I’ve already mentioned here about someone asking how many car accidents HAS Scotty been in?–which is actually valid; I think he’s been in one at least four times out of eight books–and last night I was thinking, you know, the last two Scotty books opened at parties–or rather, with him GOING to a big party, which then set up the story for the rest of the book…

Not good, Gregalicious. But this new one–working title Mississippi River Bottom, although Mississippi River Mayhem fits the alliteration pattern of the previous books in the series better–will NOT open at a party, and there will be some changes for the boys as well–no, I am not moving them out of the Quarter, no worries on that score–but some significant changes nonetheless. For one thing, and I’d hinted at this in Royal Street Reveillon–Scotty has bought the building from Millie and Velma, who have retired to the Florida Gulf Coast (which will give me a chance to the send the boys to the panhandle at some point to solve a mystery). But I’ve also got a sticky note on my computer reading NO CAR CRASHES THIS TIME.

I also worry about repeating myself with short stories and the novellas, frankly. I was thinking about my 1994 New Orleans novella, “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and realized that the scene I originally envisioned for my main character meeting the younger man he becomes involved with I had lifted and used in another story, “A Streetcar Named Death.” I mean, there’s clearly no reason why my character can’t first see the young man on the streetcar in the early hour of the morning–it happens, and it’s definitely a way for people to meet in New Orleans, for sure–but there’s always that nagging worry about have I done this already? Is this story pattern the one I default to following all the time?

Sigh. It’s never easy being a Gregalicious,

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Rapture

Wednesday and pay the bills day; which hasn’t been depressing in a while but I suspect will be by the time I am finished with this always odious chore. After a sleepless night on Monday, last night’s sleep was much better. I was horribly tired all day yesterday–the combo of no sleep and the workout Monday night; tonight I will be heading back to the gym again after work–and as such did no writing last night. I did write yesterday–in my head; I finally came up with the perfect concept for a story idea I’ve been toying with for quite some time, “Murder on the Acela Express”, with an assist from a very good friend, so I did scribble that down and made some notes in my journal. I also had to proof the final draft of this year’s Edgar annual, which also took up some time Monday evening and on breaks at work, so it’s not like I have been slacking this week. But I really want to get back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and at some point I want to look over “The Sound of Snow Falling” and see what to make of it; I have figured out the story at last–I knew who the characters were, the set-up, and the setting; I just didn’t now how to write the crime and end it, which I do know now.

So, progress of a sort, right?

There was also exciting news at the day job this week–my position has been funded again by the CDC for another five years, which will actually take me all the way to retirement. While it was always unlikely that the funding would ever be pulled with the concomitant loss of my job, every time the grant is up for renewal it always rather hovers in the back of my mind like a slightly sore tooth you can’t help but worry with your tongue even though it hurts. I also got a raise (the entire staff did), which was a pleasant surprise, and we were also given two extra vacation days, with the agency closing down on a Friday and Monday in August to give us all a long weekend–and it’s the weekend before I turn sixty; my birthday will also be on a Friday this year, which is generally a work-at-home day for me (if that still holds after we go back to full operations again) so I can stay home, watch movies, and make condom packs all day, which will be kind of nice. And then Bouchercon is the very next weekend, and then the next weekend is Labor Day and Southern Decadence–which I am not entirely sure is going to happen, or what is going to go on with that at all. And my car will be paid off come January, which will be even more lovely. So there are things to look forward to, certainly; and I am getting a little bit excited. I generally don’t look too far ahead–there’s always so much to do to keep me occupied I don’t think about the future much–but maybe I need to start doing that a bit more; although there is something to the idea/notion that looking ahead is sort of wishing your life away, which is why I try not to do that unless of course a deadline of some sort is involved.

Although I seem to tend to do that a lot every week by looking forward to the weekend and wishing it would arrive faster.

The summer humidity has returned after all the rain of May; this morning my windows are covered in condensation as the sun is rising, and I feel very rested and alert this morning, which is lovely. I did a load of laundry last night, which I need to fold before getting ready to head into the office this morning; I suspect I will be very tired tonight simply from working, stopping at the grocery on the way home, and then going to the gym–plus we have the last episode of season one of Blood on Acorn to watch, and another episode of Cruel Summer should be loaded on Hulu–the show is surprisingly compelling, and watching it unfold over three different timelines, each one a year apart but on the same day–is a story device I’m really liking a lot more than I thought I would. I know it can be done in a novel–Alison Gaylin’s What Remains of Me did a dual timeline, and Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone bounced around in time like that, and I think it did have three time periods–and it’s something I think I would like to try at some point in the future. I think part of the reason I’ve been in the doldrums about my writing is because I’ve not been pushing myself to try new things, to experiment and play with the form of story-telling, and I’ve been feeling stale….which isn’t a good place to be when you fancy yourself a writer.

And I think that has been a lot of the malaise I’ve been feeling lately–the last few years with my writing, really–that sense of writing by rote, on automatic; and not pushing myself and trying new things. I will say that the short story writing has been really terrific in that regard, getting to explore themes and ideas and form in a shorter medium (I have published several short stories recently that, ironically, have been reviewed with the note: should have been longer, like a novella–which is always the problem with writing short stories for me; I always feel like there’s more to the story, and apparently that is indeed the case with some of them; but I am trying not to turn short story ideas into longer forms of fiction anymore…which is also kind of why i am experimenting with the novella form). I will say I enjoyed the hell out of Royal Street Reveillon because I was really pushing myself by juggling plots and subplots; it also felt more like a Scotty book than the ones previous–mainly because the plots were more simple and linear. I was having a lot of fun writing it–I do remember that–despite the headaches of juggling so much plot and story-lines.

Aaaaaannnnnndddddd….I think I know what the next Scotty is going to be. I am going to start making notes on it today…we’ll see how it goes.

Endless Love

It’s so lovely to be home again. There’s just something about your own bed, isn’t there? I mean, I still have insomnia, but my own bed just feels so better and more relaxing and so forth.

My flight home, with the change of planes in Tampa, went completely smoothly, which was nice. I didn’t think I could handle delays and changes in schedule on the scale of what happened on my trip up there. I’ve pretty much decided not to fly up there anymore; it’s always a weird routing, it’s rarely inexpensive, and most of the times I’ve flown it’s not gone well, either coming or going and sometimes both. Yes, it sucks to spend almost eleven hours on the road driving, but at least then I have control over the trip and if I need to stop, I can. There’s something about that powerlessness when you fly somewhere…and it’s a lovely, if long, drive. I can also listen to books on tape, which is what I did the last time I drove there and back, and that, much more so than music, makes the time go by much more easily and faster, or seem to, at any rate.

I did read some more Purdy short stories on the flights back, and I also read ebooks on my iPad: I had galleys of both Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl (dropping this summer) and Alison Gaylin’s The Collective (dropping this fall) and wow, both are incredible works. I’ve not finished the Gaylin yet–will probably dive back into it this evening after work and writing duties–but I was rather resentful when my flight landed and I had to put the iPad away. The drive home wasn’t bad, and of course the new airport here in New Orleans is pretty amazing; the old one was fine, but it really pales in comparison to the new one. Of course, it’s weird getting there and all–they haven’t done all the off-ramps and on-ramps and so forth for I-10 yet, so there’s congestion and so forth…but the trip home was so much easier than the trip out, and if one had to be fucked up, I would rather it be the trip up.

I feel completely disconnected from my life now–I’ve got to pick up the strands of what I was doing last week before i left and remember what I need to get done in the meantime. The house is in disarray, and that needs to be handled. I’ve also got other things to get taken care of that I need to remember, and I need to decide what I am going to be writing/working on for the moment. (I was thinking while traveling yesterday about several stories in progress I want to get back to, as well as one of the novellas that is stalled for the moment; there were some tweaks that could be made to “Festival of the Redeemer” that came to me yesterday on the plane, as well as some more thoughts about my story “Please Die Soon” that would make finishing it a little easier; this is what happens when I read great writers like Lippman and Gaylin–it inspires me and also unlocks creativity in my own brain, and since the door has been rather firmly shut on my creativity for a while, it’s nice to have the door opened again)

We also got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night–Jesus, what a great show; give Kate WInslet all the Emmys already–and then Hacks (Jean Smart is heading for potentially winning Emmys for each show) which we are also enjoying. Tonight we’ll get to season two of Who Killed Sara? and I also have errands to run after work tonight. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get back to the gym and get back into the swing of my workouts.

Baby steps back into my life…

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

Bette Davis Eyes

And I am at Louisville Airport ready to fly home to New Orleans. I have to change planes in Tampa–the very airport I used to work in; even the same airside where I used to work–and should be landing at Armstrong around five thirty. I need to make a couple of stops on the way home; I need to put air in a tire and get some things at the store and also need to possibly pick up dinner–the jury has yet to come in on that one. I am going to be pretty tired by the time I get to New Orleans, and having to deal with rush hour traffic isn’t exactly something I am looking forward to, frankly.

But it is what it is. I am a little tired already. I never sleep terribly well when I travel under the best of circumstances, and the insomnia lately has been incredibly brutal at home–so I didn’t have very high expectations for while I was here. I think I got maybe one good night of sleep on Friday–I was so completely exhausted at that point the surprise would have been had I not lapsed into a coma.

Well, my travel day Thursday turned into quite the nightmare, but overall, I handled it as best I could; rolled with it, and just finally had to laugh about it all. I had trouble getting up in the morning and then had even more trouble being awake–the cannabis oil might not have knocked me out, but it really relaxed me–and of course, it was pouring rain as I headed to the airport. I also forgot a mask, but remembered before I got on the highway and was able to get back home quickly, grab two of them, and dash back out in the rain to the car and head for the airport. The parking lot for the airport is now two exits past where we used to get off the highway; which felt weird, but I was able to find the lot in the pouring rain, get the car parked, and head to the airport. I checked my bag, got my boarding passes….and just as I reached the gate I got a text from Southwest that my flight was going to be two hours delayed–and I only had an hour and a half to change planes in Dallas to begin with. I wound up being routed from Dallas to Louisville via Chicago Midway–and arriving almost five hours after originally scheduled. The rerouting also cost me my priority boarding, and I wound up in the C boarding group on the last two flights. Yay. So I was stuck in a middle seat on both of my last two flights…the greatest irony was I had originally booked my ticket to leave on Wednesday with the same itinerary; only to be notified that Southwest had changed it to a 12:30 departure arriving in Louisville at 9:20, with two changes of plane. I didn’t want that, so I changed it to Thursday…yet wound up leaving New Orleans at 12:30 and changing planes twice and not getting to Louisville until 9:20–and the last flight was about twenty minutes late; it took forever to get my bags…we ended up leaving the airport for the ninety mile drive around 10:15 and not getting to my parents’ until almost midnight.

So far so good for the flight home today, though. Fingers crossed that will hold.

I read From Here to Eternity on my travel day down, but wasn’t terribly vested in it. I was about 250 pages into it when I arrived at Louisville, and while it is entirely possible the horrors of the travel day may have influenced how I felt about the book, I wasn’t into it, didn’t like any of the characters–the most likable was Maggio, and he’s barely in the first quarter of the book–and so put it aside. I may try it again another time, but I am not sure I will like it any better the next time around. I then started The Complete Stories of James Purdy–an almost forgotten writer of the 20th century, and the stories are interesting and well written; he reminds me of a hybrid of Shirley Jackson with a dash of Flannery O’Connor filtered through a John Waters sensibility. I read half of the stories, but last night before bed I wanted something else, so I got out the iPad and my ARC of Laura Lippman’s new one, Dream Girl, and the next thing I knew it was past time to go to bed and I regretfully had to put it aside. I will read it on the plane today; hopefully finishing before I land in New Orleans. It’s quite good and interesting and absorbing…but I won’t review it on here until it’s closer to the release date.

I also started writing a short story, “Beauty Sleep,” Saturday night. I got about 700 or 800 words into it–not sure how far–before realizing that I wasn’t sure where the story was going. I hate when that happens; my short story writing methodology clearly needs work. I never really know where the story is going when I start writing them–very rarely do I know how the story will end, or what it is really about–and they inevitably wind up in a computer folder and languishing in the electronic drawer, as it were. It can be annoying and frustrating, sure–I probably should try to work through what the story is about and how it is going to end before starting to write it, even though I inevitably start writing because the opening and the characters are interesting and I want to get that down before I forget them in the mists of my mind–but it’s also a good writing exercise. And sometimes I get lucky and the story starts coming to me as I write. That doesn’t happen as often as they stall out, of course, but often enough that I keep doing this.

Okay, I think I am going to go try to find something to eat. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader!

Rock the Shack

Wednesday, and the day my income tax refund is due to hit the bank. It’s too early to check; the bank doesn’t update accounts until 8 am–which is actually pretty annoying, particularly since this is a new development since my bank was bought out by another. Well, hello and surprise–it was actually there! Huzzah!

We had an amazing thunderstorm last night–it’s still pretty nasty outside this morning–and yes, I was awake through the storm because yet again I passed another sleepless night. That’s three nights of insomnia in a row. Heavy sigh. Maybe tonight I will be able to sleep. I had hoped to make it to the gym tonight, but I can’t imagine not being tired after I get off work this afternoon. Looks like we are also in a flash flood warning for most of the day–not really feeling like I’d want to walk to the gym in torrential rain, either. But…if i do go, perhaps that would wear me out so I could sleep tonight? One can dream, I suppose.

We only have one episode left of The Innocent, and we really have enjoyed the hell out of this show. I’m going to terribly sorry to see it end tonight–and I am sure there are some twists and turns left to play out in this story.

Not sure what we are going to watch next, but there’s a Spanish language show on Netflix called Who Killed Sara? that looks interesting.

I am still trying to decide what to read next–I have such a plethora of riches on hand to go through as it is already, and some of my favorite writers (Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman) are releasing new books later this year, and S. A. Cosby’s follow-up to Blacktop Wasteland drops in July. Can’t wait to get my grubby paws on all of those, believe you me.

I’ve been too tired to write or do much focusing of any kind this week–three days of insomnia and counting will do that to you–but I’ve been thinking about a couple of my short stories lately and wanting to get to work on those at some point. Maybe tonight I will get some sleep so I can both read AND write tomorrow night, which would be lovely.

And, tired as I may be, it’s time to drag my tired ass into the spice mines. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Shake it Up

Well, I wrote the timeline for Bury Me in Shadows last night–lame as it was; I am waiting for my editor to write me back and say, um, you could have made more of an effort on this. But it’s done, and I am well relieved to be out of those woods–for now, at any rate. I am kind of mentally fatigued; two books back to back like this will tend to do that to one–although I used to do it all the time; book after book after book. But I also didn’t used to have to get up at six three days a week, either, nor did I ever have the insomnia issues like I do these days. Last night was another of those nights where Morpheus chose to not visit my bed, but I feel relatively okay at the moment, as I swill my first cappuccino. I am sure I will hit a wall later today. Tonight is also supposed to be a gym night, but…we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve decided to put aside the Thomas Perry novel for now. It’s very well done, but I am not connecting with it, which is more my problem than Perry’s; I am just not in the mind space right now for a hired killer thriller. I’ll come back to it at some point, I am sure; so it goes back into the TBR pile rather than into the donation box. I’ve actually gone on a tear with buying ebooks on sale (or for free) lately, and I’ve also gotten some wonderful e-galleys stored in my iPad–including this year’s titles from Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, not to mention some sparkling debuts and some wonderful classics. Yesterday I finally figured out how to sort my ebooks (I am such a Luddite) in the iPad by title, so I could see how many duplicates there were–and there were quite a few, so I deleted all the duplicates to free up space as well as make it easier to find things in there. I think when I go visit my parents, I may just take my iPad instead of books with me to read–although I am taking the hard copy of From Here to Eternity with me–that way I can read through take-off and landing…although I suppose one could just put the device on airplane mode but I still think they make you power it down. It’s been so long since I’ve flown anywhere, it’s hard to remember. I just ordered some more books with points from credit cards that should be arriving this week–yes, yes, I know; I shouldn’t continue buying more books when I still have massive TBR piles–but I’ve cleaned out so many books over the past few months that I thought why not use the points and get some new titles, as well as the Laurie R. King backlist. I am still planning on reading something else before treating myself to A Letter of Mary–I just haven’t decided what just yet. I am torn between She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau (which Les Diaboliques was based on) and The Cook by Harry Kressing, which was filmed as Something for Everyone with Michael York and Angela Lansbury–a classic and bizarre queer film from the early 1970’s–it’s on Youtube.

Or…maybe something else.

We watched another episode of The Innocent last night; this show is so damned good and full of didn’t-see-that-coming plot twists! Of all the Harlan Coben shows on Netflix, this is my favorite so far–not really surprising, since Paul and I have fallen in love with Spanish-language crime shows (cannot WAIT for season 4 of Elite to drop)–we talked about this last night, and Paul said–and I agree–this particular show wouldn’t be as good in English, or if it was set in the US or England or France.

Of course, hot Spanish and/or Mexican actors might play a part in our thought process. Just sayin’.

I also have a story in yet another anthology that is dropping in June and can be preordered now: Unburied, edited by Rebecca Rowland, from Dark Ink Press. My story is “Night Follows Night”; which I wrote an original draft of years ago for an MWA anthology–I think–that didn’t get accepted. I revised and rewrote it a number of times, and when this call for submissions was forwarded to me by Felice Picano (thanks, Felice!) I thought, well, “Night Follows Night” loosely fits this call, and sent it off–and was very delighted to hear back from Rebecca that she loved it and wanted it. Yay! This was the same period last year where I sent off five stories in one day and sold three of them within 24 hours–which was exactly what I needed to have happen at the time, as I was going through one of my malaise periods…nothing like selling three stories in less than twenty-four hours to get you past that hump (the other two were rejected, but that was expected; they were long-shots to begin with).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. I hope I have enough energy to make it through this day–I was planning on going to the gym tonight, but the lack of sleep for two days running means that probably won’t happen….

Mr. Disco

Ah, Friday, and the weekend looms on the horizon.

Last night was odd; there was some sort of power problem in our neighborhood–a problem I’ve never experienced anything like before. The living room had power; everything in there worked fine. The upstairs lights? Flickering, and out most of the time. Same with the kitchen and the laundry room; the refrigerator was barely on, and the HVAC wasn’t working at all; and this was only affecting our block. So, so weird–and then around eleven thirty we got all the voltage we could possibly want. I’ve never experienced “low” power before; didn’t even know it was a thing, to be honest. But at least nothing in the refrigerator spoiled–always a plus.

The Edgars went smoothly yesterday, and there were some lovely surprises. All the nominees were deserving–they always are–and it’s always fun to see the excitement of those who get the statue. Obviously, it’s way more fun in person–fingers crossed for next year–and yesterday morning as I made condom packs and broke down expired test kits for biohazard disposal (seriously, my life is just a non-stop thrill ride) I remembered past Edgar ceremonies I attended and deeply enjoyed. I inevitably drink too much–it’s the free wine, always a danger for one Gregalicious–but my favorite ceremony remains the very first one I attended, when I wore a kilt and then took the train with friends the following morning to Washington for Malice Domestic. As I have mentioned before, my memory–once sterling and dependable–is now in tatters, so am trying to remember that first ceremony and evening and am finding it difficult, to be completely honest. I think that was the year Charlaine Harris was MWA president, and Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais were named grand masters, but I could be wrong. I also don’t remember which year Stephen King won for best novel–but it was the year Sara Paretsky was president of MWA, because I have a great picture of the two of them together from the cocktail reception before the ceremony. The third and final time I went–I think I’ve only attended three times–was the year my friend William J. Mann won for Best Fact Crime for Tinseltown. I always enjoy the Edgars and Edgar week activities; missing out on a ceremony the last two years was disappointing. I am hopeful next year we will be able to have it in person again.

Fingers crossed!

I also managed to get deeper into the revision of the book last evening before Paul got home and we settled in for three episodes of season 4 of Line of Duty–and Acorn loaded the fifth season yesterday as well.So, that’s the weekend pretty sorted. I also want to spend some time with The Butcher’s Boy, perhaps even finishing it–so I can dive into my next Mary Russell adventure. I am also currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram–and it occurs to me that all the espionage and so forth that went on before the American entry into the first World War between the Germans and Mexico (trying to keep the US occupied and distracted from what was going on in Europe, as well as disrupting the supplying of the Allies) could make for a wonderful “Holmes in New Orleans” story. New Orleans was a major port (still is, actually) and fairly close to Mexico…hmmm. I was also thinking about the banana intrigues–seriously, that is one of the most fascinating times in New Orleans history!

We really are enjoying Line of Duty, which is an interesting take on your typical crime show. The heroes of the stories–each season is relatively self-contained, although there was an over-all arc that tied all the first three seasons together–are an anti-corruption division; so the good guys are cops, but so are the bad guys. It is chilling to see how easy it is for the cops (at least in the show; I don’t know enough to comment on reality) to corrupt and divert an investigation; falsify evidence and so forth; with no concept of how deep and how high up the corruption actually runs. Thandie Newton is the dirty cop in season four, and like the previous villains/guest stars of previous seasons, she is terrific in the role. Can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

Yesterday afternoon as I made condom packs, I watched North Dallas Forty. This is a 1979 film starring Nick Note and Mac Davis (!), and was adapted from Peter Gent’s novel. I had read the novel, but had never seen the movie; it came up on Twitter a week or so ago when someone asked people for the best sports movie (I said Brian’s Song, and stand by my answer). Laura Lippman brought up North Dallas Forty, which made me think of Semi-Tough, another pro football novel and movie from the same period (remember? I tried to reread it and the blatant racism was so horrific I put it in the donate box after rereading the first page?). I’d like to reread the Gent novel–it was very dark; painkillers and drugs and alcohol and rapes and sexual assaults and racism and all kinds of horrible behavior–but unlike Semi-Tough, the Gent took those issues seriously and didn’t try to play them for laughs. The movie takes the same tone as the book–dark–and Nolte is really good as the wide receiver whose years playing have battered and broken his body and left him needing painkilling shots to play and swallowing pain killers to get through the day, and the alcohol and drug abuse. Mac Davis is surprisingly good as his best friend, the quarterback–who eventually betrays him in the end to keep his own contract alive. The game scenes are particularly funny; even in the 1970’s professional football stadiums were better than where these scenes were filmed; the “stadiums” they play in look like high school football fields–and not even the better ones. It definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–it exposes the “team as a family” mentality as the crock that it is, and that the players are all just cogs in a money-making machine for the owners, and the coaches don’t give two shits about their players, either.

I still stick with Brian’s Song as the best sports movie, though.

And on that note, this data isn’t going to enter itself nor are these condoms going pack themselves, so it’s off to the spice mines with me.

Ecstasy

It’s gray again this morning in New Orleans, and I have about six boxes of books to take to the library sale today. I also have five or six boxes of condom packs that will have to go back to the office on Monday; which, I suppose, is the easiest way to say that my living room currently looks incredibly cluttered and desperately in need of organizing and cleaning and so forth. I also have a lot of errands to do–the mail, groceries, etc. and need together to the gym today as well. I would also like to get some writing done today–at least a revision of a short story or something–so tomorrow I can primarily focus on the edits of Bury Me in Shadows….and maybe do a bit on Chlorine as well.

I was ridiculously productive yesterday–as mentioned before, I really did a great job of paring down the books last night while laundering the bed linens; Paul was out having dinner with a roommate for college (who was indirectly responsible for our meeting, actually) and so while I watched Smithsonian documentaries on World War II (The Battle of Midway, The Battle of Okinawa, The Fall of Japan, Normandy: 85 Days After D-Day) Started going through the boxes of books I have cleverly concealed beneath blankets so they sort of look like tables, in way, with more books and decor on top of them (we have far too much bric-a-brac in this house, seriously), and when Paul got home we watched the second part of the Aaron Hernandez documentary. (I think perhaps the saddest thing–other than the victims, of course–was how exploited he was for his ability; he was clearly trouble at the University of Florida, so they covered for him for three years and once they’d gotten their use out of him, told him he wasn’t welcome back on the team for his senior year and to enter the draft early; as soon as he was arrested and charged the Patriots–and their fans–turned their backs on him immediately as did their fans…which tells me everything I needed to know about how his coaching staff and teammates felt about him–that was an almost lightning like 180, and considering how many other players have committed crimes and not been abandoned….and while murder is pretty extreme, of course, they clearly knew there were issues there and yet no one did anything.)

I also watched two movies yesterday while making condom packs, and both were kind of terrible. The first, The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, was so unbelievably bad I came very close to turning it off numerous times, but figured you finished Carnal Knowledge, you can finish this. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, known for his violent and bloody films, and based on the novel by Jim Thompson (whom I’ve never read, and I need to correct that at some point), it basically is a dark story about a criminal whose wife gets him paroled by appealing to a corrupt businessman (with her body), so that they can commit a bank robbery and share the money with the businessman. Of course, there are all kinds of double crosses, and the bad guys are after them, as are the cops as well as one of their other accomplices they assumed was dead; there’s a weird subplot with him taking a veterinarian and his wife along with him on the chase for no reason (other than he’s banging the wife); interestingly enough, the vet is played by Howard fro The Andy Griffith Show and the wife/girlfriend (never clear) by Sally Struthers. It’s a mess, really; its only saving grace the chemistry between McQueen and MacGraw (who became involved) and that they are both ridiculously good looking; neither can act their way out of a paper bag (if they can. there’s no evidence of it here), and the score is also terrible and jarring. I know it was remade in the 90’s, I think; but as a noir film, or Neo-noir, it fails. I didn’t care about any of the characters and breathed a sigh of relief when the credits rolled. It’s a definite Cynical 70’s Film Festival entry; that was the time of the anti-hero and anti-establishment thinking…but I couldn’t help but think how much better the film would have been had it starred, say, Paul Newman and Ellen Burstyn, or Clint Eastwood and Natalie Wood, or even Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

In fairness, they were done no favors by the script.

The second part of my double feature was John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, based on the Carson McCullers novel and boasting a cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Julie Harris and Brian Keith. I read the book several years ago and didn’t much care for it, to be honest–again, maybe I simply missed the point, but I didn’t care about any of the characters and that also translated into the film. There’s never any sense of why they do the things they do, and it’s kind of just a story about sexual hang-ups and frustrations, set around a military base somewhere in the South. Both Taylor and Brando sport really bad Southern accents, and Julie Harris is the only one who really pulls off her role–that of a sad woman who never got over the death of a child and has formed an unnatural attachment to her (incredibly racist and homophobic depiction of a) Filipino houseboy. She also apparently cut off her nipples with garden shears; she’s clearly not well, and yet all around her no one, especially her husband (Brian Keith), who’s sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is married to Brando, who chews the scenery at every opportunity (as I watched I couldn’t stop thinking considered the greatest actor of his generation, wow) who is an extremely repressed gay man who becomes obsessed with a young enlisted man who likes to ride horseback in the nude as well as lay out in the sun in the nude. The enlisted man is obsessed, in his turn, with Taylor, breaking into their house at night and watching her sleep while he paws through her underwear and nightgowns, sniffing them but never touching her. Brando becomes convinced the young man feels the same attraction to him, and at the end, sees the young man sneaking up to the house in the dark out a window. Thinking the young man is coming to him, he becomes enraged when he sees the young man–Elgee–sneak into his wife’s room, so he gets a gun and shoots him dead. The credits roll as Elizabeth Taylor screams. The movie is pretty true to the book, which kind of goes to show how not every book needs to be made into a movie. Most of the book is internal, which doesn’t translate to film very well–and I didn’t much care for the book. The movie could have been good–great cast after all–but overall, it fall flat for much the same reasons The Getaway did; I couldn’t muster up even a little bit of investment in any of the characters, other than Julie Harris, who is the only one who comes across well in the film. It did make me want to revisit the novel again, though, so that’s something. And while this is from 1968 or 1969, I do include it in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–as there were many films in the late 1960’s that actually began what I consider the cynical period in American film, where the heroes were now who would have been the villains under the old Hays Code–neither Bonnie and Clyde nor The Graduate (both from 1967) could have been made under the code; certainly Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) couldn’t have been.

I may have to take a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival for a bit. The last three films were terrible, and while I am kind of glad I saw them–always wanted to–I don’t know if I can stand watching another dated bad movie.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the Halloween Horror Film Festival.

And since I finished The Man with the Candy, now it’s time to pick something new to read. I came across a copy of Dan Jenkins’ Semi-Tough, of all things, while pruning the books. I read it when I was a teenager, along with Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty, which are two completely different books about the same subject: pro football. Semi-Tough is comic; North Dallas Forty (which I preferred) is dark and almost noirish; the two books came up in conversation on Twitter recently; someone tweeted asking for people’s favorite sports film. I responded with Brian’s Song, and Laura Lippman professed her love for North Dallas Forty. I would really like to revisit the Gent novel and was also thinking I should reread the Jenkins; so having it turn up while pruning the books seemed to me like a sign. I’ll probably hate it–just looking at the first page there are some racial slurs already, and there’s nothing I hate more than the contract sumbitch, which was prevalent in the 1970’s; in theory, it’s how Southern people say “son of a bitch” with their accent. It annoyed me because everyone in my family, excepting my sister (and her children and grandchildren) and I, has a very thick accent…and not one of them ever says sumbitch. It became extremely popular in the 1970’s because Jackie Gleason, playing a corrupt Southern sheriff, says it all the time in Smoky and the Bandit…and I’ve always hated it, and never minded that it went gently into that dark night and no one bothers with it anymore. Being reminded of it sets my teeth on edge, frankly.

I may not, in fact, be able to get through the book. I know it’s meant to be funny and satirical, but….I just opened it at random and the narrator was talking about how it’s very important that we understand that he’s white because most running backs aren’t and….

Yeah.

I can only imagine the misogyny. Sigh.

All right, I need to get this mess under control so I can get everything done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.