Rare Things

So, Greg, why did you choose to write about an antique shop when you know nothing about antiques other than they are old furniture and so forth?

In all honesty, I didn’t originally set out to write about an antique shop, and while the book was in progress my utter lack of knowledge about the antiques business did have me incredibly concerned. Even though I had decided that Valerie herself would know nothing about antiques (that way, she and I could learn together), it still made me feel fraudulent and like I didn’t know what I was doing writing about something I didn’t know anything about. But then I went to Crime Bake, and at one of the panels a writer named Barbara Ross, who writes a Clambake New England series, confessed she knew nothing about clam bakes or any of those types of things…so she had to learn as she wrote the series. That was exactly what I wanted and needed to hear from someone and that was the right time for me to hear it, so I felt a lot more confident about the book when I returned home to New Orleans from that trip (it’s always nice to go to a writer’s event and learn something; I feel like I always do whenever I go to one).

Originally, I had wanted to write about a costume shop; which even now seems easier to learn about that antiques, to be honest. There used to be a costume shop in my neighborhood for years, on St. Charles Avenue on the lake side on the same block as Hoshun. I never went inside, but I always thought it was interesting that it was open year-round rather than just being seasonal; I would have thought they wouldn’t have enough business to do so. But it closed and another opened in the CBD near Paul’s office, connected to whatever theater that is in the next block–which means they had an enormous warehouse space to keep their costumes in, and their primary customers were local theater, film and television productions. I thought, yeah, that could be fun so I moved MY shop back to the block and decided to give them a warehouse to store costumes for commercial rentals in, out near the airport. When Crooked Lane wanted something other than a costume shop, I just went to the Starbucks at the corner of Washington and Magazine, got a latte, and walked down the block writing down the kinds of businesses I walked past. I sent those to Crooked Lane and they picked an antique shop, which was a bit daunting but….anything is do-able, right? And since I like to learn…in theory.

I did stop into one of the ubiquitous antique shops in New Orleans to talk to the manager, who gave me some good tips–estate auctions and sales, for example; something that hadn’t occurred to me–and also, highly amused that both Valerie and myself knew nothing about the business, suggested, “Start with Antiquing for Dummies.” I’m still not sure if she was kidding or not, but I thought it a pretty good idea, so I ordered a copy and had Dee–who works at Rare Things–suggest Valerie do the same in the book!

Serendipity, if you will.

And then I needed a name for the business. In the late 1980’s there was a marvelous supernatural syndicated series called Friday the 13th-the Series (because it just used the name, it was not related to the films in any way) in which there was such a shop called Curious Goods. The premise of the show is that the owner of the shop made a deal with the devil and all the items in the shop are cursed; he goes back on his deal and the devil drags him to hell. His niece and nephew inherit the shop and start selling things–only to find out that the items are all cursed –an older man with lots of knowledge tells them; they form a team to track down the objects, which can kill–or can make a wish of some sort for the person owning it come true, but death is required–and each episode focuses on one of the objects. I thought about calling the shop Curious Goods, as an homage, but then thought but the objects in this shop aren’t cursed, so I went with Rare Things. I liked the name, and thought it really fit; it’s really more of a curio shop than an antique shop, anyway.

And the benefits of an antique shop means I can have a lot of fun with future volumes, if there are more. How much fun would it be for Valerie to have to stay at some old manse working on an estate sale, only to be bedeviled by ghosts and secret passages and so on? It also means getting to explore history and areas outside of New Orleans; I am becoming more and more interested in the entire state rather than just New Orleans, too, so this really is kind of cool–more reason to explore Louisiana’s history! Huzzah!

So, that’s how this book came to built around an antique shop on St. Charles Avenue. More to come!

Mercy Mercy Me

Sunday morning and another decent night of sleep. I felt rested this morning, and still have an insane amount of things to get done, but progress was made yesterday. I did my work yesterday–I love when my work consists of reading, especially when the book is as delightful and charming as the one I read yesterday–and so have other things to get done today. Today’s primary task involves reading as well–I also have to come up with clever questions for Ellen Byron for tonight’s (this afternoon’s?) event at Blue Cypress Books, at 5 pm. Come on, come all! There’s also some filing and organizing for me to get done this morning while my mind slowly awakens, and of course, dishes to put away.

But I did get a lot finished yesterday, just not as much as I needed to, which seems to always be the case these days. That’s okay, you see, because I’ve also learned/am trying to be kinder to myself these days, in a successful (some days more than others) attempt to try to keep my stress levels down as well as the anxiety, which will inevitably combine into some sort of depressive, overwhelmed state during which I get nothing done and only compound the problem into a vicious cycle that winds up going around and around and around and where it stops, nobody knows. But my coffee tastes really lovely this morning, which is a good thing, and I feel rested and recuperated, which is also lovely.

Last evening, after we were finished with everything we could do during the day and decided to call it quits for the day, we finished watching Candy–I still am not entirely sure what I think of it, to be honest, but man did they capture the time period absolutely perfectly–and then watched the first two episodes of the second season of Hacks, which is even funnier this time around. Everyone in the show is so perfectly cast, from Jean Smart having the time of her life in a role that is absolutely perfect for her, all the way down to even the most minor characters. It is one of the best comedies on television now, frankly. We then moved on to The Outlaws, a British show on Amazon Prime starring Christopher Walken (who has been working a lot lately, and that isn’t a bad thing at all) which is about a group of disparate characters all brought together from being sentenced to community service together. The first episode wasn’t great, so we were on the fence about continuing but gave it another episode. SO glad we did; the show really kicks into gear in the second episode and the writing is so good, so intricate…definitely recommend it to you, Constant Reader. We also need to get caught up on Severance and The Offer, and there are a few other shows out there we’d like to get started with.

How are y’all doing this morning? I am feeling pretty good, in all honesty. There are some things I need to deal with that I would prefer not, but ripping off the scab and getting it taken care of is better than letting it sit, I suppose. I’m not at all stressed about doing a public appearance tonight–Ellen is a pro, witty and warm and charming, so really all I have to do is lob softballs to her so she can hit them out of the park–because I don’t mind interviewing people (I don’t mind moderating panels so much as I do public speaking; as long as the focus isn’t on me I am more fine than I am with having to give a talk where the focus is entirely on me; I am not sure why I am so uncomfortable in the spotlight). Ellen is also a friend, which makes it easier; it can be like a casual conversation between two friends who also happen to be writers and who both happen to write about New Orleans.

And speaking of New Orleans, I also went down a wormhole of research yesterday. I’m doing some research for the next Scotty book (more on that later), and found myself in yet another wormhole; I don’t even remember how it started (I think with a story that came across my feed about the Mississippi River battures and a street that used to be on other side of the levee, and still is in some places) and then of course one article leads to another leads to still another and so forth and before I knew it a lot of time had passed. There’s so much about New Orleans and its history that I do not know, or knew at one time and have forgotten, and every last thing I find or remember is fodder: oh, this is interesting, I should write about this. This new Scotty book is mostly going to take place outside of New Orleans for the most part; which is a big risk–writing a Scotty that’s not really a New Orleans story, but also is a New Orleans story. (That sounded confusing, even to me and I know what I am talking about.) You’ll just have to trust me, Constant Reader.

And on that note, this morning’s “haven’t completely woken up yet” chores are waiting. Talk to you tomorrow, and have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–it’s always a pleasure when you check in.

I’ll Stay With You

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee preparatory to going to the gym and getting my workout on. I didn’t go at all this past week–the cold, the cold, the cold–but I am ready to get back into the swing of things. My goal/hope with my workouts is to get to the point by June that I am so used to the exercising that I can switch it up–move from a full body workout three times a week to one that focuses on different body parts every visit (chest/back, arms/shoulders, legs) even though that will mean the return of the hated and feared LEG DAY.

Christ, even typing the words leg day sent a cold chill down my spine.

It feels sort of temperate this morning in the Lost Apartment, though a quick weather check shows that it’s fifty-three degrees outside–but today’s high is going to be a tropical 64 degrees. Huzzah! The sun is also out, so it’s very bright this morning in my workspace, which also kind of feels rather nice. I am still wearing layers, of course–I am going to make some groceries in a moment before going to the gym–but I think the cold spell may have broken–or is in the process of being broken; the ten day forecast indicates lows in the forties but highs up to 70 over the next ten days, so that’s much more bearable. Thank you, baby Jesus.

I managed to work on the book yesterday–I got through the first five chapters, and it was really a struggle–and then last night while we watched Servant and Resident Alien I scribbled out one of the podcast entries I need to get done. I do think this is actually going to turn out to be something pretty decent, if awful at the same time (a good book about an awful subject is probably the best way of putting it) and I did some other writing work yesterday as well, which was pretty lovely. I did watch a lot of Youtube history videos–Paul was at the office yesterday; he’s going back in today as well–and I discovered an old show on HBO, Sons of Liberty, a one-season show with six episodes from 2015 that I’d never heard of before, which is odd; given my interest in history I am usually aware of such shows. (Interestingly enough, I looked it up just now–it aired originally on the History Channel, and was one of their rare instances of actually showing a program about history–but only in three episodes; HBO must have broken each down into two parts.) It’s entertaining enough, and of course, as I watched the episode (Ben Barnes is way too young and way too hot to play Samuel Adams, but hey, it’s entertainment) naturally I started thinking about, of all things, writing a. murder mystery set in occupied Boston before the revolution breaks out. Pre-revolution Boston is one of my favorite historical periods–blame Johnny Tremain for that (and I am still bitter that movie hasn’t shown up on Disney Plus yet….hello? Are you listening, Disney Plus? It does rather make me wonder if there’s some content in the film that wouldn’t play today, the way the blatant racism of Song of the South got it locked into the Disney vault forever, despite having an Oscar-winning song in it), although there’s an excerpt of it on their streaming service. It’s very preachy, as pro-Americana Disney from that period always was–but I’d still like to see it again sometime. I’m not even sure you can pay to watch it on any streaming service. Hmmm; maybe its on Prime, and since Paul won’t be home most of the day….I can work on the book and when I am finished I can see if I can stream it…ah, yes, there it is on Prime, and relatively cheap, at that. Well, that’s my post writing day sorted. Huzzah!

Also, we are really enjoying Resident Alien, which we are watching on Hulu and is a Syfy show. It’s very clever and interesting approach to the trope of the lovable alien (see E. T. and Starman), and is actually quite funny as well, set in the tiny town of Patience, Colorado. Servant continues to be deeply dark and disturbing, which of course is fun, and I think tonight we will probably start watching It’s a Sin, provided Paul gets home from the office early enough, since I am back to work at the crack of dawn again tomorrow morning.

I was also very pleased to read four short stories yesterday morning with my coffee; I suspect that once I am finished here I will gather up my coffee and my copy of Alabama Noir to read a few stories in it this morning. It feels good to be reading again, even if I am not reading novels, and as I have said, I am hoping that once this book is finished to have the bandwidth to start getting caught up on my reading some more. My desk area is also a horrific mess in need of some work–the endless filing becomes endlessly tiresome–but I think it’s at the point where I can move stuff into an actual file box, if that makes any sense at all. Probably not, but I know what I am talking about. I have gathered so much research about New Orleans and Louisiana history–seriously, I have so much stuff that I want to write about at some point that I know I shall never live long enough to get it all written, but even if I never write about Louisiana and New Orleans history–which I know I will–it’s at least an interesting hobby for an amateur historian like me. Our history is so interesting and colorful, if horrifically racist…I have to say how incredibly disappointed I am in James Michener for never doing one of his epic historical novels about Louisiana. I mean, he wrote about Texas and Hawaii and Colorado; why not Louisiana? Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the race stuff–after all, before the Civil War we had that caste system, in which the whites were the elites, the free people of color the second class, and of course, the enslaved the bottom of the pyramid. I should go back and finish reading Barbara Hambly’s marvelous Benjamin January series, as well as revisit Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints. Louisiana’s free people of color are often written out of history, as is the German Coast slave uprising of 1811 and the impact of the Haitian revolution on Louisiana and New Orleans, with the emigrés from Hispaniola/Ste. Domingue fleeing here (Anne Rice also touched on this briefly with The Witching Hour; the Mayfairs were Haitian refugees, I believe, which is how they came to New Orleans in the first place–but it’s been years and I could be wrong about this, but I think Suzanne Mayfair was the witch from Ste. Domingue who came to New Orleans to establish the dynasty here; another book I should revisit)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and hope everyone I know in Texas is doing well this morning.

Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

Well, it’s now Thursday and let’s see how the rest of this week goes. I don’t have to go back to the office until Ash Wednesday–working at home today and tomorrow–and then over the weekend (all four days of it) I can leisurely clean and write and get things done, which is always a plus. Paul hasn’t been getting home from the office until almost ten every night this week–making me a Festival widow, as I always am every year at this time; the primary difference being Paul would come home for the parades and then work on things at his desk until all hours of the night while I went to bed. Last night’s Youtube wormholes included Kings and Generals videos about the Ottoman Wars; short documentaries about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret and Mary (who don’t get near as much attention as their famous brother– had Henry’s matrimonial efforts been a bit more in line with those of a normal king, Margaret and Mary would have most likely gone down in history for their own notoriety and scandalous lives…as it is, they are most forgotten footnotes to Tudor history. But all the British monarchy after Elizabeth I is actually descended from Margaret Tudor rather than Henry VIII); another couple about another favorite sixteenth century royal woman Marguerite de Valois (immortalized as Queen Margot in the Dumas novel); famous courtesans of history; and the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire. (I really have always wanted to write about palace intrigue in Constantinople–there’s a reason why “byzantine” has come to mean interconnected elaborate conspiracies with twists and turns and surprises)

I was also very tired yesterday, after my third “get up at six and go to the office” day in a row. I am acutely becoming more and more aware of my age and the increasing fragility of my body; nothing terribly original or insightful, really. The decay of our bodies is something we can generally spend a good portion of our lives not thinking about, and of course, we consistently always push aside thinking about our own mortality because–well, because no good can come of it, really, other than paralyzing depression and panic about the shortening of the life string held by the Three Fates. I have become very used to the idea that I am not going to be able to write all the things that I want to write in the limited time I have left to me (see what I mean about paralyzing depression? Just typing those words made my entire body shudder), particularly with all the new ideas I get on an almost daily basis.

And the more research I do about New Orleans and Louisiana history, the more fascinated I become. I was actually thinking the other day, as I idly went down a research wormhole about Alice Heine (the first American born princess of Monaco was NOT Grace Kelly, but Alice Heine–born and raised in the 900 block of the French Quarter in New Orleans), I couldn’t help but think man, I should have started studying all this New Orleans/Louisiana history YEARS ago–at least when we first moved here. There is so much rich, vibrant material in New Orleans’ checkered history; and when you expand it out to Louisiana as a whole, it becomes even more interesting. I had, in fact, primarily always assumed the prevalence of Spanish names in the state and region came from when the Spanish owned Louisiana….which in a way it kind of did; but it was because to populate their new lands and territories as a protective measure against both the British and the Americans, the Spanish governors encouraged immigration from the Canary Islands–their descendants are called los isleños; I knew about the isleños, but I never really knew when they came here and to what part of Louisiana they came. (There was also a Filipino settlement at a place called St Málo; outside the levees, that settlement was completely destroyed by a hurricane in the early twentieth century…which just goes to show precisely how much of a cultural and ethnic melting pot New Orleans is and always has been.) It’s all so goddamned interesting…the main problem is the older books about the state and city’s history aren’t necessarily reliable–Lyle Saxon, Harnett Kane, and Robert Tallant, in particular; their works weren’t always based in fact but in rumor and legend, and all too often in upholding white supremacy–but the stories are highly entertaining, if inaccurate, biased, and with perhaps too high a degree of fictionality built into them. But the stories themselves are interesting and could make for good stories–in particular Tallant’s book Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, (one can never go wrong with historical true crime, even if Tallant’s sources were faulty and included rumor and speculation)…the title tale is, in and of itself, one I’ve been interested in fictionalizing since I first became aware of it–I can’t recall the murderer’s name, but a very good-looking young man, he used to lure men in to rob and kill; and while he always had a girlfriend–sometimes accomplices–and Tallant never comes right out and says so, my takeaway from the story is that the guy basically preyed on older men with either gay or bisexual tendencies, which puts it right into my wheelhouse, really.

And of course, so many of these stories would work in my Sherlockian world of New Orleans in the first decades of the twentieth century.

And this, you see, is why I will never be able to write everything I want to write. Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your day be as splendid as you are, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow morning.

Skullcrusher

Well, yesterday was not one of my better days; it started off not great–right around the time I started getting ready to leave for work–and continued through the beginnings of my day at the office. No need to get into the frustrations and irritations involved (one of them being not being able to find a check for a short story I last had my hands on Saturday but the fucking bank was closed and now I can’t find it), but just before my actual clients started showing up I took a very deep breath and cleared my mind and cleansed it of everything poisonous that the incompetence and thoughtlessness of others put there and sallied forth into my day.

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

After work I went to the gym–had been blowing it off for just over a week, he admittedly shamefacedly, but it was cold–and that was lovely. I came home and cleaned the kitchen, and when Paul got home we watched two more episodes of Bridgerton, which is oddly enjoyable and addicting. My favorite character by far is Eloise Bridgerton; what a delight she is, rejecting everything having to do with being a proper lady and just wanting to live her own life and expand her brain. We have yet but one episode left to go before it’s all over until the next season drops, and I shall sorely miss it; it’s just pure unadulterated fun, while at the same time making me wonder that for so many centuries we put so little store by women other than for them to be wombs, property of their husbands. It’s also a bit racy–I can’t believe one of the major plot points revolves around Simon not, er, um, shooting his load inside his wife, our heroine Daphne. But Regency England society was pretty racy; I was just talking to Paul last night about how this period has never been of much interest to me because of the Regency–Prince George was a bit of a monster–and of course by the time of the events of this show, Queen Charlotte was already dead; but frankly I am glad Charlotte is the one in charge instead of her wretched son.

Today is also pay day, aka pay the bills day (huzzah?)–it seems like we just got paid, really–and so at some point this morning I shall have to make the car payment as well as pay the other bills as well. Oh, how I long for the day when the car is finally paid off; it seems like I’ve been making that enormous monthly payment forever now. I didn’t sleep all that well last night–worry about all the things I have to do, no doubt; I feel as though there are several swords of Damocles hanging over my head at this point in time–but as always, there is nought to do but simply put my head down and start ploughing through everything until I can get as caught as I can while other new and interesting and sometimes tedious tasks and chores pile up around me. But at least this morning I came downstairs to a clean kitchen, which was lovely, and my desk is completely in order (I looked for that check again last night when I got home; nowhere to be found, alas; but it shall eventually turn up somewhere, I am certain), which was even lovelier, quite frankly. Although I didn’t sleep much or well over the course of the evening I don’t feel tired this morning–that will undoubtedly come along later–so I am very hopeful that the tiredness won’t be too terrible this afternoon and so I can get some writing done this evening. I have another short story I want to reconstruct for a submissions call with a deadline later this spring; I have a story that is absolutely perfect for the call–I just need to make some serious adjustments to it (I actually borrowed the entire structure and setting of this particular story for my Joni Mitchell story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings), but I already know how to revise it and make it work; it’s just finding the time to sit down and go through the many drafts it’s already been through and figuring out how to get it done properly.

I’m also trying to decide what to read next–I have e-galleys of the new Hilary Davidson as well as the new Alison Gaylin; both look superb–but I have so many wonderful books on hand in the TBR pile already! A plethora of riches, as it were.

I’ve also fallen down a massive Louisiana history black hole, something that may come in handy when I want to write another Sherlock story. Belle Grove was one of the biggest houses in Louisiana; located in Iberville Palace not far from Nottoway–the White Castle–Belle Grove was actually pink and called the Pink Palace. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt; I can’t imagine the upkeep on a place like that, or, for that matter, the upkeep on Houmas House or Nottoway or Oak Alley must be outrageous as well. I think my version of Belle Grove will be set in my fictional Redemption Parish; I always tie my stories together, remember? The modern Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock updated “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “A Scandal in Belgravia”; why should I not title mine “A Scandal at Belle Grove”?

These are the things I think about when my mind wanders, as it is so apt to do when given such an opportunity.

And on that note, tis back off to the shower with me, and off to the office. Have a lovely Inauguration Day, Constant Reader!

Cornelia Street

I read a piece yesterday on Crime Reads about aging your characters over a series, and have to say it was interesting; certainly, it make one Gregalicious stop and think–muse, really.

I was–doubtless like any number of Agatha Christie readers–already aware that Poirot was already elderly and retired from the police force in his first case, The Mysterious Affair at Styles; by the 1960’s when he was still solving cases he would have had to have been, per the piece, about 130 years old. Likewise, Miss Marple was already an elderly woman when she debuted in the 1930’s in Murder at the Vicarage, and while later Marple stories talked about how old and frail she was, by the time her last case–Sleeping Murder–rolled out in the 1970’s she also would have been well past one hundred. (The piece also discussed how old Nero Wolfe would have been by the time his final case was published, if the fiction matched reality.)

This is something that has been preying on my mind for quite some time, because of course, Scotty was only twenty-nine in Bourbon Street Blues (published in 2003), which, if we follow linear time, would make him around forty-six now. That’s not terribly bad–he typed as he eyes his own sixtieth birthday coming the following year–but it’s not Scotty’s age that concerns me so much as the age of everyone else in the series. If Scotty is forty six and the youngest Bradley child, and Storm was old enough to be a senior in high school when Scotty was in eighth grade–that puts Storm firmly at around fifty-one, which would put Scotty’s parents into their seventies and his grandparents in their nineties–at the very least. Scotty is actually younger–I didn’t follow linear time in the series (Katrina forced me to start aging him; I had intended for him to be twenty-nine forever)–and so he actually was 29 in 2004 and turned thirty just before Katrina–but that only shaves about a year off his age. I’ve not wanted to deal with the deaths of his grandparents or his parents becoming frailer with age, so I just pretend when I write about them that they’ve not aged. Scotty has, but they haven’t–and also, Frank is pushing sixty himself now no matter how I arrange the ages and timing of the series, and still wrestling professionally. Again, I’ve not really wanted to deal with the age issues–he retired after twenty years of service with the FBI, as a matter of fact–retiring in the period between Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo, but I have intellectually accepted the fact that Frank is probably going to have to step away from the ring and the bright lights; it’s just a matter of when. I’ve always wanted to do a Scotty case built around the professional wrestling promotion Frank works for and will need to be retiring from; this was always going to be the premise behind Redneck Riviera Rhumba…but a Scotty book not set in New Orleans?

Anyway, I’ve really not wanted to deal with the deaths of Scotty’s grandparents, but I also know I am eventually going to have to–I can’t keep having them be just an amorphous age known as “old” and live to be over a hundred (although people do live that long, but it’s patently absurd that all four of his grandparents are remarkably long-lived; perhaps I’ll start killing off the Bradley side of the family first. I never liked the Bradley side, but have always had a soft spot for the Diderots.)

I can probably get away without killing the grandparents off for another couple of books, but…the clock is ticking. Although a Bradley death being the springboard for another case would be interesting. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I also discovered an interesting location in Louisiana yesterday, Fort St. Philip. And yes, while that may not be completely factually correct–I’d heard of it vaguely before as one of the Mississippi River forts below New Orleans that were built to help defend the city–I’d never really learned much about it, but yesterday I discovered this weird abandoned location was actually home to a religious cult from 1978-1989, when they all moved away. Interesting, no? I could easily do a Sherlock story back in the 1910’s set there, or even have it be a weird Scotty story, or even simply a stand alone; an abandoned fort once home to a religious cult is like the perfect setting for a horror novel as well, isn’t it? Hmmm. I could also do all three, frankly; a Sherlock story in 1916; a Scotty story in the present; and a horror novel at any time. SCORE.

I did watch The Conversation while I was making condom packs yesterday, and am really glad I did. The film was incredibly timely when it was released back in 1974; the Nixon administration was crumbling because of it’s illegal electronic surveillance of the McGovern campaign, and the ensuing cover-up–although Francis Ford Coppola knew none of that would be the case when he wrote and directed the film. It was also overshadowed by his other film release that year–The Godfather Part II–which is really a shame. The Conversation has a plot, of course–and a pretty decent one–but the film is really a character study of Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who works pretty much alone and is legendary in his field–which few people really know about. The entire film hinges on the performance of Gene Hackman in the lead, and it’s one of Hackman’s best performances, understated and nuanced and completely immersive; I don’t think he got an Oscar nomination for this but he definitely should have–and it should have been a very close race for him. The film opens with Harry and his team–mostly hirelings, as he prefers generally to work alone–following and recording a young couple (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) as they walk around a crowded Union Square. Harry is also haunted by one of his greatest achievements–he managed to eavesdrop and record a conversation between a corrupt union boss and an accountant about their embezzling of union funds; the boss assumed the accountant had talked and had people kill not only him, but his wife and children in a particularly brutal way. Harry looks at every job as a challenge, and his particular genius is conquering jobs most experts reject as impossible. But after those murders, Harry is beginning to question his own morality and his own ability to distance himself from what results from him doing his job…and as the film progresses, he begins to distrust his own client, and suspects the client (played by Robert Duvall and only ever known as “the Director”) is going to murder the young couple–the woman happens to be his wife. (A beautiful, very young pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford plays the Director’s assistant, and Harry’s contact–and his motivations are also murky and peculiar.) Harry is already paranoid–he refuses to have a phone in his apartment, and early in the film gets a post office box so no one will have his address–and watching the paranoia and fear build in him throughout the film is very impressive. It really captures the cynicism and paranoia of the 1970’s; it could be considered a defining film of the decade, and is definitely an excellent addition to your own Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

I also watched an old horror movie from the 1980’s called Witchboard, which I had enjoyed at the time but now–well, calling it “terrible” is actually a complement. The script is bad, the dialogue is bad, the cast has no chemistry together, and none of the relationships make any sense. The cast, led by Todd Allen (who is supposedly hot and sexy–okay, 1980’s straight masculinity), Tawny Kitaen (perhaps best known for the Whitesnake music video for “Here I Go Again”, for dancing erotically on the hood of a car; this film definitely answers any questions anyone might have about Kitaen’s acting abilities–they are virtually non-existent) and Stephen Nichols, who would go on to great fame on soaps like Days of Our Lives (as Patch) and General Hospital (as a Cassadine in love with Genie Francis’ Laura Spencer), but is frankly terrible in this. It came in late for the Halloween Horror Film Festival, but dear Lord, it is terrible. I have yet to decide which films to watch during today’s condom packing adventures, but I did find some more interesting looking 70’s films–along with some really terrible-looking horror movies from the 1970’s on.

And of course, there is always a lot of writing for me to do; volunteer work, and so forth….but I intend to really enjoy this weekend as much as I can. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, as I put on my helmet and once again head to the spice mines.

King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

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

My Love

Monday morning gave me no warning, of what was to be.

Heavy sigh.

I’m still reeling from a highly productive day yesterday that, ultimately, achieved nothing. Writing the first chapter of a new Chanse novel–when I had thought I was finished with the character, outside of short stories–was probably not the smartest way to go with my work, but at the same time I’m not terribly upset by it or see the day as wasted. I did managed to write over three thousand words in less than two hours, and they were actually good words, ones that I probably won’t be discarding if I decide I want to work on this more–I can always keep it there in my back pocket, and if I get stuck on something else I’m working on, I can work on it, and therefore never lose a day to not being able to figure out what’s going to happen next with anything.

Sigh. I told you I have creative ADD. The struggle is real, yo.

I’ve not worked on the WIP now for two solid weeks, which is completely insane. I’d hoped to have the first draft finished by the end of June–which now is not very bloody likely–so I could move back to the Kansas book and get it revised by the end of July. I’d like to keep to that schedule somewhat; if I can somehow manage a chapter a day on the WIP I’d be awfully close to finished by the end of the month, and the revisions on the Kansas book might actually allow me to go back and forth between the two throughout July. It would be awesome to have both finished by the end of July, although not very probable; the heat here is going to start picking back up again (it’s already in the nineties every day) and the heat and humidity are such energy drains. My preference for a New Orleans summer would be to never go outside unless absolutely necessary; that unfortunately isn’t possible, so I try to deal with it the best I can…which is changing my socks regularly, washing my face every few hours, and praying for October to arrive.

Football season is also just around the corner, and experts are predicting terrific seasons for both LSU and the Saints; we’ll see how that goes.

I started reading Howard Zinn’s The Twentieth Century over the course of the weekend; while I still want to keep up with the Diversity Project–which has been amazing so far–I think I might spend the summer reading mostly non-fiction. I have all these books about New Orleans history, as well as Louisiana history, and I really should start making my way through those as well. The primary problem, of course, being that reading nonfiction often kickstarts my creativity genes into gear and I start coming up with other ideas for stories and novels–as it is, if I spent the rest of my life writing the ideas I’ve already had, I’d never be able to finish writing them all, so having new ideas all the time is hardly the best thing for me…although don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want my creativity to ever just completely shut down on me, either.

I can’t imagine ever having my creativity just completely shut down.

I hope it never happens–although I always worry it will.

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

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Lowdown

I woke up to a major thunderstorm around seven this morning, and quite frankly, curled up under my blankets even more and went back to sleep. I didn’t wind up getting out of bed until after nine, which felt lovely and now I feel wide awake while well rested at the same time, which is actually quite nice. I need to run to the UPS Store today, pick up the mail and a prescription, stop by the bank, and make groceries at some point, but ugh, how horrible to do this in the rain. It’s supposed to rain here all day, alas. But that will certainly encourage me to get them done as quickly as possible so I can get home.

Today I need to also do some more cleaning around the house, and at some point I am going to close the browsers so I can focus on writing. I want to push through these revisions of these chapters of the WIP, and I’d also like to push through and get a strong revision of “And the Walls Came Down” done, so I can submit it to some markets this week. My short story for next week will be the “The Problem with Autofill,” which is a strong story but the ending needs to be altered and changed somewhat. I still like the concept of the story–it’s kind of a Sorry Wrong Number thing, only with email–but I’m still not sure how to make it work completely.  But I still persist in trying to make it work. I also would like to work some more on “Please Die Soon,” which I think is a terrific idea for a story, and I’ve done the requisite research to make it work, methinks. I really want to stick to this goal of either revising a short story or finishing an incomplete first draft of one every week.

Goals. Must stick to goals.

I survived Costco yesterday, my checking account less scathed than usual–although it easily could have become Sherman’s March to the Sea. Yet I was able to resist, and came very close to staying within the budget I set for the trip–and had I not bought two books off the book table (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis; the Owens was nominated for an Edgar while the Davis won the Pulitzer Prize) I would have stayed under budget.

The book table is always my downfall.

And while I didn’t accomplish near as much as I probably should have yesterday, I did manage to get some chores done, some of them loathsome, so that’s a win for the end of the week, methinks. The key is what I can get done today and tomorrow…and my primary focus has to be on writing. Once I get the writing gears dusted off and oiled, I am hoping I will be able to get the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of May (there’s a three day holiday this month as well, which I am really looking forward to enjoying).

The Gulf itself looks interesting. Most American histories, of course, focus on the Atlantic colonies and the spread westward from there; there really isn’t anything taught about the history of the Gulf of Mexico–which, once Florida, Louisiana and Texas passed into American hands, basically became an enormous American lake–and I am very interested in becoming better acquainted with this history. It can, after all, only help, since most of my fiction work is focused on the Gulf states. The more Louisiana history I know, and read, the better I feel my fiction will become.

I think once I finish Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things my next book will be either Rachel Howzell Hall’s All the Way Down or Joseph Olshan’s Lambda nominated mystery, Black Diamond Fall. I’m greatly enjoying the Mason novel, and perhaps at some point today, once I’ve run the errands and done the cleaning and written all I need to write today, I might curl up in the easy chair with The Hidden Things and make some serious headway on it. I also have an article to write and another column to start planning for. And yes, it does all seem a bit overwhelming, but what I need to do is make a list and just start checking off boxes.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Against the Wind

Yesterday I only managed to revise one chapter, but I am chalking that up as a win. I figured if I do one chapter a day it’ll be done by the end of the month, and there will be days when I’ll revise more than one, which will put me further ahead of schedule. This weekend I managed to get caught up–I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, but what I did get done caught me up again, and that’s really what I needed to have happen. And it did. So, that’s a win.

I don’t know why I am so hard on myself.

Seriously.

I’ve not decided what to read next. I checked Caleb Roehrig’s White Rabbit, a queer y/a, out from the library, but I kind of also want to read either Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett or Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, which is a vampire novel set in Mexico City and comes highly recommended by my horror peeps. I’ve got an entire pile of diverse books, including John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning, Kristen Lepionka’s The Last Place You Look,  Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, Chester Himes’ If He Hollers Let Him Go and Cotton Comes to Harlem, Frankie Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies…so many wonderful diverse books–and there’s even more than that. I know I have a Rachel Howzell Hall book on the shelves somewhere, and it might not, actually, be a bad idea to dive into some New Orleans/Louisiana history…decisions, decisions.

There are, frankly, worse things in life, to be honest, then being unable to decide which book you want to read next.

I think my sleep schedule is finally stabilizing. I slept very well on Sunday evening and as such, wasn’t tired even after a twelve hour shift yesterday when I got home. We’ll see how tired I am tonight when I get home from work after day two of twelve hour shift; but instead of working straight through, I have a doctor’s appointment in between testing shifts so I’ll be doing that instead…and since I’ll be over in that part of time, am going to treat myself to Five Guys for lunch. Huzzah for Five Guys!

One can never go wrong with a delicious burger. And Cajun fries to go with it. YUM.

Ever since the Great Data Disaster of 2018, I’ve felt disconnected in some ways to all the projects I was brainstorming before it happened…which is why I think reading some local history might just do the trick of reenergizing me with the Monsters of New Orleans project. My life is so defined by said Data Disaster that I can hardly remember what was going on before it happened, and I’ve felt, as I have said numerous times, disconnected, and not just from Monsters of New Orleans, but from everything, and when I try to get everything back on track, it just seems like all those things are adrift in fog and I can’t quite get my hands on them again.

Which, obviously, sucks. But it’s life.

I had all kinds of plans for the future before a little disruption called Hurricane Katrina came along, too. And the time before the evacuation seems like it was a million years ago, and I can barely remember the time evacuated or the time after I returned, or that first year back in the carriage house. My memory is a sieve–and I used to have the most insane memory! I could remember all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys titles in order, and could even tell you the plots. I used to be able to remember details about every book I’d read, including plot and characters and scenes. I used to be amazing at Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. Not so much anymore, sadly. I like to think I am forgetting things now because there’s so much more to remember, and some things are getting crowded out by new memories…but I think it’s more a symptom of being older than anything else.

Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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