He Stopped Loving Her Today

I put off making a grocery run from Saturday to Sunday, like a fool, only to discover the Baronne Street Rouse’s closed for Easter this year; I decided not to go to the one in Uptown because I didn’t feel like driving all the way down there only to find out the drive had been in vain. I did stop at the gas station–filled it up for slightly more than fifteen dollars, something that’s never happened since I bought the thing–and then at Walgreens to get a few things I could get there. It was weird navigating the empty streets of New Orleans; I was reminded very much of that time post-Katrina when I came back and most of the city was empty. I itched to turn stop lights into stop signs–and at one point did stop at a stop sign and wait for it to change. It was weird, very weird–the vast emptiness of streets that are usually filled with cars and seeing more people than the beggars at the intersections. Had the stop lights not have been working, the similarities would have been even eerier.

And of course, people were going through red lights and ignoring all rules of traffic, because they clearly were the only people our driving. #cantfixtrash

I managed to eke out another thousand words on the Sherlock story,  and I was enormously pleased to make some sort of progress.  It’s very weird because I am trying out the Doyle voice and style–which I am neither familiar with nor used to–which makes the going perhaps slower than it ordinarily would be. At least I hope that’s the case, at any rate; it’s been so long since I’ve actually written anything or worked on anything and gotten anywhere with it, I sometimes fear that I’ve fallen out of the habit and practice of writing. (I always worry the ability to write–the ability to create–is going to go away and leave me, particularly in time of crisis; my reaction to the Time of Troubles, sadly, wasn’t to retreat into my writing but rather to stop almost entirely.)

Yesterday was rather delightful; the entire weekend was lovely. It’s always nice to get rest, to sleep well, to be able to read and occasionally do some writing. I am very deep into Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting and, while I do distinctly remember enjoying the book when I read it, I am loving it more than I would have thought (as I have with the other recent Stewart rereads); perhaps as a writer myself and an older person, it resonates more? I can appreciate the artistry more? I don’t know, but I am really glad I decided to revisit Stewart novels I’ve not read in decades again. I just can’t get over how she brilliantly she undercuts the governess/Jane Eyre trope, and how easily she does it. Truly remarkable. I also finished it before bed, and it’s marvelous, simply marvelous–and will be the subject of another blog post.

We started watching Devs on Hulu last night, which people have been raving about, and while I give it a lot of props for production values…it moved so slowly I kept checking my social media on my iPad. It was vaguely interesting, sort of, but we just couldn’t get vested in it–there was a bit of a show-offy nature to it; like they were going overboard in saying see how good we are? We’re an important show and we’re going to win all the Emmys. I doubt we’ll go back to it, especially since Killing Eve is back, and Dead to Me is coming back for its second season; something else we watch was also returning relatively soon, too–and of course, I just remembered I pay for CBS All Access; not sure why, but there are some shows on there I’d like to watch, like the new Star Trek shows and Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone. (But you see what I’m saying about paying too much for too many streaming services? I really need to pay more attention to that, and one of these days I’m going to need to sit down, figure out what we need and what we don’t need, and cut some of these services off once and for all.

I think my next reread for the Reread Project is going to be the first in Elizabeth Peters’ amazing Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank. There’s an Amelia Peabody fan account on Twitter (@teamramses) that I follow; they usually post quotes from the books and occasionally run polls, and they also reminded me of how I discovered the series. I originally found it on the wire rack (when I replied to the tweet, I got it wrong; I said I found it on the paperback rack at Walgreens; wrong drug store chain) of paperbacks at a Long’s drugstore in Fresno. I was still deep in the thrall of Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Mary Stewart at the time, and here was another romantic suspense novel SET IN EGYPT, by an author I didn’t know. I absolutely loved the book, and looked for more books by Elizabeth Peters the next time I went to Waldenbooks at the mall–but they didn’t have any, and eventually I forgot about her. Flash forward many years, and a title of a new paperback on the new releases rack at Waldenbooks and More jumped out at me: The Last Camel Died at Noon. What a great title! I had to buy it, took it home, and started reading it….and you can imagine my delight, and joy, to discover that Crocodile on the Sandbank was not, in fact, a stand alone, but rather the first in a series I was bound to love. I went back and started the series over from the beginning, collecting them all, and I also started buying them as new releases in hardcover because I couldn’t wait for the paperback. It might not actually be a bad idea to revisit the entire series…I also think The Last Camel Died at Noon (it’s still one of my favorite titles of all time) was when I discovered Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels were both the pseudonyms of archaeologist Dr. Barbara Mertz, and I went on a delightful period of reading all of their backlists as well.

One of my biggest regrets of my writing career–in which I’ve met so many of my writing heroes–is that I was never able to meet Dr. Mertz before she died. She was going to be the guest of honor at the first Malice Domestic I attended, but she was too ill and she died shortly thereafter. But one thing I learned, from reading all of her books–but especially the Peters novels–was that humor can work in a suspense/mystery novel, and can make a reader engage even more with it. Dr. Mertz was also a master of the great opening line. In one of the Vicky Bliss novels, for example–I think Silhouette in Scarlet–opens with this treasure: “I swear, this time it was not my fault.”

And while I have been cleared to return to work today, my failure in deciding to wait until Easter to go to the grocery store, as well as forgetting an integral and necessary part to my working at home today at the office over a week ago means that I decided to use today as a vacation day, and try to get all the remaining loose odds and ends (mail, groceries) taken care of today, and return to the actual office tomorrow. (I am going to do the windows today if it kills me.) Yesterday we were supposed to have bad thunderstorms, and while the air got thick and heavy, it never actually rained here–although the rest of Louisiana was blasted with these same storms that somehow chose to avoid New Orleans–there were even tornadoes in Monroe.

The weirdest thing to come out of this whole experience has been my sudden, new addiction to my Kindle app on my iPad, which has me thinking that I can do a massive purge/cull  of my books now, keeping only the ones I can’t replace, if needed, as ebooks. I’ve avoided reading electronically for so long, but I find with my Kindle app I can just put the iPad to the side for a little while and pick it up again when I have a moment or so to read. I tore through all the Mary Stewart novels I’ve reread recently on the Kindle app, and that’s where my copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank is. I doubt that I’m going to get rid of all my books any time soon–there are still some I want to keep, obviously, and it’s not like I can afford right now to go to the Amazon website or the iBooks one and replace everything right now anyway…but then again, I think, you’d only need replace them when you’re ready to read them, right?

I am literally torn here.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I made some great progress on the Sherlock story–it now clocks in at over two thousand words, and I’d like to get a working first draft finished, if not today, then before the weekend so I can edit it and the other story that’s due by the end of the month as well over the course of the weekend. April is beginning to slip through my fingers, and while I am still not completely certain of what day it is every day, I’m getting better about figuring it all out.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

gabe2kepler

Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Well, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 in Louisiana has now jumped to 867, with 20 deaths; by my brain calculator that is somewhere between 2 and 3 percent, which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible. As we start amping up our testing here–and I suspect my day job is going to eventually become a testing center–the numbers will only continue to rise, which means an even longer period of self-isolation and this “shelter-at-home” order.

As I said to a friend earlier this morning, I’ve seen New Orleans this empty and quiet before; it’s just weird that a hurricane isn’t involved. I realized yesterday I was sort of expecting there to be an evacuation order eventually in my subconscious, which is where this sense of anxious waiting was coming from. And of course, once I realized my mind had lapsed into “hurricane prep mode”, the anxiousness went away.

I didn’t do much writing yesterday, but I’m fine with it, really. I’m going to try to focus today, and at least finish the revision of one story while hopefully getting to work on another. All of these writing projects, the ones that began before the virus outbreak, seem like they are from a different place and time; almost as though they are someone else’s stories. But that’s okay, really; I am hoping that I’ll be able to start focusing better now that I’ve achieved what passes for mental stability around here. I’ve decided to start reading short stories, picking up the Short Story Project again because my attention span doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to reading longer works of fiction at the current moment. I tried getting back into the book I was reading before all of this started, but unfortunately it had been so long I couldn’t really remember what was going on and who the characters were, so I sadly put it aside. I also am not sure where this came from, but I am going to look for my copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; although now that I think about it more, I think someone was making a joke about watching the movie. I’ve not read the story but am vaguely familiar with it; I think it takes place during a cholera outbreak in Venice which is why someone mentioned it on Twitter yesterday. I refreshed my vague memory of what Death in Venice is about, and I began to wonder–how much of Daphne du Maurier’s is an homage/pastiche to Death in Venice? I had also been thinking about rereading “Don’t Look Now,” perhaps I should read them back to back to get a grasp on whether there is anything to the thesis. As one of my many projects-in-progress is set in Venice, it cannot hurt to read other works about Venice, and my own story was sort of an homage to “Don’t Look Now” in some ways, so yeah, it can’t hurt.

I also want to get some straightening/organizing done in the living room, which has been let go for far too long. Books are piled up everywhere, I haven’t vacuumed in God knows how long, and every time I sit in my easy chair to watch something on the television, I get a little perturbed looking around at the settled dust and so forth. It’s also time to do another cull of the books; I have books I haven’t read that I’ve forgotten that I own, and if reading short stories again will get me reading muscles flexed and warmed up and ready to go again, it’s not a bad idea to start looking through the stacks to see what I want to read next. Maybe something by Michael Koryta? He’s one of my favorite writers, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and then there also my Alafair Burke backlist; some Daphne du Mauriers I’ve not read yet; and so it goes.

Having so many unread books by so many talented authors around the house makes it  hard to decide what to read next–especially when you’re also trying to reread things.

SO, for now, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee, curl up in my easy chair with du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” and once I am finished reading that, I’ll find my copy of Death in Venice and read it before heading back to the computer to finish revising this short story, and then I’m going to try to get everything organized that I need to get organized so I can sail into the week prepared and ready for whatever challenges the pandemic will be sending my way.

Have a lovely Sunday.

antmadam

Will the Circle Be Unbroken

I always forget how noisy New Orleans is until it’s silent.

Today I went into the office to help screen clients before they enter our facility. There are times when it feels silly to ask everyone the questions we do–basically, we run through the COVID 19 symptoms and ask if they are having them–and then we squirt hand sanitizer on their hands, give them a small personal hand sanitizer dispenser that had a loop to go on their keychain, and then let them in. Today was our syringe access program, which made this trickier and a bit more complicated–and it was all set-up last minute and pulled together by the program coordinator. It went remarkably smoothly, with only a few hiccups, and I was amazed yet again by how remarkably my co-workers can rise up to meet a crisis, pitch in, and get it done.

I left the office at quarter past five, walking out to my where my car was parked. ALong the way several strangers, just out walking or from the neighborhood, all called out to me to “stay safe” as I passed them; again, the people of New Orleans are a unique brand of Americans, and I really wish sometimes the rest of the country could be more like we are here when it comes to certain things. But I got into my car to drive home–stopping at the grocery store again on the way–and was stunned to see little to no traffic on I-10. I managed to get to Rouse’s, do my shopping, check out, and drive home–during the busiest part of the day, on a Friday–in less than thirty-five minutes. A lot of the shelves in the store were empty, lots of staples (rice, bread, milk) long gone; but it was also interesting to see what was missing and what was there. Who knew breakfast sausage was an item in huge demand during a quarantine? But there was lots of bacon. Go figure.

But it was the silence that was the eeriest thing about the entire adventure. Silence. As I put the groceries into the car, no sound. As I drove home from Rouse’s, I didn’t connect the phone to the stereo, instead choosing to listen to the silence. I saw a couple of people waiting for the oncoming streetcar (which was empty). The cops were chasing some people out of Tacos and Beer–not sure what that was about–but the bar on the corner was dead silent. My neighborhood was dead silent. No noise, no music, no car engines, no voices, no nothing. It was kind of like that weird post-Katrina period after I returned in October 2005; this weird, eerie silence in a usually bustling city full of life and laughter; like something out of a post-apocalyptic film or television program.

And after I put the groceries away, I realized how exhausted I am. I collapsed into my desk chair, and exhaustion just swept through my body like an electrical charge. I can feel the tension in my shoulders, and my lower back is tight as well. I definitely need to spend some time this weekend relaxing. I also need to try to get some writing done. Is everyone else worn out and tired? This fucking week, this fucking month, this shitshow of a fucking year.

Our mayor did issue a “shelter-in-place” order today, but most of the businesses affected by the order had already shut down (although I am wondering if that’s what the cops were doing at Tacos and Beer); my job is exempt from this, even though the Louisiana Office of Public Health has suspended all STI testing in clinics like ours throughout the state, with no end date in sight. New Orleans is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the disease, as we knew it would–so much socializing, so much partying, so much Carnival (despite it being apparently cursed) and so many tourists. Everyone hugs and kisses cheeks as a greeting. It’s a very social and sociable city; our whole mentality here is about spending time with people you care about and enjoying your life as much as you can.

And now, I am going to go open a bottle of Chardonnay and drink myself into a stupor watching highlights of LSU’s 2019 football season BECAUSE I CAN.

Hope you all are safe, and okay, and taking care of yourselves.

adam hagenbuch 1

I Believe in You

GEAUX TIGERS!

I love my LSU Tigers.

Someone asked me the other day if I had gone to LSU, and I had to admit that I hadn’t. I am not an alumnus of my favorite university. I do not have memories of college days walking to class in the shade of  the magnolias and live oaks, of going to Tiger Stadium and sitting in the student section and going crazy on Saturday nights.

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I didn’t go to an SEC college; and if I had, my parents would have most likely sent me to Auburn–and given how regularly LSU beats Auburn, that certainly would have made living here problematic! I grew up rooting for Auburn first and then Alabama–but I always liked LSU. I liked their colors, I liked that they had a live tiger, and I loved that their stadium was so insanely loud. I started paying more attention to LSU when we moved here, obviously–and Paul also started rooting for LSU. The year of Katrina I pushed Auburn aside once and for all for LSU, and I’ve never looked back.

And of course I should be an LSU fan, even though I didn’t go to school there. I live in Louisiana, and my tax dollars support LSU, so I have some ownership there.

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And have I come to love the Tigers over the years. I vividly remember, for example, the 1997 upset of Florida, ranked number one and riding an incredibly long–23 or so games–winning streak in the SEC. I remember the upset of Tennessee in 2000, and the shocking upset of Tennessee to win LSU its first SEC title in over ten years in 2001. The national championship years of 2003 and 2007. The upset of Georgia in 2003 that told the country LSU had arrived. The “and Flynn is back to throw…to the end zone and it’s CAUGHT! Are you kidding me?” last second win over Auburn in 2007, the nine minute drive to beat Florida that same year, the trouncing of Ohio State in New Orleans for the national title.

We went to our first game in Tiger Stadium in 2010, the Mississippi game–and after being there once, there was never any chance of looking back or rooting for anyone else. We became ride or die LSU fans that night–and have gone to at least one game every season ever since. And it’s not been easy–there have been some highs, there have been some terrible lows, inexplicable losses and the firing of Coach Miles, the questions about Coach O when he was hired, that loss to Troy…but the loss to Troy was a turning point for the Tigers. Just as in 2000 under Coach Saban LSU lost to Louisiana-Monroe, only to turn everything around and win a national title three years later…here we are two years after the Troy loss, with probably one of the biggest turn arounds in college football history.

The coach no one wanted. The quarterback who didn’t play for three years at Ohio State. The two star receiver no one wanted. The running back who was told he was too small to play major college football.

A season that almost seemed like the plot of a movie, one of the greatest stories in the history of college football.

And tonight is the night; the official end of the college football season with LSU playing for the national championship in New Orleans, in the Superdome, against the defending national champion Clemson Tigers. Tigers v. Tigers.

If someone had told me at the beginning of the season, way back in late August, that LSU would be playing for the national championship at the end of the season, I would have thought well, one can always dream, of course.

And yet, here we are, exactly where Joe Burrow said we would be at SEC Media Days, when he also said LSU would be scoring 40, 50 , 60 points per game.

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And with only a couple of exceptions, he was right. Only Auburn held LSU to less than thirty points; but the final score of that game (23-20) doesn’t really give an accurate indication of what the game was like; LSU trailed 3-0 early but never trailed again, and Auburn scored in the closing seconds of the game to pull that close. LSU never trailed anyone for very long this season; they trailed Florida 28-21 for a long period in the third quarter before tying it up and then scoring twice more to finish them off. Texas led 7-3 before LSU went on a tear and was up 20-7 at the half, and never looked back.. Alabama (ALABAMA, yes, THAT Alabama, who’d beaten LSU eight straight times while establishing itself as THE marquee program) never led, and never got closer than within three after LSU’s first touchdown. We were ahead of Alabama 33-13 at half-time.

I still can’t get over that.

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This season has been a magic carpet ride for LSU fans, it really has. The entire state has fallen in love with Joe Burrow–he’s as exalted almost as much as Drew Brees, and when you consider the fact that Brees is practically King of Louisiana, you can perhaps get an idea of how much the state loves our Ohio transplant. (Interesting that the two quarterback gods of Louisiana got there start in the Midwest playing for Big Ten teams, isn’t it? And they both wear Number 9….)

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And he won the goddamned Heisman Trophy. Only the second in LSU history–which puts him up there in the same category as legendary Billy Cannon. His number will be retired someday, and his name will be permanently mounted on the stadium with the other greats. His statue will be in front of the stadium next to Billy Cannon’s.

I only hope that the statue will be of him in what I’ve come to think of as his trademark pose–standing with a slight smile on his face, both hands grasping the neckline of his jersey in the front, pulling down on his shoulder pads.

And while I obviously want LSU to win, there’s also a part of me that thinks the national championship is just gravy on top of a magic season that will live forever in the hearts and minds of the LSU faithful. There were so many amazing moments in this season–the 3rd and 17 pass that went for the clinching touchdown against Texas; the interception against Alabama so LSU wound up scoring two touchdowns in the closing minute of the first half; the 49 points in the first half against Oklahoma–and remember, LSU was up 35-14 with four minutes left in the first half and scored twice more; that insane escape from being sacked that turned into a forty yard pass completion against Georgia; the trouncing of Texas A&M; highlight after highlight after highlight.

Usually, in past seasons, there was maybe one game, possibly two, that was legendary; this entire season has been.

And of course, this magic moment, on Senior Night, when he won the hearts of everyone in Louisiana forever:

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Legend.

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And if there’s any doubt left about how LSU fans feel about our Jeaux, check out this video, in which the Tiger Stadium staple, “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” plays over highlights from this amazing player:

So, GEAUX TIGERS. And win or lose, thank you for this season. It’s meant a lot to all of us.

You Don’t Love Me Anymore

Sunday morning, and with no Saints game today I have no excuse not to get a lot done today. It’s chilly this morning and gray outside; we still have rain in the forecast but it’s calm and quiet out there right now; perhaps the calm before the storm? Ugh, such a tired cliche–but it’s fine with me.

Yesterday I got a lot of chores done–very little writing, but the chores were necessary and of course, being the Master Procrastinator that I am; I have to have a clean apartment–or at least one that’s been straightened up some–in order to have a clear conscience enough to get work done. I now have no excuses to not get everything done that I need to get done today–but we’ll see how that goes; there’s always something.

I read another Holmes story yesterday–“The Musgrave Ritual”–which I couldn’t remember the plot of, other than remembering that it was one of my favorite Holmes stories. Like “The Gloria Scott“, it’s a “let me tell you a story” story; I really don’t remember the Holmes stories being like this, of course, but it’s something to think about as I prepare to write my own pastiche. It’s a style of writing/story-telling I’m not so certain I want to try, but then again–the entire point of me writing a Holmes story is to push myself as a writer and get better overall, so perhaps…perhaps I should try it that way and see how it goes. Anyway, as I reread it, I remembered why I liked it so much; it’s a treasure hunt story, and I absolutely love treasure hunts. At least two Scotty books–Jackson Square Jazz and Vieux Carre Voodoo, are treasure hunts.

I also rewatched the original film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, 1963’s The Haunting, directed by multiple Oscar winner Robert Wise, and starring Julie Harris as Nell. I saw this movie long before I even knew there was a book, let alone read it; my grandmother loved old black and white movies, and she especially loved crime and horror–probably where I get it from, and she also introduced me to the novels of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was very young and the film absolutely terrified me–to this day, even remembering the scene with the door expanding and contracting unsettles me. I was, of course, quite delighted as a teenager to discover it was actually a novel (I had read Richard Matheson’s Hell House, with it’s similarities to The Haunting, year earlier and wondered if he’d gotten the idea for the book from the movie), and it quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time; in fact, I believe it was Stephen King who introduced me to the novel, because the opening paragraph was an epigram to ‘salem’s Lot. But I hadn’t watched the film in years; I’d watched the horrible 1999 remake, and of course the Netflix series loosely based on the book (I do recommend the series, it’s fantastic, once you get back the fact that it’s not a faithful adaptation but kind of fan-fiction; it didn’t even have to be Hill House for the story to work, but that’s a subject for a different blog. I do recommend it, though). Julie Harris is perfectly cast as Nell, and Claire Bloom does an excellent job as Theo. There are differences between the book and the film; why they changed Dr. Montague’s name to Dr. Markway is a mystery, and the later third of the film, after his wife arrives, is vastly different from the later third of the novel, and her character is completely changed; the young man who escorts her to Hill House is also excised from the movie. But the way the film is shot–the use of light and shadow, the up angles of the camera, and the ever-so creepy claustrophobia of the enclosed house–is absolutely terrifying, and you never see what is actually haunting the house. That was the singular brilliance of the book, and Wise kept that for his film (the execrable 1999 remake went completely over the top with CGI effects and so forth; ruining the necessary intimacy of the story). I still think of it as one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and on a rewatch–the way you hear Nell’s thoughts, whispered, while Julie Harris’ eyes dart around–adds to the intimacy. I think that interior intimacy is a large factor in why the book is so fantastic, and why both book and original film work so well. The Netflix series does show the ghosts of Hill House, but it’s also done in a very subtle, unsettling way, which is why I think I liked it so much.

I also was thinking about rewatching Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but decided to hold off until I finish the reread of the book–which I am still in the midst of–I want to finish it before my trip this week, because I want to take two different books with me to read.

I did finish my reread of Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt, which was much better than I remembered, with it’s haunted monastery and ghostly monk haunting the big manor house. It’s also a terrific novel about paranoia and gaslighting; the ultimate evil scheme behind everything hinges on the heroine of the story being eventually committed to an insane asylum, and hopefully miscarrying her child, or it being born dead as a result of the confinement. Holt novels often hinged on the possibility of insanity being genetic–if the mother is insane, her child most likely will be as well–and this horror, which was probably very real in the nineteenth century, makes this book terribly unsettling. The main character, Catherine, is very strong-willed and intelligent, but she marries a man without meeting any of his family, moves into the family estate (Kirkland Revels), and then he dies in a fall from a balcony, and she returns to her father’s house; only to have to return to Kirkland Revels when she discovers she is pregnant. The combination of vulnerable and pregnant heroine being gaslit into believing she is insane was pretty unsettling to me when I originally read the novel; which is probably why it’s one of the few Holts I never took down from the shelf on a rainy afternoon and reread. Rereading it, thought, makes me appreciate the mastery apparent in Holt’s writing. She never again wrote another novel with a pregnant heroine–while some of her later novels did involve pregnancies and/or motherhood (On the Night of the Seventh Moon, The House of a Thousand Lanterns) the mystery, and the plot against the heroine, never occurred during the pregnancy. Romantic suspense, and its twin sister, domestic suspense, were a kind of “women’s noir,” in that the stories always focused on what were seen as the biggest fears for women–marrying the wrong man, danger to her child, not being able to trust your husband–were the recurring thread through all of them.

I also did manage to get some work done on the new project yesterday, which was lovely and my goal for the day. Not as much as I would like–I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t fail to achieve everything in a day that I wanted to–but enough to be satisfactory. I also came up with an idea for another Scotty, one that takes place down in the bayou–Cajun Country Cavaille–but whether I’ll write it or not remains to be seen. But I’d like to address the loss of the Louisiana wetlands at some point in print, and writing about a (probably fictional) version of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes is probably the best way to do that; I just don’t have a murder mystery to hang the story on. My interest in the Scotty (and possible resurrection of the Chanse) series is expanding outward from New Orleans to the rest of Louisiana; I’ve come to realize that not only do I love New Orleans but I also love Louisiana, frustrating and irritating as that love can be sometimes. Louisiana is so beautiful…I also want to write about the Atchafalaya basin sometime, too, and of course let’s not forget the infamous Bayou Corne sinkhole no one talks about anymore…and of course there’s Cancer Alley along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is also begging to be written about.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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O Come All Ye Faithful

I got my copy of the graphic novel Watchmen this week, and it’s way past time for me to read it; particularly since I’m loving the television series so much.

Then again, Regina King can do no wrong.

I did start reading Watchmen, and while not even halfway finished–not only am I hooked, but I am completely blown away by the story-telling…and the art is extraordinary. I can now see why it’s been talked about so much since its first publication. This is some epic story-telling, and even more amazing world-building. The storylines have layers and textures, the relationships between the characters, and the characters themselves are messy masses of contradictions and layers; it’s just simply mind-blowing how well this is done. The story itself, and how it’s structured, is also incredible. Watchmen not only lives up to all the hype–it surpasses the hype and deserves even more hype. The graphic novel is so stupendously good that it only emphasizes how incredibly well-done the show is–the show is a sequel to the graphic novel, some thirty years later.

And obviously, while it isn’t necessary for one to read the novel to watch the show, reading it does enhance the show tremendously.

I had also started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside last week–just the first few pages, getting a taste for it, and it really grabbed me. Yesterday I read the first few chapters and am also greatly enjoying it. This has been an exceptional year for crime fiction, and may even go down as one of the genre’s greatest years.

I’m now up to Prohibition in Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which was, quite naturally, an interesting time in New Orleans. I am pondering writing a crime series set during that time; the first woman police office, Alice Monahan–known as “Mrs. Officer”– worked during that time, and I think basing a series on her, dealing with everything going on in New Orleans and the country at the time; plus it’s a chance to explore the entrenched racism and misogyny of Jim Crow New Orleans.

Storyville is merely an added bonus.

Seriously, New Orleans history is so rich and vibrant, there’s material everywhere.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about Christmas in New Orleans in Royal Street Reveillon is because Louisiana’s culture is so rich and vibrant that it surprises me that we don’t have our own Christmas stories here. Sure, there’s The Cajun Night Before Christmas, which I love, but where are the other Christmas stories? As I mentioned the other day, I tried writing a Christmas fable once, “Reindeer on the Rooftop,” but it was so sentimental and sappy that it nauseated me. I tried revising it and making it more real and less sentimental for Upon a Midnight Clear, but I just couldn’t get anywhere with it. I did write one called “The Snow Globe,” which was more of a horror Christmas story, for an anthology that didn’t take it; I did get good feedback, and one of these days I’ll sit down with the story and the feedback and pull it together. Not sure where I’d try to get it published, but most likely it would go into my Monsters of New Orleans collection.

I just used the google to check, and I was correct: there are no hits on “New Orleans Christmas stories,” but broadening the search brought up an out-of-print volume called Christmas Stories from Louisiana, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins, and with quite an impressive collection of contributors. There are also some more listed here.

And wouldn’t a Hallmark Christmas movie set in New Orleans be amazing?

We even have a year round Christmas shop on Decatur Street, for Christ’s sake! (And don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind to write a series around that Christmas shop, either.)

But all these stories, at first glance, are simply plays on traditional Christmas stories–nothing new or unique to Louisiana or New Orleans.

So, maybe it’s up to me to create one?

Hmmmm.

Perhaps that is just what I’ll do.

I mean, why don’t we have something terrifying, like the Icelandic Christmas cat?

Maybe there’s a Christmas rougarou story that needs to be written.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have been itching to write for days now, and I am going to spend the morning writing. Paul and I are going to stop in to see a friend who’s  been dealing with an injury this afternoon, and then it’s back home and to the computer. Tonight is the Heisman Trophy presentation, and I imagine we’re going to tune in to that in case Joe Burrow (GEAUX JEAUX!) wins that tonight–he’s already won every conceivable quarterback award under the sun over this past week. The kid is definitely an LSU legend…and then I can finally finish and post the lengthy post I’ve been writing throughout the season about him.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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La Isla Bonita

Friday,  still on vacation, and it’s forty-seven degrees outside. It’s colder inside the Lost Apartment–New Orleans homes are built to be colder inside than outside, it’s a summer thing–and I am ensconced at my desk in sweats and a wool cap on my cold bald head. My fingers are a bit cold, but my coffee is hot and delicious. My doctor’s appointment went well, and last night I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in I don’t know how long–all I know is I slept for more then ten hours, didn’t wake up once, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning. I actually feel better than I have in weeks.

Weeks.

Today is the day I would be doing my panels at Bouchercon; I shall have to keep busy to distract myself. Yesterday, between the errands and the power outage, was highly annoying. By the time I had finished my errands and the power was back on in the Lost Apartment, I was pretty much over it, to be honest. I buckled down and started a cleaning project–starting with the refrigerator, and then I worked my way through the kitchen cabinets and drawers. I did another load of dishes and two more loads of laundry, and finally retired to my easy chair around five thirty yesterday evening. I got caught up on watching Saturdays in the South, and while it was on, brainstormed ideas and thoughts for essays, short stories, and works in progress already. I am already thinking about writing an essay collection–or rather, compiling all the essays I’ve already written into a collection, and then writing some new ones–and as I was watching the final two episodes of this exceptional history of SEC football (I highly recommend it; I actually would like to see similar docuseries on every conference, to be honest; I love history, even sports history) I started thinking about in terms of Louisiana itself, not just New Orleans; which I’ve been doing a lot more of lately. After all, LSU fans aren’t just from New Orleans, and the special feeling you get on a Saturday night in Death Valley, like we experienced at the Florida game, is a Louisiana experience. New Orleans might hold itself at arms’ length from the rest of the state, but New Orleans wouldn’t be New Orleans without Louisiana, and likewise, Louisiana wouldn’t be Louisiana without New Orleans.

And as I said in Royal Street Reveillon, New Orleans is really an island, surround by water on every side–you cannot come into,  or leave, the city without having to cross a bridge at some point. The beautiful island, the beautiful crescent.

But as I said, this is the best I’ve felt in weeks. I feel like today I can actually get some writing done; I organized and filed yesterday so my desk area is neat and tidy; so is the kitchen, which means there’s no mess to distract or prohibit me from getting writing done today, which is very exciting.

I also have an insane amount of emails to answer. There were 159 unread emails in there this morning when I woke up the computer. AIEEEE! But oddly enough, I don’t feel either defeated or intimidated…which is  an indication that I’m feeling better, isn’t it?

But I do think I need to put on some tights under my sweatpants.

We also watched the first episode of Hulu’s second season of Castle Rock last night and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as a younger version of Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes in Misery. She has the voice, the mannerisms, everything nailed to perfection. I also like that they’ve made Jerusalem’s Lot and Castle Rock basically neighboring villages; ‘salem’s Lot remains one of my (if not the) favorite vampire novels, and one of my favorites of King’s canon. I’m also curious to see if this means the paranormal aspect of this season is going to be vampires. It’s also interesting that the Merrills from “The Body” are also in this; again, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. I watched the entire first season, and while it was entertaining, it was also slightly flawed. I also don’t really remember much of the first season, outside of the terrific acting. That’s probably problematic; if you can’t remember what the show was about…how good could it have been, really?

There are three more episodes available to stream, so we should be caught up after this weekend; we’re also now a bit behind on Catherine the Great, and I also want to start watching Watchmen, in addition to the second season of Titans on DC Universe.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me–after I get those tights on.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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It Never Rains in Southern California

Less than a week until Royal Street Reveillon is officially out in the world!

And so far, no current labor pains!

But, in fairness, it took me a good long while to write this book. My memory is so bad, and I’m so constantly and regularly busy, that I don’t even remember when I actually wrote it and turned it in to my publisher. I think it was earlier this year? I don’t remember–and that’s kind of sad. This is but one of the many reasons I don’t think I’ll ever write a memoir; my memory lies to me all the time and I never know what I remember correctly, let alone times and timelines and so forth. For example, when I was writing my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” for Love, Bourbon Street, I went into it thinking I spent weeks in Kentucky at my parents’ after the evacuation, when it was actually less than three before I returned to Louisiana. That was a shock, believe me…but it’s true: we evacuated on August 28th, and I returned to New Orleans for good in early October after several weeks on the North Shore at my friend Michael’s. Stress and age and everything else combines to make things seem different in memory; and I’ve also noted, many times, how often people look back through a rosy glow of nostalgia. (I’ve always thought people view the past nostalgically because they aren’t happy, for one reason or another, in the present; they think oh, everything was so much simpler and easier back then. It’s usually not that true.)

So, Gregalicious, why did you decide to write a murder mystery built around a reality television show filming in New Orleans?

I didn’t watch An American Family, the first true reality show, back in the 1970’s on PBS, as the Loud family allowed their lives to be filmed for the entertainment of the masses. The show, which was the baseline for everything that came later, was quite controversial–I remember reading in the newspaper that one of the sons came out as gay on camera, which was kind of a big deal in the 1970’s–but in the 1990’s, I was a big fan of MTV’s sociological experiment, The Real World, and it’s sister-show that came later, Road Rules. But as the shows went on, they went from being a sociological experiment (hey, let’s take a group of seven kids from completely different backgrounds, make them live together and work on a project, and see what, if anything, they learn from each other) to being exploitative (hey, if all of them are young and beautiful and damaged, and we encourage them to drink and hook up, drama will ensue!), which was when I lost interest in watching them anymore. I also watched the game show version–The Challenges–primarily because the young men were always hot, often shirtless, and sometimes even less clad than that, plus watching the competitions was interesting. But it, too, eventually paled in interest to me–they were so repetitive, and the producers never intervened when violence broke out, and that was more often than not–and so I stopped watching.

The Real Housewives was different for me. Back in the day, we used to watch Bravo a lot–Inside the Actor’s Studio, Project Runway, reruns of Law and Order and The West Wing–and when they started promoting a new show they were doing called The Real Housewives of Orange County, I sniffed disdainfully at it. At that time, one of the hottest shows on network television was Desperate Housewives, and this seemed to be a rip-off, an attempt to cash in on the success of another network’s show by copying the title and so forth: “oh, if you like that show, here’s the real women of the area who are housewives, and what there lives are like.” The previews I’d see didn’t really encourage me to watch–the women seemed, for the most part, like horrible people, particularly Vicki Gunvalson–but as the show spawned spin-off shows in other cities and regions, I became more than passingly acquainted with them. They usually ran marathons on Sundays, and when it’s not football season Sunday television was pretty much a wasteland. I’d flip on the marathon for background noise while I read a book and Paul napped on the couch–but I also began to absorb the shows through a kind of osmosis. I knew who the women were and what their lives were like–but still didn’t watch regularly until around 2010, or 2011 or so.

And once I started giving Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills my full attention–yeah, I was hooked.

Paul would even watch with me from time to time…and we played a game: if they did a New Orleans version, who would they cast? It was fun, because we also were relatively certain none of the women we thought would kill it on such a show would ever remotely consider doing such a show (Southern Charm New Orleans proved us right), and then I began to think…but such a show here would be absolutely the perfect background for a murder mystery, because of the way everyone here is so connected to everyone else and there would be backstory and history galore.

I always saw it as a Scotty book, but when I turned it into the Paige novella, that changed things. I still wanted to do a Scotty book about a reality show, and I started making notes for one called Reality Show Rhumba. And, if you’re wondering, that’s where the character of Frank’s nephew Taylor Wheeler came from; when I added him to the regular cast of characters for the Scotty series, my intent was to have him eventually be case in a Real World-type show here in New Orleans, and anchor a murder mystery. But then…the Paige novella series went nowhere, and I hated losing such a great idea..so as I went into Garden District Gothic I introduced Serena Castlemaine to the boys, thus planting the seeds for Royal Street Reveillon, knowing I could keep some parts of the story but would have to change others–which was cool, because I always felt that the original novella was kind of rushed, and I didn’t have either the time–or the space (since novellas are by nature shorter)–to make the story what I wanted it to be.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Crocodile Rock

Oh, Louisiana.

My beautiful, beautiful state. Louisiana is basically a lush, fertile state chock full of important natural resources, and also sports the nickname “Sportsmen’s Paradise,” because outdoor sports–hunting, fishing, etc.–are abundant here. Lots of hunting, lots of fishing, that sort of thing.

But Louisiana also is known for corruption, being backwards in many ways, and some truly bizarre politics/politicians. It’s easy to say that Louisianans have a very cynical view of politics and politicians–no one is really surprised when one of our elected officials is caught doing something criminal or morally questionable; the basic presumption is that they’re all crooks and liars unless proven otherwise. We can never forget that one gubernatorial election featured bumper stickers and campaign slogans that read Vote for the crook, it’s important–when Governor Edwards, convicted for taking bribes in office, was running again after serving time and his opponent was notorious racist and former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

And for the record, that election was in the early 1990’s–not that long ago.

As I said yesterday, I watched a four hour documentary on Hulu this past week called Murder in the Bayou, about what is called the “Jeff Davis 8”–eight women murdered over a period of less than three years in and around the Jefferson Davis Parish village of Jennings. The women all  had issues with drugs, and also came from really poor backgrounds. The documentary was interesting, and seemed geared to the idea that there was a serial killer operating in the parish–and for some reason, the cops simply couldn’t track said killer down, and eventually the killings stopped.

I also remembered that there was a book about the murders, with the same title, by New Orleans journalist Ethan Brown, and I had a copy. So, after I finished watching the documentary Friday afternoon, I got the book down from the shelves and looked to see if there were any photographs included. There weren’t–just the flyer with the reward posted, with photos of all the victims on it. I started reading…

murder in the bayou

On May 20, 2005, Jerry Jackson, a soft-spoken slim African-American retiree with a short salt-and-pepper Afro, prepared to cast a fishing line from a hulking bridge over the Grand Marais Canal on the outskirts of Jennings in southwest Louisiana. Jackson peered down at the muddy rush below, the corroded, cylindrical rain pipes along the canal belching water, the collapsed pedestrian bridge far out in the distance. As he prepped his fishing line, Jackson imagined the catch that day, white perch, a small bass with a strong spine that’s so abundant in Louisiana it’s the state’s official freshwater fish. In low-lying southwest Louisiana, where rain is constantly siphoned to prevent flooding, drainage canals are as common as the perch. These canals provide sustenance for poor Louisianans for whom fishing is both a generations-old tradition and a day-to-day necessity. For hobbyists such as Jackson, who made the approximately ten-mile trip to Jennings from his cramped trailer on a dead-end street in nearby Welsh, drainage canal democratize fishing. Expensive shrimp boats and fishing equipment aren’t necessary–all one needs to do is drop a line into the water.

As Jackson peered deeper into the Grand Marais Canal, he spied the outline of a human body. “It had come up on the news that someone had stole some mannequins,” Jackson told me, “so I thought that one of the mannequins ended up in the water somehow.” Jackson focused his eyes on the figure. “I saw flies, and mannequins don’t attract flies.”

It didn’t take me long to get into the book to realize there was information, crucial information, about the victims in the book that wasn’t included in the documentary; in fact, the documentary left a lot of important information out. Yes, the women all had addiction issues, but they also were sex workers–turning to sex work to either get drugs, or to get the money to buy drugs. The police didn’t cooperate much with Mr. Brown, and the sister of one of the victims played a very prominent role in the documentary; she was only mentioned by name once in the book. Brown also shared the information that many of the victims were witnesses to other crimes, and theorized they were all killed to silence them–and that it wasn’t a serial killer after all. Brown also isn’t convinced completely that the police were so inept and incompetent to handle these kinds of investigations (something that came up a lot in the documentary), but that the parish police were actually corrupt, involved in the drug trade, and connecting all the dots also led to a peripheral involvement by a powerful politician. Naturally, the police and the politician disagree with Mr. Brown’s theories and conclusions…but he also includes, in the book, other crimes in the parish that may or may not have been connected to the murders, as well as corruption within the police department; things that were not in the documentary.

One of the things that struck me, while watching and again when reading the book, is how tragic the cycle of poverty is in these small towns, not just in Louisiana, but across the country. The class divide–marked in Jennings by literally railroad tracks that separate the good part of town from the bad–is truly staggering; I would imagine it’s much the same in big cities only not as obvious. The poor and uneducated people in places like Jennings are trapped in a terrible cycle of poverty that they cannot seem to break, which is truly sad, and the disruptive nature of the families they were born into doesn’t help much, either. And once someone starts spiraling down into drug addiction, there’s nowhere to turn to for help getting off the drugs…and there’s no money for rehab, which is incredibly expensive.

I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to stuck like that, with no hope for the future.

The book is very well written, and it’s not terribly long; I read it in one day, and it’s a terrific read. I do recommend it, and I also recommend watching the documentary as well. I’m curious about why they chose to leave some stuff out of the documentary that’s in the book–perhaps it has something to do with both using the same title but not adapting the book or using it as source material, or something along those lines–but it’s very interesting to see the two very different takes on the murders.

And yes, learning more about these murders did, in fact, give me an idea for another Chanse novel; the first idea I’ve had for a Chanse novel since I wrote Murder in the Arts District. I can easily see fictionalizing this story, with Chanse as the investigating private eye…or someone else, really; it doesn’t have to be Chanse, and the issues at play here–the disposability of drug addicted sex workers, class distinction, and corruption in the parish power structure–are things I would love to explore in a novel.

Like I don’t have anything else to write already, right?

And now back to the spice mines.