I’d Lie

And here comes Tuesday, sliding into your week like a runner stealing home base.

Yesterday was kind of nice; we had a mellow day at the clinic, and I wasn’t terribly tired; I am getting used to getting up early, which really isn’t an issue as long as I remember to go to bed at a decent hour every evening. I never really thought this 9 to 5ish existence would ever work for me, but here I am, enjoying getting home from work with most of my evening ahead of me to read, write, hang out with Paul and Scooter, and watch some television. I was bad about reading this weekend–which should not be blamed on what I am reading (Westlake’s The Hot Rock) but rather my own scatterbrain and inability to focus. The weekend was…well, it was a weekend, of course, and I did manage to get some cleaning and organizing done. I took next week off, hoping that I’d be able to go home to see the family for the holiday but that isn’t going to be happening, so instead I will be home in the Lost Apartment, and what a great opportunity this will be for me to get caught up on things–cleaning, filing, writing, reading– as long as I don’t fall into the always happens trap of I have nine days off total, I can goof off today, can’t I?

That’s how it always starts, you know.

But….there’s a call for submissions (very short notice) that I would like to write a story for–a “monsters wreck Christmas” themed one–and while ironically that is how “The Snow Globe” originally got started (a “war on Christmas” anthology), I did have more time to compose that story. I really do like this idea of monsters wrecking Christmas. I have two deeply sentimental Christmas stories in my archive that I might be able to adapt–although rereading them will undoubtedly be painful; these original first drafts were written in 1996–but I also have another fragment that could easily be turned into something fitting this theme: “The Pestilence Maiden.” That could actually be kind of fun. But fifteen days? That’s a very short period of time for me to brainstorm and come up with something and write it, polish it, turn it in….ah, what the hell. I’ll go forward with it; the worst thing they can do is reject it, and I can always retool/rework/revise it and sell it somewhere else.

It’s what writers do.

Plus, it puts pressure on me to get things done. And apparently, pressure is something I desperately need else nothing will ever get done.

And seriously–a quick Internet search of monsters, legends and folklore of Louisiana certainly brings up a plethora of possibilities…clearly, my collection of horror stories shouldn’t be Monsters of New Orleans but Monsters of Louisiana.

You really gotta love Louisiana folklore. Seriously. I went into a definite Internet wormhole of Louisiana folklore, tradition, and terrifying supernatural creatures last evening, even dragged out my copy of Gumbo Ya-Ya..there was nothing in it about the Fee Folay (in French, le feu follet), aka the Cajun Fairy, which lures unsuspecting Cajuns to their deaths in the swamps, but it does have some information on letiche–which is either the ghost of an unbaptized child or a child taken and raised by alligators. Rather than helping me narrow my thoughts down to a single story, I now have a veritable plethora of Louisiana horrors to choose from; alas, I have already done the most famous, the rougarou, in a story (aptly titled “Rougarou”). But yeah, all this made Monsters of Louisiana look like a definite possibility; I may even be able to do both Monsters of New Orleans and Monsters of Louisiana as separate volumes.

I’ve actually never read Gumbo Ya-Ya–it was recommended to me years ago as an essential piece of Louisiana reading, so I got a copy. I think it was shortly thereafter that I found out, or realized, that any histories or Louisiana subjects covered by any of the three authors of the book (Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant, and Edward Dreyer) was at best suspect and at worst untrue; the authors were certainly ‘gentlemen of their time’ (aka deeply racist, not only in their thinking but in their writings); but it’s a nice place to start looking for information, as is their other works of New Orleans and/or Louisiana history.

I slept very well last night–we watched two episodes of Mr. Mercedes, and have only the first season finale left; Peacock insists that we pay to join if we want to watch the next season, and I really am not sure how I feel about buying another streaming service. Sure, there are things on Peacock I like (and secret: they’ve optioned a series by a friend of mine that I hope actually winds up being filmed and available), but I already am paying for so many other streaming services I don’t see how I can justify paying for another–and Hulu just let me know yesterday they are upping their price ten dollars per month. Of course, I could pay to join, finish the show, and then cancel after a month, which would be way cheaper than buying the series from either Prime or Apple…heavy sigh, I don’t know. Why is the cost of everything increasing but my salary isn’t?

Ah, well, and on that note–it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, 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.

I Forgot That You Existed

Good evening, Constant Reader! Look at this–two blogs in one day! More bang for your buck, as it were. A twofer, as Laura roils the Gulf and dances ever closer to our shores here on the Gulf Coast–although all we’re going to get here is a tropical storm effect; the state line is going to get a direct hit and I worry about Calcasieu Parish and the other Gulf parishes that are going to get hammered. I hope everyone is able to get out safely; I know they were bussing people without the means to evacuate to shelters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The storm surge–predicted to be at least twenty feet–may come as far inland as thirty miles. Lake Charles could be completely destroyed by morning.

Please, Constant Reader, keep that area in your thoughts tonight.

Hurricane season is always so traumatizing on the Gulf Coast, seriously.

It’s actually weird that New Orleans is a part of the Gulf Coast, since we really aren’t on the coast, technically; we are actually about 100 miles up the river from the Gulf of Mexico. Wow, right? But you also have to remember that’s in river miles; the river doesn’t run in a straight line to the Gulf from the port of New Orleans.

On the other hand, technically  we are on the Gulf coast, because Lake Pontchartrain isn’t really a lake, and neither is Lake Borgne. Lake Borgne is actually a very wide-mouthed bay–its opening to the Gulf is actually wider than the mouths of both Pensacola and Choctawhatchee Bays in the panhandle of Florida, and Lake Borgne opens into Lake Pontchartain through the Rigolets–a very narrow passage connecting the two “lakes” and therefore making Pontchartrain actually an extension of Borgne “bay” (Chef Menteur pass also connects the two ‘lakes’; I always forget about that one because I’ve never actually seen it, but I’ve crossed the bridge at the Rigolets, and of course, the twin spans are close to it where Pontchartrain begins to narrow towards the mouth). So, technically (Pontchartrain is shallow), a low draught boat could sail from the Gulf to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The British attack on New Orleans during the War of 1812 actually sailed into Lake Borgne, because it was faster and easier to get to the city that way than sailing up the river against the strong current. (In fairness, Lake Borgne also used to be more enclosed; those wetlands are sadly long gone.)

New Orleans geography is interesting, isn’t it?

The notorious MR-GO channel (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet), was cut from the river into Lake Borgne as a shipping channel to make it faster for ships to get from the gulf to port in New Orleans. Naturally, no one really used it, and it gained notoriety when it was a channel for Katrina storm surge to devastate St. Bernard Parish and the lower 9th ward–being nicknamed the Hurricane Highway for the devastation it was responsible for, and the fact that it was barely used didn’t help matters. Environmentalists estimate Mr. Go was responsible for the loss of over 27000 acres of wetlands; it’s now closed for good and attempts to repair the damage it caused are still underway. The wetlands always served as a barrier to hurricane storm surges–those wetlands were not only critical for the environment and for fish, birds, etc.; but they slowed storm surge as it came rushing for the dry lands.

But you know, OIL.

I generally don’t waste time on regrets; what I always call the woulda-shoulda-coulda’s. But one thing I do regret is not focusing more in my work on the environmental costs Louisiana has paid over the years; and I also regret not getting to know the rest of the state better. New Orleans is first and foremost in my heart, of course, and always will be, but falling in love with Louisiana took a longer time for me, and I do regret that. I regret the free time I used to have not being used to explore the state more, getting to know it more, understanding the incredible culture and history of this bizarre state built by river silt drained from 2/3rds of the country. I never really had a dependable car before–one that I didn’t take on a long drive without some degree of depridation and fear and crossing of fingers. Now, of course, I have a highly dependable car–but my weekends are always taken up by getting things done and the recharging of my batteries. Maybe the next time I have a three day weekend I’ll take a day and explore; there’s lots of interesting places that aren’t that far away–the old River Road, Jackson Barracks, the Battle of New Orleans battleground, and Houma…there’s so much of interest, and that’s not even crossing the lake!

Heavy thoughts as I await the storm’s outer bands to come to New Orleans–definitely a tourist who isn’t welcome here.

And on that note, I think I’m going to finish reading Lovecraft Country.

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Country Roads

I am from the South, which is probably something Constant Reader is sick of hearing about–but I feel like I always need to make that clear. While I grew up in Chicago and Kansas, I have always identified as Southern, as being from Alabama. It’s where I was born, and it’s where, as we say down here, my people are from. I was raised and shaped by natives of Alabama, who were raised and shaped and became who they were in Alabama, because of Alabama, and who identify completely as Alabamians.

I’ve now lived in the south for twenty five years this coming August 1st; even though many Southerners don’t think of New Orleans as Southern. (I would not dispute that thought, either; New Orleans is of the South but is not the same as the rest of the South…but once you cross the Orleans Parish line you are definitely back in the South, but southern Louisiana, while still similar, isn’t the same because of Acadiana.)

My relationship with the South, and with being Southern, is a complicated one, and one that I am constantly evaluating and examining, over and over again. I have pride of region, which is definitely a Southern trait; woe be to those who might condemn or stereotype or insult the region to my face. I am aware of the faults, and the flaws, and the horrors; I don’t need anyone to tell me or lecture me about its history and how it came to be the way that it is now., or of it’s racist history or of the current racism which still seems to be the majority opinion here. I’ve heard all the inbreeding jokes, and jokes about toothless people and hillbillies and white trash and people of Wal-mart and so forth; so by all means, keep them to yourselves. I also have always understood the difference between heritage and hate; I may have been very young but I remember the Civil Rights Movement vividly.

I was never a fan of Confederate statues, for example; I never understood the insistence on venerating men I didn’t consider heroes but traitors, even when I was young. I remember always thinking, but they lost, and they hated the United States, why should we revere that? The cognitive dissonance of being “patriotic Americans” while venerating those who fired upon the flag and tried to start their own country disturbed me when I was a kid and it never made sense to me, and no matter how many times the mythology of the happy slave was spoon-fed to me, whether it was Gone with the Wind (both book and movie), or any of the many other examples from fiction, film and television. The Biblical example of Pharaoh and Egypt (beyond their reject of the one God), holding the Hebrews in bondage as slaves was always right there, too.

And if might equals right, hadn’t the complete and utter defeat of the Confederacy, in such an incredibly humiliating fashion, a complete defeat that left the rebellious slave states in smoking ruins and their economy wrecked (much as Germany was after World War II), further proof that slavery and secession were wrong?

And yet it is an incredibly beautiful part of the country, whether it’s the gorgeous Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina or the massive live oaks of New Orleans, the swamps of Louisiana andthe pine forests of Mississippi and Alabama, the lower Ozarks in Arkansas, the beaches of Alabama and Florida’s Gulf Coast. Savannah and Charleston and New Orleans are beautiful cities; the college campuses of the Southern states are breaktaking in their beauty.

Driving through Mississippi and Alabama, the countryside is so beautiful, the , with the pine tree forests and the red earth, the sloping hills and flowing rivers, that it always inspires my creative brain to think about stories and writing and books. I love the South, despite all the things that are wrong with it, because it’s also a part of me, of who I am. I love its contradictions–like how when you drive through the Smoky Mountains at night you will come across three enormous crosses rising out of the fog that announce the presence of a megachurch…and the same highway exit also plays host to Triple X Super Store.

It’s also interesting that I am returning to my first real manuscript about Alabama, set in a fictional recreation of the part of Alabama from which I came originally, while reading Kelly J. Ford’s debut novel, Cottonmouths–because even though Ford’s book is about Arkansas, the small country town and its surrounding rural area is very similar to my Alabama.

From behind, the woman standing with a guy next to the Love’s Truck Stop air pump looked like any other woman: long hair, too skinny, big purse, big sunglasses. But when the woman turned and smiled, Emily’s chest tightened and her insides tingled in a forgotten but familiar way. Rumors of Jody’s return had come as whispers around town, but until now Emily had lacked proof.

A warm breeze blew petroleum fumes and cigarette smoke into her face while she sought further confirmation of who she’d seen. Gas spilled onto her hand. Startled, she released the trigger on the pump and swiped her hand across her jeans. She sheltered her eyes from the sun to scan the parking lot. But the woman and the guy were gone.

Back on the highway, Emily tried to keep her mind as empty and barren as the farmland that rolled by. When that didn’t work, she turned up the radio and hit scan, unable to settle on the station offerings from the nearest town–country or Christian or the same four pop songs on repeat interspersed with commercials for pawn shops and car lots. Midway through the miles she punched the radio off and tried to tell herself that her new fast food job and her time at home were temporary, though she’d been back a month already.

Cottonmouths is many things, all wrapped up into a compelling story told with gorgeous language. Emily, the main character, has essentially flunked out of college and is wrestling, as so many Southern queers do, with the bipolarity of a deeply Christian small town/rural upbringing struggling against her deepest secret of desire for other women. She’s an outsider, which gives her the ability to see everyone and everything around her with brighter clarity than the insiders have the chance to see–she can see the hypocrisy in her deeply Christian town, and the abhorrence of difference, which makes her feel not only like an outsider but horribly, terribly lonely. It is this lesbian desire within her that ultimately led to her flunking out of college, an inability to come to terms with who she actually is despite being raised in a way that makes her loathe who she actually is. So she has returned to the dying little town of Drear’s Bluff, with its explosive boredom, feeling like a failure for flunking out of college and terrified to admit to people outside her parents that she has failed. She can only find a part time job working fast food in nearby Fort Smith–a job she is too ashamed to admit to her parents she has had to take.

And more than anything, she feels trapped. She wants to escape this town, escape its suffocating claustrophobia, and be free–but she needs money to do that, and without money–as is all too true for most people, she cannot escape.

The return of her best friend from high school, Jody, whom she sees at the Love’s Truck Stop, is the trigger that starts the story in motion. Jody, whom the good people of Drear’s Bluff consider “white trash”, has a baby and is unmarried and living in the old trailer parked on her family’s land. Emily’s past with Jody is also fraught; her family took Jody in when she was a teenager when her mother took off, and one night Emily made a move on her–and the next day Jody was gone, back to her mother and out of her life. This guilt has always plagued Emily; wrapped up in the strict confines of the narrow-minded Christianity she was raised with, and with Jody back now, Emily isn’t so sure what she wants or needs–but those unresolved feelings of first love and desire have now bubbled back up to the surface again.

Cottonmouths is what I would call “rural Southern noir;” while crime and criminal activity is a driving force to the story, it’s also more than that–it’s a compelling portrait of a slice of American life so many Americans it doesn’t affect do not want to face: the death of the small town way of life, the loss of employment opportunity, the collapse of hope for something better. It’s about different kinds of yearnings, and how hope can be twisted into seeing criminality as the only way out. Like Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin, Flannery O’Connor and so many others, Ford shows us the reality of rural Southern life; how the deep religious belief can go hand in hand with smug superiority and class warfare–how those who theoretically follow Christ, who ministered to the poor and sick, can somehow hate the poor and look down on them.

There are so many little touches here that ring so true–Love’s Truck Stops, which are scattered throughout the south along its highways and byways; the prayer circles where they drink Virgin Bloody Mary mix; the judgment for not attending church twice on Sundays and for Bible study on Wednesdays; and the viciousness of gossip and the fear that everyone will talk about you, and judge you, and laugh at you–or rather, passive-aggressively shake their heads while murmuring Christian platitudes while the gleam of enjoyment shines in their eyes.

I enjoyed this, and I am really looking forward to what comes next from Kelly J. Ford.

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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