Slow Hand

I slept very strangely last night–for the first time in a very long time I had what I call “stress dreams”; they’re really not quite nightmares, in that they aren’t scary, but rather me dreaming about something that causes me stress. It’s been years since I’ve had one of these–I guess you could say that the ‘test I didn’t study for’ or ‘went to class naked’ fall into that category; I’ve never had either of those–but this was one in which I was going to have to go on stage and perform for something to do with work; but for some reason I needed to have a cricket and as the time for me to go on stage drew nearer, the cricket I was given got away and I couldn’t find it; finally had to go outside and try to catch a new, untrained (it was a dream; of course none of it made the slightest bit of sense) and of course, for some reason my parents were in the audience and I couldn’t find a cricket. I woke up around six and thought, do I want to go back to sleep and into that dream again? But I closed my eyes again, figuring the dream was interrupted, but no–back into this weird dream where I had to have a cricket and go on stage and perform in something vaguely Dickensian.

At seven thirty I woke up again and thought, fuck it, I’d rather be tired than go back into that dream. So I got up and came downstairs to make coffee. And here I am.

I bit the bullet and bought a more expensive (and dependable) vacuum cleaner yesterday–the same model we bought like nine years ago that I didn’t really maintain properly but still managed to work well for nearly seven years; I am going to maintain this one properly–I read the manual, believe it or not–and so part of my day today will include working on the floors. I’m also going to make watermelon gazpacho–I may have to run to the grocery because I need both lemon and lime juice, and I also want to get a bag of ice so I can make a proper dirty martini this evening–still working on getting the taste right–and I also want to work on my writing some as well as get to the gym. I also recognize this is a rather ambitious program for the day; there’s reading I need to get done as well–I really want to finish Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow, which I was enjoying before I got distracted from it; a great debut by a trans author (which we need more of, by the way), and I’m not really sure what distracted me from it, to be honest…but I’ve not really been doing much reading for a while–but I am enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker.

I guess I should say I am not reading anything new to me, because that is more accurate. I think I mentioned yesterday that I got a lovely tweet from a reader about Mardi Gras Mambo the other night, and then I tried reading it again–I have the ebook on my iPad–but for some reason there was an issue I couldn’t resolve to get it open, and it kept freezing my Kindle app (don’t come for me, I also have iBooks and Kobo and generally try to buy ebooks through platforms that allow percentages to go to either non-profits or independent bookstores; and I also take advantage of deeply discounted sales and I especially love when the books are offered free); yesterday I deleted the app and redownloaded it and voila! Problem solved. I haven’t reread the book in a really long time–I’ve not reread any of the Scottys in a really long time–and as I was reading (skimming mostly) I was remembering things from the time I was writing the book: that the original idea was vastly different from the final iteration; I actually stopped writing it and then trashed everything I had written and started over; the second iteration was also significantly different from the final, and something else happened that kept me finishing; and when I finally went back to finish it I trashed the entire thing for yet a second time and started over completely. It took me–because of the stops and starts–much longer to write than anything else I’ve ever written (that was published); I remember often referring to the book as my own personal Vietnam (although now Afghanistan would be more indicative of endless quagmire) and–now that I think back on it–the inability to finish this book was why I started blogging in the first place. I needed to get back into the habit of writing every day, so I could kickstart my creativity and finish the damned book.

I digress.

But as I was rereading/reskimming, I was amazed at how fucking complicated the plot was, and how much juggling was required to not leave loose ends, to not contradict things that had happened, and I remember that last summer before Katrina (the book was turned in three weeks before that bitch came ashore) how much work I had to do on that manuscript; how I had to keep checking and double-checking to make sure it made sense and I had the right people in the right place and that it was possible for characters to move around the way they did; and how I wanted the pacing to be completely frenetic and crazy because it was taking place over that final weekend of Carnival, and how badly I didn’t want to the book to end the way it did. It was also during the writing that I discovered that the original way I’d planned the trilogy (once I knew it was going to be more than a standalone) couldn’t be completed in this volume and that the personal story–always intended to be resolved by book three–was going to have to roll over into a fourth book….which I eventually (thanks to Katrina) began to think would never happen. I hated leaving it as a trilogy…but how do you write a funny book set in New Orleans after Katrina? I couldn’t think of any way to do it, and when I finally did start Vieux Carré Voodoo, I just jumped ahead a few years. (Although now I am thinking I can go back and do that very thing; maybe I could do a couple of post-Katrina Scottys, to give me some breathing space away from the pandemic and go back to him being younger?) It also made me realize, again, that a lot of the post-Katrina Scotty books I’ve done didn’t have very complex or complicated plots; they were always very straightforward and simple until Royal Street Reveillon. I have several ideas of what to do next with Scotty, and rereading/reskimming Mardi Gras Mambo made me realize–instead of deciding which plot to do next, why not do them all in one? Why NOT write another complicated, complex, all over the map plot with subplots galore? It’ll be hard work, of course, but why am I shying away from hard work?

I’ve also been researching more about folk tales and legends of Louisiana; I saw that someone is doing a graphic novel built around one of them–the Grunch–and as I started digging around into that particular myth/legend, a Grunch story started forming in my mind, and I soon realized Monsters of Louisiana could happen very easily; again, it’s a matter of time to write and time to research.

I did manage, around groceries and getting the mail and trying to get organized and relaxed and everything, to put about another 1200 words into “Festival of the Redeemer.” I also remembered that I had made, years ago, a Pinterest board for Venice, and so I visited it yesterday to look at the pictures to help me with a dream sequence I am writing into the story–I needed to see Venetian Carnival costumes, and oh, did my Pinterest board ever have some fantastic images pinned to it! I had completely forgotten that I’d made a Pinterest board when I was writing Timothy to help out, with images of the house I was basing Spindrift on, and images of rooms to use for descriptions, and so forth…and as I scrolled through these amazing images on my Venice board, I kept thinking to myself, why the fuck don’t you use this website for images for works in progress? This would have come so in handy for the two you’ve just turned in, you fucking moron.

And seriously, it really is a wonder I have a career anymore. I have all these wonderful tools at my disposal to make it easier to write things and then never use them.

And on that note, this floor isn’t going to vacuum itself. Catch you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Working Overtime

FRIDAY! Today I am taking what we can a personal day, or a Mental Health Day, or whatever you want to call a day when you really have a lot to do at home–chores, errands, writing, cleaning, etc.–so you dip into your dwindling supply of paid time off and snag some hours so you can get that shit done. It’s gray again outside this morning, and the sidewalks wet with a fractional amount of standing water in low places, so I am not really sure what the weather is actually like outside. Yesterday the high was 78–insane for late March, which doesn’t bode well for summer when it arrives in a few weeks (yes, summer is usually here by mid-April)–and I haven’t yet checked today’s weather. The gray cloud cover, however, kind of says it all, really.

I finished off a journal last night, filling the final few pages with thoughts about the current book, what I need to get done with it, and how precisely I want to get that done. Time is, of course, slipping through my fingers, as it is wont to do, and the extended deadline expires on Thursday of next week. Of course, it’s also Easter weekend, that is Good Friday and a paid holiday (thank you, deeply Catholic state of Louisiana), so I am debating whether to go ahead and get it turned in on Thursday, taking that nice long weekend to relax and recuperate from the exhaustion of finishing a book, or using that time to painstakingly go over the entire thing one last time….or desperately try to revise the end one last time. (I think we know what I am going to inevitably end up spending next weekend doing, don’t we?) I also need to get to the gym today later this afternoon.

I watched the Snyder cut of Justice League yesterday while I was making condom packs. I hadn’t wanted to for a number of reasons (four hours being the primary, to be fair, and I’m also kind of over “director’s cuts” of movies I’ve already seen; the few times I’ve watched these kind of things they never seemed to improve the original movie that much, or made a significant amount of difference to the film that warranted a rewatch; I’m afraid I’ve been burned that way a few too many times to be much interested in ever viewing a director’s “personal vision” yet again…but then, I realized yesterday, this was different–the movie I watched was patched together, rewritten, and reshot to create an entirely different film; so this Justice League would have some similarities to the movie I’d watched and mostly forgotten, but wouldn’t be the same film), but yesterday I thought well it’s four hours, watching this will save me the chore of having to decide what two movies I want to view while I am doing this, and so, with no small amount of trepidation, I queued the movie up and hit play.

Four hours later, as the end credits rolled, my first thought was wow, Warner Brothers really shit the bed by bringing in Joss Whedon to make that piece of crap instead of just releasing this.

DC Comics was my jam when I was a kid; I move on to DC from Archie Comics and never looked back–although I am very fond of Archie, even watching the first few seasons of Riverdale and absolutely loving The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina–and even though I eventually came around to include Marvel in my super-hero reading, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for DC–how can you go wrong with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? DC changed over the years–the transition from the old school heroes in an attempt to modernize them all in the 1970’s had mixed results (I can’t be the only person who remembers that Wonder Woman gave up her powers and became mortal for a while in the early 1970’s?); but the 1970’s also meant a move toward more realism in the way the characters were drawn, and an attempt to make them more three-dimensional and human. (Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow is the first DC hero to be drawn hyper-realistically; I distinctly have a memory of Oliver standing at a mirror with his shirt off–and seeing not only nipples but a navel and some curly body hairs and defined muscles). DC rebooted their entire universe in the 1980’s with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was an epic undertaking, and kind of brilliant–getting rid of, for example, the Kryptonian super pets like Krypto, Streaky, and there was even a super-horse, if I remember correctly; they also got rid of the myriad rainbow colors and types of Kryptonite and only keeping the deadly green–my favorite was always red, because how red Kryptonite affected Kryptonians on Earth was unpredictable and never the same…which meant it could also always serve as deus ex machina to explain away strange, out of character behavior, like Superman or Supergirl or Superboy–who had his own comic series as well: “oh, I was exposed to red Kryptonite”–the effects only last, I think, for forty-eight hours.

Anyway, I’ve always rooted for DC Comics and its adaptations–loved, for a while, The CW’s series with lesser known heroes, like Green Arrow and the Flash and Batwoman. I even like the Brandon Routh version of Superman in Superman Returns. (Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds was enormously disappointing; I loved the Lantern Corps, I also love Reynolds, but the whole thing was just a big mess.) I enjoyed the first rebooted Henry Cavill as Superman movies (questioned the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, to be honest) but I also agreed with critics who felt those films were missing something at their core; they came very close to getting Superman right but didn’t quite get there. And while this version of Justice League clearly fucks with the continuity of the DC Universe–particularly with Aquaman–I would strongly suggest Warner Brothers use this movie as the template for the Universe moving forward and just ignore those continuity errors. Joss Whedon definitely did both Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller dirty in his revision; the parallel difficult relationships between Flash and his wrongfully imprisoned father played against the antagonistic relationship between Ray and his father are really at the heart of the film, and give it an emotional depth and complexity that the Whedon version truly lacked. The Whedon plot merely served as a device for action scenes and explosions; the Snyder film actually has a plot, fleshes out the characters of the heroes more, and is truly an epic on the grand scale of the Richard Donner Superman films of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s–not an easy feat.

And can we just give the Amazons their own movie already?

I went into it skeptical, and when it was finished, was absolutely delighted to have had such an enjoyable experience that I didn’t even once notice that it was four hours long. And yes, I get that could have been a problem for a theatrical release, but outside of some things at the end–the dream sequence for Batman–I really can’t think of much that could have been cut from the running time. I also liked that the movie ended with the Darkseid cliffhanger, and the permanent establishment of the team. I don’t know what they are going to do from here out–I think both Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller are out, as well as Affleck–I don’t really pay much attention to casting news and things like that, nor do I care enough to go look it up, but it’s a shame. Both were perfectly cast, and while I can also see some issues with Miller anchoring a Flash film, I think he had the charm and charisma to pull it off if he had a great script.

And on that note, my errands and chores and writing aren’t going to do themselves, so I will talk to you tomorrow.

Run Wild

And here we are on Monday morning again: lather, rinse, repeat.

I ran out of steam yesterday while I was organizing (instead of writing, of course) so there’s still a mess around my workspace this morning, but I did get a new file box sorted and organized for all my New Orleans/Louisiana research and ideas–mostly based on true things or legends, really–so that was a major accomplishment. I also went to the gym yesterday, which felt marvelous and I am glad I got back on that horse again (during the cold spell I didn’t go at all; it was too cold for me to be walking five blocks in sweats, and the hassle of changing there is too daunting for me). It was also kind of lovely out yesterday; I was a bit suspicious of the cold so wore tights under my sweatpants and a T-shirt beneath my sweatshirt, and walking there made me a trifle warm….as did walking home after the workout. I could sense that it was one of those days when forcing myself to write wouldn’t take, and the work I might force myself to do would have to be redone, so I just kicked back and went to work on the organizing and so forth. I had also made groceries yesterday before going to the gym, so that was part of it–groceries and the gym wears me out; I simply don’t have the energy and stamina I once did (which is about the only thing I really miss about being younger–that and not feeling the cold so much). I will also need to empty the dishwasher when I get home this evening and reload it with everything piled up in the sink; it wasn’t a very productive day, quite frankly, but I think sometimes you need to have a “down” day to recharge and recuperate…I never used to need such a day, but I also didn’t used to be on the cusp of sixty, either.

I continued watching Sons of Liberty while Paul worked yesterday; it’s actually very well done (although I did comment, rather cynically, to myself that the the founding fathers weren’t young and hot when all this was going on) and I also like that it’s not being all flag-waving; it’s pretty clear that John Hancock’s revolutionary fervor was all about business and making money, while the Adams cousins are a bit more about rights and the law (I also kept thinking it would be interesting to write a murder mystery set in pre-revolutionary Boston, sometime between 1770 and 1775, with perhaps John Adams as the attorney/investigator–a British officer is murdered, etc etc etc). Then when Paul was finished working we watched the first three episodes of It’s A Sin, which I was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. It’s wonderful, done beautifully and written so well and the acting is stellar—but it’s also heartbreaking; I braced myself as the first episode began, realizing it’s the 1980’s and a show about gay men so most of the characters are probably going to die so be prepared. I cried a lot during the first three episodes, the first death was precisely who I expected, to be honest….but the second one was like a throat punch; just like it would have been back then–unexpected, the last person I expected, and the dying was so awful and so undeserved. My heart broke all over again, like it used to fairly regularly back then until I became inured to it, numbed; each new sickness meant death, meant another light going out, meant that with another one gone my own clock was ticking. Maybe when it’s finished, when we’re done watching, I’ll be able to process the experience more and perhaps it will prove to be cathartic; maybe it won’t. I’ve done a really good job of sealing off that part of my history and my past in my brain…even though I’ve never forgotten what I–we–went through back then and I’ve never forgotten their names or the good times…

I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

Although every time I see someone lamenting what the current pandemic is doing–to young people, to children, etc. and how their lives are being changed–I kind of exhale and think you’ll be very surprised at how well they adjust and adapt and move on–we did. And you don’t have a choice.

I think the most heartbreaking part of it was, now, seeing how young they are in the show, remembering how young we were back then, so young and hopeful and excited about the future. This was why Pose was hard for me to watch; all those beautiful young people, so talented and gifted and smart and energetic, ready to make their mark on the world, and knowing what’s coming. This, along with Pose, is the first time I’ve ever seen the pandemic from the point of view that I most associate with; the generation of gays who came out and begin living their gay lives so young. Usually, like with Longtime Companion and the execrable Philadelphia, the point of view was older–these were the gays who came out in the 1970’s or even as early as the 1960’s, as opposed to those who were so young and coming into the community and world, having to deal with something so impossible to understand. There’s one awful scene where the friends all go in to get tested for the first time….and one of them doesn’t get up and go get his results when his name is called…he waits and once the nurse leaves the waiting room, he gets up and walks out because he doesn’t want to know. It was like having my heart ripped out all over again; because that was me with my very first test. I didn’t stay for the result, I checked in, they called my number–it was done by number–and I just sat there before finally leaving because I wasn’t strong enough, emotionally, to handle a positive result. (I remember that every time I have to give a positive result to a client at the day job, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen a scene from my actual life in a television show or a movie..it was a real gut punch.)

It’s going to take me a while to get over this show, I think, and we have two more episodes to go.

And on that somber note, I am heading into the spice mines. Wish me luck.

Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Vigilantes

Friday! Friday! Gotta get down it’s Friday! Although I kept thinking yesterday was Friday, actually. It occurs to me that I actually keep this blog so religiously primarily because it helps me keep track of what day of the week it actually is, if not the actual date so much. I am of course working at home today–lots of data entry to do once I got this posted, and of course, it’s laundry day for the bed linens. Yesterday I spent the day making condom packs and then went to the gym, afterwards coming home and feeling completely brain-dead and unable to make any progress on the book–which I will have to correct tonight; I need to be revised through Chapter 10 by this weekend was the goal, which means I need to get four chapters revised tonight or tomorrow, so Sunday I can spend the day copy-editing and coming up with some plans for the second half of the book. If I have some spare moments that I wish to use not being a vegetable, I may work some more on “The Sound of Snow Falling,” which I am actually enjoying writing.

Shocking, right? And at some point I need to get back to Jess Lourey’s marvelous Edgar finalist, Unspeakable Things.

I also went into a bit of a wormhole last night about Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” and have long thought, in idle moments, that I need to address Cancer Alley in a Scotty book; I can think of nothing local that would drive his parents into full-on protest mode than that. (For those of you who don’t live in Louisiana,”Cancer Alley” is what Louisianans call the strip of petrochemical plants along a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The plants are generally located in relatively poor parishes and areas,; there is also a very high prevalence of cancer in those communities, hence “Cancer Alley.” Since the petrochemical companies have deep pockets and Louisiana politicians have always gone relatively cheap, nothing is ever done about it….Louisiana is slowly being destroyed from within because our state legislature, many of our state politicians–including those we send to Washington–are owned these companies in tandem with the oil companies, who are responsible for our gradually eroding coastline and increased vulnerability to hurricanes) Cancer Alley has been back in the local news (it never makes the national news) again because people are protesting again–this happens periodically–but this could be an enormous departure for a Scotty book, which is why I’ve never done Cancer Alley Canard (yes, I came up with the title for it yesterday), but it also doesn’t make any logical sense for Scotty’s parents to never ever talk about, or protest, Cancer Alley…and of course, it would have to begin with a protest (perhaps Scotty and Storm bailing their parents out from yet another arrest) and then an activist would have to be murdered–maybe even a journalist, I don’t know. But corporate evil is something I have always wanted to write about, and perhaps it’s getting closer to the time I do that with Scotty. (For those who are paying attention, that means I have ideas for at least four more Scotty books–this one, Twelfth Knight Knavery, French Quarter Flambeaux, and Quarter Quarantine Quadrille, with Hollywood South Hustle also in the mix.)

But I have to write Chlorine next. That’s the most important thing once I have this one sent off to my publisher.

As Constant Reader is aware, one of the things I do to entertain myself while making condom packs is to continue improving on my vastly inferior education in film. I decided to take a bit of a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and am again saving horror films for this coming October season. I had wanted to do a study of teen films and how they changed and evolved from the 70’s to the 80’s; but yesterday as I scrolled through those options I really didn’t feel like any of them were particularly appealing, given my mood. But as I scrolled, I came across A Room with a View, an 80’s classic from Merchant-Ivory, and I recognized that I had, in fact, never seen a Merchant-Ivory film. I’ve never been a particular fan of E. M. Forster, and while I do recognize the appeal in fictions set during the high noon of the British Empire (likewise, I felt much the same about the Regency period, but found myself thoroughly enjoying Bridgerton and have thus had to alter my thinking about that period, so why not?) at the same time, I have also recognized that the appeal of most of those fictions lies in there being about the privileged–those with country homes and scores of servants, and the ability to travel abroad. The Imperial English were also horrific racists and nationalists as well as classists, so while I was relatively certain Merchant-Ivory films were well made and well done, my attitude towards viewing them was more of a “meh” than anything else. Yet…I had never seen one; this film was one of Helena Bonham Carter’s first big roles; and you really can never go wrong with a cast filled with English actors. So, I queued it up and began watching.

Imagine my delight when within minutes of the film opening I discovered the cast included one of my all-time favorite actresses–the magnificent Maggie Smith–and Judi Dench! And of course, the first section of the film is set in my beloved Florence and Tuscany! I settled in, starting stuffing condom packs with a very delighted sigh, and began watching. The film seemed a bit slow at first–I felt the build-up into the love story between Lucy and George (gorgeous young Julian Sands) perhaps took a little too long, and then the whole matter of the “scandalous” secret that he kissed her in a poppy field during a rainstorm a bit silly (fully acknowledging that in their class, this was the kind of thing that could ruin a young woman’s reputation; one of my frustrations with older periods is how atrociously stifled women were), but once they were all back in England and Daniel Day-Lewis appeared on the scene as a fiancé for her, it got really going. (Might I add how marvelous it was seeing Day-Lewis, who would go on to win three Best Actor Oscars, in an early role as the pompous and very straight-laced Mr. Vyse? He was marvelous in the part, and of course, watching him I couldn’t help but marvel that the man inhabiting this role so perfectly would go on to My Beautiful Laundrette, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, and Lincoln–yes, what an exceptional talent indeed) And of course, Rupert Graves is so astonishingly beautiful as a young man. Visually the story is sumptuous; the writing witty and clever; and of course, the acting is top notch. I shall indeed have to watch more Merchant-Ivory films…and it also occurred to me, as I watched, that I have also never seen A Passage to India, and really should correct that oversight.

And perhaps should give Forster another try.

After completing my daily tasks and chores and the gym, I came home to clean and reorganize a bit. As I was putting books away, I came across my copy of Sanctuary, which I had taken down recently thinking about rereading it. I did reread the first chapter, but then I got caught up in Alyssa Cole’s amazing When No One Is Watching and digressed away from it. One of the reasons I was thinking about Faulkner again was, naturally, because I had been working on Bury Me in Shadows, and the whole world I’d created in that book– as well as a couple of published short stories, and numerous others unfinished–was rather inspired, not only by the region my family is from, but by Faulkner; I wanted to write about Alabama much the way Faulkner did about his jawbreaker of a county in Mississippi (Yoknapatawpha?) and writing various books and stories that were all set there and loosely connected; I also wanted to revisit Faulkner a bit because I wanted to remember the way he wrote; the dreamy texture and atmosphere of his prose, and how he presented his world as honestly and realistically as he could. (I know there are those who consider Faulkner’s works to be racist, and yes, of course they are; the use of the n-word is prevalent, of course, as well as depictions of racial inequities and racist white people; but he also doesn’t excuse them or try to present them as heroic or being right–he leaves that to the reader. Usage of the worst racial slur will never cease to make me recoil or flinch, which makes rereading his work more challenging than it did when I was younger, I am sad to confess.) I had originally read Sanctuary when I was in high school, and really do need to revisit it as an adult and as a published writer, so I can grasp it better and I am also curious to see how I will react to it. I began reading other Faulkner works after I had a very encouraging creative writer teacher in California (as opposed to the monstrous troll in Kansas); he recommended As I Lay Dying to me, and I not only devoured it, but then moved on to The Sound and the Fury, which remains to this day one of my absolute favorite novels. “A Rose for Emily” is also one of my all time favorite short stories as well–and I think it was this story that actually pushed me along the path to coming up with ideas for a fictional county in rural northwest/central Alabama; that story is so beautifully Southern Gothic…and so many small Southern towns have those kinds of eccentrics that it seemed like writing about those eccentrics was the proper way for me to go with my own writing.

My writing career has truly had so many stops and starts over the years…

And on that note, tis time to. head into the spice mines for today. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, and today is a day when I most likely won’t be leaving the house at all, which is also kind of lovely. I am going to be doing data entry until I finish it all; if there’s time left in my work day I shall then go back to my easy chair and condom packing….and seeing if I can find Maurice on a streaming service for free, or A Passage to India.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader!

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