Big Time

LSU won again last night, blasting Arkansas 56-20 to win the West division for the first time since 2011, and a date in the SEC title game with Georgia. The Tigers are now 10-0, and pretty much all the entire college football world can talk about; upstaging defending national champion Clemson and even Ohio State, the power of the Big Ten this year. It has been quite a ride for us Tiger fans this year, and of course the whole state is abuzz with excitement; I can’t remember a time when both the Saints and LSU had the chance to go all the way in the same season.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but sunny and lovely outside. I’m not sure if this means it’s also cold outside–when I take the recycling out later I imagine I will find out–but my morning coffee is doing an absolutely lovely job of warming up my insides this morning, which is also lovely. I’m still on vacation–one week from today is the last day of it–and so far I’ve not really accomplished much of anything, really. I’ve done some cleaning and organizing, but for the most part have enmeshed myself in laziness and making excuses for not doing anything–primarily from watching television. After the LSU game ended last night, we watched the final three episodes of Unbelievable, which didn’t disappoint. Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette deserve Emmy nominations at the very least; but with all the A-list names that are coming to television and doing great work, the Emmys are becoming more competitive than the Oscars.

I am also still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is only deepening my knowledge of just how wild and rowdy and sinful New Orleans has always been, even back in the beginning–which makes all the complaints we currently deal with from people about our crime rate a bit…I don’t know, seem a little ignorant? New Orleans has always been a city of sin, with all kinds of crime and criminal activity and licentiousness and prostitution and drinking and pretty much every kind of “vice” you can think of flourishing here–as it always has in port cities, like San Francisco and Havana and Miami and Cartagena. Reading Campanella’s book makes me even more fascinated with the history of New Orleans, and considering, seriously considering, the possibility of writing more historical crime fiction about the city. As I may have mentioned before, I’d already started writing a historical short story about the city; I’ve also been asked to write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in New Orleans, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; being asked to do so seemed almost serendipitous, given the deep dive I’ve been making into New Orleans history over the course of the last year.

There are, of course, any number of crime novels/series set in the past in New Orleans; I’ve not read David Fulmer’s jazz age/Storyville crime novels, but I loved Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, which opened with A Free Man of Color. I know James Sallis also wrote a detective series set in the early twentieth century; I read one of them but never finished the series (he is perhaps best known for his novel Driver, which was made into a film with Ryan Gosling). I’m sure there are others–time to consult Susan Larson’s Book Lover’s Guide to New Orleans–and at some point, I need to go back to read classics from New Orleans’ past. (My education in New Orleans Literature is sorely lacking; just as my education in classic literature and crime fiction wind up being sorely lacking as well.)

There’s simply never enough time, is there?

I’m going to try to get some writing done today, as well as some progress on reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and hopefully today I’ll also be able to get those blog entries about the books I’ve read lately finished as well.

One of my (attainable) goals for this week is to get all of my email answered; I am tired of things just sitting there, nagging at me and gnawing at my subconscious. But I am going to just ignore it again today–several years ago I decided to release myself from the tyrannical bonds of my email by not answering emails on the weekend; I can still read them, but I won’t answer before Monday; because emails beget emails, and responding to one means you might get another one to respond to, and so on, and so on, and suddenly all your valuable writing and/or goofing off time has magically vanished, circling around the drain of the endless cycle of email.

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Nothing’s Going to Change My Love For You

It’s gloomy and gray outside my windows this morning. I slept late–we stayed up late watching Unbelievable, which is so fantastic, and the performances of Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette are amazing–and a little later on I must run out to pick up some prescriptions and the mail. I’m still a bit groggy this morning as I sip my first cup of coffee, so here’s hoping the next cup or two will clear the cobwebs inside my brain and get me going.

I was terribly lazy (again) yesterday; I did get the car serviced (if you’re going to buy a Honda in the New Orleans area, you cannot go wrong with Superior Honda on the West Bank), after which I made groceries, hit the Sonic, and drove back across the river. I did the laundry (still not finished) and started cleaning and organizing, but also got sucked into a really bizarre true crime documentary on Hulu, The Turpin 13: Family Secrets Revealed, which left more questions behind in its wake than it answered. The Turpins were a family of Pentecostal Christians who eventually had thirteen children, whom they isolated and controlled in their various homes over the years, including such traumas as chaining them to their beds; starving them; not allowing them to bathe; and not allowing them to go outside during the day, in fact turning them into nocturnal beings who went to bed at 5 am, slept all day, and got up when the sun went down. It’s an interesting, albeit fascinating, story, but as I said, the couple are still awaiting trial so there aren’t any real answers there. I also watched the start of another World War II documentary of colorized footage on Netflix–very similar to the one I just watched yet different; I mean, obviously World War II documentaries are going to be similar as it’s history and history doesn’t–rarely–change.

Although watching the other colorized one, produced by the British and therefore not quite so interested in maintaining and upholding American mythology was very interesting.

I am also moving along in The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead’s latest, and am truly enjoying it. I like the way Whitehead writes, and I am all in for his main character, Elwood, growing up in Tallahassee during the Civil Rights era. As I do like to occasionally remind people, the Civil Rights era was my childhood; it really wasn’t that long ago. (The Second World War was also during my parents’ lifetimes, although they were too young at the time to remember any of it.) One of the many reasons to read diverse, non-white American authors is to see the country, its history, culture and society, through the eyes of the outsider, which challenges the narrative so often put forth, of American exceptionalism…and as I said earlier, those narratives also prop up and perpetuate American mythology. (This is, I think, one of the many reasons I so greatly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods when I read it all those years ago–the concept of an American mythology, along with the identities and creation of gods through an American lens of what precisely we do worship in this country makes one start to question our collective societal values, as well as the mythology we are taught as truth.)

I’m also still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is quite fun and educational, as part of my continued study of New Orleans history. I still have quite a few volumes to get through, and then I plan to move on to general Louisiana history.

But as I said above, the question of what is real and what is American mythology often colors the history we read and study. Reading Robert Tallant’s work, for example, clearly shows that white supremacy colors any of his writings about New Orleans and Louisiana history, and the same goes for Harnett Kane, and probably many other historical writers of the past. And when you consider that most reference materials from our own history are often newspapers–which weren’t exactly beacons of journalistic morality and integrity in the past–one has to wonder what the actual truth of our shared American history actually is.

Which is more than a little disturbing, really.

There’s an essay or a non-fiction book on American mythology–probably not one I will ever write, but it’s something that strikes me as needing to be written; although I would imagine Howard Zinn’s works of “people’s histories” of the United States would certainly qualify. (I do highly recommend Howard Zinn; all Americans should read him, and his People’s History of the United States should be taught, if not at the lower levels than certainly in college.)

And now it is time for me to get on with my day. There are some interesting football games on today, but nothing really strikes my fancy until this evening’s LSU-Arkansas game (GEAUX TIGERS!) and so will most likely will have the television on in the background as I read, write, and clean the rest of the day.

Have a lovely Saturday,  Constant Reader.

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Who Will You Run To

Vacation all I ever wanted….

Yes, I am off now for about nine days, which is incredibly lovely. Today I am getting the car serviced on the West Bank, and will most likely go ahead and make groceries while I am over there. After that, it’s home and chores; I’d love to get all the cleaning and organizing done today so I don’t have to worry about doing any of that over the next nine days–and possibly do some writing while I am at it. My writing muscles are horribly, disgustingly, rusty; almost as rusty as my actual muscles which haven’t exercised since earlier in the year. I am going to try to get back into a regular workout routine during this vacation period; I miss the endorphins, and I miss the feeling of genuine tiredness one gets from forcing one’s muscles to do work. I also need to stretch regularly and do the dreaded, hated cardio; I’m very disappointed in myself for letting my regular workouts fall by the wayside.

I also want to read The Nickel Boys, and get that out of the way.

We watched two more episodes of Netfix’ Unbelievable last night, and Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver are absolutely killing it. I do think this is a must-watch mini-series; the difference with which the two women treat the rape victims in their cases is such a 180 from the way the men treated poor young Marie in the first episode; and of course Marie’s entire life and experience has turned into garbage not just because she was raped but because of how she was treated, and not believed. I have a lot of thoughts about men and rape/sexual assault; I’ve had them for quite some time but have never truly articulated any of them–who am I to talk about these things?–but there’s a lot more complexity buried there that is never truly talked about or explored; as though there’s a third rail one cannot touch. I’m looking forward to finishing it, and getting caught up on Castle Rock, which is killing it this season.

Which of course always comes down, as ever, to Imposter Syndrome; the fear that I am not intelligent, smart or articulate enough to talk about sensitive things or subjects or topics; which is what holds me back from writing personal essays. Laura Lippman recently announced that her essays are being collected into a book called My Life As a Villainess, which will be released next year, and I can’t wait for it. Her essays are amazing and smart and well-thought out, articulated beautifully; but then again, she is one of our finest writers publishing today, so why wouldn’t they be? Laura once told me, when I said that I am not a strong essay writer and am not very good at them, “Um, you write a personal essay every day on your blog.” It was very kind, and meant a lot to me, and there’s possibly some truth there; but I always see the blog as a kind of free-form rambling, stream of consciousness thing that I do every morning over my first few cups of coffee as I shake off the cobwebs of my sleep–which was glorious again last night, by the way–and try to prepare to face a day of who knows what being thrown at me.

I’m also looking forward to the LSU-Arkansas game this Saturday night on ESPN. The Tigers, despite the dismal defensive showing in Oxford last Saturday, remain the Number One team the country–I still can’t believe this season and how it’s turned out–and of course the Saints game Sunday at noon. The Saints bounced back from that disgraceful outing against Atlanta two weeks ago, and we’ll see how it goes from here. It’s weird to have the top ranked team in college football at the same time as one of the top teams in the NFL; how crazy would it be if LSU won the national championship in the same year that the Saints won their second Super Bowl? Magical indeed; as well as unlikely, but my God, would that ever be cool, and the entire state would lose its collective mind.

As I have said a lot lately, I’ve felt disconnected from my writing life lately–my reading life, too–and I’m not sure what that is. I am hesitant to say “writer’s block,” because it’s not something I truly believe in; I do believe writers can go through fallow periods when they have nothing to say, or can’t think of anything to say; not being able to put words to page. But I don’t believe that–which I often refer to as a ‘malaise’–is the actual problem; I’ve always believed writer’s block is a symptom of depression. One thing I’ve often noted when reading up on writers of the past is how many of them had drinking problems, or certainly drank to excess fairly regularly; so regularly that I’ve sometimes wondered whether there’s a connection between creativity and addiction. I do think creative types are more emotionally volatile than their fellow citizens; more susceptible to vulnerability and emotional instability, which can lead to depression, which can lead to not being able to write, which then turns around in a vicious cycle to make the depression worse, and some people deal with that by using alcohol. I myself have a medicine cabinet filled with medications to help me navigate the fast-flowing, submerged danger everywhere river of my life, and they’ve helped with my own particular brand of crazy.

So, in a little bit I’m going to take a shower and head across the river to the dealership; and hopefully when I come home I’ll be able to get some clear-headed thoughts down on the page as well as some seriously deep-cleaning done on the Lost Apartment.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Keep Coming Back

It dropped into the forties overnight, and this morning, it’s struggling to get up into the low fifties. This is utter and complete madness; we even are looking at a possible freeze alert by Tuesday–a freeze alert in November. Utter, total, unquestionable madness.

The LSU game…well, they won and let’s just leave it at that.

The Saints play Cincinnati today at noon; I intend to write all morning and then take a break to watch them play, after which I will try to get some more writing done. I wound up spending most of yesterday relaxing and reading. I dove back into ‘salem’s Lot, my Halloween reread for this year (you see how well that went), intending to only read a chapter, but promptly got sucked into the narrative. I finished reading part one, and chose to stop with Part II, “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” The essay about ‘salem’s Lot that is currently brewing in my head–“Peyton Place, But With Vampires”–is slowly taking shape within my head, which is lovely. Whether or not I am ever going to have the time to write it is an entirely different question, of course.

One of the interesting things about rereading ‘salem’s Lot is also seeing how carefully King structured his novel; the book isn’t–which is the point of my essay–so much about the vampires and the fearless vampire killers (well, they are hardly fearless), as it is about the town. I love that King shows how the other people in the town react to what’s going on; they of course aren’t privy to what the main, core characters (Ben, Mark, Susan, Matt, and the doctor–whose name is escaping me now) are; one of the other things King does so remarkably well in this, only his second novel, is depicting how small towns really work–hence the comparison to Peyton Place. His depictions of small towns only got better and more realistic as his career progressed; I think the secret strength of Needful Things is the honesty and truth in how he depicted Castle Rock; with all the resentments and anger and feuds all simmering just beneath the surface (I also need to revisit Needful Things).

I plan to get back to Bury Me in Satin today. I wrote less than three hundred words yesterday, and this shall not stand; I also need to get back on track with this manuscript. I am a little torn about how to proceed–I am also having questions about the time line and so forth–but these things should sort themselves out as I write and move the story forward. We’ll see how it goes today. I also need to work on these short stories. Heavy heaving sigh.

I also managed to read something yesterday for the Short Story Project: “Remaindered” by Peter Lovesey, from Bibliomysteries Volume 2, edited by Otto Penzler:

Agatha Christie did it. The evidence was plain to see, but no one did see for more than a day. Robert Ripple’s corpse was cold on the bookshop floor. It must have been there right through Monday, the day Precious Finds was always closed. Poor guy, he was discovered early Tuesday in the section he called his office, in a position no bookseller would choose for his last transaction, face down, feet down and butt up, jack-knifed over a carton of books. The side of the carton had burst and some of the books had slipped out and fanned across the carpet, every one a Christie.

Last Sunday Robert had taken delivery of the Christie novels. They came from a house on Park Avenue, one of the best streets in Poketown, Pennsylvania, and they had a curious history. They were brought over from Europe before World War II by an immigrant whose first job had been as a London publisher’s rep. He’d kept the books as a souvenir of those tough times trying to interest bookshop owners in whodunits when the only novels most British people wanted to read were by Jeffrey Farnol and Ethel M. Dell. After his arrival in America, he’d switched to selling Model T Fords instead and made a sizable fortune. The Christies has been forgotten about, stored in the attic of the fine old weatherboard house he’d bought after making his first million. And now his playboy grandson planned to demolish the building and replace it with a space-age dwelling of glass and concrete. He’d cleared the attic and wanted to dispose of the books. Robert had taken one look and offered five hundred dollars for the lot. The grandson had pocketed the check and gone away pleased with the deal.

Hardly believing his luck, Robert must have waited until the shop closed and then stopped to lift the carton onto his desk and check the content more carefully. Mistake.

This is actually my first experience with reading Peter Lovesey.  I mean, I know who he is and that he is in the upper stratosphere of crime writers, but I’ve not read him before. Reading “Remaindered” certainly has made me want to change that. The story is multi-layered, and exceptionally cleverly structured. It begins with the sad and sudden death of a second hand bookstore owner; due to a crate of Agatha Christie novels he’s just purchased, as indicated in the excerpt above. And that is where the story starts to twist and turn, changing shapes and throwing out the occasional surprise, twist after twist after twist; all of them organic and foreshadowed, and the story itself does an excellent, highly honest job of depicting the characters, their needs, their wants, and their incredibly surprising histories. I do highly recommend it.

The entire point of The Short Story Project was intended to be a sort of graduate course in short story writing for me. At the beginning of this year, the intent was for me to write a lot of short stories and to work on my craft with them, to improve as a writer. I’ve not had that much success with any of the new stories I’ve written this year; the rejections continue to stack up. But I shall continue to try writing them. I also realized last night that two stories I have coming out in anthologies next year are similarly themed, and I have like two or three more following not only a similar theme but a similar pattern in the works. Ruh roh.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Free Your Mind

Well, I slept deeply and well last night, only waking up twice–and both times I was able to go back into a lovely, lovely deep sleep. I also didn’t wake up until almost nine. I know, right? It’s so lovely to feel rested.

LSU’s game isn’t on until tonight, but there are some terrific games on throughout the day. I suspect I can finish the floors and cleaning the living room around and during some of these games; I can also get some writing done as well, methinks. I am leaning towards editing some short stories rather than working on the book–yes, I know that will put me two days behind where I want to be with it, but I am also stuck. (And no sooner did I type that, did I come up with a way to start Chapter Four in a way that will help advance the plot somewhat. Huzzah!)

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I stopped at the Latter Library on my way home from work to pick up a book I’d requested on-line, Volume 2 of Otto Penzler’s Bibliomysteries. If you aren’t familiar with the “Bibliomysteries,” these are slightly longer than your average short stories, written by today’s top crime writers, and have to focus or be centered around a book or a bookstore. I first became aware of them when I was a judge for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story a few years ago (maybe more than a few; time has become so fluid and untethered for me–particularly when I realize it’s fucking 2018 sometimes), and in fact we picked John Connelly’s Bibliomystery, “‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository,” as that year’s Best Short Story winner. Since then, I’ve read others–Megan Abbott’s “The Little Men,” Laura Lippman’s “The Book Thing,” Denise Mina’s “Every Seven Years”–and been blown away by their absolute brilliance (which reminds me, I really need to get back to the Short Story Project, which has sadly fallen by the wayside); so I am very excited to read this second collection of these singles; the stories are, you see, originally published as singles–you can buy them as ebooks or you can get a print copy.

I love the library, and was extremely pleased with myself, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, for finally getting my library card. I haven’t had one since I left Kansas in 1981; and even in Kansas I hadn’t used mine for years when we moved. Libraries were very important to me, as a kid and as a teen; I don’t know why I stopped using them–other than the fact that I often lost library books, or forgot to return them on time, which meant fines, which meant lectures from my mother about irresponsibility and on and on and on it went–but I remember the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library fondly; the library on 6th Street in Emporia, and the little library in Americus, as well as when the Bolingbrook Library opened. I often spent time in my school libraries as well as a kid. Stupidly, I suspect I stopped using libraries when I started working and had my own money to buy books with; I loved owning books, always coveted other people’s, and for years was also sentimentally attached to books and didn’t want to get rid of my copies of them. I still am, and I still hoard books, always buying more when I haven’t read all the ones on hand, and I was the same with the library; always checking out more than I could possibly read because I also wanted choices about what to read. I’m looking forward to reading–and reporting back–on the stories in this book I haven’t already read–the Abbott and Mina stories are also inside this collection of them. Writing a Bibliomystery is a bucket-list thing for me; but I will also need to become more important of a writer to be asked.

Last night, as I laundered the bed lines and blankets and coverlets, it took longer for the dryer to dry things then planned–it was damp yesterday, and damp always affects the dryer–so I had to stay up a little later than I wanted to, so I started streaming an 1980’s classic thru Prime: Night of the Comet, starring Robert Beltran, Catherine-Mary Stewart, and Kelli Maroney. I saw this movie in the theater when it was released; it’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it also recognized that it wasn’t a great movie and embraced its camp sensibility. The premise of the movie is this: a comet with an enormous orbit through space is going to pass close by Earth again for the first time in sixty-five million years (hello, dinosaur extinction event!), and of course, it turns into this thing, with comet-watching parties and so forth. Our two leading ladies manage to miss the comet by falling asleep inside of steel–Stewart in the cinema where she works in a steel-walled room for storing film; Maroney in a steel shed in the backyard–and the comet turns everyone into either dust or murderously insane zombies, and they have to survive somehow. Fortunately, the women–sisters–have a father in the military who taught them how to protect themselves. Beltran plays a truck driver (who passed the night inside his truck) they encounter, and eventually team up with for survival. I was just far enough into the movie to get to the part where they run into Beltran for the first time–having already realized most of the world is dead–when the blankets were finished. I also remembered some trivia–Stewart’s big break was being the original Kayla on Days of Our Lives (her replacement became one of the most-loved and popular stars of the show), and Maroney started out playing a manipulative spoiled bitch teenager on Ryan’s Hope. Stewart was also the female lead in a favorite scifi movie of mine from that same period, The Last Starfighter. Both kind of faded away which I always thought was kind of unfortunate–although watching the movie again last night and seeing their performances clearly, it’s really not that surprising.

And Beltran, of course, was part of the Paul Bartel stable, also appearing in Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Interesting that Bartel’s films, which were kind of the same style as John Waters movies, aren’t remembered or talked about much anymore. (Bartel and his usual female muse, Mary Woronov, also were in another classic from the period, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School–but I don’t remember if Bartel directed that one.)

I may finish watching Night of the Comet at some point today; we shall see how the day goes.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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