O Come All Ye Faithful

As Constant Reader may or may not know, the Lost Apartment–hell, the entire house–is a haven for stray cats. We feed them and take care of them, so does our landlady, and so does our neighbor on the first floor on the other side of the house—and Jeremy in the carriage house does too. I think the largest the herd has ever been is five cats, but I could be wrong. We’ve been down to two–Simba and Tiger (who has the most seniority)–for quite a while now, and there’s a tuxedo cat that pokes around sometimes, but runs whenever you try to get close to her, but this past week a new cat has shown up, and has taken up residence beneath the house: a a tiny black kitten we’ve not really named yet, but have taken to calling the Dark Lord, because he’s completely invisible once the sun goes down. He doesn’t let us get close–he’ll come out to look at us, but scampers away whenever we try to pet him or get him to come near. We’ve started feeding him, as we feed the others, and Paul will eventually make sure that he becomes friendly, so we can catch him and get him to the vet. I don’t think he’s old enough to be fixed now, anyway. He can’t be more than a month or two old.

I always wonder where these strays come from, you know? Tiger was clearly always feral, but Simba is much too friendly to not have been someone’s cat. And a kitten? Where did the kitten come from?

Ah, the mysteries of being the Crazy Cat Couple of the Lower Garden District.

LSU defeated Mississippi yesterday 53-48 in what wound up being a completely insane game in Tiger Stadium; one in which they managed to go up early in the third quarter 37-21, only to fall behind 48-40 with about eight minutes left in the game. True freshman quarterback Max Johnson (who is 2-0 as a starter) managed to connect up with true freshman Kayshon Boutte (you cannot get a more Louisiana name than that, seriously) on two impressive scoring drives, sandwiched around an impressive defensive stand, to pull ahead with less than two minutes left in the game to go up 53-48; the defense held again, forcing a fumble to end the game with less than a minute to go to escape having the first losing season since 1999 and give Tiger fans–so beleaguered this season–a lot of hope for the future. That team that finished strong after the pasting by Alabama was mostly freshmen and sophomores….and in these last two games there were guys playing I’d never heard of before. Our back-ups pulled off an upset of Florida (which gave Alabama all they could handle in the SEC title game) and then Mississippi (the LSU-Mississippi games are always exciting; for some reason Ole Miss–it is an old rivalry game–always seems to play their best against LSU and the Tigers inevitably have to rally to win the game in the end. Paul’s and my first game ever in Tiger Stadium was the Mississippi game in 2010, which the Tigers needed a last minute score in to win); so pardon us for thinking perhaps next year will be a good one and the year after that a great one–which is the LSU way, really. It was very exciting, and I’ll be honest, I thought we were done for when the Rebels went up 48-40 and our defense looked very tired–very very tired–but in a downpour the Tigers pulled it off and thus made my day.

I also managed to unlock the puzzle of Chapter Eighteen and got it finished, and by doing so I realized I perfectly set up the final act of the book–which will make these other chapters more challenging, but that’s okay because I still have plenty of time to get this all finished and ready to go on schedule, which is very exciting.

I also read very far into The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and I have to say, gay Hollywood history is very interesting, and that particular period, post-war into the 1950’s, is also extremely interesting. I actually kind of wish I was more knowledgeable about the period, or had studied it in greater detail. I’ve already written a short story based in that dangerous era for gay men, “The Weight of a Feather”, which is included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and of course, Chlorine is set in that time period. I actually have several historical gay noirs planned–Obscenity, Indecency, and Muscles–that will take place during different periods of twentieth century gay history–the 1970’s, the 1990’s, and the early aughts–which will reflect the changing moods and dangers of being gay during various decades, and how different life was for gay men in each decade. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hope readers will embrace.

Plus, the research will be endlessly fascinating.

The Saints play the Chiefs today, and apparently Drew Brees will be playing again. This presents a dilemma for me, clearly; I love the Saints, but the Chiefs have several of my favorite former LSU players on their roster (Tyrann Mathieu and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, to name two) and it’s hard for me not to want to see them do well. Perhaps the best way to handle this is to not watch at all. I don’t know. I have to write Chapter Nineteen today, and am trying to decide if I should go to the gym today, or wait until tomorrow. I overslept this morning–an hour, didn’t get up till nine–and I also only have to get through the next three days at the office before the holidays AND my brief between Christmas and New Year’s vacation–I hope to not only get this book finished by then but have the time to work on my MWA anthology submission and reread and plan the final version of #shedeservedit.

Then again, I’ll also probably be horrifically lazy a lot during that time–it happens.

And on that note, more coffee for me before the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Heaven’s Just a Sin Away

I’m tired.

I think the worst thing of all this is the uncertainty, you know? Every time the fatigue sets in, every time my mind gets foggy, every time I can feel my temperature going up, after the great here we go again thought comes the what if you actually test negative? What does that mean? If you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?

Paul suggested that part of the fatigue could come from the lack of activity, and there’s a possibility that might be true. Once I finish this, I am going to get down on the kitchen floor and stretch, just to see how that feels. I am really not overly comfortable going for a walk, in all honesty; not knowing whether or not I am actually infected makes going out of the Lost Apartment seem like an incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do. I do have a mask–an official medical one, and gloves too–I had to buy these when Paul had his heart surgery all those years ago, and my tendency to hoard actually came in handy for once, so I suppose keeping a distance from others while wearing gloves and a mask should be okay, but there’s so much uncertainty about everything–hell, I don’t know if I actually am infected or not–that I just don’t know what I should be doing or should not be doing.

But I am lucky, because if I do indeed have this, at least it hasn’t moved into my lungs, at least not yet. I think it’s the lung part that is problematic for people; the inability to breathe, of course, would be horrifying, as well as feeling like you’re drowning. I go back and forth all the time on everything; it’s horrible to be indecisive, to not know what the right decisions are or even what the consequences of the wrong decisions could even be. This also isn’t like me, and I don’t know if it’s the foggy head or just the times or if I am simply being visited by some good old PTSD. Anything at this point is possible, and there are so many goddamned variables…and being trained since birth to always expect the worst doesn’t help much, frankly.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I did some chores around the house once I woke up, ate some cereal, and then was exhausted (again, lack of activity, or illness?) and so I collapsed into my easy chair and couldn’t even focus on reading. I did get a few chapters more into Ammie, Come Home but after awhile put it aside and got lost in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. ESPNU also decided to replay a series of LSU games from last season–the Mississippi game, then the play-off game with Oklahoma and the national title game–so I had that on while I read and dozed off and on. I never nap; and I always have trouble sleeping–which is the truly weird thing about all of this; the amount of sleep I’m getting, and then again–maybe I’m tired from sleeping too much, I don’t know. After Paul got home and we watched the end of Schitt’s Creek (which I am very sad to say goodbye to; it may be my favorite sitcom of all time), and then I read some more before going to bed.

The exciting life of a gay mystery novelist.

I do have creative bursts, though-which gives me hope that someday soon I might actually start writing again. I’ve been thinking through Bury Me in Shadows, and I think i might have actually solved the mystery of what’s wrong with the story. In fact, rather than reading any of my various books that I have spread out on the end table next to my easy chair (the two afore-mentioned, along with Du Maurier’s The Breaking Point and my iPad, which has a plethora of books in its various book-reading apps) I should probably reread the entire manuscript, perhaps even do an outline, and then figure out how to make it better and revise it, so when I can get back on a roll with writing again I can get back to it. I’ve also been thinking about the Kansas book, and I think I’ve cracked that code at long last–since I started writing it in either 2015 or 2016, about fucking time, wouldn’t you say–and so maybe, just maybe, i can get to that too. I also have to write my Sherlock story. The kitchen is also a mess–there’s a load in the dishwasher that has to be put away and the sink is full of dirty dishes as well, and there are clothes in the dryer as well-and God knows when the last time I did the floors was. I am going to try to get some of this stuff handled at some point today.

And on that note, I am going to try to get started on everything and see how much I can get done before I run out of energy–not that I have a lot right now, but the coffee is helping give me a bit of a boost, which is always nice–and see what can get taken care of before the malaise comes back.

Sorry to be such a downer, and I hope all is well with you, Constant Reader–and stay safe.

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Georgia on My Mind

Huzzah! We made it to Wednesday, and what a lovely thing that is to behold. It’s cold this morning in the Lost Apartment–it’s in the forties outside this morning–so my space heater is on and I am basking in the warmth. Last night was a good night of make-up sleep–I feel amazingly rested and refreshed this morning—and my coffee? Why, it’s delicious and wonderful, thank you for asking!

I was terribly exhausted last night when I got home from work; barely enough energy to fold the towels in the dryer (after a refluff cycle) and literally, just sat in my easy chair and just wasted away the evening rewatching the first half of the LSU-Oklahoma game on the DVR. I still, all this time later, cannot wrap my mind around that game. As I watched, and thought about the upcoming national title game with Clemson, I realized that if LSU loses that game, it will be disappointing; but it won’t really take away the magic of this past season. It was stressful at times, but almost always a joy to watch LSU play this year; to not lose games they shouldn’t and to raise up to the level of the opponent they were playing. There were, to be sure, some sloppy games where the defense gave up far more points than they should have (Vanderbilt and Mississippi come to mind), but it was still an amazing, amazing ride for LSU fans.

Today is pay day, so once I finish this and plow through my emails this morning I have to pay some bills and update the checkbook. I know, I know; I am old-fashioned that way; I like to keep a register of what I spend and on what–it helps at the end of the year with tax prep, which I should start working on soon–and I just can’t, even though I rarely, if ever, write checks anymore, not keep a handwritten register of my spending through the checking account. It’s interesting that no one really writes checks anymore, yet they are still called checking accounts–perhaps someday in the future they’ll be rebranded as debit accounts, to differentiate from credit accounts.

I also came to the conclusion last night that I really need to stop beating myself up for not getting as much done on Mondays and Tuesdays as I would like. I work twelve hour days on both; I get up at six in the morning and get home from work just after eight in the evening. Mondays are generally busier than Tuesdays, but both are busy enough regularly to wear me out. Monday nights I usually am not as worn down as I am on Tuesdays; but it’s still exhausting, and I am usually too tired to even read when I get home from work on those nights. I think it’s not just the length of the workdays but the getting up so ridiculously early as well; and I generally don’t sleep as well on those nights when I have to get up while it’s still dark outside. But the good news is I’ve finally recognized that it’s probably insane to criticize myself for not getting as much done on those two days as I want to; and of course today I feel rested, so if anything today is the day I should beat myself up for not getting anything done–if I don’t get anything done, that is, today.

I’ve not yet ventured onto Twitter to see if RWA is still aflame, a la the firebombing of Dresden during World War II; but those fires were still being fed pretty well yesterday all day. It still staggers me that this enormous rift has formed in one of the largest writers’ organizations in the world, frankly; I believe they have somewhere between nine and ten thousand members, and over 150 chapters. That boggles my mind. Granted, they aren’t all published authors–there’s aspiring authors, and industry professionals, and so forth. I had considered joining RWA at one point–my Todd Gregory novels could be seen as erotic romances, even if it was, in my mind, a bit of a stretch. I talked to a lesbian friend who was a member, and was stunned to discover that if I did join, I couldn’t be a part of forums and so forth that were for authors because I had worked for a publisher so I was therefore suspect and couldn’t participate in forums where authors might talk about publishers because my presence could inhibit their discussions. It was absurd on its face, I felt; when Harrington Park Press was sold and the fiction lines discontinued, I continued to work as an editor–but strictly on a contract basis; Bold Strokes Books would offer me manuscripts to edit and I would say yes or no. I didn’t have the power or control to offer contracts or negotiate them; I was sometimes sent a manuscript for evaluation and if I thought it was something that held promise I would say yes I’d like to work on this one and they’d offer a contract to the author. But that was enough, in the eyes of RWA, to make me a “publisher” and not an “author.” I didn’t think that could be right, of course, so I wrote to the main office of RWA asking–and was told, yes, even simply editing on a contract/for hire basis was enough to make me a publisher rather than an author in their eyes.

So, I didn’t join. At the time I wondered if this was all because I was gay and wrote gay books–the ever-present shadow of homophobia always lingers in the back of my mind, making me question any and everything–but eventually simply shrugged my shoulders and figured, well, if they don’t want my money they don’t want my money.

Now, I really wonder. For one thing, publishers aren’t permitted to file ethics complaints about authors–and yet the complaints against Courtney Milan that led to this entire mess were filed by what RWA would classify–or did when I considered joining–as publishers. But the complainants were nice white ladies (NWL’s), so one can’t help but think that yes, they wouldn’t let me join as an author because I was a gay man; exceptions are made for NWL’s and no one else. But, as I said, I’m glad I didn’t join–even if their decision about how I’d be classified as a member was rooted in systemic and personal homophobia, because I am very happy to know I never gave money to such an organization so riddled with bigotry and nastiness.

I was always wary of joining writers’ organizations, because as a gay author I could never be certain me and my work would be welcomed into the group. I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime a bit warily, but as I slowly became more and more involved with both groups, I found them not only welcoming but encouraging. (To be sure, there are undoubtedly members who are homophobic, but I’ve not had the displeasure of experiencing any of that, and I am very grateful to both groups for that.) I also belonged to Authors Inc for a while, and I also belong to the Thriller Writers. I was never terribly involved with either group, so I don’t know what those groups are like–but when I belonged to Authors Inc I was asked to contribute to their anthologies, which is where my stories “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian” first appeared (you can get them now in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, available through the Bold Strokes website or any on-line book retailer), which I always took as a good sign. I always wanted to go to their annual convention, but it was just out of my financial reach each and every year. Same with the Thriller Writers yearly event in New York–too expensive.

And of course today is merely a half-day for me, so I can leave the office early and come home, get some things done, perhaps even make dinner–madness, right?

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

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Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

So here we are, New Year’s Eve, and the last day of the twenty-teens. It’s been a long haul; 2010 seems a million years ago, and my life and careers have taken many paths over those last ten years. 2010 was the year after one of my publishers collapsed–or rather, stopped paying me while continuing to sell my books. They never did finish paying the advance for my last book for them in 2009, Murder in the Garden District, and and they never paid my royalties for the books of mine they still had in print; my last check from them for royalties was received in January 2009. I never received another cent from them after that; I’d already received the first half of the advance for Garden District when I turned it in to them in late 2008. They never answered my emails, ignored my registered letters–yet continued to sell and make money from my work. 2010 was also the year I served on my local chapter board of Mystery Writers of America, and also the year I was elected president near the end and joined the National Board for the first of four years.

2010 was also the year Paul and I went to Tiger Stadium for the first time ever, to watch LSU play Mississippi live; we got there many many hours early before the game started so we could drink in the entire experience of Game Day on a college campus in the South. Paul had never been to a major college stadium before; had never been to a live SEC game before, and part of the pleasure I derived from that day was seeing Paul experience an SEC Game Day for the first time. We’ve been to many games since then, but that first one–in which LSU scored in the final minute to win–remains one of my favorite memories.

I went to Bouchercon in San Francisco that year, saw some college friends for the first time in decades, and was still a starstruck fan boy. I have since been to many others; Albany and Long Beach and Raleigh and New Orleans and Toronto and St. Petersburg (I had to miss Dallas this year because I was ill). I am even on their board now.

I started publishing y/a fiction that year as well; Sorceress came out that year, followed by Sleeping Angel the next. In the twenty-teens I published four new Scotty novels and two additional Chanse novels; some stand-alones; dabbled in romantic suspense (Timothy, The Orion Mask); and somehow managed to get nominated for some mainstream crime writing awards. (I’m 1 for 3 at this point.) I made some amazing new friends along the way this past decade, and while I definitely got older, slowed down, and experienced other physical changes I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, it’s been, for the most part, an absolutely lovely ride. I also lost some friends along the same way, but that’s not something (or anyone) I waste too much time worrying about.

This past year was a lovely capper to the decade that was; an Anthony nomination for a short story was lovely, as was the publication of my short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and the eighth Scotty, Royal Street Reveillon. I had a lovely short story in the wonderful Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology (“This Town”–and now, whenever I hear the song, I think of it as mine), got a story into the Dark Yonder anthology (“Moist Money”), came up with a great idea for the next book I intend to write if I ever clear out the unfinished ones languishing on my flash drive, and of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the magical season LSU is having this season. New Orleans is going to be insane the weekend before and the day of January 13th. (I am debating whether I should take the day off and go wandering in the Quarter and to the LSU pep rally; I mean, how often will I get the chance to do just that?)

In a few hours I’ll be at Commander’s Palace for the annual New Year’s Eve lunch which will be lovely as well–I’m already thinking about my Bloody Mary–and then Paul and I will come home to chill and relax. Paul is probably going to go down to the Quarter with some friends to watch the fireworks; I, tired old soul that I am, will probably be asleep before the fleur-de-lis drops at Jackson Square. But that’s okay; I love that I’ve also somehow managed, in the twenty-teens, to drop the FOMO (fear of missing out) I’ve had for most of my life. That’s a personal improvement, I think.

I like to think I’m a better person than I was at the dawn of 2010; there are those who would, perhaps correctly, say that’s a very low bar to clear. Regardless, I am not as prone to anger as I was back then, not as likely to engage on social media (in fact, I only engage with friends and usually to either agree with something they’ve said or tease them), and I’ve also become more aware of things pervasive in our society and culture–racism, misogyny, transphobia–and not just zeroed in on homophobia. I’ve learned, through reading, reasoning, and rational use of logic, that all of these things have the same root and are all simply branches of the same tree: the tree that is White Supremacy, and therefore, all of us–people of color, transfolk, queers, women–are engaged in the same fight against the same enemy, and that the primary tactic of that insidious enemy is divide and conquer–as long as we squabble amongst ourselves while fighting for our rights, their united front seems invincible; because it is through unity of cause and purpose that this horror poisoning our society, culture, and nation can be defeated.

The common enemy has many faces.

And while it is tempting, at my advanced age, to put down my sword and let others take up the fight…I can’t.

So, what does this new decade hold in store for me? What does this New Year mean, what surprises and shocks and opportunities will it bring? I don’t know, I honestly don’t. but while the unknown can be terrifying, I am choosing to embrace it and look forward with hope and optimism. I will continue to write my books, I will continue to work on myself, and I will continue to fight against injustice as long as my fingers can type and as long as I can breathe.

Laura Lippman says you should simply pick a word for the new year rather than set resolutions or goals; I think mine for 2020 is improvement.

So Happy New Year, Constant Reader. Thank you for following me, for reading these words I write every day as I try to figure out the world and my life and who I am; thank you for reading my books and stories. Your support is truly wonderful, and appreciated, and while it might not always seem like it, I am always grateful.

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Meet Me Half Way

LSU won last night, 58-37, over Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford; but the defense gave up a lot in the second half–yards and touchdowns–and at times had me wondering if this would indeed turn into a trap game. A couple of offensive mistakes that the Rebels capitalized on, and suddenly they had pulled back within two touchdowns to 44-30 before the Tigers scored twice more to effectively ice the game. I may have sworn at the television a few times, as LSU’s pristine, well-oiled precision in the first half got sloppy in the second.

I suppose it is a measure of LSU’s success this season that a 21 point win in a rivalry game on the road felt disappointing; I guess this is what it means to become a member of an incredibly spoiled fan base. 58 points and over 700 yards on offense–and I was swearing at the television. Lord.

But the defense is going to have to play better than this if LSU is going to win the SEC title game against Georgia, who clinched the East by beating Auburn yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day on many fronts. I cleaned and organized, which of course always makes me happy; I didn’t get to the floors yesterday, but everything else is cleaned and organized, with a few more things to finish off this morning before I get back to work. I did have a relatively good day yesterday–cleaning and organizing capped by an LSU game is always the best Saturday possible for me. I also managed to read some more of The Ferguson Affair, and making notes on it. It’s not one of the stronger MacDonald novels–definitely not as good as some Lew Archers I’ve read–but it’s an interesting story, and I do like how the entire case begins with the main character, an attorney, being called in to represent a young woman accused of stealing, or rather, being part of a burglary gang robbing wealthy residents of the small city–and how it unrolls from there. I also made some notes on my current work-in-progress; dissecting why the story isn’t playing well in my head and realizing that it’s my own stubbornness and refusal to change things–even when they aren’t working. I always try to  make it work somehow before recognizing finally that it’s not working and must be changed; I have to go back and redo the first chapters of the book–which I’ve already kind of done. Part of the reluctance to see things clearly is because I don’t want to redo work I’ve already done—but if the work doesn’t work, accept that the time was wasted and redo it, for fuck’s sake. And so that is the task that lies before me today. I am going to go ahead and finish redoing chapter 13, because I’ve been in the middle of it for quite some time now–not finishing because deep down I knew I was going to have to go back and rework the earlier stuff, and why keep going when you know you’re going to have to revise and edit and rewrite what you are currently revising and editing and rewriting? Not an effective use of time or energy…and sometimes you have to just accept that you’ve wasted the time and be done with it. But I do believe I have now solved the key problem with my story, and it will now work going forward.

The other day I talked about the Stephen King short story “The Raft” (filmed as part of Creepshow 2), primarily in the terms of a book idea inspired by the trope of the story–essentially, four (or more) young people go somewhere no one knows they are, and something bad happens to them there–and they know rescue isn’t coming because no one knows where they are, and even if they did, it would take a while before anyone figured out they needed help–and wouldn’t know where to find them. Because of this, I kept thinking about “The Raft,” and finally at one point yesterday I got down my copy of Skeleton Crew and reread the story.

It’s extraordinary, really, and a good reminder of why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers.

It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there. They had come in Deke’s Camaro. Deke didn’t waste any time when he was sober. After a couple of beers, he made that Camaro walk and talk.

He had hardly brought the car to a stop at the pole fence between the parking lot and the beach before he was out and pulling off his shirt. His eyes were scanning the water for the raft. Randy got out of the shotgun seat, a little reluctantly. This had been his idea, true enough, but he had never expected Deke to take it seriously. The girls were moving around in the back seat, getting ready to get out.

Deke’s eyes scanned the water restlessly, side to side (sniper’s eyes, Randy thought uncomfortably) and then fixed on a point.

“It’s there!” he shouted, slapping the hood of the Camaro. “Just like you said, Randy! Hot damn! Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

“The Raft” is a terrifying story, and one that is all too easy to relate to. Randy is the main character of the story, and we see it all through his point of view. Deke is his best friend and roommate, on a football scholarship, handsome and well-built and holding the world in the palm of his hands; things come easily to him, especially women. The two girls with them on this adventure are Rachel, Deke’s current girlfriend, and LaVerne–who, as it turns out, isn’t a particularly nice girl in how we tend to define that sort of thing. Randy likes Rachel but really is into LaVerne; one of the dynamics of the story is that Deke and Rachel’s relationship is ending (but she isn’t aware) and LaVerne is poised to move in on Deke–and it happens during the course of the story. Randy loves Deke, Deke is his best friend and he admires him and would do anything for him; but he also harbors a bit of resentment for his beloved best friend–for whom everything seems to be easy, and women willing to crawl into his bed are easy to find; he also resents that women don’t seem to notice him when Deke is around. This is excellent character building by King; this makes Randy relatable.

(When I first read this story in the mid-1980’s, I had already become accustomed to being the “friend no one notices”; I always had male friends who were good looking and well-built and a lot of fun to be around, so I always felt eclipsed and that no one noticed me. This continued for many years, even after I came out in every aspect of my life–that weird mixture of love and resentment one can have for a friend who is always the center of attention who doesn’t even try to be; it just happens. It also reminds me of the dynamic at the root of A Separate Peace, which I read as a teenager; I need to go back at some point and reread that book to get a better sense of the novel and the queer undertones that even I–a closeted and terrified thirteen year old–was able to pick up on.)

The building of suspense–and the terror that comes when they realize the weird little oil slick on the water not only has intelligence but is a predator–is phenomenal, and yet another example of King’s story-telling genius.

I also could relate to the story because when I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a nearby lake we often went to, for swimming and so forth; it was out in the middle of nowhere, and it, too, had a raft you could swim out to and sunbathe on. (I used that lake in my novel Sara; in what I think is probably the best, most frightening horror I have ever written–that chapter at the lake is absolutely terrifying–or at least I think so, at any rate.)

But remembering–and rereading–“The Raft” also reminds me of the Short Story Project from last year, which I hadn’t intended to stop doing, but I got sidetracked with this year’s Diversity Project, among other things. But it’s time for me to get back to work on everything this morning, and so, Constant Reader, I bid you adieu as I head back into the spice mines.

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Right on Track

I’m going to go vote as soon as I post this, as it’s run-off election day and the gubernatorial race is far, far too close for comfort, to be completely honest. It’s astonishing to me that this is even close, but hatred of Democrats runs deep in some sections of Louisiana. We have, despite our laxness in so many ways here, a deeply conservative streak running through the state; which is fine, a lot of states do, but here in Louisiana the fact that Bobby Jindal was so popular–even as his economic policies dismantled and destroyed the state while he used Louisiana as a launching pad for the White House–that he essentially ran for reelection unopposed, is absolutely terrifying. Louisiana has not completely recovered from the horrors wrought upon on every level by Jindal, whose desire for power and attention overruled any common sense approach he might have towards governing, and the thought we could return to those very policies that nearly bankrupted the state and could have resulted in our universities being shuttered, is absolutely terrifying. As I said, this shouldn’t even be close….and yet it’s going to be.

Tonight LSU goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Magnolia Bowl; the renewal of another storied SEC/Southern college football rivalry, perhaps best known as the rivalry that  featured Billy Cannon’s run on Halloween night in 1959, as the Number One and defending national champion Tigers took on third-ranked Ole Miss. The punt return for a touchdown was LSU’s only score and a goal line stand as time ran out–Billy Cannon made the game-winning tackle as well–and LSU won. (Alas, LSU lost a later game in the season and didn’t win a second national championship; and just like in 2011, the Sugar Bowl was a rematch of that ‘game of the century,’ with LSU losing the rematch–also like in 2011, only with Alabama–21-0–which was also the score of the Alabama rematch in 2011.) The first time Paul and I went to a game in Tiger Stadium was the Ole Miss game in 2010; we went to the Ole Miss game in 2012 as well. Ole Miss always, somehow, manages to play LSU really tough, even in years when they should be a pushover; they take the rivalry very seriously–more seriously than LSU does–and have pulled off the upset more than once. (LSU returned the favor in Tiger Stadium in 2014, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season and ending their SEC–and national– championship hopes 10-7)

I also want to break the habit of referring to the University of Mississippi as Ole Miss, which has always bothered me and I’ve wondered for years when it would be brought up. The University is in turmoil these days–and kind of has been for decades, really; you would be hard-pressed to find another university in the South with stronger ties to the Confederate/Jim Crow/racist/segregationist past. The team name in the Rebels; for years the mascot was Johnny Reb; a white-haired, white-mustached white man in a gray Confederate uniform, and the fans in the stadium inevitably waved, rather than pom-pons or towels like so many fan bases do, Confederate flags. That flag–which is really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, so didn’t even really have a tie to the state of Mississippi other than as a symbol of racism and white supremacy–was also seen as a symbol of the school. Johnny Reb is no longer the mascot–it’s a black bear–and the fans no longer wave Confederate flags. But there’s some serious issues going on with the selection of the new university chancellor, and there’s also a movement to get Ole Miss removed as a designation/nickname for the school. It’s going to be hard to break the habit of shortening Mississippi to Ole Miss; but the nickname, sadly, also has its roots in the racist, slave-owning past.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for people to figure that out, or to think about it.

“Ole Miss” is what the slaves called the matriarch of the family that owned the plantation; whether she was the “master’s” mother or wife–there could, at times, be an “Ole Miss” and a “Young Miss.” It’s right there in the pages of Gone with the Wind; the Fontaines have an Ole Miss and a Young Miss; the slaves at Tara call the white women “Miss”–Miss Ellen, Miss Scarlett, Miss Carreen, Miss Suellen–and it’s a sign of deference; as an older white man living in a Southern city I still see signs of this from time to time with my clients; younger people of color always call me “Mr. Greg” while young white people call me by my first name only. I cringe a little whenever they do, and always thank them for their politeness, but insist they drop the mister. It also makes me sad when they find it hard to do so; continuing to slip and call me Mr. Greg.

Anyway, there’s a movement afoot to remove the nickname from Mississippi–but seriously, typing that out even seems weird, and calling them Mississippi seems even weirder. But I’ve decided I cannot call them by that nickname any more. It may not be much, but it’s the least I can do.

I went up to Oxford for an event a couple of years ago; The Radical South–got put up in a gorgeous hotel on campus, paid a rather lovely honorarium, taken out for a lovely meal by the organizer who’d invited me (Theresa Starkey, who co-edited Detecting the South, the academic book of essays on Southern Crime fiction I contributed a piece to, that recently was released; one of my proudest career moments–not the least of which meant sharing a table of contents with Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins), and I actually rather fell in love with Oxford. It’s a charming little old Southern town, complete with a picturesque Town Square, with a courthouse on one side of it; my immediate thought was oh my God, Mayberry DOES still exist. As I walked around the town and explored, I was inspired, particularly because I kept finding places that were perfect for disposing of bodies (the crime writer mind is always active), and I began putting together a novel in my head; a series of rapes on campus with the serial rapist escalating, as the university and town desperately try to keep the rapes quiet until a body is found. Obviously, that couldn’t be set at the actual campus of Mississippi; I’d have to fictionalize it. I took tons of pictures and, as is often my wont, think about that book every once in a while.

What’s also interesting to me is that there’s no airport in Oxford–LSU flew into Memphis last night, and I would imagine bussed from there to Oxford, which is about a little under an hour away and just over the state line from Tennessee–and Oxford isn’t even on the Interstate; you have to take a state highway for about twenty minutes or so before you reach Oxford. (Mississippi State’s hometown of Starkville is also not on an interstate highway; the only major universities in the SEC that are in towns not on an interstate, at least that I’m aware of. Lexington, Knoxville, and Athens are off I-75; Vanderbilt’s in Nashville, etc etc)

Hopefully, we’ll keep our streak going tonight. A lesser team without the amazing offense we are running this year buried the Rebels last year–LSU has won three straight game in the rivalry; has only lost five times this century and one of the Rebels’ wins was forfeited. But as I said, the Rebs have always (I cannot tell you how hard it is to not default to calling them Ole Miss–Mississippi seems weird, as does calling them the Rebels or the Rebs–although in all honesty, if they changed their mascot to a Minuteman or a Revolutionary War soldier or  general it would make calling the Rebels or Rebs less fraught) played tough against LSU–those games we attended in 2010 and 2012 came down to the last minute before the Tigers prevailed.

Okay, I am going to finish this and go vote. I am going to come home and read The Ferguson Affair (it’s taking longer to read than it should, and I do have a serious problem with the main character, which I’ll talk about when I talk about the book), do some cleaning, brainstorm on the book and maybe even sit down and do some writing. I’ll probably put the Auburn-Georgia game on, but will try to keep myself occupied rather than just sitting in my chair and blowing off the entire day.

I also have to get the campus serial rapist/killer book out of my head for now, too.

FOCUS.

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