Call It What You Want

Well, LSU lost, which certainly cast a pall over my day yesterday. The game was also early–11 am start time–and after that sucked all the air out of my day I struggled, frankly. I know, it’s silly to put so much emotional energy into being a fan of any sport, but I can’t remember ever seeing LSU play as badly on defense as they have so far this year. I feel bad for the kids, and I don’t know what the problem is–I didn’t expect them to have another record-breaking season, but I certainly didn’t think they’d have a very strong shot at going 1-9, either.

Heavy sigh. It seems to be a very weird year for college football–the Alabama-Ole Miss score was 63-48, with Ole Miss gaining over 600 yards; that’s the most points ever scored on a Nick Saban Alabama team–and Mississippi State lost to Kentucky, with Florida falling to Texas A&M; Arkansas almost beat Auburn, so clearly defense is no longer a thing in the SEC, a conference once known and respected for it. Georgia and Alabama are the only unbeatens left in the conference, and they play next weekend…yes, a very strange year in college football.

I did manage to get some work done yesterday–not enough, of course–but progress was certainly made, and I feel confident I’ll be able to get it all taken care of tomorrow. The Saints are playing on Monday night, so there’s absolutely no need for me to turn on the television at all during the day tomorrow, and the French Open final will be on so early I doubt Paul will get up to watch. This year is seriously shit, you know? All the joy from sports has been sucked out of them, and crowd noise, it turns out, increases the enjoyment of the game significantly when you’re watching at home–who knew?

So, I licked my wounds and thought about the things I need to write, and how to get them done, and how to improve everything I have currently in progress. That’s a win, frankly, and I refuse to feel guilty about not getting everything done yesterday. Sure, it means I have to get it all done today–but as I said, I am certain I can bang it all out and get it all done, and then I can go into the first three day work week of the clinic since March with my head held high and start focusing on the other things I need to get done–the manuscript for Bury Me in Shadows, a couple more short stories–and of course, getting the email situation back under control. I feel like this final quarter of the year, no matter what else happens in the rest of the world, is a time when I can turn this ship around and set to rights.

I especially hate that I somehow fucked around and managed to go a year without having a book out. How in the holy hell did I allow that to happen? What was I doing in 2019 that I didn’t get a book written? I turned Royal Street Reveillon in around Carnival of 2019, and it came out last October, a year ago. What in the name of God was I doing the rest of the year? I know I was working on Bury Me in Shadows, but seriously? I honestly don’t remember, but whatever the hell it was I was doing, one thing for sure I wasn’t doing was writing. Sure, I sold some short stories, but I honestly think most of the story sales were this year, not last. Part of the reason I signed contracts with deadlines so tightly on top of each other was partly to ensure I wasn’t going to go another year without a novel out.

Gregalicious, you need to start getting more focused.

I saw the trailer for the new version of The Stand, and I have to say it looks good. I liked the original mini-series from the early 1990’s–that chilling opening when Campion runs and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays over the opening credits as the camera moves through the Army base and all the dead bodies within still gives me chills (it’s on Youtube). I love The Stand, and generally consider it my favorite Stephen King novel. It used to be one of my primary comfort reads; I think I’ve read the original dozens of times. Despite some issues, overall I approved of that initial attempt at filming it; the final episode was the weakest, overall, but they did a pretty good job. This version has a terrific cast, and it looks like CBS All Access spared no expense on putting together a great show…but–the whole Mother Abagail thing really doesn’t hold up well after all this time. At least they’ve added other people of color to the cast this time–in the book and the original TV version, apparently most people of color succumbed to the pandemic.

It’s also interesting that when I was reading plague fictions and histories earlier this year, I didn’t pick up either The Stand or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which are both favorites. I think both–which feature almost the entire human population dying–were probably more than I could handle earlier this year.

And I do think that was probably the wisest course.

I read two more stories by Nathan Ballingrud, from his collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories yesterday while the Alabama-Ole Miss game played on the television–“Wild Acre” and “S.S.”–and both were superbly written. Ballingrud does a truly great job writing about desperate people–financially desperate, emotionally desperate–and his use of the supernatural and how it affects/impacts the desperate people he writes about it is stellar. “S.S.” isn’t really a supernatural story; it’s set in New Orleans and is more about a desperate young man, a loser, who turns to white supremacy to try to find a place where he belongs, and it’s an ugly little story, yet compelling at the same time. The horror of his own life–he’s a dishwasher at a small restaurant in the Quarter, his mother was severely injured in an accident, can’t work, and is now mentally deranged; their power has been turned off for non-payment–makes him an easy target for white supremacy and hate; it’s terribly sad, and makes a surprising turn towards the end. The interesting thing I am learning from reading Ballingrud is that the premise of his work is the real horror comes from humans, not the paranormal or supernatural.

So, today is the day I am going to get a lot of work done, trying to start getting caught up on everything. I slept deeply and well last night, which is always a plus, and so am feeling relatively well rested this morning. Once I’ve had my coffee and finished writing this, I am going to get cleaned up and dig into finishing my essay and then move on to the website writing before the revision of my short story. This will possibly–probably?–take most of the day, so I doubt that I will get around to Bury Me in Shadows today (but one never knows; I could go into the zone and get a ton of shit done today). We watched three episodes of The Boys last night, and I have to say, the primary problem we (Paul agrees with me on this) have with the show is the character of Butcher. He’s really supposed to be the character we root for, leading the resistance against the proto-fascist tendencies of the super-heroes and Vought, the company they work for, but he’s so routinely unpleasant and unlikable it’s difficult to care–and if you excise him and his personal story from the show you wouldn’t really be missing anything; I don’t care about his him or his wife or their situation, frankly, and the fact that almost every sentence he utters includes the words “cunt” and/or “twat” doesn’t help. I realize the words are more commonly used in England and don’t have the unpleasant misogynist implications they do in the United States, but the constant usage is like the writers were all “Oh, he’s British so he can say cunt and twat all the time!” like junior high school boys rubbing their hands together in glee about getting away with something. I do like that the show subverts and looks at super-heroes with a wary eye, exploring the dangers of super-powered beings who are arrogant and don’t really care much about people, but Watchmen also explored the ethics of this, and did it much, much better. Still…for the most part, we are enjoying it, and will continue watching. We only have three episodes left, and so will probably either finish it tonight or tomorrow–there’s also a new episode of The Vow dropping tonight; even though we are slowly losing interest in it, we’ll probably continue watching and see it all the way through.

Although I have to give props where it’s due; The Boys has gotten me thinking about Superman, and why the DC films with Henry Cavill about Superman have been disappointing, despite a stellar cast, because they really don’t get the essence of Superman–and why on earth would you make a movie about the greatest comic book hero of all time when you don’t understand the purpose of the character and why he is a hero? Hero is the key word there; and if Marvel could manage to do Captain America and make him believable, Warner certainly could have done the same with Superman. Watching the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies would have been a huge help, frankly; Superman isn’t angsty or tortured the way Batman is, and using the film version of Batman as a blueprint for Superman, I think, was the first mistake.

Look at Wonder Woman, for that matter.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines and get this day off and running. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Mirrorball

The sun is shining and there doesn’t seem to be any wind at all outside my windows this morning. The sidewalk is littered with leaves and some small branches, and even that’s not really indicative of much beyond having a thunderstorm here last night. I don’t remember hearing any thunder, nor even any rain last evening–but I am rather nervous about seeing what damage Delta did to western Louisiana. The road to recovery there is going to be long, sadly, and even longer because this was the second time they got hit in less than two months. Just awful.

Today I have a lot of writing to do; I have to finish revising an essay as well as a short story, and I also have some website writing to get done. I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon, after I finished condom packing for the day and was going about cleaning the Lost Apartment–I don’t know where my doldrums and malaise about both writing and my career has come from lately; if it was merely a combination of overwhelming factors (COVID-19, the news on a daily basis, stress from my volunteer work, or a combination of them all, coupled with the shift in my routine from the changes at work that are COVID related, and of course, the dying desktop–JFC, what a shitty year this has been) but yesterday I seemed to snap out of it somewhat. I spent a lot of the evening last night cleaning up my Cloud drive–it still needs work–but I also started thinking about all the writing I’ve done and all the writing I need to do and literally it was like slapping myself in the face. There are a lot of things about this business I have no control over; but one thing I do have control over is the writing itself. All I can do is write the best work that I can, focus on making it the best it can be, and send it out into the world and hope for the best. I’m going to try to not beat myself up so much over everything as much as I have been doing this year–in other words, I need to stop being so hard on myself and give myself a break every now and again.

There are only so many hours in every day, and sometimes it’s okay, and necessary, to spend some time letting your brain recharge.

Sometimes I feel like this entire year my mind has been functioning as though through a fog of some sort, and it’s perfectly okay. It has been a traumatic year for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that next year will be any better–remember when we all couldn’t wait for 2019 to end?–but I plan on moving forward while trying to stay positive about everything. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already, and there’s certainly no need for me to add anything to that. But I think what’s been missing this year, at least for me, is my ambition–I’ve not been particularly ambitious this year, and I’ve sort of been letting my life happen rather than trying to take control of it, which is what I did the first thirty-three years I was alive, drifting through life aimlessly to see where it led me, and that’s a horrible waste of time. Obviously, there are certain things that are completely out of our control, but I’ve also not been grasping the reins of the things I can control. I’ve been allowing myself to simply be a pinball bouncing around in a game being played by a master, who’s managed to keep the ball in play, sending me from flipper to bumper to flipper to slingshot to bumper to flipper again–and I need to grab hold and start steering again.

Because the LSU-Missouri game was moved to Columbia from Baton Rouge, the game is now airing at 11 CDT, which means in only a couple of hours. I am going to finish this, go through my emails, and then retire to my easy chair with my laptop and work on the essay during the game. It should be over by three, and then I can work on the website writing–I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day watching football games, frankly, but my mind could easily be changed/distracted and head in that direction later–and if I can get the essay and the website writing done today, I can focus on the short story revision tomorrow, and maybe even move on to Chapter 11 of Bury Me in Shadows, which I would love to have a finished draft of by Halloween, so I can spend the next month or so polishing and revising it before I send it in–early, even, if I am lucky. The final revision and polish of #shedeservedit is going to take longer than this one, so giving myself more time to work on it is probably the wisest course of action.

And then….it’s on to Chlorine, which I am really excited about.

There are also some calls for submission I’ve seen lately that I might have something for, which is exciting, and there’s also the possibility that I could write something new as well. I really want to get back to my pandemic short story, “The Flagellants,” which I am not sure anyone will want to publish but the story has taken some shape in my head; there are a couple of others I can revise and send out there to markets–“Death and the Handmaidens,” “Moves in the Field,” “This Thing of Darkness”–and some others I want to finish–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “No Place Like Home,”–as you can see, Constant Reader, I am feeling particularly ambitious this morning–and there’s another period Sherlock story I would like to write, “The Mother of Harlots.” (Look at me, writing another Sherlock story with no market for it!) There was also a submission call for stories set in the 1960’s, and methinks I would love to write a short story around the Clay Shaw trial, which would be kind of fun to do (God, New Orleans history is so richly layered and textured it’s not even funny!) and of course, I need to be reading.

We started watching season 2 of The Boys last night, and it’s still very well done, just as the first season was, and of course, the entire concept of super-heroes as assholes remains perfect–and it got me to thinking about Superman and what’s been wrong with the recent adaptations of the Man of Steel on film. Henry Cavill is absolutely perfect in the role, but the issue I have with the films is this angsty look at Superman they’ve been giving us. Superman is suppose to be a beacon hope–the great American Boy Scout–as opposed to his darker counterpart, Batman. There will be more discussion of this at a later blog date, once we’ve finished The Boys.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and if you have some spare cash, can you donate something to western Louisiana hurricane relief? It would be most appreciated.

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.