My Heart Can’t Take It No More

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and I slept fairly well. I will be spending most of my day on ZOOM with the new Board of Directors for Mystery Writers of America doing Orientation (we should be doing it in person in New York today, but yet another event is a victim of the coronavirus variants). I am not a fan of ZOOM, for obvious reasons–I cannot stand seeing myself on camera, and hate the sound of my voice–and while I can’t necessarily hear my own voice, I can see my face on screen, and I really don’t like that. I don’t really have space for a ZOOM studio in my little nook office right off my kitchen–and I need to make sure all the counters are cleared off and the cabinets are closed, etc.–and so I’ve avoided doing ZOOM things like the plague during these plague years. I am not an extrovert by any means (and yes, well aware that my claims to be painfully shy, socially anxious, and introverted are often greeted by laughter; but the appearance of calm and ease I project in these situations is always just pure dumb luck because I am always a twisted tangle of anxiety-ridden knots on the inside the entire time, and completely exhausted when it’s over), and thus these things are never easy on me. I imagine this afternoon when the calls ends I will adjourn to my easy chair with a drink and will spend the rest of the day there.

Yesterday we started watching Peacemaker with John Cena on HBO MAX; it took a minute for us to get involved in the story but we eventually got sucked in. It’s an odd kind of super-hero show, really; Peacemaker is theoretically a villain (I’m not familiar with the Suicide Squad and haven’t seen any of the movies) but he sees himself as a hero. John Cena is a very charismatic leading man; there’s something about him that is very watchable, and he plays comedy very well; which is surprising, since he comes from the world of WWE (then again, Dwayne Johnson and Bautista also did, and also play comedy very well, so maybe it’s not surprising), and he really shines in this part. I’ve always been a fan, and am glad to see his career outside of WWE taking off. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the show. We also started watching a docuseries on HBO MAX after we finished the three episodes of Peacemaker that have been loaded for streaming called Murders at Starved Rock, which is interesting enough but probably isn’t going to have a resolution.

I did started reading Alafair Burke’s Find Me yesterday and am enjoying it thus far–maybe when the meeting is over I can spend some time with the book, which would be marvelous and a definite reward for spending so much of the day talking to my computer (which is some seriously weird Jetsons shit). I started making a to-do list yesterday so I can keep track of everything I need to do and need to get done and with some sort of time-line involved; I am confident I can get everything done but it’s going to take some serious focusing on my part to get it all done. It’s a bit overwhelming and stressful to be sure, but as long as I can get a handle on everything I need to do, it can all get done. Over the next two days I am going to work, over my morning coffee, on getting my email inbox cleared out once and for all; I am going to get some filing in order; and I’d like to finish reading Alafair’s book. I think we’re probably going to watch some movies in the evening–Power of the Dog and The Tragedy of Macbeth are at the top of my list–over the next couple of days, and I am also hoping to start back at the gym tomorrow morning (after getting all my morning chores finished); hope springs eternal. My weight has climbed back up somehow, and so getting back to the gym is a lot more important than it has been. I hate that my weight is climbing again, and I am sure it has to do with me being more sedentary over the last few months than I had been in the months before. (Just thinking about how good it will feel to stretch and work my muscles out again just sent a shiver of delight down my spine.)

But making the list made me feel much better about things, honestly; I don’t know why I have so much trouble falling back into the habits that help me get things done and reduce my stress.

I bought our first King cake of the season yesterday–and yes, it’s quite delicious. I don’t think I bought any last year, since there were no parades or hardly anything Carnival-like; I doubt very seriously that Paul and I will be heading down to super-spreader central out on the corner this year. It’s a shame because we’ve always loved the parades and catching throws, even when the weather is bad; how many times have we stood out there in the rain to catch things? (It’s actually more fun in the rain because most people leave and there’s more room and they throw more because there are less people to throw to…) But I just can’t see taking the risk of getting sick out there–and you know there are going to so many unvaccinated people out there who won’t wear masks at all; the parishes surrounding Orleans are ridiculously defiant when it comes to taking measures to protect other people, which is terribly sad–but those are also the people who drive in to the city and hang out along our parade routes (while posting comments on news articles about how much they hate New Orleans and how the city is so dangerous and riddled with crime–keep your racists asses out in your paradise parishes then, trash), so yeah, no desire to put myself at that much risk, thank you very much. I can only imagine what Carnival is going to do to our infection rates.

Given how many people used to die annually in New Orleans AND Louisiana from malaria, yellow fever, and other pandemics that used to rage through the population, you’d think we’d handle things better as a state, city and parish, but nooooooooo….(if you ever want to read a great book about the horrors of a pandemic and massive death in New Orleans during the nineteenth century, Barbara Hambly’s Fever Season is pretty amazing)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have to hide things from the computer camera and do some straightening up as well as preparing. Heavy heaving sigh. And I will see you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Love Has No Pride

Well, that LSU game was something else. GEAUX TIGERS!

It’s also a little sad to see the end of the Orgeron era. LSU is the only top-tier college program to win three national championships this century with three different coaches (only Alabama has won more titles than LSU this century), and these past two seasons have been rough. But I always had a liking for Coach O, was happy to see him get the chance to be the head coach, and even happier–to say the least–to see that magnificent 2019 season. And who knows who the next coach will be, or what his tenure will be like? Ah, well. Never a dull moment as a football fan in the state of Louisiana.

I am feeling more rested and well on the way to recovery from my trip. I made some good progress yesterday on the to-do list, and since the Saints aren’t playing today (some could say they didn’t really play Thursday night, either) I have the entire day free to work on things and get caught up and perhaps–just perhaps–even go to the gym. I wound up having football games playing on television yesterday (some seriously great games yesterday, Rivalry Weekend) but the college season is effectively over. I’ll pay attention to the conference title games and to the bowls, of course–yet at the same time I won’t be personally vested in them and it won’t matter if I watch or not. Weekends thus have become free for me, which is a good thing as I have so much to do. This morning I am going to start working my way through the to-do some more, hope to spend some time writing this afternoon, and I want to start reading my next selection from the TBR pile–Donna Andrews’ The Gift of the Magpie. I still want to do some entries on the other books I read over the past week, and there’s still some straightening up to do around here as well. And of course, there’s always about a thousand emails I have to answer at some point. I am going to try to get the emails answered and prepared to be sent tomorrow morning–yay for draft folders–and as always, I have a shit ton of organizing and filing to do. I have some short stories I need to edit, and I have agreed to write another for an anthology that isn’t due until April or so; I know which story-in-progress I am going to use, but I also need to change it’s title, and last night I found the title–from the Edgar Allan Poe poem “Tamerlane”: “Solace in a Dying Hour.”

Great title, methinks.

No rest for a Gregalicious.

The weather looks a bit gray out there this morning, and we are getting ready to swing into what passes for winter in southeastern Louisiana. Yes, I know winter doesn’t officially start until December 21st or so, but that uncertain period down here where it can be 80 degrees one day and 40 the next is beginning. Sometimes the weather shift happens over the course of the day, which makes it even more fun, as you have no clue how to dress for the day. It can be bitterly cold when I leave for work in the morning, and then incredibly warm when I get off work and I’ll have to run the air in the car on the way home from the office. Yay? I also need to start getting my Christmas cards together–I am determined this year to actually mail them out, which also means getting my address book together (no small feat) and then deciding who gets one and who doesn’t. I’m sure there is some kind of etiquette involving Christmas cards that I don’t know, as always I have no clue how to behave in a socially appropriate and acceptable way, but I don’t care. I don’t keep track of who sends me cards and who doesn’t, just as I don’t pay attention to who wishes me happy birthday on social media and who doesn’t–doesn’t life deliver enough blows as is without having to resort to that sort of pettiness? I am also trying to be better about being petty about stuff, too–I’ll let you know how that goes, since petty is my default–and tracking that sort of thing seems a bit much even to me (although I will admit I have done so in the past), and why make yourself crazy or upset or be hurt by such things? There’s a touch of narcissism in that, really–other people really don’t give you that much thought or energy, which actually seems worse to me; when someone hurts your feelings the truth usually it’s usually more thoughtlessness than anything else–most people would never intentionally hurt anyone else’s feelings unless they are an absolute monster–but also trying to figure out other people’s motivations and/or reasons is a fool’s game because you will never really know one way or another and why waste the time, energy, or effort trying to figure it out?

And it’s Christmas season, which is the antithesis of pettiness. Christmas is about forgiving and peace and love and harmony–although humans always have this remarkable ability to forget the true meaning of the season. (Nothing says peace and love and harmony than claiming there’s a “war on Christmas,” for example) Sure, there’s a religious aspect to Christmas, but it’s far more outweighed by the secularization of the holiday, which gets more and more secularized with every passing year.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning, really.

And Christmas is of course followed by Carnival here in New Orleans, and I guess we are having parades this coming year. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but at least parade season is later in the year than usual–Fat Tuesday itself falls on March 1, I believe–and last year’s cancellation meant that Zulu and Rex and the truck parade didn’t roll on a day where the temperature was 20 degrees and the entire city was freezing; I can’t imagine there would have been hordes out there on the parade route in that kind of miserable weather…but then again, one never knows. People do like to catch beads.

I know I wouldn’t have walked out there, or if I did, stayed long. As it was, we had no heat in the Lost Apartment that fateful freezing Mardi Gras day, and I was huddled under layers of clothing and piles of blankets with a space heater blasting hot air at me…and was still cold.

Sigh. And on that note, I am off to the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and may all your dreams come true.

Everyone Everywhere

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

Yesterday was simply a dreadful day, weather-wise; I imagine today isn’t going to be very much better, in all honesty. It’s 26 degrees in New Orleans right now, give or take. I am sitting at my desk in layers, the space heater going full blast, water is dripping out of every faucet to protect the pipes, and I’m about to go look for my fingerless gloves. FOUND THEM! I am glad Carnival has essentially be canceled for the most part–it’s too fucking cold, seriously. The high for today is predicted to be 36…which would usually be some kind of record low. But looking outside the windows I don’t see snow anywhere—at least we don’t have that to deal with. I am kind of dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning to go to the office. It’s going to be incredibly miserable, but at least then I have two work-at-home days. This cold snap is only supposed to last through the weekend, but during the ays it will get up to the 50’s and finally, by Sunday we’ll be back to the normal winter weather for New Orleans. It won’t be easy, but we’ll make it through somehow.

Our heat doesn’t work, by the way, so if it’s 26 outside it’s about that inside, give or take a few degrees. If I didn’t have to do a ZOOM thing later this morning I’d repair back to the bed with iPad and laptop and a book to read; I still may do that after the class ZOOM thing is finished.

My goal for yesterday was to get caught up some on my emails–I managed to get that accomplished, although even more have shown up this morning–and to print out the manuscript preparatory for the big edit/revise. This last one, while I may have called it the last draft, is actually a part of preparing the final draft; I wanted to get through the entire thing changing it from past tense to present tense, while also reading and getting an idea of what all needs to be added or deleted. This next pass through the printed pages will be where I make the notes to revise the language used, and then figure out where the new pieces I need to write need to go. The last and final pass will be a line edit, basically, where I try to catch all the mistakes and things that got missed when I changed things before. I am on track to be finished by the end of the month, or at least by the end of the first weekend of March, with any luck.

We got deeper into season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and are still enjoying it; we only intended to watch one episode, and wound up getting through four, with only four left, which at some point today–it’s Fat Tuesday, after all–we will most likely finish the show off. After a slow start the season has really picked up; I didn’t really want to stop watching last night, but it was already past eleven and I needed to get to bed–getting up at six tomorrow is going to be hard enough, given the cold, and sleeping in really late today would not have helped that situation in the least–but it’s nice to know that it’s there waiting for us when we finally are ready today. I’m not sure if Paul is going to work today–well, he’s not going to the office for sure, but whether he is going to make phone calls or send emails remains to be seen. It’s so weird to be up at this hour on Fat Tuesday and not hear a crowd at the corner or the drums of the marching bands. I really do miss the high school marching bands; especially the public school ones and the Marching 100 of St. Augustine’s; “St. Aug’s”, as we call them down here.

While I was printing out the manuscript yesterday morning I did a deep dive into the Internet about the Three Investigators, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) of the kids’ mystery series. One of the other things I was doing yesterday involved contracts for MWA’s upcoming mystery writing handbook, How to Write a Mystery, edited by the amazing Lee Child and Laurie R. King; so as I was reading an interview with the ghost writer for several of the Three Investigators books–including several of my favorites–and the name seemed familiar, as did that of his wife–so I made notes on the notepad that always sits next to my mouse to look them up and see why the names seemed familiar. Imagine my surprise when someone responded to the emailed contracts with an issue, and it turned out to be the ghost writer’s wife! That was why the name was familiar; I had seen it very recently. One of those weird, synchronistic elements of my life, I suppose, but it was still kind of cool to be corresponding with the wife of a Three Investigators ghost writer. The original author of the series, who created it and wrote ten of the first eleven volumes, Robert Arthur, also deeply interests me.

I also realized that, in some ways, I had mimicked The Three Investigators with the Scotty series: while the series is written in the first person, there are three of them; Scotty, Frank, and Colin. My original plans when I was a child for my own series initially began with a single character to hang the series on; it eventually evolved into three friends solving mysteries–and yes, the concept of there being three was not unique to, or originated by, the Three Investigators–the Hardy Boys and their pal, Chet; Nancy Drew with Bess and George; Judy Bolton and two separate groups of three (either with Irene and Honey, or with Lorraine and Lois); etc. (I’ve also always wondered, in the back of my mind, if having three precluded any notions of homoeroticism; it certainly existed in the Ken Holt series with his best bud Sandy, or in the Rick Brant with his buddy Scotty–which has also made me wonder lately if that’s where the name for my Scotty came from… since having three meant including a chaperone).

So, I intend to spend the rest of the morning straightening up the kitchen to serve as the backdrop for my ZOOM session, swilling coffee and trying to stay warm. So, on that note I am heading back into the spice mines, and will catch you on Ash Wednesday. Have a great day, Constant Reader, as always.

Are You Ready for This?

Ugh, Valentine’s Day.

The epitome of what I call the “Hallmark holiday”–a holiday primarily invented to sell products and cards, all under the guise of love and romance–I’ve never really understood the point of this “holiday”, really; shouldn’t we be showing the people we love that we love them every day without the necessity of a “holiday” forcing us to do so? And if I can recall correctly, the actually story of St. Valentine is actually creepy and sad; more like a John Carpenter version of a holiday than what billions of dollars of advertising over the past six or seven decades have embedded into American culture. I know, I know–I’m a spoilsport and perhaps a touch too cynical about these sorts of things, but seriously.

I mean….

It’s a frigid forty degrees in New Orleans today, with a deep freeze in the forecast for tomorrow night and the possibility of snow on Fat Tuesday. Ironically, the cancellation of the parades and the partying ban/restrictions in the French Quarter–which essentially cancelled Carnival’s bacchanal–while being an enormous economic blow to the city for this year, may have saved us of next year. Cold weather Carnivals are inevitably miserable and not as fun; and the following years see a dip in numbers and attendance before it starts building back up again. Not having hordes descend upon us for what may be record-setting cold for Carnival may be a blessing in disguise. It’s certainly too cold to go stand around on the corner for hours today for the four parades that would be rolling–but I am missing my corn dogs and mango daiquiris and funnel cakes this year. I have tights on this morning beneath my sweatpants, and may end up putting on a T-shirt underneath my sweatshirt. I have a stocking cap on, fingerless gloves, and the space heater is going on full blast. The sun is hiding behind cloud cover so it seems gray out there…I am dreading the inevitable rain that will come as well. But I intend to spend most of my day in my easy chair (huzzah for laptop computers!) under a blanket while music plays–I am going to be a Festival widow again today–and work on my book some more. I managed four chapters yesterday; don’t be impressed, as they were flashback chapters so the tenses isn’t need to be shifted, but I also saw places that need actual revisions, and made note of them for the big final push. I am hoping to actually get through this entire manuscript by Ash Wednesday, and then next weekend I’ll be able to start inputting the serious changes it needs, as well as some additions. There also needs to be one more, final chapter written. This will clock the book in at about a hundred thousand words, twenty-two chapters, and of course the inserts between each chapter I also need to write. I do think I should be able to get all of this finished by March 1 deadline; we’ll have to see. I am trying not to get into the mindset of well, I don’t have another deadline right behind this one, so I can be late without damaging the writing schedule for the year too badly–which is a thing for me, really; it’s never ceased to amaze me how easily I can talk myself out of doing the work.

Last night after Paul got home we watched the Australian Open; particularly the Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams matches, which were both quite entertaining and saw some amazing tennis being played, particularly Serena’s match. I spent most of the day working around the house. I ran errands early (mail, returned a library book, made groceries) and then came home and cleaned through the cold. Finally around two o’clock I adjourned to the easy chair and started revising and rewriting, and making notes. I also rewatched a beefcake movie about teenaged male witches called The Covenant, which objectifies its beautiful young male stars–their characters are conveniently on the swim team, so there are plenty of scenes in the water and in the locker room–and starred Chace Crawford, Sebastian Stan, Taylor Kitsch and Toby Hemingway in their youthful beauty; but the lead was played by Steven Strait, who was gorgeous and is now starring in The Expanse. It’s not a great movie by any means–a trifle, an entertainment–but the young beefcake was quite lovely to look at. Is there a term for young beefcake? There should be.

I also reread an old kids’ series book that I greatly enjoyed as a child; The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, which is a Three Investigators mystery and going to get–as it deserves–its own entry. When I was a kid, I loved the kids’ series books, collected them (continuing to do so as an adult because I am a completist and if I have any of the series I must have ALL of the series), and often reread favorites multiple times. I always used books as a child to escape from the reality of my world, in which I was an outsider and strange and may as well have been from another planet or dimension. Books were my source of comfort–I could always escape whatever was going on by slipping into a book. I have reread The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot any number of times–but this is the first time I’ve gone back to it in years. I am considering writing middle grade mysteries–not because I think I will get rich and famous that way (which I have long since learned in this business is a fool’s fantasy) but rather because I have always wanted to, and want to see if I can actually pull it off. I came up with the concept for a kids’ mystery series when I was a kid, patterned if not plagiarized from the ones I was reading, and believe it or not, I still have the list of titles and synopses of some of the books I’d intended to write in the series. Why not give it a shot? As the clock slowly runs out on my life–like sands through the hourglass–I am becoming very aware of how limited the time I have left in which I want to write everything I want to write (with new ideas popping up all over the place, all of the time) and so I am beginning to need to focus to get the ones that truly matter to me finished.

And yes, I am fully aware how morbid that sounds.

But it’s also reality. I suppose examining one’s mortality as the sixtieth birthday looms (seven months) is a cliché; sue me. I’ve never really thought about my age a whole lot before–other than being pleased that I don’t look my age–but I do find myself in quiet moments thinking about the past and wondering how much time I have left and when am I going to find the time to write everything I want to get written before Papa Legba comes to claim my soul. (Also, only this week did I learn how to make special characters on my computer…)

And on that note, I need to make another cup of coffee and do some things around here before settling in for today’s manuscript work. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader; I hope to get my blog entry on The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot finished today as well.

Hypnosis

Tuesday after the Edgar nominations were released–which is always one of my favorite days of the year. I love seeing how excited everyone–especially those who make the short-lists–always is. It’s also three weeks until Mardi Gras; which is going to be weird and kind of sad. It’s a bit of a shame, since last year’s was so cursed with bad energy almost from the very beginning. I’m glad I don’t have to plan my life around the parade schedule this year–that is quite nice–but it’s still kind of sad.

Insomnia returned last night, and this morning I am already feeling tired and worn out. The cappuccino is waking me up, but I feel very tired and drained and my eyes are all messed up; burning and watering from lack of sleep. It is most unpleasant, actually, particularly since I was planning on going to the gym after work tonight. I have a sneaking suspicion that may not happen; we’ll have to see how I feel when I get off work today and get home. Although I will say the shower really helped, and I think the caffeine is starting to take effect in my system as well. I have about a gazillion emails to answer today–yikes–and I really need to start working on the book at some point now that time is running out on the deadline.

Nothing like a deadline to kick your ass into gear.

We finished watching Flack last night and it is truly amazing. Anna Paquin is riveting as a spin doctor, who has an almost frightening ability to rationalize anything and excuse everything and come up with some absolutely insane ideas to protect her clients’ careers and reputations–with little to no care about how it impacts other people or the others in her clients’ lives. The primary problem is she has adapted what works for her in her day job into her private life–spinning merrily away and damaging her romantic relationship as well as those with the people she is close to–and most especially, her sister. It’s an exceptional performance–everyone in the cast is excellent, and all the roles are well written. But it’s Sophie Okenodo as the woman who runs the firm that steals the show–her ruthlessly ambitious executive has the best lines, and Okenodo plays it to the hilt. There’s a scene between her and a lowly intern in the season finale that alone should get Okenodo an Emmy; but since it’s on Prime who knows? Tonight we are starting the second season of Servant, M. Night Shyamalan’s fever dream of a nightmare series for Apple Plus; Lauren Ambrose is amazing–again, the entire cast is great–and it’s very cleverly written and creepy as all get out. I hope the second season is as good as the first.

I also am looking forward to reading more of Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching–which is an Edgar finalist for Best Paperback Original. I can certainly see why; the first few chapters I’ve read already are extremely well-written with a strong voice for the main character. There are a lot of terrific books on the Edgar shortlists; more books I may never get around to reading, alas.

Ah, I see what kind of day this is going to be–ebb and flow with energy. I just had a bit of a low, but now I am wired again. So bizarre, really. But I am just going to have to power through the low energy cognitive function and see what I can do about getting everything caught up. It would be amazing to get caught up on a day when I am not functioning at anything remotely close to 100%, wouldn’t it? But I keep looking at my emails and not having the energy or courage to even open one to read, let alone answer. But they won’t go away and the longer I go without answering some of these the worse off I will be in the long run, and let’s not forget–more will just keep coming in, like Sisyphus pushing the boulder.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did notice yesterday that my body is changing–the regular working out is reshaping my body again, and while I doubt I am ever going to fit into size 29 pants again (I doubt i will ever go lower than 31, and even that would be miracle) it is nice to see that the workouts I am doing are having an effect–even if I think most of the time that my workouts are pretty wimpy; I have a really good base of muscle underneath the layers of fat, and even the little bit of exercise I am doing is having an effect. My posture is improving and my chest/shoulders/upper back are looking nice and bigger, which is having the desired effect of making my waist look smaller. I was in the bathroom yesterday washing my hands and happened to glance up into the mirror and was like, hey, when did that change occur? It was a most pleasant surprise, and I was quite delighted to see it. Probably at the end of February I am going to change from a full-body workout to a targeted body part program; it will mean the return of the much-loathed Leg Day, but that’s the most effective kind of program…I am hoping my body can handle it by the beginning of March.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Today Was a Fairytale

It is Saturday and I am also on vacation for a week. Huzzah!

I have a lot to do, of course, as always, and of course, LSU is playing Arkansas today at eleven–how far the mighty have fallen, to be playing a Western division conference game at eleven in the morning on the SEC Network–so I will undoubtedly watch the game while reading, making notes on things I am working on, and trying to get caught up while not getting terribly saddened by the game and how it turns out.

But of course, as always, the intent behind this vacation is to get caught up on everything, which is no easy chore, believe you me. I need to whip the book into shape and get it rolling again; I need to finish a short story that has to be submitted by January 15th; the Lost Apartment is a disgusting pigsty that desperately needs to be deep-cleaned; and I’d love to be able to finish reading The Hot Rock as well as some other short stories. I also have a goal to relax and get rested, which will also be lovely.

I am sort of looking at the vacation as a kind of reboot, quite frankly; a time to snap out of the writing malaise I’ve been experiencing for the last few months and get back into my writing again. Getting caught up would be absolutely lovely, but as I always tend to be behind on everything…it doesn’t help that Louisiana and New Orleans history is so colorful and fascinating that I will often go down a major wormhole triggered by something I come across looking for something else–I spent several days in the wormhole created by having my curiosity aroused by the Mississippi River forts, for example, and came away from it with no story ideas other than an amorphous Sherlock Holmes story and perhaps something more recent, but again, amorphous and not much else. I spent a couple of days immersed in Cajun and Louisiana folklore, looking for something I could use for the Christmas horror story, only to come up relatively empty-handed. I have the opening for the story, still don’t know what the rest of the plot is, and am not convinced I chose the correct Cajun folk story/monster to use–which is part of the reason I decided to give up on trying to get the story finished by December 1st.

I also have a sink full of dishes and papers and files and books stacked everywhere. Not good, not good at all.

Yesterday Rex–the main krewe that still parades on Fat Tuesday, and whose “king” (Rex) is traditionally considered the King of Carnival, cancelled their ball and also announced that, with no ball and no parade this season, they will not be naming a King and Queen this year. This came as a surprise to me–let’s face it, few krewes are as conservative politically as either Rex or Comus (who chose not to parade once the city passed an ordnance not allowing krewes to discriminate in their memberships) so having Rex cancel its festivities is indicative of the seriousness of the pandemic, really. I know a lot of New Orleanian traditionalists were still holding out hope that parade season would happen, but with Rex making this stand you can be pretty certain that the party’s over for 2021. While this is obviously sad–who isn’t sad that Carnival isn’t going to happen?–it also means that 2022 Carnival will be epic and balls-to-the-wall; I also hate that the last Carnival was the cursed Carnival of 2020. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a great article about the thirteen times parades were cancelled over the 150 years or so we’ve been having Carnival here in New Orleans; naturally, now I am thinking about writing something during a cancelled Carnival of the past.

It’s weird when norms vanish, isn’t it? I would have never dreamed Carnival would ever be cancelled, and yet, here we are.

But will people still turn out in costume on Fat Tuesday? It’s still a holiday, after all, and I can, sadly, see people turning out to drink all day and celebrate.

I meant to read some short stories yesterday, even got started on reading one or two, but after I got home from the gym I wasn’t in the mood and so none of them took with me; I hope to do better with that today. I did make it to the gym last evening, and it was lovely. There’s still some tightness and muscle soreness in my back, but it’s not nearly as bad it was originally, and going to the gym actually made it seem better, to be honest. We watched an episode of The Mandalorian last night–this week’s not being one of the stronger episodes, although the story of the Child progressed a little bit (note to producers: more Giancarlo Esposito, please) and then I fell into a wormhole of Ten Minute History videos on Youtube before retiring for the evening. I do feel very well rested this morning, and not especially groggy; which should bode fairly well for the rest of my day. The lovely thing about this abbreviated and bizarre football season is I am not vested in it other than in watching LSU play; and with the game on early today I should be able to get plenty of things done today (in theory, at least); but seriously, if nothing else, I should be able to make progress on my reading.

And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, alas, so it’s time to mine spice. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Fifteen

Wednesday, and to quote Bon Jovi, “we’re halfway there, Oh! Oh! Livin’ on a prayer!”

Yesterday the city made it official: there will be no Mardi Gras parades in Orleans Parish in 2021. It’s more than a little bit shocking, to be honest; I seriously doubted that the City would actually pull the trigger on this. It’s going to be an enormous economic blow to the city, obviously, but it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how this will play out in the long run, obviously, but I can’t help but feel bad for all the public service businesses and their employees who depend so heavily on Carnival for their income.

I did come up with an idea for the Christmas horror anthology–the title is “To Sacrifice A Pawn” (which I really really like), and the Louisiana monster I am using is a “grunch”–it was difficult not to go with the Cajun Fairy (the fee follay) or the unbaptized babies (the letiche)–but I can always use those at another time. But I am using Redemption Parish–my weird, self-created “haunted” parish that first appeared in either Murder in the Arts District or The Orion Mask–simply because I think it’s a great name for a Louisiana parish bedeviled by supernatural things. (One of the major drawbacks of being “prolific” is trying to remember things that you’ve written and published already; Christ on the cross, it’s not easy) And let’s face it, how much do I love the entire concept of Redemption Parish? I mean, there are parishes named Assumption and Ascension–although no Annunciation, which is a street in New Orleans, and a great name for a parish.

We finished watching the first season of Mr. Mercedes last night, and much as I wanted them to, they really didn’t stick the landing. I’m not sure why they made the choice to de-emphasize the characters of Jerome and his family, or reduced Holly to such a tiny role, but I think it was a mistake. I can also understand the change in what the crazed psychopath Brady’s final target for the climax was–it would be much too expensive and much too hard to film an attempted bombing at a boy band concert filled with teenagers–but it really did, somehow, shift the dynamic and make the climactic finale seem a little less urgent in some ways. The second season requires paying to join Peacock to watch, and as I’ve discussed numerous times already, I am not really up for paying for still another streaming service.

So, today is my last day in the office for a while. I work at home this week on Thursday and Friday, and then I am on holiday vacation next week, starting with this Saturday. I have a lot planned for this week off; we shall see if I achieve any of it. I need to finish two short stories, dive back into the book and get into a groove of writing it so I can get it turned in on time, an of course, the apartment itself is a pigsty. The LSU game this weekend hasn’t yet been either cancelled or postponed, but it doesn’t look very good for them regardless. Arkansas is surging this year (and really, good for them; their program has really slid into the basement over the end of this past decade, and while I am not a fan, you do hate to see it) and they really get up to beat LSU; not sure why they hate us so much, but there it is, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if our four year winning streak against them comes to an end this year.

And with all the short story stuff that’s been going on this year, I was thinking about my next story collection, and started trying to get a table of contents together for the next one. I’d always intended the next one to be called Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way “Once a Tiger” will work as a short story (moving it into the novella camp) and so I need a new title; I am torn between using This Town and Other Stories or Neighborhood Alert and Other Stories; but then who knows? I may come up with yet another story in the meantime whose title is better for a collection. The other thing is I keep forgetting stories I’ve written and published, which is very strange–as I was pulling it all together yesterday evening, I know I forgot “Moist Money”, and who knows what else I’ve forgotten in the meantime?

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

So Hard

Monday has rolled around again, and for the most part, I’m okay with it, really. I had a lovely weekend away from the Internet, which was enormously relaxing, and was able to get two stories revised yesterday. Of course, later on last evening I realized there’s yet another deadline looming, but I think I can make it. It is Friday, and Friday is when the 4th of July holiday lands for me; yes, a three day weekend to look forward to, and a deadline for Friday. So, in the worst case scenario, the story I want to submit for Friday needs at most another read through and polish; should the week go to hell (as they’ve been known to do lately) I at least have Friday to do so.

I spent most of the afternoon and early evening trying to get my computer files organized so I could more easily find things I need to be working on, and that was certainly a time suck. But it was necessary and needed to be done, and I made significant progress, which is always a plus. I had intended to start reading Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths–I opened to the first page and read the first few paragraphs, which are simply marvelous–but then got deep into the file organizing, so it will have to wait until this evening and the reading hour–I’ve decided to spend at least an hour every day devoted to reading, as it’s the only way I’ll ever get caught up on my reading (which is a Sisyphean task, as more books I want to read come out all the goddamned time).

I did manage to get the revisions on the two stories done yesterday, as I explained earlier, and today I am going to try to find the time to line edit them as well as read the other story that’s due on Friday. I have so much to do–my email situation is truly tragic–but hopefully I’ll have some time to get everything I need to do together into a comprehensive to-do list today. Obviously, the first thing on the to-do list is to make a comprehensive to-do list.

And maybe, just maybe, when I get these stories out of my hair I’ll be able to get back to work on the Secret Project this coming weekend and get it finished once and for all and out of my hair. And maybe then I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows, which I am going to change from a y/a into a book not for teens, which may not be as easy as I would like to think it is. For one thing I need to rewrite the entire beginning–which is predicated on our main character being a high school student; I’ve decided to age him to college graduate preparing for graduate school in New Orleans, but still be from Chicago–and it won’t be as easy to make changes later on, yet I think it’s for the best, to be honest. It’s very Gothic in subject matter, after all, and plus–the y/a publishing world, at least on-line, is a snake pit.

I’m also thinking about what the next Scotty should be. I’m still wrapping my mind around a quarantine mystery; as I’ve said before, I have the title already, but I think I would like to write something in the period between the end of Royal Street Reveillon (Christmas) and the quarantine; which gives me an approximate three month period with which to work. I really do want to write about Mardi Gras again, with Scotty older and perhaps not quite as into it still as he was in Mardi Gras Mambo–I kind of want to capture that weird feeling and horrible energy the city had during this past Mardi Gras. I had an idea for a Mardi Gras short story, featuring Venus Casanova, “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” but I’m not so certain I have the right to–or should–write about a Black female lead. I’ve been writing about Venus for almost twenty years now, as a supporting character in both the Scotty and the Chanse series, and have always wanted to explore the character in greater depth–I have another story written with her as the main character, “Falling Bullets,” and an idea for a novel, Another Random Shooting–but I don’t think I should be writing such books and stories now, if ever; now is the time to amplify actual “own voices” rather than taking publishing slots away from actual Black writers, who already have enough issues in trying to be heard and paid for their work equitably.

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

Casting a Shadow

And it’s Friday again! Cue the dancing horses.

I have a lot that I want to get done this weekend. I need to get those stories pulled together, and I want to get started on finishing off the Secret Project. Stupidly, I also started writing another short story yesterday, “The Flagellants,” which I am not really sure what it’s going to be about, or how to even finish the stupid thing. (An\d because I am twelve years old, sometimes when I think the title quickly it sounds like flatulence, which is a joke I may make in the story because I am twelve years old.) And yes, I got the idea from the bubonic plague chapter in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror; during the fourteenth century’s bubonic plague outbreak, the church was already in disrepute and many felt that the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful mankind, so there were some religious cults that sprang up; the flagellants movement was one of these, and it was enormously popular and spread throughout central Europe, primarily Germany. These penitents would march through town and flagellate themselves with whips and cat o’nine tails and knotted ropes, trying to take on the sins of all mankind.

Naturally, I found this interesting, and I really liked “The Flagellants” as a title, and we’re kind of in the midst of a pandemic…granted, we’re not that far into it as of yet, but we’ve already seen ridiculous behavior in the name of Jesus–so far, nothing I’m aware of from other faiths–but I began to think about it some more and wondered, what if this becomes more lethal and lasts longer than anyone is even considering now? The second wave of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 was much worse than the first, and in the wake of the Great War (aka World War I) and said pandemic there was a huge religious revival in the US during the 20’s–we tend to only think of that decade as flappers and bathtub gin, but that wasn’t all that was going on during that decade (it was also the decade that inspired Sinclair Lewis to write Elmer Gantry, and the decade of Aimee Semple McPherson)…and the old “what if” questions started running through my head, and I remembered the religious fanatics who always protest at Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence…and yeah, that’s kind of how stories get born. I’m not sure where this story is going to go or what it’s going to become–it’s kind of fun and different than anything I’ve written before–and I’m not entirely sure it’s going to end up as a crime story, which makes it even more fun.

I slept really long and well last night, and didn’t want to get up this morning, which was lovely–and a long time coming. It’s been a while since I’ve had such a great night’s sleep, and it was absolutely wonderful. I feel rested and ready to go mine some spice this morning.

As expected, Joey Burrow was the Number One draft pick last night, taken by the Cincinnati Bengals–and I said to Paul, “it’s going to be weird rooting for the Bengals now”–one of the many reasons I don’t get so far into the NFL is it is impossible for me to not root for former LSU players and their new teams to do well; and I really can’t devote more time to the NFL than I already give to the Saints. But after last night, I feel it’s pretty safe to say the Saints are Louisiana’s favorite team, and now the Bengals are our second favorite. I also never pay attention to the NFL draft, but I did last night because I wanted to see how the LSU players would do in it. Five players in the first round, I believe–Joey Burrow, K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen,  Justin Jefferson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (which is a record, I believe, for LSU and one short of the overall record)–and now I need to go read the Advocate to see how the rest of the team did, and where they wound up.

Obviously, I will always love this 2019 team and everyone on it. It’s kind of hard not to, after the dream season they just gifted us with–and it’s going to be a very hard act to follow; every LSU team going forward is going to be compared to this one.

This weekend, I hope to get some more writing done. I didn’t get hardly anything written this week (after having such a great writing weekend last weekend), but I do need to finish revising and polishing these stories that are due, and maybe even work some more on some of these ones that are in progress–I may just keep writing “The Flagellants” and see where it goes, just letting it develop as it goes–and I need to start getting some other stuff prepared to get back to work on. I also want to do some reading this weekend; I’ve really fallen behind on that, and I want to make reading more of a priority; it certainly is a better thing to do with my time than falling into Youtube rabbit holes.

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_0247

I Hope You Dance

New Orleans is almost completely shut down.

Yesterday I ventured forth to the office, to do my data entry and to clean my desk area. We had several meetings via the Internet, and several trainings–including one in which we were taught how to do work from home–and I wound up bringing my work home with me. We also had a department meeting on-line, to explain things we could be doing while self-quarantined and to make up hours lost by the shutting down of our testing programs. After my enormous freak-out on Monday (yes, it wasn’t a pretty thing when I got home from the office Monday afternoon), I feel a bit better about my job. It’s so weird, because I am used to being out there on the front lines doing testing and getting people treated…and to be instead isolated at home is a strange thing. What was even weirder was driving home. Under normal circumstances I would never leave the office at six; if I did, I wouldn’t take the highway home because I have to take the big off ramp from I-10 West to I-90 to the Westbank, and the bridge traffic usually has the highway backed up to Claiborne, where I get on the highway. Yesterday I didn’t even have to brake, that’s how light the traffic was–at six pm on a Tuesday. There were cars on the highway; I could see cars on the streets below (the highway is elevated as it passes through downtown)–and there were some peoples strolling on St. Charles…but other than that, nothing.

We finished watching Toy Boy last night, which was terrific and a lot of fun, and ending its first season with a terrific cliff-hanger to set up the second season. It’s great for bingeing, y’all; good trashy escapist fun to make you forget that we are trying to survive and live through a terrifying pandemic and the even more terrifying economic fall out from said pandemic. I also have to remember that I cannot stay inside the entire time; I need to get out of the Lost Apartment and take walks, enjoy the sunshine and the weather, and to take my phone or camera with me. No matter how introverted you are, you need to get out of the house sometimes–unless, of course, your introversion has turned into agoraphobia, which naturally means going outside would be the absolute worst thing for you to try to do.

I still have three stories to try to get written by the end of the month, and I am definitely going to give it the old college try. My mind has clearly been somewhere else over the last week or so–it’s hard to believe it’s only fucking Wednesday; this past weekend seems like it was years ago, last week a different life entirely and Mardi Gras? A different reality completely.

I haven’t even been able to focus enough to try to read–which is weird, as reading is always where I go for escape.

But the nice thing about working from home is that I can clean while taking a break from my data entry; I can also have trainings or webinars on my computer to listen to while I clean and organize the kitchen–and I can even broadcast said trainings and webinars to my television while cleaning the living room. This is a strange new work reality–it’s been years since I worked at home primarily–and one I am going to have to adapt to. I saw someone posting on social media yesterday a poll over whether people thought once this has passed, if things will go back the way they were or will be different. It’s a silly question, because this is a big cultural and societal change; it can never be the way it was before again–just like New Orleans isn’t the same city it was before Katrina, and it will never be that city ever again. Things never go back the way they were; just like the United States will never be the same country it was before 9/11 again.

We don’t know what our new reality is going to look like once we get past this crisis, so trying to speculate is kind of an exercise in pointlessness.

But one of the things, the mantras, that helped me get through the aftermath of Katrina was to focus on the things I could control. One of those things was my body; post-Katrina was probably the most dedicated periods I’ve ever had to my health and fitness and my physical appearance. Since the gyms are closed that’s not really a possibility this time around; although I can still stretch every day and go for nice walks, it’s not the same thing as hitting the weights three times a week. I also focused on my writing and editing; I didn’t write as much as I did before the interregnum–there were times I thought I’d never write again–but that didn’t stop me from my editorial duties, and I did eventually start writing again; this was the period that produced Murder in the Rue Chartres and “Annunciation Shotgun” and Love Bourbon Street. I also think writing–particularly since I’d be writing about a non-virus non-pandemic world–will provide a nice escape for me.

I also signed the contract with Mystery Tribune yesterday for my story “The Carriage House”–remember how last week actually started out with good news in my world? That also seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? I’m always happy to sell a short story, and it’s always lovely to sell one to a mainstream market with a gay main character. (You can talk about how publishing needs to diversify all you want, but it’s still not easy to sell a story with a gay main character to a mainstream market.) It’s a terrific story, or at least I (and the people at Mystery Tribune) think it is, and it’s a concept that’s been lying around in my head ever since we first moved out of the carriage house and into the main house the first time, in June 2005, and came back to me when we moved back into the main house in December 2006. Many years ago–probably when I was far too young–I read a book by (I think) Gerold Frank, a true crime account of The Boston Strangler. There was a bit in the book about a woman who ran a boarding house, and began to suspect one of her tenants might be the Strangler; he was always agitated and acting strange the day of the murders, etc.; lots of circumstantial evidence but nothing ever definite. She remembered one day him staring at an advertisement in a magazine featuring an African-American woman for about ten minutes or so, rather obsessively; and she thought to herself, the next victim will be a black woman and sure enough, it was. You know, that sort of thing; the sort of thing that would be the basis for a Hitchcock movie (I’ve never seen The Lodger, which is a Hitchcock film–possibly based on a novel–about a woman who begins to believe one of her tenants is Jack the Ripper. I’ve always wanted to see it.) and it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. I used to joke that I never wanted to be one of those people interviewed on the news with a caption under my name (NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED SUSPECTED NOTHING), but the concept of living in close quarters with a serial killer, or a thrill killer, or a killer of some sort–and beginning to suspect that you do, has always been an interesting thought and something I’ve always wanted to write about. “The Carriage House” is a culmination of all those thoughts and inspirations, and I am delighted you will finally get a chance to read it.

It’s also one of those stories that I originally thought would be a short novel, but it works much better as a short story.

More on that to come, of course, and now, back to the spice mines.

augenzo5