Dreaming of the Queen

And here we are, on yet another Thursday, awake before the crack of dawn so I can go screen people at our two offices–mornings at the Marine Building on Tulane Avenue, afternoon at the Elysian Fields office–before heading home. I’m also doing a live reading this evening for Tubby and Coo’s Bookstore; not sure how that’s going to work or how you can tune in–I think it’s a Facebook thing? But I’ll be posting on Twitter and Facebook etc once I have that information handy. I am not sure how I feel about this–I intensely dislike the sound of my own voice, let alone how I appear on camera–but this is a brave new world we’re all living in, and if I want to continue having a career, I am going to have to start doing all kinds of things I generally avoid doing, because doing things you don’t enjoy or like to do is part of the price one has to pay for a career in publishing. I’ve always admired authors who can do the public appearance thing with grace and wit and aplomb; I am not one of those, and inevitably, as is my wont, am aware of every single thing that goes wrong in a reading or on a panel; whether it’s me saying the opposite of what I mean or stumbling over words as I read…yeah.

Which is why I always get a terrified look on my face when people ask me for career advice. I so clearly don’t know what I’m doing that it’s almost laughable that anyone would want my advice on anything, really.

I read some more of Thunder on the Right last night; again, not really sure why Stewart opted to go with a third person point-of-view rather than her usual first; perhaps it will become more apparent as the novel progresses. I honestly don’t remember anything of this story–which is weird.  It’s set in the Pyrenees, a part of Europe I’ve always been interested in and rarely appears in fiction; and how could I forget the plot of a story that begins with the heroine going to visit a cousin staying in a remote convent in the Pyrenees, only to discover on arrival that her cousin died two weeks earlier. (Then again, I remembered very little of This Rough Magic, and even thought the dolphin was from The Moon-spinners; and was wrong wrong wrong)

We also watched another episode of Defending Jacob, which kind of is unspooling. Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery are both superb in this–at least, so far–but the plot itself…as I said to a friend on Twitter, who had issues with the book (I’ve not read the book), the story is familiar–the concept of ‘what would you do is your child was accused of a crime’ has been used plenty of times, and this is what would be called domestic suspense if it was written by a woman and the main character was the wife, not the husband (Alison Gaylin did a magnificent, Edgar winning job of this very story in If I Die Tonight, which you should read if you haven’t already), and the whole “Dad is a prosecutor but will hide evidence and interfere with the investigation to protect his son, thereby risking his entire career and life because he is so convinced his son is being railroaded” thing…the “heroic dad” trope is such a straight male fantasy that it’s very hard for me to take the show seriously. It’s hard to watch someone do stupid things, particularly when they’re supposedly really smart (LAWYER), that you know are only going to turn out badly because it’s necessary for the plot.

I also finished watching Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne. It’s really quite good, partly because it’s one of those weird historical royal marriages that was surprisingly happy. They were only married five years before Marie was killed in a fall from her horse; Maximilian, in an age when kings and princes and emperors rarely went more than a year between wives, didn’t remarry for nearly twenty years after Marie died. He had lots of mistresses, but never remarried–which was kind of a lovely tribute to his first wife. The show is really well done, and the German actor playing Maximilian is quite hot. (The actress playing Marie is also beautiful.) Their two children, Philip and Margaret, were also quite attractive; Philip is also known to history as Philip the Handsome; how good looking did he have to be to earn that nickname while he was alive? Later Hapsburgs, however, were not known for their looks.

Lord, I have a lot of work to get done this weekend, and I am really dreading it.

Heavy sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Don Juan

Looks like we made it to Wednesday, for whatever that may be worth. Days and dates really seem to have little to no meaning anymore; I can only imagine how bad it is for people who are sheltering in place. We used to be able to tell what day of the week it was based on what was airing on television, but now that we stream everything and rarely watch anything live…yeah, if I didn’t use a Google calendar to keep track of when the bills are due and deadlines and appointments or so forth, I’d never know the date, let alone the day.

I know when I was quarantined at home for that week, I had no clue of days or dates by the time I was cleared to return to work…so those of you who continue to be stuck at home sheltering in place, you have my deepest sympathies. I can’t even imagine. I was going stir crazy after a little less than a full week–well, it was more like nine days total, I think, from beginning to end–and so I cannot imagine how awful it must be for people who’ve been trapped in doors this entire time.

I wonder how many Rear Window type stories are being written as I type this?

I love the whole concept of the Rear Window style of crime and suspense stories. I think my story “The Carriage House,” recently sold to Mystery Tribune, is that precise kind of story; what I think of as ‘the accidental witness.’ I think about this sort of thing all the time; in my neighborhood, for example, the houses are very close to each other. Sometimes as I walk back to my apartment I can hear someone on the other side of the fence, talking on the phone; I can see their upper floor windows from the windows around my desk, and of course, I see my neighbor who lives in the carriage house walking in front of my windows all the time, when he’s coming or going. Likewise, from our bedroom windows we can see into the house next door’s upstairs windows; I never look, really, and most of the time being inside I think no one can see me, either–which is hilarious. (We always think of our homes as being safe spaces, but it wouldn’t be very hard for someone to kick in my front door, really; this is why break-ins and robberies, etc. are so unsettling and feel like such violations–our homes are supposedly our safe sanctuaries, and being reminded that we aren’t safe in our homes in such a way makes things uncertain and uncertainty is often the worst.) Throughout New Orleans, no matter how big the lot our home sits on, we live in close proximity to others; particularly in the French Quarter and most of the neighborhoods of the city; I’m always curious and interested how we all live in such tight quarters to each other and yet pretend we are isolated in our own safe little worlds.

I worked on two of my stories yesterday: “Falling Bullets,” which is a Venus Casanova story, and “Condos for Sale or Rent”, which is one of those “living in close proximity”stories. (And I know–New Orleanians don’t live in nearly as close proximity as New Yorkers or San Franciscans) I also have come to the conclusion that one of my short stories–which I have been trying to make into a short story–is probably more likely to be a novel than a short story; I am going to try to revise it one more time, just to be sure, and if that doesn’t work, “Death and the Handmaidens” is going into the “potential novel” file. I think it’s a good story and one that kind of needs to be told…but it’s been rejected everywhere I’ve ever submitted it; but I do think it still has some potential to work as a short story, so I am going to give it the old college try once more.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work–those early mornings on Tuesday and Thursday are particularly rough on me–and watched some more of Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which is very well done, and we started Killing Eve–free trial on AMC; we decided the quality still holds, but are willing to wait until we can binge the entire season over the course of an episode. I slept really well last night, but still feel a little dragged out this morning. Then again, I’m only on my first cup of coffee; that does make a significant difference to how awake I do actually feel.

I read for a little while on Thunder on the Right last night, but my mind was too tired to focus, so I gave up on reading after a few pages. It is much better than I remembered, and it’s also one of the few Mary Stewart novels that isn’t written in the first person. I’m not certain why she made that choice–it isn’t evident yet–and I’m assuming there’s a reason why she deviated from her usual; perhaps as I read further into the book it will become more obvious. (Assuming there’s a story structure reason for not using the first person is a very author-like assumption to make; I myself inevitably fall back on the first person simply–but not entirely–because it’s easier not to make POV mistakes in the first person.)

The weather here is getting warmer–and the Formosan termite swarms have started–but we still haven’t been punched in the face by humidity quite yet, and every day the 80 degree or so temperature this week has been offset by a lovely, cool breeze that has made it seem temperate, which has been really nice.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines this morning. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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For Your Own Good

As Monday rolls around again–huzzah?–and we’re in the last week of April. These last two months have certainly lasted forever, haven’t they? Christ the Lord.

I did something really strange yesterday morning; or rather, more strange than my usual, which is pretty strange. I started writing another Scotty book. It may come to nothing, but ever since the title Quarter Quarantine Quadrille popped into my head a couple of weeks ago, my mind has toyed with the thought over and over again. And since the intro to every Scotty book opens with an homage to the opening of a truly famous classic novel (Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Lolita, Peyton Place, to name but a few) the thought crossed my mind that I could do an homage to “The Masque of the Red Death”, so I looked it up on-line and cut and pasted the first two paragraphs into a word document, and started playing with it a bit. I’ll probably look at the openings of other pandemic-related fictions, like Death in Venice or The Plague before finally deciding on which one to actually use–or even if a Scotty quarantine book is something the world wants or needs–but the actual opening of the first chapter came to me on Saturday night, while we watched that dreadful Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary movie: as I watched a fight scene where Hemsworth’s character took on basically a team of soldiers by himself and killed them all in less than two minutes, Paul said, “I wonder how long this script was? Two pages of dialogue, maybe?” and I thought to myself, this is probably what a Colin novel would have to look like, and from there I leapt to Scotty, Frank and Taylor sitting around during quarantine, watching a movie like this, and Taylor saying, idly, “This is what Colin actually does when he’s not here, isn’t it?” and then forces the questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few books–especially in the last one–about morality and ethics and how do Scotty and Frank and the family look past what Colin’s source of income is? And since I signaled at the end of the last book that Colin was on his way home…and it did come up, during the book, that being involved with Colin makes them targets…that maybe, just maybe, it was time to deal with that in a Scotty book. So I wrote the first few paragraphs of a first chapter, where exactly that happens: they are watching an action/adventure movie when Taylor makes the observation, and the awkward conversation that ensues from it.

It might be a false start and a dead end–Lord knows I already have enough on my plate without trying to write another Scotty book on top of it–but…stranger things have happened.

I also reviewed my Sherlock Holmes story, which was actually much better than I ever dared dream; revising it and making it stronger will not actually be the odious chore I feared it might. On the other hand, I cannot be certain that the editor will feel much the same way about the story as I do, so it must be honed and refined and polished till it gleams in the light of day. (Ironically, I couldn’t remember the end….) But I did a much  better job than I thought I had–yes, I am my own worst critic, this is absolutely true–and this pleases me to no end. The story itself works, and just needs a little bit of tweaking the language and an added sentence here, a subtracted sentence there…yes, I am very pleased with it. Once I get it in shape, off it goes–and I think my other one that’s due this week only needs a tweak here and there as well.

HUZZAH!

Always good news.

We also watched Hustlers–didn’t care too much for it; sorry, felt like it could have been much better–and then the first episode of the Penny Dreadful spin-off, City of Angels, set in Los Angeles in 1938, and I liked it. A lot. It has a very noir sensibility, crossed over with some supernatural/horror elements, and it addresses not only race but Nazi infiltration into Los Angeles in that year–and pulls no punches. Draw your own conclusions, but I thought it was terrific, and look forward to watching the rest of the season. Nathan Lane is very well cast as a hardboiled LA homicide detective, and you can never go wrong with Natalie Dormer. I then watched–while Paul got ready for the week–watched a historical mini-series on Starz called Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, I think a multi-language production? Sometimes it sounded like French, sometimes like German, sometimes like something in between; perhaps Flemish? Anyway, it’s quite well-produced and this royal couple never gets the attention they quite deserve, given their marriage resulted in nearly five hundred years of wars between France and Germany (through its many iterations, from Holy Roman Empire to Austrian Empire to German Empire). The fifteenth century is an interesting time; one of blood feuds between branches of both the royal families of England (the Wars of the Roses) and the French Valois (the Orleans and Burgundy branches, respectively; ending with the Burgundy branch being absorbed into the House of Habsburg…so yeah), and a tighter unifying of the Holy Roman Empire into a hereditary throne for the Habsburgs. It was also the century in which Spain was freed of Moorish occupation and unified into Spain again–and once again, the Habsburgs wound up getting involved there and absorbing another throne. I’d known about the series for quite some time, and was glad to see it finally available to stream on one of my (too many) services. Yay, HISTORY!!!

I woke up feeling tired this morning, so I decided to make today another vacation day, stay home and get some things done around the house. I may venture out to the grocery store, but then again, I may not; those trips always seem to exhaust me, and why push it if I don’t have to? I have to be jealously guard my health these days, and my energy–bearing in mind the subconscious depression and angst can also be wearing down my body fairly regularly; another post-Katrina lesson–sometimes you’re not even aware of the depression bogging you down until it actually does. I spent the weekend pretty much in a complete state of exhaustion; it was very odd, and limiting in what I was able to work on and get done. Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted I reread all these in-progress short stories that have been languishing in my “edit” folder for so long–so much so that I actually got ideas on how to fix and rewrite and revise them all; there may be a massive flurry of submissions coming to the few publications out there that take crime stories–but the lack of energy I experienced for the majority of the weekend wasn’t very helpful, really.

And it seems to have carried over into today as well. Yay? Not really.

But I have about a million emails to reply to, several more to initiate, and then I’ going to probably head first into the spice mines, where I need to stay for most of the day. Since I am taking a vacation day, I need to make it worthwhile.

And so, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely and productive Monday, Constant Reader. I know I hope to.

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We Got a Love Thang

Vacation, all I ever wanted…vacation have to get away!

But in fairness, I dread being in the car for nearly twenty-four hours over the course of five days.

Shudder.

And there’s so much to do before I leave.

I fixed our front door last night. Paul’s key got stuck in the front door lock and wouldn’t come out. I just shrugged and said I’ll just take the deadbolt apart, fetched a screwdriver, and did precisely that. I not only got the key out of the lock but I also reassembled the deadbolt, fixing what had gone wrong with its mechanism. Once I was finished, I was a little amused; I certainly never would have dreamed I’d ever be that handy. I wish I were handier; I wish I knew how to change the oil in my car and how to rewire things. I am, in fact, very uneducated about how my current car works, and I’ve had it for almost two years. I really do need to read the manual.

I am thinking about working on Bury Me in Satin today, after I run my errands and before the LSU game this evening. I also think the last two chapters have been incredibly difficult because I am having to make it up as I go. I have this amorphous idea of a story, but am not entirely sure I know how I am going to tell it; hence the problems I’ve had with the last two chapters. What I need to do is some planning; some brainstorming on the characters and who they are and what they want, and perhaps even some plotting and outlining. I also wonder if I am simply, in reaction to having such a hard time writing the last two chapters, coming up with excuses for not actually doing any writing (“well, there’s really no point in even trying to write anything since I don’t know this and this and this”) which could in reality be some kind of self-sabotage crossed with Imposter Syndrome with perhaps just a pinch of my tendency to procrastination and shameless laziness.

And, just for fun, there’s the distinct possibility that all of it is true.

This is why writers drink.

I slept incredibly deeply and well. I stayed up later than I’d wanted to because I chose to wash the bed linens last night, rather than today, and the dryer struggled with the blankets–it does this sometimes, with no rhyme or reason to it–and finally rolled into bed just past twelve last night. I got up at nine this morning; it really makes a significant difference to wake up organically, rather than be untimely ripped from the arms of sleep by the brutality of an alarm.

I started watching a series on Netflix called Knightfall last night–well, I’d started it one night in the last week when Paul was late getting home, and it’s interesting. I don’t care about the historical inaccuracies; whenever I watch historical fiction I generally do unless it’s so glaring it cannot be ignored. It’s about the last of the Knights Templar, and borrows somewhat from The DaVinci Code, which of course borrowed heavily from Holy Grail Holy Blood, which was a rather lengthy non-fiction tome built around a conspiracy theory (the authors went on to write two more books, following the same theme; their primary source was later revealed to be a liar). I read Holy Grail Holy Blood back in the 1980’s, when it was newly in paperback; I read it again in the 1990’s, primarily because I was interested in the sections on the Cathar heresy in the south of France and the Albigensian Crusade that wiped them out. Thus, the ‘big reveal’ in The DaVinci Code  wasn’t really a big reveal to me; as soon as it became clear that the plot had to do with the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion, I knew what it was.

Anyway, I digress.

Knightfall is about the Knights Templar, and is set in France during the reign of Philip IV, the Fair (which meant handsome and had nothing to do with justice). Now, I know Philip IV, conniving with Pope Clement, eradicated and wiped out the Templars; but Clement’s predecessor Boniface is in this–and he is working with the Templars. The basic plot of the story (thus far) is that the Templars once had possession of the Holy Grail in the Levantine city of Acre; but as they escaped the city before the armies of the Arabs, the ship it was on sank. Fast forward a few years, and something is going on within and without the Templar order; we found out last night that the actual Grail isn’t at the bottom of the harbor at Acre but somehow made it to France.

This is actually a deeply fascinating period in French history; Philip IV, who is not particularly well known (we as Americans are not particularly knowledgeable about French history; which is to be expected as former colonies of the British, and French histories/biographies written in English by either British or American historians are few and far between–unless they are about Louis XIV, the French Revolution, or Napoleon), reigned over a particularly turbulent era in French history. The eradication of the Templars–to whom he owed an obscene amount of money–was part of a carefully laid plan he executed with the assistance of Pope Clement, who was basically a tool of the French throne. Philip had come into conflict with Pope Boniface, had taken him prisoner, and basically forced Clement down the throat of the cardinals. The Papal court was then moved from Rome to Avignon in the south of France (the Papal period known as the Babylonian Captivity), and Clement appointed enough French cardinals to outnumber the rest, ensuring the popes would continue to be French and would stay in Avignon. (This eventually led to the great schism, with two different popes–at times, there were more than two–competing for power and the obedience of kings and their subjects, excommunicating anyone who followed a different pope, and degrading the Catholic Church–which eventually led to the Protestant reformation….so yes, Philip the Fair was actually the father of the reformation), and the Templars were rounded up, convicted of heresy in trumped up trials, and burned at the stake. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Moray, was convicted of heresy and burned. The King, the Pope, and the King’s great minister were present when the Grand Master issued a curse from the flames, calling them all to account for their crimes before God within a year. (Whether this actually happened or not is up for debate.) But within a year, all three men were dead. Philip’s three sons all died without sons, following each other on the throne successively; when the last one died, his daugher’s son, Edward III of England, claimed the French throne through his mother as the closest male heir to Philip IV and his sons; the nobility gave the crown to a cousin who became Philip VI, and thus the Hundred Years War began.

The fourteenth century is fascinating. An excellent history of it is Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. French novelist Maurice Druon wrote an entire series of fictional books about the dying out of the main line of the French royal house, the destruction of the Templars, and all the scandals that plagued the children of Philip IV, beginning with The Iron King; new editions have been published in English due to the popularity of Game of Thrones, and the books have introductions by George R. R. Martin–because he read them and they helped inspire Game of Thrones. I read this series of books–The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown, The Royal SuccessionThe She-Wolf of France, The Lily and the Lion, and The King Without a Kingdom–collectively known as The Accursed Kings, when I was a teen. Druon opens the series with the breaking up of the Knights Templar and Moray’s curse…and then proceeds to show how the curse worked on France and its royalty for decades.

Anyway, I am enjoying Knightfall. It’s a truly fun romp, and the main character is played by the very handsomely bearded Tom Cullen. It’s apparently a History Channel show, and has been renewed for a second season.

I also found a French show, Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which looks very promising; about the marriage between Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy in the late fifteen century; a marriage that was, frankly, the root cause of every major European war from 1476 to 1914. It is in French, which means subtitles, but I am slowly but surely getting over my aversion to subtitles as my hearing gets worse–I tend to turn on the subtitles on even English language movies and television shows because I can’t understand what they’re saying; particularly if it’s British made. It might be something interesting to watch and explore while I am in Kentucky next week.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone.

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