Academic

And just like that, it’s Saturday again, and huzzah to everyone for making it through another week. It’s another beautiful morning here in New Orleans; the sun already high and shining bright, the sky bright blue. I have errands to run and the gym to get to, and then I am planning on spending the rest of the day reading the manuscript and editing it. It will be a full day here in the Lost Apartment, and I relish getting back to work on my book. I hate being behind–this was the month I was supposed to spend getting caught up on everything else and finishing short stories so next month I could focus on Chlorine–but delays and things happen, as always, and sure, I am in that time of life where one is acutely aware of how quickly the sand is slipping through the hourglass–but I have also learned to not beat myself up over things I have little control over. I have no control over whether I sleep well, for example, and I have no control over my energy levels. I can do the best that I can, but I exert only so much control over any of those things.

Not allowing myself to get upset or stressed over things I cannot control is a lesson I am still learning, alas.

I often feel pulled in many directions (and am fully aware that this is probably the case for everyone; it seems as though everyone is having a rough time since the pandemic shut down the world last year–almost a full year ago; we closed down services at my day job on March 16th) with an inevitable amount of endless tasks for everything I am involved in, and usually every day I have an idea of what I want and/or need to get done with every day; and yet I never achieve those goals because inevitably something new pops in and/or pops up that requires attention of some sort from me, and this inevitably results in me not getting to everything that needs getting to, which then makes the to-do list seem even more endless, and on and on. Part of the problem I’ve been having since the pandemic altered everything is my inability to sit down and make an actual to-do list–because the to-do list would inevitably require me to get through all of my emails, and I sometimes have neither the strength nor the patience to work my way through them all. Right now in my primary in-box I have 56 unread emails–I’ve already deleted the trek–and there’s about another 100 or so in there I’ve already read that probably need a response, or an addition to my to-do list.

I also remembered last night, as Paul and I watched the LSU gymnastics team defeat Missouri, that I’ve never finished watching two shows I really liked and was enjoying that he didn’t–Perry Mason on HBO Max and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on Showtime. So those, along with a rewatch binge of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, should go on my list of things to watch while I am making condom packs–or when I am done with work for the day and Paul’s not home. I was quite delighted that he came home from the office so we could watch the gymnastics; I am not really seeing a lot of him these days and so those moments when he is home are more to be cherished and enjoyed because of their rarity. I am a Festival widow every March, really; but this year more so than any other I am really looking forward to the Festival being over.

I also would like to get back into reading some more…I’m not sure what in my brain is broken, but for some reason I can’t read anything other than the chapter of so of Gore Vidal’s Lincoln that I get through every morning. I think it’s a combination of all the things I have hanging over my head, quite frankly, that keeps me from reading–and as I’ve also said, watching television or a movie or even just Youtube videos is much more passive than active and requires little to no brain power. I did come up with a couple of great titles yesterday for short stories as I made my condom packs and continued watching videos about queer representation in films and television from the 1960’s through the 1990’s; there was a lovely little video yesterday of how the Queer Cruise videos guy was helped to come out by viewing The Rocky Horror Picture Show when he was in high school; and that got me thinking about my own history with Rocky Horror, and what it meant to me; perhaps yet another essay someday. Is that still shown as a midnight movie? I would imagine not, given the pandemic and the fact that’s been on television and available to purchase on tape or download now for decades; I remember thinking the first time it aired on television well, that’s the end of that and it honestly did feel like the end of an era. I imagine many freaks and weirdos and queer kids no longer need something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a gateway to their own worlds and the possibilities that life holds for them…there’s more and more queer rep all the time, in books, movies, plays, and television; although I would imagine in more repressive parts of the country Rocky Horror would still be a revelation.

And now I am thinking about writing a short story or a book about a murder built around a midnight showing of the movie. Oy, it really never ends…

I also like this other idea for a story I came up with yesterday: “The Rites of False Spring.” I scribbled down a lot of notes about that one.

And on that note, the spice won’t mine itself, so I should probably head on into the mines.

All The Way

And now it’s Thursday, and the work-at-home before the weekend part of the weekly cycle begins. It’s beautiful outside my widows this morning; all bright and sunny and clear blue sky as far as the eye can see. It might be cold out there–I’ve not checked–and I am liking the idea that the temperature inside is not an indication any more of what it might be outside. Huzzah for new HVAC system!

I was very tired when I got home from work last evening–I also had to run a few errands on my way home–and I watched the second episode of Superman and Lois (more on that later) before falling into another wormhole on Youtube. There’s a very interesting series of videos on a channel called “Dave Knows Wrestling” (I think) about the history of professional wrestling as well as critiques of current trends and so forth present currently in that world. I don’t know how accurate any of this is–I’ve spotted errors in numerous history videos, and it’s the Internet, so take everything with a grain of salt–and then I found a wonderful Youtube channel which looks at queer representation in the culture back in the day; Matt Baume is the guy who does them, and they are quite lovely, looking at the evolution of how queer people were represented on television back in the day. I watched his videos about gay characters appearing on shows like Cheers, Phyllis, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, The Golden Girls, and of course Frasier, as well as episodes centering same-sex attractions, kind of like a television version of Vito Russo’s definitive The Celluloid Closet. (I’ve actually been hoping someone would either update Russo’s book or do a sequel. Someone probably has an I just don’t know it; I am hardly the font of all knowledge, no matter how much I would like to consider myself to be exactly that.)

I did wonder, though, while I watching one of his videos about drag artist Charles Ludlam appearing on one of the final episodes of a one-season sitcom starring Madeline Kahn called Oh, Madeline, if he knows about a very short-lived Norman Lear sitcom based on the play The Hot L Baltimore, which was about a seedy residential hotel and the people who lived there–Conchita Farrell played a hooker–and it also had a gay couple. It didn’t last very long and I would imagine it would be difficult to find archival footage of the show; but it was also a great idea for a sitcom or a modern dramedy; it would be interesting to see what someone like Shonda Rimes or even Ryan Murphy could do with an adaptation of the play into a series. (I really should be running a television network.)

As Constant Reader will remember, I enjoyed the premier episode of Superman and Lois and really loved this new take on the Superman mythos. Clark and Lois as parents, moving back to Smallville to become a closer family unit with their twin sons, is pretty terrific, and the casting is absolutely perfect. I worried the quality and likability of the show might begin to siphon off in future episodes, but the storytelling is quite excellent and I love the nuanced look at what is happening in small towns like Smallville–or what has happened to them. I also like they didn’t go with the usual “Lex Luthor is our big bad guy and enemy of Superman” trope; rather there’s a threat from an off-worlder (referred to by his computer as “Captain Luthor”) and the real, Earth big bad is a billionaire named Morgan Edge–who was introduced into the comic books series during the 1970’s. I am enjoying this so much that I am thinking I might want go back and finish watching Arrow, give The Flash another chance, and start watching the other Arrowverse shows. Batwoman looks terrific, and so does Stargirl, and I am also still hoping for a third season of Titans. I never did get to see the second and final season of Krypton; I enjoyed the first season (I always loved whenever the comics would explore something about Krypton, and John Byrne’s mini-series The World of Krypton is still one of my all-time favorite comics) and still hold out some hope that Warner Brothers and HBO might bring it back for another season….there was so much to still be explored.

So I am working from home today, and am about to head into the spice mines. I have some data entry to do and there’s always condom packs to make, of course; not sure what I want to watch while I make them today; not really in the mood for a movie. I was thinking about revisiting Megan Abbott’s wonderful television show Dare Me–hey, I’m writing about high school students currently, and why not watch a show developed and produced by one of our best writers based on one of her amazing novels? I was also thinking, for the times when I am not in the mood for a slasher/horror or a Cynical 70’s or a teen movie, that I should find an old television program and watch it from the beginning and binge it all the way to the end. Paul and I never finished watching The Sopranos, for one example–Katrina interrupted our viewing–and I have never seen The Wire, either, for that matter. Alas, my education in television classics is just as inadequate as my education in film and literature…something to consider, of course.

And on that note, I have data to enter and condoms to pack, so it’s best for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will see you again tomorrow.

Every Little Counts

Sunday funday, and how are you, Constant Reader?

Yesterday was lovely because the fatigue was gone, which was so lovely you really have no idea, Constant Reader. My arm was still sore so I didn’t go to the gym (going today), but feeling alert and not being bone tired exhausted, to the point that climbing the stairs to the second floor was an actual ordeal? It was actually quite marvelous. I got up in the morning and had my coffee, and then started working. I cleaned and organized the laundry room and the bookshelves in there; cleaned up the kitchen and did a shit ton of filing; reorganized even more books; put some things up in the storage space over the laundry room; and then started going through my old journals. There were a couple of reasons for this, actually–first off, to remove the sticky notes marking the pages where ideas and thoughts and so forth for Bury Me in Shadows had been scribbled, and secondly, to mark the places where I’d scribbled thoughts and notes for the Kansas book. Revisiting the journals is always an interesting experience for me, to be honest. It’s always interesting (at least to me) to see evidence of how my mind works and how I follow the path my creativity lays out for me, from step to step to step. It was fun seeing how I worked out issues with Bury Me in Shadows–Royal Street Reveillon as well, since the journals bridged the last few years and the course of writing several books and numerous short stories. It was fun seeing the notes I took while watching a movie for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, or on books I was reading. And the short story ideas! During the filing, I came across numerous folders for short stories I couldn’t remember anything about; yet there was the genesis for many of them, in my big looping scrawl on the pages of my journal (and yes, the original, older posts called it Bury Me in Satin still). I was also pleased to see some valuable notes and insights into the Kansas book, the characters, and the plot.

I really should revisit my journals with a greater degree of regularity.

I also spent some time with Alyssa Cole’s marvelous When No One Is Watching–although I have to confess I made an enormous mistake in assumption that made me go back and recheck something from earlier. It was actually rather funny, but I will not humiliate myself further by telling you exactly what that mistaken assumption was–I have some pride; not much, but some. But it’s really a terrific book, and I am savoring it slowly, to make it last. (I am probably going to spend some more time with it this morning.)

Overall, I am very pleased with myself for all the work I got one yesterday; I am ready to start diving into the book. I went through the entire thing yesterday, catching a lot of things that will either need to be deleted and reworked,–there’s a lot to be added as well–and also made a cast list, to determine what names need to be changed and so forth. This was productive and am very glad that I did it to be completely honest. I feel like I know my characters and my story and my setting again, which is great, and I also worked for a while on a short story last night–“The Sound of Snow Falling”–which, of course, isn’t one of the stories I am considering sending out for submission anywhere, but for some reason the story was in my head last night and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I started scribbling in my journal.

We started watching season two of Servant last night, which is extraordinary. It’s very weird, very creepy, and the acting is so fucking stellar it’s hard to believe the show hasn’t caught more buzz. Lauren Ambrose is killing it, as is Rupert Grint in as huge a departure from Ron Weasley as you can get. It’s about tragedy, handling tragedy, and dealing with the fallout from a horrific tragedy. No one on the show is truly mentally well-balanced, and they are making all kinds of really bad decisions…but I can’t wait to see where it goes, because I have no clue where it’s going or what’s going to happen. We also finished off season two of Bonding, which wasn’t nearly as much fun or as witty as the first season, but it looks like season two is going to be the end of it. It’s an interesting look into the world of Dom/subs, though; particularly when it comes to consent. I do recommend it, despite the second season not being as interesting and well done as the first. But definitely check out Servant–it’s worth it for the performances alone.

My arm still is a bit sore this morning, so I am going to skip the gym again today; perhaps I will try to go tomorrow night after work, or will wait til Tuesday; not really sure and will probably play it by ear. But I slept very well again last night–even slept in a bit this morning–so at least my sleep is back under control for now. It really does make an enormous difference in my energy levels and in getting things done. The area around my desk still looks pretty messy and sloppy and cluttered, so I am going to work on that for a bit this morning as well.

Recently there was one of those things on Twitter–the kind that gets people a bit up in arms. Some author of whom I had never heard before tweeted something along the lines of “harsh truths”, claiming that for writers, other writers are not our friends but rather our competition, which made me rear back from my computer screen (it may have been my phone’s screen, I don’t honestly remember)…but my initial reaction was that is really way off base followed by what other writers do you know, dude to finally feeling kind of bad for the guy if that was his experience. Sure, writing can be considered a competitive thing; agents can only have so many clients, publishers so many slots for books, award nominations are limited, and so are reviews–no reviewer, after all, can cover every book published even under the best of circumstances–so yes, that is sort of true in a very very base, simplistic way of looking at the publishing industry. I have long made the point that writers should always be supportive of other writers, and that any success enjoyed by any writer is generally a win for all writers. How can that be, you may well ask, Constant Reader, so let me explain it a little further.

People love to take swipes at writers who have become so successful they actually are brands–James Patterson is a really good example of this–but the truth about Mr, Patterson is this: he gives back in many ways to the community. He has grants to support bookstores. He hires co-writers to do books with him and pays them extremely well–which also leads his vast legions of readers to check out that author’s solo works, and moves copies of those as well. His enormous success also gives his publisher a cushion to work with authors whose works might not be as hugely successful as Patterson’s, and this gives them a safety net–“this book is really creative and interesting and deserves to be published even though it might not have a big market, but we’re going to make a shit ton of money from this Patterson book in the same catalogue so we can take that risk.” This is one of the many reasons I never trash other writers here or on panels; no matter whether I enjoy their work or not, I have to respect the effort that went into creating the book (which is never easy, no matter what anyone may think).

I do, however, reserve the right to be snarky about the Twilight series.

But one of the things I’ve loved most about being a writer is that most writers are terrific people and a lot of fun to spend time with. I have a lot of friends who are also writers, but I don’t see any of them as “competition”, which is absurd on its face. How can I possible consider Harlan Coben or Laura Lippman or Michael Connelly as competition? Megan Abbott? Jeff Abbott? Michael Nava? We have completely different writing styles, we don’t write about the same characters, we don’t write the same stories. Sure we are all crime writers, but the notion of any of those people, all of whom I admire greatly, being competitors? If that is truly the case, I would have to give up. Period. I also don’t resent the success of other writers, either–I think any writer achieving success is a win for all writers, because it’s rare and hard to do. I personally love seeing an author break out–particularly if it’s someone who has been slogging along for a while with some small success. Sure, I would much prefer that I be the one to have that success, but that author’s success wouldn’t have been mine had they not come along with whatever book it was that broke them out..and resenting someone else’s success has always felt like bad energy to put into the universe to me.

The original tweet blew up, of course, and was eventually deleted due to backlash–I don’t think that was the kind of success the guy had in mind when he tweeted it–but one of the reasons I enjoy going to conferences so much isn’t speaking on panels or doing signings or readings…sure, I enjoy interacting with readers who’ve enjoyed my books or want to check them out, but for me, it’s about hanging around other writers…we inevitably have a great time, and it’s fun to be around other people who love books and writing and–no matter what their level of success may be–understand exactly how hard the process of writing and creating actually is for everyone who does it. And it is hard…but would it be worth doing if it wasn’t a challenge?

And on that note, tis back to Alyssa Cole and then the spice mines.

On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!

Electricity

Good morning, Tuesday, how it’s going with you, Constant Reader, on this lovely early May morning?

I sent out another story yesterday–why, yes, I am on a roll, kind of, thank you for asking. I could also easily go 0 for 4, which is certainly more likely than 4 for 4 (I know, I know, self-deprecation there, and yes, it’s a very hard habit to break but I am working on it).

Last night I managed to work througb some of my my computer frustrations. Apparently, at some point in the last few months or so, there was yet another Mohave update–I remember when it happened, and I didn’t install it, it somehow just happened–that rendered my flash drive unreadable or unworkable with Mac computers. Fortunately I have that shitty little PC laptop, which can still read it. So I then had to download a Cloud for PC app, which needed a Windows update to work, and–long story short, I found a backup to the flash drive from November backed up in the Cloud, and I honestly don’t think I worked on anything on the flash drive that wasn’t backed up to the Cloud already, so it was simply a matter of moving the working files from the back-up folder in the Cloud to the active area. An enormous pain in the ass, but there you have it–and I now have the files I need accessible. At some point I’ll be able to get that PC Cloud app working and save yet another back-up, but until then I am able to work with what I have, thank you.

Today is another early morning for me, but truth to be told, I’m pretty much starting to adapt to these mornings and they aren’t nearly as painful as they used to be. I’m actually getting rather used to this sort of 9 to 5 thing, which I never expected to ever happen in a million years. Last night I was home shortly after five, and had some time thus to work on these computer issues. And since it was May 4th, and Rise of Skywalker was newly available to stream last night on Disney, I decided to watch it again–more critically this time than when I saw it in the theater, and yeah. I enjoyed it on the big screen—I always enjoy Star Wars on the big screen, as a general rule, but when I was rewatching it, it seemed disjointed, poorly written and planned, and kind of all over the place. So, all those people who were so critical of it? Yeah, they were probably right, but this sequel trilogy didn’t “ruin my childhood” or anything; it was just disappointing on a rewatch. I’ll probably have some more thoughts about the whole thing later.

I also finished reading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin last night, and it really is quite a wonderful book. Reading it as a crime novel was an interesting take, and I think I can quite solidly back up my theory that it is, in fact, while a very literary book to be sure, a crime novel. It certainly is structured and written kind of like one, and the mood and tone of the book is very dreamlike yet terrifying, like Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything, which I think is a good companion book for Mysterious Skin. There will, of course, be a blog entry devoted to the book; I’m still gathering my thoughts about it and trying to order them in some way. Afterwards, I tried to find my copy of We Disappear, but couldn’t put my hands on it–even though I am absolutely positive I located it the moment I started rereading Mysterious Skin…it’ll turn up, I’m sure.

I also started rereading Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right, which has some rather razor-sharp wit going on in the very beginning, which immediately (to me) added to its charm, and drew me in already. I also remember Thunder on the Right as being a “lesser” Stewart novel–kind of like The Moon-spinners and This Rough Magic, both of which I loved on the reread.

Tonight we’ll probably go back to watching Defending Jacob; I was already watching Skywalker when Paul got home, and he just fell asleep while watching that–he also pointed out that he doesn’t remember watching it in the theater at all; which is really not a sign of a movie that resonated with the viewers, really–so tonight it’ll be back to Defending Jacob. Apple is really putting a lot of cash into their streaming service, a and there are certainly a lot of impressive names being put to work on their shows, so who knows? I also need to sign into my CBS app so we can start watching their All Access Star Trek shows, as well as the reboot of The Twilight Zone from Jordan Peele.

There’s really so much good stuff to watch–and that’s only the stuff I know about. We’ve stumbled onto so many good shows over the years that we’d not heard about, and of course, season 3 of Killing Eve is also up now.

And on that note, tis time to get ready for the spice mines. Have a most lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you later.

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And just like that, the weekend is over and a new work week has begun; what fresh hells and wonders will this week bring? One thing is for certain–the monotony of every day work life is a thing of the seemingly distant past now. Whatever one wants to say or think or feel about a new work week, it’s not the way it was before. Each work week brings some new change, some new shift in the current reality–which was unthinkable as recently as early February; who could have foreseen a lockdown as big and as extensive as this? Our naïveté at being so delighted to see the hell of 2019 come to an end, and people thinking 2020 has got to be better–yeah, I’ve made that precise fucking mistake before, and never again; we had no idea how good we actually had it in 2019, did we?

Seriously.

I’m not missing the twelve hour days on Mondays and Tuesdays, quite frankly, and I believe those are going to be relegated to the scrap heap of history once this has passed–whenever that will be; I’m thinking November, seriously, and at that am being optimistic–and working five eight hours days is actually much more palatable than it ever seemed before, quite frankly. I like getting home every day shortly after five–closer to six if I have to stop somewhere, like the grocery or to get gas–and I like having my evenings free, to make dinner, write, read, and watch television, and it’s actually nice not being completely exhausted once five pm on Friday rolls around, as well. I need to remember this going forward, and adjust my future work schedule appropriately.

I continue reading Mysterious Skin in dribs and drabs; I’d love to steal more time away from everything else to spend on it, as it is absolutely wonderful, and even better than I’d remembered; and reading it as a crime novel was definitely a smart choice. It’s also reminding me about poetry in language choices, and how sometimes stark simplicity says so very much; something James M. Cain knew, and Megan Abbott knows, intimately; how the correct choice of a single word in a very short sentence can speak volumes, provoke insight, and a sense of wonder in the reader at the art and intelligence at work. I’m in the final third of the book now, and should have it finished by the end of the week.

I also managed to revise two more short stories, which are going to be sent off to submission queues this morning; “Night Follows Night” and “This Thing of Darkness”, and here’s hoping they will find a very happy home somewhere. This pleases me to no end; this flurry of work–even if it’s not actual writing, but revising and polishing counts–and get it out there is a good feeling. I feel like I’m actively chasing this crazy dream again. I doubt all five stories will get taken–they might all be rejected, who knows?–but at least I’m getting my work out there again. Now, to select two more stories for the big ones–Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. I may actually have to finish writing two stories–I’m not sure what else I have on hand that’s just in need of revision–but hey, you never know.

We started watching the HBO show Run–not sure about it yet, but love Merritt Weaver, and started Defending Jacob on Apple Plus last night, with Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, and it’s really good; very well done. We also caught the new episode of City of Angels, which led me to comment, “we’re watching a lot of period pieces lately, what with this and The Plot Against America and Hollywood.” But I am also really enjoying City of Angels; the styling and way it’s filmed reminds me somewhat of Chinatown.

And now, tis back to the spice mines for me. When I get home tonight, I hope to get some more writing accomplished. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Sweet Dreams (of You)

It saddened me to see Left Coast had cancelled; even if I am not at a conference or some gathering of writers I can always look at the pictures of my friends and smile a little wistfully, wish I was there, and then get on with it. As one does,

This has been a rough week, Constant Reader, and I cannot lie. I’ve been all over the map emotionally, eventually I got to the usual tipping point of numbness. Yesterday I got some amazing book mail; copies of some of the Edgar finalists, which is way fun. Of course, I already have an enormous TBR pile; this only expands it and makes it bigger–way bigger, but it’s lovely, always lovely, to get books. If worst comes to worst and we would up quarantined or trapped inside for a few weeks or so, I have plenty of books. And as long as we have power, there’s so much television to catch up. Books are, of course, my  happy place; I’ve always found solace and escape in reading. I think that might be why I hoard books the way I do; it’s comforting to know that I’ll never run out of things to read.

I’ve gotten no writing done, or very little; I’ve also not read a word of anything. I am debating whether it’s okay to go to the gym if I take rubber gloves with me; if I am not touching any surface with bar hands, right, and definitely cannot touch my face except with a hand towel (brought from home) and I should be okay, I think, I hate getting out of the habit of going, and I also worry that at some point I’ll be forbidden from going to the gym, so there’s that as well. At some point today I have to make a run to the grocery store–although at this point I feel certain everything is picked over and the shelves are bare. I stopped at Rouse’s on my home last night in the CBD, and while it wasn’t completely insane, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I managed to get what I was after–two loaves of bread–and Paul and I just decided to escape the world and watch The Outsider last night, which was quite entertaining. We still have two episodes to go before we’re finished, but they seem to be dragging the story out with some seriously bad filler scenes that neither advance the plot or really teach us anything new about the characters–and these filler scenes are very amateurishly done, poorly written, and essentially pointless as anything other than padding to get the show out to ten episodes. We’ll finish that today, and then go on to Dare Me, which we’ve been saving to binge. We’d watched the first two episodes before Paul started having to work late all the time and so fell behind; but I am excited to get to see it in its entirety. It already looked like it was going to be one of the best shows to ever air on television; the source material is certainly one of my favorite books of all time.

One can never go wrong reading Megan Abbott.

The Lost Apartment is a mess, frankly, and I will probably spend some time cleaning it today; it’s well overdue and I’ve not had the energy to keep up with it this week. I imagine, looking back at the week in retrospect, that I probably had some depression–I’m never really aware of it until it has passed–which explains a lot. It’ll probably come and go–there’s probably also some PTSD mixed into it, both from the days when HIV/AIDS was decimating the gay community and, let’s be honest, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I was thinking, as I was reading articles this past week with headlines like Life is going to change forever and so forth, that I am kind of tired of life-changing events.

I also can’t help but wondering how this will change writing, and the publishing industry, and if there will be a new genre of fiction rising out of all of this. I want to think this won’t be as bad as it seems like it’s going to be–but you know, any death will cause grief and suffering, let alone on a great scale. Katrina fiction never really became a thing, although there were several novels (including my award-winning Murder in the Rue Chartres–see what I did there?) about the aftermath, and I think Katrina stories still continue to be published to this day, but to be honest I avoid them for the most part. I suppose its more like 9/11, in that the impact is actually more national than local, but even 9/11–while certainly a national trauma–was also primarily a local one. This is everywhere, and will impact everyone, and not just as witnesses, like 9/11 or Katrina. Will this be addressed in the future? Will there be a rash of books released beginning in 2021 the center this happening? How do you write a series and pretend like this didn’t happened? New Orleans series writers couldn’t ignore Katrina, pretend like it didn’t happen; we had to address it and as such anchored our series and our series characters in time. My two short stories “Survivor’s Guilt” and “Annunciation Shotgun” also dealt with the storm and the aftermath, and I’ve kind of let go of writing about it.

So, I think after running the errands today I am going to try to get some writing done. I have three stories I’d like to get finished by the end of the month, which is their deadlines, and one has to be entirely constructed from scratch–which is of course the most interesting and challenging one for me to write so I keep pushing it to the back of the queue.

And maybe it’s time to get back to work. Have a lovely, germ-free day.

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

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“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.