Sweet City Woman

Thursday and I survived Pay-the-Bills Day relatively unscathed. It’s lovely to be able to pay the bills and not have any stressors or worries about being able to pay them, you know? I ran some errands after work yesterday–picking up the mail and a prescription–and it was a lovely mail day. I got my copy of Chris Holm’s new better-than-Michael-Crichton Child Zero, which I read in ARC form and loved, as well as the first book in Sherry Harris’ Seaglass Inn series, From Beer to Eternity (which is, let’s face it, a great title). We watched the new episode of Candy last night (they really have nailed the set and costume designs for this show, seriously–this is probably the best depiction of suburban hell circa late 70’s/early 80’s that I’ve seen–I said to Paul last night, “everything about this show is the life I didn’t want when I grew up”) and then started watching The Baby on HBO MAX, which is weirdly disturbing and kind of great? The episodes are short and it’s very macabre, and we are really enjoying it a lot. We watched the first three episodes, and I am not really sure what precisely the show is about…but the central premise: a single woman who doesn’t want children–and resents her friends who have had them–winds up in possession of a baby that is, at best, incredibly bad luck and causes injury and/or death to people around it, and at worst, is some kind of little demon that deliberately causes injury and/or death to the people it selects.

What a great concept!

I slept well again last night–I am starting to get used to this sleeping well thing and it worries me a little; like the insomnia is going to come roaring back unexpectedly the moment I start taking sleep for granted again–so I feel pretty good this morning. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we? Anyway, I worked for a bit yesterday on “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop” and I also started working on a potential project on spec; it’s a book idea I’ve had for about ten years or more now (it really scares me to see how fast the last decade or so has passed by–let alone this year) so I feel like I am starting to get someplace again with everything, but then again, it only takes one day to fuck everything up and start the downward spiral again, which is always unpleasant and not helpful in any way. I didn’t make the to-do list yesterday as I originally intended; I’ll have to do that this morning, but I am making progress on emails and on other things I am doing, so I feel like I am actually getting somewhere–even if the to-do list continues to grow exponentially. It’s also starting to get warmer–the temps are into the 80’s and low 90’s again already, but so far the humidity hasn’t swept in like the horror it is, but that will be coming sooner rather than later. I need to start back to the gym again too–I’m starting to feel the tightness of my muscles again, which means they need not only stretching but to be worked again. I do feel scattered–it’s amazing how putting a to-do list can eliminate that feeling, really–which is why I really need to make it a priority this morning between clients.

Heavy heaving sigh. I really am terrible about being organized anymore, so I keep missing things and can’t find them and then have to depend on my memory–which isn’t the greatest anymore, but I probably shouldn’t say that; I’ve always had to write things down and have been making to-do lists since I was in my thirties, when I started buying the hardbound blank books to keep as journals and for writing down book ideas and entertaining myself between flights when I worked at the airport. That seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? But it terms of technology and so forth, it practically was. Personal computers were still in their infancy, as was the Internet–the best you could do with it was dial-up back then–and everyone still had a landline and voicemail (some people still had answering machines) and the idea of streaming things to your television? We were still renting videos at Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos then, and if someone had told me I would have a phone one day that was basically not only a handheld computer but would also replace the need for a stereo system and could contain not just my entire music collection but a library of books I would have laughed my ass off at them. I still don’t utilize my phone as completely as I could and should, but that’s just the way it is. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to use all the functions of my phone…ha ha ha, just kidding.

But it’s Thursday already and I have a lot to get done before the close of the week. Nothing terrible–edits and so forth, reading Ellen’s book for the event on Sunday (I’m not terribly worried; Ellen is a pro and all I need to do is give her a story prompt and she’ll entertain the audience)–and I’d like to get this story whipped into shape over the course of the weekend as well. Not sure if all of this is indeed possible–certainly not when I get home from work too tired to do much of anything other than become one with the easy chair and watch stuff on Youtube and television–but here’s hoping.

I need to make that to-do list.

And now back to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, everyone!

Boogie Fever

In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”

Ah, naivete.

Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.

But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.

This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.

Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.

Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.

The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.

The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.

My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?

Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.

You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.

This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).

Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.

Knowing Me Knowing You

Monday, of a three day weekend. I sincerely hope everyone has a lovely day, and takes a least a minute or two to think about the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in this country. It still boggles the mind, doesn’t it, to think that just sixty years ago (and less) segregation and Jim Crow were still the law of the land…we’ve made some progress since then, but we still have a long way to go.

Today will be spent finishing, at long last, the Book That Would Not Be Finished; I promised it (late) to be turned in today. It doesn’t suck nearly as much as I thought it did last week, which is something, but I am not overly fond of this manuscript. I’m sure no small part of that is being utterly sick of it and the desire to be finished with it once and for all; it can be quite a relief to finish something and turn it over to an editor for a final go over once and for all. I have two essays and some short stories to work on the rest of this month; and then, once all of that is finished, I am going back to another couple of projects that have been lying fallow and waiting for me to get back to them. I do think 2017 is going to be a very good year. I also have another book idea I’d like to start messing around with; a noir with a gay main character. The working title for it is Muscles, but that may change as it gets worked on. I’ve had the idea since the early 1990’s, and perhaps it is time to get to serious work on making that book happen.

I also am hoping to get the brake tag for the new car today. The Shell station on Magazine Street, where I’d been getting brake tags since we moved back here after The Lost Year in Washington in 2001, is no longer at that location! It was still open when we went to Pat’s Christmas party last month, but it has since moved to Claiborne Avenue. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was located–and I didn’t take my phone with me on Saturday so I could look it up–so I just went on to the grocery store and figured I would check it out once I got home. They may be open today; I am going to call them in a moment to find out. If they aren’t, I’ll have to go on Wednesday morning on my way to work. Woo-hoo!

But at least I don’t mind driving any more, so there’s that. It should count for something, right?

I still haven’t finished reading “Grail”, either. I spent most of yesterday working on the manuscript, and then last night when I was burned out and tired, we watched another episode of Slasher–which we decided we may not continue watching, because it progressively gets worse and worse with each episode–and then started watching Westworld on the HBO app. I’m not really sure what to think of the show, after only watching one episode…I know I’ve seen some critiques of it that made me stop and think about it a bit, but the show is extremely well done, and is extremely well cast. The concept behind it is interesting. I barely remember the original film, with Yul Brynner, from the early 1970’s, but I do remember thinking it was exceptionally clever. Michael Crichton, the mind behind The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, and Sphere, wrote the original screenplay for the original film. (I don’t remember if I ever read Jurassic Park; obviously, I saw the movie, but I do remember reading a lot of his other work. You’d think I’d remember reading it, especially since I remember the other novels of his I read. Interesting….but now that I think about it, I did read it; I remember the ending. At any rate, we will continue watching for now.

I’ve also started thinking about what books to take along with me on my trip; I am leaning toward a Michael Koryta, an Ace Atkins, Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, and a Laura Lippman novel I came across the other day while organizing that I never read (I know, right? Madness), The Most Dangerous Thing. It’s always fun to suddenly realize you’ve not read something by one of your favorite authors; it’s also kind of exciting.

So, as I prepare to head back into the spice mines for the day, here’s your hunk for today.