Under the Boardwalk

My last work-at-home day for 2022, and technically my last day of work for the year at the day job. It still freaks me out a little, or doesn’t feel right, to write 2022 on my clinical testing forms; 2023 is going to be even stranger to write. Where the hell has this decade gone already? It’s almost 2023. I certainly didn’t think I’d make it this far, yet here I am.

It got up into the seventies again yesterday–we literally went from the mid-sixties to a hard freeze back to the seventies in about a week–which is why you can never write about New Orleans without writing about the weather. Our weather affects everything here, and can change everything happening and going on in a matter of hours. It also messes with your moods and how you feel–how can your sinuses adapt to such dramatic weather changes in such a short period of time? And that’s not even taking into consideration the humidity and rain. You always have to plan your day and your life around the weather here, and you ignore it at your own peril (he said, having been caught unawares in enough flash-flooding events to know whereof he speaks). With a great HVAC system I didn’t find myself minding the cold quite as much this past weekend, but don’t get me wrong–I’m not sorry to see it gone, and good riddance to it.

I also had a ridiculous amount of chores to do last night when I finished work. Two loads of dishes, two loads of laundry, and of course I had to do something about the refrigerator, and since I was already doing chores I decided to go ahead and launder the living room comfort blankets and do something about the floors (a chore I’ve been avoiding for far longer than I dare to admit publicly, given my reputation as a housekeeper). I decided not to try for my quota for the day, which of course increased today’s quota, but thought it best to go ahead and reread everything I’ve been doing and get a better sense of things so I can figure out how to get to the end of the book from where I’m at now. Sometimes it’s best to relax and let the muscles rest when you’ve been pushing them for a while; burn out is always a fear, and I suspected yesterday that I was reaching that point and should probably rest from it for at least the night, while planning what to do next. I do have a lovely three day weekend looming, and if I ignore college football bowl games–which shouldn’t be difficult to do–I should be able to leisurely get this done and sent off Monday.

Whew.

I’m still a little tired this morning, and it’s gray outside. Ah, yes, a quick glance at the weather (I seem obsessed this morning with the weather, I know) and it appears that we’ll be having thunderstorms for most of the day. I do have to go out into the outer world at some point today–the postal service is closed tomorrow through Monday–so I won’t be able to get the mail again until after work on Tuesday. I should also spend a little time figuring out what, if anything, I need from the grocery store so I don’t have to leave the house again until Tuesday morning. That’s really turning into my biggest contest–how long can I go without leaving the house? (Along with “how few showers can I take this weekend? ” and “How long can I go without cleaning the house?” These do not speak well of me, I am well aware.) I also am going back to reading Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side, after my break from it to read Donna Andrews for Christmas; it’s slow going because it’s an old book written in twentieth century cis-white male literary style, which is something I don’t really care for as a general rule. But I do want to read the parts where the main character (whose backstory is currently being explored) gets to New Orleans and experiences the demimonde; I’d also like to see the film, which I haven’t ever viewed. (I know, right? Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda and I’ve never seen it? Bad gay, bad gay.)

After getting the chores done–Paul didn’t come home until late again–I spent some time read Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller, which takes a look at some gay men in history who weren’t exactly role models for gay men or behavior–some of whom I had heard of, others I had not– which is an interesting approach (usually writers and historians are always looking for positive role models, or take normal human beings and idealize them into heroes). I was a little disappointed to see that my favorite historical homo wasn’t included–Philippe d’Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIV and known as Monsieur (I’ve always wanted to write about Monsieur, he fascinates me to this day)–but the authors did include James I of England and Frederick the Great, so no complaints on royal representation in the book. (But if you’re looking for bad examples of gay men in history, choosing James I over Richard the Lion-Hearted or Edward II was an interesting decision.) I read the sections on Oscar Wilde and Bosie, Frederick the Great, and James I (primarily because the most ambitious book idea I’ve ever had involved James I’s successor as well as his last love, George Villiers Duke of Buckingham); and I enjoyed them. They weren’t very in depth, as they were only given a chapter, so they were at best slightly superficial, but it was interesting to read. I really do need to read a biography of Frederick the Great, who has fascinated me since I was a kid (again, interesting that even as a child I was fascinated by a king who turned out to be gay in the long run); I’ve read histories of Prussia and Europe and other monarchs of the period, but biographies of Frederick aren’t as easy to come by as say, biographies of any Tudor, the Wars of the Roses, or Louis XIV. (Try finding a biography of Louis XIII or said George Villiers, for that matter. There are quite a few of Cardinal Richelieu–but not as many as one would think. Americans seem to be more interested in British history than anything else, and not many of them at that.)

Lightning just flashed, and it’s getting grayer outside, never a good sign for the weather in New Orleans. Then again, spending a little time reading this morning during a thunderstorm while drinking my coffee before starting my work-at-home duties could be just the ticket for kick-starting this day into high gear, so on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

It’s Not Right But It’s Okay

Sunday morning and it’s probably about time that I get back to work. I don’t want to–this birthday mini-vacation has been quite lovely–but I have things that need to be finished and turned in by the end of this month (hello, edits and revisions) and I have to stop putting that off. I only have to go to the office twice this week–tomorrow and Tuesday–before my Bouchercon vacation begins–but my plans for that time is to get things done and then take time to myself.

Well, I may take Wednesday as a day off. I need to drive around New Orleans and do some research; Wednesday should be perfect for doing that, methinks….so maybe taking a day off to begin with to get into the groove of getting everything done that needs to be done by the end of the month could wait until Thursday to get started…but then on the other hand, maybe it a sight-seeing research trip around the Irish Channel wouldn’t be a huge distraction from getting things done that day….alas, I was supposed to have dinner with great friends that night (fucking Delta variant anyway) but I am going to try, very hard, not to let these things disappoint or depress me. That’s a sure way to guarantee I’ll get nothing done.

I started reading Megan Abbott’s The Turnout yesterday and was, of course, immediately enthralled. She manages to somehow lure you in with the opening sentence, something cryptic, eerie, and yet compelling. Her books always have this same voice–I’d say mournful, but that’s not accurate either–always a variation that fits the story and the characters, but that lyrical, poetic, economic way of establishing mood and dramatic tension is almost ethereal and dream-like; even if the dream will, as always, eventually bare its teeth at the reader. God, how I wish I could write like that. I always wonder how writers as gifted as she write their books–do they write a sentence and then agonize over how to find the right words that create the right rhythm, or do they agonize over which word to add as they go? Me? I just vomit out three thousand or so words at a time and then go back and try to make it say what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it; nothing poetic, lyrical, or dream-like about my work. But I write the way I write–I used to want to be Faulkner when I was in college; I think it’s fairly safe to say that ship has sailed–and I cannot be terribly disappointed by anything I write anymore. I am pleased with the work I am doing–have been doing–and as long as I remain pleased by everything I write going forward, I am going to be just fine. I am intending to spend some more time with Megan Abbott this morning before diving into the edits/revisions before heading to the gym; and intend to do even more revisions/edits after my brief workout this afternoon.

We started watching The White Lotus last night and I am on the fence. I really don’t care much for any of the characters–the acting is terrific, the writing is fine, but I can’t wrap my mind around a point, if there even is one, you know? I rewatched this week’s Ted Lasso, and one thing I’ve noticed–there are so many lovely little touches to this show–that is one of my favorite things is that Keeley always laughs at Ted’s jokes, no matter how corny, no matter how bad the pun–she always laughs, and she always did, from the absolute beginning. In fact, Keeley was the first character on the show to see and accept and like Ted; which made her even more likable.

I also managed to finally get my TCM app working on the Apple TV yesterday–you’ve always needed a television provider for access; once I let Cox go it wouldn’t allow me to use Hulu, but now it does–and I immediately cued up and watched The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a terrific noir with Barbara Stanwyck as Martha…and as I watched, I realized how much that plot device–a murder committed and covered up by kids, only to have everything come home to roost when they’re adults–gets used a lot today. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a kid, with my grandmother; WGN used to show old movies after the 10:00 pm news in Chicago as well as every afternoon at 3:30 (which is where my educational grounding in classic old films started). I’d forgotten that the magnificent Judith Anderson played Stanwyck’s horrible old aunt that she winds up killing; Anderson was robbed of Oscars at so many turns in her film career–Rebecca, And Then There Were None, this–it really is a shame; but at least those great performances are preserved forever on film. I am very excited, to say the least, about having access to the full range of TCM again; I can now watch movies instead of getting sucked into watching old LSU games on Youtube or history videos (I’ve been watching a lot of biographies of the Bourbon royal family of France during the seventeenth century, and will ask again: why has no queer biographer/historian/novelist written about Louis XIV’s openly gay brother, Monsieur, Philippe duc d’Orleans?). Just glancing through the app yesterday, there were so many movies I wanted to either see for the first time, or rewatch for the first time since I was a child…and of course, watching old film noir (along with reading old noir novels) works as research for Chlorine.

That’s me, multi-tasking and always finding a way to justify wasting time/procrastination. I am quite good at it as well, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I also woke up earlier–well, I woke up around the time I usually do, just got out of bed earlier than usual. The last few days of not getting up before nine, while lovely and restful, also managed to somehow keep the lethargy going throughout the rest of the day. I am hopeful that will not be the case today. I am going to spend an hour or so immersed in Megan’s new book, and then I intend to straighten things up around the kitchen before digging into the edits/revisions of the Kansas book–which I have allowed to languish for far too long–and I also need to clean out some things (spoiled food) from the refrigerator as well as try to get my lunches prepared for the two days in the office this week.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you on the morrow.

Separate Lives

Well, in typical Greg screw-up fashion, I screwed up this morning. I’d signed up to tour the local FBI office and attend two presentations, all of which I was looking forward to, but I had the time wrong. As Constant Reader knows, I am not good in the mornings. So, I thought I had to be there for nine a.m. No, everything started at nine a.m. I needed to be there for eight thirty. As I was getting ready to shave, I double-checked the address and noticed that on the agenda I needed to be there for eight thirty. It was eight-oh-five; I hadn’t shaved, showered, or dressed, let alone drive across town to the lake front. In other words, I wouldn’t been able, even if I hurried, to leave the house until it was time to be there, and then had to hurry to get there. Sigh. So, I made another cup of coffee and felt like a complete idiot.

And now have my morning free.

And before anyone says anything, no. I won’t show up late. I am not that person. It’s disrespectful to everyone who showed up on time, it’s disrespectful to the FBI, and if they want you to allow half an hour to clear security screening, then I need to be there half an hour ahead of time. Period. Plus, you don’t mess with the FBI. Trust me on this one.

Sigh. I hate when I fuck up. Especially after the chapter went to all the trouble to get this sorted out and put together.

Sigh.

I was really looking forward to it, too.

Anyway.

I finished watching season 2 of Versailles last night, and I have to say, it really ended well. You really can’t go wrong with the Affair of the Poisons and the involvement of the King’s mistress, Madame de Montespan, and her subsequent fall from glory. The show is incredibly well done, and they managed to get the character of the second Duchesse d’Orleans, Elisabeth Charlotte, the Princess Palatine, absolutely correct. Liselotte was always one of my favorite people from this period of French history, and the rapprochement between her and her gay husband, and her gay husband’s lover, was incredibly unique in history. I was worried they’d gloss over it, but no, there it was, front and center. Why no one has done a biography of Monsieur, I’ll never know; I suppose everyone is so dazzled by The Sun King that no one has ever thought that, you know, a view of the French court and Louis XIV through the eyes of his gay brother could be interesting.

Believe me, if I spoke French I’d be all over it.

Then again, were I able to speak French, there are so many things I would have written by now.

Sigh. I often regret my monolinguism.

This weekend I managed to read a lot of short stories, giving me a lot of material for The Short Story Project over the next few days, but the weekend was pretty much a bust for writing. I only managed to eke out slightly over a thousand words on one short story and perhaps one hundred on another, which was, as one would imagine, enormously frustrating for me. I am still choosing to see that as a win; getting closer to being finished and all, but still enormously disappointing. The thousand words or so was basically wheel-spinning, because I don’t know how to end the story yet, and I know I need to go back to the very beginning and start revising it so I can figure that out. It’s so weird; I do this with novels all the time but with short stories, I resist doing it until I’ve got a draft version finished. So incredibly stupid, I know, and yet…here we are.

Heavy sigh.

All right, enough of that nonsense. Here are two of the short stories I read over the weekend, both from Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block.

First up, we have Jeffery Deaver’s “A Significant Find.”

“A crisis of conscience. Pure and simple. What are we going to do?” He poured red wine into her glass. Both sipped.

They were sitting in mismatched armchairs, before an ancient fireplace of stacked stone in the deserted lounge. The inn, probably two hundred years old, was clearly not a tourist destination, at least not in this season, a chilly spring.

He tasted the wine again and turned his gaze from the label of the bottle to the woman’s intense blue eyes, which were cast down at the wormwood floor. Her face was as beautiful as when they’d met, though a little bit more worn, as ten years had passed, many of which had been spent outside under less-than-kind conditions; hats and SPF 30 could only give you so much protection from the sun.

If you’ve not read Jeffery Deaver, you simply must read the Lincoln Rhyme series. I am terribly behind on it, but tore through the available volumes over the course of a month or so when I first discovered him. He’s also a very nice man, and it’s lovely when someone nice enjoys exceptional success.

Anyway, this story is terrific. The couple we see in these paragraphs, whom are the main characters of the story, are an archaeologist team at a conference in France. They, while enormously successful with publications and so forth, have never made what is known in their field as a ‘significant find.’ There’s a very strong possibility that they are about to  make one; based on some information passed on to the husband in casual conversation in the bar; undiscovered cave paintings. It turns out the person passing the information on has his own information, collected from a local boy, wrong; the couple figure out what he had wrong, and are about to go look for the cave. The crisis of conscience is whether or not to share the discovery with the colleague who originally got the information. This is the kind of moral dilemma that characters in Tales from the Crypt episodes find themselves in and almost without fail made the wrong choice; so the story always ends up with their come-uppance. This was what I was expecting out of this story; but Deaver manages some exceptionally clever sleight-of-hand and thus the ending of the story comes out of nowhere and is satisfying in its own way; the pay-off is quite good.

I then moved on to “Charlie the Barber” by Joe R. Lansdale.

Charlie Richards, who thought of himself as a better-than-average barber, was lean and bright-eyed, with a thin smile, his hair showing gray at the temples. He loved to cut hair, and he loved that his daughter, Mildred–Millie to most–worked with him. They were the only father-and-daughter barber team he knew of, and he was proud of that. He was also glad she lived at him with him and her mother, Connie, at least for now.

Next year she was off to the big city, Dallas. Graduated high school a couple years back, hung around, cut hair, but now she was planning to attend some kind of beauty college where she could learn to cut women’s hair as well. Planned to learn cosmetology too. Claimed when she finished schooling she could either fix a woman up for a night out, or spruce up a dead woman for a mortuary production. Charlie had no doubt that would be true. Millie learned quickly and was a hard worker.

This story was inspired by one of those classic Norman Rockwell paintings, with it’s homey, almost propaganda-like charm about American simplicity and virtue. Being a story by Joe R. Lansdale, who is embraced by both the horror and crime writing communities–he won an Edgar for Best Novel, and numerous Stoker Awards–you just know this euphoric American idyll story of a small town barbership in the 1950’s is going to take a truly dark turn. Charlie was a POW during World War II and still suffers from a degree of PTSD; the supply closet in the back of the barn, with its tight, confined space and darkness, always takes him back to the horror of the camp and what he had to do to escape the butchering of the prisoners; he was one of the few survivors. And sure enough, the peaceful charming world of the barbershop is turned upside down just before closing time when something wicked that way came. The story is both horrifying and brilliant; the juxtaposition of the Rockwell Americana painting/world view and the automatic nostalgia the time period conjures, steeped in nostalgia for the 1950’s as a more innocent, charming time (which is completely false), against the horror that walks through the barbershop door and what they have to endure to survive it–the sort of thing that did happen, but without 24 hours news channels and the Internet most people never heard about these things–is stunning. Lansdale is a terrific, terrific writer, and this story is one of the best ones I’ve read thus far in this Short Story Project.

IMG_2254

Crimson and Clover

Constant Reader knows I love history.

One of the (many) reasons I didn’t major in history was because I really couldn’t pick a period to specialize in; there are so many different periods of history that fascinate me. I talk on here a lot about the sixteenth century, but I am also interested in the seventeenth. I’ve actually been toying with a book idea set in that century for going on ten years now; periodically I will read some history of that century as background, but there is still so much I don’t know. I am reading Royal Renegades right now, about the children of Charles I of England–fascinating stuff; I knew basics about the English Civil War but not a lot–and the Stuarts of that period were particularly entwined with France. Charles I’s wife was Henrietta Maria, youngest sister of Louis XIII and aunt to Louis XIV; she fled to France for safety and some of the royal Stuart children also made it over there at some point. Henrietta Anna, Charles I’s youngest daughter, grew up at the French court; she eventually married Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe, the Duc d’Orleans.

And therein lies a tale.

My interest in Louis XIV–and Versailles–led me to discover that the Sun King’s younger brother, Philippe (whose existence, for that matter, completely invalidated the plot of Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask, although I’ve always loved that story), was, if not a gay man, then bisexual: he had children by both his first wife, Henriette Anna Stuart, and his second, Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine. In fact, Philippe is called the Father of Europe because all of European royalty in the nineteenth century were his descendants.

As a small child reading history, I picked up on the homosexuality that most historians always tried to gloss over (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; James I and first Robert Carr, later George Villiers; Richard the Lion-Hearted; Henri III of France; etc) but there was never any real attempt to gloss over Monsieur’s (Philippe was known throughout his life as Monsieur, after the death of his uncle Gaston, from whom he inherited that particular title as well as the title of duc d’Orleans) sexuality. He had a long term relationship with the Chevalier de Lorraine, which started when he was a young man and lasted until the Chevalier’s death. Monsieur’s first wife put up with it but didn’t care for it; his second wife didn’t care one way or the other.

The story goes that his mother, Anne of Austria, made him that way–which is, in modern times, a laughable thought (a domineering mother, etc etc etc)–by dressing him as a girl when he was a child, and continuing to do so after he was of an age to start wearing male clothing. Apparently, Queen Anne was concerned that Louis XIV and his younger brother would have an adversarial relationship the way her husband Louis XIII had with his own younger brother, Gaston. The troubled marriage of Louis XIII and his Spanish wife is also fascinating; they were married very young, she had two miscarriages, and he blamed her for the second one and they became estranged, not living together as man and wife for a very long time afterwards (the second miscarriage was around 1619, I believe; Louis XIV was not born until 1638 and his younger brother in 1640)–this estrangement between King and Queen–and the way George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham shamelessly flirted with Queen Anne when he came to Paris to negotiate the marriage of Charles I to Henrietta Maria–were the seeds from which Dumas also wrote The Three Musketeers.

Since so much time had passed (almost nineteen years) since Louis XIII last slept with Queen Anne, there were lots of rumors and talk that her two sons were not Louis XIII’s; there are many who believed Cardinal Richelieu fathered the boys with the Queen (fictionalized in Evelyn Anthony’s The Cardinal and the Queen); but there was never any question that the two boys were Bourbons. (Like the Hapsburgs with their genetic ‘jaw’, the Bourbon ‘nose’ was also relatively famous; both Louis and Philippe had the nose–but then that could simply mean that their father was a Bourbon rather than confirmation that Louis XIII was)

Monsieur often dressed as a woman for court functions, even as an adult; despite this proclivity he was a great soldier and commander of the French army–he was so successful in the field that his brother was jealous of his successes and often removed him from command.

His second wife was a diarist and a compulsive letter writer; her memoirs and letters are one of the best sources for information about life at the court of Louis XIV.

I’ve always been a little surprised that, while there are scores of biographies of Louis XIV (who, despite his incredible ego, wasn’t as great a king as he thought he was; he accomplished a lot but he also succeeded in planting the seeds for the French Revolution and creating the court system that also played a big part in the downfall of his dynasty. He also wasn’t successful militarily and diplomatically; his wars were expensive and ruinous–although all of Europe had to unite against him in order to beat him.) there are very few, if any, of Monsieur. I would think a biography of him would be something a gay historian would be interested in writing, because of the ability to look at his sexuality, his difference from the others at court, and how, as a prince, he was able to be himself–despite his own religious mania, Louis XIV never seemed to care about Monsieur’s proclivities–and on his own terms. Not to mention how incredibly difficult and strange it would have been to be the younger brother of the egomaniacal Sun King.

Was Monsieur gay? Bisexual? Transgender? Was this a result of his mother dressing him as a girl when he was young or was that just a coincidence?

As I said, the seventeenth century is interesting. And a lot was going on as well–the Thirty Years’ War was the last European war over religion; there were civil wars in both France and England; the colonizing of North America by the British, French, and Spanish truly got into full swing; and it was also the time, of course, of Cardinal Richelieu, the first great modern statesmen.

I hope to write this book someday. But in the meantime, I am having a great time doing the background research.

And now, back to the spice mines.