Only in My Dreams

Sliding into Wednesday and pay day–or as it’s known around the Lost Apartment, Pay the Bills Day. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I sent in two stories for submission yesterday, which is always a lovely accomplishment. One is for a blind read so I can’t talk about that one, but the other is “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” for an anthology I was asked to write a story for. I’m never quite sure if that means we’re taking your story or what, but I tend to never take anything for granted when it comes to this literally insane industry I find myself a part of these days. And even more exciting, I woke up to a very pleased editor and a congratulatory email re: “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” Always lovely, particularly when one has little to no self-confidence when it comes to writing short stories.

I won’t find out about the other one for months. As it is a blind read, I can’t really talk about the story, but it’s for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, this time being edited by one of my writing heroes, Michael Koryta. Getting into an MWA anthology is one of my bucket list items, and while I’ve submitted numerous stories to them over the years, I have yet to get into one. The competition is fierce, of course; there are only so many slots and lots of entries, which is what makes getting into one a major accomplishment. It probably won’t help in the self-confidence area for more than a day or two, of course, but one also never knows.

I also started revising another short story last night, which I’m probably going to try to get submitted somewhere today. I think this week’s focus is going to be on revising short stories, to cleanse my palette before I dive back into the manuscript of one of the books I’ve got in progress. Since the LSU game is so early on Saturday, I can spend the rest of the day rereading Bury Me in Shadows and making notes while flipping back and forth between other college games–I only have to give LSU my full attention, after all. I think Auburn and Florida are playing Saturday as well; both are in the top ten, and both are on LSU’s upcoming schedule. Auburn looked really good spanking Mississippi State last weekend–their offense looked very much like LSU’s, frankly, scoring at will–which means Auburn-LSU is going to be another one of those heart-stopping shootouts.

Then again, Auburn-LSU has always been a heart attack game, pretty much coming down to the last minute of every game most of the time.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday, but it’s not really grabbing me yet–but then, they haven’t gone into the wilderness so far.

We finished watching The Politician last night, which took a really surprising–and highly entertaining–turn last night, with the additions of Judith Light and Bette Midler to the cast to set up season two, which I wasn’t so sure about going into last night’s episode. but they did a truly terrific job of jumping ahead a few years, and letting us see what was going on with the kids from the high school now that they’re in college…and, like I said, they did an amazing job setting up the second season.

I’m also finished reading Lords of Misrule as well, which takes the history of Carnival (and it’s racial politics) up to the year before I came to my first Carnival, and two years before I finally moved here and got my life started. Since that’s also the approximate time period for my story “Never Kiss a Stranger,” reading this has been enormously helpful. It catches me off guard a little that the 1990’s is now so far away; kids born in the 1990’s are in college now, after all–are old enough to marry and have their own kids.

I also realized, last night as I was reading after we finished watching The Politician, that it’s October, which is when I usually read horror fiction–and since starting the Diversity Project, I was waiting for October to read some diverse horror. So, I will try to get Deliverance finished this week, do my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, probably over this weekend, and then next week I am going to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, or her more recent Gods of Jade and Shadow.

And since today is Pay Day, I should probably go pay the bills. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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One of a Kind (Love Affair)

Tuesday rolling around like a punch in the mouth.

I managed to get chapter twenty-three finished last night; two more to go and the first draft is finished. It’s going to get trickier in these final two chapters, methinks, but it’s also going to be interesting. A lot is going to happen in these last two chapters, which also kind of makes it fun to write.

I also turned in “Moist Money” to the anthology I was asked to write a story for; whether they like it or not remains to be seen–and I don’t mind if they don’t, really, because I’m actually glad I got the opportunity to write the story, if I’m being honest, and if I hadn’t been asked I would have never written the story. And while I’m not a fan of the word “moist”–it’s one of the more cringeworthy non-slur words in the English language, I’, not sure why–it really works for the story’s title. I also think it’s a great title. Bill Loefhelm told me me on Twitter–I responded to a tweet about stripper money being damp, and he told me I should write a book with the title; when I was in college I worked at Bank of America for a year as a teller, and our branch was near strip clubs…so the strippers used to come in with moist money to make deposits. (And now that I think about it, the fact that we weren’t given rubber or plastic gloves to wear while handling money seems kind of…unsanitary. Money is dirty to begin with…let alone handling it all day.) It’s a revenge story (because of course it is; I wouldn’t be Gregalicious if I didn’t write revenge stories all the time), and was most satisfying to write.

We’ll see how it goes.

I’m going to probably give “This Thing of Darkness” another going over before I submit it to the MWA anthology; I’m not really certain I’m happy with how I end the story.  I’m not entirely certain the story works in the first place, to be honest; isn’t that always the problem I have with short stories? I wish I had more confidence in my short story writing! I like to think I’m a good writer–you can’t write without some sort of sense that your compulsion to create characters and stories is good enough to be read and enjoyed by others–but ugh, that hideous inner voice, always undermining me and making me doubt myself! How I hate it!

I also started reading Lords of Misrule, a look at the politics of race in New Orleans through the lens of Carnival, and it’s kind of fascinating to see how recent the ordinance to desegregate the krewes was–the early 1990’s, in fact–and we moved here shortly after that went into effect. It’s also kind of handy to read about political things that were going on in New Orleans during that time, since I’m writing a novella set in New Orleans in 1994 (maybe 1995; I may change the date a bit as I work on it some more).

We continue to watch Thirteen Reasons Why’s third season, although I’m no longer sure why. The story seems…I don’t know; kind of forced? In some ways, though, it’s terrific; I do like how they are using all the backstory of the first two seasons to complicate this central murder mystery–although I suspect the reveal of the killer’s identity in the final episode is going to be a cheat. I’m also not terribly pleased that the murder victim/sociopathic rapist is getting kind of a backstory redemption arc…but then again, the kid who was almost a school shooter (stopped before his rampage in the season two finale) is also getting a redemptive arc…I kind of have mixed feelings about this. For one thing, I always felt kind of sorry for the kid, and they did such an amazing job of setting up his decline into depression and victimization–what happened to him in Season 2 was horrific, absolutely horrific–and the kids who perpetrated that have all seemed to have gotten away with it, and will continue to get away with it. On the one hand, realistically nothing would have happened to those kids, most likely; but on the other hand, it’s fiction, and it kind of feels like they just plastered a bandage on the kid’s hurts and sexual assault–yes, in season two a boy was victim of a particularly brutal and horrific sexual assault–and that seems, I don’t know, maybe it’s not compelling, story-wise, but I just feel  like they’ve made it seem easy to get over something like that–and it’s not.

Well, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines, methinks. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Funky Worm

Well, it’s Sunday morning and the windows are covered with condensation again, which means it’s hot and humid outside (with a chance of rain). I finished reading Laura Lippman’s brilliant Lady in the Lake yesterday, but after running my errands in the heavy heat and damp, I was pretty wiped out by the time I’d put everything away and found it incredibly difficult to focus on much of anything. I did some more cleaning, brainstormed a lot more in my journal (I’ve been having some great ideas for “Never Kiss a Stranger”) and then watched the first official game of the college football season–Miami vs. Florida on ESPN last night. I’m not much of a fan of either, to be honest, but it’s an in-state rivalry game and they don’t play each other very often. It was a great game, actually; I didn’t think Miami had much of a chance, but ended up only losing 24-20, and they had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds but couldn’t convert. LSU’s first game is next weekend–a non-conference snoozer; I don’t even remember who they are playing–and soon enough the Saints will be playing their regular season games too. I love college football, and the Saints–I only watch the Saints play in the NFL and pay little to no attention about other teams unless the Saints are playing them. (This goes all the way back to when I was a kid; I’ve never cared much for the NFL but have always loved college football…if I didn’t live in New Orleans I probably wouldn’t care about the Saints, either; but you can’t live here and not love the Saints. It’s practically a city ordinance, and I will say I’ve never seen or experienced anything like the way this city loves its football team.)

Today I have a lot to do. I am going to revise my short story that’s due next weekend, and work on a big project that needs to also be finished by next weekend, and I am probably going to mess around with “Never Kiss a Stranger” a little bit today. I am also going to reread the last few chapters of Bury Me in Shadows so I can finally get those last three chapters written, hopefully by getting a start on that today, and finishing by September 1 so I can do one last pass on the rape culture novel before sending it to my publisher. I also think I’m going to work a bit on my story for the MWA anthology. It’s already finished, and I’ve revised it already a couple of times, but I think I am going to revise it one more time, give it another going over, to make sure everything is fine and ready to go. I doubt it’ll get taken, but I like submitting stories to these anthologies, and one of these days I am going to actually make it into one of those anthologies if it kills me.

And it just might!

Oddly enough, these last week or so I’ve had a sense of general malaise–the notion that I have so much to do that I’ll never get it all done, which then creates inertia/paralysis: there’s no way I’m going to get this all finished so what’s the use in trying? This is incredibly self-defeating, and I know I have a tendency to often defeat myself, so these are alarms and triggers I know to watch out for, fight against, and not get too deeply imbedded in my brain. I don’t always succeed; sometimes the inertia/paralysis wins and I get nothing done, which only exacerbates the problem. But I somehow manage to always get everything done, which is very exciting.

This coming weekend is Southern Decadence, and this is going to be my first Southern Decadence when I am not working in the office on Frenchmen Street–I don’t even have to drive through the Quarter to get to work anymore, so I won’t be caught off-guard by seeing hordes of gay men walking around in the Quarter on my way to work. I am going to do condom duty on Friday night only, giving me a lovely three day holiday weekend to enjoy, watch LSU and get to work on the rape culture novel for its final draft before submission. I’ll be glad to have that book finished, and then I have another project to work on for both October and November, and then in December I can return to Bury Me in Shadows. If my plans hold up, I should be able to then finish revising another unfinished manuscript in January before starting to write the new Chanse, while doing the final research and prep work to get started on Chlorine. These plans are, of course, always subject to change; you never know when another project is going to drop into your lap and that could possibly change everything yet again.

I really need to make a to-do list, and do some other business-type stuff today. I’ve also started packing another box of books to go into the attic; I should probably finish that today as well. I think I’m going to read Rob Hart’s The Warehouse next, followed by Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows, and then I’ll come back to the Diversity Project, probably with Michael Nava’s Lay Your Sleeping Head.

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

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Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)

Hello, Friday, so lovely to see you again.

Last night broke the streak of great night’s sleeping in a row; but it was still effective enough, I suppose. I’m awake and already washing the bed linens (my usual Friday chore) before I head into work for the part time day I am working. Paul was late coming home last night, so I kept cleaning the apartment, more or less–probably more less than more, if you know what I mean–but it was lovely to walk downstairs to a clean, organized desk this morning, and a clean kitchen. Sure, there’s a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, but other than that, I think I have the kitchen/office under control–and if the weather stays cool, I may even do the windows tomorrow.

I’m not sure what has triggered it, but over the last few weeks (months?) I’ve been thinking about the past a lot. Being one of the oldest people at the office probably has something to do with it–I think the next oldest person after me is still young enough to be my child–and of course, thinking about the introduction I have to write for Jay B. Laws’ The Unfinished being brought back into print also probably has something to do with it. (My story in progress, “Never Kiss a Stranger”, is also set in the early 1990’s in New Orleans, so I’ve been thinking alot about those days when I first started coming to New Orleans and fell in love with the city.) I’ve spent most of my life not looking backwards–at least, since I was in my mid-thirties at any rate–because my preference was to live in the present and think about the future; there’s nothing that can be done about the past, and I was also tired of remembering cringeworthy experiences. But the past is ripe for mining, not only in my work but for recognizing personal growth and change, and so I’ve been looking back. (Probably also has a lot to do with Bury Me in Shadows being set in a part of Alabama based on where I’m from.)

Speaking of Bury Me in Shadows, it’s possible I can finish this first draft by the end of the month, but not likely. The other big project has kind of taken up a lot of my free time over this past week or so, but that’s fine. Another big project got pushed back a couple of months, which gives me a little more leeway with getting it finished. Ideally, I’ll get it finished sometime over the next week, and then I can spend most of August revising the Kansas book, which in turn gives way to September working on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get some more short stories finished and out of the way and submitted–one I’d like to write has a September 1 deadline, but all I have for it is a title and a possible plot scenario, but no ending–and of course, I want to write something for the MWA anthology (actually, I already have something for the MWA anthology, that needs a polish, and then to sit for a few more weeks before going over it again) which is a long shot always, but I usually come away from MWA anthology rejections with a strong story for placement elsewhere, and I’d really like for some more stories to be out there by the end of the year.

Yet time continues to slip through my fingers like mercury.

It also looks like that low pressure system in the Gulf isn’t going to turn into anything, and the Atlantic basin is also quiet and going to stay quiet for another five days, which is, of course, quite lovely.

Another thing I need to do is go through my current journal and take out bits of writing I’ve done when an idea has struck me, and see if it will fit into anything in progress or if it will trigger an idea for a full length story. Opening it up to the first page right now, I find this:

Moira was one of those women of whom other people never grew fond. Things simply never worked out for her. Almost, always getting very close, but never ever winning. The perennial bridesmaid, silver medalist, salutatorian.

I can always count on her to make me feel better about myself. No matter how low or down I am about any or every thing, I just have to think about Moira and realize, gratefully, that I’m not her.

Kind of dark, really. I have no idea what this was for, or when it popped into my brain, but there it is, written down in black ink for all posterity.

Or:

She had an unfortunately masculine type body—broad-shoulder and narrow-hipped—that made her look out of shape no matter how hard she worked out and clothes that fit well  incredibly hard to find. She stopped caring about things like hair and make-up and clothes sometime during her teen years.

Also slightly mean, but not bad.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines for my half-day, after which it’s my weekend.

Huzzah!

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Wildflower

Back to reality.

I feel rested, relaxed, and ready to get back to the office and to writing. This is a really lovely feeling, Constant Reader, and one I’d love to feel more often, you know? But the truth is as I get older, I need to take these breaks from everything every few months, in order to keep on a-keepin’ on, as it were. I’d hoped to do some writing–didn’t happen, but I managed to get the proofs for Royal Street Reveillon finished, which was something, and I also made a to-do list, and tried to schedule out the books I need to write next, which is also an accomplishment. I have twelve–yes, you read that right, twelve–books in some form of completion; whether there’s a draft finished, a partial draft, an outline, or just a fleshed out idea. Twelve. 

And yes, I am completely and totally aware how utterly insane that is.

That doesn’t count the short story collections (two or three), or the essay collection, or the copy editing for Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go live.

So I guess it’s more like seventeen.

I also have agreed to write two short stories for anthologies, and I also want to write something to submit to the new MWA one whose deadline is coming up this fall. (Fortunately, I already have one written that fits the MWA criteria, so it just needs to be tweaked and cleaned up and polished and made pretty; I have to write the others from scratch, and I worry that won’t end well.) I am in the process of making a list, so that I can try to make sure I can get everything logged and written and therefore stay on top of things.

There’s a heat advisory today, from noon till about seven this evening, where it’s going to feel like 106-111 degrees outside, which should, of course, do wonders for my power bill for next month. Hurray. I’ll be curious to see how our new building handles this onslaught of heat; the side of the building we’re on is in direct sunlight after about one in the afternoon, so that should be lovely. It already gets hot over there in the afternoons as it is; I’m curious to see how that turns out. There’s also a low out in the Gulf, close to shore and in that corner of Florida where the peninsula descends from the mainland, that might turn into a tropical depression this week. Not likely to do anything to us other than outer bands, but not good for the Florida coastline.

I am reading Jay B, Laws’ second, and posthumous, novel The Unfinished. It’s being rereleased in a new edition by ReQueered Tales, and they’ve asked me to write the introduction for it, which is a lovely, nice thing to do. I read the book a long time ago, and barely remember any of it, but the opening sequence, in which our deaf main character (so far) has corrective eye surgery is not for the squeamish–I count myself amongst the squeamish when it comes to eyes–and I am really enjoying the ride again nevertheless. It’s amazing to me that I can’t remember anything about the story–I didn’t remember that the main point-of-view character was deaf, for that matter–because I used to be able to remember plot points and details of every book I’ve read; another by-product of age, I suppose, was the loss of many of those memories and details. I do remember, however, the enormous sadness I felt that Laws died so young of HIV/AIDS, back in the plague years, and was only able to produce two high quality gay-themed horror novels, this one and Steam.  HIV/AIDS did so much damage, not just to our community but also to our creative community that even now, so many years later, that we are struggling to recover from the losses.

I would imagine there’s an amazing academic study to be done on the impact of HIV/AIDS to the queer writing community, and how it shifted and changed our work, the direction of it, and how younger queer writers also lost the mentoring possibilities of the older, more established writers who were dying off, one by one. I myself have never once addressed the plague in my own work. It was a conscious choice back when I first started; the cocktail had already been discovered and lives being extended. The plague was no longer a death sentence for those diagnosed, and the advances that have been made in the years since I first started writing and getting published are the things we could only dream of during the 80’s and 90’s. Ironically, I wrote a short story for a horror anthology (more details on that to come) called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” which is the first time I’ve addressed the plague in fiction (the story was set in the early 1990’s), and I am writing about it in my so-far unfinished novella “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

God, so much writing to do and always, always, new ideas arrive. Even as I listed the books I plan to write yesterday, afterwards I remembered there were at least two more that I’d forgotten about.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And now, back to the spice mines, as I must prepare for my return to the office this morning.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Never Surrender

’tis Wednesday already; the week is already half over. Next week is the combination Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend (AIEEEEE!), which is going to be, literally, insane. But I can hang; it’ll be lovely seeing everyone, but I can’t believe it has come up upon us all again so suddenly. It’s like I wasn’t paying any attention and the next thing you know, BOOM, there it is.

As I continue to work on this plethora of short stories (I started ANOTHER fucking one yesterday), I am, however, pleased to announce that one of the ones I’ve done since the beginning of the year will be appearing in the anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. The book’s theme is crime stories inspired by songs of the Go-Go’s, and will be edited by the amazing Holly West, and published by the crew at Down and Out Books. My story was inspired by the song “This Town” and is also, coincidentally enough, titled “This Town.”

Our IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, bored eyes flicking over the laminate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about everything. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

 She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitated. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up was running down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our armpits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic, wanting her. They only noticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking second place to her because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her, wanting to be her friends, to be her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

I am so glad they liked this story, because I loved it. It’s soooo dark. When I was going through Go-Go’s lyrics to choose a song, I was really surprised; I knew all the songs by heart–if I heard one I can sing every word–and danced like crazy to them, always thought they were these upbeat cheerful songs…and then yikes! Reading the lyrics without hearing the music? JFC, are these songs dark. I mean, check out this verse from “This Town”:

Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town

I mean, we’re all dreamers – we’re all whores? As soon as I read that line, the story just jumped into my head; a group of girlfriends, on Fat Tuesday,  wandering around in the Quarter getting wasted…and then the first line of the story popped into my head: Our ID’s were fake but no one seemed to care. That was how it started, and the next thing I knew I had over four thousand words and a very rough first draft.

I love when that happens. And the editor liked it! YAY! Huzzah for good news! It gives me hope for these other short stories I’m writing.

And I also have read some more stories for the Short Story Project. First up is “Damage Control” by Thomas H. Cook, from the MWA anthology Manhattan Mayhem.

She’d been found in the dilapidated Bronx apartment where she’d lived for the past seventeen months. It was a basement apartment and had only a couple small windows, but she’d make it darker still by drawing the curtains. It was so dim inside that the first cop to arrive had stumbled about, looking for a light switch. He’d finally found one only to discover that she’d unscrewed all the light bulbs, even the ones in the ceiling and the fluorescent ones on either side of the bathroom mirror. Neighbors later told police that they hadn’t seen a single sliver of light coming from her apartment for well over a month. It was as if the terrible capacity for destruction that I’d glimpsed in her so many years before had at last grown strong enough to consume her entirely.

This is a truly sad story; in which a man is forced to look back on a painful decision made years earlier, when his family took in a foster child to give their only child a sister. The two girls got along well at first, but the foster child became a problem child, possibly even dangerous, and for the sake of their blood daughter they gave the foster child back to the system. Now an adult, she has died, and he is having to reflect, remember, what happened all those years ago, wonder if things could have been different, if maybe he had tried a little harder maybe things wouldn’t have ended so badly for her. There’s a horrible twist at the end as well, which makes the story all the more poignant and sad; about how a life can be so easily wasted and thrown away, based on a perception that ma or may not be correct.

I then moved on to a Shirley Jackson story, from the recent collection Let Me Tell You. The story is titled “Paranoia.”

Mr. Halloran Beresford, pleasantly tired after a good day in the office, still almost clean-shaven after eight hours, his pants still neatly pressed, pleased with himself particularly for remembering, stepped out of the candy shop with a great box under his arm and started briskly for the corner. There were twenty small-size gray suits like Mr. Beresford’s on every New York block, fifty men still clean-shaven and pressed after a day in an air-cooled office, a hundred small men, perhaps, pleased with themselves for remembering their wives’ birthdays. Mr. Beresford was going to take his wife out to dinner, he decided, going to see if he could get last-minute tickets to a show, taking his wife candy. It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming musically to himself.

I absolutely, positively love love LOVE Shirley Jackson. The other night, as I was trying to decide which story to read next, I suddenly realized that I have three short story collections by one of my favorite authors and haven’t read any of them. I immediately grabbed Let Me Tell You and sat down with it. “Paranoia” is brilliant, positively brilliant; to tell you why would spoil it, and if its spoiled the effect is ruined, but it is, with every word and sentence, the perfect fictional story representation of defining the word paranoia. It reminded me, as I kept reading, of precisely why I love Jackson so much. God, what a great story!

And now, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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All I Need

Sunday, Sunday. Can’t trust that day, especially when an hour was stolen from me during my sleep. Sunday is my sleep-in day, and while it’s not entirely unusual, I absolutely detest that I woke up at just before what-is-now-ten-thirty. Since I can’t drink coffee after noon for fear of its impact on my sleep–but I like my coffee in the morning–I will be able to have only, at most, two cups. This is also infuriating.

It’s not sunny out there this late morning, but more grayish again, as though it might rain. It may just be a cloud cover, but the sun is always bright in New Orleans; the lack of brightness is bizarre and also feels off–in addition sleeping  in until not-really-ten-thirty. But looking on the positive side, I worked out yesterday and the rest seems to have helped my muscles recover; they don’t feel either sore or tired or both this morning. I should be grateful for small victories, I suppose, and stop complaining.

I watched two more episodes of Seven Seconds last night, and it is absolutely riveting. It reminds me a lot of the lamented American Crime, where you saw everyone as three-dimensional characters; I like seeing it from every perspective, and while it’s easy to feel some sympathy for the guy who committed the actual crime and why he covered it up; the pain of the family of the victim is almost unbearable to watch–but Regina King is such an amazing and brilliant actress you can’t help but watch. I’ve always been a fan of hers; she was exceptional in American Crime, but this? Give her all the awards right now, and please cast her in everything; she is so good that as I watched I thought if I ever write a television show or movie I want to write a great part for her to play. As good as the show is, as it progresses it is starting to drift away from the nonjudgmental view that it had in the first episodes, which is fine–I think part of the reason American Crime failed to find an audience was because you didn’t know who to root for, or if you should root for anyone, which makes viewers uncomfortable, as they, for the most part, want to have good guys and bad guys–but I kind of wish they hadn’t gone so far with making the guy who committed the crime a villain. I felt sorry for him before; I am losing sympathy, and that’s why they are doing it; but when he was sympathetic it made the show more layered, complex, and nuanced.

Heavy sigh.

I got all my errands done yesterday, but forgot to get something I need for dinner today–but it’s just a twenty ounce bottle of root beer and I can walk to Walgreens and get that when I’m ready to put everything into the crock pot. The St. Patrick’s/St. Joseph’s Day Irish Channel parade is today, so I’m not moving my car. I decided to wait to go to Costco until next weekend; I am going to take one of my co-workers car shopping that day, and as punishment he’ll have to go to Costco with me when we’re finished.

I started writing yet another Chanse short story yesterday; “Once a Tiger.” It’s an idea for a Chanse novel that I had a long time ago and always wanted to write, sort of like how the Chanse short story I wrote last week was a book idea I never wrote. I had intended to get some other things done, but after the errands and the gym I was tired, so I sat down to watch Seven Seconds (Paul was at the office) and got sucked into it. I also watched two episodes of Versailles–this season is about the Affair of the Poisons–and read short stories. I need to clean today–I’m hoping it won’t rain so I can finally do the damned windows–but I also want to write today. So I should probably wrap this up and get back to work, so I can get the root beer from Walgreens and be done with it all, you know?

Sigh. Heavy lies the head, and all that, you know.

The first story I read was a reread; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”:

THE SEXTON stood in the porch of Milford meeting-house, pulling busily at the bell-rope. The old people of the village came stooping along the street. Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait, in the conscious dignity of their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked sidelong at the pretty maidens, and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on week days. When the throng had mostly streamed into the porch, the sexton began to toll the bell, keeping his eye on the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s door. The first glimpse of the clergyman’s figure was the signal for the bell to cease its summons.

“But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?” cried the sexton in astonishment.

All within hearing immediately turned about, and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards the meeting-house. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if some strange minister were coming to dust the cushions of Mr. Hooper’s pulpit.

“Are you sure it is our parson?” inquired Goodman Gray of the sexton.

“Of a certainty it is good Mr. Hooper,” replied the sexton. “He was to have exchanged pulpits with Parson Shute, of Westbury; but Parson Shute sent to excuse himself yesterday, being to preach a funeral sermon.”

I read this story either in high school or in college originally; whenever it was that I originally read it, my young mind was bored with it and thought it rather silly. I hated The Scarlet Letter, still do so much that even thinking of rereading it gives me dyspepsia; but I greatly enjoyed The House of the Seven Gables, although I remember nothing much about it except that the old woman’s name was Hepzibah, which I always thought was a great Gothic name for a creepy old lady. Rereading this story, it made a little bit more sense to me; it’s really a parable. Parson Hooper, for a reason unbeknownst to his parishioners and to the reader, has chosen to hide his face for the rest of his life behind a black veil; I remember reading this and being deeply annoyed about never finding out the reason. But rereading it now, I got a stronger sense of it; the parson has done this and the reasons why really aren’t important; what’s important is how uncomfortable it has made everyone else, and why; it’s about human nature and psychology, and is a lot more clever than I thought as a teenager. It still, however, reads in that stilted, archaic early nineteenth century formal style that is grating and annoying to the modern reader, however.

I then moved on to “The Last Temptation of Frankie Lymon” by Peter Blauner, from the anthology Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli. I originally bought this anthology because it had a story by Alison Gaylin inspired by a song recorded by the band X, whom I used to love in the 1980’s–the story is quite brilliant, I might add–but had never gone back and read any of the others. So, I picked it up and this is the lead-off story for the collection.

He walked into the bar wearing the jacket that Sam bought for the Ebony photo shoot last year. A mostly wool blazer with two rows of brass buttons, that must have cost–what?–like forty to fifty dollars at Blumstein’s. He felt bad because Sam was living on about two hundred a week as a food inspector in the Bronx, while trying to manage the comeback for him, But what could you do? All the star clothes he used to have in his grandmother’s closet were either child-sized and long ago outgrown or had holes in them because he’d nodded off with a cigarette in his mouth.

So now the jacket felt heavy as a burden on his shoulders as he eyed his surroundings and tried to get comfortable. The bar was around the corner from his grandmother’s and he half recognized some of the people from the neighborhood, where he hadn’t lived since back in the day. There were mailmen and bus drivers wearing turtlenecks or open-collared shirts with jeans. Doormen and janitors in T-shirts and growing out their hair into bushy naturals as they rapped effortlessly to short-skirted former double Dutch girls from the block with sleepy eyes and soft mouths, who kept going “uh-huh, uh-huh, right on” as that Gladys Knight “Grapevine” song played on the jukebox.

Frankie Lymon was a real person; the lead singer for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, known for their hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”. Lymon’s story is one of those cautionary tales about the music industry, fame, and hitting it big when you’re young; he was only twenty-four when he died of an overdose–a has-been at 24. This story, which is basically a fictionalized imagining of his last day, is heartbreaking. He has fallen on hard times but has cleaned up and gotten to a point of recovery from his addiction; he’s trying to make a comeback but makes the sad, fateful decision to go into the local neighborhood bar near where he is staying with his grandmother–and runs into someone from his past, with her own broken dreams and broken life. It’s powerfully written and the characters realized strongly; you can’t stop reading even though you know it’s all a train wreck unfolding in front of you. Kudos to Blauner for such a powerful story.

I then went back to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me collection, where the next offering was the story “The Parker Shotgun.”

The Christmas holidays had come and gone, and the new year was under way. January, in California, is as good as it gets–cool, clear, and green, with a sky the color of wisteria and a surf that thunders like a volley of gunfire in a distant field. My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed, bonded, insured; white, female, age thirty-two, unmarried, and physically fit. That Monday morning, I was sitting in my office with my feet up, wondering what life would bring, when a woman walked in and tossed a photograph on my desk. My introduction to the Parker shotgun began with a graphic view of its apparent effect when fired at a formerly nice-looking man at close range. His face was still largely intact, but he had no use now for a pocket comb. WIth effort, I kept my expression neutral as I glanced up at her.

“Somebody killed my husband.”

Grafton never disappoints, and as I have mentioned before when talking about these Chanse short stories (it pleases me to no end that I can now talk about them in the plural), reading Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone short stories, along with the Lew Archer short stories by Ross Macdonald and the Tess Monaghan ones by Laura Lippman, have been an education in writing the private eye short story; something I never felt confident about doing before. This story is excellent in that is has a great opening–how can you not keep reading after that–and Kinsey’s detecting skills are put to a great test here. I also learned a lot about shotguns in reading this story. I guess the thing that’s so terrific about reading these private eye short stories is seeing, while reading them, how they could have easily been expanded into novels while also seeing how the author pared down what could have been a novel into a pleasing, satisfying short story.

I also picked up the MWA anthology Vengeance and started reading some more of the stories in there; I believe I may have blogged about one of them already. But when reading Alafair Burke’s “The Mother”, the story began to sound familiar; and sure enough, I was right: I’d read it before. I started paging through the stories and yes, I’d read them all; I read them flying back from a trip to New York on a plane. The book includes Karin Slaughter’s chilling, and Edgar winning, short story “The Unremarkable Heart,” which is one of my favorite short stories of all time. But I had to put Vengeance back up on the shelf because I’d already read those stories, alas; I will only allow myself to reread, and write about, short stories I originally read before I started blogging back in 2004 (!), so as to avoid repetition.

And now, I am going to get my second and final cup of coffee before walking to Walgreens. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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