Clean

Hello, Friday, how are you doing?

In spite of all that’s going on in the rest of the state, yesterday was a lovely day for me personally because I got my electronic copy of Mystery Tribune which contains my story, “The Carriage House” (which you can order here). This is my second time in Mystery Tribune; the first was with my story “Neighborhood Alert”. Mystery Tribune is a gorgeously done magazine, and whenever I have some spare cash (HA!) I am going to subscribe; I really should subscribe to the magazines that support crime short stories. Bad Greg, bad Greg!

A while back, Constant Reader might remember me talking about the illusion of privacy and safety we all have when we are in our homes, even when you live in very close proximity to your neighbors, as we do here in New Orleans. From my desk I can see the right apartment of the carriage house on our property, the carriage house next door, and the apartment on the left side of the house next door. Our apartment shares a wall with our neighbors to the front and our neighbor to the side, and the upstairs shares walls with the neighbors to the front and our landlady, with whom we also share the patio deck (which we never use), and yet…we feel safe and secure and private in our apartment, and it always kind of throws me when someone walks past my “office” windows. Anyway, “The Carriage House” is a story about precisely that; living in close proximity to other people and how it also, occasionally, means knowing more about each other than perhaps you might want to or should.

It was a little after three when my cat woke me up by sitting on my chest and howling.

I wanted to ignore him–I could tell without opening my eyes it was still dark out–but when he started kneading my chest with his claws out, I gave up. “Seriously, Skittle?”  I asked, reaching for my glasses, noticing my alarm’s glowing red numbers read 3:12.

He yowled again. There were four different sounds, each with its own meaning, in his repertoire. This was the water noise. Cursing myself for not making sure his water bowl was full before going to bed, I slipped on my slippers and pulled my robe on as I walked out of the bedroom. Skittle galloped down the stairs ahead of me. I was reaching for the kitchen light-switch when I saw movement outside the windows.

I caught my breath but relaxed when I recognized Peyton.

He’d been renting my carriage house for a few months, but having a tenant was still such a novelty for me that I still forgot I had one. I’d used the carriage house as a kind of combination guest house/office for years, but I’d decided to turn into a rental property to relieve some financial distress. I wasn’t happy having someone else on the property, but the extra money  was lovely.  And I couldn’t have found a better tenant than Peyton. He was quiet, paid the rent on time, and if he maybe had a few more overnight guests than I would have preferred–well, he was still only in his late twenties. He worked as an EMT, savibg lives, and who was I to judge if he liked to bring the occasional man home?

He also had a habit of sunbathing in the back yard in a skimpy yellow bikini that left little to the imagination.

It also didn’t hurt that he was handsome. He was just over six feet tall and jogged every morning on the neutral ground on St. Charles. Several nights a week he’d walk past my windows drenched in sweat and carrying a gym bag.

Not a bad beginning, no?

Several months ago I sent five stories out on submission, and within twenty-four hours two of them sold. A few more weeks passed and another one sold; I did get a rejection from a rather high-end market on my birthday, but I knew they were going to turn me down (I don’t write lit-RAH-choor, you know–but it never hurts to try every once in a while. I haven’t heard back on the fifth yet, but I am also assuming that if I do hear from them (I’m not entirely confident I will, frankly, even rate a rejection from them) it will be a thanks-but-no-thanks. But it’s fine, I don’t care, and sometimes my stories get rejected because, well, it may have needed another pass or two, or I had something wrong, or something was frankly missing from it–that I’ll find the next time I take a good look at it. But there’s no mistaking that I’ve had a good couple of years of short story sales and publications, and that has everything to do with the Short Story Project and taking the time to write them, edit them, clean them up and work them out, you know?

I am trying to decide if I should write and submit something for the New Orleans Bouchercon anthology; I’ve also come across two other calls that look interesting and I may try to get something submitted to both. I do have eighty-six or so stories in some sort of progress now; perhaps there’s something in the files that could be finished and could work for either or both of them. Or…I could write something entirely new for them. Who knows?

Anyway, yay for short stories!

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The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

To Speak Is a Sin

And here it is Monday again, with another two days of STI clinic work staring me in the face and then the usual weird, off ending to the week as the weekend draws nearer. Working at home at a job that used to require me to come into the office always, for some reason, makes me feel really guilty. I am also aware that makes little to no sense; but it’s just how my insane brain is wired and I have to do work arounds, I suppose.

I finished the heavy lifting on the Secret Project yesterday; they want four chapters and I finally have four that I am not only proud of but not ashamed to show to someone. I now have to write the series proposal and the synopsis–not as much fun as it sounds, and frankly the worst part of the entire process, if I am going to be honest about it–but with the chapters done and a sense of the character’s voice at long last and who she is as a person and character, I feel like I can do the proposal some justice now, I’ve written over four thousand new words and edited all weekend, which is probably the most productive weekend I’ve had since I wrote the Sherlock story, to be honest.

And now, once the proposal is finished, I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows.

I also had the chance to have a properly socially distanced dinner with a friend in from out of town last night; it was quite delightful. I had a margarita, and when I got home I realized I hadn’t been either inside a restaurant since New Year’s at Commander’s, not had I had an alcoholic beverage of any kind out in public since then, either. It actually felt strange to be out in public, in a public place; no one was seated anywhere near us–the tables were all set very far apart and no one was within ten feet of us, and that’s an underestimation–but it was also very weird with the whole masking thing, too; obviously, you couldn’t wear your masks while you were drinking or eating, which seemed to defeat the entire purpose, especially when our waiter would come to check on us; I wouldn’t think to put the mask back on, which always made me feel guilty about the waiter’s safety; and I also, as I feared I would, had trouble understanding him through his mask.

I think it’s fairly safe to assume I won’t be going to any more restaurants anytime soon, even though I know they could use the business. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor waiter. I know I’ve tested negative every time I’ve been tested, but at the same time…who knows if I may be an asymptomatic carrier? There’s just still too much that isn’t known, and with Louisiana blowing up again with our case numbers, I worry that the minimal services we are open for at the day job might be suspended again at any time.

I’m already sick of making condom packs; I can’t imagine having to spend more time making them.

But outside the worry about the waiter, dinner was quite fun last night. It’s been so long since I’ve been around another writer in person to talk about the business, and writing, and even New Orleans history–my friend was Ellen Byron, who writes the wonderful Cajun Country series; she went to Tulane back in the seventies and her daughter goes there now (which is why she and her husband were in town this weekend), and God, it was fun to talk about books and writing and how New Orleans used to be and how much fun researching and writing about the city is…I was also on a bit of a writing high having finished those damned chapters yesterday afternoon as well.

The rejiggering of my schedule has really worked well for me to write, and focus on writing, on the weekends now. I’m a little tired and groggy this morning, undoubtedly from having to wake up to an alarm this morning, but I am very satisfied with all the things I’ve managed to get accomplished over the last few weekends. Hopefully, that productivity is a harbinger of future weekends of productivity and steps forward.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Don Juan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Out of My Head and Back in My Bed

We are all unreliable narrators of our own lives.

Probably one of the most interesting things–to me–about getting older is discovering for myself how differently I remember things in my past than other people do.  I used to think about writing personal essays–“I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” is probably the best one I’ve ever done, and one of the few that have ever been published–because I love them, and the way some of my favorite writers can produce the most insightful and touching ones. But then I always have that doubtful voice in the back of my head–who cares about your personal experiences? Why do you think your insights are more valuable than anyone else’s? Who would be the audience for these?–and you know, FUCK that voice. I fucking hate that voice, and it’s always there, whispering, not sweet nothings, but vicious you’re nothing’s in my head.

And for the record, I’m pretty damned proud of “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.”

But perhaps the worst part of that snide, hateful voice is that it’s always there, you know? When I think to myself, hey, you should write a personal essay about this and then…yeah. My friend Laura, whose amazing personal essay collection My Life as a Villainess will drop soon–buy it buy it buy it–and I were talking about this very thing once over drinks (always over drinks) several years ago; I was telling her how much I loved her essays and that I wished I could write personal essays, with my usual “I can’t do anything” default, and she replied, “You write one every day. What do you think your blog is?”

Touche, as it were.

But….I can never seem to silence that voice.

Another reason why I back away from writing personal essays or the occasional thought that I might want to write a memoir–or a lengthy series of personal essays about my life which can then be stitched together into a memoir–is because my memory is so faulty, and the older I get, I find–when checking actual facts against my memory–inevitably I remembered wrong. For years, I believed we left the city of Chicago for the suburbs in the winter of 1969; why that winter, I don’t know–even though intellectually, after thinking about it some more, I realized my memories were lying to me. I was ten when we moved, I turned ten in 1971, so we moved in the winter of 1971–and we only lived there for four and a half years–which seemed so much longer than it actually was! Just as how I thought, after Katrina, I’d sheltered at my parents’ for months, when it was actually just a little over two weeks. I was only gone from New Orleans for about six weeks in total, actually; it seemed like I was gone for an eternity. My memory lies to me, all the time.

And how I remember things is different from how other people remember the same things. I think we tend to make ourselves the heroes in the story of our own lives, and so we rewrite our histories a little, so we look better than we actually were. Our memories are also seen through the haze of our collective other experiences, emotions, and perceptions; I might remember someone as being distant and cold, why they remember the encounter as two strangers being polite to one another. I used to think my first impressions of people were always the correct ones and evidence of my remarkable perception; but that is also demonstrably false. After all, once you’ve closed your mind to someone it’s terribly easy to interpret their behavior and the things they say through the filter of that initial observation, thereby turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve taken to not entirely trusting my first impressions of people the older I’ve gotten, and people who put me off when we first met have turned out to be lovely; and lovely people I instantly liked have turned out to be horrible.

So, how could I trust my memories enough to write them down?  Joan Didion said we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but I think we tell ourselves lies in order to live with ourselves is actually a more accurate statement.

So, what is real and true in our pasts? How does one examine the truth of your own memories?

I am regularly amazed at the lies I tell myself about my past, and how I’ve told myself those lies so many times that I’ve become convinced they are truth. How can I ever write any kind of memoir when I already don’t trust my memories–all of which I would have been willing to swear at some point were honest-to-God truths?

This blog is, in some ways, a remembrance project for me; to remember events in my life, and career, and how things actually were. I kept a diary for years–I still carry a journal around with me, but I don’t record my thoughts and feelings in it; it’s mostly for ideas about books I’m reading or movies I’m watching or for working through issues with things I’m writing or for writing down ideas for stories or books or essays; hoarder Greg has kept most of those journals from the days before blogging, when I used to record things down in a book so I could process emotions and anger and other things I was going to do; to talk about my dreams and my ambitions; as a way to escape whatever misery was going on in my life. I rarely revisit them; perhaps some weekend when I am bored and don’t want to write I should start going through them again–but in all honesty, the self-absorption can be a bit much to take.

I also don’t like to revisit my past that much, which is yet another reason for me not to write a memoir. I wasn’t a person I liked very much until I was in my mid-thirties, and even then I was still a work in progress. My friend Jeffrey Ricker said to me the other day on Twitter: “I always forget you weren’t born full formed in New Orleans, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.” A lot of it had to do with being miserably unhappy with my life, of just kind of drifting, of having no self-confidence (I may have issues with that still–particularly when it comes to my writing–but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be, so I have made progress; I don’t let it ruin my life anymore, which is a good way to go), and not having the slightest idea of how to go about making my dreams come true. I always wrote–I wrote short stories in high school, I wrote a novel while in college, and then wrote three more, and of course was writing short stories the entire time–but it was very easy to give up after getting some rejections; to assume that becoming a publisher writer was something outside of my particular skillset, and to just give up and go back to being miserable. There’s really nothing from that period of my life I think would even be interesting enough to write about.

So, I generally shy away from the idea of writing a memoir, despite the enormous temptation. I don’t remember things the way they actually happened, but rather, how they happened through the prism and fun-house mirrors of my own mind. Whenever we tell stories about ourselves, we inevitably make ourselves sound better than we may have actually beenLook at the carefully curated lives we see of friends and acquaintances and relatives on social media.

My blog served me well for remembering things during the Time of Troubles; it actually began as a way to start writing again, of making myself sit down and write something every day. It has evolved over the years into something else, something different; I’m not even really sure how to classify it. I talk about television shows and movies and books I enjoy; I talk about my day to day life and experiences; the way I view things and my hopes and dreams, and my struggles with my writing. It is, of course, much more carefully curated now than it was in the beginning–more lies of omission, I suppose, is how it would best be described. It’s now a habit; on those rare days when I don’t have the time, or can’t find the time, to write an entry it bothers me all day–in fact, it’s been awhile since I have missed a day, and usually it’s because I’m out of town.

I guess this entry counts as a personal essay, doesn’t it?

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He Stopped Loving Her Today

I put off making a grocery run from Saturday to Sunday, like a fool, only to discover the Baronne Street Rouse’s closed for Easter this year; I decided not to go to the one in Uptown because I didn’t feel like driving all the way down there only to find out the drive had been in vain. I did stop at the gas station–filled it up for slightly more than fifteen dollars, something that’s never happened since I bought the thing–and then at Walgreens to get a few things I could get there. It was weird navigating the empty streets of New Orleans; I was reminded very much of that time post-Katrina when I came back and most of the city was empty. I itched to turn stop lights into stop signs–and at one point did stop at a stop sign and wait for it to change. It was weird, very weird–the vast emptiness of streets that are usually filled with cars and seeing more people than the beggars at the intersections. Had the stop lights not have been working, the similarities would have been even eerier.

And of course, people were going through red lights and ignoring all rules of traffic, because they clearly were the only people our driving. #cantfixtrash

I managed to eke out another thousand words on the Sherlock story,  and I was enormously pleased to make some sort of progress.  It’s very weird because I am trying out the Doyle voice and style–which I am neither familiar with nor used to–which makes the going perhaps slower than it ordinarily would be. At least I hope that’s the case, at any rate; it’s been so long since I’ve actually written anything or worked on anything and gotten anywhere with it, I sometimes fear that I’ve fallen out of the habit and practice of writing. (I always worry the ability to write–the ability to create–is going to go away and leave me, particularly in time of crisis; my reaction to the Time of Troubles, sadly, wasn’t to retreat into my writing but rather to stop almost entirely.)

Yesterday was rather delightful; the entire weekend was lovely. It’s always nice to get rest, to sleep well, to be able to read and occasionally do some writing. I am very deep into Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting and, while I do distinctly remember enjoying the book when I read it, I am loving it more than I would have thought (as I have with the other recent Stewart rereads); perhaps as a writer myself and an older person, it resonates more? I can appreciate the artistry more? I don’t know, but I am really glad I decided to revisit Stewart novels I’ve not read in decades again. I just can’t get over how she brilliantly she undercuts the governess/Jane Eyre trope, and how easily she does it. Truly remarkable. I also finished it before bed, and it’s marvelous, simply marvelous–and will be the subject of another blog post.

We started watching Devs on Hulu last night, which people have been raving about, and while I give it a lot of props for production values…it moved so slowly I kept checking my social media on my iPad. It was vaguely interesting, sort of, but we just couldn’t get vested in it–there was a bit of a show-offy nature to it; like they were going overboard in saying see how good we are? We’re an important show and we’re going to win all the Emmys. I doubt we’ll go back to it, especially since Killing Eve is back, and Dead to Me is coming back for its second season; something else we watch was also returning relatively soon, too–and of course, I just remembered I pay for CBS All Access; not sure why, but there are some shows on there I’d like to watch, like the new Star Trek shows and Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone. (But you see what I’m saying about paying too much for too many streaming services? I really need to pay more attention to that, and one of these days I’m going to need to sit down, figure out what we need and what we don’t need, and cut some of these services off once and for all.

I think my next reread for the Reread Project is going to be the first in Elizabeth Peters’ amazing Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank. There’s an Amelia Peabody fan account on Twitter (@teamramses) that I follow; they usually post quotes from the books and occasionally run polls, and they also reminded me of how I discovered the series. I originally found it on the wire rack (when I replied to the tweet, I got it wrong; I said I found it on the paperback rack at Walgreens; wrong drug store chain) of paperbacks at a Long’s drugstore in Fresno. I was still deep in the thrall of Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Mary Stewart at the time, and here was another romantic suspense novel SET IN EGYPT, by an author I didn’t know. I absolutely loved the book, and looked for more books by Elizabeth Peters the next time I went to Waldenbooks at the mall–but they didn’t have any, and eventually I forgot about her. Flash forward many years, and a title of a new paperback on the new releases rack at Waldenbooks and More jumped out at me: The Last Camel Died at Noon. What a great title! I had to buy it, took it home, and started reading it….and you can imagine my delight, and joy, to discover that Crocodile on the Sandbank was not, in fact, a stand alone, but rather the first in a series I was bound to love. I went back and started the series over from the beginning, collecting them all, and I also started buying them as new releases in hardcover because I couldn’t wait for the paperback. It might not actually be a bad idea to revisit the entire series…I also think The Last Camel Died at Noon (it’s still one of my favorite titles of all time) was when I discovered Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels were both the pseudonyms of archaeologist Dr. Barbara Mertz, and I went on a delightful period of reading all of their backlists as well.

One of my biggest regrets of my writing career–in which I’ve met so many of my writing heroes–is that I was never able to meet Dr. Mertz before she died. She was going to be the guest of honor at the first Malice Domestic I attended, but she was too ill and she died shortly thereafter. But one thing I learned, from reading all of her books–but especially the Peters novels–was that humor can work in a suspense/mystery novel, and can make a reader engage even more with it. Dr. Mertz was also a master of the great opening line. In one of the Vicky Bliss novels, for example–I think Silhouette in Scarlet–opens with this treasure: “I swear, this time it was not my fault.”

And while I have been cleared to return to work today, my failure in deciding to wait until Easter to go to the grocery store, as well as forgetting an integral and necessary part to my working at home today at the office over a week ago means that I decided to use today as a vacation day, and try to get all the remaining loose odds and ends (mail, groceries) taken care of today, and return to the actual office tomorrow. (I am going to do the windows today if it kills me.) Yesterday we were supposed to have bad thunderstorms, and while the air got thick and heavy, it never actually rained here–although the rest of Louisiana was blasted with these same storms that somehow chose to avoid New Orleans–there were even tornadoes in Monroe.

The weirdest thing to come out of this whole experience has been my sudden, new addiction to my Kindle app on my iPad, which has me thinking that I can do a massive purge/cull  of my books now, keeping only the ones I can’t replace, if needed, as ebooks. I’ve avoided reading electronically for so long, but I find with my Kindle app I can just put the iPad to the side for a little while and pick it up again when I have a moment or so to read. I tore through all the Mary Stewart novels I’ve reread recently on the Kindle app, and that’s where my copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank is. I doubt that I’m going to get rid of all my books any time soon–there are still some I want to keep, obviously, and it’s not like I can afford right now to go to the Amazon website or the iBooks one and replace everything right now anyway…but then again, I think, you’d only need replace them when you’re ready to read them, right?

I am literally torn here.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I made some great progress on the Sherlock story–it now clocks in at over two thousand words, and I’d like to get a working first draft finished, if not today, then before the weekend so I can edit it and the other story that’s due by the end of the month as well over the course of the weekend. April is beginning to slip through my fingers, and while I am still not completely certain of what day it is every day, I’m getting better about figuring it all out.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

gabe2kepler

Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Well, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 in Louisiana has now jumped to 867, with 20 deaths; by my brain calculator that is somewhere between 2 and 3 percent, which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible. As we start amping up our testing here–and I suspect my day job is going to eventually become a testing center–the numbers will only continue to rise, which means an even longer period of self-isolation and this “shelter-at-home” order.

As I said to a friend earlier this morning, I’ve seen New Orleans this empty and quiet before; it’s just weird that a hurricane isn’t involved. I realized yesterday I was sort of expecting there to be an evacuation order eventually in my subconscious, which is where this sense of anxious waiting was coming from. And of course, once I realized my mind had lapsed into “hurricane prep mode”, the anxiousness went away.

I didn’t do much writing yesterday, but I’m fine with it, really. I’m going to try to focus today, and at least finish the revision of one story while hopefully getting to work on another. All of these writing projects, the ones that began before the virus outbreak, seem like they are from a different place and time; almost as though they are someone else’s stories. But that’s okay, really; I am hoping that I’ll be able to start focusing better now that I’ve achieved what passes for mental stability around here. I’ve decided to start reading short stories, picking up the Short Story Project again because my attention span doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to reading longer works of fiction at the current moment. I tried getting back into the book I was reading before all of this started, but unfortunately it had been so long I couldn’t really remember what was going on and who the characters were, so I sadly put it aside. I also am not sure where this came from, but I am going to look for my copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; although now that I think about it more, I think someone was making a joke about watching the movie. I’ve not read the story but am vaguely familiar with it; I think it takes place during a cholera outbreak in Venice which is why someone mentioned it on Twitter yesterday. I refreshed my vague memory of what Death in Venice is about, and I began to wonder–how much of Daphne du Maurier’s is an homage/pastiche to Death in Venice? I had also been thinking about rereading “Don’t Look Now,” perhaps I should read them back to back to get a grasp on whether there is anything to the thesis. As one of my many projects-in-progress is set in Venice, it cannot hurt to read other works about Venice, and my own story was sort of an homage to “Don’t Look Now” in some ways, so yeah, it can’t hurt.

I also want to get some straightening/organizing done in the living room, which has been let go for far too long. Books are piled up everywhere, I haven’t vacuumed in God knows how long, and every time I sit in my easy chair to watch something on the television, I get a little perturbed looking around at the settled dust and so forth. It’s also time to do another cull of the books; I have books I haven’t read that I’ve forgotten that I own, and if reading short stories again will get me reading muscles flexed and warmed up and ready to go again, it’s not a bad idea to start looking through the stacks to see what I want to read next. Maybe something by Michael Koryta? He’s one of my favorite writers, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and then there also my Alafair Burke backlist; some Daphne du Mauriers I’ve not read yet; and so it goes.

Having so many unread books by so many talented authors around the house makes it  hard to decide what to read next–especially when you’re also trying to reread things.

SO, for now, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee, curl up in my easy chair with du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” and once I am finished reading that, I’ll find my copy of Death in Venice and read it before heading back to the computer to finish revising this short story, and then I’m going to try to get everything organized that I need to get organized so I can sail into the week prepared and ready for whatever challenges the pandemic will be sending my way.

Have a lovely Sunday.

antmadam

Respect Yourself

Saturday, and a big day for one Gregalicious.

I have some things to do this morning before I am interviewed around noon for a radio show, after which it’s errands, including the (groan) grocery store. It’s only for a few things, so it shouldn’t be too hideous….yet it is going to be hideous. Sigh. But then I am spending the afternoon watching the Iron Bowl and tonight’s LSU game. Will the Tigers manage an undefeated regular season? We’ll find out tonight.

It’s going to be weird going back to work–these unstructured, do-what-you-want-when-you-want days have been kind of lovely, and addicting. I don’t have any regrets about the things I didn’t get done, either. I went into this week without making a to-do list, and primarily rested, physically, mentally and emotionally.  I’m very happy that I chose to do this, and rested rather than drove myself insane trying to get things done, or playing catch-up. I didn’t do as much cleaning and organizing as I thought I would, but that’s just how the week managed to play itself out. My kitchen is a mess this morning, so I need to get that all straightened up and cleaned, and there’s some laundry to fluff and fold. I also have to pay the bills this morning–another odious chore–but one that cannot be avoided any longer.

There’s also no Saints game tomorrow–so if I want, I can get a lot done tomorrow–whether writing, reading, or cleaning.

Last night I stumbled onto a documentary series on the National Geographic channel about the 1980’s; I’d already watched the CNN docuseries, The 80’s, and tremendously enjoyed it, so as I was killing some time before Paul got home, I settled in and started watching. I’m not much for nostalgia, really; I don’t spend a lot of time looking back on my past or the events of my life too frequently. The past is the past, and while one can learn from it, after all, one certainly can’t change anything that happened in the past. But watching these docuseries is a kind of reminder; and this series was called The Decade That Made Us, which I thought was an interesting take. A lot of stuff that started in the 1980’s, naturally, is bearing fruit today–cell phones, personal computers, etc.–and of course, it’s always difficult to watch and remember the 80’s in terms of HIV/AIDS–you simply cannot do a docuseries about the 1980’s and not mention HIV/AIDS, or remember that it wasn’t, really, that long ago. (Sure, it’s getting further and further into the past with each day, but still–1980 was forty years ago; in 1980 the second world war was only forty years in the past.)

But one of the novellas in progress I am writing, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is set in the not too distant past; 1994, to be exact. I’ve always written, for the most part, in the ambiguous present, with a few exceptions (“The Weight of a Feather” is one; it’s set in the early 1950’s), and it can be a bit difficult at times to remember, no he wouldn’t have had a computer or cell phone and trying to remember how we functioned without instant, immediate access to each other. (There was a really funny part in the docuseries last night where someone basically said that–“how did we meet up before cell phones? We made plans, days in advance, and included directions like “meet me under the clock at Grand Central at 4″…I had forgotten, or rather just not thought about, that….) It’s interesting trying to remember what 1994 was like, who I was back then and what was going on in the world. My main character is a  gay man who has just retired from the military, having found out he was about to be purged as a gay (gays in the military was a political battle the Clinton administration was fighting back then; “don’t ask don’t tell” was the disgraceful compromise that came out of that fight–but it was, pathetic as it was, better than the previous system, which was dishonorable discharges.) and, with no family left that he’s close to, decides to come to New Orleans to start a new chapter of his life as an openly gay man at thirty-nine, and what that experience is like. There’s some element of crime and suspense to the story, but it’s really about that feeling of liberation when you’re finally free to be yourself, while still living in the shadow of HIV/AIDS. I love the idea of this story, and am having fun writing it, remembering what New Orleans was like back then, and what it was like to be gay in New Orleans at that time, as well.

I may never do anything with it, but I’m having fun writing it, and that’s really the most important thing.

I am seriously considering doing a collection of novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons, but am not sure if there’s a market or an audience for it. I already know what the next novella would be, and then all I need to do is come up with two more.

Heavy sigh. Like it’s that easy, right?

Ah, well. And now back to the spice mines.

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La Isla Bonita

Friday,  still on vacation, and it’s forty-seven degrees outside. It’s colder inside the Lost Apartment–New Orleans homes are built to be colder inside than outside, it’s a summer thing–and I am ensconced at my desk in sweats and a wool cap on my cold bald head. My fingers are a bit cold, but my coffee is hot and delicious. My doctor’s appointment went well, and last night I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in I don’t know how long–all I know is I slept for more then ten hours, didn’t wake up once, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning. I actually feel better than I have in weeks.

Weeks.

Today is the day I would be doing my panels at Bouchercon; I shall have to keep busy to distract myself. Yesterday, between the errands and the power outage, was highly annoying. By the time I had finished my errands and the power was back on in the Lost Apartment, I was pretty much over it, to be honest. I buckled down and started a cleaning project–starting with the refrigerator, and then I worked my way through the kitchen cabinets and drawers. I did another load of dishes and two more loads of laundry, and finally retired to my easy chair around five thirty yesterday evening. I got caught up on watching Saturdays in the South, and while it was on, brainstormed ideas and thoughts for essays, short stories, and works in progress already. I am already thinking about writing an essay collection–or rather, compiling all the essays I’ve already written into a collection, and then writing some new ones–and as I was watching the final two episodes of this exceptional history of SEC football (I highly recommend it; I actually would like to see similar docuseries on every conference, to be honest; I love history, even sports history) I started thinking about in terms of Louisiana itself, not just New Orleans; which I’ve been doing a lot more of lately. After all, LSU fans aren’t just from New Orleans, and the special feeling you get on a Saturday night in Death Valley, like we experienced at the Florida game, is a Louisiana experience. New Orleans might hold itself at arms’ length from the rest of the state, but New Orleans wouldn’t be New Orleans without Louisiana, and likewise, Louisiana wouldn’t be Louisiana without New Orleans.

And as I said in Royal Street Reveillon, New Orleans is really an island, surround by water on every side–you cannot come into,  or leave, the city without having to cross a bridge at some point. The beautiful island, the beautiful crescent.

But as I said, this is the best I’ve felt in weeks. I feel like today I can actually get some writing done; I organized and filed yesterday so my desk area is neat and tidy; so is the kitchen, which means there’s no mess to distract or prohibit me from getting writing done today, which is very exciting.

I also have an insane amount of emails to answer. There were 159 unread emails in there this morning when I woke up the computer. AIEEEE! But oddly enough, I don’t feel either defeated or intimidated…which is  an indication that I’m feeling better, isn’t it?

But I do think I need to put on some tights under my sweatpants.

We also watched the first episode of Hulu’s second season of Castle Rock last night and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as a younger version of Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes in Misery. She has the voice, the mannerisms, everything nailed to perfection. I also like that they’ve made Jerusalem’s Lot and Castle Rock basically neighboring villages; ‘salem’s Lot remains one of my (if not the) favorite vampire novels, and one of my favorites of King’s canon. I’m also curious to see if this means the paranormal aspect of this season is going to be vampires. It’s also interesting that the Merrills from “The Body” are also in this; again, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. I watched the entire first season, and while it was entertaining, it was also slightly flawed. I also don’t really remember much of the first season, outside of the terrific acting. That’s probably problematic; if you can’t remember what the show was about…how good could it have been, really?

There are three more episodes available to stream, so we should be caught up after this weekend; we’re also now a bit behind on Catherine the Great, and I also want to start watching Watchmen, in addition to the second season of Titans on DC Universe.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me–after I get those tights on.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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