Brown Eyes

Well, there’s something forming in the Bay of Campeche that doesn’t bode well for the Gulf Coast; yay for hurricane season? Heavy heaving sigh. So far, the path of this potential storm seems to have western Louisiana in its sights; a part of the state that still hasn’t completely recovered from the hits it took last year. Ah, well, it’s certainly never dull around here these days.

I am up early for the first time in a while because I am actually heading into the office today! Huzzah for some sense of normality, such as it is…of course, there’s no telling what I am walking into when I go there today–but I think some people have been into the office in the meantime, so it most likely won’t be a complete and total disaster area…or so we shall see at any rate.

I took this weekend to recalibrate and rest and try to get my head back together; I’ve been in a weird state since the power went out and am hoping to get my sense of normal–either what is or isn’t–back. I also know from experience from these sorts of things that there will be good days and there will be bad days, and that to remember, keep remembering, that while I and everyone else have been through a traumatic experience again, it could have been much much worse than it actually was, even for those who lost everything–the recovery won’t take as long as the post-Katrina one because the levees didn’t actually fail this time. Sure, many of us are going to be dealing with some frustrations and irritations–the last I checked the trash still hadn’t been picked up, and the debris out on our street is still there–but normality of a sort is beginning to return, but the last thing we needed is for Nicholas to form and come to part of Louisiana. I think it’s supposed to come ashore around the state line with Texas, or so it was the last time I checked yesterday, sometime tomorrow.

I should go check, shouldn’t I?

So, yes, the threat from this storm is currently Houston and the Texas gulf coast; and of course Lake Charles and the state line. We’ll undoubtedly get some weather effects from it–it’s only 78 degrees outside this morning, and weirdly gray and grim looking–but we shall be spared the brunt of it. While this is a relief, I cannot say it pleases me–again, wishing a storm away inevitably means wishing destruction and disaster on other people, so it never feels right or good or appropriate.

And the season doesn’t end until December 1.

The Saints won yesterday, rather easily at that, which was both a pleasant surprise and a lovely one. It’s going to take me a good long while to get used to the Saints playing without Drew Brees; the man had become an institution around here, and it was so fucking weird not even seeing him on the sideline. It really sunk in yesterday that the Brees era–undoubtedly the best era of the franchises’s history, without question–is officially over, and it made me more than a little sad. I was of course absolutely delighted to see the new phase of the team win convincingly over Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers, but at the same time it was a little bittersweet. The shadow of Drew Brees loomed large over the city since he was signed after the disastrous 2005 Katrina season, and how strange the new era begins right after the city took a direct or almost-direct hit from a category 4 hurricane.

We also watched the pressure of winning a Grand Slam and becoming the player with the most Slam wins of all time overtake and overwhelm Novak Djokovic, who lost all of his chances at history decisively, in three straight sets, to Daniil Medvedev, who won his first major tournament, and good for him. After the US Open and the Saints game, we moved on to get caught up on Animal Kingdom, which just isn’t the same without Ellen Barkin–whom they killed off at the end of the fourth season (SPOILER), and then watched the first episode of Only Murders in the Building, which we greatly enjoyed…although I couldn’t help but wonder what those apartments in present day New York would be valued at. I also like the premise–one that has interested me for a while since we moved to New Orleans–how well do you know your neighbors after all? I’ve addressed this, with New Orleans, in some of my short fiction–the novels tend towards how well do we know anyone, really?–but this was the premise of “The Carriage House,” just off the top of my head, and I am sure I’ve explored it in other stories but my frail, fragile mind cannot summon up the titles of any others that do this as well. At any rate, I am looking forward to watching more of it, and to be honest, it’s nice to see Steve Martin working again. I also like Martin Short, who rarely gets the credit he deserves for acting (he was stunningly brilliant in his season of Damages), and while Selena Gomez hasn’t really impressed me much on the show, I am sure she will get a chance to shine before it’s over.

And on that note, I need to get in the shower and get ready to return to the office since before–well, since around August 24th, which was my last day before my vacation started…talk to you later, Constant Reader.

96 Tears

I thought today’s title was rather appropriate for a Monday morning, don’t you?

Yesterday I got my desktop iMac functional again, which is absolutely lovely. I really need the big screen–laptops work as a last resort–but it feels nice to have it working again, frankly. It still gives me the spinning wheel every once in a while, and at some point I may invest in more RAM (or whatever it is) to make that stop happening. But again–very lovely to have my desktop back, and even lovelier to not have to buy a new one. HUZZAH!

It takes so little to make me happy, really.

Yesterday was nice and relaxing. I got the computer functioning again (I did have to make a call to Apple Support with one question, which resulted in a twenty minute phone call; why is it so hard to simply say “Yes, Greg, you can stop the migration without worry and do it manually”?) and did some cleaning up around here. Paul and I tried to watch a documentary series and gave up during the first episode, then moved on to Hacks (Jean Smart is incredible in this, just as she is in Mare of Easttown, and it’s laugh out loud funny on top of that), and then watched the first episode of Shadow and Bone on Netflix. It didn’t really suck me in, but I am willing to keep going with it; fantasy shows have to get more than one episode in before you can really decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to continue. I do find the Russian influence on it–at least many character names are Russian-sounding, and one of the countries has a Russian-sounding name to it–kind of interesting. Pretty good production values, as well. We also watched a movie which was entertaining enough, but over-all not very good (I won’t name it, because I try not to call out anything as bad unless it’s unwatchably bad), and it was disappointing because it could have been so much better than it was.

The trip to visit my family is in a few days, and it will be the first time I’ve flown since January 2020 and my trip to New York for the MWA Board retreat. While traveling is something I have done less and less over the years–looking back to some heavy travel years, it stuns me that I did so much and went so many places over the course of a few years, given how I have grown to hate traveling–it is still unusual that I’ve traveled so little in the last year and a half. I had planned on going to Bouchercon in Sacramento last year, and various other conferences, and of course there was no board retreat in New York this year nor were there Edgar banquets this year or last to go up there for. I do miss New York; one of the perks of serving on the national board was the several times per year trips to my second favorite city in the United States, and I have so many friends there! Well, perhaps if this pandemic is indeed coming to an end–I personally don’t believe it is, but that’s just my natural cynicism and negativity coming into play, but I do hope that it’s coming to a close–I want to make several trips during the rest of this year and during the next. I have, for example, never been to Left Coast Crime, and I want to rectify this next year–which means needing to save vacation time and fewer three day mental health weekends.

There’s also some more things I need to do before I leave on Thursday morning; I can’t really leave the apartment in the condition it’s currently in–although the shedding of books and beads this past weekend has helped dramatically with cutting back on the living room clutter–but it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to take care of that before Thursday morning. I slept decently last night, which was lovely, and tonight when I get home from work I should be able to get some of this mess around my desk cleaned up, organized, and put away. We’ll probably continue with Shadow and Bone tonight, as well as this week’s Mare of Easttown, and of course I need to get to bed early this evening because tomorrow is another get up before the sunrise morning (every day this week, in fact, until I get to my parents’). I’m getting used to getting up this early–I should be by now, right? It’s been going on since last June or July, and now even on my days off I am opening my eyes around six-ish in the morning, but staying in bed. It’s really more about going to bed early than getting up early, to be honest; I hate cutting my evening short at ten pm.

Whine whine whine.

But it’s supposed to be yet another rainy week here in New Orleans–which is why the dawn light is so gray this morning, I suppose–and I really don’t mind. It’s May, and this is usually when the termites are swarming, but I’ve seen nothing about that anywhere this month and I’ve not seen any–knock on wood–so far this year. This could mean any number of things–there aren’t any swarms this year; there are, but not as bad as usual; or everyone is so used to them now they don’t bother commenting on their appearance. I suspect it’s the latter two, frankly; I can’t believe the scourge of the Formosan termite swarms are a thing of the past, especially given how wet it has been this year.

I still want to write a story that opens with this line: “The termites were swarming.”

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, all.

Superheated

And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.

But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.

Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.

I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.

I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!

I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.

And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

New York City Boy

I really miss New York.

As I’ve gotten older and more set in my ways, I’ve grown to abhor travel for the most part. I have trouble sleeping in hotel beds, for one thing–and by the time I am finally used to the bed, it’s the last night of the trip and I inevitably will have to get up early the next morning, ensuring exhaustion when I arrive at Armstrong International here in New Orleans. I don’t like working on laptops anymore–my eyes have gotten so bad the small screen is a pain in the ass, and the difference in keyboard from my desktops (home and work) is too much of an adaptation, so getting writing done when I travel has become next to impossible as well; now when I travel I just try to keep up with deleting junk emails from my various inboxes to make catching up on those easier when I get back home.

New York always exhausts me when I visit; it seems like I catch the pace of the city and am constantly running from one meeting to another, grabbing lunch sometime and a coffee here and there. But I love it there, and every trip up to there always makes me feel kind of like a kid again. When I was a kid I used to dream about being an author and going to New York for authorial business; I always feel like an author when I am there–because I am always there primarily for writing or publishing business. Business trips to New York! That was the kind of glamour I dreamed about when I was a kid, both in the suburbs of Chicago and out in the small rural town in Kansas I grew up in, where the seeds of my writing dreams were planted and germinated. Part of the reason I agreed to become Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America was because that meant a minimum of two business trips up there per year–one in January for the annual board meeting, and another in late April/early May for all the Edgar Award festivities. The pandemic, of course, cancelled all those plans for this year and probably next; I wouldn’t be surprised if I am not able to get to New York again until January 2022.

There’s obviously no time frame on when this pandemic will end, or when i will become comfortable with traveling again. I generally don’t travel much, even though conferences and so forth are tax deductions for me; I generally make it to Bouchercon and that’s about it for my year. I was hoping to go to more events over the next few years–not the least of which would be related to trying to be more visible as an MWA executive, trying to meet as many members as possible and engaging with them about the organization. The position is a lot of work, and trying to keep as many plates spinning as possible at the same time, hoping against hope none of those plates will go crashing to the floor. My personality is this bizarre combination of Type A and laziness; probably has more to do with mood swings and possible manic phases than anything else, really. I never seem to be able to say no, for one thing, and so I always wind up with more plates spinning than need to be going at the same time. It’s also hard to prioritize plates–which ones matter more than others?–and inevitably, for some reason or another (subconscious self-destructive patterns, perhaps?) wind up prioritizing the ones that don’t matter as much and won’t make me any money.

But I miss New York so much. I have so many friends there that my short visits never allow me to see everyone that I would like to see–as much as I would love to cram as many people in as I can, of course, I barely have time to get everything done that needs to be done up there, and I am always tired from the hotel-induced insomnia as it is. I miss taking the subway. I miss Grand Central Station. I miss drinking dirty vodka martinis with extra olives with my friends; for some reason martinis always makes me feel posh and authorial; I think it’s because all the people in the 1950’s and 1960’s movies that firmly fixed the city in my imagination drank martinis. I marvel at the energy required to live there, the crowds of people on the streets and the subways, in the stores and the coffee shops, and the joys of going shopping–when I have the time. I had intended to visit the New York Public Library–just to look around–the next time I came up; I’ve always wanted to go inside and have a look around.

I already have resigned myself to the bitter reality that there will be no board meeting in New York in January, and probably no Edgar ceremony in May, either.

But someday, New York, someday.

Epiphany

Friday, and day two of a Gregalicious long birthday weekend.

The actual birthday yesterday wasn’t too bad. I ran by the office and got my prescriptions, ran to the post office and got the mail, and then stopped at the Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s to make groceries. Of course, when I left the house it was sunny and humid, and by the time I made it to the Rouse’s parking lot it was pouring rain–like always whenever I go make groceries. Heavy sigh. But then I lugged everything in, and by the time I had everything put away I was completely exhausted. I wound up hanging out in my easy chair, getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and then Paul and I started watching something neither of us really cared for–a comedy series, which seemed to think bigotry with a smidgin of homophobia is still uproariously funny and should be played for laughs. Needless to say, I didn’t find it engaging or particularly funny. It was a high school thing, and after watching Never Have I Ever, Sex Education, and various other teen comedies that didn’t need to stoop to such sophomoric levels to be engaging, funny, and charming–how this other shit got on the air is a mystery to me. We won’t be watching any more of that, believe me. I was pretty tired for some reason last evening, so I retired early and found myself waking up terribly late this morning–much later than I usually get up (oooh, I slept in a WHOLE EXTRA HOUR, alert the media! Then again, given my occasional bouts of insomnia, this was a quite lovely development.)

So, overall it wasn’t a bad day. I am going to have my scroungy day today, where I don’t shower or shave and spend the whole day in dirty yet oddly comfortable sweats that should be going into the laundry but I’m willing to wear one more time first–oh, don’t sneer. We’re all basically slobs at heart, and imagine how disgusting we’d allow ourselves to get if we didn’t have to clean up. Oh, is that just me? Never mind then. Although I am also thinking I should probably shower to just wake up, if not for hygienic purposes. And while it is Friday and day two of Gregalicious Long Birthday Weekend, I fully intend to keep up the Friday tradition of laundering the bed linens. I am going to spend some time being sluggish today–I want to spend some time with Lovecraft Country, and I am weeks behind on The Real Housewives of New York–but emails and so forth have been piling up during my exile from doing anything of consequence yesterday, and so I am going to have to start doing something about that today, little as I want to. The Lost Apartment is also a dreadful mess.

There are two tropical storms out there, with another tropical something forming off the coast of Africa. Laura has already formed, and her track has New Orleans on the outer edge of her Cone of Uncertainty; the other in the Gulf, forming off the coast of the Yucatan, will be named Marco when and if he becomes anything. Currently both are slated to hit the Gulf Coast merely as Category 1’s, but those are no picnic, and I do hope they all miss Puerto Rico (isn’t it odd how no one ever talks about, or reports on, the Puerto Rican recovery?).  Interestingly enough, both storm tracks show that they will hit landfall on the Gulf Coast within hours of each other, and each, as I said, have New Orleans on their outside track. So, Laura could be hitting anywhere from New Orleans to Pensacola at around two in the morning on Wednesday, while Marco could be coming ashore at around the same time anywhere from Corpus Christi to New Orleans. 

Talk about a one-two punch. And if ever there was a base for a Scotty story, simultaneous hurricanes would be it–although I do think Tim Dorsey did this in one of this Florida novels, and if I recall correctly, the eyes converged somewhere over central Florida. As I have, in recent years, come to a greater appreciation of Carl Hiassen (I have a PDF of his next one in my iPad; and I really should read more of his work), I should give Dorsey another go. Back in the day, the genre I’ve come to call “Florida wacky” never appealed to me, but once when I was on a work trip to DC I finished reading all the books I’d brought with me and went to a nearby Barnes and Noble, and Hiassen’s Bad Monkey was on the sale table for $2.99 in hardcover and I thought, oh, why not, and bought it–and couldn’t put it down. It also made me laugh out loud numerous times, and I went on to read several more of his with great appreciation–so perhaps I should give Dorsey another go. Dave Barry, the columnist, also wrote a couple of novels that fit into this category, and I know I read his first and really enjoyed it. 

Florida–at least the panhandle–played a part in my childhood and shaping me as a person; I also lived in Tampa for four years as an adult, and I have spent quite a lot of time in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Miami over the years. I had originally intended to set Timothy in Miami; I eventually went with Long Island because same-sex marriage was legalized there long before it became national, and I didn’t really feel quite as comfortable writing about Miami as I did about Long Island. It also made more sense to set it on Long Island–although I found the perfect house on one of the Miami islands to base the mansion on. I eventually had my main character meet his future spouse in Miami–South Beach, to be exact–but it really made more sense for it to be based in New York City and Long Island and the Hamptons. I’ve written a little bit about Florida in my fiction; “Cold Beer No Flies” was set in the panhandle, and I have innumerable other ideas that would be set either in the panhandle or my fictional version of Tampa (Bay City), but New Orleans is still my center and still where I inevitably set everything I write.

I’ve always wanted to send Scotty on an adventure in the panhandle–Redneck Riviera Rumble–and perhaps I still might. There’s an amorphous idea in my head for such a tale, which would involve Frank’s retirement from professional wrestling and his final show somewhere in the panhandle, sex trafficking, and drug smuggling; if I can ever pull it all together, you can bet I will be writing it.

And on that note, I need to get to work being a slug. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

 

 

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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Your Cheatin’ Heart

I love Harlan Ellison.

So, as you might remember, I recently read two wonderful Harlan Ellison short stories (to be fair, every Ellison short story is wonderful; his lesser efforts are better than most writer’s best), “On the Downhill Side” and the Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” both included in his collection Deathbird Stories. At one point I had a mass market paperback edition I’d picked up in a bookstore; I literally have no idea where that is–probably lost over the years during a move or something, or it may be on the bookshelves; at this point who knows? But I’ve gathered and collected Ellison collections over the years–recently getting, from eBay, the very same mass market paperback edition of Strange Wine, which was my gateway drug to reading Ellison–and even got the enormous collection The Essential Ellison, which still sits proudly in my bookcase.

The first time I heard of Ellison was when I read Stephen King’s brilliant introduction and evaluation of the horror/speculative fiction genre, Danse Macabre, which reminded me of many great films and books and TV shows I’d loved, and introduced me to still others. Shortly afterward, I was at a friend’s apartment drinking–this was my early twenties–and she had that copy of Strange Wine, and I thought, oh, Harlan Ellison! Stephen King praised him to the skies! I need to read this. I asked if I could borrow it and she gifted me with it (and in all honesty, I thought less of her for not wanting it back, particularly since she raved so much about how good it was), and then I took it home with me that night and the next morning I read the intro and the first story, “Croatoan,” and there was no looking back from that. I devoured the book, learned the term “speculative fiction” (which I much prefer to horror, science fiction, and fantasy; when I worked at Lambda I tried, unsuccessfully, to get that award category title changed to simply Best Speculative Fiction), and also became interested in writing it. This was during the time when I worshipped Stephen King so much that I wanted to become a writer like Stephen King, but wasn’t skilled or trained enough to really write really good speculative fiction–or fiction, really, of any kind. I still write it periodically, and some day when I have the time I’ll work on my short story collection Monsters of New Orleans more (hat tip to Lisa Morton; she suggested I do it years again at World Horror Con in New Orleans); in fact the story I started writing yesterday, “The Pestilence Maiden”, would be for Monsters of New Orleans. I looked for more of Ellison’s works every time I went to a bookstore for about a year after that, to no avail, and eventually Ellison got pushed to the back of my mind.

A few years later, one of the major networks (I want to say CBS) rebooted The Twilight Zone as, I think, maybe a summer replacement series (when that was a thing), and I noticed in the TV Guide one week that one of the two stories in that week’s episode was based on Stephen King’s truly creepy short story “Gramma,” and decided to tune itn. “Gramma’ was the first half hour, and it was totally creepy, just like the story; I stayed turned for the second half, which was called “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and starred Danny Kaye and Tim Reid of WKRP in Cincinnati fame. The story was powerful and beautiful and brilliant, and made me cry. As I watched the credits roll, I saw, to my joy and surprise, that it was based on a Harlan Ellison story and he may have even adapted it into a teleplay. It became a goal of mine to read that story, and so I began haunting used bookstores, looking for Ellison collections. I never, ever regretted reading an Ellison collection, and eventually I did finally find a collection that included “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which remains to this day one of my favorite short stories.

I was reminded of Ellison recently because of a Twitter thread about short stories; I think perhaps Art Taylor may have started it, looking for short stories to teach in one of his classes (it may have been Facebook); and someone mentioned Ellison’s Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” (I, of course, suggested “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which also led to a discussion of The Twilight Zone episode I mentioned earlier, which is actually now on Youtube; you can watch it here. I also didn’t know, until looking up the link, that it was Danny Kaye’s last screen appearance, and he deserved a goddamned Emmy for it; and I’m not even a fan.) I knew I’d recently downloaded, at some point, some Ellison collections to my Kindle app when they were cheap and/or free, so I decided to look to see if I had it. When I opened Deathbird Stories, it was open to “On the Downhill Side,” which turned out to be set in New Orleans; I read it, loved it, and then went to the table of contents, and sure enough, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was in it. (I must have read it before; I am certain I read my paperback copy of Deathbird Stories, but I didn’t remember either story.)

This is how “On the Downhill Side” begins:

I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn. Names Lizette, she was a Grecian temple in which no sacrifice had been made. Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night. My unicorn whinnied, inclined his head, and she stroked the ivory spiral of his horn.

Much of this took place in what is called the Irish Channel, a strip of street in old New Orleans where the lace curtain micks had settled decades before; now the Irish were gone and the Cubans had taken over the Channel. Now the Cubans were sleeping, recovering from the muggy today that held within its hours the deja vu of muggy yesterday, the deja reve of intolerable tomorrow. Now the crippled bricks of side streets off Magazine had given up their nightly ghosts, and one such phantom had some to me, calling my unicorn to her–thus, clearly, a virgin–and I stood waiting.

Had it been Sutton Place, had it been a Manhattan evening, and had we met, she would have kneeled to pet my dog. And I would have waited. Had it been Puerto Vallarta, had it been 20 36′ N, 105 13’W, and had we met, she would have crouched to run her fingertips over the oil-slick hide of my iguana. And I would have waited. Meeting in streets requires ritual. One must wait and not breathe too loud, if one is to enjoy the congress of the nightly ghosts.

She looked across the fine head of my unicorn and smiled at me. Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation. “Is it a bit chilly for you?” I asked.

New Orleanians, of course, as I have noted before, are very protective and pedantic about fiction written about the city by people who don’t live here (always said with capital letters: People Not From Here)–this also stands for lazy journalistic features that always, inevitably, get everything incorrect–and in this beautifully written and incredibly poetic opening, there’s an error: the Irish Channel isn’t a strip of street, it’s an actual neighborhood, running alongside the Garden District from Jackson to Louisiana and from Magazine to the river. (I don’t know about the Cubans–I don’t know of any concentrated Cuban immigration to New Orleans, but I know enough not to question it because there’s so much about this magic place that I do not know, which is why I am reading New Orleans history) But the opening of this story is simply gorgeous, and the imagery Ellison uses is absolutely perfect; I particularly like the sentence Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night–and wish I had written it.

As I read more of the story, it’s spectral beauty began casting a spell on me; Ellison didn’t try to write about New Orleans like a native or a local; his ghostly spirit with the unicorn, trapped like Lizette in the realm between worlds because of unfinished business, is also new to New Orleans, and sees it as a tourist would; and I realized how wise he was to make this storytelling choice; it makes errors not only acceptable but forgivable (I really can turn into a hellish banshee on this topic) and he also wrote some beautifully evocative lines about the city that I wish I had written:

I despise Bourbon Street. The strip joints, with the pasties over nipples, the smell of need, the dwarfed souls of men attuned only to flesh. The noise.

The Saint Louis Cemetery is ancient. It sighs with shadows and the comfortable bones and their afterimages of deaths that became great merely because those who died went to be interred in Saint Louis Cemetery. The water table lies just eighteen inches below New Orleans–there are no graves in the earth for that reason. Bodies are entombed aboveground in crypts, sepulchers, vaults, mausoleums. The gravestones are all different, no two alike, each one a testament to the stonecutter’s art. Only secondarily testaments to those who like beneath the markers.

It really is a gorgeous story, almost dream-like in its telling, and I absolutely loved it. I then moved on to the Edgar-winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”:

On the night after the day she had stained the louvered window shutters of her new apartment on East 52nd Street, Beth saw a woman slowly and hideously knifed to death in the courtyard of her building. She was one of twenty-six witnesses to the ghoulish scene, and, like them, she did nothing to stop it.

She saw it all, every moment of it, without break and with no impediment to her view. Quite madly, the thought crossed her mind as she watched in horrified fascination, that she had the sort of marvelous line of observation Napoleon had sought when he caused to have constructed at the Comedie-Francaise theaters, a curtained box at the reat, so he could watch the audience as well as the stage. The night was clear, the moon was full, she had just turned off the 11:30 movie on Channel 2 after the second commercial break, realizing she had already seen Robert Taylor in Westward the Women, and had disliked it the first time; and the apartment was quite dark.

The murder of Kitty Genovese, based on my limited knowledge of Harlan Ellison and his work, seemed to weigh pretty heavily on his mind; he wrote this story, clearly influenced by the Genovese murder and the stories that arose around it; I also distinctly remember reading an essay he’d written in which he talked about it–I believe it may have been the introduction to Alone Against Tomorrow, or in one of the mini-essays he wrote about each story collected within its covers; I cannot remember which. But I remember how clearly appalled and horrified he was, not just by the murder, but the way the witnesses did nothing, tried nothing, said nothing, to either stop the murder or to help the hapless victim. As his spirits in “On the Downhill Side” are waiting for their green light to ascend to the spirit plane from this mortal realm, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” delves, not into the inhumanity involved in every aspect of the Kitty Genovese murder, but what created that very inhumanity, as Beth, new to New York, begins to see the dark, malevolent spirit that drives New York and sometimes, occasionally, demands blood sacrifice; and as she begins to harden her own shell in order to survive. It’s an extraordinary story, well worthy of the Edgar; although I am surprised it was so honored, as it blurs the boundaries between different genres–and back in the day, Edgar judges tended to be very strict about what was and wasn’t a crime story.

And yes, I will be delving back into Ellison’s short fiction–as a crossover between The Short Story Project and The ReRead Project.

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Forever and Ever Amen

Yesterday afternoon I got sucker-punched; there I was, having a good day and getting things done and then–WHAM! Right between the eyes–Southwest sent me a reminder email about my scheduled and ticketed trip to New York for the Edgars at the end of April. The 30th, to be exact, but because of the symposium and other duties, I was going to be flying up there on the 28th, hence the reminder email. It didn’t help that the email reminded me that today would have been the closing for TWFest/S&S, and I got teary-eyed and sad and overwhelmed and had to get off the computer and away from the world for a little while.

It was out of the blue–I’ve said this before and it’s my own advice to other people (“remember something unexpected will happen–a tweet, a Facebook post, an email–that will catch you off guard and trigger something internal”) but it’s still rough when it happens, and it did, in fact, derail the rest of my day; there was no writing accomplished yesterday, and I didn’t really do much of anything afterwards, other than binge a few more episodes of Ozark (greatly enjoying this third season; the performances are stellar, particularly Laura Linney and Julia Garner) and then went to bed early. I slept fairly well, and this morning I feel even, but man–was that ever rough yesterday or what?

This week I have to go to work at 8:15 at our other building (campus?) every morning before leaving around noon to head to our other building (campus?) on Elysian Fields for the afternoon shift. Adapting to what is essential a 9-to-5 life isn’t going to be easy for me; it’s something I’ve managed to avoid my entire life until age fifty-eight, although I have to confess (as I said the other day) there really is something to eight hours five days a week. I like getting home earlier than I usually do (around eight), and I just have to  adjust to having those early evenings free. Hurricane season is coming, and so is termite swarm season and the time when stinging caterpillars rain down from the live oak trees like something out of C-level horror film from the 1950’s–usually the second bill on a drive-in double feature; you know the kind of film I mean–and then comes the heat and humidity of the summer. It’s already hotter this year than it usually is at this time of the year; I can only imagine how truly unbearable July and August are going to be this summer. There are but two days left in this hellish March, and then it’s April. (And I do hope nobody is foolish enough to play pranks on April Fool’s Day…)

I’ve decided since my attention span is so limited that it’s time to go back to both the Short Story Project (which I’ve been doing these last few weeks, really) as well as the Reread Project. I had considered rereading Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic next, since I don’t really remember much of it at all, but have decided to reread one of my all time favorites, and definitely my favorite ghost story of all time, Ammie Come Home by Barbara Michaels. It’s been awhile since I read it, and it was, of course, the first novel by Michaels I read. I had originally watched the Made for TV movie that was based on it (The House That Wouldn’t Die, starring none other than the magnificent Miss Barbara Stanwyck), and then later found it in a volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (remember those?) about a year or so later at my grandmother’s. I eventually bought a used paperback copy when I was either fifteen or sixteen and read the full novel, and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. (In those days, I preferred her work as Barbara Michaels–it wasn’t until years later that I really got into her novels under the name Elizabeth Peters, and there was no turning back from that moment.)

I have a lot of emails in my inbox to answer–remember, I was in a flurry of responding to emails when I got the reminder from Southwest that derailed my entire day yesterday–as well as to sort and file. I’ve absolutely got to get back on that horse and dive into my emails headfirst today, and I’ve got to generate some others and consolidate all my notes and create an overall to-do list. My primary concern with so many seemingly endless tasks is that I am going to forget something important; I need to get my equilibrium back–hopefully getting used to my next work schedule will be helpful in that regard–and I need to get better organized.

I always seem to be saying that, don’t I?

Hmmmmm.

But the sun is rising and the world is gray outside my windows, and it’s about time for me to head into the spice mines. Stay safe, everyone, and have a lovely day.

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The Gambler

New York!

It’s been far too long since I’ve been to New York; five years maybe? If not longer? MY memory, as I am prone to say with some regularity, has become a sieve and I can no longer remember how long ago something was unless there’s an event I can specifically tie something to–“Oh, that was the year of Toronto Bouchercon”, et al–so I don’t know. I think it’s been four-ish, at the very least. It’s also been more than twenty years since I flew into LaGuardia Airport–primarily because it’s the more difficult airport in the area to get into Manhattan from; back when I served on the Mystery Writers of America board before, I always flew into Newark because I knew how to get to Grand Central from there quite easily.

And to my New York friends, I do apologize if I wasn’t able to see you; I knew it was short trip, it was for business, and almost every minute of every day was accounted for–plus, I had my usual issue with sleeping in a different bed than my own.

And of course, the night I finally was able to sleep was the last night there. Naturally. But at least I wasn’t so tired on my travel-home day that I just wanted to curl up in a ball somewhere and cry. I was also able to get some reading done while I traveled; on the way up I finished The Talented Mr. Ripley, started Blanche on the Lam, which I finished on the flights home (I had to connect through St. Louis), and once I finished reading that, I was able to start reading Elizabeth Little’s new (and amazing) Pretty as a Picture, which I am going to carve some time out for today, hopefully; it’s really good.

And as always, whenever I travel to something that’s writing related, I get inspired. Just being around other writers, talking about writing and books we’ve read and like…it always flips that switch in my head. Going to New York–and I am aware of how weird this is going to sound–always makes me feel like I’m a writer. When I was a kid, I used to sit in my room and read, and then daydream about being all grown up and a writer and going to New York. As I was flying home yesterday (seriously, I had to connect through St. Louis) I was pulling my journal out of my bag and making notes on ideas and thoughts and so forth. I’ve been wanting to write a flight attendant noir story for a while now, and the opening line came to me last night on the second leg of the trip: One truth about travel that no airline will ever admit to is that there is absolutely no way anyone can get comfortable in a coach–er, economy–class seat.

And of course, over the course of the weekend I was elected Executive Vice-President of the Mystery Writers of America Board of Directors, which is an amazingly awesome-sounding title which translates into “a lot of work.” But you know–I missed being on the Board of Directors and all the work, despite the occasional frustrations. And the free time I got once I cycled off? It didn’t turn into more time to write and focus on my writing career. I’ve also come to realize I am more productive, and do more, when I have more to do–that’s just how sick I am.  When I have a lot to do I make a list and remain focused and disciplined….and given how undisciplined I’ve been over the last few years…so, yeah. I am sure I’ll be whining soon enough—I know myself better than anyone else does–but I thrive better under pressure and with more to get done.

It’s a sickness.

And now, back to the spice mines. There will be more to come–I want to write and talk about both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Blanche on the Lam, most definitely, but for now I need to spend the day getting caught up on my life and things around here and maybe–just maybe–get back to work on some of my own writing.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Constant Reader!

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Walking After Midnight

Here I am, up at the crack of dawn–well, not really, but earlier than I usually get up on a Thursday–so I can catch a flight to New York later this morning. And I think I packed the clothes I intended to wear on the plane this morning–which is fine. Not particularly smart, but I’ve been running on accessory all week as it is, so it’s not particularly surprising, either.

I also woke up well before my alarm this morning, too. Not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

Today is also my first time flying out of the new terminal at Armstrong, so that’s also kind of exciting.

I am taking probably too many books with me on this trip: The Talented Mr, Ripley; Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely; Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little; and Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes. I’ll probably finish Ripley at the airport and get started on the Neely on the plane. I hope to have some free down time periodically in order to do some work on my secret project; but knowing how these trips usually go that’s most likely never going to happen. But hope springs eternal and all that nonsense.

Last night didn’t do much of anything once I got home. I packed and spent the evening in my easy chair, watching videos on Youtube–clips and analysis of the LSU game on Monday, as well as discussions on whether or not this team is one of the best of all time. It’s kind of hard to argue against it, really; given the teams they beat and how they beat them. The last three games of the season were against Number 4 Georgia (37-10); Number 4 Oklahoma (63-28), and Number 3 Clemson (42-25). They beat everyone in the preseason top 4 (Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia). Excluding the LSU losses, those three times they beat at the end of the season totaled 2 losses total; add Alabama into the mix and that would be three; adding Florida would make it 4.

Sorry, I know I tend to run on and on about this LSU team, but damn, they were amazing.

But I’ll be glad when this trip is over and I get home Sunday evening. I have Monday off–Martin Luther King Jr Day–and so I can relax and recover and get some things done before I return to work on Tuesday. Traveling has become more and more of a chore the older I get; I always wonder if getting older has just made me crankier, or if traveling has, indeed, gotten terrible. I suspect it’s a combination of the two–less patience and more stupidity and inefficiency. But I do love New York; I never feel more like a writer then I do when I am in New York; probably because as a child New York was the nexus for authors–and certainly in every book I read that had a writer as a character, that was certainly the case; everything from You Can’t Go Home Again to Youngblood Hawke to Peyton Place, for that matter; and of course the crown jewel, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything. And I will be there this afternoon! It’s not that I mind trips–it’s the getting there, the actual travel, I’ve come to loathe–from getting to the airport to the check-in process to security to the seemingly endless wait at the gate; the gathering of luggage and transporting one’s self to the final destination.

And on that note, tis time to hop in the shower and make my final preparations for the departure. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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