Christmases When You Were Mine

And while technically Christmas season doesn’t really end until Twelfth Night (aka the twelfth day of Christmas), for most everyone it’s ended; the shredded wrapping paper trashed, ribbons and bows perhaps stashed aside for another use; boxes either broken down and recycled, or saved for use for the next time Christmas rolls around. Taking down decorations is something everyone seems to have their own traditions for; Paul and I left ours up our first year in New Orleans until the following July. I spent yesterday morning filing and organizing–discovering all kinds of treasures and ideas I’d allowed to fall by the wayside; a few months ago I counted how many short stories I had in progress and the truth is, I’d vastly undercounted, as I found ever so much more on hand yesterday morning. I found other research (some of it necessary, some of it interesting) that will come in enormously handy in the future. Perhaps people are correct when they talk about me being prolific; discovery of these stories and research certainly gives proof to that. (I must say, it was delightful to find myself looking at the files for “The Blues Before Dawn” and “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge” and “Waking the Saints” and “Malevolence” and “Getting Rid of Roger”–stories with great openings and potential that I had set aside and forgotten about as my nimble mind continued to leap around like a child’s that is in desperate need of Adderall. I also discovered folders for book ideas like Kansas Lonesome and Where the Boys Die and The Kissing Bridge…and that’s not even scratching the surface of the research that I found.)

I also discovered folders for Scotty books to come–Congo Square Conga and River Parish Rhumba and Hollywood South Hustle…and that’s on top of the three in the front of my mind, French Quarter Flambeaux and Lake Shore Limbo and Redneck Riviera Rhumba (oops, looks like I’ve got two rhumbas, and that just won’t do, will it?). I also found an idea for a Colin book that is completely different than the one i’ve been thinking about over the last year or so, and several other ideas. My word, I really need to harness my creativity, don’t I, and I really do need to go through the files every quarter or so, just so I can remember some of these fairly decent-and workable, usable–ideas.

So, we watched Wonder Woman 1984, and no, it wasn’t as good or as enjoyable as the original. I did think, a few times, “this would look amazing on a big screen”, but about twenty minutes or so into the film, I told myself, stop expecting it to make sense and just enjoy it without thinking, which is what they apparently want all of us to do, and so by shutting off my mind, I was able to enjoy it maybe a bit more than other people did. Was there problems with it? Absolutely: “of course i can fly a 1984 era fighter jet! So what if all my experience is with circa-1917 era prop planes?” And since when has a 1984 era fighter jet had the fuel capacity to fly to Cairo and back from Washington–and didn’t they steal the plane? And flying the jet through the fireworks? I actually said out loud, “is it safe to fly a jet through things that are exploding? And wouldn’t the jet have fucked up the fireworks?” Visually, that scene was quite beautiful–one of those “on a big screen” things–but…and while I also get the desire to have Chris Pine/Steve Trevor return, the way they did it made little to no sense, and I may have literally rolled my eyes when I realized what the central plot was going to be: an ancient stone that grants wishes? Really? I mean…if they were looking for a plot to symbolize that this was a super-hero movie from the 1980’s, putting the entire world in jeopardy is the kind of thing they used to do in those rare super-hero movies from the time–I’m looking at the Christopher Reeve Superman movies–but other than that, there really was very little that made this a “1984” movie–music, costumes, etc. It was a mess of a movie–I got bored from time to time–but it was a mildly entertaining diversion….afterward, inspired by seeing Lynda Carter, we watched the original pilot for her Wonder Woman series from the 1970’s, which completely leaned into the idea that it was a comic book television show, and went the old Batman route. I was also rather surprised to see what a star-studded cast they came up with for the pilot as well–Red Buttons, Carl Reiner, Stella Stevens, and Cloris Leachman, among others–and they even went with little caption boxes, like the comic books had–“Secret Nazi base”, “top secret US base”, etc. Never once in this movie is there a moment like the No Man’s Land scene in the original, which literally brought up goosebumps and tears to my eyes when I was sitting in the theater watching….it’s like they forgot all the things that made the first film so special and that the audience connected to, and kept the stuff people had problems with and then amplified them. About the most 1984 thing about the movie was the threat of nuclear annihilation–something that was very much on our minds back in the 1980’s, not to mention the Cold War, which was only glancingly mentioned and probably should have been the driving force of the movie. The heart of the first movie was the clearly delineated line between the evil of the Germans and the “goodness” of the Allies; the key to this movie–and had it actually been made in 1984–the villains should have been Soviets. By skating around the what was truly the most important ideological divide in the world at the time the film was set, they undermined the film itself.

After the Wonder Woman double feature, we watched Let Them All Talk, the Netflix movie starring Meryl Streep as an author and Dianne Weist and Candace Bergen as her two best friends from college, reuniting on an Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 so the Streep character can accept a distinguished literary award in England. While it had some very interesting things to say about writers and writing, it never really took off because the cast really never did anything more than sit around and talk about things, and there were no real emotional pay-offs. How can you have these three powerhouse actresses in the same film and then give them so very little to work with? They were all fine, but maybe a little flat–which has a lot to do with the direction and the script.

Needless to say, I did no writing over the last two days, and of course now realize I have fucked up completely the working time-line I had created in my head to see me through to the end of the book. Today I have to run errands, and I should go to the gym, but I also need to focus and get back to writing the book. In fact, probably once I’m finished here, I will take the laptop with me to my easy chair, grab my lap desk, and then start revising away. I’ve been waking up early these last couple of days, and while I am most pleased with the organizing and filing I managed to get done yesterday–all those stories in progress I’d forgotten, all those ideas moldering in the back of my mind–I do regret the laziness of not writing anything yesterday. But by the time I was finished with everything it was already mid-afternoon, and there really wasn’t much choice at that time. That also needed to be done, so I shouldn’t regret the loss of writing time, but I also am not going to be berating myself over.

I also forgot the Saints played yesterday, just assuming the game would be Sunday. Oops.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines while leaving you with one last, past the actual day Christmas hunk. Have a lovely 26th, everyone.

Miserabilism

Sunday morning. I slept really well again last night, but my stomach is still quirky this morning; I am not enjoying this in the least and it really needs to stop sometime soon, thank you very much. I do appreciate the deep sleep I’ve been getting these last few nights, but there’s still fatigue in my muscles and joints and it might be dehydration still; I am going to have to drink more fluids today than I have been before and see if that improves things at all. I still haven’t gotten my test results back yet–then again, my phone expired last night and I forgot to charge it, so there may be a missed call or something there. I’ll check when I finish writing this, I suppose.

I also started writing up my detailed critique of 13 Reasons Why last night and it’s failures; which were made all the more evident when Paul and I moved on to yet another show from Netflix Spain called Elite, which is precisely what 13 Reasons Why could have been. Elite is more soapy, but they actually lean into it unashamedly, and it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining and better written. The cast is also spectacularly good in their roles, and we are unashamedly addicted to it–and there are three glorious seasons to indulge in thus far. That should get us through until next weekend, right? And I am looking forward to it! We truly enjoyed Toy Boy, and even White Lines, uneven as it was. Shows from Spanish Netflix are truly amazing; and I’m also really glad I got over my aversion to subtitles, which opens up a whole new world of film and television for us.

I took it easy yesterday, reading my emails and reorganizing the books while i could and straightening up a bit around the Lost Apartment. I also took a folder of partial stories to my easy chair and started reading through them. A lot of them of course are story fragments, just the opening paragraphs, and while they were sketchy and not particularly in depth; I could see the potential in them. I am very pleased with how “Closing Time” starts and rereading those paragraphs tipped me off on how to continue with the story; the same goes with “One Night at Brandi’s Lounge” and “Please Die Soon.” Today I am going to–once I finish some things here on-line that I need to get done today–close my Internet browser and focus on writing; the things I had planned to get done this weekend I haven’t, and that’s in part due to this disorientation feeling that comes from not being at 100% physically, which I rather dislike.

Then again, I don’t know anyone who enjoys being sick, other than those with Munchhausen’s Syndrome.

I also was thinking about the Kansas book yesterday and making notes; both shows were making me think more about it, and I do think it’s a great idea and has the potential to be a terrific book, if I can ever get back to work on it. But I’m never going to get back to either it or Bury Me in Shadows until I get this other stuff finished…so I really need to try to focus today and get to work on it.

I also was reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower yesterday when I didn’t have the energy to do anything else–the energy drains is the worst part of this whole thing, quite frankly–and I really do love Tuchman. I’ve never read The Guns of August, which I really should, and would love to eventually would like to work my way through her entire catalogue. Oh, how I wish I’d majored in History and Creative Writing in college! I generally don’t waste my time with regrets about anything, and as I am extremely happy with my life right now any change to my past would have altered my life completely and I wouldn’t be where I am today. But oh, to have learned how to comb through research and find the proper materials to write about history intelligently and responsibly! I think I could have written history the way Tuchman did–compellingly, by being entertaining as well as educating at the same time. As I have mentioned many times before, I’d love to do the sixteenth century much the same as Tuchman did the fourteenth in A Different Mirror; but focusing on the rise of women to power. I do think that century had more women in power than any other century before or since (perhaps the eighteenth might compare); Isabella f Castile; England had three regnant queens (Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I); Scotland had Mary Queen of Scots and her mother, the regent Marie de Guise; France of course had Catherine de Medici pulling the strings of power; and there were any number of Habsburg women who ruled as regents in the vast array of their Imperial lands. Women in that century also were responsible for shifts of power–Juana of Castile brought the Spanish empire into the Habsburg realms; the struggle between Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn changed England forever; Margaret Tudor brought the Scots royal family eventually to power in England through her descendants; and there were powerful women lurking everywhere, from Jeanne d’Albret to Margaret of Austria to Marie of Hungary to Marguerite de Valois–and of course, the great mistress of Henri II–Diane de Poitiers. These women influenced the shape of the history that came after them, and changed the world.

All right, on that note I am going to close this and head back into the spice mines for the day. Wish me luck with my work and my stomach, Constant Reader! Have a lovely Sunday.

O Come All Ye Faithful

Thursday and the hard part of the week is already over; the one where I work thirty-one hours in three days at the office. This is the part of the week where I work nine hours in two days, easing into the weekend, as it were. We have a Christmas party to attend on Saturday evening, but other than that and some errands, I intend to spend my weekend primarily working and editing and inputting the hard copy edits I’ve done on my short stories this week.

That’s the plan, at any rate.

But I slept really well again last night–two glorious nights in a row–and I feel incredibly well rested today. Does that bode well for writing this morning before work, and this evening after? Here’s hoping. I’m still trying to adapt and adjust to my new work schedule, and I feel like I am settling into it at long last, which is lovely. It gets harder to adapt to changes, I find, the older I get.

I still feel completely disconnected in some ways from the creativity surge I was feeling before the loss of the jump drive and the frying of the back-up hard drive; like the momentum wave I was riding has somehow now passed me by and I am dog-paddling like crazy in water that’s over my head. (To be fair, I often feel this way, particularly when the work isn’t going so well.) But I am absolutely delighted to discover that the stories I was re-editing and revising for the collection are now in pretty good shape, and now I can even get started (maybe) on tentatively pulling together the second one. I also kind of have lost momentum on my New Orleans research as well as my essay collection; partly because that was some of the work I lost. I did reconstruct some of it this past weekend–table of contents, etc., as well as some other things; writing things up in my journals–something I returned to doing this year–really helped lessen the impact of the Great Data Disaster of 2018. Hurray!

And with the end of the year approaching, I am wondering now what new goals I should set for 2019. Obviously, some of the ones I set for 2018 didn’t happen, but that’s okay; I don’t look as not achieving a goal as a failure. I do think one of the things I am really going to try for in 2019 is getting published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It’s been on my bucket list forever, and so I am going to really give it a try. I think my story “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge”–unfinished–might be the one to do the trick.

All right, it’s time to get back to the spice mines. The spice must flow.

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Dancing Machine

Thursday, and the weekend looms. The weather has remained cold, gray and damp here in New Orleans; it will stay cold through the weekend but next week the temperatures are going to go back up to something more normal for New Orleans in November; sixties and low seventies, with potential lows in the high fifties after dark.

Work on the book proceeds apace. Not well; I managed to crank out both chapters four and five over the last two nights, and reached, in Chapter Five, a final crucial point in the story, which is cool. I don’t know if that means writing the rest of the book is going to go any better than the beginning, but progress is fucking progress.

I also started–with one sentence, mind you–a new short story called “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge.” I’m not sure what the story is going to be about, but I’ve had the title and the story prompt–a picture my friend Erin posted on social media a few months ago–floating in my head for a while, and last night while I was eking out the last words of Chapter Five the first sentence of the story came to my head (I wouldn’t have even stopped at Brandy’s Lounge that night if I hadn’t gotten fired that afternoon) and I thought I should start a new document so I wouldn’t lose the sentence (which has happened before and is incredibly frustrating and infuriating on so many levels.

I really need to get back to “The Blues Before Dawn,” too. I need to get so much work done before I leave for the holidays on Monday….and the cold weather doesn’t help because my kitchen-office is the coldest place in the house. Those lovely windows that give me so much beautiful natural light most of the year? Well, they are COLD TRAPS when the temperature drops.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I paid all the bills yesterday, which was lovely; it’s nice to be all caught up and actually have some money left over–which is entirely because of how paydays fell this month and has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of magic spell I unleashed over my checking account and my bills–usually all my end of the month and first of the month bills, along with the car payment, have to be paid from the same paycheck, which is nightmarish. But this time, we get paid again on the 28th this month, so the end of the month bills and car payment fell due from this paycheck, and so I can pay the beginning of the month bills with the 28th paycheck.

Sweet.

Although whenever something happens like this and I have extra money…I always wonder what I’m forgetting to pay. But I kind of went through everything last night and I am relatively certain I’ve paid everything.

I also forgot to leave the water slightly running overnight during the hard freeze so you can imagine how terrified I was this morning when I got up and approached the sink to brush my teeth with some severe trepidation…but no worries; all was well. *Whew*.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Dress You Up

I started writing another book yesterday.

Please note I didn’t say worked on the book, but started writing another book. Yes, that’s right; I am working on a Scotty book (I did start writing Chapter Fifteen yesterday), have the WIP as well that I’ve not touched in a while, and am trying to whip the last two stories for my short story collection into shape–but I started writing another book yesterday.

I am clearly completely insane.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a noir novel for awhile, with a gay main character; kind of a Hard Case Crime-style novel with a gay male protagonist. I know who my main character was; I knew who the young, sexy young man and young woman who would be the focus of the cover were, and even had a slight, amorphous idea of the plot of the book; I even knew the opening scene of the book would take place in a deserted alley late at night behind the gym the main character owned; the gym was simply called Muscles, and that was also the name of the book. But as I finished polishing “My Brother’s Keeper” for it to be read aloud for its final polish, an idea kept nagging at me. And as I started writing Chapter Fifteen, it began taking shape in my mind. And I knew it was the opening of Muscles, which I’ve never known quite how to structure. It came to me yesterday while I was working on other things, so I decided–in my Greg is completely crazy way, that the smart thing to do was go ahead and write it down, before I forgot it–I’ve done that so many times–and so I started writing it. Next thing I knew I was a thousand words in, and I ran out of words–but I know where it needs to go from that opening, and I even know how chapter two is going to play out. I really have this wonderful idea for the continuation of the chapter that I really want to try to do–weaving back story in around action–which is going to be hard to pull off, but I am very excited to try it.

I can’t wait for this weekend to get here so I can seriously work on all of this stuff!

I’ve also had three more ideas for short stories pop up lately–all amorphous, all thoughts simply swirling around inside my head, without form, without fully formed characters, without a cohesive plot or story–but the titles are there: “Malevolence,” “Headshot”, and “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge.” It feels so good to be creative again, you have no idea, Constant Reader; last year was such a barren, fallow experience creatively that, while it’s frustrating in some ways to have so many ideas swirling around inside my head, making it hard for me to focus the way I need to on the stuff that needs to be focused upon, it’s also kind of a blessed relief to know my creativity is still there. It’s also weird, because I’d forgotten that it’s always like this when I am writing a book; my creative ADD kicks in and I am all over the place, and every time I have to re-discipline myself, keep it under control and focus it on the work at hand. I think this is also why I never like my novels very much and am never very satisfied with them; because the entire time i am working on them I want to be working on something else and it feels forced.

WHY DIDN’T I FIGURE THAT OUT THIRTY BOOKS AGO?

Sigh.

At least I’m still capable of learning, which is something.

So, in honor of me learning something, here’s the opening of the first Chanse MacLeod short story EVER, “My Brother’s Keeper”:

It had been twenty-five years but Cottonwood Wells still stank.

I’d forgotten about the smell from the oil refinery just outside of town, near the oil fields where my father had worked. It hung over the town like a shroud, poisonous and foul. When the wind blew from the north the stench was almost unbearable. The trailer park where we lived was on the side of town closest to it so there was no escaping it, but I never got used to it. I tolerated it, like so many other things I tolerated growing up in that town, but I was always aware of it.

There was a Best Western now at the exit from I-10, and a Days Inn across the street. I pulled into the Best Western parking lot because it was easier. I got my briefcase and rolling suitcase from the hatch of my Subaru Forrester. In the distance, on the other side of town, I could see the flaming stacks where they burned off excess gas at the refinery. What used to be fields just on the way into town from the highway was now the enormous parking lot of a sprawling Wal-Mart Super Center, a Lowe’s on the other side. Like everywhere else in America, Cottonwood Wells had fallen victim to the plastic commercialization of the chain stores. There was a Whataburger and a McDonalds on the other side of the highway, and gas stations. I could see the line of fast food signs on the way into town past the Wal-Mart: Burger King, Arbys, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut. All we’d had when I was a kid was a Sonic Drive-in downtown on the main drag, and a McDonalds.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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