Diamond Girl

So, how you doin’, Constant Reader?

Well, running the errands yesterday turned into a major challenge. It started raining before I left the house, but despite the heavy rain–those enormous big raindrops we get here in New Orleans, that feel like they’re leaving a bruise–I decided to go for it. I grabbed an umbrella and dashed to the car, getting soaked in the process despite the umbrella (the umbrella that can handle the rain in New Orleans has yet to be invented), and the rain came down even heavier as I headed uptown. At Jefferson Avenue, there was still blue sky and sunshine and no clouds, but while I was inside the postal service the storm arrived (I got some things I needed in the mail, some bills, and an ARC of Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden, thanks, Erin!) and dashed back out to the car and headed to the grocery store. It was pouring by this point, with thunder and lightning and everyone driving three miles an hour–but in fairness, the street gutters were filling with water. I sat in the car and waited a good five minutes before making a break for the store–but even walking quickly I still got very wet.

But at least while I was doing the shopping the rain let up a bit, and it was only sprinkling as I went out to the parking lot.

Getting home was a challenge as some streets had filled up with water; Felicity Street had a good six inches at least on it, and the gutters on Prytania were also full of water, but it wasn’t that deep. Everyone was driving, of course, like their car was about to drop into a sinkhole and disappear from sight–of course, driving slow rather than faster won’t change that at all, so I don’t really get it. Yes, you should drive slower through standing water–but you don’t have to literally crawl through it, either–and yes, local New Orleanians reading this, I know there are no-wake ordinances in the city (yes, that’s how often our streets flood with water; the city has passed ordinances dictating how fast you can drive through standing water), but when most of the street is not underwater, there’s no wake sending water into people’s homes, businesses or cars parked alongside the street.

It’s interesting that my neighborhood sort-of flooded again–the water on my street had been over the sidewalk but had drained by the time I got home; I could see the dirt and debris on the sidewalk–when it didn’t used to; and there are people alarmed in the city because we are seeing water rising and standing where it never used to before. It occurred to me yesterday that this could entirely be because of all the construction that’s taken place in the city over the last few years. Empty green lots are now paved over for buildings or parking garages; city blocks that used to simply be a ground level parking lot are now five story apartment/condo buildings. So the water used to spread out over the paved lots and also used to soak into the green lots; now that water is draining off those buildings with nowhere to go so it settles in the street. The two vacant lot on our street are about to be paved over and turned into a three story condo complex–which isn’t going to help our street in upcoming rains.

I seriously doubt that anyone–especially on the city permit level–ever took water drainage into consideration when handing out permits. Driving down O’Keefe Street now in the CBD is like driving down a canyon through higher-rising buildings, whereas before those lots were parking lots. I wonder if I am onto something here…

I spent the day yesterday, after getting home, working on getting my email down to a respective amount, and I also started reading Jay B. Law’s The Unfinished, for which I have agreed to write an introduction for the new edition being released by ReQueered Tales. Laws only wrote two books before he died of AIDS in the early 1990’s, this one and Steam, which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. The Unfinished was released after his death, and isn’t as well-known or well-remembered as Steam; being a posthumous novel undoubtedly had something to do with that. I thought I had read it years ago, but as I am reading it now, it’s all new to me…and while I am well aware that my memory is as reliable now as the water drainage system in New Orleans, this entire story and the character seem completely new to me; usually when I reread a book I’ve completely forgotten the story eventually comes back to me as I work my way through it–that isn’t happening here, and while it saddens me that I’ve not read The Unfinished before, I am actually kind of glad; it means I am experiencing an immensely talented writer’s final work for the first time…and the essay I want to write to introduce the book is already beginning to swirl around inside my head.

Today I have a million things to do–so much writing and editing to do, as well as reading–that it’s not even remotely amusing–although sometimes I do think all I can do, rather than weep when looking at the list, is laugh.

Along the lines of my recent decision to celebrate and own my accomplishments, as an addendum to today’s blog I am going to talk about having a story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, the Planned Parenthood fundraising anthology from Down and Out Books, edited by Holly West. I’ve loved the Go-Go’s from the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio, and have seen them in concert twice. Since I recently discovered the magic of Spotify, I find myself listening to their original three albums a lot lately, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all to me, which I think is the key to their success. One of the things I found interesting was I never listened to their music, or sang along to it, and thought about how dark their lyrics actually are, until Holly agreed to let me write something for this anthology (I basically invited myself to contribute to it, which is something I never do; which is another problem with myself and my career–I don’t assert myself or push myself forward into anthologies. The worst thing that can happen is the editor will say, ‘sorry, got enough people already, but thanks!’ My entire career I’ve worked to make rejection less painful and more of an oh well thing; I’m still working on making that sort of rejection/disappointment something that just rolls off my back rather than derails me for a time.

Sometimes you have to be assertive, and while that sort of thing kind of goes against my nature, you have to do it.

Anyway, Holly gave me a choice of three songs to use for inspiration, and as I looked up the lyrics on-line, I was struck by how dark the songs were. Without Belinda Carlisle’s cheerful, almost chipmunk-ish vocals and the high-energy beat of the music behind them, I couldn’t believe how noir the lyrics actually were. I eventually chose “This Town”–because it was the darkest of the three–and started writing it. I honestly don’t know how the idea came to me, or where I came up with it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite stories of my own; and other people seemed to like it a lot, too. “This Town” will probably wind up anchoring my next short story collection–should I do another one, which I am hopeful I will be able to do–and again, as I said, the feedback on the story has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous that as per usual, I didn’t really know how to respond to the compliments.

The story itself is the perfect illustration of what I think, in my mind, a crime story should be; which is why my work isn’t accepted into places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines; I don’t necessarily solve a crime in my stories, even though they are about crimes. (Of course, it could also be that the stories I send them aren’t in their best shape, either.) Getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock is a bucket list item of mine, and I’d also love to get another story into Ellery Queen, but I digress.

Okay, I should get back into the spice mines if I want to get anything done today.

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Back to the Hotel

I have been taking five minute lessons in Italian every day–or trying to do them every day–and while I can’t say for certain that I am actually learning Italian, it kind of is cool. I probably should have gone with French instead, but once I get through these Italian lessons maybe I’ll try French. I’m not looking to get fluent in Italian; I’d just like to–if we ever return to that fabled land–be able to be understood in restaurants and bars and shops and gelato shops. But French…French would probably come more in handy, particularly in doing research on old New Orleans.

But I chose Italian, I am doing my lessons, and we’ll see how it goes. I do love me some Italy, and there’s always that historical mystery set in Florence I’ve been wanting to write ever since I first saw the city…

So many books to write, so little time.

It’s been raining since last night; I woke up sometime in the middle of the night when it started, and as such slept deeply and well; what is it about rain that is so soothing? All day yesterday it rained, and of course, with a tin roof next door right outside my office window, all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and go back to sleep. I wonder what it is I’ve always found comforting about the sound of rain? I love rain; I only mind getting wet when I have to go to work or am on my way somewhere that it matters that I look presentable. Other than that, I am all about the rain. There’s nothing I love more than being warm and comfortable inside while it is pouring rain outside. I even like driving in the rain–the only drawback being, of course, moronic other drivers. I mean, it’s understandable that New Orleanians don’t know how to drive in rain, since it rains so rarely here (sarcasm).

I am getting close to being finished with the Scotty draft. There’s absolutely no reason for me not to be finished this weekend–unless I get a bad case of the lazies. This is, of course, always possible–but I really do need to get it done because I have literally no idea of what I’ll be doing with the day job next week. It’s a long story, but our office location is closing and we are moving into a new office space…I’ll probably go into more detail later, when I am in less denial about the actual move.

And yes, for the record, I’ve been in denial about the move since it was announced.

 We continue to watch American Horror Story: Apocalypse, but I’m not really sure why. The story-telling is terrible, it isn’t linear, and both the writing and acting aren’t particularly good–in my opinion. Of course, Joan Collins steals every scene she is in–give this woman her own television show immediately!–which makes it worth watching when I know she’s going to be in an episode. But I always check social media after I watch and apparently Paul’s and my opinion about this train wreck of a season are the minority.

Which, again, is fine.

Two more days till the weekend, Constant Reader! We can do it!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Living in America

So, I sent two more stories out into the submission wilderness yesterday. I also had lunch with a friend at the Company Burger and got caught in the rain on the way there from where I parked the car. And for once I actually had an umbrella in the car.

I know, right?

What are the odds?

I slept late this morning; part of that I believe is resistance to having to leave the house. I need to get the mail and I need to make groceries–not much, just a little bit–and at some point I should go to the gym. But I am feeling rather lackadaisical this morning; I ‘d like to start rereading the Scotty manuscript as well as taking notes on it (I was taking notes last night, just from my memories of it) and  I also want to get back to reading  (Lou Berney’s November Road is calling my name and I should get back to the Short Story Project), but I am also thinking about other short stories that are in progress that I’d like to get done…but if I focus, I can also get Scotty finished by the end of this month and then turned in.

Decisions, decisions. I also have two full days left of my staycation. so there is that, as well. And the apartment looks kind of slovenly, again. I don’t know, sigh. It is what it is, I suppose, and the more coffee I swill the more awake and lively I feel. This second cup is really hitting me marvelously, I must say.

We watched A Very British Scandal  last night, the limited series about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal in the 1970’s, where an MP tried to have a former gay lover murdered. It was very well done, the acting was top notch–High Grant was properly narcissistic and monstrous–and the young man who starred in London Spy was also quite marvelous as the young man who had a years’ long affair with Thorpe only to wind up the target of a murder plot. I also have to say, as I watched, I remembered how just twenty years ago being in the closet and wanting to stay there was made someone a terrific suspect in a crime novel, and also an excellent thread to hang the plot of an entire novel on (Murder in the Rue Dauphine comes to mind). I suppose it would still work, but the stakes have to be higher than embarrassment and/or losing one’s family unit–it would have to be a politician on the right, or a church leader, or an anti-gay crusader, or some such; which has also kind of become a tired cliche.

Progress of a sort, I suppose.

Just a quick glance around the workspace is also letting me know that I need to seriously file and organize….so perhaps I should return to Le Spice Mines.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is”Will You Love Me in September?”:

“Will you love me in September?”

Kevin’s voice, his words, echo in his head even after he hangs up the telephone, placing the receiver back into its cradle. He gets out of the bed slowly, gently, not jarring the mattress, and walks over to the patio windows, turning the cord that opens the blinds so that the sunlight spills into the room. The heat of a summer morning in Tampa comes in with the sunlight, and he turns and looks back at the bed, where he could see the smooth outline of—

Sean? Scott? Steve? Sean, that was it, wasn’t it? Did it really matter?

–sleeping, snoring softly, and he feels it then, what he knew would feel last night in the barr when Sean? Scott? Steve? came over and started talking to him, flirting with him, knowing full well that he should not be responsing, but he was nice looking, had a nice body, and he was so obviously interested, and he felt the interest stirring in his groin, and he knew if Sean wanted him, he would bring him home.

“Will you love me in September?”

It had been so long since he had seen Kevin, almost a month, that month stretching into eternity, a bottomless abyss that cannot be conquered, and the phone calls, each one at least an hour in duration, making him think that he should buy stock in AT&T and maybe that way he could get some of the money back they were spending on long distance, the phone calls were nice and made me feel warm and reassured and loved, but he could not curl up with the phone in bed at night, he could not get a hug from the phone after a particilarly bad day, Kevin was two thousand miles away in Minneapolis, the phone calls were just not enough. But I do love him, he thinks again, looking at Sean? Scott? Steve?’s form and feeling like a whore, feeling unworthy of Kevin’s love, undeserving of anyone’s devotion.

“Will you love me in September?”

And Sean? Scott? Steve? began to make the unmistakable signs of interest, the gay mating ritual, the occasional touches, brushing up against him, and he knew that Sean wanted him, it wasn’t just his imagination, he was being cruised and he was being cruised hard, it was not going to be a relationship, it was just a one night stand, it had nothing to do with Kevin, or how he felt about Kevin, it was just a fucking one night stand and he didn’t have to tell Kevin about it. Kevin didn’t have to know, he was two thousand miles away, Kevin knew no one in Tampa except for him, so how woulod Kevin ever know? Only if I tell him, he thought, and he wanted Sean? Scott? Steve?, he wanted to be kissed and hugged and held, and loved, even if love had nothing to do with it. It was just a one night stand. It meant nothing.

“Will you love me in September?”

I wrote this story when Paul and I were first seeing each other and starting to think this was the real thing, but we hadn’t committed completely to each other absolutely yet (I always say we met in person on July 20th, which we celebrate as our anniversary, and add we’ve been together ever since but it wasn’t that simple or that easy; there were steps and issues to be deal with and so forth along the way; mostly because, in the interest of total honesty, I couldn’t believe someone as kind and loving and lovely as Paul could actually care about me. Like I said, issues) and so I was still, you know, going out to clubs and occasionally hooking up with people. One day in mid-August, right before my birthday, we were planning on me coming to Minneapolis to see him in September and he asked me will you still love me in September?

It was such a lovely sentence, really, and it moved me; and I sat down and wrote the story. It languished in my files for years before I dug it out and rewrote it and revised it and included it in this collection; it has a personal feel to for me, especially now that our twenty-third anniversary looms.

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Caribbean Queen

It’s raining this Sunday morning in New Orleans, with the occasional growl of thunder and a constant leak from the gray skies overhead. When I woke up, this leak was a faucet, turned all the way to high and so loud I wasn’t certain it could actually  be rain; my first thought was I wonder if the streets are flooding again and my second we have tickets to see The Last Jedi at one fifteen; will we be able to make it to the Palace theater in Harahan? As my first cup of coffee brewed this morning I checked to see if there are any reports of flooding in the city; there aren’t, and none are, apparently, expected. And yet any rain here carries with it the possibility of rising water and ruined cars, fears of hundreds of dollars in repairs if you are lucky, scrambling to find the money for a new one while battling with your insurance company and your lender in the meantime.

I worked yesterday, ran some errands, came home and made myself barbecue-flavored chicken nuggets in the oven; the TGIFriday’s brand, frozen food, heated for ten minutes on each side at 375 degrees in the oven. It’s easy and quick, doesn’t taste horrible, and fills the emptiness; Paul was also at work and we were going to a Christmas party last night in Uptown so I didn’t see any need in actually making any food that would make a mess; I’ve not had time to clean and organize and file this week; but I am hoping to get all of that done this morning before we brave the storms to see our movie. There’s something comforting and relaxing about rain, though, despite its imminent and constant threat here, I’ve always found rain to be a relaxing experience, a cozy one; safe inside from the wetness and able to witness it through windows, warm and dry and somehow protected.

Yesterday I finished reading yet another book, another one that I enjoyed tremendously; Reality Boy by A. S. King. I’ve had the book for quite some time, it’s been in my TBR pile for years now. I don’t remember why I bought it, other than an interest in the subject matter; the after-effects of being a reality show celebrity as a child. I’ve always watched, enjoyed and been fascinated by reality television; one of my early ideas for a Scotty novel involved a Real World type show being filmed in New Orleans (that show has filmed here twice; the first time in my neighborhood). Even early on, I saw, in The Real World, the classic Agatha Christie set-up: a group of strangers thrown together in a confined space, forced to interact with each other and all for the benefit of cameras, some hidden and others hand-held. It seemed perfect for a classical-style locked room murder mystery; the locked room, of course, being the cameras. I toyed with it and played with the notion for several years, before finally deciding on the bizarre plot that became Mardi Gras Mambo; the first iteration of that novel was the reality show plot that I eventually lost interest in and threw away so I could start over. Reality television has taken over our culture in so many ways; you are just as likely to see a reality “star” staring at you from the covers of the tabloids and celebrity magazines in the check-out line at the grocery store as you are to see an actor or an actress or a member of British royalty. I do watch some reality television still to this day, primarily franchises of the Real Housewives, some more so than others, and other shows I absolutely will not watch, as though some of these shows are somehow more highbrow, more morally and intellectually pure, than others.

As I said the other day, I had decided to get through some of the young adult fiction in my TBR pile once I’d finished Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, and I greatly enjoyed The Truth About Alice. Reality Boy has been in my pile for quite some time; and I pulled it out and started reading it Friday night once I’d finished the Ritter and Alice. Reality Boy was, in a word, quite extraordinary; I’m not sure that I would classify it as full-on noir, but it’s definitely domestic suspense bordering on domestic noir.

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I’m the kid you saw on TV.

Remember the little freak who took a crap on his parents’ oak-stained kitchen table when they confiscated his Game Boy? Remember how the camera cleverly hid his most private parts with the glittering fake daisy and sunflower centerpiece?

That was me. Gerald. Youngest of three. Only boy, Out of control.

One time, I did it in the dressing room at the mall. Sears, I think. My mom was trying to get me to try on some pants and she got the wrong size.

“Now you stay right there,” she said. “I’ll be back with the right size.”

And to protest having to wait, or having to try on pants, or having to have a mother like her, I dropped one right there between the wicker chair and the stool where Mom’s purse was.

And no, it wasn’t excusable. I wasn’t a baby. I wasn’t even a toddler. I was five. I was sending a message.

As much as I enjoy the reality shows I watch, one thing that has always put me off about them is when adults use their children as props on these shows. It’s one thing when you’re an adult, or when your children are adults and have the kind of agency to decide whether they want their life to be turned into a circus or not. It’s entirely another when parents decide they want their young children trotted out for the cameras like some dog-and-pony show to show off what great parents they are, or how talented their children are, or how cute they are. I particularly loathed those ‘nanny’ shows, where ‘problem’ children were trained by a some Mary Poppins stand-in to be behave better when their parents can’t control them; those videos and tapes are going to, I have often felt and believed, haunt those kids for the rest of their lives.

The premise of Reality Boy is precisely that.

Gerald, at ages five and six, appeared with his family on one of those nanny shows, and his particular problem was that he defecated as a sign of rebellion and protest; in his mother’s shoes, in the hallway, etc. He became viral and forever known as the Crapper. He is now sixteen going on seventeen, his family is still just as dysfunctional as ever, and he is regularly taunted, mocked and bullied for his reality show past. Being a teen is hard enough for any number of reasons–as explored in The Truth About Alice, for example–but imagine being famous/infamous for behavior when you were a small child, on television.

Reality Boy is about Gerald’s learning to cope with his past, learning to cope with his future, and recognizing, at long last, that he could have a future. It’s exceptionally well done, and as King reveals the layers of dysfunction that led to Gerald’s behavior, the truth of his life and his own reality, why he is been labelled a problem child and a disgrace, are even more horrible. And yet Gerald has to find the strength to cope, to deal, and to by the time the book ends, there’s hope that Gerald’s life is going to get better. It’s extremely well done, Gerald comes to fully-realized life beautifully on the page, and his burgeoning relationships with new friends and maybe, even, just possibly, a girlfriend–help him to grow and understand. It’s incredibly well done, and it’s also a cautionary tale that needs to be sent to anyone who’s ever trotted their children out for the cameras for fame and money. It makes you wonder what Honey Boo-Boo’s life is going to be like when she’s seventeen, or Teresa Giudice’s daughters (they’ll probably still be on television). It also makes you wonder just how complicit those of us who watch these shows are in the possible damage being wrought on these children.

My current Scotty book has me returning to the reality well, only this time with a Real Housewives-type show. I’ve already done nine chapters, and had already decided to toss those and start over because it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go; I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say in the book. I had planned on starting it over again, but now…now I am thinking I need to sit down and think through what I want to say in it, maybe plan it a little more than I’ve ever planned a Scotty book before. I don’t know, but I’ll be keeping you posted.