Blue Christmas

And a Merry Christmas Eve Eve to you all!

I cannot believe that Christmas Eve is tomorrow. But I have three more days of my holiday weekend, and I am going to try to get some writing done around other things. The apartment is a mess–something I need to focus on today–and I need to do some writing today as well. The Saints game comes on at noon; I think I may actually cook out today–it doesn’t seem that cold outside (granted, I have my fabulous space heater on in the kitchen and it was worth every penny), and even if it is, I won’t be out there in it that much, after all.

It is incredibly tempting, though, to blow it all off and not do a damned thing, as it is every damned day. I know tomorrow and Christmas I will undoubtedly do one of those but it’s a holiday! justifications to not do a fucking thing, kind of like I do on weekends–everyone else gets a weekend! 

This, as you can see, is why nothing ever gets done.

I mean, even now as I glance around the kitchen at the piles of paper than need to be filed and the dishes that need to be washed and the clothes that need to be folded, I just think fuck this I’m going to go read for a while.

I said the other day I needed to diversify my reading in the new year, which means moving all those books I’ve bought by minority writers to the top of the pile. I also think I need to read some non-crime genre novels in the new year; I think reading a lot outside of the genre in which you write helps you as a writer, just as reading the best in your own genre will inspire you. Obviously, reading outside my own experience as a white person should also broaden my mind. And you know, I am really looking forward to this, as well as continuing the Short Story Project going into the new year.

So, I think I am going to spend the rest of 2018 rereading some Stephen King (The Shining and Pet Sematary, to be exact) and then I might give The Other by Thomas Tryon a quick reread as well. And then moving into 2019, I’ll finish the novel I started reading this past week and then move into some minority writers interspersed with some of the non-crime novels I have in the pile.

And we’ll see what happens.


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


Real Love

Thursday morning feeling fine. How’s about you and your’n?

I wrote another chapter of Bury Me in Satin last night, and it’s….rough. But it’s a first draft, and usually I use the first draft as more of an extended outline rather than anything else; to get the story out, get a feel for the characters, and work out subplots and whether they work or not. The story, which has swirled amorphously in my mind for years now, is starting to emerge from those shadows and take shape, which is kind of cool (even after however many books it is I’ve written, this still amazes me every time it happens).

The day job move continues apace; yesterday I worked at the main office, helping to pack up stuff and clear things out–as with any move, it’s startling to see how much has accumulated over the years, and stuff that needed to be either shredded or thrown away years ago somehow just got put in a box and filed away somewhere. We all do this, I know; there’s nothing like moving to force you to purge.

I managed to borrow a copy of Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon from my friend Susan yesterday, and I am really looking forward to reading it. I can’t believe, as I have said many times recently, how little actual New Orleans history I’ve read; the only actual history I’ve read is the delightful Frenchmen Desire Goodchildren, John Churchill Chase’s brilliant history of the city, told through how the streets were named; and given the unique and strange street names we have here, it makes for a fun read. I highly recommend it; I may even need to take another read through its pages at some point. One of the most interesting things–to me at any rate–is how little mention there is of queer New Orleans history in so many of these books. It’s hinted at obliquely, or in passing–veiled references to “sodomy shows” and the occasional side reference to male prostitutes in Storyville in Empire of Sin–and even looking through the indexes of some of these books you find no mention of sodomy, homosexuality, or any of the other key secret words you would expect to find–which means my research is going to be difficult if not nigh impossible. But the best news about this is I have so many friends and connections in the city with research–I have a lot of friends at the Historic New Orleans Collection; I have friends who are local historians; and of course there are enormous archives at the UNO library, the public library, and at Tulane.

The only question is when will I have the time to do this research?

Time for me is always the question. And while I self-deprecate and self-lacerate a lot about my laziness, the truth is I just don’t have a lot of spare time–and I can’t work non-stop. You have to be able to recharge, relax, and rest, otherwise the work you do isn’t going to be much good.

But once the day-job move is over and I settle into yet another new weekly schedule and adapt, I think I’ll be able to get things going. And I am really looking forward to spending more time in the library.


Hold Me Now

Happy Thanksgiving! We have our deep dish pizza in the refrigerator, which we will be heating up later when our friend Lisa comes over to watch some movies; which is what we do every year for Thanksgiving. (Lisa is the one who introduced us to each other.) Today I am going to take a day off from writing and stressing; no news, no worries. Paul is going in to the office tomorrow, so I’ll have tomorrow to do some writing and editing and so forth and I also have Monday off as well. He’s departing to visit his mom for a week one week from today as well. So, yes, today is the day where I am not going to be stressed about anything and just relax and enjoy the day. I’ll probably spend Saturday doing copy edits and working on the Scotty Bible (which means, going through the books with post-it notes to mark pages with references to regular characters so I can check for continuity).

I finished reading Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds last night, and it is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year; it’s a remarkable concept, and Sternbergh delivers on it completely. It’s just exceptional. I’m going to review it here, but I am going to let my thoughts on it brew for another couple of days or so. I also started reading Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley last night, and while I am only a few chapters in, it’s already blowing me away. This is some extraordinary writing and character development, people. I have Ivy’s earlier books in my enormous TBR pile, but I wanted to read this one and review it since it’s more current; her books will be moving up in the TBR pile now. I’ve now read some amazing books back to back; If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, The Wife by Alafair Burke, and now The Blinds, and as I said, the Pochoda is also exceptional; I’ll be reviewing the others here closer to their release dates.

Glad I am not judging any awards this year or next. Whoa.

After abandoning the other short story I started working on another one. I wrote its first draft about thirty years ago, and of course, it’s terrible, but I liked the main character and I liked the setting, which are about the only things I am keeping for the story. I have, over the years, realized that the story is actually a great noir set up, so I am revising it accordingly, and while the story was originally about unrequited gay desire…I am changing it to something darker. The gay desire will still be there, but it’s just going to be a lot darker. This draft is just to get the story down; after which I will do another draft to deepen the characters, and then another to make the story itself stronger and more horrific/shocking, and then once more for language. This was the problem with the other story; I couldn’t get the story down and it was taking forever. (Although I am now itching to take another run at it, if you can believe that. Lord.)

And on that note I am going back to the spice mines. I need to get this place looking more ship-shape before Lisa arrives, and I have a shit ton of filing and organizing to do.

Here’s something I have always been thankful for: Calvin Klein underwear ads.


Take Time to Know Her

I finished reading  Cleopatra’s Shadows last night. Over all, I enjoyed it, but with all due respect to Emily Holleman, I didn’t love it. I already knew the story of Cleopatra’s sisters, Berenice and Arsinoe, so I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new from it, so that wasn’t the issue I had. I thought it was interesting that the book focused on the brief period of time when Berenice deposed her father and took the Egyptian throne. Usually, fiction about Cleopatra generally begins with Julius Caesar’s arrival in Alexandria and her being snuck into his presence rolled up inside of a rug; which, admittedly, is quite a romantic beginning and you can’t really go wrong starting there. The first book I ever read about Cleopatra–a bio for kids called Cleopatra of Egypt, written by Leonora Hornblow and illustrated by W. T. Mars–began with her fleeing from Alexandria out of fear her brother/husband Ptolemy XIII was going to kill her; and she rose an army and started a civil war. This war interrupted grain shipments to Rome–which was in the midst of its own civil war, between Pompey and Caesar. Caesar had just defeated Pompey, who fled to the court of the Ptolemies; Caesar pursued him there and also aimed to settle the Egyptian civil war. Ptolemy famously beheaded Pompey, thinking he would please Caesar by doing so; instead, he pissed him off, which made Caesar more inclined to be sympathetic to Cleopatra, who was actually Cleopatra VII. But one of the most interesting things to me about Hornblow’s book–which was for kids, mind you–was that she talked about Berenice’s rebellion and usurpation, as well as that of Cleopatra’s younger sister, Arsinoe–and how Cleopatra was present in Rome for the Roman Triumph in which Arsinoe was marched, in chains, behind a chariot…and that was the motivation behind her own suicide when she lost to Rome; she refused to be subjected to the same humiliations in front of the Roman mob that her sister endured.

cleopatra of egypt

I found a copy of it on ebay a few years back, and bought it again. I kind of always wanted to write about both sisters, honestly.

So, obviously, I was very excited to read Cleopatra’s Shadows.

It isn’t that the book wasn’t well-written; it was, and I am sure, as Holleman is a historical scholar, it was undoubtedly incredibly well-researched. What was disappointing to me was that Holleman didn’t give either sister agency. The Ptolemy dynasty,  Macedonian Greeks descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals who was rewarded with Egypt after Alexander’s death and the break-up of his empire, was known for it’s intelligent, highly educated and ruthless women. Like the Egyptian pharaohs of old, the Ptolemies married their sisters to keep the dynasty pure, and while there aren’t a lot of records–the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria to blame for this–there is enough evidence that the sister-wives were actually, in many instances, co-rulers and just as ruthless as the males. Each male pharaoh took the name Ptolemy; their sister/wives/queens were named either Cleopatra, Berenice, Arsinoe or Selene–or a combination of two of those names. Again, there is also evidence that Ptolemaic queens disappeared–probably murdered by their husbands, and the ‘pure bloodline’ wasn’t quite so pure, as the unions were sometimes sterile and other women, concubines, were brought in to bear children for the pharaoh. The plotting and machinations of the Ptolemaic court, the struggles for power, are endlessly fascinating to me; even in the children’s book which was my first introduction to the most famous (notorious) Cleopatra this was very clear.

So, the characters of Berenice and Arsinoe as Helleman chose to depict them were disappointing to me. Berenice was, per this novel, the only true child of a royal brother/sister pair; and her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, the Piper, was not a popular ruler. The premise of this story is that Ptolemy tired of his sister/wife Tryphaena and her inability to bear him a healthy son, so he banished her from court and replaced her with a beautiful concubine, who bore him four children–Cleopatra, Arsinoe, and two young males both named Ptolemy. Berenice’s revolution and overthrow of her father was apparently more based in the bitterness of mother and daughter in being supplanted by the concubine (never named) and her children more than anything else. And while it is all too frequently true that kingdoms and history were shaped by family disputes, rivalries, and romances/loves/jealousies, but I always kind of admired Berenice. The strong woman I always imagined she must have been, strong enough to raise a rebellion against an unpopular king, and to be successful, was not the character Helleman wrote about, who was vacillating, weak, and insecure.

Likewise, the younger sister, whose point of view the story is also told from, Arsinoe, is completely obsessed with her older sister Cleopatra, and barely a page in her point of view passes without so mention of how much she misses her sister. She never thinks about either her father or her mother, and given she is a child, that’s a bit more understandable. But Arsinoe eventually leads her own rebellion against Cleopatra’s rule, so clearly she too is an ambitious young woman as well as intelligent one, one foolhardy enough to rise the Egyptian people up against the Roman legions who have come to Alexandria to back up her sister, and I get no sense of that strong woman in this child. Things just happen to Arsinoe, and while there are slight hints of the politician in her being trained and brought to the fore in the lessons she is learning at the court of a sister who despises both her and her mother, for the most part she is just someone things  happen to–and she never grasps the idea that she should stop being passive and maybe make things happen. The Ptolemies were notoriously ruthless in killing people and relatives who might pose a threat; a pragmatism that may seem horrific to our modern-day sensibilities of family ties but something that was absolutely necessary for them to keep their thrones and their power secure. In fact, Berenice’s advisors want her to kill Arsinoe, but she refuses, and never gives any reason for doing so, which weakens her character still further.

It’s a good read, and it’s well-written and interesting, but I was disappointed with the characters, frankly. I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and is interested in the period.

And it did revive my interest in the Ptolemies.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Shadow Dancing

I woke up feeling well-rested this morning, and even before the alarm went off (not MY alarm, but still a win in my book). It’s Friday, and I have survived the three day work week after Mardi Gras. Huzzah! Or perhaps I am getting ahead of myself–but waking up rested on a Friday morning and not feeling tired is always a win in my book. Huzzah indeed!

I didn’t write anything yesterday, but I can still blame the post-Carnival malaise, can’t I? Although I have been getting a lot of cleaning and organizing done, which is always a plus, and makes me happy. I also got some things from the Container Store–little trays that attach to the wall, to hold things like shampoo and so forth in the shower. Looks so much better than that horrible metal rack thing hanging from the shower railing. I also hung another one in my bathroom downstairs to hold my shaving supplies to clear up space on the sink. I still have two left, and am not sure what I am going to do with those. I also bought a new hand vacuum, and actually mounted the holder myself in the bathroom on the wall. SO butch.

I’m currently reading a cozy named Peaches and Scream by Susan Furlong, who also did the Alabama library weekend with me a couple of weeks back. She was really nice and funny, so I bought a copy of this first book in her second series and I am enjoying it. I am also looking forward to reading Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, and once I finish that I am digging out Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad; I am going to see him speak on Thursday night and am really looking forward to it.

And the Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners is just around the corner. Sheesh, where did this year go?

All right, back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk for you, to start off the weekend right:

Thank You for the Music

I have a late night of bar testing tonight, and as such got to sleep in a bit this morning, which was quite lovely. I am having lunch with a dear friend tomorrow (huzzah!), and I don’t really have any errands to run today before I go in to the office. I could, of course, run a few–there’s always something that needs to be done–but I can make a Costco run this weekend, as well as swing by the grocery store. I also have to pick up my license plate from the dealership, but I think I will also postpone that till next week. Plus I don’t have any deadlines, so I don’t have to worry about getting writing done this weekend so…yes, I can just run errands with a clear conscience this weekend and not worry about “when am I going to get my word count done?”

SO lovely, really. (And I may change my mind and run over to the dealership later today on the way to work….but it’s lovely having options.)

I do have some things around the house I need to get caught up–some cabinets need reorganizing and cleaning out; as do some of my kitchen drawers, and there’s always filing. Carnival is looming on the horizon; Krewe de Vieux is this weekend, and from all the reports I’ve heard and things I’ve seen on-line, with its theme of “The Crass Menagerie” they will be taking on the administration in Washington this year in their vulgar, hilarious and satiric fashion. I was reading some of the the descriptions of some of the floats and themes for the marching groups aloud to Paul last night and he replied, “So, when all of the pictures and videos go viral, the White House will declare war on New Orleans Sunday, won’t they?”

I replied, “I guess it depends on what Saturday Night Live does, really.”

I think, though, this morning I am just going to relax and ease into my late night. Drinking coffee, having some breakfast, and curling up in the easy chair with Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things does seem like just the right way for the day to get going, doesn’t it?

I’m also still a bit aglow from the weekend. It’s really so lovely to be around other writers and people who love books and love to read. It also recharges the batteries and feeds the creative muscles. Yesterday between clients I jotted down notes for a cozy mystery series I’ve been wanting to write for years, and could never quite wrap my mind around; oddly enough, after a weekend in Alabama I was able to get it all to click together in my head. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, but it was a lovely moment as all those clicks popped into place, you know? That’s always nice.

So, my chair and my book are calling to me, so I will leave you now, Constant Reader, with a hunk to get your day off to a great start.

The Edge of Heaven

The end of the year is nigh.

I have a lot to do (of course, as always) over the next few days. I am already tired, just thinking about it, of course, but hey–such is life. I have to work late tonight again, and really should have made a grocery run this morning but I overslept, so there’s that. There is, of course, still time, if I get my act together and get moving, but right now that doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Heavy sigh.

But–probably better to get it done today than to try over the weekend. Nothing will be open on Sunday because of the holiday, and I can’t imagine that Saturday morning before out lunch at Commander’s Palace would be any better. Possible to do, but still most likely a madhouse.

Although Monday is a paid holiday for me, and apparently Costco will be open. Hmmmm. If I can do the grocery store this morning, and Costco on Monday…

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

Anyway, I feel confident I can get the errands run I need to this weekend around writing and football games….although to be honest, I don’t really care about the bowl games other than LSU’s this year; I may watch some to kill some time or while reading, but other than that–meh.

I am going to read George Pelaconos’ The Way Home next, and then I am going to start trying to get caught up on series I have fallen behind on–I’m looking at you, Ranger series by Ace Atkins, in particular–and of course, January’s goal is to read and write about a short story every day, so I am gathering my short story collections and anthologies close. I don’t want to write about a story I’ve already read and written about (alas, “Don’t Look Now” by Daphne du Maurier will have to be excluded from this as I’ve talked about it ad nauseum; but a reread of “A Rose for Emily” is definitely in order), so the idea is to read stories that are new to me, and then write about them.

And now, I need to get ready for work and mine some spice.

Here’s today’s hunk:

Midnight at the Oasis

Stephen King. What is there left to say about Stephen King? From the first moment I read Carrie, I was a fan. I’d read a lot before I discovered him; and yet his writing was a revelation to me. What he was able to do with setting, with character, the way he made his stories–regardless of subject matter–relentlessly realistic opened my eyes to what one can accomplish with writing. Over the years, as I’ve continued to read King (I still am not completely caught up; I am several books behind–the days when I could buy the book on release day and devour it in one or two sittings are sadly, far in the past), I continue to marvel at his extraordinary expertise. And while some of his books seem to go off the rails a bit, I would be proud to claim any of what I consider his lesser books (and by that I mean ‘ones I am not as fond of as others’) as my own: The Tommyknockers, Rose Madder, Dreamcatcher. I used to reread his books, over and over again–I don’t even know how many times I’ve reread salem’s Lot and The Stand and The Dead Zone and Christine, for example; and I wish I had the time to sit down and reread them all, from Carrie on. His On Writing is the one text I would tell every beginning writer to read from beginning to end, commit to memory, go back to whenever needed.

But I decided I wanted to talk about a different Stephen King title today: Danse Macabre.


As I often point out, I am more of a fan of horror than anything else; I’ve not read as widely in the genre as I would like, nor do I even know enough about the genre to write about subgenres and subcategories expertly. There are any number of horror writers whose oeuvres I’ve stuck my toe into, and found the water just fine, but haven’t had the time to fully commit to reading: Christopher Golden, Gemma Files, Douglas Clegg, Brian Keene, Nick Cutter, and John Boyne, just off the top of my head, and there are many more. There is just so much time, after all, and there are just so damned many books; and as someone who is primarily defined professionally as a crime writer, I have to read so much within my own genre, not to mention true crime–and of course, I love my nonfiction, which I can just walk away from without too much worry of having to go back to the beginning to start over.

But I do feel that King’s Danse Macabre, published originally in 1981, is an excellent overview of the horror genre up until that date. King’s non-fiction writing is very similar to his fiction; it’s smart but also accessible. And it’s excellent; it is serious scholarship about the genre of horror, written by the grandest master of the grand masters, talking in an accessible way about the best books, the best writers, the best films, and the best television programs within the genre…how they influenced his own work, and why. It’s truly exceptional.

I’ve always had a copy of Danse Macabre–well, I’ve always had a copy of every Stephen King book in my house–and it’s been a long time since I’ve revisited it. I may, once I tire of rereading Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots, give it another whirl. Reading it the first time was what reminded me of Richard Matheson, introduced me to other writers like Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison (my God, Harlan Ellison) and even, for the first time, made me truly aware of Shirley Jackson; reading this was what sent me to the used bookstores in search of books by these authors again, and I’ve never regretted those forays into their work–Ellison and Jackson are certainly up there on my list of absolute favorites, and many of the others I originally found through reading Danse Macabre are certainly favorites.

And that’s not even including the television shows and movies.

And now, back to the spice mines.