Heavenly Action

I’ve always been—undoubtedly in part because I love history so much—an enormous fan of books where secrets from the past (even the far distant past) play an enormous part in the present lives of the characters in the story, and that solving those mysteries, learning the truth about the past, is necessary in the present for conflict resolution. As a history buff, the lack of a lengthy history as a nation is something I’ve always thought unfortunate; without ancient buildings and the way that history isn’t sort of always there in our faces the way it is in Italy or other older nations, it’s difficult for many Americans to either grasp, be interested in, or give a shit about our history—we have as a nation the attention span of a goldfish (thanks, Ted Lasso, for that reference).

To make a side by side historical comparison, for example, the Habsburg dynasty dominated central Europe for almost six hundred years, whereas the first European to actually arrive and establish a colony were under the aegis and flag of the Habsburg king of Spain—and that was in the early sixteenth century.

Secrets of the past casting a shadow over the lives of the living is often a theme in Gothics, my favorite style of novel/writing (noir is a close second). Rebecca is of course the master class in secrets of the past; the first Mrs. deWinter might not actually be haunting the halls of Manderley literally, but her ghost is definitely there. Victoria Holt’s romantic suspense novels inevitably were set in some enormous old mansion or castle, with potential ghosts a-plenty everywhere you turn. Phyllis A. Whitney’s one novel set in Britain—Hunter’s Green—also has a classic old British mansion with a potential ghost in it. Maybe it was the childhood interest in kids’ series, with the reliance on secret passages, hidden rooms, and proving that ghosts were frauds; every episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You? had the gang proving something supernatural was quite human in origin.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books when I was a kid was The Ghost of Blackwood Hall; I don’t really remember much of the story now, other than a fraudulent haunting was involved and a woman—Mrs. Putney—was being swindled by a medium? (Reading the synopses on a Nancy Drew website, apparently part of the story involves Nancy and the gang coming to New Orleans, which I absolutely do not remember; my only Nancy Drew-New Orleans memory is The Haunted Showboat—involving yet another haunting. Interesting.) When I was writing the original short story (“Ruins”) I needed a name for the old burned-out plantation house; I decided to pay homage to Nancy Drew by naming it Blackwood Hall, and naming Jake’s maternal ancestor’s family Blackwood (his grandmother was a Blackwood, married a Donelson; Jake has his father’s last name, which is Chapman). I did think about changing this from time to time during the drafting of Bury Me in Shadows, but finally decided to leave it as it was. It might make Nancy Drew readers smile and wonder, and those who didn’t read Nancy Drew, obviously won’t catch it.

Hey, at least I didn’t call it Hill House.

But writing about ghosts inevitably makes one wonder about the afterlife and how it all works; if there is such a thing as ghosts, ergo it means that we all have souls and spirits that can remain behind or move on after we die. So what does writing about ghosts—or writing a ghost story—mean for the writer as far as their beliefs are concerned?

Religion primarily came into existence because ignorant humans needed an explanation for the world around them, combined with a terror about dying. It is impossible for a human mind to comprehend nothingness (whenever I try, I can’t get past “there has to be something in order for there to be nothing, you cannot have nothing unless you have something” and that just bounces around in my head until it starts to hurt); likewise, whenever I try to imagine even the Big Bang Theory, I can’t get past “but there had to be something to explode” and yeah, my head starts to hurt. Even as a kid in church, studying the Old Testament and Genesis, I could never get past “but where did God come from?” I don’t begrudge anyone anything that gives them comfort—unless it starts to impede on me. I’ve studied religions and myths on my own since I was a kid; the commonalities between them all speak to a common experience and need in humanity, regardless of where in the world those humans evolved; a fear of the unknown, and an attempt to explain those fears away by coming up with a mythology that explains how everything exists, why things happen, and what happens when you die. (I am hardly an expert, but theology is an amateur interest of mine, along with Biblical history, the history of the development of Christianity, and end-times beliefs.)

Ghosts, and spirits, have been used since humanity drew art on cave walls with charcoal to explain mysterious happenings that couldn’t be otherwise explained. I am not as interested in malevolent spirits—ghosts that do harm—as I am in those who, for whatever reason, are trapped on this plane and need to be freed. This was a common theme in Barbara Michaels’ ghost stories (see: Ammie Come Home, House of Many Shadows, Witch, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) in which the present-day characters must solve the mystery from the past; why is the ghost haunting this house and what happened to them that caused them to remain behind? I used this theme—spirits trapped by violent deaths in this plane whose truth must be uncovered in so they can be put to rest—in Lake Thirteen and returned to it with Bury Me in Shadows. I did, of course, worry that I was simply writing the same book over again; repeating myself is one of my biggest fears (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?), but the two books, I think, are different enough that it’s not the same story.

At least I can convince myself of that, at any rate.

There’s a few more ghost stories I want to write, actually; (it also just occurred to me that there was a ghost in Jackson Square Jazz, the second Scotty book) any number of which come from those legends my grandmother used to tell me as a child. I have this great idea for one I’ve been wanting to write set here in New Orleans for a very long time called “The Weeping Nun;” I have the entire ghost’s story written in my head, I just don’t have a modern story to wrap around it (same issue I have with my New Orleans ghost story book, Voices in an Empty Room) and of course there’s “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain,” a short story about another Corinth County ghost I started writing and got to about five thousand words before the ghost even made an appearance. That great length is why I shelved the story—and now, of course, I realize I can do it as a novella, which is amazing news and life-changing, really. “Whim of the Wind,” the very first Corinth County story I ever wrote, is also kind of a ghost story, and maybe someday I’ll find the key to making it publishable (although I think I already did figure it out, thanks to the brilliance of an Art Taylor short story).

I’ve always believed part of the reason I was drawn so strongly to New Orleans is because the past is still very much a part of the present here—though not so much as we New Orleanians would like to believe, as several Facebook groups I belong to about the history of New Orleans often show how often and rapidly the cityscape has changed over the years—and you can sometimes even feel here, at times, under the right conditions (fog and/or mist are usually involved) like you’ve gone back in time, through a rip in the time/space continuum; which is something I’d actually like to write someday here—but that’s just an amorphous idea skittering through my brain.

And of course, I have an idea for a paranormal series set in a fictional parish here in Louisiana. I think about it every now and again, but am really not sure how I want to do it. I know doing a paranormal Louisiana town series will get me accused of ripping off Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, but that’s fine. I don’t think I would be doing vampire kings or queens or any of the directions Ms. Harris went with her series. (Monsters of Louisiana and Monsters of New Orleans—paranormal/crime short story collections—may also still happen; one never knows, really.)

As hard as it was sometimes to write, I think Bury Me in Shadows turned out better than I could have hoped. I think it captured the mood and atmosphere I was going for; I think I made my narrator just unreliable enough to keep the reader unsure of what’s going on in the story; and I think I managed to tell a Civil War ghost story (it’s more than just that, but that’s how I’ve always thought of it and that’s a very hard, apparently, habit for me to break.

I hope people do read and like it. We shall see how it goes, shall we not?

Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

It’s Not Right But It’s Okay

Sunday morning and it’s probably about time that I get back to work. I don’t want to–this birthday mini-vacation has been quite lovely–but I have things that need to be finished and turned in by the end of this month (hello, edits and revisions) and I have to stop putting that off. I only have to go to the office twice this week–tomorrow and Tuesday–before my Bouchercon vacation begins–but my plans for that time is to get things done and then take time to myself.

Well, I may take Wednesday as a day off. I need to drive around New Orleans and do some research; Wednesday should be perfect for doing that, methinks….so maybe taking a day off to begin with to get into the groove of getting everything done that needs to be done by the end of the month could wait until Thursday to get started…but then on the other hand, maybe it a sight-seeing research trip around the Irish Channel wouldn’t be a huge distraction from getting things done that day….alas, I was supposed to have dinner with great friends that night (fucking Delta variant anyway) but I am going to try, very hard, not to let these things disappoint or depress me. That’s a sure way to guarantee I’ll get nothing done.

I started reading Megan Abbott’s The Turnout yesterday and was, of course, immediately enthralled. She manages to somehow lure you in with the opening sentence, something cryptic, eerie, and yet compelling. Her books always have this same voice–I’d say mournful, but that’s not accurate either–always a variation that fits the story and the characters, but that lyrical, poetic, economic way of establishing mood and dramatic tension is almost ethereal and dream-like; even if the dream will, as always, eventually bare its teeth at the reader. God, how I wish I could write like that. I always wonder how writers as gifted as she write their books–do they write a sentence and then agonize over how to find the right words that create the right rhythm, or do they agonize over which word to add as they go? Me? I just vomit out three thousand or so words at a time and then go back and try to make it say what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it; nothing poetic, lyrical, or dream-like about my work. But I write the way I write–I used to want to be Faulkner when I was in college; I think it’s fairly safe to say that ship has sailed–and I cannot be terribly disappointed by anything I write anymore. I am pleased with the work I am doing–have been doing–and as long as I remain pleased by everything I write going forward, I am going to be just fine. I am intending to spend some more time with Megan Abbott this morning before diving into the edits/revisions before heading to the gym; and intend to do even more revisions/edits after my brief workout this afternoon.

We started watching The White Lotus last night and I am on the fence. I really don’t care much for any of the characters–the acting is terrific, the writing is fine, but I can’t wrap my mind around a point, if there even is one, you know? I rewatched this week’s Ted Lasso, and one thing I’ve noticed–there are so many lovely little touches to this show–that is one of my favorite things is that Keeley always laughs at Ted’s jokes, no matter how corny, no matter how bad the pun–she always laughs, and she always did, from the absolute beginning. In fact, Keeley was the first character on the show to see and accept and like Ted; which made her even more likable.

I also managed to finally get my TCM app working on the Apple TV yesterday–you’ve always needed a television provider for access; once I let Cox go it wouldn’t allow me to use Hulu, but now it does–and I immediately cued up and watched The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a terrific noir with Barbara Stanwyck as Martha…and as I watched, I realized how much that plot device–a murder committed and covered up by kids, only to have everything come home to roost when they’re adults–gets used a lot today. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a kid, with my grandmother; WGN used to show old movies after the 10:00 pm news in Chicago as well as every afternoon at 3:30 (which is where my educational grounding in classic old films started). I’d forgotten that the magnificent Judith Anderson played Stanwyck’s horrible old aunt that she winds up killing; Anderson was robbed of Oscars at so many turns in her film career–Rebecca, And Then There Were None, this–it really is a shame; but at least those great performances are preserved forever on film. I am very excited, to say the least, about having access to the full range of TCM again; I can now watch movies instead of getting sucked into watching old LSU games on Youtube or history videos (I’ve been watching a lot of biographies of the Bourbon royal family of France during the seventeenth century, and will ask again: why has no queer biographer/historian/novelist written about Louis XIV’s openly gay brother, Monsieur, Philippe duc d’Orleans?). Just glancing through the app yesterday, there were so many movies I wanted to either see for the first time, or rewatch for the first time since I was a child…and of course, watching old film noir (along with reading old noir novels) works as research for Chlorine.

That’s me, multi-tasking and always finding a way to justify wasting time/procrastination. I am quite good at it as well, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I also woke up earlier–well, I woke up around the time I usually do, just got out of bed earlier than usual. The last few days of not getting up before nine, while lovely and restful, also managed to somehow keep the lethargy going throughout the rest of the day. I am hopeful that will not be the case today. I am going to spend an hour or so immersed in Megan’s new book, and then I intend to straighten things up around the kitchen before digging into the edits/revisions of the Kansas book–which I have allowed to languish for far too long–and I also need to clean out some things (spoiled food) from the refrigerator as well as try to get my lunches prepared for the two days in the office this week.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you on the morrow.

If I Can’t Have You

Friday!

I feel very rested this morning; I’ve been sleeping well (thank you, medication) ever since last week, and am probably jinxing myself this morning for tonight’s sleep, but it is astonishing what not having insomnia feels like, and how literally marvelous that actually is. Yesterday was nice and relaxing; I made condom packs and other day-job related things around here all day, while doing the laundry and cleaning the kitchen (sort of); today I will be making more condom packs as well as doing various other day-job related things while watching some thing on television. I am now caught up on Superman and Lois (seriously, the best Superman adaptation since Christopher Reeve; if you’re a Superman fan, you really need to watch this show) and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–which isn’t quite as absorbing as it has been before; it’s difficult to watch the Erica Girardi performances as “victim” without wanting to slap the smug smirk off her criminal face–and am not entirely sure what to watch today–I forgot to check with Paul about Loki–but I am sure I can find something.

I also neither read nor wrote yesterday; the desktop computer isn’t working as great as it could/should and I suspect I am going to eventually need to replace this bitch once and for all, which is galling, but it’s also, now that I think about it, fairly old. It was at least two or three at the time of the Great Data Disaster of 2018, and that’s almost three years ago as is. I hate spending the money–would actually prefer not to, in all honesty–but it is something I really need for my work and it is a complete tax write-off. I ordered a wireless mouse to use for the laptop–I lost the old one, and have looked for it everywhere–which should also arrive today, so working in my easy chair should be a lot easier as far as that is concerned going forward as well. I am also looking forward to paying off the car and some of these outstanding bills–which has also helped with my sleep, quite honestly–and so maybe, just maybe, I should get a new computer as a birthday gift to myself. I can’t really decide, to be honest. I mean, I could take this one back in and have them install more memory into it, but I am also not entirely certain that is the wisest course to take. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as my coffee continues to warm and wake up my brain from the deepest recesses of sleep, I see all kinds of things I really need to get done around here–I am going to bag up some more beads to donate, for example–and maybe I can start working on clearing things out of the attic. That’s a great, if problematic, project–I hate that little ladder that folds down and it attached to the trap door to the attic, and when I’m standing on it that creates an issue getting things up and down from there–but I can handle getting over my ladder phobia for a little while, and of course there’s no need for me to be going up and down; it can be done bit by bit.

And let’s be completely honest here–I’m not going to read anything that’s stored in the attic, am I?

So that can all go. And while I have been saving my papers almost from the very first–I don’t know, maybe I should try to see if there’s an archive still interested in them. I don’t think there will be much interest in them, or me, once I’ve left this mortal coil–I can’t imagine MFA or PhD candidates ever needing or wanting access to them, nor can I imagine I would be the subject of future biographies and/or scholarly research. And that isn’t me being self-deprecating, either–I am trying to watch out for that stuff, to be honest–and I have to wonder if I am, in fact, hoarding the paper. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Heavy sigh.

But it’s a lovely morning, and I need to make a to-do list for the weekend. One thing for sure I need to do is take boxes of condom packs back to the office (thus clearing out the living room) and pick up the mail; I also need to pick up a prescription. This should all be relatively easy to accomplish; the question is how do I want to do this all, and in what order to maximize my efficiency as I am out and about in the world. I feel pretty good, and that bodes well for my visit to the gym after I get my work done. I want to focus mostly on reading and writing this weekend–often a challenge–and trying to get caught up on everything.

Some day, methinks–or me-dreams–I will be finally caught up on everything. Ha ha ha ha, I still can crack myself up when I put my mind to it, can’t I?

I was also thinking, yesterday, as I made my condom packs and listened to the accessory-after-the-fact nonsense on Real Housewives, about my twisted view on gay relationships when it comes to writing about them; one of the things I’ve always been interested in is relationships gone bad, turned sour, and how to adapt common criminality tropes used for heterosexual couples for gay ones. One of the things I found so interesting about PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus was the power imbalance between Nathan and Oliver, and how that dynamic deeply affected not only how they saw each other but how they interacted with each other. The tired cliché love is blind isn’t really quite so tired when your couple is no longer opposite-sex; those dynamics really haven’t been as explored in queer relationships in crime novels so much as its been done to death for straight ones. When I wrote Timothy, I wasn’t playing with the romantic suspense trope (as Rebecca is so frequently and commonly mistaken considered) as I was writing a gay noir with a completely untrustworthy narrator–how innocent is Mrs. deWinter, after all? I have other ideas, of course (as always) for other explorations of noir and gay characters who aren’t on the up-and-up; there used to be a sense that gay characters in gay fiction had to be heroic in some one–no matter how flawed they were in service to the story they might be–because we needed to create them since history and most literature erased our existence. But things have changed, and I don’t feel that tiresome burden anymore–which I didn’t take terribly seriously in the first place if we’re being completely honest; the villain in Murder in the Rue Dauphine was a gay man, after all–but I no longer feel, when I am creating a character or starting to write something that I need my characters to be role models; that is a subconscious thought I am not sorry to have to consider anymore. Certainly my short story characters are not heroic people; they are damaged and flawed and often driven to their breaking point by circumstances beyond their control. My main character in “Festival of the Redeemer” is certainly incredibly flawed and more than a little unreliable; his mental instability and horrific, almost emotionally crippling insecurities are fun to write if emotionally exhausting.

And on that note, I am starting my day. May yours be a fabulous and amazing Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

Got to Be Real

Here it is, Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day yet again–MADNESS.

I wrote about twelve hundred words or so last night–not bad but not great–but it was also a transitional section of the novella, as we get ready to launch into the third and final act, and I’ve always struggled with transitions.But that’s cool–I did get twelve hundred words out before giving up the ghost for the evening–and while the night was not as productive as recent writing sessions, I’ll take whatever I can these days; especially on a work-at-the-office day, which tend to be more wearing than work-at-home days. Tonight, for example, after work I need to run errands before getting home and going to the gym, so not only do I have a very short window for writing, but I will also most likely be very worn out from the work out (even though it is likely to be a half-assed weeknight workout). But since this is a short week, I will be home for the next two days…

I am making a lot of progress on my efforts to get the apartment under control; I was expecting to be further along by now than I am, but Monday for whatever reason I was so exhausted I couldn’t get anything really done–cleaning or writing. I am also beginning to get the sense that July is starting to slip through my fingers again–never a good thing; I hate that time is beginning to feel like quicksilver in my hands, before I know it, it will be my birthday and I will be sixty–but the right amount of focus should be able to get me back into gear. Last night wasn’t a good night for sleeping, alas; but perhaps tonight will give me the rest I need. I am seeing my new doctor next week at long last; I am going to talk to him about upping the prescription refills and possibly prescribing something non-narcotic to help me sleep. I think Ambien is not a narcotic, but isn’t that the medication where people do things–like sleep-walk or sleep-drive? That makes me nervous…I get into enough trouble without having to add the worry of getting in trouble while I am asleep.

It looks to be a gloomy, rainy day today; which is never helpful when I am already feeling sleepy. But I shall make it through, and I will go to the gym, and I will pay these pesky bastard bills, and I will get some writing done. So let it be written, so let it be done.

I think we’re going to start watching a Swedish show on Netflix, Young Royals, which appears to be an angsty teen soap at an exclusive school with some queer content, which makes it all the more fun. I also need to get back to reading Bath Haus. My copy of S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears should be arriving today; I am itching to sink my teeth into that one, and of course I’ve got some other Diversity Project books piled up on my end table–there’s Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime–which I’ve been putting off reading because it’s set in Venice, and I wanted to get the first draft of “Festival of the Redeemer” finished before I read another gay crime story set in Venice. And since that draft is now finished–and now that I know how it ends, and I do think the ending is perfect; I just have to go through it and clean it up significantly, including rewriting some of the passages–I can move on to the Bollen after I finish the Cosby. I also have David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts on the table, and I really want to get to that one, too.

Not to mention everything I have on the iPad. I was thinking on my drive to work this morning that I really would like to go back and reread Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk?–I really enjoyed the Reread Project when I was having difficulty reading during the pandemic; and I am overdue on my reread of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which may be my favorite book of all time; I also want to read some more of the du Mauriers that I have not already read, like The House on the Strand, Rule Britannia, and The Parasites.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

I Think I’m In Love With You

Good morning, Friday, hope all is well with everyone out there in Constant Readerland, as we head into a three day weekend. HUZZAH!

I didn’t write again yesterday–I know, I know; I’m trying not to read the worst into two days of not writing back-to-back–but I did reread both “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” (what’s done so far), and yes, both need revision and work and clean-up, but they also aren’t as terrible and won’t require near as much work as I might have feared (well, did fear). I got the tone and mood right, which was the most important thing in these drafts, and what I was really looking for in the rereading. I was also worried they might start too slow, or be too wordy, before the story gets underway–a worry one has with a novella; finding the right spot to start because you have more room than in a short story and thus there’s a danger of that happening. But overall, I am quite pleased with both. I am going to get back to work on “Stranger” today after work, and I am then going to spend some time with a revision of “Redeemer.” I also reread other stories in progress–notably, “The Sound of Snow Falling” and “A Dirge in the Dark”–with an eye to the repairs the stories need; I already know what I need to do to fix “This Thing of Darkness,” which is an odd story and will undoubtedly need to go into the next short story collection as no one will likely publish it. I am going to try to get the other two submitted to magazines for publication; wish me luck with that, and then next week I am going to try to get back to work on Chlorine again, with a goal of finishing a very rough first draft by the end of the month–it may bleed over into August, which is also fine.

I also spent some time with Daphne du Maurier’s Echoes from the Macabre after I finished reading my own stuff, and Jesus, was she good. “Don’t Look Now” remains one of my favorite all time short stories; the tone and voice she managed to get into her work was so extraordinary and exceptional…and distinct; I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone who managed to have such a powerful authorial voice that was so easily identifiable yet managed to change enough from book to book and from story to story to ring authentic to her characters; the main characters in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are so incredibly distinct and different, yet you know without doubt you are reading du Maurier.

God, I need to make time to read. The books are piling up and Shawn Cosby’s Razorblade Tears will be arriving next week.

We finished watching Line of Duty last night and yes, the series finale was a little bit underwhelming. I get why it ended the way it did–every season was kind of unsatisfying at the end–and the end of the series was definitely in line with the tone and mood the show had set from the very beginning…the acting and writing remained en pointe as well, but yeah, I too was left feeling a bit saddened and disappointed. But most of all, disappointed that there won’t be more. We really enjoyed the show every step of the way, and hate to say goodbye to it. But Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, and Outer Banks will all be dropping new seasons this month, so huzzah for that!

Today I will be doing data entry for most of the day, and then it’s three day weekend time. I also spent some time last night cleaning and organizing and trying to get filing done–it’s not finished, but my work space doesn’t look as horrendous as it did yesterday morning. My primary project for this weekend is to do something with my workspace to open it up and make it more roomy rather than the tightly packed cozy thing I’ve had going on for so long. While it certainly has never affected my productivity, some of this stuff needs to go–and I really need to clean out my file cabinet, which is an odious chore I’ve put off for YEARS.

Oh! They fixed the air yesterday, so the upstairs and downstairs now are at the same temperature. It felt weird coming downstairs this morning…it’s felt like entering a meat locker for weeks, and today it’s temperate–could be adjusted down a little bit, because it’s humid outside and the air feels heavy in here this morning, which isn’t good.

I made jambalaya last night, too–I’d been hankering for some lately, and so the other day when I was making groceries I bought some turkey sausage and a box of Zatarain’s (which is excellent when you’re not in the mood to make it from scratch, which I knew I wouldn’t be. I have an excellent from scratch recipe from the Louisiana cookbook Can Your Mama Make a Roux?), but as I said, yeah, not in the mood. I cut up the sausage and sautéed it in olive oil, and then added it with the Zatarain’s and it turned out quite marvelously. I had two bowls, if that tells you anything.

And why have I not used jambalaya in a Scotty title? Seriously, falling down on my Louisiana job, aren’t I?

Okay, that data isn’t going to enter itself. Catch you in the morning, Constant Reader!

The B-Side

So, my maintenance all went well yesterday–my blood pressure was on the high end of okay, but I also had forgotten to take my pills and things yesterday morning, which was probably why. I am being assigned to yet another new doctor (my previous two left the practice as did the wonderful nurse practitioner I saw last summer), and I saw yet again someone different yesterday–another nurse practitioner whom I also liked–so I have my prescriptions all set and hopefully will get a call from the specialist for the routine exam I’ve been needing for quite some time but have yet to get, for one reason or another. Taking better control of my health was one of the goals for last year, which I vaguely remember in those foggy, long distant Before Times. It didn’t happen since this fucking pandemic has made everything so difficult on top of killing far too many others, and I worry all the time that I am an asymptomatic carrier.

Because apparently, despite the many accusations over the years, I am not in fact a sociopath. Who knew?

I also spent some time trying to fix the desktop. I fucked up–I had it in the right mode and in the right place to fix it–I erased the hard drive and was all ready to download the operating system again when I stupidly misread the instructions and restarted the computer before downloading the iOS; and now I can’t seem to get the thing to a place where I can download the iOS again. I think I got there once–and of course, fucked up yet again, and now have to remember what I did to get it to that place again. Ah, well, I am most likely going to keep futzing with it around the working at home today and making condom packs.

I also managed to finish a terribly rough draft of my story, due today, and once it was finished I immediately knew how I could fix it and make it stronger and better, which is always a good thing; I wasn’t really sure how to pull off the ending (stick the landing, as it were) and once I had actually written that ending–I knew I had to go back and tweak the story some more to make it better. I’ll do that this evening in the wake of the condom packing/movie watching.

I also started reading, at last, Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and I am loving it so far. The authorial voice of Mary Russell is superb, and reminds me of one of my other favorite characters in crime series fiction, the unflappable Amelia Peabody. The voices and characters are very similar–fiercely independent and intelligent, no patience with nonsense–and I quite love the way King has developed her character and her version of Holmes and his world; I also love the running digs at Conan Doyle’s version. King has always been one of my favorite authors–her Kate Martinelli series is quite superb–and I admit I’ve been holding off on reading this series primarily because I was never overly interested in Holmes. My mindset regarding Holmes has changed since I wrote my own version of him last year (I cannot wait to see the finished anthology with “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” in it; there are several anthologies I have stories in coming out this year that I am very excited about)–and I know that I am going to probably revisit ny Holmes-in-New-Orleans world again at some point. I already had a period story in progress called “The Blue Before Dawn” which seems like the perfect thing to adapt into a Holmes story; but for now I have to focus on getting this story finished and submitted, and diving into the Kansas book headfirst this weekend. Forcing myself to finish that story yesterday was probably the smartest thing I could have done–forcing myself to write when I don’t want to inevitably is always the smartest thing I could do, which I need to remember since I always seem to forget about it.

I also keep forgetting Monday is a holiday. Huzzah!

I also stopped at the Fresh Market on St. Charles on my way home from the final maintenance appointment, to scope it out as a potential new source for making groceries. It’s nice–I can never get past that it’s in what used to be the Bultman Funeral Parlor–and I picked up a nice California roll for lunch as well as some sliced turkey meat for sandwiches, but yeah, they don’t carry a lot of name brands and it seems very similar to Whole Foods–but easier to access. This weekend I’ll probably scope out the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, and maybe, since it’s a long weekend, I can make an exploratory expedition to Trader Joe’s in Metairie.

I also started watching the US Figure Skating Championships on Peacock yesterday, availing myself of the seven day free trial for extra access–and there are some movies on there I want to watch as well that could work with several of the film festivals I have in process. Paul, of course, is very excited that skating is going on and college gymnastics–we of course are big LSU Gymnastics fans–and so his weekend is pretty much set. The second season of Mr. Mercedes is also on there, among some other things that would be fun to watch–I am back to talking about Peacock–and a lot of the Hitchcock movies (I really want to do a Hitchcock Film Festival; while I have seen some of his more famous films, there are even more that I’ve not seen). I wish Rebecca and Suspicion were on there, but one can’t have everything I suppose. I really want to watch Shadow of a Doubt…and any number of the others I’ve not seen. It’s really a shame Hitchcock never directed a version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I also realized yesterday that my second vaccine is coming up quickly, which is also pretty exciting. It also appears like the car will be paid off this year–thank the Lord–which will alleviate a lot of my financial hardships–or the occasional ones, I should say, and then I can start paying down the rest of the debt with a goal of being debt free by the end of 2022. I think it’s a realistic goal right now; and one that is very pleasing to me. Being burdened with debt is absolutely the worst, frankly–and it’s a burden far too many of us have to carry for far too long.

And on that note, the spice mines are a-calling me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Come Back…Be Here

And now it’s Thursday, and we’re sliding into the weekend slowly but surely. I’m just keeping my head down and doing what I need to get through what’s left of my life, frankly. I’m actually, as I near sixty, really grateful for being a gay American, particularly this week–because it means I am used to being disappointed in, and by, my fellow Americans.

I’ve always believed that more Americans than not would be perfectly happy if all queers were put in camps–and would be okay with people of color joining us there. I started writing a book about that very thing back in the early 1990’s–There Comes a Tide was what I called it, which is a great title I should repurpose, as I doubt I will ever write the book–which led me to study the rise of Nazism in Germany, which I knew about but not in any kind of depth. It was really a strange experience–but one I would recommend…because it put me into a mindset of looking around at my friends and family and co-workers and wondering, if they came for the queers, who would avert their eyes? Who would pretend it wasn’t happening? And who would do and/or say something? Who could I count on to hide me?

It was, quite frankly, a horrible exercise in cynicism, human nature and brutal honesty…and I also began, at the same time, to understand why the movie Cabaret was actually so fucking brilliant, and that Bob Fosse was, after all, a genius–something I recognize more and more every time I watch the film again. (Maybe it’s time for yet another rewatch, and it definitely would fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival…hmmm. Definitely worth a second thought for sure.) I also want to watch more of Fosse’s films–I don’t think I’ve ever seen All That Jazz all the way through, and there’s also Lenny and Star 80….hmmm some more.

I did make it to the gym last evening after work and it was quite marvelous. I was definitely too cranky, wound up and tired to go Tuesday–and while I did worry that not going was the first step onto that slippery slope of “blow it off once, you’re much more likely to blow it off twice”, I did manage to not only go after work last night, I actually enjoyed it, felt tremendous after I went, and I kind of liked the walk through the neighborhood in the dark. It was a lovely cool evening, and when I walked past Coliseum Square a “piano truck” had parked there along Race Street, and while I did leave my headphones in, I thought it was kind of charming that a freelance pianist was set up in the park. I am still amazed at how much better I feel now that I am working out again–it eases my stress, releases tension in my back and other muscles, and the stretching is simply marvelous. I’m still getting used to my new gym–seeing new people, using new machines that are slightly different from any I’ve used before, and everyone there seems really nice–but it still doesn’t feel like my gym yet; but then we belonged to St. Charles Athletic Club for seventeen years, which is an incredibly long time to belong to a gym. But then again, when you’re pushing sixty, there are any number of things you’ve been doing routinely for a very long time.

I did work on “Condos, for Sale or Rent” for a hot minute last night as well before repairing to the easy chair–I’ve become addicted to a series of Youtube videos called Lost in Adaptation, where the narrator (Dom, a British guy) compares novels to the film adaptations, including “what they kept” and “what they changed.” (My personal favorite with the David Lynch Dune vs. the novel; suffice it to say Dom found the film as ludicrous and silly an adaptation as I did. He also did good ones for Rebecca, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, The Bad Seed, and The Shining.)

I slept deeply and well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is great. While the election still isn’t quite yet over, I’ve reached a kind of zen-like state about the entire thing, and I find that, once again, I was carrying a lot of electoral stress in my subconscious and in my back. I feel a lot more like myself now–indeed, yesterday and today both–like I’ve finally found myself again. There are still some things that I need to handle, but I am feeling better about them–and like I can get everything done that I need to get done, which is an absolutely lovely feeling, quite frankly. This has seriously been quite the year–and that is the definition of understatement, I think. Yeesh, Carnival certainly seems like it was a million years or so ago, doesn’t it? Granted, it was also the “Carnival of Death,” with two major parades ending early after floats killed people (!), which kind of should have let us all know that it was going to be a shit-show of a year; when Carnival sucks and isn’t fun….that should be the indicator that we all need to keep our heads down and try not to attract much attention and just try to endure it all. Granted, there’s still two nearly full months of 2020 to go, of course, and there’s still plenty of time left for sucker punches and cheap shots and low blows from this annus horribilis.

A most unpleasant but highly likely possibility.

Today is a work at home day for me, and I am debating what to watch during the condom packing part of my day. I’m going to check to see if Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation (over-shadowed completely by being released in the same year as The Godfather Part II) is available to stream anywhere–I think it may be on Amazon Prime–and I also have to get my checking account straightened out at some point today; but I also don’t have to leave the house today if I don’t choose–and I am thinking I do not choose. I have stuff to make for dinner, and I can hold off groceries until Saturday, methinks. I really feel this morning that not going outside the house–other than to take out the trash and/or get the mail and/or go to the gym–until Saturday is optimal. I’m just really not in the mood for people, to be honest, and I like this rested feeling I am experiencing this morning.

And now to tackle the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone.

Enchanted

Daphne du Maurier has long been one of my favorite authors–ever since I discovered her short story collection Echoes from the Macabre when I was eleven or twelve; the first story in that collection, “Don’t Look Now,” remains one of my all time favorites; later in my teens I finally read Rebecca, and it has remained one of my favorite novels of all time, getting the periodic reread. One of the things I loved about du Maurier, as I tore through several of her other novels in the wake of Rebecca (The King’s General, The Flight of the Falcon, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchmen’s Creek) was that her novels subverted expectation; her books were marketed, or at least so it seemed to me, as romantic suspense novels and/or historical romances; yet the books were anything but that (whenever someone refers to Rebecca as romantic suspense it’s all I can do not to laugh in their face). The King’s General, for example, based on actual history, does not have a happy ending at all; and even the others aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. About seven or eight years ago I finally read My Cousin Rachel, at the recommendation of a friend who couldn’t believe I’d never read it; once I had, it immediately shot to the top of my list of all-time favorites.

I’ve not finished the du Maurier canon–not because I don’t want to, but primarily because she’s dead and I know at some point, I will run out of du Maurier fiction. I know this is silly; I should, now that sixty is just on the horizon, start finishing the canons of my favorites because it would really suck to die and not be finished with them. (But then we always think we have more time than we actually do, don’t we? It’s sometimes very difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I am, indeed, as old as I am.)

But watching the film of The Other made me think of this particular du Maurier, and I decided to give it a shot.

I left the car by the side of the cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins. It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the route nationale, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the windscreen wiper.

Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me during the past twenty-four hours had intensified. It was inevitable, always, during the last days of holiday; but this time, more than ever before, I was aware of time having passed too swiftly, not because the days had been overfull but because I had achieved nothing. The notes I had written for the lectures I was to give during the coming autumn were scholarly, precise, with dates and facts that I should afterwards dress up in language designed to strike a spark in the dull minds of inattentive students. But even if I held their flagging interest for a brief half hour, I should know, when I had finished, that nothing I had said to them was of any value, that I had only given them images of history brightly coloured–waxwork models, puppet figures strutting through a charade. The real meaning of history would have escaped me, because i had never been close enough to people.

It was all too easy to lose oneself in a past half real, half imaginary, and so be blind to the presesnt. In the cities I knew best, Tours, Blois, Orleans, I lost myself in fantasy, seeing other walls, older streets, the crumbling corners of once glittering facades, and they were ore live to me than any real structure before my eyes, for in their shadows lay security; but in the hard light of reality there was only doubt and apprehension.

There are very few writers who can write so poignantly about depression and dissatisfaction with life; the dark night of the soul, as it were. This is where the hero of The Scapegoat finds himself at the opening of the novel. John, our thirty-eight year old hero, is an Englishman who teaches French history, is fluent in French, and is becoming incredibly dissatisfied with his life. Although his French is flawless and spoken like a native, his fascination and love for France has slowly become disaffecting for him–he feels like he doesn’t belong there and doesn’t quite fit in as he is not actually French; his life is humdrum and routine and lonely; he has no family, few friends, no loves. He has stopped in Le Mans on his way to visit a monastery, and as he walks around the rain-drenched city, he feels his difference very deeply; and then something strange happens: someone mistakes him for someone else, and then very shortly thereafter he runs into his mirror image–and his life is never going to be the same again.

The double, Jean, the Comte de Gue, is also dissatisfied and bored with his own life, and the two men have a few drinks. Eventually they repair to a disreputable looking hostel for another drink–and then our hero, John, passes out, only to wake up more than fourteen hours later to find that “his” driver is there, waiting for him to take him home. He soon realizes all of his things–passport, wallet, ID, car keys–are gone; he has two choices open to him. He can either tell this fantastic story of his to the police and to the driver, who will most likely judge him insane….or go along with the pretense, and slip into the life of his double.

Naturally, since this is a du Maurier tale, he chooses the latter.

In the hands of a lesser writer this contrivance–obviously, without making this decision the rest of the novel cannot happen–would be too glaring, too crazy, too much, really; but du Maurier does such a magnificent job of capturing his own boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction with the dull, plodding life he has made for himself that it actually almost makes sense for him to made this insane decision, for how can he possibly hope to pull off such an imposture? The look-alike story has been done to death over the years, and its overuse on soap operas–generally used when a popular actor has left the show, was killed off, and wants to return; or the double is evil and is taking over the good character’s life (they did this on Dynasty, poorly, with a Krystle look alike)–has made it seem trite and boring and over-used, as well as ridiculous. But Dickens used it for A Tale of Two Cities (even making his dopplegangers English and French, as du Maurier did), and of course, Mary Stewart’s brilliant The Ivy Tree also used the look-alike trope quite ingeniously. (Apparently Josephine Tey did the same with Brat Farrar.) Du Maurier does make this work–ironically, the only creatures who doubt that the Comte is actually the Comte are dogs; but then again, even when he behaves out of character for his look-alike or doesn’t know something he should, no one has any reason to doubt him or believe that a double has replaced their Jean. Would you suspect someone you love and know quite well has been replaced by a twin? There are also some wonderful subplots, regarding the real Comte’s relationships with his family, and while there really wouldn’t be much consequence if he is caught out, a lot of the thrill of the book comes from him not just uncovering the truths behind the fraught relationships with his relatives and the darkness of the past, but also figuring out ways out of situations where he would be found out.

And du Maurier’s writing style itself is the real star. There’s a hypnotic, dream-like quality to her voice; she weaves her words and sentences and paragraphs together softly but beautifully; there’s a melancholy to her style that always hypnotizes her readers into buying into the conceits of her stories and plots.

I greatly enjoyed this read, and am now looking forward to finishing the du Maurier canon.

Like I said, limited time.

Delicate

I can’t get over how much better my muscles feel after simply one workout with weights and stretching them out. Seriously. It’s like all the kinks and aches and tightness not only are gone, but it’s like they were never there in the first place. Obviously, my body has missed and craved the exercise. I cannot wait to get home from work today so I can head down to the gym and get in workout #2 of the week. Also–in examining my gym’s website and exercise class schedule, I see that they have a barre class on Saturday mornings I can attend–and barre is something I’ve been wanting to try; I really want to improve my flexibility again. I know I’ll never get back to the ridiculous, freakish flexibility of my teens and twenties again—but regular stretching will be most lovely, quite frankly, and I like the idea of regaining some of it. I am really looking forward to my second workout tonight after work….

We still appear to be in the center of the Cone for Zeta, but the cone continues to drift to the east. At the moment, the projected landfall is seven pm on Wednesday night; which means in theory I should be able to see all my clients and still get home before landfall. Outer bands will, of course, be problematic; but I think we should be okay even with a direct hit from Zeta. Again, the primary concern will be wind and the potential loss of power, but honestly. It’s almost fucking Halloween, for Christ’s sake.

Last night we finished watching season one of Servant on Apple Plus, and I have to say, wow. Dark and disturbing and full of surprises, it was hard to watch sometimes…and yet I couldn’t look away. It was about pain and guilt and suffering, the lengths people will go to stop hurting, and I certainly didn’t see the twist ending of the season coming. I’m frankly non-plussed that Lauren Ambrose got no award recognition for her performance as the emotionally damaged wife and mother–she was stunning in the role; and it wasn’t an easy part. Playing a woman in every stage of a complete mental an emotional breakdown, fooling herself because truth and reality were too much for her mind to handle, watching her performance was both painful to watch but impossible to stop watching; a tour de force; one of the best performances by an actress I’ve seen in a television series. It will be returning in January for a second season, and there’s no telling what will be the second season; there are any number of directions the story can go in. Just chilling and amazing, and we were on the edge of our seats the entire time. It was the perfect choice for Halloween season viewing, quite frankly.

It’s very dark outside my windows this morning. The time change is coming this weekend–an extra hour of sleep is always appreciated, of course, but at the same time I am dreading absolutely coming home from work in the dark every afternoon. I am definitely going to the gym after I get home from work tonight; my muscles feel marvelous still from Sunday’s workout. I can’t get over how much better I feel than I did before; I need to remember this whenever I have one of those “oh I don’t feel like going” moments about the gym. There’s also no telling how long the gym will stay open–whether we go back to gyms being closed for the pandemic, or whether it will survive the economic downturn–and so I must take full advantage of my membership for as long as I can.

The irony that the year I decided to get back to work on my body was the year a pandemic shut everything down and slowly but surely wrecked the economy has not escaped me.

November looms on the horizon as well. The weather is cooling down dramatically here; yesterday morning I actually had to wear a jacket to the office, but of course my car sat in the sun all day so was quite toasty warm by the time I got off work and drove home. It’s currently seventy three, with a projected high of eighty one, which means no need for a jacket this morning, and also means it will be hot in the car when I get off work this afternoon (early evening? I’m never sure where five o’clock officially falls in the divisions of the day).

I tried to watch the new version of Rebecca last night while I waited for Paul to get home. I knew I was inevitably going to be disappointed, perhaps to the point of not even finishing; the original film is a classic and one of my all-time favorites, and of course the book is still fucking amazing every time I reread it. (I always manage to see it in a whole new way practically each time I read it again; it’s absolutely a classic.) As I watched, the fact they filmed it in color was too jarring and took me out of it completely. Rebecca is one of those stories whose impact is really lost when removed from black and white cinematography; the use of light and shadow for creepy, eerie effect is completely lost in the splashy colors (and I just cannot ever picture Maxim de Winter in a yellow suit; Jay Gatsby he was most definitely not). I still think of it as a noir classic (both film and book; if you think du Maurier was a romance writer, you really need to reread and rethink everything of hers you’ve read), and while the term neo noir was coined specifically for noir filmed in color, very few films actually manage to capture the noir mood in color (although Body Heat, Masquerade, Chinatown, and No Way Out all did a great job..I’ve been thinking about writing about neo-noir films lately; just another essay for my collection that no one will ever read.

Today I am hoping to get some editing done on my lunch break and possibly get the email inbox finally cleaned out and caught up; fingers crossed. I feel very awake this morning–yesterday I was dragging a bit, and of course my muscles were all terribly tired from Sunday’s workout–and I am, as ever, hopeful I can get everything done I need to get done. No word on whether the hurricane is cancelling work yet tomorrow–I really hope it doesn’t, frankly; I’d much rather spend the day with my clients.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.