One of the Crowd

And it’s now the fifth of July, and so far–at least for me–the second half of this annus horribilis is off to an okay start. Yesterday was oddly not humid or hot; there wasn’t much direct sunlight and even by noon I hadn’t been forced to turn on the portable Arctic Air coolers that have so far made life in the kitchen/office bearable; I remain, as ever, buried and behind in all of my work, which is to be expected, of course–par for it, actually. I am always behind and scrambling to catch up, and since my personality is this peculiar combination of Type A mixed in with almost chronic laziness, this will most likely always be my state of being.

The sun is out, however, this morning, and while it remains cool here in the Lost Apartment, there’s no telling how hot it perhaps might get in here later this afternoon. I accomplished very little yesterday, truth be told; I started working on “You Won’t See Me” and didn’t get very far, because it was wandering off into a different direction than where it was originally intended to go–it wasn’t until I quit writing in disgust and adjourned to my easy chair that I realized (or remembered)where I’d wanted to go with the story in the first place, so I made some notes and went back to reading Cottonmouths. Later we streamed a lot more of The Club, which has a rather lengthy first season–it’s been a while since I’ve seen a season of anything recent that runs for over twenty episodes–and an awful lot has happened. We’re finally into the mid-teens, and halfway finished with the show, which we are still enjoying. And Cottonmouths remains quite delightful.

I refuse to allow myself to give into despair this fair morning over what I wasn’t able to get accomplished over the last two days. This morning I feel, for want of better terms, not only vivacious but alive and rested. The clouds of exhaustion that have made my thinking not as clear have lifted, or so it seems at this very moment, and we shall see how this day turns out, won’t we? I hope to get quite a bit accomplished today–we have the clinic open the next two days–and I have been sleeping well lately. I’m actually feeling close to normal for the first time in months, and while mentioning it also has me concerned that I might be jinxing it in some way, it’s actually been quite lovely.

It is very difficult to not fall into the ease of despair with the news every day–hell, every day for the last few years, quite frankly. The pandemic is raging out of control and might not get better for a while; Florida, for example, has reported more new cases over the last eight days than Louisiana has had since it first arrived here (um, where are all those people claiming it was irresponsible for us to have Carnival NOW? Cavorting on the beaches in Florida?), and as the crisis seems to continue to deepen rather than get better, the return to normality everyone seems to want gets pushed further and further back because of selfishness, frankly. As I joked to Paul yesterday about not getting much writing done yesterday, “What’s the point of writing anything new when who knows if there will even be a publishing industry next year?”

I’ve not, to be honest, thought much about my writing career this year, or at least since March. It was lovely being nominated for a Lambda Award–it’s been years since the last time–but I also knew once I saw Michael Nava’s name on the short-list I didn’t have a prayer of winning. But the nominations are always nice. I have thought about writing more Scotty books–I did leave their personal story on a cliffhanger in Royal Street Reveillon, after all–but there are two manuscripts in the hopper I need to finish first, and I want to work on Chlorine next. I need to get this Secret Project finished and out of my hair in order to get back to the two manuscripts–I’ve solved the issues with Bury Me in Shadows over the course of the pandemic–and I’ve also solved the plot issues with the Kansas book while I’ve essentially been too distracted and too exhausted and too ill to actually do any actual writing. My goal for this week–and yes, the week, not today–is to get that proposal finished; get a couple more of these stories under control and/or closer to finished; and if I have a highly productive week, to take next weekend off again to rest and recharge while trying to make some progress in the TBR pile. I want to reread another Perry Mason novel–I have The Case of the Calendar Girl in a hardcover I found in a used bookstore sometime during my travels over the past few years, and watching the new HBO Perry Mason has made me want to reconnect with the original character again–and I also want to get back into reading through both the John D. MacDonald and Ross MacDonald and Margaret Millar canons; which will help me get into a place where I will be able to get Chlorine written sooner rather than later. I also have some Dorothy B. Hughes novels on hand I’ve not read as well…and of course, there’s the Diversity Project to get back to at some point, in addition to the Short Story Project. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection on its way, as well as the latest Lawrence Block anthology, which I think is called In the Darkling Halls of Ivy (I could be wrong but it’s something like that), and of course, I still have his previous anthology on my side table, untouched.

So much to read, so much to watch, so little free time in which to do it all–and that includes, I might add, so little time to write everything I want to write before I die.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I certainly hope that I do.

All the Gold in California

I often talk about how my education in the so-called “classics” is somewhat lacking; this is also true, not just of the great canon of literary fiction, but within my own genre as well (which is why I never pose as an expert on crime fiction; I am not one). I had never read Ross MacDonald–I was aware of him, and Lew Archer–but never had any real desire to read him until I was on a panel with Christopher Rice, who mentioned MacDonald as one of his favorite writers and an inspiration. Hmmm, I thought, perhaps I should give MacDonald a try.

So, in the years following that panel, I started reading the Archer novels, and enjoyed them tremendously. I’ve not read all of them, and I’ve not read any of his stand-alones…but what I liked the most about them was the style; how MacDonald put words and sentences together to create not only character, but mood and a kind of dark, noir-ish hard-boiled sensibility that I really admired. Early in my writing career, I patterned Chanse–both character and series–after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series; later, after I started reading Ross MacDonald, I tried to see if I could create my own version of that sensibility and writing style; influenced by both MacDonalds but trying to create my own version, if that makes any kind of sense. I’d say Murder in the Irish Channel came the closest of any of the books to perfecting that style; I don’t know if Murder in the Arts District  replicated the feat (which means I am going to have to reread it, even if cursorily, damn it).

There’s nothing more tedious than rereading your own work.

But I recently decided it was past time to give one of Ross MacDonald’s stand-alones a shot, and chose The Ferguson Affair.

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The case began quietly, on the women’s floor of the county jail. I was there to interview a client, a young nurse named Ella Barker who had been arrested on a stolen-property charge. Specifically, she had sold a diamond ring which was part of the loot in a recent burglary; the secondhand dealer who bought it from her reported the transaction to the police.

Our interview started out inauspiciously. “Why you?” she wanted to know. “I thought people in trouble had a right to choose their own lawyer. Especially when they’re innocent, like me.”

“Innocence or guilt has nothing to do with it, Miss Barker. The judges keep an alphabetical list of all the attorneys in town. We take turns representing defendants without funds. My name happened to be next on the list.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Gunnarson. William Gunnarson.”

“It’s a funny name,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

Reading books written in the past–no matter how far back–can often be jarring. One has to take into consideration the context of the time in which the book was written; The Ferguson Affair, for example, was published originally in 1960, and if you don’t think the world and society and culture have changed dramatically in the time since the final full year of the Eisenhower administration, you might want to think again. The book was published the year before I was born, so technically the book is only slighter older than I am, and it came out in a world without color television, cable, cell phones, etc. Technology had advanced so far in those fifty-nine years it might as well have been published a hundred years ago.

The Ferguson Affair was published in the midst of the period when he was producing the Lew Archer novels, and a lot of the Archer hallmarks also appear in this book; a complicated, winding plot that begins as something very small–in this case, the arrest of Ella Barker for pawning stolen property–and then continues, over the course of the investigation, to expand outwards into something much bigger, most dastardly, and more deadly. William Gunnarson, the main character of the book, is an attorney in a small California city named Buenavista, reminiscent of the town of Santa Teresa where some of the Archer books are set (and was later borrowed by Sue Grafton for her Kinsey Millhone books in a homage to MacDonald). Gunnarson is married and his wife is nine months pregnant and ready to give birth at any moment; more on that later. He is interviewing his client when word comes that someone had tried to kill the pawnshop owner who turned her in; Gunnarson is allowed to ride along to the pawnshop, which is on Pelly Street–clearly the wrong side of the tracks, and the Latin side of town. Ella was given the diamond ring she pawned for her engagement to Larry Gaines, the lifeguard at the fancy Foothill Club (the Buenavista country club), after discovering he was stepping out on her with retired screen star Holly May. The ring was loot from a robbery; the police suspect Ella knows more about the gang of robbers than she is letting on–because the victims of the robbery have all been patients at the hospital where she works as a nurse.

The book proceeds from there, with twists and turns involving kidnapping and extortion, murder and robbery; and while it is a fun ride as all MacDonald novels are, there is definitely some 1960’s era um, that’s a bit racist stuff when it comes to the Latinx people he comes into contact with over the course of the story.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration how Gunnarson treats his pregnant wife, Sally. Nine months pregnant and about to give birth at any given moment, he can’t be bothered to call her to tell her he’s coming home late for dinner which she is preparing. He never checks in on her to see if she’s okay; and in fact, he’s not around when she finally does go into labor, and someone else has to make sure she gets to the hospital in time for the birth. There’s none of the modern sentimentality about pregnancy and childbirth; he actually teases and mocks her about being so pregnant during the brief time he gives her any attention at all.  I’m not really sure why it was necessary for her to be pregnant, to be honest; it bore no relation to the story in any way, and all it did was make Gunnarson seem, to my modern eyes, like an asshole.

It did occur to me that this story could have just as easily been an Archer novel/story; only set in the past, to give a key insight into who Archer was as a character, and how he developed. I could totally see this being Archer’s marriage, and Archer being the kind of husband who would always put his wife and family last; as was expected of men at the time, and the wife getting tired of it and divorcing him. (I am not an Archer expert; I’ve read some of the books, not all, and while I do enjoy them when I do read them, I don’t have details memorized. I do seem to recall that Archer had been married and divorced; I think his ex-wife is mentioned a few times…but like I said, this works as an early Archer story, but back then it wasn’t common for series books to be written out of order; maybe that was why this wound up not being an Archer? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting theory.)

Reading the book, though, made me think more about writing another Chanse novel, which I think may happen at some point in the next few years. I’d recommend it to you if you’re a MacDonald fan and want to achieve completion with his works; it’s probably not the best place to start with MacDonald if you haven’t read him before.

Cross My Broken Heart

I slept well again last night, so here’s hoping that Monday night’s shitty night of sleep was an aberration. I feel very rested and well this morning, which is a lovely change from yesterday morning’s horror.

Paul was home late last evening, so I was able to finish watching Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, which I highly recommend. It’s incredibly well done, and powerfully moving. The final two episodes, “Liberation of Buchenwald” and “Hiroshima”, are the perfect pair to end the series with; in my last post I talked about how the “Dresden Firestorm” episode brought up questions of morality, both national and that of war; how absolutely fitting that “Liberation of Buchenwald” was the very next episode; so that any sympathy one might have felt for the German citizens killed during bombing raids and so forth, evaporates almost immediately. The documentary is also one of the first times I’ve ever seen anything about World War II and the Holocaust that absolutely puts the lie to the German everyday citizen’s claim, afterwards, that they didn’t know anything about the death camps. They knew, and at best, just didn’t care. At worst, cheered the mass slaughter of “undesirables”. Thank God Eisenhower brought in the press to document the horrors of the camps.

Even more horrifying is knowing that the threat of Soviet Communism was deemed so terrible that the Western nations chose not to pursue a lot of war crimes trials against horrible Nazis, and instead helped rehabilitate them into German society, deciding it was simply better to move on–the past was the past, the Nazis were defeated, and Communism was apparently worse–to our everlasting shame.

“Hiroshima” naturally deals with the development of atomic weapons and the lead-up to the decision to use them on the Japanese. The reason given at the time was that Japan would never surrender, and the conquest of the home islands would have cost many American lives; so President Truman–also wanting to finish off Japan as quickly as possible, before the Soviet juggernaut could turn east–made the decision to wipe two cities off the map–and the xenophobic racism that allowed the Americans to be more brutal with the Japanese then they ever were with the Germans; had the Germans won the Battle of the Bulge and taken Belgium back, would the Americans have dropped atomic bombs on say, Frankfurt and Munich? Highly unlikely.

I highly recommend this series. World War II changed the face of the world, and politics, forever; and almost everything that has gone on in the world ever since the war ended has been affected and colored by the war. It was the war that made minorities in the United States–who fought, bled and died for this country in a brutal and bloody war–no longer willing to accept second class status. For many closeted queers, it gave them the opportunity to meet others like themselves, and planted the seeds for the gay neighborhoods in places like San Francisco and New Orleans and New York–gay men and lesbians no longer felt isolated and alone, knew there were others like them, and tried to make community, eventually leading to the queer rights movement. Women participated in the war and stepped up to replace the fighting men in their jobs, and soon realized they could be more than wives and mothers, chafing against their once-again restricted roles after the end of the war–which of course led to the Women’s Movement…and that’s not even taking into consideration the changes wrought in the world in geopolitical terms.

Even if you aren’t interested in watching all ten episodes, I strongly encourage everyone to watch “The Liberation of Buchenwald.” The Holocaust was real, it happened, the Western nations allowed it to happen, and it must never happen again. And if you have the capacity to even consider, for one moment, the notion that it was a hoax–fuck all the way off, and I hope your death is slow, painful, and horrific.

I kind of want to revisit Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War/War and Remembrance series; such a well done fictionalization of the war, as seen through the eyes of the Henrys, a naval family. Of course the two volumes total something like three thousand pages–I’ll never in a million years ever have the time for a deep reread–but they were amazing, and I read them as a teenager.

Yesterday I taped Susan Larson’s “My Reading Life” with Jean (J. M.) Redmann, which is always a delight. Susan is smart and fun, as is Jean, and it’s all I can do to keep up with them and not come across as a drooling idiot. But it’s always lovely to talk to Susan and Jean about books and writing, and even more delightful, Susan told me she’d enjoyed Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, which was of course the crowning jewel of my month. As you know, Constant Reader, I have constant doubts about my short story writing ability, and so getting Susan’s stamp of approval meant a lot. I’ll post a link for the show when it airs.

Today is a half-day, and after tomorrow my vacation for Thanksgiving begins. I’m hoping to get a lot done–like always–and maybe I won’t; but at least I feel confident I can get a lot of reading done. I also have my blog entries about The Hunter by Richard Stark and The Ferguson Affair by Ross MacDonald to write. I also would like to catch up on all the things–little things, nothing major–that I always seem to let slide since I don’t have much time.

LSU has also managed to maintain its number one ranking, despite the abysmal showing of the defense last Saturday against Mississippi. I saw an interview with Joe Burrow after the game in which he simply shrugged and said, “You know things have changed at LSU when we score 58 points and get over 700 yards of total offense and the locker room mood is disappointment at how badly we played.” YIKES. But I tend to agree–I was enormously disappointed by the defense in both the Vanderbilt and Mississippi games; but the offense was spectacular in both games and ordinarily I’d be aglow by those high-scoring offensive performances. Maybe it’s true; maybe we do get spoiled quickly–God knows I get annoyed when the Saints don’t play well and they’ve consistently been one of the best teams in the NFL since 2006. Sigh.

But the last two games of LSU’s season are at home, against Arkansas and Texas A&M, and if they win either of those games they clinch the West division and are going to Atlanta to play Georgia for a shot at LSU’s first SEC title since 2011. Woo-hoo!

I hope to start reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys today; today is my half-day and so I can get home earlier, possibly do some writing, and then curl up in my easy chair while I wait for Paul to get home. I still haven’t written a damned thing recently, and I really need to get back on that.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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Don’t Get Me Wrong

Monday morning and I’m not fully awake yet this morning, which isn’t really a surprise; I had a feeling when I went to bed last night I’d not want to get up this morning. I was correct; I was awake when my alarm went off but the bed felt so lovely I simply wanted to stay there other than get up and get the day started. I have to work both of my long days this week, which is going to be a bit rough. But next week is Thanksgiving week already, and I have that entire week off, which is going to be absolutely lovely.

I got some very good background writing stuff done yesterday–the old “let me sit and think about this some more” mentality, and I think it worked; I am, at the very least, very pleased with the changes I came up with for the manuscript, and realized I need to go back to the beginning to input those changes rather than moving forward with it. While I’d much prefer to simply keep going forward, I need to go back and put those changes in, because they shift the tone a lot and plus, it’s excellent character backstory for my main character, who I’m starting to feel like I know a lot better. I know what I was trying to do with him–mostly make him somewhat unreliable–and in order to do that, I was keeping my distance from him; making the story told in a distant first person point of view. But I felt like this made my character distant and cold and unrelatable; there’s a way of doing this–which hit me smack dab between the eyes yesterday–where I can make him relatable and likable, even if he isn’t being completely honest with the reader.

And that, I think, makes the story work even better.

The Saints won yesterday at Tampa, putting the bad taste left in everyone’s mouth from last week’s inexplicable loss to the Falcons away. It was a good weekend for Louisiana football, what with LSU winning (if sloppily) Saturday and the Saints on Sunday. It’s looking like both teams will be in the play-offs, with a good shot at possibly running the table. It’s certainly going to be a memorable season for both, which is lovely for us fans. I did some more cleaning yesterday around the game, and finished reading The Ferguson Affair, about which I’ll probably be writing a more detailed blog entry about–knowing full well I still owe one for Richard Stark’s The Hunter.

When I mentioned I was reading The Ferguson Affair, a friend on Twitter tweeted at me, “the lovely thing about reading MacDonald is it doesn’t matter which one–as they are all the same” and I soon realized that while I was initially resistant to the statement, she was actually kind of right; and the tropes were all there in this book, which wasn’t a Lew Archer–but it might as well have been. The primary trope of MacDonald’s work–the wealthy, beautiful woman haunted by demons from her past and that of her family–was certainly front and center in this one; the main character was a lawyer in a small California coastal town called Buenavista whose wife is about to give birth any day now. I was, however, particularly interested in the book (as I read it) for two particular reasons–there was a tie to Hollywood in the story, and there was some interesting dynamics of race and class at play in Buenavista; which is why I want to give the book its own blog entry. But now that I have finished reading it, I can now move on to Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, which I am really looking forward to. Whitehead has become one of my favorite writers–and that, of course, is entirely predicated on my reading Underground Railroad, which I absolutely loved. The Nickel Boys mines the same territory as Lori Roy’s superb The Disappearing–the boarding school for troubled boys in Florida, which is an idea I’m also terribly interested in (John Hart also wrote about the ‘reform school’ in Iron House), but with all of those heavyweight talents already covering the same material I don’t see much point in my doing so as well.

I also watched a Netflix series called Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, in which they’ve taken the actual black-and-white war footage from the second world war and colorized it. World War II fascinates and repels me at the same time for any number of reasons, but I never tire of watching or reading about it. I’ve been trying to find the old The World at War series that aired on PBS when I was a child, but can’t seem to find it anywhere. As I watched the first six episodes of ten (the war begins, the rescue at Dunkirk, the battle for Stalingrad, Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Normandy) I kept thinking about Herman Wouk’s epic novels about the war, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, wishing I had the time to give them a reread. I also remembered the absolutely brilliant Foyle’s War series, which I loved and should probably rewatch, and also was reminded of yet another book idea–one which would require several trips to Hawaii for research. I’ve not read a lot of World War II fiction–From Here to Eternity, The Naked and the Dead, etc.–but have always meant to get around to it. I suppose one of these days I actually will. I particularly want to read the unabridged version of From Here to Eternity, which apparently includes depictions and scenes of the underground military gay scene in Hawaii on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack. Reading I the Jury by Mickey Spillane and, to a lesser degree, The Hunter by Richard Stark, has also reminded me of the period…and I do think that essay about toxic masculinity and PTSD and how that played out in the Spillane novel could still work.

If I only had the time to write the damned thing.

We also started watching Netflix’ Unbelievable last night, and what that poor young girl went through with the cops–and everyone basically in her life after she was raped–was horrifying, and I also got the sense that the way they depicted how someone is treated after they are raped–the necessary medical exams and tests, the constant having to repeat the story of your trauma, over and over again, to unsympathetic people who clearly don’t know if they believe you or not–was absolutely horrifying. I always knew rape was underreported and part of that was due to the dehumanizing experience of reporting…I had no idea, naturally, as a man just how horrible and horrific it is.

As we watched, Paul said, “It really is a wonder any woman reports, you know?”

And this also gave me thoughts about the Kansas book.

I also started a new journal this weekend. Huzzah!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Right on Track

I’m going to go vote as soon as I post this, as it’s run-off election day and the gubernatorial race is far, far too close for comfort, to be completely honest. It’s astonishing to me that this is even close, but hatred of Democrats runs deep in some sections of Louisiana. We have, despite our laxness in so many ways here, a deeply conservative streak running through the state; which is fine, a lot of states do, but here in Louisiana the fact that Bobby Jindal was so popular–even as his economic policies dismantled and destroyed the state while he used Louisiana as a launching pad for the White House–that he essentially ran for reelection unopposed, is absolutely terrifying. Louisiana has not completely recovered from the horrors wrought upon on every level by Jindal, whose desire for power and attention overruled any common sense approach he might have towards governing, and the thought we could return to those very policies that nearly bankrupted the state and could have resulted in our universities being shuttered, is absolutely terrifying. As I said, this shouldn’t even be close….and yet it’s going to be.

Tonight LSU goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Magnolia Bowl; the renewal of another storied SEC/Southern college football rivalry, perhaps best known as the rivalry that  featured Billy Cannon’s run on Halloween night in 1959, as the Number One and defending national champion Tigers took on third-ranked Ole Miss. The punt return for a touchdown was LSU’s only score and a goal line stand as time ran out–Billy Cannon made the game-winning tackle as well–and LSU won. (Alas, LSU lost a later game in the season and didn’t win a second national championship; and just like in 2011, the Sugar Bowl was a rematch of that ‘game of the century,’ with LSU losing the rematch–also like in 2011, only with Alabama–21-0–which was also the score of the Alabama rematch in 2011.) The first time Paul and I went to a game in Tiger Stadium was the Ole Miss game in 2010; we went to the Ole Miss game in 2012 as well. Ole Miss always, somehow, manages to play LSU really tough, even in years when they should be a pushover; they take the rivalry very seriously–more seriously than LSU does–and have pulled off the upset more than once. (LSU returned the favor in Tiger Stadium in 2014, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season and ending their SEC–and national– championship hopes 10-7)

I also want to break the habit of referring to the University of Mississippi as Ole Miss, which has always bothered me and I’ve wondered for years when it would be brought up. The University is in turmoil these days–and kind of has been for decades, really; you would be hard-pressed to find another university in the South with stronger ties to the Confederate/Jim Crow/racist/segregationist past. The team name in the Rebels; for years the mascot was Johnny Reb; a white-haired, white-mustached white man in a gray Confederate uniform, and the fans in the stadium inevitably waved, rather than pom-pons or towels like so many fan bases do, Confederate flags. That flag–which is really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, so didn’t even really have a tie to the state of Mississippi other than as a symbol of racism and white supremacy–was also seen as a symbol of the school. Johnny Reb is no longer the mascot–it’s a black bear–and the fans no longer wave Confederate flags. But there’s some serious issues going on with the selection of the new university chancellor, and there’s also a movement to get Ole Miss removed as a designation/nickname for the school. It’s going to be hard to break the habit of shortening Mississippi to Ole Miss; but the nickname, sadly, also has its roots in the racist, slave-owning past.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for people to figure that out, or to think about it.

“Ole Miss” is what the slaves called the matriarch of the family that owned the plantation; whether she was the “master’s” mother or wife–there could, at times, be an “Ole Miss” and a “Young Miss.” It’s right there in the pages of Gone with the Wind; the Fontaines have an Ole Miss and a Young Miss; the slaves at Tara call the white women “Miss”–Miss Ellen, Miss Scarlett, Miss Carreen, Miss Suellen–and it’s a sign of deference; as an older white man living in a Southern city I still see signs of this from time to time with my clients; younger people of color always call me “Mr. Greg” while young white people call me by my first name only. I cringe a little whenever they do, and always thank them for their politeness, but insist they drop the mister. It also makes me sad when they find it hard to do so; continuing to slip and call me Mr. Greg.

Anyway, there’s a movement afoot to remove the nickname from Mississippi–but seriously, typing that out even seems weird, and calling them Mississippi seems even weirder. But I’ve decided I cannot call them by that nickname any more. It may not be much, but it’s the least I can do.

I went up to Oxford for an event a couple of years ago; The Radical South–got put up in a gorgeous hotel on campus, paid a rather lovely honorarium, taken out for a lovely meal by the organizer who’d invited me (Theresa Starkey, who co-edited Detecting the South, the academic book of essays on Southern Crime fiction I contributed a piece to, that recently was released; one of my proudest career moments–not the least of which meant sharing a table of contents with Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins), and I actually rather fell in love with Oxford. It’s a charming little old Southern town, complete with a picturesque Town Square, with a courthouse on one side of it; my immediate thought was oh my God, Mayberry DOES still exist. As I walked around the town and explored, I was inspired, particularly because I kept finding places that were perfect for disposing of bodies (the crime writer mind is always active), and I began putting together a novel in my head; a series of rapes on campus with the serial rapist escalating, as the university and town desperately try to keep the rapes quiet until a body is found. Obviously, that couldn’t be set at the actual campus of Mississippi; I’d have to fictionalize it. I took tons of pictures and, as is often my wont, think about that book every once in a while.

What’s also interesting to me is that there’s no airport in Oxford–LSU flew into Memphis last night, and I would imagine bussed from there to Oxford, which is about a little under an hour away and just over the state line from Tennessee–and Oxford isn’t even on the Interstate; you have to take a state highway for about twenty minutes or so before you reach Oxford. (Mississippi State’s hometown of Starkville is also not on an interstate highway; the only major universities in the SEC that are in towns not on an interstate, at least that I’m aware of. Lexington, Knoxville, and Athens are off I-75; Vanderbilt’s in Nashville, etc etc)

Hopefully, we’ll keep our streak going tonight. A lesser team without the amazing offense we are running this year buried the Rebels last year–LSU has won three straight game in the rivalry; has only lost five times this century and one of the Rebels’ wins was forfeited. But as I said, the Rebs have always (I cannot tell you how hard it is to not default to calling them Ole Miss–Mississippi seems weird, as does calling them the Rebels or the Rebs–although in all honesty, if they changed their mascot to a Minuteman or a Revolutionary War soldier or  general it would make calling the Rebels or Rebs less fraught) played tough against LSU–those games we attended in 2010 and 2012 came down to the last minute before the Tigers prevailed.

Okay, I am going to finish this and go vote. I am going to come home and read The Ferguson Affair (it’s taking longer to read than it should, and I do have a serious problem with the main character, which I’ll talk about when I talk about the book), do some cleaning, brainstorm on the book and maybe even sit down and do some writing. I’ll probably put the Auburn-Georgia game on, but will try to keep myself occupied rather than just sitting in my chair and blowing off the entire day.

I also have to get the campus serial rapist/killer book out of my head for now, too.

FOCUS.

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Love You Down

Tuesday’s blue, and Wednesday, too.

There’s a freeze warning on the north shore this morning; and it’s not supposedly much warmer here on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain this morning. The low for the morning was in the forties; the high for the day is mid-sixties. Given there’s another one of those arctic wave things or whatever they are called in the rest of the country, complete with snow and ice and so forth, I’m definitely feeling lucky here in New Orleans this morning–primarily that, for one, I am able to sit at my desk this gray morning without having to have the space heater on, no house shoes on my feet or a hat on my head and I am not freezing to death–all of which are, frankly, wonderful things.

Huzzah!

Very little progress was made on the writing front yesterday–it’s not that I was tired last night or anything, it’s more along the lines of needing to relax more than anything else. Monday nights are always a concern for me; as Tuesday is my second long day of the week and I am always worried that exhaustion will rule the day when my alarm goes off on Tuesday morning–but I woke up before the alarm this morning, even if I did stay in bed and hit snooze a few times because the bed was warm and comfortable. I am more hopeful for tonight; tomorrow is a mere half-day and I don’t have to go into the office until eleven thirty, so getting up early isn’t a concern and of course, I only have to be there for four hours or so before getting out. We did catch this week’s episode of Watchmen, which is really terrific, and of course we’ve now got an episode of Catherine the Great to get caught up on this evening. (Paul was late getting home last night; writing a grant, he didn’t get home until I was getting ready to climb into bed)

Tomorrow is also Pay-the-Bills Day, always an unpleasant morning. Heavy heaving sigh. And I think I may still owe for my phone; I’ll have to check to see if I paid the phone bill last time; I’m not certain that I did.

I’ve almost caught up on all of my emails, too. Maybe today I can get the rest of them out of my inbox.

One can hope, at any rate.

I’m also still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is fantastic, and haven’t made any further progress on Ross Macdonald’s The Ferguson Affair. It actually doesn’t seem like I’ve been getting much done lately, does it? I also need to start getting my new journal ready; one thing I actually did accomplish this past weekend was managing to buy a new journal, as the old one is nearly full. I cannot tell you, Constant Reader, how much I enjoy keeping a journal again; I wish I’d never stopped, to be honest. It’s incredibly cool, frankly, to have something to jot down notes and ideas into; there’s another book idea that’s been brewing inside me for a while and I make notes on it periodically; I also have been paying attention to how other writers do their work, and I think maybe my haphazard way of writing and plotting novels needs to be seriously revamped and overhauled. I do know what I wanted to accomplish, and what I am trying to say, in this new book; I don’t know why I am having so much trouble getting back to work on it as well as fixing the core problem of it, at least the problem I think I’ve been having–which is making the main character likable. I also can’t help but feel that the story itself is based on a contrivance; and what I really need to do is figure out how to fix that core issue at the heart of the book and the rest will fall into place.

But oh, how i wish I could just sit down for two or three hours and write. It would be nirvana.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Break Out

I am trying not to get too stressed out about the LSU-Alabama game today; it is what it is, after all, and my getting worked up or stressed out about it isn’t going to change anything about the game. I am constantly amazed at how worked up I can get over football games; it really accomplishes nothing and whether LSU wins or loses has no real impact on my day-to-day life; I try, from time to time, to understand why I get so emotionally invested in being a football fan; there’s perhaps a decent essay in there somewhere for my collection of essays that I hope to pull together someday. I know that the essay about my fandom of LSU–and Southeastern Conference football in general–will be called “It’s Saturday Night in Death Valley,” and I’ve already sketched out some ideas for it. The phenomenon of games in the stadium–that wild crowd psychology thing–is also fascinating to me; I still get chills when I fondly remember how amazingly fun the LSU-Florida game was a few weeks ago in Tiger Stadium.

I still get chills thinking about it.

But to be the best, you have to beat Alabama–which is the truth of college football since around 2008. You have to, even if you don’t like them, admire what Alabama has done under the guidance of Nick Saban in the last past twelve seasons. Their worst season was a three-loss season in 2010; I don’t think they’ve lost more than one game in a season since then; but I could be wrong. Only LSU and Ole Miss have beaten Alabama in consecutive years under Nick Saban; and after those two back-to-back wins, LSU has lost to Alabama eight straight times. Obviously, I am rooting for LSU to win, and will be disappointed should they lose; but there have been seasons before (last year, 2015, 2012) when it looked like we had a shot at taking them down only to lose.

I am being interviewed for a radio show later this morning; I am dropping Paul off for an appointment afterward and then going to pick up the mail. In the meantime I am going to try to get the kitchen cleaned up and maybe do some writing; at least get the files open. I love to write, but it’s also amazing to me how when I get out of the habit of doing it every day how easy it is to keep not writing, even though I enjoy writing and always feel an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride when I’ve finished writing for the day. I also want to finish reading The Ferguson Affair this weekend, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult; Ross Macdonald is always a quick, easy read, and I am curious to see how this case–which is not an Archer–turns out. One of the reasons I enjoy reading Ross Macdonald is because he is such a terrific writer, one, and two, because the cases are always so intriguing and I am never really sure where they are going. They are also impressive time capsules for the period. After I finish the Macdonald, I think I’m going to give Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys  a whirl; it seems to be based on the same case/incident that Lory Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing was built around, and it’s also a case that has interested me enough to consider writing about it.

We’re almost finished with season two of Netflix’ It’s the End of the Fucking World, which is quite as interesting, strange, and thought-provoking as the first season. I had wondered how they were going to do a second season but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined the insanity that this second season would fully embrace. I have to  hand it to the show. Very creative.

I can hardly wait for the next episode of Watchmen, either.

All right, I suppose I’d best get back to work this morning. I have limited time–since I have the interview this morning and then errands to run from there before the game–so I had best make use of the time wisely, rather than just sitting here and scrolling through social media.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and GEAUX TIGERS.

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Mandolin Rain

Thursday, aka Friday Eve, has arrived and I have a purring kitty interfering with my computer usage this morning before I go to the office. Which is fine; he usually doesn’t want to sit in my lap when I’m at the computer and he seems to be okay with that this morning, which is lovely.

It’s been a week for the publishing world, let me tell you, Constant Reader. I am not going to talk about any of that here; I have another blog entry I am working on, where I talk about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, which correlates with the crazy publishing week, so it’s best left to there.

Last night we watched perhaps the best episode of Castle Rock that has aired, either season, to date; as we learned about Annie Wilkes’ childhood and her relationship with her parents–and the two actors who played her mother and father were astonishingly good. It was riveting television, and I was truly sorry to see the episode end. It also seriously paid homage to Misery, and a lot of the things we are familiar with Annie saying were all learned from her parents. I know Castle Rock is theoretically set in an alternate universe to King’s novels, which enables them to use his characters, settings, and stories to create new versions–which is genius, really–and doing an entire season with Annie Wilkes as a younger woman was incredibly smart. Lizzy Kaplan is giving an Emmy worthy performance as young Annie, and watching this is making me want to reread Misery, which I still consider one of the best books of the last century.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to finish this entry yesterday; it’s the first blog day I’ve missed in quite a while. There’s been a lot of drama in two writing communities I belong to this week, and I’ve not been able to look away from either–one in particular I described to Paul as a slow-motion train wreck, and just when you think the last car has finally come off the tracks, here comes another train on the same line. Today, however, I am determined to ignore the train wreck as much as possible because I have too much to get done. I’ve not even been able to catch up on my emails, and the inbox just keeps filling up every damned day. So, today I am going to finish paying the bills, clean out my inbox, and do some goddamned writing. I’ll never finish this fucking book if I don’t focus, and I have some short stories that need to be reworked and revised and so forth as well.

Last night we watched the second-to-last episode of American Horror Story: 1984, and have just about decided that the only way one can watch a season of anything produced by Ryan Murphy is to simply not think about it, because once you start thinking about it you see all the holes in the plot and all the contrived behavior that makes no sense in terms of character–because the characters are only there to service the plot, which is the penultimate story-telling sin. But I can’t stop myself from watching–and somewhat enjoying–these shows. Some of the kids at work were streaming the Hotel season, which I’d stopped watching as it aired and never finished; and it seemed a bit more cohesive in a binge. I may go back and rewatch it, just to see if it works better as a binge show where you don’t have time to think about these things.

It certainly worked with The Politician.

I also want to finish reading The Ferguson Affair, which is making me think about some other issues with old works being read through the present-day lens (which also occurred with me reading The Hunter and, a few months back,  I the Jury)–and the age-old question of separating the artist from the art (not in Macdonald’s case; as far as I know he was never problematic, but the attitudes of the time, translated into fiction, are what I am talking about in this case–in particular, women and minorities and how they are represented on the pages of the book).

I am also slowly but surely making my way through Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and enjoying the trip immensely. New Orleans history–dark and bloody as it is–is endlessly fascinating, and I am always finding inspiration for more stories and books the more of it I read.

I’m not really sure how much I am going to get done this weekend–the emotional drains of the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday, followed by the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday–is probably going to be prohibitive of doing any writing–unless I do it in the mornings–all weekend. So, mostly reading will be on the agenda this weekend, methinks.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I don’t have to head into the office until around noonish, so I have this morning free to write and answer emails and put away dishes and…sigh. I’m getting tired just thinking about it, so I better just do it.

Til tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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When Smokey Sings

And just like that, the vacation is over and it’s back to work with me.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But in all honesty, it feels like I haven’t set foot in the office for months. It also feels like I haven’t written anything in months, either.

But let’s face it, and be honest with myself: yesterday was also the first time I have felt human,  or like myself, in weeks. I managed to get good sleep almost every day for the last five or six days; it’s amazing what a difference good sleep can make in one;’s day to day life. Even this morning, despite being untimely ripped from my bed–I’m not sleepy or tired; just not fully awake yet, and the coffee–with an assist from a shower–will change that all fairly rapidly.

I started –and finished–Richard Stark’s The Hunter yesterday, and I’m not quite sure how I felt about it. I thought it was written very well–the pacing was particularly good–but…it’s a 1962 novel, and that shows with misogyny and a couple of homophobic slurs, as well as some seriously questionable sexualization. But it’s also a pulp novel from the early 1960’s; Stark was a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, and it read very quickly and very fast….the main character, Parker, is described as an anti-hero; I’d say he’s more of a sociopath than anything else, really, although I do suppose to that does make him a bit of anti-hero….I am still thinking about the book, and will write more about it at another time, most likely. After I finished reading it, I moved on to The Ferguson Affair by Ross Macdonald. I don’t think I’ve read it before–to date, to the best of my knowledge I’ve not read any of Macdonald’s non-Archer novels, and that very much is what this one is; but it’s got Macdonald’s trademark writing style, and I am enjoying it. I think the Parker novel inevitably led to the Macdonald, really–there were some things about Parker that reminded me of both Macdonalds, Ross and John D.; I actually was looking for a non-McGee novel of John D. MacDonald’s to read, and finally decided on the Ross Macdonald The Ferguson Affair. As I read the book, it reminds me of something I’ve read before–perhaps not another Macdonald novel, but perhaps one of the Lew Archer short stories I read in The Archer Files last year when I was doing the Short Story Project.

I also had to do the editorial notes on my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” which is appearing in the anthology The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes of Three Rooms Press–they also published Florida Happens last year–and got that turned in; I also saw the cover, which was shared on Facebook. I do like this story that I wrote; it wasn’t one of the easier ones to do. Primarily the reason it took me so long–other than I was writing Bury Me in Shadows at the same time–was because it was so difficult to come up with an idea for what I was going to write. Ordinarily I like writing stories to order–trying to come up with a story that fits a theme (and I usually will push those limits) is always a fun challenge; this one was a bit more difficult, and I am really happy with what I finally managed to come up with. I did worry, as the deadline loomed, that the story wasn’t going to come together properly; I always have that fear, it’s the flip side (or a primary symptom) of Imposter Syndrome. But it’s finished, the editor liked it, and I got my corrections done….now I just have to figure out how to write this Sherlock Holmes pastiche I agreed to write. I already have the idea, and how I want to do it, and where it’s set and the title, which I love….I just now have to figure out the story itself.

I also figured out how to revise two short stories I’ve been unable to get; one was simply because in order for the story’s title to work, one of the characters had to be a moron; and the other because it was a little too, shall we say, spot on? It’s also a great title, and I think it’s a great story; I just have to revise it and change some of the things in it before I make one last try to get it published somewhere.

It’s actually been a pretty good year, career-wise, for me so far….and with only two months left to go–what can I accomplish in the meantime?

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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Carrie

Saturday morning and yet another, amazing night’s sleep. I didn’t get up until ten this morning! That’s like two days in a row, and I could have easily stayed in bed had I not realized that I will eventually have to start getting up early again and going to work next week. Tomorrow I’m going to set my alarm and get up around eight or nine, just to get back into the habit.

I’ve also reached the point where I am no longer sad not to be at Bouchercon this weekend anymore. I think I just finally got numb, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being happy for my friends and glad they’re having a great time over there. After all, there’s no point in being sad, really–it doesn’t make anything better, does it?–and there’s really no sense in being sad or upset over things you have no control over. Those are the things you just have to accept.

You don’t have to like them, though.

Last night we binged the rest of the available episodes of Castle Rock, and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as Annie Wilkes. She should at least get an Emmy nod for the performance; I won’t go out on a limb and say she should win since there are so many incredible television shows and performances out there now, between all the streaming services and so forth. This truly is an extraordinary time for television shows. I love that the writers have dragged Jerusalem’s Lot and the Marsten House into this season; there’s something strange going on in the basement of the Marsten House but we aren’t really sure what it is yet…this season is making me want to revisit Stephen King’s work, which is precisely what I don’t need to do; my TBR pile is massive enough as it is without going back and rereading some of my favorite Stephen Kings. Over the last year or so I’ve reread Pet Sematary, The Shining, and ‘salem’s Lot as it is; I’d love to reread Firestarter before reading The Institute–which I think is going to be my Thanksgiving week treat.

I think my next read–after a careful examination of my bookshelves, is going to be Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Stark of course is one of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms, and my education in Westlake (and Lawrence Block, while we’re at it) is sadly lacking. I also never read the Ed McBain novels (but I did read Evan Hunter when I was in my twenties). As I said, my education is classic crime writers of the 20th century has been sadly neglected; and I’d also like to read Ross Macdonald’s stand alones, and I’d love to immerse myself in a reread of the John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee novels (and finish reading through his stand alones as well). I also need to finish the canons of Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes.

And of course, there are all those wonderful writers of color I need to read. And queer crime writers. And…

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to finish reading  Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia yesterday, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very different approach to a vampire novel, and while I don’t know that I would necessarily classify it as a horror novel–not all vampire novels are horror novels–it really is quite good. It’s more suspenseful and, much as I hate to say it, it’s almost closer to a crime/suspense novel with paranormal elements than it is a horror novel. I do highly recommend it–I’ll write an entry about it at some point this weekend, perhaps even later today–and it’s precisely the kind of novel that is needed to reinvigorate the horror genre. I’ve been saying for quite some time that it’s the so-called minority writers (writers of color, queer writers) who are currently injecting new blood into, and revitalizing the crime genre–I would say that’s also the case with horror. The problem with genre fiction is that it tends to stagnate periodically and become repetitive and somewhat stale, until something comes along, shakes it up, and turns it upside down. The rise of the hardboiled female private eye novel in the 1980’s was the kick in the pants crime needed to breathe new life into a genre that was getting a bit stale; I think it’s the marginalized writers who are doing it now.

Look at me, generalizing about horror–a genre I am hardly expert in. As I always say, I’m just a fan with horror.

But I am hardly an expert in crime fiction, either. There are positively libraries of things I don’t know about crime fiction.

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

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