He Stopped Loving Her Today

I put off making a grocery run from Saturday to Sunday, like a fool, only to discover the Baronne Street Rouse’s closed for Easter this year; I decided not to go to the one in Uptown because I didn’t feel like driving all the way down there only to find out the drive had been in vain. I did stop at the gas station–filled it up for slightly more than fifteen dollars, something that’s never happened since I bought the thing–and then at Walgreens to get a few things I could get there. It was weird navigating the empty streets of New Orleans; I was reminded very much of that time post-Katrina when I came back and most of the city was empty. I itched to turn stop lights into stop signs–and at one point did stop at a stop sign and wait for it to change. It was weird, very weird–the vast emptiness of streets that are usually filled with cars and seeing more people than the beggars at the intersections. Had the stop lights not have been working, the similarities would have been even eerier.

And of course, people were going through red lights and ignoring all rules of traffic, because they clearly were the only people our driving. #cantfixtrash

I managed to eke out another thousand words on the Sherlock story,  and I was enormously pleased to make some sort of progress.  It’s very weird because I am trying out the Doyle voice and style–which I am neither familiar with nor used to–which makes the going perhaps slower than it ordinarily would be. At least I hope that’s the case, at any rate; it’s been so long since I’ve actually written anything or worked on anything and gotten anywhere with it, I sometimes fear that I’ve fallen out of the habit and practice of writing. (I always worry the ability to write–the ability to create–is going to go away and leave me, particularly in time of crisis; my reaction to the Time of Troubles, sadly, wasn’t to retreat into my writing but rather to stop almost entirely.)

Yesterday was rather delightful; the entire weekend was lovely. It’s always nice to get rest, to sleep well, to be able to read and occasionally do some writing. I am very deep into Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting and, while I do distinctly remember enjoying the book when I read it, I am loving it more than I would have thought (as I have with the other recent Stewart rereads); perhaps as a writer myself and an older person, it resonates more? I can appreciate the artistry more? I don’t know, but I am really glad I decided to revisit Stewart novels I’ve not read in decades again. I just can’t get over how she brilliantly she undercuts the governess/Jane Eyre trope, and how easily she does it. Truly remarkable. I also finished it before bed, and it’s marvelous, simply marvelous–and will be the subject of another blog post.

We started watching Devs on Hulu last night, which people have been raving about, and while I give it a lot of props for production values…it moved so slowly I kept checking my social media on my iPad. It was vaguely interesting, sort of, but we just couldn’t get vested in it–there was a bit of a show-offy nature to it; like they were going overboard in saying see how good we are? We’re an important show and we’re going to win all the Emmys. I doubt we’ll go back to it, especially since Killing Eve is back, and Dead to Me is coming back for its second season; something else we watch was also returning relatively soon, too–and of course, I just remembered I pay for CBS All Access; not sure why, but there are some shows on there I’d like to watch, like the new Star Trek shows and Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone. (But you see what I’m saying about paying too much for too many streaming services? I really need to pay more attention to that, and one of these days I’m going to need to sit down, figure out what we need and what we don’t need, and cut some of these services off once and for all.

I think my next reread for the Reread Project is going to be the first in Elizabeth Peters’ amazing Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank. There’s an Amelia Peabody fan account on Twitter (@teamramses) that I follow; they usually post quotes from the books and occasionally run polls, and they also reminded me of how I discovered the series. I originally found it on the wire rack (when I replied to the tweet, I got it wrong; I said I found it on the paperback rack at Walgreens; wrong drug store chain) of paperbacks at a Long’s drugstore in Fresno. I was still deep in the thrall of Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Mary Stewart at the time, and here was another romantic suspense novel SET IN EGYPT, by an author I didn’t know. I absolutely loved the book, and looked for more books by Elizabeth Peters the next time I went to Waldenbooks at the mall–but they didn’t have any, and eventually I forgot about her. Flash forward many years, and a title of a new paperback on the new releases rack at Waldenbooks and More jumped out at me: The Last Camel Died at Noon. What a great title! I had to buy it, took it home, and started reading it….and you can imagine my delight, and joy, to discover that Crocodile on the Sandbank was not, in fact, a stand alone, but rather the first in a series I was bound to love. I went back and started the series over from the beginning, collecting them all, and I also started buying them as new releases in hardcover because I couldn’t wait for the paperback. It might not actually be a bad idea to revisit the entire series…I also think The Last Camel Died at Noon (it’s still one of my favorite titles of all time) was when I discovered Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels were both the pseudonyms of archaeologist Dr. Barbara Mertz, and I went on a delightful period of reading all of their backlists as well.

One of my biggest regrets of my writing career–in which I’ve met so many of my writing heroes–is that I was never able to meet Dr. Mertz before she died. She was going to be the guest of honor at the first Malice Domestic I attended, but she was too ill and she died shortly thereafter. But one thing I learned, from reading all of her books–but especially the Peters novels–was that humor can work in a suspense/mystery novel, and can make a reader engage even more with it. Dr. Mertz was also a master of the great opening line. In one of the Vicky Bliss novels, for example–I think Silhouette in Scarlet–opens with this treasure: “I swear, this time it was not my fault.”

And while I have been cleared to return to work today, my failure in deciding to wait until Easter to go to the grocery store, as well as forgetting an integral and necessary part to my working at home today at the office over a week ago means that I decided to use today as a vacation day, and try to get all the remaining loose odds and ends (mail, groceries) taken care of today, and return to the actual office tomorrow. (I am going to do the windows today if it kills me.) Yesterday we were supposed to have bad thunderstorms, and while the air got thick and heavy, it never actually rained here–although the rest of Louisiana was blasted with these same storms that somehow chose to avoid New Orleans–there were even tornadoes in Monroe.

The weirdest thing to come out of this whole experience has been my sudden, new addiction to my Kindle app on my iPad, which has me thinking that I can do a massive purge/cull  of my books now, keeping only the ones I can’t replace, if needed, as ebooks. I’ve avoided reading electronically for so long, but I find with my Kindle app I can just put the iPad to the side for a little while and pick it up again when I have a moment or so to read. I tore through all the Mary Stewart novels I’ve reread recently on the Kindle app, and that’s where my copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank is. I doubt that I’m going to get rid of all my books any time soon–there are still some I want to keep, obviously, and it’s not like I can afford right now to go to the Amazon website or the iBooks one and replace everything right now anyway…but then again, I think, you’d only need replace them when you’re ready to read them, right?

I am literally torn here.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I made some great progress on the Sherlock story–it now clocks in at over two thousand words, and I’d like to get a working first draft finished, if not today, then before the weekend so I can edit it and the other story that’s due by the end of the month as well over the course of the weekend. April is beginning to slip through my fingers, and while I am still not completely certain of what day it is every day, I’m getting better about figuring it all out.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Stand by Your Man

Sunday morning and I’m feeling fine. Yesterday was kind of lovely; I am enjoying this healthy feeling I’m experiencing, and it’s been a while since I’ve not been feeling like shit, so this recovery has been absolutely lovely. Yesterday I managed to be productive yet again–I finished the floors and some odds and ends; there are a few odds and ends that I need to get done today as well–and I got some wonderful reading done; I also managed to get some writing done.

What’s that, you say? Actual writing? Yes, indeed. I wrote about a thousand words on the Sherlock story, give or take; I started writing two new short stories (don’t @ me, I am well aware, but I wanted to get both “Officer Friendly” and “The Pestilence Maiden” started, else I’d forget what they were about or the ideas), and I also did some thinking about all the books and projects that I have in some stage of completion, which was also lovely. It’s nice to slowly be working my way back into my writing again–I was beginning to think I’d never get there, frankly–and yes, it felt really good to be writing again. Today I have to make a run out to get some groceries–my first time leaving the house other than taking out the trash or using the grill–since I got sent home from work over a week ago. I have a mask and gloves, and portable hand sanitizer attached to my key ring. My goal for the morning is to finish this blog, do some other puttering around the house that I need to do before leaving, and then head to the store. When I get back home, I am going to sit down and bang out some more writing, and then at some point I’ll retire to my easy chair to do some more reading.

Now that I’ve actually started to read ebooks, I have to eat a lot of crow. I’ve been resisting reading ebooks for years–I’ve done it, when required, for book award judging, but never really like it and resented having to do it–primarily because I don’t like change, for one thing, and for another, I already spend far too much time looking at screens; the last thing I need to do is read something electronically to relax after staring at a computer screen for a minimum of eight hours a day. My eyes continue to get worse–and it’s a combination of age and blue screen effect, I am fairly certain–and reading electronically was probably not going to help that. But now that I’ve gotten started, I can’t seem to stop. I finished reading This Rough Magic yesterday morning–or was it Friday night? I don’t remember–and yesterday I read a Scott Heim story, “Loam”, and then moved onto another Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting, which is also fantastic. We watched Zombieland Tap Twice (it was something like that) which was much funnier than I thought it would be, and then the Octavia Spencer horror thriller, Ma–which could have been better, but was perfectly adequate. I do love Ms. Spencer, and wish she would get some better material to showcase her talents more.

I think we’re scheduled to  have shitty weather today, too–rain and so forth–and it looks kind of hazy and sepia-toned out there this morning, and windy–so I should probably get my act together faster this morning and get to the store  so I can not only get it over with, but get back home before the weather turns ugly. Good thing I just looked up the weather–that isn’t going to happen until this afternoon, and I should be able to get there and back before that occurs. It’s also fun to sit at my desk and write during crappy weather, I don’t know why that is, but I like having that tiny barrier of glass between me and the nastiness outside. I’m not sure why that is….but the only thing I like about driving in rain is the coziness of being warm and dry inside my car while only a thin sheet of glass and metal protects me completely from the elements. It’s weird, I know, but everything about me is actually pretty weird; always has been (and for the record, I never became truly happy until I stopped fighting and accepted the weirdness).

I greatly enjoyed Scott Heim’s “Loam”; he’s always been one of the finest writers that our community has produced over the last (gulp) thirty years, and his lack of production has always been a pity and a shame. I read and loved Mysterious Skin years ago, and have always intended to reread it; reading “Loam” got me to find my old copy and place it on the Reread Project pile, which now consists of it, two more Mary Stewart novels (Madam, Will You Talk? and Thunder on the Right), Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, Moonraker by Ian Fleming, Sing Me a Death Song by Jay Bennett, Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler, A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt, and Harlan Ellison’s collection Strange Wine (I also have Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank on deck in my Kindle app).

“Loam” is a long short story about three triplets from the small town of Collingwood, Kansas (is this a nod to Collinwood from Dark Shadows? Perhaps), who are returning for the first time in years, to arrange and attend their father’s funeral. The story begins with the three of them dealing with the rental car arrangements at whatever airport they flew into–I assume Kansas City, which is where I’d fly into if going to visit my part of Kansas–and then slowly, as they make the drive, Heim begins to peel back a trauma the triplets–and the other kids in their first grade class–possibly survived when they were very young; a Satanism scare, in which the teacher and her mentally handicapped son were accused of using (and abusing) the children. This begins to resurface when they stop at a second hand store and find a stack of pictures of their classmates and themselves at that age, possible evidence from the case, which was eventually dismissed as a hoax and a scare–similar to the Satanic scare that happened somewhere else, where the cops basically convinced the children they were abused and to accuse the day care operators of Satanism and abuse–and so we’re never really sure, as are the kids themselves–whether or not it actually happened. It’s very gruesome, and very Gothic, and extremely well written. I recommend it highly; and I wish Scott would write more. I’d never gotten around to his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear; I’m going to make the time this year, methinks. “Loam” is a Kindle single, part of a group of six stories called “Disorder collection,” whatever that is, and you can get it here for 99 cents. You won’t regret it.

And then I started rereading Nine Coaches Waiting. Again, this is a Mary Stewart novel that I read once, long ago, as I was making my way through the Stewart canon as a teenager; I remember enjoying it, but it didn’t make a strong impression on teenaged me. But as I begin rereading it again yesterday, I could not help but marvel at Stewart’s skill. Nine Coaches Waiting consists of the perfect Gothic romantic suspense set-up; a young orphan girl comes to a huge mansion near the French/Swiss border (she has to fly to Geneva to get there) to be governess to an orphaned young French comte; his estate, Chateau Valmy, is being managed for him by his aunt and uncle; he usually lives with another uncle in Paris, but that uncle, an archaeologist, has been called away for six months to a dig in Greece, and so he has returned to his ancestral home to live with his other uncle. Linda, our twenty-one year old heroine, is half-French and fluent in both languages, but it’s made fairly clear to her during the hiring process that they prefer someone who only speaks English, so that the young Phillippe’s English also will become fluent–as she can only speak to  him in English. Under the cover of that lie Linda comes to Chateau Valmy, and becomes attached to her young charge…while not entirely trusting Phillippe’s aunt and uncle, her employers. What Stewart is doing with this novel is completely subverting the meek governess trope of romantic suspense, that began with Jane Eyre; her employer even mockingly calls her “Miss Jane Eyre” at one point. Victoria Holt went back to the governess well over and over in her novels, from Mistress of Mellyn to The King of the Castle, sticking to, and mirroring, the original trope; I love what Stewart is doing with it, and this is yet another example of what a master writer Mary Stewart actually was.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Easter Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Hello Darlin’

I was reminded yesterday morning of one of my favorite shows of all time–Moonlighting–which made me think of how this particular show (and television crime shows) have influenced me and my writing.

For those of you who are too young to remember, Moonlighting was a television show in the mid to late 1980’s, that starred Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes, a wealthy retired supermodel, who had been completely wiped out by an embezzling accountant (or agent, or manager; I’m not sure I remember which clearly) and the only asset she had left was a private detective agency–which she had primarily invested in as a business loss to reduce her tax bill every year. Facing financial ruin, Maddie needs to turn the Blue Moon Agency into a source of income, which puts her squarely into conflict with fun-loving extrovert David Addison, the private eye who enjoys life, takes nothing very seriously, and has a joke for everything, and is the primary boss at the agency. David Addison was played by Bruce Willis–this role, along with Die Hard, made him a star–and he and Shepherd had the most amazing chemistry. The writing was whip-crack smart, sometimes breaking the fourth wall, with the two characters always arguing and talking over each other, kind of like classic comedies like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby, and out of nowhere it became a huge smash hit. The first season was abbreviated–a spring replacement, with maybe four or five episodes–but season two was absolutely phenomenal. But the pressure on the writing and production staffs was incredibly difficult, the show always ran behind on filming, and it didn’t help that Willis and Shepherd hated each other. She also got pregnant during the run of the show, and they wrote the pregnancy into it.

Ironically, the chemistry between them was what drove the show’s success–kind of like Sam and Diane on Cheers–but once the show’s focus moved away from their cases and onto their relationship, the quality went down and so did the ratings. It’s a pity, because those first two seasons were pure gold.

One of my favorite things about the show was how every episode opened with David and Maddie arguing about something–and then over the course of the episode, the case made each other see the other’s side, and then at the end they had reversed themselves, arguing the opposite positions from the original argument….and sometimes, agreeing that they could the other’s point, and accepting that there’s another way of seeing everything.

I absolutely loved that. My goal, years ago, when I started the Chanse series was to make sure that Chanse learned something about himself by working on, and solving, whatever case came his way.

I really wish someone would buy the streaming rights to the show. I’d love to watch those first two seasons again. Like I said–all those episodes were pure gold.

I took yesterday afternoon off–I’d intended to work from home, after getting the mail and stopping at Rouse’s–and also started the lengthy process of trying to get my email inbox cleaned out, which is a Sisyphean task, to say the least. But progress was made indeed, and far now the rock is at least most of the way up the hill. I also sat down in my easy chair and read some more of Daphne du Maurier’s odd Gothic fairytale “The Archduchess” with Scooter purring in my lap and, as one is wont to do with a purring cat in your lap, fell asleep for about an hour. People rarely talk about how cats all possess that super-power; adorable little agents of Morpheus that they are. I did manage to read some more of the story, though–I’m interested to see where it’s going to go, since there’s such a dreamy, fairytale-like quality to the story, which is about the fall of the monarchy in a fictional little European county called Ronda. It’s weird that it’s taking me this long to read the story, but this is also my first full week of going to work at eight every morning, so there’s little wonder that it’s getting harder to wake up and harder to stay awake the further the week progresses.

But today is Thursday, and I only have one more day to get through before it’s the glorious weekend, and I really do need to get my shit together. I’ve got to get that Sherlock story done, I have to pay the bills, I need to get back to work on the Secret Project…there’s so much to do, so little time in which to do it, and I can’t keep wasting precious time.

On that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and stay safe out there.

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The Gambler

Saturday morning, and we’ve made it through yet another week, Constant Reader. It got a little hairy here and there this past week–Wednesday afternoon I was literally hanging by a thread and barely in control of my temper–but having Thursday to stay home and collect myself was absolutely lovely. I got rested, got my equilibrium back, and so yesterday I was fine. I managed to make it through an entire eight hour shift at work with aplomb; I was even able to spend some time getting some of my data entry work accomplished. There were some difficult times yesterday, I cannot lie; it’s going to get harder and harder as the epidemic continues weaving its evil, viral way through our parish, and as more and more people get sick. I also believe the city is reaching its tipping point with the hospitals close to being overwhelmed; they are preparing the Convention Center with beds to turn it into a makeshift hospital ward for those who are sick and need care, but don’t need ventilation. This, of course, brings back horrible memories of the days after Katrina; so far there’s been no word about the Superdome being used in this capacity, primarily because it’s not as easily accessed as the Convention Center–you can walk inside the Morial Center from the sidewalk, whereas at the Superdome you have quite a climb and walk to get inside, so it’s probably not practical for use in that manner.

Yesterday I had to stop at Rouse’s on the way home, and I was expecting–well, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. Since I made the Costco run on Lundi Gras (which in hindsight was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve made in my life; certainly the most important decisions I’ve made in 2020), toilet paper isn’t a concern so I didn’t check that aisle at all; but as picked over as the bread aisle was, I  managed to get two small loaves of Bunny Bread (the local Louisiana version of Wonder Bread, don’t judge me–it makes excellent toast and grilled cheese sandwiches, so back off). I also noticed that Rouse’s bakery is now making fresh bread, cut for sandwiches, and only charging 99 cents per loaf.

I do love my friendly neighborhood Rouse’s.

And as our case numbers and death toll continues to rise in New Orleans, I am pleased to say that the city is doing what it always does in times of crisis: it is pulling together. No matter how scared people might be, no one we have to turn away from getting tested for not having the applicable symptoms becomes irate or angry, even out of a sense of being scared or frustrated–they all accept it with aplomb, thank us for helping the sick, and promise to keep checking to see when we have more testing capacity.  Restaurants are feeding service workers who no longer have incomes. One of the hotels in the CBD has opened itself to the homeless population, to get them off the streets and put a roof over their heads and giving them access to running water and a bed. Everyone in Rouse’s, from the customers to the staff, were all pleasant and polite and kind to each other.

I don’t think I will ever get used to getting on I-10 at 5 pm and seeing no traffic–I certainly hope I don’t ever get used to it, at any rate.

Last night, we continued our binge-watch of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and my God, how addicted are we to this show? It doesn’t hurt, of course, that all of the men are incredibly hot, but the character of Sabrina, and the way Kiernan Shipka plays her, is the heart of the show. It’s become increasingly more and more fantastic, as any show dealing with the supernatural inevitably does; but Shipka manages to root her performance–and thus carry the show–in reality, which makes it work perfectly. All of the acting is stellar and top-notch, and while it plays fast-and-loose with a lot of things having to do with the dark arts and dark magic–it’s still kind of cool to see the world-building taking place, and that it all seems to come together and work on the show. I also have a HUGE crush on Luke Cook, the Australian actor who plays Lucifer. (Do yourself a favor and do a google-image search for “Luke Cook shirtless.”)

I also love the way Sabrina is the center of the show–and the way the men inevitably wind up doing what she tells them to.

And–as weird as this may sound–I find that my best coping mechanism to get back to my own center after getting home from a tough day at work is to watch highlights of LSU games from this past season. I also particularly enjoy watching the last five minutes of the first half of the Alabama game (as LSU took a 16-13 lead and in under five minutes turned it into an unsurmountable 33-13 half-time lead) or the final ten minutes of the first half of the national championship game against Clemson (when LSU went from trailing 17-7 to a 28-17 half-time lead; scoring enough points to win the game before half-time). As I said to Paul last night as I cued up that Clemson game yet again, “You know, this is the last time I remember being completely happy.”

These are, indeed, strange times in which we are living.

Today I am going to step away from the Internet (once I finish this) while checking in periodically on social media, and instead I am going to spend most of the day organizing and cleaning and hopefully getting some writing work done. I have the tops of the other cabinets to organize and make tidy; and I may start working my way through the kitchen drawers. I slept extremely well last night and I slept till nine this morning, so I feel rested; I am going to use my massage roller to loosen up the tightness in my back and I am also going to do some stretching this morning; just because I can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean I can’t do stretching exercises. I also forgot two things at Rouse’s yesterday–cat food and charcoal–so I am going to walk over to Walgreens at some point and see if they have both at a reasonable price; if they don’t, I am going to walk to the Rouse’s in the CBD and take pictures of the deserted streets as I go. I feel like I should be documenting these strange times here in the river city; and am probably missing golden opportunities to take pictures of landmarks and so forth that could be used for book covers and so forth because there are no tourists to photo shop out of them.

Maybe I should walk down to Woldenberg Park and also take some pictures of the river. Lost in all this COVID-19 stuff is the fact that the river is very high right now–we may need to open the spillway again this year–and of course, hurricane season is just around the corner….but I am not allowing myself to think about that just yet; there’s plenty of time to worry about storms when the time comes.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and STAY SAFE.

augRhysTylerCalvin2

Will the Circle Be Unbroken

I always forget how noisy New Orleans is until it’s silent.

Today I went into the office to help screen clients before they enter our facility. There are times when it feels silly to ask everyone the questions we do–basically, we run through the COVID 19 symptoms and ask if they are having them–and then we squirt hand sanitizer on their hands, give them a small personal hand sanitizer dispenser that had a loop to go on their keychain, and then let them in. Today was our syringe access program, which made this trickier and a bit more complicated–and it was all set-up last minute and pulled together by the program coordinator. It went remarkably smoothly, with only a few hiccups, and I was amazed yet again by how remarkably my co-workers can rise up to meet a crisis, pitch in, and get it done.

I left the office at quarter past five, walking out to my where my car was parked. ALong the way several strangers, just out walking or from the neighborhood, all called out to me to “stay safe” as I passed them; again, the people of New Orleans are a unique brand of Americans, and I really wish sometimes the rest of the country could be more like we are here when it comes to certain things. But I got into my car to drive home–stopping at the grocery store again on the way–and was stunned to see little to no traffic on I-10. I managed to get to Rouse’s, do my shopping, check out, and drive home–during the busiest part of the day, on a Friday–in less than thirty-five minutes. A lot of the shelves in the store were empty, lots of staples (rice, bread, milk) long gone; but it was also interesting to see what was missing and what was there. Who knew breakfast sausage was an item in huge demand during a quarantine? But there was lots of bacon. Go figure.

But it was the silence that was the eeriest thing about the entire adventure. Silence. As I put the groceries into the car, no sound. As I drove home from Rouse’s, I didn’t connect the phone to the stereo, instead choosing to listen to the silence. I saw a couple of people waiting for the oncoming streetcar (which was empty). The cops were chasing some people out of Tacos and Beer–not sure what that was about–but the bar on the corner was dead silent. My neighborhood was dead silent. No noise, no music, no car engines, no voices, no nothing. It was kind of like that weird post-Katrina period after I returned in October 2005; this weird, eerie silence in a usually bustling city full of life and laughter; like something out of a post-apocalyptic film or television program.

And after I put the groceries away, I realized how exhausted I am. I collapsed into my desk chair, and exhaustion just swept through my body like an electrical charge. I can feel the tension in my shoulders, and my lower back is tight as well. I definitely need to spend some time this weekend relaxing. I also need to try to get some writing done. Is everyone else worn out and tired? This fucking week, this fucking month, this shitshow of a fucking year.

Our mayor did issue a “shelter-in-place” order today, but most of the businesses affected by the order had already shut down (although I am wondering if that’s what the cops were doing at Tacos and Beer); my job is exempt from this, even though the Louisiana Office of Public Health has suspended all STI testing in clinics like ours throughout the state, with no end date in sight. New Orleans is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the disease, as we knew it would–so much socializing, so much partying, so much Carnival (despite it being apparently cursed) and so many tourists. Everyone hugs and kisses cheeks as a greeting. It’s a very social and sociable city; our whole mentality here is about spending time with people you care about and enjoying your life as much as you can.

And now, I am going to go open a bottle of Chardonnay and drink myself into a stupor watching highlights of LSU’s 2019 football season BECAUSE I CAN.

Hope you all are safe, and okay, and taking care of yourselves.

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I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

And so we go into self-isolation, of a sort.

Yesterday was not a good day, Constant Reader, I’m not going to lie to you about it. I got up early and went to the office, only to stay for only about four hours or so before departing to run some errands and come home. There’s a surreal feeling about everything. I was reminded of 9/11; after watching the news non-stop for hours and sending emails to friends and calling people and trying to get through, I ran some errands just to get out of the house and I remember, to this day, how eerie it felt. There weren’t any people out and about; not many, at any rate, and it was such a beautiful September afternoon. Everything seemed subdued. That’s how it felt yesterday driving to the post office. I stopped at Wal-mart as well to get a few things, and like Rouse’s on Saturday, so much empty shelving.

And of course, Mystery Writers of America had to cancel the Edgar banquet yesterday.

Cases in Louisiana continue to rise, and we had our fourth death overnight. It’s so weird, because the weather is so beautiful outside and even the construction site two lots over from the Lost Apartment is proceeding apace–I can hear them working on the building while I drink my morning coffee. I am going into the office today, once I get cleaned up and get going on my day–I have data entry work to do, and there’s other work that can be done while we aren’t seeing clients. It’s going to be very weird being in the office mostly by myself, but I am going to wear gloves and a mask to prevent contaminating any surfaces, and of course I’ll be washing my hands and face fairly regularly. There’s a lot of work to be done that we generally don’t get around to doing because we are so busy seeing clients, so I am going to try to get to work on those things over the next few days (or weeks) until we have the clearance to open and start up our programs again. I suspect we are also going to see a spike in STI’s in the upcoming months–gay men are still going to be horny and bored, and if the HIV risk didn’t stop people from having unprotected sex, I seriously doubt that this infection risk is going to stop anyone, either. But at this point I have no idea when we will be able to re-open and get back to work.

We streamed some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and I have to tell you, Constant Reader, watch this show. If you loved night-time soaps, especially in the 1980’s, and Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives, you’re going to love this show. Good campy melodrama, and all the stripper boys are pretty to look at. The true star of the show, though, is the actress playing Macarena (seriously) Medina. She’s magnificent, steals every scene she is in, and is just fantastic. She’s the Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan of this show, and she is absolutely amazing. There’s also a gay character and story-line on the show–young Jairo the stripper, who’s also mute, is gay and works as a hustler in addition to his stripping, and he’s sort of fallen into a relationship with Macarena’s emotionally damaged son. There’s drug cartels and murders and backstabbing and corporate espionage and–seriously, it’s amazing.

I’ve not written anything in days, and the deadlines loom, so I am going to have to get into the writing headspace soon or else I’ll never get anything finished the way I should.

And on that note, I am going to get ready to head into the office now. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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El Paso

Sunday morning and the sun is shining. I slept late–I need rest, frankly, whether I am actually sick or not–and am just now getting to my first cup of coffee. I decided to make yesterday a day of rest; I literally did nothing yesterday other than go to the grocery store. We got home from there, I put the groceries away while Paul went to pick up a prescription and lunch, and then we finished watching The Outsider and then started a new binge-watch on Netflix, a show from Spain called Toy Boy, which is just the kind if highly entertaining prime-time soap experience we needed. I highly recommend it; it’s extremely well done, and it’s packed full of twists and turns and drama. The main character, Hugo, was having an affair with a very wealthy and powerful woman her husband was murdered. Hugo worked as a Toy Boy, part of a stripper group of really hot young men (obviously) at Club Inferno, and was framed for the murder, spent seven years behind bars, and has just now been released because of faulty evidence and so forth used in his original conviction. Naturally, he has to prove he is actually innocent; his pro bono lawyer’s law firm has hidden reasons for wanting to help him, and every one of the dancers (except the black one, of course) have some kind of intense drama going on in their lives which makes the story move pretty quickly and there are some surprising twists along the way.

And obviously, there’s a lot of eye candy. Before we knew it we’d burned through quite a few episodes and it was after midnight. Make of that what you will. But it did make me nostalgic for the glory of the prime time soaps where everyone was beautiful and the stories moves at lightning speed and there was this gloss of glamour thrown into the mix.

But I am lethargic from doing nothing yesterday, and I am now debating whether I want to go to Wal-mart today or not. It’s the only place we can get the cat treats that Scooter likes, and let’s face it, the shelves at Wal-mart might be empty but I can’t imagine cat treats were an enormous priority for quarantine prep. I also recognize the stupidity of either putting myself at risk by going to get treats for the cat, or putting everyone else at risk if I am a carrier. These are the kinds of decisions I never thought I would have to make, you know? I was impressed with how efficiently Rouse’s was dealing with everything yesterday; regularly disinfecting the check out conveyer belts and the credit card machine, passing out wipes to everyone who walked in, and so forth. But my logical, rational, crime writer brain immediately went to but what about the food packaging? Who all has handled all these boxes and fresh fruit and vegetables and…then I decided it was simply better not to ask questions.

Sometimes having that kind of brain–as well as having it also be extremely creative–can be a curse, you know?

So, after blowing everything off yesterday I am trying to decide what to do with myself for today. ShDaould I risk going to the gym? I don’t have a mask to wear, but I do have rubber gloves that can be disposed of when I am finished (which will also undoubtedly make my hands sweat) and I can of course wipe down all the equipment I touch, which could make the work out take even longer, but it would get me out of the house and doing something. I cannot even stand to look around the filthy disgusting mess that is my kitchen, either. It only makes sense to get a handle on everything here, get the kitchen cleaned up, do the dishes and pick things up and file things, then make a run to Wal-mart to get the cat treats (as well as anything else they may have that I might need–bearing in mind their shelves are going to be extremely picked over)…or I could just walk to the Walgreens, see if they have them (they will be a few dollars more expensive there), and then go on to the gym. Decisions, decisions; the questions we ask ourselves during a pandemic.

Or I could just continue to self-isolate, recognize the fact that it’s not wise to continually put myself and others at risk, and stay my ass at home, knowing I can always start over again and stick with it once this passes. I can stretch at home and I can also use that massage roller on my back to loosen it up, and I think stretching would be enough to kick up some endorphins in order to motivate myself.

And the more I think about it, the stupider I think it is for me to go to Wal-mart and the gym. I’ll go to Walgreens, see if they have the treats there, and if they don’t–well, Scooter, you may be just out of luck when this batch runs out. As I said, I’ve had a cough for most of the week with the occasional head congestion; why am I putting others at risk? Honestly, sometimes I just have to think these things through so the realistic part of my brain can kick into high gear.

Although I definitely don’t need to be wasting the day binge-watching television–although if we finish Toy Boy we can go on to Dare Me, which I’ve been wanting to get back to for weeks.

Also, I greatly enjoyed The Outsider, even if it felt padded to get to ten full episodes. I was very delighted to realize that Holly, the character brilliantly played by Cynthia Erivo, was the same Holly from the Mr. Mercedes novels, whom I absolutely loved–and Erivo was absolutely perfectly cast. (I also hope this means we’ll see the character again in his fiction–and now I want to read the book even more than I did before; despite knowing how it turns out and what the central mystery is and how it’s resolved.)

So, now that I am wrapping this up, I hope to get the kitchen cleaned; do some stretching; perhaps walk over to Walgreens to forage for cat treats; and maybe–just maybe–do some writing at some point this afternoon. I need to at least get another thousand words finished today at some point, on some thing–probably the Sherlock story–and continue to self-isolate.

And I’m very lucky to be able to remain in isolation with Paul, who makes everything bearable.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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Sweet Dreams (of You)

It saddened me to see Left Coast had cancelled; even if I am not at a conference or some gathering of writers I can always look at the pictures of my friends and smile a little wistfully, wish I was there, and then get on with it. As one does,

This has been a rough week, Constant Reader, and I cannot lie. I’ve been all over the map emotionally, eventually I got to the usual tipping point of numbness. Yesterday I got some amazing book mail; copies of some of the Edgar finalists, which is way fun. Of course, I already have an enormous TBR pile; this only expands it and makes it bigger–way bigger, but it’s lovely, always lovely, to get books. If worst comes to worst and we would up quarantined or trapped inside for a few weeks or so, I have plenty of books. And as long as we have power, there’s so much television to catch up. Books are, of course, my  happy place; I’ve always found solace and escape in reading. I think that might be why I hoard books the way I do; it’s comforting to know that I’ll never run out of things to read.

I’ve gotten no writing done, or very little; I’ve also not read a word of anything. I am debating whether it’s okay to go to the gym if I take rubber gloves with me; if I am not touching any surface with bar hands, right, and definitely cannot touch my face except with a hand towel (brought from home) and I should be okay, I think, I hate getting out of the habit of going, and I also worry that at some point I’ll be forbidden from going to the gym, so there’s that as well. At some point today I have to make a run to the grocery store–although at this point I feel certain everything is picked over and the shelves are bare. I stopped at Rouse’s on my home last night in the CBD, and while it wasn’t completely insane, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I managed to get what I was after–two loaves of bread–and Paul and I just decided to escape the world and watch The Outsider last night, which was quite entertaining. We still have two episodes to go before we’re finished, but they seem to be dragging the story out with some seriously bad filler scenes that neither advance the plot or really teach us anything new about the characters–and these filler scenes are very amateurishly done, poorly written, and essentially pointless as anything other than padding to get the show out to ten episodes. We’ll finish that today, and then go on to Dare Me, which we’ve been saving to binge. We’d watched the first two episodes before Paul started having to work late all the time and so fell behind; but I am excited to get to see it in its entirety. It already looked like it was going to be one of the best shows to ever air on television; the source material is certainly one of my favorite books of all time.

One can never go wrong reading Megan Abbott.

The Lost Apartment is a mess, frankly, and I will probably spend some time cleaning it today; it’s well overdue and I’ve not had the energy to keep up with it this week. I imagine, looking back at the week in retrospect, that I probably had some depression–I’m never really aware of it until it has passed–which explains a lot. It’ll probably come and go–there’s probably also some PTSD mixed into it, both from the days when HIV/AIDS was decimating the gay community and, let’s be honest, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I was thinking, as I was reading articles this past week with headlines like Life is going to change forever and so forth, that I am kind of tired of life-changing events.

I also can’t help but wondering how this will change writing, and the publishing industry, and if there will be a new genre of fiction rising out of all of this. I want to think this won’t be as bad as it seems like it’s going to be–but you know, any death will cause grief and suffering, let alone on a great scale. Katrina fiction never really became a thing, although there were several novels (including my award-winning Murder in the Rue Chartres–see what I did there?) about the aftermath, and I think Katrina stories still continue to be published to this day, but to be honest I avoid them for the most part. I suppose its more like 9/11, in that the impact is actually more national than local, but even 9/11–while certainly a national trauma–was also primarily a local one. This is everywhere, and will impact everyone, and not just as witnesses, like 9/11 or Katrina. Will this be addressed in the future? Will there be a rash of books released beginning in 2021 the center this happening? How do you write a series and pretend like this didn’t happened? New Orleans series writers couldn’t ignore Katrina, pretend like it didn’t happen; we had to address it and as such anchored our series and our series characters in time. My two short stories “Survivor’s Guilt” and “Annunciation Shotgun” also dealt with the storm and the aftermath, and I’ve kind of let go of writing about it.

So, I think after running the errands today I am going to try to get some writing done. I have three stories I’d like to get finished by the end of the month, which is their deadlines, and one has to be entirely constructed from scratch–which is of course the most interesting and challenging one for me to write so I keep pushing it to the back of the queue.

And maybe it’s time to get back to work. Have a lovely, germ-free day.

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Take the Money and Run

Ah, being a writer.

The first month Paul and I lived in New Orleans, we went to a fundraiser for the LGBT Center–I don’t remember how or why we found out about it, or were invited, I don’t know. It was at the Country Club–back when the Country Club was a seedy, queer-only, clothing optional place–and the only thing I truly remember about that evening was they had a tarot card reader, and as someone who’s always been fascinated by the occult and the tarot in particular, I let her give me a reading. We went through the whole thing of me cutting and shuffling the deck, then holding them in my hands and concentrating on my question before handing the deck back to her.

She dealt the cards and smiled. “The answer to your question is yes–but it won’t be anything like you think or hope or expect it to be.”

The question, of course, was will I ever be a published author?

And of course, her response was incredibly vague, could apply to any number of questions, and so on and so forth…but here I am, twenty three years later, a published author and you know what else?

It’s nothing like I thought it would be like, or expected, or hoped.

And to be honest, it’s so much lovelier than I ever thought it would be. Sure, it’s not my sole source of income, like I’d hoped it would be, nor do I get glamorous book tours where I fly around the country to appear and sign books for crowds of adoring, worshipping fans, or have to watch Hollywood studios conduct a bidding war for the rights to turn my books into films or television shows…but it is lovely in so many other unexpected ways: the readers I’ve met, the other writers I’ve befriended and gotten to know, the conventions like Bouchercon…I never thought about those sort of things.

And I do love writing–although I groan about it all the time–even though it never seems to get easier. I’ve not written a single word on anything this week–not a fucking word–and I really need to make up for that this weekend else this manuscript is never going to be finished…and I really need for it to be finished so I can finish the other one. I hate the thought of just putting this one aside for now…but on the other hand, maybe coming back to it at a future date after letting it sit for a while might just be the trick? It’s hard to say–that’s certainly worked in other instances. And maybe working on something else over the course of this weekend might kick the WIP back into shape. At any rate, I have to do something because I can’t just keep letting time go by while not getting anything done.

And the house is a mess. My kitchen is a disgrace–the sink is full of dirty dishes, the counters covered with debris and garbage and things that need to be put away–and I haven’t even done anything to the living room in well over a month. Today is one of my half-days; I am going to stop at Rouse’s on the way home to pick up some things, and then I am going to get the kitchen cleaned and the laundry done and do some work on the living room before sitting down to write some things. I want to get some short stories submitted–I think “The Carriage House” and “This Thing of Darkness” are pretty much ready to go (but I do want to reread them and possibly tweak them at least one more time before hitting the submit button), and I do want to think about some of the other some more as well…and there’s also that goddamned proposal to work on.

No rest for the eternally wicked, is there?

And on that note, the spice mines are calling my name. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Take This Heart

This week, my office–where I’ve spent most of the last thirteen years–closes and we are moving into a new building. It’s the end of an era, really; I started volunteering at the Community Awareness Network (CAN) in 2003, was hired part-time in 2005, went full-time in 2008, and here we are. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere–previously, the record was four and a half years with Continental Airlines–and I’ve actually been using the same room as my office since October 10, 2010. (easy to remember as 10/10/10)

This has been in the works for many months, if not years–recent history has a tendency to blur in my mind–but I’ve been in denial about it for most of the time; I haven’t wanted to deal with the realities of the change or what it means to me personally so I’ve just pushed it to the back of my mind with a very Scarlett O’Hara-like I’ll think about it tomorrow. Well, that no longer works. They are coming to box up our computers and IT equipment on Tuesday; the movers are coming Wednesday morning to take everything over to our new building.

I shall miss my old office on Frenchmen Street; the thin walls, the ugly utilitarian carpet, the questionable plumbing. I will miss the parade of people on the street when I get off work after dark; the guys who smoke weed around the corner; the people I can see getting tattooed  through the windows of the tattoo shop on the corner; the occasional hot fireman from the fire station on the island separating Frenchmen from Decatur. Scotty lives only a block away from my office; the last block of Decatur before Esplanade across the street from the Mint. I will miss my parking spot in the lot on Elysian Fields that made going out in the Quarter so easy for so many years. I’ll miss being across the street from Mona’s Cafe, being a few blocks from Cafe Envie, and how simple and easy it was to stop at Rouse’s on the way home from work in the CBD.

I have prepared for the move without acknowledging the emotional component of it. I boxed up all the books in the bookcases in my office and brought them home or donated them. I have removed the pictures from the walls and the framed certifications I’ve earned over the years. I’ve emptied the desk drawers, organized the paperwork, removed the testing supplies back to the lab for packing.

But now, that the week of the actual move is here, I am remembering past times in the office. I am remembering Felicia and Mark and Roberto and James; Josh and DJ and Tanner and Martin and Jake and Ryan and Mark and Ked, Tyson and Jessica and Joshua and Matt, Brandon and Sarah and Lindsay, Luke and Morgan and Jeff and Drew and Augustin and Alex, Tiffany and Lena, Chris and Michael and Jeremy, Robin and Nick and Chivas and Miguel, Larry and George and Kathy, and so many volunteers over the years. There was a lot of laughter and fun in that office, and over the years we helped so many people.

It’s always sad when a chapter closes in your life, but there’s also the thrill of a new chapter beginning; the ability to keep helping people and doing the kind of work I believe in, and to just keep going on. There will be new challenges to face and overcome, but change isn’t always a bad thing; nor is it something to fear. Life would be rather dull if it remained the same, day in and day out; we would not evolve or grow were it not for change.

And on that note, ’tis back to ye olde spice mines.

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