Delusions of Grandeur

So, we survived yet another manic quarantine Monday, did we not? And here we are, ready to get on with our week with another Tuesday. Huzzah! Or so I think. The jury may still be out on this week.

I am working an early shift today, which is why I am awake while there is still dark pressing against my windows. But I’m on my first cappuccino (of the two I allow myself,  only on days when I have to get up this early) and so soon my mind will be dusted free of cobwebs and I can face looking at my email inbox…ha ha ha, just kidding! The only thing that would prepare me for my inbox is a good belt of bourbon, methinks–and one might not even be enough.

Focus.

I need to focus, for I have too much to do for me not to.  What else is new, though, right?

We started watching a dreadful new Netflix show, Outer Banks, last night. We’d finished the concluding chapter of Tales of the City on Sunday night, and thus needed something new to watch. It’s not good, but it was entertaining enough for us to watch the first three episodes (it’s really hard to decide based on a first episode alone–we made that mistake with Schitt’s Creek initially, and yes, it was a complete mistake)–it’s essentially set up as a locals vs. rich people struggle, Pogues against Kooks, and of course, as always, the poor scrappy law-breaking Pogues are who we’re supposed to root for; and there’s also a treasure hunt and murders involved–a ship carrying four hundred million dollars in gold sank off the Outer Banks back in the 1800’s, our hero’s missing father was looking for the ship, and so on. I doubt we’ll continue–when it was time for bed and turning off the television, we both decided, meh, it’s good as a back-up when we’ve exhausted every other possibility. 

And given how much I love me a treasure hunt story…yeah.

I also started reading Katherine Anne Porter’s story of the Spanish influenza, “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” and am reminded again how much I really dislike Katherine Anne Porter’s writing style. Several pages into the story, I don’t really give a shit about her characters, Miranda and Adam, because I don’t really know anything about them. Porter writes in a strange style, that follows Miranda’s thought processes, yet at the same time gives us nothing to make us care about Miranda. She comes across as relatively cold; living in her boarding house, worrying about money, dating Adam, with the war as a background in the distance that kind of always is in the back of everyone’s mind. The Spanish influenze pandemic is occurring at the same time yet it doesn’t seem real to Miranda; one thing I will give Porter is she does manage to capture precisely how self-absorbed we all are, and how that self-absorption blinds us to what is really going on all around us, but we ignore it until it directly affects us (writing this note in my journal last night I realized this is something du Maurier also does in her stories–distracting her characters with their own little personal dramas so that they don’t pay attention to what is going on right under their noses, especially in “Don’t Look Now”–and that also was a theme in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”). I don’t know that I’ll go back and finish reading the Porter story; as I said, I am not a fan, and yes, am aware that she won awards and was highly acclaimed as a writer. But…just not feeling it, frankly, not on this read nor on previous ones.

It’s funny that I am reading famous fiction about plagues and epidemics during a global pandemic, and it only just now occurred to me that I’ve not read any writing about HIV or AIDS in years. My novella “Never Kiss a Stranger” is, actually, my first attempt at writing this kind of fiction myself–and I am no longer so familiar with current gay literature that I don’t know if that’s something that has passed out of fashion with gay writers. I don’t think the m/m writers ever address it much; I’ve certainly never written about it before–for a number of reasons. When I first came to discover queer lit, there was a lot of it; almost every book or story about gay men being published, or that had been published since the mid-1980’s, involved it on some level or another. When I first started writing, it was still a question being debated in queer lit circles: was it irresponsible not to mention it, even in passing, in queer lit? Was it irresponsible to write erotica without the use of condoms? And while at the time I started publishing the drug cocktail had been discovered and the breakthroughs to extend life and lessen the impact of the diagnosis, when it came. I’ve very deliberately set “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the New Orleans of 1994, when HIV/AIDS was essentially wiping out the gay community in New Orleans, and I’m trying to capture that feeling of impending doom that hung over all of us back then, the sense of inevitability when it came to getting infected and dying, and how that felt to live through and experience.

The panel we did the other night for the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon was about writing during a pandemic; the interesting thing about that panel was two of us–J. M. Redmann and I–had both written during the previous HIV/AIDS epidemic; COVID-19 is our second time around. I think back to those days before I was a writer, when I was reading gay lit left and right, trying to familiarize myself with topics and themes; I think about the questions that we debated about our own work as we did panels and readings and so forth when my first book came out, and the other new writers doing the same. I remember that the big question then was whether or not we considered ourselves gay writers, or whether our books are gay (I distinctly remember Poppy Z. Brite replying to that question on a panel with “I don’t know, I’ve never asked my books if they were gay”); that all seems kind of silly now. (Frankly, it seemed silly then; it didn’t matter whether we considered ourselves gay authors or our books to be gay; that’s how they were going to be classified whether we liked it or not, and it was cute we thought we had come control over that–we had absolutely none.)

One of the things I am trying to do this week is determine how many things I have in some sort of progress–and I am not including the short stories that have lain unfinished in my files for years; I just want to get a handle on everything that’s in progress for now so I can get a better sense of where I stand on my next short story collection(s), and to see how many novellas there are that need completing–off the top of my under-caffeinated brain this morning, I can only think of three, but I think there are four in total–at least “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies,” and “Festival of the Redeemer” are the ones I can remember–perhaps later on I can remember more of them; there should be at least one more, because I remember thinking I could publish them all together in one book so there has to be one more–maybe it was “A Holler Full of Kudzu”? I don’t remember.

And on that note–my lack of memory–I’m going to dive back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Heaven’s Just a Sin Away

I’m tired.

I think the worst thing of all this is the uncertainty, you know? Every time the fatigue sets in, every time my mind gets foggy, every time I can feel my temperature going up, after the great here we go again thought comes the what if you actually test negative? What does that mean? If you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?

Paul suggested that part of the fatigue could come from the lack of activity, and there’s a possibility that might be true. Once I finish this, I am going to get down on the kitchen floor and stretch, just to see how that feels. I am really not overly comfortable going for a walk, in all honesty; not knowing whether or not I am actually infected makes going out of the Lost Apartment seem like an incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do. I do have a mask–an official medical one, and gloves too–I had to buy these when Paul had his heart surgery all those years ago, and my tendency to hoard actually came in handy for once, so I suppose keeping a distance from others while wearing gloves and a mask should be okay, but there’s so much uncertainty about everything–hell, I don’t know if I actually am infected or not–that I just don’t know what I should be doing or should not be doing.

But I am lucky, because if I do indeed have this, at least it hasn’t moved into my lungs, at least not yet. I think it’s the lung part that is problematic for people; the inability to breathe, of course, would be horrifying, as well as feeling like you’re drowning. I go back and forth all the time on everything; it’s horrible to be indecisive, to not know what the right decisions are or even what the consequences of the wrong decisions could even be. This also isn’t like me, and I don’t know if it’s the foggy head or just the times or if I am simply being visited by some good old PTSD. Anything at this point is possible, and there are so many goddamned variables…and being trained since birth to always expect the worst doesn’t help much, frankly.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I did some chores around the house once I woke up, ate some cereal, and then was exhausted (again, lack of activity, or illness?) and so I collapsed into my easy chair and couldn’t even focus on reading. I did get a few chapters more into Ammie, Come Home but after awhile put it aside and got lost in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. ESPNU also decided to replay a series of LSU games from last season–the Mississippi game, then the play-off game with Oklahoma and the national title game–so I had that on while I read and dozed off and on. I never nap; and I always have trouble sleeping–which is the truly weird thing about all of this; the amount of sleep I’m getting, and then again–maybe I’m tired from sleeping too much, I don’t know. After Paul got home and we watched the end of Schitt’s Creek (which I am very sad to say goodbye to; it may be my favorite sitcom of all time), and then I read some more before going to bed.

The exciting life of a gay mystery novelist.

I do have creative bursts, though-which gives me hope that someday soon I might actually start writing again. I’ve been thinking through Bury Me in Shadows, and I think i might have actually solved the mystery of what’s wrong with the story. In fact, rather than reading any of my various books that I have spread out on the end table next to my easy chair (the two afore-mentioned, along with Du Maurier’s The Breaking Point and my iPad, which has a plethora of books in its various book-reading apps) I should probably reread the entire manuscript, perhaps even do an outline, and then figure out how to make it better and revise it, so when I can get back on a roll with writing again I can get back to it. I’ve also been thinking about the Kansas book, and I think I’ve cracked that code at long last–since I started writing it in either 2015 or 2016, about fucking time, wouldn’t you say–and so maybe, just maybe, i can get to that too. I also have to write my Sherlock story. The kitchen is also a mess–there’s a load in the dishwasher that has to be put away and the sink is full of dirty dishes as well, and there are clothes in the dryer as well-and God knows when the last time I did the floors was. I am going to try to get some of this stuff handled at some point today.

And on that note, I am going to try to get started on everything and see how much I can get done before I run out of energy–not that I have a lot right now, but the coffee is helping give me a bit of a boost, which is always nice–and see what can get taken care of before the malaise comes back.

Sorry to be such a downer, and I hope all is well with you, Constant Reader–and stay safe.

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Blue Moon of Kentucky

It’s Saturday, isn’t it? I’m not really sure of my days or dates anymore these days, and if I do wind up having to quarantine for two weeks….that’s just going to get worse, isn’t it?

Heavy heaving sigh. It’s also possible I just have something else. I don’t have the cough, for one thing, which is weird, and I actually thought Paul and I had both had the COVID-19 earlier in March, so maybe this is something else, I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s awful. I’m never a fan of being sick, of course, but this particularly nasty. The worst is being tired all the time and not being able to think clearly.

The cough also started last night. It’s also unpleasant.

But I slept through the night for the first time all week, which is something, I suppose, and this morning I feel good. I’ve also felt good the last two mornings on waking up and that last a little while before whatever is ailing me kicked into super-high gear both Thursday and Friday after being awake for a couple of hours. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and took some DayQuil, so hopefully that will manage it for me. I got very bad last night shortly before I went to bed–fever, felt wretched, the cough started, and then I was unable to keep dinner down–so I guess we’ll see. It’s so hard to decide what to do, you know? What if I self-quarantine and it’s nothing? I hate having to be an adult and make these decisions on my own–it’s so much easier being told what to do.

I spent most of yesterday sleeping on and off in my easy chair, after I got over the horrible shivering experience yesterday morning, and drinking lots of fluids to hydrate, but my mind couldn’t really focus to do much of anything yesterday. I did manage to do my Friday chore of laundering the bed linens–but carrying everything upstairs was exhausting; yesterday after finally being awake after the napping, I finished writing my blog, paid a few bills, and was exhausted by that. I went back to the easy chair and started watching things on Youtube–I should have watched the Moonlighting pilot, damn it–then we got caught up on Schitt’s Creek, and then started season four of Kim’s Convenience,  which is just as charming as ever before finally collapsing into bed. I’m hoping to try to get some work done today–hopefully, taking DayQuil first thing this morning will head off any symptoms, but who knows–and I don’t feel tired this morning, either. (I didn’t feel tired the last two mornings, either, until the symptoms kicked in) I really need to get working on the writing stuff, which I have fallen terribly behind on these last few weeks, and my email inbox is absolutely horrifying.

But even as I sit here, before drinking my first swig of coffee, I can feel my body changing. I can feel tiredness creeping into my legs and my brain getting cobwebbed. MY coffee does taste different, and I’m not so sure about my sense of smell. Sigh. Going to be another one of those mornings, I fear. But we’ll see how much I can get done before I return to the chaise, shall we?

At least let me get this finished and some other things accomplished, okay?

Heavy sigh.

I’ve also been invited to do Art Taylor’s blog The First Two Pages, for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and if I am not mistaken, I have agreed in my fever dreams to do some live ZOOM things and conference calls and so forth over the next week. One of the things I apparently need to do this morning is figure when and where and how all of those things are, and what technology I need to possess in order to do whatever it is I’ve agreed to do. I am always terrible at the marketing aspect of being a writer; I’d be much more successful if I were better at these things–I have a tendency to say what I actually think and feel rather than what people want to hear (always has been a problem for me, all my life) and I am terrible at selling myself. Readings always make me tense, as does moderating panels–I often find my hands are dripping with sweat and my heart races during these things–but they are an essential part of being a part of this business, so I kind of have to do them.

My kitchen is also a disaster area.

And on that note, I am going to bring this to a close and head into the spice mines for however long as I feel half-way decent and stay focused. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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On the Other Hand

We made it to Friday again, didn’t we?

Huzzah, I think. I’m ready for things to calm down, or some semblance of what passes for normalcy to come back around, and the sooner the damned better. I slept well again last night–only have a half-day today–and so I am returning to the gym this morning. It’s also rather cold here in New Orleans this morning; my space heater is on and I’m getting nice and toasty warm here at my desk. Yesterday was another slightly off-kilter day; I know Mercury is in retrograde (I’m not entirely sure I believe in that stuff, but one cannot deny that weird things happen fairly regularly whenever this astronomical thing occurs) and so that might sort of explain how things are off-center. I still think it’s just the entire city currently is in a state of low energy.

I really do have to write another book about Mardi Gras.

It occurred to me the other day that I have probably written more books about New Orleans than anyone else; not that means anything, of course. But eight books into Scotty and seven into Chanse puts me at fifteen books about New Orleans, and i don’t think anyone else has written that many that is a contemporary? Frances Parkinson Keyes was very prolific, and she also wrote a lot about New Orleans and Louisiana, but I don’t think everything she wrote was about New Orleans. But she certainly wrote one of the biggest selling books about New Orleans of all time: Dinner at Antoine’s. (It’s interesting, because I just finished reading about Pere Antoine–another, not famous restaurant in the Quarter is called Pere Antoine’s, and I’d always wondered who he was–in City of a Million Dreams–interestingly enough he was a Spanish priest the local French called Pere Antoine; he was also an Inquisitor, and that eventually led to him being sent away from New Orleans by Governor Carondelet)

This weekend I hope to get back on track with the Secret Project as well as finish some of these short stories I’ve got floating around. I worked a little bit on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Gossip” yesterday; I also did some work on “You Won’t See Me” that I can’t seem to find anywhere. Heavy sigh. I’ve also fallen behind on my reading. I need to finish the Ali Brandon, and I need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, preparatory to our panel at the Williams Festival towards the end of March. The kitchen and Lost Apartment are yet again a total mess; so tonight when I get home from work I need to get the kitchen and the apartment worked on so I can focus on writing and reading all weekend.

I plan on making white bean chicken chili this weekend as well; I may make it today, before I head into the office, so I can have it for dinner tonight. (Or maybe tomorrow. I don’t know. It depends on how much I can get done this morning around going to the gym, of course.) We’re also still watching the final season of Schitt’s Creek; I am going to be terribly sorry to see this show end. It really is funny and charming, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television before.

I do feel a little more like myself this morning; that feeling of being able to do anything and get everything I want out of life, which is kind of lovely. I miss feeling like that, to be perfectly honest, and I need to get everything back on track. It’s always difficult to get things going when Carnival is looming on the horizon, and the thing about Carnival is that it’s just long enough for everyone to be sick of it and ready for it to be over when it finally is; Carnival rarely leaves you wanting more.

It really is the perfect way to lead into Lent.

When I was at the grocery store on Wednesday night I saw someone with the cross of ashes on her forehead, which kind of took me aback–I’ve not seen that in quite some time. When we first moved here, New Orleans was still heavily Catholic, and seeing the ashes on people’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday was pretty common. With the influx of the new people after Katrina–they seemed to come in waves–the Catholicism of the city was diluted; that woman was the first person I’ve seen in years with ashes on her forehead–but then again, that may be because I am generally not out that much in public on Ash Wednesday as I used to be. I’d be curious to know if the percentage of Catholics in the city has dropped at all since the 2010 census.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

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Family Tradition

Normal is an interesting concept–particularly when you live in New Orleans.

It’s hard to explain to people who don’t live here (or, as we say, Not From Here) to understand just how disruptive Carnival is, and how much harder it makes getting anything done, or accomplished. I live inside the parade box (in local parlance, “inside the box”) which means anything requiring the usage of my car has to be accomplished and the car has to be back “inside the box” no later than three-thirty on any parade day. This means, if you have to go to work you have to leave early, and try to schedule whatever errands you need to do accordingly–bearing in mind that you will also have heavier traffic to deal with. (Case in point: on Muses Thursday–a day when the parades were cancelled because of the weather) my five to ten minute drive home took almost forty minutes. It’s exhausting. When our office was on Frenchmen Street I used to have to walk to the office and back home on parade days–if I was able to walk straight there without detours, 2.3 miles going and 2.3 miles home (and there were always detours walking home during parades). And on the nights when I had to do condom outreach…yeah, was walking anywhere from six to ten miles per day; and then going out to the parades….why, you may be asking yourself, why on earth would you also go to the parades on top of that? Because you’re too exhausted and stressed about everything to do anything else–plus, enjoying the parades makes the work of living here around them sort of worth it.

I can’t imagine how miserable it would be to not go to the parades on top of everything else–especially when you can hear them.

But when it’s all over, readjusting to normalcy and getting your body back in sync is no easy task.

Plus, no more King cake. Womp womp.

I literally have no idea where I am at and what I should be doing with any and everything. Pre-Carnival life seems like it was a million years ago…it always takes the rest of the week of Mardi Gras to re-acclimate back to New Orleans normal.

It’s incredibly disorienting.

But Carnival–whatever you may think of it, no matter how much it may inconvenience you, no matter what–is wonderful. I absolutely positively love Carnival season, and I love the parades. I love seeing the families and kids having a ball along the parade route–and it crosses generations and ages. I love seeing grandparents dancing to  marching bands. I love our public school marching bands–every last one of them from Orleans Parish. I also love the Marching 100 of St. Augustine. I love the specialty throws and the stuffed animals and the bracelets and the medallion throws and the cups and all of that. I love that feeling of neighborhood and community that comes with hanging out on the parade route. I love getting an enormous corn dog, slathered with mustard and ketchup. I love funnel cakes, which are really just twisty beignets and are also covered in powdered sugar.

You can never go wrong with deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar, for the record.

Today I woke up early and feel great. I slept deeply and well–probably could have gladly stayed in bed another hour or two, but as I’ve been saying–Carnival has put me very behind, as it is wont to do, and as I am often paddling madly beneath the surface while treading water, a shake-up to the daily routine makes things ever so much worse. As much as I would like to spend the weekend relaxing and reading and writing, I’m afraid I’m going to have to spend some of it actually working on non-writing related things, which is terribly unfortunate; but it’s not like this was a normal week in the first place. I hated missing the gym yesterday morning, but I can go tomorrow and get back on track with my usual Sunday-Wednesday-Friday gym schedule. I did write for a while yesterday–not on the Secret Project, of course, which is what I need to be doing, but rather I wrote a bit on “Festival of the Redeemer” and a little bit on “He Didn’t Kill Her” and also a little bit on “You Won’t See Me.” Progress, of course, is progress and I am always happy to get any writing done at all these days, of course; I think my decision to simply go ahead with some of the short stories until this weekend, when I can spend some serious time with the Secret Project–which has been worked on very haphazardly, and you simply can’t be that scattered with something and expect it to be good–and make the decisions that need to be made with it. I think that I am probably very guilty of overthinking things with this; rather than going with my instincts and trusting myself. It’s something that’s completely outside my comfort zone, which is actually a good thing.

One should step outside their comfort zone from time to time, I think. It makes you a better writer–even if the project isn’t good, frankly; sometimes you need to do something like that to shake things up inside your head, clear the cobwebs and dust, and get a fresh perspective on what you write, your career thus far, and where you want it to go. (I also remember those glorious days when I actually used to plan ahead for my career. Man plans and God laughs.)

We are also slowly but surely watching the final season of Schitt’s Creek, and enjoying it, even if we know with each episode we watch that the end is nigh.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

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“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Only One Love In My Life

Hey there, Friday. Here’s looking at you, Kid.

So all the stuff with Romance Writers of America finally came to an end yesterday with the resignations of their president (good riddance) and his partner in crime, the executive director (see ya!). What does this mean? It means that perhaps the long and slow and painful process of rebuilding the organization can begin–and a lot of the nasty racists outed themselves, which is always a good thing. Me? I’d rather know who they are myself–same with the homophobes and the misogynists and all the others.

But all of this reminded me of one of my favorite mystery novels of all time: Die for Love by Elizabeth Peters.

Elizabeth Peters is one of my favorite writers of all time, bar none. I am also an enormous fan of her more supernatural pseudonym, Barbara Michaels. Her novels as Peters, though–my God, so clever and witty and laugh out loud funny. I absolutely adore her Amelia Peabody series; decades of reading pleasure as we follow the adventures of heiress Amelia as she meets, falls in love and marries  her Egyptologist husband Emerson–all the while solving murders and catching antiquities thieves. The series was wonderful.

But Die for Love isn’t a Peabody novel. Peters also wrote two other series; one featuring an assistant museum curator named Vicky Bliss (some of the best opening lines ever), and another, featuring Jacqueline Kirby, head librarian at a small Midwestern college who is sharply intelligent and knows how to not only take advantage of an opportunity but squeeze every bit of use out of it as well. The earlier Kirby novels are quite intelligent and well done; The Murders of Richard III is a particular standout, in which a Richard III society’s members begin to be murdered in the same manner–and order– as the King’s victims in the Shakespearean play of his life.

Jacqueline, as head librarian, has a budget that allows her to travel to literary events–in order to increase her knowledge and to find authors/books to highlight and stock in the library–and generally finds events in places she wants to visit. So she decides to visit a romance convention in New York, and murder–and hilarity–ensue. I’ve always loved this book, and one of the things that is perhaps the funniest–or was to me, over the years, but now I’m kind of rethinking it–is that Jacqueline, who is a speed reader, reads some of the romance novels written by the biggest names in the business while she’s investigating the murder, and realizes I can do this. She also starts, whenever she has a spare moment, scribbling away at her own romance novel.

In the next, and sadly, final book of the Kirby series, Naked Once More, we find that Jacqueline is no longer employed as a librarian as she is now an international bestselling romance novelist. Naked Once More is just as funny as Die for Love, frankly; all of Peters’ books are delightfully witty and funny.

I should reread Die for Love. Let me add it to the Reread Project.

I am putting in eight hours today rather than my usual half-day Friday because I am taking Monday off for the game. We’re supposed to have horrible weather tomorrow morning (hail, tornadoes, flash flooding), so welcome, Clemson fans? But then I am coming home and hoping to get back to the writing. I am working on a secret project–Lord, how many things am I working on at the same time?–which actually started coming together the other night, and I am anxious to get that all done, hopefully over the course of this weekend, along with the website copy I need to write and some short stories, as well as some more work on Bury Me in Shadows.

We started watching Manhunt on Acorn last night, and it’s intriguing; we will continue, and then another episode of Messiah, which is really picking up speed. I’ve also heard good things about Dracula, and of course HBO’s adaptation of The Outsider premieres this weekend as well. Sex Education and Schitt’s Creek are also back, if not already, then soon–so that’s my television watching in my free time sorted for quite some time.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

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More More More

Monday morning, and I overslept a bit this morning. Not a good start to the week, but the week is also only a four day week, as Good Friday is a city holiday (one has to love Catholic New Orleans, doesn’t one?) and so it’s a short week for me. Perhaps not off to the best start, but it’s off to a start at any rate.

In other exciting news, some of my computer issues have been solved, My friend Stuart, whose company is exclusively Mac and therefore is a sort of non-Apple-employed genius genius, is in town and we spoke on the phone yesterday (we are having dinner tonight) and he explained to me what some of the issues I have been having might have been…and he was correct. I worked on correcting those issues yesterday, to a point, and now my desktop computer is operating a little more normally than it was–it’s certainly faster, and the program crashing issue, at least for the last twenty-four hours, has apparently corrected itself–or my actions have corrected it. We shall see how long this lasts, shan’t we?

I also managed to get back to work on the WIP yesterday. I only managed about 400 words, but it was work and it was progress and I am definitely counting that as moving forward. I also did some brainstorming on the potential new series I am considering writing, which was lovely. The more I think about this new series the more I like it. Hopefully, it will work out and turn into something truly terrific; one can hope, at any rate. We shall certainly see. The goal for this week is to get several chapters on the WIP done, and to get some more work done on the two proposals I am writing. I am excited about both, even though they are both new things that I hadn’t even thought about it two months ago–which is pushing other projects I want to write further back into the ethereal future–but there you have it. That is this writer’s life, and someday–someday–I hope to have written everything I want to write.

I also managed to get some serious cleaning done yesterday. I had a great night’s sleep Saturday night, and therefore yesterday had more energy than I was expecting to have/thought I would have/have had on a Sunday in quite some time. So the kitchen and the living room look really lovely; I am hoping to use the extra day this coming weekend to do some other, more serious cleaning (oy, my ceiling fans are filthy, and I don’t even want to discuss my kitchen windows). So, in other words, Sunday was a much more productive day than I’d thought it would be, and it turned out quite nicely–particularly after I didn’t get anything really accomplished on Saturday, other than finishing Steph Cha’s wonderful book, which I greatly enjoyed (more to come on that later). So…despite my late start to the day–which I am not letting discombobulate me at all, instead of stressing about being late I am going to just get the things done I need to get done before I leave the house this morning and let the day play out as it may.

The premiere of the penultimate season of Game of Thrones  last night was a bit slow, but it was also a set-up episode, setting the stage for the big finish of all the stories that are currently spinning out and coming to their inevitable end. We did get the big reveal about Jon Snow’s true parentage last night, which was incredibly cool, plus the scene of Jon and Dany riding the dragons (BIG hint, as only Targaryens can ride dragons), and I love how Sansa has turned into a Bad Boss Bitch. The evolution of Sansa as a character, from the wide-eyed innocent girl who dreamed of marrying and being a queen to the calculating, suspicious, trust-no-one Lady of Winterfell has been extraordinary, and bravo to Game of Thrones for this. Bravo.

We also watched the season finale of Schitt’s Creek over the weekend and it, too, was enormously satisfying. Watching Stevie on stage coming into her own as Sally in Cabaret singing “Maybe This Time” was one of those in-your-feels moments that the show does so remarkably well. Schitt’s Creek may be one of the best sitcoms in the history of television; it has rarely missed a beat, has always been funny, and no matter how crazy or insane situation develops in each episode, every character remains true to themselves even as they develop, change and grow. I told a friend the other day that the run of Schitt’s Creek has had some of the best character development and growth I’ve ever seen in a television comedy series, and it’s incredibly true. The fact that there is only one more season breaks my heart more than just a little bit–and while I may have been late to watching this show–well, this is indeed another case of better late than never.

I also hope to start reading the ARC of Alison Gaylin’s new novel, Never Look Back, this week, and am most excited about it.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Love Hurts

I detest being ill.

Sunday night I began to feel slightly off–more off than I’d been feeling since Friday, when the wretched bad weather rolled in–and I began to suspect that the weather was wreaking havoc with my sinuses which would lead to the inevitable sinus infection. Yesterday I didn’t feel great, and as soon as I got home from work last night I started taking antibiotics leftover from the last sinus infection, and woke up this morning feeling absolutely horrible.  I called in sick to work, have taken some more antibiotics this morning, and am hoping that when tomorrow dawns, the antibiotics will have done their job and cleared everything up for me.

One can hope, at any rate.

The Claritin also seems to be helping. I intend on spending the rest of the day retired to my bed, with Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home to keep me company. I managed to read another chapter and I am very impressed indeed with Ms. Cha. She writes in a very hard-boiled, noir style that is reminiscent of Chandler and Hammett–and she does pay homage to Chandler quite a bit in these opening chapters. Juniper Song is an interesting, complex character that I like quite a bit, and am looking forward to getting to know her better. This is also the first in a series, which means there’s more Juniper Song out there for me to read, savor, and enjoy, which is absolutely lovely.

Is there anything more satisfying than discovering a new author whose work you love?

I think not.

When I retire to my bedchamber later on this morning–as soon as I take care of some business here at my desk–I will be taking my Macbook Air with me, along with my novel, so that if the mood strikes me I can work on the WIP whilst ensconced in the comfort of my bed. I don’t remember the last time I spent the day lolling about in bed; I usually move to my easy chair with blankets and heating pads when I am unwell, but it sounds absolutely lovely, despite the pressure in my head and the constant draining and hacking up of phlegm from my lungs. I see chicken noodle soup in my future for lunch as well; it may not help cure what ails me, but it always makes me feel better.

Last night we got caught up on the most recent episodes of both Veep and Schitt’s Creek, both of which were terrific, before I retired to sleep. I slept pretty decently, given that I felt terrible when I went to bed, but this morning I am still feeling kind of worn out, which is no doubt due to the sinus issue. Yay?

So, there will be no spice-mining today, most likely. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Off the Wall

It’s Saturday morning and the Lost Apartment is close to being clean; I have to work on the kitchen a bit more today and do the living room floors. I also have to start packing up/throwing away perishables for the looming tenting for next weekend. Heavy heaving sigh. But…it’s also going to make me clean out my cabinets, and since everything has to washed after the tenting is over, also make me reorganize them.

Crazy!

I have a couple of errands to run today; I need to get the mail and I also need to get my brake tag taken care of today–it was due in January and now it’s almost April. Not very adult or responsible, I’m afraid; I really need to stop procrastinating about things and just get them done. I am going to clean out my email inbox, respond to Facebook messenger, and I also have to mail some things today. I want to work on the WIP, and I want to clean, and I want to finish reading The Woman Who Fed The Dogs so I can move on to Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife, thus completing my Festival homework, and then I need to prepare some questions. Moderating isn’t something I particularly enjoy, in all honesty, but I generally do a fairly decent job at it–at least, no one has ever told me that I suck at it. I know Paul thinks I’m good at it, or he wouldn’t keep trying to make me do it–although I also suspect it’s simply easier for him if I agree to moderate a panel.

So, yes, my plate is rather full today, but that’s okay. Hopefully, tomorrow I can do some writing in the morning and spend the afternoon reading the Downing (which, of course, is completely predicated on finishing Fed the Dogs today). The world figure skating championships are also going on currently, and I’d like to see the men’s competition, which is airing this afternoon. Americans are sitting in first, second and fourth after the short program–which is unlikely to hold through the free skate, but stranger things have happened.

And while next weekend is going to be fun and lovely–the Weekend o’Festivals always is–it’s also going to be exhausting, especially when you add in the fun of having to put the house back together that Monday. And it’s almost April already! When did that happen? How did that happen? Where did the first third of this year go, and what do I have to show for it? Very, very little…although I suppose I did finish writing a book, so that’s something.

And this past week’s episode of Schitt’s Creek was another one of those “get me in my feelings” episodes. Seriously, y’all, if you aren’t watching this show, you really need to be. There was one scene last night that should win Daniel Levy an Emmy, just for that scene alone–and of course Catherine O’Hara is a comedic gift that never stops giving.

All right. This spice isn’t going to mine itself, now is it? Happy Saturday everyone!

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