Bad Blood

So, I took the plunge yesterday and signed contracts for the two manuscripts on hand. As I said on social media immediately afterward, this is either the smartest thing I’ve done this year or a several miscalculation. One can never be sure in either case–until the game is afoot. It’s not that bad; both are in fairly decent shape and need one more final draft, so it’s not like I’m starting from scratch or anything–that would be utter madness.

So, Gregalicious, what are your two manuscripts about?

BURY ME IN SHADOWS

When a partying spree after a bad break-up lands college student Jake Chapman in the hospital, his attorney mother gives him two choices: rehab, or spend the summer in rural Alabama at his dying grandmother’s home. He doesn’t like either choice, but decides on Alabama because at least there’s a semblance of freedom. There’s a lot going on there, as well–a team of archaeologists are excavating the ruins of the old plantation house, Blackwood Hall, out in the woods behind his grandmother’s house. Once he is there, he starts experiencing bizarre headaches and emotional swings– as well as having flashes of memory that he can’t place. He starts finding out family secrets–dead uncles he never knew about, legends about the family’s past–and  there’s also the Tuckers, who live in the next holler over–with their moonshine still and meth lab. With the discovery of a skeleton out at the ruins, Jake begins to realize he is in danger–but is the danger something from a distant past, or a murderer in the present? Will someone kill to keep the family secrets?

#shedeservedit

Liberty Center High School’s football team has a long history of success–state and conference championships, players who went on to play in college–and often, the Spartan football team is all the dying small town has to hold on to, and their primary source of pride as businesses and industries and opportunities have dried up. But when one of the team stars disappears the night of the first game–and his dead body is later found–his best friend, Alex Wheeler, begins putting things together in an effort to clear himself of suspicion,  connecting the dots that lead back a few weeks to the suicide of cheerleader Angie Dixon, and the football party where she had too much to drink and was sexually assaulted. Was the on-line bullying and sharing of pictures of her from the party what drove her to suicide? Or was it murder? How far will people go to cover up misconduct by the football players? What other dark secrets are hiding beneath the placid surface in this oh-too-typical American small town,  Liberty Center? Alex and his girlfriend India soon find their own lives are in danger as they get closer and closer to the horrifying truth about the rot at the center of one of the state’s strongest football programs.

I certainly hope those whet your appetite to read them, Constant Reader! Covers to come, of course, as well as publication dates. I also don’t think I’ve ever revealed the title of the Kansas book before, so there you have it.

It does feel kind of nice to know that I will actually have a book (or maybe two) out in 2021; it felt very weird to not have one this year. I can’t remember the last time I missed a year of publishing at least one book per year, but the last one I actually remember for certain is 2005 (there may have been one in the teens; I think I may have skipped a year–2017, maybe? 2018? I honestly don’t know). I want to get my next short story collection put together at some point during 2021 as well–not sure what stories and what the title will be, but I really want to get that taken care of in the next year, and aren’t goals a lovely thing? I also want to get moving with Chlorine–the research has been phenomenally fun; here’s hoping the actual writing will be fun as well. I think I might have to write a Scotty book at some point in the next year as well; I know I want to do a pre-pandemic book (between Christmas–Royal Street Reveillon–and the pandemic this year; I really want to write about that fucked up 2020 Carnival season, and I have a really nasty idea for a plot that simply has to be written….) and I know I want to do a pandemic story for Scotty as well; I’m just not sure what that story would look like. I know people are saying they aren’t going to want to read about the pandemic, but it’s such a rich vein for story-telling and story ideas, I kind of am not sure how true that will be. I just can’t see writing about a world where it never happened–especially in a series; it’s much easier to pretend in a stand alone.

Does that make any kind of sense? To me–and my warped mind–it sort of does. I don’t know why it’s so important to me to not miss years between books–it’s not like the world is knocking down my door, or anyone is holding a gun to my head to make sure I publish something–but it is, and I think if I salvage or take away anything from this dreadful year, I’d like it to be I got those two fucking books finished and out of my hair.

I went to be early last night–it’s really been a week–and I slept for nearly ten hours, which I never do, and it felt actually pretty marvelous. LSU is playing Vanderbilt today–I don’t have very high hopes after last week, which is fine–and one of the lovely things about this abrogated season, coupled with LSU’s unexpected loss last week, is that I seriously doubt I will spend my Saturdays this fall watching football games all day, while sitting in my easy chair reading, writing in my journal, and editing things. INstead, I should be able to sit at my desk and focus on writing–now that I have deadlines, I need to be better about being on top of things and getting things finished as quickly as I can–and while it’s disappointing, what else is new with 2020? Everything is off this year, and there really is something to the notion of simply eradicating 2020 from the books; the way ancient Egyptians used to go back and remove names from statues and carvings and temples, to try to obliterate a pharaoh from their history (and yes, I watched a documentary on Akhenaten last night, why do you ask?), and not really counting it.

We watched the season finale of Ted Lasso last night, and I have to say, I am going to miss my weekly visits with him and the Richmond soccer team. I was very glad to see it was already renewed for another season, and it’s another one of those terribly sweet shows that will make you laugh while at the same time touching you and bringing up tears in your eyes (much as Schitt’s Creek did). It’s what they used to call “heartwarming”–and you have no idea, Constant Reader, how much I hate that word and how I generally tend to avoid anything referred to in that way–only it’s not emotionally manipulative like most “heartwarming” books, movies and TV shows; the sweetness genuinely evolves from the characters and their relationships with each other. I love this show–and it’s hard not to love the characters. Like Schitt’s Creek, the premise struck me at first as not only ludicrous but cliched; but the writing is so strong, the acting so pitch perfect, and the cast chemistry undeniable. And the optimistic, kind, always look on the bright side while always looking for the good in people character of Ted Lasso himself is the jeweled centerpiece of the show.

I have to run errands today; I’d intended to run them yesterday once I’d finished my work but by the time five rolled around I really wasn’t terribly in the mood to get out amongst people, so inevitably I shall have to do it today, which is, you know, fine; making groceries seems to always tire me out these days but that’s also fine. I want to start reading John Vercher’s Three Fifths at long last this weekend, so if I am tired when I get home I can do that. I need to do some revisions on things this weekend, too–and I should get some work done on the book manuscript as well. There’s also some cleaning and touching up around here I need to do–there are still some remnants of the Notorious Grease Fire that need to be tidied up–and feeling well-rested, as well as mentally sharp this morning certainly cannot hurt in that regard.

As always, I have a lot to do, but the lovely thing is that this morning, it doesn’t seem horrifyingly overwhelming–it just seems like my normal existence, which it usually is, and so there’s that. I did do a lot of cleaning and organizing while I was waiting for Paul to come home last night, and so the downstairs looks much lovelier and organized than it usually does. There’s still a shit ton of filing to get done (isn’t there always?) and part of my plan for this morning before running the errands is to make the long overdue to-do list, add things to my calendar so I won’t forget about them needing to be done, and trying to get set up so that once I am ready to get going I won’t forget things. I’ve always been ridiculously busy–and I think I’ve actually been busier before than I am now, if I am being completely honest–and I think the primary problem I’ve been having has been chemical; PTSD and depression, etc. as well as the occasional feeling of hopelessness this year has wrought with everyone at some point, I think. Not that there’s a such thing as a normal year, but this year has been so abnormal that it sort of stands out from the rest–it certainly has erased all memories of 2019, which also sucked, from the hard drive in my brain.

And on that note, I think it’s time to head into the spice mines this morning. I thank you for stopping by and listening, Constant Reader, and may you have a glorious, absolutely glorious, Saturday.

I

I c##

My Little Town

Schitt’s Creek won all the Emmys on Sunday night, and I’d been long been meaning to write a blog entry about what became one of my favorite shows of all time.

A co-worker–with whom I frequently discussed our mutual love of Archer–recommended this show to me years ago, when it was only available to stream on Amazon Prime. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Christopher Guest movies (although For Your Consideration was probably one of the most brilliant send-ups of Hollywood and the Oscar chase I’ve ever seen), which was primarily what I knew Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara from (although I’ve always been a big fan of hers and thought she was always under-appreciated and should have been a much bigger star than she was); but when I watched the first episode, I wasn’t convinced it was something I’d want to watch. I’ve never understood Chris Elliott, or understood his style of “cringe humor”, and the old “fish out of water” trope being explored here didn’t seem especially interesting or original. It didn’t grab me on that first watch, and I never went back to it. I just didn’t see how this was any different from any other “filthy rich awful people lose all their money and have to live in a rustic quirky backwater with eccentric people” show/movie/whatever I’d seen already.

I’m also not entirely sure why I decided to go back and try it again–this time with Paul watching with me–but the second time was definitely the charm. We found season one amusing, and by season two we were bingeing unashamedly and reluctantly turning it off every night because we had to go to bed. We finished everything on Netflix, and then had to wait for the final season to air so we could watch it as well–the entire time telling everyone we knew they had to watch. The final season was, as opposed to most final seasons of beloved shows, quite good; I should have known they would know how to end the show properly.

Why did Schitt’s Creek resonate so strongly with us, as well as with so many others? I think it was because the Roses–despite all appearances to the contrary at the beginning–weren’t truly terrible people; it’s just that their wealth (and soap stardom, in Moira’s case) had disconnected them not only from each other but from any sort of sense of reality, and the real world. Their interactions with the eccentrics of Schitt’s Creek–and their own eccentricities–were never cruel, insulting or condescending; we also got to see the Roses grow and adapt, get closer to each other and develop not only a true sense of family, but of community with everyone else in the town. There is a genuine sweetness to the show, and the way everyone grows is something that is rare on a situation comedy; it was also genuinely touching. The friendship between David and Stevie, for example; also the way Stevie gradually became a part of the family. The friendship between Alexis and Twyla, as well; the entire Alexis arc, going from brainless celebutante to high school graduate to businesswoman; from self-absorbed to genuinely caring enough about other people to put their own happiness before her own, was not only inspiring but impossible to watch without the occasional tearing up.

David’s relationship with Patrick was also probably one of–if not the best–same-sex love stories to ever play out on a television series.

And while I was sorry to see the show end, I was absolutely delighted to see it get the Emmy love it got Sunday night.

And if you’re looking for something equally charming to watch, I’ve got to say that Ted Lasso on Apple Plus comes pretty damned close to matching it.

schitts-creek-series-spotlight

Blank Space

Well, I am most pleased to let you know, Constant Reader, that I did manage to get those three chapters revised of Bury Me in Shadows yesterday, and yes, it felt fucking amazing to get back to work on my writing again, after that rather lengthy dry spell. Now, I need to go through the next fifteen chapters and change the tense, which will help me reread them as I go, which will be nice. I think I may even just do the corrections on the hard copies I have, before going and inputting them in the new files; I am most pleased with the work I’ve done on those first ten chapters, and think the book works much better now than it did–and it’s only going to get better as I continue to work on it. If I can manage a chapter a day I can actually have it ready for one final run through by the middle of October, which would be incredibly lovely–after which I can take some time off to recollect myself before diving back into the Kansas book, which I am also hoping to have finished and ready to go by the end of the year.

If I don’t get sidetracked and/or depressed again, that is. Heavy heaving sigh.

Which is, sadly, always a possibility.

But at least this week is off to an excellent start for me, and I couldn’t be more delighted. This past weekend I felt more like my actual self than I have in weeks; let’s hope that continues through these next two days of waking up early and seeing clients; we’ll also have to see what Tropical Storm Beta has in store for us this week, and where it’s going to come ashore. We had some rain over the weekend from Beta’s bands, and from yesterday’s weather, apparently we’re going to get a lot of rain, along with its evil twin, potential flash flooding, over these next couple of days. I certainly hope this isn’t going to result in any changes to my work schedule; I’d kind of like to get back going with my usual and somewhat normal routine again–as much normality as I can muster would be greatly appreciated.

But I am also starting this week with a relatively clean and organized downstairs, including the inevitably insanely cluttered workspace/office I have here in the kitchen. I did manage to get a lot of the filing done that needed to be done, and while there are still some loose odds and ends floating around, it’s not nearly as bad as it usually is when I am starting a week, so that’s already lovely. And if I can stay focused and not get tired/depressed/into a bad headspace again, I can keep it that way all week and not have to spend any time on the weekend doing a “make it not look derelict” lick-and-a-promise, but do some of the deep cleaning and organizing it so desperately needs.

We’ll see how that goes. I make no promises.

It was raining when I first dragged myself out of bed this morning; one cappuccino in and I’m not entirely certain that it is still raining; I’m not looking forward to negotiating a drive to work in the rain, or dealing with potential street flooding today. But I slept relatively well last night–dragging myself out of bed was not easy this morning–but I am hoping to be well awake and raring to go by the time I leave the house this morning. We’re almost finished with Ratched–one episode left–and we also caught this week’s episode of The Vow, which continues to get creepier and creepier with each episode; I’m assuming there’s only one week left in it. We tuned into the Emmys for a little while, but I’ve gotten so unused to the normal network commercial break that it quickly became tedious, and after Schitt’s Creek won everything in sight we switched back to Netflix and stayed there until The Vow was loaded into HBO MAX last night. A quick check of the weather shows we are expected to experience heavy rain through Wednesday, which is when the flash flood warning expires.

Heavy rains will probably mean more no-shows than usual at the office today and tomorrow; I certainly hope not–if everyone shows the day goes by a lot faster–but the caffeine is also starting to kick in some, so that’s a plus. I’m hoping to stay on track with the writing every day–there’s about a gazillion emails that need to either be answered or generated today as well–and I’d also like to stay on track with my goal of revising or finishing a short story every week. But the depressive state seems to have finally broken, and we can always hope that means that I’ll be able to be productive.

It’s also only in the 60s this morning, which is going to be quite a shock to the system when I leave the house. The rest of the week appears to be more normal–80’s during the day, 70’s at night–but it looks as though the heat has finally broken and we are finally reaching fall weather here in New Orleans–which would be summer most everywhere else.

LSU football also returns this weekend, so that will be interesting. I’m not really sure how I feel about this pandemic football season, to be honest; the Saints are playing tonight, and it already feels weird, off, not normal; not your usual football season, for sure. I’m not particularly hyped for it, either. Sure, I’ll watch every LSU game, and it’ll be weird to not go to any games this year (first time since 2010 we didn’t attend at least one game in Tiger Stadium), but it just doesn’t seem….right, somehow.

And on that note, it’s time to get ready to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader–I certainly intend to.

Only the Young

And it’s already Wednesday! Well done, everyone, for making it this far.

Okay, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as usual, since this is a short work week (huzzah for Labor Day!) but there it is, you know. And it is a Wednesday, nevertheless, and we should be truly grateful that we have again made it to the midway point of the week, even if was relatively easier (comparatively speaking) this week than usual. But you know what? It’s still Wednesday, and I may–just may–take this Friday off and have another three day weekend. How’s about that?

I was very tired yesterday; we were busy during clinic hours and since I had to get up early, of course I had insomnia Monday night. So by the time I got home from work I was very tired–too tired to really think about starting to read Babylon Berlin, or to work on the book much–I did get a bit into the seventh chapter, but still, not very far–but I did decide to rename my story “After the Party” to something else: “No Place Like Home,” which I am still not crazy about, but it’s much better than “After the Party,” which is one of the lamest story titles I have yet to come up with, and I was quite happy to change the name of the file and folder on my computer, as well as print out the thousand words or so I’ve written on it with the new title on it, so I can get rid of the old print out and can deny to myself that I ever gave a story such a shitty title. It’s also a bait-and-switch story; it starts out going in one direction and then completely switches gears; the problem is I’ve gotten to the gear switch and am not entirely sure how to drive it in the new gear.

I really hate when that happens.

Then a friend on Facebook recommended everyone watch a show I’d had my eye on, Ted Lasso, and I clicked on the Apple Plus app, queued up the first episode, and was immediately entranced. The premise of the show is one of those that seems sort of predictable, like Schitt’s Creek was as well; a small-time American college football coach is hired to manage a major league (Premier league? I don’t really follow soccer, my apologies) team in England that has been fairly mediocre for a time. My first thought, when I first saw a preview for it, was why on earth would anyone do such a thing? And again, like I did initially with Schitt’s Creek, I thought, so of course his small time ways will be mocked and the Brits will be brutal with him and then he will win them over and they will become champions and I’ve seen this before, so I didn’t make it a priority to watch until last night, when I saw my friend’s post about it, so I thought, well, let’s give it a whirl.

Wow.

I’ve been a fan of Jason Sudeikis for a while now; not the oh I have to see everything he’s in type but the I’ve certainly enjoyed everything of his I’ve seen; the movie We’re the Millers was surprisingly sweet, funny, and enjoyable. The premise of the show goes a bit deeper than what it appears at first; a loathsome British billionaire has been divorced after thirteen years by his long-suffering wife, and in the settlement she got his soccer team; which is his pride and joy, and she has hired Ted Lasso for no reason other than she wants to punish her loathsome ex by driving his beloved team into the ground; her exact words are “burn it to the ground completely.” She manages to somehow play off the mysterious coaching hire very well–and Game of Thrones fans, I had to look her up because she looked familiar to me; imagine my surprise to see that Hannah Waddington, who plays her and is stunningly beautiful, tall and sexy; PLAYED THE SEPTA, the one who followed Cersei on her Walk of Shame ringing the bell and saying “Shame”–and the character of Rebecca, whom she plays, is pretty awful; but you also understand why–which is a credit to the show nd the writers, frankly. Horrible Malcolm publicly and openly cheated on her for years, playing out in the tabloids, and often she is mocked and humiliated by them as well. She treats her assistant, Higgins, terribly; but Waddington also plays her so well you also can’t help but feel for her even as she is terrible.

But the key to the show is Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, who is the kind of person who always looks for the best in everyone and genuinely is a nice guy; no matter how rude or nasty someone is to him, he sees their humanity and rather than thinking what a dick or what a bitch, he thinks how can I get through to this person? And he does it with kindness, by treating everyone with respect and dignity. The show walks a very tight rope, as it could easily descend into schmaltzy sentimentality, but it never does, and that’s not an easy trick by any means. The show follows Ted as he slowly begins to win over everyone in Richmond (the town where it’s set) and the team, by being a genuinely kind person. There’s a very strong episode where Ted spends the day with a very cynical journalist who can’t quite figure out what the point of hiring this buffoonish-seeming American could possibly be; a coach/manager who flatly tells the press he doesn’t care about wins or losses. The point of the interview is, of course, so that this cynical journalist who has asked him pointedly insulting questions at press conferences can write a hit piece on him that will further damage the team, and it was all set up by Rebecca; but as the journalist, whom he always treats with respect and kindness and appreciation, spends the day with him and watches him interact with people, he’s won over. He writes the piece, and he still thinks Lasso is going to fail managing the team, but its not a hatchet job at all; the final line of the piece winds up being something along the lines of “I still think he is going to fail, but I am not going to enjoy watching it the way I thought I would.”

The show sneaks up and hits you in the feels, the same way Schitt’s Creek did, and it makes you laugh and it makes you tear up because you find yourself loving the characters so much, and caring about what happens to them. Six episodes have already aired, and we blew through them all last night; the next will air on Friday, and I am already looking forward to it.

It’s also wonderful watching the character of Rebecca, so determined to avenge herself on her husband, becoming conflicted with her plan because she isn’t really the icy bitch she thinks she is, and responding not only to Ted’s kindness but that of other characters.

I do recommend it highly.

And Archer comes back next week!

I have to also add that Apple Plus is really upping their game. The first two shows there we tried to watch didn’t hold our interest and we abandoned them after a couple of episodes–the story and the characters didn’t hold out attention, despite how well the shows were produced. But The Morning Show and Ted Lasso are exceptional television, and the previews for the service’s adaptation of Azimov’s Foundation series looks amazing, airing in 2021.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Check out Ted Lasso; if you liked Schitt’s Creek, this is right up your alley as well.

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.