True Faith

Saturday morning and I am about to head back out to Metairie; I just got an email that my computer is repaired and ready for pick-up! This is very exciting, obviously–I am terribly relieved to not have to buy a new one–and I am excited to have a desktop computer again. Hurray for a big screen to make up for my failing eyes! I am also going to be dropping off books later today at the library sale, and donating beads to ARC of New Orleans; the living room is slowly being dragged back from hoarder’s hell and starting to look functional and bearable and usable again, which is incredibly lovely. I managed to hang one of the laundry room doors by myself yesterday; this morning I’ll also be rehanging the other door, clearing up more space and opening up the living room even further.

We finished watching The Crime of the Century last night–quelle surprise, disgusting piece of shit Marsha Blackburn helped pass a bill gutting the DEA’s ability to investigate and punish drug companies for lying to the public, reminding viewers again she’s always been trash and a cosplay Christian without a soul–and the documentary is further evidence that our country and our system has been corrupted and is broken. It’s more than a little infuriating to know that so many people have died and/or become addicted thanks to the complicity of our elected officials, and there is never any accountability for corporations or the rich. Back in the 1990’s I used to simply shake my head and thin we are becoming very similar, as a nation, to 1780′ France and the last days of Czarist Russia and when it comes the second American revolution will be far worse than either of those revolutions, which were widespread and incredibly bloody…I hope I don’t live long enough to see it or experience it, quite frankly. I had an idea–when don’t I have one?–back then for a book about a dystopian future after the collapse of our government and society; dystopias aren’t so much in vogue anymore, but it’s still a valid idea and concept, but it’s been foremost in my brain lately.

We also started watching Halston on Netflix last night, and it’s quite fun; definitely worth watching for the acting, and Ewan MacGregor is fantastic in the title role. I’ve actually been thinking about the 1970’s a lot lately; not sure why I’ve been going down this nostalgic trip down memory lane, but I have been and so Halston kind of plays into that for me. It has everything to do, no doubt, with my idea to write a book about a suburban serial killer, a la the Candyman/Gacy, called Where the Boys Die; I’ve been looking up things (classmates.com has copies of my high school yearbooks even; mine were lost years ago) all over the place when I get bored and when I don’t feel like reading or writing. What will eventually happen with that, I don’t know–if anything–but I realize this morning that I haven’t been writing much this month–I’ve definitely been off, if not my rocker, but my game. I kind of have been ever since my desktop computer ceased functioning properly; I don’t think getting my computer back is going to be some kind of magic cure-all, but it should be a start.

After I dropped off the computer at the Apple Store and while I was waiting for my next appointment, I stopped at the Barnes and Noble on Veterans’ to kill time. I can’t remember the last time I set foot in a B&N; obviously it was pre-pandemic, but it was much longer ago than that, obviously. It was a bit strange to be in such a public space (the Apple Store opens two hours before the rest of the mall, so walking through the almost-deserted halls and past all the closed stores had a sort of Night of the Living Dead feel to it–I know that’s probably not the right zombie/Romero film, but I’ve actually never seen any of those so sue me) but B&N was more confined and had more people–it was still pretty empty, but it was a strange experience. But it was lovely being in a bookstore–I resisted the urge to spend hundreds of dollars and limited myself to a lovely, inexpensive B&N edition of The Iliad and The Odyssey–and it was also interesting to walk around looking at books and seeing so many friends on the shelves, tables, and end-caps. The MWA handbook, How to Write a Mystery, was prominently displayed on the NEW RELEASES shelves, and I found myself examining books and just enjoying being around books.

Speaking of which, I started reading Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow, and am enjoying it. I need to get it finished, though, so I can read From Here to Eternity on my trip next week (yikes, I leave on Thursday).

So, my plan for today is to get my computer set up again, rehang the other door, run those errands and swing by the grocery store as well. With all of these other things taken care of, I also intend to clean today so tomorrow I will have the day free to answer emails, do some writing, and go to the gym….then it’s three days of work and the trip to Kentucky, and then before I know it, May will be ending and it will be June. #madness.

And on that note, I need to get cleaned up so I can head out to the Lakeside mall. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

Leave Me Alone

Wednesday morning and it’s pay the bills day–which I actually keep forgetting about. Yesterday the weather took a turn; it started raining around eleven and we went into a flash flood alert/high wind advisory that is lasting until Thursday morning (!!!)–at least that was the case; I’ve not checked the weather yet this morning. It didn’t seem to rain all that hard, all things considered, at any one point but it was pretty consistent for most of the day, at any rate, and it was pouring when poor Paul got home from work last night. It doesn’t appear to be raining currently–but everything outside looks wet in the gray light prior to the sun coming up. But it seems like it’s not going to rain anytime soon, which is cool–hopefully it won’t be raining when I get off work so I can head to the gym.

I am sleeping well now that most of my stress has been lifted–it’s amazing how much deadline pressure gets to me these days, not to mention having so many things going wrong in the Lost Apartment at the same time. But since the house has been sort of put back together again, and I am not on deadline anymore, I am sleeping well; my evenings are nice and relaxing, and I can work on other things without that sense of impending doom and time running out on me.

I have to say I am having the most lovely time writing Chlorine, or rather, working on it. This is the fun part of writing a book, before the drudgery sets in and you have to do the tedious chore of taking what’s in your head and typing it into a document, editing it and fixing it and correcting it. (Actually, not true–I do like revisions and editing. It’s the deadlines involved that I dislike…but the typing out the first draft is the worst part, yes.) I do love coming up with the story and the characters and the scenes, the setting and what their homes look like and their interior lives and their pasts….I live for that shit. So, last night I was working on character bios and making adjustments (with name changes and background changes) to a first draft of the first chapter I wrote sometime (last year? two years ago?) to see if I could get the feel of the story down. It went well for a first draft–in fact, I was able to get about 2500 words (give or take) down in a little over half an hour; always a good sign. I even have the next three chapters already written in my head…of course I still need to transcribe them, but I also want to revise and rework that first chapter before I move on to the next ones.

I also really need to get back to the short stories. That deadline for submission is looming kind of large.

Paul and I watched the second part of the Ed Kemper/Coed Killer episodes on Very Scary People last night after he got home (soaking wet from the storm); Kemper was a main player in the Netflix series Mindhunter, and of course, they talked about how cooperative Kemper was after he turned himself in and how he helped the FBI develop serial killer profiling by articulating his motivations, how he felt, why he was the way he was, and etc. It’s also very weird to think of him working recording books for the blind–imagine listening to an audio book and then finding out the Coed Killer was the voice you’d been listening to–and the part that was so chilling about him in MIndhunter–how reasonable, smart, and actually helpful he seemed, was apparently the case in real life as well.

Yikes.

I also read some more of The Man with the Candy last night; the idea for the book loosely inspired by that true story is also nagging away at the core of my brain, and with the more I read about those mass murders, the more I want to write that story. I wanted to do another Scotty book this year–this isn’t a Scotty story, alas–so I may just go ahead and put off this particular story until I have the Scotty done; I’d really like to have another Scotty come out next year, and I think Twelfth Night Knavery is a good, strong story that I would really like to write, but this Corll-inspired story just won’t let me be…

Sigh. And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me!

Vicious Circle

Ugh, Monday morning. I slept really well again last night–woke up before the alarm, in fact–and feel relatively well rested, if not completely mentally awake yet. I am sort of feeling like myself again; like my batteries have finally recharged, even if it meant putting some things off for a few days and just allowing myself to relax completely. The Lost Apartment is all pulled back together again; I’ve made some terrific progress with my writing, and my creativity is firing on almost all of its cylinders again, which is more than I ever thought would happen for me again. I finished reading The Russia House yesterday–it’s quite good, if unexciting; the writing itself is so marvelous the coldness of the story itself doesn’t matter, really–and we started watching season two of Very Scary People, getting through the Son of Sam and Night Stalker cases, and then part one of the Coed Killer (honest takeaway from this series: California sure has a lot of mass murderers and serial killers/rapists) before retiring for the evening. I also started reading Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (interesting title, because the term “serial killer” hadn’t really been coined yet), which is extremely well written, and also paints an interesting picture of Houston; coupled with Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–I’ve always wanted to write about Houston. I lived there for two years, and then six months again a few years later, and it’s an interesting, complicated city that no crime writer, at least that I am aware of, has set a crime series in, or written a crime novel set there….which is something I find interesting. I think it’s also true of Dallas.

Interesting trivia Greg fact: the Chanse series was originally set in Houston, and the first book was called The Body in the Bayou. I later, when I started writing it seriously (and got beyond two chapters) I moved the series to New Orleans and the story evolved into Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which is the real reason why Chanse was from Texas: he was originally supposed to have lived in Houston, playing for the (at the time) Oilers after attending Texas A&M before getting injured and becoming a private eye. (In the published series, Chanse went to LSU instead of A&M, and was injured in his final college game, which kept him from playing in the pros.)

I still think someone should write a cop or private eye series set in Houston. As wild and crazy as these true crime books set there make Houston seem, I doubt very seriously that the city isn’t wild and crazy still. I remember going to see the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) there, the very first time it was publicly performed (little known Greg fact), and the audience was interesting….I loved the guys in their formal jackets, ties, Wranglers and boots escorting women in evening gowns and furs and dripping with diamonds ( needless to say, I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt, but I spent the intermissions and the pre-performance time in the lobby literally just staring at the fascinating fashion choices for Houston’s moneyed class).

Oddly enough, there were not many children there; considering it was the stage production of a Disney animated film, you’d think there would be more kids there…but it was a world premiere, and more about Houston’s higher class showing off jewels, furs, and gowns more than anything else.

I also had fun brainstorming the background work for Chlorine over the weekend; naming characters and loosely sketching out bios for them, as well as trying to figure out how to pull off the plot and how to make it work. This is the really fun part of a book–figuring out everything–before the drudgery of actually writing it starts. I am very excited about writing this book, though, and it’s been a hot minute since I was excited about writing a book–in fact, so long that I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to write a book–it may have been Lake Thirteen, all those years ago–which is different than being happy to write a book. I also have to be careful not to worry about expectations of other people, too–Chlorine began its life as just a vague idea I had one morning while writing my blog, which somehow caught on with some of my friends on Twitter who started tweeting at me (some of them still, periodically, will bring up Chlorine on social media, wondering where it is and when I am going to write it), excited about the idea.

I also spent some time yesterday coming up with a to-do list, which I always enjoy doing when I’m not stressed and worn out. When I am stressed and worn out (hello, first three months of this year), to-do lists simply make things worse more than anything else; emphasizing how far behind I am and how much I have to get done and sometimes–not always, just sometimes–the to-do list defeats me once it’s written. Just looking at it causes me stress. I’m not sure how long I am going to be able to hold off stress at the moment–it’s always just lurking there, in my peripheral vision, waiting to pounce on my like a tiger and hold me down–but I am hoping that having the apartment back together and having the two deadlines in my rearview mirror will help stave off it’s inevitable return for a little while, at least.

Tonight I am planning–we’ll see how that goes–to return to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks, which means basically starting over with one set of everything, which means I won’t be there for terribly long, which for a Monday night is a good thing, most likely. Here’s hoping this will also help me fall asleep tonight; insomnia so frequently derails me. The office is also on track to going back to full staffing and regular open hours, possibly as early as May; I am curious to see how that winds up going. I’ve gotten used to the tumbleweeds blowing through our mostly empty department, and it will seem weird having other people around when they actually starts to happen.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, all, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

I Told You So

Finally, a good night’s sleep last night, and I feel rested finally–physically, emotionally, and intellectually–for the first time this week. I didn’t sleep through the night–I was awakened just before four this morning by a simply marvelous thunderstorm; lightning so close it was simply a white flash and then thunder claps that seemed to go on forever as the rain came down torrentially; the emergency notification alerts also came through on both of our phones at the same time. I didn’t get out of bed–I assumed it was a flash flood warning, given the strength of the downpour–but upon rising this morning you can imagine my shock to check my phone to see that it was a tornado warning “for this area”. However, in checking just now I don’t see any tornado reports for the area, but we were in a flash flood warning for four hours (it actually ends in about fifteen minutes–but it’s clear outside). The storms dropped three to five inches of rain a couple of hours–which means at some point I should go make sure the car didn’t get water inside.

But there really isn’t anything like being in bed, warm and comfortable under the blankets, while it’s pouring down rain outside.

I am working at home today, and I have to also get the apartment ready for the delivery of my new washing machine at some point tomorrow. I think I am going to have to take the saloon doors off the laundry room–that’s not going to be much fun–and I am also going to take the bottom shelf down from above where the washer and dryer sit for maneuverability purposes, as well as getting some other things out of the way to make it as easy as possible for the delivery guys. It’s going to be lovely, frankly, having a washing machine again–there’s a load of clothes that needs to be washed, and I also want to do the bed linens, since I couldn’t last week–and hopefully, that will do away with this weird, slightly off way I’ve been feeling since the washer broke last Wednesday night and flooded the laundry room and kitchen.

I think I’ve also been feeling more than a little off-center (off-kilter, off my game, whatever) because I was already not centered as I went into the big (and exhausting) push last weekend to get the book finished and turned in. Finishing a book is always an enormous relief, but that final push to get it done is always, inevitably, exhausting on every level–and then having to get up early for work (or to take Paul to Touro) just wore me down. Insomnia also bedeviled me almost every night this week (until last night, thank the Lord), so finally getting rested last night was most essential and very important. Paul got home late as well, so I sat in my easy chair for most of the evening going down Youtube video wormholes because I was really too tired to be able to focus on reading…although I am hoping to get back to The Russia House after I complete my work-at-home duties today as well as get everything moved around that needs to be moved around preparatory to tomorrow’s washer delivery.

And now I’ve got serial killers on the brain. A friend tipped me off to a series on HBO MAX, Very Scary People, which takes on serial rapists, mass murderers (yes, there’s two episodes about the Manson family) and serial killers. There’s a new book idea formulating in my head–when isn’t there, really?–and I’ve been making notes and so forth this past week, as well as looking up more information about Dean Corll on-line…plus I’ve been trying to remember the early 1970’s and life in suburban Chicago, which is where and when the book will be set. I know, I know, I’m going to write Chlorine next–when my creative batteries have completely recharged and reset–and I also have some submission calls I want to submit short stories to. I wanted to spend this week doing just that–writing/revising/editing short stories–but I just haven’t had the bandwidth to focus and look at the calls (and the in-progress stories I want to write for them) to figure out when things would be due and how much work would need to be done, etc. But I think it’s okay for me to take a week to let my brain recalibrate.

AH, so much to do and as always, the clock is ticking.

I’ve also started reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram. Everything I’ve read of Tuchman’s has become a favorite (A Distant Mirror may be the best history I’ve ever read), and while I have yet to get through her entire canon (The Guns of August is still in my TBR pile), I thought it would be interesting to read this tale of the inflammatory telegram that was primarily responsible for the United States entering the first World War. (I’ve also become very interested–primarily through the writing of my Sherlock Holmes story–in the historical period from, say, 1910-1930, particularly in New Orleans. I would love to write more Holmes pastiches, but am not entirely sure there’s a market for them; I do have one on deck right now–one of the afore-mentioned short stories in progress; I am trying to decide if writing a Holmes pastiche for the submission call would be a smart thing to do, or whether I should just write the story and leave Holmes out of it entirely.) This creative ADHD thing really does suck sometimes…but I am going to actually not berate myself for my brain being all over the map this week because–well, damn it, I just wrote two books totally approximately 195,000 words in total over the course of about five months, give or take. My brain should be fried.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. I need to get some things done before I start working for the day. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

Elegia

Ugh, Monday morning.

At least I finished the draft of the book yesterday, so huzzah! It’s probably still a big old mess, and a whole lot of revision and rewriting is going to be required by my ever-patient and long-suffering editor, but it’s fucking done. And I have to say, in addition, that I’m kind of glad to be done with that manuscript, at least for now, and at least it’s in some sort of shape that makes sense and is hopefully fixable.

The espresso machine is still not making cappuccino shots, still only making an espresso shot despite having enough water for the larger shot; apparently just turning that extra water into steam. The new one should arrive today, so this morning will be the last time I have to use this old, no longer properly working one. I’ve also learned my lesson from the debacle of last Wednesday as far as how to drink the proper amount of caffeine this morning. What I should do is not make another and simply swing through the Starbucks drive-thru at St. Claude and Elysian Fields and pay a ridiculous amount of money for one of their lattes with a shot of vanilla in it…but as it also still causes me physical pain to pay that much money for one, I will most likely repeat the enormous mistake of last week and wind up over-caffeinating. I’ll be sad to get rid of this espresso machine; it was cheap and served me well for seven years almost, but I am really looking forward to using the new one, and seeing what it does.

I have tomorrow off so I can take Paul to his colonoscopy. Big excitement, right? At least I can take The Russia House with me to read while that’s going on. We don’t know what time his appointment is for; he has to go get a COVID test today, and once they get the result will call to let him know what time he needs to come in tomorrow morning (or afternoon; it could be at any time). Our new washer is also being delivered this Friday, and now of course I am stressing about how they are getting the old one out and the new one in. I’ll probably go ahead and remove the laundry room door on Thursday, as well as taking out the bottom shelf and everything on it to make as much room for them in the tight space as possible. I keep telling myself they’re used to this sort of thing and not worrying; after all, they were able to deliver and install the original one, weren’t they? And we’ve had three dryers delivered and installed over the last sixteen years, so I am probably worrying about nothing, right? Right? But so many things have been going wrong around here for so long–this weekend, we kept blowing a fuse in the kitchen–which is worrisome, especially since the last time it blew yesterday it wouldn’t flip back, and it was hot to the touch, so I let it sit for about two hours and then tried again. It worked that time–the kitchen lights are still on this morning (it’s also the same fuse the refrigerator and dishwasher are on, so I’ve not been able to. use the dishwasher as the fuse goes every time) so here’s hoping the guys can come out today and replace the fuse or figure out the problem with it so it will stop tripping.

We finished watching The Clown and the Candyman yesterday, as they tried to make the connection between the two notorious serial killers and the John Norman pedophilia ring, and as I watched and listened, I kept thinking to myself this sounds like where that QAnon pedophile conspiracy theory probably got its start–which doesn’t mean that it’s not based in some kind of fact; the QAnon conspiracy theory might actually be grounded in some kind of reality–which doesn’t, of course, mean what they are saying on those message boards and so forth is true, either. But it was interesting, to say the least, and the parallels and possible connection between these two mass murderers is fascinating to contemplate. And of course, the entire time I was watching I was scribbling down notes and ideas for stories and so forth. We also finished watching Resident Alien last night, which was exceptionally clever and rather well done; I am assuming last night’s final episode we watched was the season finale because the end was the perfect cliffhanger.

Fun!

I’ve also fallen behind on Superman and Lois, and with this draft of the book finished, I should be able to get back on track with everything else that I’ve fallen behind on–groan, my email inbox alone–and I have to do some tweaking of Bury Me in Shadows, which I am hoping to get to work on this coming weekend. I kind of want to take this week to kind of chill and relax and get a handle on everything. I’ve never felt caught up at all at any time over the past year, which is terrible and drives me crazy; there’s nothing worse than feeling behind all the time and like you’re never going to catch up.

And on that note….tis back to the spice mines with me! Happy day after Easter, everyone!

Jetstream

Good Friday!

Yesterday was not one of my more pleasant days–although it wasn’t nearly anything as horrible as Wednesday was. Paul and I took Scooter to the vet for his bloodwork (he’s a senior kitty) and to check on how his diabetes is going, and then headed out to Costco to look at washing machines. We found one we liked, I took a picture of it (you can only buy them by ordering on line), and after we got back home we ordered it. We will have a brand spanking new washing machine delivered here next Friday, and I’ll have to deal with not doing any laundry between now and then–although I can use the one in the carriage house if need be in the meantime. (It’s very weird; not being able to do the laundry until next week makes me itch a little bit–not that it matters in the least. We have plenty of clothes, we bought some really nice new towels at Costco so that situation is under control for now, so I am not really sure why precisely it’s making me itchy that I can’t do a load of laundry…go figure.)

I was also tired all day yesterday; despite the good night’s sleep; I think all the stress and mood swinging of Wednesday night just completely drained me. I had little to no energy; after we picked up Scooter from the vet and I had my board meeting, I literally collapsed into my easy chair and dozed off for a bit, which never happens. I am not now, nor have I ever been, someone who either could nap; whenever I was able to take one, it kind of defeated the purpose of the nap because I would inevitably wake up from the nap feeling more tired and wrung out than I did before taking the nap. But I dozed off yesterday afternoon, woke up and did some things around the Lost Apartment, and then dozed off again during the early evening–definitely not like me. (A purring, sleeping kitty in my lap didn’t help me stay awake. Paul and I have long since recognized Scooter’s super-power is the ability to put us both to sleep; or in my case, most of the time, paralysis; I lose the desire to do anything but flip through channels or watch videos or find a documentary to watch.)

I did discover, by scrolling through the documentary listings on Netflix last night, a 2019 documentary about Dolly Parton, and let’s face it, I’ll watch anything with or about Dolly Parton because, well, I will always love her. I think the most interesting part of the entire thing was watching Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda trying to describe who Dolly is; whether it’s a persona or if what we see of her is really who she is. I also find it interesting to see the the similarities in the rags-to-riches tales of our biggest stars–like it’s almost a prerequisite for them to achieve massive stardom is to come from practically nothing; as seen in Tina earlier this week as well. (I also love how the story of how Dolly turned down Elvis’ offer to cover “I Will Always Love You” because he always required fifty percent of the publishing rights to everything he sang; the wisdom of that refusal seen when Whitney Houston turned it into one of the most popular single recordings of all time in the early 1990’s–and how incredibly gracious Dolly always is about that very thing; “She made me rich!”)

And when that was finished–all too soon, I could watch anything about Dolly for hours–we found a documentary series about John Wayne Gacy (Paul is fascinated by serial killers, and Gacy in particular) that uses actual footage from an interview Gacy gave several years after his conviction in an attempt to convince the press of his innocence; footage that was never seen until now…and Christ, how creepy was the guy? We watched the first episode, with me sort of awake–I kept dozing off and waking up again–and once it was finished we both retired to bed. I slept deeply and well last night, and feel rested today; my brain feels like it’s functional again and my muscles and body feel rested; which is good because now I have to really do a deep dive into finishing the book.

That’s really all I have to do this weekend–I am not even planning on going to the gym again until the book is done because I know it’ll wear me out and I won’t want to work afterwards. Much as I hate putting off the gym like this, I also know myself a little too well to pull of the self-deception of oh of course I’ll work on my book after I work out…when inevitably I am always exhausted afterwards. I feel good and better after a workout of course, but eventually the muscle fatigue sets in and then I am done done done.

And on that note, the book ain’t going to write itself, is it? See you tomorrow morning, Constant Reader! Be well an stay safe!

Big Star

Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.

LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).

I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.

I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).

My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.

And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?

A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.

We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.

I Wish You Would

Hurricane Delta is moving ever closer by the moment to our shores. This is one of the worst parts–the inevitable waiting, the need to be completely flexible, and the need to be ready to pack up and get out of Dodge in a hurry if need be. In that regard we are luckier than most when it comes to natural disasters; we have warning so we can get out while there is still time. Tornadoes and earthquakes don’t give you those options; with tornadoes sometimes it’s merely a matter of minutes (those years in Kansas…); earthquakes give you no warning whatsoever. Hurricanes clearly trigger PTSD in me–and have, ever since Katrina–but I would still rather deal with them than tornadoes or earthquakes (been through those during my years in California).

Ugh, natural disasters. Earth’s way of reminding us how unimportant and insignificant we really are.

There was a thing going around Twitter the other day, reading something along the lines of : Fellow authors, creatives… do you think it’s wise to tweet your policital opinions using your author/creative twitter account, or should you keep politics out of your creative timeline? Do you think it might lose you followers, readers, even work, or hurt your cause?

It did make me think a little bit at first. I generally don’t talk about politics much about my social media, or here on my blog; but it’s not about worrying that I might offend and lose readers, for fuck’s sake. The funniest thing to me about that tweet was precisely how privileged it was, and how the person tweeting it didn’t even have the slightest clue about the place of privilege she was coming from.

Simply stated, any writers that are not cishet white heterosexuals has had their very existence politicized, over and over and over again. Two Supreme Court justices, just this very week, very nastily announced that they don’t think queer people are entitled to equality in the eyes of the law; no surprise it was dumpster fires Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. I would love to have the privilege of not having my existence, and my status as an American citizen, politicized and reviled and attacked by bigots and monsters masking their demonic tactics are “religious liberty”; and a little louder for those of you in the back: if your religion is teaching you to treat any other human being with anything less than empathy, understanding, and compassion, you are doing religion wrong.

Period.

Frankly, I don’t exactly see how I could possibly lose any readers who are homophobes or racists or transphobes or fire-breathing conservatives because they would never buy books by a gay man centering gay men and themes in the first place. These are the ones who don’t buy your books but will waste their lives away going on Amazon and looking for queer writers to one-star, with a sentence about “not wanting a political agenda shoved down (their) throat.”

Books by and about queer people are political by nature of their very existence–and this is something which we, like writers of color and any other underprivileged minority in this country do not get to have a choice. The personal is the political for us; it is very interesting to me to see how much privilege is on display in tweets like the one above; while assuredly the intentions of the tweeter were good and she was genuinely curious what other people thought on the subject–other straight white people, obviously. It is an interesting subject, after all; moral stances don’t pay the bills, obviously, and at what point does your survival outweigh your principles?

Some authors are big enough, and successful enough, to not have to worry about offending or losing readers–which is another kind of privilege; recently seen on display with J. K. Rowling, and previously seen with writers like Orson Scott Card, among others–while those writers who aren’t marginalized for something beyond their control and are barely scraping by, hoping their sales will warrant yet another book contract, trying to figure out how to get the word out about their books and sell more copies while balancing a day job and family and everything else, possibly cannot afford to alienate any portion of their reader base if they want to keep writing. I get that, I really do; part of the reason I am so productive (per other people) is a definite fear that at some point my writing career will end–although I have also come to realize that while my career as Greg Herren might end, I could always create a new name and start over again–but it would be really nice to have the kind of reality that makes asking that question even possible to consider. As a gay male writer who writes about gay men and their experiences navigating this country and this world, obviously my books make a political statement; just my existence makes such a statement.

I refuse to closet myself or my work for the convenience of making homophobes more comfortable.

Suck on that, bitches.

Honestly.

Anyway, a friend reminded me of a short story the other day, and it had been quite the hot minute since I’d read Ray Bradbury’s “The Whole Town’s Sleeping,” and so I thought, why not reread it for the Short Story Project?

So I did.

The courthouse clock chimed seven times. The echoes of the chines faded.

Warm summer twilight here in upper Illinois country in this little town deep and far away from everything, kept to itself by.a river and a forest and a meadow and a lake. The sidewalks still scorched. The stores closing and the streets shadowed. And there were two moons; the clock moon with four faces in four night directions above the solemn black courthouse, and the real moon rising in vanilla whiteness from the dark east.

In the drugstore fans whispered in the high ceilings. In the rococo shade of porches, a few invisible people sat. Cigars glowed pink, on occasion. Screen doors whined their springs and slammed. ON the purple bricks of the summer-night streets, Douglas Spaulding ran; dogs an boys followed after.

“Hi, Miss Lavinia!”

Isn’t that a lovely start? I have to confess, I’ve not read much Bradbury–I’m not even sure how I read this story in the first place, but I remembered it; there must have been a short-story collection I picked up somewhere and read that I don’t recall. I know that I read it sometime after I had read Night Shift by Stephen King; because when I originally read this story it made me think of his story, “Strawberry Spring,” both in its style, voice and content SPOILER: both are serial killer stories, and both are written in that same Norman Rockwell Americana type voice; look at this sweet, picturesque American community, isn’t it lovely and aspirational and oh, by the way, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Before rereading the story, all I could remember was that weird Rockwellian voice, the Americana of the depiction of the town, and the ending. I also remembered the suspense of the scene where Miss Lavinia, after walking her companions home after seeing the Chaplin movie, thinks someone is following her as she hurries home alone. I’d forgotten that she and one of her friends found the body of the latest victim on the way to the movie, and yet continue on; that was extremely weird, and I also remembered the wonderful twist of the final sentence of the story, once she has safely gotten home. The serial killer, The Lonely One, kills a woman every month–and yet, in this pristine little slice of Americana small town life, no one in the town seems to take the killer all that seriously, or worry all that much about becoming his next victim. The voice vs the content is a masterstroke of writing, frankly; and I must admit, I’m not really sure why I haven’t read more Bradbury. I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes–I also remember thinking recently that I should reread it–and Dandelion Wine, and there must have been a short story collection I read as well; but I never read any of the science fiction–my education in Heinlein and other science fiction greats is also sorely lacking (although I have read quite a bit of Azimov and of course, Dune). I think I’ve avoided the great science fiction writers of back in the day because the advances in technology in reality have made some of those stories probably obsolete–watching 2001 recently, along with Blade Runner, was interesting in seeing what major corporations of the time they were made are no longer around (Pan Am and Howard Johnson’s, for a few) that people of the time couldn’t possibly imagine wouldn’t be around in the future. Perhaps I’ll move Something Wicked This Way Comes closer to the top of the reread pile. I didn’t enjoy it all that much at the time–I was expecting something a little more Stephen King-ish–and with more of an adult, better read mentality, I might enjoy and appreciate it more. I am certainly intrigued by that voice, which is very similar to the one he used in the short story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely and safe Thursday, Constant Reader!

My October Symphony

At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.

But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)

We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.

And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.

Then again, you never know.

We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.

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

Happiness is An Option

I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery with a supernatural edge to it; the line between crime fiction and horror is often blurred. Take, for example, The Silence of the Lambs. It’s often lauded as the first horror film to win an Oscar–but there’s no supernatural beings involved, no ghosts or vampires, or anything like that; the protagonist is an FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer…so is it really horror? Are slasher films/books actually horror or crime? (I think it depends on whether or not the slasher is actually something not human–like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, or just crazed human killers, like the Scream movies or even the first Friday the 13th, which is the only one I’ve actually seen.)

But then it’s really hard to define and delineate what work falls into what genre; and oft-times, there’s crossover between the various ones–there’s western horror, for example, just like romantic suspense bridges the line between romance and mystery. So where precisely on the spectrum of genre does the work of Barbara Michaels lay? There are often supernatural elements to her fiction; sometimes there aren’t. Ammie Come Home is my favorite ghost story of the many I’ve read–and I enjoy it just as much every time I reread it–but it’s also a mystery, and there’s also some romance in the book. The romance itself is rarely the focus of her books, but it is there and cannot be ignored; likewise, most stories that have supernatural elements (ones that are actually supernatural in origin or man-made frauds) inevitably have some mystery to them; what do the supernatural forces want–or in the case of fraud, what are those who are committing the fraud after? What do they want?

House of Many Shadows was the second Barbara Michaels novel I read, and remains one of my favorites to this day.

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The sounds bothered Meg most. Calling them auditory hallucinations helped a little–a phenomenon is less alarming when it has a proper technical name. Meg had always thought of hallucinations as something one saw. She had those, too, but for some illogical reason it was easier for her to accept visual illusions as nonreal than to ignore the hallucinatory sounds. When you were concentrating on typing a letter, and a voice says something in your ear, it was impossible not to be distracted.

The problem was hard to explain, and Meg wasn’t doing a good job of explaining. But then it had always been difficult to explain anything to Sylvia. Sylvia knew all the answers.

“The dictaphone was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t hear what Mr. Phillips had said. Voices kept mumbling, drowning out his voice. Once the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir cut out the second paragraph of a very important memo.”

She smiled as she spoke. It sounded funny now, but at the time it had not been at all amusing.

Sylvia didn’t smile. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Why them?”

Meg shrugged helplessly. “No reason. That’s the point; they are meaningless hallucinations. The doctor says they’ll go away eventually, but in the meantime…Mr. Phillips was very nice about it, he said he’d try to find an opening for me when I’m ready to work again, but I couldn’t expect him to keep me on. I had to listen to some of those tapes three times before I got the message clear, and there was always the chance I’d miss something important. And I’d already used up all my sick leave. Three weeks in the hospital…”

“You should be thankful you weren’t killed,” said Sylvia. “To think they never caught the man who was driving the car! New York is an absolute jungle. I don’t know how you can stand living here. May I have another cup of tea?”

Meg poured, biting back an irritated retort. She couldn’t afford to offend Sylvia, especially now, when she was about to ask a favor, but the cliches that were Sylvia’s sole means of communications had never annoyed her more. Why should she be thankful she hadn’t been killed? She might as well be thankful she didn’t have leprosy, or seven-year itch; or thank God because she had not been born with two heads. It was just as reasonable, and a lot more human, to feel vexation instead of gratitude. Why me, God? The old question, to which there was never any answer…Why did it have to be me in the path of that fool driver; why did I have to land on my head instead of some less vulnerable part of my anatomy; and why, oh, why, God, did Ihave to have these exotic symptoms instead of a nice simple concussion? Why do I have to be the poor relation, with no savings to fall back on, while Sylvia…

Sylvia’s close-set gray eyes were intent on the teapot. “Such a nice piece of silver,” she murmured.

I love Barbara Michaels’ work, and one of the happiest days of my reading life was the day I discovered she also wrote as Elizabeth Peters, which meant even more reading joy for me (and eventually, I came to prefer the Peters books to the Michaels; but make no mistake, I love all the books). The set-up for House of Many Shadows is right there in the beginning; poor Meg’s life has been upended by being hit by a driver who didn’t stop, and because of the hallucinations she suffers from as a result–with no idea of how long she will suffer through them–she is unable to work, and her distant relative Sylvia–whom she doesn’t seem to care much for–is her only hope. Sylvia–we all know people like Sylvia; without a sense of humor and whose response to any crisis is to come up with a plan and make it work–has a house in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, she’s not sure what she wants to do with it, but Meg can stay there rent-free, and Sylvia even comes up with a “make-work” solution so Meg won’t feel like she’s freeloading (it isn’t until much later she realizes that is what Sylvia was doing; at the time she kind of resents it); doing an inventory of the contents of the house and its attic, as Sylvia is thinking of donating the house to the local historical association. Sylvia’s stepson from the previous marriage that wound up with her owning the house is living on the property as a caretaker, in a cottage behind the main house–Meg remembers him from their childhood as a horrible tease she couldn’t much stand–and soon she is off to the wilds of the Pennsylvania country side.

At the end of the second chapter-the first after she arrives at the house–Meg experiences a hallucination in front of Andy, the stepson, and their relationship hasn’t changed much, apparently–which rattles Andy terribly; when it happens again a chapter or so later is when Andy confesses that he, too, has seen the same hallucinations she did–so are they hallucinations? Or are they seeing ghosts?

This set-up, of course, is absolutely brilliant: what better heroine for a supernatural story than a woman who’s had a brain injury that causes her to see hallucinations? The chilling touch that Andy has also seen the same hallucinations in the house that she has is terrifying; and as she slowly gets to work in the attic, she and Andy start discovering things about the history of the house, including the fact that the original property owners, back before the American Revolution, were brutally murdered in the original house that stood on the property; the current one was built over it. So, what happened 250 years earlier? Both Meg and Andy become a bit obsessed with the ancient murders, and as they continue to see things in the house, they slowly but surely start putting together the truth of what happened to the original property owners–while falling in love, of course.

One of the great things about the Michaels books is that she brooks no foolishness with her supernatural elements; it’s clear Dr. Mertz (her real name) was well read on the subject of the occult and other belief systems–they pop up, again and again, throughout the Michaels novels, and in many instances, I first heard of certain occult books and cults from reading them. I know I first read of The Golden Bough in a Michaels novel; Dr, Mertz knew her folklore and occult religions, and made very good use of that knowledge, not just in this book but in others–Prince of Darkness comes to mind–and of course, she was an excellent, excellent writer.

House of Many Shadows also holds up; despite the dated quality of the book–no Internet or computers or cell phones–it’s still a great story.