Mary Mary

I have always loved strong female characters, having cut my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames, just to name a few. As an adult reader of mysteries, two of my favorite series are Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (simply the best) and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (also a gem of a series); primarily because I love the characters of Amelia and Meg both so very much. They are both fiercely intelligent women with a very dry sense of humor, and are the kind of strong women that everyone around them comes to depend on for support–and droll wit. The death of Dr. Barbara Mertz (who wrote as Peters AND as Barbara Michaels) ended the Peabody series forever, much to my heartbreak; the Meg Langslow series is going strong still, so I am hopeful that I will have years and years of reading pleasure yet to come from Donna.

And then, last year I discovered Mary Russell.

The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before. With the shock of the sudden change, my vision stuttered, attempted a valiant rally, then slid into complete rebellion and would not focus at all.

I leant back into my chair with an ill-stifled groan, peeled my wire-rimmed spectacles from my ears and dropped tjem onto the stack of notes, and sat for a long minute with the heels of both hands pressed into my eye sockets.

I was already a fan of Laurie R. King from her brilliant Kate Martinelli series, about a lesbian police detective. (If you’ve not read that series, you need to–it’s one of the best of the last thirty years.) I was reluctant to read the Mary Russell series, as Constant Reader may remember from my previous posts about earlier books in this series; for any number of reasons, but primarily not ever really getting into the Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle stories. This shifted and changed when I was asked to contribute a Sherlock story to Narrelle Harris’ The Only One in the World anthology; this required me to go back and do some reading of Doyle, and having worked with Laurie R. King on the MWA board, I decided to give her feminist take on Sherlock a go.

And I have not regretted that decision once.

Mary has stepped up to replace Amelia Peabody as one of my favorite on-going series; I love the character–a strong-minded, fiercely independent woman of no small intelligence who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Holmes. Theirs is, despite the age difference, a true partnership of equals; I love that Holmes, in King’s interpretation of him, isn’t quite so misogynistic or incapable of feeling–which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a male-written version. I like King’s Holmes; the strong female character who is his equal was the perfect solution to whatever misogynistic issues I may have had with other interpretations. I also love that Russell is also pursuing a life of the mind; her studies into theology at Oxford are not just asides to add color and flavor to the character but are just as important to whom she is as a character as the love interest/relationship with Holmes. As I also have an amateur’s curiosity into the history of Christianity and how the faith changed and developed throughout the centuries following the New Testament stories…how that was shaped and influenced by men with not the purest of motives…is something I’ve always been interested in.

I think the first book that challenged Christian orthodoxy in a fictional form that I read–the first time I became aware of the possibilities that the BIble wasn’t actually the pure word of God and had been edited and revised repeatedly in the centuries since Christ ostensibly lived, died and was resurrected–was, of all things, a book by Irving Wallace called The Word (Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he wrote enormous books of great length that were huge bestsellers, and the subject matter and style of the books was essentially that they were very bery long thrillers: The Prize was about the maneuvering to win a Nobel; The Plot was about an international conspiracy to kill JFK; The Second Lady was about a Soviet plan to kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a lookalike who was a Soviet agent; etc etc etc). The premise of The Word is simply that a new testament, a document hidden away for centuries in a monastery in Greece, claims that not only did Jesus not die on the cross but went on to live for many decades, preaching his own ministry and even visiting Rome. This, of course, is a cataclysmic document–it would change everything everyone had ever known and believed…if it is indeed authentic.

I’ve always loved a good thriller with a base in theology, ever since; and A Letter of Mary is just that, even if more of a mystery than a thriller. The role of Mary Magdalen has been questioned a lot in the last few decades–not the least reason of which is Holy Blood Holy Grail–an interesting concept if one that has been proven to based in a falsehood in the times since (or was THAT part of the Vatican’s plot?)–which inevitably led to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I don’t find the idea that the Magdalen was a beloved disciple of Jesus–and that she may have been his favorite–a reach; likewise, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in the actual New Testament that essentially says she was a prostitute, a “fallen woman.”

This book begins with Russell despairing over her research only to receive a letter that she and Holmes are going to be receiving a visitor–someone they met during their time in the Holy Land some time earlier–glossed over in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but apparently explored more deeply in O Jerusalem! The visitor, an older heiress of no small means who is fascinated with archaeology and has been funding digs in the Holy Land, presents the pair with a gift as well as an ancient letter, unauthenticated, which is ostensibly a letter from Mary Magdalen some years after the death of Christ, written to a sister as the city of Jerusalem falls under seige by the Romans during the Jewish Wars, around 70 AD, that saw the sack of the city and the start of the diaspora; which makes it very clear that, if authentic, the Magdalen was one of the disciples and heavily involved in the ministry of the Christian church. Their guest returns to London, and is killed when she is stuck by a car the following day. Holmes and Russell sniff around the crime scene and find evidence that the old woman was murdered…but by whom? Why? Is this about the letter from Mary?

King always tells a great story–you never can go wrong with one of her books, really–and the characters are so well-defined, so real, that even if she didn’t tell a great story, you want to read about those characters more, get to know them better, and cheer them on to their successes and sympathize with their failures. Her writing style is also a joy to read; the Mary Russell voice is so different and so clearly distinct from Kate Martinelli that you can’t not marvel at her mastery.

The next book in the series is The Moor, and I am really looking forward to it.

Dress You Up

Thursday and a work-at-home day. I have data entry to do and condoms to pack, reality shows to catch up on, emails to answer and an apartment to clean from top to bottom (always). My insomnia is back again, so yesterday when I got off work I was too tired to go to the gym or do much of anything once I got home–in fact, the evening is kind of a foggy blur. I know Paul and I binged out way through some more episodes of Happy Endings, and I did spend some time reading Bath Haus, but other than that, I can’t really think of anything interesting that went on last night around the Lost Apartment. I did get my contributor copies of the Sherlock anthology, The Only One in the World, and they are quite lovely. Yay!

At some point today I also have to make groceries. I was going to do it Tuesday night after work, but was tired that night, too. I hate that the insomnia is back, and when I see my doctor (at last!) next week I am going to talk to him about options besides the alprazolam. I need the alprazolam because it keeps my mood swings under control, but at the same time, if that prescription isn’t going to be increased–I need at least four prescriptions for six months, not three, if not more–then I am also going to need to have something else prescribed that I can take on the nights I don’t take the alprazolam.

I also need to get back to work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” tonight. I am so close to being finished with it that I hate that I’ve stalled so much on it. It would be great to bang out three thousand words today and another three thousand tomorrow, so that it will be finished in a first draft form; and then I can get to work on some other things.

And that’s the problem with the insomnia. When I am tired I can’t think; when I can’t think it becomes harder to write, and then I get stressed, and the stress leads to more insomnia, because then I am too tired also to do much of anything, let alone stay on top of everything I need to stay on top of, which begets more stress, which turns into more insomnia, and so forth. So stress management is probably the most important thing for me right now, and as such, I need to take deep breaths and remember, at all times, it is what it is. I can only do so much, and pushing myself even harder will only create more stress, lessen the quality of my work, and end up being more defeating than not getting something finished.

Which is always bad news.

I also reread–just remembered!–my story in the Sherlock anthology; I tend to not reread my work very often–generally by the time it is finished and I have gone over the page proofs, I am so heartily sick of it I never want to see it again–but usually, whenever I got a copy of the finished book or anthology, I will sit down with it and read it as a finished product before putting them on the shelf and never looking at them again. So, last night I did sit down with The Only One in the World and revisited “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (still one of my favorite titles ever) and you know what? It’s pretty good. I don’t ever give myself enough credit for anything I ever write or do–ever, and it’s a lifelong problem–instead, whenever I reread something of mine in print I continually edit it or rewrite it or think “why did I say it that way? This would have been better” and find flaws and pick it apart and frankly, it’s exhausting and emotionally debilitating and inevitably sparks a downward spiral of some sort. (Sometimes I wonder why I went into this field; I am clearly not emotionally strong enough for it, or mentally stable enough, for it. I also need to remember these things when I am reading about some writer from the past who was an alcoholic–I often think why were so many writers alcoholics? This is why.)

So, yeah, it’s not a bad story. It’s a nice read, there’s some lovely language and characterization, and I feel like I did a pretty good job of conjuring up the New Orleans of 1916. I would like to revisit my Holmes and Watson sometime, but not sure how to go about doing so–and perhaps someday when the inspiration or idea comes to me, I will–I do have a vague idea for another tale set in Storyville with them, based in a true story of a murder in at a brothel; but not sure I will ever have the time or investment to write “The Mother of Harlots” (also a good title.)

And now back to the spice mines.

Lightnin’ Strikes

I have mentioned numerous times that I was asked last year–early last year? I don’t recall precisely, but that’s a pandemic year for you–to write a Sherlock Holmes story. I was enormously flattered–and let’s face it, if anyone offers to pay me to write, I will–as I inevitably am whenever someone wants me to write for them; as I have mentioned before (a lot), it’s rare for me to get validation for my writing, and so being included (which is a whole other neurosis I will inevitably write about someday) is so enormously flattering that I feel like I can’t say no; being asked to write something also is such a rare thing for me that I am always afraid to say no because I fear I won’t ever be asked again.

Ah, the joys of being a writer. I probably could stand to be a little more egocentric when it comes to my writing, and build up more confidence…I seriously aspire to the confidence of a mediocre straight white male writer.

In those first few years during which I shared the upper floors at 821 B Royal Street with Mr Sherlock Holmes, it was my custom to rise early in the mornings and take a walk on the earthen levee containing the mighty river. Holmes was by habit a late riser, rarely springing out of bed before the noon-time whistle rang along the waterfront, but taking such exercise was good for the damage to my leg caused by the wound – a souvenir of the Spanish War.

I enjoyed those quiet, early mornings, watching the ships sailing up the river to the docks from foreign ports, and the barges floating down the currents from points as far north as Cincinnati, St. Louis and Memphis, all while I strolled with my walking stick along the levee. Seeing the large bales of cotton being unloaded as the morning mists arose from the dark muddy water, the unloading of crates of coffee and bananas from the central American republics, I marveled each morning at the hubbub of activity that created and maintained this most curious of American cities, rising from the swamps like something from a forgotten myth.

After, I would adjourn to my favorite café, the Aquitaine, mere blocks from my home, where I would read the morning papers while enjoying coffee and Italian pastries.

This particular morning in early December, I cut my morning walk short. The temperature had dropped most precipitously overnight, and I had not chosen a heavy enough jacket. My leg ached terribly from the damp and the cold, and I limped along the banquettes to the café. My usual table was in the back, away from the hustle and bustle and smells of Royal Street. In those days, the French Quarter stank to high heaven, malignant odors hanging in the thick wet air from breweries and sugar refineries and, of course, seafood. Holmes often burned heavily scented candles in the various rooms of our apartments, particularly the parlor whose windows opened out onto our third-floor balcony facing Royal Street.

But on this morning, there were no tables to be had. The cold and damp had driven others inside, seeking the solace of warm air, fragrant Italian pastries, and piping hot café au lait. So, disgruntled, I paid for my papers.

I noticed a headline in the lower right corner of the front page of the Daily Picayune: FAMED ITALIAN OPERA SINGER ADDS DATES FOR NEW ORLEANS ENGAGEMENT.

I have mentioned before that I’ve never been much of a Sherlock fan, as written by Doyle. I read The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was a child, and didn’t really like it near as much as I felt I should, and never went back to read the rest of the Holmes canon (yet another reason I say my education in the classics–in general and in my chosen genre–was sorely neglected). I read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s, and have since read other Holmes-fiction by modern writers; there was a story in particular by Lyndsay Faye in one of The Best American Mystery Stories collections I particularly enjoyed, and of course I am completely smitten by Laurie R. King’s take on the character in her marvelous Mary Russell novels. I’ve watched a lot of Holmes film and television adaptations (not caring particularly for the Robert Downey Jr version, alas), and of course like so many others was completely smitten by Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation in the modern series (I also liked Elementary, but we never finished watching its run). I had bought the Baring-Gould compendiums a few years back from eBay; lovely, enormous and richly bound editions that I treasure. In preparation for writing my own story I went into the Baring-Gould to read some of the short stories, to get a feel for Doyle’s style and his characterizations.

(It is interesting, though, that my favorite fictions about Holmes are written by women…and King’s stories center a woman.)

I had come up with this title, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” years ago. Little known fact: I originally envisioned the Chanse series to have titles all derived from Poe: Murder in the Rue Dauphine of course was paying homage to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue; and I thought the next would be The Purloined Stripper and go from there. Alyson Books said not to the Poe conceits, although they liked Murder in the Rue Dauphine as a title (another little known fact: the book was originally called Tricks; when I first met Felice Picano and picked him up at the airport here for the Williams Festival we chatted on the drive into the city and he nixed Tricks, and the Poe homages were HIS idea, which I don’t even think he himself remembers) and wanted me to brand the book with “Murder in the” titles. But I always liked The Purloined Stripper and kept that title in my back pocket, as it were, and when editor Narrelle Harris reached out to me for a Holmes story, to be set in New Orleans during any time period I chose, that title sprang into my mind and, having only recent read some New Orleans history (and been fascinated, at long last, by Storyville and the tales of the old Quarter) I thought to myself, yes, I can write about the pre-Great War period and include Storyville in it…and instead of a stripper I’ll use a rentboy. There had been allusions to rentboys and gay bars in the Quarter in the New Orleans histories I’d been reading–often times, when a client’s tastes ran that way, a madam would send one of her bouncers to the gay bars to find someone who fit what the client was looking for, appearance wise; I thought that was interesting. Only a few bordellos houses actual rentboys permanently; even in the bawdy houses of Storyville men who were interested in other men were reticent about putting voice to their desires….and isn’t “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” a lovely title?

And yes, it’s one of my favorite titles, and one of my favorite stories of my own.

As I said, it was a challenge for me to write it–the original submission required a significant revision; but as someone who appreciates editorial input I didn’t mind in the least–and as previously mentioned, it also inspired an appreciation for Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in me. I keep thinking it would be fun to do more “Sherlock in New Orleans” stories; I may do just that very thing. I have some ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for him since finishing this story; I also liked the new universe of New Orleans I created for him–which inevitably will be tied in some way to my other New Orleans universe as well– I really cannot help myself when it comes to linking all of my work together.

Here is a short interview I did about my story: https://www.clandestinepress.net/blogs/clan_destine_press_blog/the-only-one-in-the-world-greg-herren-interview?fbclid=IwAR10KeDfVRv9Tcp9xioQ4aE7Fj4CUNdibVdVwdsjONN7ozvxKVFfF6gUTxw

And here is the editor talking about my story: https://narrellemharris.com/short-stories/narrelle-m-harris-on-greg-herren/?fbclid=IwAR0ei8LLFJjZaB0ATV3IKwg1s8NBcgapvQOFYe0PaGVNdV2LFMBOf5bw_8A

Salvation Theme

Reading has always been my escape from the realities of the cruel, cold world. As long as I can remember, I found solace in books–I could always open a book and escape from realities I didn’t want to participate in, or when the world became too much, there was always the comfort of a story about other people and another world where I could go to get away from it all.

When I was a kid, I was more interested in stories about women and girls than I was in stories about boys; I couldn’t really relate to boys as easily as I did to girls. This was, I think, a part of the strict gender divide in the society and culture I was born into; there were specific and clear differences between things for boys and things for girls. Girls played at housekeeping and mothering; boys were supposed to be outdoorsy and adventurous and active. I was not an outdoorsy, adventurous, active little boy; all I wanted to do was be left alone with a book–and the more my parents tried to get me interested in boy things the harder I stubbornly resisted. I never understood why it was so wrong that all I ever wanted to do was read.

I think that part of the reason I’ve always preferred books by and about women are because I can relate to them more, if that makes sense. As someone who never became vested in what society viewed as what masculine behavior is, those behaviors–not always necessarily toxic, but certainly steeped in it–inevitably make me lose interest in the character and their story.

Likewise, one of the reasons I preferred Mary Stewart to Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney (still love Holt and Whitney, though) is because her heroines weren’t passive; they didn’t sit still for being victimized or playing the victim but rather took charge of the situation and were just as capable as any man. This is why one of my favorite fictional series characters of all time were those created by the great Elizabeth Peters: Jacqueline Kirby and Vicky Bliss were also take-charge characters who didn’t suffer fools gladly, and of then there’s her creation who may be my favorite series character of all time: Amelia Peabody. God, how I love Amelia Peabody. Peters’ death was a blow for me; knowing there would be no more books with Peabody and Emerson and Ramses and Nofret and Walter and Evelyn and David….

But then I had the enormous good fortune to discover Mary Russell.

I sat back in y chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action. The satisfaction was for the essay whose last endnote I had just corrected, the distillation of several months’ hard work and my first effort as a mature scholar: It was a solid piece of work, ringing true and clear on the page. The relief I felt was not for the writing, but for the concomitant fact that, thanks to my preoccupation, I had survived the compulsory Christmas revels, a fete which ha reached a fever pitch in this, the last year of my aunts controls of what she saw as the family purse. The anticipation was for the week of freedom before me, one entire week with neither commitments nor responsibilities, leading up to y twenty-first birthday and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. A small but persistent niggle of trepidation tried to make itself known, but I forestalled it by standing up and going to the chest of drawers for clothing.

My aunt was, strictly speaking, Jewish, but she had long ago abandoned her heritage and claimed with all the enthusiasm of a convert the outward forms of cultural Anglicanism. As a result, her idea of Christmas tended heavily toward the Dickensian and Saxe-Gothan. Her final year as my so-called guardian was coincidentally the first year since the Great War ended to see quantities of unrationed sugar, butter, and meat, which meant the emotional excesses had been compounded by culinary ones. I had begged off most of the revelry, citing the demands of the paper, but with my typewriter fallen silent, I had no choice but crass and immediate flight. I did not have to think about y choice of goals–I should begin at the cottage of my friend and mentor, my tutor, sparring partner and comrade-in-arms, Sherlock Holmes. Hence my anticipation. Hence my trepidation.

I first encountered Mary Russell last year when I read the first of her adventures with Holmes, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which took place over several years and was really a loosely connected series of different stories that showed the growing bond between the teenaged girl and the retired detective. Her wit, her style, her fierce intelligence–and her refusal to be a sidekick or passive made me fall madly in love with her–despite my long-held antipathy towards Sherlock Holmes. (I have since read more of Doyle, and find the antipathy I once felt fading; in no small part, I think, because last year I had to write my own spin on Holmes and Watson, which really changed everything I thought, felt, and believed about them.) I’m not sure what made me select the second Mary Russell to read recently; I do intend to read them all, of course, but there are sixteen or so (!) of them, and then there are King’s stand alones, and I’d also love to revisit her Kate Martinelli series, which is how I first came to read King in the first place. But I digress.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women is, of course, a terrific title; and I knew, of course, the source for it: the tedious Scot religious bigot John Knox’s 1550’s pamphlet primarily attacking Queen Mary I of England (aka Mary Tudor), “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” in which he blamed the sad state of Christendom at the time at the irreligious and unprecedented amount of women in power at that time in Europe–and, as I have said many times before, the sixteenth century had more powerful women running countries than any century before or since (and I’ve always wanted to write a history of that century, focusing on those women, and using that very same title King used here). So, going into the book, and knowing that Mary was studying theology at Oxford in the latter half of the first book, I assumed (correctly) that this book would have religion, and women, at its heart, so I sat down with the book rather eagerly.

It did not disappoint.

The book opens, as noted above, around Christmas time, just before Mary finally achieves her majority and comes into the inheritance her benighted aunt/guardian has been enjoying herself with since Mary’s family perished in an auto accident when she was fourteen. Rather the celebrate the holiday with her aunt and the aunt’s hangers-on, Mary escapes the house and goes in search of her old comrade, Holmes. This leads her to London and an encounter with a friend from earlier in her education at Oxford, which in turn leads her to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe–charismatic, suffragette, and also a religious mystic. (I was put in mind of Aimee Semple McPherson, who has always fascinated me and I’ve always kind of wanted to write about.) But there’s something unholy going on at the New Temple, and perspicacious Mary can’t quite put her finger on what’s wrong there–but it intrigues her and she gets deeper and deeper into what’s going on there.

There’s also a switch-up in the dynamic between her and Holmes in this book, but it is also to King’s credit that the groundwork for this was laid almost from the very beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and it neither seems out of place or untoward, either for the story or the characters–and despite the awkwardness this change-up creates between the two of them in their all-too-brief encounters in the story (for make no mistake about it; this is clearly Mary’s story, and Holmes no more than a supporting player on this stage), it makes sense and it also answers one of the questions the first book aroused in me; how can King keep writing about this opposite-sex pair through an entire series without the question of chaperoning and so forth not coming up, or them simply remaining good friends while the deep and growing affection between them is so plainly right there on the page?

The writing is masterful and intelligent, and the story–with its interesting twists and turns, along with some exciting ventures along some of the more disreputable sections of London–is so well paced and plotted that you simply cannot put the book down. I was, quite literally, only on chapter three when I picked the book up again yesterday morning; within moments I was a captive of King’s magic and completely incapable of putting the book down–to the point that I resented having to take breaks to get coffee or go to the restroom or feed the cat. I had decided, when I sat down with the book, that I had to stop reading at noon so I could get back to my own manuscript. Noon came and went, and still I kept reading. At one I flipped to the back to see how many more pages were left, and decided that it was ridiculous and incomprehensible to stop reading so close to the end, and I wouldn’t be able to completely focus on my own while I was so worried about how Mary was going to escape the peril in which King had placed her. So…rationalizing if I don’t finish my own editing today I can always finish tomorrow I plowed forward.

And–without spoilers–I will say King did an incredibly accurate and chilling depiction of how drug addiction takes hold of people.

She also explores the question of women’s role in the Christian religion beautifully, weaving these theological questions and issues seamlessly into the narrative. Each chapter begins with a quote about just that–either from the Bible or the great Christian philosophers, exposing the vicious misogyny that has poisoned that faith almost from the very beginning.*

I loved this book, loved loved loved it, and am really looking forward to the next, A Letter of Mary.

If you’ve not yet started this series, wait no more.

*I also made note of these quotes so I can shamelessly use them myself!

Get Out

Saturday morning and feeling…maybe not fine, but not bad.

Edits are on my horizon today, lots and lots of edits. That’s fine; I need to get this done and I’ve been turning the manuscript and story and so forth over and over in my head all week, and think I am finally ready to get this accomplished. Huzzah? Huzzah!

We were supposed to get a thunderstorm last night, but I don’t know if it ever came through; the sidewalk is wet outside so obviously at some point it rained; but I apparently slept through it. I slept pretty decently last night; I woke up around 4 this morning, and then did that in-and-out-of-a-half-sleep thing until I got up around seven thirty. I am a bit foggy this morning, which the coffee should help with, and I intend to spend some time this morning with my Laurie R. King novel, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, which I am enjoying the hell out of; it will be hard to tear myself away from it to go to work, but that is indeed what I must do today, and I am sure when the time to go to work rolls around I will have to force myself to tear myself away from Sherlock and Mary; but I can also spend some time with them again tomorrow.

My April plans seem to have swirled around the drain, haven’t they? Perhaps I was feeling a bit ambitious as we headed into this month, and yes, this month there were a lot of outside distractions–issues with the apartment, the flooding of the laundry room/kitchen, etc.–plus issues with sleeping; it’s no wonder I didn’t get a whole hell of a lot done this past month. I did get some good research done on Chlorine, and even get some background preparatory work done that was necessary before I start writing it, so that’s something, at any rate; I’ve not had as much luck with writing and/or creating new short stories this month–or even revising/finishing ones I’ve already started.

I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

While making condom packs yesterday I watched Taylor Swift’s Reputation concert film on Netflix, and after it dove directly into Miss Americana, also on Netflix (I told you, I’m turning into a Swiftie). I enjoyed both tremendously, in all honesty; I’m not quite sure why she appeals so much to an almost-sixty year old gay man, but there you have it. Last night we also finished off the first season of Line of Duty, which was quite good, and are now going to move onto the second season; there are at least four that I am aware of, and we’re really looking forward to this second season. It’s quite good–I’m not sure if the second season is going to continue examining the corruption within the police department the first season focused on, or if it’s going to jump around to different stations; and the end of the first season wasn’t exactly a great example of justice being meted out…but it was a lot more realistic than most shows with the ending they chose–it’s easy to see and understand how that would be exactly how “justice” would play out when it comes to corruption within the police department.

Sad, but true.

And on that note, I am heading to my easy chair to read and swill coffee for a bit–Scooter is whining, which means he needs a warm lap to nap in–and I hope you all have a simply marvelous and productive (or relaxing) Saturday; whichever you choose, Constant Reader.

Exit

Thursday morning and errands and things to get done this morning. I am giddy this morning because I actually slept deeply and well last night, and finally feel rested in every way–physically, emotionally, and mentally–and Christ, if I could only start every day well-rested like this I could conquer the world. This morning I have to take Paul to Metairie for some medical things–nothing serious, y’all, calm down–and so I scheduled my work hours so I could have the morning off today. It’s also a gorgeous day outside, looks like, so huzzah for that–last week I reached the point where I thought it was never going to stop raining, seriously. Much as I love the heavy rains of New Orleans and our marvelous thunderstorms–five consecutive days can be a bit much.

I was very tired after work yesterday, but I managed to force myself to do things that don’t require much brain power–laundry, two loads of dishes, straightening up, cleaning counters and filing and so forth–to get it out of the way so I don’t have to waste any free time on the weekend doing it. I never am entirely sure how my kitchen gets so out of control between Monday and Wednesday, really, but it does and then I wind up spending time on the weekends getting the house under control, which is irritating. But with me feeling rested today, there’s absolutely no reason I can’t get some reading and writing finished this weekend; when I finish my work-at-home duties today and tomorrow, I can read and work on the apartment–hopefully finishing that all off tonight, so tomorrow night I can just write when I finish with the condom packing–and be nice and rested and ready to go when the weekend rolls around.

We finished watching The Capture last night, and while it didn’t have the ending I wanted it to have, the ending was absolutely and completely believable and realistic; anything else would have felt forced; tacked-on as an audience-pleaser. And while the ending really was cynical…it felt real. The show really dealt incredibly well with the dichotomy of how difficult it can be to keep the population safe from threats–which can sometimes come into conflict with the individual rights and freedoms individuals have from state intrusion. It’s murky; is it okay to trample of individual rights to protect the many? And once you start down that road, isn’t it easy to abuse that power, especially when there is no oversight from the other branches of government? We really enjoyed the show, and I was incredibly glad they didn’t cheat the ending. It also examined these morally complex issues really well, and I also liked that the characters were capable of compromising their own ethics and values when necessary to get the end result they desired. It was a much more complex and cerebral thriller show than most of its contemporaries. I do recommend this highly.

Of course, now that we’ve finished it, now begins the search for something new to watch. Yay.

Well, I never finished writing this yesterday or posted it; something that happens rarely but does sometimes happen. I had to stop to run the errands, and when I got home I had to start working, and since I’d taken the morning off I had to work later last evening than I usually do, so I never got back around to finishing this. Sorry about that, Constant Reader. But it was a good day, overall, and I also got another good night’s sleep last night, which was also quite marvelous. I am working at home al day today–condom packing and some data entry–and on my lunch break I need to run to the bank to deposit a royalty check (huzzah for royalties!) and pick up some things at the grocery. Sleep makes such a difference to my quality of life, seriously. We also got new pillows at Costco yesterday (one of the errands) and they are wonderful, absolutely wonderful. After work today I am going to the gym, and then settling in to continue watching the show we discovered last night on Acorn: Line of Duty, which is a look at the internal operations of a British police station. It’s quite good, and the plot is incredibly interesting; Anti-corruption is looking at a multiple Officer of the Year winner because his case-closing record is a bit too good to not have been manipulated in some way; we see things from the perspective of the award-winning officer (who is, indeed, too good to be true) and the investigator looking into him–who’d recently been sent down from anti-terrorism because of a heinous mistake in which an innocent man was killed–and it’s indeed very well done. There are also four seasons, so we’re set for a few nights, at any rate.

While Paul was seeing his doctors and so forth yesterday I started reading Laurie R. King’s second Mary Russell novel, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and I cannot even begin to tell you, Constant Reader, how much you should be reading this series. It’s so well done, so well written, and the way King brings Mary and Sherlock Holmes and their post World War I world to life is so beautifully done and compelling…give her all the awards, seriously. These novels remind me so much of my beloved Amelia Peabody novels by the deeply missed Elizabeth Peters that I wish I had discovered them earlier. But the lovely news is King has an enormous backlist, and I am looking forward to catching up on the entire series at leisure. I’ve also been appreciating Holmes more these days–mainly because I wrote my own Holmes story last year for the first time, and kind of want to do it again; there really is a book idea in Sherlock Holmes and the Axeman (but the Axeman was never caught, alas), and the case lasted over a year….and since the period I’ve dropped Holmes into is that same period…it would be weird if Holmes wouldn’t insert himself into the Axeman case. It’s such an interesting story, and so New Orleans….but fictionalizing it is the puzzle, isn’t it?

This weekend, I have to get really moving on the revision/final edit of Bury Me in Shadows–it’s due next Saturday, and while I can certainly take next Saturday all day to work on it (I tend to turn things in very very late on the day they are due), I should think I need to get the majority of the work out of the way already. It’s going to be a big week anyway–the Edgars are being awarded on Thursday–but constant juggling and multi-tasking seems to be my stock in trade these days (well, it has been for a long time; sometimes it feels like I am juggling chainsaws), so it’s little wonder I am always worn out and tired.Bury

Plus, my neuroses always wear me out–and there are plenty of them.

I also, while making condom packs yesterday, fell into a new Youtube wormhole, in which this rather cute young straight guy was listening to Taylor Swift for the first time, and it was quite entertaining to see him growing from someone who was vaguely aware of her into a massive fan by the time he’d listened to about six of her songs–by the last video he was a full-fledged Swiftie (to the point where he actually said “I’m not straight or bi or gay or pan, I am a Taylor-sexual” which made me laugh). I must admit I was much the same–someone who was vaguely aware of her, knew she was heavily criticized and her love life was tabloid fodder, and pretty much knew her primarily for her dating life and the Kanye incident(s) ore than anything else. I do remember driving somewhere–I think it was for the Murder in the Magic City event in Birmingham; I’m not entirely sure, but I know I was driving in Alabama–with my iTunes on shuffle when a song started playing that immediately hooked me. I glanced over at the screen on my dashboard and was a little surprised: it was Taylor Swift’s “Red,” which to this day I don’t know why I had down-loaded. I replayed it three times, loving it a little more every time–it’s still one of my favorites of hers–and when I stopped for gas I checked the library on my phone and saw four more songs of hers: “Love Story, “You Belong with Me”, “Mean,” and “Shake It Off.” I recognized the last two, but had no idea what the first two were. I do remember seeing her perform “Mean” on an awards show and downloading it–it’s from the Red album, so I have to assume it was around the same time I downloaded “Red”–but I literally don’t remember those first two. (I do remember one of my co-workers at the Frenchmen Street office had been a fan, and that was how I heard “Shake It Off”).

For the record, her recent releases–including her rerecording of her Fearless album–are really good.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

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.

Ceremony

Friday! Friday! Gotta get down it’s Friday!

I slept very well last night, thanks for asking, and woke up early somehow without a pesky alarm (not as early as the 6 am mornings, but early) and feel positive and rested this morning. I am swilling my first cup of coffee–always the best one, really–and looking forward to a day of data entry and condom packing, preparatory to a weekend of working on my book. Yesterday was such a day; I made it to the gym, which was lovely, and watched a true crime documentary while making condom packs.

It was a Netflix series called Murder Among the Mormons, which does grab your attention as a title, but doesn’t really tell you anything. I suspected, as I clicked on it, that it was probably about the bombings in Salt Lake City in the 1980’s, and I was correct. I had read about the case once before, perhaps had also seen a news report about it on 20/20 or Nightline or A&E’s deeply appreciated City Confidential series back in the day (Paul and I were addicted to this show)…and while I remembered it involved forged documents from the history of the Latter-Day-Saints church (Mormon isn’t what they prefer to be called) and the so-called Salamander Letter (I never knew, or couldn’t remember, what the letter itself was actually about, but it was described in the shorter single episode as “explosive to the LDS church as it contradicted accepted church history and lore”). I was correct; it was about the bombings, but with the luxury of more time to tell the story, the series was able to delve more deeply and explain more about everything, so now I know the (forged) Salamander Letter challenged the accepted history that the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and led him to the gold plates which became The Book of Mormon, by stating that a white salamander appeared to Smith and led him to the plates rather than an angel–rooting the church in magic and the supernatural, rather than in Christian theology. (I will refrain from voicing my own opinions about that accepted history) Basically, Mark Hofmann had essentially perfected the art of forging old documents to the point where experts could not prove they were fakes. His entire business was based on this, but as always, hubris set in and because of his own greed and ambition he’d backed himself into a corner and resorted to murder to get himself out–even blowing himself up (he survived) to divert suspicion from himself. It’s an interesting story–I’ve always been interested in treasure hunts, and this kind of is that in a way, even if the “treasures” were actually forgeries, and again, the most interesting part of this story isn’t so much Hofmann’s, or even those whom he murdered, but rather the innocents he deceived or made a party to his crimes–imagine being his wife, having no idea what he was doing and then having your entire life blow up in your face? I’m finding myself more and more interested in the effects of horrific crimes on people who had nothing to do with them, if that makes sense–the criminal’s spouse and children, the loved ones of the dead–than the actual crime itself.

God, my coffee is wonderful this morning. You have to love that, don’t you? And to think, I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was thirty; I cannot imagine living life without it now. I think my next New Orleans research will be about the history of the coffee trade in New Orleans–when did coffee shops start opening? How long has Cafe du Monde been there? I know there used to be a coffee warehouse in the Warehouse District that roasted beans…imagine how marvelous that must have smelled…because I think it would be fun to do a Sherlock story about coffee. (It still amazes me how much I enjoyed writing that story.)

I’m rather looking forward to this weekend and really digging into fixing this manuscript. I have an editorial call scheduled on Sunday about Bury Me in Shadows, which has me rather nervous (Constant Reader may remember I was periodically nervous about the subject matter of the book while I was writing it; I am also concerned about the current one I am working on as well; I don’t ever remember feeling nervous about anything I was writing before in this way). But ultimately I trust my editor implicitly–every book I’ve worked on with her she’s made much better, plus she actually gets what I am trying to do with my books, which is lovely.

I need to get back to reading, too. Maybe I’ll pull some short stories out of Alabama Noir today when I finish with the condom packing.

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

Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

Well, it’s now Thursday and let’s see how the rest of this week goes. I don’t have to go back to the office until Ash Wednesday–working at home today and tomorrow–and then over the weekend (all four days of it) I can leisurely clean and write and get things done, which is always a plus. Paul hasn’t been getting home from the office until almost ten every night this week–making me a Festival widow, as I always am every year at this time; the primary difference being Paul would come home for the parades and then work on things at his desk until all hours of the night while I went to bed. Last night’s Youtube wormholes included Kings and Generals videos about the Ottoman Wars; short documentaries about Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret and Mary (who don’t get near as much attention as their famous brother– had Henry’s matrimonial efforts been a bit more in line with those of a normal king, Margaret and Mary would have most likely gone down in history for their own notoriety and scandalous lives…as it is, they are most forgotten footnotes to Tudor history. But all the British monarchy after Elizabeth I is actually descended from Margaret Tudor rather than Henry VIII); another couple about another favorite sixteenth century royal woman Marguerite de Valois (immortalized as Queen Margot in the Dumas novel); famous courtesans of history; and the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire. (I really have always wanted to write about palace intrigue in Constantinople–there’s a reason why “byzantine” has come to mean interconnected elaborate conspiracies with twists and turns and surprises)

I was also very tired yesterday, after my third “get up at six and go to the office” day in a row. I am acutely becoming more and more aware of my age and the increasing fragility of my body; nothing terribly original or insightful, really. The decay of our bodies is something we can generally spend a good portion of our lives not thinking about, and of course, we consistently always push aside thinking about our own mortality because–well, because no good can come of it, really, other than paralyzing depression and panic about the shortening of the life string held by the Three Fates. I have become very used to the idea that I am not going to be able to write all the things that I want to write in the limited time I have left to me (see what I mean about paralyzing depression? Just typing those words made my entire body shudder), particularly with all the new ideas I get on an almost daily basis.

And the more research I do about New Orleans and Louisiana history, the more fascinated I become. I was actually thinking the other day, as I idly went down a research wormhole about Alice Heine (the first American born princess of Monaco was NOT Grace Kelly, but Alice Heine–born and raised in the 900 block of the French Quarter in New Orleans), I couldn’t help but think man, I should have started studying all this New Orleans/Louisiana history YEARS ago–at least when we first moved here. There is so much rich, vibrant material in New Orleans’ checkered history; and when you expand it out to Louisiana as a whole, it becomes even more interesting. I had, in fact, primarily always assumed the prevalence of Spanish names in the state and region came from when the Spanish owned Louisiana….which in a way it kind of did; but it was because to populate their new lands and territories as a protective measure against both the British and the Americans, the Spanish governors encouraged immigration from the Canary Islands–their descendants are called los isleños; I knew about the isleños, but I never really knew when they came here and to what part of Louisiana they came. (There was also a Filipino settlement at a place called St Málo; outside the levees, that settlement was completely destroyed by a hurricane in the early twentieth century…which just goes to show precisely how much of a cultural and ethnic melting pot New Orleans is and always has been.) It’s all so goddamned interesting…the main problem is the older books about the state and city’s history aren’t necessarily reliable–Lyle Saxon, Harnett Kane, and Robert Tallant, in particular; their works weren’t always based in fact but in rumor and legend, and all too often in upholding white supremacy–but the stories are highly entertaining, if inaccurate, biased, and with perhaps too high a degree of fictionality built into them. But the stories themselves are interesting and could make for good stories–in particular Tallant’s book Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, (one can never go wrong with historical true crime, even if Tallant’s sources were faulty and included rumor and speculation)…the title tale is, in and of itself, one I’ve been interested in fictionalizing since I first became aware of it–I can’t recall the murderer’s name, but a very good-looking young man, he used to lure men in to rob and kill; and while he always had a girlfriend–sometimes accomplices–and Tallant never comes right out and says so, my takeaway from the story is that the guy basically preyed on older men with either gay or bisexual tendencies, which puts it right into my wheelhouse, really.

And of course, so many of these stories would work in my Sherlockian world of New Orleans in the first decades of the twentieth century.

And this, you see, is why I will never be able to write everything I want to write. Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your day be as splendid as you are, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow morning.

Here to Stay

And it’s Friday. January is slowly slipping through my fingers, but that’s okay; I’d rather life not really slow down to accommodate me, to be perfectly honest. It’s raining and gray outside this morning–last night I managed to sleep completely through the night, which was a quite lovely thing, to be honest, and I feel awake and rested this morning. Rain always helps me sleep better, so I always prefer the rain to come during the night, frankly–but I love rain as long as I don’t have to go anywhere and do anything important while it is happening.

We finished Bridgerton last night, and I must say the show definitely lived up to its hype and word-of-mouth. It was a delightful entertainment, with a gorgeous young cast (and even the older members of the cast were quite marvelous, both in talent and appearance) and I daresay many of this cast will become stars in their own right–the leads, Daphne and Simon, are impossible to look away from when on screen and I am not afraid to confess I got teary at points, particularly the scene at the ball in, of all things, the rain. Visually the show was absolutely stunning–those sets, those costumes, those color palettes!–and the writing was strong. I’d say Shonda Rimes deserves every penny of her massive Netflix contract; the same cannot be said for Ryan Murphy. I am now quite curious to read the novels by Julia Quinn, to see if they are as delightful as the show. I’ve always enjoyed romance novels–while always preferring crime, of course–and it has been a long time since I have read one, immersing myself in crime novels the way I have over the past two decades. Perhaps broadening my reading to other genres again would be advisable? I had mentioned when we first started watching Bridgerton that in another lifetime I might have been a romance novelist; now I am thinking that writing one might be the kind of writing challenge I need in order to keep my own writing fresh and invigorate my own career again. Despite my own cynicism, which has only gotten deeper and more strong as I have aged, I am a hopeless romantic who always wants there to be a happy ending for the characters I read about, and TV shows and movies often move me to tears. The aforementioned rain scene had tears spilling down my cheeks, and I am not ashamed to admit it. (Both The Princess Bride and the animated Beauty and the Beast still bring tears to my eyes, despite the fact I have seen both dozens of times.)

I was exhausted yesterday; pretty much the entire day I was running on accessory. I thought upon waking yesterday morning that it might be a good day, but it was not to be, alas. For some reason I felt tired and drained almost the entire day, like my batteries were recharging, and I had no energy to face anything or even try to get much done. I couldn’t face my emails! Let alone trying to get any writing done; I abandoned that possibility early in the day when I realized my brain was fatigued. I made condom packs for most of the day, and watched two movies–one was a rewatch of the exceptionally amazing Angel Heart, starring a young and astonishingly beautiful Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, Lisa Bonet, and Charlotte Rampling. Part of the film was shot in New Orleans–still stunningly beautiful and different in the 1980’s, but still the same New Orleans–and the visuals are exceptional. The plot is genius, with all of its twists and turns–I read the Edgar winning novel on which it was based several years ago; it’s also quite excellent–and I don’t know if it gets enough credit. I find myself becoming very interested in 80’s “Neo-noir”, whatever that means; I consider these films to be noir, but am also not an expert on noir or film, nor am I really sure why the noir films of the 70’s and 80’s are called “Neo-noir” rather than noir–more research obviously must be done here–but I think that may well be my next film festival–but shall have to come up with a catchy name for it, undoubtedly. There were some terrific noirish films made in those decades–Masquerade, Body Heat, No Way Out, Angel Heart–and I wonder if there is–there inevitably always is–a book or two examining these films?

The second half of yesterday’s double bill was a 1983 British made for television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which reminded me of why Holmes never really resonated with me when I was younger. Perhaps it was simply the film, but the characterizations were so two-dimensional the story never really caught fire–and I do remember this was my favorite Holmes story when I was younger; which is even odder because Holmes is hardly in the story at all–but I’ve always been drawn to hauntings and family curses. As I watched, I kept thinking to myself how I could possibly adapt this story to my own Sherlock world–now that I’ve dipped my toe into those waters I cannot stop thinking about them–and rather smiled to myself when I thought my version could be called The Hound of the Mandevilles and be set on the North Shore. I already have an idea for a ghost dog story set in New Orleans–“The Hound of St. Roch”–but I don’t think that would work as a Sherlock story, unfortunately.

I really need to get Sherlock out of my mind, and I suppose watching film adaptations of his stories is probably not the best way to do that, is it? But I’ve grown weary of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival and need a break from it for awhile; but I think I’ll hold off on a Holmes film festival for a while. Last night while I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen I kept thinking about writing a Holmes novel–which is the last thing I need to be thinking about right now.

And on that note, it is time to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.