You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Christmas Eve! It’s warmer today than yesterday by a full six whole degrees; it’s 32 degrees instead of 26, as it was yesterday. The The apartment is over all toasty and warm–but the kitchen and upstairs bathroom are not. They are a bearable degree of cold, but I do have the space heater going this morning in here as I type this and swill coffee and wake-up gradually. I slept magnificently last night, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning, which is quite marvelous. I hit my word count somehow yesterday–three thousand words–and hope to do the same today. Today has a higher goal–I’m feeling rather ambitious this morning–and Paul has his trainer this afternoon and is working on a grant proposal, so I should have the solitude I need to bang out the count I need to achieve today. I picked up the mail and ran some other errands yesterday–including taking Paul to Michaels on Claiborne to pick up a gift for me. You’d think by now I’d know he’s going to flout the “no gift” rule every year, because he has and yet every year I think he’s going to stick to it. I think it’s part of that failing memory thing I have going. Anyway, he had the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune/Advocate from the morning after the 2020 National Championship game framed and mounted; it’s a full page shot of Joe Burrow running downfield holding up both hands with his forefingers extended, with the headline PERFECT. It’s mounted on gold paper and the frame is purple, and I absolutely love it. Paul always won Christmas when we used to get plan on getting each other gifts, primarily because he pays attention to things I say and takes notes all year to plan for Christmas; I’ll never forget that marvelous year he got us tickets to see the Monte Carlo Ballet Company’s Romeo and Juliet, which I absolutely loved–all because I’d casually mentioned once that I loved ballet and wanted to write about it one day, despite knowing next to nothing about it. (Aside: I keep thinking I want to write a Sherlock Holmes story built around a Nijinsky performance in New Orleans; someday perhaps.)

We also watched, and greatly enjoyed, Glass Onion last night. I actually liked it better than Knives Out, in all honesty, and I love that this is turning into a film series. It reminds me so much of Agatha Christie at her best, and is there a better compliment to give a mystery film than a Christie comparison? I think not. I think Daniel Craig (whom I’ve loved since he emerged from the surf in that square cut swimsuit in Casino Royale, and quickly became one of my favorite James Bonds) is simply fantastic. The Southern accent grated a bit on me at first in Knives Out, but by the end of the movie it didn’t bother me anymore and it didn’t even make me recoil the first time I heard it last night. I think I’d like to write something along the lines of these films sometime–the big cast of suspects, the great detective unraveling the case–because I’ve always wanted to do an Agatha Christie style/classic vintage mystery type house party murder mystery. (Note to self: reread The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy)

But mother of God, it was cold yesterday when we were out in it. As I said to Paul–the entire world was out shopping yesterday because of course it was; we had to park a very long way from Michaels–“I can hang with this cold for a couple of days, but months of it would make me homicidal.” My grocery pick-up order ended up being canceled; they were unable to get it together for the time I’d selected, and the message was up to two hours minimum delay. At first I was a bit stunned, but then realized everyone and their mom is ordering groceries for pick-up today, and I bet the orders are a lot larger than usual. So I stopped by Rouses, they had a turkey breast in the freezer section, so I picked it up and carried it to the small order register, canceled my pick-up order (all I really needed with the turkey breast; everything else could wait) and then when I got home, put in another order for pick-up on Monday, since I have the day off.

Picking up the mail also ended up with a great gift to the Lost Apartment from the President: there was a stack of envelopes in the mailbox from the IRS for Paul, thirty in all. Turns out his student loans had all been forgiven, retroactively to 2017; the stack of envelopes were refund checks for every payment he’s made since then. So, yes, only more proof that our votes for President Biden and Democrats down the line was the right choices (and always have been for queer people). So keep your “how fucking dare you forgive student loan debt” shit to your fucking selves, you selfish assholes. This did, and will continue, to make a significant difference in our lives going forward; and can I just say, I can’t remember the last time any government policy had such an impact on us directly? Obviously, the Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell Supreme Court decisions had a macro impact on us, but this is an intimate micro effect that made us both very happy yesterday. And what lovely timing, too–right before Christmas. Let’s go, Brandon indeed.

I get a text from Entergy this morning warning of potential brownouts because of high demand for energy with the cold weather; I would imagine this is because the cold is effecting everywhere, so there’s nowhere Entergy can borrow power from if the supply runs low. That’s kind of scary, really, because people could literally freeze to death down here; imagine that! How weird would it be for someone to freeze to death down in southeastern Louisiana? It does make me a bit concerned about the homeless population here–we have a considerable one–so I hope they all found shelter and a place to stay warm.

And I think as soon as I finish this I am going to get the turkey started in the slow cooker, and curl up in my easy chair with my coffee, a blanket, and Dashing Through the Snowbirds by Donna Andrews. I think my new Christmas tradition every year will be just that; I’ll read Donna’s Christmas mystery for Christmas every year.

Not Fade Away

And here it is, Sunday morning already, and where did my weekend go? I am not sure, but somehow yesterday managed to get away from me somehow, and I didn’t get nearly what I had hoped done–or at least looked at, at any rate. I allowed myself to sleep in yesterday–today too–and it felt really nice. I got some things done around the house and then ran my errands. When I returned, I realized I had something to do that I’d forgotten about–I remembered right when I was leaving to run the errands (okay, I saw the reminder email before I left to run those errands)–and so I had to prepare something to eat. A friend had offered to let me guest blog at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, where you promote yourself and your new book by sharing a recipe. No problem, I thought, forgetting that I don’t really use recipes after the first or second time I make something, and then I never ever make it the same way twice again. I love cooking, I really do, and I think I’m good at it. I’m not a chef by any means–I cannot identify flavors by taste, and I am not familiar enough with tastes and textures to think of combinations that would work together into something delicious without a reference or a starting place. And truth be told, I subscribe very heavily to the notion that if you base your cooking in the basics of Louisiana-style food, it’s always going to be delicious. You can never go wrong with anything that starts with a roux as the base, let’s be honest. Many years ago I had a recipe in the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, which was way fun; it was a recipe I’d been making for years and years and years and tinkered with a lot, going through many delicious and delightful variations–so I knew I had it written down somewhere. But after I got the reminder email I looked at what was required–and saw to my horror that I also needed pictures. I am not one of those people who regularly documents their food preparation, so I realized that I was going to have to actually make it so I could take the needed pictures; and there were things I would need from the market as I didn’t have them on hand. I also found the recipe and realized I’d improved on it quite a bit since I wrote it down for the cookbook, and I had to rewrite and revise it.

Constant Reader, those meatballs were goddamned delicious.

And I documented their making, as well as took a photo of the plated end product.

LSU got beaten yesterday, 50-30, in the SEC championship game. Georgia was better, as I expected, and none of the breaks really went LSU’s way; and for them to win, they needed all the breaks they could get, Georgia to not play well, and the Tigers needed to play out of their ass. Back-up quarterback Garrett Nussmeier looked amazing, frankly–the future of LSU football clearly on display; a little more control and better chemistry with his receivers and he could become Joey Burrow 2.0. Am I disappointed? Sure, a little, but mostly I am proud of this team and have far they have come since last January and that bowl game, or how far they’ve come since the start of the season. But they won the toughest division in college football, and did some things no one could have predicted. The future looks bright, and LSU is going to be elite again, very soon. (And a shout out to Tulane for winning their conference and winning a trip to the Cotton Bowl. No one saw that coming, either.) TCU lost, which, along with USC’s loss, will cause enough of the chaos I was hoping to see this weekend…although I do think Georgia and Michigan are without question the two best teams in the country, and there’s really no need for a third or fourth place seed. Now we just have to see which bowl game LSU ends up in, and the season is over–far better than anything I had any reason to expect back in August, so thanks again, Tigers. It was an interesting, up and down and exciting season, with some amazing games.

Today I have to go pick up the groceries I ordered; I think the meatballs will get me through the week for lunches, and so I don’t think I need to cook anything else today. I’ll probably have to stop at the market on the way home from work on Monday, after I get a better sense of what we need after putting everything away today (don’t ask, it makes sense in my fevered brain)–I may want to get a salad, or the produce necessary to make one.

As I have been writing my Blatant Self-Promotion posts for A Streetcar Named Murder I have also been realizing that a feeling I’ve been having for quite some time isn’t actually accurate. I have posted a few times over the last few years about feeling disconnected from New Orleans in some weird way, that something had changed and I wasn’t sure what it was, if it was the city itself–which has changed–or something in me or some combination of the two. But in writing these posts about New Orleans, I find myself smiling as I write them–I certainly was smiling when I was writing that guest post the other day for the Wickeds blog, “The Orange Cone” (which could also be the seeds of a longer comic essay about life in New Orleans)–that what has actually shifted is that I’ve kind of gone native. For years, I wrote about the wackiness and silliness and delicious little ironies of life in New Orleans, the eccentricities and oddities, because they stood out to me. They no longer do. I take that stuff for granted now, and it doesn’t even register with me anymore because I’ve become so accustomed to it. Writing about potholes and orange cones, and how they are easily not only in the Top 5 for conversation material between total strangers in the city made me laugh, made me shake my head at the wackiness and strangeness, and well–the whole New Orleans of it. That’s the thing. I never thought I would get to the point where the oddities of New Orleans life would become so commonplace as for me to pay it no mind, but here I proverbially am.

And I kind of love that for me. I love this city. I am by no means an expert on New Orleans; what I do not know about this city, its people, its history and its legends and lore could fill the Great Library at Alexandria. I continue to learn more every day, and with the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know and that I will never become expert, no matter how much I learn and read and absorb and experience. I always kind of smile to myself when people say that I am an expert on all things New Orleans because I am all too aware of how little I actually do know. I don’t know that I will ever stop writing about New Orleans. Writing that historical Sherlock Holmes story set here was so much fun to write and research–and I’ve also discovered an enormous flaw in my research and writing for that story since writing it, which serves as yet another example of the limits of my knowledge and how much deeper you have to go when researching a period of history here (one of the biggest hurricanes to ever hit New Orleans came through the year before the story’s setting; no commentary on rebuilding or about the disaster is a glaring omission). I want to write about Madame La Laurie; I want to write about the Sultan’s Palace and the trunk murders and the kidnapping of that little boy back in the late nineteenth century. I want to write about Storyville and musicians and Prohibition and bootleggers. I want to write about the Axeman, and the grinch, and other legends and lore; every time I find something new in a history or an a New Orleans history website, I immediately start thinking of ways to write about it. I will never run out of material to write about here, never.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the day. I am going to read for a little while as I drink coffee and wake up, and then I am going to write until it’s time to go get the groceries…and then come home to write some more. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

You Make Loving Fun

I first discovered Laurie R. King when I was editor of Lambda Book Report.

We’d received a review copy of her latest Kate Martinelli series, Nightwork, and the then-editor generally assigned mysteries/crime novels to me to review, since I had written one (that hadn’t been released yet) so ergo, I was an expert. Obviously, there were too many of them released each month for me to review, and so some got farmed out, but I held on to this one because I was very conscious that my reading was very gay male-heavy and I had a responsibility, not just to readers but to the community as a whole, to read works by women. The theory was at the time that gay men only read gay men and only lesbians read lesbians; I could hardly criticize this exercise in literary misogyny if I were doing the same thing. I read the book, loved it, wrote a glowing review, and then traipsed over to Lambda Rising on Connecticut Avenue (or was it Massachusetts? My memory is for shit) and bought the first books in the series. I devoured them, loved them, and recommended them to anyone who would listen.

You can imagine my shock, surprise, and delight to discover that King was not, in fact, a lesbian.

The Martinelli series ended shortly thereafter, and King moved on to her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, which I got a mistaken idea about and thus never read. I’ve never been much of a Sherlockian, primarily because Dr. Watson got on my nerves (I felt much the same about Agatha Christie’s version, Colonel Hastings) and I assumed that “Mary Russell” was the “Mary” whom eventually became Mrs. Watson. Ugh, no thanks, I thought, ignoring the series to my own detriment for years (I eventually discovered that I was not only mistaken about whom Mary Russell was, but that the series itself is an absolute delight and has become one of my favorites).

I also had the pleasure and delight of working with Laurie a lot over the past few years, and as we spoke and became more and more friendly she told me about this book she was currently working on, and I couldn’t wait for its release.

And the day finally came.

The man in the dripping Army poncho paused to shove back his hood and stand, head cocked, trying to make out the half-heard sound. A minute later, a car came into view, half a mile or so down the hill–a big white Pontiac, struggling to keep on the road. The man leaned on his shovel, judging the contest between the treacherous surface–the way up to the commune was unpaved, rutted, steep, and slick with the endless rain–and the determined car, which obviously had good tires.

The car slithered and flirted with disaster, but managed to avoid going off the cliff or getting bogged down in the section where the culvert had washed out last month. When it came to the end of the clear section and vanished behind the trees, the man bent over to shake the rain from his long hair and beard, like a dog coming out of a river, then slopped the last shovelfuls of mud from the blocked ditch before walking down to see what the invader wanted.

The mud-spattered Pontiac eased into the farmyard, hesitating over the choice of targets: ancient woodshed or shiny new greenhouse? Psychedelic school bus up on blocks or geodesic dome layered in tarpaulins? In the end , the driver chose the aging farmhouse in the middle, pulling up close to the steps. The engine shut off, the music died–had to be a tape player; a radio would get nothing but static this far out. The person inside leaned over to roll up the passenger-side window, then sat, staring through the smeared windshield at the house as if expecting someone to come out.

The man in the poncho stayed where he was.

Back to the Garden couldn’t be more different than the Mary Russell series (or the Kate Martinelli for that matter) than if a different writer had written them. The primary character of the book, suspended police detective Raquel Laing, is working a cold case assigned to her by her retired mentor, as DNA has unmasked the identity of a serial killer who operated along the California highway system in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and became known as the Highwayman. His victims were found missing a shoe and usually buried in concrete. The Highwayman knows who all of his victims are and where he buried them; now that he is dying and incarcerated, he is playing a game with the police: find one of my girls, and I’ll tell you where you’ll find another.

It’s sick, it’s twisted, and it’s extremely brilliant, particularly as they are now racing the clock to get the answers before he dies.

Yet there’s another wrinkle in the story: at the Gardener Estate (think San Simeon) the moving of an enormous statue by a famous artist has uncovered skeletal remains buried in concrete. Is this another of the Highwayman’s victims? Laing has to go to the Estate and dig through its bizarre and curious history to try to link the Highwayman to the commune that occupied the palatial estate in the second half of the 1970’s, which enables King to balance two separate time-lines (one telling the story of the commune and how it came to be on the estate before the sect disintegrates, which also provides the reader with plenty of potential victims and killers; the other the present day as Laing tries to piece together what happened on the Gardener Estate back in the day) and build up suspense in multiple directions and involving multiple stories.

I was around in the 1970’s, of course; I turned eighteen in 1979 and while the time of the flower children and the height of the commune movement had already passed by the time I was old enough to partake (if I so chose), I do remember those times. I remember as a child thinking the youth movement had the right idea about a lot of things–the rot and unfairness inherent to capitalism; conservation and preserving the earth and its resources; moving away from the monetary trade concept and ownership–all of these things sound marvelous and utopian; they still do, but now with the advantage of age and the cynicism that comes with, they seem very naïve and not very aware of how human nature and the world actually work; their innocence is almost endearing as they try to recreate Eden…

..but there’s always a snake in the garden.

The book is vivid and real; the characters three-dimensional; the story compelling; and of course, the writing is stellar. This book puts yet another jewel in the Grand Master crown King so deservedly wears already.

And I do hope for more novels centering Inspector Laing.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Thursday! Somehow we have managed to make it to Thursday, Constant Reader, which is definitely something to cheer about. Huzzah! This week has been a bit challenging, but I feel pretty good today (yesterday was one of those I slept well but never seemed to completely wake up days, which are getting harder and harder to deal with); I slept decently and I feel like I’m awake this morning, which is better than yesterday at any rate. I ran some errands on my way home from work last night, and then was tired. Paul was working on a grant so I just sat in my easy chair with my journal, trying to outline some projects that are currently in progress and get a stronger idea on where to go with the stories.

I’m not going to try to write that story whose deadline is the end of this month. As deep a wormhole as I’ve gotten into for the lost town of Freniere in the Manchac Swamp and Julia Brown the witch–which I am definitely going to write about at some time–I still don’t have an idea for a story, and I have another anthology I want to write something for by the end of the year that’s going to need some serious thought and consideration. The other contributors are very impressive names–it’s going to be another one of those one of these things is not like the other or why am I up here with these people? I was thinking about this same thing last night as I was telling Paul about my Bouchercon panels–in almost every case, I was thinking, what am I doing on these panels with these incredibly smart and talented people? Oh, well, the audience will be there for the other people and I’ll just be sitting up there, afraid to say anything for fear of proving that I don’t belong up there.

Ah, Imposter Syndrome. Such a delight at all times. Woo-hoo!

But as this month continues to slip through my fingers and everything I have to do continues to pile up with more and more things for me that I need to do–triage triage triage–and I am making a to-do list to try to make sure nothing gets overlooked or slips through the cracks. That’s always my fear; not that I won’t get everything done in a timely manner, but that I’ll forget something if I don’t write it down. That terrifies me. But I am pretty happy that I got a rough start to the Scotty book, have gotten some other things done, and am really hopeful that I’ll get to finish reading my book this weekend.

I continue to be endlessly fascinated by the Great Hurricane of 1915–in no small part because I wrote a New Orleans story set in 1916 (“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”) that makes no mention of it at all. This is one of the pitfalls of writing historical fiction–I am not an expert on New Orleans history and it never occurred to me to check to see what the hurricane situation in the preceding years was. On the other hand, I have read some New Orleans history for that period and NO ONE mentions the Great Hurricane of 1915. NO ONE. And considering it wiped some towns off the map (Ruddock and Freniere, in the Manchac Swamp), you’d think it would have merited a mention in some of these Storyville/French Quarter histories? It was a Category 3 or 4, so it had to have done some serious damage in New Orleans, and in the fall of 1916 the city would have still been rebuilding, one would think. Anyway, I picked a book on the hurricane from the library yesterday which I will also peruse this weekend to try to figure out how I want to write my story “When We Die” (yes, I already have a title for the story, I just don’t know how it’s going to go or what it’s going to be about or if it will even ever turn into anything…but now I also want to write a Sherlock Holmes story involving a hurricane….this is why, in case you were wondering, it’s so hard for me to get shit done because other ideas are always crowding their way into the front of my brain which is really annoying….)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Friday Eve, Constant Reader!

Secret Love

Tuesday morning and it’s back to the office with me today. Hurray!

I really didn’t want to get up this morning–what else is new–but I could easily crawl back underneath the covers and go right back to sleep. But that isn’t possible, so I sit here and swill my coffee and try to wake up completely so I can get ready for work. Yesterday was a decent day of working at home duties and feeling rested; when I was finished for the day I did work on the new Scotty a little bit, and also did a little more research about Julia Brown, the witch of Manchac Swamp whose entire town was wiped out by the hurricane of 1915 (which has caused a bit of an issue for my Sherlock Holmes story, which was set in 1916 and never mentions the hurricane of the previous year; one would assume the city was still rebuilding at the time of that story, but I guess the lack of mention can be explained away easily enough if i put my mind to it–not that anyone will ever notice or say anything, naturally). After finishing work for the day entirely and moving to my easy chair, we watched the new episodes of The Anarchist and Loot, before starting season three of Who Killed Sara? I have a lot of errands to run after work tonight–prescriptions, the mail, and picking up library books–which is fine; there’s an easy pattern of driving I can follow to get it all done relatively easily and quickly, but the primary issue is that I probably won’t want to do any of those errands once I get off from work today.

Most likely not. But they need to be run, and I might as well get it all over with at once, don’t you think?

I concur.

My birthday is coming up, sooner than I would like–this month is just flying past, which is partly due to me trying to get through the work week as quickly as possible every week; as I’ve said before, doing this is wishing my life away, but what can I say? I vastly prefer the days when I don’t have to come to work than the ones where I do, sue me. Retirement–a mere four years in my future–looks to be more and more enticing all the time; however, I also don’t want the next four years to just blow by, either, so no more of this wishing my life away stuff; I need to focus on each day and squeezing as much worth and value out of every day that I can. I am very excited about working on the new Scotty book and whipping it into shape; making a story come together out of the amorphous nether regions is always kind of fun for me (no matter how much I bitch and/or complain about it) and of course, I find myself once again writing a book during football season–heavy heaving sigh, one day you’d think I would learn–but there’s also no telling what this season will be like for us LSU/Saints fans; both have new coaches and it’s kind of a new era for both teams; I find it highly unlikely, however, that LSU will have another season as bad as the last two, and of course last year’s Saints season was a total disaster. Can’t really complain though; Louisiana football fans have been terribly spoiled this entire century–LSU won three national titles, the Saints won the Super Bowl–so it was probably one of the best runs for Louisiana football in history, really.

The problem with this, of course, is that I really need to be doing some day trip exploring around the state for things I am writing. I really need to go into the river and bayou parishes and scope it out, get a sense of what it’s like there–the sights, sounds, smells, etc.–and if I am going to write about Julia Brown and the Manchac swamp, I kind of need to go have a look around there. I’ve written scenes in the Manchac Swamp before, but it’s been a hot minute since I explored around out there and I don’t trust my memory (which lies to me on a daily basis, the bastard)…and I also should drive around in the East a bit as well–taking pictures and so forth. But….if I can find the Saints on the radio, I can always listen to the game in the car as I drive around.

(I don’t care about missing the Saints games as much as I do the LSU games, honestly; I often will make groceries during the first half of a Saints game because the city turns into a ghost town.)

I also am really starting to like the Fresh Market on St. Charles. The fruit and vegetables are fresher than those at other markets; my blackberries, for example, don’t get moldy and fuzzy within two days when I get them from there. I also like the butcher counter–and in futzing around on their website yesterday I discovered that yes, I can indeed order for pick-up there as well. If I get this all under control relatively soon, I can get to the point where I never have to set foot inside a grocery store again…and I kind of like that idea.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. It’s going to be a lengthy and hopefully productive day down here in the mines, and I will chat with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Tears of Sorrow

And just like that, it is now 2022.

We’ve been having a more than abnormal heat wave lately; Thursday when I went to run my errands it was over eighty degrees, according to the car’s temperature gauge, and yes, since you asked so nicely, I was in fact running the air conditioner. The air conditioner in the house has also kicked on and off several times over the past few days. I prefer it to be warm than cold, without question, it just seems a bit weird.

I did give in to my curiosity a bit and watched some of the College Football Play-off games yesterday; in which Alabama spanked Cincinnati and Georgia dominated Michigan to set up yet another championship game between the two. This will be the first time they’ve played twice in the same season though; the question is whether or not Georgia will at long last get the Alabama monkey off their back and finally get a title win. I won’t get involved in the “Did Cincinnati/Michigan belong in the play-offs” conversation because they earned their way in and I don’t think there was anyone else (sorry, Ohio State/Notre Dame/Baylor fans) who might have done any better than they did against this year’s two juggernauts; this is like how in 2011 LSU and Alabama were so much better than anyone else they were the only teams capable of beating each other. Paul said earlier in the season, “It’s really just Georgia and Alabama, and then everyone else” and he was right. People are already bored with the notion of two SEC teams playing for the national championship again for the third time in just over a decade; I am curious to see if this development will result in another reshuffling/change to the system.

We also finished watching Gossip Girl the OG last night, and while it’s nice to finally be finished with the show, I feel like the last season was a bit hurried, and the final outcomes of the cast mates’ lives–who they wound up with for their HEA’s–wasn’t necessarily the best outcome or the one I wanted to see, but life sometimes just works out that way. The identity of the actual “gossip girl” was never really, to me, a big mystery of the show–whenever I did think about it, the big reveal at the end was the only outcome that could possibly make sense over all, even if they did cheat a bit from time to time to throw the viewers off the scent, but at the same time–I was more interested in the melodrama playing out on screen between the characters than actually caring about the mystery at the heart of the show, or finding out who it actually was. I still think–without watching the rest–that the OG is vastly superior to the new edition, but I may go back and finish watching the sequel series simply because I am, if nothing else, a completist.

I need to work this weekend; I need to write and revise and edit and work on my email inbox, among other things, and at some point I need to make a grocery run (something I am really not looking forward to, but there are definitely worse things at this point that going to the store), and of course, there’s always housework that needs to be done. I was very tired these last two days–not sure what that was about, some combination of physical, mental, and intellectual exhaustion, no doubt–so waking up feeling good and rested and not sluggish was a lovely feeling; an excellent portent for the new year. I’ve also decided to set my goals for 2022 in a different entry for clarity’s sake.

Reflecting back on 2021, as I’ve been doing these past few days, hasn’t been easy–in no small part because the last two years have sort of blended together in my head as “the pandemic year” even though we are about ready to go into Year Fucking Three of it, which was completely and utterly unnecessary–but one great reading pleasure I forgot to mention in my round-up of what I enjoyed this last year was Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, which has brought me no small amount of pleasure in this pandemic time. I still have a long way to go in the series before I can even consider myself close to the point of running out of books to read within it; but I would also like to revisit King’s Kate Martinelli series and some of her other work as well. She really is particularly gifted as a writer, and she’s made me fall in love a bit with Sherlock Holmes, and Conan Doyle didn’t even manage that particular feat. (I also kind of want to revisit the Nicholas Meyer iterations of Holmes; there’s a brand new one out now that involves Egypt, so naturally I want to dig into that one.)

I also need to figure out what I need to revise and write that I’ve agreed to do thus far…yikes! I will be the first to admit I’ve been sluggish these last couple of weeks–the holidays always do that for me–but I feel rested and alert and capable this morning, which is more than I can say for any other morning lately. So I am going to finish this off, do my 2022 goals entry, and then get my day going. I don’t know if I am going to watch any of the bowl games today–I don’t find myself caring very much about any of the games being played today, and I might put them on for background noise while I do other things. (I spent a lot of time yesterday while doing things listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and then some of the earlier session versions of the songs that come along with the “deluxe bonus” version of the album on Spotify; one of the earlier session recordings of “Gold Dust Woman” is spectacular–That Bitch Ford made sure I listened to it–and I might spend some time listening to other Fleetwood Mac albums today as well.)

So, today I need to spend some time with the book; spend some time with a promotional article I need to write for #shedeservedit, and need to do one last final edit/revision on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I feel like that’s an ambitious enough program for the first day of the new year, and should I finish these things as planned, I can reward myself with some reading time.

I seriously cannot wait to be finished with writing this book, frankly.

And on that note, I am going to move on to writing up my goals email. Have a lovely New Year, Constant Reader–and I will check in with you again later with the goals and then again tomorrow morning.

My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!

The Night Before Christmas

It is now Christmas Eve–how lovely for everyone–and I do hope that everyone has the kind of holiday experience they want to have; whether it’s with actual family, chosen family, or just all alone and by yourself, may you have yourself the kind of day that will make you happy and relaxed and chilled out completely. I have to write again today–the joys of impending deadline–but that’s actually okay; I enjoy writing, so what better way for me to spend Christmas Eve? I’ll probably treat myself to a celebratory cocktail of some sort this evening; martini or margarita or Bloody Mary. I think Paul is going into the office for a few hours this afternoon anyway, so I can spend that time organizing and writing and cleaning and all of that fun stuff I get to do when Paul’s not home but I am. I was very creative last night, too–writing all kinds of notes about potential future projects and just letting my mind run a little wild; but that’s what happens when I allow my mind free rein to free-associate and start thinking of ideas. I even came up with a first last night; an idea for a gay romance called A Better Man, which might actually be fun to write. I also came up with a crime story about obsession (Missing White Woman, title gacked from Kellye Garrett on Twitter), and The Ones Who Walked Away, which is a title that could go in several different directions as far as length (short story, novel, novella) as well as what it’s about.

It’s actually kind of fun when I have the time to sit and think and come up with ideas and thoughts and so forth. The manuscript-in-progress is going to be a lot more fun now that I’ve taken some time to put some serious thought into it.

I am also taking a break from Blatant Self-Promotion because of the holiday. No one–well, certainly not me at any rate–wants Blatant Self-Promotion on Christmas Eve; hence a break from me, a respite as a holiday gift from me to you, Constant Reader (although making that decision has immediately caused that wretched little voice in my head to whisper this is why you don’t have a bigger career).

Well, to be fair it’s also a respite for me, since I hate doing it unless I can find a way to make it interesting.

And as the year winds down, I generally start looking back over the past year and thinking about the things I enjoyed, the things I didn’t, the progress made and the progress thwarted. But the pandemic years all seem to have run together somehow in my fevered brain; I don’t remember when I read a particular book or watched a particular movie or television show from the last two years. I also read so many damned good books and watched so much great entertainment (series and films) on my television that my picking some as highlights for the year would be incredibly, incredibly difficult–AND I would undoubtedly miss some. It’s also difficult for me to pick out a favorite (except Ted Lasso) of anything; I enjoyed so many different things for so many different reasons.

Although it would be interesting to go back and reread my blog entries from this same time last year. I know I was trying to get Bury Me in Shadows ready for submission at this time last year–one accomplishment of this past year was getting two books finished and turned in for publication, which was a big step past the previous year; my last book, Royal Street Reveillon, was released in the fall of 2019, so there was literally nothing from me in 2020 other than short stories here and there–and I cannot remember which ones, where and when, for that matter, either; I keep thinking, for example, that “The Dreadful Scott Decision” came out in The Faking of the President earlier this year, but it was actually last year. I think my Sherlock Holmes story and some others came out this past year, but it’s not something I’d be willing to testify about under oath, either. I do hate when that happens.

I’ve also been obsessively trying to locate two things (it’s actually more, but I am grouping many into one): several years back, while going through boxes, I found my old journals from back in the day, which actually inspired me to buy another one and start carrying one with me again (which has been wonderful), but I also don’t remember what I did with them so I’ve been trying to find them again. The other thing I am trying to find is a copy of an essay I wrote on the train from Florence to Venice (or vice versa). It was one of those “letters to myself at age sixteen”, and the other day I was trying to get a better handle on all the essays I’ve written over the years so I can compile them all into one (or more) collections; the fitness columns and essays on writing alone could probably be their own collections. Anyway, I remember having to write it on my laptop on the train–either to or from Venice, I honestly don’t remember, but I do think it was on the way–and it got a lot of engagement on social media, I do remember that but I can’t find a copy of the essay itself anywhere. It’s entirely possible it is one of those things that got lost over the years, and I also don’t remember what I called the file; but I am sure I saved it somewhere….only now I can’t find it and have been obsessively searching for it and realizing at the same time how messy and sloppy my computer files and all the back-ups actually are. I mean, neither thing (journals or essay) are particularly imperative that I put my hands on them immediately, but at the same time it’s really annoying and frustrating and I feel the obsessive side of my personality trying to come out.

So, I will probably spend some time looking for both at some point today–most likely when I am stuck on the book while writing.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Christmas Eve, Constant Reader, whatever you are celebrating or not celebrating, and I will speak with you tomorrow.

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.