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.

Skullcrusher

Well, yesterday was not one of my better days; it started off not great–right around the time I started getting ready to leave for work–and continued through the beginnings of my day at the office. No need to get into the frustrations and irritations involved (one of them being not being able to find a check for a short story I last had my hands on Saturday but the fucking bank was closed and now I can’t find it), but just before my actual clients started showing up I took a very deep breath and cleared my mind and cleansed it of everything poisonous that the incompetence and thoughtlessness of others put there and sallied forth into my day.

Ah, the joys of being a professional.

After work I went to the gym–had been blowing it off for just over a week, he admittedly shamefacedly, but it was cold–and that was lovely. I came home and cleaned the kitchen, and when Paul got home we watched two more episodes of Bridgerton, which is oddly enjoyable and addicting. My favorite character by far is Eloise Bridgerton; what a delight she is, rejecting everything having to do with being a proper lady and just wanting to live her own life and expand her brain. We have yet but one episode left to go before it’s all over until the next season drops, and I shall sorely miss it; it’s just pure unadulterated fun, while at the same time making me wonder that for so many centuries we put so little store by women other than for them to be wombs, property of their husbands. It’s also a bit racy–I can’t believe one of the major plot points revolves around Simon not, er, um, shooting his load inside his wife, our heroine Daphne. But Regency England society was pretty racy; I was just talking to Paul last night about how this period has never been of much interest to me because of the Regency–Prince George was a bit of a monster–and of course by the time of the events of this show, Queen Charlotte was already dead; but frankly I am glad Charlotte is the one in charge instead of her wretched son.

Today is also pay day, aka pay the bills day (huzzah?)–it seems like we just got paid, really–and so at some point this morning I shall have to make the car payment as well as pay the other bills as well. Oh, how I long for the day when the car is finally paid off; it seems like I’ve been making that enormous monthly payment forever now. I didn’t sleep all that well last night–worry about all the things I have to do, no doubt; I feel as though there are several swords of Damocles hanging over my head at this point in time–but as always, there is nought to do but simply put my head down and start ploughing through everything until I can get as caught as I can while other new and interesting and sometimes tedious tasks and chores pile up around me. But at least this morning I came downstairs to a clean kitchen, which was lovely, and my desk is completely in order (I looked for that check again last night when I got home; nowhere to be found, alas; but it shall eventually turn up somewhere, I am certain), which was even lovelier, quite frankly. Although I didn’t sleep much or well over the course of the evening I don’t feel tired this morning–that will undoubtedly come along later–so I am very hopeful that the tiredness won’t be too terrible this afternoon and so I can get some writing done this evening. I have another short story I want to reconstruct for a submissions call with a deadline later this spring; I have a story that is absolutely perfect for the call–I just need to make some serious adjustments to it (I actually borrowed the entire structure and setting of this particular story for my Joni Mitchell story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings), but I already know how to revise it and make it work; it’s just finding the time to sit down and go through the many drafts it’s already been through and figuring out how to get it done properly.

I’m also trying to decide what to read next–I have e-galleys of the new Hilary Davidson as well as the new Alison Gaylin; both look superb–but I have so many wonderful books on hand in the TBR pile already! A plethora of riches, as it were.

I’ve also fallen down a massive Louisiana history black hole, something that may come in handy when I want to write another Sherlock story. Belle Grove was one of the biggest houses in Louisiana; located in Iberville Palace not far from Nottoway–the White Castle–Belle Grove was actually pink and called the Pink Palace. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt; I can’t imagine the upkeep on a place like that, or, for that matter, the upkeep on Houmas House or Nottoway or Oak Alley must be outrageous as well. I think my version of Belle Grove will be set in my fictional Redemption Parish; I always tie my stories together, remember? The modern Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock updated “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “A Scandal in Belgravia”; why should I not title mine “A Scandal at Belle Grove”?

These are the things I think about when my mind wanders, as it is so apt to do when given such an opportunity.

And on that note, tis back off to the shower with me, and off to the office. Have a lovely Inauguration Day, Constant Reader!

Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)

I am the first to admit that I am a crime writer who was always kind of meh about Sherlock Holmes. I read some of the novels and some of the stories when I was in junior high, and while I enjoyed them somewhat, I was never particularly driven to go on to read the rest. I did read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s–The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution, The West End Horror–but was never particularly driven to go back to Doyle. I never actually went back to Doyle (until recently; bear with me) but Holmes is so ubiquitous, so part of the crime fiction zeitgeist that it was impossible not to be aware of him and iconic parts of his canon, even the ones I’d not read–Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, Mary who married Watson–and of course, like many others, I’ve watched a great deal of the Holmes film canon, including Young Sherlock Holmes, and am a big an of the Benedict Cumberbatch interpretation; we even watched the first few seasons of the Americanized Holmes, Elementary. But for the most part I’ve avoided pastiches and the originals, with the exception of a story here and there by one of the modern-day aficionados who worship at the altar of Sherlock.

I have always known that my lack of Sherlockian knowledge was perhaps detrimental to my career as a crime writer. Several years ago, I managed to find a gloriously beautiful hardbound edition of the Baring-Gould The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and I have periodically dipped into it; no more so than when I was tasked to write my own Sherlock story, which became “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy.” Writing the story, putting my own interpretation on someone else’s characters and breathing life into them to try to make them engaging and new while respecting the originals was quite a challenge for me, one at many times I felt I was not equal to bringing to fruition. The story was written and then revised with editorial input, which made the story much stronger (in my opinion) than how I’d originally envisioned it, and it also unlocked potential in my creative brain: I want to, and plan to, return to the New Orleans of 1916 that I created for iteration, and even see how some other historic stories about New Orleans could easily fit into my Sherlock world, could prove to be cases for the great brain residing at 821 B Royal Street in the French Quarter.

I also decided that reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series was long overdue.

And seriously, what a treat it was.

Dear Reader,

As both I and the century approach the beginnings of our ninth decades, I have been forced to admit that age is not always a desirable state. The physical, of course, contributes its own flavour to life, but the most vexing problem I have found is that my past, intensely real to me, has begun to fade into the mists of history in the eyes of those around me. The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood. The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter. With us will go our memories.

I do not remember when I first realized that the flesh-and-blood Sherlock Holmes I knew so well was to the rest of the world merely a figment of an out-of-work medical doctor’s powerful imagination. What I do remember is how the realisation took my breath away, and how for several days my own self-awareness became slightly detached, tenuous, as if I too were in the process of transmuting into fiction, by contagion with Holmes. My sense of humour provided the pinch that woke me, but it was a very peculiar sensation while it lasted.

Now, the process has become complete: Watson’s stories, those feeble evocations of the compelling personality we both knew, have taken on a life of their own, and the living creature of Sherlock Holmes has become ethereal, dreamy. Fictional.

I first discovered Laurie R. King’s work with her Kate Martinelli series; I received a review copy of Night Work when I was editor of Lambda Book Report. I wasn’t familiar with the series, which caught me off guard–how did I not know about a crime series with a lesbian police detective as the protagonist?–and the book itself caught me completely off-guard. It was brilliant, so strongly written and the characters so real I was quite literally shocked to find out, many years later, that King was not herself a lesbian. I went back and read the entire series, loved each one, and was saddened when King ended the series with Book 5, moving on to a new series with Mary Russell–a series so completely different and disparate from the Martinelli series I didn’t see how it could work…and then add in the fact that it was actually a Holmes pastiche, and well, I wasn’t terribly interested.

It was sometime during the past year while working alongside King on the Mystery Writers of America board of directors (I will never get used to the big names I rub elbows with through my years of volunteering with MWA), and in the wake of my own Sherlockian writing experience, I thought, you love and admire her as a writer AND as a person, you should read her Mary Russell series.

It was quite literally one of the smartest decisions I have ever made.

I finished reading Book One of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and as you can see from the above paragraphs, immediately I was immersed in the story. The voice, the style, everything about the character and the story was as far removed from the more hard-boiled, gritty Martinelli series, but the intelligence and warmth and humor was still there–only in a completely different manne, a completely different way. You could read a Kate book and then a Mary and easily believe it was two different authors, they are so different. This is genius, by the way; the ability to create such completely different worlds, completely different characters, completely different voices? And I was riveted by Mary Russell. By the end of the first chapter I was crazy about her–she reminds me of two of my favorite female series characters of all time, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow–and her warmth and intelligence and humor…she was more than a match for Holmes, and by seeing Holmes through the eyes of an intelligent, independent woman rather than an admiring doctor also helped greater humanize Holmes himself, something I never got from the Doyle works (but that could also entirely be my own failing; I am going to leisurely revisit Doyle this year methinks), and I also found myself caring about them deeply–not just about the case, but about them as people.

So, if you’re avoiding this series because you aren’t a Sherlockian, you’re being ridiculous because you can have no knowledge of Holmes whatsoever to enjoy this, and I can’t see how you can’t enjoy this if you are a Sherlockian. This is a version of Holmes that deserves to be shared on a screen–television or theater, it doesn’t matter–and I can also see any number of today’s younger actresses playing this role. And while I have only seen the television adaptation of The Alienist, but the young female detective played so brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, Sara Howard, seems to also have a lot in common with Mary Russell.

I cannot wait to read the next A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and not just because of that great title resonating with me (I’ve always wanted to write a history of the 16th century by exploring the many powerful regnant women, pilfering that title from the John Knox tract denouncing the most ‘unChristian’ fact of so many powerful women on the scene at the same time).

Color me a big fan!

Superheated

And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.

But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.

Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.

I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.

I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!

I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.

And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

The B-Side

So, my maintenance all went well yesterday–my blood pressure was on the high end of okay, but I also had forgotten to take my pills and things yesterday morning, which was probably why. I am being assigned to yet another new doctor (my previous two left the practice as did the wonderful nurse practitioner I saw last summer), and I saw yet again someone different yesterday–another nurse practitioner whom I also liked–so I have my prescriptions all set and hopefully will get a call from the specialist for the routine exam I’ve been needing for quite some time but have yet to get, for one reason or another. Taking better control of my health was one of the goals for last year, which I vaguely remember in those foggy, long distant Before Times. It didn’t happen since this fucking pandemic has made everything so difficult on top of killing far too many others, and I worry all the time that I am an asymptomatic carrier.

Because apparently, despite the many accusations over the years, I am not in fact a sociopath. Who knew?

I also spent some time trying to fix the desktop. I fucked up–I had it in the right mode and in the right place to fix it–I erased the hard drive and was all ready to download the operating system again when I stupidly misread the instructions and restarted the computer before downloading the iOS; and now I can’t seem to get the thing to a place where I can download the iOS again. I think I got there once–and of course, fucked up yet again, and now have to remember what I did to get it to that place again. Ah, well, I am most likely going to keep futzing with it around the working at home today and making condom packs.

I also managed to finish a terribly rough draft of my story, due today, and once it was finished I immediately knew how I could fix it and make it stronger and better, which is always a good thing; I wasn’t really sure how to pull off the ending (stick the landing, as it were) and once I had actually written that ending–I knew I had to go back and tweak the story some more to make it better. I’ll do that this evening in the wake of the condom packing/movie watching.

I also started reading, at last, Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and I am loving it so far. The authorial voice of Mary Russell is superb, and reminds me of one of my other favorite characters in crime series fiction, the unflappable Amelia Peabody. The voices and characters are very similar–fiercely independent and intelligent, no patience with nonsense–and I quite love the way King has developed her character and her version of Holmes and his world; I also love the running digs at Conan Doyle’s version. King has always been one of my favorite authors–her Kate Martinelli series is quite superb–and I admit I’ve been holding off on reading this series primarily because I was never overly interested in Holmes. My mindset regarding Holmes has changed since I wrote my own version of him last year (I cannot wait to see the finished anthology with “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” in it; there are several anthologies I have stories in coming out this year that I am very excited about)–and I know that I am going to probably revisit ny Holmes-in-New-Orleans world again at some point. I already had a period story in progress called “The Blue Before Dawn” which seems like the perfect thing to adapt into a Holmes story; but for now I have to focus on getting this story finished and submitted, and diving into the Kansas book headfirst this weekend. Forcing myself to finish that story yesterday was probably the smartest thing I could have done–forcing myself to write when I don’t want to inevitably is always the smartest thing I could do, which I need to remember since I always seem to forget about it.

I also keep forgetting Monday is a holiday. Huzzah!

I also stopped at the Fresh Market on St. Charles on my way home from the final maintenance appointment, to scope it out as a potential new source for making groceries. It’s nice–I can never get past that it’s in what used to be the Bultman Funeral Parlor–and I picked up a nice California roll for lunch as well as some sliced turkey meat for sandwiches, but yeah, they don’t carry a lot of name brands and it seems very similar to Whole Foods–but easier to access. This weekend I’ll probably scope out the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, and maybe, since it’s a long weekend, I can make an exploratory expedition to Trader Joe’s in Metairie.

I also started watching the US Figure Skating Championships on Peacock yesterday, availing myself of the seven day free trial for extra access–and there are some movies on there I want to watch as well that could work with several of the film festivals I have in process. Paul, of course, is very excited that skating is going on and college gymnastics–we of course are big LSU Gymnastics fans–and so his weekend is pretty much set. The second season of Mr. Mercedes is also on there, among some other things that would be fun to watch–I am back to talking about Peacock–and a lot of the Hitchcock movies (I really want to do a Hitchcock Film Festival; while I have seen some of his more famous films, there are even more that I’ve not seen). I wish Rebecca and Suspicion were on there, but one can’t have everything I suppose. I really want to watch Shadow of a Doubt…and any number of the others I’ve not seen. It’s really a shame Hitchcock never directed a version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I also realized yesterday that my second vaccine is coming up quickly, which is also pretty exciting. It also appears like the car will be paid off this year–thank the Lord–which will alleviate a lot of my financial hardships–or the occasional ones, I should say, and then I can start paying down the rest of the debt with a goal of being debt free by the end of 2022. I think it’s a realistic goal right now; and one that is very pleasing to me. Being burdened with debt is absolutely the worst, frankly–and it’s a burden far too many of us have to carry for far too long.

And on that note, the spice mines are a-calling me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Lonesome Tonight

Lonesome is such a great word. It really doesn’t get used much nowadays, and may be bordering on archaic, but I think it summons up an entirely deeper (and possibly different) emotion than lonely. It was usually used in songs–“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” sounds more effective than “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry”, for example–and for some reason (maybe it was country music, I can’t be certain) I’ve always thought of it as a rural, Southern word. But, as I said, there’s something almost poetic to the word for me, and I really do want to write either a story or a book called Kansas Lonesome, because the prairie in rural Kansas, to me, is truly symbolic of the word; whenever I think about it, I think about a house out in the middle of nowhere and the winter winds howling around it.

It’s cold again this morning, and even now the sky is slowly starting to get lighter. It was pitch dark out there beyond the windows as I made my cappuccino this morning, and it should be a good morning/day. I slept very well last night–I did wake up at four briefly, but as able to fall back asleep for another two hours–and I even got some work done on my story yesterday. The first draft still isn’t finished–I was thinking last night, as I binge-watched news, that I’ve never really recovered from finishing the book, which is why I’ve been so lackadaisical and unable to truly focus; this happens a lot in the aftermath of finishing a book, because I actually need to recharge more than I ever did before–but I have every confidence that I will finish it today. Tomorrow I am taking a personal day, as I have medical appointments and so forth (just routine annual maintenance, nothing to be concerned about) and am hoping that around said appointments that I will be able to get some more work on the story finished. I also just realized the 15th, which is the due date, is actually Friday and not Thursday, so that’s definitely promising; a bit of a reprieve, if you will. This is also a three day weekend, so I can actually have a day of resting and cleaning and errands before diving headfirst into the revisions of #shedeservedit, which is going to require a thorough reread first, and then picking it apart from top to bottom (along with the character names) before stitching the whole thing back together again.

Paul’s been busy working the last two nights, so we’ve not been able to pick up on Bridgerton again, which is a shame as we are both thoroughly enjoying it. I really want to get back to reading; next up is Laurie R. King’s first Mary Russell Sherlockian tale, and just from looking at the opening I can tell already I am going to love it, because Mary’s voice reminds me of that of one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, the inimitable Amelia Peabody. And that reminder also served to remind me of one of the greatest influences on my writing career, one whom I never pay enough homage to and never properly credit: one Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. Reading her works, under either name, is a master class in plot, character, setting and voice; the books are not only entertaining but incredibly smart, and she also had a penchant for some of the best opening lines in crime fiction. The Peters novels all have brilliant first sentences; the Michaels novels incredible opening paragraphs. I’d be hard pressed to select a favorite Peters novel–every Amelia Peabody novel is a joy; same with her stand-clones, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby series–but I can unequivocally state that my favorite Barbara Michaels novel is Ammie Come Home, and her Gothics heavily influenced mine. Bury Me in Shadows and Lake Thirteen are perhaps where the influence are most obvious; I even worried, numerous times, that Shadows was too derivative of Lake Thirteen. I have a New Orleans Gothic in the back of my mind–Voices in an Empty Room–that I may get to sometime over the next few years, but again, I worry that it’s derivative of the earlier ones.

Welcome to the world of the prolific, where you always fear you are recycling plots and characters!

Oh! I got a 12 hour Twitter ban yesterday, and I must say I was enormously disappointed that pundits and right-wingers didn’t immediately rush to defend my freedom of speech. I will admit that I deserved the ban; it’s what I get for being stupid. My standard rule of thumb is whenever I see an incredibly stupid and/or offensive tweet, I allow myself to type out a snarky response. Usually I never finish, thinking better of them before getting to the end and hitting send. Alas, I tried this on my phone yesterday. I’d started typing a truly angry response when I thought, “no, you can’t send that, not cool” and tried to delete the draft but instead accidentally sent it–resulting in an immediate ban. It wasn’t there long enough for someone to report it or for Twitter to actually review it (I am not kidding when I am saying it was immediate), so Twitter is clearly policing itself and what is being allowed on their site. I own it; it was a terrible thing to even think, let alone say in response to someone no matter the provocation, and thus I will not complain about it. I would even go so far as to thank them for reminding me that such angry tweets aren’t cool, and while I am allowed to be angry about the sack of the Capitol, I need to be a better person than I have been lately. So thanks, Twitter.

I’ll do better.

And while perhaps this should have started back in the days of birtherism, I am fine with having such algorithms in place now.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Impeachment Wednesday, everyone, and I will catch you tomorrow.

You Belong with Me

It’s Tuesday, I think, and it’s a simply gorgeous morning in New Orleans. When I came downstairs this morning, the kitchen/office was filled with an almost blinding light from the sun–brighter than I’ve ever seen before, at least since the loss of the trees–but the sun has moved in the sky and now the sun is blocked away from my windows by the house next door. Today I have some things to do–I need to go get the mail, for one thing, and stop by the Latter Library as well–but I am going to spend most of my day with nose pressed firmly to grindstone. I am pleased with the book and how well it’s coming–if not the speed–but if I seriously focus today I can get a lot done, which is pleasing. Yesterday was a good day–I managed to get a lot done, made groceries, went to the bank (the CBD branch by Cadillac Rouse’s is located in what used to be the Midtown Spa building–a bath house, which amuses me to no end), and went to the gym to get in a workout. I then came home and made potato leek soup in the slow cooker, and worked on the book. I also spent some time reading City of Nets, and also went down a wormhole later on Youtube of more history videos. This morning I have a sink full of dishes that need pre-washing for the dishwasher, and I also want to get some more chores done around here before I settle in for a day of writing.

I also have a short story to finish by 1/15, and of course the next book is due March 1.

#madness.

But this vacation has been lovely so far–I’ve been getting lots of rest, and perhaps not getting as much done as I may have wanted, but that’s also par for the course; I always plan to do way more than I am ever able to manage to get done. I was thinking–rather, bemoaning–yesterday that I never seem to ever be caught up; there’s always something else that needs to be done, but I think that’s probably the story of the rest of my life. I’ll go to my grave with things to do still. But I don’t think that makes me any different than anyone else–I think we all inevitably will never finish everything we need to do. I know I’ll never manage to read all the books I want to read, let alone watch all the movies I want to watch or write everything I want to write.

I suppose at some point I should stop beating myself up about things I will never get to, shouldn’t I?

It’s just wasted energy, and kind of pointless.

As my mind wandered last night while Youtube videos played on continuous play, I started thinking about, of all things, Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock came up in conversation on Twitter the other day–some writers were talking about their comfort zones, and writing outside of them, and I confessed that writing my Sherlock story was one time where I was absolutely had to step out of my comfort zone and take risks and chances. The Sherlock story (damn, was I glad I was able to use the title “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”) was only my second time writing about a time period before I was born (the other being “The Weight of a Feather,” which is another personal favorite story of mine), and writing about Sherlock Holmes was way above my pay grade, quite frankly. I’ve never read the entire Sherlock canon–but I have read some of the stories; The Hound of the Baskervilles being the one I remember the most–and I’ve read some pastiches (Nicholas Meyer’s run at Sherlock in the 1970’s; Lyndsay Faye’s short story in a Best American Mysteries anthology, the year I cannot remember) and so agreeing to write a Sherlock story was something I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do. The anthology’s only rules, of course, being that Holmes and Watson couldn’t be British, and the story couldn’t be set in London, made it much easier for me. I had already been in the midst of reading New Orlean history, and the 1910’s decade was, in particular, of interest; so I decided to set up housekeeping for Holmes and Watson on Royal Street in the Quarter in 1916. It was ever so much fun to write, and ever since I finished the story and signed the contract for it, I’ve been thinking about revisiting that world–I don’t know if I necessarily want to spoof actual Holmes titles (yesterday I thought up “The Ginger League” and “A Scandal in Milneburg”); I think the next Holmes story I might attempt will be called “The Mother of Harlots”, and use some of my Storyville houses of ill repute reading to color in the story. What could be more fun than writing a Holmes story about the murder of a proprietress of a house of ill repute in Storyville in its last years before the military essentially blackmailed the city into closing down Storyville during World War I?

So, of course, I then realized where are you going to sell your Sherlock stories, Greg?

It should come as no surprise that the answer was “Well, if I have to I’ll do another collection of my own stories!”

This is how it begins, you see.

And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves, or load themselves into the dishwasher, and I have emails to answer as well. So it is back to the spice mines with me, Constant Reader–have a lovely Tuesday.

Today Was a Fairytale

It is Saturday and I am also on vacation for a week. Huzzah!

I have a lot to do, of course, as always, and of course, LSU is playing Arkansas today at eleven–how far the mighty have fallen, to be playing a Western division conference game at eleven in the morning on the SEC Network–so I will undoubtedly watch the game while reading, making notes on things I am working on, and trying to get caught up while not getting terribly saddened by the game and how it turns out.

But of course, as always, the intent behind this vacation is to get caught up on everything, which is no easy chore, believe you me. I need to whip the book into shape and get it rolling again; I need to finish a short story that has to be submitted by January 15th; the Lost Apartment is a disgusting pigsty that desperately needs to be deep-cleaned; and I’d love to be able to finish reading The Hot Rock as well as some other short stories. I also have a goal to relax and get rested, which will also be lovely.

I am sort of looking at the vacation as a kind of reboot, quite frankly; a time to snap out of the writing malaise I’ve been experiencing for the last few months and get back into my writing again. Getting caught up would be absolutely lovely, but as I always tend to be behind on everything…it doesn’t help that Louisiana and New Orleans history is so colorful and fascinating that I will often go down a major wormhole triggered by something I come across looking for something else–I spent several days in the wormhole created by having my curiosity aroused by the Mississippi River forts, for example, and came away from it with no story ideas other than an amorphous Sherlock Holmes story and perhaps something more recent, but again, amorphous and not much else. I spent a couple of days immersed in Cajun and Louisiana folklore, looking for something I could use for the Christmas horror story, only to come up relatively empty-handed. I have the opening for the story, still don’t know what the rest of the plot is, and am not convinced I chose the correct Cajun folk story/monster to use–which is part of the reason I decided to give up on trying to get the story finished by December 1st.

I also have a sink full of dishes and papers and files and books stacked everywhere. Not good, not good at all.

Yesterday Rex–the main krewe that still parades on Fat Tuesday, and whose “king” (Rex) is traditionally considered the King of Carnival, cancelled their ball and also announced that, with no ball and no parade this season, they will not be naming a King and Queen this year. This came as a surprise to me–let’s face it, few krewes are as conservative politically as either Rex or Comus (who chose not to parade once the city passed an ordnance not allowing krewes to discriminate in their memberships) so having Rex cancel its festivities is indicative of the seriousness of the pandemic, really. I know a lot of New Orleanian traditionalists were still holding out hope that parade season would happen, but with Rex making this stand you can be pretty certain that the party’s over for 2021. While this is obviously sad–who isn’t sad that Carnival isn’t going to happen?–it also means that 2022 Carnival will be epic and balls-to-the-wall; I also hate that the last Carnival was the cursed Carnival of 2020. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a great article about the thirteen times parades were cancelled over the 150 years or so we’ve been having Carnival here in New Orleans; naturally, now I am thinking about writing something during a cancelled Carnival of the past.

It’s weird when norms vanish, isn’t it? I would have never dreamed Carnival would ever be cancelled, and yet, here we are.

But will people still turn out in costume on Fat Tuesday? It’s still a holiday, after all, and I can, sadly, see people turning out to drink all day and celebrate.

I meant to read some short stories yesterday, even got started on reading one or two, but after I got home from the gym I wasn’t in the mood and so none of them took with me; I hope to do better with that today. I did make it to the gym last evening, and it was lovely. There’s still some tightness and muscle soreness in my back, but it’s not nearly as bad it was originally, and going to the gym actually made it seem better, to be honest. We watched an episode of The Mandalorian last night–this week’s not being one of the stronger episodes, although the story of the Child progressed a little bit (note to producers: more Giancarlo Esposito, please) and then I fell into a wormhole of Ten Minute History videos on Youtube before retiring for the evening. I do feel very well rested this morning, and not especially groggy; which should bode fairly well for the rest of my day. The lovely thing about this abbreviated and bizarre football season is I am not vested in it other than in watching LSU play; and with the game on early today I should be able to get plenty of things done today (in theory, at least); but seriously, if nothing else, I should be able to make progress on my reading.

And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, alas, so it’s time to mine spice. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.