The Lakes

Yesterday was one of those lovely autumn days in New Orleans that always reminds me how lucky those of us who get to live here actually are. Oh, what a gorgeous day it was, with the temperature in the mid-seventies, the sun shining and the sky that brilliant sapphire shade of blue. As I am sure you can imagine, Halloween is extremely popular in New Orleans, and I love seeing the way people go all out in decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holiday. So, driving uptown in the early afternoon hours of such a glorious day, and seeing the lovely houses all festooned in their orange and black spectral finery was quite relaxing and joyous. The shade from the live oaks also seems somewhat spooky in October–not sure why that is, it just is.

I definitely need to take my phone and go for a lengthy walk, taking pictures.

I proofed the story yesterday–a start on getting things done–and then turned on the television for background noise…and what a crazy day for football in the SEC. Auburn was upset by South Carolina; Texas A&M took out Mississippi State (whose only win is, natch, LSU); Kentucky embarrassed Tennessee in Knoxville, Arkansas somehow took out Ole Miss; and then in the big game of the day, Alabama took out Georgia decisively for the third time in four years after trailing at half-time. I suspect Alabama is going to run the table this year and be the SEC’s best chance for the national title yet again, which means things are sort of back to normal–although the usual suspects don’t seem to be in a position to challenge. Alabama and Georgia will probably play again the conference championship game–with Florida holding an outside chance at winning the East, but would also have to run the table–it’s possible, as I doubt LSU is going to take Florida down this year. The Saints are playing today at noon, but I’m not sure I am going to watch that or not. (Again, probably have it on as background noise, while I reread Bury Me in Shadows.)

Proofing my story yesterday allowed me to reread it again as well, and much as I hate to say things like this about my own work, “Night Follows Night” is actually a good story, and I did a good job on it. I also realized that, in some ways, the in-progress story “The Flagellants” could easily be tweaked into a sequel to it; which I may try to do, just to see…but by making it a sequel, I don’t know what the crime part of the story could turn out to be. So maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to see how it all turns out, I suppose.

I have two books on hold currently at the library–both of which are research for Chlorine–and I am a bit surprised they didn’t email me to let me know they were waiting for me. I can pick them up on Thursday, and will need to remember to call and make an appointment with them so I can do so. I also need to order prescription refills for Thursday as well, so I can get it all over and done with in one fell swoop. (That might be, in fact, a good day to take pictures of the skeleton house in Uptown–they always do such a great job of decorating for Halloween.)

It’s going to be weird not having Gay Halloween this year, just as it was weird there was no Southern Decadence for the first time in decades. It’s not like I’ve attended or participated in years–or for that matter, even go out on Halloween weekend anymore–but the absence still bothers me somewhat. I also have to go up to Kentucky this year–probably for Thanksgiving–which means I’ll be able to get a lot of reading done and maybe even get some writing done as well. The last time I went up there I checked out audiobooks from the library; I’ll have to do the same again this time. Perhaps Stephen King’s The Institute, or another one of his works that I’ve not had the chance to read yet? I am not so sure that it’s perhaps the wisest thing to do to travel–Mom and Dad are getting up there, and if I am an asymptomatic carrier…yeah, so I don’t know. Maybe I should put it off until after this is all over, I don’t know.

Perhaps indeed.

I need to get back to reading for pleasure and education again, seriously. I am still reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is well-written but rather dense–it’s not like it’s hard to put it down and walk away from it–and I want to dive back onto gobbling up short stories again. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the stack of collections and anthologies I set aside for the Short Story Project, for example, and of course the latest Lawrence Block anthology is right there next to it.

Yesterday I felt a little off–gastronomically speaking; mostly some terrible heartburn that thankfully seems to have gone away overnight while I slept, which of course had me more than a little concerned. I’ve not had that in a while–of course, I forgot to take my pills both Friday and yesterday, but even after taking them for yesterday the heartburn remained, which was disconcerting and alarming. Needless to say, I am quite delighted this morning that it’s gone away–and I should go take my pills right now, shouldn’t I, while I’m thinking about it and before I forget?

Okay, I am back now. The sun is in my eyes as it rises in the east over the West Bank–is it any wonder we are so off here in New Orleans?–but it’ll just be annoying and right in my eyes for a couple of minutes. Once I finish this, I think I am going to draft some emails to be sent tomorrow morning, and then adjourn to my easy chair with some short stories to read, as well as some of my own work to look over, reread, and correct. When the Saints game starts I’ll probably launch into the reread of Bury Me in Shadows–it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it, and so much is always going on that it’s hard for me to remember anything and everything, which is just plain wrong.

Sigh. I really miss my memory.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. One more cup of coffee, a Sara Paretsky short story, and then a shower to get my day going. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Red

Getting up early is the bane of my existence, and has been for nearly my entire life. I think alarms are evil, frankly–necessary sometimes, admittedly, but there’s nothing worse than being ripped out of a deep sleep by the incessant braying of a fucking alarm clock. My preference would be to wake up naturally every morning; those are the days when I never feel tired the rest of the day–waking up to an alarm inevitably means being tired at some point, and depending on how difficult it is for me to wake up after said alarm goes off, I could quite easily be tired for the rest of the day.

We’re not enjoying The Vow nearly as much as we did in the earlier episodes, and with no offense to Catherine Oxenberg, the documentary’s shift from being about what the cult (NXIVM) is doing and how it hounds people who try to leave–and their attempts to bring it down–and to a focus on her attempts to rescue her daughter was jarring; those original episodes were a lot more interesting than these last few focusing on Oxenberg and her daughter. It’s like the series shifted focus in mid-stream, and while I know Oxenberg played a very important role in bringing NXIVM down, this shift felt strange, awkward, and weird–almost inorganic.

There’s another storm out in the Caribbean Sea, and New Orleans is almost entirely the cone of uncertainty. When I looked at it last night, it looked like it could become a category 2 by the time it makes it ashore at the end of this week. This is Delta–an ominous name for people who live in the Mississippi Delta, or rather just above it–and while I am not necessarily feeling any stress about this storm just yet (give it another day or so, or another cup of cappuccino) it’s definitely not pleasing to have such a thing out there, looming and lurking and slowly making its way towards us. It’s projection right now is a dead-center hit on New Orleans as a Category 2, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will be another near-miss or a big old nothing.

This morning, Delta seems to be strengthening in the Caribbean Sea, with it possibly getting up to Category 4 in the Gulf, but only coming ashore as a 2. A 2 is still rough, mind you; that’s what Laura was in western Louisiana and she wrought havoc and destruction; so am I getting a little unsettled and unnerved by the presence of this storm lurking out there, with almost two full months left in the season? Damned straight I am. I don’t seem to be having any PTSD at the moment, unlike the previous storms that threatened here this year, so that’s a good thing–unless I am so beaten down already by the year that I no longer have the bandwidth to spare any emotion anymore, which is probably a very strong possibility.

But it will certainly make the end of the week interesting, at any rate.

We started watching the new Gillian Flynn show–she’s producer, writer and show-runner, I guess–on Prime, Utopia. I’m still not quite sure what I think of it, but it’s pretty amazing. Very hard-boiled, very realistic, very interesting, surprising twists, and boy is it ever dark. I’m not even sure I can describe the plot adequately enough to do it justice–it’s like trying to figure out how to explain Orphan Black to someone; you inevitably give up and say, “you have to watch. It’s marvelous.” The acting and writing are top notch, the direction and editing and overall visual aesthetic are cinematic at the best of the meaning of the word, and you can’t really look away from it. It’s very violent. But I really hated to stop watching when it was time for bed last night. Oh, and John Cusack is in it. There’s this amazing sense of paranoia that runs through it, that is also reminiscent of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the decade of conspiracies and theories and cults.

Note to self: rewatch the original Fame movie. It’s very dark, as I recall, as was Saturday Night Fever.

Paul actually got home early last night so I wasn’t able to get any writing done–or reading, for that matter–which of course has me still behind the 8-ball with everything I need to get done. I did make some progress yesterday; I got a lot of my emails responded to, which was lovely, and hopefully I can get the rest of them cleaned up and cleaned out today and tomorrow. I also need to clean the kitchen this evening; I kind of let things slide last night because I wasn’t expecting Paul to be home so early and then we started watching Utopia. I also want to start wading into Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories; I’d hoped to be able to get that started yesterday. Since I’m having so much trouble focusing enough to read novels, it might be time to get back to the Short Story Project, and there are certainly enough single-author collections and anthologies lying around the Lost Apartment to keep me reading for quite some time. I also realized that I do have two short stories that are almost completed; “This Thing of Darkness” and “Moves in the Field”–the two stories that were rejected by the markets I sent them to–that can be reread, revised, and sent back out into the world, which I’ve been thinking about again lately–the need to get some more short stories out on submission again. I need to be writing more–scheduling and exhaustion (both mental, emotional and physical) cannot be allowed to defeat me and keep me from writing. Writing is what keeps me level and sane (or what passes for it around here), and it’s when I am not writing something, anything, that things tend to go off the rails around here.

And more than anything else, I need to keep things on the rails as much as possible.

Fearless

And here we are, once again, on a Monday morning with the darkness pressing against my windows, a cappuccino in my hot little hands, and wondering how this week is going to play out. Admittedly, it’s kind of a fool’s game trying to anticipate a week in 2020–I rather miss the sameness of weeks in the before-times, and I am really not certain I’ll know how to behave once things become more like they used to be; if they ever go back to how they used to be. I suspect the before-times are gone forever and once whatever this new reality we are living in moves beyond, there will be a different new reality we are all going to have to adjust to and move on.

Keep moving on.

I’m adjusting quite nicely to using the Air, sitting atop my Baring-Goulds, as my primary desktop computer. There are still some adaptations that are going to need to be made, of course–I still need to get that adapter so I can use the printer and the back-up hard drive–but thus far I am pretty pleased with how it’s all working out. My desk is out of balance now, of course—which means I am going to have to rearrange and reconfigure the desktop itself, moving file holders and books and so forth around a bit more–but honestly, it’s just so nice being able to work without the spinning wheel of death showing up periodically to slow me down and make my head split in half in controlled rage that I may just keep this system for as long as the Air remains functional.

From lemons to lemonade, really. I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t figure this all out a while ago–but stubbornly I kept wanting to believe that my desktop was reparable. It still might be, and at some point (depending on extra cash) I may want to take it into the Apple Store and have it looked at before trashing it completely; but in the meantime I. just need an out-of-the-way place to keep it until the extra money shows up and I can take it into the shop in Metairie.

I also can’t believe how well this has worked for lowering my incredibly high stress levels.

The workspace is still going to need some tweaking, frankly–as I mentioned, i need the adapter to gain access to the back-up hard drive, for one, and I may decide to move the books off the desk at some point or maybe make the stacks on either side of the laptop lower, I don’t know; there’s a sense of clutter that sometimes bothers me and sometimes it doesn’t, so there is that as well.

I really do think my mantra needs to remain flexibility, the ability to change and adapt to circumstances rather than rigidly refusing to bend and thus getting damaged. I remember when I was hired by Continental Airlines and started the five week training; the first thing our instructor told us was “the most important thing to remember about the airline industry is the only constant is change” and that’s really pretty true for life in general, really; if you don’t adapt and change you risk becoming a rigid dinosaur and extinction, really. And while there is certainly some comfort to be derived from routine and sameness, there’s also stagnation.

So, this week I need to rewrite an essay, revise a short story, and make some progress on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I also have a shit ton of volunteer work to get caught up on, I owe everyone and their grandmother emails, and for the first time in a long time i feel like I can not only get caught up but can stay on top of everything once I do get caught up (Universe, this should not be seen as an invitation to pile more unexpected things up on me, for the record), and it kind of feels nice, you know?

Let’s see how long it lasts, shall we?

We started watching a new show, an anthology series, called Monsterworld on Hulu last night; the episodes are all based on short stories from Nathan Ballingrud’s collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories. I had literally just had my hands on the book when I was moving things around earlier yesterday–part of the rearrangement of the work space thing; pull a thread and so forth–and so, rather impressed with how well done the show is and how good those first two episodes were, I found my copy of the book again and opened to the first page.

The first two paragraphs were amazing; and it’s short stories, so I think I can add it to the Short Story Project and justify reading a story here and there.

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines.

Clean

Hello, Friday, how are you doing?

In spite of all that’s going on in the rest of the state, yesterday was a lovely day for me personally because I got my electronic copy of Mystery Tribune which contains my story, “The Carriage House” (which you can order here). This is my second time in Mystery Tribune; the first was with my story “Neighborhood Alert”. Mystery Tribune is a gorgeously done magazine, and whenever I have some spare cash (HA!) I am going to subscribe; I really should subscribe to the magazines that support crime short stories. Bad Greg, bad Greg!

A while back, Constant Reader might remember me talking about the illusion of privacy and safety we all have when we are in our homes, even when you live in very close proximity to your neighbors, as we do here in New Orleans. From my desk I can see the right apartment of the carriage house on our property, the carriage house next door, and the apartment on the left side of the house next door. Our apartment shares a wall with our neighbors to the front and our neighbor to the side, and the upstairs shares walls with the neighbors to the front and our landlady, with whom we also share the patio deck (which we never use), and yet…we feel safe and secure and private in our apartment, and it always kind of throws me when someone walks past my “office” windows. Anyway, “The Carriage House” is a story about precisely that; living in close proximity to other people and how it also, occasionally, means knowing more about each other than perhaps you might want to or should.

It was a little after three when my cat woke me up by sitting on my chest and howling.

I wanted to ignore him–I could tell without opening my eyes it was still dark out–but when he started kneading my chest with his claws out, I gave up. “Seriously, Skittle?”  I asked, reaching for my glasses, noticing my alarm’s glowing red numbers read 3:12.

He yowled again. There were four different sounds, each with its own meaning, in his repertoire. This was the water noise. Cursing myself for not making sure his water bowl was full before going to bed, I slipped on my slippers and pulled my robe on as I walked out of the bedroom. Skittle galloped down the stairs ahead of me. I was reaching for the kitchen light-switch when I saw movement outside the windows.

I caught my breath but relaxed when I recognized Peyton.

He’d been renting my carriage house for a few months, but having a tenant was still such a novelty for me that I still forgot I had one. I’d used the carriage house as a kind of combination guest house/office for years, but I’d decided to turn into a rental property to relieve some financial distress. I wasn’t happy having someone else on the property, but the extra money  was lovely.  And I couldn’t have found a better tenant than Peyton. He was quiet, paid the rent on time, and if he maybe had a few more overnight guests than I would have preferred–well, he was still only in his late twenties. He worked as an EMT, savibg lives, and who was I to judge if he liked to bring the occasional man home?

He also had a habit of sunbathing in the back yard in a skimpy yellow bikini that left little to the imagination.

It also didn’t hurt that he was handsome. He was just over six feet tall and jogged every morning on the neutral ground on St. Charles. Several nights a week he’d walk past my windows drenched in sweat and carrying a gym bag.

Not a bad beginning, no?

Several months ago I sent five stories out on submission, and within twenty-four hours two of them sold. A few more weeks passed and another one sold; I did get a rejection from a rather high-end market on my birthday, but I knew they were going to turn me down (I don’t write lit-RAH-choor, you know–but it never hurts to try every once in a while. I haven’t heard back on the fifth yet, but I am also assuming that if I do hear from them (I’m not entirely confident I will, frankly, even rate a rejection from them) it will be a thanks-but-no-thanks. But it’s fine, I don’t care, and sometimes my stories get rejected because, well, it may have needed another pass or two, or I had something wrong, or something was frankly missing from it–that I’ll find the next time I take a good look at it. But there’s no mistaking that I’ve had a good couple of years of short story sales and publications, and that has everything to do with the Short Story Project and taking the time to write them, edit them, clean them up and work them out, you know?

I am trying to decide if I should write and submit something for the New Orleans Bouchercon anthology; I’ve also come across two other calls that look interesting and I may try to get something submitted to both. I do have eighty-six or so stories in some sort of progress now; perhaps there’s something in the files that could be finished and could work for either or both of them. Or…I could write something entirely new for them. Who knows?

Anyway, yay for short stories!

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Looking for a New Love

Hey there, Tuesday! How you doin’?

I’m a bit on the sleepy side; I finally got a good night’s sleep for the first time in a few days, and as such I’m still  a big groggy and loopy this morning. Yesterday was an oddly out of sorts kind of day, during which I didn’t get a lot done but did manage to get some work done on the short story I have due by the end of the month. Kickstarting my writing really needs to become a priority as we wind up this seemingly endless volunteer project–but the end is so nigh it’s almost palpable, as thought I can actually taste the end as it draws near. I feel like this project has sort of sucked the life out of me and the marrow out of my bones, but it’s almost finished and perhaps now everything can sort of go back to some semblance of normalcy around here.

Like that ever happens.

We got caught up on The Righteous Gemstones last night, and I have to say, this show–which is also kind of weird and almost creepy in many ways–is quite enjoyable to watch. I’m not really sure where it’s going, which makes it even more fun, but it’s funny and sad and crazy all at the same time. John Goodman as the family patriarch and head preacher Eli Gemstone is perfect in the role, and pretty much everyone else in the cast is also perfect for their role. I am a little surprised there hasn’t been any nastiness from the evangelical community, but then again, how many  of them watch HBO?

I think tonight we’re going to start Succession, which comes highly recommended by any number of our friends, and one of the previews I saw last night made it look fantastic.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I continue to read Lords of Misrule, and the dark bloody history of this city continues to amaze and enthrall me. I’m shaking my head at myself–my ignorance of New Orleans history certainly gives the lie to the oft-stated notion that I am some sort of expert on New Orleans; I am anything but an expert on this city, particularly of its history. But I am learning, and studying, and I have to tell you, the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspired I am to write about the city.

I will say that I have been invited to contribute a story to an anthology, being done by a publisher in a foreign (yet English speaking) country. I am always excited to be invited to write for an anthology, and usually I see these tasks as challenges–there’s simply nothing more guaranteed to stretch and push your writing as writing to a theme. This one in particular is a strange one for me; it’s a collection of pastiches, where one is to take a particularly famous fictional character and make him a native of another place. You can make any changes to the character–gender, sexuality, age, time period, etc.–as long as, in this case, he isn’t British and the story isn’t set there. I have chosen to make him a New Orleanian during the time around World War I, and the crime he’s to become involved in solving has to do with the secrets of Storyville. I never considered myself to be anything more than a casual fan of this character, and had never considered doing pastiches about him, despite their increasing popularity. SO, I have the idea and I’ve already written the opening paragraph, and I am really looking forward to this challenge.

And I am very well aware that the Short Story Project has primarily taken a backseat to the Diversity Project, which I am taking a respite from in order to read Rob Hart’s novel, before getting back to it.

I do really want to get these other two short story collections finished at some point. But I also need to get some work done on the Kansas book; September is slipping through my fingers and there’s another all consuming project lying in wait for me for October and November–which means December will be spent on the Kansas book, with a goal to turning it into my publisher on January 1.

But we’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

And now back to the spice mines.

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Breakin’ (Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us)

I slept extremely well last night; my sleep has been better lately. It also rained last night, which didn’t hurt. Our bipolar weather is humid and in the sixties this week, heavy sigh, but it’s going to get cold again this weekend, of course. I have a three day holiday this weekend, so I am hoping to get a lot accomplished. Saturday is errands and cleaning and reading and some editing; Sunday and Monday will be primarily devoted to writing. I am sooooo behind, Constant Reader, sooooo behind–but I am not allowing it to cause me the stress it usually does. Instead, I am going to not worry about it, make to-do lists, and go from there, which only makes sense. If I focus on getting things done and ticking them off on the list, they’ll get done, right? And then I will feel accomplished.

Huzzah! Always try to find a positive way to look at things; that way you won’t get overwhelmed.

The Short Story Project continues, with yet another story from Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman. Next up in the book–which I can’t seem to either put down or step away from–is “Louisa, Please Come Home” by Shirley Jackson.

“Louisa,” my mothers voice came over the radio; it frightened me badly for a minute. “Louisa,” she said, “please come home. It’s been three long years since we saw you last; Louisa, I promise you that everything will be all right. We all miss you so. We want you back again. Louisa, please come home.”

Once a year. On the anniversary of the day I ran away. Each time I heard it I was frightened again, because between one year and the next I would forget what my mother’s voice sounded like, so soft and yet so strange with that pleading note. I listened every year. I read the stories in the newspapers–“Louisa Tether vanished one year ago”–or two years ago, or three; I used to wait for the twentieth of June as though it were my birthday. I kept all the clippings at first, but secretly; with my picture on all the front pages I would have looked kind of  strange if anyone had seen me cutting it out. Chandler, where I was hiding, was close enough to my old home so that the papers made a big fuss about all of it, but of course the reason I picked Chandler in the first place was because it was a big enough city for me to hide in.

Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite writers, as Constant Reader is undoubtedly–or should–be aware of by now. This story, which I’ve not read before, is strange, as all her stories are strange; interesting and unusual and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Louisa tells the story of how she ran away; how she planned it carefully, and how she actually accomplished it, and did it all on the day before her sister’s wedding. Jackson lets us know what Louisa is like by showing us; that Louisa is painstaking and careful, and she also leaves parts of Louisa mysterious. We never know why Louisa decided to run away from her family and disappear; only that she did and how she did it, and how she very carefully created an entirely new life for herself in another city. She doesn’t miss her family, has no desire to go back, has no interest in how her disappearance may have impacted them. She is a method actress, in a way; the most interesting thing about Louisa is that when decides on a part to play, as she does every step of the way as she disappears, she becomes an entirely different person, to the point where her appearance even changes slightly. Someone from her old life eventually catches up to her, and this is where the Jackson macabre touch with a twist comes into play; the ending of this story is so real yet so bizarre and unforeseen that it stands as yet another example of Jackson’s genius.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk for you:

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