Holy Ground

I came across the coroner’s obituary last night.

As I typed it, I realized what a New Orleans-like thing it was to say; and it made me smile a little bit. The coroner in question wasn’t currently serving New Orleans; he had retired in 2014 after ten terms in office, and his name was Dr. Frank Minyard. He played the trumpet, and was actually a gynecologist rather than a pathologist. Was he good coroner or a bad one? A little of each, I would gather, based on the obituary by John Pope you can read by clicking here.

But he was, like so many New Orleanians used to be, quite a character. New Orleans has always been a city full of characters, which is why so many people write about New Orleans, and write about it well. Not only can you probably get away with writing anything crazy-seeming about New Orleans; chances are if you dig a little into our history here, you’ll inevitably find crazier shit than anything you could dream up on your own. I have to say I have really been enjoying reading up on our local history here.

Hurricane Sally came ashore earlier this morning, and it had continued turning enough to the east that we didn’t get much of anything here in New Orleans. The panhandles of Alabama and Florida (in particular Mobile and Pensacola) are an entirely different story; my heart sank down into my shoes (well, my slippers) on seeing footage and images from that section of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season is so emotionally exhausting, really; all that stress and tension and worry, and then when it goes somewhere else the enormous guilt one feels about the relief that your area escaped unscathed while others are losing everything–including some lives–is horrible, just horrible. It’s oddly gray and hazy-seeming outside the windows this morning, with the crepe myrtles and the young live oaks in the yard on the other side of the fence doing their wavy dance thing they do when the wind blows; the sidewalk outside also looks wet so we must have gotten some rain as well overnight, but not enough for me to notice anything as I slept through it all. (That’s the other thing about hurricanes, particularly the ones that come ashore overnight; you go to bed wondering what you’ll wake up to find in the morning–or worse yet, disaster will rip you out of a deep sleep.)

So, yes, this morning I feel very emotionally drained; well rested, but exhausted emotionally.

And then, of course, once the danger has passed, you have to reset yourself and get back to normality–whatever the hell that is, or what passes for it, at any rate.

Yesterday’s entry in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival was The Omen, which was a huge hit back when it was released in 1976 and spawned two sequels, Omen II: Damien and The Final Conflict. I had never seen the sequels, and I think I originally rented the film–I don’t think it played at the Twin Theater in Emporia–but I did read the book (the book was written by David Seltzer, who apparently, according to the opening credits of the film, wrote the screenplay; which came first? I don’t care enough to look it up) and of course, was put in mind of it by paging through The Late Great Planet Earth, which laid the groundwork for the movie. Obviously, it’s about the anti-Christ, who is Damien Thorn; the movie opens with the Robert Thorn (played with an almost wooden-like quality by Gregory Peck) arriving at a hospital in Rome only to be told that the child his wife has given birth to has died; he worries about her mental stability and how she will handle the news–and so a priest offers a substitute baby whose mother died giving birth. (And this is the first place I called shenanigans on this rewatch; one, he is about to start a lifetime of lying to his wife and two–was there any need to tell Robert Thorn his child died? If the idea was to have the Thorns accept the anti-Christ into their home as their child, wouldn’t it simply make more sense to swap the babies, so neither of them knew? Because how could they have been so certain Thorn would accept this literal deal with the devil?) The movie is paced fairly well, and it moves right along–there’s not a lot of gore or blood and guts, but it does beggar credulity at more than one point–and perhaps I am looking at it with jaded eyes some forty years later, but both Peck and Lee Remick, who plays his wife, seem to just be phoning it in for the paycheck and there’s also the element of their age; they seem to be fairly old to just be trying to start having a child at the opening of the movie. (I think the book plays this up more, stating that Kathy Thorn has suffered innumerable miscarriages leading up to this birth and it has shaken her mental stability; kind of hard to do that on film but it certainly would have made his motivation in accepting this needless deception–again, they could have just as easily substituted the baby without having to go through this entire risky rigmarole.) After finishing, I looked for Omen II but it’s not streaming for free anywhere; I then watched The Final Conflict, which was simply terrible (outside of Sam Neill, who was terrific and charismatic as an adult Damien, saddled with an incredibly bad and far-fetched script).

The movie does fit, however, with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, because here we have yet another conspiracy, one in which some members of the Catholic Church have turned to Satan to try to bring about the end times as well as the birth of the Antichrist–because whereas in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, it would have been unimaginable for such a film to be made, but also to be believable; who would have ever believed such a thing was possible? Of course, both book and film of Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for The Omen, but both were later 1960’s, when things were starting to change, times were getting more cynical, and so were people. Rosemary’s Baby changed almost everything, both in the world of novels and film, in showing that horror was both bankable and mainstream. The early 1970’s saw the publications, and enormous success, of books like Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s Gothic horror masterpiece The Other, and eventually, Stephen King’s out-of-nowhere bestseller Carrie. Soon Peter Straub would publish Ghost Story and Carrie would become a hit movie, triggering a horror revival that brought both the literature and the films into the mainstream. This revival didn’t lose steam until the 1990’s, and frankly, I think horror is on the verge of another revival.

I could be wrong, of course. I certainly have been before, but I am seeing some really terrific work as well as amazing new voices–over the past year alone I’ve read some astonishing work by new-to-me writers, and I only wish I had more time to read everything I really want to. Paul Tremblay is amazing, and so is Bracken MacLeod, Christopher Golden, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, among others; I’m seeing a lot of new and interesting looking titles being announced or reviewed almost every time I turn around.

I guess today is Wednesday? I am really not sure, living in this weird world that comes with hurricane watches, where it is very easy to lose track of dates and times and what day of the week it actually is. But a quick glance at Weather.com assures me that all the other storms out in the Atlantic basin pose no threat to Louisiana, so I guess we can relax for a little while, at least.

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

Can’t We Try

And just like that, this is the last day of my combination of illness/vacation. The good news is that I think I’m over everything that prevented the trip to Bouchercon in Dallas; the other good news is that I feel remarkably rested, centered, and ready to get back into the world again. I slept deeply and well again last night–and for those of you who can sleep well every night, I hope you appreciate it! I certainly never did back in the days when I could fall asleep simply by putting my head on the pillow and closing my eyes.

That seems so very long ago now.

These little vacations, I think, are very important for me. I need to recharge more frequently than I used to, and the weekends, while helpful, simply aren’t enough anymore. I have another little week-long vacation coming at the end of this month; I always try to take them around office holidays–so I am taking the first three days of Thanksgiving week off. As I said, I do need to take these little vacations every now and then in order to continue functioning; I wear out a lot easier now that I am older.

Paul and I got caught up on Catherine the Great last night, which is quite enjoyable (although as I said to Paul, “Catherine’s life when she was younger, and how she came to power, is a lot more interesting than this part of her life; but since you have Helen Mirren, it has to be about her when she’s older.” And Helen Mirren is absolutely killing it.

We also watched the first three episodes of Watchmen last night, and we are all in on this one, too. Regina King is just a goddess, and one of our best actresses working today. The story is all too apt for this time, as well–it’s themes of racism and white supremacy and fighting it, while exposing all the ugly nastiness of white supremacy, is all too too timely for our present day–and the third episode, which brings the remarkably talented and vastly under-appreciated Jean Smart into the cast, was one of the best. As a federal agent who hates vigilantes, and has come to Tulsa to help fight not only the white supremacy but to also bust “vigilantes”–which would be, in her own words, “some rich asshole with too many toys”–Smart is the anchor the show needed–the first two episodes didn’t seem as cohesive or to make as much sense as they all do now; the addition of her and her character pulled the entire show together and has essentially set up the conflict for the rest of the season. I never read the graphic novel on which the show is based; but it’s another take at superheroes (vigilantes) like Amazon’s The Boys, and it veers away from the path that DC and Marvel set up with their own hero universes.

I started reading another book yesterday, but am not sure I’m going to finish it–too much misogyny and homophobia in it already–it was originally published in 1962–but I might go ahead and finish it; it would tie directly into the essay about toxic masculinity that reading I the Jury inspired, and let’s face it, that essay needs other examples rather than just Spillane. I know I want to reread James Ellroy’s Clandestine because of its remembered homophobia; it’s one of the reasons I never read more Ellroy, despite always wanting to. He’s an MWA Grand Master; deeply respected in the field, and considered one of the giants in the genre, plus LA Confidential alone sounds terrific. And reading Ellroy to get a sense of 1950’s Los Angeles is probably the best way to get a sense for the time, for Chlorine.

I’m also still thinking about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. It’s just that good, Constant Reader. I also saw she has signed to do a novel for Agora, the Polis Books diversity imprint; I seriously can’t wait to read that.

I’ve done very little writing since I went on vacation; I’ve been primarily focusing on resting, doing some cleaning and filing, and getting over being sick. I’ve felt really good the last few days, and I think I can face returning to the office again tomorrow. I’d like to get some writing done today–I also want to get my email inbox emptied out–but I am not going to pressure myself; I am simply going to take the day as it comes and try to get whatever needs to be done finished as it comes along. I kind of need to reread where I am with Bury Me in Shadows anyway; I’ve not even really looked at it much over the last two weeks as I was not feeling myself. Today I feel rested and relaxed and healthy enough to possibly get some work done; and even if I don’t–if I save my energy because I am going back to work again tomorrow–I should be able to get some reading done. I may go ahead and finish reading that book I started to read this weekend; it’s kind of short, and so it shouldn’t take terribly long to read, right?

And then I can move on to something else.

I’m still enjoying Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, although I always find the early Colonial period of New Orleans a bit dull and uninteresting…although I am curious to see how the street–and the city itself–eventually became such a rough place. People in Louisiana outside of New Orleans–the ones who comment on newspaper articles and television station websites–always trash New Orleans as being “dangerous” and “full of crime” and “unsafe”; which, to me, I have always considered codewords  for racists, who can’t stand the idea of all the people of color who live and work here. They often will talk, in their little comment/rants, about how New Orleans “didn’t used to be like that” and bemoan the wonderful, lily-white days before desegregation. But my reading of New Orleans history definitely gives the lie to those comments; historically, the city has always been a hotbed of crime and murder. Always. Those lovely “white flight emigrants” are like those people who seem to think the 1950’s was this idyllic period of American history, when it was anything but that; the ones who think Happy Days was a documentary, and Leave It to Beaver was reality television. Frankly, it wasn’t particularly a great time to be white, either–McCarthyism, the widespread fear of communism and the Soviets, the shadow of the mushroom cloud, the rise of the suburbs–it was not the wonderful time we are so often told it was. What was wonderful about the 1950’s? The economy was booming in the post-war period.

Which should tell you all you need to know about white American priorities.

Over this past weekend I got an idea about what to do with a failed short story I’ve done many drafts on and has been rejected everywhere. I do think I can now do something with it, and maybe even get it published somewhere. Stranger things have happened, after all.

And now, I think I’m going to get some more coffee, work on my emails for a bit, and then repair to my chair to read for a little bit while I figure out how to best spend my last day of vacation. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Come Go with Me

I’ve always enjoyed horror as a genre, both in film and in novels. One of the greatest joys of the last decade or so has been the rise of horror television, with terrific shows like American Horror Story (despite its many flaws), The Exorcist, Castle Rock, and so many others. I suppose even The Walking Dead sort of counts as a horror program.

I do not consider myself to be anything more than a horror fan, frankly; I am not an expert, I’ve not read (or watched) everything, I’ve never done any comprehensive studying of the genre. I don’t know what are tropes or stereotypes or what-may-have-you, unless they are so obvious it’s like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels; Stephen King is one of my favorite writers; I could watch all four Scream movies a million times without ever getting bored or not being entertained–I even enjoyed the MTV television series called Scream, which had nothing to do with the films.

I know so little about the genre that I’m not even sure of the sub-genres contained within; I could write pages about the sub-genres in crime fiction, but horror? I’d be hard-pressed to even name them.

I’ve written two vampire novellas (“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon”) and an entire gay erotic vampire novel (Need), and a ghost story novel (Lake Thirteen) and a monster novel (Sara), and I suppose Sorceress would be considered gothic horror–I certainly followed the blueprint for Gothic novels with that one, which was kind of the point. And while there are any number of horror short stories in the files, as well as aborted novels, I’ve never really had much luck in publishing horror. Crime is the genre I know best, and you should always, as they say, write what you know; I always fear my horror attempts are ridiculously derivative of Stephen King–but then again, steal from the best.

I also don’t have a much time to read as I would like, and as such, I tend to primarily read within the crime genre, branching out into horror only occasionally–writers like Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Michael Rowe, and some others spring to mind–and the pile of unread horror in the TBR stacks continues to grow, it seems, by leaps and bounds every year as I never seem to get around to reading any of them.

But this year, as I’ve noted, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diverse writers, and the end result of that has been me finding any number of terrific writers I might not have read had I not made an effort, had I allowed myself to continue with the ease of white privilege and simply reading other white writers.

I only regret not making the effort sooner.

certain dark things

Collecting garbage sharpens the senses. It allows us to notice what others do not see. Where most people would spy a pile of junk, the rag-and-bone man sees treasure: empty bottles that might be dragged to the recycling center, computer innards that can be reused, furniture in decent shape. The garbage collector is alert. After all, this is a profession.

Domingo was always looking for garbage and he was always looking at people. It was his hobby. The people were, not the garbage. He would walk around Mexico City in his long, yellow plastic jacket with its dozen pockets, head bobbed down, peeking up to stare at a random passerby.

Domingo tossed a bottle into a plastic bag, then paused to observe the patrons eating at a restaurant. He gazed at the maids as they rose with the dawn and purchased bread at the bakery. He saw the people with the shiny cars zoom by and the people without any cash jump onto the back of the bus, hanging with their nails and their grit to the metallic shell of the moving vehicle.

I’m not sure where I first heard of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; I am friends with members of the horror writing community on social media, and we have friends in common; so I am sure I heard of this book first from one of our mutual friends on Facebook (I have also purchased her next novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow). I decided, as always, to read horror in celebration of Halloween; alas, illness and being overly busy has limited my reading lately, and as such, outside of my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, the only horror I was able to squeeze into October was Certain Dark Things, and this is not, by any means, to be seen as any kind of judgment of Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s consummate skill as a storyteller; this has everything to do with me being tired, ill, and unable to focus as a result. Those moments when I was able to focus was when I was able to read this book; and it is, quite frankly, a pleasure and a treasure.

Certain Dark Things is set in a Mexico City that teems with ugliness, darkness, poverty and corruption. As I read the descriptions of the city, I couldn’t help but think damn I bet she could write some brilliant noir set in this version of Mexico City–like I said, my mind always reverts to crime fiction–but this Mexico City, this world Moreno-Garcia has created, is steeped in reality and actual Mexican history–of which I know some, but not nearly enough (my interest in history is colored by, sadly, the white supremacy of American educational systems; focused primarily on the United States and Europe, with some Egyptian thrown in for good measure).

Moreno-Garcia also throws everything anyone who’s ever read about vampires into question from the absolute beginning of the book: perhaps because of Stoker’s Dracula, and every film/television adaptation of some form of it ever since, I have a tendency to always think of vampires as being eastern European/Transylvanian in origin; almost every vampire novel or story I’ve read has been almost entirely white. I myself, when writing my own little vampire stories, fell victim to these same tropes (although I did have Creole witches, which upon new reflection is also kind of problematic). So Certain Dark Things also opened my mind; why would supernatural/paranormal creatures always be white? Are there no supernatural/paranormal creatures or beings from other, non-white cultures?

There are two main characters in the novel: Atl, the female vampire, descended from a long line of vampires going back to Aztec days (and not your typical, Transylvanian vampire, either), and Domingo, a poor young man of the streets who sorts through garbage looking for things to sell to support himself. In this world, there is, like in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, an awareness that vampires and other creatures like them exist; so Domingo isn’t as terrified when he encounters Atl as he might be, were their reality still in question. Domingo is drawn to Atl, wants to help her and be with her, but it’s not in a romantic way, nor is it a product of being “glamoured” (as Harris called it in her work), either; it’s more along the lines of Atl being the first person to truly see Domingo, and appreciate him, and recognize his humanity despite being of the streets.

And that’s very powerful.

Atl herself is on the run. In this new world Moreno-Garcia has created, Mexico City is an independent city-state where vampires aren’t permitted; she has run there after the annihilation of her clan of vampires in north Mexico. She is on the run and needs to get out of Mexico completely; she has run to the city to hide and to try to find the means to get out of the country. There are many different kinds of vampires in this world; with different abilities and different powers.

There’s a third character, Ana Aguirre, a single mother who works as a police detective in the city, dealing with corruption and sexism every single day, not taken seriously by her superiors, and trying to do whatever she can to ensure a good future for her daughter. Ana is also a strong character, defined and complex; her inner struggle over her own integrity warring with what is the best thing to do for her daughter is masterfully described, and very relatable.

I’d read an entire series about Ana Aguirre in this world, frankly.

Moreno-Garcia doesn’t over-explain this world, either; but somehow, with sparsity of description and a minimal approach to the past few decades that changed the world as we now know it, she manages to create an entire world that is completely believable and easy to become immersed in. The story moves quickly, the characters growing more depth from each experience they have, and it’s all too soon over.

I would love to read more books about Atl and her world; I’d love to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.

This is a truly terrific work. I highly recommend it.

Carrie

Saturday morning and yet another, amazing night’s sleep. I didn’t get up until ten this morning! That’s like two days in a row, and I could have easily stayed in bed had I not realized that I will eventually have to start getting up early again and going to work next week. Tomorrow I’m going to set my alarm and get up around eight or nine, just to get back into the habit.

I’ve also reached the point where I am no longer sad not to be at Bouchercon this weekend anymore. I think I just finally got numb, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being happy for my friends and glad they’re having a great time over there. After all, there’s no point in being sad, really–it doesn’t make anything better, does it?–and there’s really no sense in being sad or upset over things you have no control over. Those are the things you just have to accept.

You don’t have to like them, though.

Last night we binged the rest of the available episodes of Castle Rock, and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as Annie Wilkes. She should at least get an Emmy nod for the performance; I won’t go out on a limb and say she should win since there are so many incredible television shows and performances out there now, between all the streaming services and so forth. This truly is an extraordinary time for television shows. I love that the writers have dragged Jerusalem’s Lot and the Marsten House into this season; there’s something strange going on in the basement of the Marsten House but we aren’t really sure what it is yet…this season is making me want to revisit Stephen King’s work, which is precisely what I don’t need to do; my TBR pile is massive enough as it is without going back and rereading some of my favorite Stephen Kings. Over the last year or so I’ve reread Pet Sematary, The Shining, and ‘salem’s Lot as it is; I’d love to reread Firestarter before reading The Institute–which I think is going to be my Thanksgiving week treat.

I think my next read–after a careful examination of my bookshelves, is going to be Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Stark of course is one of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms, and my education in Westlake (and Lawrence Block, while we’re at it) is sadly lacking. I also never read the Ed McBain novels (but I did read Evan Hunter when I was in my twenties). As I said, my education is classic crime writers of the 20th century has been sadly neglected; and I’d also like to read Ross Macdonald’s stand alones, and I’d love to immerse myself in a reread of the John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee novels (and finish reading through his stand alones as well). I also need to finish the canons of Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes.

And of course, there are all those wonderful writers of color I need to read. And queer crime writers. And…

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to finish reading  Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia yesterday, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very different approach to a vampire novel, and while I don’t know that I would necessarily classify it as a horror novel–not all vampire novels are horror novels–it really is quite good. It’s more suspenseful and, much as I hate to say it, it’s almost closer to a crime/suspense novel with paranormal elements than it is a horror novel. I do highly recommend it–I’ll write an entry about it at some point this weekend, perhaps even later today–and it’s precisely the kind of novel that is needed to reinvigorate the horror genre. I’ve been saying for quite some time that it’s the so-called minority writers (writers of color, queer writers) who are currently injecting new blood into, and revitalizing the crime genre–I would say that’s also the case with horror. The problem with genre fiction is that it tends to stagnate periodically and become repetitive and somewhat stale, until something comes along, shakes it up, and turns it upside down. The rise of the hardboiled female private eye novel in the 1980’s was the kick in the pants crime needed to breathe new life into a genre that was getting a bit stale; I think it’s the marginalized writers who are doing it now.

Look at me, generalizing about horror–a genre I am hardly expert in. As I always say, I’m just a fan with horror.

But I am hardly an expert in crime fiction, either. There are positively libraries of things I don’t know about crime fiction.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day. Constant Reader.

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Sign o’ the Times

Monday morning rolls around yet again, and a new week dawns. I slept pretty decently again last night, which is unusual. The alarm went off this morning and I hit snooze, despite being awake, because the bed was so comfortable. Sigh.

The Saints won again yesterday, and with the season LSU is also having, it’s been a pretty good football season for Louisiana football fans thus far. LSU undefeated, the Saints with a single loss? The big test for LSU is the Alabama game a week from Saturday–not sure when the Saints will be tested; but the day after the LSU-Alabama game the Saints are playing the hated Atlanta Falcons. So, yeah, that’s kind of a big weekend for both teams, and both have a bye this weekend–so no football in the Lost Apartment this weekend, alas.

We watched the new Meryl Streep movie on Netflix last night, The Laundromat, and weren’t terribly impressed with it. The story rather lacked cohesion, and there were times when I was frankly bored with it. I guess the idea was to expose and talk about the ways companies and the wealthy avoid paying taxes by setting up off-shore trusts and holding companies. but the examples given with how that affects people wasn’t particularly affecting? It was disappointing. Streep was good, but just not given enough to really work with.

I read some more into Certain Dark Things yesterday, which I am also really enjoying now that I’m getting deeper into the story. It’s very well written, and I like the structure of the narrative, as well as the entire mythology of vampires in the new world that Silvia Moreno-Garcia is creating here. It’s pretty good, and I do highly recommend it. I am hoping to get finished reading it sometime this week. I want to read one more horror novel before the end of the month and Halloween; although I’m not certain Moreno-Garcia’s novel really fits into the horror genre. The book isn’t scary, but it is about paranormal creatures, and an entire world and society of them. Similarly to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, she imagines a world where vampires are “out of the coffin,” and people know they exist. The fallout from this has resulted in Mexico City establishing itself not only as an independent city-state, but also as a vampire-free zone. I also like the characters she’s exploring–Atl, the modern-day female vampire, descendant of a line of vampires going back to the Aztecs, and Ana Aguirre, a female police detective in the city investigating a murder obviously committed by a vampire. So in some ways Certain Dark Things can also be considered a crime novel, which is very cool.

I love when the two genres overlap, to be quite honest.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.

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Will You Still Love Me?

Sunday morning. LSU managed to remain undefeated yesterday, squeaking out a 23-20 nerve-wracking win over Auburn and looking like LSU of old. It was a very tense, stressful afternoon here in the Lost Apartment, believe you me. But they did pull out the win to move to 8-0; with Alabama on the horizon in two weeks in Tuscaloosa. They will most likely be ranked 1 and 2 at the time of the game; the winner takes the lead in the division, becomes the favorite to win the SEC, and make the playoffs. There’s some talk, already, that even if LSU loses to Alabama they might still make the playoffs; Oklahoma’s shocking loss to Kansas State opening that door still wider. There are a number of good one loss teams in the SEC already–Georgia and Florida are about to play next week in a battle of once-beatens to determine who will win the East division, and a shot to play the winner of LSU-Alabama in Atlanta in December.

Likewise, it also wouldn’t be the first time Alabama lost to LSU and got to play for the national title.

I was emotionally spent after the game, so I spent the rest of the evening finishing reading Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders. Tallant isn’t the best writer, and he’s also, as they say, a product of his time; but I found his retelling of famous New Orleans murders quite entertaining. The last three chapters (“Let the Poor Girl Sleep!”, “The Axman Had Wings”, and “Fit as a Fiddle and Ready to Hang”) were quite interesting, and I can see easily how to translate those real life true crimes into fiction, particularly the last one–about a handsome young man who wanted to be a singer and went around killing older men with money. The book was written and published in 1952 originally, and so the story of Kenneth Neu, as written by Tallant, skirted around what was patentedly obvious to me at any rate–he flirted with older men to see if they might be interested in his looks, and then killed and robbed them. (When he was tried eventually, he was only tried for the murder he committed in New Orleans; a previous crime in New Jersey definitely involved homosexual activity, and they didn’t want to try him for that one in case the jury sympathized with him killing an older gay man…so obviously, the prosecutors in Orleans Parish successfully kept any possibility of homosexuality out of his trial.) Neu is an interesting character to me; originally from Savannah, served in the military, and extremely charming and good-looking. Even throughout his trial he was cheerful, trying to charm people, even singing and dancing for the audience in the courtroom during breaks in the trial. He’s almost like something out of Patricia Highsmith; there’s definitely some Ripley in Neu. And obviously, he would make for a fascinating character in an old time New Orleans noir.

I’m also working on a short story–have been for some months now–called “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which will go into my collection Monsters of New Orleans should I ever finish it; I’d also like to send it out for submission. It’s a Venus Casanova story, and while I got off to a relatively good start on it, it kind of stalled on me–primarily because I didn’t know the particulars of the true Axeman murders. I’d read some of it in Empire of Sin, but Tallant covered it a bit more thoroughly. I do need to come up with a timeline of the original Axeman murders, which should be relatively easy to do now, and see how I can work with that for my Venus short story.

I do intend to write today, Constant Reader, after two days of meaning to but never getting around to it. But the time has come, and I really must stop procrastinating. I don’t know what time the Saints game is today, but regardless, I have to sit here and at the very least finish off Chapter Twelve, whose rewrite has been in stasis now for over a week. I only have thirteen more chapters to go before the damned thing is finished–and while I know I’ll be holed up in a hotel room in Dallas for five days this coming week, well, I also know it’s Bouchercon and I won’t get any writing finished. I won’t even read much, except for the airport coming and going and the plane ride itself. I do want to finish Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things this week as well; hopefully in time to get another horror novel read by Halloween. I’ve really fallen down on my reading lately–I also have some terrific ARC’s on the pile, including Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture and Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden–and I really need to get back to dedicated reading again, rather then falling into Youtube rabbit holes every night. Reading also inspires writing, so there’s that, too.

I think the next non-fiction book I’m going to read is Richard Campenella’s Bourbon Street–as I continue my deep dive into New Orleans history.

And on that note, I think I’m going to get another cup of coffee and sit with Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things for awhile before i head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

 

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Luka

Ah, a lovely lazy Sunday morning, with a lot on my plate to get done.

LSU won again yesterday, taking Mississippi State down in their own stadium 36-13. With about five minutes left in the first half LSU was ahead only 9-7; State had just scored and the cowbells were ringing. As time ran out in the half, LSU was ahead 22-7. Within another five minutes of the second half, we were ahead 36-7, and the game was essentially over. Four touchdowns in less than ten minutes.  Next up is Auburn in Death Valley; Auburn rebounded from their loss to Florida with a blowout of Arkansas, and they’ll be thirsty to beat LSU. Another loss and their championship hopes are over; Auburn has also lost two straight to LSU in the closing minutes.

It will be a tough one.

The Saints are playing later this afternoon, the Bears in Chicago at Soldier Field. I have a lot to get done this morning if I want to watch the game, frankly; I may wind up just working while it’s on in the living room. I managed to get nothing done yesterday; I overslept (it was needed, methinks) and so got a late start to the day. I did manage to make groceries and fill the car with gas, so that’s something, right? Today I have to finish my Sisters column, and I have to also work on Bury Me in Shadows as well as a proposal for another project.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But the weather yesterday was gorgeous, simply gorgeous. I do love when it gets to be mid to late October and we have what we consider fall down here–which means it never gets much hotter than eighty degrees and the humidity is gone. It’s so gorgeous, and the sky is so blue…ah, heavenly.

So I decided to treat myself to a sleeping pill, and after last night’s amazingly deep and restful night’s sleep, I understand completely how addictive these things can be. Yes, my sleep has been rather off and on since I stopped taking them every night, and I actually can feel an emotional difference in myself as well this morning; who wouldn’t want to feel this good every morning on waking up? But addiction is a very real thing, and a very real thing I’m afraid of, so I won’t be taking another one until I feel like I need a special treat.

The demolition of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site, postponed from yesterday to today, is going to happen at some point later this morning. I am feeling less like turning it into a “ripped from the headlines” novel today as I was over the last couple of days; while there would be some interesting points to be made about New Orleans corruption and greedy, shady contractors, for it to be a Scotty novel it would have to be somehow reigned in and made into a personal story of some sort.  I can, of course, see the site from the elevated interstate as I drive to and from work every day; the elevated interstate gives one an interesting view of the city from those heights (it runs along Claiborne Avenue, and its construction destroyed irrevocably the business district for people of color and the neighborhoods that ran along Claiborne Avenue for decades–and yes, racism played a part in where the highway runs).

I started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things and am already quite enthralled with it. For one thing, she’s creating an entirely new mythology of vampires–at least one that is new to me–and I love that the book is set in Mexico, currently in Mexico City. I also like the way she is carefully doling out plot points and back history for her main character, Atl–who is very interesting, and is involved in something dangerous that we aren’t quite sure what it might be at this point. I also like that the very first chapter, which introduces Atl to the reader, is told from the perspective of a street kid named Domingo. Moreno-Garcia created Domingo completely and in three dimensions, like he’s a main character, rarely than merely the lens through which we meet Atl. (He still might be an important character to the story; I hope so because I liked him, but it also wouldn’t surprise me terribly if he disappears from the story completely. If that is indeed the case, kudos to Moreno-Garcia for making even throwaway characters complete and real. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Reading this also made me realize how badly I failed at vampire fiction with my few meager attempts. I didn’t really do anything new with them; I just wrote vampire stories to write vampire stories, without any thought about how to make them realistic, compelling, and original. I did have a big over-arching plan, though–it would have tied them all together and created something big and original in the second novel, Desire, which sadly never happened. But I’m not a horror/supernatural writer, and when I do venture into those realms, what I do best is ghost stories. I am currently writing another novel that is a ghost story; I already did one (Lake Thirteen), and will probably do another one at some point.

And now I should probably clean the kitchen. I am going to run an errand either before or during the Saints game–the city is always a ghost town during Saints games; it’s literally the best time to do errands, and everywhere you go they’re playing the game anyway–but I also need to get some cleaning and writing done long before I leave the house to do so.

I’m also still reading about the Lemana kidnapping in Ready to Hang, which is quite interesting, mainly because the child was held for so long. The history of the Italian immigrants to New Orleans is interesting–and often quite tragic, frankly–and I find it interesting that the Irish immigrants, who were most likely looked on with as much askance as the Italians, who came later, don’t have some horrible stories that appear in histories of crimes in New Orleans. I do know they were primarily confined to the stretch between Magazine Street and the river–which is why it’s still called the Irish Channel–but they don’t seem to be the victims of mob violence or as much intolerance as the Italians were around the turn of the twentieth century.

If they were, it’s not included in these books about historical crimes/tragedies in old New Orleans.

There’s been an idea forming in the back of my head about all this bloodshed and horror in the history of New Orleans; something along the lines of the land being cursed or some kind of cloud over it, like Stephen King’s Derry, which could also explain the prevalence of religion in the region–Catholicism and even voodoo–used primarily to protect the souls of the locals from the dark forces that seem to control New Orleans.

It’s an interesting thought, at any rate.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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In Too Deep

Well, Constant Reader, we made it to Friday somehow, didn’t we? Huzzah, I guess?

The heat finally broke yesterday; it was very cool in the morning and evening. The afternoon didn’t feel nearly as bad as it has been, even though it did get up to about 87 degrees. There wasn’t any humidity, and the humidity is, after all, what is really horrible about the weather here. There’s also a tropical storm of some sort out in the Gulf–I should probably check on that, since it’s projected to pass by close to here–which undoubtedly is affecting the weather here somewhat as well.

I don’t have big plans for the weekend; I never do, really. Just the usual: make groceries, pick up the mail, clean, watch the LSU and Saints football games, cook out, and do some writing. Today is a short day at the office, and I’ve already started working on the cleaning this morning. I’ll undoubtedly do some more tonight when I get home from the office, and I’d also like to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which has pretty much lain fallow this entire week. I have done some thinking about it, of course, and there are changes to implement into the manuscript before moving on to those later chapters, but I am way off track to get it finished by the end of the month, as I had originally hoped and planned, unless I get back to work and start kicking some serious ass as I work on it.

And maybe–just maybe–with some dedication, I can get my emails all caught up. Stranger things have happened…and may happen again. Just you wait and see.

I slept really well last night–only woke up twice that I can remember–and feel very rested this morning. My throat is still sore, but the earache seems to be gone for good (huzzah!), and maybe tonight I’ll dose it with tea and honey before going to bed. I still haven’t started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things beyond that enthralling first page, but probably tonight when I get home from work I’ll make some time for it–Scooter always wants some cuddle time whenever I come home, so I find that’s the best thing to do–curl up in my easy chair with a book so he can sleep in my lap and purr. It’s weird how far behind I’ve fallen in my reading–I’d hoped to read more horror this month than I have–and I’ve also got to start preparing for my Bouchercon panels; I’m moderating two, and that requires prep work, particularly since I have so many ridiculously talented people on them. One features Cheryl Head, Alex Segura, Steph Cha, S. A. Cosby, Michael Nava, and my co-moderator, Carsen Taite; the other features Lou Berney, Wendy Corsi Staub, Alison Gaylin, Elizabeth Little, and Steph Cha (again–and if you haven’t read her brilliant new novel, Your House Will Pay, shame on you and get to it). Ridiculously talented and wicked smart panels…so I am really going to need to be prepared, else I will come across looking like a moron.

I am also on the Anthony Award Best Short Story panel, where I will be sharing the stage again with S. A. Cosby in addition to Art Taylor, Holly West, and the always delightful Barb Goffman. Barb and Holly have stories in Florida Happens (Holly and my nominated stories are from Florida Happens); Shawn and I are both in the upcoming Dark Yonder anthology; and Art is one of the most awarded and respected short story writers in our genre–his nominated story also won the Edgar this past spring. (Holly also edited Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which includes my story “This Town.”) I don’t hold out many hopes for an upset win and a second Anthony for my shelves; but it truly is a surprise and a delight to be nominated in the company of these other writers whom I admire and respect so deeply.

It’s nice to periodically take stock, you know? I get so caught up in the grind of editing and writing and promoting and reading and everything else I have to get done–not to mention the dispiriting slings and arrows that come along in your every day life as a writer (not the least of which is fucking Imposter Syndrome) that I never really ever take the time to sit back and reflect and enjoy what I’ve done so far, what I’ve accomplished. I think part of that is because I am always dissatisfied with where I am in my career as a writer and wanting to get more done, accomplish more, and get more work out there. It’s a grind, as I mentioned earlier, and I always forget to enjoy moments, or to even take a moment here and there to bask in the joys of accomplishment because I’m always so focused on what’s next oh my God I have so much to do and so little time when will I ever get this all finished? That, of course, is self-defeating. I’ve been trying to be better about blowing my own horn and taking some pride in myself, as well as working on my self-confidence.  I’ve written a lot–novels, novellas, short stories, essays–and I’ve won some awards, been nominated for even more. It’s a thrill to be nominated for a mainstream short story award–the second time I’ve been nominated for a mainstream short story award–and it’s really quite a thrill. It’s a thrill to be in the company of the other nominees this time; last time the other nominees included Lawrence Block and Joyce Carol Oates. (I know, right?)

So look at the positives, and ignore the negatives.

And on that note, I have some time before I have to get ready for work this morning, so I think I’ll do a bit of writing.

Have a lovely Friday!

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Keep Your Hands To Yourself

I feel a little better this morning, which is admittedly a low bar.

Of course, I discovered yesterday at one point that we are in a water-boil advisory, and had been since Saturday. This of course led to a frenzied googling of what I may have accidentally infected myself with since I didn’t know, plus the added is this why I am sick today thoughts. Ugh, no thanks, and it was perfectly awful; several hours of added stress yesterday I didn’t need. And this morning, apparently we are still in the water advisory. It was lifted briefly yesterday morning, but then the water pressure dropped again and it was reinstated. Maybe at some point today it will be lifted? It’s mostly Uptown that’s affected, from the highway to Riverbend and from the river to Carrollton.

Ah, the joys of living in New Orleans.

Being sick of course has put me further behind than I already was, which is not a good thing and means I’m going to be scrambling to get caught up on everything. Right now I’m at the point where I am not really sure what all I need to prioritize; I think my Sisters column is due today (and it’s not finished), and I need to get back on target with my fiction writing as well. There’s a lot of emails I need to get through today–I’ve never quite managed to get caught up on them, and every day I fall further behind on this–and there’s finances to be dealt with; tomorrow is Pay the Bills Day–which used to be known as Payday, but is no longer–and of course, the Lost Apartment looks like a storm blew through it. Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to start reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, which appears to be a Mexico City vampire novel. It’s been awhile since I read and enjoyed a good vampire novel, and I feel fairly confident this one is going to be dramatically different–in a good way–from any I’ve read before. I’d actually thought about rereading ‘salem’s Lot for this month; it really is, for me, the gold standard of vampire novels, but as the month is slowly but surely beginning to trickle out of time…I’ll have to reread it another time.

We finished watching the first season of The Righteous Gemstones last night, and I was rather pleased with it…although it did seem as though they’d wrapped everything up in a nice bow and there’s really nothing left hanging; I guess season two will be an entirely new set of issues and problems for them to get involved with. Ultimately, it turned out a lot differently than I expected it to–I don’t know what I was expecting, but I suppose them all getting past all their personal issues and strifes and mistakes and renewing their faith was a surprise, and even more surprising, it was a satisfying end to the season. I guess because it was kind of a happy ending for them all? Maybe.

All right, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, CR.

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Control

So, we’ve got tickets to the LSU-Florida game for tomorrow night! Saturday night in Death Valley! Number 5 LSU taking on Number 7 Florida in a battle of the unbeatens! SEC and national implications! Woo-hoo! I mean, Tiger Stadium is always fun–but it is going to be rocking Saturday night.

Needless to say, it was quite a pleasant surprise when Paul got home last night and proceeded to tell me that we were being gifted with tickets to perhaps the biggest game played this season in Baton Rouge. I am, as I am sure you can tell, incredibly excited about this.

HUZZAH!

I came to a realization last night also, as I was pulling Bury Me in Shadows together–that maybe, just maybe, I am rushing to get the book turned in and maybe I should relax, take some of the pressure off myself, and do a more thorough job of revising/editing/pulling it together. Sigh. I’ll think about it tonight–Paul is going to the Mortuary haunted house with some friends, and so I’ll be home this evening all alone; so I might just take the laptop and the manuscript and sit in my easy chair while streaming a football game or a movie or something for background noise and read through the last fifteen chapters a little bit more, see if there’s more that needs to be added. I’m going to have most of the day tomorrow before we leave for the game as well to work on revisions and additions and so forth, too, so there is that.

I have to say, writing and editing and revising is something I truly enjoy; and maybe that’s why I’ve been sleeping so well lately–I did wake up a few times throughout the night last night, but I was able to get back to sleep without much trouble; I feel terrifically rested this morning too, which of course is absolutely lovely. I think a lot of my sleep issues stem from the inability to turn off my brain–and if I’m writing or revising or editing, that exhausts my brain’s creativity synapses so I am able to shut down completely when I go to bed. It certainly has worked that way this week, and for about the last two weeks, all told, really, and it’s quite lovely. If this means I have to write or do something creative every day so I can sleep well every night, so be it. The worst thing that can happen is I’ll get a lot of work done.

Yeah, there are definitely worse things than that, right?

I’ve also fallen behind on my reading–it’s not easy for me to both read and write a lot at the same time, and I do want to get Deliverance finished at some point this weekend, so I can move on to one of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s terrific novels, either Certain Dark Things or Gods of Jade and Shadow; I’ll decide when I get to it, I suppose. I try to read horror during the month of October–I am also way behind on my Stephen King reading–and have been enjoying going back through The Haunting of Hill House this month (which is also part of the reason I’ve not been able to finish Deliverance), and there’s no reason I can’t combine October horror with the Diversity Project, either. There are so many good books in my TBR pile–I really don’t need to buy anything new for quite some time, and really shouldn’t, not with all these books on hand that I have yet to get to. I am also way behind on reading some of my other favorite authors as well–Michael Koryta, for example, and Donna Andrews for another–so there’s really not much reason for me to buy any more books, quite frankly, for quite some time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I love buying books!

I’m also still reading Ready to Hang as part of my New Orleans history reading. I am now reading about the murder of district attorney J. Ward Gurley, in the chapter titled “A Problem in Good and Evil” (which is an amazing title which I might have to purloin), and this morning I came across this sentence:

There was a murder in New Orleans nearly every day, but seldom was the district attorney the victim.

This was in 1903! And people talk about the murder rate in New Orleans now, like the city is sliding into lawlessness and danger–when the city averaged almost a murder a day one hundred and sixteen years ago…which proves the point I’m slowly starting to understand more and more, the more history of the city I read: New Orleans has always been a dark city with a crime problem, almost from the very beginning.

That isn’t to say that the city shouldn’t work on lowering our crime rate by any means; but the fact that the city has historically been a hotbed of crime puts the hand-wringing over our current crime situation into a rather different light, doesn’t it?

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


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