Love Must Be The Answer

And here we are on Monday again. It was overall a pleasant weekend, really; I love being able to get up without an alarm, whenever I simply decide I’ve had enough of being lazy and lolling about beneath the covers and so forth. I was deeply asleep when the alarm woke up–I was charging the Fitbit, so have on report on how the sleep actually was, but I think it was deep for most of the night. The alarm was definitely invasive and jarring this morning. But I do feel very well rested and awake–even though I do think I could very easily fall right back asleep if I got back into my bed–and that’s a very good sign for a day in which I have a lot of things to get done.

(Incidentally, I did look up what the normal stages of sleep are at night for a good sleep, and I am hitting the percentages properly every night per my Fitbit–who knew you only needed about two hours of DEEP SLEEP and ninety minutes of REM to be and feel perfectly rested the next day, and that those hours of light sleep aren’t, in fact, a bad thing at all? The more you know…)

I went to the gym during the Saints game–it really is much easier on my stress levels and blood pressure to just periodically check in on the score, or to have the game on while I do other things. AND THEY WON! YAY! GEAUX SAINTS! I’m also following Joey Burrow and Cincinnati–I will always be a fan of Joey B–and they lost in overtime, but they don’t seem like the Bengals of old anymore. I think they will be in the Super Bowl within a very few years.

The gym felt marvelous, as it always does once you get past that deeply painful “back-to-the-gym-after-a-break” workout. For the first time in a while yesterday, I noticed in the gym mirrors that my muscles were responding to the working out and were getting pumped up, which was a shock and a pleasant surprise at the same time; as always an extremist, I think my muscles shrink and fade away if I don’t work them out regularly and I forget sometimes that I am actually fairly big in muscle mass…but all I see, of course, is spaghetti arms, drooping moobs, love handles a gang can grasp, and a big belly. I also am enjoying seeing my flexibility slowly coming back from the abyss; I was able to stretch more deeply yesterday than I have in a very long time. Once I get going again and am doing three sets with added weights for several weeks in a row, I am going to add some more exercises and increase the difficulty of the workouts. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it, frankly–although I am going to be missing two weeks in November (two trips planned!).

And yes, I am very excited to be traveling again. I am going to New York for MWA business for a few days, then taking the train to Boston for Crime Bake, a joint event sponsored by MWA’s New England chapter and the local Sisters in Crime chapter. I’ll be going to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, so that will be quite the lengthy drive to and fro; I believe I will listen to books on tape that I will get from the library; and who better to while a lengthy drive away with than Stephen King? I think I’ll listen to Black House on the way up and Dr. Sleep on the way home. That definitely sounds like a plan, does it not?

I’m also going to have to be very careful and keep an eye on my schedule so my writing schedule doesn’t get fucked up by these trips. Deadline is 1/15 for A Streetcar Named Murder; definitely need to keep my eyes on that prize; I am going to start revising the first four chapters this week and hopefully will get the ball going again on that.

I’ve been seeing a lot of hate for Nate the Great from Ted Lasso recently on Twitter, and while I can certainly understand the turn of the audience–what a terrific job they did on this villain origin story–I also kind of understand where Nate is coming from, if that makes sense? Yes, his behavior is shocking, but it’s not unearned and it didn’t come from left field, and kudos of all kinds to the writers for not taking the easy way out with this character. It would have been very easy for Nate, who was so shy and reticent and cowed by being bullied by everyone on the team and his father, to slowly bloom under Ted and Beard’s belief in him, and how the team has not only stopped bullying him but come to accept him as one of them….as I said, that story was easy; all that was left for the icing on the cake was for Nate’s confidence to keep growing and for him to fall in love and so on and so forth; a nice easy audience-pleasing character arc for the poor bullied boy everyone felt sorry for in the beginning. But the underdog we always want to root for isn’t always this nice person being held down by others. Bullying, and being bullied, isn’t really that simple, nor are all the bullied kids lonely and desperate for just a chance, any chance, and once given that chance, blossom into great people and achieve the potential they’ve always had. Being bullied–and I am speaking as someone here who has been bullied, for most of my childhood and some of my early adulthood–has a very toxic effect on the victim. You often wind up hating yourself intensely; after all, they have a reason for bullying you, don’t they? You must deserve what’s happening to you. And when people cut you down and insult you, you always respond in your head, hating them, wishing you had the courage to say something nasty right back to them. You spend your alone time reliving the humiliations and embarrassments, practicing the vicious and nasty things you should have said in response. There’s a lot of anger there, and often, in the narratives we are used to seeing in fiction, that anger never gets resolved; it just magically dissolves away once the bullying ends. I think that the show writers are doing an excellent job of showing how Nate’s character development/arc has run; remember, he has always lashed out angrily when he felt safe enough to do so; and people who are bullied often become bullies themselves; it’s really the only interpersonal interaction they are most familiar with. Nate began coming out of his shell with the encouragement of Ted and Beard and the acceptance from the team; the promotion to coach; and actually being good at soccer. When he began to see Ted and the others no longer applauding him, giving him the attention he believes he has earned and now deserved, that anger that was always there began to curdle within him. The final episode turn didn’t come as a terrible surprise to me; I saw it building all season, really. I applaud them for taking Nate–obviously a fan favorite–and turning him into the antagonist for Season Three.

Although it must be a strange ride for actor Nick Mohammed, who went from being beloved to reviled over the course of twelve episodes.

And on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.

Together We’re Better

Yesterday actually turned out to be quite lovely.

I was a little bleary when I got up yesterday morning (my Fitbit advises me I only slept deeply for 3 hours, 48 minutes; the rest was “light sleep” and I woke up three times), but for whatever reason, I decided to start getting to work on things. I started answering emails (I am very careful with email. I refuse to let it control my life, which it easily can; so I answer emails over the weekends and in the mornings, save my responses as drafts, and send them all after lunch. I do not send emails after five pm CST; I do not read them, either. Email at one point took over my life, which made getting anything done impossible and raised my stress levels to unbelievable heights. I realized anyone who absolutely, positively needs to reach me has my cell phone number…and if I don’t trust you with my cell phone number…you don’t really need an answer right away. And guess what? The world didn’t end, I didn’t miss out on anything, and nothing became harder) while reading coverage of the LSU debacle from Saturday night (one thing I did mean to mention and didn’t yesterday; I try not to be overly critical of college athletes because they are basically kids. It’s easy to forget that when you’re watching on television, but when you see them on the sidelines with their helmets off, or while walking down Victory Hill to the stadium in their suits and ties…you see a bunch of teenagers and young men in their early twenties. They are kids—and those baby faces on those big muscular bodies is a very strange juxtaposition sometimes). I decided on the way home from Baton Rouge that while I do, indeed, love football, I really shouldn’t give up my weekends to it all fall. Now that LSU is definitely out of the running for anything, I’ll probably not watch as much football as I would if they were still in contention for anything. I’ll still watch LSU, and occasionally I may spend an afternoon watching a big game—the SEC title game, the play-offs—I am not going to spend every Saturday pretty much glued to the television all day, flipping between games all day. And I also rarely enjoy watching the Saints—I love them, they’re my guys, my team, my heart—but their games are so damned stressful it’s hard to enjoy them, and when the games is over I am always, win or lose, emotionally and physically and mentally exhausted. So, I decided it made more sense to get things done, check in on the score periodically, and not sweat it too much. (Good thing. Like LSU, the Saints led the entire game, folded like a newspaper in the fourth quarter and wound up losing.) I made groceries, filled the car’s gas tank, and before going, I started weeding shit out of my iCloud and saving it all to my back-up hard drive.  I wound up freeing up over four hundred and seven gigabytes in my flash storage, and suddenly my computer was running very quickly again.

And yes, it’s my fault.* I have a gazillion pictures files, going back to digital camera days. I used to back up my hard drive and my flash drives regularly to the cloud—and those folders are enormous. I don’t probably need all of it—I was weeding through bits here and there as I moved the files over to the back-up hard drive (eventually planning on copying them up to Dropbox), and started finding all kinds of interesting things. Story fragments I’d forgotten, book ideas and anthology ideas and essays I’d started; some of these things are in very rough, first draft form—and got left behind as my addled, AHDH-like brain moved on to the next thirty or forty ideas for all of the above. I also was kind of amused to see how I often I plagiarize myself; I had a completely different idea for the book I wanted to call A Streetcar Named Murder fifteen years ago—which I can still use at some point, just have to come up with a new title. I’d forgotten that all the way through the process Need was called A Vampire’s Heart; my editor suggested changing it after I turned the book it. It was a wise choice; my title was very romance sounding and Need was hardly that. It was also interesting seeing, over the years, how many different ideas I’ve had for a gay noir set in the world of ballet (damn you, Megan Abbott!). I discovered that Murder in the Garden District actually began as Murder on the Avenue (a title I can repurpose for an idea I had last week); I found the original files for Hollywood South Hustle, the Scotty book that turned into a Chanse MacLeod, Murder in the Rue Ursulines; I found the files for the Colin book that tells us what he was doing and where he was between Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo; I found the original Paige novel I started writing in 2004, in which an Ann Coulter-like pundit from New Orleans is murdered; I found the first three chapters of the Scotty Katrina book, Hurricane Party High,  in which they don’t evacuate during a fictional hurricane, and the chapters where I rewrote it, had the, evacuate to Frank’s sister’s in rural Alabama (and we meet Frank’s nephew Taylor for the first time—and I also remembered that they belonged to some weird kind of religious cult and that Taylor was going to come to New Orleans in the future to visit during their version of rumspringa, but eventually abandoned the idea completely and never did a Scotty/Katrina book; was reminded that Dark Tide began as Mermaid Inn; that I wrote the first chapter of Timothy during the summer of 2003; and if I even tried to list all the iterations that wound up being #shedeservedit, we would be here all day (Sins of Omission, I think, was my favorite earlier title; again, a completely different book with some slight similarities…I may have to take a longer look at some of those iterations because being reminded of them all, I also remembered that I really liked all the versions).

I also found many, many nonfiction pieces I’ve written over the years—many of which I’d long since forgotten about—so maybe that essay collection won’t take quite as long to pull together as I had originally thought. Huzzah!

And I also discovered something else that I knew but had slipped out of my consciousness: that Bury Me in Shadows was called, for the first and second drafts, Bury Me in Satin—which gives off an entirely different vibe, doesn’t it? I wrote a very early version of it as a short story while in college, called it “Ruins,” but never wrote a second draft because I knew it wasn’t a short story; it needed to be a book, and one day I would write it. I was never completely comfortable with the story, to be honest; I wasn’t sure how I could write a modern novel built around a Civil War legend in rural Alabama. I absolutely didn’t want to write a fucking Lost Cause narrative—which is what this easily could have become, and people might come to it thinking it is, and are going to be very angry when they find out it is not that—but I really wasn’t sure how to tell the story…and in my mind, I thought of it as Ruins—which I freely admit is not a great title, and has been over-used.

As luck would have it, I was watching some awards show—I can’t begin to try to remember what year—and one of the nominated groups performed. I’d never heard of The Band Perry before; and the song they performed, “If I Die Young,” absolutely blew me away. (I just remembered, I kind of used the title as guidance when writing Need—always trying to remember he became undead very young) The first two lines of the chorus are this:

If I die young,

Bury me in satin

And I thought to myself, Bury Me in Satin is a perfect title for the Civil War ghost story! Melancholy and sort of romantic; I’ve always thought of hauntings as more about loss than being terrifying (you do not have to go full out jump scare, use gore or blood or violence to scare the reader, and if you doubt me, read Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home), which is why I’ve always loved the Barbara Michaels novels that were ghost stories. That was the feeling I wanted to convey, that sad creepiness, and longing—I wanted a Gothic feel to the book, and I felt that line captured what I wanted perfectly. But as I wrote it, it didn’t quite feel as right as it did in that moment (I still love the song—and the video is interesting and kind of Gothic, doing a Tennyson Lady of Shalott thing), and then one day it hit me: changed ‘satin’ to ‘shadows’, and there’s your perfect title.

And so it was.

Oh dear, look at the time. Till tomorrow, Constant Reader! I am off to the spice mines! Have a lovely Monday!

*I will add the caveat to this that anything stored in the Cloud should not affect the flash storage in the actual computer and its operating system, and yes, I am prepared and more than willing to die on that hill.

You Are Always On My Mind

Saturday morning and LSU football is back–playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl. GEAUX TIGERS! Will the Tigers go back to their usual winning ways after the disappointments of last season? I guess we will find out tonight, won’t we?

Last night I actually fell asleep. I had slept better Thursday night than I had since the power went out, but it wasn’t the same thing–it was mostly half-sleep, but I felt rested, if on edge most of yesterday. Before I even tried to sleep last night, I realized how much stress and tension I was carrying in my back, shoulders, and neck–and so I did some serious, serious stretching to get it loosened up–and it was lovely feeling that tight tension leaving my body. And after I did that last night, I zonked out for real and went into an amazing, blissful, dead-to-the-world sleep and it was marvelous. Entergy is supposedly getting our power back today, so we can return tomorrow–we shall see. I am resisting going to the Entergy website and refreshing the outage page repeatedly; our landlady (who bravely stayed, but her office had power return so she’s been hanging out at her office every day and going home to sleep at night because of the curfew) has promised to call or text as soon as it does…but that will NOT stop me, you know. I am resisting the urge to go do it right this very minute, in fact–which is ridiculous, of course because I already checked before I started writing this.

Yesterday was a lost day, really. Despite being rested, my body was still messed up from the five days; not eating much and not sleeping will take a toll on you, and yesterday was one of those low energy/don’t feel like doing much days–something I’ve not really experienced in a long time, but not surprising, really. We spent most of the day in the room–there’s not much to do here–watching the US Open, scrolling through social media and so forth, and trying to get caught up on my emails. I think I have it mostly under control for now; I am probably not going to mess with email anymore until we get home and I can sit at my desk with my big screen desktop and go to town on it. Still not sure what’s going on with the day job; that’s all up in the air, but in emailing back and forth with my department head yesterday I began thinking of all the things that will need to be done around the office, despite everything, and so I should be able to get work done this week once the Lost Apartment has power again.

Scooter has finally adapted to this motel room and is acting like himself–demanding attention and hugs and back rubs, which is a relief. I was getting a bit worried about him, to be honest; but it just takes him a minute to adjust, I guess. It took me a day to get used to sleeping in this bed, after all, so why wouldn’t it take him a hot minute to get used to being someplace he had never been before, knew nothing about, and was filled with different and new smells and sounds? But he’s a sweet boy, curled up with Paul while they both sleep at the moment. I am making a list of things to pick up to take back home with us from the grocery store here–there’s no telling what the situation will be with the grocery stores in New Orleans, or when they will be restocked; I mean, if getting gas is an issue in Louisiana trucks are going to have problems getting in, aren’t they? I am definitely getting a cooler and some perishables to pack into it with ice, just to be on the safe side. It would completely suck to not have food–but then again, with power, I can cook the stuff in the cabinets, which could get us by for a while; although I am sure we’ll get sick of pasta pretty quickly.

And while I wait for the games to start today, maybe I’ll do some writing. Buried deep in my emails were all sorts of things I should have been able to answer leisurely and put some thought into earlier in the week; yesterday I had to scramble and my brain was already fried from everything, so the recipients of those emails will probably think what the hell? But I did explain the situation and hopefully they’ll understand and not think I am both unresponsive and insane.

And of course it’s Labor Day weekend, which I keep forgetting about. Ordinarily this would be Southern Decadence, which was theoretically canceled, I think, even before Hurricane Ida? (I still cannot believe we stayed and rode out a Category 4 storm; what the hell were we thinking? Well, yes, we didn’t really have much of a choice, but my God. That was definitely not something on my bucket list–and I doubt anything we will ever do again, given a choice. Then again, given a choice, we wouldn’t have stayed this last time, either.)

I think I am probably going to try transcribing that short story I started writing in my journal last weekend, “Parlor Tricks,” which I think could actually wind up being a pretty decent story–even if I don’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to end (which often happens with story ideas I have, but sometimes I can write my way through it)–while waiting for the games to start today; it’s definitely a way to pass the time. I may even (ha, as if) try writing some on Chlorine today–yeah, right, who am I fooling? But I will certainly read some more of Velvet Was the Night, which is very interesting; Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a very interesting writer–and prolific–and I am delighted to see her career taking off the way it is.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hopefully tomorrow’s entry will begin with me announcing we are heading home!

No One Else on Earth

Wednesday!

So, I guess Tropical Storm Fred is out there, taking aim at the Gulf Coast again…the Cone of Uncertainty looks good for us at the moment, but there’s also no telling if it will shift or what a hurricane/tropical system will do or where it will go; which is quite naturally a bit anxiety-inducing. Nothing to do but keep a wary eye peeled for the action in the Gulf, along with the guilt-inducing hopes it will go somewhere else–which always makes me feel like a shitty person, frankly–but is anyone so selfless they’d think hope it comes here and spares everyone else?

I rather doubt it. In fact, I’d be highly suspicious of said person’s mental stability, in all honesty. Who wishes disaster on themselves?

Although I would imagine, as with anything, there are some.

However, checking just now for this morning’s updates, it’s looking quite unpleasant for Florida now–the threat to us is diminished a bit from yesterday, but still is there.

I also will have some news eventually; sorry to be vague, but I tend to not like to think about or talk about things until they are for certain–been burnt too many times–but I am kind of excited and thrilled and it’s always lovely when a new challenge comes along and presents itself to me. (The thrill of a new challenge, incidentally, inevitably wears off when I am in the weeds working on the challenge) I also got invited to do an author’s event, which is kind of fun and exciting (I was thinking about going anyway, because friends are guests of honor) but until said invitation is confirmed, I probably shouldn’t come right out and say anything about it, either. VAGUE VAGUE VAGUE.

Paul has been watching videos–while he can’t sleep (it’s different for him than me; I just don’t fall completely asleep. He has trouble falling asleep but eventually does–it just takes him a very long time to do so)–about how to improve your ability to sleep well AND to fall asleep. Before I went to bed last night he was telling me about these videos and the various techniques they recommend. “Apparently, the optimal temperature for sleep–both falling asleep and staying asleep–is sixty eight degrees,” he said as I got under the covers.

“So,” I replied, trying and failing not to sound smug, “all these years I’ve been saying we need to turn the thermostat down to sixty-eight at night for sleep, there’s actually science saying I was right about that?” (I had noticed that I slept better when it’s sixty-eight degrees in the bedroom–years and years ago, to obvious resistance.)

This is, of course, the long way of saying that he turned the thermostat down to sixty-eight and it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time–to the point where I didn’t want to get out of the bed this morning (I never do, but it was a literal struggle this morning). So, clearly there’s something to it. I can’t wait till Friday when I can sleep as late as I want to–it’s going to be my day to do nothing without guilt this week–and feel amazing when I get up.

I worked on “The Sound of Snow Falling” last evening; the opening really needed some work (mainly because I didn’t know what direction the story was going to go when I started writing it, other than the main character was going to kill the other character–but I needed what Daphne du Maurier called “the breaking point” to be better set up, and the flood of resentments and grudges and anger that follows in the wake of that breaking point. The opening was fine, it just no longer fit the rest of the story–although, with my complete and utter lack of confidence in my writing, especially of short stories–I can’t help but wonder if I am wreaking havoc with the story with these revisions. You’d think after all this time in this business–writing everything you can imagine, really–I’d eventually gather some confidence in what I am doing; you’d be wrong to think that, of course. Don’t get me wrong–I do have some confidence in my ability to write stories; I couldn’t do this if I didn’t. But the primary issue is that every new story, every new book, every thing I start writing–begins with excitement and confidence, only to die off eventually as I am plagued with doubt and my confidence wanes and yes, I begin to wonder if I’ve lost my ability to write anything half-way decent, let alone readable.

Sigh. It never ends. I’ll go to my grave thinking I could have written this better….

But I am looking forward to this weekend, frankly. I’m really looking forward to a day where I literally have nothing to do but lounge around the house, reading and being a slacker and doing things for myself and myself only. It should be lovely–although yes, I am quite aware that I will inevitably clean or wind up doing some things around the house; I am not the type to just spend an entire day doing nothing.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines–have a most lovely and edifying Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Killing Me Softly with His Song

Strumming my pain with his fingers…

Much as I love this song, I’ve always found it a bit odd. I mean, that opening line alone! And I have to admit, when I was twelve and I first heard this song on the radio–it was played a lot–it took me a long time before I realized the sentence wasn’t strumming my thing with his fingers…which is an entirely different meaning.

My week of deep and restful sleep continued last night. It’s odd, but I think adding Breathe-right strips to my nightly routine–those things that you put on the bridge of your nose and they help you breathe better–this week might have made the difference. Between breaking my nose as a teenager and having it never re-heal properly (the cartilage is detached from the bone; I can literally flatten my nose by pushing on it), years of drug abuse in my twenties, and the sinus issues I’ve had since moving towards New Orleans, breathing during my sleep has become more of an issue, and since the nose strips seem to help me sleep better, it makes me tend to think that is the real answer to my sleep issues.

Whatever may be the case, it’s lovely to have slept well every night this week. I cannot recall the last time I had an entire week of sleeping well. We’ll see what, if any, difference it makes in my life and my productivity–and never fear, Constant Reader, I will keep you posted as things develop.

I have a three day weekend this weekend, which is why I am not already at the office and instead am at my desk, swilling coffee and getting the laundry (it’s Bed Linen Friday) accomplished. I had thought about running errands today–I need to go to Costco, get the mail, and do some grocery shopping–and while it’s somewhat easier to do those things on Friday while most people are at work, I am thinking today might just be a good day to stay inside, clean, edit, write, organize, and etc–and I can run the errands tomorrow, when I am fully recovered from a week of work.

I got off early yesterday, as I do on every Thursday (except this coming one; it’s National HIV Testing Day; know your status, New Orleanians!) and stopped at the grocery store on my way home from the office, and did some straightening and cleaning up around here before venturing out to the neutral ground to catch the streetcar, so I could meet an author in from out of town for work at the Aloft Hotel on Baronne Street, Alexia Gordon (you can check out her books here, they sound interesting! Can’t wait to dive in myself), and a good time was had by me–although I’m not sure about whether she had a good time or not; as is my wont, I babbled nervously almost non-stop, barely giving her a chance to get a word in edgewise–which is why I have so few friends…well, one reason at any rate) but it was lovely. I love taking the streetcar, and I had some serious streetcar luck; the streetcar downtown was almost completely empty–just me and one other rider, and then the one uptown’s money machine was broken so the ride was free! It was also, once the sun went down, a lovely warm night with a delightfully cool breeze, and walking the two blocks home from the streetcar stop was lovely as a result. There was also a drunken white woman in cut-off jeans standing in the street as I turned the corner to my block. She looked terribly confused and was weaving a bit, her cell phone in hand, and as I drew nearer she said, “My car was towed and I don’t know who to call.”

“You should ask them at the bar,”  I said, gesturing back to the corner. “They can probably help you.”

Perhaps not very gallant or gentlemanly, but she was clearly intoxicated. Also, cars are rarely, if ever, towed from our street, and they certainly wouldn’t be after dark. So, my best guess was her car had either been stolen, or in her intoxication she’d forgotten where she’d actually parked it. And when last seen, she was walking back to the bar, so I am sure she was able to get assistance in figuring out where her car was.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that if her car had, indeed, been towed by the city, she wouldn’t be able to get it until today (been there, done that).

Life in New Orleans.

But as I walked home from the streetcar stop, enjoying the warm evening and the cool breeze, I thought what a lovely evening this was, and it is lovely to get out and enjoy my city, albeit briefly, I should get out more and try to be more social–which I think whenever I am social and have enjoyed myself. But then the iron gate closed behind me and I unlocked my door and was safely back inside the Lost Apartment, and my tendency to be a shut-in hermit came rushing back…as I watched The Real Housewives of New York (again, the gold standard for reality television), I began planning my weekend so I can leave the house as little as possible.

Some things, you see, never change.

And so now, it’s back to the spice mines, and getting this apartment under control.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Free Your Mind

Well, I slept deeply and well last night, only waking up twice–and both times I was able to go back into a lovely, lovely deep sleep. I also didn’t wake up until almost nine. I know, right? It’s so lovely to feel rested.

LSU’s game isn’t on until tonight, but there are some terrific games on throughout the day. I suspect I can finish the floors and cleaning the living room around and during some of these games; I can also get some writing done as well, methinks. I am leaning towards editing some short stories rather than working on the book–yes, I know that will put me two days behind where I want to be with it, but I am also stuck. (And no sooner did I type that, did I come up with a way to start Chapter Four in a way that will help advance the plot somewhat. Huzzah!)

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I stopped at the Latter Library on my way home from work to pick up a book I’d requested on-line, Volume 2 of Otto Penzler’s Bibliomysteries. If you aren’t familiar with the “Bibliomysteries,” these are slightly longer than your average short stories, written by today’s top crime writers, and have to focus or be centered around a book or a bookstore. I first became aware of them when I was a judge for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story a few years ago (maybe more than a few; time has become so fluid and untethered for me–particularly when I realize it’s fucking 2018 sometimes), and in fact we picked John Connelly’s Bibliomystery, “‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository,” as that year’s Best Short Story winner. Since then, I’ve read others–Megan Abbott’s “The Little Men,” Laura Lippman’s “The Book Thing,” Denise Mina’s “Every Seven Years”–and been blown away by their absolute brilliance (which reminds me, I really need to get back to the Short Story Project, which has sadly fallen by the wayside); so I am very excited to read this second collection of these singles; the stories are, you see, originally published as singles–you can buy them as ebooks or you can get a print copy.

I love the library, and was extremely pleased with myself, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, for finally getting my library card. I haven’t had one since I left Kansas in 1981; and even in Kansas I hadn’t used mine for years when we moved. Libraries were very important to me, as a kid and as a teen; I don’t know why I stopped using them–other than the fact that I often lost library books, or forgot to return them on time, which meant fines, which meant lectures from my mother about irresponsibility and on and on and on it went–but I remember the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library fondly; the library on 6th Street in Emporia, and the little library in Americus, as well as when the Bolingbrook Library opened. I often spent time in my school libraries as well as a kid. Stupidly, I suspect I stopped using libraries when I started working and had my own money to buy books with; I loved owning books, always coveted other people’s, and for years was also sentimentally attached to books and didn’t want to get rid of my copies of them. I still am, and I still hoard books, always buying more when I haven’t read all the ones on hand, and I was the same with the library; always checking out more than I could possibly read because I also wanted choices about what to read. I’m looking forward to reading–and reporting back–on the stories in this book I haven’t already read–the Abbott and Mina stories are also inside this collection of them. Writing a Bibliomystery is a bucket-list thing for me; but I will also need to become more important of a writer to be asked.

Last night, as I laundered the bed lines and blankets and coverlets, it took longer for the dryer to dry things then planned–it was damp yesterday, and damp always affects the dryer–so I had to stay up a little later than I wanted to, so I started streaming an 1980’s classic thru Prime: Night of the Comet, starring Robert Beltran, Catherine-Mary Stewart, and Kelli Maroney. I saw this movie in the theater when it was released; it’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it also recognized that it wasn’t a great movie and embraced its camp sensibility. The premise of the movie is this: a comet with an enormous orbit through space is going to pass close by Earth again for the first time in sixty-five million years (hello, dinosaur extinction event!), and of course, it turns into this thing, with comet-watching parties and so forth. Our two leading ladies manage to miss the comet by falling asleep inside of steel–Stewart in the cinema where she works in a steel-walled room for storing film; Maroney in a steel shed in the backyard–and the comet turns everyone into either dust or murderously insane zombies, and they have to survive somehow. Fortunately, the women–sisters–have a father in the military who taught them how to protect themselves. Beltran plays a truck driver (who passed the night inside his truck) they encounter, and eventually team up with for survival. I was just far enough into the movie to get to the part where they run into Beltran for the first time–having already realized most of the world is dead–when the blankets were finished. I also remembered some trivia–Stewart’s big break was being the original Kayla on Days of Our Lives (her replacement became one of the most-loved and popular stars of the show), and Maroney started out playing a manipulative spoiled bitch teenager on Ryan’s Hope. Stewart was also the female lead in a favorite scifi movie of mine from that same period, The Last Starfighter. Both kind of faded away which I always thought was kind of unfortunate–although watching the movie again last night and seeing their performances clearly, it’s really not that surprising.

And Beltran, of course, was part of the Paul Bartel stable, also appearing in Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Interesting that Bartel’s films, which were kind of the same style as John Waters movies, aren’t remembered or talked about much anymore. (Bartel and his usual female muse, Mary Woronov, also were in another classic from the period, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School–but I don’t remember if Bartel directed that one.)

I may finish watching Night of the Comet at some point today; we shall see how the day goes.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Venus

My sleep patterns are so messed up. I woke up this morning (several times) before eight (the first time was at three) before finally getting up around seven thirty. This is the first time I’ve gotten up early on my own without an alarm in weeks, maybe even months. I’ve been sleeping later and later every morning, but lately, if I don’t set an alarm I seem to not wake up until sometime between nine-thirty and ten; which is a lot of sleep. I’m not complaining, mind you–the sleep is restful and good when it comes–but at the same time I hate that I always mentally default to oh, I’ve wasted my entire morning in bed.

Sleep is never a waste; nor is my morning wasted because I didn’t get up until almost ten.

And yet this morning, my Sunday this week, I somehow managed to wake up early. Let’s see how much I can get done this morning, shall we? I’d like to get back to the gym today, try to reestablish that workout pattern I slipped so easily out of a few months back. Those months of regular workouts for naught now; I have to start over again and try to get back into the swing of regular workouts before trying to start pushing myself and trying to burn off the fat and gain some additional muscle. I’ve been very dissatisfied now (for years) with how my body shape has changed; and if I don’t start doing something about it soon it might become more permanent; and above all else, it’s not healthy.

And healthy has to be the primary motivating factor now, not appearance.

I did finish reading Philip Roth’s When She Was Good this past weekend, Constant Reader.

I didn’t love it. It’s one of his early novels, like Letting Go, which I also didn’t care for, and am now wondering if I should actually try to read one of his later novels. I am giving him more chances than I usually give an author, but I also do think it’s kind of unfair to judge an author solely based on early works. When She Was Good is about small-town morality and small-town mentality; set in some ambiguous Midwestern state in the small town of Liberty Center (just across the river from the bigger city of Winnisaw), it focuses on the tragedy of young Lucy Nelson, whose life and world views are shaped by being the daughter of an alcoholic failure. The end result is she sets impossibly high standards of success vs. failure, of morality vs. immorality, and she makes people miserable. Her big failure is getting pregnant while in college (which she takes no responsibility for her part in) and proceeds to make her husband miserable. The whole book is about responsibility; and it’s not a terribly exciting read. Lucy is awful but so is her husband and his family; if anything, the book serves as a commentary on the phoniness of small town values, like Peyton Place; the primary difference between the two being Roth’s novel is smaller in scope while Metalious’ has a plot and characters you care about and you want to know what happens to them.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Heaven

So, I survived my voyage out to Metairie. I like the new eye doctor–Dr. Moses at Target–and I am trying out progressive contact lenses. I never really got the sense from my previous eye doctor of how they worked–basically, it sounded like witchcraft–but Dr, Moses very patiently explained how they work in a way which was incredibly easy for me to understand–and it wasn’t that hard. Basically, the pupil expands to see far away and contracts to see up close; so the progressive contact lenses are for distance viewing with a small spot in the center for reading; the pupil will contract and see through that small spot for reading, etc. Was that really that hard to explain? But they are…odd. I have a tester pair, for me to try out and get used to; and they are definitely going to take some getting used to. I can see fine for working on the computer and pretty much everything else, but reading things on say, the television–I can read it but it’s blurry. I’m assuming this is part of the adjustment process; or if it’s not, I need to have the prescription altered. I also tried reading with them in–a couple of books–and I couldn’t. I doubt that is part of the adjustment process. Heavy sigh. But I’ll have to go back in  have my eyes looked at again, I suppose, if these issues aren’t part of the “getting used to them” process.

I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep as well as I should have on Friday night, so I really knocked myself out last night and feel very rested this morning, which is great. I think part of the sleep issue I’ve been having has to do with both not working out in a couple of weeks in addition to drinking more caffeine–I’d cut back dramatically on both coffee and Coke–and so today I am off to the gym and I am going to try to not drink as much caffeine. I need to drink more water anyway.

I didn’t get as much writing done yesterday as I had wanted to; I hadn’t originally planned to even try–errands and so forth generally don’t put me in a very good hey let me write place; and I was right. Plus the contacts made it seem weird, if that makes any sense? I’m sure it doesn’t. So I tried to get chores done–I laundered the bed linens, cleaned the kitchen, etc. I also got caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Riverdale; when Paul finally got home last night we got caught up on How to Get Away With Murder. I also did some serious thinking about the things I am working on–a recently rejected short story, for example, that I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to fix for years and it finally hit me last night; the Scotty book and where it’s going; the WIP and where it’s going; a couple of other short stories I am working on (Christ, I am working on a lot of shit, aren’t I).

So, this morning, after sleeping in for a bit, I am going to get some filing done, do some writing in my journal (to work around some thought about what I am writing now) and then I am going to go to the gym, come home and get cleaned up, and then I am going to write/edit for a few hours before it’s time for the ice dancing tonight on the Olympics (I already miss Adam Rippon).

And of course, I read some more stories for the Short Story Project.

First up was “Black-eyed Susan” by Laura Lippman, from Hardly Knew Her:

The Melville family had Preakness coming and going, as Dontay’s Granny M liked to say. From their rowhouse south of Pimlico, the loose assemblage of three generations–sometimes as many as twenty people in the three-bedroom house, never fewer than eight–squeezed every coin they could from the third Saturday in May, and they were always looking for new ways. Revenue streams, as Dontay had learned to call them in Pimlico Middle’s stock-picking club. Last year, for example, the Melvilles tried a barbecue stand, selling racegoers hamburgers and hot dogs, but the city health people had shut them down before noon. So they were going to try bottle water this year, maybe some sodas, although sly-like, because they could bust you for not paying sales tax, too. They had considered salted nuts, but that was more of a Camden Yards thing. People going to the track didn’t seem to want nuts as much, not even pistachios. Candy melted no matter how cool the day, and it was hard to be competitive on chips unless you went off-brand, and Baltimore was an Utz city.

Parking was the big moneymaker, anyway.

Every fall, Paul and I try to attend as many LSU games as we can at Tiger Stadium. It’s so much, frankly, to be in the stadium and being in a crowd of like-minded LSU fans, yelling and screaming and jumping up and down. The first two years we went to games we parked in an African-American church’s parking lot–they were so nice, and would give us cans of soda as well as letting us park there–because it was very easy to get out of there with post-game traffic. The church sold its property, alas–no idea why, but then we needed another place to park. About a block or two closer to the stadium we found a place–Miss Fay’s. Miss Fay is an older woman of color who owns a vacant corner lot next to her house and can fit about twenty cars in there for twenty dollars each; not a bad haul for a Saturday. She’s very friendly and nice, as are the rest of her family, and so we’ve been parking there for about seven years now–and they also keep watch over the cars. The walk is a little less than a mile to the stadium from there, and even on the hottest days (that Auburn game in 2015, Jesus!) it kind of gets you in the mood for the game to walk there, and after the game–we always stay to the end–the walk back allows the traffic to thin out a bit so it’s not so bad. I’ve always wondered about Miss Fay and her family; as well as the other families renting out parking spaces in the yards we walk past on our way to the stadium.

That’s what this Lippman story is about; it’s from the point of view of a teenager whose family rents out spots in their yard for parking during the Preakness, and the myriad other ways they try to think of to make bank from the race-goers. The young man works as basically what we called at the airport a skycap; helping people lug their full coolers and so forth to the track. On this particular day he helps a really pretty woman who looks like a black-eyed Susan; and the next day he also works to  help clean up the mess at the track. Her coolers are still there, and therein lies a tale. This story is filled with social commentary and it’s done in an incredibly easy way; it’s about the reality of being lower income and scrambling to find ways to make money; and of course, it takes a turn that has nothing to do with the young man who was only peripherally involved. I was worried he might get pulled into the investigation, but I was very pleased with how Lippman handled the story, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

I also read Lippman’s “Ropa Vieja”, from the same collection.

The best Cuban restaurant in Baltimore is in Greektown. It has not occurred to the city’s natives to ponder this, and if an out-of-towner dares to inquire, a shrug is the politest possible reply he or she can expect.

On the fourth day of August, one such native, Tess Monaghan, was a block away from this particular restaurant when she felt that first bead of sweat, the one she thought of as the scout, snaking a path between her breasts and past her sternum. Soon, others would follow, until her T-shirt was speckled with perspiration and the hair at her nape started to frizz. She wasn’t looking forward to this interview, but she was hoping it would last long enough for her Toyota’s air conditioner to get its charge back.

Lippman created the character of Tess Monaghan, an accidental private eye who works the mean streets of Baltimore, in her first novel, Baltimore Blues, and continued writing about her for years before branching out into her brilliant stand alones. The Tess novels are amongst my favorites in private eye fiction, and Lippman began winning awards and making short lists left and right from the very beginning. “Ropa Vieja” is a Tess story; and a good one. It’s been several years since the last Tess novel, Hush Hush, and despite that I slipped easily right back into the rhythm of her voice and her world without issue; it was remarkably easy, like putting on a comfortable old baseball glove or a pair of slippers. This is an interestingly twisted little tale, about a pitcher for the Orioles who got sick on the mound in a late season game; and it had to do with the traditional pre-meal dish of ropa vieja he’d eaten from the afore-mentioned restaurant. The owner hires Tess to somehow prove that it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault–and boy, does this story take some serious turns on its way to its ultimate denouement.

As I’ve mentioned before, Lippman is an extraordinary writer–she’s one of my favorites–and her effortlessly brilliant short stories always are surprising, clever, and smart. I am starting to get a better idea of just how one writes a private eye short story from reading hers; there may actually be a Chanse MacLeod short story brewing in my head–or at least, one featuring his partner that has to do with the recent shutdowns/raids of strip clubs in the Quarter. It would certainly be an interesting experiment to try.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Have a great Sunday, Constant Reader!

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Don’t Let It End

I rested well last night; I am not tired this morning. Yesterday was physical exhaustion, complete and total with mental exhaustion thrown in for good measure; but I rested well. I won’t say I slept well, because I can remember being aware a lot while I was in bed, but this morning my muscles aren’t fatigued and my mind is alert and sharp, which it wasn’t yesterday.

I started reading Linda Joffe Hull’s Eternally 21 yesterday, and got about halfway through. It’s quite charming; the voice of the main character–Maddie–is delightful, and Hull manages to pull off the how does a wife and mother get involved in a murder investigation with aplomb. I don’t know how to describe or categorize the book as far as the crime fiction category goes; whether this would be considered a cozy or a traditional mystery. Maddie is enormously likable; the set-up for the book/series is that she and her husband Frank have had an enormous financial setback; he’s a television financial broadcaster, and he was defrauded, and lost all their money, in a Ponzi scheme. Obviously, if that news got out he’d probably lose his job–who would listen to a financial advisor who lost all his own money–so they are trying to keep up appearances. She’s started a website/blog about how to save money shopping, couponing and so forth, under the name “Mrs. Frugalicious”, which is starting to take off–she also has to keep that a secret because, again, why did the financial advisor’s wife have to start saving money and being more frugal when she used to be extravagant? As the story continues, you start to realize that Maddie is the glue that really holds the family together; Frank would undoubtedly be much worse off without her as his wife; and the cool competence and efficiency she’s developed to run her household also translate to being a successful Coupon Queen; and the skills she’s sharpened saving money actually come in handy for solving a crime.  It’s very charming, and it’s also quite funny; Hull’s got a slightly twisted sense of humor that really works in the book.

I have to work today and tomorrow; tomorrow is the NO/AIDS Walk, which means getting up ridiculously early. But I have Monday off, which is lovely, and my house is an absolute disaster area. I simply haven’t had the energy this week to try to keep up with it; I am going to try to get it into some semblance of order this morning before I head down to the office. Sigh. I also want to get some writing done this weekend; I want to spend Monday rereading and making notes on the now line-edited WIP.

Okay, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Saturday hunk, Tom Hiddleston.

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Solitaire

Sleep has eluded me all week; I lie in bed all night half-awake and half-asleep, hoping that my mind will stop racing and I will somehow, as I toss and turn, find a position in my bed that will allow me to, at last, find sleep. I grow tired every evening before bed–and have stayed away from screens, since I’ve read in many places that sleeplessness can be caused by the light emitted by computer and device screens–but it is all for naught. I’m not sure what has caused this change, and I am afraid I will never sleep deeply again.

Last night I had to do bar testing, and when I got home I finished reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood.

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There are twelve slats of wood under my bed. I know this because I count them over and over. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. I whisper the numbers to myself and the sound of it comforts me as I’m sure a prayer would comfort someone who believes in God. It’s amazing how loud a whisper can be. Surrounded down there by the white glow of my bed skirt, the sound of my own voice in my ears, I can almost block out the screaming, the horrible keening. And then there’s the silence, which is so much worse.

In the quiet, which falls like a sudden night, I can hear the beating of my own heart, feel it thudding in my chest. I lie very still, willing myself to sink into the pile of the carpet lower and lower until I don’t exist at all, There is movement downstairs. I hear the sound of something heavy scraping across the dining room floor. What is he doing?

I have come to this place before. Here, I have hidden from the frequent and terrible storms of my parents’ miserable marriage. And I have listened as their voices break through the thick walls and the heavy, closed doors. But usually I can only hear the ugly cadence of their voices, and very rarely their words, which I know to be hateful and spiked with old hurts and bitter resentments. It is a poison in the air, a toxic cloud. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart.

Over the last year, I’ve become an enormous fan of Lisa Unger. This is the third book of hers that I’ve read since the first of the year, and like the two before it, it’s absolutely stunning. The cadence of the words, the way the story is structured to build, and the words themselves, chosen with infinite care, create a thing of beauty about a terrifying darkness.

The book is set in The Hollows, a small town in upstate New York which Unger has visited before; the two previous works of hers that I’ve read were also set in this strange town where bizarre things happen; where it is not unusual for ghosts to appear, and madness is only a short step away. The Hollows is Unger’s Castle Rock, her Collinsport, her Bon Temps; a town where violent death and passionate love are possible; where the veil between the world of the living and the dead is as thin as the wall between sanity and madness.

In the Blood is the tale of Lana Granger, a damaged young college student who has come to The Hollows to attend Sacred Heart College and completely disappear from a horrific past that is slowly revealed to the reader; each revelation even more horrific than the last. Lana is heavily medicated, “flat”, as she calls it; Unger exploration of that state of mind, a drug-induced emotionless existence, seems not only realistic but tragic and sad at the same time. Lana is convinced by her faculty advisor to take a job as babysitter/nanny for a troubled twelve year old named Luke, who lives with his mother in a big Victorian house a short bike ride from the campus. Two years earlier, a young female student disappeared from the campus and was found dead a few days later; one of Lana’s roommates, Beck, with whom she has a challenging relationship, disappears after a public argument with Lana in the library.  Luke isn’t just troubled, he’s dangerous, and the two begin a dangerous dance, as he dangles bait in front of her to lure her into his games.

As Lana’s story unfolds, every other chapter is a diary excerpt; the diary of a woman trying to maintain her own sanity as she realizes, almost from birth, that there’s something wrong, something horrifically off, about her son. Is Luke’s mother’s diary, with Unger showing the reader the horror of what being a mother to a budding psychopath must be like? Or is it something else?

And there is history here as well; murder tangled up in the DNA Lana has gotten from both of her parents. And as the reader learns more and more of Lana’s secrets, the more terrifying the story becomes.

Much has been made lately of the use of the Unreliable Narrator; Unger’s main characters are always unreliable, but she manages to not make it a cliche, nor does she seem to do it in order to pull off unforeseen, out-of-the-blue plot twists on her readers; she manages to do this in a wholly organic way that completely makes sense. She is a master; her books are stunning works of art, as complexly constructed as a human personality, with all of its quirks and tics.

I was troubled by one particular plot twist; but I cannot write about that without undermining the pleasure of reading the book; pulling that thread will unravel the entire story and ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, which is a pity; it’s something that I feel should be discussed, and I also see not only why it was a necessary turn for the story–it completely made sense and pulled everything together–but at the same time it made me a bit uncomfortable.

Read this book. Read Lisa Unger. And cherish the experience.