Vampires

And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.

I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.

Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.

It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.

I really miss doing my job every day.

And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.

Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.

We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.

So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.

Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.

I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Sexy Northerner

So, who had “this revision won’t be as easy as Greg thought it would be” on their Gregalicious trials-and-travails bingo card?

Well, congratulations, you were correct. This reminds me of the time when I thought, oh I’ll just turn this Scotty manuscript into a Chanse, it’ll be easy and no, it really wasn’t. It was actually a nightmare, but eventually, after much anguish, stress, and aggravation, I did get it done and I was pretty pleased with the final outcome. I got up early yesterday morning and wrote an entirely new first chapter of Bury Me in Shadows, and one that was much better than any of the original attempts, so there’s that. Chapter Two was more of a slog, since I was trying to save more material so I wouldn’t have to write new material, but it’s going to need some going over again to make sure the transition from the old original story to the new is seamless. On the plus side–there’s always a plus side, even if I have to really dig deep down for it–the new material I am writing is good, and I like this iteration of the character much better than I did in the previous drafts; and his backstory is much better than it was originally. I also love the new opening. And making these changes actually eliminates a big hole in the story–something I could never really quite figure out–it was one of those things that had to happen for the story to happen, but it only made sense in THAT context, and that was driving me completely insane.

You can’t do that. It’s called “contrivance,” and there’s nothing that makes me more irritated or annoyed with a writer (or a movie or a TV show) where something happens only because it’s necessary for the story and only makes sense in that particular context. (I mean, obviously you can, and plenty of writers do, but it’s fucking lazy, and you shouldn’t, and if you do, and your editor doesn’t stop you…yeah, well.)

I also spent some time with Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, which I am really enjoying. I just wish I had more time to read, you know? I am so fucking far behind on my reading.

We also started watching HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which is very well done and very creepy. One of the things that terrifies me–which therefore also interests and fascinates me–is the concept of not being safe in your own home; that we all have this incredible illusion of security and safety in our homes–and neighborhoods, for that matter–and so we often are caught off-guard or by surprise by violence, or, as the theorists would say, the introduction of a Dionysian element into our safe, secure worlds. “The Carriage House” is that kind of story; so is “Neighborhood Alert” to a degree, as is the one I just sold, “Night Follows Night,” which is about not being safe in a supermarket because that was something I thought was interesting; you never think you aren’t safe in a bright public place full of employees and other shoppers until you actually aren’t. This is something Stephen King does very well; the introduction of something Dionysian into an ordinary, sedate, everyday kind of environment, and how normal everyday people react in those kinds of situations; some rise to the challenge, others do not.

Anyway, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is just that–a true crime documentary based on the book by the late Michelle McNamara about her investigation into the Golden State Killer, and how that all came about. When you listen to the stories of the victims, and remember what it was like in in the 1970’s for women who were raped (not that things have gotten much better since then, but at least as bad as it is now it’s not as bad as it was then–not a laurel we as a society should be resting on any time soon, frankly), but how the rapes and murders happened in these quiet middle class suburban type enclaves where no one ever expected anything bad to ever happen (I’ve always wanted to write a book based on a murder that happened in the suburb of Chicago I lived in during my early teens; the killer and one of the accomplices were students at my high school; I knew the accomplice’s two younger sisters quite well); and I also lived in Fresno during the later part of the Golden State Killer’s run–but he had moved on to Southern California by then. I was stuck by the old footage of these neighborhoods in Sacramento, and how like our neighborhood in Fresno (Clovis, actually; a suburb of Fresno) and how closed off the houses were from their neighbors and the street–with small front yards and an enormous garage in the very front of the houses, which were in U shapes. My bedroom was the other side of the U from the garage and there were bars on the windows so no one could ever come in. My curtains were always closed so I could never see out onto the street or no one could see in; every once in a while on nights when I couldn’t sleep I would scare myself by thinking if I opened the curtains someone would be there–because it was very easy to get to, even if the bars precluded anyone from getting inside. Sliding glass doors were also very popular in houses back then, if not the most secure thing to have in your house, really.

And naturally, I started writing a short story in my head while I watched, about a bickering couple who come home early from a party because they got into a fight and are still fighting as they pull into their driveway and arguing still as they go into the house where they find their fifteen year old daughter bound and gagged in the living room with the sliding glass door to the backyard and pool area open, the curtains blowing in the night breeze. I don’t know the whole story, or how it ends, or even where it goes from there–which is why I have so many unfinished short stories in my files.

Heavy sigh.

There’s a tornado watch in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes this morning, which probably means rain for most (or part) of the day here as well. It seems kind of gloomy and overcast out there, but brighter than it has been the last three mornings–when it rained a lot–so we’ll see how this day goes.

But it’s Monday, the start of a new week, and here’s hoping that I’ll be able to find time to not only read this week but time to work on the manuscript. Perchance to dream, I suppose.

Have a lovely week, Constant Reader!

Radiophonic

And somehow, another week is finished and here it is, Friday morning again.

This was a good book week–Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; Lot by Bryan Washington (Lammy winner); The Chill by Scott Carson; The Zimmerman Telegram By Barbara Tuchman; The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright; and If It Bleeds by Stephen King all are now in my hot little hands, and while I really didn’t need more books (as I will never finish all the ones I have on hand) I had points that were expiring and the only place they were valid where I had any use for them was the Evil Empire, much as I hate to give them anything–but they also didn’t cost me anything, so there’s that–thank you, credit card points. I’ve been wanting to read the Ng for awhile, and having greatly enjoyed the television adaptation, I am really looking forward to the book. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Lammy winner for Best Novel, Scott Carson is the name Michael Koryta is using now to write horror, and of course, one can never go wrong with Stephen King and Barbara Tuchman. The Steven Wright is a debut, and my friend Laura highly recommended it to me; now I need to finish the Woolrich so I can move on to some of these.

It’s truly unbearable how far behind I am on reading, and there’s nothing worse than being too tired (or exhausted) to read.

Perhaps this weekend, I shall have the time to get everything–oh, who am I trying to fool? I’ll get done this weekend what I have the energy to get done. I need to finish revising my Sherlock story, which I haven’t looked at this week, and of course the Secret Project glares at me from its file folder balefully every time I sit at my desk. I’m hopeful that since I’ve been relatively healthy all week–still drinking the electrolytes and the water every day carefully–that this weekend will be restful enough to give me the ability to power through everything, and head into next week fresh, happy and rested, while feeling powerful from getting everything done. It’s also a short week leading into a three-day weekend, which is even more lovely.

I cannot really decide what to read tonight for Queer Noir at the Bar. I don’t really get the opportunity to read from my work; and while on the one hand it’s lovely to do so, on the other it’s always quite stressful for me; and doing it on-line means that I can literally see myself doing it. I generally prefer not to spend much time looking at myself, and of course, on-line means it’s usually recorded and I loathe the sound of my voice. It’s strange, and I do think that once someone hears me speak the lightbulb goes on and, without me having to explicitly state it, most people tend to know I’m gay. That’s not why I don’t like my voice–I am gay, after all, and why not make it easy for others, after all; personally, I think my voice sounds strange. It’s deep, in a lower register, yet somehow high-pitched at the same time–like it cannot make up its mind which tone it wants to be, which probably doesn’t make sense because I don’t have a strong grasp of vocal terminology and cannot explain it more clearly. I also am always terrified I am going to make a poor showing of it; that people in the (virtual) audience will be clearing their throats, shifting in their seats, taking a drink or doing anything to help make the time pass so this hellish experience will end.

I feel like I slept well last night, and hopefully that rested feeling I am experiencing right now will last throughout the day and through the reading tonight. I also am a bit groggy this morning–I could have stayed in bed easily for another few hours at the very least, but I was also awake and Scooter was hungry and thirsty so I went ahead and got up. It’s weird looking outside again this morning–I guess the Saharan Dust Storm is here; I got an emergency alert about it yesterday, which explains the weird conditions out there and why I feel like I am smelling dust this morning.

Last night we started watching season one of Titans, on DC Universe. I had already watched it about a year or go or whenever it was originally current; Paul hadn’t, and since I didn’t really remember a whole lot about what happened and the story, I figured we needed something to watch and I wanted to watch the second season, so I may as well go ahead and watch it again. I like it; I think it’s very well done, fairly decently acted, and the production values are quite good. It’s also an excellent “origin” story for the Titans team; they were my favorite when I was a kid reading comic books back when they were the Teen Titans, which was kind of a junior version of Justice League only for the sidekicks. Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad were key members–eventually they started adding members who weren’t actually sidekicks for main heroes, and eventually they evolved into simply the Titans. Robin/Nightwing is probably one of my favorite heroes, and the young man they’ve cast to play him in the show is perfect for the part. He’s now ex-Robin on the show, and hasn’t evolved into Nightwing yet; I’m really looking forward to seeing Nightwings’s costume debut. Jason Todd, who replaced Dick Grayson as Robin, is also a character on the show–not a part of the regular cast, but someone who shows up now and again, and he’s just as big a dick on the show as he was in the comics back in the day.

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

Your Cheatin’ Heart

I love Harlan Ellison.

So, as you might remember, I recently read two wonderful Harlan Ellison short stories (to be fair, every Ellison short story is wonderful; his lesser efforts are better than most writer’s best), “On the Downhill Side” and the Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” both included in his collection Deathbird Stories. At one point I had a mass market paperback edition I’d picked up in a bookstore; I literally have no idea where that is–probably lost over the years during a move or something, or it may be on the bookshelves; at this point who knows? But I’ve gathered and collected Ellison collections over the years–recently getting, from eBay, the very same mass market paperback edition of Strange Wine, which was my gateway drug to reading Ellison–and even got the enormous collection The Essential Ellison, which still sits proudly in my bookcase.

The first time I heard of Ellison was when I read Stephen King’s brilliant introduction and evaluation of the horror/speculative fiction genre, Danse Macabre, which reminded me of many great films and books and TV shows I’d loved, and introduced me to still others. Shortly afterward, I was at a friend’s apartment drinking–this was my early twenties–and she had that copy of Strange Wine, and I thought, oh, Harlan Ellison! Stephen King praised him to the skies! I need to read this. I asked if I could borrow it and she gifted me with it (and in all honesty, I thought less of her for not wanting it back, particularly since she raved so much about how good it was), and then I took it home with me that night and the next morning I read the intro and the first story, “Croatoan,” and there was no looking back from that. I devoured the book, learned the term “speculative fiction” (which I much prefer to horror, science fiction, and fantasy; when I worked at Lambda I tried, unsuccessfully, to get that award category title changed to simply Best Speculative Fiction), and also became interested in writing it. This was during the time when I worshipped Stephen King so much that I wanted to become a writer like Stephen King, but wasn’t skilled or trained enough to really write really good speculative fiction–or fiction, really, of any kind. I still write it periodically, and some day when I have the time I’ll work on my short story collection Monsters of New Orleans more (hat tip to Lisa Morton; she suggested I do it years again at World Horror Con in New Orleans); in fact the story I started writing yesterday, “The Pestilence Maiden”, would be for Monsters of New Orleans. I looked for more of Ellison’s works every time I went to a bookstore for about a year after that, to no avail, and eventually Ellison got pushed to the back of my mind.

A few years later, one of the major networks (I want to say CBS) rebooted The Twilight Zone as, I think, maybe a summer replacement series (when that was a thing), and I noticed in the TV Guide one week that one of the two stories in that week’s episode was based on Stephen King’s truly creepy short story “Gramma,” and decided to tune itn. “Gramma’ was the first half hour, and it was totally creepy, just like the story; I stayed turned for the second half, which was called “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and starred Danny Kaye and Tim Reid of WKRP in Cincinnati fame. The story was powerful and beautiful and brilliant, and made me cry. As I watched the credits roll, I saw, to my joy and surprise, that it was based on a Harlan Ellison story and he may have even adapted it into a teleplay. It became a goal of mine to read that story, and so I began haunting used bookstores, looking for Ellison collections. I never, ever regretted reading an Ellison collection, and eventually I did finally find a collection that included “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which remains to this day one of my favorite short stories.

I was reminded of Ellison recently because of a Twitter thread about short stories; I think perhaps Art Taylor may have started it, looking for short stories to teach in one of his classes (it may have been Facebook); and someone mentioned Ellison’s Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” (I, of course, suggested “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which also led to a discussion of The Twilight Zone episode I mentioned earlier, which is actually now on Youtube; you can watch it here. I also didn’t know, until looking up the link, that it was Danny Kaye’s last screen appearance, and he deserved a goddamned Emmy for it; and I’m not even a fan.) I knew I’d recently downloaded, at some point, some Ellison collections to my Kindle app when they were cheap and/or free, so I decided to look to see if I had it. When I opened Deathbird Stories, it was open to “On the Downhill Side,” which turned out to be set in New Orleans; I read it, loved it, and then went to the table of contents, and sure enough, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was in it. (I must have read it before; I am certain I read my paperback copy of Deathbird Stories, but I didn’t remember either story.)

This is how “On the Downhill Side” begins:

I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn. Names Lizette, she was a Grecian temple in which no sacrifice had been made. Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night. My unicorn whinnied, inclined his head, and she stroked the ivory spiral of his horn.

Much of this took place in what is called the Irish Channel, a strip of street in old New Orleans where the lace curtain micks had settled decades before; now the Irish were gone and the Cubans had taken over the Channel. Now the Cubans were sleeping, recovering from the muggy today that held within its hours the deja vu of muggy yesterday, the deja reve of intolerable tomorrow. Now the crippled bricks of side streets off Magazine had given up their nightly ghosts, and one such phantom had some to me, calling my unicorn to her–thus, clearly, a virgin–and I stood waiting.

Had it been Sutton Place, had it been a Manhattan evening, and had we met, she would have kneeled to pet my dog. And I would have waited. Had it been Puerto Vallarta, had it been 20 36′ N, 105 13’W, and had we met, she would have crouched to run her fingertips over the oil-slick hide of my iguana. And I would have waited. Meeting in streets requires ritual. One must wait and not breathe too loud, if one is to enjoy the congress of the nightly ghosts.

She looked across the fine head of my unicorn and smiled at me. Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation. “Is it a bit chilly for you?” I asked.

New Orleanians, of course, as I have noted before, are very protective and pedantic about fiction written about the city by people who don’t live here (always said with capital letters: People Not From Here)–this also stands for lazy journalistic features that always, inevitably, get everything incorrect–and in this beautifully written and incredibly poetic opening, there’s an error: the Irish Channel isn’t a strip of street, it’s an actual neighborhood, running alongside the Garden District from Jackson to Louisiana and from Magazine to the river. (I don’t know about the Cubans–I don’t know of any concentrated Cuban immigration to New Orleans, but I know enough not to question it because there’s so much about this magic place that I do not know, which is why I am reading New Orleans history) But the opening of this story is simply gorgeous, and the imagery Ellison uses is absolutely perfect; I particularly like the sentence Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night–and wish I had written it.

As I read more of the story, it’s spectral beauty began casting a spell on me; Ellison didn’t try to write about New Orleans like a native or a local; his ghostly spirit with the unicorn, trapped like Lizette in the realm between worlds because of unfinished business, is also new to New Orleans, and sees it as a tourist would; and I realized how wise he was to make this storytelling choice; it makes errors not only acceptable but forgivable (I really can turn into a hellish banshee on this topic) and he also wrote some beautifully evocative lines about the city that I wish I had written:

I despise Bourbon Street. The strip joints, with the pasties over nipples, the smell of need, the dwarfed souls of men attuned only to flesh. The noise.

The Saint Louis Cemetery is ancient. It sighs with shadows and the comfortable bones and their afterimages of deaths that became great merely because those who died went to be interred in Saint Louis Cemetery. The water table lies just eighteen inches below New Orleans–there are no graves in the earth for that reason. Bodies are entombed aboveground in crypts, sepulchers, vaults, mausoleums. The gravestones are all different, no two alike, each one a testament to the stonecutter’s art. Only secondarily testaments to those who like beneath the markers.

It really is a gorgeous story, almost dream-like in its telling, and I absolutely loved it. I then moved on to the Edgar-winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”:

On the night after the day she had stained the louvered window shutters of her new apartment on East 52nd Street, Beth saw a woman slowly and hideously knifed to death in the courtyard of her building. She was one of twenty-six witnesses to the ghoulish scene, and, like them, she did nothing to stop it.

She saw it all, every moment of it, without break and with no impediment to her view. Quite madly, the thought crossed her mind as she watched in horrified fascination, that she had the sort of marvelous line of observation Napoleon had sought when he caused to have constructed at the Comedie-Francaise theaters, a curtained box at the reat, so he could watch the audience as well as the stage. The night was clear, the moon was full, she had just turned off the 11:30 movie on Channel 2 after the second commercial break, realizing she had already seen Robert Taylor in Westward the Women, and had disliked it the first time; and the apartment was quite dark.

The murder of Kitty Genovese, based on my limited knowledge of Harlan Ellison and his work, seemed to weigh pretty heavily on his mind; he wrote this story, clearly influenced by the Genovese murder and the stories that arose around it; I also distinctly remember reading an essay he’d written in which he talked about it–I believe it may have been the introduction to Alone Against Tomorrow, or in one of the mini-essays he wrote about each story collected within its covers; I cannot remember which. But I remember how clearly appalled and horrified he was, not just by the murder, but the way the witnesses did nothing, tried nothing, said nothing, to either stop the murder or to help the hapless victim. As his spirits in “On the Downhill Side” are waiting for their green light to ascend to the spirit plane from this mortal realm, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” delves, not into the inhumanity involved in every aspect of the Kitty Genovese murder, but what created that very inhumanity, as Beth, new to New York, begins to see the dark, malevolent spirit that drives New York and sometimes, occasionally, demands blood sacrifice; and as she begins to harden her own shell in order to survive. It’s an extraordinary story, well worthy of the Edgar; although I am surprised it was so honored, as it blurs the boundaries between different genres–and back in the day, Edgar judges tended to be very strict about what was and wasn’t a crime story.

And yes, I will be delving back into Ellison’s short fiction–as a crossover between The Short Story Project and The ReRead Project.

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I Walk the Line

It’s Thursday. Finally. I swear to God, this has been one of the longest and most bizarre weeks of my life thus far–and I’ve lived through some very strange and bizarre times. This reality, surreal for so long, is finally beginning to sink in somewhat, at least for me. I am someone who is completely dependent on structure and routine to achieve stability, which is required for me to function at a level sometimes (oft times) much higher than my natural tendency toward stasis, laziness, and a remarkable inability to finish things. I can’t be that person, and this sudden alteration of my reality was so quick I didn’t really have time to adjust to it. As such, my wiring has been completely off and my functionality dramatically slowed. But the shock is beginning to wear off, I’m adjusting if not adapting, and I might be able to start finding the order amidst the chaos again.

At least for as long as this new reality holds, at any rate.

It’s absolutely horrible to feel overwhelmed, and I sense that a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed right now. It’s a lot of change, all at once, and with very little warning. For some, the rug was literally pulled out from underneath them in  matter of hours. It’s terrifying to go from I wonder what I’ll do this weekend to oh my god how am I going to pay my rent in a matter of moments. I’ve certainly been feeling overwhelmed for quite some time now, with no end in sight. But if I learned anything from the Time of Troubles, there’s no sense in worrying or being concerned or making one’s self sick from stressing about things over which you have literally no control.

The best way to get through these things–which seem like they may never end–is to focus on micro rather than macro; the big picture is too overwhelming for our minds to grasp, grapple with and process. That’s the sure path to despair and depression–and the D twins don’t need much help gaining purchase in my brain. Your mileage might vary, but I think it’s terribly important to stay focused and stay positive, no matter how bad things are or how much worse they can get.

At some point this afternoon I am going to go for a walk, probably over to Magazine Street, just to get out into the fresh air and the sunshine. It’s overcast here today, but it’s been in the seventies and eighties all  week, so I can’t imagine that it’s not a simply gorgeous day out there. I need to not be inside all the time–tomorrow I am actually working a five hour shift at the office, primarily so I can get out of the house–the change of scenery is going to be crucial for the moment. I don’t know how long, obviously, we’re going to be on lock-down; it could go on for months, quite frankly, and adaptability, as I learned after Katrina, is going to be terribly important as a survival technique.

We picked up Dare Me again last night, on Episode 3, and I am amazed at how amazingly well done this show is; it’s very cinematic, the acting is pinpoint sharp, and this is a feminine point of view we’ve never seen much of before. Just as a visual, it’s a stunning show. I’d like to read the book again at some point–I’ve not read anything in a couple of weeks and I need to get back into reading again; it’s not like I don’t have lots of books on hand for me to sink my teeth and imagination into around here. Maybe I should, as I joked about on Facebook last week, reread The Stand. It has been awhile, and it’s always been one of my favorite King novels. A reread won’t require as much focus as reading something new…hmmm. And I am doing the Reread Project this year–although that seems like I started it a million years ago, doesn’t it?

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Delta Dawn

What’s that flower you have on?

I’ve always thought the song “Delta Dawn” was kind of Faulknerian in its story-telling; I’ve always felt a little bad for the poor, slightly demented woman wandering around her small Southern town waiting for her lover to come back. Because make no mistake–she was definitely from a small Southern town. Up north, they wouldn’t let her wander around the way they would down South. As Julia Sugarbaker said once on Designing Woman, “we’re proud of our crazy people down here. We put them out on the porch so everyone can see them. We don’t ask if you have crazy people in your family, we ask which side are they on.”

It’s a very strange day this morning in the Lost Apartment. Yesterday the Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints & Sinners were cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak–we are up to 19 cases here in Louisiana now (the majority of them in the New Orleans area and its environs) and it seems as though some people who traveled here for Mardi Gras have tested positive. If it was already here during Carnival…it staggers the imagination on what that means for transmission and infection. The cancellation of the two festivals also felt like my soul and heart were being ripped from my body. Both have been a major part of my life–Saints & Sinners since we founded it all those years ago, and TWFest since that first year Paul and I volunteered back in 1997. For so many years now my life has been built around those two events. It’s going to be weird to not have them.

I often talk about my Imposter Syndrome–just yesterday, in fact–but one of the things I use to combat it is events like the two festivals, Bouchercon, serving on the MWA board, etc. Spending time around other authors, just talking about books and writing and marketing and the struggle and publishing, is always refreshing and invigorating for me. I always, for example, come away from TWF/S&S inspired to do more work and to do better work. I missed Bouchercon last year because of a sinus infection; this year I don’t get my adrenaline shot from TWF/S&S. As I am struggling at the moment with a severe case of Imposter Syndrome (an outbreak?), I was looking forward to that weekend to talk about books and writing and creativity to chase that away. Now I am going to have to somehow manage to muddle through it all on my own.

I am debating on whether I should go to the gym today or not. I have rubber gloves to wear, but it really is a matter of touching my face with the gloves on more than anything else. I absolutely hate to lose the momentum I’ve gained from the working out since I went back to the gym, but I also missed Wednesday because of emotional and physical exhaustion and missing again seems counter-intuitive. On the other hand…

I tend to be fatalistic when it comes to infectious diseases. By all means, take every possible precaution necessary–but having spent most of my twenties and thirties just assuming it was a matter of time before I seroconverted and became HIV positive (it’s still amazing to me that I am not), I kind of am fatalistic about this sort of thing. I think perhaps the most disturbing and frightening thing I learned about pandemics and their spread from The Stand was how basic human nature contributes to it. There was a brilliant scene in the book at one of the CDC centers–the one in Bennington, where Stu Redman was eventually moved to, to be studied as to why he didn’t get the superflu–where one of the nurses sneezes and thinks to herself, oh great, just what I need, a cold and then went about her business….and she was standing by a sign that said REPORT EVERY SIGN, EVEN IF IT’S JUST A COUGH OR A SNEEZE. We all have a natural feeling of invulnerability; a sense that nothing bad will ever happen to us. I don’t know if that’s some kind of defense mechanism or not; I was thinking yesterday that well, all I can do is the best I can to not get infected and I might as well focus on doing some work because the world won’t stop turning. Work has always been a helpful distraction for me; but being creative–difficult under the best of circumstances–isn’t always the easiest during difficult times. I didn’t really write much during the Time of Troubles, but that was when my blog started. I get made fun of sometimes for still having a blog and for still writing it every day, but it’s a comfort to me and when I am not writing, well, at least I am still doing this. Having a blog helped me navigate through the most difficult of times, gave me an outlet for my rage and depression and random musings, and while it’s evolved since then–I don’t talk about politics anymore here, for one thing–it’s still helpful for me to gather my thoughts and at least put sentences and paragraphs together, hopefully in a way that makes some sort of sense to the two or three of you who come here to read my daily meanderings.

And of course, like Katrina, a pandemic affects writers in many ways. Do we keep writing our books and pretend that in our fictional universes this didn’t happen, isn’t happening, won’t happen? There’s something very comforting in going into a fictional world where some of the bad things going on in the world haven’t happened, or aren’t happening. I managed to write all of my books and pretend that the Eternal Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t going on, for example; in my fictional universes that sort of thing doesn’t happen, and it’s nice to go there and forget about all the troubles and care of the world.

I’ve always found escape into fictional worlds a great coping mechanism.

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

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Hello Walls

Well, hello Thursday morning and a beautiful looking morning outside of my windows.

I’m not really sure what to make of what is going on in the world today. One of the reasons I always loved Stephen King’s The Stand so much was because it seemed so brutally realistic; I was amazed at how it played out and thinking wow this is exactly how it would happen, right down to the government lying and covering it up to suppression of the news and people spreading it despite containment policies, procedures and protocols. How on earth did he ever think this up?

Which is one of the biggest parts of why I love Stephen King’s writing. For one, the imagination to think up the stories–and the scale! I don’t know that I could ever create something like The Stand and do that kind of world-building, let alone keep track of all the individual characters and their story arcs, both their individual personal arcs as well as the over-arching arc of the main story. I’ve considered writing post-apocalyptic fiction–I have a really good idea for one, but I can’t make up my mind how to precisely do it, to be honest, and so it has always languished in the back of my mind. I had several different ideas for stories, actually; primarily triggered by the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, and then I realized how I could weave them all into the same story. But…it’s an epic story and a massive undertaking, and I simply don’t have the confidence in my own writing abilities to actually try writing it.

And that’s the bottom line for the vast majority of the ideas and stories I have that would probably make amazing books–I just don’t have the confidence to write them.

Okay, here I am later in the evening, and I am still not sure what to think or how to process everything. Twitter and social media and the news are determined to terrify me; I don’t know what I should be thinking or worrying about or doing. I know I should use this time creatively; I should block everything out and just write and check in on the world later this evening. And yet…

I’m not sure what the deep root of the insecurity I was talking about earlier comes from. I feel confident that I’m good at what I do, but when you send a manuscript to twenty agents and only even bothers to write back to say, “Thank you but no thank you; I’m not taking on more clients at this time” it tends to wear on you. Manuscripts editors passed on were later published. Needless to say, I am very wary of agents, and still am to this day. I know I need one, should have kept trying years ago until I got one, but now…I go back and forth between your career isn’t the greatest but at least you have one, be happy with what you have and an agent will help me get better deals and better sales and my books more attention. This week I got my fifteenth Lambda Literary Award nomination; and I sold a gay-themed short story to a mainstream market (well, I haven’t heard back from them, but it’s been a bit of a week, hasn’t it?) so one would think I write well enough to draw even a little bit of interest from an agent. I’ve been nominated for numerous other, mainstream awards; I’ve even won some of them.

And yet…

AH, well. I think I need to spend some time with Scooter. Til tomorrow.

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Guitars, Cadillacs

And here it is Monday again; a week that began with the loss of an hour, a massive full moon, and ends with Friday the 13th. Nope, no trepidation there whatsoever.

Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite the shortness and loss of an hour. I managed to get my email inbox trimmed down to something reasonable–which is a plus–and I also managed to get some work done not only on the Sherlock story but on the Secret Project, which was simply not working out because I couldn’t name the main character and all the names I came up with simply didn’t work for me. It dawned on me this weekend what her name should be, and I am pleased to say this also opened up the story for me. I also decided it was silly to–oh, can’t say that, never mind; but let’s just say the setting was wrong, too.

Sometimes….I never learn. Again, I was being stubborn and trying to make something work because I wanted it to work, rather than thinking “okay, why isn’t this working? It shouldn’t be this difficult” which is, of course, the key to everything.

We started watching The Outsider on HBO last night, and we are intrigued thus far. I’ve not read the Stephen King novel on which it is based (we also watched 11/22/63 without me reading the book; but I remember so little of the show it won’t affect me when and if I finally do read the book)–which is weird to me; there used to be a time when I would devour the new Stephen King the day it was released. But I also don’t have the kind of free time that I used to have, either, where I could afford to lose myself in a book for a couple of days–which I do miss, really. I did enjoy the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, but I’m also trying to remember the last time (other than those) that I loved a new King book that I tore through it without stopping from beginning to end. I’m also having some doffoculty remembering the last time (outside of the afore-mentioned Charlie Hodges series) I greatly enjoyed a King novel. It’s certainly been a hot minute or two.

I’m not feeling especially great this morning; I have a head cold or something–which of course, has me paranoid with all this talk of coronavirus madness. I am debating–since I work in a public health clinic–whether I should stay home or not. I know staying home is probably the most responsible choice for me, but at the same time it’s just a stuffy nose and the occasional cough or sneeze. I don’t have a lot of sick time accumulated, either–which is another problem with our capitalistic system; people go to work sick because they either don’t have sick pay or they don’t have enough sick pay. But I don’t think I have anything like that–it’s just a head cold, maybe slightly sinus related–and the Dayquil I took this morning already is kicking in.

I did get some writing done this weekend–not much, not nearly enough–but I did get some done, which is, naturally, a step in the right direction. I have to get three stories finished by the end of the month, and I really am going to need to step up my game here. I was thinking–wondering–why I am having so much trouble focusing and writing lately, but can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is. I do need to figure it out, though.

Oh! I also sold a short story yesterday! Isn’t that exciting? I’m not going to say where or which story yet–until the contract is signed I never want to jinx anything–but that was some excellent news that I needed to get after the shitshow last week was.

And on that note, I should get ready for work.

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It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

I cannot say I am not happy to see this past week end; for all intents and purposes, it was much more stressful than any week needs to be and equally disappointing. It was both tiresome and tiring; irritating, really, like an itchy rash that just won’t go away, frankly. By Tuesday night I was so exhausted already it felt like a Friday; and yet there were three more days yet to go and it never really got any better.

Begone, foul week! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I am so far behind on my emails now I may never dig my way out; that’s part of the plan for this weekend, at any rate; to try to get caught up on everything and make some progress. I had some stomach issues yesterday so I wound up staying home rather than heading to the office (the bathrooms aren’t close enough to my desk, and yes, I think you get the picture) so I spent most of the day recalibrating and doing some chores around the house and trying to get caught up on everything. But progress was made; I started getting my electronic files in the cloud better organized (which is quite a chore, I might add; one that is sort of mindless yet time-consuming in the worst way), and did some filing and so forth. There’s still quite a bit more to get done today, of course (isn’t there always?)  but I also want to get some writing done before the month slips away through my fingers. Ideally, I’d like to get a first draft of the Sherlock story finished as well as a revision of the one I’m revising for that anthology; and there’s another one I want to revise to send to the Bouchercon anthology. I’d also like to make some progress on the Secret Project, but that’s also predicated on my getting this short story work taken care of. I cannot believe how many stories I’ve started writing recently; it’s more than a little insane, methinks.

But then again, it seems pretty standard for my life–chaos, disorganization, and more chaos.

One would think I’d be used to it by now.

I also want to finish reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls today, if I can; so i can get started on Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One. I am moderating a panel with her, Elizabeth Little (Pretty as a Picture) and  Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake) at the Tennessee Williams Festival at the end of the month, and it’s always better to be prepared to discuss their latest works. Don’t worry, I’ll also be asking Lippman about My Life as a Villainess, her essay collection coming out later this year.

We watched another episode of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger last night. It’s a fun, twisty show, with a rather complicated narrative; I think it’s actually better than his last one, The Five. I am way behind on my Coben reading–so far behind I may never catch up–but I do enjoy that he writes suspense novels built around family/friend structures. I’m behind on everyone, so don’t feel special, Harlan! I am also way behind on my reading of Michael Koryta, Jeff Abbott, Stephen King, and any number of other white males; prioritizing diverse writers and women (and a year judging the Edgars) will do that to one, I suppose. I really wanted to read The Outsider (Stephen King) before watching the show; perhaps once I finish the Goodman and the Rader-Day I can move on to the King and we can finally watch the show. I’ve become rather an enormous fan of Jason Bateman, and really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

We also lose an hour tonight; the part of Daylight Savings Time that I really hate. But I do like having longer days; I like it still being light when I come home from work, or at least, the light fading into night rather than the velvety darkness of a winter nocturne. It’s a bright, sunny day out there today; I am debating whether I do want to go get the mail–it would be my only adventure out into the world today–and am thinking I might do it. I hate only going once in the week, but on the other hand I’m also not expecting any packages or anything urgent (read: a check) in the mail, either. But it looks like a lovely day outside–and perhaps I can do some scouting after I get the mail. We shall certainly see how I feel.

I think this morning I am going to read some more of the Goodman novel while I have my morning coffee, and then after a few hours of that I’ll decide whether I do, in fact, want to leave the house. (odds are I won’t, quite frankly. I know myself all too well)

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. May your Saturday be bright and happy and full of cheer.

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Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

Well, I don’t know about coming down, but it’s definitely Sunday morning.

Then again, I did have to come downstairs, so I guess that’s somewhat applicable.

I wallowed in bed until nine this morning; I woke up originally at approximately seven AM and chose to stay in bed, it was kind of a lovely thing. The nice thing about football season being over is there’s no longer a need to get up early on the weekends in order to get things done before the games start–I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just stay in bed and relax and stay there until you really feel guilty about staying under the covers for so long. I stayed in bed pretty late yesterday morning–eight or nine, I don’t remember–but it is lovely, even if it throws my sleep schedule off a bit, seeing as how I must rise at six the next two mornings. But c’est la vie, right?

I did get some good work done yesterday on the Secret Project–which is going to be my primary focus this morning before I go to the gym–and I also have emails to answer. I also finished reading Tracy Clark’s terrific debut novel, Broken Places, yesterday, and then spent a good while trying to decide what to read next. As a general rule, I don’t like to read more than one book by a solitary author in a row, particularly when I have three of them to read; I’m interviewing Tracy for Sisters in Crimes’ quarterly newsletter, and so it behooves me to read them all. No worries–I am going to devote an entire entry at some point to Broken Places–probably shortly after I finish this one, to be honest.

I also got the lovely news that the Joni Mitchell anthology i contributed to, edited by Josh Pachter, The Beat of Black Wings, will be out and available in time for Malice Domestic! This anthology is a “crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell,” and the table of contents is a veritable who’s who of crime writers and people I am lucky enough to call friends. My story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” is one I particularly am proud of; I feel like I’ve been doing some terrific work on short stories over the past few years, dating back to the Short Story Project (which reminds me, I have another one I need to get started writing, and soon), and I do hope you’ll get a copy of the anthology. The proceeds are going to a charity; one of which Ms. Mitchell approves, and I believe the anthology is even going to promoted and featured on her website, which is very cool. More to come on that front, of course.

Oh, did I mention I am going to Malice Domestic this year? Yes, that’s correct, Constant Reader, I am going go be at Malice Domestic this coming May; I’ll be taking Amtrak down from Penn Station the morning after the Edgars to Malice Domestic. This is my second Malice, and I am really looking forward to it–particularly seeing friends win Agatha Awards two days after the Edgars. I’ll be flying home the following morning (that Sunday), but it’d going to be an absolutely lovely trip, and one which I hope will once again make me feel once again connected to the writing world.

Krewe de Vieux was last night, but I stayed home; Paul went to watch with friends, but I’m reserving my energy and strength for the St. Charles Avenue parade season, which opens this Friday with three parades. There are four or five more on Saturday, and then another two on Sunday; at least Sunday wraps up early in order for there to be rest and relaxation for the two-day break before the final stretch of six days and seemingly endless parades begins.

I can hardly believe it’s parade season again, but here we are.

I’m thinking, since we’re most likely going to start watching HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider this evening, that perhaps it’s time to crack the spine of the first edition hardcover I own and start reading it; I do like to read the book along with the series adaptation whenever I can–this worked really well with Big Little Lies–but I am also thinking that maybe I should read a cozy next? It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my toe into the cozy waters, and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to read one next? But I simply cannot seem to make up my mind, heavy sigh. Maybe a reread of Where Are The Children  as a memorial to Mary Higgins Clark?

So many books to read, and so very little time.

Well, I suppose I can put off the decision a little longer…and perhaps it is time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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