I Am What I Am

Wednesday morning and I am I ever glad to be getting closer to a holiday weekend, Constant Reader–you have NO idea. The last two days weren’t easy–while not really having insomnia all night, I did for at least half the night both Sunday and Monday nights–and as such wasn’t able to remain centered as much as I would have liked. I did sleep deeply, restfully and well last night–I think making it to the gym was a huge help in that regard–and I certainly feel much better this morning than I have since the break I’ve had to take because of the tooth extraction. Heavy sigh.

I did, however, manage to write just under three thousand words last night on “Never Kiss a Stranger,” more or less (slightly less, I actually think). While it feels good to be writing so much, and doing so much on first drafts, I am very well aware that all of these things I am working on will require editing and revision before they are fit for human consumption, or to be seen by anyone else outside of me. But I am being productive again in the old way–the way I used to be–and it’s a lovely lovely feeling to be able to produce so much work in a few hours again. “Stranger” is going to need more work than “Festival of the Redeemer,” I believe; it’s out of order and I am bunching things together that need to be spread out more across the story, but that’s what edits and revisions are for. I’m also not breaking my novellas up into separate scenes, or chapters, the way so many writers of novellas do; but that’s a decision for me to make later, during the editorial process.

This, by the way, is why I hate editing myself. Inevitably I will come to a problem section and think, fuck, I don’t want to fix this it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass why did I leave this for my later self to deal with, you asshole?

It’s also why, I think, I’ve not been as productive in the last few years as I used to be; I have a tendency to self-edit as I go and try not to spend any time writing something that I am going to have to fix later, which is stupid–don’t get it right get it written. This inevitably leads me to not wanting to do what always works–start writing and eventually, as I keep quoting Mr. King, the hole in the page will open and the next thing I know I’ve written a lot. And as much of a pain in the ass as it can be to have to fix things, it’s easier to fix things than to write something completely new. Although…maybe that isn’t the case? Since all I have to do is focus and start writing?

Heavy sigh. But I want to get this finished because I want to spend the weekend editing.

Tonight when I get off work I am going to put the dishes away and finish the load of laundry I started last night–it’s been sitting in the dryer since I went to bed last night, and so it will need to be fluffed and folded–and then I am going to try to do some straightening up around the Lost Apartment so it won’t be a complete disaster when I get up tomorrow for the first of my work-at-home days (condom packs and data entry! woo-hoo!). I also have to make a Costco list for this weekend, and I want to finish reading Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow so I can start PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus…I also want to get back to the Short Story Project; I want to reread some of Daphne du Maurier’s short storie–“Don’t Look Now” in particular, and I also want to start some organizing of this essay collection I am thinking of doing…sigh. This is, you see, why I think I am lazy. I always want to get so much more done than I am actually capable of doing, and as a result when I cannot get it all done I think it’s because I am lazy and took some time off or goofed off for a while, and never can recognize or accept that DOWN TIME IS NECESSARY.

I really need to stop beating myself up over taking down time. It is self-defeating, and leads to other mental health issues, always.

And one of my goals for the year was to be kinder to myself, so I need to stop beating myself up over this kind of stuff and always remember: it is what it is.

It is what it is.

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

Make It Happen

Sunday morning after a fabulous night’s sleep, and I feel great! I actually stayed in bed until past eight–I got up at six and again at seven, but felt so relaxed and rested and the bed felt so comfortable I chose to remain there and keep resting. I don’t remember any dreams from last night, either–which is also delightful.

Yesterday was a very good day in Gregalicious-town. I managed to write somewhere around 3500 words, finishing the first draft of “The Sound of Snow Falling”, got some serious cleaning done around here (there’s more to do today, as there always is more to do), and then last evening we went to see our friends Pat and Michael in Riverbend, and got to hang out on their terrace (it’s too high up, really, to be considered a balcony) for several hours getting caught up. We hadn’t seen them for quite some time–even before COVID started–and I’ve missed them terribly. It was lovely talking to them and hanging out–I haven’t laughed that hard and often in I don’t know how long–and came home feeling quite good about anything and everything.

There’s really nothing like good friends, is there?

And I have so many of them. #trulyblessed #Ilovemylife

There’s still some slight pain from the empty tooth socket, but I am not too terribly concerned about it. I know it’s not dry-socket, which is always the big fear with tooth removal, and I have my mellow prescription pain pills if it becomes too much to deal with–which I doubt–and am really looking forward to getting back to solid food sooner than later. I probably should make a grocery run today–it’s not completely necessary, but it never hurts to stay ahead on things–and since I am out of the gym until Tuesday evening, it won’t hurt to get out of the house for a little while.

Today I want to revise the first chapter of Chlorine and perhaps start working on another novella–I can’t decide if I want to work on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” or “Never Kiss a Stranger”; I’ll probably decide once I actually start getting to it. I also want to reread duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now'” this week, as well as get back into my reading–I don’t feel quite as stressed out about writing as I was a while back, so taking time out to read every Sunday doesn’t seem like too much of a distraction from writing any more.. This probably also has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been getting so much writing done lately…I’m not as worried about the hole in the page opening and me falling in as I used to be (thank you, Stephen King, for that analogy, from Misery). I also want to do some more cleaning and organizing at some point during the day as well…and maybe, just maybe, get some editing done this week. I definitely need to make a to-do list this morning for this week, which also includes ye olde email inbox, which is truly daunting.

Mmmmmmm, my coffee is good this morning.

So, overall, a lovely Sunday morning for one Gregalicious; since I can’t go to the gym today, perhaps I’ll go for a walk later this afternoon. We shall see how it all plays out, shan’t we?

It’s lovely to be feeling so good these days, frankly. I don’t know if it’s the COVID-potentially-be-over thing, or what, but I’ve been feeling good for quite some time and hope that I can keep a positive outlook going forward. I know a lot of that has to do with me being able to sleep every night; the insomnia is such the first domino to fall in the misery sweepstakes, but again, it’s lovely to be able to sleep, to be writing again, to have energy again, and to be able to look at things in a positive light again. I always forget how important it is to stay focused on being positive; at finding the good inside the bad–which isn’t always easy–which was part of the life change I went through at thirty-three back in the day in 1994 when I started righting the ship of my life and starting to go for the things I wanted out of life. One can choose misery or joy; I try to always choose joy.

And yes, I am aware of how that may sound; how goody-goody two shoes it can come across. But as Scotty always says, life doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle–it’s how you handle it that matters.

I am really looking forward to getting back into writing about Scotty again, to be honest. It’s always fun to spend time in his world.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

What Have You Done For Me Lately

So, yesterday I finished the first draft of the novella!

It was around 1200 words when I started working on it again about a week or so ago; for some reason Venice was haunting my imagination, and so were my two poor gays in the majorly dysfunctional relationship gone there for a holiday. To be honest, I’ve been having so much trouble finishing anything since I turned in the last book manuscript (which needs more work) that I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to be able to get anything finished ever again, ever. I couldn’t even finish short stories (in fairness, I’ve always found the shorter form to be harder than the longer, which I also am very aware makes little to no sense except in my warped brain); despite having made some amazing starts and having some amazing ideas. And yet, when I started working on this novella again, BAM! Words started pouring out of me, and even though I had no plan for the story (I knew the end, that was it) it just kept going, new scenes and twists and turns coming to me as I wrote. It’s sloppy, I know, and there needs to be more of a pay-off for a subplot (which I allowed to peter out like a wet firecracker), but I am also certain I can easily repair it with a vigorous edit…after letting it sit for a while and rise like yeast.

But yeah–I wrote close to 20,000 words in just over a week; usually getting anywhere fro three to four thousand done in a sitting–and those sittings were generally around two hours, give or take.

Not fucking bad at all.

I also got the web copy done before I started work on the novella, too, and then with everything done I wanted to get done, I left for the gym. I had a lovely workout–and while I was there, it rained pretty hard for a bit, but was it was all over by the time I finished. I walked home a different way than I usually do, wanting to document my neighborhood some more on Instagram, and thinking, I should take a picture of the Norwegian Seaman’s Church on Prytania, since it was a pivotal part of the part of one of the Scotty books. But as I aimed my camera (well, the phone) at it, I realized all the signs marking it as the Norwegian Seaman’s Church were gone, and it looked…well, renovated. This bothered me a little–the Norwegian Seaman’s Church had been there for 112 years! But while it sort of IS a gentrification issue, it’s not one as bad as I might have feared; turns out in 2018 the Norwegian government stopped funding this churches around the world, and without a funding source, they had to close the church and sell the property. The new owners are turning it into an accessible wellness center–I didn’t know there was a pool!–and I am curious to see how that’s going to work out. I wouldn’t mind doing some yoga–my flexibility as I am now aged has become a concern, and as we all know, flexibility is one of the three measures of fitness (and the one everyone ignores).

So many changes to the city, seriously. It’s part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from the city for so long–between my job and everything else going on–not the least of which is my office moving from Frenchmen Street to Elysian Fields and Claiborne–I don’t really feel like I know the city as well as I used to. I think–once the weather gets back to something resembling bearable again–I am going to have to take a few trips down to the Quarter to explore and see how things look now. What if the Nelly Deli is gone? YIKES! How can I write another Scotty novel without knowing what’s going on in the Quarter?

I can’t, that’s how!

And I really cannot imagine moving Scotty and the boys out of the Quarter. But…everything changes, doesn’t it?

I slept fairly well last night, inevitably having to get up groggily a few times because I always drink a lot of water on gym days. I am a bit groggy this morning–which the cappuccinos are helping with–and am actually looking forward to seeing what I can get done today. We started watching Lisey’s Story on Apple Plus last night., and are pretty absorbed into it. I don’t really remember much of the book, to be honest–I enjoyed reading it, as I always do with Stephen King novels (the only ones I didn’t like were The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher)–but I don’t remember much other than her dead husband was a writer, there’s a psychotic fan, and a different world her husband was somehow able to slip away into from time to time–and he’s left clues behind for her to somehow slip into that world looking for something. I don’t remember her having sisters in the book–although Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Allen are killing it in the adaptation–and I am actually kind of glad I don’t remember the book well, to be honest; it makes enjoying the series that much easier. I do remember, reading the book, that King does a great job when he centers women in his books–Delores Claiborne was also exceptional–and it’s a great part for Julianne Moore, who is one of our finest actresses.

It’s also very cool that television productions of high quality are there so terrific actresses can continue to do great work once they’ve reached that age where film roles become sparse because they’re considered too old; sexism is still rampant in the film world, despite #metoo and #timesup, alas; while sexual harassment and the casting couch were addressed (though probably still a reality) the sexism and ageism (which only applies to women) has not…

And now to make a to-do list for the week. I am hoping to get caught up on my emails and maybe finish “The Sound of Snow Falling” this week; perhaps do some edits on another story, and revise the first chapter of Chlorine. Again, very ambitious plans, but definitely do-able….as long as I continue to get sleep every night and nothing untoward drops into my lap. Have a great Monday, Constant Reader!

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Guilty

So it looks like we’re going to take a direct hit from Claudette tonight–with conditions deteriorating throughout the day with the worst of it passing through overnight and into tomorrow morning. Yay. I have to run out to Metairie this morning to get my new glasses at some point, and I had hoped to make it to the gym after my work day; we’ll see how that goes. Much as I hate to not go and skip yet again, if we are having torrential rains and street flooding, I’ll have to give myself a break and not beat myself up over not making it today.

I also managed to write last night. When I opened up the document for “Festival of the Redeemer” last night, it was at around 10, 670 words; when I finished working on it and saved it last night it was at well over fourteen thousand. Yay! The original plan was for it to clock in at around twenty thousand; if I am going to do a book of novellas, four at twenty thousand would be a total of eighty thousand, and I always think a book should be between seventy-five and a hundred thousand words, give or take. My last Scotty was nearly a hundred thousand; my next two are certainly over ninety, and I think that’s always going to be my goal from now on; to try to hit that sweet spot between eighty and a hundred thousand words. I also, more importantly, kind of like seeing how the story develops as I write it; I really had no plan other than some vague, amorphous thing like troubled gay couple comes to Venice and something dark happens, so it’s kind of free form writing that I generally shy away from, out of a sense of “don’t waste time or energy on things you’ll eventually have to cut from the story and not use”–especially since I have always managed to use that deleted material in something else at some point. But I am really enjoying writing this, which is really the big news, and once again I am not really paying attention to how much I’ve written as I am writing–the hole in the page (thank you, Stephen King!) opens and I fall into it and before I know it, I’ve written an almost obscene amount, which is always absolutely delightful.

I was tired yesterday, which is never a good thing–partly because of the weird sleep of the night before; I slept extremely well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing since I have to go to Metairie. It’s also only about eighty degrees outside, which is also lovely (and indicative of a tropical disturbance on its way). The power outage the other night also messed up the calibration of our air conditioning system, meaning there’s again about a fifteen degree difference between the upstairs and the downstairs–the living room/kitchen feels like a freezer, and the upstairs beach weather–but it is slowly but surely beginning to even out; the difference this morning isn’t as significant. But it was so cold downstairs–and yes, I did turn the setting to higher, to no avail–I was literally wearing a T-shirt under my sweats and a stocking cap to keep my head warm.

I think I may allow myself to take the day off from writing the novella today; I have a lot to get done today–not the least of which is the drive out to Metairie–and I want to get to the gym, weather permitting; I also have some website writing to get done, which I will probably tackle tomorrow morning, if we have power–always an issue–so I need to be sure I have all laptops powered up as well as my phone, so I can turn it into a hotspot to email the copy in when it’s done if we don’t have power. It’s always so hit or miss, really, with these kinds of storms. But it’s also nice to know that even if we don’t have power, I can probably get it all done and turned in anyway–and I can even write on the novella as long as I have a laptop that has power, and I am not going to have to use both to write the copy, so there’s that. The novella really went in a stranger direction than I expected it to yesterday, but it’s happening organically, so I am going to see where this developing plot takes me.

And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and finish waking up before I get going with the rest of my ay. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

Just the Two of Us

So, “Festival of the Redeemer” is now over 10,000 words. Yup, the hole in the page opened and I fell into it (to paraphrase Stephen King’s Paul Sheldon in Misery) and the next thing I knew I’d written over four thousand words. SURPRISE! I certainly was. It’s been a really long time since the days when I used to be able to write over three thousand words at a time; I’d actually begun to think I couldn’t do it anymore, or was incapable. How lovely to know that it is still possible. The question, however, does remain–was that a fluke, or is it a return to my enormous productivity capabilities?

Also, writing about Venice and a deteriorating relationship that is going to turn very dark is a lot of fun, I have to say. Venice is considered, after all, one of the world’s most romantic cities–and setting this kind of story there is so much fun. It’s also very fun to not care how likable the main character is.

And I am enjoying writing, which is really the best part. I am not worrying about how long it is, or whether it needs to be edited down or if I have left parts out or if I am just blurting out too much or if I am just vomiting garbage up on the page. The most important thing here is that I am having a great time writing this, and I am having a great time writing, just in general. Maybe my batteries have been recharged or something, but I feel like I bursting with ideas and simply–as always–don’t have the time to write everything that I want to write. I need to take some time to sit down and sketch out what I am going to do for the next Scotty, and once I get this novella finished I am going back to Chlorine.

Plus…it’s really fun to revisit Venice. I have always been sorry we weren’t able to spend more than twenty-four hours there; I loved it there. I loved Italy and hope to return someday; Florence and Tuscany….sigh, Italy. I also reread what I have already written–all 10,167 words of it last night, and for a first draft, it’s not bad. Sure, there’s some clean-up and tightening necessary, but it’s really going the way I want it to go and the tone is right and the character’s voice is perfect…I am actually pleased with something I am writing!

*waits for earthquake or lightning strike*

Last night I stayed up past my bedtime (yay for being old and having to get up early!) to do a mystery panel for the San Francisco Public Library, moderated by Michael Nava (one of my heroes) and including Cheryl Head, Dharma Kelleher, and PJ Vernon–writers whom you should all be reading–and it was really fun and interesting. I love talking about writing and books with fellow queer writers, and I always learn something from listening to other writers. It’s always nerve-wracking for me–that social anxiety thing–but after my contribution to a technical glitch (I really cannot be trusted with computers or technology), I was able to relax somewhat. It was also fun because yesterday was the launch day for PJ’s second book, which was also his first book to center queer characters. (My copy of Bath Haus arrived yesterday; great cover and great opening–I peaked–and I think I am going to bump it up on my TBR list to follow Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow. But I also somehow managed to have a terrific night’s sleep–deep and wonderfully restful, AND NO DREAMS (that I can remember, at any rate), so this morning I am rested and awake an ready to go. It’s also my last day of the week to go into the office, so I don’t have to get up quite so early tomorrow–and all of our shows’ next seasons are dropping, it seems, this month and next (Elite season 4 drops on Netflix on Friday night, HUZZAH!).

I am also looking forward to the gym tonight after work; the book I requested from the library (Sarah Schulman’s ACT UP in New York history, Let the Record Show) is in; and while there is the chance of a tropical depression coming through New Orleans this weekend, I am looking forward to just being able to chill out, relax, clean, and get some writing/reading/working out accomplished.

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

Last Train to Clarksville

Tuesday and I have survived yet another Monday, which I am putting in the “win” column.

It was a grim, gray, rainy Monday yesterday in New Orleans, and all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and nap. But I managed to get quite a bit done yesterday, which is always a joy–I actually had my email inbox down to almost completely empty at one point–and didn’t start getting sleepy until after lunch, when the caffeine from my morning cappuccinos wore off.

Meh, it happens.

It’s raining again–it started last night while I was sort of sleeping (yes, another one of those nights again)–and parts of the city are in a flood warning; eastern New Orleans, which I assume means the East (but then again, compass directions are so completely useless here) and frankly I’m really not looking forward to going out to the car this morning, or the drive to work; rain makes the horrible New Orleans drivers even worse than they normally are…which is pretty fucking bad. I’m also having dinner with a friend in from out of town tonight after work–hoping it doesn’t get canceled because of this weather–but on the bright side, my car will look pretty clean thanks to this non-stop downpour.

We got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night, and my, what an intense and twisty episode this was! Certain shifts and twists we certainly didn’t see coming; and then it was over, all too soon. Kate Winslet and Jean Smart are killing it in this (Smart is also killing it in Hacks, I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb to predict two Emmy nominations for Smart, one for each show; she could quite easily win both as well–although the actress who played Liza in Halston is going to be hard to beat), and the writing is quite extraordinary. It’s the best crime show I’ve seen in quite some time that isn’t based on a novel.

Speaking of writing, I’ve not been doing any lately of note. I think I’ve started a couple of short stories, as well as a personal essay about being a sixty-year-old Swiftie; but there’s simply no motivation there. It’s entirely possible I’ve fried my writing machine by writing two books back to back; I also know there are more revisions to come on Bury Me in Shadows as well as the initial ones for the Kansas book, so perhaps my subconscious knows better than for me to get going or involved in writing something else before those are completely out of the way. But it’s frustrating as well as worrisome; although I did at least get the outline of the first act of Chlorine written last week. I know I won’t get any writing done while on my trip this week–hopefully From Here to Eternity will engage my mind and keep me entertained; I think I am going to take the iPad with me as well so I have access to all the ebooks I own in case I either hate the book so much I stop reading, or it engages me so much that I tear through it till the end. I’d rather not take another hard copy with me on the trip, but I’ll probably end up doing so because I always need options for reading when I travel. The question is what to take? I certainly don’t want to be at the mercy of the airport bookshops.

Oh yes–Stephen King’s Fever, his latest work for Hard Case Crime. That should do nicely; and I’ve not read any King since I finished the Hodges Trilogy, which is kind of strange for someone who is such a big fan of King’s. I’ve somehow managed to fall way behind on his books–still buying copies, of course–but they are so big and long and daunting I’ve not been able to face one of his big books with my addled, short attention span brain lately–and most of his books are extremely long these days. Perhaps I should make getting caught up on King a project for the summer; after all,. reading King is always inspiring to me; I love how he creates characters and relationships; I don’t think I have ever been bored reading a King book–because he just draws me into the world he creates so easily and effortlessly.

Last night as I was lying in bed with my eyes closed in the dark listening to the rain, my brain dredged up yet another memory of a horrible writing experience I had in college–it really is astonishing how little I was encouraged, and how hard my writing professors tried to extinguish the desire to write in me. I took the basic English course all incoming students take my first semester; it was an hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday. On the first day, we had to do one of those incredibly tedious writing assignments: if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what three things would you take with you? or something along those lines. I don’t remember what three things I took; but I can assume they included music and books–because quite frankly I could easily go the rest of my life without human contact if I had both of those and a computer (there were no computers in 1978, obviously, so that wasn’t one of my three things). When I went back to class on Thursday, the professor pulled me aside and told me the assignment was really for him to assess our writing abilities, our grasp of grammar and paragraph construction, etc. etc. etc., and that my skills were too advanced (at sixteen!) for his class and he feared it wouldn’t challenge me enough; he had talked to an Honors English professor, showed her my essay, and she agreed to allow me to enroll in her class late. So after class, he and I walked to the Admin building and effected the shifting of classes, and you can imagine how thrilled I was at this turn of events–a college professor thought I was a good writer!

Unfortunately for me, I was not to experience that feeling again for many years–at least, that was the way I remembered it….

The Honors English class wasn’t hard, but the professor was horrible, absolutely horrible. There were only ten of us in the class, and we all bonded over how awful we thought she was. She had no sense of humor, and we had to construct our essays only in the way she believed essays must be written; she was constantly assigning us to read boring, uninteresting essays “so (we) could learn how to properly write one.” She never gave me higher than a C on anything I wrote for her, and she seemed to take particular relish in ripping my essays apart in class as an example of what not to do for the others. Lord, I despised that woman. The other students would often grab me after class for a soda or coffee or something and try to make me feel better; that is how awful she was. I was just grateful to get out of that class alive with a passing grade, but alas…the second semester of Freshman Honors English wasn’t much better. The professor was much nicer than the first, but she had absolutely no qualms with letting me know how bad of a writer I was–and clearly felt there was nothing to be done about it. Towards the end of the semester, as we had one final paper to do for the class, she called me into her office and told me she was regretfully going to have to fail me. “The only way you can pass this course is if you get an A on your final paper, and frankly, I don’t believe you can do that. But if you retake the class in the fall, it will erase your F for this semester–or I will sign off on you dropping the class.” I had already selected Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes as the subject for my paper, so I told her I was willing to take my chances and write the paper anyway. She was clearly not happy–I will give her credit, she clearly hated failing people and didn’t want to fail me–but I was determined.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I had read a biography of Bette Davis (Mother Goddam), and the author actually used her films as a way to write her biography and even gave her the opportunity to comment on her performances. It was a great biography–I’ve always thought that was the best way to do one of a film star, if the star was still alive and able and willing to participate–and Davis had played Regina in the film version of the play (and was nominated for an Oscar). I had never seen the film, but I had read the play and the biography, and Davis’ insights into who Regina was served as the launching pad for my essay.

I got an A on the paper, and the professor actually wrote on it, “Well, I’ll be damned if you didn’t pull this off. Congratulations.”

But given this past history, and my psyche’s uncanny ability to keep the negative and not remember the positive, is it any wonder I have little to no confidence about writing essays? But now I do remember that I finished Honors English with an impressive triumph–the highest grade in the class on the final paper–and with that knowledge, perhaps I will be a little less hard on myself when it comes to writing essays in the future.

And on that note, I need to take a shower and head for the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

Mr. Disco

Ah, Friday, and the weekend looms on the horizon.

Last night was odd; there was some sort of power problem in our neighborhood–a problem I’ve never experienced anything like before. The living room had power; everything in there worked fine. The upstairs lights? Flickering, and out most of the time. Same with the kitchen and the laundry room; the refrigerator was barely on, and the HVAC wasn’t working at all; and this was only affecting our block. So, so weird–and then around eleven thirty we got all the voltage we could possibly want. I’ve never experienced “low” power before; didn’t even know it was a thing, to be honest. But at least nothing in the refrigerator spoiled–always a plus.

The Edgars went smoothly yesterday, and there were some lovely surprises. All the nominees were deserving–they always are–and it’s always fun to see the excitement of those who get the statue. Obviously, it’s way more fun in person–fingers crossed for next year–and yesterday morning as I made condom packs and broke down expired test kits for biohazard disposal (seriously, my life is just a non-stop thrill ride) I remembered past Edgar ceremonies I attended and deeply enjoyed. I inevitably drink too much–it’s the free wine, always a danger for one Gregalicious–but my favorite ceremony remains the very first one I attended, when I wore a kilt and then took the train with friends the following morning to Washington for Malice Domestic. As I have mentioned before, my memory–once sterling and dependable–is now in tatters, so am trying to remember that first ceremony and evening and am finding it difficult, to be completely honest. I think that was the year Charlaine Harris was MWA president, and Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais were named grand masters, but I could be wrong. I also don’t remember which year Stephen King won for best novel–but it was the year Sara Paretsky was president of MWA, because I have a great picture of the two of them together from the cocktail reception before the ceremony. The third and final time I went–I think I’ve only attended three times–was the year my friend William J. Mann won for Best Fact Crime for Tinseltown. I always enjoy the Edgars and Edgar week activities; missing out on a ceremony the last two years was disappointing. I am hopeful next year we will be able to have it in person again.

Fingers crossed!

I also managed to get deeper into the revision of the book last evening before Paul got home and we settled in for three episodes of season 4 of Line of Duty–and Acorn loaded the fifth season yesterday as well.So, that’s the weekend pretty sorted. I also want to spend some time with The Butcher’s Boy, perhaps even finishing it–so I can dive into my next Mary Russell adventure. I am also currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram–and it occurs to me that all the espionage and so forth that went on before the American entry into the first World War between the Germans and Mexico (trying to keep the US occupied and distracted from what was going on in Europe, as well as disrupting the supplying of the Allies) could make for a wonderful “Holmes in New Orleans” story. New Orleans was a major port (still is, actually) and fairly close to Mexico…hmmm. I was also thinking about the banana intrigues–seriously, that is one of the most fascinating times in New Orleans history!

We really are enjoying Line of Duty, which is an interesting take on your typical crime show. The heroes of the stories–each season is relatively self-contained, although there was an over-all arc that tied all the first three seasons together–are an anti-corruption division; so the good guys are cops, but so are the bad guys. It is chilling to see how easy it is for the cops (at least in the show; I don’t know enough to comment on reality) to corrupt and divert an investigation; falsify evidence and so forth; with no concept of how deep and how high up the corruption actually runs. Thandie Newton is the dirty cop in season four, and like the previous villains/guest stars of previous seasons, she is terrific in the role. Can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

Yesterday afternoon as I made condom packs, I watched North Dallas Forty. This is a 1979 film starring Nick Note and Mac Davis (!), and was adapted from Peter Gent’s novel. I had read the novel, but had never seen the movie; it came up on Twitter a week or so ago when someone asked people for the best sports movie (I said Brian’s Song, and stand by my answer). Laura Lippman brought up North Dallas Forty, which made me think of Semi-Tough, another pro football novel and movie from the same period (remember? I tried to reread it and the blatant racism was so horrific I put it in the donate box after rereading the first page?). I’d like to reread the Gent novel–it was very dark; painkillers and drugs and alcohol and rapes and sexual assaults and racism and all kinds of horrible behavior–but unlike Semi-Tough, the Gent took those issues seriously and didn’t try to play them for laughs. The movie takes the same tone as the book–dark–and Nolte is really good as the wide receiver whose years playing have battered and broken his body and left him needing painkilling shots to play and swallowing pain killers to get through the day, and the alcohol and drug abuse. Mac Davis is surprisingly good as his best friend, the quarterback–who eventually betrays him in the end to keep his own contract alive. The game scenes are particularly funny; even in the 1970’s professional football stadiums were better than where these scenes were filmed; the “stadiums” they play in look like high school football fields–and not even the better ones. It definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–it exposes the “team as a family” mentality as the crock that it is, and that the players are all just cogs in a money-making machine for the owners, and the coaches don’t give two shits about their players, either.

I still stick with Brian’s Song as the best sports movie, though.

And on that note, this data isn’t going to enter itself nor are these condoms going pack themselves, so it’s off to the spice mines with me.

Angel Dust

Remember angel dust? At some point in my life–70’s, 80’s, 90’s–it became a thing: a dangerous new illegal drug that was addictive and occasionally ended up with those partaking in it dying. You never hear about it anymore–or at least, I don’t–but it was fairly ubiquitous there for a while. I guess crack, and possibly heroin’s comeback, have pushed it out of the public consciousness or the zeitgeist, as it were.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I slept late, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, which felt great, and then I spent some time getting caught up on things that have slid a bit over the last few weeks–always–and then finished rereading #shedeservedit, making notes and so forth. There’s a lot of work left to be done on this before April 1, and I really need to get focused so it will be finished by (extended) deadline–which means focus and not being distracted (easier said than done, of course, as always) and then I actually started working on pruning the books. I filled two boxes of books I will never get the time to either read or reread or write about, and then started condensing the shelves down again…at some point I will also start going through the boxes in the crawlspace over the laundry room–it’s going to be a process, Constant Reader, and one that will not be finished in one little spurt of activity; I see this as a probably year-long project. I also walked to Office Depot to buy another box of file folders and a package of the little notepads I have become addicted to over the past few years (I use them for grocery lists and daily to-do lists)–it was so gorgeous outside, and there was a lot of male eye candy to view on the walk there and the walk back. The bar on the corner is open again, and so are the various eateries along the Avenue. (Sadly, both the BBQ place at the corner of MLK and St. Charles is now closed, probably for good, as is the St. Charles Tavern, which has been there forever and survived Katrina but not a pandemic.) There were people at the streetcar stops, and I have also begun to realize that getting off work at five is probably not going to be ideal now that people are coming back to work and the tourists are coming back as well; heavy heaving sigh. But I will adapt, much as I did when the people started returning after Katrina.

Today of course we lost an hour to Daylight Savings Time–although I guess today is the reverse; the removal of the hour gained when we went into it in the first place. I really despise losing the hour–it throws me off every year and inevitably takes a ay or two to get used to again; but of course the gain of an hour doesn’t really do much other than get me an extra hour of sleep when it happens. But this means it will be light outside when I come home from work and it will stay lighter out for longer–the days are starting to get longer again–but I slept well again last night (lots of trouble getting out of bed this morning, as again it was feeling mighty comfy under my blankets) and my coffee is really hitting the spot. I had to get up, no matter how much I wanted to stay there, because Scooter needed his shot–twelve hours apart, with an hour on either side leeway–and giving it to him at nine this morning means I have to give it at eight this evening so he can get at seven tomorrow morning when I leave for work. See how I work that hour of leeway, and almost fucked it up thanks to daylight savings going away? Timed medication is always an issue for these time changes, really.

We started watching Mr. Mercedes’ third season last night, which is based on the second book of King’s Hodges trilogy, Finders Keepers. While the switching of the story order makes sense for the television production of the show–this was a bridge book connecting the first and third books, which had the same villain, and in the course of this book the events of season 2/book 3 were set in motion. Another change is that the story of the robbery of the great reclusive American author and his murder took place long before the events of the book–several years passed in the book between the robbery and the discovery of the loot from the robbery by a young kid, who grew into a teenager and used the money–and the manuscripts–to provide for his family (another connection is that his father was injured in the Mercedes attack that opened the first book…in the show he’s already in his late teens when the car crash happens and he discovers the suitcase filled with treasure within 24 hours of it happening. This storytelling change to the book also makes sense–the first few chapters, detailing the kid’s story, takes over four or five years to play out on the page; and that is harder to do on a show or film. I’m curious to see how this is all plays out–the second season went off the rails a bit in the final episodes–but since there’s not a supernatural element to this season it may stay safely on the rails this time out.

I also spent some time pruning the books yesterday, and now have five boxes (and a paper grocery bag)filled with them to donate to the library sale; tonight after dark I will load the five boxes of condom packs I’ve made over the last few days into the car, and then tomorrow night after I get home from work I will move the books to the hatch of the car, getting the clutter and mess out of the living room. This is just the beginning of clearing out the house, for the record; Paul is going to also be spending the next few months getting rid of things in the bedroom and the closet. “Clean like we’re moving” is our motto–so, the question isn’t “do I want to keep this?” but rather “would I pack and move this?” And while the piles and stacks of books have been substantially reduced, and the clutter equally, a stranger would probably still look at the living room (or the shelves in the bathroom) and think, wow, they’ve got so many books…that’s a lot of clutter. But I’ve made significant progress, and I am most pleased with what I’ve managed thus far.

I also managed to work on my desk area, significantly reducing the amount of loose paper and other scraps and bits with things scribbled on them, filed stuff away, and over all made things roomier and less cluttered around my desk. I also need to start clearing out and cleaning out kitchen things I never use–like my muffin pans, which I don’t think have been used in years (although now I am thinking cornbread muffins with jalapeños in them would be nice; it’s been a hot minute so maybe I need to hold onto those for a bit longer…it’s also strawberry season so I could make strawberry cupcakes again…NO I HAVE LOST WEIGHT AND I AM NOT GOING TO START BAKING AGAIN) but there’s definitely things that can be thrown away that are inside my cabinets.

I was also creative yesterday, and not just with the final read through of the manuscript. Today I have to go to the gym and I also have to do some brief writing for a website, and after that I think I am going to pull all of the chapters of #shedeservedit into one document, which I will use to make all the corrections and changes I’ve indicated on the pages of the manuscript I worked on; this is antiquated of course–most people simply correct the computer document and edit it, rather than printing it out and doing it by hand–but I have found that when I do it by hand on a hard copy I am more thorough and I catch more, so that is what works for me and what I have to do. This old dog tried the new trick, but it just doesn’t work for him, sorry.

My Saints and Sinners panel, moderating four great women writers (Cheryl Head, Carrie Smith, J. M. Redmann, and Carsen Taite) is today at 3:00 central time on the Tennessee Williams Festival YouTube channel; you can either watch it as it airs (prerecorded) and then it will be permanently available there. Do check it out, if you can; I’d watch but I hate seeing myself and listening to my voice. Always have, quite frankly, and seriously doubt that is going to change now–my spots are too permanently affixed in place for me to try to change them. It’s probably some deep old scar from childhood that would take years of therapy to unpack, and I ain’t got time for that–nor am I particularly interested in spending thousands of dollars to get to the bottom of something that I can live with, frankly.

And on that note, I should get cracking on my Sunday. Have a terrific day, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Broken Promise

And here we are on Friday yet again. The nights this weekend are a return to the frigid climes of earlier this week, but the days promise highs in the 50s, at least, and it’s supposed to get back up into the 70’s next week…or so it said the last time I checked. I generally tend not to look at weather forecasts more than a few days out, primarily because New Orleans weather is completely unpredictable and defies expectations all the time. It feels chilly this morning–I’ve not checked the temperature yet–but the space heater is on, as always, and I am shivering a bit under my layers and considering going to get a blanket. The HVAC guys were here yesterday, but there’s still no heat and there’s also no sign of them outside this morning. Which is fine; I can huddle under blankets as I do my work-from-home duties this morning. Okay, I checked, and it’s thirty-five with a high of 48 predicted. Yikes! Sometimes, methinks, it’s better not to know some things.

The forecast for next week looks much better. It’s simply a matter of getting through this last blast over this weekend.

We finished watching season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and it was…well, it was a bit disappointing. The season wound up diverging significantly from the book it was based on (End of Watch, the concluding book of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy), and while the middle of the season was compelling and impossible to turn away from, the last two episodes, for me and Paul at least, significantly went off the rails. The third season starts airing on March 4, based on the second book of the trilogy, and we’ll watch because we really like the characters–and I think Book 2 was my favorite of the trilogy–but now It’s a Sin has dropped and so has something else we wanted to watch as well, but right now I can’t think of what that other show might be. Oh, yes, The Luminaries with Eva Green.

I also watched, while making condom packs yesterday, the original film version of The Amityville Horror, which fits into both the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival. I actually saw this movie in the theater when it was released all those years ago, and just like then, I found it unimpressive, not particularly scary, and farfetched. I had read the book, of course–I think I bought it off the wire racks at the Safeway in Emporia on 6th Street–but the book wasn’t very well written and the story–theoretically something that actually happened–wasn’t convincing and, I thought, pretty poorly written (and I wasn’t a particularly discerning reader back then, either). It was, however, a phenomenon; a huge bestseller and the movie also made a ton of money, spawning numerous cheesy sequels (none of which I watched). Horror made a big comeback as a genre in the 1970’s; it could even be seen as a “golden age”–there was a glut of films and movies in that decade, and the demand didn’t taper off until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Amityville was a big part of that–following The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie; it was the decade when both Stephen King and Peter Straub’s careers are writers took off, and there were a lot of books published….a LOT. (I do highly recommend Grady Hendrix definitive Paperbacks from Hell–it will trigger a lot of memories for you if this was a period when you were actually alive…it certainly did for me.) But the movie is still bad, after all these years–James Brolin was certainly handsome, coming off his years on Marcus Welby and before he spent the 80’s managing Arthur Hailey’s Hotel on ABC. (Although I couldn’t help thinking, “wow, of someone would have told me back then Brolin would marry Barbra Streisand and live happily ever after and his son Josh would become a major star, I would have laughed and laughed and laughed.”) Margot Kidder plays his wife, Kathy, and this is the best, I think, she’s ever looked on film–they are a handsome couple and have some chemistry together, even though both performances eventually descend into one note, repeated over and over again. Rod Steiger also has a supporting role to which he brings all his Method bombast in a role that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, nor does what happens to him. The movie’s end, like the book’s, explains nothing other than the family abandoned the house and never returned. (Of course, the house has changed hands with people living in it for decades and none of them have experienced anything the Lutzes claim to have. Even cynical teenager me, when reading the book, thought, oh, you bought a house you couldn’t afford and dreamed up a crazy story to try to get out of the mortgage..the movie only convinced me further that I was correct in my theory. I looked it up on line, and the lawyer for the kid who murdered his family in the house later admitted he and the Lutzes, “over many bottles of wine”, came up with the story…to not only get them out of the mortgage but to try to get his client a new trial. The Lutzes still claim it all really happened. *insert ‘sure Jan’ GIF here*)

I think I bought another copy of the book several years ago–still in print all these years later!–to reread and see if it was as bad, if not worse, than I remembered. I have yet to get around to it…but watching the movie made me think I need to reconsider that urge to reread it.

But the 1970’s were, as I have said before, a weird decade of transition and change. Conspiracy theories were running rampant everywhere about everything–the JFK assassination in particular was talked about and theorized about a lot–but this was also the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, when UFO’s really became a topic of discussion, when The Late Great Planet Earth truly began shifting certain sects of Christianity into doomsday prophecy and end-times philosophy, and of course, we cannot forget the existential threat of Communism that had some people seeing Russian agents everywhere and there was the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Although there are times, too, when I think about the 1970’s as the last gasp of American naiveté and innocence. The one-two punch of Vietnam and Watergate made everyone start distrusting the government…and HIV/AIDS was just around the corner.

Hmmm. Some pretty heavy thoughts on a shiveringly cold Friday morning in New Orleans.

And now back to the spice mines. Stay warm, everyone, and stay safe.