Too Far from Texas

I used to think you could never be too far from Texas, in all honesty, despite my deep appreciation and affection not only for Houston (I lived there for a time) but for all my marvelous friends in Texas. Murder by the Book, the only mainstream mystery bookstore that would allow me to have events in their store when I first published, always holds a deep place of affection within my heart and soul; I love that store, and of course, I also love me some Whataburger.

Whataburger alone makes Texas worth visiting, to be honest.

The Chanse MacLeod series was originally going to be set in Houston. I created him, and actually started writing about him, while i lived in Texas from 1989-1991. I remember distinctly that he had an office and a pager, as well as a secretary and an off-hours answering service…clearly, I didn’t understand how private investigators actually worked and was basing everything off movies, books, and television programs. But I do recall the name of the first book was going to be The Body in the Bayou–and Chanse was also straight in his original iteration–and it wasn’t until later (after my birthday visit here in 1994) that I decided to move it to New Orleans, and of course by the time I started rewriting the New Orleans version, I’d discovered gay mysteries and so of course, I changed his sexuality (I’ve never once regretted that either, I might add). I also put The Body in the Bayou aside and started writing a whole new murder mystery for him (Murder in the Rue Dauphine) that eventually became my first published book. Chanse remained from Texas–a small town in east Texas called Cottonwood Wells–and I even wrote a short story where Chanse goes back home to that small town. (I’d always wanted to write a book where he goes back home and has to deal with memories and so forth; I just never got around to it and his original publisher always made the sign of the cross at me whenever I suggested, “hey, should I set the next one in Chanse’s home town, where he has to go to clear up a crime someone from his past is accused of?”) Cottonwood Wells also popped up in earlier drafts of #shedeservedit, as where main character Alex’ family was originally from; that eventually got edited out over the final drafts.

Sunday morning and I slept late, and even after waking, stayed in the bed for a while longer. It felt very comfortable and my body was very relaxed, which was lovely, and I didn’t really want to get out of the bed, to be honest. I made swedish meatballs last night for dinner and left the mess for this morning (I am now cursing lazy Greg last night who made that decision–part of the reason I made this decision was I realized while cooking that the dishwasher had a clean load in it that needed to be put away, and it was a pain in the ass to do while cooking and trying to time everything) and I didn’t really want to come downstairs and face the mess. I did get some cleaning and organizing done yesterday–I did the kitchen floors at long last–and I also worked on the living room some. I wrote about fifteen hundred words yesterday to flex my writing muscles a little bit–I’ll probably go back over them again today as I write more–and I also have to get the proofs for Streetcar significantly finished today. I also want to work on the new Scotty a little bit as well. We’ll see how much I can get done this morning/afternoon before Paul gets up–although he is going to go into the office today; there was a lot of thunderstorms yesterday and street flooding, so he and the IT guy rescheduled for today (can’t say as I blame him, we were in and out of flash flood alerts all day yesterday; the joys of the tropics in the summer) which will free up this afternoon for proofing.

My self-care appointment (okay, it was a back wax; someday I will write an essay about my issues with body hair) went well and after that, I swung by and picked up the mail. On my way back home I stopped at the Fresh Market (I rarely shop there; I always forget it’s there) to get a few things, and while it is more expensive than other places, I like shopping there. The fruit and vegetables always seem much fresher, and rather than buying prepackaged ground sirloin, I instead got it from the butcher counter, remembering suddenly that it’s fresher that way–and those meatballs turned out superlatively. I think in the future I might shop there a little more regularly. They don’t carry everything I would need, of course–that would make life too easy–but for meats and fruit and vegetables…well, it really cannot be beaten. I spent some more time with In the Dark We Forget–which I am also going to do this morning for a bit, it’s really good and I want to find out what happened to Cleo and her parents–for the rest of this morning, and then I need to vacuum the living room at some point (I swept up the floor in there last night as well, and tried to get it to look cleaner and better organized in there as well; it’s amazing what a difference the clean floor makes). So, a busy busy day for one Gregalicious. But that’s fine, I kind of like having things to do…it’s just when I have so much to do the thought of it is soul-crushing and defeating that I don’t like it.

We started watching The Anarchists on HBO MAX last night, and it’s….something, all right. It’s also interesting how these people chose to define “anarchy” as something other than what most people generally accept it as meaning; but they were using the actual definition of anarchy rather than the societal definition. I always laugh at people who think that laws and rules and regulations are things that restrict freedom and are unnecessary in a society; it’s really just another branch of libertarianism or Ayn Rand’s insane “objectivism”–those laws and rules and regulations exist because they were necessary, because human beings tend to always operate by putting their own needs first. Regulations exist because food manufacturers regularly sold bad, or dangerous, food to the general public because there were no regulations and no one keeping them honest; robber barons created monopolies to exploit the public and make themselves rich (Bezos, Musk, etc are simply the modern day version of the robber barons) at the expense of the needy; hence we needed government intervention to prevent abuses. I’ve never understood the mentality of “oh, if we do away with regulations and laws and rules we’ll all live together in peaceful harmony” because there’s always at least ONE asshole in every group.

ALWAYS.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, put the clean dishes away, and go read for a bit. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and we’ll talk again tomorrow, if not later. (I’ve been going down the Stevie Nicks discography for my titles, and some of them–along with some of them from other song lists I was using before–wind up having the same titles as some of my books, and I’ve decided–see yesterday’s post about Sleeping Angel–that when I have a blog list song title that matches the title of one of my books, I am going to post about the book. Right now, I have Timothy in my stored draft blogs folder, and I think there’s another called “Watching Scotty Grow” in which I am trying to write the history of the series, which could be helpful as I am writing Book Nine at the moment, and since I am doing Stevie’s discography, that means Sara will also be coming up at some point.)

After the Glitter Fades

Well, I never thought I’d make it here in Hollywood…

That’s the opening line of today’s title, lifted from Stevie Nicks’ classic song from her debut solo album, Bella Donna, which is from beginning to end one of my favorite albums (and one I need to listen to more). But it’s an unusual work-at-home Friday for one Gregalicious, and I have data to enter as well as other things to do for the day job while I am here at home today–and I am going to take a break later on to get my brake tag, wash the car, and pick up the mail–all of which will be super fun in the heat advisory. Woo-hoo!

It is amazing what a difference not getting up to an alarm at six makes. I woke up at six on my own, and went back to sleep for about another hour and I feel absolutely marvelous and rested this morning, which is a good thing. I have a lot to do today–data entry, some errands (odious ones, at that)–but I feel like if I can stay focused, I have the energy to get through the day preparatory for going into the weekend relaxed. I do have an eye appointment in Metairie tomorrow (sigh), but I think I may treat myself to an Atomic Burger or something since I have to go out there. Paul will be gone–he has his trainer in the late morning and then either rides the bike at the gym for the rest of the day, or goes to the office (he’s working on yet another grant)–so I hope to get home from that appointment and do some more writing. I’ve been working on this draft I’d hoped to have finished by the end of the month (ha ha ha, I am 750 words into Chapter Two), but a good push over the weekend should have it in good shape by Monday–or so I hope at any rate.

I also sent out early, unfinished copies of A Streetcar Named Murder to some author friends who all graciously agreed to read it for potential cover blurbs; this is a weird part of this business that I am not entirely certain I completely am comfortable with–never have been, and generally I just skip this part and just reuse the ones I asked for and have gotten over the past twenty years, but since this is something entirely new for me I thought it was probably better to start from scratch. Which, of course, is nerve-wracking; it’s always nerve-wracking to have something you’ve written in the hands of people you deeply admire and respect. Fingers crossed.

We watched some more of First Kill on Netflix, which is an interesting take on the original romance story on Teen Wolf, only the couple are lesbian teenagers, and instead of a werewolf, the “monster” half is a vampire. It’s clever and interesting and has really funny moments; it’s also some interesting world-building as it seems to be creating its own supernatural mythology–also interesting. We then watched two episodes of Maya Rudolph’s new show on Apple, Loot, which is really funny; Rudolph and the rest of the cast are great and the writing is as well. Highly recommended; more to come as we watch more of each show.

I also hope to finish reading The Savage Kind this weekend–I just keep falling further and further behind on my reading, but coming home after work in the heat, and running errands in it after a long day at the office, has had me brain-dead when I get home and I just can’t focus on reading anything. I hate that, and I kind of blame the pandemic for the shortening of my attention span and how much easier I lose focus than I used to back in the day.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The kitchen is a disaster area that needs cleaning before I start doing my data entry and get going on my work day, and none of this stuff is going to do itself, so it’s on me as always. Heavy heaving sigh. But happy Friday, everyone!

Never Again

One of the many Youtube wormholes I have fallen down since the pandemic descended upon on our world has been the magical journey of the music reaction video. I didn’t know this was even a thing–I think it was Twins the New Trend’s reaction video to the Carpenters that went viral was when I actually learned this is something people not only do, but can make money from (O magical world of the Internet! Is there anything that can’t be monetized?) but this led me to, thanks to Youtube suggestions, other young people or music specialists (vocal coaches, etc.) reacting to older music they’ve not heard before, or from artists they may recognize the name of but not their music.

Needless to say, seeing these young people discover, appreciate, and love Fleetwood Mac (and Stevie Nicks) is not only a lot of fun but also is an unneeded justification of my nearly life-long love of the band. The Rumours album is probably my favorite album of all time; and since it was released (and I discovered it) when I was in high school in Kansas, Rumours is always linked in my mind to not only high school but to Kansas in particular. I didn’t have an 8-track player in my car when I was in high school–I never even had a car of any kind with the capacity to do anything other than play the radio until 1991–but radio was a major player back in those days, and I of course had other friends who did have 8 track or cassette players in their cars… Rumours was pretty much owned by everyone (as was Hotel California by the Eagles and Boston’s debut album) and so it was often heard in cars, played loudly, as it drove way over the speed limit down country roads.

But watching these people discover the Mac, and listening to and enjoying their music for the first time (despite my devotion to Stevie and all things Stevie, my favorite Mac song will always be “Go Your Own Way”) has taken me down that pleasant road of nostalgia and memory…which came somewhat in handy as I wrote #shedeservedit aka the Kansas Book. I based Liberty Center geographically on Emporia, Kansas; but I have not set foot in Emporia since I left one snowy February night in 1981 so I had to rely a lot on memories. I did use Google Earth to revisit, in case my faulty memory was wrong about where a street was or how the grid the city was laid out on precisely was laid out–where was the Catholic cemetery, where was the college campus, where was the park down by the waterfall–but since I was also fictionalizing everything, it was more of a guideline than anything else; it was easier for me to picture it all in my head that way rather than making it all up from scratch. (I also got the name Liberty Center, and used it, as a tribute to Philip Roth and his novel When She Was Good; I’d gone through many many iterations of names for that town throughout the years, but Liberty Center was just too perfect not to use)

And yes, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac while I was writing the book. While Hotel California and Boston can both take me back to Kansas if I listen to them, Fleetwood Mac’s first three albums with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk) definitely do it almost from the first chord (if I am writing, of course–I am also realizing as I write this and think it through that I need to write an essay about my lifelong fandom of Fleetwood Mac, and how their music has always inspired me with my writing and creativity as well as connected with me emotionally).

Although, interestingly enough, the first time I ever published fiction about Kansas–my short story “Promises in Every Star”–it was actually inspired by another band, ’til Tuesday. But that’s a story for another time.

Music has always been important to my writing process–back in the days of CD’s, I used to put five in the stereo and hit shuffle whenever I started writing, trying to make them all from the same artist or at least similar artists–and I’ve noticed that recently I don’t listen to music quite as much as I used to when I write, and have been thinking that maybe I need to go back to that process. I rediscovered my love of writing after a long burnt out period by using journals to record ideas and random thoughts and things again–going back to my roots, as it were–and so maybe music is something I need to add back into my writing experience, especially since I am coming down to crunch time with the new book.

I’m working at home today–there’s data entry to do and condoms packs to make, as always–and then of course tomorrow is our paid holiday for New Year’s, so I can spend that day writing and cleaning and running errands and so forth. I need to pick up a prescription today, so will probably do that at some point (I think the pharmacy will be closed tomorrow, since its in one of our buildings and they do get holidays as well) and also will need to do a deep dive into my email inbox and get some things done around here.

And that’s my cue to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely New Year’s Eve Eve!

Confusion

Wednesday and it’s Pay Day, and it’s also the day the IRS app claims my stimulus check will arrive in my checking account. I haven’t checked yet–probably won’t until after I finish this post–but it will be a lovely and welcome addition to my bank account. My big splurge will inevitably be a trip to Costco and paying some bills, most likely, trying to get ahead of things. I have been sleeping extremely well this week–although always feel like I am “untimely ripped” from my bed every morning. Tonight I am going to the gym after work and coming home to complete putting the corrections/edits into the manuscript, preparatory to the big final push to get everything finished. I have some more writing–and probably editing–to get done, and I am seriously hoping I can get it all done relatively soon; hopefully over the course of the weekend, so I can spend the rest of the month line editing and tightening everything.

It’s supposed to thunderstorm all day, starting around the time I generally leave for the office (yay!) which will also make walking to the gym tonight a lot of fun; but I lost another pound-ish since the last time I weighed myself, and I am thinking I may actually be at a good point with my exercise and dieting (I’m not really dieting, I am just not eating late at night before I go to bed anymore, and it’s remarkable what a difference that has made. I’m also really glad I have incorporating a good stretching warm-up to my workouts; sometimes I work on improving my flexibility, others I just try to maintain a good stretch rather than trying to improve it–or get to the level I once had (the ship, alas, may have sailed on that one now that I am so old). I just know my body and my muscles feel better than they have in years, and feeling better and getting good sleep was my main motivation with the gym return in the first place. Yes, it would be great if it helped with my cholesterol and blood sugar; but if it doesn’t, so be it. The feeling better is more than enough for me.

It might seem rather obvious, but lately I’ve been listening a lot to Fleetwood Mac again–seriously my favorite band of all time, bar none; there’s really no comparison–and last night, as I deep dove into a Youtube wormhole of young people doing reaction videos to listening to Fleetwood Mac music for the first time, it occurred to me that Fleetwood Mac should have always been my playlist for the writing of this book. Yes, Fleetwood Mac has had a long and storied career–recording some incredibly great and original music (one person who was listening to them for the first time kept going back to “every song from them is a completely different sound, like every song is by a different and new band that is great”)–but if there’s any music forever linked to the five years I lived in Kansas, it’s definitely Fleetwood Mac. “Rhiannon” was released the summer we moved (I think), and I began developing my strong relationship with them the following year, with the release of Rumours, which to this day remains my favorite album of theirs. There’s just something about those two albums that just takes me back there, every time I listen to any of the music from either album….I can smell the corn fields after the rain, and driving on the county roads to get around, and being a car load of kids all singing thunder only happens when it’s raining….players only love you when they’re playing and its almost like going back in time….and the music still holds up. SO, yes, this weekend as I am a Festival widow yet again, I am going to listen to some Fleetwood Mac while I clean and organize and write my book.

My love for Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks should come as no surprise to you, Constant Reader–or to anyone who’s ever known me. And now I want to listen to Tusk again.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulous day, Constant Reader!

The Silky Veils of Ardor

As Constant Reader knows, Gregalicious loves short stories. He regrets deeply that they are much harder for him to write than novels (I’ve often joked that I find it much easier to write a novel than a short story; the word count limitations are hard for me as I always tend to write probably more than is needed to illustrate a particular point–take this sentence, for example), and I am sure part of this insecurity comes from my oft-told tale about my first writing professor, who earwormed his petty nastiness into my brain and soul. (But also this gives me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction in that I know I’ve published more fiction than he did during his time on this planet; to this date, I still cannot find a single fiction publication for the prick.)

And while I am a firm believer in the mentality that writers should always be paid–even if merely a token–for their work, I will often write short stories if requested, and don’t mind donating a story for a good cause. The two stories I had in Bouchercon anthologies weren’t paid, nor was my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s; like I said, when I am asked to write a story I am genuinely so flattered that the editor thought enough of me and my work to ask. I like writing short stories, even if they are a struggle for me, and there aren’t many places where one can get them published these days.

I was enormously flattered to be asked by short story master Josh Pachter to write a story for his anthology of stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. The irony, of course, is that while I am familiar with Ms. Mitchell and her work–and I like what I know of it–I am not as familiar with her canon as I am with women singer-songwriters like Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton or Carole King; I also realized that the songs of hers that I could name off the top of my head–“Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, etc.–were the same ones anyone could; I wanted something not quite as famous and perhaps a little more obscure, something to which a Joni Mitchell fan would say oh yes, of course you chose that song.

So, I did what I often do in these situations: I asked my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford), and he immediately came back with “You should pick ‘The Silky Veils of Ardor.’ It’s about that hot guy all the high school girls fall in love with and breaks their hearts.”

That was definitely intriguing, so I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song several times as I listened to Joni’s sweet voice singing them…and I knew immediately what story I was going to tell.

jonicover.final

The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she stepped out into the hotel lobby and took a quick look around. At the front desk, a young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she was holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to head back to the elevators and punch at the UP button until the doors opened, get back to her room and repack her suitcases—everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet—was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this….

A dull murmur came from the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattle of ice against glass, the whir of a blender. From where she stood, she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses with trays balanced on one hand maneuvering expertly around groups of people.

Maybe no one there was from the reunion. Maybe she was early. Maybe—

You can do this!

She’d always had social anxiety. Had never made friends easily, couldn’t make small talk, sometimes said the wrong thing, alienated people without even knowing what she’d done. Parties and dances had always been agony. Even with friends, people she felt relatively certain actually did like her, there was always the irrational fear she’d say the wrong thing, forget a birthday, commit some horrific social faux pas that would turn them against her, show them what a damaged, worthless person she actually was. She’d started seeing a therapist after college, years after she should have, but her parents thought therapy was all touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo for the weak and all you had to do was suck it up and forget about it, not worry, lock it all away in some dark corner of your mind and move on.

I have never attended a high school reunion, and frankly, have little to no desire to ever do so–with no offense intended to anyone I went to high school with. Our school was very small and remote, for one thing–my graduating class had only 48 students, and at that point, were the largest graduating class in our high school’s history. It’s not easy to get there–one would have to fly into either Kansas City or Wichita, rent a car, and drive for at least an hour just to get to the county seat, and of course, my high school was about nineteen miles (give or take) north of the county seat. I do think about going back from time to time, more to take a look around and see what’s different now as opposed to then; to refresh my memories a bit for writing about the region–which I’ve done somewhat already, but not nearly as much as I could. Using Google Earth has already shown me that my memory is faulty–I’ve fallen into Google Earth wormholes frequently–so while there is some idle curiosity about going back, there’s very little desire or motivation. It’s difficult, I think, for my classmates to understand that I really don’t have much desire to revisit that time of my life; it’s certainly not their fault but the four or five years I spent in Kansas also contain some of the darkest periods of my life.

I wrote a short story about a high school reunion under my Todd Gregory pseudonym; “Promises in Every Star,” which eventually became the title story of my Todd Gregory collection. I first had the idea for that story when I received the invitation to my ten year reunion, back in 1988; the title is a lyric from one of my favorite til Tuesday songs, “Coming Up Close,” from my favorite album of theirs, Welcome Home, which I can listen to over and over again, and have, many times; it’s definitely in my Top Five favorite albums of all time. I don’t remember where I originally published that story, but it was many, many years later, after I had the original idea and wrote the first draft (in long hand), and after that, I figured I was finished with high school reunion stories.

Until “The Silky Veils of Ardor.”

As I listened to the song, the more the story began to take shape in my head; a high school reunion, twenty-five years later; returning to the town where she went to high school for the first time since she graduated and moved away with her family. I had already written the opening, for another short story; as I revised and retooled that particular story, the character grew and changed and wasn’t the timid, nervous, medicated woman she originally was–but I loved that original opening, and decided to lift it from the initial drafts of that story onto this one. I found the original word document of the first draft, erased everything after the opening few paragraphs, and renamed the file THE SILKY VEILS OF ARDOR. The rest of the story flowed out of me after I finished rereading and tweaking the original opening to fit the new story, and I was off and running. I revised the story several times, and one of the things, one of the points, I was trying to make with the story is about how differently we see high school than our friends and classmates did–which is an idea I’d been toying with after an exchange on social media with some of my classmates after I’d posted something–a status update or a blog post, or something along those lines–about how miserable I’d been in high school; my friends were all astonished because how remembered high school was very different from the way they remembered it, and me. I remembered feeling isolated and lonely, like an alien from another planet set down into their midst; a freak everyone kept at arm’s length. They, on the other hand, remembered me as being popular and well-liked by everyone.

And that, my friends, is where this story came from. I still think about those tricks our memories play on us; our inability to see what was right in front of us if we could just see clearly.

The book will be officially released on April 7th from Untreed Reads; you can preorder it at any vendor that sells ebooks. There’s a stellar line-up of writers, and some of the proceeds are going to charity.

And thanks again to Josh Pachter for inviting me.

Here’s a link to Joni singing the song–this is the video I listened to for inspiration.

An American Dream

I am waiting for the other shoe to drop about Spotify, because I am really enjoying having it. Although I suppose…how do the artists get paid? Obviously, the music has to be paid for at some point–for the right to stream it, right? Then again, that isn’t how radio worked, and this is kind of like “choose your own radio/be a disc jockey”.

Talking about Pat Benatar the other day, of course, led me to make a Pat playlist, and of course the Go-Go’s anthology has led to a Go-Go’s playlist as well. I also made one for the Carpenters (on the Benatar thread I mentioned how noir their music is),Stevie Nicks (was there any doubt?), the Monkees (Peter Tork’s death), and copied some 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s pop hits ones. It’s actually been kind of fun.

Oh! TINA TURNER! Be right back.

So I managed to get two chapters revised yesterday; two more today and the thing is done. Oh, I still need to redo the prologue and write the epilogue, then copy edit one more time, but if I get these two chapters done today, I can do the prologue and epilogue on Monday, and do the final copy edit next weekend.

And then it’s finished.

I’m actually excited to get back to my short stories and my other WIP, to be honest. I want to get the WIP finished in its first draft by the end of March, then put it aside to rework another manuscript for the month of April before returning to the WIP.

Huzzah!

I am also very tired this morning. Muses last night apparently wore me out. My lower back hurts a bit and my legs are tired as well. It may have something to do with I bought a new brand of over-the-counter sleeping pills at Costco yesterday, the Costco brand at that. I tried them out last night and obviously they worked. I didn’t even wake up until almost nine this morning, and am still very sleepy and exhausted. Today’s goals are to wash the bed linens, do some more cleaning, cook some things, and do the last two chapters of Scotty. I doubt I’ll have much of a chance to work on it again until Monday; Paul and I always drink on Iris Saturday which makes the day a total waste, and Sunday is parades all day and recovery. I would like to power through today and get those last two chapters finished today, so I can go ahead and use Monday to write the epilogue, and then do one last copy edit on Fat Tuesday while the rest of the city parties and celebrates, and then I can be done with it.

It’s been a long haul, but I am very pleased with this Scotty book.

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

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Rock Me Amadeus

PRIDE MONTH!

Yesterday was a late day for me; I didn’t have to be at the office until four–I had a late night of bar testing last night—so I spent the day paying bills and doing odds-and-ends around the apartment. Today is my short day, and then I am easing into the weekend; I will probably come home and clean tonight, plus prepare for moving some things over to the storage place tomorrow. I did some writing yesterday–not nearly enough–but I am terribly pleased with the progress I am making on not only the Scotty novel but the WIP. I’ll see how I feel when I get home this evening, but I am hopeful I’ll be in the mood to do some writing. The kitchen also needs to be sorted out a bit; I’ll be damned if I can understand how it keeps getting so out of control all the time–it’s not like I’ve been cooking or anything.

I continue to read the Philip Roth in dribs and drabs; I’m just past page 100. It’s taking me, as you can tell, a long time to read; longer than usual. It’s the story, I suppose; the writing is really good and I can savor the way he uses and puts together words, and even how he develops the characters, but not a whole lot happens. For someone who reads mostly crime and horror, as you can imagine, I kind of need stuff to happen. I am hoping to finish this book at some point this weekend because I really want to read Alex Segura’s Blackout.

I watched Streets of Fire again this week; it’s streaming on Starz, and while this was a movie I loved when I saw it in the theater–I even saw it twice, and owned the soundtrack–I was curious to see if, thirty-odd years later, it still  held up. It does, in a way; I see the flaws in the film now, which I didn’t see back then, but at the same time, there’s an aesthetic about it that I like; it’s a “rock and roll fable” set “another place, another time”–so it’s amorphous in its time period, which allowed the set and costume designers to have some fun with creating their own aesthetic look; it’s a combination of 50’s and 80’s style that oddly works; plus there’s so many bright colors in costumes and neon, but at the same time there’s a sense of drabness; the characters all live in a very drab, working class world, almost a slum-like neighborhood. The soundtrack–which includes a Marilyn Martin cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Sorcerer”–doesn’t really hold up; the big numbers, performed by Diane Lane as rock star Ellen Aim, are very operatic to the point of being over the top–think Meatloaf/Jim Steinman. The one hit to come off the soundtrack was “I Can Dream About You,” which still holds up. The movie could have been a lot better; the primary problem is the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Michael Pare and Diane Lane…Michael Pare, who was quite beautiful, just kind of sleepwalks through his role, reading his lines in an almost complete deadpan, unemotional way that you can’t help but wonder what someone equally pretty who could act could have done with the role. Diane Lane does a good job, but Amy Madigan steals the movie out from under everyone in the sidekick role; as a butch former soldier at loose ends who signs on to help Tom Cody (Pare) rescue Ellen (Diane Lane), his ex, from the motorcycle gang (led by a very young Willem Dafoe) who’ve kidnapped her. It’s an almost Western-style movie in its sensibility/plot; the characters are all archetypes–the Tough Guy hero, the Damsel in Distress, her Money-grubbing Manager (a young pre-Ghostbusters Rick Moranis), etc. etc.

I enjoyed it still, but not as much as I did when I was in my early twenties.

So pretty:

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He was also in the cult hit Eddie and the Cruisers, albeit briefly, as Eddie (which is another film I should revisit).

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Born in the USA

Were I to ever write a memoir, I suppose the easiest thing to do would be divide my life into chapters of every ten years or so; my life has sort of been divided that way, almost corresponding with the calendar decades. I was born in 1961; ten years later one chapter of my life closed and another opened when we moved from the city to the suburbs; ten years later we left Kansas for California; 1991 marked my move to Florida, and 2001 was the return to New Orleans from a year in Washington D.C. (what I often refer to, in my head, as ‘the lost year of misery’). 2011 was the year I turned fifty, the aughts being my first full decade of living in New Orleans. Those chapters could then be divided into smaller brackets; the years in the suburbs, the years in Kansas, the bridging year in Houston, the transitional months in Minneapolis, the pre-published years in New Orleans; the pre-Katrina time as a published author, the post Katrina recovery years; I supposed I could mark 2011 as the beginning of another time, the manic productive years when I wrote so many novels and edited so many anthologies and so many short stories. 2017 was the year I took off, to catch my breath and relax and recharge and recover; it was also the year of paralyzing self-doubt and terror that I was never going to write again. Sometimes I wonder if the manic years were precisely what they were because of that fear: the fear that if I ever stopped I would never start again, that I would never start again.

One would think now, after the prodigious output of the last seventeen years or so, I would never doubt myself anymore, would never fear the fount might run dry; but I am just as worried and nervous and as full of doubts as I was in the years I dreamed of making this my reality and wrote and wrote and wrote. It never gets easier, the doubts and fears never go away. At least not for me; I cannot speak for other writers. But I do define myself as a writer. That has been my identity since I signed that first contract all those years ago; above every other identity I can be labelled, be it male or gay or American or New Orleanian or Southern; above and beyond all else I identify as author. 

In an interview recently about Lindsey Buckingham’s departure from the band and Fleetwood Mac’s decision to continue, and tour, without him, Stevie Nicks said, This is terribly sad for me, but I want to be happy and enjoy the next ten years. That may not be the exact quote, but its very close to what she said, and it hit me right at the core of my being. She–and the others–have always been about writing and creating and performing their music; but now they are getting older and wondering how much more time to do they have to do this thing they love so much? I would imagine Tom Petty’s death weighed pretty heavily on her; they were very close. It also made me feel my own age, and wonder about my own future. How many more years do I have to write the books and stories that I want to? What will I do if the day ever comes when I cannot do this anymore, when people don’t want to read what I’ve written, when no publisher wants to invest in getting my work out to readers?

Heavy thoughts, indeed, my own mortality isn’t something I’ve ever cared enough about to think about. But I would imagine, that no matter what else happens in my life, as long as I can type, as long as I can sit up in my chair and see my computer screen, I will keep writing. This compulsion will probably never go away; I know the stories will most likely never stop coming to my mind. Even when I wasn’t writing last year, the ideas were still coming; characters and stories and plots and those stray thoughts that always begin wouldn’t it be interesting if or I wonder what would make a person do such a thing or I wonder what would happen if…

My conscious decision at the beginning of this year to focus on writing, on rediscovering the joy I once always felt when I was creating, the sense of satisfaction felt upon finishing my work for the day, was perhaps the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I do enjoy doing this, even when it frustrates me, when the words won’t come, when I get behind, when I procrastinate and don’t do it even when I know I must, and that the best way to fight off those horrible self-doubts and fears and insecurities is to just fucking do it.

Nothing else matters, really, when it all comes down to it.

Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win?)

I first read Mary Leader’s novel Triad when I was either eleven or twelve. I was creepy, and I really enjoyed it; but I had trouble pronouncing one of the character names: Rhiannon. It was a Welsh name, of course, and I’d never heard it before, so I was pronouncing it RYE-uh-none. I actually thought it was an ugly name. Flash forward a few years, and I heard a song unlike any other I’d ever heard before on the radio–KCMO AM out of Kansas City, I think it was–and after it was finished playing, the deejay said it was “Ree-ANN-un” by Fleetwood Mac (a band I’d never heard of). The next time I was at a record store, I looked for it in the 45’s rack, and there it was: RHIANNON (Will You Ever Win” by Fleetwood Mac.

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Oh, THAT’S how you say it, I thought to myself, and bought it. I eventually bought the entire album–one of the first albums I’d ever owned that I could listen to from beginning to end–and have been a Fleetwood Mac fan ever since.

A few years ago, I either read an interview with her, or saw her talking about the song on television somewhere, and Stevie Nicks said she’d read a book where she came across the name, and the book actually inspired the song. It was one of those moments where you feel a connection with an artist you love (“Oh my God, I read that book too!”)

Recently, and I don’t remember where or how or why; it may have been my October blogging, but as I said, I don’t remember how, but I remembered the book again. I hadn’t read it in over forty years, and I remembered that the author had written another book I’d enjoyed–Salem’s Children–and so I went on-line and ordered copies of both.

And I reread Triad this past week.

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It didn’t start all of a sudden. As I think back now, there were so many little unexplained incidents that I shoved aside and forgot about until later. There began to be those gaps in my life, little ones at first, but then longer and longer as time went on. I would wonder if my memory was failing me and I worried about the headaches to which I’d become prone, but my doctor told me that it was probably shock due to the baby’s death.

That has been so unexpected. I put him to bed one night, all rosy and dimpled with health. He looked at me with those big bright eyes, as he lay fingering the handle of his rattle, then drowsiness drew down his lids and he flipped over on his stomach as he always did and went to sleep with his fist curled around the rattle. The next morning I awakened to the sound of children on their way to school and the disposal truck grinding garbage under our apartment window. Alan was away on one of his projects, so I must have slept right through breakfast. I started to stretch lazily in those moments of waking when one lies between forgetting and remembering, and then sat up with a jerk. Timmy has missed his four o’clock feeding! Had he called and I hadn’t heard him? That wasn’t possible. I always woke at the slightest sound he made. I hurried to the crib and there he was, just as I had left him, but his little body was cold.

“Unexplained crib death” was what the doctor wrote on the death certificate after the autopsy, which meant that Timmy went to sleep a normal child and just stopped breathing for no apparent reason.

Branwen is our young point of view heroine, and the sudden, unexpected death of her child has obviously had a terrible effect on her; I cannot even imagine what it must be like to lose a child, let alone a baby. In an effort to get her over the tragedy, she and her husband, Alan–a civil engineer who is thus away for work most of the time–leave their Chicago apartment behind and buy a beautiful old Victorian house in a small town north of the city on the lake shore.

And then the weird things start happening.

Branwen has guarded a secret most of her life, you see. When she was a little girl she had an older cousin, Rhiannon–their parents were two sets of identical twins–who was jealous and cruel to her, and as such, Branwen hated her. After Rhiannon killed a kitten of Branwen’s–and made it look like it was Branwen’s fault–during a game of hide-and-seek, Rhiannon was inside an old freezer, and Branwen closed the lid on her.

Unfortunately, the handle broke and she wasn’t able to get her out. She went for help, but by the time she was able to get help, Rhiannon was dead.

And now, in the big empty house, with its speaking tubes and old-fashioned stylings, she can hear Rhiannon whispering to her…and strange things start happening.

Has Rhiannon come back? Is the house haunted? Has the loss of her child driven her mad? Is she being possessed?

The atmosphere of the book is terrifying and creepy–those speaking tubes! One of the things I remembered before the reread, over forty years later, was the speaking tubes and the hollow voices coming out of them.

In tone and voice and atmosphere, it’s very similar to Thomas Tryon’s The Other as well as something Shirley Jackson might have written.

Long out of print, it’s a shame. The book is a gem of a read, and short–less than 200 pages–and it’s also a shame Leader only wrote two books.

And as you read it, you can see echoes of the Stevie Nicks song in its pages, and you can see how it inspired her to write the song.

It’s a haunting book–like I said, I’ve never forgotten it–and I’m glad I got the chance to reread it.

The Night Chicago Died

One of the most enjoyable developments of the last ten years or so (maybe longer) has been the resurgence of horror television. I am not knowledgeable enough about the television history–I don’t really pay nearly as much attention to the entertainment industry as I used to; and I often find shows long after everyone else does. My memory, which used to be sharp as a razor, is quite a bit duller than it used to be. The embrace of horror themes and stories by television networks is something I endorse (crime has long been a mainstay of the networks); I am greatly enjoying The Exorcist, gave up on both Scream and Scream Queens during their first seasons, never finished watching Damien (which was cancelled after season one)…and then there’s American Horror Story.

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To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with the show.

Paul and I are both huge fans of Jessica Lange, so we were tempted to watch for that reason; we both enjoy horror (Paul was the one who got me to watch not only the Halloween movies but the Scream ones as well). But we rarely watch television when it airs; our schedules don’t permit us to watch things regularly week by week. For years we simply waited for them to come on to Netflix and then would binge-watch; it was before Season 2, Asylum, began airing that I got a DVR so we could record the shows–back in the days of VCR’s we used to record shows all the time. So, as Asylum aired, we were also watching Murder House from Netflix on disc at the same time.

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The acting was fantastic; Jessica Lange was, as always, amazing. But my biggest fear about the show–Ryan Murphy as show-runner–too often proved to be true. It has been my experience that Murphy is a great ideas guy, but those ideas don’t often pan out into a long-term running show; Glee being the classic example. But I thought the anthology nature of this show–each season being a self-contained story, and using an ensemble cast–might work. Murder House was terrific, and of all the seasons, the most cohesive in terms of story-telling. Asylum was all over the place; after an amazing beginning in which Adam Levine died in a most horrible fashion, the show seemed more concerned with cramming in as many horror tropes as possible within the season: Aliens! Serial killers! Nazis! Biological experiments creating bizarre things! Demonic possession! And on and on and on. Paul and I soon lost track of the story and were just watching for the acting. We never did watch the season finale. But it did give us the wonder that was Jessica Lange singing “The Name Game”; Lily Rabe’s brilliance as the possessed nun; and Sarah Paulsen, after playing a small part in season one, getting a chance to truly exercise her acting ability as Lana, the reporter who winds up involuntarily committed.

My favorite season, though, is Coven.

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It was set in New Orleans, for one thing, and beautifully shot; it was almost a New Orleans travelogue. Kathy Bates was added to the cast, as was Angela Bassett; it was about witchcraft and a school for witches…and one of the girls was obsessed with Stevie Nicks, who even made two guest appearances on the show, but her music threaded through the entire season.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks - Episode 310 (Airs Wednesday, January 8, 10:00 PM e/p) --Pictured: (L-R) Lily Rabe as Misty Day, Stevie Nicks as herself -- CR. Michele K. Short/FX

Miss Robicheaux’ School for Girls was even in my neighborhood.

But again, the writing was incredibly uneven and often times the story didn’t make any sense. The acting was terrific, though, and the visuals absolutely stunning. I even wrote a piece about how watching Coven for the Criminal Element website about how the show reminded me of why I fell in love with this crazy city in the first place.

The <i>Freak Show</i> season was again unevenly written, and this time the acting–the way the characters were written and so forth, wasn’t strong enough to really carry the show. It was also filmed here, with New Orleans standing in for Jupiter, Florida; the Mott mansion, for example, was Longue Vue. And Hotel was such a mess that we didn’t ever watch the season finale, like Asylum. We are watching the new season, Roanoke, and were very close to stopping watching until the big twist in episode 6–Murphy had hinted in interviews the show would flip, and so we decided to stick it out until then. But after the big flip–which was incredibly clever–it seems like the writing is going off the tracks again.

There have been amazing moments on the show, though.

I am curious to see where this season goes.

And now back to the spice mines.