Groove Me

And now it’s Sunday in the Lost Apartment, and I didn’t even go outside yesterday. Seriously, and it was lovely. I spent yesterday morning doing some organizing and planning and chores, and then dove into my edits. I emerged from the edits, bleary-eyed and more than a little bit tired, about five or six hours later and adjourned to my easy chair for some “be Scooter’s nap lap for a while” time and watched some videos on European royalty and some who were royalty-adjacent (Ivan VI of Russia, Diane de Poitiers, Elisabeth-Charlotte d’Orleans, duchess of Lorraine, and so forth) until Paul came home, and we streamed for the rest of the evening, which was nice and relaxing. Today I am going to finish the edits so it can be polished tomorrow before turning it in once and for all–huzzah!–and then the rest of the week I will undoubtedly have the “just finished a book for good” hangover and won’t get much else done. But I am already starting to feel that release of having a book finished; and my stress/anxiety levels have gone down significantly. I slept very well last night, which was also very nice and lovely, and I hope to do so again tonight–it’s been really nice getting all this sleep lately.

We watched Fire Island last night on Hulu, and I wasn’t horribly disappointed by it. I’ve seen few gay films–written, directed, produced and starring gay men– that weren’t disappointments; even the ones that come from traditional Hollywood inevitably I don’t care for very much. I never made it through Call Me by Your Name, for one example, and do not get me started on Philadelphia, In and Out, and To Wong Foo. But I enjoyed Fire Island, despite thinking I wouldn’t. I’ve actually never been to Fire Island–although I was invited to go for my birthday one year; their big Morning Party was actually on my birthday–but I was timid and shy and didn’t know how to get there from Tampa, because it involved trains and ferries and things, and I was also always broke in those days, and so I ended up not going. I’ve regretted it ever since…especially when I was writing Wicked Frat Boy Ways, which had a segment actually set on Fire Island. Anyway, I am digressing. I went into Fire Island kind of expecting it to be the same old gay story about Fire Island–I’ve read enough gay literary fiction either written or set in the 1970’s to have formed a strong impression about Fire Island–but the movie wasn’t what I was expecting. I was kind of expecting…I don’t know, another movie about beautiful and rich gay men with ripped bodies that didn’t go very deep, even if it was billed as a rom-com (I mean, a rom-com set on Fire Island?). But it was a lot more than what I was expecting; the characters the movie followed (a group of friends who all bonded and became kind of a family when they all worked at a horrible restaurant in Manhattan with “bottomless Mimosas”–that flashback scene might only be hilarious to former waiters, but it made both Paul and I laugh knowingly) were not rich for sure; the only reason they can afford to be there is they have a friend–a lesbian who won a lawsuit and got a shit ton of money and bought a house on the island, played by Margaret Cho–and there’s definitely some class issues played out in the movie, as well as issues of race. It was also nice to see some frankness about gay male sexuality. I won’t spoil the movie, but it wound up being deeply satisfying, had some really funny moments, and Bowen Yang is the emotional center of the movie–and he kills it. Fire Island may not be for everyone, but Paul and I really enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would, and the island itself looks beautiful. I am far too old now to “do” Fire Island…but you can’t always do everything you want.

My, how philosophical I am after one cup of coffee this morning.

We also started watching a Spanish language show called Merli: Sapere Audi (Dare to Know), which is a sequel to a show called Merli about a philosophy teacher and ran for three seasons. This show focuses on one of the teacher’s best students, Pol, who is now studying at the University of Barcelona and is played by a really beautiful young actor named Carlos Cuervas, Pol is still in a relationship with Bruno, the son of his old teacher, and is still struggling to come to terms with his bisexuality (or homosexuality; I am not sure which it is), while developing a new relationship with his philosophy professor, who is played by Maria Pujalte, whom we have seen in numerous other shows; she is always great. It’s entertaining enough, and we’ll probably go ahead and finish it tonight. (I laughed because the opening shot of the show has Pol in the shower, with that shot being a close-up of his lovely ass. “Spain understands the gay market,” I laughed as we watched.) I’m not sure what we’ll watch when we finish this, but there are five more episodes so that will be a question for later this week, no doubt…I think the new, New Orleans based and filmed Queer as Folk will be dropping soon on HBO MAX, and we’ll probably watch that and Obi-wan Kenobi on Disney.

And we still haven’t watched all those Marvel shows, either.

I’ve been thinking–always a dangerous thing–lately about trying my hand at writing a gay romance. I’ve always avoided the genre because of it’s commitment to heteronormativity (which actually came up during Fire Island, which was kind of a knowing wink at the audience), but even before watching Heartstopper (I actually think Patrick/Ivan on Elité was when I first started thinking about it.). I even (of course) have a title for it, and was thinking it might be kind of fun to bring Jake from Bury Me in Shadows back and toss him a romance sequel. (I think my next Alabama may focus on his boyfriend Beau from Bury Me in Shadows….if I write another Alabama book. One never really knows.) But writing another book about Jake, or one about Beau would be kind of lazy since I already created them….but I also couldn’t write another book set in Corinth County and not acknowledge Beau…who was a cousin of the main character from Dark Tide, which did get mentioned. I don’t know. But as I put the finishing edits on my cozy mystery, I am thinking it might be fun and interesting to try something–a romance novel–that is completely outside of my wheelhouse. Sure I have to write Mississippi River Mischief, Chlorine and another project first; there’s all those novellas I have to finish as well as all those short stories; and of course, the essays.

Christ.

No wonder I am so tired all the time…

My goal has been to write a first draft of Chlorine in May, and then a first draft of another project (Muscles) in June, spend July writing the short stories and novellas, and then move on to Mississippi River Mischief in August. I’m now thinking–inspired by these edits–that what I really need to do is spend the rest of this month working on the short stories and novellas as well as getting MRM started; it would be great to have a first draft of MRM completed by August 1, and then spend the next two months writing first drafts of the other projects before returning to MRM to finish by December 1. I think that’s not only workable but doable, but I also have to stay focused on the goal and not allow myself to either get lazy or distracted. I really also want to get back down to 200 pounds before Bouchercon; that may not be entirely realistic, but I can at least change the way the weight is distributed on my body somewhat by then–although back in the day, I generally started working on my Decadence body (ah, the days when it mattered so much to me to be in shape for certain weekends of the year!) around June…but my body has aged and changed since those days, and the metabolism has completely slowed down. But my body also craves exercise and stretching–I may do some stretching when I finish writing this, and before I start putting stuff away and cleaning prior to diving into the edits–and it certainly cannot hurt for me to start trying to make it to the gym three times per week again.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Whisper You Love Me Boy

I am so messed up this week. I literally had no idea what day of the week it was for most of the day and had to keep reminding myself it was Tuesday and not Monday. It was very annoying and terribly irritating, as I am sure you can imagine. And it kept messing with me the entire day. I kept thinking oh two more days in the office despite the fact that there was actually only one (I have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday so have taken the day off) and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion of it being Tuesday all day. I certainly hope today isn’t going to another disorienting don’t know what day it is kind of day.

So far so good this morning, really. I feel more awake and a lot less discombobulated than I did yesterday, which is definitely a plus. It also doesn’t feel as cold today as it did yesterday, which I am also taking as a win; Friday is supposed to be miserably cold, but I’ll deal with that when that comes around (note to self: look for other space heaters this evening when you get home from work); hopefully it won’t cause the “cold paralysis” I sometimes experience–when it’s so cold I can’t do anything but huddle for warmth under blankets. Our heat isn’t working again; I turned it on last week and it came on…but then it turned off and hasn’t come back on again since. I really hate our new system because I cannot grasp how it works, and it seems to be so incredibly sensitive to everything that anything even just the tiniest bit incorrect will shut it down completely and we have to call the guys out again. I don’t even know if Paul has bothered mentioning it to our landlady this time, to be honest. It seems like having a working HVAC system is simply not in the cards for us.

Yesterday I got some lovely new editions of Joseph Hansen’s first four Dave Brandstetter mysteries in the mail, which is very exciting. It’s been decades since I read Hansen; and frankly, I am not entirely certain I read the entire series–but that’s lost in the murk of the past; I cannot imagine I didn’t if they were in print, and I do distinctly remember some lovely paperback editions I picked up at Tomes and Treasures in Tampa…but I don’t recall reading them all. So I have decided that I am going to reread Hansen’s novels again–it’ll be interesting to see what my take on them is now that I am also twenty years into a mystery-writing career as opposed to the mystery-writer-wannabe I was when I originally read them (I also seem to recall picking some up at the Borders in Minneapolis at the corner of Lake and Hennepin). Hansen isn’t nearly as remembered as he should be, frankly; I think it’s a disgrace he was never an Edgar finalist or named Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America.

I got the cover art and the proofs for an anthology I contributed a story over the last few days: Cupid Shot Me: Valentine Tales of Love, Mystery and Suspense, edited by Frank W. Butterfield. This is the place where I finally found a home for my nasty little story “This Thing of Darkness”, which was inspired by a visit to New Orleans a few years ago from someone I went to high school with–I met him at Tacos and Beer, which is just around the corner from my house, and of course while I waited for him and watched the crowd there, I started writing a nasty little story in my head that began precisely that way: the protagonist meeting a friend from high school he hasn’t seen in forty years for dinner in New Orleans at Tacos and Beer (which just goes to show–a writer will take inspiration from pretty much any-fucking-where), and as I wrote the story in my head while I waited it took a much darker turn. I was working on the Kansas book at the time (yet another draft of it) and here I was seeing someone from high school back in Kansas…so it really took a dark, nasty turn. I had been doing some research on, of all things, the nuclear missile bases scattered across Kansas (there was one near our high school) which led me into another Youtube wormhole about the TV movie The Day After…and also made me think about an entire book that could be built around one of the abandoned missile bases…anyway, after dinner I went home and started writing this story. It wasn’t originally called “This Thing of Darkness” (which is from Macbeth, by the way); I don’t remember what I originally called the story, but “This Thing of Darkness” was originally the title for the story in Unburied, “Night Follows Night”, but was too good of a title to not use, so I switched whatever the title of this was out for it.

I do like the story, twisted as it is, but it also got me to thinking about patterns in my short stories and how I write them–which I would talk about it here but the thought is still completely unformed, which has never stopped me before, of course, but it is so unformed that I would embarrass myself writing my way through exploring it, and I am not entirely sure that I actually regularly do what I think I do–following the same story structure in all of my stories–so I would need to reread more of them at once to determine whether that is something I actually do with my work…

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

Endless Love

It’s so lovely to be home again. There’s just something about your own bed, isn’t there? I mean, I still have insomnia, but my own bed just feels so better and more relaxing and so forth.

My flight home, with the change of planes in Tampa, went completely smoothly, which was nice. I didn’t think I could handle delays and changes in schedule on the scale of what happened on my trip up there. I’ve pretty much decided not to fly up there anymore; it’s always a weird routing, it’s rarely inexpensive, and most of the times I’ve flown it’s not gone well, either coming or going and sometimes both. Yes, it sucks to spend almost eleven hours on the road driving, but at least then I have control over the trip and if I need to stop, I can. There’s something about that powerlessness when you fly somewhere…and it’s a lovely, if long, drive. I can also listen to books on tape, which is what I did the last time I drove there and back, and that, much more so than music, makes the time go by much more easily and faster, or seem to, at any rate.

I did read some more Purdy short stories on the flights back, and I also read ebooks on my iPad: I had galleys of both Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl (dropping this summer) and Alison Gaylin’s The Collective (dropping this fall) and wow, both are incredible works. I’ve not finished the Gaylin yet–will probably dive back into it this evening after work and writing duties–but I was rather resentful when my flight landed and I had to put the iPad away. The drive home wasn’t bad, and of course the new airport here in New Orleans is pretty amazing; the old one was fine, but it really pales in comparison to the new one. Of course, it’s weird getting there and all–they haven’t done all the off-ramps and on-ramps and so forth for I-10 yet, so there’s congestion and so forth…but the trip home was so much easier than the trip out, and if one had to be fucked up, I would rather it be the trip up.

I feel completely disconnected from my life now–I’ve got to pick up the strands of what I was doing last week before i left and remember what I need to get done in the meantime. The house is in disarray, and that needs to be handled. I’ve also got other things to get taken care of that I need to remember, and I need to decide what I am going to be writing/working on for the moment. (I was thinking while traveling yesterday about several stories in progress I want to get back to, as well as one of the novellas that is stalled for the moment; there were some tweaks that could be made to “Festival of the Redeemer” that came to me yesterday on the plane, as well as some more thoughts about my story “Please Die Soon” that would make finishing it a little easier; this is what happens when I read great writers like Lippman and Gaylin–it inspires me and also unlocks creativity in my own brain, and since the door has been rather firmly shut on my creativity for a while, it’s nice to have the door opened again)

We also got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night–Jesus, what a great show; give Kate WInslet all the Emmys already–and then Hacks (Jean Smart is heading for potentially winning Emmys for each show) which we are also enjoying. Tonight we’ll get to season two of Who Killed Sara? and I also have errands to run after work tonight. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get back to the gym and get back into the swing of my workouts.

Baby steps back into my life…

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

Truth

Friday! I am up ridiculously early on what would ordinarily be a work-at-home day, but I actually have taken a personal day today because I have to take my desktop to the Apple Store in Metairie at nine this morning. Yes, I finally broke down and decided to see if there’s anything that can be done with it. Last week, I had to take Paul out there to buy a cord for his phone (and a remote for the Apple TV, since somehow ours disappeared) and I asked them about loading an operating system into it; the guy said they’d do it for free, so I made the appointment. I don’t entirely trust Apple, though, so I am expecting that it either will cost me money, or they’ll tell me the computer is irreparable or something. Heavy sigh, it’s always something, isn’t it?

I couldn’t sleep last night–par for the course, really, anymore–and so at six this morning I just gave up and got up. I am going to try to swill down enough coffee to make me lucid before having to drive out there. I’m going to also see if I can buy replacement watchbands–I have two watches with broken bands–while I am at the mall, even though the rest of the mall doesn’t open until eleven. I am taking a book with me, and of course will have my phone, as I plan to simply wait there at the mall until my computer is ready. If it’s going to take more than a few hours, I *may* drive home and then go back out there again; I don’t know. I guess I will see what they say when I check the computer in…I know when Wendy and I went to the Apple Store in Tampa during Bouchercon several years ago to get her phone repaired, they said it wouldn’t take more than an hour but we were there for hours, waiting–so these things generally, inevitably, always take longer than they say.

I have other errands I am going to do today; I had two other appointments–doctor and eye doctor–but in an odd weird coincidence, both were cancelled yesterday afternoon…a pain in the ass, to be sure, but what can I do? I was trying to be efficient and do everything I need to do in Metairie on the same day, but it was, alas, not to be.

We got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night, and started watching a documentary about the opioid epidemic on HBO MAX, The Crime of the Century, which was very well done and really horrifying to watch–it’s just another example of how fucked up this country is, and what an enormously flawed system capitalism actually is; when there is no legal accountability for a pharmaceutical company for addicting millions of Americans deliberately, and elected officials and doctors are complicit, what hope does anyone have for justice? Addiction has always terrified me–I have had mental addictions before, but thank God no physical cravings for anything–and it’s one of the many reasons I try to be careful with my alprazolam prescription; I am out and cannot have it refilled again until July–so hold on to your hats as my moods are going to start swinging and my anxiety is going to get out of control again, yippee! But it’s probably best that I go cold turkey on it for a couple of months…anyway, back to the opioids. I never really quite understood the connection between oxycontin and heroin before; why people who became addicted to an opioid would then go to heroin; I knew it happened, but never completely made the connection that, for all intents and purposes, oxycontin was simply a legal, pure form of stronger heroin. I myself have been prescribed oxycontin before–for pain–but I also have always had a high tolerance for pain and so never needed to use every pill prescribed; being able to take a couple to get through the intense pain and then handling it on my own after that without taking anything. I can certainly see how one can become addicted to it–it’s lovely to not have pain, after all, and you also never realize how many aches and pains you deal with on a daily basis (and think nothing of) until you take something that makes all of that go away. For people who have chronic pain, this is the choice they are given: live in pain or become a drug addict, and possibly die from an overdose.

Addiction is yet another big subject I’ve never tackled in my own fiction; I was always very careful to make certain I didn’t give in to the incredibly easy trope of the alcoholic (or hard drinking) private eye–there are very few who manage to do it well, make it fresh, have something new to say about it. J. M. Redmann’s Micky Knight series is one where it works; Micky’s fondness for whiskey (particularly fine Scotch) never really crosses the line into an alcoholism trope; I have written about drinking too much and having a hangover and having to deal with reality while suffering from the after-effects of binge drinking; that is something I am familiar enough with to write about, although I always fear I have gone to that well far too often. I often question myself too much, I think, about my work, and in addition to my frequent imposter syndrome, I always am worried that I am repeating myself in my work; something that becomes all too easy the older I get and the more I have written and the more my memory declines.

As my body continues to break down and decay as it ages, that’s part of the reason I am hopeful my desktop computer can be easily be repaired and made usable again; I need the big screen to view and work on. I have tried, for the longest time, to get used to using the small screen of my laptop and be able to work on it–I really have no choice, but it has made me feel incredibly disconnected from my work and like I am not working the way I should be, and my lack of productivity over the past few years has been directly connected to having to work on this MacBook Air. I have already decided if the computer is irreparable, I am going to probably go ahead and use my tax refund to buy a new desktop; it is a tax deduction, inevitably, even if I don’t want to spend the money, it is a necessary work tool. I don’t fool myself into thinking it will actually solve my productivity issues, by any means, but it will help–and once I’ve spent the money, I think I can make myself do the work if for no other reason than for the fact that I spent all that money.

Sigh. It also just occurred to me that the computer may not even get worked on today; they might just be checking it in and at some point it’ll be ready over the weekend or next week….

On that cheery thought, I need to get in the shower and ready to head for Metairie. May your Friday be lovely and marvelous, Constant Reader.

Dracula’s Castle

Hey there, Saturday! Hope all is well with you, Constant Reader. Yesterday was a lovely day, really–I managed to get a lot done, made a Costco run, loaded all the boxes of books into the car to drop off at the library today, cleaned and organized, and even went through the books again to fill up two more boxes, which need to be loaded into the car this morning. The Latter Library no longer requires appointments to drop off books to donate for the library sale–provided you drop them off during the sale, which runs from 10-2 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The decluttering of the Lost Apartment is off to a great start; with a goal of cleaning out the storage attic and the storage space as well, preparatory to closing the storage space rental once and for all. I put on the new Fleetwood Mac playlist I made on Spotify and just went to town, and of course as I washed dishes, reorganized kitchen cabinets to make room for the new stuff I’d bought at Costco (and seriously, I am not going to have to buy jalapeños or Reynolds wrap for several years now; I also bought an insanely box of garbage bags; again, won’t have to buy them for months again), my mind was off being creative, which is one of the reasons I love cleaning and organizing while I am working on a book. I did think a lot of stuff through with the book–always important, as I am in the final stretch–and then moved on to other book ideas and short stories and so forth, the way I always do–unharnessing my creativity is always a lot of fun, to see where it goes–and this morning’s job, before going to get the mail, stop at the library, and possibly–just possibly–make groceries (I cannot decide whether I should get it out of the way today and just go to the gym tomorrow; or if I want to do the groceries and the gym on the same day). Once I am safely home from the errands I am going to work on the book some more, and possibly read some more of the John LeCarré book I started this past week, The Russia House, which I am really enjoying.

One of the more interesting things about doing a sweep of the books was, of course, the memories–I often will buys books at a conference written by other attending authors whom I’ve just met and listened to on panels, as well as those of my friends who are writers–but once I’ve read the book, there’s really no need to keep it. I love being surrounded by books; I love books and always have, and prefer to always be surrounded by them. There will always be more books, and I will always continue to buy more books than I will ever have the time to read–although I am remembering with much fondness the week we spent in Acapulco back in 2006, and all the reading I got done on the balcony listening to the waves crashing ashore, or the time we went to the tennis spa north of Tampa for a long weekend, so Paul could play tennis and take lessons while I stayed in the adorable rental apartment on the property, writing and reading. My dream is to eventually live somewhere that has a spare bedroom so I can have an office, and then of course put out the books; I would have bookcases in both my office and the living room so there would be books everywhere. I think the next thing I need for the apartment is a taller file cabinet; the small two drawer one I currently use isn’t enough, and while obviously I would eventually fill up a taller filing cabinet (there’s always so much paper around here) I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sigh. Someday.

It looks gray again outside, and it must be in the sixties because the air isn’t on. I don’t think it’s going to rain, there’s just a massive cloud cover blocking out the sun–not a bad thing, now that the trees are gone (I’m still bitter about the loss of the crepe myrtles)–and I am very curious to see how our new system handles the summer. I suspect it will be much more bearable downstairs now, and those little portable air conditioners I bought last year will no longer be of use (although I may use one next to the bed to help me sleep better), which isn’t a bad thing, really. My sleep last night wasn’t as deep as I would have liked; I woke up several times but was always able to go back to sleep. I’d love to have one night of deep, long-lasting unbroken sleep, but I do feel rested this morning and not at all sore from yesterday’s workout (which, again, I had to make myself do); if anything, I feel like I stretched perfectly and the weight lifting actually has made everything feel better, which is quite lovely, if I do say so myself. Paul will be at the office again today and tomorrow–this weekend is the Writer’s Retreat for the Tennessee Williams Festival–and then he only has next weekend’s Festival itself to get through, and then it’s over for the year and hopefully, next year will be in person–still stressful and a lot of work, but at least everything will be over the same weekend rather than spread out over three. I also realized part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from New Orleans lately has been a combination of two things: I no longer work at the office on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, so I don’t drive thru the Quarter anymore on my way to and from work, and I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to enjoy the Festivals in the past three years. I was on a tight deadline the last time the Festival was an in-person event, so I didn’t get to stay down there for the entire weekend, plus I had to come home to tend to Scooter. I am still holding out hope that Bouchercon will happen this year…depends on how infections go this summer, I imagine.

I am also thinking I need to do some exploring. Maybe once this book is finished…

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince

One question that always exasperates authors is the old standard, where do you get your ideas from?

I get why it annoys writers to be asked this; who wants to be psycho-analyzed on a panel or at a reading? It’s a process, of course, and one that cannot be distilled into a quick, witty, quotable sound bite–and the ultimate truth is, it’s almost always different in every case–whether it’s a novel, an essay or a short story; I certainly have not gotten inspiration the same way every time. A lot of the Alabama fiction, for example, that I have written/am writing/have thought about writing, comes from stories my grandmother told me when I was a child about the past–mostly her family’s past, and certainly those stories were self-aggrandizing and self-serving, and still others were apocryphal: the ancestress, for example, who killed a Yankee soldier come to rob her during the Civil War? Yeah, that one was almost certainly lifted from Gone with the Wind–but I have since come to find out that Mitchell probably took the story from legends as well–that story seems to exist everywhere in local legend throughout the former Confederacy (I mention this in passing in Bury Me in Shadows, which also originated in one of my grandmother’s stories).

A while back, I started thinking about doing period novels centering gay male characters and telling their stories about the times when prim-and-proper society swept all things gay under the rug and homophobia was king (or Queen, I suppose). I had already come up with a great idea for a gay noir centered around a health club that operated as a money-laundering front for the local mob in a city in Florida called Muscles, which I hope to write at some point…I cannot recall exactly how or why Muscles led into thinking about other one-word titled gay noir novels set in different periods of the twentieth century; but there you have it. I think Muscles led me to think about setting one in a gay bar in the early 1990’s, built around the time gay porn star Joey Stefano was arrested while performing at a Tampa gay bar for public indecency; Indecency was such a great title that I couldn’t forget it–and I also figured I could link the two books, the way I always link my books together in an Easter eggy kind of way that the majority of people don’t notice but pleases me immensely. Right round that same time a gay man who was very active as a fundraiser and a donor for political causes died; he had started out owning a company that published gay-interest magazines with nude models and had been arrested, and served time, for using the mail to deliver pornography; I wanted to write about him and the rise of gay porn films in Southern California and call it Obscenity. So there it was: a trilogy of loosely connected gay noirs I hoped to write someday…and then one day, as I was blogging–I think maybe two years ago? I don’t recall–my mind was wandering (as it is wont to do) and I started riffing about an idea that was forming in my head as I wrote the entry for a book set in 1950’s Hollywood, dealing with the underground gay community, McCarthyism, and scandal-mongering that would open with a gay movie star’s body being found naked in the surf at the beach…only the autopsy found that the water in his lungs actually contained chlorine…so he hadn’t drowned, he’d been murdered and the body moved. I called it Chlorine; and that was, for me, kind of the end of it–I wrote the idea down, created a folder for it, and posted the entry.

So, I am sure you can imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter a few hours later and had a ridiculously high amount of–what do they call them? Mentions? Anyway, I had no idea what had triggered this–I rarely get much interaction there–and so when I went to check…some people had read my blog and were all about Chlorine–and the more they tweeted about it, the more people had gotten drawn into this conversation. I was thrilled, to say the least, to see so much attention on-line for something that was really just an amorphous idea…and then a great first line occurred to me: The earthquake woke me up at nine in the morning. So I opened a new Word document, typed in that line, and next thing you know, I had an over 3000 word first chapter written, and the entire plot was forming in my mind already. I took voluminous notes, and decided that, once I got finished with everything I was in the midst of writing already, I would give Chlorine a shot.

And in the meantime, I could start reading up on the period, gay Hollywood, and root myself firmly in the period.

Which is how I came across Robert Hofler’s The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson.

On November 29, 1954, The Hollywood Reporter’s gossip columnist Mike Connolly wrote about the proud, happiest day of Rock Hudson’s life. The movie star had just been cast in George Stevens’ cattle-and-oil epic Giant, and Connolly’s one-line blurb commemorating Rock’s celebration party was as cryptic as it was pumped with news ready to break: “Saturday Mo-somes: Phyllis Gates & Rock Hudson, Margaret Truman & Henry Willson.”

In one of his rare acts of discretion, newshound Connolly dispensed with the ampersand that should have wedded the names Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. Fifty years into the future, “Mo-somes” could be read as slang for the two men’s sexual orientation. But not in 1954. Back then, “Mo” meant something far less provocative but nearly as colorful

“Mo” was short for the Mocambo, the Mount Olympus of Sunset Strip nightclubs. Pure tinseltown fantasy, the Mocambo was an over-heated study in contrasts where oversized tin flowers and humongous velvet balls with fringe festooned flaming candy-cane columns that framed a dance floor designed to induce claustrophobia when more than two couples got up to fox-trot. The tables were equally miniscule, making it possible for the establishment to charge lots of money for not much food, which nobody could see. Overhead, rococo candelabras gave off so little illumination that revelers kept bumping into each other by mistake, and sometimes now, as they tried to check themselves out in the flecked mirrors that recast everybody’s reflection in tones of warm, flattering, fake gold.

I had a vague idea of who Henry Willson was before I read this book–he appeared in the Rock Hudson bio I read a few months ago as well as in Tab Hunter’s memoirs–and of course, Jim Parsons played him in the Ryan Murphy alternate-history Hollywood. I was also vaguely aware–my memory is a lot dimmer than it used to be–of the gay Hollywood underground; the Sunday afternoon pool parties at George Cukor’s, for example–and I had read some gay Hollywood histories (the ones by William J. Mann are particularly good), but I knew my main character in Chlorine needed a Henry Willson-like agent, and so I needed to research Henry Willson. Willson was, of course, notorious in his time and the passage of time since his heyday has done nothing to soften that image. He was the definitive “casting couch” agent–and per this book, which is very well written and very entertaining–men who wanted to be movie stars (whether gay, straight or bi) were more than willing to service Henry if it meant a leg up in the business. And Henry did work very hard for his clients, polishing rough material into diamonds for the camera. He taught them how to speak, how to walk, the proper silverware, how to behave in public; manners and etiquette. Henry believed that talent wasn’t as important to being a movie star as having star quality–the indescribable something that all major stars have, that is impossible to describe–and he knew what he was doing. He also frequently renamed them–hence the proliferation of the one syllable first names with the two or three syllable last names: Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, Chad Everett, Guy Madison, etc.

This book provided a wealth of information as well as inspiration for me, as did the Rock Hudson biography I read several months ago. This period of Hollywood history is fascinating, and I love that writing this book–or rather, planning and researching, since I haven’t really started writing it–is giving me an amazing excuse to study gay Hollywood history and the post-war film industry.

Make no mistake about it–Henry Willson was good at what he did, but he was also a terrible person; trying to make it in a homophobic culture, society and industry at the time in which he lived would definitely twist a person. He was an arch-conservative; a Log Cabin Republican of his time, friends with the horrific Roy Cohn. Was it camouflage to help protect him and his clients from the Red Scare days of McCarthyism, when being queer was also just as suspect? Or was he really that terrible of a person? The author makes no judgments; rather leaving it to the reader to. make up their own minds about who Henry was as a person. As terrible as he was–and some of the things he did, like the casting couch, were pretty unforgivable–I did feel sorry for him in some ways, and in basing a character on him I kind of have to find the humanity in the monster. He was not attractive in a business that revolved around beauty; while the straight male pigs who ran the business used their power to force women to sleep with them, Henry used and abused his own power to get beautiful men to sleep with him.

My own main character–a second-tier movie star who slept his way into parts and a career–is also not entirely likable; but I think I’ve gotten deep enough inside of his head to at least make him identifiable and relatable to the reader…but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

I do recommend this book, if you’re interested in Hollywood history in general or gay Hollywood history specifically.

Epiphany

Friday, and day two of a Gregalicious long birthday weekend.

The actual birthday yesterday wasn’t too bad. I ran by the office and got my prescriptions, ran to the post office and got the mail, and then stopped at the Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s to make groceries. Of course, when I left the house it was sunny and humid, and by the time I made it to the Rouse’s parking lot it was pouring rain–like always whenever I go make groceries. Heavy sigh. But then I lugged everything in, and by the time I had everything put away I was completely exhausted. I wound up hanging out in my easy chair, getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and then Paul and I started watching something neither of us really cared for–a comedy series, which seemed to think bigotry with a smidgin of homophobia is still uproariously funny and should be played for laughs. Needless to say, I didn’t find it engaging or particularly funny. It was a high school thing, and after watching Never Have I Ever, Sex Education, and various other teen comedies that didn’t need to stoop to such sophomoric levels to be engaging, funny, and charming–how this other shit got on the air is a mystery to me. We won’t be watching any more of that, believe me. I was pretty tired for some reason last evening, so I retired early and found myself waking up terribly late this morning–much later than I usually get up (oooh, I slept in a WHOLE EXTRA HOUR, alert the media! Then again, given my occasional bouts of insomnia, this was a quite lovely development.)

So, overall it wasn’t a bad day. I am going to have my scroungy day today, where I don’t shower or shave and spend the whole day in dirty yet oddly comfortable sweats that should be going into the laundry but I’m willing to wear one more time first–oh, don’t sneer. We’re all basically slobs at heart, and imagine how disgusting we’d allow ourselves to get if we didn’t have to clean up. Oh, is that just me? Never mind then. Although I am also thinking I should probably shower to just wake up, if not for hygienic purposes. And while it is Friday and day two of Gregalicious Long Birthday Weekend, I fully intend to keep up the Friday tradition of laundering the bed linens. I am going to spend some time being sluggish today–I want to spend some time with Lovecraft Country, and I am weeks behind on The Real Housewives of New York–but emails and so forth have been piling up during my exile from doing anything of consequence yesterday, and so I am going to have to start doing something about that today, little as I want to. The Lost Apartment is also a dreadful mess.

There are two tropical storms out there, with another tropical something forming off the coast of Africa. Laura has already formed, and her track has New Orleans on the outer edge of her Cone of Uncertainty; the other in the Gulf, forming off the coast of the Yucatan, will be named Marco when and if he becomes anything. Currently both are slated to hit the Gulf Coast merely as Category 1’s, but those are no picnic, and I do hope they all miss Puerto Rico (isn’t it odd how no one ever talks about, or reports on, the Puerto Rican recovery?).  Interestingly enough, both storm tracks show that they will hit landfall on the Gulf Coast within hours of each other, and each, as I said, have New Orleans on their outside track. So, Laura could be hitting anywhere from New Orleans to Pensacola at around two in the morning on Wednesday, while Marco could be coming ashore at around the same time anywhere from Corpus Christi to New Orleans. 

Talk about a one-two punch. And if ever there was a base for a Scotty story, simultaneous hurricanes would be it–although I do think Tim Dorsey did this in one of this Florida novels, and if I recall correctly, the eyes converged somewhere over central Florida. As I have, in recent years, come to a greater appreciation of Carl Hiassen (I have a PDF of his next one in my iPad; and I really should read more of his work), I should give Dorsey another go. Back in the day, the genre I’ve come to call “Florida wacky” never appealed to me, but once when I was on a work trip to DC I finished reading all the books I’d brought with me and went to a nearby Barnes and Noble, and Hiassen’s Bad Monkey was on the sale table for $2.99 in hardcover and I thought, oh, why not, and bought it–and couldn’t put it down. It also made me laugh out loud numerous times, and I went on to read several more of his with great appreciation–so perhaps I should give Dorsey another go. Dave Barry, the columnist, also wrote a couple of novels that fit into this category, and I know I read his first and really enjoyed it. 

Florida–at least the panhandle–played a part in my childhood and shaping me as a person; I also lived in Tampa for four years as an adult, and I have spent quite a lot of time in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Miami over the years. I had originally intended to set Timothy in Miami; I eventually went with Long Island because same-sex marriage was legalized there long before it became national, and I didn’t really feel quite as comfortable writing about Miami as I did about Long Island. It also made more sense to set it on Long Island–although I found the perfect house on one of the Miami islands to base the mansion on. I eventually had my main character meet his future spouse in Miami–South Beach, to be exact–but it really made more sense for it to be based in New York City and Long Island and the Hamptons. I’ve written a little bit about Florida in my fiction; “Cold Beer No Flies” was set in the panhandle, and I have innumerable other ideas that would be set either in the panhandle or my fictional version of Tampa (Bay City), but New Orleans is still my center and still where I inevitably set everything I write.

I’ve always wanted to send Scotty on an adventure in the panhandle–Redneck Riviera Rumble–and perhaps I still might. There’s an amorphous idea in my head for such a tale, which would involve Frank’s retirement from professional wrestling and his final show somewhere in the panhandle, sex trafficking, and drug smuggling; if I can ever pull it all together, you can bet I will be writing it.

And on that note, I need to get to work being a slug. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

 

 

Jack the Lad

And now it’s Tuesday.

Yesterday was a strangely low-energy day for me; it was kind of overcast all day and I never really did seem to kick into a higher gear at all.

I did manage to rewatch Body Heat last night, one of my all-time favorite movies, and am delighted to report that it does, indeed, hold up after forty years. And what a film. I saw it originally in the theater; drawn in by a great review I read in the paper that compared it to Double Indemnity, or said that it was loosely based on it, or something like that. I went by myself–I trained myself to go to see movies alone in my late teens–and it was a matinee so there weren’t many people there. I remember that opening shot, of William Hurt’s bare, sweaty back as he watched a fire in the distance from his bedroom window while his hook-up dressed behind him, sitting on the edge of the bed. I remember thinking how sexy he was, and once the character of Kathleen Turner appeared on screen, I also remember thinking how gorgeous she was, as well. I knew who she was–I knew her from her role as Nola on The Doctors, and I also knew she’d been fired from the show for being overweight….which was incredibly hard to believe as I watched her slink across the screen, saying my favorite line ever from a movie: “You’re not very smart, are you? I like that in a man.” I also knew she’d been replaced by Kim Zimmer–I knew all of this because flipping through the channels one day I stopped on The Doctors because Kim Zimmer was on screen and I thought to myself, she’s really pretty and kind of reminds me of Jane Elliott–who’d played my favorite character on General Hospital, Tracy Quartermaine–and at first I did think it was Jane Elliott. I used to read Soap Opera Digest in those days, and shortly thereafter they did a piece on Kim Zimmer, which was when I learned about Kathleen Turner. (Interestingly enough, there was a strong physical resemblance between Zimmer and Turner as well; Zimmer appeared in the film in a supporting role as well)

Body Heat blew me away that first time I saw it; I watched it again when it debuted on HBO, and I try to watch it again periodically. It showed up when I was searching through HBO MAX, and last night I thought, as I waited for Paul to come home, why not? It was very tightly written as well; although last night I spotted a couple of holes in the plot–but the cast was fantastic an it moves so quickly and inevitably to its climax that you don’t really have time to catch those holes until you’ve watched it numerous times. You also have a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as the assistant prosecutor who is a friend of Ned Racine, the low-rent shitty lawyer played by William Hurt, and a very young and beautiful Mickey Rourke as Freddy, the arsonist client of his who holds several keys to the plot in his sexy hands, and of course, both Hurt and Turner at the peak of their youth and beauty.

As I watched Body Heat again last night, something else about the film struck me: it was the first time I can recall seeing a film where the camera sexualized a man in the same way it usually sexualized a woman. Hurt was shirtless or naked at least half of the time he appeared on screen, and his body–which was, for the time, quite spectacular–was shot lovingly by the camera. One of the sexiest sequences I’ve ever seen on film was one shot, where Hurt’s hook up for the night is getting dressed and he is lying in bed, naked, with a sheet draped over his groin but his left leg is uncovered, and you can actually see his naked hip, and the curve of his ass on the bed; it’s an incredibly sexy shot, and not the kind of thing that was standard for a male in a film of the time. He was meant to be seen as sexy and hot; and I don’t remember ever seeing that before in a movie; men were usually considered to be hot and sexy by dint of just being male in movies…I could, of course, be wrong, but at least that’s how I remember it. And as the 80’s progressed, what I call the “gay male gaze” began to be used to shoot beautiful actors more regularly–think about how Rob Lowe was sexualized in almost every movie he made, and it became more of a regular thing.

Body Heat inspired me to start writing noir, quite frankly. I had already read some James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit), but as much as I loved his books it never occurred to me to start writing in that style. Body Heat, on the other hand, inspired a story I started writing called Sunburn (which was used by Laura Lippman as a title for her own noir homage to Cain a few years ago and is one of my favorite noirs), which eventually was retitled Spontaneous Combustion, and now sits in my files, waiting to be written. When I first moved to Tampa, and went for a drive along Bay Shore Boulevard, the big beautiful houses lining the road also inspired me; one in particular seemed the perfect locale for the story of the middle-aged wealthy widow who falls for a hot young man, which kicks off the story.

I’m reminded of that idea every time I watch Body Heat, and as I watched it last night, I thought about the noirs I want to write–a queer noir quintet–and as I write this I realize Spontaneous Combustion isn’t one of them.

Interesting. And on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

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

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After the Event

I’ve loved, and been fascinated, by ancient Egypt ever since I was a kid. I don’t remember when, precisely, Egypt became so lodged into my brain; but for as long as I can remember, the ancient history of one of our oldest civilization has intrigued me, and held my interest. I’m hardly an expert–not even close–but I remember pestering my parents to subscribe to the Time-Life Great Ages of Man series; the very first volume of which was, naturally,  Ancient Egypt (for the record, I still have my entire set of those books). Cleopatra, of course, also interested me; I’m not sure if my Egyptian interest came before or after watching the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra on television. (I still am terribly interested in Cleopatra; the court intrigues and politics of the Ptolemy dynasty makes the Borgias and the Medici look like pikers. I always wanted to write a book about–of all things–Cleopatra’s older sister Berenice, who briefly overthrew their father and took the Egyptian crown. The Romans sent legions to support her father, so her reign was very brief. Her younger sister, Arsinoe, who fought Cleopatra for the throne–only to be defeated by Caesar, also interests me.) I’ve always been interested in Akhenaten (loved Allen Drury’s two books about the Amarna revolution, A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes), Tutankhamun (of course), and Hatshepsut (I read a great Scholastic mystery set during her reign called The Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Treasure, and I think I bought a copy from eBay a while back; I may have the name wrong.)

But as much as I love Egypt, I didn’t love it enough to read Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. I borrowed it from the library, and couldn’t get through the first chapter.

Sorry not sorry.

As a teenager who loved mysteries, I gravitated towards women authors once I’d fairly exhausted the canons of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner primarily because I couldn’t relate or identify with the crime novels being written by men at the time. Grim and hard-boiled and toxic masculinity wasn’t a combination I was terribly interested in at the time; I did appreciate noir (discovering James M. Cain when I was about nineteen was wonderful), though–but that was because I associated it with all those great movies I used to watch with my grandmother. I eventually came around, and started enjoying John D. MacDonald and Hammett and Chandler as I got older.

But when I saw this book on the paperback rack at the grocery store in Emporia, I had to get it. It was a mystery; blurbed by one of my favorite writers, Phyllis A. Whitney, and of course, that was the Sphinx on the cover. I bought it, read it, loved it–and forgot about Elizabeth Peters for about a decade or so (I came back to Barbara Michaels in my mid-twenties, and when I discovered she was also Elizabeth Peters, it didn’t register with me.) Then one day I was in the Waldenbooks and More on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa when I saw a book on the end cap that called to me: The Last Camel Died at Noon, plus an unmistakably Egyptian scene on the cover. The title and the cover alone sold me–and I also knew by then that Elizabeth Peters was the same writer as Barbara Michaels. I bought it and when I got home, I opened to the first page and started reading….about a page in I stopped. Wait, Emerson and Peabody? I turned back to the beginning of the book and there it was, on the BY THE SAME AUTHOR page: THE AMELIA PEABODY SERIES, and the first title was Crocodile on the Sandbank! 

You can only imagine my delight. I loved those characters, loved that first book, and to find out now there was a series? I read The Last Camel Died at Noon cover to cover in about twenty-four hours, and the next day I went back to Waldenbooks and More and bought the entire series, and settled in to get reacquainted with two of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

crocodile on the sandbank

When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome–(I am informed, by the self-appointed critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error. If those seemingly simple English words do indeed imply that which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing.)

In justice to myself, however, I must insist that Evelyn was doing precisely what I have said she was doing, but with no ulterior purpose in mind. Indeed, the poor girl had no purpose and no means of carrying it out if she had. Our meeting was fortuitous, but fortunate. I had, as I always have, purpose enough for two.

I had left my hotel that morning in considerable irritation of spirits. My plans had gone awry. I am not accustomed to having my plans go awry. Sensing my mood, my small Italian guide trailed behind me in silence. Piero was not silent when I first encountered him, in the lobby of the hotel, where, in common with others of his kind, he awaited the arrival of helpless foreign visitors in need of a translator and guide. I selected him from amid the throng because his appearance was a trifle less villainous than that of the others.

I was well aware of the propensity of these fellows to bully, cheat, and otherwise take advantage of the victims who employ them, but I had no intention of being victimized. It did not take me long to make this clear to Piero. My first act was to bargain ruthlessly with the shopkeeper to whom Piero took me to buy silk. The final price was so low that Piero’s commission was reduced to a negligible sum. He expressed his chagrin to his compatriot in his native tongue, and included in his tirade several personal comments on my appearance and manner. I let him go on for some time and then interrupted him with a comment on his manners. I speak Italian, and understand it, quite well. After that, Piero and I got on admirably. I had not employed him because I required an interpreter, but because I wanted someone to carry parcels and run errands.

My God, that incredible, incredible voice.

By the end of the second page, I was madly in love with Amelia Peabody; by the end of the third, I wanted to be Amelia Peabody. How could you not love her? She’s fiercely intelligent, even more fiercely independent, spoke her mind, got straight to the point, and had no desire whatsoever to deal with frivolities, sentimentality, and so forth. The youngest child and only daughter of a classics scholar, her six older brothers got married and left her home to take care of their father. She speaks four languages fluently, and frequently curses the accident of birth that left her a female. Her father died and left her everything–which her brothers thought was fair, until it turned out he was a lot richer than anyone thought and had left her half a million pounds, which was an insane amount of money in the late nineteenth century. Unmarried at thirty-two, she considers herself to be too plain, too old, and too sharp-tongued to ever marry, and has decided she is going to die a spinster. (I could never respect a man who would allow his wife to dominate him, but at the same time I could never allow any man to dominate me.) She decides to use her fortune to travel to visit the places she’s always dreamed of and read about in books–which is what brings her to Rome, along with her paid companion–whom she doesn’t care for, and just chance puts her in the forum at the same time as Evelyn, who faints and Peabody, of course, takes charge. She decides to help Evelyn–who was seduced away from her wealthy family and “ruined”, as well as cut off, and she’d come to Rome with the man she thought she loved only to be abandoned by him, with no clothes but what she is wearing and not a penny to her name. Peabody and Evelyn hit it off, she sends the paid companion back to England and engages Evelyn as her new companion, and they depart for Egypt.

So, now two of our players are now in place; it’s time to meet the other two. Once they are all checked in at Shepheard’s in Cairo, Peabody is quickly besotted with Egypt, and pyramids, in particular–and reading Peabody’s descriptions of the country, you cannot help but fall in love with it, too (not a problem for me; I was already there before I read the book). They go to the Antiquities Museum one afternoon–the director was a friend of Peabody’s father–and Peabody is put off by how disheveled and disorganized–and dusty–everything is. She picks up a dusty pot and begins to wipe the dust from it, only to have an enormous man explode with rage at her. They give each other what-for–they are suitably matched in that regard–and this is Emerson, archaeologist with a passion for discovery and knowledge and preserving the past. Emerson’s brother makes apologies, and a spark is lit between Walter and Evelyn. Soon, the Emersons are off to their dig at Amarna, and Peabody and Evelyn rent a sailboat–a dahabeeyah, to be exact–and begin their trip down the Nile.

Naturally, they stop at Amarna, and stumble into quite a bizarre mystery, which includes an animated mummy and several attempts on our troop’s lives. But the four are definitely up to the task–there are times when I laughed out loud–and hilariously, while both Peabody and Emerson become quite irritated with Walter and Evelyn, who can’t see that the other is madly in love with them; Peabody and Emerson are also falling in love, and refuse to see it, bickering and fighting and–oh, it’s just wonderful and charming, and I know I am failing to do the magnificent Ms. Peters’ work any kind of justice. Amanda is just so, so wonderfully fearless and courageous and pure, and doesn’t even worry about her own safety when those she loves are in danger. The book has a most satisfying resolution, and I remember putting it down that first (much as I do every time I reread it) with a happy smile on my face. The Peabody and Emerson books bring me a lot of joy.

I devoured the entire series, loving them all–the way Peters deftly ages her characters and deepens their relationships, and of course the children…one thing that will always make The Last Camel Died at Noon special for me was that was also the adventure that introduced our merry band of archaeologists to Nofret–and therein lies another tale, for yet another time.

I am so, so delighted I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank. If you’ve not read this series, you really should treat yourself to it, because it is just that: the most amazing gift you can give yourself.