I Get Along

One thing I definitely dislike about getting older is that the weekends feels shorter. They aren’t shorter, of course, but I am generally so worn out by the week that Saturdays end up being a waste because I have little to no energy to commit to anything. I inevitably run an errand or so, and then wind up being so worn down from that and the week that I wind up getting very little to nothing done. I made groceries–it was in the sixties(!)–and then came home, made us lunch, and then collapsed into my easy chair, watching television for the rest of the day; we watched a second episode of Gold Digger before moving on to Deadwood Fell, with David Tennant, which was quite good (the next two episodes of Gold Digger drop tomorrow), and then we caught the first episode of Little Fires Everywhere, which is very good–although Reese Witherspoon seems to be making a career out of playing adult Tracy Glicks. She does it very well, mind you, but she might want to think about doing something different. (We still haven’t watched The Morning Show on Apple Plus, which I’ve heard good things about. We’re caught up on Defending Jacob, but I’m not sure if we’ll finish, frankly; other than out of a sense of needing completion.) We also watched Bad Education on HBO with Hugh Jackman and Alison Janney–both of whom were terrific in their roles, but the story wasn’t told particularly well, if that makes sense? (As you can see, I spent most of yesterday in my easy chair with my lap blanket and the remote control close at hand.)

As such, I have a shit ton of work that I need to get done today. I’d like to get this first draft of “Falling Bullets” finished, some work done on the Secret Project, and some more work done on some other stories I am working on, and it’s probably not a bad idea for me to get organized this morning, either. The kitchen is still a big, disgraceful mess–must do the dishes and clean off the counters, maybe clean out a couple of drawers or something–and as always, there’s reading I’d like to do. Probably after I finished writing this, I’ll retire to my easy chair with Thunder on the Right for about an hour or so, to finish waking up (always a risk, though, because I could get caught up in the story and want to keep reading) and really, there’re few things better than reading with your morning coffee, is there? But yes, this sloppy, messy kitchen/office area is too much to be borne.

It’s in the sixties again outside this morning, with today’s high project to be 76 degrees. It seems weird to have the weather be this lovely and cool in early May–because usually the lows are in the high seventies and the highs in the upper eighties by this time of year. Before it was moved up to coincide with the Williams Festival, Saints and Sinners always fell on Mother’s Day weekend, and everyone (from everywhere else) always seemed to have issues with the heat and humidity; which naturally made us locals giggle into our sleeves. But while yesterday was kind of gray, the sun is back today, and that also helps–the cool weather and haziness rather played into my torpor. But this bright sunshiny morning seems to be precisely what the doctor ordered; the cool of last evening helped me sleep deeply and well, and I feel more myself this morning than I did yesterday. Adapting to being older has not been an easy thing for me; and while I appreciate the fact that most people don’t realize I’m pushing sixty, can tell. Whereas the weekend used to be two wonderful days of cleaning and writing and editing and getting things checked off my to-do list; now I must always spend Saturday recovering from the week’s work and schedule, recharging my batteries in hopes that Sunday will make up for the loss of a day’s work to the recovery process.

I hate when my batteries run down, quite frankly. It’s rather unpleasant to have very little energy, but it’s even worse as a reminder that I am not as young as I might internally think I still am. I don’t believe youth is wasted on the young, as so many others occasionally will say or as the axiom states; but when you are young you never really think about what it’s going to feel like, be like, when you’re older. I probably wouldn’t have ever believed that my energy would have limits at some point; that I would need to conserve it from time to time in order to have a productive day.

One of the stories I sent out this past week has already been rejected, but I received a personal rejection rather than the standard one that comes through the Submittable program, which was quite lovely, with an explanation of why they couldn’t use it. I knew that story might have problems being placed; I probably should just submit it to the Saints and Sinners short story contest and be done with it. But it’s a good story and the editor really liked it; it just “wasn’t right for their audience”–whatever that means. I am choosing to believe the personal note rejection was a good sign; the not right for our audience catch-all is a polite way of getting out of getting into specifics. But, ironically, whereas rejections always used to send me spinning into spirals of why am I doing this I have no talent why do I keep beating my head against this wall I am taking encouragement from it; even if it is self-delusion.

Self-delusion isn’t always, after all, a bad thing.

And there are certainly worse things to be self-deluded about, quite frankly.

And now, to the easy chair with Mary Stewart for an hour.

Have a lovely Mother’s Day, Constant Reader!

IMG_1022

Forever and Ever Amen

Yesterday afternoon I got sucker-punched; there I was, having a good day and getting things done and then–WHAM! Right between the eyes–Southwest sent me a reminder email about my scheduled and ticketed trip to New York for the Edgars at the end of April. The 30th, to be exact, but because of the symposium and other duties, I was going to be flying up there on the 28th, hence the reminder email. It didn’t help that the email reminded me that today would have been the closing for TWFest/S&S, and I got teary-eyed and sad and overwhelmed and had to get off the computer and away from the world for a little while.

It was out of the blue–I’ve said this before and it’s my own advice to other people (“remember something unexpected will happen–a tweet, a Facebook post, an email–that will catch you off guard and trigger something internal”) but it’s still rough when it happens, and it did, in fact, derail the rest of my day; there was no writing accomplished yesterday, and I didn’t really do much of anything afterwards, other than binge a few more episodes of Ozark (greatly enjoying this third season; the performances are stellar, particularly Laura Linney and Julia Garner) and then went to bed early. I slept fairly well, and this morning I feel even, but man–was that ever rough yesterday or what?

This week I have to go to work at 8:15 at our other building (campus?) every morning before leaving around noon to head to our other building (campus?) on Elysian Fields for the afternoon shift. Adapting to what is essential a 9-to-5 life isn’t going to be easy for me; it’s something I’ve managed to avoid my entire life until age fifty-eight, although I have to confess (as I said the other day) there really is something to eight hours five days a week. I like getting home earlier than I usually do (around eight), and I just have to  adjust to having those early evenings free. Hurricane season is coming, and so is termite swarm season and the time when stinging caterpillars rain down from the live oak trees like something out of C-level horror film from the 1950’s–usually the second bill on a drive-in double feature; you know the kind of film I mean–and then comes the heat and humidity of the summer. It’s already hotter this year than it usually is at this time of the year; I can only imagine how truly unbearable July and August are going to be this summer. There are but two days left in this hellish March, and then it’s April. (And I do hope nobody is foolish enough to play pranks on April Fool’s Day…)

I’ve decided since my attention span is so limited that it’s time to go back to both the Short Story Project (which I’ve been doing these last few weeks, really) as well as the Reread Project. I had considered rereading Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic next, since I don’t really remember much of it at all, but have decided to reread one of my all time favorites, and definitely my favorite ghost story of all time, Ammie Come Home by Barbara Michaels. It’s been awhile since I read it, and it was, of course, the first novel by Michaels I read. I had originally watched the Made for TV movie that was based on it (The House That Wouldn’t Die, starring none other than the magnificent Miss Barbara Stanwyck), and then later found it in a volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (remember those?) about a year or so later at my grandmother’s. I eventually bought a used paperback copy when I was either fifteen or sixteen and read the full novel, and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. (In those days, I preferred her work as Barbara Michaels–it wasn’t until years later that I really got into her novels under the name Elizabeth Peters, and there was no turning back from that moment.)

I have a lot of emails in my inbox to answer–remember, I was in a flurry of responding to emails when I got the reminder from Southwest that derailed my entire day yesterday–as well as to sort and file. I’ve absolutely got to get back on that horse and dive into my emails headfirst today, and I’ve got to generate some others and consolidate all my notes and create an overall to-do list. My primary concern with so many seemingly endless tasks is that I am going to forget something important; I need to get my equilibrium back–hopefully getting used to my next work schedule will be helpful in that regard–and I need to get better organized.

I always seem to be saying that, don’t I?

Hmmmmm.

But the sun is rising and the world is gray outside my windows, and it’s about time for me to head into the spice mines. Stay safe, everyone, and have a lovely day.

Diego_Instore

Hey Good Lookin’

Hey there, Sunday morning, how’s about you doin’?

Well, we’re still here, aren’t we? That’s something to be grateful for, I suppose; I don’t know what horrors today might still have in store for me, or what fresh new ones await on the morrow, but for now–I am okay, we’re all okay, and it’s always okay to take a step back away when you need to because it can be so overwhelming.

Yesterday was lovely. I slept in, I read some emails, I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. I organized the stuff on the cabinets on the stove-side (downtown in New Orleans) of the kitchen; I had a protein shake for lunch and peanut butter toast for breakfast. I worked on the laundry room shelves, and reorganized the bathroom vanity. I read Daphne du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” which was both creepy and charming at the same time–which only makes it creepier, doesn’t it? I made a shopping list for the next time I go to Costco. I made progress on getting organized, despite the on-going irritations with my computer which finally resulted in it doing a deep crash, but now it seems to be working just beautifully. I didn’t lose anything but time, and well–the one thing to come out of the dramatic shift and change in my work schedule is eight hour days, five days a week–and despite getting up early and having to go to bed early as a result–I find myself with more free time than I had before. There’s no sports to watch on television; this weekend I would have been running around getting exhausted (but having a great time doing it) at TWFest/S&S. That’s correct; that is what would have been the normal madness of life I associate with this time of year–part of the reason, I suspect, I feel so unmoored most of the time; this is anything but a normal time–and I also know, from past experience,  that normal is going to be different from now on. There’s no going back to December 2019, when we were all looking forward to the end of an annus horribilis; we had no idea what horrors our eldritch reality had waiting in store for us in 2020.

An innocent, more carefree and hopeful time. Hard to believe it’s only been three months since Christmas.

But yesterday I stayed away from the news and scrolled past it on the rare occasions I ventured into the Internet yesterday; it made for a much more relaxed day, and I even refused to worry about how many bad things might be happening while I wasn’t paying attention–and then realized with luck, some of the stuff that probably shot by in our daily dystopian news reality, the stuff I’ll never go back and get caught up on, hopefully won’t be necessary. The only news I want to hear at this point is that this whole situation has miraculously resolved itself and everything is back to normal, and if that were the news, I’ll find out soon enough, right?

Right.

But it was lovely to feel like it was my life again, and a normal Saturday. I could feel the tension slowly easing itself out of my shoulder blades as the day passed and I grew more and more relaxed, as the ease of repetition and mindless work put me into a more zen-like state, where my mind could release itself from its bonds and be creative; think creatively and solve problems and get organized; and of course the memories from AFTER Katrina, of going to the gym to develop a routine for every day and sticking to that; setting a routine of things to do to keep me occupied, my mind focused elsewhere than what the reality was outside my front door. None of this is possible now, of course; but I am going to start stretching every morning so at least I am doing something to take care of my body. But I am trying to adapt and change to a new system, a new normal, a new reality; and finding time to write–which I am going to do today–goes a very long way to reestablishing a new reality for me.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and I already miss it. It’s quite an excellent show; and as I mentioned already, Kiernan Shipka is perfectly cast as Sabrina (I also kept thinking, as I watched, what a good Nancy Drew she would make); in fact, everyone is pretty much perfectly cast, and the high production quality of the show is something to see indeed. After we finished Sabrina, we started with the third season of Ozark, and if you haven’t been watching that show, you need to start from the beginning and go to binge-heaven. Cleverly written, beautifully directed and filmed, and remarkably cast–Julia Garner as Ruth is a particular stand-out–Ozark is one of the best shows of the last few years. And then we moved on to Tiger King, the docu-series everyone is talking about, and wow–what an interesting show. The funny thing is I had always wanted to write a book built around the Big Cat Rescue organization run by Carole Baskin; I had a base idea formed around it, and when Paul and I stayed at the Saddlebrook Tennis Resort north of Tampa a few years ago (probably more than a few years ago; I think it was 2012? 2013? Time holds little to no meaning to me anymore) I had considered contacting them to do some research while we were there. The name of the book was going to be The Stripes of the Tiger and I actually came across my file with notes a few days ago when I was organizing and filing in the kitchen. (I often have ideas that hold my interest for a little while and then I see another new, shiny object and move on)

“Ganymede” was a chilling and charming story, as I mentioned earlier–and I can see why it’s compared to “Death in Venice’; there are definitely similarities under the surface of the stories; an older tourist comes to Venice on holiday, becomes obsessed with a much younger, extremely beautiful teenager, and the end result of both stories is death. The Mann story, of course, ends with the death of the tourist from a cholera outbreak; the du Maurier ends very differently. Naturally, I prefer the du Maurier story, which is dark and twisted, and I’ll say it if no one else wants to make the comparison: “Ganymede” also has a lot in common with Lolita. I’ll have more to say about “Ganymede,” but I think I’ll save that for a dedicated post.

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

ChristopherDaniels_Shirtless_3

Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

Delta Dawn

What’s that flower you have on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10689530_10203925563313163_1773184084655464000_n

Kiss An Angel Good Morning

Ash Wednesday and solemnity has descended upon New Orleans, after two weeks of fun and frivolity. Carnival season actually begins on January 6th, on Twelfth Night–but it truly only kicks into major gear during parade season, which mercifully ended yesterday. Now I can drive my car without fearing I’m gone too late to get home or worrying about finding a place to park (the Carnival parking gods were definitely on my side this year; I was able to get groceries and park on my block AND made a Costco run and was able to park near the Lost Apartment, neither of which is a small accomplishment), and having to adjust my work schedule accordingly.

It’s gray outside the Lost Apartment windows this morning, and all is quiet on the Lower Garden District front. I haven’t checked the weather yet, but I am sure rain is part of the forecast; that’s usually what gray skies in the morning mean. I’m not as tired this morning as I thought I would be, and I’m also a little bummed I have to miss my workout today–the gym doesn’t open until noon, and there’s no way I could get home in time and make it to the gym before it closes after work tonight. But two workouts in one week is better than one workout, and so I guess missing the once isn’t really going to kill me. But I’ve gotten into such a great routine of following the regimen…again, I guess we’ll see on Friday morning if I don’t want to get up and go.

And yes, I started writing yet another short story yesterday evening, “You Won’t See Me.” It’s a similar tale, I suppose, to “Festival of the Redeemer”; unreliable gay male narrator who’s madly in love with someone who doesn’t return that affection–but at least that’s how they both start, at any rate. I have to get back to work on the Secret Project this week as well; so that’s at least five or six short story fragments I am working on in addition to the Secret Project. And yes, I am well aware that is complete madness.

We managed to watch McMillions over the past few days; we’d thought the entire series had finished airing so we were, needless to say, completely shocked to reach the end of episode 4 and realize we couldn’t watch anymore. I remember the scandal, vaguely, when the story broke; but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it–and am amazed at how far-reaching and complicated it became–not to mention all the unfortunate people who got suckered into the con and played along, for various reasons. One of the FBI agents discussed how he was constantly amazed at how people didn’t think they had done anything wrong, and how they could justify and explain committing fraud to themselves–the bottom line was whatever the circumstance or the reason, they committed a crime.

True crime–you really can’t beat it for real drama.

I also got some incredible book mail on Monday–Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely; an old children’s book about the Nazi invasion of Norway and the resistance, Snow Treasure, that I read when I was a kid; Alabama Noir, which I am really interested in reading; and the new Ivy Pochoda, These Women. I somehow managed to finish rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners around the insanity (there will be more to come on that front), and got a little further into Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which I am really enjoying. I’m also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which is also quite good.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday, which means this short work week is going to be weird, and feel weird, the entire time. I do have to put in longer days today and tomorrow than I usually do, because of the holiday yesterday and taking Monday off, but Friday will be my usual half-day and after that, we’re back to normal again. Huzzah? But February is on its way out and March is on its way in, which means the one-two punch of Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Festival is on its way as well. Kind of hard to believe that’s just right around the corner, but here we are, you know? And then at the end of April I’m off to New York and Maryland for the one-two punch of the Edgars and Malice Domestic. But after that, I’ll be done with travel until it’s time to head to Sacramento for Bouchercon, and then I won’t be doing much traveling unless I go visit my parents this year–which I kind of should. It’s just that the drive is so exhausting, but flying is equally awful, takes nearly as long, and is much more expensive. I suppose I could use Southwest points and fly into Louisville, but there’s no longer a non-stop flight from New Orleans to Louisville, and the things about connections is there’s always, always, a screw-up somewhere at that time of year that delays the return.

I also have an obscene amount of emails to read and reply to, which will engender more emails, of course–the endless cycle of cyber-communication–but I will eventually get dug out, slowly get caught up on everything, and somehow manage. I always somehow manage to do so, at any rate.

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

1800231_10152224116731575_467610062_n

Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

1507095_10152310710976473_1803158740_n

Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Amazed

Show of hands: who predicted I wouldn’t get as much done yesterday as I wanted to? I was pretty confident that would wind up the case, as it always is. But I did get a lot done yesterday–some of it even writing-related, so have a seat, guilty conscience!–and that pleases me. I am hopeful I’ll be able to get more done today as well. Granted–it’s easy to say that as I sip my first cup of coffee. I also stayed in bed later this morning than I wanted to–since I woke up at seven on my own yesterday I thought perhaps this morning would be the same so I didn’t set an alarm–but I wound up getting up at eight, so that wasn’t too terrible I also hit a wall yesterday around four thirty–I got very tired–and so I repaired to the easy chair to finish reading my book.

It’s rather gloomy out there this morning, and it’s chilly here in the Lost Apartment–the space heater is on–and I’m a little annoyed by this return of coldness. Yesterday. while starting out chilly, eventually turned into quite a beautiful day; I didn’t even wear a jacket when I went out to run my errands. But that’s okay; I probably won’t have to go out into much today, or at least I hope not.

We watched a lot of the figure skating championships yesterday–will probably do so again today; I think the men’s is on this afternoon and Europeans is on tonight–and Paul’s been watching the Australian Open on his computer. We’re very behind on all the shows we watch, and there are also any number of new shows we want to watch–or shows we watch have returned for another season, which is very cool–and of course, the Williams Festival is approaching, which means late nights at the office for Paul; yes, it’s about that time when I become a Festival widow again. I should be able to get a lot of reading done during this time–which is what I generally use it for. I got a copy of Lori Rader-Day’s new novel yesterday in the mail, The Lucky One, and since I’m moderating that panel, I’ll need to read it soon.

I also have to make travel arrangements today for some upcoming trips in this new year; Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, etc.

Ah, it’s raining. That explains the gloomy grayness outside.

It’s the kind of day, really, where I’d rather curl up under a blanket and read all day, quite frankly, but I can’t do that. I need to work on the Secret Project, and there’s all kinds of other things I also have to get done today–odds and ends, emails to answer, etc. I’d also like to make some headway on getting my taxes at least started; I am missing only one 1099 form, and once I have that I can turn everything over to my accountant and get my return filed, which will be lovely.

I did finish reading Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture, which is fantastic–and then I started reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey when my energy finally flagged in the late afternoon.

pretty as a picture

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.

That’s not what I’d say.

I’d say it depends on the picture. I’d say it depends on the size and the color and the subject and the print and the framing and the focus and the composition. I’d say it depends on what you were doing the hour before, the day before, the year before, the life before. I’d say it depends on whether you’re looking at it on a wall or scrolling past it on a screen or cutting it carefully out of a book, digging your knuckle into the gutter of the spine because the margins are so small and the blades are so long and it’s impossible to get a straight line, but you don’t want to dig up a guide and an X-Acto knife because you aren’t willing to wait, you have to have it, you have to have this picture, right now, and your kitchen scissors are close enough and good enough–yes, good enough–and Jesus Christ, Marissa, when will you get it through your thick head: Imperfection is a price happy people pay to cradle the weight of something they love.

That’s what I’d say.

Elizabeth Little’s debut novel, Dear Daughter, is one of my favorite first novels and one of my favorite books of this past decade. Her novels–why they do focus on crime, or criminal activity–are more than just crime novels; they’re stories about women–messy, complicated, complex, interesting women you want to see get past not only their current crisis, but also pull their lives together. One of the most impressive things to me about Dear Daughter is that she didn’t wrap it all up neatly with a bow at the end, with justice being served and our heroine coming out of everything triumphant; she gave the ending a more realistic, this-is-how-it-would-play-out-in-real-life ending.

I’ve been waiting a long time for Pretty as a Picture, and it was worth the wait.

The story is told in a very tight, first person/present tense style that pulls the reader into the action and the head of our main character/narrator–Marissa Dahl, an up-and-coming film editor who has primarily worked on the films of her college best friend and current roommate, Amy,  an up-and-coming director. Marissa is socially awkward–there’s a lovely scene in which she talked about meeting a superstar director, Tony Rees, at the Venice Film Festival and pulls him into a fountain with her when she loses her balance–and very unsure of herself. She meets a guy named Josh, who winds up dating Amy, and having been interested in him herself, she now has become an incredibly awkward fifth wheel and has decided to separate herself from Amy, personally and professionally, to give Amy and Josh’s new relationship room to breathe and grow–and she’s more than just a little resentful about Josh, whom she now actively dislikes (which is also wrapped up in her own social awkwardness), which is why she ends up agreeing to work on a Tony Rees’ new film–a project wrapped in secrecy and sixteen page NDA’s. She heads out to Kickout Island, off the coast of Delaware, and even has a big security man–Isaiah–who picks her up at the local airport and takes her out there.

One of Marissa’s neuroses includes a fear of the water–and we eventually do find out where that fear came from.

The film turns out to be a fictionalized film version of an actual murder that took place on Kickout Island many years ago–the murder of a pretty teenaged girl; a murder that was never solved. Strange things are going on around the set–accidents, cast and crew being fired–and we slowly but surely are made aware, through Marissa’s eyes, that things are not as they seem…and then someone else dies, and Marissa is reluctantly on both cases.

I have to say, though, that my favorite characters–besides Marissa, whom I really liked for all her tics and strangeness and constant film references (which is actually very cool)–are the two teenaged girls she first encounters in the hotel kitchen while she is scrounging for something to eat–Grace and Suzy–who are also trying to solve the original murder case. I’d read an entire series about these two girls.

But Pretty as a Picture is a great read; well-written and clever and witty and snarky at points, but an enjoyable read with a complicated, twisty plot that never condescends to the reader. Well worth the lengthy wait for this second novel by Elizabeth Little–the only problem is now I have to wait (hopefully not as long) for her third.

Alone

GEAUX TIGERS!

LSU plays Northwestern State tonight; I’m sure it’s being televised somewhere. I just haven’t had the chance to look it up yet. This has been such a crazy and exhausting week I’ve barely had time to think, let alone plan or get anything done. I need to make certain I avoid being overwhelmed, because that is the surest path to not getting any of it done. I have a lot of writing to get caught up on, not to mention how filthy and disgusting the Lost Apartment’s current state is. Heavy heaving sigh. I didn’t sleep well again last night; for the last two nights I’ve not been taking the medication that puts me to sleep because, as always, I fear dependency issues arising. I also have to get my email under control; because it is completely out of control.

Yesterday after I got off work I met my friend Lisa for a drink. Lisa is in town for the weekend from Atlanta–we’re having coffee again tomorrow morning before she leaves town–and I never get to see Lisa nearly enough. I met her at the Elysian Bar in the Marigny, which is part of the Hotel Peter & Paul complex, which used to be a Catholic church and convent. Paul had actually been there earlier in the week–they might be using the place for a Williams Festival event–and came home raving about how lovely and cool the place is. It actually is quite lovely, and I had a lovely time hanging out with Lisa. I also got to meet her friend Audrey, whom I only know through Facebook, and local television anchor Sheba Turk (both, along with Lisa, are absolutely gorgeous women–intelligent and talented and smart). It was absolutely lovely, then I stopped at Rouse’s on the way home. I started watching a BBC series on Netflix, The A List, which is just weird, yet oddly entertaining, and each episode is less than half an hour.

Paul and I then watched the first episode of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou, based on Ethan Brown’s book. I’d already watched a similar docuseries on the murders on Hulu earlier this year, only that was called Death in the Bayou: The Jennings 8, and was very different than Brown’s book (which I read after watching the series on Hulu); it left out some crucial details about the women’s lives, but that was undoubtedly because the show was produced with the cooperation of one of the victim’s sisters; if you remember, this show and book inspired me to consider writing another Chanse book, based on the case, which I still might actually–probably will–do; it’s just such an interesting and fascinating case, and still unsolved.

We have to take Scooter to the vet for his annual physical later this morning–he always loves getting into the carrier so much–and he’s also going to get his razor-sharp claws trimmed. I probably should get over my fear and reluctance to trim his nails myself; I just remember a friend doing that once and cutting them too close and the poor kitty was bleeding and in pain, which of course I wouldn’t be able to ever get over the guilt if I were to do the same thing. It’s probably not that difficult, and Scooter is passive enough to probably sit still for it–it only took him about eight years to get used to his flea medication application enough to not fight it anymore–but again, I’m too afraid of hurting him to go through with it. I’ve noticed on-line that have nail caps for cats; I’ve considered getting those. He loves to knead bread when he’s purring, and of course the claws come out and go right through my clothes to the skin. He doesn’t understand, naturally, that he’s hurting me in his show of affection, and I always feel bad that I have to stop him because those fucking claws are sharp.

This weekend I have to finish an essay and a short story, at the bare minimum, and I’d like to get a chapter of Chlorine written if I can. I feel rather defeated this morning, quite frankly, and I am not sure how to get around that other than actually getting things done, you know? I mean, what better cure for feeling overwhelmed with work than making progress, right? And perhaps if I can get a lot of work done today, I can reward myself with Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, as I’ve also fallen horribly far behind in my reading. And the books keep piling up.

All right, I am going to get to work on the kitchen and doing the laundry, opening my essay file and try to get some work done this morning.

Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

302854_545682848780101_1914992658_n