Brown Eyes

Well, there’s something forming in the Bay of Campeche that doesn’t bode well for the Gulf Coast; yay for hurricane season? Heavy heaving sigh. So far, the path of this potential storm seems to have western Louisiana in its sights; a part of the state that still hasn’t completely recovered from the hits it took last year. Ah, well, it’s certainly never dull around here these days.

I am up early for the first time in a while because I am actually heading into the office today! Huzzah for some sense of normality, such as it is…of course, there’s no telling what I am walking into when I go there today–but I think some people have been into the office in the meantime, so it most likely won’t be a complete and total disaster area…or so we shall see at any rate.

I took this weekend to recalibrate and rest and try to get my head back together; I’ve been in a weird state since the power went out and am hoping to get my sense of normal–either what is or isn’t–back. I also know from experience from these sorts of things that there will be good days and there will be bad days, and that to remember, keep remembering, that while I and everyone else have been through a traumatic experience again, it could have been much much worse than it actually was, even for those who lost everything–the recovery won’t take as long as the post-Katrina one because the levees didn’t actually fail this time. Sure, many of us are going to be dealing with some frustrations and irritations–the last I checked the trash still hadn’t been picked up, and the debris out on our street is still there–but normality of a sort is beginning to return, but the last thing we needed is for Nicholas to form and come to part of Louisiana. I think it’s supposed to come ashore around the state line with Texas, or so it was the last time I checked yesterday, sometime tomorrow.

I should go check, shouldn’t I?

So, yes, the threat from this storm is currently Houston and the Texas gulf coast; and of course Lake Charles and the state line. We’ll undoubtedly get some weather effects from it–it’s only 78 degrees outside this morning, and weirdly gray and grim looking–but we shall be spared the brunt of it. While this is a relief, I cannot say it pleases me–again, wishing a storm away inevitably means wishing destruction and disaster on other people, so it never feels right or good or appropriate.

And the season doesn’t end until December 1.

The Saints won yesterday, rather easily at that, which was both a pleasant surprise and a lovely one. It’s going to take me a good long while to get used to the Saints playing without Drew Brees; the man had become an institution around here, and it was so fucking weird not even seeing him on the sideline. It really sunk in yesterday that the Brees era–undoubtedly the best era of the franchises’s history, without question–is officially over, and it made me more than a little sad. I was of course absolutely delighted to see the new phase of the team win convincingly over Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers, but at the same time it was a little bittersweet. The shadow of Drew Brees loomed large over the city since he was signed after the disastrous 2005 Katrina season, and how strange the new era begins right after the city took a direct or almost-direct hit from a category 4 hurricane.

We also watched the pressure of winning a Grand Slam and becoming the player with the most Slam wins of all time overtake and overwhelm Novak Djokovic, who lost all of his chances at history decisively, in three straight sets, to Daniil Medvedev, who won his first major tournament, and good for him. After the US Open and the Saints game, we moved on to get caught up on Animal Kingdom, which just isn’t the same without Ellen Barkin–whom they killed off at the end of the fourth season (SPOILER), and then watched the first episode of Only Murders in the Building, which we greatly enjoyed…although I couldn’t help but wonder what those apartments in present day New York would be valued at. I also like the premise–one that has interested me for a while since we moved to New Orleans–how well do you know your neighbors after all? I’ve addressed this, with New Orleans, in some of my short fiction–the novels tend towards how well do we know anyone, really?–but this was the premise of “The Carriage House,” just off the top of my head, and I am sure I’ve explored it in other stories but my frail, fragile mind cannot summon up the titles of any others that do this as well. At any rate, I am looking forward to watching more of it, and to be honest, it’s nice to see Steve Martin working again. I also like Martin Short, who rarely gets the credit he deserves for acting (he was stunningly brilliant in his season of Damages), and while Selena Gomez hasn’t really impressed me much on the show, I am sure she will get a chance to shine before it’s over.

And on that note, I need to get in the shower and get ready to return to the office since before–well, since around August 24th, which was my last day before my vacation started…talk to you later, Constant Reader.

Turn the Beat Around

Tuesday morning, came with no warning, of what was to beeeeeeeeeeeeee…

Heh, heh, couldn’t resist riffing on “Monday Monday”; I personally prefer Mondays to Tuesdays, always, quite frankly. Although as far as Mondays go, yesterday wasn’t a bad one. We had our usual flash flood warning/severe weather watch yesterday afternoon; and it did pour for a while, but by the time I got off work and drove home it was all over. Paul was working on a grant last night so i sat in my chair with the cat purring in my lap while I …didn’t really do much of anything. I cleaned the kitchen when I got home, wrote in my journal for a while, and watched some stuff on Youtube before we watched Hulu’s new show about life on an Oklahoma Native American reservation, Reservation Dogs, which was interesting. I wasn’t quite sure about the tone they were going for–it seemed like it was a comedy but perhaps a bit of a dark one? We’ll watch some more–the young Native actors were all appealing, and it’s an America I certainly have never seen before, or know much about (much to my own shame), but it was also nice to see a show about Natives written and produced and starring Natives–something pretty far overdue in American culture, to say the least.

College football looms, with all of its stadium super-spreader potential (sadly), and I am curious to see how this LSU team is going to do this year. Texas and Oklahoma have officially joined the SEC, effective 2025–so we have four years left of the SEC in its current iteration. I understand why the expansions have happened and why they feel they are necessary, but (and with no offense intended whatsoever to any of these schools) but it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, and South Carolina as SEC schools, let alone this latest addition of Texas and Oklahoma. Who knows what college football is going to look like in 2025? it will be interesting….if I live that long.

But I only have two more days of my work week left after today–yay for the long weekend they gave us–and next week will also be a shorter week. As my birthday is looming on the horizon, I am trying to slowly treat myself to things as little birthday gifts for myself; I scheduled an indulgence for myself this Friday–and I am also planning on getting phô at long last this Friday as well–and I think Friday might just be my Greg does nothing day this weekend. I have errands to run; Vietnamese noodles to get; and of course my indulgence. I may wind up spending the rest of that day just reading and kicking back around the house, saving the writing for the rest of the weekend. I have to get serious work on #shedeservedit at least underway that weekend, hoping to finish during the Bouchercon vacation week I now have (it’s so weird, I have all this time off from work around my birthday, but the birthday itself remains a work day–but taking the day off from work seemed a bit extreme given how much other time off I have this month, and Labor Day is also looming on the horizon) because I had promised to have it finished by the end of the month. It’s definitely do-able, don’t get me wrong–it’s just going to be a lot of work along the way.

Which is fine. Right now it seems intimidating, but every project seems intimidating before you start on it.

I don’t even want to think about how many projects I have in some form of development at the moment. Seriously. If it weren’t for the fact that ADHD medication wires you–which could affect my sleep–I’d seriously consider going on some. There’s another couple of them, in fact, that were sort of in suspended animation for awhile that are also going to be kicking into gear this fall….which could change my planned writing schedule for the rest of the year, so I am going to have to take a long hard look at everything and reconfigure and plan and so forth. Heavy heaving sigh. But this is a good thing, and it means that there will also be lots of writing and so forth to get done next year as well.

Running out of ideas and projects is never going to be an issue for me.

I am hoping to make it to the gym tonight for the first official Leg Day in a long time; I’m not going to overdue it (I do need to be able to walk tomorrow and climb stairs, etc.) but introducing new exercises is never an issue as long as it is done properly, and I think it’ll be easier to squeeze in a Leg Day in the evenings than it is to do upper body; everyone is always doing upper body (which explains their legs, LOL–YES I WILL ALWAYS SHAME PEOPLE WHO SKIP LEG DAY) it seems, which is part of the reason I decided to break the workout in two to begin with. By the end of the year I am hoping to have it to the point where each workout is specific: arms and shoulders; legs; chest and back, and that’s when the real changes to my shape will actually start to develop.

Of course, I could also start eating healthier…..HA HA HA HA. It had to be said, in fairness.

And on that note, I am going to dive headfirst into my Tuesday. Have a great day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Urgent

History is, as the adage goes, written by the winners, and that has always certainly held true of US history.

As Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware, I love me some history, and always have; ever since I was a kid. The history I learned in school, as well as how it was taught, instilled a deep pride in me, as a citizen, of my country and its history. But I never limited myself to the textbooks and the classroom; as a voracious reader with an appreciation and love for history, I often read history for its own sake, because I found it interesting, and felt that the slight overview/outline I was taught in public schools–and later, in college (I remember writing an essay for an American History course in college about the Spanish-American War on a test in a blue book–remember those? do they still use them?–and my extensive reading outside of class, throughout my life, of history enabled me to write in greater detail in my essay than most of my classmates, who had only the textbook chapters and the outside reading assigned me of Edmund Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt to draw from; I knew from outside reading that the king of Spain at the time was Alfonso XIII and he was a child; that his mother, Queen Maria-Christina, was the actual regent, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say I got an A, and the instructor wrote in the margins how pleased he was that I had clearly done so much outside reading/study on my own, even going so far as to suggest I switch to a History major; I sometimes wonder–particularly whenever I think about writing about history–if I indeed should have. That, however, would have taken my writing career in an entirely different direction) wasn’t as in-depth as I would like, and because of all the reading I did on my own, I always found myself bored in History classes.

Again, I probably should have majored in history.

Anyway, twentieth century history was never something I was terribly interested in when I was younger. I had a vague working knowledge of it; I certainly knew more than most of my fellow citizens, but my interests inevitably always lay further distant in the past. I certainly didn’t have a strong knowledge of the First World War, other than the basics: how it started, how old-fashioned notions of government and war which hadn’t truly responded to the great advances in industrialization and modernization of technology resulted in a horrifying bloodbath that convulsed Europe and killed millions unnecessarily over old-fashioned notions of the honor of dynasties and the corresponding idiocies of secret treaties and alliances and spats between imperial cousins; that the peace that followed in the wake of a bitter war resulted in a far worse global convulsion in less than three decades; and that the entry of the United States very late in the war swung the bloody stalemate into a victory by the Allies. (Also recommended reading: The Fall of the Dynasties by Edward Taylor. )

One of my fraternity brothers was a History major, and one spring afternoon after classes, as we took bong hits and listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, I asked him what his concentration was in, and he replied the First World War. What followed was a rather interesting conversation about the war and its causes, and the American entry–that was probably not as interesting as I recall; stoner conversations are never as interesting later as they seem at the time– and when I mentioned the Zimmermann Telegram, he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Oh, it was so obviously a forgery!” Since that was his concentration for his major, I always took that fact at his word; he was majoring in the subject so therefore I assumed he had done the research to back up that assertion, and as I was becoming rather cynical on the subject of our government and the propaganda that was public school history courses, it was easy to believe that the British and President Wilson (a horrific racist) could have quite easily collaborated to deceive the American public and thus swing public opinion in favor of American entry into the war.

As an enormous fan of Barbara Tuchman’s, I have been working my way through her canon, and so was quite interested to read her take on the telegram; she wrote a very short book on the subject, perhaps the shortest of her career, aptly titled The Zimmermann Telegram.

I generally always am reading some kind of non-fiction at the same time as I am tearing through my fiction choices; the lovely thing about reading non-fiction–particularly history–is that I don’t feel the same urgency to finish it; non-fiction is always there, waiting for you to come back to it, and since you already know how it’s going to come out, there’s not the same sense of desire to see how it all plays out. For The Zimmermann Telegram, for example, I knew the book would end with the United States entering the war; there are no surprise twists waiting for you in history when you already have a basic knowledge going into it–likewise, any biography of Mary Queen of Scots isn’t going to end differently. The historian’s analyses of the facts may be different than those of others already read, but the bare facts remain: history is history, facts are facts, and the only difference from one to another is the analyses and interpretations of the facts (I also have my own theories about Mary Queen of Scots–again, interpretations and analyses inevitably differ, and the winners do write history; which is why I deeply appreciated The Creation of Anne Boleyn, which pointed out that our modern day interpretations of her are based in letters and chronicles of the time, which were hardly fair; I could take make the same case for the Queen of Scots–but facts are facts: she was executed in 1587; she lost her throne in 1567; her marriages were her marriages and her son was her son). Tuchman’s analyses are heavily researched and formed from extensive reading–and she generally comes across as fairly impartial; she also writes in a reader-friendly style that brings the personalities of the people she writes about to life and is never, ever boring–a tendency in even the most non-academic writing styles of the majority of historians.

She makes a very strong case for the authenticity of the Zimmermann Telegram–bolstered primarily by the fact that the Germans admitted its authenticity at the time (which essentially guaranteed American entrance into the conflict as a belligerent, which was hardly in the best interests of the German Empire at the time), and there was also a follow-up telegram to the original, even more damning than the first–whose existence remained secret at the time and wasn’t revealed until after the war; because the British didn’t want the Germans to know they had broken their code and were reading their telegraphic communiqués. She also does an excellent job of setting the stage, giving all the perspectives from every side–the neutral American, the Allied, and the Central Powers–and this was a terrific, wonderful read, as are all of Ms. Tuchman’s works.

(If you are not aware of the Zimmermann Telegram, essentially it was an attempt of the German Empire to draw Mexico into the war against the US as an ally of the Central Powers should Wilson lead our country into the war; the Germans promised Mexico they would have German assistance in reconquering Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Germans were also trying to draw Japan into a war against the US–promising them American possession in the Pacific and perhaps even the Pacific Coast states…essentially predicting the second World War as an added, interesting twist. As you can well imagine, when this telegram was made public the entire country went from pacifism to a demand for war)

Next for my non-fiction reading pleasure: Robert Caro’s enormous and exhaustively researched The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

1963

And now it’s Saturday. It’s still cold in New Orleans and we still don’t have any heat but it’s not as bad as Texas by any means, and we never lost either power or water pressure. So far we haven’t had a rolling blackout, either–although they were threatened. I spent most of yesterday unpacking and repacking condom packs, while watching history videos on Youtube, done by a local New Orleanian–someone I do not know–correcting revisionist history; it began with his lengthy video on the Confederate propaganda movie Gods and Generals–which I have never seen; I tend to avoid Civil War films because they are all-too frequently Lost Cause narratives at best or defenses of white supremacy at worst–even the ones that don’t center Confederate stories. I have no desire to see either. I was raised on the Lost Cause false-narrative, and I am still kind of bitter about being taught false narratives as truth as a child. I also resent having had to spend so much of my adult life correcting everything I learned that was wrong and/or incorrect; relearning American history without the rose-colored glasses of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny firmly placed on my nose and eyes.

Writing Bury Me in Shadows, methinks, is in some ways for me kind of a reckoning with that “heritage.”

The cold is going to continue through this weekend, but tomorrow is supposed to be relatively normal late winter weather for New Orleans. It will be nice to get back to normal. It’s currently forty degrees and sunny outside, and I’ll take it, thank you very much.

Today I am going to spend most of the day rereading and revising my manuscript. I want to be able to get through the entire thing in one sitting–this way I can catch most of the repetition, and I am going to also be starting to sprinkle the new stuff through the manuscript that needs to be added. I am hoping that on Sunday I can go to the gym and start inputting the changes; Monday I will assess as to whether I believe I can finish before the deadline or not. (I am a firm believer in not waiting until the last minute to let my publisher know the manuscript will be late.) I mean, I do have another full weekend to get it all done, but it’s not going to be super easy. I have to write an entire season of a podcast–or at least, significant excerpts from said podcast–and there’s at least one more chapter that needs to be written. (Depends on the inputted changes I am going to be making as I go; the goal is to make writing that last chapter really easy by making it a “now that everything is over and has been resolved” kind of chapter.)

It’s going to be lovely to be done with the book, to be honest. I started writing this version in the summer of 2015; I wrote the entire first draft in slightly less than one month–without the last chapter; I never did write the last chapter because I knew I was going to have to make changes to the story and why write something I might have to throw completely out? I have always tried to be efficient with my writing–not going off on tangents, not writing things that will have to be cut out later (it’s so painful cutting out entire scenes and chapters)–and knowing that I couldn’t really write the final chapter until I was absolutely certain about the story itself. I know the story now–this is like the eighth draft, seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that took this many drafts (novels, at any rate; I have short stories that have been through eight or more drafts, seriously). I am looking forward to moving on from it at long last; I want to start planning the writing of Chlorine next, while also finishing some short stories and putting together some proposals for other ideas I have. If all goes well, I will be able to write a first draft of Chlorine in April, a first draft of the next Scotty in May, and then spend the summer revising and rewriting both. I’d like to spend the fall finishing other odds and ends I have in my files–“Never Kiss a Stranger” has been crying to me from the files to be finished, for one, and there are a couple of other novellas and short stories I want get done. Granted, if any of the proposals sell I will have to change my writing schedule, but if none of them do sell…well, I have plenty on hand for me to write.

I may even start a new series. I’ve been thinking that a gay cozy mystery might be fun to write. I love puzzles and lots of suspects and things; I’d love to do something along the lines of James Anderson’s The Case of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, which is probably my favorite cozy mystery of all time; a big mansion, secret passages, jewel thieves, international espionage–all taking place over a house party weekend at an English country home. I’ve always felt it was a shame that those wonderful old classic home house party/small village mysteries the British wrote that I loved to read really couldn’t be replicated in the US…and then later realized that is because those stories are completely rooted in the British class system and what would be comparable here and then…yeah, you see where this went, don’t you? Although some day I will figure out how to do one of those…

I WILL. And it will be marvelous.

I also need to reread The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy again. It’s really quite marvelous; I do hope it holds up.

I’ve also been sort of paging through/rereading the Three Investigators’ The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, which in some ways was a tribute to Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone–which I also did with my own Vieux Carré Voodoo–while not finishing the Dana Girls’ The Clue in the Cobweb. I also keep meaning to get back into reading short stories, since my mind is in that weird “I need to finish my book” place where I can’t focus on reading anything new (once the book is done, I am going to spend some serious time with Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things, which I had started reading before locking into “finish the book” mode), so it’s either short stories or rereads until I turn this manuscript in. Anyway, that’s one of my favorite Three Investigators books because it, too, involves a treasure hunt with vague clues (or rather, a riddle of sorts) the boys have to figure out in order to find their new young friend August’s inheritance, the Fiery Eye, a cursed jewel stolen from an idol in a fictional southern Asian nation (Constant Reader will note that Vieux Carré Voodoo also involved the need to solve a riddle to find a cursed jewel stolen from a temple in a fictional southeast Asian country). I also recently–and I don’t remember if I shared this here or not–had the epiphany that the Scotty series, in some ways, is in and of itself a tribute to The Three Investigators…if they were adults and gay and in a “throuple”, as such relationships are called nowadays (I first heard the term in a CDC training). It also occurred to me that many kids’ series involve the main character and two close friends–or if the main characters are a pair (the Hardys and the Danas) they’re inevitably given a close pal who shares their adventures (in fairness, the Dana sisters have several friends who fill that role; some of the books involve several of their friends, but the only one whose name I can recall now is Evelyn Starr–although I believe they also had a friend named Doris Garland, but I am not sure about that name). As I thought about this more, I had to wonder if this was an attempt to steer the books away from homoeroticism or the undercurrent of the main character and his/her best friend being more like a couple then as friends….but I also can’t imagine that being a concern when these books were first conceived? (Although Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey Wheeler certainly play out the butch/femme lesbian dynamic rather convincingly–which I think why in later books in the series they played down Trixie’s “tomboyishness” and tried to make her more of a girly-girl.) Nancy Drew’s first four books featured her and her dear friend Helen Corning; in book five Helen vanishes (she shows up in a couple of later books) and is replaced by cousins Bess and George (again, the butch/femme dynamic at play, even though they are made cousins to avoid such thinking…but George is so damned butch and Bess so femme people made the connection anyway). The Hardys have Chet Morton, who is relentlessly fat-shamed and mocked throughout the entire series (Frank and Joe sometimes aren’t the wonderful boys they are made out to be). I have certainly made note of the homoerotic undercurrent in the Ken Holt series (with his best pal Sandy) and the Rick Brant series (with his best pal Scotty) before; there is none of this in the Three Investigators series because there are three of them, and they are vaguely around thirteen; it is doubtful any of them have gone through complete puberty yet because they still think of girls as kind of alien creatures, which really plays strangely in the series where the male leads are in their later teens….the chasteness of the Hardys with their token girlfriends–like Nancy, Bess and George with their token boyfriends–never quite rings true to me. They don’t even kiss! That probably has more to do with their target audience (nine to thirteen year olds) than anything else, but even when I was a prepubescent kid it struck me as strange.

I still want to try writing my own middle-grade series for kids; I think I may take a month this summer and try to write one and see what happens. I’ve been planning such a series since I was a kid, after all, and my writing career lately has seemed to be all about writing the things I’ve been leaving on the back burner simmering for years.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. My book is calling to me, and I want to read some short stories with the rest of my morning caffeine. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–and friends in Texas, hope you’re doing okay. I’ve been thinking about all y’all this past week.

Lowdown

I woke up to a major thunderstorm around seven this morning, and quite frankly, curled up under my blankets even more and went back to sleep. I didn’t wind up getting out of bed until after nine, which felt lovely and now I feel wide awake while well rested at the same time, which is actually quite nice. I need to run to the UPS Store today, pick up the mail and a prescription, stop by the bank, and make groceries at some point, but ugh, how horrible to do this in the rain. It’s supposed to rain here all day, alas. But that will certainly encourage me to get them done as quickly as possible so I can get home.

Today I need to also do some more cleaning around the house, and at some point I am going to close the browsers so I can focus on writing. I want to push through these revisions of these chapters of the WIP, and I’d also like to push through and get a strong revision of “And the Walls Came Down” done, so I can submit it to some markets this week. My short story for next week will be the “The Problem with Autofill,” which is a strong story but the ending needs to be altered and changed somewhat. I still like the concept of the story–it’s kind of a Sorry Wrong Number thing, only with email–but I’m still not sure how to make it work completely.  But I still persist in trying to make it work. I also would like to work some more on “Please Die Soon,” which I think is a terrific idea for a story, and I’ve done the requisite research to make it work, methinks. I really want to stick to this goal of either revising a short story or finishing an incomplete first draft of one every week.

Goals. Must stick to goals.

I survived Costco yesterday, my checking account less scathed than usual–although it easily could have become Sherman’s March to the Sea. Yet I was able to resist, and came very close to staying within the budget I set for the trip–and had I not bought two books off the book table (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis; the Owens was nominated for an Edgar while the Davis won the Pulitzer Prize) I would have stayed under budget.

The book table is always my downfall.

And while I didn’t accomplish near as much as I probably should have yesterday, I did manage to get some chores done, some of them loathsome, so that’s a win for the end of the week, methinks. The key is what I can get done today and tomorrow…and my primary focus has to be on writing. Once I get the writing gears dusted off and oiled, I am hoping I will be able to get the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of May (there’s a three day holiday this month as well, which I am really looking forward to enjoying).

The Gulf itself looks interesting. Most American histories, of course, focus on the Atlantic colonies and the spread westward from there; there really isn’t anything taught about the history of the Gulf of Mexico–which, once Florida, Louisiana and Texas passed into American hands, basically became an enormous American lake–and I am very interested in becoming better acquainted with this history. It can, after all, only help, since most of my fiction work is focused on the Gulf states. The more Louisiana history I know, and read, the better I feel my fiction will become.

I think once I finish Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things my next book will be either Rachel Howzell Hall’s All the Way Down or Joseph Olshan’s Lambda nominated mystery, Black Diamond Fall. I’m greatly enjoying the Mason novel, and perhaps at some point today, once I’ve run the errands and done the cleaning and written all I need to write today, I might curl up in the easy chair with The Hidden Things and make some serious headway on it. I also have an article to write and another column to start planning for. And yes, it does all seem a bit overwhelming, but what I need to do is make a list and just start checking off boxes.

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

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