Mary Mary

I have always loved strong female characters, having cut my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames, just to name a few. As an adult reader of mysteries, two of my favorite series are Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (simply the best) and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (also a gem of a series); primarily because I love the characters of Amelia and Meg both so very much. They are both fiercely intelligent women with a very dry sense of humor, and are the kind of strong women that everyone around them comes to depend on for support–and droll wit. The death of Dr. Barbara Mertz (who wrote as Peters AND as Barbara Michaels) ended the Peabody series forever, much to my heartbreak; the Meg Langslow series is going strong still, so I am hopeful that I will have years and years of reading pleasure yet to come from Donna.

And then, last year I discovered Mary Russell.

The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before. With the shock of the sudden change, my vision stuttered, attempted a valiant rally, then slid into complete rebellion and would not focus at all.

I leant back into my chair with an ill-stifled groan, peeled my wire-rimmed spectacles from my ears and dropped tjem onto the stack of notes, and sat for a long minute with the heels of both hands pressed into my eye sockets.

I was already a fan of Laurie R. King from her brilliant Kate Martinelli series, about a lesbian police detective. (If you’ve not read that series, you need to–it’s one of the best of the last thirty years.) I was reluctant to read the Mary Russell series, as Constant Reader may remember from my previous posts about earlier books in this series; for any number of reasons, but primarily not ever really getting into the Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle stories. This shifted and changed when I was asked to contribute a Sherlock story to Narrelle Harris’ The Only One in the World anthology; this required me to go back and do some reading of Doyle, and having worked with Laurie R. King on the MWA board, I decided to give her feminist take on Sherlock a go.

And I have not regretted that decision once.

Mary has stepped up to replace Amelia Peabody as one of my favorite on-going series; I love the character–a strong-minded, fiercely independent woman of no small intelligence who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Holmes. Theirs is, despite the age difference, a true partnership of equals; I love that Holmes, in King’s interpretation of him, isn’t quite so misogynistic or incapable of feeling–which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a male-written version. I like King’s Holmes; the strong female character who is his equal was the perfect solution to whatever misogynistic issues I may have had with other interpretations. I also love that Russell is also pursuing a life of the mind; her studies into theology at Oxford are not just asides to add color and flavor to the character but are just as important to whom she is as a character as the love interest/relationship with Holmes. As I also have an amateur’s curiosity into the history of Christianity and how the faith changed and developed throughout the centuries following the New Testament stories…how that was shaped and influenced by men with not the purest of motives…is something I’ve always been interested in.

I think the first book that challenged Christian orthodoxy in a fictional form that I read–the first time I became aware of the possibilities that the BIble wasn’t actually the pure word of God and had been edited and revised repeatedly in the centuries since Christ ostensibly lived, died and was resurrected–was, of all things, a book by Irving Wallace called The Word (Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he wrote enormous books of great length that were huge bestsellers, and the subject matter and style of the books was essentially that they were very bery long thrillers: The Prize was about the maneuvering to win a Nobel; The Plot was about an international conspiracy to kill JFK; The Second Lady was about a Soviet plan to kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a lookalike who was a Soviet agent; etc etc etc). The premise of The Word is simply that a new testament, a document hidden away for centuries in a monastery in Greece, claims that not only did Jesus not die on the cross but went on to live for many decades, preaching his own ministry and even visiting Rome. This, of course, is a cataclysmic document–it would change everything everyone had ever known and believed…if it is indeed authentic.

I’ve always loved a good thriller with a base in theology, ever since; and A Letter of Mary is just that, even if more of a mystery than a thriller. The role of Mary Magdalen has been questioned a lot in the last few decades–not the least reason of which is Holy Blood Holy Grail–an interesting concept if one that has been proven to based in a falsehood in the times since (or was THAT part of the Vatican’s plot?)–which inevitably led to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I don’t find the idea that the Magdalen was a beloved disciple of Jesus–and that she may have been his favorite–a reach; likewise, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in the actual New Testament that essentially says she was a prostitute, a “fallen woman.”

This book begins with Russell despairing over her research only to receive a letter that she and Holmes are going to be receiving a visitor–someone they met during their time in the Holy Land some time earlier–glossed over in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but apparently explored more deeply in O Jerusalem! The visitor, an older heiress of no small means who is fascinated with archaeology and has been funding digs in the Holy Land, presents the pair with a gift as well as an ancient letter, unauthenticated, which is ostensibly a letter from Mary Magdalen some years after the death of Christ, written to a sister as the city of Jerusalem falls under seige by the Romans during the Jewish Wars, around 70 AD, that saw the sack of the city and the start of the diaspora; which makes it very clear that, if authentic, the Magdalen was one of the disciples and heavily involved in the ministry of the Christian church. Their guest returns to London, and is killed when she is stuck by a car the following day. Holmes and Russell sniff around the crime scene and find evidence that the old woman was murdered…but by whom? Why? Is this about the letter from Mary?

King always tells a great story–you never can go wrong with one of her books, really–and the characters are so well-defined, so real, that even if she didn’t tell a great story, you want to read about those characters more, get to know them better, and cheer them on to their successes and sympathize with their failures. Her writing style is also a joy to read; the Mary Russell voice is so different and so clearly distinct from Kate Martinelli that you can’t not marvel at her mastery.

The next book in the series is The Moor, and I am really looking forward to it.

Salvation Theme

Reading has always been my escape from the realities of the cruel, cold world. As long as I can remember, I found solace in books–I could always open a book and escape from realities I didn’t want to participate in, or when the world became too much, there was always the comfort of a story about other people and another world where I could go to get away from it all.

When I was a kid, I was more interested in stories about women and girls than I was in stories about boys; I couldn’t really relate to boys as easily as I did to girls. This was, I think, a part of the strict gender divide in the society and culture I was born into; there were specific and clear differences between things for boys and things for girls. Girls played at housekeeping and mothering; boys were supposed to be outdoorsy and adventurous and active. I was not an outdoorsy, adventurous, active little boy; all I wanted to do was be left alone with a book–and the more my parents tried to get me interested in boy things the harder I stubbornly resisted. I never understood why it was so wrong that all I ever wanted to do was read.

I think that part of the reason I’ve always preferred books by and about women are because I can relate to them more, if that makes sense. As someone who never became vested in what society viewed as what masculine behavior is, those behaviors–not always necessarily toxic, but certainly steeped in it–inevitably make me lose interest in the character and their story.

Likewise, one of the reasons I preferred Mary Stewart to Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney (still love Holt and Whitney, though) is because her heroines weren’t passive; they didn’t sit still for being victimized or playing the victim but rather took charge of the situation and were just as capable as any man. This is why one of my favorite fictional series characters of all time were those created by the great Elizabeth Peters: Jacqueline Kirby and Vicky Bliss were also take-charge characters who didn’t suffer fools gladly, and of then there’s her creation who may be my favorite series character of all time: Amelia Peabody. God, how I love Amelia Peabody. Peters’ death was a blow for me; knowing there would be no more books with Peabody and Emerson and Ramses and Nofret and Walter and Evelyn and David….

But then I had the enormous good fortune to discover Mary Russell.

I sat back in y chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action. The satisfaction was for the essay whose last endnote I had just corrected, the distillation of several months’ hard work and my first effort as a mature scholar: It was a solid piece of work, ringing true and clear on the page. The relief I felt was not for the writing, but for the concomitant fact that, thanks to my preoccupation, I had survived the compulsory Christmas revels, a fete which ha reached a fever pitch in this, the last year of my aunts controls of what she saw as the family purse. The anticipation was for the week of freedom before me, one entire week with neither commitments nor responsibilities, leading up to y twenty-first birthday and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. A small but persistent niggle of trepidation tried to make itself known, but I forestalled it by standing up and going to the chest of drawers for clothing.

My aunt was, strictly speaking, Jewish, but she had long ago abandoned her heritage and claimed with all the enthusiasm of a convert the outward forms of cultural Anglicanism. As a result, her idea of Christmas tended heavily toward the Dickensian and Saxe-Gothan. Her final year as my so-called guardian was coincidentally the first year since the Great War ended to see quantities of unrationed sugar, butter, and meat, which meant the emotional excesses had been compounded by culinary ones. I had begged off most of the revelry, citing the demands of the paper, but with my typewriter fallen silent, I had no choice but crass and immediate flight. I did not have to think about y choice of goals–I should begin at the cottage of my friend and mentor, my tutor, sparring partner and comrade-in-arms, Sherlock Holmes. Hence my anticipation. Hence my trepidation.

I first encountered Mary Russell last year when I read the first of her adventures with Holmes, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which took place over several years and was really a loosely connected series of different stories that showed the growing bond between the teenaged girl and the retired detective. Her wit, her style, her fierce intelligence–and her refusal to be a sidekick or passive made me fall madly in love with her–despite my long-held antipathy towards Sherlock Holmes. (I have since read more of Doyle, and find the antipathy I once felt fading; in no small part, I think, because last year I had to write my own spin on Holmes and Watson, which really changed everything I thought, felt, and believed about them.) I’m not sure what made me select the second Mary Russell to read recently; I do intend to read them all, of course, but there are sixteen or so (!) of them, and then there are King’s stand alones, and I’d also love to revisit her Kate Martinelli series, which is how I first came to read King in the first place. But I digress.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women is, of course, a terrific title; and I knew, of course, the source for it: the tedious Scot religious bigot John Knox’s 1550’s pamphlet primarily attacking Queen Mary I of England (aka Mary Tudor), “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” in which he blamed the sad state of Christendom at the time at the irreligious and unprecedented amount of women in power at that time in Europe–and, as I have said many times before, the sixteenth century had more powerful women running countries than any century before or since (and I’ve always wanted to write a history of that century, focusing on those women, and using that very same title King used here). So, going into the book, and knowing that Mary was studying theology at Oxford in the latter half of the first book, I assumed (correctly) that this book would have religion, and women, at its heart, so I sat down with the book rather eagerly.

It did not disappoint.

The book opens, as noted above, around Christmas time, just before Mary finally achieves her majority and comes into the inheritance her benighted aunt/guardian has been enjoying herself with since Mary’s family perished in an auto accident when she was fourteen. Rather the celebrate the holiday with her aunt and the aunt’s hangers-on, Mary escapes the house and goes in search of her old comrade, Holmes. This leads her to London and an encounter with a friend from earlier in her education at Oxford, which in turn leads her to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe–charismatic, suffragette, and also a religious mystic. (I was put in mind of Aimee Semple McPherson, who has always fascinated me and I’ve always kind of wanted to write about.) But there’s something unholy going on at the New Temple, and perspicacious Mary can’t quite put her finger on what’s wrong there–but it intrigues her and she gets deeper and deeper into what’s going on there.

There’s also a switch-up in the dynamic between her and Holmes in this book, but it is also to King’s credit that the groundwork for this was laid almost from the very beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and it neither seems out of place or untoward, either for the story or the characters–and despite the awkwardness this change-up creates between the two of them in their all-too-brief encounters in the story (for make no mistake about it; this is clearly Mary’s story, and Holmes no more than a supporting player on this stage), it makes sense and it also answers one of the questions the first book aroused in me; how can King keep writing about this opposite-sex pair through an entire series without the question of chaperoning and so forth not coming up, or them simply remaining good friends while the deep and growing affection between them is so plainly right there on the page?

The writing is masterful and intelligent, and the story–with its interesting twists and turns, along with some exciting ventures along some of the more disreputable sections of London–is so well paced and plotted that you simply cannot put the book down. I was, quite literally, only on chapter three when I picked the book up again yesterday morning; within moments I was a captive of King’s magic and completely incapable of putting the book down–to the point that I resented having to take breaks to get coffee or go to the restroom or feed the cat. I had decided, when I sat down with the book, that I had to stop reading at noon so I could get back to my own manuscript. Noon came and went, and still I kept reading. At one I flipped to the back to see how many more pages were left, and decided that it was ridiculous and incomprehensible to stop reading so close to the end, and I wouldn’t be able to completely focus on my own while I was so worried about how Mary was going to escape the peril in which King had placed her. So…rationalizing if I don’t finish my own editing today I can always finish tomorrow I plowed forward.

And–without spoilers–I will say King did an incredibly accurate and chilling depiction of how drug addiction takes hold of people.

She also explores the question of women’s role in the Christian religion beautifully, weaving these theological questions and issues seamlessly into the narrative. Each chapter begins with a quote about just that–either from the Bible or the great Christian philosophers, exposing the vicious misogyny that has poisoned that faith almost from the very beginning.*

I loved this book, loved loved loved it, and am really looking forward to the next, A Letter of Mary.

If you’ve not yet started this series, wait no more.

*I also made note of these quotes so I can shamelessly use them myself!

Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

Superheated

And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.

But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.

Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.

I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.

I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!

I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.

And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Guilt is a Useless Emotion

Saturday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I certainly hope this day finds you contented and well, Constant Reader! I slept deeply and well last night, after watching the LSU Gymnastics team defeat Arkansas, and then watching the ladies’ figure skating finals at US Nationals. It was a lovely evening–one can never go wrong with a double feature of gymnastics and figure sating, really–and as I said, afterwards I slept like a stone.

I also spend some time polishing and revising my short story for the MWA anthology Crime Hits Home, being edited by the enormously talented S. J. Rozan (if you’ve not read her novels, start. Right. Now. Her Winter and Night is one of my all-time favorites). As always, submitting to the open call for an MWA anthology is a long shot–there are levels of blind-reads to make it through–and I have as yet to make it into one of the fiction anthologies (I do have a piece about writing dialogue in the upcoming Mystery Writer’s Handbook, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R King, and I did have a recipe in the MWA Cookbook a while back) so keep your fingers crossed for me. Inevitably everything I’ve had rejected by an MWA anthology has sold elsewhere, so making myself write a story for the submission calls has always wound up working out for me in the end…I was, however, more than a little bummed when this call came out, because my story “The Carriage House” was perfect for this one….but I had already submitted it to Mystery Tribune (who did wind up buying and publishing it). I think the story is good–although I wish I had finished the drafting sooner, so I could have spent more time on the revisions and polishing. Ah, well–if they reject it I will try to sell it somewhere else.

Today I have to make groceries, get the mail, and go to the gym. I’ve blown off the gym pretty much ever since the weather turned cold last weekend–the stress and pressure of writing the story, as well as what was going on in the country over the last wee or so has precluded any writing or gym visits, which I should have never allowed. I was coming home from work every day and immediately turning on either CNN or MSNBC, being sucked right in and then spending the rest of the evening watching them report the same news, hour after hour after hour–which also needs to stop–and I need to get my focus back again. Not that I am not gravely concerned about the future of the country, of course–that I very much still am–but I need to focus on what I need to get done while paying some attention to the current crisis.

I also need to do some cleaning around here as well…cleaning and filing never seems to have an endpoint, ever–and I also need to get back to my reread of the manuscript. I should have started revising it last week…but a thorough reread/copy edit/line edit of the manuscript in its most recent iteration is probably really the smart thing to do; it was what worked so well with Bury Me in Shadows, and definitely need to stick to the things that actually work for me.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I managed to watch three films: Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe; The Fog with Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau; and last but not least, a revisit of Creepshow 2, with assorted stars, including George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour. The first definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–you don’t get more cynical than the film version of a Chandler novel–and the other two are holdovers from the Halloween Horror Film Festival, with the last also fitting into the Stephen King Film Adaptation Festival. Of the three, I had only see the third before; I actually saw it at the drive-in, and then again on what used to be the pay-cable movie channels, whether it was HBO or Cinemax or Showtime I cannot recall. Farewell My Lovely is flawed, but a very good film–very solid noir; I kept thinking it should have been filmed in black and white–and Mitchum projects the world weariness of an older Marlowe quite perfectly….I’d love to see someone like Oscar Isaac or Bill Skarsgard or Adam Driver take on the role. The entire movie was stolen, however, by Sylvia Miles in a terrific supporting performance that earned her an Oscar nomination; and Charlotte Rampling is also perfect as the femme fatale. (A very young Sylvester Stallone also has a small role as a gangster.) I did enjoy it, and I think it was released in the wake of Chinatown, when Hollywood discovered noir would still sell tickets.

The Fog was also a perfectly adequate horror film, directed by John Carpenter, about a hundred-year old curse coming to wreak vengeance and havoc on the coastal California town of Antonio Bay. Jamie Lee Curtis is in the cast–in the midst of her fame as a Scream Queen–but she isn’t the star of the film (if it could be said to have one); if anything, it’s a supporting role at best. The bigger female role belongs to Adrienne Barbeau, playing dee-jay and radio station owner Stevie, who is the first to realize what is actually going on–without knowing the history, she just knows the fog is dangerous and bad. I’d also forgotten Janet Leigh was in the movie as Mrs. Williams, local get-it-done lady who is in charge of the hundred year anniversary of the town. It has all the requisite John Carpenter directorial touches–jump scares, a weird and creepy electronic soundtrack, the growing sense of doom with every scene–and I would recommend it, even if it is dated. It was remade this century–I may watch the remake at some point for a comparison/contrast.

Creepshow 2 was obviously the sequel to the original; written by Stephen King and based on his short stories (some of these may be actually original, as I don’t recall reading the stories for the first and third part of this anthology film), and both films served as an homage to the horror comics King grew up reading and loving and inevitably influenced his writing. The second film didn’t do as well as the first, but the underlying theme of all the stories is paranormal vengeance for bad behavior. The first features an old cigar store wooden Indian (I don’t think if anyone brought up that subject that anyone born after 1970 would even know what one was) that comes to life to wreak vengeance for the brutal murders of the elderly couple who own the store he stands in front of; and the third features an adulterous wealthy wife rushing home from a rendezvous with a paid escort ($25 per orgasm!) who gets distracted by dropping a cigarette in the car and runs over a hitch-hiker, whom she leaves on the side of the road but he just keeps popping up as she debates whether she can live with what she did as she continues on her drive home, trying to kill the hitch hiker as he inevitably pops back up on the road saying thanks for the ride lady–which became a running gag between me and my friends at the time. (The woman is played by Lois Chiles, who came to the TWfest one year and was an absolute delight.) Both are good and macabre; fitting right into the karmic justice theme that ran through almost all horror comics back in the day. The middle story–“The Raft”–is also one of my favorite Stephen King stories; about four college students who go for a late-in-the-season swim because it sounds like a good idea, helped along by weed and beer, and it goes horribly wrong for them. The story is different from the filmed version–it’s told from the perspective of the less-than-perfect male roommate who always lives in the shadow of his roommate who is muscular and handsome and charismatic, who loves his friend but also resents him a little because he always sucks up all the air in the room. In the film the two girls who go with them are just other girls; in the story there’s a different dynamic, in which the stud’s girlfriend senses the other girl, ostensibly the lesser roommate’s date, is making a play for the stud before the dying starts. The main character in the story, though, is a decent guy which winds up ending badly for him; in the movie, he’s more of a dick, because he realizes when the final girl is taken by whatever the thing is in the water preying on them, that he could have used that time to swim for it…but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. In the movie, he deliberately feeds her to the creature so he can escape…and that decision is what dooms him, and you don’t really feel sorry for him the way you do in the story. The highlight of this segment is Paul Satterfield’s youthful physical beauty in a bright yellow bikini (and while I enjoyed viewing the splendor of his body in a bikini, I also kind of doubted he would have worn one; back in the 80’s the only men who wore bikinis were gay, body builders, Europeans, or guys who’d been competitive swimmers so they were used to them); and the movie is okay. I do wish anthology films would make a comeback–since they inevitably based their “episodes” on short stories (Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson had a lot of their short stories adapted for anthology films as well as for anthology television series), it would be great to see some modern horror short stories filmed.

And on that note, tis time for one Gregalicious to head back into the spice mines. I want to spend some time this morning with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I am loving, before it’s time to hit the errands and the gym. I am also sure there will be figure skating to watch this weekend as well, huzzah! Have a lovely Saturday of a holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

The B-Side

So, my maintenance all went well yesterday–my blood pressure was on the high end of okay, but I also had forgotten to take my pills and things yesterday morning, which was probably why. I am being assigned to yet another new doctor (my previous two left the practice as did the wonderful nurse practitioner I saw last summer), and I saw yet again someone different yesterday–another nurse practitioner whom I also liked–so I have my prescriptions all set and hopefully will get a call from the specialist for the routine exam I’ve been needing for quite some time but have yet to get, for one reason or another. Taking better control of my health was one of the goals for last year, which I vaguely remember in those foggy, long distant Before Times. It didn’t happen since this fucking pandemic has made everything so difficult on top of killing far too many others, and I worry all the time that I am an asymptomatic carrier.

Because apparently, despite the many accusations over the years, I am not in fact a sociopath. Who knew?

I also spent some time trying to fix the desktop. I fucked up–I had it in the right mode and in the right place to fix it–I erased the hard drive and was all ready to download the operating system again when I stupidly misread the instructions and restarted the computer before downloading the iOS; and now I can’t seem to get the thing to a place where I can download the iOS again. I think I got there once–and of course, fucked up yet again, and now have to remember what I did to get it to that place again. Ah, well, I am most likely going to keep futzing with it around the working at home today and making condom packs.

I also managed to finish a terribly rough draft of my story, due today, and once it was finished I immediately knew how I could fix it and make it stronger and better, which is always a good thing; I wasn’t really sure how to pull off the ending (stick the landing, as it were) and once I had actually written that ending–I knew I had to go back and tweak the story some more to make it better. I’ll do that this evening in the wake of the condom packing/movie watching.

I also started reading, at last, Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and I am loving it so far. The authorial voice of Mary Russell is superb, and reminds me of one of my other favorite characters in crime series fiction, the unflappable Amelia Peabody. The voices and characters are very similar–fiercely independent and intelligent, no patience with nonsense–and I quite love the way King has developed her character and her version of Holmes and his world; I also love the running digs at Conan Doyle’s version. King has always been one of my favorite authors–her Kate Martinelli series is quite superb–and I admit I’ve been holding off on reading this series primarily because I was never overly interested in Holmes. My mindset regarding Holmes has changed since I wrote my own version of him last year (I cannot wait to see the finished anthology with “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” in it; there are several anthologies I have stories in coming out this year that I am very excited about)–and I know that I am going to probably revisit ny Holmes-in-New-Orleans world again at some point. I already had a period story in progress called “The Blue Before Dawn” which seems like the perfect thing to adapt into a Holmes story; but for now I have to focus on getting this story finished and submitted, and diving into the Kansas book headfirst this weekend. Forcing myself to finish that story yesterday was probably the smartest thing I could have done–forcing myself to write when I don’t want to inevitably is always the smartest thing I could do, which I need to remember since I always seem to forget about it.

I also keep forgetting Monday is a holiday. Huzzah!

I also stopped at the Fresh Market on St. Charles on my way home from the final maintenance appointment, to scope it out as a potential new source for making groceries. It’s nice–I can never get past that it’s in what used to be the Bultman Funeral Parlor–and I picked up a nice California roll for lunch as well as some sliced turkey meat for sandwiches, but yeah, they don’t carry a lot of name brands and it seems very similar to Whole Foods–but easier to access. This weekend I’ll probably scope out the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, and maybe, since it’s a long weekend, I can make an exploratory expedition to Trader Joe’s in Metairie.

I also started watching the US Figure Skating Championships on Peacock yesterday, availing myself of the seven day free trial for extra access–and there are some movies on there I want to watch as well that could work with several of the film festivals I have in process. Paul, of course, is very excited that skating is going on and college gymnastics–we of course are big LSU Gymnastics fans–and so his weekend is pretty much set. The second season of Mr. Mercedes is also on there, among some other things that would be fun to watch–I am back to talking about Peacock–and a lot of the Hitchcock movies (I really want to do a Hitchcock Film Festival; while I have seen some of his more famous films, there are even more that I’ve not seen). I wish Rebecca and Suspicion were on there, but one can’t have everything I suppose. I really want to watch Shadow of a Doubt…and any number of the others I’ve not seen. It’s really a shame Hitchcock never directed a version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I also realized yesterday that my second vaccine is coming up quickly, which is also pretty exciting. It also appears like the car will be paid off this year–thank the Lord–which will alleviate a lot of my financial hardships–or the occasional ones, I should say, and then I can start paying down the rest of the debt with a goal of being debt free by the end of 2022. I think it’s a realistic goal right now; and one that is very pleasing to me. Being burdened with debt is absolutely the worst, frankly–and it’s a burden far too many of us have to carry for far too long.

And on that note, the spice mines are a-calling me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Peace

And we have now slid into Saturday. I have to make groceries today–the first exploration of non-Rouse’s grocery making in over a decade- -get the mail and pick up a prescription, but other than that I have the entire day to myself to work on writing, read, try to get organized, and clean. It’s an ambitious program, but I suspect I can get much of it done today. I want to get the draft of my story for MWA finished this weekend, so I can polish it before I send it in (on the last possible day, of course) and I also have a lot of other work to buckle down and do for MWA.

I just need to focus, keep my head down, and not worry about how much I have to get done; that’s when I’ll get overwhelmed and literally get nothing finished, which I cannot allow to happen.

This also means I need to stop scrolling through Twitter and checking the news–but I have to say, yesterday was one of those days where I alternated between fury at the terrorist attack on the Capitol and laughing at the fucking stupidity of the treasonist traitors and their mea culpas as the terrorists get arrested, lose their jobs, and issue public statements claiming that’s not who I am. Um, it’s is EXACTLY who you are, you fucking treasonous trash, and I do really hope the rest of your life was worth it–because you aren’t heroes, 88% of Americans strongly disapprove of your behavior, and your own family, friends and co-workers are turning you into the FBI and other law enforcement. And Republican enablers? Miss me with that “healing” talk until they are all in jail–and I include Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in that, as well as the entire Trump family other than Barron. I also think Melania should be stripped of citizenship and deported for committing immigration fraud, not just for herself, but for her parents as well. There needs to be consequences and no leniency, otherwise it will happen again–and next time, they might be better organized and actually succeed.

I seriously can’t wait for the trials to begin, and the Congressional investigations. More people died at the Capitol than at Benghazi.

As I tweeted at Kellyanne Conway, your harvest has come in, Tokyo Rose, and you’re never going to wash the stink off.

But I am going incommunicado today, because as much I feel it’s important to witness history as it occurs, that witnessing isn’t going to pay the bills–and the bill always need to be paid. I also need to do some reading–I’ve got the ebooks of the latest MWA anthology, Deadly Anniversaries; an advance copy of Edgar winner Alison Gaylin’s The Collective, and am about to, at long last, start reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series*, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The threat to our nation from this past week is going to have to be put aside for me this weekend–no promises on next week’s between-client activities–so I can make sense out of the mess the Lost Apartment is in, and try to get some of these other things caught up as well. It’s very cold, if bright, this morning in New Orleans; I slept magnificently last night and feel incredibly well-rested this morning for the first time in a while. (Also, good news from the friend who had to have emergency surgery this week; that had also been weighing heavily on my mind.) Paul and I also need to find some new things to watch…

Yesterday as I made condom packs I watched an HBO MAX documentary called Alabama Snake, which was fascinating. The rural part of Alabama this happened in is a county in northeast Alabama, on the Tennessee state-line and very close to the Georgia. The highway I take when I drive north to Kentucky misses this county by quite a ways–swinging into Georgia, where I switch to I-75 in the lower Appalachians to head north through Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was, obviously, about a snake-handling pentecostal church whose preacher was convicted of trying to murder his second wife with rattlesnake bites. This all happened in the early 1990’s, and while I’d like to think things have changed in the nearly thirty years since, I suspect they haven’t changed that much (I have plans for my Corinth County where Bury Me in Shadows is set; there will be more stories and books set there methinks, and watching Alabama Snake helped a lot with that), which makes me feel a bit better about the manuscript I just turned in.

I seriously keep looking around at this mess and chaos I am in the midst of and every time, I am a little surprised someone hasn’t come along and taken care of it all for me! Which is probably the segue I need to bring this to a close for the day and get started on everything I need to get done around here. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

*Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series is one of my favorite mystery series of all time, and I strongly encourage you to read it, Constant Reader.