Easy Loving

Monday morning and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I have so much to get done this week it’s kind of overwhelming, to be honest; and the temptation to just stay in bed for the rest of my life and avoid the world was kind of really powerful this morning. Yet the world stops turning for no man, let alone a Gregalicious, so there was naught for me to do other than arise, do my morning ablutions, and start drinking coffee. I did sleep fairly well, despite the enormous stress of a to-do list with incredibly lengthy chores and projects to work on, and feel pretty well rested this morning–if not quite up to dealing with the world at large.

Ellen Byron’s book launch last night was marvelous. I was delighted to see she had a very good turnout and sold a lot of books–and she is the QUEEN of swag. I for once didn’t have stage fright–I knew Ellen would be warm and witty and wise and funny; all I had to do was lob some questions at her and she was off and running (she did try to deflect attention back to me a couple of times, but I was ready to turn the spotlight right back on her after a brief answer and succeeded each time). The book itself is lovely, too; you want to get a copy of Bayou Book Thief, especially if you’re a fan of traditional mysteries. The cover is gorgeous, and it’s a fun story with a likable main character and a likable supporting cast, and Ellen’s adoration of New Orleans spills over on every page–and what more can a New Orleanophile ask for? I also picked up a copy of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (I saw it and remembered someone recommending it to me a while back, so I grabbed it immediately) and a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time now (since Camus was inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice for his own novel, I thought it only made sense for me to finally read the Camus)–I can never walk into a bookstore and not walk out with more than I intended to buy when I walked in (I had only intended to get a copy of Ellen’s finished book; I read a pdf) but that was fine–I wanted both books and let’s face it, I am always going to buy books at every opportunity, but it is time for me to start donating books to the library again.

I am not familiar with the part of New Orleans where the bookstore is located; Blue Cypress Books is on Oak Street past Carrollton, not far from where Carrollton and Claiborne intersect (and yes, the two streets actually run parallel to each other in my neighborhood; welcome to the wonderful and terribly confusing world of New Orleans’ bizarre geography). I would have, as per my usual, simply driven all the way to Riverbend on St. Charles then turned left on Carrollton…but I decided not to do my usual “this is how I know to get there” thing and used Google maps. Interestingly enough, Google maps took me on to Highway 90 then I-10 before getting off at the Carrollton exit in front of Costco and going that way…and it was faster–a lot faster, which I still kind of can’t wrap my mind around, but then again that’s New Orleans geography for you; my mind always thinks in terms of grids where everything runs north and south or east and west, and that isn’t New Orleans. The only actual grid design to anywhere in this city is the French Quarter–and only the French Quarter, at that. I have lived here twenty-six years and still get confused and mystified by how geography works here…which is one of the reasons I think people believe New Orleans is magical and mystical. Where else does geography make no sense other than here?

After I got home, we finished watching The Outlaws, which we really enjoyed, and started watching Gaslit. Julia Roberts is killing it as Martha Mitchell–I’d really forgotten a lot about her, but she was kind of a celebrity at the time, more so than the wife of Attorney General could ever hope to be, frankly–and she was enormously popular; everyone liked Martha Mitchell, because you never really knew what she was going to say next, which naturally didn’t sit well with the president of the time, Richard Nixon. (And again with a show set in the 1970s; sensing a theme–Minx, Candy, Gaslit–all set in the 1970s as a reminder to us all just how awful the 1970s actually were…pay attention, everyone. There’s a reason you never want to turn the clock back, or bring an era back.) I’d actually forgotten about Martha Mitchell–she’s often left out of books I’ve read about Watergate–and she was actually kind of an important cultural figure of the time. If the Nixon idea was to erase her from history, it kind of worked. The 1970s was definitely an odd decade.

As I was lying in bed dreading getting up and facing the world today, I thought, I would really love to have a vacation, you know. A week where I didn’t have a deadline to meet, or go into the office, or really do anything at all other than relax and read and watch movies or television shows I’ve not had a chance to see. It’s been a hot minute, and most of the traveling I actually do tends to be writing related in some way, which means it’s not really a vacation but a work trip. I don’t think I’ve actually had a vacation-vacation since we went to Italy, and that was eight long years ago. We’re talking about possibly going to Puerto Rico or some place in Central America (Costa Rica, if anywhere), but I think it’s past time…although I could also use some time off to stay home and get the Lost Apartment into some semblance of order, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one.

I didn’t finish my short story–the deadline was today and I know there’s no way I can get it finished in time to email off by midnight tonight, particularly since there would be little to no time to revise and/or edit it. It’s a shame, but at least the story is further along at about just over a thousand words than it was at less than two hundred; it’s a great idea but I’m basically stuck in the middle. I know how it ends, I just don’t know how to get it there, so letting it sit for a while is definitely in order. I did start writing the new Scotty yesterday–don’t get excited, I literally wrote maybe 175 words of the prologue; I found the book opening I wanted to spoof (Pride and Prejudice) and since I didn’t want to forget, I started writing it and it flowed along for another hundred words or so before I ran out of steam. The Scotty prologues are always the hardest part of the book for me to write; they are basically a recap of Scotty’s life thus far to get a new reader caught up without having to go back and read the first eight (!) books in the series as well as not spoiling the first eight books in the series should the reader decide to go back and actually read the first eight books in the series. (Something I actually need to do before I really dig in and start writing this thing…I really need to do the Scotty Series Bible and get that done so I have an easy reference without having to page through the books or do a search in the ebooks) I also did some research over the weekend for the book, which entailed rereading two Nancy Drew mysteries, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat (both books bring Nancy and her friends to New Orleans/Louisiana) and oh, yes, that bit of research definitely triggered a blog post which I started writing yesterday after I got ready for the event and was waiting for it to be the right time to leave. I kind of slam Nancy Drew in the post–but the truth is, despite my obsessive collecting of Nancy Drew books (trying to get the entire original series, with the yellow spines) I never actually liked the books all that much. (Same with the Hardy Boys.) While I appreciate the two series for their popularity and for getting kids to read (and to read mysteries) neither series was ever my favorite–but once I started reading and collecting, I had to keep reading and collecting because I am obsessive–and that obsession with collecting the books, while slightly tempered as I’ve gotten much older (and don’t have a place to display the collection), still exists. (Periodically I do think about emptying a bookcase and refilling it with my kids’ series books; it’s always satisfying for me to see them on the shelves. And yes, I know how weird that sounds.)

And now back into the spice mines with me. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Another Day

Sunday morning and I slept really well again. I woke up, as always, at just before seven, but stayed in bed lazily until nearly eight–when nature’s call became too much to be ignored for longer. But I have a nice fresh hot cup of coffee, a long Sunday with a lot to do and/or get done today (I also need to run to the grocery store this morning, which is always so exhausting) but I suspect that i can get everything I need to get done, done. Yesterday morning I spent some time with the Carol Goodman novel (which is really and truly spectacularly well done), went to do my self-care (which was lovely) and then picked up the mail and headed home to spend some time doing things. I did the bed linens, emptied the dishwasher and did another load (that needs to be emptied this morning) and also got some things organized for my next writing project. I did the Spirit of Ink interview at 2, as scheduled, and then when I was finished with that I was drained, as I knew I would be, so I did some more file organizing before retiring to my easy chair with my journal to make notes for Mississippi River Mischief, which I am also starting to get excited about writing (which is a lovely change from the usual, where I dread writing any and every thing).

So, overall, I was quite pleased with my Friday. Since we’d finished or gotten caught up on everything else we had started watching, we decided to binge through season two of The Hardy Boys on Hulu, which I am enjoying. Is it the Hardy Boys of my childhood? No, but neither was the 1970’s show with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. I belong to several kids’ series groups on Facebook (they are very interesting people; I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fandom) and they were, of course, quite unhappy with this adaptation (but not NEARLY as up-in-arms as they were about the Nancy Drew television series, in which Nancy actually has sex with Ned–who’s Black in the show–in the very first episode). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I don’t expect adaptations to match us precisely to the source material, and whether people in their fifties and sixties want to admit to it or not, both series in their original forms are horribly dated today. I did enjoy the show’s nods to the canon series throughout–one of the villains was named McFarlane (Leslie McFarlane ghost-wrote many of the original books) and the bad company is Stratemeyer Global (the Stratemeyer Syndicate created and owned both series, among many others), and there was also a single throwaway line at one point about “what happened at midnight” (which is one of the titles of the original canonical series); so that was all a bit fun for me. Even as I watched, I kept remembering all the dog-whistles of the fan group–disguised as “dedication to the original canon” of course–but when you use words like woke and so forth, your bigotry and personal biases are kind of put right out there on display.

And I can only imagine how upset they are that Aunt Gertrude (Trudy on the show) is a lesbian…which actually makes canonical sense, to be honest.

But it was a very pleasant way to waste the rest of the day, frankly, and I felt pretty marvelous when I went to bed last evening. I am really enjoying my sleep lately, which is marvelous, and lately I am feeling very–I don’t know, optimistic?–about my career and my future as a writer, which is always a plus. I am still waiting for my edits on A Streetcar Named Murder, and to hear back about my short story, but I am feeling pretty good about myself this morning (let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?) and tomorrow evening i am going to make a semi-triumphant return to the gym. This morning I am going to spend some time with The Lake of Dead Languages, and then I am going to head out to the grocery store, probably around elevenish, so I can come home and do some more writing and organizing and so forth. I am going to try to bang out a draft of a new manuscript by mid-June, and then I want to spend until August 1 finishing a first draft of Chlorine, at which point I will most likely have to start really working on Mississippi River Mischief. That’s a pretty good schedule, if I can stick to it–and then of course there are any number of short stories I want to get written in the meantime. There are two submission calls I saw recently (with very tight deadlines) I’d like to get something submitted to–but then it always comes down to time and motivation–both of which I am good at failing at–so it’s all going to depend, I suppose. But I am going to get organized here in my office space before retiring to read for the rest of the morning, which hopefully will mean productivity. We also need something new to watch, since we’ve binged our way through everything already–but there are any number of shows that dropped since the beginning of the year that we’d like to see that we never got around to, and more are coming out all the time.

I also want to rewatch Heartstopper at some point, so I can finish my post about it at some point. I really need to get those old unfinished posts finished and posted at some point, don’t I? I also have a bad review of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not to finish as well as a review of Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout, as well as some ruminations about the resurgence of anti-queer political homophobia which hs reared its ugly head again.

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

Chick-a-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)

I love football.

I know, it catches people off-guard that a sixty year old gay man is a massive football fan, but I’ve never subscribed to stereotypes. I love football, with an especial love for the college game (I used to only watch the Saints in the NFL, but have started rooting for the Cincinnati Bengals because, well, Joe fucking Burrow); I think everyone knows I am a massive LSU fan. (GEAUX TIGERS!)

There really isn’t anything else in the world like a Saturday night in Death Valley. I will remember the 2019 night game against Florida probably for the rest of my life. God, what a great game, and it was so much fun. I am aware that I am digressing.

Anyway, I grew up in a Southern football family (even if we didn’t live in the South, we were from the South and that’s all that matters), so it was inevitable that I should become both a football fan and a football player. I played all four years in high school, all of my cousins also played, and I have close relatives who played at both the college and professional levels (and I don’t mean some small college in the middle of nowhere; I mean in the SEC–Auburn and Alabama, and there may be even more that I don’t know about). I have relatives who were successful coaches. Every fall Saturday the television was tuned into whatever college game was playing–even if we weren’t fans of either team; it’s hard to imagine now with the 24/7 college football coverage, but when I was growing up ABC had a monopoly on all NCAA football games. They would usually play one game of national significance, and then the second game was regional–important to that region. As we did not live in the South, we rarely got to see SEC games other than Alabama–Alabama was almost inevitably the only Southern team of “national interest” throughout the 1970’s (I really don’t remember the 1960’s much, but we lived in Chicago so I imagine we saw a lot of Big Ten and Notre Dame games; I don’t really remember a lot of my life before the suburbs, really–some things, yes, but most things not so much)

I’ve never really read a lot of fiction about football, though; it inevitably winds up being something cliched and tired. I loved North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent; hated Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins; but do remember enjoying End Zone by Don DeLillo (I was going to reread this recently; but there’s so much to read. I did try to to reread Semi-Tough–but when I opened the book there were racial slurs and other mess on page one, so I threw it in the trash; no thanks). And I’ve also enjoyed other books with football involved, even if it wasn’t necessarily what the book was about. (The Hardy Boys were on the Bayport High football team in The Crisscross Shadow–the only time football is mentioned in the series.) There’s also a tendency, in books about high school and football to make the football players and cheerleaders the villains of the story, which has never really sat right with me. I was never bullied by anyone on the football team, and maybe the cheerleaders weren’t bitches to me because I was on the team and my sister was a cheerleader, but that wasn’t my experience (one thing I truly appreciated about Stephen King’s Christine was the horrible bullies at Libertyville High weren’t the football players but the hard-case kids–which was also my experience; which is probably yet another reason the book is one of my favorites of the King canon, methinks).

But…I can also see why it’s so attractive to make the jocks and cheerleaders the villains of high school dramas. And I sort of did something similar in #shedeservedit, didn’t I? Those boys on the Marysville and Steubenville high school teams certainly fit the bill of villainy.

So, when people started recommending Eli Cranor’s debut Dont Know Tough to me, I wasn’t so sure. I just published a book of my own about high school football and the toxicity it can engender in a small town (#shedeservedit), and revisiting my memories of high school and football was harder than I had thought it would be; I thought I could be dispassionate about it all while writing about it (I often write about things to try to distance myself from them and gain some perspective) but I was wrong. It was hard to write that book, much harder than I thought it would be–and it took years (first draft was written in 2015; published in 2022).

But enough people whose opinions I respect were raving about the book, so I got a copy and once I started reading it, there was no way I could stop.

Still feel the burn on my neck. Told Coach it was a ringworm this morning when he pick me up, but it ain’t. It a cigarette, or at least what a lit cigarette do when it stuck in your neck. Just stared at Him when He did it. No way I’s gonna let Him see me hurt. No way. bit a hole through the side of my cheek, swallowed blood, and just stared at Him. Tasted blood all day.

Tasted it while I saw in Ms. Miller’s class. Woke up in Algebra tasting it. Drank milk from a cardboard box at lunch and still, I tasted it. But now it eighth period football. Coach already got the boys lined up on either side of the fifty, a crease in between, a small space for running and tackling, for pain.

This my favorite drill.

I just been standing back here, watching the other boys go at it. The sound of pads popping like sheet metal flapping in a storm.

“Who want next?” holler Bull. Bull ain’t the head coach. Bull coach the defense. He as mean as they come.

One of my favorite books of all time about small towns is Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show (I also love the film, which is extraordinary and one of, in my opinion, the best films made during the 1970’s). I did try to reread it recently–I was interested in refreshing my memory of its gay subplots and the mental breakdown of poor Joe Bob Blanton, but I’d also forgotten the part about the bored teenaged boys decided to fuck some calves, so when I got to that part I put the book down in distaste. But now that I’ve finished Don’t Know Tough, I kind of want to go back and reread The Last Picture Show again (I can skip that distasteful part…weird that I didn’t remember it).

Don’t Know Tough is yet another incredibly impressive debut, further confirming the truth of what I said at the Lefty Award banquet–the last few years have seen so many amazing and diverse and extraordinary debuts that the future of our genre is in very good hands. I won’t lie–when I started reading the book, I wasn’t sure I could keep reading it; I was worried that the entire book would be written in that grammatically garbled first-person voice but as I kept reading that first chapter I got into the rhythm of the language and started seeing the beauty and fluidity of the style choice–which is no small feat to pull off, and pull off consistently, throughout the entire book…to the point I was also a little disappointed that the entire book wasn’t done in that same style. Billy Lowe is the character whose voice this is; and the story of the novel revolves around him and the horrific Shakespearean tragedy that his life actually is. His mother is an alcoholic, and lives with an abusive piece of shit who obviously directs violence at Billy. He has a younger half-brother who was fathered by this POS; he also has an older brother who lives elsewhere. Billy’s situation has turned him into a wild beast of rage with an exceptional gift for channeling that rage into playing football. He’s not big enough in size to go major college, but his coach feels like there’s a chance he could get a football scholarship to a smaller college, and break the cycle of poverty he is trapped in at the moment. Billy is exceptionally compelling–it’s hard to read his first person point of view and not have your heart break for this kid; and hope that it’s all going to work out for him in the end, despite the disturbing pattern of violence in both his life and behavior.

Denton High has made the Arkansas state play-offs, but without Billy in the backfield their chances of advancing are practically nil. It’s important for Denton to do well in the post season because their coach’s job depends on it. Trent Powers is a born-again Christian, whose last coaching job in California crapped out–winning only three games in his final three seasons before being fired. This job is another chance for him, even though his wife and daughters hate relocating to a small town in Arkansas from California (much is made throughout the book of Coach Powers’ Prius, seen by the locals are weird and strange and almost otherworldly and unmanly). Coach Powers also has a very soft spot for his star player, and not just because he’s a star player–he actually feels compassion for the horror the young player’s life has been up to that point, and he wants to help–even if Billy doesn’t want any help from anyone. Billy’s future, to Billy at any rate, is already set, and he’s not going to end up going anywhere or doing anything or having a good life and decent future. He doesn’t see himself being worthy of anything or of doing better than his assigned lot in life.

The Powers family is a direct contrast to Billy’s; loving and nurturing couple, raising two daughters and trying to do right by them. How far is too far to go when helping someone in Billy’s situation, is the question. Coach’s wife–the daughter of a successful football coach who took Trent in when he was a kid from a similar background as Billy’s…and yes, he slept with his coach’s daughter and got her pregnant. So both Coach and his wife have the fear that the same thing will happen to their daughter and Billy–especially when the daughter starts opening up to Billy.

But one night Billy’s abuser is murdered. No one would blame Billy for killing the abusive bastard–well, the law would. But the story of what happened that night is far more complicated, and far more surprising, than the reader can imagine.

The pacing is also exceptional, and I love the contrasts between the third person point of view we see much of the novel in, with the Billy point of view chapters mixed in. The language choices and imagery are spare and tight yet full and rich and immersive–reminding me not only of Megan Abbott and her brilliant Dare Me, but also with a healthy dash of Daniel Woodrell, Tom Franklin, S. A. Cosby, and Kelly J. Ford (all masters of Southern Gothic) mixed in. The little touches of how claustrophobic small Southern towns can be, the class disparities between the haves and the have nots, and what teenagers in those types of environments was simply masterful.

I was completely blown away by this amazing work, and suspect that you will be as well. Highly recommended. I cannot wait to see what Eli Cranor does next.

Do You Know What I Mean

The traditional mystery often gets a bum rap by mystery fans. I’m not sure why that is; these books have never gone out of style, have never decreased in popularity, and have always been the backbone of the crime/mystery genre. They are often (wrongly, I think) identified with Agatha Christie–if anything, Christie should be identified with every sub-genre of crime/mystery fiction. She wrote private eye novels (Poirot); dark noir (Endless Night); spy fiction (N or M?, The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad); historicals (Death Comes as the End); and even romantic suspense (as Mary Westmacott). Sure, she often relied on the amateur sleuth–her most famous amateur being probably Miss Marple–but she literally did everything first, really.

Probably why everyone refers to her as the Queen of Crime Fiction.

But the traditional mystery, for some reason, gets short shrift in our modern world, despite being one of the most popular subgenres of crime fiction. Why? I don’t really understand it. Sure, there’s not any blood or sex or violence–the sort of thing generally used to sell everything from television shows to movies to laundry soap and deoderant. Many of us grew up reading books about amateur detectives, from Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys to Trixie Belden. So why do so many turn their noses up at the traditional mystery, also known as the cozy mystery?

I think it’s much harder to write about crime without using the tough guy male lead (stereotype), blood, violence, swear words, and sex. Is it this lack of the “rougher” aspects of crime that earned these books the nickname “cozy”?

What precisely does the word cozy mean, used as a book descriptor in this way? Ask five mystery fans/writers, and you will get five different answers. It’s often hard to quantify the variety of subgenres within the mystery/crime field. Everything else aside, I think the most important thing, the key, for a mystery novel to get this kind of classification is that the book focuses, on one level, on a sense of community; the reader develops a warm, comfortable feeling, the kind that you usually get from visiting family and friends you don’t get to see all of the time. You open the book and start reading and already feel relaxed and at home; happy to see people you care about, are interested in, and are excited to find out what they have been up to. Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series is an excellent example of this; so is Leslie Budewitz’ Spice Shop mystery series (both series, obviously, are favorites of mine). These books welcome you in, invite you to put your feet up, get comfortable, and spend some time with your old friends you’ve not seen in a while.

This, naturally, is very difficult to establish when writing the first book in a new series of this kind; how do you immediately establish this warm environment where the reader feels comfortable enough to kick off their shoes and relax? It’s not the easiest thing to pull off for an accomplished writer; so it’s all the more remarkable when someone nails it in their very first book.

Mia P. Manansala nailed it in her debut.

My name is Lila Macapagal and my life has become a rom-com cliché.

Not many romantic comedies feature an Asian-American (or dead bodies, but more on that later), but all the hallmarks are there.

Girl from an improbably named small town in the Midwest moves to the big city to make a name for herself and find love? Check.

Girl achieves these things only for the world to come crashing down when she walks in on her fiancé getting down and dirty with their next-door neighbors (yes, plural)? Double check.

Girl then moves back home in disgrace and finds work reinvigorating her aunt’s failing business? Well now we’re up to a hat trick of clichés.

And to put the cherry on top, in the trope of all tropes, I even reconnected with my high school sweetheart after moving back to town and discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

Okay, that last part is a joke, but I really did run into my high school sweetheart. Derek Winter, my first love.

First of all, can we talk about the voice?

It is impossible not to fall in love with Lila’s voice from the very first sentence of the book. She is smart and funny and eminently likable, which is important in a traditional mystery (no one wants to read a cozy whose main character is an unlikable bitch) and much harder to do than most people who don’t actually write books think it is. Lila is a remarkable character; very clear-eyed about what she wants and what she doesn’t, as well as who she thinks she is and wants to be. She’s returned from her big escape to the big city to the small town she wasn’t terribly happy in when she was growing up–her past experiences continually are reminding her, and not in pleasant way, of why she left in the first place. She never intended to return home (as Thomas Wolfe said, you can’t go home again), but she is back and rather than focusing on what she is certain everyone she knows or is related to sees as her “failure,” she intends instead to focus on helping save her aunt’s restaurant business.

The immense strength of this story rests upon those family bonds, and Lila’s recognition of just how important those bonds–family, friends, community–actually are to her; and her growing realization, over the course of the books, that those things she once thought were strangling and restraining her are actually where her own power comes from.

The mystery itself is also strong: Lila’s wretched local ex, whose mother has since married a businessman who rents Tita Rosie’s building to her and is a total dick, has taken to writing shitty reviews of local restaurants, apparently targeting one and trying to destroy its business before moving on to another. Lila’s relationship with him is also strained; and she also doesn’t like the dickish stepfather either. It is while she is serving them lunch that her ex keels over face-first into his plate–dead from arsenic poisoning. In the food Lila fed him, and came from her aunt’s kitchen. The financially strapped business is shut down pending an investigation into the murder and a health department inspection, and there is the very real fear that Tita Rosie may lose her restaurant. Lila takes it upon herself to investigate and find the real culprit, to clear herself as well as her aunt and the beloved family business of any wrongdoing and scandal. The journey, which introduces us to her friends and family, and welcomes the reader into their charming world and community, twists and turns and is full of surprises every step along the way–as Lila also learns just how much the restaurant, her family, and her friends really mean to her.

This book is absolutely charming, well-written, and very fun. I cannot wait to revisit Lila and her crew in the second book, Homicide and Halo-Halo. Mia P. Manansala is definitely one to watch, and it’s going to be fun watching her career reaching even more heights than she has already achieved.

Where Do I Go From Here

The earliest years of my childhood–with a few minor exceptions–are lost in the foggy distant parts of my memories, unable to be summoned at will but sometimes resurfacing at the oddest moments. I don’t, for example, really remember much of how I started reading. I remember being fascinated by dinosaurs and getting dinosaur books from the library; I remember Scholastic Books Fairs and going to the library, both the Chicago Public Library’s nearest branch as well as the one inside my elementary school. I remember, vaguely, comic books: Richie Rich, Caspar, Wendy, Dot, Little Lotta and anything Disney before moving on to the world of Archie and Millie the Model before discovering, and loving, the world of DC super hero comics accidentally. Comic books were only a dime or twelve cents when I was a kid with an allowance of a dollar per week, so I could get quite a few comics with my allowance every week rather than trying to save it for another week so I could spend $1.50 on a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew (by the time I discovered them, of course). I would not, nor would I ever, consider myself to be an expert on comics; I was a fan, and not a rabid one, either. I never learned the names of writers or artists (I do, however, remember Denny O’Neil from the 1970’s) until one of my returns to comics (I often went years without feeding my super-hero addiction); the 1980’s return got me learning names like John Byrne and Tim McFarlane. It’s always been a dream–one I don’t return to very often–to actually write for a comic title (I really really really want to write for Nightwing) someday but the older I get the less likely that item will be scratched off my lengthy bucket list (someday I might blog about the bucket-list things I am slowly becoming aware that I will never ever be able to accomplish).

Naturally, I’ve been looking forward to reading Alex Segura’s Secret Identity ever since the title was announced: comic books? The 1970’s? A crime story? COUNT ME IN.

And I am pleased to report it did not disappoint in the slightest.

Her eyes fluttered open at the sound.

Carmen Valdez rolled out of her small twin bed with ease, the muscle memory kicking in–even now, in the middle of the night. The shrill scream was familiar, too.

She tiptoed across her small bedroom, avoiding the toys strewn on the floor, as she made her way to the door.

Another scream.

Mami.

The screaming and arguing were routine. Carmen found that she’d become numb to it. She could almost predict it, in the hours before bed. If Mami and Papi were drinking–drinking that stuff–it was a bad sign. It meant they were changing. Becoming meaner. Darker. Something else. She would rush through her routine, rush to get to the relative safety of her room, her closed door, her darkness.

But she also knew the darkness could only shield her from so much. It hid her, but it didn’t silence then. She knew the screams would come. Carmen would just pray she could sleep through them.

I turned fourteen in 1975, and the entire world seemed to be, I don’t know, in some kind of transition that most people in my sheltered world believed would wind up not being good. We were already looking back; American Graffiti had struck gold with a nostalgia craze driven by the memory of “how much simpler (better) things had been back then” (despite the fact American Graffiti is actually a really bleak, dark movie) that was only further amplified by a resurfacing of the Beach Boys and the airing of Happy Days. My high school had “sock hops” (of all things) and my sister played the double album of the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer endlessly. It was easy, of course, to look at the sanitized world of television shows like Happy Days and repeats of Leave it to Beaver and wistfully wish for a simpler time…particularly when impressions we were getting of New York City wasn’t the pristine, clean city of Doris Day movies like Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back but the dirty, gritty noir sensibilities of movies like The French Connection, Shaft, and Serpico. I was already a reader, reading fiction for adults but still occasionally grabbing a comic book or two from the spinner rack at the Jewel Osco, or Mad from the magazine rck at the 7/11 on Briarcliff Road in Bolingbrook, the extremely white suburb my family had escaped to from Chicago and its desegregated schools.

It was also a weird time for comics, to be honest.

So, revisiting that time in Alex Segura’s new novel, Secret Identity, was interesting.

Alex’ book focuses on Carmen Valdez, a young Cuban-American woman living in New York and working as secretary to the publisher at Triumph Comics, a company much lower on the food chain than either Marvel or DC–the ones everyone knows–and hoping to get her own break into the business as a writer. She learned to speak English reading comics (mostly Archie and Betty and Veronica), but eventually moved on to caped crusaders. She gets an opportunity when another writer at Triumph asks for her help in putting together a new hero, the Legendary Lynx–even as a more experienced person in the business tells her not to trust Harvey Stern, the writer. But with all the hope and idealism that a hardscrabble life in New York with a dead-end job in a dying comics company has somehow not stomped out of her yet (ah, to be in my twenties again…), she takes the plunge and collaborates with Harvey–who winds up dead, shot in the forehead. No one knows the new comic Harvey had delivered six scripts for (under only his name) had any input from Carmen–who did the yeoman’s share of the work. Now she has to figure out how to reclaim her character and her work. To do so, she has to find out more about who Harvey was…and that means getting mixed up in a police investigation and eventually into the crosshairs of the killer.

I also appreciated the fact that “stolen work/characters” was the driving force in this book; comic book history is riddled with these kinds of situations, and it was fun seeing it from an insider’s point of view.

The story’s greatest strength is the character of Carmen. Within a few chapters of the story I felt like she was someone I actually knew, had talked to, maybe even had wine or drinks with; she felt like a friend…definitely someone I’d want to know in the real world. Another strength is Segura’s knowledge of the world behind the scenes of a comic book company and the industry itself. (I couldn’t help but grin periodically whenever someone referred to comics as a dying form; the 70’s slump was followed by a renaissance no one could have seen coming, and they are still going strong today.) Carmen’s relationships with the people in her orbit are also realistic and strongly drawn.

An added bonus inside the book are actual pages of art from The Legendary Lynx–which are strong enough to make a good comic book on their own (something we might be looking for in the future, Alex?).

Quickly paced with strong, believable characters, this was a terrific read. Thanks, Alex!

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

I’ve always considered myself to be a child of the seventies.

Sure, I was a child for during the sixties, but I turned nine in 1970. While I am sure that turbulent decade provided some (a lot of) influences on me, my personality, my likes/dislikes, and my future, I am equally confident that my values and thoughts and beliefs probably weren’t as shaped from that turbulent decade as they were by the 1970’s. The seventies are really the first decade for which I have a lot of recall (recently, a friend was amazed that I remembered those horrible Rag City Blues jeans for women that were, for some reason beyond my thought processes, popular in the latter part of the decade; what can I say–I do remember the decade fairly well for the most part–or at least as far as my memory can be trusted). I’ve always wanted to write books either set in the seventies completely or even partly; Where the Boys Die, my 70’s suburban Chicago novel, keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my increasingly crowded (and clouded) mind. (NO I AM WRITING CHLORINE NEXT WAIT YOUR TURN)

I remember Watergate and how the scandal grew. I remember the 1972 landslide reelection of Nixon, and the country’s negative reaction to the Ford pardon of the man who brought him to power; I also remember Jimmy Carter running for president out of seemingly nowhere and getting elected. There was The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family and Archie Bunker and Mary Richards; Sonny and Cher and Carol Burnett and Donny and Marie and the Jackson 5 and Grand Funk Railroad. Top Forty radio ruled the AM airwaves; not every car came equipped with FM capabilities, and the only way you could play your own music in your car was with an eight-track player. I started the decade reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators; by the end of the decade I was reading John D. MacDonald and Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins. It was a very weird decade…of odd color and fashion choices; avocado greens and browns and American cheese orange were ridiculously popular, as was shag carpeting, velour, clingy polyester shirts, corduroys, bell bottoms and slogan T-shirts. Baseball shirts and rugby sweaters also became popular later in the decade. People had feathered hair parted in the center, and there was this weird sense of, I don’t know, missing out? Movies were grittier, harsher, more realistic; actors went from the polished shine of the old Hollywood system glamour to warts-and-all realism. Television was also beginning to change but was still heavily censored. Boogie and truckin’ and shake your booty became part of the vernacular; the decade began with the break-up of the Beatles and ended with disco’s last gasps while new wave and punk and rap started their rise.

It was the decade I went through puberty and realized that I was attracted to other boys instead of girls; I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but definitely found out in the seventh grade it meant I was a faggot, fairy, queer, cocksucker, and all those other lovely words that were burned into my brain that year. It was the decade where I read Harold Robbins’ Dreams Die First (a truly execrable novel) over and over again because the main character had sex with both men and women, and if I am not mistaken, contained the first male-on-male sex scene I’d ever read (oral); it was also the decade where we moved from Chicago to the suburbs to the cornfields of Kansas and I graduated from high school. (Ironically, it was in Kansas that I discovered gay books with explicit gay sex scenes in them–the News Depot on Commercial Street not only carried The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren and her other novels, but also Gordon Merrick; and their magazine racks also had gay porn magazines–which, now that I think about it, meant there were others there in Lyon County and environs; I didn’t realize it at the time, of course.) It was when Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player made me aware that Richard the Lion-Hearted was like me, too; and Susan Howatch’s Cashelmara and Penmarric also had gay characters and plots involving them…

I’ve always thought the seventies was a much more important decade than ever given credit for; usually it is merely considered a connecting time from the 60’s to the 80’s…but almost everything that came after–socially, politically, culturally–got started in the seventies. So I was glad to see this book about that frequently dismissed time.

As I mentioned previously, the Seventies were turbulent; they were the decade that also saw the beginning of the end of the post-war economic/prosperity bubble. Gas shortages, skyrocketing inflation, and the insidious use of racism to break the Democratic coalition began–everything we find ourselves dealing with today had its roots in the Seventies–and it did seem, to those of us growing up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, that the world had lost its mind and our country (or rather, its mythology) had lost its way. Schulman’s study of the decade, breaking down how the shifts in culture, politics, and our society began, were exploited for divisive purposes, and permanently changed attitudes moving forward was a fascinating, if chilling, read. I remember the terrorist attacks. I remember watching the Munich Olympics that ended in bloodshed on an airport runway and murdered Israeli athletes. The book brought back a lot of memories; I am not so sure I agree with all of Schulman’s assertions about the decade–there certainly wasn’t very much about the burgeoning gay rights movement, other than how it chased lesbians off into the Women’s Movement–but it was interesting to read the book and relive the decade a bit, as well as the memories it triggered.

I do highly recommend this book for people who weren’t around for the Seventies and might be wondering how the fuck did we end up in this current mess?

Always

I always learned from reading–which is probably why I was so bad at math, now that I think about it.

And while I’ve certainly read more than my fair share from reading non-fiction (history and biographies), I’ve also learned a lot from fiction (while admitting as an adult that some of what I’ve learned from reading fiction should be viewed with a much more critical eye)–the so-called “travelogue” books in the kids’ series, like Nancy Drew’s The Clue in the Crossword Cipher or the Hardy Boys’ The Mystery at Devil’s Paw was often how I learned obscure facts that frequently come in handy when watching Jeopardy or playing Trivial Pursuit (example: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher was where I learned that the Inca language is called quechua, and I also learned about the Nasca Lines and Macchu Picchu from that book). I love reading books that, through the course of the story, expose me to information about a culture or a society or country that I don’t know much about–I’ve generally heard of it, but don’t have any other knowledge and let’s face it, there’s only so much time in every day and it’s hard enough to keep the plates spinning as is–which is why I love fiction that tells me an entertaining story while at the same time teaching me something.

Julia Dahl’s debut novel, Invisible City, is one of those.

I was in Chinatown when they called me about the body in Brooklyn.

“They just pulled a woman out of a scrap pile in Gowanus,” says Mike, my editor.

“Lovely,” I say. “So I’m off the school?” I’ve spent the past two days pacing in front of a middle school, trying to get publishable quotes from preteens or their parents about the brothel the cops busted in the back of an Internet café around the corner.

“You’re off,” says Mike.

The rest of the press is on the scene when I arrive at the gas station across from the scrap yard. Pete Calloway from the Ledger is baring his crooked teeth at the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, or as reporters call him, DCPI. DCPI is six inches taller and seventy pounds heavier than Pete. It’s barely twenty degrees out and Pete’s got his hoodie up, his shoulders hunched against the cold, but DCPI is hatless, scarfless, gloveless, coatless. His uniform jacket collar is pulled up, two inches of starched wool-blend against the icy wind.

“We’re hearing she was found without clothes,” says Pete. “Can you confirm that?”

Again, I am late to the Julia Dahl party. This book was an Edgar finalist for Best First Novel, and any number of my colleagues and friends in the mystery/crime community have raved to me about Dahl’s strong gift for writing. Invisible City was the final selection for me to take with me on last week’s trip, and it was a wonderful companion for me on my three and a half hour flight from Boston back to New Orleans. I was so deeply engrossed in the novel that–other than being interrupted by the flight staff to give me a bag of pretzels and a can of Pepsi, and then to collect my garbage–the plane could have caught fire for all I knew or cared; I just wanted to get to the bottom of the murder of the naked woman whose body discovery kicks off this well-written and very fast-paced mystery story.

Our main character here is Rebekah Roberts, and what a gift to the crime world she is! Well rounded, fully developed, and absolutely real, Rebekah is one of the most fascinating and complex series characters I’ve come across in quite a while. Dahl, like all great writers, lets us see Rebekah in all of her glory–with all of her flaws, her personality issues, her raw emotion–and while sometimes she might seem to an outsider as a bit brash or even much as I hate to say it, bitchy–Rebekah’s rawness and vulnerability makes her someone you not only enjoy spending time with as a reader, but you hate to stop spending time with her at the end. She’s fairly young, recently out of the University of Central Florida, and now living in New York trying to make ends meet (as well as build a journalism career) while working as a stringer for a tabloid paper in the big city. She’s not making a lot of money, and her small circle of friends are also terrifically rounded out as fully dimensional characters–and I hope, as the series progresses, we get to know them even better.

The case obviously begins with Rebekah going to cover the discovery of a nude woman’s body at a scrap yard in the dead of winter. But…the scrapyard is owned by Hasidic Jews, and the body is quickly taken away by a Hasidic funeral parlor rather than the medical examiner’s office, which strikes Rebekah as not only strange but not legal.

And this is where Dahl’s genius as a creator kicks in: Rebekah’s mother was Hasidic, questioned her faith, met Rebekah’s father and ran away with him. They were never married, but she gave birth to Rebekah, but the pull of her faith and her old life proved far too strong for her, and so she abandoned father and baby when Rebekah was six months old. She grew up without a mother, her father slowly changing the story of what happened to her mother as he deemed she was old enough and mature enough to handle the truth–from dead to gone to abandoned–and this, naturally, has caused some deep emotional issues for Rebekah to deal with. She hates her mother while longing to meet her and confront her–and gobbles anti-anxiety medication on the regular as she begins digging into the murder of this unfortunate Hasidic wife and mother, having to confront her own conflicted feelings about being not only half-Hasidic herself, but her own issues with that faith and way of life which she feels robbed her of her mother.

Dahl also does a magnificent job of exploring the Hasidic way of life–how alien it appears to the very much modern Rebekah, who cannot grasp why anyone in the modern day would choose such an archaic, ancient way of life, but as Rebekah learns more about why the Hasidim choose to live the way they do, my own understanding grew. The way she brings these Hasidic characters to life, refusing to simply turn them into stereotypical, one dimensional freaks and humanizing them instead, is a gift to her readers. I may not be able to comprehend living that kind of life, but I came away from this book with an understanding and empathy for them; why they self-isolate and remove themselves from the goyim in a way I don’t think I could have without Dahl unlocking that world in such a compassionate, empathetic manner.

And it’s a corker of a mystery too. I couldn’t put it down, and I am very excited to continue reading more in the series. Rebekah is an amazing heroine, destined to be ranked up there with the other great female crime series characters, and I look forward to watching Dahl continue to grow and flex her muscles as a writer–which are already, from this debut, clearly well-trained already.

Read this book. You can thank me later.

Californian Grass

I really didn’t want to get up this morning–the bed was incredibly comfortable and loving–but Scooter needs an insulin shot every twelve hours so I hauled myself out of bed to make sure he got his shot when he needed it, and then I was up, so I stayed up. I am feeling incredibly lazy this morning as well–never a good sign, ever–particularly as I have so much to get done today. Our HVAC system was acting strangely yesterday–it didn’t automatically turn off the way it was supposed to when it reached a set temperature; at one point it was 60 degrees downstairs, so I turned it off. This morning it doesn’t feel like it’s freezing downstairs–and that’s not the hot coffee’s effect, either–so maybe it’s working the way it should now. The electricians who installed it are coming by today, so I intend to get some more information about how it works from them–I must have been doing something wrong yesterday, I would imagine. I just looked–the current temperature is what it is set to and it’s not on–so I think maybe I didn’t have it set on fan auto but just on fan, which I think means it will just run and run and run.

Yesterday was a thrilling day of data entry and condom packing; I got the date entry done and so this morning will be reading up on things on-line about developments and so forth with the COVID-19 virus before repairing to my easy chair to make condom packs and watch movies or binge a show (I still am looking at you, Dare Me, for a rewatch all at one time to see what I missed watching weekly). Yesterday I watched Friday the 13th again, and then, as though to punish myself further, I watched Friday the 13th Part II for the first time (I grimly was considering watching the entire series, but I really don’t think I have the patience or fortitude to do so). As I watched the original again, I was struck–just as I was the first time I watched it, right around the time we got our first “smart” television–how cheaply it was made. The entire thing looked like it was filmed with a camcorder as a high school class project (but I don’t think camcorders were readily available when the film was made), the writing and dialogue is terrible, and about the only thing it has going for it is a very young Kevin Bacon (straight from his role on Guiding Light) in a bikini and having a sex scene before getting killed by an arrow coming up from below the bed through the mattress. I always forgot Bacon was in the first one of these…but I decided to watch the second because–well, I still had condom packs to make and Prime suggested it, so here we are. You can tell the first film was an unexpected hit out of nowhere, because while the acting and writing in the sequel are equally as bad as the original–you can see they had a bigger budget. Better lighting, better sets, better cinematography–all the technical aspects of making a film were greatly improved from the first film….if the acting and writing remained as bad and trite and one-dimensional. The story also left something to the imagination–how did Jason survive in the lake all those years? Is he a demon or a ghost or what? It was also interesting to see he hadn’t yet donned the hockey mask yet–apparently, this was added in the third film, which I may watch at some point but certainly don’t have the stomach for today. The cast of the second was also larger than the first, and it also never explains why Camp Crystal Lake becomes, after the last string of murders, a place for camp counselors to go get training for their jobs, and it doesn’t even look it was filmed in the same place…although the nearby town seems to be the same place, and some of the townies from the first movie carry over to the second. I never got into the got slasher movies of the time when they were popular when I was a teen–I later came to appreciate Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street–but these films were also a bridge from the almost infantile, cheesy teen-targeted movies of the 60’s and 70’s to the teen films of the 1980’s, when John Hughes basically flipped the script on what a teen movie looked like.

Saints and Sinners begins today (well, it actually launched last night) and there’s all kinds of lovely things–panels and so forth–over the course of the weekend that are completely free to watch on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel. Check it out! (I’d post a link to the actual page, but there doesn’t seem to be one, which is odd….here is the link to the opening video, which will take you to the page. ) I am doing a panel on Sunday at 3 CST (don’t forget we lose an hour overnight on Sunday), talking with four women mystery writers (Carrie Smith, Cheryl Head, Carsen Taite, and J. M. Redmann) about crime and romance and inspiration and why do we all write about crimes and justice–or the lack thereof. It’s weird that both it and the Tennessee Williams Festival are both virtual this year; that’s two years in a row I’ve not spent the long weekend living at the Hotel Monteleone in the Tennessee Williams Suite (I look forward to that every year). Next year, though….

I picked up a library book yesterday: Eric Arnesen’s Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics 1863-1923. Yes, it’s more research into New Orleans history, but that’s a terrific time period to cover, and if I am going to continue to take inspiration from New Orleans history as well as write historical fiction set here, I need to know more about it. My current knowledge of New Orleans and its history is but a mere drop in the Lake Pontchartrain of fact and information that exists out there–I have yet to even get down to the Quarter to use any of the archives and collections housed there–and I haven’t even read all the New Orleans histories I have here in the Lost Apartment…but I am getting there. I also saw a sign that the Friends of the Library were having a book sale, so I walked back to the carriage house of the Ladder Library, and browsed briefly, conscious of time and that I was on my half hour lunch break. I found a nice hardcover copy of John LeCarre’s The Russia House and picked it up, along with a couple of better copies of several Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries to replace worn copies in my collection (for those who like to keep track of these things, the Nancy Drews were The Clue in the Diary, The Haunted Showboat, and Mystery of Crocodile Island; the Hardy Boys were The Secret of the Old Mill, The Twisted Claw, and The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, which I’ve never had a copy of and was delighted to pick one up in such good condition, practically mint!), and then as I was rather leaving and feeling rather self-satisfied, I glanced at the “free book giveaway” table, and saw one of the few Elizabeth Peters novels I’ve never read, The Camelot Caper, and believe you me I grabbed it and kept walking. I also learned that I can donate books to the library for their sales (intellectually I knew this in the back of my brain; but only recently have I started seriously thinking about pairing down the vast library I own, and it was good to not only get this confirmation but to learn how the process works–baby steps, Constant Reader, baby steps).

And if you’re ever In New Orleans and are a bibliophile, I do recommend the Ladder Library, housed in what used to be the Ladder estate. The library and its grounds are simply beautiful, and I kind of want to set a story of some kind there.

And on that note, I’m heading into the spice mines. Maybe your Friday be lovely and fulfilling, Constant Reader.

5 8 6

And now it’s Thursday.

Ye Gods, how lovely was it to get in my car yesterday morning and turn the heat all the way up? I actually felt warm for the first time in days, and the heat was on at the office, too! Marvelous, simply marvelous, really. The weather also got significantly warmer–still cold, but twenty degrees was a significant improvement–over the course of the day. It’s going to drop into the thirties again overnight on Friday and Saturday, per the forecast, but if I can sleep through it I don’t care how cold it gets at night. I did have ice on my windshield yesterday morning–that was an unpleasant surprise–but my wonderful car warmed right up as I sat there and the ice melted and all was right in the world again. The drive to work was a bit of an ordeal; I left early, just in case, and was right–New Orleanians cannot drive under the best of circumstances–and when I got on 90 highway from the west bank to connect to I-10 East….my ramp was blocked off by an apparent car fire? And then of course the next exit from I-10 West (don’t try to follow the highway nonsense in New Orleans, seriously) was Carrollton. Because people drive like morons I wasn’t able to take the Carrollton/Tulane exit and had to get off at Carrollton right in front of Costco…and you always need to remember that when you need to make a left turn in New Orleans, you probably can’t. I wound up detouring around Xavier University and our OTHER building on my way to work this morning…thank God I left early so I got here around the time I usually do….it only took me almost three quarters of a fucking hour.

Ironically, the temperature in the Lost Apartment last night was one that would ordinarily have me bitterly bundling up and complaining about the cold…last night as I moved around the apartment getting things done–all the things I wanted to do and intended to on Fat Tuesday, I was laughing at myself…because after Fat Tuesday last night seemed very pleasant indeed in the Lost Apartment. I slept like a stone last night–God, if I could only sleep every night the way I do when it’s this cold!–and didn’t really want to get up this morning, either–it was warm and comfortable–but even so, this cold this morning is completely bearable and something I can handle with aplomb, methinks.

One great tragedy of the cold, though, was I lost a day’s work on the manuscript on Fat Tuesday, which means really having to buckle down on working on it this weekend. I may wind up having to ask for an extra week, but it’s very close and if I can get a lot done this weekend I might not have to ask for another week–but I am not going to kill myself and am going to try to be reasonable and realistic about how much I can get done this weekend.

Rather than finishing Mr. Mercedes last night, we chose to watch Serena Williams play Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open; some amazing tennis, but I have never enjoyed watching Serena lose. I suspect that was her last Australian Open; I think after this year she will undoubtedly retire and enjoy the rest of her life, maybe even have another kid. She owes us tennis fans nothing, really–I just hate seeing her marvelous career come to an end.

It’s forty-two in New Orleans right now, with a projected low of thirty-nine for the day. I will undoubtedly feel very warm and toasty when I retire to my easy chair to watch movies and remake last week’s condom packs (they were exposed to a temperature that was too low for them to stay good; so I have to remove the condoms from the packs I made last week and put new ones in); I’m not sure what I want to watch today. I watched Young Rock last night while I waited for Paul to come home; I can’t make up my mind as to whether it’s meta and charming, or cheesy yet charming. Dwayne Johnson is just so damned charismatic…I have been a fan from the early days (just as I have been a long-time fan of John Cena; I don’t watch WWE at all anymore for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the talents working for them), and there were times watching the show when I laughed out loud–the actors playing him when he was younger were very well-cast, as were the men cast as the professional wrestlers he knew and hung out with when he was a kid; and the woman playing his mother is very likable. Also–the guy playing his father Rocky Johnson is eerily well-cast as well. So, I’ll probably keep watching, but am reserving judgment on it.

Oh, I wonder if either version of My Cousin Rachel is available to stream anywhere? I’ve never seen either, and I do love the book very much. If my mind could focus better, I’d give it a reread–for some reason I’m having trouble reading again, so at some point today, tomorrow or over the course of the weekend I am going to delve back into some short stories. I started reading an ol Dan Girls mystery, The Clue in the Cobweb, because I want to start doing blog entries about the kids’ series I loved so much (I’ve already done The Three Investigators and Ken Holt; I am also rereading a Three Investigators tale, The Mystery of the Fiery Eye as well), and eventually would love to cover every one of the series I read when I was a kid and continued collecting as an adult. I know I’ve also already done Trixie Belden–but I’ve not done any of the others. I am hesitant to approach Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; even with the ones I’ve already done I barely scraped into the extensive research and scholarship on those series, and as I’ve noted before, fans of these series take them very, very seriously (I still want to write a book about that; I think a very interesting murder mystery novel could be set at one of these fan conferences they do annually because I don’t have enough to write already.)

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Hope you have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and please stay warm and safe out there!

Everyone Everywhere

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

Yesterday was simply a dreadful day, weather-wise; I imagine today isn’t going to be very much better, in all honesty. It’s 26 degrees in New Orleans right now, give or take. I am sitting at my desk in layers, the space heater going full blast, water is dripping out of every faucet to protect the pipes, and I’m about to go look for my fingerless gloves. FOUND THEM! I am glad Carnival has essentially be canceled for the most part–it’s too fucking cold, seriously. The high for today is predicted to be 36…which would usually be some kind of record low. But looking outside the windows I don’t see snow anywhere—at least we don’t have that to deal with. I am kind of dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning to go to the office. It’s going to be incredibly miserable, but at least then I have two work-at-home days. This cold snap is only supposed to last through the weekend, but during the ays it will get up to the 50’s and finally, by Sunday we’ll be back to the normal winter weather for New Orleans. It won’t be easy, but we’ll make it through somehow.

Our heat doesn’t work, by the way, so if it’s 26 outside it’s about that inside, give or take a few degrees. If I didn’t have to do a ZOOM thing later this morning I’d repair back to the bed with iPad and laptop and a book to read; I still may do that after the class ZOOM thing is finished.

My goal for yesterday was to get caught up some on my emails–I managed to get that accomplished, although even more have shown up this morning–and to print out the manuscript preparatory for the big edit/revise. This last one, while I may have called it the last draft, is actually a part of preparing the final draft; I wanted to get through the entire thing changing it from past tense to present tense, while also reading and getting an idea of what all needs to be added or deleted. This next pass through the printed pages will be where I make the notes to revise the language used, and then figure out where the new pieces I need to write need to go. The last and final pass will be a line edit, basically, where I try to catch all the mistakes and things that got missed when I changed things before. I am on track to be finished by the end of the month, or at least by the end of the first weekend of March, with any luck.

We got deeper into season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and are still enjoying it; we only intended to watch one episode, and wound up getting through four, with only four left, which at some point today–it’s Fat Tuesday, after all–we will most likely finish the show off. After a slow start the season has really picked up; I didn’t really want to stop watching last night, but it was already past eleven and I needed to get to bed–getting up at six tomorrow is going to be hard enough, given the cold, and sleeping in really late today would not have helped that situation in the least–but it’s nice to know that it’s there waiting for us when we finally are ready today. I’m not sure if Paul is going to work today–well, he’s not going to the office for sure, but whether he is going to make phone calls or send emails remains to be seen. It’s so weird to be up at this hour on Fat Tuesday and not hear a crowd at the corner or the drums of the marching bands. I really do miss the high school marching bands; especially the public school ones and the Marching 100 of St. Augustine’s; “St. Aug’s”, as we call them down here.

While I was printing out the manuscript yesterday morning I did a deep dive into the Internet about the Three Investigators, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) of the kids’ mystery series. One of the other things I was doing yesterday involved contracts for MWA’s upcoming mystery writing handbook, How to Write a Mystery, edited by the amazing Lee Child and Laurie R. King; so as I was reading an interview with the ghost writer for several of the Three Investigators books–including several of my favorites–and the name seemed familiar, as did that of his wife–so I made notes on the notepad that always sits next to my mouse to look them up and see why the names seemed familiar. Imagine my surprise when someone responded to the emailed contracts with an issue, and it turned out to be the ghost writer’s wife! That was why the name was familiar; I had seen it very recently. One of those weird, synchronistic elements of my life, I suppose, but it was still kind of cool to be corresponding with the wife of a Three Investigators ghost writer. The original author of the series, who created it and wrote ten of the first eleven volumes, Robert Arthur, also deeply interests me.

I also realized that, in some ways, I had mimicked The Three Investigators with the Scotty series: while the series is written in the first person, there are three of them; Scotty, Frank, and Colin. My original plans when I was a child for my own series initially began with a single character to hang the series on; it eventually evolved into three friends solving mysteries–and yes, the concept of there being three was not unique to, or originated by, the Three Investigators–the Hardy Boys and their pal, Chet; Nancy Drew with Bess and George; Judy Bolton and two separate groups of three (either with Irene and Honey, or with Lorraine and Lois); etc. (I’ve also always wondered, in the back of my mind, if having three precluded any notions of homoeroticism; it certainly existed in the Ken Holt series with his best bud Sandy, or in the Rick Brant with his buddy Scotty–which has also made me wonder lately if that’s where the name for my Scotty came from… since having three meant including a chaperone).

So, I intend to spend the rest of the morning straightening up the kitchen to serve as the backdrop for my ZOOM session, swilling coffee and trying to stay warm. So, on that note I am heading back into the spice mines, and will catch you on Ash Wednesday. Have a great day, Constant Reader, as always.