If Not For You

One of the most fun, for me, things about being a writer is being able to pay homage to books and writers I’ve enjoyed or felt a connection to in some way. I do this in at least every book I write–sometimes it’s as little a thing as having one of my characters reading a book I greatly enjoyed–and sometimes it’s a little more sly and tongue in cheek. For one example, I wondered occasionally while writing Bury Me in Shadows if anyone would notice that the name of the plantation house that burned during the Civil Was was Blackwood Hall–I only called it that once or twice; I usually referred to it as “the ruins”–and that it was a ghost story…hence The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, which had always been one of my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid (my favorite books in any series were ones that dealt with ghosts, hauntings, or the supernatural–it never was anything supernatural–in them; even as a kid I had, apparently, this morbid fascination with death and the afterlife that has continued into my adulthood). Vieux Carré Voodoo was also inspired, in some ways, by The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, one of my favorite Three Investigators mysteries–a jewel stolen from an idol that cultists will kill to get back is at the heart of both stories, and I also took inspiration somewhat from Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which I had also read and loved as a child.

I’ve not picked up a Nancy Drew mystery in years to read through, until recently. I remember the series fondly–it wasn’t my favorite, nor was the Hardy Boys; but those books were more easily accessible and easier to find in stores and libraries than the other kids’ series, and with the kind of obsessive behavior I’ve always had–which hasn’t tempered much with the passage of time–once I started reading a series I wanted to read (and own) the complete set. This odd childhood obsession has never abated, even as I am now past sixty; I don’t have room to have all my series books out displayed on bookshelves (they are some of the boxes in the attic and the storage unit) and I think I am missing a few volumes from each series I do collect–but without being able to put them out, it’s hard for me to know which ones I am missing, so I’ve kind of held back on collecting them over the last decade or so. Discovering eBay in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was a big impetus in getting me to start collecting (trying to finish collecting) again, but the lack of space for storage–let alone putting them out on display in bookcases–inhibited me and I began to wonder about the advisability and the point of collecting children’s book series if I was simply going to put them in boxes and store them. It seemed kind of dumb, in all honesty, and so I stopped.

But the kids’ series had an enormous impact on me growing up and as a developing writer. I honestly think that The Haunted Showboat, number 35 in the Nancy Drew series, was my first actual encounter with New Orleans and Mardi Gras; it was either the fourth or fifth Nancy Drew mystery I had actually read (I started with The Secret of Red Gate Farm, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, and The Hidden Staircase; I think the next I read was The Haunted Showboat or Password to Larkspur Lane) and I do believe it was Nancy Drew who introduced me to New Orleans (outside of US History; I knew the Battle of New Orleans and the Louisiana Purchase and all of that, but this was my first non-historical introduction to the city).

I used to be able to list the books in order as well as give some background on the story; my memory isn’t quite as reliable on that score as it used to be. I joined some fan groups on Facebook, primarily to see if there were other alternatives than eBay and scouring second hand stores for the copies of the series books I am missing (and that’s a whole other story; there’s definitely a murder mystery novel that can be built around adult fans of kids’ series, seriously), and have been taken aback by the toxicity that can show up in these groups: hatred of anything new or daring or different to do with the characters (they have gone to TOWN on the new television series for both Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys–hating changes and updates with the fiery white hot passion of a dozen burning suns–and it inevitably comes down to ‘political correctness’ and ‘being woke’–despite knowing that all the earlier series books were revised in the 1950s thru the early 1970s to get rid of dated stereotypes and racism), but that is a subject for a different time (I’ve not watched Nancy Drew–literally forgot about it–but I’ve liked The Hardy Boys).

Anyway, as I am writing a new Scotty book, I decided to do some research into Nancy Drew and New Orleans–mainly deciding to reread both books that were set, at least in part, here.

So, I went on line (much easier than going through the boxes in storage–which is yet another example of how stupid it is for me to keep storing books) and ordered copies of both The Haunted Showboat and The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, which, according to a synopsis I read on a Nancy Drew website, had Nancy, Bess and George come to New Orleans–which I didn’t remember. I remembered that the book was about Mrs. Putney being swindled out of her jewelry, and it had something to do with spiritualism, which eventually led Nancy and her friends to the abandoned, haunted Blackwood Hall–but I did not remember them coming to New Orleans. This struck me as strange–I certainly vividly remembered other parts of the story, particularly a scene when Ned and Nancy stumbled into quicksand (which, according to everything I read and saw on television and/or movies as a child, I thought would be more of a danger to me at every point of my life).

Both books arrived on the same day, but since I do remember The Haunted Showboat more than I remembered anything New Orleans with The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, I decided to look through the latter and read the New Orleans section again.

Yeesh.

Despite my obsession with collecting and reading the entire series, as I mentioned earlier, Nancy Drew was never my favorite of the kids’ series; I liked The Three Investigators and Ken Holt most of all, and I always thought both Trixie Belden (the original six) and Judy Bolton were better written and more interesting than Nancy (Judy was also a goody two-shoes, but she was more rounded and developed, as were her friends), and looking through The Ghost of Blackwood Hall made me remember why she was never a favorite; the books aren’t very well written. (The original texts were much better than the revised ones, but it was a very low bar to hurdle, seriously.) And yet I had to have all the books and read them all; I watched the 70s television series with pre-Dynasty Pamela Sue Martin; and I still sort of have a soft spot for good ole Nancy; but man, these revised texts are simply terrible–and the later, newer books steadily declined in quality–I remember one where Nancy and her friends, being chased by a bad guy, duck into a room and–this is so stupid, it was even shown as an illustration–hide by sitting in chairs and holding up picture frames because of course the bad guy would look at them sitting still and believe they were a photograph or a painting.

Even as a kid, I knew that was fucking stupid.

Anyway, so Nancy is hired by a jeweler to help out his client Mrs. Putney–who clearly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed–who is a widow and received a message from “beyond the grave” from her husband that she needed to bury her most valuable jewelry in the woods for safekeeping. (She’s also told to tell “no man or woman” about this; which is why the jeweler brings her to Nancy because she’s a “girl”–but the jeweler is a man…I guess in her mind he doesn’t count because he’s the one who spots that her jewelry is all fake, once she’s reconsidered her stupidity and dug the jewels back up.) There’s a lot of gullibility and superstition in this book, for the record, that doesn’t really make any logical sense. In a weird sequence of events, Nancy winds up with the name of a man from New Orleans who was an accomplished jewelry designer and “capable of making fakes that look real”–so she decides to follow the clue to New Orleans to look for information on the man. Because of course. Anyway, despite the fact that Mrs. Putney isn’t paying for this trip and in fact warns her not to go–Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, decides to foot the bill for her, Bess and George to fly down to New Orleans and follow this laughable clue that could only be a valuable one in a Nancy Drew mystery. (As I was reading this part again, I started thinking about how expensive this would be back then–the revised text was written in 1967, the original in the late 1940’s–and how amazing it was that all three eighteen year old girls had nothing else to do and could hop on a flight to New Orleans just like that; I am sure even back then it was more expensive to buy a ticket at the last minute.)

None of this mattered, of course, to young Greg when he was reading it the first time…and yes, I am being harsh about a kids’ series book which I am clearly too old for, but c’mon. And I knew when I was a kid that the books weren’t well written. (One thing that always annoyed me about this series and the Hardy Boys was they never really deduced anything or solved an actual mystery; really, the books were usually about catching a criminal whose identity was known almost from the start through a series of contrivances.)

But…

Once they are in New Orleans–after Bess tells a strange woman on their flight where they are staying in city: Nancy, seated in front of them, was sorry their hotel had been named. She had wanted to keep their visit to New Orleans as secret as possible. Um, you’re on a flight to New Orleans. So, since it’s too late to call on the suspect’s former boss, they go sight-seeing–but Nancy ducks into every jewelry and/or pawn shop they come upon.

The trip proved to be pleasurable, if not profitable. Their inquiries led them into many sections of New Orleans. The French Quarter, where the buildings were charming in their elegance of a bygone day, interested them most. Beautiful ironwork, delicately tinted plaster walls, old courtyards, once the center of fashionable Creole family life, fascinated the girls.

On a balcony, a brightly-colored parrot chattered at them in friendly fashion. A smiling woman, bearing a basket of flowers, stopped to sell a flower to each girl. On all sides, the visitors saw interesting characters, and heard the soft-spoken dialect which was a blend of French, Cajun, and Gumbo.

GUMBO IS NOT A LANGUAGE.

And since Cajun is a derivative of French…sigh. And by 1967 New Orleans wasn’t really bilingual anymore. It had begun to die out around the turn of the twentieth century, and it’s definitely a rarity here now to find anyone native who speaks both English and French, or speaks French as their first language.

The next day they visit their suspect’s former employer, who knows nothing, and then do some site-seeing before lunch “in a quaint restaurant.”

“New Orleans is wonderful!” Bess exclaimed. Counting on her fingers, she added, “We’ve seen the banana wharf, the market, the garden district, and that old cemetery where all the dead are buried in tombs above the ground.”

“That’s because this place is below sea level,” said George. “Say, do you suppose that guide that we believed the story about the tomb which is supposed to glow at night with an unearthly light?”

“He said spirits come out and weave back and forth like wisps of fog,” said Bess.

“That’s just what they are–fog,” George declared practically.

“Oh, I don’t for a minute believe in ghosts,” Bess replied quickly.

“I wish we had time to go to Grand Isle, the haunt of Lafitte and his men,” said Nancy.

“Who is he?” Bess asked.

“He was a famous pirate,” Nancy replied. “According to tradition, when burying treasure, he always murdered one of his band and left his ghost to guard the hidden loot!”

I guess Bess never studied about the Battle of New Orleans–and no one at either the Stratemeyer Syndicate or Grosset & Dunlap knew that you capitalize “Garden District.” Then comes a really weird section where the girls visit a spiritualist photographer on whose works sometimes “spirit writing” appears. Naturally, Nancy’s image has a warning to stop sleuthing, and then the lights go out and when they come back on, the photographer is unconscious, along with Nancy, are gone! This for me is a particularly weird section. Nancy is the point of view character, even if at a distance. Why would you then switch to Bess and George frantically searching for Nancy rather than showing her capture and abduction and eventual escape? WHY HAVE THE ACTION TAKE PLACE OFF THE PAGE?

Oh, and when Nancy regained consciousness, she was tied up and trapped in a basement near the Quarter.

A basement. Near the French Quarter. In New Orleans, which we’ve already learned is below sea level and therefore bodies can’t be buried in the ground. So of course we have basements.

But Nancy leads the cops back to the house, where all evidence of her being tied up and so forth have disappeared:

To their surprise the policeman remarked soberly, “This isn’t the first time queer things have happened in this section of the city.”

Ah, so it must be the Faubourg Marigny. Lots of queers lived there and in the lower Quarter back then. But I guess the girls should consider themselves lucky that they found an English-speaking cop–who would never say “this section of the city.” He’d name the neighborhood–“this isn’t the first time queer things have happened in the Marigny.” So anyway, the girls decide to go home, and fortunately, there’s a flight from New Orleans to River Heights within an hour. They pack and head for the airport just in time to catch their flight home–when Bess mentions something else mysterious that is going on that she knows about and just hasn’t mentioned before for some reason, and of course, as always, this side story subplot is connected to the main one.

And that’s where I stopped, since that was the end of Nancy’s adventures in New Orleans.

Sigh.

The Haunted Showboat, on the other hand, opens with an immediate eye-roller for New Orleanians:

“Would a trip to the Mardi Gras interest you, Nancy, and also a mystery to solve?” Bess Marvin asked.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, so basically Bess just asked her if she would interested in a trip to “the Fat Tuesday.” Yes, I am well aware that outside of New Orleans it’s all lazily considered Mardi Gras, but it’s really Carnival. Mardi Gras is quite literally Fat Tuesday, the final day of Carnival, and while I’ve grudgingly come to accept that there’s no way that people will ever not refer to the entire event as “Mardi Gras”–even I have a tendency to get lazy and say”Mardi Gras” when I mean Carnival–it will never not bother me. Of course, Bess isn’t from Louisiana and she can be forgiven for getting this wrong, and even using “the” as unnecessary definitive article can be forgiven. But–and this is something that always annoyed me about both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys–never is it mentioned in this book that Nancy and her friends have been to New Orleans before, and never was it mentioned on that previous trip in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall that Bess and George have New Orleans relatives.

Wouldn’t you think that would have come up in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall? Of course it didn’t, because when book 25 was written they had no idea that Book 35 would return Nancy and friends to New Orleans and Louisiana. (This kind of continuity thing used to drive me nuts; Nancy and the Hardys were ‘well known’ as amateur detectives, and every book opens with a reference to their first series book as well as the most recent, and closed with a teaser for the next, despite the fact that really, every mystery they solved was a stand alone with no connections to the past or the future. A couple of other continuity errors that always bugged me with Nancy is that Ned is mentioned as her boyfriend in the revised text of Number 5, The Secret at Shadow Ranch even though she meets him for the first time in Number 7, The Clue in the Diary; she finds her dog Togo as a stray at the opening of The Whispering Statue’s original text; but she already has Togo in the revised text of earlier volumes and yes, I am aware that I have spent way too much time in my life obsessing about Nancy Drew and continuity errors in the series–and there are a lot.)

Anyway.

If anything, The Haunted Showboat is actually worse than The Ghost of Blackwood Hall in so many ways, and not just in the aforementioned minor ways. First of all, the cousin of Bess and George’s, who invited them down, is named Donna Mae, because back in the day you could always make your audience know “hey this is set in the South” by giving a female character two first names–and always something Mae. (Ellie Mae Clampett is another example; for the record, out of dozen and dozens of southern women relatives there is exactly one whose name was “Something Mae”.) It takes a while for them to get to Louisiana–Nancy’s car is stolen once, and the replacement is sabotaged–because of course the criminals down in Louisiana will stop at nothing to keep this teenager from the midwest to interfere with their plans!–but there’s one part of their trip that is absolutely hilarious: they drive through Mobile on their way to New Orleans, but somehow get to the Mississippi River before they get to New Orleans or the plantation outside of town they are visiting:

Soon the girls reached the broad Mississippi and gazed at the peaceful, somewhat muddy river.

SOMEWHAT MUDDY?

Nancy then follows the River Road and turns inland. This geography makes literally no sense at all. But..it’s Nancy Drew, and the worst is yet to come.

You see, the Havers–who live at Sunnymead–have two black servants: Mammy Matilda and Pappy Cole. And oh yes, it’s just as racist and horrible as you can imagine–especially when you add in the “voodoo drums” they hear when canoeing through the swamp to get to the wrecked and haunted showboat, the River Princess. Anyway, yes, you can just imagine how dated and awful these depictions are. And everyone calls it “the Mardi Gras,” which no one does in the real world, either. The Quarter is referred to (correctly) as the “Vieux Carré”, but an aside says “or the old city”–it means “old square”, not old city–and of course they have lunch at Antoine’s.

There’s also an Uncle Rufus, who lives in the swamp in a tiny cabin and does voodoo spells.

There’s also a swamp episode and a wrecked, haunted showboat in an episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You?, which I’ve always wondered whether it was inspired (or stolen) from this edition.

So, neither book has aged particularly well–I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Gumbo as a language–and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the racist depictions of Black characters in The Haunted Showboat, but the book is still in print and kids are still reading it. Everyone knows that the original texts of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were updated in the 1950’s and through the 1960’s to get rid of problematic depictions of non-white characters; it might not be a bad idea for them to do it again now. No one should be reading The Haunted Showboat as it stands today, really.

But it was an interesting time travel to revisit the books again. At some point I’d love to talk about all the kids’ series I read when I was a child, but…time.

Straight Back

G’morning, Saturday! How you doing? I slept well, woke up sans alarm, and feel kind of rested and good this morning. The sun is ridiculously bright this morning–it was yesterday as well–but that’s fine. Today is a long day of college football, and I have one errand to run this morning later on. Yesterday was a fairly good day; I got my work done during the day and ran the errands that needed running. I made Swedish meatballs (my version of them, any way) for dinner last night, and we settled in to watch the finale of Bad Sisters and of course, Halloween Ends, which was remarkably different than what I was expecting and despite a slow start, turned out rather interestingly after all.

I did think about the book last night while I was waiting for Paul to be ready for television viewing (and while I was doing some chores and making dinner), so I think I may have some success working on it this morning. I am going to try to get this done, put the dishes away and do some other chores before taking a shower and getting cleaned up to work on the book before I have to run the errands. And while I am of course hoping that Alabama cleans Tennessee’s clock today, the LSU game isn’t until this evening so I have the day pretty much all free heading into that, so there’s no reason I can’t get some writing done today and tomorrow (note to self: check the time of the Saints game today so you can plan accordingly). I don’t need to make another grocery run this weekend–or even order anything for pick-up–so I can pretty much plan on having the time to get things done around here. I have to work Monday morning in the clinic (covering for someone) but I also don’t have to be there until eight-thirty, either. Huzzah!

I also want to start rereading ‘salem’s Lot today; but I also have some other things I want to read as well. There never is enough time for everything, seriously. I have a couple of short stories written by friends that I need to look over (I promised feedback months ago) and I also have that Shirley Jackson Edgar-winning story I want to read, too. At some point I want to drive around the city and take pictures of Halloween decorations too–maybe I can take a walk with my phone tomorrow morning around the neighborhood and the Garden District–because I feel like I don’t document life in New Orleans as much as I should.

But then this blog has never really had a theme other than really just being a kind of diary for me, more than anything else, one where I don’t really talk about personal things as much perhaps as I would in a diary but just a way of situating myself and seeing where and how I am every morning. I have some pending entries that I also need to finish–entries talking about other books I’ve written, other books I’ve read and yet not done an entry for yet–and of course that takes time out of my day every day as well as time away from my other writing. But I do have a rather funny one about Nancy Drew and New Orleans I really should finish sometime–I have a weird love/hate thing with Nancy Drew; my OCD required me to collect and read the entire series, yet she was never really a favorite of mine; there were other juvenile series I vastly preferred to both Nancy and The Hardy Boys–but I had wanted to pay homage to Nancy’s adventures in New Orleans in the new Scotty book, so I reread the two books where Nancy came to New Orleans (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat) and whoo-boy, were they dated, wrong on almost every level, and horrifyingly racist. (Sidebar: I’ve always wanted to write my own juvenile series, similar to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and at the same time I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery set at a fan convention for one of these series–because I belong to some fan-pages on Facebook and let me tell you, those folks are interesting)

I also have my entry about Donna Andrews’ marvelous Round Up the Usual Peacocks to finish, and I also have a rather lengthy entry about Interview with the Vampire I think I’ll wait to finish until I am done with watching the show.

I am not going to lie, I was curious about Halloween Ends primarily because I absolutely hated the second film in this sequel/reboot series, or whatever the hell it is considered. I was impressed by the creative decisions made on how to handle this absolutely, finally the last chapter (the end definitively ends it, trust me); but I am not entirely sure how I felt about the focus being moved off Laurie and Michael Myers. I guess I was a little disappointed–I was hoping to see, I guess, a balls-to-the-wall Laurie v. Michael battle, which we did kind of get, but it also wasn’t the primary focus of the film? I appreciated the new story as well as the new cast members like Rohan Campbell (who plays Frank on Hulu’s The Hardy Boys reboot), but I came away a little disappointed, but that was due to my own expectations, not any failure of the film itself. (I was also really amused to no end that Kyle Richards of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, who played one of the kids Laurie babysits in the very original Halloween, was brought back to reprise the role in the new trilogy. After listening to her talk about “filming” all season, and “having to focus on learning her lines” while dealing with RHOBH drama…only to watch the actual film to see she has exactly two scenes and at most five lines made me laugh out loud–and of course, Paul shadily said “I find it really hard to believe a bartender in Haddonfield could afford all that plastic surgery” which sent me into gales of laughter. I did enjoy the movie, though, and appreciated the different direction it took. If you’re a fan of Halloween, I think you’ll enjoy it, too–but understand it’s different going in.

All right, on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and GEAUX TIGERS!

She’s Not Just Another Woman

Well, yesterday was actually quite lovely. I slept extremely well Thursday night and of course, the Anthony Award nominations turned my week around when the news broke that night (I still can’t believe Bury Me in Shadows is nominated TWICE), and I did spend a lot of yesterday trying to thank everyone for their congratulatory tweets, posts, comments and emails–I can’t think of anything lovelier than having to say thank you to people for their kindness–AND then Netflix renewed Heartstopper for an additional two seasons, which warmed the cockles of my cold, dark little heart. I wasn’t able to get as much done as I would have liked–but I did get some important thinking done, and today I am really going to start working on my edits. When I got home from work yesterday I did a lot of cleaning and organizing in order to get it out of the way before the weekend, precisely so I could focus on my edits. We spent the evening, once I’d made dinner (Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, if you were wondering) watching this week’s Under the Banner of Heaven and then one of the two new episodes of Hacks before we turned in early for the evening. I slept marvelously again last night, and feel very rested and a-rarin’ to go this morning. I do have some errands to run–nothing major that will take me away for long; I need to get the mail and put gas in the car–and then I can settle in for a day of editing and writing, which I am strangely looking forward to doing.

It was a rollercoaster of a week, ending withe incredibly pleasant high of having two Anthony Award nominations for the same book–still having trouble wrapping my mind around this, to be honest; I don’t know if it’s ever happened before–but I am not the only person with more than one nomination. Tracy Clark is nominated for Best Novel for Runner and for Best Short Story; S. A. Cosby is nominated for Best Novel (Razorblade Tears), Best Short Story, and Best Anthology for Under the Thumb. I feel confident no one’s ever been nominated for three Anthonys in the same year, as well; Shawn just keeps breaking down barriers with his extraordinary work. The nominations list is also one of the most diverse I’ve seen in all my years in this business, which certainly also bears remarking on.

As always, I still have a ridiculous amount of work to get done; but now that I am all rested this morning and feeling great about things, I am not so worried or stressed about it as I was yesterday or earlier in the week (being tired is so unpleasant, and just opens to the door to stress and anxiety and depression); we will see, of course, how long that will last very shortly, won’t we? I have hopes–although I know going out into the blisteringly hot and humid day to run errands will suck the energy right out of me, sending me quite literally to my easy chair; but I can work in the easy chair–if I make myself do it, which I feel like I can do today. I don’t think I am going to make the deadline for that short story–its fine, really; I was thinking about it last night and realized working on it has been a way of pushing off getting the edits on my book finished because I just can’t face working on it again, but I am over it already. I still don’t know the middle of the story, and I can always finish it some other time and get it done and try to sell it somewhere. It’s a pretty good story–I just need to figure out the middle of it.

Sigh. I hate the middle.

But looking around the desk this morning, there’s things I need to put away and filing that needs to be done; I also got down my Scotty books (with the pages marked with sticky notes for each character’s history and background; this was the initial step to creating a Scotty Bible to make continuity easier for me) and have them stacked neatly on the right corner of the desk underneath some others I’ll be using for Chlorine research (should I ever get around to that, I am beginning to sense the slippage of time through my hot little fingers). This is always the first step of writing a Scotty book; gathering the copies of the old for references. I have the prologue-opening spoof of a more famous book’s opening selected and even written somewhat (A START!) and I am doing some research–I am going to pay homage with the book to two Nancy Drew mysteries (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat) in this plot/story, so I actually had to sit down and reread both books (another blog post there, but you’ll have to be patient, Constant Reader) this past week–more of a skim, really; just to get some feel for them again since I didn’t really remember as much of them as I would have liked–and yes, I have thoughts (hence the blog post which I’ve already started).

But as I said, I have edits to dig into today, and some filing to do before I run the errands, so it’s perhaps best that I bring this to a close this morning and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

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?

U Got the Look

This week, The CW debuted a new version of Nancy Drew. I sort of watched it Thursday night, and will probably watch again so I can pay better attention. It’s definitely a reboot, with a lot of changes–Nancy’s mom died much later in her life, for example, and there’s no Bess. The story is also set in Horseshoe Bay rather than River Heights, and Nancy has hung up her sleuthing cap since her mother’s death and is now working as a waitress in a diner. George Fayne isn’t a close friend but now her boss, and they don’t get along–I expect that to change. Ned Nickerson is not white–a change I liked a lot–and prefers to go by Nick. It’s also a bit more in the vein of Riverdale than the classic Nancy Drew stories, but let’s face it–the real Nancy as originally written is kind of insufferable–bit more on that later.

I’m also sure these changes will enrage the Nancy Drew fanbase–anything other than the way she was originally written by a lot of ghostwriters generally sets them off. I am not such a purist–I recognize that changes have to be made for a different medium, for one thing, and for another–as I said earlier, Nancy was a bit insufferable as originally written.

I did enjoy the movie a few years ago with Emma Roberts (it might be the only time I’ve ever actually enjoyed an Emma Roberts performance, frankly); a lot was changed from the books to the series.

Nancy Drew and I go back to my fifth grade year at Eli Whitney Elementary in Chicago. I was already reading as many mysteries as I could get my hands on–those Scholastic Book Fairs were my favorite part of school–and I was checking out as many mysteries from the library as I could. (This was also the period of time when I discovered Phyllis Whitney’s mysteries for children; the first I read was The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye.) My fifth grade teacher had a big table in the back of the room with books for kids on them; we were on the honor system. We could borrow a book but we were supposed to return it when we finished reading it. The first day of school I wandered back there and looked at the books on the table; the first title to jump out at me was The Secret of Red Gate Farm. Above the title was NANCY DREW MYSTERY SERIES, and on the cover was a picture of a girl with wavy blonde hair, wearing a sweater and a long skirt, hiding behind a tree and looking, her mouth wide open in shock, fear or surprise, staring at the entrance to a cave  as some strangely robed figures entered it. I took it back to my desk, and started reading it.

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“That Oriental-looking clerk in the perfume shop certainly acted mysterious, ” Bess Marvin declared, as she and her two friends ended their shopping trip and hurried down the street to the railroad station.

“Yes,” Nancy Drew answered thoughtfully. “I wonder why she didn’t want you to buy that bottle of Blue Jade?”

“The price would have discouraged me,” spoke up Bess’ cousin, dark-haired George Fayne. Her boyish name fitted her slim build and straight-forward, breezy manner. “Twenty dollars an ounce!”

“Oriental-looking.”

Sigh. The great irony is that both the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series were rewritten and revised to remove racist stereotypes and language…

Anyway, The Secret of Red Gate Farm enthralled me, as Nancy and her friends tried to help a young girl and her grandmother save Red Gate Farm from mortgage foreclosure while also trying to expose a ring of counterfeiters. There was a list of intriguing-sounding Nancy Drew titles on the back of the book, and back on the table in my fifth grade classroom there were three more titles: The Mystery at Lilac Inn, The Haunted Showboat, and The Clue of the Leaning Chimney. As I scoped around, there was another series novel, but it wasn’t Nancy Drew; it was the Dana Girls The Secret of the Old Well, allegedly written by the same person: Carolyn Keene.

Nancy Drew introduced me to the world of Grosset & Dunlap series–which were actually all produced, for the most part, by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. I eventually found myself reading–and collecting–many of those series, including the Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Ken Holt, Rick Brant, Biff Brewster, Chip Hilton, and Judy Bolton, among others–I also wound up collecting Trixie Belden and the Three Investigators, too.

I always wanted to write a series like these when I was a kid; I even came up with a list of about forty titles I could use. I wrote one, actually, when I was in the fifth grade–called The Secret of the Haunted Mansion–which, to the best of my recollection, might be the first fiction I ever wrote; alas, it is lost in the mists of time. Periodically, I come back to the thought of writing such a series, but I don’t know that there’s a market for them anymore. Most of the series have gone out of print, with only Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, as far as I know, still available; Trixie Belden might be but I’m not sure. I still collect the books–it really pleases my OCD to have the series completed. I’m still missing a few from some of the harder to find series–like Biff Brewster and Ken Holt, and I do think I am missing a couple of Judy Boltons and Dana Girls as well–but I’ve stopped scouring eBay over the last few years because, well, money.

But at some point, I imagine I will go back and try to complete the series.

I do credit these series with a lot of my devotion to the world of crime and crime writing; while I always loved mysteries, it’s entirely possible I would have moved on to something else had I not discovered, and become addicted, to these series. These series led me eventually to Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen; and those authors eventually led me to others…and wanting to write crime fiction of my own.

So, thank you, Nancy Drew. It’s kind of your fault.

You’re the Inspiration

Ah, another week.

I finished watching Black Sails this weekend, and wow. Wow. WOW. That was, without a doubt, one of the best series finales I have ever seen. I cried. Yup, I did. There was a twist there at the end that I did not see coming, and it was so incredibly moving and emotionally satisfying…I mean, wow.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.

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I love pirates, which was part of the reason why the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were so innately disappointing; sure, I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s performance in the first one, but after that they just seemed like parodies of the first, and the plots, such as they were, were ridiculous. I think I was very young when I saw Treasure Island in two parts on The Wonderful World of Disney, and around that same time A High Wind in Jamaica also aired. I became all about the pirates–there were even Nancy Drew (The Haunted Showboat) and Hardy Boys (The Secret of Pirates’ Hill) and Three Investigators (The Secret of Skeleton Island) adventures revolving around pirate treasure; and any number of Scholastic Book Club mysteries about searching for treasure left behind by pirates. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was around ten; it was an illustrated version, and I remember the pictures as if I just saw them yesterday.

So, yeah, I’ve always loved pirates.

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I started watching Black Sails a year or so again, and it just didn’t catch on with me. I don’t know why, nor do I remember why. I gave it two episodes and stopped, and I do remember thinking, meh, it’s visually stunning, but I don’t care. But earlier this year, needing something to keep me entertained whilst on the treadmill, I decided to give it another whirl, and got sucked right in.

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Visually, it is an absolutely stunning show. Set in the Bahamas in the early eighteenth century, Nassau in particular, the scenery is spectacular. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful; the ships at sail, the water, the island, the beach, the town, the costumes. Visually, it’s a sumptuous feast.

In the first episode we meet Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones; as soon as I heard the names (I only knew it was a pirate show) I knew what it was: a prequel to Treasure Island. This time around, that really got my interest going. But what was strange was that there were also characters who actually existed in history: Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Edward Teach. The lines between the real characters and the fictional soon became so blurred that I forgot I was watching a prequel to Treasure Island most of the time, and was watching a fictionalized version of history; Nassau and the Bahamas were  a failed British colony basically taken over by pirates; the British Empire was too busy dealing with the War of the Spanish Succession to be bothered with doing anything about Nassau; and Captain Flint’s plan to set up a republic of pirates and escaped slaves was actually based in history; I have a book about it called The Republic of Pirates that I haven’t gotten to read yet (but I’ve moved it up the TBR pile).

And of course, the cast is stunningly beautiful.

I mean, Tom Hopper as Billy Bones:

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Toby Stephens as Captain Flint:

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Luke Arnold as John Silver:

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Zach MacGowan as Charles Vane:

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And my favorite character turned out to be Jack Rackham, played by Toby Schmitz.

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What was also enjoyable to me was that the cast was also diverse; and the women weren’t there simply to look pretty, be ogled, or be used as sexual pawns. They were integral parts of the cast, and drove a lot of the action on the show, and were incredibly strong. Eleanor Guthrie ran Nassau; Max moved from being a mere worker in the brothel to major position of power; Madi was Queen of the Maroons and spoke for/led her people, and of course, Anne Bonney was just a badass.

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I also loved that the show included the Maroons; escaped slaves who made their own community and resisted being recaptured.

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All of the characters were fully realized; and the plot was so intricate as each character formed friendships/romances/alliances, and betrayed others, as they tried to gain the ascendancy, not only in Nassau but also over the treasure of the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima. It was interesting watching the characters change and evolve based on their experiences, what they went through, and what they suffered. The relationships, the friendships, completely made sense–even when it came to the betrayals. I was so caught up in the story that it wasn’t until the fourth season that I started remembering, “oh, no, this is the prequel to Treasure Island, and the pirate republic eventually collapsed,” which meant, to my fear and horror, that most of the cast wasn’t going to get out alive.

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Also, serious props to the characterization of Woodes Rogers, the British man who comes to the Bahamas determined to solve the piracy problem with a good heart and good intentions; watching him slowly evolve into one of the best villains on the show as his ideals are slowly stripped from him by circumstance and reality was mesmerizing.

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All of the characters evolved and changed, which is a rarity in any television series, but the acting and writing in Black Sails was so superb it never hit a false note.

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And it was interesting in that not only were women shown nude, but there was full frontal male nudity as well.

In the first season there was a lesbian relationship–which I figured, of course there is, gotta give the fanboys some hot girl-on-girl action–but again; while there were sex scenes, the relationship wasn’t prurient and was depicted as honestly and as importantly as any of the heterosexual romances.

I don’t want to give spoilers, and I won’t–because some of the most powerful surprises in the show have to come as a surprise, or will lose their impact–but in Season 2 as we get the back story on one of the principle male leads….he’s gay, and that changes, not only the character, but everything that came before. And his story is absolutely heartbreaking, and played brilliantly.

And the ending! Again, no spoilers, but I cried. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series finale that felt so right, so perfect, as an end for a story. Where Black Sails succeeded was in making you care about the characters and understanding their relationships, rather than just focusing on story and the size and scope of the show–which, don’t get me wrong, is also pretty amazing.

Bravo, Starz. This is the second series of yours I’ve watched all the way through–the first being Flesh and Bone, which was also brilliant–and I have to say, Starz is kicking ass on the series front. Wow. Loved it.

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