Recoil

And now it’s Ash Wednesday, concluding the Carnival that wasn’t.

My God, yesterday was cold.

Gregalicious does not like the cold.

Yesterday’s high was 36; most of the day was in the 20’s, and without heat in the Lost Apartment, it was pretty miserable here. I spent the entire day in layers of clothing, under blankets, and with my space heater blowing directly on me. It’s in the thirties right now as I type this–shivering, with my gloves forgotten upstairs–but at least today’s high will be in the fifties. (And yes, well aware that ordinarily I would complain about the cold with it in the fifties, so yes, the irony doesn’t escape me at all. Last night, as I got into bed with all my layers still on, I said to Paul, “as much as I am dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning, I am looking forward to the drive to work because I know the heat in my car works.“) At least this morning I can feel the heat from the space heater–yesterday for most of the day I couldn’t, unless I got close to it, that’s how fucking cold it was in here…I could see my breath last night as I gulped down hot soup. Needless to say, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday, but I watched a lot of videos about history–I found a great American history channel, with a history teacher going over important points from our history–the compromises of 1820 and 1850 that just kicked the slavery question down the road a bit; the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the Dred Scott decision; and every other point in our history where the government tried to appease slaveholders in order to keep the peace.

Appeasement is never a solution; all it does it buy some time before the inevitable conflict comes.

I also just had a horrid thought–I do hope the heat is on at the office…although if it’s not, I doubt they will keep us there very long.

And I do think I’ve learned my lesson about getting out of bed. If it’s cold like this tomorrow, I am just going to grab my laptop and anything and everything else I have to work on tomorrow, and I am going to do it from under the blankets upstairs. And move my space heater up there as well. I can’t afford to lose another day of work because it’s cold–and the weather it going to remain cold over the next few days before finally returning to normal New Orleans winter weather temperatures on Sunday.

I found myself thinking yesterday, as I shivered and tried to start warm (my iPad was cold to the touch so I didn’t even want to hold it for significant periods of time) I found myself thinking, not only about the Kansas book which needs to be worked on, but about another Scotty book–or what will probably be the next Scotty book, Twelfth Night Knavery, which has a very basic plot already in place, so writing the book will just be putting meat and muscle on top of the skeleton I’ve already got in place. I think the next Scotty will take place a few weeks after the previous one, the one after that will take place during the Carnival of 2020, and then we’ll jump ahead to 2021’s Carnival for the next. I’m not sure if this is workable, in all honesty; three Scotty books over such a short time period will spread the writing out over three years, really, so this third one I am thinking about would wind up being a 2024 release….and that’s if no other writing projects/jobs come along in the meantime to kick the Scotty can down the road a while….this is an awful lot of pre-thinking and pre-planning for Scotty; certainly more than I’ve ever put into these books before….so it feels a little bit weird.

We’ve nearly finished the second season of Mr. Mercedes, which we are enjoying a lot after it’s slow start, and I was also very pleased to see that Season Three is going to drop (or start airing) on March 4th, so we don’t have to go too long between seasons. I also rewatched Scream yesterday, which, despite the advances in telephone technology, surprisingly still holds up after all this time–and despite having seen it any number of times, I still enjoy watching it. It really is one of the best slasher movies ever made–particularly in how it mocks the genre, subverting it while embracing it at the same time.

And on that note, I am off to the office, and to perhaps feel warm again for the first time in days.

Man of Constant Sorrow

This week a new anthology with a story by one Gregalicious is dropping, The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Rooms Press. Three Rooms also produced the 2018 St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology I edited, Florida Happens, and thus it was lovely to be working with Peter, Kat, and the Three Rooms Press gang again. The book has turned out to be absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be asked to write a story for this.

The concept behind the book was, of course, to create noir stories built around a president. I was torn at first when asked to choose a president; there were any number of them that I truly like and admire….yet so many mediocrities. The 1850’s, the lead up or prelude to the Civil War, has been of particular interest to me of late, and I decided to chose someone from that period, where we had a string of mediocre presidents take up residence in the White House: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and finally James Buchanan. Buchanan is widely considered to be (or was considered to be, YMMV) the worst president in American history; he was the last president before Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of the Civil War. Buchanan did nothing to stop the coming eruption of war; if anything, he exacerbated the ill feeling between the two sections of the country. All the 1850’s presidents were Yankees with Southern sympathies; they were called “dough-faces” at the time (I don’t know why that particular term was used; so don’t ask. Google is your friend), and yes, many parallels between that time and our present day kind of exist, if you care to look to see them. Buchanan also conspired with the worst Chief Justice to ever lead our Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, in the court decision that flamed the fans of regional hatred into an unforeseen heat that made the war even more inevitable than it already had been; Buchanan and Taney thought they were putting the slavery question to bed once and for all with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; by striking down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas/Nebraska Acts as unconstitutional, the two attempted to make slavery the law of the land and permissible in the vast unsettled (by white people) territories as well as make it legal in the states that prohibited it.

Yeah, that kind of backfired.

Buchanan was also the only president who never married; and while there is certainly no proof or evidence that is conclusive, it is widely suspected that Buchanan was our first gay president. He lived, for example, for a long time with Senator Rufus King of Alabama; Andrew Jackson jeeringly called Buchanan “Aunt Fancy”; and their surviving letters bespoke an affection and longing between the two that went a bit deeper than being just good buddies. So, as a gay writer, I decided to write about Buchanan. But writing a period story set in the DC of the late 1850’s seemed a bit much and certainly more than I could handle; plus I couldn’t really come up with a plot. I thought about having Buchanan murder a slave he’d been forcing to be his lover and the ensuing cover-up; I made several abortive attempts at writing that story before finally abandoning the idea.

I had no idea what I was going to write–until I read an article on-line somewhere about Buchanan’s mysterious sexuality and sexual preferences, and the author said something along the lines of but for some historians, short of finding daguerrotypes of Buchanan naked with another man, nothing will ever serve as conclusive proof for the deniers.

And there it was. I started writing “The Dreadful Scott Decision.”

faking of the president cover

 

The cheap whiskey tasted like flavored turpentine, burning so intensely as it went down it felt like it was leaving scorch marks in its wake. Scott Devinney was just high enough from the joint he was smoking to consider that a plus—a sign that he was still alive no matter how numb he felt.

He was sitting in the dark in his cheap apartment near campus, streaming the panel he’d been on at the presidential historians’ conference at UCLA the previous weekend. It had aired live on a PBS network in Los Angeles—it took him a while to figure out how to access it, and now that he was watching it was even worse than he feared. He’d always suspected Pulitzer prize-winning historian Andrew Dickey was a homophobe; his behavior on the panel proved it without question.

Alas, Scott allowed Dickey to get under his skin. He wasn’t proud of that, and his doctoral advisor, Dr. Keysha Wells-Caldwell—also head of the department at UC-San Felice—wasn’t happy, either.

He wasn’t about to apologize to Andrew Dickey, though. He’d die first.

“You have no proof!” Dickey wagged his finger at Scott on the computer screen, his face reddened and his voice raising. “Just like the activists who try to claim Lincoln was gay without proof, there is no proof Buchanan was, either, no matter how bad you want him to be!”

He sighed and closed the window. He didn’t need to watch himself screaming in rage, embarrassing himself and the university in the process.

Which was what Keysha really cared about.

At one time, I seriously considered becoming a historian. I’ve always loved history, have loved to read it and study it,  and even write it (I still would love to do a Tuchman-like study of regnant women in the 16th century called The Monstrous Regiment of Women), but as with so many other things, poor professors in college stomped that desire right out of me. (The other problem, of course, being that I could never decide on a period to specialize in–although if forced I probably would have chosen the 16th century) I have heard, over the years, from friends who work in academia as well as reading books and so forth set in the academic world, how cutthroat and nasty the war over tenure can be; office politics as played by the Borgias or the Medici. My story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” was sort of set in the academia milieu; I even considered writing a series about a college English professor at one time–it’s still there on the backburner; I may write it still. One of the novels I wrote under a pseudonym was set at a quasi-Seven Sisters style college in New England, and of course, my Murder-a-Go-Go’s story “This Town” was about sorority girls, and of course several Todd Gregory novels were set in fraternities.

So, what better idea for this story than a gay Buchanan historian, attempting to prove to the world that Buchanan was, indeed, the first gay president? And how far would he go to get that proof–which is the noir angle I needed for the story? And so the story was born…and you can order a copy here, or from any retailer.

And as you can see from the cover above, there are some fantastic writers who contributed to this book. I am very pleased to be sharing the table of contents with these amazing writers, and a bit humbled. Check it out–you won’t be sorry!