Dress You Up

Thursday and a work-at-home day. I have data entry to do and condoms to pack, reality shows to catch up on, emails to answer and an apartment to clean from top to bottom (always). My insomnia is back again, so yesterday when I got off work I was too tired to go to the gym or do much of anything once I got home–in fact, the evening is kind of a foggy blur. I know Paul and I binged out way through some more episodes of Happy Endings, and I did spend some time reading Bath Haus, but other than that, I can’t really think of anything interesting that went on last night around the Lost Apartment. I did get my contributor copies of the Sherlock anthology, The Only One in the World, and they are quite lovely. Yay!

At some point today I also have to make groceries. I was going to do it Tuesday night after work, but was tired that night, too. I hate that the insomnia is back, and when I see my doctor (at last!) next week I am going to talk to him about options besides the alprazolam. I need the alprazolam because it keeps my mood swings under control, but at the same time, if that prescription isn’t going to be increased–I need at least four prescriptions for six months, not three, if not more–then I am also going to need to have something else prescribed that I can take on the nights I don’t take the alprazolam.

I also need to get back to work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” tonight. I am so close to being finished with it that I hate that I’ve stalled so much on it. It would be great to bang out three thousand words today and another three thousand tomorrow, so that it will be finished in a first draft form; and then I can get to work on some other things.

And that’s the problem with the insomnia. When I am tired I can’t think; when I can’t think it becomes harder to write, and then I get stressed, and the stress leads to more insomnia, because then I am too tired also to do much of anything, let alone stay on top of everything I need to stay on top of, which begets more stress, which turns into more insomnia, and so forth. So stress management is probably the most important thing for me right now, and as such, I need to take deep breaths and remember, at all times, it is what it is. I can only do so much, and pushing myself even harder will only create more stress, lessen the quality of my work, and end up being more defeating than not getting something finished.

Which is always bad news.

I also reread–just remembered!–my story in the Sherlock anthology; I tend to not reread my work very often–generally by the time it is finished and I have gone over the page proofs, I am so heartily sick of it I never want to see it again–but usually, whenever I got a copy of the finished book or anthology, I will sit down with it and read it as a finished product before putting them on the shelf and never looking at them again. So, last night I did sit down with The Only One in the World and revisited “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (still one of my favorite titles ever) and you know what? It’s pretty good. I don’t ever give myself enough credit for anything I ever write or do–ever, and it’s a lifelong problem–instead, whenever I reread something of mine in print I continually edit it or rewrite it or think “why did I say it that way? This would have been better” and find flaws and pick it apart and frankly, it’s exhausting and emotionally debilitating and inevitably sparks a downward spiral of some sort. (Sometimes I wonder why I went into this field; I am clearly not emotionally strong enough for it, or mentally stable enough, for it. I also need to remember these things when I am reading about some writer from the past who was an alcoholic–I often think why were so many writers alcoholics? This is why.)

So, yeah, it’s not a bad story. It’s a nice read, there’s some lovely language and characterization, and I feel like I did a pretty good job of conjuring up the New Orleans of 1916. I would like to revisit my Holmes and Watson sometime, but not sure how to go about doing so–and perhaps someday when the inspiration or idea comes to me, I will–I do have a vague idea for another tale set in Storyville with them, based in a true story of a murder in at a brothel; but not sure I will ever have the time or investment to write “The Mother of Harlots” (also a good title.)

And now back to the spice mines.

Lightnin’ Strikes

I have mentioned numerous times that I was asked last year–early last year? I don’t recall precisely, but that’s a pandemic year for you–to write a Sherlock Holmes story. I was enormously flattered–and let’s face it, if anyone offers to pay me to write, I will–as I inevitably am whenever someone wants me to write for them; as I have mentioned before (a lot), it’s rare for me to get validation for my writing, and so being included (which is a whole other neurosis I will inevitably write about someday) is so enormously flattering that I feel like I can’t say no; being asked to write something also is such a rare thing for me that I am always afraid to say no because I fear I won’t ever be asked again.

Ah, the joys of being a writer. I probably could stand to be a little more egocentric when it comes to my writing, and build up more confidence…I seriously aspire to the confidence of a mediocre straight white male writer.

In those first few years during which I shared the upper floors at 821 B Royal Street with Mr Sherlock Holmes, it was my custom to rise early in the mornings and take a walk on the earthen levee containing the mighty river. Holmes was by habit a late riser, rarely springing out of bed before the noon-time whistle rang along the waterfront, but taking such exercise was good for the damage to my leg caused by the wound – a souvenir of the Spanish War.

I enjoyed those quiet, early mornings, watching the ships sailing up the river to the docks from foreign ports, and the barges floating down the currents from points as far north as Cincinnati, St. Louis and Memphis, all while I strolled with my walking stick along the levee. Seeing the large bales of cotton being unloaded as the morning mists arose from the dark muddy water, the unloading of crates of coffee and bananas from the central American republics, I marveled each morning at the hubbub of activity that created and maintained this most curious of American cities, rising from the swamps like something from a forgotten myth.

After, I would adjourn to my favorite café, the Aquitaine, mere blocks from my home, where I would read the morning papers while enjoying coffee and Italian pastries.

This particular morning in early December, I cut my morning walk short. The temperature had dropped most precipitously overnight, and I had not chosen a heavy enough jacket. My leg ached terribly from the damp and the cold, and I limped along the banquettes to the café. My usual table was in the back, away from the hustle and bustle and smells of Royal Street. In those days, the French Quarter stank to high heaven, malignant odors hanging in the thick wet air from breweries and sugar refineries and, of course, seafood. Holmes often burned heavily scented candles in the various rooms of our apartments, particularly the parlor whose windows opened out onto our third-floor balcony facing Royal Street.

But on this morning, there were no tables to be had. The cold and damp had driven others inside, seeking the solace of warm air, fragrant Italian pastries, and piping hot café au lait. So, disgruntled, I paid for my papers.

I noticed a headline in the lower right corner of the front page of the Daily Picayune: FAMED ITALIAN OPERA SINGER ADDS DATES FOR NEW ORLEANS ENGAGEMENT.

I have mentioned before that I’ve never been much of a Sherlock fan, as written by Doyle. I read The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was a child, and didn’t really like it near as much as I felt I should, and never went back to read the rest of the Holmes canon (yet another reason I say my education in the classics–in general and in my chosen genre–was sorely neglected). I read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s, and have since read other Holmes-fiction by modern writers; there was a story in particular by Lyndsay Faye in one of The Best American Mystery Stories collections I particularly enjoyed, and of course I am completely smitten by Laurie R. King’s take on the character in her marvelous Mary Russell novels. I’ve watched a lot of Holmes film and television adaptations (not caring particularly for the Robert Downey Jr version, alas), and of course like so many others was completely smitten by Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation in the modern series (I also liked Elementary, but we never finished watching its run). I had bought the Baring-Gould compendiums a few years back from eBay; lovely, enormous and richly bound editions that I treasure. In preparation for writing my own story I went into the Baring-Gould to read some of the short stories, to get a feel for Doyle’s style and his characterizations.

(It is interesting, though, that my favorite fictions about Holmes are written by women…and King’s stories center a woman.)

I had come up with this title, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” years ago. Little known fact: I originally envisioned the Chanse series to have titles all derived from Poe: Murder in the Rue Dauphine of course was paying homage to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue; and I thought the next would be The Purloined Stripper and go from there. Alyson Books said not to the Poe conceits, although they liked Murder in the Rue Dauphine as a title (another little known fact: the book was originally called Tricks; when I first met Felice Picano and picked him up at the airport here for the Williams Festival we chatted on the drive into the city and he nixed Tricks, and the Poe homages were HIS idea, which I don’t even think he himself remembers) and wanted me to brand the book with “Murder in the” titles. But I always liked The Purloined Stripper and kept that title in my back pocket, as it were, and when editor Narrelle Harris reached out to me for a Holmes story, to be set in New Orleans during any time period I chose, that title sprang into my mind and, having only recent read some New Orleans history (and been fascinated, at long last, by Storyville and the tales of the old Quarter) I thought to myself, yes, I can write about the pre-Great War period and include Storyville in it…and instead of a stripper I’ll use a rentboy. There had been allusions to rentboys and gay bars in the Quarter in the New Orleans histories I’d been reading–often times, when a client’s tastes ran that way, a madam would send one of her bouncers to the gay bars to find someone who fit what the client was looking for, appearance wise; I thought that was interesting. Only a few bordellos houses actual rentboys permanently; even in the bawdy houses of Storyville men who were interested in other men were reticent about putting voice to their desires….and isn’t “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” a lovely title?

And yes, it’s one of my favorite titles, and one of my favorite stories of my own.

As I said, it was a challenge for me to write it–the original submission required a significant revision; but as someone who appreciates editorial input I didn’t mind in the least–and as previously mentioned, it also inspired an appreciation for Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in me. I keep thinking it would be fun to do more “Sherlock in New Orleans” stories; I may do just that very thing. I have some ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for him since finishing this story; I also liked the new universe of New Orleans I created for him–which inevitably will be tied in some way to my other New Orleans universe as well– I really cannot help myself when it comes to linking all of my work together.

Here is a short interview I did about my story: https://www.clandestinepress.net/blogs/clan_destine_press_blog/the-only-one-in-the-world-greg-herren-interview?fbclid=IwAR10KeDfVRv9Tcp9xioQ4aE7Fj4CUNdibVdVwdsjONN7ozvxKVFfF6gUTxw

And here is the editor talking about my story: https://narrellemharris.com/short-stories/narrelle-m-harris-on-greg-herren/?fbclid=IwAR0ei8LLFJjZaB0ATV3IKwg1s8NBcgapvQOFYe0PaGVNdV2LFMBOf5bw_8A

I’ve Got a Feeling

And now it’s Wednesday again, and believe it or not, it’s also Pay the Bills Day again. I could have sworn this just happened, but here we are again. At least I got a very wonderful night’s sleep last night, which was quite marvelous. Scooter woke me up around five, by lying down on me while in full purr mode, but that was fine–I was even able to doze off a little bit more for another hour before the wretched alarm tore me from the arms of Morpheus–but again, it’s fine; I slept so well and feel so rested and ready to go this morning that it didn’t matter to me in the least.

I actually made it to the gym last night after work–it was so strange; I slept better Monday night than I did Sunday, yet was more tired when I got off work yesterday than when I did on Monday–despite the near-death experience I had on the way there. I always walk down to Coliseum Square, then cut through the park to Camp Place before walking down Camp Street to Josephine before cutting over to Magazine. I am extremely careful about crossing streets on foot–going back to the olden days when there were no stop signs on the French Quarter streets that ran parallel to the river, so people would drive through the Quarter at about ninety miles per hour, and woe to the pedestrian not paying attention–and Coliseum Street is a one-way, so really, I only have to look one direction before crossing the street. I had my headphones on, listening quite happily to Fearless–Taylor’s Version, and started across to the park. I was about half-way across when I either noticed something out of the corner of my eye or heard it, but I turned my head and saw there was a speeding pick-up truck–doing at least forty in a residential area, if not more–heading right for me and not slowing–and was maybe a car-length away from me. I started running to get to the other side and he steered towards me, forcing me to leap for the curb. It was very close. Had I not noticed or heard him coming, I would have been hit and sent flying, possibly killed, definitely severely injured. My heart thumping in my ears, I took some deep breaths and started crossing the park. I looked back and the guy had his window down–trucker cap, beard, gun rack in the back window–and he was calling out to me “Sorry dude”. I just rolled my eyes and kept walking, resisting the urge to yell back, “Sorry you missed me? Because you sure as fuck were trying to hit me.” In fairness, he was probably not paying attention–typical in New Orleans–and reacted badly when he finally saw me and most likely tried to steer around me without hitting me, not realizing I would run for the curb, but still.

As I very carefully crossed Race Street at the light, I thought to myself, well, at least my heart rate is already up.

The gym was crowded, so I abbreviated my workout a bit; skipping biceps/triceps–the easiest to skip, since most upper body exercises of every kind will inevitably work your bis and tris anyway–and skedaddled home, where I emptied the dishwasher, did another load of dishes, queued up my Taylor playlist (Paul calls me “A Swiftie at Sixty”), and started working through the book again. I am so glad I am past the Imposter Syndrome (for now, at least), so am able to work clearly and concisely on the manuscript, detaching all personal emotion from it–when I edit my own work, I try to get into the mindspace that it’s someone else’s manuscript I am being paid to edit, which makes it ever so much easier–although there are times it is simply not possible. After Paul got home, we watched yet another episode of Line of Duty, which is incredible–the plotting and writing and acting are topnotch; seriously, if you have Acorn you need to be watching this show–and am looking forward to getting home tonight and watching some more.

It’s been a week already, let me tell you! MWA’s How to Write a Mystery dropped yesterday; the Edgars are tomorrow; and the Sherlock anthology I have a story in, The Only One in the World, edited by the marvelous Narrelle Harris, also was released in Australia this week. This is the one that includes my wonderfully titled story “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”; my first and thus far only entry into the Sherlock Holmes canon–which indirectly led me to get started reading Laurie R. King’s amazing Mary Russell series, for which I shall be eternally grateful–and I am still a bit torn. I would love to do some more Sherlock stories, maybe even a book–I have a great title and premise, The Mother of Harlots, about the murder of a Storyville madam, and there’s even a famous murder case I can purloin details from; but then the Imposter Syndrome kicks in and I slink back to more contemporary ideas.

Heavy sigh.

But I am going to head back into the spice mines for now–have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow!

Love Less

Wednesday, and pay-the-bills day yet again has rolled around. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least I can pay them, for which I should be–and am–grateful.

This morning a PDF proof of my Sherlock Holmes story dropped into my inbox for me to proof-read; this is very exciting for me, to be honest. The book is called The Only One in the World, and is from Clandestine Press in Australia–so not really sure if or how it will be available in the United States….but it’s still exciting for me. I am far enough distant from the writing of the story to not really remember much about it, so rereading it will be kind of like reading something new for me–also kind of exciting. The cover looks pretty cool, too.

I am getting so close to being finished with the book it isn’t even funny. I can almost taste it, I am so close…it’s due tomorrow, so by the time I go to bed tonight I should have a better idea as to whether I am going to get it finished tomorrow or not, or if I will need the long holiday weekend (thank you, Louisiana Catholics!). Last night I had every intention of going to the gym once I got home from the office, but I hit a wall on the drive home and so once I was home, it was to the easy chair with the laptop and the Taylor Swift Vimeo account for background noise. Paul came home later and had to work on a grant, so he went upstairs and I kept writing until I burned out and couldn’t stand the sound of my own written voice anymore and put it aside.

I felt like I slept really well again last night, but my espresso machine is giving up the ghost. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it–and let’s face it, I didn’t buy a top-of-the-line one and as cheap as it was, it’s a miracle it’s lasted as long as it did–so I am now in the market for a new one. I am going to obviously keep this one until I get the new one, and hope that whatever was wrong with it this morning was just me being tired and doing something stupid…but it is old–I bought it right after our trip to Italy (sigh, Italy) which was seven years ago. (Wow.) So, I think seven years worth of work from a relatively cheap espresso machine is probably pretty fucking great; when I bought it I figured it would last, at most, two years. I have a lot of work to do at home tomorrow…the endless hell of CDC data entry…but at least I can do it in my sweats without showering, and I can also do it in my easy chair with a purring sleeping kitty in my lap, which is really my favorite way of doing anything, really.

Although I wish I had thought to pick up The Russia House for a few more chapters, but my brain was kind of fried and frazzled. I am really looking forward to being finished (well, for now, at least) with writing this book. I do need to go through my folder of submission calls I am interested in to see if there’s anything I have on hand–either partially written or needing a revision–that will fit any of them. I know I was thinking about one for “Death and the Handmaidens,” and there was another for “The Blues Before Dawn” and yet still another one I remember thinking “He Didn’t Kill Her” would work for as well. I also need to look over “This Thing of Darkness” again and see if i can figure out how to make it work–I suspect in its current iteration it doesn’t, which is why its been rejected twice–and I really would like to finish “Please Die Soon” to send somewhere, maybe Ellery Queen.

Or Alfred Hitchcock. That’s a bucket list item I’ve yet to cross off my list.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow!

Afterglow

Birthday Eve, in the year of COVID-19. Tomorrow I will turn 59; although it’s actually my sixtieth birthday (you aren’t born aged one; so your birthday actually ends the year which age you are supposedly turning; this is the start of my sixtieth year, which actually will end on August 20, 1961, when I “turn” sixty).

So, today is Wednesday but my Friday, since I am taking a long birthday weekend to luxuriate in the joys of being Greg, and I am going to head into the office rather than work at home today (the stuff I usually do in the office on Thursday I will have to do today). I’m also going to pick up my prescriptions and run by the post office at some point today as well.

The Australian publisher ClanDestine Press announced the table of contents for The Only One in the World: A Sherlock Holmes Anthology, which is the anthology that features my story “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy;” you can access the press release here. I am very proud of this story, and am equally excited to be in this anthology. As I have explained before, Sherlock is a bit out of my wheelhouse, so I had to push myself and stretch a bit to get the story done. Overall, I greatly enjoyed the experience, and now find myself sometimes looking into the possibility of writing another such story. I really like the 1916 universe of New Orleans I created for the story, and that was such an interesting period of New Orleans history–so much going on, really, and so much material to choose from–that I will probably write some more about the period, if not with Holmes/Watson centered in the story. The press release was a lovely thing to wake up to this morning.

I am feeling oddly rested this morning, despite waking up multiple times during the night and staying up later than I should have to continue streaming The Morning Show. I am telling y’all, this show is terrific, and the cast is amazing. I marvel at Jennifer Aniston’s performance in every episode, but the entire cast is terrific, and the writing is superb. We’ll probably finish watching tonight, and I sure hope there’s going to be a second season.

And after today, I am of course on the mini-staycation I mentioned earlier. I am going to try to get some work done when I get home from the office–I’d really rather not spend my birthday cleaning the house–and I am debating whether or not I should actually try to get some work done on Bury Me in Shadows on my birthday. I don’t see why I shouldn’t; I would dearly love to spend my birthday doing things I enjoy, and I actually enjoy writing. I would love to finish reading Lovecraft Country, and possibly some short stories (I am so behind on The Short Story Project it isn’t even funny) and I may–I know, I know–spend some time working on the top drawer of the filing cabinet. I actually enjoy organizing and getting my filing system under control and into some sort of actual working shape would be marvelous; almost like a birthday gift to myself.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!