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?

Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)

Another good night’s sleep here in the Lost Apartment, which was lovely. I woke up before six again this morning, but stayed in bed a while longer. It’s cold in New Orleans this morning; currently it’s thirty nine degrees with a predicted high in the low fifties, probably later this afternoon. It is also the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in uptown, so I am not leaving the house. Errands would be impossible with streets closed and blocked off anyway. I guess a horrible snowstorm is heading to the northeast, so I hope everyone up there is prepared and ready and stays safe. I have to say I do not miss living in that kind of weather. It may be cold here but at least the sun is out and we have a clear azure sky overhead.

Today I have a lot to do (surprise, right?). I didn’t get nearly as much done yesterday as I needed to as the day kind of blew up around me–it happens sometimes and can’t be helped–with the end result that I didn’t get everything finished, or worked on at least, the way I had planned. Which is fine–no sense crying over spilt milk, the only thing to do is clean it up and get on with it. We had a massive thunderstorm last night (poor Paul had to walk home through it) and then we watched the LSU Gymnastics meet against Utah (LSU triumphed, despite some absurd high-scoring of the Ute gymnasts), and then I kind of relaxed for a bit before going to bed. The latest Scream movie is now available to stream, so I am kind of hoping Paul comes home tonight early enough so we can watch it (yes, I know I could watch it without him and then watch it again, but…) I also managed to get a lot of my chores done last night while I waited for Paul to come home, so I don’t have as many to do today, which means hopefully I can do some new chores that I never get around to (those shutter doors to the laundry room! Those ceiling fan blades!) usually.

The mystery of the banning of The Postman Always Rings Twice continues. I reached out to another friend with a lot of knowledge of the history of crime fiction, with an emphasis on both hard-boiled and noir, and she didn’t think it had been banned in Boston; although it was banned in Canada. And yet, right there on it’s Amazon sales page is this:

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America’s bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.”

It really would be interesting if that turned out to simply be a marketing gimmick with absolutely no basis in fact, wouldn’t it? I spend some more time skimming through the Hoopes biography and still have found nothing about the banning or an obscenity trial for the book; it does make me wonder somewhat if the banning of Serenade somehow became conflated with Postman over the years; Cain was banned in Boston, just for a different book. A bold claim, to be sure, but it’s beginning to look that way…and I do think it’s an interesting perspective for an article or an essay. As I become more and more obsessed with finding out about this, I also realize I bet this is how a lot of non-fiction writing gets started, isn’t it?

And anything I find on-line listing “books banned in Boston” does not include Postman. Like I said, interesting.

My heel feels better this morning, but I think it’s best to keep letting it rest before over-exerting it again. I am going to try to return to the gym on Monday, depending on how my foot feels, but I’m not even aware of it this morning as I walk back and forth between my desk and the coffee maker. (Okay I was paying attention just now as I got another cup, and there’s still a bit of discomfort but unnoticeable unless I am paying attention, so that means it’s getting better and I probably shouldn’t push my luck.)

And I think on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and stay safe from inclement weather.

Happy (Is a Bumpy Road)

I always try to give back however I can.

One of the reasons I do so much volunteer work is because I don’t have money to donate to causes I believe in. So, instead I give my time. I never say no to a charity anthology that wants a story, and I have done a ridiculous amount of volunteer work over the years. I don’t think I can remember, if I wanted to, how many charities I’ve given my time to since I started doing volunteer work. I’ve only had one job since 1999 that wasn’t working for a non-profit, so I’ve logged in a lot of hours working for non-profits as well. But the older I get the less energy I have, and I am trying to cut back on the stress in my life. I’ve been pretty successful–the insomnia is a lot less chronic than it used to be, for one example–and lately, I’ve felt a lot better both physically and emotionally than I have for a long time. I am currently pulling together the Bouchercon anthology for this year–the third time I’ve done the Bouchercon anthology but the first time I’ve had a co-editor, which has lessened the burden significantly–and this will probably be the last time I am going to do a Bouchercon anthology. I am kind of anthology editor-ed out; I think this will be my twenty-fourth go around editing an anthology and I really don’t want to do it again. It’s not an unpleasant task, really…I’ve got the organizational side of things so down-pat I don’t even have to really put much thought into it anymore, either. (It’s actually eerie how well I have the organizing of an anthology down to a science–but one should when it’s the twenty-fourth time you’re doing one. If not, you shouldn’t be doing it.)

I am almost finished editing the manuscript, which is great. Holes and discrepancies are vanishing, language is getting cleaned up, clunky sentences are being unclunked, and I feel much better over all about the book in general. I have to do some anthology work this weekend and I also have to start editing another manuscript that is due by the end of the month. I have a short story to write as well, and then I am going to try to spend April working on Chlorine while I try to plot the new Scotty, which is also starting to come together inside my mind. Doing this revision has helped me with my confidence and my imposter syndrome; I really felt like I’d lost the ability to write when I turned this book in. I wasn’t wrong about it needing work, but I was definitely wrong about losing the ability to write. Usually I have what I call the malaise when I finish a book–burn out is another way of putting it; but I don’t like the way writing a book burns me out sounds, frankly, because that makes it sound like I don’t enjoy it. And I do enjoy writing my books and stories. Sure I complain, but the complaining usually is rooted in the stress of the deadline and compounded by everything else I have to do.

I slept well last night, so well that I have a bit of a sleep hangover this morning that I hope the coffee will help with (it usually does). I am working at home today (yay for work-at-home Fridays!) and it does seem a bit gray outside. I’ve not looked at the temperatures yet or the weather forecast for the day. I won’t be going to the gym today because somehow at work on Wednesday I did something to the heel of my right foot; not entirely sure what exactly it was, but my heel has felt bruised ever since Wednesday afternoon; I think my shoe insert might have shifted and my heel was stepping on its edge, but it hurts and the later it gets in the day, the more it hurts. Walking to the gym isn’t an option for me today and driving just seems silly–especially since I shouldn’t really do any kind of leg exercise that involves my feet. So I am going to see how it goes over the weekend and try to stay off it as much as I can so that whatever I did to it will heal (my heel needs to heal!).

You also never really appreciate how important your heel is to walking until it hurts.

I was correct yesterday about being tired when I got home last night. I did the dishes and ran a load in the dishwasher, then repaired to my chair and watched news, alternating with documentaries (I delved back into the pool of French royalty, or French royalty adjacent, videos on Youtube last night. I’ve also been discovering a lot of gay royals in history lately, too. I really need to read a biography of Frederick the Great, and I’ve long been fascinated by the last of the Medici, Gian Gastone). I did go to bed early last night and slept later–I stayed in bed until seven, scandalous–and so when the coffee kicks in today I should be in a good place as far as getting things done and being productive today. I just wish my heel didn’t still hurt, which is enormously disappointing. One of the great joys of getting older is being more brittle and fragile, apparently. Still have to consider myself lucky, though–I could be a lot worse off physically…and it still freaks me out a bit when I remember that I am, in fact, sixty years old.

I still can’t find any evidence on-line that The Postman Always Rings Twice was tried for obscenity and banned in Boston. I’ve not been able to find any mention of it yet in the Cain biography my friend Laura recommended to me, either.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee and head into the spice mines. There’s condoms to pack and data to enter and all kinds of chores around here to get done. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Where Would I Be Without You Baby

Thursday morning at last, and the last day of the week in the office for Gregalicious. I didn’t have the greatest sleep last night–I seemed to wake up or be half-asleep a lot–but I don’t feel tired or sleepy this morning. I’m quite delighted by this, but we’ll see how I feel later this afternoon during that “day coming to an end” stretch. I also seem to have injured my foot yesterday. I don’t know how, and it doesn’t make any sense. Best I can figure I had my shoe insert not properly placed and walked on it till the heel bruised slightly, so I started limping yesterday afternoon. I reset the insert–I don’t understand how I didn’t notice that my heel was getting bruised until it was, it seems insane to me this morning–and that made it easier, but this morning it still hurts. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now I have to stay off it as much as possible until it gets better, which means no walking to the gym in the meantime. Sure I could drive, but that just seems kind of silly, since the gym is actually so close: yes, my gym is about a ten minute walk from my house but I drive to work out instead.

Yeah, not a lot of sense there.

The editing continues to go rather smoothly and am still making progress. I hope to have the whole thing re-edited by Saturday at the latest, and it’s a much stronger book now I think than when I turned it in. I also managed to get a lot of other work done yesterday–this has been actually a very good week for productivity–and I think I am close to being back on track and back to my old self (which always seems to jinx it, doesn’t it?). Yesterday I came dangerously close to zero email in my inbox; I am hoping to make that a definite reality come this weekend.

I got a copy of Cain by Roy Hoopes, the definitive biography of James M. Cain (one of my writing idols) for a project I had in mind–with books being banned and laws being passed to get books removed from libraries or access from those under eighteen, I thought it might be a good time to do a little research into the obscenity trial (attempted banning) of Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which is not only a great (if incredibly short) book, but incredibly influential for many modern day crime writers. Cain is one of my favorite writers, even if I don’t talk about him much, but I do; I love his work. Imagine my surprise to not be able to find out much information on the Internet about this banning; I believed it was “banned in Boston” (does anyone else remember that phrase? Just me? okay then). I found ONE link to a website discussing it, so naturally I reached out to my friends who are either aficionados or steeped in the history of our genre. The book arrived yesterday, and so I started looking through the index. Nothing. But there was a chapter about two court cases involving Cain that happened around the same time: an accusation of plagiarism from a woman who claimed he stole Mildred Pierce from her, and an obscenity trial for Serenade. And this morning I was able to find some things on line about the trial for Serenade…which also reminded me that I couldn’t believe Serenade hadn’t been controversial at the time it was published; I remember even thinking how did Postman get banned but this one didn’t? I just figured the failed attempt to ban the one resulted in the other getting a pass.

But I also have to say I am a lot more interested in researching the banning of Serenade than I ever was about the banning of Postman. Stay tuned!

So, today I get to come straight home from work (yay!) and I can do some chores around the house so I don’t to have to worry about that this weekend. The Lost Apartment is starting to look better–still messy and there’s still a lot of touching up to do–but if the more overall macro stuff gets done on the weekdays, on the weekends I can do the touching up. I really need to do the shutter doors to the laundry room and the ceiling fans (I hate to do this because I hate ladders and the fans hang so far down from the ceiling you can’t really use one of those long-reach blade cleaners because it inevitably makes them swing and I am afraid one of these days I will put the whole fucking thing down), and of course the windows around my desk need to be done again.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader! And I wil check in with you again tomorrow morning on my work-at-home Friday!

I Would Have Loved You Anyway

And suddenly, it’s Friday again: WEEKEND EVE!!!!

Late September is a gift Mother Nature gives to New Orleans; one that’s kind of owed to us after the brutality of a normal New Orleans summer. I greatly enjoyed my walk Wednesday afternoon, and walking to the gym after work yesterday was equally marvelous. The gym workout felt incredible; my muscles had clearly been aching to be worked and stretched, and they feel absolutely wonderful this morning. My creativity is slowly coming back–the walk on Wednesday kind of kick-started it all; and I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about this upcoming new series book I have to write, that I am looking forward to writing. First and foremost, as with all my books set in New Orleans, it needs to be more about New Orleans than what I’ve already written on it; I think I am going to spend some time over the next few days revising and rewriting those first four or five chapters to get more of a “New Orleans” feel to them; I think that’s what is missing and why I feel so dissatisfied with them.

I definitely need to reread them, at any rate.

I also need to reread and edit the first three chapters of Chlorine; I’d like to get chapter four written this weekend as well as–if not an actual outline for the rest of the book, than at least– a working synopsis of how it all is going to come together in the end. I am very behind and i need to start getting caught up, even if that means no more lazing around in my easy chair watching documentaries from the BBC/Odyssey about ancient Egypt with a bizarre British Egyptologist/historian with raspberry colored hair as the star–but the woman clearly loves not only history but all things Egypt, so it is very difficult to not get caught up in her enthusiasm about her subject. Each documentary is about an hour, and I’ve not been watching them in order; I’ve watched the one about Amenhotep III and the Armana revolution, as well as the one about the foreign conquerers, leading eventually to the final recognized dynasty of pharaohs, the Ptolemies–who fascinate me; there’s so much more there than the story of the final and most famous Cleopatra (yes, she’s fascinating, but I’ve long been more interested in her sisters/rivals, Berenice and Arsinoë).

I also watched, for the very first time, the original film of The Postman Always Rings Twice, which, surprisingly enough, I’d never seen. I’ve never really been much of a Lana Turner fan (I’ve never had a lot of respect for her as an actress–certainly in Peyton Place and Imitation of Life she never seemed to inhabit her characters and simply followed her director’s orders) and I’ve never really thought she was all that pretty; there was always something artificial about her to me–though the body was definitely stunning. The costume designer was incredibly smart in putting her always into white ensembles, that went with the stiff white hair, and John Garfield was pretty good as the homicidal, lovesick drifter; he had the right “beaten around by life” lived-in look that was perfect for the character. Cecil Kellaway as Cora’s husband was the best performance in the film, really; he stole every scene he was in, but was the movie progressed Turner seemed less stiff and mannered, and Garfield’s performance of a man so driven mad by lust and love that he would cold-bloodedly murder Cora’s husband to be with her (Body Heat was often compared to Double Indemnity, but I think it’s more like Postman, in all honesty). I also felt the changes to the script and to the ending actually worked better than in the book (same with Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce, even though I love Cain as a writer). I also couldn’t help thinking, as I watched, what Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift could have done with the role of the drifter, and Marilyn Monroe could have done with Cora. (Dream casting: filmed in 1954 with Brando and Monroe; with Karl Malden as the husband–what a film that would have made!) But it’s a very good movie, very well done, and I greatly enjoyed it; it’s definitely a classic. I’ve never seen the remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, but what a terrific version could be made today, starring someone like Robert Pattinson along with Margot Robbie or Rosamund Pike.

It also got me thinking about noir again, and what fun it is to write, plot, and think about; as well as got me thinking about Laura Lippman’s marvelous Sunburn and everything by Megan Abbott.

I’ve also been, since my walk the other day, thinking about my noir story about the condos built recently on my street, “Condos for Sale or Rent” and so maybe I can squeeze in the time to work on it a bit this weekend…

Big dreams, as always, but at least I am thinking in terms of getting things written again, which is a big step in the right direction.

We also finished watching season two of The Other Two, which is fantastic and has one of the best, most honest and realistic gay characters–struggling actor Cary Dubek–that I’ve ever seen on television. The premise of the season finale–Cary takes a photo of his butthole to send to a potential Grindr hook-up, only he has his camera on LIVE rather than PHOTO, and the little LIVE feature means you can not only see his face at the beginning but you can also hear the flight announcements (he does it in the First Class bathroom on a flight from New York to LA)…and it kind of goes viral. It’s hilarious, and the fact that this is the primary STORY for the gay character in a TV show (granted, it’s HBO MAX) had me impressed for the writers’ willingness to go there, but how fucking funny it all turned out to be.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines, and a happy Friday to all.

Summer Days

So summer is officially over for the year, and now it’s fall, with the onset of bipolar weather here in New Orleans. It’s still hurricane season–and we’ve had late season ones before, never forget–but we sort of are able to breathe a little bit easier now than through the horrors of July and August. Doesn’t mean we are out of the woods yet–Rita and Zeta and others, oh my!–but there’s something about getting past Labor Day that makes it seem slightly less worrisome. (Almost all the bad hits New Orleans has taken since we’ve lived here are around Labor Day…I can’t remember the names of them all, but Katrina, Ike, Isaac and now Ida?) The city is still kind of a mess; they picked up our trash but not the bags of debris from the yard and the sidewalk (those fucking crepe myrtles!), and of course there are still branches and browning leaves piled up everywhere throughout the city.

When I got home from work yesterday it was quite a beautiful day, and I decided you know, it’s a beautiful day and the doctor’s office is at Touro, which isn’t really a huge walk, so why not? If you get tired or can’t face walking home, go up to the corner at St. Charles and take the streetcar home, and so, I walked. It was an absolutely beautiful day, so I walked up Prytania to get there and walked home down St. Charles, taking pictures for Instagram all the way there and all the way home. I didn’t get tired, really, until I got to my own corner on St. Charles; going to the gym was definitely out of the cards–but now that the weather has changed/turned/ whatever you want to call it, I should probably go take long walks more often. It’s good for my legs, it’s good for my overall health, and it’s another step to getting myself back into physical condition. The good news is none of my leg joints are achy or sore this morning, which I am taking as a very good sign, and whether I will actually go take a walk anywhere besides the gym after work today remains to be seen…but I really enjoyed the walk yesterday. It was an absolutely stellar day; in the mid-seventies and no humidity; the sun shining but not terribly hot (I never broke a sweat the entire time, thanks to the coolness of the day), and it enabled me to feel a bit more….connected to the city again. I was having all kinds of creative thoughts and ideas were flashing through my head the entire time I was walking–about this new series, about other stories I am working on or want to work on, for the next Scotty, for another stand alone mystery–so I am going to say it was a definitely smart thing to do, something I should do fairly regularly, and I am kind of excited about this new phase of exercise being added to the program. What’s really amazing to me is my ankles and feet do not hurt today at all–which was always the issue when I had to take long walks, like to the office on Frenchmen Street or the St. Ann/Bourbon Street corner for outreach during Carnival–so I am taking that as a win.

And I also got all my steps in for the first time since I started tracking them again.

The readjustment to normal again this week seems to be going well. I’m not getting as much done as I would like (and yes, am aware that not worrying about that and laying it at the door of “return to normal” may be a cop out or an excuse–I think there’s probably still some depression going on, but I am not feeling overwhelmed for once, which is a very lovely change, frankly) but this is the first “normal” week I’ve had Since The Power Went Out (I really like that), which has been almost an entire month now, and so I refuse to punish myself for still feeling a bit disoriented and off-balance still. Things are getting done, if slowly; and part of the goal for this year was to not be so hard on myself about everything, wasn’t it? Not being hard on myself certainly doesn’t mean I am not going to get anything done going forward; it just means I need to be more gentle with myself and stop beating myself up over shit.

It looks like it’s another gorgeous day outside; seriously, I always forget how fucking beautiful it is here in the fall and spring–which is why we live here and put up with the summers, which aren’t that bad (as I always say, “hey, I don’t have to scrape humidity off my windshield nor do I have to shovel it off my sidewalk”) and of course, the new book series I am writing–hopefully, a series and not a one-off–takes place in the fall; late September/early October–so I can also riff on the beautiful sunny days and cooler evenings/nights; the shortening of the days and how it gets so dark around five every day; you know, all the stuff I love to write about because I get to talk, really, about how much I love it here.

And I really, really, REALLY need to get back to writing (and reading). That’s what it is going to take to make me feel centered and recovered from all of this from the past month; nothing else works like writing–and I am always unsettled and unhappy when I am not writing. So, after work tonight and after i get home from the gym, I am going to write. And then I am going to read for a while.

That should firmly hit the reset Gregalicious button, methinks.

We finished watching Sex Education last night, which is really quite good and charming, and we also got caught up on The Other Two, which also has some excellent queer characters and representation on it and isn’t nearly getting the press other, lesser shows are; it’s very good, well acted and written, and clever as all hell–although the character of the younger brother, whose Youtube singing stardom is what triggered the opening of the show to begin with, isn’t being utilized nearly enough, I think; there is still a lot of hay and humor to be mined in social media/influencer stardom. We also probably have some other episodes of shows we are watching to get caught up on–Titans, Nine Perfect Strangers–and certainly others to begin and watch; there really are an insane amount of options now. We also want to watch that movie about the young kid who wants to grow up to be a drag queen (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) which looks absolutely charming, and there are other things. I think I may finally watch The Postman Always Rings Twice (the Lana Turner version) today while I am doing my work from home, because I have never actually seen it, much as it shames me to admit. (As I have always said, my education in both reading novel classics as well as watching cinema classics is sadly lacking.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will let you know how today turned out.

Jack the Lad

And now it’s Tuesday.

Yesterday was a strangely low-energy day for me; it was kind of overcast all day and I never really did seem to kick into a higher gear at all.

I did manage to rewatch Body Heat last night, one of my all-time favorite movies, and am delighted to report that it does, indeed, hold up after forty years. And what a film. I saw it originally in the theater; drawn in by a great review I read in the paper that compared it to Double Indemnity, or said that it was loosely based on it, or something like that. I went by myself–I trained myself to go to see movies alone in my late teens–and it was a matinee so there weren’t many people there. I remember that opening shot, of William Hurt’s bare, sweaty back as he watched a fire in the distance from his bedroom window while his hook-up dressed behind him, sitting on the edge of the bed. I remember thinking how sexy he was, and once the character of Kathleen Turner appeared on screen, I also remember thinking how gorgeous she was, as well. I knew who she was–I knew her from her role as Nola on The Doctors, and I also knew she’d been fired from the show for being overweight….which was incredibly hard to believe as I watched her slink across the screen, saying my favorite line ever from a movie: “You’re not very smart, are you? I like that in a man.” I also knew she’d been replaced by Kim Zimmer–I knew all of this because flipping through the channels one day I stopped on The Doctors because Kim Zimmer was on screen and I thought to myself, she’s really pretty and kind of reminds me of Jane Elliott–who’d played my favorite character on General Hospital, Tracy Quartermaine–and at first I did think it was Jane Elliott. I used to read Soap Opera Digest in those days, and shortly thereafter they did a piece on Kim Zimmer, which was when I learned about Kathleen Turner. (Interestingly enough, there was a strong physical resemblance between Zimmer and Turner as well; Zimmer appeared in the film in a supporting role as well)

Body Heat blew me away that first time I saw it; I watched it again when it debuted on HBO, and I try to watch it again periodically. It showed up when I was searching through HBO MAX, and last night I thought, as I waited for Paul to come home, why not? It was very tightly written as well; although last night I spotted a couple of holes in the plot–but the cast was fantastic an it moves so quickly and inevitably to its climax that you don’t really have time to catch those holes until you’ve watched it numerous times. You also have a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as the assistant prosecutor who is a friend of Ned Racine, the low-rent shitty lawyer played by William Hurt, and a very young and beautiful Mickey Rourke as Freddy, the arsonist client of his who holds several keys to the plot in his sexy hands, and of course, both Hurt and Turner at the peak of their youth and beauty.

As I watched Body Heat again last night, something else about the film struck me: it was the first time I can recall seeing a film where the camera sexualized a man in the same way it usually sexualized a woman. Hurt was shirtless or naked at least half of the time he appeared on screen, and his body–which was, for the time, quite spectacular–was shot lovingly by the camera. One of the sexiest sequences I’ve ever seen on film was one shot, where Hurt’s hook up for the night is getting dressed and he is lying in bed, naked, with a sheet draped over his groin but his left leg is uncovered, and you can actually see his naked hip, and the curve of his ass on the bed; it’s an incredibly sexy shot, and not the kind of thing that was standard for a male in a film of the time. He was meant to be seen as sexy and hot; and I don’t remember ever seeing that before in a movie; men were usually considered to be hot and sexy by dint of just being male in movies…I could, of course, be wrong, but at least that’s how I remember it. And as the 80’s progressed, what I call the “gay male gaze” began to be used to shoot beautiful actors more regularly–think about how Rob Lowe was sexualized in almost every movie he made, and it became more of a regular thing.

Body Heat inspired me to start writing noir, quite frankly. I had already read some James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit), but as much as I loved his books it never occurred to me to start writing in that style. Body Heat, on the other hand, inspired a story I started writing called Sunburn (which was used by Laura Lippman as a title for her own noir homage to Cain a few years ago and is one of my favorite noirs), which eventually was retitled Spontaneous Combustion, and now sits in my files, waiting to be written. When I first moved to Tampa, and went for a drive along Bay Shore Boulevard, the big beautiful houses lining the road also inspired me; one in particular seemed the perfect locale for the story of the middle-aged wealthy widow who falls for a hot young man, which kicks off the story.

I’m reminded of that idea every time I watch Body Heat, and as I watched it last night, I thought about the noirs I want to write–a queer noir quintet–and as I write this I realize Spontaneous Combustion isn’t one of them.

Interesting. And on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

Good Hearted Woman

Thursday, and Parades Eve in New Orleans. I have to work tomorrow from 9-2 rather than my usual 12-5, so that I can get home in time to get a place to park before they close the streets and the hordes from the rest of the city and the outer parishes descend upon my neighborhood for beads and other throws.

The gym is going well, thanks for asking. I’m trying not to get anxious about not getting instant results (seriously, you’d think I of all people would  know better) but my sleep is improving–IMPORTANT–and I physically feel much better than I have in years. I am still trying to go slowly, pace myself, and work my way back into it better–I suspect my impatience is what led to the constant re-injuring of my back–and I am starting to feel better about myself in general. That has been a constant battle with myself my entire life, but now that I am on the fast, downward waterslide to sixty, I think I am finally finding some sort of inner peace with myself.

It may have only taken me nearly six decades, but I’m getting there. Better late than never, right?

I watched another twenty-five minutes of The Talented Mr.Ripley yesterday on the treadmill, and I have to say each additional scene I watch makes me appreciate the script and Matt Damon’s performance as Tom even more. This is the sequence of the film in which Tom finally snaps and kills Dickie on the boat–and while certainly I don’t think Dickie needed killing, I do think he was a pretty awful person. The film sets this up in ways that Highsmith did not in the novel–by establishing Dickie as a player with a roving eye; the creation of the local village girl, Silvana, that he’s having an affair with, who ends up killing herself when she finds herself pregnant (although on my initial two viewings, I thought it was implied that Dickie actually killed her rather than her killing herself); the women he’s constantly ogling and flirting with; Marge’s tolerant acceptance of Dickie’s many many flaws because she just sighs and says “well, that’s Dickie”, which essentially turns her into a doormat who doesn’t think she deserves better–which really hurts Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance–Dickie has led Tom on (certainly in Tom’s mind) and while this isn’t really established so much in the film as it was in the novel, Tom is lonely and looking for friends and love while being torn apart inside as to who he actually is; so Dickie’s turning on him and cruelty in finally telling him to go away is so nasty and vicious Tom strikes him with the oar to shut him up–which results in further rage on Dickie’s part and Tom finally has to finish him off.

I know watching this film, after reading the book, is what is driving me to write “Festival of the Redeemer”–instead of what I really should be doing.

Ugh, creative ADHD is the absolute WORST.

But I finally got stuck last night on “Festival”, which means I can put it aside now while i think about how I want to structure it better. I also realized yesterday that it’s not a short story, but it’s also not enough story to be a novel; so a novella it is. I also have a kind of subversive idea about it not being a linear story; flashing back and forth from the present to the past.  It’s hard to get into details about it without giving too much away, but that’s the nice thing about short stories and, I suppose, novellas: you can play with things like structure and form that you can’t get away with in a shorter story or might not actually work, so best not to try it in a novel first, because if it doesn’t work straightening out the mess is a lot more work. I am rather curious about trying out more novellas, frankly; primarily because, as I often like to remind myself, some of James M. Cain’s novels, like The Postman Always Rings Twice, were closer to novellas than novels.

All of this speculation, of course, keeps me from actually writing, you know.

I started watching a series on Netflix last night about the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman: The Rise of an Empire, which was pretty interesting. I got a little bored, frankly, in the second episode, but I’ve always been interested in the old Eastern Roman Empire (rebranded by western historians as the Byzantine Empire, but it was the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. Western European historians managed to try, and succeed, for the most part, to erase that history by teaching that the Roman Empire ended when Rome fell in the fifth century–but the Roman Empire continued on for another thousand years until Constantinople fell in 1453. Westerners, attempting to claim themselves and their culture and civilization as the rightful heirs to Rome, began calling them the Byzantine Empire and referring to them as Greeks, but the Ottomans thought of them as the Romans. It was the Roman Empire. Lars Brownworth has done some wonderful histories of the eastern Roman empire and the history of the eastern Mediterranean; I highly recommend his work–he also appears with several other historians in the docuseries, which is a mixture of reenactment and documentary style filmmaking). The first episode was interesting, but my mind wandered during the second; so I shut it off about half-way through preparatory to going to bed.

So, here I am this morning with my first cup of coffee. The weather is supposed to be spectacular in New Orleans today and tomorrow–someone posted a picture of blooming flowers with the caption SPRING IN NEW ORLEANS and I wanted to comment um it’s February but then I realized, our spring IS in February and March and early April–and summer generally kicks into gear in late April and lasts till early October. This week has been hit-or-miss with rain and sunshine, but has been warm the entire time. I’ve not taken a jacket with me to work one day this week, and I’ve only carried my hats with me because my bald head gets cold in our building. (I forgot my hat yesterday and my head was cold all evening.)

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you later.

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Think of Laura

Zulu is passing now; I can hear the drums of the marching bands. It’s a gorgeous morning, the sun is shining and I am betting the crowds up at the Avenue are deep; they certainly were last night for Orpheus. Paul and I both have to work tomorrow, so we’re ending our Carnival early; taking today to rest and recover so we can hit the ground running on Ash Wednesday. I also have a lot of things to do today; emails to answer, things to write, things to edit, things to read, a kitchen to clean. Even though it was abbreviated this year (I was in Alabama for the first weekend of parades), I enjoyed every bit of Carnival this year; and am already melancholy to see it end as always.

I’ve also been enjoying the hell out of the Winter Olympics, and like millions of people worldwide I am–what’s the word kids use now? Oh yes–stanning Adam Rippon. As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve known of Adam long before these games; I remember when he had a mop of floppy curls; when gossip websites were pairing him and Ashley Wagner as a couple (I rolled my eyes every time I saw the photos), and I remember when he came out. I blogged about homophobia in figure skating a while back; when Adam came out while still on the Olympic eligible circuit I thought to myself you’re never going to win anything now; so I was pleasantly surprised to see him win US Nationals and make the world team in 2016; he missed last season with a broken foot, and this season he is full-on out: his short program is to gay club music, and his long program, as everyone saw the other night, is breathtaking. I’m so happy for both him and Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics that same night; they earned bronze medals as part of the team competition, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them–all of the Americans on the team, to be honest. Adam is so funny and refreshingly himself; a big personality and a natural wit he doesn’t try to hold back, and that honesty…I just can’t get enough. I had tears in my eyes when he finished his long program the other night; Paul and I both screamed when Mirai landed the triple axel. Seeing the trashy homophobes on Twitter trashing him or going after him makes my blood boil; I’ve resisted the urge to reply to them He’s got an Olympic medal and you’re a fifth-rate Twitter troll. Congratulations.

So. There’s that.

And in other news of the fabulous, the lucky world of readers can look forward to the upcoming release of a new Laura Lippman novel, Sunburn. I got an ARC at Bouchercon and read it in one sitting on a rainy Saturday back in October.

sunburn

It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him. Pink, peeling. The burn is two days old, he gauges. Earned on Friday, painful to the touch yesterday, today an itchy soreness that’s hard not to keep fingering, probing, as she’s doing right now in an absentminded way. The skin has started sloughing off, soon those narrow shoulders won’t be so tender. Why would a redhead well into her thirties make such a rookie mistake?

And why is she here, sitting on a barstool, forty-five miles inland, in a town where strangers seldom stop on a Sunday evening? Belleville is the kind of place where people are supposed to pass through and soon they won’t even do that. They’re building a big by-ass so the beach traffic won’t have to slow for the speed trap on the old Main Street. He saw the construction vehicles, idle on Sunday, on his way in. Places like this bar-slash-restaurant, the High-Ho, are probably going to lose what little business they have.

High-Ho. A misprint? Was it supposed to be Heigh-Ho? And if so, was it for the seven dwarfs, heading home from the mines at day’s end, or for the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset?  Neither one makes much sense for this place.

Nothing about this makes sense.

Laura Lippman has been one of my favorite writers since I read Baltimore Blues years and years ago. I tore through her Tess Monaghan series, and she very quickly became one of my buy in hardcover authors. I’ve never regretted making that switch, and as she has expanded her skills and pushed herself with her exceptionally brilliant stand alone novels, I’ve never once quibbled but I want another Tess novel! (I do, always, but the stand alones are so fucking fantastic that it doesn’t matter–I really just want a new Lippman, and wish she was on a yearly schedule rather than an eighteen month one.)

Laura’s career trajectory has been most impressive from a writing perspective; because as a writer of stand alones, she has gone from being a literary crime writer to a literary writer about crime, if that makes sense. Each of her stand alones are unique and different from the others; about as far removed from her series as any novels can be and still be by the same author. Each one of these novels are rare pearls, individual and vastly different from the others; different themes, different explorations, different everything. The one common thread that runs through these novels is that they are, for the most part, about women, and what women face in their lives; how they deal with crimes and tragedies that take them out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Laura also regularly experiments with form and voice and tense; enormous, dangerous risks as a writer that she somehow always manages to pull off, make engaging and enjoyable, and always manages to tell a story that makes a very compelling point.

Sunburn,  her latest, is as different from anything she has done before as it could be unless she decided to write about vampires or a zombie apocalypse; but she also brings her incredibly powerful sense of empathy to this tale of murder, vengeance, and oh-so-careful planning. The book opens with the main character, Polly Costello, walking away from her husband and child on a beach vacation and winding up in the hard-knock town of Belleville; she is being observed by Adam, who is being paid to keep an eye on her, follow her–but not to become obsessed by her, which is what happens. Their story is told in a very limited third person point of view, alternating between them, and as we slowly get to know them, watch their physical attraction expand and develop into something more, the questions remain: why did Polly walk away from her family and child? How could she do such a thing? Who is this enigmatic redheaded bar waitress?

And just how fucking good does Adam’s grilled cheese sandwich taste?

The prose in this book is lean; not an extra word to be found anywhere, and it is an homage of sorts to the kind of lean, tight, dark noir that the great James M. Cain wrote. (Cain is a hero of mine, and I have always wanted to write something that dark and lean and tight…ironically, one of the ideas I had for such a noir–gay, of course–was also titled Sunburn) I’ve seen, in some of the early reviews, comparisons to Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, which seem obvious; there’s an insurance scam buried deep in the plot, it’s set in a bar/diner, it’s about an unexpected, explosive attraction between a man and a woman; there are side plots that end in mysterious deaths… but if anything, I’d say Sunburn is more reminiscent of Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress than anything else.

The book is extraordinary, and probably Laura Lippman’s best work to date; that wisecracking, tight prose; a complicated and complex plot that grows even more complicated as you read another page; fully developed characters you can help but root for, even if their motivations aren’t exactly pure; and ultimately, the book is about a woman with everything stacked against her all of her life, who  never gives up, and makes plans…risky plans; where she gambles everything, including her own happiness and desire, for her future, yet is flexible and smart enough to always adapt.

Polly Costello is a heroine Cain would have been proud to call his own.