King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

If This Was a Movie

I strongly suspect no one would buy into the concept of two hurricanes coming ashore in relatively the same area in such a short period of time. One of Tim Dorsey’s novels had this as a plot point, and I found it so damned far-fetched I actually decided to never read another one of his novels.

My bad, Mr. Dorsey, and my apologies.

Management decided to close the office for today yesterday, due to the state of emergency with Marco heading for us; so I’ll spend most of my day making condom packs and watching HBO MAX films while waiting for his untimely and unwanted arrival, all the while muttering prayers to every deity I can think of (agnostic, but it never hurts) so we don’t lose power. This morning, though, Marco has weakened to a tropical storm and has slowed down; I’m not exactly sure when he is forecast to come ashore; it looks like much later tonight than forecast and it’s going to skim along the coast rather than turning and coming inland–yesterday it looked like we were getting a direct hit. Laura has also drifted west so we are no longer in her Cone of Uncertainty, and has also slowed–it looks like her eye will be making landfall on Thursday rather than Wednesday as originally forecast. I suppose we can now sigh with relief here in New Orleans in dodging two bullets rapidly fired at us; but there’s still potential for wind damage and flooding. Not to mention one of the worst things that could happen in New Orleans in August: a loss of power.

I spent some time on the book yesterday; I didn’t make as much progress as I should have (do I ever?) but I am pleased with the work I am doing. There are good bones to this book; but the muscle tissue and sinew needs exercise and it also needs to lose some body fat. That’s why it’s taking me longer than I anticipated–I often get to a part where I think, ugh, I don’t want to fix this and make it better, it’s good enough and just as I am about to scroll on–I grab the print out with the post-its and scribbled notes on the pages (surprisingly enough, I remember most of it subconsciously, apparently–more on that oddity later) and force myself to fix it. Having the worked-on manuscript pages and post-its and notes in my journal and my notebook is a tremendous help; this is how I learned how to write a novel in the first place and it’s surprisingly helpful in accountability and in correcting laziness. I haven’t done this in years–certainly not this thoroughly–and often only work on electronic files. My working habit of writing books chapter by chapter and dividing up the electronic files that way–Chapter 1-3, for example, is the third draft of chapter one–and I rarely pull it all together into one document before turning it in. Having the actual physical document, and reading several chapters in a row as I correct and edit them rather than doing an electronic chapter file has helped me catch a lot of repetition, contradiction, and holes in the story. The way I’ve been doing this for the last ten years or so, which is undoubtedly faster but far less careful, probably isn’t the best way for me to be doing this. I didn’t reinvent the wheel and make it better after all. I can still write quickly, the way I always have–spewing out anywhere from three thousand to seven thousand words in one sitting–but I shouldn’t, mustn’t, won’t edit and revise that way anymore.

Something peculiar did happen yesterday–this is the more on this oddity later segment of the blog–in which I worked on Chapter Four and got pretty far into it without referring to the manuscript hard copy pages and notes. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I got to a part I didn’t want to rewrite (even though it was necessary) and was going to pass through, thinking you can fix this in a later draft and stopped myself, thinking, what if you DON’T catch this next time? And why be lazy and ensure that the next time will take longer when you can just fix it NOW? I reached for the pages and realized that I had been revising/editing/rewriting without referring to them…and then discovered that most of the corrections I had already made were the same as the ones on the pages. Some of the changes were different–and better than the ones in my scribbled notes–and I had made changes to things I hadn’t caught in the hard copy. So, I interpreted this to be mean that I now have the voice and tone and mood of the story so deeply embedded into the creative corners of my mind that I know how it’s supposed to sound–and I also know the story so I can put the pieces in that are missing to make it come together properly.

It was actually quite marvelous.

I also spent some time with Lovecraft Country, which just gets better and better the further into the book I get. There were, as there have been every time I’ve sat down with the book, moments when the racism was so horrific I wanted to put the book down, but I reminded myself other people can’t walk away from racism by putting a book down and kept reading. It’s truly a terrific novel, and I am greatly enjoying it. We also watched the second episode last night, which is also fantastic. The show is pretty faithful to the book, with some minor tweaks and changes here and there, and it actually enriches the story in the book by expanding on it and the changes aren’t jarring; the fit in the context of the story the show is telling. I’m very glad the show was made, glad I am reading the source material–similarly to how I felt with Watchmen and its source material last year. It’s wonderful that so many books are being made into great television series; it’s enormously satisfying to read the book while watching the show. I did this first with Big Little Lies; and of course intended to do it with Little Fires Everywhere but failed; I’ve yet to read that book and am now thinking I should move it up in the TBR pile (I was planning on reading Babylon Berlin  next; I may still go ahead and read that but keep Little Fires Everywhere on deck). I also want to start dipping into reading short stories again–I’ve got the Paretsky collection, and the new Lawrence Block anthology, an so many other anthologies and single-author collections I’ve not finished–but it seems like there’s never enough time in the day, you know?

And it’s almost September already; how scary is that? Time is so weird anymore; it seems like we’ve been living in this pandemic forever, and this year has lasted a century, and yet still I looked at today’s date and freaked out a little bit because it’s like, did I waste this entire year already? There’s always something, I guess, I can berate myself about. It really never ends around here.

I found myself thinking about short stories I have written, or are in progress–there’s a ridiculous amount of them, seriously–and wondering about when I’m going to be able to get back to writing more of them, or finishing some of the ones that are currently in progress. This lengthy birthday weekend, followed up with an extra unexpected work at home day, has me feeling extremely well rested and my batteries recharged; I always forget how necessary that is, and with this weird new world we find ourselves living in these days–I forget that I used to take a three day weekend every six weeks or so in order to do just that: recharge my batteries. It’s just odd because I guess with the  work-at-home days every week where I don’t actually have to go into the office, I had the mentality that I didn’t necessarily need to take time off periodically for mental health purposes; that insidious sense that working at home isn’t really working.

Sigh.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely, storm-free Monday, Constant Reader.

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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!

 

Paper Rings

Well, Constant Reader, we certainly survived Monday, did we not? At any rate, I’m typing this for you to read later, so hopefully we survived Monday; I did, at any rate.

This has been such a weird shit-show of a year already that I’ve completely forgotten that my fifty-ninth birthday is creeping up on me. Yes sir, next week is the big 5-9 (I’ve been saying I was fifty-nine for the entire year so far already) and I don’t know if any celebration is called for; I don’t really make a to-do of my birthday, never have (they weren’t really made much of when I was a kid, and so I still to this day don’t think my birthday is a big deal) and am always kind of amazed when people actually DO make a big deal of theirs. But some years I do things on my Facebook page to indicate another year of my life has passed me by in the wink of an eye; one year I kept changing my profile picture to old pictures of me from my past. Another year I started posting my books covers to count it down. For this year, I think I am actually going to take a long weekend–my birthday falls on a Thursday, so I may take Thursday and Friday as vacation days, and take a lovely long weekend to indulge myself in reading and organizing and working on the book (yes, for me that always feels like an indulgence). I think I’m going to go ahead and start reading Lovecraft Country–I kind of feel the need to read something in the horror vein, after the stunning brilliance of Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland–and perhaps once I’ve finished that, I’ll read Babylon Berlin.

I also need to get back into the Short Story Project.

I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep well Sunday night for whatever reason there was for me to not sleep well–(whatever it was, it was annoying) so when I got home from work yesterday I was really too tired, mentally and physically, to do much of anything other than wait for Paul to come home so we could watch Babylon Berlin. There are only two episodes left, which is sad, but we’ve really been gulping them down very quickly. It’s really well done, the writing is astonishing, and there are so many characters and subplots, brilliantly interwoven within each other, that it’s quite masterful; and seriously hard to keep track of–the recaps at the beginning of each episode are enormously helpful. It’s also very dark; bad things seem to happen to all of the characters, and there never seems to be any way out of their predicaments. It’s also a remarkable depiction of Weimar Germany and the Berlin of that period; a period that really isn’t particularly well known. The world-wide economic crash is coming–the one that began in the United States with the collapse of the stock market–and so the times are about to get even darker. Season 4 is going to be quite intense, I suspect.

I slept very well last night, so hopefully today I will have the energy to deal with things that need to be dealt with. I have to admit I have been in a bit of a funk the last week or so, partly due, no doubt, to medical appointments and things of that nature, and loss of sleep due to that incumbent stress, and hopefully today will be more of a normal Greg day. I like normal Greg days; in fact, I much prefer them, to be honest. I really dislike this entire switch, dependent on so many exterior factors, in what kind of day I am going to have; it’s truly unpleasant and awful. But, as I said, I feel more awake and rested this morning than I did yesterday, so here’s hoping today is a better day.

And on that note, ’tis time for me to get back into the spice mines.

Mirrorball

And here we find ourselves, yet again, on the dawning of a new work week; the oft-despised and maligned Monday.

I’m feeling tired this morning–it’s not groggy; just kind of dragging, if that’s a thing. More like I should have slept for at least another hour kind of thing. But it’s a “to-the-office” morning, and we have a full schedule both today and tomorrow, which is great, actually–I really enjoy working with clients–and just wish I was a little more awake this morning.

Paul and I blasted through eight (!!!) episodes of Season 3 of Babylon Berlin last night; the third season is just as high quality as the previous two, and I am now thinking I might want to move the book higher in the TBR pile. I had planned on reading Lovecraft Country next, preparatory to the show airing on HBO this month–it’s nice to mix a different genre in every once in a while–and I do love horror, when it’s well done. This one explores racism and Jim Crow through a reimagining of the notorious racist H. P. Lovecraft’s horror, (Lovecraft has been the subject of a raging battle in the horror genre for the last decade or so; he was an enormous influence on the genre and is still quite widely read to this day–but was also a horrific racist. I’ve actually never read Lovecraft–I tried when I was a teenager and it didn’t hold my interest–so I cannot comment on his influence, other than what others say about it) and the trailers for the show look terrific.

I also have some anthologies and short story collections to start digging into; I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection and Lawrence Block’s The Darkling Halls of Ivy sitting on my end table. (I would love to have a story in one of Block’s anthologies; they are inevitably terrific, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them I’ve read thoroughly.) I’ve kind of been diverted away from the Short Story Project during these dark times; and since they can be gulped down relatively easily and quickly, I may be taking the Block with me to work today for reading during my lunch break; the lovely thing about short stories are they are short and can be finished in a short period of time, without the sadness that comes with having to set aside a truly fabulous novel one is reading.

I’ve read some very good books thus far this year; as I said in my entry about S. A. Cosby’s quite marvelous Blacktop Wasteland, these are terrific times to be a fan of crime fiction because so much wonderful stuff is being published these days. I honestly think the move towards greater diversity and publishing more diverse voices is pumping new blood and new life into our genre; this needs to happen every so often, I think–and with no offense intended towards anyone, there’s a tendency for creative fiction to stagnate, to continue upholding the status quo–and new voices are vital for our genre to survive.

I spent a good portion of yesterday going over the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and yes, I was correct; a lot of work needs to be done on them still. But I made some good progress, and if I can get these first ten whipped into shape the second ten, and the final five, will be much easier to work on and correct and fix. It took me about five hours to get through everything, as well as realize what all needs to be done to pull this all together; I am hoping to find the time to do it all during this week so I can spend the weekend working on the next ten, hopefully getting them all finished so I can have the entire book ready to be turned in by the first of September.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

Not that the day of the week matters anymore, frankly; yesterday I thought it was Friday all day and even when corrected (I sent an email to the MWA Board of Directors and opened with HAPPY FRIDAY!) I still continued to think it was Friday.

I’m stubborn that way.

We finished watching We Are the Wave last night, after I did one of those on-line promo reading/discussion things for The Faking of the President. I recognize that these things have become a part of what is reality these days, but I’m still uncomfortable doing them. I hate the sound of my own voice, and being able to see myself staring back at me from the computer screen is far worse than any mirror I’ve ever looked into. But I suspect that even once the pandemic has come to its inevitable end–even bubonic plague eventually ran its original course–these things will become part and parcel of promotion for writers henceforth. For one thing, publishers would much rather you “tour” virtually than having to pay to send you, for one, and for the vast majority of writers, virtual touring is much more, obviously, affordable than an actual tour.

But last night I slept extremely well, which is lovely; I actually feel very rested this morning and not tired, mentally or physically, and it’s been a hot minute or two since I could say that. There are some errands I have to run today–most importantly, a prescription refill that needs to be picked up–but I am going to be spending a lot of the day doing my day job stuff here at the Lost Apartment, and yes, that includes more hours of condom packing, which means finding some movies on HBO MAX or Disney to watch. The TCM app on HBO MAX is quite marvelous, actually; there are a lot of wonderful films on there I’ve always wanted to watch, and since I spend several afternoons a week making condom packs, I can now watch them while my hands work. Alas, there are a lot of films I want to see that aren’t on there; there’s some great Hitchcock movies (I really enjoyed Foreign Correspondent, despite how dated it was) and there are some lesser known Hitchcocks which will be fun to watch as well (I could also go through Amazon Prime, but their app on Apple TV is not user friendly in the least). I was looking to rewatch Rebecca and Notorious the other day, but neither were on the TCM app, and neither was Suspicion, which was my next default. I think Shadow of a Doubt is on Prime–that’s the next one I’m looking for–and there might be some on there that aren’t on the TCM app.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the films of the 1970’s a lot lately as well; watching Eyewitness made me think more about that decade, and we talked about it some on the virtual event last night–and there are some terrific films from the 1970’s I’d like to rewatch or see for the first time. I’d like to see Chinatown again, despite my aversion to Roman Polanski and his work–which is a whole other conversation, the old artist vs. the art thing–and there was a darker, grittier aspect to the films of the decade, despite it also being the decade that gave us Star Wars. I’d actually like to watch Cruising again, and numerous other Pacino/De Niro/Scorsese films of the decade.

I also am going to spend some time this weekend writing, and I am also going to spend some time with S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland. I also have some anthologies and short story collections I’d like to start dipping into; I hate that I’ve allowed myself to let the Short Story Project collapse by the wayside. I also want to spend some time this weekend trying to get organized; I have so much going on, between various writing projects and volunteerism and so forth that I am always playing catch-up, and I much prefer, as Constant Reader is very well aware, planning; the problem is that I am always juggling things as they come at me (bullets-and-bracelets from the old Wonder Woman comics is a very apt analogy) with the result that I always feel like I am getting dragged down into quicksand.

And don’t even get me started on emails. Jesus.

But it’s a good morning, I have energy and feel rested, and am hopeful this will help carry me through the rest of the day and I can get a lot done.

Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader.

Up and Down

Tuesday morning and here we are. Life continues to move forward, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, and I continue to wake up every morning…which, let’s be fair, some mornings is a victory in and of itself.

I managed to get the Secret Project sent off yesterday, so we now we play the waiting game to see if it’s actually wanted. It was, quite actually, a lot of fun to do (I say now that it’s done) and I actually wound up taking 8000 words, polishing and revising, and wound up with 16,000. That was a lot of work to get done in one weekend, if I do say so myself, and I am feeling rather smug about it right now, thank you very much; it’s been awhile since I’ve felt smug about writing, so bear with me and let me have this for today, thank you very much.

And now, of course, I am free to get back to work on those pesky unfinished manuscripts that are just lying around, thank you very much, Baby Jesus.

I was exhausted yesterday and so slept really well last night; so I think today will be a better day than yesterday was. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se, but I was tired all day and when I’m tired I’m more prone to being emotionally on edge, which means I am constantly biting my tongue because I don’t want to snap at people for something that I wouldn’t ordinarily snap at someone for when I am not tired, which is a rather long run-on sentence. When I got home from work I retired into my easy chair to relax, which is what I pretty much did the entire evening (other than some filing, which I did when I got home). Dark Desire took a sudden turn in the episodes we watched last night, which was cool as I was beginning to get bored with its Fatal Attraction-type plot; these turns made it into something entirely different, which was very cool, and sparked my interest in watching again.

So, now it’s back to Bury Me in Shadows this coming weekend; this week I’m going to rest up my creative novel energies while messing around with some of the many short stories I’ve been thinking about but haven’t finished writing. It’s actually been a lovely year or so (not calendar, twelve months) of short story writing for me; even since I started the Short Story Project several years ago, where I decided to seriously focus on my short story writing while reading as many as I could, I’ve been doing fairly well with my short story writing–so much so that when I start thinking about the stories I’ve sold and published since turning in my last collection to my publisher, I inevitably forget some; I know when I was listing them the other day I forget a couple that were published last year–which puts me even closer to another collection than I thought I was. Maybe I’ll start making a more comprehensive list of those stories this week; and then go through the unfinished ones to determine which to include, so I’ll have a starting place and a plan–and you know, Constant Reader, I am all about having a plan.

And having the proposal finished has felt enormously freeing; I certainly feel as though a burden has been lifted from me this morning (I was too tired to really feel the relief yesterday) and I am excited to get back to my other writings again. I want to finish reading Cottonmouths so I can move on to the new book on the very top of my TBR pile: S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which I’ve been dying to read since its publication was first announced. I loved his novel My Darkest Prayer, which I read last year and thought was quite marvelous; and this new one has been getting raves everywhere, which is most exciting.

There are tropical things out there forming; one off the Texas coast, one deep south in the Caribbean Sea, and one out in the Atlantic. We’re going to feel their effects here in New Orleans undoubtedly; we always get something from them if they enter the Gulf of Mexico. One of the things I always dislike intensely about hurricane season is how it exposes our innate selfishness; we always want the hurricanes to go somewhere else–which means we are wishing death and destruction on faceless others. I’ve never been comfortable completely with that, nor with the relief that comes when a storm turns into a direction that means we’re out of danger.

But that’s all a part and parcel of life in the storm zone; the hurricane belt or whatever you want to call it (I don’t recall at the moment if they’ve ever given those of us on the Gulf Coast who are always in danger during the season a name, like Tornado Alley) and God knows I certainly am not in the mood or have any desire to deal with an evacuation of any kind this season–although it’s always a possibility. This year is the fifteen year anniversary of Katrina.

And yesterday was Paul’s and my twenty-fifth anniversary, which we celebrated by doing absolutely nothing other than bingeing episodes of Dark Desire.

And on that cheery note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Silver Age

Well, that’s that; the Sherlock story is finished. I have turned in my author bio, an author’s note to go along with the story, and now just have to wait for the rest of the process to be completed. Over all, other than my initial stress over whether I could actually write a Sherlockian tale and my usual self-doubt that always comes up whenever I write anything, it was an overall terrific experience, and in fact, might even try my hand at another Sherlock story set in that same world–pre-World War I New Orleans. It really was quite fun, and I am even now thinking that perhaps more Sherlockian style stories could work very well in my Monsters of New Orleans collection I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time now.

Things to ponder. But often when something goes really well for me I tend to dip into the well again, with unpleasant and/or disappointing results. Perhaps it’s best to just take the win and be done with it.

Facebook memories showed me the cover of Murder in the Rue Dauphine (or rather, the original cover; it’s had three) yesterday along with my post that the book was 15 years old at the time of the cover posting. It rather staggered me to realize that my first novel would now be able to vote, were it an actual person…and I actually started writing the book in 1998; which is twenty-two years ago. That’s kind of staggering–and yet another reminder that yes, Greg, you’re old.

I’m already worn out and it’s only Tuesday, which certainly doesn’t bode week, does it? Heavy sigh. We’re still watching The Club, which only has two episodes left–we’ll undoubtedly finish that tonight and then get caught up on Perry Mason, leaving the decision of what to watch next till Wednesday night–and I’m kind of hopeful that today will be a better, less draining day than yesterday was; hope does, as I often say, spring eternal. The heat and humidity, missing over the weekend, also returned with a bit of a vengeance yesterday–which could have been a significant part of the feeling drained last night. We’re still in a flash flood watch until 7 pm tonight, so maybe it’ll rain a lot and cool things down briefly again. We did have rain yesterday, but it didn’t seem that bad at the office–which is not, as anyone who lives here knows, an indicator of how the rain is going in the rest of the city. It could be raining at the office and the sun shining at the Lost Apartment, for example.

I need to find the time and energy to write, quite frankly. I think part of my malaise in life–and why my temper is so short lately–has everything to do with not having the time or energy to write more. The only joy I’ve had in the last few weeks has been the editorial notes on “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” and the overwhelmingly positive response from the editor to “Night Follows Night.” Writing is my happiness, really, even when it’s frustrating and going well; when I’m writing I am happy, usually–and happier when it’s going badly than I am when I am not writing. Whenever I am having a bad day–as yesterday was–whenever I am tired and angry and drained, what I really need to do is open something I’m writing that isn’t finished and work on it. It will always calm me, take me out of the bad mood, and put me back into a better place. My creativity needs an outlet, and when I deny that outlet and keep it inside of me, my moods and everything else always seem to suffer for it.

So, with that in mind, as I head into the spice mines for today, here are the opening paragraphs of my first-ever Sherlock pastiche.

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.

One of the Crowd

And it’s now the fifth of July, and so far–at least for me–the second half of this annus horribilis is off to an okay start. Yesterday was oddly not humid or hot; there wasn’t much direct sunlight and even by noon I hadn’t been forced to turn on the portable Arctic Air coolers that have so far made life in the kitchen/office bearable; I remain, as ever, buried and behind in all of my work, which is to be expected, of course–par for it, actually. I am always behind and scrambling to catch up, and since my personality is this peculiar combination of Type A mixed in with almost chronic laziness, this will most likely always be my state of being.

The sun is out, however, this morning, and while it remains cool here in the Lost Apartment, there’s no telling how hot it perhaps might get in here later this afternoon. I accomplished very little yesterday, truth be told; I started working on “You Won’t See Me” and didn’t get very far, because it was wandering off into a different direction than where it was originally intended to go–it wasn’t until I quit writing in disgust and adjourned to my easy chair that I realized (or remembered)where I’d wanted to go with the story in the first place, so I made some notes and went back to reading Cottonmouths. Later we streamed a lot more of The Club, which has a rather lengthy first season–it’s been a while since I’ve seen a season of anything recent that runs for over twenty episodes–and an awful lot has happened. We’re finally into the mid-teens, and halfway finished with the show, which we are still enjoying. And Cottonmouths remains quite delightful.

I refuse to allow myself to give into despair this fair morning over what I wasn’t able to get accomplished over the last two days. This morning I feel, for want of better terms, not only vivacious but alive and rested. The clouds of exhaustion that have made my thinking not as clear have lifted, or so it seems at this very moment, and we shall see how this day turns out, won’t we? I hope to get quite a bit accomplished today–we have the clinic open the next two days–and I have been sleeping well lately. I’m actually feeling close to normal for the first time in months, and while mentioning it also has me concerned that I might be jinxing it in some way, it’s actually been quite lovely.

It is very difficult to not fall into the ease of despair with the news every day–hell, every day for the last few years, quite frankly. The pandemic is raging out of control and might not get better for a while; Florida, for example, has reported more new cases over the last eight days than Louisiana has had since it first arrived here (um, where are all those people claiming it was irresponsible for us to have Carnival NOW? Cavorting on the beaches in Florida?), and as the crisis seems to continue to deepen rather than get better, the return to normality everyone seems to want gets pushed further and further back because of selfishness, frankly. As I joked to Paul yesterday about not getting much writing done yesterday, “What’s the point of writing anything new when who knows if there will even be a publishing industry next year?”

I’ve not, to be honest, thought much about my writing career this year, or at least since March. It was lovely being nominated for a Lambda Award–it’s been years since the last time–but I also knew once I saw Michael Nava’s name on the short-list I didn’t have a prayer of winning. But the nominations are always nice. I have thought about writing more Scotty books–I did leave their personal story on a cliffhanger in Royal Street Reveillon, after all–but there are two manuscripts in the hopper I need to finish first, and I want to work on Chlorine next. I need to get this Secret Project finished and out of my hair in order to get back to the two manuscripts–I’ve solved the issues with Bury Me in Shadows over the course of the pandemic–and I’ve also solved the plot issues with the Kansas book while I’ve essentially been too distracted and too exhausted and too ill to actually do any actual writing. My goal for this week–and yes, the week, not today–is to get that proposal finished; get a couple more of these stories under control and/or closer to finished; and if I have a highly productive week, to take next weekend off again to rest and recharge while trying to make some progress in the TBR pile. I want to reread another Perry Mason novel–I have The Case of the Calendar Girl in a hardcover I found in a used bookstore sometime during my travels over the past few years, and watching the new HBO Perry Mason has made me want to reconnect with the original character again–and I also want to get back into reading through both the John D. MacDonald and Ross MacDonald and Margaret Millar canons; which will help me get into a place where I will be able to get Chlorine written sooner rather than later. I also have some Dorothy B. Hughes novels on hand I’ve not read as well…and of course, there’s the Diversity Project to get back to at some point, in addition to the Short Story Project. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection on its way, as well as the latest Lawrence Block anthology, which I think is called In the Darkling Halls of Ivy (I could be wrong but it’s something like that), and of course, I still have his previous anthology on my side table, untouched.

So much to read, so much to watch, so little free time in which to do it all–and that includes, I might add, so little time to write everything I want to write before I die.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I certainly hope that I do.

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)

And a happy 4th of July to you, too, Constant Reader.

It’s always bothered me that people consider this our national birthday, when it’s really not. July 4th is actually Independence Day; when the Declaration of Independence began to be signed and we officially shrugged off the yoke of the British Empire. Independence was, of course, qualified; it was independence for white men, naturally; women still were second-class, and no slaves were freed with this declaration. It would take almost another hundred years before the abolition of slavery; 150 for women to get the right to vote; and full equality with the straight white man is still a dream to be fought for in our laws and courts and hearts. But we can celebrate the ideal that was established by the flawed founding fathers, who were, as are all men, imperfect–no matter what the mythology we are taught from birth claims.

And it cannot be denied that our country was built over the bones and blood of the indigenous people whose land was taken from them.

So, there will be political speeches, and fireworks displays, and firecrackers going off and scaring pets pretty much the entire day. There will be picnics and barbecues and no mail delivered. Flags and parades and patriotism on display wherever you look. Hell, even I’m going to light some charcoal and cook out later today. But the United States is generally incapable, as a nation, of self-reflection and critical analysis of its past, present, and future; such is seen by a segment of the population as a lack of patriotism (because somehow blind allegiance to a party and its members, as well as slavish devotion to the symbols of democracy, rather than to the democracy itself, is somehow seen as true patriotism) and derided. But it is only through self-criticism, critique, and reflection that the democracy grows stronger with mistakes corrected and the course reset.

For no one is truly free and equal until all are free and equal.

I took yesterday as a day of rest; I answered some pressing emails in the morning and then walked away from my computer. I watched Hamilton (see other blog post) which was truly delightful; we finished Season Two of Titans, which was also marvelous, and Dick Grayson finally emerged from the shadow of Robin and donned the Nightwing costume in the finale (Season 2 was so much better than Season 1, and I liked Season 1; cannot wait for Season 3); and then we moved onto a Mexican series called The Club, which was highly entertaining and fun. We’re not even halfway finished with it, either, so we have several more nights of cheesy fun as our heroes establish themselves as Ecstasy dealers to the upper class of Mexico City–and the lead, Pablo, is absolutely gorgeous.

It was lovely having a relaxing day, as it always is; one in which I cast aside my cares and worries, and simply get lost in being entertained. I slept well again last night–I have quite a streak of that going now, which is absolutely lovely–and so now today, I am going to spend the day the way I usually spend my second day of the weekend–reading, writing and cleaning. The sink is filled with dirty dishes, and the dishwasher is also full (of clean dishes, that must be put away) and at some point this weekend I need to buy a new broom, clean the filter in the vacuum cleaner, and actually clean the floors. Today I am going to work on some in-progress short stories, while tomorrow I am going to work on the Secret Project (it would be lovely to get it finished tomorrow, and sent off to the publisher, but you know how that usually winds up). I also want to spend some time with Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, perhaps even finishing it, which would be lovely; I really need to get back into the swing of reading every day, else I have no prayer of ever getting caught up on the always-growing TBR pile.

I’m not sure what stories I am going to work on today, to be honest. There are several which are finished in the first draft form and need to be revised, things added and changed; still others are incomplete and need to have a first draft finished in order to get things worked on a bit. I was thinking about trying to take on “Please Die Soon,” “Gossip,” and “You Won’t See Me”; but there are any number of others that are simply begging to be finished. I’ve also got those novellas in progress–four or five, at last count–and it would be lovely to make some sort of progress on some of those as well. I also am quite aware I am most likely being overly ambitious here; laziness will inevitably seep into my bones at some point and I’ll just say the hell with it and walk away from my computer.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Wish me luck.