American Girl

Hello work-at-home Thursday, how are you doing?

I’m starting to get used to the loss of the trees, but it isn’t even so much the loss of the green, leafy view or the increased light that bothers me the most about the loss of the crepe myrtles. I’ve realized that, despite the fact that the trees didn’t completely shield the house next door or its carriage house from view, they provided enough of a shield for me to feel like I had privacy while I was sitting at my desk. I could see the upstairs windows next doors, but not clearly; it was more of a vague awareness that they were there. Now I can see into them–not that much, really, because of the angle–which of course means anyone standing in those windows or looking out of them can also look directly down at me at my desk, writing or cleaning or reading or whatever the hell it is I do there when I sit there.

And that I do not like one bit.

So, yes, I’m going to have to invest in blinds, I suppose. I can just use them for the upper half of the windows–the lower half doesn’t really need covering, to shield them from either the sun or the next door upstairs neighbors. Am I happy about it? Not in the least. But it has to be done, or next summer is going to be les miserables in the kitchen. It gets too hot in there as it is, and I’m probably also going to have to invest in more portable air conditioners as well. Heavy heaving sigh.

So, apparently a sexual assault scandal is currently looming over the LSU football program, tracing back to Derrius Guice–who was recently dropped by whatever team had drafted him into the NFL after he was arrested for domestic violence–horrifying stuff, really–which revealed that he’d been accused twice of rape while he was a student at LSU and allegedly the school and athletic department covered it up. This was during the time the wretched Joe Alleva was the athletic director there, and given that he was responsible for the insanity and disaster that the the Duke lacrosse team sexual assault scandal, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The fact LSU hired him. with that scandal on his resume, remains a mystery to me. I may be a loyal Tiger fan who bleeds purple and gold, but this needs to be thoroughly investigated and there needs to be accountability. This kind of shit doesn’t belong anywhere in college, let alone in college athletics, and the covering up of bad behavior by star athletes by colleges and professional sports needs to stop, period.

Seriously, enough of this boys will be boys bullshit. Boys who get away with shit because they’re boys become men who think they can get away with shit, and this becomes a societal problem.

I am really tired of sex crimes involving college sports, frankly–or any sport, for that matter.

And now I am thinking I should write a book about college sports and a sex crime, because of course I am.

I could, of course, call it Boys Will Be Boys.

Hmmmm some more.

My back is a little sore this week, I’m not sure if it’s from the gym and working out–I noticed it yesterday, when I woke up, and went to the gym anyway, so this morning it’s a little worse–but it’s not an injury injury; this is just intense muscle soreness, so I’ll be using the heating pad this afternoon as I make condom packs. It did feel lovely going to the gym after work yesterday and working out–I’m really getting back into this–and we started watching Murder on Middle Beach last night on HBO; a documentary series this young filmmaker did about his mother’s brutal murder, which was weird; both oddly intimate and deeply personal, and incredibly sad at the same time. I couldn’t imagine dealing with my mom being murdered, and then writing a true crime book about it, but then, who knows? It’s an interesting premise for a true crime documentary, but one that begs the question of objectivity; how can you be objective when you’re so deeply personally involved with almost everyone you’ll be talking to, interviewing, and filming? And–God help me–I did think to myself, well, someone making a documentary series about their mother’s murder is also a great book premise, isn’t it?

I also took the time last night after the gym, as I waited for Paul to come home, to read two more stories from Lawrence Block’s anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy. The theme of the anthology is, of course, crimes in academia; the first story, by none other than Rambo creator David Morrell–whom I’ve met and is a very nice man–was quite good. The next two stories in the book were by authors I’d not read before, Jane Hamilton and Warren Moore. (Moore has had stories in other Block anthologies I’ve read; I’ve not read any of his novels, is what I meant here.) I’d heard of Ms. Hamilton before; she’s a quite critically acclaimed literary novelists, and best known to me as the author of The Short History of a Prince. Both stories were interesting. Ms. Hamilton’s was built around an advanced creative writing course in a small, failing liberal arts college, while Moore’s was built around the end of an academic conference–with a recently defended, new Ph. D. trying to find a job in academia giving a ride to a long tenured leader in their field, and what the young man thinks about as they talk about careers in academia, with the bitter reality of the younger man’s existence in sharp contrast to the comfortable established existence the older man has achieved. Hamilton’s story, “Writing Maeve Dubinsky,” doesn’t really seem like a crime story–the actual crime is a very small one, not even a misdemeanor, although it deeply affects the lives of the characters of the story (imagine coming to your writing class and discovering that one of your classmates had stolen your journal and written a story about your relationship)–the best part of the story was I remembered in exquisite detail the agony of workshopping one of your stories in a classroom setting–and also put me in mind of thinking about other stories for me to write. The Moore story, “Alt-Ac” (the title refers to Ph.D’s who have to find jobs outside of academia: “alternate to academic”) was also astonishingly dark and bitter about the diploma mill modern colleges have become, saddling students with massive amounts of debt they can never repay while giving them degrees that are essentially useless when it comes to finding work in the real world, particularly since there are so few jobs in academia and there are fewer of those jobs all of the time (seriously, the fact that Katrina came along and finished off any thoughts I had about pursuing further education and possibly teaching on the collegiate level was quite a gift to me, and one I never truly appreciated until lately), but it was also incredibly spot on.

I do find it interesting that in all the talk about student debt and so forth, no one ever talks about revamping or overhauling our higher education system–or improving it; that system is just as rotten and outdated as other societal institutions that need overhauling and repair.

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

Cardigan

Yes, it’s cardigan/sweater/light jacket weather in New Orleans again; autumn has fallen. And yes, I recognize our weather undoubtedly would feel like spring/early summer to some people–lows in the sixties, highs in the seventies–but this is a thirty degree drop from the dreadful days of August/September, and this year it lasted into October. There’s always been something unsettling to me about the fall season–as things wither and die, as the sun recedes and is only around for about nine hours per day, and the season of rest for the earth approaches–which is undoubtedly why All Hallows’ Eve was dated around that time of change; and why the ancients undoubtedly believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was so thin at this time of year.

It’s also lovely because now it’s crockpot cooking weather, which I love–soups and chilis and meatballs with gravy! Yum!

I went to bed early last night, unable to continue watching the election results. I didn’t want to check this morning when I woke up, frankly, but one cannot live in denial forever. Obviously, there are no final results and it isn’t over, as I discovered as I woke up, but my pessimism remains firmly in place. I don’t like being proven right in these instances, but I deep down believed this was going to be close, with the possibility of the results not going the way I wanted and going the way I feared. It’s not quite as shocking to me as it might be to other white people; as a gay man, I’m quite used to being hated abstractly by a majority of Americans and having my rights considered, at best, unimportant and at worst not worth thinking about. I have seen the face of American white hatred and have, in fact, been dealing with it for most of my adult life–and it’s not just white Americans, either. There’s enough homophobia and transphobia out there for white Americans to share with people of color–it’s the one thing white Americans are willing to share with people of color.

But we survived the Reagan administration, when they were letting HIV/AIDS kill us–and not-so-secretly hoping it would kill all of us–and we survived the second Bush presidency, so if the worst comes to worst yet again, I am sure somehow we can survive another four years of this. Am I tired of it all? Yes, I am. Will I go on fighting? I have to, because what other choice do I have?

It’s very easy to give in to despair, which of course is what they want us to do. They want us to go quietly into that good night, disappear from public view, get swept back under the rug or securely locked back into our closets. But I do know I am not going to listen to any analysis; I am not interested in “understanding” the other side any more than they are interested in “understanding” me and my values and my beliefs. All I am interested in is the final results, and getting on with my life for as long as I can.

I worked on “A Dirge in the Dark” last night some, in bits and pieces here and there, because I couldn’t truly focus on anything for very long. I think the story is going to turn out really well, actually, which pleases me. I’ll try to spend some more time with it today and tonight, see if I can get that draft finished, and I also need to start working with Bury Me in Shadows again. I need to rouse myself from this stupor and start getting things taken care of again. That’s pretty much all I can do, and all of the negativity of the last year or so needs to be ignored, put away, shunted aside and locked up in a dark corner of my mind. I need to focus on me, and my career, and the things I have to get done; and not worry about things that are beyond my control.

I had also intended to go to the gym last night, but I was tired and got home late from the office. I decided to take the night off from working out and just go tonight when I get home from work; at least tomorrow I don’t have to get up at six in the morning, and then I can go on Friday and Sunday quite happily. There’s not an LSU game this weekend I don’t think, so I can spend all day Saturday cleaning and writing and reading–as I mentioned after the disappointment of last weekend’s LSU game, I no longer am vested in either the conference or national races, so I only have to watch LSU games and can ignore the rest of them quite happily while getting things done that I need to get done.

I want to finish reading The Hot Rock, and I also want to get back to both the Short Story Project as well as the Diversity Project. I feel like a lot of things have slid this year, and I need to snap out of this pandemic stupor and get back to being on top of things. There’s no telling when any of this might end, and I need to stop pinning thoughts on my mental bulletin board with post-its attached reading for when the pandemic is over. We’re going into month seven, with no end in sight, and I can’t keep pushing things back on my lists–no matter how much I want to.

I feel like this morning, in some ways, I’ve woken up, shaken off the malaise and stupor of the last year, and am seeing everything with a cold, dispassionate, clear eye. We shall see how long it lasts, of course–I know I’ll get tired again this afternoon, and run out of steam at some point, and of course going to the gym tonight will be exhausting–but might as well make some hay while I can.

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

Breathless

Monday morning and up at the rise of the sun; back to another work week and trying to get caught up on everything.

I really do feel like Sisyphus pushing the rock uphill most days, you know?

But I woke up early yesterday and made progress, which is never a bad thing, and I also made it to the gym for my first workout of week two. I managed to accomplish all three workouts for week one, and so this week entailed an added set of 15 reps at the same weights I used last week. It was more difficult, but not painfully so or so bad that I couldn’t finish both sets–but on some exercises it was much harder than it was on others. That’s fine–I worked up a lovely sweat and my heart rate went up, which was the ultimate goal. I came home–it was really quite a beautiful fall day in New Orleans; sunny and crisp and cool–and had my protein shake before getting cleaned up and diving back into the emails and things I needed to get done.

I did decide what my next read would be: Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock. My education in Westlake is sorely lacking (as is my education in Lawrence Block, for that matter) although I read one of his Hard Case Crime books, The Comedy is Finished, and I read the first of his Richard Stark novels…but other than that, I have failed miserably in reading Westlake. I remember when The Hot Rock was out in paperback originally; I also remember that it was filmed with Robert Redford (perhaps another film I can add–if I can find it–to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival), and I’ve had a copy of this forever. Rob Byrnes has always spoken highly of Westlake–his own comic caper novels, he claims, owe a huge debt to Westlake, and only three chapters into the book, I can totally see the influence–and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading The Hot Rock, frankly. The edition I have also has an intro from Westlake himself, which sort of explains where the book came from, and I found this very interesting:

One day in 1967 I was wearing my Richard Stark hat, looking for a story to tell about my man Parker, and I thought, he reacts badly to frustration, what if he had to steal the same thing four or five times? I started to work it out, then realized the idea was only comic and Parker wouldn’t stand for it. But I still liked the notion, and even–once it was comic–saw how to make it six thefts of the same elusive item. So I’d do it that way.

But if it wasn’t Parker, who was it? Who was this guy, dogged but doomed, and what was his name? Without a name, I couldn’t see him, and until I could see him I couldn’t write about him.

Wow. He then goes on to talk about how he came up with the name Dortmunder, but it was so weird to see a writer of Westlake’s stature having the same problem I have when writing, or coming up with a new idea: I can’t write about people if they don’t have names, because without names I can’t see them or know enough about them to write about them. I know there are writers who can do this; I am just not one of them, and I always thought it was one of my (many) peculiarities as a writer. Turns out, Westlake was like me, too. Mine goes even further–I can’t write a story without a title, and if the title is wrong, it impedes the story writing even further. I think some of the in-progress unfinished stories I have on hand suffer from this very problem–I know I think “A Dirge in the Dark” isn’t the right title for the story I am writing with that title–but I am hoping I can get it all worked out eventually.

I do hate daylight savings time, quite frankly, but this “gain an hour” nonsense was rejected by my body–which makes getting up earlier much easier than it usually is. I was awake before my alarm went off this morning, I am wide awake as I sip my first cappuccino of the morning, and I feel like it’s going to be, over all, a really great day–for a shitty, unsettling week. Heavy sigh. But I got everything ready last night so I don’t have to pick out clothes or anything this morning; my lunch is ready to go into the lunch box, and my office/kitchen is very neat and organized already–a very good start to the week. LSU has a bye week this coming weekend, and one good thing about LSU having a bad season–I’ve almost completely lost interest in both the conference and national championship races, which means I won’t be watching games other than LSU anymore, thereby freeing up my Saturdays almost completely. The Saints did eke out a win yesterday–although they did everything they possibly could to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. As Paul said, “this year sucks and we can’t even get solace from football season.”

I did read a Charlaine Harris short story yesterday as well, from the MWA anthology she edited a while back, Crimes by Moonlight, which was, in her own words from her introduction to the piece, “a collection of woo-woo stories.” Her story was set in the Sookie Stackhouse universe she created with her bestselling novels (later adapted into True Blood, one of my favorite television series), and was called “Dahlia Underground.” Dahlia is a nine hundred year old vampire who looks nineteen–sexy and beautiful, she also dresses like a sexy dominatrix (I kept picturing my favorite True Blood character, Pam) who wakes up after an anti-vampire terrorist strike on a hotel. Numerous vampires were killed during the attack, she has to be dug out of the wreckage by a firehouse company, and then the rest of the story is about not only vampiric revenge on the terrorists, but Dahlia essentially adopting the fire company that saved her life. It was well done and enormously satisfying; the next story up in the anthology is by Edgar winner William Kent Krueger, which should also be fun.

My back feels a little sore this morning–not sure what that’s from, but it’s not muscle soreness, so who the fuck knows–so I am going to use the self-massager in a moment to try to loosen whatever it is that is tight back there. I’m having dinner with a writer friend tonight who is in from out of town to visit her daughter, who is currently enrolled at Tulane University, which is lovely–I always tend to avoid such commitments, but when I do agree to them inevitably have a good time–and I just have to be wary of time, since I have to get up early again tomorrow.

We continue to watch The Undoing on HBO, and I am beginning to think I’ve already got this entire thing figured out. I could be wrong–I have been before–and perhaps what I am thinking is too obvious to be the case. If it does turn out to the case, it will be disappointing…but therein lies the rub of being a crime writer who reads a lot of crime novels (and has edited dozens).

I certainly am hoping to get a lot done this week. But I am rested, hopefully there will be no more major life disruptions (he types hopefully the day before a terrifying general election), and if I can remain focused, I can get everything finished that I need to get finished this week.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday before the election, Constant Reader, and if you haven’t already, VOTE TOMORROW.

All You Had to Do Was Stay

Well, we survived yet another week, Constant Reader, and here we are on Saturday morning. Huzzah! Congratulations–I do think even such small accomplishments definitely need to be rewarded in this year of Our Lord 2020.

It rained yesterday while I was making condom packs, and I just rewatched the LSU-Georgia game from last year–the SEC title game–because, well, frankly because after watching Fright Night on Thursday I was kind of not in the mood to watch any more horror, at least not yesterday; Fright Night was so disappointing I allowed that to carry over into another day (April Fool’s Day from last week was also disappointing).

This has been a very strange week; one of low energy, regularly occurring irritations and concerns and stressors, among other things. I finally got that damned essay revised and approved by the editor (thank you baby Jesus) and now today I intend to whip that short story into shape, work on a chapter of the book, and get some cleaning and organizing done around here. I’ve also found myself not on social media nearly as much as I used to be, and it’s really not a bad thing, after all. Sure, engaging with friends from across the country, commiserating about the slog of writing, etc. is often fun and satisfying, but emotionally there’s so much nastiness and negativity in the world that seems to take over so much of it that I don’t really miss being there nearly as much as I thought I might; I kind of miss the days when my feed mostly consisted of people taking pictures of their food or asking for recommendations for things to watch or read. I found a lot of terrific books and TV shows and films from my social media feeds; but now they are so emotionally and intellectually exhausting that I am not really terribly sure that I want to spend more time there than i have been lately.

The bloom is rather off that rose, as it were.

And yet another example of how and why we can’t have anything nice.

I slept marvelously last night; I even slept later than usual this morning, which was equally lovely. I do feel rested as I swill my coffee this morning, and I am currently working on backing up my back -up hard drive to the cloud, so that everything recent is kind of there. (I have done back-ups before, so I really don’t need to back-up anything past a certain date from the back-up hard drive, really; something i just realized, which means I don’t really need to spend as much time with it as I have been; I really only need to back up things from the last few months or so because it all should have already been backed up to the cloud already.) I’m still a bit foggy this morning as I type this, but the caffeine will eventually turn the trick and I’ll be ready to go tackle the revision of “The Snow Globe,” before preparing to take on the book again. LSU doesn’t play until six tonight, which gives me the entire day to write and read and clean and organize. Tomorrow morning will be my “try to answer all my emails” morning, before moving on to writing again. I want to read some more short stories this weekend–I may even move back into the Reread Project; I’ve had a hankering for a reread of Christine ever since I rewatched the film recently, and there are any number of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney classics loaded into my iPad for me to reread quite easily; I actually queued up Sara the other night–why not reread one of my own, particularly my only previous Kansas book; particularly since I need to be certain I am not reusing character names from it in the new one–and I’ve also need to be certain that I am making time to write going forward.

Writing (and reading) really needs to become more of a priority in my life again.

I have been thinking about writing–whether in short or long form, I have yet to decide–about the yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans. The worst one was in 1853, when one in fifteen died; but the last was in 1905. (Bubonic plague paid a visit less than ten years later, something I noted in my Sherlock story “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”) I particularly like the note that people actually believed that yellow fever was spread by miasma, pollution in the air, or foul odors (they hadn’t discovered that mosquitoes spread it yet) and so they used to occasionally fire a cannon during fever season in an attempt to clear/clean the air. As always, the epidemics primarily targeted the poor, the enslaved, and the immigrant populations of the city; the wealthy used to abandon the city for their country estates or visiting relatives when it was fever season (little known fact: the reputation of Marie Laveau was primarily earned because she worked as a volunteer nurse during epidemics and never became ill herself; people began to believe this was further proof of her supernatural powers). It’s also really interesting to me that where the campus of the University of New Orleans sits now used to be a lake resort area called Milneburg; people used to catch the train at Elysian Fields and Esplanade to ride out there to catch the gentle breezes and experience the cooler air on the lakefront, renting little cabins out there as a vacation of sorts. I am very interested in New Orleans in the period between the Spanish-American War and the first world war; I also recognize that the period is one that most historians love and history fans love to read about, as it was the heyday of Storyville. But in fairness, all of the twentieth century in New Orleans is interesting to me, much more so than the previous centuries. I do have an idea for another Sherlock story or novella having to do with Storyville, based on an actual true story; “The Mother of Harlots” about the murder of a Storyville madam whom I have running a bordello called Babylon–my fictional Mrs. Fournier was the kind of women who embraced the sin of what she was doing and made sure everyone knew it, yet at the same time she had a very secret–and respectable–life with a daughter she was trying to pass off to society (there actually was a madam who did this very thing!), which, on its face, is the perfect set up for a murder, don’t you think?

I also want to set one in Milneburg, but I don’t have anything other than the Sherlockian title of “A Scandal in Milneburg”, which doesn’t really thrill me. I don’t see the need for me to parody Holmes canon titles, really; I can certainly mimic the style of the titles, as I did with the one I already wrote and sold. It’s interesting how writing that story has fired up my imagination as far as Holmes and Watson is concerned–I’ve written before about not being a huge fan of the stories–but actually writing about them has whetted my appetite to keep giving my own spin on the two characters, and I genuinely liked Watson as I wrote through his point of view.

Who would have ever thought I would come to the fandom by actually writing about them? Interesting, isn’t it?

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Beautiful Ghosts

Well, it’s Thursday, somehow, and we are on the downward slope into the weekend now, which is always pleasant.

I’m adapting, somewhat, to the new work schedule, which is great, but I also need to start getting my other work done and figuring out how and when I am going to do it. Since we are joining a gym again and I’ll need to figure out when I am going to get my working out done as well, it’s time to take a long hard pitiless gaze at myself, my schedule, and my natural tendency to inertia (A Greg at rest tends to stay at rest), and figure it all out. October is already slipping through my fingers, and Bury Me In Shadows–which doesn’t really need as much work as #shedeservedit–really needs to be finished sooner rather than later so I can get to the enormous overhaul #shedeservedit requires.

So, what have I been doing this week? Writing the prologue to the next Scotty, which isn’t even the next thing I intend to work on once I get these two contracted books out of the way.

I really don’t why I am like this. I really don’t, I wish I did, and I wish I knew how to fix it, because it’s actually a very stressful way to live and get through life and manage a career. It’s NO way to manage a career, frankly.

I was very tired yesterday; three days of getting up to an alarm at six in the morning will inevitably take its toll (that, and the not being in very good shape anymore, which really is starting to grate on me). I am hoping that our new gym–once we’ve actually joined–is going to inspire me to get in better shape and to consistently take better care of myself. I know, I should have been doing stretches and crunches every morning since the gym closed, and now that the weather is nicer I should be taking walks. But I am very hopeful that once I’ve joined a gym again that I’ll find that motivation to get back working hard again. One of the saving graces for my sanity in the wake of the Katrina debacle was the reopening of my gym; I went to the gym religiously in the years following Katrina. My mentality about working out and eating right and everything else ran along the lines of everything in my life is beyond my control right now, but I can control my diet and exercise and body, and so, control freak that I am, I embraced the hell out of that philosophy with the end result I ended up probably being in the best physical condition of my life. I don’t need to be ripped again nor do I need to fit into size 30 waist jeans and shorts, but I could tone up my body and trim away some of the excess. And since I need to start eating healthier…putting it all together into a vigorous diet/exercise regimen is probably the best way to go. I know it’s going to be difficult–it’s hard enough to get motivated when your natural inclination is towards laziness–but I also remember how great it felt to exercise again earlier this year before the gym closed, and I am going to hold onto that thought as much as I can and try to use it for motivation when I am not feeling much, or any.

I also read another short story from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, Reed Farrel Coleman’s “An Even Three.” It’s another dark tale of academia, this time told from the point of view of a woman who is a philosophy professor, who has failed at three different universities to get tenure. It doesn’t take long for the reader to ascertain why–she is nasty, sarcastic, condescending, and contemptuous towards her students for the most part–and she has now found herself at her Last Chance University; a small liberal arts college in New England, hired by a former student. She is hardly the type to deal with trigger warnings and so forth, and so the story takes a very dark turn. Suffice it to say she plays a long game. It’s a fun, if nasty, little tale.

Today I have a couple of errands that must be run during my lunch break–mail, prescriptions, picking up library books (more Chlorine research)–and of course, I have condom packing duties as well as other things to do from home today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning–and was so tired last evening that I almost fell asleep in my chair, which rarely happens. Another exciting day in the life of a Gregalicious–aren’t you jealous? You know that you are. 🙂

But I am ever hopeful that after I get my work done today, I’ll be able to focus to work on some writing as well

Hope always springs eternal.

Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

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

Call It What You Want

Well, LSU lost, which certainly cast a pall over my day yesterday. The game was also early–11 am start time–and after that sucked all the air out of my day I struggled, frankly. I know, it’s silly to put so much emotional energy into being a fan of any sport, but I can’t remember ever seeing LSU play as badly on defense as they have so far this year. I feel bad for the kids, and I don’t know what the problem is–I didn’t expect them to have another record-breaking season, but I certainly didn’t think they’d have a very strong shot at going 1-9, either.

Heavy sigh. It seems to be a very weird year for college football–the Alabama-Ole Miss score was 63-48, with Ole Miss gaining over 600 yards; that’s the most points ever scored on a Nick Saban Alabama team–and Mississippi State lost to Kentucky, with Florida falling to Texas A&M; Arkansas almost beat Auburn, so clearly defense is no longer a thing in the SEC, a conference once known and respected for it. Georgia and Alabama are the only unbeatens left in the conference, and they play next weekend…yes, a very strange year in college football.

I did manage to get some work done yesterday–not enough, of course–but progress was certainly made, and I feel confident I’ll be able to get it all taken care of tomorrow. The Saints are playing on Monday night, so there’s absolutely no need for me to turn on the television at all during the day tomorrow, and the French Open final will be on so early I doubt Paul will get up to watch. This year is seriously shit, you know? All the joy from sports has been sucked out of them, and crowd noise, it turns out, increases the enjoyment of the game significantly when you’re watching at home–who knew?

So, I licked my wounds and thought about the things I need to write, and how to get them done, and how to improve everything I have currently in progress. That’s a win, frankly, and I refuse to feel guilty about not getting everything done yesterday. Sure, it means I have to get it all done today–but as I said, I am certain I can bang it all out and get it all done, and then I can go into the first three day work week of the clinic since March with my head held high and start focusing on the other things I need to get done–the manuscript for Bury Me in Shadows, a couple more short stories–and of course, getting the email situation back under control. I feel like this final quarter of the year, no matter what else happens in the rest of the world, is a time when I can turn this ship around and set to rights.

I especially hate that I somehow fucked around and managed to go a year without having a book out. How in the holy hell did I allow that to happen? What was I doing in 2019 that I didn’t get a book written? I turned Royal Street Reveillon in around Carnival of 2019, and it came out last October, a year ago. What in the name of God was I doing the rest of the year? I know I was working on Bury Me in Shadows, but seriously? I honestly don’t remember, but whatever the hell it was I was doing, one thing for sure I wasn’t doing was writing. Sure, I sold some short stories, but I honestly think most of the story sales were this year, not last. Part of the reason I signed contracts with deadlines so tightly on top of each other was partly to ensure I wasn’t going to go another year without a novel out.

Gregalicious, you need to start getting more focused.

I saw the trailer for the new version of The Stand, and I have to say it looks good. I liked the original mini-series from the early 1990’s–that chilling opening when Campion runs and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays over the opening credits as the camera moves through the Army base and all the dead bodies within still gives me chills (it’s on Youtube). I love The Stand, and generally consider it my favorite Stephen King novel. It used to be one of my primary comfort reads; I think I’ve read the original dozens of times. Despite some issues, overall I approved of that initial attempt at filming it; the final episode was the weakest, overall, but they did a pretty good job. This version has a terrific cast, and it looks like CBS All Access spared no expense on putting together a great show…but–the whole Mother Abagail thing really doesn’t hold up well after all this time. At least they’ve added other people of color to the cast this time–in the book and the original TV version, apparently most people of color succumbed to the pandemic.

It’s also interesting that when I was reading plague fictions and histories earlier this year, I didn’t pick up either The Stand or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which are both favorites. I think both–which feature almost the entire human population dying–were probably more than I could handle earlier this year.

And I do think that was probably the wisest course.

I read two more stories by Nathan Ballingrud, from his collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories yesterday while the Alabama-Ole Miss game played on the television–“Wild Acre” and “S.S.”–and both were superbly written. Ballingrud does a truly great job writing about desperate people–financially desperate, emotionally desperate–and his use of the supernatural and how it affects/impacts the desperate people he writes about it is stellar. “S.S.” isn’t really a supernatural story; it’s set in New Orleans and is more about a desperate young man, a loser, who turns to white supremacy to try to find a place where he belongs, and it’s an ugly little story, yet compelling at the same time. The horror of his own life–he’s a dishwasher at a small restaurant in the Quarter, his mother was severely injured in an accident, can’t work, and is now mentally deranged; their power has been turned off for non-payment–makes him an easy target for white supremacy and hate; it’s terribly sad, and makes a surprising turn towards the end. The interesting thing I am learning from reading Ballingrud is that the premise of his work is the real horror comes from humans, not the paranormal or supernatural.

So, today is the day I am going to get a lot of work done, trying to start getting caught up on everything. I slept deeply and well last night, which is always a plus, and so am feeling relatively well rested this morning. Once I’ve had my coffee and finished writing this, I am going to get cleaned up and dig into finishing my essay and then move on to the website writing before the revision of my short story. This will possibly–probably?–take most of the day, so I doubt that I will get around to Bury Me in Shadows today (but one never knows; I could go into the zone and get a ton of shit done today). We watched three episodes of The Boys last night, and I have to say, the primary problem we (Paul agrees with me on this) have with the show is the character of Butcher. He’s really supposed to be the character we root for, leading the resistance against the proto-fascist tendencies of the super-heroes and Vought, the company they work for, but he’s so routinely unpleasant and unlikable it’s difficult to care–and if you excise him and his personal story from the show you wouldn’t really be missing anything; I don’t care about his him or his wife or their situation, frankly, and the fact that almost every sentence he utters includes the words “cunt” and/or “twat” doesn’t help. I realize the words are more commonly used in England and don’t have the unpleasant misogynist implications they do in the United States, but the constant usage is like the writers were all “Oh, he’s British so he can say cunt and twat all the time!” like junior high school boys rubbing their hands together in glee about getting away with something. I do like that the show subverts and looks at super-heroes with a wary eye, exploring the dangers of super-powered beings who are arrogant and don’t really care much about people, but Watchmen also explored the ethics of this, and did it much, much better. Still…for the most part, we are enjoying it, and will continue watching. We only have three episodes left, and so will probably either finish it tonight or tomorrow–there’s also a new episode of The Vow dropping tonight; even though we are slowly losing interest in it, we’ll probably continue watching and see it all the way through.

Although I have to give props where it’s due; The Boys has gotten me thinking about Superman, and why the DC films with Henry Cavill about Superman have been disappointing, despite a stellar cast, because they really don’t get the essence of Superman–and why on earth would you make a movie about the greatest comic book hero of all time when you don’t understand the purpose of the character and why he is a hero? Hero is the key word there; and if Marvel could manage to do Captain America and make him believable, Warner certainly could have done the same with Superman. Watching the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies would have been a huge help, frankly; Superman isn’t angsty or tortured the way Batman is, and using the film version of Batman as a blueprint for Superman, I think, was the first mistake.

Look at Wonder Woman, for that matter.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines and get this day off and running. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

I Wish You Would

Hurricane Delta is moving ever closer by the moment to our shores. This is one of the worst parts–the inevitable waiting, the need to be completely flexible, and the need to be ready to pack up and get out of Dodge in a hurry if need be. In that regard we are luckier than most when it comes to natural disasters; we have warning so we can get out while there is still time. Tornadoes and earthquakes don’t give you those options; with tornadoes sometimes it’s merely a matter of minutes (those years in Kansas…); earthquakes give you no warning whatsoever. Hurricanes clearly trigger PTSD in me–and have, ever since Katrina–but I would still rather deal with them than tornadoes or earthquakes (been through those during my years in California).

Ugh, natural disasters. Earth’s way of reminding us how unimportant and insignificant we really are.

There was a thing going around Twitter the other day, reading something along the lines of : Fellow authors, creatives… do you think it’s wise to tweet your policital opinions using your author/creative twitter account, or should you keep politics out of your creative timeline? Do you think it might lose you followers, readers, even work, or hurt your cause?

It did make me think a little bit at first. I generally don’t talk about politics much about my social media, or here on my blog; but it’s not about worrying that I might offend and lose readers, for fuck’s sake. The funniest thing to me about that tweet was precisely how privileged it was, and how the person tweeting it didn’t even have the slightest clue about the place of privilege she was coming from.

Simply stated, any writers that are not cishet white heterosexuals has had their very existence politicized, over and over and over again. Two Supreme Court justices, just this very week, very nastily announced that they don’t think queer people are entitled to equality in the eyes of the law; no surprise it was dumpster fires Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. I would love to have the privilege of not having my existence, and my status as an American citizen, politicized and reviled and attacked by bigots and monsters masking their demonic tactics are “religious liberty”; and a little louder for those of you in the back: if your religion is teaching you to treat any other human being with anything less than empathy, understanding, and compassion, you are doing religion wrong.

Period.

Frankly, I don’t exactly see how I could possibly lose any readers who are homophobes or racists or transphobes or fire-breathing conservatives because they would never buy books by a gay man centering gay men and themes in the first place. These are the ones who don’t buy your books but will waste their lives away going on Amazon and looking for queer writers to one-star, with a sentence about “not wanting a political agenda shoved down (their) throat.”

Books by and about queer people are political by nature of their very existence–and this is something which we, like writers of color and any other underprivileged minority in this country do not get to have a choice. The personal is the political for us; it is very interesting to me to see how much privilege is on display in tweets like the one above; while assuredly the intentions of the tweeter were good and she was genuinely curious what other people thought on the subject–other straight white people, obviously. It is an interesting subject, after all; moral stances don’t pay the bills, obviously, and at what point does your survival outweigh your principles?

Some authors are big enough, and successful enough, to not have to worry about offending or losing readers–which is another kind of privilege; recently seen on display with J. K. Rowling, and previously seen with writers like Orson Scott Card, among others–while those writers who aren’t marginalized for something beyond their control and are barely scraping by, hoping their sales will warrant yet another book contract, trying to figure out how to get the word out about their books and sell more copies while balancing a day job and family and everything else, possibly cannot afford to alienate any portion of their reader base if they want to keep writing. I get that, I really do; part of the reason I am so productive (per other people) is a definite fear that at some point my writing career will end–although I have also come to realize that while my career as Greg Herren might end, I could always create a new name and start over again–but it would be really nice to have the kind of reality that makes asking that question even possible to consider. As a gay male writer who writes about gay men and their experiences navigating this country and this world, obviously my books make a political statement; just my existence makes such a statement.

I refuse to closet myself or my work for the convenience of making homophobes more comfortable.

Suck on that, bitches.

Honestly.

Anyway, a friend reminded me of a short story the other day, and it had been quite the hot minute since I’d read Ray Bradbury’s “The Whole Town’s Sleeping,” and so I thought, why not reread it for the Short Story Project?

So I did.

The courthouse clock chimed seven times. The echoes of the chines faded.

Warm summer twilight here in upper Illinois country in this little town deep and far away from everything, kept to itself by.a river and a forest and a meadow and a lake. The sidewalks still scorched. The stores closing and the streets shadowed. And there were two moons; the clock moon with four faces in four night directions above the solemn black courthouse, and the real moon rising in vanilla whiteness from the dark east.

In the drugstore fans whispered in the high ceilings. In the rococo shade of porches, a few invisible people sat. Cigars glowed pink, on occasion. Screen doors whined their springs and slammed. ON the purple bricks of the summer-night streets, Douglas Spaulding ran; dogs an boys followed after.

“Hi, Miss Lavinia!”

Isn’t that a lovely start? I have to confess, I’ve not read much Bradbury–I’m not even sure how I read this story in the first place, but I remembered it; there must have been a short-story collection I picked up somewhere and read that I don’t recall. I know that I read it sometime after I had read Night Shift by Stephen King; because when I originally read this story it made me think of his story, “Strawberry Spring,” both in its style, voice and content SPOILER: both are serial killer stories, and both are written in that same Norman Rockwell Americana type voice; look at this sweet, picturesque American community, isn’t it lovely and aspirational and oh, by the way, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Before rereading the story, all I could remember was that weird Rockwellian voice, the Americana of the depiction of the town, and the ending. I also remembered the suspense of the scene where Miss Lavinia, after walking her companions home after seeing the Chaplin movie, thinks someone is following her as she hurries home alone. I’d forgotten that she and one of her friends found the body of the latest victim on the way to the movie, and yet continue on; that was extremely weird, and I also remembered the wonderful twist of the final sentence of the story, once she has safely gotten home. The serial killer, The Lonely One, kills a woman every month–and yet, in this pristine little slice of Americana small town life, no one in the town seems to take the killer all that seriously, or worry all that much about becoming his next victim. The voice vs the content is a masterstroke of writing, frankly; and I must admit, I’m not really sure why I haven’t read more Bradbury. I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes–I also remember thinking recently that I should reread it–and Dandelion Wine, and there must have been a short story collection I read as well; but I never read any of the science fiction–my education in Heinlein and other science fiction greats is also sorely lacking (although I have read quite a bit of Azimov and of course, Dune). I think I’ve avoided the great science fiction writers of back in the day because the advances in technology in reality have made some of those stories probably obsolete–watching 2001 recently, along with Blade Runner, was interesting in seeing what major corporations of the time they were made are no longer around (Pan Am and Howard Johnson’s, for a few) that people of the time couldn’t possibly imagine wouldn’t be around in the future. Perhaps I’ll move Something Wicked This Way Comes closer to the top of the reread pile. I didn’t enjoy it all that much at the time–I was expecting something a little more Stephen King-ish–and with more of an adult, better read mentality, I might enjoy and appreciate it more. I am certainly intrigued by that voice, which is very similar to the one he used in the short story.

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

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

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.