Don’t Do It

And now it’s Thursday, a work-at-home-make-condom-packs-while-watching-movies-or-bingeing-something-on-television kind of day. I also get to. take Paul in for his second vaccination today (huzzah!) and then this evening will undoubtedly work on the book some more–and possibly squeeze in a trip to the gym. Last night’s weather was horrible–it was windy all day, and then around seven o’clock last night all hell broke loose: high winds, extreme thunder and lightning, and a downpour that had me worried about the street flooding. But the sky is clear of clouds this morning and the sun is shining–I haven’t checked the temperature yet, but it looks pleasant outside, if not outright gorgeous.

I finished the first final run through of the book last night, and as I did, I knew exactly how to end it all and tie all the loose strings together and so forth. It’s going to mean more writing–but I knew that going into it–but the primary problem was the structure of the book, really, and last night I figured it out. A mere two weeks before the final deadline, but better late than never, and I am kind of excited again to whip it all together and into shape. I got rid of most of the repetitions–some of which were actually rather good, so I am going to have to decide this weekend whether to leave things as they are or switch in some of the repetitive stuff for the stuff I left in. I think it’s going to actually turn out to be what I had envisioned from the very beginning….which is very cool. The nice thing is that I have about ninety thousand words already; will probably have to add about five thousand more, while trimming and revising some of the rest out. The book kind of goes off the rails somewhere around chapter seventeen, which is where the reworking is going to really have to start, and there are also going to be some brief inserts from a podcast that goes between some of the chapters, to give the backstory and also keep the overall narrative moving. I’ve never written anything like #shedeservedit before, either subject matter or structurally, so this is a big leap for me….and why not take a big experimental leap before working on Chlorine?

I am taking my library sale copy of John LeCarré’s The Russia House with me to Paul’s vaccination appointment; I am rather excited about reading another LeCarré, to be honest. I thought The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was exceptional and extraordinary, and from looking at the first page of The Russia House, it looks like this one will be as well. I’ve not really been doing much reading lately; when I am in the weeds with a book it’s not easy for me to read anything else as my mind is too distracted to focus much on someone else’s narrative, and so when I get this novel wrapped up and finish The Russia House I expect to be doing a lot of reading in April–and I have some short stories I want to get worked on while prepping to write Chlorine in April. I also need to call the library to make an appointment to drop off this first batch of donated books to them–so I can start boxing up the next batch of them as well. I also want to start making the long-overdue Scotty Bible in April–I can work on that while I am prepping Chlorine and working on these short stories (I really want to get some more things out on submission, the sooner the better)–so that I will really be prepared to start working on Twelfth Night Knavery once I have the first draft of Chlorine banged out.

I’m actually kind of excited about all this writing to come, if a little daunted. I will inevitably, of course, have lazy moments where I will simply blow everything off, but again…that’s kind of inevitable. I slept so well last night I didn’t want to get up out of bed this morning, but I have simply too much to do to be a lag-a-bed this morning. I’m going to be a Festival widow for the rest of this week and all of next, and then I’ll have to get back into a routine of making dinner every night and watching something with Paul–and there’s plenty for us to watch. I have to get caught up on Superman and Lois, which I am really enjoying, and of course Paul and I started the third season of Mr. Mercedes–but are only able to catch an episode here and there whenever he gets home early enough since I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday thru Tuesday nights. I am also thinking about treating myself to phô from the Vietnamese café next door to the Cat Practice at some point over this weekend as well–it’s been a hot minute since I’ve had some good phô, and I just say that my favorite place to get it in Midcity–Namese–has closed permanently, which is a shame. (note to self: you need to write about the Vietnamese community of New Orleans at some point) But I am really really looking forward to a big bowl of phô; I love me some noodles. I’m also thinking about making Swedish meatballs again this weekend. We shall see, I suppose. I may put off the Costco run until next weekend; while there are definitely some things I need from there, there’s nothing really pressing. (I was also thinking last night that I need to stop thinking about going to Costco in terms of periodic visits where I spend a shit ton of money; there’s no reason I can’t, for example, make a short trip to get a few things on weeknights after I get off work, for example; I-10 makes it insanely easy to get there from the office. Rethink things, Greg, rather than remaining in stasis and doing things a certain way simply because you’ve always done them that way.)

And on that note, tis best for me to head back into the spice mines. Them condoms aren’t going to pack themselves, for example, and much as I want everything to simply take care of itself without my assistance, that’s not terribly likely. Catch you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a lovely Thursday.

Silver Bells

Still aglow from the big LSU win Saturday night.

Sadly, the Tigers clearly used up all of Louisiana’s football juju, because the Saints played terribly against the Eagles and lost yesterday afternoon. It did occur to me that one of the reasons I dislike the NFL–at least in comparison to college–is because players I rooted against can wind up on the Saints, and LSU players are drafted to other teams and play against the Saints. It’s hard for me to root against LSU players. And while Jalen Hurts wasn’t a Tiger–he played against us several times and I rooted for him to lose each time–I was a fan of his; I could recognize ability and talent on the field, and I also thought how he handled the whole Tua situation at Alabama was pretty damned classy. So, while I wanted the Eagles to lose, I also wanted to see him play well, and he did, and then I felt like a traitor and I do not have these kinds of conflicts watching college football damn it.

Well, at least not so much anymore. The LSU-Auburn game was a tough one for me until Katrina. After that, I was all in for LSU.

It’s back in the fifties today, and we are in a “high wind alert”–gusts up to 35 miles per hour until around seven, which is fortunately around when I have to get in the shower before heading to the office. It doesn’t feel all that cold this morning in the Lost Apartment, which is interesting; usually when it’s that cold outside it’s even more cold inside, but while I did have to put a ski cap on this morning because my head was cold, other than that it’s not so bad this morning. I slept pretty well (obviously, didn’t want to get out of bed at any point once the alarm started going off) and so feel pretty good this morning. I wound up not going to the gym yesterday, which means having to go this evening (which is fine; I’ll be reluctant and tired, undoubtedly, when I do go) but that’s all right, I can deal.

Yesterday I fully intended to work on Chapter 18, but realized that it probably needs to be mostly tossed and completely rewritten from the start, which is something I was really afraid of having to do–and tossing and starting over means I have to redo the ending of Chapter 17–which I actually realized on Saturday night, while I was thinking about it during the LSU game; the ending of that chapter doesn’t make sense, rendering the eighteenth chapter was completely off the rails, which is going to delay my completion of the revision more than just a little bit. I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out how to redo the chapter, and I think I have it down now–we shall see when I get home from the gym this evening, won’t we?

John Le Carre died yesterday–or rather, his death was made public, at any rate–which came as a surprise to me because I had figured he had already died. It was strange that he died around the time I finally got to read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but deepest sympathies for his family, friends, and professional colleagues. Truly a great writer, the book won an Edgar for Best Novel and Le Carre himself was named a Grand Master in 1984; deservedly so. He was nominated three other times–The Little Drummer Girl was nominated for Best Novel; he was nominated for Best Short Story for “Dare I Weep? Dare I Mourn?” in The Saturday Evening Post in 1968; and for Best TV Feature or Miniseries for A Murder of Quality. I am really looking forward to exploring more of his work in the years to come; I am still reeling a bit from the brilliance of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold–and have been assured by others whose opinions I respect that the other novels are just as brilliant and well written. I’m only sorry it took me this long to get to his canon.

And so another week dawns; another week of seeing clients and getting writing done and going to the gym and hoping against hope that I will stay rested and motivated and fresh all week to get everything done.

Have a happy Monday, Constant Reader.

Christmas Must Be Something More

Christmas came a little early last night for LSU fans and Louisiana.

23 point underdogs. Only 54 scholarship athletes–one more than required to field a team–and then lost four more players in the first half to injury. Starting true freshmen all over the place on both sides of the ball, including a quarterback starting his first time ever. Playing the team ranked sixth in the country , arguing they deserve a spot in the play-offs, and scheduled to play Alabama next week in the SEC title game. An LSU team that had just lost to Alabama 55-17 last week, and has had offensive records broken against it all year long. Probably the worst LSU team in twenty years, a possible losing season for the first time since 1999, and all of this coming one year after having one of the best teams and seasons in college football. No one, including me and Paul, gave LSU a chance last night.

And in true LSU fashion, they somehow managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets in LSU football history, one of the biggest ones of the season nationwide, and destroyed any hopes Florida had of backing their way into the play-offs. You’re very welcome, Ohio State. It was one of the craziest, wackiest, most insane games I’ve ever seen–and as an LSU fan, I’ve seen some pretty fucking wacky, insane games over the years.

GEAUX TIGERS!

The game started looking like it would be the same as every other game all season, and while I held out desperate, long-time fan hope that LSU would somehow rise to the occasion–I couldn’t believe my delighted eyes as I watched the game unfold. LSU’s defense–beleaguered all season, beaten up and bloodied–somehow managed a goal line stand to open the game. Exciting, but probably not going to happen again, I thought. Sure enough, LSU had to punt and Florida marched right back down the field to go up 7-0. Then–LSU’s true freshman quarterback Max Johnson took the Tigers right down the field to tie it up, 7-7….and on Florida’s next possession, an LSU true freshmen defensive back managed a Pick 6 to put the Tigers up 14-7. Another completely insane interception on the next Florida possession–and thanks to another defensive stand, Florida was later held to a field goal, 14-10. The Gators scored next to make it 17-14–and then more insanity. LSU scored to take the lead back 21-14, forced a fumble in the closing seconds of the first half and kicked another field goal, LSU 24-14. LSU got the ball first in the second half; another field goal: 27-14. And then Florida took control…three possessions, three scores: 31-27. LSU scored another touchdown, and Florida kicked another field goal: 34-34, with time running out. LSU’s drive stalled on third down–and I thought, ah, well, we gave it a good shot, they’ll get a field goal for sure…but wait. In a moment of complete insanity that will go down in college football history, the LSU tight end’s shoe came off, and a Florida player (I won’t name him, since his name will go down in infamy and this moment will be replayed, over and over and over again, for years to come) threw that shoe twenty five yards down the field….for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. 15 yards and an automatic first down. Some questionable play calling put the game on the foot of kicker Cade York: 57 yards, longest of his career and an LSU record. He nailed it, 37-34. Florida tried desperately to get their own in the closing seconds–but missed a 51 yarder and LSU escaped the Swamp with a major upset.

In the fog.

And stunned an entire nation of college football fans.

And when it was all over, all I could do was shake my head. This is why I love LSU football so much; even in mediocre seasons, they will always manage to pull off a signature win and a major upset (10-7 over number 4 Mississippi in 2014; 26-21 over top ten Auburn in 2017 after losing to Troy, the 28-21 upset of Number One Florida in 1997, and there are so many others), and not only knocked Florida out of any shot at the play-offs, but also probably cost Kyle Trask his shot at a Heisman trophy–and going into the game, I thought it was for sure between either him or Mac Jones at Alabama.

As someone said on Twitter last night, “Florida just lost to a the worst LSU team in twenty years’ BACK-UPS.”

LSU still has to play Mississippi this coming weekend; Florida is off to the SEC title game to face the Alabama juggernaut–which could go one of two ways: Alabama will either blow them out, or Florida–playing with nothing to lose–could rise up and smite the Tide. The East has only won the SEC once since 2008 (!), so who knows? I didn’t have much interest in watching the game, frankly, but I might now.

So, yes, it was a lovely Saturday in the Lost Apartment. I finished reading The Spy Who Came in From the Cold–loved it–and also wrote; I didn’t do a lot of cleaning or anything else, but I got some work done on the book which was lovely, finished reading a book, and got to watch LSU beat Florida. The Saints play today–I think at three?–which will give me some time this morning to get some emails answered, some work on the book done, and even a trip to the gym out of the way.

And I slept deeply and well, which was also quite marvelous.

And on that note, tis time to go back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Style

I often talk about how my education in the classics is sorely lacking; this applies across all spectrums and all genres. I was in my thirties when I began to appreciate John D. MacDonald, for example; I didn’t start reading Ross MacDonald until I was in my forties. There are any number of classic works of fiction I’ve not read, and I am sorely under-read in my own genre. I am trying to rectify that as I age; it’s, like almost everything else I do, a project.

I am not nearly as well read in spy thrillers as perhaps I should be; I certainly went through a Robert Ludlum phase (although I am not entirely sure that’s where Ludlum belongs–only rarely are his main characters, at least in the volumes I’ve read–actual spies), and over the last decade I’ve started reading Eric Ambler. I also gave, back in the day, both Helen MacInnes and Alistair MacLean a whirl; and of course, I’ve read some Ian Fleming–but not all. (I really want to reread Live and Let Die to see if it’s as racist as I remember; I also want to rewatch the film again–and not just because a lot of it was filmed in Louisiana; I want to see if the book’s racism carried over into the film, which I strongly suspect it did)

So, John Le Carre. I’ve never read his books nor seen anything adapted from one of them (other than the wonderful The Night Manager starring Tom Hiddleston; highly recommended, and now I need to read the book), but of course I’ve heard of him. His most famous book is probably The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and I acquired a copy of it from somewhere at some point. I recently decided to give it a read–my attempt to improve my education in crime classics at work–and I finished it this morning.

The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”

Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

“You can’t wait forever, sir. Maybe he’ll come some other time. We can have the polizei contact the Agency: you can be back here in twenty minutes.”

“No,” said Leamas, “it’s nearly dark now.”

“But you can’t wait forever; he’s nine hours over schedule.”

This is how the book opens, and it does draw the reader directly into the story; the action is already underway, and LeCarre masterfully choses this method–entering the story in progress, with dialogue–to draw the unwary reader into the story. The use of polizei and the year it was written gives the clue that this is very likely occurring in Germany, and most likely the divided city of Berlin. Alec Leamas, a British agent, is the main character of the story, and one of his spies on the other side–East Berlin/East Germany–has had his cover blown and is trying to make his escape to the west. As Leamas watches, the mission fails spectacularly and his final agent on the other side is shot to death by guards as he tries to make through from east to west. Leamas is tired of spying, tired of betrayal, tired of dealing with the worst aspects of international espionage and how it exposes the smallness of most people on either side of the capitalism/communism divide; he is alsi very tired of deaths that eventually mean nothing in the long run. Agents are merely pawns of their states, expendable and disposable. Brought back to England, he is informed that his counterpart in east German intelligence, who has been killing off his agents left and right, must be brought down, and his final job for British intelligence will involve deep cover and a plan that will inevitably lead to the Communists bringing their master intelligence agent, Mundt, down on their own as a traitor.

The Berlin Wall came down during my lifetime; 1989 to be exact, and its construction began the week before I was born. The division of Germany into two halves–one a democracy, the other a Communist autocracy–occurred after the utter defeat and collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945. The Berlin Wall was itself a symbol of the ideological divide between east and west; the cold war itself a world-wide struggle for hearts and minds that didn’t always go so well for the west–primarily because of the West’s determination to uphold Fascist dictatorships that violated the freedoms of its citizens repeatedly as bulwarks against Communism. It’s been thirty-one years since the Wall came down and Communism collapsed in most of the world, and there are at least two generations of Americans who have grown up without the the constant threat of the mushroom cloud’s shadow–yet the right’s constant portrayal of the left as communist/socialist/enemies of American freedoms and liberty persists to this day, and there are any number of American voters still alive (and voting) who will knee-jerk reflexively react to anything being labeled socialism or communism. The Republican party began their decades-long policy of red-baiting during the Truman administration, initially behind the demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Nixon was an acolyte of McCarthy’s (which should have been enough to disqualify him from public office thereafter); and it was under Nixon that the right began its gradually lurch toward authoritarianism which we see bearing fruit today.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is dramatically different from any other “international espionage/intrigue” spy novel I’ve read to date–and while LeCarre despised Ian Fleming’s work and often stated that he wrote his novel in reaction to the popularity of the Bond novels, the same moral ambiguity permeates both. Both Bond and Leamas are merely doing their jobs in both, and neither is particularly vested in ideology or politics or even nationalism. They are simply professionals, doing their jobs. LeCarre’s novel isn’t very action-packed, but it is written stylishly, and the suspense comes from whether or not Leamas will prevail in his task of bringing down an important figure in East German intelligence. Once the book got going-after an admittedly slow start–I simply couldn’t put it down, and now I am definitely interested in reading more of LeCarre’s fiction. It’s extremely well done, deeply cynical, and there are twists and turns that not only come as complete surprises–but really, shouldn’t have.

I highly recommend it.

Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

Mad Woman

And now we ease into Friday and what will hopefully be an enormously productive weekend for one Gregalicious.

Yesterday was a lovely day, if not as productive as one would have hoped. When five pm rolled around, my mind was fried from the condom packing (I watched The Stunt Man while making them; more on that later) and so instead, I cleaned up around here and did some brainstorming. I did a shit ton of laundry last night, and did some other cleaning as well….but I really hate that I didn’t get to the book yesterday evening. Definitely tonight it’s on my agenda, and hopefully if I stay motivated I can get quite a bit finished this weekend. I am still hoping to get this draft version finished before next weekend, so I can stick to the plan of writing some short stories next week before getting back to the final polish on this manuscript so I can get it turned in. The next deadline–the two months for #shedeservedit–is going to be much rougher on me than this revision was, so getting this one finished sooner rather than later is definitely something I need to be focused on.

We watched The Flight Attendant’s new episodes last night–I’m not sure why the release two at a time, quite frankly–but it definitely feels like the show is being padded to fill it out to the necessary (or needed) length. My mind started to wander during the first of the two episodes, but the second one picked up and became more interesting. Kaley Cuoco is a very charming and likable actress, so playing such an unlikable character is, I am sure, quite a stretch for her as an actress; yet the character is so unlikable–and as the show progresses, becomes more and more unlikable–that it becomes very hard to continue rooting for her as she makes bad decision after bad decision–and of course, she is clearly an alcoholic, and the alcoholic fog helps keep her from dealing with her own deeply problematic past. There were some big reveals in the second episode–although one was pretty predictable from the get-go, and the second one didn’t make nearly as much sense as the writers perhaps wanted it to; I won’t get into it here because SPOILERS, but while the show is very well done there are some things that feel rather self-indulgent and unearned. But Kuoco is, as I said, eminently likable and interesting to watch, so we’ll probably see it all the way through.

I signed a contract yesterday to allow Wildside Press to republish my story “Annunciation Shotgun” on the Black Cat Ebook Site as a “Barb Goffman Presents”, which is very exciting. “Annunciation Shotgun” was one of my first mainstream publications for a story with queer characters–although the queerness wasn’t important to the story, which was part of it’s subversive fun, and made it incredibly fun to write–and I do love the story. It was originally published in New Orleans Noir over a decade ago, and of course, was included in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories; in fact, I had originally intended to call the collection Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. Ironically, part of the credit for the idea for the story belongs to none other than Poppy Z. Brite; I was reading his novel Liquor and at one point, the book made reference to Ricky and G-man living in a shotgun house on Constantinople Street, and I thought to myself, “Constantinople Shotgun is a great title” and I thought about gay friendships and having that one friend who always seems to be an agent of chaos–the one you’re always have to bail out but he’s so charming and lovable you always, always, get out of bed and throw on some clothes and run bail him out of whatever he’s gotten himself into. It was also born out of my fascination with how we live in such intimate closeness to neighbors here in New Orleans–shotgun houses means you share a wall running the length of the house with someone who might be a complete stranger–and that invasive intimacy with people you barely know is something I’ve turned to, again and again, in my short stories. I started writing it originally when the idea struck; when I was asked to write for New Orleans Noir I was assigned the lower Garden District as my neighborhood, which is where I’ve always lived in New Orleans since moving here–which meant the title no longer worked; Constantinople Street is in Uptown. But Annunciation Street runs through the LGD (it also runs all the way uptown to Riverbend), and it’s an unusual, multi-syllabic name, so I chose it for the title. (I still love the title “Constantinople Shotgun”–but I don’t know that I can get away with writing another “shotgun” titled story; but “Constantinople Camelback” is also not a bad title….hmmmmm.)

But I do love the story, and am glad that this opportunity has presented itself…and I’m making a title note to use “Constantinople Camelback” because of course I am.

I’m also waiting impatiently to get the final cover design for Bury Me in Shadows because I’ve seen it and I love it, and it’s one of my favorites of my own books thus far. The book itself is taking shape nicely; I am refusing to listen to my doubts and imposter syndrome and choosing instead to believe in myself and my abilities and skill as a writer.

So, other than refreshing my mailbox, my plans for the weekend include revising at least four chapters of the book, perhaps some thinking about the short story I want to submit to the newest MWA anthology (I swear to GOD I will get a story accepted into one of those anthologies if it kills me), and I definitely want to finish reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

So, yesterday I watched The Stunt Man. I saw it many many years ago–I think maybe on one of the pay cable networks in the early 1980’s? HBO, perhaps?–and it was so strange and so interesting that it really took my fancy. I fucking loved Peter O’Toole, since I watched him and Richard Burton chew up the scenery in Becket, and this was only the second film of his I’d seen. He got an Oscar nomination for this–losing to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer, of all things; O’Toole’s failure to win a competitive Oscar is one of the biggest crimes of the Academy–and while this movie isn’t my favorite of his, I’ve always wanted to rewatch it. Essentially, the plot of the movie is this: Steve Railsback (breathtaking in his youthful beauty) is an escaped convict, or is on the run from the cops (and we never really find out why), and he is also a Vietnam vet. While he is running he accidentally stumbles into a movie set and is responsible (this responsibility never really makes sense to me, and over the course of the movie becomes even more and more weird) for the death of a stunt man. The crazed director, Eli, played by Peter O’Toole, doesn’t want to stop filming as he is on a tight schedule and also doesn’t want to deal with the scandal involved with a stunt man’s s death, so he makes a deal with the Railsback character–fill in for the dead stuntman so they can cover it up until the movie is finished, get paid, or turn himself in. Railsback becomes a stuntman–some of the best scenes in the film are him working with a veteran to learn how to do the stunts without harming himself (note: the performance of the guy teaching him to do stunts–an actual stuntman named Chuck Bail–should have gotten an Oscar nomination at least) and of course, O’Toole is stunningly brilliant, as he is in everything. Barbara Hershey is also terrific as the actress Railsback falls for…I also had no idea it was based on a book, which I am now going to have to read. It’s also very cynical–definitely fits in the the Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

Sigh, Peter O’Toole. So talented, so gorgeous. My Favorite Year is also one of my all-time favorite movies, and his failure to win an Oscar as fading star and alcoholic Alan Swann is yet another Academy crime. It’s one of the great performances of all time, and I’ve also always thought someone should turn that movie into a television series–a behind the scenes look at how a television show like that in the 1950’s was made–with a new guest star in every episode and so on. (Just send me my check, Netflix, and you’re welcome.)

Not sure what today’s film is going to be, but it may be another O’Toole 70’s classic, The Ruling Class.

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

This Love

Today’s working from home adventure will be interrupted by a trip to the office for a working lunch! I love when we get paid to do work and get fed at the same time. One of the drug companies is doing a brief training for us, and they are treating us to lunch from Mona’s on Frenchmen. I miss Mona’s; when I worked all those years at the office on Frenchmen Street I used to treat myself to Mona’s periodically–their gyro plate was my go-to, always, and I’ve been missing my gyros, so you can imagine my delight when I learned about this training.

Huzzah, indeed!

Free lunch is always a plus.

I also have errands to do at some point, and I probably should go to the gym this evening. I plan to be super-productive today–I am going to watch The Stunt Man while I am making condom packs this afternoon as well–and of course, there are any number of household chores that need to be completed. Ugh, so much cleaning and picking up to do around here, as well as writing to do. I made a pretty decent start on Chapter 17 last night, so hopefully tonight I can get through it and Chapter 18; and with a strong push this weekend I can almost get all the way through the rest of the book, which would be amazing and would put me way ahead of schedule. So, that’s the goal for this weekend, at any rate. I also want to finish The Spy Who Came in From the COld, because I got a very advance copy of the next Alison Gaylin novel, The Collective, which I cannot wait to dive into.

If I can get the book finished this weekend, I can then spend next week working on short stories before diving back into the book’s final pass, and I might even be able to get it turned in early. I am also looking forward to getting the final cover design–which I fucking love–at any minute. I approved the final proof of it yesterday, and so it should be arriving in my inbox at any time. I am also feeling a lot more confident about the book itself, which is always a good thing; this final revision, I think, is helping to really pull it all together.

We tried watching His Dark Materials last night. I’ve never read the books, but that doesn’t mean I can’t watch and enjoy the show (I’ve still only read the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Game of Thrones both before and after I read the book), but there was too much going on that I didn’t understand and thus made it much harder to follow. Paul fell asleep–which should give you an indication of his level of enthrallment–and so I think we’re going to take a pass on it. We also started watching the new Hulu adaptation of The Hardy Boys (if you will recall, I was highly amused that the kids’ series fan pages were in a major uproar about the show and the changes made to it from the books, and I will agree, those changes are substantial enough to make you wonder why they bothered calling it The Hardy Boys–but would a show called something else get any traction?), which I liked just fine, even if it was a lot darker than anything ever seen in the books. I mean, their mother is murdered in the very first episode–the Hardy Boys, at least in the original series, never dealt with anything so dark and scary as a murder–and instead of the Hardys having always lived in Bayport, they live in “the city” and move to “Bridgeport” during the premiere. They’ve also turned Biff Hooper into a girl (I don’t have a problem with this) and overall, it’s not bad and we’ll probably continue watching. (I will, at any rate; Paul may not) I also want to give the CW series adaptation of Nancy Drew another shot; I actually liked the premiere, but never went back to it from there.

And seriously, there is such a book in these rabid fans and their reaction to changes to their sacred texts.

I also would like, at some point in 2021, to start pulling together my own kids’ series. It has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, and lately I’ve been feeling that gravitational pull to writing a kids’ series again. Oh, I know I have two books scheduled for deadlines already and that I need to dive into Chlorine once I get these both out of the way–and there’s probably another Scotty book out there I should write (at least the one)–but as I have mentioned more and more lately, I am becoming much more conscious of running out of time; when I was in my forties, it seemed like there was all the time in the world to write everything I wanted to write. Now that I am approaching sixty like a bullet, and more ideas come to me all the fucking time, I am becoming highly aware of the finite amount of time I have and that I am not going to be able to write everything I want to write. It’s a shame–I really have too many good ideas that will probably go to waste–but you know, that’s kind of how life works.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Happy Thursday, everyone.

Invisible

Sunday morning and a lot to get done today. I was horribly lazy yesterday; I wound up doing very little other than reading–I finished The Bad Seed and then moved on to The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (I’ve never read John LeCarre, and am trying to get better read in my. genre’s classics, both titles and authors) and got some chores done, but other than that–not a goddamned thing. So today I I have to play catch up as well as go to the gym and somehow pay some attention to the Saints game, which is at noon. (I’ll most likely do some things around here, go to the gym around elevenish, and then come home and do things while the game is on.) The LSU game went about the way I expected it to last night–55-17 final score–so congratulations to Alabama’s players and coaching staff; I can’t imagine there’s a better team in the country this season, so it’ll be fun watching y’all go all the way again. LSU has to play Florida next weekend, which will most likely be another horror show like yesterday’s, but at least at that point the season will be over.

This football season is yet another gift the year 2020 has given me. Thanks, 2020, thank you.

It feels cold again this morning in the Lost Apartment–I have my space heater on and a cap on my bald scalp–but it doesn’t look so bad outside, really. Lots of clouds hiding the sky and the sun, but this week is supposed to be warmer than last, so I think I’ll be able to hang this week after last week’s cold spell.

Once I finish this I am going to make a to-do list for this week–I really need to make a point of doing that every Sunday, so I have a roadmap for my week–and also so that things won’t slip through the cracks and be forgotten. This has been a really bad year for me to try to remember everything I have to get done–I keep forgetting things, which isn’t good–so I am trying to be ever so much better about this. The whole year I’ve felt like I’ve been in this weird state of limbo, just drifting and trying to get by, keep dog-paddling and keeping my head above water, and it’s not been easy. (It’s not really been an easy year for most people, I suspect.)

Last night as we binged Big Mouth after the LSU game, I was trying to remember the highlights of the year–the good things that happened that I am grateful for, and realized that, sadly, most of the things I was thinking of was television or movies I’d watched, or books I’d read and greatly enjoyed. I had a pretty good year at the beginning of the year in selling short stories–I sold quite a few this year, continuing a trend from last year, to the point where I keep forgetting story sales I made, which is so weird–but also means that in 2021 I am going to have some stories appear in anthologies or publications, which is terribly cool. I know I stretched myself as a writer–hell, I wrote a Sherlock Holmes story this year, and created a Sherlockian world in 1916 New Orleans–and while there were anthologies and things I tried (and failed) to submit to, I have some terrific stories now that are in some state of writing that could turn out to be something interesting. I am looking forward to spending some more time with both “The Sound of Snow Falling” and “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–and there are any number of others I’d love to dive back into. The problem being, of course, that I have limited writing time, and for the rest of this month I have to focus on finishing the one book and then the first two months of 2021 finishing the other. I’m not really sure what I want to spend the rest of 2021 doing; I know I am co-editing the Minneapolis Bouchercon anthology and that’s going to take a chunk of time to read all those submissions and make decisions and then edit them all, but let’s face it, it’s also not my first time at the anthology rodeo. I want to try to write another Scotty at some point in 2021, and I know I also have Chlorine to work on, but…I guess we’ll just have to see how the year pans out.

I know I want to pull another short story collection together, too, and of course there’s the novellas…

I also polished off a journal last night, so I get to start a new one this morning, which is kind of fun. I’ve been blasting through journals at a pretty good pace since I started using them again, and while I cannot say that they’ve been enormously helpful in keeping my act together and keeping me on track with any of the writing I’ve been doing, they’ve been wonderful for me to jot notes and ideas in, and I’ve been doing much better about going back into them and rereading them and getting the unpolished jewels out of them. I have a really nice one that has a magnetic clasp that I got at Garden District Books, and then got a pack of three the last time I went to Costco, so I am certainly set for journals for the year.

I’ve also got to get the copy edits on my essay finished.

I also spent some time yesterday slowly but surely pruning the books. I’ve done a great job of pruning them already, so much so that there’s slim pickings for getting rid of things I will most likely never read–I always stop myself and have to think, long and hard, about whether I should get rid of an unread book–but I also need to keep making room for more–because at some point I’ll start buying books again. Not sure when that will be financially feasible–right now, books are filed in the “luxury item” column, especially when I already have so many on hand that I’ve not read–but I have quite a list of books that I want to get when I can.

There are never enough books, frankly.

And on that note, I need some more coffee as well as fold some laundry. Have a great Sunday, Constant Reader!

Twilight Zone

Ugh, my dryer is on the fritz, and I just can’t–in the ultimate of bougie problems–I just can’t function without a working washer and dryer. I can’t decide if it’s worth it to get a repair guy out here, or if we should just go ahead and get a new one. I know I called a repairman once for the washing machine–and it was only slightly less expensive than buying a new one. Heavy heaving sigh. I think we’ve already replaced the dryer once before. It’s so infuriating. I wish I were more handy, because I bet it is something that is really easy to fix; but I am not handy like that. I’m so glad my parents were so focused on my future that they wouldn’t let me take Shop or Auto Shop because they were too easy.

Yeah. They just would have saved me thousands of dollars over the years. But hey, those classes weren’t useful for my future.

Heavy heaving sigh.

So, I spent the evening trying to dry clothes in a faulty dryer–eventually they dried–while filing and washing dishes and also finishing reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear, which was quite fun.

journey into fear

The steamer, Sestri Levante, stood high above the dock side, and the watery sleet, carried on the wind blustening down from the Black Sea had drenched even the small shelter deck. In the after well, the Turkish stevedores, with sacking tied round their shoulders, were still loading cargo.

Graham saw the steward carry his suit-case through a door marked PASSEGGIERI, and turned aside to see if the two men who had shaken hands with him at the foot of the gangway were still there. They had not come aboard lest the the uniform of one of them should draw attention to him. Now they were walking away across the crane lines towards the warehouses and the dock gates beyond. As they reached the shelter of the first shed they looked back. He raised his left arm and saw an answering wave. They walked on out of sight.

For a moment he stood there shivering and staring out of the mist that shrouded the domes and spires of Stamboul. Behind the rumble and clatter of the winches, the Turkish foreman was shouting plaintively in bad Italian to one of the ship’s officers. Graham remembered that he had been told to go to his cabin and stay there until the ship sailed. He followed the steward through the door.

The man was waiting for him at the head of a short flight of stairs. There was no sign of any of the nine other passengers.

Eric Ambler, considered (per his bio) is considered the father of the modern thriller and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1975. His novels, focused on intrigue, espionage and spying, have been called influences by many writers, including John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum and Len Deighton. (I loved Ludlum, but am ashamed to admit I’ve never read Le Carre or Deighton; but I do have a copy of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold that I need to get around to reading.) I had never read Ambler; although my friend Pat, a huge fan of the crime genre, has recommended A Coffin for Demetrios to me on several different occasions, and usually one of Ambler’s works winds up on those lists of ‘crime novels everyone should read.’ I bought Epitaph for a Spy and several others a few years ago; I finally sat down and pulled Journey Into Fear out of the TBR Mountain and started reading it. It took me longer than it should have; it’s short, for one thing, but very engrossing. It’s also very…for want of a better term, it’s very British.

I love novels where normal, every day people going about their business and minding their own business are suddenly thrust into peril. Ludlum was a master of this, and I call it Hitchcockian; it was also a staple in many of his films. Journey into Fear also falls into this category; Graham, the main character, is a forty year old British man who works for an engineering firm and was sent to Turkey to help work on updating and refitting the Turkish fleet because of the outbreak of World War II. Graham, who is happily married and generally just goes about his business. What Graham, in his unassuming way, doesn’t realize or understand just how valuable he–and his work–are to the Allied forces; he is just doing his job. Then, on his last night in Istanbul, someone is waiting for him in his hotel room and shoots at him. Fortunately, he is only slightly wounded in his hand but this is when Turkish intelligence gets involved. It is a matter of vital Turkish importance to their defense that Graham make it back to England and his work not be interrupted; Graham doesn’t it take it seriously…at first. But once he is on the freighter traveling through the night to Genoa, he finds out just how much danger he is actually in.

The book is very tightly written, and not very long; but it also falls into the classic trope of suspense in a tight, controlled area with a very small cast of characters; like Murder on the Orient Express. This trope is very hard to pull off–even harder nowadays–and Ambler does it beautifully, even adding the element of “no one will believe me if I ask for help.” The other characters on the ship are richly drawn; Ambler is able to create a character with brief sentences that pretty much tell you everything you need to know about that character to make them real.

I am very much looking forward to reading more Ambler. Now I am going to give Dorothy B. Hughes’ sublime In a Lonely Place  a reread.

And now, back to the spice mines.