Babe

Saturday morning and no LSU game today–kind of a relief, really; I imagine watching us play Alabama this season would be kind of painful and awful, to be honest. I am going to go make groceries and pick up the mail later on–and then I am hopefully going to write and work the rest of the day. The Saints are playing tomorrow, so that’ll take up the late part of the afternoon, so I will be going to the gym in the morning and then heading home to write, read, and clean some before the Saints game starts.

Yesterday was nice. I can’t say why yet, but it started off very nicely and continued in that same vein for the rest of the day. It was a gorgeous day, and I took some time off in the early afternoon to go to the gym and go to Garden District Books to get my next journal–the current one isn’t finished yet, but I like to get the next one ahead of time–and it was just stunningly beautiful in New Orleans yesterday, stunningly beautiful; sunny and low 70’s and blue skies everywhere you looked when you looked up. I am still behind on everything–what else is new?–but am hopeful things will start turning around sooner than later. The Lost Apartment is starting to look much better–neater, cleaner, better organized–which is a lovely, absolutely lovely thing, and that is helping me to get better and more organized with everything else, which is also lovely.

It is a beginning, which is a very lovely place to start.

It looks to be another beautiful late fall day here in New Orleans–gorgeous sky and lots. of sunlight; I have my laptop turned to the side and my chair pulled over to the side of my desk, like I had to do yesterday–and while I do have to get the mail and make groceries at some point today, the lack of an LSU game today and the total lack of care about any other games being played today has opened up my entire day for me, which is absolutely lovely. I’m afraid to think that this year has begun to turn around somewhat–the pandemic’s second wave is still rising after all–but hope has returned.

We watched The Mandalorian last night, and yesterday I was kind of amused to see there was a backlash of sorts to last week’s episode, in which The Child was eating the eggs of the Frog Lady–the eggs she was hoping to get to her husband to fertilize else they would be the last of their line (there seems to be some confusion as to whether it was the end of their race or the end of her family line; I took what she said to mean family line, not race)–and honestly, people need to get a fucking life. It’s a fucking television show, for one thing, and it depicts things that happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Aren’t there enough genuine problems confronting us to be concerned about rather than what happens on a science fiction/western hybrid television program? We’re still enjoying the show, and apparently The Child became attached to the babies as they hatched, which was a nice coda to that story. But it also remains one of the best Star Wars universe tales, and as I said before, they should have ditched the Skywalker saga and moved on to other tales from the same universe.

We also watched another episode of Mr. Mercedes, which continues to enthrall and hold our attention. I didn’t give near enough credit to the actors playing the Hartsfields: Harry Treadaway (best known as Dr. Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful) as the psychotic killer known as Mr. Mercedes, and Kelly Lynch as his mother, with whom he has a disturbingly incestuously close relationship with–both are killing it, as is Jharrel Jerome as Jerome. This show is really well done–one of the best King adaptations I’ve seen–although I do wish Cynthia Erivo was playing Holly in this, as she did in The Outsider. Holly Gibney is one of my favorite King characters; and while she hasn’t appeared yet in this show, I am really looking forward to seeing Justine Lupe’s interpretation of the role. Brendan Gleeson is also perfect as Bill–I’m not sure why they decided to go with making him Irish, to fit the actor, but it’s working. I also couldn’t help but think what a great role this would have been for Ed Asner or Ernest Borgnine or Carroll O’Connor or Burl Ives. I also don’t know why this show didn’t really get much attention, unless it was because it was on a lesser streaming service. Here’s hoping it being on Peacock will help it find a bigger audience. It is so well done, and Dennis Lehane wrote last night’s episode!

Ironically, I’d been thinking about Stephen King a lot lately–the Halloween Horror thing, along with the rewatches of Carrie and Christine–and while I am probably not as rabid a fan of his as I was for a very long time (I no longer buy the book on release day and everything in my life comes to a screeching halt while I devour the book) I am still a fan. The Hodges trilogy is King in top form, and so was Joyland, his paperback original for Hard Case Crime. I’ve never finished The Dark Tower, primarily because so many years passed between The Waste Lands and Song of Susannah that I lost the thread of the story and realized I’d be better off rereading the entire thing; I thus decided to wait until the series was finished and then go back and read it all the way through. Surprise! I haven’t done that yet, and there are still some volumes of his that I have yet to read (Doctor Sleep, 11/22/63, The Outsider, The Institute, If It Bleeds) which would have never happened back in the day. I enjoyed all of King’s earlier work–I never reread Pet Sematary or Cujo, primarily because they were too disturbing, which I understand now; a recent reread of Pet Sematary made me very aware of how actually brilliant it is–and reread them constantly; The Stand is one of my all-time favorite novels, and of course so many of the others are equally brilliant. The Tommyknockers was the first book of his I actively disliked, and believed the entire first third of the book could have easily been cut out. And while the books that followed were either hit or miss for me–more hits than misses–I can honestly say that Dreamcatcher was one of the worst things I’ve ever read. I absolutely hated that book, hated everything about it, and even the characters—usually a major strength of his–weren’t memorable or overly likable. One thing King does that he doesn’t nearly get enough credit for is writing about working class people, and how the grind of poverty, or the fear of lapsing into it–drives and hardens people.

Ironically, I saw a thread yesterday on social media where some writers were taking a whack at King, since King has been on my mind so much lately these days. I am constantly amazed at how many pseudo-intellectual writers always smugly assert their own dismissive opinions of King–when I’ve never heard of them, probably will never hear of them again, and kind of don’t want to ever hear about them again. I strongly disapprove of writers trashing other writers (although hypocritically I am down with it if it’s Stephenie Meyer or E. L. James) and books–which is why I stopped being a paid reviewer years ago–and sure, it’s easy to take potshots at writers who’ve become brands, like King (and Anne Rice and John Grisham and Dean Koontz and numerous others), but I always like to remember that those brand name authors sell huge amounts of books, which keeps publishers in the black and enables them to take chances with other authors who might not be as marketable or salable.

I slept really well last night also, which was absolutely lovely. I feel very well rested, and looking forward to my fourth week of working out, which begins tomorrow morning. I really am hoping to get a lot done this weekend. Wish me luck as I head back into the spice mines!

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 Walk the Line

It’s Thursday. Finally. I swear to God, this has been one of the longest and most bizarre weeks of my life thus far–and I’ve lived through some very strange and bizarre times. This reality, surreal for so long, is finally beginning to sink in somewhat, at least for me. I am someone who is completely dependent on structure and routine to achieve stability, which is required for me to function at a level sometimes (oft times) much higher than my natural tendency toward stasis, laziness, and a remarkable inability to finish things. I can’t be that person, and this sudden alteration of my reality was so quick I didn’t really have time to adjust to it. As such, my wiring has been completely off and my functionality dramatically slowed. But the shock is beginning to wear off, I’m adjusting if not adapting, and I might be able to start finding the order amidst the chaos again.

At least for as long as this new reality holds, at any rate.

It’s absolutely horrible to feel overwhelmed, and I sense that a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed right now. It’s a lot of change, all at once, and with very little warning. For some, the rug was literally pulled out from underneath them in  matter of hours. It’s terrifying to go from I wonder what I’ll do this weekend to oh my god how am I going to pay my rent in a matter of moments. I’ve certainly been feeling overwhelmed for quite some time now, with no end in sight. But if I learned anything from the Time of Troubles, there’s no sense in worrying or being concerned or making one’s self sick from stressing about things over which you have literally no control.

The best way to get through these things–which seem like they may never end–is to focus on micro rather than macro; the big picture is too overwhelming for our minds to grasp, grapple with and process. That’s the sure path to despair and depression–and the D twins don’t need much help gaining purchase in my brain. Your mileage might vary, but I think it’s terribly important to stay focused and stay positive, no matter how bad things are or how much worse they can get.

At some point this afternoon I am going to go for a walk, probably over to Magazine Street, just to get out into the fresh air and the sunshine. It’s overcast here today, but it’s been in the seventies and eighties all  week, so I can’t imagine that it’s not a simply gorgeous day out there. I need to not be inside all the time–tomorrow I am actually working a five hour shift at the office, primarily so I can get out of the house–the change of scenery is going to be crucial for the moment. I don’t know how long, obviously, we’re going to be on lock-down; it could go on for months, quite frankly, and adaptability, as I learned after Katrina, is going to be terribly important as a survival technique.

We picked up Dare Me again last night, on Episode 3, and I am amazed at how amazingly well done this show is; it’s very cinematic, the acting is pinpoint sharp, and this is a feminine point of view we’ve never seen much of before. Just as a visual, it’s a stunning show. I’d like to read the book again at some point–I’ve not read anything in a couple of weeks and I need to get back into reading again; it’s not like I don’t have lots of books on hand for me to sink my teeth and imagination into around here. Maybe I should, as I joked about on Facebook last week, reread The Stand. It has been awhile, and it’s always been one of my favorite King novels. A reread won’t require as much focus as reading something new…hmmm. And I am doing the Reread Project this year–although that seems like I started it a million years ago, doesn’t it?

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Delta Dawn

What’s that flower you have on?

I’ve always thought the song “Delta Dawn” was kind of Faulknerian in its story-telling; I’ve always felt a little bad for the poor, slightly demented woman wandering around her small Southern town waiting for her lover to come back. Because make no mistake–she was definitely from a small Southern town. Up north, they wouldn’t let her wander around the way they would down South. As Julia Sugarbaker said once on Designing Woman, “we’re proud of our crazy people down here. We put them out on the porch so everyone can see them. We don’t ask if you have crazy people in your family, we ask which side are they on.”

It’s a very strange day this morning in the Lost Apartment. Yesterday the Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints & Sinners were cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak–we are up to 19 cases here in Louisiana now (the majority of them in the New Orleans area and its environs) and it seems as though some people who traveled here for Mardi Gras have tested positive. If it was already here during Carnival…it staggers the imagination on what that means for transmission and infection. The cancellation of the two festivals also felt like my soul and heart were being ripped from my body. Both have been a major part of my life–Saints & Sinners since we founded it all those years ago, and TWFest since that first year Paul and I volunteered back in 1997. For so many years now my life has been built around those two events. It’s going to be weird to not have them.

I often talk about my Imposter Syndrome–just yesterday, in fact–but one of the things I use to combat it is events like the two festivals, Bouchercon, serving on the MWA board, etc. Spending time around other authors, just talking about books and writing and marketing and the struggle and publishing, is always refreshing and invigorating for me. I always, for example, come away from TWF/S&S inspired to do more work and to do better work. I missed Bouchercon last year because of a sinus infection; this year I don’t get my adrenaline shot from TWF/S&S. As I am struggling at the moment with a severe case of Imposter Syndrome (an outbreak?), I was looking forward to that weekend to talk about books and writing and creativity to chase that away. Now I am going to have to somehow manage to muddle through it all on my own.

I am debating on whether I should go to the gym today or not. I have rubber gloves to wear, but it really is a matter of touching my face with the gloves on more than anything else. I absolutely hate to lose the momentum I’ve gained from the working out since I went back to the gym, but I also missed Wednesday because of emotional and physical exhaustion and missing again seems counter-intuitive. On the other hand…

I tend to be fatalistic when it comes to infectious diseases. By all means, take every possible precaution necessary–but having spent most of my twenties and thirties just assuming it was a matter of time before I seroconverted and became HIV positive (it’s still amazing to me that I am not), I kind of am fatalistic about this sort of thing. I think perhaps the most disturbing and frightening thing I learned about pandemics and their spread from The Stand was how basic human nature contributes to it. There was a brilliant scene in the book at one of the CDC centers–the one in Bennington, where Stu Redman was eventually moved to, to be studied as to why he didn’t get the superflu–where one of the nurses sneezes and thinks to herself, oh great, just what I need, a cold and then went about her business….and she was standing by a sign that said REPORT EVERY SIGN, EVEN IF IT’S JUST A COUGH OR A SNEEZE. We all have a natural feeling of invulnerability; a sense that nothing bad will ever happen to us. I don’t know if that’s some kind of defense mechanism or not; I was thinking yesterday that well, all I can do is the best I can to not get infected and I might as well focus on doing some work because the world won’t stop turning. Work has always been a helpful distraction for me; but being creative–difficult under the best of circumstances–isn’t always the easiest during difficult times. I didn’t really write much during the Time of Troubles, but that was when my blog started. I get made fun of sometimes for still having a blog and for still writing it every day, but it’s a comfort to me and when I am not writing, well, at least I am still doing this. Having a blog helped me navigate through the most difficult of times, gave me an outlet for my rage and depression and random musings, and while it’s evolved since then–I don’t talk about politics anymore here, for one thing–it’s still helpful for me to gather my thoughts and at least put sentences and paragraphs together, hopefully in a way that makes some sort of sense to the two or three of you who come here to read my daily meanderings.

And of course, like Katrina, a pandemic affects writers in many ways. Do we keep writing our books and pretend that in our fictional universes this didn’t happen, isn’t happening, won’t happen? There’s something very comforting in going into a fictional world where some of the bad things going on in the world haven’t happened, or aren’t happening. I managed to write all of my books and pretend that the Eternal Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t going on, for example; in my fictional universes that sort of thing doesn’t happen, and it’s nice to go there and forget about all the troubles and care of the world.

I’ve always found escape into fictional worlds a great coping mechanism.

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

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Hello Walls

Well, hello Thursday morning and a beautiful looking morning outside of my windows.

I’m not really sure what to make of what is going on in the world today. One of the reasons I always loved Stephen King’s The Stand so much was because it seemed so brutally realistic; I was amazed at how it played out and thinking wow this is exactly how it would happen, right down to the government lying and covering it up to suppression of the news and people spreading it despite containment policies, procedures and protocols. How on earth did he ever think this up?

Which is one of the biggest parts of why I love Stephen King’s writing. For one, the imagination to think up the stories–and the scale! I don’t know that I could ever create something like The Stand and do that kind of world-building, let alone keep track of all the individual characters and their story arcs, both their individual personal arcs as well as the over-arching arc of the main story. I’ve considered writing post-apocalyptic fiction–I have a really good idea for one, but I can’t make up my mind how to precisely do it, to be honest, and so it has always languished in the back of my mind. I had several different ideas for stories, actually; primarily triggered by the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, and then I realized how I could weave them all into the same story. But…it’s an epic story and a massive undertaking, and I simply don’t have the confidence in my own writing abilities to actually try writing it.

And that’s the bottom line for the vast majority of the ideas and stories I have that would probably make amazing books–I just don’t have the confidence to write them.

Okay, here I am later in the evening, and I am still not sure what to think or how to process everything. Twitter and social media and the news are determined to terrify me; I don’t know what I should be thinking or worrying about or doing. I know I should use this time creatively; I should block everything out and just write and check in on the world later this evening. And yet…

I’m not sure what the deep root of the insecurity I was talking about earlier comes from. I feel confident that I’m good at what I do, but when you send a manuscript to twenty agents and only even bothers to write back to say, “Thank you but no thank you; I’m not taking on more clients at this time” it tends to wear on you. Manuscripts editors passed on were later published. Needless to say, I am very wary of agents, and still am to this day. I know I need one, should have kept trying years ago until I got one, but now…I go back and forth between your career isn’t the greatest but at least you have one, be happy with what you have and an agent will help me get better deals and better sales and my books more attention. This week I got my fifteenth Lambda Literary Award nomination; and I sold a gay-themed short story to a mainstream market (well, I haven’t heard back from them, but it’s been a bit of a week, hasn’t it?) so one would think I write well enough to draw even a little bit of interest from an agent. I’ve been nominated for numerous other, mainstream awards; I’ve even won some of them.

And yet…

AH, well. I think I need to spend some time with Scooter. Til tomorrow.

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Diamonds

Saturday, and later this afternoon is the SEC championship game (GEAUX TIGERS!). But this morning I am going to focus on cleaning up and straightening things up around here, as well as trying to get some writing done. I’ve been horribly lazy this week; I made some decent progress at the beginning of the week on the Bury Me in Shadows revision–comparatively speaking, I didn’t do that much–and I need to get back on that horse before it escapes the barn and leaves me in the dust.

Last night, we started watching V Wars on Netflix. It’s entertaining, and good enough, but it feels a little…I don’t know, familiar? The premise of the show is that melting ice in the Arctic frees up some biohazard that awakens an inactive gene in human DNA–not everyone has that gene–and turns them into vampires. As the germ (I am calling it a germ; they hadn’t really gotten into what it is yet in the show) spreads, more people become vampires–and these vampires are brutal killing machines, whose victims don’t also become vampires (at least, not so far). It’s okay….entertaining enough but it didn’t grab either one of us, probably because it’s too similar to other shows we’ve watched/seen; The Strain, for one example. Ian Somerholder is gorgeous as ever as the main character–as he gets older he gets better looking; he now looks like he could be Rob Lowe’s brother, and he’s a good enough actor to carry the show. The dialogue was a bit stiff, and some of the situations in the first episode or two seemed a bit over the top, ridiculous, and unbelievable. The problem with plague stories like this is the slow development–the inevitable “only one person who figures out the truth and has to convince everyone else as more people die” trope; who in the cast is going to die, etc. etc. etc. Stephen King brilliantly did this in The Stand; once the plague was spreading he jumped ahead a week or so to the point where most people were dead and the survivors were coming to terms with the end of civilization, trying to figure out what to do next, and then begin having the dreams that drive the rest of the story. The Walking Dead put Rick Grimes into a month-long coma, and when he woke up most of humanity had turned into walkers. Both The Strain and V Wars depend on the “fighting impending doom” narrative to build suspense; but it also makes the story drag a bit. As Paul said, “when do we get to the wars part?” Because the very title makes it abundantly clear that the plague is going to spread and it’s going to come down to a war between those afflicted and those who are not–of course, our noble doctor wants a cure to save the afflicted; the government is more concerned with a vaccine and killing the infected–setting up the inevitable conflict between the forces we’re supposed to be rooting for, even though whether they are on the right side or not remains to be seen. We might come back to it at another time, but it just didn’t grab us. Your mileage might vary. The show is based on a book by Jonathan Maberry, and it apparently became the most-watched show in the world on Netflix the day it dropped–so kudos to all involved. It’s done very well, as I said; it just didn’t grab us. Check it out–you might like it. It’s entirely possible we just weren’t in the right place at the time. And we’ll probably go back to it. Anyway, kudos to Jonathan–who is an incredibly nice and generous man–for having a major Netflix hit.

This morning I have some chores to do around the house before I run to the grocery store to pick up a few things; I really don’t want to go, and am looking for excuses not to. But it won’t kill me to go, and it’s never a bad thing to get out of the house. Today we’re going to have our last “tailgate” of this year’s college football season–barbecuing burgers and dogs for the SEC championship game–and I really need to get this apartment under some sort of control. After I finish this I am going to spend some more time answering my emails and cleaning out that inbox once and for all, and then I am going to work on the manuscript for a little but before I head to the grocery store. I’ve been writing a lengthy entry about this LSU season–I started writing it after the Alabama game, and then realized I should wait until the season is over to post it; that way I can reflect on the entire, magical season; I’ll undoubtedly finish that tomorrow morning and finally post it.

Yesterday I got an ARC of an anthology being released next year that I contributed to: The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Room Press (who did the Florida Happens anthology and were an absolute dream to work with). It contains my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision”, which, of course, is a play on the Dred Scott Decision, a horrific Supreme Court ruling that made secession and the Civil War just a little bit inevitable; and yes, I wrote about James Buchanan. I’m very pleased with my story, and I am even more pleased to be in this anthology, with co-contributors on the level of Alison Gaylin, Eric Beetner, Sarah M. Chen, Nikki Dolson, S. A. Cosby, S. J. Rozan, Alex Segura, Erica Wright, Angel Luis Colon, Gary Phillips, and several more people whose talents I’ve long admired. You’re going to want to pre-order this one, people.

It’s also the time of the year when everyone is making their best of lists; I am slightly uncomfortable doing that, quite frankly–although I always do qualify my choices by calling such lists The Best Books I Read This Year, which is really what all of those lists boil down to. I read a lot of amazing books this year, and am completely terrified that I’ll miss one in making such a list; but seriously, 2019 was an amazing year in crime fiction–and the women are fucking killing it. Steph Cha, Jamie Mason, Lisa Lutz, Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Angie Kim–I could go on forever.

Which reminds me, I also want to spend some time with Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside this weekend.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee and get going on my day.  Hello, spice mines!

Y’all have a good one, you hear?

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I Knew You Were Waiting for Me

I am sick, and I hate being sick. I suppose after spending many hours in crowds, exposed to the germs of over a hundred thousand people, while also wearing myself screaming and cheering and jumping up and down, it’s to be expected, but it’s still incredibly irritating. You never think about getting germs when you’re at a football game, but if you think about it–what better way for a plague to spread than Patient Zero attending a packed college football game? One of the most chilling chapters of Stephen King’s The Stand was a chapter about how the superflu spread out from the east Texas town of Arnette–I will always remember about how one woman stopped at a bar for a sloe gin fizz and left a dollar tip “that was crawling with death.”

I don’t think I have some horribly mutated super-flu, but my eyes hurt and so do all of my joints…and my throat is even worse than it was yesterday. I’ve gone from Kathleen Turner to Brenda Vaccaro in just over twenty-four hours, and it’s weird. My ears and sinuses were also bad yesterday, but Claritin-D has seemed to clear that right up, thank you, baby Jesus–the sinus pain is the worst.

I think I’m probably going to make myself some chicken noodle soup for lunch today, and I’m also terribly dehydrated–so I clearly need fluids.

I did some thinking about my work yesterday as I sat in my easy chair, curled up under blankets and watching the Saints game before watching the replay of the LSU game on the SEC Network (we used to do this all the time; watch the LSU game on television on Saturday, and then a local network would rebroadcast it on Sunday, when we’d watch it again so we could enjoy it without all the tension and emotion of the live-watch; knowing how the game ended made it a lot easier to watch!) and I made some notes from time to time in my journal. I was paging through Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which I hadn’t put away after my annual re-read, and it occurred to me that there’s a terrific line that runs throughout the book, repeated over and over again, which would actually make an interesting title for a story: “Mrs. Dudley Clears at Ten.” I literally have no idea what the story would be, or who it would be about, or anything other than that title, which pleases me so much. I always start with titles, as Constant Reader should already be aware; it’s difficult for me to write anything unless I’ve given it a title already.–even if it’s one that I don’t care for or doesn’t really work. I also riffed on titles for Scotty books yesterday; as long as I can come up with a title I’ll probably be able to keep writing Scotty for as long as I want to, or as long as someone wants to publish them, and as long as people want to read them. Part of the fun of reading all this New Orleans history is that it’s giving me ideas for short stories and for novels, which is really a lot of fun. (Just as I will  never have time to read all the books I want to, I will never have the time to write every book or short story I have an idea for. Sad reality–and one that I try to deny all the time.)

So, while yesterday sucked eggs because I was feeling poorly, at least the creative side of my brain was able to function and come up with some ideas and thoughts. I also thought some more about Bury Me in Shadows, and whether I want to go ahead and try to get it finished by the end of the month. (Saturday afternoon I realized it’s not as close to being finished as I had hoped it might be….I’m going to go sit in my easy chair with the manuscript this afternoon, after I eat my soup, and see if I can figure out what needs to be added…there’s a scene that occurred to me sometime over this weekend that I think needs to be added into the first chapter…I was trying to be oblique in the writing, but I think there are some things that need to be clarified so the reader isn’t thinking, oh, it was necessary for the story for this to happen even though it really doesn’t make a lot of sense as they continue through the story–which is a horrible thought to have as an author; that you’ve contrived something because it needs to happen otherwise there’s no story.

Just thinking about it makes my stomach clench.

And I just got a wave of dizziness, so I am going to go lie back down for a while.

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Also Sprach Zarathustra

Yesterday was a day.

Never mind why–it is simply too tedious for me to get into any detail and trust me, you’d be bored to tears–but the one nice thing about it was once it was finally over and donw with and I was safely inside the Lost Apartment and in my LSU sweats, with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap, I was able to rate rested and relaxed and now, hopefully I’ll be able to get my life back under some kind of control. That would be so lovely.I work a longer day now on Fridays–five hours instead of four–but shifting to coming in later in the day was an extremely smart move.

But the good news is that I was able to finally finish reading Rob Hart’s wonderful novel, The Warehouse.

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Well, I’m dying!

A lot of men make it to the end of their life and they don’t know they’ve reached it. Just the lights go off one day. Here I am with a deadline.

I don’t have time to write a book about my life, like everyone has been telling me I should, so this’ll have to do. A blog seems pretty fitting, doesn’t it? I haven’t been sleeping much lately, so this gives me something to keep myself occupied at night.

Anyway, sleep is for people who lack ambition.

The rise in popularity  in dystopian fiction since the turn of the century isn’t really that difficult to understand; the world is kind of on fire and each day we seem to be inching our way to the inevitable collapse of civilization as we now know it. I do recognize how pessimistic that thought is, but it’s one I’ve been finding myself having more and more as the years have passed since the century dawned with so much promise back in 1/1/00. Remember how exciting the new century seemed back then, when it was fresh and new and full of promises? Yeah, well. Who knew? I wonder if people felt the same way in 1919…but given they’d just gotten through the first world war and the Spanish flu pandemic that killed millions, probably.

Early in the 1990’s, as queer equality issues began to become more and more mainstream–with the inevitable holier-than-thou nasty religious pushback–I wrote down many pages of thoughts and ideas I had about a dystopian future world, one in which queer people finally obtained equality only for there to be a horrific and horrendous pushback, similar to the one depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that pushed back against feminism and women’s equality. I saw an America where evangelical Christianity was encoded into our law; where people of color and other undesirables began to disappear as they were blamed from everything wrong with modern society and the economy; and where those unaffected by those prejudices and legalized bigotry turned a blind eye to the suffering of fellow Americans as long as they could pay their bills and buy nice things for their family. Since that original idea–which was easy to scoff at by friends I talked about it with, as they weren’t queer or marginalized–I’ve come back to that idea, time and again, as the idea sometimes seems to be taking root in reality. I tend to avoid dystopian fiction, as a general rule; I’ve read Brave New World, 1984, The Stand, Alas Babylon, The Handmaid’s Tale and many others; I’ve watched the Mad Max films. I generally try to avoid it, to be honest; I find our the dystopia evident in our reality far more frightening and oppressive than anything I might find in fiction.

But I couldn’t get into The Hunger Games  or any of the others published in the twenty-first century to great sales and acclaim; just had zero to no interest. I got into the zombie apocalypse stuff for a while, with The Walking Dead, but even it eventually devolved into misery/torture porn and I lost interest.

But Rob Hart’s The Warehouse…I don’t know; for some reason as soon as I heard the concept behind it, months before its publication date, I knew I wanted to read it. Part of the exhausting frustration I’ve felt over the last few weeks as I slogged away at the volunteer project has partly been due to my inability to spend more than twenty minutes or so at a time with the book; the one good thing, as I said already, about today’s errands was the ability to sit in a waiting room for long stretches of time with nothing to do other than read–and occasionally delete emails from my phone.

What a wonderful, frightening, and all too realistic book Rob Hart has gifted the world with!

The Warehouse is set in a world in the not-too-distant future where almost everything has collapsed. This collapse of functionality of the general society isn’t explained; but it has to do with climate change and economic shifts and rising seas. One company, Cloud, which allows everyone to buy everything they need on-line and have it delivered quickly via drones, with MotherClouds scattered all over the United States, has pretty much monopolized means of production and delivery; their employees are given free housing and so forth and live in climate controlled dorms that are all connected with the warehouses and entertainment complexes; enclosed cities, where your every move and your every purchase is monitored. There’s health care and communal bathrooms and showers and you need your Cloud wristband to get anywhere or do anything.

Sound all too frighteningly familiar?

The story is told from three different points of view; the book opens with with a blog entry from Gibson, the man who thought up and founded Cloud and became worth billions as he essentially took over the United States; Paxton, a small business owner who invented a thing called Perfect Egg, so that you could make a perfect hardboiled egg in the microwave and peel it perfectly every time, a business that flourished until Cloud’s demands for deeper and deeper discounts eventually forced him out of business and has now landed a job there; and Zinnia, a young woman we don’t know much about who is also starting work there, but she has an ulterior motive. Zinnia and Paxton eventually cross paths, become friends, and as he works security, she begins manipulating him for information as she also starts to develop feelings for him.

It’s a terrific story, very well told, with very smart things to say about capitalism, consumerism, and how easy it is to compromise your principles in exchange for security. Bright and intelligent and well-written, you can’t help rooting for both Paxton and Zinnia to somehow make it through everything and somehow come out on top.

Most dystopian tales deal with the aftermath of nuclear war, or Big Government taking over, or some kind of religious fascism, but rarely, if ever, has the dystopia arisen out of capitalism and consumerism, and Rob Hart hits the bull’s eye squarely with this one. (Well, also Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, but Ayn Rand deserves many posts all by herself, and she wishes she had one tenth of Rob Hart’s story-telling skill)

This is destined to be a classic, and I do hope Ron Howard does the story justice on film.

In closing this, I’d like to thank Rob–and other writers like him, like Ben Winters and Adam Sternbergh–for pushing the envelope of the crime genre, melding crime and speculative fiction in clever, innovative stories that broaden our genre and enable them to tell bigger stories than we customarily see in crime fiction. I loved this book from start to finish, and it’s so layered and clever–the development of Gibson, through his blog entries, his justifications for his egotism and so forth, was chillingly genius.

Read this book. It’s amazing.

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

So it’s Christmas Eve. May you all who celebrate have a lovely day, and those of you who don’t, may you also have a lovely day! I’m not really sure what’s on the agenda for today around the Lost Apartment, to be honest. I know I want to do some writing and reading and possibly some editing–I don’t think the old but it’s a holiday is going to kick in for me today after all. I had a terrific day yesterday; I cleaned and organized, the Saints won (although why they always want me to have a heart attack before the conclusion of every game is beyond me) and now have clinched the Number One seed and home games throughout the play-offs thru the Super Bowl, and I actually wrote yesterday. I wrote about another thousand words of Bury Me in Satin, finishing that bear of a Chapter Eight finally, and now I think I can move forward. I think, though, I need to go back and do some revising on the earlier chapters while writing Chapter Nine.

I also discovered something incredibly convenient–yes, I know, I am nothing if not mostly oblivious most of the time and it’s insane when something so obvious smacks in the side of the head. My computer is still acting wonky–mostly when I have Word open–and so yesterday, incredibly irritated with the Apple Spinning Wheel of Death and the concurrent Microsoft Word Not Responding message, I closed my Internet browser and Word continued to operate–still not as fast as I would prefer, but faster, at any rate–and not having the distraction of getting push alerts from Twitter and Facebook and every time I got a new email enabled me to tear right through that chapter yesterday. I had my phone with me at my desk, and so whenever I was bored or needed to look something up on-line I was able to use that. I left the browser closed, in fact, for the rest of the day, just checking in on things periodically with the phone or my iPad. This was smart, and I am probably going to do the same thing today.

I started rereading The Shining yesterday, and while I am only a few chapters in, I have to say those initial chapters are remarkable, as King sets up the Torrance family–Jack, Wendy, Danny–as initial point-of-view characters, and we get to know the three of them very well. I remember when The Shining first came out in paperback–remember, this when I was living in Kansas and there was no place to buy hardcover books because the only local bookstore (the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia) only carried paperbacks, so I always had to wait for the paperback editions of everything–I started reading it after I bought it and didn’t care for Jack Torrance at all, so I stopped reading before I got to the chapters from Wendy and Danny’s points of view, and put it aside. It was about a year or so before I picked it back up again–it was the shiny all silver cover, with the faceless head of the boy blending into the silver–and then read it all the way through. I didn’t reread it as much as other King novels of the period, and it’s never really been a favorite of mine, preferring ‘salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, The Stand, and Christine by far and away; but it’s considered by many to be one of his best books and certainly one of the most terrifying books of the late twentieth century. This was also the second consecutive novel of King’s to have a writer as the main character; but Jack is a failed writer, and maybe that was one of the reasons the book never quite found a place in my heart the way other Kings of the same period did; perhaps I could relate to Jack’s failure far too much for me? I will continue reporting back as the reread progresses further.

I also managed to get some cleaning done.

Paul went out last evening after the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!), and so I stayed home, reading The Shining and watching A Clockwork Orange on Amazon Prime for the first time. I’ve always wanted to see the movie; I have the book somewhere in my TBR pile or on one of the TBR shelves, and when I saw yesterday that it was free for streaming on Amazon I thought what the hell and decided to watch it. It is…interesting, for wont of a better word. Kubrick was a great director; there’s no question about that, but I also felt, from the few films of his that I’ve seen, he was very cold as a director; his movies always come across as kind of emotionless and cold. That style works incredibly well with the subject matter of this film and its theme. It’s also visually stunning, and despite the cold distance afforded by the camera lens, it’s portrait of a future desensitized to all kinds of violence–both sexual and physical–and the equally horrific answer the government comes up with to it, cannot help but keep your attention but also will make one think. I suspect I will be thinking about A Clockwork Orange for some time…and now I really would like to read Anthony Burgess’ novel.

So many books I need to read. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as I said earlier, I think I am going to continue with the Short Story Project going into the new year, and I am going to also have my own Diversity Project, where I am going to try to read everything in my TBR piles that were written by minority writers of some sort. It’s called leading by example, people, and I hope some of you will join me.

And on that note, this work isn’t going to do itself, unfortunately, so yes, even on Christmas Eve, I must spend some time mining spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

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Do I Have to Say the Words?

GEAUX TIGERS!

It wasn’t a pretty win by any means, but a win is a win–and LSU is now the only team to have beaten four teams that were ranked at the time of the game. With Ohio State’s stunning blow-out loss to Purdue, the Tigers should be ranked in the top four (probably number four) when the rankings come out..and also setting up a huge game against Number One ranked Alabama… look completely unbeatable. Regardless, this has been a wonderful dream season so far–particularly when you take into consideration everyone had LSU dead and buried before the season started. The defense looked amazing against Mississippi State last night; the offense moved the ball decently at times, but for the most part looked sluggish and off. But on a night when the offense wasn’t clicking, we still managed to beat a top 25 team 19-3.

Yes, this season has been joyous, for the most part.

I did all my chores and ran all my errands yesterday. I was too nervous about the game to get much else of anything done, other than random tasks that don’t require much thinking; filing, organizing, cleaning, dishes, putting groceries away, and so forth. I did some thinking about writing while my  hands were busy, which sort of counts, and I did look over the Scotty book. I do like getting organized and preparing my thoughts. I am going to try to get my revisions done this morning before the Saints game; knowing I will become completely useless afterwards. But at least I don’t spend as much time as I used to parked in front of the television, flipping back and forth between games I don’t care very much about.

That’s something, at any rate, isn’t it?

The Saints game isn’t until two this afternoon, so I have plenty of time to answer emails and do some editing/revising/cleaning in the meantime. This is actually kind of nice; I slept later than I’d intended this morning but again I feel amazingly rested, which is kind of nice; and I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to get everything done that I need to get done today. It would be lovely to get three chapters finished; but I’ll have to see how that goes as I start writing. I’d also like to get my floors done today, and maybe some more reading of Empire of Sin; I also need to mark up my old journal with sticky notes for ideas on works in progress so I don’t forget about those notes. I used to have such an amazing memory; it’s almost tragic how much my brain has slowed and how overloaded it has become in my late fifties. Tragedy, truly.

Yesterday, in the afternoon lull before the LSU game, rather than reading something new I took down my hardcover copy of Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot, which is one of my favorite novels of all time, and dipped into it again from the beginning. If The Stand is my favorite King novel–of several to choose from; if pressed I name it as my favorite but it’s on a pretty equal par with several others, including Christine, Carrie, The Dead Zone, It, Misery, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman, and Firestarter, to name just a few–‘salem’s Lot also holds a special place in my heart for any number of reasons. For one, it’s a book I bought solely because of the name of the author–the first time I did this with King, and from this one on I anxiously awaited the new King novel every year–because I’d never read anything remotely like Carrie before, and I was curious to see what he would do in this new book. I was living in Kansas when it was released in paperback; I actually saw in the grocery store line at Safeway with my mother and I asked if I could have it. She said yes in this instance–I always was asking for a book whenever we were anywhere shopping; whenever we went to malls she would send me into a bookstore while she shopped; the most exciting thing my mother could ever say to me was You can have a book–and I started reading it in the car on the way home. I remember it was a Saturday; I  remember retiring to my room with a bag of taco-flavored Doritos (also a treat; my mom would either get me a bag of those or barbecue Fritos whenever she went to the grocery store and I would spend the afternoon methodically eating the entire bag while reading in my bed), and starting to read. Living in Kansas I had no idea what books were about–there were no book reviews in the Emporia Gazette, the only paper we had access to–and so I could only go by the blurb on the back of the book or on the first page inside the front cover. I had no idea what was going on in this little town in Maine until King revealed it halfway through the book. Also, when you bear in mind that Jerusalem’s Lot’s population at the beginning of the book was just over a thousand and I was living in a small town with a population just under a thousand; it was raining that day and as I read, the rain turned into a thunderstorm that seemed to last for hours; and right at the time King revealed that the secret supernatural thing going on was vampires the wind blew a tree branch against the screen of the window directly next to my bed–well, you can see why I may have uttered a half-scream and dropped the book. I remember my heart was racing and I was breathing hard; I had to go wash my face and take some deep breaths before I could pick up the book, find my lost page, and finish reading it. I stayed up until three in the morning finishing the book. ‘salem’s Lot has always had a place in my heart as the first book I ever read that truly terrified me; I’d read horror fiction before but I’d never had such a major physical reaction of sheer terror and shock as I had in that book. (I had also barreled through Carrie in one day, but it didn’t terrify me so much as suck me into a fast-moving train of a story about a horrible tragedy; I’d never read anything like it before–and this would prove to be the case with so many of King’s novels for me.) Reading ‘salem’s Lot made me a King fan for life; a Constant Reader, if you will. Eventually, other distractions and changes in my life also changed my King fandom; I don’t always necessarily buy his new novel the day it is released and put everything else on hold as I read it in a day or two, shutting everything else in the world out. (I just, for example, bought The Outsider yesterday; I still don’t have a copy of Sleeping Beauties, and I’ve never finished reading The Dark Tower series, haven’t read Bronco Billy or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or Black House or Doctor Sleep or 11/22/63 or End of Watch yet; I know, I am a terrible King fan.)

But one of the things I loved the best about King–one of the reasons I always felt, back in the days when he was dismissed as simply another hack genre writer–was the way he depicted small towns and the people who populate them; Jerusalem’s Lot was the first of his great small towns, to be followed by Castle Rock and later, Derry. King’s small town, and the people who populate them, are so realistic, so real, so these are my next door neighbors, that I’ve always loved his work and characters and their reality, their realness. This is why his horror works so well–the reader is invested emotionally with his characters–which is also one of the reasons why my least-favorite King novel, The Tommyknockers, is my least favorite. (I also want to revisit that novel at some point; just as I want to reread Pet Sematary again. Both are amongst the few earlier King novels that I’ve only read once and never went back to; I used to reread King all the time.) This is also, I think, why Netflix’ adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House was so powerful, and why I enjoyed it so much: so much was done with character and their relationships with each other that I became vested; I cared what happened to the Crains.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what makes any work resonate with the reader? The ability to identify with, and care about, the characters?

I am really looking forward to continuing my return visit to Jerusalem’s Lot.

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