Monday after Easter Sunday, and I hope everyone had the kind of Sunday/holiday they needed to prepare them to head into this week full bore ahead.
The good news is that I reread Mississippi River Mischief yesterday and it most definitely is not the shitty mess I originally thought it was. It needs work, to be sure, but not nearly as much as I had feared, thank you Jesus, pass the ammunition, amen. The work isn’t going to be easy, either, but the framework can remain primarily intact with some reorganization and changing. (It didn’t help that I was rereading my manuscript after spending some time with Margot Douaihy’s brilliant debut, Scorched Grace, which is so good I am making notes of some of the sentences because they are so fucking smart; but I also wasn’t thinking rank amateur God how bad you suck at writing when there are people like Margot turning out such amazing work, which is saying something for me.) I also reread Festival of the Redeemer and Never Kiss a Stranger yesterday, and they aren’t bad, either. Maybe I don’t completely suck at this writing thing, who knows?
We spent most of yesterday bingeing The Last of Us, which is a really good show. I was reluctant for a long time–I’ve kind of had my fill of dystopian tales, although my fellow Americans don’t seem to feel the same way. But one can never go wrong with Pedro Pascal, and there was an episode where I said out loud, “this show is basically the same as The Mandalorian” and felt really smart. It’s very well done, though, and we’re obviously sucked heavily into it. The gay couple episode almost broke us both–so beautifully written and acted; so heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time, maybe one of the most well done gay romance/love stories I’ve seen on either film or television–and I was sad last night when we had to turn it off because I had to go to bed. There are, of course, similarities to other dystopian stories like The Walking Dead and The Stand, but that’s only to be expected. I also was reminded of my own ideas for a dystopia, and reminded somewhat of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (I have not read McCarthy, and felt a disclaimer was needed; but everyone knows the story of The Road).
I’ve always found it interesting that dystopic fiction is so popular, and have always wondered what precisely that says about our culture and society. I think my first dystopic fiction was the Planet of the Apes film series (I also read Pierre Boulle’s book, which the first film was very loosely based on), and the next was Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend and the movie loosely based on it, The Omega Man (interesting that the former and the latter both starred Charlton Heston). (I am a big fan of Matheson’s, who isn’t as known as he should be in my opinion; I feel the same way about Robert Bloch as well.) I myself have had ideas for dystopic fiction, as I mentioned before; I have several ideas about that I would love to try to write some time, but I am not so good at fantasy and science fiction (or at least it’s outside of my comfort zone because I don’t know anything much about science and especially not physics); which is why they were futuristic ones set in North America after the fall of the United States (which is the kind of alternative future story I love).
So. Many. Ideas.
But, basically I came away from the weekend feeling like I can get everything under control again; whether that is true or not remains to be seen. But I do know that I need to get back to work on the book, and work hard for a while. I need to get my taxes done and I need to get my emails answered. I’m looking forward to finishing Scorched Grace, which is absolutely amazing, and there’s still some cleaning that needs to be done around here. I managed to get most of the filing done so my desk area doesn’t look like a tornado zone, which is always a plus; just a few more things to file and put away and it’ll be almost completely under control. And the way things are going, I should even have a couple more completed manuscripts by the end of the summer! Woo-hoo!
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. You have a great day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
I never really thought much about writing vampire fiction.
I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I read a battered paperback copy of Carrie when I was fourteen, and ‘salem’s Lot continues to be a top 5 King novel for me, if not my favorite (it’s always a toss-up between this and The Stand, frankly) and despite my attempts to turn myself into a King clone in the 1980’s, I’ve never been very good at writing horror. I love to read it–there are some truly terrific horror writers publishing now (if you’ve not read Paul Tremblay, you really need to start), and they are, if you’ll pardon the incredibly cheap pun, killing it. I can do creepy. I can do Gothic. I can do atmosphere and all those marvelous things I love in horror fiction. But I cannot, for the life of me, scare people. I don’t know why I can’t write anything that gets under your skin and into your nervous system; the kind of thing that makes you leave a light burning after you go to bed. I wish I could write like that. I’ve certainly tried a few times…I still have an idea for a horror novel sitting in the back of my brain that I am really going to have to try to get around to writing at some point, because I really should give it a real try sometime.
I have always enjoyed reading vampire stories. “salem’s Lot has always been one of my top five Stephen King novels; I loved Dracula (oh to write an epistolary novel!) and numerous other such tales. It took me awhile to come around on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (a tale for another time), but I did eventually. Twilight never struck any chords with me. But the one thing I never thought I would do was write about vampires, despite loving them the way I do–going all the way back to my childhood and Dark Shadows. I don’t think I ever would have written about vampires, but my editor at Kensington thought I could; thought I would do a good job at it, and encouraged it, beginning with an offer to write an erotic vampire novella for a collection to be called Midnight Thirsts.
Go home, old man, Rachel thought, tapping her black fingernails on the counter.
It was aquarter till nine, fifteen minutes before she could lock the doors. Everything was clean and the cash register was already counted down. All she had really left to do was dump the remains of the day’s coffee down the sink, lock the cash drawer in the safe, and turn everything o. She’d be gone by ten minutes after at the latest.
She glanced out the big windows fronting the coffee shop. The streetlight just outside cast a yellowish glow in the thick mist pressing against the glass. She shivered and looked back at the old man. He was sitting at one of the tables in the far corner, with the same cup of coffee he’d ordered when he came in around seven thirty. He hadn’t touched it. It was still as full as when she’d filled the cup, only no steam was coming off the black surface now. He didn’t seem to be watching for anyone, or waiting. He never glanced at this watch, which she’d spotted as a platinum Tag Heuer, nor did he ever look out the window. Every once in a while. he would look up from his newspaper and catch her staring. He’d smile and nod, then go back to his reading.
Apparently, he was determined to read every word.
She stood up, bending backward so her back cracked. The night had been really slow. The Jazz Café, even on weeknights, usually was good for at least thirty to forty dollars in tips. Tonight, when she counted out the tip jar, it yielded less than seven dollars. Just enough to get her a pack a cigarettes and a twenty-ounce Diet Coke at Quartermaster Deli on her way back to her apartment. It wasn’t, she thought, wiping down the counter yet again, even worth coming in for.
Usually, on this kind of night, cold and damp and wet, Rachel was kept busy with orders for triple lattés. The tables would be full of people who would coming in shivering, bundled against the cold wetness in the air, which seemed to penetrate even the thickest coat. They’d hold their steaming cups of coffee with both reddened hands, talking and laughing. SOme would be doing their homework on laptops.
She liked busy nights, when the orders kept coming and the tip jar filled. Then, the time seemed to fly by, her closing shift passing in the blink of an eye. She hated the slow nights, when every passing minute seemed to take an eternity. She glanced back at the clock on the wall, then back at the old man. If you would just leave, she thought, I could go ahead and close early.
He’s kind of good-looking, she thought as she sipped her tepid cup of green tea, for an older guy.
At that moment he look up, and their eyes met. His were blue, a deep blue with some green in it. Once again, he nodded his head to her and smiled, but this time he didn’t go back to his newspaper. He held her eyes.
Not to worry, my child, I’ll be gone soon enough.
She turned away, shaking her head, the hair on the back of her neck standing up…
As is frequently the case with my work, The Nightwatchers began as a short story. Within a year of moving here, Paul had struck up a friendship with the director of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (which is where he now works), and as such he volunteered us both to help out with the 1997 Festival. I worked at the sign-in desk, where people picked up their badges and so forth, and it was in the lobby of Le Petite Theatre de Vieux Carre, a marvelous old theater on the corner of Chartres and St. Peter, right across the street from the Cabildo, and kitty-corner to Jackson Square. It was very old, and the main stage was named for Helen Hayes, who’d actually played there before. It was haunted, too–every building in New Orleans is–and I heard some of the stories. Being a volunteer, I had access to back stage, upstairs to the balcony, the prop attic; everywhere. (I eventually used some of this knowledge in Jackson Square Jazz.) At some point during the weekend I had an idea for a story–a horror story–about a theater company rehearsing in an old haunted theater in the French Quarter, where the person always cast in the lead female roles is also sleeping with the director. The young actress who deserved the part doesn’t listen to company gossip, but she does eventually find out that the rumors are true, and at some point made a deal with a devil who appeared to her in her dressing room, on and on and on. I called the story The Nightwatchers, because to me, that was what the devils/demons were called–they watch at night for souls to prey on. When I was asked to write this novella, I dug out the story and reread it, deciding it was perfect to adapt into something new.
I played with it a while, and couldn’t quite get it right in my head until I decided to abandon the theater idea; I’d tried turning the girl into a gay guy but it didn’t really work. I also couldn’t seem to get the atmosphere right, either, and I was convinced–still am, in fact–that the atmosphere had to be just right or the story wouldn’t work. Then one night I was walking through the lower Quarter in December–meeting Paul somewhere, I think–and it was one of those evenings when the fog is so insanely thick that you literally can’t see more than a foot or so in front of you at any time. As I walked along the sidewalk, with the old buildings pushing up against the sidewalk, when I heard the sound of hooves on the street–and realized, bemusedly, that in the fog and the only light from a gaslight–that I could have traveled back in time. Only in New Orleans can you feel like you’ve traveled back in time when it’s foggy, I thought, and wrote an entire scene around that feeling when I got back home. It was the perfect mood/atmosphere for the story, and it worked very well.
And as I wrote the novella, I got more and more into the characters and started imagining my own supernatural world, with vampires and witches and werewolves and everything else, including a ruling council over the paranormal world, the Council of Thirteen, and the old man Rachel sees in the coffee shop is a representative of the Council, in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire…a vampire who believes her young friend Philip Rutledge (now the center of the story) is the reincarnation of someone he loved hundreds of years earlier when he was human (shades of Dark Shadows!) and so wants to turn Philip into his eternal companion, and it’s up to Nigel and Rachel to rescue Philip.
It was a lot of fun to write, and I left the ending a bit open so I could write more about the characters if I ever chose to do so; I actually slotted a continuation novel into my writing schedule; it was supposed to be what I wrote next after finishing Mardi Gras Mambo…needless to say, life conspired to keep me from ever getting around to this book. I am still a bit disappointed I never carried on with the story; I used this same mythology when I returned to writing about vampires again several years later with Blood on the Moon.
So, that’s how The Nightwatchers came to be a story. Writing this now I see the parallels between what I wrote and some things I read and enjoyed (or watched, a la Dark Shadows); and is my “Nightwatcher” group that different from Anne Rice’s Talamasca? Probably not.
I did read and enjoy the other novellas back in the day; I’ve been meaning to revisit Michael Thomas Ford’s because it was particularly memorable.
I often refer to ‘salem’s Lot as “Peyton Place, but horror.” Because while Stephen King’s second novel (and still one of my favorites) absolutely does its job as a wrenching piece of horror fiction, it’s also a truly insightful and meaningful look at a small town (population 1300) and how everyone knows everyone, as well as the way their lives intersect and connect and cross intricately; we get to know a lot of the townspeople before they succumb to the horror that is overwhelming their little town. If you took the vampires out of the story, you’d have to replace them with something, as there’s no story without them, but at the same time, this novel along with Needful Things some twenty or so years later, are remain two of the best books about life in small towns that I’ve ever read.
I used to reread old Stephen King novels a lot for comfort, losing myself in the worlds he creates and enjoying the stories, the writing, and the characters. ‘salem’s Lot is definitely one of my favorites of his; definitely always in the Top 5, with perhaps only The Stand outranking it.
Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.
They crossed the country on a rambling southwest line in an old Citroen sedan, keeping mostly to secondary roads, traveling in fits and starts. They stopped in three places along the way before reaching their final destination: first in Rhode Island, where the tall man with the black hair worked in a textile mill; then in Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked for three months on a tractor assembly line; and finally in a small California town near the Mexican boarder, where he pumped gas and worked at repairing small foreign cars with an amount of success that was, to him, surprising and gratifying.
Wherever they stopped, he got a Maine newspaper called the Portland Press-Herald and watched it for items concerning a small southern Maine town named Jerusalem’s Lot and the surrounding area. There were such items from time to time.
He wrote an outline of a novel in motel rooms before they Central Falls, Rhode Island, and mailed it to his agent. He had been a mildly successful novelist a million years before, in a time when the darkness had not come over his life. The agent took the outline to his last publisher, who expressed polite interest but no inclination to part with any advance money. “Please” and “thank you,” he told the boy as he tore the agent’s letter up, were still free. He said it without too much bitterness and set about the book anyway.
The boy did not speak much. His face retained a perpetual pinched look, and his eyes were dark–as if they always scanned some bleak inner horizon. In the diners and gas stations where they stopped along the way, he was polite and nothing more. He didn’t seem to want the tall man out of his sight, and the boy seemed nervous when the man left him to use the bathroom. He refused to talk about the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, although the tall man tried to raise the topic from time to time, and he would not look at the Portland newspapers the man sometimes deliberately left around.
When the book was written, they were living in a beach cottage off the highway, and they both swam in the Pacific a freat deal. It was warmer than the Atlantic, and friendlier. It held no memories. The boy began to get very brown.
This is the cover of the version I originally read in high school–I bought it off the paperback rack at the Safeway in Emporia, Kansas. I kept that copy for years; eventually replacing it with a hardcover reprint in the 1990′, before finally getting an old copy with the original cover on eBay (which has since turned out to be a first edition; I love finding all the mistakes in it as I reread it).
I had read Carrie in paperback in one night when I’d borrowed it from a friend; it was only in the last decade that I finally acquired a copy of it to keep and reread periodically (I bought it to read the opening shower scene at Banned Books Night; ironically, the objections to the book have nothing to do with explicit talk about menstruation, or bullying, or violence…people object to the book because of its depiction of Christianity, particularly in the case of Carrie’s fanatic mother, Margaret (whom I always see in my head as Piper Laurie, who should have won an Oscar). I don’t think Carrie was the book that made me begin to question Christianity, to be honest; I think I already was questioning it before I read the book, but it was one of the first times I’d see a disparaging representation of someone committing horrifying abuses in the name of Jesus, or how the way the religion viewed sexuality could be taken to such horrific extremes. But I loved the book and became interested in Stephen King as an author. I was aware of ‘salem’s Lot before I found a copy while grocery shopping with my mom; I’d known he’d published a second book because I saw it in the book club ads (Doubleday, Book of the Month, etc.) in magazines. I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it–I had no clue it was about vampires, and vampires never even crossed my mind when I started reading. It was a Saturday (Mom always drove into Emporia on Saturday to buy groceries), and I repaired to my room with the book (my homework was already done, and whatever college football game was on that Saturday was of no interest to me) and started reading. I finished reading it at around two in the morning, and was completely blown away by it. There was no way I was going to stop reading, and there was no way to stop reading once the big reveal about the vampires happened and the pace picked up.
The book was utterly terrifying, and it started raining later on that day as I read. I was living in a small town (population 973) and my bedroom window looked out at a corn field that was right across the street. I started seeing, as I read, a lot of similarities between Jerusalem’s Lot in the book and my little town–the characters, the interconnectedness of the community, and like Ben Mears, I was still kind of a stranger in the town. I just remember that when I got to the part where Danny Glick comes to Mark Petrie’s window, the storm outside brushed a tree branch against my window and I literally jumped, the book flying out of my hands and landing across the room in the middle of the floor.
It was also the first time I remember reading a book whose main character was a writer–something Stephen King returns to quite regularly, write what you know indeed–which also helped me connect with the book more; Ben Mears was a publisher novelist of minor success, but had published three books already and hadn’t graduated from college. He also seemed like a real person, living and breathing and absolutely real; it wasn’t until this reread that I realized how much physically he’s like King–tall and slender with thick black hair.
But it was also the first time I’d read anything about vampires that was so clearly set in the real world, in the real present, and with real characters I could relate to–which made it even more terrifying. I started thinking about how easy it would be for, say, a vampire to come to our small little town and how quickly people could be turned, primarily because no one would believe it was actually happening until it was too late–which King handled beautifully in the book.
I slept really well last night, which I inevitably usually do on Thursday nights because I can sleep an hour later those mornings, which naturally makes for a better evening of sleep. I also stay up an hour later (I really have this thing about going to be before eleven that always feels wrong and like I am being cheated out of the evening or something). I was very tired after work last evening, but I did get a load of dishes finished and another started (which I will have to finish this evening). I didn’t write, but I did reread the chapters already in place and think (hope) that tonight I will get that revision finished and can finally, at long last, move on to the next.
And today is the last day of September, October Eve, if you will, which of course leaves me shaking me head in bewilderment about where September could have gone, and why did it go so quickly? Why did I get so little done? I don’t know those answers, of course, but I do know we have been having some lovely weather this week–and it’s not because of the hurricane so we can enjoy it in peace (the cold front we are having, however, is what pushed Ian east and kept him there). It was sixty-three degrees yesterday morning when I went in to the office, so chilly that it even startled me a bit as I went outside. It was still cool when I got off work as well–there was a lot of wind, too, as there has been most of the week–but I am sure we’re going to have at least another couple of really warm weeks yet before the summer finally releases its chokehold on New Orleans.
My plan is only to read horror in the month of October, but since I’ve not had the bandwidth to finish reading my Donna Andrews novel that is one of the things I am going to work on getting through this weekend. It’s not a chore, mind you–Donna’s books are always entertaining and always great reads, and I love the world she’s created in these books–but I also want to be able to focus on the book and actually, you know, read it when my mind is not so worn out and tired, so it can really enjoy the book for the volume of sheer entertainment it inevitably will turn out to be. And then I am going to move on to horror. I have some more Paul Tremblay and Christopher Golden novels on hand to read, and of course I am years behind on Stephen King–might not be a bad idea to revisit some of the classics as well as start reading through the newer works, and of course I should reread ‘salem’s Lot, and I haven’t done a reread of The Stand in quite a while, or Christine or The Dead Zone for that matter. I also need to get back to reading short stories, and I have some lovely volumes of horror short stories on hand I can read as well.
LSU plays Auburn Saturday night at Auburn, so I have most of tomorrow free to clean and read and so forth. Paul is also planning a trip to visit his mother, probably around Halloween, so I am going to have a long and lonely week to look ahead to–thinking that I’ll be able to get a lot done while he’s gone which of course will end up not being the case–and right now I don’t know what other games are on this weekend, so I am hoping I won’t actually blow all of Saturday sitting in my chair, reclined, with a purring cat in my lap while I mindlessly watch teams play games I don’t care about. I need to get back on top of all of my projects and snap out of this weird blasé place I’ve been in since Bouchercon where I just can’t seem to have the energy or strength or will to work through being tired. But the weekend looms, and if I can manage to get a good night’s sleep tonight hopefully tomorrow morning I will wake up with lots of motivation and energy–and the strength of will to ignore Scooter’s plaintive cries to provide a lap for him to sleep in.
We started watching Reboot last night on Hulu, and it’s hilarious. The core of the story is actually kind of genius; an old family-friendly comedy from twenty or thirty years ago, similar to the kind of show Diff’rent Strokes and Full House were (heartwarming fare with cute kids with corny jokes and broad humor and–ugh, you know what I mean) is being rebooted…with the original cast…only as a more modern, darker, and more realistic show. It’s hilarious, and the entire cast is terrific (Johnny Knoxville being a surprising standout). We loved it, and can’t wait to watch more. I am also getting kind of excited to watch the new adaptations of Anne Rice’s series, The Vampire Chronicles and The Mayfair Witches (although I think the vampire series may be called Interview with the Vampire? I’ve not followed stories about either show closely, figuring I’d watch once they started airing and then would check into what the plans for the shows are). Elité is also coming back, as are some other favorites. Huzzah!
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader, and hope everyone in Florida is doing okay this morning. Check in with you again tomorrow!
In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”
Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.
But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.
This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.
Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.
Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.
The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.
The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.
My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?
Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.
You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.
This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).
Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.
Tuesday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment, if a little tired/tiring.
Georgia won the national championship last night! I had to go to bed at the start of the fourth quarter, when the score was 13-12 (Alabama had first and goal inside the five, and had to kick a field goal to pull within one) and I thought to myself, Georgia might actually win this–something I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to, quite frankly–Alabama being, well, Alabama–but I can only imagine how wonderful it felt last night for the Dawg fans to finally beat Alabama and win a title–of any kind (and yes, I can completely relate–I still savor memories of LSU’s win over the Tide in 2019 for the first time in eight long years). This is the third time in the last decade an SEC team has won the national title without winning the conference (Alabama has done it twice already); the third straight year a different SEC team has won the national championship (LSU, Alabama, Georgia); and the first time a team from the SEC East has won a national title since 2008 (Florida)–as well as Georgia’s first since 1980 (!). FIVE SEC teams have won national titles since the turn of the century (LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, and now Georgia)–which should definitely bring the SEC haters out of the woodwork for sure.
And for the record, haters, only Alabama has won more national titles this century than LSU.
I was tired last night by the time the game actually started–I had the time wrong, and tuned in at the end of the first quarter, just before Georgia tied it 3-3–because I’d been doing the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon promotional reading with four other writers with new books out this month, which was a lot of fun…but coming as it did after an hour-and-a-half television interview that came on top of rushing home from work to get there in time for the call…yeah, by the time I settled into the easy chair and opened up Hulu I was worn out. I managed to revise/edit a short story yesterday during my lunch break and while the other authors were reading–I am nothing if not a multi-tasker–and also finished another blog post for the Bold Strokes website. I also managed to get most of my email answered yesterday; there’s no telling what’s in there this morning as I haven’t really had the heart to look, to be frank. (I just did–nothing really other than spam, huzzah! At least for now.) It’s also only 41 degrees this morning–small wonder I didn’t want to get out of bed, really–so that means a sweatshirt under my T-shirt for work this morning and a lot of bitterness on my part. But at least I am on vacation starting tomorrow (this would have been my travel day to New York) which means I don’t have to get up tomorrow and I can dive into the final revision of the book. It’s technically due on Saturday and Monday is a holiday, so I’ll be checking with them to make sure it’s okay if I send it in on Monday (probably really late that night), but I am assuming it will be since most publishers don’t work on weekends or holidays).
I am kind of looking forward to this staycation, despite the enormous disappointment in not going to New York. I have a lot to do–as long as I stay focused–and I am hopeful I will be able to get most of it taken care of since I have been so productive lately. Last night’s interview went well, as did the ZOOM reading, even if that much extroversion exhausted me. I want to get back to reading again–I stalled out on the last book I was reading, and have decided to alas cast it aside and choose another; returning that one to the TBR pile for another shot later…sometimes a book just doesn’t click with me when i try to read it, so I always try to give said book a second chance later. If it doesn’t take on the second try…that’s when it goes into the donate pile. I probably shouldn’t give books a second chance–given the status of the tottering stacks of books in the living room–but there have been any number of books that really grabbed me the second time I tried (The Stand is actually one of these, and there was another one in the pandemic times that I picked up and tried again with the end result that I absolutely LOVED it; I wish I could remember which one it was…) and so I am hesitant to deny myself even the possibility of missing out on a chance to read something fantastic.
But I also need to do something about the books. I also need to stop buying more until and unless I actually get rid of some that I have on hand–or at least until I can clear out some space in the storage attic to move some of these to…but that again shows the hoarder mentality–I will never go digging through boxes in the attic to find a book that’s stored up there; I would just buy another copy. So…maybe just clear them out and if I want to read them at some point in the future just suck it up and buy another copy, or get it from the library?
I don’t know.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and congratulations again, Georgia fans!
It rained pretty much all day yesterday; it was grim and gray until the sun went down. It continued to drizzle overnight, and it’s gray and cold and wet outside this morning. When I first woke up (I stayed in bed for at least another hour) it was still raining; I could hear it pelting the windows, which were also rattling with the wind. But now I am awake, Scooter has received his morning insulin shot, and I am sitting down at my computer with my first cup of coffee sort of ready to face this blustery day. I managed to get a lot done yesterday–I even worked on the book last night!–and then we got caught up on both Servant and The Stand. I have to say, I had high hopes for this remake/reboot/whatever-want-to-call-it of The Stand; it’s long been one of my favorite Stephen King novels, if not the absolute favorite, and I greatly enjoyed the original television miniseries from the early 1990’s, even if it was flawed. This version? I give them props for telling the story in a completely different, non-linear way, and the casting was very well thought out. But…I suddenly had some misgivings about the plot, the story, and how it was being depicted on the screen; “New Las Vegas”, in both book and both adaptations, was supposedly a new wicked city, on the lines of the great Biblical cities of sin like Sodom, Gomorrah, and Babylon the Great; and as I watched the so-called debauchery of this new edition of the Biblical cities of sin, I began thinking about the queers, and how we are completely missing from this narrative; also, about how “sinful debauchery” was being depicted on the screen.
And it didn’t really sit well with me, to be completely honest. There’s I think maybe one more episode left, and we’ll watch as we are completists; we generally don’t finish things that we don’t like but if we don’t absolutely hate something or think it’s completely terrible, we tend to finish watching. Servant is far superior; dark and demented and twisted, and getting even worse with each successive episode as Lauren Ambrose’s descent into madness grows worse and worse with each episode, and her brother and husband’s consistent enabling of her demented fantasies “to protect her from a truth she cannot handle”–well, good intentions and all that, you know. It’s fascinating to watch, frankly; just when we think it can’t get any more insane it laughs in our faces and yells, “Watch this, bitches!” Really, it’s quite extraordinary.
As I sat in my easy chair watching the LSU-Auburn gymnastics meet (before we moved on to our shows) I found myself writing notes for not just “The Rosary of Broken Promises” but for “To Sacrifice a Pawn” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” last night. It dawned on me during the uneven parallel bars performances by LSU that the primary problem I’ve had with “Never Kiss a Stranger” when writing it was because I was starting the story in the wrong place; my main character has just retired from the military after twenty years of service–he was tipped off that he was most likely going to be caught up in the next “gay sweep” before ‘don’t ask don’t tell” takes effect, so he filed the papers and got out. With nowhere really to go to start his life anew, he comes to New Orleans (around 1994/1995) and as he starts living as an our gay man, he rents an apartment from a widow whose only child died of AIDS the year before, begins coming to terms with who he is and what he wants from life while working as a barback at Oz, and meets a young man he begins to have feelings for…but he can also feel the presence of his landlady’s dead son in his apartment, and there’s a serial killer in New Orleans praying on gay men, the city itself is crumbling and decaying and dying, and how I want to pull all those separate threads together. Obviously, it’s fairly complicated, but I was starting the story with him arriving in New Orleans on a Greyhound bus and renting a room at the Lee Circle YMCA and looking for a place to live….and it dawned on me last night that that is all backstory, and the story should open with him finding the apartment and renting it….and then voluminous notes followed before I jumped into the other two stories. So I am feeling creative and getting stuff finished on that level; which is very cool and pleases me. Today I have some errands to run, some cleaning to do and as always, of course there is writing to be done because there is always writing to be done. But if I can get these next chapters done that I want to get done today, I can have an easier day tomorrow doing edits on the hard copies of the finished chapters and plan what else needs to be done this week. I am taking Lundi Gras off, so next weekend will be a lovely four day weekend following two work-at-home days, which will be really nice–and should help me get very much further on this book being completed. Huzzah!
Yesterday while I was making condom packs I decided to view my first film in what I call the 80’s Teen-sploitation Film Fest. I’ve always thought there were a clearly delineated line between movies directed for a younger audience prior to the 1980’s and those that came after; I, as always, have an uneducated film student type theory that has probably already been deeply explored, debunked, and argued about endlessly. My theory is that the one-two punch of Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High forever changed the face or youth movies; Porky’s was all about the raunchy teen sex comedy, all about sex-crazed teen boys; Ridgemont High showed that girls were just as obsessed/concerned about sex as the boys, and the idea that breaking the rules for kids–drinking, having sex, experimenting with drugs–required punishment of some sort–they needed to suffer for the experimentation, was kind of thrown out the window (although slasher films targeted at the youth market were also on the rise during this time; and as was pointed out so brilliantly in the Scream movies–the victims often were being punished for breaking the rules; another interesting theorem branching off from the original). So, I decided to revisit a film I saw in the theater and actually enjoyed at the time–and did also on subsequent viewings on cable: Class.
Reader, it does not hold up at all–if it ever did, frankly; the misogyny is so deeply embedded in this film that it’s hard to imagine there being anything left if the misogyny is removed. Class is really two movies combined into one: a coming of age movie about a young scholarship student who bonds with his wealthy roommate, which is kind of a sex comedy; and a deeply tragic story about the wealthy student’s mother. The always exquisite Jacqueline Bisset plays the mother opposite Cliff Robertson as her austere and cold husband–there was a lot of story there the screenwriters sadly chose to ignore at the expense of the teen sex comedy they were aiming for. The result is the movie doesn’t really work, and Bisset’s character, Ellen, never really makes any sense other than “oh she has psychological problems, takes drugs and drinks too much.” This is basically shrugged off like it’s nothing, nor is the damage this bad marriage has inflicted on their son ever explored or thought about or even discussed. The son is played by a young and incredibly beautiful Rob Lowe; the scholarship student is played by Andrew McCarthy in his debut film. The friendship between the two is the core of the movie; but even it never makes sense. Rob plays Skip–extroverted, beautiful, young, and rich– as an immensely likable asshole with an over-the-top sense of humor. There are some funny scenes, but the core of the movie is based in the hormone-riddled sex fever dreams of teenaged boys who drink and smoke pot and try to get laid and spend most of their time figuring out ways around the rules and partying. There are some funny moments–but for the most part the movie can’t make up its mind as to whether its supposed to be comedy or drama. One of the fun things about the movie is seeing any number of young stars of the future in small roles–John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Virginia Madsen, and Casey Siezmansko all are in the movie, as well as it being McCarthy’s debut and an early film in the Lowe canon. The retread plot, which has Jonathon (McCarthy) going to a bar in Chicago (sent by Skip) to try to get laid, being humiliated by a woman who also looked familiar, and then finally Ellen (Bisset) taking pity on him and seducing him, beginning an affair in which he meets her in Chicago every weekend. She of course doesn’t know he’s a high school student; even as young as he looks, one would assume a man you meet in a bar would be over eighteen–and it’s on a trip to New York for the weekend that his wallet falls open while he’s trying on close and she sees his student ID. She flees, and that’s the end of the affair. Later, when Skip brings Jonathon home with him, he discovers he’s been sleeping with his best friend’s mother–and then it turns truly tragic. Ellen is for some reason now obsessed with Jonathon, calling him all the time at school and begging him to meet her until he finally agrees–and of course, Skip and his buddies crash the hotel where they have gotten a room (somehow finding out their room number) and bust in on them. The rest of the movie has Skip choosing not to reveal a secret of Jonathon’s about cheating on the SAT, the two of them getting into a brutal fist fight–and once it’s over, they are friends again. Roll credits.
It is only recently that we as a society have begun to view the older woman/teenage boy sexual dynamic as abusive rather than as a fantasy; there were a rash of these type films in the early 1980’s (another that comes to mind is My Tutor, with gorgeous Matt Lattanzi being seduced by a beautiful woman hired by his father to tutor him–sexually as well as academically, and Weird Science also had the same premise–but I don’t think the boys ever had sex with their creation) which was part of the weird “boys are studs/girls are sluts” mentality that has been so pervasive in our society for so long–I’ve never seen it, but I also believe Tea and Sympathy falls into this category, as does Summer of ’42–and as I said, it is only recently, with several high profile cases, that we as a society have begun to look a little askance at this idea (we came to the conclusion that older men/teenaged girls was abuse much, much sooner). I hated A Teacher as we watched it, but now…having seen Class again and remembering these other films, which portray these kinds of relationships as something to be desired…I might have to rethink my opinion of how heavy-handed A Teacher was in its “this is a LESSON we all need to learn” stridency. There have been a score of these types of court cases in Louisiana–the Destrehan one where two young female teachers were fucking a student comes to mind–and it’s something I would really like to explore in a book sometime.
And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. So much to do, so much to get done….and so little time in which to do it all. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!
And another Monday has rolled around and here I am yet again awake before the sunrise and trying to get it together for yet another work week.
I got some terrific work done on the book yesterday, which quite naturally was most pleasing to me. I made it through the intro pieces and the first two chapters, which were very messy–I was, frankly, a little taken aback by just how sloppily written those two chapters were. Especially since they were around the seventh or so drafts of those chapters–I have been working on this book, off and on, since the summer of 2015–but I never really had quite grasped how to write the book in any of those earlier drafts, nor did I know what the plot and story were missing; which I do now. I got up rather early yesterday, feeling refreshed and well-rested (which was quite lovely) and spent the morning cleaning the kitchen and doing some more organizing. I also spent some time in the morning getting further into Alyssa Cole’s marvelous Edgar finalist, When No One Is Watching, which I went back to and finished after getting my own work done. I absolutely loved this book, and it will definitely be getting its own entry at some point. I cannot recommend it enough Anyway, around finishing reading this book I managed to get a couple of chapters revised and rewritten, and hope to get a few more done this evening after work. The deadline looms, of course–and now I am going to have to buckle down and focus for the month of February in order to get it finished. I also worked a little bit on my short story “The Sound of Snow Falling”– also handwriting the story in my journal rather than typing on the computer. I think it’s going to be a good story; here’s hoping at any rate.
We also got caught up on the The Stand last night–we were two weeks behind, and somehow one or both of us always manages to forget we are watching it–and…I am enjoying it, and it is telling the story Stephen King wrote forty years ago, and I do admire the changes in how the story is being told…but I am also emotionally resistant to those changes at the same time, simply because I am so devoted to the book. The original mini-series from the early 1990’s followed the book’s narrative pretty closely; this new version chose to skip over a lot of the end of the world and everyone’s journey to Boulder. I do think that cutting all that backstory was perhaps a mistake; without it, we don’t really understand why everyone is so devoted to Mother Abagail, or the relationship between Larry and Harold, which I also thought was an integral key to the story. So I am enjoying it at the same time I am a little disappointed by it? I am not dismissing it straight out of hand, like some King purists, but I am not overly thrilled by the choices they are making as show-runners and writers. But it’s different, and whether that difference is good or bad remains to be seen. I suspect there is only one episode left, perhaps two–I will be curious to see how it all ends and what differences there are between the original story and the finished product of this adaptation.
It’s cold this morning in New Orleans, and even with the sun rising in the east over the West Bank (that will never cease to amuse me, really) it’s very cold and gray looking outside. I can see one of the few remaining trees next door moving in the wind, and the sky is covered with a layer of gray-looking clouds. It’s less than fifty degrees out there right now, which is a bit chilly, and I would imagine, from the looks of the cloud cover, that it’s likely to rain for most of the day, or at least the morning. I have my space heater going–the warm air blowing against my sweat-panted legs feels quite lovely–and I am drinking my first cappuccino of two for the morning. I don’t feel tired this morning, but rather well-rested, which is nice…not to mention I only have about another week or so before my vaccine kicks into gear. My left shoulder is still a bit sore this morning–now it just feels like a bruise–so I am going to most likely sip the gym one more time and go tomorrow evening. (I’ll see how the shoulder feels tonight when I get home from the office, to be honest–but I also don’t want to get out of the routine again. I’ve been doing so well, and as I have noted, my boy’s shape and size is shifting, which is quite nice)
I also have a lot of work to get done this week. Oh, so much work to get done this week! But there’s naught to do but to get it done–it’s not going away, and the longer before I get to it, the harder it will be to go ahead and do it.
And on that note, as the gray light becomes steadily a little gray outside my windows (but remains, nevertheless, gray) I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader–and if you’re in the path of the massive blizzard up north, stay inside and stay warm and safe!
My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.
I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.
I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.
I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.
Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.
I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.
I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.
We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.
And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.
But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.
Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.
I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.
I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!
I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.
And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!