Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

Wednesday, and Hump Day; whatever you prefer to call it. It’s the midway point of the week, at any rate, and it’s all downhill from here into the weekend.

I always regret the loss of Mondays and Tuesdays to twelve hour work days, to be completely honest; I generally can’t get anything done on either day rather than going into the office. I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday and Monday nights, and there’s also never a guarantee I’m going to sleep well, which is a terrifying prospect, particularly on Sunday nights as I head into the long stretch of the week. I slept extremely well last night–so much so that I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; I could have easily slept another few hours or so, and as I drink my first cup of coffee, still feel a little bit on the foggy side. We’re also supposed to have terrible weather this morning–thunderstorms, etc; I got one of those damned bad weather notices on my phone last night–which is, of course, still possible. The ground is wet so it may have rained during the night, and it’s cloudy and grayish outside. Hopefully the rain will hold off until after I go to the gym later this morning

I decided yesterday that I didn’t care for the work I’d done on the Secret Project already–although it was an admirable attempt–so I decided to start over, at a different place, and change the opening completely. I wish I could explain in more detail, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? But one thing that is frequently true about me–and my work, all too frequently–is that I am very stubborn about openings. I envision an opening for a story or a book, and that’s where I start…and even though it may soon become readily apparent that isn’t the right place to start the story, I stubbornly cling to it because that’s the idea I originally had…despite knowing that I often start the story in the wrong place and changing the opening would most likely make the writing flow better. If you will recall, I have had a lot of trouble with writing this lately–I was lucky to get five hundred words a day for the longest time, until finally I was able to get about 1200 down in a day to get the first chapter finished. But it still dissatisfied me, and I began to wonder if maybe the problem was writing it in the first person rather than the third; perhaps a tight third point-of-view was what was actually called for. So, I exhaled a heavy sigh and decided to give that a try. I started last night–despite my exhaustion–and as I thought about it in the third person, I realized that if I was doing it in the third person, I should start it somewhere else…and as I thought about the words, decided to try it in the first with the new starting place, and it clicked. Which is helpful, I think? We shall see. But I am rather pleased with this new starting place, and I can get some good progress made on this now, methinks.

One would hope, anyway.

The fog in my own brain is beginning to clear a bit this morning, as I now have moved on to my second cup of coffee, and I am going to need to get started on activities that simply must be done; it’s Pay Day and thus Pay-the-Bills-Day, which is always a fun delight to see how little I have left to live on for the next two weeks or so. It can be depressing at times, or stressful at others, but what else can I do rather than try to figure out how to increase my income? Obviously, buying the car and taking on a car payment (and a tripling of the monthly car insurance bill) at the same time as taking a step back from my writing career to assess and think and decide what to do was probably poor timing; but I love having my car despite the enormous hole its blown in my budget, and if I could just get past all the various forms of whatever-it-is  that seem to preclude me from actually writing– this would cease to be a problem, you know?

Imposter Syndrome is probably the biggest contributor to this; and it’s very easy to get triggered into a downward spiral of it: a short story rejection, a one-star review, not being included in a list of gay writers, etc. etc. etc. This spiral generally comes to the fore with a message running through my brain: why do I bother, no one cares. (And for the record, I’m not bringing this up to get affirmation from people; I know all too well that affirmation doesn’t help much in these situations; you always think oh, I have such lovely and supportive friends rather than having some kind of self-worth renewal. It’s very, very true that belief in yourself has to start within you; and I’d love to know the reason why I am so self-defeating–which, for the record, is an entirely different thing from self-destructing.) It’s very easy to get into the mindset that the world is against you, that everyone is conspiring to bring or keep you down; when the real truth is the vast majority of people don’t think about you at all.

It’s kind of like that rampant insecurity I used to feel when I first started venturing into gay bars, hesitantly and nervous, absolutely certain that everyone was looking at me and judging me, not finding me attractive or interesting or worthy of even making eye contact with. It was all stuff and nonsense, of course. Nobody spends that much time looking at and judging total strangers, or laughing at them in gay bars; and if they do, they’re not worth knowing anyway. I finally reached the point where I neither cared what strangers thought–which was incredibly freeing–nor concerned myself with what other people do. I had no control over either, so why concern myself with it?

I saw the other day, for example, that someone had collected all the one and two star reviews from Amazon and Goodreads for Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was kind of serendipitous; I had just finished rereading and enjoying the book for the Reread Project, and Highsmith is one of my favorite authors. It was kind of an eye-opening moment about writing and publishing: for fuck’s sake, if people are giving HIGHSMITH and probably one of her best titles one and two star reviews…why the fuck do worry about bad reviews? We all get them, and really, it doesn’t ever mean why do you bother (no matter how vitriolic), it just means your books and your writing and your story and your voice didn’t connect with that person. That’s really all it means, and should be viewed as such.

It’s getting gloomier outside, which means the predicted rain is coming. Ah, well, I shall simply have to take an umbrella with me to the gym. I’m actually not dreading the gym this morning, and I don’t think I’m going to have to make myself go. I have felt so much better physically just from going on Sunday; I’ve realized that my muscles are tired from the work, which is actually a good feeling. My goal is to go again today and Friday, and then again on Sunday. It won’t be easy maintaining this schedule during Parade Season–Parade Season is what finished me off and knocked me out of my routine the last time I started trying to get back into the gym, and that was last year? The year before? I don’t recall, but it ultimately doesn’t matter; I stopped going and I need to learn from that mistake this year.

And on that note, I should start paying the bills and getting things done. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Before the Next Teardrop Falls

Saturday morning and a bit chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning. I slept ridiculously well last night–only waking when the cat decided to turn me into his bed, climbing on me while purring deep and loud, and of course kneading me with his paws for a while, to make me more comfortable to lie on, I suppose? I was tired last night–the week rather wore me down–and so am glad and grateful to have gotten a decent night’s sleep.

Mary Higgins Clark died yesterday, at the age of ninety-two, which of course is terribly sad news for the crime/mystery community. I remember reading Where Are The Children–it was one of the those phenomena books in the 1970’s; it was everywhere and everyone was talking about it (like Robin Cook’s Coma, Stephen King, and several others) back in the days before social media and “viral” sensations; Mary went “viral” back in the day when it was much harder to go viral. I also read her second novel, A Stranger is Watching. I deeply enjoyed both books. Mary’s career lasted over forty years and forty best-sellers; she became a living legend during her lifetime.

I met Mary when I attended the Edgars for the first time, clad in my kilt and beret and feeling excited and awed to be at the biggest event in my writing community for the year; I was both intimidated by the glittering stars of the genre in attendance that evening, yet thrilled at the same time. I couldn’t help but think, as I drank champagne at the cocktail party before the ceremony, almost too intimidated to make eye contact with anyone, about how when I was a teenager dreaming about being a writer back in Kansas that I used to imagine being at events like this, surrounded by amazingly talented people. I had a few moments of feeling overwhelmed by the occasion. I finally took my second or third glass and sat down at one of the tables…only to be joined a few moments later by Mary and her husband. I had seen her the night before at the Agents and Editors party, when the winner of the award she had started with her publisher to honor women who wrote books like hers was presented. The winner that year was Hank Phillippi Ryan, for The Other Woman. I was too tongue-tied to say much of anything–I was still in too much shock to be sitting at a table with MARY HIGGINS CLARK, along with a serious case of Imposter Syndrome. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember her asking me, in a very kind and interested voice, what I wrote–and I will never forget how she made me feel like both colleague and peer.

I’ve always regretted not getting a picture with her.

I decided, right then and there, to revisit Where Are The Children; I bought a copy soon thereafter and it has languished in my TBR pile ever since; but since I am focusing on The Reread Project this year, I am moving it further up the list.

Mary meant a lot to a lot of people, not the least of whom were her readers, as well as her contemporaries. She was kind and exceptionally generous to other writers, particularly women getting started in the business, and was a shining light in our community.

It’s going to be strange being at the Edgars this year and not seeing Mary.

I have a lot to do today; I need to get to work on the Secret Project as well as cleaning up around here; I have some errands to run and a some other, non-career related things to get taken care of today, and of course, the email does tend to pile up over night. My regular use email doesn’t get nearly as much spam as the gmail account I used does–that’s the one I use for reader contact and also for donating to causes I believe in, and of course, once you donate to something you get put on a chain list and it gets shared and/or sold, and it grows and grows and grows. I don’t check it as often as I should to clean it out, and there will be times when I go there and there’s over 300 new emails; all of it, for the most part, junk. I’ve finally started unsubscribing to mailing lists there, but it never seems to quite do the trick.

I also have a lot of organizing to do; I have to stay organized if I intend to get anything done and not miss anything. So, after I finish this, I am going to curl up in my easy chair for about an hour to read Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes, and then once I am fully awake I am going to start organizing and going through emails and so forth. I also have two blog posts, about The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels, to finish writing; perhaps today will be that day.

And on that note I am going to get another mug of coffee and head to the easy chair with Ms. Hughes. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Tear Time

Friday and a rather chilly, grayish day has come to usher in the weekend. I was exhausted last night when I got home from work–which has been happening more and more lately–and slept really well. Paul didn’t get home until late, so we weren’t able to watch anything last night–but we made our plans for the weekend; since we really don’t care about the Super Bowl we’re going to try to get caught up on the shows we watch this weekend. I also want to get deeper into the Dorothy Hughes novel I am reading, Dread Journey. It’s relatively short, so I should be able to get through it relatively quickly, if I can devote the time to it.

This week wore me out somehow–I can’t remember the last time I was so worn down by a week in which it wasn’t parade season or I wasn’t on a trip somewhere. Not sure what that’s about, but it’s also part and parcel of the reboot I need to do on my life and my weekly routine. Most of all I need to start taking better care of myself, for one thing–particularly when it comes to health-related issues; there’s doctor’s appointments and blood work I need to have done that I somehow never seem to get around to, and that’s a big no-no. Last year was supposed to be the year that got taken care of–and it actually didn’t turn out that way.

But…at least now when I am home and too exhausted after work to write or read or focus on a TV show, I have lots of LSU game highlights from this past season to stream on Youtube.

I’m not, I think, going to try to overdo things this weekend; or make a to-do list that I will never finish, you know? I do need to update the to-do list I have running–I think I accomplished almost everything I needed to on the list yesterday, and there are some emails I need to send this morning before I head into the office later this morning–and I have several blog posts I’ve started writing and need to finish–my rereads of Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley have reviews I’ve started and not finished, for example. And as I begin to move on to the next book in the TBR pile, I should get those out of the way because I will also have to write a review of Dread Journey.

And I have some short stories I should finish, and others I should revisit.

The publishing world has really been a dumpster fire for quite some now–first the RWA mess, and now the whole American Dirt dust-up. Both dust-ups ultimately boil down to the same thing: what responsibility do writers have when they write outside their own experience? Particularly when it comes to the marginalized? I have always held that a writer can write about anything they wish; anything that intrigues them enough for them to sit down and spend the time constructing a novel is something they should write about. I chose to write a novel about rape culture in a small town, but I chose not to write it from the point of view of the victim, but rather that of someone else in the town, another player on the football team who wasn’t involved in the incident–but is close friends with the boys who did. I’ve been struggling with this manuscript for several years now; partly from a sense that maybe I wasn’t the right person to tell this story; was centering a teenaged boy rather than a teenaged girl in this story the right choice; was i doing a kind of To Kill a Mockingbird thing, trying to do a #notallmen type thing that would ultimately be offensive?

I like to think the fact that I actually do worry about these things is a good sign.

Anyway, I’ve always said that writers can write anything they are interested in, but have a responsibility to get things right. I’ve written from the point of view of women before; I’ve written from the point of view of a teenaged girl before. Do I, as a gay man, have a right to write about straight women/girls? Of course I do, and no one has ever told me that I don’t. But I also owe it to women–and all the women I’ve known–to create multi-faceted, complex, complicated women characters that are believable and whose experiences are also believable. Likewise, a cisgender straight person writing about gay men have a responsibility to gay men to get it right and create real characters rather than fantasy, and a white person writing about an oppressed racial minority particularly has a responsibility to that minority to do the work and get it right. As writers, we don’t always get it right, and we owe it to that minority to listen when they say we got it wrong.

We need to do better.

And comparing minorities of any kind–religious, racial, gender, sexuality, ethnic–to vampires and werewolves and zombies to justify writing outside your own experience? Shows that you don’t have the empathy to write about any minority. You can’t compare actual human beings to mythological creatures as a justification for writing about them because we actually exist. 

And if you can’t understand how horrible and odious making those comparisons are…well, I’m not going to read your work because I can be relatively certain it won’t be any good.

And on that note, those emails aren’t going to answer themselves.

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Old Fashioned Love

Saturday and football is completely over–at least for me, thank you, Saints–until September (or late August, it seems to start earlier and earlier every year), so Saturday spreads out before me like an unpainted canvas, waiting for me to add colors and depth and so forth.

How fucking poetic.

But I woke up without the alarm at just before seven this morning, so hopefully that means I’ve trained myself to get up at that time now so it won’t be an issue going forward. During my most productive periods, I always got up around seven in the morning to accomplish things before going into the office; I can still get things done at night, of course, after work, but now I need the extra time and hopefully I will be able to continue on this productive path. I got up this morning and read through a gift from Paul he left on my desk–a commemorative magazine about the LSU season, the first of many I imagine I’ll be getting over the course of the next few weeks/months–and then finished reading the new Elizabeth Little novel, Pretty as a Picture, which I really loved, and now here I am at my desk, writing my blog and getting ready to start cleaning up this disgrace of an office area before running my usual Saturday errands–mail, cat food from the vet, groceries–and hopefully, getting some writing done. I also still need to write blogs about three books I’ve read recently: the reread of Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, the reread of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and of course, the new Elizabeth Little.

I also have to decide what I am going to read next–something from the Diversity Project, perhaps, or possibly the Reread Project? Or maybe something new from the TBR pile? I do have that new edition of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey…and one can never go wrong with Hughes. Added plus: an intro by the divine Sarah Weinman. Or perhaps something non-fiction? Decisions, decisions, decisions, and such a wealth of treasures to choose from, as well. I’m almost finished with Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is fantastic–and have bookmarked lots of pages for further investigation or ideas for writing other stories, and books. I need to get to work on the secret project, and I also need to get started on a short story I promised that is due on March 31st. And there is ever so much filing that needs to be done–I’ve decided to start on a massive new project that is far overdue; my file cabinet, in which over the years I’ve simply lazily tossed files into without any sense of organization or order, and always push off because, of course, it would take forever. But yesterday at the office I also worked on a filing project I’ve been avoiding for weeks, and it was ever so satisfying.

I’ll never completely understand my reluctance and hesitation about doing things I actually enjoy and find satisfying: organizing, filing, writing, going to the gym. Why is it always an effort for me to do things I enjoy? Why won’t I ever actually, you know, do those things? And without fail, every time I do, when I am finished I feel terrific and feel a sense of accomplishment which is eminently satisfying.

I really don’t get it. Perhaps I should start seeing a therapist again.

Although in fairness, I did get tired of my old therapist looking at me with his eyes wide open and his jaw dropped.

So many things I really need to be working on…but I am definitely leaning towards reading the Hughes next, and I think once I’m finished with Bourbon Street I’ll read John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia next. I really do enjoy learning about New Orleans history–and by extension, Louisiana’s–and it also inspires me. I’ve made so many notes for potential short stories and novels, which, if I’m lucky, maybe someday I’ll have the time to write to actually turn about ten percent of those ideas into a finished, publishable product.

And on that note, I should probably head back into the mines for spice. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone.

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The Gambler

New York!

It’s been far too long since I’ve been to New York; five years maybe? If not longer? MY memory, as I am prone to say with some regularity, has become a sieve and I can no longer remember how long ago something was unless there’s an event I can specifically tie something to–“Oh, that was the year of Toronto Bouchercon”, et al–so I don’t know. I think it’s been four-ish, at the very least. It’s also been more than twenty years since I flew into LaGuardia Airport–primarily because it’s the more difficult airport in the area to get into Manhattan from; back when I served on the Mystery Writers of America board before, I always flew into Newark because I knew how to get to Grand Central from there quite easily.

And to my New York friends, I do apologize if I wasn’t able to see you; I knew it was short trip, it was for business, and almost every minute of every day was accounted for–plus, I had my usual issue with sleeping in a different bed than my own.

And of course, the night I finally was able to sleep was the last night there. Naturally. But at least I wasn’t so tired on my travel-home day that I just wanted to curl up in a ball somewhere and cry. I was also able to get some reading done while I traveled; on the way up I finished The Talented Mr. Ripley, started Blanche on the Lam, which I finished on the flights home (I had to connect through St. Louis), and once I finished reading that, I was able to start reading Elizabeth Little’s new (and amazing) Pretty as a Picture, which I am going to carve some time out for today, hopefully; it’s really good.

And as always, whenever I travel to something that’s writing related, I get inspired. Just being around other writers, talking about writing and books we’ve read and like…it always flips that switch in my head. Going to New York–and I am aware of how weird this is going to sound–always makes me feel like I’m a writer. When I was a kid, I used to sit in my room and read, and then daydream about being all grown up and a writer and going to New York. As I was flying home yesterday (seriously, I had to connect through St. Louis) I was pulling my journal out of my bag and making notes on ideas and thoughts and so forth. I’ve been wanting to write a flight attendant noir story for a while now, and the opening line came to me last night on the second leg of the trip: One truth about travel that no airline will ever admit to is that there is absolutely no way anyone can get comfortable in a coach–er, economy–class seat.

And of course, over the course of the weekend I was elected Executive Vice-President of the Mystery Writers of America Board of Directors, which is an amazingly awesome-sounding title which translates into “a lot of work.” But you know–I missed being on the Board of Directors and all the work, despite the occasional frustrations. And the free time I got once I cycled off? It didn’t turn into more time to write and focus on my writing career. I’ve also come to realize I am more productive, and do more, when I have more to do–that’s just how sick I am.  When I have a lot to do I make a list and remain focused and disciplined….and given how undisciplined I’ve been over the last few years…so, yeah. I am sure I’ll be whining soon enough—I know myself better than anyone else does–but I thrive better under pressure and with more to get done.

It’s a sickness.

And now, back to the spice mines. There will be more to come–I want to write and talk about both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Blanche on the Lam, most definitely, but for now I need to spend the day getting caught up on my life and things around here and maybe–just maybe–get back to work on some of my own writing.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Constant Reader!

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Walking After Midnight

Here I am, up at the crack of dawn–well, not really, but earlier than I usually get up on a Thursday–so I can catch a flight to New York later this morning. And I think I packed the clothes I intended to wear on the plane this morning–which is fine. Not particularly smart, but I’ve been running on accessory all week as it is, so it’s not particularly surprising, either.

I also woke up well before my alarm this morning, too. Not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

Today is also my first time flying out of the new terminal at Armstrong, so that’s also kind of exciting.

I am taking probably too many books with me on this trip: The Talented Mr, Ripley; Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely; Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little; and Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes. I’ll probably finish Ripley at the airport and get started on the Neely on the plane. I hope to have some free down time periodically in order to do some work on my secret project; but knowing how these trips usually go that’s most likely never going to happen. But hope springs eternal and all that nonsense.

Last night didn’t do much of anything once I got home. I packed and spent the evening in my easy chair, watching videos on Youtube–clips and analysis of the LSU game on Monday, as well as discussions on whether or not this team is one of the best of all time. It’s kind of hard to argue against it, really; given the teams they beat and how they beat them. The last three games of the season were against Number 4 Georgia (37-10); Number 4 Oklahoma (63-28), and Number 3 Clemson (42-25). They beat everyone in the preseason top 4 (Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia). Excluding the LSU losses, those three times they beat at the end of the season totaled 2 losses total; add Alabama into the mix and that would be three; adding Florida would make it 4.

Sorry, I know I tend to run on and on about this LSU team, but damn, they were amazing.

But I’ll be glad when this trip is over and I get home Sunday evening. I have Monday off–Martin Luther King Jr Day–and so I can relax and recover and get some things done before I return to work on Tuesday. Traveling has become more and more of a chore the older I get; I always wonder if getting older has just made me crankier, or if traveling has, indeed, gotten terrible. I suspect it’s a combination of the two–less patience and more stupidity and inefficiency. But I do love New York; I never feel more like a writer then I do when I am in New York; probably because as a child New York was the nexus for authors–and certainly in every book I read that had a writer as a character, that was certainly the case; everything from You Can’t Go Home Again to Youngblood Hawke to Peyton Place, for that matter; and of course the crown jewel, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything. And I will be there this afternoon! It’s not that I mind trips–it’s the getting there, the actual travel, I’ve come to loathe–from getting to the airport to the check-in process to security to the seemingly endless wait at the gate; the gathering of luggage and transporting one’s self to the final destination.

And on that note, tis time to hop in the shower and make my final preparations for the departure. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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I’ve Always Been Crazy

Yesterday was rough. I was so tired all day, but somehow I managed to power through it all–God only knows how. It wound up not being that bad of a day, to be honest–although I kind of just drifted through the day and don’t really remember a whole lot of it, if I’m being completely honest.

But I am still so damned proud of the LSU Tigers. National champions, again. Just amazing, absolutely amazing. What an amazing season, what a fabulous joy ride for us LSU fans. This team will be remembered forever, just like the 1958 national champions are still talked about today. The entire season was a non-stop highlight reel.

Carnival this year is going to be lit.

And now it’s back to reality–although none of that feels quite real yet.

Tomorrow morning I leave for a short weekend in New York; I return to New Orleans on Sunday, and of course Monday is a holiday so I have a day to relax and recalibrate and recover from what is certain to be an exhausting trip; New York always wears me out. I’ll be busy the entire time–it’s a business trip–so making time to see friends isn’t really going to work out this trip; but I should be returning in late April/early May and maybe that trip I’ll be able to see and hang out with friends–I know so many people in New York it’s scary; I could go up for weeks and not see everyone.

But I slept really well last night–I was exhausted, so no real surprise there–and feel rested enough this morning to be able to focus and get back on the get-shit-done train. I need to swing by this morning and get the mail on my way to the office, and I should be getting started packing this morning, as well as cleaning the kitchen. I’ll have to leave for the airport tomorrow morning around eight–flight is at eleven, and have to account for traffic and shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal, so I won’t really have time tomorrow morning to do much more than drink some coffee and shower.  I need to make some headway on a new secret project–which I am focusing on to the exclusion of all other writing, at least for now, and I hope to have it all finished by next week so I can get back to finishing Bury Me in Shadows–and I am taking The Talented Mr. Ripley with me to read, along with Blanche on the Lam by newly minted MWA Grand Master Barbara Neely, and Pretty as a Picture, the new Elizabeth Little novel, which I have in ARC form. I may take one more book with me–just to be on the safe side, since reading is my favorite way to spend time in airports and on airplanes.

And hopefully, this trip will kick my ass into gear when it comes to reading. My reading has fallen off dramatically since I read for the Edgars in 2018–judging almost always, inevitably, burns me out from reading and it takes me a while to get back up to reading for pleasure again (having said that, though, I read some absolutely amazing books in 2019). I don’t think I’m going to judge again–it’s very time consuming, for one, and you don’t really get the chance to enjoy and savor the books the way I prefer; I intend to go back and reread the five books we selected as finalists and winner at some point, so I can enjoy them as reads rather than reading them critically, with an eye to selecting the best; the five books we selected were all fantastic, so they deserve to be read with an eye for enjoyment. Reading for an award also throws me terribly behind on my pleasure reading–I am now perhaps three or four books behind on my Donna Andrews reading, and this shall not stand! It always sucks to get behind on your pleasure reading because new books are coming out all the time and that makes it harder to get caught up and then you end up with a 2 or 300 hundred book TBR list and–

Yikes.

Not to mention how far behind I’ve allowed myself to get with my writing. But my weekends are free now–football is over and so I have no excuses any more for not getting a lot of writing or editing or reading or all three done every weekend anymore. We’ll probably watch LSU Gymnastics every Friday night–and of course, figure skating season is kicking into gear again too–but for the most part, there’s no reason why I can’t get back to work on the weekend as well as getting my fat old ass back into the gym regularly either; I intend to return to the gym on Monday and start slowly whipping this tired, flabby, sagging body back into some kind of shape again. People have been asking my lately if I’ve lost weight–I didn’t think I had, and I weighed myself yesterday to discover that I have not, in fact, lost even a pound since the last time I weighed myself. I’m not so concerned about losing weight, to be honest, this time around; I’ve come to accept 212 as the weight I am doomed to carry on my frame for the rest of my life, but I can at least trim some of the excess body fat off and get the muscles firmed up again.

I also have a short story I need to get written. I really need to make a list, don’t I?

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the rest of the morning before I head back into the office. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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You Don’t Love Me Anymore

Sunday morning, and with no Saints game today I have no excuse not to get a lot done today. It’s chilly this morning and gray outside; we still have rain in the forecast but it’s calm and quiet out there right now; perhaps the calm before the storm? Ugh, such a tired cliche–but it’s fine with me.

Yesterday I got a lot of chores done–very little writing, but the chores were necessary and of course, being the Master Procrastinator that I am; I have to have a clean apartment–or at least one that’s been straightened up some–in order to have a clear conscience enough to get work done. I now have no excuses to not get everything done that I need to get done today–but we’ll see how that goes; there’s always something.

I read another Holmes story yesterday–“The Musgrave Ritual”–which I couldn’t remember the plot of, other than remembering that it was one of my favorite Holmes stories. Like “The Gloria Scott“, it’s a “let me tell you a story” story; I really don’t remember the Holmes stories being like this, of course, but it’s something to think about as I prepare to write my own pastiche. It’s a style of writing/story-telling I’m not so certain I want to try, but then again–the entire point of me writing a Holmes story is to push myself as a writer and get better overall, so perhaps…perhaps I should try it that way and see how it goes. Anyway, as I reread it, I remembered why I liked it so much; it’s a treasure hunt story, and I absolutely love treasure hunts. At least two Scotty books–Jackson Square Jazz and Vieux Carre Voodoo, are treasure hunts.

I also rewatched the original film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, 1963’s The Haunting, directed by multiple Oscar winner Robert Wise, and starring Julie Harris as Nell. I saw this movie long before I even knew there was a book, let alone read it; my grandmother loved old black and white movies, and she especially loved crime and horror–probably where I get it from, and she also introduced me to the novels of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was very young and the film absolutely terrified me–to this day, even remembering the scene with the door expanding and contracting unsettles me. I was, of course, quite delighted as a teenager to discover it was actually a novel (I had read Richard Matheson’s Hell House, with it’s similarities to The Haunting, year earlier and wondered if he’d gotten the idea for the book from the movie), and it quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time; in fact, I believe it was Stephen King who introduced me to the novel, because the opening paragraph was an epigram to ‘salem’s Lot. But I hadn’t watched the film in years; I’d watched the horrible 1999 remake, and of course the Netflix series loosely based on the book (I do recommend the series, it’s fantastic, once you get back the fact that it’s not a faithful adaptation but kind of fan-fiction; it didn’t even have to be Hill House for the story to work, but that’s a subject for a different blog. I do recommend it, though). Julie Harris is perfectly cast as Nell, and Claire Bloom does an excellent job as Theo. There are differences between the book and the film; why they changed Dr. Montague’s name to Dr. Markway is a mystery, and the later third of the film, after his wife arrives, is vastly different from the later third of the novel, and her character is completely changed; the young man who escorts her to Hill House is also excised from the movie. But the way the film is shot–the use of light and shadow, the up angles of the camera, and the ever-so creepy claustrophobia of the enclosed house–is absolutely terrifying, and you never see what is actually haunting the house. That was the singular brilliance of the book, and Wise kept that for his film (the execrable 1999 remake went completely over the top with CGI effects and so forth; ruining the necessary intimacy of the story). I still think of it as one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and on a rewatch–the way you hear Nell’s thoughts, whispered, while Julie Harris’ eyes dart around–adds to the intimacy. I think that interior intimacy is a large factor in why the book is so fantastic, and why both book and original film work so well. The Netflix series does show the ghosts of Hill House, but it’s also done in a very subtle, unsettling way, which is why I think I liked it so much.

I also was thinking about rewatching Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but decided to hold off until I finish the reread of the book–which I am still in the midst of–I want to finish it before my trip this week, because I want to take two different books with me to read.

I did finish my reread of Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt, which was much better than I remembered, with it’s haunted monastery and ghostly monk haunting the big manor house. It’s also a terrific novel about paranoia and gaslighting; the ultimate evil scheme behind everything hinges on the heroine of the story being eventually committed to an insane asylum, and hopefully miscarrying her child, or it being born dead as a result of the confinement. Holt novels often hinged on the possibility of insanity being genetic–if the mother is insane, her child most likely will be as well–and this horror, which was probably very real in the nineteenth century, makes this book terribly unsettling. The main character, Catherine, is very strong-willed and intelligent, but she marries a man without meeting any of his family, moves into the family estate (Kirkland Revels), and then he dies in a fall from a balcony, and she returns to her father’s house; only to have to return to Kirkland Revels when she discovers she is pregnant. The combination of vulnerable and pregnant heroine being gaslit into believing she is insane was pretty unsettling to me when I originally read the novel; which is probably why it’s one of the few Holts I never took down from the shelf on a rainy afternoon and reread. Rereading it, thought, makes me appreciate the mastery apparent in Holt’s writing. She never again wrote another novel with a pregnant heroine–while some of her later novels did involve pregnancies and/or motherhood (On the Night of the Seventh Moon, The House of a Thousand Lanterns) the mystery, and the plot against the heroine, never occurred during the pregnancy. Romantic suspense, and its twin sister, domestic suspense, were a kind of “women’s noir,” in that the stories always focused on what were seen as the biggest fears for women–marrying the wrong man, danger to her child, not being able to trust your husband–were the recurring thread through all of them.

I also did manage to get some work done on the new project yesterday, which was lovely and my goal for the day. Not as much as I would like–I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t fail to achieve everything in a day that I wanted to–but enough to be satisfactory. I also came up with an idea for another Scotty, one that takes place down in the bayou–Cajun Country Cavaille–but whether I’ll write it or not remains to be seen. But I’d like to address the loss of the Louisiana wetlands at some point in print, and writing about a (probably fictional) version of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes is probably the best way to do that; I just don’t have a murder mystery to hang the story on. My interest in the Scotty (and possible resurrection of the Chanse) series is expanding outward from New Orleans to the rest of Louisiana; I’ve come to realize that not only do I love New Orleans but I also love Louisiana, frustrating and irritating as that love can be sometimes. Louisiana is so beautiful…I also want to write about the Atchafalaya basin sometime, too, and of course let’s not forget the infamous Bayou Corne sinkhole no one talks about anymore…and of course there’s Cancer Alley along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is also begging to be written about.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Every Time Two Fools Collide

So I finally went back to work on the book last night when I got home from the office. Huzzah! I was beginning to think I never would work on the damned thing again, but maybe there is something to this “arbitrary date chosen by Julius Caesar to start the new year” thing, after all. I started writing two new short stories, I got back to work on the book–pretty amazing, I have to say, especially taking into consideration that I’ve been such a fucking slug about writing for quite some time now.

Huzzah for the end of that nonsense!

Whether it actually means something remains to be seen, of course, but at least I also started the next chapter as well. It felt good to be writing again, and it felt really good to be making this manuscript better. It’s been so long since I last worked on it that I am going to have to go back to my notes and review them again; but that’s fine. At least I have the notes, you know, and that puts me ahead in a way–look, I’ll take these little victories where I can, thank you very much.

It does seem as though the RWA mess has calmed somewhat on Twitter, and what the future holds for the organization remains to be seen; it’s always sad to see an organization tear itself apart in this way, especially when the real root cause of the whole mess is racism. Sorry, Nice White Ladies, but we’re not going back to the 1950’s–the people of color aren’t going back to the back of the bus and the queers aren’t going back into the closet. And inevitably, there’s going to be issues any independent audit turns up; aren’t there always? I can only theorize the paid staff’s been colluding with the people masterminding this insidious leadership coup, and there are probably irregularities that will turn up in their books once the inevitable independent audit shows up. There’s something terribly rotten at the core of that organization, and it’s just a matter of time before it gets dragged out into the light and exposed.

I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and I’ve now reached the period of time–the 1950’s through the 1960’s–where the street truly earned its name and reputation as a strip for sinning. As always, ideas are flooding through my mind for new stories and perhaps a new series; I think the story I originally started writing a while back, “The Blues Before Dawn”, might actually work better as a short (70k-ish) novel set in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s rather than the WWI/Storyville era I was thinking about setting it…and also makes me wonder about my Sherlock Holmes story; perhaps moving it to a more modern era might be better? But I must get these other two manuscripts finished before I really even start thinking about other novels–and let’s face it, Chlorine needs to be the next novel I write anyway. I wrote a first draft of the first chapter a few months back, and it turned out better than I’d thought it might; and last night, as we watched John Mulaney stand-up comic specials on Netflix, the second chapter came to me, almost fully formed. It’s lovely when that sort of thing actually happens, you know–it’s so organic and I love it, it makes me feel like a real writer when it does–and it doesn’t really seem to happen all that often.

Although I probably should be spending all this time researching for Chlorine while I finish writing these other two books, shouldn’t I?

I don’t have a timetable for finishing Bury Me in Shadows or the final revision of the Kansas book, either. I probably should set one–although I’ve been doing that for the last year and it never seems to motivate me to get the work done.

OH! I also realized the other day when I was listing my favorite reads of 2019 I forgot two: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Both are frigging fantastic, and you need to read them sooner rather later. Get on it. Don’t make me come over there, because I will.

Tonight after work is the office holiday party, so I’ll be stopping there on my way home from work and probably then proceeding to Rouses so I won’t have to leave the house all weekend. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also have some errands to run on my way into the office today. It rained last night–everything is slick and shiny and dripping outside my windows this morning–and I suspect the temperature went south overnight as well; it’s very cold in the Lost Apartment this morning. I always forget how bipolar the weather in southeastern Louisiana is in the winter–it was warm and muggy yesterday. I stand corrected–it’s 62 with a high of 71 forecast for the day, so it’s clearly just cold here inside. Sigh, New Orleans.

I’m still rereading both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels  as well; once I finish those rereads (and blogs) I’ll go on to my annual reread of Rebecca, I think, and then it’ll be time to read some new things from my TBR pile. The new Elizabeth Little ARC has been taunting me from the top of the TBR pile since I received it (read me, read me, come on and read me, you bitch!), and I was actually thinking about taking it with me as one of my “to reads” for the trip to New York; there will be lots of airport/airplane time involved, after all, and there’s no better time to read then when you’re traveling.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold before I get ready for work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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