Sugarcane

My word, this week has not been an easy one for our Gregalicious. Suffice it to say that I am really looking forward to this week being over and leave it at that, shall we? I mean, Jesus Christ, already.

Being low energy low whatever it has been this week–started last week towards the end, really–has kind of sucked, to be honest. I’m not sure what the problem is–and it’s usually some kind of chemical thing in my brain, I think, these highs and lows came and go–and the lows really kind of suck; I just don’t have the bandwidth or energy to face or do anything unless it’s relatively easy and/or simple. It’a also incredibly easy for me, whilst in the grips of a low, to feel defeated by almost any and every thing that requires thought or some sort of energy, and I also find myself very short of temper–which means easily annoyed, easily angered, and easily aggravated. I got home from work yesterday evening and forced myself to go to the gym–but despite the energy and good feeling that came with the workout, it really didn’t last very long and didn’t carry over the way it usually does; pushing me into a whirlwind of getting things done and organized and dashing around the Lost Apartment cleaning and straightening. I did manage to get some laundry started, but the dishes are still is the dishwasher and the sink is starting to fill with dirty dishes again. Tonight I don’t have to go to the gym so after work hopefully I’ll have the energy to put the dishes away and finish the laundry and get my act together.

But I am glad I asked for a deadline extension. There’s no way I could have finished by Monday, and that would have made the entire low thing even worse.

I guess this is what I’ve always called the malaise before, only it usually comes around after I finished a manuscript–and yes, I know I finished Bury Me in Shadows, but usually the malaise doesn’t settle in until I have finished everything contracted–I’ve always thought it was triggered by the panic of being out of contract, but since I don’t really sign contracts far in advance anymore, I don’t think that’s what causes it and it certainly isn’t the cause of it now. Interesting that all these years I’ve always been wrong about the malaise, really. I guess I am not as self-aware as I like to think I am (nobody is as self-aware as they should be and I am very aware my self-awareness has massive blind spots; but I tend to think I am more self-aware than most people–which could also be one of the big blind spots, which is a sort of self-awareness and….yes, it’s a spiral endlessly circling back on itself, isn’t it?). I watched some history videos on Youtube last night–my mind wasn’t really functioning well enough for me to either read or write, so mostly I spent the evening with Youtube videos–some interesting ones on American history, Youtube really is a treasure trove of just about anything you could possibly want to watch to waste time–and social media, but I’m really getting a bit tired of social media. I hate the new Facebook design, and I find myself there a lot less frequently than I used to be; mostly I’ve just been sharing the blog there and not really interacting with anyone, and the same with Twitter–although I do enjoy replying to trash bag right wing elected officials with “resign, traitor”–but I also am not entirely certain that might not be a part of the general malaise.

I just want to get past it, really.

My muscles are tired this morning, the way they usually are after a workout day, and I slept deeply and well. The bed was a very comfortable and warm cocoon from which I didn’t want to emerge this morning; we’re back to the normal weather for this time of year in New Orleans–cold at night and warm during the day–which means you can never really properly dress for the weather because there’s going to be a twenty to thirty degree swing in the temperature throughout the course of the day, but rather this than last week’s frigid climes. Our new HVAC system is currently in process of being installed, which is good because while it can get stuffy in the Lost Apartment during the warm times of the day, I discovered yesterday that simply turning on the ceiling fans will take care of that issue immediately–coupled with the drop outside, of course. (I just checked today’s weather–it’s currently 46 but will reach a high of 75 today–if it was humid the apartment would be unbearable today when I get home; thank heaven for low humidity times of the year) It’s so weird to turn on the heat in the car on the way to work and have to use the air conditioning on the way home because the car has been sitting in the hot sun all day. Yay? But it also means that the temperatures are rising gradually to the peaks of the summer–and I am about to find out how the loss of the trees is going to affect the kitchen and my work space. I suspect there will be dark heavy curtains in my future….

Well, would you look at that? I never finished yesterday’s post, how unlike me this is–and yet another example of how off I have been this week; yesterday was much better than Tuesday, but there was still a lot of dragging and not wanting to get things done. I came home last night–Paul was filming a musical performance for the Festival on the roof of the Monteleone Hotel, and so wasn’t going to be home until late–and decided to finish watching It’s a Sin without him. The thought had (and has) crossed my mind that a lot of what I was experiencing this week, emotionally and energy-wise, was a reaction to watching the first three episodes on Sunday night–it certainly opened a lot of doors I had slammed shut in my mind many years ago. When we talk about representation, and how it matters…well, It’s a Sin, painful and heartbreaking as it is, was probably the first time I saw myself on screen–I saw myself in these characters, and some of the scenes could have come from my own experience. I have always compartmentalized my life–it’s how I’ve coped and not gone stark raving mad over the years–and I don’t think I was mentally prepared for all the memories this show was going to bring back to me. It’s a brilliant show, really; and while I can certainly question some of the choices made–I can also argue the counterpoint position as well. It also reminding me of so many choices made during the course of my life, and how, far too frequently, shame and fear controlled my life and the decisions made. When I rebooted my life in 1994–and yes, that is precisely what I did–I closed the doors for the most part on my past. Was that the right decision? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I also decided, in 1994, to live with the choices I made and stop feeling regret–even when you know damned well decisions were made out of cowardice. It was cathartic in some ways–I’ve realized over the course of watching the show that many of the decisions I made back in 1994 when I reinvented my life were for self-protection; a metaphorical wiping clean of the slate because remembering and thinking about things and experiences and losses was self-defeating.

I distinctly remember, at thirty-three, deciding that I could no longer live my life afraid of dying, and that no one at that age or younger should have to live with that fear. It’s also when I started getting angry, about injustice and prejudice and bias and casual hatred. There’s a lot more to unpack here, of course, and I suspect.I shall be processing this for a while.

I then decided, after the cathartic cleansing weeping from viewing the last two episodes of the show, to watch something fun and utterly escapist while I waited for Paul to come home, so I watched Richard Lester’s 1973 version of The Three Musketeers, which I actually saw in the theater when it was released. I’d not read the book (but had read the Classics Illustrated version; many literary classics have only been read throughout my life through Classics Illustrated comic books), but it was a historical and I loved history; so one Sunday after church we went to see it in the theater. It’s been a favorite ever since–the serious attention to period detail was astonishing–and again, Michael York. I think it was in The Three Musketeers that my early crush on Michael York was born–so beautiful, and those blue eyes! It was fun, even if, as I watched, for the first time I realized that the motivations for the characters–the royal and powerful ones, at any rate–made little to no sense. I have been thinking for well over a decade about writing what would basically be fanfic for The Three Musketeers…and in watching the movie again last night I was able to put my finger directly on why I’ve never been able to get that sorted and written, at least in my mind: it was precisely the motivations of Cardinal Richelieu in setting the action of the story in motion that I was never able to wrap my mind around. The antipathy that existed between Cardinal and Queen (the Spanish Anne of Austria) is well documented; and there has always been much speculation about it (I read one novel by, I believe, Evelyn Anthony called The Cardinal and the Queen that posited that Richelieu also loved the Queen and her rejections of him drove his hatred of her…although, per this novel, they eventually fell in love and Richelieu actually fathered her two sons! Yeah, I don’t believe that.) Richelieu was not someone who allowed his own personal feelings interfere with affairs of state and his plans, and his plans were to break the power of the Hapsburg family while building France–and its monarchy–into the preeminent power in Europe. The idea of exposing the Queen’s potential infidelity and humiliating Louis XIII in such a manner doesn’t fit into that plan–or perhaps I am simply not politician enough to see where it would…yes, it would be humiliating to Spain and the Hapsburgs (the Queen was of the Spanish branch of the family), but the marriage couldn’t be annulled as she had already been pregnant (losing all three children), and a divorce? I doubt the Pope would have granted such a divorce…and it surely would have meant war with Spain–at the same time that Richelieu was fighting a war against the Huguenots to unify France, and that war also meant maneuvering to keep England from interfering. But it’s good to know that there’s actually a good, historical based reason in why I’ve not been able to make the story work in my head or even as I scribble notes on it. Alexandre Dumas was able to get away with turning Richelieu into his villain without explanation of his plans and why it was politically important to publicly shame and embarrass the Queen (and the King by extension), and the flimsy “The Cardinal wants to ruin the Queen so he has more power over the King!” doesn’t work because the Queen had no power over her husband, or influence with him–she didn’t from the day they were married until the day he died, and even as he lay dying he tried to prevent her from being made regent for their son, so even then he didn’t completely trust her.

So, once I get the political situation worked out, perhaps I can finally write the book.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and apologies for never finishing this yesterday.

Save the Best for Last

Thursday!

My Bouchercon homework continues, with me now reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone. I am very excited to read this; I’ve heard nothing but great things about his books, plus he’s a pretty good guy. I had bought the first in his series–still in the TBR pile, alas–so am kind of glad that this book became a homework assignment. I am really enjoying it thus far, and if it’s going where I think it may be going–well, that would be awesome, but I am sure I am going to love it even if it doesn’t.

I started watching the BBC series The Musketeers on Hulu this evening. I did a half-day today; one of my co-workers and I tested at a conference at the Riverside Hilton for four hours, after which I walked home on an afternoon in August. Heavy sigh. Any way, ’tis a good thing I did work only half-a-day, because alas we are having to clean everything in the house because Scooter had a couple of fleas. His medication is working–the fleas we’ve found were dying or dead–but it’s August and we live in a swamp, and so while there have been no signs of infestation thus far, we aren’t going to take the risk. So I’ve been cleaning all day ever since I got home; taking breaks now and then to watch something on the television, and having it on as I launder things and vacuum things and well, it needed to be done, didn’t it?

That’s a rather tired and round about way of getting to the point, isn’t it? Long story short: I’ve always been a big fan of The Three Musketeers, ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been meaning to watch this BBC series for years…but kept forgetting about it. Someone posted somewhere on Facebook last night asking people to name their favorite d’Artagnan, and as I always do, whenever I get the chance, I replied Always Michael York. Always. But someone else posted a picture of the young actor who plays him in the television series and I thought, yes, I’d been meaning to watch that, hadn’t I? So I watched a couple of episodes as I cleaned–and am intrigued. More watching is most definitely called for.

Next up in Florida Happens is “A Postcard for the Dead”, by Susanna Calkins.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Holding a PhD in history, Susanna writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries as well as the forthcoming Speakeasy Murders, both from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Murder Knocks Twice, set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, will be out Spring 2019. Her first short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier,” featuring a 19th century poisoning case, is up for an Anthony Award (and can be read on her website at www.susannacalkins.com).

Susanna says: “A POSTCARD FOR THE DEAD” is my second published short story. When I saw the call for the Bouchercon anthology, on a whim I began to read through 1920s Florida newspapers, since I was already researching the Roaring Twenties for my Prohibition-Era novels. There, I stumbled across the rather odd story of Lena Clarke, a postmistress who had embezzled huge amounts of money from the Post Office and then framed a local playboy for the crime. What struck me most about this story was how Lena gave her testimony in court using a crystal ball, having been part of a wild West Palm Beach Bohemian set, before being declared insane. Although I altered the case substantially in my version, I retained the embezzlement aspect and of course the crystal ball. After a little more digging, l discovered that Lena’s brother had died of a snakebite, which just seemed too Florida of a detail not too include. I thought about setting the story in a courtroom, but given that my FIRST short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier” featured, well, a trial, I thought I’d better frame it a little differently.

Calkins author photo outside

West Palm Beach, Florida

July 1921

Lily Baker peered inside her mailbox before reaching in to retrieve her mail. Back when her half-brother had been West Palm Beach’s postmaster, he had delighted in leaving snakes in mailboxes as pranks. Of course, the last laugh had been on him, when he had died of a snake bite last Christmas.

There was only one piece of mail today, though—a postcard featuring a swanky hotel in Orlando, a city she’d never been. She turned it over to read the message but was surprised to find it blank. Only her name and address had been printed on the postcard, in careful block letters.

Curiously, she studied the card. The stamp had been cancelled in Orlando two days before. July 27, 1921. Flipping the card back over, she looked at the picture more closely. The hotel was the San Juan, which the postcard informed her had been built in 1885 by C.E. Pierce. Built for the filthy rich, from the looks of it.

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Lily was still by her mailbox when she saw Officer Danny Jamison coming down the street on his bicycle.  She had known Officer Jamison since they were kids—he’d been just one year ahead of her in school. After high school they’d gone in different directions, although on occasion their paths crossed. She was about to wave as he passed by, when instead he stopped in front of her and dismounted his bike in one easy move.

“Hey Lily,” he said, leaning his bike against her palm tree. “Your sister around?”

Lily shifted from one foot to the other. Why was Danny asking after Junie? Though she and her older half-sister had lived together since their parents had passed away a few years before, Junie tended to be tight-lipped about her goings-on. But Lily would catch whispers about illicit gin, late night séances, Ouija parties, and other secret doings connected with West Palm Beach’s furtive Bohemian scene. A far cry from her day job heading the town’s Post Office, which Junie had taken over from their brother some eight months before.  “She must have left for work early,” Lily said.  “I didn’t see her this morning.”

“I see. But you saw her last night?”

Great beginning, right? It’s a terrific story, but what I think I enjoyed the most about it was the narrator’s voice; I really liked the character of Lily, how Calkins gradually let us into Lily’s life, and through character, built a very clever crime story.

Crimson and Clover

Constant Reader knows I love history.

One of the (many) reasons I didn’t major in history was because I really couldn’t pick a period to specialize in; there are so many different periods of history that fascinate me. I talk on here a lot about the sixteenth century, but I am also interested in the seventeenth. I’ve actually been toying with a book idea set in that century for going on ten years now; periodically I will read some history of that century as background, but there is still so much I don’t know. I am reading Royal Renegades right now, about the children of Charles I of England–fascinating stuff; I knew basics about the English Civil War but not a lot–and the Stuarts of that period were particularly entwined with France. Charles I’s wife was Henrietta Maria, youngest sister of Louis XIII and aunt to Louis XIV; she fled to France for safety and some of the royal Stuart children also made it over there at some point. Henrietta Anna, Charles I’s youngest daughter, grew up at the French court; she eventually married Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe, the Duc d’Orleans.

And therein lies a tale.

My interest in Louis XIV–and Versailles–led me to discover that the Sun King’s younger brother, Philippe (whose existence, for that matter, completely invalidated the plot of Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask, although I’ve always loved that story), was, if not a gay man, then bisexual: he had children by both his first wife, Henriette Anna Stuart, and his second, Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine. In fact, Philippe is called the Father of Europe because all of European royalty in the nineteenth century were his descendants.

As a small child reading history, I picked up on the homosexuality that most historians always tried to gloss over (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; James I and first Robert Carr, later George Villiers; Richard the Lion-Hearted; Henri III of France; etc) but there was never any real attempt to gloss over Monsieur’s (Philippe was known throughout his life as Monsieur, after the death of his uncle Gaston, from whom he inherited that particular title as well as the title of duc d’Orleans) sexuality. He had a long term relationship with the Chevalier de Lorraine, which started when he was a young man and lasted until the Chevalier’s death. Monsieur’s first wife put up with it but didn’t care for it; his second wife didn’t care one way or the other.

The story goes that his mother, Anne of Austria, made him that way–which is, in modern times, a laughable thought (a domineering mother, etc etc etc)–by dressing him as a girl when he was a child, and continuing to do so after he was of an age to start wearing male clothing. Apparently, Queen Anne was concerned that Louis XIV and his younger brother would have an adversarial relationship the way her husband Louis XIII had with his own younger brother, Gaston. The troubled marriage of Louis XIII and his Spanish wife is also fascinating; they were married very young, she had two miscarriages, and he blamed her for the second one and they became estranged, not living together as man and wife for a very long time afterwards (the second miscarriage was around 1619, I believe; Louis XIV was not born until 1638 and his younger brother in 1640)–this estrangement between King and Queen–and the way George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham shamelessly flirted with Queen Anne when he came to Paris to negotiate the marriage of Charles I to Henrietta Maria–were the seeds from which Dumas also wrote The Three Musketeers.

Since so much time had passed (almost nineteen years) since Louis XIII last slept with Queen Anne, there were lots of rumors and talk that her two sons were not Louis XIII’s; there are many who believed Cardinal Richelieu fathered the boys with the Queen (fictionalized in Evelyn Anthony’s The Cardinal and the Queen); but there was never any question that the two boys were Bourbons. (Like the Hapsburgs with their genetic ‘jaw’, the Bourbon ‘nose’ was also relatively famous; both Louis and Philippe had the nose–but then that could simply mean that their father was a Bourbon rather than confirmation that Louis XIII was)

Monsieur often dressed as a woman for court functions, even as an adult; despite this proclivity he was a great soldier and commander of the French army–he was so successful in the field that his brother was jealous of his successes and often removed him from command.

His second wife was a diarist and a compulsive letter writer; her memoirs and letters are one of the best sources for information about life at the court of Louis XIV.

I’ve always been a little surprised that, while there are scores of biographies of Louis XIV (who, despite his incredible ego, wasn’t as great a king as he thought he was; he accomplished a lot but he also succeeded in planting the seeds for the French Revolution and creating the court system that also played a big part in the downfall of his dynasty. He also wasn’t successful militarily and diplomatically; his wars were expensive and ruinous–although all of Europe had to unite against him in order to beat him.) there are very few, if any, of Monsieur. I would think a biography of him would be something a gay historian would be interested in writing, because of the ability to look at his sexuality, his difference from the others at court, and how, as a prince, he was able to be himself–despite his own religious mania, Louis XIV never seemed to care about Monsieur’s proclivities–and on his own terms. Not to mention how incredibly difficult and strange it would have been to be the younger brother of the egomaniacal Sun King.

Was Monsieur gay? Bisexual? Transgender? Was this a result of his mother dressing him as a girl when he was young or was that just a coincidence?

As I said, the seventeenth century is interesting. And a lot was going on as well–the Thirty Years’ War was the last European war over religion; there were civil wars in both France and England; the colonizing of North America by the British, French, and Spanish truly got into full swing; and it was also the time, of course, of Cardinal Richelieu, the first great modern statesmen.

I hope to write this book someday. But in the meantime, I am having a great time doing the background research.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here Comes the Sun

For right now, I am trying to clear my head and figure out what I need to do. In the meantime….

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been watching Versailles and really enjoying it. I often talk about the sixteenth century and how I am utterly fascinated by it; I also love the seventeenth century, but in that particular century my fascination is almost entirely with France. Don’t get me wrong–the Stuarts in England were very interesting, and Charles II and the restoration period is definitely one of my favorites; but my heart, alas, is really in France.

And part of that, of course, has to do with Louis XIV.

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The Sun King, le Roi Soleil, le Grande Monarch. The third king from the house of Bourbon, who took the throne at age five and reigned for seventy-two years; which is the longest reign by a king (there were dukes and princes who ruled longer; but his was the longest for an actual King) in European history. His father was Louis XIII, the feckless and foppish king from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers; his mother was Anne of Austria, the Spanish princess whose honor the Musketeers and d’Artagnan were trying to protect/save (despite the fact, of course, that covering up the Queen’s adulterous affair with the Duke of Buckingham, the nation’s biggest enemy, was actually treason). His younger brother was Phillippe, duc d’Orleans; from whom most of Europe’s royal houses are descended. Louis XIV was the king who said l’etat c’est moi (I am the state), ruled without a chief minister, and centralized all political power in France in the person of the King; making him an absolute monarch and the envy of every other king in Europe who chafed under the rules and restrictions placed upon them by their governing bodies.

He also built the magnificent palace that was (is) Versailles; and because nobles couldn’t be trusted away from court–and also because he didn’t trust Paris, he made it mandatory for the court to live at Versailles, where he could keep his eye on them. It enhanced and centralized his power, but at the same time it planted the seeds for the eventual collapse of the French monarchy. But he built France into the major power all of Europe always had feared it could become; the conspiracies and ambitions of the great nobles had crippled the country for centuries–going back to the Norman conquest, which made the great northern province of Normandy the property of the king of England, setting both countries on the road to centuries of war and hatred.

Louis XIV fought several major wars in his later years, and France lost both, and was greatly weakened by those wars. But one must also take into consideration the fact that it took almost ALL of Europe combined years to defeat France in first the War of the Grand Alliance, followed almost directly by the War of the Spanish Succession. The fact that France was able to rally so quickly after defeat to wage another major war against almost all of Europe is indicative of just how strong and powerful the country became under Louis XIV. (Germany was also divided and squabbling for centuries, but that’s a tale for another time.)

I heard about this series a while ago, and it’s only recently become available in the US. I got it from iTunes.

title-card

The series takes place early in the reign of Louis XIV, shortly after his mother/regent Anne of Austria has died and he has taken control of the reins of government. (No mention of Cardinal Mazarin, though.) Louis’ distrust of his nobility and his capital came from the civil wars known as the Fronde, which took place when he was still in his minority, and were basically a revolt of the nobility–which the backing of the Parisians–against his mother and Cardinal Mazarin’s regency. It was eventually suppressed, but Louis never trusted his nobles again, nor did he ever live in Paris once he started turning his father’s hunting lodge at Versailles into the palace it became.

The show is beautiful. I know some of it was shot on location at Versailles itself, and the palace is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I cannot imagine how amazing it must be in person. I’ve always wanted to go there, and now I really do.

The costumes! The sets! I love the way men dressed–well, royalty and the nobility, anyway–during this period. (The 1974 version of The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite movies of all time.)

shoes

Stunning.

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And of course, the fountains and the grounds.

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The plot itself isn’t great–it gets off to a very slow start; and Louis XIV, while interesting, isn’t Henry VIII; his life doesn’t quite loan itself to the soapy fun that was The Tudors.

But they did not shy away from his brother Philippe’s sexuality…Monsieur, as he was known, preferred men to women; he had lots of children with his two wives, but he always had a male lover, or “favorite”, as they were called then.

I’m enjoying it, but it may not to be everyone’s tastes.