Do You Wanna Dance?

One of the (very very very very very) few benefits of losing power and all connection to the outside world is it gives you plenty of time to read. Our power went out, thanks to the outer bands of Hurricane Ida (in case you weren’t paying attention) at approximately eleven am in Sunday, August 29th–which also happened to be the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (Another benefit of not having power and not being connected to the outside world–I didn’t have to see all the doom-and-gloom coverage, plus the constant Katrina references; I lived through it already, and have seen enough news documentaries about it; no thanks–especially with the added DISASTER glee of a NEW HURRICANE!!! EVEN BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN KATRINA!!!)

At any rate, in those days before we finally said no mas to the lack of power and fled for the wilds of Alabama, I managed to read a fucking lot.

The book I was reading before and during the storm–I finished with a flashlight as the winds and rains of Ida battered my house–was Megan Abbott’s The Turnout, which I couldn’t put down.

You see, I love ballet.

It’s something that I’ve rarely had the chance to see in my life until the advent of Youtube; I’ve while away many an hour down a ballet wormhole on Youtube, marveling at the insane way the dancers can twist, contort, and launch their bodies in ways bodies weren’t meant to twist or contort or launch; and yet not only can they do it–it’s breathtakingly beautiful to watch. It’s part of what drew me to gymnastics and figure skating, too–the amazingly difficult things these athletes (and don’t ever for a moment believe that ballet dancers are not athletes) can do with their bodies, and how easy and beautiful they make it look. When I was a kid, we watched The Nutcracker on television; I hated it (still do) but was nevertheless amazed at the dancers, how disciplined and beautiful their movements were, how they used every muscle in their body and somehow made it all look as easy as breathing, as blinking, as smiling.

I remember thinking, I want to do that.

Ballet wasn’t an option, needless to say–and I probably wouldn’t have been good at it; I was incredibly clumsy (still am, really, just have a better sense of my body and better spatial awareness) and uncoordinated…on the other hand, it might have been the perfect thing for me, may have made me disciplined, changed my perception of self and worth by working hard at something I would love…but what can you do now? I’ve always wanted to write a ballet noir about a gay ballet dancer–I had the idea back in the early 1990’s, wrote it all out, including characters and a plot synopsis (and yes, of course I have the title). The folder is in my file cabinet in the “maybe get to soon” drawer; I often pause on it when I go through the drawer looking for something else. Occasionally, as I watch the videos on Youtube (and they have stuff from Nureyev, who fascinated me and kind of still does, as well as Baryshnikov and many many many others), I think about it. I was watching a documentary about the acid attack on the enfánt terrible director of the Bolshoi when Paul came home one night, and he was startled to see me watching it. He had no idea about my affinity for the ballet; I told him about my book idea and how I’d always loved ballet–and he got me tickets to see the Royal Ballet Company of Monaco when they came to New Orleans for Christmas, as well as several autobiographies of dancers.

And as always, it’s such a joy to read a new novel from someone who will be considered one of the greats of our time–even though she has now set the bar so high for crime novels about ballet I may never dare to even think about writing one myself.

They were dancers. Their whole lives, nearly. They were dancers who taught dance and taught it well, as their mother had.

“Every girl wants to be a ballerina…”

That’s what their brochure said, their posters, their website, the sentence scrolling across the screen in stately cursive.

THE DURANT SCHOOL OF DANCE, EST. 1986 by their mother, a former soloist with the Alberta Ballet, took up the top twofloors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. It had become theirs after their parents died on a black-ice night more than a dozen years ago, their car caroming across the highway median. When an enterprising local learned it had been their twentieth wedding anniversary, he wrote a story about them, noting their hands were interlocked even in death.

Had one of them reached out to the other in those final moments, the reporter wondered to readers, or had they been holding hands all along?

All these years later, the story of their parents’ end, passed down like lore, still seemed unbearably romantic to their students–less so to Marie, who, after sobbing violently next to her sister, Dara, through the funeral, insisted, I never saw them holds hands once.

Megan Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the best publishing in our time. Her books just blow me away, every time–and I never know what I am in for when I start reading one, either, as far as character and subtext and story and the complex, layered, complicated relationships between her fully realized characters, who all live and breathe and have interior lives–including those who appear in just a scene or two. I don’t know how she does it–Abbott can do more with a sentence (as far as character definition, mood, setting–any aspect of good writing, really) than most can do with several paragraphs.

The Turnout focuses on the two sisters, and Dara’s husband, a male ballet prodigy whose career was tragically cut short by a vicious spinal injury. The three grew up together under their mother’s tyrannical rule, and there is an odd, group dynamic at play there, where Dara and Charles are almost, sort of like surrogate parents to Marie–who has an oddly childlike quality to her. The story of the novel plays out during their preparation for their annual production of The Nutcracker (because of course it had to be the one ballet I loathe, LOL–but let’s be honest, it IS the ballet the school would put on at Christmas every year), and while the three of them split up the work of producing the ballet and running the school, our primary point of view character is Dara. Her relationship with her husband has an odd touch of brother-sister to it; they grew up together, of course, and her relationship with her sister has many layers and undercurrents. Marie has often tried to escape the town they live in and the school–but has always wound up coming back home, more fragile than before she left. The sisterly relationship is as equally complex as the marriage, and the weird dynamic of the two sisters having a deeply close relationship to the same man, who grew up as basically a brother to them, raised all kinds of flags for me as I read. Marie has broken free from the complex menage a tróis; she has moved into the attic of the school to try to break free of the claustrophobic family ties. But a fire in one of the studios results in damage and the hiring of a shady contractor; who soon infiltrates the tight little family and all of the traumas, public and private, within the family begin to resurface when Marie falls for the man, whom Dara hates pretty much on sight. As the needs of the production begin to multiply the closer the show’s run comes, with the one studio under repair and seemingly more and more money falling into the contractor’s hands while the school inches ever closer to bankruptcy–and the fragile little family unit also begins to feel the pressure begin building to the breaking point as well, when Marie becomes sexually involved with the contractor and Dara begins to fear what else her sister is sharing with him other than her body…because the Durants have some deep, dark secrets Dara does not want anyone to know about.

Abbott’s writing style is not only cinematic–you can visualize easily everything she writes about, whether it’s a ballerina breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes; the smell of ointments to ease the ache of sore muscles and enflamed joints; the bitter rivalries and cruelties of young girls competing for the lead; the demanding entitlements of ballet parents; the awkwardness of a young man who dances ballet despite his father’s objections; or the experience of trying to work while construction is going on around you. Dara, the more confident of the two sisters, the alpha of the three in the little family group, finds herself lost, losing her stability, the solid foundation her life is build upon, and cannot really handle the shift in her little world, left unsure and unable to explain or understand her sister’s behavior–or the distance growing between her and Charles, which she is ill equipped to do anything about. That sense of things spiraling out of control, the inability to stop the out-of-control train plunging forward, contrasts beautifully with the art of ballet–where control is so important.

Abbott does a magnificent job of building tension, keeping the reader enrapt and turning the pages as everything starts to not only boil, but boil over–and her gift for language, for putting the right words together in a sentence that appears to be quite simple but actually conveys a multi-layered complexity, is extraordinary. Her keen insights into the incredibly complicated relationships between the two sisters and Charles, the tragedy of Marie’s loneliness and inability to break free of her past and her family because of her own fragility, are sharp as a syringe.

I loved this book, but hated to see it end…because now I have to wait for the next Abbott novel–and however long it will take to get a new one is far, far too long.

I’m on the Road

We tried to stick it out, ever hopeful that Entergy would pull off a miracle, but today we cracked and couldn’t take it anymore. We were also out of food, and while some stores are indeed open (without power), it was incredibly ridiculously hot today; I’ve not really slept since the power went out Sunday morning; and we decided to go today. With it being the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, I knew–between Louisiana evacuees and “last holiday weekend at the beach” people, there was no point in following I-10 East and trying to find anywhere to stay. I only had a half-tank of gas, and wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any if we went north or west, so we headed east on I-10. We got gas near Biloxi (yay!) and once we hit Mobile we turned north. I knew we’d be able to find a pet friendly room somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery, and I was correct. Paul, Scooter and I are now checked into a motel in Greenville, Alabama. We’ve both taken our first hot showers since before the power went out, and are relaxing in the air conditioning (on high and full blast) while the US Open plays on the television. Everything is currently charging. Scooter isn’t sure what to make of this, as he has never stayed anywhere besides our house or the Cat Practice in the last eleven years, but he was great in the car and just slept…which is his usual state. I am looking forward to tonight’s sleep–you have no idea, Constant Reader, how much I am looking forward to finally getting some sleep. We have the room until Sunday–we’ll either go back to New Orleans or decide what to do next then. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.

It was very weird how quickly this storm came together–we barely had space to breathe or even think, and then it was already too late to go. I had to turn in my edits on #shedeservedit by the first; there were rumblings Friday morning that we were in trouble, and I had to power through the edits to get them done just in case (a wise decision, for once). I had to have my teeth cleaned Friday morning, and after I got home from that I just worked on the edits, finally finished about half an hour before I was due to meet my friend Ellen Byron for dinner at Red Gravy on Magazine Street. (The dinner and the conversation was marvelous.) Saturday morning I got up and by the time I was coherent–I overslept a bit, as did Paul–it was too late, really. I-10 in both directions a parking lot; I-55 and I-59 north both the same. We left very late for Katrina–and the crawl across the twin spans with the beginnings of the system starting to come in was not something I ever wanted to live through again. We just kind of looked at each other, and decided to ride it out and hope for the best–figuring if we made it through, we could leave afterwards. We watched a lot of television Saturday night, went to bed relatively early, and then of course, Sunday morning the power went out around eleven. I grabbed a book–I had started Megan Abbott’s The Turnout last week, and so I read for the rest of the day.

The storm was terrifying. The entire house rattled and shook, and there were times when I thought–I would swear to God this is true–I felt the house shifting before settling back to where it was once the gust had finished. I kept waiting for the windows to blow out–I moved my computer away from the windows–and finally, it was over. I never want to ride out a storm like that again, frankly; once was more than enough. And then we settled in to wait for the power to come back on, with no Internet and very very VERY spotty (did I say VERY) cell phone service, we were essentially cut off from the rest of the world. My friend Alafair texted me at some point and I asked her if the levees held; we literally had no idea what was going on, not only in the rest of the world, but in our own city–let alone our neighborhood. The weather was hot and humid but bearable–it was miserable, but it could have been much worse; had Monday been like today we would have left then.

I did manage to read a lot–I finished The Turnout and moved on to Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage (loved it!), Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (also recommend); A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen; Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; and A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. I started rereading Paul Monette’s The Gold Diggers, and also started Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, which came with me to Alabama. I am going to do blog posts on all of these books at some point–it was a week of amazing reading, frankly–and I also thought a lot about things I am working on and things I want to be working on, so it wasn’t a total loss of a week. I cleaned and organized in the kitchen some, and of course today I had to throw away everything in the refrigerator and the freezer, which was sad–all that money into the trash–but better to clean it out now rather than let it sit in there rotting and then come home to it. (A valuable lesson from Katrina.)

I thought about bringing manuscripts to edit with me, but then decided not to–I have the electronic files, after all, and I have enough paper around as it is. I started purging books again too–and I spent a lot of time, as I mentioned, thinking about things and life in general and what my priorities should be going forward–there’s nothing like a catastrophe to make you sit down and think about what is and isn’t important–and I am going to probably make some changes going forward. I hate that this disruption came when I was on a roll–with my writing, with the gym, with the reorganization of the apartment–but I am glad that it did happen in some ways; I was kind of letting myself drown again and a reset was kind of necessary. I also don’t know how long this particular disruption is going to last, either.

So, I am going to relax, enjoy hot showers and air conditioning and having access to the Internet again–and read and write and try to dig out from under.

And now I am going to take a doll and go to sleep.

Til tomorrow, then.

I’ll Meet You Halfway

At least we still have power this morning so I can have coffee to get the day started…although whether I want to be alert today or not is something that remains to be seen or determined.

It’s already starting to look nasty outside. The eye is still going to pass to our west, but we are going to experience hurricane force winds later today, as well as the heavy rains and storm surge into the lakes. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll have power–the strong winds will probably take care of that in a few hours–and it will be coming ashore around noon. Was staying the smartest thing we’ve ever done? Probably not, but all we can do at this point–once the evacuation window had closed yesterday–is hope for the best. I had a lot of mental back-and-forths yesterday about this very thing: was staying a really bad idea? We’re going to regret this, aren’t we? but around two or three in the afternoon I stopped thinking in those terms because self-recrimination at that point was far too late and pointless other than making me feel bad or come close to having a panic attack or freaking out.

And none of those things were productive, or a constructive use of my time and energy. I am really not a big fan over freaking out over something beyond my control.

Yesterday was a weird day, really. I stayed away from social media for the most part, and I also stayed off the weather reports; there were official updates from the national weather service and national hurricane center every three hours, so I just would check those updates when they came rather than the old school methodology of watching every second of every breathless, wide-eyed doom broadcast–not having cable television and using streaming services was a help, of course. I did see that Jim Cantore was in town–never a good sign, under any circumstances–and I follow Margaret Orr, the most experienced meteorologist in the city since Nash Roberts retired, on Twitter, so I just periodically checked in with Aunt Margaret to make sure I wasn’t missing anything I needed to know about.

And seriously, all there is to do now is wait.

It’s eerie and gray outside, with occasional gusts of wind making the crepe myrtles dance and sway. It isn’t raining, but I can tell the wind has been intense as it gusts because the sidewalk is covered in crepe myrtle blossom debris. It’s not raining now; but I am sure that will change relatively soon. I want to get the kitchen cleaned up this morning and take one last shower while we still have power–and then I’ll probably do busy work–straightening things up, putting things away, sorting. I started doing cleaning yesterday but as Paul pointed out, “So, you want the house to be clean in case we lose the roof again?”

Fair point, but I might do some this morning just to keep me occupied.

I watched Nightmare Alley yesterday on the TCM app; it’s one of my all-time favorite novels (Megan Abbott recommended I read it; and it’s haunted me ever since I did) and I’ve always wanted to see the movie. The movie, surprisingly enough, follows the book much more closely than movies usually did during that time period, and Tyrone Power (I’ve never seen one of his films before, if you can believe that) gave a stirring performance in the lead role–and you can also never go wrong with Joan Blondell, who has never gotten the appreciation she truly deserved. The movie is not quite as dark as the book–production code and all–but it also gave me a very strong desire to reread the book again. I also spent some time with Megan Abbott’s The Turnout, which is incredible; but then I put it aside, figuring once the power goes out there will be nothing to do but read, so save it for then. I might go ahead and read it some today–the mind distraction will be lovely–but I don’t know how good my attention span will be for reading until after it’s all over. There’s always that little knot in your stomach and that little alert going off in a corner of the brain–worry worry worry you should be worrying more–so who knows? We also watched everything we are watching–Archer, Titans, Nine Perfect Strangers–before I drank a cup of Sleepytime Tea and heavily medicated myself for a good night’s sleep (which I did, in fact) have.

I also started writing a short story last night in my journal, in long hand; “Parlor Tricks.” I’d had the idea before, of course–I think I may have even briefly started writing it around the time I had the idea for it–and was having a lot of fun with it. The main character I am writing about it in this story–as always with me and my creative ADHD–is someone I find interesting; and I actually had another idea around the same time centering a similar type character (“The Oracle of Orange Street,” to be exact)–and while I was working on this yesterday I realized that my still unnamed main character could easily be in both stories; and really, “Parlor Tricks” would be a great way to introduce the character and then possibly bring her back for a novel, The Oracle of Orange Street….because precisely what I need right now is another book to write.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, take that shower, and do the dishes (no need for dirty dishes to stay dirty during a loss of power, after all).

Will check in when I can!

Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque

And now I am on vacation.

While it is lovely–it was quite lovely–to not have to get up and go to the office (or make condom packs, or do data entry) this fine morning, it’s also a bit bittersweet: this is the vacation time I took to attend Bouchercon a mere fifteen minute walk from the Lost Apartment. If this was NOT pandemic time, a friend would be arriving at the Lost Apartment around noonish; we’d store her bags in my car and we were going to have lunch and hang out until other friends arrived later, whom we would be joining for a lovely dinner at Coquette. I would also be checking into the Marriott on Canal Street at some point today; probably not staying there tonight, but definitely heading down there tomorrow morning as my first panel would be that afternoon. *sobs softly to self; shakes fist in fury at anti-vaxxers*

Ah, well. Things don’t always work out as they were planned, do they?

I slept in a bit this morning, which was lovely–I feel very rested and not a bit in the least groggy this morning, which is marvelous. The kitchen is a horrifying mess this morning, so once I’ve finished my coffee that’s the first thing on Today’s Agenda, among other things–first is actually making Today’s Agenda, so I can put clean the kitchen on the top of the list. The living room is also a mess; but I am going to make “room by room” the working theory of this lovely if too short vacation. I am starting small, in the laundry room today–the books! Dear God, the books in the laundry room! But if I don’t get everything done that I need to get done over this vacation–the most important thing the corrections and revisions to the book, of course, more on that later–but it feels rather nice to not have to go to the office today, or have condom-packing/data entry hanging over my head as I swill my coffee here at my marvelous new computer. But yes, this mess around my work space is a bit much–and the Lost Apartment itself is a disaster area from top to bottom. I worked on the manuscript last night some more, and am at the halfway point. But as I get deeper into the manuscript I am finding even worse mistakes than in the beginning, and some really atrocious writing. I literally was squirming in embarrassment as I corrected and cleaned up this horrifically sloppy manuscript last night. When I called it a night and started rewatching episodes of Ted Lasso (this show is really amazing; if you haven’t checked it out yet you need to) while waiting for Paul to come home. He was rather late, so after rewatching two of my favorite episodes (“Make Rebecca Great Again’ and “All Apologies”) I switched over to TCM and started rewatching The Way We Were, which is what I was doing when Paul got home and I stopped–Redford and Streisand were still at their unnamed college–and I was thinking, outside of the fact that they were clearly too old to be playing college students, there are other parts of this movie that actually would no longer fly today; I am going to have to finish watching it at some point because I want to review it as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival (it’s from 1973). I can’t think why I never activated the TCM app on my Apple TV before; just scrolling through the offerings last night before settling on The Way We Were was very exciting, as there are so many classics there I want to either rewatch or see for the first time (including Nightmare Alley, In a Lonely Place, and some classic Katharine Hepburn films I’ve never seen). Exciting!

Today’s Agenda also includes a short exploration trip for this book I just signed a contract for; I need to explore the particular neighborhood of the city where I am setting the book so I can take pictures and have more of a feel for the book. I’m now creating secondary characters for the regular cast (it always seems so weird to talk about books like they’re films; but blame it on all those Agatha Christie/Erle Stanley Gardner/Ellery Queen novels I read as a kid that had the list of the cast of characters at the beginning with a snide sentence or two defining who they were as people….which I miss terribly!), which I am really enjoying doing. This is maybe the most emotionally and intellectually satisfying part of writing any book–building the foundation for it with the creation of characters and the establishment of place–it’s certainly a lot more fun than rereading a manuscript and finding all the mistakes and fuck-ups, that’s for sure.

And of course I do want to spend some time with Megan Abbott’s The Turnout today, and I have to go to the gym at some point as well. MY DAY IS JAM-PACKED. But I do need to make today’s to-do list, as well as an overarching one of all the things I need to get done so I have a template to follow for my vacation daily agendas. (Rereading that last sentence made me realize how absolutely batshit insane I must come across…but that’s not telling you, Constant Reader, anything you’ve not been able to ascertain already for yourself, is it?) I also need to do some male grooming things–I’ve not shaved my face in days (thank you, mask mandates; which do not get enough credit for relieving men of the necessity to shave every fucking day) for one, and I also need to do some computer file organizing and rearranging and so forth. So many projects….which is why I need that overarching list of things to do.

And on that note, tis time to make lists and buckle down for the day. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

Brand New Me

I won’t go so far as to say there’s a new Gregalicious in town now that I’ve hit sixty, but I do feel like some things have…well, shifted a little bit in my head. Maybe that counts as a brand new me, maybe it doesn’t…but I kind of like the way things are going now that I am sixty and who knows? Maybe the world is ready for a new Gregalicious. God knows stranger things have definitely happened.

And apparently continue to happen.

I started working on the revisions yesterday–despite the welcome distraction from an out-of-the-blue phone call for advice from an acquaintance I think rather highly of; we stayed on the phone nearly two hours (which is why I abhor the phone and don’t use it very often; I lose track of time when I am talking and I can talk for literal hours, so it’s really better for everyone if I don’t ever use my phone as a phone) and I even made it to the gym. I got pretty far into it, but I suspect the real work is in the later chapters anyway–at least, I certainly hope so, or I am doing a shitty job of revising things–but this manuscript went through so many changes and revisions in the six or so years since I spat out that first draft in a month that there’s still a lot to catch–incorrect tenses, first person vs. third mistakes, repetitive things–that it will probably take me quite a while to go over everything as thoroughly as I should; and really, after I get through it all one more time, I should probably do it yet again before sending it in to my long-suffering editor. (Considering the mess I originally sent her…she probably just exhaled an enormous sigh of relief, if she read this, that is.) I got through the first quarter of the book yesterday; if all goes well and the creek don’t rise, I would love to have this out of my hair (scalp?) by the weekend.

We finished watching Sky Rojo last night (an absolutely insane crime drama from Spain, about three hookers who try to escape their pimp; it’s action-packed and quite insane–and also quite riveting) before watching the first two episodes of The Chair, with Sandra Oh, which is now on Netflix and is about the English department (Oh is the first woman, let alone woman of color, to chair the department) at a small New England almost-Ivy League college). It was entertaining enough to make us want to continue watching this evening, but it also kind of needs to pick up the pacing a little bit (in my opinion). The mileage of others might vary, of course, but I will pretty much watch Sandra Oh in everything–she always delivers–but the male love interest (and former chair of the department) is extremely irritating if not a bit on the toxic side; but he’s presented as merely an eccentric author and a brilliant teacher, so all the other shit doesn’t seem to much matter–and I don’t like that, honestly; I’m so tired of man-babies being given a pass that isn’t given to others.

Megan Abbott’s The Turnout–I am not quite to page 100 yet–is, as all Megan Abbott novels, rather spectacular. I would love to know how she creates that languid, almost dream-like mood spell she casts over all of her books; her authorial voice is so distinctive and unique you always know you are reading a Megan Abbott novel–no one else can spin magic the way she does. It’s about a ballet school in a smaller town, somewhere in the Midwest (at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten thus far) and it really is almost hypnotic the way she draws you into this magic world she’s creating. I am going to treat myself to a bit of it every night when I get home from work; I may dedicate one of my Bouchercon vacation days to curling up in a chair, forgetting about the rest of the world, and losing myself in the book. It’s an exception novel in a year that has already produced some remarkable crime novels.

It seems to be getting lighter outside now; it was pitch black when I woke up–which seemed weird; I couldn’t remember if it is usually that dark out when I get up on these early mornings (how soon we forget, right?). Who knows? I am rarely–barely–conscious before all the coffee kicks in by nine (which is why I have to get up so early, so I can be functional for my first client at nine), and God knows my memory can no longer be counted on for anything, so…there’s that. But I only have to go in today and tomorrow, and then I am off for nearly a week (I don’t return to the office until a week from Tuesday), which is going to be incredibly glorious. I am hoping to be able to get a lot finished during that time–reading, writing, cleaning, organizing–but…there’s never a guarantee with one Gregalicious that I will want to do anything on those days…

I did make it to the gym yesterday for a fairly decent workout; the renovation isn’t quite completed–the new floor is in but all the new equipment hadn’t arrived and/or been set up by yesterday–so i am very hopeful that Wednesday (I am not going to even try going after work either night this work week) everything will be where it’s supposed to be and I can get the workout in that I would like to get in. It’s funny–I had made up my mind that August was going to be the month where I really start hitting the gym hard and pushing myself….only for the gym to go through a renovation with limited workout opportunities! Ah well, when it rains and all that. September is a good month for a workout reboot anyway; it’s slightly (not much) cooler. The goal is to have dropped down to 200 or so by the end of this year, and then I will reassess and determine what the next goal is going to be.

And on that note, perhaps it is time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

It’s Not Right But It’s Okay

Sunday morning and it’s probably about time that I get back to work. I don’t want to–this birthday mini-vacation has been quite lovely–but I have things that need to be finished and turned in by the end of this month (hello, edits and revisions) and I have to stop putting that off. I only have to go to the office twice this week–tomorrow and Tuesday–before my Bouchercon vacation begins–but my plans for that time is to get things done and then take time to myself.

Well, I may take Wednesday as a day off. I need to drive around New Orleans and do some research; Wednesday should be perfect for doing that, methinks….so maybe taking a day off to begin with to get into the groove of getting everything done that needs to be done by the end of the month could wait until Thursday to get started…but then on the other hand, maybe it a sight-seeing research trip around the Irish Channel wouldn’t be a huge distraction from getting things done that day….alas, I was supposed to have dinner with great friends that night (fucking Delta variant anyway) but I am going to try, very hard, not to let these things disappoint or depress me. That’s a sure way to guarantee I’ll get nothing done.

I started reading Megan Abbott’s The Turnout yesterday and was, of course, immediately enthralled. She manages to somehow lure you in with the opening sentence, something cryptic, eerie, and yet compelling. Her books always have this same voice–I’d say mournful, but that’s not accurate either–always a variation that fits the story and the characters, but that lyrical, poetic, economic way of establishing mood and dramatic tension is almost ethereal and dream-like; even if the dream will, as always, eventually bare its teeth at the reader. God, how I wish I could write like that. I always wonder how writers as gifted as she write their books–do they write a sentence and then agonize over how to find the right words that create the right rhythm, or do they agonize over which word to add as they go? Me? I just vomit out three thousand or so words at a time and then go back and try to make it say what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it; nothing poetic, lyrical, or dream-like about my work. But I write the way I write–I used to want to be Faulkner when I was in college; I think it’s fairly safe to say that ship has sailed–and I cannot be terribly disappointed by anything I write anymore. I am pleased with the work I am doing–have been doing–and as long as I remain pleased by everything I write going forward, I am going to be just fine. I am intending to spend some more time with Megan Abbott this morning before diving into the edits/revisions before heading to the gym; and intend to do even more revisions/edits after my brief workout this afternoon.

We started watching The White Lotus last night and I am on the fence. I really don’t care much for any of the characters–the acting is terrific, the writing is fine, but I can’t wrap my mind around a point, if there even is one, you know? I rewatched this week’s Ted Lasso, and one thing I’ve noticed–there are so many lovely little touches to this show–that is one of my favorite things is that Keeley always laughs at Ted’s jokes, no matter how corny, no matter how bad the pun–she always laughs, and she always did, from the absolute beginning. In fact, Keeley was the first character on the show to see and accept and like Ted; which made her even more likable.

I also managed to finally get my TCM app working on the Apple TV yesterday–you’ve always needed a television provider for access; once I let Cox go it wouldn’t allow me to use Hulu, but now it does–and I immediately cued up and watched The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a terrific noir with Barbara Stanwyck as Martha…and as I watched, I realized how much that plot device–a murder committed and covered up by kids, only to have everything come home to roost when they’re adults–gets used a lot today. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a kid, with my grandmother; WGN used to show old movies after the 10:00 pm news in Chicago as well as every afternoon at 3:30 (which is where my educational grounding in classic old films started). I’d forgotten that the magnificent Judith Anderson played Stanwyck’s horrible old aunt that she winds up killing; Anderson was robbed of Oscars at so many turns in her film career–Rebecca, And Then There Were None, this–it really is a shame; but at least those great performances are preserved forever on film. I am very excited, to say the least, about having access to the full range of TCM again; I can now watch movies instead of getting sucked into watching old LSU games on Youtube or history videos (I’ve been watching a lot of biographies of the Bourbon royal family of France during the seventeenth century, and will ask again: why has no queer biographer/historian/novelist written about Louis XIV’s openly gay brother, Monsieur, Philippe duc d’Orleans?). Just glancing through the app yesterday, there were so many movies I wanted to either see for the first time, or rewatch for the first time since I was a child…and of course, watching old film noir (along with reading old noir novels) works as research for Chlorine.

That’s me, multi-tasking and always finding a way to justify wasting time/procrastination. I am quite good at it as well, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I also woke up earlier–well, I woke up around the time I usually do, just got out of bed earlier than usual. The last few days of not getting up before nine, while lovely and restful, also managed to somehow keep the lethargy going throughout the rest of the day. I am hopeful that will not be the case today. I am going to spend an hour or so immersed in Megan’s new book, and then I intend to straighten things up around the kitchen before digging into the edits/revisions of the Kansas book–which I have allowed to languish for far too long–and I also need to clean out some things (spoiled food) from the refrigerator as well as try to get my lunches prepared for the two days in the office this week.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you on the morrow.

Believe

And now it’s the day after, and you know what? I feel no older, wiser, nor smarter than I do on any given morning. I don’t think I will ever completely grasp why everyone makes such a big deal of birthdays.

I slept very late this morning–past nine, which may be a new record–and I feel very calm, very rested, and very relaxed; an auspicious start to this my sixty-first voyage around the sun. My birthday was actually very chill, and very relaxing. We got up and went to Costco to pick up Paul’s glasses and a few other things (I got a new LSU cap for my birthday–GEAUX TIGERS!!!–and then we went out to Metairie to pick up my amazing deep dish Chicago-style pizza from That’s Amore–jalapeños, hamburger, mushroom, and pepperoni, for those who are wondering–and then came home to have a most relaxing day. I put on last year’s LSU-Florida game for background noise (the Shoe Game, which will never get old or ever stop being funny) and curled up in my chair to finish reading The Other Black Girl, which was amazing–it will be getting its own entry, no worries on that score–and also started reading The Turnout, which of course is the new Megan Abbott. I also watched the season finale of Superman and Lois–seriously, Superman fans, this is the show we’ve been waiting for since Christopher Reeve took off the cape–and then we got caught up on other things, like Ted Lasso, Animal Kingdom, and Titans. We also started watching Nine Perfect Strangers on Hulu; which we’re enjoying, but are there really only three episodes, or did Hulu only drop three to begin with? (A quick google search assures me they only dropped three of eight thus far.)

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more delightful birthday. It was exactly what the doctor ordered–no emails, very little social media (trying to like all the happy birthday wishes on Facebook; I’m not sure I succeeded), and no stress at all. It was marvelous, really, and then a wonderful night’s sleep capped off the end of the day. If this is indicative of what my sixties are going to be like, well, then I am ALL about them. Today I am going to run a single errand–picking up the mail–and then I am going to come hide back inside the cool of the Lost Apartment, read more of The Turnout, and then I am going to start working on the edits for #shedeservedit. I also at some point–possibly during the reconfigured Bouchercon vacation–need to do the copy edits on Jackson Square Jazz so I can finally get its ebook up for sale (as well as a print edition, and the print edition of Bourbon Street Blues as well), not to mention work on Chlorine. I also have a contract for an exciting new project to go over before signing and returning it; so my weekend is going to be fairly full this weekend. We’ll probably start on The White Lotus tonight, as well as maybe something else; I’m not sure what, really. I also know there are some absolute classic noirs that have been airing lately I would love to rewatch–I’m looking at you, In a Lonely Place and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers–and as always, there is so little time to get everything finished that one wants to get finished.

But I also have to do some organizing around here as well. I put that off for far too long far too often, and I often, even when I do filing and organizing, inevitably always have some odds and ends I am not quite what to do with; today is the day I am going to do something with those things–or throwing them the fuck out. I also have to figure out what I am going to do with all those boxes of files I moved out from under my desk and scattered discreetly (ha ha ha as if) around the living room; a lot of those files are New Orleans and Louisiana research I may never get to use, or get around to using–and the more you learn about local history here, the more you realize you’ll never really know. That can be daunting, of course, but for me–it just fuels my desire to know, and learn, more.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a research trip out to the old guardian forts along the mouths of the Mississippi and near the openings of the lakes–I suspect at some point Scotty is going to wind up left to die in one of those old forts, or something; it’s simply too good of material to just continue to let sit there, mouldering and crumbling in our swamp climate without ever writing about them; just like one of these days I need to write a Scotty book that somehow involves Jean Lafitte and pirate treasure. The next Scotty, Mississippi River Mischief, is very amorphous right now and is going to need some more gelling and planning and pulling together; but I think it’s going to be one of the better Scotty books, I really do.

When I get to it. I do also think I want to get the Scotty Bible written and pulled together–at long last; only in process to write the ninth book in the series, so finally? I also want to catch things from older books that have been left hanging. It’s also occurred to me that I could go back in time and write Scotty adventures–there’s time, after all, between books for other cases to drop into the boys’ laps; and it might be fun to go back and revisit Scotty in the early days of his relationships and his detecting career, such as it is.

I am also thinking about a stand alone book with my true-crime writer, who’s crossed over between both series now, and whose name I cannot think of right now–oh, yes. JERRY. I could write an interesting story about him as well, methinks, although he would be the perfect main character for a novella I am planning to do for Chanse…in fact, I thought about using him as the POV character before realizing it works better as a Chanse novella than as a Jerry story.

And on that note, I am going to go curl up with Megan Abbott for a bit before I can run my errands, while swilling more coffee. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Got to Be Real

Sixty Eve!

Tis the last day of my fifties and it’s also a work-at-home day. I may go to the gym later–the jury remains out on that one for now–but I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff and television shows to catch up on while I stuff the condom packs and so…yeah. A full day for the last of my fifties, methinks. Tomorrow I mostly want to just hang out around the house and be a slug and read all day–I’ll probably straighten and organize too, it’s a compulsion–but I really want to just finish reading my book and start the next one. Over the course of the weekend, I’ll get other things done, of course–but tomorrow–other than the dash out to Metairie to get my deep dish pizza–I intend to literally be nothing more than a slug of the worst kind around here.

I may even allow myself a second Coke.

That’s me, living large on my sixtieth birthday.

I was actually looking at my submissions spreadsheet yesterday (mainly to make sure my list of published stories for the next collection was correct), and imagine my surprise to see I haven’t submitted much this year–one short story in January that was rejected–and prior to that, it’s been well over a year since I sent out any short stories for submissions. I have written–and started–any number of short stories in the mean time; but my, how time does fly when you really aren’t paying attention. I would have sworn those stories were sold this past year, but they came OUT this year; big difference, really.

But–it looks like I have about ten or so stories published that weren’t included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, so I am about half-way there for my second collection–and there are some unpublished ones I can also include in the new collection, which is pretty awesome.

Our gym is doing renovations, and is also asking for proof of vaccination for entry–which I deeply appreciate–but the renovations make working out a bit of a challenge. They’re putting in, among other things, a new floor and getting new equipment for the weight room, so all the current equipment is shoved into the room on the first floor where the spin classes are….and it’s a very tight fit. Every open space that is not the weight room floor on the first floor has equipment crammed into it; I appreciate them staying open for the renovation but at the same time…it definitely makes it more difficult to get the workout in, and you are crammed into much tighter space with strangers. I walked over there last night after work (Christ, the humidity was intense) and just dashed through my upper body workout–no stretching–and got out as quickly as humanly possible. I feel good for going–it would have been easy to decide not to–and this morning I feel a bit tight in places, so the workout worked, which was incredibly cool.

But my God, was I overheated and drenched in sweat when I got home!

I also got a new Fitbit; this isn’t out of some insane desire to track my fitness and my steps and my day-to-day activity; having something that monitors this for our health insurance is in my best interests, and after my last Fotbit gave up the ghost, I just started using the Apple Heart program on my phone…but it doesn’t sync with my health insurance website, etc etc etc., and a Fitbit worked remarkably well back when I had one a gazillion years ago–so, hello sixtieth birthday present! (I told you I was leaning into this sixty thing.) So, my sixtieth birthday gifts to myself thus far include a new computer, a new phone, a new Fitbit, a new aromatherapy atomizer for the kitchen, new shoes, and (of course) a shit ton of new books. Today I have a lot of things to do around the house in addition to working-at-home duties (the dishwasher is leaking, so I have to do them all by hand; and of course, the bed linens are done every Thursday), and I also have to box up my old computer so I can ship it back to Apple for recycling. Tomorrow, being the birthday itself, I plan on just hanging out around the house and reading. I don’t think I will leave the house other than going out to Metairie to get my deep-dish Chicago style pizza (and the mail, and Costco to pick up Paul’s new glasses), but no gym, no work, no being on-line (other than trying to keep up with birthday wishes on Facebook, a time consuming, if delightful, exercise)…and no concerns about getting any writing or editing done. I had thought about making it a completely free weekend, frankly–but i know myself too well to think I won’t be antsy and checking my emails and social media accounts and so forth. I think I’ll most likely simply structure my days so that I handle all of the stuff I want to do by a certain time in the afternoon before adjourning to my easy chair for reading. I want to finish The Other Black Girl so I can move on to The Turnout–after which I will most likely dive into either A Beautiful Crime or Yes Daddy; to be determined….and again I need to start pruning the books. I am going to likely take at least one day of next weeks Boucher-vacation to work on cleaning out the attic…and at some point I’m going to have to start working on the storage unit…but I’ll cross that terrifying bridge when I come to it.

And while I pack condoms today I will watch the season finale of Superman and Lois, as well as getting caught up on my Real Housewives shows, which I am not really enjoying this season as much as past ones…not sure what that’s about, but it might be worthy of its own post once I get that figured out.

And on that note, I have condoms to pack and data to enter. Tomorrow I will check in for the Big (?) Day. Have a lovely Sixty Eve, Constant Reader!

Holding Out for a Hero

Wednesday and sixty has crept yet another day closer. In fact, today is Sixty Eve Eve! All About Sixty Eve Eve?

Honestly, I can barely stand myself sometimes!

Yesterday I started the long process of the revisions/edits/tweaks the Kansas book needs; God, I am so heartily sick of those opening chapters I don’t even know how to begin to describe just HOW sick I am of those chapters. This book has had more drafts than any other one I’ve written since maybe Murder in the Rue Dauphine–which I’ve always thought had an excessive amount of draft versions–but in fairness, I’ve told and retold and made up my mind how to tell this story and then changed my mind yet again and so…draft after draft after draft after draft. So many changes, so many corrections, so many characters had their names changed, and then whole thing is really just a big old mess. The manuscript I sent my editor was probably so bad it counted as creating an abusive workplace environment. But as I started going through it all again last night–I couldn’t help but feel the excitement I did have about this project at one time; and I look forward to its release when I can share everything with you, Constant Reader.

But oy–cleaning up this manuscript mess is going to be a challenge and a half. But I CAN DO IT. I know I can.

I also want to go over “The Sound of Snow Falling” one more time. I think it needs yet another tweak I missed the last time around–I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by how well it played out in the original draft–my original drafts are inevitably messy, sloppy, and too embarrassing for me to let anyone else see. (Another issue with donating my papers somewhere–the last thing I want to do is have people reading my horribly patchy and sketchy initial drafts of anything–although for someone who finds that sort of thing interesting, I suppose the journey from horrifyingly sloppy first draft to final, polished draft might be their cup of tea.

I mean, as an intellectual exercise to see how a book or story might come together, sure. But I would tend to think it would get tedious rather quickly.

Then again, maybe that’s just me.

I was tired yesterday when I got off work; I was definitely out of the habit of waking up early over the last few days–not that I ever really get used to getting up early. I could have this schedule for the rest of my life, five days per week, and I would still grumble and be sleepy and tired and slightly crabby all day every single time I have to get up early. I had planned on going to the gym after work, but I was so tired by the time I was done for the day I didn’t really feel like I had much of a choice; just the thought of the walk in the heavy humidity-it rained off and on all afternoon–also would have curled up my hair if I had any. Instead, when I got home I took a quick shower to wash the day off me and curled up in my easy chair with purr-kitty and The Other Black Girl. (I am going to read Megan Abbott’s latest, The Turnout, next; I’ve been itching to get it started) Yesterday was a definite low-energy day; hopefully I’ll have a bit more energy today to get things done. It also started pouring down rain when I got home, which wasn’t exactly encouraging me to go outside and walk for ten minutes to get there, either. I read about another fifty or sixty pages of the book, enjoying it tremendously still–perhaps I can finish it tonight–and then watched the A&E bio of MTV before going to bed last night. I slept really well again last night–it goes without saying that I really didn’t want to get up this morning, but I am not as sleepy/still tired the way I was yesterday, which is also fine; perhaps I won’t be too tired to get things done today the way I was yesterday. It’s also Pay-the-Bills Day (hurray for pay day?), so I will definitely be having to spend some time doing exactly that this morning.

Huzzah?

At least I can pay them; that’s probably the best way to look at the situation.

I still haven’t made that crucial to-do list, either. Maybe today? But at least tomorrow is the work-at-home day this week, and then of course Friday is the big birthday. What am I going to do for turning sixty? Going to drive out to Metairie and get a deep-dish pizza from That’s Amore, for one thing; which is most likely going to be all I do for the day. I’m not a big let’s do something major for my birthday person; haven’t been that in quite some time, and frankly, just being able to laze around the house without guilt–a day off where I don’t feel like I am wasting the day, or like I should be doing something other than being lazy–is actually sufficient. If I don’t have The Other Black Girl finished by then, I will most likely get it finished on Friday, and then will curl up with Megan Abbott. I really need to dig into my reading more–I am getting further and further behind in my reading, as the TBR Pile continues to grow larger at an increasingly terrifying rate–and I am most likely going to go back to placing a moratorium on buying books for a little while again; at least until I make some more progress on the reading.

The dishwasher started leaking last night–it’s always something around the Lost Apartment, seriously–and so I am going to have to start doing the dishes by hand again. At least this time I have the dishwasher to load them into to dry, which is something I didn’t have the last time the dishwasher conked on for a while–so they’ll be, at the very least, out of the way until they dry–but it’s still a pain in the ass. I don’t recall how old this dishwasher is–my sense of time is so fucked up and skewed I don’t remember how old anything is; I still can’t get over how old my old desktop was by the time I finally replaced it–but it should have definitely lasted a while longer, methinks; the failure of appliances to last for decades is something that still catches me off guard and by surprise.

Obviously, in some ways I am still stuck in my childhood, remembering things like how my mother’s first washer and dryer lasted for over twenty years….

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines.

He’s The Greatest Dancer

Saturday and there’s a lot to get done for me today. What else is new? I slept very well last night, which was as marvelous as I could have hoped; I feel rested and relaxed this morning, despite everything I have to get finished today; it just seems more tiresome than it actually is, if I am going to be completely honest. Time-consuming, more than anything else. Paul has his trainer and then is going to the office for the afternoon, so the coast will be clear around here for me to get as much done as I would like. I replaced my bluetooth speaker system yesterday–it wasn’t playing nice with my new phone for some reason (for that matter, neither is the car’s stereo, but I’ve managed to work around it somehow) and so I can once again listen to music while cleaning the house, which is also very necessary this morning. We also made a Costco trip yesterday after work, and I spent a good portion of my evening rearranging thing so I could get everything put away at long last. I have to run get the mail later, and pick up a few things– a very few things–at the grocery store, so here’s hoping venturing out into the heat won’t strip me of any and all desire to get things done, the way it usually does.

We watched the latest episode of American Horrror Stories–this past week’s episode was a little lower in quality that the preceding ones, but over all, we are enjoying the show. Since each episode is self-contained, they don’t really have the time or opportunity or space to go off the rails the way every episode of American Horror Story inevitably does (not every season, but most of them), and the ones thus far have been pretty enjoyable. Like I said, last night’s didn’t do much for me, but it was an interesting concept and I’ll give them props for it. This series digs into the underlying morality that most horror stories buy into; the moralistic trope that bad people will inevitably punished for their crimes, even if it takes a supernatural force to do it. The show is a throwback to The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents–all of which had a far greater influence on my short story writing than I probably recognize (also, the old horror comics like House of Mystery and The Witching Hour).

I also would like to finish reading The Other Black Girl this weekend, especially now that I have The Turnout by Megan Abbott in my TBR Pile. I am literally itching to get to it; it feels like I’ve been waiting for a new Megan Abbott novel forever–of course, the weird pandemic time thing hasn’t helped in that regard in the least–and there are so many other books I need to get to….*sobs in despair at ever finishing everything*.

And of course, the kitchen and the area around my work-space are a complete disaster area. So I think this morning after I finish this and as I continue to swill coffee, I am going to do some busy work around the kitchen/work space area; and who knows–I may even get organized. PERISH THE THOUGHT. #madness. But I want to get a lot accomplished today so I can get to the gym tomorrow as well as finish writing Chapter Four of Chlorine, and maybe even start writing Chapter Five. I know, crazy, right? I haven’t written hardly anything this past week, which is gnawing at my conscience–but so much was going on this past week I literally felt completely drained when writing time rolled around every day–and I was even too worn down to get to the gym again last week. (So it will be one full week tomorrow when I roll into the gym since the last time I was there–or am I just remembering wrong? My memory is something that simply cannot be trusted anymore…so I am going to say no, I haven’t been to the gym since last Sunday and feel confident that it’s factually true) Shameful. I am going to be doing something new this week; two days of upper body and one day of lower body. Tomorrow will be upper; Tuesday or Wednesday will be lower, and then Thursday or Friday will be upper again. The next step, after a few months of this, is to divide my workouts into even more concentrated body parts: chest and back; arms and shoulders; legs. And if I stick to it–eventually adding the great joy of cardio to it, I should get back into fairly decent shape sooner rather than later.

We shall see, I suppose.

The Olympics conclude this weekend…but I’ve not really been paying much attention to them these last few days; the sports I enjoy watching are already over, and while I enjoy watching track somewhat, at the same time I’m not as vested in it as I am in its water version, swimming. As such, we also watched the Vince Vaughn horror-comedy reboot of Freaky Friday, Freaky, which, while fun, wasn’t as fun as it could have been. I appreciated that Millie’s best friends included an out gay boy–diversity; you can rarely go wrong by including it, and I also am looking forward to the rapidly approaching day where diversity in film and television is so commonplace it doesn’t merit mentioning anymore–and Vince Vaughn was hilarious once their souls had switched bodies (I don’t much care for his politics, but Vaughn is a great comedic actor), but they didn’t lean into it as much as I would have thought–it was one of the movie’s strengths, and there’s a great scene between Vaughn-as-Millie and the boy she has a crush on–but it inevitably ended up being a trifle disappointing and with me thinking about wasted opportunities.

It’s almost like, with all the blockbusters and super-hero movies, Hollywood has forgotten how to make other kinds of pictures.

As I’ve mentioned on social media lately, I am really enjoying writing Chlorine, which is yet another reason having things to do that aren’t writing annoys me so much. I really feel like I’ve found Logan’s voice, and it came to me organically; I wrote my way into his voice rather than trying to determine what it was and trying to write it that way, which of course was a big concern for me. Voice is, to me at any rate, very crucial when it comes to writing; the reader has to feel some connection with the character, and that comes from Voice, really; the reader connects with the character and that starts rooting for him. It’s very important for me to not have Logan bemoan any of the situations he’s in–gay man in a homophobic society, culture, and industry–but rather cynically accept them as his reality, but that reality he accepts is why he doesn’t behave in what could be considered a “moral” way; his life is immoral, so he doesn’t feel bound by the same societal and cultural norms about behavior that others might–as he says in chapter two, “Everything in Hollywood is a lie.” (In fact, just talking and thinking about the book makes me want to finish this and work on it a bit; yes, I actually want to write, can you believe it? That has to be some kind of miracle, and also says something about how committed I am to this book.)

And on that note–if I want to get back to Chlorine, I have all this other stuff I need to get done first, so it’s best that I head into those spice mines and get started. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!