Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

You Choose

So, we finished watching Dark last night.

It is, quite frankly, superb.

Netflix is, frankly, killing it with their original programming, and since I’ve finally conquered my issues with subtitles, the foreign language Netflix shows we’ve been watching–from Boy Toy to Elite to Dark–are far superior to the shows from American Netflix (with, of course, the exception of the magnificent Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the original seasons of Stranger Things).

Dark was being suggested to me regularly by Netflix–because it’s the kind of thing I would enjoy, obviously–for years now; but the German language/subtitles thing always made me choose not to watch. The premise of the show also seemed, well, a bit on the cliche side, frankly; a small German town where kids disappear in the woods. Was it a mystery show about a serial killer? A horror show, like Stranger Things? What precisely was it? Finally, last week Paul and I decided to give it the old “one or two episodes” rule, and within minutes, we were completely sucked into it.

It begins as a mystery; a teenage boy has gone missing without a trace in the small south German town of Winden. Our main character, Jonas, has recently returned home from what was essentially a brief stay in a mental hospital after having a breakdown upon finding his father’s dead body earlier that same year (his father hung himself). While Jonas has been gone, his girlfriend Martha has started dating another guy in their friend group, Bartosz. One night, the group of friends decide to sneak into the woods nearby; the missing boy Erik was a drug dealer and Magnus (Martha’s brother) and Bartosz believe they know where Erik kept his stash; stuffed into an abandoned reclining chair near the cave. The town main industry is a nuclear power plant. Magnus and Martha’s parents are a police detective and the school principal; there is also a parents’ meeting townhall at the school on the same night; the babysitter is sick, so Magnus and Martha are forced to take their younger brother Mikkel with them into the woods. They find the drugs; there’s a weird, scary sound from inside the cave and their flashlights go on the blink. They all take off running–but eventually discover Mikkel isn’t with them, and they can’t find him anywhere.

Is there a serial killer out there preying on young boys, or is something even creepier going on?

It also rains a lot in Winden. An awful lot, and no one ever seems to mind being caught out in it–so much so that I started commenting on it.

Jonas, Martha and Bartosz

But the problem with talking about Dark is the issue of spoilers; part of the joy of the show is being surprised when the twists come–and they literally are so surprising that each one completely changes the show and how you watch it. It turns out, of course, that there is a thirty-three cycle of young boys disappearing–kind of like It–and it is all connected. It’s confusing in the first episode or two because there are so many characters and so much going and two different timelines, but once you get used to it, it’s fascinating to follow.

Everything is connected, so you really do have to pay attention.

One of the things I love the most about the show is how it depicts small town life–how grudges from childhood can last for decades; how everyone’s lives are interconnected; and all the dark secrets everyone is keeping. It’s also filmed and scored beautifully; the camera angles are surprising but visually stunning, and the writing is incredibly smart. The acting is also terrific, and so is the casting. It’s amazing how they were able to find talented actors to play the same roles as younger and older who actually looked like the older version of the younger character and the younger version of the older character. I do highly recommend the show; it lasts for three amazing seasons, which is precisely how long it takes to wrap up the story.

Leave it to the Germans to do a crime/suspense/thriller/horror/scifi show based in logic, reason, science and philosophy that is compelling and impossible to stop watching.

One Thing Leads to Another

Oh, Elite, what a magnificent ride you were. And how I hate having to wait indefinitely for season four.

For a very long time, I resisted watching shows or films with subtitles. I tried once, many years ago–I went to an “art house” theater, to see a rerelease of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, and it just didn’t work for me. So, since then, I’ve pretty much avoided anything subtitled–which, of course, was robbing me of a lot of enjoyable film and television viewing. Ironically, my addiction to British crime television programs was what got me past the hurdle of subtitles; my hearing isn’t that great–never has been–and as I continue my slow descent into the grave it’s gotten progressively worse. I was having trouble understanding what was going on with a British show due to the accents–perhaps Broadchurch, or maybe Torchwood–so I turned on the closed captioning. Not only wasn’t it an issue, it was enormously helpful; and this was able to follow what was going on. It took a while for the lightbulb to go on that hey, if you don’t have a problem with closed captioning, you can probably handle subtitles–which led us to the marvels that are Spanish Netflix series. Toy Boy was amazingly fun; White Lines a little less so; and after we finished the final, incredibly disappointing season of 13 Reasons Why, someone suggested Elite to me. I know the kids at work watch–it pops on my Continue Watching queue all the time (they use my Netflix account on the big television in the meeting space), and so I suggested it to Paul; we decided we’d give it our old “one or two episodes” rule.

As if. Within ten minutes we were completely addicted.

It literally has everything.

That’s my girl Carla there in the front.

And by everything, I don’t just mean beautiful young women and gorgeous young men–although it definitely has that.

I mean…

I love the serial form; soap operas are simply continuing stories, and so are mystery series. I’ve always preferred ones that followed characters as they grew and changed and lived their lives; I read every Perry Mason book cover to cover and loved them all–but Perry, Della and Paul Drake were always the same in every book, nothing ever changed, and there was never anything personal about them. Maybe that would have spoiled the books, I don’t know–but series books which also followed the personal lives of the series characters were always my favorites; why I think the first six Trixie Belden books are better than the ones that followed, and why I think, overall, the Judy Bolton series was superior to Nancy Drew.

Nancy Drew never had to juggle marriage to an FBI agent and child care with trying to solve a mystery–but Judy Bolton did it and did it well. Nancy was an ideal, while Judy was real.

So, I thought I would enjoy Elite going into it. Set at an extremely expensive excellent school for the rich in Spain called Las Encinas, I was expecting teen angst and high school drama; Riverdale in Spanish, maybe, or Gossip Girl, which I never had any interest in watching. Sure enough, the opening episode, the traditional prep school conflict was set up, one we’ve seen a million times: the poor scholarship students vs. their wealthy snob classmates. An added touch is the scholarship kids are there because their public school collapsed due to shoddy construction, and for public relations purposes the construction company responsible set up the scholarships. The owner of that criminally negligent company is the father of Guzman, the stunningly beautiful Big Man on Campus. His direct opposite is poor waiter Samuel (in Spanish Sam-OO-well, and Samu for short). I’ve seen this is so many teen movies and shows–storylines recycled over and over again, with the subliminal message rich spoiled kids bad, struggling poor kids heroes.

Both are beautiful young men, aren’t they?

Samu’s two friends, Nadia and Christian, are the other two scholarship students. Nadia is a Muslim; her family are Palestinian immigrants who own and operate a corner store. Christian is a very pretty, devil-may-care muscleboy who just wants to have a good time, and isn’t a very good student.

Nadia is forced to remove her hijab while she is at school–one of the rich kids, determined to make the new kids’ lives miserable, has complained–and Christian’s clothes are stolen while he showers…so he puts his hands over his genitals and walks down the school hallway looking for his clothes. It’s a great scene, and when someone throws his clothes at him, he uncovers his genitals and rather sassily says, “This is what you want to see?” before going back and getting dressed.

The only rich kid who is nice to the new kids is Guzman’s sister, Marina.

She looked familiar to me–but I couldn’t place her; Paul figured out–recognizing her voice–that she played Triana in Toy Boy. But Marina, who the other rich kids derisively call a “hippie”–has her own problems and issues, particularly with her family and her father’s responsibility for the school collapse. Eventually, she and Samu begin a romance, that is complicated by the fact she is also attracted to Samu’s older brother, Nano–who has just gotten out of prison for drug dealing.

Nano

Guzman’s two best friends are Ander, who is a tennis prodigy and whose mother is also the headmistress of the school, and Polo. Polo’s has two mothers–and this isn’t a big deal to anyone, which is quite refreshing. Ander is very introverted and doesn’t really want to play tennis anymore, but his father keeps pushing him and he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents. Polo has some issues of his own…

Polo’s girlfriend since childhood is Carla, whose mother is a marquesa, a Spanish grandee, and their money comes from wineries. Both families are quite delighted that Polo and Carla are in love, and look forward to their eventual wedding. Despite being in love, Polo and Carla are looking to spice up their relationship–which they feel is getting a bit stale–and this launches one of the best storylines I’ve ever seen on a television show like this. Carla, who starts out kind of bland and undefined, soon became one of the most complex and brilliant female characters I’ve ever seen on television–the actress who plays her, Ester Exposito–is pitch perfect and amazing in the role.

The two remaining cast members are Lucrecia, who is Guzman’s long time girlfriend, and Nadia’s brother Omar, who is still going to a shitty public school.

Lucrecia is the bitch of the show; and originally comes off as unlikable. She always has an insult at the ready, has no problem with being a bitch just to be a bitch, is a snob, and hates that these “riff raff” kids are now at her school. She also is a bit of an exhibitionist–and that tendency also kicks off one of the major stories on the show. She likes to have sex with Guzman in public places where they might get caught–and in the first episode, they are in the girls’ locker room showers doing it when Nadia walks in on them. Since this is an honor code violation–and Lu is the top student in the class, vying for a chance to win a year at a school in Florida, which goes to whoever the best student is–she comes up with a plan to keep Nadia quiet: Guzman will seduce Nadia, and unless she keeps quiet, they’ll tell everyone. At this point, I knew how this would go–this is a classic teen storyline–but Elite subverts and turns all of these cliched plots and characters and makes them entirely original, with twists and turns–there is literally no way to predict what is to come; it’s brilliant.

Omar, Nadia’s brother, is the one the entire family burdens with everything; from working in the store to expectations of marriage. Omar is dealing drugs so he can get enough money to move out and live his own life…and through the drug dealing (weed, mostly) to the rich kids and a hook-up app, he and Ander find themselves outing themselves to each other–which kicks off yet another major storyline for the show, and probably one of the best depictions of a gay romance I’ve ever seen on a television program.

Much like How to Get Away with Murder, each season deals with a crime the kids are all involved with. The first episode opens with a shot of a stunned Samu, spattered with blood, walking up to a glass window. On the other side of the window the police are dealing with a dead body, and he places his bloody hand up on the glass–which brings the cops running to him; and then the show flashes back to the beginning, when he, Christian, and Nadia first arrive at Las Encinas. Unlike American shows, we learn who the victim was about halfway through the first season, and it’s a complete and utter shock. I have never seen a show that was so cleverly and intricately plotted, that kept my attention so fully, and kept surprising me.

And the quality–and excellent casting choices–never let up. In the second season we get some new characters: Cayetana, Valerio, and Rebe (Rebeka).

Valerio is Lu’s half-brother; Cayetana is apparently a jet-setter with a ridiculous amount of Instagram followers, and Rebe is a rough-around-the-edges girl whose family won the lottery. But all three of them are hiding secrets they are desperately trying to keep from their classmates–but are also great characters and do not detract from the brilliance of the show but rather add to it.

And each season has a crime at the heart of the story; and does the terrific back-and-forth in time thing to ramp up the suspense and keep you hooked.

The show has everything, literally: murder, kidnapping, drug dealing, sex, polyamorous relationships, gay relationships, incest, parents pimping out their kids, blackmail, cover-ups…and it’s so beautifully done, so brilliantly acted, that you care about every character as you learn more about them and why they are how they are; the love triangles are heartbreaking because you actually feel guilty for rooting for one couple to come together because you know how much the left out one will be hurt. Even the ones who do bad things–you feel for them.

I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s amazing. It was literally the highlight of every day we watched; I looked forward to every evening sitting down in my easy chair with Paul on his couch and tuning into Elite. It’s already been renewed for another two seasons, and I frankly can’t wait.

Miserabilism

Sunday morning. I slept really well again last night, but my stomach is still quirky this morning; I am not enjoying this in the least and it really needs to stop sometime soon, thank you very much. I do appreciate the deep sleep I’ve been getting these last few nights, but there’s still fatigue in my muscles and joints and it might be dehydration still; I am going to have to drink more fluids today than I have been before and see if that improves things at all. I still haven’t gotten my test results back yet–then again, my phone expired last night and I forgot to charge it, so there may be a missed call or something there. I’ll check when I finish writing this, I suppose.

I also started writing up my detailed critique of 13 Reasons Why last night and it’s failures; which were made all the more evident when Paul and I moved on to yet another show from Netflix Spain called Elite, which is precisely what 13 Reasons Why could have been. Elite is more soapy, but they actually lean into it unashamedly, and it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining and better written. The cast is also spectacularly good in their roles, and we are unashamedly addicted to it–and there are three glorious seasons to indulge in thus far. That should get us through until next weekend, right? And I am looking forward to it! We truly enjoyed Toy Boy, and even White Lines, uneven as it was. Shows from Spanish Netflix are truly amazing; and I’m also really glad I got over my aversion to subtitles, which opens up a whole new world of film and television for us.

I took it easy yesterday, reading my emails and reorganizing the books while i could and straightening up a bit around the Lost Apartment. I also took a folder of partial stories to my easy chair and started reading through them. A lot of them of course are story fragments, just the opening paragraphs, and while they were sketchy and not particularly in depth; I could see the potential in them. I am very pleased with how “Closing Time” starts and rereading those paragraphs tipped me off on how to continue with the story; the same goes with “One Night at Brandi’s Lounge” and “Please Die Soon.” Today I am going to–once I finish some things here on-line that I need to get done today–close my Internet browser and focus on writing; the things I had planned to get done this weekend I haven’t, and that’s in part due to this disorientation feeling that comes from not being at 100% physically, which I rather dislike.

Then again, I don’t know anyone who enjoys being sick, other than those with Munchhausen’s Syndrome.

I also was thinking about the Kansas book yesterday and making notes; both shows were making me think more about it, and I do think it’s a great idea and has the potential to be a terrific book, if I can ever get back to work on it. But I’m never going to get back to either it or Bury Me in Shadows until I get this other stuff finished…so I really need to try to focus today and get to work on it.

I also was reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower yesterday when I didn’t have the energy to do anything else–the energy drains is the worst part of this whole thing, quite frankly–and I really do love Tuchman. I’ve never read The Guns of August, which I really should, and would love to eventually would like to work my way through her entire catalogue. Oh, how I wish I’d majored in History and Creative Writing in college! I generally don’t waste my time with regrets about anything, and as I am extremely happy with my life right now any change to my past would have altered my life completely and I wouldn’t be where I am today. But oh, to have learned how to comb through research and find the proper materials to write about history intelligently and responsibly! I think I could have written history the way Tuchman did–compellingly, by being entertaining as well as educating at the same time. As I have mentioned many times before, I’d love to do the sixteenth century much the same as Tuchman did the fourteenth in A Different Mirror; but focusing on the rise of women to power. I do think that century had more women in power than any other century before or since (perhaps the eighteenth might compare); Isabella f Castile; England had three regnant queens (Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I); Scotland had Mary Queen of Scots and her mother, the regent Marie de Guise; France of course had Catherine de Medici pulling the strings of power; and there were any number of Habsburg women who ruled as regents in the vast array of their Imperial lands. Women in that century also were responsible for shifts of power–Juana of Castile brought the Spanish empire into the Habsburg realms; the struggle between Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn changed England forever; Margaret Tudor brought the Scots royal family eventually to power in England through her descendants; and there were powerful women lurking everywhere, from Jeanne d’Albret to Margaret of Austria to Marie of Hungary to Marguerite de Valois–and of course, the great mistress of Henri II–Diane de Poitiers. These women influenced the shape of the history that came after them, and changed the world.

All right, on that note I am going to close this and head back into the spice mines for the day. Wish me luck with my work and my stomach, Constant Reader! Have a lovely Sunday.

London

I’ve always wanted to go to London, and hopefully, one day before I die I’ll be in that former capitol of world empire; visit the Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum; see the jewels in the Tower of London and the spot where Anne Boleyn died; stand at the side of the Thames and acknowledge all the history that sailed from its banks. I do love me some history, after all, and after I’d become incredibly familiar with American history I moved on to English, and eventually European (primarily French, to be honest); it was the time that PBS was airing first The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell, and later Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson (who is whom I always picture when I think about Elizabeth I, with due apologies to both Bette Davis and Cate Blanchett); plus, the establishment of the Atlantic coastal colonies was directly, obviously, tied to English history. I read about the Wars of the Roses and the family split that led to them in Thomas B. Costain’s The Last Plantagenets, bought at a flea market for a dime; I eventually read his entire “Pageant of England” series: The Conquering Family, The Magnificent Century, and The Three Edwards; The Last Plantagenets was the final volume of that series (Costain also wrote terrific historical fiction, which I ate up with a spoon), and thus, Costain is responsible for my fascination with two of the most interesting women in English history–Eleanor of Aquitaine (total badass) and Isabella, aka the She-wolf of France; she who overthrew and murdered her husband Edward II, with the help of her lover…only to eventually have her lover murdered by her son’s adherents and wind up banished to Castle Rising for the rest of her life.

Someday, London. I know you’re waiting for me over there to come.

Yesterday was a good day as far as work was concerned; I managed to write almost three thousand words on the Secret Project (maybe even more, since i also revised the first chapter) and I’m feeling a lot more confident about it. I knew I would, once I dove back into work on it, but just wish I hadn’t pushed it off for so long; I could be done with it by now if I’d not wasted so much time, which is highly annoying, but also kind of par for the course, really.

But…there it is, you know? Why waste time with regrets?

White Lines continues to entertain us highly; I swear, people, if you’re not watching shows from Netflix Spain, you are missing out on some seriously bonkers drama. First Toy Boy, now this? A crime drama set on Ibiza, with feuding club families, cocaine and Ecstasy everywhere, and murder? I’m telling you, it’s like Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon got together and created a show–and it’s oddly compelling, for all of that (as was Toy Boy).

Tuesday and a short week staring us all down. I already feel off; as though my hard-won equilibrium has been stripped away somehow and I’m not even remotely sure where I am at and what I need to do.

Ah, well, back to the spice mines with me.

I Hope You Dance

New Orleans is almost completely shut down.

Yesterday I ventured forth to the office, to do my data entry and to clean my desk area. We had several meetings via the Internet, and several trainings–including one in which we were taught how to do work from home–and I wound up bringing my work home with me. We also had a department meeting on-line, to explain things we could be doing while self-quarantined and to make up hours lost by the shutting down of our testing programs. After my enormous freak-out on Monday (yes, it wasn’t a pretty thing when I got home from the office Monday afternoon), I feel a bit better about my job. It’s so weird, because I am used to being out there on the front lines doing testing and getting people treated…and to be instead isolated at home is a strange thing. What was even weirder was driving home. Under normal circumstances I would never leave the office at six; if I did, I wouldn’t take the highway home because I have to take the big off ramp from I-10 West to I-90 to the Westbank, and the bridge traffic usually has the highway backed up to Claiborne, where I get on the highway. Yesterday I didn’t even have to brake, that’s how light the traffic was–at six pm on a Tuesday. There were cars on the highway; I could see cars on the streets below (the highway is elevated as it passes through downtown)–and there were some peoples strolling on St. Charles…but other than that, nothing.

We finished watching Toy Boy last night, which was terrific and a lot of fun, and ending its first season with a terrific cliff-hanger to set up the second season. It’s great for bingeing, y’all; good trashy escapist fun to make you forget that we are trying to survive and live through a terrifying pandemic and the even more terrifying economic fall out from said pandemic. I also have to remember that I cannot stay inside the entire time; I need to get out of the Lost Apartment and take walks, enjoy the sunshine and the weather, and to take my phone or camera with me. No matter how introverted you are, you need to get out of the house sometimes–unless, of course, your introversion has turned into agoraphobia, which naturally means going outside would be the absolute worst thing for you to try to do.

I still have three stories to try to get written by the end of the month, and I am definitely going to give it the old college try. My mind has clearly been somewhere else over the last week or so–it’s hard to believe it’s only fucking Wednesday; this past weekend seems like it was years ago, last week a different life entirely and Mardi Gras? A different reality completely.

I haven’t even been able to focus enough to try to read–which is weird, as reading is always where I go for escape.

But the nice thing about working from home is that I can clean while taking a break from my data entry; I can also have trainings or webinars on my computer to listen to while I clean and organize the kitchen–and I can even broadcast said trainings and webinars to my television while cleaning the living room. This is a strange new work reality–it’s been years since I worked at home primarily–and one I am going to have to adapt to. I saw someone posting on social media yesterday a poll over whether people thought once this has passed, if things will go back the way they were or will be different. It’s a silly question, because this is a big cultural and societal change; it can never be the way it was before again–just like New Orleans isn’t the same city it was before Katrina, and it will never be that city ever again. Things never go back the way they were; just like the United States will never be the same country it was before 9/11 again.

We don’t know what our new reality is going to look like once we get past this crisis, so trying to speculate is kind of an exercise in pointlessness.

But one of the things, the mantras, that helped me get through the aftermath of Katrina was to focus on the things I could control. One of those things was my body; post-Katrina was probably the most dedicated periods I’ve ever had to my health and fitness and my physical appearance. Since the gyms are closed that’s not really a possibility this time around; although I can still stretch every day and go for nice walks, it’s not the same thing as hitting the weights three times a week. I also focused on my writing and editing; I didn’t write as much as I did before the interregnum–there were times I thought I’d never write again–but that didn’t stop me from my editorial duties, and I did eventually start writing again; this was the period that produced Murder in the Rue Chartres and “Annunciation Shotgun” and Love Bourbon Street. I also think writing–particularly since I’d be writing about a non-virus non-pandemic world–will provide a nice escape for me.

I also signed the contract with Mystery Tribune yesterday for my story “The Carriage House”–remember how last week actually started out with good news in my world? That also seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? I’m always happy to sell a short story, and it’s always lovely to sell one to a mainstream market with a gay main character. (You can talk about how publishing needs to diversify all you want, but it’s still not easy to sell a story with a gay main character to a mainstream market.) It’s a terrific story, or at least I (and the people at Mystery Tribune) think it is, and it’s a concept that’s been lying around in my head ever since we first moved out of the carriage house and into the main house the first time, in June 2005, and came back to me when we moved back into the main house in December 2006. Many years ago–probably when I was far too young–I read a book by (I think) Gerold Frank, a true crime account of The Boston Strangler. There was a bit in the book about a woman who ran a boarding house, and began to suspect one of her tenants might be the Strangler; he was always agitated and acting strange the day of the murders, etc.; lots of circumstantial evidence but nothing ever definite. She remembered one day him staring at an advertisement in a magazine featuring an African-American woman for about ten minutes or so, rather obsessively; and she thought to herself, the next victim will be a black woman and sure enough, it was. You know, that sort of thing; the sort of thing that would be the basis for a Hitchcock movie (I’ve never seen The Lodger, which is a Hitchcock film–possibly based on a novel–about a woman who begins to believe one of her tenants is Jack the Ripper. I’ve always wanted to see it.) and it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. I used to joke that I never wanted to be one of those people interviewed on the news with a caption under my name (NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED SUSPECTED NOTHING), but the concept of living in close quarters with a serial killer, or a thrill killer, or a killer of some sort–and beginning to suspect that you do, has always been an interesting thought and something I’ve always wanted to write about. “The Carriage House” is a culmination of all those thoughts and inspirations, and I am delighted you will finally get a chance to read it.

It’s also one of those stories that I originally thought would be a short novel, but it works much better as a short story.

More on that to come, of course, and now, back to the spice mines.

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I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

And so we go into self-isolation, of a sort.

Yesterday was not a good day, Constant Reader, I’m not going to lie to you about it. I got up early and went to the office, only to stay for only about four hours or so before departing to run some errands and come home. There’s a surreal feeling about everything. I was reminded of 9/11; after watching the news non-stop for hours and sending emails to friends and calling people and trying to get through, I ran some errands just to get out of the house and I remember, to this day, how eerie it felt. There weren’t any people out and about; not many, at any rate, and it was such a beautiful September afternoon. Everything seemed subdued. That’s how it felt yesterday driving to the post office. I stopped at Wal-mart as well to get a few things, and like Rouse’s on Saturday, so much empty shelving.

And of course, Mystery Writers of America had to cancel the Edgar banquet yesterday.

Cases in Louisiana continue to rise, and we had our fourth death overnight. It’s so weird, because the weather is so beautiful outside and even the construction site two lots over from the Lost Apartment is proceeding apace–I can hear them working on the building while I drink my morning coffee. I am going into the office today, once I get cleaned up and get going on my day–I have data entry work to do, and there’s other work that can be done while we aren’t seeing clients. It’s going to be very weird being in the office mostly by myself, but I am going to wear gloves and a mask to prevent contaminating any surfaces, and of course I’ll be washing my hands and face fairly regularly. There’s a lot of work to be done that we generally don’t get around to doing because we are so busy seeing clients, so I am going to try to get to work on those things over the next few days (or weeks) until we have the clearance to open and start up our programs again. I suspect we are also going to see a spike in STI’s in the upcoming months–gay men are still going to be horny and bored, and if the HIV risk didn’t stop people from having unprotected sex, I seriously doubt that this infection risk is going to stop anyone, either. But at this point I have no idea when we will be able to re-open and get back to work.

We streamed some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and I have to tell you, Constant Reader, watch this show. If you loved night-time soaps, especially in the 1980’s, and Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives, you’re going to love this show. Good campy melodrama, and all the stripper boys are pretty to look at. The true star of the show, though, is the actress playing Macarena (seriously) Medina. She’s magnificent, steals every scene she is in, and is just fantastic. She’s the Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan of this show, and she is absolutely amazing. There’s also a gay character and story-line on the show–young Jairo the stripper, who’s also mute, is gay and works as a hustler in addition to his stripping, and he’s sort of fallen into a relationship with Macarena’s emotionally damaged son. There’s drug cartels and murders and backstabbing and corporate espionage and–seriously, it’s amazing.

I’ve not written anything in days, and the deadlines loom, so I am going to have to get into the writing headspace soon or else I’ll never get anything finished the way I should.

And on that note, I am going to get ready to head into the office now. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)

Monday morning and facing our new reality; one in which everything is being shut down and closed and who knows what the world will look like in yet another week? The dark is pressing against my windows this morning, but I slept really well–I was very tired and lethargic all weekend, so didn’t get much of anything done, really. I did get kind of caught up on the housework–laundry and dishes, piling up from most of last week–but my emails are still dramatically out of control, as always, and I am now way behind on any and all writing I am supposed to be doing. I have about fifteen days to finish writing three short stories. It’s possible, of course, but who knows how likely? My ability to focus seems to be gone.

I feel good this morning. I feel rested–despite being untimely ripped from my bed this morning–and I suspect people are going to being calling out sick from work. Whether it’s from actually being sick or self-isolation is hard to say. It seems to be spreading exponentially throughout New Orleans, and New Orleans seems on track to be one of the most heavily hit cities at the rate we’re going. Paul is going to self-isolate, and work from home beginning today; I’ll have to go ahead and check my accumulated sick and vacation time to see if and when I’ll ever be able to begin the same process. The economy–I don’t see how this can’t hit the economy hard. New York officially closed bars and restaurants for everything other than delivery; as most New Yorkers don’t really have functional kitchens in their living spaces, I’m not sure how people are going to actually be able to eat. At some point today I need to go to the CVS across the street from the office to get more Claritin.

We binged some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and it is such a fun show. And it’s cured me of my dislike of subtitles–well, watching British detective shows actually did that; I have to turn on the subtitles because I can’t really understand what they’re saying, and I realized that carried over into foreign language shows, which is kind of fun; I’m looking forward to moving on to Berlin Babylon, or Babylon Berlin, or whatever it’s called, at some point once we finish this and Dare Me.

At least with Paul self-isolating I know what time he’ll be home every night.

And we should be okay, food-wise, for a little while at least if it comes to that. I get paid on Wednesday, so I can also make another grocery run on that day if I need to.

Interesting times in which we live, are they not?

I can hear the garbage truck out on the street, so at least that essential city service hasn’t shut down.

I’ve not been, obviously, feeling terribly creative lately–which is not a surprise–but am curious if other writers are going through fallow periods as well? I do need to finish writing those three stories, as I mentioned earlier, and so perhaps at some point today I’ll find some time to work on my Sherlock story.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Stay safe, everyone–and self-isolate if you can.

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El Paso

Sunday morning and the sun is shining. I slept late–I need rest, frankly, whether I am actually sick or not–and am just now getting to my first cup of coffee. I decided to make yesterday a day of rest; I literally did nothing yesterday other than go to the grocery store. We got home from there, I put the groceries away while Paul went to pick up a prescription and lunch, and then we finished watching The Outsider and then started a new binge-watch on Netflix, a show from Spain called Toy Boy, which is just the kind if highly entertaining prime-time soap experience we needed. I highly recommend it; it’s extremely well done, and it’s packed full of twists and turns and drama. The main character, Hugo, was having an affair with a very wealthy and powerful woman her husband was murdered. Hugo worked as a Toy Boy, part of a stripper group of really hot young men (obviously) at Club Inferno, and was framed for the murder, spent seven years behind bars, and has just now been released because of faulty evidence and so forth used in his original conviction. Naturally, he has to prove he is actually innocent; his pro bono lawyer’s law firm has hidden reasons for wanting to help him, and every one of the dancers (except the black one, of course) have some kind of intense drama going on in their lives which makes the story move pretty quickly and there are some surprising twists along the way.

And obviously, there’s a lot of eye candy. Before we knew it we’d burned through quite a few episodes and it was after midnight. Make of that what you will. But it did make me nostalgic for the glory of the prime time soaps where everyone was beautiful and the stories moves at lightning speed and there was this gloss of glamour thrown into the mix.

But I am lethargic from doing nothing yesterday, and I am now debating whether I want to go to Wal-mart today or not. It’s the only place we can get the cat treats that Scooter likes, and let’s face it, the shelves at Wal-mart might be empty but I can’t imagine cat treats were an enormous priority for quarantine prep. I also recognize the stupidity of either putting myself at risk by going to get treats for the cat, or putting everyone else at risk if I am a carrier. These are the kinds of decisions I never thought I would have to make, you know? I was impressed with how efficiently Rouse’s was dealing with everything yesterday; regularly disinfecting the check out conveyer belts and the credit card machine, passing out wipes to everyone who walked in, and so forth. But my logical, rational, crime writer brain immediately went to but what about the food packaging? Who all has handled all these boxes and fresh fruit and vegetables and…then I decided it was simply better not to ask questions.

Sometimes having that kind of brain–as well as having it also be extremely creative–can be a curse, you know?

So, after blowing everything off yesterday I am trying to decide what to do with myself for today. ShDaould I risk going to the gym? I don’t have a mask to wear, but I do have rubber gloves that can be disposed of when I am finished (which will also undoubtedly make my hands sweat) and I can of course wipe down all the equipment I touch, which could make the work out take even longer, but it would get me out of the house and doing something. I cannot even stand to look around the filthy disgusting mess that is my kitchen, either. It only makes sense to get a handle on everything here, get the kitchen cleaned up, do the dishes and pick things up and file things, then make a run to Wal-mart to get the cat treats (as well as anything else they may have that I might need–bearing in mind their shelves are going to be extremely picked over)…or I could just walk to the Walgreens, see if they have them (they will be a few dollars more expensive there), and then go on to the gym. Decisions, decisions; the questions we ask ourselves during a pandemic.

Or I could just continue to self-isolate, recognize the fact that it’s not wise to continually put myself and others at risk, and stay my ass at home, knowing I can always start over again and stick with it once this passes. I can stretch at home and I can also use that massage roller on my back to loosen it up, and I think stretching would be enough to kick up some endorphins in order to motivate myself.

And the more I think about it, the stupider I think it is for me to go to Wal-mart and the gym. I’ll go to Walgreens, see if they have the treats there, and if they don’t–well, Scooter, you may be just out of luck when this batch runs out. As I said, I’ve had a cough for most of the week with the occasional head congestion; why am I putting others at risk? Honestly, sometimes I just have to think these things through so the realistic part of my brain can kick into high gear.

Although I definitely don’t need to be wasting the day binge-watching television–although if we finish Toy Boy we can go on to Dare Me, which I’ve been wanting to get back to for weeks.

Also, I greatly enjoyed The Outsider, even if it felt padded to get to ten full episodes. I was very delighted to realize that Holly, the character brilliantly played by Cynthia Erivo, was the same Holly from the Mr. Mercedes novels, whom I absolutely loved–and Erivo was absolutely perfectly cast. (I also hope this means we’ll see the character again in his fiction–and now I want to read the book even more than I did before; despite knowing how it turns out and what the central mystery is and how it’s resolved.)

So, now that I am wrapping this up, I hope to get the kitchen cleaned; do some stretching; perhaps walk over to Walgreens to forage for cat treats; and maybe–just maybe–do some writing at some point this afternoon. I need to at least get another thousand words finished today at some point, on some thing–probably the Sherlock story–and continue to self-isolate.

And I’m very lucky to be able to remain in isolation with Paul, who makes everything bearable.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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