Blank Space

Well, I am most pleased to let you know, Constant Reader, that I did manage to get those three chapters revised of Bury Me in Shadows yesterday, and yes, it felt fucking amazing to get back to work on my writing again, after that rather lengthy dry spell. Now, I need to go through the next fifteen chapters and change the tense, which will help me reread them as I go, which will be nice. I think I may even just do the corrections on the hard copies I have, before going and inputting them in the new files; I am most pleased with the work I’ve done on those first ten chapters, and think the book works much better now than it did–and it’s only going to get better as I continue to work on it. If I can manage a chapter a day I can actually have it ready for one final run through by the middle of October, which would be incredibly lovely–after which I can take some time off to recollect myself before diving back into the Kansas book, which I am also hoping to have finished and ready to go by the end of the year.

If I don’t get sidetracked and/or depressed again, that is. Heavy heaving sigh.

Which is, sadly, always a possibility.

But at least this week is off to an excellent start for me, and I couldn’t be more delighted. This past weekend I felt more like my actual self than I have in weeks; let’s hope that continues through these next two days of waking up early and seeing clients; we’ll also have to see what Tropical Storm Beta has in store for us this week, and where it’s going to come ashore. We had some rain over the weekend from Beta’s bands, and from yesterday’s weather, apparently we’re going to get a lot of rain, along with its evil twin, potential flash flooding, over these next couple of days. I certainly hope this isn’t going to result in any changes to my work schedule; I’d kind of like to get back going with my usual and somewhat normal routine again–as much normality as I can muster would be greatly appreciated.

But I am also starting this week with a relatively clean and organized downstairs, including the inevitably insanely cluttered workspace/office I have here in the kitchen. I did manage to get a lot of the filing done that needed to be done, and while there are still some loose odds and ends floating around, it’s not nearly as bad as it usually is when I am starting a week, so that’s already lovely. And if I can stay focused and not get tired/depressed/into a bad headspace again, I can keep it that way all week and not have to spend any time on the weekend doing a “make it not look derelict” lick-and-a-promise, but do some of the deep cleaning and organizing it so desperately needs.

We’ll see how that goes. I make no promises.

It was raining when I first dragged myself out of bed this morning; one cappuccino in and I’m not entirely certain that it is still raining; I’m not looking forward to negotiating a drive to work in the rain, or dealing with potential street flooding today. But I slept relatively well last night–dragging myself out of bed was not easy this morning–but I am hoping to be well awake and raring to go by the time I leave the house this morning. We’re almost finished with Ratched–one episode left–and we also caught this week’s episode of The Vow, which continues to get creepier and creepier with each episode; I’m assuming there’s only one week left in it. We tuned into the Emmys for a little while, but I’ve gotten so unused to the normal network commercial break that it quickly became tedious, and after Schitt’s Creek won everything in sight we switched back to Netflix and stayed there until The Vow was loaded into HBO MAX last night. A quick check of the weather shows we are expected to experience heavy rain through Wednesday, which is when the flash flood warning expires.

Heavy rains will probably mean more no-shows than usual at the office today and tomorrow; I certainly hope not–if everyone shows the day goes by a lot faster–but the caffeine is also starting to kick in some, so that’s a plus. I’m hoping to stay on track with the writing every day–there’s about a gazillion emails that need to either be answered or generated today as well–and I’d also like to stay on track with my goal of revising or finishing a short story every week. But the depressive state seems to have finally broken, and we can always hope that means that I’ll be able to be productive.

It’s also only in the 60s this morning, which is going to be quite a shock to the system when I leave the house. The rest of the week appears to be more normal–80’s during the day, 70’s at night–but it looks as though the heat has finally broken and we are finally reaching fall weather here in New Orleans–which would be summer most everywhere else.

LSU football also returns this weekend, so that will be interesting. I’m not really sure how I feel about this pandemic football season, to be honest; the Saints are playing tonight, and it already feels weird, off, not normal; not your usual football season, for sure. I’m not particularly hyped for it, either. Sure, I’ll watch every LSU game, and it’ll be weird to not go to any games this year (first time since 2010 we didn’t attend at least one game in Tiger Stadium), but it just doesn’t seem….right, somehow.

And on that note, it’s time to get ready to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader–I certainly intend to.

Begin Again

While I am not, precisely, starting over again with Bury Me in Shadows, I am in some ways returning to the drawing board; my memory has become more and more useless the older I get, and the daily beating my psyche and consciousness has taken this year hasn’t helped much in that regard. But it’s kind of sad that it’s been so long now–and really, it’s not been much more than a week–that I’ve worked on it that I don’t remember where I was at and what was going on; I don’t even remember what happens next and where the story goes, or even the ending I wrote for it–which is part of the problem with writing a book while having, for want of a better term, pandemic brain. (I don’t think I should blame my faulty, horrific memory completely on the pandemic, but I think I am willing to agree that it has not helped one little bit with my short or long term memory.)

I started reading The Heavenly Table yesterday–Donald Ray Pollack is the author, and he also wrote The Devil All The Time–and it’s really quite well written. He really knows how to hit that rural poverty note, and does it really exceptionally well; like Daniel Woodrell, Ace Atkins, and William Faulkner. As I was reading it, I was remembering those summers in Alabama when I was a kid, and thinking about the way my parents grew up–and how difficult that must have been for them, even though they didn’t know any different. This also put me in mind of things that I may need to put into Bury Me in Shadows, or save for something else; another novella that I’m writing, “A Holler Full of Kudzu”, keeps going through my mind when I am reading this book.

I didn’t do much writing yesterday; I was interviewed yesterday for Brad Shreve’s Gay Mystery Podcast (link to come) and, as always after something like that, when I was finished I felt terribly drained (caffeine rush wearing off, perhaps? Also a possibility) and so I wound up sitting in my chair, reading the Pollack novel and thinking about my various writing projects. we eventually watched this week’s episode of Ted Lasso, which continues to be quite marvelous and lovely, and then started Ryan Murphy’s Ratched. It’s entertaining and beautifully shot; the costumes are amazing, as are the sets and visuals, and it’s reminiscent of the Douglas Sirk film stylings from the 1950’s–and for a state mental hospital, the place is gorgeous and impeccably decorated and sparkling clean. The acting is quite good, but I am really not seeing the connection to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest other than as a clever marketing tie-in to draw viewers in, but other than Sarah Paulsen’s character being a younger Nurse Ratched, there really is no connection. It could have just as easily been another season of American Horror Story, and it does have connections, in some ways, to the afore-mentioned show’s Asylum season: the menacing and dangerous nurse; the aversion to lesbianism; the crazy and criminal doctor using his patients as guinea pigs; the serial killer; and so forth. We’re interested and intrigued enough to keep watching, and it’s also interesting seeing the additions to what I call the Ryan Murphy Repertory Company–the young actor who played Justin on 13 Reasons Why, Charlie Carver, Sharon Stone, and Judy Davis. (I do give Murphy a lot of credit for casting openly gay actors in his series, playing either gay or straight or bisexual men.)

It’s gray and drizzly outside the windows this morning, and it feels very cool here inside the Lost Apartment. I know this is the outer edges of Beta–I’ve not yet had the heart to look the storm up and see where it is and where it is projected to be going this morning so far–I’m just not in the mood to see what new potential destruction and flooding is now possible for somewhere along the Gulf Coast. Yay.

I do want to get some writing done, even if it’s merely the tedium of taking the second half of the book and adjusting it from present tense to past tense (a decision I made between drafts; I was trying present tense to see if it added urgency to the story, and I don’t think it really did, so am switching it back to past, which is something i am more comfortable with anyway. If it worked the way I had wanted I would have left it that way, but it really didn’t, and so I am changing it back) so that they are more ready for the revising. I would love more than anything to maybe get two or three chapters revised–but I also need to go back and add at least one scene to the chapters I’ve already got done; a scene I put off until later in the book because I wasn’t completely sure how to deal with it earlier. (I also need to reread the stuff that’s already been revised, so I can remember where I am at and what needs to be done with the next revisions; again, as I said before, the problem with allowing one’s self to procrastinate writing for as long as I have is you forget what you’re writing, which is terrifying) But I intend to be as productive today as I can be, and I feel confident, which I haven’t in quite some time. Not sure what that’s about, but I am going to ride that wave as long as I can.

I’m also setting a goal of a short story per week; both reading one and writing/finishing one. This week’s short story to finish is one I started a while back called “Please Die Soon,” which is a Rear Window/Sorry Wrong Number type pastiche; is there anything more terrifying than being bedridden and beginning to suspect the people trusted with caring for you are actually trying to kill you? It’s a terrific title, and I know exactly how I want the story to work, but I’ve never had a lot of confidence in my ability to actually get it written properly. As I said the other day, I really want to get some more short stories out there to markets–you can’t sell if you don’t submit–and I’ve also began to understand that some of my stories aren’t really crime stories/mysteries; which makes finding markets for them even harder. “Burning Crosses” isn’t really a crime story–even if it’s about two college students looking into a lynching from sixty or so years ago–and it might make some markets deeply uncomfortable. Hell, it makes me uncomfortable–I question whether I should even be writing this type of story about racism, but I also need to stop second guessing myself. If I don’t do a good job of it, then the story isn’t any good, and I think the point that I am making with it–the cowardly discomfort white people experience when confronted with past racism–is a valid one. It’s most definitely not a white savior story, for sure–which is something I definitely don’t ever want to write.

There are already plenty of those stories already in print.

The trick is, as always, going to be focus, which has always been my mortal enemy.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Half of My Heart

So, it’s now Tropical Storm Sally, with landfall expected sometime on Tuesday, given its current projections, and we are right smack dab in the center of the Cone of Uncertainty–although the path overnight has shifted somewhat– it going right over us; with storm surge through Lake Borgne through the Rigolets and into Pontchartrain as well as the mouth of the river. The surge is only supposed to be a maximum of twelve feet, which is okay since the levees can handle up to sixteen, but yikes if you’re outside the levee system!

I got caught in a downpour yesterday while running my errands–file this under What Else Is New–which I honestly don’t mind; it’s kind of becoming expected for me. I’m surprised when I run errands and don’t get caught in a downpour. What’s annoying is how rain makes New Orleans drivers–never the best in ideal circumstances–makes them forget everything (what little) they actually know about how to drive and become even bigger morons. I am also amazed at how many people cannot deal with the possibility of getting wet in the rain, or having to walk a few extra yards in the pouring rain. Um, if I’ve learned anything about New Orleans rain in the nearly twenty-five years I’ve lived here, it’s that it doesn’t matter: you’re going to get soaked, no matter what, and once you reach a certain point in soaking wet it really doesn’t matter anymore. You can only get SO wet.

It’s really not rocket science, people. Seriously.

I started writing a short story which started forming in my brain on Friday night–“Fear Death by Water”–and that title is actually a quote from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Lands.” Nothing to fear here, Constant Reader–while I do own a copy of Four Quartets I’ve still not read it; there was a lengthy quote from the poem at the opening of a book I was moving in the ever-shifting attempts to declutter the Lost Apartment Friday evening–the book, which I loved and should probably reread, was Nightmare Alley, which my friend Megan recommended to me and it is quite the dark noir ride, But those four words–fear death by water–struck a chord in my creative brain and I heard the opening sentence very clearly in my head: But she would have never gone out on a boat, she was always afraid of water and as the sentence began to crystallize in my head, I started seeing the rest of the opening scene and also that this would be a gay NOPD detective Blaine Tujague story. So after I put the groceries away yesterday afternoon and before changing out of the clothes that got wet in the downpour and showering, I opened a new Word document and began writing this story. It stalled out about a hundred or so words in; I am hoping to get back and spend some time with it again today.

The vacuum works better now that the filter has been clean, but it’s still not as strong as it once was; or perhaps I am merely remembering it being more powerful. I am not really sure. It takes more than a couple of runs over things to get the properly vacuumed (I love that the Brits say “hoovered”, as they turned the brand name of a vacuum into a verb). So the Lost Apartment looks much better this morning than it has in a while, but i still need to get some more work on it done. It’s a start, though, and every little step works.

We watched The Babysitter: Killer Queen last night, and while the previews made it look quite marvelous, it wasn’t really. The highlight was Robbie Amell shirtless, and he was the only person in it who seemed to have committed to actually performing, other than the male lead and the new female love interest. (Note to producers: you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless.) We also started watching a new series called The Duchess, which had moments of humor but seemed kind of flat in all; we’ll give it another episode to see if it picks up. We are also sort of losing interest in Raised by Wolves; the most recent episode struck us both as a bit dull and we’re losing interest in the story; it’s taking a bit too long for the story to really start moving. I was playing Bubble Pop and checking social media while watching the fourth episode, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty damning indictment.

I also started Babylon Berlin yesterday, and it’s quite marvelously written.

I way overslept this morning. Our phones of course went crazy around six in the morning with the emergency alert about the state of emergency being declared with Hurricane Sally, which may now be a category 2 and again, I am worrying about the power situation more than anything else; I have a freezer filled with food that will perish should we lose power for a significant amount of time, which would absolutely suck rocks. It appears there will be lots of rain as well as high winds that we’ll be dealing with most of tomorrow; I’ve not received any notice yet about work so currently the plan is still for me to go in to the office. That, of course, could change at any moment, so we shall see. No, we aren’t planning on evacuating–but that may change given the power situation, and if we do lose power, at least I can get some reading done.

I plan on trying to make some progress with my emails today, as well as trying to work on the story and getting chapter eight finished on the book as well.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, wherever you are, and stay safe.

Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Good morning, Wednesday, how is everyone holding up so far this week?

So Laura apparently isn’t going to be too much of a thing in New Orleans, but things aren’t looking good for eastern Texas/western Louisiana. Keep safe, my friends, and everyone else, do keep them in your thoughts and send them positive energy, as I certainly shall be doing until this too has passed. It’s similar to 2005’s Rita; following the same path and intensifying pattern. We’ll still get about 2 to 4 feet of storm surge into Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, and a lot of sudden, intense rain (street flooding), but for the most part, New Orleans has yet again dodged a bullet.

And compared to a direct hit, yes, that’s not too much of a thing in New Orleans.

It was very strange to not have to go into the office this week (I did have to go by yesterday–and will again today–to get more supplies) to do any work; especially when you take into consideration the vacation days I took last week. I’ve not been into the office to actually work now since last Wednesday–a full seven days–and it’s made me feel very disconnected from my job this morning; I really don’t know how all of you who’ve been having to work at home all this time without ever going into your offices have managed to do that without feeling untethered at best, disconnected at worst. At this point, it feels as though the pandemic has been going on forever, and the last days of what was previously our normal existence–late February, early March–seem like ancient history to me now, and I’ve already accepted the fact that life, that world, that way of existing, is gone forever. Whatever it is we will see when this ends–should it ever end–will be completely different. This is one of those “sea change” experiences, where life and society and culture change irrevocably forever. The world before the first World War ceased to exist after it ended; the interregnum between the two wars was a kind of stasis world, where all the problems unresolved by the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the crash of the American–and by extension, world–economy created a bizarre vacuum which fascism swept in to fill, with the inevitable war that followed–one that took a look at what had been, up to that time, called “the Great War” and basically said, “Hold my beer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The world in the spring of 1914 was almost completely different in almost every way in the fall of 1945–a span of only thirty one years.

So what will our world, culture and society look like in a post-pandemic environment? Will we ever get to said post-pandemic environment? Or will those of us who survive this look back at this time and say, “ah, yes, the beginning of the dystopia?”

How depressing. Which is one of many reasons why I never look forward or back, and try to live in the now. The now is depressing enough as is, if you let it be.

While I didn’t work on the book yesterday or read anything, I did educate myself somewhat by watching the Kings and Generals channel on Youtube, something I discovered recently. I watched the episodes on the Battle of Lepanto and The 1565 Siege of Malta, which were extremely informative and educational. I had previously watched the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Sack of Constantinople in 1204; the Battle of Mojacs; and the Siege of Vienna. Most of my study of European history has always been western-centric, primarily focusing on Great Britain, Spain, and France, with a smattering of Germany/Holy Roman Empire thrown in for good measure (and primarily the Hapsburgs); it is only recently that I’ve realized how much I’ve not looked at eastern Europe, other than some post Peter the Great Russian history–which also is primarily because it impacted western Europe. My knowledge of Asian history is non-existent; and if you ignore the scanty knowledge of ancient Egypt, I really don’t know much about African history either, other than the colonial period and not much of that. I also don’t know much about Latin America, either. Several years ago–after the Italy trip of beloved memory–I started looking into Venetian history, which is entangled heavily with that of the Byzantine Empire and its successor, the Ottoman Empire–both of which I know very little about, and as I started reading more about these eastern European empires (the Venetian included), I began to get a better concept and grasp on how little of world history I actually knew.

I would love to have the time to study more of the history of Constantinople/Istanbul, as the capital of two major historical empires that covered 1500 years of human history.

We also watched a two part documentary on HBO about the Michelle Carter/Conrad Roy case, I Love You Now Die. If the names mean nothing to you, it’s the case where the boyfriend committed suicide while his girlfriend was texting him supposedly ordering him to do it. The facts of the case–which I hadn’t really looked much into before–aren’t what they seem and it was an interesting case; her conviction, held up under appeal, set a legal precedent that can be seen as either scary or good. Was she a sociopath? Or were they both emotionally damaged teenagers locked into a strange co-dependent relationship that was actually toxic, made it even more dangerous because no one else knew how toxic it had actually become? As I watched, I wondered–as I am wont to do–how I would tell the story were I to fictionalize it, and finally decided that the best way to do it would be from multiple points of view: both mothers, the sister of the suicide, and one of the Michelle’s “friends” from high school–all of whom claimed to not be really friends of hers in the first place–and the real story is loneliness, on the parts of both kis, really. A truly sad story, without any real answers.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I also continued with my 1970’s film festival by watching the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, which is one of the most cynical political films I’ve ever seen–and almost every political film made since that time has been highly cynical. The 1970’s was an interesting decade for film; a transitional period where the old Hollywood was done away with once and for all and cynical, brutal realism took its place. Watching these films has also reminded me, sometimes painfully, how questionable style and design choices were in that decade–clothing, cars, buildings, etc. It was an ugly decade–remember the hair styles, with the carefully blown dry “feathered bangs” hair-sprayed into place? Sideburns and porn-staches? The bell bottoms and earth tones? The enormous steel cars that were essentially tanks? How dirty everything seemed, and how trash littered the sides of the roads and waterways? It’s all there in these films, as well as that dark, bitter cynicism.

The Candidate is about an idealistic young lawyer who works for social justice causes named Bill McKay, whose father was a powerful two-term governor of California. Recruited by a political operative played to sleazy perfection by Peter Boyle, McKay–who has always disdained politics–agrees to run for senator against a long-term, popular Republican incumbent. No one expects him to win, and McKay agrees to it so he can talk about issues that are important to him–and he immediately makes it clear he wants his campaign to  have nothing to do with his father. The movie follows him from his own first faltering public appearances and watches as he slowly develops into an actual politician. He’s perfectly fine with everything, and he wins the primary–but the numbers extrapolate to a humiliating defeat in the general…so he starts watering down his message, speaking in generalities and never addressing issues directly–and his campaign begins to take off, and winning becomes more important to him than the issues, to the point he even allows his father, played with sleazy perfection by two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas, to get involved in the campaign. He pulls off the upset and wins, and as the celebrations begin, he asks his campaign manager, “So, what happens now?” as no thought has ever been put into the future should he actually win; and that’s how the movie ends, with that question unanswered. It’s a very strong indictment of modern politics, and still relevant today; essentially, he wins because he is handsome and never says anything that means anything. We never really are sure, as the viewer, what he wants and what he stands for; which is a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers–we’re basically shown a little bit behind the curtain, but mostly we see what the voters would see. This movie doesn’t have a Frank Capra ending, but the typical cynical view of the 1970’s. The screenplay, incidentally, won an Oscar.

Aliens was the second movie on yesterday’s condom packing double feature. I had originally intended to watch Alien and Aliens back to back; don’t remember why I didn’t rewatch Aliens back then, but I didn’t, but I also figured it was equally appropriate to rewatch the day after rewatching Jaws, because it too is a monster movie, and one of the best of all time. Sigourney Weaver is even better in this one than she was in the first; and while I love Marlee Matlin and think she’s a terrific talent, I still think Weaver should have got the Oscar for this (if not for Alien). Once again, a primary theme for the movie is “no one listens to the woman who is always proven to be right”–amazing how timeless that theme has proven to be–and again, as in the first film, the Ripley character is given a relationship to soften her and make her more “womanly”; in the first film it’s the cat–which really, I felt, weakened her character, while at least in this one it’s the little girl, Newt, that she risks her life to go back for when everyone else, including me, is screaming get the fuck out of there are you fucking crazy? There are also some other terrific performances in this movie, which is a non-stop adrenaline ride, including Bill Paxton’s first performance of note as Hudson; Michael Biehn (why was he not a bigger star?) in a  great follow-up to The Terminator as Hicks; and Paul Reiser, who was so sleazily perfect as the company rep (and should have been nominated for an Oscar himself) that I have never been able to stand watching him in anything else since I saw this movie for the first time because I hated him so much as Burke that I cannot see him as anything else. Everyone in the cast is terrific; but there are some small things that date the film–Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez (would this still be a thing that far into the future?); the analog transmissions rather than digital; and of course–the cigarette smoking; would cigarettes never evolve over time?

If all goes well, I expect to be here tomorrow morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader.

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Touch Me (I Want Your Body)

And here it is, Friday once again.

We are in for some nasty weather today; thunderstorms and possible flash flooding–and since our neighborhood has started flooding apparently, I’ll need to be keeping an eye on my car. It’s parked around the same area it was where it was too high for the water to get inside last time, but still. You never can be sure, and the last thing I need to deal with is a flooded car.

I don’t have to go into the office today–my hours worked out so that I have the day off, which was a pleasant surprise I hadn’t realized was going to happen until possibly Wednesday. I’m still not completely over whatever it was I’ve been dealing with the last few weeks, so it’s nice to be able to stay home today and get caught up on things around the house. So many things to get caught up on. Heavy sigh.

I woke up this morning to a thunderstorm and a downpour, but it’s stopped for now and is just kind of gray outside. I don’t think we’re going to have much sun today–or tomorrow–as there’s some sort of tropical thing going on in the Gulf that’s heading this way, but the cold front we’re having is supposed to dissipate it and turn it into lots of rain. I’m not how that bodes for tomorrow’s LSU-Auburn game, but there it is. I’d like to get that pesky proposal finished today, do some cleaning, and try to get caught up on Bury Me in Shadows–my plan to have it all done before the trip to Bouchercon is clearly coming to naught; I doubt that after watching the LSU and Saints play this weekend I’ll have the energy or wherewithal to do any more writing. I’d also like to finish reading Certain Dark Things this weekend as well.

Lord have mercy, the Lost Apartment is a pigsty.

In other exciting news, we have a new outdoor kitty. Double Stuff and Shadow vanished a while back–I’m still not sure what happened to them, but I just tell myself that someone in the neighborhood took them in, or it was the loudness of the construction of the new condo building down the street going into the two vacant lots that drove them away, but we’ve missed having the three outdoor kitties (Tiger hasn’t gone anywhere). Earlier this week when I was leaving for work I saw an absolutely adorable orange and white cat–the same markings as Bubba, who I think moved around the corner because I sometimes will catch a glimpse of him through a fence or in the Burger King parking lot–that is adorable and quite young, peeking out from underneath the front porch. I told Paul I’d spotted possibly another stray living here, but Paul still hasn’t seen him. I didn’t see this new kitty again until last night; John from the apartment up front knocked on our door and asked about the new kitty, who was on our steps now. I gave him some food and petted him, and after he hung out for a while he went exploring back under the house. I just am not sure what to call him. I was thinking Creamsickle because his coloring looks kind of like one, but it’s not really a terrific name for a cat. I guess he’ll just have to be Outdoor Kitty until he’s been around long enough for a name to come to me.

All right, I should probably get started on the spice mine work today. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose

Paul and I both stayed up way past our bedtimes last night, finishing the third season of Stranger Things. I had spent the afternoon finishing The Pacific on HBO streaming service (it’s really quite brilliant and moving and heartbreaking and horrifying; probably one of the best things about the horror of war I’ve ever seen, and how it wrecks the young men who fight them–if not physically, than psychologically). As such I slept later than I usually do this morning–much later than usual, which is obviously a problem as I have to go back to work tomorrow morning which means getting up extremely early. I’m not terribly concerned, however; it is what it is.

We never lost cable or power yesterday; and it didn’t even rain in our neighborhood until later in the evening; I think it was around eight-thirty that I got a tornado warning alert on my phone. I checked it out on my computer–it wasn’t for our area, but further downtown and in the lower river parishes, who also had overtopped levees and flooding. That was when I noticed it was raining outside. There wasn’t thunder or lightning, just rain. We’re still in a flash flood alert, but I think I’m going to go take a long walk in the rain and retrieve my car from the Touro parking lot, where I took it Friday afternoon just to be on the safe side. I need to stop at the grocery store, but I suppose it will also depend on if one’s open. I suspect the city is fairly operating normally again today, but I’ve also just woken up and am still on my first cup of coffee, so I could be wrong.

I managed to get absolutely nothing done over the course of the last four or five days; the city flooding and that aftermath, while trying to prepare for the arrival of a tropical storm/hurricane kind of drains you of most energy and your ability to focus. The waiting is also horrible, I might add, the wondering endlessly if you made the right decision or not, whether you should have fled when you had the chance, and so on. This is how it ever was, and how it ever will be. Paul and I were talking about this very thing on Friday, as we adopted our usual wait-and-see mentality. We have actually only evacuated twice; once for Katrina, and for Isaac (or was it called Ike?) in 2008. The other I storm left us without power for the week leading up to Labor Day in 2013, I think it was–I just remember we had tickets for the LSU game that Saturday, and the irony of sitting in the heat all day that Saturday after complaining all week that we didn’t have a/c or power, only to have it come on the night before was kind of the most Louisianan thing we’ve ever done.

I also feel that all of my friends and family deserve an apology for the horror that was the storm coverage all week, culminating in emails, texts, and posts/PM on social media. And admittedly, the arrival of hurricane sex symbol Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel here on Friday was not a good sign. New Orleans and tropical weather has been major news, alas, ever since the levees failed, and nothing gets clicks and views like apocalyptic headlines and news coverage. I’m sorry all the 24 hour channels and even some reputable news organizations decided to go down the terror route for everyone; I’m sorry you all had to be put through that kind of stress and worry on our behalf.  Don’t get me wrong, it makes my heart feel full that so many people nationwide care, not only about New Orleans, but about Paul and me and our friends and our lives here. Thank you for that. I just wish the media wouldn’t put you all through it…as we always say down here, this kind of coverage is what makes the really dangerous storms get not taken as seriously as they should be.

Paul and I are also very prudent, and cautious. In our twenty-odd years here, we’ve learned what to listen for and who to listen to; which local stations are dependable, which models of storm tracking to pay attention to, and we also aren’t ever locked into a decision–we make a decision based on the information available at the time, continue to check, and adjust decisions accordingly based on new information. We’re not meteorologists by any means, of course, and there’s always the possibility we’ll make a wrong decision–and your concerns and worries mean so much to us. Don’t ever think that’s not the case.

And once New Orleans is out of danger, it’s truly awful and sad to see how quickly the story dies…despite the damage that actually was wrought, and continues to be, from this storm system. New Orleans isn’t the only part of Louisiana that is below sea level, and protected from flooding by an at best iffy levee structure system. This system is going to continue to dump lots of water everywhere on its path, and it has the upper Mississippi valley, already in flood stage, square in its sights. Even as I type, the north shore is in tornado warnings, and there are also flood warnings for rivers on the north shore. The North Shore and the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge were horribly, unexpectedly flooded several years ago–places that generally never flood, or at least, not often–and they are still recovering from that horror. (I think that was August 2016?) So, do keep those areas in your thoughts.

Storm days, as we call them down here–the free days off from work because of weather, the tropical version of Snow Days–aren’t conducive for getting anything done, at least not for me. Even though I ignore the doom-and-gloom news, and pay attention to the reports I’ve found reliable over the years (I still miss Nash Roberts!), there’s always that nagging sense in the back of your head, that horrible little voice whispering are you so sure? Are you so sure that not leaving is the right thing to do? That is, as you can imagine, emotionally draining and exhausting, and also makes it hard to focus on anything. I can never write or edit during these times; reading is often difficult as well. So I wind up watching a lot of television: this time, Band of Brothers (still unfinished), The Pacific, and Stranger Things. I did enjoy this third season of Stranger Things, even if there are enormous holes in the plot and things that didn’t make a lot of sense; but as entertainment it really did a great job–and it also introduced new characters to the cast seamlessly; not an easy task.

But I do think this enforced period of inactivity–in addition to my vacation the week prior–may have done some wonders are far as kicking my creativity back into gear, which is lovely. I think today–after getting the car and doing a minor grocery gathering–I may sit down with the first seventeen chapters of the WIP and reread them, making notes and figuring out the final act of the book so maybe, just maybe, I can get a strong, workable first draft finished by the end of this month. That puts me behind schedule, of course, but I think I should be able to work on my next project alongside a revision of the Kansas book for the next two months. Maybe that’s an overestimation of what I can do, and get done–it is, after all, going to be the dog days here–but we’ll see.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines and getting back on track. The house is a mess and needs straightening–and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we could still lose power.

Thanks for all the good thoughts, y’all. Greatly appreciated.

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Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough

Happy Labor Day!

I spent yesterday cleaning and trying to organize; I still have some writing to get done today of course, and I am being interviewed on the air about Florida Happens at 3 pm CST, which you can listen to here, live as it occurs! Thanks to Pam Stack for having me.

There’s also a new tropical storm out there and heading this way; naturally, the forecasts have it coming through here currently at various times on Wednesday, amongst which include our flight time, which might be incredibly inconvenient. I immediately flashed through every worst case scenario possible, from annoying delays to flat out cancellations and inability to get over there at all–(worst case–I could drive. If we leave on Wednesday morning we could be in St. Petersburg on Wednesday night, but I will be one crabby as fuck bitch when I arrive).

And how about them Tigers?

One of the things I loathe about the pre-season in college football–and pre-season rankings–is, no matter how amazing you are as an analyst/coach/commentator, it’s just guesswork with far too many variables involved for anything remotely approaching accuracy. These rankings can only be based on how the team did in the last season, the new additions to the team, and coaching guesses. No one knows how much chemistry a team will have, what pieces might be missing from the previous season and creating holes on offense and defense that might need to be filled, etc. etc. etc. That said, all portents to ranking Miami in the top ten were there–with a bit of a question mark since they lost their final three games after a 10-0 start. As I said to Paul as we were watching the first quarter of the game last night, “I just realized why I hate Miami so much when I never did before–I have actually kind of always liked Miami. But it’s because Mark Richt is their coach now, and in my subconscious playing Miami now is like playing Georgia.”

PAUL: Well, they’re my favorite team in the state of Florida by far.

GREG: Excellent point, mine, too.

Mark Richt is a good coach, but he was never a big game coach during his run at Georgia, where he could have had national champion contenders every year but somehow always managed to blow it, which eventually led to his termination and the hiring of the coach (whose name escapes me now) who took Georgia all the way to the national championship game last year. And after last night, I would imagine there are some questions about his coaching ability and some rumblings at Miami.

But LSU looked terrific last night, with some exceptions–opening game jitters in the first quarter–but once they settled down they looked much better than anyone gave them any pre-season credit for. They’re only going to get better as the season progresses, and as long as their confidence can keep growing with each game, this could be a terrific season. Next weekend is the Southeastern Louisiana game (SLU from Hammond), and after that, it’s off to top ten ranked Auburn, which knocked off a higher-ranked top ten team this past Saturday in Washington, and surely Auburn is going to want some payback for last season’s stunning come-from-behind upset in Tiger Stadium (while we were in Toronto for Bouchercon). And with both teams from the national championship game on this year’s schedule (Alabama and Georgia), along with Texas A&M, Florida, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State–well, there are a lot of tough games and a lot of trap games on the LSU schedule. But I will say this: if LSU can make it through their murderous schedule with only one or two losses, they belong in the Top Ten for sure.

We shall see as the season plays out.

But in the meantime, GEAUX TIGERS!

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So much to do today, and so little desire to do any of it. Ah, well, life goes on.

And it ain’t getting done with me just sitting here.

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We have rain forecast again for today, but right now it’s gorgeous and sunny and blue skies as far as the eye can see outside my windows. Alberto has sped up and shifted east; we are no longer in the Cone of Uncertainty, but Monday evening could be rather unpleasant; the whole day in fact could be rather unpleasant.

Yesterday I broke down and read the first fourteen chapters of the Scotty book. I’d been putting it off–avoidance  having always been one of my top methods of dealing with something I’d rather not–and am pleased to report that while the draft is, in fact and as I’d suspected–terribly rough. But while the writing itself needs to be improved on, and the scenes made better and the dialogue strengthened and the characters deepened; the bare bones of the story are there and they are working precisely the way I wanted them to. Chapter Fourteen is, indeed, terrible and off-track; which means I shall simply have to correct it before moving on to Chapter Fifteen. This was such an enormous relief to me, you have no idea, Constant Reader! I also finally figured out the plot as well, which was equally lovely. Now, I have eleven or so chapters more to do and the first draft is finished; and then it’s just clean-up work.

Huzz-fucking-ah!

I also continued making notes on both “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” as well as notes for the y/a I want to write later this year, Bury Me in Satin. I have to say, having this stay-cation has been absolutely necessary and needed; I should probably take these lengthy weekends every few months or so, just to get caught up and reconnect with my writing, rather than just trying to get it done.

I’ve also continued reading Roth’s When She Was Good. Roth is a spectacularly good writer, and he definitely understands character and what to do with it; which is, of course, another way of saying that I am really enjoying reading this book, which I didn’t expect. There is, of course, some casual homophobia in the book, but unfortunately it also fits into the time period and therefore kind of works with the characters…but still kind of jarring to read, while kind of important to remember it wasn’t that long ago that blatant homophobia was so deeply and systemically woven into the fabric of our society that it’s a wonder we’ve made it this far already.

I continue to watch The Shannara Chronicles, and was saddened to see a main character killed off in Episode 8 of Season 2 last night. Shannara is similar to Game of Thrones in that regard; everyone’s life is on the table. I only read the first novel in the series, but it might be interesting to go back and reread the first one and the next two in the series at some point (because I have so much free time).

I also watched the season finale of Krypton, which was terrific. Krypton, which started out kind of ‘meh,’ really hit its stride as the season got going. I rewatched the 1940’s version of And Then There Were None last night, which is terrific other than changing the end of the novel, and the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, which was not as good as I remembered.

I am currently reading two non-fiction books: The Republic of Pirates and The Golden Age of Murder. As my watching of Black Sails no doubt tipped you off, Constant Reader, I am fascinated by pirates and one day hope to write about pirates; whether actually about pirates during their heyday, or about pirate treasure in the present (there’s a Scotty idea in my head somewhere about Jean Lafitte’s treasure I just can’t get my hands on, but someday!), so I am reading The Republic of Pirates as sort of research/for pleasure. Likewise, The Golden Age of Murder is about the Detection Club, and the rise of the British writers who made up the “golden age”: Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, etc. It’s interesting and informative; while I’ve read many of these writers–many of them when I was a teenager–it’s kind of fun finding out what they were like as people; what they thought of their own writing and each other; how they came up with their ideas, and what they did for marketing purposes (Sayers was apparently a tireless self-promoter).

I’ve decided that I have to do more promotion going forward; I am not exactly sure how to do that, but it’s something I need to be more pro-active about. Facebook and Twitter certainly can’t be the be-all end-all of my marketing efforts; however, the gay bookstores are gone as are the gay newspapers, and the mystery bookstores seem to be closing at an equally alarming rate as well. I’ve also come to the conclusion this year, as I’ve mentioned so many times before in past entries this year already, that I need to stop being so self-deprecating and take pride in my work. This is very against my nature; my default is to self-deprecate so I don’t have to worry about other people being deprecating. I’ve always feared that if I say something like I’m really proud of this story someone else will say, well, being proud of THIS isn’t difficult given what you’ve written before; you see how defeating this all can be? Reprogramming my mind isn’t easy, but it is definitely something I need to work on for this year. At the same time I detest arrogance…so it’s a tightrope I have to walk, proud but not arrogant. And I’m not sure I can navigate either properly.

But I am enjoying creating again; enjoying working with my characters and coming up with plots and dialogue and images. Hopefully I’ll do some actually writing–last night I was writing scenes in my journal in long-hand while the television blared in the background; fortunately with the Christie films I’d seen them before and read the novels, so I didn’t miss anything; I may not have been paying as close attention to The Shannara Chronicles as I may have needed to.

Today, I am going to reread the first four chapters of the revision of the WIP (which I have already started revising yet again). I may do some computer-writing today, but then again we’ll see where the day goes, shall we?

I also have been reading some short stories. I’d forgotten that The New Yorker was doing these decades books; showing the decade through collected pieces published in the magazine during that decade. I had purchased the volume for the 1940’s, and forgotten about it. I started paging through it the other day, and came across some great essays as well as some short stories…

The first inThe New Yorker’s The 40’s: The Story of a Decade is”The Second Tree from the Corner” by E. B. White.

\”Ever have any bizarre thoughts?” asked the doctor.

Mr. Trexler failed to catch the word. “What kind?” he asked.

“Bizarre,” repeated the doctor, his voice steady. He watched his patient for any slight change of expression, any wince. It seemed to Trexler that the doctor was not only watching him closely but creeping slowly toward him, like a lizard toward a bug. Trexler shoved his back an inch and gathered himself for a reply. He was about to say “Yes” when he realized that if he said yes the next question would be unanswerable. Bizarre thoughts, bizarre thoughts? Ever have any bizarre thoughts? What kind of thoughts except bizarre had he had since the age of two?

It’s interesting, for one thing, to switch from the crime/horror stories I usually read to read something that’s more along the literary fiction lines; I’ve heard of E. B. White before but never read him other than his collaboration with William Strunk, The Elements of Style, which has become a Bible of sorts, if not to writers then definitely to writing students. So, it was kind of nice to read some of his fiction.

The story itself is rather clever; it’s about the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient, primarily drawn from the patient’s–Mr. Trexler’s–point of view, and how he sees his own neuroses and if his doctor is actually helping him or not. Mr. Trexler begins to slowly question his therapist during their sessions, which inevitably shifts the dynamic between the two, and Mr. Trexler also has some keen insights into his doctor’s personality. Ironically, this ‘reverse-therapy’ seems to have the most positive effect on Mr. Trexler, and after a session–which may or may not be his final session with this doctor–he’s kind of helped himself; on his walk home from the therapist he is quite buoyant and happy and seeing the world with almost new eyes, seeing everything in a new way.

So, the therapy worked…but just not how it’s intended to work, but does it matter when the final end is the desired outcome?

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Holding Back the Years

Yesterday was rather dreary, weather-wise, and I feel fairly confident we are still under a flash-flood warning; but this morning all I see is blue sky and sunshine. Things still look a little damp out there, but over all, much better than one could have hoped. And in checking the project path for Alberto, the cone of uncertainty has narrowed to New Orleans in the west to Panama City in the east; much, much smaller cone; but we are on the outside of the western edge. As storms also tend to turn to the east–even Katrina did before landfall–I’ve breathed a slight sigh of relief this morning.

It is, I suspect, going to be a long hurricane season–particularly since it doesn’t officially start until June 1.

I slept deeply and well last night, and my back–which was aching–no longer hurts, which is a good thing. I wish I could figure out what the hell I am doing to it to make it hurt in the first place, so I can be more careful, but I am more than happy to take the pain being gone as a win this morning. Huzzah!

Yesterday I was scribbling away in my journal as I continued to read Philip Roth’s When She Was Good. The writing is very good, and the characterizations are also quite good; all that remains is the plot/story, and I am intrigued enough with it to continue reading it. Maybe I should dial it back for a while on the crime fiction and read outside my genre for a little while; not just for a break but to come up with better ideas for my own writing, which can never hurt.

I wrote all kinds of notes in my journal yesterday; notes for the WIP, notes for the short stories “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” and “The Brady Kid” (I’ve not even thought about the latter for months now), so I am feeling all kinds of productive here in the Lost Apartment this morning. I am going to actually write today for a while; I also intend to do some reading–not just the Roth, but I am going to read everything I’ve written on the Scotty thus far and make notes. I also don’t know my characters in the Scotty book as much as I should, and I need to get the plot figured out so I can get the goddamned draft done. I also have a few other things I need to get done as well.

And there’s always cleaning, of course. I am currently working on washing the bed linens, and the living room of course needs to be vacuumed. I also need to clean out my car a bit; and Armor-all the inside of my car now that summer is looming. I also need to put the recycling out. But I have to say, this well-rested thing is actually working out quite beautifully. I could easily get very used to it, I must say. I must also say that I’m greatly enjoying this creative phase I am currently experiencing. I am thinking about character, and why I write the things I write, and how to broaden my reading audience. I’ve been thinking about moving forward with the agent search, how best to approach an agent, how to put my best foot forward, not only with industry professionals but also with the readers of my genre.

I’ve also come to realize that, over the last few days, as I’ve put my finger precisely on why I wasn’t getting anywhere with “A Holler Full of Kudzu” is because I was trying to not be subversive; the write from the gay male point of view without rubbing people’s faces in the sexuality. But WHY? Why would I do that? The point of the story, the theme, if you will, has everything to do with the point of view character’s sexuality; of beginning to understand what your sexuality is and that is partly why you feel different from everyone else, and also, learning how people feel about people who are like you, and how dangerous those feelings are, can push you deeper into the closet. I think the theme may be larger than the story itself, to be completely honest with you; which is why I am tending to think this story may actually be a novel a-borning in my mind rather than the lengthy short story I was thinking it would be. As I plug in some of the story pieces today that I brainstormed in my journal last night, I will come to a better understanding of the story and how long it is going to be.

Likewise, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is becoming much longer than I originally thought it would turn out to be; it’s going to come in far longer than the six or seven thousand words I originally had planned. That will make it harder to place, of course–not that it’s not already hard to place stories with gay characters and themes; it’s almost impossible–but I’ve also decided that I simply have to stop writing things that are specifically intended for markets. I have to write the story the best I can and then try to find a market for it. And I can always, always, always, simply do another collection of stories.

I also like that “The Brady Kid” is starting to shape in my mind; mainly, who the point-o-view character is. Part of the issue with some of my stories is that maybe I don’t define the characters enough; it’s hard to write a good story when you don’t know who your characters are.

I’m also finding that experimenting with voice and style and tone and place is much easier to do in a short story rather than in a novel. I think writing these stories is making me a much better writer, to be honest, which is ultimately going to be more helpful to me in the long run than I’d possibly thought. During my brainstorming last night I also figured out some of the problems I am having with the Scotty novel; not solutions, per se, but actually diagnosing the problems, which is key to figuring out how to solve those problems.

Which is fun, actually, and I have to say, it’s so awesome that writing is fun again.

I also read some short stories. Here’s one: “Crazy Margaret” by Jack Fredrickson, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017 issue.

The gravestone had room for only the first name, but it was the largest he could carry up the hill. He set in on ground covered now, as then, with curled brown leaves.

He’d meant to slip into town quietly, place the stone, and slip out again. There was no one from his old life he wanted to see. But a voice had called his name when he was gassing up the rental, a guy he’d known in high school. They’d chatted for a moment before Dave, acting casual, asked about her.

The old classmate had scratched his head, surprised. Crazy Margaret, he said; that’s what the kids sneaking out there called her after she dropped out of school. But new kids came along, kids who didn’t know her, and soon enough, nobody gave her any mind at all. “Hell, it’s been at least twenty years,” he said. “She could be dead.”

I enjoyed this story; which is told from the perspective of someone coming home to their small town and remembering something that happened years earlier, something criminal; this is something I often do in my own stories–in fact, “This Thing of Darkness” is sort of one of these stories. The Margaret of the title is a beautiful young woman who sunbathes out at the lake where she lives in skimpy bikinis; luring young boys out there to watch her and possibly, just possibly, killing some of them. It’s sort of a retelling of the siren myth, from the Greeks: the beautiful woman who lures men to their deaths. Although…really, should the boys be out there spying on her in the first place? Isn’t that a form of harassment?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story; it’s very well done and how Margaret gets her own punishment for what she’s doing is very Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery; crime is always punished in a macabre, ironic way and so it is for the Crazy Margaret of the title.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Stuck With You

Well, it’s been a day.

I took my car into the dealer this morning to have the oil changed–which only has to be done either once a year, or every 6000 miles, whichever comes first; I’ve now had the car 16 months and hit 8000 miles today–and while I was there, I made notes in my journal, read some of Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, while The Young and the Restless played in the background on the television. I was there considerably longer than I expected to be, given I had an appointment and all, but there was no fee and I had more than enough to keep me entertained. Just around the time the car was ready, of course, the brooding skies opened up and there was a torrential downpour. We are in a flash flood warning until tomorrow evening around 6–and there’s also now Tropical Storm Alberto out there just off the Yucatan, probably heading this way with us in the Cone of Uncertainty. I debated not running my errands because of the downpour. I was on the West Bank, and I’m not familiar with whether or not areas and/or aspects of the West Bank streets flood or not during this kind of constant, steady downpour, with 4 to 6 inches of rain expected. But it lightened up some, and so I ran the errands and got home.

All told, I was gone for nearly four hours; but a higher percentage of that time was spent dealing with the bridge traffic coming back to the east bank than was necessary, in my humble opinion.

Sigh.

But now I am home, there’s some sunlight outside, but everything is dripping, and my windows are covered in condensation. I’ve put the groceries away and sorted the mail. I tossed a load of laundry into the washing machine and fed the attention-starved, incredibly whiny in his neediness cat. There’s still some straightening up to do in the kitchen–as always; everything I’ve done yesterday needs to be redone, but it won’t take as long so I can add another layer to the cleaning; perhaps vacuuming–and I’ve got some books to reorganize. I’d like to get some actual writing done today; but I’ve been doing a lot of the mental prep and making a lot of notes; while I was having lunch I came up with an entire scene for the WIP and came up with an absolutely brilliant (he typed modestly) bit of character development which will save me a lot of space in words by nailing down this character in what looks like a mere throwaway sentence. There’s certainly more Shannara Chronicles to watch, and I also can go back and finish both Lost in Space and Troy: The Fall of a City. I have more short stories to write and edit and polish; Scotty chapters to read and the WIP.

Yup, not lacking for things to do around here this weekend.

And yet I am feeling so relaxed, it’s lovely.

It’s truly lovely feeling creative again; after the barren desert that was last year. It’s so awful when you worry if you’ve lost your creativity and your drive to write; my primary identity, the way I see myself, is so clearly writer that it makes me so much happier when I am actually able to do it; when my mind is filled with ideas and scenes and characters and sentences and titles and stories. I always say I have creative ADHD; my mind just bounces around in such a strange way from idea to idea and when I free associate like that, I come up with all kinds of things that sound good at the time.

 And now, back to the spice mines.

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