I Miss You

And here we are on a lovely humid Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment. I overslept this morning, or rather, slept later than I had intended or wanted to, but seriously, I’m learning to accept these things as messages from my body that I need more rest. I felt weirdly tired most of yesterday, despite the good night’s sleep; it kind of felt like my body never completely woke up, although my fevered brain was working properly. My body just felt like it would have preferred to stay in bed for the rest of the day. On the way home from work I stopped and made some groceries; today I’ll run uptown and get the mail, making a stop at the Fresh Market for fruit, vegetables and berries on my way home. I may order a Costco delivery for this afternoon (or tomorrow) as well; I haven’t really decided. I started doing some shopping on their website yesterday, but we really didn’t need as much stuff as I would have thought we needed going into their website. (Some of the stuff I wanted wasn’t available, either; which was annoying to say the least–but that would probably also be the case were I to actually go there in person, as well) I also have a library book to pick up today while I am out and about in the humid air of an August Saturday. Huzzah?

I hope I can stay motivated today and get to everything I want to get to this weekend; the jury, of course, remains out at this point.

But if I don’t, I don’t. The world won’t stop turning, after all.

We watched They/Them last night, and it was interesting. It was billed as a horror film, but I really didn’t feel like it was a horror movie rather than social commentary using horror tropes, if that makes sense? The young queer actors playing the kids at the conversion therapy camp were terrific–so were the older cast (Kevin Bacon, Anna Chlumsky, Carrie Preston)–but the movie never quite gelled as being anything more than a clever idea. A “slasher” movie with “they slash them” in the title I bet made the people around the creative table very excited. And maybe I went in expecting a little too much from it, I don’t know. But it really says something about us as a society that this is the first time we’ve ever seen a horror film rooted in the real-life horror of a reparative therapy camp; they are such real horrors that it’s hard to clear your mind to watch the film objectively; obviously, everyone involved with running the camp are the real monsters, etc. and Paul figured out very early on who the killer was–I didn’t bother trying to figure it out, because the identity of the killer (or killers) in these movies, Scream series notwithstanding, really isn’t a big Scooby-Doo reveal or the point of the films. Ultimately, while the film was actually well done, if you want to see a better send-up of slasher flicks, much as I hate to say it, the latest season of American Horror Story was probably better than They/Them, but at least They/Them is mercifully shorter than any season of AHS. Watch it for yourselves and make up your mind; it does bring up some interesting things to think about.

We then watched the first two episodes of a Netflix true crime series The Most Hated Man on the Internet, about Hunter Moore and his horrific revenge-porn site IsAnyoneUp.com. It’s a horrible story–we stopped before the third and final episode, in which Moore is finally arrested and charged–but riveting and hard to stop watching. The story is primarily told through the eyes of his victims–women whose intimate photos were posted on his website–and its yet another compelling example of how women can so easily be dehumanized and devalued by men and society as a whole. It’s a pretty disgusting story, as these kinds of stories so often are, but I think people do need to watch it. It’s pretty frightening how successful a sociopath can become in this country, and a stinging indictment of our society as a whole. Tonight I am excited to start watching The Sandman–one of the greatest comic book series ever done; I hope it translates well to the new medium (I really didn’t care for other Neil Gaiman adaptations, American Gods and Good Omens, even though I loved the books they were based on). There’s a lot of good stuff dropping this month, too–yes, I will watch House of the Dragons because I’ve missed Westeros since Game of Thrones ended, and I am not ashamed to admit it, either.

Just glancing around my home office as I swill coffee and swim up from the depths of Morpheus (see what I did there?) induced sleep, I can also see that there are a lot of odds and ends that need doing around here as well. I am hoping to get some writing done today–I want to really start digging into the Scotty book this weekend, and of course I need to work on some short stories and so forth. I went ahead and bit the bullet and submitted a story yesterday. I don’t think they’re going to accept it, to be honest, but that’s okay. They certainly can never accept it if I never send it to them for consideration, can they? It never gets any easier, either, the longer I do this: the minutes-long debate with myself before I hit the submit button. I hate that I still have so little confidence in my skill as a writer and I am this far into it, which means that confidence will probably never come along; it’s not like one day I will wake up with an entire new mindset and brain…plus, I think the insecurity is a driver in keeping me writing, frankly, which is in and itself probably more than just a little bit neurotic.

Nothing ever really changes around here, does it? I suspect that this blog–going back now seventeen years or so–is nothing more than an endless log of neuroses and insecurity and self-loathing. (A little voice in my head just shouted, and that will be your legacy!) I was also looking at the saved drafts in my folder–entries that I wanted to write but decided I needed more time to think about before posting, and in many cases they are unfinished–and thinking I should spend some more time actually finishing and posting them. While the blog has always been intended primarily for me–it’s a warm-up writing session at best, at worst it’s some writing I do every day to keep my hand in–there’s no reason I can’t use the blog for other purposes; like publishing an essay about something that I care about, or a personal essay built around something that happened to me. I don’t trust my memories, as I’ve often mentioned here (I sometimes think that if I were ever to start writing memoirs, it would have to be called False Memories or Memory Lies), and so writing about personal experiences is something I have always been highly reluctant to do. There are any number of things I could write personal essays about, but everything is entirely subjectively MY opinion, which makes it a bit harder for me to think anyone would even care to read them. I am not known as a great thinker or as an intellectual; far from it, in fact, and there’s quite literally nothing I can think of to say about anything that would be clever or insightful or meaningful.

Then again, that could just be the Imposter Syndrome speaking again, too.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow, okay?

Sweet Girl

The only reason I know it’s Wednesday is I got a text message confirming that my paycheck was deposited in my checking account, meaning it’s also Pay-the-Bills Day. I did that already over this first cup of coffee–shortly after my daily morning COVID test came back positive again (we are now on Day 5 of this, if the first day doesn’t count; six if it does) and now I am trying to get things done before the daily fatigue sets in. Yesterday was maybe the worst it’s been thus far; I spent most of the day drifting in and out of sleep in my easy chair. I can honestly say I’ve never slept this much in my life in a six day period as I have since last Friday–and yet am still able to fall asleep every night without a problem and don’t want to get up in the morning, and am still fatigued all day and can drift off again in the snap of my fingers. Ironically, I just realized while paying the bills this morning that today is our anniversary; Paul and I have been a couple twenty-seven years today. We obviously don’t make much of it, really–we really aren’t big on holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries as a general rule–as evidenced by the fact that I’d completely forgot about it until writing down the date in my checkbook (and yes, I still use a check register to track my account; many co-workers mock me about this but for fuck’s sake it’s how I learned and I am so fucking paranoid about being overdrawn it’s just easier to keep a running balance and periodically balance it).

And there’s the fatigue. I was wondering how much longer I had before it made its presence known. It’s so weird how it allows me an hour or so every morning, like a tease: today you’re going to feel good even though you still tested positive! PSYCH! Here’s some fatigue for you!

I am going to try to fight through it today to get some things done. If it means ‘get something done then go nap for an hour’ so be it. My house is a disaster area. Laundry and dishes have piled up, and there is mess everywhere I look here in the kitchen. I was so tired yesterday I never even got hungry, so I never made dinner and now that I think about it, I think all I ate yesterday was some coffee cake yesterday morning so I could take my pills. Lack of fuel can certainly play a role in the fatigue, can’t it? It’s so weird, I’ve never experienced anything like this at all. I can actually feel the exhaustion running down my arms and legs until all four limbs, including hands and feet, feel fatigued. Even as I type this the fog is encroaching on my thought processes and making my head feel, for wont of a better phrase, empty and hollow. My eyes are now tired. But…as I remind myself every day as I try to get out of my chair and almost weep from the effort, it could be worse. At least I can breathe, and the slight constriction I felt in my lungs the first few days is now gone. It wasn’t even that bad–the lung thing, I mean; it didn’t hurt or anything or restrict my breathing, I just was aware of it, if that makes sense; kind of like there was a plug or something there in the center of my lungs that I felt whenever I breathed deeply or moved, but was more along the lines of here I am don’t forget you’re sick! rather than Oh my God get me to the emergency room–and I am grateful for that. I feel a little strange complaining about this when it could obviously be ever so much worse; thank goodness for the four inoculations I’ve had.

As I drifted in and out of sleep we watched Mind Over Murder, a documentary series about a bizarre murder case in Beatrice, Nebraska (pronounced b-AT-triss) in which six people confessed to a rape and murder only to be exonerated years later by DNA. (One person never confessed; he was the one who led the charge to get the DNA evidence tested–only to die in a freak accident at work a year and a half after being released.) It’s a very weird story–as true crime stories often are–and it made me start thinking–through the fog–about the Jeff Davis 8, eight women who were murdered in and around Jefferson Davis Parish back in the aughts in similar ways, yet different enough to make it questionable as to whether it was a serial killer or not. I’ve always wanted to write about that case in a fictional novel–it’s the story I keep thinking about bringing Chanse back for–because nothing is as a bizarre as true crime, really.

Anyway, my brain is starting to get cloudier and focus is getting harder. It’s very weird to describe how this feels, really; my legs even as I am sitting here in the chair ache with fatigue, my shoulders feel very tired, and my body is telling me to go lie down again. Should I listen to my body, or fight through it? That’s the worst part of this–trying to decide if pushing through the sickness to get things done is worth risking making it worse, and the last thing I want to do is make this worse. I am really not used to this kind of illness, and I don’t like it–which is a rather silly thing to say; after all, who likes being sick? I am also unused to it. The wearing of masks and constant hand-washing/sanitizing had managed to keep me from getting even a cold over the last two years, so this almost feels like a betrayal of sorts. I have no one to blame but myself, of course. I allowed my diligence to slack off after the fourth vaccination, like a fool; it’s always when you stop being vigilant and become more careless that shit happens, as I well know from a lifetime of experience.

But I am going to try to martial my energy and focus to do some things now, and I know I have some emails that need attention–even though just thinking about doing anything makes me want to weep from exhaustion and frustration. (Usually, too, when I am sick I can read and watch movies and so forth; no such luck with this, which makes it even more frustrating as I feel like I am losing and wasting time.)

And hopefully, tomorrow morning’s test will have only one line.

Stay safe and ever vigilant, Constant Reader.

Me and You and a Dog Named Boo

Wednesday and yet another Pay-the-Bills Day. I also didn’t set my alarm last night–could have sworn I did, though–but fortunately managed to get up anyway shortly after six. That could have been truly scary, really; I could have easily slept for another few hours–even now that I am up and sipping coffee, I really can feel the pull of my bed, calling me back to its cozy, comfortable warmth. I would much rather spend a few more hours there than get cleaned up and head into the office any day of the week, quite frankly. I’m not sure why I was so deeply asleep last night yet again, but I am calling all of this great sleep I’ve been getting an awesome thing and just riding the wave as long as it continues, frankly. It’s weird feeling rested in the mornings, I have to admit. Nice, but weird.

I got my editorial letter for A Streetcar Named Murder yesterday, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be. I need to process it all, get it organized, and then get to work on it as soon as I can. I also need to finish the Bouchercon anthology and get it turned in as well; I also had a business call about a book project I am considering taking on. (Money makes the world go around, the world go around….) I also started working on a short story idea I had a while back and had gotten started on, called “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop,” for a very quick turn around short story submission call that I will most likely not get finished in time to turn in, but at the very least I will have a finished draft of the story at some point. I’m still not entirely certain what happens at the rest stop when my character winds up there–but I do have some thoughts–so we will see how it all goes. I also saw another submission call that struck my fancy recently; it might prove to be a home for another one of my stories that I can’t seem to find a home for–which is fine; my stories follow my imagination, and my imagination rarely works in a way that produces stories that short fiction markets like. (I do want to see if I can some out for submissions over the course of the next week or so; it’s all going to depend on my motivation, as everything always does…)

We also watched another episode of Candy last night, and it’s really interesting. I keep saying to Paul, “this suburban existence being depicted on this show–late 70’s, early 80’s–is my idea of hell. This was the environment I grew up in, and definitely was not the future I wanted for myself.” I’ve been hankering (my God did I really just say hankering?) to write about the 1970’s lately–probably has something to do with my turning sixty last year–and the suburbs and what that was kind of like; I have several ideas for stories/novels to be set in my fictional suburb outside of Chicago (where the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; remember, all of my books and stories, regardless of authorial name, are connected together in some way; the Gregiverse, if you will); one is based on a true story that happened when we lived there and I was a freshman in high school (a murder involving some students) and the other is sort of based on the Candyman serial murders in Houston. So yes, those days of cheap faux wood paneling and station wagons and lawn mowers and Schwinn bicycles with streamers coming out of the handgrips and cards woven through the tire spokes so they clatter will someday be written about by yours truly.

So many ideas, so little time to actually write any of them. Heavy heaving sigh.

I think today I need to make a to-do list. I have a bunch of things that need doing, and I cannot count on my memory to remember them all–not that I have been able to count on my memory for that sort of thing for quite some time; this is not something new that has developed with age; no matter how much I want to believe that I used to have this truly fantastic memory, the truth is I was always able to simply manage tasks through list-keeping and obsessive organization…both of which have kind of fallen off track over the years, hence me forgetting things. I did kind of let my life get out of control for quite a number of years; the process of getting reorganized is one that is so overwhelming that I’ve just kind of let it go (my file cabinet is terrifying, seriously; even though I know I can probably clean a shit ton of things out of it and make it into something functional and workable…it’s also incredibly time consuming and the one thing I never seem to have in abundance of any kind is actual time) and as such, I can never really find anything…not to mention that I will look for a folder I know I created, not find it, and simply make a new one…so yes, I have files every-fucking-where.

Sigh.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a happy Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.

Morning Rider on the Road

So, going back to the office wasn’t a terrible experience. We didn’t see any clients yesterday–we’re hoping to get the supplies we need delivered today, so we can get started again tomorrow–but I was able to go into the office and get some things done before coming home and doing some more work at home as well. I am going in again today–good to get the routine back on track again–and am hopeful that tomorrow will be another step forward in returning to normality.

It looks like we’re going to feel something from Hurricane Nicholas, which looks to be following a particularly strange path for a tropical disturbance, but the majority of whatever it may be won’t be until Thursday. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, but I think overall the weather should be fairly decent today? I suppose I should check.

Yes, it’s supposed to rain all day today, with the heaviest fall around eleven this morning. Yay. But I kind of like gloomy, rainy days, to be perfectly honest. My preference for them is to be at home under a blanket with a book, but you can’t always get what you want.

When I visited my parents a while back, one of the books I took with me was James Jones’ unabridged From Here to Eternity, which apparently included the scenes referencing gay bars and gay activity amongst the soldiers–and how some weren’t averse to making some extra money getting paid for sex. It’s always been one of my father’s favorite books (and movies), but I had never read it. I started it a few times when I was a teenager (I always enjoyed World War II stories) but with these scenes restored (they were cut from the original publication, for obvious reasons) I thought it might prove of interest–particularly since I have an idea (don’t I always?) for a book set on Oahu that opens on December 8, 1941. I got maybe three hundred pages into the book, and literally reading it was torture. I finally gave up and moved on to something else; I don’t remember what it was, but I certainly enjoyed it much much more than I was enjoying From Here to Eternity–and the primary reason I was hating the Jones novel was because all of the characters were, basically, assholes with few if any redeeming qualities. Last night as I sorted things for work at home, I decided to watch the film again–the original, from 1953–and…yeah, I’m not really certain it holds up after all this time either. My primary takeaway from the film was how ridiculously lean and fit the actors (Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra) playing the main leads were. It’s funny, because the book’s frank look at sexuality (Clift’s character falls in love with a prostitute; Lancaster has an affair with his superior officer’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr) is so ridiculously tame by our modern standards; crime series currently airing on network television are more risqué than this film–let alone soaps. (Kind of like Peyton Place–there’s more lurid content in an episode of The Young and the Restless than in the entire book!) I wasn’t overly impressed with the film, to be honest–and it was hardly a glowing depiction of the military. But it was interesting…and made me think about that book I mentioned earlier than I want to write someday.

But the gym is back to its normal hours, and so I’ll be able to get back there to workout after work today. Yay! I’ve actually missed going to the gym in these turbulent times; I did make it over there last week for a quick workout one day, and I am really looking forward to things going back to routine again. I like my routines, I like my patterns, I like my ruts, frankly; and again trying to remember what all was going on and what all I was working on before this disruption began has been challenging. Head down, nose to grindstone; get it all together, man!

We also watched a few more episodes of Only Murders in the Building, which we are really enjoying. I’m not really sure if this is a murder mystery, or about three true crime aficionados who’ve become convinced they are not only investigating a murder but making a podcast about it at the same time. I am really enjoying the show; the Martin Short character gets on my nerves periodically, but I really like the Steve Martin character, and those apartments! I can only imagine what those apartments are actually worth in today’s Manhattan rental climate.

I am also hoping to get back into Velvet was the Night soon. I read a chapter last night (or was it the night before?) and am really enjoying it thus far, and we haven’t really gotten into the story itself yet; Moreno-Garcia is letting us get to know our two main characters first; she really is a gifted talent, and am looking forward into delving more into her work in the future–perhaps either Mexican Gothic or Gods of Jade and Shadow will be up next. I love that she doesn’t limit herself to genre, which used to be a no-no in this business; you were supposed to pick a genre and if you wrote in another one, you used another name (Michael Koryta has written both crime and horror under his own name; lately he’s started publishing the horror as Scott Carson). God, how this business has changed in the years since I took my first tentative steps into it so long ago. Some of those changes are for the better–prime example being Moreno-Garcia slipping between genres effortlessly under the same name–and some not so much; I miss writing gay erotica from time to time…although I love that my erotica fell out of favor with “current” readers of gay male pornography because when I write it, it’s about lust and sweat and masculinity and control–as opposed to roses and music and love and fading to black and cuddling when fading back in.

And I need to get back to writing, which I am assuming will happen once I feel more settled, with the ground more stable beneath my feet again. Today is the 14th, which means I only have 16 days left in which to finish the first draft of Chlorine like I had wanted; I think I am going to continue working on it, while prepping for writing the next book and revising some of the other things I have on hand that aren’t finished or in early draft form; I need to make a list, don’t I?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader, never fear!

Mesh

Day three of heavy weather in New Orleans; there was a marvelous downpour around six this morning or so that lasted over an hour, complete with lightning and thunder. It’s still gray outside, not currently raining–but there’s a thunderstorm somewhere nearby, as there’s still lightning flashing but with a nice little break before the thunderclap, the kind that lasts for several seconds or more. I didn’t go to the gym last night because the rain was so heavy and had planned to go today–perhaps when I am done with my work-at-home duties today there will be enough of a break in storm bands for me to get over there. I could drive, of course, but that just really seems kind of silly to me since it’s so close. Why yes, I drove the four or five blocks to the gym to work out my body. Granted, rain changes everything, especially New Orleans’ kind of drenching rain, and since we are going into day three of it, the ground is already saturated and can’t absorb it so there’s more standing water than there usually is–and there’s inevitably a lot of standing water any time it rains here.

It just started raining again.

I came home last night fully intending to get a lot done, since the rain precluded the walk to the gym, and while I did do some piecework on Chlorine, I didn’t really do a lot. I was feeling tired, the way I usually do on Wednesday nights anyway, and I also didn’t even bother to unpack my backpack last night, which is not a good sign. I read some more of The Man with the Candy, which is so well-written! I’m really enjoying the book–it reminds me a lot, in how well it’s written, of my favorite true crime books of all time, Blood and Money, and not just because they are both set in Houston–it’s about how well the two different writers wrote about Houston itself, turning the city into a character in the books. This is what I always try to do when writing about New Orleans–giving the reader a strong enough sense of place that the city itself is almost a character in and of itself in my books. This is also triggering the memory that Blood and Money was part of the reason (besides living there) I wanted to set the Chanse series there originally–don’t get me wrong, I am not in the least bit regretful that the Chanse series exists in my own personal New Orleans fictional universe, but there’s always a bit of a pang for me that I have never written about Houston and probably never will, other than as an aside or something in a book. I have several ideas that begin with the character either living in, or being from, Houston; but nothing actually set there.

We also finished the second season of Very Scary People, with the two episodes on Dr. Swango, aka Dr. Death; I’d actually never heard of him before, so he was obviously new to me. We skipped the Bobby Durst episodes–after watching all six or so episodes of The Jinx I didn’t see any real need to spend another hour and a half with Bobby Durst–who, while interesting enough, doesn’t really deserve any more of my attention than he’s already had, frankly. There’s also a new limited series on Netflix, The Serpent (it may be HBO; it’s hard for me to keep track of whichever streaming service these days since there are so many), which is about Charles Sobhraj, a criminal and murderer who operated in Southeast Asia mostly. I read a book about him many years ago called Serpentine, which was also written by Thomas Thompson, who also wrote Blood and Money. It was interesting, and clearly I’ve never completely forgotten it–as soon as I saw The Serpent‘s trailer and its lead actor, I knew exactly who and what it was about–which we may be diving into tonight. There’s also a new mini-series on HBO with Kate Winslet that looks interesting, so there are a lot of options for us to choose from….maybe too many, really.

I’m not really sure why I am having so much trouble getting started on my day–although I suspect the weather has a lot to do with it. When it’s like this I really would much prefer being under a blanket and reading–there’s no better reading weather than rain, is there? It’s just so comforting to be inside and warm and dry while the house is being battered with rain and wind and the sky is rent with lightning and loud thunder….and even though it sometimes means flash flooding and so forth, one of the many things I love about living in New Orleans is the rain (Houston also has marvelous thunderstorms, as did Tampa). I lived for eight years in San Joaquin Valley in California, where it rarely, if ever rained–and we certainly never had this kind of amazing thunderstorm there.

All right, I’ve procrastinated quite long enough. Onward and upward into the spice mines, Constant Reader!

American Girl

Hello work-at-home Thursday, how are you doing?

I’m starting to get used to the loss of the trees, but it isn’t even so much the loss of the green, leafy view or the increased light that bothers me the most about the loss of the crepe myrtles. I’ve realized that, despite the fact that the trees didn’t completely shield the house next door or its carriage house from view, they provided enough of a shield for me to feel like I had privacy while I was sitting at my desk. I could see the upstairs windows next doors, but not clearly; it was more of a vague awareness that they were there. Now I can see into them–not that much, really, because of the angle–which of course means anyone standing in those windows or looking out of them can also look directly down at me at my desk, writing or cleaning or reading or whatever the hell it is I do there when I sit there.

And that I do not like one bit.

So, yes, I’m going to have to invest in blinds, I suppose. I can just use them for the upper half of the windows–the lower half doesn’t really need covering, to shield them from either the sun or the next door upstairs neighbors. Am I happy about it? Not in the least. But it has to be done, or next summer is going to be les miserables in the kitchen. It gets too hot in there as it is, and I’m probably also going to have to invest in more portable air conditioners as well. Heavy heaving sigh.

So, apparently a sexual assault scandal is currently looming over the LSU football program, tracing back to Derrius Guice–who was recently dropped by whatever team had drafted him into the NFL after he was arrested for domestic violence–horrifying stuff, really–which revealed that he’d been accused twice of rape while he was a student at LSU and allegedly the school and athletic department covered it up. This was during the time the wretched Joe Alleva was the athletic director there, and given that he was responsible for the insanity and disaster that the the Duke lacrosse team sexual assault scandal, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The fact LSU hired him. with that scandal on his resume, remains a mystery to me. I may be a loyal Tiger fan who bleeds purple and gold, but this needs to be thoroughly investigated and there needs to be accountability. This kind of shit doesn’t belong anywhere in college, let alone in college athletics, and the covering up of bad behavior by star athletes by colleges and professional sports needs to stop, period.

Seriously, enough of this boys will be boys bullshit. Boys who get away with shit because they’re boys become men who think they can get away with shit, and this becomes a societal problem.

I am really tired of sex crimes involving college sports, frankly–or any sport, for that matter.

And now I am thinking I should write a book about college sports and a sex crime, because of course I am.

I could, of course, call it Boys Will Be Boys.

Hmmmm some more.

My back is a little sore this week, I’m not sure if it’s from the gym and working out–I noticed it yesterday, when I woke up, and went to the gym anyway, so this morning it’s a little worse–but it’s not an injury injury; this is just intense muscle soreness, so I’ll be using the heating pad this afternoon as I make condom packs. It did feel lovely going to the gym after work yesterday and working out–I’m really getting back into this–and we started watching Murder on Middle Beach last night on HBO; a documentary series this young filmmaker did about his mother’s brutal murder, which was weird; both oddly intimate and deeply personal, and incredibly sad at the same time. I couldn’t imagine dealing with my mom being murdered, and then writing a true crime book about it, but then, who knows? It’s an interesting premise for a true crime documentary, but one that begs the question of objectivity; how can you be objective when you’re so deeply personally involved with almost everyone you’ll be talking to, interviewing, and filming? And–God help me–I did think to myself, well, someone making a documentary series about their mother’s murder is also a great book premise, isn’t it?

I also took the time last night after the gym, as I waited for Paul to come home, to read two more stories from Lawrence Block’s anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy. The theme of the anthology is, of course, crimes in academia; the first story, by none other than Rambo creator David Morrell–whom I’ve met and is a very nice man–was quite good. The next two stories in the book were by authors I’d not read before, Jane Hamilton and Warren Moore. (Moore has had stories in other Block anthologies I’ve read; I’ve not read any of his novels, is what I meant here.) I’d heard of Ms. Hamilton before; she’s a quite critically acclaimed literary novelists, and best known to me as the author of The Short History of a Prince. Both stories were interesting. Ms. Hamilton’s was built around an advanced creative writing course in a small, failing liberal arts college, while Moore’s was built around the end of an academic conference–with a recently defended, new Ph. D. trying to find a job in academia giving a ride to a long tenured leader in their field, and what the young man thinks about as they talk about careers in academia, with the bitter reality of the younger man’s existence in sharp contrast to the comfortable established existence the older man has achieved. Hamilton’s story, “Writing Maeve Dubinsky,” doesn’t really seem like a crime story–the actual crime is a very small one, not even a misdemeanor, although it deeply affects the lives of the characters of the story (imagine coming to your writing class and discovering that one of your classmates had stolen your journal and written a story about your relationship)–the best part of the story was I remembered in exquisite detail the agony of workshopping one of your stories in a classroom setting–and also put me in mind of thinking about other stories for me to write. The Moore story, “Alt-Ac” (the title refers to Ph.D’s who have to find jobs outside of academia: “alternate to academic”) was also astonishingly dark and bitter about the diploma mill modern colleges have become, saddling students with massive amounts of debt they can never repay while giving them degrees that are essentially useless when it comes to finding work in the real world, particularly since there are so few jobs in academia and there are fewer of those jobs all of the time (seriously, the fact that Katrina came along and finished off any thoughts I had about pursuing further education and possibly teaching on the collegiate level was quite a gift to me, and one I never truly appreciated until lately), but it was also incredibly spot on.

I do find it interesting that in all the talk about student debt and so forth, no one ever talks about revamping or overhauling our higher education system–or improving it; that system is just as rotten and outdated as other societal institutions that need overhauling and repair.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Untouchable

And here we are at Friday again, with a three day holiday weekend looming over us. This would have been Southern Decadence in a normal year, and around four o’clock this afternoon I would be departing for the French Quarter to pass out condoms and people-watch. Instead, I will be at home in the air conditioning, making condom packs and doing other work-at-home duties while watching today’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choices.

I had another good night’s sleep last night, which was quite lovely, particularly as I have a bit of a busy day ahead of me before I can slip into my three-day weekend. The kitchen, well, the entire Lost Apartment, is a mess yet again; I try to keep it cleaned as I go, but inevitably at some point during the week I get too tired and let it go–and from that point on I just look at it and feel defeated, certainly too defeated to take care of it, and let t slide for the weekend. Perhaps not the smartest way to housekeep, and inevitably I resent the time I wind up spending on it on the weekend having to clean, but I do enjoy cleaning, and there’s something to the fact that cleaning helps me think.

I read some more on Little Fires Everywhere last night; it really is remarkably well written and interesting, and I am really looking forward to finishing reading it this weekend. We also are watching a Showtime documentary called Outcry, which is about the Greg Kelley case in Texas; to wit, Greg Kelley was a local football star in his small town and very well-liked, and then was accused, and convicted, of molesting a four-year-old child–and at every level, the justice system clearly failed, from the investigating officers and police department, to the prosecution AND the defense attorney, to the jury. I don’t know whether Greg Kelley actually molested that child or not–he of course claims he is innocent–but the mentality evident from every level of the justice system clearly wasn’t to give him a fair trial. Just like with Who Killed Garrett Phillips?, it was clear that very early on the police decided who was guilty and shaped their investigation, not to find the truth but to build a case that backed up their belief. It’s shocking, and horrifying, but this is the sad truth in most criminal prosecutions and investigations; I’ve even touched on this in some of my books–that the cops, who are generally overburdened with cases, decide on a suspect who is guilty early on and that decision impacts and directs their entire investigation–and they don’t rule out other suspects.

This systemic flaw in our criminal justice system is very terrifying; what could be scarier than knowing that you are innocent, not believed, and the full force of our system is being brought to bear on convicting you? Every American has a constitutional right to a fair trial, to due process…it’s the corner-store of our entire system. The Constitution provides for protecting the individual against the abuses of the state, and this is something people tend to forget frequently when it comes to criminal justice. The Constitution and our system specifically makes it difficult to convict people of crimes by making certain that individual rights aren’t being violated during the investigation and in court; but this only works when a judge is impartial and when prosecutors aren’t looking to make names for themselves but are actually looking for justice–not to get a win-loss record that their raises and futures are dependent on.

Quite frankly, I have reached a point where the thought of just being a witness in a criminal case is worrisome; you never know when the cops are going to decide that you are the actual criminal and are going to slant their investigation towards convicting you.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Outcry documentary is seeing the white people realize hey, if this can happen to a good-looking white football star in Texas, it could happen to ANYONE and then get involved in trying to make change.

I think part of the problem is that we elect judges and district attorneys; there’s always something political involved in their decision making, and the idea that justice is dependent on their reelection prospects (and further political ambitions) is kind of terrifying.

But it’s much easier to believe that our system works the way it’s supposed to rather than take a long, hard look at it, and try to make important reforms.

I also found it interesting that at least in the Greg Kelley case, the word of the victim–a four year old boy–was taken as gospel truth without question to the point it was literally the only evidence used to convict a nineteen-year-old and send him to jail for twenty-five years; why aren’t women who are sexually assaulted given that same courtesy?

Don’t get me wrong–I think child abuse (whether physical, sexual or mental) is one of the worst crimes out there and every effort should be made to protect them and convict those who are actually guilty; but it is in the entire best interest of society to ensure that those who are convicted of these crimes are actually guilty.

For every innocent person sent to prison, there’s a guilty person still walking around free, and that’s scary.

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

My October Symphony

At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.

But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)

We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.

And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.

Then again, you never know.

We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.

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

You Got It All

Saturday morning and I literally just rolled out of bed. I cannot remember the last time I slept this late, but rather than worrying about it, I’m just going to go ahead and embrace it. I have to run make groceries today before the LSU game, but it’s at two thirty so there’s still plenty of time for me to get caffeinated, woken up, and maybe even do some cleaning around the house before the Tigers take on Mississippi State.

Last night Paul and I continued watching a show on Hulu from some true crime channel. The series is called The 1990’s: The Deadliest Decade, or something like that; last night we watched two more episodes (we’d watched the first episode, about a murder in Houston, Thursday night). Last night’s episodes were about the torture/murder of a twelve year old girl in Indiana–very grisly–and the second episode was the Club Kid Murder, which I already knew the story of–Michael Alig, the Limelight Club in New York, and the murder of drug dealer Angel; there was a book I’d read called Disco Bloodbath, written by an accessory after the fact who got immunity for testifying, and it was later made into a film, Party Monster, which starred Macauley Culkin. I’ve resisted the allure of true crime for the most part–don’t get me wrong, I do love it, it’s just that since I started writing crime fiction I’ve worried that reading a true crime novel would inspire me to fictionalize the story (“ripped from the headlines!”), and for some reason that felt like cheating in some way to me. But over the years I’ve found that a lot of crime writers draw inspiration from actual true crimes…and yet I’ve continued to avoid it. (I used to love A&E’s show City Confidential, which was amazing)

And being inspired by reading Ethan Brown’s book Murder in the Bayou (as well as by the Showtime docuseries based on the book) kind of proves my point, doesn’t it?

Then again, Garden District Gothic was my own take on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, wasn’t it, only twenty or so years later?

And of course, this whole situation with the Hard Rock Hotel collapse last weekend has my brain working feverishly to spin a plot around it. I already have introduced a shady developer into my alternate New Orleans universe, in Royal Street Reveillon, none other than Sam Dreher. Maybe the collapsing hotel can be the basis for French Quarter Flambeaux, one of the many Scotty titles I came up with recently.

What I really need to be doing is working on Bury Me in Shadows, but I suspect my fevered brain is going to continue to jump around today. I always keep my journal and a pen handy when I’m watching an LSU game, so hopefully after I get the cleaning done and the groceries made and start the grill–we always “tailgate” at home for LSU games; burgers and hot dogs–I’ll be able to work some more on Bury Me in Shadows during and after the game. I don’t know what other games there are today–I’m beginning to care less and less about watching games all day on Saturdays these days–and so it’s entirely possible this will work, you know?

But as always, the Lost Apartment is a mess. There’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher to be unloaded, and a sink full of dirty dishes from last night’s ravioli to clean. There’s laundry in the dryer to be folded, and I really should wash the couch blankets today as part of the general clean-up of the living room. The Saints game tomorrow isn’t until 3:25, which also gives me the entire morning to clean and write and organize. I have an article for Sisters to finish writing, and various other things on my to-do list that definitely need to get done before I head back to work on Monday.

And my throat is still sore.

I also have a lot of computer files to clean up and organize.

It never really ends, does it?

I also want to spend some time curled up with Certain Dark Things today.

And on that note, tis back to ye old spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, all.

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People Everyday

Hulu is streaming a two-part true crime documentary about a string of unsolved murders of women in Jefferson Davis Parish, Murder in the Bayou. I have a copy of Ethan Brown’s book of the same title, released a few years ago, but haven’t read it yet (instead, it’s sits on a shelf in the mini-bookcase to the right of my desk, where I also keep other nonfiction–histories, true crime, cultural studies–about both New Orleans and Louisiana; books which I delve into periodically in order to come up with ideas for stories (novels and short stories and novellas, etc.), or background for the same. (One of the many reasons I laugh when people refer to me as ‘a New Orleans expert’ is because I am everything but an expert on the city; there are literally hundreds of volumes of reference books information about New Orleans I’ve not read and know nothing about)  Mr. Brown came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, but I didn’t get to meet him or see any of his panels, but I did pick up his book that weekend.

So, you can imagine my surprise the other night when I opened the Hulu app on my television (ten years ago that sentence would have been as unintelligible to me as Latin) and I saw it listed as a show I might be interested in. “Huh,” I thought, clicking on it, “I wonder if this is the same story as the book I’ve not read?”

Sure enough, it was.

I finished watching the show yesterday afternoon, and then of course, got the book from the bookshelf and started reading it…and didn’t stop until I was finished. I hadn’t intended to do that; I actually started writing this post after I finished watching the documentary series and simply reached over to the bookcase and pulled it out–mainly to see if there were photographs in it–many true crime books do–and since it didn’t, I started reading…and then couldn’t stop. I’ll talk some more about both the documentary and the book in another entry; I want to think about it some more, and the issues that came to mind while watching/reading–but again, as I said earlier, it was yet another example of how little I know about not just New Orleans, but Louisiana in general. As I read more New Orleans history, and get to know my city better with each read, I find myself expanding my former-tunnel vision view focusing on New Orleans only to expand out into Louisiana as well. It’s a truly fascinating state, really–as someone said in the documentary, there are three Louisianas: New Orleans; north Louisiana; which is really part of the Protestant Bible Belt and could just as easily be part of Arkansas; and south Louisiana, which is overwhelmingly French and Catholic; heavily Cajun, in all honesty. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Atchafalaya basin, too; I sort of have an idea about writing about that area. Most of my Louisiana fiction has been confined to writing about New Orleans, or places on the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and sometimes dabbling on the North Shore. I am sure every state has just as rich and diverse and colorful a history as Louisiana/New Orleans; but I also don’t live there, and Louisiana with its strange mix of Creoles, Cajuns, Spanish, and Americans, with the attendant cultures, brews up a strange and endlessly fascinating gumbo.

I realized also yesterday while going through my blog drafts that I have never published my blog entry about reading Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin, which was what sent me down the Louisiana/New Orleans history rabbit hole in the first place.

empire of sin

“The crime,” as detectives would later tell the newspapers, was “one of the most gruesome in the annals of the New Orleans police.”

At five a.m. on the sultry morning of May 23, 1918, the bodies of Joseph and Catherine Maggio, Italian immigrants who ran a small grocery store in a remote section of the city, were found sprawled across the disordered bedroom of the living quarters behind their store. Both had been savagely attacked, apparently while they slept. Joseph Maggio lay face-up on the blood-sodden bed, his skull split by a deep, jagged gash several inches long; Catherine Maggio, her own skull nearly hewn in two, was stretched out on the floor beneath him. Each victim’s throat had been slashed with a sharp instrument.

A blood-smeared ax and shaving razor–obviously the murder weapons–had been found on the floor nearby.

The book opens with an examination of the strange case of New Orleans’ most famous serial killer: the Axeman. Julie Smith wrote an entire novel  based in the story called The Axeman’s Jazz; it might be the second or third Skip Langdon novel. Poppy Z. Brite wrote a short story with the same name, and of course, American Horror Story: Coven also included the Axeman in its litany of past New Orleans horrors–in the Ryan Murphy version, he stumbled into the Robicheaux School for Girls (read: witches) and they killed him; his ghost haunting the house ever since. The mystery of the Axeman’s identity, of course, has never been solved–as well as the why.

Empire of Sin, however, isn’t about the Axeman entirely; it’s really a history of the Storyville district (again, another notorious part of New Orleans history, probably best known for its appearance in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby, which probably, with its creepy pedophilia, wouldn’t hold up too well today), and really focuses on the man known as the mayor of Storyville, Tom Anderson, who rose to great wealth, notoriety, and political power through his successful bordellos there–even going so far as to providing the district with its own police force. It’s a story of immorality, the struggle between reformers trying to turn New Orleans into a city free from sin (they won small victories but New Orleans remains New Orleans to this day) and Anderson’s struggle against those “virtuous reforms.” He eventually failed, and Storyville was shut down, but Krist tells a fascinating story, extrapolating his tale of Storyville’s struggle to stay open and functioning (the money being made there brought with it the ability to, of course, buy off the police and politicians), along with the stories of corruption, murder, prostitution, violence and racism extant in the city at the time. It’s also a story of how Storyville also, surprisingly enough, gave birth to jazz music, and provided a way for musicians of color to make a successful living playing music. Storyville was the incubator that provided sustenance to the musicians playing this new form of popular music, enabling them to make a living while developing a wholly American form of music.

Reading Empire of Sin is what sent me down the road to reading history, as I said before, and as I love history, it also made me aware of just how little about New Orleans I actually do know. Discovering little throwaway bits in the book–that there were male prostitutes who serviced men with “more exotic tastes”–reminded me of how frequently, and almost completely, queer history has been successfully erased, and that made me start thinking about, well, doing something more about it. Reading this book inspired two short stories I’ve not finished–“The Blues before Dawn” and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman”–and also inspired a potential series set during the time. It’s also what gave me the idea for my collection of noir/crime/horror stories that I want to write, Monsters of New Orleans.

I cannot recommend Empire of Sin highly enough.