My Favorite Things

And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.

It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.

I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.

As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.

Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks, One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.

I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.

And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!

Girl, You Make My Day

One of the things I’ve greatly enjoyed over the last few years has been the sea change in how publishing views works by non-white and non-straight authors; the push for more diverse voices in the publishing community has already borne wonderful fruit. I’ve been saying for years that the world of crime fiction was in danger of getting stale again, much as it did in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; particularly the private eye novel. The arrival of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller on the scene shook things up and shook things out; the private eye novel got a much-needed shot in the arm of adrenaline with these three women and the others their work inspired; I strongly believe the move toward diversity is going to bear fruit in much the same manner–and it already has, frankly; the works of diverse writers like S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Alex Segura, Tracy Clark, Cheryl Head, and so many others have joined the great pioneers like Walter Mosley and the wonderful Barbara Neely to open up new perspectives on crime and crime fiction; our society and world; and again, this was desperately needed–and is necessary every so often, for our genre to refresh and expand and become more inclusive. We’re also seeing more queer books being sent out into the world from the big houses in New York, which is also incredibly exciting (another shout out to Yes Daddy By Jonathan Parks-Ramage and A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen).

It’s a very exciting time to be a fan of crime fiction.

Noir has always been one of my favorite sub-genres of crime fiction, and I always enjoy reading modern takes on it. I want to write more noir, quite frankly; Chlorine would be the first of at least four I want to write, if not more (for now, I have ideas for four of them, with Chlorine being the most full formed). I always enjoy modern takes on noir–Laura Lippman’s Sunburn was quite marvelous, as was Christa Faust’s Money Shot and Choke Hold)–and of course, S. A. Cosby is a master of rural Southern noir; both Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears are destined to be considered classics, I think.

So, I was very curious to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s take on modern noir, Velvet Was the Night. It took me a very long time to finish–which is not indicative of the quality of the book, I hasten to add–because after I read so much during the post-Ida power outage, I kind of broke my brain and thus haven’t been able to really focus as much on reading as I would like; yesterday after the LSU game I sat down and finished it with Georgia-Kentucky on as background noise.

And what a fun ride it was.

He didn’t like beating people.

El Elvis realized this was ironic considering his line of work. Imagine that: a thug who wanted to hold his punches. Then again, life is full of such ironies. Consider Ritchie Valens, who was afraid of flying and died the first time he set foot on an airplane. Damn shame that, and the other dudes who died, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” Richardson; they weren’t half bad either. Or there was that playwright Aeschylus. He was afraid of being killed inside his house, and then he steps outside and wham, an eagle tosses a tortoise at him, cracking his head open. Murdered, right there in the stupidest possible way.

Often life doesn’t make sense, and if Elvis had a motto it was that: life’s a mess. That’s probably why he loved music and factoids. They helped him construct a more organized world. When he wasn’t listening to his records, he was poring over the dictionary, trying to memorize a new word, or plowing through one of those almanacs full of stats.

No, sir. Elvis wasn’t like some of the perverts he worked with, who got excited smashing a dude’s kidneys. He would have been happy solving crosswords and sipping coffee like their boss, El Mago, and maybe one day he would be an accomplished man of that sort, but for now there was work to be done, and this time Elvis was actually eager to beat a few motherfuckers up.

He hadn’t developed a sudden taste for blood and cracking bones, no, but El Güero had been at him again.

The recent rise of Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been meteoric, although I am sure to her it has seemed anything but. I read her terrific vampire novel, Certain Dark Things, a while back, loved it, and have been following her career ever since as she has turned out novels at a terrific rate–Gods of Jade and Shadow, Untamed Shore, Mexican Gothic–all of which have been critically acclaimed and sold very well; I love that she bounces from genre to genre–horror to fantasy to crime; even bouncing around in the sub-categories of the crime genre. This is only my second read of her work–I have them all, of course–and had been meaning to get around to her take on noir with a Mexican flourish for quite some time. (I am really sorry I broke my brain with all the reading I did after the power went out; I greatly enjoyed this book, but it was so hard for me to focus for some reason…but am glad I sat down yesterday with the book, determined to finish it at last.)

One of the things that strikes me about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that I am seeing Mexico, a place I greatly love, through a fresh new perspective; like all Yanquis, I always view Mexico through the prism of a tourist. I’ve always wanted to write about Mexico, and have several short stories in the files that are set there (I did write one erotica story as Todd Gregory set in Acapulco; from the perspective of a tourist, of course: “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”)…but reading Moreno-Garcia makes me aware of how scant my knowledge of our Southern neighbor is–all of the counties south of the Rio Grande, frankly–which is a stinging indictment of our education system. (Don’t even get me started on the concept of Latin America vs. “America”) I know very little of Mexican history after the Spanish conquest, other than the Mexican War and the French empire set up under a Hapsburg by Napoleon III during our civil war. I know very little history of any of the countries that make up the rest of the American continents, really–and isn’t that more than a little bit disgraceful? I also know very little about their cultures, their politics, and what goes on there; a quick glance through the news also will show very little information or news being reported about those non-United States/Canada American countries, which is really a shame.

Velvet Was the Night is set un 1971, a particularly politically rife period in Mexico. The US was terribly concerned about communism being spread by the Soviets in what has always been considered the American soft underbelly–I mean, look at our reaction to Cuba–and there’s no question that CIA operatives and money were working to subvert Communism while supporting borderline Fascist governments because that was preferable to Washington than another potential Soviet satellite state in our hemisphere. The vast paranoia of that time–which really lasted from 1945-1990, really–cannot be underestimated or understated. By rooting her story in actual events of 1971–the crackdown of the Mexican government on dissidents–Moreno-Garcia slyly gives us a taste of how American foreign policy of the time affected everyone in Mexico, as well as a history lesson. (One of the great modern deceptions of our society is this idea that we always act benevolently as a nation; we’re doing this for your own good.) The book has two point of view characters; one, depicted in the opening above, is “Elvis”, a very young man who works as a thug, basically, for an oppressive group of anti-Communists that try to infiltrate dissident groups and haunt protests in order to make them turn violent, so the military can intervene on behalf of the “people.” Elvis grew up very poor and sometimes imagines what his life would be like if he were able to pursue his primary interests–educating himself and music. He doesn’t know what his future holds but is vaguely aware the path he is on–violence and more violence–will not end well. Over the course of the book he begins to question the values he’s been taught to believe in his gang, and begins to aspire to get out of it.

The other main character is Maite, a legal secretary barely getting by on her low salary and barely able to afford food. Her car has been in the shop unclaimed because she cannot afford the mechanics’ bill. She leads a lonely and solitary life, has a very vivid imagination and fantasy world she prefers to inhabit, colored strongly by her love of romance comic books and the music she likes to listen to. Maite’s lovely neighbor, Leonora, asks her to feed her cat while she is away, and when she agreed, Maite unknowingly enters the world of political struggle and upheaval. The riot depicted in the first chapter, that Elvis helps engineer? A friend of Leonora’s has taken pictures that prove that the riot was started by government forces, and those two rolls of film are the McGuffin everyone in the book is after–except poor innocent Maite, who, like any main character in a great Hitchcock film, becomes involved in something life threatening by simply agreeing to feed a neighbor’s cat–something she resents agreeing to do. When Leonora doesn’t come back, Maite starts looking for her–primarily motivated by the fact she can’t afford to keep feeding the car, and Leonora promised her money for feeding it–money she needs to get her car back. Motivated by her own poverty, Maite finds herself getting involved more and more in this clandestine world, and her own life is in danger soon.

The true strength of the book lies in the careful characterizations of both Elvis and Maite; two desperate people trapped by poverty in lives they want to escape, and the parallel journeys they both follow that lead their paths to cross; and the richness of the reality of what life in Mexico City was like during the turbulent time when the book is set. Moreno-Garcia shows us, as she did in Certain Dark Things, what the reality of life is like in one of the world’s largest cities, the reality the tourists rarely, if ever, get a chance to see. And while the hopelessness of both their situations seem unresolvable at times, the pacing is strong and the story construction so tight, and you the readers finds yourself rooting for them both to get out safely.

I really loved this book, and am sorry my inability to focus forced me to take so long to finish reading it. It’s extraordinary, and I recommend it highly.

Ship of Fools

G’morning, Sunday. How’s everyone doing today?

Yesterday was a weird one, beginning with the stunning LSU 49-42 upset of Florida. For the second year in a row, an underachieving LSU team riddled and depleted by injuries, somehow managed to outscore and upset Florida (a third consecutive win over the Gators, no less) that will quiet the complaints about the coaching staff and the team for at least a week–until the Mississippi game on the road this week, followed by a trip to Alabama two weeks later. The game was also ridiculously early–11 am start time–so the game was well over by two thirty, but I was too worn down from the rollercoaster of the game to have much energy to do much of anything else for the rest of the day. Being an LSU fan is a rollercoaster, and sometimes it’s not very fun; but no matter how bad of a season the Tigers might be having, they always manage to somehow beat someone they shouldn’t–for the last two seasons, that has been Florida. As I said to Paul as time ran out yesterday and the Tigers managed to wreck yet another season for the Gators, “No wonder they hate us so much.” That’s three losses for a Gator team that everyone thought would challenge Georgia for the East title, and might even have a shot at beating Alabama during the regular season (they lost by two points)…and they still have yet to play Georgia, who remained undefeated by shellacking an also undefeated Kentucky team yesterday.

I finished reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night at long last (I cannot reiterate how much that has to do with my inability to focus rather than the quality of the book; the book is quite marvelous; a modern take on a historical noir built around events that actually happened) and then moved on to finish watching the rest of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, (I skipped the episodes on body horror and torture porn–no thanks!) before tuning in to see the ridiculous and insane end of the Tennessee-Mississippi game–which people are still talking about today. There were some extremely questionable calls in the LSU game; while there’s no excuse for the way the fans in Neyland Stadium reacted, they were also reacting to an incredibly bad call that was upheld under review (!) that essentially took their chance to win the game away from them. After the incident was over and they were able to finish the final 54 seconds of the game, Tennessee managed to get the ball back with another shot at winning, only to fail in the end.

Today is one of those days where I get to play catch-up. I didn’t get nearly as much done yesterday–once I am ensconced in my easy chair, with the cat in my lap and college football on the television, it’s hard for me to get back up out of it to do anything. I did get the dishes done–still have some to put away–and I didn’t get around to the floors or anything else that I wanted to get done yesterday, which means I have to get to it today. I also need to get some serious writing done today–I am much too far behind, and the clock is ticking on everything–so I also need, once I am finished here and after I write my entry about Velvet Was the Night, to make a to-do list. I still have a lot of filing and organizing to get done as well; which I am hoping to do while I wake up and drink my coffee this morning. I need to make it to the gym at some point today, and I should see what time the Saints game is; oh, look at that, it’s the BYE WEEK, so there’s no reason to turn on the television at all; they also don’t play next Sunday–the next game is on Monday Night Football. So that’s two free Sundays I have ahead of me on the agenda, and this is a lovely, very lovely, thing. In fact, that weekend of the Saints on Monday night is also LSU’s bye week, so again–no need to turn on the television at all that weekend….so I should make that my most productive weekend of the month.

This week is also going to be weird because I have a procedure scheduled for Thursday morning; a way overdue colonoscopy. The saga of the colonoscopy is a long messy one, having to do with insurance issues, out of network charges, and so on. I finally had everything finally sorted and it scheduled last spring…only to have it canceled because of COVID-19 and then the endless attempts to get it rescheduled and out of the way. In a way, my colonoscopy feels almost like a quest for the Holy Grail–alway unattainable, so close sometimes you can almost touch it, but then it skitters away again, out of reach. I’m nervous about it, of course; any kind of medical testing can lead to bad news; any procedure can take am unexpected left turn at any time–not pleasant to consider or think about, really. But it’s always better to know something’s wrong than to go on like nothing is…until you can’t pretend anymore because your health takes a particularly nasty turn. But I am sixty, and I have to stop playing groundhog with my health. My body isn’t young anymore, and while I still feel good and go to the gym on a (fairly) regular basis, I’ve also eaten crap most of my life and have really beaten and battered my body during my younger years. (Teaching aerobics 7-21 hours a week wreaks havoc on your leg joints–and mine weren’t so great to begin with.)

The weather also turned cooler this weekend; dropping into the high sixties over night. The time change is coming soon, as well…autumn is here, clearly, and soon I’ll be leaving for work in the dark and coming home in the dark, which I hate because it feels like your day has been completely used up and is over by the time you get home. I also have to pick out my next book to read; since my reading has been so off lately I am going to pick out one of my unread Stephen Kings (if someone would have told me thirty years ago that I would have King novels on my shelves I hadn’t read, I would have laughed hysterically in their face) to read in honor of Halloween season; I try to read horror every October. There’s also a Paul Tremblay or two I’ve not gotten to yet as well; if I can get through whichever King I choose before the end of the month (and with a football free weekend coming up shortly, it’s possible) then I will move on to another Tremblay, who’s becoming my current favorite contemporary horror writer very rapidly; the books of his I’ve read still haunt me.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. You have a great Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in with you again later with my thoughts on the Moreno-Garcia novel, and then will check in again on the morrow.

Every Song Is You

Wednesday morning!

Yesterday was a really good day. I was productive again–not as much as the previous two days, but still, I’m counting it as a win. I even wrote. I worked on a short story and an essay–granted, the short story was a revision, so somewhat easier than actually writing something from scratch on a blank page–but it was still pretty awesome to be flexing some creative muscles again. I also think my editorial eye has become a lot more clear than it’s been in over twenty-one months; I definitely think I am going to be tweaking this story perhaps one more time. But it felt amazing to be writing again–rewriting, as it were–and so my new plan is to try to get this three short stories I’ve been trying to revise forever revised this week, and start working on A Streetcar Named Murder in earnest this weekend.

Tonight after work I am going to go to the gym for Leg Day, and try to get some more editing done. I also want to finish reading Velvet Was the Night so I can start my Horror for Halloween reading, beginning with the annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House. I had also planned to read one of the Stephen Kings I have on hand but not yet read–probably The Institute–and another Paul Tremblay at the very least; but I’ve got to finish what I am already reading before I can move on to anything else. I think this decommitment to watching college football all day on Saturday will help, and just the occasional check-in on the Saints on Sunday should also help free up some of my time. I think today’s lower energy mode is probably just the usual oh I’ve gotten up at six for three straight mornings tired; even now as the coffee kicks into gear I am starting to feel more alert and more on top of things–which is pretty fucking cool. Yay!

I’ve also been writing blog posts to promote Bury Me in Shadows; I wrote a rather lengthy one about the backstory behind the book–where the Civil War ghost story aspect of the book came from, and why it was kind of difficult to write such a thing in the present time, knowing that the rebel side was wrong and problematic–and the underlying root cause of all the racial tension and problems we still face as a country today (I’ve preordered The 1619 Project, and can’t wait to read it). One of my primary worries/concerns with writing this book was how easy it would be to step wrong and write something offensive. I still worry from time to time that I did exactly that, and when the book is released there will be controversy. But if I got something wrong, or wrote something that is offensive, I will own my mistakes, apologize for them, and try to do better going forward.

I don’t understand when admitting you were wrong or made a mistake became a sign of weakness in this country. I also don’t understand it. I don’t like being wrong, but I am also not going to double down on being wrong. Not meaning any offense doesn’t mean you won’t offend someone, and for the record, I’m sorry you were offended is not the same thing as I’m sorry I offended you. The first is a non-apology, and the speaker isn’t really sorry for what they said, they are only sorry you were offended by it. The second takes ownership of the situation and doesn’t let the original speaker off the hook, and personalizes the apology. I also don’t understand why this is so hard for people to understand.

Yesterday Twitter was all abuzz about the Kidney Woman story in the New York Times, which tried to stir up the whole argument about drawing inspiration from someone else’s life or story. I’ve always believed that it’s impossible for any writer to create either a character or situation lifted from real life; if anything, it’s only a starting place, because a writer cannot know everything about any real life person–you don’t know their every experience, you don’t know what the seminal experiences that created who they are and how they react to things, you don’t know how their mind works or how they even think; at best, all you really see if how they outwardly react to a person or a situation–you don’t know what they are thinking, you don’t know their triggers, you don’t know anything, really–so you have to make up a lot of it, and you base it on your observations of how that person behaves and reacts. Observation is very key, yes, and an understanding of psychology, but again, everyone is different and no one can predict how anyone else will think or react or behave in any given situation. Which is why we are always surprised by the behavior of people we know; we don’t really know them at any great depth so of course we are always going to be surprised and caught off guard by their actions. Nobody likes to think people talk about them behind their back; no one really wants to know what people that dislike say about them. But you have to understand that it’s very human–friends tell each other things, and everyone talks about everyone else (it always amazes me that this salient fact of life is always addresses so insanely on reality televisions shows–“don’t talk about me behind my back!” Um, everyone does it, hello? And most of the time it means nothing. If someone has pissed me off, I will inevitably talk about it to a mutual friend–just to get it off my chest and out of my system. Usually, I am over it once I talk it through with another person–everyone needs to vent, why is this so hard to understand? And it doesn’t have to mean anything more than that…”yes, I was mad at you, but once I talked it through with X I realized it wasn’t anything, I was over it, and why hurt your feelings or start a fight with you when it really wasn’t anything?”). I certainly don’t want to know what people say about me when I’ve irritated them or pissed them off; I’m perfectly happy being oblivious.

With the caveat that if I behave in a way that really gets on someone’s nerves regularly, I would like to know so I can decide to change the behavior or not.

Then again, I’ve never understood the rules of friendship, either.

We finished Midnight Mass last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mike Flanagan, who also did The Haunting of Hill House (which I was able to enjoy as I merely viewed as fan fiction rather than a straightforward adaptation of the classic novel–one of my favorites), did an excellent job here. It’s a deep meditation on religion and the power of belief, juxtaposed with some serious horror. The acting is superb; the characters deeply drawn and compelling, and it’s hard to look away. I prefer this kind of creepy, unsettling horror to jump scares and gore, frankly. I do recommend the show, but prepared to think some heavy thoughts about the power of religion and its potential for abuse–as well as how easy it is to misinterpret something as holy when it most certainly is not.

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

Something New Got Old

Saturday and tonight we will be in Death Valley, watching the LSU-Auburn game. Huzzah!

But that means a really long day ahead. The game isn’t until eight pm, which means we may not get out of the stadium and into the car before midnight, which will get me home around one thirty in the morning at the earliest. That is way past my bedtime, and could also prove incredibly problematic when it comes to having a productive day tomorrow, which is absolutely necessary. I slept deeply and well last night–Scooter woke me up for water around three, and for food again around six (and yes, I should have filled the food bowl at three but I was barely conscious; I’m surprised I even remember getting up to get him water at three)–and feel pretty rested this morning. I am debating as to whether I should make a grocery run today–I doubt I will feel up to it tomorrow–but looking at my grocery list, there’s really nothing that makes such a trip necessary, really; but I should probably go looking through my cabinets to be thorough before making any decision. For some reason lately running errands makes me tired; but that could be a combination of any number of other things, not just being sixty. It’s also not like the month of September (with the end of August added in for good measure) was an easy one, after all.

I had to get up really early yesterday to take my car to the West Bank for servicing–new air filters, and the tire with a slow, steady leak became the tire with a regular pretty quick leak–and it got all patched up and everything. I had ordered a new lap desk so I can use the laptop in my easy chair–the old one I bought while we were still living in the carriage house the first time; so it was pretty old–and the new one is pretty fancy–pockets and so forth, as well as a built in mousepad on the surface. Whether or not that means I will actually start using the laptop in my easy chair remains to be seen. I also want to move the ratty old one upstairs for use in bed; we do have a television in the bedroom we never use, and maybe having the lap desk will encourage me to work from the comfort of said bed. Anyway, I love my new lap desk, and can’t wait to try it out this morning (once I post this I am planning on moving to the easy chair).

I think I am going to have to make that grocery run today; might as well, and then I can get the mail and I also need to fill the tank with gas for the drive to Baton Rouge. And since I have to go out into the world today anyway…might as well get that odious chore out of the way.

I also made that “Mississippi roast” in the slow cooker yesterday; that recipe that keeps popping up everywhere you turn around, with people raving about it–the one that calls for a packet of au jus and a packet of ranch, with a stick of butter added to the top of the roast and no liquids added. I will fully confess I assumed it would be terribly bland (living in New Orleans and learning to cook Louisiana style has certainly spoiled me when it comes to flavor and spices and so forth–everywhere else’s food always seems terribly bland to me now) but I always follow the recipe the first time I make anything so I can see how it turns out, before starting to experiment every time after (I generally never make the same recipe the same way twice; I am always tweaking recipes but ironically never track the changes and adaptations, which means I can never repeat it if I find a perfect way to make something by experimenting). I am pleased to report that it actually tasted quite good as written; the only thing I might change the next time is to add mushrooms or perhaps small potatoes (although there really isn’t a lot of gravy; I think the potatoes would have to be added about half-way through, and the mushrooms with an hour left to go), and maybe–maybe–some white pepper and basil.

I really do love to cook.

I did read some more Velvet Was the Night while I was waiting at the dealership for the work on my car to be finished. I hope I’m not giving the impression that the book isn’t good, given how long it is taking me to finish it. That has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with an inability to focus. Yesterday at the dealership, I was really getting caught up in the story when they came to let me know the car was ready. I meant to get back to it last night after work, but Paul was home early and so we started watching our shows–getting caught up on Only Murders in the Building, Titans, Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, and American Horror Story: Double Feature–and since there’s game all day today, we probably won’t get to Midnight Mass again until tomorrow. AHS wrapped up it’s odd story about the talent vampires in Provincetown, and so the second half of this season is the second feature, which apparently has to do with aliens in the Southern California desert, near Joshua Tree/Palm Springs area (I guess the Salton Sea was too much to hope for). It’s strange–with all four of the college student leads (including the guys, who are a young gay couple) winding up pregnant after an alien experience none of them remember; they just remember a bright light and all of them waking up in the car in different seats–but intriguing. I will be interested to see how this plays out, and if it goes off the rails as so many plots on this show tend to do.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Last Night

I can’t stop thinking about that Chippendales documentary I watched this past weekend.

I felt better yesterday than I have in a long time, even as I was making a list of all the things I need to get done in the meantime. (The list, by the way, is quite extensive.) Paul was working last night and I was tired when I got home. I tried to read for a little while but my mind was too tired to focus, so I put the book aside and watched some history documentary videos on Youtube, which really is quite addicting. (Youtube has become quite fascinating overall to me; and it’s very easy to fall into a video wormhole almost impossible to climb out from…I’m undoubtedly very late to this party, but it’s interesting what you can come across while digging around on there.) I also slept pretty well last night; I feel rested this morning and good, the way I did yesterday morning, and I think a lot of this has to do with being back on schedule; with going into the office Monday thru Wednesday and getting my schedule back in order the way it’s supposed to be. Normality, I suppose, is what it’s called, and getting back into a normal-seeming routine is what truly matters in trying to feel normal again.

My dishwasher was repaired yesterday, so last night I was able to get the most recent stack of dirty dishes cleaned and run through it without incident, which was also quite lovely. (It really takes so very little to make me happy, seriously.)

September is almost finished, as hard as that is to believe. The weather was simply stunningly gorgeous yesterday, too. And we have tickets for the LSU-Auburn game this Saturday! (Way to bury the lede.) It’s a night game, which means we won’t get home until midnight or so from Baton Rouge, but it’s also been two years since we’ve been to a game (the last time was the Florida game in 2019), and I am very excited. LSU isn’t playing great this year, but neither is Auburn (despite their almost-win at Penn State); so fingers crossed the Tigers will get their act together this week and be able to pull off the upset win at home. It’ll also be a beautiful night for a football game. And I can wear my new cap Paul got me for my birthday! Very exciting!

So, things are slowly starting to get back to what passes for normalcy around here, and I am slowly starting to feel like I am getting a handle on everything I should and need to be doing. I spent a very little time yesterday writing the first few paragraphs of “Condos for Sale or Rent”; I had already started the story sometime last year but didn’t like where it was going or what I was doing so I decided to start over, and there I was, writing fiction again. Maybe not anything I should have been working on (naturally) but it felt good to flex those writerly brain muscles again and start writing something again.

I also realized last night (while watching a video about the sad life of Elisabeth of France, sister of Louis XVI) that I’ve felt scattered and disorganized ever since the Great Data Disaster of 2018; which has been three fucking years since my desktop computer went on the fritz and I started having to develop work-arounds, and also right around the same time that our work computers stopped reading flash drives plugged into them, which started the horrible period on which my work was always spread over three different computers and I had to teach myself how to use the Cloud–which wasn’t easy, given the issues I was having with my desktop computer on top of everything else. I did somehow manage to write a couple of books and some short stories during those three years, but I’ve never really felt on top of things since that mess all began. I was actually starting to feel caught up and back on top of things again When The Power Went Out, and so for the last month it was back to flailing and the sad, defeatist attitude that everyone whose always told me I was a loser was correct and I was never going to be able to get everything done that I needed to get done–and that I was barely keeping my head above water this entire time. Being organized is the only way you can ever be truly efficient and highly-functioning, and I’ve not felt organized since December 2018. I am starting to feel better about being organized, and while the process is ongoing, I also feel like I’ve already made some great strides in getting better, holistically, with everything.

Tonight, I am hoping to have the energy to go to the gym for Leg Day (sobs softly to self) as well as stop and make some groceries on the way home–just to pick up a few little things–and then would love to spend some time reading Velvet Was the Night after the shower and so forth. I think Paul still has a grant to work on, so my evening is free; perhaps I can also get some writing done after the gym and shower. We shall see.

At any rate, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Twenty-Four Hours a Day

Wednesday and the mid-week point. I only have to work this morning–I have a doctor’s appointment at one this afternoon, so I’ll be leaving the office around twelve to head uptown–and then to home, probably the gym and hopefully to get some writing done. One can dream, cannot one?

The doctor’s appointment is the pre-colonoscopy preparation visit; today I will get the procedure scheduled–can’t wait–but while I am not thrilled at the prospective, potential scary diagnoses that could come from it, it’s better to know rather than not. Whether there’s a genetic predisposition to cancer or not, both sides of my family have seemed to have had an excess of cancer diagnoses, which makes me tend to think I am relatively high risk (although neither parent has ever had it). There’s also all the other genetic predispositions–high blood pressure, heart disease, all those lovely things that do tend to run in families–and of course, I get all of it from both sides, which isn’t terrific. But there’s also little I can do about genetic predispositions–other than eating better (which is always a problem for me) and healthier and of course, going to the gym regularly–which has completely fallen off since the power went out. Today I need to climb back onto the horse and work my ass out.

Last night I was very tired. My last two appointments canceled on me, so I came home early and did some on-line trainings, and still have several more to do (hello, two days working at home!). And I didn’t have either the energy to read or write last night after I was finished with bloodborne pathogen training (try not to envy me too much, okay?) The LSU game is at eleven on Saturday, which means any and all errands will be delayed until Sunday; my mood for the rest of Saturday is entirely dependent on how well LSU fares in its first SEC game. A loss here means a potential season of no-wins in the conference; the division just keeps getting better–even Arkansas and Mississippi look vastly improved this year–and Mississippi State (Saturday’s game) was one of our inexplicable losses from last year…and that’s not taking into consideration the murderer’s row of Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Heavy sigh. It’s going to be a long, ugly football season I fear, and the Saints didn’t look too great last weekend, either.

Yay.

But I had some excellent book mail this week: These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall (it was supposed to be delivered the week after Ida; it took a bit longer, needless to say); Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; and Bitterroot Lake by Alicia Beckman (a pseudonym of the fabulous Leslie Budewitz). So, if I can ever finish reading Velvet Was the Night, I have some other excellent reading in store–but October is rapidly approaching, and I want to spend October reading horror, beginning with my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I also have so much writing to do–Christ, I haven’t written much of anything since before the power went out (a phrase I am using so regularly I am beginning to think I should start referring to it as Before The Power Went Out), although yesterday I did spend some brainstorming time on my next book and I did try to work on an essay. Progress? But it was something, at any rate, and something is better than nothing at this point, quite frankly.

And yet…

Maybe–and this is a big maybe–this week is a period of readjustment, as life returns to normality (or what at least passed for it Before The Power Went Out–oooh, I do like that) I need to get used to my normal schedule again before I can settle into it and get my shit together again–or I’ve just gotten incredibly good at justifying laziness and procrastination after a lifetime of practice. But today is the first day of autumn officially (I rather jumped the gun on Twitter yesterday, getting a resultant scolding from my friend Alafair), and tonight the low is dipping into the sixties, and it will do that very thing every night through the weekend. It wasn’t horribly humid yesterday–at least it didn’t feel like it; it felt much cooler yesterday despite my car telling me it was 92 degrees when I left the office yesterday–and even this morning, the air was a bit thick (it rained a bit overnight) but there was a bit of a nip in the thickness, which indicates the ignominy of the summer heat is finally past. There were still occasionally be days where it gets up into the high eighties/low nineties, but the humidity is pretty much finished for the year (please please please don’t prove me wrong) so it’s actually lovely; rather southern California-ish outside.

So, here’s hoping to a nice little visit with the doctor this afternoon, a lovely workout at the gym, and some quality reading/writing time this evening. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

One Night Stand

Saturday morning and I slept late again. I am feeling better this morning–I actually think recognizing what was going on inside my brain and calling it by its true name yesterday morning (in the blog post I forgot to post yesterday) helped me get past it in some way; like finally knowing what it is assists in getting past it in some way. I also know that it’s insidious and sneaky, and comes in waves, so will probably go back and forth between waves of depression and possibly manic bursts of energy and creativity; I need to really get focused on channel the energy as productively as I can because of the time I’ll lose when depression’s cold fingers wrap around my subconscious again. Ugh, it’s so awful, really; but I also know from cold hard experience that anti-depressants inevitably always make me feel numb all the time…which can be in some ways equally as bad as the depression itself as far as living my life and being productive is concerned.

I am hoping to get some writing done today, as well as running some errands before today’s college football games start airing. I’ll clean while the games are on, and possibly get some reading done if I can–I really want to finish Velvet Was the Night, in no small part because the new Rachel Howzell Hall, These Toxic Things, finally arrived yesterday. We made a late Costco run last night after work, and it was sad to see how understocked even Costco was (I don’t know why I was thinking Costco would be immune to the delivery issues affecting the city’s grocery stories) but we still managed to spend a ridiculous amount of money there; part of it was buying new throw rugs for the kitchen because the old ones are kind of gross now. But we were able to get almost everything on the list (there were a few things they didn’t have that we wanted, alas) and of course, we went off-list big time in order to spend the amount of money that we did…and we still didn’t replace everything completely. I had to clean the refrigerator out again last night–I either missed some spots on the initial clean or mold spontaneously reappeared somehow–but I am hoping that I simply wasn’t as thorough with the cleaning as I thought I had been–another side effect of the depression is doing something half-assed and then giving up, thinking meh it’s good enough.

It’s literally the worst.

Today I have some errands to run–yet again to make groceries, pick up the mail, that sort of thing–and then I am going to probably park in my easy chair with my journal while the games play on television. I am primarily interested in Auburn-Penn State and Alabama-Florida, with tonight’s LSU-Central Michigan game on deck; but we are also a bit behind on our shows that we watch; everyone dropped a new episode in the last few days, and we also started the new season of Sex Education on Netflix, which hasn’t dropped it’s delightful teen gay romance (huzzah!) and seems to be just as delightful, since the characters have actually grown some emotionally since the end of the last season, which is very cool and something I all too often complain about with shows; usually if characters don’t experience some degree of growth I lose interest.

I also have a book I need to write. YIKES! (Two, actually.) The Saints play early tomorrow, which is kind of a drag–I prefer them to play later in the day than noon, which means I will need to go to the gym earlier than I would prefer tomorrow–but it’s workable. I really really really need to get through everything today and make a complete and incredibly thorough to-do list; I am still so disoriented and disconnected from the pre-Ida life that I can’t remember everything I needed to get done, get going on, and of course the insidious depression at work inside my fevered brain keeps whispering you were supposed to finish a draft of Chlorine this month, remember? Honestly, depression is such a son of a bitch! Like I need any help undermining myself?

I also need to sign books and ship them off to people to whom I owe copies of the next one. I had hoped to get that done this morning so I can mail them today when I pick up the mail, and perhaps there will be time for that before I get up from my desk and get a move-on for the day.

Heavy heaving sigh.

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

There’s No Doubt in My Mind

Wednesday and Pay-the-Bills Day again. It seems like it’s been about a million years since the last time I got paid, but at the same time I am also very well aware of how weird the flow of time can be after a disruption–and let’s face it, I wasn’t the best with the passing of time before the disruption. August was indeed a bizarre month for one Gregalicious; one in which I turned sixty right before a New Orleans was hit by a Category 4 hurricane…and life, for that brief period between the birthday and the hurricane, really seemed to speed up ridiculously. A lot happened in that eight day or so span, which is part of the reason why I am still feeling a bit discombobulated and really need to focus to get my shit back together–and get it together in a fucking hurry at that.

I did find the old to-do list; the last one I made before Ida, and ironically…not a thing was scratched off from it, and yes, everything on it remains things I need to do and get done. It was weird, in a way; glad I was able to put my hands directly onto it, of course, but at the same time, it was still a little odd to come across something I did before and see that nothing really changed in the course of the two or three weeks that have passed since. I literally forgot yesterday that Labor Day had been last week, for example; and had to remind myself that oh yeah I was on vacation when Ida hit, wasn’t I?

Seems like it was all so long ago that sometimes it’s hard to believe it hasn’t even been a month yet since I turned sixty.

I am still a little disoriented, and trying to get a hold on things, regain my grip on things as it were, but I do think going into the office (being able to) was an enormous help, and getting up ridiculously early today and being back on my usual work-at-the-office time schedule should help even more, methinks.

The weather looks weird outside the windows this morning, and probably has something to do with Nicholas. We are in a flash flood watch for most of today through tomorrow morning, so yay? According to the weather, it’s apparently going to rain every day for ten days…again, yay? It could be worse, of course–it can always be worse, never forget that lovely part of it–but hopefully in spite of everything the grocery store supply chain can get back into place and the stores here can get stocked again. But since everyone had to empty their refrigerators, everyone needs to restock and so it can be a Sisyphean task to get the grocery stores back to pre-Ida stock levels. Of course, comparatively speaking, our grocery stores probably always look like an overabundance to foreigners.

I really didn’t want to get up early this morning, but I eventually did. It’s going to take some getting used to for me getting up early three days a week again, but much as I loathe having to go to bed early and even more so loathe getting up before dawn, it’s also a part of the routine I need to get back into. I’ve not written hardly a word since Ida’s bands starting coming ashore several weeks ago (now); other than “Parlor Tricks”, which I wrote in my journal and have since transcribed…I need to go through my calls for submissions folder and pick out stories to submit; I can start revising and reworking stories and novellas, which is an entirely different thing than writing from scratch…but I am hoping to get back to Chlorine at some point this weekend. I am not going to get the draft finished before the end of the month and having to start writing my newly contracted cozy mystery–more on that later, of course; we finally have settled on a title which I really like and have always wanted to use, even if its not the one I wanted to use–and so I think I should use the rest of the month to try to wrap up some other loose ends–like that novellas and some of these short stories.

It was raining pretty hard when I came home from work yesterday afternoon, and as such I had little to no desire to walk to the gym and back in what threatened to be a steadily drenching downpour at any moment, so instead I stayed home and didn’t really do a whole hell of a lot of anything. I started reading Velvet Was the Night again, but unfortunately my focus and attention were not having any of it, alas. I am endlessly hopeful that my focus will come back together soon. I suspect this is a transitional week and next will feel more normal–seeing clients the first three days of the week will help me feel like my life is back on track again; and am hoping that seeing clients today will help in that regard as well.

We did get caught up on Only Murders in the Building, which I am really enjoying–although I don’t see how there can be another season, unless the building in question is going to turn into a Cabot’s Cove of sorts, where someone gets murdered every season.

So, today should be an interesting one at the office, I’m not sure how many of our clients will show up; some may not even be back in town as of yet–one never knows, even though it seems as though most of Orleans Parish has power, I don’t think it’s all back in Jefferson Parish yet and of course, the outlying areas suffered even more from that skanky bitch Ida than the city itself did. I don’t think Nicholas is going to be nasty enough to require evacuation again, but there’s also the possibility of the power going out again, which would absolutely be beyond suckage, but at least it’s cooled off; there’s always a slight, barely perceptible break in the heat and humidity after Labor Day, but it does happen–even if the big change to autumn doesn’t come until later in the month/early next month.

It’s weird, but the summer–the brutal dog days, at any rate–are pretty much over at this point.

Something to be grateful for, at any rate.

And now for the spice mines. Have a lovely middle of the week Wednesday, Constant Reader.