Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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Is There Life Out There

I slept well last night, so well that I didn’t want to get up this morning–yet these wasn’t another option, so here I am, with my first cup of coffee with darkness pressing against the windows as the sun slowly begins to rise in the east. It’s not terribly cold this morning in the Lost Apartment, so I assume it can’t be that cold outside. Stranger things have happened, though. And this is, of course, the first week that is going to end with parades this weekend on the Uptown route; the preview or prelude, if you will, to the six days of utter madness to come.

Thinking about it makes me feel very tired. I wonder which parade the LSU football team will be riding in? The last time they won the championship it was Rex; I wonder if that will hold true this year as well? I doubt Joe Burrow will be riding, though. I think he’s already departed from Baton Rouge.

It took me a while to decide what to read next, after finishing Tracy Clark’s sublime Broken Places. I finally settled on a reread of Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? I’d be meaning to reread it for quite some time–I originally read it in its first paperback release when I was a teenager; it was one of those “phenomenon books” of the 1970’s, as I mentioned the other day; everyone was talking about Where Are the Children? when it was released, and it wasn’t as easy for a book to go viral back then as it is now. My memories of it were relatively vague since it’s been forty years or so since I first read it; I simply remember who the real bad guy was, and that the woman had successfully disappeared after the first trial–which probably would never happen today,, of course; her face, and videos of her, would be plastered all over the 24 hour news networks and the tabloids, so her disappearance probably wouldn’t work today–but I was relatively certain that she was the only point-of-view character, which, as i discovered as I started the reread yesterday, wasn’t quite true. The villain’s point of view is there, as is Nancy’s new husband’s, and you know what else? It’s even better than I remembered it; the pacing is genius, and the way Clark writes is also genius. I’m glad I picked it up again; it wasn’t easy to put it down, frankly, and I am itching to get back to it.

We also watched The Pharmacist yesterday on Netflix. I’d seen some local chatter about it on social media, and I knew it was a true crime documentary set here in New Orleans (or close enough nearby). It’s exceptionally well done, and it’s primarily set in Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, which borders the lower 9th ward of New Orleans. (Chalmette is also where the Battle of New Orleans took place, and the historic park is there.) I remember the story of the pharmacist trying to get justice for his murdered son from back in the day, but I didn’t realize Dan Schneider’s story had gone beyond that, which it did; exposing a pill mill office in New Orleans East, which helped lead to the opioid crisis as well as the new heroin outbreak. I do remember having to test at a clinic in Chalmette or Arabi in St. Bernard Parish once a month for several  years, and I never really tested a lot of people out there for HIV/AIDS, but on the rare occasions when someone would want to get tested, they inevitably would talk to me about how bad the addiction problem in St. Bernard Parish was–I remember one man telling, sadly, that “nearly everyone in the parish is addicted to something” and “you see discarded needles everywhere–in every parking lot, along the side of the road, pretty much everywhere you look.” Watching The Pharmacist brought back a lot of those memories of Mondays, heading down St. Claude Avenue to where it becomes the St. Bernard highway, crossing the Industrial Canal into the lower 9th and so forth.

Remember how I said the other day I am hardly an expert on New Orleans or Louisiana? This is a case in point. I think somehow I have to figure out how to write about the Louisiana opioid crisis at some point…no one else seems to be doing so.

I also went to the gym yesterday afternoon, and it was wonderful. I don’t want a cookie, but I would like it stated for the record that I neither had to force myself to go, and that once I was there, I enjoyed myself. It’s kind of nice to work my muscles again, and they feel like they are adapting to regular exercise again–this morning they don’t feel either tight or tired, which is kind of cool. I’m glad I resisted the urge to pick up like I hadn’t worked out in years, remembering to start slowly and work my way back into the routine. Right now I am doing a full body workout three times a week; this week is two sets of 12 reps on everything; next will be three sets; and then the week after that raise the weights. If I can keep this going–and right now, it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason not to–by about May I’ll be ready to go into a more concentrated, more difficult work out routine, focusing on specific body parts each time rather than the entire body.

I had started watching the Anthony Minghella version of  The Talented Mr. Ripley the last time I went, and so yesterday watched for another thirty minutes or so; I am close to halfway through the rewatch. The film is vastly different from the book, of course–a lot of the book was internal–and the homoeroticism, and Tom’s sexuality, are a lot more apparent in this film version than it was in the book. The book was more coded, the film, made in a freer, more accepting time, isn’t as afraid to delve deeply into the matter of Tom’s sexuality. In this second half hour of the film, the character of Freddy shows up, played perfectly by Philip Seymour Hoffman (he, along with Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, definitely give the strongest performances in the film), and it’s also remarkable how beautifully the movie was filmed; it’s hard to go wrong with shooting on location in Italy. Watching the fracturing relationship between Tom and Dickie also makes more sense in the film than in the book; again, Damon’s performance is remarkably nuanced and sympathetic; you can’t help but feel sorry for Tom, so dazzled by this glimpse into a world he never knew before, and as someone who has been the “poor friend tagalong who can’t afford to make his own way,” I understand completely how Tom must have felt. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about that, and when I got home I started work on a new short story–“Festival of the Redeemer,” set in Venice. I’ve always wanted to write a story set in Venice (I did Tuscany in “Don’t Look Down,” and will eventually do Florence as well, I am sure) and I’ll probably work on that story some more this week.

I also worked on the Secret Project yesterday, which is finally starting to take shape.

And now, it’s time for me to get ready to head into the office. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

I fell into an Internet wormhole the other day–history, of course, was involved–and now, with my scattered ADHD mind, I can’t stop thinking about the unintended research I was doing. An ad popped up on the evil Facebook (or the even more evil Twitter) about the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453; and yes, that triggered me going into a search about the fall of the city, why it happened, who was the last patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church at the time of the fall, what was the last Byzantine Emperor’s story, and so forth.

I’ve always had a Colin stand-alone adventure novel in the back of my head, going all the way back to Bourbon Street Blues when I first introduced the character. My original plan, as you know, Constant Reader, was to make Bourbon Street Blues a stand-alone as well; when I introduced Colin and came up with his backstory, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a series about a gay undercover op for hire? I had always had this idea for a treasure hunt novel–yes, inspired by Indiana Jones, if you must know, go ahead and judge me–but it had to do with something smuggled out of Hagia Sophia before Constantinople fell to the Venetians and the Crusaders in 1204; but having researched that actual event, it doesn’t really work for the story. But the final fall of the city–turning it from the Christian capital of the East to the capital of an Islamic empire, and also ending the Roman Empire once and for all–actually would work for this story, based on what I read yesterday. The thing that was smuggled out was a document, or an original manuscript, of a secret book of the new Testament that challenged the very nature of Christianity as it was known then; Catholicism and Orthodoxy–which means the stakes in the current day would also be pretty high.

Will I ever write a Colin stand-alone novel? Probably not, but you never know. I have so many other things to write. I’ll never be able to write everything I want to write before i die, I fear.

Such is life. There’s never enough time, and of course, I am horrifically lazy, which doesn’t help on any level.

And of course, now that it’s around four in the afternoon I am getting tired. I woke up at six this morning, stayed in bed until seven, and then got started on my day. I drank coffee and cleared out my email inbox; I wrote a bunch of emails and saved them in the drafts folder to send first thing in the morning; and then I went to the grocery store. After putting the groceries away, I started making a birthday cake for a co-worked–a new red velvet cheesecake recipe I’d been wanting to try–and of course, while I was working on the cheesecake layer my hand mixer burned out. Complete with burning electrical smell and smoke coming out of the motor (three hours later the kitchen still smells like an electrical fire) and so, not wanting to go to Walmart on a Sunday, I walked over to the Walgreens on the corner, vaguely having seen that they sell kitchen appliances. I rarely go there–and usually only in case of an emergency, which this certainly was–and of course, they’ve rearranged the entire store since the last time I was there. And of course there are aisles of Christmas stuff where other things ought to be. But I persisted, because I really didn’t want to go to Wal-mart on a Sunday afternoon just to buy a hand mixer, and I found one. It seemed a bit pricey, but then I figured you bought the last one twelve years ago so prices may have gone up since then besides you’re paying a premium for convenience. 

So I bought it.

Constant Reader, that was the best money I could have spent on a hand mixer. It’s so much better than my old one it’s not even funny; on the slowest setting it mixes with more power than the old one–a BLACK AND DECKER–did on it’s highest setting. In other words, that cheesecake was beaten and ready to go in the oven in no time. And who knew whipped cream was so easy to make?

Well, it is with my new mixer, at any rate.

So the red velvet cheesecake is now chilling in my refrigerator. I tried working on the book but I am tired and my brain is tired too. I am even too tired to read, methinks. So, I am going to go try to find something to watch on the television while I relax in my easy chair.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll have the energy to write later.

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Under the Bridge

 Sunday morning, and I must confess that other than doing the errands and some slight cleaning yesterday, I fear the day was mostly a bust for getting things done. But that’s fine; I am off today and tomorrow as well–tomorrow should include both the gym and a Costco run–and I intend to get a lot of writing done today. The kitchen and living room are still in need of some straightening as well, and I assume that I shall get to that as I pass the day. I was thinking about going to the gym this morning, but I think I shall go tomorrow instead, and then have a Monday-Wednesday-Friday workout schedule to try to stick to; with perhaps going in on the weekends simply to stretch and do cardio. I have now discovered a new show to watch for cardio–The Musketeers, and there’s at least three seasons, I believe–which will makes things ever so much easier. I certainly did a lot of cardio while I was watching and enjoying Black Sails, so The Musketeers might just do the trick. (I had high hopes for Netflix’ Troy: The Fall of a City, but it was so boring I had to give up. HOW DO YOU MAKE THE TROJAN WAR BORING?)

While I was goofing off yesterday and watching things on Amazon/Netflix/Hulu/Youtube–yes, I know–I was also reading through Bertrand Russell’s brilliant and informative The History of Western Philosophy, and I came across this:

The last dynastic pope was Benedict IX, elected in 1032, and said to have been only twelve years old at the time. He was the son of Alberic of Tusculum, whom we have already met in connection with Abbot Odo. As he grew older, he became more and more debauched, and shocked even the Romans. At last his wickedness reached such a pitch that he decided to resign the papacy in order to marry. He sold it to his godfather, who became Gregory VI.

I do find it interesting that Russell chose to word it that way: that the height of his wickedness was his decision to resign and marry.

This led me into an Internet wormhole, looking up Benedict IX, the dynastic papacy, and the Tusculan popes. As you know, Constant Reader, history always has fascinated me; I would love one day to write historical fiction, as there are so many historical figures that fascinate me, from Catherine de Medici to Cardinal Richelieu to the Byzantine empress Irene to now, Benedict IX; and the century before him, where a woman named Marozia had enormous influence not only over the papacy but on who was elected pope (Marozia, in fact, founded the dynasty of popes called the Tusculans; which concluded with Benedict.) The Fourth Crusade, which wound up sacking Constantinople, also interests me, as do the histories of Venice and Constantinople.

And one can never go wrong with the Borgias and the Medici.

Anyway, one of the debaucheries of Benedict IX was sodomy, and it appears that the historical record holds that he was homosexual; how can I not be fascinated by a gay Pope, the way I am interested in Louis XIV’s gay brother Philippe duc d’Orleans?

So, of course I am making notes for a historical fiction novel called Benedictine, the tale of the gay pope.

Am I nothing if not predictable.

Next up in Florida Happens is Eleanor Cawood Jones’ “All Accounted For at the Hooray for Hollywood Motel”.

Eleanor Cawood Jones began her writing career in elementary school, using a #2 pencil to craft short stories based around the imaginary lives of her stuffed animal collection. While in college at Virginia Tech, she got her first paid writing job as a reporter with the Kingsport Times-News in Kingsport, Tenn., and never looked back. Eleanor now lives in Northern Virginia and is a marketing director and freelance copywriter while working on more stories as well as her upcoming mystery novel series. She’s an avid reader, people watcher, traveler, political news junkie, and remodeling show addict. She spends her spare time telling people how to pronounce Cawood (Kay’-wood).

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Mona, lingering over a third cup of coffee, flipped through her collection of vintage postcards while the all-consuming sound of crunching cereal across the table grated increasingly on her nerves.

She took a sip of lukewarm coffee, gritted her teeth, and reminded herself of her husband’s many good qualities—of which turning mealtime into crunchtime was not one. Things were easier when she had to dash off her to accounting job. In those days, there was never time for another cup of coffee, much less prolonged crunching noises.

“Rodney!”

Rodney looked up from the Racing Times. “Mmmm?” At least he wasn’t speaking with his mouth full.

“I wonder if this hotel is still around?” She held up a ’50s postcard with a modestly clad bathing beauty posing in front of a diamond-shaped, brightly painted sign advertising the Hooray for Hollywood Motel. In the photo, an appealing, pink-painted building featuring a bright blue swimming pool practically beckoned vacationers. A single story structure in a horseshoe shape provided easy access to drive in and unload luggage. The fine print mentioned another pool in the back of the motel as well, as well as an onsite restaurant. Nothing about ocean front, but Mona knew the area well enough to know the motel would be right between the coastal road A1A and highway 95 in the heart of Hollywood, Florida.

Rodney perked up. “Alexa, phone number for Hooray for Hollywood Motel in Hollywood, Florida.”

Mona shuddered, once again, at having to share her vintage, mid-century kitchen with Alexa the interloper. But Rodney had retired two years before her and had spent his spare time acquiring gadgets, of which this conversational internet talkie was the latest.

This charming little story tells the tale of Mona and Rodney, a retired couple from Ohio who impulsively decide to take a trip to Florida, based on finding an old postcard. They’d honeymooned in Florida years earlier, and now that they’re retired, why not? But once they arrive at the vintage old motel, Mona finds herself helping out the crotchety owner, and soon Mona and Rodney are helping revitalize and bring the old motel back to life…until one morning they find the owner floating in the swimming pool.

And then things get interesting.

Very pleased to have this charming tale in Florida Happens, and now I must get back to the spice mines.

Freedom

Thursday. I don’t have to go in until later today, which is nice; it gives me the morning to slowly wake up and get going. I didn’t sleep well last night for some reason so I am going to be really tired this evening; which is fine, I suppose. Maybe I’ll sleep well tonight, who knows? Paul came home just as I was getting ready to go to bed, which was nice. Normality, such as it is, has returned to the Lost Apartment. I started reading William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. It won the Edgar several years ago for Best Fact Crime, and I’ve been wanting to read it for years. I’ve know Bill for years–I was also there at the Edgars the night he won–and have always enjoyed his work.

I started writing that short story “Burning Crosses” yesterday, and am trying really hard to not allow fear to stop me from working on it. I think it could be a really good story, but…it’s also potentially a dangerous one to try to tell. but I can’t let fear of reaction stop me from working on something. That’s just not a good thing, you know?

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“Everyone in Venice is acting,” Count Girolamo Marcello told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythim–the rhythm of the lagoon, the rhythm of the water, the tides, the waves…”

I had been walking along Calle della Mandola when I ran into Count Marcello. He was a member of an old Venetian family and was considered an authority on the history, the social structure, and especially the subtleties of Venice. As we were both heading in the same direction, I joined him.

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”

Count Marcello inhaled deeply. “How do you see a bridge?”

“Pardon me?” I asked. “A bridge?”

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle–as just another set of steps tp climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over a bridge. We cross from one reality…to another reality. From one street….to another street. From one setting…to another setting.”

I love Venice. We spent a mere twenty-four hours there on our trip to Italy several years ago, taking the train from the magnificent station in Florence through the Italian countryside north and then across the lagoon to the Venetian station. I walked ahead of Paul through that Italian station, unable to wait to catch my first glimpse of the city from the top of the stairs rising from the piazza and vaporetto station on the Grand Canal.

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I was enchanted from that first glimpse.

I’d always wanted to visit Venice–ever since reading Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant story “Don’t Look Now” and seeing the film version, which is incredible–and also Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. Seeing Venice, even if was only for twenty-four hours, was wonderful. We were also incredibly lucky because Venice wasn’t crowded; apparently that’s become a huge problem (goo.gl/ePMQjT). It was even a problem when Berendt was writing The City of Falling Angels.

The title comes from a sign Berendt saw one day while strolling around Venice, near an old church that was crumbling and in need of restoration: BEWARE OF FALLING ANGELS. Apparently, the statues of angels on the sides of the church and along the rooftop had become loose with the rotting of the masonry, and one had fallen, almost hitting a pedestrian. The book reminded me so much of Venice, and why the city had enchanted me during my all-too-brief visit. I want to write about Venice; I’ve been toying with a story for years, and as I am just now starting to write my Panzano story, maybe I will soon write the Venice story.

Anyway, Berendt is best-known, of course, for his book about Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I read decades ago when it was new. I enjoyed it; it was an examination of the quirks and curiosities of the city, built around the lens of a murder committed by a member of Savannah society. The City of Falling Angels is the same type of book, only viewed around the lens, not of a murder, but the burning of the Fenice Opera House. It did turn out to be a crime; two men were convicted of arson, but Berendt uses the fire, the investigations, and the subsequent trial, to view Venice; and along the way he takes a look at the quirks, eccentricities, and curiosities of a place that, like Savannah, is quaint and historic and beautiful–yet also very small. A lot of the things he talks about in the book–the concerns of locals that Venice is no longer for the Venetians, that the city is losing its neighborhoods to tourism; that poorer and middle class Venetians are being pushed out in the name of tourism–are concerns that we locals now have about New Orleans, so that made the book even more interesting to me. When we were there, we stayed overnight at a wonderful little family run hotel just off the Rialto Bridge and on one of the side canals; the Hotel San Salvador. We, too, had a lengthy conversation with two of the young women working there–members of the ownership family–who told us the same thing: Venice is no longer for the Venetians. Their family can no longer afford to live in the city, despite owning a hotel there; they live on the mainland and commute into the city. Most of the city’s apartments are being bought up by foreigners who then rent them out to visitors, so it is also affecting business for establishments like the Hotel San Salvador. I loved the hotel, it was charming and quaint and cozy; I loved the second floor lounge overlooking the canal below, and the family who owned and operated it were so nice, friendly, and charming. If and when we return, we will undoubtedly stay there again.

I’ve met John Berendt exactly once; he was very nice, and I liked him. I like his books, too. My character, Jerry Channing, who appears in both The Orion Mask and Garden District Gothic, and whom I’ve considered spinning off into his own series, is based on him only in that he writes the same kinds of books and articles Berendt does; kind of a cross between Berendt and Dominick Dunne. (I still might spin Jerry off; a lot of my short stories, which have first-person narrators who are never identified, are told in what I imagine Jerry’s voice to be) In fact, Jerry’s biggest success is a book called Garden District Gothic (very meta of me), which is about the quirks and curiosities and eccentricities of New Orleans, viewed through the lens of a society murder in the Garden District. The Scotty novel that bears the same title is an investigation into that case twenty-five years later, in fact (again, very meta of me).

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Anyway,  I highly recommend The City of Falling Angels. I think I enjoyed it a lot more because I’d been to Venice, but it definitely made me want to go back. It’s very well-written, and a lot of fun to read.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

Walking on Sunshine

Wednesday. I found my missing copy of The City of Lost Fortunes, which ironically was in my backpack the entire time in a pocket I didn’t check because I wouldn’t have put it in there. Yes, sometimes I wonder about what’s left of my sanity.

Paul returns sometime today; he never tells me his itinerary when he travels, so unless I absolutely pin him down and make him tell me, or forward the itinerary to me, I have no clue when he gets home. It’s usually late in the evening–he is one of those who, no matter how many times I tell him to never do this–always takes the last flight of the day. Rule Number One of traveling is never to take the last flight of the day because disruptions in service can trap you overnight somewhere. And since visiting his family always requires a connection somewhere, it happens almost every single time.

I also finished reading The City of Falling Angels last night; John Berendt’s tome about Venice, and enjoyed it very thoroughly. I have some thoughts about the book, and Venice in general, but I am going to let them percolate for a day or so before talking about them on here.

Yesterday I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down”–again, it is like pulling teeth–and started another short story. I shouldn’t have started writing another story, in all honesty, but “Burning Crosses” has been a story I’ve wanted to write for a really long time, and it starting taking form in my head yesterday so I just kind of dove in headfirst. I also started “Feast of the Redeemer,” my Venice story, which I blame entirely on John Berendt. Today I don’t know what I’m going to write, but I think I am going to start trying to outline the rest of the Scotty book. It may not actually be actual writing,  but it counts as work.

I read two more short stories. First up: “The Daemon Lover” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories:

She had not slept well; from one-thirty, when Jamie left and she went lingeringly to bed, until seven, when she at last allowed herself to get up and make coffee, she had slept fitfully, stirring awake to open her eyes and look into the half-darkness, remembering over and over, slipping again into a feverish dream. She spent almost an hour over her coffee–they were to have a real breakfast on the way–and then, unless she wanted to dress early, had nothing to do. She washed her coffee cup and made the bed, looking carefully over the clothes she planned to wear, worried unnecessarily, at the window, over whether it would be a fine day. She sat down to read, thought she might write a letter to her sister instead, and began, in her finest handwriting, “Dearest Anne, by the time you get this I will be married. Doesn’t it sound funny? I can hardly believe it myself, but when I tell you how it happened, you’ll see it’s even stranger than that…”

Sitting, pen in hand, she hesitated over what to say next, read the lines already written, and tore up the letter. She went to the window and saw that it was undeniably a fine day. It occurred to her that perhaps she ought not to wear the blue silk dress; it was too plain, almost severe, and she wanted to be soft, feminine. Anxiously she pulled through the dresses in the closet, and hesitated over a print she had worn the summer before; it was too young for her, and it had a ruffled neck, and it was very early in the year for a print dress, but still…

This story, which is sad and tragic and, like so many Shirley Jackson stories, a real mystery where it’s left up to the reader to interpret what is really is about, is terrific. It resonated with me because I am one of those people who is too excited and restless to sleep the night before something I am looking forward to; and I can never wait until it’s time on that day, having to make myself busy doing things and keeping myself occupied and then, when the appointed time arrives…yeah. One of my neuroses is being stood up; having someone make a date with me for anything, something I am excited about doing, and then never hearing from the person. With this story, we are never entirely sure if this is something she imagined or it was only in her head or if it was real, and this makes it all the more poignant and sad and heartbreaking. There was something of Raymond Carver in this story; in its ordinariness and sadness and poignancy; but Jackson was far superior to Carver–although this story made me want to read something of his again.

Next was “Ampurdan” by Warren Moore, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color.

Alan Bowling was walking again. The golden light of the Colorado autumn played across the rusts and browns of the ground beneath him. Behind him, the city. The air was cool here, away from the shops, the school, the fringes of the city of Ampurdan.

Alan didn’t know why the city–pfft, city. Don’t put on airs; at most, a town, really–was named Ampurdan. He had read that the word was an old name for a place in Spain now called Emporda. He himself privately called it “Ampersand,” a place between two other places, connecting them by force of…by force of what? How did an ampersand connect things, other than by force of will and in the mind of the person connecting them? The and of the ampersand the conjunction, was between whatever two things the speaker, the thinker, chose to conjoin. And since in Alan’s life, the only conjunctions he saw were the compounding of day upin day, there seemed to be little sense of a period to this place, to this life. Merely a string of days becoming ellipsis, until one day each inhabitant reached an end of words.

“Ampurdan” is a perfectly fine story, and similar to the Jackson in its depiction of sadness, loneliness, and poignant in telling the story of lonely Alan Bowling, who goes through his life missing opportunities to be happy through no fault of his own. He knew love once and it wasn’t returned; he was also the kind of person who only loves once. There’s also a bitter horror at the center of the story, but rather than being horrified by what Bowling did, we are sympathetic and understanding because Moore does such an amazing job of painting the picture of who Alan is, what drives him, that aching sadness and loneliness at the core of his being. This isn’t one of my favorite stories in this collection, but it’s certainly a strong story, and an indication of how terrific the entire collection is, honestly.

And now, back to the spice mines with me,

milo ventigmilglio

No More Lonely Nights

Paul returns tomorrow night, so I will return to my usual status as second best to Scooter. I have to say I’ve enjoyed his neediness more than usual this past week, as he cuddles with me in the bed and sleeps in my lap while I read or watch television.

I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I had hoped or wanted to; I did reread the first ten chapters of the Scotty book and got some edits on it done–it does need a lot more work to be smooth–and I am trying to figure out how much I want to have happen here in the second half of the book. I may end up writing it a lot longer than it needs to be–surgically removing the bits that aren’t necessary afterwards. I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down,” which took up the majority of my writing time this weekend, and remained just as difficult and painful to write as I remembered it being. It’s going to be a long story–I am not worried about its length, as it is going into my short story collection rather than being sent out into the open market (gay main character, after all, makes it basically un-publishable).

I also started writing out ideas for three more stories: “Burning Crosses,” “Feast of the Redeemer”, and “Cross Roads.” Not sure if anything will come out of any of them, but there they are.

Today I need to get some things done that are due, and then I can focus on getting back to work on the other writing.

I am drawing to the end of The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, and really enjoying it; in fact, I am enjoying it more than I enjoyed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, to be honest. Venice is ultimately more interesting than Savannah, sorry; at least to me. (Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to visit Savannah–but if I had to choose between the two Venice would always win.)

I also read a shit ton of short stories this weekend, and sadly, finished reading both Lawrence Block’s wonderful anthologies, In Sunlight and In Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color. I do hope he’s doing another one this year, because they are quite marvelous.

So, for today’s edition of The Short Story Project, I do have a story up from In Sunlight or In Shadow, Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Projectionist”:

There’s some that think I got it easy on the job, but they don’t know there’s more to it than plugging in the projector. You got to be there at the right time to change reels, and you got to have it set so it’s seamless, so none of the movie gets stuttered, you know. You don’t do that right, well, you can cause a reel to flap and there goes the movie right at the good part, or it can get hung up and the bulb will burn it. Then everyone down there starts yelling. and that’s not good for business, and it’s not good for you, the boss hears about it, and with the racket they make when the picture flubs, he hears all right.

I ain’t had that kind of thing happen to me much, two or three times on the flapping, once I got a burn on a film, but it was messed up when we got it. Was packed in wrong and got a twist in it I couldn’t see when I pulled it out. That wasn’t my fault. Even the boss could see that.

Still, you got to watch it.

This is a marvelous story, about a mentally challenged young man who grew up in an incredibly abusive household and never graduated from high school. He’s gotten a job, through a mentor, as the projectionist at a local movie theater. The job makes him incredibly happy, and the voice! Lansdale has nailed the character’s voice so poignantly and beautifully, you can’t help but care about him and his undoubtedly doomed relationship with the beautiful usherette. The conflict in the story comes when two hoods attempt to shake down the theater owner for protection money, and how the staff, how our main character, tries to deal with that situation. A truly great story. Lansdale is a terrific writer, just terrific, and this short story, as well as the one in Alive in Shape and Color, are both so strong that I really want to start tracking down all of his short stories. A quick Google search shows that there are, in fact, quite a few. How lovely!

And then, I turned to “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post-office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they burst into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix–the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys, and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers and sisters.

“The Lottery” is probably one of the most famous–if not the most famous. American short story of the twentieth century. It was, in fact, quite a shock when I realized, paging through my copy of The Lottery and Other Stories, that I had in fact actually never read the most famous short story written by one of my favorite writers; we did the play in Acting class when I was in high school, and I have seen the short film based on it. But I had never actually read the story itself. I don’t have to get into what the story is about–who doesn’t know what the story is about–but wow, what an exceptional piece of writing. Jackson, as always, just writes about something terrible in a matter-of-fact, nondescript way, like what she is writing about is nothing extraordinary; these lotteries have always happened and will always happen and she’s just recording one of them. I would be willing to go so far as to say (and bear in mind I am not an expert) that this story firmly established New England as the best setting for horror in this country; Jackson’s influence from this story is clearly evident in everything of Stephen King’s,  some of Peter Straub’s work, and most definitely in Thomas Tryon’s. Even knowing what the story was about didn’t lessen it’s chill, and that has everything to do with the authorial voice, and how powerful it is.

Whew.

And now, on to the spice mines.

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