Eight or so years ago at this time Paul and I were in Italy. Sigh, Italy. God, how I love that country. I would love to live there in a village in Tuscany–well, really, anywhere in Italy would work just fine, really. I do so hope we’ll be able to go back someday. I’d love to see Pompeii, Milan, and Rome. And both Corfu and Capri–especially after reading (listening) to Carol Goodman’s wonderful The Night Villa. (One of the real life incidents she mentioned in the book from Capri’s history fascinated me, and took me down a wormhole and now I want to write about that historical incident, of course.) I have since written a short novella (or long short story) set in Italy called “Don’t Look Down,” which was included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I have another novella-in-progress set in Venice called “Festival of the Redeemer,” which I hope to polish and edit at some point before the end of the year. Sigh, Italy. What a beautiful country, with lovely friendly people and the most amazing food and….so beautiful. You can see why the Renaissance flourished there.
I got the final edits on “Solace in a Dying Hour”–two questions (one in which I had made a mistake) and the rest was copy edits and the deletion of a paragraph. So that’s a wrap, methinks, and I am really fond of the story, too. It was my first venture into Louisiana urban legends and myth; well, really the second, because I did write “Rougarou” about a decade ago, but it’s been a while since I’ve turned to Louisiana legend and folklore to write a story, and writing about le feu follet was a lot of fun. I want to do more of these, of course; as Constant Reader may remember, I’ve become fascinated by the story of Julia Brown and the Great Hurricane of 1915, when her town, Freniere, was wiped off the map. Freniere was located on that narrow strip of land running between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain; if you’re driving west out of New Orleans on I-10, and then take the Hammond exit north on I-55, that’s the land the bridge is built on (when you’re actually driving over dry land, that is). I’ve always called that swamp the Manchac Swamp, but I don’t think that’s it’s real name (and I’ve called it that in books, too. Yikes!). You cannot get to the location where either Freniere or Ruddock (the other town in that area that was wiped away by the Great Hurricane of 1915) any way except by boat; apparently some of the swamp tours will swing by the old location where the graveyards still are, but the wreckage and remains of the towns are long gone. Both towns were only reachable by train or boat when they actually existed; there were no roads in or out of town, which always makes me think why would anyone want to live in such a remote and isolated place? But yes, you can bet the witch Julia Brown will appear someday in something I write.
I also got a rejection for a story yesterday, but it was one that I expected so it didn’t sting. I knew it was a long shot to begin with, so that’s fine, and I can certainly send it to another market, which I will most likely do after reading it again to make sure it’s actually quite terrible and I was in a complete state of denial about it being publishable in the first place. Rejection is just part of the game, of course, and there are any number of reasons your story doesn’t get accepted that have nothing to do with the story’s quality itself. I like my story and I think it’s clever, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be looked over another time, you know?
I feel rested this morning. I was very tired when I got off work yesterday afternoon, which is fine; I’d rather be tired after work then during it, you know? I didn’t get much of anything done once I got home, either–I had to pick up the mail and a prescription on my way home; today I can just come straight home–and I have some things I need to get taken care of when I get home from work tonight. Which is cool, I think I can spend a bit of time preparing (I have to make a promotional video–which clearly I’ve been putting off as it is due to be turned in tomorrow) and of course, I have to make the kitchen in the background behind me look–well, not embarrassing for me, at the very least. (Although I don’t know how much more embarrassed I can get filming myself. I hate the sound of my voice and I hate the way I look on video recordings–mainly because the actuality of how I look does not come close to the way I see myself in my head–pictures, recordings and the mirror often provide deeply disturbing shocks for me.)
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines this morning. Y’all have a marvelous day, and I’ll be back tomorrow for another entry. See you then!
Everyone has heard of Constantinople at some point in their life, I should think–at least they’ve heard that annoying song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Some may even know that it fell to the army and navy of the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, ending the Eastern Roman Empire after a thousand years of existence. The Ottomans relocated the capital of their empire there, renaming it as Istanbul. (Christian Europe continued calling it Constantinople for centuries; it’s only over the last hundred years or so that Istanbul has come into more common usage.) But few know much more about the city and the empire it served as capital for over a millenium. Of those, some may know the basics–the Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, recognizing that the enormous Roman Empire had become impossible to rule or enforce law or protect, split the empire into eastern and western halves, and founded a capital for the east on the site of the village of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 473 when the city fell; yet the eastern empire continued until 1453. Western Europe, always trying to reclaim the heritage of the Roman Empire (and ambitiously planning to rebuild it), always referred to the still existing Roman Empire as “Greek” rather than “Roman,” although the citizens of that great city and the vestiges of its empire continued calling themselves Romans until the Turks finally ended it.
But that thousand year history? It’s not easy to find information or books with much information; even the one history of the Empire I did read–Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth, along with his City of Fortune, a history of the Venetian Empire–glossed over centuries and only hit highlights. I’ve always wanted to write something historical set in the new Rome.
The Eastern Empire out-lasted its western counterpart by nearly a thousand years. Constantinople was one of the greatest Christian cities of all time; there was certainly nothing even remotely close to it in western Europe in terms of population, art, culture, education, and trade. It’s location put it in control of access and egress from the Black Sea; it also controlled the trade routes between Europe and Asia. Its fall in 1453 meant that those trade routes were now controlled by the non-Christian Islamic Ottoman Empire–and as such, other ways to reach the far east became necessary to the western Europeans, hence the Portuguese circumnavigating Africa and the Spanish attempt to sail west to find a route, leading to the “discovery” of the Americas. The fall of Constantinople was an incredibly important and necessary piece of the interlocking puzzle that led to European colonization and the global empires that resulted from it (as well as the oppression and enslavement and genocide of native populations); but Western historians–in particular, those monastic scholars in Catholic orders–have always tried to erase and /or lessen the importance of the eastern Empire and its capital, calling them “Greeks”, renaming the Eastern Roman Empire as the “Byzantine Empire,” etc.–and in no small part, this was also because of the Christian Schism of 1054, in which the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split in two over questions of dogma. Therefore, it was in the interest of the Western Europeans to underplay the vital importance to European history of the remains of the Roman Empire because western Catholics considered their Orthodox brethren as heretics; their church was the true one, even if it was in the east that the religion originally came from, and it was in the eastern half of the empire the tenets and dogma of the “true” faith were established. The Pope in Rome always tried to assert his own authority over the Patriarch in Constantinople; the Patriarch considered himself to be the head of the faith and the Pope just another bishop. Thus, when Charlemagne conquered most of central Europe, he and the Pope created the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, or Roman, or even really an empire in the traditional sense); the Romans in Constantinople were not pleased. (At the time, through some political machinations and drama, a woman was seated on the throne in Constantinople–the Empress Irene, one of the most interesting women in European history; she was also pretty terrible. The Pope decided there could be no such thing as a female Emperor, and so he crowned Charlemagne.)
The Holy Roman Empire also lasted over a thousand years.
Anyway, I’ve always been interested in the eastern Empire, even though it’s largely neglected in European histories. But one event in its history has always been interesting to me in particular –the fall of Constantinople to the Catholic 4th Crusade in 1204, which essentially set the stage for the second fall of the city, to the Ottomans in 1453. I also have an idea for a Colin book–which I’ve had for a very long time–that would have its beginnings in the 1204 sack of Constantinople.
It’s remarkably hard to find much information–granted, it’s not like I’ve tried very hard, but the fact that you have to try hard to find histories and/or books about the Empire and its capital, let alone the 4th Crusade–even histories of the Crusades themselves gloss over the fact that a Crusader army, blessed by the Pope, allowed itself to be diverted by the Venetians to capture and sack two Christians cities (Zara and Constantinople), and established “Latin” (western European) kingdoms and principalities out of the provinces that were once the Eastern Roman Empire. These Catholic kingdoms were so despised by their subjects that they didn’t last long, with another dynasty of the old empire arising to drive them out. The sack of the city and the pillaging and destruction that followed created such a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and the kings that followed the Pope that they preferred the Ottomans to a reconquest by the Catholic nations–which is saying something. Ernie Bradford’s The Great Betrayal: The Great Siege of Constantinople is a very thorough account of the tragedy and how it came to pass; the destruction of the mighty city–along with the destruction of priceless books and documents and art forever lost to us–was on a par with the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria.
The book itself is very interesting; the siege took nearly a year, and it’s actually kind of shocking that the Crusaders succeeded in taking the city, bearing in mind the strong defenses and so forth. A lot of things had to fit into place for it to happen, and they all did. The city came so close to holding them off successfully; it’s almost as though, as they would have said at the time, it was God’s will for it to happen. The city was also filled with all kinds of priceless Christian relics; after all, the religion was founded in the east, and as city after city fell to foreign invaders, a lot of priceless artifacts and holy relics were moved to the capital. (The great horses from the Hippodrome, for example, are proudly on display in the Piazza San Marco in Venice to this day.) A lot of the art was destroyed, jewels picked out of reliquaries, the gold or silver or bronze melted down for coin, and so forth.
As someone who has always loved history, and also has always loved treasure hunts–especially those that are involved with the history and development of Christianity, many years ago (I will freely confess to being inspired by Indiana Jones movies) I thought about writing such a treasure hunt story–where the ‘treasure’ being hunted was some important document or book or relic from the earliest days of Christianity that would revolutionize the faith as well as show how off-course it had gone since the earliest days…and wouldn’t it have made sense that whatever it was could have been kept in Constantinople, deep in the archives of the Orthodox Church? And with western, Catholic Europeans besieging the city, wouldn’t the Patriarch have wanted to keep it out of the hands of the Pope, and smuggled it out of the city to be hidden somewhere else, safe from the prying eyes of Rome?
And of course, when I created Colin–actually, when I brought him back in Jackson Square Jazz–I loved the character so much that I considered spinning him off; what about the jobs he’s on when he’s not in New Orleans? “Oh,” I thought, “my fall of Constantinople story! That could work for Colin!” And it even occurred to me the other day that I could even do them as “case files,” setting them throughout the past, both before and after he met Scotty and woven in between the Scotty stories. (It also occurred to me that I could do Scotty stories to fill in the years between books, if I wanted to…)
And reading this book–which i recommend if you want to know more about “holy wars” and how corrupt and unholy they actually were–made me think about it even more. I do want to include something about the Empress Irene, too.
Something to brainstorm at some point. Like I have the time to squeeze in another book…but it would be fun; although I don’t know how good I would be at writing action/adventure/thrillers.
I have to say this weekend has been quite lovely thus far. I’m getting work on the book done, I am getting things done, and I am somehow remaining relatively relaxed and sane while I accomplish things, which has been quite nice. I am sleeping very well and sleeping in every day, which is going to require some adjustments when Monday rolls around again, sadly. I feel remarkably well-rested and refreshed this morning, which is also nice as I sip my coffee and think about what to have for breakfast; probably yogurt and fresh berries, before they go bad. I am going to make pulled turkey today for the holiday in the slow cooker, so dinner’s already sorted for me, which is also kind of nice. I am intending to clean out the refrigerator today as part of my chores for the day; Paul is going to work out with his trainer this morning and I am not sure what his plans for the rest of this holiday might be. I need to write a chapter of the book today, which shouldn’t be terribly hard–I’ve written some really dreadful chapters over the last few days–and should probably spend some time with Vivien Chien’s Death by Dumpling today; I had hoped to have it finished before today so I could spend the day with the most recent Donna Andrews novel; but I may just make that my New Year’s Day reading, to close out the holiday season (even though Carnival will be starting on Twelfth Night, which is even sooner than one might think).
I also found an essay I’d been looking for; I, like Paul, have an obsessive side to my personality that I try to combat and not give into when it takes hold of my brain; often to no avail, sadly: when my brain goes into obsessive mode, there’s really not much else I can do rather than either ride it out (not easy) or give in to it. This most recent obsessive conduct had to do with an essay I had written; the other day I remembered it and started looking for it, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember what the file was named. I had been asked to write a letter to myself at age sixteen the summer we went to Italy; I started writing it before we left for the trip but had never finished it. I eventually finished it, as I recalled vaguely the other day, on the trip to Venice from Florence; I wrote it on the train, saved the file, and hit send. I could not find it anywhere; and obsessed about it all day yesterday as I dug through electronic files (which are in much worse condition as far as organization than I even feared, which I will have to do something about at some point). After Paul got home, I talked to him about it and as I spoke to him it hit me: I had emailed the story in, maybe it was in my ancient sent email folder. And sure enough, there it was; and doing a second search by the title proved that it was saved nowhere in my files; I am not sure how that could have happened, but my biggest fear about my electronic files has now proven true: there are things that have disappeared from them over the years.
But this Christmas miracle is worth enjoying; a piece I’d feared had disappeared forever (the website where it was posted no longer exists; so much for the Internet is forever) has been retrieved, and it can be the opening piece in my collection of personal essays, should I ever decide how to do that and how to pull it all together.
If 2021 was the year of finishing things–Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit having been in progress for years, even decades–I think that mentality needs to continue forward in 2022: finish things. I do want to finish the novellas, the short story collection, and potentially the essay collection; I also want to finish Chlorine, and possibly something else. I’ve also spent some time going over my blog from the earlier part of 2021, to try to remember things I watched and books I read; my memory is even faultier than I remembered it being in the first place. But it’s also kind of fun seeing what I was reading and watching earlier this year–the impact of HBO MAX’s It’s a Sin combined with my sixtieth birthday this year had me revisiting and thinking about the past a lot, for example, and forced me to process a lot of things I had never processed before, which may have had something to do with a lot of my own issues: never deal with it, just keep moving forward may not have been the most mentally healthy plan for me to get through my life, but it was also necessary for survival, and I will not/shall not judge my younger self for whatever coping mechanisms and skills I may have developed in order to get through everything I had to deal with in this my life.
And on that note, I think I am going to finish this, eat my breakfast, and head into the spice mines for a little visit. Have a lovely Christmas, Constant Reader, even if it’s just another Saturday to you.
I’ve always loved Venice: the idea of a city that exists in a place where no city really should but does anyway (like New Orleans); a city with a long and remarkable history that at one time was one of the major powers of the world, despite not really having much population yet somehow carving out an empire; and always dreamed of visiting there. When Paul and I lucked into our marvelous trip to Italy back in 2014 (I think it was 2014? I could be wrong, it may have been 2015 but it really doesn’t matter) I definitely wanted to include Venice in our itinerary. We wound up only being there for twenty-four hours, but I was enchanted (I was enchanted by all of Italy, really), and have always wanted to go back and spend more time there. We were incredibly lucky when we were there; it was the week before Labor Day weekend, and there were no real crowds there (I have since seen horrible pictures of crowds so thick you can barely move), and we just wandered around looking at beautiful buildings and crossing canals and going into churches and eating gelato–lots and lots of gelato (which was every day, everywhere, while we were in Italy–we even got some at the airport when we flew back out).
Venice is also the setting for my all-time favorite novella and movie based on it (Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now”). I love the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, in which a lonely unmarried teacher comes to Venice and is also enchanted by how gorgeous the city is, and also finds a bittersweet romance with a handsome Italian man. One of my favorite parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is set there. I finally read Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as part of my “plague days” reading last year when COVID-19 shut down the country; as well as Daphne du Maurier’s take on the tale, “Ganymede.” John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, about the La Fenice fire and the insanity in rebuilding the fabled opera house, was a remarkably insightful look at how things work in Venice, as well as the restoration works on the city and its gnarled bureaucracy, as well as the blasé attitudes of the locals about how corrupt and insane everything is there.
It goes without saying that the similarities between Venice and New Orleans are striking, and run much deeper than the constant threat of water and Carnival.
I started writing a novella this year set in Venice–which I’ve wanted to write about ever since I visited–and at some point I will revise it to get it ready for publication; it’s on my to-do list–and so naturally, Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime was added to my TBR pile as soon as I knew of it.
And what a delight it turned out to be.
Down below the cry of gulls, below floors of tourists undressing and dressing for dinner, below even the shrinking figure of his killer. a man lies crumpled and bleeding. He’s been dead for only a few seconds. He’s sprawled on his stomach, his body twisted at the hips, his left arm hooked in a U above his head. From a distance, from high above, he looks almost as if he were sleeping. It’s the blood leaking through his pink shirt that gives the crime away.
Outside, the sun is setting on what is unarguably the most beautiful city on the planet. There are a lot of dead bodies in this town. Upstairs in the man’s room, an English guidebook recommends taking a boat out to San Michele to visit an entire island of them. Among the legions buried there are the composer Igor Stravinsky, the ballet director Sergei Diaghilev, and the poet Ezra Pound.
The city is sinking and has been for centuries. Enjoy it while you can. The blood is pooling around the body. Screams are blaring from all directions. The killer is making a run for the exit.
But none of this has happened yet.
I don’t think I’d heard of Christopher Bollen before I heard about this book; I may have read some of his work (he writes for both Vanity Fair and Interview magazines), but I was not prepared for how good this book would be.
And the really good news is its his fourth; he has three more books for me to read and cherish and enjoy. Huzzah! (It’s always delightful to discover a new-to-you writer you love, isn’t it?)
The premise behind this book is pretty genius: a young gay couple who have fallen quickly and madly in love with each other, come up with a “foolproof” plan to con a wealthy douchebag out of enough money for the two to ride off into the sunset together after paying off their unsurmountable debt…and Venice is where the action happens. Bollen spent time in Venice interning at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which pays off in this complex and riveting noirish thriller. Bollen brings Venice to life in a way that few other writers have; you can smell the canals, taste the food, enjoy the bite of the liquor and savor the wine and the spellbinding beauty of the city through the eyes of his characters.
Our young, intrepid gay couple are Nick Brink and Clay Guillory. Nick came to New York to escape his sterile and stale childhood home in the Midwest, and soon has a very well-to-do older man in love with him; Ari, who is an expert in antique silver and runs one of the few silver businesses left in the country. Nick loves Ari, but it’s not a deep passionate love; it seems more like gratitude and appreciation more than anything else. Ari does love Nick, but his plans for their future (he also employs Nick at the silver shop, which is pivotal to the plot of the book) are making Nick claustrophobic and feeling trapped. Nick looks at the years ahead with Ari (and possibly a child) and is terrified of what his life will become; while this is stable and nice and everything he could have possibly wanted…now that he has it, he’s not sure it is what he wanted after all.
Clay is the surviving companion of an older gay man, Freddy van der Haar, last scion of one of the first families of New York (going back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch settlement); Freddy was one of the last surviving colorful characters of the wild and crazy Bohemian artist scene in New York, and had the wealth to really pursue the kind of life and lifestyle that no longer seems possible or to exist anymore. Everyone, of course, believes Clay is a gold digging conniver who may have even murdered Freddy for the inheritance. But the truth is not how it appears on the surface; there was no money left, and Clay has even gone deeply into debt taking care of Freddy as he declines slowly into death. Clay owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to student loans and medical bills, and doesn’t see any way out of his situation.
The two meet by chance at Freddy’s memorial service; Ari knew Freddy, of course, and Nick doesn’t want to be there. He slips out for air and meets Clay on the steps–Clay isn’t attending (he knows very well what Freddy’s friends think of him) but just wants to make sure that the flowers he ordered arrived. They encounter each other again shortly thereafter, when Clay brings in the last of the van der Haar silver collection for appraisal and possible sale; unfortunately it’s all worthless junk. But the mutual attraction is there, and soon Nick is slipping away from work and his shared apartment with Ari for afternoon trysts at Clay’s inherited brownstone in Brooklyn, which he is selling to help pay down the debts of Freddy’s estate as well as his own.
And the two lovers come up with a plan: part of Clay’s inheritance is a small piece of a palazzo in Venice which the van der Haars once owned completely. The rest of the palazzo is now owned by a wealthy investor named Richard West (whom Freddy despised), who has an obsession with the van der Haar family and wants to possess some of their silver. Why not have Clay try to sell the junk to West, and have Nick–who works for an antique silver firm, after all–falsely authenticate it so they can pay off all that debt and live happily ever after? West is a major scumbag, after all, who fucked Clay over once already; and is it really a crime to fuck over someone who is so awful? Not only will their debts be paid but Clay will finally have vengeance against the man who cheated him out of his dream job…and so begins the game of cat-and-mouse.
And what a delight it is. Bollen is a terrific writer–his gift for sentences and paragraph construction is amazing–and his characters all seem quite real. He peoples the book with a terrific supporting cast, all of whom are actualized; from Daniela the transwoman (who is old school; refuses the term “trans”) with whom Nick stays in Venice, to Freddy himself to West and his entourage. As the deception goes deeper, the pacing also begins to pick up, as well as the sense of dread as they change and adapt their plan and decide to go for even more money…and like the best Hitchcock films and all great noirs, the deeper they get into the deception, the more dangerous the game becomes.
Venice itself is a character; Bollen writes about the city with such love and affection that it becomes impossible to imagine the book being set anywhere else–and he also addresses the primary issue in Venice: the crowds of tourists and the outsiders buying apartments to rent out as Air BnB’s, thus driving up the cost of real estate and living in the city that is forcing the locals out (just like New Orleans! Something else the two have in common!)–and this also plays an integral part in the story.
I loved this book, and even though for a while it was making me think I need to scrap my Venice novella…I soon realized I don’t have to. My novella is in the perspective of a tourist falling in love with the city, whereas Bollen’s is written from the POV of someone with intimate, personal knowledge of the city that comes from living there and truly experiencing what it is to be a Venetian.
I know, right? I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my alarm this morning and say 9:34 glowing back at me in red. And it was a really great night’s sleep, too–I was out like the dead, and could have easily stayed in bed for the rest of the morning. But it was not to be. Scooter needed his insulin shot, I needed coffee, and there are things that need to be done today….but if they don’t get done, it’s not the end of the world, either. I am going to finish swilling coffee, adjourn to my easy chair, and hopefully finish Bath Haus today; I also want to do some writing after I got to the gym this afternoon; and need to finish the cleaning I started yesterday.
I took yesterday off. I had planned to all along, really, but had to swing by friends to pick up something yesterday, and wound up hanging out with them, unplanned, for most of the afternoon. It was delightful; a social outing after a year where social outings are few and far between–and then I was thinking, I really DO miss hanging out with friends as I drove home. I have a tendency to become housebound, without really planning on it; I don’t like going out and dealing with the general public as a rule…and so I tend to stay in the house more than I should, which helps me become more stagnant. I’ve really been enjoying my walks around the neighborhood taking pictures and posting them; particularly showing people places I’ve used in my books about New Orleans, which is kind of cool. Anyway, after I got home yesterday I just started organizing and cleaning, which was desperately needed, and the Lost Apartment looks a bit more presentable today than it did yesterday morning. When I finish this, though, I am going to read until I finish the book–it’s really taken me a lot longer to finish than it should have–and then I will organize and clean before I head to the gym.
I also want to do some writing today. I want to reread the things I’ve written lately-the novellas and the short story–to get a better idea of what needs to be fixed within them; I also kind of need to synopsize the novellas, which will help me get an idea of how things within them need to be moved or expanded upon or cut a bit short. I think both might begin a little more slowly than I would like; the starting place might be somewhere within them with the backstory littered more casually throughout the story rather than telling it in such a linear fashion. I do like the opening of “Festival of the Redeemer,” but rather than giving all of the backstory as I do in the opening pages I might have to skip ahead to them arriving in Venice and then start putting the backstory in. I also need to figure out more about my main characters, who they are, and I do know the main character in “Never Kiss a Stranger” needs more development; I want the reader to identify and feel along with him as much as possible–same with “Festival”–and I also need to make notes in both to verify things and make sure I have things done correctly (for example, in “Festival of the Redeemer” I assumed that the actual, real life Festival was always on the same date every year; however, it’s like Thanksgiving; it’s always the third Saturday in July, which I found out as I was writing the story. Rather than making the correction to the story then, I simply made note of it, knowing I would have to go back to it and change it in the next draft).
Today, though–while it would be lovely to reread them, do the synopsizing, and make notes/corrections, the primary focus for me this lovely Sunday in July should, and will be, writing Chapter Two of Chlorine. I also have to prepare for the coming work week (ugh), but it’s lovely to not be tired or groggy from lack of sleep on this day. I hope this means insomnia has been banished, at least for a little while. I am seeing my doctor on Thursday (check-up) and will be discussing options so that i won’t have to end up going weeks without sleep again like I did before my trip to Kentucky, which was horrible.
And on that note, I am going to get another cup of coffee and retire to my easy chair with Bath Haus. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!
Here it is, Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day yet again–MADNESS.
I wrote about twelve hundred words or so last night–not bad but not great–but it was also a transitional section of the novella, as we get ready to launch into the third and final act, and I’ve always struggled with transitions.But that’s cool–I did get twelve hundred words out before giving up the ghost for the evening–and while the night was not as productive as recent writing sessions, I’ll take whatever I can these days; especially on a work-at-the-office day, which tend to be more wearing than work-at-home days. Tonight, for example, after work I need to run errands before getting home and going to the gym, so not only do I have a very short window for writing, but I will also most likely be very worn out from the work out (even though it is likely to be a half-assed weeknight workout). But since this is a short week, I will be home for the next two days…
I am making a lot of progress on my efforts to get the apartment under control; I was expecting to be further along by now than I am, but Monday for whatever reason I was so exhausted I couldn’t get anything really done–cleaning or writing. I am also beginning to get the sense that July is starting to slip through my fingers again–never a good thing; I hate that time is beginning to feel like quicksilver in my hands, before I know it, it will be my birthday and I will be sixty–but the right amount of focus should be able to get me back into gear. Last night wasn’t a good night for sleeping, alas; but perhaps tonight will give me the rest I need. I am seeing my new doctor next week at long last; I am going to talk to him about upping the prescription refills and possibly prescribing something non-narcotic to help me sleep. I think Ambien is not a narcotic, but isn’t that the medication where people do things–like sleep-walk or sleep-drive? That makes me nervous…I get into enough trouble without having to add the worry of getting in trouble while I am asleep.
It looks to be a gloomy, rainy day today; which is never helpful when I am already feeling sleepy. But I shall make it through, and I will go to the gym, and I will pay these pesky bastard bills, and I will get some writing done. So let it be written, so let it be done.
I think we’re going to start watching a Swedish show on Netflix, Young Royals, which appears to be an angsty teen soap at an exclusive school with some queer content, which makes it all the more fun. I also need to get back to reading Bath Haus. My copy of S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears should be arriving today; I am itching to sink my teeth into that one, and of course I’ve got some other Diversity Project books piled up on my end table–there’s Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime–which I’ve been putting off reading because it’s set in Venice, and I wanted to get the first draft of “Festival of the Redeemer” finished before I read another gay crime story set in Venice. And since that draft is now finished–and now that I know how it ends, and I do think the ending is perfect; I just have to go through it and clean it up significantly, including rewriting some of the passages–I can move on to the Bollen after I finish the Cosby. I also have David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts on the table, and I really want to get to that one, too.
Not to mention everything I have on the iPad. I was thinking on my drive to work this morning that I really would like to go back and reread Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk?–I really enjoyed the Reread Project when I was having difficulty reading during the pandemic; and I am overdue on my reread of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which may be my favorite book of all time; I also want to read some more of the du Mauriers that I have not already read, like The House on the Strand, Rule Britannia, and The Parasites.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!
Monday after the holiday, and I am sitting at my desk feeling a little discombobulated with this day off.
I managed to finish reading Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow yesterday (spoiler! enjoyed it!) and started PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus at long last. I am also enjoying PJ’s book–which I was fairly certain I would–and also somehow managed to clock nearly four thousand words in on “Never Kiss a Stranger”. So much for losing momentum, right? Yes, needless to say I was inordinately pleased with yesterday’s display of productivity; as I was thinking the novella would be around twenty thousand words, I am very close to having the first draft finished, which is also kind of exciting. It’s taking me a little longer than “Festival of the Redeemer” to get finished, but I am pretty confident I’ll be able to get it done by the end of this week, if not sooner.
“Never Kiss a Stranger” is very different, both in tone and structure and feel, than “Festival of the Redeemer.” I think what I am really trying to do with these four novellas is to write four vastly different ones, using different voices and different styles, pushing myself to create stories that make me have to stretch my creativity to tell properly. The point of view character in each couldn’t be more different, and of course “Stranger” is set in 1994 New Orleans, while “Redeemer” is set in present day–or at least recent years–Venice. I had already decided that the third novella for this quadriptich is going to be one of my Alabama stories; the question is whether it should be “A Holler Full of Kudzu” or “Fireflies” (I’m leaning towards “Holler,” mainly because it is set in the 1970’s; whatever the final piece will be should be set in the 1980’s, but since I am thinking it will most likely be a Chanse story, “Once a Tiger”….that will also be a present day story.). While I was originally tempted to use both “Kudzu” and “Fireflies,” the truth is both are Alabama stories, and I don’t want two of them in the same work. Of course, I could make them all about 25k to 30k and only use three…decisions, decisions.
That, of course, would make the book a triptich.I don’t now how long these things are going to end up, of course. That’s kind of the thrill with writing novellas–more room and not as limited as a short story, and no pressure to make it longer as there would be to turn them into novels.
The scenes I wrote yesterday were kind of potent, kind of sad–I think I was stalling writing them because those kinds of things are generally emotionally difficult to write, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was tired when I was finished for the day, of course, and retiring to my easy chair to read with a purring sleeping cat in my lap almost put me to sleep…but I managed to stay awake. We watched more of High Seas–only a few episodes left in Season 3, which isn’t nearly as fun as the earlier seasons–and Paul has found an Italian crime drama, Suburra, to watch next. I am a little out of it this morning, too–I had weird dreams last night, and woke up a lot, so am not feeling terribly rested today, and it kind of feels, I don’t know, warm and/or stuffy in the house this morning. Not sure what that’s all about…but I want to get this finished, do some straightening up around here, and I have to make groceries this morning. Then I want to go to the gym, and detour through the Garden District to take pictures of the neighborhood for Instagram before coming home to get cleaned up and write this afternoon. And then of course, tomorrow I have to get up early to go back to the office.
I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I had wanted to–par for the course, and I am not going to beat myself up over it, either; it is what it is–and I’ll try to get more caught up as the week progresses. It’s a short one, after all, and it’s probably going to be miserably hot. MUST FOCUS.
And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.
So, yesterday I found the only copy of my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” from Love Bourbon Street that I have as an electronic Word file…it was the one with all the formatting instructions for the typesetter (back in the days when you had to do that) so I spent somewhere between a half hour and an hour going through it and removing all those things. I was also reading it as I went (it’s a pretty good essay, really) and it reminded me of a lot of things–what it was like in those days when we fled the onslaught of Katrina and how it felt to witness the death of the city on television; the anger from the heartlessness of so many Americans (especially from the right); and my time while gone and then the return and the beginning of cleaning up and rebuilding. It’s hard to believe it was sixteen years ago almost…rereading it didn’t make me sad, really; so much time has passed and sure, watching documentaries and news footage from back then can upset me still, but…now it almost seems, like so much of my life and my past, like it happened to someone else.
I do have a lot of essays on hand, actually; looking through the files was rather eye-opening.
I also did about thirteen hundred words on “Never Kiss a Stranger” last night, which is starting to shape up nicely. The voice of the main character is falling into place, which is really nice, and the story is beginning to fall into place. It’s sitting at just over 7200 words right now, give or take, and I am glad I am finally getting this story written. It’s been rattling around inside my head now for about fourteen or so years now–which just goes to show, I always will eventually get around to writing things–as long as I know that I don’t need to strive so hard to get it right the first time; a lesson I have to keep learning over and over again. I hope I can get it finished by the long weekend–which I am really looking forward to, to be honest. Not sure why I am so all about this long weekend, either–but I need to get some things done and regular weekends never seem to be long enough to me, you know? I am all about the four day work week, too. Would the economy come to a screeching halt if that was implemented? I think not.
We’re watching a Spanish show called High Seas–murder and intrigue on an ocean liner sailing from Spain to Rio de Janeiro at some indeterminate time in the 1940’s; I am assuming it’s post-war because there are no concerns about the war nor about the ship being torpedoed. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, and it has very high production values–and there’s so much going on! Villains and secrets and skullduggery abound–this is no Love Boat, that’s for sure.
Tonight after work I have to stop by the library and then make it to the gym again. I’ve been out of the gym now since last Tuesday–another week–and so I am going to try to ease my way back into it tonight with two sets of everything, increasing to three on Thursday, with the possibility of adding more weights into the mix on Sunday. I am way behind on my workout schedule–I had hoped to be to doing different body parts per workout by June, and now it’s almost July and I am still not there yet–but my body still feels a lot better than it did last year when I wasn’t working out as much, and certainly better than in any year prior to that. Sixty is rushing towards me now–SIXTY, and while I definitely never thought i would make it this far, here I am.
One of the essays I found was that “Letter to My Younger Self” thing I did years ago for a blog post for somewhere, I don’t remember where…I had forgotten about it completely, was reminded about it while I was in Italy at almost the last minute, and so I wrote it on the train from Florence to Venice and hit send just as the train started crossing the lagoon bridge to the station in Venice, and promptly forgot about it. (Or did I write it on the train back from Venice to Florence the next day? Oh, shoddy memory….but I do think I turned it on the way to Venice, because I think I remember that it was posted while we were in Venice, and the following day on the train was when it went as viral as anything I’ve ever done has–lots of shares and likes and comments all over social media…it was very overwhelming! And kind of cool to enjoy it while in Italy.) I had completely forgotten about its existence until yesterday when going through my files…so that will be kind of fun to revisit. I was also a bit concerned that there seems to be overlap in various essays with others–the Gregalicious tendency to repeat himself will always inevitably show up in my work…and then again so much of it is dated…but I want to review everything, hopefully this weekend, to get a clearer understanding of what I have on hand, what new material is necessary, and what needs to be fixed.
So, I will most likely be too tired after the gym tonight to read–we’ll probably both simply repair to our respective television perches and watch High Seas anyway–but hopefully I will have some time to get some more work on the novella in.
Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.
And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?
But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.
And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.
Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.
But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.
I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.
It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.
We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.
We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.
After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.
And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.
I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.
And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.
So it looks like we’re going to take a direct hit from Claudette tonight–with conditions deteriorating throughout the day with the worst of it passing through overnight and into tomorrow morning. Yay. I have to run out to Metairie this morning to get my new glasses at some point, and I had hoped to make it to the gym after my work day; we’ll see how that goes. Much as I hate to not go and skip yet again, if we are having torrential rains and street flooding, I’ll have to give myself a break and not beat myself up over not making it today.
I also managed to write last night. When I opened up the document for “Festival of the Redeemer” last night, it was at around 10, 670 words; when I finished working on it and saved it last night it was at well over fourteen thousand. Yay! The original plan was for it to clock in at around twenty thousand; if I am going to do a book of novellas, four at twenty thousand would be a total of eighty thousand, and I always think a book should be between seventy-five and a hundred thousand words, give or take. My last Scotty was nearly a hundred thousand; my next two are certainly over ninety, and I think that’s always going to be my goal from now on; to try to hit that sweet spot between eighty and a hundred thousand words. I also, more importantly, kind of like seeing how the story develops as I write it; I really had no plan other than some vague, amorphous thing like troubled gay couple comes to Venice and something dark happens, so it’s kind of free form writing that I generally shy away from, out of a sense of “don’t waste time or energy on things you’ll eventually have to cut from the story and not use”–especially since I have always managed to use that deleted material in something else at some point. But I am really enjoying writing this, which is really the big news, and once again I am not really paying attention to how much I’ve written as I am writing–the hole in the page (thank you, Stephen King!) opens and I fall into it and before I know it, I’ve written an almost obscene amount, which is always absolutely delightful.
I was tired yesterday, which is never a good thing–partly because of the weird sleep of the night before; I slept extremely well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing since I have to go to Metairie. It’s also only about eighty degrees outside, which is also lovely (and indicative of a tropical disturbance on its way). The power outage the other night also messed up the calibration of our air conditioning system, meaning there’s again about a fifteen degree difference between the upstairs and the downstairs–the living room/kitchen feels like a freezer, and the upstairs beach weather–but it is slowly but surely beginning to even out; the difference this morning isn’t as significant. But it was so cold downstairs–and yes, I did turn the setting to higher, to no avail–I was literally wearing a T-shirt under my sweats and a stocking cap to keep my head warm.
I think I may allow myself to take the day off from writing the novella today; I have a lot to get done today–not the least of which is the drive out to Metairie–and I want to get to the gym, weather permitting; I also have some website writing to get done, which I will probably tackle tomorrow morning, if we have power–always an issue–so I need to be sure I have all laptops powered up as well as my phone, so I can turn it into a hotspot to email the copy in when it’s done if we don’t have power. It’s always so hit or miss, really, with these kinds of storms. But it’s also nice to know that even if we don’t have power, I can probably get it all done and turned in anyway–and I can even write on the novella as long as I have a laptop that has power, and I am not going to have to use both to write the copy, so there’s that. The novella really went in a stranger direction than I expected it to yesterday, but it’s happening organically, so I am going to see where this developing plot takes me.
And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and finish waking up before I get going with the rest of my ay. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!