Love Comes Quickly

And we’ve made it, yet again, to another Monday somehow; good for me, good for you, good for every single one of us. I am working in the clinic today, which is absolutely wonderful; I was really happy when we reopened last Tuesday because helping people is a large part of why I love my job and what keeps me in it. (Well, that and the health insurance.)

I was sick again yesterday; I was fine when I woke up, but after cleaning the kitchen and taking out the trash fatigue set in again and I had a touch of fever. I immediately went to my easy chair–I was able to read for a while on my Woolrich before even that became too much for me–and started watching movies. I watched Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (sigh, Venice), and then we watched a new show on Prime, Upload, which seemed kind of interesting, but after two episodes we moved on to an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse, which was nothing like the novel except for a few things, which is really annoying. Why do screenwriters and producers think they can tell a better story than AGATHA CHRISTIE? The arrogance is staggering…some Christies, of course, can’t really transition to film; Endless Night, which is one of my favorites, certainly can’t because it’s primarily internal. But I don’t remember The Pale Horse as one that was so tricky that filming the story as written by Christie–who was just one of the most successful writers of all time and certainly the biggest selling mystery writer of all time–was so damned impossible.

I am convinced that I am still not properly hydrated; for example, this morning when I woke up my mouth was completely dry and so were my lips. I drank coffee both Saturday and Sunday morning before the exhaustion/fever kicked back in, and that was a huge mistake, I think. I am going to try to go without caffeine for the next few days to see if I am able to make headway on the dehydration; I’m also calling my doctor today because something is clearly going on with me that needs checking out. In a worst case scenario, I may wind up going to the emergency room to get an IV. I think it could also be a combination of things–the dehydration makes me have no appetite, and my blood sugar might drop as a result of not eating as much. I made an effort to eat yesterday, and after eating I did feel better, but still–something is wrong with me and I need to get to the bottom of it.

I also lost yesterday as a writing day, which was the last thing in the world I needed to do, but there you have it. I am hoping to get caught up on some of the writing I am behind on this week, but we shall have to wait and see how that goes.

I’m hearing thunder out there this morning and it’s grayish and gloomy outside the windows, which isn’t promising. I haven’t checked to see if we have any weather alerts–so maybe the potential for flooding isn’t there, but who knows? I stand corrected; I just looked at my email and there’s a severe weather alert there, although I don’t understand why I didn’t get a text on my phone? The storm was located out in the East, near Lake Catherine, at the time the email was sent.

And on that note, I need to eat something and drink something and get ready for working in the clinic today. Hopefully the lack of caffeine won’t be an issue, and the lack of caffeine will result in feeling better most of the day.

Have a great day, Constant Reader.

I Will Always Love You

Constant Reader should know by now that one of my favorite writers is Daphne du Maurier. I was a teenager when I first got my hands on a copy of Rebecca, and I have reread the book every few years ever since. Around this same time–I think I was thirteen?–I also got a copy of her short story collection, Echoes from the Macabre, and become forever also enchanted by her story “Don’t Look Now.” These short stories were kind of a revelation to me; I hadn’t read many short stories at this point outside of the ones I had to read for English classes (and quite frankly, forcing teenagers to read “The Minister’s Black Veil”, with all due respect, should be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, as is making them read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), and her mastery of subtlety, and weaving small details that turn out to be hugely important later was one of the things I admired the most about du Maurier. Over the course of the next few years I would return to du Maurier, to read The Flight of the Falcon, Frenchmen’s Creek, The Winding Stair, Jamaica Inn, The King’s General, and Rule Britannia. I didn’t love these other novels as much as I loved (love) Rebecca, but I became an enormous fan of du Maurier and her writing style; I also loved how she subverted tropes and genre expectations with her novels. I also loved that she wrote across a broad range of genres and styles with her work; you never really know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of her novels.

I had gotten a copy of her short story collection The Breaking Point several years ago; it contains some of the same stories as Echoes from the Macabre (“The Pool,” “The Blue Lenses”–bloody fantastic story, and “The Chamois”), and opens with “The Alibi,” which I read as part of the Short Story Project a few years back (was it last year? The year before? Does time have any meaning anymore?) but the other day (was it last week? Two weeks ago? Time has no meaning anymore) when I was talking about “Death in Venice” in reference to du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now” and someone asked had I read du Maurier’s “Ganymede”? I had not, so I looked it up and was most delighted to see it was included in The Breaking Point; I just hadn’t gotten into the book far enough, and it is sandwiched between “The Blue Lenses” (which you really must read) and “The Pool”; which explains when I never progressed further in the book, having already read those two stories.

So, having now read both “Don’t Look Now” and “Death in Venice”, I thought it was perhaps time for me to read “Ganymede,” which is the du Maurier tale most often academically associated with “Death in Venice”–but it is very different.

They call it Little Venice. That was what drew me here in the first place. And you have to admit that there is a curious resemblance–at least for people like myself, with imagination. There is a corner, for instance, where the canal takes a bend, fronted by a row of terraced houses, and the water has a particular stillness, especially at night, and hte glaring discordancies that are noticeable during the day, like the noise of the shunting from Paddington Station, the rattle of the trains, the ugliness, all that seems to vanish. Instead…the yellow light from the street lamps might be the mysterious glow you get from those old lanterns set in brackets on the corner of some crumbling palazzo, whose shuttered windows look blindly down upon the stagnant sweetness of a side-canal.

It is, and I must repeat this, essential to have imagination, and the house-agents are clever–they frame their advertisement to catch the eye of waverers like myself. “Two-roomed flat, with balcony, overlooking canal, in the quiet backwater known as Little Venice,” and instantly, to the famished mind, to the aching heart, comes a vision of another two-roomed flat, another balcony, where at the hour of waking the sun makes patterns on a flaking ceiling, water patterns, and the sour Venetian smell comes through the window with the murmur of Venetian voices, the poignant “Ohé!” as the gondola rounds the bend and disappears.

In Little Venice we have traffic too. Not sharp-nosed gondolas, of course, gently rocking from side to side, but barges pass my window carrying bricks, and sometimes coal–the coal-dust dirties the balcony; and if I shut my eyes, surprised by the sudden hooting, and listen to the rapid chug-chug of the barge’s engine, I can fancy myself, with my same shut eyes, waiting for a vaporetto at one of the landing-stages. I stand on the wooden planking, hemmed in by a chattering crowd, and there is a great surge and throbbing as the vessel goes hard astern. Then the vaporetto is alongside, and I, with my chattering crows, have gone aboard and we are off again, churning the water into wavelets with our wash, and I am trying to make up my mind whether to go direct to San Marco, and so to the piazza and my usual table, or to leave the vaporetto higher up the Grand Canal and thus prolong exquisite anticipation.

As Constant Reader knows, I spent a mere twenty-four hours in Venice on our trip to Italy back whenever that was (2014? 2015? Time has certainly ceased to have any meaning), and it was certainly not enough. Our trip was timed beautifully to avoid crowds of tourists I expected to see in Venice, Florence, and Pisa; it wasn’t planned that way but simply worked out for us. We arrived in the city on a bright sunny early afternoon; lugged our bags through the narrow streets to find our hotel, which was a charming family business on a back canal, not far from the Rialto Bridge and a very short walk to the Piazza San Marco. It did turn gray and start drizzling a bit as we walked around exploring the beautiful city, and I was completely enchanted by it; twenty four hours was certainly not enough. I did stand in the Piazza San Marco and say, quoting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “ah, Venice.”

I’ve also been writing a story set in Venice, which I’ve been wanting to do since I was there–and probably should have done before now. It’s called “Festival of the Redeemer,” and in some ways it’s yet another homage to “Don’t Look Now”, but it is also it’s own story–it was kind of inspired by “Don’t Look Now”, but as I write it it’s become something else entirely. So, I wanted to reread “Don’t Look Now”–and then of course moved on to “Death In Venice,” before coming around to “Ganymede.”

I can see why the latter two stories (“Death in Venice” and “Ganymede”) are academically linked; there are similarities between the stories: two older men coming to Venice on a holiday; the city wasn’t either’s first choice of vacation spot; and soon after their arrival they find themselves obsessed with a beautiful teenaged boy. In the Mann story, his main character is a rather stuffy and pompous author whose successes and literary brilliances have earned him an honorary nobility in Germany; in the du Maurier, he is a classics scholar, an utterly unbearable pretentious snob, and basically a pedophile with a taste for post-pubescent boys. In the Mann story, Aschenbach’s obsession with teenager Tadzio is portrayed as both something noble and pure and beautiful; no lust, nothing impure, nothing to see here; it’s an aesthetic and pure admiration for the young man’s classical and breathtaking beauty, which inevitably leads to Aschenbach’s death because he has become aware of the cholera outbreak but he cannot bear to leave his beautiful young man behind. The story has thus been embraced by academia as a classic–even though the entire story rings with a hollow inauthenticity that renders the entire thing a pointless masturbatory exercise on Mann’s part: by trying to make a bold sentence about aging and death and the pursuit of beauty and love in a pure form, it overlooks the simple, basic thesis that Aschenbach is drooling over the good looks of a fourteen year old. Aschenbach is nothing more than another Humbert Humbert, convinced that his “love” for a child is something noble and pure rather than its tawdry reality.

Du Maurier doesn’t have that same sentimentality and nobility of purpose than Mann apparently had when undertaking his tome; she saw right through it and saw the story for it was, and her pastiche–if it was indeed influenced by the Mann story, and not something she thought up herself–lacks sentimentality and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it actually is: the self-justification of a pedophile for what happened to him in Venice–and the damage his peculiarity of taste causes. But du Maurier’s unnamed narrator (another trick of which du Maurier was fond; not naming her main characters) reads much like Humbert Humbert; he is trying to justify his tastes, predilections, and desires for young boys as something noble–but du Maurier exposes the tawdriness underlying his unsavory tastes. The object of his obsession also goes without name other than Ganymede; which our pedophile starts calling him once he sees him waiting tables in the Piazza San Marco, and is reminded, not only by what he does for a living but by his youthful beauty, of the myth of Ganymede–the only time in Greek mythology in which the beauty of a young man so moved Zeus that he brought him to Olympus, made him divine, and replaced his female cupbearer, Hebe, with him. And so the young man becomes Ganymede in the myth being spun by our narrator.

Nor is our narrator the only villain in this tale; Ganymede’s uncle notes the narrator’s interest in Ganymede and thus prepares to exploit the attraction; one is never certain whether Ganymede himself is in on the scam, or is an unwitting prop in his uncle’s procuring. The story, of course, concludes with a tragedy–most du Maurier tales do–but unlike Aschenbach, our narrator does not die in Venice; but causes the death of his obsession. The story concludes with our narrator back in London, living in his two-room flat in Little Venice, remembering his experience and remembering his Ganymede and the tragedy that ensued…but the story closes with him talking about another young waiter at another restaurant, in this “little Venice”, one who reminds him of Ganymede and the delusions he built up around him; he is doing the same thing with this new shiny object that has crossed his path…it is clearly, as du Maurier makes plain, his pattern.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and while I can see the parallels, as I said, with “Death in Venice”, I feel du Maurier took a more honest and realistic approach to telling her story than Mann did with his. I will reread this story again–its a great story–and will probably dive into some more du Maurier this summer.

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Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

Tennessee Waltz

Another major parade, another tragic death. Endymion was cancelled beyond float 12 last night, after yet another parade goer went under a tandem float and was killed. Remember how I said, after the Nyx tragedy Wednesday night, that it was a wonder it didn’t happen more often? Yeesh. The city has cancelled tandem floats for the rest of Carnival–what does that mean for the big ones, like the Bacchasaur or the Bacchagator, or the Orpheus train? Remains to be seen, I suppose, and I would imagine next year they are probably going to look at barricading the entire parade route–but I also wouldn’t think that would be practical or even possible. The routes are far too long, for one, and in many places there’s just sidewalk along the route, like in my neighborhood. How awful, how simply awful. I see in this morning’s news both Bacchus and Orpheus are complying with the city’s request…but ugh, how sad and what a pall over this year’s Mardi Gras.I can’t imagine what the families of the two victims are going through, nor how horrible it would be to have such a terrible, terrible Carnival tragedy happen to your family.

And of course, being me and being a crime writer, I did wonder if perhaps a serial killer is going to parades and shoving people under floats. There have been a couple of times, I will admit, during parades where I got so close to the floats and with the crowd pushing forward behind me, worried about going under one. It would definitely be a new twist on serial killers–although I suppose this would be more a thrill killer, wouldn’t it?

I definitely need to write another novel set during Carnival–and not just because of these awful tragedies. I said when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo that I could write twenty novels about Mardi Gras and never run out of material and would barely scratch the surface. I’ve been thinking more about that ever since the first parades this year–about how the parades bring about a sense of community for New Orleanians that I’ve never experienced anywhere else, and the sense of community persists throughout the year. I even thought about opening another Scotty Carnival book with The Carnival parades used to come through the Quarter on Royal Street back before it became a major tourist event. The route was changed when the crowds got too big for the narrow streets–too much of a fire hazard, too impossible to get medical help in for anyone injured or taken ill during a parade–and so now they all turn onto Canal Street when they get there from St. Charles, and bypass the Quarter, which becomes a deserted wasteland during the parades with only the die hard drinkers not pushing and shoving their way onto the sidewalks and neutral grounds of the city’s major street.

That’s actually not a bad opening, to be honest. *makes note*

While I was doing condom outreach on Friday afternoon (in the bitter cold) I remembered an idea I had about a multi-person point of view novel set during Southern Decadence called No Morals Weekend, but I don’t really experience Southern Decadence very much anymore, other than the occasional sweat-soaked condom outreach experience. I guess I could always write it as a historical; which I am more and more leaning towards doing with some of my work. I almost inevitably and always set my books in an amorphous, cloudy now; but “Never Kiss a Stranger” is set in 1994, and I keep wondering if “Festival of the Redeemer” should be set in the past as well. The early days of the Internet but pre-smart phones seems like a lovely time to write about, quite frankly..although for “Festival”, it’s more about Venice being too overcrowded with tourists than smart phones. Then again it’s set during one of Venice’s biggest events, so of course the streets would be filled with people–which again ties in with my thinking about another Carnival novel: imagine how difficult it would be to follow a suspect along the parade route, through the crowds, trying to not lose sight of someone in a sea of humanity with beads and things flying through the air. I’d wanted to do such a think in Mardi Gras Mambo, and while it’s been so long since I wrote it, or paged through it with a quick reread, I am wondering if I talked about limited availability to get around town because of the parades, etc.

When I had a moment of downtime yesterday, I intended to curl back up with Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, but couldn’t find it, so started rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners, which I’ve only read once and not again. I couldn’t remember anything of the plot–as I’ve said before, I primarily revisit and reread her Airs Above the Ground and The Ivy Tree when I do revisit her work–but I did remember two things: it was set in Greece (Crete, actually) and it was made into a Disney film starring Hayley Mills, but the only resemblance the film bore to the book were the Greek setting and a female main character. As I was reading–and the opening is quite spectacular, and Stewart’s writing is Mystery Writers of America Grand Master level amazing and literate; the way she is able to make the setting absolutely real and her main character relatable, likable, and someone you want to root for–I kept thinking about how she is so frequently described or remembered as a romantic suspense author, and how not accurate I believe that to be. Sure, I may not remember all the plots as well as I perhaps should (stupid old brain), and it’s pretty apparent that our ballsy young heroine Nicola Farris is undoubtedly going to fall for the wounded young man she stumbled over in the mountains of Crete and is now helping; but with Stewart, any romance involved is definitely secondary to the suspense element of her novels…like she tacked it on because her publisher or agent or readers expected it. I’ll probably read some more of it today–although I did find my Ali Brandon novel buried in beads on the kitchen counter.

I also remembered, out on the parade route yesterday, that I had an idea for a book or short story about a murder on Fat Tuesday; when a family throws open their house on St. Charles Avenue for an all day open house type party, with people coming in and out all day, and then finding a murdered body in one of the bedrooms upstairs as the party winds down. I also started writing another short story, “He Didn’t Kill Her,” whose opening came to me fully formed last night and so I had to sit down at the computer and write the opening paragraphs.

Carnival definitely makes me feel reconnected to New Orleans and inspired again.

There are five parades today–the final one cancelled on Thursday is rolling today after Thoth and before Bacchus: so today’s order is: Okeanos, Mid-City, Thoth, Chaos, and finally Bacchus tonight. I don’t know how much time I can spend out there, to be honest…but it’s a jam-packed parade day, and then tomorrow is going to be another one of those hideously busy days, as I try to get caught up on the emails that have been languishing, run errands (including Costco, the madness indeed!), go to the gym, and prepare for the evening’s Proteus and Orpheus parades.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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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,

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