Heavenly Action

I’ve always been—undoubtedly in part because I love history so much—an enormous fan of books where secrets from the past (even the far distant past) play an enormous part in the present lives of the characters in the story, and that solving those mysteries, learning the truth about the past, is necessary in the present for conflict resolution. As a history buff, the lack of a lengthy history as a nation is something I’ve always thought unfortunate; without ancient buildings and the way that history isn’t sort of always there in our faces the way it is in Italy or other older nations, it’s difficult for many Americans to either grasp, be interested in, or give a shit about our history—we have as a nation the attention span of a goldfish (thanks, Ted Lasso, for that reference).

To make a side by side historical comparison, for example, the Habsburg dynasty dominated central Europe for almost six hundred years, whereas the first European to actually arrive and establish a colony were under the aegis and flag of the Habsburg king of Spain—and that was in the early sixteenth century.

Secrets of the past casting a shadow over the lives of the living is often a theme in Gothics, my favorite style of novel/writing (noir is a close second). Rebecca is of course the master class in secrets of the past; the first Mrs. deWinter might not actually be haunting the halls of Manderley literally, but her ghost is definitely there. Victoria Holt’s romantic suspense novels inevitably were set in some enormous old mansion or castle, with potential ghosts a-plenty everywhere you turn. Phyllis A. Whitney’s one novel set in Britain—Hunter’s Green—also has a classic old British mansion with a potential ghost in it. Maybe it was the childhood interest in kids’ series, with the reliance on secret passages, hidden rooms, and proving that ghosts were frauds; every episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You? had the gang proving something supernatural was quite human in origin.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books when I was a kid was The Ghost of Blackwood Hall; I don’t really remember much of the story now, other than a fraudulent haunting was involved and a woman—Mrs. Putney—was being swindled by a medium? (Reading the synopses on a Nancy Drew website, apparently part of the story involves Nancy and the gang coming to New Orleans, which I absolutely do not remember; my only Nancy Drew-New Orleans memory is The Haunted Showboat—involving yet another haunting. Interesting.) When I was writing the original short story (“Ruins”) I needed a name for the old burned-out plantation house; I decided to pay homage to Nancy Drew by naming it Blackwood Hall, and naming Jake’s maternal ancestor’s family Blackwood (his grandmother was a Blackwood, married a Donelson; Jake has his father’s last name, which is Chapman). I did think about changing this from time to time during the drafting of Bury Me in Shadows, but finally decided to leave it as it was. It might make Nancy Drew readers smile and wonder, and those who didn’t read Nancy Drew, obviously won’t catch it.

Hey, at least I didn’t call it Hill House.

But writing about ghosts inevitably makes one wonder about the afterlife and how it all works; if there is such a thing as ghosts, ergo it means that we all have souls and spirits that can remain behind or move on after we die. So what does writing about ghosts—or writing a ghost story—mean for the writer as far as their beliefs are concerned?

Religion primarily came into existence because ignorant humans needed an explanation for the world around them, combined with a terror about dying. It is impossible for a human mind to comprehend nothingness (whenever I try, I can’t get past “there has to be something in order for there to be nothing, you cannot have nothing unless you have something” and that just bounces around in my head until it starts to hurt); likewise, whenever I try to imagine even the Big Bang Theory, I can’t get past “but there had to be something to explode” and yeah, my head starts to hurt. Even as a kid in church, studying the Old Testament and Genesis, I could never get past “but where did God come from?” I don’t begrudge anyone anything that gives them comfort—unless it starts to impede on me. I’ve studied religions and myths on my own since I was a kid; the commonalities between them all speak to a common experience and need in humanity, regardless of where in the world those humans evolved; a fear of the unknown, and an attempt to explain those fears away by coming up with a mythology that explains how everything exists, why things happen, and what happens when you die. (I am hardly an expert, but theology is an amateur interest of mine, along with Biblical history, the history of the development of Christianity, and end-times beliefs.)

Ghosts, and spirits, have been used since humanity drew art on cave walls with charcoal to explain mysterious happenings that couldn’t be otherwise explained. I am not as interested in malevolent spirits—ghosts that do harm—as I am in those who, for whatever reason, are trapped on this plane and need to be freed. This was a common theme in Barbara Michaels’ ghost stories (see: Ammie Come Home, House of Many Shadows, Witch, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) in which the present-day characters must solve the mystery from the past; why is the ghost haunting this house and what happened to them that caused them to remain behind? I used this theme—spirits trapped by violent deaths in this plane whose truth must be uncovered in so they can be put to rest—in Lake Thirteen and returned to it with Bury Me in Shadows. I did, of course, worry that I was simply writing the same book over again; repeating myself is one of my biggest fears (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?), but the two books, I think, are different enough that it’s not the same story.

At least I can convince myself of that, at any rate.

There’s a few more ghost stories I want to write, actually; (it also just occurred to me that there was a ghost in Jackson Square Jazz, the second Scotty book) any number of which come from those legends my grandmother used to tell me as a child. I have this great idea for one I’ve been wanting to write set here in New Orleans for a very long time called “The Weeping Nun;” I have the entire ghost’s story written in my head, I just don’t have a modern story to wrap around it (same issue I have with my New Orleans ghost story book, Voices in an Empty Room) and of course there’s “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain,” a short story about another Corinth County ghost I started writing and got to about five thousand words before the ghost even made an appearance. That great length is why I shelved the story—and now, of course, I realize I can do it as a novella, which is amazing news and life-changing, really. “Whim of the Wind,” the very first Corinth County story I ever wrote, is also kind of a ghost story, and maybe someday I’ll find the key to making it publishable (although I think I already did figure it out, thanks to the brilliance of an Art Taylor short story).

I’ve always believed part of the reason I was drawn so strongly to New Orleans is because the past is still very much a part of the present here—though not so much as we New Orleanians would like to believe, as several Facebook groups I belong to about the history of New Orleans often show how often and rapidly the cityscape has changed over the years—and you can sometimes even feel here, at times, under the right conditions (fog and/or mist are usually involved) like you’ve gone back in time, through a rip in the time/space continuum; which is something I’d actually like to write someday here—but that’s just an amorphous idea skittering through my brain.

And of course, I have an idea for a paranormal series set in a fictional parish here in Louisiana. I think about it every now and again, but am really not sure how I want to do it. I know doing a paranormal Louisiana town series will get me accused of ripping off Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, but that’s fine. I don’t think I would be doing vampire kings or queens or any of the directions Ms. Harris went with her series. (Monsters of Louisiana and Monsters of New Orleans—paranormal/crime short story collections—may also still happen; one never knows, really.)

As hard as it was sometimes to write, I think Bury Me in Shadows turned out better than I could have hoped. I think it captured the mood and atmosphere I was going for; I think I made my narrator just unreliable enough to keep the reader unsure of what’s going on in the story; and I think I managed to tell a Civil War ghost story (it’s more than just that, but that’s how I’ve always thought of it and that’s a very hard, apparently, habit for me to break.

I hope people do read and like it. We shall see how it goes, shall we not?

Lonesome Tonight

Lonesome is such a great word. It really doesn’t get used much nowadays, and may be bordering on archaic, but I think it summons up an entirely deeper (and possibly different) emotion than lonely. It was usually used in songs–“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” sounds more effective than “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry”, for example–and for some reason (maybe it was country music, I can’t be certain) I’ve always thought of it as a rural, Southern word. But, as I said, there’s something almost poetic to the word for me, and I really do want to write either a story or a book called Kansas Lonesome, because the prairie in rural Kansas, to me, is truly symbolic of the word; whenever I think about it, I think about a house out in the middle of nowhere and the winter winds howling around it.

It’s cold again this morning, and even now the sky is slowly starting to get lighter. It was pitch dark out there beyond the windows as I made my cappuccino this morning, and it should be a good morning/day. I slept very well last night–I did wake up at four briefly, but as able to fall back asleep for another two hours–and I even got some work done on my story yesterday. The first draft still isn’t finished–I was thinking last night, as I binge-watched news, that I’ve never really recovered from finishing the book, which is why I’ve been so lackadaisical and unable to truly focus; this happens a lot in the aftermath of finishing a book, because I actually need to recharge more than I ever did before–but I have every confidence that I will finish it today. Tomorrow I am taking a personal day, as I have medical appointments and so forth (just routine annual maintenance, nothing to be concerned about) and am hoping that around said appointments that I will be able to get some more work on the story finished. I also just realized the 15th, which is the due date, is actually Friday and not Thursday, so that’s definitely promising; a bit of a reprieve, if you will. This is also a three day weekend, so I can actually have a day of resting and cleaning and errands before diving headfirst into the revisions of #shedeservedit, which is going to require a thorough reread first, and then picking it apart from top to bottom (along with the character names) before stitching the whole thing back together again.

Paul’s been busy working the last two nights, so we’ve not been able to pick up on Bridgerton again, which is a shame as we are both thoroughly enjoying it. I really want to get back to reading; next up is Laurie R. King’s first Mary Russell Sherlockian tale, and just from looking at the opening I can tell already I am going to love it, because Mary’s voice reminds me of that of one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, the inimitable Amelia Peabody. And that reminder also served to remind me of one of the greatest influences on my writing career, one whom I never pay enough homage to and never properly credit: one Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. Reading her works, under either name, is a master class in plot, character, setting and voice; the books are not only entertaining but incredibly smart, and she also had a penchant for some of the best opening lines in crime fiction. The Peters novels all have brilliant first sentences; the Michaels novels incredible opening paragraphs. I’d be hard pressed to select a favorite Peters novel–every Amelia Peabody novel is a joy; same with her stand-clones, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby series–but I can unequivocally state that my favorite Barbara Michaels novel is Ammie Come Home, and her Gothics heavily influenced mine. Bury Me in Shadows and Lake Thirteen are perhaps where the influence are most obvious; I even worried, numerous times, that Shadows was too derivative of Lake Thirteen. I have a New Orleans Gothic in the back of my mind–Voices in an Empty Room–that I may get to sometime over the next few years, but again, I worry that it’s derivative of the earlier ones.

Welcome to the world of the prolific, where you always fear you are recycling plots and characters!

Oh! I got a 12 hour Twitter ban yesterday, and I must say I was enormously disappointed that pundits and right-wingers didn’t immediately rush to defend my freedom of speech. I will admit that I deserved the ban; it’s what I get for being stupid. My standard rule of thumb is whenever I see an incredibly stupid and/or offensive tweet, I allow myself to type out a snarky response. Usually I never finish, thinking better of them before getting to the end and hitting send. Alas, I tried this on my phone yesterday. I’d started typing a truly angry response when I thought, “no, you can’t send that, not cool” and tried to delete the draft but instead accidentally sent it–resulting in an immediate ban. It wasn’t there long enough for someone to report it or for Twitter to actually review it (I am not kidding when I am saying it was immediate), so Twitter is clearly policing itself and what is being allowed on their site. I own it; it was a terrible thing to even think, let alone say in response to someone no matter the provocation, and thus I will not complain about it. I would even go so far as to thank them for reminding me that such angry tweets aren’t cool, and while I am allowed to be angry about the sack of the Capitol, I need to be a better person than I have been lately. So thanks, Twitter.

I’ll do better.

And while perhaps this should have started back in the days of birtherism, I am fine with having such algorithms in place now.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Impeachment Wednesday, everyone, and I will catch you tomorrow.

Santa Baby

A gazillion years ago I edited a queer Christmas anthology, Upon A Midnight Clear. Back when I was new to the business and wanted to change the world (oh, how I miss that youthful naivete and optimism–even though I was in my early forties), one of the things I had noticed–in my limited experience and knowledge of all things publishing, including the queer side of things–that there weren’t many Christmas stories from a queer perspective or with a gay man as the center of the story. (A major exception to this was Jim Grimsley’s beautiful novel Comfort and Joy, which is still one of my favorite gay novels; he also published a short story excerpted from the book that was published in one of the Men on Men anthologies–the story was also called “Comfort and Joy”. When I signed the contract for the Christmas anthology, you can best be sure I immediately emailed Jim and asked for reprint rights, which he very graciously granted.) So I decided to combat this by doing a Christmas-themed anthology for gay men, by and about and for gay men. I later found out that there had been a previous one (edited by Lawrence Schimel, if I am remembering correctly), and there have been some books and stories and novellas since then.

As is my wont, I tend to forget about Upon a Midnight Clear–it was, after all, pre-Katrina and pre-Incident–but every once in a while I remember it and think about it….and it’s usually because I opened the introduction by quoting Bette Davis as Margo in All About Eve: “I detest cheap sentimentality”–it’s a favorite quote of mine, and it pops into my head all the time, and I used it in this instance to express how annoyingly sappy most fiction–be it short stories, novels, television shows, or films–can be when it centers Christmas. It was a labor of love in some ways–for me especially, trying to reinvent my own feelings about the season–and it might be time for me (or preferably, someone else) to take another run at another gay Christmas anthology; Upon a Midnight Clear has been out of print since 2007, and while i know there have been others in the years since, I kind of would love to do another one…or perhaps one of Christmas noir.

Ooooh, I really like the sound of that.

I made some good progress on Chapter 18 yesterday, and fully intend to finally wrap that chapter up tonight and perhaps begin Chapter 19. It’s very cold again this morning in the Lost Apartment, but I have solved that issue–someone suggested to me on Facebook (I believe it was Carolyn Haines) that I buy electric blankets, and it was literally one of those moments when you think duh, how fucking stupid am I, really? In my own defense, I’ve never owned an electric blanket and we never had any when i was growing up, so I have no experience with them and it probably would have never occurred to me to get one. I ordered two from Macy’s, they arrived last week, and Paul and I broke them out last night while we were watching The Hardy Boys (which I am really enjoying much more than I ever thought I would), and yes, game changer. I am sitting at my desk right now wearing sweats, a ski cap (purple and gold LSU of course) and my electric blanket is covering my lap and it is MARVELOUS, just as it was last night.

And Scooter was absolutely in heaven last night with the electric blankets.

Today I am working from home and slept amazingly well last night; I also stayed up longer than I had intended to, which also had something to do with it. I had some writing to complete for a website–due yesterday-but the materials I needed to write about never arrived so yesterday I spent some time coming up with a work around, which I think wound up working splendidly. The writing I did yesterday also went swimmingly well; I believe my main character is really taking shape and so is the story, and I am very excited about getting this book out there for everyone to read. I am nervous about it, of course, just like always; but I am taking some risks with this book and I am pushing myself creatively. The more I work on this book, though, the further away another Scotty book seems. I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day (other week? who the hell knows? Time literally has no meaning anymore) about private eye novels, and I expressed that while there are certainly still good ones being written, the subgenre feels a little on the stale side to me these days; and I also confessed that this could have everything to do with my already having written fifteen of them. The stand alones I started writing and publishing in 2009 (or 2010; see earlier comment about time having no meaning) gave me enough of a break from writing the private eye novels so that I always came back to them feeling fresh and invigorated, much as how alternating between Chanse (serious) and Scotty (more silly) used to help me stay fresh with both series. I feel like Royal Street Reveillon was probably the best Scotty I’ve written in a long time; I was very pleased with how the book turned out, and from time to time I think well, that one turned out so well that might be a good place to stop–and then I remember I left Scotty’s personal story on a cliffhanger, and I probably need to get that wrapped up at some point. But once I finish these two contracted novels, I want to work on Chlorine, and there’s another paranormal New Orleans novel bouncing around in my head–Voices in an Empty Room–but I might be able to put that aside to work on another Scotty–although I have to admit there’s also a Colin stand alone bouncing around inside my head as well.

But then maybe my brain is just overloaded at the moment.

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

Innocent

Sunday morning, and I feel good.

Yesterday was quite marvelous. As a general rule, I refrain from talking about politics, primarily because I feel I don’t really need to; anyone who knows me knows where I stand. Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows my politics, or they do if they’ve read anything I’ve ever written–essay, blog, short story, etc.. I only talk about equality when I do talk about our country or our system; and my feelings about equality should make it abundantly clear that I am pretty far to the left, and move even further left the older I get. So, when the presidential election was finally called yesterday morning, I ran upstairs with tears in my eyes to tell Paul the great news, and I pretty much realized three hours later, after viewing as much of the celebrations and reading as many articles and so forth as I could in my thirst to make it finally all seem real to me, that I was going to get absolutely nothing done yesterday. And I didn’t, either. I didn’t cook anything, didn’t wash a dish, didn’t write a word; I didn’t read my book, I did nothing constructive at all other than joy-scroll through my social media. I watched football games that meant nothing to me, since LSU wasn’t playing–Indiana beat Michigan for the first time since the Reagan administration; Florida beat Georgia; Notre Dame beat Clemson–but it was all just background noise, really, as I kept going through social media and sometimes would switch over to the news while the games were on.

Could I really afford to take the day off and do nothing? Of course not, but I did precisely that very thing. I figured that since we won’t be electing the first biracial female vice president of the United States ever again, I was allowed to take the day off and bask in the knowledge that this was another historic election.

If someone would have told me, back when I was casting my first presidential election ballot back in 1980, that one day I would be voting for the first black man to become president (and doing it twice), and another day I’d be voting for the first black/Indian woman to become vice president, I would have laughed really hard, as such a thing was completely unimaginable back in those days. (Four years later, Geraldine Ferraro became the first major party female candidate for vice president; it would only take another twenty two years for another one to be a candidate, and another thirty-six years for one to actually win. And yes, much as I am loathe to give the loathsome Sarah Palin credit she does actually count as a historic nominee–even if she is now essentially a political pariah and yet another “Christian values” candidate whose marriage has crumbled into divorce. #Palinfamilyvalues.)

And watching the international celebrations of our election results was also a reminder that, no matter what anyone thinks, despite all of our flaws and mistakes and judgment errors, the rest of the world looks to us for leadership; and despite all the inequality built into our system by imperfect men who were well aware of their flaws and prejudices, we are what they aspire to–our political stability, our peaceful transitions of power, and yes, our freedoms. (Although when they think about our freedoms I rather seriously doubt the right to bear arms is at the top of their list…)

I’ve always believed that history was taught incorrectly; our history shouldn’t be taught as dates and places and battles–those are important, don’t get me wrong, but they are not as important as the progress, throughout history, of human rights and human freedoms. As for the battles and the wars, those should be seen through the prism of whether they pushed forward (or held back) human rights and freedoms. As interesting as kings and queens and emperors and tsars might be…what was life like under their rule? Did the people suffer, or did they prosper, or were they merely seen as sub-humans not really worth the divinely appointed King’s time or consideration?

Heavy thoughts on a Sunday morning. I need to get to the gym today, and I also need to make groceries–I don’t really need to get groceries, really–there’s only a few things we need and it could conceivably wait till next weekend–but I am all about getting things over and done with and out of the way. The Saints play later tonight–an evening game with the Buccaneers–and I’ll undoubtedly watch that until around ten, when I’ll need to go to bed to wake up in time for clinic tomorrow morning–but that also gives me this afternoon to try to get to all the things I never really got around to yesterday–Westlake’s The Hot Rock, any number of short stories that need writing, the book I should be writing, and lots and lots of cleaning–but I feel good today. I feel like I can breathe again. I also am aware the results of the election simply means the start of the great work required to right this ship–and it’s going to be a struggle–and there are going to be disappointments along the way, but I am going to allow myself to ride this wave of optimism and hope as long as I can….it’s been in far too short supply these last four years.

We finished watching The Murders at White House Farm last night, and it was really most marvelously done. There was also enough ambiguity left in the crime itself to leave the viewer wondering if justice truly was done–as is the case unless there are eyewitnesses or a confession–and this ambiguity is what makes these types of shows so interesting to watch for a crime writer. In our fictions, we cannot leave our readers with that kind of complex ambiguity–we can allow killers to go free, but the reader has to understand completely that there is a miscarriage of justice occurring. Most of criminal justice is shades of gray in reality; our fictions are allowed some shades but cannot be completely gray over all.

I did spend some time wondering about the short stories I am writing, and of course came up with the idea for another one, called “The Oracle on Orange Street” (Orange Street is one of those secret streets in New Orleans that only exist for a few blocks; it was named for the orange groves that lined it back in the day–the street I live on is another one of those, and so is Camp Place, which only exists for two blocks near Coliseum Square; Camp Place is the setting for another novel I want to write some day called Voices in an Empty Room) and while I am not certain what that story is actually going to be, I kind of would like to write about a psychic (yes, Scotty is also one, but I want to write about one who makes her living as one; I’ve considered resurrecting the psychic who told Scotty’s parents that he had the gift to be the lead character; Madame Xena. But, as I mentioned the other day, it’s really a matter of age. If Madama Xena was already a psychic with a good reputation when she spotted Scotty’s gift when he was a child…how old would she be now?), but on the other hand, I kind of also want to write about a phony psychic being used in a noir fashion to convince a believer of something that isn’t true…decisions, decisions. But I like that title, and at some point I’ll figure out who and what “The Oracle on Orange Street” is about and who she actually is as a person.

But for now, I will continue savoring that title. Hell, for that matter, Voices in an Empty Room is also a really good one.

I also spent some time wondering about the next Scotty book–I know, I know, finish the two you’re already writing–and trying to figure out how best to write about this accursed 2020 Carnival season. There are also some things left over from Royal Street Reveillon that will need resolving in this book, and then I have to deal (in the next one) with the pandemic. It also begs the question, can’t you just pretend in Scotty’s world that it never happened?

It’s an interesting possibility, but in some ways for me it feels like copping out; like not writing about Katrina, or having it happen in Scotty’s world was just too easy an out. I get that people may not want to remember what it was like, or relive the horrible experience of 2020, but on the other hand I don’t see how, as series writers, we can simply pretend it never happened. I recognize that my world is fictional, and therefore theoretically in “my” world I can simply decide “no pandemic” and it never happened in this particular alternate universe; I’ve certainly never mentioned the Afghan or Iraq wars in a Scotty book, or 9/11 either for that matter (although the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security have come up, without explaining how they came to be in existence). There’s also some reluctance in actually tying a book to a certain year–although I did that with some of the earlier ones; after all, the Saints only won the Super Bowl for the first time one time–but again, sometimes when it comes to this sort of thing I am literally spinning my wheels and being indecisive because that leaves me in my inertia…always remember: a Greg at rest tends to stay at rest.

This morning my natural inclination is to blow off both the gym and making groceries, even though I know that neither is an option. The gym is only open until one today, and since the Saints game isn’t until much later, there’s no need for me to make the grocery run so early–gym first, groceries and gas up the car afterwards. I can spend the rest of the day writing or reading or playing intellectual games about my works in progress.

But last week I started feeling the old Gregalicious–the Type A one who gets a ridiculous amount done in a remarkably short period of time–starting to break through the cloud cover and start elbowing his way out to the front of my consciousness. This morning, I strongly feel like I can breathe and sleep and rest again….and soon I’ll be writing up a storm again.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines and get this kitchen cleaned up before I head to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.