We All Stand

As I have attested to many times in this blog (and its predecessor over at Livejournal), when I was a child I always lost myself in books. I especially loved my Scholastic Book Club mysteries and other stand-alone mystery books for kids I’d find in the library, either at my elementary school or the Tomen branch of the Chicago Public Library on Pulaski, a few blocks from our apartment. My first series book reads were Trixie Belden (The Red Trailer Mystery) and one of The Three Investigators books; I later discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, as well as all the other series books published by Grosset & Dunlap or Whitman. The Nancy Drew books, before the title page and it’s facing page that usually depicted an illustration of a scene from the book itself, almost always had a page listing the entire series….but below that was a list of titles for another series, ostensibly by the same “author”, Carolyn Keene (who was fictitious). That series was The Dana Girls, and their titles were all, for the most part, different and strange (the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series also went through a period of strange titles, usually within the first twenty volumes, before settling into the traditional “The Mystery” or “The Secret” or “The Clue” titles)–like By the Light of the Study Lamp, In the Shadow of the Tower, The Portrait in the Sand, A Three-Cornered Mystery, etc., mixed in with the more traditional type titles. My very first Dana Girls mystery that I actually read was The Secret in the Old Well, which was actually where some stolen mink furs were hidden…the stolen furs had stripes that formed an X on the sleeve. I don’t really remember much else about the plot of the book, but it was entertaining enough, if not of the same quality as the other series I was reading.

The Dana Girls, despite being by the “author” of the Nancy Drew series, never quite caught on the same way the Nancy Drew books did. The Dana Girls series was cancelled three times, and when brought back for that third chance, the earlier books in the series were abandoned as being beyond saving through revisions or simply not worth the cost. The rebooted series, with white covers, started with Mystery of the Stone Tiger, which originally was volume 25 of the original series. The original series counted thirty titles; the new relaunched series eventually reprinted and slightly revised numbers 17 through 30–but skipped The Clue of the Black Flower for some reason, before starting to publish new titles with The Curious Coronation. Three more new titles were published with two more planned when the series was canceled; the final two (The Strange Identities and The Thousand Islands Mystery) were never published. Those four new titles in the rebooted series had very limited print runs and are very hard (and expensive) to find; I finally tracked down affordable copies in good condition in the years after Katrina, when I discovered eBay and became obsessed with finally finishing my collections.

So, why were the Dana Girls never as popular as the other series? The books were simply not as good; the ghostwriters hired (both Mildred Wirt Benson, who ghosted many Nancy Drews, and Leslie McFarlane, who ghosted many Hardy Boys) were ambivalent about the series; McFarlane apparently admitted in his memoir The Ghost of the Hardy Boys that he actively hated writing the Dana Girls books and finally refused to do any more; the paycheck no longer being worth it to him.

Unlike Nancy and the Hardys, the Danas were orphans who attended an elite boarding school, the Starhurst School for Girls, just outside the town of Penfield. They were from Oak Falls, where they lived during school holidays with their spinster aunt Harriet, who kept house for their bachelor uncle, Ned, who was captain of the steamship Balaska. Why the girls were sent away to school is never explained; why their aunt couldn’t raise them at home while going to public school was never explained. Starhurst was certainly a fine school, but even that excuse was never really given in any of the books that I can recall; nor was there any explanation of why both Ned and Harriet remained single. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Ned and Harriet to be a married couple rather than unmarried older brother and sister? Who paid for the Danas to go to this expensive school? And what exactly happened to their parents? We always knew Nancy Drew had been motherless since she was three (although we never know Mrs. Drew’s first name, how she died, or meet any of Nancy’s relatives from her mother’s side; the woman remains a cypher), but all we ever know about the Dana Girls’ actual parents is they both died when the girls were relatively young.

I think another reason the books never caught on was partly because the sisters had no connection to crime-solving in any way; Nancy’s father was a famous attorney, while the Hardy Boys’ father was also a former police detective and a world-famous private eye–so successful that he could afford his own plane–and so it was only natural that they started out solving crimes to help their parents–Nancy’s first case being about a missing will and her second also involved her father, while the Hardys’ first case was not only helping out their father but a friend. The Danas had no connection to the world of crime-solving, so when mysteries dropped into their lap it didn’t really make a lot of sense, and their friends rarely commented on the frequency with which the sisters seemed to attract the attention of criminals or stumble over a crime. Admittedly, their first case in the original series, By the Light of the Study Lamp, came to them organically; a close friend’s brother has disappeared as well as their inheritance, and so naturally they want to help out Evelyn Starr, whose family originally owned the estate, Starhurst, that now houses the school….which again begs the question: how old is the school, and how long has it been there? In that first book Evelyn talks about growing up there….so why on earth would the Danas’ only living relatives send them away to a school where the paint is hardly dry? Having the books set at a posh boarding school also proved how smart the Stratemeyer Syndicate was in having very little to do with Nancy’s education (she never goes to school–although I have to say it’s very strange that a successful lawyer wouldn’t send his daughter to college) and likewise, there’s only brief mentions of school attendance in the Hardy Boys books. Having the Danas be at a boarding school limited the plots by containing them in and around the campus and the school; later books in the series became travelogues in which the girls traveled all over the world to solve mysteries, sometimes around school trips, so their friends and Mrs. Crandall, the headmistress, could be also be involved. The so-called “travelogue” books in the Hardys and Nancy Drew series weren’t as well-liked or as popular as the ones where they didn’t travel; sending the Danas all over the world also didn’t really work.

“Jean, you’ve been playing with that old machine for over an hour. When are you going to study? Time’s almost up.”

The Dana sisters, Louise and Jean, were alone in their rooms at Starhurst School for Girls. During the entire study period, Jean, the younger, fair-haired one, had been absorbed in a queer-looking contraption she was trying to build.

“Oh, one may always study,” she laughed in reply to her sister’s question. “This invention of mine is too important to wait.”

“Invention!” exclaimed Louise, peering skeptically at the odd collection of springs, boxes, rollers, and piano keys. “So that’s what it is? I thought you were trying to build a piano!”

“Well, you might call it a sort of super piano,” Jean laughed good-naturedly. “At least that’s the general idea.”

The idea behind Jean’s machine is that when you play the keys, it somehow transcribes the notes onto sheet music, so to simplify song-writing (although it didn’t appear to have a correction mechanism, and how could something small enough to do this have enough piano keys?). Naturally, their nemesis, wealthy bitch Lettie Briggs, the long-running villain of the series, tries to steal the idea and have it copyrighted before Jean can make the thing work; she’s caught, as she always is, and lightly punished (some of the things she does out of spite and her jealousy of the sister are borderline, if not outright, criminal; she never gets severely punished for anything she ever does, so naturally she never learns her lesson and continues being a manipulative, thieving, jealous bitch. When I originally read the series as a child, Lettie was so bad at her ‘pranks’ I eventually began feeling sorry for her and wondering why she was the way she was; I became more interested in her than the Danas and their friends, to be honest; I should do a parody series from Lettie’s point of view, but since the series wasn’t popular and isn’t really remembered today the appeal would be limited, I would imagine). The mystery the girls are looking into is the disappearance of a passenger on their uncle’s last voyage–although why a passenger vanishing and not disembarking would reflect badly on the captain or the steamship company doesn’t really make sense. It’s certainly strange, and worth looking into, but the driving force behind the narrative seems to be saving Uncle Ned’s reputation, and that of the company he works for. They soon trace the woman to a house near Penfield, where they are greeted by a horrifically racist depiction of a Chinese servant, complete with dialogue that turns his R’s into L’s, and adding the long e sound to words, like “Takee” instead of “take,” and it’s clear the missing woman lives in the house or is related to the man living there, as there is a photo of her on the piano the girls slip out to show their uncle, who positively identifies her, before returning it to its place on the piano; they return later when the master of the house is home, who claims “Katherine” is his six-year-old daughter, and the photo is now gone. Mysterious, indeed, and the Danas don’t like being lied to, of course. So, they are on the case.

And like with their contemporary teen detectives at the Stratemeyer Syndicate, solving the case has more to do with luck and weird coincidences than any actual brainwork (which is why I always preferred The Three Investigators and Ken Holt), but the Dana sisters were entertaining enough, and I read most of the books in the series.

Young Offender

As I said yesterday, I had been wanting to reread Summer of ’42 for quite some time now, and finally decided to bite the bullet and start it yesterday.

He always intended to come back, to see the island again. But the oppertunity had never quite presented itself. This time, however, with a break in his schedule and with events moving remrkably in his favor, he had driven far up the New England coast to see if the magic still prevailed. Aboard the old ferry his Mercedes convertible earned the icy nonchalance of a half dozen craggy islanders, for very few new cars ever make that crossing. Cars that came to Packett Island are usually well into the varicose stage of their lives, and as such, they are by time and temperament unconcerned with a return trip to the mainland. “Cars come to this fuckin’ island to die.” Oscy had said that. Oscy, the big deal philosopher. And it was as true in 1970 as it had been in 1942.

He studied the faces around him, each turned to the wind, taking the breeze full face. It was apparent that none aboard remembered him. But then, he was barely fifteen that last time he forked over the twenty-five-cent fare. And in the intervening years nmuch had changed, including the twenty-five cents, which was now a dollar, and himself, which was now forty-two. How, then, could anyone remember him? The nerve.

The Mercedes moved with disinterest along what purported to be the Packett Island Coastway, for the speed limit was thirty, hardly a challenge for an exhumed LaSalle, let alone a hot Mercedes-Benz. To his left were the familiar dunes, sulking in the grass, incongruously scattered with the uncatalogued refuse and bleached timber that the sea could toss so casually across the road whenever it felt so disposed. And to his right, the sea itself, choppy and gray-green. And large. Very large indeed. One of the largest in the world.

I first read Summer of ’42 when I was either eleven or twelve; I don’t remember which; I just know that we had already moved out to the suburbs and I bought a copy off the wire racks where the Zayre’s stocked paperbacks, cover out and about four books deep. I’m not really sure why I picked it, of the scores of paperbacks from Dell and Fawcett Crest and Pocketbooks; there had to be a reason but nearly fifty years later I cannot remember. The movie was out at the time, and the cover art was from the movie, with Jennifer O’Neill standing in the sand looking out to see, and Gary Grimes seated in the sand behind her looking at her longingly; her little beach cottage was in the background along with the dunes and sea grasses. Was it because the cover depicted a beach scene, and we were beginning to spend our summer vacations including the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle in our annual jaunts to Alabama to visit family? The answer is lost in the mists of time, alas, but I did buy it, I did read it, and never really forgot it. It’s a lovely little book, nostalgic and sweet with a little tinge of sadness running through it; I think I also identified very strongly with Hermie, the main character (obviously, standing in for Herman Raucher; the book is supposedly semi-autobiographical). Hermie was a dreamer whose family didn’t really understand him, he had an older sister who is barely a presence at all in the book, and his fantasy life/world was just as strong as mine. He often went off into daydreams the same way I did, and he didn’t really fit with his friends, whom he enjoyed and was annoyed by in equal measure. At just fifteen, he is just starting to experience his own sexuality, and that summer of 1942 he becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman who stays in a cottage just outside the small town on the beach. He sees her with her husband–also stunningly handsome, and they are so clearly in love, and begins to sort of watch them whenever he gets the chance. The husband goes off to the war, leaving her alone, and he contrives a way to meet her, offering to help her carry packages home when she is overburdened. He is also clumsy and awkward; saying and doing things that embarrass him, and they begin to develop a kind of weird and different little friendship. She just thinks he’s a sweet boy, but he is crazy about her, and she becomes his sexual fantasy; speeding along his awakening awareness of sex and sexuality.

The book is entirely from his point of view; so deep inside that we really don’t get to know any of the other characters in the book other than from his perspective and how he perceives them. There are parts that are actually quite funny–the scene where he buys condoms is hilarious–and the bittersweet feeling that she was his first love that he can never quite forget is the motor that drives the engine of the story forward. It’s melancholy, and Raucher was a really good writer; he captures that awkwardness of being insecure in your own skin at fifteen beautifully, and the entire tone of the book–that bittersweet melancholy for a lost love and a lost time and really, lost youth–is rendered exquisitely.

And yet…

He doesn’t know this woman at all, other than she’s quite beautiful and in their little exchanges, very kind to him, if a bit confused by his behavior. He doesn’t even know her name until the book is almost finished. (SPOILER) And when she does have sex with him in the end–after getting the shattering telegram that her beloved husband has been killed in the war and she’s been drinking, in the throes of a powerful grief–it never really made sense to me. Why would she do this? She’s in her early twenties and he’s fifteen. And despite her vulnerability in that moment, she’s the adult here…when I first read the book and saw the movie, that power differential wasn’t anything I noticed (as I said, I wrote my own story inspired by this one without a second thought about statutory rape and so forth), but now…it’s weird. And he of course has never forgotten the first woman he had sex with (they say you never forget the first) but it also doesn’t go into any of those directions, and why now has he decided to go back and see the place? There’s a lot left out, and I actually was thinking, as i read it this last time, how much I would have liked to have seen the story from her point of view.

It’s a short book and, as I said, the writing is well executed and it flows nicely. It made me start thinking about my own story and how I could possibly rewrite it now. I was able to read over the course of the afternoon (like I said, it was really short) and I did enjoy the reread…but this time it raised a lot more questions than it did to my much younger self.

But like Hermie, I also never forgot the story, so that’s something, right?

Way of Life

Sunday morning, and yesterday was a bust. Oh, we took Scooter to the vet, but I was oddly tired (Always Tired: The Greg Herren Story) and only intended to read for a little while; but alas, every time I got up to try to do something, anything…I was tired and gave up. So, I stuck to my easy chair and read Summer of ’42, and even dozed off for a little while around five. I was finally able to get up the energy to put the dishes away and clean out the dishes in the sink before making dinner–which is also when I did the filing and tried to get a handle on the reorganizing. I am hoping that tonight I’ll sleep well, which will help me get through the gym tomorrow as well as getting a leg up on the things I need to get done in the meanwhile before I go visit my family later this month.

But blessed sleep did occur last night and so I am hopeful that today I can make serious progress on all the things I wanted to get done this weekend. I started writing a short story yesterday, “Vivit Dominus,” and I’d like to make some progress on that today. I am going to go to the gym later on, and of course, would like to spend some time getting a handle on some of the other messes that seem to have become permanent around here. I also need to make a decision on what to read next…so many excellent choices in that TBR pile that sometimes it’s hard to decide.

We watched Palmer last night on Apple Plus, starring Justin Timberlake (#freeBritney), and it was incredibly well done. Timberlake gives a stunning performance as a former small town Louisiana football hero who wound up spending twelve years in jail for attempted murder, and comes home to live with his grandmother. Her home is next door to a trailer…and a young woman lives there (played brilliantly by Ted Lasso’s Juno Temple) who has a little boy who isn’t like other little boys. He has no interest in boy things, and his favorite TV show is Princess Penelope, a cartoon about princesses who have wings and can fly and have adventures. Grandma Vivian takes care of Sam when his mom is off on a drug binge, disappearing for weeks at a time. Grandma Vivian dies in her sleep during one of these times while she’s taking care of Sam, and the responsibility for taking care of Sam falls on Palmer–who doesn’t know what to do with this gender nonconforming little boy. At first he tries to get Sam to be more like other boys, but Sam is persistent–he likes what he likes and doesn’t understand why there’s a difference between boy things and girl things–and it’s really beautiful and touching to watch Palmer slowly come around to not only accepting him as he is, but becoming a parent. It’s a really lovely little film, and one of the few good things that came out of the pandemic is that streaming services are picking up lovely movies like this and making them available to a much larger audience than they would have reached in a theatrical release. Every film we’ve watched on Apple Plus has been quite marvelous. They have a documentary called Boys’ State that I’d like to watch–particularly since I myself went to Boys’ State when I was in high school.

And Ted Lasso is coming back in July! Huzzah!

So, today I am going to make a to-do list and see what progress I can make on it today. I am going to walk to the gym in a few hours and get my workout done–it inevitably wears me out and makes me tired, but I have to somehow stay awake so I can get sleep tonight so I can function tomorrow. However, a quick check of the gym’s hours today shows that they are no longer only open from 10-3 on Sundays but rather 9-6, so I can actually go later than I’d originally planned, which is even better. Huzzah! That changes everything.

So, I am going to get up for a bit and do some touching up around here, and then I am going to work for a while, maybe do some writing. Have a lovely Mother’s Day, Constant Reader!

Turn

Saturday morning and I’m up much earlier than I usually am; I woke up around seven–the last time; it was a restless night–and finally decided to just go ahead and get up. We have to take Scooter to the vet at eleven for follow-up blood work (monitoring his diabetes) but other than that, the day is pretty free for me. I am thinking about going to the gym later to do arms (I skipped them last night because…well, because there were too many people there in the small space that is the gym and I don’t like having to force my way into spaces because so many gym-goers seem to feel like they are the only people there or they own the gym or something; I despise many things, but I have an especial hatred for inconsiderate assholes at the gym; always has been a pet peeve of mine) and was actually thinking it might be a good idea to go to alternating workouts; arms on one workout, shoulders/chest/back/legs on the other, with a goal to eventually give legs its own day in June). My muscles feel tired this morning, which means I worked them hard yesterday. That is a good thing. I also don’t want to waste today–which has a tendency to happen far too often on these weekends. The apartment needs some work done on it (it’s horrifying how much I’ve allowed the housework to slide since the first of the year) and perhaps getting up early this morning and using this time to actually do stuff rather than be a slug will help.

We shall see how this day progresses, at any rate.

One would never guess, looking around my apartment this morning, that I prefer to be organized, that’s for certain.

I’ve kind of decided to reread Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher next. I think I need a break from reading crime fiction–a palate cleanser, if you will–and I’ve been thinking a lot about this book and the film made from it lately; I don’t know why, or I don’t remember the reason it came up in my brain recently (hell, it may have been two years ago for all I can remember; I have absolutely no concept of time anymore). I read the book when I was eleven or twelve; I’m not sure when, but I know it was when we lived in the suburbs, and I’m also not really sure why I was so interested in it. I know I didn’t see the movie until it aired on television, and years later I rented the video to see the unedited version, but it always stuck in my head–so much so that I wrote a short story somewhat predicated on the same premise; nostalgic looking back at the coming of age of the main character. The story was called “The Island”, and rereading that story about ten years ago–I was fond of it, and it was very popular in the creative writing class I wrote it for–I realized, in horror, that it was very clearly a product of its time and could never be published without an extensive rewrite. There was a young woman in that creative writing class, and she hated the story, which of course deeply bothered me; particularly because her criticism was based on nothing–she had nothing concrete other than “it just made me squirm a bit,” was all she could say, and of course everyone else in the class just kind of rolled their eyes and dismissed her. On the reread, I realized precisely why it made her squirm, even though she couldn’t–or was afraid to–put it into words: the main character was thirteen and is seduced by a woman in her early twenties, so I kind of unintentionally wrote a grooming/pedophile story but wrote it as a nostalgic, coming of age romantic story. Ick ick ick. In retrospect, her reaction was the right one to have, frankly. I tried to rewrite it and make the characters closer in age–making the main character seventeen and the young woman twenty–but it still had an ick factor to it. I thought about changing it to a gay story, but that made it even ickier.

This set me to thinking about how our viewpoints on this sort of thing have changed over the course of my life, and whether Summer of ’42, which inspired the story in the first place, would still read the same way all these years later. NOW I REMEMBER! (There’s still some juice in the old brain yet!) I started thinking about my story again when I made the list of all the unpublished short stories I have in my files, and I remembered, not only this story but another one I wrote for that class that was never published anywhere, “Whim of the Wind”–and I was thinking about that story a lot over the last year because that one was also set in Corinth County, Alabama–the place I was writing about in Bury Me in Shadows, and the two stories (“The Island” and “Whim of the Wind”) are forever linked in my head because I wrote them for the same writing class and turned both in together (we could turn in as many stories as we wanted, but had to turn it at least once twice in the semester…I turned in two the first time, and six the second time; the first example of how prolific I can be when I set my mind to it and do the work). But I digress. Back in the day, when I was growing up and even up to my thirties and forties, the age gap thing–and the sexuality of teenagers–wasn’t as big a deal as it is today, if that makes sense. Even now, when there’s a scandal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult woman–usually a teacher in her early twenties–a lot of men don’t see the problem and say lucky kid or wish I’d had a teacher like that when I was in high school and things like that; as though there’s something natural and “manly” and normal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult (incidentally, if the teacher is male these same responses are most definitely not used; adult male teachers who have sex with girl students aren’t treated or looked at the same way, nor are male teachers having sex with male students; adult men are inevitably seen as predators–the very same type of double standard the classic Tracy/Hepburn film Adam’s Rib addressed in 1949).

It’s rather interesting now, as sixty looms on the horizon, to look back and see how the world has changed since I was a kid.

We got caught up on Cruel Summer last night, then tried watching The Serpent on Netflix–I’d read Thomas Thompson’s book about the murderous couple, Serpentine, years ago–but it didn’t really hold our interest, so we decided to skip it and move on to something else.

Okay, I’ve put off getting the day started for long enough now. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Video 5 8 6

Last night wasn’t perhaps the best night of sleep I could have had, but it wasn’t too bad. I think I may have gone into a deep sleep for a while, but spent some time in the dreaded, dreadful half-sleep I’ve come to know and despise. I am working at home today–the apartment is definitely in need of some straightening, organizing, and cleaning–and I have some phone calls I need to make. I also have to swing by the office at some point, because I ran out of lube for the condom packs yesterday, and thus need another case of it.

I love that I have a job where I can casually say, welp, ran out of lube again so I have to run by the office.

Pretty cool.

We finished watching season 1 of Who Killed Sara? last night, and then began watching a Freeform show–a teen crime drama I’d made note of when seeing previews a while back–called Cruel Summer. It’s an interesting show–not even based on a novel, which I thought it must have been–in that it has three different timelines; three consecutive summers, in which we see dramatic changes in the main character, Jeannette: the first summer, where she was nerdy with frizzy hair and glasses and braces (the typical way show business always depicts nerdy); the second summer, where she has transformed into a beauty whose is popular and beloved; and the third summer, where she has no friends, is hated, and has been accused of something–in the first episode we aren’t sure what happened; another pretty, popular girl is missing in the second summer timeline, and we don’t find out exactly what happened to her until the second episode. We watched the first two episodes–became completely absorbed into the story by the second, and there are two more to stream, after which we will have to wait every week for a new episode. A lot of new seasons of shows we already are into start dropping in mid-May; including Who Killed Sara?, so we should have plenty of things to watch in the upcoming months.

I started writing a short story in my journal last night; the idea has been niggling at the back of my brain for the last few days, and finally last night I started scribbling in my journal. The working title for the story is “The Glory in Damnation,” which is a great title but doesn’t really fit what I am writing, so I’ll have to come up with another. Don’t get me wrong, I like that title–will probably use it again at some point, but right now I don’t have a better one for this story so will leave it as is. (I won’t start typing into Word until I have the right title for it; I use the titles for the file names and changing file names is one of those things that I dislike doing, while being full aware it doesn’t make any sense.) I want to spend some time this weekend with my short stories, while getting ready to do revisions of #shedeservedit, and of course I need to outline the first act of Chlorine.

Hopefully, I won’t be a lazy slug this weekend and can get this all done–plus the cleaning.

While I was making condom packs yesterday, I rewatched a film I haven’t seen in a while, The Last Picture Show. The book (by Larry McMurtry) and film both had an impact on me when I was a teen; both remain on the list of my favorites. I tried to reread the book a few years ago, but stopped when I got to the part about the teen boys having sex with heifers; the book had such a weirdly nonchalant attitude toward bestiality, like it was a normal part of rural Texas boys’ growing up, that I was a bit repulsed and put the book down. I also loved the movie, and had been wanting to watch it again, to see if it would actually hold up as well as fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. It does, on both levels; and I kind of want to dive back into the book again. Peter Bogdonavich, who directed and co-wrote the movie, did an inspired job with it; this was the start of his hot streak, which included the superb What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. The film was shot in black-and-white (as was Paper Moon), and every time I’ve watched it I marveled at the genius behind this choice. The cinematography gives the film an almost dreamy, slightly out of focus quality, which really works and makes an impact; Bogdanovich made a 1950’s style movie with an 1970’s sensibility. The acting was superb; Timothy Bottoms was fantastic as Sonny, as was Jeff Bridges as Duane, and of course, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won Oscars for their pitch-perfect performances as Sam the Lion and Ruth Popper–that final scene with Leachman is staggering in its impact and she earned that Oscar. Ellen Burstyn is stunning and beautiful as Lois Farrow, and Eileen Brennan’s Genevieve didn’t get nearly the accolades she deserved. Cybill Shepherd made her first appearance on film as beautiful, selfish, narcissist Jacy Farrow, and she was absolutely the right choice for that part as well. Randy Quaid also has a small role as Lester Barlow, who is instrumental to Jacy’s story; he is painfully young in this, and years away from his break with reality. When he grins, you can actually see a resemblance to his brother Dennis–which he grew out of as he got older. The film opens with a panning shot of the main street of the town of Anarene (Thalia in the book), with the only sound the howling of the wind as dust blows, and Bogdonavich ends the film with a similar panning shot, which centers firmly the dying small town as the anchor to the story. (In the book, Sonny is the emotional heart of the story.) It’s nostalgic, but not seen through rose-colored glasses; both book and movie focus on how the town and the times warped the lives of the characters; how they endure the body blows of a hard life and yet somehow continue enduring. I’m glad I watched it again–because it does indeed hold up and is a classic that doesn’t get neat the attention it should.

And on that note, I need to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

The Perfect Kiss

And I finally fell asleep last night, and it was glorious.

I feel pretty amazing this morning. I never realize how completely tired I am when I’ve had insomnia for a few days, but I can certainly tell the difference when my body finally feels rested. I feel alert mentally, my muscles feel great, and so do my joints (I’ve been noticing my joints a lot more the older I get). I’m working at home this morning and afternoon–the call of the condom packs must be heeded, always–and the house is also a disaster, as it always seems to be on Thursday mornings. So I’ll probably have to put the dishes in the dishwasher away and do another load once I finish this and before I dive into the condom packing–and there’s also a load of laundry in the dryer in need of folding. Seriously, it never seems to end around here, but that seems to be the case for everyone.

We finished watching The Innocent last night, which was enormously satisfying (if a bit predictable; I saw the resolution coming, but it was still very well done) and I do highly recommend this series. Then we started season one of Who Killed Sara?, a Mexican series that reminds me a lot of Revenge, which also was a retelling, of course, of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s quite well done; the villain of the piece is quite the monster, and the damaged dynamic of the Lazcano family and their incredible entitlement, which is the primary driving force behind the show’s plot, is complicated and enjoyable. (I would also like to add here that one thing Paul and I have noticed about Mexican and Spanish crime drama series, like this one, are incredibly open and inclusive to queer characters and stories; coming from two deeply conservative Catholic countries, they really shame American productions–which still have a ways to go on this score. Racial diversity, on the other hand, not so much.)

I also think relaxing all night last night with some immersive television programs was an enormous help to me falling asleep last night. I mean, I could have taken care of the kitchen and the laundry last night, but it was also nice to sit in my easy chair and relax.

I also watched the virtual book launch of the new MWA anthology, When a Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, which was pretty amazing–such an impressive array of talent! One of the great things about the pandemic related switch to virtual events is not only bigger turnout, but also the fact that the events can be recorded, and others can watch them later. I was only able to see about the first half hour, but since it’s archived on-line, can go back and watch the rest while doing the dishes or folding laundry, etc. If you want to watch, here is the link. Speakers included Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, Tina deBellegarde, Jacqueline Freimor, Steve Hamilton Joe Hill, Tilia Klebenov Jacobs, Smita Harish Jain, Joe Lansdale, Emilya Naymark, Jonathan Stone, Elaine Togneri, and Amanda Witt–as I said, an amazing array of talent.

All right, I think it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines. I’ve got to get this kitchen under control before I start making condom packs, and after work tonight I am going to head to the gym. It doesn’t look like the weather is going to be as shitty today as it has been for the past two days–torrential rain, thunderstorms, and flash flood watches–so that should be okay.

Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader!

Rock the Shack

Wednesday, and the day my income tax refund is due to hit the bank. It’s too early to check; the bank doesn’t update accounts until 8 am–which is actually pretty annoying, particularly since this is a new development since my bank was bought out by another. Well, hello and surprise–it was actually there! Huzzah!

We had an amazing thunderstorm last night–it’s still pretty nasty outside this morning–and yes, I was awake through the storm because yet again I passed another sleepless night. That’s three nights of insomnia in a row. Heavy sigh. Maybe tonight I will be able to sleep. I had hoped to make it to the gym tonight, but I can’t imagine not being tired after I get off work this afternoon. Looks like we are also in a flash flood warning for most of the day–not really feeling like I’d want to walk to the gym in torrential rain, either. But…if i do go, perhaps that would wear me out so I could sleep tonight? One can dream, I suppose.

We only have one episode left of The Innocent, and we really have enjoyed the hell out of this show. I’m going to terribly sorry to see it end tonight–and I am sure there are some twists and turns left to play out in this story.

Not sure what we are going to watch next, but there’s a Spanish language show on Netflix called Who Killed Sara? that looks interesting.

I am still trying to decide what to read next–I have such a plethora of riches on hand to go through as it is already, and some of my favorite writers (Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman) are releasing new books later this year, and S. A. Cosby’s follow-up to Blacktop Wasteland drops in July. Can’t wait to get my grubby paws on all of those, believe you me.

I’ve been too tired to write or do much focusing of any kind this week–three days of insomnia and counting will do that to you–but I’ve been thinking about a couple of my short stories lately and wanting to get to work on those at some point. Maybe tonight I will get some sleep so I can both read AND write tomorrow night, which would be lovely.

And, tired as I may be, it’s time to drag my tired ass into the spice mines. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Paradise

Bouchercon 2021Anthony Award Nominations

Best Hardcover Novel

​What You Don’t See – Tracy Clark

Blacktop Wasteland – S.A. Cosby – Flatiron Books

Little Secrets – Jennifer Hillier – Minotaur Books

And Now She’s Gone – Rachel Howzell Hall – Forge Books

The First to Lie – Hank Phillippi Ryan – Forge Books

Best First Novel

​Derailed – Mary Keliikoa – Camel Press

Murder in Old Bombay – Nev March – Minotaur Books

Murder at the Mena House – Erica Ruth Neubauer – Kensington

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman – Pamela Dorman Books

Winter Counts – David Heska Wanbli Weiden – Ecco Press

Best Paperback Original/E-Book/Audiobook Original Novel

The Fate of a Flapper – Susanna Calkins – Minotaur Books

When No One is Watching – Alyssa Cole – William Morrow

Unspeakable Things – Jess Lourey – Thomas & Mercer

The Lucky One – Lori Rader-Day – William Morrow

Dirty Old Town – Gabriel Valjan – Level Best Books

Best Short Story“Dear Emily Etiquette” – Barb Goffman – EQMM – Dell Magazines

“90 Miles” – Alex Segura – Both Sides: Stories From the Border – Agora Books

“The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74” – Art Taylor – AHMM (Jan-Feb) – Dell Magazines

“Elysian Fields” – Gabriel Valjan – California Schemin’ – Wildside Press

“The Twenty-Five Year Engagement” – James W. Ziskin – In League with Sherlock Holmes – Pegasus Crime

Best Juvenile/Young Adult

​Midnight at the Barclay Hotel – Fleur Bradley – Viking Books for Young Readers

Premeditated Myrtle – Elizabeth C. Bunce – Algonquin Young Readers

From the Desk of Zoe Washington – Janae Marks – Katherine Tegen Books

Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco – Richie Narvaez – Piñata Books

Star Wars Poe Dameron: Free Fall – Alex Segura – Disney Lucasfilm Press

Best Critical or Nonfiction Work

​Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy – Leslie Brody – Seal Press

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics and the Birth of American CSI – Kate Winkler Dawson – G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club – Martin Edwards, ed. – Collins Crime Club

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia – Emma Copley Eisenberg – Hachette Books

Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman behind Hitchcock – Christina Lane – Chicago Review Press

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession – Sarah Weinman, ed. – Ecco Press

Best Anthology or Collection

​Shattering Glass: A Nasty Woman Press Anthology – Heather Graham, ed. – Nasty Woman Press

Both Sides: Stories from the Border – Gabino Iglesias, ed. – Agora Books

Noiryorican – Richie Narvaez – Down & Out Books

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell – Josh Pachter, ed. – Untreed Reads Publishing

California Schemin’ – Art Taylor. ed. – Wildside Press

Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic – Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle, eds. – Polis Books

Shake it Up

Well, I wrote the timeline for Bury Me in Shadows last night–lame as it was; I am waiting for my editor to write me back and say, um, you could have made more of an effort on this. But it’s done, and I am well relieved to be out of those woods–for now, at any rate. I am kind of mentally fatigued; two books back to back like this will tend to do that to one–although I used to do it all the time; book after book after book. But I also didn’t used to have to get up at six three days a week, either, nor did I ever have the insomnia issues like I do these days. Last night was another of those nights where Morpheus chose to not visit my bed, but I feel relatively okay at the moment, as I swill my first cappuccino. I am sure I will hit a wall later today. Tonight is also supposed to be a gym night, but…we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve decided to put aside the Thomas Perry novel for now. It’s very well done, but I am not connecting with it, which is more my problem than Perry’s; I am just not in the mind space right now for a hired killer thriller. I’ll come back to it at some point, I am sure; so it goes back into the TBR pile rather than into the donation box. I’ve actually gone on a tear with buying ebooks on sale (or for free) lately, and I’ve also gotten some wonderful e-galleys stored in my iPad–including this year’s titles from Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, not to mention some sparkling debuts and some wonderful classics. Yesterday I finally figured out how to sort my ebooks (I am such a Luddite) in the iPad by title, so I could see how many duplicates there were–and there were quite a few, so I deleted all the duplicates to free up space as well as make it easier to find things in there. I think when I go visit my parents, I may just take my iPad instead of books with me to read–although I am taking the hard copy of From Here to Eternity with me–that way I can read through take-off and landing…although I suppose one could just put the device on airplane mode but I still think they make you power it down. It’s been so long since I’ve flown anywhere, it’s hard to remember. I just ordered some more books with points from credit cards that should be arriving this week–yes, yes, I know; I shouldn’t continue buying more books when I still have massive TBR piles–but I’ve cleaned out so many books over the past few months that I thought why not use the points and get some new titles, as well as the Laurie R. King backlist. I am still planning on reading something else before treating myself to A Letter of Mary–I just haven’t decided what just yet. I am torn between She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau (which Les Diaboliques was based on) and The Cook by Harry Kressing, which was filmed as Something for Everyone with Michael York and Angela Lansbury–a classic and bizarre queer film from the early 1970’s–it’s on Youtube.

Or…maybe something else.

We watched another episode of The Innocent last night; this show is so damned good and full of didn’t-see-that-coming plot twists! Of all the Harlan Coben shows on Netflix, this is my favorite so far–not really surprising, since Paul and I have fallen in love with Spanish-language crime shows (cannot WAIT for season 4 of Elite to drop)–we talked about this last night, and Paul said–and I agree–this particular show wouldn’t be as good in English, or if it was set in the US or England or France.

Of course, hot Spanish and/or Mexican actors might play a part in our thought process. Just sayin’.

I also have a story in yet another anthology that is dropping in June and can be preordered now: Unburied, edited by Rebecca Rowland, from Dark Ink Press. My story is “Night Follows Night”; which I wrote an original draft of years ago for an MWA anthology–I think–that didn’t get accepted. I revised and rewrote it a number of times, and when this call for submissions was forwarded to me by Felice Picano (thanks, Felice!) I thought, well, “Night Follows Night” loosely fits this call, and sent it off–and was very delighted to hear back from Rebecca that she loved it and wanted it. Yay! This was the same period last year where I sent off five stories in one day and sold three of them within 24 hours–which was exactly what I needed to have happen at the time, as I was going through one of my malaise periods…nothing like selling three stories in less than twenty-four hours to get you past that hump (the other two were rejected, but that was expected; they were long-shots to begin with).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. I hope I have enough energy to make it through this day–I was planning on going to the gym tonight, but the lack of sleep for two days running means that probably won’t happen….

Run

Monday morning, and we had some amazing thunderstorms last night. I didn’t sleep great–I had hoped, being worn out from the gym, on top of the thunderstorms, would have done the trick but no such luck, of course. I don’t feel terribly tired or exhausted this morning–at least, not yet–but I am also not exactly bouncing off the walls or hanging from the ceiling, either.

Sigh. Just another day to get through, really.

I’m glad that I got the revisions finished and turned in–note to self: get timeline typed up and sent in today–and I think the book is fairly decent, not bad at all, really (I actually had worried my mind would change on that score after a day or two but no); and now on track for the fall release, which will be lovely. I also have an out-of-control inbox again this morning (as always) and am desperately going to try to get that under control again, or at least make it manageable, by the end of today.

I read The Butcher’s Boy for a while yesterday, but it’s not terribly compelling; it’s interesting, and I like Mr. Perry’s writing style, but at the same time it’s not really a page turner–or I haven’t gotten to the part where the story kicks heavily into gear yet; which is fine. I’d hoped to finish reading it over the weekend, but if I spend some time with it every night for a few hours, I should be able to dive into Laurie R. King’s A Letter of Mary without guilt this weekend. I am also going to try to get a short story revised and/or finished this week; I simply haven’t decided which one. Who knows? I may not ever even pick one–my mind is always such a sieve these days.

We started watching Harlan Coben’s The Innocent last night on Netflix, blowing through four episodes (halfway done), with episode four ending with a massive plot twist/cliffhanger. It’s a Spanish show, and the lead actor is incredibly, almost ridiculously good-looking (Mario Casas), and the show is very well-cast, well-written, and full of almost constant surprises. It’s much too complicated to try to do justice, but the lead, Mateo, accidentally kills someone in a fight outside a bar, goes to jail for manslaughter for four years, and then comes out and falls in love…flash forward a few years and his girlfriend has mysteriously disappeared, someone is trying to kill him, and a nun commits suicide….all of these disparate threads are inevitably connected….which is the big surprise at the end of Episode 4.

Cannot wait to dive back into it tonight.

Ah, the caffeine and the coffee cake are starting to kick in; the question remains how long will this last? Hopefully long enough to see me through this Monday. Can you believe, Constant Reader, that is already May? Where did the first third of this year go already? #madness. It just astounds me how endless 2020 seemed, and now 2021 is running through my hands like mercury. But I still hope to get my novellas and short stories and some other things done this year…FOCUS, Greg, FOCUS.

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