Last Train to Clarksville

Tuesday morning! It’s gloomy and a bit gray out there outside my windows; the sun is shining but its behind a haze of some sort. I would think it’s humid, but my windows are completely dry–no condensation, so that makes me tend to think it’s not as humid as it probably could be. I’ll find out in a little while when I head to the office. Today, tomorrow and Thursday I am ending my shifts working in the CareVan doing testing in the parking lot of the Walgreens at Felicity and St. Charles; part of our annual partnership with Walgreens for National HIV Testing Day. This is incredibly convenient, as I can walk home in a matter of minutes once we are finished in the van. Paul, of course, is leaving town on Thursday (nine days of a needy cat with abandonment issues!), so there’s that. I took Monday the 3rd as a paid day off, so I have a four day weekend and with bar testing that following Wednesday night, it’s actually more like four and a half days off. Huzzah!

I made up for not working on the revisions yesterday by getting three chapters finished; if I can stay on track to do the same again today, I will be finished with the revisions by Thursday, which will allow me to take Friday away from revising, maybe even Saturday and Sunday off as well, and then spend Monday doing the last minute polishing. I want to get a lot done around the Lost Apartment over the weekend, and I also want to get not only the WIP finally polished like a diamond and ready to be seen by people but I want to dive into the next book too; ideally, I’d like to get the first draft of the next book finished by August 1 ( a bit of a reach, if I do say so myself), and the next finished by September 1, but we’ll see how that all turns out. Stranger things have happened.

I also realized yesterday that the story revision I was working on won’t work for the anthology call I was planning on sending it to–a quick reread of the guidelines made me realize it wouldn’t work, didn’t fit, and was beyond a big stretch to fit (several times before I’ve submitted stories to anthologies that was a stretch to fit the theme; every time the story was turned down. It’s entirely possible the stories weren’t good, but at the same time, they wound up being placed somewhere else, so there’s that…anyway) so I decided that there was another one that did fit, so I dug it out, printed it, and am going to read it sometime this week to get a better idea of how much revision it will need. Considering the only draft of it was written in about 1989 or 1990, I’m assuming that would be a LOT of revision required. It’s kind of a stretch as well, but it could work.

I wasn’t able to get near Woodrell’s Tomato Red yesterday, but I’m taking it with me to the CareVan for testing; I can read it between clients. Last night, we got caught up on both Orphan Black and Veep; tonight it’s back to Animal Kingdom.

Such an exciting life, eh?

So, here’s a hunk for you on a Tuesday to get you through till Hump Day tomorrow:

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Daydream Believer

Monday morning, and this is an odd week. Paul leaves to visit his mom for a week on Thursday, and then it’s a four-day holiday weekend for me after I get off work on Friday, not having to return to the office until the following Wednesday. I have, of course, big plans for the weekend–plans which involve cleaning, organizing, and writing/revising, of course, as I always seem to, and most likely, I won’t get everything done that I want to get done. This always seems to be the case.

I started reading Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red yesterday, and while I  didn’t get very far into it, it’s extraordinary, and I can see why Megan Abbott is not only a fan of his (she wrote an introduction to this edition of the book) but why she also recommended his work to me so highly. The voice! The language choice! And the action starts almost immediately within the first sentence. I am really looking forward to getting further into the book.

I also couldn’t stop thinking about Reflections in a Golden Eye yesterday, which makes me tend to think that perhaps I should have blogged about it so soon after reading it; McCullers’ genius is kind of a slow burn. The seemingly cold, emotional remove she took from her characters–which I initially understood as not caring about them–was actually kind of necessary for the reader to be exposed to the lives of these damaged people who lived near a Southern military base, and McCullers also didn’t offer up their lives for authorial judgment; instead, she presented the entire story and the characters  as “here are some people and here is what really goes on behind closed doors, past the facades that everyone puts up to fool everyone else into thinking they’re normal, although what really is normal anymore?”

We also started binge watching Animal Kingdom yesterday; I finally found Season One on Amazon Prime, and whoa, what a show. Hot guys, a crime family headed by Ellen Barkin in a sizzling performance, a gay subplot, lots of gratuitous male skin, and a story that twists and turns in ways the viewer can’t anticipate; I don’t understand why this show isn’t generating more buzz or more interest, and Ellen Barkin’s failure to get an Emmy nomination for Season One (maybe it wasn’t eligible until the next Emmys, I don’t know) is a mystery to me. I don’t get why more people aren’t talking about this show; I think I only heard of it because we were watching something else on TNT or TBS (Samantha Bee, most likely) and I saw a preview for Season 2, which is currently airing. Anyway, I’m glad I found it. We have three more episodes to go in Season 1 before we can move on to Season 2, so between this, The Mist, and Orphan Black, we’re kind of set on things to watch now. While Paul’s gone I am going to watch shows/movies I wouldn’t be able to see if he were home–stuff he doesn’t want to want or has no interest in–and I’m also hoping to get a lot of reading and writing done.

We’ll see how that plays out, won’t we?

So, here’s a hunk to start your week off properly.

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Keep On Loving You

Sunday and I have a lot of work to get done today. My kitchen is an absolute mess; I have a load of laundry in the washing machine; and I have to get back to writing and revising. I was terrible yesterday; I took the day off from doing anything and everything. I was tired, and so thought relaxing was okay for me. I did wake up early this morning and feel somewhat refreshed and relaxed, which is quite nice, actually. I intend to get a lot done. Yesterday I intended to get a lot done, but got sidetracked by the LSU baseball game (GEAUX TIGERS!), and the Tigers defeated number one ranked Oregon State for the second day in a row to make it to the finals this week; a best of three series starting Monday night. It’s an all SEC final; the Tigers are taking on the Florida Gators, whom they defeated in the SEC tournament finals and will have vengeance on their minds. Should be a fun series, and of course we’ll have an SEC team as national champion again, regardless of who wins. Woo-hoo!

I read Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye yesterday. I enjoyed reading it, and McCullers has a really unique grasp of language. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a really short novel, and I would have liked to see it go a little deeper. The book felt very emotionless and cold to me–not something I recall taking away from The Member of the Wedding all those years ago–and given the twisted personal dynamics of the characters and their interactions with each other; the adultery, the deeply closeted self-loathing,  the mental illness of Alison  and her strange relationship with her Filipino houseboy, the odd single-mindedness of the young private with whom the self-loathing closet case becomes attached to; there were just so many ways to tell this story more deeply rather than skimming over the surface the way McCullers chose to tell her story. And it’s such a fascinating story, too. I’d like to watch the film again–I saw it on television years ago and so much had been cut out it was barely understandable, but a great cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and Julie Harris.

My next read will be Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red.

We started watching Spike TV’s The Mist last night–I finally found the Spike app for my Apple TV, duh–and while the dialogue isn’t great and the acting is not good, the premise is great, and I’m hoping the show finds its voice and the actors find their characters; it’s great when a show starts out of the gate on fire, but some are more of a slow burn before they get their legs. Supernatural, for example, really got going in its second season. The Mist is one of my favorite King novellas, and I actually really enjoyed the film that was already made of it. I’m not sure why they decided to make a series out of it–there are so many great King stories and novels that haven’t been adapted, and some of the others seem much more series-friendly than The Mist…I would personally love to see The Talisman made into a series, for example, and The Eyes of the Dragon–hell, even Insomnia would make a great TV series. Or The Regulators/Desperation…oh, maybe someday when I am a television producer.

As if.

All right, I guess I should head back into the spice mines. Here’s a Sunday hunk to get your week off to a pleasant start.

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Can’t Fight This Feeling

Saturday! Yesterday was so obnoxiously humid that I was completely exhausted when I finished all the running around I had to do yesterday; it was all I could do to stay awake. Regardless, I cleaned the kitchen–even doing the floors–and started work on the living room before collapsing into my easy chair with a book in the early evening and dozed off while reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Not that it’s not a good book, but I was simply tired.

I often talk about how, despite my voracious habit that goes back as long as I can remember, that there are many classics of literature I’ve not read (including Huckleberry Finn). I was thinking about that this week, because I’d ordered two sets of books–a set of Hemingway and a set of Fitzgerald–that my dad owned, having gotten them from a book club, when I was a kid (I’d already found the Faulkner set on ebay; which is where I found these others as well). I don’t remember if it was the Literary Guild or the Doubleday Book Club or what, but my dad joined one of those mail-order book clubs and got those three sets of books–I suppose thinking that we needed nice copies of classic books by three of American literature’s most shining (straight white male) lights (I think he later added a set of Steinbeck, but I could be wrong; that might have been me in my teens.)

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I took an American Lit class my sophomore year in high school, and it’s from that class–as well as the American Lit class I took in college–that my antipathy to many classic writers was born. I think reading The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Babbitt, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms in high school, when I was too young to really appreciate them kind of ruined them, and those authors, for me. I’ve not reread the books, so I don’t know if I still wouldn’t care for them; but I do know that I’ve gone on to read other books by some of those authors and liked them (Steinbeck’s East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time; Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here are terrific; and I really enjoyed This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I’ve never revisited Hemingway, as my visceral response to the two books of his I did actually read was so strong. But I am going to give it another go; I am going to read The Sun Also Rises (my father thinks For Whom the Bell Tolls is the greatest American novel; but Dad and I rarely agree on anything cultural), and I am also going to reread The Great Gatsby at some point. I may even give The Grapes of Wrath another go; it actually kind of bothers me that there are ‘American classics’ that I didn’t like and may not have because I wasn’t old enough or mature enough, as either a human or a reader, to have enjoyed and appreciated.

But Christ, there is so little time to read everything!

Which is one of the reasons I am reading this McCullers novel (although calling it a novel is quite generous; it’s only 127 pages so it’s really a novella) is because I’ve not read much of McCullers (The Member of the Wedding in college, didn’t like it–but there is, I think, something about being forced to read something that makes me dislike what I am being forced to read; I should probably revisit Flannery O’Connor as well), and I am thinking that I probably should.

Ah, today’s storm is about to break, so I shall take that as indication that I should put on my helmet and get back to the spice mines.

 

Time for Me to Fly

I took today off from work; I am starting to wear a little around the edges (it happens more frequently the older I get, alas) and so two long weekends in a row, I felt, might be necessary in order for me to recharge my batteries. I’m not sure why–other than I’m older, which is something I refuse to either accept or accede to–but there it is. I started rewriting a story yesterday–this is the sixth draft, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to make it really work, and last night we watched another episode of Claws, which is really terrific; it’s so nice to see Neicy Nash finally in a complex role and she is tearing it up. We’re also going to start watching the Ellen Barkin series, Animal Kingdom, probably this evening. I can’t seem to find The Mist anywhere, though; but its reviews aren’t good, so maybe that’s a good thing? Pity, because it’s one of my favorite King novellas.

I also finished reading Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone last night.

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Daddy was on the phone, talking soft and low, dropping behind them on the path. Nothing new. He was always on the phone–or on the computer. Penny knew that her daddy loved her, but she also knew that he was almost never paying attention. He was “busy, sweetie,” or “with a client,” or “just a minute, honey, Daddy’s talking to someone.” He was a good story-teller, a bear-hugger, always opened his arms to her, lifted her high, or took her onto his lap while he worked at his desk. Mommy couldn’t lift her anymore, but Daddy still could. She loved the feel of him, the smell of him. He was never angry, always funny. But sometimes she had to say his name like one hundred times before he heard her, even when she was right next to him.

Dad. Dad? Daddy!

Honey, you don’t have to yell.

How could you not hear someone who was right next to you?

If Mommy was out and Daddy was in charge, then she and her brother could: eat whatever they wanted (all you had to do was go into the kitchen and take it; he wouldn’t even notice); play on the iPad forever (he would never suggest that they read a book or play a game together); ride their plasma cars up and down the long hallway from the foyer to the living room. And it was only when they got too loud that he might appear in the doorway to his office and say: “Hey, guys? Keep it down, okay?”

I can’t remember who it was that insisted I read Lisa Unger, but I owe that person a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Ink and Bone is the second Unger novel I’ve read (the first was Crazy Love You, which I read last year and loved), and I enjoyed this one even more than the first one I read, and I loved that one.  Unger is an extraordinary writer; with an uncanny ability to tell her readers who a character is with a few brushstrokes that are so honest and real and true that the reader immediately knows exactly who that person is; and her ‘villains’ are all the more terrifying for being so absolutely real.

Both books I’ve read of hers were set in (or around) a small town in upstate New York known as The Hollows as well as in Manhattan. The Hollows is one of those towns; like Stephen King’s Castle Rock, a town where paranormal things happen: people can see ghosts, commune with the dead, or hear The Whispers in the woods; the dead trying to tell their stories. There is also human evil in The Hollows; whether these people are drawn there by the paranormal force (one character in Ink and Bone calls the town a ‘hellmouth’) that is active there, or if that force draws the evil out from their hearts.

The story at the heart of Ink and Bone is missing children: the Gleason family rented a woodsy cabin in The Hollows for the summer; the marriage between Wolf and Merri is teetering because of his adultery and her Vicodin addiction. Merri is too zonked out on Vicodin to go for a walk in the woods with her family; on that walk both her husband and son are shot, and her daughter Abbey taken. This disappearance, and the fact that both parents are considered suspects by the police, has further shattered the marriage, perhaps beyond repair, and Merri is convinced her daughter is still alive. She goes back up to the Hollows and hires a local private eye, Jones Cooper, to look for her daughter. Jones works with Eloise Montgomery, an elderly local psychic–but in this case, Eloise passes the case along to her granddaughter, Finley.

Finley is a the crowning achievement of this narrative; a young heroine with complicated emotions and a gift she doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t know how to control, and isn’t sure she wants. She is heavily tattooed; the ghosts she sees she has transformed into tattoos on her body. She is sort of involved with a tattoo artist, Rainer, who loves her and followed her to the Hollows from Seattle, setting up shop in the small town. She isn’t sure how she feels about him, or whether she can get more serious with him thanks to her gift/curse. She has a close relationship with her (sometimes maddening) grandmother, who sort of Yodas her about the gift; never really explaining anything and often responding to her questions with ambiguous non-answers. She has a difficult relationship with her own mother, who is estranged from Eloise and has rejected fervently the gift. Finley, though, is seeing things now; things that may lead her to Abbey.

The book is extraordinary, and while Finley is the primary point-of-view character, we get to see things from several others as well; secondary point-of-view characters who not only advance the story but also enhance our understanding of what is going on, who they are, and Unger makes us care about them, warts and all. She is an incredibly gifted storyteller, and I defy anyone to put the book down during the last hundred pages or so.

Unger has written many novels about the Hollows, and about Jones Cooper; having not read them all nor having read them in order, I can’t say whether reading them in order enhances and enriches the reader’s experience or knowledge; maybe reading them in order is a more satisfying experience. But I can say that not reading them in order isn’t a hindrance, like so many other series or interconnected books.

You need to be reading Lisa Unger, Constant Reader.

And I think next I shall read Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

And now back to the spice mines.

Time for Me to Fly

Thursday. I guess the storm has passed, as all is calm and sunshiney outside this morning. It actually was last night as well; I wound up with the entire day off because all of our testing events were cancelled, so I got to watch Real Housewives of New York in real time, and then Paul and I started watching Claws, which we really like. I’d forgotten I have the TNT app on our AppleTV, so we can also watch Ellen Barkin’s new series, Animal Kingdom,  as well. Now if I could only find that Nick Jonas playing gay show, Kingdom, we’d be all set for a couple of weeks.

I wound up not working on the WIP yesterday; I needed a day off from it after working so hard to get caught up on it, and I’ll be diving into it again tonight after I get home from work. I am very excited about it–trying not to get that way; one cannot allow oneself to get TOO excited about anything in this business; that is the quickest way to madness–but I am happier with this manuscript than I have been with any other I’ve written in a very long time.

I also spent some time yesterday in my easy chair with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap while I read more of Lisa Unger’s stunning Ink and Bone, which is simply extraordinary. The great thing about discovering Lisa Unger last year with Crazy Love You is there is an extensive backlist; I have a lot of great  reading in my future thanks to Ms. Unger’s talents and work ethic. Huzzah!

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday for you, Peter Barton from his The Powers of Matthew Star days.

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Ridin’ the Storm Out

I can’t remember the last time we got this much rain in New Orleans. It seriously feels like it’s been raining non-stop every day for months. And I don’t mean the usual, around- three-every-afternoon-it’s-gotten-so-humid-it-turns-into-rain rain; I mean, nonstop, pretty much all day long every day rain, sometimes with thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure as well. Of course, yesterday, today,  and tomorrow it all has to do with a tropical weather system; which means endless rain until at the very least Thursday, and maybe even beyond.  Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel is in town, or at least was; that’s always unpleasant. The naming of this storm as Cindy also makes me uneasy; Cindy was a named storm in the summer of 2005 that came through New Orleans, something that most people have forgotten about that summer of storms. Katrina was actually the third storm system to hit New Orleans that year; in July, in back to back weeks, we were hit by Cindy and Dennis. I had a very visceral reaction when I heard what this storm would be named, quite frankly.

Heavy sigh.

The good news is I am back on schedule with the revisions! Yes, somehow I managed to pull it off, primarily because yesterday I was able to get through four chapters before I went to work. I’m now on Chapter Eleven, of nineteen; if I go back to one per day the whole thing will be finished by the 30th, in time for another going-over on my four-day holiday weekend. I need to rewrite the ending almost completely, though, so that won’t be as easy; there’s a twentieth chapter that needs to be appended onto the book that wraps everything up. As I get closer to the final chapters, there’s going to be a lot more work to be done. But I am enjoying myself, enjoying getting my ‘house’ in order. And that’s something.

I’ve also decided on what story I want to submit to a major anthology later this year; and I know exactly how I need to completely revise the story I’ve selected to make it better, to give it a better shot at getting accepted. It’s still a long shot, but I am determined to get into one of these anthologies one of these years.

I also need to run to the grocery store this morning, which could be horrifying–it depends on how people are reacting to this coming storm. I get the sense that most people aren’t too concerned about it–it’s not like work was cancelled today or anything–but I do need bread and milk, which are always amongst the first things to go with a storm coming. Heavy sigh.

Ah, well. Might as well get a move on; groceries aren’t going to just magically appear on my doorstep.

Here’s a hot guy in the rain:

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