Sweeter Than Fiction

It’s gray and drizzly this morning in New Orleans. I haven’t looked at the latest tropical weather watch, primarily because I don’t really want to know the status of Beta, which became a named storm in the Gulf last night. I am kind of worn out with tropical weather at the moment, and maybe after another cup of coffee I can deal with it. But right now? Not so much.

I slept extremely well last night, and stayed in bed much longer than I should have this morning. I had intended (well, the intention wasn’t that sincere, since I didn’t set my alarm) to get up around eight this morning in order to start getting things done that I wanted to get done today; I actually did wake up around seven-ish, but since it was seven-ish I stayed in bed and wound up remaining there for another two hours. I don’t have a sleep hangover, though, the way I usually do on those mornings when I sleep later than I should, and so that’s something, at any rate. And I am pretty confident that once I do have that second cup–which is brewing right now–I’ll have the energy and motivation to get those things done.

One of those things is working on the book. I don’t know why I’ve been so lackadaisical about writing for the last few weeks (I know, it was the struggle with depression, which always makes writing difficult, plus the lack of discipline that comes with not having a deadline), but that needs to stop and I need to get back to work and get back on track. I’m not going to worry about being behind at this point–there’s no point in thinking about that, since there’s no way I will ever get caught up to where I wanted to be at this point with the book, so why bother being concerned with any of that at the moment–but I think I should be able to get some good work done on the book today, and then I am going to decide on which short story in progress to focus on finishing. There’s a veritable cornucopia of short stories that are in progress, and I need to decide which one has the most likely chance of being finished, which is always fun. It would be great if by mid-October I had stories out for submission at the various markets I usually try, as well as some of these anthologies that are upcoming and look promising.

I decided yesterday to put Babylon Berlin aside for the moment; it’s well done and very well-written, but it’s also very dense, and I’m not sure I can handle something dense right now–which I realized last night was why I’ve not been able to pick the book back up again and keep reading. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the depression I’ve been struggling with lately–the last few week, at any rate–and recognizing that while understanding what’s going on with me mentally so as to not be beating myself up over not getting things done, not writing, and not reading is even more counter-productive and only makes the depression worse. I was thinking of going back to the Reread Project or the Short Story Project, one or the other; but last night we watched The Devil All The Time on Netflix, and that kind of changed everything for me.

The movie is exceptionally well done, and it’s one of the most amazing rural noir, or Appalachian noir, films I’ve ever seen. One of the signs for me, as I always say and you’re probably tired of hearing, of good films/good books is that they make me think and inspire me to do better work. This was precisely the movie I needed to see to break through the depression and whatever-else-it-was-I-have going on with Bury Me in Shadows, and while this film was set in West Virginia and southeast Ohio, the Appalachian connection was there. The mountains in Alabama, or the lower foothills of the mountain range, are part of the Appalachians, and while I have always thought of northern Alabama as Alabama and singularly of Alabama, as I watched the movie last night I kept thinking this is the world my parents grew up in, and what I’m trying–in my own way, to recapture in this book.

As we watched the movie, I kept thinking to myself, this has to be based on a book and when the end credits rolled, I was pleased to see that not only was I correct, but the author of the book was someone I not only had heard of, but whose work had been recommended to me by friends whose opinion I deeply respect: Donald Ray Pollock. I also thought I have a copy of one of his books here somewhere, but not the one this movie is based on. And sure enough, I did find it last night before I went to bed: The Heavenly Table, and I decided, after looking at the first page, this is the book I am going to read next.

I do highly recommend The Devil All The Time. It’s a great film, if bleak, and extremely well done. The performances of Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson are exceptionally fine ones–at one point in the big confrontation scene they share I reminded myself , this is Spider-Man and Batman–and frankly, I don’t know how all this works anymore with Oscar nominations and so forth–if streaming movies are eligible for Oscars or Emmys or what–but both actors deserve recognition for their performances, as do some of the rest of the supporting cast. (Sebastian Stan, the Winter Soldier, also is in it and also gives a great performance.) Kristin Griffith, in particular, as Arvin’s grandmother, was stunning. It’s violent, it’s dark, and above all else, it’s honest and unflinching.

As I watched, one of the things that struck me was how real it was, despite all the death–whether suicides or murders–and I remembered something I was thinking about earlier while working on my own book, a recurring thought I’ve actually included in the book: the history of this county is written in blood. It reminded me of how in those kinds of poor, rural communities tragedies are borne with stoicism in public and talked about in hushed tones by others–yet still talked about, and very plainly, in a matter-of-fact “this isn’t a big deal” kind of way, like they’re talking about the weather. “Emmie Lou’s granddaughter is pregnant, and wasn’t yesterday’s rain a blessing? Yeah, Emmie Lou doesn’t think the boy is worth a bucket of spit, but thinks they’ll go ahead and get married, but it won’t last. My butter beans are coming in nicely.”

And that’s something I’m sort of missing in Bury Me in Shadows–but it’s also not written from the perspective of someone local, either; so it’s a bit different.

Since I just finished my second cup of coffee I decided to go ahead and take a look at the National Hurricane Center website, and it looks as though Beta isn’t going to be much of a threat here–at least, not at the moment–but it is out there, just off the Texas coastline, churning away, and I wonder if this rain this morning is because of it? Teddy appears to be heading northward away from the Gulf and up the Atlantic coast, and Wilfred is out there in the Atlantic with potential to come into the Gulf. It’s also only mid-September, and hurricane season doesn’t end until November 30. Sigh.

Last night, the news about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was pretty devastating; we have lost a giant, and I did go into a horrific downward spiral about the future of the country in the wake of her death before watching the movie. Ironically, I think that horrible news, combined with the inspiration drawn from the art of the movie, combined to break the horrific depression I’ve been fighting for so long and snapped me out of it; as though my subconscious processed the news while I slept and thought, yeah, this isn’t the time to give up. Yes, it’s tiring to have to keep fighting for the country and getting my work done, and it would be incredibly easy to just give into despair and stop–but really, what choice do we have? Even writing my books are resistance in their little way; by writing about gay characters and themes and issues, I am resisting against those who would silence us, those who would deny us our humanity, those who want us to just go away and be done with it.

I’m tired–we’re all tired–but if we give up now, all the work we’ve already done is for naught.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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