The Warrior

Wednesday, and I finished the first draft of my short story yesterday. It’s quite dark, and I quite love it, but it needs some serious polishing and editing. I changed my mind about the ending while i was writing it, you see, and that changes some things back at the beginning. I want to have that finished by the end of the weekend, as well as another story I’ve worked on recently. Huzzah!

I am also thoroughly enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire. I do highly recommend it, even though I am not even halfway finished with it, it’s that engaging. Sure, the plot could go off the rails, but I rather like the main character and the story she is telling–both the crime itself as well as the main character’s story in confronting her past–is quite enjoyable.

This weekend, I have to work Saturday and we are going to a Christmas party that evening; Sunday we have tickets for The Last Jedi and I am very excited. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, of course, and I wisely chose to buy tickets in IMAX during the Saints game, so I am assuming the theater won’t be full. Hoping, at any rate, and since we live close to the Superdome the traffic will be going the other way in both instances as we head out to Harahan to see the movie. It’s a much more busy weekend for me than I would ordinarily prefer, but the next weekend is a four day weekend for Christmas and of course, the next is the three day weekend for New Year’s. So…not really having a full day at home this weekend isn’t going to be nearly as traumatizing as it could be.

Anyway, I am really happy with my story. I was asked to write a story for an anthology of crime stories inspired by the work of Joni Mitchell, and when I chose my song, read the lyrics and listened to it again, I really went down a rabbit hole and man, did it ever get dark. Really dark. But what was also fun about it was having to research malls in the early 1990’s; research can be a bit of a drag sometimes, but for me, most of the time it’s so much fun because it triggers a lot of memories, or inspires me even more if it’s from before my time. (note to self: do some research on Washington DC in the early 1950’s; I’ve written a story set during that time but I’ve never done the back-up research, which could be incredibly fun.) Usually, when I write a story that’s set during a time I lived through, I depend on my memory–which ain’t what it used to be, but priming the pump by looking up things on-line triggered memories; memories of stores and displays, the way malls smelled, the parking lots and so forth.

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

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The Warrior

Yesterday I wrote approximately 3300 words of a short story that is due by the end of the month, and I am rather pleased with how it’s going, if I might be so bold. It flowed rather easily from my keyboard also; I’m hoping that mojo will still be there as I try to finish the draft today. It’s dark–when are my stories anything but dark, really–but I am very happy it’s getting close to completion in this draft. I would love to have it finished so I can spend my weekend revising and editing this and another short story I finished in a first draft recently.

I also mapped out a young adult novel over the weekend I’ve been wanting to write for years. I originally wrote it as a short story back in the 1980’s, calling it “Ruins”; I’ve always thought it would make a really good y/a novel if I could figure out how to deal with some societal and cultural issues with it which really couldn’t be ignored. And then I realized, this weekend, that the best way to deal with them is to face them head on. It will get criticized, of course, and I may even get called out, but you can’t not write something because you’re afraid of repercussions, can you? And hope that good discussion comes from it.

Then again, it could just come and go without notice. That happens, too.

This year has mostly been, for me at least, a struggle to write. I’m not sure what has caused this for me; the year had some remarkable highs–the Macavity Award nomination; the Anthony Award win–but for the most part it’s been a struggle with self-doubt and it’s horrible twin sister, depression. I don’t know why this happens to me; I always find that writing–even if I have to force myself to do it–always makes me feel better, even if the work isn’t going particularly well. Sinking my teeth into a story, feeling the characters come to life in my mind and through my keyboard, always seems to make me feel better. I also can use the writing as a way to channel things that upset or bother me; writing is an excellent way to channel anger and rage and heartbreak and every other emotion under the sun. But as this bedeviled year draws to a close, I am feeling creative and productive again; and most importantly, driven.

Then again, tomorrow I could feel like crap and be all ‘why bother’ again.

This is why writers drink.

I’m also really enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, even as it is reminding me of Megan Abbott’s The Fever. There are some similarities; although in Abbott’s novel the mysterious illness in the girls is current and in Ritter’s it’s in the past. But it’s very wwell written, and there is some diversity of representation in her characters. It also reminds me a little of Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, with it’s small town Indiana setting and it’s strange story from the past. (If you’ve not read Abbott or Rader-Day, buy their books NOW. You’re in for a magnificent treat!) The book also makes me think of my own Kansas past…and book ideas I have that mine that past. Reading good books always inspires me…and that really is the ultimate compliment I can give Ritter’s book. It’s inspiring me.

And that’s terrific.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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The Heart of Rock & Roll

I have to admit, giving up resisting that my Scotty novel needs to go back to the drawing board–and even get a new title–has been an enormous relief. Enormous. I was never sold on the original title anyway, and as we all know, Gregalicious can’t write anything unless he has, at the very least, a really good working title. So, Crescent City Charade is out, and Royal Street Reveillon is in, at least for the moment. I am also considering St. Charles Second Line, for the record. But I kind of want to do a Christmas-related story. I am still planning, so we shall see how that goes.

It’s hard to believe Christmas is two weeks from today. Paul and I are probably not going to buy each other gifts this year; we are still hoping to go to England in the spring (and maybe Paris), so we’d rather save our money for that rather than buy each other gifts. I’m a little distrustful, though; Paul often does this and buys me gifts anyway so I look like a wretched person. That’s not, of course, his intent but rather how I feel. Although there are a couple of things for the apartment I could ostensibly get and say are gifts for him….hmmm, that’s a thought, now isn’t it?

I started reading Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire last night, and am really enjoying it. I didn’t get very far into it, but I really like the character’s voice. I can see why this got such rave reviews; I certainly hope the story is going to develop nicely; I’m not sure what the story is quite yet, but it’s getting there.

Okay, sorry to be so brief, but I’ve got lots of spice to mine today!

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Union of the Snake

So, I braved Costco AND the grocery store on a frigid Saturday two weeks before Christmas; but I did manage to get a lovely space heater at Costco which has already changed everything in the frigid kitchen.  I also forgot to turn the heat off when I went to bed last night, but it wasn’t obnoxiously hot upstairs–which makes me tend to think that it must have been really cold outside last night. But whatever. I am up this morning, my kitchen is getting warmer thanks to the space heater, and I have some things I need to get done today so I am going to buckle down and try to get it all done as much as possible. Next weekend I have to work on Saturday, so it’s a very short weekend for me, but I can hang with it.

Pual went to a gallery opening last night for the guy who donated his art for the cover of the Saints and Sinners Anthology, and so while Scooter dealt with his abandonment issues by sleeping in my lap I got caught up on this season of Riverdale; I hadn’t realized they hadn’t gone on midseason break and had missed two episodes, with the midseason finale coming up this week. I am pleased to report that KJ Apa was shirtless a lot in last week’s episode (finally), and this season’s mystery is deepening nicely. It really is a good show, probably the best young actors on a teen soap-style show I’ve ever watched, and visually it’s just stunning. I also got our tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi for next Sunday at one, which is also incredibly exciting. I only have to avoid spoilers for a week.

I also watched two episodes of Soundtracks last night, the CNN series about how cultural and societal events influenced the popular music of the time. I watched the episodes about gay rights and Hurricane Katrina; each one made me unexpectedly tear up at moments as I remembered things. I recommend the series; I’m going to keep watching it. CNN series are really quite good; I’ve enjoyed their Decades series and their History of Comedy; and when I am not in the mood to write (or finished for the day) and not in the mood to read, they’re an excellent way to pass some time.

I think I’m going to read Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire next. It’s gotten some excellent reviews, and I’m a fan of hers; Jessica Jones was terrific, and Paul and I both enjoyed Don’t Trust the B, her one season sitcom. I actually think I may spend the rest of the year focusing on reading y/a fiction, to be honest. I have a lot of amazing books in my TBR pile, but…I want to get the WIP whipped into shape to start the agent hunt again in earnest next year; and I have two more y/a manuscripts to whip into shape as well as the Scotty to completely redo. I hate having to throw out eight chapters worth of work–and maybe some editing can get them into decent shape and usable again. As I said, in talking to my friend Susan last week I realized the plot I was developing for the book simply doesn’t work; primarily because New Orleans is such a small town, and New Orleans society is an even smaller one. There’s no way Scotty wouldn’t have known something before he was surprised with it; just given both sides of his family he would have met the person any number of times and would have heard about him; that kind of throws that plot right out the window. Maybe the entire thing should just be scrapped and I should start over completely. I don’t know.

But so yes, there’s a lot I need to get done. I also have a short story due by the end of the month I need to work on, another project is also calling my name, and I have a grant application I need to get ready. I’ve decided to start applying for grants, long shots that they are; but you cannot get one without applying, and while I may not have an MFA or a Ph.D. behind my name I do have an awful lot of publications; my c.v. is at least fifteen pages long–and it hasn’t been updated in years. But I think I have proven that I can write. And I think perhaps a collection of personal essays, of experiences and observations I’ve made throughout my life, studying our culture and the deep flaws in our society and culture, could actually be rather interesting. I have years of diaries and blog entries to cull from; and I often find writing personal essays, on those rare occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to write them, quite rewarding. My favorite essay is “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”, which was in Love Bourbon Street, and was edited down to be included in another collection, and I could possibly make that the lynchpin of the collection. I also want to pull together my horror and crime short stories into a collection, which will undoubtedly have to be self-published. So many projects, so little time.

And yes, reading Joan Didion has inspired me a bit on that front.

And on that note, I am going to dive back into the spice mines this cold morning in New Orleans. Here’s a lovely hunk to get your week off to a lovely start:

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Twist of Fate

It snowed yesterday in New Orleans, and it is still cold today–albeit sunny. I am sitting at my desk this morning wearing fingerless gloves so I can type, a  knit LSU cap on my head, and a blanket wrapped around my legs. I also have to go to Costco at some point today, and I also have to get some things done. Needless to say, a temperature around fifty at my computer doesn’t make that more likely. I may check into space heaters at Costco today–although I may check the attic. There should be another one around here somewhere.

When I got home last night I turned on the heat and cleaned the upstairs, then grabbed a blanket and headed for my easy chair.I stopped reading The Last Picture Show when I got to the bestiality part (which I’d completely forgotten about) and even though there’s an even more important part of the story after the cow-rape (seriously), I just couldn’t pick the book up again. I know I can skip over that part, but honestly. I didn’t remember it, or the relatively nonchalant way McMurtry talked about it in the book–like it’s very common place amongst farm boys (literally, “every farm boy has done it”)–and I don’t know…I still have fond memories of the book, but despite the fact that it’s still really well written, I don’t know if I’m going to keep reading it; although I suppose if I continue reading it as an example of toxic masculinity…and the homophobia in it–what would toxic masculinity be without some good old homophobia?–is also not easy to read; because it’s so casual. 

Then again, that was the thing about the culture back then (it’s set in the 1950’s); the hate was so casual and matter-of-fact. It’s a short book, I may go back to it later today. (And interestingly enough, Larry McMurtry also co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, so there’s that.)

Speaking of homophobia, I was scrolling through HBO Now last night looking for something to watch, and noticed they had American Gigolo available. I had watched that movie only once, years ago on videotape, when a female friend had rented it. I didn’t remember much about it, other than Richard Gere was so incredibly beautiful and at the end Lauren Hutton came through for him at the end, and Blondie’s “Call Me” played over the opening credits and it was criminal that the didn’t at least get an Oscar nomination for Best Song. It should have WON, damn it. It’s a great song and it still holds up today.

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I also remembered that it wasn’t very good.

That memory was correct, but watching it again…so much wasted potential in this movie. It could have been a noir classic.

Gere plays Julian, or Jules, who basically is a gigolo, and not cheap. He works for several different pimps–one a blonde woman with a great beach house, the other a black gay man–but Jules is so in demand and so good at what he does-and let’s face it, Gere smolders. You can see why he catches everyone’s eye when he walks into a room, and no one wears an expensive suit like he does–but he’s also become incredibly arrogant because he is so good. Both of his pimps argue with him about the split on jobs they get for him–but he’s so good he always gets his way, but both warn him that his attitude and ingratitude to them is going to bite him in the ass one day. The gay pimp sets him up with a kinky job in Palm Springs–he has to be abusive to the woman while the husband watches–which makes him incredibly uncomfortable but he does the job well because the pimp tells him they want him back. Jules throws the word ‘fag’ around a lot–“I don’t do fags” etc., which, as someone who is paid for sex, I can certainly see why he would want to be clear on what he does and what he doesn’t, but again–casual homophobia. He meets and falls for Lauren Hutton in a restaurant at a posh hotel, who turns out to be an unhappy politician’s wife. They embark on a secret affair, but she turns out to be his alibi for the night the Palm Springs wife is murdered…and he can’t tell the police about her. This is also kind of where the movie goes off the rails. The crime itself is treated as an afterthought, and Jules being suspected and investigated–and he is being framed–are all secondary to his development as a character; all of this is just a moral lesson for him about being humble and how you shouldn’t treat people badly because they won’t stand by you when you need him, all the while he’s making this incredible noble sacrifice for the woman he loves.

A woman is brutally murdered as a plot point and pivot so Jules can learn humility.

Whoa. And wow.

And even the resolution doesn’t make sense. Turns out the gay pimp pulled off this elaborate ruse and frame just to teach Jules a lesson in humility? I wasn’t really clear on this at the end; it didn’t make sense to  me the first time I watched and it still didn’t make sense this time. The confrontation with the pimp ends with him accidentally knocking him off the balcony, but Jules tries to save him, but he can’t hold him. He falls to his death with Jules literally left holding his boots. He is taken in by the police and arrested, refuses to speak to his lawyer, but then Lauren Hutton comes forward and alibis him for the original murder, because she loves him…and they speak to each other through glass in the prison’s visiting room when she tells him she’s cleared him because she loves him. The end. And my first thought was, well, your alibi isn’t going to do him any good NOW that he’s killed the pimp, even if it was an accident. So you just blew up your own life for no reason because he’s still going to jail.

None of that was resolved. It’s really a shame, because it could have been a great noir classic. And it many ways it is actually a good film, and highly original: it was one of the first movies to ever focus so heavily on male beauty, and Gere is often in underwear or naked (full frontal, at that) or shirtless; the camera lingers over him lovingly the way it previously only did for women; the soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder was excellent and also the first time electronica music was used for a film score; and the entire film is beautifully shot. But the writer/director didn’t see it as a film noir or a crime film; he saw it as a character study with a redemptive arc, and that was where the film fell flat.

Pity.

And now back to the spice mines.

Drive

It is cold, gray and wet again this morning in New Orleans; the high is predicted to be 42. 42! Honestly. I turned the heat on yesterday and honestly, forgot to turn it off before i left for the day–and usually this makes the upstairs an inferno. Nope, it was merely comfortable up there when I got home from work last night. So, I turned it off when I went to bed, and turned it back on again this morning as I shiver at my computer. Heavy sigh.

But Paul comes home tonight, hurray! And it’s also Friday, so I have a short day today to usher in the weekend. I got an unexpected royalty check yesterday–it’s so lovely that the Frat Boy books from Kensington are still selling, all these years later–and that altered my weekend errand plans somewhat. There’s also no Saints game on Sunday, nor any college football, so I have absolutely no excuse to not clean and edit and write this weekend. I do hate that college football season is over almost entirely, but hey–what can you do? LSU did far better than I could have hoped after a rocky start, and the Saints did a lot better than I thought they would have, especially after that 0-2 start.

Last night, I finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and started rereading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, which is my favorite novel of his. I read it the first time when I was about twelve, I think; and have reread it several times since; but I haven’t read it again in over twenty years, and I found a copy when I was cleaning out the storage unit and dragged it out. It’s not the first book people think of when they think of McMurtry–that would most likely be his Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove–and I’ve read a lot of McMurtry–not all of it, certainly–but I’ve always had a special regard for this novel. But I’ll talk more about that when I’ve finished the reread.

Meanwhile, The Blunderer by Highsmith was quite an interesting read.

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The man in dark-blue slacks and a forest-green sport-shirt waited impatiently in the line.

The girl in the ticket booth was stupid, he thought, never had been able to make change fast. He tilted his fat bald head up at the inside of the lighted marquee, read NOW PLAYING! Marked Woman,  looked without interest at the poster of a half-naked woman displaying a thigh, and looked behind him in the line to see if there was anyone in it he knew. There wasn’t. But he couldn’t have timed it better, he thought. Just in time for the eight o’clock show. He shoved his dollar bill through the scallop in the glass.

“Hello,” he said to the blonde girl, smiling.

“Hello.” Her empty blue eyes brightened. “How’re you tonight?”

It wasn’t a question she expected to be answered. It wasn’t.

And so begins Patricia Highsmith’s third novel. The thing that is so terrific about Highsmith is you really never know what you’re going to get with her; her plots are fiendishly original and clever, and so deliciously dark and relatable in some way. The Blunderer opens with Melchior Kimmel establishing an alibi for himself by going to see a film and being seen…and once seen and recognized, he keeps going and exits, heads for his car and then follows a bus north. At a designated rest stop he parks out of sight, finds his wife, who has gotten off the bus, convinces her to follow him to go and chat, and once they are out of sight he brutally murders her.

He gets away with it, too–he was seen at the movie theater, remember, and no one saw him at the rest stop. His wife’s murder remains unsolved.

Until lawyer Walter Stackhouse sees a notice in the paper about the murder. It intrigues him. He writes essays, or wants to write essays, about what he calls ‘unequal friendships,’ where one friend is lesser than the other and yet the better friend seems to get dragged along by the other. This murder fascinates him, and he starts trying to think how the husband could have done it and gotten away with it…and actually figures it out. Walter is also unhappily married; his wife, Clara, is frankly awful and is trying to ruin his friendships with other people and isolate him; yet she also makes him terribly unhappy. He tried to leave her once before and she threatened to kill herself, so they patched things up. But he is now introduced to another young woman whom he’s attracted to…and somehow Clara has figured this out and continues to make him miserable.

His idle fascination with the Kimmel murder eventually leads him to visit the bookstore Kimmel owns and operates, orders a book, and decides, after having seen Kimmel, that he must be innocent. His own life, meantime, gets worse. He tells Clara he wants a divorce and she attempts suicide. She gets out of the hospital and is just as awful as ever…and then her mother dies and she has to go back to her hometown in Pennsylvania to attend to things. She takes the bus. Obsessed with the Kimmel case, and wondering if he could, in fact, kill his own awful wife…he follows her bus in his car. When they reach a rest stop, he gets out of his car and looks for Clara…and cannot find her. But he’s seen…and later, Clara’s body is found at the bottom of a cliff. Suicide or murder? The police think it’s suicide at first…but the similarity to the Kimmel case is there….and his own fascination with that case now comes back to bite him in the ass.

I greatly enjoyed this book, as I have all of Highsmith’s that I’ve read thus far, and I love how she deftly changes directions in ways the reader cannot see coming. You can’t help but feel for Walter in his horrible dilemma, and the way his life starts to slowly spiral out of control all because he happened to read about an interesting murder in the newspaper. As the weird connections between the two cases slowly come to light, no one believes Walter is innocent–not the police, his friends, his co-workers, his maid, nor even his new love. It’s an extraordinary story, and the way Highsmith heightens the tension until it’s almost unbearable, the two parallel stories crossing and recrossing, is quite exceptional.

Highly recommended.

Sister Christian

It’s cold, gray, and damp in New Orleans this morning. I would guess it’s probably less than sixty degrees inside the Lost Apartment–I am wearing a wool cap and my hands are cold as I type this–but I also have a short day of work today, and I intend to use this time wisely this morning–writing, cleaning, etc. Paul returns home tomorrow everning late; so I am going to need to finish cleaning the upstairs. I bought our advance tickets for Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi yesterday; Sunday of opening weekend so I won’t have to avoid spoilers on-line as long as I did for The Force Awakens. Woo-hoo!

I’m about halfway through Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and marveling at how bleak her world view is, to be honest. Highsmith writes in a very distant third person point of view, and her voice is terribly matter-of-fact, which makes the reality of the story she is telling much worse. Highsmith is a master of the wrong-place-wrong-time suspense tale; which is something I absolutely love. These kinds of stories build suspense naturally; the reader and the main character know they’re innocent of any wrong-doing, but no one else believes them, which also tends to make them paranoid and the pacing picks up the more paranoid the main character becomes. I sort of did this in Bourbon Street Blues, only Scotty’s only crime was to be the unwitting recipient of something both the villains and the FBI wanted to get their hands on. You can’t, of course, turn that type of a tale into a series, although part of the problem I’ve always had with writing Scotty books is I’ve always tried to turn each new book into a traditional mystery series tale, and Scotty books aren’t, and should never be, a traditional mystery tale. I always run into trouble when I try to make them out to be that way.

Heavy sigh.

I managed to get some work done on a short story yesterday as well; I’d love to get that first draft finished sooner rather than later, so I can polish it and get it into submission-ready shape.

Lord, it’s cold in the kitchen this morning. I may have to go get a blanket in a moment.

Christmas looms on the horizon, and I have yet to shop for anything. I will finish the Christmas cards this weekend–yes, I actually started addressing them and signing them and putting them into envelopes; I may even get them in the mail so people can receive them before the holiday, look at ME adulting–and I also probably should do some shopping this weekend. I need to make up my mind whether I want to simply shop on-line or if I want to actually brave a mall. I used to abhor malls, but over the years as I spend less time in them the rare occasions I actually go to them turn out to be kind of enjoyable. Lakeside Mall has both an Apple Store and a Macys, and that’s usually all I need to do at a mall, besides the Food Court–I always treat myself to something at the Food Court whenever I go to one; and yes, I am aware how weird it is that fast food is something I consider a treat. But I never eat fast food; there’s really not anything conveniently accessible, which made moving into this neighborhood a genius move for that reason alone.

And on that note, I think it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a Calvin Klein ad for your delectation; Marky Mark from the 1990’s for Throwback Thursday.

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