Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Respect Yourself

Saturday, and a big day for one Gregalicious.

I have some things to do this morning before I am interviewed around noon for a radio show, after which it’s errands, including the (groan) grocery store. It’s only for a few things, so it shouldn’t be too hideous….yet it is going to be hideous. Sigh. But then I am spending the afternoon watching the Iron Bowl and tonight’s LSU game. Will the Tigers manage an undefeated regular season? We’ll find out tonight.

It’s going to be weird going back to work–these unstructured, do-what-you-want-when-you-want days have been kind of lovely, and addicting. I don’t have any regrets about the things I didn’t get done, either. I went into this week without making a to-do list, and primarily rested, physically, mentally and emotionally.  I’m very happy that I chose to do this, and rested rather than drove myself insane trying to get things done, or playing catch-up. I didn’t do as much cleaning and organizing as I thought I would, but that’s just how the week managed to play itself out. My kitchen is a mess this morning, so I need to get that all straightened up and cleaned, and there’s some laundry to fluff and fold. I also have to pay the bills this morning–another odious chore–but one that cannot be avoided any longer.

There’s also no Saints game tomorrow–so if I want, I can get a lot done tomorrow–whether writing, reading, or cleaning.

Last night I stumbled onto a documentary series on the National Geographic channel about the 1980’s; I’d already watched the CNN docuseries, The 80’s, and tremendously enjoyed it, so as I was killing some time before Paul got home, I settled in and started watching. I’m not much for nostalgia, really; I don’t spend a lot of time looking back on my past or the events of my life too frequently. The past is the past, and while one can learn from it, after all, one certainly can’t change anything that happened in the past. But watching these docuseries is a kind of reminder; and this series was called The Decade That Made Us, which I thought was an interesting take. A lot of stuff that started in the 1980’s, naturally, is bearing fruit today–cell phones, personal computers, etc.–and of course, it’s always difficult to watch and remember the 80’s in terms of HIV/AIDS–you simply cannot do a docuseries about the 1980’s and not mention HIV/AIDS, or remember that it wasn’t, really, that long ago. (Sure, it’s getting further and further into the past with each day, but still–1980 was forty years ago; in 1980 the second world war was only forty years in the past.)

But one of the novellas in progress I am writing, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is set in the not too distant past; 1994, to be exact. I’ve always written, for the most part, in the ambiguous present, with a few exceptions (“The Weight of a Feather” is one; it’s set in the early 1950’s), and it can be a bit difficult at times to remember, no he wouldn’t have had a computer or cell phone and trying to remember how we functioned without instant, immediate access to each other. (There was a really funny part in the docuseries last night where someone basically said that–“how did we meet up before cell phones? We made plans, days in advance, and included directions like “meet me under the clock at Grand Central at 4″…I had forgotten, or rather just not thought about, that….) It’s interesting trying to remember what 1994 was like, who I was back then and what was going on in the world. My main character is a  gay man who has just retired from the military, having found out he was about to be purged as a gay (gays in the military was a political battle the Clinton administration was fighting back then; “don’t ask don’t tell” was the disgraceful compromise that came out of that fight–but it was, pathetic as it was, better than the previous system, which was dishonorable discharges.) and, with no family left that he’s close to, decides to come to New Orleans to start a new chapter of his life as an openly gay man at thirty-nine, and what that experience is like. There’s some element of crime and suspense to the story, but it’s really about that feeling of liberation when you’re finally free to be yourself, while still living in the shadow of HIV/AIDS. I love the idea of this story, and am having fun writing it, remembering what New Orleans was like back then, and what it was like to be gay in New Orleans at that time, as well.

I may never do anything with it, but I’m having fun writing it, and that’s really the most important thing.

I am seriously considering doing a collection of novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons, but am not sure if there’s a market or an audience for it. I already know what the next novella would be, and then all I need to do is come up with two more.

Heavy sigh. Like it’s that easy, right?

Ah, well. And now back to the spice mines.

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Is This Love

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

Here it is, Friday, and the last few days of my vacation, such as it was. I do not intend to mourn not getting anything much accomplished over this week; I did get some things done and for that I am profoundly grateful. I am also truly grateful for the opportunity to relax, rest, sleep, and overall just recharge my batteries; at my advanced (advancing) age that is necessary sometimes.

Yesterday was lovely. In the morning I finished reading Colson Whitehead’s terrific The Nickel Boys (more on that later), which was simply brilliant–I think I liked it better than I liked The Underground Railroad, which I also loved–and then started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, but didn’t get very far into before Paul woke up. (I intend to spend some times with it this morning, once I get this filthy disgusting kitchen cleaned up.) We spent the afternoon watching the first three episodes of Dublin Murders (terrib;e, terrible title), which is based on Tana French’s In the Woods and The Likeness. I’ve not read Ms. French’s work; I do know she is critically acclaimed and enormously popular–but as I always say, too many books and far too little time. I do intend, after watching the first three episodes, that I will most likely now add French to the TBR pile. I do not know, for example, if the show is a faithful adaptation; there were a few things that confused me a bit, but I imagine that is made much more clear in the novels.

We also watched the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!). The game was strange and sloppy and weird; the Saints had difficulty scoring touchdowns, and at the last minute it looked as though the Falcons’ furious comeback attempt might actually succeed. However, the Saints defense looked pretty amazing for the most part, and they stepped up to sack Matt Ryan on a fourth down that pretty much ended the game, with the Saints clinching the division and guaranteeing that at least their first play-off game will be in the Superdome.

As I have said before, it’s been a banner year for Louisiana football fans, between the Saints and LSU.

After the Saints game, we tried to start watching the AMC adaptation of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, but couldn’t really get into it. I tried reading the book, but couldn’t get into it, either. I also tried with Hill’s Horns, both book and film, to no avail. Hill is a fine writer–I absolutely loved the short stories of his I read during last year’s Short Story Project–and I want to like his novels, but am afraid they just aren’t for me. I’ll undoubtedly continue reading his short fiction, and will undoubtedly try to read his novels again at some other point.

I’m also sorry I missed the bizarre end of the Mississippi-Mississippi State game; I considered switching over to it after the Saints game ended, but as I am not a fan of either team…it’s hard to watch a game simply for the joy of watching a well-played football game if you can’t root for one of the teams; I always try to pick a team in any game I’m watching when I am not a fan of either….but wasn’t up for it last night. Apparently the Rebels scored a potential game-tying touchdown in the closing seconds, and simply needed to kick an extra point for overtime. But one of the Rebels’ players mocked the Mississippi State team by going down on all fours and lifting his leg, like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant (the MSU team name is Bulldogs) and they got flagged for a fifteen-yard penalty….and then missed the extra point, so game, set and match to the Bulldogs. An incredibly stupid thing to do in the heat of the moment, although I do feel a little sorry for the player–as he will never ever live that down.

No matter how frustrated I get with college players, I always try to remember they are really just overgrown kids; most of them still in their teens.

Tomorrow will be a big day of football–with Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and then LSU-Texas A&M; so I doubt I’ll get much done tomorrow. I do have some errands to run in the morning–prescriptions, mail, possibly grocery store–and after that I’ll be parked in my easy chair watching college football and reading during breaks. There won’t be a Saints game on Sunday, so I intend to spend that day trying to get organized and figuring out my writing schedule for the rest of the year–although I’ve not had much luck with scheduling writing this year so far, have I? But I do believe I’ve cracked the code of the current manuscript as well as the one on deck, and it’s just now a matter of writing it all down or correcting the computer files and pulling it all together.

Sounds easy, at any rate, doesn’t it?

And now to do these dishes, start my review of The Nickel Boys, and back to reading the Benedict novel.

Have a lovely day after Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

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The Finer Things

Ah, Thanksgiving.

Yesterday I made mac’n’cheese for the office holiday pot luck; it was specifically requested, so despite the fact I am on vacation and could have easily laughed and said, “too bad so sad’…I actually went ahead and made it, then went into the office while I was on vacation. 

So out of character for me to be so nice.

But the good news is the missing flash drive was sitting on my desk, right where I left it. Huzzah! Crisis–such as it was–averted, and there was much rejoicing in the land. I immediately backed it up to both the Cloud and to my back-up hard drive (just in case), and am scheduling back-ups on my calendar. Perhaps someday I will learn from all these disasters and near-misses…probably not, actually. If I didn’t learn from the Great Data Disaster of 2018, nothing will teach me anything when it comes to backing up files.

It’s Thanksgiving, and it will be a quiet day in the Lost Apartment. After I finish this, I am probably going to go dark with the Internet for the day–it’s not really a holiday if you spend it on social media, etc, is it? I am going to retire to my easy chair after I post this and read The Nickel Boys, with an eye to getting it finished today. The Saints play the Falcons later tonight, for a chance to clinch the division–but given how they played a few weeks ago against the Falcons, I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope; unless that previous game was an utter aberration. It may well have been; I’ve not seen the Saints play that shitty since the game where Brees hurt his thumb earlier this year.

Although it does feel somewhat like my vacation is slipping through my fingers and I’m not getting hardly anything done. On the other hand, I undoubtedly needed a vacation to rest and relax and get back into the swing of things. The new goal is to get the WIP finished by the end of the year, possibly get the Kansas book finished by the end of Carnival, and then move on to Chlorine. I’d also like to get some of these short stories finished; I’ve decided which story to revise and submit to the Sacramento Bouchercon anthology, and I think it’s a good one. Probably wind up being too dark–my stories are always so much darker and cynical than my novels–but at I am going to give it a shot. I’ve not submitted to any Bouchercon anthologies other than the ones I’ve edited; I’m not sure why that is. I just couldn’t figure out anything that would work for the Raleigh or Toronto ones; so this is a step in the right direction.

So, what am I thankful for this year? I’m thankful for my day job, and my writing career, and all the gloriously eccentric and wondrous friends I have. I’m grateful to be able to live in New Orleans, my favorite city in all of the country, and even more grateful that I can write about it. I’m grateful that Paul and Scooter and I have managed to make it around the sun one more time, relatively healthy, and that I get to share my life with them.

Most of all, I’m thankful for my coffee this morning.

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Rhythm is Gonna Get You

Thanksgiving Eve is here, and I am about to make my famous mac’n’cheese for the office potluck. Yes, I am going into the office on one of my vacation days, but there are worse things I could do. I have some errands to run today anyway, so after I leave the office I shall run them. It’s also payday, so I get to spend a moment or two or three paying the bills this morning. Yay? I guess I should just be grateful I can pay the bills, right? I have a book to pick up at the library and the mail, and I should also stop and get some groceries while I am out; not a major shopping expedition–perhaps enough to get us through until Saturday, as I am not going anywhere near any place to shop on Friday.

That would be madness.

And while that will make a dent in my day, it’s fine. I’ll just do some cleaning and organizing–my electronic files, particularly in the cloud, where I just throw things with a flippant I’ll worry about organizing them later mentality on an almost daily basis, with the end result that the files are a complete and utter mess. I also want to get some more work done on reimagining the current book. I’m now torn as to whether the first chapter is necessary or not; or if I should simply start the book with his arrival at Birmingham airport. There’s something a bit cliche about starting a book with your main character arriving at an airport, and that also would mean a shit ton of back story to shoehorn in, so that it all makes sense–so there, I’ve just worked that out in real time, see how a writer works? I struggled with revising the first chapter yesterday, so naturally my mind went to, this is hard maybe I can just cut the chapter. 

Always, always, always looking for the easiest, laziest way to do something. Shameful, really.

I also managed to waste some time yesterday trying to track down George Washington Cable’s stories about Madame LaLaurie. A post by the Preservation Resource Center here about the LaLaurie house on Facebook yesterday led me down into that wormhole; I shared the post along with the comment I am going to write about the LaLaurie house of horrors someday (see: Monsters of New Orleans) and someone commented that Cable had written short stories about Madame LaLaurie (who is probably most famous outside of New Orleans due to her being a character on American Horror Story: Coven, played by Kathy Bates), and so then I went for a deep dive, trying to see if I could find copies of the stories on-line. I got sidetracked into Project Gutenberg for a while, where I found his novella Madame Delphine, which was NOT about Delphine LaLaurie. I did eventually find the stories I was looking for, and will read them at some point.

Cable is not the only writer from the past to write about New Orleans and Louisiana history that I’ve not read; I’ve also not read much of Arnett Kane or Robert Tallant or Lafcadio Hearn or Lyle Saxon; some, but not much. I’m not entirely sure they are completely trustworthy as sources, but I am going to read them for ideas at the very least. I also need to spend some time at the Williams Research Center and the Historic New Orleans Collection, as well as the Louisiana Research Center at Tulane. I’m greatly enjoying these little journeys into New Orleans’ past that I’ve been taking over the last year; I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is giving me a definite feel for colonial New Orleans, which is going to be enormously helpful.

Especially for this Sherlock Holmes in New Orleans short story I’ve agreed to write; which will also entail reading some Holmes stories, to get a feel for the vibe and the tone and the voice. I’m enormously fortunate that I have two dear friends who are Sherlockians, and have agreed to read my story before I turn it in for pointers and notes and so forth.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. I have a lot of cheese to grate for the mac’n’cheese….have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Wanted Dead or Alive

The past month been an interesting one, so much so that I’ve not really been able to get a whole lot of anything writing related finished. This is partly my own fault, of course; I should have repeatedly resisted the urge to continue to read and refresh pages and follow links and so forth; but like a train wreck, I wasn’t able to ever tear my eyes away from the carnage.

As I said to a friend at the height of the drama, “Every time I think the last car of the train has come off the rails and the wreck is finished, here comes another train on the same tracks and I am mesmerized all over again.” I’ve read blog posts and Facebook posts and Twitter threads, over and over again, my mouth wide open and there being literally no way to keep my jaw from its permanently dropped position other than using both hands to push it up and then hold it in place.

I mean, wow. What a month it has been for both the crime and horror fiction communities.

This is a roundabout way of getting to a question that has come up a lot in the last decade or so, and one I’ve thought about a lot, but have never really addressed very much…but with all these shenanigans going on recently, I started thinking about this again, and it also played into my thoughts about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, and my recent read of I the Jury by Mickey Spillane; two enormously popular novels by well-regarded crime writers that might not hold up as well through the modern day lens as they perhaps did when they were originally released.

And that ever-present question of the artist versus the art.

Probably the first time I’ve ever thought about whether it’s possible to continue to enjoy art despite the artist was, of course, the film Chinatown. I never saw it in the theatrical release, but it’s widely regarded as one of the best crime films ever made; I remember it was nominated for like ten or eleven Oscars in the year it was released (which, if memory serves, was the same year as The Godfather Part II, which pretty much won everything imaginable), and the debate about the movie has raged ever since Polanski fled the country to avoid statutory rape consequences. I find that abhorrent; and any defense of Polanski’s indefensible behavior irrelevant to me. But I wanted to watch Chinatown, and Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite horror movies of all time; I revisit it every now and then. So, how can I justify watching and enjoying these two films directed by someone who did something heinous? When I was finally able to stream Chinatown a few years back, I justified it to myself by saying it was 1. before the statutory rape and 2. if I didn’t review or talk about or promote the film on social media or on my blog, streaming it through a service I already pay for isn’t contributing much, if any, money to Polanski’s bank account.

And yes, I am very well aware of how ludicrous and torturous those mental hoops I jumped through actually are.

There was also the Orson Scott Card debacle a few years back, and I didn’t jump through hoops on that one. I had read and enjoyed Ender’s Game, and had thought about reading more of Card’s work…until I discovered he was a horrific homophobe who actually worked, donated money to, and actively sought to block gay equality in the United States. 

Nope, sorry, done.

It’s one thing to have abhorrent opinions about a minority; it’s another to actively work–and use the money you’ve earned through your art–against the rights of that minority. Fuck all the way off, Mr. Card, and never come back.

Which brings me to The Hunter.

the hunter

When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to  hell. The guy said, “Screw you, buddy,” yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down to the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.

The 8 a.m. traffic went mmmmmm, mmmmmm, all on this side, headed for the city. Over there, lanes and lanes of nobody going to Jersey. Underneath, the same thing.

Out in the middle, the bridge trembled and swayed in the wind. It does it all the time, but he’d never noticed it. He’d never walked it before. He felt it shivering under his feet, and he got mad. He threw the used-up butt at the river, spat on a passing hubcab, and strode on.

Richard Stark is one of the pseudonyms of crime writer extraordinaire Donald Westlake. I will be the first to admit, repeatedly, that my education in not only literature but crime fiction is sorely lacking; there are many authors whose works I should have read and haven’t; Westlake is one. I read my first Westlake a few years ago, a Hard Case Crime edition of The Comedy is Finished and it was amazingly good. I ordered a copy of The Hot Rock shortly thereafter; alas, it is still in the TBR pile., and I do intend to get to it at some point.

Westlake also happens to be an inspiration to one of my favorite queer writers, Rob Byrnes, who writes witty, Westlake-like queer caper novels (if you’ve not already read him, you must do so immediately).

I first discovered that Westlake was also Richard Stark when these Parker novels he wrote under that name were brought back into print recently by the University of Chicago Press, and a crime writer I admire deeply, Chris Holm, announced he’d written an introduction for one of the books. Chris has never steered me wrong in his recommendations (for that matter, neither has his amazing wife, Katrina Niidas Holm, who was the one who steered me to Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, for which I will always be grateful), and so I thought, as is my wont, to start with the first book in the series, The Hunter.

And once I started reading it, as you can see by the opening above, I was caught up in the story and the voice.

But, as I said earlier, The Hunter was very much a novel of its time: 1960.

Parker was considered an anti-hero when the books first started coming into print–although today I suppose he would be considered a sociopath. He does live by a code, even if he is a sociopathic criminal; and one has to admire the dedication to that code, and how he never deviates from it. He doesn’t have an issue with breaking the law–in fact, he makes his living breaking the law–nor does he have a problem with meting out vengeance on those who do him wrong. In The Hunter, he is betrayed–and almost killed–by his partners in a high-stakes robbery; amongst those who wronged and cheated him are his wife–and he kills her without a second thought, and then goes after the rest of those involved in the scam, even though some of them are very well connected with the New York mob. (The mob is referred to as a ‘syndicate’ in the book; an old term I haven’t heard in a very long time, and it was a lovely piece of nostalgia. Organized crime was often referred to as a ‘syndicate’ back in the day.)

It’s tautly written, suspenseful (will Parker get his revenge, or will he be betrayed yet again?) and I kept turning the pages. I really enjoyed the book tremendously, and will go back and continue to read the Parker novels–I am curious to see how Stark developed the character and the continuing story of his life and career in crime, as well as to see how Westlake continued to develop as a writer under the name Richard Stark.

However–the casual homophobia of the time slapped me in the face a couple of times while I was reading the book:

Page Three: On the way, he panhandled a dime from a latent fag with big hips and stopped in a grimy diner for coffee.

p. 38: “She’s dead. So is your fat pansy. You can be dead, too, if you want.”

Yeah, I did kind of recoil, and in both instances I debated finishing the book. But…it was written in 1960, and the attitude towards homosexuality exhibited in those lines (including the slur pansy, which I haven’t heard in a while) was common. We can’t deny that it existed–we cannot deny homophobia exists today any more than we can that it did in 1960–and it was a sign of the times. Does that mean the book shouldn’t be read? Should it come with a trigger warning? A deep-seated contempt for homosexuality was part and parcel of the alpha male/tough guy persona of the times, and including that language in the book was an easy way to convey the no-nonsense masculinity of the character (it was also there in I the Jury–much more so in the Spillane than the Stark).

The attitudes towards women isn’t much better; but again, a sign of the times:

p. 135 He used one cord to tie her hands behind her, the other to tie her ankles. He found scissors in a desk drawer next to an inhaler, snipped off part of her slip and used it for a gag. She had good legs–But not now. After it was over, after Mal was dead, he’d want somebody then.

Ew, because killing someone is a turn-on? Although it fits with the character Stark has created; this is a man who killed his wife without a second thought.

But…I enjoyed reading the book. I suspect my enjoyment would have been greater in the past–I probably would have loved this series had I discovered it in my late teens and early twenties, but the world was a different place then, too. I am definitely going to continue reading the series; as I said earlier, I am curious to see how the character develops and changes and grows–or if he doesn’t, how bad he becomes. I am intrigued by the character, and of course, the writing is absolutely stellar.

I don’t think, for the record, books from earlier times should be held to the same standards as we would hold something newly published; times and attitudes vary and change over time. It’s hard to read an older book without the modern lenses, however; probably as little as ten years ago I would have dismissed the “pansy” remarks or the misogyny apparent in the character without feeling the need to point it out. I don’t think these books should be cancelled or not read; primarily because it’s incredibly important to have these conversations–as well as these works serve as a time capsule, a window into another time where things hadn’t yet changed but needed to, certainly.

I do recommend it; as I said, I will continue reading the Parker series and I am looking forward to reading more of the Westlake novels as well.

Let Me Be The One

Well, yesterday’s crisis was that I couldn’t find my flash drive again.

The bad news is I’ve been incredibly lazy about backing it up, so the most recent back-up is from July. The good news is my lack of productivity means I didn’t really lose much–if anything–and due to the computer problems I’ve had since the Mojave update last year, I’d been having some trouble with moving files around, so I’d been moving things into the cloud in addition to emailing them back and forth to myself, so I was able to retrieve everything that’s currently in some sort of progress.

The one time my laziness has actually worked in my favor. Yay, I suppose?

I suppose that’s something.

I did do some writing yesterday, which is something. But frankly, the annoyance over the lost flash drive pretty much ruined the day for work for me, so instead I organized and cleaned. And yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous that sounds. I did get started on revising Bury Me in Shadows yet again; I made a crucial decision about the story over the weekend (which is part of the reason losing the flash drive was so fucking annoying) and as such, have to go back to the beginning to pull it all together. Some of the decisions I made in the original texts of the manuscript weren’t working for me; which is what triggered the problems developing in the later chapters, and sadly, most of it had to do with the primary plot and the development of my main character. The more I thought about it the more contrived the entire set-up of the book was; and as an author, this is an absolutely horrible realization. While I don’t have a problem with having an unlikable main character, I do have a problem with an unrelatable one; there is no better literary legerdemain than having a main character who isn’t likable yet the readers can relate to, and understand, that character (Scarlett in Gone with the Wind is an excellent example of this, as is Amber in Forever Amber). Chanse was a really unlikable character, who does shitty things and reacts in shitty ways to situations, but he was relatable, which is why the series managed to last as long as it did–and it may continue again. But with my main character in Bury Me in Shadows, he has to be relatable otherwise the entire book fails; and I don’t think I was succeeding. I was trying to write the book in a distant first person; but that wasn’t working as a literary exercise and by keeping him at arm’s length from the reader, I was making it difficult for the reader to become vested in him. This means more work on the manuscript, of course–and there are some other plot points that simply didn’t work and didn’t make any sense. It’s very tempting to pitch the entire thing into a drawer and start writing something else entirely, quite frankly, but I really don’t need another manuscript in that fucking drawer already–not only because that feels like utter and complete defeat, but because that drawer is already overcrowded with about a hundred short stories and essays, as well as at least two novel manuscripts, and several novellas.

Heavy heaving sigh.

We watched the latest Castle Rock, and yeah, I think it’s safe to say the show has gone off the rails completely. This episode had nothing to do with Annie Wilkes, her daughter, or the predicament they’ve become involved with in Castle Rock since their arrival; and frankly, that story has been what has been driving the season thus far. There’s some other odd thing going on, involving the Marsten House in the neighboring town of ‘salem’s Lot, which kind of involves some weird kind of possession-type thing; this entire last episode did a deep dive into the strange goings-on at the Marsten House, and not only is it confusing; as Paul said, “it’s like there are two different shows being filmed as part of the same season.” I think this story–which reminds me a bit of the back story of American Horror Story: Roanoke–could have been interesting in a stand-alone season built around the curse on ‘salem’s Lot and the Marsten House; why it was grafted onto this season’s story about Annie Wilkes doesn’t make logical sense to me–but am vested enough in the season to stick with it and see if it does, indeed, all come together at the end. (I didn’t feel like the first season accomplished this, frankly; it was enjoyable and Sissy Spacek was fantastic, but didn’t, in the end, make a whole lot of sense.)

I do have some errands to run this morning–post office, grocery store–and I am hoping after that has been accomplished that i can come home and get to work on this manuscript again; it’s irritating me, like a sore tooth that I can’t leave alone.  There’s another proposal I need to get done, that I wanted to finish this week, and here it is Tuesday already  and I am nowhere near getting anything finished that I needed to get finished, which is, of course, highly annoying. But as I said, this current manuscript just can’t be left as it is, and maybe once I get the damned thing figured out, I can move forward with everything else. I think I have it figured out; I just need to get it down so I can say, with full confidence, that it works and I am satisfied….or at least as satisfied as I ever am.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines I go. Wish me luck!

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