Half of My Heart

So, it’s now Tropical Storm Sally, with landfall expected sometime on Tuesday, given its current projections, and we are right smack dab in the center of the Cone of Uncertainty–although the path overnight has shifted somewhat– it going right over us; with storm surge through Lake Borgne through the Rigolets and into Pontchartrain as well as the mouth of the river. The surge is only supposed to be a maximum of twelve feet, which is okay since the levees can handle up to sixteen, but yikes if you’re outside the levee system!

I got caught in a downpour yesterday while running my errands–file this under What Else Is New–which I honestly don’t mind; it’s kind of becoming expected for me. I’m surprised when I run errands and don’t get caught in a downpour. What’s annoying is how rain makes New Orleans drivers–never the best in ideal circumstances–makes them forget everything (what little) they actually know about how to drive and become even bigger morons. I am also amazed at how many people cannot deal with the possibility of getting wet in the rain, or having to walk a few extra yards in the pouring rain. Um, if I’ve learned anything about New Orleans rain in the nearly twenty-five years I’ve lived here, it’s that it doesn’t matter: you’re going to get soaked, no matter what, and once you reach a certain point in soaking wet it really doesn’t matter anymore. You can only get SO wet.

It’s really not rocket science, people. Seriously.

I started writing a short story which started forming in my brain on Friday night–“Fear Death by Water”–and that title is actually a quote from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Lands.” Nothing to fear here, Constant Reader–while I do own a copy of Four Quartets I’ve still not read it; there was a lengthy quote from the poem at the opening of a book I was moving in the ever-shifting attempts to declutter the Lost Apartment Friday evening–the book, which I loved and should probably reread, was Nightmare Alley, which my friend Megan recommended to me and it is quite the dark noir ride, But those four words–fear death by water–struck a chord in my creative brain and I heard the opening sentence very clearly in my head: But she would have never gone out on a boat, she was always afraid of water and as the sentence began to crystallize in my head, I started seeing the rest of the opening scene and also that this would be a gay NOPD detective Blaine Tujague story. So after I put the groceries away yesterday afternoon and before changing out of the clothes that got wet in the downpour and showering, I opened a new Word document and began writing this story. It stalled out about a hundred or so words in; I am hoping to get back and spend some time with it again today.

The vacuum works better now that the filter has been clean, but it’s still not as strong as it once was; or perhaps I am merely remembering it being more powerful. I am not really sure. It takes more than a couple of runs over things to get the properly vacuumed (I love that the Brits say “hoovered”, as they turned the brand name of a vacuum into a verb). So the Lost Apartment looks much better this morning than it has in a while, but i still need to get some more work on it done. It’s a start, though, and every little step works.

We watched The Babysitter: Killer Queen last night, and while the previews made it look quite marvelous, it wasn’t really. The highlight was Robbie Amell shirtless, and he was the only person in it who seemed to have committed to actually performing, other than the male lead and the new female love interest. (Note to producers: you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless.) We also started watching a new series called The Duchess, which had moments of humor but seemed kind of flat in all; we’ll give it another episode to see if it picks up. We are also sort of losing interest in Raised by Wolves; the most recent episode struck us both as a bit dull and we’re losing interest in the story; it’s taking a bit too long for the story to really start moving. I was playing Bubble Pop and checking social media while watching the fourth episode, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty damning indictment.

I also started Babylon Berlin yesterday, and it’s quite marvelously written.

I way overslept this morning. Our phones of course went crazy around six in the morning with the emergency alert about the state of emergency being declared with Hurricane Sally, which may now be a category 2 and again, I am worrying about the power situation more than anything else; I have a freezer filled with food that will perish should we lose power for a significant amount of time, which would absolutely suck rocks. It appears there will be lots of rain as well as high winds that we’ll be dealing with most of tomorrow; I’ve not received any notice yet about work so currently the plan is still for me to go in to the office. That, of course, could change at any moment, so we shall see. No, we aren’t planning on evacuating–but that may change given the power situation, and if we do lose power, at least I can get some reading done.

I plan on trying to make some progress with my emails today, as well as trying to work on the story and getting chapter eight finished on the book as well.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, wherever you are, and stay safe.

My Tears Ricochet

Ah, memory lane.

It’s a place I don’t go very often, frankly–or at least, try not to go to very often–because while memories can be lovely, there’s always that incredible danger of remembering things through the rose-colored glasses; the development of the sense that things were better in the past than they are in the present. Nostalgia is both intoxicating and addictive, and frequently, incorrect, which is why I try not to visit there more than once in a great while. We tend to not remember things correctly, and we also tend to remember things in ways that make us look and feel better in that same way, which isn’t terrible but can be dangerous.

As Constant Reader is aware, I was recently reminded me of that post-Katrina period, when I wasn’t sure about the future of either series I was writing and frankly, wasn’t sure about being a writer anymore. I had, after all, already accomplished my dream: I’d published fiction with my name on the spine, and had even published short stories. It seems funny now to remember a time when I thought I was finished with writing–particularly since that was over thirty novels and I don’t even know how many short stories ago–but those were pretty dark times. I do wish my memories of that time weren’t quite as hazy as they are; it’s almost like I am trying to look back (when I do try) through gauze or even darkness. But my blog entries from those days still exist; I can, should I want, go back and reread them whenever I would like to–which, I think, is part of the reason I continue to keep this blog almost sixteen full years after it began, even though I’ve moved it here to WordPress from Livejournal. I do miss Livejournal though, and I miss how easy it was to connect with other people there. Blogs are, so I’ve been told countless times, a relic of the past and my stubborn refusal to let mine go is seen as quaint. People don’t read them anymore and they don’t have the reach that they once did, but that was never why I blogged in the first place.

I have some errands to run today–which I am delaying doing–and it’s gray outside already. We’re scheduled to be hit by another tropical storm in the next few days, most likely on Tuesday, and the rain is supposed to start coming in later today–it looks like the clouds are already here, and really, would it be a Saturday of Greg running errands if it didn’t rain? I need to take my library book–the Rock Hudson bio–back, and I also need to really get going with the cleaning and the writing today, especially now that the vacuum cleaner is working decently again. I need to take the rugs outside and shake them out, and do the kitchen floor before I put the rugs back. I suspect while the kitchen floor dries will be either the time to start reading Babylon Berlin or dive into some short story reading; I am very behind on that, and anthologies and single-author collections continue to pile up in the section of the living room where I keep them in order to have easier access to them when I am ready to read a short story. I also got the hard copy of the issue of Mystery Tribune with my story “The Carriage House” in it; I’d like to read some of the other stories in that issue as well. I don’t feel exhausted today–then again, I haven’t run my errands either, which always drains me–so I am hopeful that it will be a good day of cleaning and reading and writing around here today.

We watched the new episode of Ted Lasso last night, and I have to again beseech you to start watching this show; it’s really quite charming and lovely and funny and moving in all the ways Schitt’s Creek hit all those same sweet spots. We also thought we were watching the final episode of We Hunt Together, but apparently there’s another episode that hasn’t aired yet on Showtime so there’s yet another one to go. It didn’t really engage me very much, to be honest; it’s entertaining enough, but I also found myself checking social media on my iPad and even playing Bubble Pop at times while watching–which really isn’t a good sign, is it?–and with all the great and terrific crime shows that are currently airing, or have aired recently (Killing Eve, Broadchurch, even the earlier seasons of How to Get Away with Murder), the bar is set pretty high and this one just doesn’t click for me on all of its cylinders, which is a shame; the potential was definitely there. There are also two new episodes of Raised by Wolves that dropped this week, Archer is returning this coming week (huzzah!), and we also are curious to watch The Babysitter: Killer Queen–we watched the original last week and found it amusing and entertaining, and let’s face it, you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell in tight jeans and no shirt.

The new version of Rebecca also has me meandering down Memory Lane a little as well. Timothy is of course my Rebecca pastiche/homage; and is one of my personal favorites of my own books. Rebecca has long been one of my favorite novels of all time–Daphne du Maurier really was a mad genius–and it, along with several other favorites (In Cold Blood, Blood and Money, The Haunting of Hill House) are long overdue for rereads.

It also occurred to me yesterday, as I was going through the list of submission calls I am considering writing (or rewriting) stories for, that I am getting close again to have enough stories for another single-author collection, which is both interesting and scary at the same time. I had originally intended to call my next collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but have also come to realize that the title story, “Once a Tiger,” is more of a novella than a short story, which is why I can’t figure out how to end it as a short story, and since I have several other novellas also in progress (“Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies”, and “Festival of the Redeemer”) that I should just do them all as one collection. I think the next short story collection will be either This Town and Other Stories, or Moist Money and Other Stories, but I think the former works better than the latter. I also have to wait for some of the stories that have been already sold to come out in print first before I can put together another short story collection, which is rather exciting….which is also why it’s so damned important that I get this current book finished.

Because I want to get these other things finished, too, and I really want to start working on Chlorine.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for now. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

It’s Nice to Have a Friend

Yesterday was kind of lovely, really. As I took a vacation day to get caught up on things, get some rest, and try to get the Lost Apartment under control again (I also discovered, among other things, that vacuum cleaners have filters you are supposed to clean monthly, which explains so much), it was kind of a nice day. I did get the bed linens laundered and a load of laundry done; I did the dishes and ran the dishwasher, and I also intended to vacuum, which is when I realized my vacuum cleaner has not been sucking properly in quite some time (I’d even looked into buying a new one, several times) and then thought, why don’t you google it and see if it’s something you can fix, which of course led to the shocking discovery about the filters. I removed it and washed it thoroughly (so disgusting, really). But, embarrassing as that was, it was also lovely to realize that I do not, in fact, need to buy a new one–at least until the filter has finished air drying, I reinstall it, and see if it starts picking things up again.

I also got a lovely notice on Facebook that my former editor at Alyson, Joe Pittman, had tagged me in a post, and when I went there to see what it was, was greeted with a reminiscence of his days at Alyson, and:

Hi everyone, it’s Joseph. It’s September. I’ve got another story of my publishing life, one of the most rewarding moments from my varied career. Let’s call it Love, Alyson Books.Okay, let me go back in time. It’s 2005 and I was hired by a small publisher named Alyson. The company had just relocated from Los Angeles to New York, and they were searching for a new staff. I applied for the Executive Editor position I saw advertised, got called in that day for an interview. I wasn’t exactly dressed for a job interview, but the woman I spoke with said that was fine. “I assume you have grown up clothes.”

I got the job, and two weeks later started. Every staff member had just been hired, and we had lots of manuscripts and contracts to cull through. From the publisher, to the marketing director, an editor, a production editor, and an assistant and me. That’s it, six of us. We had a big task set before us. Alyson had a storied history in the world of LGBT publishing and had released many iconic books. There was a lot on our shoulders.Our job? To bring Alyson into the 2000s, and show how LGBT themes had hit the mainstream. We had to totally revamp the list. We published 50 books a year, we had a very small budget, and as Executive Editor, I was told by the boss that I would be “the face of the imprint.” I embraced the role until it came to an ignominious ending.But in two and a half years, I felt I did some of the most important work of my career.

It started, horribly, with Hurricane Katrina, but led to a book and a series that would help define the LGBT past, present and future. It was a series with titles that began with the word “Love.” And that’s what these books were, love stories dedicated to a certain city, to a movement, to a community.The thing about working at Alyson, it wasn’t like traditional publishing, where agents sent you a manuscript, you read it, you liked it, you acquired it. Sure, we did a bit of that, but mostly we had to come up with our own ideas, track down authors who would be ideal in crafting our idea into a book. I hit the jackpot with an existing Alyson author, mystery writer Greg Herren. Greg lived in New Orleans, and he and his partner Paul Willis went through hell that late August. Katrina ripped their lives apart, as it did to so many others in the region. My idea, let’s get a bunch of writers together to pen nonfiction stories about their city. Why they lived there, what they loved there. Greg was reticent at first. The wounds of the city too fresh. But the book happened.

LOVE, BOURBON STREET was published to great acclaim, and that next year it won the prestigious Lambda Award for Best Anthology. I remember sitting in the audience when the book was announced the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud of Greg and Paul’s dedication to the project, I couldn’t have been happier for the city New Orleans.

Love, Bourbon Street is a book I don’t really remember much about, to be perfectly honest. It happened, and came about, in that gray time after the evacuation and before we were able to move back into the Lost Apartment (which, to me, closed the circle, even though the city’s recovery would still take more time–a lot more time); I think it even came out while we were still living in the carriage house amidst the clutter and boxes and praying every day that the Lost Apartment would be suitable for living again soon. I remember I was still house sitting for my friend Michael on the North Shore in Hammond when Joe called me with the idea–the great irony was earlier that day Paul had called me, and suggested we do a fundraising anthology about New Orleans by New Orleans writers, and I had emphatically said no. Most every one of the writers we knew were still displaced, no one could come back to New Orleans even if they wanted to, and we were all, from the blogs and emails I was reading, in bad places emotionally. I didn’t even know if I could write anymore; I was grimly writing a blog post almost every day so that the creativity wouldn’t completely stagnate, but other than that–nothing was happening. I had pitched a fourth Scotty book to Kensington, but at some point while I was on the road I’d emailed my editor there to say obviously I cannot write that book now–it was, ironically, going to be called Hurricane Party Hustle and be set during a hurricane evacuation when most everyone in the city had left, only for it to turn east at the last minute and spare the city (which had happened at least three or four times since we’d moved to New Orleans in 1996)–and I certainly never thought I was going to write another Chanse book; the second one had come out the previous year while Paul and I were still getting over the Incident and I think I did one signing for it; it came and went with very little fanfare and I had pretty much figured that series was dead in the water as well. I had been rewriting the manuscript that would eventually be published as Sara because an editor at a Big 5 publisher had asked me to write a y/a for them earlier that year and I’d decided that was what I would do after I, if I, ever finished Mardi Gras Mambo.

But I wasn’t sure if I would ever write about New Orleans again, or if there would even be a New Orleans for me to write about.

Given the fact, though, that Paul wanted to do this and my publisher called me later the same day to suggest it, my superstitious lizard brain decided it was something we needed to do; I don’t remember how long it took for me to either call Joe back or email him that we would do it, but we did. It was difficult to do, primarily because recruiting people spread out all over the country wasn’t easy, nor was getting people who were terribly depressed to try to write something about why they loved New Orleans when 90% of the city lay in ruins was a bit much. Also, people would agree to write something and then change their mind right before the deadline, which kept pushing the delivery date–already a tight turn around, because Alyson wanted to release it on the one-year anniversary–back. Finally, I pulled all the essays together into a single document, saw how many words were left to reach the contracted minimum, and started pulling together my own essay, the anchor piece, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.” I remember I worked on it over the weekend that Paul had his eye finally removed, and so he was asleep thanks to painkillers most of the time and would only wake up for me to clean the socket before going back to sleep. It ended up being almost thirty thousand words, and I really don’t remember very much about writing it, if I’m going to be honest; I don’t. I just remember pulling it into the word document of the manuscript, seeing that we now had the length requirement covered, saved the document, and hit send.

That same fall, as we were doing the whole Love Bourbon Street, Joe was also calling and emailing me, trying to convince me that I had a duty and obligation to write another Chanse novel. “You’re right there,” he kept saying, “and who better to let the world know how it felt, how it feels, and what’s it like to go through something like this?” Again, I kept resisting. I didn’t know if I could write, I didn’t know when i would write, I didn’t know anything. And then, in late September, I drove back into the city once it was reopened, to check out the damage to the house and see what all we had lost, as well as to see if anything clothes-wise was salvageable from the upstairs. As I crossed the causeway bridge and saw all the damage to Metairie, I recoiled from it all, felt sick to my stomach and a headache coming on; by the time I got onto I-10 I had gone numb again so I could handle it all. As I noticed the mud-line on the walls along the highway, the words It was six weeks before I returned to my broken city popped into my head, and as I came around the curve in the highway, right near the Carrollton exits and the Xavier campus and the Superdome came into view, the words started coming into my head and I knew that not only could I write this book, I needed to write this book.

As soon as I got back to my sanctuary in Hammond, I emailed Joe and said, I am going to do the Chanse book and it’s going to be called Murder in the Rue Chartres.

And yes, both books won Lambda Literary Awards (my only wins, out of 14 or 15 nominations in total) in back to back years.

So that’s the story of how a very kind and generous editor essentially saved my career as a writer.

It’s funny, because whenever I think about possibly doing a collection of essays, it always takes me a while to remember, well, you’ve already published one that will take up a quarter of the book.

And now, to have some serious cleaning joy with my clean-filtered vacuum cleaner.

King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

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

The Other Side of the Door

Friday and I am taking the day off from the day job. Yes, I know it was a short week already and I should probably save the vacation day for sometime later in the year when it would really come in handy, but this was a rough week for me and I feel entitled to take a mental healing day, so sue me, okay?

The Lost Apartment is, as always, a disheveled hovel that looks like two college-age males live here, and that always plays a part into my emotional stability. I am not sure why that is, but I simply cannot abide clutter and dust and dirty windows–being raised, no doubt, by a woman who made Joan Crawford look slovenly probably has something to do with it–and it always weighs on my mental stability, which is always tenuous at best. I had hoped to do something about that over Labor Day weekend, and while progress of a sort was definitely made, not enough to really make a difference; rather, it was more like a lick-and-a-promise; a mere surface touching that simply kept it from looking like a condemned property. But the heat has been so horrifically intense this year that doing anything in the kitchen/laundry room is misery, let alone going outside and climbing a ladder to clean the windows. But….if I get up early one morning, it should still be cool enough to be bearable.

Right?

One can dream, at any rate.

This morning is probably the morning I should have done the windows, ironically. It’s not terribly sunny this morning, and it doesn’t feel particularly hot here in the Lost Apartment, either. There are an insane amount of tropical systems being tracked by the Hurricane Center; I’ve seen reports ranging from four to seven; and there’s a low pressure system just off the coast here in the Gulf that apparently is going to bury us with rain even if it doesn’t develop into anything stronger. I also allowed myself to sleep in this morning–note to self: set alarm for tomorrow–and it felt terrific to get rest again. I’ve already started a load of the bed linens, and when I finish this I am going to start filing in an attempt to get the office under control. Today is my day to clean and start working through all the emails that have accumulated; and later this afternoon I will try to get some writing done. I’m also going to read a couple of short stories today, rather than diving into Babylon Berlin; I don’t want to risk getting sucked into it, which I suspect will happen. I’m also reading–and savoring–Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is another of his American Empire series; I’ve already read Century–and I’ve always enjoyed Vidal’s work whenever I can bring myself to read it. He has a very distinct writing style that I enjoy, but I also don’t think I would have particularly liked Vidal had we ever met; he seemed like a difficult person, and an intellectual snob–and there are few character traits I despise more than snobbery of any kind. But he was incredibly smart, and a talented writer; I know I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read–and would, and probably should, like to revisit both The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge again. (I would imagine Myra Breckinridge would not fly today…) I also find some of my reading choices this year thus far, looking back, to be…interesting. I’ve read a lot of plague literature, obviously, and now I seem to be gravitating to Civil War narratives. Curious.

Yes, I just got a local “tropical advisory” alert, and it looks like we’re going to get hit with a lot of heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Huzzah. Of course, I love rain–it’s the risk to my car from street flooding I don’t like very much. I mean, there’s nothing more comforting than sleeping, all warm and dry, inside when it’s pouring outside, is there? I’ve always loved that warm and dry feeling when it’s raining outside, even if I am simply inside a car driving through a storm. (It always reminds me of the Trixie Belden volume The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, which opens with Trixie and the Bob-Whites being driven by Miss Trask through a storm to a ferry to the island, and I think Trixie says something about that safe, warm feeling during storms, and it’s always stuck in my head as the perfect way to sum up why I love thunderstorms and downpours. And yes, so many things in my life inevitably lead back to the mystery series for kids I read as a child.)

Wednesday is also a work at home day for me, so I can just stay home and watch and listen to the rain while making condom packs and continuing my Cynical 70s Film Festival, which I think may move onto Chinatown and Don’t Look Now. I’ve already seen both of those, but as a lot of the films I am including in this “film festival” could also be considered crime/neo-noir, it only makes sense to rewatch both with an eye to the cynicism of the 1970’s as well as to the neo-noir aspects of both (in all honesty, I’m not really sure what the definition of neo-noir actually is; just as there’s no definition for noir, there really isn’t one for neo-noir, either; I suspect it’s because the classic films noir were black and white films and later noirs were filmed in color. I could be wrong, but that’s my takeaway). Don’t Look Now, is, of course, one of my favorite short stories of all time; and the film is extraordinary.

I’m also rather curious to see this new Netflix adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Constant Reader knows how much I love me some Daphne du Maurier; and of course, Rebecca is right up there as one of my favorite novels (the original Hitchcock film version is also one of my favorite films of all time; it’s why I generally have avoided remakes and the dreadful sequels to the original novel). Armie Hammer wouldn’t have been my choice to play Maxim de Winter, but the female casting–particularly Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers–is rather intriguing to me. I’ve always seen Mrs. Danvers clearly in my head as Judith Anderson–her performance was so definitive–that it’s hard for me to see anyone else in the role. Hammer is no Olivier, really, and I honestly think that if I were to recast the film currently I would have gone for Kenneth Branagh as Maxim, Saoirse Ronan as his second wife, and probably either Emma Thompson or Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. Danvers…I’ve also always wondered, whatever happened to Mr. Danvers?

Just like I’ve always wanted to delve into the psyche of Veda Pierce.

I kind of want to reread Mildred Pierce and Rebecca now. Sigh.

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

The Moment I Knew


Thursday, y’all, and I think I am going to take a vacation day tomorrow to try and help me get caught up on all the things I need to get caught up on. Another three day weekend, following up on the one just past already? To be fair, it kind of needs to actually happen, to be honest. I also have to remember to dedicate myself to making sure all the things I need to get done actually get done.

Which, you know, is the real trick here.

I also kind of need to pull myself together. While I am fully aware that there are certain things about myself I cannot control–depression, the mood swings, etc–it is still enormously frustrating to have to deal with them, try to work through them, get through them while trying to keep going with everything I am juggling these days. Part of it comes, undoubtedly, from my inability to ever get a handle on everything; even when I am making lists and working from them there’s always something I am forgetting when I make the list or something that comes up new after I make the list–and the list is so long and daunting to begin with that the thought of adding something else to it is paralyzing, which drags me back into the endless cycle of plate spinning to “Flight of the Bumblebee” again.

Obviously, the insomnia never helps either, nor does fearing, every night when I go to bed, that I am going to have insomnia again.

We started watching Mythic Quest last night on Apple Plus, and it’s not bad; we watched two episodes and I think it has the potential to become really funny; it stars Rob McIlhenny of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I was really surprised to discover that not only was he the driving force behind that show, but this one as well. We’re also watching We Hunt Together on Showtime–we started the other night, before getting distracted by Ted Lasso, which I absolutely love–and while it’s not bad, it’s not the best British crime show I’ve watched. It’s very unusual in that it features two mixed couples (a Black man and a white woman) on opposing sides of the law–the investigating detectives and the criminal couple killing people–and reflects the similarities of relationships and their dynamics in both; it’s like they are mirror images of each other if it’s a funhouse mirror. It’s an interesting choice, and the acting is superb; the female cop is played by Eve Myles of Torchwood fame, whose work I always enjoy.

During my condom-packing hours yesterday I also returned to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, this time watching Jane Fonda in her Oscar-winning role as Bree Daniels, the call girl, in Klute (what is with women winning Oscars playing prostitutes, anyway?). Klute is a very strange film, and it’s the first of what is called, by film scholars, the Paranoia Trilogy of director Alan J. Pakula (I have recently watched the other two, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men). Klute, to me, is a deeply flawed film, but an interesting one all the same. It’s a crime movie, the title character is a cop who takes a leave of absence to investigate the disappearance of a friend, and yet neither the cop nor the investigation are the lead story of the movie; it’s really a character study of Bree Daniels. Klute, the detective, is played almost completely emotionlessly by Donald Sutherland (obviously a choice made by both director and actor; since this is also the same period that produced his stunning performance in Don’t Look Now), so the emotional heart and center of the movie is Fonda’s performance. I came away from the film not entirely convinced by that performance; there was complexity there and some moments of truly fine acting, but over all–the film hasn’t really aged all that well (the underground world of orgies and call girls and pimps and heroin of Manhattan in the 1970’s it is trying to depict feels very screenwriter-ish to me; a film studio’s thoughts about how that particular subculture would look, walk and talk)–but I can see why she won an Oscar; those scenes where she is able to really inhabit the character are stellar. Klute is a subversion of noir/crime thrillers, really; by focusing on the character study of Bree rather than the story, it becomes less a crime story than the story of the unfortunate aspiring actress/model who turns to tricking to pay the bills and then is trying to leave the life but isn’t entirely able to; not only because she needs the money but because she likes the power of being in control–or at least, the allusion of control hooking brings her.

Imagine Double Indemnity if the focus of the film wasn’t the plan to kill Phyllis’ husband, but rather who she is and why she is the way she is.

The paranoia is also there in that Bree’s phone is tapped, not only by Klute but also by the killer. There’s another part of the film that is a flaw; the motive for the killing and the motive for hiring and paying Klute doesn’t really wash; but’s that probably also the crime writer/editor in me. I had also thought the film was based on a book but was apparently wrong; I could have sworn I remember seeing a paperback novel of Klute on the wire racks at Zayre’s, but of course it could have simply been a novelization of the film.

I did find Don’t Look Now also available to stream somewhere as I idly looked through all my streaming services apps last evening before we started watching Mythic Quest; I definitely want to watch that film again–and it’s not a bad idea for me to delve back into Daphne du Maurier’s short stories again. I may even have to read one of the novels she wrote that I haven’t read yet; there appears to be an adaptation of The Scapegoat (which I’ve not read) available to stream as well. The concept of the book intrigues me–the concept of the look-alike, which is something I’ve always wanted to write about myself. I’ve always had this idea of a bartender in a gay bar being approached by someone who thought he was someone else as a great starting place for a thriller; the problem, of course, being that now DNA would take away any possibility of an imposter passing for someone else. (FUCKING technological improvements.)

This idea came to me–not the least because of The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart–but because when I used to visit New Orleans before moving here, consistently people–locals–would come up to me and start talking to me like I was someone else; eventually I would point out to them that they didn’t actually know ME and they would be very startled. This continued for a year or so after we moved here–I would sometimes get bought drinks by total strangers who thought I was someone else, and now that I think about it, perhaps the reason so many bartenders gave me a drink for free now and then was because they thought I was someone else. But it stopped after living here for a few years–I’d forgotten this used to happen–but they would always tell me I had a double here in New Orleans; one that I never met or saw anywhere. Isn’t that strange? But I always thought it was a good opening or idea for a story–but of course now, as I mentioned before, DNA has ruined the imposter stories forever.

Today is a better day, so here’s hoping it lasts and I can get back on track.

Only the Young

And it’s already Wednesday! Well done, everyone, for making it this far.

Okay, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as usual, since this is a short work week (huzzah for Labor Day!) but there it is, you know. And it is a Wednesday, nevertheless, and we should be truly grateful that we have again made it to the midway point of the week, even if was relatively easier (comparatively speaking) this week than usual. But you know what? It’s still Wednesday, and I may–just may–take this Friday off and have another three day weekend. How’s about that?

I was very tired yesterday; we were busy during clinic hours and since I had to get up early, of course I had insomnia Monday night. So by the time I got home from work I was very tired–too tired to really think about starting to read Babylon Berlin, or to work on the book much–I did get a bit into the seventh chapter, but still, not very far–but I did decide to rename my story “After the Party” to something else: “No Place Like Home,” which I am still not crazy about, but it’s much better than “After the Party,” which is one of the lamest story titles I have yet to come up with, and I was quite happy to change the name of the file and folder on my computer, as well as print out the thousand words or so I’ve written on it with the new title on it, so I can get rid of the old print out and can deny to myself that I ever gave a story such a shitty title. It’s also a bait-and-switch story; it starts out going in one direction and then completely switches gears; the problem is I’ve gotten to the gear switch and am not entirely sure how to drive it in the new gear.

I really hate when that happens.

Then a friend on Facebook recommended everyone watch a show I’d had my eye on, Ted Lasso, and I clicked on the Apple Plus app, queued up the first episode, and was immediately entranced. The premise of the show is one of those that seems sort of predictable, like Schitt’s Creek was as well; a small-time American college football coach is hired to manage a major league (Premier league? I don’t really follow soccer, my apologies) team in England that has been fairly mediocre for a time. My first thought, when I first saw a preview for it, was why on earth would anyone do such a thing? And again, like I did initially with Schitt’s Creek, I thought, so of course his small time ways will be mocked and the Brits will be brutal with him and then he will win them over and they will become champions and I’ve seen this before, so I didn’t make it a priority to watch until last night, when I saw my friend’s post about it, so I thought, well, let’s give it a whirl.

Wow.

I’ve been a fan of Jason Sudeikis for a while now; not the oh I have to see everything he’s in type but the I’ve certainly enjoyed everything of his I’ve seen; the movie We’re the Millers was surprisingly sweet, funny, and enjoyable. The premise of the show goes a bit deeper than what it appears at first; a loathsome British billionaire has been divorced after thirteen years by his long-suffering wife, and in the settlement she got his soccer team; which is his pride and joy, and she has hired Ted Lasso for no reason other than she wants to punish her loathsome ex by driving his beloved team into the ground; her exact words are “burn it to the ground completely.” She manages to somehow play off the mysterious coaching hire very well–and Game of Thrones fans, I had to look her up because she looked familiar to me; imagine my surprise to see that Hannah Waddington, who plays her and is stunningly beautiful, tall and sexy; PLAYED THE SEPTA, the one who followed Cersei on her Walk of Shame ringing the bell and saying “Shame”–and the character of Rebecca, whom she plays, is pretty awful; but you also understand why–which is a credit to the show nd the writers, frankly. Horrible Malcolm publicly and openly cheated on her for years, playing out in the tabloids, and often she is mocked and humiliated by them as well. She treats her assistant, Higgins, terribly; but Waddington also plays her so well you also can’t help but feel for her even as she is terrible.

But the key to the show is Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, who is the kind of person who always looks for the best in everyone and genuinely is a nice guy; no matter how rude or nasty someone is to him, he sees their humanity and rather than thinking what a dick or what a bitch, he thinks how can I get through to this person? And he does it with kindness, by treating everyone with respect and dignity. The show walks a very tight rope, as it could easily descend into schmaltzy sentimentality, but it never does, and that’s not an easy trick by any means. The show follows Ted as he slowly begins to win over everyone in Richmond (the town where it’s set) and the team, by being a genuinely kind person. There’s a very strong episode where Ted spends the day with a very cynical journalist who can’t quite figure out what the point of hiring this buffoonish-seeming American could possibly be; a coach/manager who flatly tells the press he doesn’t care about wins or losses. The point of the interview is, of course, so that this cynical journalist who has asked him pointedly insulting questions at press conferences can write a hit piece on him that will further damage the team, and it was all set up by Rebecca; but as the journalist, whom he always treats with respect and kindness and appreciation, spends the day with him and watches him interact with people, he’s won over. He writes the piece, and he still thinks Lasso is going to fail managing the team, but its not a hatchet job at all; the final line of the piece winds up being something along the lines of “I still think he is going to fail, but I am not going to enjoy watching it the way I thought I would.”

The show sneaks up and hits you in the feels, the same way Schitt’s Creek did, and it makes you laugh and it makes you tear up because you find yourself loving the characters so much, and caring about what happens to them. Six episodes have already aired, and we blew through them all last night; the next will air on Friday, and I am already looking forward to it.

It’s also wonderful watching the character of Rebecca, so determined to avenge herself on her husband, becoming conflicted with her plan because she isn’t really the icy bitch she thinks she is, and responding not only to Ted’s kindness but that of other characters.

I do recommend it highly.

And Archer comes back next week!

I have to also add that Apple Plus is really upping their game. The first two shows there we tried to watch didn’t hold our interest and we abandoned them after a couple of episodes–the story and the characters didn’t hold out attention, despite how well the shows were produced. But The Morning Show and Ted Lasso are exceptional television, and the previews for the service’s adaptation of Azimov’s Foundation series looks amazing, airing in 2021.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Check out Ted Lasso; if you liked Schitt’s Creek, this is right up your alley as well.

Sad Beautiful Tragic

And here we are, Tuesday morning before the sun comes up. Huzzah?

I’m very pleased that I did manage to read three terrific books over the course of the Labor Day weekend, even if it meant not getting as much writing done as I would have liked. But sometimes, as I rationalize to myself fairly regularly, one has to allow the creative mind and batteries to rest and recharge, and it never hurts to read works by really gifted writers while allowing the creativity to recharge. I do, however, pity the author of the next book I read, as Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay have truly set the bar ridiculously high.

Ergo, I must choose wisely.

But I do believe I have chosen wisely: next up is Babylon Berlin. I loved the show, and from a glance over the first page it looks to be really well written (or should I say translated? I’m never really sure about these things), and I love the idea of going back in time with my reading.

I did work on a chapter yesterday, adding some important things to it, including a scene where my main character goes to the grocery store in town and is recognized by someone he doesn’t know; this happens to me every time I go back to where we are from in Alabama, without fail, and I was realizing, as I looked at the chapter yesterday, that several things were missing from the story thus far: him running into someone who recognizes him because of the family resemblance (including the unsettling “I changed your diapers!” which always bothers me, and I am only sorry I never said what I always think when someone says that to me, “Why do you want me to know you’ve seen my dick?”), any mention of guns or church; and more information about what the town is like. The book is already too long; the next draft/version will be about trimming the fat and making it more lean, but I am still pretty pleased with it and how it’s coming, even if it is coming more slowly than I would like.

When I get through this version, I think I am going to have to take some time off from work and spend like five concentrated days with it.

I am also still thinking about Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is really saying something; and I keep thinking about things I could have said in my review yet somehow didn’t. I am really looking forward to my next venture into reading Mr. Tremblay, which will most likely be Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He also has another one coming out soon, Survivor Song, which sounds absolutely terrifying.

I am treating myself to cappuccinos this morning, as a reward for having to get up so early. I do love my cappuccinos, even if they are made with a rather cheap machine I got somewhere as a kind of back-handed gift to myself, but I now have a really terrific milk frother that I love and does a truly terrific job on making my milk nice and warm and frothy. (Plus I need the extra kick from the concentrated caffeine to help me get underway with my day.) I had insomnia again last night–which seems to always inevitably happen the night before I have to get up early; I wonder if stress about oversleeping or sleeping through the alarm is part of the problem? If so, it’s not something I am consciously aware of, and perhaps something I should take some kind of initial steps to take care of–less caffeine the day before, etc.

We started watching a new crime show last night on Showtime, We Hunt Together, which seems to be rather clever; particularly in depicting the police team investigating the crimes as a mirror image of the couple committing the crimes; white woman, Black male immigrant. So far their victims have been pretty awful men who kind of had it coming, so there’s that, and it’s cast very well. We also watched the older Netflix film The Babysitter, which was interesting and funny in parts; we primarily watched because a sequel is being released soon that is highly recommended. You also can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless–he is absolutely beautiful, and he must have a Netflix contract because he shows up in a lot of their movies/shows…as do any number of other young actors and actresses; makes you wonder if the studio system is sort of coming back.

But this is a short week–feels like Monday, even though it’s really Tuesday–and so that’s also a win.

I’ve also decided not to stress too much about what I get done this week; I always have extremely high hopes going into the week every week, only to suffer crushing disappointment at my inability to get things done. Maybe it’s not the best thing to lower expectations, but it’s better to feel good about getting things finished rather than bashing yourself for not getting more things done, isn’t it?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.

End Game

I’m really becoming a huge fan of Paul Tremblay.

I’ve always enjoyed horror, ever since I was a kid; I used to love watching Creature Features on WGN in Chicago, and getting scared–sometimes having nightmares. But the supernatural has always interested me, as well as horror; in the 1980’s and even into the early 1990’s I saw myself as becoming a horror writer rather than a crime writer. And while I’ve written some “scary” stories and novels, I don’t know that I could classify them as horror– I think Sara and Sorceress are probably the closest I’ve ever come to writing horror; maybe even Lake Thirteen would count (it certainly bears my favorite cover of all my novels). But I see myself as more of a fan of horror than a writer of it; as I’ve said many times, I tend to write more about human monsters than supernatural ones. I had heard great things about Paul Tremblay before I started reading his actual work; my friend Megan in particular is a big fan of his, and based on her recommendation I started reading A Head Full of Ghosts, but it didn’t really strike my fancy that first time, and so I put it aside and moved onto something else. I did pick it up again later, and then, of course, I couldn’t put it down.

After finishing The Coyotes of Carthage, I was looking through the TBR piles, pulled out a book or two before putting them back, and then finally decided to read a second Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.

It was a most excellent choice.

The girl with the dark hair walks down the wooden front stairs and lowers herself into the yellowing lagoon of ankle-high grass. A warm breeze ripples through the blades, leaves and crab-like petals of clover flowers. She studies the front yard, watching for the twitchy, mechanical motion and frantic jumps of grasshoppers. The glass jar cradled against her chest smells faintly of grape jelly and is sticky on the inside. She unscrews the aerated lid.

Wen promised Daddy Andrew she would release the grasshoppers before they got cooked inside the homemade terrarium. The grasshoppes will be okay because she’ll make sure to keep the jar out of direct sunlight. She worries, though,, that they could hurt themselves by jumping into the sharp edges of the lid’s punched-in holes. She’ll catch smaller grasshoppers, ones that don’t jump as high or as powerfully, and because of their compact size there will be more leg-stretching room inside the jar. She will talk to the grasshoppers in a low, soothing voice, and hopefully they will be less likely to panic and mash themselves against the dangerous metal stalactites. Satisfied with her updated plan, she pulls up a fistful of grass, roots and all, leaving a pockmark in the front yard’s sea of green and yellow. She carefully deposits and arranges the grass in the jar, then wipes her hans on her gray Wonder Woman T-shirt.

Ironically, in my earlier paragraphs I talked about writing crime because I want my monsters to be human; ironically, the monsters in Paul Tremblay’s latest, sublime entry into the horror genre could easily be considered a crime thriller as well because his monsters are all too human, and this set-up is just as terrifying as any supernatural horror novel I’ve ever read. Being out in the country has never really appealed to me very much (ironically, my current work-in-progress is set out in the country) precisely because it’s no safer out in the country than it is in the city; at least in the city someone will hear your screams or cries for help. The very isolation of the country is part of its terror for me; in no less part because country people always smugly assert (and reassure themselves) that crime and murder are MUCH more likely to happen in the big, bad, dangerous city.

Sidebar: I still think there’s a terrific essay to be written about the proliferation of rural horror/crime novels in the 1970’s, directly tied to the inherent racism of white flight from integrated schools and neighborhoods to the suburbs and the country, and perhaps someday I will have the confidence to write the essay based on that abstract theme.

Tremblay has set his terrifying tale in a small cabin on a lake in upstate New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border, where our heroes–a married gay couple (Andrew and Eric) are spending a ‘back-to-nature’ vacation with their adopted child, Wen. The story is told in the present tense (always creepier in horror, seeing the action unfold as it happens rather than in the much safer past tense–it’s happening as opposed to it’s already happened) and the point of view shifts between the two dads and their young daughter. Wen is out on the lawn catching grasshoppers and naming them when a big man appears suddenly out of the woods, friendly and nice, he tries to win her over but ultimately fails, sending her running inside to warn her daddies that they are no longer alone in their rustic cabin–with no cell service and no wi-fi (which, ironically, was part of the cabin’s original appeal–to unplug; that appeal will righteously bite the in their ass now that a Dionysian influence has arrived in their idyllic world).

The big man, Leonard, isn’t alone; he has three friends with him, all wearing similar button-down shirts in different colors and jeans: Redmond, kind of an asshole every-straight-man; Sabrina, a nurse; and Adriane, who is older. As the three family members barricade themselves into the cabin, the four seemingly normal visitors let them know they are there to present them with a horrible, horrific choice: they have seen, in visions and dreams, that the apocalypse is nigh, but have been shown the cabin and the small family, and told that if one of them will voluntarily sacrifice himself, the end of the world will be stopped.

This is, of course, every parent’s worst nightmare: a threat to not only their family but to their child, and Tremblay does an amazing job of letting us, the readers, get to know all three of the family members, developing them into complicated, realistic characters with backstories and levels and layers; I also applaud him for writing about a same-sex family and making the characters absolutely real. (This is how you do it, people; read the book and take notes). Wen is completely believable as a little girl; the family bond and love is absolutely real; and that makes the horror even more horrible, more horrifying, more of a gut-punch…as we go through every step of the process with them, all over the course of less than twenty-four hours, as their lives are irrevocably altered and changed, as they refuse to believe the story of their visitors, but slowly but surely the wonder begins to creep in…what if this is absolutely real and they are indeed messengers from God?

I will leave it to the horror academics to discuss the symbols and symbolism threaded throughout the story–but I have to bring up the colors of the shirts the visitors are wearing, and the fact there are four of them: representing the four horsemen of the apocalypse along with their warnings of doom. The questions of faith, of existing as gay in a heterosexist society, of family and love–all of these are beautifully explored and written about, and the building of tension and suspense is unparalleled; it’s really hard to put the book down and walk away from the story without finding out how it all ends–will they make the sacrifice, or will the world end? Are the visitors right–and how will anyone ever know if they were, because the world not ending doesn’t prove anything if the sacrifice occurs.

Or are they just insane?

I highly recommend this book, and cannot wait to read more Tremblay.

Cold As You

Politics has rarely interested me when it comes to fiction; the reality all too often reads like unbelievable fiction, and it’s also there to read in all its horror in history. I stopped reading political non-fiction back in the day, probably some time around or after Katrina–and when I became involved with the National Stonewall Democrats, I was actually living in that world part time, and had no desire to read about it any longer. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–only to become completely addicted to it when Bravo was running reruns, eventually renting the back seasons from Netflix and bingeing through its entire run, while watching the final seasons as they aired. It remains one of my favorite television programs of all time; sometimes I think it would be lovely to go back and rewatch it, but it was a balm for us during the Bush administration.

I used to, as I said, read political non-fiction from both sides of the aisle as well as from theoretically unbiased journalists; I used to read, believe it or not, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan, along with Al Franken and Matt Taibbi and others. I always felt it was important to read not only those who were in theory unbiased, but also to read the extremes of both sides–it’s always important, I thought, to know what both sides are saying and thinking to rev up their own extreme bases. While I always paid attention to politics I always considered myself more apolitical than anything else; my primary concerns were initially to stop people from dying from HIV and then to get some sort of legal recognition that my sexuality was not grounds for inequal treatment in the eyes of the law. The 2000 election debacle energized me; the country seemed to be veering off course and the results of that election changed the country and not for the better, which meant it was time to get to work.

I never read Allen Drury’s Washington novels; as I said, I was never all that interested in fiction based in politics. Robert Ludlum was the closest I ever came to reading political thrillers, and I was a huge fan of his throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s. But political thrillers can be terrific reads; my question is are they crime novels? Thrillers are a subgenre of crime fiction, but do political thrillers actually count as crime novels? I suppose, in theory, they are; this is the question I’ve been grappling with since I finished reading The Coyotes of Carthage yesterday.

Andre marvels, watching a kid, a stranger of maybe sixteen, pinch another wallet. This lift makes the kid’s fifth, at least that Andre’s seen this morning–two on the train, two on the underground platform, and now this one on the jam-packed escalator that climbs toward the surface. The kid’s got skills, mad skills. He makes his lift and keeps on moving. There. Right there. The kid picks up another, his sixth, with the practiced grace of a ballerino, this time the mark, some corporate chump, probably a lobbyist, with slicked-back hair and a shit-eating grin. No one suspects a thing, and why should they? This kid blends in, looks like a prep-school student–and , who knows, perhaps he is–his aesthetic complete with a bookbag, khakis, and a dog-ered copy of de Tocqueville tucked beneath his arm. The kid reminds Andre of himself at that age–lean, hungry, steel eyes with smooth skin–but Andre concedes that he never possessed this kid’s talent.

Aboveground the kid disappears into the big-city bustle, and Andre thinks, Good for you, li’l man. Go in peace. For sure, the kid has plenty of places to hide. Northwest this morning is a mess: snowy, busy, noisy, the perfect urban jungle in which to flee. Andre works around the corner, and a lifetime ago, his family made a home inside a boarded-up rathole six blocks over. Andre has, in fact, loved in the District his entire life, thirty-five years save a stint across the river, two years in juvie for a grift gone bad on a nearby street. Seventeen years ago, when he left kiddie correctional, he never imagined he’d work on K Street, or that he’d own a walk-in closet full of three-piece suits, and the sudden realization, that he might lose it all, cuts like shards of glass crushed into the lining of his stomach.

Dre, our main character in this exceptionally fine debut novel by Steven Wright, isn’t necessarily likable, but he is understandable, and really, that’s the key with unlikable and unpleasant characters: as long as the reader can understand and empathize with an unlikable character, they will come along for the ride and may even root for that character. (As I like to say, the best note on character I was ever given by an editor when I was writing an unlikable character: even Hitler loved his dogs. ) The key is to find their humanity, and even when the character is doing unlikable things, you won’t lose the reader. It’s a skill set to be sure, but Steven Wright does this extremely well in a debut novel, and that’s really saying something.

Dre is a Black man who works for a political consulting firm in Washington, and one who is very good at what he does. He went overboard on his last assignment and almost blew a slam-dunk election, so his job is in jeopardy and if he weren’t being mentored by one of the founding partners of the firm, he would definitely be out already. Instead, he is given a punishment assignment: to get an initiative passed in a rural backwoods South Carolina county that really isn’t in the best interests of the local electorate but rather that of a large corporation who will poison everything in the county but will inevitably suck it dry of its resources and then leave behind nothing but wreckage. Dre comes from a broken home and has a brother who was also an addict; as teens they were small-scale dealers in order to survive and a deal gone horribly wrong put Dre into juvie. But he came out of juvie determined to go on the straight and narrow and build a life for himself…so politics seemed like a natural place for him to go.

But now in his mid-thirties, his life is crumbling around him: he has self-destructed his career; his fiancee has just dumped him for another man; his brother has ALS and he’s having to pay for his care as well as support his brother’s caregiver/girlfriend; and he’s questioning the decisions he’s made throughout his life to bring him to this place where he is now stuck in a backwoods redneck part of South Carolina running a campaign with no staff other than a rather sweet young intern–who turns out to be his mentor’s grandson. This election is a microcosm of everything that is currently wrong with our political system, and its deep cynicism; and Dre is having to face all of that, along with questioning what he is doing with his life for money, while his world continues to crumble around him.

All of the characters, while seen through Dre’s cynical eyes, are well-developed and well-rounded and completely believable; he sees very clearly their worth and their value and yet is incapable, because of who he has become through this cynical work, of connecting with any of them because of his own loss of humanity. This ballot initiative, so important for him to win if he wants to keep his job, is symbolic of his life; what do you do when you realize that not only have your sold your soul, but it may be too late to buy it back?

I greatly enjoyed this book from start to finish, and it’s a very powerful debut. It says a lot about humanity, the state of politics in this country, and the influence of dark money and how that has further corrupted an already corrupt system. But Dre’s search for his own humanity, his dark night of the soul, is what drives this strongly written story, and through Dre, requires the reader to do the same. The book offers no answers, of course; because those answers have to come from us.

What cost freedom?