Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

Well, I don’t know about coming down, but it’s definitely Sunday morning.

Then again, I did have to come downstairs, so I guess that’s somewhat applicable.

I wallowed in bed until nine this morning; I woke up originally at approximately seven AM and chose to stay in bed, it was kind of a lovely thing. The nice thing about football season being over is there’s no longer a need to get up early on the weekends in order to get things done before the games start–I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just stay in bed and relax and stay there until you really feel guilty about staying under the covers for so long. I stayed in bed pretty late yesterday morning–eight or nine, I don’t remember–but it is lovely, even if it throws my sleep schedule off a bit, seeing as how I must rise at six the next two mornings. But c’est la vie, right?

I did get some good work done yesterday on the Secret Project–which is going to be my primary focus this morning before I go to the gym–and I also have emails to answer. I also finished reading Tracy Clark’s terrific debut novel, Broken Places, yesterday, and then spent a good while trying to decide what to read next. As a general rule, I don’t like to read more than one book by a solitary author in a row, particularly when I have three of them to read; I’m interviewing Tracy for Sisters in Crimes’ quarterly newsletter, and so it behooves me to read them all. No worries–I am going to devote an entire entry at some point to Broken Places–probably shortly after I finish this one, to be honest.

I also got the lovely news that the Joni Mitchell anthology i contributed to, edited by Josh Pachter, The Beat of Black Wings, will be out and available in time for Malice Domestic! This anthology is a “crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell,” and the table of contents is a veritable who’s who of crime writers and people I am lucky enough to call friends. My story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” is one I particularly am proud of; I feel like I’ve been doing some terrific work on short stories over the past few years, dating back to the Short Story Project (which reminds me, I have another one I need to get started writing, and soon), and I do hope you’ll get a copy of the anthology. The proceeds are going to a charity; one of which Ms. Mitchell approves, and I believe the anthology is even going to promoted and featured on her website, which is very cool. More to come on that front, of course.

Oh, did I mention I am going to Malice Domestic this year? Yes, that’s correct, Constant Reader, I am going go be at Malice Domestic this coming May; I’ll be taking Amtrak down from Penn Station the morning after the Edgars to Malice Domestic. This is my second Malice, and I am really looking forward to it–particularly seeing friends win Agatha Awards two days after the Edgars. I’ll be flying home the following morning (that Sunday), but it’d going to be an absolutely lovely trip, and one which I hope will once again make me feel once again connected to the writing world.

Krewe de Vieux was last night, but I stayed home; Paul went to watch with friends, but I’m reserving my energy and strength for the St. Charles Avenue parade season, which opens this Friday with three parades. There are four or five more on Saturday, and then another two on Sunday; at least Sunday wraps up early in order for there to be rest and relaxation for the two-day break before the final stretch of six days and seemingly endless parades begins.

I can hardly believe it’s parade season again, but here we are.

I’m thinking, since we’re most likely going to start watching HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider this evening, that perhaps it’s time to crack the spine of the first edition hardcover I own and start reading it; I do like to read the book along with the series adaptation whenever I can–this worked really well with Big Little Lies–but I am also thinking that maybe I should read a cozy next? It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my toe into the cozy waters, and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to read one next? But I simply cannot seem to make up my mind, heavy sigh. Maybe a reread of Where Are The Children  as a memorial to Mary Higgins Clark?

So many books to read, and so very little time.

Well, I suppose I can put off the decision a little longer…and perhaps it is time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Please Remember Me

I am often, incorrectly, referred to as a “New Orleans expert.”

Nothing, as I inferred in that sentence, could be further than the truth.

Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely, positively love New Orleans, for many and varied reasons. The short, elevator-pitch answer is always Because I’m not the weird one here. And it’s true; New Orleans is an eccentric city filled with eccentrics. No other city in North America is like it, even remotely; New Orleans is a city that doesn’t abhor strangeness, but rather embraces it. When I came here for my thirty-third birthday in 1994, when I got out of the cab at the intersection of St. Ann and Bourbon that first night, my actual birthday, to go out to the gay bars of the Quarter, I knew I was home. There was no doubt in my mind, no question; just an immediate and instant connection with the city and I knew, not only that I would eventually live here, but that if and when I did all my  dreams would come true.

And that feeling was right. I fell in love with New Orleans, I fell in love in New Orleans, and after I moved here, all of my dreams did, in fact, come true.

So, when I write about New Orleans my deep and abiding love and passion for the city inevitably comes through. But I always kind of smile inwardly to myself when people call me an expert on the city; I am hardly that, and libraries could be filled with what I don’t know about the city. Sure, I do know some things, but an expert? Not even remotely close.

A perfect case in point is Milneburg. What, you may every well ask, is Milneburg? Milneburg was a resort village on the lake shore that many New Orleanians would escape to during the wretched heat of the summer (and I am vastly oversimplifying this); I’ve read about it in history books and so forth. I even thought Murder in Milneburg might make for an interesting historical mystery. I always saw it, though, in my mind’s eye, as close to the parish line between Orleans and Jefferson parishes; closer to Metairie and the causeway. So, you can imagine my shock when I saw a map of Milneburg posted on one of the New Orleans historical Facebook pages I belong to, and realized that I was completely wrong: there was a railroad line from New Orleans to Milneburg (which I knew) that ran along what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. 

So, Milneburg was actually where the University of New Orleans is now located; and the train line continued along east, crossing at the Rigolets.

Some New Orleans expert I am, which is why I decided to start reading more histories of the city over the last few years. It’s been quite an education, and there are still some things I don’t quite grasp–like when the Basin Canal was filled in to become Basin Street, and what relation that had to Storyville and Treme, because the train station also used to be located near Storyville (this was part of the reason why the drive to clean up Storyville and end legal prostitution in New Orleans was successful; the other part was because New Orleans was an embarkation point for the military during World War I and the Pentagon frowned on delivering green military recruits to whorehouses).

So, yeah, some expert I am.

But I really enjoyed Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street.

bourbon street

There are no straight lines in nature. Nor are there any right angles. Rather, intricate arcs and fractures merge and bifurcate recurrently, like capillaries in a plant leaf or veins in an arm. Nowhere is this sinuous geometry more evident than in deltas, like that of the Mississippi River. Starting eighteen thousand years ago, warming global temperatures melted immense ice sheets across North America. The runoff aggregated to form the lower Mississippi River and flowed southward bearing vast quantities of sediment. The bluffs and terraces that confined the channel to a broad alluvial valley petered out roughly between present-day Lafayette and Baton Rouge in Louisiana, south of which lay the Gulf of Mexico.

Into that sea disembogued the Mississippi, its innumerable tons of alluvium smothering the soft marshes of the Gulf Coast and accumulating upon the hard clays of the sea floor. So voluminous was the Mississippi’s muddy water column that it overpowered the (relatively weak tides and currents of) Gulf of Mexico, thus prograding the deposition farther into the sea. Occasional crevasses in the river’s banks diverted waters to the left or right, creating multiple river mouths and thus multiple depositions. High springtime flow also overtopped the river’s banks and released a think sheet of sediment-laden water sideways, further raising the delta’s elevation.

In this manner, southeastern Louisiana rose from the sea. The process took about 7,200 years, making the Mississippi Delta, as Mark Twain put it, “the youthfulest batch of country that lies around there anywhere.” Young, dynamic, fluid, warm, humid: flora and fauna flourish in such conditions, as evidenced by the verdant vegetation and high productivity of the delta’s ecosystem. Humans, on the other other, view these same conditons as inhospitable, dangerous, even evil, and endeavor to impose rigidity and rectitude upon them, so as to better exploit the delta’s resources.

If New Orleans is known for anything, it’s Bourbon Street. Everyone has heard about Bourbon Street, it seems; just as they’ve heard about Carnival/Mardi Gras, beads, and show us your tits (which locals do NOT do–either yell it or bare them). Campanella’s book traces the history of the famous street, and by extension, the French Quarter itself, from its very beginnings when the French arrived and designed the streets, to its modern day incarnation as a street of endless partying and no little debauchery. It’s very well researched, and Campanella, who I believe teaches at Tulane, is the true expert on the city; I follow his pages on Facebook, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much inspiration and information Bourbon Street  has given me. I’ve put so many page markers in my copy that I’m worried about breaking the spine!

One thing that my reading of New Orleans history has further emphasized to me–and it also really comes through strongly in Campanella’s book–is how New Orleans has always been a city of neighborhoods, and how each neighborhood of the city had (has?) its own unique  sense of itself, and how those who lived in those neighborhoods so strongly identified with them. The evolution of the French Quarter from the original city and seat of its government, to the original French leaving and being replaced by immigrants (as late as the 1960’s the lower quarter was known as ‘little Sicily’ because of all the Italian immigrants and their descendants who lived there), and then evolved again into a different type of neighborhood, with mixed incomes and everything from inexpensive apartments to gradiose condos; and a variety of ethnicities, races, sexualities, and gender identities.

One of the primary concerns modern-day New Orleanians have is the fear of the loss of those neighborhoods; because those neighborhoods were the incubators for all the things that makes New Orleans so special and unique: the music, the art, the literature, and the characters. Short-term rentals are carving up neighborhoods and the rents/property values are currently climbing, with no peak in sight, and people are rightfully concerned about these things.

But one thing I’ve learned from reading these histories, and Campanella’s in particular, is that New Orleans has always changed and evolved, yet has also always managed to keep that unique strangeness that make it New Orleans somehow intact.

If you love New Orleans or find it at all interesting, I cannot recommend Bourbon Street enough to you.

Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)

Hello, Thursday, and how are you doing this lovely morning?

Yesterday was bizarre. I got up in the morning and took care of some business while I woke up–laundry, dishes, etc.–aware that we were expecting bad weather. It rained off and on all morning–nothing unusual there–and I got sprinkled on a bit when I walked to and from the gym (and yes, that’s twice this week and I am doing quite well with this so far, and I’m still enjoying the way my muscles feel), and then as I was getting ready for work and a conference call, a nasty thunderstorm rolled in. I got out of the shower and as I was getting dressed, I heard this weird clicking sound. Puzzled, I walked over to one of the bedroom windows and saw little white pellets bouncing off the windows, the fence, and the crepe myrtles. Hail? It’s hailing in New Orleans? But it’s seventy degrees outside! 

That’s correct, it was seventy degrees and hailing.

Plagues of Egypt, anyone?

It’s also rained heavily all night overnight here in New Orleans; it’s still dark outside and sprinkling.  I slept very well–always sleep well during rainstorms–and certainly didn’t want to get up this morning. Working out does, apparently, help with sleep, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the kind of restful sleep I’ve been having this entire week, which is very lovely. It’s also lovely to be working out for the right reasons again; for so long I was working out for all the wrong reasons; making it about aesthetics and how I looked (and enjoying the kind of attention I was getting for having a worked out physique) rather than doing it because of how it made me feel and to be healthier. Now that I’m older, and am on blood pressure medication and another daily pill for cholesterol–well, I should have forced my old fat ass back into the gym before I had to go on both. But we’ll see now what, if any, difference regular working out makes to those–although it will also be hard to tell whether it’s the result of the workouts or the drugs I have to take. Curious.

We watched another episode of Sex Education, and I have to say, the show is really quite revolutionary and clever, while also being well-acted and well-written. As I said the other day, each episode is basically a lesson is actual sexuality; yesterday’s was one in which a group of the teenage girls, not friends, being forced to come up with what they have in common as women: the answer inevitably ended up being sexually assaulted in some way, or as one of them told their teacher as they walked out, “unsolicited penises.” And sadly, they did indeed bond over their shared trauma. What a horribly sad statement about what it’s like to be a woman–or a teenaged girl–in these modern times.

Today is a long day at the office, and once I’m fully awake I have some emails to answer and some bills to pay; as well as trying to assemble everything I need for my taxes so i can get them off to the accountant and filed and out of the way. I need to get to work on the Secret Project again–I didn’t even open the file yesterday–and I also need to get started on my Sherlock story. I’m just going to get it started and try to get the rough draft sorted; I can always fix things later, after all, and as I often say, it’s much easier to edit something then it is to write it. But at the moment I’m still feeling a bit groggy and not quite awake yet–still on the first cup of coffee–and so that will have to be later in the day at some point.

I also finished reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend. My next non-fiction history read about New Orleans will be Jason berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300, which should be quite fun. I’ve made lots of notes from the Campanella; I’m sure there will be plenty of notes to be made from the Berry. I certainly am enjoying finally learning the true history of my home, and it is certainly inspiring me to write more historical fictions about New Orleans.

And on that note, the coffee is starting to kick into gear, so I am heading back into the spice mines until it’s time to head into the office. There’s also a lull in the rain–which undoubtedly is helping me wake up–but it’s definitely one of those days where you’d rather just stay in bed and read–which actually sounds lovely; if it weren’t for the coffee situation, I should probably do that more in the mornings, you know?

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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I’d Better Off (In a Pine Box)

I love Patricia Highsmith, and one of the great joys of the last twenty years or so in my reading life has been slowly working my way through her canon.

Is there anything more fun and exciting than discovering a new writer whose work you enjoy? I think not! And it’s always fun to start working your way through their canon. I’m not even remotely close to being finished reading Highsmith; I’ve been enjoying my occasional forays into her work, and if you’ve not read her short stories….well, you’re really missing out. Her short stories are just as quirky and dark and pessimistic as her novels; although I’m really not so certain that I should use the pessimistic label with Highsmith. From everything I’ve read about her, she was a terribly unpleasant person with a cynical world view and a not particularly high opinion of her fellow human beings; although I think I can honestly say right there with you, Patricia! most of the time. Highsmith’s dark, cynical view of the world and her fellow human beings is partly what makes her books so terrific, so amazing, so suspenseful and so entertaining. I think the first of hers that I read was Strangers on a Train, which was a Hitchcock film I’d always loved; imagine my surprise to discover that it was based on a novel (as so many old films were; not many people knew, for example, that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was also a novel first, and it’s actually quite a good novel, at that). The book was amazing (and I should probably reread it as well), and I became aware of The Talented Mr. Ripley when the Anthony Minghella film version, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, was released. The same author as Strangers on a Train?

I was so in. I actually read the book before I saw the film–which I think we rented, or watched when it made its way to HBO–which I also really enjoyed; Matt Damon did a great job as Ripley. But as more time went by my memories of the novel became supplanted by memories of the film–and as I knew there were differences between the two, I always meant to get back to the book but never did. I also never read the other books in the so-called Ripleyad; I never saw any point. I thought the first novel stood perfectly well on its own with its self-contained story and I worried that reading the others might spoil the first. There are five novels about Tom Ripley in total; written over the course of twenty six years, from 1955 to 1991. (There’s a lovely but expensive boxed set of them available; I may treat myself to that for my birthday, but whether I do or not remains to be seen.)

Over the past few years (probably a decade, I literally have no concept of time anymore) I’ve read some other Highsmith novels; The Blunderer and The Cry of the Owl, neither of which are as well known as the Ripley books or Strangers on a Train, which is a pity; both are truly fantastic–I particularly love the way she flips the narrative in The Cry of the Owl and turns it into something completely different from what the reader is expecting at the beginning; it’s absolutely genius, and mandatory reading for anyone who wants to write suspense novels, frankly.

But I wanted to reread Ripley, and possibly even go on to the other four books in the Ripley series, primarily because I am now rereading some of these older works with an eye to how male sexuality is presented; Ripley  was published during the highly repressive 1950’s, which was a horrible decade in which to have an alternate sexuality as well as to write about them; often they were coded. (I also want to reread Strangers on a Train for that same reason) When the Minghella film was released, there was a lot of talk about Ripley’s sexuality and its possible repression; there’s probably a similarity there between it and A Separate Peace; books in which I recognized something when I read them about male relationships, friendship, and intimacy that resonated with me. And I also realized, as I said earlier, that my memories of the book had become blurred by my memories of the film–which I also want to watch again; I can never forget that image of Matt Damon’s so-pale-it-almost-glowed skin on the beach in his yellow bikini when he awkwardly meets the Jude Law/Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed characters, and I wanted to reread that scene again in particular, to see how Highsmith handled it.

the talented mr. ripley

Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eying him carefully from a table, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out.

At the corner Tom leaned forward and trotted across Fifth Avenue. There was Raoul’s. Should he take a chance and go in for another drink? Tempt fate and all that? Or should he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him a few dark doorways? He went into Raoul’s.

Automatically, as he strolled to an empty space at the bar,  he looked around to see if there was anyone he knew. There was the big man with the red hair, whose name he always forgot, sitting at a table with a blonde girl. The red-haired man waved a hand, and Tom’s hand went up limply in response. He slid one leg over a stool and faced the door challengingly, yet with a flagrant casualness.

“Gin and tonic, please,” he said to the barman.

The book opens differently than the Minghella film; which immediately changes the dynamic of who Tom Ripley is. In the film, Dickie Greenleaf’s spots Tom performing at a high society party with a music combo; he’s wearing a jacket that identifies him as an Ivy League alum–so Mr. Greenleaf, seeing that he’s about the same age as his son, thinks Tom might know Dickie and be amenable to an expenses-paid trip to Italy to retrieve him; only later do we learn he’d borrowed the jacket and probably doesn’t know Dickie at all.

As you can see from the above, Highsmith opens with suspense. Someone is following Tom, and it’s making him nervous–why? And why would someone be following him? We soon find out that he’s nervous because he’s been pulling a tax scam; he’s been calling random people, pretending he’s from the IRS and telling them they need to send more money because they didn’t pay enough taxes; it’s just for fun, as the checks aren’t made it out to him and he can do nothing with them. This is our first anticipation, as readers, that Our Hero may not exactly be your traditional-style suspense hero. But it’s only Mr. Greenleaf, not a treasury agent, and Mr. Greenleaf explains his situation to Tom–wanting Dickie to come home, as his mother is dying of leukemia and Dickie needs to get it together, give up his Bohemian life as a painter in Italy and come back to the US to take up his rightful place in the family business.

Soon Tom is on his way to Italy, funded by the Greenleafs, and tasked with bringing the recalcitrant heir home. He does find Dickie on the beach in Mongibello, and has to somehow make his acquaintance–and he doesn’t have a swimsuit:

He hadn’t brought a bathing suit with him, and he’d certainly have to have one here. Tom went into one of the little shops near the post office that had shirts and bathing shorts in its tiny front window, and after trying on several pairs of shorts that did not fit him, or at least not adequately enough to serve as a bathing suit, he bought a black-and-yellow thing hardly bigger than a G-string.

ripley

In the film, the awkwardness of the scene–and Tom in the bathing suit (which, in this case, is a lot more than a G-string; but then again, Tom has buried a lot of shame deep inside himself, and not just about his sexuality) he is clearly uncomfortable wearing, as well as the pasty whiteness of his skin amongst all the tan bodies on the beach, instantly induces sympathy for him–and in the book, it’s much the same. Highsmith takes us into Tom’s mind, in a tight third person point of view, so that we know what he is thinking and what he is feeling–but Highsmith is such a master writer, so good at making we the reader identify with Tom…that we soon forget that she is also dropping little hints along the way about just who he is. He is often refreshingly honest–he is very quick to tell people that he is good at forgery (he is) and mimicking other people (again, he is) and freely admits to many not quite moral talents; the great irony is that Tom has learned that you can quite often tell the absolute truth to people and they won’t believe you. He’s charming in his way, because he has learned that to get what he wants out of life, he has to be. Soon he is quite obsessive about Dickie–and disliking Marge, to the point of hating her for never letting him be alone with Dickie.

And this exchange:

“Marge and I are fine,” Dickie snapped in a way that shut Tom out from them. “Another thing I want to say, but clearly,” he said, looking at Tom, “I’m not queer. I don’t know if you have the idea that I am or not.”

“Queer?” Tom smiled faintly. “I never thought you were queer.”

Dickie started to say something else, and didn’t. He straightened up, the rubs showing in his dark chest. “Well, Marge thinks you are.”

Ah, some self-loathing a teenaged Greg can certainly identify with. Deny, deny, deny.

I loved the book even more than I did on the first read, and perhaps there’s a much longer, more in-depth piece I could write about this book (I certainly tagged a lot of pages as I read), but I am now interested in reading the rest of the Ripleyad; to see how Tom comes out–he certainly wound up ahead of the game at the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley, having lied, forged, stolen, and killed his way to get there.

And I do want to watch the film again–it’s on Netflix. Maybe something to watch while on the treadmill at the gym? Perhaps.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

Wednesday, and Hump Day; whatever you prefer to call it. It’s the midway point of the week, at any rate, and it’s all downhill from here into the weekend.

I always regret the loss of Mondays and Tuesdays to twelve hour work days, to be completely honest; I generally can’t get anything done on either day rather than going into the office. I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday and Monday nights, and there’s also never a guarantee I’m going to sleep well, which is a terrifying prospect, particularly on Sunday nights as I head into the long stretch of the week. I slept extremely well last night–so much so that I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; I could have easily slept another few hours or so, and as I drink my first cup of coffee, still feel a little bit on the foggy side. We’re also supposed to have terrible weather this morning–thunderstorms, etc; I got one of those damned bad weather notices on my phone last night–which is, of course, still possible. The ground is wet so it may have rained during the night, and it’s cloudy and grayish outside. Hopefully the rain will hold off until after I go to the gym later this morning

I decided yesterday that I didn’t care for the work I’d done on the Secret Project already–although it was an admirable attempt–so I decided to start over, at a different place, and change the opening completely. I wish I could explain in more detail, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? But one thing that is frequently true about me–and my work, all too frequently–is that I am very stubborn about openings. I envision an opening for a story or a book, and that’s where I start…and even though it may soon become readily apparent that isn’t the right place to start the story, I stubbornly cling to it because that’s the idea I originally had…despite knowing that I often start the story in the wrong place and changing the opening would most likely make the writing flow better. If you will recall, I have had a lot of trouble with writing this lately–I was lucky to get five hundred words a day for the longest time, until finally I was able to get about 1200 down in a day to get the first chapter finished. But it still dissatisfied me, and I began to wonder if maybe the problem was writing it in the first person rather than the third; perhaps a tight third point-of-view was what was actually called for. So, I exhaled a heavy sigh and decided to give that a try. I started last night–despite my exhaustion–and as I thought about it in the third person, I realized that if I was doing it in the third person, I should start it somewhere else…and as I thought about the words, decided to try it in the first with the new starting place, and it clicked. Which is helpful, I think? We shall see. But I am rather pleased with this new starting place, and I can get some good progress made on this now, methinks.

One would hope, anyway.

The fog in my own brain is beginning to clear a bit this morning, as I now have moved on to my second cup of coffee, and I am going to need to get started on activities that simply must be done; it’s Pay Day and thus Pay-the-Bills-Day, which is always a fun delight to see how little I have left to live on for the next two weeks or so. It can be depressing at times, or stressful at others, but what else can I do rather than try to figure out how to increase my income? Obviously, buying the car and taking on a car payment (and a tripling of the monthly car insurance bill) at the same time as taking a step back from my writing career to assess and think and decide what to do was probably poor timing; but I love having my car despite the enormous hole its blown in my budget, and if I could just get past all the various forms of whatever-it-is  that seem to preclude me from actually writing– this would cease to be a problem, you know?

Imposter Syndrome is probably the biggest contributor to this; and it’s very easy to get triggered into a downward spiral of it: a short story rejection, a one-star review, not being included in a list of gay writers, etc. etc. etc. This spiral generally comes to the fore with a message running through my brain: why do I bother, no one cares. (And for the record, I’m not bringing this up to get affirmation from people; I know all too well that affirmation doesn’t help much in these situations; you always think oh, I have such lovely and supportive friends rather than having some kind of self-worth renewal. It’s very, very true that belief in yourself has to start within you; and I’d love to know the reason why I am so self-defeating–which, for the record, is an entirely different thing from self-destructing.) It’s very easy to get into the mindset that the world is against you, that everyone is conspiring to bring or keep you down; when the real truth is the vast majority of people don’t think about you at all.

It’s kind of like that rampant insecurity I used to feel when I first started venturing into gay bars, hesitantly and nervous, absolutely certain that everyone was looking at me and judging me, not finding me attractive or interesting or worthy of even making eye contact with. It was all stuff and nonsense, of course. Nobody spends that much time looking at and judging total strangers, or laughing at them in gay bars; and if they do, they’re not worth knowing anyway. I finally reached the point where I neither cared what strangers thought–which was incredibly freeing–nor concerned myself with what other people do. I had no control over either, so why concern myself with it?

I saw the other day, for example, that someone had collected all the one and two star reviews from Amazon and Goodreads for Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was kind of serendipitous; I had just finished rereading and enjoying the book for the Reread Project, and Highsmith is one of my favorite authors. It was kind of an eye-opening moment about writing and publishing: for fuck’s sake, if people are giving HIGHSMITH and probably one of her best titles one and two star reviews…why the fuck do worry about bad reviews? We all get them, and really, it doesn’t ever mean why do you bother (no matter how vitriolic), it just means your books and your writing and your story and your voice didn’t connect with that person. That’s really all it means, and should be viewed as such.

It’s getting gloomier outside, which means the predicted rain is coming. Ah, well, I shall simply have to take an umbrella with me to the gym. I’m actually not dreading the gym this morning, and I don’t think I’m going to have to make myself go. I have felt so much better physically just from going on Sunday; I’ve realized that my muscles are tired from the work, which is actually a good feeling. My goal is to go again today and Friday, and then again on Sunday. It won’t be easy maintaining this schedule during Parade Season–Parade Season is what finished me off and knocked me out of my routine the last time I started trying to get back into the gym, and that was last year? The year before? I don’t recall, but it ultimately doesn’t matter; I stopped going and I need to learn from that mistake this year.

And on that note, I should start paying the bills and getting things done. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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