Can’t Fight This Feeling

Saturday! Yesterday was so obnoxiously humid that I was completely exhausted when I finished all the running around I had to do yesterday; it was all I could do to stay awake. Regardless, I cleaned the kitchen–even doing the floors–and started work on the living room before collapsing into my easy chair with a book in the early evening and dozed off while reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Not that it’s not a good book, but I was simply tired.

I often talk about how, despite my voracious habit that goes back as long as I can remember, that there are many classics of literature I’ve not read (including Huckleberry Finn). I was thinking about that this week, because I’d ordered two sets of books–a set of Hemingway and a set of Fitzgerald–that my dad owned, having gotten them from a book club, when I was a kid (I’d already found the Faulkner set on ebay; which is where I found these others as well). I don’t remember if it was the Literary Guild or the Doubleday Book Club or what, but my dad joined one of those mail-order book clubs and got those three sets of books–I suppose thinking that we needed nice copies of classic books by three of American literature’s most shining (straight white male) lights (I think he later added a set of Steinbeck, but I could be wrong; that might have been me in my teens.)

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I took an American Lit class my sophomore year in high school, and it’s from that class–as well as the American Lit class I took in college–that my antipathy to many classic writers was born. I think reading The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Babbitt, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms in high school, when I was too young to really appreciate them kind of ruined them, and those authors, for me. I’ve not reread the books, so I don’t know if I still wouldn’t care for them; but I do know that I’ve gone on to read other books by some of those authors and liked them (Steinbeck’s East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time; Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here are terrific; and I really enjoyed This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I’ve never revisited Hemingway, as my visceral response to the two books of his I did actually read was so strong. But I am going to give it another go; I am going to read The Sun Also Rises (my father thinks For Whom the Bell Tolls is the greatest American novel; but Dad and I rarely agree on anything cultural), and I am also going to reread The Great Gatsby at some point. I may even give The Grapes of Wrath another go; it actually kind of bothers me that there are ‘American classics’ that I didn’t like and may not have because I wasn’t old enough or mature enough, as either a human or a reader, to have enjoyed and appreciated.

But Christ, there is so little time to read everything!

Which is one of the reasons I am reading this McCullers novel (although calling it a novel is quite generous; it’s only 127 pages so it’s really a novella) is because I’ve not read much of McCullers (The Member of the Wedding in college, didn’t like it–but there is, I think, something about being forced to read something that makes me dislike what I am being forced to read; I should probably revisit Flannery O’Connor as well), and I am thinking that I probably should.

Ah, today’s storm is about to break, so I shall take that as indication that I should put on my helmet and get back to the spice mines.

 

(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long

Saturday morning. After my morning coffee,  I’m going to run some errands, and then I am going to figure out what time to drive out to Elmwood to see Wonder Woman–shooting for late afternoon/early evening; that way I can get some cleaning and revising done. I’ve not done much revising this week–which is shameful (there is some harsh and ugly truths there about the need for actual contractual deadlines, isn’t there?), and so my goal is to get back on track with all of that for this weekend. I want to get another three or four chapters revised, as well as the second draft of “Quiet Desperation” finished this weekend, so I can move on to revising another short story. I’ve also started a new draft of the eighth Scotty novel, Crescent City Charade, which I am hoping to get finished by the end of the summer (Labor Day is the goal). I absolutely HAVE to get these revisions finished by the end of June, because I want to spend the summer querying agents. I honestly believe this WIP is my best work, and could be an important book.

Whether that proves to be the case or not remains to be seen, of course, but here’s hoping.

The Lost Apartment is a mess, and has been for quite some time. I can’t remember the last time I did the floors, quite frankly, and it’s getting kind of ugly down there, honestly. I mean, our kitchen floor needs to be redone–tiles have come up–which kind of makes it hard to make it look nice anyway, but that’s no excuse for not cleaning, you know? My mother would be so ashamed.

So ashamed.

So, I am going to, as soon as I finish this cup of coffee, start straightening and cleaning up down here. It looks like it’s going to rain all weekend, so I am not going to bother with the windows (which are also long overdue for a cleaning; although I could do the inside. Hmmmm, that could be a plan, actually) and definitely work on these floors. There’s some filing to do–isn’t there always–and some other organizing I need to do, but if I buckle down and stay focused (and make a fucking list) I should be able to get through everything before it’s time to go see Wonder Woman.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie. Wonder Woman was always one of my favorite comic book superheroes (although when I started reading DC Comics, she’d given up her powers somehow and was running a clothing boutique and dealing with social issues and was a modern feminist; in retrospect, it was one of the stupidest reboots in DC’s long history of rebooting their characters); I loved the historic Amazon character, and the rebooted non-powered Wonder Woman/Diana Prince character was more of a detective, solving crimes and trained in martial arts. Around the time the television series starring Lynda Carter started, the DC rebooted her again and made her an Amazon princess with her powers again. And the TV show was amazing. Rewatching it now shows it up for its low-budget special effects and bad writing, but Lynda Carter embodied the part so beautifully that she became iconic–and I’ve been a lifelong fan of Ms. Carter. Paul and I stopped watching Supergirl during its first season, before Lynda Carter joined the cast as the president, so I’m sure at some point I’ll go back and binge the series. (I’ve also always been a fan of Supergirl–who also went through an incredibly stupid reboot in the 1970’s; complete with new costumes and a loss of some of her powers–sometimes she had them, sometimes she didn’t; they came and went because of some kind of Kryptonite poisoned drink she was tricked into imbibing; then was killed off during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and then was brought back as something completely different after Superman was killed off in the early 1990’s. It’s really hard to keep track of all these shifts and changes in DC continuity/universes.)

Interestingly enough, now as I reflect on my fandom of both Wonder Woman and Supergirl, I realize how I’ve always been drawn to fictional depictions of strong women–from Nancy Drew to Trixie Belden to the Dana Girls to Cherry Ames to Vicki Barr to Wonder Woman to Supergirl to Lois Lane (who used to have her own comic book, detailing her adventures as an investigative reporter, which I also loved), to real life women who defied the traditional role of women in our society, like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I’ve certainly always enjoyed reading fiction by and about women; from Charlotte Armstrong to Phyllis Whitney to Victoria Holt to Mary Stewart to Judith Krantz and so on and so forth. Do people still read Rona Jaffe? She was another favorite of mine from the 1970’s. Taylor Caldwell, Evelyn Anthony, Jean Plaidy, Helen MacInnes, Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson–I’ve always read and enjoyed books written by women. (This is not to say I don’t enjoy books by men; I always have, but at the same time there is a certain style of testosterone driven male novel, complete with angst, that I simply cannot abide, and the crime genre is riddled with them. I recently joked that I wanted to write a noir set in the strip clubs in the Quarter and call it Girls Girls Girls…you get the idea.)

And there are so many wonderful women writers publishing today: Sara Paretsky, Laura Lippman, Sue Grafton, Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Alafair Burke, Alex Marwood, Lisa Unger, Jamie Mason, Wendy Corsi Staub, J. M. Redmann, Kristi Belcamino, Carrie Smith, Sara Henry, Ellen Hart, Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Toni Kelner (Leigh Perry), Carolyn Haines, Catriona McPherson, Lori Rader-Day, and Rebecca Chance–just off the top of my head; my TBR pile is filled with books by women, and there are so many wonderful women writers I’ve not gotten to yet, like Lisa Lutz and Shannon Baker and Jennifer MacMahon and Karin Slaughter–the list goes on and on forever and ever, amen. And this is just crime fiction/thrillers…I’ve not even touched on horror or scifi or fantasy or so-called ‘chick-lit.’ (Which reminds me, I really want to read some more Liane Moriarty, and I’ve not read any Jennifer Weiner…sigh.)

There’s just never enough time….and speaking of which, it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you:

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1, 2, 3, Red Light

Friday morning in the midst of an unusual cold spell for New Orleans. It’s the second weekend of Jazz Fest, and the high today–and yesterday– was merely seventy one degrees. It’s in the frigid low sixties right now; but it’s going to be sunny and clear and lovely all day; no rain in the forecast for the weekend. I have some appointments tomorrow, but am going to stop for groceries on my way home from work tonight so I don’t have to deal with that tomorrow. I’d like to make some further progress on the WIP tomorrow, as well; hope to do so today, too.

As I have said lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Alabama, primarily due to events I’ve done in that state this year (the first time I’ve ever done anything there). I have written short stories (full disclosure: only two have been published) set in Alabama, and only one book set there. Many years ago, I thought about doing a whole series of books set in Alabama, and all connected (what can I say? I was reading Faulkner) in one way or the other. I created a fictional town and county (thank you, Mr. Faulkner) and families and connections and the whole ball of wax, but never wrote any of them, of course. (I was always big on the ideas phase, not so much on the writing phase.) The town was Corinth, Alabama, and the county had the same name. Recently, as I’ve been doing research into Alabama history (when I’m between clients at work), those ideas have come back to me. Taylor, Frank’s nephew in the Scotty series, is from Corinth; Frank’s mother was from there and that’s the Sobieski connection to Alabama. My favorite short story of all the ones I’ve published, “Small Town Boy,” is also set there, and of course, when I started writing Dark Tide, my main character, Ricky Hackworth, was from Corinth–and somehow related to characters in the short story; we never know what the main character’s name is in the story, but the story focuses on his relationship with a Hackworth whose mother has just shot his father–“those trashy Hackworths.”

Dark Tide is one of my personal favorites of my books, and I think it’s partly because it was a return to Corinth. The book wasn’t set there–Ricky leaves Corinth for a summer job on the Gulf Coast of Alabama as a lifeguard–but Ricky was from there, and I was able to draw on the rich background I’d created for the town in my twenties as backstory for the book. I also tried to do something with the writing style that I’d never done before, which was mimic the pacing of swimming strokes with the pacing of the book. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I know some of the best work I’ve done is contained inside the pages of that book–there’s one particularly creepy scene where Ricky is swimming in the bay and he has this feeling that there are carnivorous mermen down in the depths of the bay beneath him as he swims, and then imagines it as he strokes through the calm morning waters. I also really liked the character of Ricky; he’s grown up relatively poor and motherless (the reader never knows what happened to his mother), and thinks back to how he is treated by the richer kids, how he is picked on for his suspected sexuality, how deeply closeted he is, and how he met, at a swimming camp his father could barely afford to send him to at the University of Alabama, he met and fell in love with someone who basically changed his life and helped him see that he wasn’t a freak. I loved the character of Ricky, and Dark Tide also is one of few novels I ever wrote that has a big twist that flips the story completely–there are hints, of course, I would never cheat–and I am very proud that I pulled it off.

The book was originally conceptualized and titled as Mermaid Inn. When I was a kid, I used to read comic books voraciously; I sometimes wonder how I found the money to buy as many comic books and kids’ series books as I did (I tend to suspect, now that I am in my fifties, that I was a great deal more spoiled as a child then I thought I was). DC Comics used to publish two comics that were more horror/mystery related than super hero oriented; House of Secrets and House of Mystery. EC Comics, which deeply influenced Stephen King, was no longer around by the time I was reading comics, so these two comics–with secret and mystery in their titles, which is what drew me in to them–were the first horror I read, and I loved how the stories always had a big twist at the end (and come to think of it, that’s the way I write horror, which is probably why I don’t sell any horror short stories). There was one issue that was completely devoted to a story called “Bloody Mermaids,” and I remember it to this day. It was an interesting tale; a scholar who was fascinated by the legend of the mermaid was determined to find one and thus prove they were real. He comes to an old inn along the seashore where mermaids have supposedly been sited over the years, only is horrified to discover that rather than beautiful and kind sea creatures, the ones who inhabit the sea at this place were monsters who feasted on human flesh and blood, and only come out at night; kind of like sea vampires. At the very end he finally finds one, he is horrified by the truth of what she is, and she knocks him out and is ready to drink his blood when the sun starts to rise and she has to flee back to the safety of the water. And the narrator–both comics had them–said something along the lines of ‘be careful what you wish for, the reality of what you seek may be something you don’t want to see.’ The story always fascinated me, and it inspired me to create a story of my own.

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The engine of my pickup truck made a weird coughing noise just as I came around a cruve in the highway on the Alabama Gulf Coast and I saw Mermaid Inn for the first time.

My heart sank.

That’s not good, I thought, gritting my teeth. I looked down at the control panel. None of the dummy lights had come on. I still had about a half tank of gas. I switched off the air conditioning and the stereo. I turned into the long sloping parking lot of the Inn, pulling into the first parking spot. I listened to the engine. Nothing odd. It was now running smooth like it had the entire drive down. I shut the car off and kept listening. There was nothing but the tick of the engine as it started cooling.

Maybe I just imagined it.

Hope springs eternal.

I took a deep breath while sitting there, listening closely to make sure.

The last thing I needed was to spend money on getting the stupid old truck fixed. Maybe it just needed a tune-up. I couldn’t remember the last time it had one.

Once Ricky arrives at the Inn and gets settled, he finds out the lifeguard from the summer before disappeared, and the longer he stays, the more he realizes that things in Mermaid Inn–and the nearby town of Latona–are not what they seem.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Hey, Western Union Man

We continue to watch Thirteen Reasons Why, and last night we got through Episode 10, which was heartbreaking. Tonight when I get home from work we’ll watch Episode 11–spoiler! It’s when Clay listens to his own tape, and while I am absolutely riveted, I am also dreading the episode. I also am getting further in the book, which is different in some ways from the show.  At one point watching last night, I said to Paul, “I’m so glad I’m not a teenager now,” even though I feel relatively certain that the things that happen in the book/show probably happened when I was a teenager–I, like Clay, was probably unaware/oblivious to it all–which is a horrifying thought. I find that I am often unpacking a lot of things from my past, recognizing behaviors that were no big deal back then but now are horrifying.

I’ve been processing a lot of that lately, to be honest, and in no small part because of the manuscript. I didn’t do any reading/outlining yesterday, nor did I touch “Quiet Desperation,” primarily because I felt kind of tired and out of it yesterday (another wretched night’s sleep  Tuesday, followed by Wacky Russian on Wednesday morning), and while I certainly slept better last night, Paul’s alarm and his constant smacking of the snooze button this morning got me up earlier than I would have preferred. Tonight is yet another late night of bar testing, and tomorrow is the drive to Montgomery and the Author Welcome Party. Heavy heaving sigh. But I’ve pretty much decided not to spend the extra Saturday night in Montgomery; Saturday morning I’ll check out and head over to the Book Festival, spend the day there, and then drive back to New Orleans. That way I have Sunday here to run errands and do things, before driving up to Oxford on Monday. After all this travel I am going to get into a regular workout schedule upon my return, as well.

That’s the plan, at any rate.

So, this morning I am going to pack for the trip, clean the kitchen and get some laundry done, do some writing, and maybe read a bit. I am having lunch with a former intern of mine from a million years and several jobs ago–she’s now a lawyer, how bad-ass is that?–before I head to work. We are lunching at the Irish House, a pub-style restaurant whose chef won Chopped  many years ago, and they have pretty awesome fish-and-chips, and it’s a short walk from the Lost Apartment (I’ll take the car, though, so I can take my time and then drive to work from there). So the dryer is spinning, the washer is agitating, and I am sitting here with my second cup of coffee listening to a playlist on my iHome stereo waiting for the clouds to clear out of my head completely before I get up and unload the dishwasher and get the day going.

This morning I also picked out the story I’m going to revise/rewrite for an anthology I want to submit to–getting into it (it’s annual) is on my bucket list and I will keep trying until I do get in. I’ve submitted three or four times so far–failing every time–but two of the rejected stories ended up somewhere else, so that’s always a good thing. I am really taking my short story writing a lot more seriously than I used to; I am no longer allowing myself to think I am not good at it because that is self-defeating (another one of my daily affirmations, which really, as weird as it seems and as ‘new agey/touchy-feely/mumbo-jumbo’ as it feels and I’ve always dismissed it as, actually is seeming to work. 

I just wish I had thought this way twenty years ago. Ah, well, no regrets.

Live and learn.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Grant Aleksander, who played Philip Spaulding on Guiding Light:

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Magic Carpet Ride

I got up early this morning to take a friend to a doctor’s appointment, and so, having finished Finders Keepers, dug out my copy of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why to take along to read while I waited for her.  We watched another three episodes last night–it really is compulsively watchable, if more than slightly annoying (Paul and I have a tendency to yell at the television periodically “JUST LISTEN TO THE REST OF THE TAPES DUMBASS!” but other than that, we are really enjoying it, despite some plot holes). I managed to read almost 100 pages during the hour or so I waited–it’s a quick read, the book isn’t as long as it looks–double spaced, big font, lots of short, one sentence paragraphs–and again, despite some plot holes, it’s compulsively readable; I want to know all the reasons. The book is also different than the show, in that Clay apparently does what Paul and I want him to do in the show–he listens to the tapes all in one night. I can see why that isn’t possible in the show; you probably couldn’t get thirteen one hour episodes out of the story if it all took place in one night, but on the other hand…does it really need to be thirteen hours? But the young actors are all incredibly appealing and are quite good in their roles, as I said before, and it’s compulsively watchable.

The show also pushes buttons from time to time for me; “wow, are they really showing the kids getting high? Drinking beer? Getting drunk? How incredibly irresponsible!” and then I have to snap out of it. Teenagers deal with these things, they did when I was in high school, and one of the things that annoyed me about entertainment aimed at teens when I was one is that it was so unrealistic.

Then again, Judy Blume was just getting published and writing frankly about teens, and scandalizing the country and getting banned everywhere, when I was a teen–and I always see Judy Blume as the person who changed the world of young adult fiction, and for the better.

Ironically, I just checked the schedule for the Alabama Book Festival this weekend and see that Jay Asher is speaking there. Synchronicity, or serendipity, or both?

I think one of the reasons I’m enjoying Riverdale as much as I am (the young actor who plays Reggie on that show is also on 13 Reasons Why; the first time he turned up on screen I said out loud, “Reggie!” He and the character are being under-utilized on Riverdale, which I hope changes) is seeing the squeaky clean, highly sanitized comic books I read when I was very young made more realistic. Riverdale is a dark teen soap, owing debts not only to Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210, but also a big one to Pretty Little Liars–which in turn owes a debt to The Edge of Night, the long running daytime soap whose story-lines were based not only in romance but in crime and suspense. 13 Reasons Why is another teen soap built around a mystery; while Riverdale‘s main driving story is”who killed Jason Blossom, and why” this one’s is “why did Hannah kill herself, and why the tapes?”

I’ve also been thinking about my own young adult fiction a lot lately, probably because of what I am currently working on. I’ve put the Scotty book aside for the time being, because I just wasn’t feeling it, to be honest, and writing it felt like I was forcing it and the story itself didn’t work for me. So, I am going to take a break from it for a bit, work on some short stories, and forge forward with this manuscript I am intent on revising. I’m actually enjoying myself doing all this editing and revising because there is no pressure of a deadline. I can take my time, think things through, rather than trusting my instincts and hoping for the best while the clock inexorably continues to tick as time slips through my fingers. (There really is something to be said for no deadlines.)

Sorceress began as a short story of slightly less than ten thousand words, and I originally wrote it in 1989, long hand, on notebook paper. I remember paying someone to type it for me, and as a lengthy short story it didn’t work–it was too rushed, too much happened in too short a period of time on the page. When I reread the story, it occurred to me that it was really just a lengthy synopsis, and might make a book. It was the third novel I completed a first draft of (in 1993!), and it eventually made it to publication in 2010. I know I wrote it originally as an homage to Jane Eyre, Victoria Holt, and other gothic writers I had long admired; I gave it more of a supernatural edge, though, but it was really the same premise that even Dark Shadows began with: a young orphaned girl comes to live in a big, spooky house where mysterious things happen. (I wonder why so many books/stories of this type start this way? Is it because it’s a voyage to the unknown, or a fresh start in a new place? 13 Reasons Why kind of fits into this as well, since part of Hannah’s problems begin with her being the new girl in town.)

Hmmmm.

All right, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

 

Paparazzi

Memories lie.

There are things and moments from my childhood I remember completely differently from my parents and my sister, for example, or moments from early on in Paul’s and my relationship. My memories differ from those of kids I went to high school with, and those of my fraternity brothers. Memory and experience are always, of course, colored by our own internal beliefs, values, fears, and opinions; which is what makes being a crime writer interesting.

I remembered, for example, that we moved from the city out to the suburbs in the winter of 1969. I’ve always thought that was the truth; we moved to our house in Bolingbrook that winter and would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that was the truth. Imagine my surprise, during my recent visit to my parents, to hear both of them insist that wasn’t true and we moved out there in either the winter of 1971 or 1972; and I sat there, confused, and then a key piece of my history snapped into place in the jigsaw puzzle that is my memory: you were ten when you moved; your eleventh birthday was your first birthday in the new house so it had to be 1971. I’d always remembered that we’d lived out there for much longer than we had. We only lived in Bolingbrook for four and a half years; I was in the sixth grade when we moved and we moved to Kansas after my sophomore year ended.

Interesting, isn’t it?

I was rather startled the other day to hear that David Cassidy is in early stage dementia; David Cassidy was a part of my childhood, and it’s hard to remember the years when The Partridge Family aired without hearing their music in the echo chambers of my brain. The Partridge Family Album was, in fact, the first album my sister owned. She had one of those little portable record players that either ran on six enormous batteries or could be plugged into the wall, and she played the album over and over and over again. I didn’t mind because I kind of liked the music myself; and we watched the show religiously every week. My sister, of course, was madly in love with David Cassidy, who did nothing for me. (Even as a nascent gay child, my crush was Kurt Russell.)

Before buying that album my sister primarily bought 45’s; it amazes me that there are any number of people who don’t know what those are, or how you used to stack them on the record player, so the next one would drop when the previous one finished playing and the needle cleared out of the way, or the scratchy sounds from collected dust and/or scratches on the record that you could always hear in the background. David Cassidy replaced Bobby Sherman in my sister and her friends’ affections; Bobby Sherman replaced Davey Jones of the Monkees.

The show itself was pretty dreadful, really. The idea was derived from the Cowsills, an actual family musical group, and it was designed to appeal to young girls and hopefully sell some records; another prefabricated music group along the lines of the Monkees and the Archies. They’d never intended for “Keith” to sing lead vocals on the music, but David Cassidy auditioned and got the part and to their surprise, he could sing and had musical ambitions. (Alas for him, he became a huge teen idol but never got the rock stardom he always dreamed of.) His stepmother in real life, Shirley Jones, was cast as his mother, widowed Shirley who worked in a bank to support her five kids. (Jones was actually an accomplished singer herself, and had an Oscar for playing a prostitute in Elmer Gantry.) Even at the time, I didn’t think the show was funny, but it wasn’t as bad and corny and hokey as The Brady Bunch, which was admittedly a low bar. But I was delighted several years ago to discover that the Partridge Family’s music was on iTunes, and I downloaded some, out of a sense of nostalgia.

And it wasn’t bad. I downloaded more, and still listen to it from time to time. It’s glossy, well produced, and slick pop music, but it’s not terrible. It certainly holds up better than Shaun Cassidy’s hits or New Kids on the Block.

And am I ever glad I didn’t have to go into the office today. I am worn out, frankly, not sure how I am going to survive tonight’s parades.

Heavy sigh