Back on the Chain Gang

Saturday morning, with Fleetwood Mac blaring through the stereo, a load of laundry going in the washer, another in the dishwasher, and I’m about to do the floors. This week was so insane–both personally and at work–that I’m glad that it’s the weekend; last week just needed to end. I woke up with a lot of energy this morning; hopefully it will see me through the cleaning and the errand I need to do today. Last night I was glued to the Weather Channel until I couldn’t watch anymore; I alternated between that and reading Star Island by Carl Hiaasen before retiring to bed relatively early. Paul’s going to spend the day doing errands and running around with a friend; I hope to get the line edit finished as well as Chapter Four (I hate transitional chapters); tomorrow I intend to edit some short stories and possibly get started on Chapter Five. Crescent City Charade isn’t coming along as quickly as I might have hoped; I think I’ll brainstorm the next few chapters this evening, as that should help.

Next weekend is Southern Decadence. Wow, this summer has just flown by, hasn’t it? The humidity should break in the weeks after Labor Day and then it’s the fall. Football season also starts (for LSU) this Saturday; the Tigers are supposed to play BYU in Houston; not sure how that’s going to work given Harvey and what it’s doing to southeastern Texas. Best as I can tell, Houston is getting hammered this morning, but at least it’s down to a Category 1–which, while not ideal, with it’s heavy rains and so forth–is better than the Category 4 that came ashore last night. Hurricane season sucks, y’all. As a friend said last night, hurricane season makes you into a bad person, as you’re always hoping and praying it will go somewhere else, which means wishing it on other people.

So fucking true, and so fucking sad.

I read the first two digital issues of Starman this week; it’s not quite as good as I remembered, but on the other hand, I originally started reading it about seven or eight issues in. The first issues of a new superhero comic are always, like a television show, a bit wobbly as they try to find their legs and get on firm footing–notable exceptions being Ozark and Game of Thrones, but usually I’ll try to give a TV show a couple of episodes to find its way and gel. This iteration of Starman is about Will Payton, a recent college graduate, raised by a single mother with a younger sister. The mom sacrificed a lot to help put Will through college; he got a degree in Advertising and landed a great job with a major firm in Phoenix. But he hated the job, hated what he was doing, and much to his mother’s dismay and anger, he quit and tried to find something else. He went on a camping/hiking trip, and while on it, something happened that he doesn’t quite understand. He wakes up after thirty-two days in the morgue; he’s confused the authorities who found his dead body in the woods, and basically scares the crap out of them when he sits up and starts talking. He also has powers he doesn’t understand, and so he comes back home, confides in his sister…and has to face the wrath of his mother who demands that he find a job…all the while he’s trying to figure out what’s happened to him. He can fly, generate heat, withstand bullets…and can change his appearance by just thinking about it. His sister convinces him that he’s a superhero, and he needs to start fighting crime and helping people.

What Will doesn’t know is the proverbial mad scientist was conducting experiments in a lab, trying to create super-powered beings. But when he was ready to tap into power from a satellite, it was pushed off course by space debris—and rather than beaming back into his lab and into the bodies of his human volunteers–the energy was beamed into Will, where he was sleeping in the woods. The first two issues set this up, and set the stage for a coming conflict with the mad scientist and his creations.

That’s a lot to cram into two issues, so there’s that.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Know There’s Something Going On

Yesterday I got notified that one of my favorite comic book runs, DC’s 1988-1992 Starman, is now available digitially on Comixology. I may have squealed like an excited little gay boy. This version of Starman, which came after the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, was one of my absolute favorite comic series of all time. As a birthday gift to myself, I bought and downloaded the first two issues. I am really looking forward to reading this series again in its entirety. I hope it’s as good as I remember. It never really took off, and was eventually cancelled for low sales, which was a real pity. I’m curious to see what I think about it now that I’m older.

Yesterday was one of the most miserably hot and humid days in New Orleans that I can remember. I took a shower after my workout yesterday morning–and then another after running errands. The thing about humidity that you tend to forget is how it sucks the life right out of you; it’s exhausting navigating and operating and trying to function in it. I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for those who have to work outside in August in New Orleans–meter maids, mail carriers, construction workers, etc.

And last night, we went to see Dunkirk.

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The story of the mass evacuation of the Allied forces at Dunkirk is one that has always stirred me; had the evacution/rescue of the British/French forces there not happened, the war would have been over and Nazi Germany would have won. The way the ordinary British people stepped up, in the face of incredible danger and possible death, and sailed personal boats across the English Channel to help rescue their army is one of the greatest war stories of all time. As soon as I heard that Christopher Nolan was making a film about it I knew I wanted to see it.

And while it took a while for me to go, we finally saw it last night.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more affecting film about the horror of war before.

Nolan’s film is a completely immersive experience, and everything about the movie is designed to keep you anxious and on the edge of your seat the entire running time of the movie. There are only a few, brief moments where you can actually sort of relax; and those brief seconds of respite immediately fade into another rush of tension and adrenaline and anxiety. There is very little dialogue in the movie, and almost all of the emotion is conveyed by the faces of the actors, which is even more affective than over-the-top histrionics would have been.

One of the things I learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that the reality is far harsher and much more horrifying to witness in person than to see on television or on film; the reason Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke is so affecting is the film of the aftermath, after the water was gone and what was left behind, triggers the memories inside my own mind from when I returned and drove around to see the  devastation for myself. A film camera is limited–even in IMAX–to how much it can capture in a shot; the reality of the flood aftermath was immersive; you couldn’t look another direction and not see horror.

As immersive an experience as Dunkirk is, it therefore stands to reason that the horrors faced by the soldiers and sailors and the British citizens in their pleasure boats sailing the channel and watching as war planes flew overhead, witnessing ships being bombed and torpedoed in front of them, was at least a thousand times worse than watching a fictionalized film version in an IMAX theater in Harahan. The choice to show the story from three different perspectives–a soldier wanting to get home, an RAF pilot, and the crew of the private boat Moonstone crossing the channel to answer the call–and to not show those stories unfold in the usual timeline but rather at different times–was a calculated risk that could easily could have failed, turning the movie into a mess that made no sense–but superb editing and cross cuts made it quite effective in unsettling the viewer and ramping up the tension and terror. (I predict many, many technical Oscar nominations for this movie–from sound editing to editing to cinematography–and it will probably win more than a few of them.)

It’s an amazing achievement in film.

Is it historically accurate? Probably not; it leaves the viewer with the sense that it happened over the course of a day or so when it was really a little over a week; all the soldiers and sailors seen on camera were all  white; and obviously some of the characters, if not all of them, were fictional. But…when the credits rolled I was emotionally drained and exhausted, and I am still processing the images I saw.

It also occurred to me, as we drove home in a downpour, if ever there was a time for TCM to schedule a World War II film festival–after the events of the last week or so, it’s now, as some people need, apparently, to be reminded of the horrors that were Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Have a lovely Sunday, every one.

Never Gonna Let You Go

Have you read the comic book co-written by Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, Normandy Gold?

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It will come as no surprise that its fantastic. Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin are two of the best crime writers of our Golden Age of women crime writers.

One of the things that can get confusing with crime fiction is the subgenres and the sometimes slight distinctions between them; take hard-boiled vs. noir as an example. I think the confusion comes because a hard-boiled crime novel, when made into a film, can fit into the film noir category, which is a bit broader than the genre definitions crime novels can use and books can fall into; for example, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep are hard-boiled detective novels; the films, however, are classic film noir. (Your mileage may vary; I am speaking only for myself and how I classify books.) For me, a detective novel that is dark and brooding and cynical in nature is hard-boiled, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky’s novels, for me, fall into this category, as do Hammett’s detective fiction and Chandler’s. James M. Cain’s novels were noir, as are Megan Abbott’s. Alison Gaylin’s detective novels are more hard-boiled; her stand alone novels are more noir. For me, a noir novel doesn’t have a professional investigator as the main character; those are hard-boiled.

Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime line of novels contains both noir and hard-boiled fiction; the team-up of Gaylin and Abbott with the graphic serial novel Normandy Gold is a fine addition to Hard Case, and one of the best comics/graphic novels I’ve come across in a long while. As I read the first issue on my iPad, all I could think was how glorious this is; excellent, crisp dialogue and incredible storytelling, along with some amazing artwork. If there are awards for graphic novels, just start sending them along to the team that produced this now!

Normandy Gold firmly straddles the line between noir and hard-boiled with guns blazing. Set in the 1970’s, Normandy is a small town sheriff in rural Oregon. Her mother was a prostitute, and she ran away when she was a teen to try to find a better life for herself, leaving her younger sister behind. One day she gets a call from her sister, and is still on the line with her as her sister is murdered. Normandy comes to Washington DC to find out what she can about her sister’s death; the cops have written it off as just another dead whore no one cares about and unsolvable. But Normandy also finds out her sister wasn’t just a prostitute; she worked for a very elite, high level escort service, and decides to go undercover to find what happened to her sister.

This typical-sounding set-up comes alive in the hands of two master storytellers, and the art itself is stunningly beautiful. The story moves very quickly, and the 1970’s setting is perfectly done; not a false note in the entire first issue. This is the kind of story that, as a film in the 1970’s, would have earned a star like Jane Fonda or Ellen Burstyn or Ann-Margret an Oscar nomination, if not the statue itself. Vividly realized, you keep turning the pages to see what happens next…and when you get to the end of the issue, you’re sorry it’s done but can’t wait to read the next.

Highly recommended.

 

Turn to You

Very tired this morning; a late night of bar testing concluded my twelve hour day yesterday and there is nothing like walking ten blocks on a sultry, steamy New Orleans night to stand in the upstairs of a bar whose a/c is set to “Econo”, and then walking ten blocks back.

I changed my socks three times yesterday.

But I have a short day today; only four hours to put in today, and I don’t have to be at the office until four. Huzzah! I also get to go in a little later tomorrow, and don’t have to work a full eight hour shift then, either. So, I get to sort of ease my way in to the weekend, which is lovely. I am making a Costco run this morning, making a grocery run tomorrow, and then I get to only leave the house to go see Wacky Russian Saturday morning. I do rather have to get motivated, though, which isn’t easy when you’re already tired. But if I have another cup of coffee, do my morning stretching, and then hop in the shower, I will be good.

One can hope, anyway.

My short story continues to putter along, and man, is it all over the place. I am trying very hard not to stop myself and correct the narrative–I’m just trying to get the story down, do the polishing and reorganizing on the next go round, but it’s kind of slow going. I kind of have a vague idea of what the story is and how it’s going to end, and I am writing a lot of chaff that will have to be separated out later, and the voice is all over the place as well. Ah, well, the great joys of being a writer; this constant internal struggle between confidence, over-confidence, and NO confidence. The Three Faces of Greg, as it were.

I’m still reading A Feast of Snakes; it’s very short, and I should be able to finish it soon. But I am going to absolutely reward myself with the latest Rebecca Chance, Killer Affair, when I am finished with this one. (I need a break from the Southern Gothic, frankly, but I’ll be jumping back in right after.) My copies of Barry Hannah’s Airships and Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet Please arrived, so I also have more short stories to read, and of course, there are more stories in Faulkner’s Knight’s Gambit to read as well.

I think it’s very important for a writer to read as widely as possible. I read scifi, fantasy, horror, romance, ‘literary’, ‘popular’, and historicals, in addition to social history and commentary, literary criticism, and biographies, as well as history. I also love comic books. But I’ve been reading almost exclusively crime novels for a very long time, and as such, there’s been such a narrow focus in my reading that I need to expand out a bit; I am enjoying the Southern Gothic reading I’ve been doing–some of which could be defined as crime fiction, which makes it all the more fun–and it also makes me realize that reading all these different types and styles of fiction should be helping make me into a better writer.

I am hoping to get back to the serious chore of the final edit of the WIP this weekend; one of the reasons I want to get all this errand running finished over today and tomorrow is so that I won’t be too tired on the weekend to get this accomplished.

And on that note, I need to get the day going.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Robert Kelker-Kelly, from Another World and Days of Our Lives

We’ve Got the Beat

Staring down a twelve-hour day at the office today, rather grimly. Actually, it’s eight hours of testing at the office, and then three hours bar testing tonight, but I get a very short day tomorrow as a result and hopefully, I won’t be dead tired by the time I get home tonight. I slept in again this morning; would be perfectly happy to continue sleeping, quite frankly; so sleeping in tomorrow morning is actually going to be rather lovely. For some reason, though, my days are messed up this week; I kept thinking yesterday was Thursday, for example, and so am still a bit disoriented this morning about the days of the week.

Clearly, I am getting old.

As I continue to work on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” I am constantly second-guessing myself; I’ve written about the world/area where the story is set before, and I am worried, of course, that I am repeating myself with it. This morning I decided to just forge forward and stop worrying about it; that’s what edits/revisions/rewrites are for, after all. Part of the reason I’ve been so drawn to Southern Gothic fiction lately has been because not only because I am Southern but because I’ve so rarely used that personal history to write. As I have said before, two of my favorite short stories that I’ve written are “Small-town Boy” and the as-yet-unpublished “Whim of the Wind”; recently I’ve been thinking about that Civil War ghost story I’ve been thinking about writing for thirty years–which is also set in the same area (fictional Corinth County, Alabama, which I briefly touched on in Dark Tide–it’s where my main character is from originally–and again in Going Down for the Count–again, where the main character is from originally); and the more Southern Gothic fiction I read, the more I want to write that book. “A Holler Full of Kudzu” is also set in that area; and I am more than a little concerned that the story might wind up too derivative of “Small-town Boy”; but I will, as mentioned before, deal with that in the rewrites.

I also watched Captain America Civil War yesterday, since it marked the debut of Tom Holland as Spiderman. (And yes, I have become a huge fan of young Mr. Holland, but not in a creepy old-man pervy way. I just think he’s adorably cute.) I mean, the movie was okay, but Holland was definitely the highlight of the movie for me. I’ve not seen Captain America The Winter Soldier, so I obviously missed some plot points that probably would have helped the viewing experience somewhat; but it wasn’t that hard to figure out. I am, however, tempted to go back and watch it; I do love Chris Evans, but there are just so many Marvel films now that it’s a huge time commitment to get caught up on them all–and much as I love Chris Hemsworth, the first Thor movie was kind of boring.

All right, Constant Reader, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a shot of Chris Evans, without a shirt, to help you through your Hump Day.

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Skidmarks on My Heart

Last night, we abandoned The Mist in the midst of episode 4. I wanted to like it, but the characters weren’t likable or relatable; and the mist itself is completely different from what Stephen King wrote in the original novella and what was translated to the screen for the original film. I can understand the need to reboot  a concept once it’s gotten overplayed and tired, but I don’t think The Mist was either of those; I don’t think the movie was seen by all that many people (it may not have been a flop, but it wasn’t an enormous runaway success, either). I’ve seen some theories (maybe even from the producers/writers?) that the show is actually a sequel to the film, years later; there are references occasionally that intimate ‘this has happened before in local legend[‘, or some such. In either case, the show isn’t working, and about halfway through last night’s episode I was done with it once and for all.

It’s a pity, because I had high hopes for the show. I didn’t care for Haven, either, which was (very) loosely based on The Colorado Kid. That show ran for several seasons, so it obviously had an audience; I just wasn’t a part of it. (I also didn’t get very far into Under the Dome.)

I slept very deeply last night and very late this morning, which was actually kind  of lovely. My muscles aren’t aching and tired, and neither are my joints; I am going to stretch again this morning in a moment or two; perhaps when I finish this entry. Later this evening we are going over to our friend Susan’s to watch the season premiere of Game of Thrones and eat pizza; we used to watch True Blood with Susan (we all agreed on Pam as our favorite character, and it was fun watching with her).

As I mentioned yesterday, we went to see Spiderman Homecoming last night. The time of the show we wanted at our usual place, the AMC Palace 20 in Elmwood, wasn’t convenient, so we tried out the Palace at Clearview Mall. I wasn’t overly impressed with this theater, so I doubt we’ll go back there again–except for convenience. (The Elmwood location is really quite nice.) So, what did I think of the movie?

I’ve watched two or three of the original Spiderman films with Tobey Maguire, which were okay; pleasant entertainments and a nice way to whittle away some time. I’ve not seen the second iteration with Andrew Garfield; the reviews weren’t great and it was never convenient for me to watch them, nor was I particularly interested in carving out the time to watch them (I might now, honestly, simply for the sake of comparison).  I decided I wanted to see this version–despite an original lack of interest–because Tom Holland, the young man playing Spiderman this time out, won me over with his stellar performance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on Lip Sync Battle:

How could I not see the movie after watching that?

As I’ve said before, I was a DC kid growing up and didn’t really read much Marvel until I got back into comics in the 1980’s; and the Spiderman books quickly became my favorite Marvel books, and one of my top favorite superheroes. I loved the character of Peter Parker, the brainy nerd who accidentally becomes super-powered; who comes from a poor background and struggles in his private life while not truly getting the superhero cred he deserves, either–which was such a huge departure from the DC mentality, and one that I really liked. (All of Marvel’s superheroes have their detractors and aren’t universally loved in their universe; probably the most astute and brilliant thing Stan lee did with the superhero genre.) But ultimately, Peter was a nice guy who understood ‘that with great power comes great responsibility.’ And I was never able to put my finger on what it was that made me not love the original films as much as I loved the character.

Now that I’ve seen Spiderman Homecoming, I can tell you exactly what it was: Toby Maguire didn’t quite embody that Spiderman ideal; the geeky, smart, nerdy unpopular kid who is actually a hero in disguise. Tom Holland, though, has nailed the role perfectly. He’s likable and you root for him; the crushing disappointments of how he misses out on the things that are important to the private person while trying to become the hero he feels he should be. It was also a stroke of genius to not only not make this an origin movie (he already has his powers, obviously, since his cameo appearance in one of The Avengers movies), but to take Spiderman back to his mid-teens. I didn’t read the original comics (I wasn’t old enough to read when Spiderman first was published, obviously) but I’ve always believed Peter got his powers when he was a teenager; and by taking him back to his teens means Holland can play the role for at least another twenty years, if not longer (of course, he might lose interest, the series could run out of steam, any number of things could happen in the meantime), and it will be fun to watch Spiderman/Peter grow up and evolve into the great hero he’s meant to become. The key to Peter is he is a good guy, who always wants to do the right thing but sometimes fails, and feels those failures deeply; Holland nails that youthful earnestness perfectly in what is undoubtedly a star-making role. I thought that several times while watching the movie: This kid is going to be a major star.

One of the film’s other strengths is its diversity; there are many characters who could have easily been cast with white actors but instead the roles were given to a multi-ethnic cast, seamlessly integrated into their roles so beautifully that I didn’t really notice it until after the movie was over; on the way out to the parking lot I realized there were a lot of people of color in this film, and it worked beautifully.

Maybe because people of color are fully integrated into the society in general?

Pay attention to this, film makers. THIS is how you do it.

The weakest–to me–part of the movie is the mentoring relationship with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man/Tony Stark; I’ve been a fan of Downey since I first saw him in Weird Science thirty or so years ago (he was the best thing in that execrable Less Than Zero movie, along with the brilliant Bangles cover of ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’) and I am glad he finally has the blockbuster star career I always thought he should have, but I’m not really a fan of the Iron Man movies; his presence in the movie also made me wonder, every single time Spiderman was in trouble, if Iron Man was going to show up and help him. Michael Keaton was terrific as the villain; and Marisa Tomei wasn’t given enough to do as Aunt Mae (just called Mae in this iteration; it was a bit of a shock to have a younger, much hotter Aunt Mae). I wasn’t really sure why Zendaya was in the movie, either–although she was terrific, and the “a-ha!” moment late in the film made me really, really happy; again, well-done, Marvel Films, well done.

I’ve seen commentary that the movie sort of was a nod to the John Hughes films of the 1980s; there was some of that, and the 80’s music helped with that sense (you can NEVER go wrong with the Ramones, period). The other young actors were stellar, as well; Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned steals every scene he is in.

However, one warning: if you suffer from vertigo/fear of heights, do not see this movie in 3-D.  As one of those who suffers from that, the realism of two action sequences–one involving the Washington Monument and the other an airplace–was so intense that I literally got not only nauseous and dizzy but severely anxious and had to look away from the screen or close my eyes at times; the Washington Monument scene is so realistic it’s like you are literally on top of it; you can only imagine how someone who is terrified of heights the way I am reacted to that scene; it was quite traumatizing for me.

In conclusion, I absolutely loved this movie, and can’t wait for the next Spiderman film. I highly recommend it.

And now, I need to get some writing and cleaning done. Here’s a gratuitous beefcake shot of Tom Holland:

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Be With You

Tuesday morning, and I am not fully awake. I didn’t want to get up this morning–not that I ever do–but this morning was one of those whining, complaining and I just want to keep sleeping mornings. I never spring from the bed fully awake and revved up and ready to go; those days are long past, alas, but this morning was a bit harder than usual. Even coffee doesn’t seem to taste right this morning. It’s going to be, I fear, one of those days.

It was like pulling teeth, but I did finish my first (really bad) draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” yesterday. That’s something, I think. It’s a mess, frankly, scattershot and all over the place, and clocked in at slightly less than four thousand words. Ideally, I think it needs to be between five and six, with me leaning more towards the longer end; but now I have a framework down to fix, so that’s something. I have another idea that I started working on over the weekend–the opening came to me out of nowhere; it’s one of those Alabama stories I like to write from time to time, and I suspect reading Tomato Red and the Faulkner short story “Smoke” had something to do with getting my mind into that particular gear. Unusually enough, it doesn’t have a title; I rarely write anything that doesn’t start with the title, and I haven’t the slightest idea of what the title would be, which puts me way outside of my comfort zone. The story itself is amorphous, a fog in my mind I need to take form, but I am going to start working on the rest of the story this morning. It’s grim–so much of what I’ve been doing lately has been grim–and I have to figure out what I am trying to say with the story. I think I know; it’s a tired old theme, but the beauty of writing is you can make tired old themes new and fresh again. We shall see. I probably have a title somewhere scribbled down that would be perfect for the story.

Uncharted territory! Writing something that has no title! Madness.

We got caught up on Season 2 of Animal Kingdom last night, and this show is very addictive. I don’t understand why it’s not better known, or generating more buzz. Ellen Barkin is fantastic, the young men who play her sons are terrific (and hot) as well, and the writing is pretty crisp. I think we’ll get caught up on Claws next, and then Orphan Black. We can’t decide if we want to give Will  a shot or not. We may be going to see Spiderman Homecoming this weekend, as well.

All right, I think it’s time to get back to my story. Here’s a hunk for your Tuesday:

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