Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

I overslept this morning, which is really fine; I feel very rested, which means I needed the sleep and my muscles, which have felt tired all week, don’t this morning; so there you have it. I have some errands to run in the early afternoon, and I also have some writing to do today; I need to finish a chapter in the WIP and finish one in the Scotty. I should probably do so organizing and of course, the Lost Apartment is a mess. I also need to revise two short stories, whose due dates are rapidly approaching. Next weekend I will be in Alabama for the Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu events, and the next weekend is the final parade weekend of Carnival (yes I am missing the first weekend for the first time in years). I do hate missing the King Arthur parade; I have lots of friends and acquaintances in that one, so I generally get buried in beads. I can’t believe I agreed to miss that weekend, but I also was so busy making sure it wasn’t the final weekend of Carnival that I didn’t notice.

Stupid, stupid, stupid Gregalicious.

Heavy sigh. I finished watching the first season of Black Sails last night, both at the gym and then when I got home after; I am, as I have said, really enjoying the show. I can’t quite figure out why I didn’t like this show when I tried to watch it several years ago, but I am really enjoying it now and glad I gave it another chance. I suspect I didn’t pay enough attention to it as I watched, and you kind of need to pay attention. There’s a lot going on, there are a lot of cross-plots, and lots of scheming. I don’t think I much cared for the way the women were treated in the first episode or two, either; it appeared that the women were all whores or mistreated terribly by men. But that’s not the case; the women are stronger and smarter than the men, and Eleanor Guthrie, who runs Nassau, is developing into quite the cold-blooded manipulative she-devil, which I am also rather loving. And of course, you can never go wrong with a hot, sweaty men in tight leather pants. My favorite, of course, is Tom Hopper, but Zach MacGowan, who plays Captain Charles Vane (and also played Roan on The 100; I thought he looked familiar) isn’t a slouch either.

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I also read two short stories last night, both horror, to keep the Short Story Project going.

The first, “Minuke,” by Nigel Keale, is from a very thick book edited by Marvin Kaye called Ghosts:

The estate agent kept an uncomfortable silence until we reached his car. “Frankly, I wish you hadn’t gotten wind of that,” he said. “Don’t know how you did: I thought I had the whole thing carefully disposed of. Oh, please get in.”

He pulled his car forward and frowned. “It puts me in a rather awkward spot. I suppose I;d better tell you all I know about the case, or you’d be suspecting me of heaven-knows-what kinds of chicanery in your own.”

As we set off to see the property I was interested in, he shifted the cigarette to the side of his mouth,

“It’s quite a distance, so I can tell you on the way there,” he said. “We’ll pass the very spot, as a matter of fact, and you can see it for yourself. Such as there is to see.”

This is a ghost story, or more properly, the story of a haunting;  it was originally written and published in 1950–which makes the story sixty-eight! It’s also told in a classic horror trope that is hardly used anymore, because it’s become cliche–someone is telling the story of what happened to someone else, a disinterested party. Stephen King has used this method a time or two; most notably in his novella “The Breathing Method” from Different Seasons, and sometimes in short stories. It’s a very classic trope–Dracula is an epistolary novel, after all, told in diary entries and letters. But at the time “Minuke” was originally published, horror wasn’t considered a form of literature and as such tropes hadn’t evolved into cliches quite yet, and it’s a well-told tale. The house of the title is merely a bungalow, built in the housing boom of the post-war era, and therefore its tenants are the first to live there; it is too young of a house to have a haunting, and yet it does. It turns out, you see, when the foundations were being dug, they came across some ancient Norse grave markers…(of course, at the time the story was written Poltergeist was many years away in the future, and the ‘never build on an Indian burial ground’ theme hadn’t become deeply engrained in the culture).

(Aside: the collection Ghosts is a gorgeous, leather bound edition with gold inlay and a ribbon page marker that I purchased for a few bucks off a sale table at Borders many years ago; I don’t know why I’ve never dipped into it before, but it’s going to definitely play a role in this year’s Short Story Project.)

The second story I read was “Fallen Boys” by Mark Morris, from Best Horror of the Year Volume Three, compiled and selected by Ellen Datlow, and originally published in Jonathon Oliver anthology The End of the Line:

When the child screamed, Tess Morton felt guilty for having to repress the urge to snap at it. She was aware that it wasn’t Matthew Bellings who should be punished, but his tormentors, and yet the boy’s cry of pain or distress was so whiny that it grated on her nerves.

The reason she felt little compassion for the child was because she knew it took almost nothing to provoke a wail of complaint from him. Matthew would cry out whenever someone barged into him in the school corridor; whenever a football was kicked towards him in the playground; whenever a classmate flicked a paper pellet at him, or snatched a text book out of his hand, or pushed in front of him in the lunch queue. Indeed, the merest slight would cause Matthew’s red-cheeked, strangely wizened face to crumple, his mouth to twist open and that familiar, toe-curling bleat to emerge.

This story, about a class field trip to an abandoned tin mine (now open as a tourist attraction and advertised as an education experience for children), is predicated on a horrific truth about bullying that we don’t like to acknowledge or understand; one that Stephen King exposed and explored powerfully in his own debut novel, Carrie. 

When we read accounts about bullying, and how teachers and other adults look the other way, we are horrified by it; when we read short stories and novels about bullying  our hearts naturally go out to the victims and we loathe the bullies and their enablers; long for their comeuppance, and are infinitely satisfied when it does come. But that bears no resemblance to the reality. That comes from the emotional distance, and the pleasant lies we so often tell ourselves, the lies about who we are as people, and how we would behave in certain circumstances–we identify with heroes and see ourselves as heroes; part of the brilliance of Stephen King’s work is he so often lays bare that horrific truth that we aren’t all heroes.

Take Tess Morton, the teacher taking her kids on this field trip. The story is completely told from her point of view. She knows that kids are bullying Matthew, and she also knows that as the voice of authority she has to try to put a stop to it. She does try, but it’s not taking because Matthew himself irritates her and sometimes she herself wants nothing more than to give him a good slap. This is the same way Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher who stops the shower assault on Carrie White in the opening scene of Carrie, feels about the victim; she has to punish the girls who did it, but Carrie irritates her, she wants to smack her a good one, and she understands why Carrie is bullied.

This is also why school–the hallways, the playground, the cafeteria, the gym–is so scarring for so many people, because they are so evocative of Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games.

This is a great story; Morris builds his suspense beautifully, and the denouement is rather sudden when it happens–more than a little reminiscent of EC Comics, but it’s also rather satisfying.

And now. back to the spice mines.

Dancing in the Sheets

The sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed to 49 degrees. The boil-water advisory ended finally last evening–it’s just not a crisis in New Orleans unless we have a boil-water advisory!–and here I sit this morning, ensconced at my desk with a cup of coffee, a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, with great expectations of the day. I went to the gym last evening after work, and my muscles, while a bit tired, still feel stretched and worked and supple, if that makes sense. Probably the best thing about rededicating myself to physical exercise again is how much better I feel; I don’t ache or feel tired the way I did just last week, and the stretching and the treadmill are also making me feel ever so much better. Today, I am going to clean (if it’s Saturday I must be cleaning) but I am also going to write, edit and read today. Paul is going into the office to work (it’s that time of year again) and so I have the day to myself. I want to finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill” and I want to edit “Cold Beer No Flies.”

Among many other things; my to-do list is ridiculous, quite frankly. But the only way to make progress is not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the list but rather to keep plugging away at it.

I finished reading Miami by Joan Didion earlier this week, and it was quite good. Didion’s writing style is quite amazing, actually, and while the story of the book might seem, at first glance, to be rather dated; the truth is it is still very much appropriate to our modern times. Miami is a look at the Cuban exiles in the city, how they relate to each other, and how they impact south Florida politically; and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the US government with them as well as with Castro’s Cuba. During the Cold War Cuba was a much more terrifying apparition, close as it was to Florida, and it’s amazing how people do not realize the political clout, as a result of their sheer numbers, that the Cuban immigrants weld in that part of the state, and in the entire state as well. The importance of Florida as a swing state cannot be discounted; and therefore the Cuban-American community’s influence on national politics is something that has to always be considered. (A present day comparison would be the Puerto Ricans moving to Florida today in great numbers as a result of the hurricane destruction of their island; the difference being those Puerto Ricans are already American citizens who can register to vote and can impact 2018 already.) Didion’s look at Miami in the 1980’s, as a Caribbean city on the mainland, is also reminiscent of descriptions of New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city; the thing I love the most about Didion’s work is how she makes you think. Reading Miami made me want to write about Miami; I’ve been wanting to write about Florida for a long time, as Constant Reader already knows. Something to ponder.

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I also started reading Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is a look at the film industry through the lens of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, and how they were made. Harris’ thesis is that was the year that bridged the gap between old and new Hollywood; and the five Best Picture nominees illustrated that perfectly: an expensive musical flop (Doctor Dolittle); two old style Hollywood pictures about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night), and two films that illustrated new Hollywood and its influence by European filmmakers like Truffaut and Fellini and Antonioni (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). I, of course, have always been fascinated by Hollywood history and have been ever since I read Garson Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn and Bob Thomas’ Selznick as a kid; this book is right up my alley, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Hollywood history, I am looking forward to reading this (and his Five Came Back–I’ve already watched the documentary based on it).

The Short Story Project also moves apace; I am frequently surprised as I look through my shelves for something to read how many single author collections and anthologies dot them. My Ipad also has quite a few loaded onto the Kindle app; I often buy them when they are either free or reduced in price, and so my Kindle app is filled with books I’ve not yet read, primarily because I don’t like to read on it (which I realize is nothing more than stubbornness; if I can watch movies or television programs on it, why resist reading books there?) Yesterday I found my battered old Dell paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, which I remember loving as a child. I was looking for my copy of Lawrence Block’s first anthology inspired by paintings–those of Edward Hopper– In Sunlight or in Shadow, which I would have sworn I’d purchased in hardcover; yet it wasn’t anywhere on the shelves or in any of the TBR piles, before remembering I’d bought it as an ebook when the Macavity nominations come out; Block’s story “Autumn at the Automat” was a finalist, along with mine (I still can’t believe it) and I wanted to read all the other nominated stories for an entry, so the immediacy of the need required buying the ebook. It is a handsome volume, though, so I’ll need to buy a hard copy to pair with the new one. (New bucket list item: write a story for one of these anthologies by Lawrence Block)

Once I’d located it on the iPad, I scoured the table of contents and landed on a Joyce Carol Oates story, “The Woman in the Window.” I have to confess I’ve not read much of Ms. Oates; I am not even remotely familiar with what she writes. But she, too, was a Macavity finalist last year, for her story “The Crawl Space” (which also won the Stoker Award), and that story creeped me the fuck out. I know she’s been a Stoker finalist before, but I also think she tends to write across genre a lot and therefore isn’t pigeon-holed in one way or the other.

Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.

Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.

No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous!

It is eleven A.M. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven A.M.

This story, frankly, isn’t as strong as “The Crawl Space,” but it’s an interesting exercise in how thin the line between lust and loathing is; the woman of the title is a secretary having an affair with a much wealthier man, and as she gets older and older she is feeling more and more trapped in the relationship; he is married and he often has to break plans with her for his wife. There is also a shift occasionally to his point of view, and he’s not so fond of her anymore, either. Passion has cooled but habit has set in; and the way those lines can get crossed is chilling–and how destructive such a relationship can be to both parties, emotionally and mentally, is explored in great detail yet sparse language by Ms. Oates. The story’s not as creepy, as I said, as the other; but the end–which she leaves kind of hanging–you do feel that something awful is going to happen; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

I’ve not read Joe Hill before, and there are several reasons for that; none of which would make any sense to anyone who is not me; I am nothing if not aware of my own eccentricities, which is why I generally don’t share them with people; I don’t need someone else to point out that something doesn’t make sense. But I do have a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I spied on the shelves as I looked for my copy of the Block anthology. Aha, I thought, perfect. I can read a Joe Hill story for the Short Story Project. So, I curled up under a blanket in my easy chair, waited for Scooter to get settled in my lap, and started reading “Best New Horror.”

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once–when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America’s Best New Horror–he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

I did not mention the elephant in the room; said elephant, of course, being that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (The Kings are a very literary family; Mr. King’s wife Tabitha is a poet and a novelist; their other son Owen also writes, as does Owen’s wife, Kelly Braffet; I read a novel by Ms. Braffet sometime in the last couple of years–not aware of the King connection–and greatly enjoyed it.)

But simply based on a reading of “Best New Horror,” I have to say Joe Hill is also a terrific writer. And while it, like some of his father’s work, bears a strong resemblance to something I would have read in an Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery comic book–that is not a criticism. I loved those comics, and the stories I read in them; they had a deep influence on me not only as a writer but as a reader. “Best New Horror”, as you can tell by the opening, tells the tale of Eddie Carroll, a writing teacher and a long-time editor of the Best New Horror series, a chore he has learned to loathe and, basically, phone in every year for the money. This resonated with me; as an anthology editor myself, one of the reasons I stepped away from editing them–or took a break from doing it–was because it was becoming rote; a chore rather than something I found joy in doing. Eddie is an example of why I stopped–I didn’t want to become like him; embittered by the experience and tired of not finding anything fresh or new (unlike Eddie, I was able to keep the experience fresh because each anthology I did was a new topic; if I had done twenty anthologies with the same theme I would have gone on a killing spree). But in the mail comes a story from a new writer that is simply brilliant; original and fresh and resonant and horrifying in its reality; the story reinvigorates Eddie and makes the editing job no longer a chore; he has to have this story, and will do whatever he has to in order to track the writer down…but as with any horror  tale of obsession, it’s not going to end well. But Hill brilliantly keeps stringing the reader along, and the ending is just absolutely brilliant and clever. I am really looking forward to reading more of these stories.

And now, I must get back to the spice mines. There are clothes to fold, dishes to wash, floors to clean, stories to write and edit; I am probably coming back here for another entry later as I am trying to get caught up on posting the stories I’ve read–but I make no promises. I have another story to write as a call for submissions crossed my computer screen on Thursday; I have an unfinished story that I can repurpose, but I also need to get a first draft done so I can work the story out.

Until later, Constant Reader.

Got a Hold on Me

Friday morning, and a short day at the office. I am very pleased to report that looking out my windows this morning I see no snow and ice, so I think perhaps this cold snap has finally come to its bitter end. We’re now having water pressure problems in the city, a boil water advisory, etc. etc. etc. Heavy heaving sigh. But other than that, things are going well. Like I said, I have a short day today; I am going to go to the gym this afternoon when I get home from the office, and I am going to spend the weekend writing and editing and reading. I started writing another short story yesterday, “The Trouble with Autofill,” which I think is kind of clever, and have lots of other editing and writing to do. Woo-hoo! Exciting weekend, no? I also want to get some reading and cleaning done. But I think as long as I keep going–sticking to my goal of positivity and focus, things will go well.

Maybe today’s blog should be titled When You Believe.

So, my agenda this morning is to get my kitchen cleaned up, get better organized, clean out my email, and do some writing. I’m going to get the mail before heading to the office, and I also need to pack my gym clothes so I can just ran in, grab the bag, and head back out the door. I also have lost three more pounds this week, finally breaking through that pesky 214 pound plateau I was at–I haven’t weighed 211 in years, so huzzah for working out! Now to keep going.

I started watching Black Sails again this week. I tried it several years ago, and just couldn’t get into it, even going so far as to think it kind of boring. I don’t know why; it has everything I love–pirates, beautiful locations, great period costumes, hot sweaty men in buccaneer outfits–but for whatever reason I just didn’t get into it. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention? Something. Anyway, I am enjoying it a lot more this time around, so I am in for all four seasons. I love pirates–always have–despite having given up on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after the second movie–and while I am not sure why that is the case, I just have. I’ve always wanted to write a pirate novel; and I still have a Scotty adventure having to do with Jean Lafitte’s treasure still floating around in the back of my  head. I’m making all kinds of notes as I watch this show–reread Treasure Island, do some research on pirates, reread The Deep–so who knows? My creativity is certainly flowering these days; and I do think this go back to your roots thing is really working for me. I am doing that with my workout program–all the way back to how I got started, in 1994/1995; and carrying my little blank book around has certainly kick-started my creativity. How cool is that?

I’ve also added a lot of fun Alfred Hitchcock movies to my watchlist on Amazon Prime, some I haven’t seen and others I already have: Saboteur, The Birds, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, Frenzy, Psycho, Family Plot, and Vertigo.

The Short Story Project is also continuing; I read a shitload of short stories on my Snow Day Wednesday, but am still doling them out two at a time here. 😉 First up today: “Lord of Madison County by Jimmy Cajoleas, from Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin:

“Are yall ready to worship?” says Pastor Jerry. He’s got his eyes shut, one arm raised high to Jesus in some weird half-Nazi salute. Frosted hair slicked back, bald spots barely showing. Graphic T-shirt that says, Lord’s Gym, and has Christ bench-pressing a cross on it. Cargo shorts that he still thinks are cool.

I’m a little ways back in the youth room, chewing on a pen cap. The worship band kicks in; it’s all reverbed guitar and concert lights and the bullshit praise lyrics projected onto a screem behind them. You know, the songs that are the kind of crap you say to your girlfriend but it’s supposed to be about God? You are beautiful. You alone are my rock. You alone are my one and only. Oh, Jesus, baby!

Out in the crowd of youth-groupers are my customers. The girl with her hands up in the air giggling, singing louder than anyone? That’s Theresa. Everyone thinks she’s weird, that maybe she’s one of God’s holy fools, but they all agree that she’s on fire with Jesus.

Nah, she just popped a molly.

This is a great opening; I had wondered if anyone was going to address the Southern relationship with religion, and Christianity, in particular. My own psyche has been deeply scarred by a love-hate relationship with the Southern brand of Christianity; the entire nation was recently stunned by the Alabama evangelical embrace of pedophile Roy Moore–which was something that neither surprised nor shocked me. I need to write about religion; I do wish someone with a book called Religion in America: A History of the Turbulent American Relationship with God. Writing is very therapeutic, and I do have such a story that I’ve been working on for going on thirty years; I seriously doubt anyone would publish it. Anyway, I digress. This story, about a young drug dealer who has a fraught relationship with his mother, his father, and his mother’s boyfriend, is very clever and tightly written, with surprise twists and turns that take it in directions I didn’t see coming. Doug, kicked out of his wealthy private school where he was making money dealing to the rich kids, realized the best new market for his merchandise was the youth group at a local church. His dealing increased the youth group’s membership, and he has his own fraught relationship with Pastor Jerry, whom he rather despises, while dating Jerry’s daughter Kayla. Kayla is the big surprise here, a femme fatale right out of the James M. Cain classics, and a true delight. I’d love to read more about Kayla.

After Mississippi Noir, I took down The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four, edited by Ellen Datlow, and the first story there was Stephen King’s The Little Green God of Agony.”

“I was in an accident,” Newsome said.

Katherine MacDonald, sitting beside the bed and attaching one of the four TENS units to his scrawny thigh just below the basketball shorts he now always wore, did not look up. Her face was carefully blank. She was a piece of human furniture in this big house–in this big bedroom where she now spent most of her working life–and that was the way she liked it. Attracting Mr. Newsome’s attention was usually a bad idea, as any of his employees knew. But her thoughts ran on, just the same. Now you tell them that you actually caused the accident. Because you think taking responsibility makes you look like a hero.

“Actually,” Newsome said, “I caused the accident. Not so tight, Kat, please.”

There’s a reason why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. One of the reasons is his uncanny ability to get into the heads of his characters, turning them into three dimensional beings that sound like someone you know. Kat, the physical therapist for an incredibly wealthy man–“the sixth wealthiest man in the world’–is tired of her job and tired of her patient. He won’t do the work required to get better and she is tired of watching him waste money and time on quick-fix quack cures that don’t do anything. This time, he’s brought in a small-time preacher from Arkansas who is going to exorcise the demon of pain from Newsome; it’s all she can do to keep a straight face and not say anything. Finally, she can’t resist and the preacher, Rideout, calls her out on a lot of things, seeing deep into her soul and telling her truths she doesn’t want to face herself, let alone share with anyone. And then the exorcism begins…in Danse Macabre, his later 1970’s/early 1980’s study of the genre, King talks about how horror comics of the 1950’s influenced his writing; as I was reading this story I could easily see it illustrated in Tales from the Crypt or House of Secrets. It’s terrific, absolutely terrific, and I was reminded again of why I love nothing more than curling up with Stephen King’s writing. It also vaguely reminded me of his novel Revival; I think this story may have triggered his creativity in that direction.

And now, I have spice to mine. Have a great Friday, Constant Reader!

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Give It Up

It rained overnight, and is still damp and gloomy this morning. There really is nothing like sleeping during a downpour, is there, the constant strumming of the rain, the comfort and warmth of the mattress and under the blankets, is there?

Yesterday was a crazy busy day for one Gregalicious, who got up in the morning and did some work, cleaned, and then walked to Comic Con for a signing and a panel. The signing was fun, and the panel discussion about creativity and creativity triggers was also a lot of fun; as exhausting and draining as it is to do public appearances, I also always somehow forget, in the nervousness and terror of having to speak in front of a room full of people, how much I actually enjoy talking about writing and creativity. So, there’s that. I then came home, watched the ice dance final at US Nationals, and then the Saints play-off game, which was a nail-biter down to the very last play of the game (GEAUX SAINTS!). We stayed up and watched the Golden Globes before going to bed; I also managed to get some brainstorming done in my journal, and I also read a short story, to keep the Short Story Project going.

One of the truly fun things about the panel was that Tom Cook was on it. Tom was an animator/director for Hanna-Barbera in the late 1960’s/1970’s, and of course, one of the shows he worked on was Scooby Doo Where Are You, which tremendously influenced me in the direction of mysteries and crime when I was a kid. So meeting Tom, and thanking him for the influence, was kind of a thrill for the weekend for me. I am starting to feel energized about writing again, which is very cool.

The short story I read was “East Wind,” from Daphne du Maurier’s The Doll and Other Lost Stories.

the doll

Nearly a hundred miles west of the Scillies, far from the main track of ships, lies the small, rocky island of St. Hilda’s. Only a few miles square, it is a barren, rugged place, with great jagged cliffs that run deep into deep water. The harbour is hardly more than a creek, and the entrance like a black hole cut out of the rock. The island rises out of the sea a queer, misshapen crag, splendid inits desolation, with a grey face lifted to the four winds. It might have been thrown up from the depths of the Atlantic in a moment of great unrest, and set there, a small defiant piece of land, to withstand forever that anger of the sea Over a century ago few knew of its existence, and the many sailors who saw its black outline on the horizon imagined it to be little more than a solitary rock, standing like a sentinel in mid-ocean.

“East Wind” is an early du Maurier tale, from early in her career (which people seem to want to divide into ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Rebecca); and in some ways the inexperience shows. The story is, as so many of her later stories are, very matter-of-fact; simply told with a move this  to that to the other; unemotional and simple. However, what is actually missing from this story that shows up in her later stories are layers of detail and complexity; stories like “Don’t Look Now” and “The Birds” have so many layers to burrow through, so much detail, and so much creepy, quiet horror that they continue to haunt the reader once the story is told. “East Wind” is an equally unpleasant tale, but doesn’t have the impact of the later stories in its telling.

As I started reading it, it reminded me of one of my favorite Stephen King stories, “The Reach”, which was the final story I think in Skeleton Crew, and was originally called “Do the Dead Sing?”, which is, in my opinion, a far superior title. That story was from the point of view of an old woman, dying in her bed on a cold, blustery winter night, and remembering something that happened many years ago–while also hearing her beloved dead one’s calling to her to join them. The story was brilliant and beautiful and haunting, and as I said, remains one of my favorite King stories to this day.

The du Maurier tale is similar in that it is about a remote island, where the inhabitants have very little contact with the outside world and because of a limited pool, have become more than a little inbred. The east wind of the title is brutal, blasting away at the little island and making the seas rough, so a brig of foreign sailors is forced to take shelter in the harbor, foreigners who don’s speak the same language. These exotic to the islanders strangers have an odd impact on the islanders, who become intoxicated in the strangeness and newness of this experience, which eventually leads to seduction and murder, changing and scarring the island forever; and of course, once this has happened and the east wind stops blowing, they get back in their ship and sail away because, of course, it was nothing to them. This is, of course, a terrific theme that du Maurier returns to again and again in her work; the dionysian influence of an outside force that causes trouble and then moves on without a care, leaving damage in its wake. The story itself, which is short and unemotional, is important as an early work because the reader, the duMaurier afficionado, can see how she developed themes she used extensively in her later career; her fascination with the concept of the unfeeling outside force on ordinary people’s lives, and the disruption such an influence can cause.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Come On Feel The Noise

Day two of the New Year, and it’s still miserably cold here in New Orleans. This cold spell is supposed to last through the weekend, but next week the range will be between the high forties and mid-sixties, which is more normal for New Orleans winter. The lovely thing about this cold snap is that I am sleeping magnificently; the problem is I don’t want to get out of the bed in the morning.

First world problems, right?

This weekend is Comic Con here in New Orleans; I am speaking on two panels and I am doing a signing; the panels are on Friday and Saturday and the signing is Sunday afternoon. While it’s kind of a drag having to have something to do every day of my weekend, it is Comic Con, which is always fun. My favorite thing to do is walk around and look at the costumes, to be honest. Every year I promise myself that next year I’ll wear a costume; and when it rolls around every year I am not physically costume ready. But one of my life-goals is to wear a costume to Comic Con one year; maybe if I stick to my gym goals this year I’ll be able to do so next year.

The journal is working out great so far; I did some more brainstorming in it yesterday, and the WIP is really starting to take shape–a better shape than it was. It’s strange, but thinking things through, hashing them out on paper and writing them down makes the process work better for me. I can’t believe I’ve not been doing the journal thing for so long. I’ve really come up with some good stuff over the last few days since buying it. I am quite excited about this new development, and am getting quite excited about writing again; which, to be honest, it’s been kind of a while since I’ve felt the creative joy of writing.

I also started reading several books over the weekend which didn’t pass the fifty-page test; so off into the donation pile they went. This isn’t to say the books were bad, they just didn’t grab me, and there are just too many books to keep trying to read something that hasn’t grabbed me by page fifty; that turns the reading into the category of pulling teeth and then I don’t read as quickly and then the books continue to stack up. One I put aside to try again at a later date; I really like the concept of it, but the writing just didn’t grab me and encourage me to keep going. I’m starting another one tonight; hopefully it will work out better.

I also didn’t read a short story yesterday; I started reading one, but Paul and I also started binge watching Broadchurch this weekend, and we are totally sucked into the show. The first season was truly wonderful; lots of twists and turns that i certainly didn’t see coming, which was lovely. We’re one or two episodes into Season 2 now; the addition of Charlotte Rampling and Jeanne Marie-Baptiste to the cast can only make it stronger. The acting in Season One was pretty spectacular, and I have to say, after The Night Manager and this, I’ve become rather a fan of Olivia Colman.

I have a lot of emails to get caught up on today, and I also want to get some writing done. The illness is mostly past; all the remains is a tubercular cough; deep and throaty and phlegmy, but at least it no longer hurts to cough. Baby steps.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a hunk for you for today, Constant Reader. In honor of Comic Con, this is cosplay specialist Michael Hamm as Nightwing.

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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.